Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thanksgiving Planning, Redux

It occurred to me this morning that planning for a Thanksgiving dinner can be overwhelming when you haven't had to plan things out before.  Especially when it is the first major holiday meal you've ever had to make for your family.

I remember that overwhelmed feeling very well the first year I cooked the bulk of the meal.

What I've learned through the years is that there is no substitute for planning.  And that dishes you can make in advance are your very best friends.

To that end, I thought I'd throw together some links and some information for folks, as well as an idea of how I line out my week on a day by day basis:

-- Here's my cooking schedule for the rest of the week:

Monday:  The Peanut and I will finish decorating and cleaning the house.  I've started cooking 3 days ahead, but that's really too early.  So use this day to get last minute groceries, get the rest of the house fairly clean for guests, and make certain you have plenty of extra napkins and such.  If you are going to the store this week, do it as early in the morning as possible, or as late at night as you can - fewer crowds means a saner shopping experience.

Tuesday:  This is where things start cooking this week.  I'll start by making my turkey stock as early as possible today, that way it can simmer in the crockpot for most of the day and all that glorious flavor develops.  It really and truly is the best turkey stock ever from your crockpot, and your stuffing recipe and gravy-making will thank you for the boost in amazing flavor.

I'll also make Granny's cranberry orange salad, so it has time for the flavors to really meld together (and so I can sneak bites of it for the next two days -- woot!).

I also make an herb butter that gets placed between the skin and the breast of the turkey to baste the meat as the turkey bakes.  To start, place a stick of butter into a ziploc freezer baggie, seal it completely and leave it out on the counter for a while to soften, usually this takes an hour or two.  Then, when the butter is softened, I finely chop the following:  some fresh parsley, thyme, chives, sage and a little but of rosemary.  I add some minced garlic and a little Penzey's poultry seasoning as well.   Open the baggie, pour in the herbs and garlic, then reseal completely; mush it altogether to combine well, then pop the butter baggie into the fridge.  As it cools a bit, try to get all the butter into a "log" so it's pretty much altogether in an easy-to-slice cylinder.  

Friday, November 20, 2015

Clean Sweep

The pre-holiday cleaning has begun in earnest this week.  I started with our sunroom, since our big Christmas tree goes in there and clutter needed to be cleared for that to work.  It is gorgeous in here now that all the corners, nooks and crannies have been exhumed.

So much so that I may put off the tree and its trimmings for a few days just to bask in the uncluttered glory of it all.

Today, the dining room must be tackled, and am hoping to get some of the kitchen done as well.  It is amazing how much things can just unconsciously pile up, bit by bit, when you are focused on surviving cancer surgery or running around from one practice to another with your child.

But I am determined to tackle a few of our problem areas over the course of the next week, so that everything will be in much better shape before the holiday rush of crazy begins.

Now, if I can only get some of our relatives to stop buying us piles of stuff we don't need, maybe I can keep the clutter at bay well after the holidays, too.  Hope springs eternal...

(Photo via kitakitts.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

There Is A Santa Clause

Hallelujah and pass the eggnog, there is a Santa Clause.

Bill Murray, Christmas carols, snarky patter and George Clooney.  What's not to love?

Monday, November 2, 2015

Meet Katniss

On my birthday a couple of weeks ago, The Peanut found a little kitten on the way home from school.  The poor, wee kitty was half-starved, very cold and miserable, and almost dehydrated, and she had a broken piece on her tail that we think likely happened when she was attacked by a dog (just based on her very adverse reaction to our little westie, Roxie).

We spent most of the afternoon waiting at the veterinarian's office trying to make sure she wasn't sick or carrying anything that could harm our other pets before we brought her inside.  Thankfully, aside from some roundworms and fleas, she was in very good health for a kitty that clearly was desperately in need of some TLC.

The Peanut has named her Katniss, because she is such a good survivor.

After a couple of weeks of quarantine and consistent access to food and water, I am happy to report that Katniss is growing and happy, and that we have managed to introduce her to our dog and our other kitty, Sheldon, without much fuss.  I caught the kitties playing together a bit this morning, which was a wonderful change from the growling and hissing over territory that we were getting last week.

It's good to have a new addition to the house.  Especially one as adorable as this kitty is.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween!

It is a day of spooky ghosts and goblins and Elsa's trick-or-treating at our house.  We are behind this year, and I'm going to have to run out for some candy this morning to make sure we have something to pass out to the kiddos.

Woke up to a freezing cold morning, that is just starting to warm as the some comes up to ignite the sky with pink and orange.

Thank goodness for the heater in our house, as I sit here looking at the pitifully fluffed out birdies on our feeders.  It is the first morning where I took the dog out and thought "Winter is coming soon."

Brrrrrr....hope it warms up a little bit for all the little trick-or-treaters this evening.  Or Elsa will be wearing a very layered ensemble.

(Photo via Kevin Dooley.)

Monday, October 26, 2015

Preparing for Winter Hibernation

On Saturday, an order of books for the school library came with another order for me, something that is worth stocking up on for the long winter months ahead.

If you are a tea drinker, like I am, then you really should do yourself the favor of trying some Taylors of Harrogate, Yorkshire Gold Black Tea.  If you use filtered water, and heat it just to boiling, and then allow one of these tea bags to steep for about 4 minutes, you will swear that the cuppa tea you are having came from some little English grandmother somewhere directly from Yorkshire.  It is that tasty and perfection in a cup.

It is my major food vice, and one that I start to crave when the weather begins to turn cold.

The wonderful thing is that I bought several books -- 10 to be precise! -- and this large box of tea which will last me for months with blog money earned by purchases made through my Amazon links.    So thank you to the wonderful people who click through one of these Amazon links or who use the Amazon search box in the right-hand column to make purchases.

It really does add up to a lot of wonderful new books for my school library!

Including what looks like an adorable Christmas story for my kiddos:  Oh, What a Christmas!  It is written and illustrated by the same fellow who did the wonderful Miss Smith series, about a teacher with a magical storybook.  We just read Miss Smith and the Haunted Library last week, and the kids adored it.  (It doesn't hurt that their very own librarian is named Mrs. Smith, now does it?)

I am in the market for some new books to read for myself.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Hello, Indeed

Am I the only one who keeps playing this song over and over just to hear her sultry, purring voice?

What would you give to have a whole Adele album of jazz standards at your disposal?  That would be priceless and on constant repeat at our house.

Brilliant.  And this is just the first song to drop from the new album.  Can't wait to hear the rest.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Hot Mulled Cider From The Slow Cooker

It's that time of year when the mornings are crisp, and the night is cold and dark, our fireplace gets a workout, and I begin to crave hot mulled cider by the gallon.  Any hot drink on a cold day can be a good thing, but cider is a special favorite in the fall.

A lot of times, we'll just make it by the mug by adding a pinch of pumpkin pie spice to a mug of cider and heating it a bit in the microwave.  (1 1/2 to 2 minutes ought to do it on HIGH).

The best way, though, is to make a steaming crockpot full of deliciousness, so we can sip all day.  This is especially great if you have company coming over:  your house is perfumed with the wafting scent of apples, spices, and a hint of citrus.  It is absolute heaven.

The key to good slow cooker mulled cider is to have your spices in a make-shift cheesecloth bag or tea ball that can be removed once full spice level has been reached.  If you leave the spices in past the time that your cider begins to taste yummy, it will get bitter and too strong with cinnamon, which is not where you want to go.

This is how we do ours:

Monday, October 12, 2015

Falling For The Fall

The weather the last few days has been perfect here.  Crisp, cool mornings, warming to pleasantly comfortable afternoon temperatures, just cool enough that opening the windows in the house to let in fresh air has been do-able in the afternoons to early evenings.  The leaves are all on the cusp of bursting into flame-colored masterpieces, if they haven't turned into full Fall regalia already.

It is perfect outside.  Just perfect.

This is great weather for a walk outside, leaves crunching under your shoes, breathing in the sights and smells before the ice and snow begin to fly.

What are you waiting for?  Get out for a walk.  I'll be doing the same.

(Photo via Carl Mueller.)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Songs That Take You Back

Because The Peanut has gotten to that age when it is all music, all the time in the car, we listen to a lot of radio.  A lot of playlists on her iPhone.  A lot of music on the headset.

Just a lot of constant noise, which is okay because I like music a lot.

The problem is that the intersection between what I consider to be a "good" song and what she thinks is good is a widening gap.  One thing we've done is to just randomly set the iTunes app to random, mixed-up tunes, and that way sometimes my stuff comes on, and then hers, and so on.

The other day we were driving along, and The Church's "Under the Milky Way" came on, and I started singing along like I always do, because I love this song -- it calls to the inner angsty, pre-20-year-old buried somewhere between high school and college, who used to sit up late at night and haggle about political philosophy with visiting Model UN pals on college weekends or on high school field trips.  It speaks to me of pegged jeans and layered socks and big hair and a lot of carefree, non-scheduled, un-crazy fun.

You know, the exact opposite of what life as a grown-up, over scheduled, always on time, lots of responsibilities and duties working mom lives day to day.

It doesn't hurt that this song always makes me want to sit down and write the great American novel.  It's just a peppy little ditty, with a little angst and bagpipe overlay thrown into the mix, but it is seriously a time machine to my younger, more ambitious, more energetic self every time it plays.

So it is playing in the car, and I'm singing along...belting it out, if you must know...and I realize The Peanut is singing along, too.  Because she discovered this song on one of my playlists and absolutely loved it, too.

That may be partially due to the fact that I used to sing it to her to get her to sleep after her 3:00 am feeding when she was tiny, but I don't care.  She's not quite ready to embrace The Smiths and The Cure or too much punk music as well on the angsty '80s music continuum, but I'll take what I can get.

All of this made me think:  what songs that take you back in the day are now also songs that your kids enjoy?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Visual Vacay And A Prayer

There are certain photos that I have taken over the years that take me right back to the moment they were snapped.  It's a sort of visual vacation when that happens.

The photo above was taken at sunrise several years ago, during a family vacation to Hilton Head, South Carolina.

It was low tide that morning, and The Peanut and I had gone out hunting for olive shells and assorted bits of awesomeness along the shoreline.  There were very few people out that morning because it was windy and cold, so we had most of the beach all to ourselves.  It felt like we were the only people on Earth for a very long stretch that morning.

Looking at this picture, I can smell the salty tang in the air, hear the rush of waves lapping back and forth and scouring the shoreline with shells and coral bits and the occasional shark tooth bobbing along in their wake.  Our shoes got gritty with sand, and still we walked, cold making goosebumps of our skin, yet still we marched on, until finally we found our prize.

The lettered olive shell still sits on my computer desk, reminding me of a time when I was blissfully happy with my wee girlie (who is no longer quite so wee...SIGH).

Just looking at this photo and that shell makes me smile all over again.  With one glance, I am back on that shoreline, back in that wonderful memory.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Autumn Leaves

A little Miles Davis to brighten a chilly, rainy day at our house. "Autumn Leaves" was made for Miles to play -- love this.  Have been on a jazz kick lately, listening to a lot of the classic stuff.  But I'm always on the look-out for some new talent or performances.  If you have a new fave, please share it in the comments.

As chilly as it is this morning, and dreary, wet and gray besides, this is definitely a day for staying indoors and under a cozy blanket.  It certainly feels like the sort of day when the fireplace gets lit, and we hang around in the glow staying warm and sheltered.

Today, I am grateful for our cozy little house, and my loving little family, and all of our many blessings.

The leaves outside our windows have begun to turn, and it certainly feels like Fall is in full swing here today.  It feels like a great day to make some hot apple cider and maybe take a nap, if I can make that happen at some point in between drives back and forth to cheer practice for The Peanut.

Here's hoping...