Smokey Mac & Cheese Bar - Fresh Living

We are in the end days of winter and there is nothing that whispers comfort to the soul other than Mac & Cheese, especially Smokey Mac & Cheese.  At our last family party we had what we called a Smokey Mac & Cheese Bar.  It was the perfect winter dinner with the best creamy main dish and tons of sides.

Depending on the sides you choose you can a different tasty bowl of creaminess each time you come to the bar.  If this post I will give my recipe for the best Mac & Cheese in the world...Smokey Mac & Cheese.  The secret ingredient to this  special mac is Smoked Paprika and Caramelized Onions, oh and lots of cheese!

Smokey Mac & Cheese

1/2 Cup of Butter
1/2 Cup Chopped Yellow Onion
1 Teaspoon of Smoked Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon of Ground Nutmeg
1/2 Cup Flour
4 cups Half and Half
8 cups of assorted shredded cheese
 (Sharp Cheddar, Gouda, Monterrey Jack, Swiss, & Parmesan)
2 lbs. of uncooked macaroni noodles

1.  In a warm thick bottomed pan, melt the butter.  Add the chopped yellow onion and begin cooking until translucent.  Add Smoked Paprika and Ground Nutmeg.  Let simmer a few minutes to infuse the spice into the butter.

Boil water to cook macaroni to firm but coked.  Because you will be baking this pasta dish, you want to make sure the noodles are almost under cooked.  If they are over cooked they will turn to mush with the cheese sauce and added heat.

2.  Sprinkle Flour into the mixture and continue cooking whisking it around until it forms a thick pudding or pasty consistency.  This is called a rue.  Basically a thick flour paste that thickens broth or milk into gravy or sauce.

3.  Slowly pour the Half and Half into the rue and whisk to remove any lumps.  It should be a smooth gravy consistency.  If the sauce is too thick add a little more milk.

4.  Add half of the grated cheese to the milk mixture and whisk slowly until it melts and is smooth.  Salt & Pepper to taste.

5.  Drain the cooked macaroni and place  a layer into a casserole dish or dutch oven pan that is over safe.  Pour some of the sauce over the layer and mix with a spoon.  Sprinkle with a layer of grated cheese mix.  Continue adding layers of the macaroni, sauce and grated cheese until the pan is full.  Pour remaining sauce over the top of the dish and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese.  

6.  Sprinkle Panko Bread Crumbs over the top.  Cover with tin foil  and bake at 350 degrees for a half hour until everything is bubbly and lightly browned on the edges.  If you want to make this ahead of time, you can freeze the mac & cheese and cook at a later time or keep in the refrigerator for a few days ahead of the day of cooking.

The wonderful flavor of this Smokey Mac & Cheese comes from slowly sauteing the onions and spices with the butter.  The butter is the base of this dish, so cooking the onion into it with those spices...makes a flavorful mac & cheese that is anything but boring! 

Though the Smokey Mac & Cheese is good on its own, there are a ton of mix-ins that you can add to the Mac & Cheese Bar to use as add ins to spice it up even more!

Here are just a few...

Italian Ham
BBQ Kielbasa
Shredded Crab
Lime Chicken
Crumbled Bacon
Sauteed Kale
Roasted Vegetable
Marinated Peppers
Marinated Olives & Mushrooms
French Fried Onions

Alfredo Sauce
Marinara Sauce
Cheddar Sauce

Honestly, you can add anything you love to this bar to spice it up.  One of my favorite is the Sauteed Kale.  I cook mine in a mixture of olive oil and butter with a sprinkle of sea salt.  It is so incredibly delicious on the Smokey Mac & Cheese.  It holds its texture and adds a fabulous flavor to the cheese and pasta.

I hope you try this recipe and fall in love with this buffet bar idea.  We love it!  It's simple and easy to make ahead and each person can do something different to make it their own.  If you would like to watch the segment on KUTV Fresh Living by clicking on the link.  Enjoy!


Tweetle Dee Winter Workshop

This past Saturday we had our Tweetle Dee Winter Workshop in snowy Woodland Hills, Utah!  If you have ever wondered what we do at an all day workshop, I'll fill you in.  We get to spend the day eating, painting, creating, and getting to know the funnest makers from all over the country.   I don't think there is another event we enjoy more!  

Everyone gets to choose the size, shape and color of their barn quilts.  Some choose the largest of all, and some choose to paint several small ones.  We even had a table top built and designed for a very happy painter.  We call it our "paint anything" day because all of the supplies are included and there isn't a schedule or any expectation other than to have fun...lots of fun!

After the painting is done we get to finish your barn quilts exactly the way you want, stain and seal and even frame them if wanted.  We have a saying that there are "no boards left behind" and there never has been.  Everyone finishes!  It is such a great day. 

Our Summer Workshop is going to be the best of all with TWO days of classes, make and takes and creating.  We love the Summer Workshop because we get to have more of you come and it is at out home on the mountain.  We get to paint in the meadow with the waterfall and flowers!  

When you register you can choose a one day or two day registration.  On Friday we will have a paint & stitch day with mini-workshops with Wire, Ribbon & Traditional Hand Embroidery and a Barn Quilt Clock project turning your barn quilts into a clock.  Saturday will be our huge paint anything day where you can choose to paint whatever you want.  There will also be a Wildflower Press Project and a few other surprises too!

There are limited numbers for these two days, so don't wait to register!  Today through Monday is our annual President's Day Sale with 20% off everything Tweetle Dee including the Summer Workshop!  Use CODE: PRESIDENT to get your savings.  

We hope you enjoy this sneak peak into our workshops and that you can make it to our Summer party in the meadow!


Pom Pom Poofs - Fresh Living

Today's post is all about the the Pom Pom Poof.  Yes, the chunky yarn pom pom's that we made as kids, but now they are all grown up!  With Valentine's Day just around the corner, these Pom Pom Poof's are the perfect little bit of soft fluff to bring a little pretty love to your home.

The great news is they only take a few items and are low cost and best of all..easy to make!  To get ready, you want to gather some yarn.  I love to use chunky creams and light pinks.  Texture is where it is at!  You will need a pair of scissors and a small winding form (a plastic container lid, cardboard, chunk of wood, or your fingers).  If you are wanting to make a wreath, you can find the forms in the floral supply section of your local craft supply store.  


Chunky Yarn
Winding Form
Wreath Form
Floral Sticks
Hot Glue
Silk Green Stems (optional)

To begin making a Pom Pom Poof, you take the end of the yarn and begin to wrap it around the form or your fingers.  The larger the form, the larger the poof.  Wrap around many times until it is thick like the picture above.  The more you wrap, the thicker the poof.  If you want to add a special wrap of extra color or texture to two-tone your poof, simply cut off the first yarn and wrap the new color on the same way until you've added an extra burst of color.  If you find variegated colored have the perfect solution to extra two or three-toned poofs. 

Once you have it as thick as you want, cut the string leaving a 8 inch tail.  Cut a second string about 8 to 10 inches long.  Slip the string under the top layer of the wrapped string until it is centered.  Tie the cut piece in a double or triple knot around the top layer of the wrapped yarn.  Flip the winding form over and with a pair of scissors cut all of the strings apart.  Fluff.

Using your scissors trim the strings to the length you want the poof.  I usually trim off a half inch to even the strings and then I tip the poof upside down to layer the yarn pieces on the sides of the ball to give it a rounded look.  Remember these are more like Poofs and not perfectly smooth tight round pom's like you would have made as a kid.

To make the wreath, take your form and lay out your Pom Pom Poofs, mixing in different textures and colors.  using the long tie piece you used to secure your Pom Pom Poof before cutting, tie onto the form you have.  Fill it in all the way around once time, and then go back a second or third time to fill in and give a variety of length, texture and color!

To make the Pom Pom Poof Flowers, make your poofs and use hot glue to attach them to a flower stem which can be found in the floral section of your craft supply store.  Fluff and place in a vase.  Add a little greenery or a bunch of candies (in a clear vase)...however you use them, they are darling!

To make a garland, I used the chunkiest of yarn and braided a rope to attach my poofs to.  Tie on and fluff...hang and enjoy!  Their is no limit to how you can use these for birthdays, holidays, or a special spot in your home.  I'm going to hang my wreath in my master bath until summer.

To watch the full tutorial on how to make these Pom Pom Poof go to KUTV Fresh Living and watch today's segment OR go to my You Tube Channel and watch the video next week.


A Year in Review & Promises to Come

Happy New Year!  It's so hard to believe that another year has come and gone.   To be honest though, I am so happy for 2019 to be here.   I love to begin the new year with a light planning session where I can look back to the previous's good and not so good parts, and then make plans for the next year.  

First a few of the good things of 2018!  We began the year with the birth of a new granddaughter, Miss Lila Rose.   It was also the year of a lot of travel and teaching!  I loved it all.   We were honored to win the International Quilt Market Merchandising Award in Portland (a dream come true) and then came the cover photo on Quilt Retailer!  

Oh, and who can forget those darling nine puppies all born while we were in Georgia teaching.  You know we couldn't let them all go, so our home was blessed with one big fluffy forever puppy, Little Bear.    I received contracts for my first book and fabric line.  Such a total dream come true.  It was also the beginning of Belle Prairie.

While we were in Dallas teaching  we received word that our entire town was evacuated for fire.  We had left our son home alone, and he had to evacuate alone.  It was one of my nightmares in real time.  As a mom you always worry when you are away, but this helplessness was beyond anything I could have imagined.  The fires and evacuation lasted over two weeks and we watched as those fires came within a few hundred feet from our homes.  We prayed hard and hoped for the best, and were so grateful to return home with no homes lost.  

A week after returning, we were then evacuated for another two weeks because of Hurricane Rosa and the fear of mudslides.  Our yard and home were trenched and boarded up and everything left once again....and the mountain held and we came home.  This was an entire month of 2018 spent praying, because there wasn't much else we could do.  Tweetle Dee had to sit, no orders could be processed during our busiest season.  Oh my, I seriously can hardly believe how crazy that experience was.  

Fall ended and winter set in with two huge back to back conferences, teaching everything I love...and fighting off bronchitis.   Did I mention the three weeks of pneumonia in February?  This meant I had to be extra careful to get sleep and not stress.  We were blessed to come home a week before Thanksgiving with 178 orders to paint and frustrated customers who for the most part, patiently waited for us to ship their orders.   We made the decision to shut down the Tweetle Dee Shop during our busiest season to catch up.  It meant lost revenue, but it was the only way we could fill our orders from the months time we were away.

I think it goes without saying, that 2018 was a year of extreme growth for me.  I pride myself with being able to do most anything and handle it with grace....but this past year taught me a lot about myself.  I learned, that as much as I love to say yes, I needed to learn how to say no.   I needed to admit to myself most of all that I couldn't handle it all myself.

In a very blessed way, it allowed me to re-evaluate what was most important to me personally and for Tweetle Dee.  That forced month away from my home and Tweetle Dee gave me the break I needed (but didn't want) to figure out the path I wanted to take for me and my business that I love.

I read Rachel Hollis's book "Girl, Wash Your Face" while I was also watching our mountain burn...and man did it give me the kick in the rear I needed.  I learned how important it is to make promises to yourself and keep them no matter what.  Basically, if you can't keep a promise to yourself...who can you keep them for?  I grabbed a paper (the back of a bank deposit slip I had in the car) and wrote down five things I knew I needed to do for myself.  You know, the things you always put off.

They were to;

1.  No more Diet Coke.
2.  Prayer and scripture reading first in the morning.
3.  Move everyday.
4.  Temple once a month.
5.  Journal daily.  

You know what?  I kept them and boy has it made a huge difference for me as I ended 2018 to already be doing the things I have known I needed to do for myself and always found an excuse to push off.   With everything else in chaos and our of my hands, I had the chance to put some things in order that needed to be in order.  

And for Tweetle Dee?  It helped me figure out the direction for 2019.  I am so excited for this coming year.  There are so many new firsts coming this year!!!  My first book and first fabric line are being worked on now and will be out this year.  Truly, a dream come true.  I'm learning a ton and loving it.  There is a new website in the works which will help me to manage orders in a much better way for our customers happiness and my happiness! products that I am sooo excited to add to our shop.  There is much more...but I'll save those "promises" for later.  I have them written down just like I wrote down those personal five on the bank slip and have them clearly visible daily.  

I'm not sure why 2018 was such a tough year.  I guess I needed it and for that I am thankful!  Happy New Year and let's get this party started 2019!!!


DIY Winter Forest Village

At Christmas time I love my home to be filled with lots of Christmas trees and one of my favorites are the simple Swedish Trees.  If you're lucky enough to find them this time of year...let's just say they cost more than they should.  

I found an easy and inexpensive way to make your own little forest of Christmas trees...and it is a fun family project too.  I found the materials for this project in my canning cupboard and at my local Hobby Lobby.


Small Jelly Jars
Styrofoam Block
Wood Dowels the Size of a Small Pencil
Colored Stain
Hot Glue Gun
Make It Christmas - Tree Branches ($2.99 per pack)
Make It Christmas - Snowballs ($1.99 per bag)
Wire Snips

1.  Cut a small piece of Styrofoam off the block and hot glue it into the bottom of your jelly jar.  (Make sure the piece is small enough that you will have side room for your snowballs.)

2.  Cut your wood dowels into 8 to 10" pieces.  Run one end through a pencil sharpener to make a point for the top of the tree.   Stain dowels with your favorite stain color.  I used weathered oak for mine.  Let dry.

3.  Take the center of a piece of the Make It Christmas tree branches and wrap around the tree twice.  Straighten out flat.  Repeat five times up the trunk.

4.  Use your wire snips to trim the ends of the trees.  Go from large at the bottom to small at the top.  Straighten your branches again.

5.  Push your trunk straight into the Styrofoam piece so the trunk stands tall.  Pull out and squirt a bit of hot glue into the hole and push the trunk back into the hole. Hold in place until cool and firm.  

6.  Fill your jelly cups with the Make It Christmas snowballs and your Swedish Trees are done!

I LOVE these little trees.   I placed two of these in each window of my house along with our Light of Christ candles.  They look so traditional and give a little Christmas cheer to a usually un-decorated place in my house.  I'm making a few more this weekend to give to friends and family.