Every now and then, I follow a recipe

3 Comments

Although I was able to attend the gift opening portion(s) of the day, I missed Christmas dinner and the family fun that followed. It seems one of my Christmas traditions is to get sick during the holidays and this year was no exception. I could have handled the sore throat and cough, but the fever did me in. I am always hot but, when I asked for a blanket on Christmas day, my brother knew I was sick. The pellet stove was cranking out some warm air, the oven was set to an ambient temperature to cook the bird and I was wearing jeans, a sweatshirt and a blanket. On a normal day under those circumstances, I would have become the victim of spontaneous combustion but I was still shivering. I left before dinner began and after a couple hours on my couch watching Christmas movies, I drifted off into a twelve-hour sleep.

The fever finally broke shortly after one o’clock today. I didn’t have a lot of energy but I knew I needed to muster what I had to spend some time in my kitchen. I had an order for an Apple Streusel Cheesecake and I had three pounds of mushrooms in my fridge waiting to be finely diced and made into my mother’s famous mushroom soup.

It’s no secret I love making soup. More often than not, I channel my father’s method of throwing a bunch of ingredients into a pot and turning it into something wonderful. I love to experiment with flavor combinations and have created an amazing Cauliflower, Pear and Blue Cheese soup that is outstanding. But I cannot “wing it” with my mom’s mushroom soup. The cocky wannabe chef in me has tried, on many occasions, to make a mushroom soup that would compare but I have fallen short every time. Today, I opened the recipe book and followed it step by step. The result is divine. Both the smell and the taste transported me back to the kitchen I knew and loved as a teenager.

(photo credit)

This weekend, I will be given the turkey carcass and whatever leftovers remain to make what I like to call Christmas Soup. Every leftover, minus the turnip, becomes a part of this delicious soup my dad used to make after our festive holiday dinners. Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, peas, gravy – all of it gets thrown in with the freshly made turkey stock to make the best turkey soup ever! There have been years when the leftovers were almost non-existent, so I made a fresh bowl of stuffing, a new pot of mashed potatoes and created a gravy so the soup would be perfect.

If my dream of having a soup truck ever comes to fruition, I am sure the only soup sold on the truck that is made from an actual recipe will be my mom’s Mushroom Soup.

Playing Santa Claus

1 Comment

This is the seventh year I have been running a toy drive at the lodge where I work. It had a humble beginning since it was a new thing for us and, for the first few years, we donated the toys we received to the Salvation Army.

For the past few years we have been donating the toys to our local Food Bank’s Christmas Drive. Families were thrilled to arrive at the food bank and realize they could also pick out some toys for their children while picking up all the ingredients for their Christmas dinner.

Over the years, not only did we receive toys but we also received monetary donations that we could use to buy toys on behalf of those who were unable to deliver to the lodge. With that money, I shopped each year and bought as many toys as I could to cover all the bases since I didn’t know if I was shopping for young children or teenagers. This year, we changed the parameters.

I went shopping yesterday armed with a list of suggested toys for each child on our list. Don’t get me wrong, shopping for the past six toy drives has been nothing short of amazing but this year my shopping had more of  a purpose. I knew I was shopping for a ten-year old boy who wanted Lego for Christmas and when he opens his gift on Christmas Day, he will have the toy he wanted. The tree may have fewer presents under it this year, but those toys will be much more meaningful to the kids opening their presents on Christmas morning.

img_6504.jpg

There is no better feeling than the pleasure that comes from helping others, and not just during the holidays. If you have ever wanted to volunteer in some way but haven’t figured out how to do it, make that your New Year’s resolution. I guarantee it will be one of the best things you ever do.

 

How 5 weeks turned into 27 days

Leave a comment

“It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.” ~ Mother Teresa

A few weeks ago, I wrote this post about my friend’s text message regarding the gift he had purchased for me for Christmas. His excitement was palpable and, more than contagious, it was consuming. I spent many hours trying to figure out what this mystery gift could be. There were a few hints, but the tidbits of information he shared about the gift only made it more difficult for me to solve the riddle.

This past Saturday, I was Christmas shopping close to his house and we had made a plan for me to stop in quickly to pick up something I had left behind during a previous visit. Once I was inside his house, the five-week waiting period came to an abrupt halt when he told me he couldn’t wait any longer for me to open my present. I was instructed to sit on the couch while he ran downstairs to collect the gift.

He presented me with an unwrapped box and eagerly watched as I opened it. He was relatively sure I did not own what was in the box, but until his suspicion was confirmed there was a chance the fire of his excitement could be extinguished. But the box contained something that was definitely not a part of my collection of kitchen gadgets. His smile can only be likened to the smile on a child’s face when they open their present from Santa to find exactly what they had asked for. But he was the one giving the gift, not receiving it.

(image credit)

I had heard the term Sous Vide and knew a bit about the cooking concept, but I had never had the good fortune of eating meat cooked to a perfect temperature, evenly across the steak, until now. I am very particular about how my steak is cooked and thought I had perfected the method at home with an extremely hot pan. I was wrong. I bought a lovely cut of beef on my way home, followed the cooking instructions for a blue rare steak and enjoyed the most tender piece of beef I have ever eaten.

To say I was touched by his thoughtfulness is an understatement. He didn’t just buy me a Christmas present, he spent a great deal of time researching this gadget online and bought a gift he knew I would love. I guess the perfect way to say thank you is to cook him the most tender Garlic Butter Prime Rib he’s ever had!

 

 

Thirty-six days of pure torture

2 Comments

I think of myself as a thoughtful gift-giver. There were a few awkward years with my nephews at Christmas that I ended up giving them gift cards, but they were always gift cards that would get well used. It may not have been as personal a gift as I would have liked, but teenagers have very specific likes and dislikes. Gift cards are perfect for those conundrums.

The old saying “it is better to give than receive” is something I believe deeply in. I get an immense thrill watching someone open a gift that I have spent a great deal of time thinking about. I love the element of surprise and the fact I try to come up with gifts that were never a blip on the receiver’s radar. I pulled off a few of those gifts this year, the most recent being a hat for my boss that is embellished with a quote from Ozark, one I will not repeat in this blog because of its profane nature but, sufficed to say, he was surprised and he loved it.

That gift-giving shoe no longer resides on my foot, for the time-being. Right now, the shoe is on another foot. I received a text message from a friend yesterday excitedly telling me they know what they are buying me for Christmas this year. That statement was followed by the line, “I’m so excited, it’s going to be the longest five weeks of my life”.

Now, I have received some lovely gifts during my lifetime, but I’ve never had anyone dangle a rabbit in front of my greyhound five weeks before I can chase it around the track! I’m dying. There are thirty-six days until Christmas and I know am going to spend countless hours during each one of those days trying to figure out what this gift could be. This is my nature – I need to solve puzzles, I need to answer riddles.

(image credit)

The next thirty-six days are going to go by at a snail’s pace and I’m sure I will receive many more text messages about this gift before the holiday is close enough to be almost tangible. There will be no hints, I know that. There will only be the endless ticking of a clock until Christmas finally arrives.

 

Boys will be boys and then they make you cry – round 2

3 Comments

He did it to me again.  My now 17-year-old nephew has created a Christmas memory that brought me to tears.  Three years ago, several months after we lost my mother, and his Nana, I wrote this post about his wonderful Christmas gesture that reduced me to a puddle once I was safely in the confines of my home.  This year, he managed to pull at my heart-strings once again, forcing me to swallow my raw emotion until I got home.

Our Christmas Eve tradition has not changed.  We all gather at the end of my brother’s driveway to watch Santa Claus cruise through the streets atop the fire truck, we go to the Christmas service at the church and then we all go home to finish up the last-minute wrapping for the big day.  This year was different.  My nephew insisted that we all go back to my brother’s house after church because he wanted to give us his Christmas gifts when we were all together.  Carefully he placed his gifts in the laps of his family and grinned from ear to ear as we tore off the paper to see what lay underneath.

Each of us received a gift that he had given great thought to and created with his own hands.  Attached to a piece of very sentimental barn-board was a piece of metal that he had carved for each of us with our last name and either our year of birth or our year of marriage.  This is my beautiful sign.

The Christmas spirit is alive and well and now resides in the heart of my nephew.  He truly felt the joy of giving.  His face was animated as he watched each of us run our fingers along the names he had carved into our signs.  He was more excited for us to receive our gifts than he was to think about what lay under the tree for him on Christmas morning.  He gets it.  He now knows that the true gift at Christmas is the one  you give and not the one you receive.

I couldn’t bring myself to tell him how much his gift meant until I had been home and had time to process my emotion.  After I shed a few tears, I texted him and told him how much his gift touched my heart.  He is coming over later today to help me put up the sign that I will look at with great pride and emotion for a very long time.

My letter to Santa this year

2 Comments

Dear Santa,

I hope this letter finds you well and feeling the joy of the season.

I have spent many hours considering what I would like for Christmas this year.  I do believe you will find my name on the nice list so I thought I would save you some time when it came to my gift.

santa's list

I want life experiences for my gift this year.  I want to sit in a room with my family and laugh until we cry because the joke is something only we would understand.  I want my brother and I to share a toast to my parents and take a moment to remember my dad waking us up at 6:00 am by cranking the Beach Boys vinyl album and my mom inevitably leaving a price tag on at least one of our gifts and then finding the last gift sometime in April because she had hidden it so well.

I want to really watch my nephews this year as they tear open their mountain of presents.  It seems like only yesterday they had no real concept of what was happening and now I’m going to blink and they will both be off to University and, soon after that, having Christmases of their own.

I want to embrace the friends I have and let them know how lucky I feel to be able to call them friends.  I want them to know how much they mean to me and how close I hold that friendship to my heart.

I want to take a quiet moment or two during the holidays and reflect on all of the wonderful things that happened to me throughout the course of the year.  And I want the words “I love you” to be a comfortable phrase that gets shared a lot, and not just during the holidays.

I know you are a busy man this time of year so I shall leave it at that.  I will be waving at you on Christmas Eve as we stand at the end of my brother’s driveway and watch you go by on the Fire Truck as I have every year since I was seven years old.

Merry Christmas Santa.

The magic of Christmas

2 Comments

Christmas, for me, doesn’t feel as magical as it used to when my parents were still alive.  My dad was the biggest kid of all and he would happily stroll through malls that were bulging at the seams with shoppers trying to find that perfect gift. He would also be on the phone at 6:00 am on Christmas morning, pulling us from our slumber to make sure we were up and ready to come over to open presents.  The Beach Boys Christmas album would be blaring in the background, as it was each Christmas morning, and he would impatiently pace around the overflowing tree until we arrived.

My mother would embrace her inner elf and make their house look like Santa’s workshop had overflowed into every room and the smell of fresh-baked cookies and other goodies always filled the air.  The dining room table, that was once filled with tins of cookies she had made for many of the local businesses, would be set to perfection with all of the festive tablecloths, napkins and candles.

Perhaps some of my Christmas spirit was taken when they left.  Maybe it also has to do with the fact that I don’t have kids of my own and my nephews are now teenagers, so the urge to feel elvish is lower on the register.  But over the last couple of years, I have been finding much more of my Christmas spirit through the annual toy drive I have run every year for the last five years.

With a stuffed Rudolph safely tucked onto my dashboard so his red nose could lead the way, we drove two cars full of toys to the Food Bank today and were able to be there to help some of the families find the perfect gifts to give to their kids on Christmas morning.  To say I am now bursting with Christmas spirit is a gross understatement.  It was so heart-warming being able to stay and see the smiles as parents got to pick out the toys they knew their kids would love.

The spirit of giving is truly what the holiday is about.  And since I have just been injected with an overdose of that spirit, I think it’s time to go home, turn the tree lights on and crank some carols by the Beach Boys.  Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!