Friday, December 30, 2011

Looking forward to the New Year.

With a pressure canner and serger, which my mother and hubby (respectively) got me for Christmas, I'm excited about learning a lot and experimenting even more this coming year.

We have plenty to look forward to on other fronts as well, what with everyone getting older and interested in so many more things.  And, of course, there's Ri's wedding to look forward to and plan.  A couple of the girls have been going shooting with Dad, and Bree is starting to spend time with him, learning how to make guns (he's a gunsmith).  One of her gifts this year was bullets. :)  And one of Ri's gifts was a beautiful recurve bow and some arrows. Everyone was in the backyard earlier, giving it a try.  Now, if we could only find that one arrow...

Oh well, plenty to look back on and be thankful for, and many, many things to look forward to.

I hope you all have a great New Year.
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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Christmas Octopus

What?  You don't have one?  Everyone needs a Christmas octopus.

This photo doesn't quite do him justice, but he realy does look like an octopus.
He came about one year when my younger brother was making ornaments with the girls out of beads and pipe cleaners.  He started stringing on the beads and adding more pipe cleaners, I think in an attempt to make a star. After a whole bunch of fiddling with it my brother made the mistake of asking the girls what they thought of all his hard work.  One of them proclaimed loudly that the only thing it looked like was an octopus.  He wasn't offened in the least.  Instead, he worked with it a bit more, shaping the head, adding a couple of red beads for eyes, and voila!, the Christmas Octopus was born.  We've had it on the tree every year since.  There's always great care taken in placing him in just the right spot.  Up front, near a red Christmas tree light (because he looks so cool lit up from behind with a red light), and on some reasonably sturdy branches, because he is a little heavy.  The only problem we have now is that all the girls want one for themselves, for their own, future Christmas trees, and my brother isn't really sure how he made the first one.  I'll have to buy him a bunch of pipe cleaners and beads and see what he can come up with.  You never know what may become a tradition for one of the girls, because if he comes up with something funny, they're sure to put it on their tree.

Everyone needs a weird holiday tradition or two.  They're great.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, celebrating the birth of our Savior, and spending some quality time with the people you love.
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Monday, December 12, 2011

How does your winter garden grow?

Mine doesn't grow as good as it could, considering I live in the South, but we do grow a couple of things.

Around mid-November we finally got around to cleaning out the raised beds and planting our garlic.
And guess what we have now?
Well, I hope it's the garlic. I seem to remember planting it in rows, but these don't seem too straight, so I'm hoping it is garlic. It looks like garlic. :)
The Khabar seems to be coming up better than the Mild French Bree and I planted.
We have a few chives left around the deck and a small bit of parsley, but if I were really industrious I'm sure we could grow more during the winter since our winters are not bad - comparatively speaking. I know we could grow greens. Most southern gardeners grow greens in the winter, but I don't like them, so I don't bother.
On another note, the houseplants are doing great.
This is the last of my Christmas cacti to bloom, and the first year this particular plant has bloomed. I never knew why it didn't bloom since it's been treated the same as the others and even sat right beside my best bloomer for years, so they always received the same light. A friend told me that they are just picky sometimes. She also told me she has a white one, and will pot a cutting of it for me. I can't wait. I've never even seen a solid white one. One of mine has white flowers that are rimmed in the hot pink, but the others are pink.

So, how does your winter garden grow?
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Saturday, December 10, 2011


Hi all!
Normally I like Blogger.  I've only had problems a few times with pictures, or for a little while when I was having trouble with the commenting. I couldn't comment on my own blog without publishing the comment under anonymous - imagine that.

Oh well, I guess we can live with a few bugs now and then.

Right now I'm having problems with my followers list. It shows on my dashboard that I have a few new ones, and I was able to visit one of their blogs before I completely lost the ability to check it, but now it's kind of stuck where it was a couple of months ago.
Normally I like to go visit the blogs my followers have, but I can't do that right now because I can't "see" you in my list, even though you are counted on my dashboard. And I've noticed you are not counted on my sidebar either - go figure.
I'm sorry.  I would love to visit - I've been to one, and would love to go back - but I can't seem to find you. 
I hope whatever bug Blogger is having will be straightened out soon.  I may see if Ri can sort it out when she has the time - for all I know it may be operator error. But she is a little busy with photography school right now, so I'll wait until she has a bit more free time before I drag her in here and ask her to tinker around.

Until then, I have tried to save the ones I can still "see", so I can check out your blogs as time permits.

P.S.  I also have to try to talk her into designing me a Christmas or winter theme for my blog. :D
If you could only see her face when I do.
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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Our Mad Hatter Tea Party

Okay - if you think raising nothing but girls means I live in a house filled with taffeta, glitter, and pink then you'd be wrong. Most of my girls hate glitter/sparkles, frufru stuff, and especially pink. I can't blame them. After the fourth girl was born I forbade everyone from buying us anything else pink. Especially anymore pink baby dresses. Yes, I know they are cute. But there's only so much pink one family can take. And since pink was never my favorite color anyway, I'm actually suprised it took me until our fourth to totally nix the pink stuff. It stands to reason then that the only one of my girls to actually like pink is T.Lynn - our fifth. She is also the one that has always liked the glittery and frufru things as well. Go figure.

So, when my girls came up with the idea to host a tea party, it couldn't possibly be the fancy pants, hats and gloves, mind-your-manners, type of tea party. No. They wanted a Mad Hatter tea party. Well, that was fine with me. Mad Hatter certainly seemed more my style than gloves and fancy manners anyway.
But it was a Mad Hatter party, so we did have to wear hats.
Here T.Lynn is modeling mine. One of our guests came with a hat that looked like a flower vase, complete with silk flowers popping out of the top. The hats were great.
We played several games. One of which was pin the hat on the hatter.
Bree is our artist.
We also played paint the roses red; divide up into two teams and then race to color paper roses and tack them on bushes that were drawn and posted on a large cork board. Another game was to find the doormice we had hidden around the living, dining, and sun rooms. We also had everyone think up names for themselves, along the lines of 'Mad Hatter', and then had everyone vote on their favorite. And in honor of the riddle the Mad Hatter says at his tea party, we encouraged each of our guests to bring a riddle to share. We also passed around a basket at the table that had slips of paper on which we had written examples of behavior you should not display at a tea party. Once everyone had choosen a slip of paper, we had them demonstrate the inappropriate behavior that was described. I started it off with slurping my tea, and T.Lynn was tickled that she pulled the slip that allowed her to swipe something off her neighbor's plate.
The menu consisted of pigs in a blanket (not pictured), ants on a log, mock turtle sandwiches, escargot roll-ups, pizza pinwheels, mousey crackers, pumkin dip, and a veggie tray with dip served in a cabbage bowl.
Pumpkin dip is so easy, and so good.
Mix together 8 oz softened cream cheese, 2c. powdered sugar, 15 oz pumpkin, 3Tbls pumpkin pie spice, and 1tsp. vannilla until creamy. Serve in a small, hollowed out pumkin, with apple chips, graham crackers, or ginger snaps. Yummm!
The pizza pinwheels were a big hit. So much so that some of my guests suggested I bring them at the next pot luck dinner for our church. I did, though I didn't bother putting them on the sticks for that, and they were a hit there as well.
These were also simple. I just used my standard bread recipe, rolled it out as if for cinnamon rolls, spread on pizza sauce, sprinkled with motzerella cheese, and laid on some pepperoni. Then I rolled it up and sliced it with a serrated knife. To put them on the stick just soak some bamboo skewers in water while you're preparing the rolls and insert the skewer through the wheel, positioned to hold the end flap in place and bake at 400 for about 15 min. Without the sticks they can be placed close together to hold them closed until they are baked. If you cook them on the sticks they must cool completely before you lift them off the pan or they'll slide down the skewer.
The mousey crackers are just too darn cute.
We cut cheese into wedges, placed them on a cracker, poked in some mini pepperoni ears (you can used cut up hot dogs in place of the mini pepperoni), and chives for tails, and then completed them with eyes and noses of black sesame seeds.
The escargot roll-ups were probably the most labor intensive (next to the large cake). They are large tortillas, spread with cream cheese, layered with butter lettuce, turkey, and cheese, then rolled up and sliced. Gerkins, cut at an angle, with chive "eyes" poked in, were secured to the rolls with a toothpick. The chives had little knots tied at the end for the eyes.
There were also plenty of sweets.
Cake, cookies, petite fours, macaroons, mini lemon bundt cakes, and meringue mushrooms.
Bree has been fascinated with macaroons lately, so that's why they were served.
They were yummy.
Some of the cookies had to say "Eat Me". You know they did.
We did have one minor catastrophe.
When moving the large, 1/2 teacup cake to the table, it fell forward. I caught it without damage to the cake, but the cupcakes and meringue cookies that were supposed to look like they were holding up the cake got a little mushed on the side it tipped toward. I repaired it the best I could, and since the meringue cookies took the biggest hit, I had to put some of the meringue mushrooms around them to fill in a bit. But it certainly wasn't as bad as it could have been.
You can just make out one of the 'hidden' mice sitting on the base underneath the cake.
The doormouse sleeping in his hole on the side of the cake was the one that tripped most people up.
I don't like fondant, so I used modeling chocolate to make the pink tablecloth under the cup at the top, the tea showing in the 1/2 teacup, and the doormouse's hole. Modeling chocolate tastes much better, and with a silicon mat made for pressing a design into fondant, you can press the design in the chocolate, which is what I did for the tablecloth. 
We didn't get a chance to get a picture of the completed table before the guests arrived, but here it is in progress. We used mismatched tea cups, saucers, sugar bowls and creamers, many of which we picked up at Goodwill for next to nothing. We also found the teacup planter we used for one of the flower arrangements at Goodwill for only $2. I was just going to have the one arrangement, but my sweet hubby had them make up a second arrangement in a very pretty teapot since we had such a long table.
We've had this pink, tea party print cloth stashed away for a long time - one of the girls (I think it was T.)had begged us to buy it when we were shopping a going-out-of-business sale at a cloth store years ago. Since we had 3 tables pushed together, I cut it in squares and used it as an accent over inexpensive vinal table covers.
We had paper lanterns and spirals hanging down, and one of the girls came up with the idea of using the bright paper we'd cut the hats from for the pin the hat on the hatter game as decorations as well. They looked so cute placed at odd angles along the wall behind the table.

We ended up making this into a sort of week-long house party. Ri's best friend came to stay with us early in the week, and another friend came the day before the tea. These two helped quiet a lot with the preparations, and then another friend stayed the night of the party as well. Getting ready for church the next morning with three extra girls wasn't as much chaos as you'd think, but we did have to take two vehicles. Thankfully, one of the girls had come in her own car so she was able to drive that to church.

It was a great time, and we all had a lot of fun.
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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Canning: Pomegranate Jelly

This has become one of my all-time favorite jellies.  I can't wait for pomegranates to come in season each fall so I can make up a batch. Out of season they are too expensive to warrant making this.  I usually try to hoard the last of what I have in the jelly cabinet so that I don't run completely out of it before they go on sale.

Pomegranate Jelly
4c. pomegranate juice
1/4c. lemon juice
1 package powdered pectin
5c. sugar

The first thing you have to do is get the arils out. The aril is the fluid filled covering around the seed. The juice around the seed is what you want. There are two methods for getting all the arils out. One is to cut open the top and then pull the pomegranate apart and fish out all the arils, and the other is to cut it open and then submerge the fruit in water before you pull it apart and fish out all the arils. I don't care what anyone tells you, the water doesn't make the arils come out any easier. It just means your standing over the sink, or have to hold your arms at an odd angle over the bowl on the table to do the work. One way or the other, you just have to pluck those little arils out on your own, so do yourself and favor and sit down in a comfortable chair because you have to do this to at least 6 pomegranates to get enough juice for the jelly. After you've gotten the arils out you can fill the bowl with water. Most of the residual white membranes will float to the top, and the arils will sink to the bottom. Fishing those arils out of the pomegranate is a great job for the kids. :)
Drain them off and then put them in a blender.
Pulse on high several times to release the juice.
I had to fill my blender twice to get enough juice.
Then pour into a jelly bag set over a bowl.
A large (8c.) batter bowl comes in handy.
If you don't have a jelly bag you can line a colander with several layers of cheesecloth and then set that over a bowl. I've used that method and it works just as well.
*Please disgregard the boxes of low sugar pectin in the picture. I use regular for this recipe, but I had to search the cabinet for it and I didn't put these away before the photo.
Next you need to let your juice sit overnight so all the sediment will settle to the bottom of the bowl. The sediment will cause your jelly to be cloudy. If you don't mind cloudy jelly, you can skip this step. If you do this though, you need to remember to start with at least 1 cup more juice than the recipe calls for because there will be quite a bit of sediment, as you can see in this picture.
Carefully skim the clear juice off the top and measure out the 4 cups you'll need for your recipe.

Now go get the canner, and everything else you'll need for canning ready, because it doesn't take long for the jelly to cook and be ready to go in the jars.
Measure out your lemon juice and sugar (in separate containers) and have them ready.
Once all your jars, lids, rings, canner, and assorted implements are ready, combine the pomegranate juice, lemon juice, and powdered pectin in a large pot. I know it doens't look like much in the bottom, but as with all jelly, it has to come to a vicious boil so you'll need the room.
Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. This has to be a full boil; one that cannot be stirred down.
Then add all the sugar at once and continue to cook, stirring constantly until it reaches that full boil again.
Begin timing when it reaches a full boil, and boil for 2 minutes.
Pull it off the heat, allow it to settle down and then skim off any foam.
 Fill your jars to within 1/4", wipe rims, place lids and rings and put in canner.
Process for 10 min. once the water in the canner reaches a boil and steam is coming out from under the lid.
 Allow the jars to sit overnight and then check the seals.
The 4 oz jar wasn't full so I didn't bother processing it. It went straight into the fridge for immediate enjoyment.
I never feel like I can take a picture that accurately depicts the beautiful color of this jelly, but I tried again anyway.
The smaller jar did a bit better.
It only looks a bit cloudy because this was the last that I was scraping out of the pot and some of it was already jellying, so some air bubble got caught in it. Trust me, it didn't affect the taste. :D

I hope you all enjoy this jelly as much as I do.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Organizing Thanksgiving Dinner

Per a friend's request, I'm going to detail how to organize a large dinner if you are doing all the cooking.  Most families have large dinners pot luck style, or some assign dishes for each person/family to bring so they don't end up with 11 bowls of corn, but on occasion you have a very large dinner where all the cooking is done by one person or family. That's how it's done for my mom's side of the family. I/we have done all the cooking for that Thanksgiving, which happens to be our largest, for the past 14 years. Trust me when I say that all the planning, shopping, and the cooking for two days is easier than trying to get everyone in my family on the same page, or in the same place at anywhere near the same time. At least if I do it all I can eat when I want.
WARNING - this may seem very long and involved, and I guess it sort of is, but once you get to doing it, many parts of it become second nature and it gets much easier to bring it all together. It just sounds daunting when you have to spell it all out in detail.
I will add that this has become increasingly easier over the years since the girls have gotten old enough to help with the cooking, and we have purchased things like a roaster oven, two large crockpots and a large, 3 pot buffet server that have made getting it all cooked, and staying warm much easier. But it can be done without all that if you keep the menu fairly simple. Also, even if you don't have those things you may know people who do that would be glad to loan them to you. Maybe even someone who's planning on being at your dinner. And include those kids. My kids earliest jobs were peeling potatoes and scrubbing sweet potatoes and wrapping them in foil. They can also open cans, or pakages of frozen veggies and get those in the proper pots, fill the deviled eggs or help set up the extra seating or buffet line, or set the table if it's small enough to be a regular sit-down meal. As they get older you can teach them how to make certain foods during the course of the year and then let that be their job the next Thanksgiving. They love being able to tell everyone which dishes they made. The last thing to keep in mind is oven and stove top capacity. Like I said before, I have many items that make that less of an issue now, but when I didn't I cooked a smaller variety of food and had my mom bring the ham. I couldn't fit both the turkey and a ham in the oven, even though I needed both in order to serve so many, and I could trust my mom to get the ham there on time.

With all that said, on to the timeline.

I actually start several weeks in advance. I make a large batch of chicken stock (it's used in a couple of dishes) if I'm running low, and I start buying things that will keep in the pantry or freezer. It's much easier on your budget if you add a few things at a time during your regular grocery shopping. The week before the dinner I sit down with the menu and any recipe that I will be using and make out a grocery list of anything that I don't already have on hand. I go through each and every ingredient in every recipe and double check the freezer, fridge, pantry, and spice cabinet. Remember to keep a count on those ingredients. If several of your recipes call for butter or eggs, don't just put butter and eggs on your grocery list. Count up how much you will need, add in some extra, "just in case", and then put the number of boxes of butter or how many dozen eggs you'll need on your list. And though you may not think about it because you don't actually need a recipe for things like mashed potatoes, those need butter, or cream cheese, or cream, or whatever you put in them and those items will have to be included in the count as well. Butter is one of those things I start buying in advance because it can be frozen. I also let everyone in the house know about any ingredients that I'll need so they don't disappear over the course of the week. Finally, I pick which day I need to do the shopping. If you're getting a fresh bird, you don't want to keep it in the fridge for more than a few days. If you're getting a frozen one you can shop a bit earlier, but keep in mind the shelf life of any dairy or produce that you may be using. Then you start preparing your game plan for baking the day before and cooking the day of the dinner.
Game plan? Yes - most definately. The best way to manage it all is to sit down and make out an hour by hour list of everything that needs to be cooked. My list actually breaks it down into no less than 30 and sometimes 15 min increments for particulary busy portions of the day. Start by deciding how long everything needs to cook. Then, taking into account when you plan on serving, count backward, remembering to factor in things like rest time before carving the turkey, and the actual carving time. If you want to serve at 1:00, and your turkey will need to cook for 2 hrs., you need to start it around 10:15. 2 hr cook time, 20-30 min rest time, approx. 15 min to carve. = 2hrs 45min. If you want, you can factor in a little cushion time, that is, add up to an addtional 1/2 hr, just in case your turkey ends up needing a little extra time. Personally, I don't do this - if it happens, I just tell everyone they have to wait a bit because the turkey's not done. They may offer up a few (usually good-natured) protests, but you can tell them how close the nearest McDonald's is if they don't feel they can wait. :D I may have to beat shoo foragers out of the kitchen, but no-one has ever left, or even been angry because of it. Hey, if you're doing all the cooking, the least they can do is be graceful about a little delay. Do this for everything you're cooking, plotting out exactly when each thing needs to be started in order to be done on time. Don't forget to add in things like prep time. When able, fit prep time for things into cooking times for other things. As and example; it only takes about 30-40min for the stuffing to bake, so it doesn't need to go in until sometime nearer the end, but it can be prepared much earlier and left to sit until time to put it in the oven - of course, this is if you do it in a casserole dish instead of in the turkey (please don't do it in the turkey - that's just gross, and more likely to cause salmonella poisoning -okay, nuff said). Likewise, potatoes can be peeled, washed, chopped, and left to sit in their pot, covered with water until it's time to start them. You can do those things while the turkey cooks, or sometimes even before it goes in. Finally, think about things like setting up an area to eat, or getting everything on the buffet line. Our food is served buffet style. The kitchen counters are U shaped, so the regular food is all served in the kitchen. It starts beside the coffee maker and works around to the fridge, going right across the stove. Since I don't have to take it far, I only have to factor in a few minutes for getting the plates, utensils and napkins in place and serving spoons in the dishes. We do have to set up tables in the garage though so that everyone has a place to eat. We also set up the desserts and the drink table out there. Time has to be set aside to set all that up, but it's usually done well in advance of serving. So, now you have your ingredients, you have all the paper products, and you have your game plan stuck to the front of the refrigerator, along with a pencil somewhere nearby in order to check things off (somewhere as in the top of the fridge, where only your 6ft teenageer can see it - if you don't do this, your pencil will walk off). Now, get plenty of rest this week - you're going to be exhausted by Saturday evening.

Here's a practical example of what we generally do, and just did this past Friday and Saturday for our big dinner.
Ham                                          Apple Pie
Turkey                                       Lemon Meringue Pie
Stuffing                                      Sweet Potato Pie
Gravy                                        Pumpkin Cheese Pie
Cranberry Sauce                        Chocolate Pie                     
Pinto Beans                                Lemon Pound Cake
Mashed Potatoes                       Chocolate Pistachio Cake
Baked Sweet Potatoes               Carrot Cake w/ Cream Cheese Icing     
Macaroni and Cheese                 Pumpkin Roll     
Green Beans w/ New Potatoes    Brownies
Lima Beans                                 Brown Sugar Brownies
Deviled Eggs
Olive, Pickles, Baby Carrots        Sweet Tea
Biscuts                                         Unsweet Tea (brought by a guest)
Cornbread                                   Assorted Soft Drinks (brought by guest)

I don't really map out every hour for Friday, I just think about/jot down everything that can be prepared the day before so that Saturday runs much smoother. I don't serve any dessert that requires last minute preparation or cooking, so I make all my desserts on Friday. We also make the cranberry sauce , deviled eggs, and at least 2 gallons of sweet tea, put the pinto beans on to soak, and prepare the brine and get the turkey in it. The first thing you should do is lay out any ingredients that need to come to room temperature. Baking usually requires butter and cream cheese to be soft and many cake recipes tell you to have other ingredients like milk, sour cream or eggs at room temp., so go ahead and get them out to warm. Since I only have one 9"x13" pan, and we do two batches of brownies, the first thing I cook is a batch of brownies. They cut with much less mess when they are completely cooled, so cooking one first means that they'll have time to cool properly before you need the pan for the second batch. While they are cooking I get my pie shells out to thaw.  Yes, I use premade, frozen pie shells for this dinner - hey, everything else is homemade,  this one convience won't hurt anyone. I also put the eggs on to boil for the deviled eggs and scrub and wrap the sweet potatoes that I'll need for the pie. I slip those in the oven as soon as they are wrapped and ready (before the brownies are done). They'll cook while other things are coming in and out of the oven. When the brownies are done, I begin cooking the pie shells that need to be completely pre-baked (remember to prick those crusts with a fork). I even cook the ones for the apple and sweet potato pie for a few min., just to keep the crust from getting soggy under all the filling. While those are in, I make up the next cake or pie, usually trying to get a couple of things that require the same baking temperature in at the same time. When there is something in the oven that takes a good while to bake, like a pound cake, which requires at least an hour, I can make the chocolate pies because the filling is cooked on the stove top. We can also get the cranberry sauce prepared since that's done on the stove too. Using the actual bake time of one thing to prepare others keeps everything moving along. Just remember that anything that uses levening should not sit for very long before going in to bake. There are plenty of other things to do though, like deviling the eggs, making the sauce, mashing the sweet potatoes (for the pie), or even washing up some of the dishes, then when something is ready, or just about ready to come out of the oven, you can mix up the next item. Just don't get too harried. Remember, nothing will be served tonight. You're just doing all this today so that you will have less to do the next day. Try to relax - you probably won't be able to tomorrow.

Saturday - dinner @ 1:00
7:00am - Start pintos.
*When I used to have to do all the cooking I'd make sure I already had my shower and everything else done before this so that I could use the whole day for cooking. Now that the kids can cook, I start the beans and then let someone else keep an eye on them while I go take a shower and get ready.*
After the beans are started, feed the crew breakfast, make sure they are all dressed and ready, etc.
8:00 - 9:20 - Go ahead and start peeling the white potatoes (cover them in water once they are cubed), scrub and wrap the sweet potatoes in foil, get out your crock pot(s), and set up any buffet servers you may have. Other examples of things you could potentially do during this time would be chop onions or other veggies, prepare any cold plate, unwrap the paper products, prep the coffee maker, or fill the butter dishes, salt and pepper shakers and the sugar bowl, and get them in place. Preheat your oven. Put water on to heat for the macaroni noodles.
9:20 - Get your roaster pan ready and get the turkey out. I use roasting bags to cook my turkey, so I get that out and get the flour in it. Then, since I brine our turkeys, I bring the turkey in and get it rinsed off and in the bag. Remember to keep and eye on the beans. Check your list.
9:30 - Start the turkey (ours was pretty big, so it needed at least 2 1/2hrs. They do cook quicker in the bags.)
Then make the macaroni and get it in the crock pot. I just prepare it plain for this dinner - no bacon.
10:00 - Put the turkey necks on to boil (for the turkey gravy - I really prefer to use smoked turkey necks; it makes a great gravy).
Check that the chicken stock was completely thawed in the refigerator and if not, put it in a pot to melt.
Remember to keep an eye on the beans.
Put ham in the second crock pot. It can be turned to warm once it's cooked.
If any of the above suggestions haven't been done, work on those, or set up the eating area and start putting out any desserts that don't require refrigeration. Set up drink table.Check your list!
10:30 - Put in sweet potatoes (I choose small ones because the larger ones just get cut in half anyway, and they cook quicker. I place the wrapped potatoes in a shallow baking dish and slide them in under the turkey, on the lowest rack.) 
Prepare the stuffing. For me this includes time for frying bacon and onions to mix in with the stuffing. Have it ready to go in the oven as soon as the potatoes are done. Get the corn, lima beans and green beans in the buffet server and get the lima beans cooking. The limas take longer to cook and the buffet server won't bring things to a boil as quickly as the stove, so I keep this in mind. If I didn't have the server I would jockey pots around on the stove. I've also used the rice cooker to cook veggies before. Just keep an eye on the water level. Mix the shortening or lard into the self-rising flour for your biscuts. Get your baskets ready for the biscuts and cornbread. Check your pintos!
This is a good time to double check your check list. Anything else that can be done in advance should be done.
11:30 - Start boiling potatoes. We fix a really big pot of potatoes (about 10lbs), so it takes quite awhile to get it boiling.
Start the corn and green beans. They can be held on warm once they are heated through.
11:45 - Grab your biscut flour (with the shortening already in it), add the buttermilk and start forming your biscuts. You'll need a little extra time to do this because you'll keep having to stop to check other things.
Check your list!
12:00 - Pull turkey necks out so the meat can be picked off the bones.
I have to admit that someone else (a dear friend of the familiy, who always shows up and hour early to help) has always done this for me.
Pull the sweet potatoes out of the oven and put in the stuffing.
Pintos are done - just keep them warm.
Finish any last minute set up - ex: put the plates, napkins, and utensils out and bring the deviled eggs, cranberry sauce, and the pickle, olive, and baby carrot plate out of the fridge.
12:15 - Turkey comes out and a pan of biscuts goes in.
12:25 - Mix a batch of cornbread
12:30 - Stuffing comes out and cornbread goes in.
Start the rue for your gravy and have a strong man take that extra large stock pot of potatoes to the sink and pour them into a strainer (or two strainers). Save some of the potato water! Pour the potatoes back in the pot. Keep an eye on the rue (better not have your stove on very high) and throw some butter and cream cheese in with the potatoes to start melting. Add your turkey neck stock and chicken stock to your rue to form the gravy. When the consistency is right, add the meat from your turkey necks.
12:45 - Hunt down your older brother so he can carve the turkey. Of course he may be one of the ones you've been trying to kick out of the kitchen for the last 20 min., so that might not be hard. In my case, hunt down means holler, because I'm busy making the gravy. Check biscuts because they're probably done, and get them in the serving basket.
Mash the potatoes and grab any handy person (there will be many vultures in the immediate vicinity) to remove covers and place spoons/tongs in dishes.
Take cornbread out and get it in it's basket.
1:00 - If everything went well (and yes, sometimes it does :D) hunt down your husband so he can ask the blessing. This may literally require hunting.
1:02 - Run interception in the buffet line
Grandma first, then all the littles (who can't hold their own plates) with their parent, or another, older relative next, then everyone else.
Once you know no one is actually going to get hurt in the fracas that has become the buffet line, jump in front of one of your own kids who has made it near the front of the line.

Now go enjoy the meal and make other people clean up.

You may note that I did not include any dish washing time into this, but never fear; constant dish washing is mandatory. I usually try to keep things washed up as I go, but the last hour or so is always so busy I never actually have time to wash any dishes myself. The aforementioned, dear family friend has always stepped in to help during that last hour and keeps the dishes washed up, and now that my kids are older, there is always someone who can be called in for that task.

I think that's all. At least, I hope that's all. It makes me tired just looking at it all.

Meal will serve 25-30, or 6 teenagers.
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Monday, November 21, 2011

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

In honor of Thanksgiving, I thought I'd post a recipe that we have come to love serving at our big dinner. I know everyone pictures the canned stuff when they think of cranberry sauce, but I think if you ever had the homemade, you'd never go back. I don't know where Ri got the recipe, but I never liked cranberry sauce until the first year she made this. Just the smell of it cooking made me want to try it.

Cranberry Sauce
1c. sugar
1c. water
1 (12oz) pkg. fresh cranberries, rinsed and drained
1/2tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2tsp. grated orange peel

Mix sugar and water in medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add cranberries, cinnamon, and orange peel: return to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer approx. 10 min. or until cranberries burst and sauce begins to thicken, stirring occasionally. Pour into a casserole dish, cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

I wish I had a finished picture, but we always fix it the day before, while we're doing all our other baking, and trying to get a final picture kind of got lost in the shuffle.

This is so easy to make and tastes so amazing you should really give it a try.
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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Blue Ridge Parkway

As promised, here are the pictures we took of our trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway last month.
Hey - what is a group of fall pictures without pumpkins?
There were several pumpkin patches, some much larger, but this one was the easiest to stop, dart off the parkway for a moment, and get pictures.
This was one of the better scenic overlooks.
There was a picnic area, where we had our lunch, and and observation tower.
The tower offered some terrific views.
This was taken early in our trip, well before we stopped for lunch and the pictures above.
We were still 'reasonably' close to Pilot Mountain.
I've always thought it looked like someone used a huge ice-cream scoop to scoop some out of the top and plop it over on the side. My OCD makes me wish I could flip that knob over into the dip and smooth it out.
This was taken quite a bit later.
The tallest peak in this picture, just off center to the right, is Pilot Mountain.
Unfortunately, some of the best photo ops were not where the scenic overlooks are.
The popularity of a couple of vistas has worn some decent parking areas into a couple of places though.
This was one where a few cars could pull off across the road from the view. Thankfully, the speed limit on the Parkway is 45mph, and most people drive even slower past the parts with good views, because we were standing at/on a stone retaining wall, a few feet from the road.
Same place. Ri had zoomed in for the picture above.
In other places there just wasn't a good place to stop, so if there wasn't any traffic behind us, we stopped right on the road and Ri took pictures out the van window.
Pilot Mountain is in this one too - way in the back, on the right side.
This was another such picture.
And another. I love this shot.
You should click on it to really appreciate all the beautiful colors.

It got to where I'd hit the brakes (if there wasn't anyone behind me), have Ri hurry up and snap photos while the younger girls were on lookout for traffic coming up behind us (my rearview mirror didn't always have the best view), and then take off when the girls started hollering, "Go, go, go!!!"
At one point I passed the view too quickly, slammed on the brakes, put it in reverse, had Ri, take a couple of pictures and then took off again as soon as someone came around the curve behind me while the girls yelled, "Hit the gas!!!" Perhaps it wasn't the best example of how you should drive, but it was a lot of fun, and we were never in danger. I'm sure glad we went up on a weekday; the Parkway was practically deserted. We'd have never been able to get away with that during busy weekend traffic.

And we couldn't resist a picture of this, taken on the way home.
From the do-it-yourself, camouflage paint job on the truck (you can just make it out if you click on the picture), to the barely contained, porta-john cargo, you just gotta love red-neck country. You'd also love the irony if you could hear my thick-as-molasses accent accuse someone else of being a red-neck. :D
BTW - There's Pilot Mountain again in the background.

I hope you enjoyed the pictures. We sure enjoyed our trip up to take them.   

*All photos are property of my lovely daughter, Ri.                              
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