Monday, December 20, 2010

Cheesy Snowman: This Year's Holiday Mascot

I found this Martha Stewart recipe last year and it has become my go-to item for holiday parties.  I've made several now but keep forgetting to get pictures.  I made this one for the office party and our Director of Tech Mgmt, Benny, whipped out his phone.  I guess he was amused.  Anyway, he kindly emailed it to me.

Unlike Martha's, mine has cinnamon stick arms which Jeremy noted were missing from the recipe.  Also unlike Martha's, this one is not exactly neat and trim because I neglected to put the cheese ball mixture in the freezer before hand.  I was afraid it would be too hard, but erred in the other direction: he was a very melty looking snowman and proceded to sink into himself over the course of the party.   No one had the heart to eat his head so I finally had to decapitat him and let people have at his torso.  
Alan says I should start making them a la Calvin and Hobbes. 

I think I'm gonna need more cheese...


Monday, December 6, 2010

Gingerbread Snowflakes or How to Cheat Impressively

Today we made one of our signature holiday cookies.  It's a veritable study in how many "cheats" one can employ at the same time.  For you my loyal followers, I lay out all my secrets.

1. Purchase Pillsbury Gingerbread Cookie Dough (and refrain from reading the ingredients list).

I look for it in the grocery store when I'm doing my Thanksgiving shopping.  It's actually on the T-day grocery list that I perpetually recycle.  This year, I found it the week after at the Hannaford in Bangor (not at Old Town which is closer to home and my default location).  If you're local and you're looking for it, you may already be too late, particularly since I picked up three rolls each for myself and mum.  In fact, it may be about time to look for the easter goodies you love (commercialism astounds me).

2. Wait for the perfect large block of production time.  Today's snow day--a surprise block of quality family time--was the perfect bonus cheat.

3.  Procure cheap child labor, willing to "work" for the chance to disperse flour all over the dining room table, the chairs, the floor, themselves and me, and nibble on raw dough when they thought I wasn't looking.  And when they knew I was.  And after I said to stop.  And after Alan said to stop.

4. Assemble your tools:  a marble or glass board (one per laborer), flour, a spatula (this awesome one is from Pampered Chef), and flower shaped cookie cutters (the tiny one is from a set for use with fondant and voted most likely to suffer a tragic demise in the disposal).  Not pictured are my baking sheets, also from Pampered Chef.

5.  Allow the masses to run amok with 2/3 of your available cookie dough, supervising/advising/getting directly involved enough to forestall injuries, produce some yummy vaguely snowflake-ish looking cookies and even get a few worth decorating and distributing to friends, then send the help away to wash up and have "quiet" time (we use the term loosely) and peacefully crank out  beautiful specimens from the last roll of cookie dough.

6. Decorate cookies to look like snowflakes:  this is the deceptively easy stage.  Buy Wilton White Cookie Icing and Edible Cake Sparkles (and once again don't even think about what might be in them.  The icing looks exactly like a bottle of Elmer's glue and I can't help thinking there's a reason for that).

Here's the finished product (you'll note that only one has gotten the full treatment thus far!).  We store them in the freezer or at least out on the porch where they'll stay really cold, except for the family batch which will likely be consumed at a rapid rate.

November 25: Turkey Trek 2010

This isn't so much a race report as a series of pictures of people standing around looking reeeeeeally cooooooold.

The whole gang bundled up and ready to go:
 Emilie taking the big group photo:
 Jeremy coming in for a landing with Nana and Gumpy (hidden):
 The crew at the finish line/check-in table:
 Plus James who took some time getting there.  We actually went looking for him, but he was fine and did the whole four miles (walking and running) all on his own!
Alan and I ran the four mile loop. 
Jeremy and the Gumps walked a shorter (2 mile?) loop, and
Madeline did the same loop with friends from church and their dogs.
I missed Jenn a lot and the whole idea of recreating last year's St. John's Moms picture didn't happen due to chaos and so few of us being there (although we thought maybe we'd include stay-at-home dad, Eric, if we did do it...).  I didn't bother with my mp3 figuring it would be more fun to be sociable but found myself totally alone for most of the way following the same forest path as at least a hundred other people.  What's up with that? Apparently my pace is totally unique--slower than the other runners, and faster than the walkers. 

On a baking note, this event also heralded my first attempt at homemade baklava.  I made something else first out of phyllo dough (purchased by accident and taking up space in the freezer) but it was a partial failure so I needed to pinch hit.  The baklava was pretty quick and easy thanks to the cooking spray-between-the-layers-instead-of-melted-butter method, but I learned the hard (or rather, sticky) way not to cook the syrup in the microwave.  Can you say "sugar volcano of doom?"  I knew you could.  Yeah, well, I needed to clean that really well before the dinner crowd arrived anyway. 

Emilie and Susan put on a great event and I'm just so glad we made it this year!!!  It really helped that we didn't do our dinner until Friday so we had the whole day to warm up, bake, and "chillax".  The kids watched the remainder of the Macy's Parade and played a bingo game I found online.  [Note to self: dvr it next year so we don't miss the rockettes.]  I had sworn that there would be no more housework on the actual holiday, but I made a liar of myself.  We still had quite a bit of picking up and cleaning to do Thursday and even Friday morning.   But it was so nice to enjoy spending time as a family and doing loads of food prep and decorating for our big holiday gathering.  It was a Good Day.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

November 21: Turkey Trot, Brewer ME

In the "everyone's doing it" spirit, we decided to take on Brewer High School's Turkey Trot.  With a fun run for the kids and a 3-miler for us (and Mum and Dad willing to come along and cheer/kid-sit) it seemed like a great way to spend the afternoon. 

So we rose early and attired ourselves in layered assortments of running togs, long underwear, sweats and even pajama bottoms(!) and packed sandwiches and snacks for lunch and....went to church.

After doing our bit and blitzing the coffee-hour, and a quick change for Nancy (from choir-appropriate footwear and a skirt to sneakers and sweats [that long running skirt I've been eyeballing would have been totally perfect for this...]) we convoyed to Brewer, scarfing down more snacks in the car.  We arrived in plenty of time to pick up our bibs, use the facilities and figure out where we needed to be.  Mum and Dad, of course, played things a little closer to the wire.  Mum saw the kids start and then retrieved Dad from the car in time to see them finish.  All three did a great job.  They had fun in spite of the cold and were pleased with their times.  Alan was desperately trying to get some stretching in before the start but I just kept thinking how much I didn't want to shed any layers.  At the last minute I shoved my fleece at Mum, along with assorted water bottles and cheese and crackers I'd been nibbling on.  It was really cold while we waited for the horde to surge forward, but after that the chill was quickly left behind.  For almost the first mile I kept pace with Alan.  He was in the zone with his tunes so we didn't chat much but he kept looking over at me as if to say "you're still here?".  I finally let him go and hunkered into my own pace, but I really didn't feel like I'd pushed it that much to begin with.  During my first walking break, Carey from UMaine who I frequently see at running events ran past and said hello.  So I picked it up again and chatted with her for a bit which was just what I needed.  Between keeping up with her and trying to keep Alan in sight I was able to pull off a pretty good pace overall.  The brisk air was certainly invigorating as well!

Afterward, we all milled around in the high school gym and visited with the many people we know.  Once again I marvelled at how much taking up running is like joining a secret society only to discover that I already know a huge portion of the membership.

As usual, we won no prizes, although someone we know walked away with 3 turkeys (yes, age-group and team awards come in the form of frozen fowl) and the $600 cash door prize (one dollar per registrant)!

It was a fun event (even though the kids were a bit unmanageable) and we're very likely to do it again.  At first, I thought the tee shirts were terrible because I thought the turkey looked evil.  They had car decals, too, and Jeremy kept asking if we could get "evil chicken stickers".  I'm thinking someone overheard us because they made a point to announce that the artwork was done (and donated) by the artist who draws The Hulk for Marvel Comics.  Upon closer inspection, it's easy to see that he is not, in fact, an evil chicken, but a hulkified turkey.  No one's gonna cook his giblets!  Way cool.

J, j and M strike action poses

Emilie with her Marks Family flock of newbie runners

November 20: Train Show 2010

This event is an annual big deal for Gumpy (aka the Train Doctor) and his model railroading club.  Funny story:  It used to be held the Sunday before Thanksgiving which was known in the family as "Train Sunday" and might as well have been included in the Episcopal lectionary.  A few years ago they finally got tired of competing with the traffic delays caused by the local Turkey Trot and switched it to Saturday.  I never knew that until this year...when we decided to do the race! And it all comes back to running....

Anyway, back to the Train Show. 
There are rows of tables set up for dealers displaying and selling anything and everything remotely train related from model engines, cars, cabooses (cabeese?) and track of all guages and types, to tiny realistic trees and packages of green dirt to decorate your layout, to the Operation Lifesaver booth with their safety videos and cardboard conductor's hats, to a toy Delorian sold by a cranky and hugely obese guy, to remote control airplanes that take digital aerial imagery while they fly. 

And then there's a silent auction and all the wheelin' and dealin' between vendors and the Train Doctor's booth with his clanging railroad crossing sign and his multi-track board for testing engines and his magnifying visor and his bags full of tools.  I think this is my dad's idea of heaven.

And then there's the little snack table that Mum bakes for and helps staff in between trying to get my dad to eat something (because he was up half the night and early that morning packing and tinkering and lugging all his stuff and didn't eat any breakfast) because she loves him and supports him and his passion.
But the real action takes up about a quarter of the large catering event space.  At least 20 separate segments built by individual members of the club are carefully hitched together to create a giant, rectangular, multi-track model train layout.  They had two very long trains running continuously through the varying landscapes and tiny lifelike scenery.

We brought Madeline's friend, Tony, along and I don't think he had every seen anything quite like it.  I suspect he went home and begged his parents for a train layout.  And believe me: no kid who sees this wants to start out small.

Here they are watching the action:

...along with Jeremy who traded his real hat for a cardboard one (to accommodate his hairdo, perhaps?):

Pretty soon, the wild-haired boy got a hold of the camera and didn't stop moving and snapping for about an hour.  Here are a couple of his more interesting "etudes de blur":

The kids each got to spend $5 so we came home with an assortment of toy cars including one which can only be described as....PUNCHBUGGY YELLOW!! 


Pumpkin Pie Redemption

A few weeks back, after my blogpost about pie, I had a hankering for Pumpkin Pie.  So, one day Jeremy and I made one together.  We made a crumb crust out of ginger snaps (pulverising cookies in the food processor was AWESOME!).  Jeremy also had a lot of fun helping me measure out the spices and mix the filling in a bowl, although there was much nose-wrinkling over the smell of raw pumpkin puree.  We filled our sweet pie crust and put it in the oven.  This is one of those recipes that calls for a high temperature for the first 10 minutes or so and then you turn it down to something a bit more reasonable.  The timer went of for the temp change and Jeremy came running in to help with that.  Then we were both off to other things.  I was in the family room.  I kept smelling the pie and at one point it smelled a little burny, so I went and looked at it.  It looked ok, although the crust was getting a little dark.  I chalked it up to the glass pan and thought maybe I shouldn't have used that....  By the time the buzzer went off, the poor little pie was reminiscent of an old black cast-iron frying pan.  When I turned off the oven I discovered that the temperature was on 450!  although I was certain I turned it down at the appointed time.  It's possible that someone bumped the dial (it spins very easily) and it's also possible that someone "helped" again after I left the room.  Either way, I should have given my nose more credit and rescued the pie much earlier.

Dessert that night was pumpkin pie filling scooped from the cast-iron carcass and doused with whipped cream.  And No, I did not take pictures of it.
The rest got dumped the following trash day.  It was very disheartening.
For Thanksgiving, I repeated the entire process--minus the temperature control debacle--and enjoyed sweet, spiced redemption.  Mmmmmm...