Friday, December 26, 2008

394.2663 -- Family time

Through the magic of webcams, I was able to talk to my family all together for one hour on Christmas day. It was 0100 hours for my brother in Korea, 1600 for my mom and her husband in England, and 1100 in good old Ohio. Not the greatest picture of me, but I'm trying not to dwell :) Next year we'll get those microphones working!

Friday, December 19, 2008

641.8654 -- DIY Turtles

Love the taste of turtles? Here's a quick and easy way to make your own.

pretzels (waffle-shaped or regular pretzel-shaped)
Rolos (unwrapped, obviously)

Heat oven to 250. Place a layer of foil or wax paper on a baking sheet. Arrange pretzels on baking sheet, placing one Rolo on each pretzel. Bake at 250 for 3-4 minutes. Rolos should retain their form, but be soft enough to squish. Place a pecan on each Rolo-pretzel. Squish it down (not too far!). Let these cool completely before attempting to eat them. (If you just cannot resist, they are edible while still warm... they're just not as good.)

Voila! This year will be your easiest cookie exchange ever!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

778.53 -- Talkies

Monday Matt and I attended an advance screening of Tom Cruise's new movie Valkyrie. The movie is based on the fascinating true story of an attempted assassination of Hitler on July 20, 1944.

The movie was just okay. I liked it enough that I'm glad I saw it, and I could even watch it again. I didn't like it enough to buy the DVD -- or to pay theater prices. I really enjoyed the historical aspects, and seeing Tom Cruise in an unweird role (Eyes Wide Shut much?). I wasn't riveted the whole time, but it was pretty interesting.

We wanted to see the movie of course, but seeing it at an advance screening was really cool. Neither Matt nor I had ever been to one! Did you know, they overbook the theater to make sure they're playing to a packed house? When we got there an hour before the start time, there were already a lot of people in line! There were also seats up and down the aisles reserved for journalists and reviewers.

It was really cool to be there! And since we had wanted to see Valkyrie anyway, neither of us could pass this up. What a fun evening!

Friday, December 12, 2008

641.568 -- Turkey a la brine

When I think "brine" my mind skips to sea water and murkiness. So, no, brining a turkey did not initially seem like a tasty option. But even I can't argue with the bevy of 5-star reviews brining often seems to elicit. So brine we did.

My biggest fear was that it would be too salty, but it wasn't. It didn't taste salty at all! And it did turn out to be the moistest turkey I have ever had.

Here is both the recipe and my tips. Give it a go this Christmas. Amaze your family. Thrill your friends. A lot of this will be obvious to you more seasoned turkey roasters. For me, this being my first experience, much direction was needed, so I included it below.

1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
5 bay leaves
2 tablespoons black pepper corns
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
1 tablespoon rubbed sage
1 tablespoon coriander seeds

  1. Dissolve brine in 2 quarts of boiling water. Ours did not dissolve completely, and it ended up looking a lot like sea water. It smelled great, though, so we stayed the course.
  2. Once it is dissolved, add in 1-2 quarts more water (depending on the size of your bird).
  3. While the brine is cooling, place your turkey in a large bag. We used two roasting bags doubled up, but that didn't work as well as we'd hoped, because the brine would not completely cover the bird. We ended up using one of our big blue coolers -- the kind that you see dispensing Gatorade on countless sports sidelines.
  4. When the brine is completely cool, pour over bird. Add more water if necessary to cover the whole thing. We had to add another quart for our 20-pounder.
  5. Let bird sit in brine for 12-24 hours. Use whatever means necessary to keep the brine and turkey under 40 degrees Fahrenheit. We stuck several cold packs around the turkey and left the cooler in the garage overnight.
  6. When you're ready to start preparing, remove the turkey from the brine, rinse, pat dry, and roast. Discard the brine, obviously.
TIP: After the first hour in the oven, we basted it every 30 minutes. If there aren't enough juices to baste the first couple of times, don't fret. Use either melted sage butter or olive oil to supplement.

TIP: For the last hour to two hours, we used tented foil to keep the skin from over-crisping.

TIP: Before roasting, I mixed up some sage butter and rubbed it under the skin of the turkey. This, along with the brining, was designed to keep the breast meat from drying out.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

383-4973 -- Neither rain nor sleet ... nor newbies?

I have sent many packages overseas. Enough so that I know which customs form (there are two sizes) to use for which packages, and can fill out said forms with my eyes closed. Enough so that I can guestimate within a dollar or two how much postage will be, and if it would be more economical to use a flat rate box. (That only applies to APO addresses, obviously. You can't send true international mail with flat rate boxes or priority mail markings. Duh, right?)

So when the (probably new?) postal employee started stuttering half way through her spiel, it was no surprise to me that I could finish it for her. I tried to be gracious and deliver it with a smile, but really... I was in a hurry, and she was clearly flustered.

H: "Does this package contain anything fragile, liquid, uh... perish... perishable, or uh... Fragile, liquid, p..."

M: "Perishable or potentially hazardous? No, it doesn't." *smile* "And it's just cookies, so no insurance needed. And I'm set on stamps and other mailing supplies, so I won't need any this time. Thank you."

Though I said "thank you" at least three times during this exchange, I'm sure she rolled her eyes at me after I left.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

641.568 -- Family tradition

The day after Thanksgiving means different things to different people. For me, it is safe to decorate for Christmas and annoy everyone with holiday music. For my aunts, it is the biggest shopping day of the year. For my husband, it is the day that turkey leftovers are transformed into a delicious family recipe.

This creamy, flavorful concoction is most commonly referred to as creamed turkey. My husband's family has given it a considerably more colorful name...

Sh*t on a Shingle
1/2 cup flour
1/2 stick margarine or butter
turkey (shredded)
bread (toasted)
salt and pepper to taste

Combine flour and butter in a large skillet. Shred turkey leftovers. Add turkey and milk to skillet until you've reached a cream-of-mushroom/chicken consistency. Should be thick enough to put on plate (not a bowl, like soup). Add salt and pepper to taste. While that is warming, toast bread. When bread is toasted, spoon warm mixture over toast. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

394.2663 -- Home sweet home

As long as I can remember, I've wanted a house with a huge front picture window in which to display our Christmas tree. Now this is what I get to come home to every night! Notice the dusting of snow we got that day!

I don't know if you can really see it in this picture, but our tree is that jumble of lights in the front window. Don't bother trying to click on it for a better look... it'll get a little larger and a lot fuzzier! Also, I have no idea why the sky looks so spooky :)

Monday, December 8, 2008

784.83 -- Old band members never die...

... they just wait for their second time around. Needless to say, this marching band was my favorite entry in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. These former marching band and flag corps members, from either high school or college, missed marching way too much to stop. All ages, all abilities. Don't they look like they're having the greatest time?! Here is their official site.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

394.2663 -- Christmastime in the city

The day after Thanksgiving -- the start of the Christmas season. I could barely contain my joy at the prospect of setting up our Christmas tree and lights. Because I had to work that day, my patient husband stayed up late with me listening to holiday tunes and putting ornaments on our tree. After a trip to the store for some garland and a tree skirt, here is the finished product. I have no idea why it looks like the middle of the day outside the window. It was dark when I took the picture!

¡Feliz Navidad!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

011.73 -- Book Lust

One evening last week, after an early dinner, Matt and I ventured out to start our Christmas shopping. We went to six stores in about 3 hours. An disproportionate amount of that time we spent at a bookstore.

Among the things that I love about my husband is the fact that he can walk away from a bookstore about as easily as he can walk away from a football game. (That is to say, not easily at all.)

So anyway, I spend most of my waking hours around thousands of books. What is it about bookstores that is so captivating? Here is my theory: Library books, by sheer fact that they are being looked after by people who love them, have found their home. Yes, they may get more abused, but the world is a scary place. At least they have a home. Meanwhile, their cousins over at the bookstore are being bought and sold by evil capitalists, only intent on making their next buck. Those books need a home and someone to appreciate them.

And last week, I was only to happy to give three lucky books a good home. Merry Christmas to me :)

Friday, December 5, 2008

641.568 -- Oven-less Ham

So for Thanksgiving, our oven was constantly busy, and constantly changing temperatures. After the turkey came out (see that recipe in a coming post), the green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, and dinner rolls went in. Our spiral-sliced ham was homeless. Gigantic crock pot to the rescue! I scouted out some tasty-sounding crock pot "baked" ham recipes, and here's the one we used. It ended up so moist and tender. And it's so easy. I can't wait to make it again!

First, find a crock pot big enough for your ham. Ours was huge, but only because we had to fit 7 pounds of spiral-sliced goodness into it :) Put the ham in the crock pot with whatever juices it's been packed in. In a bowl, mix two cups brown sugar with one cup water. Pour into the crock pot. Add a can of diced pineapple, with all the juice. (Adjust the amount to the size of your ham. The next time we do this, I'll use a much smaller cut. I'll probably halve the recipe.)

If you want to fancy-up the presentation, stud the outside of the ham with pineapple rings instead of just pouring them in. Use toothpicks or cloves to "pin" the rings in place. I did not have time or inclination for this after wrestling a 20-pound turkey into -- and out of -- a basting bag.

We cooked the thing all night on the "warm" setting. Put it on low if you're aiming for it to be done when you get home from work. Put it on high if you've only got 4 hours or so. Since the ham is usually already cooked, you really just have to get it hot all the way through.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

394.2649 -- Giving Thanks

Every year at Thanksgiving, my mom's side of the family gathers for a weekend of food, games and general togetherness. This year, I volunteered my house as the venue for the big feast.

Though it included making my and Matt's first turkey and ham, nothing -- not one thing -- could have made that day better. We cooked (stay tuned for the recipes that got the ravingest reviews), ate, talked, and played games. My mom called from England just after dinner, and my brother called from Korea later in the evening. The girls combed through Black Friday ads, while the guys snuck down to the basement to get their battle-board games going.

The last guests didn't leave until almost 12:30 in the morning, and everyone had a good time. It was my favorite Thanksgiving to date.

Sixteen people wanting to eat together meant going to the basement
and moving the pool table out of the way. But we all fit!

After dinner (and dessert) we played some trivia games.
What we discovered: we are no good at English trivia.
Pictured above is team "Better than awesome."
They named themselves obviously.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

641.814 -- Did you know?

The "57" that still graces the bottles of miscellaneous Heinz products is actually a misnomer of sorts. At the time the number was introduced to the logo (and as a slogan), the company boasted over 60 different products. Henry Heinz was being completely random when he "cast about" for a suitable number. He liked how 57 looked and sounded, and so the slogan and icon were born. Since then, Heinz has had a long history of 57s -- including their 2001 purchase of the Pittsburgh Steeler's field... for $57 million dollars.

Read here or here for more information.

If you didn't catch on to my extreme subtlety, I'm going to start play "catchup" here on the blog. Don't be surprised when you're inundated with posts :) hehehe