Archive for the 'Holidays' Category

Mutant Turkey

In my defense, I’ve never actually cooked a turkey. Sure I’ve seen them done, I’m no stranger to the kitchen during Thanksgiving preparation, but I’ve never had to do it on my own. That is, until last year.

I have no idea what possessed me to blurt out, “I’ll cook this year,” when the family gathered around the table to strategize the holiday. I should’ve clued in it wasn’t as easy as I thought when there was a large collective sigh of relief and everyone readily agreed it was a wonderful idea. Instead, I was too busy imagining the glory of everyone telling me what a fabulous cook I was and how it was the best turkey they’d ever eaten. I began researching turkey recipes immediately, until I found “the one”. This recipe guaranteed your family would rave and insist you make it every year.

I was confident as I selected a meat thermometer for dummies, no pop-up timers for this girl, and the perfect turkey, a beautifully wrapped twenty pound behemoth. I’d done the math and decided that for six people a twenty pound bird was a must. I’d even talked turkey with a woman in line at the checkout, giving her pointers on what she should do.

The night before Thanksgiving, still dreaming of greatness, I prepared a brine to soak my fully-thawed turkey in overnight. I felt like a gourmet chef as I’d never seen my mother brine her dried out old turkeys. Everything I’d read promised that the salt/sugar solution would ensure the bird stayed tender, moist, and melt off the bone. I even remembered to take out the neck and giblets, I’d done a lot of turkey prep reading, and submerged the bird overnight.
The morning of, I rinsed the turkey thoroughly and stuffed the cavity with apples and onions, something else I’d never seen Mom do but the recipe called for it and after all it’d come with a guarantee. I inserted the thermometer into the thigh as directed, put the turkey in a cooking bag, and placed it in the oven — setting the timer for three hours per the directions.

The timer buzzed and I checked the thermometer. It showed the right temperature so I took out the turkey and it was a delicious golden brown. I mentally patted myself on the back as I cut into the bird and I swear it gobbled. It wasn’t done. No big deal, it happens, right? I put the bird back in the bag, reinserted the thermometer, and put it back in the oven for another hour.

My family waited with anticipation for the timer to go off. An hour later, the thermometer indicated it was again 180 degrees so I pulled it out and cut into the thigh meat. It gobbled again in protest, still raw. Back in. Back out. Still raw.

We played this game a little more, and then I sliced off some of the more done parts and nuked them in the microwave as the side dishes were getting cold and Three-feet-of-fun was starving. I put the turkey back in the bag, didn’t bother with the thermometer this time, it was obviously defective, and flung it back in the oven.
It baked while we ate, while we did the dishes, and while we ate pie. I took it out of the oven again and cut into it. Still raw, still gobbling. Fed up, I put it back in the oven and turned the temperature down. I told my husband to make sure it didn’t catch on fire and I went out shopping. My husband forgot about it and when I got back four hours later, I pulled it out of the oven and cut into it again. I couldn’t believe it, it was still raw.

I ended up baking that mutant turkey the rest of the day and night and it never did get completely cooked. My dreams were shattered. Maybe I’ll start cooking it on Halloween next year. That is if the family lets me.

Posted in Cooking, Holidays, Humor | No Comments »

Beyond the Sandwhich part3

In this third installment of Beyond the Sandwich, we’re looking at lamb.

This meal is ideal for the day after your holiday lamb leftovers and when you might want something lighter.

Mediterranean Lamb Salad

Ingredients:
Romaine lettuce
Field greens
Greek olives
Spanish Olives (with or without pimientos)
Fresh garlic
Fresh basil (not the dried flakes)
Tomatoes
Burpless cucumbers
Feta cheese
Greek vinaigrette (or other vinaigrette of choice)
Leftover lamb sliced thin
Cracked pepper (optional)

Instructions
Wash the tomatoes and cucumbers
Slice tomatoes in eighths and the cucumbers into thin slices and then in half
Cover the tomatoes and cucumbers with the dressing, add 1/2 t of fresh garlic, cover and chill during remaining steps

Wash and drain all of the greens
Slice about 4 long leaves romaine in small bite-sized pieces
Add the field greens to the romaine and toss together gently
Add the olives–about 1/4 of each (or more to your desire)
Add the feta and chilled marinating cucumbers and tomatoes (include liquid)
Toss all of the above together to cover all leaves and olives lightly (add more dressing if necessary)

Lay the above into a bed on plates.
Wash and pat dry the basil.
Gently lay the fresh basil in the center of the plated mixture. (Have fun with it and make a design with the basil leaves.)
Lay the sliced lamb on top of the basil and serve.

Posted in Uncategorized, Cooking, Holidays, Healthy Eating, Guest Blogger | No Comments »

Beyond the Sandwich: Making Use of Holiday Left-overs

We’re hosting Easter dinner this year for the extended family of 15, which means that despite the gazillion-pound ham that I bought at the market yesterday, there will be left overs. There always are. And of course, with left overs comes the lingering question of what to do with them to make them interesting for the next couple of days, and maybe even for a not-too-distant lunch, snack or dinner. Sure, I could send some home with the family as they each depart for their own homes, but that still leaves whatever is left for us to contend with. Whether you’re having ham, turkey or lamb for Easter (or any other holiday), these recipes may help make greater use of your leftovers too.

Disclaimer: Please forgive any missing quantities or measurements. I cook like my mom and grandma: part alchemy, part inspiration, part magic and a whole lot of love.

What to do with left-over ham: Savory Split-Pea Soup

You’re probably thinking “ick.” But this split pea soup will delight even the biggest naysayer. (I know, because my husband loves it.) If you have a ham with the bone in, save it, wrap it well in parchment paper or a freezer bag and refrigerate overnight or freeze if it will be longer than a day or two before using. (Don’t forget to put the date on it.) Do the same with some of the meat.

Ingredients:
Ham bone (optional)
Left over ham—diced (about 1 cup)
1 16 oz package of split peas
vegetable or chicken stock/broth (about 6 cups)
Sea salt
1 T. Ground black pepper
1 T. Yellow curry powder
2 T. Cilantro or recaito
One onion peeled and diced
Several cloves of garlic diced or pressed
One to two whole carrots, peeled and sliced into disks
Olive oil
fresh parsley or cilantro
sour cream or half-and-half
optional: sherry or sauterne

Equipment:
Stock pot
Wooden spoon
Rubber spatula
Ladle
Blender or food processor

Directions:
1 Wash and drain peas. Set aside. (You can soak them in warm water while they are set aside.)
2 In the stock pot, place 2 T olive oil
3 On medium heat sautee the onion, garlic and 1 T cilantro until the onion is clear
4 Reduce heat slightly and add the ham, sautee for about five minutes
5 Reduce heat again and add 1 cup of stock/broth
6 Add in the ham bone and add more broth gradually until the bone is covered (if not using the ham bone skip to #10 )
7 Increase heat again to medium-high and bring to a low rolling boil
8 After mixture boils, reduce heat and simmer until the meat falls off of the bone
9 Carefully remove the bone from the liquid and discard
10 Add the remaining broth (you can substitute one of the cups of broth with water or dry white wine)
11 Add the peas, carrots, 1 T of recaito or cilantro, 1 t of curry and the salt and pepper
12 Increase heat again and bring to a rolling boil
13 Reduce heat, cover and let simmer until the peas are tender (use a the back of a spoon and see if you can smush the peas against the side of the pot)
14 Remove from heat and let cool about 10 minutes
15 Carefully ladle the mixture into the blender or food processor
16 Add remaining curry (or more to taste) and blend until a velvety smooth texture and a uniform color
17 Remove from blender/food processor with a rubber spatula and serve in bowls
18 Sprinkle a bit more curry over the top and add a dollop of sour cream or swirl half-and-half in gently to the soup in small measures.
19 Garnish with a sprig of parsley or fresh cilantro and serve.

This soup can be served warm or cold. It also can be served in bread bowls for a fun touch. And, as a vegetarian option, skip the meat steps use vegetable stock. For added texture, use diced potatoes instead of meat, and add when adding the carrots and peas. Use the potatoes as the gauge for when to remove the mixture from the heat and blend.

Next on beyond the sandwich, ideas for left over turkey.

Posted in Uncategorized, Cooking, Holidays, Healthy Eating, Guest Blogger | No Comments »

V-Day Aftermath: Love Day!

In the aftermath of Valentines’ Day, I am wondering how many people are glad it is over.

I spoke with a few people yesterday who expressed that. Either they were sick of the media hype, hated how the holiday was portrayed as for women only, or just had no one to spend it with. All of those are valid reasons to not enjoy Valentines’.

It can be frustrating to try to pick the perfect gift. In the weeks before the 14th, ads showcasing jewelry, candy, and teddy bears are all over the television. Oh, and roses. Flowers are purchased by the millions for V-day alone. Personally, I think that buying a rose bush to plant in a pot or outside the home is a better, more eco-friendly idea.

You have men rushing to buy their wives or girlfriends presents, just not to be glared at or thought of as an ogre. Then you have women who are looking at the gift their man gave them with distaste. What a vicious cycle. The men are not sure what to buy, the women think the men should know, and in the end, everyone ends up with hurt feelings.

And then we have those who do not have a Valentine. What greater tragedy on Valentines’ Day? To be alone, with no one to cuddle or to give one of those gifts to, then be given a dirty look?

Bleh. I am sick of the hype as much as anyone else. So, I declare Feb. 15th to be Love Day.

What? Yes, I have just made a new holiday. Everyone in the world can share in it. For today, don’t go out buying gifts or cards, don’t take your Love out to dinner, and definitely do not buy them roses. A rose bush would be nice, though, just be sure to plant and water it.

Today, give all the love you have in your heart to everyone around you. Forgive arguments. Forget about missed holidays. Spend some quality time with your family, and call a friend you haven’t spoken with in a very long time.

Just give some love, it doesn’t cost a dime.

Posted in Uncategorized, Holidays | No Comments »

Bad Valentine’s Day Gifts

This year, when your husband hands you a gift that you would rather not have, restrain yourself from giving him the look of death. I know, I know, many women will wonder why they should not tell him to take that emergency car survival kit and put it where the sun doesn’t shine.

“Julie, don’t you watch television? Look at all of the diamonds! Chocolate! Roses! Shouldn’t he know better??

The straight answer is, “Yes, he does.?

Now, before you get all smug and think that I agree with the media’s over exposure of candy and flowers, I do not. Men know better than to fall prey to the marketing campaigns. At least, in their minds. You see, will a few flowers or chocolates keep you warm if your car breaks down in a freak winter storm? Can a diamond jumpstart your battery? God forbid you need to change a tire! What man in their right man would leave the woman he loves without a safety net?

Men think differently than we do. Often, when a man buys a gift, he has practical thoughts. ‘Can she use this?’ is probably the top question in his mind when looking for a gift. Your husband (or boyfriend) is really not trying to insult you. He wants to give you something that he found himself, something that you will use for a long time and maybe, just maybe think of him when you do.

Chocolates and roses will be eaten and die. Heck, you might leave those chocolates in the kitchen and forget about them, especially if he buys a huge box. A diamond, while beautiful, might just be left in a jewelry box to gather dust. If you have children, often this is exactly what will happen to any jewelry that mothers receive. I do not know how often my friends with small children have told me they loved the gift their husband or boyfriend purchased, but could not wear it.

So, in a mans mind, what is the point?

This Valentine’s Day, take a deeper look into that gift that you normally would scorn. Think of the motivation behind it, smile, hug your man, and tell him how thankful you are to have a husband thinks of you.

Posted in Uncategorized, Relationships, Holidays | No Comments »

A Journey Into The New Year.

It is New Year’s Eve, the time for clearing out the old and making resolutions for the new year ahead. Normally for a holiday, I would post some recipes, party ideas, and the like. Since this is the time for new beginnings, I thought I would bring my readers (you guys!) into my life by making my resolutions public. This will make it harder for me to fail, because I am making a proclamation to everyone of what I wish to do this coming year and hopefully, many of you will join me. Consider me a partner in your own journey to betterment, I will share my own successes and yes, even my failures.

You will find that you are not alone in your quest! If you would like, post a comment with your resolutions, or even one resolution. Spend a moment to share your progress each day, week, or month.

Here are my own resolutions.

1. Lose weight.
This is probably the most popular resolution. Many of us would like to lose weight for better health or to look and feel better about ourselves. I have recently written an article on losing weight after pregnancy and most of the tips it contains can be used by anyone. I will also post my own diet advice that I find works the best for me and my body type. Much of what I write will be geared towards women, because I am a woman and I know what works best on a woman’s body. My husband is interested in gaining more muscle mass this year, so stay tuned if you are male, because I will be gathering information from my husband ,Rob Fletcher, on great body building and diet advice for men. Before you use any of the advice I provide, check with your health provider. While I have many years of health, herbal, and other training experience, I am not a doctor, nor should my advice be considered medical advice.

2. Stop smoking.
Yes, I write almost exclusively on health and family topics, but I am addicted to tobacco. The first step anyone can make in their lives to beating an addiction is to admit they have a problem or addiction. Well, guys…I just admitted it. So can you! No matter how long you have been smoking, you can stop. Smoking contributes to so many health problems, it boggles the mind that those of us who smoke haven’t given the nasty habit up yet. If you are a smoker and are ready to quit, join me in this very hard road. If you need someone to talk to, email me or use instant messenger to find me. I will be posting links and information to help you (and me!) kick this habit. We can beat this together!

3. Get organized.
Oh, my. This one may be harder than quitting smoking! I have just taken pictures of my horrible workspace. Being a writer, most of my work is performed in one small area, but if you are a home worker, you know how the rest of your home can fall into shambles. A huge focus of this year will be on learning how to, not juggle, but to balance your work and home. Juggling leads to stress, stress leads to anger, and anger leads to the Dark Side. Oops, I sound like Yoda…let’s just focus on learning to balance, I will leave the light saber lessons to Lucas.

There you have it. My three huge resolutions for this coming year. I promise to give you the inside track to all of this, no ‘expert’ sounding articles, just straight, honest, and personal accounts of what we can do to move our lives forward in the most efficient and beneficial manner. An entire year of hope, laughs, maybe a bit of crying, but in the end, I hope we can all look back and see just how far we have come.

Posted in Uncategorized, Daily Living, Holidays | 3 Comments »

Leftovers!

Leftovers, leftovers, leftovers! What in the world am I going to do with all of these leftovers?

I am not sure what it is about leftovers, but for a day or two after a holiday meal people love to munch on what is left behind. Then, it gets boring. In some cases there is enough to last for a very long time, in others the food is gone by day two after the holiday. So far we’ve had potato pancakes, ham and cheese omelets, and killed off the rest of the vegetable platter. But, what in the world to do with the rest of it?

If you still have enough of each food, you can make your own TV dinners. On a paper plate put a portion of each item, just as if you are going to serve it. Wrap with plastic wrap, then aluminum foil. Freeze one plate each for your family members. Next month, you can have a mini holiday flavored feast. If you have odds and ends, toss it all into a large Ziploc bag, freeze, then add vegetables leftover from other meals during the next few weeks. Soon you will have enough frozen vegetables and bits of meat to make a soup or stew. Do not mix meats, as this may cause a weird flavor in your resulting stew. Ham and other pork, beef with beef, turkey with chicken, and so on. Use your imagination when it comes to cooking up the soup.

Something I plan to try today is sweet potato balls. The sweet potatoes were flavored with cinnamon, cloves, cherry, and pineapple. To this I will add a touch of flour, an egg, then roll in graham cracker crumbs. I will drop these in the deep fryer for a few minutes until they are golden brown. Served with honey, I can only imagine how great they will taste!

What do you do with your leftovers? Do you have a special treat you only make after the holidays?

Posted in Uncategorized, Cooking, Holidays | No Comments »

Christmas is almost here!

More than likely your children are out of school for the next week or two. In just a few days, they will be going stir crazy, those shiny new toys will be tossed in the corner and the kids will be saying…?I’m bored?. Let’s nip that in the bud right now.

After the presents have all been unwrapped, save the boxes and left over wrapping paper. When your children start the bored chant, break out the boxes and invite them to build. If you have any large boxes, use those as a base to a playhouse or castle. Smaller boxes can be placed on top to create spires or battlements. We recently used a huge T.V. box with a door cut out of the front, then stuffed a slightly smaller box into the door to create a hallway. Keep going until you have a ‘secret’ tunnel for the kids to crawl through.

All the paper left over from Christmas morning can be taped on the outside of the castle or inside for decoration. Make confetti from the paper, often wrapping paper is shiny and makes for a very pretty confetti. Use gluesticks to make torn paper art or cover some of those boxes you saved for neat little organizers. Kids love using organizers for their treasures they have made themselves.

But, what if your kids are bored right now? Try making snowflake ornaments. Here are two pictures of ornaments we made:

Snowflake Picture
This one is a little blurry, but you can still see the picture in the middle. You can print your kid’s faces onto sticker paper available at many office stores or just print a small enough picture to fit on the front of a foam snowflake. You can buy these ornaments at craft stores, then glue glitter on. Tape or glue your child’s face over it all.

Paper Flake
This is just a snowflake cut from typing paper. Our tree has quite a few of these on it. We decided to let the kids make most of the ornaments this year and used inexpensive materials. They are small and always take everything that they can reach off of the tree, so I can cut more of these if I need.

Let your children pop and then string their own popcorn if they are older. This can be a lot of fun for older kids. Once, my cousin and I decided it would be fun to try this. It was interesting, because we used cheese popcorn. A word of advice: Do not use cheese popcorn. It gunks up the needle and your fingers. You end up with cheese powder all over the place. I am ashamed to admit it, but we were both around 18 years old. Should have known better, huh?

In the next pictures, our children wrapped empty boxes and all of our pictures on the wall. This makes for a really festive addition to your home! The boxes can be placed on shelves and the pictures hang where they always have. When Christmas is over, see step number one, give your kids the wrapped boxes for play!

Wrapped Box
Picture Frame

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas!

Posted in Holidays | No Comments »

Cooking For The Holidays

Sorry for the delay in updates. We had a huge snowstorm that knocked out the internet for a while. I must say, that while it made things slow down, the snow is really beautiful. I am originally from the south eastern united states and while we had snow, never in the amounts I get to enjoy here in the northeastern US.

With all of the cold, we have really enjoyed cooking and baking. Not only does it provide sustenance, it warms the house up! Who doesn’t like to be cozy on a chilly winter day? We have a tradition in our little family to make cookies for Christmas. Lots of cookies. Right now we have a gallon container filled to overflowing with Mexican Wedding Cakes, a small round biscuit type cookie that has a crumbly texture and is rolled in powdered sugar. Another plate holds a mountain of Moravian Spice Cookies, brown, paper thin, and fragrant. I also have a very special butter cookie I invented that uses tea as a flavoring, but it is reserved for my relaxation time, along with either a cup of hot tea or glass of red wine.

Traditions in food provides comfort, not only for you, but for your entire family. Each holiday and it’s respective traditions can build a lifetime of comfort for your children and grandchildren. You do not have to even have a family to begin your own traditions. My husband and I have a friend who has no living family, but yet each year he makes fudge for his friends. It is his own tradition that he began because he had no family to spend time with, no mother to make him cookies, cake, or candy. Now he has his own comfort and can pass this tradition on to his children, because he did marry a few years after we met him and have two children.

Do you have family traditions? Have you started your own? Share!

Posted in Uncategorized, Cooking, Holidays | No Comments »

Holiday Productivity (or non-productivity)

How many times have you made plans in the evening, right before going to bed only to find the next day that everything you plan to do has gone *POOF*? During the holiday season this happens more often. I notice that my plans go awry almost from the time I wake. Breakfast slows down because the kids need this and that, baby decides to wash his hair with syrup, big sister un-decorates the tree. These minor mishaps through the rest of the morning into a down spiral.

I don’t post too often about my writing here or my own experiences at home. But, today seemed to be the perfect idea for a post to share with you. If you are a mom or dad who works at home, or maybe you work outside of the home only to come home and have your plans go falling apart worse than Aunt Mary’s crumbly cakes, then this is your post.

I try. I promise you, I try to get things done. Just don’t take a peek into my laundry room or my kitchen right now. The bedrooms? Forget about it. My productivity levels have dropped to an all time low. It’s not that I have much more work than normal. I think it is the lack of support that we who work to support our families get from the same family.

Have you ever sat down to your computer only to have a little one pop up beside you asking for a snack? You just fed her, but suddenly she has the capacity for food of a beluga whale. Or maybe you have just come home from work and everyone wants to go shopping. Can’t a person have a break? Can’t your partner handle the shopping for one night or hold off on the need to go out for one more day?

If you are a home worker, most of the time everyone thinks you are sitting in front of the computer, knocking back the wine while nibbling bon bons. Heck, even my husband seems to think that writing is no big deal. So I have eight articles that need to be 1,000 words done in three days, that doesn’t get his boxers washed, now does it? If only they made self washing-drying-folding-putting away clothing. I’d be in heaven! Oh, and what about self washing dishes? Euphoria. If my house could sustain itself while I work, it would be a dream. I thought we were supposed to be living like the Jetsons nowadays, anyway.

Here are some things that might help your productivity levels rise. Well, only if you aren’t like me and forget to put the tips into motion.

1. Forget what mom told you about separating your laundry. Try doing it more simply. Keep whites separate, but wash everything else in one big lump. If you are worried about reds running onto other colors, just throw reds and blacks into the same load. If this doesn’t work for you, find a laundry that does your clothing for you. Load them into your vehicle, drop them off, forget them until it’s time to go get’em.

2. The vacuum is your friend. Just pick up everything that is too large to go into the thing and vacuum the whole house. Forget dropping it for a broom. That wastes time. If your dog or cat sheds badly, grab them and take care of the excess hair while you are cleaning the floors. Voila, two birds with one big whirring rock.

3. Enlist help. Even the smallest kids can help you get things done. Give older children a bag and the directions to “pick up all that junk you put there?. Usually they’ll get confused, so gently point them in the right direction. Motivate them into helping, only if you meet resistance, by holding a favorite toy hostage. A squirt gun to the head of a favorite doll is an amazing motivator.

5. Don’t put off today what you will have to do tomorrow. If something really needs to be done, go on and do it. Waiting will make it worse. If you need proof, come look at my kitchen. Bring pepper spray.

So now you have a short list of tips that may help you. Understanding the mechanics of your home will also help. Understand that no matter what you do, sometime tomorrow the mess will come back. If you are sneaky and attack after the kids are asleep, you are more likely to have a clean home for most of the next day. Unless your kids stay at home all day, if that is the case, then I suggest getting a dog to clean crumbs they leave behind and a snow shovel to pick up toys in the quickest manner. At least you will have a few extra minutes here and there to devote to work, holiday decorating, or holiday cooking.

Posted in Parenting, Daily Living, Holidays, Writing, Humor | 3 Comments »

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