Big Family Dinner

I know, we just had Thanksgiving. That was a big family dinner. But in my family, another big dinner comes the day after Thanksgiving, on Black Friday. See, Dan and I still split Thanksgiving, spending time with both our families. But when you add in drive time, we don’t get to spend a ton of time with either family. To make up for it, we’ve started the tradition of hosting my parents for dinner the day after Thanksgiving, and we’re sure to see Dan’s family again over the weekend, to celebrate our niece’s birthday.

On the day were many people are out fighting for the best deals, Dan and I enjoy a leisurely morning without waking up to the sound of an alarm. We make a good breakfast, have some coffee, and stay in our pajamas most of the day. The part of the day I enjoy most of all is the decorating. Dan brings the Christmas decorations up from the basement and I spend the day putting out all the decorations like the the handmade poinsetta wreath I was given at my wedding shower, the teeny tree my mom gave me when I lived in my first apartment, and the sparkly ornaments that were always on my tree when I got home from college. Then, once all the smaller decorations are out, we turn to the tree. We put the Elf DVD on and took our time putting the ornaments on the tree. Many of our ornaments are the ones that were given to me growing up, so most have special meaning for me.

Once the house is glowing with Christmas spirit, we turned our attention toward starting dinner. When planning the menu, I tried to keep in mind that with the holiday season comes a ton of bad for you food – the cookies, the creamy appetizers, and all the dinners out with friends from out of town. To offset the food gorge I knew was sure to come, I tried to keep the meal we prepared reasonably healthy.


We had scalloped potatoes,


roasted parmesean green beans,


and the main dish of zucchini and mozzerella chicken rollatini.


None of these dishes tasted like they were made to be “skinny,” but they were.

We had a great dinner together.

Let the holiday season begin!

Holidays on a Budget

Now that Christmas shopping is in full swing (for some of us who don’t wait until the last minute), I thought I’d share some tips that keep my holiday shopping budget in check during the rush to buy Christmas presents.

1. Set a budget, and stick to it.
I set a pretty firm budget (meaning I will definitely stick to it), giving each person I know I’m buying for a total dollar amount I will spend on them. This allows you to control your spending down to the last penny. Also, you won’t have sticker shock when your December credit card bill arrives in your inbox. Whenever I come in under budget, I consider that a great accomplishment.

2. Pick out specific items you want to buy as gifts.
Do not just wander around Target looking for a toy that looks like it would be interesting to a two year old. If you do that, you’re less likely to score a deal on the item since you can’t do any background price checking easily. Spending time choosing what you will give ahead of time will save you, by allowing you to do #3 below.

3. Maximize your budget.
Look for deals. Deals = ability to buy that special someone more for less.

Your husband wants a specific book for Christmas. Price it out and see where it’s cheapest. A single book can be purchased at a number of places: Barnes & Noble, Target, Amazon, even See where you can get the best deal. Then, you can use your savings toward another gift for hubby.

4. Put those acquired couponing skills to good use.
You coupon for everyday items like body wash, chips, and canned soup. Why not use coupons around the holidays?

I find that couponing by store is the easiest way to go. Once you’ve figured out which items you’re buying and get an idea of how the item is priced, see if either the store has coupons or there is a coupon for that specific item.

Example: My sister-in-law loves Yankee Candles. I can price them out and see how the price stacks up at a Yankee Candle Store vs. Bed, Bath, and Beyond. I take into account that Yankee Candle usually has a coupon out that’s Buy 2 Get 1 or Buy 1 Get 1 Half Off, and Bed, Bath, and Beyond always has 20% off an item coupons, plus they have a Yankee Candle Scent of the Month on sale. Go with wherever gives you the better price.

5. Keep an eye out for sales.
Most stores have sales, sometimes big ones, in the days leading up to Christmas. Scan weekly ads to see if the items you want will be on sale. And remember, if an item you just bought goes on sale a week later, you can usually get a price adjustment, depending on the store’s policy. Same goes for coupons you find for specific items after you’ve already bought them. Just bring in your receipt.

6. Use store discounts when you have them, and take advantage of rewards when they are offered.

I’m a Kohl’s charge card holder, and just about every month, I get a mailing where I get either 15%, 20%, or the coveted 30% off. I get my coupon, wait for a sale, and make big purchases then. For Kohl’s, they also often run their Kohl’s Cash promotion where you spend $50 and get $10 toward your next purchase. This really saves you a bundle.

Example: Last year, in one trip I bought three toys, a bunch of infant clothes, picture frames, throw pillows, and candles – all gifts for others. I used my 30% off discount and I accumulated Kohl’s Cash. About a week later to buy more gifts, still using my 30% off and using my Kohl’s Cash. That second trip only cost a few dollars, but I was able to buy two wristlets and some jewelry.

7. DIY part of your gift.
I love giving coordinated gifts, and those lend themselves to DIY projects.

A few Christmases ago, I decided to partially DIY a gift to my in-laws. I gave them all they needed to host guests for an evening, wine, and store bought goodies like crackers and cheese spread, but I also DIY’d some things like baking them biscotti and putting together some hot chocolate mix. I threw everything in a basket and wrapped it up.

Anything goes here, be creative.

By following these tips, I’ve gotten some great Christmas gifts and have remained within my budget. Hope you can do the same!

The Thankfulness Tree

I’ve been gone for a few days being busy with work stuff, but now I’m back for this special Thanksgiving post.

As I’ve become quite crafty as of late, I wanted to do a craft that really meant something this time of year. I decided to make a thankfulness tree.


I started out by just picking up some sticks while we were out an a family walk with Phoebe. Surprisingly, gathering up these branches was not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be in the city.

Next, I took a piece of fall colored scrapbook paper that I already had around the house, and used a hole punch to create circles.

Every time a friend came over, I asked them to write down something they were thankful for on one of the circles. I even emailed family members I wouldn’t see in time to include the things they were thankful for on my tree.


Once I had a few, I used a hot glue gun to stick the circles to the tree.


I got started a bit late this year, so I’m hoping to get even more notes of thanks for next year’s tree. Still, it makes me smile every time I look at it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pretty Table

My husband and I are truly blessed in that next week, we’ll be feasting on two Thanksgiving dinners – one with each side of our families. Because the Thanksgiving hosters have long been established, I’ve never had to prepare the formal Thanksgiving meal for everyone.I have to admit, the thought of hosting so many people in our small-ish Chicago apartment would make me more than a little nervous.

But, even though I’m not hosting, I love looking at ideas for creative Thanksgiving tablescapes.

Usually, I’m all about the over the top-ness, glitz, and glam. The more glitter, the better. The bigger the cornucopia, the better. the fancier the place settings, the better. But this year, I’m definitely more focused on the simple and using the natural warmth of light to really add to the table.

I’m loving this basic mason jar candle set up, and it can’t get much simpler than a mason jar with a tea light in it.


Or this simple centerpiece (you can make a few) of a pillar candle with Indian corn around it:


How about these easy different-sized hurricane jars with a plain candle and surrounded by acorns:


And perhaps my favorite is this gorgeous candle centerpiece spelling what the holiday is all about, giving thanks:


If you’re hosting Thanksgiving this year, what are you planning for your table decoration?



For a while now, I’ve wanted to have a big Thanksgiving celebration with friends. We’re always too busy with family obligations to see a lot of each other during the holiday season, starting with Thanksgiving.

My friends andIi are trying to start a new thing where we’ll get together once a month, with one of us hosting the whole group. We do different little party themes. It’s a fun way to be sure to see everyone, and it is a lot cheaper than a night out.

This month, it was my turn to host everyone. My friend mentioned that it would be a couple weeks to Thanksgiving, and we should make this gathering the Friendsgiving we’ve always wanted. I happily obliged.

I set the table with a natural autumn theme.


I used burlap, gourds, and pine cones.


I broke out the china and gave everyone a special place card to show them where to sit.


That paper dot you see on the plate is part of a special Thanksgiving project I’ll share with you in my next post.

Everyone came, we ate, we drank, and we were merry.

Dinner was simple, since it was on a week day evening. I made some fettuccine alfredo and served it with a side Cesar salad. Not quite a whole big Thanksgiving feast, but, I’ll work up to that.

I did make delicious cookies and I thought I’d let you in on the simple recipe and the secret ingredient (it’s pudding).


Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Spice Cookies:

1 cup flour
1 pkg. instant pumpkin spice Jello pudding (the small, 4 serving size)
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 whole egg
1 egg white
1 1/2 cups miniature chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the flour and pudding mix (don’t make the pudding) into a bowl.

Beat the butter, brown sugar, and baking soda with a mixer until combined. Add in the egg and egg white and keep mixing.

Add the flour/pudding mixture a little at a time and keep mixing. Once the mixture is well combined, add in the chocolate chips and stir by hand with a spoon.

Spoon teaspoon sized balls of the dough onto a cookie sheet. I use this little gadget, which is an immense help.


Bake for about 11 minutes, until the edges are just a little brown.


They taste like a little burst of chocolate and pumpkin. Yum.

Red, Red, (or Chalkboard) Wine

I thought I’d make today Day #2 (of 2) of my spraypainting kick.

I love me a good wine. That’s why when we headed to San Francisco for our anniversary, Dan suggested we make the short trip to Napa. No arguments here. I couldn’t wait to go.

We were only there for a one day tour of four wineries, but I wish we had stayed another day. So many wineries, so little time.

That day, in total, we probably tried around eighteen different wines. My favorite of the day was the White Riesling from V. Sattui. Dan’s favorite was the Pinot Noir from Whitehall. A close runner up for me was the Gamay Rouge, also from V. Sattui.

We tried so many wines that day, that I had to write down the names of my top choices so I could go back and later decide which to buy. The only reason I remember the three types of wine I just listed is because we bought a bottle each of the White Riesling and the Pinot Noir, and the Gamay Rouge was a favorite of my in-laws, so that name stuck out in my head.

The fact is, I just don’t remember which wines I like. I shop for wine perhaps the worst way you can – by name. Lucky Duck? That sounds good, so I throw it into the cart. Same thing with Mad Housewife, True Love, Honeymoon, and Red Truck. I remember the names, but don’t remember if they were good. Enter the chalkboard wine bottle.
I saw one of these wine bottles used in a store to tell an item’s pricing (like $10 for a wine glass). It looked kinda like this:

What a cool idea! I decided mine would have an even better use – every time I liked a bottle of wine, I’d write it down on a chalkboard wine bottle and then I’d keep a running tally of good wines, maybe with a little fake label on it too, like this:

Plus, I thought it would make an adorable decor addition to the kitchen, where we already have a chalkboard theme going with the main chalkboard on the wall and these fun chalkboard glass jars we use for cookies and Phoebe’s treats.

This was super easy project to make. I found some chalkboard spray paint at Home Depot for under $5. I had been keeping empty bottles of wine around, since I knew this project was coming. I washed out the bottles and took the labels off.

Next, I put some newspaper in the top of the bottles, to keep paint from spraying inside. Then I sprayed. Only took a couple coats.

Once the bottles were dry, but before I did anything to them, I walked in to the kitchen and saw this message waiting for me.
Awww. I heart you too, Dan.

I sat with Dan and thought of the wines we liked that we could remember, and got a list going. We’ll be sure to add on as we find our favorite wines.

Do you have any recommendations of great wines to try?

DIY Pumpkin Candle Holders

Just because Halloween is over doesn’t mean that you should remove all pumpkins from around your house.

Apparently, shiny pumpkins are all the rage right now. Isn’t this display gorgeous?


As you may know, I myself enjoy sparkly decorations every now and again, so I thought I’d jump on this trend and make some of my own. With some leftover silver spray paint and some new glitter spray paint I’ve been dying to try out, I was able to make these:


Can you believe those pumpkins were originally $1 a piece from the Dollar Tree?


The process itself was simple enough. I started with three cheap carvable plastic pumpkins.

Carefully, I cut a hole in the top of each one to eventually put a tea light.


We had a wine party the night before I made these, so Dan smartly used the empty wine bottles to hold the pumpkins while they were sprayed.


Two coats of silver and a quick spray of the glitter was all it took.


Finally, just add in the tea lights.

Eventually, I think these will end up as part of my tablescape for the day after Thanksgiving dinner I host every year. Maybe with a natural brown-toned table runner.

Hearty Fall Couscous

How is it that I didn’t discover couscous until recently? I mean, it’s such a neutral dish base – you can put anything in it. I guess that pasta has always been my blank palate of choice. Must be an Italian thing.

I made this tasty couscous dish for dinner a little while back and had great results.


I love that this meal is just packed with veggies. The couscous was whole grain too, so this was quite a healthy meal.

I started out with this as the base recipe, but I made some changes.

Here’s what you’ll need:


1/2lb butter nut squash, peeled and chopped into pieces
1/2 head of cauliflower
1 medium zucchini
2 carrots
10 oz of uncooked whole grain couscous (ours was from Trader Joe’s)
salt and pepper to taste

I started out with the butternut squash. I put all of it into a microwave safe bowl, added about 2 teaspoons of water, covered it with vented plastic wrap, and let it cook in the microwave for about 6 minutes, stopping half way to stir.

Next, put some foil in a baking pan, and spread the cauliflower and squash out. Salt and pepper to taste, and spray some cooking spray over the top. Broil for about 8 minutes, stirring the veggies once.

Start making the couscous how the package directs. I simply added my couscous to boiling water, turned off the heat, and let it sit there. No salt or butter added.

While the couscous and squash/cauliflower are cooking, start peeling and dicing the carrot. Once chopped, peel the zucchini and use the peeler to create zucchini “ribbons.” Add the carrots to a new pot of boiling water and let them cook until softened. When the carrots have about a minute left, throw in the zucchini ribbons.

Once everything is cooked, drain the carrots/zucchini, remove the squash/cauliflower from the oven, and fluff the couscous with a fork. Toss everything into a large serving bowl. For the sauce, melt about 2 tablespoons of butter with 1/4 cup of Asian chili sauce. pour the sauce over the top.


This recipe will make A LOT of couscous. We got dinner and and least two lunches a piece out of it.

I really like the almost sweet flavor that the roasting did to the squash and cauliflower. We’re not big cauliflower eaters in our house, but this recipe definitely left me wanting more.

In case you’re looking for some side dish and drink pairings, we ate the couscous with some butternut squash soup (we got a lot of soup out of this recipe!) and drank some cranberry wine too.


Some easy variations on this meal would be to add in some grilled chicken or any other veggies you’d like, especially mushrooms.

Semi-Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

I love cinnamon rolls for breakfast. No time to make them on week days, so I’ve mostly resigned them to being weekend treats.

I’m not too much of a food snob to grab a can of cinnamon rolls, but sometimes, I’m too lazy to even run to the store for them. This recipe came out of using what I had in the house already. They tasted very similar to the canned kind, if you’re wondering.



One tube of Grands jumbo buttermilk rolls

3 tbsp butter (melted)
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup syrup

Melt the butter and mix it with the syrup. In another bowl, whisk together the sugar and cinnamon. Pour half of each mixture into a bundt pan sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.

Spread out the eight rolls in the pan.

Top with the other half of the ingredients.


Bake about 20 minutes, until rolls look done.



As a slight modification, I’d recommend putting each roll into the cinnamon and sugar mixture before putting it in the pan, then topping the rolls with any that’s left. Not that this recipe needs any upgrades, but I thought I’d try it next time to see if it makes a difference.