Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Thanksgiving Cooking Experiment

I have not a single photo from Thanksgiving this year. My mind was a bit preoccupied with the menu. If I can scavenge some photos from my family I will post them. In the meantime, if you want to check out our LOVELY Thanksgiving table take a look at my sister-in-law Michelle's post on her blog regarding all of her hard work.

My November had been filled to overflowing with school, school, school and applications for graduate school and the GRE and work that I had barely a moment to breathe. But I promised myself a whole day of cooking for Thanksgiving. Since my allergy-free diet, I don't eat wheat or gluten and that was going to put a big cramp in any major dining at the table since stuffing, rolls, pie and often the turkey have gluten in them. So, I was going to create an entire Thanksgiving meal that was gluten-free.

We didn't actually have our dinner until the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend so that gave me all day Thursday to cook and bake. It was a good thing too because I needed all that time.

The menu included:

Cranberry, almond, apple spinach salad
Ground turkey and mushroom stuffing (my riff on my Grandma J's classic stuffing)
Mashed red potatoes
Pumpkin pie with almond flour crust from The Gluten-free Almond Flour Cookbook

It was a little bit insane. Mostly because every recipe but the salad and the potatoes was brand-new for me. Eeek! What was I thinking? Not to mention, I started the whole shebang out with making my own chicken stock too--another first! I needed a great chicken stock as the base for my gravy and stuffing and I had frozen several chicken bones from past roasted chickens and I decided to turn them into a chicken stock. I cobbled together a chicken stock recipe by pulling bits and pieces from some of my favorite cooks and started simmering a huge stockpot on my tiny white oven. It made enough chicken stock not only for Thanksgiving recipes but I also froze several packages of it as well to use in later recipes.

The stock turned out great and smelled so good as it simmered on the stove. It totally put me in the mood for a day of cooking and baking. Good thing too because that mood was going to get stretched a bit thin. The turkey turned out well, the salad was good, the potatoes were a bit dry b/c I didn't mix them until right before dinner and I was kind of harried at that point. The gravy, stuffing, rolls and pie were each pretty time intensive and here's why:

Gravy: I made this very, very last right before dinner was served. What I didn't realize was that I would spend about a half an hour over the stove experimenting with the thickness and trying to get it just right. I was completely bushwhacked at this point so that is likely my memory could be elongating the time it took. The consistency turned out fine but I think to kick it up a notch next time, I will add a bit more seasoning and salt in the beginning so that it zings more.

Stuffing: The stuffing actually turned out much better than I imagined and was probably the biggest success of my adventure. For the bread base, I used a mix from Pamela's that was expensive but worth every penny in the end because the bread was good and spongey and soaked up the chicken stock and flavors from the mushrooms, turkey and seasoning very well.

Rolls: The rolls were good especially for my first real attempt at rolls from scratch and using a mixture of gluten-free flours that would have quelled me with fright a few months ago. I actually ended up making two batches of these though because I needed more than a single batch and didn't realize this until they came out of the oven. Also, the texture of the rolls is a bit more biscuit-like. They were not light, airy dinner rolls so while the taste was excellent, I would prefer to find a roll that more closely mimics my idea of a soft, fluffy dinner roll.

Pumpkin pie: This recipe needed the most finessing as my crust burned on my first attempt. I tried it again and this time, I cut the baking time in half, cooked the pumpkin mixture mostly on the stove and then covered the almond flour crust with aluminum foil when I put the two together and back in the oven. This time the pumpkin pie was much better. I still need some work on perfecting that almond flour crust but all in all it was an admirable pie for another first.

So, you can see why taking photos was the last thing on my mind with all that cooking. The problem is that I need to take photos of what I am cooking though too. It helps my memory of the event and it makes it more fun to blog about too. Maybe that can be one of resolutions for the new year? Take food photos!

I took all of my food over to my parents' house for Thanksgiving where my mother served 52 people--bless her heart! I had one cousin at dinner who is gluten-free as well so she got to enjoy my food too and of course, I put it out for everyone else to taste and try as well. Michelle put together a fabulous table that stretched out to incorporate all the adults and teenagers. The nearly 20 children had their own tables that she decorated as well out in the garage.
All in all it felt like a spectacular Thanksgiving with the best people, the best food and lots of thankful hearts.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Highlights from November 2009

Again, I'm doing a short recap of the events that marked my month as most of it seemed to pass in a blur. The photos help me clarify what stood out during this month.

B's birthday. What made this day such a big deal was the fact that the little tyke had been talking about his birthday for no less than six months. He was SO EXCITED. It could not be contained.

Cissy and I driving to SLC to see the Pioneer Woman at The King's English Bookshop. We were some of the last people to get in to hear her speak and this photo was my best attempt after aiming over the heads of the crowd.

PW got done speaking around 7:30PM and Cissy and I headed across the street for dinner. We had a numbered place in line and we knew we had a long wait ahead of us. So, we got to try out this darling little bistro called The Paris. Love the name and loved the food. They serve organic and locally raised fresh foods and it was delicious. We warmed ourselves with pumpkin butternut soup and I had The Paris Salad with red d'anjou pears, goat cheese, maple-glazed pecans and a honey vinaigrette. So yummy!

This is Pioneer Woman's sister-in-law Missy who she raves about often on her site. Missy spent her time taking photos of all of us and chatting. Also, as Cissy and I were freezing outside in the line, we ran into PW's mother-in-law and spent about a half an hour talking to her about Oklahoma, ranching life and the book tour. Both women were down to earth, relaxed and happy. It was great fun to spend some time with them.

It took us three hours to get to this fateful spot of finally meeting the Pioneer Woman. Bless her heart, can you imagine what it must of been like on her side of that desk? To spend a few minutes with women and have photo after photo taken and to sign book after book? It must have been exhausting. We were so excited to meet her though and happy we had waited. I'm so glad that Cissy wanted to go too. It made for a great night for both of us and I had so much fun with her.

This is after one of our regular Sunday dinners. I call this one "The Quorum." There was something about all of those white shirts standing together laughing and teasing each other with my two nephews joining in on the fun that just squeezed my heart. My brothers are good men and I see them modeling how to be good men and good fathers to my nephews and it gives me goosebumps. Love all these boys!

Maxwell and Jorgen who are both getting so tall that they are reminding me of my brothers at this same age.

My three older brothers: Rus, Adam holding baby Liv, and Ric. Love this trio.

Papa Bear relaxing after dinner. He taught all of us his rock solid values and core goodness. I love seeing my brothers emulate those gifts.

That is just a taste of some of what made up my November. It was a month to be thankful for many things and recording it here helps me be grateful once again.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Halloween 2009

Halloween this year the weather was warm and gorgeous. Much like last year too. And with the extended time for daylight savings, we started trick or treating in the 5PM hour and still made it around most of the neighborhood before dark. That is much different than previous Halloweens where it is so freezing cold outside that we have to bundle the kids up in big jackets and then drive them around the neighborhood so they don't freeze in the pursuit of candy. I like the warm weather way so much more. Plus, it turns the neighborhood into one big circle of visiting as we run into each other and swap stories and have a chat. Sign me up for more Halloweens like this one, please!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

October 2009 Highlights

I've missed so many events the last few months. So many stories and memories that I want to remember. Here are some highlights from October 2009.

School Lunch
Cute Noah and Gaby asked me to be their visitor for lunch at school on the designated visitor day. I haven't been in a school lunch room in a really, really long time but I loved every second of hanging out with them. We saw many neighbors and friends and even cousins at lunch. Afterwards, we went to the school library with all 900 other visitors to play "Sardines" in the tiny school library that was chock full of delectable items for the book fair. We bought a few things at the book fair and I kissed everyone goodbye and went on my way. I love these kiddos!

Noah's smile cracks me up. Lunch was pizza and chocolate milk.

We found the cousins and got a photo.


My birthday this year was great. Meg and I spent the day cooking from a new cookbook she gave me and Katy and I went on a hike and then we came back to Meg's and watched an Austen movie while we gave each other foot massages. The next day we celebrated with the whole family at Sunday dinner at Ric and Tami's house.

Meggie just a few days away from delivery

Cassie and Katy on hand to celebrate

Me with baby girl

This was the chocolate cake that Meg and I made. Loved the marshmallow frosting. It was all gluten-free, made with almond flour and agave nectar. The best part was the family loved it and ate every last drop.

Baby Mac Birth

I posted my version of this story a couple of months ago. I have more photos of this event but per strict instruction, I am not allowed to post them. At one point in the birth Meg looked at me and said "These are not going on your blog!"

The one official photo shortly after we arrived a the hospital

Visit to Baby Cole and Family

We had the chance to make a quick day trip down to St. George to see Brock and Julie's new baby. It really was a quick drive with Dad's plan of leaving at 5:00AM. He drove while the rest of us slept and magically we arrived at their doorstep at 9:30AM. Then we spent the day with the family before driving home that night.

Cassie in the chair that everyone knows about who regularly drives to St. George.

Brock playing with Mason's new toy from Nana and Papa. Let's just say that Mason definitely has a buddy who liked his new toy.

Sweet baby Cole just a couple of weeks old. He was tiny! I was afraid I might break him. Luckily shortly after this trip he really caught on to the mama's milk idea and he chunked up to a delicious state of baby yumminess by the time he made his first trip to Nana's house.

Lunch for the whole crew. You can just see Mason's red shirt behind Julie as he climbed over the booth away from us. That boy does not sit still.

The Brock and Julie clan. Love our St. Georgians!

Sunday Afternoon

This was a Sunday afternoon when the kids most needed a chance to get outside and out of mama's hair so she and the new baby could rest. You can see that October was mild and beautiful, so we had ourselves a nice walk around the neighborhood.

Of course, the crowning point of the walk is to stop at the cousin's house and play for a little while. Which worked out great for me as it gave Cissy and me the chance to have a nice, leisurely chat.

And then back home to take this wee one off his mama's hands and hold and snuggle him for a blissful hour.

I had too many photos of Halloween to include them in this recap. Between birthday and new babies though, October was full of fun.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

C'est fini

Well, I did it. I submitted my application today and paid the fee. For better or worse I've done all I can do up to this moment to make this a reality and to change the course of my future. I hope it is enough.

The application date used to be January 15th, a much more sane date in my opinion. What a luxury to have all of Christmas break to finalize this process and dot every "i" and cross every "t." That date has passed by me the last four years and pinched me with a "Why are you not applying? or "When are you going to get in gear and go to graduate school?" and left me feeling a bit forlorn as I tried to determine exactly what my next step was going to be.

There is still more that needs to be done. I kept thinking once finals week was over and my application was turned in, my life would slow down. That is not to be though at least for another month or so. I am applying to two other schools, possibly taking the GRE again, finishing up some other loose ends for school, continuing my research for one of the MFT professors and then starting another semester of classes. Oh, yes, and continuing to work full-time.

Here is what has taken up my time the last few months when I wasn't at work:
  • statistics class (really turned out to be far less painful than I anticipated--big blessing)
  • research methodology class (harder and more interesting than I thought it would be)
  • GRE preparation and studying
  • review of literature for an MFT professor
  • volunteering at the state mental hospital
  • application process: statement of intent, letters of recommendation, etc.

In all of that I have missed writing here. Missed it, missed it, missed it. Writing for me is like breathing: fundamental and foundational to my life. My only real concern about committing myself fully to this graduate school path was that somehow I was turning my back on my dream of being a writer. Yet, as I tried to pursue the creative writing path professionally, I kept feeling like I was missing something. I don't feel that way anymore. I feel like the path I am on will only enhance and inform my writing since what I've always loved writing about are people, feelings and relationships. I think my writing will benefit my studies and my studies will benefit my writing.

Also, I am surprised by how much I have been able to accomplish and do this last year and especially the last four months. It has been scary, hard, overwhelming but also fun, energizing, and exhilarating. In some ways it just feels right. A friend told me the other day that I looked "serene." Really? Me? I know that I have felt a solidity and a strength in my life that hasn't been there for a long, long time. I've spent a protracted period wandering in an emotional wilderness trying to figure out my life, my contribution in the world and my purpose. I'm not sure all of those questions have been answered but I certainly feel strongly that I am making steps in the right direction. Which makes me all squishy with tears and weeping as I think of how grateful I am for everyone that has helped me along the way.

And grateful that for now, it is finished. We will see what tomorrow brings.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Joy & Gratitude

The older I get, the more I see a straight path where I want to go. If you’re going to hunt elephants, don’t get off the trail for a rabbit.-- T. Boone Pickens
I spent my undergraduate years in college with the firm belief that I needed to explore several majors before I came to a clear conclusion about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I plowed my way through English, art history, communications and then found humanities. What I loved about my humanities degree was that it did not force me to specialize in one field but allowed me to gain a breadth of knowledge in art, music, history, dance, architecture, English and languages. I was thirsty for beauty and that degree supplied me with many ways of looking at beauty.

While I'm happy with that decision, what I want now is one topic, one subject that I can pour my heart and soul into and not look back. One subject that I can dive into deeply and drink my fill. One specialization where I can hone my gifts so that I may utilize them well throughout my life.

I think I've found it.

I've had this niggling worry at the back of my mind since my first college years though that once I made a decision, I would be tied down, forced to work in one field, unable to explore other areas, hampered creatively and stifled by that decision. Now, I realize that fear was unfounded. As I have immersed myself in marriage and family therapy, I've found just the opposite: excitement, enthusiasm, greater creativity, motivation, inspiration and insight about this work that I want to do. I'm bearing many more burdens with this goal of mine and yet I'm not as emotionally taxed. I have far more on my plate but I'm making better use of my time. I have mountains of expectations and deadlines but I'm actually reaching them. All of this making for a journey that is equal parts terrifying and exhilarating.

I can't say enough about friends, mentors, advisors, teachers and family members who have helped me, blessed me, guided me in some way. From a kind neighbor/professor who edited my letter of intent just because she wanted to help me, to professors who have sat and discussed my professional goals with me, to loved ones who have prayed for me and to mentors who blew on the tiny embers of my dream and built a roaring fire of belief and confidence inside of me. I know it takes a village to raise a child but I'm coming to believe that it takes a village for a dream to reach fruition as well. What a great village!

I've ridden a roller coaster of emotions the last several weeks and hit some nose-bleed highs and some cavernous lows. And I'm having fun! I'm thinking it must be because now I'm out hunting elephants and I'm done getting sidetracked by rabbits.


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