Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Shabby Apple Necklace Giveaway!

Today's giveaway is from Shabby Apple!  This necklace is one of my favorites so I'm really excited one of you gets to win it!

If you have Christmas shopping to do, Shabby Apple is the place to do it!  Shabby Apple is a chic online boutique full of beautiful jewelryvintage dressescute maternity dresses, and more!  I think these dresses would be so perfect for upcoming holiday parties!  

(leave a separate comment for each)

1) You must like Shabby Apple on Facebook

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3) Like the life of a wife on Facebook

Also, Shabby Apple is offering a 10% discount to the life of a wife readers!  Use discount code lifeofawife10off at check out.  So hurry on over to Shabby Apple and get your Christmas shopping on!  This discount is good for 30 days!

*please note : this giveaway is open to U.S. residents only.  Winner will be announced next Thursday!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Advent Calendars

Do you have an advent calendar for this Christmas season?  I think they are such a fun way to count down to Christmas - especially for kids!  There are some really cute DIY and other easy advent calendars, so if you don't have one yet here are some ideas!  Only two days until December starts!  And there is a great list of Christmas activity ideas here.

Muslin bags with iron-on templates from Oh Happy Day

Embellished mini craft boxes from You Are My Fave

Balloons with little notes inside from A Subtle Revelry

Traditional chain of gifts from Martha Stewart

Small magnetic tins from Twig and Thistle

Baby socks from Martha Stewart

Ornament countdown from Love Nordic

Christmas book countdown from Katherine Marie

Little love notes from the pretty blog

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving Weekend

We're back home after a wonderful Thanksgiving!  We had a great time relaxing, being with family, and eating tons of delicious food that my sister Lauren prepared for us.  All weekend I was overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude:  for being blessed way beyond what we need, for my wonderful husband and our life together, for my parents' celebrating 34 years of marriage on Saturday, for the new addition of my sweet nephew, for my family and the time we spend together, and mostly God's love and grace that has been poured out in our lives.

How was your Thanksgiving weekend?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

We're heading out of town today to spend Thanksgiving with my family.  I'm so excited to have extended time with my family, just relaxing and enjoying being together!  I hope each of you have a happy Thanksgiving and enjoy the long weekend!  I'll be back to regular posting on Monday.

(image from here)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Vanilla Bean Caramel Sauce

One of my personal culinary goals has been to make homemade caramel.  I tried making a caramel buttercream back in the spring and it was an utter failure.  I burned two batches of sugar, almost ruined my saucepan, and had to scramble at the last minute to top my cupcakes with another frosting.  This time around I was determined to make vanilla bean caramel sauce to have alongside the hot fudge sauce for our brownie sundae bar.  I was so excited that these directions were spot-on and the caramel turned out!  Not only was it an easy recipe to make, the caramel is so creamy and the vanilla bean takes the flavor to new heights.  This is delicious served on ice cream as well as with apples.

Vanilla Bean Caramel Sauce
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/4 tsp coarse salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Spread the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Place over medium-low heat, watching carefully.  When the sugar begins to liquefy around the edges, use a heatproof spatula to gently stir it towards the center.  Continue stirring very gently until all the sugar is melted, taking care not to over stir.  Measure out the heavy cream in a liquid measuring cup and scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the cream.  Set aside.  Once the caramel reaches a deep amber color, immediately remove the saucepan from the heat. (To test the color, spoon a drop onto a white plate.)  Carefully whisk in half of the heavy cream along with the vanilla bean seeds.  The mixture will steam and bubble violently.  Stir until the cream is well incorporated, then whisk in the remaining cream.  Stir in the salt and the vanilla extract.  If any sugar has hardened, place the saucepan over low heat and whisk until smooth.

Store in airtight container in the fridge.  If needed, it can be rewarmed in the microwave at 15-second intervals.

source:  recipe from annie's eats, originally from The Perfect Scoop

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Treats for Kids

Thanksgiving is THIS week!  That's crazy!  If you're still looking for some Thanksgiving inspiration, here are a few really cute ideas for treats for kids!  These would be perfect to add to the dessert table for the little ones who don't want pumpkin pie (that only means more for the adults!).  These would also make for a fun activity for kids this week.  If you have little ones who are home from school this week, sit them down with the supplies and have them make a turkey! Whatever they come up with would also be a really cute decoration for Thanksgiving dinner!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Staying Creative

Don't you love this list?  I need to frame this and hang it somewhere to remind me to work on some of them.  I'm pretty good at "make lists" and "drink coffee".  Sketch?  Not so much.  Sing in the shower?  Maybe I'll try it today.

What inspires you to be creative?  For me it's looking at other blogs, magazines, or Pinterest.  Seeing so many fun ideas and pretty things inspires me!  

Today I'm guest posting for Jennifer at Delightfully Noted.  I'm sharing some things that inspire me to be creative: a round-up of my favorite DIY projects!  You can see my post here.

Happy Friday! 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wall Photo Collage

Last week I mentioned I had finally finished a project: my wall photo collage!  Since last fall I've been thinking about it and trying to figure out what I wanted to do.

This was my first piece of inspiration.  I liked the eclectic frames and how they were all kind of thrown up there.  After I started collecting different frames, I realized I didn't like it anymore.  I wanted a little more symmetry, and I felt this was just not cohesive enough for me.  I also decided I didn't want any empty frames.

Naturally I drifted to the other extreme and really liked how these frames were all the same color and were more organized.  But after I while it started reminding me of a museum the way they were all in such a straight line.  Leave it to Martha to be just a little too perfect!

So I settled for something more in the middle: all the same color frames, but not the exact same frames.  A little more organized, but not exactly perfect.  I liked putting just two of the smaller frames vertical.  You almost can't tell, but it looked a lot better than having all of the pictures horizontal.

After I gathered all of my frames and pictures, I laid everything out to get an idea of how I wanted to space it.  Then Caleb and I roughly transferred it to the wall.  Don't look too closely because I'm sure the frames aren't perfectly placed or even straight!  

The other dilemma I also had was which pictures to use.  I wanted it to be pictures of Caleb and me and our families, but I didn't want them to all be from our wedding or from the same day (i.e. family vacation photos). So it took me a little time to gather pictures from mostly different events, making sure everyone looked good in each of them, and that all 15 family members were included!  I'm really happy with how it turned out, and I'm so glad that there's finally something on the wall in the guest bedroom!

Do you have a wall photo collage in your house?  I think they're so fun and I love when people have lots of pictures hanging in their house! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hot Fudge Sauce

As I was preparing for Caleb's parents to visit this past weekend, I realized I wasn't going to have time to make a big dessert.  I decided to just serve brownie sundaes, but I wanted to have some good toppings to offer.  I made this hot fudge sauce and a caramel sauce (recipe coming) to add to our sundaes.  I never realized how easy it was to make hot fudge sauce from scratch.  Now that I know how much better it tastes, I won't ever buy the stuff from the store! 

Hot Fudge Sauce
4 oz unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
3 Tbsp unsalted butter 
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
6 Tbsp corn syrup
pinch of salt
1 Tbsp rum or vanilla extract

Combine the butter and chocolate in a double boiler (or in the microwave if you keep a close eye on it), stirring frequently until melted and smooth.  Meanwhile, heat the water to boiling in a small saucepan.  When the chocolate and butter have melted, stir the mixture into the boiling water.  Add the sugar, corn syrup, and salt, and mix until smooth.  Increase the heat and stir until the mixture comes to a boil.  Adjust the heat so the sauce is just maintained at the boiling point.  Allow to boil for nine minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the pan from heat and let cool for 15 minutes.  Stir in the rum or vanilla extract until smooth.  

Store in an airtight container in the fridge.  To reheat, microwave in 15-second intervals, stirring until shiny and smooth.  Serve warm over ice cream.  Makes about 2 cups.

source:  annie's eats, originally from Silver Palate Cookbook

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Let's Talk About Books

Let's talk about books.  How do you decide what to read?  Do you buy every book you read?  Where do you buy them? I'm a bit of a book nerd, so I'd love to know!  

When I'm looking for my next read, I browse through bookstores and the best sellers lists looking for a title or a cover to catch my eye.  (I totally judge a book by its cover, but I've read a ton of great books so I'm okay with it.)  I usually will get the book from the library so I don't have to buy every single book I read. 

When I want to buy a book, I like to buy from one of these places:

- a used bookstore.  We have a really big one here and I've gotten a ton of really cheap books.

- Amazon.  New books are almost always cheaper than anywhere else!  I recommend getting an Amazon prime account - it's free 1 or 2-day shipping!

Thriftbooks.  This site pulls used books from all over the country.  The books are cheap and shipping is always free!  And for each additional book you buy from the same shipping location, they take off 50 cents!  

So, tell me where you get your books and what you like to read!

(all images from here)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Classic Mac & Cheese

As you know, mac & cheese is my ultimate comfort food and I'm constantly trying new recipes.  Last week I discovered this recipe for the best classic mac & cheese I've ever had.  The sauce is thick and cheesy and has a deeper flavor than other versions I've tried.  It makes a TON so plan on leftovers!  And this one actually re-warms nicely in the microwave.  All around it's a win.  Make it on some cold night this fall and you won't be disappointed!

Classic Mac & Cheese
for the topping
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
salt & pepper

for the pasta
1 lb pasta shapes
6 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
6 Tbsp flour
2 1/4 cups chicken broth
3 1/2 cups milk
8 oz colby jack cheese, shredded
16 oz extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
salt & freshly ground black pepper

To make the topping, melt the butter in a medium bowl in the microwave.  Add the panko crumbs to the melted better, and stir until coated in the butter.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside to cool.

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Add the pasta to the water and cook just until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes.  Drain the pasta and leave in the colander.

Return the pot to the heat.  Melt the butter over medium-high heat.  Stir in the garlic, dry mustard, and cayenne, cooking just until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds.  Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minute.  Whisk in the chicken broth and milk and continue to heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture bubbles and thickens slightly, about 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat.  Stir in the cheeses, whisking until completely melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Stir the drained pasta into the cheese sauce.

Pour the pasta and cheese mixture into a lightly greased 9x13" baking dish.  Sprinkle with the bread crumb topping. Bake at 400 degrees for 30-35 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the bread crumbs are golden brown.  (You may want to place a baking sheet on the rack underneath the baking dish to catch any sauce that bubbles over.)  Serves 8-10

source:  recipe slightly adapted from annie's eats, originally from The Best Make-Ahead Recipe

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Things

"Come, let us have some tea and continue to talk about happy things." - Chaim Potok

Happy things like...

- it's Friday!!  This was one of my busiest weeks with work and I am so ready for the weekend!
- we beat Georgia Tech last night!  Go Hokies!
- Caleb's parents are coming to visit for the weekend.  I always get so excited to have people in our home!
- Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away!  I'm so excited for the time with my family!  (my sister has an amazing menu lined up! and yes, that's five pies for eight adults!)
- I got to catch up with my cousin last night on the phone.  He's getting married next weekend and I couldn't be more excited for him!
- I'm having so much fun Christmas shopping!  I like to get started as early as possible so it's more fun and less stressful.
- a project I've been wanting to get done for months is finally finished!

What happy things are you thinking about?  Happy Friday!

(image via tea for joy)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Italian Chicken Soup

My favorite soups are always the creamy or cheesy ones.  Probably because they end up not being as healthy for you, but a warm, creamy bowl of soup on a cold fall day just hits the spot!  I made this soup several weeks ago, and it made enough to feed an army!  After we ate it for a couple of meals, I divided up the rest into containers and stuck them in the freezer.  I love having ready-made meals on hand, especially now that the days are shorter and starting on dinner when it's already dark out doesn't always sound like fun.

Italian Chicken Soup
1 lb Ditalini pasta
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 fully cooked rotisserie chicken
8 cups chicken broth
1 medium onion, diced
2 green bell peppers, diced
2 fresh jalapenos, diced
1 Tbsp olive oil
28 oz can diced tomatoes
2 cups heavy cream 
1 Tbsp dried oregano
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Cook pasta in pot according to package directions.  Drain and rinse in cold water to cool.  Toss in 1 Tbsp olive oil and set aside.

Remove the meat from the rotisserie chicken and shred.  Set meat aside.

Add 1 Tbsp of olive oil to a large pot and saute the onion, green pepper, and jalapenos over medium heat until tender and golden brown, about 10 minutes.  Add chicken broth, shredded chicken, and diced tomatoes with their juices. Bring a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover.  Can leave covered and simmering up to a few hours.  Before removing from heat to serve, add the cooked pasta, the heavy cream, and the oregano.  Add salt and pepper to taste and stir to combine.  Top with parmesan cheese to serve, if desired.

source:  recipe adapted from the pioneer woman

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Birthday in a Box

Is there anything as exciting as receiving packages for your birthday?  I think it's pretty hard to top, so I suggest sending a friend or family member a Birthday in a Box!  One of my dearest friend's birthday was last week.  She lives in another state and we only get to see each other a few times a year, so I wanted to send her a fun package:  a mini birthday party in a box.  

- repackaged confetti cupcake mix
- sprinkles
- cupcake liners
- handmade cupcake toppers
- party plates
- birthday napkins
- balloons
- homemade confetti
- repackaged hot cocoa mix
- homemade pennant banner

Gather everything you want to include in your birthday in a box.  Other fun ideas would be party hats, noise makers, streamers - get creative!  Repackaging food items in cellophane bags looks cuter than the Duncan Hines box they came in, FYI.  Just be sure to include the instructions on a tag tied to the bag.  I got the templates for the pennant banner and cupcake toppers here.  When everything is together, put it all in a box and ship it off!  Make sure you send it in enough time that it will arrive before the birthday!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Thanksgiving Table Decor

Have you decided how you will decorate your table for Thanksgiving this year?  I'm not hosting Thanksgiving at my house, but I've found some great inspiration for beautiful Thanksgiving tables!  If you don't know where to start, I'd suggest looking through and taking note of what you have:  serveware, vases, table linens, votives, jars, twine, chargers, candles, even natural things like twigs, nuts, fruit, pinecones, etc.  You might be surprised with what you can do with things you already have on hand.  Next, browse magazines, Pinterest, and blogs to get some inspiration. Mix elements that you like, remembering the items you already have.  Finally, gather what you don't have and play around with it until you find something you like.

Remember to add some dimension to your table - it makes
it seem less crowded.  This would also be good if you don't have enough
matching dishes, because it draws the eye away from the table a bit.

Try to add different textures to the table.  Earthy, natural
things like twigs, burlap, twine, or berries can help with this.

If you want a simple table, flowers and candles (unscented)
always look good.  You could add some cornhusks around the votives
and vases to make it more Thanksgiving-y.

Spray painting pumpkins or pieces of fruit can brighten
up your table, and they also make pretty place cards. 

A larger flower arrangement makes a beautiful centerpiece; try to
incorporate jewel tones and fall hues within the bouquet.

Create layers at each place setting with a charger and dishes.
Use boldly colored linens to contrast against your china. 

Sometimes simple is best.  All-white china looks pretty with
crisp linens and a simple place card.

Where are you finding your Thanksgiving table inspiration?