Every now and then, I follow a recipe

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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.

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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.

And how does that make you feel?

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With December rapidly approaching, I am anticipating many social media posts about the Elf on the Shelf phenomenon. What seemingly started as an innocent way to get children to behave during the month of December has morphed into an epic competition to see which parent can get more creative with the benign holiday character.

Many blog posts and articles have been written with very strong emotion regarding this cherubic creature. Parents either love him or their contempt is so strong they hold ill feelings towards those parents who embrace his presence.  Some argue that he is the Elf on the Shelf, with a strong emphasis on the word shelf. He may stealthily maneuver his way around the house in the darkness to take refuge on another shelf, but that is his only purpose. Others, holding tightly to their innovative genes, have created a list of 101 ways the Elf can get into mischief during the night.  Spoiler alert – most of those creative ideas require extensive clean-up the following morning although I’m sure the children would be thrilled to see what mess the Elf made while they slept.

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Had my life been different and I had kids of my own, my children undoubtedly would have been in therapy either during or shortly after the Christmas holidays.  I blame my choice of reading material but my sense of entertainment tends to lean towards the macabre.  Picture Dean Koontz or Stephen King finding indecent ways of displaying the Elf and you have entered the world that my Elf would have had to endure.  There would have been crime scenes, possible Elf DNA and an abundant amount of Police tape. This is the stuff that my dreams are made of, the stuff that helps me write my books. But this is also the stuff that would have a child sitting in the waiting room of an analyst’s office at least once a week.

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For those of you able to remember to innocently and creatively display your Elf each evening after your children have fallen asleep, I applaud you. You are creating memories that your child will inevitably pass on to their children.

As for me….perhaps I will get out the Elf my brother gave me and track his bizarre habits in a journal.  CSI – Elf on the Shelf.  Hmmmm…..I may be on to something……stay tuned.

The road less traveled

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There are two certainties in my life. One – I love driving. And two – I love road trips. Yesterday, one led to another and the afternoon was one of the most enjoyable I have had in a while.

I arrived at a friend’s house and we decided to survey the rising water from the epic floods of 2019. After we passed the gushing falls close to where he lives, we continued our journey down some unknown back roads and absorbed the beauty of the un-mapped communities that are so close to the new town he now calls home. I can say un-mapped because, as we were driving, the GPS froze as we continued along the back roads and we could only navigate by roads that did not have a “dead-end” sign as a means of direction.

The sun was shining, the countryside was stunning and the company was perfect. Thankfully, we both enjoy getting “lost” on country drives and seeing what is within a stone’s throw of what everyone refers to as civilization. Rows of wind-break trees were seen lined between farms and random goats and their kids enjoyed an afternoon snack by the side of the road. It was beautiful.

There is so much to be seen beyond the boundaries of our town limits. A life line beats outside of our main streets. The road less traveled is arguably one that is filled with interesting stories and views that cannot compare to anything else you will see.

After discussing our shared interest, our journey today solidified the desire to drive Route 66. It has been on my bucket list since 1999 and almost died with the passing of my dear friend who inspired the idea. But the dream is alive and well and taking on a new life. It is certainly not the road less traveled, but it will be the road I will eventually travel. The highlight for me will be Arizona. I have not smelled that air, nor have I seen those red rocks, but those things haunt my dreams and they are something I am destined to experience.

The planning begins, and I am excited to plot the course from the here and now to the historic journey across America. And, although several points of Route 66 really are less traveled, I am already starting the journey in my head and my heart. It may take a couple of years to see this thing through, but I am all in.  I am so ready to motor West.

 

 

How 5 weeks turned into 27 days

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“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.

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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

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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.

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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.

 

Stuffing all you can into the holidays

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There is much to be said about the joy the holidays bring – or any celebration, for that matter.  Whether it be a birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas or a reunion, the ease of the conversation, the steady flow of wine, the melodic sound of laughter and the joy of being with a close-knit group of people is unrivaled. There is an undefined comfort level that allows us to become absorbed in the festivities that surround us. The fact that we can gorge ourselves and have an excuse to eat everything in sight with only a few fleeting moments of guilt is sublime.

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The molecules change in the room when family and friends get together for a holiday celebration. There is something intrinsically sacred about holidays and the memories that are created within those moments. Time has a way of strategically obliterating those precious seconds as it marches on at a frantic pace, but our shared memories have a way of stopping that clock, if only for a few moments.

Holidays are a portal. They can freeze time and create a vortex that allows us to travel back and relive certain periods in our lives. The memories wrap themselves around us like a blanket and soothe us with the warmth of the times that have engaged us and truly breathe a bit of life back into our frenzied existence.

Although many holidays have passed and are collecting dust on the books in the library of my mind, watching my brother “float” his dinner in gravy brings back a rush of nostalgia. Sadly, I was unable to be at Thanksgiving dinner this year because I had to work, but I poured enough gravy on my dinner at the lodge to make my brother proud. That is what the holidays are truly about, the personal moments that any other person would find arbitrary but, to me, define my holiday experience.

Embrace your family, enjoy the moments and get stuffed with the memories your family helps to create.  We all have so much to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.