Friday, November 28, 2008

Capes


Lonnie Cruse kicks off our month of gift ideas today. Author of the Metropolis Mystery series, Lonnie's latest mystery is Fifty-Seven Heaven. Read more about Lonnie's books at http://www.lonniecruse.com.


What gifts would I suggest for a diva? Well, let's back up a little. I AM a diva. But those who don't understand us divas used to make fun of me because I carried a sweater everywhere I went, even in July. Okay, I was born in the hot Nevada dessert, moved to a much cooler climate, and never got over it. Deal with it. And most restaurants crank up the air conditioning, even in the dead of winter, because of the heat in the kitchen. Duh.

Anyhow, several years ago many stores began carrying knitted capes. Wonderful inventions. This gorgeous red number came from the Burlington Factory outlet store in Evansville, IN, courtesy of one of my daughters-in-law. Gotta love her. Think the price was about $15 or so. Most J. C. Penny stores carry similar capes, at a slightly higher price but well worth it. And I spotted a couple at WalMart recently, in the purse/belt section.

I have several of these capes in different colors. I can fold one up and tuck it in a tote bag for a trip, lay it on my lap like a blankie, or toss it over my shoulders and pretend like I'm still up on the latest fashion trend. So, a cape would be my best suggestion for a true diva. Particularly since most of my diva friends are, um, of a certain age when life is suddenly much colder.

But the truly best gift for a diva friend is the gift of one's self. Providing a shoulder to cry on or sympathy when needed. Laughing with, crying with, emphathizing with, shopping with, sipping tea with. Does it get any better than that? I think not. So, have you hugged your diva today?

And if anyone is looking to buy a gift for me, anything with chocolate is sure to win my deepest gratitude.

Lonnie Cruse
http://www.lonniecruse.com

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I have much to be thankful for this year. Having a book come out is a minor miracle and I'm very grateful to everyone who was so supportive along the way.

Enjoy the day with friends and family and don't worry if dinner isn't perfect. Bask in the warmth of their company because that's what's important.

Tomorrow, we'll kick off a month's worth of gift ideas. You're sure to find something for the pickiest diva.

Here's to a moist turkey!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Shopping in a bad economy

I'm taking off Thanksgiving Day and I know a lot of people will be shopping on Black Friday, so it seemed like this would be a good time to bring up a couple of things to keep in mind given our economy.

Gift cards are very popular and rightly so. The recipient can choose what he likes and the gift giver doesn't have to worry about exchanges or choosing the wrong thing. But we've all heard the names of various stores in the news lately. Stores that are suffering from our economic downturn and may not survive. Think twice before giving a gift card for one of those stores. None of us have a crystal ball, but it would be shame to spend money on a store that might close its doors in January.

Likewise, when you purchase an item from a struggling store, debate whether it makes sense to buy an extended warranty. I have my doubts about extended warranties anyway (seems like an easy money maker for stores) but there's certainly no point in buying one from a store that won't be around to honor it in a year or two when a problem arises.

Happy shopping -- may you find wonderful bargains!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

SuperSwitch Wall Outlet Remote Control


The last couple of years I've managed to arrange decorations so that turning lights on and off is precarious. This little Christmas house on a mantel is a great example. I can hide the cord and the ginormous plug under faux snow but turning it on and off is not only a chore, it practically requires dismantling the display to reach it. So I was thrilled to find the SuperSwitch. This nifty gadget allows you to use a remote to control anything plugged into an electrical outlet.

It comes with one remote control that works up
to four outlets. That means no more crawling behind the tree to plug it in. No more groping for hard-to-reach switches. Just stand in the room and click. And a nice bonus -- no more timers draining juice all day and night.

Now that I have it, I see loads of possibilities. The light on the nightstand that's just a hair too far away -- not anymore. Turn it off with a click. It would be an ideal gift for friends and family with limited mobility. I have a feeling I'm going to find a lot of uses for this, even after the holidays.

Available through various catalogs but the best price I have found is at QVC, where they're selling the remote and four outlet controls for $25.00 plus shipping. QVC.com, item V24866

Five Cupcakes. Very practical.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Candle Warmers


Lorna Barrett, author of the Booktown (cozy) Mysteries, is guest blogging today. Murder is Binding is now available and her latest, Bookmarked for Death, will be released February 3, 2009. Visit Lorna at lornabarrett.com and www.writersplot.typepad.com.


I love candles and am terrified of fire. (My mother put the fear of fire in me after my little brother set the house on fire--twice.) Consequently, I’ve rarely lit a candle in my house. Still, I love the smell of scented candles.

What to do?

I bought a candle warmer from a Michaels craft store. (Originally they were marketed as warmers for coffee mugs.) It’s great for jar candles. You never have to light the wick. No flames to set your house (or a cat’s tail) on fire. The candles last for a long-long time because they aren’t burning, they melt very slowly.

Another bonus? I’ve wondered what to do with all those candles I’ve received as gifts that were made in foreign countries. Do they have lead wicks? You don’t have to worry about that with a candle warmer. In fact, if you’re worried--the candle will melt enough that you can yank the wick right out. (But be careful--it’ll be hot!)

When it’s cold outside, I can breathe in the wonderful aroma of lemon icebox cookies or butterscotch toffee and feel just fine, knowing my house (and kitties) are safe.

Five cupcakes!

Thanks, Krista, for letting me post.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Eggnog

I believe in cooking from scratch. But there are some things that are just so good that it simplifies life to use a ready made product. Eggnog is one of them.

Horizon makes a lovely organic eggnog that is lowfat but is so thick and creamy that it feels totally sinful. The flavor is light, not overpowering.

I'm also a huge fan of Silk Nog. Silk brand Soy Nog is about as good as it gets. Perfectly flavored, smooth and satisfying. If you've been avoiding soy, this (or their chocolate flavor soy milk, which is heaven) might change your mind. I don't know how they do it but we're talking about delicious soy.

While it's traditional to add hard liquor like whiskey, bourbon, rum or brandy, I'm very fond of adding Khalua.

Five cupcakes to lowfat eggnog!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Light Pole

Who would have ever thought a pole could be so practical? My former sister-in-law says you can never have too many Christmas lights and I'm afraid I agree. For years I used makeshift tools like rakes and pear-picking gadgets to hang lights in trees. But now it's a snap. The package calls this a No Ladder 11 Foot Light Hanging Kit. I bought it last year for $16.97 at Home Depot. I've seen similar items on sale this year, most recently at Target, but the price was closer to $20.00

The pole inside extends to eleven feet. It comes with clips that screw onto the end and can be hooked onto gutters or roof shingles while standing safely on the ground. There's a little spot for the light strand that goes up as you move along. They clip onto gutters easily, though I find getting the clips off the gutters a little harder. And a word to the wise -- while the tiny lights seem fairly sturdy, be very careful when hanging the large old-fashioned lights. If they swing and hit brick or rock, they shatter.

But the best part is another tool that screws onto the end. It contains a variety of prongs to hold lights. No more hauling a heavy ladder to the front porch to decorate. I just grab my handy dandy light pole and the job is accomplished easily in no time.

I didn't expect to use the pole year round, but I do. When it's not extended, it's about four feet tall and slender enough to easily tuck away in a closet. I use it to hang almost anything in trees that might have required a ladder. I even use it inside the house to hang and move items that are high. And last summer, when my dog alerted me to a visiting snake on the porch, I ran for my light pole, extended it to eleven feet, cracked the door and was able to touch the snake's tail with the end of the pole, thus hastening its departure in the correct direction.

Who'd have thought it would have so many uses?

Five cupcakes!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Less Expensive Window Candle

If you're like me and you'd like candles in more than a couple of windows, then the cost adds up very fast. I found this alternative at Target for just under $5.00. The base is platinum colored and the main difference between this candle and the one I blogged about yesterday is strength. It takes two AA batteries and the flame simply isn't quite as strong. But it's still perfectly adequate. It doesn't have a steady on mode, either, only off and flicker. But just like the more expensive version, it contains a light sensor and turns itself on and off, which is the best news for busy people during the holidays. Probably because the glow is a little bit less bright, I do usually replace the batteries at least once during the holiday season. But don't be fooled -- these look great in the window and add that festive, warm glow just like the others.

My windows have a very narrow sill, something I have to consider with bulkier candles. Not a problem with either of these models. Their slender bases fit the windows nicely. I love that there's no cord or fire worry. They work
just as nicely in arrangements and places that are hard to reach. I like to add one to the wreath over my mantel. Even if I don't turn on the electric lights on the wreath, the atmospheric glow of the candle kicks on and I don't have to give it any thought.

Four cupcakes. Better price but marginally less glow.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Battery Operated Window Candles


There are few things that add holiday ambiance as quickly and easily as candles in windows. This is a no muss, no fuss holiday decoration that anyone can accomplish in a snap. Do yourself a favor and buy battery-operated candles. No cords to worry about. No running through the house to turn them on and off. The one shown is my favorite. They operate on C batteries and have an automatic light sensor that turns them on when it's dark and off when it's daylight. They can be turned off manually if you prefer and you can set them for regular "on" or for flicker.

They're available through a lot of catalogs (like Plow and Hearth -- www.plowhearth.com and www.HerringtonCatalog.com) for about $12.95. You might find a deal if you shop around, though.

I found them for $8.79 at
http://nextpowerusa.stores.yahoo.net/holidaycandles.html?gclid=CIHxnbi4_JYCFRg6awodET_HXg.

Later this week, a less expensive alternative.

Five cupcakes. Nothing could be easier for the amount of cozy holiday glow they provide.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pie Crusts


It's pie season again. Let's face it, there's nothing hard about mixing ingredients and pouring them into a pie shell. But making a pie crust is another headache altogether. Here's an easy trick that will even impress your picky mother-in-law.

Whether you use your own pie crust recipe or a ready-made pie crust like Pillsbury, you can easily dress it up. These cute, seasonal cookie cutters from Wilton are available in cooking stores and WalMart for just under $3.00. They're tiny, just the right size for your pie crust. Buy or make a little extra dough and cut out leaves or acorns or apples with the cookie cutters. Pour water into a cup and adhere the
cut-outs to the edge of the raw pie dough around
the pie by rubbing the back side of each cut-out with a little bit of water. Not too much. You don't want them to be soggy. Press the cut-outs on all the way around the edge of the pie. This can take a little bit of time, especially if you have a number of pies to bake, but the end result is well worth the effort. Whisk an egg, then brush the egg wash over the raw pie dough. This will result in a glossy golden finish when baked. Just be sure to watch your pie and if the crust is getting too brown, wrap the edges in aluminum foil to prevent burning.

Five cupcakes. Easy as, er, pie!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Coming Soon & RetailMeNot Reminder


It's official. The holidays are upon us. Over the next week, I'll be posting about things that make holiday preparations a little easier. In December, we'll be discussing gifts for divas, their friends and their beloved dogs and cats.

As you begin (or finish) your on-line holiday shopping, don't forget to check www.retailmenot.com before placing your orders. I just ordered from Saks Fifth Avenue and had little hope of getting a deal, but a coupon code from RetailMeNot saved me the $10.00 shipping charge. Not bad at all! Especially in these tight times. After all, $10.00 is enough to buy The Diva Runs Out of Thyme with enough change left over for a much needed shopping reward of coffee or a doughnut or an ice cream cone.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Plugra

If you've traveled in Europe, you might have noticed that their butter tastes different. Keller's Creamery, the same folks who bring us the Breakstone brand, offers a European style butter called Plugra. Higher in butterfat than most US butter, it contains less moisture. The result is creamier than regular butter, with a deeper intensity of flavor. Preferred by bakers, it results in flakier pie crusts and doughs as well as cakes that rise higher. Ideal for cooking and just plain eating, too.

Readily available at upscale grocery stores like Fresh Market.

Five cupcakes!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Simplicity Automatic Dishwasher Sachets


This is the third Simplicity product I've tried. Like the others, the box states that the sachets are non-toxic and hypoallergenic. They have a very mild smell in the box but the dishes don't have any lingering scent at all after being washed. In spite of the non-toxic claim, there are warnings on the back to keep out of reach of children and that they are not meant to be consumed. On the bright side, they don't contain phosphates.

I happen to have extremely hard water and haven't always been happy with the results achieved by some of the nationally recognized brands. One Simplicity sachet seems to do the trick, though. I've been using them for a week and am completely satisfied with the results. They run a little bit less than most of the other brands and are available at WalMart.

Five cupcakes. No complaints, does the job and doesn't contain phosphates.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Elongated Measuring Spoons

Sometimes a simple modification to a perfectly good product just makes life easier. I adore these measuring spoons that are elongated and fit into spice jars, even those little rectangular tin ones. No more spilling spices, no more shaking them out. They slide into spice jars with ease, which makes baking just that tiny bit easier. Very sturdy and completely dishwasher safe.

Five cupcakes for a brilliant idea.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Late July Mini Peanut Butter Crackers


I made a little road trip to my signing at Quail Ridge Books last week and took these great crackers along. The folks at Quail Ridge are fabulous, btw. If you live around Raleigh, North Carolina, check out their very extensive selection of books and cards and don't miss their wonderful children's section.

The Late July Mini Peanut Butter Crackers are almost custom made for road trips. They're small enough to pop into your mouth -- no crumbs! No sticky fingers. Made with organic wheat flour and peanut butter, they taste great and offer a healthy alternative to energy-draining candy bars and typical snacks readily available at stops along the way.

If Thanksgiving means a road trip for you, there's still time to stock up. A mere 110 calories for 13 mini-crackers.

Five cupcakes!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Simplicity Liquid Dish Soap


Inspired by Simplicity laundry softener, I went in search of more products from this company. The dish washing liquid carries the same sort of labels. Non-toxic, hypoallergenic, biodegradable and based on plant derived cleaning agents. The back does warn that it is not intended to be ingested by humans or pets but that seems reasonable for most cleaning agents. So does this environmentally-friendly cleaner work?

Indeed it does. It cut through olive oil and hamburger grease very nicely. It feels thinner than my old detergent but suds and cleans equally well. Unlike some dish detergents, the scent is surprisingly mild. I had to sniff up close to get a good whiff. I would call it a very light peachy smell.

Five cupcakes for another great product. Good for the environment and for us, too. Simplicity for dishwashers coming soon in a blog.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Aqua Globe Update


I've been using the Aqua Globes for about two weeks now. The main problem I see is that if you were likely to forget to water your plants, you're probably equally likely to forget to refill the Aqua Globe. It took the Aqua Globes a week exactly to empty in the two plants I tried them on in the beginning. After that, I moved one to a Mandevilla that I brought inside for the winter. To my complete amazement it emptied in two days. I assume that was because the Mandevilla needed more water, which would seem to back up their claim that it provides the amount of water the plant needs. I'll keep you posted on the progress. If nothing else, they are pretty nestled in the foliage.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Mice Cube


Now that the temperatures are dropping, our friendly little mouse friends are seeking shelter in our houses again. As much as I like mice, I'd rather they lived outdoors. In my opinion, the best mouse insurance is still a cat. Rescue a cat and live mouse-free!

But second best (though you could still rescue a cat) is this nifty, kinder mouse trap my mom discovered. Cleverly called the Mice Cube, it's humane, doesn't kill the mouse, doesn't involve poison and is safe around pets and children.

It's the kind of device that's so simple you wonder why you didn't think of it. A simple rectangular box of plastic, it has a hinged door on one end that's too big to swing any direction but in. Told you it was simple. And it works! A little cheese, or a piece of cracker with (yum) a glob of peanut butter on it lures the mouse inside and then he can't leave. One caveat, if you don't check the trap regularly, the mouse will die inside. But he doesn't have to. You simply check the trap, take it outside and release the little guy by turning it upside down so the door swings open. You never touch the mouse. The trap is reusable, washable and so easy to use.

Five cupcakes for a humane mousetrap that works!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

RW Knudsen Acai Berry Juice


Last week I promised to tell you what I think about Knudsen's Acai Berry Juice. If you're not yet familiar with it, this little berry from the Amazon (pronounced ah-sigh-ee) is the hot health food. Google acai and you'll find people claiming all kinds of health benefits from weight loss to blood glucose, heart and cancer benefits. All that baloney aside, it is one very potent little berry, loaded with antioxidants.

I've tried it in several different forms, including one so bitter it was barely edible. Acai ice cream seemed like a good idea but it fell short in flavor. RW Knudsen usually makes a decent juice, so my hopes rose again when I saw their version of acai juice. It's a blend of fruit juices, primarily apple. The result is a slightly familiar tasting, pleasantly sweet juice the color of cherries. I suspect a lot of children would readily drink it.

The juice runs about $5 at my local grocery store, in line with other organic juices. A bargain when one considers that most single serving acai juices sell for $3 - $4 a pop.

Four cupcakes.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Panko Breadcrumbs


If you're a fan of Top Chef or Iron Chef, you've already heard about Panko Breadcrumbs. I was curious, are they really that different from regular breadcrumbs? I think it was Alton Brown who mentioned the irony that Japan, a nation not known for bread, should make the best breadcrumbs. Apparently Panko means child of bread in Japanese.

I've been trying to make a fried chicken substitute by breading chicken and baking it and I have to say that Panko breadcrumbs do seem to hold a crunch better. They have a light and airy feel when handled. It almost seems like they don't absorb as much liquid as regular breadcrumbs, which can become soggy. They've mixed well with various spices and Parmesan cheese. I have to admit, they've become a staple in my kitchen.

Several different companies make or distribute Panko. I haven't developed a brand preference yet. But do read the label. They don't require preservatives, colors or artificial anything. I passed on some the other day that contained soybean -- I can't imagine why soybean would be necessary in Panko. They come in regular, whole wheat and even Italian versions. They should make for a super crunchy casserole topping. Please post and let us know how you're using Panko breadcrumbs.

Five cupcakes for crunch!

 
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