Pandemic, Hygge Dinner Therapy

Here we are. In the midst of another rise of the never-ending Covid19 pandemic cases. As you know, if you follow my instagram, I have gone through many ups and downs when it comes to being able to find joy during these unpredictable and tiring times. My lack of being able to remain “present” and finding a sense of purpose in the recent months has reached new levels of unattainability. And, lately, I find myself leaping from idea to idea; grasping at straws trying to keep my mind busy with anything and everything that I can fit into my schedule. Painting my bathroom, trips to isolated book stores far away, amusing myself with imagining and planning journeys to the hippie towns across America, random acts of kindness to friends and strangers, painting a ridiculously hard (and still incomplete) paint by numbers… you name it, it’s probably floated across my mind.

The point is, we all want to feel a little bit of completeness during a time when so little is certain. We want to feel whole where there are voids. And if we can find anything heartwarming, we’ll latch onto it. And what warms the heart more than having a meal with friends and family? Not much.

Unfortunately, at this time, getting together with other humans is discouraged because, well… COVID. Yes, we know it travels, it’s extremely contagious, and you have to move heaven and earth to get people to wear masks… So, dinner parties? Not really much of an option, unless you want to spend time with 15 people and have 72% change of contracting the virus. Or so said an article I read online today. Yet, I have/had been dying to just GATHER. Like, we used to. And it’s brought a number of tears to flow throughout the year, knowing that it’s just not possible. So, I decided to take matters in my own hands.

In the recent years, I’ve developed this attitude like ‘I’m not gonna wait around on other people. If I want to do something, I’m going to. Even if I have to do it alone.” Apparently, dinner parties are included. So, I informed my hubby that I was going to do a faux dinner party, just because and for my family. Decor and all. Just for some kind of therapy.

Now, at first, that was going to include lanterns and 150 paper cranes hanging from the ceiling. I was THIS close to ordering a massive amount of twinkle lights from Amazon and stringing them up. Nearly bought new dishes… Until, I realized that I might be getting a tad carried away.  I mean, we are legitimately just trying to get by in these awkward, socially distant times. So, instead, I resigned to save my really amped up ideas for when I can fill my home with more people I love. And, decided my main objective would be to just set up a budget friendly, cozy meal that would feel intimate and a little more rustic than say handmade origami ornaments at each place setting. Are you sensing a theme yet?

I’ve been craving Asian food for weeks and, specifically, missing a restaurant from our home in NC. My fave dish is served there and it’s flawless, along with their coconut cake for dessert. So I looked up some recipes on pinterest for what I wanted and found an overabundance of options. I decided to make the main course and dessert from scratch and accompany it with pre-prepped appetizers and sides. Yeah, I was going a real restaurant style dining here, and wrote up the menu on my dining room chalkboard a week in advance so I’d have something to look forward to. You could, of course, do this week any type of food.

Now let’s talk decor and place settings. I’d like to talk about this in case you are in a little bit of a slump and want to do something simple like this in order to bring yourself and family a little bit of cheer. I’ll go through what I threw together and what alternatives there are out there.

The tablescape, you’ll notice, was rather uncomplicated. I didn’t have time to get flowers or anything and my table is SO long that it’s very hard to find an inexpensive table runner or table cloth to cover it. So, I started thinking about how some restaurants cover their tables with butcher paper and thought, “HELLO, KID FRIENDLY & easy cleanup!” But, rolls of butcher paper were like 15 dollars! This craft paper, gift wrapping paper was $1 a roll at Dollar Tree. I could’ve used the underside if I had wanted it plain, but I really loved the fun polkadot playfulness it gave the table. They also have plain kraft paper available for just under $2 a roll at Dollar General.

I already owned the candle lanterns and candles, which I got from walmart at the beginning of fall from Walmart. I’m linking the candles (which smell divine!) HERE. I haven’t seen the the lanterns since, in-store or online, so HERE are some similar ones. And you could probably also look at places like Hobby Lobby or Old Time Pottery for something similar and inexpensive. As well as the candles.

I simply bought reindeer moss for $1 a bag from Dollar Tree and filled the bottom of my lantern with it, around the candle, for a more woodsy and homey look. And to avoid fingerprints on the glass, I maneuvered it around with a spatula.

I got my snowy trees on a log, tabletop decor from Walmart for like $6, but I can’t find it on their website anywhere. If you can’t find anything in your area similar, you could probably craft it pretty easily with supplies from a dollar store. Or you could purchase a set like THIS from Walmart (below) or THESE glittery gems from Target.

On either side of the trees, I places cutting boards to place appetizers on and flanked them on one side with a beaded garland I got from Amazon earlier this year. I also used four, mercury glass votive holders I found at Dollar General for $1 a piece on each corner. They are adorable and I’ll definitely be reusing them again and again. I found a similar set of 12 on Amazon HERE.

Now, let’s talk about dishes! Mine are by Magnolia (Hearth & Hand) from Target and I got them a little over a year ago as part of their fall collection. They are no longer available, but if you are in the market for new dishes, I strongly suggest checking out what they do have in stock. Such as the beautiful, red rimmed dishes they just came out with!

I used the mixed matched silverware that I already own (I’m due for a new set) and wrapped it with $1 white napkins from Dollar General & found red burlap ribbon on sale to tie it up with. Next time, I may go ahead and spring for some more expensive linen napkins like the ones I’ve found online (below). And if you are having a little fancier of an event with more extended family…etc, it would definitely be a nice touch. You could even do matching ones with your dishes like the photo above.

There are also plenty of nice biodegradable options online. Like these palm leaf plates! Which are a great, more natural, primitive choice.

That’s about it. I would’ve done placemats like these had I thought about it beforehand, so that’s also an option. I also, ordered chopsticks because of the nature of food, that only set me back $6.99. Plus, everyone loves chopsticks! Twinkle lights also came into play all over the room where I could hide the LED battery pack HAHA! Spent $5 on 5 packs of those at the dollar store and they were a nice addition to the cozy, hygge factor. And the candlesticks on the mantel + burning wood stove in my dining room didn’t hurt anything either.

Overall, I spent approximately $28 (not counting all the groceries for dinner) and repurposed a lot of things I already owned. I hope this gave you a lot of ideas of how you can easily create a comfortable, spruced up space for you and your loved ones to enjoy a special dinner despite everything going on in the world right now. You don’t have to have a lot of money to enjoy a nice, memorable evening together- even if you’ve already spent months in the same house. Take the time out to make your life extraordinary!

GUEST POST: Fulcrum Farms’ Chicken Paprikash

I am so thankful for Instagram and the people it provides to you at the right time. Amber @ Fulcrum Farms has always been super sweet and supportive of my page so it just felt right to reach out to her and ask if she would write a post for the blog. If you talkto her, it just felt like a natural fit. She came up with such a great post and one of my fave comfort foods to write about for you. So, without further adieu…

FULCRUM FARMS, Amber:

When I was contacted by the lovely Quin, to write a post for her blog, I was kind of caught off guard. What could I possibly say that anyone would want to read? I’m new to owning land, I don’t have experience with real farming, and I’ve never officially raised an actual farm animal (aside from chickens, which most people start out with anyhow). So what could I write about that people might be interested in?

Then I decided – well, I could just share a quick recipe, something perfect for cool weather, and comforting after a long day of work. I don’t know anyone who couldn’t use a good recipe for that! Everyone that I have shared this with has enjoyed it immensely. It’s super simple, but it is also absolutely delicious. Handed down from mother’s side of the family, I make this many times through the fall/winter months to fill all our tummies when we are running on low. I hope that you like it as much as we do!
Chicken Paprikash

4 Bone in Skin on Chicken breasts (or thighs or a mix)32 oz chicken broth1 large yellow onion, chopped4 cloves garlic, crushed1/2 C flour1/4 C Hungarian PaprikaSalt and Pepper, to taste 16oz sour cream
Heat and oil a large skillet or pot with a lid. Cook chicken until browned on all sides, it will finish cooking through during braising.  Remove to a plate and cover.  Lower heat. Add onion and garlic to the skillet, pour more oil if needed.  Cook, stirring often, until fragrant and onions turn translucent.

Meanwhile, mix together flour, paprika, salt and pepper.  Once onion and garlic are soft, stir in the flour/paprika mix.  Increase heat to medium and stir, it will be VERY thick – you just want to cook the flour for 30-60 seconds to remove the raw taste. Whisk in the broth, be sure to stir it very well to remove clumps. Once the broth has been mixed into the flour, bring pot to a boil. Return chicken, submerge and lower to a simmer.  Cover with lid. 

Allow to cook several hours, I usually leave mine on low for 4-5.  Or, if your cooktop likes to burn things, put into an oven at 250* for 3-5 hours (optionally a slow cooker and/or instant pot would work wonderfully for this recipe too!). Check every so often, if you’re using an oven or cooktop, to make sure the it isn’t boiling hard – you want to braise the meat slowly in plenty of liquid. 

About 60 minutes before you plan to eat, put sour cream out on counter to come to room temp.  30 minutes before you plan to eat, use a colander and drain the chicken, onions and garlic.  Wipe out pan, then add liquid back into pot, keep off heat. Separate the onions and garlic from the chicken, discard. Debone, remove skin and shred or chop the chicken, set aside.  Whisk sour cream into pot, turn heat to medium low.  Add in chicken, stir, and keep warm until serving.

I make homemade spatzel to go along with this and serve with a side of fordhook Lima beans or baby peas. Egg noodles and rice are both good options as well. 
This makes enough to serve my family of 6 – with seconds and usually some leftover. It’s also easy to adjust to your taste – add or remove ingredients to your preference. We like a lot of paprika, so my recipe calls for a large amount. We prefer white meat, so I use bone in skin on breasts. We don’t like the onions/garlic floating around in our liquid so I strain and remove them. 
If I can give 2 recommendations –

  1. Use bone in and skin on chicken, any pieces will work or just take a whole chicken and cut it up to fry and continue with the recipe as written.
  2. Purchase Hungarian paprika. The better quality you have, the better your dish will taste. You can use the store brand paprika, but if you can splurge on a container of real Hungarian paprika – do it!

Enjoy!

A Soulful Autumn: Savory Butternut Squash Soup

Every year I end up trying a bunch of new soup recipes. My hubby loves soup in the fall and winter and, with unlimited sourdough, could probably eat me out of house and home during those cooler months. I used to HATE soup, until we got married. Now, I too, look forward to the nights being a little chillier, and the mornings being more brisk. Not just because autumn is my favorite season, but because soups and chilis and chowders are on the menu as regulars once again.

Thankfully, recently, we have had the fortunate circumstances of being able to receive boxes of food provision from friends. They contain lots of different things, from milk and yogurt, to veggies and meat. And we couldn’t be more grateful that, especially during COVID, we are able to share our abundance and be the recipients of others’ generosity as well.

In these boxes recently have been lovely, large butternut squash! I was so excited when I saw them, because, for years now, I have been dying to try making butternut squash soup. But, for some reason, I never have. So, yesterday was finally the day! To use these beautiful veggies before I forgot about them and let them turn. The result was one of the creamiest, savory soups I’ve made in a long time!

My family ooh’d and aww’d their way through dinner and the kids must’ve thanked my husband and. I a million times over for making dinner- like we don’t every other day. Haha. But, needless to say, this was a family favorite and I’ll be making it again and again. This recipe also makes a TON so I’ll be freezing some as well, because, honestly, (ask my husband) cutting these butternut babies is a tad laborious.

You may wonder why I make large batch recipes… and, the short answer is, because I have six mouths to feed. But, the better answer is that lots of recipes get better the next day, once the flavors have married a bit more. Also, I can store them for eating later; whether by canning them or putting them in the freezer. Not to mention, large batches are meant to share! Even though we are currently observing social distancing, I often drop off food to friends or family so that they feel loved and thought about. It’s a great way to spread a little joy in these weird times.

The best news about this soup, is that once all those lovely squash are cut, the recipe is SO simple. So, here it is! Hope you LOVE it and find it as delish as we did. Let me know if you recreate it and what (if any) additions or substitutions you make. 🙂

Butternut Squash Soup

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons olive oil or butter

5 lbs butternut squash; peeled, seeded, and cubed

6 cloves of garlic

2 medium yellow onion

8 cups vegetable broth

2 cups of water

2 tbsp brown sugar

2 medium carrots

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

2 cups heavy cream

*fresh parsley, sour cream, and nutmeg for serving

Directions:

  1. Heat olive oil/butter over medium heat. Add onion and saute for 5 minutes. Then, add garlic and brown sugar. Saute another 2 minutes.
  2. Stir in vegetable broth and water (scraping the bottom of the pan for the yummy bits).
  3. Add squash and carrots, salt, pepper. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer until squash is very soft. About 20 minutes.
  4. Stir in heavy cream. Puree with an immersion blender.
  5. Serve warm topped with whatever toppings are desired.

Hello, July! Happenings + Haul

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had an amazing weekend. Maybe it’s still going? My hubby has off of work today and tomorrow… then, it’ll be back to the grind. But, for now, we’ll pretend like it’s Friday eve all over again!

This week was JAM PACKED with my parents being here. And, I have to hand it to my dad and Jon. They stayed out in the heat day after day to work on putting in a new door from our room to the outside and started on the porch we will be able to enjoy. My dad was also going to expertly apply wallpaper to our statement wall in the bedroom BUT, by the time Thursday evening rolled around, we opted for some family time that didn’t involve construction.

Our fishing adventures weren’t very successful, but it was nice to finally spend an evening doing something other than laboring on the farm til dark. Seems like most of May & June were spent doing numerous projects and tying up loose ends (figuratively and literally). While not all of the tasks I wanted are 100% done, it feels like maybe we have moved into the slower part of the summer. Plus, we couldn’t have picked a more beautiful night to spend hanging out at the pond.

On Friday, we ventured down to our local flea market + auction to take a look around. We brought our masks [the kids struggled a bit], but BOY was it HOT and there were SO many people!! We did the best we could to social distance and sanitize. How are you guys doing with that in your areas? Are you finding a lot of people don’t want to wear masks or stay six feet apart?

Didn’t find much at the flea market, this weekend, which was a bummer. I’m a sucker for antiques. But, the Fourth of July drove everyone out and I don’t know if we just got their too late or what. Somehow we always end up there in the heat of the day. Next time, I’m gonna show up bright eyed and bushy tailed at 6 AM and clean house! Haha

Our favorite part lately, though, has been the livestock auction. It’s been hosted online, but if you get there early in the afternoon & throughout the evening, you can survey what they are going to have up for grabs. It was fun seeing the kids pick out all the animals they wanted to add to the farm… all the while not knowing exactly what we would bid on.

Saturday morning came as a surprise, especially to the girls who didn’t get to go with him to pick up the “gifts” we bought. Jon pulled up with two rabbits and two goats, and their faces lit up with excitement. So, please meet… Oreo + Peach. The Holland Lop (black/white) and Mini Lop (chestnut) that have completely stolen our children’s hearts!

Fortunately, they are both does, so we won’t have baby bunnies running around any time soon! They are both silky soft, cuddle buddies and love their fruits and veggies! They are only 8 and 9 weeks old so I really can’t wait to see their little personalities develop more as they grow. Right now, Oreo seems to be the more laid back one. Peach is very lovable, but is also the one who tries to make a mad dash for the woods!

Now, I’m pleased to introduce you to Leia (light gray/brown) and Rey (dark brown/black) our Nubian goats! Of course, Star Wars names just came naturally to our family of nerds and seemed to fit these two sister so well. We aren’t sure yet of their age, since that information wasn’t listed at the auction. So, I’m looking forward to having our livestock vet come out and give us an estimate when he gets around to their vaccines.

Originally, two goats wasn’t on the agenda for this weekend. But, I couldn’t separate these babies! And, I swear our seven year old son is a goat whisperer! These little loves were just chatting up a storm to him at the auction. Leia is a bit more outgoing and playful. Rey is a little more cautious and independent. But, they are both like little puppies and are content to romp and follow us around when we have them out in the yard.

Sunday rolled around and we needed to go out and get some more supplies to make a temporary pen for the goats in the pasture and a few other odds and ends. We walked into Tractor Supply and, as usual on weekends, the kids ran to see the chicks for sale. Of course, this particular Sunday, we went to a different Tractor Supply than we normally do and they had Olive Egger chicks!

I have been looking for an Olive Egger hen [on the DL] for a few weeks, but haven’t found any. I’ve posted ISO’s on Facebook and checked auctions, but with no results. I haven’t “officially” posted anything about our chickens or our coop because we are still in the process of refining our flock. I cannot seem to find Black/Blue Copper Marans ANYWHERE! And I’m all about having a variety of egg color.

We have a few “slots” available right now to round out our flock and, even though these Olive Eggers won’t be laying for a few months at least, I am willing to wait for a good, well-raised hen. So, I talked my hubby (with the kids’ help), against his better judgement, into getting 6 Olive Egger chicks. Our plan, right now, is to raise them and keep one or two. Then, I’ll sell the rest.

If you don’t know by now, I’m actually terrified of chickens. Our [almost] 14 year old does most of the feeding, watering, and changing out the bedding in the coop. He expresses how “cool” he thinks they are very openly. I, on the other hand, can barely open the door to the coop and just hurry to fill up the feeder; even wearing boots up to my knees. My job, mostly just consists of making sure the eggs are collected and/or that our two year old doesn’t smash them on the way back to the house. Which, seems to be her specialty.

I’m hoping that by having these little buddies around, and not being afraid of their fluffy little selves, I’ll be able to train myself to be less scared as they grow into adults. I honestly, fought the whole “Let’s get chickens!” movement as long as I could. But, now that we have them, I couldn’t imagine them not being here. Just need to get past my bird phobia issues!

Side note: I am, oddly, not afraid of ducks. There were two lots of amazingly adorable ducklings, yellow and fuzzy, at the auction. Alas, I couldn’t talk Jon into getting them. I’m crossing my fingers for next summer when we have the pond dug out for the rest of our animals. Help me find convincing arguments! Because I’ve heard that they are loud and messy!

Aside from all the awesome animal shenanigans, the kiddos passed the time fooling around spraying each other [and my parents] with the hose, and jumping into their bathing suits to play and get crazy. I’ve been begging Jon for a pool because these summer days with no A/C, are by no means unbearable but, could definitely be made a little more comfortable with an evening dip! Haha!

Until then, for the past couple of years, our girls have been more than happy to chill out in this galvanized tub. True country gal style, they fill it up and have a “bath” in their “pool”. Or, at least that’s what the littlest sister says! And this weekend, we livened things up a bit by adding some Tubby Todd to the party!

I’ve heard some great things about Tubby Todd Bath Co. over the years. Having four kids, people are always recommending what they have used. Not to mention, I’ve seen a ton of influencers use Tubby Todd on their children. So, when I saw on Instagram that the company had recently released a limited edition watermelon scent for summer, I knew I wanted to get my hands on it!

I bought the summer gift set so we could try out all three products; bubble bath, hair + body wash, and everyday lotion. When they first arrived, I was surprised by the subtle scent and reassured by the plant-based ingredients. I’ll be honest, as with any product, I was skeptical, curious, and excited to give them a try!

When I added the bubble formula to water, that’s when it really started to shine. The smell came through beautifully as the foamy suds started forming. But, I was pleased to find it wasn’t overwhelming. Because of the natural source of the fragrances used in Tubby Todd products, the delicacy of the scent is exactly what it should be. And, I found that you really smell all the notes of each component. I also loved that the bubbles stuck around the whole time. They didn’t just fade away once the kids started splashing.

The hair + body wash was amazing. It’s probably the first time in history that my little Tulip babe has ever enjoyed having her hair washed! She is usually screaming for me to get the soap off her head and stop fidgeting with her. Also, she rinsed her hair (aka dumped a ton of water on her head) and the soap never burned her eyes. I really appreciated that because many of the brands we have tried in the past that have advertised things like “tear-free” have bothered my children anyway.

Last, but not least, the lotion. It’s substantial and not watery. Smooth and buttery, not sticky. And it absorbs without leaving any slippery feeling on the skin. Leaves my babes soft and smelling good enough to eat! I’m very happy with our Tubby Todd experience so far. I can’t wait to keep using these products and I will definitely order from them again. Have you ever used anything from this brand? What are your thoughts?

That’s a wrap for our weekend and the haul of farm animals we added to the homestead over the last three days! Can you believe it?! Sometimes I wonder how we are gonna take care of all this! But, somehow, it always works out. And, these experiences are literally making the lives of our kids so fantastic- especially since COVID came and ruined everything.
What are your summer plans?

*this post was not sponsored*