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Christmas gifts.

Christmas gifts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you feel like your wallet is hemorrhaging over the holidays? Has the clock magically spun out of control, leaving you wondering how it is only two weeks til Christmas? Do you need some help reeling it all back under control?

For starters, here’s a few ways you can save a few dollars over the holidays;

  • Put your Christmas lights on a timer. Not only will it save you running outside in the freezing cold to flip the lights on and off, but it will reduce the number of hours they are left on if you forget. A timer ensures holiday cheer in a measured amount. A dollar saved is a dollar earned.
  • Shop Online. This will save you time and money. You won’t have to endlessly circle the mall parking lot looking for a parking spot (price of gas is sitting around $1.24 today). You won’t be tempted by items you don’t need (just a quick trip into the drug store could set you back $100 in a heartbeat). Most companies throw in free shipping if you spend over a certain amount (free is great, especially at Christmas!).
  • Remember the reason for the season. It is about spending time with those you love. Perhaps you can pare back the monetary gifts this year, and focus on the gift of time instead. Make a snowman with the kids. Visit a sick or elderly relative in hospital. Set a family date to volunteer at the food bank or a shelter this year. Years from now it will be the moments spent together that will be remembered, not the numbers of presents under the tree.
  • Make it a Homemade Christmas. Can you bake? Hand out Christmas cookies to the neighbours (who doesn’t love shortbread?). Do you knit? Knit mittens for everyone on your list (great for kids who always lose theirs). Are you handy in the workshop? Carve wooden ornaments for the person who has everything. Whatever skills you have, put them to work to offer homemade gifts that mean so much more and cost a far cry less!
  • Tame the teacher gifts. Your children’s teachers don’t need 20-some-odd “#1 teacher” ornaments every year. Offer a homemade gift to them as well. I bet they would love your homemade strawberry jam. Or make a donation to the food bank on their behalf. Many school have breakfast programs that you could contribute to as well. Of course a box of kleenex might be all they really want to keep one gift from being given this year – the gift of a cold!
  • Break out the Crock pot. Crock pots are the master of time savers. You add your ingredients in the morning and return home to a home-cooked meal at the end of the day. When you are trying to accomplish a million and two tasks in the last few weeks before the holidays, this frees up the time you need.
    • Here’s a recipe you can try out while you are at it from food.com

Drunken Garlic Crock Pot Roast

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 lbs boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed of fat
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 24 garlic cloves, minced (about 4 tbsp.)
  • 2 beef bouillon cubes
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 8 ounces lager beer
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar (cut back for a less sweet taste)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • cornstarch (dissolved in water, for gravy)

Directions:

  1. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoons of the oil and brown roast on both sides, seasoning with salt and pepper; remove to a platter and keep warm.
  2. Add the remaining tbsp of oil to the pan and add the onions, cook until they just start to wilt then add the garlic, them cook until the onions are tender, a few minutes more.
  3. Add the bouillon cubes to the hot water and stir to dissolve; add that to the skillet along with the beer, brown sugar, mustard, and vinegar; stir to mix well.
  4. Pour mixture into the bottom of the crock pot.
  5. Place roast on top of liquid, cutting into pieces if it doesn’t lay flat.
  6. Set the crock pot on low and cook for 7-8 hours.
  7. Remove meat from crock pot and pour liquid into a pan on the stove; heat to a boil, and mix a slurry out of the cornstarch and water; thicken pan liquid with slurry to make a gravy.
  8. Serve gravy over meat or with potatoes or noodles.

Merry Christmas! Don’t forget to slow down and breath once in a while!
Related articles

So how are you holding up under the holiday pressure? Is it getting to you yet? Can you tick off indoor and outdoor holiday decorating yet? How about that shopping? Maybe you’ve got a leg up on party prep?

Hmm, I suspect you need a glass of inspiration to get you going (from whattodrink.com)…

FROSTY NOGGIN 

Tis the season for Eggnog!

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 oz Rum
  • 3/4 oz Creme de Cacao
  • 3 oz Eggnog
  • 3 cups Vanilla Ice Cream
  • Whipped Cream
  • Green Creme de Menthe

Directions:

Blend ingredients until smooth. Pour into parfait glass.  Top with whipped cream, decorated with a few drops of green crème de menthe. Garnish with a rolled cookie.

NOW,

Time to go down to work. Check back in the archives of this blog for some decorating ideas. I’ve got some here and here. That should get you started at least and maybe you will be able to convince someone to help you if you promise them their own glass of Frosty Noggin.

So how about that shopping? You are in luck as there is another Christmas craft sale that runs all weekend at the Western Fair Progress Building (900 King St E). The 34th Annual Christmas Craft Festival runs from December 5th – 8th. Admission is $6, but if you visit their website, they have a $1 off coupon for you to print off. Hours are as follows.

Thurs. Dec 5, – 1:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Fri. Dec 6, – 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Sat. Dec. 7, – 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Sun. Dec. 8, – 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

You will find plenty of Christmas decorations and gift giving ideas. It is London’s largest Craft Show and Sale with over 150 artisans participating over the four-days. No excuse not to grab a few gifts (or all of them) at this sale!

I can even help you out with some of your party prep. Will you be carving a gigantic turkey, ham or roast beast of some sort this Christmas? If so, you will need to have a carving knife on hand. In case you didn’t know, a sharp knife makes that job easier. No monster muscles required when your blade is sharp, as it will slide through whatever you have to slice like butter. If you are inept when it comes to that, head down to Covent Garden Market on Saturday, December 7th between 8 am and 1 pm. Sharp my Knife is there every 1st Saturday of the month to sharpen knives and scissors.

In case you’ve got too many to carry, they also offer a mobile service where they come to your home and sharpen everything from knives, lawn mowers, garden tools, axes (think about that for your Christmas tree hunt!), chainsaws, food processor blades, paper shredders and more.

All I can do is give you ideas. The rest is up to you. So get out there and make the season bright! And if you get enough done, maybe you can join in on the Salvation Army Santa Shuffle Fun Run and Elf Walk at The Raceway at the Western Fair District on December 7th. It raises money for families in need during Christmas and throughout the year. Registration opens at 8:30 am, race begins at 10 am, and overall fun and good tidings will last until noon.

Have a great weekend!

The calendar has rolled around to November. I think it is safe to say that we can wish goodbye to warmer weather. If you haven’t pulled winter hats and gloves out from storage, now is the time. The mornings come early and they are chilly! Drag your window-shaker air conditioners out, or cover up the central air conditioner outside. Drain the gas out of your mower and put it to bed for the season. Clean and stack your patio furniture away into storage for a long winter’s nap. Empty those gutters and make sure the downspouts are pointed away from your house.

Do you have anything else on your to-do list before you too can curl up in front of a toasty fire this winter? If you are anything like me, I bet you do. If you still have plenty of items on your checklist to winterize your house, how about brushing off the crock pot and pushing it back into service for the season to ensure you’ll have something tasty to eat once you tick a few items off that list. This slow cooker recipe from Savvymom.ca is sure to be a delicious hit with any family. It should certainly be a winner for any chef that is also wearing the hat of busy home owner preparing their home for winter.

SHREDDED TEX-MEX CHICKEN

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Tbsp lime juice
  • 2 cups salsa
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp smoked paprika
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • 2 tsp chili powder

Directions:

  1. Place chicken thighs in a single layer at the bottom of a slow cooker and season well with salt and pepper, before pouring the lime juice over the chicken pieces.
  2. In a small bowl whisk together the salsa, cumin, paprika, oregano and chili powder. Pour the salsa mixture over the chicken, spreading it evenly to cover the meat.
  3. Place the lid on the slow cooker and cook on low for 6 hours (or high for 3 hours).
  4. To serve, remove the chicken from the cooker and place it in a bowl. Using two forks, pull the meat apart to shred it. Place it back in the cooker and toss with the sauce before serving.

Good to Know: If there is a lot of watery sauce in the crock-pot, pour a few scoops over the chicken when it’s in the bowl instead of returning the meat to the pot.

Have you started raking yet?

Have you started raking yet?

With the crock pot cooking, you will have plenty of time to get outside to rake leaves, wrap trees and shrubs, put away your garden ornaments, drain your hoses and store them, turn off your outdoor water taps, plus see if you need to replace any burnt out bulbs in your outdoor lighting. Night falls much earlier this time of year, so exterior lighting because that much more important for home owners. You might want to make sure that you have a store of salt for your driveway, while safety is on your mind too. A shovel or snow blower is an essential tool for anyone in this part of Canada that has to leave their house come the first snowfall of the season. That goes for the second, third and beyond’s dumps too.

Better waterproof your winter boots while you are at it. You never know when Old Man Winter will hit us with one of these nasty surprises…

Shovelling safety tips

This reality isn’t as far off as you’d like to believe. Just saying…

Happy Halloween!

It’s Halloween night
What are you to do?
The kids are in a fright
Over your scary spaghetti squash stew

All they want is candy
Their eyes are set on treats
but you insist on veggies
before they hit the streets

I’ll tell you what I suggest
and geez you might be sorry
Halloween is the theme (you probably rightly guessed)
and these meals are downright gory…

Halloween Recipes

STUFFED JACK-O-LANTERN BELL PEPPERS

Ingredients:

  •  6 bell peppers, any color (pick orange for Halloween!)
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • 4 slices whole wheat bread, cubed
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 small tomato, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup chili sauce
  • 1/4 cup prepared yellow mustard
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease an 8×8 inch baking dish.
  2. Lightly mix together the ground beef, egg, bread cubes, onion, tomato, garlic, chili sauce, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper in a bowl.
  3. Wash the peppers, and cut jack-o’-lantern faces into the peppers with a sharp paring knife, making triangle eyes and noses, and pointy-teeth smiles. Slice off the tops of the peppers, and scoop out the seeds and cores. Stuff the peppers lightly with the beef stuffing, and place them into the prepared baking dish so they lean against each other.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven until the peppers are tender and the stuffing is cooked through and juicy, about 1 hour.

GHOST OF MONTE CRISTO SANDWICH

Ingredients:

  • 4 slices Bread
  • 4 slices Swiss Cheese
  • 2 slices Oven Roasted Breast of Turkey
  • 2 slices Virginia Brand Baked Ham
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)

Directions:

  1. Lay bread slices on work surface. On 2 bread slices, place 1 slice cheese, 1 slice turkey, 1 slice ham, and 1 more slice of cheese; top each with remaining bread slice.
  2. Using a 5-by-4-inch ghost-shaped cookie cutter, cut out a ghost-shaped sandwich; repeat with remaining ingredients. Set aside.
  3. In a shallow dish, whisk together eggs, milk, and salt.
  4. In a large nonstick skillet, heat butter and olive oil over medium-low heat. Dip each sandwich in egg mixture to coat well on both sides, and place in skillet. Cook, turning once, until golden brown and cheese is melted, about 4 minutes per side. Serve immediately, dusted with confectioners’ sugar, if desired.

SWAMP CREATURES

Ingredients:

  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Sautéed spinach
  • Olive slices

Directions:

  1. Mix up a batch of macaroni and cheese, then spoon it into greased muffin cups and bake until firm, about 25 minutes.
  2. Let the creatures rest for about 10 minutes, then gently remove them from the tins. Place them upside down on a swamp of sautéed spinach and add olive slice eyes.

What do you feed your little trick-or-treaters before they hit the streets on Halloween night?

Do you know what is in season in Ontario right now, aside from apples and pumpkins? I’ll give you a hint; they are small, tart, red berries that contain vitamin C, dietary fibre, manganese, as well as being touted as a super-food packed full of antioxidants. They are a go-to item for urinary tract infections, and a staple on this weekend’s Thanksgiving dinner table. All hail the cranberry!

Ok, let’s clear our plates a little, shall we? If you have turned your nose up in the past over the red jelly that slides out of a can with its ridges intact, I can’t say as how I blame you. There’s not much imagination there now, is there? We are in the 21st Century though and can do so much more with cranberries. And I’m not just talking about them on your dinner table either, but we can certainly start there. How about trying your hand at making some homemade cranberry sauce to serve up beside your turkey this Thanksgiving. This recipe from Canadian Living is a mere 68 calories per 2 tbsp, with only 16 g of carbohydrates, no fat, but 10% of your vitamin C intake for the day. 

SPICED WHOLE CRANBERRY SAUCE

Ingredients:

  • 1 navel orange
  • 1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (250 mL) dry red wine or apple cider
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 2 star anise, optional)
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) ground cloves
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 pkg fresh cranberries

Directions:

  1. Peel rind (not including pith) off orange and cut into very thin strips (or use zester); set aside.
  2. Squeeze orange juice into saucepan; add sugar, wine, cinnamon, star anise (if using), cloves, salt and cayenne. Bring to boil over medium heat; boil until syrupy and reduced to about 1/4 cup (50 mL), about 18 minutes.
  3. Add cranberries and orange rind; simmer, stirring often, until cranberries are softened but still whole, about 8 minutes. Let cool. (Make-ahead: Refrigerate in airtight container for up to 1 week.)

Decorate your table with cranberries this Thanksgiving

If you can’t resist buying more than one bag of cranberries when they lie so tempting at the grocery store, there is far more that you can do with these humble fruits. They freeze well, so can be used later in baking, making jams, jellies or sauces. You can also add them to beverages for a festive flair, and they are even more practical if they are frozen to keep that drink cool. Instead of getting chintzy items from the dollar store, or expensive items at a home boutique, you can also turn to the simple cranberry to add a seasonal sensation to your holiday decor. Think cranberries floating in water, or on a tray with votive candles, to take you back to simpler times.

Ready to make a cranberry masterpiece?

Why stop there? If you’ve got the time, make up a cranberry topiary for a centrepiece that will wow your guests on Thanksgiving day. Cranberries last a long time, so this can be a make-ahead project. Maybe the kids would enjoy this craft project? If you want it to last, spray on a little shellac, and you are good to go for Thanksgiving day.

Cranberry Pueblo Cocktail anyone?

If you love the idea of cranberries, but your creativity stops at cranberry juice, don’t fret. Make up a cranberry punch for the kids and throw lemon and orange wedges in it. Dip a little bit out for the adults and add an ounce of vodka for a smooth Cape Cod. Or really impress your guests with a pre-dinner cocktail, like the Cranberry Pueble Cocktail from Oceanspray.

 

However you roll it, cranberries are a big part of Thanksgiving celebrations. I wish you and your family the best over your holiday celebrations this weekend.

Welcome to In Your Neighbourhood!

Allow me to introduce myself. The name is Jim. You want to know more? Well, check out my "About Me" page! Don't forget to take a peek at my "Local London Listings" while you are here too! I update it regularly. Enjoy your visit and drop me a line to let me know you were in the neighbourhood!

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