Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Greatest Gifts

What a wonderful Christmas it was – I have so much to be thankful for.  
Aside from exhaustion J, the three days I spent with family brought laughing, storytelling, singing and dancing, eating and drinking, and some of the greatest gifts I have ever received. 

Here are some of the best…

My niece dancing in front of the fireplace to Jingle Bell Rock

Watching the annual Christmas movie

My nephew strumming Metallica and Pink Floyd… and my grandma
“Spanish style” to it

Cheesy potatoes and beef tenderloin

My husband smiling at me from across the table

The after-dinner napkin folding contest

Dad and The Beatles

The dog “helping” us unwrap presents and the cat "testing" the cheesecake

Me and Mom giggling at Jimmy Fallon

All truly great presents this year…....isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
I’m ready for a nap…

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Most Wonderful Time

So, here it is…

After weeks of shopping, wrapping, decorating, baking, planning and just plain fluffing - in a little under 24 hours from now, Santa Claus will be making his way down our chimneys and into our hearts.


And oh, what fun it has been.  It is in the mist of all of this chaos that I realize how very blessed I am to have...
A wonderful husband, an amazing family, great friends, coworkers and a job that I love.
And I would be remiss not to mention my fluffy children.  
All of this has truly made all of the fussing worth it.

As I write these words of gratitude, I wish for you and your family the very best and brightest Christmas and a very joyful and healthy 2015.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from my Cowgirl heart to yours.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Celebrating Christmas in a Stately Manor

Our annual tour of The Manor House is one of my favorite holiday traditions.  Touring the area’s most iconic mansion serves as somewhat of a red carpet opening to our region's Christmas season and has grown into one of its most beloved events. 

The glorious 30,000 square foot Georgian Colonial Manor House was built in the 1930’s by Robert and Page Stranahan. 

Once known as Stranleigh Manor to its family, the estate rests upon 750 acres that are now known as Wildwood Preserve Metropark.

Here are some highlights from our tour.


Candy cane stripes and elves adorn kitchen shelves.

Collections of ceramic teapots and crystal stemware are seen through beautiful open cabinetry. 


An Americana theme is carried throughout the dining room.
Equestrian art and ornaments bring handsome warmth to the study.

Beary special guests enjoy a party all of their own.


A wreath with natural elements and woodland creatures dresses a second floor sitting room.

An arrangement of twigs and greens adorns an outside urn.

Until next year, Stranleigh...
Have a wonderful week!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Very Merry Holiday Gift Giving

Every holiday shopping list has one… that impossible-to-buy-for friend or family member.  But there’s really no need to despair - just think outside of the box.  Spending a few minutes thinking about the person’s interests will help you come up with a very merry and clever gift.

Embellish wine bottles with pretty ribbons and tie on wine-related accessories.


For the arts and crafts lover, give tickets to a local museum exhibit, art supplies, or craft idea books and magazines.

For the wine enthusiast, slip a bottle into a wine bag and embellish with wine-related baubles like pretty stoppers, wine charms, cocktail napkins or a fancy corkscrew.  

For the sports fan, choose game-day memorabilia, clothing and accessories in favorite team colors, or tickets to an upcoming sporting event.

For the out-of-town relative, create a gift basket filled with local specialties, make a scrapbook of vintage family photos, or gather beloved family recipes and present them in a festive container or tin. 
Fill a vintage basket with locally-made soaps, candles or chocolates for a unique presentation.

And who says gift cards aren’t personal?  They can be extremely if you keep the recipient in mind – a round of golf, a pedicure at a favorite spa, or dinner at a special restaurant.

Remember, whatever you decide to give your loved one, it’s the thought that counts. 
Have a great week!

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Well-Dressed Table

Happy Monday!  I am so elated to share this post with you as it is my first style article to be published in a local newspaper.  Here is how it appeared in print.

And here is a close-up version.

Hold on, Santa Claus.  We love you dearly, but there is another holiday to celebrate before your sleigh pulls into town.  With retailers promoting Christmas earlier and earlier, it’s easy to want to skip Thanksgiving decorations altogether. 
However, a day in which we set aside time to give thanks for our blessings deserves its own spotlight.  A beautifully decorated dining table will establish the tone of your meal and serve as the backdrop for the event.

When decorating your Thanksgiving table:

·        Mix heirloom pieces with your current tableware.  Mom’s china and grandma's flatware evoke memories of loved ones and provide an opportunity to share family stories from years past.

·        Pumpkins, gourds and mums can look a little tired by late November, so feel free to incorporate fresh, dried, and even silk elements into your centerpiece.

·        Use neutral runners, napkins, and white plates and platters to allow dinner to take center stage. 

·        Add a touch of turquoise to provide a stunning contrast to autumn’s rusts, golds and reds. Try candleholders or a vase in this rich shade.
·        Place markers add personalization and warmth to your table.

However you dress your turkey table, be sure to savor the day with your family and enjoy the final days of fall’s glory.
Have a wonderful week and a very Happy Thanksgiving!



Monday, November 17, 2014

A Twist on Tradition

Everyone knows that you don’t mess with tradition, especially on Thanksgiving.  So slipping in a new dish between the green bean casserole and sweet potatoes can be a tad risky. Albeit traditions are what holidays are made of, but when I found this recipe for Cornbread-Chorizo Dressing in New Mexico Magazine last fall, I knew I had to shakes things up a bit. 

I actually made this dressing three times within six weeks – Cowgirls love corn bread!
The first time was the trial run. Then I served it on Thanksgiving.  It was so good that I made it again for Christmas Eve.

Below is the recipe; however, if you would like to read the original article which also includes recipes for Pumpkin Soup; Red-Chile Rubbed Turkey; and Cranberry, Fig and Pistachio Relish, here is the article 

Have a great week!

Cornbread-Chorizo Dressing
·         ¾ pound French bread, torn in bite-size pieces
·         8 ounces bulk chorizo sausage
·         8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
·         2 heaping cups chopped onions or leeks
·         2 heaping cups thin-sliced celery
·         1 to 1½ tablespoons crumbled dried sage
·         2 teaspoons dried thyme
·         1 teaspoon salt
·         ½ teaspoon freshly milled pepper
·         8-inch-square pan of cornbread (made from a 15-ounce package of cornbread mix, if you wish), crumbled coarsely
·         3 to 4 cups turkey stock (see above) or low-sodium chicken stock
·         4 large eggs
·         ½ teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 375° F. Place French-bread pieces on baking sheet and toast in oven about 10 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp. Set aside to cool, then dump into large bowl.

Butter 9 by 13-inch baking dish several inches deep. Over medium heat, sauté chorizo in large skillet, breaking it into small bits with spatula as you cook, until well browned. Drain off and discard excess fat. Add butter to chorizo in same skillet, and melt over medium heat. Stir in onions and celery and sauté until very soft, about 7 minutes. Add sage, thyme, salt, and pepper, and scrape into bowl of toasted bread pieces. Add cornbread crumbles. Pour in stock a cup at a time, and mix together until bread is very moist but not soupy. You will probably use 2 to 3 cups of stock. Cover and refrigerate dressing until you are ready to proceed with it. (Up to this point, dressing can be made a day ahead.)

Finish preparing dressing after turkey has roasted about 1hour. Taste and adjust seasoning if you wish, or add a bit more stock if mixture seems dry. Whisk eggs and baking powder together and mix into dressing. Spoon dressing into baking dish, leaving it somewhat uneven on top, so that it will get extra-crunchy in some spots. Cover, place in oven with turkey, and bake 25 minutes. Uncover and continue baking about 20 additional minutes, until lightly browned and crusty on top.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Savoring Autumn

In just a few short weeks, we’ll be decking our halls - stringing lights, trimming the tree and hanging the stockings with care.  After all, our pumpkins are starting to look a little squishy and the mums… they’ve seen better days. 

So, I thought I’d give you one last look at fall decorations in all their glory. 
This tour happens to be the home of a fabulous decorator – my Mom.  She just has a way with balance and placement.  And her floral arrangements are some of the best I’ve seen.  How lucky was I to have her to design my wedding flowers?
Here are some pictures of her great room and dining table.  Enjoy!
Getting up close and personal with the mantle. Lots of textures create a cozy scene.


The green globes cast a beautiful light against the fall colors.


A rustically simple dining table is ready for a Thanksgiving feast.


A touch of turquoise adds an additional layer of depth to the arrangement.


Have a great week!



Monday, November 3, 2014

Tricked or Treat

We were duped by Mother Nature, big time.  Only in the Midwest do you get 40 mile an hour winds, freezing rain and snow on Halloween.  Needless to say, Trick or Treat was a big flop this weekend.  Anyone need any candy?  Chocolate eyeballs?  Gummy worms?  Plastic spiders?

No need to despair – we still have plenty of time to celebrate the remainder of fall.  We’ve got a few leaves left on the trees and pumpkins and football and Thanksgiving! 

Did I mention pumpkins?  We have plenty of time to enjoy our pumpkins and this Triple-Layer Pumpkin Spice Pie.

Triple-Layer Pumpkin Spice Pie
2 cups cold milk*
2 pkg. (4-serving size each) JELL-O Pumpkin Spice Flavor
Instant Pudding
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
1 8 oz. tub of whipped topping, thawed
1 graham pie crust
Pecan halves, optional

Beat milk, pudding mixes and cinnamon with wire whisk until well blended. Spread 1 ½ cups onto bottom of crust.  Add 1 ½ cups of whipped topping to remaining pudding mixture; stir gently.  Spoon over layer in crust; top with remaining whipped topping.  Refrigerate 1 hour.  Sprinkle with cinnamon or with toasted pecan halves if desired.  *I used skim milk, and it was wonderful.  Here’s the original recipe.

Sorry, Father Christmas, you will have to wait a few weeks for the Cowgirl.  She’s holding out for a good old-fashioned Griswold Family Thanksgiving. 

Have a great week!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Very Chili Halloween

The evening air is brisk, darkness is falling earlier and earlier, and the leaves are in full transformation - for Halloween is just two days away. 

Whether you’ll be romping the neighborhood with your little goblins or divvying out the tricks and treats,

Halloween is a ghastly good time for all. 

But don’t let the insanity of rushing home from work and the whole dinner thing spoil your haunt. 
Since you know well in advance that you’ll be snitching the available edibles from the bag or the bowl, why not kick off your week of sugar highness with something healthy.

A big pot of chili can be prepared the night before and will certainly ward off any ghoulish hunger pains before or after the big event. 
Plus, chili is always better the second day after all of the spices and ingredients have had a chance to meld.

Here is my long-time recipe for chili - I even won a people’s choice award once.  
I love that it’s really simple, has lots of chunkiness to it, and you can vary the degree of hotness just by amping up a few of the spices.

Chili con Carne
1 ½ lbs. lean ground beef or turkey
1 cup chopped sweet onion
1 cup chopped bell pepper, any color
¾ cup water
1 can condensed tomato soup
2-3 tablespoons chili powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
A few glugs of hot pepper sauce
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 oz. can of green chiles
28 oz. can of diced fire roasted tomatoes, undrained
6 oz. can of tomato paste (Hunt’s)
2 cans of dark kidney beans, drained

Brown beef or turkey and drain.  In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, add all ingredients, except beans.  Stir well and bring mixture to a boil. 
Reduce heat, then simmer for 1 ½ - 2 hours, stirring occasionally.  Stir in beans toward the end and simmer until they are heated.  Makes six, 1 ½ cup servings.

The house is decorated; dinner is all set – now for my costume.  Hmmm….

 I know!  I’ll be a Cowgirl this year…J

Have a frighteningly great week!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Say Cheese!

Nothing signals the start of the entertaining season better than October.  With its chilly evening air and earlier nightfall, the whole month just exudes coziness to me.  It’s time to invite some friends, light some candles, and pour some wine. 

For these types of gatherings, I like to serve casual, no fuss foods.  A beautiful cheese platter with a variety of items is that perfect food.   It’s one that you can arrange in advance, giving you more quality time to spend with your guests.  Why spend your evening hovering over a hot stove or secluded in the kitchen? 
Cheese is elegant and satisfying and is best served at room temperature, so it can remain on the buffet for the duration of your event. 

To build your cheese platter, start with a pretty plate, tray or cutting board.  Then choose your cheeses – four or five will do.  Try a goat cheese with herbs, Gouda or a Spanish Manchego, Camembert or a French Brie, a blue such as Roquefort, and a Cheddar.
Choosing cheeses from different countries also offers something fun to talk about while comparing flavors.

Of course these are just suggestions.  Don’t be afraid to experiment.  There is no wrong way to serve cheese.  If you don’t like a particular cheese, feel free to use one that you do.  A variety of flavors, textures and milk types is the key. 
You could also create a theme platter with cheeses from one geographical area such as Italy, France or Wisconsin.  It may be helpful to label the cheeses as guests may not be familiar with all of the varieties on the plate. 

Building a Cheese Platter
Arrange the cheeses toward the corners of your platter, and then fill in the spaces between with some of the following accoutrements.

Cured meats
– salami, prosciutto, pepperoni

Dried or fresh fruits
to add sweetness and complement the cheeses - dates, red grapes, figs, sliced apples and pears

– a mixture of your favorites or stuffed varieties will do
Add something crunchy for texture and contrast to the cheese – almonds, pecans or spiced pumpkin seeds

Crusty breads and crackers – water crackers, baguettes and specialty breads are the perfect vehicle to move the cheese
Garnish your plate with what’s in season – fresh herbs, leaves or edible berries

Serve your cheese at room temperature – let it stand for approximately 30 minutes to an hour
Remember - you can do no wrong.  Just think flavor, texture and variety.   And don’t forget the wine!

Have a great week!