Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving Food Recipes

After days of writing about all the food prep, the dinner really came together. I thought I'd post some of the recipes I used for this Thanksgiving dinner. I tend not to use any one source to create my culinary masterpieces, which as many friends can tell you either turns out horribly wrong or somehow manages to come out wonderfully right.

My first foray into turkey making was a hit--and let me tell you, I have never felt more pressure to get something right than in preparing the main dish of a big holiday meal.
  • 8 lb turkey breast
  • 1 cup sea salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 carrot sticks
  • 3 stocks green onion
  • 1/4 cup pepper corns
  • 1 gallon water
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 3 tsp poultry seasoning
  1. Thaw turkey in fridge overnight. Remove any entrails and place in large oven bag in a deep roasting dish.
  2. Boil water, salt, brown sugar, onion, carrots, green onions, pepper in a large pot for half an hour. Let cool.
  3. Pour brine over turkey and chill in fridge for 24 hours.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse turkey well and pat dry. Place turkey in a fresh, flour-coated oven bag.
  5. Mix oil, garlic and seasoning in a small bowl and coat turkey. Stuff with generous amounts of bread stuffing.
  6. Roast for 3 hours. Save juices for gravy. Cool, carve and serve.
Gravy has to be the easiest thing I made. And it was the only thing I had ever made before.
  • turkey juice
  • 2 cans chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup water
  • salt and pepper
  1. Strain turkey juice into a medium sauce pan. Add broth and bring to a boil.
  2. Mix flour and water in a small bowl until a smooth, pasty consistency. Slowly add to boiling stock. Reduce heat.
  3. Boil and stir continually until gravy begins to thicken.
  4. Salt and pepper to taste. Let stand for at least five minutes.
Honestly, for how much effort it took to make this alternative to green bean casserole, this wasn't really worth it. But it looked good.
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 3/4 cup white wine
  • 2 stocks green onion
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 lb fresh green beans
  • salt and pepper
  1. Toast almonds in large frying pan over medium heat. Remove and set aside.
  2. Melt butter and saute beans and onions for five minutes. Add wine and steam covered for 10 minutes. Remove beans and onions.
  3. Bring sauce to boil and reduce by half.
  4. Pour sauce over beans, salt and pepper to taste, and toss to coat.
  5. Add almonds right before serving.
There might have been leftover, but let me tell you, now that everyone is gone, that fridge is totally empty. I'll have to do some major shopping tomorrow if I want to eat this week.

Thanksgiving Day Fun

Thanksgiving was a lot of fun. We really did have a house full of good people and good food.

Because my parents were in Hawaii visiting my little brother for the holiday and my sister was with her boyfriend's family in Chicago, I was adopted by my roommate's family who came in from North Carolina and Michigan.

And of course after the food was devoured and the kitchen (almost) clean, we pulled out the books. Melinda's three-year-old niece loved Mo Willem's new pop-out book Big Frog Can't Fit In.

And the boys found plenty of books to occupy their time with as well.

The next few days were filled with more adventures, fun and movies, and yes, even some writing and chores.

So this holiday season opened up with a bang. Now I just need to get through my birthday, Christmas and the New Year. I've got a lot of fun stuff coming up and look forward to seeing my family again. I missed Christmas in Chicago last year, and I'm excited not to miss it again this year.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Twelve Days of Thanksgiving: Day 12

Happy Thanksgiving! There are too many things I'm grateful for that I haven't been able to mention, so I'll list as many of them as I can.

I'm grateful for:
  • All the little things, like paperclips and pennies and four-leaf clovers.

  • The books I've read. From the classics I was "forced" to read in school to the books I'm given to review, reading is a joy I never want to be without.

  • My teachers. There are many teachers, both in school and out, who have taught me lessons I will never forget and encouraged me is ways they will never know.

  • Talents. So many people have been given so many gifts, and my life is better for all those who have shared their talents with me.

  • Time. Time to do more, be better, learn something new. Time to say "I'm sorry" or "I love you" or "Good luck today." Time to enjoy life and live it to the fullest.

  • The places I have lived. I am a cheese-head by birth, a city-girl by circumstance, a Cajun by adoption and a lover by location. I have been infected with wanderlust, and I've loved every place I have been blessed enough to live.

  • Chocolate and ice cream. I think sugar is a far overlooked food group. Dietitians everywhere are cringing, but chocolate and ice cream have gotten me through a lot of very trying times.

  • Friends who know how to listen. This is not a talent of mine--I talk way too much--but I have been the beneficiary of wise friends who know when to close their mouths and open their ears.

  • Sisters, both by birth and by choice. I have an older sister who is one of my dearest friends, even if I didn't know it until after high school. And I have three of the best sisters in the world thanks to The Scroll, a children's lit class and a little thing called love.

This list could honestly go on forever. How blessed my life is!

Speaking of blessings, the turkey is now in the oven.

We have people traveling from Michigan and North Carolina, so we're having an early dinner rather than a late lunch. We'll really have a full house with kids and friends and maybe a random stranger or two as well.

I love the holidays!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Twelve Days of Thanksgiving: Day 11

I'm incredibly grateful for those people who work to keep our nation free.

This doesn't just include people like my little brother in the Navy. It encompasses those who fight to preserve our freedom of speech, sacrifice to improve our environment and dedicate their lives to ensuring our country is better tomorrow than it was today.

You know who you are, and you have my thanks.

Ahhh! Only one more day to finish cleaning the house and cooking. I've been trying to do it a little at a time so I don't wake up tomorrow morning and realize I have nothing done. So today I made sure my gas tank is full, the floors are swept and all the Christmas decorations are up. (I don't have any Thanksgiving decor, so Christmas comes a little early.)

On the food front, I prepped that old Southern Thanksgiving favorite: macaroni and cheese.

This isn't exactly a complicated dish (just noodles, milk, butter, an egg and a few different cheeses), but I didn't want to have to worry about doing it when there is a turkey waiting for me to season and bake in the morning.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Twelve Days of Thanksgiving: Day 10

What would my life be like without the many students I have worked with?

From the kids at BSTA to the DC students I tutor to the kids I went to high school with who have never managed to grow up, I have discovered that you are never too old to learn something new from the most unexpected places.

May I meet many more of you and continue to be edified by your vast wisdom.

The food preparation has begun. Because my parents are visiting my little brother in Hawaii for Thanksgiving (it's a tough job, but they're selfless like that), I'm hosting Thanksgiving with my roommate. Two of her brothers, their families and a few friends are coming over, which means plenty of shopping and cooking.

Today I started on the turkey with a brine.

I also made that old Thanksgiving classic with a twist: cranberry sauce with a handful of blueberries and some orange zest.

This year I am making a bunch of traditional foods I have never made before, so we'll see how it all turns out.

This reminds me of one Thanksgiving up in Idaho when a couple of friends and I decided to get a fresh pumpkin and make a bunch of pumpkin-themed sides from scratch. Of course we did the traditional pumpkin pie, but we also made pumpkin bread, pumpkin butter, pumpkin cake, pumpkin roll and a couple other things. We had never made any of it before, but it was so much fun I think we convinced ourselves the food tasted better than it really did.

Good memories.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Twelve Days of Thanksgiving: Day 9

I am grateful for a clear view.

I've had glasses since I was about eight years old, and I can honestly say not a day goes by when I'm not happy for the ability to see clearly. They might be annoying, but because of them, I can see more than two feet in front of me.

Just got these last week. What do you think?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Twelve Days of Thanksgiving: Day 8

My life is better for all the roommates I've ever had.

I am a better person and have a much fuller life because of the many people I have lived with over the years. I've learned about different countries, eaten different foods, listen to different music, learned about different subjects and loved vastly different people because each one of you was unique and willing to put up with me.

So for all of the people who were, are or will be my housemates, I am grateful for each of you.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Twelve Days of Thanksgiving: Day 7

This shout-out goes to every music player I have ever owned.

Music has been an outlet for me since I can first remember. It has helped my express feelings I didn't understand enough to put into words myself, overcome bad times and remember the good. I have sung along, danced along and played along--all fairly poorly--but music has been there for every important event in my life.

So from my dad's old record play to the 8-track in the Ford to my first walkman, CD player and iPod, you have filled my life with music.

Can't Stop This Music

Struts & Frets Struts & Frets by Jon Skovron

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I freaking loved this book. Any book that can make Jane's Addiction and Shakespeare come together to create a beautiful story has my full support. And it didn't hurt that the writing style has a rawness and openness about it that nearly broke my heart and kept me laughing all at once.

Sammy Bojar is going to be the next big thing--or will be after the current next big thing gets out of his way. All he has to do is figure out how to keep his indie/punk/emo band together, turn his best friend into his girlfriend and watch his grandfather slip into dementia. Luckily band front-man Joe seems to be keeping it together, Jen5 knows just how to deal with a new emo-rocker boyfriend and Gramps still has plenty of musical lessons to teach. Sammy's candle might just have a chance to burn long and bright before it is put out.

And that's just scratching the surface. This book proves that fame and music and life isn't always pretty nor as satisfying and Hollywood would have you believe. It's messy and complicated and heartbreaking, yet it's also full of tomorrows and potential.

Skovron doesn't belittle adolescent feelings of love and fear and compassion, nor does he skirt over issues like sex or make a big deal out of things like homosexuality and drinking. The story focuses on the music and stays true to character development. The teens in this novel are down to earth and struggle with the same issues of insecurity and hope that all real-life teens deal with every day.

While the story arc is a little rough and the adult characters are a little cliche, this is an amazing debut novel. I am honored to have it stand next to my other YA music books like Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Heavy Metal and You and Notes from the Midnight Driver. I look forward to seeing what other stories Skovron has in store for us.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Twelve Days of Thanksgiving: Day 6

I am grateful for my car.

This past year I bought my first new car. It's a 2009 Honda Fit: gets great gas milage, easy to park in DC's tiny parking spaces and manages to cram everyone and everything I need into one place I can call my own. I know it sometimes feels neglected when I take public transportation, but even the Metro can't take me places my little blue car can.

That's why I made sure it got re-registered, renewed parking stickers and an oil change today. I take care of my own.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Twelve Days of Thanksgiving: Day 5

I'm grateful for modern life.

What did they do without the internet or even electricity? It has made travel more doable, medicine more reliable and information for accessible. And I could never have done any of it on my own.

I love living in the 21st Century.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Twelve Days of Thanksgiving: Day 4

I'm grateful for laughter.

I tend to be a little too serious and negative, but laughter keeps me grounded. It makes my heart swell and clears my mind. The best part is, the more often I do it, the more I want it.

So to all the songs, books, movies, knock-knock jokes, silly kids and best of friends who make me LOL, thank you.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Twelve Days of Thanksgiving: Day 3

I am thankful for my family.

They are my friends, my confidants, my teachers and my own personal cheerleaders. Never once have they said it couldn't be done, overcome or figured out. They encourage me to reach for the stars and set the example.

Both near and far, I love them bunches.

P.S. I hit the halfway point with my NaNoWriMo WIP. I can't believe I am actually doing this and keeping (almost) on track!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Twelve Days of Thanksgiving: Day 2

This one goes out to toothpaste.

I have never had to have any dental work done, and I know that is no small miracle due to a combination of genetics, geography and good hygiene. I will continue to do my part and hope I die with all my own teeth still in my head.

So to my new dentist I saw for the first time today, toothpaste has served me well. Now I expect you to hold up your part of the bargain.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Twelve Days of Thanksgiving: Day 1

I've never posted about Ashley before, but after reading her mother's new blog, I realized I was holding back sharing the blessings of her life with all of you.

Ashley is twelve years old and succumbing to heart failure. If you want the details of what that means, you'd have to ask a member of her immediate family. All I know is that it means she spent many nights with us after hospital visits, I've held her in my arms as she's cried from the pain, and that someday far too soon, she'll no longer be with us. And knowing that, my heart fails me a little as well.

I've never known a child with a terminal condition before. All of my friends who have died have done so suddenly--tragic, yes, but sudden. And my family members who have passed on have died at reasonable ages--too soon, yes, but after living full lives. I have never watched someone I love fight a battle over so many years and slowly begin to fade.

When I first met Ashley, she wasn't even ten years old. I was living in Salt Lake City, roommates with an old college friend who is Ashley's aunt. I had spent years hearing stories about Ashley and felt like I already knew her. She and her family would make the eight-hour drive down from Boise to have procedures done at Primary Children's Medical Center.

Because I am a picture book fanatic, I'd always send a few books with Tammy up to the hospital to keep Ashley's mind off the sometimes painful procedures. From Mo Willem's Leonardo the Terrible Monster to Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book by Brian Froud, laughter was a great medicine, until a mean old nurse had to ask them to put away the books because Ashley was laughing so hard she was having heart spasms.

Ashley would often come to stay with us so her parents could have some alone time. She'd sit at the kitchen table and tell me stories while I made dinner or entertain us by reading aloud from one of her favorite books. Or sometimes, she's be so tired we'd put in a movie and she'd fall asleep on my shoulder long before the closing credits began to roll.

When I moved back east, there were a lot of things I was sad to leave behind, but probably the hardest thing to leave was Ashley. I knew she was getting sicker, I knew Tammy needed someone to lean on, and I knew I might not have the chance to see Ashley again. But last June, I went to Idaho for a wedding and was able to spend an afternoon with Ashley and her family. And a few months ago I got a phone call from Ashley so she could read me the new book her aunt had bought her for her hospital stay. These little moments have meant the world to me and eased my heart.

Then over Labor Day weekend while driving back to DC from Chicago, I got a phone call. Ashley was not doing very well and there was nothing more the doctors could do for her. The PICC line would come out and Ashley would go home. All of a sudden, life had shifted from "if" to "when." I was grateful when I lost cell service in the Pennsylvania mountains so I could cry alone for a few minutes.

I have spent a lot of nights crying since then--after phone calls with Tammy, after reading messages from Ashley's mom, after a phone conversation with a friend who had just spent the weekend with Ashley. I cried from knowing Ashley was not going to get better. I cried from knowing I couldn't be there for my friend and her family. I cried from knowing there was nothing anyone could do. And I especially cried from knowing the next time I would go out west would not be as much fun as my trip in June.

But I've also cried from happy thoughts. Each day Ashley is with us is a blessing. It is another memory we can have for when she is gone. It has brought her family closer together and made them stronger. I often think of that scripture "For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Psalms 30:5).

I don't mean to turn this into a "preachy" blog post, and for many of you who don't know me, you might be surprised to find out I have a deep faith in God, but that faith is so personal to me I have never felt right about sharing it in a public blog. The thing is, as the past month has progressed and my emotions have been in turmoil, I can't help but draw on my faith to keep me going. Ashley is like a niece to me, her mother like a sister, her three energetic little brothers like nephews. She and her family are never far from my thoughts, and when they enter my thoughts, the love of God enters my heart.

So if you believe in God--or you even have a glimmer of hope that there is some kind of higher power out there--I ask that you offer up a pray for Ashley. Not that some miracle will happen and we'll get to keep her for a little more time, but offer up a pray of thanksgiving that Ashley has been able to touch so many lives, and maybe, just maybe, she'll be able to touch your life as well.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Okay, now I'm just stalling

Q: What do a vanilla bean frappe, Mafia Wars, the latest Dancing with the Stars results show, Jon Skovron's new book Struts & Frets and the Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen soundtrack all have in common?

A: Not much. Other than I have used all of them to avoid writing today.

And now, here I am, using my blog for the same nefarious purposes. In my own defense, I have managed to sneak in a few hundred words. And it's not like I planned on pounding out a couple thousand words today or anything.

Oh, wait. That was the plan.

I don't normally discourage people from reading my blog, but maybe you should stop enabling me so I can get back to work.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Friday Five on Thursday

Since I work full time and can't say no to anyone, time management is a HUGE issue for me in relation to NaNoWriMo. So here are five practical things I'm doing to actually write:

1. Breaking it up during the day. I try to get about 400 words during my lunch break so I don't feel so overwhelmed when I get home.

2. Make bedtime sleep time. I make sure NaNoWriMo is not the last thing I do before going to bed. When my head hits the pillow, I don't want my mind to be racing with things I want to put on paper. So I watch a TV show, read a few pages or talk to a friend before hitting the sack.

3. Only enter in word count once a day. It's like the watched pot never boiling. When I'm worried about hitting my word count, it seems to take longer to get there.

4. Don't try to "make it up." If I fall behind in my word count, I can't spend the next day trying to make up for it. Some days the story comes a little easier for me and some days it doesn't. I just have to let it happen.

5. Turn off the internet! There is no greater time-suck than the World Wide Web. When I'm writing, I can't be checking e-mail, playing games on Facebook or mapping the fastest route to the nearest ice cream place.

So far so good. I'm still on track with my word count and having fun with it as well.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Finding a different kind of writing style

For so many years my writing has been about facts. Finding good sources, getting details just right, fitting all the pieces together. But when I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, I knew I would have to take a very different approach.

Now it's all about writing and huge quantity very quickly. At an average of 1,667 words per day (while still working a full-time job and fulfilling all of my other commitments), I don't have time to double check my information and research the fine details of everything. It took me almost a year to finish my last manuscript, and the majority of that time I was in school or unemployed. Plus that manuscript is only 34,000 words, 16,000 fewer than what the NaNoWriMo rules tell you your manuscript has to be. That means I've had to totally change the way I write.

No rewriting or even rereading as I go. I have to use a setting I'm intimately familiar with, and characters need to come out fully developed. As soon as the plot point, character trait or line of dialogue pops into my head, it needs to get written down, even if I'm not sure it will go anywhere in the end.

None of this sounded easy or even very fun, but I needed to prove to myself that I can write a complete story in a defined period of time. I was worried that this writing experiment would turn into a numbers game with stock characters and a flat plot that would never be anything more than the Word document on my hard-drive.

Surprisingly, this could not be further from the truth. In the past four days, this group of characters has taken on a life of their own. I feel like the story is almost writing itself. I'm already in love with them and want to learn more about who they are and where they're going.

But check back in two weeks. By then I might be at a complete lose and hate this experiment.