Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Autumnal Cheer: Thanks Living

First of all, if you like hot tea and/or pumpkin spice flavored things, you need to check out this Bigelow Pumpkin Spice tea. Mmmm! My mom surprised me with it - and it is goo-ood. I think she bought it at Kroger...

Next of all, I have really enjoyed celebrating Thanksgiving all month by expressing gratitude in a series of Facebook stati (or statuses - what is really the proper term??) Though I didn't post every day this month, I wanted to pull together my list here in celebration of the actual day. It's a long, happy list - and I fully intend to keep expressing gratitude even when November is over. Hence, the title...Thanks Living. See what I did there? ; )

November 2nd: Today I'm thankful that God gives us stunning autumn colors in the form of pumpkins and pretty mums and changing leaves. I highly recommended walking (or driving) through the falling 
leaves and thanking God, right then and there, for his beautiful autumn idea.

November 3rd: Today I'm thankful for our families, who love to cook and laugh and spend time together. All year long, but especially around the holidays!

November 4th: Today I'm thankful for both a husband and a daddy who can always fix *anything* around the house! Right now Jeremy Hicks is replacing the rails and spindles on our side porch and it's looking SO good.

November 5th: Today I'm thankful for a brilliant Creator who inspires us to design and create things ourselves, just on a much smaller scale. =)

November 6th: Today I'm thankful for a sunshiney Lord's Day. Time to finish getting ready for worship! =)

November 8th: Today I'm thankful for a sweet, sneaky husband who surprised me with flowers and a card that made me cry happy tears before he left for work this morning. Happy third anniversary, Jeremy Hicks! =)

November 9th: Today I'm thankful for tastebuds and favorite flavors, mixed in lots of variations: basil, cilantro, chocolate, browned butter, garlic, lemon, roasted red pepper, olive oil, sesame, rosemary, vanilla, pumpkin, cranberry, parmesan. So many lovely flavors that God created!

November 10th: Today I'm thankful for words...the way they can paint pictures, express ideas, capture imaginations, and inspire to action!

November 13th: Today I'm thankful for so many Christian friends and family - you all encourage me, challenge me, and make the journey to Heaven *so* much more fun!

November 15th: Today I'm thankful that K-Mart, of all places, has PINK tinsel. Wait, change that to "had." I bought every bit of it - and then said a silly little prayer of thanksgiving in the parking lot that I'm quite certain God didn't think was silly at all. Pretty sure we're supposed to be grateful for the little things, too! =)

November 17th: Today I'm extremely thankful for all of these precious babies who have been born safe and healthy this year - Elijah (Ashley & Ethan), Tyler (Andrea & Paul), Ethan (Alyssa & Michael), Ellery (Ashley & Jason), Shelbie (Allison & Adam), and the latest of them early this morning - Adelae  (Sasha & Jared)! I am blessed to know you and yours!

November 18th: Today I'm thankful for fun holiday traditions. I'm ready to go to the Holiday Merchandise Mart with my mom a little later this morning!

November 19th: Today I'm thankful for the inventors of the hot glue gun, Bare Escentuals makeup, my electric kettle, and white chocolate popcorn.

November 22nd: Today I'm thankful for Better Homes & Gardens' Fresh Frasier Fir (not Fur) candle, for list-making tendencies, and for colors...especially red.

November 23rd: Today I'm thankful for a long table filled with yummy pizzas, visiting friends, and much laughter at Besso's last night. Sorry, we were the loud ones. =)

November 24th: Today I'm thankful for hope and grace and God's promises. Amen!

There's one more thing, though. I'm thankful for you, dear blog readers. I love that you come here and read what I write. I love that you encourage me on Facebook or in person. I really appreciate you, whether I know you in "real life" or not. I hope you have a simply fantastic Thanksgiving!

What are you thankful for? =)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Autumnal Cheer: Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

First off, I have a cute autumnal story for you. One that I pulled out of my family lore just for your enjoyment. When my Aunt Claudia was little, she was confused about what one of her spelling words meant. She had to use it in a sentence, but she had to gather some information first. She asked my grandmother what "autumn" meant; my grandmother was busy ironing or something, so she quickly answered, "Well, it's the same thing as fall."

And so it came to be that my Aunt Claudia's homework read, "I will autumn down the hill."

I love that story! =) I think she moved to Florida solely to escape any mention of autumn ever again. Or maybe it was because of her allergies. Yeah, maybe that was it. (But we know the truth.)

Besides an adorable family anecdote, I also have a recipe for you today. True story. And it involves pumpkin because it is, indeed, that time of year! This is another recipe I found on Pinterest - it's from Annie's Eats. My friend Ashley D. had told me she pinned it *and* made it - and that it was wonderfully fantastic. She was correct. Oh, boy, was she correct!! These were the best muffins I've ever made. Seriously. They're incredibly moist, with the perfect amount of sweetness and spiciness, and a lovely balance of textures. They do take a little bit longer to put together than regular muffins, but they make two dozen large ones, so you get to have plenty for yourself and also plenty to share. Wonder of wonders!

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins
Makes 24

Filling ingredients:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 c. confectioner's sugar

Muffin ingredients:
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
4 large eggs
2 c. sugar
2 c. pumpkin puree (I used 1 large can of pumpkin and enough applesauce to make up the rest)
1 1/4 c. vegetable (or canola) oil

Streusel topping ingredients:
1/2 c. sugar
5 Tbsp. flour
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
4 Tbsp. cold butter, cut into pieces (I used salted)

Combine the softened cream cheese and confectioner's sugar with an electric mixer until blended and smooth. You may want to shape this into a log and wrap in plastic wrap and aluminum foil. You can freeze this for 2 hours, which will help the cream cheese middle to stay put in the middle of the muffin while it cooks. This is only an option, though. I had fine luck just spooning the mixture in between layers of the muffin batter with no freezing beforehand. The cream cheese may rise to the top and spill out a little on some of them, but I didn't mind that.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line your muffin pan with paper liners. Combine the dry ingredients (minus the sugar) in a medium bowl. Combine the eggs, sugar, pumpkin, and oil with an electric mixer on medium low. On a low speed, add the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated.

To prepare the streusel topping, combine the sugar, flour, and cinnamon in a small bowl and cut in the cold butter with a pastry cutter until the mixture is crumbly. Keep in the fridge until ready to use.

Drop 1-2 Tbsp. of batter into each muffin cup. Add a dollop of the cream cheese mixture (or a frozen, sliced section) on top of it. Fill the muffin cups with the remaining amount of batter, completely covering the cream cheese. Sprinkle a generous amount of the streusel topping onto each muffin. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Let cool a little before serving; the cream cheese filling can get pretty warm!

Adapted from Annie's Eats

Monday, November 21, 2011

Autumnal Cheer: Merry Thanksgiving!

Each year, I can't help but notice that the Christmas season starts earlier and earlier. And while it's a little strange, yes, to see snow-laden trees in the aisles of Hobby Lobby while the August sun is still blazing outside, I can't help but notice that people get genuinely *angry* about this sort of thing.

"I absolutely cannot allow myself to put up my Christmas tree until the day *after* Thanksgiving," they say. "I like to celebrate *one* holiday at a time," they explain.

That's their valid opinion. But I feel just as strongly the opposite way that I want to say to them, "Bah Humbug. What's so wrong about blending holidays??"

There's a whole army of people out there who looove Christmas music and holiday movies...but only in their place, which is squarely between December 1st and before the stroke of midnight on December 25th.

I am not one of those people. I will tell you why.

1. I once had a (very nice, mind you) boyfriend who thought Christmas music was ridiculous. One of his arguments was, "If it's so great, why don't people listen to it year-round??" Um. Well. Ahem. The thing is, I might very well go bonkers if I had to listen to only "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" for a solid month. (Or "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" for even 10 seconds.) But I get great pleasure out of my well-chosen Christmas music and it would make me very sad indeed if I only got to listen to it for 25 days out of the 365.

A few years back, my most-played song sets were Mindy Smith's "My Holiday" (Precious!) and Lee Ann Womack's "The Season for Romance." Last year my new find was Dave Barnes' "Very Merry Christmas," which has some great original songs that I just love. I cannot lie...I started listening to it in August of this year and I'm not tired of it yet. My latest find of 2011 is Michael Buble's (very cleverly entitled!) "Christmas," which is full of the standards but somehow they still feel all brand new. It's lovely. (Except for "Santa Baby" - it's bad enough when girls sing it. It's even creepier when a guy does.)

I have long loved Dolly Parton's "Hard Candy Christmas" (and Leigh Ann Nash's version, too). Coldplay's "Christmas Lights" and anybody's version of "River" - I love those in kind of the same way. They're not your traditional Christmas songs, but they make me feel something...and not in a sappy "Christmas Shoes"-kinda-way.

Most of the Christmas music is magical. I am all for more magic, all throughout the year.

2. I see the magic in autumn. You KNOW I do. ;) But I've been celebrating autumn since before the first wisp of cool air. And as much as I love fall, the leaves are no longer pretty. The pumpkin topiary is looking kinda questionable. I've been making spiced things and drinking hot tea for months! So, I have some questions...

3. I want to know if Christmas shopping is "allowed" to happen before Thanksgiving. What's the status on this? Because if you've shopped any Saturday in Decembers before, you know that it's not a jolly time. I would much rather browse at my leisure throughout the year - and if I want to buy someone a Christmas teapot in September, I want to have choices.

Hobby Lobby, bring out the wrapping papers! Display the red and green tableware! Stock the shatterproof ornaments so I can start making the wreaths!

4. What about planning? Is one allowed to peruse blogs and magazines for holiday food or crafts before Thanksgiving is over? No? Well, you are going to have one cramped December. If you're on Pinterest (follow me!) you probably have a board (or boards) for Christmas/holiday crafts/parties/food. If you're actually going to *do* any of these things, it's best to get started in November. At least. Well, not the food - unless you're just making a list and checking it twice.

If you have these bright ideas to embroider some tea towels, hand paint some ornaments, and completely revamp your holiday color scheme, you might was well not start it until this coming January. It'll finally be done for Christmas 2012. Here's why:

5. Work parties, church parties, fondue "White Christmas" parties, volunteer work, holiday book club meetings, Christmas parades, family's all fun, but it's so much stuff to do in less than a month! Yikes!

6. So much to do that you don't have much time to sit in front of your tree, fireplace blazing, drinking peppermint hot cocoa, and watching "Elf" for the 30th time with your beloved.

7. Seventhly, let's think about how we celebrate Thanksgiving. Yes, it takes a little planning and preparation for the feast on the actual day. But it's not like it's reinvented every year - we know our recipes and we can prepare them with our eyes closed. My other favorite Thanksgiving tradition has become expressing thankfulness during the month of November. I keep my little list, full of big things and little things, and funny things and serious things, published on Facebook. (I'll share my whole list here on Thanksgiving Day.) I also really enjoy reading other people's lists. It's a wonderful time to be thankful, but is being thankful (and expressing it) only to be confined to the month of November?? And December is just to be full of food and toys and fun and no thankfulness for our bounty of blessings? ("I like to celebrate one holiday at a time." Hmmm...)

8. Speaking of food, aren't there a lot of overlapping foods between Thanksgiving and Christmas? Turkey and/or ham? Dressing? Cranberry things? Mashed potatoes? Even pumpkin sometimes. The food is much the same. Overlapping holidays...see, you've been doing it for years!

9. Which brings me to a proposition for the United States government. Can we please move Thanksgiving up to, say, the second week in November? Two weeks after Halloween should be plenty of time to get ready for Turkey Day. I mean, I'm not asking for the 2nd Monday in October, which is the Canadian Thanksgiving. Why is theirs so early, by the way? I need to know. (Also, while I'm asking, can we please do away with Daylight Saving Time? The fact that it starts getting dark so early is extremely sad, every single year.)

10. And finally, the Spirit of Christmas...I want to feel it year-round! Not just smashed into a little box labeled "December." Amen.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Autumnal Cheer: There's a Tear in My Butterbeer

Yes, I made these cupcakes back in July, for tear-stained consumption after the premiere of the very last Harry Potter movie. No, I haven't posted about them until now - I didn't have time, for some reason or another. But - really - it's more appropriate even now. See, HP and The Deathly Hallows 2 was just released on DVD...and also, these cupcakes totally remind me of autumn. They were truly fantastic! Exceptional, even. I remember thinking the flavors would be perfect for Halloween or Thanksgiving, even though they (gasp!) don't involve pumpkin. Our friends Bethany, Mindy, and Brad were big fans of these cupcakes also, and they don't hand out compliments easily. Or...maybe they do, but I'm just trying extra hard to convince you how wonderful they are. You should make them - even if you've never HEARD of Harry Potter. (Who ARE you??!) You won't be sorry. Also, you should read the books. You won't be sorry. And you should watch the movies. Warning: sometimes you'll be sorry. They definitely got better with each installment.

I definitely wore my owl necklace that my friend Sasha made for me. 
And Jeremy accidentally wore his Ooltewah Owls T-shirt; I pretended that it was on purpose.

Brad and Mindy. Yes, we saw the Deathly Hallows in 3D, with Harry Potter glasses. 
Yes, they made their own (awesome) shirts. Brad's shirt is the funniest HP shirt I've ever seen!

Bethany and me. Sorry for the totally awful quality of this picture. 
The lighting in the movie theater lobby was questionable, at best. Why couldn't they have had some 
of those huge umbrella things like wedding photographers have? It's the least they could do.

Let's get back to the sweet stuff. This recipe came straight from, who did a marvelous job creating it. I highly recommend that you go to her original post and follow all of her little tips and tricks. I usually have lots of extra notes on a recipe, but she was so thorough that I actually have nothing else to add! It's perfect, as is. =)

Butterbeer Cupcakes
Makes 18 

For the cupcakes:
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon butter flavoring
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup cream soda
For the ganache:.
1 11-oz. package butterscotch chips
1 cup heavy cream
For the buttercream frosting:.
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup butterscotch ganache
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon butter flavoring
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 16-oz. package powdered sugar
Splash of milk or cream (as needed)
For the cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line cupcake pans with paper liners. Combine your flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, cream your butter until light and fluffy. Add your sugars and beat until well-combined. Beat in your eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Then beat in your vanilla and butter flavoring.
Alternate adding your buttermilk, cream soda, and dry ingredients in batches until all are well incorporated. Fill each cupcake liner 3/4 full, then bake for 15 to 17 minutes until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean and cake springs back to the touch. Cool completely on wire racks.
For butterscotch filling: In a double boiler (heat-proof bowl over a pot of simmering water on the stove), combine butterscotch chips and heavy cream and stir until completely combined and smooth. Cool to room temperature. Fill a squeeze bottle with ganache and insert into the center of each cupcake, squeezing until filling begins to overflow.
For buttercream frosting: Cream butter in a large bowl until fluffy. Add in ganache, vanilla, butter flavoring, and salt and mix until well combined. Beat in powdered sugar 1 cup at a time until reaching desired consistency. Add milk or cream by the Tablespoon as needed. Frost cupcakes and top with a drizzle of butterscotch ganache.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Autumnal Cheer: Chocolate Acorns

I don't know if you've notiiiiiced, but Pretty Sweet has a new look as of a few days ago. I love the colors and the header so much! It was exactly what I was picturing; Kassie from Designs by Kassie did a fantastic job working with me on this project. I would recommend that you check her out if you're looking into a blog redesign. =)

I've got a couple of more weeks to post in my Autumnal Cheer series again this year. (You can find last year's posts here.) I'm going to try to make the most of it! First off, I want to show you some sweet acorns that my mother made for a church get-together a few weeks ago. She got the idea from a magazine, the name of which I cannot remember right now...I was impressed by how adorable and easy these were to make. I'm envisioning them at fall wedding showers or receptions or on a Thanksgiving dessert table. Super cute! And there's not a real recipe; I won't insult your intelligence.

All you do is melt a small amount of chocolate chips in the microwave. Using that as "glue," stick a Hershey kiss to one side of a mini Nutter Butter. Stick a whole chocolate chip to the other side. Make a bunch more. Ta da! Feel as clever as Martha Stewart, without all the extra work. ;)

Happy Fall, y'all!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Third (and Fourth) Anniversary

Happy third wedding anniversary to my husband, Jeremy. Today, I'm remembering the chilly weather...our excited friends and family gathering around us...the huge yellow gingko tree...the white pumpkins and yellow mums and red berries...the song the bridesmaids walked down to...the hot apple cider and that delicious almond wedding cake...the feeling of finally wearing my wedding dress...and finally seeing my handsome groom. As everyone always says, the day passed too quickly, but I was glad somebody had told me it would. Because I made sure I was fully in the moment during our ceremony. I remember what my grandaddy said and what my daddy said...and what you and I promised each other. I wasn't nervous. I was calm. 

During the three years since, I haven't always been so calm. Because THE WEDDING, decidedly, is not what a marriage all about, even if the magazines and the blogs make it seem that way. It's about real life, day to day. And reality is messy and confusing and difficult. But when you're there, holding my hand through it all, I know that calm once again. The feeling that comes over me and tells me that we're right together. That even though we don't have everything in the world in common, we do have the most important things in common. And today, we're celebrating that. =)

In fact, we're celebrating an extra year of such, because we met four years ago this very week. So, in addition to the wedding details, I'm remembering seeing "Beauty and the Beast" in Loyd Auditorium and eating taco soup with Megan and Mark...I'm remembering you repairing my broken necklace and us sitting knee to knee at the FHU Homecoming basketball game. I'm remembering a nervous first kiss before you headed back to Chattanooga. And I'm remembering that before you came back to visit in another two weeks, I already knew you were "The One." Exactly one year later, we got married. 

It's been beautiful - not just the wedding, but the process of our lives getting entwined. I love you, with much love, always! Thank you for asking me to be your wife.