Friday, November 30, 2018

Holiday Recipes: Appetizers

Welcome to our Holiday Recipes Blog Hop. Several of my friends and I have planned a fun week of holiday recipes and stories for you.

Today on my blog, we're featuring recipes for appetizers. You'll find a full schedule at the end of the post. Tell all your friends and then come hang out with us for some festive fun. (If you're blogging about food this week, send me a note, and we'll add your link to our lists!)

Feel free to share your own recipes in the comments each day - we'd love to know your favorites!

Word of warning: I'm one of those cooks who rarely measures anything. I learned basics at a very young age, and have cooked regularly almost my entire life, so I tend to just add by sight or taste or smell. I'm including some recipes here, but also just some generalities of recipes I make, so you can make them your own. If I use a recipe from someone else's blog, I'll just link it here and not repeat it - but I'll share how I make the recipe my own. Visit those blogs to print the recipes for your files.

Now for some of my favorite holiday appetizers. My #1 factor in deciding on an appetizer menu is ease of preparation and service. When I entertain, I don't want to be stuck in the kitchen while everyone else is visiting, so I make appetizers that can be made ahead of time and either assembled quickly at the last minute or assembled by guests as they hover around the food table.

We moved into town when I was 12 years old, and when I entered high school, our house became the hangout house for all my friends. (I now wonder if that's because I'm such a hermit rather than location of our house!)

We had a big living room, devoid of most furniture but with a good stereo, a big fireplace, and the refrigerator close by. We seemed to always be having parties, and my mother's go-to party foods were always "fancy" sandwiches - made with white loaf bread, cut into shapes (rectangles or triangles mostly, but occasionally circles), with the crusts cut off.

My favorite of these was a pimento cheese type mixture. I still make those today, although I usually serve it with crackers and veggies, instead of making sandwiches. (Bread goes stale quickly.)

Cheese & Olive Spread

2 8-oz blocks extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated (I really love Aldi's Wisconsin cheddar!)
1 5.75 oz jar green olives stuffed with pimentos, chopped
2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise (adjust according to preference)

Mix together and refrigerate until ready to use. During the holidays, I keep this in my fridge all season, making a fresh batch whenever needed to restock.

Cream Cheese Christmas Trees

Last year, I was scrolling through Pinterest and discovered another quick appetizer that I've experimented with ever since. I couldn't locate the photos I took the last Christmas I served this, so this image is courtesy of Betty Crocker.

For each tree, you'll need one 8 oz. box of cream cheese
Topping choices are almost limitless

Let the cream cheese come to room temperature, then cut diagonally. Turn one piece around to mirror the other, to form the shape of a Christmas tree. Gently press together, and smear the top with a butter knife to merge the two pieces.You can use as is, or place on top of some pretzel sticks for the tree stem.

Then place in refrigerator to firm up again.

For toppings, try any or all of the following. Heat the jellies and sauces to make them easy to pour. Make more than one kind to spread around the table, or even to create a festive display in duos or trios.

Red and/or green pepper jelly
Nuts or Seeds
Macerated fruit
Melted chocolate with chopped nuts, fruit, candy, or chocolate chips

You can even melt down some cranberry sauce (or make fresh), and add some chopped jalapeno peppers for a kick of heat.

For "decorations" to the tree, use halved cherry tomatoes for ornaments, or cut out a star topper from a bell pepper, like Betty Crocker did. If you're handy with a piping bag, you can pipe on tinsel, snow, or lights with different sauces or condiments.

Serve with dippers appropriate for whichever kind of toppings you use (chips, crackers,  veggies, apples).

Sausage Balls

Holidays around our house wouldn't be complete without sausage balls. Because of different dietary needs from various family members, I now make them different ways.

The traditional method uses Bisquick, cheddar cheese, and breakfast sausage. Our preferences over the years have included using sharp cheddar cheese, pepperjack cheese, and mixing both hot and mild sausages.

Earlier this year, I found a low-carb, gluten-free version from Keto Size Me that I now keep stocked in my freezer. They provide more substance for an appetizer table, so my guys especially love them, but they're also great for popping in the oven as I'm getting dressed to head out for the morning. (We're homebodies, so this isn't an every day occurrence, but I love having them just for those days!) Keto Size Me provided two recipes, one using coconut flour, one using almond flour but since I always double the recipe, I just use one cup of coconut flour and one cup of almond flour combined because the rest of the ingredients were basically the same. (I view the Parmesan as an optional ingredient so I never use it.)

For the ones I made today, pictured here, I doubled the batch. I forgot to get cream cheese so I left it out this time and added more eggs and butter. The final result is not as dense as the regular way, so I may make them like this from now on:

16 oz extra sharp cheddar, shredded
16 oz pepperjack cheese, shredded
1 cup coconut flour
1 cup almond flour
6 Tbsp butter, melted
6 eggs, beaten
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

Mix all together, shape into balls, and bake at 350. The recipe linked above says 20 minutes, but these took 30 and could have probably stayed in another two or three minutes. I took them out a little early so I can pop them in the oven straight from the freezer and not over cook them.

Cheese Balls

Cheese balls have been the biggest hit the last few years. The first year, I made the three in this photo, but two of them became clear winners: Bacon Ranch cheese ball and the Everything cheese ball.

This Silly Girl's Kitchen has the best Everything Cheese Ball recipe, and much better photos than mine here.

Pop over and check it out. If you love Everything Bagels, you will love this cheese ball. One tip: Put all the seeds, spices, and salt in a zipper bag. After mixing the ball and chilling it, toss it into the bag with the seeds. Roll it around in the bag, pressing the seeds into the cheese as you shape the ball. This one's addictive, so you might want to make two.

The Bacon Ranch cheese ball is another great option. I love this recipe from Food Beast, with one addition. I add a couple of tablespoons (up to 1/4 cup) of sour cream, just to make it a little creamier. If budget is a concern (always a factor in my house!), I leave off the pecans and just use more crackers to coat.

Come join the fun in our Holiday Recipes blog hop!

Links below activate on the scheduled date.

FRI, Nov 30: Holiday Appetizers – Tracy Ruckman
SAT, Dec 2: Holiday Beverages – Rachel Hartsfield
MON, Dec 3: International Holiday Foods – Peggy Cunningham
TUES, Dec 4: Holiday Breakfasts & Brunches – Betty Thomason Owens
WED, Dec 5: Holiday Main Courses – Sheryl Holmes
THURS, Dec 6: Holiday Sides / Potluck / Buffets – Tracy Ruckman
FRI, Dec 7: Holiday Sweets – Rachel Hartsfield

SAT, Dec 8: Holiday Recipes Master List – Tracy Ruckman

Recent posts:

Recent Posts from TMP Books:

Thank you for supporting authors, small businesses, and artists during the busy holiday season! We are grateful for your business!

Hooray for Holidays Series by Peggy Cunningham

Come visit my TMPix Art Shop on Zazzle!
Original Photography Turned into Art
Some funky, some beautiful.
Some bold, some gentle.
Some playful, some romantic.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Exciting News: Changes, New Releases, and a Contest!

Such a busy time of year, isn't it?

I have several announcements today and I'm so excited I hope this post makes sense.

First, about TMPixArt. My artwork is growing and expanding very quickly, and was beginning to hog this blog, so I created a new blog just for art and we'll get back to books and business here. is now live and active, and will carry all my future posts about patterns, photography, art, design, and even a few surprises! To help get the blog started, I've republished several of the articles from here over there, too, so some of the posts right now may look familiar. But from today forward, all posts will be new and current.

TMPixArt is now also publishing a specialty line of books, with a new release this week. That announcement is the latest post on the TMPixArt blog, so check it out here. Bookmark or subscribe to the blog (link in sidebar) and follow the TMPixArt page on Facebook for all the latest updates.

Now about Tracy Ruckman. I finally set up an author page on Facebook. I'd avoided it for years, but now that I have more books published, it was time.

Here's a sample of the inside pages:

The book includes prompt pages like this one, with tablet lines and short prompts to guide children through the storytelling process. Each facing page is left blank for illustrations. 

At the end of each book, we've included extra tablet-lined pages for penmanship practice or more story writing. 

The books are appropriate for ages 5-8. (Stay tuned for similar books for other ages!)

Today, TMP Books has announced an exciting new contest about these books.

Parents, you'll want to check it out!

And finally, Friday, November 30, we begin a new series of holiday blog posts with some of my friends. If you're a foodie and love the holidays, you'll love these posts!

Recent posts:

Recent Posts from TMP Books:

Thank you for supporting authors, small businesses, and artists during the busy holiday season! We are grateful for your business!

Hooray for Holidays Series by Peggy Cunningham

Come visit my TMPix Art Shop on Zazzle!
Original Photography Turned into Art
Some funky, some beautiful.
Some bold, some gentle.
Some playful, some romantic.

Monday, November 26, 2018

A Sticky Note, a Road Trip, and Determination

Good Morning on this Cyber Monday! Did you survive Thanksgiving and Black Friday and all the college football rivalries?

Today, my photo and pattern stories are rather random but fun.

The first isn't yet a pattern, although eventually, one of the throw-away photos from this same photo shoot might just become one.

We have a Japanese maple tree in our front yard. I love that tree. Every year, I watch it as the seasons change, noting the different colors of its leaves and how it changes so gracefully, yet - just like life - sometimes at lightning speed.

A couple of years ago, I took a photo that I eventually turned into a paint-like print.

That year, the leaves were large.

Available on 
(also available as a jigsaw puzzle)

This year, however, the leaves were tiny. I wanted a different kind of image, but never could get a good one. The wind took away leaves one by one, until there were only a few left. Most of those were already shriveling up, but I looked at every angle of the tree, every leaf, determined to capture at least one photograph.

Then I found a single perfect leaf.

But it was in such a position on the tree that I could not get a good shot. Desperate, and knowing that leaf would likely blow away within the next 24 hours, I plucked it.

I placed it on a wooden rail and liked the image, but it wasn't as dramatic as I felt the leaf deserved. So I tried placing the leaf on other surfaces: a wooden step, the ground - with and without other leaves around it. As I played with all these different settings, the sunlight changed.

Our house is surrounded by trees, and our front door gets directly sunlight only for a brief time each day. Almost ready to give up on the leaf, I made my way to the front door. I decided to place the leaf on the marble step to see if I could get a decent shot.

I don't believe in magic, but I do believe in God's timing. And God's timing - as always, with everything, was just with this image. This is the original, untouched, unedited, uncropped photo.

The light cast just the right shadow to make the leaf appear to be floating above the step, but in reality, the leaf propped on its stem on its own.

I digitally enhanced the image just a bit for merchandise:

Canvas prints on 

(Why both locations? What's the difference? Price and procedure are the two main differences. With Zazzle, I submit my designs and images, and Zazzle takes care of everything else - orders, production, shipping, customer service.)

And these beautiful

As determined as I was with that photo, I must admit that sometimes, I have accidents. One accident resulted in a beautiful pattern that I'm now selling on a pillow and a reversible duvet cover:

I love this pattern and even more so since it was an "accident."

One day - most likely before coffee - I was playing with my camera phone while I was sitting at my desk. I accidentally snapped a photo of a sticky note that was stuck to the corner of my laptop. Later that evening, I was toying with the pattern program, and accidentally clicked on that sticky note photo. I liked the colors, so I began playing with the patterns. Because I had written only on one corner of the sticky note, I had a big chunk of blue to play with in the pattern, and ended up with two that you see above.

Road trips always produce some fun photos.

A few years ago, we drove into the mountains during the fall. We stumbled upon a roadside market loaded with a late harvest. On one side of the property, we found this old fire truck. I digitally enhanced it with some artistic effects to get this:

This image is now my bestselling and most viewed product - 


Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Cyber Week sales continue through tonight, with savings as much as 75% on some products!

As a small business owner and artist, please know how much we all appreciate your business. And we appreciate word of mouth advertising for our businesses and art, too, so be sure to tell your family and friends where they can get some great deals on unique gifts.

I was given two special codes for FREE shipping on Zazzle that can be used up to three times each. Try either of these codes to see if they are still available. There have been purchases made, so I'm not sure how many times they've been used, but try:



Thank you for supporting authors, small businesses, and artists during the busy holiday season! We are grateful for your business!

Hooray for Holidays Series by Peggy Cunningham

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Not Your Ordinary Thanksgiving Meals

One day, my older son and I got into a discussion about how food-centric our family gatherings tend to be. We don't just gather to hang out - when we gather, we're always cooking and eating. Is your family food-centric?

I asked a friend to share one of her Thanksgiving food memories, and we'd love to hear yours, too. Our two memories ended up qualifying in the "not so ordinary" category for Thanksgiving meals. Do yours?

From author Peggy Cunningham:

Cucumber Salad Surprise

My grandmother was Italian, so we had two meals for Thanksgiving dinner—the Italian version and the Pilgrim version. Yes, lasagna, meatballs, and everything else Italian. Also on the table, the traditional turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and all the trimmings.

My first Thanksgiving at my mother-in-law’s house was quite different with no Italians––and no surprise, but no Italian meal, either! Oh, but all the turkey you could eat with all its trimmings and a cucumber salad that quickly found a place in my heart (and on my table) forever.

Cucumber Salad with Mayo Dressing


  • 4 cucumbers, washed and sliced thinly
  • 1/2 Vidalia sweet onions, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoon sugar
  • salt to taste


  1. In a large bowl, combine cucumbers and sweet onions.
  2. In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, and salt to taste. Whisk until smooth and sugar is dissolved. 
  3. Add the dressing to the cucumbers and onions. Gently toss to combine. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for a few minutes. 

One of my own Thanksgiving food memories:

One year when the boys were teens, I got a huge bargain on a chalet in a Virginia ski resort because it was still the shoulder season. Budget-conscious as always, I planned to cook most of our meals at the chalet, but I didn't want to do anything ordinary, of course.

The boys were huge fans of professional wrestling during that time, and one of the wrestling federations released a new cookbook featuring recipes from all the celebrity wrestlers. To the boys' delight, I bought the cookbook and planned the whole week's menu from it. Everything was great, but the two hits were The Rock's Chocolate Chip Cookies and Vince McMahon's Millionaire Pie. Those recipes still find their way onto our menu occasionally.

We'd love to hear about your own Thanksgiving food memories. Feel free to share recipes, too!

Peggy Cunningham is author extraordinaire. She and her husband Chuck have served as missionaries in Bolivia, South America, since 1981. They work with the Quechua people and have a children's ministry. She is the author of the newly released Hooray for Holidays series for children, the Really Rare Rabbits series for children, and two devotionals for adults, Shape Your Soul and Dancing Like Bees.

Be sure to read Peggy's latest posts about Veterans Day on her blog:

Peggy and I are both guests over at Fay Lamb's Inner Source blog this week, too, so come on over to read Three Gals and Their Thanksgiving Memories.

My Recent posts:

Come visit my TMPix Art Shop on Zazzle!
Original Photography Turned into Art
Some funky, some beautiful.
Some bold, some gentle.
Some playful, some romantic.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Button Day Patterns

Today, November 16, 2018 is Button Day. My friend, Fay Lamb, joined us in my previous post, explaining our fascination with buttons today, and shares a fun story about buttons on her own blog. This morning, she shared her own button story on her Inner Source blog along with the stories of some of her other friends; this afternoon, she shares the post I sent her.

For my contribution, I told about a small button tub that my husband's sister gave to us shortly after we were married. When Fay mentioned buttons, I brought out our tub and decided to take some photos to create some art.

From this photo, I created styles and colors of patterns and put them on merchandise:

(This pattern is also available as a table runner, blanket, and lamp.)

(This pattern also available as a tote bag.)

This pattern making can be addictive, but I'm trying to put them to good use. 

While you're Christmas shopping, please explore my collections! You may find just the perfect gift for someone.

A Few of My Collections:

Recent posts:

Come visit my TMPix Art Shop on Zazzle!
Original Photography Turned into Art
Some funky, some beautiful.
Some bold, some gentle.
Some playful, some romantic.

We're Celebrating Buttons!

I love trivia so when I saw that today was Button Day, I had to celebrate! With two special blog posts, too. (After 12:00 Noon Eastern time today, click this link to read about the button patterns I designed that were inspired by this whole conversation. The link won't work until after 12:00 p.m.)


Because of my friend Fay Lamb's button collection and the story of how it came to be. (Warning: if there's ever a salt-and-pepper-shaker day, Fay will be my first interview! I hear rumors she has a vast collection!)

Fay, when we were last together, you had discovered a few buttons (few being relative?) Tell us about those buttons. How did you come in possession of them?

 A few? That's an understatement. I found enough buttons to fill five jars completely full. They just happen to be old zinc lid "Ball" jars, too. 

My mother-in-law was a master seamstress and a quilter. When she fell ill in Florida, I went to her vacation home in North Carolina, where she had practically lived. 

My plan was to clean the place because we knew we weren't going to be able to be there much. That's when you graciously came to help me sort through things. Even before that cleaning, we realized that my dear mother-in-law was beyond the capability of sewing or even crafting any longer, and I made the hard decision to get rid of all of her fabric, her tools, everything, and give them to charities ... 

But then I found the buttons. And more buttons. I began putting them into jars. The journey of finding all the buttons I could kept me going. I even discovered buttons that her grandmother had saved and had written on what they had been used to make (in the 1800s). 

As I discovered each button, I discovered a connection to my mother-in-law. As the materials began to disappear from the house, I realized I'd begun the process of grieving because with Alzheimer's the individual is gone long before they leave this place. 

The night before you came to help, I remember opening up a drawer I thought I'd gone through. I found it filled with craft materials, material, buttons, and a plethora of other items. I wanted to give up, but the quest for buttons kept me going. At the bottom of that drawer, I didn't find buttons. I found one special gift from God, and my desire to collect the buttons led right to it. 

I'm a tatter--a maker of lace--and in the very bottom of the last drawer, I found a tatted collar. My mother-in-law never tatted, but I had discovered the art while attending a craft show with her. I understood without a doubt that the collar had been meant for me--a gift forgotten. I sank to the floor clutching that gift and crying for all my memories that were no longer shared with this dear woman. 

I also found healing, and I continue to find that healing when I look at the jars filled with unique buttons.

What's the significance of the buttons in your own life? 

One of the joys of my childhood was my mother's button jar. She didn't sew, but my grandmother had sown out of necessity. She had seven children to clothe. I can still smell the musty smell of aged buttons. Somewhere in my mother's moves, the jar was lost, so when I found the numerous buttons in my mother-in-law's home, I began to think of them as a special gift to me, a way to remember her even while she was losing her memory of me and a way to replace the forgotten memories of my childhood.

What are your future plans for the buttons? 

Right now, they sit in their antique jars on my dresser. I eventually plan to move them into six jars and share the memory with my six grandchildren as I gift them each with one, not only as a way to remember my husband's mother but also to link them to a special memory of my mother and my grandmother.

I know these buttons tie into one of your books, too. How did that happen?

Well before I found my mother-in-law's buttons, I mourned the loss of my mother's button jar. When I wrote my novel, Stalking Willow, one of the most important characters in the novel was Willow's grandmother who was deceased. Her grandmother had been a lot like my Grandmother New, and many things included in that novel are a wink at my many cousins who would realize where I came by them. 

Willow discovers a similar button jar and sits down and pulls out her memories of her grandmother. Something else is in the jar, but I'll let readers discover that poignant portion of the story in the book.

I delve into detail about Stalking Willow and the importance of the button jar in my post on Inner Source

Thanks so much for sharing about your buttons, Fay. We had fun during that visit, didn't we? 


Visit Fay's Amazon Author Page to check out all her books! (Hint: They make AWESOME gifts for the readers in your family!)

You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads, and BookBub! Sign up for her newsletter to receive advance notice of her latest antics.

About Fay:

Fay Lamb is the only daughter of a rebel genius father and a hard-working, tow-the-line mom. She is not only a fifth-generation Floridian, she has lived her life in Titusville, where her grandmother was born in 1899.

Since an early age, storytelling has been Fay’s greatest desire. She seeks to create memorable characters that touch her readers’ heart. She says of her writing, “If I can’t laugh or cry at the words written on the pages of my manuscript, the story is not ready for the reader.” Fay writes in various genres, including romance, romantic suspense, and contemporary fiction.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

It's a Peppermint Party in Pink!

When I began creating patterns, I did so rather randomly, which helped me learn. In the process, I created some fun designs I never expected or planned.

One series of designs came from one of my favorite flower photos:

Like many of my earlier photos, this one was too small to use as is, so I first enhanced it digitally to get this image that I've used on greeting cards and this paperweight:

Then I got pattern happy and came up with several unusual patterns perfect for any of the pink lovers in your life! Because of the stripes and the color, I created a new collection that I'm calling the Peppermint Party!

I love the way these reversible duvet covers came out with the Peppermint Party patterns:

Front and Back

Front and Back

I love that all my designs can be personalized with names, initials, phrases to make it your very own. 

I custom design merchandise for clients, too, adding patterns or logos to products for their use personally or professionally. Last week, one client requested a pattern design from a photo they provided; another client asked for a logo design and then we put that logo and images of some of their business products on merchandise. Feel free to send me an email if you have need of a custom project.

Recent posts:

Come visit my TMPix Art Shop on Zazzle!
Original Photography Turned into Art
Some funky, some beautiful.
Some bold, some gentle.
Some playful, some romantic.

Hitting a Milestone

As 2022 ended, I had plans. Nothing extravagant, but perhaps a couple of adventures and a fall conference to prepare for and attend. But I q...