Friday, December 7, 2012

All Decorated Up for Christmas

The Captain built the train table and box that acts as
both train tunnel and tree stand
The Captain and I have been celebrating Christmas together for seventeen years – well, okay, sixteen; the first year he was still living overseas but we were definitely dating. Over those years, we’ve vacationed in many places and usually pick up a small trinket that can be used as an ornament on the tree. It has also become a tradition to purchase an ornament of a set that comes out annually. I’m the crafty type and have made fifty-some ornaments we call Christmas Balls (see photo). There are few surfaces in our house that I haven’t covered with Christmas collections, lighted greenery, ribbon, and candles.

With all this collecting and creating, you can imagine how many boxes of Christmas stuff that gets stored the eleven months between holidays. For the first five or so years, The Captain just didn’t understand this concept. He didn’t grow up in a family where keeping things was important. You move, you start fresh. Not me. There are ornaments on my parents’ tree that belonged to my dad's parents, which he thinks were his grandparents. We keep things.
My first Nativity given by my God Mother and made by her aunt 

The Boy has my “keeping” bug and always wants to be part of the tree decorating. In fact, he seems to think he is entitled to place the first ornament on not only our tree but my parents’ tree as well. In the past couple of years, it has become more important to him that he has some say in some of the decorating plans. I’ve had a bit of a hard time giving that up. It has taken years to get things just the way I like them. I even go so far as to take photos of each vignette so I can duplicate it the following year. So The Boy, being a boy, is growing up to be a typical man; therefore, not particularly creative in the ways he gives advice. For example, this year while I was placing the greenery on the desk, he walked over and handed me a plastic icicle garland. This little gem was purchased at school last year in what amounts to his teacher’s Good Will pile. She called it “Store” and the kids could purchase items with the pretend money they earned in class. I rather thought the icicle garland would look nice draped on his desk in his bedroom. He had other ideas. Some things aren’t worth arguing over.

See the icicle garland draped over the greenery? Yeah, me either... :)

Nativity given to me piece by piece over several years by my parents and a dear friend
The greatest gift my husband has ever given me arrived just last week in the form of a compliment. We had just finished two full days of putting up outdoor lights, decorating the tree, the mantle, the entertainment center, the curio, the desk, the chest, the dining room, and the hall bathroom. He collapsed into his chair and said, “Honey, the house looks beautiful. I would never be able to do this without you.” Actually, he could because of those aforementioned photos but I’m glad I was already sitting down because this took me completely by surprise. Not that I never receive compliments but The Captain is just not the demonstrative type. My point is that I guess living with me all these years, he has come to appreciate the collections enough to look past the space they take up in the garage and attic. Either that or he realizes that it’s better to enjoy it and not complain because the only way those things are going anywhere means that I am going with them. Happy wife, happy life! :)


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Stuffing the Bird... or NOT!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday: all the family time and wonderful treats, no tacky Halloween d├ęcor and the feeling you have to dress up to be someone you’re not, and NO GIFT PURCHASING PRESSURE. Hm hm. Okay, I’ve regained my composure (such as it is). In October, I promised you my cornbread stuffing recipe. Time to deliver -- but no photos unless you want to frozen version. 

Have I mentioned we have a super cute little puppy??? hm hm (sorry, she whispers)...

But first, as always, a little background. Until I was in my early twenties, my great-grandparents hosted Thanksgiving dinner at their house – for the entire family. My great-grandmother (Grandma to us, Dixie to her siblings and friends), made cornbread dressing, as she called it; cornbread stuffing as I call it – the BEST cornbread stuffing EVER! …well, minus Grandma Dixie's canned black olives… 

My mom actually taught me the recipe. The first time I remember helping her make stuffing, I was fifteen and we were living in the Philippines on Subic Bay Naval Base; it was 1984. We were in the kitchen of our townhouse on Mahogany Drive; past the golf course, through some jungle, over the little bridge, and deeper into the jungle cut out to make the tiny subdivision that encompassed our home. It was the second Thanksgiving we had spent away from family and the first time my mom made the entire meal without her family’s help. The ingredients were purchased from the base commissary and the celery was, well, not exactly fresh, as it had been shipped from Australia. (We were used to it after a year and a half.)

I’ve made only a few basic changes: one due to current lifestyle changes, one due to basic knowledge we didn’t yet have, and one due to available ingredients. Why mess with (near) perfection? But…

The original version included:
Lifestyle:                             high-sodium, canned chicken broth
Knowledge:                        raw onions and celery
Available Ingredients:         bagged croutons and traditional poultry seasoning

The newer version includes:
Lifestyle:                             low-sodium chicken stock and unsalted butter
Knowledge:                        caramelized onions and celery
Available Ingredients:         sourdough bread and natural herbs & spices

The original is delicious. Feel free to substitute the original ingredients if that’s what’s available, to your taste, and/or due to time constraints. It’s only once (or twice) a year, after all. Add other veggies, nuts, olives, spices, fruit, sausage, or even (gasp) oysters or shrimp. Have fun with it! Make it your own.

By the way, remember my October 2, 2012 post "A Tiny Little Comfort Food" ??? Yeah, well, this is where those pre-cut bread cubes will come in handy.

v DON’T feel obligated to “stuff” the turkey. This prior knowledge came in especially handy last year when we decided to BBQ the turkey outdoors (in the rain) to leave room in our single oven for side dishes

v DO buy the sourdough and bake the cornbread a day or two prior to making the stuffing

v DO make the stuffing and get it into a casserole dish(es) then in the fridge the day prior to baking

v DO understand that this recipe makes enough cornbread stuffing for an army

v DO have an oversized vessel for mixing ingredients

v DO use your God-given best tools to mix – your HANDS

v DO use your crockpot. The crock can be used in the oven earlier in the day then placed in the pot with the lid on to keep stuffing warm and moist until ready to serve. (Add a bit more stock or butter if it gets dry)

v DON’T be afraid if the mixture feels wet, it will dry out in the oven. Besides, it’s savory bread pudding; you want it moist

v DO have aluminum casserole dishes on hand (available at Costco) for the portion to go in the freezer

Micol, Loreen, and Dixie's Cornbread Stuffing
1 double recipe cornbread (recipe on Alber’s white cornmeal; omit sugar)
1 full-sized loaf good quality sourdough bread, cubed to ½ inch dice (10/2/12 post)
2 - 32 oz containers low-sodium turkey or chicken stock
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
2 boxes All Natural Bell’s Seasoning (found at Whole Foods or online)
1 bunch celery, chopped including leaves
2 large white or yellow onions, chopped
4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
salt and pepper to taste

Make cornbread using recipe on box (do NOT use sweet cornbread) and buy sourdough on Monday of Thanksgiving week so it dries out. Cut sourdough into ½ inch dice at your convenience. (Just a side note, I wait to make the cornbread until Tuesday so I don’t eat too much of it…)


In an oversized bowl or other vessel, break the cornbread up by hand into 1 to 2 inch pieces. (The following mixing will break it up further.) Add the sourdough cubes, all but 1 cup of the stock, melted butter, and seasoning.

In a large skillet, add onions to 2 Tbsp olive oil over a medium-high flame, stirring frequently. When they start to turn dark around the edges, add to the bread mixture. Place the remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil in the skillet. Add celery including leaves, stirring frequently until just softened. Add to the bread mixture.

Using a wooden spoon or wire whisk, deglaze the skillet with the remaining 1 cup of stock then add liquid to the bread mixture.

Using your hands or a large spoon, mix ingredients together. Add salt and pepper to taste. (Everything is already cooked so don't worry about tasting as you go.)

Separate into several 9"x13" casserole dishes. Cover and place in fridge what you need for tomorrow and freeze the rest for later. (I love to use it instead of pie dough on chicken pot pie. It’s also perfect to throw in the oven as a side for last-minute company.)

Thanksgiving Day bake in a preheated oven at 350°F for 45 minutes.

Merry Christmas and God’s blessings to your family!