New Color for the Dining Room

Our house was built in 1983.  The very first thing we did after we closed on it back in 2004 was rip out the old brown cut pile carpet in the living and dining rooms (yes, carpet in the dining room, it’s an eighties thing).  The second thing we did was take out the strange little pony wall with spindles that was supposed to divide the front door from the living room.  Third, I removed the wallpaper in the dining room (meanwhile husband took out the weird tile in the entry and accidentally broke through to the crawlspace beneath the house, but that’s another story.) I trashed the drywall in the process and we had to texture it.  

And so it was painted boring ecru for a while until I decided I really liked a country French/ Tuscan vibe and painted it “Butternut Squash” (okay, it’s actually safety yellow)…and I liked it until about four years ago.  Then I wanted robin’s egg blue, but how, oh how, to choose. the. perfect. one?  This dilemma went on and on…

Younger son’s birthday a while back…note the safety yellow walls

 Various life type things happened over the years, and finally this past April it looked like I would have the time and inclination to paint that darned room. Really I could hardly stand to see it anymore, which is bad because I am in this room constantly and I have to see it from the kitchen and living room!

 I finally picked a color.  There is lots of excellent advice on the internet about choosing the perfect paint color.  I don’t have much to add.  I hung little paint chips on the wall, popped for a sample sized can of what I thought I wanted and slapped a big 2 x 2 swatch on a couple of the walls.  I didn’t hate it so I bought a gallon and got it done in one 24 hour period, thanks to my wonderful husband moving furniture for me.  I am really happy with the color, and the Clark and Kensington paint went on well and covered nicely.  Two coats and it’s like a new room.  So much better!  And it only took me four years.  

Harbor Lane Paint sample from Clark + Kensington
Harbor Lane Paint sample from Clark + Kensington
Older son’s birthday this year, look, blue walls!
Blue Dining Room
So much better!

The takeaway?  Just go paint the wall already!  Paint is fairly cheap and many stores will even give you a do-over color.  I felt so much better once the yellow was gone.  Is the blue I painted on trendy?  I don’t care, I just love it.  Do what you like and what makes you happy!

 

 

 

 

Five Great Gift Ideas for Young Men

This post contains affiliate links.

It’s Christmas crunch time, everyone!   Hopefully, you are all done with your shopping and can relax and enjoy the season.

I am not, but I will still try to relax and enjoy the season!

I asked my sons for gift ideas and here is the post from my older son, who is a junior in college:

 

A good flashlight is handy to have around, and something you really wish you had when you need one.

Outlite A100 Portable Ultra Bright Handheld LED Flashlight with Adjustable Focus and 5 Light Modes, Outdoor Water Resistant Torch, Powered Tactical Flashlight for Camping Hiking etc. on Amazon.com

 

Leatherman is a good company that makes quality products. A solid multitool is something that is useful in a wide range of situations from peeling fruit to fixing a car.

 

Leatherman – Wingman Multitool, Stainless Steel on Amazon

 

Fire purifies, and having a way to start a fire is always useful. Plus the sparks are pretty!

 

Gerber Bear Grylls Fire Starter on Amazon

 

Driving isn’t always easy. Especially when you’re in an unfamiliar place. With one of these, you can see the map and GPS for your phone without having to take your eyes too far off the road.

Ram Mounts Handlebar Rail Mount with U-Bolt Base and Universal X Grip Cell Phone Holder on Amazon

 

 

No one likes losing their data, and while the cloud is nice and all, it can’t compare to being able to know exactly where your backups are at any time.

WD 2TB Elements Portable External Hard Drive on Amazon

I hope you find these ideas helpful.  I think they would be nice for just about anyone!

Keto Meatloaf with Chorizo and Bacon

 

My husband travels quite a bit.  Last year he tried some meatloaf that had chorizo in it, and he liked it enough to tell me how amazing it was.  Well, if he likes something that much, I feel a need to try and recreate it at home if I can.  I started playing in the kitchen and have made this recipe several times.  It is pretty forgiving since it’s just meatloaf, so don’t worry a whole lot about exact measurements.

Keto Meatloaf with Chorizo and Bacon

Keto Meatloaf Chorizo Bacon Baked

Keto Meatloaf with Chorizo and Bacon plated

Keto Meatloaf with Chorizo and Bacon

This makes around 12 4-ounce servings.  In reality, it's hard to only eat 4 ounces of this, so I calculated 8 servings.  

Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 40 minutes
Servings 8

Ingredients

  • 2 lb ground beef
  • 9 oz chorizo beef or pork
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese grated (from the green can)
  • 1 tbsp heavy cream or almond milk
  • 1/2 tsp Onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp Pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Cumin
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire
  • 1 tbsp Pizza sauce May sub ketchup or BBQ sauce here
  • 1 egg
  • 1 pound Bacon raw (enough to cover meatloaf)

Glaze

  • 2 tbsp reduced sugar ketchup I like Heinz Reduced Sugar
  • 2 tbsp sugar-free BBQ sauce I like G. Hughes Sugar Free Hickory
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/8 tsp Black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Cumin
  • 1 tbsp Yellow mustard
  • 1/2 tsp Molasses
  • 1 tbsp sugar substitute of choice equivalent to 1 tablespoon sugar

Instructions

  1. Saute onion and garlic until tender. Combine with all other meatloaf ingredients except bacon. Mix well, shape into flat loaf and place into foil lined pan.  I use a baking pan, not a loaf pan so I can make a thinner loaf.  Cover with strips of bacon. Bake at 350 for 50 minutes to 1 hour (should test 160 degrees in center).  Time will vary depending on how thick you shaped the loaf.   Before glazing, carefully spoon off the fat that has rendered and discard.
  2. Combine all glaze ingredients well and brush over meatloaf.  Bake 10 minutes or until glaze is slightly thickened.

  3. Let rest 10 minutes before slicing.

Recipe Notes

Macros calculated from MyFitnessPal based on 8 6 ounce servings:  374 calories, 26 g fat, 8 grams total carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 6 net carbs, 33 g protein  

I would love to try making this in the smoker at some point when we have time.  Yum!

Keto Snickerdoodles

 

Keto snickerdoodle cookies

My husband and I are following a ketogenic diet, and it’s Christmastime…we don’t want to go off plan but we like a few “legal” treats now and then.

This man loves snickerdoodles.  Seriously.  The other night we were watching Elf and a commercial for some new TV show came on with a young couple arguing about whether snickerdoodles are just a type of sugar cookie or are they a cookie in their own right…after six repeats of this, I asked my husband if he would like some keto snickerdoodles, and of course he said yes.  We are highly suggestible people.

Anyway, I looked to my favorite source for recipe information, Pinterest, and found several recipes that I didn’t quite like.  The thing about snickerdoodles is they traditionally contain some cream of tartar.  This adds just a little “tang” to the flavor.  Many of these recipes didn’t have any.  I finally found one that seemed very authentic from Averie Cooks, called appropriately, “The Best Snickerdoodles.”  All her cookie recipes look wonderful!  These are full-on sugar and flour, so I had to adapt them to use keto ingredients.

To adapt a regular cookie recipe to low carb, I sub almond flour (prefer Bob’s Red Mill, I can get it at Sam’s Club) for the regular flour.  You usually need to increase the amount of almond flour.  So for 1 1/2 cups AP flour, I use 2 cups almond flour.  Then see how much sugar is in the recipe and sub an equivalent amount of your preferred alternative sweetener.  I am really liking Pyure Organic Stevia Blend (this is stevia extract and erythritol).  Pyure Blend is twice as sweet as sugar, so you need half the amount.  This is good because too much erythritol is NOT good.  Sugar alcohols can wreak havoc on your gut, depending on the amount you ingest and your own personal tolerance level.  I like to combine sweeteners to enhance their effect, so I added 6 drops of liquid sucralose to up the sweet factor to 3/4 cup total sugar equivalent.  You could use another tablespoonful of the Pyure instead.

A few tips to ensure nice puffy cookies:  Don’t melt your butter to a liquid consistency.  It should be soft, not runny.  Cream the butter and sweetener well before adding your egg, then blend that some more until it’s really fluffy.  Add the rest of the ingredients and continue to mix well.  At this point, you should pop your dough into the refrigerator for a half hour or so to get it firm (longer than that is fine).  Softer dough has a tendency to spread.  If you want crispy cookies, this can be a good thing, but for puffy snickerdoodles, chill it.  On this baking occasion, I did not chill the dough and they came out a little on the flat side.  I was in a hurry.  😀

I use a tablespoon size cookie scoop to shape the balls but you can certainly use your hands.  This recipe makes at least twenty cookies.  Roll the balls in the Pyure/cinnamon mix and place on parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Keto Snickerdoodle dough

Bake at 350 for 10 or 11 minutes.  They should be just set but not really browned.  I suggest letting them sit on the baking sheet for a few minutes to cool and firm up before moving them.

Keto Snickerdoodles
Keto Snickerdoodles

We are big cinnamon fans here, so I increased the cinnamon to sweetener ratio for the rolling mixture.

I hope you enjoy these as much as we have!

Keto Snickerdoodles

A soft, sweet, cinnamony cookie.  Sugar, grain, and gluten-free.  

Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 11 minutes
Total Time 51 minutes
Servings 20 cookies
Calories 72 kcal

Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • ¼ cup Pyrure Stevia Blend 1/2 cup sugar equivalent
  • 1 egg
  • 6 drops sucralose 1/8 cup sugar equivalent
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp molasses
  • 2 cups almond flour

Rolling mixture

  • 1/8 cup Pyure Stevia Blend
  • 1 T cinnamon

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Cream butter and sweetener, add egg and blend until fluffy. Add sucralose, vanilla, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt, molasses, and combine. Add almond flour and mix well. For puffy cookies, chill for at least 30 minutes. Form into 1 Tablespoonful balls and roll in 1/8 cup Pyure and cinnamon mixture. Do not flatten. Bake on silicone mat covered baking sheet for 10 to 11 minutes.

Recipe Notes

These are very fragile until they cool a bit. Makes about 20 cookies.

Adapted from Averie Cooks.

Macros per cookie: 72 calories, 6 grams fat, 6 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 1 gram protein, Net Carbs 3    Calculated from MyFitnessPal based on a total of 20 cookies.

 

Colonial Williamsburg in December

Last December, as our Christmas present to each other, my husband and I took a weekend trip to Colonial Williamsburg.  We stayed at the Parkside Williamsburg Resort, which is just a few miles from downtown Williamsburg.  We had visited in April 2009, and I had always wanted to see it again during the holidays.  CW has many events, programs, and activities every day of the week, so you have to plan ahead and choose what you want to do.  Their website www.colonialwilliamsburg.com has a detailed calendar and a printable PDF of the weekly events.  After checking out the schedule, we decided that we could see what we wanted to on one very long Saturday.  HOWEVER, if you go and have time, you could easily fill three or four days seeing and attending all that is available.  I had to prioritize for this visit.

A big tree in the “snow” room at Yankee Candle

On Friday afternoon we drove down from Richmond and decided to hit the massive and amazing Yankee Candle store in Williamsburg.  It was surprisingly not very crowded, which made it even better.  This store is huge, with every Yankee candle scent they make available to sniff and purchase.  They also have Christmas decorations galore.  There are Christmas villages on display, a room with permanent Christmas trees where it snows every few minutes, gifts of all kinds, and in December kids can visit Santa! If you visit, give yourself lots of time to browse all the goodies.  Our tip:  if you find something there you think you want, don’t wait until Sunday morning before you are heading out of town to drop in and pick it up…that’s when the entire population of Williamsburg brings their kids to see Santa (and buy tons of candles).  The lines get long, but the staff is super efficient and they keep it moving well.

Look, it’s the Family Truckster from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation!

A pleasant surprise was Rick’s Cheese Steak on Prince George Street.  It isn’t fancy, but the cheesesteaks were way better than what we had in Philly.  Sorry, Philly!

Next morning we were up bright and early to get breakfast at Colonial Pancake House.  We enjoyed our meal then headed to Historic Colonial Williamsburg.  You can walk from the Visitor’s Center over to the Historic Area, or you can take a shuttle bus.  We opted to walk.  Happily, the weather was fabulous for early December.  It was cold but sunny, and there wasn’t much wind.  Our plan was to walk around and look at some of the historic houses, catch a couple of programs, make absolutely sure we got lunch at the King’s Arms Tavern, pop in to a few more buildings and programs, take the decorations walking tour in the afternoon, tour the Governer’s Palace late in the day, watch the Illumination on the Palace Green, and finish up with another Christmas themed walking tour.

We attended the Rare Breeds program, where they explain about the heritage animals they keep and their breeding programs.

We did make it to lunch at the Kings’ Arms, which is a “refined chophouse” with authentic period decor but a menu that has been adapted to 21st-century tastes, and we knew exactly what to order.  Norfolk Pottage Pye:  “Tender Chicken and aromatic Vegetables made into a creamy Stew and baked beneath a flaky Pastry Shell”, which is a lovely way to describe the very best chicken pot pie ever.  I had this when we visited in 2009 and had to get it again.  It might sound like we came all the way back just for a chicken pot pie.  Well, maybe.  It is really good.  I can’t believe I didn’t take a picture!

The Christmas Decorations Walking Tour was fun and very informative.  All the decorations are fabricated with natural elements or things that would have been available to the residents of Colonial Williamsburg.  Of course, during that time period, no one in their right mind would stick a bunch of apples and pineapples out on the front of their house to look pretty, or indeed even spend time and effort decorating outdoors for Christmas, but times have changed and it sure does look good!  The wreaths are intricate and cleverly designed to reflect the occupation of the building’s owner; for instance, a tavern might include pewter tankards in their decorations.

All the fruit is real and is frequently replaced as it starts to look bad.  There is a dedicated little group of people who go around checking all the decorations and refreshing them so they always look picture perfect.

After this bracing and fun tour, we felt like warming up, as the wind had picked up a bit and it was pretty cold.  We were able to attend the tasting at R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse.  This is a restored building that was once a social hub for all kinds of meetings.  You have a choice between coffee and chocolate–prepared in a more or less historically accurate way.  We opted for chocolate.  This is not “hot cocoa” from a packet.  It is very thick and not very sweet.  They have cream and sugar on the tables and I added both to make it really yummy.  It’s like drinking a candy bar from a tiny cup.

Our next stop was the Governor’s Palace, where we opted to go on our own instead of on a guided tour.  The sun set while we were inside, and they have a few candles lit but it is REALLY dark in there.  I was gawking up at the hundreds of muskets on the wall in the stairwell, missed a step, and pulled a muscle in my calf.  Oh. My. Word.  Had to sit down for a little bit, but there was more to see and we were leaving the next day.  So I limped slowly through the rest of our visit, even though my sweet husband kept offering to go get the car and take me back to the condo.

The Illumination of the Palace Green was exciting.  By then it was totally dark.   Visitors assembled on and around the Green and the CW staff lit the cressets in front of the buildings, muskets were fired, and then the fife and drum corps played and marched down the center of the green as the crowd parted before them.

We had time to kill before our last walking tour so we went outside of the Historic District to Williamsburg proper, past the skating rink, visited a couple of cute gift shops, and had some great pizza for dinner.  Then I hobbled back into the Historic District to join our last tour.  It was interesting and a little sad.  They took us through four time periods on Christmas Eve in Williamsburg and the struggles people went through.

All done (and done in!), we started limping back toward the Visitor’s Center where the car was parked.  Fortunately, we were able to catch one of the shuttle buses halfway and ride the rest of the way back.  It’s a lovely walk but less so in the dark when it’s 40 degrees.

I had borrowed my husband’s Fitbit for the day and logged 9 miles of walking–about one and a half after my little accident with the stairs.  It was all worth it, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.  I would, however, be more careful on the stairs.

If you get the opportunity to visit the Williamsburg area, I highly recommend it.  There are so many things to do and see that you could easily spend at least a week.

 

Make Your Christmas Tree Smell Amazing

One of the things people love most about a fresh Christmas tree or wreath is the amazing scent.  We don’t have a fresh tree or wreath so far this year, but I do happen to have a bottle of Rocky Mountain Oils Spruce oil so I just put about ten drops of the oil all along this little pine cone and nestled it among the branches of the tree.  I don’t recommend placing essential oils directly ON your artificial tree branches, as they might melt your needles.   Pine or fir oil would be wonderful, but I don’t have those on hand so spruce will have to do.

Right now I am diffusing 3 drops of the Spruce oil and a half teaspoon of vanilla extract– yes, just the regular real vanilla baking extract I get in a big bottle from Sam’s Club.  (Disclaimer–don’t do this if you are worried about voiding your diffuser warranty.)  Mine is long expired, so I walk on the wild side.

I figure I will need to refresh the pine cone every few days to keep it smelling amazing.

Do you have any tips on making your tree smell “real”?

 

Little Christmas Village

Years ago, my brother-in-law and his wife gifted us a little ceramic Texaco station for Christmas.  They gave us two more over the years, and since you can’t have a village composed solely of filling stations, I had to get more little houses.   I added one or two little buildings each year until they outgrew my display space.

Here’s how I set up a very simple village display on a buffet in our living room.  One tip for a nicer display is varying the heights on your houses.  You can use anything underneath, but I use the foam packing boxes that the houses are stored in.  They are white and sturdy.  I have twelve buildings so I put six foam inserts on the back of the buffet.

Then I set all the houses in place on the buffet.  They all have light bulbs that go inside so I have to get the bulbs and cords arranged.  I put the houses on the floor in order, then lay out the cords on the buffet with bulbs in place.  If you have at least five houses, I highly recommend a multi bulb string so you don’t have so many cords to plug in.  I have two 5 bulb strings and use a 2 bulb string to get the last couple of houses.  I fiddle around with this until it makes sense.  Tip:  check your bulbs to make sure they all work at this point.  These generally take a 4 watt bulb.  I use a power strip to light the village because I need at least three outlets and you can easily switch the whole village on and off.  I store it with the village so there is no hunting it down every Christmas.

Christmas villages must sit on a blanket of snow (it helps hide the cords!), so I use a length of cotton batting.  You can find these with the Christmas decorations or get some from the fabric or craft store.  There are different thicknesses available.  The one I have now is on the thin side but it works.  I would love to create a Styrofoam village base at some point, but this is not the year for that project.

Once the cords and bulbs are in place, I drape the “snow” over them.  At this point I used scissors to cut little slits so the bulbs will fit through them and carefully worked the bulbs through the “snow”.

Next I placed the houses in their spots, putting the light bulbs in the houses as I go.  Some fit through the bottom and some go through the back.

Once they are in place, I add little goodies like figurines, trees, and firewood.  I made a little pond from an old locker mirror with some cotton around the edges.  The tiny “logs” are maple branches I cut up with pruners.

All done!

Here are a few close ups: