Friday, November 30, 2007

Should Have, Would Have, but Didn't - The Price of a Surprise

When the kids were younger it was much easier to get all of my Christmas shopping done before Thanksgiving. In fact, I prided myself in only having to pick out things for my Secret Santa as almost everything else was already done. Now it is different. I need their input much more. I have recently stumbled in this endeavor. I have been in the stores with both children when they have wanted something that was on a reasonable sale price and then when I went back to get it, the item was gone. Ellie had wished for a special comforter for her bed. It was from Target. It had lovely flannel with multicolored, funky snowflakes on one side and snowmen on the other. Ethan had wanted two things, the chocolate fountain miss being the bigger of the two mistakes. He has wanted one for a few years. I have not bought one because they cost a lot of money, are bulky to store and who needs so much sugar? However, when the $80 model from Sam's club was on clearance for $19 he had high hopes. So did I they had 15 of them on the clearance rack. I was already buying a lot of groceries and I could not stomach spending more. When I went back the next day they were gone, baby, gone. I had them check all of the stores and there was none to be had. Ellie was bummed as well as Ethan. She had hopes of being the gift giver with that one. So this causes me to wonder if the cost of a surprise under the tree is worth my missing those opportunities. As I get older and people get harder to shop for, I am thinking maybe getting the right thing is more important than "Surprise! Look what I picked out for you!" I am not fully convinced, but I am giving it some thought.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

And So Begins the Christmas Season at Our House

Right after Thanksgiving was over, my kids were ready to embrace all the fun of the Christmas season. I went down to the present closet and found wonderful 90% off purchased I made last January. (I love when I do that - what fun - two times over, at least.) I found three new Christmas music CDs that I got at Whole Foods, the fine organic grocery store here. I also found a few different crafting kits. One was for a photo advent calendar. It was a great idea, but too intense and needy. I cut mine up for another project I hope to tackle this evening. The other was for making paper ornaments. Those were such fun! One was easy to put together. The kit had rub-on words, fun stickers and other embellishments. The other was much more difficult. Ethan loved those. Those involved 20 circles that were folded in three places. It took a bit of figuring out, but we've got it now. I kept the directions so that we can make more with circles I cut out on my Cricut. You can see the finished products in the photo above. The down side was that the adhesive was worn out. It was a delightful opportunity to pull out my handy dandy mini stapler with colored staples. That solved the problem and made the stapler seem kind of festive. The next day Ellie and I made gingerbread cookies. I was amazed with how many we ended up with. We pulled out our cookie decorating stuff and borrowed some from my mother. I was thrilled to find that she had some silver dragees. They are hard to find and expensive these days. I am secretly hoping that she will let me keep them. My one disappointment is that I cannot find either of my beautiful copper snowflake cookie cutters. One year we cut out all kinds of them, decorated them with royal icing and my beloved silver dragees, along with edible glitter and hung them with ribbon in the windows. I will have to look some more to see if I can find them.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Yummy Muffins

I love to read other people's blogs. I rarely leave comments, but I often try the recipes they post. I knew I wanted to have some instant fun food to hand to my family and friends while we were getting ready for Thanksgiving dinner, shopping and for Ethan to take when he went snowboarding. I made my usual healthy muffins that my husband would live on if I let him, gingerbread muffins and Apricot Almond Muffins from a recipe that I found on Bemused blog. Honestly, she was my inspiration for this jag of cooking. The muffins were a great hit. If you have not visited Be*mused, you ought to. Here's her recipe:

Apricot Almond Muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup diced dried apricots (I prefer Sun-Maid California sun-dried apricots. I use the full bag.)
1/3 cup sliced natural almonds

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Stir until well blended. Add diced apricots, stir, set aside.

3. In separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk, melted butter, egg and vanilla. Add the liquid ingredients all at once and fold until evenly moistened. Don't overmix! (The key to perfect muffins!)

4. Divide the batter evenly among a dozen prepared muffin cups. (Butter or line with paper muffin liners.) Sprinkle the almonds evenly on the tops. Bake until tops are golden and a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. (20-22 minutes.)

5. Cool on a wire rack before removing from pan. Yield: 12 muffins.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

My Life as Told Through My Dishes - Thanksgiving Day

As Ellie and I set out the dishes that we needed for Thanksgiving, I realized that you could tell a bit of my history through the connections I have with my special dishes. The first one is my fine china. We got 7 place settings when we got married. I wish that I had bought an 8th one and that I had asked for the accessory pieces to go with it. Now the pattern is discontinued. I can only buy what I can find through a special dealer. Receiving these as gifts was a big thrill. They represented the future I was wishing for. We don't use them often, but I love when we do.

Next up is my pottery salad bowl. This is a special item I got when we went on a trip to Wisconsin. Ethan was just about two years old. I was lucky enough to be a stay-at-home mom at the time. We were always broke. We had sold our second car and were only paying cash for things in order to become debt free (if you did not count our house loan.) A friend of ours has a house on the lake in Madison County. He said that if we could get ourselves there that we could stay in his house for a week. When we arrived we found that he had left us each $100 to spend. I got this at "Pottery by Thor" in Egg Harbor. I love the bowl. It is a blend of beauty and function. I was fun to be able to buy such a luxurious thing without worrying about paying for it.

Next up is the turkey platter I painted for my mother. I painted it at a paint- your-own-pottery studio that my friend Natalie open and ran. I was very careful to put the kind of designs that my mother always points out in catalogs. I also used her favorite colors. It was a sort of grown up version of coloring a picture for my mommy. It made use both feel good.

The blue snowflake plates are linked, in a way, to the turkey platter. Only I was on the receiving end. Natalie and I used to love looking at the catalogs and the bisque. I always gravitated towards these shapes. One of the times she came for a long weekend she surprised me by bringing me these pieces of bisque. We made all kinds of things that weekend. It was also on the edge of the time when my kids were little enough to enjoy allowing my to put their hand prints on all kinds of things. Each time I get these out I think of that gesture Natalie made and how I felt like she really "saw me" and gave me something from her heart. The kids also have fun measuring up how their hands have grown.
The final one is the blue plate with Ellie's Cinnamon Orange Snow recipe. I bought the blue plates on the day when our remodeling was done and we could move back into the main floor of our house. We needed dishes badly. Most of the ones I loved were too expensive. The Gods of Good Deals for People Who Need Them smiled on me that day and I found boxes of four place settings for $5 a box. I bought several and now we are good even when some get broken. The oranges were a special recipe that Ellie created for the holidays. You quarter clementine oranges, set them on a bed of shaved ice and then sprinkle them with cinnamon and sugar. They were quite good.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

ThanksGiving Decorations

As much as I enjoy the silliness of my Halloween decorations, so do I enjoy the calm beauty of the minimal Thanksgiving decorations I have. My little windows sport a few things which I might post soon. I tried to take a photo of them but the light was too bright and they only came out as silhouettes. The items here are really only for decoration. The plates are fun, but I use my good china that we got when we were married for the actual feast. I love the little bell. The leaf plates were this year's new addition. The funny thing was when I unpacked this stuff I could not remember the word that I had spelled. I kept looking at it and wondering what the "r" was for. Ellie helped me remember that it was "Grateful." I was grateful for her help with it. I also felt a bit like a dork. You'd think that since I made them, I would remember the word I embellished!

Monday, November 12, 2007

New England Cran-Maple Chutney Recipe & Talking at Races

I am in a funny place. I have both been planning for and anticipating Thanksgiving, and feeling like it crept up on me. It is a week and a half away. I feel both behind schedule and right on track. Funny, kind of silly, kind of place to be. Anyhow, here's the next recipe I want to try. I was going to make it this weekend, but I could not find crystallized ginger at my regular grocery store. They had all manner of funky stuff like candied pineapple and crystallized cherries, but no ginger. I will scope it out at another store and report back. I found this in our local newspaper and then on the ButterBall Turkey website. I think it will be good:

New England Cran-Maple Chutney

Prep: 15 minutes Cook: 10 - 20 minutes Ready In: Less than 2 1/2 hours Servings: 8 servings (3 cups total)

1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
2 tablespoons
lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey Dijon-style mustard
1 bag
(12 ounce) fresh cranberries
1/2 cup (2.5oz) chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup sugar


1. Combine all ingredients in heavy medium saucepan. 2. Bring to boil on medium heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes or until cranberries begin to pop and mixture thickens. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours to chill and allow flavors to blend. 3. Transfer chutney to a bowl and serve with roasted Butterball Turkey.


Chutney mixture can be prepared and refrigerated up to 1 week before serving.

We spent the weekend at races. Now if you read this blog often you will see that I spend nearly every weekend at the races, but this time it was even more true. On Saturday we helped put the race on so we were there nearly all day. I volunteered to serve food for 2 hours, but the other folks did not show and people were so happy for free food that I stayed. My kids were happily hanging out with other kids, so it was all good. I made special aprons with our team logo on them. Too bad I don't have a photo to show you. I served up over 400 hot dogs, 150 bowls of soup and over 200 muffins. We also had fruit. One of the team parents made a Starbucks run and brought back a Chia with soy milk. It was great. I had been craving one. I do not buy myself Starbuck so it was a real treat. It was a great day for a bike race. Sunday was a good race, too. Ethan stayed home sick and Ellie came in second place. As we were walking to the car she asked me why everyone wants to talk to me. It seems that I am sort of a walking information site. I am also easy to spot since I have such long and distinctly straight hair (it goes down to my waist.) She finds it both great and a hassle. Great because we have so many friends and can help people, but a hassle that we can't go far without being stopped. I told her I thought I was helping to keep Junior Cycling in Colorado strong. Thankfully she had not hassled me for stopping and petting every dog that goes to the races. I love them and they seem happy, usually, to have me give them a little doggy lovin'.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Balsamic Caramelized Red Onions

In a recent blog entry I mentioned that my cousin and her son were coming over for dinner. They are vegetarian and I wanted to make a meal where there was no meat in sight, but it was also a fun meal. I made white pizza (pizza with whole wheat crust, Alfredo sauce in the place of a red sauce and mozzarella cheese). It is a hit every single time. When I take the extras to a bike race and the kids find out I have it I am swarmed by hands seeking a slice. I wanted to add a bit of pizazz for the adults so I offered marinated artichoke hearts, hearts of palm and balsamic caramelized red onions as toppers. In the end we ate the separate from the pizza and loved it. I made the onion recipe up. The photo here does not look as inviting as I had hoped. In person they were lovely. The photo is of the cooking midway. By the time they were done they were quite dark. Here's how to do it:

Balsamic Caramelized Red Onions

2-3 Red Onions, cut into large sections (I cut mine into 8 pieces)
4-5 TBL. Olive Oil
2 TBL Butter
6+ TBL Balsamic Vinegar*

While your pan heats up on medium high add the olive oil and butter. Once it is hot add in the onions. Stir to coat. Saute onions as you normally would. Once the onions are wilted add in the balsamic vinegar. Adding it in too soon will result in it baking off. Stir occasionally. The Olive Oil, butter and vinegar mix will begin to thicken and coat the onions. Remove when the onions become a golden brown. Add more balsamic vinegar, if needed. Be careful not to drown the onions, but only coat them lightly. They may be served warm or at room temperature.

They are nice as side dish, on crackers, on pizza, etc.
*The Balsamic vinegar I used is called Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar with Lemon by Jane from Tulocay's Napa Valley. It is wonderful stuff all by itself. As a way to wrap things up we dipped the crusts in small bits of flavored vinegars - sounds weird, but it is wonderful!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Needing to Find Balance - Is It Possible?

The weekend was so fun and so busy that I did not get any blogging done, even though Saturday was the first year anniversary of my doing this blog. It was a weekend of biking and a party, instead. It was not a weekend of much cleaning or doing our chores. The weather was amazing. The races this weekend were both international events. It was almost like a carnival due to all of the cycling related vendors that had booths. One that I thought was fun was "Peddling for Properties." A pair of men who take you out on cruiser bikes (the kind with big, comfy saddles, basket on the fun handlebars, etc.) and you ride around the areas you think you might want to live in. They stop at coffee houses, little family own restaurants, etc. I think it sounds like a blast. I secretly wanted to take one of their cruisers out for a spin, but I did not have a helmet. We also tasted just about everything that Cliff Bar sells, had freshly grilled burritos, the works. And let's not forget the actual races. They were fun. The course was VERY long, but the kids were troopers. I am just so darn impressed with them. :) Ellie came in 3rd on Saturday and Ethan rode his fastest cross race ever on Sunday. But I am actually less impressed with their standings since those are rather arbitrary based on who shows up, but rather, I am impressed with their stamina and determination. )Sunday was a repeat of Saturday, but with more riders. I have included a photo here from the adult race just to give you an idea of how busy it was. My favorite non-kid part was all of the dogs. It was a dog-petting-orama, which I love. I met some really unusual dogs. Saturday we hosted my cousin and her son along with my mother over for dinner. I made some great food. Maybe I will post about that tomorrow.

As fun as all that is, I still struggle a bit. Some weekends I want to get everything picked up, food for the week made, etc. I get that done, but then I have no time for myself and feel robbed when I have done all of that and it is suddenly Sunday evening and I have not done anything for myself. This weekend I did very little cleaning and enjoyed doing my cross stitch and sitting with my husband instead. I feel more calm and rested today, but I know that my upstairs and the bathrooms are a mess. I used to believe that I could just REALLY clean one room a day to spread it out, but the mess spread faster than I could clean at that rate. Thus, I still seek some balance in my life.

It is amazing to me that it was Halloween less than a week ago and that Thanksgiving is in less than three weeks. I'd love to hear what others are making. I seem to feel the need to find new recipes for Thanksgiving every year.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Almost My Blogaversary & Thinking About ThanksGiving

Much to my amazement, I have been writing my blog for almost one year. Tomorrow is the day. Besides that, I am happy to shift gears. As much as I love Halloween, I must admit that the house is less cluttered when it is not so decorated. Thanksgiving gives us a brief respite from all that.

I am now turning my thoughts towards what we will have for Thanksgiving. Last year I made a wonderful turkey. Here's the recipe that I will most likely do again. It is from, from Tyler Florence, Food 911:

Maple-Roasted Turkey with Sage, Smoked Bacon, and Cornbread Stuffing

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 bunch fresh sage, leaves finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large onions, finely chopped
1 loaf cornbread, cubed (about 6 cups)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup heavy cream 3 cups chicken stock 1
(12 to 14 pound) fresh turkey
1 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup hot water
8 strips smoked bacon
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 lemon, juiced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and remove the top rack.
Combine the butter and sage in a mixing bowl, mash with a fork or spoon until the sage is well incorporated and the butter has flecks of green in it; season with salt and pepper.
In a saute pan, melt 4 tablespoons of the sage butter, add the onions, cook and stir for 15 minutes until soft and golden. Remove from heat. Put the cornbread in a large mixing bowl and scrape the sauteed onion mixture on top. Add the egg, heavy cream, and just enough chicken stock to moisten the stuffing without making it soggy (about 1/2 cup.) Toss well to combine, season with salt and pepper.

Remove the neck and gizzards from the inside of the turkey and discard. Rinse the bird thoroughly inside and out with cold water, pat dry. Sprinkle the cavity and skin liberally with salt and pepper. Using your fingers, gently lift the skin from the breast and legs, and slip pieces of the sage butter underneath; massaging it in as you go. Fill the bird with the cornbread stuffing without packing too tightly; cook the remaining stuffing separately in a buttered baking dish. Truss the turkey; place it on a rack in a large roasting pan, and put into the oven.
Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl, whisk together the maple syrup and hot water to thin the glaze out a bit; use this to baste the turkey every 30 minutes. The turkey should take about 3 hours to cook (i.e. 15 to 20 minutes per pound.) If the legs or breast brown too quickly, cover with foil.

About 2 hours into cooking, shingle the strips of bacon oven the turkey breast to cover; continue to roast and baste for another hour or so. The turkey is done when an instant-read thermometer inserted into the meatiest part of the thigh registers 170 degrees F (the thigh juices will also run clear when pricked with a knife.) Transfer the turkey to a cutting board and let rest for 20 minutes before carving, so the juices can settle back into the meat.
Skim off the excess fat from the pan drippings with a spoon and place the roasting pan over 2 burners set on medium-high heat. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up brown bits stuck to bottom of pan. Whisk the flour into the drippings, stirring as it thickens to prevent lumps. Add the remaining chicken stock and bring to a simmer; season with salt and pepper and hit it with a squeeze of lemon juice to brighten the flavor. Simmer for 5 minutes and then strain to remove any particles. Serve the gravy with the maple-roasted turkey and cornbread stuffing.