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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

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…

Local greenhouses are a great place to pick up Fall Decor items for your home

It’s Autumn in Southwestern Ontario. Leaves are beginning to change colour. Apples are hanging heavy on trees. Pumpkins are scattered in farmer’s fields wherever you look. All of these fall elements can be seen in more than farmer’s markets though. Homes are decorated with dried corn stalks, hay bales and tumbles of colourful gourds to welcome in the crisp season. Businesses sport seasonal wreathes and planters at their doors. And many restaurants take advantage of the bounty from the fields, tempting patrons with mouth-watering dishes made from fresh, local finds.

 

The smell of warm mulled apple cider makes a home irresistible during an open house

Who am I to resist? Especially when I always have an eye to presenting a home in its best possible light. Autumn has so many pleasing options when it comes to staging a home for sale, whether it be light and airy grasses waving from a planter at your door, or the delicious smell of autumn in the presentation of steaming apple cider at an open house. And if you were wondering, Fall is just as good a time to sell your house as any other.

 

Fall colours are a wonderful addition to any home’s palette

In fact, many people list their homes for sale in the Fall. As noted, during a long Indian Summer, such as the one we are experiencing now, homes often look their best. As long as you can keep up with your Fall maintenance (think raked leaves, gardens ready for bed, and no hot or cold days to frighten a potential home buyer away), you will find that your home takes on a whole new look in the Autumn. Plus, if your curb appeal is at its best, then you just might find that you have more potential for a sale with fewer houses on the market, as compared to the busier Spring market. Don’t worry though, as folks that have gone on vacation in the summer will be home again to start house hunting, before getting ready for Christmas vacations (and another slow down in the real estate market).

So if you think that you have to wait until the Spring to sell your home, think again. Now is the perfect time to sell your house! Make sure to point out any of the upgrades that you have done to your home (you should be doing your Fall maintenance regardless, but it helps boost your home’s appeal when it is on the market). And if you are exhausted at the end of the day with all the work it takes to keep up a sparkly home when it is for sale, do yourself a favour and schedule a few more crock pot meals into the rotation, like this seasonal one from Allrecipes.ca. And if you get a last-minute visitor that has to see your home tonight, all you have to do is turn down the slow cooker and let them savour the scent of your seasonal dinner that will be ready whenever you get home again.

SLOW COOKER PUMPKIN TURKEY CHILI

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups cubed fresh pumpkin
  • 1 (15 ounce) can chili beans
  • 1 (15 ounce) can seasoned black beans
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder

Directions:

  1. Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat; brown turkey, stirring often, until crumbly and no longer, pink, about 10 minutes. Drain and discard any fat.
  2. Transfer turkey to a slow cooker and stir in diced tomatoes, pumpkin, chili beans, black beans, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, and chili powder. Set cooker to Low, cover, and cook until pumpkin is tender and has started to break apart, at least 3 hours.

So how did your weekend go? Did you organize your house, yard, life, or just escape from it all with a trip to the theatre? Who hit the farmer’s stand to stock up on all the seasonal goodies that are overflowing at markets this year? Anyone go apple picking? Good for you that did! If you didn’t have the oomph or time, don’t beat yourself up over it though. You can often get local produce from the grocery store too, and there are great deals on large quantity items there too. The trick is what to do with it all once you have it.

I think it is high time you brush the dust off your slow cooker again. We all know how busy life can get and the speed of weekends disappearing in a whir is proof enough. Save some time, by prepping some crock pot meals from some of the bounty that is readily available this time of year. To help you out, how about a few delicious new seasonal slow cooker meals to try out.

Slow Cooker Season Returns

Have I mentioned that the apple trees are bending to the ground under the plethora of apples that are on them this year? Well, they are and you need to do something with them! Why not try this recipe for apple butter from Allrecipes.com;

SLOW COOKER APPLE BUTTER

Ingredients:

  • 5 1/2 pounds apples – peeled, cored and finely chopped
  • 4 cups white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:

  • Place the apples in a slow cooker. In a medium bowl, mix the sugar, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Pour the mixture over the apples in the slow cooker and mix well.
  • Cover and cook on high 1 hour.
  • Reduce heat to low and cook 9 to 11 hours, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thickened and dark brown.
  • Uncover and continue cooking on low 1 hour. Stir with a whisk, if desired, to increase smoothness.
  • Spoon the mixture into sterile containers, cover and refrigerate or freeze.

Now, how about some of those vegetables you have on hand? Better Homes and Gardens has lots of crock pot meals, but this one for a vegetable curry sounds like it would hit the spot;

SLOW COOKER VEGETABLE CURRY

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium carrots, sliced
  • 2 medium potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 115 ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained
  • 8 ounces fresh green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 114 ounce can vegetable broth or chicken broth
  • 114 1/2 ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • Hot cooked rice

Directions:

  • In a 3-1/2- to 5-quart slow cooker, combine carrots, potatoes, garbanzo beans, green beans, onion, garlic, tapioca, curry powder, coriander, crushed red pepper, salt, and cinnamon. Pour broth over all.
  • Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 7 to 9 hours or on high-heat setting for 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 hours.
  • Stir in undrained tomatoes. Cover; let stand for 5 minutes. Serve over hot cooked rice. Makes 4 servings.

What about those tomatoes? We’ve all got our tomato sauce recipes, but why not try some of this tomato soup from Big Girls Small Kitchen? Delicious;

SLOW COOKER TOMATO BASIL SOUP

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • carrots (large, peeled and finely diced)
  • sweet onions (medium, finely diced)
  • 4 cloves garlic (peeled and left whole)
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 84 ozs whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 qt chicken broth
  • 10 basil leaves (plus more for garnish)
  • freshly grated parmesan (for garnish, optional)

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 5-7 hours, until flavors are blended and vegetables are soft. Allow the soup to cool slightly. Then purée in batches in a blender until very smooth. Serve immediately, or transfer the soup back to the slow cooker and keep on low until your guests arrive.

 

So tell me, what’s for dinner at your house this week?

Spring is in the air. I don’t exactly know why I say that, as it is still -1C outside (with windchill feels like -9C) with scattered flurries in the forecast, but I feel it. Perhaps it is the fact that the sun rises earlier in the morning now and sets later in the evening. Maybe it was the slushy puddles I jumped over and through getting the kids to school this morning. Or perhaps it was the sign that said “Maple Syrup” that I passed over the weekend and instantly had my mouth-watering.

I think that was it.

Mmm, golden, delicious maple syrup is a sure sign of Spring in my books. When you hear tell that the local sugar bushes are swinging their doors open for another season, you know that full-on Spring is finally on the horizon. If you haven’t been to a sugar bush, this year looks promising for a great season. And we are lucky to have plenty of Sugar bushes to choose from in the London area.

Sugar Bushes In Your Neighbourhood

Maple syrup taps

Maple syrup taps

The McLachlan family has tapped the trees in their sugar bush for over 150 years. They serve a pretty tasty pancake breakfast and offer horse-drawn wagon rides through the bush to see where their delicious syrup comes from. The Pancake house (10279 Lamont Dr) opens February 23rd this year!

Another family run sugar bush is right around the corner at 27382 Coldstream Rd. The Fort Rose Maple Company has plenty of the liquid gold you are seeking this time of year as well. Starting February 23rd, their Pancake House will be flipping flap jacks and drizzling their very own maple syrup on top of them for you. Plus you can take a wagon ride, explore some of the 6,400 taps and of course, buy some maple syrup to take home with you.

Small maple syrup jug with non-functional loop...

The folks at Crinklaw Maple Products are no strangers to maple trees either. The Crinklaws moved from Scotland in 1832 and have produced maple syrup out at 4570 Westminster Dr since then. They offer wagon rides, pancakes, plus a wide variety of maple products to take home with you, like maple sugar, maple butter, maple mustard, BBQ sauce, and even Maple Syrup!

Interested in more sugar bushes? Why not try the Fanshawe Sugar Bush at 21201 C Lakeside Dr, run by the Kinsmen Club of Greater London? They have guided tours, hay rides, great educational displays, which demonstrate how maple syrup has been produced through the years and of course an opportunity to sample some maple syrup on a pancake breakfast, before buying your own maple syrup and other maple products to take home with you. Don’t forget your cash though, as that is all they accept on the premises.

What better way to enjoy maple syrup, than in your favourite recipe. Here is one that I think will quickly enter rotation around your supper schedule. You have to try this recipe from Yummly.com for Maple Slow Cooker Boneless Ribs. I think your whole family will be saying yumm…

MAPLE SLOW COOKER BONELESS RIBS

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lbs boneless pork ribs
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons dried onion flakes
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic, about 6 cloves
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 1 dash hot sauce
  • ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Sprinkle ribs with pepper and rub into surface. Place meat in slow cooker.
  2. Combine remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Pour sauce over meat.
  3. Cook on low 6-8 hours or high 3-4 hours.
  4. Serves 6

Have a sweet week!

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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