Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Weather Outside Is Frightful!

Well! We've had some Adventures in Winter here in western NC!

Last week we had snow! And I mean SNOW!

I actually got snowed in and couldn't make it to work for several days. Noel, meanwhile, was busily tending to out of state matters and conveniently missed the mountains of snow piling up everywhere.

Anyway, it was exciting! And very pretty!! Here's our house with snow:

And here's the driveway:

They're calling for snow again this week, on Christmas day no less. And the 2 days after. And 4 days the next week. It's a good thing we have plenty of warm socks!

Not that it matters quite as much, because I don't have to get out to go to work anymore. My job at the college ended last week. I actually really enjoyed it. It was an inventorying job, which to some might seem tedious, but there were lots of interesting things to discover and neat people to meet. And being a community college with a wide range of academic offerings, I saw lots of bizarre stuff too:

Catheter mannequins (best not to ask on this one)
Suitcase of baby CPR mannequins
Dog skeletons
Bag of interchangeable....gender parts...for mannequins (that was an eye opener)
SWAT team training rooms, complete with scary plastic dude hiding in closet (yes, I jumped)
Huge wok oven in culinary building
Medical mannequins that look just like George Bush, Sr.
Chocolate fountain

Tons of stuff there. It was fascinating, really. I enjoyed it a lot, but the project finished successfully, so I'm out of a job!! Back to writing!

We here at Chez Cat Box are working hard to get in the Christmas spirit. We have 2 trees up, one is a regular tree with red & green ornaments, and the other is our black Elvis tree. This year we have a new tree topper, a red guitar with Elvis on it, brought to us from Graceland itself by my mom. Very cool. :)

The kitties have been enjoying the holiday spirit as well, as evidenced by the lack of ornanents on the bottom 2 ft of both trees. I actually caught Loki in the act last week, walking around with an ornament hanging from his mouth. He dropped it as soon as he saw me, or I would've gotten a picture.

Note to all cat owners (and probably small child owners as well): get unbreakable ornaments. They're worth it. We had glass ornaments in our decorations box, but didn't put them up. Which is obviously a good thing!

I've been working on presents quite a bit lately, mostly of the knitted variety. I can't show any of them one's opened them yet. This year I made a concerted effort NOT to try to make a million things, because I just didn't have time and there's no sense in stressing yourself out for a holiday that's supposed to bring joy. I do not consider tendonitis a good gift.

One other way we've been getting into the Christmas spirit (spirit? ha!) is with Noel's newest favorite drink, Hot Buttered Rum. I don't think he'd ever had one before. They're GOOD.

So to get everyone else into the same holiday spirit (see? did it again!) here is my recipe:

Hot Buttered Rum (makes 1 - about 10 oz drink)

8 oz apple cider, heated up (I nuke it in the microwave while mixing everything else)

In a mug, mix:

1 1/2 oz of clear rum (Bacardi is good)
Spritz of lime juice
3 dashes to 1/8 tsp cinnamon (yes, this is a weird measurement, but hopefully it makes sense - add to taste)
3 dashes to 1/8 tsp cloves

Add 1/2 tbsp butter once spices are stirred in.

Pour hot cider over top, mix well til butter is melted. Top with a sprinkle of nutmeg, if desired. Drink while warm.

SOOO good.

My friend Lisa informed me a few weeks ago about peppermint mocha Kahlua, which we just bought yesterday and will be trying very soon (probably in coffee). Yum!

Anyway, guess it's time to get back to knitting again. So much left to do!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Thanksgiving Leftovers - Finally!

So ok, I'm just now posting about Thanksgiving. We all know why, so I won't mention anything repetitive about crappy internet service, blah blah.

On to the food photos!!

We hosted Thanksgiving this year at our little house (the actual house, not the RV!). I decided that since we had such a small Thanksgiving last year (namely just us & the kitties), and this year we were having a pretty good crowd (8 in all) that we'd have a serious feast!!

Preparations started the night before, when I made the dressing & pies. It definitely made for an easier Thanksgiving day, having all that made in advance.

Our menu consisted of:

- Turkey
(a whopper! 22 lbs!)
- Spiral ham (prepared by my mom)
- Dressing
- Gravy
- Creamed corn
(out of the garden!)
- Fried okra (also out of the garden!)
- Vegetable casserole (thanks mom - very yummy!)
- Mashed potatoes
- Mashed sweet potatoes
(yes, both. We *heart* carbs.)
- Cranberry salad (courtesy of mom too)
- Cranberry sauce out of a can (I slaved over that one)
- Biscuits and croissants (out of a can, I must admit, but that was by request of Noel, who loves canned biscuits)

Photographic evidence of the feast!

I forgot to take a picture of the ham & turkey before everyone dug in.

Did I mention this turkey was big? 22 lbs! Bigger than the cats combined!! (Also, we offered them a little piece of turkey and the snobs didn't want it. Guess they like their food a little more processed than that.)

For dessert:

- Pumpkin pie
- Sweet potatoe pie
(mom brought this)
- Apple pie

(Not pictured, mom's pretty meringue covered sweet potatoe pie).

Ok, especially for Cima, let me put down a few quick recipes and such here.

First off, a great tip for cooking turkey - turn the oven to about 425 or so, then put the turkey in for about 5-10 minutes, then turn the temp down to 325 or 350, whatever you're roasting it on. The blast of heat at the very beginning kind of sears the skin so that it's extra juicy. If you have a turkey breast, you can even turn it breast side down for the first little bit, then turn it right side up so the juices are seared into the meatiest part of the breast. Works wonders, and this was the juiciest turkey ever! It was a honeysuckle white brand, and it was excellent.

My dressing recipe...isn't really a recipe. It's based loosely on my sister's dressing, which is really really good. I took some Pepperidge Farms stuffing mix (both regular & cornbread), poured a can of chicken broth over it in a big bowl, sauteed some onions & threw them in there (I don't like celery so I leave it out). I also put in a diced apple, roasted some sliced almonds and added those, and threw in some dried cranberries too. Why not? Add more water/broth if necessary to get it to the right stickiness so it'll hold together. Mash it into a greased casserole dish, cover with aluminum foil (keeps it moist) & cook for oh, 30 or so minutes until fragrant and golden brown on top. Very easy. You can use pecans or walnuts, and pears would probably be a good substitute for the apple too. Use firm fruit - otherwise they dissolve while baking.

Mashed sweet potatoes are super easy. Personally, sweet potato casserole (the kind with the marshmallows on top) is just too sweet for me. I like the potato part, but not the marshmallow frou-frou. So I peel & boil the potatoes just like for regular mashed potatoes, drain when soft, mash them up, and add some milk, some butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar and mix well. Obviously this is one of those Taste As You Go recipes, because everyone likes theirs sweeter or cinnamonier than other people.

Fried okra is a special delicacy of the south, and honestly I wasn't sure how many people at Thanksgiving would like it (we had several people who hadn't really eaten okra before!) I thought it added something really special that the okra came out of the garden. Made the whole Labor And Then Eat thing more real! I had frozen it straight off the plant, didn't even wash it, just stuffed it in freezer bags whole.

If any of you have ever tried cooking okra, you know how slimy this stuff can be. (Slimy on the inside, hairy on the outside - it's straight out of some kid's veggie nightmare). Here's a trick from my Aunt Betty: if using frozen whole okra, don't thaw it out. Wash it off so it's clean, but cut it right away. It's still slightly frozen on the inside so it isn't really slimy, and it's much easier to bread & cook that way!

For the okra breading, I take about equal parts cornmeal (the kind that's in a bag lke flour, not a cornbread mix!) and all-purpose flour. Add a dash of salt & pepper and mix it all together. Cut up your okra into slices about 1/3 to 1/2 of an inch thick, and dump into flour/cornmeal. No, you don't have to put it in milk or egg first. I said this stuff was sticky, and I wasn't joking! The breading will stick, no problem. Deep fry on medium heat until lightly brown. Okra is really good by itself, but also with ranch or ketchup (supposedly, for the non-purists out there). Drain it well to keep it from getting soggy.

I would give you my secret pumpkin pie recipe, but I don't have one. I used the one off the back of the Laura Lynn Canned Pumpkin can. It worked though! I wish I had written it down! Might have to go back and get another can, just so I have the recipe.

The apple pie? Um...well...get a pie crust, dump a can of apple pie filling in it, put another crust on top, crimp the edges, and draw a pretty picture with the end of a knife. Bake. Eat.

Oh, I can offer a helpful hint to those of you new to pie making though! If in the process of baking your pie, the edges of the crust start to look too dark, make a halo of aluminum foil to go over just the crust and it'll keep it from getting any darker.

So hopefully that's some helpful stuff there. We really enjoyed the day, it was gorgeous weather, and we stuffed ourselves silly. And managed to eat (and enjoy) leftovers for multiple days afterward!

That same weekend, we went to my mom's for pulled pork bbq. We know how to eat in this family. :) Then we went to the Grove Park Inn, an historic hotel in Asheville where all the hoity toits stay while in town. Most recent hoity toit? President Obama! Cool!

Anyway, every year they have a ginormous gingerbread house competition. It's amazing. We enjoyed it, even though it was a lot more crowded there than in previous years.

They had some spectacular entries:

These are GINGERBREAD HOUSES, y'all! Completely edible, except for the wood board they're sitting on. Go ahead. Gape. They don't mind.

I liked the old fashioned look of this one, with 4 different representations of St. Nick/Santa on it:

This one was the grand prize winner. Impressive (it was built as a set of nesting dolls), but honestly I liked some of the others better. Just my opinion.

Lisa, this one is for you (sorry it's blurry - took this picture through glass).

The whole hotel is decorated too, with lots of pretty trees all over, each with a different theme. They had some stunning ones, but this one was my favorite:


Too bad we couldn't have anything like that. I have a feeling two certain black cats we all know and love would mangle a fake bird into oblivion.

And they look so innocent...

Don't let them fool you.

Thursday, November 25, 2010



May you enjoy the fruits of your labors from this past year.

We will be enjoying the turkeys of our labors. With gravy!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Why, Hello There!

Long time no typing!

So there have been a lot of things going on here, and I haven't updated because we've been busy AND well, no internet. You know. No complaining.

First of all, Noel is back! He went to Corpus Christi for a week to work, and the job finished earlier than anticipated. So he's back! And we're very happy about it! 2 months is too long to be apart.

The irony being that he came home the weekend I had taken a trip to visit my dear friend Lisa in Pittsburgh!

(Yes, we did have wine & chips & queso dip for dinner. So what?)

Anyway, I do have pictures of Pittsburgh, and because I have a good internet signal (since I'm not at home right now), I'm going to do some major photo uploading. Yay!

This was my first visit ever to Pittsburgh, and I was really surprised! It's really different than I expected - I thought it would be a dirty industrial town, but it's full of parks, trees, and statues. Very pretty!

Beautiful foliage too!

Lisa took me to see some of the lovely classrooms at the University of Pittsburgh - they're all painted and decorated in the styles of different countries and cultures. As is my habit, I took pictures of the ceilings. Of course I did. Things in Sky.

Here's the Swedish room:

The Hungarian room:

The Greek room:

And the Irish room, which had gorgeous stonework:

Lisa's neighborhood is also very pretty:

I like her kitchen. Very Star Wars!

Here's Maddy (she and I took a nice long walk one day):

And Anna, sticking her tongue out at me:

We went to see the chapel on the campus too. Gorgeous!

And it had such impressive windows. I've never seen such tall windows!

Lisa, who knows me better than just about anyone on the planet, took me to the Carnegie museum. Because she loves me. First stop? She took me to the room that had this stuff in it:

Did I mention she loves me?

There was some awesome stuff there, like this smiling Virgin Mary & Jesus. So cheerful!

This guy was a little creepy.

Maybe a LOT creepy.

Look! Voldemort!

And how about this woman? Um...what is she doing?

So that's a quick review of my trip, and now Noel and I are going to go enjoy having dinner together! Thanks so much Lisa, Dennis, Maddy & Anna for a fantastic trip!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Just a Dustin'

Well, the snow materialized, but barely. The kitties and I waited with baited breath for the imminent blizzard, but morning came and my car looked like it had dandruff. That was it. Actually, it did try to snow a bit more all day Sunday, which was exciting, but alas, no accumulation.

So, in good news, Noel is now in Corpus Christi, happy with the warmer temps. He wore a t-shirt yesterday! Without a coat over top! He'll be coming home in about 2 weeks. Can't wait to see him. Even the kitties miss him terribly. :-)

I'm going to visit my dear friend Lisa in Pittsburgh this weekend, leaving on Thursday. There will be wine. And an IKEA visit. YAY!

Pictures will be coming!!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Super fast update

Gotta make this quick, while I have a signal!

1. Halloween costumes were a success. Pictures forthcoming!

2. Noel is leaving Utah this weekend, heading to Corpus Christi, TX for a short job, then home for Thanksgiving. Yay!

3. We may have a crowd for Turkey Day. Panic has been postponed until sometime around Nov. 18th.

4. IT'S SUPPOSED TO SNOW FRIDAY. I am overjoyed.

Ok, gotta go. Have a lovely day, y'all!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bedknobs & Broomsticks (and Halloween costumes!)

Everyone, think warm thoughts for Noel, who reports that Utah is currently getting snow. SNOW!

I'm kinda jealous. Even though Noel's NOT very happy about snow, seeing as (1) he's working at night, which is chilly, and (2) snow makes it chillier, usually. Poor guy. And no potato soup or chili or chicken & dumplings to warm him up. Sniff sniff.

(Also, as a side note, he's already requesting food for his Welcome Home meal, which isn't going to occur for another 4 weeks or so. The menu so far? Chicken & dumplings, homemade bread, biscuits, chicken cordon bleu, apple pie, and mashed sweet potatoes. Oh, and also fried okra. If he keeps thinking of new things for me to make, I'll need to start cooking next week.)

Coming up this weekend is one of my very favorite holidays: Halloween!

As usual, I was tasked with the honor of making my nieces' costumes. Today I mailed them off, and I don't have any pictures. But! My mom took some, and I'm sure my sister will take some as well. I'll post them asap! What were they? Oh dear reader, that's a surprise! Neither involved blue tentacles though. :)

Since the house we currently rent is a bit in the country, we probably won't have any trick or treaters. Which is kind of a shame, since that gives me the justification to buy (and frequently sample) bags of candy. I might have to taste test some anyway.

In order to get myself in the mood for costume making last week, I put up some decorations, which the cats immediately pulled down. I put them up in a different place, and they pulled them down again. At this point I decided that, being black cats, they themselves qualify as decorations, and left it at that. Instant Festivity! Just add Fancy Feast.

Decorations (or whining cats, as the case may be) can help with the whole Almost Halloween feeling, but you really need something extra. Personally, I love watching spooky/Halloween themed movies too, and so now the library thinks I have a toddler at home. My most recent rentals? It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown; Nanny McPhee; and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. That last one is so cute - Angela Lansbury is adorable.

I also rented Charlie's Angels too - not the movie. Oh no. The tv show - complete with high-waisted bellbottoms and mega-hair. HILARIOUS. Does it make me old to admit that I still want Jacquelyn Smith's hair?

Anyway, the Halloween costumes are done, the decorations are happily snoozing in front of the heater, and Angela Lansbury's about to singlehandedly defeat the Nazis.

So in the spirit of a little scare being good for you, I present a gratuitous Creepy Cow Photo:

Cuz this is THRIIIIILLERRRRRRR! THRILLER NIGHT! (cue dancing zombies)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Leaves A'Turning....

Autumn has definitely arrived here in western NC! (If spring has sprung, has fall fallen?)

The leaves have started turning...

and the fall festivals have begun!

Mom and I went to the Lunsford Festival, a small but fun event in Mars Hill, NC, held a few weeks ago. There were lots of people selling handicrafts and such, and of course, there was food! And when I say food, I mean FOOD. The local baptist church was making bbq:

How's THAT for a cooker?

Also loved their t-shirts. Heh.

We saw some other friends working on stirring a big cauldron:

What's in it? Only one of the best things ever invented:

Homemade apple butter!! YUM.

If you've never had real apple butter, especially with homemade biscuits...well...I just kinda feel sorry for you. ;)

In other food news, my aunt and I went to a quilt show last weekend. There were some real beauties there.

There was even a seasonally appropriate quilt!

But wait...what do quilts have to do with food? Well, I'll show you!

This was an entry in their junior category. Fun!

I liked this one too - good 3D illusion.

This one is an embroidered quilt with manatees, which has nothing to do with food. Hopefully. It's just pretty.

Also this little square seemed appropriate. :)

Anyway, all this deliciousness over the past few weeks inspired me to dig out the ol' baking sheet. I decided to do chocolate chip cookies to send to Noel and my friend Lisa, as well as try out a new recipe for old-fashioned molasses cookies. These didn't look promising.


Thankfully, 10 minutes in the oven made all the difference in the world, and Lisa reported that she loved them for their yummy spiciness. Yay!

On another tack, Animal News! We have a new neighbor!!

Isn't he cute? I couldn't get a better picture because he runs into his burrow (which is right beside the driveway.) I was dorkily thrilled over having a neighborhood groundhog. :)

The boys are doing fine, enjoying the cooler weather, because that means space heater time! And they love their space heater. :) We've also been prepping for Halloween, which involves digging out the Halloween DVDs.
Poe loves Garfield.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Wild & Wonderful!


I'm tired of complaining about slow internet as an excuse for lack of blogging, so I'll skip it. You're welcome. :)

Update: Change that. This is my FOURTH attempt at posting this in as many days. Sigh. Just imagine, if it weren't for our miserable excuse for internet service, you'd be reading about what actually happened YESTERDAY, not 2 weeks ago. Oy.

So things are going well here in Chez Hairball, except we all miss Noel. He's still working his butt off in Utah, learning the importance of warm clothing in climates with huge temperature fluctuations, and the value of lotion in a low-humidity environment.

Here in NC, meanwhile, the kitties and I are enjoying the first crisp days of autumn. The leaves haven't turned yet, but I promise to take (and post!) pictures when they do!

2 weekends ago, my mom and I drove up to West Virginia to visit my dear grandmother and 2 of my aunts and their husbands. Now, some people give West Virginia a hard time, whipping out the duelling banjos song from Deliverance (although that movie was in Georgia, heh), and thinking generally it's full of...well...not much.

I heartily disagree. I have traveled much of this country (at this point 39 of the 50 states), and can say that West Virginia is unequivocally one of the most beautiful. Granted, I haven't seen North or South Dakota, Iowa, or Wisconsin. But barring the evil influences of cheese, I can't imagine they look anywhere near as stunning as WV.

I say this because (1) I encourage those of you who've never been there to drive through there one day, and (2) to make up for my photos, which are...dark and, well, really a bit colorless. It was a gray day for photos, very overcast, and these just don't do the state justice.

The motto for West Virginia is Wild, Wonderful. And they're right! You can drive through areas where there are no people. NO PEOPLE. No walmarts! No strip malls! No traffic jams! Just gorgeous indigenous forests festooning the rolling mountains as far as they eye can see.

We had a fantastic visit with family up there. So much so that I forgot to take out my camera. Oops! Thankfully my Uncle Jim loves to take pictures, and he promised to send me a CD with the ones he took. Then I'll pirate his pictures to put up here. (You can take 50% of royalties, Jim. That'll be about....$0. Sorry).

One fun thing about going to WV is that you have to go through 2 big tunnels to get there (at least the way we went). When my sister and I were kids, we would hold our breath through any tunnel we went through, because if you can hold your breath to the other side, you get a wish.

These tunnels make breath-holding a serious Olympian-sized challenge. These tunnels go through an entire mountain.

One is just under, and the other just over, 1 mile long. Impressive!

Also there's a buckwheat festival in the town where my grandmother lives. No, not the Little Rascal, the grain. They have rides, parades, and yummy buckwheat pancakes at the fire house to raise money. We missed the buckwheat festival by 1 weekend. Sigh. Mom was happy because there would be no traffic. I was devastated, because honestly? How often do you have firemen cook breakfast for you?

In addition to the impressively huge tunnels, West Virginians also boast the Western Hemisphere's longest single arch bridge! Bet you didn't know that! (Now you're ready go to on Jeopardy). It's called the New River Gorge Bridge, and it's impressive. Mom and I went to the scenic overlook to try to get a good view of it.

We walked toward the pedestrian walkway to the overlook:

Oooooooohhhh!!! Autumny!!! This will be a lovely little relaxing stroll through the woods.

Oh wait.

We sucked it up and went anyway, and the view was lovely! Here's the bridge:

And way down there is the little old bridge that the new one made obsolete.

Apparently it used to take people a long time to drive down into the gorge and back out again, and the new bridge has cut that time to just about 40 seconds. Here's a graph to show how tall the new bridge is:

You know it's big when your currency is National Monuments. :)

The scenery was really pretty from up there though. The leaves weren't really changing much there either, so at least my pictures weren't a total disaster.

We finished with our photo taking and saw something really scary:

The walk back up.

But we made it, throbbing thigh muscles intact. At least there was pretty scenery to look at!

We went to the visitors center too, and they had some quilts hanging up from the ceiling. Yay Team Quilting! So I took a few photos of them.

Then we saw this on the wall, and I thought y'all might appreciate. Enlarge if necessary, but I'll type what it says:

"Quilts made by slaves, free blacks, and Abolitionists were used as a means of secret communication on the Underground Railroad. Messages were hidden in plain view hanging from fences, clotheslines, and windows. Quilt patterns - including the use of specific colors, stitches, and pattern sequences - signaled escape, help, and safety.

The Monkey Wrench [top left corner] was displayed when an escape was being planned.

The Tumbling Blocks [top center] appeared when it was time to escape.

The Bear Paw [top right] signaled a proposed safe trail through the Appalachian Mountains.

The Shoo Fly [left middle row] signified a place to find clean clothing and take a bath. [Kelli: who says even abolitionist quilters didn't have a sense of humor?]

The Bow Tie [center middle row] meant there was a safe church in the area.

The Flying Geese [right middle row] pointed the direction to travel with a solid color band.

The Log Cabin pattern [lower left corner] with a black center block signified a safe house.

Drunkard's Path [lower center - my favorite quilt pattern] told runaways to zigzag and double back.

It is believed that in order to memorize the whole code, a sampler quilt was used. The sampler would include all the patterns arranged in the order the codes would appear.

Stitches and knots also played a role in the code. Stitches were placed to represent maps, and knots indicated a scale in miles.

The messages remained hidden in plain view until everyone planning to escape had completed the signaled task."

From: Hidden in Plain View - A Secret Story of Quilts & the Underground Railroad by J. L. Tobin & R. G. Dobard, PhD.

How incredible is that? I adore the idea of something so humble, so easily overlooked, as a handmade quilt thrown over a fence, being the beacon of hope that some poor soul was desperate to see to guide his or her way to freedom.