Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanks and Giving


The last two weeks at my house have been C-R-A-Z-Y.  My in-laws came to visit for several days before and after Thanksgiving.  We're always so happy to have visitors, and it was great to spend that time with them.  It was especially fun to throw a big Thanksgiving feast with them as guests of honor.

But it doesn't matter who the visitors are, visitors throw off my puttering time.  And I must have my puttering time.  What can I say, I'm a homebody.  I have to have at least 3 days in the week where I just putter around my house, or else I start to lose my mind.  It's okay if the other 4 days have me running willy-nilly over hill and vale, as long as I get those puttering days in, too.  Trouble is, people on vacation don't want to putter, they want to get out and see things!  Which I totally get.

Anywho, so I've been busy, the last couple of days, puttering around my house and my blog, catching up on all the things I don't do when I'm unable to putter.  We had a really nice Thanksgiving, which I pretty much failed to capture on film, due to the fact that I was busy cleaning, cooking, serving, and cleaning.  The Bionic Man could have snapped a few pics, but since we had no Engineering Feats or Natural Resources of Great Importance in attendance at our Thanksgiving Feast, that would be asking a lot.

What I did manage to get pictures of, ended up being one of my favorite things about this Thanksgiving:  Our Thankful Tree.
Inspired by the Pothier's tree over at 71 Toes, we added a Thankful Tree to our own Thanksgiving traditions. Endeavor made ours, totally by herself, leaves and all.  Don't you love the way she wrinkled the brown paper for a bark-like effect?  I tell you, it's probably a good thing Martha Stewart is approaching retirement.  Endeavor cut out many blank leaves, which we had our guests place on the branches of the tree, after they wrote down something they were thankful for.
I have loved having these expressions of gratitude on our kitchen wall.  Some of the things our family members and friends who joined us for dinner were grateful for included:

Hunter (our dog was mentioned on multiple leaves)
Corndogs (4 year old Mason really appreciates the finer things in life)
Tigers & Elephants
Good Doctors & Nurses
Waterproof Shoes (two Mormon missionaries, Elders Huse and Huntsman, joined us for dessert)

We had such a nice time sharing dinner with Ben's parents and several other families.  I just love the way everyone contributes to the feast: bringing family favorites of their own, sharing their favorite traditions, helping us make new ones, and taking the time to celebrate all of our blessings.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Painting the Kitchen

This week, the Bionic Man had to go on a short business trip.  As soon as he exited the house, I decided to throw out all the other things I'd been planning this week, and paint my kitchen.  An alarming declaration, I know.  And why is it that any temporary departure of the Bionic Man inspires me to paint?

That should probably be dealt with in therapy.

Speaking of therapy, let's review the ongoing history of paint in my kitchen.

Up until last year, I had never gone solo on a room painting project.  I always partnered up with the Bionic Man, and we made a good team.  I typically handled prep: washing down trim, taping, putting plastic over the floor, etc.  I often handled the painting of any trim by myself, as well.  But when it came to the walls, the Bionic Man and I had a system that worked for us: I edged, he rolled.  It totally worked for us, until last fall.

Last fall, I had been bugging the Bionic Man about the colors of the walls in our large Great Room (family room, kitchen, and dining area, in one wide open space).  This one space was painted in a color chosen by the previous homeowners, that I like to call gacky sage.
Sage in small doses is lovely.  Sage in large doses, especially in the shade of gacky sage is.....gacky.  And really hard to decorate with.  The Bionic Man and I were over the gacky sage, and ready to move on to the nice, neutral, non-gacky antique white.
Well, I was tired of waiting, and wanted that gacky sage gone.  Trouble was, the Bionic Man had no time to help.  Not only did he have no time, he had absolutely no motivation.  I believe at some point, he said something along the lines of, "If you really want a new paint color, you are going to have to be the one who paints."

Guess what?  Soon after that, the Bionic Man went on a business trip, and I painted.  I was a little nervous about going solo on the paint project, so I started with the back hallway and two small walls of the dining area, all fairly inconspicuous.  It went well.  So well, that before I finished, I threw the last of the paint on part of one other dining room wall, thinking that I'd get right back to it.

I didn't.  My dining area--which, mind you, is at one end of the wide-open great room, remained partially painted, until last spring.  I finally finished the dining area, but there was a jagged line of antique white vs. gacky sage where the dining area ended and the kitchen began.  This time, the Bionic Man convinced me to wait, assuring me that he'd soon be adding a tile backsplash to the kitchen, so we should put off all painting until that time.

But the gacky sage has weighed heavily upon me.  Heavier since I have an oasis of antique white at one end of the great room.  Several times since the children went back to school this fall, I have said to the Bionic Man, "Let's have a painting party this weekend!  Let's get rid of the gacky sage once and for all!"  I have even said, "How about if you take Friday off, I'll get a babysitter, and we can just spend the entire weekend together...alone....PAINTING."  He didn't go for it.

So, the Bionic Man went out of town again, and no sooner had he gone than I rolled out the plastic and paintbrushes and started painting the kitchen.  I decided against trying to paint the family room part of the great room, because I do recognize my limitations.  After all, this was a short business trip.  Upon his return, the Bionic Man was more than a little impressed by my progress.  How can he complain?  He doesn't have to lift a finger or live in the mess of the project.  It's like he's married to the Paint Fairy!

Now, can I tell you all of the crazy things that happened after I began painting?

1) The skies opened and it rained like we haven't seen rain in this part of the country in months.  Little bit hard to keep the windows open when it's raining like that.
2) Water began dripping from my kitchen ceiling.  I am not kidding.  This caused me to panic, run upstairs and shut off all water to toilets, bathtubs, etc., since they were close to the leak.  Leak continued.  Bionic Man wasn't answering calls.  I bravely ventured into the attic, where I discovered the source of the leak (our roof). I plugged the leak with a dishtowel.
3) Water stopped dripping from the kitchen ceiling.  All the remains of the leak is an unsightly stain on the ceiling with three holes that I drilled to keep the water for spreading and making a bigger stain.  Looks like I've got another painting project, doesn't it?
4) Woke up after Painting Day One with a nasty cold.  Painting Day Two was slow going.  Painting Day Three involved no painting whatsoever, but did involve lots of hot chocolate and orange juice.
5) Since the kitchen painting project began, we have had three doctors' appointments (all for eyes...updating prescriptions, etc.), two piano lessons, and a cub scout meeting.  Not to mention oodles of homework, a desperately needed grocery shopping trip, a desperately needed shoe shopping trip, and a dog that needed walking.

Looking back, I am surprised that I got any painting done, this week.  Right now, in fact, I'm staring at walls of antique white and wondering, "Is this a dream?  Did the paint fairy come?"

Then, a look in the mirror jolts me back to reality.  The paint fairy came, all right.  And she's got the antique white in her hair to prove it!  On Painting Day Two, I was standing on top of a counter, reaching with my roller to paint the wall space above my upper cabinets.  Bending to refill my roller with paint, I got a little too close to the freshly painted wall beside me.....coating a fairly wide strip of my side-swiped bangs with antique white.  Fashion advice, anyone?  'Cause I'm Stacy London, now!
Um, I guess I haven't ever painted my hair before.....I had no idea that it wouldn't just come out when I washed my hair.  Much scrubbing and lots of brushing with a bristle brush have removed some of the paint, but it's still there!  Giving me that trendy, well placed streak of silver.  Huh.

Well, enough said.  I need to throw on one final layer of paint, and pull off all the blue tape and plastic.  After all, my in-laws arrive in two days for Thanksgiving.  Dun dun dun....and I still have a slipcover, a set of curtains, and some pillows to sew.

Will Ruth have her house ready in time?  Can she sew like the wind?  How will she find the time to prepare the Relief Society lesson she's supposed to teach on Sunday?  Tune in next time, when you'll hear Ruth say, "I really need a nap.  And some chocolate."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Holland Gets Healthy: Week 1

{gulp} Here we go!

Just in case you missed the memo...(read about it here)...I'm using my blog and The Pleated Poppy's ongoing "What I Wore Wednesday" series to keep me motivated and accountable for my weight loss and fitness goals.  I only have a couple pics for this week, and as you can see, I'm experimenting with the best place to take pictures and how to format everything.  Boy, oh boy, oh boy, is it tricky to strike a flattering pose, suck in your stomach, figure out what to do with one arm, hold the camera with another, try not to shut your eyes or make a goofy face, AND take a picture.  All that effort burns some calories, I'm sure.
After the above pics, I started to get really brutal.  Better lighting and front and back pictures.  Wow.
Yes, that is Hunter the Dog trying to share mirror space with me.  He's such a smarty pants; he figured that if he came with me while I wore it, he should be in the picture of it.  Isn't it cute how he puts his paw on my knee?  Hmm....this is a good reminder to me that Hunter needs his nails clipped.  Yikes!
This is the part where I tell you what went well this week, and how I could have improved.

What went well: 
- I started off the week well, making sure I got to a fitness class on Monday
- I finally admitted to myself that one of my big barriers to weight loss is that food is my comfort item.  When I'm feeling down or stressed, that is what I turn to.  Since I tend to not keep a lot of unhealthy items in my cupboards, I don't necessarily binge on cookies and ice cream.  But I do love my carbs, and I will seek them out with the persistence of a bloodhound, when I want them. 
- Now that I've admitted it, I'm trying to come up with some ideas on how to handle this. 

Where I needed improvement:
- I let my big kitchen painting project get in the way of my fitness routine.  (Missed classes on Tuesday and today because of it.)
- Excuses are like armpits (they both stink) but it must be said: I woke up Wednesday with a cold.  While I don't feel completely horrible (thank you Dr. Gutt for these wide open sinuses!), I feel tired, achy, and irritable.  And I'm craving carbs.
- Like I said, I've had a hard, hard, time with good eating this week.  Probably didn't help that I put off grocery shopping this week, and didn't have ANY readily available healthy choices on hand for myself.
Week 1 Weight: 148 lbs.
Anyone else besides me concerned that Week 2 has Thanksgiving in it?

And now, just 'cause I'd like to end this entry on a positive's this week's favorite item:
Now, I'm off to finish up that kitchen project!  More and better pics and info on that coming soon!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I'm Saying "Help" in my Teeny-Tiniest Voice

I've been contemplating this post for weeks.  No, months.  I even thought about turning it into its own blog, just so that maybe no one would find it?  

Soo....I'm taking a deep breath......and another one......and I'm squeezing my eyes shut......and I'm just going to SAY IT:

My name is Ruth.  I like carbohydrates.  When I look in the mirror, I skip over the parts of me that aren't perfect and tell myself that my eyelashes look amazing.  I had my cholesterol checked for the first time this summer, and it was a little higher than what I imagined it would be.  I climbed a very tall mountain and ran a half marathon in the past six months, but you'd never guess that by looking at me.  I snore--loudly--even after sinus surgery.  There is a really, really cute pair of J. Crew chinos hanging in my closet that I haven't worn yet because I can't button them up.  I weigh 50 pounds more than I did when I got married.
I not only need to lose weight, I want to lose weight, and I want to gain muscle tone and strength.  I also want to develop a healthier attitude about food.  Change is hard for me.  I know from past failures that the only way for me to really be successful at this endeavor is that I am going to have to make LONG-TERM changes.  I also know from experience that I am incredibly motivated when I know people are counting on me to do my best or that they are going to be frequently checking my progress.  

That's where you come in, dear blog readers.  I'm taking you along for the ride, and I'm asking for your support.  Part of my plan for staying motivated involves submitting you a weekly progress report.  (Or submitting you TO a weekly progress report?)  With photos.  (I'm dying, literally dying of embarrassment as I type this.)  Here's my strategy and the reasoning behind it:

I'll be taking photos throughout the week of what I wear during workouts and afterwards, when I'm dressed in my regular clothes.  I've found that I tend to focus on color or fit of my clothing when I look in the mirror, but I ignore my shape and my flaws because it's less painful to ignore the things that bother me than to face them head-on.  When I do see a picture of myself, I am always surprised and horrified.  (That can't be me!  It's certainly not the girl I saw in the mirror this morning!)  On the bright side, apparently I have perfected the art of positive self-talk when I look in the mirror.  On the dark side, that kind of positive self-talk does me absolutely no good when I sit down to eat, because I tend to feed the college student with a over-active metabolism that I still see when I look in the mirror, instead of the woman who has given birth four times and now has the metabolism of a middle-aged adult.  

Documenting my appearance with photos has two interesting benefits:  a) it helps me track my progress towards my goal, and will give me visible evidence of the progress I make  b) knowing that people are going to be looking at my progress photos SHOULD MOTIVATE ME TO ACTUALLY PROGRESS!!!

I'll be posting these photos once a week on this blog.  Not only will I post the photos, but I will record the number on the scale at my weekly weigh-in, and I'll give a summary of what I did for exercise and what worked or didn't work for me that week.  {Cringe, cringe}  From what I hear, journaling is a known contributor to successful weight loss.

And where do you fit into the picture?  Well, it's up to you.  If it were up to me, I'd be most comfortable if we all just pretended Ruth wasn't trying to lose weight and then carried on with the apothecary jars and gingerbread.  But pretending hasn't helped me lose actual inches, so I don't think we should leave it up to me.  Take whatever role you want to in this, but by all means join me if you are so inclined, because misery really does love company.

I'll be linking my progress reports each week to The Pleated Poppy's "What I Wore Wednesday" series. Lyndsey, who blogs about sewing and crafting and mothering (not fashion) gives this explanation for her "What I Wore Wednesday" (WIWW) link-ups: 
 i started wiww because i needed accountability in the general appearance department as a stay/work at home mom.  i would go for days on end without leaving the house and stay in sweats or jammies all day (what was the point in getting dressed for homeschool days?).  but i started taking pictures of myself and i didn’t like what i saw, what my husband saw, or what my kids saw.  and now that i am putting in a little more effort and documenting it here, i feel better about myself, and am ready to head out of the house more often, rather than just going out in my sweats.
Lyndsey's philosophy of accountability and achieving one's personal best are exactly what I'm going for by using a weekly progress post as a motivator.  Knowing that Lyndsey's WIWW link-ups will generate hundreds of additional people checking up on me is also highly motivating. 

As you can see, I'm either very serious about this, or very narcissistic.  Take your pick!    

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."  - Confucius

I'll take my first step this Thursday.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Box of Blessings

I mentioned these little origami boxes in another post.  My then 10-year-old daughter made the one above, last Thanksgiving, using simple instructions from a library book on origami.  She used 6x6 inch squares of paper that I had, in fall-ish patterns.

The beans and boxes are part of a tradition that we adapted from my side of the family.  Every Thanksgiving, after the food has been blessed, we take turns going around the table and sharing things we are grateful for.  Everyone has a few kernels of corn or beans or candy corn or lentils (depends on what we have handy, I guess!), and they drop one into their box each time they express their gratitude for something.  We go around the table until everyone has used up all of their kernels.  I love hearing all the different things that we have to be thankful for.

On Thanksgiving 2008, that tradition was particularly poignant.  We had buried our sweet Lily just a few weeks before.  Two days after Thanksgiving, Superkid would be admitted to the hospital in preparation for open heart surgery.  The Cleverly's had recently returned to a new job and their home in Indiana, after an eighteen month absence in another city, only to have a sudden, unexpected job loss.  By Thanksgiving, Brandon had received a job offer, but wouldn't be able to start working until after Christmas.  My sister, Lisa, was under-employed at that time.  It had not been an easy year for any of us.

I don't remember the specifics of the expressions of thanks that were given that year, as we went around the table, dropping kernels of corn into our boxes.  What I do remember was the beautiful feeling that was present while we recognized how much we had been blessed, to see the evidences of how we had been upheld and supported through difficult times.  Each of us, down to the youngest child, could sense the incredible love that our Father in Heaven has for each of us, His children.

That, right there, is why I love Thanksgiving so much.  I'm so glad to have a day set aside to perform the counting of my blessings.  I'm so happy to have the reminder that, despite what the measurement of the world's yardstick may be, I am wealthy.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Whine and Dine

Ladies and....ladies, it has been a long week.  After finishing up a couple of projects at the end of last week, I looked around at the disaster that was my house and threw my hands up in despair.  Something just wasn't working (and that something was not me, because I filled the dishwasher three times on Friday alone), and something had to change.

I spent most of this week figuring out what had to change, how to change it, and changing it, but that is a story for another day, another blog post.

Today's story begins with me telling you, since Thanksgiving is around the corner and I'm in a mood to confess, that I don't make my own turkey gravy and that I really, really want a new dining room table.  And chairs.

Since we've lived in Indiana, we've celebrated every Thanksgiving with our friends, the Cleverlys (aka the Clevs), and assorted other friends and family.  It's always at my house, and Nicole and I always plan and prepare the bulk of the feast ourselves.  Often, my sister visits for Thanksgiving, and sometimes the Clevs have family visiting, and we always try to include other friends who don't have family in the area to join us.  We've become a good team when it comes to cooking a feast for a crowd.  Nicole has become quite the turkey specialist over the years, while I have attempted to specialize in pies.  (Still working on that one.)

The secret to Nicole's savory turkeys is that she brines them.  She brines them in the Williams-Sonoma Apple & Spices turkey brine.

Nicole either roasts the turkey at my house or brings it to finish cooking in my oven.  We make our final preparations for dinner while the children play and our husbands snitch appetizers. Just before dinner, Nicole and I make the gravy.....using the Williams-Sonoma Turkey Gravy Base.
Notice that Williams-Sonoma figures prominently in our Thanksgiving celebration?  Ironic, because Nicole and I are real sticklers when it comes to keeping the grocery budget low at all other times of the year.  Nicole is the queen of coupons and I make granola bars from scratch.   Believe me, we have tried to make our own brining solution and our own gravy in order to avoid the Williams-Sonoma price tag. 

We tried it, and we regretted it.  But this--this is worth it's weight in gold.  This is like the caviar of gravies.  You will want to eat this gravy by itself, with a spoon.  I'm not kidding.  I plunked down $10 per jar for this stuff without batting an eye this week.  And I bought three of them.  Two for Thanksgiving, and one for me to eat with a spoon. 

Nicole and I do not live down the street from Williams-Sonoma.  The nearest one is almost an hour away, at a swanky mall on the right side of town.  We only shop there for gravy and brine.  This year, it was my turn to make the trip to Williams-Sonoma.  Due to the fact that I don't frequent the swanky mall or Williams-Sonoma on a regular basis,  I accidentally entered the Williams-Sonoma home store, began searching for the gravy......and met my destiny.
This table.  It is the missing link to my kitchen, I swear.  Here is what it looks like in the Williams-Sonoma catalog.
Be still my heart, that table is destined for my kitchen.  It seats 12.  Granted, there are usually 16-20 at our Thanksgiving feasts, but since half of them are children, this table will do just fine.  I'm pretty sure a table for 20 won't fit in my kitchen, anyway.  It's a conventional 72 inches without the leaves.  And....
It's on *sale!
 *for $975, table only.
Ummm, did you read the fine print?  Unfortunately, that is about $900 more than what I have available to spend on a table.  But it is solid.  So very, very solid in all it's chunky painted white wood and distressed elm tabletop glory.  Believe me, I checked it out.  The Williams-Sonoma sales associate found me underneath the table, taking a good look.  She--elegant and refined as she was--seemed slightly shocked to find me down there.  I don't think the typical Williams-Sonoma customer lies on the floor beneath their products. 

Not to mention, I don't think I have spent that much money on a single piece of furniture ever before.  That kind of money is a lot of pressure for any one single object to live up to, don't you think?  I mean, I just don't think it is right for me to have to say, "Kids, come sit down for dinner, but don't touch the table!!!"  

Then again, that tabletop was a good three inches thick.  And it was already nicely distressed, so we could only improve upon that look.  There was not a single smidge of wobble in those table legs.  But that price doesn't include chairs.  And since my current dining chairs are all ready to fall apart, that is a problem.  

But Williams-Sonoma offers "In-home delivery with White Glove service".  I don't even know what White Glove service is, but I bet it's way better than what you get from the Sears Appliance delivery.  I want to experience White Glove service!

On the other hand, if I am going to shell out that kind of money for a piece of furniture, I'd better carry it around with my until my granddaughter's fight over it on my deathbed.  There are commitment issues here.  I have hardly any pictures that actually hang on my walls, because of decorating commitment issues.  

But my in-laws are coming for Thanksgiving dinner this year.  My in-laws!  And if I had this dining room table, my mother-in-law would surely think that her son and grandchildren were well-cared for by an outstanding homemaker with impeccable taste.  Right?

Now, I'm off to get some cheese to go along with my whine.  

Moral of the story?  Order your Williams-Sonoma gravy online this year.  A $6 shipping fee costs less than the $975 table you might be tempted to bring home if you go to the store. 

My Favorite Holiday

With or without the Williams-Sonoma table, I really love Thanksgiving.  

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays.  By the time I came along, my parents were set in the tradition of having the dinner at their house, so up until my 21st year, all my Thanksgiving memories took place in my own home.  My grandparents usually came--both sets--and for years and years we always had guests who were visiting the United States from other countries.

I'm not exactly sure how these invitations were issued, but my dad had quite a few contacts within our small college town.  My parents were eager to share a quintessentially American tradition with our visitors, and I believe equally eager for their children to discover first hand how big the world really was.  I don't remember everyone, but I recall meeting people from Taiwan, China, Iran, and Brazil at our Thanksgiving table.  The family we hosted from Brazil became good friends, and we shared celebrations with them for the next several years, until their father finished his doctorate and they returned to Brazil.  My siblings often brought along college roommates, and I remember enjoying so much learning about all of these people and where they came from and how they celebrated holidays in their own homes.

Since the Bionic Man and I were married 13 years ago, we've never had a chance to go home for Thanksgiving.  For some reason, we were stubbornly determined to spend our first Thanksgiving alone (newlyweds, you know), so I single-handedly prepared our feast.  I was quite proud (and pregnant).
The next year, we were living in Germany with our new baby, and that Thanksgiving was a spectacular failure.  We tried to celebrate with American friends who lived in another town.  I was supposed to bring the pies.  Guess what?  There are no pie tins in Germany.  It doesn't matter how good your homemade pastry dough is, you cannot make a pie in a rectangular pyrex baking dish.  Don't even try.  We sat in a four-hour traffic jam on the autobahn, arrived at dinner long after it was over, and brought along the most un-pielike pies in the history of pastry desserts.

After that, there was nowhere to go but up.  Luckily, we really went up the next year, when we scored an invitation from our friends (and, at that time, landlords) the Binghams.  Thanksgiving at the Binghams was truly a feast.  My mouth waters to this day as I think about it.  The turkey, the twice-baked potatoes, the seven-layer salad, Bonnie's orange rolls, and THE PIES.  Oh, the pies.  It was so good that by the time dinner was over, I looked like this:
Just kidding!  That was Justone in there, making it hard for Endeavor to fit on my lap.  And, judging by the date on that photo, that was after the Bingham's New Year's Eve dinner, which was also incomparable.  Let's face it, there is a reason Justone was my biggest baby: I partook of a good share of Bingham dinners during that preganancy.

Anywho, after that introduction to Bingham family celebrations, they couldn't have got rid of us if they had tried.  We spent the next six Thanksgivings with Uncle Morris and Aunt Bonnie....until we moved to Indiana.  It became an important tradition, one that our children looked forward to every year.  

My children were devastated when they realized that we wouldn't be able to go to the Binghams' for Thanksgiving, that first year in Indiana.  Tears were shed.  Promises were made, that their mommy would try to make all the right foods.  That year, we invited three other young families who were far from home to join us.  One of those families, the Cleverlys, have become part of our Indiana Thanksgiving tradition.  We've celebrated with them ever since, along with an assortment of other friends and any family members (like my sister, Lisa), who can make it.

Nicole Cleverly and I have tweaked our menu over the last few years, but as our sixth joint Thanksgiving approaches, we have some pretty consistent jobs.

Brines and roasts the turkey
Makes the stuffing
Brings her mother-in-law's raspberry jello salad (there are NEVER leftovers)
Plans to do the potatoes this year, too
Transports the turkey to my house and helps with the gravy
Brings the Cheescake Factory Pumpkin Cheescake
Makes the ham
Makes the rolls
Makes the sweet potatoes
Makes a few other side dishes
Makes lots of pies and desserts
Makes the fresh cranberry sauce
Hosts the dinner
Brandon and Ben, the husbands, are in charge of the dishes.  As of last year, Brandon also provides a smaller, barbequed turkey.
When my sister, Lisa, comes, she is in charge of homemade salsa and getting all the meat off the turkeys when the meal is over.  We usually have several other guests, as well, who bring along some of their family specialties, too.  It is quite a smorgasbord.
See all those plastic cups?  No one seems to mind that we keep it ultra simple, around here.  I'd rather have everyone enjoying games and conversation after dinner, than getting stuck with lots of dishes.  You can also see, from this picture, that I don't let a half painted wall keep me from inviting lots of people to my house.

Last year, I put Endeavor in charge of the place settings, and that is definitely going to become a tradition.  Trust my mini-Martha to come up with something like this:
Didn't she do a great job?  She wrapped the napkins around the utensils, with cute strips of decorative paper, and made origami boxes with our names on them out of coordinating papers.
The beans and boxes are part of a tradition that we adapted from my side of the family.  Every Thanksgiving, after the food has been blessed, we take turns going around the table and sharing things we are grateful for.  Everyone has a few kernels of corn or--in this case, beans (not sure why we used beans last year....maybe we couldn't find popcorn?)--and they drop one into their box each time they express their gratitude.  We go around the table until everyone has used up all of their kernels.  I love hearing all the different things that we have to be thankful for.

How do you celebrate Thanksgiving?  Do you have any unique traditions?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Lemon Trees

Did anyone happen to notice the foliage in the background of my faux sourdough pictures?
That, my friends, is a lemon tree.  We have two of them.  They are the only houseplants I haven't killed off.  In fact, they've survived my care for more than four years, now. 

During the colder months, they live inside as houseplants, one on each side of the dining room window.
Once the danger of frost has passed, we move them out onto our deck, where they thrive during the summer months.  Other than moving them in and out, the only other care we give them is semi-regular watering and the occasional splash of plant fertilizer.  Easy-peasy.
Why yes, those really are lemons growing on my lemon tree.  Meyer lemons, in fact, and they taste sooo much better than the ones from the store.  Have you ever had a fresh lemon?  They are wonderful.
 And yes, those really are blossoms on my lemon tree.
I may have to say that I enjoy the blossoms even more than the lemons.  Words can't do their fresh, spicy fragrance justice.  I'm always so pleased when my lemon trees bloom indoors, because the scent is absolutely heavenly, and works better than any air freshener on the market.

Despite their size, our lemon trees are pretty prolific.  They each bloom about 3 times a year, and produce quite a few lemons.  We don't have lemons available year round, since both trees tend to have lemons on them at the same time.
Those lemons are quite a conversation starter.  Our guests are usually equally astonished and delighted that we have lemon trees.

We got the idea from my parents, who, over the course of many years, have had several varieties of citrus trees in their home.  We ordered the starts for our trees through a seed catalog called Wayside Gardens.  (If you do an online search, you can find many options for ordering your own citrus trees.)  They arrived in two very small boxes, just single sticks with a few feeble blooms.  We stuck those sticks in pots, and within a month or two, there were actual lemons growing on them!  It still blows my mind. 

I'm really excited that, due to all the ripening lemons on the trees right now, it looks like I'll have plenty of homegrown lemons to use with my Thanksgiving dishes!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Faux Sourdough

The other day, my lovely friend, Maren, shared some delightful news with me (CONGRATULATIONS BRAD and MAREN!!!) and was nice enough to say that she and her husband enjoyed my whole wheat pizza recipe.  Which reminded me.....wasn't I going to do a whole series on
Whole Wheat:
It's Not Just for Breakfast


Ahem.  So, we now....after a long, long, long time....return to the second edition of
Whole Wheat:
It's Not Just for Breakfast
with one of my all-time favorite recipes.
Hold it, right there!  Don't let the fact that this is a bread recipe intimidate you.  You make it in a bread machine....and it takes a whopping five minutes to assemble the ingredients and throw them into the machine.

All you do is put these ingredients into your bread machine pan, in the order they are listed:

2/3 cup lukewarm water
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon white sugar
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole wheat flour, finely ground (for more info on that, go here)
2 cups white flour
2-1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

Once the ingredients are in the bread machine pan, put the pan in the machine and select the basic or white bread setting.  Bake according to your bread machine directions.  Check the dough after 5 minutes of initial mixing; add 1-2 tablespoons of water or flour if necessary.)

Here's the all-white variation: use 3 cups white flour (omit whole wheat) and use 2-1/4 teaspoons yeast.  Everything else stays the same.
Faux sourdough comes out of the pan looking a little more rounded than loaf shape.  It is very rustic looking.  I LOVE sourdough bread, and this is a way to get the sourdough taste without all the complications of using a sourdough starter.  The combination of vinegar and sourcream--though it may sound disgusting--really produces an authentic sourdough taste.  This recipe produces one 1.5 lb loaf.  My family of five can finish 2/3 - 3/4 of it in one meal.

I love to pop this bread into my machine a few hours before dinner, so that we have a hot loaf ready to eat.  It is the only proper accompaniment to soup.

The only downside to this recipe is that, because you make it in a bread machine, you can only make one loaf at a time.  If anyone out there knows how to adapt a bread machine recipe to a multi-loaf, baked in the oven bread recipe, please let me know!