Prepping for Halloween Fun

I cannot believe it’s Halloween…and even more scary than that, it’s less than two months until Christmas!  Every year, the days seem to accelerate more and more as we approach the holidays, and I have to take time to appreciate the other seasons. Fall is my favorite season, so I ignore the impending Christmas rush and stress, and fill our days with autumnal fun.

I love Thanksgiving, but that’s what November is for…October is all about Halloween, leaves, and pumpkins!  Today, I’m sharing some of my favorite snapshots of our October…hope they bring a smile to your face!

Playing in (and occasionally raking) the leaves….

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Pumpkin Patch and the Corn Maze (we found Bigfoot!)

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Of course, we had to carve some pumpkins…

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And the hooligans dressed as saints for the All Saints Day Parade at church…

Halloween-Saints-ChaosServeAnd, of course, we made cookies! I like the jack o’lantern ones best.

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You may be forced to indulge me again tomorrow morning, when I post photos of our actual Halloween…if the kids will cooperate for pictures, that is!

However you celebrate, I hope it’s frighteningly fun! (And safe, don’t forget to be safe!)

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Shrink Plastic Leaf Charms

Here’s another project I first shared on Live Creatively Inspired earlier this month. I’ve worn mine frequently and received lots of compliments, which I love!

I really do have a problem with shrink plastic, y’all (aka Shrinky Dinks)…especially the kind that works with inkjet printers. But it’s so much fun! One of my friends recently pinned some tiny little leaf charms on Pinterest, and I was a bit inspired (and, yes, I’d been longing to use Shrinky Dinks again.). And look how cute they are!

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It’s a simple process, requiring only a few basic supplies:

  • Inkjet-compatible Shrinky Dink sheet
  • Leaf punch or die
  • Digital fall print paper
  • Jump rings, a necklace, some beads or copper disks

1. Create a 8-1/2” x 11” patterned paper using digital scrapbooking paper, such as Fall Fling from Jessica Sprague’s shop. I did this in Photoshop Elements, but you can use any computer graphics program you like. This is what mine looked like:

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2. Follow the package directions to print this on both sides of a sheet of Shrinky Dink paper. Don’t forget to make the opacity only 50% or your final leaves will be way too dark. Low-tech options would be to color on regular inkjet paper using Sharpies and cut out leaf shapes, or print some clipart leaves on inkjet Shrinky Dink paper and cut it out.

3. Punch out leaf shapes. I also cut some long skinny oval leaf shapes freehand. Place your cutouts on a cardboard sheet or piece of brown paper bag and bake according to the directions. Mine took 3 minutes at 275 degrees. I pulled them out while they were still curly, instead of waiting for them to flatten back out, because I wanted the leaves to be curled.

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4. After baking them, you’re left with all these cute charms to create with…now let your imagination go wild! They’re cute embellishments for cards or to tie on a package, make darling earrings, or you can combine them with other beads and dangles to make a pendant…I love these charms!

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I was in a jewelry making mood (so I could miss some of the gore on Sleepy Hollow, which we were watching), and easily put together these two pendants. Fun, right?

Leaves-Dangle-ChaosServedDaI love wearing handcrafted jewelry, especially when it’s crafted by my very own hands…and especially when I get compliments and can say, “I made this myself!”

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Impossible Pumpkin Pie Bites

I shared these fabulous Pumpkin Pie Bites over at Live Creatively Inspired a few weeks ago, so perhaps you saw them then…if not, this recipe is definitely one to print out or bookmark or whatever you do with keepers.

You are so gonna love me for this recipe. Really…you’ll see!  Isn’t everyone’s favorite part of pumpkin pie the filling?  The crust almost always goes soggy, or at least mine does. While these little bites don’t form a flaky crust, they have a much better filling to crust ratio and do have a bit of a crust after baking. And…get this…you only have a dirty blender to wash. Yes, I’m serious.

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Impossible Pumpkin Pie Bites

  • 15 oz can pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1 cup Bisquick baking mix
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 3 eggs

1. Place all ingredients into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.

2. Using foil or greaseproof cupcake papers, line 24 standard muffin cups. Pour filling into the prepared pans, and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool at room temp for 20 minutes, then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

3. Top with whipped cream and sprinkle with additional pumpkin pie spice, if you’d like.

Click here for the printable recipe

 

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October Books of the Month

I don’t know what happened to me this month…I’ve been a totally schizophrenic book reader! I start one, it doesn’t grab me in the first 50 pages or so, and I give up on it and start another. I think the problem is I finally made it to the post library and stocked up on books, so now I’m overwhelmed with choices…while reading one, I can hear the others calling, “I’m much more interesting!”

Anyway, here are a few of the books I started, stopped, and plan to finish soon!

1. The St. Zita Society by Ruth Rendell

I adore Ruth Rendell books.  They’re suspenseful, well written, and always have a twist to them. This is the book I’m currently reading, and I can’t put it down!

The St. Zita SocietyFrom three-time Edgar Award-winning mystery writer Ruth Rendell comes a captivating and expertly plotted tale of residents and servants on one block of a posh London street, and the deadly ways their lives intertwine.
Life for the residents and servants of Hexam Place appears placid and orderly on the outside: drivers take their employers to and from work, dogs are walked, flowers are planted in gardens, and Christmas candles lit uniformly in windows. But beneath this tranquil veneer, the upstairs-downstairs relationships are set to combust.
Henry, the handsome valet to Lord Studley, is sleeping with both the Lord’s wife and his university-age daughter. Montserrat, the Still family’s lazy au pair, assists Mrs. Still in keeping secret her illicit affair with a television actor, in exchange for pocket cash. June, the haughty housekeeper to a princess of dubious origin, tries to enlist her fellow house-helpers into a society to address complaints about their employers. Meanwhile, Dex, the disturbed gardener to several families on the block, thinks a voice on his cell phone is giving him godlike instructions, commands that could imperil the lives of all those in Hexam Place.
The St. Zita Society is Ruth Rendell at her brilliant best; a deeply observed and suspenseful novel of murder in the quintessentially London world of servants and their masters.

2. Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant

This book sounded so intriguing to me, an historical novel about the Borgias, but it just seemed to drag on and on. I read almost one hundred pages and still couldn’t bring myself to continue. I checked it out thinking it was written by Tracy Chevalier, whose historical novels I find infinitely more readable than this!

Blood & Beauty: The BorgiasIs there a family in history more dazzling, dangerous and notorious than the Borgias?
A powerhouse of the Italian Renaissance, their very name epitomizes the ruthless politics and sexual corruption of the Papacy.
The father, Pope Alexander VI, a consummate politician and a man with a voracious appetite both as Cardinal and Pope.
The younger Juan, womanizer and thug, and their lovely sister, Lucretia, whose very name has become a byword for poison, incest and intrigue.
But how much of the history about this remarkable family is actually true, and how much distorted, filtered through the age old mechanisms of political spin, propaganda and gossip?
What if the truth, the real history, is even more challenging?
“Blood & Beauty: The Borgias” is an epic novel which sets out to capture the scope, the detail, the depth, the colour and the complexity of this utterly fascinating family.

3. Family Pictures by Jane Green

I did finish this, and, as in all of her books, enjoyed the exploration of family relationships and interactions. Even though I felt as though I should be sitting on a beach, sipping an umbrella drink, it was so light after the Borgia denseness.

Family Pictures New York Times bestseller Jane Green delivers a riveting novel about two women whose lives intersect when a shocking secret is revealed.
From the author of Another Piece of My Heart comes the gripping story of two women who live on opposite coasts but whose lives are connected in ways they never could have imagined. Both women are wives and mothers to children who are about to leave the nest for school. They’re both in their forties and have husbands who travel more than either of them would like. They are both feeling an emptiness neither had expected. But when a shocking secret is exposed, their lives are blown apart. As dark truths from the past reveal themselves, will these two women be able to learn to forgive, for the sake of their children, if not for themselves?

4. The Movement of Stars by Amy Brill

I’m reading this at the same time as the Rendell, and will finish it after I finish that one. It’s fairly entertaining, and I’m interested to know more about the first professional female astronomer in America, on whom the heroine is based.

The Movement of StarsA love story set in 1845 Nantucket, between a female astronomer and the unusual man who understands her dreams.

It is 1845, and Hannah Gardner Price has lived all twenty-four years of her life according to the principles of the Nantucket Quaker community in which she was raised, where simplicity and restraint are valued above all, and a woman’s path is expected to lead to marriage and motherhood. But up on the rooftop each night, Hannah pursues a very different—and elusive—goal: discovering a comet and thereby winning a gold medal awarded by the King of Denmark, something unheard of for a woman.
And then she meets Isaac Martin, a young, dark-skinned whaler from the Azores who, like herself, has ambitions beyond his expected station in life. Drawn to his intellectual curiosity and honest manner, Hannah agrees to take Isaac on as a student. but when their shared interest in the stars develops into something deeper, Hannah’s standing in the community begins to unravel, challenging her most fundamental beliefs about work and love, and ultimately changing the course of her life forever.
Inspired by the work of Maria Mitchell, the first professional female astronomer in America, The Movement of Stars is a richly drawn portrait of desire and ambition in the face of adversity.

I’ve also read aloud with the kids several entertaining books this month. My eldest is engrossed in the Boxcar Children series (there are around 150 of them, I think!), so he and I read, taking turns, some spooky ones for Halloween.  To all of them, I read The Best (Worst) Halloween Ever about the Herdmans of The Best (Worst) Christmas Pageant Ever and we all laughed aloud at  Junie B Jones in  Boo…and I Mean It!  With my second grader, I’m reading the How to Train Your Dragon series, which is very entertaining, as well. Oh, and my book club read a selection of Edgar Allan Poe stories, so I’m not a total slacker in the reading department this month!

Happy Reading, and wish me luck on finishing all my false starts. Except the Borgia one…it’s already back at the library!

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Chicken with Soybean Succotash {& a Menu}

This recipe remains one of our favorite because it’s quick and the chicken can be grilled outside or inside on a grill pan, so it works anytime, rain or shine. The fact that it gets a lot of vegetables into the family is a bonus, one I appreciate!

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Chicken with Edamame Succotash

4 thin-sliced chicken breasts (or two regular, cut in half horizontally)
Marinade:
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp lime juice
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp Montreal Steak seasoning
2 Tbsp olive oil
Succotash:
2 cups frozen edamame, shelled
2 cups frozen corn kernels
2 cups diced zucchini
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tomatoes, sliced into wedges
1 avocado, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup feta or goat cheese, crumbled

1. In quart size ziptop bag, mix marinade ingredients and add chicken.  Let it marinate for half an hour or so.  Don’t marinate longer than an hour, or it will be too salty.
2. In large saute pan with a lid, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add vegetables and Italian seasoning, cover, and let cook for about 8 minutes, then remove lid and let it crisp up a bit, 3 or 4 minutes longer.
3. While vegetables are cooking, heat a grill or grill pan until very hot.  Grill chicken for about 4 minutes per side, until cooked through.
4.  To serve, slice chicken across the grain.  Top succotash with avocados and feta or goat cheese. Salt and pepper tomato wedges and serve alongside.

Click here for the printable recipe

And our menu for the week:

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TBT: Punched Paper Bat Charm

So I made this necklace last year, and I wore it frequently during October…then…guess what? I totally forgot I had it! This morning, while dressing to go volunteer with the second graders, I spied it while perusing my jewelry rack. Happily spied it, I might add.

Although this one is obviously Halloween-themed, this idea works equally as well with any small punch you might have. Or want an excuse to purchase. This was really fun to make…here’s how I did it.

I’ve had an idea rolling around in my brain for awhile that I could punch many layers of Designer Paper and glue them together to make a pendant. And I did!

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First, I punched out 15 bats from DSP. Only two have to look exactly as you want your pendant to look…for the front one and the back one. Then I used craft glue to glue them together in two stacks.

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Liberally (but not so much that it oozes out) apply glue to what will be the middle of the layers and lay a head pin on it. The put the other stack of paper layers on top of it.

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Clamp them together until completely dry. I left mine overnight.

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When the glue is dry, apply a layer of Crystal Effects (Stampin’ Up!) or Glossy Accents (craft store) to the front and let that dry completely. Repeat for the back.

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When everything is completely dry and set, run a thin bead of glue around the outside, or use 1/8” double-sided adhesive tape, and cover with fine black glitter.

To finish the bat, I used needle-nosed pliers to bend a loop in the top of the head pin, then wrapped the end around the bottom of the loop a time or two. I attached a jump ring to hang it from the necklace.

I made two other “dangles” using head pins, various beads, and making loops at the top in the same way. Then I strung the beads as I wanted them onto a silver necklace. This particular one is $1.50 at Walmart and has a magnetic clasp that just unscrews to allow you to string your beads. I love how easy it is.

Although it didn’t photograph well, the bat pendant is very glossy and then glittery along the edges. Much prettier in person…but I guess you’ll have to make one for yourself to see that! I hope you will…it took a bit of time for all the drying, but really required very little crafting skill. The trickiest part is making the loop to hang it, but I know you can do it!

Easiest Caramel Dip…Ever!

And I’m not exaggerating! I mean, sure, you could buy a jar of caramel, pour it in a bowl, and that would be easier…but not much. And it wouldn’t be homemade by you, now would it?

This sublime caramel is made with one and only one ingredient…sweetened condensed milk. And did I mention that it cooks in your slow cooker?  If you’ve ever made caramel from scratch, you know it takes almost an hour of stirring while cooking on the stove before you end up with caramel. Caramel-Dip-ChaosServedDail

So how do you make some for yourself?  Here goes (and it really is just this easy):

1. Pour the sweeetened condensed milk into glass jars that will fit in your slow cooker. You can cook this right in the can, but I’m leery of the lining of the can. You’re going to store it in something after you cook it, anyway, so just pick some jars you like with tight-sealing lids.  Tighten them as much as possible, so nothing leaks in or out.

2. Place the jars in your slow cooker and cover with water. It’s important that they be covered with water, or they could explode. No, mine didn’t, but I didn’t want to test it! Put the slow cooker lid on, turn it on low, and let it cook 7 to 8 hours, until the caramel is, well, a caramel color. The water should be simmering, but not boiling.  I had to turn mine to high for a couple of hours at the beginning to get the water temp high enough.

3. Remove from the hot water and let cool, then enjoy with sliced apples. Store any extra in the refrigerator, since we didn’t really process these like you would in canning to make them shelf stable.

One can of sweetened condensed milk made one full jar and about 2/3 of the other 8 oz jar. It doesn’t expand or contract while cooking, so the amounts in the jars will be the same after cooking as before.

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Our Favorite Chewy Chocolate PB Cookies

I’m in danger of liking chocolate when I make these cookies, y’all! Especially when I tweaked the original recipe and added dark cocoa and a bit of espresso powder. Those two simple additions transformed these cookies from delicious to absolutely irresistible!

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Chewy Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

(slightly adapted from Hersheys.com)

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1-2/3 cups REESE’S Peanut Butter Chips
  • 1-1/4 cups butter or margarine
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup dark chocolate cocoa
  • 1 tsp espresso powder

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Stir together flour, cocoa, baking soda, espresso powder, and salt; set aside.

2. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl with mixer until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Gradually add flour mixture, beating well. Stir in peanut butter chips. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheet.

3. Bake 8 to 9 minutes. (Do not overbake; cookies will be soft. They will puff while baking and flatten while cooling.) Cool slightly; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely. Makes about 54 cookies.

Click here for the printable recipe

Now, I may have mentioned how I despise making cookies, because they bake, then another pan bakes, then another. It’s just torture for me!  These, however, I don’t mind making because this recipe yields so many cookies.  I can make one batch and have enough to feed the family, as well as shipping some to my favorite niece at college. She told me her suitemates thought these totally rocked, by the way. And, even better…the cookies truly do remain chewy. See why I’m on the threshold of actually liking chocolate now?

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Treats To Go

I am a total sucker for the cute seasonal coffee to-go cups at Target.  I’m sure other stores have them, as well, but Target is so considerate that they put them on an end cap across from the milk! So that’s where I see them and they jump into my shopping basket. These treats were made using last year’s cups, but I saw some the other day that were just as cute. And, yes, I saw them as I was putting them away in my cabinet. Why do you ask?

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How cute is this little teacher/neighbor/bus driver/whoever gift?  Inside, you’ll find a bag of Halloween party mix (candy corn, peanuts, popcorn, cereal) and a packet of hot cider mix.  And how thoughtful will people think you are when you give them this little pick-me-up?

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The hooligans made the bats for the top from a kit from…yes, Target!

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The tags I stamped using my all-time favorite Halloween set, Twick or Tweet, from a Stampin’ Up! Holiday catalog from a couple of years ago.  The middle kid thought of using a scallop punch to take a “bite” out of the tag.  He’s a little crafter-in-training. Heck, who am I kidding…they all are!

We attached the bats with double-stick tape and the tags have bakers’ twine that’s caught under the lip of the lid.

These took very little time to whip up, and brought a smile to their recipients’ face (I know, ‘cause I spied!).

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Butternut Squash, Quinoa, and Pork Stew {& a Menu}

Last week, I made Cheesy Cavatappi with Butternut Squash and Bacon, which was a big hit with the kids.  But, of course, I had a ginormous butternut squash and about 3 cups of butternut squash leftover from the recipe.  I found the recipe at Cookin’ Canuck, substituting cubed pork loin for the chicken thighs.  Because that’s what I had on hand, y’all.

Everyone devoured the delicious results, and declared it a “keeper” recipe. Enjoy! (And don’t forget to check out our week’s menu under the recipe!)

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photo from Cookin’ Canuck

Butternut Squash, Quinoa, and Pork Stew

(adapted slightly from Cookin’ Canuck)

  • 3 to 4 cups cubed butternut squash
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 lb. pork loin, in bite-size cubes
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 can (14 oz) fire-roasted diced tomatoes
  • 2/3 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 3/4 cup pitted and quartered kalamata olives
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  1. Steam the butternut squash until barely tender, about 10 minutes. Remove half of the squash pieces and set aside.
  2. Steam the remaining squash until very tender, an additional 4 to 6 minutes. Mash this squash with the back of a fork. Set aside.
  3. While the squash is cooking, bring the chicken broth to a simmer in a large saucepan set over medium-high heat
  4. Add cubed pork, cover, and cook until pork is cooked through, about 15 minutes.
  5. In a medium skillet, saute the onion until translucent.
  6. Transfer the pork to a plate and allow to cool.
  7. Return the saucepan to the stovetop and lower heat to medium. Add olive oil.
  8. Add the sauteed onion, salt, minced garlic and oregano. Cook, stirring, for 1 additional minute.
  9. To the saucepan, add tomatoes, butternut squash pieces, and mashed butternut squash. Stir to combine.
  10. Stir in reserved chicken broth and quinoa. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook until the quinoa turns translucent, about 15 minutes.
  11. Stir the pork, olives and pepper into the stew and simmer, uncovered, to heat, about 5 minutes.
  12. Stir in parsley and serve.

Since this stew takes about an hour to prepare (which isn’t long for a stew which tastes like it simmered for hours!), I made it earlier in the day and reheated it for dinner. The quinoa absorbed some of the liquid, so I added a little more chicken broth to loosen it up a bit. Oh, and it’s important to remove the pork while the quinoa is cooking in the broth, or the pork will become tough.

Our menu this week:

  • Monday: Butternut Squash, Quinoa, and Pork Stew with dessert: Ice Cream with Fresh Peaches
  • Tuesday: Tomato, Mozzarella, and Pesto Panini with Tangy Corn Slaw
  • Wednesday: Superfast Salisbury Steaks, Mashed Potatoes, and Chopped Vegetable Salad
  • Thursday: Three-Cheese Ravioli with Marinara and Light Caesar Salad
  • Friday: Chicken Saltimbocca with Steamed Green Beans and Sauteed Gnocchi

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