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A tale of two birthday parties

We've been doing some celebrating around here recently. We have five grandchildren. Four of them have birthdays in the months of January, February, March, and April.

Little Della has the January birthday. She turned one on the eleventh. Her dad's family came from Iowa, Maryland, and Virginia to help celebrate this very special event. The party was held at our house so I got to help Nora with some of the preparations. We all had a good time helping Della celebrate.

Nora made this cute birthday banner:


She also made these cute little elephant cookies:


I made this strawberry cake and her little smash cake:


She loved it when we sang to her and she would just beam. Later in the evening as she got fussy we would sing again and her mood would change instantly. :)


She also quickly learned that birthday cakes are quite tasty!


The February birthday child is Maddie who turned three on Valentine's Day. She and her parents and her brother Drew were here in town for a conference for several days the week of her birthday so we planned a little joint birthday celebration for our side of the family for both Maddie and Della. This party had a Woodland theme.

Unfortunately Maddie was sick on her actual birthday so we had to postpone the party. On the new party date we had a snowstorm so some of the guests were unable to attend. We still had fun even though our numbers were diminished.

Nora made gnome hats for the boys and purchased fairy wings for the girls at the Dollar Store.


The birthday girl:


Megan made banners with each girl's name:


Nora made gnome cookies and I made a toadstool cake. I made the cake the day before the party and overnight it shifted somewhat so it looked a little like a toadstool that had been through an earthquake. :)



Nora and Drew made some cute little acorn Nutter Butter treats and some strawberry marshmallow "toadstools." We rounded out the meal with some cole slaw, baked beans, and some delicious loose meat sandwiches. We actually served the loose meat sandwiches at both of the parties. They are delicious and are a great recipe to remember when you want to serve a crowd.


We had a good time celebrating these two birthdays and as my husband would say, "A good time was had by all."


My cheesy Christmas gift

I got this cheese making kit for Christmas.


I had read about it and thought it would be fun to try. The kit contains some of the ingredients needed to make thirty batches of fresh mozzarella or ricotta. You don't actually need to buy a kit to make ricotta--all you need is milk and an acid. You do have to provide milk which has not been pasturized at a high temperature and distilled water.

I tried a batch a few weeks ago and I did indeed end up with some fresh mozzarella. We ate some of it while it was still warm and then I shredded the rest and used it in some stuffed shells that I made. It melted well and tasted like the store-bought kind.

I don't plan to begin making all of our cheese because of the time and expense involved. It's actually cheaper and a lot less time consuming to purchase ready made mozzarella. I do want to try another batch using powdered milk to see how that compares and I would like to make a big batch of ricotta for a couple of recipes that we like.

I did learn a couple of things from my brief foray into cheese-making. I read a tip about placing your cheese in the freezer for about 20 minutes before you want to grate it. It firms up soft cheeses and makes them easier to grate. Another tip to make grating easier is to spray the grater or food processor blade with cooking spray.

One of the most surprising tips I learned is about clean up. When I made the cheese one of the steps was to drain the curds through a cheesecloth lined colander. When time came to clean up the cheesecloth was imbedded with soft cheese. My first thought was to just throw it away and start with new cheesecloth next time. I read on the cheese kit website that they recommended that you simmer the cloth in a saucepan with some baking soda. I tried this and the melty cheese came completely out of the cloth! I have since tried this tip when cleaning a saucepan after making a milk based soup. The sticky milk residue just dissolves away when you soak the pan with some warm water and a little baking soda.

I discovered from making the cheese that I ended up with several quarts of whey. I did use some of it in a batch of bread but I ended up throwing most of it away. I have since read that you can use it to water acid loving plants such as blueberries and hydrangeas.

So, that was my cheesy Christmas gift. Did you get any unusual gifts?


A few new things

It seems that I often find myself trying to come up with ideas to utilize partial amounts of ingredients such as part of a can of evaporated milk, a cup of spaghetti sauce, or half a block of cream cheese. I recently ran across a recipe that would utilize that half block of cream cheese that was in the fridge and decided to try it. The result was these delicious Cream Cheese Brownies. I saw the recipe on the America's Test Kitchen TV show on PBS. We thought the brownies were delicious and I plan to definitely add this recipe to my file.


I needed to make a dessert for a church function recently and I tried a new recipe for Old Fashioned Apple Cake from the King Arthur flour website. It too was very tasty. It helped use up some fall apples that were starting to shrivel a bit. The frosting is especially good.


Hyacinths are one of my favorite flowers. I found this bulb in the vase at the grocery store a couple weeks ago and we have enjoyed watching it grow and finally bloom. It smells wonderful! After it wilts Rob will plant it out in the yard to add to our collection. Forcing spring bulbs is one of my favorite after Christmas traditions. It makes it seem like spring truly is approaching soon. :)


Anything new going on at your house?


Peter Piper….


If you completed that phrase in your mind you have discovered the theme of this post--pickled peppers. I saw the recipe for these pickled peppers a few months ago on the Iowa Housewife blog and was intrigued by it. My dad used to can very hot peppers which he adored but they are not something either Rob nor I care for. This recipe is for a sweet refrigerator pickle rather than a pickle that has to be brined and canned. You do need to be patient for a couple of weeks to allow the flavors to develop a bit before you dig into them. We like them on sandwiches and they would also work well in things like Three Bean or Potato Salad for a little zing or color. I would not advise substituting them in savory dishes such as Chicken a la King as I think they would be too sweet, but if you try them you can see what you think.

To make the pickles you can use large red, yellow, or orange bell peppers or you can use some of the smaller colored peppers which are often sold quite inexpensively by the bagful these days. I have tried this recipe with both kinds. I found that I needed more brine to cover the peppers completely in the jars so have adapted the recipe accordingly.

Pickled Peppers

2 large red bell peppers (or yellow or orange)
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 Tbsps. olive oil
1 tsp. sea salt

Sterilize a couple of jars. Pints work well for this. Wash peppers, remove most of the seeds and membranes and then slice into strips. Cover with boiling water and then let them soak for about 5 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile combine the vinegar, water and sugar and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes and then remove from heat. Add garlic, olive oil, and salt. Place the peppers in the prepared jars and then pour the vinegar mixture over them to cover. Store in the refrigerator for two weeks before using. These will keep for several months in the refrigerator. They are very tasty and easy to make.

One of our favorite ways to use them is making these sandwiches:


There is not a real "recipe" for these. Here are some general directions for making them.

Briefly heat tortillas in the microwave. Cover with a damp paper towel to prevent them from drying out. For just two tortillas I would microwave for 20 seconds on high.


Spread a layer of vegetable dip down the middle of the tortilla. If you do not have vegetable dip you could use ranch dressing or a combination of ranch dressing and cream cheese. Add some grated cheese and thinly sliced lunch meat. I generally use ham or turkey.


Top with a lettuce leaf, some sliced cucumbers, and some fresh or pickled peppers.


Roll up and fasten with a toothpick. I like to wrap these in plastic wrap. They work well for school lunches or when we are travelling. If you just unwrap the top these are easy to eat without creating a mess in the car. You can also make these with other types of wraps such as the Flat Out brand, but I normally keep tortillas on hand and they are less expensive.


A recent adventure

We have been passing the flu around here since Christmas. Our granddaughter had it just before she and her family arrived on Christmas day. Our daughter came down with it during the drive from Michigan. Rob got it the week after they went home and I came down with it this weekend. Hopefully this saga will end soon. Daughter Nora brought by some Corn Chowder which we enjoyed for lunch and let us wish (from a distance) Happy Birthday to little Della who turned one today.

We had "one brief shining moment" when both of us were feeling pretty well and decided to go on a little adventure. Our first stop was in Lexington, SC at The Farmers Shed Restaurant. We almost went to the wrong place. The Farmer's Shed shares a parking lot with a restaurant called Belly's Barbecue. After inquiring we realized we were in the wrong place. The Farmer's Shed looks like an old weathered building with lots of flower pots and garden supplies outside. You pass through an area where they sell produce, baked goods, jams, etc., go down a breezeway and enter the door to The Farmer's Shed Restaurant. We were delighted that we found the right place.


The tables and chairs are all old dinette sets and there is a rotating menu every day of about five main choices and several sides.




The service was quick and our food was delicious! The restaurant has been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and a map on the wall with stickpins proves that it has brought the restaurant visitors from virtually every state!

I got a pork chop, green beans, and corn souffle. Rob chose Shrimp and Grits, coleslaw and a squash casserole.



After lunch we headed to downtown Columbia to the Columbia Museum of Art where there was a special exhibit by Norman Rockwell. It runs through January 18, 2015. The exhibit consists of photographs that Rockwell used to make drawings which eventually became the paintings used for the covers of the Saturday Evening Post. It was very interesting to see all the stages he went through to come up with the completed picture.


Our final stop along the way was at Cromer's which advertises itself as having peanuts that are "Guaranteed Worst In Town."


We didn't buy any peanuts but Rob did get some coffee and I tried some of their popcorn. All in all it was a very good day and we were thankful for the chance to do a little exploring in the Columbia area.


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