Warm up these winter bones with comfort food

There’s something about a snowstorm that just makes you want to hunker down, get comfortable and do as little as possible. Or at least it makes me want to curl up and enjoy being snowed in, even if there’s only an inch or two on the ground.

I guess that’s probably a little bit of the … I’m not sure logic is the right word, but something like it … of why grocery stores get overrun by shoppers stocking up on bread, milk, eggs and toilet paper.

I’m just saying that I get it. To a point, anyway. Grab some supplies and say goodbye to the world for a while. Aaron and I have enjoyed some really fun snow days, whether spent playing outside or binge-watching Netflix or playing Mariokart marathons.

But it always comes back to food: something to warm up your bones and keep you cozy through all of those snowball fights or snuggle fests.

Homemade sausage gravy with not-homemade biscuits, cooked up for a snow day that didn't really materialize.

Homemade sausage gravy with not-homemade biscuits, cooked up for a snow day that didn’t really materialize.

A couple of weeks ago, the weathermen forecasted a big storm on a Saturday when I had the day off. I made plans for a huge breakfast of sausage gravy and biscuits, followed by baking chocolate chip cookies. The snow was disappointing, but the food was spectacular, and it served its mission of warming our bones.

During another cold snap, I broke out some of the stock I made from our Friendsgiving turkey to serve as the base for a big pot of French onion soup. What’s more perfect for a cold evening than a crock of soup, full of thick croutons and gooey cheese?

Homemade French bread croutons, in French onion soup with fresh Gruyere. Glorious.

Homemade French bread croutons, in French onion soup with fresh Gruyere. Glorious.

The trick, of course, is to make sure your pantry and fridge are moderately stocked so you don’t have to brave the Snow Day Eve grocery store frenzy of the bread-milk-eggs brigade. Who could eat that much French toast, anyway?

Patience pays for the perfect kitchen table

Ever since the first time we toured our house, I’ve felt the house needed a specific table.

The table existed only in my mind, as far as I could tell after a nearly two-year search through all of York County’s furniture stores and beyond.

But I finally found the table, and last night we put it in it’s rightful place, and I’m ever so happy.

This is my new table that Aaron got me for my birthday/Christmas.  It fits in its space perfectly, it has a footrest, it covers up the phone jack we don't use. It looks sharp with our black appliances. Swoon.

This is my new table that Aaron got me for my birthday/Christmas. It fits in its space perfectly, it has a footrest, it covers up the phone jack we don’t use. It looks sharp with our black appliances. Swoon.


In the kitchen, there’s a rectangular space next to the side door that’s just begging for a table. It’s a strangely sized space, but not so uncommon that I thought my search was futile. The area is 51 inches wide by 28 inches deep — plenty wide to seat two people side-by-side.

But I also wanted had visions of a bar-height table where Aaron and I could sit and have a drink or an app or breakfast. So that made the search a bit harder. I found tall tables that were 51 inches wide, but they were all squares, far too deep for the space I had available. And there were kitchen cart-esque tables that would fit there, but drawers or shelves under the table top would prevent Aaron and me from sitting comfortably.

We also considered building the table. A bar in Philadelphia had tables close to what we wanted, and they seemed relatively DIY-able, involving two L-shaped pieces of steel for the short ends, with a bunch of two-by-sixes laid across resting on the Ls, then screwed onto a pedestal or with legs screwed onto the tabletop. Aaron also thought about buying a big round table and sawing off part two round edges to make a 28×51 corner to fit snugly into the corner.

The search went on and on.

For the interim, we put a table there — a round dinner height table Aaron already owned, with one of the leaves folded down so it could sit flush against the wall — but it was not the table.

And then, a year and a half after moving into our home, I found it.

I wrote this note a couple months after we moved into our house for typical nesting needs -- curtain sizes and whatnot. The most important measurement is the first one, and I consulted this note dozens of times since writing it in the spring of 2012.

I wrote this note a couple months after we moved into our house for typical nesting needs — curtain sizes and whatnot. The most important measurement is the first one, and I consulted this note dozens of times since writing it in the spring of 2012.

It was a a new item at Ikea when my friend Kate and I went on a shopping spree in October. I saw it in the middle of the showroom, covered with wares for sale, and couldn’t believe my eyes. I’d been burned so many times before that I kept my hopes in check while opening the note in my phone where I wrote the dimensions.

The table is 50 inches wide, 27.5 inches deep, for 1.5 total inches of clearance.

It’s as close to the perfect table as we will ever be able to find.

It’s also made of wood, not particle board, which is a relative surprise from Ikea. It was simple to put together, thanks to Aaron’s drill.

And I’m so glad I was patient and didn’t settle for something less than what I wanted just to have something there.

Now, we start the search for the perfect bar stools. Let’s hope this doesn’t take three more years.

A Black Friday deal in an unexpected place

I’m not a huge Black Friday shopper. Crowds are kind of the worst to me. And I’m used to running errands during the day when lines are short and traffic is light.

But I did get one heck of a deal in an unexpected place: the grocery store.

On Friday, I saw a couple tweets from friends who had gotten great deals on the leftover turkeys at the grocery store. I stopped at the grocery store on the way home to pick up a few things and paused to peruse the poultry aisle.

Then what should my wondering eyes should appear but a bird that would barely require a cashier.

(Sorry. It’s Christmas and I get carried away.)

Those four plastic containers on the bottom? Yeah, that's not even half of the stock I got from the Friendsgiving turkey. Freezer space is a small price to pay for all of the delicious crammed into that freezer right now.

Those four plastic containers on the bottom? Yeah, that’s not even half of the stock I got from the Friendsgiving turkey. Freezer space is a small price to pay for all of the delicious crammed into that freezer right now.

Seriously, though, the store brand frozen turkeys were on sale for $0.59. 59 cents, for crying out loud!

I also got a free turkey this year, thanks to Giant's bonus card program. So between the Friendsgiving free turkey, and this bird, I'll have about 32 pounds of turkey for $6.50. And that, my friends, is a deal.

I also got a free turkey this year, thanks to Giant’s bonus card program. So between the Friendsgiving free turkey, and this bird, I’ll have about 32 pounds of turkey for $6.50. And that, my friends, is a deal.

And so even though my freezer was practically full from the huge batch of stock that came from our Friendsgiving turkey, I couldn’t resist such an amazing Black Friday deal.

Of course it wasn’t technically a Black Friday sale. But like any other seasonal products, when demand drops, so does the price.

So I reorganized my freezer to accommodate my $6 turkey. It was about 10 pounds, which is more reasonable for just me and Aaron, or even for us and another handful of people for a small dinner party.

It will be delicious in a month or two when we finally get back in the mood to eat turkey.

Roast turkey and gravy done my way for Thanksgiving

For our second Friendsgiving, Aaron convinced me to cook a really big bird.

An almost 22 pound bird, to be precise.

And in a testament to my vastly improved cooking skillz (yeah, skillz.), I managed to cook Big Bird pretty much exactly the way I wanted to, despite not being able to settle on just one recipe that I really liked.

I enjoy a pretty classic bird: nothing too fancy or exotic. I also am afraid of the idea of brining it, as I recall tasting a brined bird once that was far too salty.

So I combined my favorite parts from two recipes to do the bird my way: this one from Bon Appetit via Epicurious, which came out nicely last year, and this one from Chow.com. Oh, and I stuffed the bird with actual stuffing, because stuffing is hands down my favorite part of Thanksgiving.

I joked that Aaron wanted a bird that almost didn't fit in the oven. In reality, Big Bird nearly didn't fit in my roasting pan.

I joked that Aaron wanted a bird that almost didn’t fit in the oven. In reality, Big Bird nearly didn’t fit in my roasting pan.

So what we ended up with was a herb butter roasted turkey, stuffed with traditional bread stuffing, and a pretty traditional butter using the herb butter as a base for the roux.

Turkey and the fixins done my way*.

Here’s what I did, as adapted from my handy notepad that served as a catch-all checklist for Friendsgiving game-day cooking. That was one of several really important steps I took that made the day easier.

Ingredients

For the herb butter:

  • 1.5 to 2 sticks of butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • zest of half a lemon, or more to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2-3 cups of water, broth or wine, or some combination of those.

For the turkey:

  • 20-22 pound turkey. You could obviously scale the recipe down for a more reasonable-sized bird.
  • 1 or 2  carrots roughly chopped into 1-2 inch pieces
  • 1 or 2 celery stalks roughly chopped into 1-2 inch pieces
  • 3 or 4 shallots, halved or quartered
  • prepared stuffing Continue reading

Preparation is key to Friendsgiving (or Thanksgiving) success

This is what a 22 pound turkey looks like. A free 22 pound turkey, done with a minute to spare.

This is what a 22 pound turkey looks like. A free 22 pound turkey, done with a minute to spare.

Not to brag, but I think I’m getting the hang of this turkey roasting thing, and some of the pieces that go with it.

This year’s Friendsgiving celebration was a great success. Once again, our pals brought over a fantastic array of side dishes, from Becca’s delicious bourbon and maple syrup sweet potato casserole (one of Aaron’s favorites), to Erin and Jeff’s parsnip puree (similar to this, I think), to Kate’s spinach and sweet potato gratin (which I think was adapted from this Smitten Kitchen recipe), to pecan pie bars from Sarah. When one friend arrived, she commented that she could smell the deliciousness from the sidewalk outside our house. Yum.

There was also a mustache contest, football on the teevee, mugs of bourbon and hot apple cider, and more mashed potatoes than I knew what to do with. And this year there was no roof dog, thankfully.

It was a wonderful day, albeit a long one. I love filling our home with friends and good food. And the key, for me, anyway, was preparation. This year, I added the mashed potatoes to my to-do list, in addition to the turkey and gravy, and the stuffing.  There was more work to be done while friends arrived, but I managed to time it relatively well so the food was all hot at the same time. And let’s face it: That’s the hardest part about Thanksgiving.

A little bit of work the day before goes a long way toward making the main event go smoothly, freeing you up to chat with guests and sip your wine.  Continue reading

Preparing for our second Friendsgiving turkey

We’re less than a week away from our second annual Friendsgiving dinner, and I’m wavering between overconfidence and panic.

It’s an odd mental state to be in: I panic that I’m not preparing well enough to entertain 15 friends for my favorite meal of the year. And then I reassure myself that I pulled it off last year, and that I’m a far better cook this year than I was at this time last November, and that we’ll be fine. And then I relax, until the panic sets in again.

But the turkey — a 21.5 pounder — is acquired, and I’m chipping away at the cleaning and supply-gathering and general preparation work. So I’m making progress with the basic to-do list, which also helps with the panic.

I also recently did my annual practice-run roast chicken dinner for just me and Aaron, to make sure I can handle the basics. It went far better than expected.

I can’t brag enough about having all the side dishes finish at the same time as the chicken was ready to eat. Timing has always been a struggle for me when I cook multiple-dish meals, but that confidence boost helps going into the big show.

So bring it on, Friendsgiving. Let’s do this.

A cat training litter box milestone

I’ve been hesitant to write about this because I didn’t want to jinx it, but finally I think enough time has passed that it’s a safe blog post to write.

I appear to have successfully moved Barley’s litter box.

This is big news. And you can understand my wariness. But it’s been about three months in the new locale, and we’ve had no accidents, and I’m pleased as punch with my little cat (who’s really not so little anymore).

Look how small he used to be! This was moments after I brought him home from the SPCA. I let him out of the box, and he climbed up four or five steps and sat there. When he started trembling, I picked him up and brought him to the living room, and he didn’t venture up the stairs again for the first month he was with us.

Look how small he used to be! This was moments after I brought him home from the SPCA. I let him out of the box, and he climbed up four or five steps and sat there. When he started trembling, I picked him up and brought him to the living room, and he didn’t venture up the stairs again for the first month he was with us. Read more about our SPCA adoption story here. 


See, when we adopted him, he was teeny tiny. And he didn’t really go upstairs. The pet adoption folks tell you to first introduce him into a small enclosed room with food, water and a litter box. But our house doesn’t really have a small enclosed room except for the bathrooms, so I just let him out of his cardboard carrier and into our first floor.

He didn’t even try to go upstairs for the first month of life with us, so we kept the litter box downstairs.

And there’s no good place for the box downstairs except for the front entryway. I didn’t want it in the kitchen near his food, or in the dining room near my food, or in the living room where we spend a lot of our time. So the hallway was the only option.

But for obvious hostessing reasons, it was less than ideal to have the cat box right next to the entryway. “Hello, welcome to my home. Let me take your coat. Watch out for the litter box.”

Barley went through a rough patch box-wise, and we ended up adding a box upstairs in the office once he started venturing up the stairs. I think that helped with latest transition, since there was already a box on the second floor that he was accustomed to using.

So in addition to the auxiliary litter box, I started the big move by sliding the first-floor box gradually closer to the stairs. I didn’t follow a calendar, but I moved it a couple inches every couple days until it was pretty close to the stairs.

Finally it was time to take the box upstairs. I hoped the end-game location would be outside the guest bathroom, which is up the main flight of stairs and then wrapped 180 degrees up another 4-stair mini flight. I considered leaving the box on the landing of the first main flight, before the wraparound, but decided to go for broke and put it at the end-game spot.

And by George it seems to have worked. It’s been a couple of months, and we haven’t had any problems yet.

Knock on wood.