Wednesday, December 31, 2008

End of Year Meme

Thanks to Linda at All & Sundry.

1. What did you do in 2008 that you’d never done before?
Transitioned between jobs. Learned how to evaluate graduate applications. Took a Spanish class, albeit with my kids. Went to a World Series Champions parade!

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Sort of. My resolution was to see a new-to-us movie a month with my husband. We made it to June and then sort of lost track. I think maybe we saw 9 movies by the end of the year. I want to go back to our new-restaurant-per-month resolution. And get to the gym more. I made a good start in December.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Lots of friends had babies. Two cousins had kids. And my sister and brother in law adopted a newborn! But I'm falling out of the demographic, I'm afraid--it's nothing like the baby booms of 5-10 years ago.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No, for the first time in a long time.

5. What countries did you visit?
In books? Lots. But my passport, alas, expired while sadly underused.

6. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?
Less stuff in my house. Better accounting for my own work time. More muscles built at the gym.

7. What dates from 2008 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
The day our (adopted) niece was born. Her c-section was moved from July 2 to July 10. But she had her own ideas and came on June 27, the day after my mother's birthday, and therefore allowing my son to win the baby lottery since he was closest to the due date!

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Completing my term in my dream job and immediately landing a new part time job with more time at home and a 40% raise.

9. What was your biggest failure?
I fear I was tone-deaf to issues my older son was having.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Thank God, no. But my dog tore her ACL today and will need surgery in the new year.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Old Navy socks for my kids; the treads on the bottoms help keep them upright when running around inside.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My younger son until he turned 3, and Girlfriend.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Other than elected officials, I don't really want to get in to that on my blog.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Childcare. Gasoline. Food. Vacations. Not necessarily in that order.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
The jobs. Visits to and from friends I hadn't seen in a long time. The beach. The surprise trip to the Madonna concert.

16. What song will always remind you of 2008?
The Spanish language music from the classes I took with my sons.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?
Hmm. Maybe I need to revisit my resolutions this year.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Gone to the gym; things that both sons and I all think are fun

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Yelling at my kids

20. How did you spend Christmas?
It was great this year--less running around than ever. Christmas Eve mass, day at home, dinner with extended family, and Boxing Day dinner with my husband's family. We also visited my family over the weekend.

21. Did you fall in love in 2008?
Only if it counts in an "all over again" sense.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
Our beloved babysitter (who is so so much more to us) got me hooked on The Biggest Loser.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Thank God, no.

24. What was the best book you read?
The Ten Year Nap by Meg Wollitzer

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
They Might Be Giants Here Come the 1 2 3s

26. What did you want and get?
An immersion blender

27. What did you want and not get?

28. What was your favorite film of this year?
Well, that I saw this year: Walk the Line.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I was 40. My husband surprised me with tickets to the Madonna concert the week before, and that night, we went out to a fabulous dinner.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Going to the theater. More dates.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008?
Turtlenecks and jeans! I suppose now that my kids are out of spit-up stage I should think about expanding my options. My other theme was "rediscovering the professional wardrobe." It's been a trip shopping in my closet.

32. What kept you sane?
I don't know. Girlfriend. My husband's complete support of me getting out a few nights a month.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Did I fancy? I don't know. I was happy Britney seemed to get her act together and Samantha Ronson seems to make Lindsay Lohan a better citizen. Oh-never mind--hello, 2008 Phillies! WOOOOOOOOOO!

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
Obama-Hillary. I was thrilled to take the kids to see both and help them plug in to the wider world.

35. Who did you miss?
My mom. Of course. Aunt Jo. Uncle George. Friends from work. Kelly, Anya, Anjali.

36. Who was the best new person you met?
Some of the new Mothers & More members. My advisees.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008.
I still only have 24 hours in a day.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
Mommies are people/People with children
Busy with children/and things that they do...
But there's a lot of things/a lot of mommies can do.
(I know my Gen X readers know this one!)

Happy new year! I won't tag anyone but if you want to play along, be my guest.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

My New Favorite Site

Need a Snow Day?

MPM--Ho Ho Ho

Happy post-holiday daze, everyone! I hope your holidays were lovely. And while on the one hand I am not looking forward to cooking dinners again this week, it's broken up by still more happy family occasions and a few more opportunities to create food for small gatherings of 32 family members so I really have another week's reprieve!

Last week went well, though my seven fishes fell to five, and I think will disappear entirely next year. Too much hassle for too little interest from everyone else in the family! The carrot mousse was well-received and the macaroni and cheese was gone before people went back for seconds. Boxing Day was mostly spaghetti and gravy (red sauce) with sausage and the traditional KFC.

And my presents had a theme this year: the new version of my favorite cookbook ever, How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, and The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper, which already has a bunch of things bookmarked. And, to go with them, an immersion blender! I'm very excited. Now i just need to get the kids to eat soup and I'm golden.

This week:

Monday: Tacos (yep, again), rice and beans on the side.

Tuesday: Forever Family Day! Yes, our delightful niece's adoption will be finalized today, and we are all going to go celebrate with her and her parents. Cheesesteaks and stromboli all around. I'll probably bring the hot pizza dip or maybe a salad.

Wednesday: We're ringing out 2008 with dear friends who have had a tough year and are hosting a party with a countdown to 7 for the kids. We're all over it. Have to figure out what to bring...probably dessert as my husband will be working and we won't get there for most of the food.

Thursday: Happy New Year! It's my father-in-law's birthday, so One! More! Time! with the whole family to celebrate (and we'll wrap in the nephew's 16th birthday too). I'll bring macaroni and cheese again for that and maybe a crockpot pork roast since the sister in law who is hosting loathes any pig product, but you have to have pork for luck for the new year.

Friday: The one fish we never got to was the salmon, which went funky in the fridge, alas. But since I have all I need to make my favorite salmon sauce, so we'll probably go for that on Friday. But of course, my youngest is begging to go to our favorite pizza place so that might win instead. We'll see how it goes. If we stay home, I'm definitely making the scallion and asparagus dish from the Splendid Table cookbook. I'll keep you posted.

Have a great week, everyone, and happy 2009! Make yourself some happy, inspirational resolutions! Ours is to return to a new restaurant a month in 2009! If I get inspired by any dishes there, I'll let you know.

Friday, December 26, 2008


#1. Do you prefer cooking with electric or gas?

I grew up with electric and was very afraid of my gas burners in the house we bought. (I have real issues with fire of any kind--candles, grills, you name it.) Despite this, I'm almost sold on the gas stovetop but I do find it's hard to get it low enough. But I very much miss my electric oven with the broiler on top instead of under. I haven't been able to broil much of anything since moving here in 2000 if it doesn't fit in my toaster oven.

#2. How many times a month do you order out?

Oh, not nearly as many as I would like. I have tried to cure myself of the habit but we do eat out once a week (pizza usually). The kids help with this by not liking any ethnic food (yet).

#3. How do you like your ice - cubed or crushed?

I never once thought about this but if I had to make a call, I'd say crushed. Really, I prefer my drinks at room temperature for the most part, or cold without ice.

#4. Share a Christmas recipe.

I don't think I've ever shared the recipe for our favorite Mousse de Carrottes. So here it is, straight from the Le Bec-Fin cookbook by the indispensable Georges Perrier. Please note, we do not use the food mill or the pastry pipe method, though it is elegant. We find the teenagers (and some adults!) in the family prefer to just shovel it on their plates with the largest serving spoon they can find. I will also add that it works just fine with salted butter and less rich milk product (though anything less than whole milk does compromise the creaminess). The best calorie-reducing results we've had have been with some cream, some milk, or of course light cream. But we usually just splurge. It's worth it.

Mousse de Carrottes (Carrot Mousse)

Lovely carrots are transformed in to a most elegant mousse here. At Le Bec-Fin we pipe this mousse through a pastry bag into decorative swirls on the plate. My customers love this dish, but most can't figure out the "secret" ingredient: it's the honey.

Service for four (note: he has got to be kidding here or else the pastry bag affects this immensely. We used this exact recipe for a 32 person Christmas dinner. There were no leftovers, but everyone got some.)

The Carrot Mousse

3 lbs large carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 1/2 Cups heavy cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup honey
Salt and white pepper

Cooking the Carrots

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the carrots and cook over medium heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain, then place on a baking pan and bake in the oven for 30 minutes to dry. Heat the heavy cream to scalding. Remove the carrots from the oven, then puree in a food processor until very smooth. With the machine running, add the scalded heavy cream, butter, and honey. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Chef's Truc
Piping Carrot Mousse: To pipe the mousse, you will first need to force the finished mousse through a food mill. This will ensure that no larger bits clog the pastry tip. Pipe through a medium -sized star tip. Be sure to wrap the bag in a towel while piping so you don't burn your hands.

And a few last notes from me on this: I don't remember the last time I used large carrots for this. I just buy the baby carrots in a bag and go from there. The white pepper does make a difference, both in flavor (more subtle) and visually. Rather than draining, we usually use a slotted spoon or the Chinese drainer thing to move the carrots to the jellyroll pan, and I usually put a cloth dishtowel on the sheet first to help soak up extra water too. The longer the carrots dry, the fluffier the mousse. And heating the cream really does make a difference.

Lastly, we laughed at the "patrons can't guess the secret ingredient" part--we couldn't even guess they were carrots when we had them at Le Bec-Fin the first time! With ours, though, you can tell.

Wanna play along? Go here and enjoy!

Monday, December 22, 2008

MPM--Closing In

Ho ho ho! We're in full swing here. Fabu parties, including an amazing one today, which seemed like it was catered except all the amazing and different appetizers were made by the hosts!, fun times for kids, wrapping again left to the last minute...yup, it's Christmastime in MemeGRL's world.

This week:

Monday: leftovers. We have pork or chicken from last week. (The pork was my usual crockpot recipe; the chicken was with apricot and dried plums--formerly known as prunes--from the Dave Lieberman recipe and was super, especially for how easy and quick it was. And it made a lot of chicken!)

Tuesday: Sloppy Joes (with ground turkey--not my favorite but it's what we have and the boys can't tell the difference so I might as well be healthier), applesauce, quinoa pesto (which the boys LOVE)

Wednesday: Seven fishes! Which is really an indulgence for me as no one else in my family likes the fishes as much as I do. And I cheat on the seven: tuna salad on crackers, oysters from a tin on crackers, shrimp cocktail, angels on horseback (scallops with bacon wrapped around, stuck under the broiler), crabcakes (which my five year old adores), lobster tails, and salmon. Or, if I'm running out of time and interest, I'll make Rachael Ray's cioppino, which is amazing and super easy and gets four fishes in one dish (scallops, cod, shrimp, and mussels--but no one here really enjoys mussels, which makes it less appealing). To be really authentic, I'll get a small pizza in the afternoon for the kids to eat while my husband and I have the fish!

Thursday: who knows? I'm in charge of macaroni and cheese (using something based on this recipe but with all sharp cheddar to save fussiness) and the carrot mousse. There are a few other things I might try but those are the biggies. Warning on the mac and cheese: I didn't say it was healthy, and my own children won't touch it. But every teenager in the house has asked me to bring this since, oh, June.

Friday: The Boxing Day event! My husband's family gets together on Boxing Day for gift exchanges, etc., with a casual dinner of "anything from a box." That includes but is not limited to boxes of wine, crackers, KFC, and pizza. I will probably bring some of my world-class collection of frozen hors d'oeuvres from Trader Joe's, the artichoke dip from the same place, chocolate truffles, and some nifty boxed wine I found. It's sad how I stockpile the frozen appetizers as though I live a life of impromptu cocktail parties that would merit such space for a stash in my freezer. But I'm trying to be realistic and whittle it down.

Saturday and Sunday have no plans yet so we'll play it by ear. With people coming in town I'm trying to keep things open; already one of my little groups of friends since elementary school will all be in town this weekend for the first time since the 1990s so I'm thrilled about that. And the rest we'll see.

Most exciting: my husband's sister and her husband got what they really wanted for Christmas: the court date to make their adoption final! Forever Family Day is December 30. Party to follow. The theme for the New Year's Party they were hosting anyway is, of course, "Baby" Food--little hot dogs, mini soft get the idea. Any creative thoughts for mini-food is appreciated!

Wishing everyone the happiest of holidays. And know that if your holidays aren't particularly merry this year, my thoughts are with you especially. I've been there, and it stinks when the world is ready to be cheery and you are not. But a family's gotta eat, right? So here we all are. Thank you for menu planning with me this year--with one more to go, it's been fun!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Meme

Lifted shamelessly in turn from Please Pass the Salt.

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? Both. I am addicted to wrapping papers and have tons of them downstairs. I think I only bought one roll this year under duress when Borders shamefully stopped wrapping at their stores leaving me in the lurch on the way to a birthday party. But I digress. I use both depending on circumstances.

2. Real tree or artificial? Both. Real goes outside on the porch with plastic ornaments. Artificial goes in the living room.

3. When do you put up the tree? When we get around to it. This year, that was Dec. 5. Last year, that was Dec. 24 at 4:30pm when the vigil masses were all underway.

4. When do you take the tree down? After Epiphany.

5. Do you like eggnog? Way, way too much.

6. Favorite gift received as a child? I was so blessed (spoiled) I can't pick just one. My dollhouse. My other dollhouse. The Barbie plane. Books.

7. Hardest person to buy for? My younger son, who isn't particularly attached to any "things." May he stay that way, lucky boy.

8. Easiest person to buy for? Me! Also my husband, who doesn't want to let another thing in the house. I'm all about the experiences and home improvements.

9. Do you have a nativity scene? Several. This is the year of the Fisher-Price version.

10. Mail or email Christmas cards? Wow, I hope mail. We have the cards, really we do, and if I knew Excel at all, we'd have them addressed. I have the stamps and everything.

11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? I feel guilty even typing this since my parents were so bummed out that they guessed wrong. When I was about 12 I got a makeup mirror from them. Bonne Bell Vanilla lip gloss was about all I really used at that point and my parents were just ahead of me on this one. It was a great gift that I eventually used for years to come but it was a bit early for me at that point. I still feel bad remembering my parents looking at each other ruefully at my lack of thrilledness with the "big gift" that year.

12. Favorite Christmas Movie? It's A Wonderful Life.

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas? Too early--year round, really, and then I forget what I have and get extra.

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? No. I'm lousy at repurposing.

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? My aunt's pizelles, and (if she makes them) chicken tenders. I like doing the seven fishes on Christmas Eve, though alas, I'm the only one in my family who does.

16. Lights on the tree? Yup. White and multicolor, usually.

17. Favorite Christmas song? Oh Holy Night, I think. Used to be Angels We Have Heard On High but the melodramatic tone of Oh Holy Night speaks to me more now for some reason.

18. Travel at Christmas or stay home? Stay home. My parents loved to travel over Christmas and now I love to stay at home for Christmas!

19. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer? Of course!

20. Angel on the treetop or a star? Outside, a star; inside, an angel.

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? One each on Christmas Eve. The rest on Christmas morning.

22. Most annoying thing about this time of the year? Thinking of a theme present for my inlaws; ridiculous ridiculous traffic on Baltimore Pike.

23. Favorite ornament theme or color? Theme? Really? My life has no theme, let alone my Christmas ornaments. I suppose I lean to the red & green but not in any coordinated way.

24. Favorite for Christmas dinner? Colin Cowie's beef tenderloin with pink peppercorns.

25. What do you want for Christmas this year? My younger son keeps asking this same question. I want an immersion blender, but more than anything, I want my sons to like their presents and be happy and play pleasantly together this holiday. That's hard to order, though I keep hoping if I say it enough, it might sink in.

Friday, December 19, 2008


#1. What’s your favorite crunchy food?

Oh, man, where do I start? I wish I could be my son and answer truthfully, Apple fries from Burger King. But alas, that's not it. I think it's Utz Super-Dark pretzels.

#2. How often do you try new recipes?

Pretty often. I'm a crummy cook and so I'm in search of the recipe that will be easy, healthy, taste fabulous, and my kids will eat. No luck so far.

#3. Name a food that you almost always have in the house.

Besides milk and Life cereal for the boys? There is always some shape of noodle.

#4. What kind of food do you leave out for Santa on Christmas Eve?

We're pretty traditional; cookies and milk and some carrots for the reindeer. Santa likes them a lot but I think he'd love the beer suggestion from Kathleen's blog! (Though since in our town, Santa actually shows up at the door with bells a-jingling, I'm not sure he would take a beer.)

Wanna play along? Go here and link up!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

WFMW--Best Stocking Stuffer List Ever

Sorry for the repost, but if Shannon can do it, I can too, right? And a holiday kindness this big deserves to be commemorated. Some of them are getting dated already (film? Ack! Substitute "memory cards") but most are still great ideas, and Heather is still a great friend and inspiration to me.

Original Post: Heather's List of Stocking Stuffers

This list was given to me one Christmas by my friend Heather. I ran a quick errand for Heather one December, and in return, she brainstormed stocking stuffers for me, with assistance from our other friend Melinda. The original is complete with illustrations for things like "firestarter" and "ear cover band" and the list itself is one of my most treasured gifts! So as a pre-Christmas gift to Blogworld, I share it with all of you. This list isn't that old but already some things are outdated (see #4); I'm leaving them there, however, as part of the tribute to them but also in case they spark some creative idea for you. With continued thanks to my friends Heather and Melinda.

Heather's Stocking Stuffer List
1. Migraine Mask
2. neck support for travel
3. Film
4. Video film for video camera
5. Blockbuster gift certificates
6. razors
7. trial size toiletries
8. McDonald's gift certifiates
9. teas/specialty coffees
10. candies
11. nail file
12. gum/breath mints
13. hair accessories (barrettes, headbands)
14. pocket calendar
15. Christmas ornament
16. socks
17. undershirts
18. Advil/Tylenol
19. cough drops
20. notecards/stationery
21. gloves
22. ear cover band
23. costume jewelry
24. lapel pins
25. magazine subscription (or just one magazine)
26. cologne/perfume
27. photo album page inserts
28. business card holders
29. magnets for fridge
30. coasters
31. scented candles
32. massage oils/lotions
33. backscratcher
34. deck of cards
35. small picture frames
36. key chain
37. small picket knife/key chain--very useful!!
38. pens
39. batteries
40. penlight
41. nightlight
42. shoe polish
43. seeds/garden bulbs
44. jewelry cleaner for rings
45. ice cream scooper
46. tights
47. bagel slicer
48. bottle opener
49. potholder
50. pocket size tissues
51. letter opener
52. cookie cutters
53. mail sorter that sits on desk to hold bills
54. small sewing emergency kit
55. lip gloss/chapstick
56. car ice scraper for windshield
57. blank audio cassette tapes
58. car games (mini backgamon, etc.)
59. Far Side desk calendar
60. prepaid phone card (buy 10 free minutes)
61. stamps
62. scented sachets for drawers
63. scented drawer paper liners
64. boxers
65. scarf
66. car wash gift certificate
67. contact lens solution
68. nail polish & remover
69. coffee travel mug
70. coffee warmer electric plates for desk
71. big chip clip (to keep chips fresh)
72. travel laundry bag
73. mini tote umbrella
74. firestarter
75. golf balls!

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Aaaand...we're off! There's no getting around the holidays now. We've had three cookie swaps, two poinsettia fundraisers, and a party (in a pear, not really, but couldn't resist) this week. The upcoming week is just as whirlwind. It's so hard striking the balance between full-on holiday mode and enough time to let the family recharge. But we're trying...meal planning is part of it.

Things went well last week, for the most part. We flipped around a little and added tacos for my son, who obliged by eating FOUR of them. The experiment of the week was the crockpot Dijon-maple chicken. I'm lousy about remembering amounts of what I need at the supermarket so I had 2 lbs of chicken and doubled the recipe. (Besides, with my 6-quart slow cooker, it makes more sense anyway.) The flavor was good but I would have liked a thicker sauce and would double all but 3 bay leaves and only one cup of chicken stock. I also would have submerged the sweet potatoes as mine discolored. They tasted fine but looked unappetizing.

But the cookies...well, the cranberry blondies were awesome, and The Best Babysitter in the World's add-ins (recipe below) were a huge hit as usual. We enjoyed several other cookies (the chocolate chip gingerbread and the thumbprints come to mind) from the cookie swaps. And now we're just about out so I might bake another batch this week. But the kitchen is finally recovering and it makes it hard to want to get in to another round.

So, this week, another round of strangeness but we're looking forward to it. And I'm trying to be good to myself: I made a big pot of "Zero Point Soup" (courtesy of my Weight Watchers friends); it's pretty good and will make a good, nourishing lunch for me for the week.

Sunday: Apricot Glazed Chicken (remember Dave Lieberman?), made with boneless skinless breasts and still good; sauteed spinach; basmati rice. This is a really good chicken-for-a-crowd recipe and I usually have everything in it in my kitchen already.

Monday: Crock pot pork roast; mashed potatoes; salad; roasted broccoli (trying a new recipe from the paper, will let you know if it goes well)

Tuesday: I'm out at a potluck. I'm bringing most of the chicken, but leaving some at home for my husband and boys. I'll also make a ton of rice for both to go with it, and the boys will probably have applesauce or some other fruit or leftover broccoli.

Wednesday: Pulled pork sandwiches; salad; crockpot roasted vegetables or curried veggies (another recipe I'll post if it goes well).

Thursday: Leftovers or (probably) noodles for the boys. I'm out again at a mutual 40th birthday celebration with a friend (mine was 2 weeks ago, hers is two weeks from this night).

Friday: Out for pizza, I hope.

The bonus to this week? I needed to buy only things like broth, a zucchini or two (for the soup) and the meat and otherwise everything was in my fridge.

Other recipes I'm hoping to make this week: rosemary flatbread for the party since I love it and no one else in my family does, the cookies above, and if the pork goes fast, I might make Garlic Roast Chicken With Rosemary and Lemon for the weekend.

The Best Babysitter in the World's "Add-In" Cookies

1 stick very soft butter or margarine
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 egg (beaten)
1 cup flour
1/2-3/4 C Old Fashioned Oatmeal (rolled oats--*not instant or quick oats*)
~1/2 bag chocolate chips
~1 1/4 cup raisins (with this combo add 1 tsp cinnamon to dough)

Heat oven to 350.
Mix butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla. Mix to creamy; add in egg.
Slowly add in flour and baking powder (dough will be sticky).
Fold in oatmeal and add-in of choice; drop on to lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes.

The add-ins I use almost exclusively with this recipe are dried cranberries and white chocolate chips. Especially at holiday time, they are festive and look nice on the table.

And this is yet another reason we are eternally grateful that The Best Babysitter in the World is a part of our lives! We think of her (and how much better she is at baking these cookies) every time we make them!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas Prep Updates

Momentum takes over at this point in December. I haven't been following the blog prep necessarily but every day brings something holiday-related. This week, there were two cookie swaps, two poinsettia fundraisers, a nursery school holiday show (for which I had plenty of cookies!), and lots of finishing touches. The St. Nicholas Tree and Adopt-A-Family projects were due this week, so that took lots of time and work. I think I might not adopt-a-family next year. I get too stressed shopping and praying for them. I know that sounds so dorky but I just ache for the family and feel way, way too responsible. The St. Nicholas Trees are easier; at least there we get a little more direction on what the people want. (The St. Nicholas Trees are faux trees in our church decorated with needs/wants from local service organizations [diapers, LeapFrog toy] and a senior home [our people wanted towels, gas cards, and grocery store gift certificates]).

Today, the boys in the family did a semi-Christmas related thing: they went to the big train show. They had a fabulous time (though one deemed it a disaster since they "didn't buy anything." Oy) checking out all the train layouts. We didn't carol to the homebound yesterday, but we did have quite a sing at the nursery school event. I am continuing the Gift Check; I'm a little fretful about the gift situation; there's no one big thing that either of the kids want so unlike last year, I'm not really confident I have a "knock it out of the park" present for them. Of course I'm also picky at this point and not really thrilled to bring any big things (literally) in to the house so there are some things I've dismissed out of hand. And other things that common sense has just plain removed from the table (example: my one son's request for "a car that I can drive in the street by myself without a helmet." Um, you're five, the answer is NO).

The post about the grocery list and meal planning was helpful in kicking me in to gear for planning what we're bringing to the two major family celebrations and thinking about what we're going to do for the immediate family celebrations here. That was useful as the idea that we would actually need to eat something for breakfast hadn't quite dawned on me. It still might be Life cereal like every other morning but at least it will have been a thoughtful decision! The traditional carrot mousse and macaroni and cheese are without question. The others are a little tougher. I usually try to do some version of seven fishes on Christmas Eve but my husband doesn't love seafood and until this year, due to allergy fears, I tended to keep my kids away from them. (Although my older one has discovered he loves crabcakes. It's a good starting point.) I have a frozen beef tenderloin from the amazing sale earlier this year so I might do the amazing pink peppercorn recipe. And we got boxes of "green" wine (recommended by the picky local critic, and that we found quite good ourselves) and Whole Foods Organic Truffles as gifts for party hosts. Babysitters are set for the parties. I need to figure out what I'm bringing to the potluck on Tuesday, but otherwise am done for food obligations.

I am frustrated we didn't get to the Jesse Tree this year. I might jump in even with 12 days to go. Our tree isn't decorated yet, which is also annoying, but it's been hard to find daylight hours when we are all home. (We keep our live tree on the back porch--no needles in the house, and when the kids were little, less aggravation for mommy.) And just having it, we're way ahead of last year! Oh, and to be fair to ourselves, we got it last Friday night, and Saturday and Sunday we had very high winds, so we quite deliberately chose to wait. Good choice, as despite shoring it up, the tree went horizontal twice. I was also sorry the kids didn't help more with the St. Nicholas Tree shopping more but maybe it's unrealistic to expect that every year.

On the plus side, I stuck to my resolution to not buy anything new for Christmas decor (except the live wreath) since I have more than I can use in the house already. I found the Santa hats and the kids love wearing them (and I love seeing them in the hats!). We've had Christmas music on non-stop. We snuggled in to watch the Christmas specials together and at least one (The Polar Express) went well. (My oldest takes it to heart when Charlie Brown or Rudolf are ostracized by their "friends.") And we have loved using the lights since we put them up over the Thanksgiving weekend--and, to be fair, that's the one thing I bought that is decor related: I couldn't resist the remote control power switch for the lights. It was really for my husband, since he was usually the one traipsing through the garage to get to the plug, and he has loved using it every day so I'm not sorry. And I did finally order my Christmas cards; they'll be delivered to CVS this week. My goal for tomorrow is to do the labels, which I bought today.

If you are looking for inspiration, don't miss BooMama's tour of houses on the 15th. It's adorable and I'm always blown away by how coordinated people are. Ours is not, which is why you won't see pictures here.

And again, my thanks to this site for support both tangible (I'm still loving and using my WrapSack! And I ordered them as part of my theme gift for the family) and intangible (reminders and the sense of not being alone since I don't have family to kibbitz with about holiday prep--I have lots of family but no one left who cares about the minutiae of my days). GIven the closeness of the holiday I don't know where I'll be with posting but I did want to say thanks for the path I could actually follow, with timely, not-overwhelming tasks to keep me on track. I'm looking forward to being able to follow along again!

Friday, December 12, 2008


Wow, I should have done last week! (I was on deadline and not really up for it. But I do have a super easy crockpot chili I should post next time..)

#1. What’s your favorite kind of roll?

Lately I'm in to ciabattas. But there is a local roll here, made by the family of someone my mom went to elementary school with, and I'm very loyal to them. Their Italian rolls define the genre for me.

#2. Got a tip for keeping your cabinets or pantry organized?

Um, no. My tip? Call City Mouse-Country Mouse!

#3. What’s your favorite kind of pastry?

I really like a cherry turnover or danish.

#4.Share any original recipe. (Why not submit it into my contest too?)

I have no original recipes. I'm lucky I can follow a recipe. Sorry!

Wanna play? Go here--there's a fun recipe contest for you too, if you are someone who makes them up!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

WFMW--vertical tree lights

Sorry for the repeat to my "regular" readers. But last WFMW I was bounced off Mr. Linky (that sounds nasty but it's not) and this treat was such a marriage and sanity saver it deserves to run again!

Wow. This one is more of a paybacks--in a great, slobberingly grateful kind of way--to whoever it was who posted about this last year.

Stringing and unstringing the lights was enough to unhinge my husband, last year and every year we have been together. We would put off buying the tree and once it was purchased, it would usually sit, naked, on our porch while my husband glowered at it, just dreading the Ordeal of the Lights.

I got some of those light storage wheels (for way less than $50, let the record show) a few years ago at the dearly departed and sorely missed Organized Living, and that helped. But we were really to the point of just saying, let's buy the cheapie lights and throw them away with the tree every year. This from a woman who has trouble throwing away a grocery list and is a compulsive recycler. It was that bad.

But last year, when we had really put it off to the last minute (Christmas Eve at 4pm, anyone? Yes, church bells were ringing as we were pulling out of the lot). The kids were excited and so were we, but my husband's jaw was tighter and tighter...and then I remembered.

"Honey, I read online someone who said they strung their lights vertically and it made it much easier to get them off, at least."

Pause. Pause. And then, from my husband, "That might work. And it can't be worse. Let's try."

It took a little bit of fooling around to get the depth we wanted and to figure out how to secure them without gravity's assistance. But eventually it worked out, and with one minor exception of a little bunch of lights falling off at the bottom of one branch, it looked good--or at least remarkably similar to other years. The drop hadn't happened yet when this picture was taken. (And please note the sincere decorating of the tree, which was mostly accomplished by our then 4 and 2 year old sons. With a few "high branch" exceptions, we just put the hooks on the ornaments and they did the whole thing, giddy with excitement and enthusiasm as dusk settled on our porch on Christmas Eve. I will treasure that part of the memory forever, too.)

But the proof was in the pudding when the time came to take them down. I got all the ornaments off, then took the box to the basement as there was a threat of rain. (Which might have, you know, damaged the cardboard box we keep the unbreakable plastic ornaments in.) By the time I got back to the porch, he had all the lights off the tree. All of them. 10 strings. In the time it took to get to and from the basement of a split level. And he said, "We will never do this another way again."

So thank you, whoever you were. You truly saved us many unpleasant hours last Christmas and many in to the future. And if you need to string and unstring lights on your tree--think about it for this year!

So thank you, whoever you are who posted that. For more good ideas, go see Shannon at Rocks in my Dryer!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

MPM--Holiday Swing

Greetings, menu planners!

One recipe that wasn't on my MPM last week was our Sunday dinner. I don't usually include weekend meals because they are often leftovers or at the grandparents' or some other thing that isn't necessarily interesting or useful. But every once in a while, I have Sunday afternoon to try something new, and last week was one of these. It was a busy weekend, with family and turkey and all, but there was this recipe for chicken with onions and garlic hanging around and it seemed like a good thing for a fall weekend. It was easy and delicious and so I put the recipe at the bottom of this post.

Another recipe I tried this week was the Asian Turkey Burgers. They were ok. I made two changes to the recipe, which I am sure made a difference: 1) I didn't have cilantro, so skipped it, and 2) used chicken instead of turkey. They were fine but I have other chicken burgers I prefer so I don't know that I'll be making them again. Still, other than the cilantro, I had everything in the house already (I think some Rachael Ray recipe called for hoisin?) so they did score a bonus point for that. Also, I used my iron skillet again, which I am still mastering. Mine is not really non-stick for food yet, though it's a pretty easy cleanup. The burgers came out pretty uneven (caramelized-to-burned on one half of one side, barely cooked on the other half of the same side). I used Pam for the first set and olive oil for the second...didn't make much difference except in the amount of smoke and particulates in the kitchen. Anyway. I'll post the recipe under the other chicken recipe, but it wasn't a major winner. Though it should be noted, my kids ate them up in a hurry. And, by definition, if it's from DBD, it can be made to point of cooking and frozen for future use--a huge plus in my house.

I know a ton of you from MPM have been following the Year of Crockpotting blog already but if you aren't there yet, she's really innovative. (And better late than never, right?) My first meal of the week is from her, and I think I'll be trying some others--the roasted spiced nuts and roasted veggies come to mind instantly since I have a ton of sweet potatoes and some parsnips from a misguided Delicious Living inspired moment.

And my last blog-inspired recipe for the week: though the mushroom casserole looks ideal to me, I don't think another creature in the house would touch it (sigh). So I'm going to try this feta salsa instead; we have everything for this, too, I think, with the possible (probable) exception of the sun dried tomatoes. (Sun dried tomato pesto, yes; actual tomatoes, we'll have to see.) The other thing this week: cookies. The younger one has his holiday program at preschool on Friday (and then it's break already! Aack! They are going to kill me with all this time off. At least my last work deadline for the year is on Thursday.) I tried these banana chip cookies (finally); they were ok. I'm still not sold on whole wheat flour (even the pastry version) or wheat germ, but I'm trying hard to stretch my kids' palates that direction. Still, for the requisite dozen cookies to the holiday program, I'll be bringing something else. Maybe these Cranberry Blondies from Two Fat Als, though I add more white chocolate and sprinkle some turbinado sugar on top to more closely approximate the piece of heaven these are based on from Starbucks. And, they are an outstanding use of my leftover cranberries.

Oh, and the birthday dinner? Amazing. We went here (for the locals). Standouts were the baby beets with skordalia (which I'd never heard of; it was described, correctly, as like hummus but--as I learned later--made with potatoes, usually, instead of chickpeas) and, the real star, the butternut squash soup with cinnamon marshmallow smeared on the side of the bowl and quick-torched to a toasted consistency. So good I have trouble describing it.

Are you still here? This week's menus, and last Sunday's dinner recipe, below.

Monday: This recipe for maple-Dijon chicken that kept floating around the web. Just need the chicken for this one. Rice, salad, something with carrots.

Tuesday: Spaghetti and sausage sauce.

Wednesday: Autumn Pork Roast, mashed potatoes, salad.

Thursday: Leftovers or freezer meal (all those gnocchi and ravioli are still hanging around).

Friday: We're out to a party. Will probably order pizza/cheesesteak for the kids. (Mother of the year!)
Last Sunday's Dinner

I got this recipe some time ago from the food section of my city paper. I haven't tried the cookbook itself but if this recipe is indicative, it would be a good one. My notes follow recipe.

Chicken Breasts with Caramelized Sweet Onions and Garlic
makes 4 servings

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, 4-6 oz each, pounded to uniform thickness
2 large sweet onions, sliced stem to root (not rings)
20 garlic cloves, peeled and slightly smashed to flatten
1 C dry white wine or reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup nicoise or other small olives

In a large, well-oiled skillet on high heat, cook chicken until browned, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to plate.
In the same skillet, stir-fry the onions and garlic until lightly browned, 3-5 minutes.
Add the wine; bring to a boil, stirring often and scraping up any browned bits in the pan. Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook, stirring often to prevent burning. Cook until softened and browned, about 15 minutes.
Return the chicken and juices to the pan. Stir in olives. Cover. Cook until chicken is done, 3-5 minutes.

-from The 5:30 Challenge by Jeanne Besser and Susan Puckett

Anyone who knows me knows that I used the "Italian Style Chicken Cutlets" from my butcher for this rather than pounding raw meat.
For the garlic, I wasn't sure how many cloves came in a head so I got two. One was fine but some of the cloves were huge. Still delicious.
We used sweet white and kalamatas and still enjoyed quite a bit. Really recommended. The kids ate it, too. (Well, the little one ate the chicken. The older one ate the chicken and the olives and eventually some of the onions too.)

Dinner by Design's Asian Turkey Burgers
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/3 cup sliced green onion
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 Tbl soy sauce
2 Tbl rice wine vinegar
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 Tbl hoisin sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs lean ground turkey
6 hamburger buns

In a bowl, stir together the panko, green onion, cilantro, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, egg, hoisin, and garlic. Crumble ground turkey over the seasoning ingredients and mix well. Form into six patties, about 4 inches in diameter.

To grill or broil burgers, preheat grill/broiler to medium-high heat. Grill, covered, or broil 4 inches from heat source for 15-20 minutes, turning once until a meat thermometer reads 165. Alternately, burgers can be cooked in a lightly oiled skillet over medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes, turning once or until thermometer reads 165. Serve on buns.

As noted above, I used 1 lb of chicken instead and still got 7 burgers out of it. We didn't use buns. Like most chicken burgers, this would have benefited from sauce of some kind. I wished I'd had Bittersweet Herb Farm's Wasabi Ginger but we were out. And I found it took way longer than 15 minutes on medium low, but again, it might be me trying to get used to the iron skillet.

Until next week!

Friday, December 5, 2008

All For You

No, really, it's for me. Thanks to the Twitter tweet from Shannon of Rocks in my Dryer with a link to this invaluable holiday resource: a list of all the Christmas specials and the times they will be shown on TV.

I'm posting it here to share, yes, but also so I know where to find it. Pathetic, but there it is. I know most browsers have "Favorites" lists for things like this but mine are so overcrowded it's easier to just find it here on my blog.

Already it has been valuable to me to learn that the Grinch on tonight is not the one I have been looking forward to all year.

It's a bit hard figuring out what to show my kids. "Blockhead" has only recently been re-erased from the vocabulary after the Charlie Brown Halloween. And The Polar Express scared the daylights out of them in different spots, and neither particularly enjoyed Santa Claus is Coming to Town with the BurgerMeister, whose anti-toy legislation made no sense to them. And despite my completely unreasonable joy at Heat and Cold Miser, my one son is so frightened by them that he flatly refuses to watch. This leads to harumphing by the parent exiled with the boy.

This would also be a good time to update on 100 Days to Christmas but to be honest, between my 40th birthday (hello, I hated answering my age on the survey I took tonight) and a crush of reading, I haven't done a thing since last Saturday when I wrapped 15 presents (which you might think would be enough, but no, there are many more) and put up the outside lights. Inside, it might as well be June with the amount of holiday stuff. But reading marathon #2 ends Dec. 10 and I'll get back in the swing then. No, really, you watch. I will. Oh, wait, we did bake cookies. But then it was back to the grind, and they are not especially holiday-themed cookies (banana/chocolate chip; a worthy experiment with wheat germ and whole wheat but meh, not really a winner unless you are out of other desserts, which we are). But I'm sure they'll be excellent with some cocoa and some Christmas specials.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Sign of the Times II

Anyone seen any acorns lately? Check here for a somewhat bizarre article. I have certainly seen oak leaves but not so many acorns this year. Our round-bally tree continues to produce but with somewhat strange droppings this year (unusual color, smaller size). I remember last year there were plenty of acorns to collect, and two years ago, humongous ones, almost golf-ball sized, that were of tremendous interest to the older boy. The squirrels here look plenty well-fed but that could be from our pumpkins and defeated attempts at composting.

This is the stuff of creepy sci-fi stories of my adolescence (or, I suppose, M. Night Shayamalan's latest movie): the trees all decide to shut down at once at wait for better times. Or something. I just know if the squirrels get any more aggressive, the dog will have a nervous breakdown. And it would explain the very unusual pillaging of our plastic/glass recycling by the squirrels. A peanut butter jar was in the tree outside our front window for two days after recycling was collected, and then, once chewed to a pulp, was discarded on our front lawn. When even the squirrels feel like they can trash my yard, the neighborhood is really going downhill. Next thing you know, they'll be ringing our doorbell and running away laughing. I'd better keep them away from my toilet paper.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Sign of the Times

My two kids were at a nearby playground, running around with a lovely little girl they'd just met.

Older one hops on a red swing. "I'm McCain!" he crows.

Younger one hops on a blue swing. "I'm Obama!" he says happily.

Little girl, age 5, not to be outdone, eyes the swings, hops on a blue one, and says, "I'm Hillary!"

There is hope.