The List

I’m crossing things off the list.  No, not the naughty list, although it is that time of year.  This is a different holiday list.

Since Jeff and I are hosting Thanksgiving for my family at our house, the list making began yesterday.  I can’t complain about the process of making the list – it was actually quite fun.  We each got a cup of coffee, snuggled under the covers with our Thanksgiving recipes and began THE LIST.

Thanksgiving 2015 List

What is The List……it’s our way of staying organized and not dreading holiday company and it has three major components.

First, the list of all the items we will serve for the meal. Some of the items are old favorites and some are new additions.  Some we will make and others have been assigned to other family members.  Here’s what the 2015 menu looks like:

  • Turkey (brined and cooked on the Big Green Egg)
  • Stuffing – Laura
  • Mashed Potatoes – Mimi
  • Corn Pie
  • Brussels Sprouts with Maple Bourbon Glaze
  • Cranberry Apple Sauce
  • Gravy
  • Sautéed Pears with Bacon & Mustard Dressing
  • Pumpkin Pie – Pop-Pop

It’s a carb-heavy menu I know – but you have to give the people what they want!!!!

Now for the second component of the list.  The daily tasks.  We write the tasks we will do each day – including calendar items from our “regular life” so that nothing is forgotten.  As we match Thanksgiving tasks with days, we work backwards, filling in things that can get done early where there is time available.  We also try to schedule some “me time” or “us time” on the list so we’re not completely burnt out by the holiday.

The following is the tasks section from The List:

SATURDAY:

  • confirm food assignments
  • buy small roller cover
  • make applesauce
  • 2nd coat of paint on bench
  • gym
  • call cuisinart
  • bathe Macy
  • state store
  • make chicken cordon bleu meatloaf
  • fix cords on bedroom television

SUNDAY:

  • hang hooks
  • wash sheets
  • clean upstairs
  • clean master bathroom
  • gym
  • grocery shop for all but perishables
  • make pizza dough for Barb’s party
  • make meatballs and sauce for Monday night dinner
  • bake sweet potatoes for lunches
  • make soup for tonight’s dinner

MONDAY:

  • J&J work
  • Jeff men’s ministry in p.m.
  • buy charcoal
  • take beer to KS for party
  • finish painting bench
  • iron napkins

TUESDAY

  • Jeff ear doctor
  • clean living room, kitchen, powder room
  • get pumpkin beer from Craig
  • corn out of freezer
  • chicken drippings and broth out of freezer
  • wax bench
  • pick up turkey
  • Barb’s party

WEDNESDAY

  • finish cleaning
  • walk with Macy
  • brine turkey
  • make corn pie
  • prep Brussels sprouts
  • crisp bacon for pears
  • prep gravy ingredients
  • prep sautéed pear ingredients
  • make dressing for pears
  • get BGE ready (chips, charcoal, drip pan, etc.)
  • set table
  • set buffet table

THURSDAY

  • 3:00 am – light BGE
  • 3:30 am – turkey on BGE
  • make gravy
  • make sautéed pears
  • last-minute straightening
  • fill water glasses
  • ENJOY company

Finally, the last component of The List is the groceries.  We make two grocery lists…..one we will use on Sunday when we purchase everything except the perishables and the other for those things that have to be purchased at the last minute.

To save time at the store – which we all know will be quite crowded no matter when we go this week – the list is sorted into categories.  I won’t share the entire list with you, but the categories are as follows:

  • Produce
  • Meats
  • Bakery
  • Dairy
  • Snacks
  • Baking
  • Dry & Prepared
  • Frozen
  • Liquor Store
  • Miscellaneous

I don’t always sort my grocery lists this way, but I’d say I do about 85% of the time and I miss it when I don’t have it sorted.  The days I don’t take the extra time to sort my lists are the ones I find myself wandering back and forth through the store because I’ve missed something in produce and don’t discover it until I’m in the frozen foods section.

If you’re new to hosting holidays, I’d strongly encourage you to find your version of The List.  Our way won’t work for everyone, but it is a great jumping off point.  Knowing what you need to do each day will keep you from panicking or being overloaded on the actual holiday.

A funny story from one of our early Thanksgivings – one that I’m sure is not unique to us, but from which I hope someone can learn.  I’m not sure it was the first time we were hosting Thanksgiving, but it may have been.  I didn’t realize Jeff had purchased a frozen turkey.  I didn’t discover that fact until Wednesday evening when I began thinking about what time I needed to put the bird into the oven.  Well, after many phone calls with my mom, I’m sure a few tears and some panic, Jeff and I were up most of the night changing the water in the bathtub to thaw the turkey (which was so large it didn’t fit in our kitchen sink).

I wish I could say that was the year that inspired The List; but we are slow learners.  It wasn’t until many more panicky holiday moments that we realized a list would save us stress, long nights and a more than one argument!  So from years of holiday experience, I present to you The List!

Valentines Dinner for 2

Because Jeff and I both had to work yesterday, we celebrated Valentine’s Day last Saturday.  We went to see a movie, which we haven’t done in ages and we went out for dinner.

I’ll admit we didn’t pick the most romantic movie ever made – in fact, the movie we chose probably wouldn’t make it into the list of The Top 1,000 Most Romantic Movies Ever; but we both enjoyed it.  We’ve both been wanting to see American Sniper since it was first released, but our schedules kept getting in the way; so finally, as a gesture of love for Valentine’s Day, we finally made it to the theater!

Some of you may want to throw things at me when I write this (so I’m glad I’m safely behind my computer and you are safely behind yours), but I thought the movie was OK.  Don’t get me wrong, I think the real-life story is incredible and the movie certainly made me grateful for all the men and women who are brave enough to do things those of us who are not in the military fortunately don’t even have to think about.  But I thought the movie itself could have been better.  Of course, in order to be better it might have had to be 6 – 8 hours long….but anyway this post isn’t about the movie…….

After the movie, Jeff and I went out for dinner.  Again, romance did not guide our decision.  We decided to try Korealicious in Lemoyne, which was highly recommended to us by family. Korealicious makes both traditional and Korean fusion dishes.

Not having a Korean guide with us and not getting much feedback to our questions from our waitress, we ordered three dishes (some of which we remembered my sister talking about when she told us about her family’s recent visit to Korealicious).

Here’s what we ordered and the menu descriptions:

  • DUK BOKI (Spicy Korean Rice Cakes) – A popular Korean dish made from soft rice cakes, fish cake and sweet red chili sauce.

DUK BOKI

  • JAJANGMYEON – A noodle dish topped with a thick sauce made of chunjang (a salty black soybean paste), ground pork, chicken and vegetables (zucchini, onions, carrots).

JAJANGMYEON

  • BULGOGI – Korean style grilled marinated beef served with rice.

BULGOGI

The food was delicious, if a bit strange (not in a bad way) to our taste buds because we haven’t eaten a lot of Korean food. Having only one other Korean food experience (at a Korean BBQ called Honey Pig outside of DC), I cannot speak to how the food stacks up to traditional Korean food; but I can tell you we really enjoyed it!  In addition to the food we ordered, we also ordered hot tea and were served a yummy tea that tasted faintly of sesame seeds.

Condiments

Of course, there were some bowls of yummy little condiments served at the beginning of the meal – pickled radishes, cucumbers and Kimchi.  The duk boki reminded me of gnocchi – although the rice noodles/dumplings were longer than gnocchi, they had the same texture – but of course, the sauce was completely Korean – spicy and delish!  The bulgogi did not disappoint – the beef was tender and the marinade was yummy…a little sweet and very flavorful.  The jajangmyeon was interesting (in a good way)- the noodles were long and chewy and the sauce was tangy and thick.

The décor is simple and there aren’t many tables.  But Korealicious has a kind of funky vibe.

The service, however, was another matter entirely.

In a word, it was terrible.  Our waitress either was too shy to answer our menu questions or she didn’t know how to answer them or she didn’t want to.  In my opinion, when you are serving a type of food that is unfamiliar to many of the people who live in the area in which you are located, you should expect to and be prepared to answer some questions about the food.  In fact, I’d even go so far as to say you should be enthusiastic about what you are offering; however I know we all have different personalities.  But if you work in a restaurant you should have SOME knowledge of the menu and willingness to answer questions.

While this may be a cultural thing, we hoped for some small plates on which to put a little of each dish we ordered rather than reaching across the table and trying to maneuver noodles on chopsticks into our mouths without making a mess.  Because our waitress didn’t check up on us after she delivered our food, Jeff had to go in search of plates and napkins and water.

After our food was plunked onto the table with no explanation as to which dish was which, we didn’t see our waitress at the table again.  EVER.  She was moving about the dining room and working in the kitchen, so she was busy; but she was never to be seen at our table.  No one asked if we needed anything else or if we were enjoying our food.

After we had finished our meal and waited another 40 minutes (during which we were happily talking with one another, but still hoping to leave) we had to ask for to-go containers.  While we were waiting we heard another diner talking with what we assumed from the conversation was one of the owners. The woman we assumed to be an owner was complaining about how busy the restaurant has been.

Now, I know the restaurant business can be a tiring one – both physically and mentally, and that everyone has a bad day; but as a customer I’d prefer not to overhear someone complaining about my business.

Overall, I would give Korealicious 2 M’s our of 5.

2 ms for Korealicious

I’m not sure if they take reservations – I did not see any indication on the website; but if you want to give Korealicious a try, I would recommend either going early or late – not at the dinner rush.  I’d also recommend not sitting too close to the door on a cold night. And don’t go with the expectation of having great service.  Now, if I were rating on the food alone, I’d give Korealicious a much better rating……in fact, you may want to do takeout!!!

As for dinner on February 14th…..that gets 5 M’s out of 5!

5 Ms for Jeffilicious

I got home from work last night and I was tired – a good tired, but tired nonetheless.  I was on my feet from 8 am to 4:30 pm on Thursday, from 9 am to after 10 pm (with a short time to sit and rest my tired dogs) on Friday, and then from 10:30 am to 5:30-ish yesterday.  No, I’m not complaining ….. just telling you how things went down this weekend.  So I was physically tired when I got home last night.  And I was prepared to have a quick shower and head to bed.

YuMmmMmmMmm

But when I walked into the kitchen, I found a plate of pretty little cookies and a note from Jeff (who was working).  I will share the parts of the note that apply to this post…….

“I wanted to make a dinner to have ready for you when you got home, like Ina does for Jeffrey.  I kept whispering, “don’t tell Janice” but no one heard me…here are some instructions to finish:

1. On the bottom shelf of the fridge, there is a beverage that “pops.” Enjoy now or later.

2. Start pasta water (it’s already salted!!!)

3. Cook pasta.  Colander is in sink.

4. Have dessert now or later – your call.

5. Add meatballs to sauce in blue pot (they are in the fridge on the bottom shelf).

6. Heat the red sauce and meatballs.

7. Salad is in a bowl on the bottom shelf of fridge.  It needs to be dressed [the dressing was in a container next to the note].

8. Eat !! “

It just doesn’t get any better than that!  I am the luckiest wife – more blessed than I deserve!!!!  So that you don’t think me cold and heartless, I did take that quick shower, but I waited for Jeff to get home from work before I enjoyed the lovely meal he prepared!  He made Ina Garten’s spaghetti and meatballs and it was fantastic.  The décor was homey, the service impeccable and – best of all – I got to eat dinner in my jammies!!!!

Recipe Review: Bacon Bourbon Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts on CounterOur family is growing – a new baby and new or newish significant others for my nieces, including an impending wedding – and that means readjusting holiday schedules.  I’m sure you’ve been through it in your family and hope that you make it as easy as possible on those being pulled in multiple directions. Trying to make everyone happy can be exhausting and is difficult at best.

This year, our family Thanksgiving celebration was rescheduled for Black Friday, and then again for Sunday, 11/30. Rather than stress about it, I looked at it as a way to have an extremely low-key Thanksgiving day (which we sure did) and as extra time to decide what to make for our celebration!

My assignment was to bring a vegetable. And that is where the quandary began. First, the age-old question….”Does corn count as a vegetable?” Second, “Not even if it’s a holiday?”  Then the question of tradition presented itself….”Can we really have Thanksgiving dinner without Corn Pie?” And…”If not corn pie, then can we live another year without Diane Phillips’ Gulliver’s Corn?”  I’m not sure why there are dishes we only make on the holidays, but I know my family is not alone in this.  Finally…”If not a traditional dish, then what?”

The answer presented itself in the form of a cooking show.  I turned on a recent episode of Giada DiLaurentiis’ ‘giada at home‘ and the first thing she mentioned was Bacon Bourbon Brussels Sprouts.  Not only did the recipe sound fantastic, I knew Jeff had harvested a boat-load of Brussels sprouts just a few days earlier.  With the decision made, we purchased the bourbon (ok, technically we used Whiskey because Jack Daniel’s isn’t made in Kentucky, but you get the idea) and the slab bacon and waited for the 30th to arrive!

After church on Sunday morning, we set about following Giada’s recipe.  Jeff worked making the glaze while I worked on preparing the bacon and the Brussels sprouts to skewer.

Making the glaze:

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I cut the slab bacon into 3/4″ cubes and slid them into a 375 degree F oven for about 8 minutes so the fat would begin to render.  I blanched the Brussels sprouts for about 4 minutes, submerged them in an ice bath to stop the cooking, dried them with a kitchen towel, and tossed them with olive oil and kosher salt.

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I cut all the Brussels sprouts in half so that the glaze could seep in between the many layers of the veggies.  I’m pretty sure Giada did this on the show; although the recipe says to cut the Brussels sprouts in half ‘if needed.’

While I assembled the skewers, Jeff preheated the Big Green Egg (BGE).  Because we don’t have a stove top grill pan, we decided to use the BGE – and we weren’t even a bit sorry….not only did the Brussels sprouts end up with great smokey flavor; Jeff and I spent the rest of the day smelling of a camp fire, which is a scent I’m never sorry to inhale!

Skewered But Not Grilled

On the BGE

Hot Off the BGE

I’d give this recipe 4 1/2 M’s out of 5.  The flavor was wonderful, the ingredients were easy to obtain (particularly because I had a fridge full of Brussels sprouts), the instructions were straightforward (but I’m glad I had seen the episode of ‘giada at home’ because I knew to cut the Brussels sprouts in half), and there weren’t too many steps.  But I wonder if skewering is necessary.  Yes, the skewers looked nice; but they did take quite a bit of time to assemble.  This dish would certainly have been just as delicious if grilled in a grill basket and served in a plain, white bowl. And there’d be no flying Brussels sprouts at the table while trying to gracefully remove the veggies from the skewers!

4 and one half ms for bacon bourbon brussels sprouts

Overall, this recipe is a winner.  Judging by the reaction of everyone around the Thanksgiving table, I believe the Bacon Bourbon Brussels Sprouts will be a new traditional Thanksgiving dish!

What are the dishes your family only makes on Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving: Part I

Ready of not, the holidays are upon us!

Now I don’t know what your family holidays are like; but when my family gets together, chaos ensues!  You think I’m kidding?  Ha….be careful….you may have to be invited to see for yourself.

This past Saturday, Jeff and I drove to Bethlehem with my mom and dad to have the first of two Thanksgiving dinners.  On Thanksgiving, my immediate family will have dinner at my mom and dad’s house; the dinner in Bethlehem was with extended – but no less important – family.

So anyway, the chaos….it began before we even got in the car.  Now mind you, we were going for a Thanksgiving meal, but my mom – ever the hostess – made sandwiches for Jeff and I to eat in the car because we had arrived straight from a ministry event at church and hadn’t had time for lunch.  In addition to making sandwiches, she was also making sure she had everything packed that was on her list of things to bring to my aunt’s house.  My aunt lives in a lovely neighborhood, in a beautiful home that has a more than well-equipped kitchen and plenty of furniture.  Why am I telling you this?  Because when I tell you some of the things my mom packed for a few hours and a single meal, you will surely wonder if my aunt lives in a tent.  She DOES NOT.

We were each assigned something to contribute to the meal.  My mom was to bring a cheese tray and I was to bring roasted veggies.  My checklist included the veggies, a serving bowl and a serving spoon – pretty straightforward, right?  My mom’s checklist included all the food items, a tray, paper leaves on which to serve the cheese, small cheese knives, several kitchen knives, several spoons, small bowls for noshes including olives and nuts, 3 baskets, ironed cloth napkins, scissors, a cutting board, handiwipes, a thermal carrier to keep the cheeses cool, paper towels, her First Holy Communion dress and two tables – yes tables.  No, my aunt did not ask her to bring tables.

Needless to say, the trunk was full.  Unfortunately, so was the CD player – full of opera, classical music and the best of Andrew Lloyd Webber.  I am not opposed to any of those types of music in moderation – but since the holidays are not a time my family practices moderation, we learned a little bit about “too much of a good thing.”  Add to the music a little too much heat and a little too much swaying in the back seat and you end up as I did – car sick….a great precursor to an enormous holiday meal!!!

I will be the first to admit, having everything needed to assemble the cheese tray – including a place to work without being in the way of the rest of the food prep – was terrific.  But the looks of incredulity on the faces of my aunt and cousin as we brought in bag after bag after bag after table were priceless!

Once we arrived, others were not far behind.  All total we had 15 people spanning four generations, 3 dogs (too many open doors because one dog escaped), 2 wheelchairs, several arguments, lots of alcohol, the blaring of the smoke alarm, enough food to feed the 5,000 , and lots of love!  I loved my time in the kitchen with my cousins, Mic and Richie!  I love the banter and sharing of recipes and cooking tips, the chance to catch up and to reminisce.  The chance to work side by side and laugh and watch the rest of the family interact.

The menu included:

  • Cheese & Nut Board
  • Crespelle (a.k.a. Scripelle)
  • Waldorf Salad
  • Turducken (a first for me)
  • Horseradish Crusted Tenderloin of Beef
  • Baked Sweet Potatoes
  • Mashed Rutabagas
  • 3 kinds of stuffing (including the one in the turducken)
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Roasted Vegetable Platter
  • Baked Corn Casserole
  • Gravy
  • Cranberry Sauce
  • Homemade Pasta with Honey Bacon Alfredo
  • Stewed Apples
  • Pumpkin Roll
  • Apple Pie
  • Cranberry Bars
  • Mulled Wine

Everything was delicious, but we should have pared it down a bit!  Marge, my cousin Mic’s wife, made some wonderful desserts that few of us were able to eat until the next day because we were too full from the rest of the meal.

Take a look at some of the pics:

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In spite of the motion sickness, smoke alarms, and pandemonium, I am thankful.  Thankful for good food, for good times and for family – however crazy! So, yes, the holidays are upon us.  The chaos has begun.  Here’s to making it through.

Stay tuned for Thanksgiving: Part II….

What is on your Thanksgiving menu?

Monday MmmMmmMmm and Class Recap

I LOVE breakfast for dinner! And tonight Jeff made it so it was even better!  And the pancakes were savory, so now we’re 3 for 3!

When I left work tonight I got stuck in traffic – there was a disabled tractor-trailer blocking one lane of the road and things were rrrrreeeeeaaaaallllllllllyyyyy backed up.  So I called Jeff to let him know that I would probably get home later than he would.  Since he had a meeting at church tonight, I suggested that he have some leftover pasta and I told him I would make a sandwich for myself later.

Little did I know he already had a plan cooking in his head!  When I got home he was working on batter for cornmeal pancakes to which he added some sautéed veggies (onions, peppers, spinach, kale) and cheese.  While he was making the batter he was also heating a pan – when the batter was done he spooned some into the hot pan and went to change.  I kept an eye on the pancakes, turning them before he returned.

Pancake Batter

Pancakes on the Griddle

In a matter of minutes we were sitting down to a delicious and nutritious dinner AND Jeff was able to get out the door on time.  I’ll be honest, sometimes the best thing I can do to get dinner on the table is stay out of the way!!!!  I really appreciate it when someone else cooks for me – it makes a Monday MmmMmmMmm even mmm mmm mmm-ier!

While we were eating I was reviewing yesterday in my head.  I taught a class entitled ‘Holiday Brunch for Overnight Guests’ at the Kitchen Shoppe yesterday and I had a great time.

Although I’ve enjoyed all the classes I’ve taught so far, I had a really great group of people yesterday and they made it a lot of fun for me!  I hope they had as much fun as I did!!!  They asked a lot of good questions, interacted with one another, shared tips and ideas, and really seemed to enjoy the food (which, of course, makes me happy).

The menu for class was:

  • Bloody Mary with Roasted Tomatoes
  • Mozzarella, Prosciutto and Arugula Pesto Bruschetta
  • Holiday Baked Egg Casserole
  • Bacon & Green Onion Studded Potato Pancakes
  • French Breakfast Puffs
  • Fruit Skewers with Orange Vinaigrette

The hands-down favorite seemed to be the French Breakfast Puffs, which are yummy light muffins that are rolled in melted butter and cinnamon sugar and served warm.  I first had these on  a trip to Cape Cod.  They were made by The Cottage Street Bakery and have been a family favorite ever since.  I’m glad I got to share them with my class.

The following is a picture of the buffet I set for class yesterday:

Brunch for Overnight Guests BUffet

I hope the folks who came to class will use some of the recipes for the holidays and that they will think of me when they do.  I will surely remember what a good time I had with them the next time I make one of the recipes I served in class.

What are some of your favorite things to serve to overnight guests?

Entertaining Successes and Failures

Last Sunday – Mothers Day – I spent the day with my mom, my sister and my two nieces.  It was a wonderful day.  We began the first leg of our trip at 11:00 a.m. (ok, 11:05 – I was running late).  We traveled to Millersville (through A LOT of traffic) to pick up my younger niece, Ashley.  I was (and still am) quite surprised at how much traffic there was in Millersville on a Sunday – clearly someone needs to do some traffic studies for the town, but that’s a rant for another day.

We didn’t even get out of the car at Ashley’s apartment – she met us in the driveway and we set of for Vanessa’s apartment in West Chester.  Although we did our best to arrive on time, we were about 45 minutes to an hour late.  But the good news for Vanessa – our hostess for the day – was that we were famished when we arrived!  Hungry guests make for great meals.

Mothers Day was the first time Nessa hosted the family for a holiday (I thought about writing “minor holiday;” but I don’t want to offend any moms, least of all my own) and she did a terrific job with brunch.  She served mimosas, which are always an excellent choice for brunch, a delicious egg casserole, yogurt and granola, fruit salad, and muffins – blueberry and chocolate chip.  The food was beautifully displayed on the dining room table with white plates, colorful napkins and bright yellow tulips.

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Easter Sunday

What a wonderful day!

It could have gone badly because I didn’t fall asleep until about 4:00 a.m. (first caffeine in a week after 5:00 pm – duh!) and I woke up late.  But it didn’t go badly at all.  Despite the cold, raining weather, it was just about as perfect a day as I could have!

There’s no better way to celebrate Easter than at Daybreak Church in Mechanicsburg with our church family.  It was so nice to see so many people under the big tent – people we don’t get to see every Sunday.  There’s something special about greeting one another on Easter – it’s just a little more magical somehow.  And I was thrilled to have our nieces and brother-in-law sitting next to us.  It’s been too long since they’ve joined us for church.  It filled my heart in a way that I cannot explain with words.

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Easter Eve

Whew….it’s 10:25 p.m. as I begin this post and I am tired.  It’s been a busy, but good day.  Tomorrow is Easter and Jeff and I are hosting my mom and dad, my sister and her husband, their two girls, and possibly one boyfriend.  If you’ve been reading for any length of time, you know this makes me happy!  Cooking for and entertaining people I love fuels my soul.  It gives me energy and just makes my heart sing.

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My day began early because the dough for my Italian Easter Bread was ready for some attention!  I started the dough yesterday afternoon and took it through its various steps and stages.  And this morning it was ready to be shaped and put into pans for the final rise.  Normally I make one large braided ring with colored eggs baked into it; but this year I decided to bake three braided loaves with no eggs.  You see, although the eggs look pretty, no one in my family ever eats them.

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It’s the Holiday Season – Whoop-De-Do or Whoop-De-Don’t?

“Chrismas makes you feel emotional,
It may bring parties or thoughts devotional
Whatever happens, whatever may be
Here is what Christmas time means to me…..”

It’s true – Christmas does make me feel emotional.  Sometimes in a good way and sometimes in a not-so-good way. I was reading an article on mercurynews.com earlier today that included a quote by author Sophia Dembling.  The quote about Christmas read, “it’s the most extroverted time of the year.”  I can really relate to that….particularly being an introvert myself.  The article went on to quote Dembling as saying, “I don’t want to check out of it entirely, but it can just completely overwhelm you, and then you get crabby.”

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Merry Christmas Darling

Oh what fun it is…..to sleep late and have a luxurious morning!  That’s what I did this morning.  I woke up late – truthfully not even sure of the exact time , but I think it was close to 10:00 and spent some time in God’s word.  If I accomplish nothing else today, I have already received a great gift!

But….lo and behold, I’ve already accomplished more.

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It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas – Friday

Ooohhhhh, what a fun and productive day we had yesterday!

My friend Holly, who has a Costco membership, was gracious enough to accompany me and my Mom, Mimi, there so that we could buy some things for our Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve.

The day began at my house at 9:00 am……my mom met me there for a quick bowl of savory oatmeal and a cup-a-joe.  Next we met Holly at her house at 10:00 and the day was officially under way.

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It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas – Thursday

My lunch with Ashley (my beautiful niece) and Mimi (my mom) got off to a slow start……I was at the appointed meeting place – Pizza Grill – at 11:30 a.m..  At 11:56 I texted to Jeff the following, “I should have known better than to make Ashley and Mimi responsible for getting one another here. What was I thinking? It’s like the blOnd leading the blind!”  LOL!!!!

When they finally arrived, we had a good laugh about our less-than-smooth execution of a plan!  And then we had a great lunch!  We ordered a sun-dried Tomato and Feta Salad, a Crab Pizza on whole wheat, and a cup of Seafood Soup.  Everyone was sooooo hungry, but once we ate we were all quite satisfied with our choices and were fortified for an afternoon of cookie baking.

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It’s a Family Tradition

Yesterday, Jeff and I met my “cousin,” Richie, for a little shopping and lunch in Philadelphia’s Italian Market.  This meeting got me to thinking about family and about traditions.  Richie is considerably younger than I am – in fact I remember he was still in a car seat when I was in my freshman year of college – and for some reason it struck me yesterday that his memory of our family’s traditions is very different from my memory of them.

All this ruminating on traditions got Jeff and I talking about them on the way from central PA to Philly in the morning.  He shared with me what he remembers about holiday traditions throughout his life (who he spent the holidays with, where they held their holiday meals or celebrations, and what kinds of food they had) and I shared with him what I remember about holiday traditions throughout mine.  We talked about how in his family the holiday traditions changed over time (at least during the time he was living with his family, roughly from birth to his early 20s) and how in my family they remained very much the same – at least from my perspective.

Of course, we talked about the subject with Richie over “sangwiches” at Paesano’s in the Italian Market. And he has a completely different perspective on the subject than either Jeff or I.  Not only is he from a different generation; but his parents are divorced and so he has two separate celebrations of each holiday and he is also dating a lovely girl whose family lives in a different state than his family, which adds another layer of holiday travel and tradition.

Don’t miss the pics of marketing or “sangwiches” at Paesano’s.  Click here to view them!

I wonder, since his generation is much more transient than mine (and mine is much more than my parent’s), if we’ve lost traditions over time or just built a new kind……

In my parent’s “day,” holidays were all about family (and, of course, food) and it was fairly easy (compared to today) to get the family together because for the most part the extended family lived relatively close to one another.  I see with people in my age cohort, that holidays are less about family – perhaps due to geographic spread.  And I wonder in the generations younger than mine, if the holiday traditions will be even less about family.

OR, do we have to change the way we define family?

When I was thinking about family this evening – what popped in my head is, “family is the people God gave to you and the people God gave you to.”  That could encompass biological families; but it can also include the families we choose….spouses, friends, etc.

It makes me sad to think that traditions are lost over time; but perhaps they aren’t lost so much as they evolve.  And I wonder, if we could, what we would choose for our traditions….

Strangely enough, I was thumbing through this month’s edition of bon appetit magazine just before I sat down at my computer and began reading an article by Adam Sachs entitled “The Tradition Starts Here.”  The end of the article reads, “The main thing I hope he’ll [author referring to his son] remember is to improve them as he goes.  Our traditions are only as good as we make them.”

So as much as I want to pass down the traditions of my youth to my nieces; I’ll be sure this year to ask them what they want their traditions to be or how they’d like to change/improve them.  AND I am looking forward to starting some new traditions….I’ve written before about how much I enjoyed “visiting” on the holidays as a kid, but that’s gotten more difficult because of geography.  Our extended family is much more spread out now than ever before – so (1) we’ll have to start “visiting” on the actual holidays with friends, and (2) we’ll have to be more intentional to set aside time for “visiting” with family.  It certainly won’t be as spontaneous as I remember, but the important part is that we’ll be together.

Jeff, Me and Richie waiting at a VERY crowded Paesano’s. Waited a LLLOOONNNGGG time, but it was good to catch up and worth the wait!

 

Topic Melange

The last 48 hours feel like a whirlwind…..so I am glad to be sitting down for a minute to write about them!

I spent the evening on Wednesday at the Kitchen Shoppe helping at a hands-on class. And I sure had a great time!  The class, Holiday Pierogies, was composed of 23 students who had various levels of experience making pierogi.  It was so much fun to see groups of friends, grandmother & granddaughter, father & son, etc. working together to make a traditional food. Tracee, the instructor, did a fantastic job of keeping everyone on track and making sure everyone had success.  Not only was it a fun experience for the students; but the bonus for me was that I had a ball as well!

I returned home on Wednesday evening to find a brown box on my front porch – not an unusual sight at this time of year since we do much of our Christmas shopping online.  However, I hadn’t ordered anything that was scheduled to arrive on Wednesday; so the mischievous part of me was anxious to get to the box before Jeff….I know, I probably shouldn’t admit that in writing, but it’s true!  I brought the box inside and it was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Jeffery Groff….hmmmm…..curiouser and curiouser.  Jeff and I opened the box together and found a beautiful gift tower from Harry & David, but no gift card.  Interesting.  I called Harry & David and they told me who sent it – so now I can set about writing my thank you note.  But let me tell you about this gift – it includes six of Harry & David’s famous pears – including a single one wrapped in gold foil (a H&D tradition); a bag of Milk Chocolate Moose Munch Snack (a decadent mix of chocolate covered and caramel popcorn); a bag of mixed nuts; a box of beautiful chocolates with yummy fillings including milk chocolate, coffee, cherry, dark chocolate, raspberry (my favorite) and almond; and a bag of H&D chocolate cherries.  What a terrific gift for a foodie!!!!

That brings me to yesterday.  I had an extravagantly long lunch with my friend Holly.  She and I haven’t had a chance to spend much time together lately; so it was great to have a few hours (OK, maybe more) to catch up. We met at Sophia’s on Market (you know it’s one of my fav’s), where I ordered the Marinated Roast Beef Sandwich.  Their menu has several sandwiches that I love; but I was definitely in the mood for the one I ordered and I was not disappointed.  I always order the potato salad as a side, although for my taste there is never enough salt on it.  Fortunately, a salt shaker on the table fixes it up and I always enjoy it!!!  Sophia’s has such a warm and inviting atmosphere for spending time with a friend.  It’s cozy, decorated in a funky way with local art on the walls, and the conversation is lively, but not too loud.

After lunch I did some Christmas shopping and got the supplies for a Christmas project on which I am working.  Traffic was heavier than usual, but not the frustrating mess it can be near the holidays.  I hope to have my shopping done before the roads get too crowded!  When I got home I put in a little work on my Christmas project and then worked at my consulting job for several hours.  By the time I got around to eating dinner it was 9:30 – so I had a nice little cheese plate with red grapes. Mmm mmm mmm.

EARLY this morning my brain was spinning out of control – this often happens when I work later in the day, which I did last night.  So I got up and made myself a cup of homemade Chai.  If you’re not familiar with Chai it is a wonderfully soothing, warm spiced tea and milk drink that originated in India.  It was the perfect beverage for some time in God’s Word.  Both the drink and the message from the Bible wrapped around me like a well-worn blanket, soothed my mind and soul, and brought me to a place where I could sink back into bed for another two hours of sleep.

The ingredients I use in the chai I make include: water, milk (whole milk is best but I didn’t have any in the fridge), honey, vanilla paste, loose Darjeeling tea, and a mix of spices.  The photo at right shows the tea and spices, including from front to back: fennel seed, nutmeg, cardamom, black peppercorns, tea, ground ginger (I would have used fresh if I had any), a cinnamon stick and star anise. The spices are steeped in the water for several minutes.  Then the milk, honey, vanilla paste, and tea are added and the whole thing is steeped for about 3 more minutes. After it has steeped to the desired taste, it is strained and then I froth it a bit with a whisk and serve it in a pretty mug. Mmm mmm mmm.

As I said, the Chai and God’s message for me helped me quiet my mind so that I could get a few more hours of sleep.  When I woke up, I made a delicious fritatta with onion, red pepper, a mix of ground beef and ground turkey, cheddar, and parsley.  I made enough for me to have for breakfast and for Jeff to have for dinner.  You see, I will be back at the Kitchen Shoppe tonight by the time he gets home from work and I want him to have a warm dinner on a dreary, rainy day!

 

Ladies Who Lunch

Growing up I remember doing a lot of “visiting” on and around the holidays – in fact, it was one of my favorite parts about this time of year.  Visiting in my family typically occurred at one of three places – my grandmother’s house, her sister Mary’s house, or their sister Mag’s (Margaret) house.  Later in the evening, after each of the three families had finished their main holiday meal, all the families got together and……well…….ate some more!  Not a full meal, but there was always food and drink.

My Aunt Mary (actually my mom’s aunt, but we called her Aunt Mary)  had the best setup at her house for the large number of people who gathered because she and her husband – Uncle George – had a basement with a table that I thought could seat about 100 people!  Invariably, the women gathered either in the kitchen or the dining room (usually the kitchen), the men around the t.v., and the kids in the basement.  If I promised to be quiet, I got to sit with the big girls in the kitchen…..so, believe it or not (and I know this will be a stretch for those of you who know my ability to talk), I was quiet – most of the time!

What I remember enjoying was all the generations being together talking and laughing.  Yesterday we had a mini recreation of holiday visiting at my mom’s house.  My Aunt Pam (again, not my aunt, but my mom’s cousin – but they may as well have been sisters) came out to visit from Bethlehem; so my sister (Laura) and her girls (Vanessa and Ashley) joined my mom (Connie), Aunt Pam, and me for lunch.  It was great to have several generations around the table talking and laughing!

My mom made lentil sausage soup – Ina Garten’s recipe from her book Barefoot in Paris – and served warm bread and rolled provolone cheese & salami.  It was a warm, hearty, satisfying lunch with exceptional company and great conversation.  Cross-generational communication is always interesting to me! And I am seeing things from a new perspective these days….as I was growing up I was in the youngest or younger generation at gatherings and now I’m smack dab in the middle, so I have a new view of things – I get to listen to the younger generation and be amazed at how smart younger people are these days and occasionally roll my eyes!

Our time together was heart-warming to me….we ate good food and talked about all aspects of life – from work and careers to relationships and life lessons.  We also talked some about family history.  I love hearing stories about how things used to be; but I also love the exuberance of the generation who is just beginning their own traditions!

For dessert I made an Apple Upside Down Cake – an adaptation of a recipe from Diane Phillips – one of the instructors at the Kitchen Shoppe.  In a recent class, Diane made Pear Upside Down Cake with Warm Caramel Sauce – since I couldn’t find nice pears, I used apples and it was a nice twist on the original using ingredients that were available to me in the moment. Luckily, I was able to garnish the serving platter with the most delicious chocolate-covered candied orange peel made by my Aunt Pam – a treat we always enjoy.  We also sipped Aunt Pam’s homemade Limoncello Cream, a variation of standard limoncello from Sorrento (which you can usually purchase in a liquor store).  Limoncello Cream is made with lemons, grain alcohol, milk, sugar, and water.  It warms the body as well as the soul and since it’s not readily available, has to be homemade!

After lunch Laura and the girls left – each going a separate way. Vanessa home to West Chester to have dinner with her boyfriend, Justin.  Ashley back to school in Millersville. And Laura home – just a bit down the road in Mechanicsburg.

Mimi (my mom, Connie), Aunt Pam and I left for a little shopping.  We went to First Impressions in Linglestown – one of my favorite shops and then to Community Aid and Making Sense in Mechanicsburg. Aunt Pam won the prize for best bargains of the day.  For under $20 she bought a Talbot’s down vest, a Ralph Lauren sweater-ish vest, a three-piece velour and wool outfit from Saks Fifth Avenue – with the tag still on, a cute purse and two aperitif (no, Mimi, not “a parakeet”) glasses that I think are Mikasa. Wow – she is a consignment guru!!!

As we were driving along the river going from the East Shore to the West Shore, God treated us to the most amazing sunset…..I just have to share a photo with you, but the photo simply does not do justice to the beauty we saw before us!

In the last several years, time and distance and life (literally birth and death) has changed the makeup of our extended family.  Gatherings of extended family don’t happen nearly as often and they certainly aren’t the same as I remember them. I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to have a family lunch yesterday and I hope we can use it as a spring-board for more extended family gatherings.  I grew up spending a lot of time in the company of my aunts, uncles and cousins and I miss that time.  Although it won’t ever be exactly what it was, I hope that we can create new traditions and memories for all the generations!

Photos of the Apple Upside Down Cake w/ Warm Caramel Sauce Garnished with Chocolate-Covered Candied Orange Peel

 

Diane Phillips’ Pear Upside Down Cake with Warm Caramel Sauce

Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter (melted)
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar (firmly packed)
  • 2 Medium pears (firm-ripe (about 1 pound))
  • 1 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 Large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla paste or vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (softened)
  • 1 cup light brown sugar (packed)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar (packed)
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or vanilla extract

Note

Recipe courtesty of Diane Phillips

Directions

Topping - using first 3 ingredients
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat the bottom and sides of a 9 x 2 inch round cake pan with non-stick cooking spray.
2. In a small bowl, stir together the butter and sugar. Pour into the bottom of the prepared pan.
3. Peel, core, and cut the pears lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices.
4. Arrange the pear slices on the bottom of the pan in a circle around the edge, overlapping them slightly, with the pointed ends toward the center.
5. If necessary, cut a little off the pointed ends to make the slices fit better. Or if the pear slices don't reach all the way to the middle, arrange a few shorter slices in the center to cover the bottom of the pan.
Cake
6. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, and salt into a medium bowl. Stir to combine. In a small bowl, stir together the milk, eggs and vanilla.
7. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
8. Reduce the speed and add the milk mixture, it will look curdled. Add the flour mixture, and beat until the mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes.
9. Spoon the batter in large dollops over the pears and smooth it into an even layer with an offset spatula. Bake the cake until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes. Transfer t he pan to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan. Turn a cake plate upside down on top of the cake pan and, using pot holders, carefully invert the cake pan onto the plate.
10. Serve the cake warm with vanilla ice cream and/or warm caramel sauce.
Warm Caramel Sauce - using last 4 ingredients
11. In a medium speed saucepan, melt the butter, and add the brown sugar, stir until the sugar is melted.
12. Add the cream, and bring to a boil for 1 minute.
13. The sauce can be cooled, and refrigerated for up to 1 month. Reheat on the stovetop.