Thursday, November 29, 2018

Thanksgiving of 2018

You wanna know a trick for making your ordinarily-sized house feel enormous? Simply stuff it full of people for three days and then when they all leave — ta-da! — you’re swimming in empty space!

It’s great wintertime therapy, really, both the intense people pick-me-up and the “my house is now HUGE” buzz you get afterward. So remember, when you’ve got a raging case of cabin fever come February, a monster sleepover for days on end is the cure. Easy-peasy.

We’ve hosted lots of people before, but I don’t think ever for so long, or for so many, or during such cold weather. Well, my blog tells me that we did, indeed, host this number of people before (the same ones, in fact), but this was back when the kids were a fair bit smaller. Now, most of them are solidly in the teen category, bookended by two preteens and two young adults on either end. Plus, Cousin Kenton made a guest appearance the last night. A few of the cousins got to know him in Puerto Rico and demanded (okay, okay — politely suggested) that he come, too, so he did!

oh, and there were two extra dogs, too

How does one go about pulling off a three-day bash, you might ask? Well hey! HOW ABOUT I TELL YOU.

What you do is this:

Regarding readying the house...
*Put your husband in charge of all the cleaning. I repeat, ALL the cleaning. As in, one hundred percent of the cleaning. Offer, as needed, tips, suggestions, pointers, and an outline of what needs to be done and when, but do not — I repeat, do NOT — do any of the cleaning yourself. (Except for last-minute room checks. It’s okay to do those.)

*As far as sleeping arrangements go, fix up the kids’ clubhouse (insulate, drywall, paint) and then pack in as many teen girls as will fit (between six and seven, FYI).

Regarding food (this is the fun part)....

*Plan the menu, thinking through every single solitary detail. Balance heavy meals with light ones. Leave empty, no-cooking spaces in the day. As much as is possible, choose dishes that can be made ahead. Nix all snacking, limit sugar, and pile on the veggies.

*Schedule about three, six-hour chunks of time to do massive batches of pre-holiday cooking. Excellent make-ahead foods include: ludicrous mashed potatoes, unbaked pie pastries crimped and then frozen (you keep oodles of pie pans on hand for this very reason, use them!), sausage lentil soup, braided bread, stuffing (prepped, except for the milk and egg, and frozen), roasted and peeled sweet potatoes, multiple batches of cranberry sauce, extra turkey legs (roasted, deboned, and frozen in broth to keep moist) for in case one 19-pound turkey isn't enough, boiled and peeled eggs for salad, granola, raisin bread, baked beans, etc. It's dreamy, having a freezer and fridge full of ready-to-go items. Makes me wonder why I don't treat myself to such loveliness more often.

*When people offer to bring something, delegate food items that travel well and that you’d otherwise have to purchase: hot dogs, fresh fruit, juice, coffee, chips, cereal. This cuts down on your grocery bill and, hopefully, simplifies their workload because they are, after all, the ones doing the dirty work of packing and driving (ugh).

*To keep the kitchen tidy and reduce the risk of food getting eaten out of order, hide all food (that you’ve pre-made or that people have brought). Out of sight, out of mind!

*Freeze all leftovers ASAP. This clears up precious fridge space and ensures that you’ll be eating like kings for days to come, whoo-hoo!

Regarding activities....
*Plan some! How and when will people get outside to burn off energy? What’s there to do if it rains? Do guests need to bring along sneakers for running and gloves for hauling wood (yes and yes). You might never get around to doing all (any?) of them, but knowing you have options reduces pre-hosting anxiety.

our very own 5(or 6)K Turkey Trot

free labor

always playing

preparing to crash my parents' Thanksgiving party

and ogle their food

and sing to (with) them

Regarding sanity-saving practices...
*Don’t feel obligated to participate in everything. When everyone decides to go roller skating, it’s fine to stay home to vacuum the floors and read by the fire.

*Since your entire house has now been taken over by a million talking, laughing, loved ones and you have no place to go, spend all your time in the kitchen, quietly prepping meals and cleaning up from them, all while enjoying the happy, and sometime utterly deafening, chaos that surrounds you.

the competition is for real

they had this weird obsession for group workouts

all. the. time. 

*Break your “I never give up my room to guests” rule, turn it over to the couple with the most seniority, and go sleep in your parents’ pristine, cozy, and very quiet house. Slip between the crisp, smooth sheets and wish a thousand blessings on your mother’s head, for she truly is the queen of gorgeous bed-making. (But then, when the sheets are so crisp that they crackle and snap in your ears every time you roll over and actually wake you up, fuss. Your mother will feel bad and offer new bedding, but you’ll be too lazy to upgrade the bed. No worries — by the third night of noisy sleeps, you’ll mostly adapt.)

before hitting the road: one more round of this year's theme song, Bring Sally Up

proving his mettle

*When everyone leaves, take advantage of the freshly emptied places and go on a cleaning tear. Thirty minutes of wiping down and vacuuming up and a tidy, HUGE house is all yours. Collapse on the sofa and read, read, read. Actually, you can probably play the “I’m recuperating” card for several days. Milk it, baby.

Until next year!

This same time, years previous: Chattanooga Thanksgiving of 2017, Chattanooga Thanksgiving of 2016, and of 2015!, the day before, kale pomegranate salad, monster cookies, butternut squash pesto cheesecake, all a-flutter, apple chutney.

Monday, November 26, 2018

the quotidian (11.26.18)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

To counteract the holiday glut.

The glut of which I speak, YUM.

Ludicrous mashed potatoes deserve to get mashed ludicrously.

Roasted and all ready to slip out of their jackets.

Getting my puff on.

Last-minute cramming: the guest quarters.

Thank goodness for showers.

November's end.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (11.20.17), curried Jamaican butternut soup, apple crumb pie, apple raisin bran muffins, the quotidian (11.25.13), Thanksgiving of 2012, cranberry pie with cornmeal streusel topping.

Monday, November 19, 2018

the quotidian (11.19.18)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Sometimes I get hungry (there are beans and rice under there, too).

Breakfast biscuits: self-rising flour, butter, sour milk.

Taking peanut butter apples to a new level.

Coming up: apple, grape, cherry, shoofly, etc...

Cleaning out the fridge: a bit o' rice, grilled chicken, collards, lemon, squash.

Bread flour by the old-fashioned-ladies-with-bustly-butts tin.


Seasonal confusion. 

Ice leaf.

The wireless keyboard that I bought because my laptop keyboard stopped working 
is now also breaking, whimper-sob.

I have paparazzi. Therefore, I am.

Also, this is why I no longer comb my hair when it's dry.

This same time, years previous: smoking success, spiced applesauce cake with caramel glaze, in my kitchen: noon, how to use up Thanksgiving leftovers in ten easy steps, red lentil soup with lemon and spinach.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

guayaba bars

This year, Thanksgiving’s at our place. At last count, there will be about eighteen people banging around our house. In an effort to preserve my sanity and reduce my pre-hosting stress levels, I’ve delegated one hundred percent of the cleaning (plus bedding/sleeping arrangements and all mass-living organizational tasks) to my husband.

As for me, I’m doing the food. At this point, this means lists. Lots and lots of lists. There are shopping lists and will-you-please-bring-these-things lists and menu lists and what-to-do-on-which-day lists. Cooking for eighteen for three to four full days is not a big deal, really. It’s more a matter of organization ... and space. (Right about now is when I start dreaming of duplicate large kitchen appliances. Anyone have an extra fridge they want to park on my porch?)

Today I took advantage of the snow-and-ice day and did the following:

*cooked three pounds of bacon (for just in case)
*made the first of two (or three) batches of granola because remember: I still have a family to feed
*mixed up a batch of Ranch dressing
*made three batches of pie pastry
*rolled out and froze four pie pastries
*baked three loaves of cinnamon raisin bread, and, from the leftovers, a pan of raisin bread sweet rolls for our immediate gratification
*I made the glaze for the rolls and icing for the bread
*made hot chocolate … twice.
*started on the cranberry sauce, but I haven’t finished it yet.

Oh, and I also made eggs and pancakes for breakfast, the pancakes with leftover ricotta because I’m trying to clean out the fridge (because I don't think I'll be getting a second fridge any time soon).

While I worked, I listened to Thanksgiving cooking podcasts to keep me in the groove (I’m feeling minorly inferior because I’ve never spatchcocked a turkey; have you?), and now I'm feeling just a wee bit fooded out. You know, the bleary-blah feeling one gets when the skies are grey and the entire day’s been spent inside with drifts of sugar and mountains of butter. Before I started typing, I just sat on the sofa staring at the computer, my eyes glazed over. All I really wanted to do was watch movies. (Too bad it’s Thursday.) Maybe I should just close the laptop and go read for awhile?

Perhaps, but first, a recipe.

Remember Olga from Puerto Rico, the woman who brought us yummy treats made by her daughter-in-law? The last week we were there, Olga finally slipped me the recipes, but it wasn’t until last week that I finally got around to making the Panetela, or what I uncreatively call Guayaba Bars.

My husband brought me the brick of guayaba paste when he went to Puerto Rico the first time — a last-minute grab from the airport gift shop. They eat it with cheese, he informed me.

Which is true, I’ve since learned, but the paste never really lit me up … that is, not until I had Olga’s bars, buttery and dense with a strip of tangy-sweet jelly in the middle and a dusting of sugar on top: perfection.

So, like I said, I made the bars last week. They are easy to make, and they look right sharp, too. Seems to me, they'd make an excellent addition to a Christmas cookie platter....

Guayaba Bars
Adapted from Olga’s daughter-in-law’s recipe.

The recipe calls for a whole pound of guayaba (guava) paste but I used fourteen ounces and still found the jelly to be a bit overpowering in its thicker places. Next time, I’ll use just ten to twelve ounces.

To make your own self-rising flour: mix 6 cups all-purpose flour with 2 tablespoons baking powder, 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda, and 1 ½ teaspoons salt. Toss well and store in an airtight container.

1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups self-rising flour
1 stick butter, cut in pieces and softened
10-12 ounces guayaba paste
Confectioner’s sugar, for decoration

Cream together the eggs and sugar until pale yellow. Add vanilla. Add the flour and the softened butter and mix well. The batter will be thick, like icing.

Spread half of the batter in a greased, square glass pan (lined with parchment, if you wish). Slice the guayaba paste and lay the pieces over the batter. Dollop the remaining batter over the paste and spread smooth.

Bake the bars at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool completely before cutting into pieces (you can cut the bars sooner, but the still-warm paste will be a bit runny) and then dusting heavily with powdered sugar.

This same time, years previous: Shakespeare behind bars, Thai chicken curry, the quotidian (11.16.15), I will never be good at sales, gravity, lessons from a shopping trip, the wiggles, why I'm glad we don't have guns in our house, chicken salad.