It’s that time of year again…


Traditional Glitter House

…when I start making putz houses, also known as glitter houses.  Traditional glitter houses are made from cardboard and usually painted and covered in glitter. There’s usually a small hole in the back where you can insert a Christmas light.  It’s an old tradition that goes way back; you can often find old houses in antique stores these days!

Three years ago I discovered them online when I came across a blog where a lady was making them out of old holiday greeting cards. I decided I wanted to start making them too. It ‘s a lot of fun and just another way I can satisfy my creative urges. I made a few that first year and sold them to a coworker.

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The houses I made last year

Last year I decided to make twelve houses and I gave a set of six to my sister and to my mother as a Christmas gift. They loved them and couldn’t believe they were hand made.

This year I’m making them again. My plans are to make at least 18 of them.  I’m going to give another six each to my sister and mom so they can “grow” their putz village.  And I have an aunt who thought they were so cute so I’m going to make a set for her.

The problem is there aren’t a lot of patterns out there!  You can find lots of pictures of putz houses online, but there aren’t a lot of patterns available. Sure, I can use the patterns I have and just use different cards so the houses look different, but I’d like for the shapes of the houses to be different too.

I even searched Amazon hoping to find a book of patterns but only came across traditional cardboard DIY houses that are already assembled and just need painting.  I did find some H-O Scale books with pre-printed houses in them that you cut and paste to build a village for your model trains. There are several different versions available and I scored an out of print used copy for 85 cents.  I’m hoping it hasn’t actually be used and maybe I can utilize it for patterns, but for less than a buck if I can’t, then no loss really.

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One of last year’s houses I made

I am experimenting more this year with being an “architect” and drawing my own patterns using graph paper. So far I’ve made a cathedral and a barn. I might also attempt to make patterns that mimic some of the houses I’ve found online that I like that I can’t find patterns for.

It’s almost impossible to make one house from start to finish because of waiting for glue to dry. Right now I have one house done that just needs glitter added.  And I have four others all in different stages either waiting on glitter or waiting on accents and bases to be added.

It’s a fun project to work on when I come home from work and I’m in front of the TV and don’t feel like doing anything else. I’ll post pictures of some of this year’s homes once they are ready!



Elsie Street by Gabriella West: A Book Review

71tE6kkxQsLThere’s always an intriguing story and interesting characters to look forward to when reading something new from Gabriella West. Her latest, Elsie Street, is no different. I pre-ordered it and enjoyed reading it over the long Labor Day weekend. In it we meet Dave, a young Bostonian who is now enjoying California with his girlfriend Janine.

But when Dave loses his bar tending job, his entire world changes. Luckily, Janine helps get him a job as a security guard at a local museum. There, Dave meets a young man named Aaron and his sexual identity is reawakened, stemming from a brief affair he had with his college roommate long ago. What follows is the tensions that sexuality often causes when we are young and figuring out our place in this world, often riddled with guilt while figuring out what our true heart desires.

West embraces location. You’ll find yourself loving San Francisco just as much as her characters and wanting to visit there if you haven’t already. This being an M/M romance, she also writes romantic scenes quite beautifully and leaves just enough of the detail’s up to the reader’s imagination.

Most of the conflict plays out within her characters, especially as Dave questions his happiness with Janine and longs to be with Aaron. Her minor characters are also just as interesting.  There’s Mike, Dave’s new tough-minded boss a supervisor named Vic, and Aaron’s sister Tessa. Ultimately, West pushes her story forward by giving her characters what they want, and what the reader wants them to have, often avoiding those real-life consequences that we face.

And that’s the beauty of a great story. We can separate ourselves from woes of the real world and just get lost in the world the author has given us.

Fortunately, I happen to know the author is considering a sequel, possibly even a third book where she’ll explore more of Dave and Aaron’s budding relationship, possibly involving some of the other characters’ story lines as well. I look forward to that!71QOILWl3+L._UX250_

Gabriella West has called San Francisco home since the late 80’s. She is the author of Time of Grace and The Leaving, both great books that I enjoyed. She’s written several fictional and nonfictional short ebooks that are also quite good. She’s also a professional editor for hire if you are in need.

Meatless Recipe #11: Classic Brushchetta

20150906_164758_resizedI can’t take full credit for this recipe.  It came from Christine Ha’s cookbook, Recipes from My Home Kitchen. Christine won season 3 on the TV show Master Chef and she is blind.

In the book, Christine talks about backpacking through western Europe after she graduated college and how she couldn’t wait to visit Italy. She said that out of all the food she ate in Rome, a simple plate of bruschetta was her most memorable. She had no idea what it was at the time but ordered it because it was the cheapest item on the menu.

If you follow my blog, you already know my distaste for tomatoes despite the fact that I enjoy growing them.  BUT…I don’t mind raw tomatoes if they are mixed in something like salsa.  Christine’s recipe seemed like another good opportunity to put some homegrown tomatoes to good use.

Here’s your grocery list right from Christine’s book:

2 tomatoes, diced and strained (I used four small tomatoes from the garden.)
1/4 red onion, diced  (I used quite a bit more.)
6 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced (I used a few more, also fresh from our garden.)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 French baguette, cut into 3/4-inch-thick slices
1/8 cup grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes, onion, basil, salt, and pepper. Add the olive oil and vinegar. Toss to coat thoroughly and then set aside for 30 minutes.

Brush the butter on both sides of the bread slices and bake them for 2 to 3 minutes on each side.  Spoon the tomato mixture on top of each slice and dust with Parmesan.

I forgot the Parmesan which is why you don’t see it in the picture but it was actually just as good without. Definitely a recipe I’ll be trying again and a great way to use up those end-of-summer tomatoes.

Each slice only has about 125 to 150 calories without the cheese and depending on what type of baguette you use. It has no cholesterol, is low in sugar, and high in Vitamin A and C.

Meatless Recipe #10 : Potato Cheese Soup

20150823_174955_resizedSummer is quickly leaving us. Temps are in the 80’s all this week. It’s nice and cool out. It might get as low as 58 tonight. And with all that rain we had back in the spring and summer, we are going to have a beautiful autumn this year!  And autumn means it’s time to start making soup!  I love one pot meals, like soup, and one of my favs is potato cheese soup.

Potatoes were a staple on the dinner table growing up.  We always had mashed potatoes, fried potatoes, or boiled potatoes with a meal. I love a good baked potato now and then, and will eat potatoes if they are served but I rarely cook them myself to have with a meal other than mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving. If I even think of buying a whole bag of potatoes these days, I’ve got some particular meal in mind that will use most of them up like potato cheese soup.

This is a good one pot meal for those who love soup on those nice cool weekends in autumn or winter. It serves about six to eight depending on how big your bowls are and it’s super easy to make.

Here’s your grocery list:

6 large russet potatoes – peeled and cubed
1 yellow onion chopped
1 32 oz. box of vegetable broth
1 stick of unsalted butter
1/2 pint of heavy cream (small carton)  optional
4 cups of Mexican shredded cheese
Salt, pepper, cumin, onion powder, and garlic salt

Toppings:  Sour cream, Bacos, and more shredded cheese

Start my melting half the stick of butter on low heat in a large pot. Don’t bother with a skillet. I like to cook a one pot meal in exactly that – one pot – instead of using a skillet and having to transfer things over to the pot later. Once the butter is melted, add the chopped onion and saute it for about five minutes.

Then add half the box of vegetable broth to the pot.  Follow this with all of your peeled and cubed potatoes and stir on medium heat. It won’t hurt to start seasoning it a bit with salt, pepper, cumin, onion powder, and garlic salt while the potatoes are cooking.  As the mix comes to a boil, stir it and start mashing up some of the potatoes.  You can use a potato masher if you want; I just don’t like all of the potatoes to be mashed. I like the soup to be a little chunky so I usually just use a wooden spoon to break up some of the potatoes.  You can add more broth as needed if it starts to cook down.

Once the potatoes are softened and the soup is the consistency you want, turn the heat back down to low and add the rest of the broth and the other half stick of butter.  Stir until the butter is melted.  Then you are ready to start adding your cheese. You’ve probably noticed I use the Mexican shredded cheese for everything. That’s because it’s a nice mix of both yellow and white cheeses.  If you like one more than the other, then feel free to only use white or yellow shredded cheese. I like to add handfuls at a time and stir the soup until the cheese is melted.  Once all the cheese is added, start slowing pouring in your carton of cream while you are still stirring. Remember, the cream is optional and definitely adds calories to the soup, but it does give it a nice creamy texture. Season with more salt, pepper, cumin, onion powder, and garlic salt if needed and you are done.

Serve the soup with Bacos, sour cream, and more shredded cheese on top.

If you serve six, each bowl is about 363 calories without the cream, and 497 calories with the cream. There’s 11 grams of protein and only 2 grams of sugar in this recipe (with or without the cream).   It’s also loaded in Potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Calcium.

What’s your favorite soup that you like to make during the cooler months?

Meatless Recipe #9: Mexican Breakfast Frittata

20150823_101142_resizedI suck at making omelets.  Mainly when it comes to flipping or folding them.  So I always end up just scrambling them and calling it cowboy breakfast hash.

Years ago I watched someone on The Food Network make a breakfast frittata and thought, I could do that!  And they are pretty easy to make. Who needs omelets when you can do this instead, right?

When I first made this recipe, I put a lot more ingredients into it: cauliflower, sausage, peppers, onions, broccoli, tomatoes, mushrooms… And you still can if you want but I much prefer a simpler version these days.

I chop half of a green bell pepper and half of a yellow onion and mix them in a bowl.  Add about 1/2 cup of Mexican shredded cheese. Then add about 1/2 cup of your favorite salsa.  Add about six eggs and mix well.  Then add some salt and pepper. This amount makes about 4 large frittatas.

Take a large muffin tin and grease 4 of the cups with butter or Pam cooking spray. Then pour your egg batter into these four cups and bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes.  You know they are done because they’ll rise a bit and appear solid on top.  You’ll also notice the edges just start to brown a bit.

Take them out of the oven and let them cool a bit.  The risen top will sink back down. They should pop right out of your tin just like muffins. Still hot and ready to serve!

Here’s your grocery list:

1/2 green bell pepper chopped
1/2 yellow onion chopped
1/2 cup of salsa
1/2 cup of shredded Mexican cheese
6 eggs
Salt and pepper
Butter or cooking spray for the muffin tin

Each frittata is about 184 calories and 14 grams of protein.  If I was going to add anything else to it, it would probably be fresh chopped mushroom.  When I was eating meat, I loved sausage in them!

What is your favorite way to eat eggs?

Meatless Recipe #8: Chinese Salad with Ramen

20150816_150418_resizedThis is a recipe I think I saw on a cooking show on Food Network years ago, but it was for Chinese chicken salad.  It was yummy, but another one of those recipes I probably only made once a year. And I haven’t made it in several years actually. I found a can of water chestnuts in my pantry about a week ago. I’d probably bought them with intentions of making the salad again, but just never have.  So, I decided I’d do it this weekend.

The best part about this recipe is that it only takes about ten minutes to make and you don’t have to chop anything. Head to the Chinese section of your grocery store and pick up a can of baby corn, a can of water chestnuts, a can of mushrooms, and a can of bamboo shoots.

Dynasty actually makes a can of stir fry veggies that contain all of these items, except instead of corn you get bean sprouts. I bought this can of mix veggies for the chicken salad version, but I like the addition of the baby corn and I don’t like sprouts, so I bought everything separately for the salad this time instead of the mixed can. But you could certainly use it if you wanted, cutting your prep time down even more because you’ll only have one can to open and drain.20150816_144906_resized

Instead of the sprouts, I like to use a cole slaw mix of cabbage and carrots.  It gives the salad a bit more crunch and I just think it tastes better than sprouts. You’ll also need one pack of Ramen noodles, not cooked and without the seasoning packet.  How many of you always end up with empty packets of Ramen seasoning in your pantry?  What do you do with them?  Do you just add them to another bowl of Ramen and double up on the seasoning or is there some other cool recipe out there I don’t know about?  I’ll have to Google that some day.

The only other ingredient is soy sauce.  I used Ponzu sauce this time.  I’d never used it before and bought a bottle recently to give it a try.  Ponzu is just citrus flavored soy sauce.  It’s got a nice tangy flavor.

So here we go with how to prep this salad.  Open all your cans (or one can) of veggies and dump them in a colander.  Toss them while washing the veggies and then give them a good shake to get rid of any extra water. Then mix them in a bowl with two cups of slaw and half the Ramen noodles.  You’ll have to give the Ramen a good smash.  It helps to hold the block between your palms and squeeze it.

Then add about 4 tablespoons of Ponzu or Soy.  You can add more to taste.  The flavor gets stronger if you let the salad sit in the fridge overnight. Add a dash of salt and give it all another good toss and serve.  Done!  I like to mix it in a giant bowl with a lid so I can shake it up. Like I said, you’ll spend more time opening the cans and smashing the Ramen noodles than it takes to make the salad.

Here’s your grocery list:

2 cups of cole slaw mix
1 8 oz. can of bamboo shoots drained and washed
1 8 oz. can of water chestnuts drained and washed
1 8 oz. can of baby corn drained and washed
1 7 oz. can of mushrooms drained and washed
1/2 block of Ramen noodles – uncooked and with no seasoning
4 tbs. of Ponzu or Soy Sauce
Dash of salt

Toss everything together and serve!  Don’t you love easy instructions?

Like I said, you could add chicken to this recipe if you want.  It was quite yummy before when I was eating meat. But it gets even better!  You get about six small servings from this recipe. Each serving is only 88 calories without the addition of chicken. It’s also very low in sugar and fat, and has 4 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber per serving.

Meatless Recipe #7: Broccoli and Grape Salad

20150815_160211_resizedToday, I was choppin’ broccoli (SNL reference)! I can’t take full credit for this recipe.  If you search the web, you’ll find several versions of it out there. I’ve seen it in the deli at the grocery store too. Usually J makes this recipe at least once a year during the summer. It’s one of his favs.  He usually adds tomatoes to his which as you know, I don’t like. But I was craving the salad and was having company today so I decided it would be a nice cold lunch for a hot day here in St. Louis at the end of summer so I made my own.

The base of the recipe is usually always the same.  You start with about 4 cups of fresh broccoli, a cup of chopped grapes, and 1/2 cup of chopped purple onion. Some people add pasta and some don’t.  I chose to try it with 2 cups of bow tie pasta.  Some people add nuts or Bacos.  I added about 1/2 cup of chopped pecans.  Some add carrots too, but I left those out.  That’s it for the salad itself!  It serves about six.

The dressing is just 1 cup of mayo mixed with a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and about 2 tablespoons of white sugar.  Mix that well and pour it over the salad and toss.  The dressing should be sweet with a bit of tang.  I’m not a huge fan of mayo so I stick to one cup for my dressing, even though this size of salad could probably use double the dressing if you want it to be a bit more creamy. Remember the grapes give the salad a sweet taste too so don’t go overboard with the sugar in the dressing.  Once I’ve added the dressing I put the salad in the fridge and let it chill for a while before serving.

Here is your grocery list:

4 cups of broccoli florets (this is about one medium head or two small bags of pre-chopped broccoli)
1 cup of chopped seedless grapes (I like red grapes)
1/2 cup of purple onion chopped
1/2 cup of chopped pecans (or nuts of your choice)
2 cups of bow tie pasta cooked and drained
1 cup of mayo
3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (or to taste)
2 tablespoons of sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Boil the pasta and drain.
  2. Chop the broccoli if needed.
  3. Mix the pasta, broccoli, grapes, pecans, and onion in a bowl.
  4. Mix the vinegar, mayo, and sugar in a container and pour over the salad and toss well.
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste. Store salad in the fridge for about 15 to 30 minutes before serving.

If you serve six, each serving is about 386 calories (most of this is from the mayo so tread lightly). There’s about 6 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber per serving as well.

This is a great summer salad for parties or brunches. You’ll be surprised how well the grapes, onion, and broccoli go together!

Ingredients of a Healthy Relationship – Part 5

375x321_lose_weight_fast_how_to_do_it_quickly_ref_guideIt’s been 45 days since I went (semi) meatless and so far I’ve lost 13 lbs!  By semi, I mean I only eat meat at lunch at work, and even then it’s probably only 2 or 3 times a week and it’s always a healthy portion. And never fast food!  My favorite “meat” lunches are one of those flavored Tuna Select packs or a chicken sandwich.  But most of the time I’m eating leftovers from the night before so that’s meatless. Breakfast and dinner through the week, and the entire weekend, is always meatless.

My sister read a Facebook post of mine about it and told my mom. My mom told me she didn’t know I was dieting. I happily told her I wasn’t dieting! She was also shocked to learn I’d lost that much weight just by cutting out meat.  It’s been too hot to walk or ride my bike so there’s been little exercise involved either.  But that will change soon when the temperatures start dropping as we get into the autumn months. I know from previous diets and trips to the gym that eventually you reach a plateau where the weight won’t come off.  I think amping up the exercise regimen will help then.

Two weeks ago we actually decided to go out to eat at The Pasta House for lunch on a Saturday.  We went in thinking we’d just get soup and salad.  That all changed when we picked up the menu. I decided I wanted pasta con broccoli and minestrone. John picked a mushroom risotto to go with his soup.  And it was very tempting so we got garlic bread to go with it and an appetizer of mushrooms.  We thought the plate of mushrooms would only be about 12 pieces.  Wrong!  It was about 48 pieces.  We probably didn’t even eat a dozen of them.  But we finished off the bread, soup, and pasta and took the mushrooms home. Total bill, including two teas to drink, was over $50 after tip!

It made us sick.  Not only was the bill disappointing, but the amount of food we ate made us feel gross.  The money could have bought groceries for a week or almost filled up both of our cars with gas.  And we didn’t touch the mushrooms at home so those got thrown away.  And that’s pretty much how I felt about the whole experience. We ate too much and we threw our money away. J agreed.  We’ll never do that again.

Some of you might still not be convinced that this is actually working. Even Mom couldn’t believe J had been completely without beef since late June, but it’s true. He even picked out the bacon from a recent can of baked beans we opened for a meal and asked that I not buy that kind anymore.

I’ll be the first to admit, it hasn’t been easy. Not only have we changed the way we eat, but that required us to change the way we shop and the way we cook.  I’ve probably searched for more recipes online over the past month than I ever did before.  And I am also saving money when I go to buy groceries (I do all the grocery shopping).  Meat is expensive and that alone added about $50 to the grocery bill every two weeks.  Now I shop every weekend for fresh ingredients and buy less. I also try to plan meals ahead for the week, and I rarely did that before.

I’ll say it again…we aren’t dieting.  We’ve still been snacking on cookies. We still enjoy toast with homemade jam. We bought an apple pie a few weeks ago and had it with ice cream.  J made a homemade black berry cobbler for us one week. Potato chips are still a weakness. I still drink diet soda and J still drinks root beer. So we are still enjoying sweets and such, but obviously only in moderation.  Hey, I gave up coffee in February. I’m not about to give up cookies.

Meatless Recipe #6: Spaghetti

unnamedSpaghetti is another meal we have in our house at least once a month. I was craving it and decided to make a meatless version.  In the past, it was noodles, sauce, an onion, and hamburger meat. Not anymore!

I love it so much it’s also usually a dinner at Mom’s house when I go home.  She has a red sauce and a white sauce spaghetti recipe and usually makes a pot of both when I visit.  It’s served with homemade slaw, green beans, corn, and bread sticks. Nothing beats Mom’s spaghetti and I’ve never been able to replicate it.  And, meatless or not, I probably won’t stop eating it when I go home.  It’s one of those fond memories of home.

I will say this meatless version was awesome though.  And again, if I didn’t tell you what was in it, you’d probably never guess it wasn’t meat.

Here’s your grocery list:

1 medium yellow onion chopped
1 25 oz. can or jar of pasta sauce (your choice…I use Simple Truth Organic Mushroom)
1 box of Light Life Smart Ground Original Crumbles
1 4 oz. can of mushrooms drained
1 box of spaghetti noodles (I use about half the box and break the noodles in half. I also prefer wheat noodles.)
Salt, Pepper, Italian Seasoning (or fresh Oregano)

Boil the noodles until tender and then drain. Keep about a cup of the starchy water! While the noodles are boiling, saute the onions with a bit of butter or coconut oil.  Add the cup of water you saved back to the noodles and stir. Remember, the water keeps the noodles from getting too dry and also makes them nice and glossy looking. Add the onions and mushrooms to the noodles and toss while cooking on medium heat. Immediately stir in the entire jar of sauce or how much ever you prefer.  Add the smart ground crumbles (this is the same ingredient I had in my meatless chili recipe). I use the entire box. Then season with salt, pepper, and Italian seasonings. You could even add minced garlic or diced peppers if you want. Stir until hot and then serve with Parmesan cheese.

You could easily get about 8 small portions out of this if you use the entire box of noodles, but for two of us, it’s about 6 servings. If you use the entire box of noodles to make a large pot, then 6 servings are about 630 calories each. That’s kind of high, but for us this is a one pot meal that we don’t really eat with anything else so we don’t mind the high calorie count. Plus, it’s got 30 grams of protein per serving, 11 grams of fiber, and only 3 grams of fat.  Again, you can control the calorie count by what type of sauce you use and how much, what type of noodles you use and how much, and what else you choose to eat with your spaghetti.

How you like your spaghetti?

Meatless Recipe #5: Seitan Stir Fry with Basil Thai Sauce

Seitan-CroppedI’ve been craving Chinese food but didn’t want to get take out so last night I made a stir fry dish with Jasmine rice and it satisfied the craving. This is another simple recipe with only three main ingredients: rice, veggies, and seitan.

Seitan is a clean protein and meat substitute. Protein-rich seitan (pronounced say-tahn) is a tender and juicy food derived from wheat and prepared in a broth. In 7th century China, it was crafted by Mahayana Buddhist monks to support a nutritious, vegetarian diet. It’s low in fat and has zero cholesterol, and 27 grams of protein per serving (4 oz.).

I used a frozen bag of stir fry veggies consisting of green beans, carrots, celery, and mushrooms. While the rice was boiling, I added the veggies to a hot pan with a bit of coconut oil.  I also added a few more fresh mushrooms that I had cut up just for some added substance. As the veggies were heating up, I seasoned them with a bit of pink Himalayan salt and some powdered ginger.

We switched to only using pink Himalayan salt back in March. It’s much healthier for you and is the purest salt there is. You can read about some of the benefits of pink salt here.  I mention this because going forward, you’ll know that if salt is an ingredient in my recipes, I’m only using pink salt.

20150731_182306_resizedNext, I added one box of Sweet Earth Chipotle Style Seitan to my veggies and stirred the mix until the seitan was heated through (It’s already cooked.)  I added a small pat of butter to the rice for flavor and then scooped it onto the plate making a nice bed.  Then I layered the veggie/seitan mix over the rice.  I topped it with Thai Basil Sauce and served.

This recipe serves 4 and is about 252 calories per serving. It has zero cholesterol, 3 grams of fiber, and 18 grams of protein per serving.

Here is your grocery list:

2 cups of Jasmine rice (prepared)
1 frozen bag of stir fry vegetables
3 tablespoons of coconut oil
1 box of Sweet Earth Chipotle Style Seitan
1/2 cup of chopped mushrooms (Optional. Add your own veggie of choice for more flavor.)
Powdered ginger to taste
Pink salt to taste
Thai Basil Sauce or sauce of your choice

  1. Prepare the rice. Add a pat of butter for flavor.
  2. Sautee the veggies in a hot pan with coconut oil.
  3. Add Seitan and stir until heated through.
  4. Season mixture with salt and ginger.
  5. Serve the mixture over a bed of rice.
  6. Top with basil sauce.