Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Just Wondering...

Dear Readers,

Is anybody actually reading this blog??? Just thought I'd ask.



Tuesday, November 22, 2011


In less than 48 hours, it will be Thanksgiving Day. My first, that is. This is the first year where things sort of fell into place where we weren't obligated to be somewhere specific for the holiday, so David and I jumped at the opportunity to finally spend a major holiday in our own house. We've been in our home for almost three years and we're always somewhere else. Not that I'm complaining, but it will certainly be a nice and relaxing change to not have to be on the road. Not to mention, I'm finally getting to bust out the humongous and beautiful stainless steel roasting pan, that was a wedding gift over three years ago, and put it to work. I know that Nella will be the happiest of all in this scenario. She gets to stay put in her own warm and cozy home rather than being boarded at the vet's--or "the clink" as I call it--which always breaks my heart when she has to go there. So we all win this year. Hurray!

So far, I have all of my groceries accounted for and a 19 pound turkey literally thawing out in my refrigerator at this very second. I don't have much of a game plan other than to be up and at 'em early to get Mr. Bird in the oven. I won't lie, I'm very, very nervous. I'm scared about having one of those Griswold moments where the turkey comes out looking beautiful but is actually a dried out, icky mess inside. That and the gravy. I'm not a gravy-maker in general--I'm more of a simple pan-sauce kind of gal (despite how many years I've lived in the south I still do not cook like a southerner), but I'm still up for the challenge. I'd like to attempt to make the gravy out of the pan drippings, but I have a plan B in case it ends up terrible. I have a very simple giblet gravy recipe that's pretty fool-proof on standby, so if all else fails, we can have that. In the end, though, I may end up making both gravies anyway, just to have a little variety on the table. I could cheat and use store-bought gravy, but personally I do not care for them. The real thing is so much better. But that doesn't mean I'm not cheating in other areas...

The rest of my menu is not very complicated at all. In fact, as I sat down and reviewed the menu this past weekend I realized that the majority of the dishes don't need to be prepared till much closer to meal time. I could make a few things ahead of time and keep them warm, but I'm not always wild about doing things that way; some things just taste better hot, right out of the oven. The most tedious thing to prepare, other than the turkey and gravy, will be the Snowy Mashed Potatoes, and that's only because of all the steps it requires--peeling, boiling, mashing, etc. other than that, it's all shaping up to be pretty darn simple.

One thing that David and I have in common in a huge way is that we're both very attached to the way things were done in our childhoods, particularly with food. It's not that we're afraid of change or of trying new things, but we both agree that some things are perfect just as they are and don't require fooling or fiddling with. I call it being traditional, although I'm sure some would instead call it being stubborn. In David's case, he's just very sentimental, plain and simple. So am I, but in my case, I'll admit, one of the biggest reasons I tend to cling to some of those traditions is simply because they make my mother feel close to me. Even after sixteen years of her being gone, I'll never stop feeling a little cheated at this time of year, robbed of her presence at a time when families are supposed to come together the most. Food is one of those small ways to keep her nearby, whether it's through mashed potatoes or store-bought stuffing.

Ahh, the stuffing. I know there are tons of great stuffing recipes out there. I've sampled some of them myself in the past and I whole-heartedly agree that homemade stuffings can be quite delicious and unique. However, my preoccupation this year lies with the bird. The perfect stuffing is not high on the agenda. So what are we doing? I'm pulling the traditional card here and we're having Stovetop Stuffing. I ate it growing up, David ate it growing up, so we're fine with that. Same thing with the cranberry sauce. Homemade cranberry sauce, with all its sweet variations, are very tasty indeed...but what is that I'm reaching for in my pocket? Oh yes, it's the traditional card. Cranberry sauce, with its lined stamp of sincerity--from the tin can it plops out of anyway--promises me perfectly round slices to place upon the table, as well as less of a headache to prepare. Canned cranberry sauce, you complete me...

As for the rest of the menu, pretty easy-peasy. Corn, peas, buttered biscuits, maybe some kind of sweet potato dish (that will be a last minute decision), and David's only two requirements--green bean casserole (which funny enough, I had never even heard of until college) and his Aunt Kathy's broccoli casserole recipe. When I was engaged and had my bridal shower, my party hostesses sent a blank recipe card inside every invitation asking the receiver to bring a recipe with their gift. I ended up with three different broccoli casserole recipes, which I found so funny for some reason. It turns out though, that David's Aunt Kathy's recipe is almost identical to my Aunt Roe's (my mom's sister). The only slight difference was in the amount of mayonnaise each used. So it turns out I'll be making what is essentially both aunts' recipes this year, which kind of tickles me and makes me feel like I'm passing on all sorts of family traditions.

So I'm cutting major corners (a much nicer way of saying I'm cheating) with the stuffing, cranberry sauce, and the biscuits (Pillsbury, baby!), and I am perfectly fine with that. As years go by I'm sure I'll give a little and add a larger variety of everything, but for right now, my very first Thanksgiving, this works. I can hover and hone my anxiety to one area--le turkey--all in the comfort of my favorite velour pants and my bare feet--my favorite way to be.

And of course my sister Beth and her family will be there and I'm sure she'll be willing to lend me a hand if I need it. I've already given David permission to watch all the football he wants, as long as he stays out of the kitchen and out of my way. I consider myself a decent cook when the food is done, but I tend to stress myself out in the kitchen during the process of getting there. The less people I have in my immediate presence, usually the better I function. It should be quite the hilarious show come Thursday morning...

As for my Weight Watchers Thanksgiving plan, I don't have much of one other than to enjoy myself. I'm not going to pig out--it doesn't take as much to fill me up as it used to anyway--but I'm also not going to deprive myself of anything either. If I want a slice of apple pie, I'm gonna have one! I don't need two slices, but one should suffice. Thursday is my normal weigh-in day, which leaves Friday as my start of the week. This will be no different. I'll enjoy myself, as I should, on Thursday, and whatever happens, happens. Friday is a new day, a new week, and a clean slate. There will be no guilty regrets that morning, that I can promise you.

What are all of you cooking up for Thanksgiving this year?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Two Sparkly Thumbs Up

What a glorious weekend! I took Friday off from work and I feel like I have been on an extended vacation. I take that as the official sign of a weekend well done. Do any of you happen to know what special event fell on Friday, November 18th? Yes, it was my sister Beth's birthday, which is indeed special, but not exactly what I was referring to. Mickey Mouse's birthday? Why, yes it was! But still, no.

Friday, November 18th marked the release of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 in theaters! (Insert the trumpets and horns here). After attempting to wait very, very patiently--an act in futility for me when it comes to these things--for the last year and a half, the moment finally arrived. We finally got to see Bella and Edward, or as I refer to him--my dear Eddie Spaghetti--tie the knot. Oh yeah, and there was also that rather tame, but still steamy, honeymoon to follow. The movie did not disappoint in the least, and that's not even coming from a biased standpoint.

If you've never read the series or seen any of the other movies, or if you're one of those ignorami who have declared this series terrible without even reading/watching them for yourself to even make that determination--seriously, at least read it before you claim you know it to be crap!--this post may not be of much interest to you and you might want to avert your eyes now (see, a healthy disclaimer). But if you don't mind listening to the mind-rattling of a fan, truly obsessed and smitten, by all means, pull up a chair and come hunker down with me...

Going to see these movies has become a nice little tradition for myself. It's much easier to take the day off from work and go see it first thing in the morning (I went to the midnight opening of New Moon when it premiered and I swore NEVER AGAIN) rather than attempting to see it on a Friday night when you have to battle the squealing teenagers, who in this case are all locked up in school--ahh, the perks of being a grown-up...I arrived early, knowing that even first thing in the morning there was going to be a crowd, which there was. Standing in line, I chatted with several people, all of us sharing our own little jokes and anecdotes about the books and movies. One woman got a real kick out of me telling her that any time I give my husband a hard time about anything, he apologizes for not being "sparkly" enough for me. Hee hee. He's such a good sport...

I wasn't sure what I was in store for with this movie. I knew the plot like the back of my hand, but for the first time I wanted to be a little surprised with the actual film. In the past with the first three, I had already seen so many trailers and online clips that by the time the movies arrived I felt like I'd already seen the entire thing. So for once, with the exception of the trailer, I avoided clips and photos like the plague. And it paid off, because the movie indeed felt like a fresh, new experience.

The movie began with the wedding, which felt sort of funny because in most movies, weddings are usually towards the end. This was a perfect example of how occasionally the movies have a huge advantage over the books. I personally find it very rare for a movie to exceed the written word (and that applies to any book made into a movie). Books have a way of making everything possible without being too silly because you don't have an actual visual. However, in the case of Bella and Edward's wedding, the movie blew the book out of the water. Rather than the tasteful, indoor ceremony that the book described, the Cullen's backyard was instead transformed into an ethereal, magical fairytale. Tree timbers were fashioned into organic seating for the guests. White flowers cascaded down over the audience like snowflakes. Visually, especially lit up on the bright silver screen, it was breathtaking to say the least. If I ever decide to renew my vows, I'm so having THAT wedding...Oh, and did anybody besides myself spot the cameo of Stephenie Meyer as one of the wedding guests?...The highlights of the wedding--1.) Bella's gown. Um, bea-u-ti-ful. But then again, Carolina Herrera designed it, and that woman does not design ugly dresses period. 2.) The wedding toasts! So unintentionally, yet intentionally hilarious. Emmett and Charlie never fail to deliver the great one-liners. And 3.) Bella and Edward saying "I do" to one another. The ceremony was filmed in such a way that it didn't drag but didn't leave anything out either. Also, adding the Flightless Bird, American Mouth song by Iron & Wine--otherwise known now as the Twilight prom song--was a lovely touch that brought a real feeling of closure to the rocky, and often agonizing, road it took for Bella and Edward to reach that moment.

The honeymoon. Hubba, hubba. It didn't go too far, though. As a matter of fact, I heard somewhere that the honeymoon scene actually had to be re filmed in order to bring it down to a passable PG-13 rating.
I guess I haven't a clue as to what constitutes an R rating because in my opinion, it was still racy enough that I probably wouldn't have felt too comfortable taking a 13 year old to see it. But then again, I'm 33 years old and what might seem a bit much for a young teenager to me may be completely different for an actual teenager these days. These are some scarier times we're living in after all...But overall the entire honeymoon sequence was done very well and at times had the feel of a romantic comedy. Kristen Stewart bouncing up and down while brushing her teeth, combing her hair, and shaving her legs in her nervous state was pretty comical, as was Edward breaking the headboard of the bed with his super-strength during I was rather proud of both Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson as they both seemed to have let go of some of the stiffness they both carried in the earlier films (perhaps their real-life romance had something to do with it). But they both seemed more at ease with one another and much more believable as a couple. Edward alone did so much smiling during the first half of the movie that it almost felt like an alternate universe, as any fan knows Edward spends more time brooding and worrying himself to death than any other emotion, so it was a nice change to see him so happy.

Too bad that happiness was pretty short-lived. Next came the pregnancy. Wow. The make-up artists and CGI people did one heck of a job here of creating the illusion of the baby literally sucking the life out of Bella from the inside. They turned Bella into what, to me, looked like a bonafide crackhead (for lack of a better term)--sunken cheeks, dark circles under her eyes, all skin and bones. It was almost frightening looking at her.
The actual birth scene was a whole other level of intense. That particular scene had such huge potential to be amazing, even on a slight morbid level, or a complete disaster. For anyone whose read the book knows that the birth scene was all kinds of gruesome--spine-cracking, bloody, skin-tearing gruesome. The movie pulled it off fantastically. It was bloody, it was cringe-inducing, but not so off the charts that it became cheesy (not that there was a total lack of Velveeta in this movie, but I'll get to that in a minute). It was a roller coaster--it started as a bit scary, morphing into a little gross, then into a brief, fleeting moment of happiness, then back to a little scary, and finally into what felt, to me, very sad. Edward really tugged at my heartstrings in his moment of trying to resuscitate Bella. As odd of a moment as it was, that may have been the best scene that Robert Pattinson has filmed in this entire franchise. He was so desperate, so scared, so unglued in that moment. As an actor, he was completely believable in that scene, and as a fan who has really enjoyed witnessing his craft improve with every film, it was a real moment of pride for me, bites and all.

As for some cheesiness, it was there of course. Particularly, with the wolves. Remember when I said some moments in books don't always translate very well to movies? This was no exception. In the books, the wolves all hear each others' thoughts when they are in wolf-form. In a book it reads as simple dialogue, so it's no big thing, but in a movie it came off laughable (kind of the same way that Bella's visions of Edward came off as silly in New Moon did). As in, many people were actually giggling out loud. As Jacob is being circled by his fellow pack, the audience is hearing these lines like, "It's a monstrosity!", "An abomination!", and "It's unnatural!" being shouted from all directions, and for whatever reason it just came off as strange and silly and out of place with the rest of the film. But, I guess it had to be done somehow. Other than that, all around this was a great movie--funny, romantic, action-packed, and a little gory. Not all movies can pack that range of emotions in one and pull it off. Even my husband David said this one was much more suspenseful than the rest. We both agreed that it's the best film (so far) of the series.

Of course, it's fluffy, it's cheesy--come on now, we're talking vampires and werewolves here, not War and Peace--but that's what's so good about the entire Twilight saga. I'd compare it to a soap opera--they're silly, over the top, melodramatic--but that's part of its charm. If the anti-Twilighters in general would not take the whole thing so seriously and just accept it for what it is, they might actually enjoy it. You'd be amazed if you knew how many people I had to battle to convince to even read the first book alone. I heard so often, "I'm not interested" or "Vampires aren't my thing" from my friends. And then when they finally did give it a whirl, they found themselves stunned that they loved it. It's not for everyone, but despite whatever preconceived notions you might have about these type of stories, you'll never actually know for sure until you pick it up and read it for yourself. You might be surprised.

So my official review in a nutshell? Two sparkly thumbs up! Can't wait for part 2!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Snowy Mashed Potatoes

Looking for a stellar mashed potato recipe to put on your Thanksgiving table this year? Potatoes that will have your family mmm'ing and ahhh'ing after each bite? I've got the one. THE one. THE ONE AND ONLY.

It's pretty hard to screw up mashed potatoes. You boil them, you mash them. Hmmm...I suppose you could add too much salt. Or have lumps. Or be soupy rather than thick and creamy...I take it back! Mashed potatoes CAN easily be screwed up. But if you follow this recipe, trust me when I tell you, there will be no screw-ups this year. I'm giving the 100% Dianne Guarantee on this one.

Dianne was my mom. There were a million and one things that made my mom the exceptionally magnificent person that she was and still is in spirit--beautiful, brainy, a witty wise ass, unbelievable cook--the list could go on and on. One day I'll write a post about her where I can give her the ample devotion she deserves. But today, I'm going to focus on one area. Her unbelievable cooking. Specifically, her unbelievable mashed potatoes.

When I was growing up, we did not eat these snowy mashed potatoes all the time. These in particular were reserved for the special occasions--usually Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter--probably due to their richness and fat content. Be warned, these are not sissy mashed potatoes and not for the faint of waist. But they're one of the top foods I remember from my childhood and always invoke huge smiles from my dad and sisters when they reappear on the table today. I've made these occasionally for friends and the general response is usually, "Oh my God..."

My mom cooked a wide variety of foods, but there were a few "signature" dishes of hers--this being one of them. And now, in honor of what would have been her 65th birthday (which was yesterday), I am sharing this signature dish with all of you. I hope at least one of you will try these this month for your Thanksgiving dinner. You can thank me afterwards...

Oh, and in case you're wondering why they are called "snowy", the truth is, I have no idea. They just are!

Snowy Mashed Potatoes

-4 lbs. white potatoes (about 12 medium potatoes)
-(1) 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
-1 cup sour cream
-2 tsp. salt
-1/8 tsp. pepper
-1 garlic clove smashed
-1/4 cup chopped chives
-1/2 tsp. paprika
-1 tbsp. butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook potatoes in boiling salted water 15-20 minutes or until tender, drain. Mash with beater.

Mix in everything but butter, paprika, & chives. Mix on high speed (with a hand mixer) till smooth and light. Stir in chives.

Spoon into lightly greased baking dish*. Sprinkle with paprika and place butter on top of potatoes.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

*You can use any size baking dish you'd like (I've seen people use 9x13 pans) but preferably, a round dish works best because the butter runs down the potatoes.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Happy Belated Halloween!

Okay, so I'm a tad overdue with this post. Hopefully something Halloween related will even be semi-interesting at this point. Personally for me, it's not. And truth be told, I am so HAPPY that Halloween is over!! Between all of my neighbors, and my own husband, who spent the entire month trying to out-do one another with crazy yard props (David actually built a coffin and a crypt, complete with PVC pipe running through them attached to a fog machine), the yuckiness of another birthday (mine), and Halloween candy...yeah, so glad it's done.

But the weekend was still a fun one. My pumpkin carving party, which took place on October 29th, was a hit with my neighbors. The weather was very cool and fall-like, so it was nice to gather outdoors and do something together. Well, kind of outdoors. We set tables up inside our garage. I was a little worried about pumpkin guts ending up all over the driveway...

As you can see, there are no small children in these pictures. Trust me, they were there, for all of about 15 minutes before they all decided that carving was too much work and it was best left to the adults to handle. Instead, they played together out in the yard. Oh well. The adults enjoyed it nonetheless.

I cannot believe that somehow we managed to finish this day without a photo of everyone's pumpkins lined up. I never claimed to be organized--on the contrary, I am the most UNorganized person there is, and this basically proves it! My plan was to have everybody vote on their favorite pumpkin. The winner, which turned out to be my nephew Russell for his awesome graveyard pumpkin, won the coveted Pez-dispenser door prize.

Afterwards, everyone was treated to some homemade cupcakes, brownies, and fudge. The brownies, while delicious, turned out hideous looking due to my lack of artistry. The top was covered in a snowy white layer of marshmallow fluff, and was then supposed to have spiderwebs piped on in chocolate. As I was attempting this, I realized I hadn't a clue what I was doing and my webs ended up looking more like a Jackson Pollack painting. They were still yummy though! The fudge was DIVINE and had a top layer of white chocolate with orange extract and orange food coloring added. It was quite beautiful to look at it, and once again, I managed to not get a photo of it. (Sigh) I suck.

The cupcakes were pretty straight forward and simple. Cupcakes + frosting + food coloring + black piping + toothpicks = Halloween cupcakes. I had a little trouble on some of them. The black piping didn't always want to cooperate, so some ended up with thicker lines than others. Also, when running the toothpick through them to create the web effect, they didn't have that soft, elastic texture I was looking for to cut through them like butter. The toothpick would cut through and basically slice it rather than pull it and meld it into the orange frosting. So in the end, some turned out very well and some others, err...not so well. I haven't taken a cake class in almost a year, and my rustiness rang through loud and clear. But again, they still tasted good!

Later that evening, we, along with my some of our neighbors who attended the pumpkin carving, all bundled up and went to the Spooktacular event at the Jacksonville Zoo. It was cold outside! Really it's an event for the kids--they hand out candy and kids wear their costumes--but it's nice to have an opportunity to go somewhere and walk around when it's chilly outside. In Florida, winter comes and goes so quickly that we have to take advantage of these things. It was really crowded at Spooktacular--I mean really, really crowded--but it was still fun. My neighbor's daughter Teagan stayed permanently attached to my side the entire time, so I made sure she got a clear shot every time we spotted a candy station. I always try to do my part for the little people...

This is me and David at Spooktacular. He has a beard this fall!

I'll leave you with David's very scary looking "It" Pennywise the clown pumpkin that we put in the yard Halloween night. David is a fan of shaving pumpkins rather than carving. Creeeepy....