A Charles Dickens Dinner

When Beef and I decided to host our very first grown-up Christmas dinner for our parents and siblings, we fretted over finding one crucial ingredient: a theme.  First of all, I’m so glad I married someone who agreed a theme was necessary, because it just was.  And it was pretty easy to decide on, using this simple equation:

Nerds + Small Kitchen x Christmas  = A CHARLES DICKENS DINNER!

XmasMenu

If you’re looking for a clever menu for New Year’s Eve or any chilly winter night, here’s what we did: First, I had an idea to make plum pudding.  Then I read what was in it, and it sounded gross, so instead, we found recipes that felt 1800s English-y, and then I Googled quotes about them.  I did not, as my father-in-law wondered, read the entire works of Dickens.  Here’s the rundown and the recipes:

Beverages: While a traditional mulled wine would have been appropriate, I didn’t want to sacrifice a stove burner, so we served a champagne punch: 1 cup Triple Sec, 2 bottles cheap champagne, 3 cans of ginger ale, 2 cups pineapple juice.  The coup de grace was the round tupperware I filled with pineapple juice and fresh cranberries and froze the night before– fancy!

Appetizers: Two approaches here.  My MIL suggested making Artichoke-Stuffed Mushrooms, which sounded great, so I found a mushroom quote.  I gave my dad the classic quote from A Christmas Carol for inspiration:  “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”  And thus, he created Jacob Marley’s Beef Blotz, a crostini topped with a layed of mashed potato and topped with a bite of mustard-crusted filet mignon.  Inspired!

First Course: Ever heard the expression “a pea souper?” It means a day is so foggy that the air’s as thick as pea soup, which Dickens referred to as a “London particular.”  Make this Split Pea with Rosemary Soup, and be prepared to make it for the rest of your life– it’s that good.  We did ours the day before and re-heated before serving. It’s better the second day, anyways.

Main Course:  Molasses Pork Tenderloin with Red Wine Sauce.  Marinating the meat the night before meant avoiding dry pork, and tenderloins meant a short cooking time– just about a half hour.  A roast goose would have taken all day!  Serve with Wild Rice and Roasted Root Vegetables (my dad’s favorite): peel and chop up carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas and onions into one-inch chunks.  Shake them up in a Ziploc bag with a hefty pour of olive oil, salt, pepper and a generous sprinkle of herbs de provence.  Roast on foil-lined baking sheets at 400 degrees for about an hour, rotating trays halfway through.  We did these in the afternoon, and just reheated at dinner time, although it’s okay to serve these at room temp.

Dessert: Or “pudding,” as the English say.  Martha Stewart’s Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake with Toffee Sauce was pretty fool-proof, although it only needs to bake about 35 or 40 minutes, not the 55 to 65 the recipe says.  Making a cake was easier than doing individual servings, which is more traditional.  And since this cake needs time to let the sauce soak in, I made it first thing in the morning.  Note: don’t try to serve with leftover Thanksgiving Cool Whip, because it might be moldy.  

Pretty easy, right?  Enough effort that it feels special–  but totally manageable.  We’re already brainstorming next year’s literary theme, and I think I’ve got it: Sweet Valley High!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Toothbrush

I have to be sad on here one more time.  I am still grieving for those parents.  I keep thinking about how heartbreaking mundane tasks around the house must be now as they find reminders in the usual places.   Like, what happens when they find their child’s dirty laundry in the hamper?  A pair of shoes by the door, a favorite box of cereal in the cupboard?  What about their little toothbrushes on the sink?

I wrote a reaction piece for the HuffPo, and you can read it here.  This Christmas, I’m counting my blessings and filing away each new memory with supreme gratitude.

When I Was 6

Today, I noticed a scar on my leg that I haven’t looked at or thought about in years.  I got it when I was six and had a birthmark removed.  I immediately remembered being on the table in the office– the smell of cauterized skin, the stinging pain, the doctor’s comforting words: “Shut up, kid.”  I was yelling.  I remember thinking he was being awfully mean to a six-year-old, but that it was okay.  After it was all over, I had a Koosa to look forward to.  A Koosa wearing turquoise shorts.

This is what I thought about– when I was six years old.

 

Today

I hadn’t seen Posey for two hours.  She was taking a nap.  Ten minutes ago, I heard her squealing.  I went in her room and found her grinning, her clothes and sheets soaking wet. She was covered in pee, happy as a clam– and safe in her bed.

I picked her up out of the crib and gave her a big kiss.  I’d never, ever been so happy to see her. Ever.

I’m the luckiest.

 

More Gifts for Stay-At-Home Moms: Kitchen Edition

I’ve had a lot of traffic from people searching for this topic, so I’ve got a few more ideas.  I know the old cliché– never give your wife a toaster.  And yet, this list includes a toaster.  So take these suggestions with a grain of fine sea salt, because (as a stay-at-home-mom myself) I might be mad if Beef gave me cooking stuff.  Like he was expecting me to make him dinner every night or something.

Oh, wait.

Breville Panini Press, $99.95

Make regular grilled cheese into fancy grilled cheese with this thing!  Once one of Oprah’s Favorite Things, it became my Favorite Wedding Gift (thanks, Tom).  I also use it to give meat those Sizzler-worthy meat-lines.

Cuisinart Smart Stick Hand Blender (Shop around for best price; this isn’t it)

I have my mother-in-law’s on (permanent?) loan with the expectation I’ll make homemade baby food.  I have, but Posey prefers to eat cat food off the floor, so I prefer using this to make soup with.  Don’t have any soup recipes?  Keep reading…

Williams-Sonoma Collection: Soup and Stew, $11.96

I don’t know about you, but my favorite cooking magazine is the William-Sonoma catalogue.  Everything looks good, half the food is already made for you (hello, Christmas morning croissants!) and the subscription is free.  I checked this book out at the library once and immediately bought a copy.  Which reminds me, I once worked with someone who asked me, “Ooooh!  What’s– The Library?” Like it was some awesome new lounge.  Wait ’til she hears about this amazing new dinner spot I discovered, called “My Couch!”

Some Things I Love About Her

  • That she laughs like Beavis and Butthead: “Heh, heh, heh.”
  • How her nose and eyes wrinkle up into a nerd-face when she’s pleased
  • The way she snores like a drunken sailor, so loud we can hear it through the closed door
  • When she slaps her hand on the highchair when she wants more
  • That her babbling is more like a caveman grunting
  • When she rubs her eyes when she’s tired and sticks her tongue out when she’s trying, just like a cartoon
  • The way she dips her face into every bath and gets a Richard Branson bubble-goatee
  • How she opens her mouth up really wide,  like a baby bird, when I’m feeding her food on a spoon
  • That she claps when she hears applause on TV
  • The fact that her mouth has run along the entire parameter of this home like it was one giant envelope
  • When I head the clatter of a pacifier hitting the ground followed by “Uh. Ooooooh” coming from her room
  • How she extends her leg extra-long like a ballerina, her toes hitting my nose, so I’ll say “peee-you” one more time
  • That’s she’s happiest when she’s holding a fist full of cat hair
  • That her favorite song is “The Transylvania Twist” from Spookley the Square Pumpkin
  • The look on her face when she crawls over to me and tugs on my pant leg so I’ll scoop her up.

CTA’s Be Stroller Savvy! Campaign: Really?

Hey, CTA campaign planners?  Take a long stroll off a short El platform.

The CTA started passing out fliers today to stroller-pushing commuters on the city’s busses and trains, reminding them to “be considerate” when joyriding around the city during rush hour/nap time/the sixth circle of hell.  Here is their official policy:

Children in open strollers are welcome on CTA, however we encourage parents to be considerate of other customers and adhere to these rules when traveling with a stroller.

  • Keep strollers clear of aisles and doorways aboard buses and trains.
  • Seniors and customers with disabilities have priority use of the Priority Seating area aboard buses and trains. If these seats are not in use, open strollers may be parked in this area. This will help you to avoid blocking the aisle. Please yield this space if a customer with disabilities, a senior, or a person using a mobility device wishes to board. On buses, you may request use of the access ramp or lift to help you board and exit.
  • Please fold your stroller in the event that a bus or train becomes crowded, in order to make room for others. Be aware that in the event that a bus or train is crowded, a CTA employee may ask you to fold your stroller or wait for another vehicle. Please follow their instructions. Also, during certain periods of high ridership, we may require that all strollers be folded before you board.

I heard on the news this “refresher” came about because of commuter complaints.  Listen, I’ve taken Posey on the train in her stroller.  Several times.  And I’d like to start handing out my own flier that outlines the following:

Don’t Be An Inconsiderate Jerk! (aka, You Were Once a Baby, Too!)

  • PLEASE refrain from peeing in the elevators; I spend enough time changing dirty diapers without having to ride inside a giant moving one to get down to the platform.
  • Do not push in front of me to get on first.  You’re only making sure I will be blocking you when you have to get off before me.
  • If I am unfortunately blocking the door and am in clear violation of the policy, MOVE OVER so I can get out of the way instead of bearing down on your spot to prove a point to me.  I know you can feel my angry glare.
  • When you pretend to not see me almost fall over for the ninth time because the stroller handle is not the same as the safety bar handle thingies, slide your hand over one scootch.
  • When you see me crying because after two transfers and 75 minutes of ride time, the elevator at my destination is broken, please offer a hand instead of smirking at me like it serves me right for having a baby.

I’m offended by their flyer.  It’s not easy navigating the city with a baby.  I haven’t opened a door with any body part besides my butt in over a year.  Although they are saying they “welcome” us to ride, it’s pretty clear they mean the opposite.  If I was “asked” to fold up my stroller with one hand while holding a non-walking baby, there is a 100% probability it would end in disaster.  The people who complained are probably the same people who never offer visibly pregnant women or elderly grandmas their seats, either.  Sheesh.

7 Reasons Not to Hate Me for “7 Things On Mom’s Holiday To-Don’t List”

holidaytodont

I am so blessed and proud that my Huffington Post Parents piece was not only “bigger” news than Kate’s pregnancy yesterday, but that it was– and is still– featured on their homepage today.  The comments, however, are kind of surprising me.  I know, people saying mean things on the internet? Well, I never!!!!  My intent with the post was to poke fun at the pressure parents put on themselves to produce (and yes, PRODUCE– parenting is no different from pulling off The Oscars, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians or Wheel of Fortune) the Perfect Christmas for their kids.  I, more than anyone I know, am guilty of planning things out in my head one way… only to completely fall apart when things don’t go according to plan.

This happens a lot.

Writing about my personal life has taught me to toughen up and not take too much personally– even though people calling me a lazy mom or suggesting that I drink a lot is pretty personal.  And only half true.  But I know what these people don’t– I’m a great mom, and Mom Who Loves Christmas.  I can prove it!  Would a Bah Humbug Mom go to Home Goods every other day to Ooh and Ahh over the seasonal hand towels and bundle up their daughter for a joyous six-minute stroll through Zoo Lights before the reindeer poop hit the roof?  Here’s the “real story” behind the 7 Things on Mom’s Holiday To-Don’t List.

  1. Bake. No, I’m not hosting a cookie exchange.  Yes, I did make cookies with my mom growing up.  And they were TERRIBLE.  Raw on the inside, burnt on the outside.  My mom is a lot of wonderful things, but she isn’t a baker.  So for me, the meaningful holiday memory is what my mom DIDN’T do– and I love her more for it.  Besides, I made Rice Krispie Treats last weekend, and Posey and I shared one together.  She liked it.  That counts, right?
  2. Make Martha Stewart crafty homemade gifts. I believe that there are lots of folks out there who are making gifts this year.  I also believe there is a .01% chance that you are one of them.
  3. Get a real Christmas tree.  My fake-ass cheap tree looks glorious.  It’s also my cat’s most favorite place on earth to sit beneath.  The baby is too young to care yet, but the cat is seriously at peace under that thing.  I’m also an excellent cat mom.
  4. Remember to light the candles on the first or even second night of HanukkahI looked it up.  Hanukkah starts at sundown this Saturday.  If there is an accident resulting in the baby getting singed, it’s on you.  A good mother doesn’t allow an open flame in their home.
  5. Watch Miracle on 34th StreetWhy would I watch this when the world has given me Blake Shelton’s Not-So-Family Christmas as an option? Why, I ask? (Side note: Yesterday, Beef mused aloud, “I wonder if there is going to be another Michael Buble Christmas special this year?”  A boy can dream.)
  6. Take a seasonal family photo.  Just last week, I got super-mad that we have no professional family portraits with Posey yet.  I saw so many leaf pile shots of my friends’ families frolicking– the kids all smiles, the moms all sassy in new boots– that I demanded my husband book us a session as my Christmas gift.  Then, we took Posey to get her photo with Santa.  I’m not going to say that Santa dropped her, but I’m not going to say that he didn’t.  She squirms a lot.  I think I’m going wait til I have a better guarantee I won’t get super-mad that we spend money on super-bad pictures. (PS– Didn’t people see the picture of us that accompanied the post?)
  7. Mail out holiday cards before December 26th. Fine.  Send me your address.  But I really will have to ask you for it again next year.

And to all of you nice people out there who’ve been writing me kind comments and emails:  Santa is sure to put you on his “nice” list this year! Thank you!