Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The trouble with Turkey

This year I did things right. I actually, for the first time, chose a turkey that meant a fabulous Christmas dinner, one lovely second night dinner and a few leftovers. In the past, I had turkey still hanging around until well into the New Year, both too good to throw out and too turkey to keep eating.

It seems to be the trouble with turkey. It is a bird that definitely has its place. But too much at a time and lookout. People will rebel. Children will disappear when they hear about leftovers "Again?!?" Husbands will suddenly take up making dinner (hmmmm, I may be on to something here.....)

So with my little bundle of turkey leftovers, I have decided to store it away much earlier than in past years.

There are many things that you can do with turkey. It is good curried, stirfried, and of course soup. (There is a nice pot of that sitting in the cold on our deck as we speak). But my favourite thing is turkey shepherd's pie. Simple, hearty, and above all, freezable.

Easy peasey. Take some leftover turkey and cut into bite size pieces. Make sure you don't include any turkey skin in this (while it is divine on the day all hot and crunchy from the oven, it becomes a gelatinous mess once reheated).

Put the turkey cubes into an ovenproof pan. This pan is especially important as this pie's likely use will be on a rushed night when we are just wanting something substantial before we race from the house for some evening event or other.And you definitely want something you can just pop in the oven while getting things organized for your evening.

On top of the turkey cubes, ladle what is leftover from your gravy...hopefully you made enough on the day. Then I combine the mashed potatoes and the veg--any veg at this point but we typically have some brussel sprouts, which I chop, and some mashed carrots/turnips that add a nice bite--and pack that mix on top of the gravy.

Voila. Cheap, easy, hearty and ready in a hurry. And if you time it right, the kids won't stick up their noses and retreat to their rooms in a snit because you are having turkey......AGAIN!?!?! Likely sometime around February......

Happy eating!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Not another New Year's Resolution

Here's the story. We all live busy, busy lives. In fact, likely too busy. We are constantly stressed by the "doing" of our lives. And that stress  is causing us "dis"stress. Because we are so busy, we tend not to think about how we are living, eating, or relating. We are busier than ever and more disconnected than ever from the things that are really important. And companies all over the globe are tapping in to that disconnection.

One food company here in North America is trying to convince us that making mashed potatoes is too time consuming so they are offering their help in the form of pre-peeled, pre-chopped, and pre-packaged potatoes just ready for boiling water. I mean really, mashed potoatoes! In fact, the sales of heat and serve meals, what the BBC called "lazy foods" (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8572009.stm) are growing despite economic recessions.

While I don't do the pre-packaged food bit, I do have to admit, however, to taking the quick way out. I buy bread because I didn't get a loaf on the rise before leaving to work (a sum total of a 5 minute job). We pay for an extra garbage bin instead of sorting out the recycling and sending it in for free. And I admit to the buying of things that I really could have done without because I am filling some emotional need instead of some concrete need. It's just easier to consume than deal with things sometimes.

But I feel the need to change this behaviour and now seems as good a time as any. Being almost New Year's I am going to join the throngs of people making resolutions for a better life in 2011. Over 1/3 of that crowd won't see their resolve last until February. Good to know the odds going in.

So my plan is this. I'm taking the next 52 weeks to make us more self-reliant. This means more creation less consumerism. It also means getting the rest of the clan involved. Number 1 daughter has moved home to a suite in our house. She is heading to nursing school in January so will have at least two years of starving student status. Should be easy to convince her to dive right in if it preserves that miniscule budget that she will be living with. Number 2 son both works and studies at the moment. He's just recently gotten his rifle permit and a rifle so am thinking hunting season next fall will be a big bonus! Both of them will have to embrace a more self-reliant lifestyle for this to work.

The husband is another story. He works from home and is proud of the greenest commute around even though he is about as green as diesel. Being a gadget geek and firmware developer, he likes the technological edge of culture so the hook with him will be how can that technology help our little endeavor. Still, he likes  the idea of more self-reliance. He cooks, bakes, loves to see what we can grow for ourselves (though he isn't a gardener in anyone's imagination). The saving money aspect will also appeal to him.

The next 52 weeks won't be tough, they will be thoughtful. And I am going to blog about our journey. I will also include links to other blogs of like intent so that anyone interested can see the range of efforts being made by people worldwide to decrease their reliance on the consumer machine.

Will we make it to February, I hope so. Will we make it through the entire year, no idea. But is should be fun trying. And its the most positive I've felt about things in a long while. Here's to New Year's Resolutions, long may they reign.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays Everyone

This post finds me at the end of my Christmas baking marathon. Shortbread cookies, light fruit cake, Christmas puddings, butter tarts, butterscotch confetti all hide in various locations around the house waiting to be doled out over the holidays. The weather is awful mostly, blowing wind, sideways rain but for a few brief moments on the 20th/21st this month, the skies opened up so that I could see an eclipsed moon on my birthday. It is a good end to a difficult year.

Gerry has made a batch of hot buttered rum mix, and in the evening there is nothing so restorative than sitting in the half-light of the living room with the Christmas tree glowing and one of those rummy-elixirs in hand.

Friends this year have been so very important, even while they are plodding through their own life-altering changes and for this I am so very grateful. We can all only hope that 2011 will be kinder to our frayed nerves but at least we know that whatever happens, we are not alone.

To me, Christmas isn't just about a big dinner. It is about the preparation and delight in the process. This year, I found myself really engaged in the process and it was healing. Remembering the years when I merely watched these delights appear, it became clear that the stirring, cooking, baking and cooling were metaphors for our lives together. It is the work it takes to make things happen that is important. The treat is at the end but that isn't where life lies.

Making the most of what can only be called a crappy year is all that is open to us. We plod ahead, hopeful.

I know, I know. Pollyanna. But really what is left to us? We can decide to avoid life when it is awful, not learning the hard lessons. That is a half-life. Or we can gather our strength and decide to live. Christmas baking says "I am living"

I wish you all the best. I wish you the strength to bake, the strength to garden, the strength to have tea with friends, the strength to affirm life is worth the effort. And thank you for being there when I didn't have the strength.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The year without her....

I had a stunning revelation on Friday evening as I sat sipping a cup of tea and staring at the Christmas tree. I wanted a shortbread cookie.

Now this might not seem like a revelation of major proportions but it startled me. Those lovely little cookies would not appear this year like they had for the past 8 years...the time when Mom and I shared a house and all our holidays.

Before we shared this house, I had been the one tasked with preparing those things that Christmas tradition dictated. And I loved it. But I had definitely gotten out of the habit once Mom lived downstairs and she took great pride in sharing her Christmas delights with us.

When Gerry moved in and Mom discovered his love of bits and bites, those were added to our tradition and she made buckets of them. He sat contentedly eating whatever was available and I know how good his obvious enjoyment of them made her.

And now, in the beginning of the year without her, I realize that it is up to me to continue what she started.

This morning I made Christmas pudding (recipe from a long ago friend), that fantastic concoction of potatoes, carrots, candied fruits and peels, suet, spices that make your head reel, and of course those Christmas staples, butter, molasses and eggs.

I cried a bit as the smell of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves invaded the house and I mixed my biggest bowlful with my hands. Mom had always made Christmas cakes (two of which I have taken from the freezer and drenched in amaretto awaiting their debut) and my kitchen smelled just like she was there with me.n

I can see her hands, with their hereditary age spots and strong fingers, digging through the mixture making sure it all combined. In the middle of mixing the pudding, my hands are sticky and sweet, with the beginnings of those same age spots on them.

Once the bowls of fragrant pudding are in their steamers and the shortbreads are cooling on the kitchen table, I sit down and listen to Loreena McKennitt's winter album, "To Drive the Cold Winter Away". I feel my Mom next to me and am comforted by her.

I miss her terribly but know that by keeping her traditions alive, I am not without her. And I am grateful that I had the kind of mother who kept these traditions and passed them along to me. I only hope I can do the same for my children.


Marion Bates' Christmas Pudding:

4c flour
9tsp baking powder
3tsp salt
3 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ginger
1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp allspice
9 eggs
6 tbsp molasses
3 3/4 c brown sugar
3 c shredded potato
3 c shredded carrot
3 c seedless raisins
3 c currants
1 1/2 c almonds (I used sliced)
3/4 lb red cherries (the glacee kind)
3/4 lb green cherries
3 c pineapple rings
3 c suet
2 c candied peel
3 c breadcrumbs

Sift and measure flour, add spices, sift again. Add salt,baking powder, sift again, Add brown sugar. Measure raisins, currants, cherries, pineapple, nuts, suet, breadcrumbs, raw potatoes and carrots and place in a separate bowl.

Beat eggs and molasses. Mix fruit mix and egg mix alternatively into flour (use a REALLY big bowl). Fill mold (I use nice heavy ceramic bowls so when the pudding is turned out it is a nice rounded hump on the plate) 3/4 full. I line the bowls with cheesecloth but you can simply just cover each with parchment paper (tied down) or aluminum foil.

Steam 4 hours. I use my big canning pot, invert a smaller stainless steel bowl inside it and fill half way up bowl with water. Then I set the mold on top of the bowl.

Uncover to cool. Wrap to store.

When serving, put the pudding out topside down and drench with brandy, or rum, or whatever you like. Light it on fire and serve. Spectacular dessert!

When serving, I include a hard sauce or caramel sauce just to push it over the top.!

Great with a glass of homemade Port while sitting in front of the fire.