Saturday, December 26, 2009

Jingle Bells

Christmas is sometimes an embarrassment of riches.

The kids pretty much get everything the ask for, and then some.  We eat lobster for dinner and drink champagne for lunch.  Ray and I have trouble shopping for each other, because really, we want for nothing.

We are fortunate.  This figurative fortune is a result of my hard-working and clever husband who scratches and claws through a cut-throat industry every week so that we can have food on our table and clothes on our backs.  It's not lobster every day, and we don't wear designer stuff.  But we are grateful for what we have, and grateful for Ray.

He starts a new job with the new year.  The company sent him all his equipment to set up his office here.  Part of the ensemble is a fancy-schmancy VOIP phone for conference calls, etc that ties right into the company's phone system.  He even has his own toll-free number.  It has to run through our cable lines, of which there are none up in Ray's office, so that's another "Honey Do" project for him.  Until he gets that line run, the fancy-schmancy phone is in one of our main rooms.

It rings all day and all night.

"Can you shut that thing off?" I growled at one point.

Ray told me, he'd rather we heard it and went on to explain.  Turns out, the 800# that the company allocated to Ray they only recently acquired.  It previously had belonged to the government.

It was a Food Stamps hotline.

So, no.  We won't be turning off the ringer.  All Christmas Eve, and all day long Christmas Day, that phone would sit in the corner, quietly "jingling"  every hour or so.  Reminding us of our good fortune.  Reminding us that there are people out there who are calling about Food Stamps on Christmas Eve.

The kids would look up from their toys, sigh, and say "I feel bad."  I'd remind them of all the things they donated over the past year during the various charity efforts at their schools, the money from the "fun run", the canned food drives.  But still.

We do our part.  But we could probably do more.  I blithely send off stuff for "Toys for Tots," give my spare change to "Pennies for Ponies," generously fill a bag for every canned food drive, donate our "gently used" clothing to the CCA, drop some coins in the Salvation Army kettle.  But I rarely think about the people.  Every time I heard the "jingle" of that new phone, I tried to imagine a family in need.  How it would feel.

We all need reminding now and then.  While the "jingle bells" of that fancy-schmancy phone remind me to live in gratitude, gratitude is not enough - it feels selfish.  We need compassion.  We need to be remined that even on Christmas Eve, despite the efforts of what I believe is a fairly giving society, there are still people out there who don't just want, they need.  We need to do more.

The universe works in amazing and amusing ways.  I am grateful that my husband has a job, but the universe found a way to remind us through our good fortune the value of compassion.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holiday canning

Once I learned how, it's hard to stop!

This holiday season, I canned two different types of treats to give as gifts and also to hoard some for ourselves.

The savory treat is cranberries with roasted shallots and ruby port.  It cries out to be spooned over a wedge of brie and enjoyed with a glass of Pinot Noir.

I boil the berries in brown sugar, water and port.  I roast the shallots until golden and carmelized.

Mix it all together, seal it in jars, process to ensure strerility, lable and voila!  Yummy treats!

The sweet treat was jelly.  Cranberry & jalepeno.  I live in Texas now and "when in Rome..."
The recipe couldn't be easier and the end result is so pretty!  The store was out of 8oz jars, so I had to do a lot of 4oz jars.  I was able to share with more people and they looked like little jewels!
I've really been enjoying this for breakfast.  Sweet, with a little kick.  Just like me!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The woods behind my house....

....are full of the most amazing variety of plant life.  Trees, bushes, grasses, flowers, berries, mosses of every shade of green.  It's different every time I go back there.  I remember when we first moved here, I took a break from unpacking one day and just headed into the woods for a few hours to explore.  I was stunned by the variety of flowers blooming at every level.  I picked "one of everything" to bring home to show my family.

While Spring and her wildflowers are showy and spectacular, Fall brings a quiet beauty that I've always appreciated.  So many shades of brown - russet, amber, whisky, topaz, chocolate.  A few weeks ago, I decided to bring back "one of everything" and make a wreath. 

It's been so nice to have a little bit of "The Woods" right on my front door!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Yeah, yeah, I know.  It was a while ago.  I've been busy.  Fa la la la la freakin' la la la la and all that.

OK.  Enough with the Scrooge attitude.  I just love Thanksgiving.  It's all about food, family and friends and no other commercial trappings.

I've been cooking Thanksgiving dinner ever since my mom died more than 15 years ago.  While the very first Thanksgiving was hard, I took it as an opportunity to mix it up a bit and try some new recipes.  Shake up the ol' palate, modernize some of the recipes, infuse some new flavors.

Every year I pore over magazines, cookbooks, and sites like Epicurious, Martha Stewart, etc. looking for something new and exciting.  I watch the cooking shows and ask all my friends what they are cooking.  A whole day centered around FOOD, what could be more fun!?

My kitchen elves and I started a few days in advance.  The beauty of many of the Thanksgiving style recipes is they can (and often should!) be made a day or so ahead of time, and then just reheated before dinner while the turkey is resting and being carved.

This is the cooking crew, otherwise known as Nonna and Bridget.  They peeled a LOT of vegetables!

The kitchen elves also were the dining room elves.  Bridget and Nonna went through all my linens, china, crystal, silve and flatware and designed a very beautiful table.  Didn't they do a nice job?  Aren't I such a slave driver?

All that cooking in advance paid off on The Big Day.  I got to relax, go for a walk, have a long shower, enjoy my family, watch a little football.  It was great.

This is the dinner - ready to shove into the ovens when the turkeys are removed.

Yes, that's right:  turkeys.  As in plural.  I know we were only ten, but....  I do so enjoy leftovers!  And, one of the birds was a "heritage" turkey.  A breed called a Bourbon Red.  This is sort of like a "heritage tomato."  It's the original breed, hasn't been messed with genetically to grow a bigger breast or mature faster or do any other unnatural things that will make it easier and more profitable to get it to your table.  Since it's a REAL turkey, they only get to be about 12 pounds, and that certainly wouldn't have cut it.  So I cooked another "normal" organic bird.  We could definitely taste the difference.  Meatier, in the same way a homegrown tomato is tomatoier.  Much less white meat, the dark meat was very rich.  Definitely doing it again.

The best part of the evening?  Sitting down at the table with my family.  I live far from my original family, so I've sort of adopted people who are now my Texas family.

The second best part of the evening?

The food!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Apparently she can sing!

If you recall from these posts, Bridget has got a bit of the performance bug.  She likes to sing, and although she is shy, she does get a certain amount of gratification from performing.

She just won't sing for us.  Her school produces a CD each year that is a combination of all the grades, the choir, the faculty and a few soloists.  Bridget auditioned for and got a solo part.  She rehearsed for the audition in private, and we weren't allowed to go to the recording session.  We never get to hear her sing!

The CDs were distributed yesterday and I was anxious to pick Bridget up from school so that I could hear it right away.  It nearly brought tears to my eyes.  She even had a cold when she recorded it.  She is in a duet with another little girl, Bridget sings first in both parts of the song. 

To hear it, click on MP3 icon below. Enjoy!

Monday, November 16, 2009

College 101

One of our favorite people, Andrea, is in her second year at OU.  She's kinda like my surrogate teenage daughter.  She's definitely like Bridget's big sister.

This past Saturday was "Family Day" at OU.  Andrea invited us up and Bridget and I jumped at the chance!

When we arrived, we met Andrea at her boyfriend's house as it was a convenient place to leave the car since we'd be walking all over the campus.  Bridget got her first idea of what, um, well, there's no polite way to put it, PIGS college-age boys can be.  Thankfully, most of them grow out of it.  Bridget's eyes grew round as saucers when we went into the house, and I could tell she was politely fighting the urge to pinch her nose.  Thankfully, The Boyfriend is much tidier than his housemates and was happy to show us that his room was definitely liveable.  This guy has potential.  And a puppy.  So that made it all OK in Bridget's eyes.  Even though they'd shaved their fraternity letters into the puppy's side.

What a beautiful fall day it was, and what a great day to see the campus.  The leaves are turning and blowing, there was the classic fall nip in the air, and OU would be playing A&M later that night so there were plenty of crimson clad fans all over the campus.  There were tailgate parties, live bands, and many campus organizations had events organized all over campus for the day.

Our first stop on campus was the Kappa house.  Andrea pledged Kappa Kappa Gamma this year and they were hosting a BBQ for Family Day.  Bridget really enjoyed the tour of the house, she thought it would be really fun to live in a mansion with all your friends.

Bridget took this shot of Andrea and her mom, Lori, in front of
the Kappa house.  Lori is like my sis.

Andrea had fun introducing her "little sister" to all her sorority sisters,
and especially showing them Bridget's t-shirt.

After the Kappa house, we toured the rest of the campus.  The architecture is gorgeous and it has that classic college feel.

This is the main library complete with gargoyles!

The interior of the library is just as stunning as the outside!

The reading room of the library made
Bridget feel like she was at Hogwarts!

Bridget took this photo of the stairwell in the
College of Journalism, where Andrea spends most of her time.

All in all, it was a gorgeous day to be in Oklahoma!  Thank you, Lori, for sharing your wonderful daughter with us.  Thank you, Andrea, for taking so much time out of your busy day to host us!  We had a wonderful time!

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Journey

"Oh lordy, I see a new journey in our future," were my last words of this blog post.

The journey continues.  I remember phoning my sister, who has MUCH more performance art experience than I.  I was worried about the disappointments, the rejections.  The stress of it all.  Auditions, performances, etc.  The drama.  My sister advised me to "enjoy the journey."  It is a journey and here are some highlights.

At the end of last year, Bridget's music teacher suggested she try out for the All District Honor Choir.  Each school could only send a limited number of kids to the tryouts.  Our school's music teacher worked with her chosen few for weeks.  Vocal instruction, pitch practice, confidence.  Once you were selected by your school, the odds of making the choir were about 1:4.  Making the choir is a huge commitment. Oh, and an honor too.  I was only worried about the commitment.

Bridget did not make the Honor Choir.  She was disappointed but she handled it really well with minimal tears and hand-wringing.  She was genuinely happy for her two friends that did make it, but had trouble talking about it.  The good news here is that because she went so far in the audition process, she did NOT have to try out for her school choir.  She got a "golden ticket" to skip that.  Thank goodness.

The choir is doing a Christmas Performance.  Bridget tried out for a part instead of just being in the chorus.  She rehearsed.  She fantasized about costumes.  She built imaginary casts of all her best friends side by side performing the special parts.

She did not get a special part.  There was crying.  Their was prostrating of the body on the floor.  Huge, gulping sobs.  The declaration that she "sees right through that!" when telling me that instead of a special, solo part, she was put on the "confetti team" to toss confetti during part of the performance.  More sobbing.

Oh lordy.  Isn't the journey fun?

Her school produces a music CD every year.  Each grade performs, the school choir performs, a few selected soloists perform.

Bridget tried out for a solo part.

Oh lordy.

She brought home a CD of songs to rehearse.  Like all her tryouts before, she refused to let us hear her sing.   She rehearsed ALL the songs and finally selected the one she would use for the audition.  There was fantasizing about seeing her name in print on the CD cover.  Fantasizing about getting selected to sing her particular favorite song.  Stress on the morning of auditions.

I was the last mommy to pick up after auditions.  The choir teacher came out to chat with me and I jokingly said "Can I slip ya a C-note to make sure my daughter gets a part?"  The teacher smiled, winked at me, and said Bridget could sleep easy tonight.

The results were posted the next day.  Bridget will be a soloist, performing the first verse of her particular favorite song.  So, with last year's talent show, Honor Choir tryouts, Christmas show auditions, and CD soloist auditions, she's batting .500 on this journey.

Your holiday CD can be pre-ordered by leaving a note on this blog and are $10.  You, too can be a part of this journey and say "I knew her when..."

Monday, November 2, 2009

Crazy Weekend

Aidan's vomiting pumpkin 
This was my kind of weekend.

The highlight was a visit from Kelli. Thanks, Kelli, for making the trek to The Republic of Texas and hanging with us. As I was tucking him in last night, Aidan sleepily said, "Kelli is my good luck charm" because he had such a fun weekend.

After the kids got out of school Friday, we headed to the pumpkin patch. It's a yearly ritual and it was left so late because it's been raining for the last 40 days. But the skies cleared 1 hour before Kelli's plane landed, the Texas prairie and woods were in all their beautiful fall glory. The kids played in the hay maze, and did all the other stuff and we selected our pumpkins and headed home.
After the pumpkin patch it was time to get on our fancy duds (the clean jeans) and head out to dinner. Another marvelous dinner at our new favorite restaurant, the Lonesome Dove Bistro. Just love seeing Picky Boy order rabbit off the menu and I enjoyed my elk sausage and foie gras sliders. Then we sauntered down the street to the Stockyards Rodeo for a couple of hours or bull ridin', ropin' and watching the kids participate in the Calf Scramble.

Saturday dawned early for Aidan and I as usual, and he headed off to swim practice and a team Halloween party. Kelli got to accompany Bridget to her riding lesson. It was a crisp fall morning, and she got out of the car at the barn, looked around, and said "Am I in heaven?" Yeah, that's exactly how Bridget and I feel about the barn. Especially on a glorious fall day like that. She had so much fun watching Bridget work with Cherry Bomb and watching the psychology play out among the other riders and their horses too. I left the two of them to attend other errands and they finished their morning with a visit to the tack shop and lunch at the local Mexican restaurant.

Once we all rendez-voused at the house, we began what was probably the busiest and craziest 8 hours since this weekend. Ray, Kelli and the kids pulled out all the Halloween decorations and proceeded to turn our place into The Scariest House in the 'Hood. I started rolling dough to make my soft pretzel amputated finger hors d'oeuvres. We carved pumpkins and crimped Bridget's hair.

4:30 and the festivities began! We hit the first party of the evening, and it was a hoot to watch the Daddy Squad play football. Ray even got grass stains on his knees. We abandoned Bridget there and moved on to the next party where we stayed until dusk. Ray, Kelli and I then quickly ran back home and got all the strobes, torches, black lights, candles and scary music fired up before the Parade of Trailers began.
Since we live in a semi-rural area with no sidewalks or street lights, the best and safest way to get the kids around is in hay-filled trailers. There are several that slowly make their way through the streets, attended by a flotilla of golf carts. All vehicles sport lights, streamers and other Halloween decorations.
We three big people had fun answering the door and seeing the little one's reactions to all our scary decorations. It's fun to sit in the dark dining room and watch them tenatively make their way up the walk. Kelli and I would hand candy to the kids while Ray would ferry trays of absinthe shots out to the adults.

Once Bridget's trailer arrived, Kelli and I abandoned Ray to accompany the trailer to it's second-to-last stop of the evening, a Very Posh Horse Barn where we all went in and gave the perplexed horses treats and loves. The stop at the Very Posh Horse Barn gives Mr. Haunted House Guy time to get the last stop of the evening prepared for our arrival.

On to Mr. Haunted House Guy's place for a tour through his foggy, spooky place. By this time, the trick-or-treaters were done and Ray had caught us up. Then back to the party for the Great Candy Swap and way too many sugar-loaded kids.

Then back home to collapse.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Food, glorious food!

I like to cook. I don't mean the flinging together something quick between sports practices cook. I mean, finding nice ingredients, thoughtful preparation, get creative kind of cook.

I'm not all that good a cook, in the technical sense. I make a lot of mistakes. My family can attest to the underdone poultry, the overdone rice, the experimental dishes (mock paella!) that just didn't pan out.

I rarely follow recipes. I often look at recipes, and maybe even several different ones for a similar dish, but I rarely follow one to the letter. I make modifications based on what is in my pantry, personal tastes of my family, or what is in season.

Food is glorious. As an artistic medium it is very forgiving, and has universal appeal. It brings people together and open minds.

I enjoy food so much. Won't you enjoy some with me?

I love to grill. I can make an entire dinner on the grill - even the bread. Here we have steaks, onions, mushrooms and asparagus. So yummy!
I even like to do broccoli on the grill. The trick is to give it a head start in a baggie in the microwave.

Aidan isn't into food quite as much as the rest of the family. I sneak food to him on the pool deck at swim meets.

Talk about ingredients! I grew this chard. It was one of the few successes of my garden. It was delicious.

More marvelous ingredients. This amazing piece of meet was something like a 2lb bone-in rib-eye, often called a cowboy steak. Notice there is just one. It feeds all of us, with roasted green beans, smashed potatoes and (brace yourself) a creamy sauce made from triple cream bleu cheese and lump crab meat. Oh my!
I also like to make cakes. Well, sort of. It's something I started years ago with the classic Barbie princess cake, and my kids have moved on from Barbie. Yet they still expect a "creation" each year on their birthday. This is from when Bridget asked for a cake "with zebras and monkeys!" Ray made the monkey. I "marbled" the cake so when you cut into it, it sort of had zebra stripes.

Then, there was that time where Bridget's birthday party was a night at the movies. She designed her own "red carpet" invitation and insisted the cake match. Now, before you start oohing and aaahhhing over these things, you must know that fondant is incredibly easy to work with. You just need to try. These cakes weren't that hard.

I also like the challenge of "omigawsh, the so-and-so's just invited us for dinner and I should bring something!" We don't live all that close to a grocery store. I have to pull this stuff out of my ass pantry sometimes. This is a leek and feta tart. I always keep puff pastry, phyllo dough and frozen pie crusts in my freezer. Very handy for producing something quickly that might look a little impressive.

Alas, most of my cooking falls into the cook-it-quick-the-family-are-starving category and I'm always on the lookout for fast, nutritous meals that will satisfy my picky son, foodie daughter and meat-and-potatoes husband. Any good ideas out there?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Time for a New Post

My blogging, twittering & FaceBook update activity has taken a serious nosedive!

So far, only one person has seemed to notice.

I was thinking the other day about a blog post that would read something like:

  • Drive east on 1171, pick up Aidan from school
  • Drive west on 1171, drop him at home
  • Drive east on 1171, pick up Bridget from UIL
  • Drive west on 1171, drop her at home
  • Drive east on 1171 to get Aidan to his swim carpool
  • Drive west on 1171 to get back home
  • Drive east on 1171 to take Bridget to her music lesson
  • Drive west on 1171 to go back home
  • Drive east on 1171 to pick Aidan up from his swim carpool
  • Drive west on 1171 to bring him back home

Pretty boring. Don't get me wrong, I'm not bored - I get plenty of time in the car to talk to my kids (in one direction) and to be alone with my thoughts (in the other direction). But it doesn't leave a lot of room for interesting things to write about. Or time.

So, I'll see what's on the camera - maybe that'll amuse you.

This is Engineer Aidan. He loves to take apart old/broken electronics so Ray found a really great kit where he can actually learn about resistors, capacitors, circuitry, etc.

And this is Junior Taylor Swift - trying to teach herself to play the guitar so she can be like Taylor. Seriously, most of her songs are only about 3 chords, so I think she'll get there and be another self-taught guitarist like Daddy.
This photo was recently taken of Aidan at the bone doctor's office. Yes, that is a lime-green cast on his arm. Yes, it's water-proof. Yes, this kind of (ONLY kind of!) puts a crimp in his training. We are trying not to dwell on that and keep the end-goal in sight - state championship meet in March. He'll be out of the cast mid-November.

So, other than a broken finger, like has been pretty normal and uneventful. We are very much looking forward to a whirl-wind visit from Kelli later this week and are hopeful that the rains will abate for her stay.
Fall is here and the trees are beginning to turn, which is just lovely. I know I will hunger for the sight of green growing things come February, but I will embrace and enjoy the changing landscape as much as I can.
My garden was a failure learning experience. I am still getting a few tomatoes - Sugary and Amish Paste. Both varieties are smaller than I expected. Mr. Stripey never panned out, Lemon Boy only gave me a few. The beans & cucumbers didn't get enough sun to do much. The root vegetables didn't like the heat, and my 2nd planting hasn't really taken off yet. The chard did pretty well, next time I'll plant more. Next year I will move one of the beds to the sunny side of the house. I am still contemplating starting bees this winter.
Now I must go empty the dishwasher, clean my bathroom, move the laundry along, and hit the grocery store. Exciting stuff - see why I haven't written much lately?
Life is good.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Never Forget

We will all remember where we were, how we heard the news.

I remember wanting to get away from the TV, so I drove to the blood bank - not yet knowing that there would be no need.

I remember waiting for them to open, along with perhaps a dozen other people.

I remember that we didn't speak to one another. Words were inadequate, thoughts were unutterable.

I remember feeling disbelief. I remember feeling anger. I remember the realization that there is true evil in this world which rarely touches me.

I remember recognizing those feelings in the small group of people around me at the blood bank.

I remember that cars would pull up and someone would hurry out with a bag of orange juice, donuts, etc. and leave them by the blood bank door.

I remember thinking that, despite the evil in the world, there is goodness. There is resolve. There is bravery. There is light.

Never forget. Thank you to all the men and women who work so hard to preserve the light.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

We're All Gonna Starve

My hoards of readers might remember my last year's attempt at making grape jelly. I was, justifiably, proud of myself. It took a few days, my kitchen looked like a murder scene, but I was rewarded with twenty one pints of grape jelly.

It was gone in four months.

No, I didn't give it all away. Are you kidding? I worked so stinkin' hard, I was stingy with it! We ate it. If we had to depend on my jelly to ward off scurvy during a foodless winter, we'd all be toothless.

The grape jelly was borne of a couple of ideas. The desire to incorporate more local, in-season food into our diets. The idea of "slow food" and getting away from the convenience stuff. Wanting to expand my domestic arts and begin to learn how to preserve freshly grown food.

Since I haven't worked in years and years and years, and the economy being what it is, well, let's just say that our retirement is looking less and less like a waterside golf course community and more and more like a double-wide on some remote acreage and a subsistence farm since we can't afford to buy food. And whether or not that actually is the case, I hate to see these arts die and I want to learn how to grow food and how to preserve it so that I don't have to eat 27 zuchinnis a day during squash season, or throw out the tomatoes because there are too many.

My garden, alas, hasn't proven to be the cornucopia of produce that I had hoped. But the growing season isn't over and there is still reason to hope.

Until I really learn how to grow food, and in some useful quantity, I decided to pay a weekly visit to our farmer's market (really just a couple of good ol' boys from Ponder selling out of their trailer) and buy one or two things in quantity and preserve them.

Last week it was spicy green beens and freezer pickles. These are pretty much just condiments and garnishes and nothing you could expect to survive a winter on. But they ARE quite yummy and good in a Bloody Mary!

This week, it was tomatoes. I bought a large box of their "less than perfect" tomatoes, and some freshly dug onions. I de-seeded for hours. The kitchen once again looked like a murder scene. My back and feet ached from hours at the sink.

I filled two large roasting pans with tomatoes with a bit of onions, garlic, wine & salt. I also added the few tomatoes I've gotten off my plants so far. They've been sittin' in the freezer for just this reason. I roasted them all until they were soft enough to puree.

I pureed them and added a bunch of herbs and now they all fit in ONE roasting pan. Back into the oven at 200 for fourteen hours. Yum.

Start the big canning pot a-boilin'. Sterilize my jars, add a bit of citric acid to discourage botulism. Ladle the yummy sauce into the jars.

Six and a half quarts.That's all.

Do you know how quickly my family will go through six and a half quarts of tomato sauce?

Add in the four quarts of green beans and about two quarts of pickles and I figure we'd starve to death in about a month.

But there is a bright spot. I am becomming comfortable with canning. I had several leftover tomatoes from the tomato sauce, and had also recently made a watermelon gazpacho that left me with an orange pepper and a few jalepenos unused. They all went under the broiler while onions and garlic roasted further down in the oven. Into the food processor with cilantro, cider vinegar and lime juice and I had a yummy roasted salsa. A LOT of it. More than we'd eat before it went bad.

It was almost second nature to boil a big pot of water, pull out a few mason jars, fill 'em up and drop 'em in the pot for processing. Yummy roasted salsa, on my pantry shelf.

Come over with a pitcher of margaritas and I'll let ya try some!