Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ornament Party & Traditions

Nineteen years ago I started a girls only party in my 620 sq ft apartment. Somehow we all fit in there and had a blast. I remember having to open the windows and turn on the air conditioner because of all air! The party had a few rules associated with it. First you had to bring a wrapped Christmas ornament, one that you yourself might like, and also bring your favorite holiday food. There were probably 10-15 girls at that first party and we unknowingly started a tradition that lasts to this day.
The first party was held on a Thursday night because we were all single and didn't want to 'waste' a weekend night. That reason seems funny to us now, but just try to change the day of the party and there would be mutiny!
Since that first party I have moved countless times, (I was an apartment hopper) until finally settling into my first house post-marriage. We're on our second house and so much has changed, but the party remains the same.
The weather here in the south is unpredictable. There have been years when people have shown up in shorts and sandles then the next year a heavy sweater and coat. Last year was the first where actual winter weather threatened. We had our first ice storm and luckily it held off until after 11pm. It was a smaller, faster party but it was still a party.

When I looked around last year I saw women I love dearly, women who have stood by me through the good and the bad. Through boyfriends, bad haircuts, job changes, marriage, and the birth of my son. I see women who have loved and lost in the same time period. We've seen marriages happen and fall apart together, we've celebrated births and mourned loss with each other. We have private jokes and stories that only we think are funny. We have history, we have each other, we have the ornament party.
Every year there are friends who have seen each other recently as well as friends who haven't seen each other since last year's party. Every year I hear people exclaim that "we need to get together sooner" and "you know we say that every year and never follow-up". That last statement followed by laughter and sweet jeers that only friends can get away with.
We pass around the ornaments and joke about who has the best one that year. We ask for recipes and tell each other how great the other looks. It is a night where we are ourselves and we celebrate the begining of the holiday season together.

In the end we all know it's not the ornament or who brought the best food. It is the comradery and genuine love felt in that room. I encourage you to find your own tradition that is for you and your friends. Take the time to celebrate each other and enjoy each other's company. I'm better for this party and better for having the circle of friends I have.

Here's a scene from a few years ago. The one regret is that I have not taken photos every year.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The easiest & best fudge you will ever make!

I have been making this fudge for quite some time and give out the recipe all the time. Anytime I do I feel guilty because it is insanely easy to make! (Even easier to eat, trust me)

You'll need:

3 cups of chocolate chips - I've used semi-sweet & dark, it's your preference
1 can condensed milk
4 tbsp butter - trust me, use real butter
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt 
Aluminum foil
8X8 pan

Line your 8X8 pan with foil and lightly spray it with a non-stick spray

Basic recipe:

Put 3 cups of chips, full can of condensed milk and 4 tbs butter cut into smaller chunks. 
Microwave these 3 for 1 minute, no longer of the chocolate can scorch 
Remove from microwave and stir like crazy until all ingredients are blended. Mix in 1 tsp of vanilla and 1/4 tsp salt. 

Pour this mixture into the lined pan and chill for 2 hours. After chilled turn the pan over, peel away the foil and cut the fudge into small portions. Trust me, this fudge is very rich and you do not want big brownie-sized pieces!


Sometimes I like to put toffee bits and a small amount of sea salt on the bottom of the lined pan 
before I pour in the fudge mixture. It is so good and gives it a salty/savory taste that is sure to please even the snobbiest of fudge eaters. 

After two hours flip it, peel the foil, cut it, and eat it!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

Day Before Thanksgiving Haiku:

My shopping is done
Kroger cannot lure me now
Time for gluttony

I love Thanksgiving for so many reasons, but the biggest one is that I love to cook. I am not a good baker, but a savory cook? I hold my own.

This year's menu:

Chorizo cornbread stuffed turkey
English peas (aka rich man peas*)
Mashed potatoes/pan dripping gravy
Yeast rolls
Orange/Cranberry sauce
Italian stuffed mushrooms

The recipe for the chorizo cornbread stuffing was one that started with a recipe I found online and over the years I have made it my own. The key is the chorizo. Never use chorizo bought at a chain grocery store...unless you're in Mexico! I go to an awesome little taqueria in a town close by and as a bonus I usually grab some of the best baked goods around. The other important thing I learned after sharing with my sister, is that chorizo is different. She lives in the NE and when she bought chorizo it was Portugese. The Portugese chorizo is more like a hard sausage instead of the wonderfully crumbly Mexican chorizo. Here's the recipe:

1.5 lbs chorizo (from a Mexican butcher remember, not Kroger or the like)
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots (adjust to your liking)
1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries (adjust to your liking)
1 medium yellow onion - chopped
2-3 stalks celery - chopped 
3 cloves of garlic, I use roasted garlic
2 loaves of cornbread (I use Martha White sweet cornbread)
Chicken broth as needed 

Cook the chorizo and drain all the excess fat. Set aside. 
Bake the cornbread and after cooling crumble it into a large bowl.
Cook the onion, celery, garlic, cranberries, and apricots in a skillet. When the onions become translucent pour this mixture over the cornbread. 
Fold the chorizo into the cornbread mixture. I use my hands to fully mix everything together. I have found that there is enough seasoning in the chorizo and do not need to add anything else. 
If the mixture is too dry add chicken broth as needed. 
Stuff the bird and cook it according to weight. Pit the rest of the stuffing into an oven safe dish. Cook the extra on 350 for about 30 mins. You may need to add a bit of broth post-cooking as you "fluff it" before serving. 
Simple as that!

This is during the assembly today. I try to do as much in advance as possible to make the actual,day just a bit easier.

The Orange/Cranberry sauce is also one that started from a recipe and through the years I have made it my own. It's super easy and very good. 

12 ounces of whole, fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar (my family doesn't like the sour but you can adjust to your tastes)
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup freshly squeezed Orange juice - seriously it is worth the extra but not required
Zest of one orange

Cook it all on medium heat until the cranberries start popping (and they will!) Lower the heat and reduce. I decided to put the sauce into some cute Mason jars which has given me the idea to possibly go a bit farmhouse chic on the table scape tomorrow. I will post pictures if I do. As for now I leave you with the cranberry sauce as I need to go clean a million or so pans! More recipes as the weeks go on, specifically the Italian stuffed mushrooms and a five minute fudge I also made today. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Downward slide to 50?

Random thoughts on the day of my birth, or would that be anniversary of my birth? Either way I didn't do any of the work, thanks mom!
I admit that I didn't know that being 46 would feel like this. I'm not sure what I thought it would 'feel' like, but I can assure you that when I was 18 I thought 46 would be all about early-bird specials and comfortable shoes. OK, one out of two as comfortable shoes do win the battle 99% of the time.
The beauty of aging is that the things that once were vitally important somehow faded away into things that truly are important.
I had a great conversation this morning with a dear friend about 'first world problems' and how we all need and have reality checks throughout our lives but don't always pay attention to them. This particular friend recently beat cancer. <I'll let that one sink in for my 18 yr old self because I bet she wouldn't have been able to wrap her head around a friend being that kind of sick.>
Our conversation also got me thinking about life and how very, very lucky I am to have the kinds of "problems" I think I have. I'm happy, healthy, have a great family, am in a challenging volunteer position I love, and am surrounded by other happy people who make me laugh.

So what does age bring you? Age brings you a kind of peace that even though you have seen and lived some pretty awful things, that there is so much more good in the world than bad. Call me a Pollyanna, but I am a firm believer that there is infinitely more good than bad.
Age brings you the ability to laugh at yourself. There are things I do now that I would have been mortified if they happened to me when I was younger. I laugh at myself all the time now and I laugh with others now much more easily. I also did not realize I would still be as immature when I was 46. Eighteen year old me would not believe it if she knew that fart noises are still funny and that I still can't sit through a meeting without getting into some kind of trouble. Speaking of, having friends who laugh and make you laugh, now that's a treasure. One's you can get into trouble with, even better. (Not the trouble that brings the law into it though!)
Age allows you to choose to accept people for exactly who they are, flaws and all...or not. It also reminds you that sometimes the best thing to do is cut your losses and move on. Sometimes you can learn from the experiences and other times the other person (or you) was just a jerk and had no lessons to teach you. Next!
Age allows you to have financial peace if you have played the cards you were dealt with smartly. If not, age gives you the kick in the pants you need to right that wrong...we hope.
Aging in this day and...age also means Facebook birthdays! I love seeing the happy birthdays as much as I like writing them to others. I have heard some say that FB birthdays are silly or useless. I beg to differ. I know that every time I have written happy birthday to someone that I have also thought about that person and had great thoughts about them. Imagine that, a day where people are thinking about you if only for a moment. I'd say that is a pretty awesome thing, wouldn't you?

The absolute best part of  aging is seeing everything that I have learned and experienced in these 46 years and looking forward to the next 46. I can't wait to see what else is out there and who I will be as the years go on.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The perfect woman

I have achieved many things in my life, but a few days ago I acheived Perfect Woman status...I lost my voice! Now please don't go all feminist on me, this is just a little joke. I'd say the same thing about the Perfect Man if *any* of the guys in my life lost their voices.

So this weekend I am 'going to ground' as they say. My guys are out camping and I am home with the pooches, some hot toddys, ranch bean soup, and NyQuil. Oh and my Roku for some serious TV watching.
Marathons they're called. I find that phrase to be very funny. We as a society have taken something as completely crazy healthy as a marathon and turned it into a way to describe sitting on the couch (or snuggled in bed), watching hours and hours of TV.  'Merica!

"What's Ranch bean soup?" you ask in what has to be a Yankee accent. Why am I being a geographist? It's only because I think that Ranch Bean Soup has to be unique to the south. Maybe I'm wrong as it has no Velveeta in it, but it does have a can of Ro-tel!

So basically you brown a pound of meat (ground turkey, ground beef, ground get the idea) with chili powder, a little cumin, and some cayenne pepper. Basically whatever you use to season your chili with. Then here comes the southern part - dump 1 can of Ro-tel with the heat level of your choice, 2 cans minestrone soup, 2 cans of Ranch beans (or chili beans), and 1 large can of diced tomatoes. Then add about 3 tomato cans of water and let it simmer for awhile. It will make your house smell awesome and make everyone think you are The Deal.

So I am off to my TV marathon and soup while I snuggle with these two stinkers. Jealous?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The South and Snow

I posted on FB today that my application to be a Southerner was revoked because it snowed and I only had a 1/2 a loaf of bread in the house. Only someone who lives in or has lived in the south could understand that there is an element of truth to in that statement. The truth comes in the fact that if you were not born a southerner...well you will just never really be one!
I myself am a geographic bastard because I am an Air Force brat. I was born in Oklahoma, but was only there for 2 months. My joke is that I saw everything there was to see and crawled out on my own. No offense to Oklahoma at all, I have had great times in OK, it just wasn't in the cards for me to stay long there or anywhere really. But now onto southerners...

Southerners have a love/hate relationship with snow. I came from the north where snow is just a part of winter. You deal with it the best you can, but you never let it hinder your day to day life. If it ever closes things down it's not so much snow as it is then a blizzard. 
The South and snow go together like anchovies and chocolate. Some may think to try it, but it would not become a staple in anyone's pantry. With the mention of snow the true Southerners reaction is to immediately get in the car and drive to 'The Kroger' to make sure that one is stocked up on bread and milk. I've never understood this combination as you can't even make French toast with it. I personally make sure that we have all the essentials such as a nice full-bodied red and some hot chocolate for the kid types running around. Grocery-wise I also make sure I have all my chili ingredients. Screw milk and bread, this is chili weather people! 

So today I awoke to a dusting of snow on the neighborhood. It wasn't record breaking by any means, but it was the earliest snow recorded in decades. Definitely the earliest I've seen snow since moving south. 

To give you an idea of what it normally looks like sans "snow" and tarp, here is a shot from about a month ago when everything was green and the humidity was way too high. It looks so sad now!

For now I will have to live with not going to Kroger today and hope that there's not a snowpocolypse forecasted for this weekend because we really are out of milk!

Ironic Canner?

A friend and I went to a new coffee shop today and had our normal gal-talk thing going on. Today it so happened that I brought along a few items that I had canned and was now gifting/sharing with her. We started talking about how "in" canning is right now and I jokingly said that I was doing it ironically. OK, truth be told I also said I was going to grow a mustache ironically, but I think we all know that happens after 35 anyhow. 
So then the Ironic Canner was born. I have a lot to say and not a lot of places to say them in. This just may be the spot after all!

So the coffee shop was Cafe Brunnelle and I have to say that I really enjoyed not only my company, but also my perfect temperature Tokyo Tea Latte. And the chocolate croissant wasn't too shabby either. 

I will discuss the canning aspect of me soon as I get more comfortable with this. I have been making a lot of flavored extracts and if we are friends you now know what you're probably getting for Christmas!