Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas--Love It or Hate It?

I know we’ve got some Christmas haters out there. I’m not one of them! I love the Christmas season, with decorations lighting up houses inside and out, Christmas music on the radio, special holiday meals and traditions, and family! Lots of family. Love it!

When our girls were upper elementary ages we moved 650 miles away from family to Georgia. I was used to noisy, wild, crazy holidays at Mom and Dad’s with my seven siblings and their families. Holidays in Georgia were subdued, not at all the fun holidays I remembered. Somehow we muddled through that first tough year of sad holidays, and then I realized I was going to have to actually make friends! I started some new traditions with friends and neighbors, like Christmas caroling in the neighborhood and Christmas treats at my house afterward.

Fast-forward 20+ years. Now I’m host to my three daughters and their families for the holidays, and it’s more like my memories of Christmas. Bedlam! We plan a time for the little ones to decorate Christmas cookies, we eat traditional (to our family) meals, play games both Wii and board, take walks, go downtown or to a local park, do the drive-through Christmas light village and have the hot cocoa and marshmallows on a stick, and we watch movies. We’re creating traditions and memories with another generation.

If I didn’t have family, what would I do? Well, I’d do what I did in Georgia. Invite church friends and neighbors to go caroling, and come back to my house for treats. Branch out. Fun multiplies—the more fun you start, the more it comes back to you. I remember the day when my friend Jody’s family came Christmas caroling at our house—on a hot summer afternoon! (My neighbors remember it too. Not the reason we had to move, though. I promise.)

Christmas haters can hate Christmas, it’s okay with me; let bad memories taint today’s celebrations, refuse to let new traditions replace the missing ones. But me? I’ll be decorating Christmas cookies, cooking City Chicken (our family’s favorite), driving through the Christmas Village, and hanging out with family. And loving it.

How about you? Do you love Christmas? Hate what it's turned into? Does Christmas make you sad? Share your story.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cookbooks—Talking Turkey

Anyone who has visited my home knows I have mad, mad love for cookbooks. I own tons of them, bursting out of their bookcase and beckoning, luring, enticing me to browse. One of my vacation rentals included a kitchen with a row of unfamiliar cookbooks—heaven! My cookbooks aren’t just reading material. I often try new recipes. In fact, my husband will ask, “Can you make _____ again?” I’m like Rachael Ray: 365 and No Repeats.

Often, other women will tell me they love to cook, too, and I always question them; Do you like to cook, or do you like to bake? Usually they say cooking is okay, but they love to bake, especially desserts. I’m the opposite. Give me the main course. Give me seconds of the main course and skip dessert. I’m not attracted to a book full of cakes, cookies, trifles, cheesecakes, pies and candies. Oh, I’ll eat dessert, and make it occasionally, but I love the main course. Beef, pork, poultry, fish, soups, stews, salads, sides—I love making them all.

Every week I sit down with cookbooks, a notebook and pen, and make my week’s supper plans. If we’re having company, I plan out all the meals we’ll have while they’re here. I fill the fridge, freezer and pantry, chop, dice, slice, simmer, braise, sauté, slow-cook and grill. For the last two Thanksgivings, I used Cook’s Illustrated recipes (serious cookbooks—line drawings, no photos, featuring the science of cooking) for my turkey and gravy. I brined the turkey, let it dry out in the fridge overnight, then roasted it in a hot oven (400 degrees), turning that heavy bird three times in two hours to brown it evenly. The gravy was even fussier. The turkey and gravy were the best I’d ever had, moist and tender. (I sound like my mother; “That’s the best meal I ever cooked!”) I admit, my arms and back ached from all the lifting. But maybe if I use the lower oven next year…

See, most people would say, “Never again!” They’d stick the turkey in at 325-degrees for hours and, if it was dry, pour canned gravy over it. And it would be good. But mmm, my turkey was great.

How about you? Are you a cookbook collector? Do you love to cook? Bake? Both? Neither? Are you happy to eat out, or let Stouffer’s and Lean Cuisine cook for you? Let’s talk turkey!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Disclaimer time: I'm sorry it's been so long since my last blog. Life got in the way: I was taking care of ill parents. Their computer has no word-processing software at all, and has a dial-up connection (shoot me now!). And the computer was in the sick-room. Enuf said! On to this week's blog.

I love walking through other people’s homes, seeing their furniture, their knickknacks and décor, their lives. When I interviewed folks for a small newsletter I always conducted the interviews in their homes. You can find out a lot about people by seeing the things with which they surround themselves—and the things they don’t.

Recently I was a spur-of-the-moment guest in a gorgeous home so perfect the owners could entertain royalty—or in-laws—in an instant. I looked around at that perfection and realized I didn’t see a single book. Not a bookcase, not a bookshelf, nada.

I buy books new and used, collecting them like some people collect fine crystal or Teddy bears. When I travel I pack books in my suitcase, and stuff one in my purse for every appointment or errand, just in case. There are books in every room in the house: Fiction, history, travel, cookbooks, writing books—books everywhere you turn, stored, stacked, bookmarked and available. Recently I won some money and my first thought was, “More bookcases!” (I was dreaming. We bought new tires. Sigh.) When I was a kid, I won the local library’s summer reading program and the prize was a book to keep forever. Choosing a husband was easier. (Note: I still have the husband. The book is gone.)

What about you? Are you obsessed with books, helpless in the clutches of Barnes and Noble and Borders? Do you frequent your local library? Are you irresistibly drawn to used-book sales? What books surround your world?