Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fall Flavors - Butternut Squash Soup

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A few years ago, my husband and I went to a fabulous wedding reception at the Chicago Museum for Contemporary Art. Wolfgang Puck Catering created the most scrumptious food. We especially enjoyed the butternut squash soup and I vowed to somehow come up with the recipe.

Fast forward a few years and I finally bought two large squashes and half an acorn squash as well, without a recipe! I did a little google search (What did we do before google anyway?) and BAM! Can you believe one of the first things to come up was this recipe, Roasted Butternut Squash Soup. There are a lot of steps, but boy was it worth it. I made a double batch so that we could freeze a little. Here’s my mildly modified one batch version of WP’s recipe. Enjoy!


· 3 C Butternut Squash, chopped, large chunks

· 1 C Acorn Squash, chopped, large chunks

· 1/2 C Orange Juice

· 1/4 C Dark Brown Sugar

· 1 Cinnamon Stick

· 1/4 C Butter

· 1 C Leek, roughly chopped

· 1/2 C Onion, chopped

· 1 Granny Smith Apple, cored, peeled and chopped

· 4 C Chicken Stock

· 1/3 C Heavy Cream

· Salt to taste

· Freshly Ground White Pepper to taste


· 1/4 C Extra Virgin Olive Oil

· 1 C Butternut Squash, Diced

In a large bowl, toss butternut and acorn squash with orange juice, dark brown sugar and the cinnamon stick. Pour into a roasting pan and cover with aluminum foil. Bake in a preheated 450 degree over for 1 hour or until tender. Discard cinnamon stick, drain roasted sqaush and set juice aside. (I didn’t have a lot of juice though.)
IMG_4397 In a large stock pot melt butter and slowly cook leeks, onion and apple. Stir frequently until very tender. Do not allow to color. Add stock and bring to a low boil. Add roasted squash, but not the squash juice. Cook for five minutes, add the heavy cream and simmer for about 5 minutes. Let cool. Puree in batches in a blender (or use a hand blender) until very smooth. Return to pot and slowly warm.IMG_4409 In a non-stick saute pan, over a high flame place 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. When it begins to smoke, add 1 cup of butternut squash, diced into small pieces. Stir until slightly colored. Add the reserved "juice" from the squash that was made earlier. Cook until all the liquid evaporates and the squash is lightly glazed. Reserve in a warm place.

Ladle squash soup puree into six warm bowls. Sprinkle glazed, diced squash evenly over bowls Serve immediately.IMG_4419 The extra fried squash on top really adds to the flavor and texture and is worth the extra effort. My only critique would be that it was a little sweet for my taste so I will most likely cut back on the brown sugar even more next time.

This recipe just SCREAMS harvest time to me! Serve it along with a mixed green salad, a slice of hearty whole grain bread and take in all of that wonderful fall flavor.

Linking this recipe to Tammy's In-Season Recipe Swap!
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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are…

Pin It When we moved into our home, we knew we were going to try to have a baby in the near future. The previous owners had one of the extra bedrooms set up as a nursery. We decided to keep it this way because it was gender neutral and I didn’t mind the “faux” treatments in here as much as the other rooms in the house. Other than the faux painting, there were so pretty tattered roller shades that I figured we could deal with for a while.DSC01381 Then he started to develop his wild child personality. When he turned one, he was already able to climb on top of the kitchen table and attempted to swing from the light fixture! That, among other scary feats, earned him the nickname “Monkey”. So naturally, when we were getting ready to rid him of his “baby” room, I opted for a monkey jungle theme. It was time for a change.
The goal was to find a color he (we!) could live with for more than just his toddler years, but still make it feel young and fun. So, I painted the room a green that wasn’t too grassy but wasn’t too babyish either (Behr’s Grass Cloth).
IMG_4656 Another goal was to make sure the room wasn’t stuck in a “theme” forever. Aha! I found some great adhesive stickers with monkeys, fern leaves and bananas. They were fairly inexpensive and gave a lot of bang for the buck. The great thing about these adhesive wall decorations is that when you’re ready for a new look, they come off easily and don’t leave a mark. Gotta’ love that!IMG_4679 Now, what to do with the last bare wall above the bed? Call me a worry wart, but I always fret about hanging things above the beds of babes. They jump and bounce around so much….or maybe that’s just my kids?? Either way, I decided to order custom adhesive wall words online from the title of a VERY fitting book…Where The Wild Things Are. This only cost $19 which I thought was pretty cheap for a wall of art. (I know, I know…seems like a ripped of a recently released movie title? Well, first of all, I decorated this room WAY before it came out and second, we just saw it and its FAB!)IMG_4682 I know that the Pooh lamp in the above picture seems a bit out of place, but it was in my nursery when I was a baby. I had a ceramic musical bear that was also from my nursery in my older son’s room. I think its nice to add a little something from your past to your own child’s room. Don’t you? I’m a sentimental fool and proud of it!IMG_4684 The bedding is Eric Carle – African Savannah. I LOVE all of his wonderful children’s books and this set was a steal on clearance at Amazon.

  IMG_4087 I bought the valances at Walmart just to add a little color to the windows. Again they were super cheap so I won’t feel bad changing them out when he outgrows the gingham look. One last thing….to finish the room off I recently made some letter and number art. So, of course I have to ask….what do you think of my room redo? Did I go overboard on the monkeys for my little monkey?
Be sure to check out all the great Before and Afters at Metamorphosis Monday!

I'm also adding this post to Kimba's DIY Day! Check her out!

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Friday, October 23, 2009

The Not-So-Grand Before Tour

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Home Sweet Home! We bought our first and current house, a colonial-ish style two-story, in 2006. The house was in great shape when we moved in….minus the fact that it looked like Easter threw up all over the interior. By that I mean the house was basically used as a canvas for every oh-so-spring/Easter kind of color you can imagine. Those lovely pastel shades were painted on using the “latest” in faux painting techniques. Now I’m not a faux painting hater, but sometimes I think once one learns these fun techniques, one can go WAY overboard using them. Unfortunately, I don’t have too many pictures to use as evidence. We decided to paint most of the main floor before we moved in, but here goes nothing.

“Grand” Before Tour

This is our formal living room painted a lovely shade of mauve using the ragging technique.



BLEH! Two walls were ragged and the other two were a light pink that ran all the way through our entry way, up the two story stairwell and down the upstairs hall.

Then there was the spare bedroom. This was a little girls room in its former life. However, without the little girl and little girl things….it just looks like the circus came to town…oops…my house!

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I can’t tell you how much fun I had sanding off those stripes. It pains me to say this, because I love seeing all the cool things you all do with stripe painting, but I vow to NEVER paint stripes on a wall…EVER! Even after some tedious sanding, multiple coats of primer and a nice buttery yellow shade to finish, you can still see remnants of the rooms stripy past!

Our family room was a baby blue, but in the below photos it looks like one of those cool slate/grayish blues that are so popular now. Trust me….it was NOT a good look.

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The big mistake I made here was not turning around and taking a shot of the kitchen.…which at the time was painted a few shades lighter than the above “circus” bedroom PURPLE! No joke. That combined with the baby blue was probably why this house sat on the market for a year.

Also on this floor, was a really scary powder room. Once again, no photos of this disaster area. In short, baby chick yellow with light green, purple and baby blue feather dusted on top. This tiny space is what initially gave me the idea for the phrase Easter puked.

Last but not at all least, the rooms that were spared the Easter egg technique were painted the darkest colors possible.

My oldest son’s room was midnight blue. Again, I didn’t get a great before picture here because we were trying to paint in a hurry prior to moving in. I think you can still get the idea though. Loads of primer to brighten up this cave.


Our Master bedroom is very large and has a asymmetrical vaulted ceiling. The previous owner “subtly” highlighted this feature by painted the biggest wall dark maroon. And if that wasn’t enough, they added texturing with plaster and painted highlights of silver on the texture!!

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Did I mention that they carried this treatment onto two walls in the Master bathroom? The “focal” wall in the bedroom just screamed, “Hello and welcome to our lovely barn!”. Wait until I write about how long we lived with this color in the bedroom. Ugh.

So there she is in all of her Before Tour glory. I guess you could say we were sold on her bones and not her sense of style. I looked past the Easter puke and saw the hardwood floors, the square footage, the finished basement, the great deck and huge Master closet. It’s been three years of painting and we’ve finally at least re-colored every room in the house. Moment of silence for all the paintbrushes that lost their lives in this home improvement effort. I plan on revealing each room in its current state in the near future so stay tuned!

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cold Weather and Baking

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Something about the weather turning cooler gets me in the mood to make soup and bake.  Warm comforting recipes that bring back my childhood with a little twist.  I am a novice yeast bread baker, but I’m finding it to be a great stress reliever and the results?  Well, they are an Oh-So Fab reward.

The Frugal Girl has some wonderful recipes, especially in the baking department.  Today, I decided to make her Braided Loaves recipe for the second time. 

The first time I made this recipe, I used 1/2 wheat and 1/2 regular flour.  The results were still wonderful, but a little on the dry side.  No complaining from those who devoured it in one day though!

Today I followed the recipe exactly and I have some yummy bread to enjoy at dinner tonight with the family.  The boys are just loving my new found love of baking and ask for slices as snacks!  The only problem I seem to have is the braiding technique.  I think with a little practice I might get some gorgeous loaves one day a la The Frugal Girl. 

Happy Baking!IMG_4333

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Before and After – Bedroom Dressers

Pin It When I moved out of state after graduating from college, my mom was nice enough to buy me some “getting started” furniture. That was 10 years ago and that furniture has followed me from Illinois, to Miami, then to Louisiana and back to Illinois! My husband and I are still currently using the bedroom set and I finally couldn’t live another day with the knotty pine look. After doing a little research on how much a quality new set would cost, I googled “painting furniture”. (This was the google search that started my DIY blog obsession. I was hooked….and inspired!)
So here’s a not so great shot of one of the dressers before. Pretty standard pine stuff. It has served us well and I just wanted to change up the color and hardware.DSCF3097There were matching wooden knobs before too.DSCF3093
My first thought was to paint them white or cream, but the look my husband gave me said it all. Too girly for him. We settled on dark brown. Now please don’t gasp here……I used spray paint for the entire project! (Rustoleum, Satin Espresso) I know, I know. I should have used one of the countless methods that I found all over bloggy world. Truth be told, I was impatient and this was my first BIG project so I just went with it.
Our bedroom is really REALLY large and the darker furniture made it feel a lot more cozy. It was also an instant update getting rid of the knotty texture. The knobs were a steal at Target and also refreshed the look of the pieces.
Regrets? A few. First of all, beware the term “satin”. The can says “satin”, but it is a little more shiny than I wanted. The only time the shine really bugs me is when its totally sunny during the day and I’m not in there much at that time anyway. The shine lets you see the unevenness in certain spots from the spray paint.
That leads to my other regret. Uneven finish. In the future, when painting larger pieces, I plan on trying this technique that I came across after I painted my own dressers over at The Frugal Girl. I just love the way her furniture turned out. Time consuming, but possibly worth it.
For smaller pieces, I have used Kimba’s technique and it works perfectly. I spray painted a full length framed mirror on a wooden stand with flat black and LOVED the results.
For the little amount of time I spent on this project (and money for that matter), I am pretty pleased overall. The color really warms the space and makes us feel like we got something brand new. I actually updated our entire bedroom and I’m excited to post more on that soon!
I am linking this post to the Kimba' DIY Party. Please visit her site and enjoy all the fun projects this week!

I am also linking up to Metamorphosis Monday. Enjoy!

Oh and one last link.......Check out all the gorgeous furniture transformations at Mustard Seed Creations.
Furniture Feature Fridays
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Thursday, October 15, 2009

The “Rocks” In Our Yard

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IMG_4271 Halloween decorating is in full swing out here in the burbs.  Some people have really gone wild with it this year and its starting took look like an orange and black version of Christmas.  I do more of a fall decorating scheme this time of year just to make it last through Thanksgiving.  Anything to save a little time, right?

Of course, I also add little spooky touches here and there that can easily be removed come November.  The kids and their friends seem to really notice these changes in decor happening all around them.  My oldest son is in first grade and is finally really getting into Halloween this year.  The little one is two and completely freaked out by all of it. 

My oldest was yappin’ away about various topics after school the other day, as usual, and kept bringing up the “rocks” in our front yard. 

“Honey, what rocks?  We don’t have any rocks in the front yard.” (My first thought was that they did something wrong)
”You know mommy, the scary rocks. One of the teachers at school has them too.  Sooooo Spoooooky!”

I was totally confused at this point and then it dawned on me…TOMBSTONES!  Precious….just precious.  Even funnier (creepier) was a few days later when we drove past a cemetery and he says, “Hey! LOOK at all of scary rocks at that place!  They’re getting ready for Halloween too.”  IMG_4274

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Wrapping Up the Garden

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What??  Already??

In my little game of catch up, I’m presenting our 2009 Tomato Project in a hurry.  Kind of like when they say on cooking shows “through the magic of television...Ta-Da!”.   Here’s a little look at our Earth Box results. 

After 4.5 weeks, both plants REALLY took off.  We already had several blossoms and I started to plan a way to stake our little plant babies.100_0404 The Earth Box website sells their own staking kit, however I decided not to purchase it for our first year of Earthboxing.  Instead, I found these metal tomato cages at Menards for a little over $2 each!  Woo hoo!  A real steal… hopefully it will work!DSCF2759 We weaved the both plants through the cages and also tied some of the major braches to the cage using this stretch tie that I found at ACE Hardware.  I also used this to tie the two cages together for additional support.  Lesson learned?  Cage before the plants get this big next year.  It was kind of difficult to get the braches inside the cage without breaking a few of them along the way. Boo hoo. 

Woo Hoo!  Our First “Offspring”

Finally, during week 10 post-planting, we realized the literal fruits of our “labor”.  

 DSCF3128DSCF3073 Our precious first little tomato from the Early Girl (EG) plant.   Beautiful huh?  Yummy too!  As you can see, the plants are growing wild at this point.  The German Queen had kind of taken over, however the EG still produced loads of new fruit.  I was a little worried about supporting these giant plants, but crossed my fingers.

Week 12 and beyond….

By this time, we really started to get daily tomatoes from both plants.  The EG produced several small to medium sized fruits that were mild and juicy.  The GQ took a little longer to produce ripe fruit as expected and they were totally different from the EG in every way.  The tomatoes were HUGE and sometimes funky in shape.  Hey, but who says something has to be pretty to be tasty?  They had very little juice which made them ideal for sandwiches.

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Notice how the plant has grown up and over the cage.  Eventually the vines crawled across the deck!

Earthboxing – The end of our first season

We had an extremely mild summer in Illinois this year and gardens suffered for it.  As the weather got colder, we decided our season had ended once our fruit production slowed down quite a bit and many of the leaves were suffering from mildew. While breaking down the Earth Box, we were amazed at the HUGE root system of these plants, especially the German Queen.IMG_3947

Well, there you have it.  Our first adventures in “urban” deck gardening with the Earth Box.  We will be using it again next spring and I’m hoping to add another one to our little deck garden.   During the cold (and LONG) Illinois winter months,  I plan on researching new types of plants to try next season.

All and all it was a great experience and fun to do.  I enjoyed showing our kids how we can eat the things we grow…just the way my parents showed me when I was little. <insert sentimental sigh here>

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Art On The Cheap – Part 2

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One tip I’ve learned while browsing countless magazines and blogs lately is that anything can be wall art. You can frame tons of things like leftover wallpaper, fun fabrics, fancy graphic scrapbook paper….ANYTHING!

While at the post office a LONG while back, I spotted this colorful stamp set that featured one stamp for each state in the grand ol’ U.S. of A. Each stamp is truly unique and shows off the personality of each state. I held on to this funky set hoping to find a way to use it one day. It even moved across the country with me! Finally, I framed it out and used it in our guest bedroom. Kind of goes with the theme of guests traveling from other states maybe? Either way, I just love the pops of color and who knows, maybe it will be a collectors item some day.


Then, after making art for both of my sons, I was on a roll and moved on to the living room, once again using my friend PowerPoint. I’ve been looking high and low for botanicals for a large wall in our living room and couldn’t find anything that met my needs: 1) reasonable price and 2) in a size I could cheaply frame. So I decided to tinker around one day and came up with this.

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I printed these at home so they were basically free and I scored the frames at Walmart for $3 each!!! Part of me thinks that I either need to 1) make the prints larger which would require a trip to Walgreens and new frames or 2) make 4 more prints for a set of 8. Hmmmmmm??? Any thoughts? Please note that the only other female in my house is of the canine persuasion so I would LOVE some feedback.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Art on the cheap – Part 1

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We have TONS of wall space in our house and being in our 30’s we haven’t really acquired too much stuff yet. Well I guess that’s not totally true…..we have loads of “stuff” just not the kind of stuff you want to display. So I’m always on the lookout for cheap wall art.

My youngest son’s room has a monkey jungle theme and I kept searching around for cheap prints. I stumbled upon several websites that featured letters and numbers with animals mixed in. I loved that idea and thought….maybe I can make this myself?


I was able to make both of these pieces on PowerPoint. When I was in graduate school, we used PowerPoint to make all kinds of graphics and posters. It’s a pretty handy tool for all kinds of things other than presentations.

Of course, after making something new for one child, I felt guilty and whipped up some cool new art for my older son’s room too. I used the same technique and tied in his baseball theme. Again, super cheap and easy!IMG_4107


My oldest son really loves the new special artwork that was made especially for him by mommy. And I think that’s the best payoff really. A sweet smile on my little boys face knowing I spent some time doing something just for him that day.

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