Sunday, December 29, 2013

On the Homefront: Diamond's Poinsettia

I saved one small detail of our first floor Christmas décor for this post today.  The poinsettia above is very special to me.  It was given to us last year by the wonderful mobile vet who cared for our beloved dog Diamond during her last two weeks, when she was too ill to go to the vet hospital.  When it was time to let our girl go, I entrusted her care to this vet, and Dr. Wong was so kind and gentle.  Six years previously I had a terrible experience with a different mobile vet when our first Dalmatian became terminally ill, so I especially appreciated the way this new vet handled Diamond's care.  Dr. Wong even stopped by a week later with a lovely poinsettia, and stayed to chat with me about Diamond for an hour.  (If you live in the Athens, Georgia, area and need a vet who will come to your house, I highly recommend Dr. Sharon Wong.)

Somehow the poinsettia she brought managed to survive indoors until spring, when I moved it outdoors.  Once outside, it began to thrive.  When I brought it in for the winter, it developed the red bracts that you see above.  It is starting to lose leaves now, like it did after Christmas last year, but I hope I can keep it going until spring when I will move it outside again.  I like to think that a little part of Diamond lives on with her special poinsettia.  Before now, I had never been fond of poinsettias, but I intend to try to keep this one healthy and happy for a very long time.

Christmas 2011 (Diamond is on the right)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

On the Homefront: First Floor Christmas Décor

This owl sits by our front door year round, but only wears
his buffalo plaid scarf for Christmas!

In the ten years that we have lived in our current home, I have gradually figured out just how I like to decorate this place for Christmas.  A few things change every year, but basic elements have remained the same for several years now.  Like many people I know, we have accumulated quite a collection of Christmas decorations over the years, but lately we all seem to be trying to simplify, limiting our decorating mostly to just the pieces we absolutely love.  Here are some photos of what my first floor looks like this year:

As you enter our front door you see the stairway to the second floor.  Every year I decorate the banister with a red berry garland and sweet little buffalo plaid stockings with a moose design.  I got the stockings when we lived in Colorado, and even though our new home state of Georgia is not known for moose, I still love to put these up.  I like the simplicity of this look.  I have used evergreen garland in the past, but got tired of cleaning up all the dropped needles!

The front entry hall table got a favorite striped red table runner and some glass bear votive holders, while the tall candleholders had their rims covered in bejewelled Christmas dog collars (the dogs refused to wear them!).  Again the look is simple, but festive.

The great room fireplace always gets a shiny Christmas ornament wreath and a string of pine cone lights.  The tall candleholders are topped with extra-large shiny round Christmas ornaments (the candles  are not lit, of course!).  Though difficult to see, in the middle of the mantel are two tiny wooden kissing reindeer, one red and one green, that we have had for years.  This year I also added the red pottery tree votive holders which do get their candles lit.

Here is a better look at the mantel.

And here is a close-up of the little kissing reindeer!

My favorite Christmas dogs pillows sit on the chairs in front of the fireplace, with a magnificent amaryllis on the table between them.

A small ornament tree sits atop the Spirit Board Serving Tray I won recently from an HGTV giveaway, which is covered in a red table runner for Christmas.

This is the Bronze Swirl Ornament Tree I purchased recently which allows me to set up a Christmas tree of sorts in the living room that does not interest our dogs (the Santa Dalmatian, which I received as a gift when we lived in Colorado, sits high on top of a lamp well out of their reach).

Every year my collection of Christmas Dalmatians graces the top of our living room entertainment center, while Christmas cards line the shelves.  My husband finds the Dals a bit overwhelming, but they are only up for a couple of weeks, so he does not have to look at them for too long!

A red bromeliad sits inside a red Christmas cachepot with tiny reindeer cutouts around the top.  I love this pot, and while the plant inside may change from year to year, the pot is always on display for the holidays.

Our TV room has a fireplace which gets a string of pine cone lights as well.  I also hang my Dalmatian stockings here, but only for looks (they do not get filled).  Since our dogs spend most of their time in this room, it is only appropriate that these stockings adorn the space!

Our side entry foyer décor is rather subtle -- just a red vase filled with faux red grasses and berry branches, a cute little square reindeer plate I found at HomeGoods this year, and a candy jar filled with seasonal chocolates.  The December Dalmatian on the calendar adds a festive touch as well (it must be obvious by now that Dalmatians are an obsession of mine!).

This last image is a pine cone wreath that hangs on the door to our basement every year.  I made this wreath myself when we lived in Oklahoma, using locally collected pine cones, pecans, and giant burr oak acorn caps.  A simple red velvet bow and a decorative cluster from a long-ago box of chocolates add the finishing touches.  I went through a brief crafty period in my mid-twenties when I made this wreath -- I even taught myself to crochet!  The two blankets I did are long gone, and I still have two huge crocheted Christmas stockings which I never use, but this wreath is my proudest achievement.  It has held up well over the decades despite two long-distance moves.  I have never had the urge to craft again, so my wreath will always remain my most successful foray into such activities, making it very special indeed!

Decorating for Christmas is always so very personal, and unique to each individual.  I truly enjoy all of the items I put out each year for the holidays.  I may complain about the hassle of setting up the Christmas tree (my photo for this year's tree will as usual be posted next Christmas!) and especially taking everything back down again (and that dreaded day is coming soon), but I would never even consider not decorating at all, which is I think how most of us feel.  So enjoy your holiday décor for the short time it still remains out, and then breathe a sigh of relief when all is back to normal again!

Friday, December 27, 2013

On the Homefront: Peppermint and Snowflakes Christmas Table

Dalmatian Frost got to play Santa for Christmas!

This year I originally intended to do a woodlands pinecone-themed table for Christmas, but a couple of fortuitous finds at HomeGoods made me change my mind.  A red and white chevron-patterned table runner and some cheery red napkins with white snowflakes put me more in the mood for a wintery design in red and white.  And when I discovered that this was the 15th anniversary of Williams-Sonoma's Peppermint Bark Christmas candy (which has a barking Dalmatian on the anniversary tin), I knew that a Peppermint and Snowflakes Christmas table was our holiday destiny!

From Williams-Sonoma

Here is our festive table for Christmas 2013:

Dark brown wooden bead placemat from Target; round red woven placemat from K-Mart; white dinner plate (Tivoli from Studio Nova); snowflake dessert plate in four different designs from Target many years ago; white flatware from Target; red snowflake napkin from HomeGoods this year; small red candle in small white bowl from Pier 1; clear water glass; pale green glass goblet (can't remember where I got either glass).

Please ignore the fact that two of the plate designs have eight-pointed snowflakes when everyone knows all snowflakes are six-pointed (the napkins have the same problem)!

A simple centerpiece adds sparkle to the table.

 Peppermint puffs, Andes Peppermint Crunch Candy, and
 Williams-Sonoma Peppermint Bark Cookies on a three-tiered
dessert stand.

This is the first Williams-Sonoma Peppermint Bark tin I got
several years ago, with two barking Dalmatians.

This is a more recent tin, bought a couple of years back, with
one Dalmatian tugging on the ribbon instead of barking!

I love this view of the table, with the center looking all shimmery
and both sides standing out in bold red and white.

Our Christmas dinner was supremely easy.  We started off with cheeses from Sweet Grass Dairy sent by a dear friend, and they were absolutely delicious (thanks, Ann!).  The main course was a Maine Lobster Seafood Bake from Lobster Gram.  It was very good and simple to prepare, but it did not include sausage like other seafood bakes I have had, which I think adds incredible extra flavor to the meal.  Everything else was purchased at our local Publix Supermarket (the Kale Salad is a prepackaged kit from the produce aisle which includes poppy seed dressing and a cranberry-pepita mix).  In years that I prepare the Thanksgiving feast, as I did this year, an effortless main meal for Christmas is my subsequent gift to myself!

Christmas 2013 menu:

Assorted Cheeses and Crackers
Maine Lobster Seafood Bake
Kale Salad with Cranberries and Pepitas
Cuban Bread
Holiday Spice Loaf Cake

Peppermint candies abounded on our table this Christmas, but the foil-wrapped Riegelein Santa, his Lindt Chocolate reindeer, and the Lindt Lindor Truffles are all simple milk chocolate:

Frost the Santa Dalmatian was not the only Christmas Dalmatian in the dining room:

On the credenza, Dalmatians Snow and Flake flank a lovely candy cane plate from HomeGoods a few years ago, as well as one of my favorite Christmas decorations, a small wooden reindeer that we have had for decades:

I hope everyone had as enjoyable a Christmas feast as we did this year!

Foodie Fridays: Thai Chicken Enchiladas

I have a new favorite recipe, and it is Thai Chicken Enchiladas!  As usual, I modified it slightly for more convenience, but the essential flavors are still the same and they are amazing.  I happen to love cilantro, so I left it in.  It is actually quite subtle, and I added a generous sprinkling of the herb to my serving for more intensity.  Since my husband is not a cilantro fan, I could easily leave it out of the filling next time and just serve it on the side.  The sauce of coconut milk and sweet chili sauce is so good I now prefer these enchiladas to the Mexican type.  I have never tried to make Thai food before, so this transitional recipe was a good way to ease into the effort.  I think I am now ready to attempt something like Pad Thai, but these enchiladas will always remain in my repertoire!

Thai Chicken Enchiladas

1 T. oil (canola or peanut)
4 C. (1/2 bag) tricolor coleslaw mix
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 chicken breast halves, cooked and shredded*
4 scallions, sliced
1/3 C. chopped salted peanuts + more for garnish
¼ C. chopped fresh cilantro + more for garnish
salt and pepper to taste
2½ C. light coconut milk**
1 C. (7.5 oz. bottle) sweet chili sauce
8 flour tortillas

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the oil.  Sauté the coleslaw mix for about five minutes, then add the garlic and cook one minute longer.  Stir in the chicken, scallions, peanuts, cilantro, and salt and pepper to taste, tossing to coat, and let cook for 1-2 minutes.  Add in ¾ C. coconut milk and 1/3 C. sweet chili sauce, mixing thoroughly to combine.  Remove from the heat.

Spray a 9×13-inch baking dish with nonstick spray.  Whisk together the remaining coconut milk and sweet chili sauce.  Pour about ½ C. of the sauce on the bottom of the dish. With a spoon, roughly divide the chicken mixture in the skillet into eight portions.  Slightly warm the tortillas if desired to make them more pliable, then place a portion of the chicken mixture in each, rolling up tightly and placing in the dish. Cover with the coconut milk and chili sauce mix (there is more than enough sauce to thoroughly coat each enchilada).

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and spoon the sauce from the bottom of the dish all over the top of the enchiladas. Sprinkle each serving with additional chopped peanuts and cilantro as desired.  Serves 4.

*I used the white meat from a store-bought rotisserie chicken.
**I used one 13.5 oz. can plus one 5.5 oz. can, which yielded the exact amount needed.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

This 'n That Thursdays: Unique Christmas Wreaths, and a Special Advent Calendar

Horse head wreath swag

Christmas may be over, but the decorations are still up, and I thought that today I would showcase some of the more unique wreaths I've noticed lately, none of which feature traditional holiday greenery (except for the one above, of course):

Clothes pins and tea bags wreath

Marshmallows wreath

Yarn balls and ornaments wreath

Neckties wreath

Gingerbread men wreath

Fresh cranberries wreath

Vintage Christmas bulbs wreath

Wine corks wreath

Peppermints wreath

Crayons wreath

Gumdrops wreath

Cinnamon sticks wreath

I also wanted to mention the link to a special Advent Calendar posted by a blogger on the Shetland Islands, who has graciously shared some of her lovely high-resolution photos as free downloads.  Here are just a few samples (photo captions are here):

I hope this isn't too much visual sensory overload just after Christmas.  Happy Boxing Day to all!