An ongoing series of informational entries

Simply Beautiful Spring Decor

April 19, 2014

Decorating for a large event, such as Easter dinner for your church, or a spring wedding can threaten to wipe out your budget, but there are some ways to decorate that cost very little, and are still beautiful and simple.

First, if you like a rustic look, cut small branches and twigs from a tree or bush and clean off the foliage. Print butterflies onto a light colored card stock and cut them out. Hot glue the butterflies onto the branches and lay them down the middle of the tables, or in baskets as a centerpiece.

Cuttings from flowering trees and bushes can also be used as a beautiful centerpiece. Four or five cuttings can be placed into a large, wide mouth vase, or a mason jar of water and make an impressive display when placed over a nice table covering.

Although these ways may seem very simple, they can be made to be very elegant, and cost next to nothing to create. Don't pass up the chance to use the beauty God has surrounded us with.

Five Tips to a Great Potluck

March 28, 2014

Whether you're trying to plan how you will feed a large group of people at a church function, youth gathering, birthday party, or family reunion, a potluck is the answer! There was a time that I would have thought, "Potluck?! No way!", because I truly didn't know how to plan and implement a successful potluck. All of that has changed and I now have several years of experienced potluck know-how. If you're looking for ideas to help your potluck go smoothly, read on!

#1: Always recruit help! Divide the potluck process into three parts...set up, the potluck, and cleanup, and have people sign up to help during each part.

a. The set up process includes tables, chairs, decorations, and yes, even garbage cans need to be emptied and relined so they are ready to go.

b. During the meal itself you will need people to help get the food on the table where it belongs. You should have an area designated for main dishes, side dishes, desserts, and beverages. Serving utensils will need to be added to dishes as they arrive, and there will likely be cakes and pies to be sliced, and drinks to be put on ice.

c. Cleanup means staying after everyone else has eaten and gone. Any leftover food will need to be covered and stored, tables and chairs taken down and put away, floors swept, dishes washed, and the garbage taken out.

#2: Plan a theme! Themes can be fun and can help people decide what to bring. Some theme ideas are Mexican, Italian, American, Asian, Mom's Best Dish, Soup and Bread, and BBQ. With a little creativity, the possibilities are endless!

#3: Where should I have a potluck? Venue can be determined several ways. If the potluck is for a church gathering or youth group, churches typically have a fellowship hall, but that is not always the case. If you have, or know someone who has a house big enough to set up tables and chairs for everyone, that is an obvious win-win. Having a potluck in your yard can be a great idea, but is not always an option due to weather. One option to consider is to rent a facility. Contact your local Parks and Recreation Department to rent a park shelter. Most park shelters include picnic tables, barbecues, garbage cans, ball fields, a playground for the kids, and bathrooms, and this is a great idea for summertime. My local Parks and Recreation also has rooms available for rent for a small deposit, and many include a kitchen, the setup of tables and chairs, and garbage removal. When we leave the facility clean after our event, we typically get our deposit back. No matter what time of year or weather, with a little searching, you can find a great venue for your potluck!

#4: To decorate or not to decorate... My first decorating rule of thumb is always use tablecloths. You can collect cloth tablecloths from a yard sale or thrift store and keep them on hand, or use plastic tablecloths that can be purchased for $0.96 each at Wal-Mart, and can be great because you can match the colors with your theme, and you don't have to wash them afterward. There is just something about having tablecloths on all of the tables that can make the atmosphere more homey and comfortable or formal, depending on what other decor you add. For a formal potluck, such as Thanksgiving or Easter, use centerpieces on your tables. You can also sprinkle candy or confetti that matches your event theme on the tables. Having your tables decorated shows that some effort was made, and it makes it all a little more special!

#5: The Food! Have you ever wondered what would happen if everyone brought potato salad and nothing else? I used to worry about that, but I soon discovered that there are ways to make sure that something from each category is brought to the potluck. My favorite is to divide your group up by last names and assign the food accordingly. For example, last names that start with the letters A thru M should bring a main dish and a beverage to share, and last names that start with the letters N thru Z should bring a side dish and a dessert. If you have frequent potlucks, you would trade the next time and have last names A-M bring a side dish and dessert, and N-Z bring a main dish and beverage. You could also use the last digit of their birth year (evens and odds), or any fun, imaginative idea you may have!

With a little planning and some assistance, you can host a successful potluck and not only will your guests have a great time, but so will you! Bon app├ętit!

15 Grocery Staples to Keep on Hand

August 15, 2014

Every one of us at some point has gone to their pantry, looked in, and had no idea what to make. This could be just because nothing was coming to mind, unexpected visitors came and you didn't know what to feed them, or you are down to very little and it's time to go shopping. Whatever the reason, if you stock up on fifteen simple grocery staples, you will always be prepared for anything.

#1: Cornmeal - This can be used to make cornbread, used with flour to roll meat and/or vegetables before frying, to make gravy, or you can use a cornmeal batter to top casseroles. Cornmeal should be stored in sealable bags or containers.

#2: Rice - Rice can be used as breakfast with cinnamon, sugar, and milk, as a filler in soups, stews, and casseroles, with gravy as a main dish, with vegetables and meats in stir-fry, or used as a side dish as Spanish rice or by adding black beans, corn, and spices.

#3: Beans - Beans can be made into a hearty chili, added to quinoa, made into a salad, added to soups or casseroles, sweetened for baked beans, or added to any side dish for added protein. They can be purchased as dried and uncooked, which takes several hours to fully cook, but a variety of beans can also be purchased in a can, fully cooked and ready for use.

#4: Canned vegetables - Canned goods are instant. There is no defrosting, so if you need to make a quick meal, canned vegetables are the way to go. We all need veggies in our diets, and these can be added into soups, stews and casseroles, or used as a side dish by them selves.

#5: Evaporated or powdered milk - In addition to having a long shelf life, these can be stored until they are needed for cooking without having to have them refrigerated. They can be used in gravies, soups, casseroles and baked goods.

#6: Tomato sauce - Not only can we top pasta with tomato sauce, but it can also be used as a base in soups and casseroles.

#7: Mushroom soup - This is a favorite in casseroles and pasta dishes such as beef stroganoff. It can also be warmed and served as a meal in itself.

#8: Bouillon - Chicken, beef, and tomato based bouillons are used in gravies, casseroles, and soups. Rice can also be given extra flavor if cooked in bouillon instead of water. Bouillon can be used to add extra flavor to any main dish or side dish.

#9: Pasta - Pasta is an economical way to feed your family, and it offers a large variety. Many dishes can be created including spaghetti, lasagna, fettuccini alfredo, pasta salad, macaroni and cheese, ravioli, and can be added to soups.

#10: Canned or packaged meats - Canned chicken, tuna, or packaged bacon pieces are a convenient way to create a quick meal without having to defrost anything, and they have a long shelf life. These can easily be added into casseroles, soups, and pasta dishes. Bacon pieces can be added to baked beans, vegetables, or pasta salad. A little creativity can transport any of these into an outstanding main dish.

#11: Instant potatoes - Instant potatoes don't mold and get squishy like regular potatoes, and not only can they be used for mashed potatoes and gravy, but they can also be used to make silky smooth potato soup (with bacon, of course!), or to thicken other soups or stews.

#12: Shortening - This can be used to fry foods, or to make biscuits. (Try my recipe - Biscuits can be a main dish with gravy, a filler if you aren't planning to serve a large meal, or biscuit dough can be used as a casserole topping for dishes such as chicken pot pie.

#13: Flour - Flour is well known as a thickening agent in gravy. However, it has multiple uses including a batter for fried foods, to make breads, biscuits, homemade pasta, cakes, pie crusts, and in oatmeal crisps for desserts.

#14: Herbs and Spices - I'm sure each of us has tasted a dish that was unseasoned at some point in our lives. The only word that comes to mind is 'BLAND'. Herbs and spices can make all the difference, and what is being prepared will determine which spices should be used. I keep several particular herbs and spices on hand at all times. These are basil, oregano, parsley flakes, cilantro, thyme, mint, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, salt, pepper, curry powder, ground mustard, paprika, chili powder, ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ground gloves, and ginger. Fresh herbs can be used, but must be used quickly to keep them from going bad. My preference is to use dried herbs, as they are readily available when needed.

#15: Tea bags - Tea comes in many different flavors and varieties, and can be hot or iced, caffeinated or decaffeinated, sweetened or unsweetened. It is a quick, easy beverage that can be prepared according to the preferences of the drinker. Our family enjoys iced tea with a bit of dried mint leaves, which gives it a crisp, refreshing flavor. Other spices, including cinnamon can also be enjoyed in hot tea.

Whether you are showing hospitality with a hot meal to an unexpected guest, or you're just getting down to the bare essentials before payday, keeping these fifteen items stocked will help to see you through. If you plan ahead and purchase a few of these items each time you shop, you will soon be stocked up, and although each of these items are fairly inexpensive, together they can make many wonderful dishes!

Happy cooking!