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.