Category Archives: cooking

Thanksgiving is over—onward to Christmas

IMG_7065Thanksgiving is over, and thanks to the snowstorm, how hectic it was. No power for twelve hours and a foot of heavy snow to shovel and throw on Thanksgiving morning. As I mentioned in a previous post, thank goodness Shannon was hosting this year.  After clean up, Clif and I were ready for a nap. We, of course, resisted the impulse and headed to South Portland in a timely manner.

But, our two travelers—our daughter Dee and Mike’s sister, Liz—made it safely to Maine. The table was lovely, the food was tasty, and the three dogs were good. (Shannon wisely bought the dogs big crunchy bones, which they got just before dinner. Those bones pretty much kept the dogs occupied for the entire meal.)

Now on to Christmas. My shopping is almost done, which is the way I like it. I hate running around at the last minute, trying to think of gifts for my family. Much better to plan ahead of time. The season is more enjoyable, and it is also better for the budget.

That leaves decorating and menu planning. Although I have a collection of Santas that I always display, I like to decorate primarily with greens and other natural items. Yesterday, in the woods by our house, I collected winter berries and bittersweet for the outside pots. Today, the dog and I will head into the woods to collect pine branches. The weather isn’t supposed to be good tomorrow, but the branches will be stored in our little shed, and they, along with the bittersweet and winter berries, will keep until the weather allows me to use them. (I like arranging the pots outside.)

For inside, pine branches and cranberries in vases are simple and pretty. I’ll have to make more than one trip into the woods for the branches, and this will please the dog.

As for cooking…I am not one who enjoys making lists, but I find I must do so for my Christmas cooking. There’s just too much for me to keep it straight without a list. This weekend, I’ll be making apple crisp for a dinner we’ve been invited to, and some kind of special muffin for friends who are coming over on Sunday. Next weekend, different friends are coming over for cheddar cheese soup, a holiday favorite in our house.

Add ice cream pies, gingersnaps, thumb print cookies, pie dough knots, peanut butter balls, and perhaps some toffee bars to the list. And yeast bread and pumpkin bread to freeze ahead.

No wonder I need a list.

Thanksgiving approaches and so does the storm

Early afternoon at the little house in the big woods.  It is snowing. The storm started, ever so slowly, when the dog and I were on our walk, and by the time we came home, Liam’s back was wet with snow.

As far as preparations go, everything is right on track. The green bean casserole, minus the butter-crumb topping, is ready. (The butter-crumb topping will be sprinkled on top just before the casserole goes in the oven.)

Green bean casserole, made with Farmer Kev's frozen beans
Green bean casserole, made with Farmer Kev’s frozen beans

The sweet potato casserole—complete with a brown sugar, butter, flour, and nut topping—is ready.

IMG_7032

And so is the gravy, cold and solid now from having been in the refrigerator. But it will heat up to a lovely consistency, and how nice to have this piece of Thanksgiving done ahead of time.

IMG_7030

To further add to Thanksgiving convenience, Shannon has borrowed an electric roaster, which she will use for the turkey, thus freeing the oven for the various casseroles and dishes that need to stay warm. I’m not sure it would be worthwhile to buy an electric roaster—most meals during the year don’t include so many different side dishes—but the roaster certainly makes life easier on Thanksgiving.

I have several more items on my to-do list: make homemade bread, vaccuum the house, and make peanut butter balls—Clif will help with these when he gets home. Have I planned too much? I usually do.

Finally, Dee was unable to change her travel plans. She anticipates no problems on the train from New York to Boston. The touchy part will be with the bus from Boston to Portland.  To hedge her bets, she’s booked a seat on the Downeaster, which for some crazy reason doesn’t offer any trains between 5:40 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. What’s up with that?

Now, if only Dee can make it safely to Maine.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and I hope those who are traveling reach their destinations safely.

 

The Pumpkin Bread Debacle

Last week, I baked two of Farmer Kev’s pie pumpkins, which made the richest, sweetest mash that I have ever tasted. Part of the mash went into a soup—thanks, Beth Clark, for the recipe—and the rest was saved for pumpkin bread.

The pumpkin bread unexpectedly turned out to be quite a project.  I started last Friday, with everything at the ready and just enough sugar for the bread. (You can be sure sugar was on my grocery list.) I creamed the shortening and sugar, and as I cracked the first egg into the mixture, I noticed that the yolk was gelatinous, sticking to the shell.

“Oh, oh,” I muttered, sniffing the shell.

Sure enough, there was a slightly sour smell, and I saw a pin-prick hole at one end of the shell.

I surveyed the sugar, shortening, and bad egg, and for one crazy moment, I considered scooping the egg out of the mixture. Right. Eggs—even a bad one—ooze into everything, making it impossible to scoop them out entirely. I would have to get rid of the whole mess, which I did by throwing it into the woods. (Last time I looked, the creamed mixture was still there. No animal has wanted to touch it. Clever creatures!)

There was not enough sugar for another batch of pumpkin bread, which meant there was nothing that could be done until the next day, when I would buy more sugar.

This I did, thus beginning batch two on Saturday afternoon. You can be sure that this time each egg—the recipe calls for four—was cracked into a little bowl so that I could sniff and examine it before dumping into it the creamed mixture. Naturally, all the eggs were good, and the batter went together without a hitch.

Next there were the bread pans to consider. Last year, the pumpkin bread stuck to the pans, but I’ve been making yeast bread with those same pans, and there is never a problem. I figured last year I hadn’t done a good enough job greasing the pans, and for this batch of pumpkin bread, I spent extra time greasing the pans.

Unfortunately, the pumpkin bread again stuck to the pans—both loaves did this—shearing off the bottom of each loaf of bread. The loaves look a little clipped, but they are edible. (Clif and I ate the parts stuck to the pan.)

“Once the loaves are sliced no one will notice,” Clif said.

True enough. But how irritating, especially after the rotten egg incident.

“I think the nonstick surface of the bread pans has worn out,” Clif said. “And yeast bread dough is not as sticky as pumpkin bread.”

Clif is probably right. “We should buy some new pans,” he added.

Not so fast. I don’t like getting rid of things wily-nilly, and I’m going to give those pans one more try when I make pumpkin bread for Christmas. I’ll line them with either parchment paper or waxed paper. (I remember my mother lining pans with waxed paper.) If that doesn’t work, then out with those pans.

Now, onward to the gravy. Yesterday, I cooked the chicken legs and made the stock, which is very tasty indeed. Today, I’ll thicken it with flour and butter, and pop the gravy into the freezer.

Out the gravy will come on Thursday morning, ready for the big meal in the afternoon. And I’ll be sure to cut the pumpkin bread in small slices so that nobody will notice the sheared bottoms.