Winter Squash Soup – a taste of fall

Warning! This post contains an unnecessary amount of pictures!

This is a bit late. Rather than sharing this lovely fall soup with you guys last Friday as planned, I went to the dentist and the DMV instead…double torture. The only thing that made up for it was that the hubs and I had a little date night which consisted of cooking together and then enjoying a lovely simple (and incredibly delicious) meal together (no kids!). It was fabulous.

Grilled Herb-basted Ribeye, grilled fingerling potatoes, caesar salad and garlic bread.

Molten chocolate cake with strawberries

Saturday we had our son’s football game and Sunday we went to the zoo. This was a first for our youngest so it was a lot of fun.

The remainder of our day consisted of football (go Cowboys!) and naps. Great weekend overall.

Ok, on with it.

Winter Squash Soup

 

Ingredients:

2 Acorn Squash

1 Butternut Squash

Ground Cumin

Ground Cinnamon

1 cup Shitake Mushrooms

6-8 Cloves of Garlic

Fresh Herbs – Oregano, rosemary, thyme

3-4  Cups Chicken Stock

1-2 Cups Sweet White Wine or Champagne

1 Cup milk, cream or half and half

1 cup grated parmesan

Salt and pepper to taste

Toasted Squash seeds for garnish

Parmesan for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Split all of the squash in half.

Scoop the seeds out into a mesh strainer and set aside.

Place squash flesh side up on a sheet pan and drizzle with Olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, cumin and cinnamon and place in preheated oven.

Meanwhile, smash garlic and remove skin. Chop fresh herbs and slice mushrooms. Then saute with olive oil in a large crock pot or dutch oven.

Once tender, add wine and chicken stock and simmer with lid on.

I used a sparkling Moscato and homemade chicken stock that I froze into cubes a couple of weeks ago.

While that simmers, wash your seeds off and remove any remaining flesh then allow to dry on a clean towel.

Once dry, toss the seeds with olive oil and salt then arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and set aside.

Remove squash when brownish and fork tender. Then put your seeds in the oven and roast until brown and crispy.

Scoop out the flesh into a blender and add the simmering liquid. I had to do this in batches as it wouldn’t all fit at the same time. Then, as odd as this sounds, I grated a bit of parm and cracked black pepper on the warm empty acorn squash skins and ate them for lunch. Many of the nutrients are found in the skin and when roasted this way they are tender and with that little bit of flesh left on that you can’t quite scrape off this makes a pretty delicious (and healthy!) lunch.

Once everything is pureed throw it all back into the pot and add the milk and parmesan. You can add more milk or more chicken stock here to achieve a soupy consistency or you can leave it a bit thicker like a loose puree. Bring to a simmer and taste to see if it needs salt.

Garnish your bowl with shaved parmesan and toasted seeds. Don’t forget the bread…

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My Etsy Shop – Grand Opening!

I’ve been absent from the blog for a couple of days because I’ve been working on opening up an Etsy shop!

Here is the link: http://www.etsy.com/shop/TheseTwoHandsGvine

I realize some of the items listed have been blogged about here with tutorials but I figure there are plenty of people out there that don’t dabble in various crafts but may still enjoy my stuffs.

Poke around. Share with those you think might be interested. And please do leave comments and/or suggestions so I know what you think!

I’ll be back to posting tomorrow with a delicious recipe for winter squash soup!

Until then, have a great Thursday 🙂

Genetic Roulette

I want to share this with you guys and I hope that it will shed some light on a rather divided topic. Genetically Modified foods. I mentioned casually in a post about homemade toaster strudel that GM crops are bad for you but did not elaborate on that so I’ll do it now.

There is a lot of division on this topic because, well, there are doctors, scientists and consumers that are concerned with personal and public health and then there are biotech industry leaders, government and food producers that are concerned with profit.

Genetic Roulette by Jeffrey M. Smith is a book and now a movie  that exposes the FDA in knowingly allowing dangerous GM foods to be thrust into the marketplace and provides documented evidence to link GM foods with a myriad of common health problems today.

You can watch the movie for free here until September 22.

One of the things discussed in the film is the subject of BT Corn. Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT) is a bacteria found (in small amounts) in soil worldwide. It produces cry proteins that are toxic to insects by bursting open the stomach. BT is organic and is used as a spray pesticide in organic farming. Because of it’s limitations, though, it has not been used widely in conventional farming until advancements in molecular biology allowed scientists to insert BT genes into the DNA of a plant. This was first done with corn in the mid 90’s enabling the plant itself to kill the pests without need for spraying. This is disturbing because while BT spray degrades rapidly under UV rays and is easily washed away…you can’t wash away DNA. In a February 2012 study it was found that human consumption of GM BT corn breaks open cells in the stomach likely causing gastrointestinal problems and who knows what else.

I definitely recommend both the book and the film if you are interested in learning more.

One of my big questions has always been…Does Organic mean non-GM?

The short answer to that is, yes.

BUT testing for GM organisms is NOT required for organic certification.

Well, isn’t that frustrating? Perhaps, one day it will be required. Until then, the best ways I know of to avoid GM foods is 1. Buy organic. You’re more likely to end up with a non-gm food by doing this. 2. Trust your source. If you’re buying from a local farmer that you’ve come to know and trust and he/she says they grow their food or raise their animals organically and with no GMOs (whether they’re certified or not) it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re getting what you’re paying for.

Genetically Modified Organisms are everywhere. Sometimes conspicuously but sometimes not.

Common foods that are or contain GMOs:

  • soy, cotton, canola and corn are most common in the US
  • zucchini and yellow squash sometimes
  • papaya and tobacco from Hawaii
  • dairy products and meats (it’s in their feed!)
  • honey and bee pollen
  • rennet (used to make cheese)
  • aspartame
  • xanthan gum
  • additives, processing agents, flavorings and enzymes found in processed foods and vitamins
  • oils – soy, cotton, canola and corn oils

Many people do not buy organic because it costs more. Before I learned about these things I, too, avoided organic because of the high price tag. I know that health is more important than money but this is simply too difficult a hurdle to jump if you have a limited budget. In many cases, food companies see that Certified Organic seal as an excuse to jack up the price but, sometimes the price is simply a reflection of exactly what you’re getting. This is certainly the case when you purchase fresh produce, dairy or meats from a more direct or local source such as a farmer’s market or a farm itself.

Think about this:

Organic farming requires more human interaction. With the absence of chemical fertilizers and pesticides it typically takes more work to produce a smaller yield compared to that of conventional growers which is less hands on work from humans and higher crop yields. As a consumer, the price of your product reflects that.

Whereas industrial agriculture has received government welfare in the way of subsidies for quite a while now, organic farming has only more recently been given that benefit. As with most government handouts, there are some pretty rigid rules to this program and it’s pretty clearly skewed towards big ag and not the little guy. This is a quick read by a respected farmer and author Gene Logsdon on the subject of the organic subsidy program.

Whether you buy organic or not, if you pay taxes then you pay for environmental clean-ups that are arguably often a direct result of irresponsible farming practice (CAFO anyone?). Check out Righteous Porkchop a book written by Nicolette Hahn Niman, former head attorney for Bobby Kennedy Jr.’s envrionmental organization’s Hog Campaign. Nicolette documents her investigation of hog manure pollution and much more. It’s eye-opening, for sure.

Consider joining an organic food cooperative (co-op) to save money on organics. Mine provides a twice a month share of seasonal organic fruits and vegetables (mostly from local farms) that saves me anywhere from $40-$80 per month. That’s huge! They also provide an opportunity to buy pantry staples like oils, rice, peanut butter, condiments etc. all organic. Try this website to find one in your area.

 

Any questions? Anyone else have info to add that I perhaps missed or didn’t touch on? Let’s discuss!

 

 

 

Dining Room Make-over Inspiration

First things first. Today is the last day to take advantage of the 10% off promotional code: favorite10 at Shabby Apple. Don’t miss out!

Moving on.

There are a few spaces in my house that are in need of a make-over but, none so badly as the dining room.

We’ve lived here for two years and haven’t painted anything except for the nursery.

In my opinion, every room in the house could use a fresh coat (and color) of paint. It’s just such a huge undertaking that everyday life takes precedence over having pretty walls.

I always think I like painting and get excited about it and then about halfway through said job I want kick my own butt for ever even starting. Though, there is something fantastic about liking what you see and knowing you made that happen.

What’s so bad about the dining room? Glad you asked 🙂

For starters, maroon.

Don’t want to bag on anyone that has maroon-ish decor but, I. hate. maroon. Love red. Hate maroon.

My dining room is fairly small and is connected to the kitchen (which shares a maroon wall and is also very small). So, the maroon is just way too dark for the space. There is also wainscoting that is a pukish yellow color. Not a good color for a dining room.

I would show you a before picture but I forgot to take one and I have spent the past two evenings painting the wainscoting white. Luckily for you guys, that pukish color is carried over into the entryway (which will soon receive a make-over as well) so I’ll piece together a visual for you of the before.

(sorry they’re blurry I think I need new glasses…)

Maroon Wall

 

Weird Yellow Wainscoting

 

Light fixture that I dislike very much

 

 

I haven’t tackled the maroon yet. With my son’s birthday party being tomorrow I thought it best not to have my dining room in shambles at the same time that we have a house full of fifteen 9-year-old boys. When I do paint the top half of the wall it will be a medium shade of gray. It sounds really blah but I think it’s going to look good with the contrast of the white wainscoting.

If you follow me on Pinterest (and you should) you may have seen my design board and then you might know that my design aesthetic could be described as minimal, modern, eclectic and rustic. I like a mix of neutrals with just a few touches of color thrown in. Here is my dining room make-over inspiration.

My goal with this transformation is to accomplish it on an almost non-existent budget. This means I’ll be DIY-ing pretty much everything in the room. Of course, I’ll share every project with you guys and I’d love your opinions and/or ideas if you care to share them.

Have a great weekend!

 

 

 

Quick Crocheted Cowl

I had a root canal today (it was awful!) so I’m sharing something that I made a while back (note the bangs). Prepare yourselves for more crochet patterns as cooler weather approaches (hopefully!) and I get into what my husband (affectionately?) calls my “granny mode” where I sit by the fireplace crocheting and drinking hot chocolate. Hey, I never said my life was exciting.

This is a small  cowl that can be finished very quickly. I love it’s simplicity.

Materials: worsted weight yarn (about 3.5 oz or 155 yds)

Hook: US J10

Ch 100.

Join last ch with first ch using a slip st.

Ch 3 and turn.

Row 1: Dc in each ch. Join last dc with the first (the turning ch) using a slip st. Ch 3 and turn.

Rows 2-4: Dc in each dc. Join last dc with first dc using slip st. ch 3 and turn.

Row 5: Ch 1. skip first dc then dc into next. Ch 1 and repeat until the last then slip st into top of turning ch.

Rows 6-9: same as rows 2-4

Row 10: Same as row 5

Rows 11-14: Same as rows2-4.

Tie off. Weave in ends.

And done!!

The next pattern I share will be this multi-way scarf so keep your eyes peeled.

Shabby Apple = Gorgeous Dresses and Accessories

I just stumbled across this website and I’m loving it.

Shabby Apple sells clothing and accessories for women. They offer many different styles of feminine dresses, skirts, blouses, unique watches and eye catching jewelry. They have things for the home, maternity dresses, kid’s clothes and the most amazing swimsuits. All of the clothing is designed with modesty in mind (no cleavage or supershort hemlines) for real women rather than supermodels.

They even have a program for Emerging Designers in which they will take on small collections from start-up designers and give them a place to sell their line.

One of my favorite things about Shabby Apple is their desire to help women in need. Check out this from their website:

For many women in the developing world, life is a constant struggle against poverty and hardship. Limited economic opportunity leads to a downward cycle of malnutrition, illiteracy and poor health – a cycle that traps each new generation. Through access to microfinance – financial services such as microcredit loans, insurance, savings and other products – women can overcome poverty and provide a better life for their children.

We at Shabby Apple love to help women dress but are also commited to helping women live as well.  Thus we are supporting the fight against global poverty by partnering with Accion-a non-profit organization with the mission of giving people the financial tools they need to work their way out of poverty. Shabby Apple donates 5% of its net sales to support work with 62 microfinance institutions in 31 countries throughout the world.

With every dress you buy from Shabby Apple, you are helping make a difference in the lives of Women Worldwide.

I think that’s just dandy. 🙂

Exclusive offer!! Save 10% off sitewide at Shabby Apple with code: favorite10

I’ve been obsessively looking through their website for over an hour and fantisizing about all the stuff I’m going to buy. Here are some of my favorites.

Elizabeth Islands Dress

The Hangover Breakfast – Cheesy Sausage Bread

In stark contrast to Thursday’s whole food version of Toaster Strudels, this cheesy sausage bread has all of the bad stuff that I usually try to avoid. But damn, it’s tasty.

The point of this breakfast (or brunch, lunch, snack or dinner) is that 1. Its quick and easy to make 2. It satisfies the craving for salty fatty food that I almost always have when I had a few drinks the night before.

The hubster and I stayed up late talking and having cocktails on the deck. If you were outside in the DFW area last night then you would have felt the “cold front” that came in and brought the temp down from 105 (!) to a super comfortable perfect for football watching 85 degrees. It was fabulous.
Anyway, that brings me to this. Breakfast in a pinch when you don’t feel like doing anything but sit on the couch all day and eat junk food.

Start out with a tube of breakfast sausage. I use the hot flavor and then mix in maple syrup once it’s cooked. Just cook it through and set it aside to cool.

You’ll need two cans of those refrigerated breadsticks. Lay out a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper and put the breadsticks side by side. Press them into each other a bit to seal the seams but try not to flatten them too much.

Add your favorite grated cheese. Then lightly salt and pepper. I also added a little garlic powder.

Top with sausage.

Roll it up using the plastic wrap or parchment like you’re rolling sushi. Just not too tight! You want it to be fluffy.

Now put this bad boy in a 350 degree oven (without the plastic please)…

.. until it’s brownish and smells yummy.

You’re welcome.

Crochet Mug Cozy

I hope everyone on my Christmas list likes these little cuties because that’s what they’re all getting this year!

I’m also making a couple for myself because they are just too darn cute.

These are all over Etsy either the cozy itself for sale or you can buy patterns. I made my own pattern and I will share that with you now for no charge (how about that?).

This is a great beginner project since you really only need to know the basics, nothing fancy. Add to that some remedial embroidery skills and you have yourself a super easy and super adorable mug cozy that will cause your neighbors to be rife with envy (ok, maybe not that last bit).

Disclaimer: I have made up my own patterns plenty of times but I have never shared them with anyone so if it’s hard to understand or it doesn’t read like you’re used to…I’m sorry. Leave questions in the comments and I’ll answer as quickly as possible.

On with it.

Materials: Worsted weight yarn, small piece of felt, embroidery thread, embroidery needle, three medium buttons

Hook: US J10/6.00MM

Gauge: 16 st/sq in.

chain 11.

Row 1: sc into second ch from hook. Continue working a sc in each ch. ch 1 and turn.

Row 2: sc into each sc. ch 1 and turn.

Rows 3-31: Repeat Row 2. Do not tie off.

Attach buttons with embroidery needle and thread along the short edge of your work at the starting chain.

Test it around one of your mugs to make sure it fits and to get an idea of how long your button loops need to be. This will depend on the shape/size of your mug (mine holds 8 oz. and is slightly tapered), the shape/size of your buttons (my buttons are circular and 3/4 in. in diameter) and how wide you want the gap between the edges (my gap is about 1 in.). Based on that, I’m going to tell you how I did mine.

To Make Button Loops: At the end of row 31 ch 10 and turn. sc into second sc from ch. sc in the next sc then ch 10. skip one sc then sc into the next two. ch 10. skip two sc then slip stitch into the last sc on that row. tie off and weave in ends.

Cut your felt into whatever shape you want. Stitch it onto your cozy with the embroidery needle and thread. You can leave your felt blank or stitch on a little design or saying using a backstitch. I’ve seen them done to look like a little tab from a teabag hanging down which I think is super cute but I’m not a huge tea drinker.

Enjoy!

Semi-homemade Toaster Strudel

These are super easy and, as far as I’m concerned, totally worth it. I could eat an entire box of those frozen toaster strudel (strawberries and cream is the best) but check out these ingredients…

Bleached Enriched Flour (Bleached Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Ferrous Sulfate, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic
Acid), Water, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Soybean, Cottonseed), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sugar,
Corn Syrup, Strawberries (10% Of Filling), Modified Corn Starch, Dry Yeast, Salt, Dextrose, Whey, Egg Yolks, Baking Powder (Baking
Soda, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate), Corn Syrup Solids, Citric Acid,
Mono-Diglycerides, Propylene Glycol, Sodium Citrate, Malic Acid, Potassium
Sorbate And Sodium Benzoate (Preservatives), Xanthan Gum, Guar Gum, Natural And
Artificial Flavor, Locust Bean Gum, Polysorbate 60, Colored With (Red 40, Blue1,
Yellow 5).

Excuse me, but, WTH is locust bean gum? (it actually has nothing to do with locust it just sounds terrible)

It seems like there are more chemicals than anything else and did you notice there are four different kinds of sugar?!? Strawberries only 10% of the filling? You’ll also notice the last ingredient is the dreaded artificial dyes. Arguably, the worst of the bunch being the hydrogenated oils. Hydrogenated oils have a much longer shelf life than non but they also contain trans fatty acids. We all know those are bad. It’s troubling, too, that the oils used (soybean and cottonseed) are more often than not derived from genetically modified crops. Which, in case you haven’t heard, is pretty terrible for human consumption.

I could go on and on about how bad this stuff is but I’ll spare you. 🙂

Instead, I’d like to give you an easy alternative with a shorter list of more desirable ingredients (all of which you should be able to pronounce).

You could make all of this from scratch…but, puff pastry takes FOREVER so buying it premade is the way to go (unless you enjoy prolonged kitchen torture). Just be careful which brand you buy. Look carefully at the ingredients. Pepperidge Farm’s frozen puff pastry contains all the nasty crap above so its best to avoid. The ingredients of a good puff pastry should be: flour, butter, salt, sugar, and water. Trader Joe’s and Dufour are good brands.

Moving on…

You could make your own jam too but there are plenty of natural, organic, low sugar blah blah blah brands out there so just peek around. Though, when strawberries are in season it is much much cheaper (and tastier!) to just chop up a few cups and cook them down with a bit of lemon juice, water and sweetener is optional (honey is good to add at the end). I used some jam that I canned myself earlier that day.

To make your little lovelys you’ll need:

1 pkg cream cheese sofented at room temp

1 pkg puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed according to pkg

(about) 1 cup of strawberry jam

powdered sugar

some sort of flavorful liquid (specific, I know) What I mean is, I used buttermilk which I had on hand (not the stuff from the store which is made with a culture…actual buttermilk which was the result of making my own raw butter. I’m clarifying because they taste nothing alike and I’m not sure the store-bought kind would taste very good here. Or maybe it would?) You could also use milk, cream or lemon juice.

a dash of vanilla extract

Mix together the cream cheese and enough powdered sugar to sweeten it just slightly. Lightly flatten your sheets with a rolling pin then cut each one into 6 equal rectangles. Top 6 of your rectangles with a small amount of jam and the cream cheese mixture making sure to keep it at least 1/4 of an inch from the edges. I used about 1 TBSP total to fill each one. Top them with the 6 remaining rectangles and use a fork to seal the deal. With a small sharp knife make 2 or 3 small slashes across the top to vent. Bake them at 350 until puffy and lightly golden. While they are baking, mix some powdered sugar with vanilla extract and your liquid (adding liquid gradually while stirring) until you have a thin enough mixture to drizzle but thick enough not to run off the pastry too much. Top your pastries with the icing as you eat them (you don’t want to store it already iced).

Store them in the fridge. For reheating I suggest a cookie sheet in the oven just until warm. Mine were way too fat to fit in my toaster. You could instead freeze the pastries raw and thaw then bake individually as needed. Or freeze them after baking and then reheat.

***SIDE NOTE. If you use pie crust dough instead of puff pastry you have yourself a poptart. Instead of slashing the top crust just use a fork to poke a few holes in it before you put it on top of the other one. These can be stored in the fridge or freezer too and work well in the toaster!

I recommend eating one (or 5) of these straight out of the oven. I’m certain this is what heaven actually tastes like. When you’re done scarfing go reapply that lipstick 😉