Thanksgiving Feast Steeped in Tradition

Okay, I will be honest with you. I didn’t always celebrate Thanksgiving. And before you “clutch the pearls” “gasp in surprise” and question my very existence, I’ll explain… I wasn’t born here. I joined the ranks of the U.S. population back in 1987. And the first Thanksgiving for these European Pilgrims was pretty magical.

Mr. Michael (our next-door neighbor/grandfather figure) ordered a feast from our local Kroger store. It’s the first time I saw a real roasted turkey with all the fixings. I marveled at the size of this bird (chickens were the largest fowl I had encountered thus far.) It was also the first time I tried pumpkin pie – which I didn’t like. It’s an acquired taste, still. In small doses it’s fine, if you give me a hefty portion I’d eat mostly the whipped cream (most pie is really a pilaf for the toppings, right?) Anyway, bring on the apple, then I am a happy girl.

This post isn’t just about the fuzzy wuzzy feeling of yesterday, it’s about how our family adopted this holiday (along with Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day along with a slew of holidays that don’t earn me time off from work.) My Dad found a recipe in a U.S. newspaper that instructed the roasting expert to water the bird with a mixture of  orange juice, olive oil and crushed garlic, and so started a tradition. We’ve since enhanced the recipe with slivers of garlic under the bird’s skin and rosemary in the roaster to increase aroma. Here is a similar recipe for you to try – I would omit the broth and use more oil and wine ;).1479358_10152157777083949_2118968788_n

383978_2247805439429_599695108_nWe’ve also experimented with side dishes, corn, carrots, twice-baked potato, and sour cream mashed potato. We also add Italian seasoning and parmesan cheese), we’ve adopted the green bean casserole and even tried it with cauliflower, we’ve baked cream cheese stuffed mushrooms similar to this recipe (yep my mouth is watering now,) and we’ve always left enough room in our bellies for desserts, which we’ve varied through the years, pumpkin cheese cake, pumpkin pie with orange juice base, applesauce apple pie (some sort of concoction of my own, but you can try this similar recipe and don’t forget some allspice, cinnamon and nut meg,) and so many more.

My mom "thawing" the bird. A violent experience.

It’s a happy time that I recall very fondly and one where I can take my family’s traditions (especially those of my Dad) and share them with Henry as well as the other guests who are always welcome at our family Thanksgiving table.

Wishing you a festive Thanksgiving celebrated with loved ones and full bellies.

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Fall, You are Dead to Me.

You read that correctly, fall was once my favorite season. I loved the changing colors of the trees, the slightly cooler weather that allowed me to bring out my 45+ scarfs and shawls once more. I loved going to football games. I loved my favorite fall-inspired coffee concoctions from national coffee chains that will remain unnamed.

I loved it so much that my husband and I were married in the fall.

Fall is dead to me.

I look at the window at my work and watch as fat snow flakes are dropping from the sky… today is Halloween. Today we will also have wind gusts up to 40 mph, and occasional snow. Oh yeah and it will feel like it’s in the 20s.

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Fall is such a fleeting thing. It’s beautiful for about two weeks in our fine state of Michigan. Then it crumbles into a rainy, cold, worn down version of its former glorious self.

Winter about ruined me last year. I felt there would never be warmth and sunshine and *gasp* exposed elbows and knees. I cringe at the idea that we are headed into the same type of weather, (5 months worth) and that once again fall is short and ends so abruptly.

Tonight we are going trick or treating, with possible snow, and wind, and winter coats. We aren’t native to Northern Canada. We aren’t meant for this.

Firebreathing Dragon Taco Cake

When your son us a bookworm, your birthday parties tend to revolve around favorite book themes. This year was no exception. When I asked Henry if he’d be interested in a Dragons Love Tacos birthday party I was met with a huge grin, “I love dragons love tacos.” Oh we know buddy, we know.

After some searching on Pinterest I realized this idea wasn’t unique, but it was certainly awesome. First thing’s first. We need a cake. A homemade cake.

20140925_183347Did you know it’s actually hard to find a step-by-step process for making a taco cake? You either have the professionals offering their superb baked results (which is like comparing a couch potato to a marathoner. It’s not gonna happen, move on unless you train a year out.) And I wanted a BIG cake, not some flimsy 9in round (pfft, what is this JV?) So I researched cake sizes and methods.

Here is how I made it happen.

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My lovely assistant, Henry. Promising not to throw in the egg and shell this time around.

BAKE IT.
1. Obtain a 14in. x 2in. deep dish pizza pan
2. Buy 3 boxes of cake mix (I don’t do this from scratch. I’m not too good for boxed cake mix.) 2 white, 1 chocolate.
3. Buy a 6-pack of unsweetened applesauce. Proceed to eat 3 – or have you child do it, because it will inevitably happen.
4. Make sure your two 9in. round cake pans are still in good condition.
5. 9 eggs, you aren’t making a omlette for a giant, but close.
6. 3 cups of water
7. mixer, unless you have Pop Eye arms and don’t mind mixing by hand (not a good idea, friend.)

Mix the chocolate according to the packaging. Instead of oil add 1 snack cup of applesauce (semi healthy if we ignore the frosting.) Line the round pans with parchment paper, make sure they are slightly oiled (peeling these can be tricky.) Bake according to the packaging, allow to rest on stove while wafting amazing smells through the house. Extract by lifting the parchment. Allow to cool on wire rack. I then packed it up in tin foil for the night. Cold cake is easier to frost. Don’t doubt me.

Next whip up the double batch of white cake (use applesauce again, a cup for each box of cake mix). Decrease the temp of the oven to only 325. Line with parchment, oil paper slightly. Pour into 14in cake pan. Bake around 55 minutes, don’t open the oven unless you have to. Remove when lightly golden brown and the jiggle has stopped.

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FROST IT.
1. 8 sticks of unsalted butter (you heard me, this is how much I needed to cover this behemoth.) I had lots left overs, but in the wrong colors. Yeah plan a double batch of the yellow. And you can do a scoop of red, I promise it will be more than enough
2. 9 level cups of powdered sugar
3. 4 tsps of vanilla
4. 3 bricks of cream cheese (8 oz each) (I used 1/3 less fat. Delusional that this is “healthy”)
5. yellow, green, red, and brown food coloring (I am ambitious, but not so much that I need to also make chocolate frosting.)

20140926_222912My amazing co-worker/book clubber friend, Cait, gave me this easy and delicious cream cheese frosting recipe. I swear by it (I swear in general, but I am an ambassador for homemade frosting.) The canned stuff I think I am allergic to.

I made a batch at a time, 4 batches total. (2 sticks of butter, 3 level cups of powdered sugar, 1 tsp of vanilla, 1 brick of cream cheese.)

Cut up cold butter and whip in mixer (30 seconds), add the cream cheese and blend well, decrease speed, slowly incorporate powdered sugar (1-2 minutes), then add the vanilla (10 seconds),  once it’s mixed together increase the speed to medium for about 4-6 minutes, stop once fluffy, begin adding food coloring and continue blending until you achieve the desired color intensity.

Shove each mixture into a piping bag (the yellow I just spread right from the bowl with a spatula). Store your frosting baggies in the fridge until you are ready to use. You can keep the frosting in the fridge for up to 3 days.

 

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LOATHE IT.
I will call it the low point of the evening. Because after lifting out my cakes, letting them cool, marveling that nothing fell apart. After slicing the big one in half, then slicing the two chocolate ones on an angle to create the proper “meat” wedge of the cake. AFTER frosting it (which required Adam to run to the grocery store at midnight for an emergency butter/cream cheese resupply trip.) I ended up hating it. It was hard to frost and I was so exhausted that the thing I considered a challenge and something to look forward to accomplishing turned to something I hated. Well that and it was 1:40 in the morning.

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LOVE IT.
Yeah you read that right. I woke up in the morning and dreaded looking in the fridge. But when Henry heard that his cake was ready you couldn’t stop him from opening the fridge. “I LOVE MY TACO CAKE.” And that was that. At that moment, I went from loathe to love. Because having him happy was the most important part.

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CUT IT.
Much like carving a turkey I would recommend the right equipment. In my case it was wielding a long bread knife and a spatula. We sliced off parts of the cake then cut the pieces down further. For having 64-cupcakes worth of cake and only 30 guests we only had about 10-cupcakes worth left.SAM_4024

Conclusion

IT WAS A SUCCESS. Would I do it again? Ask me next year. 😉

Celebrate Your Birthday Like a National Holiday

You may think I am kidding when I say you should celebrate your birthday as if it were a national holiday, but I am dead serious. No, these aren’t just musings of an only child (though I know I am one and fight the unfair stereotypes and half-truths on the daily.) Honestly, you need to celebrate.

Here are reasons why it’s vital to treat your birthday with the utmost importance.

1. You have successfully completed another year of your life. (High-five, my friend.)

2. Depending on what time of year you celebrate this amazing occurrence, you can consider it a second New Year. A new time for a resolution, a start of something fresh, an opportunity to better yourself in the new birth year. In my case, it will be to ride my bike again (I haven’t in 20 years. Very traumatic, very unthinkable at present.)

3. If you don’t celebrate and you mistreat your birthday, other people will take a clue and do the same. If you skip it, if you ignore it, the joy of celebrating will go away. However, the aspect of growing older doesn’t. (This is where one makes lemonade out of those cliché lemons, the most sour lemons of all.)

Birthday bubbly. Don't mind if I do.

Birthday bubbly. Don’t mind if I do.

4. It the one time a year you could be somewhat selfish and consider yourself to be super important (within reason my friends, you still have family and possibly kids who need you.) But consider yourself the VIP on this day. Most people will allow for such indulgent “self” behavior.

5. Celebrate the age you want not the age you turn. For a few years now I’ve observed the anniversary of my 27th birthday. It was a good year and I still loosely resemble that “me.” I’ve had to up the number this year, because it’s not longer mathematically feasible for me to have come to the states at age seven and still celebrate my 27th. So we are upping the number to 28. I am willing to do this.

6. Don’t be afraid to celebrate the way you want to. Well-intentioned loved ones may make suggestions that you don’t care for. Speak up! If you say nothing you will spend the day feeling resentment and anger. You should be celebrating not seething. If you don’t speak up, this may perpetuate from year to year.

Celebrating with a bucket of sweets, there is yogurt somewhere in the bottom.

Celebrating with a bucket of sweets, there is yogurt somewhere in the bottom.

Celebrating the way you see fit will differ from your friend, your neighbor, or your family members.

Here is what I do to make that day(s) feel absolutely magical.

I typically make myself scarce on my birthday. As noted above, I am an only child and I love my alone time. But as a parent, I don’t get “alone” time too regularly. So I promised myself that after college graduation I would find a job where I would not work on my special day. And other than birthday 2010, I have been successful (damn you Steve and your ill-timed client meeting). I spend good portions of my day on my own, doing a bit of this and a bit of that to commemorate another year of this life.

Sweet out-of-town relaxation.

Sweet out-of-town relaxation.

Do I fly by the seat of my pants? Oh sweet Jesus, no.

I plan my day carefully (I am an over planner, no I cannot just start a day with no plans. I’ll end up frustrated and possibly yell at the poor barista making my latte.) The day is carefully filled with things I want to do that are fun. Today is not a day for chores, hard labor, or for digging ditches in the yard. If I want to walk the dog I will, if I wish to grab a fatty breakfast, that’s fine. I want to tuck myself away at Barnes & Noble for a magazine and refreshment, so be it. Don’t question the motives, don’t judge my choices; they were carefully thought out and lovingly arranged.

wedded bliss on my birthday.

wedded bliss on my birthday.

Sometimes your birthday celebrating can piggyback on something amazing. For example, birthday 2013, our friends were married on June 29th (thanks Art and Kate!) And it was awesome.SAM_1785 They chose a great venue, beautiful location, delicious food and even a really tall cake just for me…. err us. Just for us. I even got a party favor with my birthdate on it. I danced, I wined and dined and even had a day trip to Petoskey! I wish this could happen more frequently!

I wholeheartedly look forward to celebrating my birthday and cozying up to some fun plans on my day off.

Cue the location, the fancy clothes, the drinks and us. Viva 27, again!

Cue the location, the fancy clothes, the drinks and us. Viva 27, again!

Please note: Celebration suggestions can certainly be made and considered. Your loved ones could suggest something totally up your alley. But the birthday “celebrator” holds the sole power to “yay” or “nay” an idea. Let this be one day where grumbling is kept to a minimum. Your birthday will come, and you too will be able to revel in it.

 

Lent – How Hard Could it Be?

Oh very hard indeed…Each year I’d try to come up with something to test myself with during Lent. Ten years ago I tried to keep up with seven things I “gave up” yeah four of those never made it. Eight years ago I guaranteed that I would have 40 days dedicated to Lent, even if I have to extend a day – Lent lasted 53 days that year. Five years ago I gave up swearing. With disastrous results. I lasted three days (you are thinking how lame) in truth by the third day my heart began to hurt when I’d get annoyed and didn’t let off some verbal steam, slowly I realized I wouldn’t make it to my 30th birthday at that rate. So swearing was back on and I haven’t made that mistake.

Now fast forward to this year. Lent did sneak up on me. I barely gave it much thought, but I decided to do the following: stop checking my social media when I am hanging out with Henry by myself. I try my best to put away the phone and focus on the mini. It’s hard and I am getting better, I hope this one sticks post Lent. The other was simply to stop buying myself material things for the next 40 days. I didn’t give up Starbucks, I didn’t give up sushi, I am not going to stop going out to dinner. But I am not going to buy myself any clothing, books, accessories, or tchotckies. Seems like a good thing to challenge myself, with some monetary benefits. I will still buy gifts for others (I couldn’t possibly skip four March birthdays, that wouldn’t benefit the celebrants in the slightest.)

Little did I know how much it would challenge me. And when I noticed it the most was this weekend. It started on Friday. I’ve had a horrible work week and was desperately clinging to something fun and weekend related.

So it began:

YAY! Old navy has my favorite jeans on sale. Boo, I cannot buy them.

Oh yay! World Market has all of their Bohemian clothing on sale, totally befitting my love of Bohemian springwear. Booo, I can’t buy this either.Screen shot 2014-03-09 at 11.05.01 PM

The theme continued on my Mama’s night out which ended up at Barnes and Noble (happy place.) I spied a lovely crafty magazine that I know I’d absolutely love, I nearly drooled over it while sipping coffee in silence. Mollie Makes. Perfect projects, perfect quirk, perfect for me. I put it back.

Follow this up with the next day’s adventures at the mall play area (the breakfast food happy place I recently spoke about.) We cut through Barnes and Noble (where I visited my crafty magazine again – we shall meet again in 40 days.) Then we made the mistake of weaving through the discount section. Where I spotted the book, the one I have hunted for a year, considered buying put back on the shelf, considered for book club… and here it stood, The Dove Keepers mine for just $5.99.Screen shot 2014-03-09 at 11.03.28 PM YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME. I didn’t even touch the book. Cursing at my stupidity, I walked away. Hoping to reunite with it in 40 days.

One thing I am learning is that I am strong, I can withhold purchasing things for myself over these 40 days and I understand and appreciate the reasons why we keep on with tradition for sacrificing something for Lent.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the next 40 days will go at a snail’s pace.

p.s. I can accept gifts…. hint, hint, hint, hint, hint.

I Love Thee Let Me Count the Unconventional Ways

Over the years Adam and I have really gotten to know each other (numerous years of dating and over seven years of marriage is likely to do that), but I still find myself pleasantly surprised by him.

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Valentine’s Day weekend proved to reinforce the “unconventional” part of love. Adam is a wonderful spouse, he is funny, he is very smart, he takes excellent care of our mini man and last, but not least, he is handsome. Oh he has done the conventional before –  flowers, chocolates, gifts and treats for this, the most “Cupid” of the holidays. But I’d like to focus on the atypical ways that he shows me truly cares.

#1. Planning a meal out. I am a planner to my core, but I love it when someone takes the time to research some plans for us. That weekend Adam insisted we tried Cheshire Grill (it’s a cute little diner in our neighborhood that I will cover more in my next post.) I wouldn’t have ever considered it, but I was so glad he invited me there. I ate the best burger I have ever had. sigh. love.

#2. Being kind to others. Nothing is sexier than a man who is helpful and kind to others. I especially experienced this during Henry’s Valentine’s Day party at his daycare. We went there to hang out with our mini man, but Adam ended up reading to a little guy whose parents couldn’t come to the party. They read about Pete the Cat rockin’ in his shoes. sigh.

#3. Traditional acts of chivalry. Dust off your manners and suit up. Just because Adam does something traditional like open a door or pull out my chair, I am not checking my feminism at the door, in fact I don’t expect these actions all the time.  However, it’s nice to have your chair pulled out, the door opened, a helpful hand given etc. from time to time. It reminds me he cares with these small unspoken deeds.

#4. Buying a meaningful gift. Gifts are not necessary, but when they happen they are appreciated, especially when they are thoughtful. So you need to know your audience. Adam knows I love Downtown Abbey, he found an interesting book about how lives differed for servants and the families that lived upstairs. I couldn’t put it down all weekend. He also spied a Red Wings t-shirt he knew I’d love. Well done. I am now fashionable and well read.

#5. Unique and quirky signs of love. 1656084_10152336723543949_1663994258_nThis category I feel is actually most important. I have two examples here. I was getting ready for church and running behind (shocking, I know). This means no breakfast and no coffee… until I heard a knock at the door. In comes a hot, steaming cup of coffee with a ceramic lid to keep things warm and hairspray-free. YAY!

After church I wanted to visit my Dad. I didn’t really consider the fact that the cemetery doesn’t get plowed in between the grave markers so…. you will need to climb into some deep snow to visit a loved one. Yeah… we don’t own sled dogs or snow shoes. 1922404_10152337003788949_1715594149_nAdam trudged ahead in thigh-high snow in some places so I could step into his footsteps and get just a bit less snow on me. This was a win-win, I didn’t end up with as much snow, Adam was my hero and my Dad was able to witness our comedic approached pierced with my periodic screams as I’d sink too deeply.

#6. Show you care every day. Small things matter more than gifts, fancy dinners out and chocolates. Throughout the week I get to experience this kind of love, with shared bedtime reading so I am able to catch up on Downtown Abbey or have extra time to workout. I find sushi tucked away in the fridge to enjoy on a night Adam works late. The car is out of the garage, ready and warmed for my daycare drop off. Lovely, just lovely.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of love, it may work for one couple but not another. It is unique to the couple and it can be expressed through kind words, actions, thoughtfulness, a good laugh and an all-around-bit of help when it’s needed.

Yeah I don’t do Christmas Cookies… I have other traditions.

I was born in Poland and though my family didn’t live there long after I arrived, we took from there many traditions and recipes that we still enjoy today. When you uproot yourself and embrace a new “homeland” you really need to remember where you came from, your name might change, your country will change, city might change, and your life will change, but the recipes and family traditions you have are your true link to where you’ve started. These traditions are part of who I am.

One of those traditions for me is making pierogi. We don’t make Christmas cookies like my American friends, in fact when I try they are disastrous (more on this later.) I remember the first time my parents entrusted me with this Polish tradition of making pierogi,  I was 3 years old and anxious to pitch in during Christmas. They set me up at my own little table, with a little rolling pin, a tiny bit of dough, and off I went making my first pierog (singular for pierogi). My nimble fingers and tiny hands helped seal the filling inside the dough and pinch it shut with that familiar, crimped pattern. After that, it went into the boiling pot of salted water along with the ones my parents mass produced. They bobbed and rolled around until they were done and floated to the top. Typically our family would make around 100, we’d freeze or chill most of them and use a bit at a time. On Christmas Eve we are not allowed to eat meat, so we had to be careful to only eat the ones filled with sour kraut and dried mushrooms (I’ll post more information about our Polish Christmas traditions soon.)

As time went on I began being a bigger part of the pierogi making tradition, in high school my dad and I would dress in extra layers then venture down to our creepy, cold basement, turn on Christmas carols from his dinky little radio, sing at the top of our lungs while we made dough by hand, rolled it out, cut numerous circles and filled it with either ground beef and onion or sour kraut and dried mushrooms.

Pierogi frying, courtesy of Wikipedia. Oh stop judging me, I couldn't take pictures my hands were covered in dough.

For many reasons that tradition has solely become mine. I take great pride in my craftsmanship and I have since added a few “improvements” to helping my dough stay fresh and my pierogi numbers above 100 – even if it’s just me making them. This year I mixed the dough in our Kitchen Aid Mixer, my holiday pride and joy. Yes, I am cheating a little, but this way I can make more dough and faster without tiring my twiggy arms and frail hands. I also work with smaller amounts of dough and seal the rest in a bowl so each round I make is as fresh as the last. Also, this year I took mass production to a new level. Wire racks! For ages we tried to cool off our boiled creations on numerous plates deposited around the kitchen, they would cool, but the belly would stick to the plate and from time to time we’d have a disaster, requiring me to quickly eat the evidence. The wire racks worked great, keeping my product off the plate and cooling more quickly and evenly. I’ve also taken things a step further by layering parchment paper between my layers of pierogi so they don’t stick as much when packaged in Tupperware and more can be fit into my tiny freezer. (Pierogi are known to compete for space with my Lean Cuisines.)

When we are ready to enjoy them, I simply thaw the ones we’ll eat in one sitting and then saute with oil or butter. Crispy, crunchy skin, encasing a lump of meat or sour kraut and mushroom filling.

Each year I begin the process wondering why I don’t do this more frequently during the year, why I wait until December to make things happen. Three hours later, caked in dough in what used to be my kitchen, I remind myself that this is a tradition best kept up during Christmas.