Friday, February 26, 2016

Damsel in Defense

     I was raised in a family with a history of military service and law enforcement.  Because of this, I grew up being constantly reminded about being aware of my surroundings and ways to protect myself - right down to code words to be used in emergency situations.  Self defense is an important skill that I believe everyone should learn.  There are also wonderful products on the market to help people protect themselves, and especially level the playing field for a woman who may be attacked by a man who is much larger and stronger than she.

Get a Grip - Stun Gun 
     Damsel in Defense is a Christian company that is selling self defense products designed for women.  You can find these products at Kari Donovan's affiliate website.  She joined this business because she wanted to help women learn how to defend themselves and their children from violent crime.  After a friend told her of how her teenage daughter was attacked by a man in a locker room, she decided to encourage women to work with their children and teach them about self defense.  She is working with people using the motto "Don't be scared.  Be prepared."

Pouch O Pepper
     Kari's favorite products are the Conceal Kari purse ($75),  Get a Grip-Stun Gun ($65), Pouch O Pepper ($15), and Holla alarms  ($15).  The Stun gun fits perfectly in the hand and comes in 5 colors, making it appear non-threatening to an attacker.   The high power flashlight is a terrific added feature to this stun gun.  The pepper spray is the strongest on the market and can disable an attacker for upwards of 30 minutes - more than sufficient time for escape.  Did you know that women have fought off rapists with pepper spray alone?  The purse is a big roomy bag with many pockets.  It is great for all of the levels of self defense tools a woman needs.  And the alarm is a wonderful tool that can be given to children so that they may roam from their parents, but be clearly heard in case of an emergency.  It's attached to a key chain for easy access.

Conceal Kari Purse
     A violent crime happens every 26 seconds.  One in five women are survivors of rape.  And a child is abducted every 40 seconds.  Protecting yourself and your children is always a good thing.  Visit Kari's affiliate page here to purchase products, arrange to host a product party, or just to contact her to ask more about her products.

     Whatever you do, talk to your children about how to stay safe.  And if you aren't sure what to do, find out.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Amazing No Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

     My son wanted a sweet treat this week and although there were chocolate chips in the pantry, I was out of both butter and margarine.  I know this is a common theme for me, but I just didn't feel like running to the store.  So, instead, I hopped on the internet and searched for a chocolate chip cookie recipe that would work with the ingredients I had on hand.  What I stumbled across was a fabulous blog that I just had to share here.

     Miriam is a hard-working woman who has been posting amazing recipes on her blog for years.  Overtime Cook is filled with all sorts of cookie recipes and so much more.  I could spend months sampling all of the recipes that she has posted.  But for this week's recipe highlight, let's just talk about Chocolate Chip Cookies that don't use butter or margarine.  C'mon... you know you've run into this problem, too.  I can't be the only person who loses track of her kitchen inventory, right?

     Now, in the interest of complete honesty, let me tell you that nothing compares with chocolate chip cookies made with real butter.  And I have no intention of replacing my go-to recipe.  But when I'm in a pinch or when I need to make a very large quantity of cookies and need to save money, this is definitely the recipe I plan to use.  Try it yourself and see if it's not absolutely delicious.  Happy baking!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

5 Tips for Homemade Convenience Food

     For those of us working on doing more of our own cooking for our families, there are lots and lots of unnecessary ingredients that we don't miss having in our foods.  Unfortunately, the one ingredient we do miss is convenience.  Ahhh... Remember the days of quick meals that required no prep work and a single dish?  Sure, the food tasted artificial and processed, and God alone knew what we were putting into our bodies, but it was so easy. 

     Have no fear!  I'm here to share some ideas to help you enjoy some easy nights like that again.  The difference is that the food is still homemade, by you.  You are going to be the kitchen superstar who plans ahead and creates her own convenience.  Doesn't that sound great?

Pre-packaged hamburger patties - that taste good!
  • Tip #1 - Hamburgers - You can go to the grocery store and purchase premade, frozen hamburger patties in a box for roughly double the price it costs to purchase the ground beef.  These patties are flavorless and have been moved from freezer to freezer for who knows how long before they finally reach your family's table.  Instead, why not buy a couple extra pounds of ground beef at the store to make your own easy frozen hamburger patties.  You know... ones that taste really good!  Just take a few moments to mix in your favorite seasonings and possibly some egg and bread crumbs (that's how I make mine), and then form them into patties.  Once your patties are ready, you can individually wrap them in plastic wrap, freeze them and store them all together in a large ziploc bag or tupperware container.  When hamburger night rolls around you can bring out however many patties you need and let them defrost in the refrigerator that day.  They taste so good, you will never want grocery store premade, frozen patties again.
  • Tip #2 - French Fries or Potato Chips - These tasty sides work on the same theory as the other suggestions I have.  Do most of the work before you freeze them.  You can parboil and run them through the first go-round in the fryer.  Instead of the finishing fry, bag them up and freeze them.  On dinner night they will need some time in the fryer or oven.  It works just like the frozen french fries you buy at the grocery store, except they cost roughly 1/4 as much.
Hamburger & hot dog buns ready to defrost and bake.
  • Tip #3 - Buns or Pizza Dough - Do you want to stop buying that creepy bread at the store that has a month long shelf life?  Really... Did you know that "day old bread" is an actual thing because bread is only fresh and soft for one day?!?!  Makes you wonder about Wonder Bread, huh?  But do you really have time to bake your own hamburger buns or pizza dough every time?  Of course you do!  Double the next batch you make!  Put half of it in the freezer for a day when you don't have time.  For hamburger or hot dog buns, work until the step where you have formed your dough into buns.  Instead of letting it rise the second time, freeze them.  Then you just wrap them in individual plastic wrap, or you can even skip that step and load them straight into a bag or a tupperware.  For pizza dough, work until you are ready to let it rise.  Wrap it up and put it in the freezer.  When you want fresh bread items for dinner, but don't have time (or the energy to clean the KitchenAid), you can just unwrap them to defrost and rise.  The only work on your part is popping them into the oven.
  • Tip #4 - Beef Stew - Would you love a delicious beef stew for dinner after a long day at work, but don't have the time to chop the potatoes, carrots and other ingredients before you leave in the morning.  No problem.  This is another one that can be packaged for convenience.  The next time you see some stew meat on sale (or even a nice roast), plan ahead and buy some extra.  Instead of storing the meat in the freezer as-is, take a few minutes to do some prep work.  Fill a tupperware or freezer bag with the meat, but don't stop there.  Add in your potatoes, carrots, seasonings, and broth - whatever you normally like in your beef stew (I put barley in mine).  With all of these ingredients in a single container, it's super quick and easy to start up the crockpot before work.  Run your ziploc baggie or tupperware under some hot water to release the dinner inside and let your crockpot do the rest.  You will come home to the wonderful smells of home cooking with none of the work or cleanup that you normally expect.
  • Tip #5 - Pre-Cut Meats - Grocery stores charge a fortune for the convenience of pre-packaged, pre-cut meats.  Have you seen the new fish fillets that come individually wrapped in single serving sizes?  Or how about chicken breast that has been cut down to the "perfect portion".  Save yourself some last minute work in the kitchen by doing some of this preparation for yourself.  The next time you buy a family sized package of chicken breast, cut it down for your needs before you put it in the freezer.  On nights when you are in a rush, skipping the step of having to cut the chicken into bite sized pieces or strips before you start cooking can be such a blessing.
     In my house, I try to do my meat shopping in bulk.  I like to go to the local grocery stores that mark their meat down when it's getting ready to go out of date.  The prices are much cheaper and I can afford to buy things that I otherwise wouldn't.  On these days, I find that by allowing a couple extra hours to get as much of the prep work out of the way as I can before everything goes into the freezer, I save myself time when the actually cooking is at hand.  And that little bit of preparation prevents any moments of wishing for the long gone days of packaged food from a box.

     Give it a try!  And let us know if you have any other suggestions for some homemade conveniences to add to our kitchens.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

New Craft Page

     I just added another new page to the blog - Crafts!  Anytime you see a blog post that includes a craft pattern, you will be able to come back and find it quickly and easily on the 'Crafts' page of the blog.  I will post links on that page directly to any patterns that are posted on the blog.  These links will take you directly to the pattern itself instead of the actual post.  I hope it will make it easier for everyone to find any crafts that they may want to try.  And don't worry... as the page grows I will make sure that it gets organized in an easy to navigate layout.

     I also want you to know that I am dying to share your ideas!  Do you have a blog of your own where you post knitting or crochet patterns?  Or perhaps you just have a favorite that you found on a website and think everyone should know about it.  Terrific!  Simply contact me about your favorite project and let's see if we can add it to the blog - with all of the appropriate credit and links.  I plan to highlight a new project every week.  It might as well be yours, right?  Let's work together to build an amazing resource list of fantastic projects that we can make for any season or holiday.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Electronic Armor

     Raise your hand if you have never dropped your smartphone or tablet before.  Okay... the one guy over in the corner by himself with his hand up can just stop reading right now.  Obviously you have some sort of magical magnetic ability that keeps your electronic devices in your hand rather than on the ground where the rest of us sometimes find ours.  For those of us who have dropped our devices, broken the glass screens, and just generally had bad luck beating up the very things that have become our life-lines to the world - we need to check this out.

     The product that I am actually reviewing is the Bastex Dual Layer Hybrid Full-Body Protective Case, which was designed for the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Lite (7").  However, you should know that this type of case is available for many tablets on the market.  If you have a different tablet and are interested in this type of case, I recommend going to Amazon and searching "tablet case dual layer".  I'm sure you can find the equivalent case for your own tablet.  There are even protectors of this type available for smartphones.

     So, why is this case so fantastic?  Because it can survive the abuse of a teenage boy and bring the tablet through without so much as a scratch or a ding.  The only harsher test I can think of for a protective case would be to take it outside and run it over with the car.  With that said, I can assure you that this model has been through intensive abuse.

     My son had this exact model of tablet protector for two years.  He dragged it to school, and sleepovers for months.  Then, when he transitioned to homeschool, the tablet's use more than doubled.  During the two years that he has had this case, the only thing that broke was the kickstand on the back.  That part isn't as sturdy as I would like for it to be.  But even with that part broken, my son got great use out of the protector.

     Now, I have received the opportunity to receive a new case for his tablet to review.  I was amazed when I removed my son's tablet from the old one.  I wiped it down and it looked brand new.  There wasn't the slightest ding to be found.  I placed the new case on his tablet and we are set to go.  My son is thrilled to have the new case and to be able to stand it up on his desk again for projects.  He promises to be more careful with the stand this time.  Whatever happens with that, I have to say that I sleep better at night knowing that I'm not going to be replacing a broken tablet anytime soon.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Starting the Spring DeCluttering

     So, that fuzzy little groundhog poked his head out earlier this month and we all know what that means, don't we?  It's time to start thinking about spring cleaning.  The question is... Is spring cleaning the ultimate evil chore that you dread each and every year?  Or is it just a simple opportunity to get rid of some unnecessary items around the house?  Whatever your answer, I promise that next year can definitely be a simpler year.  But, in order for that to happen, we need to get this year out of the way first.

     Before we clean anything, let's start with some spring de-cluttering and organizing.  After all, no matter what Phil the Groundhog says, it's still a good time to get a jump start on this part of our spring cleaning.  I use a very simple system to start de-cluttering my home.  First, you are going to need three boxes, bins or bags.  This is a very popular strategy when starting an organizing project and you may have tried it before.  One box is for things you want to keep, another is for things you want to sell or give away, and the third is for things to be thrown away.  Your strategy during the next few weeks is to move throughout your home attacking each room and filling the various boxes as you go. 

     If you are anything like me, you probably look around your home and wonder where to start this enormous project.  It can seem incredibly overwhelming.  That's okay.  Remember the old children's riddle...  How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.  You are going to de-clutter your home in the same way.  The way I choose my starting point is by trying to think of which cabinet or closet hasn't been opened in the longest time.  Chances are that by starting there, you will be able to load a lot into the sell / give away box or the throw away box.  After all, if it hasn't been opened much, then you probably don't use what's in there, right?

     Once you have completed this first spot, you will likely feel a sense of accomplishment for having rid yourself of some clutter and you will be ready to move on from there.  I generally continue by working my way through the room where that storage spot was and empty one more cabinet or closet each day.  When you are approaching a large storage closet, don't overwhelm yourself.  Remember to break it into bite sized pieces.  Maybe you want to approach a space like that one box at a time.  Another option would be one shelf at a time.  The trick is to keep moving.  Piece by piece, bite by bite, you will finish this task. 

     A great way to keep yourself motivated is to promise yourself a nice treat - to be purchased with the money you make from the garage sale that rids you of all this clutter.  One year, after an especially large garage sale that involved lots of work from the entire family, we used part of the earnings to enjoy a family dinner at a favorite restaurant.  The point is to give yourself a goal to work towards and something to look forward to at the end.

     And my final tip as you begin your de-cluttering journey...  Remember last year (if not, you will next year) when you were looking at that extra whatever it was in the kitchen drawer and couldn't decide whether or not to get rid of it?  Well, if you haven't used it since then, the answer is yes!  Let it go.  Some things are more difficult than others to let go.  I wrestle with my food dehydrator and ice cream maker every year.  They are still here.  I love them and use them, but is it enough to merit the amount of storage space that they use?  We each have to decide these things for ourselves.  Personally, I'm holding onto them in the hopes that someday there will be a lovely compact version on the market that I can enjoy without the guilt of the kitchen real estate that they occupy. 

     Good luck and happy sorting.  I'll be back in a few weeks with some great ideas to help organize all your newfound space.  And I am a big fan of the dollar store.  So, I'll be back with some great organizational ideas from there.  What can possibly beat cheap and super organized?!?!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Common Sense Craft Supplies

     For those of us that include crafting as part of our means to do for ourselves, I wanted to talk about yarn.  More specifically, I want to talk about yarn quality and using common sense in our yarn shopping.  There are beautiful hand spun yarns on the market.  There are as many brands of designer yarns today as there are designer handbags.  And if you want to spend $20+ on a skein or hank of yarn, your selection is almost limitless.  Unfortunately, expensive yarn is a luxury that I can't afford.  It's a treat that I receive for the occasional Mother's Day or Birthday gift.  Most of the time, I buy my yarn at the big box craft stores.

     Let's face it, those of us who choose to stay at home to care for our families usually sacrifice quite a lot financially - namely a second income.  That fact has a large impact on the decisions we make from the home we live in to the car we drive, the foods we choose to prepare, and our entertainment and other purchases. When we approach crafting projects, we do so from a perspective of budget and practicality.  Although this can force us to accept lesser quality products, it also requires us to be more creative.

     On that note, I wanted to share my insight on a mass produced yarn that is soft, easy to work with, comes in nice colors, and is inexpensive - Woolike (super fine) by Loops & Threads.  This is the house brand for Michael's craft stores and because of that fact alone, it is frequently ignored and considered a sub-quality yarn.  The truth is that this is an outstanding yarn for the price.  And if you like to make socks, or other projects that use a fingering weight yarn, there are a lot of advantages. 

     At 85% Acrylic and 15% Nylon, it's easy to work with, doesn't unravel, and holds up well in projects.  Each skein is 3.5oz / 678yds.  That's a lot of yardage for a single skein and that means one skein can easily make a typical pair of socks.  But with all of the great colors that they offer, who can resist using more than one skein on a project?  Unlike some other mainstream brands of yarn, you do need to be aware of dye lots, but that tends to be true for most yarns - and this one comes in 21 different colors.  Finally, my personal favorite detail of this yarn... $2.99 per skein.  Factor in the countless sales and coupons at Michael's and this yarn is an absolute steal.

     So, all of my fabulous common sense comrades, forget the siren call of the yarn snob.  Yes, we all want those gorgeous hand painted silk blend sock yarns, but aren't the bragging rights just as good when you got the bargain of the month on your yarn and still managed to make an ultra cool project from it?  Not to mention, at prices like this, you can afford to keep knitting until you drop.

**The super cool socks that are being knitted in the photo above are called Toxic and are designed by Carol Young.  The pattern can be purchased on for right around $4 (US).  I am super stingy when it comes to buying patterns because there are so many terrific ones available for free.  This one was worth the purchase price because my husband and son both love these socks and I have lots of brothers, uncles, cousins and friends that I can put the pattern to good use for in the future.**

Thursday, February 11, 2016

New Recipe Page

     I just added a new page to the blog - Recipes!  Anytime you see a blog post that includes a recipe, you will be able to come back and find the recipe quickly and easily on the 'Recipes' page of the blog.  I will post links on that page directly to any recipes that are posted on the blog.  These links will take you directly to the recipe itself instead of the actual post.  I hope it will make it easier for everyone to find any recipes that they may want to try.  And don't worry... as the page grows I will make sure that it gets organized in an easy to navigate layout.

     I also want you to know that I am dying to share your recipes!  Do you have a blog of your own where you post recipes?  Or perhaps you just have a favorite that you found on a website and think everyone should know about it.  Terrific!  Simply contact me about your favorite recipe and let's see if we can add it to the blog - with all of the appropriate credit and links.  I plan to highlight a new recipe every week.  It might as well be yours, right?  Let's work together to build an amazing resource list of fantastic recipes that don't fill us with overly preserved, pre-packaged foods.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

House Autry Southern Fried Frenzy

     My great, great grandfather was born in Alabama.  The women of my family have been cooking real southern food since the 1800's.  And, I am no exception.  There's no place I feel more at home than in my kitchen. Being raised by old fashioned southern women, I can tell you that I have spent my life surrounded by bold flavors and traditional southern food.  Our theory on cooking is that there's nothing that can't be breaded and fried.  (And generally smothered in gravy.)

     House Autry has been making real southern staples since 1812.  They probably know as much about cooking up some spectacular southern country food as my great granny did.  So, when they invited me to try out their House Autry Chicken Breader for a blog post, I jumped at the opportunity.  What could be better than frying up some real southern food and sharing it with all of my friends here?

     The obvious thing to do with chicken breader would be to fry some chicken, right?  But, why be obvious when you can try something unexpected?  I decided to serve BBQ Pork Sandwiches with a fried side dish that will make your eyes pop! Remember those bold flavors that I mentioned?  How about some sour pickle chips, jalapeno slices, sweet onion, and potatoes?  If they don't sound exciting enough for you, just wait until you see what we are going to do with them!

     First we need to drain the pickle and jalapeno slices (a small jar of each).  Next, cut one large potato into 1/4" skinny fries, and cut those in half to make them shorter than your usual french fry would be.  Finally, slice your onion 1/4" thick and cut it into pieces similar in size to the potato.

     In order for everything to fry together and turn out right, the potato pieces are going to need parboiling  and pre-frying.  Don't worry.  This is easy, too.  Put some water on the stove to boil and when it's going, drop the potato pieces in for 3 minutes.  Drain those and then put them in the deep fryer all by their lonesome selves for 5 minutes.  Drain them on paper towels and you are ready to cook everything.

     When you start this dish, you will want to start your oil off at 340 degrees.  That's for the first batch of potatoes alone.  Then you want to turn it up to 375 degrees for the main cooking.  If your oil isn't hot when you drop your food in, it is guaranteed to be soggy and greasy.  So get that oil good and hot before you start!  Granny would insist on cast iron.  The truth of the matter is that this is a personal choice.   I find that using a modern deep fryer makes it quick and simple to turn out fantastic fried food.  If you are new to frying and interested in learning to make authentic, delicious southern food, I recommend making the investment in a good deep fryer.

     Now it's time to bring out the House Autry chicken breader.  One of the reasons I love this breader is because it's made from basic ingredients that I can pronounce and it's not loaded up with preservatives.  They add sodium bicarbonate to the breader, which is going to make your coating extra light and crispy, plus the seasonings they use are just so delicious!  Plus, we are going to add our own ingredient that is going to make this breader positively magical.  Beer!  That's right.  And it just so happens that an 8oz box of House Autry chicken breader mixes to a perfect batter consistency when combined with a 12oz bottle or can of beer.  Put the entire box of breader in a bowl, pour in your beer and whisk until it's smooth.  Add all of your pickles, jalapenos, potatoes, and onions, and toss them around with some kitchen tongs to make sure they are coated well.

     It's time to fry our delicious mixture.  This is where a lot of people get intimidated by Southern cooking.  Don't worry.  It's actually really easy to fry.  Southern women have been breading, battering, and frying everything under the sun for hundreds of years.  And they did it without any of the modern conveniences we enjoy today.  I promise it's really not difficult.  Like most things, all it takes is a little bit of practice.  It's especially easy if you get yourself a deep fryer.

     Your fryer is hot and your vegetables (yes, according to southerners these are all vegetables) are battered.  Make sure your fryer basket is immersed in the hot oil.  You don't want to add battered food into the basket first, otherwise it will stick.  (You don't need to worry about this step if you are using a cast iron skillet.)  Using your tongs, drop the battered mixture into the hot oil in small quantities.  It should take about 3 minutes for your batter to turn light brown and crispy, and that's when everything is ready to come out.  Simply lift the fryer basket out of the oil and turn everything onto a plate layered with paper towels.  It will take a few batches to cook everything.  If you try to put it all in at once, you will end up with one large fried clump rather than individual bite sized pieces.

     The finished product is a southern fried side dish filled with bold flavors that will rival any plate of pub snacks.  I served mine with basic BBQ pork sandwiches and my husband and son couldn't get enough of this dish.

Southern Fried Frenzy Recipe:
Pickle Chips (1 jar - appx 8-10 oz)
Jalapeno Slices (1 jar - appx 8 oz)
1 Medium Onion
1 Large Russet Potato
1 8oz Pkg House Autry Chicken Breader
12 oz Bottle or Can of Beer
Oil for Frying & Water for ParBoiling

1. Put water on to boil.  Turn Fryer on 340 degrees to heat.
2. Drain pickles and jalapenos and set aside.
3. Cut the potato into short, skinny french fries.
4. Cut the onion into pieces that are similar in size to the french fries.
5. When water is boiling, place potatoes in for 3 minutes.  Drain potatoes.
6. Fry potatoes at 340 degrees for 5 minutes.  Remove and drain.
7. Increase fryer temp to 375 degrees.
8. Combine House Autry Chicken Breader  and beer.  Whisk together until smooth.
9. Add pickles, jalapenos, onion, and potato to batter and toss until everything is evenly coated.
10. Drop battered "vegetables" into hot oil in small batches.  Fry for 3 minutes or until brown and crispy.  Drain on paper towels.

The BBQ Pork was a Boston Butt left in the crockpot all day with a favorite BBQ sauce and served on homemade hamburger buns that can be found on AllRecipes.


Monday, February 8, 2016

Valentine's Day Plans - The Finishing Touches

     This is the third and final post in my Valentine's Day series.  So far, we have found some terrific knitting and crocheting projects to make for our loved ones.  If you don't knit or crochet, or you opted to skip the homemade project, it may be time to go shopping.  I also offered some meal alternatives to turn your Valentine evening into a stay at home date.  With Valentine's Day being only a week away, it's time to start pulling the entire plan together. 

     If you've taken my advice, you have a plan for a lovely meal at home that won't make you a slave to the kitchen.  Now it's time to make it special.  A candlelit dinner at the dining room table is lovely.  Personally, I am opting for the fireside picnic with finger foods.  However you plan to enjoy your dinner, you want to consider the lighting.  Candles are a wonderful option.  Tealights are inexpensive and easy to set around the house.  As an added bonus, they can help warm up a room on a chilly night.  Just be sure to only have them lit in the room you are occupying so that there's no risk of a fire breaking out while you aren't looking.  If you plan to light candles in the bedroom, make an excuse to go do so right before retiring there for the evening.  If candles aren't your thing, you can pull out some strands of white Christmas lights and string them creatively around the room.  It won't take a lot to give the room a romantic glow. 

    The weather forecast in my area is cold.  Seeing as I'm in North Carolina (not the coldest area of the country by a long shot), I expect that a lot of people are planning their Valentine's Day around some pretty chilly temperatures.  Hopefully you are lucky enough to have a fireplace or wood burning stove at your disposal.  Very romantic and definitely a way to set the mood for a cozy night at home together.  Perhaps you can move your sofa to sit right in front of the fireplace.  Romantic, warm, and an added bonus of keeping distractions out of sight.

     Don't forget the music.  Usually I opt for Pandora via my Roku device.  In this case, I don't want the distraction of the television screen, so I will use some good, old fashioned CD's.  My choice is either traditional classical or Enigma, but this is an area where you are going to have to go with what you and your loved one enjoy.

     If a cozy fire, romantic music, a quiet meal, and a nice bottle of wine isn't enough to keep you entertained for the evening, you might consider a movie or a game.  There's always a romantic movie, or a hundred of them, available on Netflix, Amazon, and Vudu.  Or a simple internet search will turn up lots of romantic board games or card games to play.  This is an evening to do exactly what you and your loved one enjoy. 

     I like to find a silly game for laughing and having fun.  My personal favorite is RoboJam for the PS2.  (Yes, this is a game designed for young children.)  It's silly and entertaining - especially after a bottle of wine.  Like I said, you need to choose what you enjoy doing.  Anything that has my husband and I relaxed and laughing together tends to be a big hit. 

     Did you notice that I didn't mention much in the way of presents?  Valentine's is a day of being with the person you love.  If shopping for expensive presents is your thing, then please, enjoy doing that.  We choose to put some simple flowers on the table, and indulge in a decadent dessert.  The most important thing is to make this a special day that you and your sweetheart will enjoy together.  Everything else is just marketing. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Cancel Those Valentine's Dinner Reservations!

     Valentine's Day is two weeks away.  If you took advantage of last week's post, you are on your way to knitting or crocheting a lovely surprise for someone you love.  Now it's time to get plans established.  Lots of people are rushing around making reservations at favorite restaurants.  Personally, I am here to recommend a fabulous Stay-At-Home Valentine's Date.

     Why would you want to stay home with your sweetheart this Valentine's Day?  Let me count the ways.  First, you will find that eating out can be a stressful experience on certain holidays, this being one of them.  Everyone decides to eat out and you end up sitting in a crowded restaurant with waiters and waitresses that are being run ragged for the evening.  Secondly, being alone together can make for a more romantic evening.  And finally, for any guys out there reading this post, this is your chance to really impress your favorite girl and show her that you can be romantic all by your lonesome self without the help of a waiter or waitress.

     It's easy to see all of the great reasons to stay home for your Valentine's date, but the more practical question is 'How am I going to pull this off?'  Lucky for you, that's actually the easy part.  And I'm right here to help you get everything planned out.  This week I'm going to give you some fantastic ideas for planning your perfect Valentine's meal.  Next week we can talk about creating the perfect setting for the evening at home.

     The best all inclusive Valentine dinner deal that I have managed to find comes from The Fresh Market.  If you are lucky enough to have one in your town, then dinner is going to be super easy.  This year's deal is Filet Mignon or Lobster Tail.  Doesn't that sound wonderful?  You can check out the Valentine's Day Dinner for Two and place your order online, or you can go to your local store.  The deal costs $49.99 and includes your choice of either Filet Mignon or a Lobster Tail for each of you, plus 1 lb of whipped potatoes, 1 bunch of fresh asparagus tips, a dozen chocolate dipped strawberries, and a dozen roses.  My husband and I have purchased this package at Fresh Market two different times and we were delighted both times.  The employees at Fresh Market were happy to provide us with detailed cooking instructions and dinner was extremely easy to prepare.  You can make arrangements to pick your meal up the day before you plan to prepare it and there will be no need to leave the house at all on Valentine's Day.  We did this and found everything to be fresh and delicious.  If you don't live by a Fresh Market grocery store, see if the meat department in your local store offers some pre-made dishes that are quick and easy to prepare.

     Although cooking an elaborate meal is always an option, it does take time and attention away from gazing into your sweetheart's eyes.  This is why you will find that the suggestions I am making don't involve an entire day (or night) in the kitchen.  With that in mind, my other meal suggestion is a more versatile option that involves little or no cooking at all.  How about a romantic indoor wine, cheese, and charcuterie picnic?  This is an easy option and can be as simple or elegant as you choose to make it.  My husband and I have been making date night meals like this for years and they have never failed us.  Think finger food!  You probably have a grocery store in your area that offers a selection of cheeses, olives, breads, meats, fruits, vegetables, and wines that can be turned into a beautiful meal to nibble on a blanket in front of the fireplace - or wherever else seems like a lovely romantic setting to you.

     If you can use a kitchen knife, you can make a beautiful meal that's guaranteed to impress your sweetheart.  The nicer local grocers may have a gourmet cheese section and possibly even an olive bar.  This is a wonderful place to begin your meal.  A cheese specialist should be able to help you with some ideas if you are unsure where to go with things.  The cheese specialist is generally very knowledgeable with flavor profiles and pairings and may even present some options that you might not have considered.  From there, you can choose the meats, fruits and vegetables to complete your plate.  Actually serving this meal can be done many different ways.  Arranged on a wooden cutting board is the latest fashion, but any type of platter can make a beautiful display.  And finally, don't forget a trip to the bakery.  You will want a nice artisan bread to go with your platter, along with an appealing dessert.  One of the great things about this type of meal is the beverage options are nearly limitless.  You are guaranteed to find a wine, beer, or cocktail to suit your tastes and match up with your platter.

     In case these ideas haven't sparked your imagination, take a moment to poke around online to see if the right stay at home meal might be waiting for you to find.  Perhaps homemade fondue will be your inspiration.  Or maybe a good old fashioned weenie roast in the fireplace with s'mores for dessert is more your cup of tea?  Just don't forget to cancel that stuffy restaurant reservation and get to work planning your amazing Valentine's date.  I'll be here next week with more ideas on how to make the night extra special.