Happy Christmas, sweet and loyal readers. My sincerest apologies for the lack of posts lately - crazy days at work, B being out of town last week, and rush crochet orders to finish took up my time. But I'm at home now with my family for my last Christmas as an unmarried woman. It's shaping up to be a good one. Restaurants and laughs, home cooking, seeing my bestie and her sweet baby daughter...it doesn't get much better than this.
Most poignant of all, a torch is heading downstream to another generation. My great-grandmother, who will be 97 in January and who historically makes the bulk of our Christmas Eve dinner, broke her arm a few weeks ago. Clearly she deserves a little break from the cooking. Guess who is in charge of the collard greens for the entire family? It's sad to think I'm a "grown-up" and no longer a kid, but it feels good to contribute and to carry forward family traditions.
However, we're also starting a new tradition - a family-wide dirty Santa game. As the family prepares to gain two new members in 2014 (by marriage, let me emphasize), it also seems appropriate to mix in new traditions, too.
Wherever you are, whatever and however you celebrate, I hope you're doing something or eating (or drinking!) something that makes you feel happy and loved and celebratory. Happy Christmas to you all! Thank you so much for being "sous mom parapluie" with me this year!
Merry Christmas, sweet readers! I hope your holiday season thus far has been happy and healthy. I know ours has, with the possible exception of too much food and/or alcohol. Wednesday was the Christmas party of our sweet friends, Anna and James, at Jack and Diane's, a relatively new piano bar in Greenville. We enjoyed a couple of drinks, time with good friends, and definitely some interesting entertainment.
Then last night B and I did our annual Christmas celebration before we go our separate ways to our own homes next weekend. This year it was really exciting because I know that next year wherever we celebrate Christmas we'll be celebrating it together, and I can't WAIT. We went to Nantucket, an amazing seafood restaurant here in Greenville, and had a phenomenal dinner. If you're in the area and looking for a good restaurant for a treat, that's the one.
Then we spent today cleaning our respective houses. So I know that's not all that festive, but it really needed to be done. And B is leaving tomorrow to go out of town for work until Thursday, so I didn't feel much like cooking a huge meal and eating leftovers for what feels like the rest of eternity. So we made an easy fallback.
If you have kids, or have ever babysat kids, or ever were once a kid, then you're probably familiar with this recipe. It is NOT rocket science. But it was warm and comforting and delicious. If you're looking for something easy to make on these hectic pre-Christmas nights, as you shuffle kids to various school events and pick up last-minute gifts, look no further.
English Muffin Pizzas
3 English muffins, halved
pizza or tomato sauce
shredded mozzarella cheese
Pre-heat oven to 350 or so.
Spread sauce on the English muffin halves. Layer with sauce, toppings, cheese and seasoning.
Bake for 5 minutes. Broil for 2-3 minutes until cheese is golden brown.
It's no secret I'm a HUGE Elizabeth Gilbert fan. She sucked me in with Eat, Pray, Love, mostly because part of it took place in Italy. When I picked up Committed, it was really only because it was written by her, and because it was a continuation of EPL. I didn't really know what to expect, but certainly not this. The first thought I had about this book was, "This should be required reading for any girl getting married."
I've read the book twice - once before I even met B, and once after we had been dating a little more than a year. It rang wildly true for me both times, but in very different ways. I have no doubt that if I read it now, as a woman about five months away from her marriage, it would still be relevant in yet even more different ways.
There is a caveat: I do not necessarily agree with everything in the book. Gilbert is wildly liberal, and I am decidedly not. She is also not particularly Christian, while I am looking at my marriage from a Christian perspective. Some of the portions in the book I take with a grain of salt. However, even with political and religious differences aside, there are some nuggets of wisdom in the book, which I will leave with you now:
"...the emotional place where a marriage begins is not nearly as important as the emotional place where a marriage finds itself toward the end, after many years of partnership."
"Sometimes life is too hard to be alone and sometimes life is too good to be alone."
"Because this is the essential question, isn't it? I mean, once the initial madness of desire has passed and we are faced with each other as dimwitted mortal fools, how is it that any of us find the ability to love and forgive each other at all, much less enduringly?"
"So, no, when I mention 'tolerance,' I'm not talking about learning how to stomach pure awfulness. What I am talking about is how to accommodate your life as generously as possible around a basically decent human being who can sometimes be an unmitigated pain in the ass."
"In the end, it seems to me that forgiveness may be the only realistic antidote we are offered in love, to combat the inescapable disappointments of intimacy. We humans come into this world...feeling as though we have been sawed in half, desperate to find somebody who will recognize us and repair us. (Or re-pair us.) Desire is the severed umbilicus that is always with us, always bleeding and wanting and longing for flawless union. Forgiveness is the nurse who knows that such immaculate mergers are impossible, but that maybe we can live on together anyhow if we are polite and kind and careful not to spill too much blood."
"...'marriage is what happens between the memorable.'...Marriage is those two thousand indistinguishable conversations, chatted over two thousand indistinguishable breakfasts, where intimacy turns like a slow wheel. How do you measure the worth of becoming that familiar to somebody--so utterly well-known and so thoroughly ever-present that you become an almost invisible necessity, like air?"
Intrigued yet? If you're in the market for a to-read over the Christmas break, I highly suggest you hightail it to the library and pick this bad boy up. It's a funny read with lots of wisdom. You're welcome.
Maybe in my last post I under-emphasized the amount of turkey we have. If that is, in fact, the case, then let me be clear: we had a lot of leftover turkey. We would be having turkey sandwiches until Memorial Day.
And when the weather is 40 degrees all day, well, soup sounds pretty good. This recipe originally called for chicken, but we subbed turkey. All in all, it was delicious - a veggie-heavy chicken and rice soup. It had a fantastic flavor and was warm and hearty, and presumably pretty healthy. Give it a try with your leftover turkey, or use chicken as originally directed. You won't be sorry!
3 boneless chicken breasts, cooked and diced (again, we used turkey)
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 onion chopped (we used a whole small onion)
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
1 1/2 cups chopped carrots
1 can lima beans (I just tossed in a whole bunch of frozen ones)
1 can cannelloni beans
1 bag baby spinach
1/2 cup uncooked white rice
pinch of dill (I didn't have any, so I left it out)
salt and pepper to taste
Put all ingredients except spinach in crock pot.
Cook on low for 6 hours.
Add spinach for last hour of cooking.
Serve and enjoy!
As much as I love a good Thanksgiving feast, leftover turkey gets real old real fast. Even with sandwiches and everything, it lasts a while, especially when both B and I were each sent back to Greenville with our respective family's leftovers.
12 ounces vermicelli (which, as far as I can tell, is just thin spaghetti)
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons chicken bouillon granules
1 teaspoon seasoned pepper
2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
4 cups diced cooked turkey
1 6-oz can of sliced mushrooms, drained
3/4 cup slivered almonds
Preheat oven to 350. Cook pasta according to package directions.
Melt butter in a pan over low heat, whisking in flour until smooth. Cook 1 minute, whisking constantly.
Gradually whisk in milk and wine.
Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, 8 - 10 minutes, or until mixture is thick and bubbly.
Stir in bouillon granules, seasoned pepper and 1 cup Parmesan cheese.
Remove from heat, stir in diced turkey, mushrooms and hot cooked pasta.
Pour mixture into a lightly greased 9x13 baking dish.
Sprinkle with slivered almonds and remaining Parmesan cheese.
Bake for 35 minutes, or until bubbly.
Honey-glazed carrots, that is.
I hadn't planned on making carrots at all for Thanksgiving, but at the last minute my dad decided he wanted to add that to our menu line-up. Luckily, my future sister-in-law had pinned a recipe for honey-glazed carrots a few days before, so we went with that.
I was concerned about the amount of butter that went into them, but I should have known that was what would make them taste soooooo good. This is sort of, but not exactly, a healthy recipe, but let's just all agree that Thanksgiving isn't the time to worry about that, anyway. If you've got picky eaters, maybe you could persuade them to try these babies?
Make these for Christmas, or make them as an everyday side dish. They're very versatile and incredibly easy. Check out the original recipe here, or mine below.
Happy December, sweet readers!
1 pound baby carrots
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoon lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped parsley (we left this out, as I hate parsley)
In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add salt and cook carrots until tender, about 5-6 minutes.
Drain carrots and return to pan, adding butter, honey and lemon juice.
Cook until a glaze begins to form on the carrots, about 5 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper.
For the uninitiated, that stands for "What Would the Barefoot Contessa Do?", and unless you're a Gilmore Girls junkie like me and Mama Payne, you absolutely will not understand that, so no need to be concerned.
But in case you DO want to know what the Barefoot Contessa does, I'll tell you. She comes up with recipes like this that my mother (and subsequently I) make. Yes, get ready to drool...it's the potato-fennel gratin we made for Thanksgiving. I love it because the fennel adds a kick to it to keep it from becoming too overwhelmingly cheesy and bland.
If you're ever asking yourself WWTPWD (what would the Payne women do?), you now have your answer. If you're looking for a recipe for your next holiday meal, or even just for, you know, Wednesday or something, check it out below.
TBFC Potato-Fennel Gratin
2 small fennel bulbs
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 large russet potatoes
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 1/2 cups grated Gruyere cheese
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350. Butter the inside of a 10 x 15 x 2 baking dish (we used glass).
Remove stalks from fennel and cut bulbs in half lengthwise. Remove the cores and thinly slice the bulbs crosswise.
Saute the fennel and the onion in olive oil and butter on medium-low for 15 minutes until tender.
Peel potatoes, then thinly slice (we used a mandolin).
Mix sliced potatoes in a large bowl with 2 cups of cream, 2 cups of Gruyere, salt and pepper. Add the sauteed fennel and onion and mix well.
Pour the mixture into the buttered baking dish. Smooth down the potatoes.
Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of cream and 1/2 cup of Gruyere and sprinkle on the top.
Bake for 1 1/2 hours until the potatoes are very tender and the top is browned and bubbly.
Allow to set for 10 minutes, then serve.
Happy holidays to you and yours!