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!