Thursday, November 29, 2012

Whirlwind Weeks & Holiday Planning

I can’t believe it has been almost two weeks since I posted anything.  As usual, the time has flown by, and I’m not quite sure where it all went. 

Did you all have a good Thanksgiving?  As I posted earlier, we had ours much earlier this month, due to Nick’s work schedule, so we didn’t have any kind of Thanksgiving at home on the actual holiday.  I think, if he’s working on Thanksgiving next year and we have the early celebration, I will still make us a small Thanksgiving-type meal on the actual day.  It’s a little weird not having the traditional meal that day. 

I did get to get together with two friends, Crystal and Alex, the night before Thanksgiving.  Crystal works in retail and had to go in at 11:00 pm Thanksgiving night, so was trying to stay up all night Wednesday.  Alex’s plans to go out of town to visit family changed at the last minute, so we had a girl’s night in at my house.  Nick doesn’t eat any seafood, so since he was at work that was a perfect opportunity was us to feast on shrimp pasta.  It’s delicious; shrimp sautéed in copious amounts of butter and garlic, with pepper, basil, parsley and diced tomatoes, served over angel hair pasta.  Yum!

We went to my parents the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  Their 38th anniversary was the week before, and since anniversaries are the only thing they celebrate we usually make a big deal out of it.  We grilled steaks, and made mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, green beans, and a berry crunch for dessert.  We somehow managed to pick out really good steaks and concocted a fabulous marinade.  It was garlic infused olive oil, lots of fresh minced garlic, balsamic vinegar, pepper, fresh cilantro, and a little bit of melted butter.  Unfortunately, we didn’t measure anything, so I really hope we’ll be able to duplicate it.  Nick and my dad grilled the steaks for a long time over very low heat.  They were delicious and so tender! 

My parents really liked their gifts, Emma was happy to run around in their back yard, and we had a good time visiting and playing board games.  We didn’t get home until almost 1:00 Sunday morning.

Somehow, in the midst of everything else, we didn’t get the Christmas tree put up.  We’re hoping to find time to put it up this weekend.  We usually put it up the weekend of Thanksgiving, so it’s a little odd not having it up right now.  We have plans to see The Nutcracker on Saturday afternoon, but hopefully we can get the tree put up Saturday night.  I am so excited about The Nutcracker.  I’ve never seen it, and now that it’s so close, it feels like Saturday will never come. 

I’m also in the midst of planning Nick’s 30th birthday party.  He’s a Christmas Eve baby, so his birthday is easily overlooked.  I usually have a chili lunch (and a non-Christmas themed birthday cake) at our house that day and family and close friends come over.  Since this is his 30th, and we’ve agreed to no more birthday parties for either of us except for milestone birthdays, we’ve decided to do something a little bigger.  We’re having it the following Saturday at a local pizza restaurant.  I have found a cake (not at all Christmas themed) that I love, and that has been approved by my friend Crystal.  She has great taste, and is honest enough to tell me when my great ideas aren’t so great.  Nick reads my blog, so I can’t go into much detail, but it’s going to be good. 

How many of you are the people who are already finished with your Christmas shopping?  I wish I could say I am, but I’m not.  I’m in awe of my friend Lorie who was finished by September.  I can only dream of being that organized!  We don’t have very many people to shop for, so it’s not a terribly daunting task.  The only downside is that most of the people I shop for are very, very difficult to shop for.  I really appreciate Amazon and eBay this time of year. 

It’s also about time for my annual bake-a-thon.  We like to take Christmas goodies (usually cakes, because I don’t make very good cookies) to people we see a lot through out the year like all of the different departments at work, our chiropractor, my acupuncturist, etc.  We also exchange baked goods with our neighbors.  It’s a lot of fun, and every year I vow that I will do little bits at a time, but so far it hasn’t happened.  Usually a few days before Christmas I’m up until 2:00 in the morning baking lots of cakes, and then we have a carload of cakes to deliver the next day.  I keep telling myself that this year I will do better.  We’ll see.  The past few weeks have felt like an endless session of running around trying to catch everything up and still falling further behind with everything.  Any suggestions about how to organize your holiday baking?

So how about all of you?  How was your Thanksgiving?  And how are your Christmas, or other holiday, plans coming along?  Feel free to share any organization tips you have with the rest of us!  

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Thanksgiving Comes First & It Looks Like I Got My Wish

It’s definitely time for a new blog post since Thanksgiving is practically upon us and my last post is entitled “Happy Halloween”.  I’m not even going to try to figure out where all of the time has gone.  I’ve been meaning to share my Thanksgiving post for a while, and it just so happens to tie in (with only a little bit of stretch) Carrie’s awesome vacation giveaway.  Excellent!  Two posts in one! 

First, this week’s question from Carrie: 

I love the holidays.  I didn’t get to celebrate them as child, so I have totally embraced them now.  In some ways I’m like a child when it comes to the holidays.  Granted, a child with a bank account and the ability to make Christmas goodies, but I think I have that level of enthusiasm.  I get truly excited over planning Thanksgiving Dinner, sending Christmas cards, shopping for gifts, and making goodies for everyone.  But for me Thanksgiving does come first.  I don’t get especially upset to see Christmas decorations out early, and I can never resist running to look at shiny ornaments in stores.  But I do think it’s sad that Thanksgiving is almost skipped over, or treated as an afterthought. 

I love Thanksgiving.  It’s possibly my favorite holiday.  I love cooking, and I love spending time at home with the people I love.  Thanksgiving gives me both of those things. 

I also see Thanksgiving as the beginning of the holiday season; not the beginning in the sense that it needs to be rushed through, but the beginning like in a great book you don’t want to put down.  It’s the first of the holiday gatherings, sometimes the first day you see some friends or family since last year.  It’s a time to look for the good things in your life that maybe you forget about sometimes.

Now, on to this year’s Thanksgiving and how I got my wish.  I have always wanted to cook Thanksgiving Dinner for a big crowd.  I truly love cooking, and I love having people over for meals.  It has never worked out for me to cook for much of a crowd on Thanksgiving before, largely because schedules conflict and people have so many different places to be on one day. 

Have you ever seen the movie Under The Tuscan Sun, with Diane Lane?  It is a truly wonderful movie, it’s happy, sweet, and has beautiful scenery.  Watch it, you won’t be sorry.  In the movie, she moves to Tuscany and buys a villa on a whim.  She later laments the fact that she bought a house for a life she doesn’t have, and goes on to say how she wants there to be family and a wedding in the house, and she wants people to cook for.  At the end she manages to get all of these things, though not in the way she meant/hoped/expected, and therefore doesn’t even realize she has gotten her wish, until one of the other characters says that it looks like she got her wish.

This year my husband ended up moving to a different work schedule, which includes working nights the week of Thanksgiving.  We’ve always been able to work around his work schedule on Thanksgiving when he has worked days because he gets a long lunch break.  I just got up really early and made sure everything was ready when he came home for lunch.  With the  fairly long lunch break it worked.  It wasn’t ideal, but it worked.  Nights are a totally different story.  Trying to have Thanksgiving Dinner before he goes into work would be the equivalent of trying to have it for breakfast for most of us.  We can’t really have it during the day because that’s pretty much the middle of the night for him. 

I will admit I was really upset.  Like I said, I love Thanksgiving, and the thought of missing out on it didn’t make me very happy.  Then we decided that instead of complaining about it, we’d just have Thanksgiving Dinner another day.  It’s not so much the day as it is spending time with loved ones, and the food of course. 

So we chose November 3rd as the day for our Thanksgiving celebration.  I know it was really early, but it’s what worked out with scheduling.  We decided to have all of the usual Thanksgiving foods, invite lots of people, and hope for the best. 

We ended up with a total of 15 people at our house.  It was, by far, the biggest holiday turnout we have ever had.  Most people seemed to like the idea of an early Thanksgiving, and a lot of people who will be out of town on Thanksgiving were able to come.  I finally got my wish, even if it wasn’t how I expected, and had a crowd to cook Thanksgiving Dinner for.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures.  I was so caught up in everything that was going on that I totally forgot about taking any pictures. 

Here’s our menu (in case you’re still looking for ideas):

Turkey (stuffed w/ chopped onions, slathered with butter, sprinkled with salt, pepper, and parsley and cooked in white wine and cognac)

Gravy (I’m from the South; it’s it own separate dish!)

Meatloaf (the traditional beef kind) I know it’s a little odd, but my husband doesn’t love turkey.  It’s a surprisingly big hit with everyone.

Mashed Potatoes

Sweet Potato Casserole



Cranberry Sauce

Green Beans

Rice (cooked with some of the juice/onions from the turkey in place of part of the water and a packet of vegetable soup mix)

Corn Casserole (brought by Grandmother-In-Law; I have no idea how to make it)

Apple Cake w/ Browned Butter Frosting (You don’t need quite as many apples as the recipe says.)

Pumpkin Pie

Banana Pound Cake

Hershey’s Chocolate Cake (Do NOT use a standing mixer for this one.  I have no idea why, but if you do, you will end up with a chocolate volcano in your oven.  It’s not fun or pretty.  I have made this cake for years, and only ended up with the chocolate volcano twice; both times I used the standing mixer.  That’s enough proof for me not to try it again.)

Obviously, we had tons of food.  We tried to make sure that everyone had at least one favorite dish and/or dessert.  We also had a great time, and got to see almost everyone we had hoped to.  It was very informal, which is mostly how we do things.  We had the food buffet style, we borrowed folding chairs from a friend, and we all perched around the living room talking and eating off of paper plates (because we don’t have dishes for 15 people). 

We had a lot of leftovers to send home with everyone.  It’s easier to get people to take leftovers when you have Thanksgiving early, since they don’t have their own leftovers or anyone else’s.

There was also talk of passing the torch to the next generation.  Most of our friends are older than us.  Some are older than our parents, so some of them are beginning to slow down just a little bit.  My family doesn’t celebrate the holidays, my husband’s grandparents (who live locally) are no longer doing big holiday dinners, and many of our close friends aren’t as up for hosting a crowd as they used to be.  I am fine with picking it up. 

We will have to wait and see what next year holds, but so far we are liking the idea of picking a weekend and hosting an early Thanksgiving.  I do know that we’re not skipping over it in favor of Christmas!