Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

1

Well we’ve survived another holiday. Friends and relatives or you yourself are home preparing for Christmas. Tummies are full, memories stored away, and turkey refrozen to reappear in soup or in creamed this or that somewhere down the road. Snow fell outside our windows the day before Thanksgiving. Lovely fluffy clumps gathered on our lawn furniture and along the gnarly ridges of the tree boughs. We enjoyed the beauty of it for an hour or two until the sun replaced the clouds reducing it to puddles as quickly as it arrived.

Black Friday passed uneventfully as well. I dropped a few dollars here and there on line and spent some time putting up my Christmas decorations. Our family tradition is the Christmas decorations go up the day after Thanksgiving and are put back in their respective containers the day after Christmas. Always when my children were still under my roof we made a yearly trip to a local tree lot to pick out a fresh tree. Either that or we went to a Christmas tree farm and cut one down ourselves. These days I have a “tree-in-a-box” which suits our needs perfectly. Though I do miss the piney smell and the act of acquiring a fresh one. For me I liked my trees flocked. This was not always an easy sell to my husband at the time. Preferring the clumpy flocking that looks as though you came across the tree in a snowy meadow to simply spraying the whole tree white it could create a flocking disaster getting it through the door. As somehow by default I had been assigned the title “Mess Monitor” I never understood what the problem was as most likely I would be the one cleaning it up once the tree was secured in the base.

Over the years I have added at least one new decoration each holiday season to my growing assortment. As the children progressed into adulthood I have given away some here or there to their families but still have boxes of old friends who adorn my tree as each year passes. When they were in high school we used to drive into San Francisco over the holidays, specifically targeting Ghiradelli Square. Inside the shopping area there was a store, I don’t know if it still exists, run by and for the handicapped. Each year all of us would pick out one ornament made by people who were physically or mentally challenged. They still hang on my tree. How beautifully crafted these ornaments are is a testament to looking beyond what we see when looking at a person and digging a little deeper to find what lies beneath. I can remember a young woman with Down’s Syndrome in particular. When we came in the door she would run up and wrap her arms around me. Such a sweet and loving girl, easy with offering a show of affection to a stranger. I have a small stuffed bear which she made, intricate stitches and a perfectly set bear face. He sits on the front of my tree each year and reminds me of her.

Traditions, to my mind, are a lovely part of the holidays. Aunt Barbie’s shortbread, the recipe for my grandmother’s magnificent stuffing written in her hand splattered with dots of gravy. For some people, it’s dinner out at a favorite restaurant, for others it’s the smells emanating from the kitchen on Christmas morning or the screams of the children as they tear through the gifts under the tree. Part of our “holiday rules” if you will, was no tearing through the gifts. We had a “gift fairy” (When young this was a much coveted position. As they got older the mere mention of it resulted in much rolling of eyes and muttering under breaths.). The gift fairy handed out a gift to each person. One by one we opened our gifts and admired the contents, being sure to include a thank you, before placin them back under the tree.

Once I attended a holiday party where the kids were set free to open at will. It was like a school of sharks invited to a sea lion party. Good Lord. Never have I witnessed so much carnage in such a short period of time. John was opening a present marked Matthew, and Michael was examining his new Barbie actually meant for Meagan who was trying to figure out how to open a box of plastic army men. One little boy whose name escapes me, opened a package containing a dump truck. Apparently finding the truck wanting he screamed and threw the toy on the ground breaking off the cab. His mother said, “Jacob (for the sake of the story), now that wasn’t nice.” At this strong admonishment Jacob pointed a fat little finger in his mother’s direction and said, “shut up”. Really? I hope Santa was on the ball the following year with his lump of coal. For me I poured a second glass of nicely laced punch. I will say this for my two pirates, they weren’t perfect (nor was I but don’t let the cat out of the bag), however they never disrespected me (at least not to my face). Certainly never acted in such an ungrateful way. They wouldn’t have had to wait for Santa’s short list to come out to hear about it I guarantee you, had they ever decided to.

So, we’re headed down the last lap of our holiday season. The push is on toward the finish line and I’m lagging behind. I find myself wishing Christmas less about presents and more about our time together, but without voicing it aloud, I sense this would be a sentiment not met with many supporters.

As my grandchildren insist on getting older no matter how many times I’ve suggested Nana would like them to freeze in place, the cost of Christmas increases in kind. Digital goodies arrive first on the list coming in with pricey tags to go with. I leave these to their parents to sort out. We concentrate on pj’s or socks for the bigger kids and toys for the younger of the group. I have a friend who goes totally wild during the holidays lavishing extravagant gifts on her clan. Last years Christmas, she told me was not paid off until August. WHAT? That’s nuts. Not that I wouldn’t love to give my offspring and theirs whatever their little hearts desire, but I believe there is so much more I have to offer them than a video game. The finite details of what these gifts are I have to give I have not isolated as of this writing.

This lasagna requires a bit of work, but in the end is well worth the trouble. I make the sauce the day before. I usually have about 1 1/2 cups of sauce left over which I freeze to use on another pasta dish down the road.

Two-Helping Spinach Lasagna

Rich Meat Sauce

2 lbs. ground beef
3/4 lb. bulk hot Italian sausage
2 large onions, chopped
8 garlic cloves, minceed
3 14 1/2 oz. cans diced tomatoes with juice
1 14 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with green chiles
4 6 oz. cans tomato paste)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/4 cup minced parsley
2 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
4 bay leaves
1 tsp. rubbed sage
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dried marjoram
1/2 tsp. pepper

In large saucepan or dutch oven brown beef, sausage, onions and garlic over medium heat until browned. Drain fat.

Transfer to 5-quart slow cooker. Stir in remaining ingredients mixing well. Cook on low for 10 hours. Remove bay leaves.

Spinach Lasagna

1 10 oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, cooked and squeezed dry
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
1 pint low-fat cottage cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. garlic powder
Salt and black pepper
9 lasagna noodles, cooked and patted dry
1 lb. shredded Mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix together spinach, parsley, cottage cheese, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, eggs, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Cook 9 lasagna noodles according to package directions.

Spray bottom and sides of 9 x 13″ casserole dish with cooking spray. Spread 1/4 cup of sauce on bottom of prepared dish. Line three cooked noodles on top. Spread 1/2 of cottage cheese mixture evenly on top of noodles and top with 1/2 of the mozzarella cheese. Top with about 2/3 cup of sauce. Spread carefully over all the noodles. Repeat layers once.

Place last three noodles on top and cover with sauce, spreading evenly. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan.

Bake uncovered for 45-50 mins. until bubbly and brown. Allow to sit for 6 mins. before cutting. Serve with additional Parmesan cheese.

Serves 8

Read Full Post »

1
Last blog for 2014. Time is flying by and I’m getting ready to celebrate Christmas with my family. I hope the holidays bring you happiness and joy and the year before us presents a more peaceful face than the one we leave behind.

This will be a short blog as I have baking to do and a house that isn’t going to clean itself. Rick always finds it amusing that I scrub the house from top to bottom so that people can come and mess it up. For him, the logical solution would be to leave it as is, make a mess, and then only have to clean it once. Being slightly anal on my mother’s side, this solution won’t work for me.

I’m naturally neat. Early training rather than a strong desire to clean probably attributes to this trait. My grandmother and my mother are immaculate beings. Cohabiting with both ladies as a child left little room for me to run amok. By the time I was old enough to have the coordination to manage it, I was taught to make my bed. Not just to make it, but to make it as a proper bed should be made. Before climbing into it at night my toys were to be deposited in the large wooden toy box in the corner and my clothes put in the hamper. I cannot remember ever seeing the big house on Ogilvie Street a mess. There may have been an open newspaper lying next to a cup of tea or a bag of yarn by the chair in the corner, but for the most part the white glove test wouldn’t have turned up much to complain about. A lady, Ida by name, came once a week to tackle heavier cleaning such as windows, floors, and ironing. I loved Ida. Besides helping with the house she often provided extra hands in the kitchen. The woman baked the most amazing Boston cream pies I’ve ever had the pleasure to drop in my mouth. Yum. Food was always at the head of my list of priorities so when the baked goods started showing up when Ida did, we forged a bond for life.

As a youngster when I was restless and looking for something to occupy my time, Ida would fold one of her aprons in half and tie it twice around me. Handing me a whisk broom and a dust pan, I would work alongside her humming as she did while sweeping dusty corners and listening to stories about her life. Tales of eight siblings and life on her family’s farm in New Brunswick kept me sweeping and dusting for hours. Ida was a black woman of undetermined age. To me she seemed old, but then at the age of six anyone over twelve was grouped under that umbrella. As I remember she hadn’t an easy life, not that she discussed it with me. Inadvertently I overheard a conversation between my grandparents not meant for my ears, in which my grandfather spoke of Ida’s husband being out of work and Ida carrying the weight of supporting the family. Never did I hear her complain. Ida didn’t abide whining. “Complaining don’t make it any better”, was her response if I engaged such behavior. On occasion when the need arose, I was released into her care to run errands downtown. My grandmother never had a driver’s license so Ida and I would sit at the bus stop on the corner of Young Avenue and wait for the bus with the sign reading “Downtown Halifax” to take where we needed to go. A shopping bag with wheels accompanied us to carry our load, including our lunch which was usually a sandwich wrapped in waxed paper to be eaten on the lawn in the Public Gardens. Located in the center of the city, the Public Gardens with its manicured lawns, resplendent flower beds, and peaceful ponds was a lovely place to take a break after shopping. During the summer the gazebo provided a home for local musicians to entertain those interested in stopping to have a listen. Always when finished we saved the crusts for the geese and ducks lingering nearby hoping for a handout.

The first time we boarded the bus I ran and jumped into a seat right behind the driver. There is something about a man in uniform even at that young age. Quietly Ida took my hand and led me to the bench seat all the way in the back. Having no understanding at that age of why we were there I occupied myself looking out the window and chattering excitedly. This was to be my first taste of prejudice, though I didn’t recognize the flavor at the time. In those days it was the way it was. Not having an understanding of what the word involved, I lived outside of that world oblivious to its very existence. To me Ida was my friend, a great story-teller and cook, and someone I looked up to. Still do. Had she been green with purple horns I wouldn’t have noticed because to me she was simply, Ida. Unfortunately life does not remain that unlined as we get older, but each person willing to extend a hand is a step forward.

So much unrest in the world. Perhaps someday we’ll be able to let it go and accept one another for who we are. That’s my wish for this year. Have a happy holiday! See you in 2015.

When I need a really good sweet in a hurry I pull out my box of saltine crackers and make these. Another recipe that looks time consuming but isn’t.

Saltine Chocolate Caramel Bark

30 saltine crackers
1 cup butter, cubed
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup Heath English toffee bits
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheet with foil and spray well with cooking spray.

Place crackers on sheet in a single layer.

Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add sugar and bring to boil. Cook and stir for 4 mins. until sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool slightly.

Spoon equally over crackers and spread with knife. Bake for 10 mins. or until bubbly. Remove from oven.

Mix together chocolate chips and toffee bits. Sprinkle immediately on top of crackers. Wait about 5 mins. until melty. Spread with knife. Sprinkle walnuts over top.

Place in refrigerator for 1 hr. Break into pieces.

Read Full Post »

1

Well, here we are riding the crest of the the biggest holiday shopping period. Infused with the holiday spirit frenzied shoppers will be pushing and shoving their way through the weekends hoping to grab hold of purportedly some of the greatest bargains of the year. Merchants were practically giving away TV’s last weekend simply for entering their stores, and tablets could be picked up for a song (so to speak). For me, I sat in my warm dining room with my flannel pajama bottoms on. My feet tucked in fuzzy slippers, fingers poised over my keyboard, I accomplished a bit of holiday magic for mine and theirs on Cyber Monday.

Whatever happened to Christmas? Is it somewhere buried beneath all the gift receipts?? Choirs, carolers, picking out a tree at the tree lot, and hot chocolate with huge marshmallows floating about on top are images I have of the the holidays. Are these time-honored holiday traditions to be tossed out one day with the crumpled Christmas wrapping? I hope not.  I can’t even seem to locate a good old-fashioned Christmas movie to watch while baking my cookies. I’m looking for “It’s a Wonderful Life”, or “Miracle on 34th Street” (the original). Instead I’m left with passable but rather syrupy Hallmark offerings or a smattering of made for TV dysfunctional family movies. Another movie I never miss over the holidays is Christmas Vacation, which I finally located and taped. Even though I’ve seen Clark Griswold and ol’ Uncle Eddie over and over I still laugh every time. According to my television guide I have to pay to see many of these movies this year. Really? I’ve seen my cable bill. I’m sure I’ve already paid for the privilege many times over. Never does it cease to amaze me with a gazillion channels available to watch, when I sit down to actually view something I can’t find one thing of interest. Paid programming seems to dominate the airways late at night. With the flick of the remote you can find out about hair replacement, wrinkle cream, and how to manage your 401K.

Behind me my tree is happily blinking. Excited to be out of the box and assembled once again it shines gloriously for one month out of the year showing off for the other trees huddled in the rain outside my window. In my living room the card table is set up. Today I make felt mice to attach to the pile of candy canes sitting in the middle of it. Small gestures of appreciation for my friends at the food bank. Truly I have gotten more from them working there then I have ever been able to give back.

Ordering on-line has its pitfalls as well. Thieves are targeting front porch drop offs, waiting for the delivery truck to pull off then grabbing unattended packages. Some are actually following the trucks waiting for them to stop. The Grinch is alive and well and barreling down on Whoville once again this year I’m afraid. There’s another of my favorite Christmas movies, but I digress. One such thief even took his little daughter with him while stealing a package. There’s a holiday message for you, yes? The family that steals together ends up on Inside Edition together or something like that. What a legacy to pass on to your children. “Remember that Christmas when you and Daddy lifted that Kitchenaid Mixer from our neighbor’s house? Now that was a Christmas.” Perhaps a coffee cup appropriately depicting his “mug” shot would serve as a nostalgic reminder? Holiday cards are created from such moments. I’m sure the elves at Hallmark are on it as we speak. The Incarceration Christmas Series.

Shoplifting will be in high gear with the stores packed with holiday buyers. I watched a news piece the other day about pickpockets. A retired pickpocket showed in detail how easily he picked pockets when he was in the biz. How does that play out on your resume? Where do you go once you’ve retired from lifting wallets? Also, doesn’t this hone the skills for those amateurs not yet up to speed on their pocket picking skills? If they didn’t already know how to do it, surely now they’ve got the tools to move forward. You can always count on the media to provide those so inclined with the information to really create some misery out there in our world.

I watched pictures of people getting in fist fights over an electronic item. People camped out overnight in the cold to save $100 on a desired appliance. It would have to come with a winning lottery ticket to get me to entertain such an idea. There is nothing I need that badly.

Looking back I do remember one year when my children were still Santa followers. My daughter, Heather, had a favorite doll. Not sure if she’s still around but her name was Mrs. Beasley. She was fashioned after a doll on a TV show with Brian Keith called Family Affair. These days a show titled such as this would be a reality show, but back then it was a rather thsaccharine but surprisingly enjoyable TV series about a single dad and his two kids. Plot lines were similar to family series previewing before it, such as Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver. Basically, the kids get in trouble, dad catches them, they learn a lesson, everybody gets ice cream. At any rate, Mrs. Beasley was a popular toy spawned from that series. My daughter’s first Mrs. Beasley met an unfortunate end flying out an open window on the way to Yosemite. Although we pulled over to rescue her, the last we saw of her she was caught under a tire headed south. Sigh. Heather was inconsolable. Santa, who fixes such situations, was alerted. Mrs. Beasley was added to the growing list of toys required from Santa’s industrious toy shop personnel on the 25th.

As Christmas approached a babysitter was hired and my husband and I hit the stores. First on the list was the elusive Mrs. Beasley. Easy peasey. After three stores and no luck a slight pang of panic crept in. No Mrs. Beasley was to be had. A popular lady at the time it appeared. A local store ran an ad a few days later featuring  the bespectacled doll on the front page above a small print notice saying “supply limited – first come first serve”.  At 5 a.m. I found myself sitting in front of a store in a lawn chair shivering waiting for the doors to open. One other person sat with me in the dark, and I’m not sure she wasn’t homeless. We would have spoken but our jaws were frozen shut. Finally, after three hours in the cold I was the first customer to enter the store. Making a mad dash for the doll section, I grabbed one of three Mrs. Beasley’s on a display rack. Holding her as though I’d just crawled across the desert and she was a glass of iced cold tea I paid the asking price, and would have paid much more. Never was she as wholly loved as the original. Heather explained this to me this way. “If our beloved cat, Kitty (I know) passed away, even if we got a new cat who looked exactly the same it still wouldn’t be Kitty.” Ah, the simple wisdom of children. In the end she was still well-loved and retired with grace when Heather entered middle school. I guess we all have something we’re willing to go the extra mile for.

These bars are pretty on the table resembling bark. Easy to put together as well. I originally snagged the recipe from Something Extra, Raley’s giveaway, but didn’t like the caramel drizzle so this is my version of their recipe.

Chocolate Toffee Bars

1/2 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg, beaten
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1/4 up Heath English Toffee bits
1/4 cup milk chocolate chips
1/2 tsp. shortening
Caramel drizzle

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line 8″ square cake pan with foil. Coat with butter.

Cream butter, sugar, and vanilla extra. Add egg and mix well. Add flour and salt to butter mixture and stir slightly.
Stir in walnuts and toffee bits to form dough. Mix with hands if necessary.

Press dough into bottom of pan. Bake for 30 mins.

Make caramel drizzle below.

Remove bars from oven and allow to cool. Remove from pan and cut into 30 squares leaving room between each square.

Melt chocolate and 1/2 tsp. shortening in microwave for 1 min. 30 sec. on high.

Drizzle lines of chocolate across bars going one way and lines of caramel sauce going to other. Yum.

Makes 30 bars

Caramel drizzle

1/2 cup heavy cream
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 to 1 tsp. kosher salt (to taste)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. light corn syrup
2 Tbsp. water

In a small saucepan, gently heat the cream, butter, and salt until the butter has melted and the salt has completely dissolved. Remove from heat. Add vanilla.

In larger saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, and water. Heat over a med.-high, swirling the pot occasionally to distribute the heat evenly.

Continue to boil the sugar mixture until the bubbles begin to get smaller and it becomes amber-colored.
Reduce the heat to low, and pour in the warm cream mixture, whisking constantly to avoid lumps or crystals.
Immediately transfer the hot mixture to a heat-safe vessel and cool slightly.

Credit for this lovely sauce goes to http://bakingamoment.com/simply-perfect-salted-caramel-sauce/.

Read Full Post »

1Ach, I have been sick. It seems fall is going to insist on my remaining inside on these glorious color filled days. Most probably I’ll be feeling better by the time the rain moves in next week. The word hospital came up when I was told I needed to go home and take care of myself. Susie’s kryptonite. I do not like hospitals. The smell, the sadness, the desperation. Also, I am a firm believer it is not unusual to pick up a little something extra besides the bill when you are departing. A friend of mine got a staff infection while in the hospital for a hernia operation and never came out. He was fifty. The only part of a hospital that makes me smile is the obstetrics section, and only as an observer there. The last time I was interred, as I prefer to call it, I made it through all the procedures but the most painful part of my stay was the food. Some of the chefs must have been recruited directly from Purina. They did a nice job with Jello and whipped cream and tapioca but other than that I feared I would die from starvation before being once again released into the wild.  It was the first hospital stay where I was offered a menu from which to choose my meals. Amazingly no matter what choice I made they all tasted the same when you put them in your mouth.

Certainly we need hospitals. Dedicated people who staff them, for the most part, do a rough job with a good attitude. I wouldn’t want to do it. As I’ve said before I considered being an R.N. as a vocation, before choosing instead to be, uh, …………, whatever. My grandmother was an R.N. This is how she met my grandfather, who was to be a doctor. Three uncles were physicians, and my second cousin just graduated from medical school. With all that medical blood coursing through my veins it’s amazing I chose instead to be, uh, ……………., whatever.

To add to the mix, Thanksgiving will be here in a few weeks and right on its heels Christmas. Help. On my sewing table are patterns pinned to pieces of fabric. Each Christmas for about five years I get orders for aprons. Combining my artwork with the sewing, I make each apron unique with a general theme to guide me provided by the buyer. It’s a project, but one I enjoy when I’m both feeling well and have the time to devote to it. Neither is true at the moment but I’m muddling through.

Christmas always seems to sneak up on me. In October it seems a long distance off, but in a blink I look at the calendar and it’s November. Suddenly the month is powering by and I haven’t even thought about gifts or plans and it’s all right there throwing tinsel in my face. Traditionally I put my Christmas decorations up the weekend after Thanksgiving. It’s one of my favorite times of the year. Already Christmas Vacation and The Bishop’s Wife are waiting on my DVD, and the hot chocolate is in the cupboard next to the marshmallows.

Rick didn’t start out as a likely candidate for elf’s assistant. At some point he will take out his “Christmas Sucks” hat to show his support. Over the years I’ve never been associated with a male partner or mate who threw himself into the decorating with me. Several have gotten on the ladder and hung outdoor lights but usually it is me with my sea of boxes wearing my elf hat with the bells and singing happily to the cat.  A Christmas movie deal is not on the table for this story, but it makes me happy.  For the first time this year he said he looks forward to the lights and the blinking tree (not a euphemism). It is true when all is said and done the house takes on a warm and friendly feel not duplicated any other time of the year.

Boxes line the upper shelves of my garage marked Xmas or Christmas. This house being much smaller than our previous home, I have to be careful not to turn it into a Christmas store or put some of the larger items in places where they can be knocked off or become a hazard. Thinking on it, I need a larger house for the holidays with this one doing fine the remainder of the year.

I haven’t been out all week so today is the day. Our larder is bare and the dog has no bone. Oh, I don’t have a dog, but if I did he definitely wouldn’t find a bone in the cupboard. Rick said he went looking for a snack last night and settled on a stale graham cracker and some string cheese. Mmmmmm. Maybe I’ll feature this in my next blog?

In our house the shopping is mostly left to me. A list maker from way back, I always have a long one when I get to it and Rick gets antsy after about ten minutes in a store. Honestly I like grocery shopping for the most part. Making a list makes it easy for me. Somehow I seem to manage to omit one item no matter what only to get home and find I have to go back out again. It’s a personal problem.

Anyhow, I’ll make this list short for today. This cauliflower was really good and totally different. Give it a try if you get a chance. The lime juice and salsa give it a lovely tang.

South of the Border Cauliflower

l large head cauliflower
1 onion, diced
Juice of one lime
1 15 1/2 oz. can of petite diced tomatoes with juice
3 Tbsp. hot chunky salsa
1/4 cup Feta cheese, crumbled
Cilantro
Salt and pepper

Place diced onion in small bowl with lime juice. Let sit for 15 mins. to soften onions.

Steam cauliflower and drain well. Season with salt an pepper to taste.

Heat tomatoes and salsa over medium heat until hot. Add onion mixture.

Pour over hot cauliflower florets. Top with feta cheese and sprinkle with cilantro.

Serves 4

Read Full Post »

I’m packing and getting organized to hit the road for a few days. Both my other half and I get a little squirrely when headed for the Bay Area because every time we make a visit something peculiar happens. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, our older cat jumped out the window in the middle of the road time before last. This, after a previous visit where we went to dinner at one of our favorite Bay Area restaurants famous for their prime rib. I ordered the lumberjack cut (not really, but it was at least a Mrs. Bunyun size), with a baked potato that would have made any Idahoan puff out his chest, and fresh lemon broccoli. OMG. I hadn’t eaten all day so that I could enjoy this sumptuous dinner guilt-free. Cutting a slice off the perfectly cooked rib, I dipped it in the au jus and placed it in my mouth. Mmmmm. Biting down I heard a snap, not a good snap mind you, and suddenly found my mouth full of meat and hardware. It seemed that I had a stress fracture in my partial plate that decided to relieve the stress at precisely that moment. Nothing else to do, I deposited all this in my napkin. I looked up to find the rest of the table staring at me, and people at adjacent tables foraging madly through their plates lest they find whatever I found on my plate in their’s as well. Without the molars and assorted teeth attached to my partial, chewing was not an option, and if I smiled I looked like the before pictures on the slide show in the dentist’s office. Sigh. A waiter boxed up my dinner and I sat politely insisting my tablemates enjoyed their meals and order something sweet to wash it down with. Thankfully I’m the only one that dabbles in a little mind reading or it might have turned nasty.

So, there I was out of town on a Saturday night with no way to use my teeth and no way to fix them. That Sunday we were going to have friends and family in for a barbecue and some fun. Now, I’m not overly vain but I do draw the line at showing up with 40% of my upper teeth missing. Call it what you will. Another of my angels must have been watching over me because after numerous tries I located a dentist, truly I would have kissed his feet washed or unwashed, that was kind enough to show up on a Sunday morning and I had my teeth and most of my dignity back before the crowd arrived later on in the day.

Teeth are an issue in our family. Definitely not one of our strengths. I have struggled with mine since I was a kid, as did my mother and grandmother before me. Unfortunately, my children are now dealing with the gift that keeps on giving. My son had a retainer by the time he was four that held his two upper front teeth. This, not because he inherited bad teeth genes, but because he inherited his father’s devilish good looks. From the time the child erupted from the womb women were drawn to him as if they were paper clips and he was a magnet. As he tells it it is both a blessing and a curse, but in his heart of hearts I believe he leans toward the latter.

At four he went to pre-school, as I worked full-time. There were several early bloomers of the female persuasion that pursued him relentlessly trying to hug and kiss him. Complaints were registered daily on the drive home. Being a four-year old boy playing with his army men got much more of his attention then some clingy female insisting on planting her wee lips on his. Later on down the line puberty naturally corrected this issue. One day after dropping him off and getting my usual air kiss, I arrived at work to receive a phone call from one of the day care directors apologetically informing me that one of the young ladies, apparently rebuffed once again by my son, picked up a metal swing and aimed it in direction of his mouth knocking out both his front teeth. As they were standing in a huge sandbox at the time, the teeth naturally blended in with the environment and were lost.

After consulting a dentist, it seemed that as these were his baby teeth a retainer would need to be purchased to keep his mouth in balance. Getting a four-year old boy to keep track of a dental appliance much less keep one in his mouth is nearly impossible. I would find it stuck between the couch cushions, on the floor under his Lego’s, in his mashed potatoes, you name in. Finally our cocker spaniel, Ginger, who considered everything a food source, found it and excitedly chewed the teeth off, recycling them in the yard a day later. We chose not to have them replaced.

Soooo, I just took my partial in once again to have it repaired. It seems I need a new one. They gave me an estimate and a Tylenol for my headache after I read it.

Still, I’m feeling merry. Making pumpkin bread today and chocolate chip cookies for my stepdad. Have a great day!

I made these in a 6 slot large muffin pan.  If you wish to make a larger amount double the batch and increase the cooking time accordingly.  These are really handy for the holidays.  I sometimes make them the day before and store them wrapped in plastic to be heated up on Christmas morning.  That way you can have a cup of coffee before you put on your apron.  Yummy. 

You can change and vary according to what you prefer as far as fillings.  I’m including some of my favorites. The basic recipe will make 6 servings.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees – Cook approximately 60 mins. or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Basic Quiche Recipe

6 large eggs
2 cups half and half
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. paprika

Whisk all ingredients together in large mixing bowl. Place in over toppings in muffin tin in six 1/2 cup increments.

Spinach

1 pkg. frozen creamed spinach
3 oz. or about 6 Tbsp. brie, Rondele garlic and herb cheese spread, Swiss cheese or gruyere or all of the above
6 pieces of crisp bacon, crumbled

Spray pan with cooking spray. Place 1 Tbsp. of spinach in the bottom of each slot. Top with 1 Tbsp. of cheese and 1 piece of crumbled bacon. Pour 1/2 cup of egg/half and half mixture over top of each.

South of the Border

6 breakfast sausages or li’l Smokies, sliced in 1/2″ slices
3 oz. or 6 generous Tbsp. of Mexican blend cheese or Monterey Jack
6 tsp. mild green chiles (canned and drained)
1 green onion, chopped fine and divided into six shares

Layer 1 sausage each in each slot, followed by 1 Tbsp. of cheese, 1 tsp. of chilies (you can substitute jalapeno if you prefer), and 1/6 of the chopped onion.
Top with 1/2 cup of egg/half and half mixture and bake as directed above. Serve with salsa, sour cream and guacamole if desired.

Original Joe’s

1/4 lb. ground beef
1/3 cup onion, chopped finely
3 oz. or approximately 6 Tbsp. Monterey Jack cheese
1 10 oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed

Brown beef and onion until beef is thoroughly cooked. Drain. Place 1/6 of meat in each slot. Top with 1 Tbsp. of spinach, and 1 Tbsp. of cheese. Pour 1/2 cup of eggs/half and half mixture over all. Cook as directed above.

Yummy!

Read Full Post »

If you are like a number of Americans these days you’re in the business of pinching pennies, pulling rabbits out of hats, and “a wishin and a hopin” that something’s going to change here pretty quick. This morning I read a news item that is simply mind blowing. It seems that if you totalled the combined wealth of 6 of the Walton heirs (Walmart) the sum would be equal to the total wealth of the entire 30% poorest Americans. That’s almost obscene, if you think about it in those terms. I’m not saying I begrudge them money they earned, I just can’t wrap my arms around those kind of numbers. Unreal.

If you totalled mine, and included the change jars with my “mad money” in them on the window sill, I could finance a Zagnut and family sized buttered popcorn. Sigh.

What would that look like, I wonder, seeing that in your bank account? For me it would look like either the bank computers had been infected with a malevolant virus , or I’d inadvertantly gained access to someone elses account and was about to be handcuffed and carted off to jail. Whew.

Over the years, as most of us have I would imagine, I have had lean years thrown in with the fat years, and some years heavier on the lean and lighter on the fat and visa versa. I’ve run the gambut from subsisting on a steady diet of Vienna sausage and processed cheese sticks for two weeks (talk about binding), to periods of extreme prosperity that afforded me the priviledge of having enough available jing to enjoy many of the finer things in life, like home ownership, travel, nice clothing, and weekend getaways. However, when I read about people who have amassed fortunes of this size I can’t help but wonder what being a fly on the wall of their pool house would be like.

I have questions. For instance, what do you do in a house with fourteen bathrooms? How many does one need, one wonders? In an emergency situation which one do you use, or do you choose randomly for variety and surprise yourself? What must your toilet paper bill for the month be like?

Once I read a story about a particular star that listed some of her expenses for a given month. Fresh flowers to fill all the vases in several homes cost one quarter of the total value of my house. Remember, this is for a thirty day period. I would like to hope that there were some exotic orchids, or heirloom roses thrown in there for that price, or perhaps, say, a Mazaratti. Nails, hair and shoes for the year far exceeded an above average yearly income for middle class Americans. Mine exceed the average for a box of wine, two cheeseburgers and biggee fries. Failure is a heavy mantle of responsibility which I bear nobly.

I’m particuarly curious about if a person can virtually have pretty much whatever he or she wants, what would they choose? If you already have a private jet, what’s next, a personal submarine, your own military? How much is too much, and are you happy when you have all that or do you have to keep acquiring more to feed the need? Maybe that’s why you read about celebrities who require outrageous treatment while on a movie set. These demands are sometimes laid out in multiple page documents including requests for exotic foods, the walls painted in a particular shade, exacting beverage choices, specifically scented candles, or perhaps their toenails to be painted hourly by Peruvian mirror image identical twin contortionists with one blue and one brown eye each on the opposite side of their faces. People that have to identify their needs that specifically, quite possibly are running out of things they can think of to need. Then what do you do? Start paring down and start over?

All this is coming to mind because I also heard that a trend is taking hold where people are creating gift “wish lists” online or at stores, such as you would for a shower or wedding, for friends and loved ones to chose from when selecting their Christmas gifts. Really? No more fringed pole lamps with nude Greeks dancing on the border from Aunt Barbara, or pajamas with feet in them and a convenient rear trap door from your grandmother? Huh. Don’t like it. Why don’t we just skip it altogether? I’ll tell you that I was planning to spend $50.00 on you, and you indicate that you were going to spend $40.00 on me. A bit cheap, but okay. I’ll forward you $10.00 in an envelope to make up the difference. We’ll just agree not to buy each other anything and spend the designated amount on ourselves thus ensuring we both get what we want. Is it me or does that kind of take the “giving” out of gift giving. What happens to the hand created items, like quilts, mittens, hats, etc. made with love by our relatives? I suppose it would eliminate standing in the return lines the first of the year, but part of the spirit, at least for me, of Christmas is trying to select something for those that you love that you hope they will enjoy.

I try to keep my ears open during the year when people are discussing things they are missing in their kitchens or something special they would like to have but won’t purchase for themselves and keep a few notes. I’m sure I’ve given some real dogs over the years that have been regifted or become permanent dust gatherers in an attic or on a closet shelf, but when somebody gives me something that they’ve taken the time to shop for and personally select for me, I treasure it because they made the effort, even if it is a turquoise retro toaster with a special slot for pop tarts. Even then.

Anyhow, I don’t know if money or things make you happier. The happiest moments in my life are not always consistent with what I have but always consistent with my attitude and who I shared them with. From the behaviors of the chosen few that have so much and constantly find their faces in the news, it doesn’t seem so from the outside. Just meanderings on a Friday.

This is a great salad. Easy and delicious, my mantra. Looks pretty on the table, rarely anything left in the bowl but air, and somebody always asks for the recipe.

Cajun Style Tossed Salad with Caramelized Pecans

1 3/4 cups pecan halves
1/4 cup white sugar
1 Tbsp. butter
salt (taste)
1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper or to taste
1 tsp garlic powder
2 small cans mandarin oranges, drained
1 pkg. rommaine hearts, washed cut for salad
3 slices crisp bacon, crumbled
1/4 red onion, sliced thin and slices quartered
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
Freshly ground black pepper

To caramelize pecans:

Melt butter in non-stick skillet. Add sugar, pecans, cayenne, and garlic powder. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, on med-low until sugar begins to melt and stick to bottom of the pan (4-5 mins).

Lower heat to low and continue stirring constantly until sugar liquifies and pecans are fully coated – 3-4 mins.

Remove immediately from heat and spread on foil lined cookie sheet to cool. Sprinkle with salt as desired.

Dressing

2 8 oz. pkg. Good Seasons Italian Dressing Mix
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
6 Tbsp. water
1 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp. mandarin orange juice (reserve before draining can)
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 small can of mandarin oranges, drained (reserve 1 Tbsp.) and chopped finely

Mix together oil, vinegar, olive oil, and 1 Tbsp. mandarin orange juice reserved from can. Whisk in dressing mix and pepper flakes. Add chopped mandarin oranges. Place in tightly covered container and shake vigorously until well mixed.

To prepare salad:

In large bowl put chopped greens, onion, 1 1/2 cans whole mandarin oranges, drained, caramelized pecans, and bacon crumbles. Add freshly ground pepper as desired. Pour desired amount of dressing on top and toss until well mixed. Sprinkle with crumbled blue cheese. Serve with extra dressing on the side.

Read Full Post »

After my husband passed away, I found myself a single mother in my late twenties with two children, seven and eight.  The responsibility of being the sole provider, both in the physical and emotional sense, could, at times be overwhelming.  If you made a decision that effected their lives there was no one else to run it by, so often I just crossed my fingers and believed that I was doing the right thing, or, at the very least, doing the best I could.

Their dad passed away in May of that year and, although things had settled into a normal routine, getting ready for the holidays soon approaching was difficult.  There was a life insurance policy that was on its way to help but wouldn’t arrive until the first of the following year, so I made do on my salary as best I could.  My parents, as always, were very supportive, but I had a certain need to stand on my own feet and not lean on them unless I had no place else to lean. 

I had found us a condominium to rent.  The landlady had been a single mother herself, so she cut the rent and allowed me to move in without a huge deposit.  For that, I was truly thankful.  Between the rent, utilities, food, and just basic upkeep for two children, money was tight.  At the time, believe it or not, I’d never had my own bank account, depending more on my husband to take care of the finances. Although I had always held down a full-time job I obviously had little financial savvy, so I kept my money in an envelope in my top dresser drawer and managed my bills with money orders. 

Managing to save enough money out of my checks to make a decent showing under the tree, I deposited the last of it in my trusty envelope and left for work one morning.  Arriving at the house with the children after work I found the front door jimmied and many of our possessions, including the envelope in the dresser drawer, were gone.  The police came and took a report, but apparently the likelihood of ever seeing any of our things returned was slim to none.

That weekend was about a seven weeks shy of December 25th.  I remember putting my children to bed, and getting in bed myself, pulling the covers up to my chin and wondering what I was going to do. 

On the day following, which was a Sunday, my daughter was in the front yard riding her bike and I was vacuuming the house (those were the days when children played outside, in case anyone takes offense).  She came in shortly after and pulled on my shirt to get my attention over the noise of the vacuum.  I turned it off and leaned down to see what she needed.  In her hand she held a large wad of bills.  Immediately I asked where she’d gotten the money and she told me she’d found it in the ivy out in front of the complex.   After counting it, we totalled $150.00 in small bills.  Her first question was how we would find who it belonged to.  Okay, I wanted to justify that perhaps it was just an answer to a prayer, but with that small face looking up at me, I made a decision.  We went door to door in the complex itself asking if anyone had lost anything valuable recently.  We posted signs in the laundry room, and in a last ditch effort to find the rightful owner contacted the police.  I was told that if nobody claimed it for a certain period of time, it would come back to us. 

Amazingly I got a call the alloted of time later informing me that it had never been claimed, and the police officer who’d come to house to take the report actually delivered it to me personally.  There are so many angels out there in the world.  Now I had the money to buy a few toys and some much needed clothes, but the tree was proving an issue.  I had a few ornaments and a couple of strings of lights, but trees were expensive and I had to make a decision to let the tree go in lieu of having something for them to open, so that’s what I did.

About four days before Christmas I was in the kitchen baking cookies and dicing slightly stale bread, celery, onions and mushrooms  for stuffing for the bird sitting in the refrigerator.  The doorbell rang and my little girl went to answer it while I dried my hands, catching her just around the corner.  “Mommy”, she said, “the tree’s here”.  Taking my hand she dragged me to the front door where I found a beautiful six foot tree surrounded with boxes filled with ornaments, lights, and an angel to go on top. 

I asked everyone I knew if they’d done it and nobody took credit.  I never have known where it came from, but whoever did it definitely enriched our Christmas in a way they will never know. 

Life sometimes, offers up miracles, when you feel you’ve tapped out your resources looking for one.  So, that’s my Christmas story for today.

As a child in Nova Scotia we harvested the chestnuts from the ground on the school yard and along the route home and my grandmother roasted them, or used them in stuffing. This is my version of hers. She was a tea-tottler so sherry would only have been added in case of emergency. Smile.

Roast Turkey with Chestnut Stuffing

10 lb. fresh turkey
1/4 cup butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. rosemary
1/4 tsp. thyme
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Chestnut Stuffing

8 bacon slices, diced
1/2 lb. fresh chestnuts, cooked, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
1/8 cup sherry
1/2 lb. button mushrooms, chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup fresh white breadcrumbs
1 egg, beaten
1/2 bunch of watercress, finely chopped

For the stuffing: Saute bacon, onion, and mushrooms in skillet over low heat until fat is released. Add the chestnuts and cook over medium heat for 10 mins. until bacon is crisp. Add bread crumbs.
salt and pepper to taste.

Move to a large bowl and cool thoroughly. Add beaten egg, watercress, sherry, and salt and pepper. Mix well.

Clean and dry turkey. Salt and pepper cavity liberally. In chest cavity place two peeled white onions.

Spoon cold stuffing into neck end of bird. Pull skin over and secure with skewer.

Mix together softened butter, garlic, thyme, rosemary, parsley, and pepper into a paste. Slather the butter over the bird adding salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place turkey breast side up on rack in roasting pan. Roast for 3-3 1/2 hours until a long fork inserted in thigh has juices run clear. If bird is getting too brown during cooking, tent with aluminum foil. When cooked, let stand tented until ready to serve.

As a note, this is a good site for how to cook the chestnuts. http://homecooking.about.com/od/nuts/a/chestnuttips.htm

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: