Friday, December 28, 2012

Last minute knitting

Just when my hands thought they were done knitting until next winter, I decided that I wanted to knit a scarf for a friend's daughter. She's a really sweet 12 year old who happens to love purple and blue; I happened to have some purple and blue yarn on hand. I just love free projects. This yarn was different than any type I had ever used before. While the finished project is nice and pretty durable for a 12-year old, it was a little tricky to work with. No wonder it was left in the yarn box.

It was so easy: cast on, straight knit, and bind off.
I used 20 stitches across of each color.

The colors are a little more accurate in this photo.
On another note, I have some exciting news! My beau and I are leaving town tomorrow for a little while, to spend some time with friends in the mountains. I'm crossing my fingers for some awesome hiking or some snow. Or both. We'll be gone for close to two weeks, but I'm secretly hoping we just stay there. Can you tell I love the mountains?

I thought this was appropriate.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas! + Breakfast Casserole Recipe

We didn't have a white Christmas, but the weather was beautiful here at the beach. It was the perfect temperature and we even felt some sunshine. Our group exchanged presents in the late morning and enjoyed each other's company throughout the day, taking time to visit with extended family. Even though this year didn't quite feel as "Christmasey" as it should have, I feel so blessed to have those who mean the most to me, especially my beau and my parents. I have a ton to be thankful for. 

Kitty was especially thrilled with her loot from Santa!

As per usual, my mom was in charge of the dinner meal, so I took care of breakfast for everyone. I chose to make a hash brown breakfast casserole and a baked french toast casserole. Both were so easy to make (I actually prepped them Christmas Eve evening and cooked them this morning) and both were so delicious.

The baked french toast was actually a recipe from Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman. I won't go into any length about the particulars, but it was SO YUMMY! I will definitely use this recipe for future breakfasts and get-togethers. You can find her recipe here.

Pioneer Woman also takes prettier pictures of her creations!
The hash brown breakfast casserole was also pretty tasty. Cooking breakfast for everyone was much easier than preparing any Christmas dinner; the prep for this one took less than 15 minutes. Although I thought it tasted great as is, next time I might add some mushrooms or peppers.


1 lb. pre-cooked turkey sausage, crumbled
1/2 cup chopped onions
2 1/2 cups frozen hash browns
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
8 ounces shredded sharp cheddar
1 3/4 cups milk
1 cup baking mix (pancake mix is just fine)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

In a heated pan on medium-high heat, cook onion and hash browns with a few tablespoons of oil (I used extra virgin olive oil), until the hash browns are slightly browned.

Spoon the mixture into a lightly greased 13 x 9- inch baking dish (stoneware is always my favorite for these sorts of recipes).

Stir together the lightly beaten eggs, cheese, milk, baking mix, salt, and pepper. Pour evenly over the sausage/hash brown mixture. Cover and chill for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Bake covered with foil at 350* F for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 10-15 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes.

Optional toppings: sour cream, hot sauce, ketchup, salsa, parsley, etc.

My little Ikea trees decorated.

Before I started to pack away any decorations, I wanted to share a photo of my little trees. Though they aren't in an ideal location (ughhh, not having a place of my own), I decided to throw on some ornaments, even though I didn't plan to ever decorate them. They make my room looks much more festive and cheerful.

I hope you all had a magical Merry Christmas, spending your day with the people you love, eating the things you love, and doing the things you love.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Wrap presents... Check!

I finally finished wrapping all the Christmas presents! Although it is one of my favorite parts about Christmas (Seriously! If you have presents that need to be wrapped, call me.) I am glad to have that part checked off my to-do list. Now I have time to actually enjoy those last few days until Christmas and soak up the holiday cheer! I've been seeing so many cool ideas for decorating, baking, and gifting, and I might just have to give some of them a try. I've also been listening to a ton of Christmas music on Pandora; it really gets me in the spirit!

I took this photo of the x-mas corner yesterday after the wrapping was over. I bet you'll never guess what the huge present is... Merry Christmas to mom and dad! :) It was time to upgrade the TV; I hope they love it.

The kitty thought she could help too! Last night she must have thought these presents were a jungle gym because she drove me crazy playing on them and trying to attack the ribbon. Needless to say, Kitty got kicked out of my bedroom for the night...

On another note, my dad got creative and went DIY, hunter/gatherer style to be specific. He decided that he wanted to make a holiday wreath for either side of the front door. He literally gathered grapevine to make a grapevine wreath and attached pine tree branches, holly, berries, and more, all found in our yard. He finished the wreaths with store bought red bows that we've had in storage for years.

I never knew my dad was so creative!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

We finally have a road!

Our island has had limited access to the rest of the world since Hurricane Sandy in late October. Part of our highway was washed away, preventing vehicles from getting to the bridge off the island. Repairs had been attempted for quite some time, but the weather simply wouldn't cooperate. Nor'easters regressed any progress made and washed away an estimated 800-1000 truckloads of sand placed to help build up the road bed. An emergency ferry (about a 2 hour ride, each way) was opened for all vehicles to utilize and a 4x4 access sand route was opened as well for those who have four-wheel drive vehicles. It's been a rough couple of months of feeling trapped, so when the road finally opened yesterday evening, the entire island was full of joy! Merry Christmas to us!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Homemade Dog Biscuits

Every now and then I make my pups homemade dog biscuits in place of their normally store bought treats. It's much better for them, much more natural, and the recipes call for ingredients you can pronounce, unlike most of the store bought varieties! I feel like pets sometimes get left out with gift receiving around the holidays, so I wanted a little way to remind my doggies that I love 'em. These treats are very simple to make and only involved four ingredients, all of which were already in my pantry. I ended up making just over four dozen dog biscuits with this recipe, which allowed me to share the love with neighborhood dogs!
You will need 1 cup of rolled oats, 2 cups of whole wheat flour, 1/3 cup of peanut butter (you can use a natural peanut butter if you like, but this is what I had on hand), and 1 1/4 cups of hot water. Have some additional flour on hand for rolling out the dough.

First, preheat the oven to 350* F. Mix the dry ingredients together. Mix in the peanut butter and the hot water. Knead the dough well. Roll out the dough into 1/4" thickness and cut out into any shape you like. I used a dog-bone shaped cookie cutter, but you can use any cookie cutter or just use a knife to make random shapes.

Place the dog biscuits into a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake for 40 minutes. I found that the first batch were almost too well-done, so I cooked the following batches for about 30 minutes. Obviously, the thicker the biscuit, the longer time it will need to spend in the oven for a harder treat. If your dog prefers a more chewy treat instead of a crunchy treat, cook it for about 10-15 minutes. 
Remove the dog biscuits from the cookie sheet and let cool on a wire rack. The treats can be served right away if your dog can't resist the smell like my pups, but it is best if they sit for about 24 hours to firm up completely. 
Taste testers Milo and Indie approve!
Store these dog biscuits in an airtight container. They will keep about a week at room temperature, about three weeks in the refrigerator, and about 6 months in the freezer.

There are many things you can to do add some variety to this recipe. Try replacing the peanut butter with bananas, replacing the water with milk, or adding in some mint for fresh doggie breath! The possibilities are endless!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Completed Scarves and Christmas Cookies!

It took quite a few hours, but I am finally finished with both of the scarves. I'm really happy with how they turned out; no holes, gaps, or any other awful imperfections that graced my first couple scarves. I managed not to drop or add rows and it didn't take me a year to make! Overall, I would say that the purple one took about 4 hours and the green took about 3 hours. This could be an overestimation as I never knitted for more than a half-hour straight (ahhh, cramped fingers), but I am getting better at it :)
The purple scarf is one of the presents I will be giving to my boyfriend's mom for Christmas. It's a traditional scarf in length and design and it's the perfect width to keep her warm all winter long! I knitted the green one for myself. I don't know if you can tell, but it's a bit shorter than the purple one. The ends of the green scarf are stitched together so that I can loop it around my neck twice and still be able to wear it a bit "slouchy". These sort of scarves are very trendy right now. Check out this one below from Etsy. This is what it looks like around my neck.

On another note, my mom and I spent most of Saturday afternoon/evening and late Sunday morning making Christmas cookies. However, we don't just make one kind; we make tons and deliver them to friends and loved ones. This has been a tradition for as long as I can remember. This year we chose to make gingerbread, sugar cookies, peanut butter cookies, M&M cookies (made with chocolate chip cookie batter, minus the chocolate chips), coconut joy bars (think Mounds candy), Hershey's kiss cookies, and peppermint brownies. So many made-from-scratch goodies! We baked about 30 dozen goodies total and we ended up making special deliveries to 20 houses on Sunday evening. It was SO hard to bake all these desserts on a non-cheat day without eating a single one or even licking my fingers! My diet and eating schedule is hard, but it sure is paying off. (If you have no clue about what I'm talking about, I only allow myself to eat sugar/junk/fried food once a week, usually on Wednesdays. I've been doing this since late August.)
I love this tradition that my mom and I share and I hope that it is something I will continue to do throughout the years. Do you have any holiday traditions? If so, I want to hear about them!

Monday, December 17, 2012

The semester is officialy over...

I can truly say that I am so glad to finally have a break from classes, even if it's just for a few weeks. Although I only took 12 credit hours of classes, I was still a full time student with a very demanding schedule working part time as well. I had a ton of deadlines, lots of exams, and a few borderline OCD instructors. At times I wanted to scream, cry, and even give up, but I kept on and worked as hard as I could.

The hard work paid off...Dean's List!

My last and final semester starts mid-January and I am so excited! I'm really looking forward to the Nutrition Science class, as I hope it will help me with better understanding my dietary needs. The Literature for Children class looks pretty interesting as well. The rest are just required for my concentration, so I'm sure I will be learning a lot.

I have been taking classes all Fall, Spring, and Summer semesters since graduating high school, in 2009, so I could have manageable course loads. For those of you who don't know me in real life, I have taken the majority of my classes online. Being a Distance Education student was the right choice for me, as I have been allowed many opportunities that a traditional student wouldn't be afforded. I have been able to work several part-time jobs simultaneously, I chose to live at home to reduce my expenses, I have been able to build up my savings, and I will graduate without any debt! I tried a semester of being a traditional student and it wasn't for me; I just wasn't happy. Despite the criticism I have received, I wouldn't change anything about my path or decisions. Regardless, nearly four years later, I am really looking forward to May (aka Graduation!) and the next phase of my life.

    Go Pirates!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Easy Oreo Truffles

One of my favorite things about the holiday season is getting to bake goodies (both old favorites and new recipes) and getting to share them with others. Yesterday I made one of my newer favorites, Oreo Truffles, for my boyfriend to take to work and share with his co-workers. I discovered these a-maz-ing treats last year and after looking at several variations, I chose a super easy recipe. They don't require any baking and they only involve three ingredients! Although this is a relatively new recipe to me, it is quickly becoming a Christmastime favorite.
Here's what you will need: one regular package of cream cheese, a package of Oreo cookies (Regular or Double Stuf), and some sort of chocolate for dipping. Any kind of dipping chocolate would be ideal (almond bark, etc.), but because I'm trapped on an island I had to improvise; the chocolate chips turned out just fine.

The first step is to put the Oreo cookies in a food processor and chop them finely. No food processor? No problem; just place the cookies in a freezer bag and use a rolling pin, or smash em' with your hands.

When they are finely crushed like in the photo below, place them in a bowl (reserve about 1/4 cup for garnish, if you wish) and add a package of softened cream cheese. Combine the mixture until well incorporated; use your clean hands if you want to, I promise I won't tell!

Form small balls from the mixture (think 1 inch or so) and place on a cookie sheet. Pop em' in the freezer for about 15 minutes. This makes the dipping process much easier.

While the truffles are in the freezer, begin to melt the chocolate according to the directions on the package. You can use a double boiler, a bowl in the microwave, or a candy melter fondue pot like I used.
When the truffles are chilled, dip them in the chocolate and resist popping them into your mouth right away. Place them on a cookie sheet covered with wax paper and garnish with reserved crushed Oreo cookies, if desired. My dipping technique didn't yield the prettiest truffles, but they taste pretty awesome, or so my family says.

What are some of your favorite holiday treats? I want to hear about them!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Prayers for Newton, CT

I couldn't believe what I was seeing when watching the news yesterday afternoon. Just a few days after the tragic shooting in Oregon, a little town in Connecticut was faced with an even greater tragedy.
I am absolutely heartbroken for the families and friends of those who lost loved ones in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. I am especially sad for the parents who have lost their young children. Although I do not have kids of my own, I can only imagine that losing a child would be the worst feeling in the world. For these parents and families, the holidays are going to be very tough for many years to come. I can't even imagine the pain that these people are going through and I ask you to take a moment out of your day to say a little prayer for them. I also ask that you remember the lives that were lost and not the name or face of the man who took those lives.
We live in such an awful time where an individual can enter a school, movie theater, mall, church, etc. and take the lives of innocent victims. These types of tragedies have been taking place far too often. It is not right for children to feel unsafe at school or shoppers to feel unsafe in a mall. Something must be done and it needs to take place before we turn to the headlines to learn of another similar tragedy.

Friday, December 14, 2012

DIY Mason Jar Snow Globes

There really couldn't be an easier DIY project for the holidays than mason jar snow globes. I originally saw these on Anthropologie for much more than I was willing to pay, so I purchased the supplies at 75% off  at the end of the season last year so I could make my own version.

To make your own, you will need a mason jar with a lid and ring, some sort of fake snow or glitter, a hot glue gun (or regular glue), and something to glue onto your lid. I wanted to use bottle brush trees, but any sort of figurine would look neat. I would recommend checking out thrift stores or dollar stores to see what kind of small Christmas trees or figurines are available. Thrift stores are also a great place to find mason jars.

You might also want to have some white paint on hand to paint the bottom of the lid, as the red sealing part will be somewhat visible. I used Epoxy, as I felt it might hold up better, but any white paint would do. If you're going to be using a hot glue gun, go ahead and get it set up so that the glue can heat up while the paint is drying.

Next, pour in some fake snow or glitter. Use as little or as much as you would like; you can always dump some out or add more later.

With the hot glue gun, glue the tree or figurine onto the lid. Make sure that there is plenty of room around it so that the snow/glitter can move freely when you shake the snow globe.

Next, put the lid on the jar, screw on the ring, and flip it over. You now have pretty snow globes that didn't cost you $40! You could also add some festive ribbon or some natural looking jute or hemp to cover the ring. The possibilities are endless!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

IKEA is practically heaven.

Last weekend I was finally able to get off the island and venture to the "real world." With a section of our highway still damaged from Hurricane Sandy, my mother and I had to take a 2 hour ferry to the mainland. This was our first trip off the island since Sandy. It certainly was not a fun way to start our trip, but I am thankful that I don't have to leave more often for doctor's appointments or things of that nature. Our destination was Maryland (to visit Grandma) and of course, I had to make a stop at IKEA on the way.

It was a glorious feeling to see this sight after months of not being able to go anywhere except gas stations, the gym, and Food Lion. It was almost a magical feeling :)

I had been eyeing their website for about a week and made a list of all the beautiful holiday decorations I wanted to check out. Unfortunately, the selection was very picked over and I only ended up with a few items. However, I ultimately ended up with the things I wanted most: two artificial potted trees. I've never been a fan of artificial plants, but these look so real that it's ridiculous!

I circled the whole store searching for these babies and was first unsuccessful. After checking-out I walked by the food area and saw one of the potted trees in a display. I immediately ran to an employee and asked her if I could buy it. After a few phone calls she said yes and I raced to grab a flower pot for it. While my mom guarded the tree, a woman approached her and said she had seen another one in a discarded cart somewhere in the store. She passed it up because she wanted two. I bought the last two trees in the entire store just as the store was closing; I was a happy girl.

The plant pots are about the same size as the black pot that the tree is in. They look great with the trees. I don't exactly have anywhere to put them (since I don't have a place of my own), but I knew this was a purchase I wouldn't regret. Buying decorations really gets me in the holiday spirit! Do you decorate your home for the holidays? If so, what are your favorite new additions?

Monday, December 10, 2012

I'm Knitting Again...

I recently started knitting again (recently as in last weekend) when I decided I wanted a new scarf. I also thought I'd knit a scarf for my boyfriend's mother for one of her Christmas gifts. This may seem like no big deal to most people out there, but the last scarf I knitted took over a year and a half for me to finally complete. I was kind of nervous knowing that there are less than two weeks until Christmas, but I'm actually making really good progress!
My scarf is green and the other one is purple. I'll post an update in about a week or so...


 Have you tried knitting? Any cool techniques you might want to pass on to a beginner? ;)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Getting back into a routine...

My newest "thing" when it comes to exercise is high intensity circuit training and crossfit style workouts. I've been taking some classes that feature these workouts and I have learned about BodyRock TV, which also features these kinds of intense workouts.

I've been at it for the last two months and I can already see results. While I've been slacking in the exercise department a little since Turkey Day, I'm trying to get back into a routine and the videos by BodyRock TV are really inspiring me.

Especially this one... Check it out and get moving!