Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hoppin' Robins

Robins are one of the happiest signs of spring. I spied the first arrivals way back in January, and now there are lots of them visiting every day. They always give my heart a little lift, knowing that when they arrive, warmer weather can't be far behind.

They're so comical, bobbing around, all plump and happy, looking for worms. We must have a really good supply, because these are the fattest robins I think I've ever seen!

9" x 12"

This gal's looking coy and flirtatious, and maybe a tiny bit mysterious ...

"Mmmmm, lunch!"
"Hey, where'd you get that worm?!"

This guy has Attitude!

This one always wanted to be a ballerina ...

This one looks like a pompous British gentleman ...

I hope you're enjoying the signs of spring in your neighborhood. We're having sleet and snow today, but I know the warm weather's on its way. We'll really appreciate that spring sunshine after this last wintry blast. I can't wait!

Springtime is the land awakening.
The March winds are the morning yawn.
Emily Dickenson

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sausage-Apple-Sweet Potato Bake

We had tornado warnings here last evening. One of those crazy spring thunderstorms blew through, with howling winds, rain, and hail. Fred was out grading the driveway, and I was watching from the kitchen while making dinner. I had just turned away from the kitchen window for a minute, and when I looked back, a huge tree had fallen across the driveway, right where Fred had been a moment before! Whew! That was a close call! Glad everything turned out okay.

Here's what we had for dinner - it's a good down-home recipe that I've been making for years. It goes together really quickly, then bakes in the oven for about an hour. It's a simple dish, but really tasty.

Sausage-Apple-Sweet Potato Bake

1 pound bulk sausage
2 medium raw sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced
3 medium apples, peeled and sliced

2 T. sugar
1 T. flour
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. salt (optional)
½ c. water

1. Brown the sausage in a skillet, breaking up large pieces. Drain off any fat.

2. Combine the sausage with sliced sweet potatoes and apples. Arrange in a 2-quart casserole dish.

3. Whisk together the sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, and water. Pour over the sausage mixture in the casserole dish.

4. Cover and bake at 375º for one hour, or until potatoes and apples are tender.

Recipe Notes:
- I sometimes only use 1/2 pound of sausage, and it still tastes great.
- This time, I sliced the sweet potatoes and apples with a food processor, and they turned out pretty thin, which makes them cook more quickly. I usually slice them by hand into thicker slices. Either way works just fine. Just check the casserole after an hour of cooking - it may need a little longer in the oven.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

March Days

 It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot
and the wind blows cold:
when it's summer in the light,  and winter in the shade.
Charles Dickens

It feels so good to be outside this time of year, even if there is still a nip in the air. The fields are showing a hint of green now, and flocks of robins are bobbing around the yard. This afternoon I took a little drive, down the road and up over the next ridge, and stopped to sketch awhile.

Full page, 9" x 11"

 I like how this farm is nestled down among the hills ...


As I was coming in the driveway, on my way home, I noticed the daffodils are starting to poke up through the dried brown grass and leaves. My son, Matt, and I planted them the first fall that we were living here, so I always think of him when I see those cheery yellow blossoms scattered throughout the woods.

They'll be blooming soon!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Waiting and Sketching

What do you do when you have to sit around a car dealership waiting for your vehicle to be serviced? The local Dodge dealer where I take my van has a grungy, depressing waiting room with ancient, grimy chairs, 5 year old magazines, and a TV that blares inane TV shows all day long. Sitting in that room is one of my least favorite ways to spend a couple of hours! Since my Chrysler van has had a string of recalls lately, I've been spending more time than I'd like there. The only thing that makes it bearable for me is to pull out my sketchbook, pen, and paints, and drift away into a world of line and color, light and shadows.

I did the sketch above back in November, then added to the page a few weeks ago when I had more "quality time" to spend sitting and waiting ...

... and waiting ...

"Have a nice day"? Maybe, if I could get my van and get out of here!

At least my time wasn't completely wasted. I have a page completed in my sketchbook, and I had some fun doing it. I guess it's all about attitude - I can resent the time I have to spend waiting for my van to be repaired, or I can view it as a respite from my work day and a chance to do something I love. As an Everyday Artist, I have to grab the moments I can and be thankful for them.

9" x 12"

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Gallery Views

I spent a few hours working at our local gallery, Artisans, this afternoon. I had the place to myself, so I grabbed my little 3.5" x 5" sketchbook and spent some time with my pens and watercolors. It was so peaceful and quiet as I sat there sketching, looking out the windows at a bright day with a hint of spring in the air.

Peering through the front window displays, I painted the store across the street. I like the contrast of the quaint, crooked old building in the foreground with the looming new university dormitory in the back.

On Thursdays, Artisans is the place to be in downtown Waynesburg, PA. They host a bake sale of delicious baked goods from Rising Creek Bakery, and it's a sellout event very week. Customers started asking for coffee and tea to go along with their muffins, cupcakes, and pot pies, so we now have a coffee corner in the gallery. Here it is ...

Here's another sketch looking out through the gallery windows. This one, painted last November, shows the Veterans Memorial on the courthouse lawn next door. The American flags were a bright spot of color on a gray day.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Baby Shower Week - Day 7: Games & Activities III

Okay, so I went a little nutty with coordinating everything for the baby shower. When I decided to build the decorations around the pennant banners, the ideas just blossomed and grew - I couldn't stop myself! The napkin rings, the baby clothes banner hung from the mantel, the vase for the flowers, the ties for the treat bags - everything sported green and blue checks, stripes, and polka dots. But what really speaks volumes about my need to have everything "just so" is the fact that I had my sweet, generous, and good-natured sister spend three whole hours cutting out fabric numbers to fuse onto envelopes for the final baby shower activity of the party:
  Baby Quotes & Words of Advice

Close-up of fused fabric number

I've always loved quotes. They often express what I feel but could never put into words. They inspire me, make me laugh, and sometimes bring me to tears. I thought reading some inspirational quotes about babies and motherhood would be a good way to wrap up the shower.

I found lots of great baby and motherhood quotes online and printed them out on cute blue and green scrapbook paper cut to 4" x 6", so they would fit in a standard photo album. I also designed and printed decorative 4" x 6" pages to use for advice cards.

I arranged the 24 quotes in the order that I wanted them to be read, alternating serious and humorous ones, and starting and ending with the ones that I considered the most important. Each numbered envelope got one quote card and one advice card.

Everyone drew an envelope from a basket and opened it to see their quote card and advice card. Reading the quotes in numerical order made it more interesting than just going around the circle. You never knew who would be next. It was a lot of fun - some of the quotes garnered chuckles while others elicited knowing smiles from all the moms and grandmothers there. 

Here are some of the quotes we read ...

Quotes about babies and motherhood

It is not a slight thing when those so fresh from God love us.
- Dickens

A baby is born with a need to be loved -- and never outgrows it.
- Frank A. Clark

Making the decision to have a child - it's momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body.
- Elizabeth Stone

Families with babies and families without babies are sorry for each other.
- Ed Howe

Having a child is surely the most beautifully irrational act that two people in love can commit.
- Bill Cosby

A new baby is like the beginning of all things - wonder, hope, a dream of possibilities.
- Eda J. Le Shan

Babies are such a nice way to start people.
- Don Herrold

It sometimes happens, even in the best of families, that a baby is born. This is not necessarily cause for alarm. The important thing is to keep your wits about you and borrow some money.
- Elinor Goulding Smith

People who say they sleep like a baby usually don't have one.
- Leo J. Burke

A babe in the house is a well-spring of pleasure, a messenger of peace and love, a resting place for innocence on earth, a link between angels and men.
- Martin Fraquhar Tupper

If nature had arranged that husbands and wives should have children alternatively, there would never be more than three in a family.
- Lawrence Housman

Child rearing myth #1: Labor ends when the baby is born.
- Anonymous

I can't think why mothers love them. All babies do is leak at both ends.
- Douglas Feaver

A baby will make love stronger, days shorter, nights longer, bankroll smaller, home happier, clothes shabbier, the past forgotten, and the future worth living for.
- Author Unknown

A baby is an inestimable blessing and bother.
- Mark Twain

Babies are always more trouble than you thought -- and more wonderful.
- Charles Osgood

Every child begins the world again.
- Henry David Thoreau

A baby is God's opinion that the world should go on.
- Carl Sandburg

What good mothers and fathers instinctively feel like doing for their babies is usually best after all.
- Benjamin Spock

Getting a burp out of your little thing is probably the greatest satisfaction I've come across. It's truly one of life's most satisfying moments.
- Brad Pitt

If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.
- Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

In the sheltered simplicity of the first days after a baby is born, one sees again the magical closed circle, the miraculous sense of two people existing only for each other.
 - Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Maternal love, like an orange tree, buds and blossoms and bears at once. When a woman puts her finger for the first time into the tiny hand of her baby and feels that helpless clutch which tightens her very heartstrings, she is born again with her newborn child.
- Kate Douglas Wiggin

After the quotes were all read, it was time for the guests to offer their own pearls of wisdom for the expectant mother. We took a few minutes for everyone to write down their advice for the new mom.

As each woman read what they had written, I was surprised and touched by the care and thought that they had put into what they wrote. All of the sentiments really came from the heart. There was such a feeling of togetherness in the room, a bonding of mothers, daughters, aunts, cousins, and friends, all of us supporting Sara and offering her our love and heartfelt wishes for a wonderful life as a mother.

While we were writing down our advice, Sara opened one last gift, a baby photo album which will hold all the quote cards and advice cards, as well as photos of the baby shower and the new baby.

After reading their advice to the new mom, each person wrote their name on the back of their numbered envelope and put it into a bag, then we drew names for the final two game prizes.

As the baby shower came to a close, we all stood together and joined hands to pray for Sara, her husband, and the baby on the way, asking for God's guidance, protection, and blessing. It was a special moment. There was such a spirit of love in the room - I think we all felt it.

So, in the end, a baby shower isn't really about the gifts and food and decorations, it's about women coming together to make a new mom feel special, cherished, supported, and cared for, and to let her know that she's not alone in what's ahead of her. We will all there with her in spirit, empowering her with our prayers and our love.

Before you were conceived I wanted you
Before you were born I loved you
Before you were here an hour I would die for you
This is the miracle of life.
- Maureen Hawkins

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Baby Shower Week - Day 6: Games & Activities II

Baby showers are all about gifts, but not only gifts for the mother-to-be. It's nice when the guests get to take home some fun surprises, too. I started the party off by having everyone introduce themselves and tell where they were from and how they knew or were related to my daughter. Then I gave a prize to the person who had traveled farthest to come to the shower (all the way from Texas!) During the course of the afternoon I also gave prizes for the oldest mother, youngest mother, and the person whose birthday was closest to Sara's due date.

After having refreshments and laughing ourselves silly playing Mad Libs, it was time for something more challenging. The next game was ...

How Well Do You Know Children's Literature?
Below are excerpts from well-known children’s literature. Can you name
the book or story?  There’s a prize for whoever gets the most correct!

1. Look at me! Look at me! Look at me NOW! It is fun to have fun but you have to know how.”

2. “If you become a bird and fly away from me,” said his mother, “I will be a tree that you come home to.”

3. “I love you as high as I can reach,” said Little Nutbrown Hare. 

4. In the great green room, there was a telephone, and a red balloon, and a picture of... The cow jumping over the moon.

5. On Monday he ate through one apple.  But he was still hungry.

6. “Someone’s been sleeping in my bed,” wailed Baby Bear, “and she’s still in it!”

7. “I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words Bother me.”

8. “You just think wonderful thoughts,” explained Peter, “and they lift you into the air.”

9. But Peter, who was very naughty, ran straight away to Mr. McGregor’s garden, and squeezed under the gate!

10. I meant what I said. And I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful One hundred percent!

11. She picked three berries and dropped them, kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk, in her small tin pail.

12. “Why he looks just like my old Bunny that was lost when I had scarlet fever!”  But he never knew that it really was his old Bunny, come back to look at the child who had first helped him to be Real.

13. George promised to be good. But it is easy for little monkeys to forget.

14. “Please, Shiny New Engine, won’t you please pull our train over the mountain?  Our engine has broken down, and the boys and girls on the other side won’t have any toys to play with or good food to eat unless you help us.”

15. I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a ...

16. Here are Paul and Judy, They can do lots of things. You can do lots of things, too.

17. “Remember, Jack, she’s all we have,” his mother called after him.  “Be sure you get a good price for her.”

18. “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house in!"

19. They roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth.

20.  When you give him the milk, he’ll probably ask you for a straw.

Dig deep in your memory now - how many can you answer correctly? The winner of the game at our baby shower was my sister who had the decided advantage of being an elementary school school teacher for the past 30 years. Since everyone worked so hard on their quiz, though, I also gave prizes to the two contestants who were tied for second place. It was a lot of fun and brought back memories of all those days of sitting in a rocking chair with a baby on my lap, reading Pat the Bunny and Peter Rabbit. It won't be long till I get to do it again - this time with a sweet little grandson!
1. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
2. The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown
3. Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney
4. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
5. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
6. Goldilocks and the Three Bears
7. Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
8. Peter Pan by Eric Kincaid
9. Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
10. Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss
11. Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
12. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
13. Curious George by H. A. Rey
14. The Little Engine the Could by Watty Piper
15. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
16. Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt
17. Jack and the Beanstalk
18. The Three Little Pigs
19. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
20. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff

Tomorrow: The best part of the baby shower

Friday, March 4, 2011

Baby Shower Week - Day 5: Games & Activities I

This is the first and only baby shower I've ever planned, and I was kind of intimidated by the thoughts of having to choose the games and activities. I just couldn't see myself myself making people taste jars of unknown baby food to figure out what it was, or playing the "Dirty Diapers" game. (Don't even ASK about that one!)

So, I kept it really simple. We only had three activities, and I don't think any of them were embarrassing to the mom-to-be or the guests (that's a plus!) The first one was ...
Mad Libs

My daughter was crazy about Mad Libs as a child and still loves them today, so I wrote up a customized Mad Lib called Sara & Ian's Great Adventure.

I'll reprint it here, just in case any of you would like to adapt it for your own use. I've substituted "mom" and "dad" for my daughter and son-in-law's names.

I was the moderator and the only person who knew what the Mad Lib was about. We went around the room and I asked each person for a word to fill in the blanks in the story - a noun, a verb, a number, etc. They all got into the spirit of the game and came up with some crazy words that made the game lots of fun.

When all the blanks were filled in, I announced the title of the story and commenced to read it aloud. It was hilarious! We all giggled and laughed until we were holding our sides. Sara loved it! The best Mad Lib ever!

 Sara and Ian’s Great Adventure

When (mom) and (dad) fell in love, they often talked of having a family. “I want us to have ­­­­­­­­(number)___________ kids!” (dad) said. “I’d be happy with (number)_________,” smiled (mom). “Well, no matter how many we have, I know we’ll be (adjective)_____________.” 

Soon the (adjective)_____________ day arrived when (mom) announced to (dad), “We’re going to have a (noun)____________!” (Dad) was so (adjective)______________, he grabbed (mom) and planted a big (noun)_________________ on her cheek.  “It doesn’t matter if it’s a boy or a (noun)­­­­­­­­­­­­_____________, just so it’s (adjective)____________.”

When (mom) and (dad) told (mother-in-law) about the baby, she exclaimed, “(exclamation)____________________! I’m going to be a (noun)________________!” The whole family was happy to hear the (adjective)_______________ news.

It wasn’t long before (mom) developed cravings for (food)______________ and (food)_______________. Sometimes she felt (adjective)_______________ in the morning, but by afternoon she was (adjective)________________. As the baby grew, her (body part)_______________ got larger and larger. (Mom) had to buy maternity (plural article of clothing)_____________________. (Dad) smiled and said, “(Mom), you look so (adjective)________________.” “But I feel so (adjective)___________!” (mom) wailed.

Months passed, and the big day finally arrived. (Mom) exclaimed, “(exclamation)__________! My (noun)_________________ just broke!!! We’d better rush to (the) (location)_______________!” (dad) shouted, “(exclamation)_______________!! This is it!”

After (number)________ hours of labor, a beautiful baby boy was born, weighing (number)_______ pounds (number)______ ounces. The doctor exclaimed, “That’s the (adjective ending in –est)______________________ baby I’ve ever delivered!!”

The proud parents gazed lovingly at their little bundle of (noun starting with J)______________, and (dad) said, “That was so much fun, I think we should have (number)_________ more!” “You silly (noun)_____________!” (mom) said.

And they lived (adverb ending in –ly)_______________ ever after!    

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Baby Shower Week - Day 4: Sweet Treats

Since I am a self-confessed sugar addict, it was pure joy for me to make all the sweet treats for the baby shower. The cupcakes, of course, were the star of the show.

I used my old standby recipe for Yellow Cake from the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook, along with their Butter Frosting recipe. The chocolate cupcakes were made from a Betty Crocker Gluten Free Cake mix.

Minty Cream Wafers were the perfect choice for a party cookie. They're so cute with their scalloped edges and mint green filling topped with a dusting of sparkly sugar. Little bites of happiness!

Minty Cream Wafers
Cookie ingredients:
1 c. butter, softened
2 c. flour
1/3 c. evaporated milk
Granulated sugar

1. In a large mixing bowl, beat the 1 c. of butter with electric mixer.
2. Beat in flour and evaporated milk. Form into a ball.
3. Cover. Chill 2 hours or until firm.

Preheat oven to 375º. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/8” thickness. Cut with a 1 ½“ or 2 ¼” round cookie cutter. Place on ungreased cookie sheets and sprinkle with sugar. Prick each round three times with a fork. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove and cool on a wire rack.

Filling ingredients:
½ c. butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/3 c. sifted powdered sugar
¼ tsp peppermint extract (optional)
Food coloring
2-3 T. milk

1. In a large mixing bowl, beat the ½ c. butter on med to high speed about 30 seconds. Add vanilla.
2. Gradually add powdered sugar until smooth and creamy.
3. Beat in peppermint extract. Add food coloring.
4. Generously spread the bottoms of half the wafers with frosting or pipe frosting on using a frosting bag fitted with a star tip. Top with remaining wafers.

Recipe notes:
- Another option for rolling out the cookie dough is to place it between two layers of plastic wrap. Peel away the top layer to cut out cookie shapes.
- Don’t make the frosting too soft and fluffy or it will ooze out the sides when you bite into the cookies.
- An easy tip for frosting the cookies is to put the frosting into a Ziploc freezer bag and snip off the corner, then squeeze it onto the cookies.

The Raspberry Strippers were delicious, as always. They only take a few minutes to make, and it looks like you really slaved over them. The recipe is available in an earlier post.

I can't remember the last time I made a batch of fudge - probably decades ago - but I felt that this occasion called for it. It's so rich and delicious. It seemed like a nice little indulgence that my guests might enjoy.

For the chocolate fudge, I used another recipe from my Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook, this one for Remarkable Fudge. It's smooth and creamy and filled with chunks of walnuts.

Remarkable Fudge
4 cups sugar
2 5-ounce cans (1-1/3 cups total) evaporated milk
1 cup butter or margarine
1 12-ounce package (2 cups) semisweet chocolate pieces
1 7-ounce dark chocolate or milk chocolate candy bar, cut up
1 7-ounce jar marshmallow creme
1 cup  chopped walnuts or pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Line a 13x9x2-inch baking pan with foil, extending foil over edges of pan. Butter foil; set aside.

2. Butter sides of a heavy 3-quart saucepan. In saucepan combine sugar, evaporated milk, and butter. Cook and stir over medium-high heat till mixture boils. Reduce heat to medium; continue cooking and stirring for 10 minutes.

3. Remove pan from heat. Add chocolate pieces, cut-up chocolate bar, marshmallow creme, nuts and vanilla; stir until chocolate melts and mixture is combined. Beat by hand for 1 minute. Spread in the prepared pan. When fudge is firm, use foil to lift it out of pan. Cut fudge into squares. Store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator. Makes about 4 pounds (96 pieces).

I also tried my hand at making a traditional Penuche, which is like a brown sugar fudge studded with nuts. It takes more time to make than the chocolate fudge, as it entails using a candy thermometer and a lot of stirring and hovering, but it turned out great.

1-1/2  cups  granulated sugar
1  cup  packed brown sugar
1/3  cup  half-and-half or light cream
1/3  cup  milk
2  tablespoons  butter
1  teaspoon  vanilla
1/2  cup  chopped pecans or walnuts

1. Line an 8x4x2- or a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan with foil, extending foil over edges of pan. Butter the foil; set pan aside.

2. Butter sides of a heavy 2-quart saucepan. In saucepan combine sugars, half-and-half or cream, and milk. Cook and stir over medium-high heat till mixture boils. Clip a candy thermometer to side of pan. Reduce heat to medium-low; continue boiling at a moderate, steady rate, stirring frequently, till thermometer registers 236 degree F, soft-ball stage (15 to 20 minutes).

3. Remove saucepan from heat. Add butter and vanilla, but do not stir. Cool, without stirring, to 110 degree F (about 50 minutes).

4. Remove thermometer from saucepan. Beat mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon till penuche just begins to thicken. Add nuts. Continue beating till penuche becomes very thick and just starts to lose its gloss (about 10 minutes total).

5. Immediately spread penuche in the prepared pan. Score into squares while warm. When penuche is firm, use foil to lift it out of pan. Cut penuche into squares. Store tightly covered. Makes 1-1/4 pounds (32 pieces).

Tomorrow: Baby shower games & activities

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Baby Shower Week - Day 3: Savory Snacks

For our afternoon baby shower, I looked for savory recipes that were light, delicious, attractive, and easy to serve and eat. I didn't want anyone dripping marinara sauce on their clothes or ending up with spinach in their teeth! Here's what I came up with:
Tortilla Ranch Roll-Ups

2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 package dry ranch dressing mix
1/2 cup red bell peppers, minced
1/2 cup celery, minced
1/4 cup green onions, sliced
1/4 cup olives, sliced (optional)
Deli ham, deli turkey, or deli roast beef, sliced
4 10-inch flour tortillas

1. In a mixing bowl, beat softened cream cheese and ranch dressing mix until smooth.
2. Add red pepper, celery, onions, and olives (if using), mix well.
3. Spread about 3/4 cup on each tortilla.
4. Layer sliced luncheon meat on top of cream cheese spread.
5. Roll up tightly and wrap in plastic wrap.
6. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
7. Slice into 1-inch pieces.

Recipe notes:
- Before slicing, you may want to put toothpicks into the roll-ups, about an inch apart, to help hold the spirals together. They also make it easy to pick up the spirals from the serving dish.
- Spinach tortillas or sun dried tomato tortillas look pretty and taste great.

 Pimento Cheese Triangles

½ pound sharp yellow cheddar cheese, grated
1/8 - ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp horseradish
½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp dry mustard
5 T. mayonnaise
3 T. marinated roasted red peppers, chopped
16 slices firm bread

1. In a medium bowl, stir together the cheese, cayenne pepper, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, and mayonnaise.
2. Blend half the mixture in a food processor until smooth. Transfer back to bowl.
3. Add chopped red pepper, and stir to combine.
4. Trim crusts from 16 slices firm bread. Spread pimento cheese among 8 slices. Top with remaining bread.
5. Cut sandwiches into quarters, slicing on the diagonal.

Recipe notes:
- Use a combination of white bread and whole wheat to add interest.
- Adjust the cayenne and horseradish to your taste. When I used 1/4 tsp of cayenne, I thought the cheese spread was a little too hot for general consumption at the party, so I added about 1/4 pound cheddar cheese to tone it down a bit.

Tomorrow: Recipes for Sweet Treats  Stop by for a sugar high!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Baby Shower Week - Day 2: Party Food

Cupcakes just scream PARTY, don't they? These festive little bundles of yumminess are so cute that you hate to bite into them, but you can't resist that sweet, buttery frosting's calling to you ... "Eat me. Eat me! You know you want me!" It's a rare person who can resist a cupcake, and no one at my party even tried.

The day before the baby shower, I baked a batch of vanilla cupcakes and a smaller batch of gluten free chocolate. The morning of the party, I whipped up some buttercream frosting and set to work. My goal was to decorate each of the 36 cupcakes with a unique design. All of my kitchen helpers thought I was crazy. I actually heard whispers of  "She's INSANE!" coming from the living room!

My niece Karli was my indispensable helper. I piped on the frosting and she enhanced the designs by carefully placing green and blue pearlized sprinkles, one at a time, with tweezers. What an artiste!

When I was about two-thirds of the way through the decorating process, I was beginning to run out of ideas and almost gave up on making each cupcake different, but by that time I had six women there cheering me on. "You can do it! You can't give up now!!" So I kept going and managed to come up with 12 more designs ranging from a baby face (at Karli's request) to a tic tac toe game.

They looked so cute arranged on the pastry stands ...

They were just as I had envisioned!

But, alas, woman cannot live on cupcakes alone, so I had to round out the menu with some other tasty treats. The shower was held at 2:00 in the afternoon, so I planned food similar to what you would have at an afternoon tea.

The Ranch Roll-Ups were creamy and delicious, while the Pimento Cheese Triangles had an unexpected kick to them. (I'll post these recipes later in the week.)

Colorful fruit skewers made it feel just a little bit like summer. Cantaloupe, honeydew melon, pineapple, grapes, strawberries, and cherries were threaded onto wooden skewers, each sporting a miniature pennant.

Raspberry Strippers were a bit hit, as usual. (You can find the recipe here in an earlier post.) The tartness of the fruit filling and the lemony glaze contrasts with the buttery shortbread cookie - simply delectable!

Minty Cream Wafers are one of my favorite cookies. They're divinely delicious and, oh, so cute! I couldn't resist including them in the baby shower menu.

And, as if there weren't enough sugar on the table already, I made two kinds of fudge! A rich, semisweet chocolate one, and Maple-Walnut Penuche.

To add a contrasting salty note, I put out a bowl of mixed nuts and some mini-pretzels (something to give the kids to munch on when they've had too many cookies and cupcakes.)

For drinks, I served a refreshing fruit punch, iced tea, and coffee. The punch was really tasty, and I was more than a little disappointed that there wasn't any left over. Guess I need to have another party soon! 

Visit again tomorrow when I'll be posting recipes for some of these yummy dishes.
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