For a few years it seemed that most people began to shy away from formal entertaining. Parties and dinners became more relaxed. As I get older, I want to throw more formal events. I am excited about the upcoming holidays and I love the thought of actually using the 'good stuff'.  I have narrowed my menus down for Thanksgiving and Christmas, to ohhhhh say 100 possibilities (it is so hard to choose!!) and while I continue to widdle down my choices, I have other decisions to make.

One thing I do know is that the holidays will be formal dining experiences. Being that I made that one final decision, it has led me on an online quest for unique and gorgeous napkin ideas.

Here are a few that I found. I will be practicing these and sharing how well I could do them, how easy or how tough or if I just could not hack it.

I just recently returned from a week long trip to Chicago. I was there to photograph the Chicago Fashion Week debut of children's fashion designer, Alexandria Olivia and I had booked a few headshot and editorial sessions.

While it was mostly work, I was there to also enjoy some good food.

Being in Mississippi, there are limitations as to what we can experience. I know, I know...but yes, it is true. The designer I was commissioned to work for is of African descent. While there in Chicago, I was so thankful to experience authentic African food that literally made me say, "yesssssss".

One of the foods  I tried was called Cassava Leaf Stew with rice. 

Oh my. It was so good.

Full of all kinds of meats and  earthy ground leaves, it had me wanting to bring it on back to Mississippi.

And I did just that, I brought back some cassava leaves and palm oil -- determined, I made this delicous meal at home for my family.

I used beef neckbones, chicken, mussels and shrimp but the meat possibilities are endless. This is a hearty African comfort food that is perfect for these impending cool winter nights.

It was a hit and even my mom with her picky palate went back for seconds.

Here is a recipe I followed that you can try. Of course, cassava leaves and palm oil are not readily available in all areas. Check your local ethnic markets or online. It is so worth it.

*I served mine with parboiled rice. My mom, being the ultimate southerner and despite boiling the meat with a habenero, added hot sauce*

I am busy filling up my recipe binder with handwritten recipes to have for my children and when I started copying this one, I got so hungry. I realized we have not had this in a while. I reminded myself to definitely make it for them next week. We love pasta here and of course, with tweens and teens, spaghetti is always a winner.

Am I the only one who puts hot sauce in her spaghetti?  I don't put it in the main batch, but on my plate, I douse the bad boy with hot goodness. I like spicy spaghetti. How good would it be with some chipotles in it?!

To make this dinner (and perfect dish for a potluck), you will need:
Spaghetti Noodles (or your favorite pasta noodle)
Spaghetti or pizza sauce (two  jars)
Pepperoni (chopped and sliced)
1 pound of ground beef
italian seasoning
4 tbsp of minced garlic
fresh parsley
2 cups shredded cheese of your choice
2 tbsp of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Brown your ground beef and season with salt, pepper, italian seasoning and minced garlic.  Drain grease.

Cook your noodles until tender. I always use the refrigerator test. I throw a noodle at the fridge and if it sticks, they are done. Drain and pour 2 tbsp of Extra Virgin Olive Oil on them, stir to prevent them from sticking together.

In large mixing bowl, add your noodles, then ground beef and chopped pepperoni, sauce chopped parsley and 2 tbsp of minced garlic, add about 1 tsp of salt and mix well. If it appears too dry, add more sauce.

Fill your casserole dish  with the spaghetti mixture and top with cheese, pepperoni slices and olives. You can also make it a supreme pizza casserole by adding chopped onions, sliced bell peppers, mushrooms, ham, bacon...seriously, the possibilities are endless!

Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes and serve hot. It is so good!

Image from Alaina Ann

One of the reasons I started this blog was because I loved cooking for my children and wanted to share the things I made. One of the reasons I eventually learned to cook (and not just microwave) was because of my children.

One of the best memories I have of growing up are of the dinners and meals my mother, father and us kids would all have. I remember us coming home from school, my mom at the stove and once we put down our books, washed our hands, we had to set the table for dinner.  It was a routine, a tradition and it stands out to me so much as an adult. I cook because I want to give my kids that same feeling when they are older. I want them to know that their mama took the time to prepare good meals for them because she loved them so much.

While it is good to have a blog, which is the one stop internet is also best to have something else for them.  An actual recipe book that they can touch, feel, flip the pages of while reliving memories that go with certain dishes and be able to recreate themselves.

We depend so much on technology these days, but nothing beats handwritten or typed out bound books that people can actually enjoy outside of the computer, smartphones and tablets.

That is why I decided to make use of the recipe binder a friend got me for my birthday two years ago. It sat in the kitchen all this time as a decoration more than a functional piece. As I get older I realize that I would rather my children, my family have my recipes and the recipes I love all in one place that they can actually touch and feel.

So why not start a recipe book if you have not already? Don't rely on technology to keep records for you. You never know what can happen. Handwrite some, type and print out some...add your own special notes to recipes or include a memory with them! Your family and children will love it.

Here are some cool ideas I found on pinterest, that I love.

Pinterest and the internet is full of free printable pages and ideas for starting your own recipe book--just get started! I have started mine and while I take the time to write down recipes, it may seem a bit time consuming but all  I can think about is when I am gone and my kids--all grown with kids of their own--flipping through the pages until they memorize how to make the dishes they so loved growing up.

Halloween is right around the corner and then we are kicking the holiday season into full gear. We have a white tree this year for Christmas, so I have been on Pinterest looking for red and white holiday inspiration. All that red and planning made me remember these!

I made these last year and they were featured full page in 2013's Yum Food And Fun for Kids Holiday issue. These are cute, simple and fun!

A great alternative to the traditional milk and cookies we leave out for Santa and perfect for children's winter parties.

Chocolate chips
Powdered donuts
Fruit leather
Milk bottles

Fill your glass with milk and top with a powdered donut. Insert a straw for easy sipping and garnish with a nice red strip of fruit leather and chocolate buttons down the bottle.  *Leave the chocolate at room temperature and they will stick the the glass on their own. A quick, easy and fun addition to any party or perfect holiday treat for your little ones.


Here in the South there are certain comfort foods that you just know you will get during cold or rainy weather. Most people think chicken noodle soup, while here, I think chicken and dumplings or a nice chicken and rice. Oh yeah! So good. It is literally hot as all get out down here but today was such a rainy and downright dreary day, I was like, "chicken and dumplings, why yes, I shall!"

When I first started cooking for taste (yes, there was a time, I just threw things together and hoped for the best but alas I have moved on and actually care about the way my food tastes), I took the easy way out when it came to chicken and dumplings. You can go all semi homemade and used canned buttermilk biscuits cut into quarters or you can get your hands (and kitchen, and clothing, and floor) dirty.  I like homemade because everything is better when its homemade and you and your family is worth the extra effort, right?

As messy and hard as it may seem, homemade dumplings are literally soooo easy.

So, let's start shall we?

You will need:

1 large boiling pot of water
2 maggi chicken bouillon cubes
3 cups of all purpose flour
1 stick of room temperature butter or margarine
1 1/2 cup of milk
1 Family Size can of cream of chicken soup
Cut/shredded chicken breasts
(I deboned a grilled whole chicken I had leftover from yesterday)

In large bowl, pour in your flour and add your butter. Using your hands begin mixing the butter by squeezing it...this begins to make "crumbs".  You want to use your hands. Just squeeze until the butter is all crumbly in the flour.  Make a hole in the center of the crumbly flour mixture.  Slowly begin pouring in your milk.

Add only 1/2 of the milk into the hole then take the flour and cover the milk as if you want to bury it.  Pat down and then bring in the sides. If it is still too crumbly, make another hole, add more milk....bring the flour sides over it just like before and pat down until it begins to form a dough, knead.

*This is also how you make biscuits but using self-rising flour*

Once the dough forms, form into a ball. Lightly flour the ball and place in between two sheets of wax paper or on a lightly floured surface. Roll out until even and the desired thickness of your dumplings.

Cut into squares.  I like large dumplings and my kids literally love TONS of dumplings. This makes A LOT of  dumplings so you can always place in a freezer bag and freeze any excess until next time.

Now on to the goodness.

In a pot, boil the water and add in your maggi cubes.  Once boils, stir to make sure the cubes have dissolved and the seasoning they produce is even. Add in your sliced cooked chicken and while still boiling...drop in your dumplings.

Stir regularly. 

Dumplings will float when they are getting close to done. Once the dumplings float, reduce the heat to low and cook (stirring occasionally) for 20 minutes.

Add in your cream of chicken soup and stir until your soup is nice and creamy. Remove from heat.

And there ya go! Nice, creamy, and heartily easy chicken and dumplings. There were no leftovers from this pot. It was enough to feed myself, 4 children ages 9-14 and a friend who came over for dinner. And two kids had seconds!

I saw this idea over at the 2QueensVintage blog and knew immediately I had to try it.

So many endless possibilities.

The recipe is simple: Ice cream of your choice plus beer of your choice.

I added two scoops which was plenty and poured in half a beer.

I used KCCO Black Lager which has hints of chocolate and coffee, so it made for a creamy and chilly alcoholic drink.

I tried another one using a local brewery's beer. Truck Stop Honey + Blood Orange Sorbet= Heaven-I-Tell-Ya.

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