Magic Minestrone Soup

Hopefully you had a wonderful, relaxing holiday and are still enjoying food, family and quiet time (while I brave the roads yet again to see more family). I thought I would share one of my current favourite recipes with you today in case you are already bored with leftovers and looking for something healthy to make for dinner.

This recipe is magical because you can make it using whatever is in your fridge and it will warm your soul with goodness. Seriously.

The only thing to remember, however, is that this is not a 30 minute meal. This is a sit on the stove (or slow cooker) all day, gently simmering and making the house smell great. The time is what does it.

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To start I chop one or two onions (depending on the size). The dribble some oil into a large pot, turn the heat on medium and toss in the onion. As it cooks I peel/wash and chop some carrots, celery, potato and either beans or zucchini (but you can really choose whatever veg you want). Once the onion is starting to brown I throw in the rest of the vegetables and give it a stir. I leave everything for a couple of minutes to soften. Then I add two bay leaves and a handful of greens. I pour in two jars of tomatoes and their juice (if using whole canned tomatoes just run a butter knife through them either in the can or pot, but they will break down, so don’t worry too much). I add broth (usually chicken, but vegetable broth is great too). Depending on what kind of broth you use you may want to add salt. I always add in a generous pinch. I throw in white beans, but again, you can use whatever you have or want, as long as it isn’t overpowering. Put a lid on the pot and bring it to a gentle boil for about 10 minutes, then turn the heat down to low. Leave it for as long as you can (I usually leave it about 5 hours).

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About half an hour before we are eating I add is some pasta or Isreali couscous. If you plan to have to soup for leftovers or to freeze I would cook the pasta separately and then add it to your bowl, otherwise it will continue to thicken your soup and suck up all the liquid.

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Before serving remove the bay leaves (it may take a while to find them), serve and then sprinkle parmasan on top.

This soup is great with a good crusty bread, or biscuits, but can stand on its own also. Perfect for a cold, wintery day.

Goings On

Lately we’ve been:

Hanging pictures onto our newly painted walls.

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Organizing under sinks.

Building cat forts. Got to use the guest bed for something, right?

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Shoveling.

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Travelling sans cats this year (they’re at home with a pet sitter). I miss them terribly.

Considering our future kitchen reno.

Planning travel for the summer.

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Crying over Season Three of Downton Abbey.

Spending time with friends and family.

Gingerbread Cookies

These are definitely one of the more fun holiday treats to make. I’m not actually going to link to the recipe I used because I wasn’t crazy about the texture of the cookies. It was supposed to be a ‘soft gingerbread’ but came out more chewy. Here are some pictures of what we made though.

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Some decorating tips:

-if you decorate before baking, lightly spray the cookies with water to help the sprinkles stick, also don’t expect everything to look exactly the same when you take it out, our chocolate candy sunflower seeds melted and cracked making everything look slightly demonic
-if you decorate after baking and use icing make sure it is sticky enough for the sprinkles to stick, but thick enough to keep its shape
-if you buy a cookie decorating kit and it comes with a squeeze bag of icing put it in a bowl of warm water first, it makes it way easier to work with
-if you let husbands help you decorate, don’t expect cookies that you can give to people, or show children

Caramel Pretzel Bark

I’ve had this recipe saved for a while, but bark really is a holiday sort of thing so I decided now was the time to try it. It was a super easy recipe. It probably took less than 15 minutes of actually working time, but it looks like something that is labour intensive.

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Four things about this recipe: Use strong foil (this will prevent you from later having to pick pieced of aluminium foil out of hard caramel), don’t worry if you caramel is spread evenly since it will turn to lava in the oven and spread itself out, don’t bother melting the chocolate on the stove just sprinkle the chips on after it comes out of the oven and spread the chocolate around with a spatula, if you have to, stick it back in the oven for a few seconds and lastly, I used the stick pretzels, but I think this made my pieces are bark fairly jagged so I think sticking with regular pretzels is best.

I probably just discouraged you from ever wanting to make this what with the bits of foil and lava caramel, but it is super easy and really tasty. It makes a cute gift in a jar with a ribbon.

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Ginenttis (Italian Anisette Cookies)

The town I’m from is heavily populated with Italians, in fact Kurt is half Italian. Around Christmas time there are two Italian staples that show up at every gathering: Thai plates (which are actually pizelles, but we call them Thai plates) and Ginettis (which the internet seems to think are called Italian Anisette Cookies, go figure).

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The best way I can describe these cookies, if you don’t happen to be from my town, is sort of like a sweet biscuit. They are light and not too sweet.

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Despite the name, you will not find anything remotely anise-y in my cookies, or my house for that matter, since there are few things I abhor more that black licorice flavour. You can use whatever extract you want. I split the batch in half and put vanilla in half and orange and vanilla in the other. The dough is very bland so you really do need to add something.

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Here’s the recipe I used. It’s not a perfect recipe. Definitely do not use the amount of baking soda it calls for, I would cut it in half, or else you will taste it. Also, I didn’t use shortening, I just replaced it with more margarine. I think butter would also work just fine. I left the dough fairly sticky and wet my hands before rolling. This worked pretty well.

Mom’s Fudge

This was the one recipe I did for Christmas this year that I was sure about. The rest I found online and I just had to hope that they would turn out, but this is the fudge that my mom used to make all the time so I knew it would good.

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The recipe is a bit weird, but trust me.

4 cups sugar
1 can evaporated milk
1 cup margarine*
1 package chocolate chips ( 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup marshmallows
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup nuts (optional)

Mix sugar milk and margarine. Cook to soft ball stage**. Remove from heat. Stir in chocolate and marshmallows till melted. Stir in vanilla. Pour 9 X 13 pan lined with tin foil or parchment paper overlapping the pan. Cool and remove from pan using the paper to lift fudge out and cut into squares.

*I’m a big butter advocate. I haven’t bought margarine in years, but this time I decided to use it for my baking. Mainly because it’s super cheap and easy to work with, but also because two of the recipes called for it.

**Soft ball stage is when you drip a tiny bit of whatever you are making into a glass of cool water and it turns into a ball on the way down, if it isn’t ready it will just sort of go everywhere and make the water look gross.

My mom does it in the microwave, but I did it on the stove.

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For all of the confidence I had in making this, things got a little hairy for a while. I read online that soft ball stage is 235 degrees and the mixture simple wouldn’t get there. I waited, and stirred, and made a batch of cookies, and waited…..Then when I was melting some of the margarine in the microwave for another recipe, we discovered the problem. I took the measuring cup out from the microwave, there was a layer of margarine at the top, and a layer of water at the bottom. Turns out I had bought vegetable spread (whatever the heck that is) which contains a lot of water.

Luckily, everything turned out in the end. The fudge finally got to the correct temperature and it tastes just like when my mom makes it. It just took a lot longer to get there.

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Some final advice: once your marshmallows and chocolate is melted in, it hardens very quickly so you need to act fast. I tried sprinkling walnuts and candied sunflower seeds on top, but when I was cutting the fudge up most of them fell off, so I would advise adding any extras into the pot, or pressing them in on top.

Christmas Baking In One Day (Mostly)

Last Saturday I decided to do all of my baking for Christmas. It actually worked out really well. I chose four recipes that looked good, but that didn’t require any weird ingredients or a lot of hands on time. I also tried to choose things that I could freeze. They were all simple enough that I did it all in one afternoon and clean up was fairly simple.

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I will do a post for each recipe, but I thought I would just do an overview of my plan of attack.

The recipes I did were: chocolate fudge, gingerbread men, ginettis, and pretzel bark. Saturday morning I went through the recipes and wrote them all down. Then I went through and wrote down any ingredients that I didn’t have. After we hit the store I got started.

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I started the fudge because that had to cook for a while on the stove. While I was doing this I made the dough for the gingerbread men and popped it into the fridge. I finished up the fudge, then left it to cool and did the ginettis. While they were cooling I cut up the fudge. I iced and decorated the ginettis next. The last thing was the bark, since it was a super quick recipe and needed to be watched I did it all in one shot.

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The only thing left to do on Sunday was break up the cooled bark into pieces roll out, cut, decorate and bake the gingerbread.

It was really nice to get it all done quickly and only have a messy kitchen for one day instead of several. I will definitely do it this way again next year.

Goals Update- December

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My November goals went fairly well. I finished Christmas shopping and prepping the garden for winter. We are nearly done the last bedroom (just one more coat) and we also have the upstairs hall plastered and ready for paint. I am a couple of days short of finishing my yoga challenge because we’ve been super busy lately, but I am going to finish this week. I really enjoyed doing yoga and I actually noticed that I feel a lot stronger (especially my core), flexible and mindful of my body so I’d like to continue doing it.

As for December goals, I am not going to go crazy since we will be away for part of the month and I want to leave room for holiday stuff (like lots of cocoa!)

So here are my December goals:
1. Replace the kitchen faucet (it’s been leaking badly), finish painting and put the rooms back in order (there is furniture everywhere!)
2. Use up pantry items in preparation for operation Kitchen Clean-up (coming soon)
3. Begin taking probiotics and daily vitamins to prepare for staying healthy during holiday travel
4. Slow down, relax and spend quality time with family during holiday season

Is anyone else setting goals this month? How do you try to keep yourself motivated?
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Organizing Home Renovations

It has been nearly ten months since we moved into our new house. We’ve quite a bit of work on it since then including new floors upstairs, re-doing the downstairs bathroom, starting to demo the pool, cleaning up the yard and making gardens. We still have a long way to go until the house is where we want it.

Sometimes it is so overwhelming when I think of all the jobs that need to be done. Many of the jobs are big and will take a lot of time and money. Others are smaller, but there are so many of these that I feel like I don’t know where to start.

What I’ve done to try to organize it all is to make a list (I put it on Google Docs so that both Kurt and I can edit it). I organized the list by small (things that only take a little time and money to do), medium, and large (jobs that will cost over $1000 and will take multiple days).

It still seemed like a lot. I went through the list and put stars beside the jobs that I would like to finish before the summer, since summer is when we travel and try to get as much outside work done as possible. I didn’t choose any big jobs since we already did the floors this year and I think one expensive job a year is enough. I chose the jobs that need to be done soon for safety or practical reasons (for example, changing out the leaky faucet in the kitchen to avoid damage to the cabinets).

When I look at it this way it is much more manageable. By focusing on a few jobs at a time we can wait for sales on those things and then go from there.

Does any have an great systems for organizing home repairs/renovations?