Scenes from Memorial Day weekend 

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I planned this post nearly three months ago. Whoopsy. We’ve been busy having a summer and it all kicked off over Memorial Day weekend. We’ve been going to the pool, making homemade pesto and reading (Emily Giffin, Lianne Moriarty, Mary Kubicka).

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Happy Mother’s Day

My mom is a baby whisperer. She did day care in her home through most of her 30s and has always had a way with kids.

She has certainly always been able to make my kids laugh. They are drawn to her and couldn’t adore her more. I’m so fortunate to have her in my life, to help me learn the ropes of motherhood and give me advice as my babies grow up.

Mom, you were mom and dad for many years. Thanks for giving us a beautiful childhood and for showing me how to be a loving parent.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Easter, baby

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What a gorgeous Easter Sunday! We skipped the honey baked ham and cheesy potatoes in favor of a salad with grilled chicken, chopped bacon, cherry tomatoes and avocado — a sort of Chicken BLT salad. I made a fab herby buttermilk ranch dressing to go with it. It’s Pioneer Woman’s recipe but I subbed tarragon for oregano because I love tarragon, and omitted the Worcestershire because sometimes it can be overpowering.

Greta is guinea pig-sitting (see Carmel above). She desperately wants one.

And, it was 14 years today. RIP dad. Miss you.

Happy Easter everybody.

New Year’s eats

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OMG, I am JUST now blogging about New Year’s Eve!? Pathetic.

Better late than never?

Anyway, it was an easy menu that included BYO baguette slices with smoked salmon, capers, cream cheese, capers, hard-boiled eggs and paper-thin red onion, Gwyneth Paltrow’s awesome crab cakes (from her cookbook My Father’s Daughter, but I’m linking to a BBC website here) with bottled cajun remoulade sauce, champagne and Cafe Bengalis. The latter is a dessert drink made by pouring fresh hot coffee over scoops of chocolate ice cream. It ended up being a letdown — the coffee melted the ice cream immediately and then I was just left with black coffee.

In the end, it felt like I was doing dishes all night long. And then we all went to bed before midnight.

New Year’s Day was better. I made sauerkraut balls. From my mom’s sort-of recipe told to me over the phone in fits and starts as her phone kept dying and I was standing at the meat counter buying sausage.

Now I know why my mom makes them just once a year. Man, they are labor-intensive. I sautéed the sausage on New Year’s Eve, cooked a large bag of sauerkraut, drained both really well, and mixed those two together with a block of room temperature cream cheese, some breadcrumbs, some dijon mustard… I don’t remember what else… mom?? What am I forgetting??

Then you let that sit overnight so it’s easy to roll into little balls. 60 little balls to be exact. After you roll ’em into balls, you do the 3-part battering process of flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. TIMES SIXTY! I was grateful that Barrak took care of frying them on the back porch in our little Fry Daddy. Just 2-3 minutes per batch of 5 or 6.

Since Barrak and I resolved to eat a more plant-based diet in 2016, we had a few balls (dipped in bottled horseradish sauce and some of that cajun remoulade sauce from Whole Foods) while watching football on TV and gave the rest away to my parents and my sister.

And how many photos do you think I took of those 60 balls, which took two days to make all told?

Zero.

Happy New Year.

 

 

Scenes from Christmas 2015

It was an unseasonably warm Christmas but a good one, I think. As always, the best memories were made in the weeks leading up to the big day, in the prep.

We skipped the Nutcracker (next year, I promise!) but splurged on a fresh wreath for the front door, watched Home Alone and Christmas Vacation at least nine times, baked some of Barrak’s favorite spiced chocolate chunk walnut cookies, went to a mother-daughter cookie exchange, met Josh Perry in the parking lot after Magnus’s winter party at school. As is our tradition, I made Jacques Pepin’s Maman’s cheese souffle on Christmas morning and realized too late that I was missing one basic but key ingredient that required Barrak to make an emergency run to a convenience store. And is also our tradition, Barrak insisted we buy a tree that barely fit in our living room.

Another Christmas in the can!

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13 Rules of Thanksgiving

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We had Thanksgiving at our house this year, and my sister helped make half the menu. We had 7 grown-ups and 4 kiddoes and although my parents couldn’t make it, it was really fun co-hosting with my sister.

I picked up a few do’s and don’ts this year. But first, here was the menu:

Peel & eat shrimp with Old Bay seasoning and cocktail sauce – My father-in-law brought these as an appetizer leading up to our 3 p.m. dinner.

Roast Turkey – I used Barefoot Contessa’s recipe which has you roast the bird at a low oven temp (325 degrees). I also used regular butter under the skin instead of truffle butter and added a halved lemon inside the cavity, plus some quartered onions around the bottom of the roasting pan.

Roast Chicken – We like roast chicken better than turkey so I did a small one of each. I prepared them pretty much the same way–stuffed with lemon, garlic, thyme and onion–and roasted them both at 325. Again, I scattered quartered onions around the bottom of the pan. They smell amazing within 5 minutes of going in the oven, and taste great with the bird.

Mashed potatoes — No real recipe here. Just Yukon Gold potatoes boiled until tender, then drained. Then mash and add butter, milk, salt and pepper. My sister peeled the spuds and my husband finished them. They were the last thing we made so they’d be hot, and they turned out great.

Turkey Gravy – This was the second to last dish to come together and my proudest moment. I have never had good luck with gravy so I was really happy with how good this turned out. I used store-bought turkey broth, then added about half-cup of turkey drippings from the roasting pan. Barefoot Contessa’s recipe also calls for cognac which really adds depth. At first reading, it seems like a lot of onion. But they cook for a good 15 minutes and end up sort of melting into the gravy.

Traditional stuffing – My sister used Pepperidge Farm prepared bread cubes and it turned out great.

Brussels sprouts with bacon – This is a recipe I got from my mom. Over the past few years, it’s become a must-have at Thanksgiving. Here’s how I make it: Boil 3 lbs of Brussels sprouts, then drain. When they’re cool enough to handle, slice the sprouts in thirds (or halves if they’re small). In a big soup pot or skillet, saute a bunch of chopped bacon (like 10 slices) with a bunch of sliced shallots, then add the sliced sprouts and give them a rough stir to mix. Add salt and pepper, then dump the mixture in a buttered casserole dish. Top with 1/2 cup of heavy cream and 1/2 cup of homemade bread crumbs. Lay 3-4 pats of butter (I know!) over top and bake it at 350 for 30 or so minutes. My mom also adds grated Gruyere cheese.

Roasted carrots – My sister used slender organic carrots and left the tiniest bit of green on the top. So cute.

Slow-cooker creamed corn – I wanted another vegetable in case someone didn’t like Brussels sprouts. But I also knew I would have no room in the oven. I like how this creamed corn rounded out the color palette and can be made in the slow cooker. It couldn’t have been easier and went over really well, including with (some of) the kids. A keeper!

Cranberry sauce – I intended to add the bourbon that this recipe calls for. But my daughter, a world-class picky eater, said she’d eat some cranberry sauce. I was worried little miss detective would somehow uncover that I’d added something fancy or grown-up to the basic recipe. So I left it out and it was still good. I threw in a whole cinnamon stick instead of ground cinnamon.

Baked apples with cinnamon – My sister brought these too. Stouffer’s in the microwave and the kids like them.

Apple pie and cherry pies – Store-bought and there were no complaints!

Listen, I’m no Thanksgiving expert. But here are the 13 rules of the road I picked up this year:

  1. Set out at least two boxes of butter on the counter in the morning. It’s amazing how much room-temperature butter you end up needing.
  2. Keep a saucepan of hot turkey broth on the stove. You’ll need it for the gravy for sure, but also for random things, like warming up the dressing or finishing carved turkey slices. I picked this one up from my mom a few years back.
  3. The turkey is the least of your worries. It’s just like roasting a chicken, which is the one of the easiest things in the world to make. The hardest part is carving it. A perfect job for husbands.
  4. Last-minute adds to the guest list generally make it more interesting.
  5. Have champagne or Prosecco on hand. It makes the occasion more festive.
  6. Take stock of your tablecloth & linen napkin situation in advance. I had linen napkins in my cart at Target but put them back at the last minute. On Thanksgiving morning, I discovered I already had a dozen nice linen napkins from Williams-Sonoma in the sideboard. Of course, they needed washed and ironed but I was glad I hadn’t bought more.
  7. Sit at the dining table if you can. In years’ past, I thumbed my nose at the formality and just had family and friends sit around the living room watching TV with plates in their laps. It was partly a space issue but if you can swing it, sitting together at a grown-up table makes dinner more special.
  8. Play some music on low. We played the “Music for Egon Schiele” album by Rachel’s from the Mac in the kitchen.
  9. Have the kids make place cards for everybody. This paper-and-marker activity kept my two busy while I was trying to cook.
  10. Make a list for yourself that shows all the dishes you’re making, including oven temperatures, cooking times and whether stuff goes in the oven, stove, slow cooker or microwave. Stick it on the fridge.
  11. Make at least one new dish. This year, it was the slow-cooker creamed corn. In years’ past, I’ve done celery root puree, potato & poblano gratin and even salmon.
  12. Make a few surefire winners for the kids. Otherwise, you will be hearing about it 2 minutes after you sit down. When the kids were younger, I actually served them microwaved popcorn.
  13. It’s OK to flip off the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade after 15 minutes. The Wiz’s performance of “A Brand New Day” nearly sent me over the edge.

A Word About Wednesday

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving always seemed special to me as a kid. Usually we were driving to a grandparents’ house a few hours away. It was always fun to go on that little road trip in the dark, to hear my parents complain about the traffic on 71 while I busied myself with my Walkman. The Wednesday dinner was usually pizza from some unfamiliar place in downtown Amherst. I would sleep on the couch and listen to the grandfather clock tick-tock and then gong at the stroke of midnight.

This year, we watched the first half of “Titanic” and had Donato’s on the living room floor. It was fun to watch the kids watch Leo say, I’m the king of the world! They couldn’t believe the Titanic disaster really happened. I guess my point is, what you do on Wednesday night can make as deep an impression as what you do on Thursday.