Saturday, December 26, 2009

Brining the Bird, or, as it turned out:

My goose was cooked.

Well, this was a new experience for me and one that will go down in the annals of holiday memories that REALLY STAND OUT.

This fall, I read an article about a process called brining, wherein you boil up a heavily salted liquid concoction that contains many different flavorings and variables, and proceed to soak the turkey in said concoction overnight.

This brine will turn that dry bird into a juicy, aromatic, savory turkey and make the cook achieve rock star status in the minds of her guests. Mind you, the article did not promise any of this, but I could read between the lines. The dirty little secret among homemakers is that we crave fame and honor now among family, our children's friends, and the neighborhood in general, and after death, we wish to become legends. We will search high and low for some esoteric ingredient, stay up till all hours of the night, spend way too much money on sewing and crafting supplies, and put ourselves through rigors that would cause a Navy Seal to ask for a desk job, all to achieve a bit of praise now, and to ensure that years after we are gone someone will be reminiscing about the wonderful way we cooked this, or baked that, or did things this way and it was the best way.

Usually these efforts backfire, at least for me, and often people end up remembering something else, something that makes them laugh out loud. Like when my formerly widowed father brought his new wife to my house for Easter dinner, and after preparing a repast fit for royalty, making the house presentable and the children looking adorable, all my new stepmother could remember was that at 3 pm when they rang the bell, I answered the door in my pajamas.

Oh come on, what about the glorious ham, the homemade manicotti? Long forgotten, I assure you. She laughs every time she tells that story, which is quite often.

So when I read about this brining technique, I thought about it, and about how a 22 pound turkey is not the easiest thing to maneuver around, and how it would require extra steps and extra work on top of a whole lot of work already, and in spite of that, or probably because of that, I decided to GO FOR IT!

I will spare you the details of how it happened, but suffice it to say that a couple of hours later, in attempting to reposition the baking bag holding the 22 lb. bird and two gallons of salty, sugary, fruit-floating liquid, the turkey and the broken bag ended up in my lap, and from my waist down to my shoes, and over the river and through the woods and under the refrigerator, went the brine.

Well, things could have been worse, and almost were. I ran into the bathroom and took off my jeans (now pickled pants), leaving me presentable from the front because I was wearing a bib apron, but quite an unwelcome sight from the back. Which is the part that was facing my adult son's bedroom door. And he was in there. And thank God, I realized it before he opened the door to the sight of the ol' harvest moon clad in tighty whities, rising there in the doorway. He never would have gotten over that, and I am not sure what the trauma would have done to him.

Now a sensible person would dissolve into tears, leave the whole mess, get tidied up and go Christmas shopping, but not me. I did tidy up, but went straight back at it, finally getting bird, brine, fruit et al into a 20 quart stock pot, and even made it fit into the fridge, and you know what? That was some tasty turkey. And this story, well, it may just be the stuff (or stuffing) of legends.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Well, Papa has been with us for almost two weeks, and I have yet to finish wrapping and maybe even need to do more shopping, but I have been baking the last two days. I have made so far:

4 batches dark fruit cake
regular rice krispie treats
peanut butter rice krispie treats
peppermint meltaway cookies
chocolate rum balls
Christmas cutout sugar cookies

I would like to make pignoli (pine nut cookies made with almond paste), pumpkin pie (a request from one of our sons), and Buche De Noel (which is the traditional French yule log cake). Also, once again, I would like to make this special Christmas Eve pastry that was particular to the local area where my grandmother grew up (Alvignana, Italy). I have never been able to duplicate it yet, but will give it another go, Lord willing. It must be eaten up on Christmas Eve because it is only really wonderful when it is freshly made.

Jr. gave his dad the early Christmas present of, you guessed it, a new recliner chair. He is very happy, and even happy with my rearranging the family room (taking the ugly, L-shaped couch out and putting a single white one in there instead).

The turkey for Christmas Day is thawing in a cooler on the front porch, the baccala is soaking for Christmas Eve, and I think I will not need to get any thing else from the grocery store.

The house cleaning, however, must be attacked with a vengeance tomorrow.

It is frosty cold here, thank you Lord! And I hope to get some pics up with the help of my youngest, who likes to take a lot of pictures, and knows how to load em up on here. Time to get under the snuggly covers, say my prayers and think about frost, frosting, and other lovely things.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Solace of Silence

I am up in my room, and outside my windows the night is a gentle, velvet, midnight blue. There is peace on this night in December, and I begin to feel a calm, recollected quietness building within me. This is the time of Advent, where we wait and watch for the Lord. In order to do this we must be silent, so that we may not miss what He is saying to us, or what He is trying to show us. The frenzy of the world may continue 24 hours a day, but we must regularly retreat from it, in order to ponder important things.

Why do we fear this so? We have become so accustomed to living with the ever-present electronic din that to do without it invites discomfort and disorientation. To take the time to come away from it is to endure the strangeness of being with ourselves, and maybe listening to our heart speak to us of its anguish or its secret hopes, or face the truth of our lives as they are at present. In silence, then, we must listen, because if we will not face ourselves, we can never be whole.

And in silence, and in the still, small voice, God seeks to speak life and guidance to us. Jesus said to his disciples on that night in the garden, "Could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation."

The world is hurtling fast toward it destiny. We must not be lost in its convulsive busyness, lest we share in that destiny. Instead, let's deliberately soothe our frayed nerves and restless minds with silence and solitude on a regular basis.

In doing so, we become companions of Our Lady, who at this time perhaps gazed up to sky each evening, aware of the movement of that special, guiding star in the heavens, just as she felt the stirring of that holy life within her blessed womb. As she kept a recollected anticipation of the marvelous event that would soon occur, the birth of God's only Son, her own precious child, Jesus, we can only imagine how she used her time of silence to fully prepare her entire being for His coming.

As we feel the cold stillness of these December nights, may we come to a fuller knowledge of who this Holy child is, and of how much He loves us and delights to be with us. May we find solace in the silence, and realize that it is a gift to us, from Heaven itself.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Revolt, Part 2

Oh what have I done? Forgive me, Lord, if I am beginning to think like those Israelites in the desert who longed for the bonds of Egypt just so they could eat cucumbers. If you have read the foregoing two posts, you will know that I have been desperate to escape from the overwhelming burden of stuff (because the people and animals can not be dispensed with, perish the thought!) that is tucked into every space in my house. I have filled and given away about 14 large bags of clothes and a box or two of household items. I had the trash man pick up the broken microwave, and assorted trash from the garage and also had them take the, the, the...............
ratty old recliner that my husband lives in. He is currently out of town, getting his father ready to come stay with us for a couple of weeks, and somehow the thought of incorporating Grandpa AND the Christmas tree into the middle of things caused me to go straight over the edge and ditch the chair!

Worse yet, because I have inherited a rather comfortable white sofa from one of my sons, I am itching to get rid of this too-large and rather uncomfortable L-shaped couch that currently hogs space in the family room. There is an old couple from church whose home sustained such water damage from the November nor'easter that they lost all their downstairs furniture. Folks are trying to help them and the call went out for furniture for them. So I am waiting to hear whether this thing can fit in their house. And I am praying that I can do the deed before hubby gets back. Then move the white couch and the Christmas tree in, and then of course, Grandpa.

Now my oldest son and I have planned all along to get a new recliner for the man of the house, but yesterday I realized that I might not be able to actually procure one and get it in here before he gets home, or by Christmas or within the next month. I will be going out with the next load of trash if that is the case. Junior says he doesn't want to be here, either. In fact, we will probably leave the state.

Photo courtesy of

Friday, December 04, 2009


Nobody said that war is pretty.

Have you ever felt that your home looks more like this place (a thrift store) than a home? Have you ever tried to find clothes to try on at a thrift store? Say you want a nice, slightly out of style but modest dress for church. So of course you can find the rack of dresses, but can you easily find your size, or type without wading through them all and taking wild guesses at whether the ones you pick will fit? If you are like me, you will feel a little frustrated at this point. But perhaps you are starting to feel that way at your own house.

When you need to find an important piece of paper or a phone number at home, or the nail clippers or whatever, and you find yourself having to run from room to room, looking high and low, you are in a bad place, and I don't mean the mall.

Or you may have this dilemma: you are not one of those naturally organized people, but through trial and mostly error, through the grace of God and pure determination, you have managed to gain some measure of control over your household. Then somebody you know and up to this point loved, decides to make you the benefactor of their cherished stuff. Or you find out you are going to have a baby and ten wonderful people unload all their baby things upon thy hearth and home.

Or people move in with you. Or your spouse and you are diametrically opposed on the issues concerning what to keep and what to get rid of. Or your beloved likes lots of noise, wires and late hours in front of a blaring television, and you would rather read Wordsworth by the fire while listening to the old clock tick in a quiet room.

Or you can be like me and all the foregoing horror pertains to you!!!!! Well, except the baby part. But that did happen to me, five times.

But to continue on from the last post, I have decided that life is too short to be in a constant state of confusion and feeling overwhelmed. Its time to do surgery on this place and actually on my life. You know, most of the time surgery is necessary and is ultimately good for you. But in the short term, it elicits some fear and trepidation, and usually it is painful. Just like taking control of your life and domain.

So this week, I gathered up nine huge bags of giveaway clothes, and honey, I am just getting started. I also got rid of a twin bed frame and the mattress and box spring.
Today I called the sanitation department and scheduled a special pick-up. In our city we are very fortunate that if we have large items, old appliances or the like, we can arrange for the city to pick it up at the curb on our regular trash day. So on trash day, out goes the old microwave, a lot of bulky cardboard from new appliances, a broken computer chair, hopefully a busted motor scooter and whatever else I can scrounge up.

Now when I say "hopefully" the old motor scooter, that means I have to convince my husband to let go of the old rusted thing. I plan on convincing him about a few other items, too. But in some other matters, I am sorry, I have made an executive decision that clothes one has not been able to fit into for the last eight years or so, have got to go. Along with ugly clothes. And old, dead, primitive cell phones and cameras. And shoes that are composting in the closets.

Next, I have no choice but to attack the under eave storage, wherein is buried my Christmas wrapping paper, supplies and goodness knows what other Christmas stuff. Right now it all lies barricaded behind things my daughter threw in there when she moved back in. I envision adding to that giveaway pile. And dispensing with approximately, and you may not believe this, 28 years of receipts and tax-related papers. They are all in there, in boxes and large envelopes. Well, I wanted to be prepared in case we ever got audited. So yeah, I'll keep the last seven years of stuff, and maybe even pare that down after the new year. And maybe have a Christmas bonfire with the papery discards.

A recent study showed that people who are immersed in cluttered living conditions feel more stress, agitation and depression than those whose surroundings are orderly. The eye needs to be able to rest on some open space and symmetry. Which is why I feel so crazy right now and rather humbuggy about the holidays this year. I am a Christmas maniac, which only surpasses my zeal for harvest decorations, but this year, less will definitely be more. Because right now, I do not know where we can even put the tree. Remember the wall lined with computers? That is where we used to put the tree. I have six people in this house and most days seven (one son actually rents a place down the street but spends most of his free time and meal times here), not including friends of the kids who are here quite often. And don't forget about that little beagle boy of mine and those four ridiculous, eccentric, but beloved cats.

So to load up any remaining space with Santas, sleighs, toy houses and elves and holly would be suicide, I believe. Maybe this year I will put up one nativity set instead of four. And forget about putting cotton snow on EVERYTHING. I am telling you, my dear mother would be beyond appalled at the Broadway production I have been making out of Christmas. And my life. I can just hear her now.

You know the saying, "What would Jesus do?" Well, I am blessed to be able to draw from her example and say, "What would Mom do?" This will help me as I attempt to make some sense out of all this disorder. She knew what she could handle, and unlike me, felt happy enough with herself and her modest possessions, without having to go overboard.

Maybe that is it. Maybe contentment in one's interior life translates into harmony in one's surroundings. Let's ruminate on that one for a bit.....

Thursday, December 03, 2009


A copy of this painting, Sugaring Off, by Grandma Moses, hung in our living room back home from the time I was a child until the old homestead was sold off in 1996. My mother, who was born in Connecticut and raised in Vermont, was a true New Englander in her tastes and her thrifty ways, and she got this painting for free, somehow. I don't remember if it was some kind of prize she earned on one of her forays into selling Avon or Stanley Home products, but nevertheless, this print became one of my mother's favorite possessions. So presiding over the drama and the comedy of our family life was the cheery scene of everyday people of a bygone day, making maple syrup.

Like I said, Mom was a true New Englander. She loved simple maple furniture and unpretentious decorating, and was a fan of pastoral themes and snow scenes. You could not pay her enough to have a painting on her wall of a seascape. She said that scenes of the ocean seemed lonely and depressing. Although her parents came straight from Italy, she never appreciated the more typically Mediterranean style of using bold colors, ornate furnishings, statuary, or window treatments and bedding made of rich fabrics. She liked pastels and understatement.

I must admit that she imprinted her aesthetics on me, but unlike her, I have been unable to just say no to a lot of things that are currently in my home which do not please me, and actually make my nerves all a-jangle.

My problem, or at least one of them, is that I do not possess that wonderful sense of proportion that my mother had, at least not consistently, and so when I think something is good, I sometimes think that having more of that good thing is even better. This is not a wise or accurate way to think; after all poison is in the dose.

For instance, when my youngest child was three and half years old, I thought that it might now be a good time to get a cat. (I never had animals when my children were babies, and that is a subject for another, perhaps lengthy post.) So we got a cat. And now I have four. And a dog. And expensive vet bills, prescription cat food, dog food, licenses, etc. Without the financial means, nowadays, to take all this in stride.

I don't mean to pick on the poor animals, whom I love dearly. There are so many other examples of my trying to grab all the gusto I could, or else not setting limits on others' gusto-grabbing.

What kinds of things am I talking about? Well, here is where it gets interesting, because our modern way of living has pushed much of this on me, and not just me.

I grew up in a cozy cottage that was less than half the size of my current home. We had one bath tub, two toilets, and three sinks. I now have three bath tubs, three toilets, and seven sinks. They had one television until about the last ten years of my mother's life, when they got a small TV for their bedroom. On this Christmas day, we will have five running, three of which are the larger, big screen types. We have four computers here. And thousands of dollars worth of video game systems and video games. We also have enough Christmas decorations indoors and out, to open our own store. Thankfully, common sense combined with laziness has prevailed this year and we are not decorating outside, and I am not going to put all my inside-the-house stuff out either.

Now granted, we recently had two of our adult children move back in with us, so there are six people living here currently. They brought a lot of their stuff, so we do have more than a small family would, but my point is that we do not need all of this, and in fact, it is a liability, at least to my mental health. I know I am not alone in all this, because everybody it seems, lives in bigger houses than than their parents did, and they have more stuff, and do more stuff. Are they feeling as crazy and out of control as I am?

Even though I inherited, and didn't buy at least half of these, I have way too much furniture, knick knacks, books, wall hangings, and heaven knows what else. Oh yes, I know what else: food.

Guess what? We cannot afford all this. And I cannot keep up with keeping it all clean and orderly. I am ready to revolt. More about that tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

December Diary

More often than not, I tend to not get started on tasks when I say I will, hence my December diary starts on December 3rd., rather than the 1st. For example the season of Advent began on Sunday, which is when I should have started the readings and meditations for each day, but I didn't get started with that until today.

On a positive holiday note, I started making fruitcake today. My first batch came out really lovely, and I plan to make three more. Believe it or not, a lot of people like my fruitcake, which is dark and chewy. So I need to send some to Grandma Sallie, Bob's sister Sharon, my cousin Marcie, and cousin Merridy's pastor (the latest fan of the fruitcake).

I also pulled out all the indoor Christmas decorations, cleaned downstairs and began to deck the halls. I have way too many decorations and I think that this year I should perhaps find ways not instead of hanging up and setting out every last thing.

My Yankee candles were all lit today, and the Christmas music was on, and so it was a very good December day. Back to fruitcake tomorrow, the decorations, my music lesson, and a trip to the Home Depot with hubby and our friends, JoAnn and Paul, to look at trees. I am hoping to make my Advent wreath before this coming Sunday and also to get crackin' at those Christmas cards.

Hope everyone is finding a way to enjoy this busy season, despite the fatigue. The best thing about these December days are the long December nights!