{Holiday} 9ft Christmas Tree? Yes, please!

Hi ya folks! Hope you had a fabulous Thanksgiving! I've had all these crazy plans in my head to do posts on new recipes I'm working on, Christmas decor at our house, a fabric giveaway I have in store, plus new curtains going up in my kitchen. The problem is that all of these things are currently in progress, meaning that none of them are finished and my house looks like a holiday garland threw up in the living room and a paper demon stormed through my office. (Yeah, I've had to stay busy with this little thing called work, too. There's never enough hours in the day, are there?)

But we did manage to take some time off to enjoy the holiday and snap a few photos before stuffing our faces with all manner of delicious fare...


...which included my red velvet cake, peach whisky barbecue pheasant (that the husband shot on his last hunting trip) and garlic mashed potatoes—all just a minor part of the dinner we attended with close friends.


Anyway, I thought I'd at least give you a preview of the whopping nine-foot tree the husband and I purchased recently and hauled home to excitedly set up. It, at long last, replaces the much much much smaller tree we'd had for the past seven years that came from Walmart. Needless to say, I was thrilled.


It took the husband a good while to actually get the thing setup. It was heavier, bigger and wider than anything we were used to! In fact, it ended up requiring some furniture rearranging so we could fit it in a corner between the china hutch and the entrance to our kitchen from the living room. Thankfully, it looks like that's where it always belonged. Whew.


Afterward, we took a break to cook up our own feast of honey-glazed ham, broccoli cheese rice casserole, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and stuffing. Every year, the husband and I stay at home and relax during Thanksgiving and cook tons of food just for us! It's so nice to actually enjoy the holiday, and save our time and energy for running around with family during Christmas instead. This particular meal we busted out the Spode Woodlands china my mother-in-law so graciously gifted us one year. (It's also perfect for our style, which, if you've noticed, is pretty country.)


Well, I've decided to call it a day for work so I'm off to taste test the chicken enchilada soup I've had in the slow cooker all day—will share the recipe soon if it comes out tasty! Then hopefully I can finish decoratin' and cleanin' up my place so I can share some more photos of our Christmas stuff. Oh, and our trip to Italy might be back on so fingers crossed we get to make it overseas before the New Year!!

{Fashion} Boots & Fur!

It is fifty-one degrees outside right now in Houston, Texas... and it's only 2:30 in the afternoon. Cold weather is definitely upon us today. (Though we're rumored to be back in the high 70s mid-week. Of course. Texas weather changes every 15 minutes, don't ya know?)

But cold weather means boots and vests! I love vests. Especially ones that have (faux) fur. So I was thrilled with one of my most recent purchases, a chic black vest with gold zipper and button detailing, for just $20 from Stein Mart. (I used a coupon on top of a sale. It normally retails for about $70.)

As soon as my chilly little toes got out of bed this morning and I frantically pulled on some sweats and socks just to get around the house—we'd had our windows wide open all night, assuming it wouldn't get that cold—I knew I'd get to throw on some of my cozy duds. 

Here's what I wore for church and dinner with friends today:



Faux fur vest and Jessica Simpson bag from Stein Mart; gold earrings and long sleeve white tee from a store in Scotland; jeans from Seven; boots from Kohl's; Ray-Ban aviators from a boutique in Spain.


I even got the husband to pose for a pic with me, but I think he's looking a little chilly. ;)

Hope you've had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I'll be sharing my personalized recipe for green bean casserole this week, along with some snap shots of our Turkey Day together.

{Home Decor} Thanksgiving Centerpiece Inspirations

My husband and I won't be traveling for Thanksgiving this year, one of the things for which I am grateful. A few years ago, we opted to stay at home on Thanksgiving and then travel home to see everyone during an extended stay at Christmas. This way, we weren't stressed about rationing out vacation days, packing up all the pets or making the intensely busy trip twice in a row. It worked like a charm. We treasure our time at home together—eating a feast worthy for 10 with all the trimmings, despite the fact that it's usually just us two—and feel so relaxed during Thanksgiving and enjoy putting up our Christmas decorations and reliving all the memories that emerge along with our tree ornaments.

This year, we'll be eating the main dinner with close friends of ours then returning to our house to decorate, watch movies, eat more food and relax. Even though all of my fall is put away and we'll be assembling our new nine-foot tree (so excited!), I wanted to come up with a pretty fall centerpiece for when the two of us sit down to enjoy our own meal together.

Here's some pretty photos to leave you with, I especially love the arrangements with the colorful cranberries. Dried beans, corn and split peas are easy and affordable to come by, and my favorite centerpiece—albeit a bit more involved—is the photo at the end. Gorgeous! You can find credits and links to each of these on my Pinterest. (Yep, I finally joined and it's taking me awhile to get going. So many photos, so little time!)





Happy Turkey Day to you and yours!

{My Recipes} Pumpkin Mac & Cheese

With Thanksgiving just days away, pumpkin-laden recipes are at their all-time peak right now. And pumpkin mac & cheese should be no exception, as I've discovered a quick and tasty way to whip it up at home. It is, however, one of the few things I don't have a photo of—and I've made it three times lately! So I borrowed an image I found online that looks pretty similar to my end results.

This photo comes from Blissfully Delicious' rendition of their pumpkin mac & cheese

My own recipe is so easy, I simply leave you with a printable recipe card. 

Enjoy!



{Fashion} Seeing Spots (& Stripes!)

For the past week, my sweet little momma has been staying with me. The husband was away hunting for awhile, so she and I have had a blast cooking, shopping, crafting and watching tons of movies. We both love watching a good flick! My mom has also shared a couple blog posts during the week (here and here), and from the sound of it, I'd say she's having a good time, too.

There was one speed bump in my happy-go-lucky week, though. The husband and I found out our trip to Italy, slated to begin at Thanksgiving, has been post-poned indefinitely. We were going for his job and getting a few extra days due to the holiday to browse around one of our favorite countries, but things aren't quite ready so for now we'll be stickin' around home. I'm pretty bummed, to say the least, and am hoping the trip pulls through later. I'd ordered a couple things, like some scarves and sweaters, to take with me and pulled out all my boots for packing! It's been in the 80s during the daytime here in Houston, Texas, leaving few chances for cold-weather gear. Recently, though, it's gotten into the 60s for a short spell—which I figured was a good excuse to wear my Italy-destined apparel for now.




Goofy poses aside—that "cold" weather must've gotten to me—I'm loving my new leopard-print infinity scarf from Express. The striped shirt was an $8 sale order from Express as well, the skinny jeans are Charlotte Russe and the boots are vintage. 

Mom and I got mani/pedi's this week, too, and my bright turquoise-ish blue reminds me of peacocks... in a happy way!


We've had a great time palling around and I'm so glad my mom's flexible enough to come down and stay for a week at a time, and I'm grateful my home office allows me to enjoy that! Today, I'm busy getting ready for my second-ever craft show, which will take place in Pearland tomorrow. Do you live in the area? Come look for my Texas Take booth at Billy's Hall and say hello! Mom and I will both be there...


Isn't she cute!? :)


Happy Friday!

{Weekend Recap} Two of a Feather

While my husband is off pheasant hunting for awhile, my mom was sweet enough to drive all the way to my house (a four-hour trek from her place!) and keep me company. I've been looking forward to it for weeks!! We enjoy many of the same things—watching movies, shopping, getting pedicures, cooking, drinking wine and being creative. Birds of a feather, so to speak. (Wonder where I got it all from!?)

Needless to say, the weekend has already been a good one. We got up this morning and took our time getting ready, eating breakfast—mom brought homemade pumpkin spice muffins, yummmm—playing with the dogs and pausing for a few photos before we headed out the door. Despite the high 70s temps we had today, I still managed to pull on my boots. Fall in Texas doesn't allow for much cold weather, so I do what I can!


Isn't my momma cute?


We went to Stein Mart since they were having a super sale with tons of coupons. Recently, I'd done quite a bit of shopping at Old Navy, Target and Express, so I was just looking for a few good sale items for fun. Stein Mart is NOT a place I used to frequent. I thought it was mostly a store for older women and never dreamed they'd have anything I'd like in there. One day, though, I happened to walk into one because a friend mentioned they had lots of turquoise jewelry. That turned out to be true, and they also had Steve Madden shoes, Jessica Simpson and Michael Kors handbags, bling watches, Seven jeans, super cute home wares and more! Plus they always give such great coupons via email and online, and I'm always one for a deal!! I picked up a new outfit there today that'll be great with leggings and boots for an easy, breezy winter getup.

Long tunic top, $14
Shearling vest, $20
Both purchased on sale + coupon

Not bad, huh?

I also found a surprise find at Lowe's recently, when I dropped by for some supplies. I picked up painter's canvas drop cloths, which I'll be using for curtains in our dining nook in the kitchen—photos to come on that next week!—and some super soft faux fur pillow covers. As it happened, I had two 18-inch down pillow inserts from my mother-in-law and they fit perfectly in the new covers. For now, they're on the bed in our master along with a matching faux fur throw that was also a gift from my mother-in-law.


I realized you can see my hand prints on the lighter pillow on the left from when I fluffed it up after stuffing it, ha.


Mom and I stopped off for lunch at La Madeleine...


...then hit up craft stores like Hobby Lobby and Garden Ridge (pictured below) to scout the Christmas decor and trees. I'll be purchasing a new one for our home at the end of next week, just need to decide between two I've found that I love!


After shopping, we came home and walked two of my dogs (the third is hunting with the husband) and then put on movies while I worked on dinner. I couldn't wait for mom to try the peach whisky BBQ chicken I've been fascinated with, which I made with garlic mashed potatoes and green bean casserole. We also had homemade rolls sent by way of my step-dad. Think I ate my weight in food!


Now I've got a sleeping puppy in my lap, and I'm about to begin working on my Christmas cards. Yes, I know it's early!!! I've actually finished pretty much all our holiday gift shopping for the year, something I'm quite proud of. I started working on it early so I could find presents that were just right for their intended receivers, as well as not be stressed out at the end of the year trying to cram it all in during one week. The added benefit is having the time to wait for sales and coupons to use as well, making it all even more budget-friendly.

I think my mom and I might be pulling out all my holiday decorations in a couple days, too. While it's a little bit earlier than I normally deck our halls, the husband and I will be spending Thanksgiving in Italy!!!! We are going for his work and arriving several days beforehand, over the holiday, to enjoy some travel and leisure time. It was one of our favorite places while living abroad and you can read about our excursions in Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan. For this visit, we'll be staying near the latter and are contemplating visits to nearby Verona and somewhere coastal around Cinque Terre. I cannot WAIT!!!

It'll be December when we return and I'd love to come back to my house all decorated for the holiday. Not to mention we'll be hosting a big Christmas party just five days later, so it's one less thing I'll have on my to-do list. I am so excited for Christmas this year, and now Italy—it's going to be a season to remember.

Hope you've had a nice weekend and take time to enjoy all the little things!

The Difficult Days

Some days are just so much more difficult than others. There's often no rhyme or reason to it, they just simply are. The hard part is digesting those unwelcome moments, the unexpected tragedy or the delivering of bad news. Today has been one of the difficult ones—this morning I had a very stressful personal experience and as soon as I returned home and was feeling better, I received a call from my best friend telling me her brother had passed away. It pains me even more to hear the anguish and sorrow in her voice and through her tears. I wish more than anything I was able to take that away.

And despite the morning I've had, there's still work to do. Deadlines are looming for several stories I'm working on and life must continue. Isn't that always the case, though? Fortunately, the human spirit is often so strong and persistent that we are able to find the willpower to continue on with whatever lies before us... whether it's a work-filled afternoon or a trip home to be with grieving family. In spite of the difficult days, I am grateful for all the good ones we get to experience. While my prayers are with my friend and her family, I decided to take advantage of the sun outside and office on my front patio. Sometimes you just have to find the tiniest bit of silver lining.



Hope you and yours are safe and sound. Happy weekend.

{Recipe Challenge} Caramel Pumpkin Pudding Cupcakes

I know I haven't been able to share many posts lately—life and work have truly gotten in the way this time, don't these people know I have a blog to maintain? Sheesh.

But you won't be annoyed with me after you read this recipe I'm about to share. If you haven't yet discovered it, caramel pumpkin pudding cupcakes change your life. I think of them very similarly to the slight addiction I have to Starbuck's salty caramel mocha frappuccino. (Which I always get in the light version and sans whipped cream because then it's not a sinful indulgence. Or at least that's what I tell myself when rolling through the coffee shop's drive-thru since my caramel eatin' self is too lazy to get out the car. Hmmm...)


Anyway, my brother-in-law's girlfriend brought these bad boys to dinner the other night. Thanks to some smart ingredient planning, they weigh in at about 108 calories apiece and two grams of fat. However, after stuffing my face femininely eating a small portion of the chicken and beef fajitas I made—along with Spanish rice, a vat of guacamole, white cheese queso and stuffed jalapeno peppers—I still managed to make room for not one, not two but three of them. In retrospect, perhaps I should lay off the caramel. And frappuccinos. And fajitas. And queso.

While I decide what diet I'm probably not going to adhere to (hello spin class tomorrow morning?), please enjoy these mouthwatering photos and a delectable recipe, which I've kindly typed up on a printable recipe card just for YOU!




Don't say I didn't ever give ya anything. 
;)

{Daily Pics} 'Tis the Season!

Cozy sweats,
holiday shopping,
decoration stockpiling 
and cocktails with friends.
These are just a few of my favorite things!





From top to bottom:

1. Recent holiday purchases from Hobby Lobby. I don't care that it's early—I'm ready to start decorating!!

2. How I spent my workday today... in my PJs and house shoes cranking away on stories (and a blog post) at my computer. Some days you just can't beat that!

3. Myself (on left) and my pal, Lisa (on the right), at her Junior League's Holiday Market preview party.

4. Purchases from said market, including a Texas watch I had to have. It has the major cities marked on there and it has bling!

Have you started gearing up for the holidays yet?

{My Recipes} Guinness Stew

There's something about cooler weather that brings out the "stew" in us. Cozy dinner-time thoughts evoke longings for hearty, warming meals like thick soups and chunky stews with cooked-for-hours flavor and filling ingredients. While living in Scotland, where the very long winter months hovered in the 30 and 40-degree temperatures or colder (with loads of snow and ice on the ground), I found myself making Guinness Stew quite frequently. It started off as a curious inquisition into creating stews that called for beer. I don't like drinking Guinness, but I can certainly appreciate it's thick consistency and aromatic qualities. 


After perusing various recipes I discovered on the Internet, I set about making my own interpretation based on the ingredients I favored and the combinations I figured would best suit our eating habits. (For instance, the first time I made this, I used parsnips—carrot's white cousin. They are bitter and gross! Since then, I have opted out of the called-upon turnips or parsnips that many of the Scottish recipes hailed as quite necessary for a successful stew. Blech.)

I've also learned that many of my dear readers have actually embarked upon the act of recreating my recipes, of which I could not be more flattered. So to make your efforts easier, I've planned to create a click-and-print recipe card for each recipe I post. That way you can get all the ingredients and directions in one fell swoop and whisk it away to your kitchen for happier cooking. ;)

That said, here's your recipe card for my Guinness Stew (just click "show original" in the photo viewer to enlarge and print):



And here are photos and a few extra tidbits I've learned along the way:

When prepping all your ingredients, it helps immensely if you chop your vegetables beforehand so that you need simply throw them in the pot at the opportune moment. Trust me, I've charred my share of beef while trying to dice that last carrot and it ain't tasty!


Stir the beef often while it browns in the pot. A few swirls of EVOO should do you when you're heating the pot over medium-high, then sling in the beef, unsticking any wayward chunks from the sides of the pan.


Once browned, remove the beef (and the subsidiary juices) to a large plate or bowl. Don't discard the juice, it's full of flavor!


Chop up your bacon once you've prepped the veggies. It's totally fine to add a few more pieces if you want a heartier, meatier stew. I get regular ol' bacon, occasionally low-sodium if I've inhaled enough sea salt for the week already. (Love that stuff, put it on everything.) Again, stir this frequently to ensure it browns and crisps evenly.



Some recipes called for whole potatoes, some called for new potatoes, I call for any potatoes. I tend to buy a 1.5 pound bag of the baby golds since the husband loves them taters. I wash them off real good in a colander than chop them into fourths for easy cooking and easier eating.


When it comes time to add the celery, carrots, onion and spices, be sure to throw in those bay leaves too. Dried ones cook and flavor just fine, so don't bust your rump searching for fresh ones in the store if you can't find them. (Dried bay leaves can be found on the cheap in the spice aisle.) Also, sometimes I'm in the mood for a little less onion, so I only used one in this batch of stew.


Bottled Guinness seems to have the best flavor when my husband drinks it, so I tend to buy that when I make the stew. Pour in the whole thing once you've added your potatoes, cooked meat and beef stock to the mix, then let the pot come to a boil. You should have a hearty, heapin' helping of stew going by this point!



The stew bakes in the oven for one glorious hour, allowing those flavors to merge and perfect. Once it's done, you'll make the roux to thicken the stew, as called for in the directions. It'll form a thick, ugly brown mixture with some lumps... just keep whisking it in the pan gently until they're mostly gone. Then you'll dump all the roux into the stew and stir until it's mixed in. It does justice, giving the broth a bit more consistency.


For my bread, I usually slice a couple pieces off a French loaf, spray it with olive oil spray and sprinkle with powdered garlic, ground sea salt and pepper, dried Italian seasonings and shredded mozzarella cheese. I toast it for a couple minutes then pile them onto a plate for the perfect addition to the Guinness stew! (Not pictured here, but it's good. I swear.)


Now get to eating and enjoy, y'all!

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