Monday, December 21, 2009

Countdown to Christmas…

I hoped that when November was over, I could relax a little, slide through the Christmas holidays and glide into 2010. No such luck! I’m still suffering from the inability to say “no” once in a while! I try to do way too much in much too short a time. This wouldn’t be such an issue if I didn’t work full time, but I do, so lack of time is a huge issue, especially during the holidays.

As I count down the days until Christmas, I develop increasing feelings of trepidation thinking about whether there will be time to accomplish all the things on my list! The next five days are already overbooked.

On Friday, in spite of being on an official vacation day, I went into work at 6:30 in the morning to issue a big report. Then I headed out to the stores to start and finish the entire of my Christmas shopping. This was complicated because, as of last week, I “inherited” four children (4, 9, 11 and 12) who will be at the house on Christmas day. Since there is NO WAY I am having children in the house with no presents under the tree, my list was increased by four.

I’ve discovered that every boy in the world wears size 12 slim jeans. I reached this conclusion because I had to search through every pile, display and rack of jeans in two stores before finding a single, elusive pair of 12 slims. I don’t remember shopping for my kids being quite that frustrating, but I managed to finally secure all the requisite items for the four new charges; none of what I bought has been wrapped yet.

On Saturday, we made a second batch of Molasses Sugar Cookie dough and put it in the fridge. Then we made Butterscotch Bars, Lemon Bars, traditional pizzelles (anise flavor) and a batch of Lemon-Poppy Seed pizzelles.

Sunday the cook-fest continued with the actual baking of the Molasses Sugar Cookies, mixing and baking a double batch of Raisin Cookies, a double pan of Niemen-Marcus Bars, Raspberry Pizzelles, the dough for Mom’s Butter Roll Crescents, and Cinnamon Pizzelles. In a new twist, I rolled 32 of the Cinnamon Pizzelles around a wooden dowel immediately after cooking to make a form of pizzelle that can be filled.

As I write this, a double batch of Hunter’s Stew is happily cooking in a pair of crock pots for the night. I stopped cooking for three reasons. 1) I ran out of eggs. 2) I ran out of time. 3) My feet and legs hurt too much after two consecutive 12-hour days of standing in my kitchen to continue any longer.

Mom will roll out, raise and bake the rolls tomorrow while I’m at work, but there are still several items on the baking docket, including two loaves of New England Bishop’s Bread, a Cranberry-Walnut Pound Cake, Hungarian Apricot Bars, and the Apple and Pumpkin Pies.

I have not yet figured out when I’m going to wrap gifts, but I’m sure I’ll fit it in somehow…maybe after choir practice! This has to happen before my son arrives on the 23rd, because most of the gifts are in residence on the bed in the room where he will be housed for the holiday.

I also have to solidify a menu and figure out how to seat 16 people for dinner. This too will happen in good time.

I am seriously considering a vacation for Christmas next year!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Flaming Turkey Wings...Fa La La La La

Thanksgiving Day has come and gone, but I thought I might regale you with the tales of the past two weeks, starting the day before Thanksgiving. I took a vacation day to prepare and I’m very glad I did! I got up early in the morning, wrote out a few checks to stick in the mail and headed for the post office, followed by a quest for a fresh 20-pound turkey. Unfortunately, a large fresh turkey was not to be found at a reasonable price, so I settled for two 10-pounders. Once all the purchases were stashed at home, the marathon cooking started.

I began by making a huge pan of lasagna for Friday. My son and his crew were to arrive on Thursday and stay for a few days. It occurred to me that I didn’t want to serve turkey two or three days running. Never one to make anything small, I did a four-layer lasagna with tomato-basil-garlic designer noodles that I picked up at a Rossi Pasta outlet on a trek through Marietta a few months back.

Three and a half pounds of Ricotta, two pounds each of fresh-shredded Mozzarella and Parmesan and about ¾ of a gallon of Tuscan sauce that had been completely doctored to my taste, and I almost threw out my back lifting the huge pan from of the oven! An hour after assembly and cooking, the pan was cooling on the racks. It soon found its way into the freezer.

Next, I made “The Stuffing.” We’re not talking Stove-Top here, or even Pepperidge Farms bread cubes. I make “The Stuffing” from scratch, which includes drying my own bread. I set my daughter, Meredith, to the task of cutting up six cups of onions while I chopped the celery, then sautĂ©ed the results of that labor in butter. I added all the appropriate seasonings and spices and then put it in the fridge to await the annual cooking ritual.

My family would disown me if I made any other stuffing than what has become the traditional one for our family. My son practically inhales the stuff. One niece who lives out of state asked for the recipe. When I finally met her fiancĂ© (now husband), his first words to me were “So you’re Aunt Betsy of the stuffing!”

Third in line was preparation of the homemade dressing for the spinach salad. Nothing in the store quite compares to what I put together in the food processor for this dish. I whizzed it all down, poured it into a quart container and stuck it in the fridge.

After that clean up, I started the pies…two pumpkin and one apple, all with crusts from scratch. The pumpkins I made with plain canned pumpkin that I add my own spices to, so I can control the flavors. They went into the oven first. Then I rolled the dough for the apple pie while Mom peeled and sliced the apples. It was huge and loaded. I set it aside until the pumpkin pies were done.

While I was waiting, I decided to experiment. I created a variation on my mother’s sour cream coffee cake. This version was pumpkin-pecan-sour cream cake. It required the same temperature as the apple pie. So I put the apple in at 450 for 15 minutes, then cranked it down as required and put the cake in to keep it company.

This is where the fun began. As the apple pie neared completion time, I realized I was hearing noise. When I opened the oven, I discovered that the overloaded pie was leaking juice all over the bottom of the oven and it was starting to smoke. I yanked the pie out, spilling more juice, began opening doors and windows, and clicked on the exhaust fan.

The downside of this action is that the oven cooled too quickly and the cake still required another 40 minutes. I didn’t dare turn it off and clean out the oven, so I attempted to finish the cooking even with smoke pouring out of the stove.

In the end, the cake had to come out before burning on the sides, but there was at least a layer that wasn’t quite done. The flavors and the texture ended up being reminiscent of a pumpkin torte or pudding. In my opinion, I need to try it again, but the holiday tasters loved it anyway, and my son took half of it back to NJ with him when he left.

By the time I dragged the experimental cake from the jaws of death, I had been on my feet in the kitchen for almost 10 hours. Quite frankly, I thought I would never be able to stand on my feet again without pain, but fortunately I was wrong! And it’s a good thing, because I had more cooking to do the next day! To be continued….