Happy Thanksgiving from the great state of North Carolina! I hope you all and your loved ones are having a lovely day. I know I am, and I'm overflowing with thankfulness. Let's get the utterly obvious out of the way: I am crazy grateful for my B and the fact we are going to get married. I am so thankful that no matter where we wind up celebrating next year, I will be celebrating Thanksgiving as Mrs. Stevenson. I am thankful for my crazy and loving family of birth and my incredibly kind future in-laws. I'm thankful for my sweet furry girl and that she and her furry cousin Eva are (kind of) getting along. I am thankful for a warm house and good food and all the blessings I enjoy that so many don't. Like I said, I'm overflowing. Here's a little peek into the Payne family Thanksgiving...
(This is the first time I've done a blog post from my phone, so forgive any autocorrect disasters and formatting issues...)
Our sweet friends Travis and Erin host a wonderful tradition that started when they were in college, Friend Thanksgiving. We didn't know them then (in fact, neither B nor I even lived in South Carolina when they began the tradition), but they are incredibly loving and welcoming people. As some of their friends moved away, and as they made new friends (ie, us), Friend Thanksgiving has expanded and coalesced and now encompasses a myriad of wonderful young adults in the greater Upstate area (plus Travis and Erin's two ridiculously adorable little boys).
Last year, we were in Philadelphia visiting B's family during Friend Thanksgiving, so when I got a text from Erin asking if we could attend this year, our answer was a resounding "Yes!" Further, I knew immediately what I wanted to bring: my piece de resistance, the thing I love making most for Thanksgiving. THE orange bourbon cranberry sauce.
I love cranberry sauce. I think it's because I prefer vinegar-y, marinated, tart things, (as opposed to ANYthing mayonnaise-based), and this sort of falls into that category. After all the turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and green bean casserole and macaroni and cheese, you kind of need something NOT creamy and bland and fattening. This cranberry sauce delivers.
It's ridiculously easy, but it's homemade, so it easily blows the socks off of the canned stuff. Cranberry. Orange. BOURBON. Come on. What's not to love?
What you do is, you take a bag of cranberries, 3/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice, the zest of the orange, and 1/4 cup bourbon (I usually add an extra splash for fun), and you put it in a pot on medium heat. You wait until it starts simmering, then let simmer for 20-25 minutes until the cranberries have all popped and it looks more like sauce and less like an Old Fashioned cocktail (trust me when I tell you it smells like an Old Fashioned, too).
Stir frequently while it's simmering. When it's about halfway through, it is beautiful and pink and frothy and delicious looking, but it eventually settles into an actual cranberry sauce-type thing.
In short, it's delicious and you should make it for your Friendsgiving or Thanksgivukkah or whatever holiday you celebrate in November. Short of bringing actual booze (or homemade desserts), this is the best thing you can bring to a Thanksgiving meal.
The original recipe came from Real Simple, but I changed a few things around to make it my own. You can see their recipe here, or mine below. Happy Friendsgiving, sweet readers!
Orange Bourbon Cranberry Sauce
1 bag whole fresh cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup bourbon
1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
zest from the orange
Dump everything into large saucepan.
Let simmer for 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently.
Remove from heat and let cool for 30 minutes before serving.
Become the hit of your Thanksgiving meal.
...well, charm seems a bit too optimistic, but my third StitchFix box is definitely better than the first two - from a style perspective, anyway. As far as sizing goes, everything except one dress was a bit big (and a couple things were WAY too big). That's kind of a disappointment, because I would possibly have kept everything if it had fit. Pictures below. And as always, commentary is welcome (yes, Mom, even you).
Anila Floral Print Flutter Sleeve Blouse
I really liked this blouse when I first pulled it out of the box. Then I tried it on. While I LOVE the pattern and the general concept, it just felt a little too baggy. I'm afraid it looks frumpy. Maybe it would look better with a black belt around the waist to give it more definition? Or is it a lost cause?
Rowson Colorblock Striped Sweater
As far as the style goes, they NAILED it. I have a Carolina blue and navy and white striped sweater JUST like this from Lilly Pulitzer. The difference is, my Lilly sweater FITS. If a sweater can fit your 6'0", 200-pound fiance, that's pretty sad. I know it's meant to be layered, but this is even with my white button-down beneath it. Still a fail. This one's going back.
Audrey Pearl Neckline Striped Dress
This one is relatively cute, but like the blouse it's just a wee bit too big, especially in the waist and bust. The rhinestones interspersed between the pearls on the collar look kind of cheap. And it's an awkward style of dress. It's really too fancy (or cocktail dress-looking) to wear to work, but where else would I wear it? We don't go out often enough to make this one worthwhile. Cute style, but a pass.
Andrea Floral Brocade Knit Dress
This was my favorite item straight out of the box, and after trying them on it's still my favorite. For starters, it's the only one that fits in the waist and the bust (seriously, they have my bra size...how is it this hard to get things to fit my top half?!). I could put a cardigan with it and wear it to work, or I could wear it on its own. I think this is the one I'm keeping.
Giselli Chevron Print Sleeveless Dress
This dress is super cute and work appropriate, but I knew it the minute I pulled it out of the box - it's way too big. If it fit, it would be a keeper, along with the gray and white flowered dress, but there's just no way. You could put an entire extra set of boobs in the top, 'cause mine take up about half the room allotted to them. A shame, because this could have been a super-cute versatile dress.
So that's my third StitchFix, and possibly my final for a while (unless any of you sign up using my link and give me credit). It's been fun, but they haven't nailed my style and size the way they've advertised. So feedback welcome.
And here's a picture of my sweet Luna. She was such a good girl. When B was taking pictures of me, she would just sit and look at him expectantly, so of course he had to take her picture, too. Gah, I love my sweet furry bug.
My female coworkers and I spend a lot of time talking about food - food we've had at restaurants, food we've cooked, the nutritional facts of food...you name it, we cover it. So much so, in fact, that when we hired our newest gal in September, I joked with our office manager that it had to be a job requirement that the new girl liked to talk about food and cooking and eating.
When that same office manager said last week that she had split pea soup in the Crock Pot, my ears perked up. To be honest, I've never had split pea soup, but I like peas and I like soup so I figured we wouldn't be too far off the mark here. I asked her for the recipe. And as it was a disgusting, rainy day here, I thought it would be nice to have some hot soup for dinner.
Begin by dicing one cup of bacon, one onion, one large carrot (we used baby carrots since that's what we had), two garlic cloves, and 2 potatoes. It's my experience that cooking goes better when you do all your prep work first. You would think that's common sense, but I've actually had to learn that the hard way.
Anyway, once that's done, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large soup pot. Add bacon, onion and carrots and cook until the onions are completely wilted. Add potatoes, garlic, 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme, a bay leaf, 1.5 cups of split green peas, and salt and pepper. Add seven cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low boil, put a lid half over the pot, and cook for 45 minutes until peas and potatoes are soft.
Remove soup from burner, remove bay leaf (I forgot to do this...), then puree the soup to your consistency of choice with an immersion blender.
Eat, and enjoy! This soup didn't disappoint. It was hearty and savory and generally delicious. It made plenty of leftovers, and should reheat well. If you're looking for a recipe to make your winter days warmer, give this soup a try!
Amanda's Split Pea Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced bacon
1 onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced (we used baby carrots)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme (or 2 teaspoons dried thyme)
2-3 teaspoons salt
1 bay leaf
2 potatoes, cubed
1 1/2 cups dried split peas
7 cups of water
Heat olive oil in a large soup pot. Add bacon, onion and carrots and cook, stirring until onions are wilted.
Add garlic, thyme, salt, pepper, bay leaf, potatoes and split peas.
Pour in water and bring to a boil, then reduce to a very low boil.
Put a lid sideways on the pot so steam can escape, and allow to cook for 45 minutes.
Remove from heat, and take out bay leaf.
Use an immersion blender to blend soup to desired consistency. Add salt and pepper if needed.
Serve and enjoy!
What with the impending big 3-0 in February and marriage in April, I've spent a lot of time thing about the big picture and the future, things such as finances, child-rearing, wedding planning, etc, etc. And as much fun as it is to focus on these big, wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime exciting things, it will always be the little things that get me.
My point? I'm not entirely sure there is one. Just that I'm very grateful today, and for little, ordinary things. Extraordinary is good and all, but never let anyone tell you that "ordinary" isn't worthwhile. It totally is. :)
It's that sad time of week, Sunday night. I'm especially blue because B is going to Dallas for a few days this week, so not only will I be missing him, I also won't be cooking. Because, well, I just don't do that for myself (I WILL be introducing you all to my favorite "B is gone" treat, so stay tuned!).
But we certainly need dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow, so what better food to make lots of leftovers than chili? White chicken chili. We made its tomato-based ordinary counterpart last week...this week, chili's spicy, pale cousin.
It turned out delicious. I forgot to put a clove or two of minced garlic in there, so I might add that next time, but otherwise we thought it was wonderful. It was warm and really spicy and generally delicious.
I couldn't find a single recipe I liked so I drew from about 4 recipes I Google-searched for. I think it wound up pretty good if I say so myself (and I do say so). See below for the mishmash recipe of the year!
Spicy white chicken chili
3 large chicken breasts, frozen
2 cans great northern beans
2 cups of chicken broth
1 white onion, chopped
1 can cream of chicken soup (I used the "heart-healthy" kind)
1 jalapeno, minced
1 packet McCormick white chili seasoning
juice of half a lime
salt and pepper to taste
Dump everything in Crock Pot on low for 6 hours (give or take).
About an hour before you serve, take out chicken breasts and shred with two forks.
Put shredded chicken back in Crock Pot and let simmer for another hour.
Squeeze lime juice into Crock Pot and stir well.
Serve with cornbread.
The ubiquitous "they" says you should never start a sentence with a disclaimer, such as "I'm not a rocket scientist, but I have this new idea for sales." Or something. But this post sort of requires a disclaimer. This is not an earth-shattering recipe that will turn your gustatory world on its head. It's chili. But it was a high of 59 degrees yesterday, and it was a Monday, and therefore chili in the Crock Pot was about as good as it was going to get.
It's a pretty basic recipe: packet of chili seasoning, two cans of diced tomatoes, one can of red kidney beans, one can of white ones. The only things I did a little different were to use ground turkey instead of ground beef, and to add a generous amount of the Trader Joe's South African spice blend to give it a smoky kick.
And as usual, it turned out amazing. It may not be fancy, but it was awesome, and much-needed. Judge all you want - I never said I was trying to audition for Top Chef or anything ;)
3/4 pound ground turkey (I like less meat in my chili and more beans)
1 can red kidney beans, rinsed well
1 can white kidney beans, rinsed well
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 packet chili seasoning
Trader Joe's South African spice blend
Red pepper flakes
Brown ground turkey (or ground beef).
Put in Crock Pot with all other ingredients.
Cook on low for 6-8 hours. Stir, top with cheese, and serve.
Enjoy on a cold night!
I don't know if I actually remember this, or if I've just heard my parents talk about it so much that I feel like I remember it, but one of my earliest memories of food is having mushroom pizza dates at Sir Pizza with my dad...when I was about 3 or so. I've never been a picky eater, and my dad has always LOVED this about me, so he's spent a lot of time over the years feeding me and supporting my adventurous eating habits. And mushrooms are one of my favorites (they are one of Mama Payne's LEAST favorites, which is why she was not invited on these daddy-daughter dates).
So when I Pinterested across this recipe for balsamic roasted mushrooms, I was ALL in. And I wanted Brussels sprouts, too.
If you've never had Brussels sprouts straight off the stalk, I suggest you stop what you're doing and scoot your behind over to Trader Joe's, my mecca and all-around happy place, and get you some. But that's neither here nor there. Once I got these lovely sprouts on the stalk, the question remained: roast them separately as usual, or roast them together with the mushrooms with balsamic?
Since togetherness is a big theme around here lately, what with, you know, us getting married and all, we decided it would be just fine to throw everything on the same cookie sheet and roast it all together.
Thankfully, it proved to be as good a merger as our impending nuptials. I wouldn't change a thing, except possibly to add some red pepper flakes to give it a sweet and spicy kick. Check out the original mushroom-only recipe above, or see the happy combination below.
Balsamic-Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Mushrooms
one stalk Brussels sprouts
one package mushrooms (I used cremini)
2 tablespoon olive oil, plus 2 teaspoons.
4 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
4-5 cloves fresh garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400.
Wash and halve the mushrooms and sprouts. Place on foil-lined cookie sheet.
Toss with 2 tablespoons oil until everything is well-coated. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
Roast for 15 minutes.
While veggies are roasting, mince garlic. Remove thyme leaves from stem and roughly chop.
Mix thyme and garlic with the olive oil and vinegar.
Take veggies out of the oven at end of 15 minutes.
Pour Balsamic mixture over the veggies and mix to coat well.
Put back into oven to roast for another 10-15 minutes, or until they've reached your level of done-ness.
Now that we've gotten this Halloween nonsense out of the way, it's the most wonderful time of the year! Thanksgiving and Christmas are THE best holidays, in my opinion, so I'm compiling plans and ideas in my head with remarkable enthusiasm.
This year, more than any, the holidays seem particularly special, and also bittersweet. As thrilled as I am to be getting married, and as much as I am grateful for my new family who loves me and has welcomed me with open arms, it makes me immeasurably sad that this year is the last year I'll be able to spend both holidays with my own family, as I have done since...well, since I was born.
But 29 years is a pretty good run, and I think it's probably a good thing to mix it up a little and make some new traditions, both with my in-laws and also just between B and myself. And hey - if I spend Christmas with his family in Pennsylvania, there might actually be snow!!
There probably won't be any snow in North Carolina this year, but there never is, so that will be as usual. And this year I am ramping up all the Payne family Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions I can muster for one last rally. So get ready for an onslaught of recipes and decorations. I'm in charge of at least three dishes for Thanksgiving, so you KNOW I'll share those with you. I decorate my house the Sunday after Thanksgiving and I have some new ideas in mind for this year, so you'll get to see those as well.
Winter is a fabulous time to be "sous mon parapluie" with me, so stay tuned...