Archive | December, 2013

Clean Up in the Garden Center

14 Dec

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Don’t “they” say that most horrible emotional crises happen during the holidays?  Like, if there was ever a time to yell, stomp, scream, cry, and down-right pout, now would be the time?  Of course these tantrums happen to sneak up at inopportune times, taking only one, very small piece of straw to break the camel’s back.  It seems quite paradoxical, actually, a grown-up having a fit among a-bit-too-loud cheery Christmas songs and smiling cut-out advertisements exemplifying holiday spirit.

Well, I’m glad to say that I did not yell, nor stomp.  I did not scream.  And while the I-really-am-trying-to-have-a-good-time-but-my-face-says-otherwise pouting did inevitably lead to leaving tear stains on Rob’s flight suit, the wonderful workers at the Home Depot Garden Center would probably classify me as one of “those” people.

Remember that wonderful Christmas tree farm in Oregon where we got to cut our own tree?  It was always cold, festive, pine-y, and everything you would imagine out of a Courier and Ives picture-scape.  Rob did NOT cut the tree the first year (leading to much teasing on my end), and the second year Rob so acutely DID cut the tree, thus having it land perfectly on me.  Payback is, well, what I was when I teased him endlessly I guess.

This year, Rob and I lovingly walked, hand in hand, to pick out the most perfect Christmas tree for our new home in Northern Florida.  We met right after work, making a bit of a romantic date out of the occasion.  Except the Christmas-tree-picking ambiance we’ve become so accustomed to was tainted somewhat by 1) the hardware store, 2) the 80 degree weather, and 3) the fact that when we walked up to the trees, they were all wrapped perfectly in twine for take-home ease.  So, as both of our shoulders hunched over just a bit at the loss of rustic sentiment, I turned, and without restraint, nor dignity, let some tears slip out.  My adoring husband held me and let me cry into his shoulder, and with similar sentiment to my breakdown in the grocery store a few Thanksgivings ago, his deep voice called, “Clean up in the Garden Center!”

In all efforts to make the Christmas tree shopping situation feel more festive, Rob reached into one of his many, many pockets, found his flight knife, and started tearing into those trees like Paul Bunyan.  One by one, he vehemently sliced through twine, letting each tree open, boughs falling with ballet grace and exuberance.  The free-ing of the trees almost let out audible sighs and I could swear a couple started whispering, back to the dirt or bust!

I watched as the lady at the checkout eyed us with a suspicious who-are-these-hippie-freeing-tree people look on her face.  A couple of customers walked up for their own tree, but saw the rally and turned the other way.  Rob, at this point, was hidden among the full figured pines, and I stopped him from cutting another.

“Oh, just one more – this one in the back looks good!” Swipe went the knife. “AND it has some fallen Oak leaves on it!”

He knew that would sell me as my last name means “Grove of Oaks.”  It worked.

Sap and pine-needle dusted, and a bit sweaty, Rob and I purchased our Home Depot tree and tied it to the roof of his car.  At home, just like we would do in Oregon, we made some nibblies, had a cocktail, and put up our tree.  It is a gorgeous tree.  In fact, I think it could give the big ol’ pines in Oregon a run for their money.

Today, our tree is decorated, fragrant, sparkly, and beautiful.  We even positioned it in front of the outlet connected to the wall switch.  So rather than crawl under the tree and risk blindness and choice words from pine branch poking, we simply have to flip the living room switch for twinkle light galore.

To celebrate, I created a cocktail perfect for the holidays.  It is festive, fun, tasty, and perfect for this time of year.  The best part of this cocktail is the simple syrup: sugar, fresh cranberries, water, basil, and fresh ginger.  It simmers until all the cranberries pop, pop, pop, and the syrup gets thick and rich.  But that’s not the best part!  After straining the mixture, the syrup leaves behind a beautiful blend of thick, sweet, stewed cranberries, better than most chutney I’ve ever had.  In fact, we dolloped it atop some super sharp cheddar cheese and an apple slice, and had a perfect hor’dourve to match our drink.

Like every other Christmas that Rob and I have shared together, this one started off in its standard way: a funny story to tell, and a libation with which to retell it.  Enjoy the holidays, and enjoy the chutney and cocktail!

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Cranberry Ginger Martini (with Cranberry Ginger Chutney as a bonus) 

For the simple syrup:

  • 1 c water
  • ½ c sugar
  • 1 c fresh cranberries
  • 1-in nob of ginger, peeled and finely diced
  • a handful of basil

Heat over medium-high heat, and give the mixture a stir, until all the sugar has dissolved.  Let it sit and bubble, until all the cranberries have popped, and the mixture has thickened (this will only take about 5-7 minutes). 

Using a fine mesh sieve, strain out the syrup, and keep the solids – discarding the basil leaves – as a wonderful chutney. 

For the cocktail:
Combine 2 tbsp of the cranberry syrup, 3 oz vodka, juice of ½ a lime, and some ice into a shaker.  Shake until cold and mixed, and strain into a martini glass.  Serve with a garnish of lime and a basil leaf. 

ENJOY! 

Not Your Typical Thanksgiving Leftovers

7 Dec

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Never before have I had a whole week off from school during Thanksgiving.  Not having to work the Monday through Wednesday before the most important food day of the year was honestly an amazing treat.  Not only was I able to pretty much cook everything in advance (except the turkey, of course), but also I was able to enjoy the season with friends and family.  The Florida weather was perfectly seasonal, and even a deep-freeze warning one night brought back memories of cold, Oregon mornings, where Rob and I first started celebrating this holiday together.

As I looked around my living room last Saturday night, there were all the signs of the weekend after Thanksgiving: a couple dishes with creative leftovers lunches on the coffee table, Rob in and out of naps, college football on the TV, Sig and his cousin, Turner, also in an out of naps (but trying really hard to stay awake thus something, just something, happens where us humans will need their K-9 expertise – like cleaning up turkey bits), Jenn uploading silly pictures of us on her computer, and just as dusk was creeping up over the golf course, we are all probably very thankful that some lights were accidently left on because none of us were getting up from our comfy, blanket-nested spots on the couches.  Well, I know I wasn’t.

As always, my Turkey Day Trials did me well, and while I may have gone overboard on the amount of food we had, it made for a very festive, and belly-growing holiday.  Here was the menu:

Appetizers:

  • House Cocktail: mulled cranberry cider topped with brut and frozen cranberries
  • Spiced nuts
  • Boozie olives (olives warmed in the oven with gin, orange peel, and peppercorns)
  • Brie with onion jam, fig chutney, and water crackers
  • Pigs in a blanket (because they are simply awesome)
  • Shrimp cocktail

The Main Event:

  • No Fuss Turkey

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Sides:

  • Rob’s mashed potatoes
  • Spicy Leek and Sweet potato soufflé (with browned marshmallows!)  – some of these ended up on the wall.  Not exactly sure what happened.
  • Celery and Onion Stuffing
  • Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon, Apple, and Rosemary
  • Steamed farm-fresh corn and green beans
  • Parker House Rolls
  • Jellied cranberries (yes, in the can, ridges and all)

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Dessert:

  • Pumpkin Pie (from Costco – the best!)
  • Pumpkin, Amaretto Custard and Whipped Cream Trifle.  SO GOOD.

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And finally….. food coma.

Ok, so Thanksgiving food is wonderful, obviously.  But Jennifer and I indulged in a leftover that was unlike the standard midnight turkey sandwich (don’t get me wrong, that sandwich is probably the most perfect thing I could eat – ever.  Like, ever, ever.).  So, after a couple glasses of wine, a lovely combination of the French-Canadian Poutine dish, American Thanksgiving, and a late-night Mexican tradition all found themselves together in a happy little co-mingling of sorts, creating an indulgence perfect for only the days after Thanksgiving.  There was honestly not a lot of thought to this dish, so there wasn’t much measuring.  Actually, there was no measuring at all.  But with these ingredients, you only need to go with what you like.

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I preheated the oven to 350 degrees, and put blue corn tortilla chips on an ovenproof plate.  Then, I spooned some leftover turkey gravy (the Poutine part), and sprinkled an abundance of leftover turkey meat over the chips.  Taking a shredded Mexican cheese blend, I spread the cheese evenly over the chips and popped it in the oven to melt.  When the OMG-amazing-super-delicious-ooey-gooey-cheesy-turkey-smell wafted through the kitchen, I took out the Turkey & Gravy Nachos, topped them with scallions and hot sauce, and Jennifer and I devoured them.  Really, not a morsel left. 

As that was a week ago, since then all the leftovers have been creatively constructed and eaten – some great, some not so much.  Christmas is well on its way, and I’m starting to get ready.  This weekend calls for making cookies and chocolates, sending out holiday cards, and constructing a wreath.  And just wait until you hear about what happened with our Christmas tree.  Let the O’Donnell – Tamminen Holiday Craziness begin!  Until then, I have two more weeks of school, lots to do, and feeling a little like Joey Tribiani at the moment:

“I’m thinking about starting an ‘I Hate Turkey Club.’  Although, I do love a turkey club.”

So, we’re eating a lot of sushi.  Happy Holidays!

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