Holiday Lights: Happy Start to the Holiday Season!

My parents were scheduled to show up on the day after Thanksgiving, a well calculated move by my dad to ensure two full Thanksgiving meals; one in Maine and one at our little beehive. Since technically the rest of the United States starts the Christmas season on the day after Thanksgiving, and I wasn't cooking our bird 'til Saturday and had a free day on my hands, I decided to decorate the house for Christmas on Thanksgiving.

Digging through our two big decorations boxes was like, well, like Christmas. I love this time of year. I took the fancy nutcrackers from Germany from S's office area and displayed them in the living room. I pulled out our small trees, one faux tree style and one made from birch bark chips. I put our birch bark moose on the mantle flanked by two trays of frosted votive holders saved from our wedding.
And then I put out my absolute favorite holiday decorations: candles in each of the windows. I had a huge supply of electric candles from a house I lived in during college that had a lot of windows, but we had to do a Black Friday Home Depot run for two more candles, some replacement bulbs and a bunch of extension cords. The Depot was hopping at 9:30 in the morning, but surprisingly calm for Black Friday.

When we got home from a long walk with Feeney through the neighborhoods this afternoon I finished putting lights in all our windows, including all eight sun room windows. Then my mom and I took a kitchen stool, the portable tripod and my camera outside and captured the festive look just after sunset.
We're so proud of how nicely our hard work is paying off. And we're really excited to be enjoying the holiday season this year fully settled in our house, without paintbrushes in our hands. Happy official start to the holiday season!

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BIG Exterior Changes!

While everyone else was inside roasting their birds, S and I were hard at work making the final preparations for my parents' post-Thanksgiving visit. We've been away for several weekends, which means no power-cleaning-Saturdays so the dust was thick and floors were dirty. As I dusted, vacuumed, washed floors, bathrooms and sheets S was outside putting the finishing touches on our outdoor improvements projects: we swapped our blue shutters for black. Combined with the doors I painted black last week and we're completely changed the look of our little beehive. Ta-da!
And since we've been here for just two weeks shy of a year, here's what it looked like the day we closed:
Too bad we don't have a photo that shows the entire yard with the old shed too for the full effect. It was a cute house when we bought it, but holy cow have we made changes this year. Check out the "Tour the Beehive" tab above to check out some of our many renovations.

Now I'm off to brine our turkey and prepare the fixings for tomorrow's Thanksgiving #2!

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Turkey Pot Pie

I have a feeling you're going to have leftover turkey tomorrow. We won't have any until we host Thanksgiving #2 when my parents are here on Saturday. So while we're cooking our 22 pound bird, you can whip up your sixth meal of turkey, one of our favorites: turkey pot pie.
If you're one of the lucky ones who celebrated Thanksgiving with food from someone else's kitchen, on dishes that someone else washed, then this recipe makes a wonderful chicken pot pie made with cooked boneless chicken breast.

Turkey Pot Pie

for the filling:
2 T. butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large stalks celery, chopped\
1 cup carrots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c. flour
1 box (4 cups) chicken broth
2 t. sugar
1 t. dried basil
1 t. ground black pepper
1/2 t. salt, to taste
1 1/2 cups frozen peas (or Thanksgiving leftovers)
1 1/2 cups frozen corn (or Thanksgiving leftovers)
4 cups cooked white meat turkey, shredded or chopped into small bite-sized pieces
1/4 t. turmeric, optional
any other leftover chop-able or bite sized vegetables (green beans, pearl onions, etc.)

for the biscuit topping:
2 cups Bisquick low-fat baking mix
1 t. dried basil
2/3 c. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray the inside of a deep casserole dish with non-stick spray.
1. In a large saucepan, melt butter and saute onion, garlic, carrots and celery until carrots and celery are just soft.
2. Sprinkle onion mixture with flour, stirring continuously for a minute. Slowly add stock, stirring to fully incorporate flour.
3. Add spices and cook on medium heat, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens.
4. Add frozen (or leftover) vegetables and turkey, return to a boil. Adjust seasoning to taste. We love turmeric, especially with dishes with corn, it gives the dish a rich flavor that you wouldn't normally associate with a pot pie. However, if you're in the mood for more tradition this week, then feel free to omit it and up the basil and salt, just make sure to add slowly.
5. Pour filling into baking dish and set aside.
6. Prepare biscuit topping: mix Bisquick mix and basil with a fork until blended. Add milk and stir until just moist.
7. Drop biscuit mixture by heaping tablespoonfuls evenly over the top of the filling.
8. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes until topping is just golden brown.

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New Lawn Success!

It's been a bit more than a month since we buried our yard in compost. And apparently the whole experiment has been successful because we now have a green lawn with no weeds:
The grass didn't germinate 100 percent before it started to get cold at night, but it's pretty thick in most spots and we're hopeful that we'll see more growth in the spring. The ground is still really soft so we're trying not to walk on it too much. However, we recently graduated to playing ball with Feeney in the back and his bounding slides when he tackles the ball don't seem to be pulling up too much grass.

We're marking this down as a successful project! To recap, we aerated, raked up the roots of as much weed on the slopes of our yard as possible, seeded heavily, spread several inches of composted leaf mulch until there was no visible lawn left, seeded heavily again, raked, seeded more. In the spring we may treat with a weed killer, even though we really try not to use any chemicals in the yard. We'll test the soil and spread more lime if necessary and add a natural fertilizer.

Now we're just wondering how much time we have until our new lawn is buried in feet of snow.

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Homegoods Surprise

This might be the best day ever. Just as I shut down my computer for the 1/2 day I took today the mail was delivered. This was in our mailbox:

Yes, it's sideways, but that's a $25 gift card to Homegoods! Sent from Homegoods as part of a marketing promotion. I LOVE HOMEGOODS!! I'm heading over there right now :)

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Mint Chocolate Brownie Cookies

I started playing holiday music last week. I know it's early and I did try to wait until Thanksgiving, the official start of the holiday season, but I took a half-day on Thursday and when I was out shopping I bought the Glee Christmas album and well, it's been all downhill since then. It turns out that I'm not the only one singing jingle bells early this year because both the local and sirius radio stations are playing all-holiday all the time.

Given that I'm getting into the festivities early this year I thought it was time to pick up one of my favorite holiday-season-only treats: Andes mint baking chips. I can eat these things by the handful, if I ignore the nutrition label on the back. My favorite way to eat them is in a chocolate cookie. Mmmm, by far my favorite holiday cookie.

When I came across a brownie cookie over at Annie's Eats I knew my old chocolate stand-by was getting replaced. These things are totally addictive and are going to be in every box of cookies we give away this year, if they even make it off the cooling rack....

If you had an incident in your youth when you ate a tube of toothpaste and now you're not a fan of mint, then just substitute your favorite chocolate chip for the Andes baking chips. If you really love mint, then try adding 1/2 - 1 teaspoon of mint extract to the mix.

Mint Chocolate Brownie Cookies

4 T. butter
466 g. dark chocolate, chopped (or about 2 2/3 cups of dark chocolate chips)
4 eggs
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 t. baking powder
pinch of salt
1 bag Andes Mint baking chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
1. In a medium saucepan melt the butter and dark chocolate. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar. Let cool  (until cool enough so that the eggs won't cook as you add them!)
2. Add vanilla and eggs, mixing well after each addition
3. Add flour, powder and salt, mixing until combined.
4. When mixture is completely cool, mix in the Andes Mint baking chips.
5. Drop by tablespoonful onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat.
6. Bake for 8-12 minutes until the edges are set and the cookies start to loose their sheen. Cool completely on the parchment paper/silpat.

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Driftwood at the Bay

We're at the Bay house today raking leaves and cleaning up for winter. Feeney is hunting for animals in the rocks by the water and we're hunting for driftwood. S found this big piece that I think will look great at the beehive in some kind of summer display:

Off to fill more bags with leaves!

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Weatherstripping Really, Really, Really Old Doors

We're pretty sure that our entry doors are original to our 1941 house. We're also pretty sure that the paint-encrusted weatherstripping is original too. And totally ineffective.

Last winter we interviewed several replacement window companies before deciding to keep our current windows (for now, I'd love to replace them with Jeld-Wen windows ourselves). One of the guys who came out to give us a quote brought along a little heat loss indicator tool, which to his detriment indicated that our windows with their storms were doing a great job, but showed that our doors were falling short in the energy efficiency department. Of course I wanted to go right out and buy shiny new doors, but S refused since we've nearly maxed out this year's energy credit with the sun room project. I still want a door with window down the entire length to replace our kitchen door, but I haven't won that battle yet.

Since we've decided to keep our entry doors for now, we took on a few projects to improve their appeal and efficiency. First up was installing weatherstripping around the doors and the storms to seal out as much cold air as possible.

We started by scraping off the old weather stripping, which was nailed into the door frame every two inches. It made a crumbly mess, saved only by the paint that we discovered was holding the stuff together.
 See, a crumbly mess:
Which was no match for our new wet/dry Shop-Vac that my mom gave to S for his birthday. This thing sucks. Really well. We love it. Plus it's short, fat, cute and red, what's not to love?
Once we had all the old gunk off the next step was to measure and install the new weatherstripping. We chose black for reasons that will make sense later.

Install the weatherstripping with the door closed.

I cannot stress this enough. Door CLOSED. Then, test to make sure you can open and close the door after screwing in every 2-3 screws. Trust us, you'll save yourselves hours of work. And if you happen to discover that you door doesn't close easily, or that your can't turn the key on the double-keyed entry (keys required on both sides so someone can't break the window and just flip the lock open) thereby creating the very scary risk that you won't be able to quickly get out of the house in a fire, you'll only have a few screws to loosen to find the offender.
Trust me, door closed, few screws at a time. Door one took twice as long as the other three combined.
But in the end we have four weather-tight-as-they'll-ever-be doors, and locks that we're still able to open quickly in the event of an emergency.

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White Chicken Chili with Cornbread

We were discussing corn bread the other night and S asked why I never make chili for dinner. I hate any kind of cooked tomato, so chili is usually out of the question. Then yesterday a friend emailed to tell me that her assistant brought her the most amazing chili for lunch. I took that as a sign that I needed to make cornbread and the chili to go with it.

In an attempt to please the meaty-chili lover and the tomato hater in our little beehive I settled on a white chili. I used chickpeas instead of cannellini or great northern beans. They worked just fine and I liked their firm texture. Next time I'll try with cannellini, but in the past I've preferred the chickpea substitute so I leave it up to you to decide which bean to use.

This recipe is incredibly simple and fairly quick. By the time it's finished cooking you'll be pulling a fresh batch of cornbread from the oven. The corn bread recipe below is not the one pictured, it's remarkably similar, but has enough leavening to make a much fluffier bread.

White Chicken Chili with Cornbread
serves 4-6

for the chili
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into small cubes
1 onion, chopped
1 1/2 t. garlic powder
1 T. olive oil
2 cans Great Northern or Cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (15.5 oz)
1 can chicken broth
2 small cans diced green chilies (4 oz.)
1 t. salt
1 t. cumin
1 t. dried oregano
1/2 t. pepper
1/4 - 1/2 t. cayenne pepper
1 cup fat free sour cream
1/2 cup milk

1. In a large dutch oven or saucepan saute the chicken, onions and garlic powder in oil until the chicken is just cooked through
2. Add the beans, broth, spices and chilies and bring to a boil
3. Reduce to a simmer and let cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes
4. Remove from heat and add sour cream and milk, stir to combine

Serve sprinkled with cheddar cheese and a side of warm corn bread.

Corn Bread
serves 8

1 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. stone ground cornmeal
1/2 c. sugar
1 t. salt
3 1/2 t. baking powder
1 egg
1 c. milk
1/3 c. butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
2. In a medium bowl, combine dry ingredients
3. Add milk, egg and butter and mix until well incorporated, do not over mix
4. Bake in a 8" round cake pan for 25 minutes, until golden and done in the middle

Cut into 8 wedges and Serve warm.

chili recipe adapted from Annie's Eats

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Building a Fence Over Chain Link Remains

Last week you may have noticed a fence in one of the photos just next to our air conditioner. It's the same style of fence that encloses our side yards, but it wasn't part of our big fence project. However, it was made with the same materials. When the guys working on the fence left for the day we asked them to leave behind the leftover materials. After a few quick measurements and a lot of stacking and re-stacking to count just how much material was left behind, we realized we had enough 4' long fence pieces to replace the chain link fence surrounding our basement entrance.

The only problem with our plan was that all but one of the metal posts for the chain link fence were cemented into the ground and then paved over in a few places. If we removed the posts, we risked damaging the walls of the basement entry. So our solution was to use the metal posts for a wooden fence by building a wood facade around each of the posts.
From there we were able to attach top and bottom rails and a header, just like the fence surrounding the yard.
With the rails in place, we just used the nail gun to attach the leftover 4' fence pieces along the entire length of fence.
Disregarding the dirty mess in the photo below and you have the new basement surround, which is the view from the dining room window. Not too shabby when compared to rusted chain link.
The new fence blocks the view of our trash cans from the dining room, but since we live on a corner lot it didn't block the view from the street. No problem. We had exactly enough 4' pieces left to create a little section of fence sticking out from the far corner, ending at a new post that we dug into the ground.
Which all just perfectly conceals our little wood pile, our trashcans (when they're not at the street), and our general mess from our view and our neighbors' view. Our trash cans fit perfectly on the paver and brick patio that S built for them, which is great since the whole area is now filled in with nice green grass that we definitely don't want to crush with the giant rolling cans.
We completed the entire project for $0 using leftover materials that the fence company was going to take away, and nails for the nail gun that were left over from the shed project. We think it's a huge step-up from the chain link fence, and it's a pretty cool solution to the whole we-can't-remove-these-metal-posts dilemma.

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Baked Cake Doughnuts / Donuts

Sometimes life throws you a curve ball and the only cure is soup, doughnuts and lots and lots of painting. We've got all of that around here and while the dust bunnies are building up, the paint is going on in rhythmic, cathartic strokes and we've O.D.'d on baked doughnuts.

On the subject of doughnuts, I'm from the north, the land of Dunkin' Donuts. So to spell out "doughnut" seems foreign to me. But unlike the folks from Maine's sister state to the south, I don't think the world revolves around Boston, so I will not call these "donuts." Whatever you choose to call them, they are delicious and nary a vat of oil in sight.

Baked Cake Doughnuts/Donuts
makes 6 dozen mini doughnuts

for the doughnuts
2 c. all-purpose flour (replace all or half with whole wheat for a slightly healthier doughnut)
3/4 c. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. cinnamon
1 t. salt
3/4 c. milk
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
1 T. butter, melted

for the topping
1 c. sugar
1 t. cinnamon (or more, to taste)

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together all dry ingredients.
2. Stir in all wet ingredients until well combined, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.
3. Using a mini or regular sized doughnut pan, fill each well half-way full, do not overfill.
4. Bake at 425 for four minutes (or according to your pan's instructions), until the doughnuts spring back when touched.
5. While the doughnuts are baking, toss together topping ingredients in a medium bowl.
6. When doughnuts are hot from the oven, invert from pan and toss doughnuts in the sugar topping to coat.

When cool, store in an air-tight container. I like to store them with the remaining sugar topping so I can toss on a little extra sugar before serving.

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My Dream Pendant is on SALE

I just received an email from West Elm that my dream pendant lamp for the dining room is on SALE TODAY ONLY for 20% off. I'm jumping up and down and just trying to figure out how to convince S that we NEED THIS LIGHT!
photo from West Elm

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Leftover Halloween Candy Cookies

How much Halloween candy do you have left over from last Sunday? Despite having four sugar-high adults in our house last weekend and dozens of frightful neighborhood kids at our door, we still have tons of candy left over. Tons. I can't speak for S, but I'm kind of over the candy, so naturally I've found another use for it.
I call these cookies "candy cookies" because they have candy in them. Creative, no? If you don't have any Halloween candy left over then use that king sized bar of Hershey's milk chocolate you always try to avoid at the grocery check-out lane. Just make sure you don't eat it on the way home.

These cookies make every attempt to have a tad of healthy to them, but by no stretch of the imagination are they healthy just because they have whole wheat and oatmeal in them. They're stuffed chock full of Halloween candy, so S, eat them in moderation, please.

Candy Cookies
makes a lot

1 c. sugar
1 c. light brown sugar, packed
1 c. butter
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
2 1/2 c. oatmeal, measured then blended to a powder in the blender
2 c. whole wheat flour
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
2 c. chocolate chips
2 c. chopped chocolate candy

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs beating well after each addition
2. Slowly add the flour, oatmeal, salt, powder and soda
3. Mix in candy and chips until well combined
4. Scoop with a medium scoop or roll into golf ball sized balls and place 2" apart on an ungreased cookie sheet
5. Bake at 375 for 8 - 10 minutes, making sure not to over-bake.

To freeze before baking, scoop onto a cookie sheet to freeze and then transfer to an airtight freezer bag to store. To bake straight from the freezer reduce temperature to 350.

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