1. Consisting of members or elements of different kinds; of mixed character: a book of miscellaneous essays on American history.

2. Having various qualities, aspects, or subjects: a miscellaneous discussion.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Apples for Teachers; Pumpkins for Kiddies

For the last couple of weeks I’ve felt “left out” of the latest obsessions on my party planning/crafting/cooking blogs.  Their focus has been on Back-To-School and Halloween, as it should be.

I’m in absolutely no rush for Kyla to start school., even PREschool for that matter.  But since I always loved school right through college, I feel there is something nostalgic about new notebooks and pencils and things.  Sure, elementary school-age kids are now shopping for laptops when I was happy to get a new “Trapper Keeper” in the same grade.  But the anticipation, excitement and nervous feelings surely pass from generation to generation.

My favorite blogs presented all sorts of back to school treats, recipes for nutritious lunches and after-school snacks, and ways to say thanks to the teachers.  I looked at them, albeit briefly, wistfully thinking of what I will do when Kyla starts school.  I am insanely happy that her birthday is in March so that I can take baked goods to her class on her special day!

I realize that Kyla is still a bit too young to fully appreciate Halloween and all the fun and excitement that comes with the holiday.  This year she is learning all about the Disney princesses, and has decided that Belle is her favorite.  That will mean a trip to the Disney store for a Princess Belle costume.  (It will serve double duty when we go to Disney World for the first time with her this December.)

My best friend’s daughter Emma will turn seven in November.  Naturally she feels like a big girl around Kyla, but they have a wonderful time together whenever they play.  Now that Kyla “is older” according to Emma, she wants to go Trick or Treating with her this year.  Emma could run circles around Kyla when it comes to scoring candy.  But something tells me that true to her sweet and caring nature, she will make sure she stays in step with Kyla and doesn’t get (too much) more candy.

I read the adorable ideas for Halloween parties and treats and look forward to the days that I can plan an actual party for Kyla and her friends.  I’m sure parents who have “been there done that” will think I am crazy for wanting these things.  I am not wishing her toddler and preschool years away by any means.  It’s just that there are so many inspiring and amazing ideas out there!

I suppose that this year I will quell my penchant for parties by focusing on other “nesting” activities.  I’ll stock our pantry with all sorts of fall favorites.  I’ll do extra baking.  I’ll find cozy afghans to put around the house for snuggling, and I’ll make sure we have plenty of wood for our fireplace.  Oh, and I just might store those ideas on my computer… before I know it, I’ll be needing them!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Where have you been, Elaine?

I’ve been remiss in posting blogs lately.  It’s not for lack of activity in the Fischer home!  Kyla and I have been doing our best to squeeze in some late-summer swimming, and I’m also doing my best to get some of my DIY projects accomplished.

It amazes me, the vast amount of frugality and creativity and talent that is swirling around the blogosphere.  As I have mentioned the best I can do is copy others.  I have yet to have an original idea pop in to my mind.  I’m OK with that.  I don’t mind letting others think of things for me!  Reading all those other blogs certainly could take up my entire day, but I do my best to not let that happen.  (At least on a regular basis.)

My vintage/Shabby Chic bathroom makeover is nearly complete and I will soon post before and after photos.  I am also in the process of obsessing over a new look for our bedroom, trying to figure out how to re-do our entire living room for less than $1,500 (new furniture and all!) and trying to tie in the future look of our living room with a coordinating look for our dinette & kitchen.

When I’m not reading to Kyla or changing her wet swimsuit; when I’m not trying to find a DIY project that someone who is power tool-challenged can replicate; when I’m not going to the library for a new armful of cookbooks and decorating books I’m most likely involved in some “nesting” activity like washing all our cozy afghans to be ready for the chilly fall evenings, or looking online for a recipe containing pumpkin.

I am also trying to decide if I should move Ms. Elaine Kneeous over to FranklinNOW.com rather than keeping it on Blogspot.  I would enjoy more readership if I moved but there are some technical aspects of their system that I’m not sure I want to deal with.  You will soon find out if I’ve made the move!  Thanks for reading, in either case.

I look forward to sharing lots of new ideas and posting more fun things VERY soon!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Barking Lot (09/03/11)

Every week, Kevin & I collaborate on a dog feature called The Barking Lot.  It began as my idea since I am completely dog-obsessed.  What started as a simple guest blog on This Just In has blossomed into a widely-read, much-enjoyed regular installment.  We give the dog-walking weather forecast, then it’s my main article, then Dogs In The News which is Kevin’s contribution, a photo, and a closing video.  Let all your dog loving friends know about this special Saturday feature!

This week, I say "goodbye" to a VERY special dog in my life.  And, there are lots of good stories in Dogs In The News, too.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Is it September 23rd yet?

In my blog Mars VS. Venus, I discussed how, in my opinion and by my observations, men & women strongly differ in their love of seasons, specifically summer and autumn.  In my home, while Kevin does not welcome the coming of fall, he does welcome some of the treats that have become staples for us when the weather turns chilly.

I also have a strong fondness for all things British.  I fulfilled an item on my bucket list before I even HAD a bucket list, and that was a trip to England the summer I graduated from college.  When I was introduced to this blog by my best friend (and travel partner to England) I fell in love instantly.  I don’t consider myself a vintage housekeeper, so to speak.  But Alison’s ideas are heavenly even to a “Yank” and I can’t wait to incorporate some of her ideas in the coming months.

So put some mulling spices on the stove to simmer, pour yourself a mug of tea or cider, and plan to follow Alison’s tips AND make my recipes…

When I read the recipe for these gorgonzola phyllo cups, I knew it would be perfect.  It contained all my favorites in one delicious little bite and happily announced “Fall is here.”  A few notes from my personal experience:

·       I did not specifically use Gorgonzola when I made this. “Regular” bleu cheese was just fine.
·       A 6 or 7 oz package of cheese crumbles would be sufficient, if you’re wondering what “1-1/3 cups of cheese” equates to.  Personally I found 1-1-/3 c. makes almost too much filling.
·       I toasted the walnuts at 400ยบ for about five minutes before adding them to the mixture.  You don’t have to do this, I just prefer walnuts toasted.  Alternately you could toast them in a pan on the stovetop, watching closely so that they don’t scorch.
·       As stated in the recipe, they are great both warm AND at room temp, which in my opinion makes them a perfect appetizer.

I enjoy watching Ina Garten every chance I get.  Sadly that is not as frequent as I would like.  However, I managed to catch a fantastic episode one day and thought, “This recipe would be excellent for a thank-you luncheon for my best friend & her mom for all the ways they help me with my daughter.”  I was right.  I actually served two halves as a lunch portion for each of us, and had warm rolls on the side.  FABULOUS.  And by the way, you’ll already have the bleu cheese, walnuts, and dried cranberries on hand from making those amazing phyllo cups!

Since you’ll want a perfect Fall dessert, I can provide a recipe for that as well!  I always keep a couple cans of solid pack pumpkin in my pantry because there are so many delicious recipes that call for it.

I have mentioned that my favorite go-to baking book is Good Housekeeping’s “Baking.”  This is just one of many recipes that has been made time and again, as the sticky page will attest to.  My apologies for the format of the link but you get the recipe for Pumpkin-Spice Cake and I get to save myself the hassle of typing it out.

I will admit I have never made the glaze, although it sounds delicious.  I made this once as directed in the Bundt pan.  After that, I started making it as cupcakes.  Since it is a Bundt pan recipe, it does yield a lot of batter.  Be prepared!  It makes four dozen mini cakes plus 1½ dozen regular cakes.  (I think it would also be fun to make them in mini size Bundt pans, but I don’t own those.)  If making cupcakes, I highly recommend topping them with Glory’s (from Glorious Treats) cream cheese frosting.

I think fall is a wonderful beverage season.  In the morning you can warm yourself with a cup of tea.  From plain black tea to special blends, it’s a perfect sipper.  Spiced cider is a treat, and for the “over-21 and after-5:00 pm crowd” you can’t beat a shot of brandy or rum added in.  But really, what says “Fall fabulousness” better than a pumpkin martini?  I’ve seen a million recipes online but decided to create my own a couple years ago.  Kevin prefers a “clear” pumpkin martini to the “creamy” recipes out there that include using half and half and whipped cream.  You could rim your glass with a combo of sugar and graham cracker crumbs if you like.

Jennifer’s Soon-To-Be-Famous Pumpkin Martini is just the thing to top off a warm and comforting fall meal:

Pumpkin Martini
Serves 1

3 oz. Vanilla Vodka of your choice
2 oz. Hiram Walker Pumpkin Spice liqueur
1 oz. Amaretto

Pour into an ice shaker to blend and chill.  Strain into a well-chilled martini glass and garnish as desired.

I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as I do.  When you make them, please leave a comment and let me know how your family liked them!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Mars & Venus VS. Summer & Autumn

I always say that I never complain about the heat and humidity because I complain about the cold and snow.  I figure I only have the right to whine about one season’s extremes and I choose winter.  I really dislike winter.  Once the charm of the first snowfall has worn off (that takes about 30 minutes for me) and we have (or don’t have) a white Christmas, you can keep all that white fluffy stuff.  I detest winter sports even more than summer ones and we don’t exactly live in a ski lodge in Denver.  I have no use for snow and ice.  None.

I put a positive spin on even the muggiest August days by saying you don’t have to shovel humidity.  You can put your air conditioning on and sip cold lemonade (spiked or virgin) and feel completely comfortable.  As my husband Kevin says, at least it doesn’t HURT to go outdoors in the summer.  Sure, snow can be pretty… if you have the luxury of never having to shovel or never have to run to the store because you’re out of groceries.  If you don’t have to work and can essentially hibernate, sure, winter is just fantastic.

“Oh, I could NEVER leave Wisconsin  I’d miss the change of seasons!”  If I had a dollar for every nutbag I’ve heard that from I could easily retire and live in Hawaii which is ultimately our goal.  Yeah, I’d really miss salt stains on my black pants, frostbite, wind chill factors colder than Alaska, and having to warm up my car for 10 minutes before I can comfortably drive over ice-covered roads, risking my life for a loaf of bread at the store.  I’d HATE watching palm trees sway in balmy breezes, swimming in the ocean daily, and eating fish so fresh it was in that same ocean swimming with me an hour before it landed on my plate.  That sure would be torture.

Having said all of that, I truly love Autumn.  I love it as much as Kevin hates it.  He sees the end of summer as nothing more than “winter is here.”  I see the end of summer as cooler evenings that we can sleep with windows open.  I see vibrant colors of leaves, smell the crispness in the mornings over a cup of hot tea.  I find even more reasons to bake and our kitchen is usually filled with scents of cinnamon, allspice and cloves.  I welcome the opportunity to wear jeans again, and even a sweater.  I don’t have to worry about tan lines any more.  My hair returns to a somewhat manageable condition not battling humidity.  My nesting instincts are in full swing and there is such a feeling of accomplishment when I do my fall cleaning and annual “pantry purge and rearrange.”

Kevin says the only good thing about fall is college football.  He moans and groans each evening as the sun sets minutes earlier than the night before.  He grumbles about what our heating bills are going to be in the coming winter.  (Mind you he never complains about the increased cost associated with using air conditioning 24/7.)  That man will wear shorts and flip flops into October, some of the same days I am wearing jeans and a long-sleeved top.  Of course Kevin says I could sit on a stove and still be cold, so I do tend to dress “toastier” than he does.

On chilly fall evenings, Kevin will glance out the window and mumble, “Look at this…  a couple months ago we were outside grilling at this time, Kyla was running around in the grass and I was drinking a Tanqueray and tonic.”  I will look out that same window and say, “Look at those gorgeous leaves.  Tomorrow Kyla and I will rake them up and jump in them and we’ll come inside and drink hot cider.”

Part of the difference is just me and Kevin… he prefers warm weather and summer fun, I prefer fall.  I am the eternal optimist, he is my Eeyore.  But I do believe that in general, men favor the warm weather and women look forward to chilly days and cozy nights.  I think we’re hard-wired that way.  Men are happy when we’re in our little tank tops and short-shorts, and we can’t wait for the days we can wear leggings and over-sized sweaters.  They want to make man-food over an open flame, we want to braise meat in our cast-iron casserole dish.  They want to toss back a couple cold ones, we want to mull cider.  They want to cut grass, we want to carve pumpkins.  Every man/woman combo I talk to operates this way.  I don’t think we will ever change.  Which is why I think I could make millions with my own book:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Perfectly Pink Details - A Tea Party

I am not a professional party planner, baker, photographer, or writer.  (If you’ve read ANY of my blogs not only do you realize this, you understand why.)  But I would be remiss if I didn’t publish the recipes and photos from my tea party to celebrate the memory of Ava.

I wanted touches of pink everywhere for obvious reasons.  I learned of the annual tea party celebration too late to plan anything elaborate so I made things easy for myself.  I chose two strawberry desserts because both Little Misses like strawberries and it was natural for the pink theme. 

Once again, Glory from Glorious Treats provided an excellent recipe for cupcakes and frosting.  I followed her recipe exactly, but I made MINI cupcakes in 2-inch liners.  The recipe produced 48 minis AND four “regular” size cupcakes that served as take-home treats.  I baked the minis for 15 minutes and they were perfect.  I topped them with strawberry cream cheese frosting.  I used Smucker’s spreadable fruit rather than preserves because I wanted a totally seedless experience.  I found that 3 tablespoons of fruit provided the perfect amount of strawberry flavor but it did make the frosting slightly softer than the “pure” recipe.  Placed in the fridge for a few minutes, the frosting still piped perfectly however.  I did add some paste color for the pink tint and topped them with pink sparkle sugar.

The recipe for the strawberry tarts was literally stumbled upon through a search for another appetizer.  But I tucked it away in my “someday this sounds good” file.  I was right.  They were really tasty and incredibly easy to make.  I found the following hints will make an even better experience next time:

  • The berries get VERY juicy.  Cook at a higher temp or for a longer time so that the liquid reduces substantially.
  • Beat the cream cheese very well before adding the berry mixture.  Otherwise it takes a long time to incorporate and the cheese remains lumpy.
  • Since the shells are so small, trim the berry pieces to fill nicely in the bottom.  The quarters to TOP the shells can stay the full piece.
  • The cream cheese mix makes far more than what fills one box of shells.  It would easily fill two boxes to yield 30 tartlets.
  • These can’t be made too far in advance or the shells will get soggy.

I served Earl Grey tea with traditional accompaniments of cream, sugar, and lemon slices.  This was clearly not my most detailed soiree but it was simple to put together and relaxed, and that's what an afternoon tea should be.

Tea & Love

Yesterday I hosted a tea party for my best friend Michele, her six-year-old daughter Emma, and Michele’s mom Mary.  It was to honor the memory of little Ava.

In the morning while I was making cupcakes and strawberry tartlets, Kyla was beyond perfect.  Usually when I am cooking or baking and she knows “something” is going on that is out of the ordinary she is underfoot, needy or otherwise distracting.  Not yesterday.  She was angelic.  She sampled the strawberry cream cheese frosting for the cupcakes and responded with, “Mmmm, dish-ish Mommy!”  Yes, that would mean “delicious.”

I told her that Emma was coming for a tea party and she kept repeating, “Emma, tea party!” as if chanting that would make it happen faster.  She was happy to get dressed in her pink plaid shorts and t-shirt that says “I © Cupcakes.”  She also wore a new necklace Daddy bought her over the weekend at Irish Fest.  It was from our favorite jewelry vendor there that annually makes Mommy & Daughter smile and Daddy wince at the sales receipt. 

Emma & Kyla spent the afternoon playing and Michele, Mary and I chatted about everything under the sun.  It was a perfect time.  I always love having those ladies over but yesterday it was all about celebrating the love you have for your daughter(s) and cherishing them.  We toasted Ava’s memory and wished her happy birthday and silently counted our blessings.  I plan to make this an annual event for us.  It will be a lovely “just before back to school” tradition.  The three of us moms don’t need a reason to hug & kiss our daughters but a reminder about how precious and fragile life is, that’s something everyone needs occasionally.

Last night as Kyla was winding down and getting sleepy, she called in to the kitchen where I was tidying up:  “Mamma, snuggle…”  So I dropped what I was doing and went to the living room to lie down next to her.  I was rubbing her back and stroking her hair and I asked, “Am I snuggling OK?  Am I doing this right?”  A contented “yes” was her answer and that was all I needed, at that moment or ever.