Friday, November 28, 2008

Just Chill

I am annoyed. At refridgerators. We've been shopping for a new one, and they all suck. Or they're too expensive.

No, our current fridge isn't dead. But it's on life support. Every month or two my husband pulls out a hair dryer to defrost frozen-over coils. We had to repair it another time, a couple of years ago, for the same symptoms. That time, the auto-defroster cycle wasn't working right, so the fridge just quit auto-defrosting and first frosted over, then quit chilling. Like every appliance repair experience I've ever had, it was exceedingly painful to fix--involving the repairmen not showing twice, and somehow ordering two parts. This time, we're not under warranty.

Since having kids, I've been wanting a bigger fridge. This one's not teeny, but once you add two gallons of milk, grapes, eggs, yogurt, and some leftovers, we're bulging at the seams. And, it's a side-by-side, which means that I can't fit anything wider than a 2-liter into the fridge side. Not really, but it definitely won't hold a round platter or a cake box. And, our fridge space is up against one wall, so the fridge-side door won't open very wide, further restricting what we can get in and out. Very annoying.

So, we're lightly fridge shopping. The problem is, if we want a big fridge (around 25 cubic feet), then our options are either another side-by-side, or a french door. The french door ones are tempting--nice, big, wide sections that would hold a large item. But we have the same door problem on the one side, which makes some of the interior drawers in those big fridges not accessible.

What I really want is a 25 cubic foot fridge with a bottom freezer and one large refridgerator door that can be changed to open away from the wall. But no one makes those.

To make things even more aggravating, either we go with another side-by-side, or pay around $1000-$1500 extra for an equivalently featured french door one. And I just can't bring myself to fork over premium money for something that really isn't right for our space.

Of course, I've whined enough previously about renovating my kitchen. Wanting to rennovate my kitchen, I should say. Because the how/when/how much is so far up in the air that it looks like another moon. The fridge-wall-conflict is one of the design flaws I'd really like to fix. And I also hate to pay a premium for a fridge that may or may not work with my (hypothethical future) kitchen layout. If money were no object, I want a huge built-in (like a Sub-Zero or Wolf or Kitchen Aid), at least 48" wide. You know, one of those $6-10,000 ones.

A girl can dream.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Save That Bird!

It's not too late to rescue your turkey from its sterotypical dry boredom on Thanksgiving Day.

Brine it! Seriously. If you've eaten moist, flavorful chicken or turkey from a restaurant, then you've probably had brined poultry before. And when you got home and tried to re-create that yummy roasted taste and ended up with bland rubbery chicken or turkey so dry it could double for cat litter, its because you missed a step.

We've been brining our Thanksgiving turkeys for several years now, after reading about the process in Cooks Illustrated magazine. (I've mentioned them before right? Seriously..if you love to cook and don't care for ads, they're the magazine for you).

Here's the plan for this year:

1 fresh turkey, thawed. Mine clocks in at just under 20 pounds.
1.5 cups of table salt (if you use Kosher, go with 2.25 cups to keep the same percentage of sodium)
3 gallons cold water
2 clean large white kitchen trash bags
1 electric cooler

"Trash Bags?" you ask. "Are you nuts?" Well, let's just say that they don't make ziploc bags that big. If you have a regular water-tight cooler, then you can skip the trash bags. Just sanitize it really good before and after. Ours plugs in and has a cooling fan inside, so I can't just fill it with water. Hence the trash bags.


  1. Dissolve salt in the water in a large stew pot. Stir it until the water is clear, with no salt visible in the bottom of the pot.

  2. Open Turkey package. Remove giblets, neck, and cracker jack prize.

  3. Place one trash bag inside another trash bag, and place both into the cooler, opening sides up. Put turkey into the trash bag.

  4. Find a friend. Over 3 foot tall preferably.

  5. Ask your friend to hold the turkey-trash bags open while you pour the dissolved salt-water into the center bag (the outer bag is just a backup in case of leaks).

  6. Squeeze out as much air as possible from the inner bag that's full of salt-water turkey, and tie it shut.

  7. Tie the outer bag shut. Close lid of cooler and plug it in. (If you have a regular cooler, pack it with ice and make sure it stays cold while the turkey's in there).

  8. Wait 6 to 12 hours. I'm doing mine overnight tonight.

  9. Carefully remove the turkey from the brine, rinse in the sink (this is the trickiest part, IMO, those suckers are heavy and slippery), place it in the rack in your roasting pan (you have a rack in your roaster, yes? If not, the stores are still open....). Dry the turkey off with paper towels. Throw that yucky raw turkey salt water down the drain.

  10. At this point you will want to let the turkey rest at room temperature for maybe 30 minutes before cooking. If it's not time to pop it in the oven, then put it in your fridge, uncovered. The air will help dry the skin out so that it crisps up nicely when roasted.

  11. Follow your normal roasting directions. For me, that involves adding thyme, carrots, onions, and celery into the bottom of the pan (to help flavor the drippings for the eventual gravy), adding a little salt and plenty of black pepper to the bird. We frequently "stuff" the turkey with a couple of onions and apples, for extra flavoring from the inside. Brush the whole turkey with melted butter. Roast back side up at 425 for about an hour. Flip the turkey breast side up, turn oven to 325, and continue roasting until the thighs reach 175 (probably about 3-3.5 hours total on my bird).

So, go! Get that turkey brining. And don't forget to thank me tomorrow night!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I have a guilty secret: I don't like to eat with my children.

No! you gasp. It cannot be! But you love your children. And you love to eat and to cook and to feed people. How can you not love to feed your children?

Let me be clear. I have no qualms with feeding the children. Its eating at the same time that's my issue. And its' not their table manners. The 4-year old inside of me giggles when Trystan shovels oatmeal into his mouth by the handful, and can appreciate the art masterpiece that Charlotte makes out of her dinner.

The problem is that I never get to eat! We sit, we pray, and then the aerobics begins. I'm up getting the (milk/yellow mustard/fork) that was forgotten. I'm down on the floor mopping up the overturned bowl of soup before I stick my own sock in it by mistake. I'm cutting food. I'm blowing on food. I'm negotiating what food Charlotte must consume to qualify for the chance to watch a TV show after dinner. This is not to say that I perform these tasks alone, either. My husband generally handles half of the interruptions. And still, I don't get to sit.

And by the time I get to the first bite of my dinner, which is now cold, Trystan's done. Quick, get the baby out of the high chair before he (throws his food/screams bloody murder/wiggles out of his buckle and leaps from the chair)! And he must be cleaned, head to toe, and sometimes stripped (depends on how soggy the outfit got). Then he must be released into the living room to play, a feat which normally fails the first 2 or 3 times depending on (whether the powder room door is open providing access to toilet paper and flushing/how quickly he reaches the cupboard with the forbidden food processor attachments/how yummy Mommy's food looks).

Just as I settle in for a few more bites, Charlotte asks to be excused. And requires coaching on putting her dishes on the counter, and then needs help turning on the water when she washes her hands. By then, Trystan toddles back into the kitchen and begins yanking on my leg, begging for space on my lap, and bites off my plate. If I refuse, then he climbs up anyway, and I have to take him (kicking and screaming) into the living room. And race him back to the kitchen before he steals my chair.

Dinner time was almost relaxing from just before Trystan was born (when Charlotte was 2.5), until...well, until he came home from the hospital and discovered that everytime I sat down to eat, he was hungry too. (I was an expert at nursing at the table).

This, too, shall pass. And one day, when my kids are surly teenagers who refuse to speak in complete sentences, or have so many activities that they barely make it to dinner at all, I will miss these days. Peekaboo under the table. Charlotte goading Trystan into saying "stinky" (the worst word she can come up with). Trystan politely asking for more butter after he downed his last helping, leaving the bread intact....

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thanksgiving Prep

I bought four pounds of butter today. Four. Pounds. And they're not divided into sticks--each pound is wrapped whole. I was giddy just adding the package to my shopping cart.

My obsession with butter aside, I have to say that shopping for Thanksgiving fixings is fun. Putting all the food away in our pantry is like trying to stuff an elephant into a coat closet. And I haven't picked up the turkey yet.

After much planning and re-planning, we are having Thanksgiving here, at my house, with my IL's, and my husband's sister, BIL, and their 17 month old twins. Total of 10. We've got the space. We even have matching chairs at the dining room table (for the adults, anwyay). My only regret is that the kiddos aren't quite old enough to eat at the kids table (yep, we've got one of those, too, with 4 little chairs...too bad a 4 year old can't be left to supervise 3 toddlers). Did I mention that this year we were supposed to be spending Thanksgiving in Indy, with my family? Strange the way things work out.

Really, I'm trying not to go too overboard on food. It's way too easy for me. I grew up in a family of 4 kids (with a 5th who came along much later), so every dinner was "big". And now, when I think "big", I make enough food to feed half the county. And I do it all with one oven. (Hah!) (Though I daydream of double ovens and a 6-burner stovetop...No, I actually do daydream about them...)

So, I promise not to feed all four pounds of butter to the group in one single sitting. We must save some for the leftovers.

And, I don't have a Thursday Cookbook Series post queued up and ready to go. Not that I'm sure that anyone's actually reading them. (Actually, I'm not sure anyone reads the blog at all, but I'll pretend that I'm not talking to myself, just in case). I was thinking about posting a few Thanksgiving-y recipes (possibly even for the things I actually intend to cook). Stay tuned.

On second thought, don't stay tuned, just check back--I do not want to be responsible for cleaning drool off the keyboards of my whole 2 fans if they actually stared at the screen waiting for a new post.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thursday Cookbook Series -- Canning and Preserving

Every spring I have grand dreams of planting a beautiful garden and reaping a bountiful harvest that I can store away to feed my family for the winter. It's a silly dream, for someone who gardens in a 3x10 patch in a tiny suburban backyard. I chalk it up to some latent pioneering gene. It is rumored that my family has an ancestor who arrived on the Mayflower, and others who lived in the wild west (or at least the wild midwest of Nebraska).

In any case, most of my canning produce comes from the supermarket after my garden falters (or becomes a bunny buffet). Canning, at least the "water-bath" method is really pretty easy--you put hot food into jars, put on lids, and then boil the jars. Follow the times on the recipes, and that's really it. So far, I've done apple sauce, apple butter, apple pie filling, pickles, a variety of fruit jams, and some really yummy roasted red pepper spread.

If you're not up for all the boiling, then both the Ball Blue Book of Preserving and the Canning & Preserving for Dummies books have sections about drying and freezing foods, as well as pressure canning. I haven't gotten into the pressure canning yet, mostly because it involves buying a pressure cooker, and I"m already out of room for storing kitchen gadgets. But, it's on my list of things to try. Right after I find the secret to producing a bumper crop of tomatoes in a veggie patch the size of a postage stamp....

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The can-can

I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I don't donate to foodbanks very often. I should. As someone who takes great pleasure in both food and feeding people, I ought to get nice warm fuzzies out of contributing. But, I'm also a creature of schedules and habits, and pleas for canned goods always come at awkward times, times when my brain is so jumbled with other concerns that I just don't remember. Seriously, if you ask me on the way into the grocery store to donate, I will have long since forgotton by the time I leave.

Often when I donate, I do what I suspect many people do: clean out the pantry and donate all the odds and ends that I just don't know what to do with (and don't remember why I bought). Many a can of tuna has left our house in that way. (For the record, I don't buy the tuna. Or cook it. Nor do I eat it. So why does it keep coming back? And overstaying its welcome?)

This year, the Boy Scout's Scouting for Food bag arrived on my doorknob as I was preparing a shopping list for a much overdue grocery run. And, I remembered my thoughts about living off a foodstamp budget.

So, I actually added decent donate items to my shopping list. I didn't buy a lot--boxed pie crust mix, pumpkin pie filling (requires only eggs and evaporated milk, and a crust), evaporated milk, and a couple of small jars of pumpkin pie spice. The spices don't go with the pie filling--it's all-inclusive. But someone else might end up with a can of blah pumpkin and have nothing in the cupboard to add to it.

Now, I will still be raiding the pantry for any unclaimed cans of food (I think I spotted some baby food jars in there the other day...that's gotta go!), and if I catch a great sale sometime this week then I might add a little more to my offerings.

I do have one request: could one of ya'll please remind me to actually stick the bag of food out this weekend? It would be really silly (and completely predictable) of me to go to all the effort only to forget to actually donate the stuff...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Booklist Update

This month is a slow reading month. I have two books to report, but I finished one of the two almost two weeks ago. So, I have a whopping one book done in the month of November.

The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones. This was the one that was yanked by Random House for fear of inciting muslim violence, and then published by a company in the UK. It was interesting. I know very little of the area and time period, and even less about the culture, so it was all very new to me. It was not the best book ever written, but I would certainly recommend it to others. Was it worth banning and bombing? Um, not in my opinion.

The Accidental Demon Slayer by Angie Fox. This was a quirky paranormal romance with witches that ride Harleys and concoct their magic spells with Snickers bars and twisty-ties. It was fascinating and fast-paced. Some of the action scenes seemed a little brief to me, but then I've been reading a lot of epic fantasy this year, which tend to drone a bit on the fights. All in all, it was a lot of fun, and I'd highly recommend it.

I have actually read another novella as well, half of Alison Kent's In Danger ("The Shaugnessey Accord"). I read that whole story while standing in line waiting to vote. 2 hours just flew by. Will report back once I've finished the other novella, "The Samm's Agenda".

Categorizing these two books is kind of a pain, given the list I already have going. I have a bunch of Jayne Ann Krentz's books in the "Contemporary Romance" category, even though they're paranormal (just not quite as paranormal as Demonslayer). But Demonslayer had way more romance than most of the books in the Sci-Fi/fantasay category. Similarly, Jewel could easily fit into General Fiction, or I could make a case for women's lit.

Oh, heck. The list is for my own amusement. I'll just stick them somewhere and let you guess.

General Fiction - 8
Contemporary Romance - 10
Sci Fi/Fantasy - 5
Historical Romance - 6
Women's Lit (Chick Lit) - 3
Total 32 books

Update 11/18/08: Corrected a silly typo that made it look like I wrote the Jewel of Medina. Ha ha! If only the publisher would make the same mistake and start sending me the royalty checks....

Monday, November 17, 2008

Some are Stripey or Polka Dot...

What do you wear to bed? (To actually sleep in—really, I’m not interested in your collection of nocturnal sportswear).

I’m a PJ kind of gal, but I wasn’t always. When I was a kid, I mostly wore t-shirts—big, baggy, butt-covering t-shirts. Sometimes mine, sometimes “obtained” from cast-offs of the taller members of my family. We were not an overly formal bunch in the mornings, and I’m one of 5 girls, so there was never much worry about showing the wrong parts to the wrong members of your family. Sometime in high school, I discovered men’s boxer shorts at the local discount stores, and started adding those to my nightly wardrobe—the crazier the pattern, the better.

For Christmas every year, my mom always bought us brand new PJ’s. They were the one present we were guaranteed to be allowed to open on Christmas Eve, frequently early enough in the evening to allow time for a pre-wearing wash. She wanted us all presentable for the Christmas Morning photo shoot. It’s a tradition our family still shares, and Mom buys all of us (including the men and children that we’ve added over the years) cozy Christmas jammies every year. I have quite the collection of red and green flannel.

But I think that its only since I’ve had an actual salary to spend that I’ve really gone gung-ho on nightgowns and sleep sets. My pajama drawer overfloweth, and I have to rotate things in and out with the seasons in order to have room to store them all. I’m kind of particular about what I sleep in—preferably cotton (flannel or knit), and it has to have sleeves. Don’t know why sleeping in a tank top bothers me, but it does.

Lately, I’m enjoying a sort of PJ renaissance. I’ve spent enough time pregnant or breastfeeding over the past few years that I’ve had to limit my PJ collection (i.e. long night gowns with no button opening at the top don’t work when you’re nursing, and when you’re the size of a barn, your PJ’s have to be also). But suddenly, I’m my normal size, with no access requirements (let’s keep our minds PG here, please), so I’m digging out all my old favorites from the past—long gowns, Capri sets, flannel 2-pieces, fleece.

So, I’d embed a fancy poll in this message, but 1) I’m not sure how and 2) my computer tends to freak out on blogs with polls. So instead, I’ll just ask. Anyone willing to admit what they sleep in? The buff? Old football jerseys? Tidy Whities?

(Bonus points to anyone who gets the reference in my title...)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Thursday Cookbook Series -- Coffee Drinks & Desserts

This week I have a fun cookbook to share. For someone who avoids most caffeine, I'm strangely obsessed by coffee. I love the smell of it brewing. I love a good Starbucks mocha (decaf). And I love to cook with it.

I found the Maxwell House Coffee Drinks & Desserts Cookbook several months ago at a bookstore. The photo on the front cover--chocolate toffee bars, p.190--always makes my mouth water. And there are plenty more. The book contains background sections about the history of coffee, Maxwell house, and brewing tips.

And then there are the recipes. They are divided by time of day: Breakfast and Brunch, Coffee Break, Lunch, Afternoon Coffee Time, Dinner, After the Show, and Midnight Snack. They cover hot coffee drinks, muffins, scones (one of my favorites), cakes, pies, ice creams, cold treats, cakes and frostings....

Hmm..Cappuccino white chocolate chunk muffins...sounds like a yummy breakfast to me.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Returning to Earth

Did you miss me? I haven't had much time to post lately. I've been working "overtime" at work, which for me means that my hours approach 40 (or, occasionally surpass it). There once was a time when I'd barely notice 50 hours in a week. My record was up around 90-100, and I once worked a 23 hour shift. I know, I know, I have nothing on my doctor friends.

Now, though, my scheduled 32.5 already pushes the membrane of my to-do list. Like an already-full water balloon, there is only so much give before things burst. My coworkers put in way more hours than I did, but for many of them, that 60+-hour week isn't quite as catastrophic. There are few in my group with young kids, and fewer still with a spouse who also works full time.

So, the big deadline has passed. I have slept. My family is still intact and the house and laundry piles are recovering. I'm still working on NaNoWriMo, attempting to write 50,000 words of a novel by the end of the month. Believe it or not, that's a pace that is not bad for me--less than 2000 words a day, which I put out in about 1.5 hours (after bedtime, normally). I never said they were good words, btw. Last time I did this, I threw away about half of what I wrote when I revised later.

Even with NaNo, I am looking forward to a little breathing room, at least between now and the holidays. One day off a week, more of them with the kids (yes, I'm a bad mom...I've been known to send the kids to daycare and stay home from work so I can do housework and run errands and be productive). I should get back to my weekly step aerobics, which I've had to skip for a couple of weeks now because of schedule conflicts.

No promises on the blog posts, though. I plan to be a little light between now and December.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


On Thursday,for the first time ever, I felt a little guilty about sharing a restaurant meal with my kids. We went to Red Lobster with my in-laws. The choice of restaurant was Charlotte's. Red Lobster had an all-you-can-eat shrimp specical, and Char was in the mood for shrimp. The kids menu offers "popcorn" shrimp, but she likes the naked kind with the tail still on. We ordered a mac & cheese for her and her brother to split, and told her she could share a few of mine or her daddy's. Apparently she was hungry that night, because, had we ordered her own portion, she would probably have eaten her money's worth. Yikes. I still don't know where she put it all (hollow legs? The jury's still out...)

And, for another random first, today I bought a calendar before the new year. In fact, usually I buy calendars on clearance racks well into January, or sometimes February or March. Never full price. Never never in November. And yet, coordinating all of our activities is getting to be a tougher job every month. So, when I spotted a nice "family calendar" (one with dedicated space for every family member, for every day), I went ahead and bought it.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Thursday Cookbook Series -- Cooking for Two

My apologies for the poor photo. I've mentioned that I'm not much of a photographer, haven't I?

This week I am featuring two books that I use frequently (or used to), but that you'd be hard pressed to find on a bookstore shelf. The first is Betty Crocker's Dinner for Two Cookbook, Copyright 1973. My mother gave it to me when I moved into an apartment back in college. It was probably a wedding gift or early-marriage purchase for her and my father. Given the vintage, it should be no surprise that it doesn't reference a microwave, or chipotle, or "low-carb", or any other modern cooking terms. And yet, before needing to feed two voracious toddlers, I used it constantly. The book has hundreds of recipes in categories like Everyday Favorites, More Dimes than Dollars, Planning Ahead (with main meals and leftover meals paired up), and When Minutes Matter (with few pre-packaged ingredients!).

Sometime in college or just after, I bought an updated book, called Betty Crocker's New Choices for Two (copyright 1995). This book has a lot fewer recipes, but all have much healthier profiles than many in the 1973 book. The newer diet fads--trans fats, and low-carb, etc,--are obviously not covered. But there are heart-healthy options, and low-fat options in every category. Some of my favorites have been the Oven Crisp Chicken (using wheat cracker crumbs in the topping), Easy Pepper-Jelly Chicken, and Cinnamon-Orange Breakfast Puffs (whichs makes 4-5 muffins...perfect for 2).

Flipping through these books is making me a little bit nostalgic this morning. Now that we're feeding four at every meal, I don't often reach for these for inspiration. The recipes and ideas remind me of the early years of my marriage, when it was a struggle to put decent meals on the table for 2 without wasting tons of food or resorting to restaurants.

And now, I feel old for using the phrase "early years of my marriage"...

Monday, November 03, 2008

Rise and Shine

It is time for my semi-annual complaint about Daylight Savings Time. It sucks. And it's stupid. You can't really "gain" or "lose" an hour--you just apply a different label to the same part of the day. Really folks, get over yourselves. Go to work earlier (or later) in winter (or is it summer? I can't figure it out...) if you think it will save you money. And quit messing with the rest of us.

Really, fall-back didn't used to be a problem. But I didn't used to have a 1 year old who can't tell time. Even after keeping him up later 3 nights in a row, he was still up at 5:45 this morning (his old "normal" of 6:30-7am was bad enough). And when Trystan's up, he's up. Wiggling and walking around and wanting to take things off the nightstand or go potty (or at least play in the potty).

Blech. Did I mention that I'm grumpy this morning?