Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Christmas, hopefully

This year I have not been much in the Christmas 'spirit'. I was excited to put our tree up for the first time in our new house and I love it. I love the glimmer of the tree, I love the bright lights along the eaves of the house whenever I pull into the driveway after dark. I love hot mochas with Kevin and Christmas cookies and watching the cats play and sleep under the tree. I love watching 'It's a Wonderful Life' and 'A Christmas Story' and in a way trying to recapture (or capture for once) a different, happier feeling that Christmas is supposed to evoke. I'm pretty sure after 26 Christmases that the feeling of the Christmas spirit, of joy and magic in the air isn't so real as I hope - just make believe. I guess it's just made up by adults to make the very youngest of children feel like there is something wonderful about life and something to look forward to - cuz us grown ups are looking for it, too. Reality and the truth about false expectations sets in and we realize Christmas is just another man made holiday like the rest and just an excuse to buy things and eat more sweets than usual.

This Christmas Eve, my cousin Mike passed away. He had cancer and was fighting it hard for a couple of years. He leaves behind two wonderful young children and many, many friends and colleagues.

He is missed and will be missed as time passes and the truth of this reality sets in: he's not there anymore if I want to text him or have him over for dinner. I won't be at his house anymore drinking boxed wine and laughing about something trivial or talking about his next art show.

I feel angry and sad and shocked and uncertain. I am not sure what I feel or how to feel but I am pretty sure I have a conglomeration of feelings and conflictions going on all at once.

A pretty sad thing to dwell on at Christmas. We're supposed, I guess, to think about family and love and Jesus and lots of good food and company. It's next to impossible to do that when life's razor-sharp ability to sorely disappoint our expectations kicks us in the butt when we let our guard down just a little and dare to hope just a little.

Today Kevin and I are having turkey and mashed potatoes and peas for lunch and I'm drinking some Chardonnay. There's something ironically happy about the Christmas music playing in the background and the cats playing with each other. The lights are still on, the music still plays, and people still talk and live with one another. It just helps you appreciate a little more, I suppose, those people that you care about while they are here for you to talk to and see with your own eyes.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Holiday Baking - Part II

These are the last cookies I baked this month but I hadn't uploaded any photos yet. They were SO good and not too sweet. They are Lemon Pistachio Cookies. I love the crunch of the nuts and the tang of the citrus glaze. You can find the recipe here. If you don't have a wreath cookie cutter (which I do not) just use a round one - or the lip of a smallish glass - to cut simple circles.

Very easy and very yummy with a steaming cup of Earl Grey.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Curtains & Christmas Lights

I thought I would post some photos of our living room once we got our new lovely curtains hung, at last (on Nov. 30th). Kevin took down the old (awful) curtain rod and we patched up the wall in a few spots. Someone had put the middle 'brace' for the rod completely off center over the window so we patched that spot and had to touch up the paint a tiny bit. Then we (Kevin) drilled fresh holes and mounted the new curtain rod - and actually *centered* it correctly over the windows. The little bit of OCD in me is rejoicing. ;) 

I got this curtain rod at Garden Ridge for $19.99 ... here, Kevin is making some adjustments to it on the wall. We're waiting on the curtains to steam in the washing machine.

And here are the lovely curtains, hung at last. The furniture is still in flux at this point but I had to snap a photo. I'm SO pleased with the height of the curtains; they are absolutely just right. I wanted them nearly brushing the floor, but not. It looks a little weird in the photo - I think the cats had already messed them sitting in the window or something.

I thought, while the couch was in the middle of the living room, it might be nice to just rearrange the room. I had been thinking about 'flipping' everything and putting the couch where the chairs were. I think it looks better this way, at least for now; I will probably get sick of it in another 6 months and come up with an entirely different way of arranging the furniture. But for now it's great. I think the chairs (especially the orange swivel one) look great against the light blue curtains.

Here's a photo of the couch in it's new spot. I think it looks nice. =)

Also, our Christmas lights are up! Kevin and his brother put them up one afternoon (Dec. 2nd) and I came home from work not quite recognizing my house! It looks great but completely different. Somehow all those small bulbs, en masse, light up the house like daytime and make it look sort of (dare I say) magical and just a little bit charming.

Here is a close up at our front door. I love being able to see the tree through the door. (Perhaps it's time to move the pumpkins??)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Good Things For your Closet! (plus one other thing)

I found out the other day (for at least the second time - apparently my memory is not what it used to be) that the caps on those Wallflowers from Bath and Body Works twist open the opposite way of any normal, American container. I had purchased some online while they were on sale (with a giftcard!) and we tried very hard to open them with no success. Huge amounts of torque; a pair of pliers; teeth: nothing. We decided to return them. The lady laughed and said we were twisting them the wrong way. We laughed, too. Now our house smells like Kitchen Spice, Caramel Apple and Lavender (in the bedroom to induce relaxing sleep, supposedly). All that to say, I really enjoy Wallflowers. I rarely have them in the house but when I do I find they are mild and pleasant, not overwhelming or cough-inducing (like that air freshener my mechanic hung in my car the other day ...)

While we were at the mall 'returning' the Wallflowers, we stopped at Payless - Kevin thought they might have some slippers. I have been on a mission for slippers for a while now since my old ones I've had for 4 years completely gave out. The soles are coming loose and the fabric is frazzled and permenantly stained from going outside ande scuffing around the house almost every night. He found the perfect pair of slippers for me! I wanted slippers that had a closed back (those backless 'scuffies' that slip on don't really keep my feet warm). I wanted slippers that were fluffy and cozy. I wanted slippers with a relatively durable sole. These have it all. I am so excited! I wear them all the time now! They sort of look like bigfoot feet, or like I'm wearing one of my cats on each foot. I guess that's what makes them so cozy -- cats DO make good footwarmers. I highly recommend these comfy slippers! They are very economical and very cozy ... perfect for cool winter nights on the couch when you're trying to save money on your heating bill. ;)

Next on my list of good things for the week is colorful tights.

I have wanted to get several pairs for a while but haven't been able to find them anywhere in colors other than black and gray (BO-ring); either that or they are like, $30 which I think is completely unacceptable for a very perishable accessory. At last, I found some at Target the other day and bought three pairs. I am still looking for a pretty golden color but I did score the bright hunter green and warm, plumy magenta I wanted. I also got a light, ashy-gray pair which is nice with more colorful shoes. Yesterday I wore them with a knee-length floral skirt (small print) and orange mid-heel lace-up pumps. I think tights are a fun way to accesorize and incorporate color. If you have a more classic, neutral wardrobe, they are great at punching up the color and changing your look. Even with colorful or patterned pieces, tights can bring out an accent color or just transition a knee skirt or shortsleeved dress from Summer into the cooler months.

Here are some great examples of how to wear colored tights. Photo from this website.

I also must recommend this great website I discovered on my quest for tights; it's called We Love Colors. They have TONS of tights and leggings in every possible color. Their classic opaque, footed tights are $12.50 and come in 51 color options (nuts!). I guess they really do love colors? They have a color called 'Gold' which is just what I'm looking for! I might have to give it a try, even though it's pricy compared to my $5 Merona tights at Target. American Apparel also has opaque tights in a wide range of colors for $14.

Another "I heart" is definitely colorful shoes. I'm working on gathering several different colors and styles for my closet. I'm sort of over tan and black and brown shoes. I want greens and reds and yellows and blues. Happy colors! Happy colors for my feet! Doesn't it make you happy having color on your body? It makes me happy. I am not completely abandoning all the neutral tones for bright colors; they can be friends. But I just like color in places that I am not used to having color ... I wasn't raised with colorful shoes or colorful tights (well, when I was 5 I had red tights I think) or colorful scarves. It was all about the neutrals so you could have a 'versitile' wardrobe. But I want the best of BOTH those worlds ... which is why colorful accessories are so darn great.

Like these red ruffly pumps I found hiding under my bed the other week ...

And these cheerful loafers (I got the green pair on sale) ...

And of course the 'famous' orange lace-up pumps ... one of my new favorites!

And here are two more yummy pairs as found at the mall a couple months ago ... both drastically on sale (can you tell I like finding things on sale?) and adorable ... on the left: Gap rhinestone flats (you can buy they here) and on the right: from Nordstrom, BP Shoes brand which I just don't think you can buy anymore ... maybe on eBay.

That's all. Please share your favorite closet staples or fashion trends. It's fun isn't it? So long as it doesn't get too expensive. ;)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Holiday Baking - Part I

I have always enjoy baking for Christmas. I have always been the most festive person in any house I have lived and so the baking and decorating seems to be my responsibility. When I lived with my parents, I was the one baking the huge snowflake sugar cookies with blue glaze and silver dragees and now with Kevin, I am still baking and putting up the tree and insisting on Christmas movies and music and a DVD with a crackling fireplace. We don't have a fireplace in our house so I figured a big screen TV with a video of a fireplace was the next best thing - and it doesn't hurt our energy bill!

This year I hunted around for easy but pretty (and yummy!) cookie recipes. I found several at, of course; you can always rely on Martha to provide some nice recipes. I also decided to make my 'traditional' Peppermint Bark which is so easy but always seems a popular favorite among recipients. Here are a few recipes and photos from my baking endeavors so far this December. More to come, I'm sure. =) There has been some recipe swapping among friends so I think I will experiment with some new goodies this year.

Crispy Molasses Snaps (this is from Martha but I renamed them)

2 c all-purpose flour
1-1/2 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t salt
1-1/2 c sugar
1-1/2 sticks (3/4 c) butter, softened
1 egg
1/4 c molasses

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Whisk together flour, soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. In a separate small bowl, pour 1/2 c sugar. Set both aside.

In another bowl with electric mixer, beat butter and remaining 1 c sugar til fluffy. Beat in egg and then molasses til combined. Reduce mixer to low and gradually add dry ingredients just until a dough forms.

Pinch off and roll dough into balls, about 1 T each. Roll in reserved sugar then place on baking sheet (does not need to be sprayed or lined) about 2 inches apart. Bake about 10-15 minutes til edges are just firm. Cool on sheet for a minute then transfer to cooling rack.

NOTE: It's better to bake these for the least amount of time possible; just keep an eye on them. Baking them JUST too much makes them too crispy and the centers are no longer chewy as they should be. Edges: crispy; center: chewy - perfect with a glass of milk, still warm from the oven! Enjoy!

Angelettis (another Martha recipe)

4 c all-purpose flour
2 T baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 c (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 c granulated sugar
6 eggs
1 t vanilla

For glaze:
16 oz confectioner's sugar
1/4 c lemon juice
1-2 T water
sanding (or other colorful) sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In medium bowl, sift together flour, powder and salt; set aside.

With electric mixer, cream butter and sugar til fluffy. With mixer on medium, add eggs one at a time; blend thoroughly before adding the next. Add the vanilla. Gradually add the dry ingredients and beat until dough comes together.

Scoop dough into tablespoon-size balls onto sprayed baking sheet (or lined with parchment or Silpat). These cookies don't really 'spread' when baked so an inch or so apart is fine. Bake for about 15 minutes til the edges turn a little golden. Cool on wire racks.

NOTE: This dough is about the worst dough I have EVER had to handle. The cookies are lovely and came out delicious and flaky and perfectly accented by the mildly-tart lemon glaze. However, the dough was very difficult to handle. I think you probably need a scoop like this one to work more easily with this dough. Alas, I do not have a scoop. The alternative is to flour your fingers generously before scooping up the dough; this worked well for me, but my cookies are slightly more 'free form' than I think they are supposed to be. Didn't affect the flavor at all, but it's a good-to-know 'fun fact' before starting this recipe.

For the glaze:

Combine the powdered sugar with the 1/4 c lemon juice and about 1-2 T water; whisk together til combined. Dip the tops of your cooled cookies into the glaze and set back on the cooling racks (place a cookie sheet or a strip of wax paper or paper towels under the rack to catch the excess glaze). Let set for a short time (about the time it takes to dip an entire cooling rack of cookies) then sprinkle with sugar of your choice. I had some green and red sugar sprinkles and some golden turbinado sugar.

Once the glaze is set you can store them in plastic storage containers or zip bags. The flavor is very moderately sweet for a cookie and is a great compliment to coffee or tea.

Dipped Pretzels:
So easy but a yummy, slightly-lighter treat.

I have a bag of pretzel rings but really any pretzel shape will work (pretzel rods would look nice with the peppermint sprinkles)

Peppermint Pretzels: Melt semi-sweet chocolate chips in a double boiler (I add about 1 T of water for every cup of chocolate, as well as about 1/2 T of butter). Once chocolate is melted, dip pretzels in the chocolate and then sprinkle with crushed peppermint (I use candy canes and whir them in my mini prep for a few seconds). Lay pretzels out on wax paper to set. yum yum

Peanut Butter Pretzels: Soften some peanut butter (about 1/2 a cup) on the stove - just to warm it through. Using the same melted chocolate, dip the pretzels in peanut butter then in the chocolate and set out on wax paper to dry. (NOTE: Scoop some chocolate into a separate bowl since the peanut butter likes to drip into the chocolate; this way it doesn't affect the entire bowl of chocolate, just the portion you are using for the peanut butter pretzels).

White Chocolate Peppermint Bark:

I'm not a really big fan of white chocolate but for this application it's perfect. You mostly taste peppermint anyway; the white chocolate is just a really nice canvas for the pepperminty goodness.

1 bag of white chocolate chips or morsels
12-16 candy canes, chopped fine (you can either do this in a plastic bag - pound the candy canes with a rolling pin or heavy pot - or in a food processor)

Melt the white chocolate chips using the same method as for the pretzels: melt over a double boiler, medium-high heat with about 1 T water for every cup of chocolate; this does not have to be precise but it IS important to have enough water so the chocolate can melt successfully - otherwise is seizes up and turns into a dry clumpy wad. Gross, even for chocolate. You can add more water as the melting progresses if you think it's necessary, just mix thoroughly. The chocolate should not be too thick, but should run smoothly off the spoon or spatula, almost like syrup.

Once the chocolate is melted, remove the bowl (this double boiler method works well with tempered glass mixing bowls over a medium pot) to an oven mitt or trivet. Make sure the mixture is smooth then add the crushed peppermint, reserving a little bit for later. Mix this in thoroughly then pour onto a baking sheet lined with wax or parchment paper. Spread it out relatively thin, then sprinkle the top with the remaining peppermint. Let this set then chip pieces off with your hands. Store in an airtight container.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Beading Revival

This morning I woke up to find my cats spooning, Smiley cleaning Carmen's little gray head. For some reason I always think it's the sweetest thing when they clean each other. They fight sometimes and bite each other, but I think they are good little cat friends nonetheless.

I had decided (yesterday) that breakfast this morning would be waffles; Kevin's request was to make them with blueberries, and I decided some chopped almond would be a nice addition. And so I whipped up some blueberry almond waffles while some warm coffee brewed. We have nothing to do today so it's been lovely having no pressure and going from room to room, task to task with no thought of time limits or being somewhere or doing something other than what I want to do in my own cozy house on a Sunday afternoon.
After a few mugs of coffee and a plate of waffles I decided completely randomly that I wanted to pull out all my beading supplies; I haven't crafted in months and thought it would be nice to make something. I get a hankering for it from time to time ... I suppose now is one of those times. Perhaps I was inspired by the several items I have been able to find on eBay for ridiculously low prices: Full, glimmering strands of semi-precious stone and glass beads, crystal bicone beads and some lovely silver findings; can’t wait to get them in the mail and create some new pieces.

I had put my boxes of supplies under my bed a while back so I went to pull them out and take stock of my inventory. In the process I found some lovely shoes I had forgotten about. I had it in my head that I had returned them since they didn't fit, but in actuality I had exchanged them. I like little surprises like that; sort of like finding money on the ground: completely unexpected and pleasant. Now I’m wishing I had a lovely colorful pair of tights – yellow or plum – to wear them with tomorrow.

I gathered all the beading supplies and took everything to the dining room; it’s nice and bright and our table makes a sturdy surface for spreading everything out in great heaps of tiny plastic baggies and compartment-ed plastic bins and little trinket-y boxes of assorted beads and charms. 

Today I’m making a pair of earrings with a mix of colorful glass beads. I have these lovely lemon yellow glass drop beads – they look like a huge vitamin E capsule and feel sleek and smooth in the palm of my hand. I decide they will look nice with some similarly cheerful colors, and set about partnering them with orange and pale mint beads on silver chain and hooks. I’m debating now whether or not to add beads all along the length of the chain or leave them as they are. I really don’t want to muddle the energy I get from the 3 beads but I don’t want them to look naked either.

I really need to do something with these delicious little amber briolettes - don't they look like sweet little honey drops? I'm super inspired by this use of amber briolette (love me some bees!). They are quite small, but I think they might look pretty clustered together as a charm on a necklace or dangling from a shiny earring? Hmmm … too many choices sometimes keeps me hung up just admiring all my goodies and not making anything out of them.

I realized I had finished these darliing little earrings and left them in my supply box ages ago. They are out now and definitely going to be worn - too cute to be stuck in a dusty box under a bed! 

And these, too? 

MAYBE I should start my own Etsy shop or something; that would force me to stick with this hobby and not tuck it away for months on end. What do you think?? I'm open to critique! Let me know what you think about my craft endeavors. For now, I'm headed back to my dining table and the sprawl of beads that are waiting for me.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bulgar Wheat Adventures

Bulgar wheat is not an easy ingredient to find, let alone explain and enunciate to multiple grocers who have never heard of it.

I got off work early this past Wednesday and spent some time -- the amount of which I had grossly under estimated -- shopping for a few last-minute ingredients for my the dishes I was going to prepare for Thanksgiving at my mother-in-law's the next day. I was making Sweet Potato Casserole, Apple Pie, Cranberry Bread and Tabbouleh. Tabbouleh is another one of those things that most people have either never heard of or, of they have, hold very a strong opinion about. I personally adore the stuff; I could prepare and eat an entire mixing bowl of it in a single afternoon. The wonderful thing about tabbouleh is that it's really good for you. There is not a single cooked item in tabbouleh; it's completely raw, healthy and inexplicably delicious. The last of those descriptors is, of course, entirely opinion. You first have to like all the ingredients in order to love them all at once in a bowl of Tabbouleh, and some people just ... don't (more for me!). I was afraid Kevin's family would fall into the 'not so fond of tabbouleh' category; if they did, they were too nice to say anything. Except for Kevin's Grandma, God love her; she cannot feign "Mmm, this is good!" very well at all.

Wednesday afternoon. 3:03pm. I pull out of the garage at work and head for my first grocery stop: Tom Thumb. Thinking that Tom Thumb is the 'best' (read: most expensive) of all the grocery stores and seeing that the Tom Thumb just up the street from my house is a Signature Tom Thumb, I hoped I would be able to find some bulgar wheat without a problem. I find the other ingredients I needed (canned yams, parsley, prepared pie crusts) and ask 3 -- yes, 3 -- grocers where the bulgar wheat is. I spell it, describe it, and tell them what brand it will likely be packaged under. They don't have it. They don't even know what I'm talking about except to say that it's very, very rare and that only Whole Foods or Central Market will have it. Well, I don't live in a neighborhood with upper-middle class Prius-driving soccer moms or 60 year old residents who golf and insist on only organic foods, so neither is especially convenient. I try the Mrs. Baird's outlet just up the street since we had luck there in the past (they have an entire section of those Bob's Red Mill specialty items - muesli and flax seeds and such). No. Not this time. They have about 6 items with flax seeds in them and even a gluten-free brownie mix, but no bulgar. 

On to the next. I try Wal-Mart knowing in the back of my head it will be a nightmare to navigate the afternoon before Thanksgiving (the only time it's NOT is at 2am on Sunday) and they will likely not have any specialty ingredients like bulgar wheat. I leave, disappointed yet again.l

At long last I am able to find it at Albertson's. Finally! What is ironic and vexing about this whole situation is that I had, a week prior, purchased (for 18 measly dollars) a 10 pound sack of organic bulgar from Untimely delivery was set for the day after Thanksgiving. So I rolled my eyes and paid the $6 for a 28 oz sack and got to work in my kitchen. Everything turned out to my satisfaction, even though I was set back by over an hour because of all the unplanned grocery stops. Here are the recipes for all my Thanksgiving offering. Hopefully one of these years I will make my own turkey; I have yet to make a single Thanksgiving turkey!

Natalie's 'Famous' Apple Pie

Preheat oven to 375


I use prepared pie crust (brand does not matter). Set the package out at room temperature so the crusts can soften; they are easier to work with and don't tear when you unroll them.


Start by coring, peeling and dicing 6 medium-to-large apples. If you have one of these and your apples aren't verging on applesauce, you can save yourself a lot of time! I have one but my apples were too soft - they kept falling off the spike. I usually like using a mix of Gala and Granny Smith to balance each other out (sweet and soft vs crisp and tart) but I only had Gala on hand which turned out fine.

Once the apples are prepared and in a mixing bowl, add the following:

squeeze of citrus, lemon or orange - just a teaspoon or so (or a splash of OJ if you don't have fresh citrus on hand)
2/3 c brown sugar (to taste - I like the warmth brown sugar brings, but I like to taste the apple's sweetness, too)
2 T ground cinnamon (again, to taste - I'm fond of lots of cinnamon in my apple pie but some people probably hate cinnamon)
4 T melted butter
pinch of salt

Stir this all together til all the apples are well coated. Taste a piece of apple to see if the flavor suits you and modify as needed.

This year I decided to do something I have never done with my apple pie and add a handful each of golden raisins and dried cranberries. If you like, dried fruit or chopped pecans or hazelnuts make a nice addition; even some vanilla, subbing honey for the sugar, whatever. It's a dessert that works very well with substitutes.

Roll one of the crusts into a pie dish (if you like using deep pie dishes, prepared crusts aren't good for this; also you'd need to bump the recipe up to about 8 apples, and modify the other ingredients as appropriate). Make sure the edge of the crust meets the edge of the dish all around (doesn't have to hang over though) and pour in the filling. Even it out over the entire pie dish and then unroll the top crust onto the filling. Tuck the edge of the top crust down on the outside of the under crust and lightly press them both down onto the glass. Once this is done, go around again and crimp the crust with your thumbs (or press with a fork, etc - whatever design you like).

Bake for about 45 minutes. The crust will tell you if it needs more time or not. Look for a light golden brown all over and slightly darker brown along the edge. Let it cool to set a little before cutting into it.

Some people like apple pie 'a la mode'. I personally think apple pie is better without frozen sugar and cream melting all over it, but that's just me. Serve it however you like, so long as you enjoy it!

Cranberry Nut Bread

The easiest bread ever! Just buy a bag of Ocean Spray cranberries (they are at every grocery store this time of year). Follow the recipe printed on the back of the package. I DO make the following modifications:

1. Double the cranberry - it calls for 1-1/2 cups, but I use 3 cups (one entire bag)
2. Put the nuts (I use a mix of walnuts and pecans) into a food processor and chop before adding to the dough

This bread is SO good toasted the next day with butter or cream cheese.

Sweet Potato Casserole by PS

My good friend and co-worker PS was kind enough to share this recipe with me. She has made it for years and it's been a hit, even with the 'I don't like sweet potato' bunch. I suppose you can buy sweetened or unsweetened yams (canned), but I grabbed the only kind I saw which was 'Sweet Potatoes in Syrup'. For this reason, I cut back on the sugar. Otherwise no modifications to PS's original and delectable recipe. Enjoy!

Preheat oven to 350

Combine the following in a medium mixing bowl then place mixture into a greased casserole dish:

2 cans (29 oz) sweet potatoes, mashed
1/2 c melted butter
1/2 c granulated sugar (recipe originally called for 1 cup)
2 beaten eggs
1/3 c milk
1 t vanilla (I used about 2 teaspoons actually)
pinch of salt


In a separate bowl, combine the following, then sprinkle on top of the casserole.

1/2 c brown sugar
1/4 c all-purpose flour
3 T melted butter
1/2 chopped pecans

Bake for 45 minutes or until bubbly.


Tabbouleh is a traditionally Syrian (Lebanese) dish though there are a lot of variations in Middle Eastern cuisine.

I find it entertaining that Lebanese chefs are recognized by Guinness for making the largest dish of tabbouleh on record. That's dedication!

3 c bulgar wheat
2-3 bunches fresh parsley, washed and dried (I leave them bunched instead of untwisting them; makes it easier to chop)
2 tomatoes, diced small
2-3 lemons, halved and juiced
1/4 olive oil, or to taste
salt to taste

Most traditional tabbouleh recipes call for mint and usually onions (green) but I have never made it this way. Of course you can adapt however you want - this is another recipe that allows for a lot of flexibility. 

Soak the wheat in water until soft; takes about an hour. I place a collender inside a large mixing bowl and line the collender with a paper towel. Then pour in the wheat and the water. This makes it easier to drain the wheat once it's softened. Remove the collender and pour out the water and let the wheat drain a while in the sink, then transfer to the now-empty mixing bowl.

Add the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Taste the tabbouleh and add more lemon, oil or salt as needed. The amount of parsley is also a personal think. Kevin likes more parsley than I usually add; he's more of a traditional Syrian than I am apparently, as there is more parsley than bulgar in the original ratio. ;) 

Some recipes say to let it refrigerate for a couple hours or overnight, but I think it's ready to eat as soon as possible. However, it does 'season' nicely so the next day just add more citrus or oil to moisten the mixture and it's wonderful.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thinking about Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of those sadly overlooked holidays.

Take my neighbor, for example. She put her Hallowen decorations up - including a lighted, inflatable Jack-O-Lantern-Scare-Crow-on-a-Harley (fact) proudly standing guard on her front lawn. She is one of 'those' people; perhaps she didn't celebrate Halloween as a kid and is making up for it now, tenfold? When I was growing up, Halloween - erm, Reformation Day - was the one night annually that we, ignoring our usual alert and vigilant crime-detterance, intentionally left our porch lights off, shut ourselves into the living room and watched 'Martin Luther' (1953).

The day after Halloween is when many people traditionally turn to Thanksgiving: planning a menu and figuring out what side of the family you will grin and bear for the day, thinking of cinnamon rolls and coffee while watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade and that lovely feeling as you realize Christmas is just around the corner. No. Not my neighbor. November 1st, I come home from work (and it's dark around 6:15pm since Daylight Savings has kicked in): her house is aglow with flickering, colorful Christmas lights, her cactus draped in a white strand, her roofline twittering in full-color, her porch festooned in strands of snowflakes. She completely skipped Thanksgiving! Who does that?

When I was a kid, Thanksgiving was a good holiday in my house. No sadly-disappointed expectations of gifts (even when we get what we want, it's not quite as electrifying as imagined; I blame Hollywood!), no decorations to tear down and if it didn't snow, you really didn't care. The food is the centerpiece on Thanksgiving. Maybe this is partially to blame for my food addiction, even now. Mom's spread was over the top and more delicious than words can convey. Hers is the best Thanksgiving meal I have ever had. What is sad though is that I haven't had it in 6 years. I really miss it.

I really miss my mom's great cooking. Her turkey and homemade turkey gravy - lots of it (I hate going to people's houses and there is one boatful of gravy for like, 10 people. Doesn't each person get their own boatful of gravy? Btw, I love that boat and gravy are friends here...mmm). Her cornbread dressing with celery and sage and lots of garlic; her wild rice dressing with mushrooms, green bean casserole (after many years, she updated the delicious traditional green bean casserole with fresh beans and carmelized onions), sweet potato casserole, jello salad (not like any jello salad you have ever had so don't judge!), corn casserole and most years canned cranberries (apparently, the comparative qualities of canned vs homemade is a topic of debate). There is something magical though about a slice of gelatinous cranberry 'sauce' on a turkey sandwich with mayo the day after Thanksgiving. Homemade is lovely, but it just doesn't compare.

I miss the warm kitchen on Thanksgiving morning and knowing mom was up early, at least for a few minutes, to put the massive bird in the oven. I miss the din of the parade and then football in the TV room, our simple table and mom's French Countryside dishes (I love how the raised sides held in our huge platefuls of food - some plates are just too flat for Thanksgiving feasting!). My dad is a piemaking pro and he would always make his famous (yes, famous) Lemon Meringue and Coconut Cream Pies. They were divine. I remember in the old house we would put them in the laundry room on top of the drier, one in a vintage Tupperware pie carrier and the other covered in a lime green plastic bowl; it was cooler in there during the winter months and kept the pies but without being too cold in the fridge (you have to respect the meringue!). Dad's homemade crust and flour on the countertop, mom's Frugal Gourmet apron, our very old carving knive buzzing over the brown turkey (all of us vying for the crunchiest pieces of skin!), casserole dishes everywhere. Good times.

However bizarre my little family is, there will never ever be a Thanksgiving that will compare until I can eat my mom's Thanksgiving dinner again.

I'm thankful this year for my good husband, our new home, our health, and the small things.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Weekend Update

This weekend has been so lazy. I have slept entirely TOO much, but enjoyed it in the moment. This evening I have a headache though; interesting how wonderful, luxurious sleep backfires when you indulge a bit too much. The last 2 days have gone quickly, too; I guess that's another side effect of sleeping 1/2 the day. ;)

Saturday I slept in and woke up to a late breakfast and coffee. Kevin and I spent some time in the yard in the afternoon then went on a couple errands including a stop at Garden Ridge where we found a curtain rod for the new curtains I got at Target last week. We still have the white curtains up that the previous owner used but I thought something colorful would be nice. The grommet top will be easy to push them open and closed. Now I just need to get some hold backs; I'm thinking something with beads - maybe something I can make myself. =) Saturday night, I pulled out the Christmas decorations and put the tree up. I usually don't decorate til after Thanksgiving but I think I was too excited about seeing the tree in our new house for the first time. I love it! As if our living room wasn't cozy already, it's now extra cozy. Plus I acquired a few new ornaments this year and I love admiring them on the glowing branches. Of course the soft and unbreakable ornaments are on the bottom branches so my curious cats can play with the tree without breaking any of my favorites.

Kevin informed me I am no good at fluffing branches, so he decided to help me out. ;)

One of my new owl collectibles - a sparkling gold owl ornament for my tree. Isn't he handsome?? I knew he would look wonderful glowing against the lights on the tree.

Sunday I slept even later. Not surprising since we stayed up til the wee hours playing games on Saturday night. I had some Cheerios with a banana and we spent the afternoon watching 'Avengers', napping (!), and playing games together. This evening I made a big pot of sausage and vegetable soup with homemade cornbread that was the perfect dinner on a cool(ish) evening. Kevin hasn't been feeling too well and he asked for soup: the perfect feel better food! I just threw the soup together with items I had in my kitchen; here is the recipe in case anyone is interested in replicating it.

Sausage and Vegetable Soup

12 c water on high heat

Add and bring to a boil:
1/2 white onion, diced
3 ribs celery, diced
3 medium/large red potatoes, diced small
4-5 sausages - I used bratwursts, prepackaged and cut in half (I cut them into bite-sized rings before serving)

Cook this for a while until the vegetables start to soften and add:

1/2 c corn (I used frozen)
1 can butter beans, drained and rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes with liquid
5 cloves garlic, minced

Simmer everything til the vegetables are completely soft. Remove the sausages and cut into bite-sized pieces; return to the soup and turn off the heat. Leave the pot on the warm burner and add about 1/4 head of cabbage (green or red) and cover to let the cabbage wilt. I seasoned with generous pinches of Kosher salt; then added dried parsley, oregano and paprika.


Whisk together:
1 c cornmeal
1 c all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1 t salt

Then add:
1 egg
1 c milk
1/3 c vegetable oil

Mix until smooth and pour into greased 8x8 pan. Bake in preheated oven (400 degrees) for 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.


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