Christmas Detox: Holiday China Edition

So what, Christmas decorations can go up in stores before Halloween, but we’re just supposed to stop December 26? In the immortal words of Cher Horowitz, I don’t think so. I’ve been wanting to do a post on my Christmas china for awhile–I do so love it, and I have so much, but I’ve hesitated because I worried that it was too self-indulgent. Then I realized that having my own blog was pretty self-indulgent, so why not?

I had a lot of fun taking pictures of everything before I put it away until (sigh) next December–I hope you enjoy!

Lenox Holiday China

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For me, Lenox Holiday is the gold standard, the ne plus ultra of Christmas china. For years, I eyed it like a future junkie: “I’ll certainly never buy that, that would be ridiculous! Ha!” I knew I’d only be able to hold out so long. I finally started collecting it after I made a little deal with myself: I would start slow (buying two place settings on sale), and I would use it for every meal, every day in December.

This justification was aided by the fact that Lenox Holiday is basically a holly-festooned version of my wedding china, Eternal, so I could mix and match the pieces until I gathered a full set. I currently have eight place settings, thanks in large part to my Mom, who has also donated to the “cause.”

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Um, as you can see, I didn’t stop with the place setting (see also: the adorable Santa train salt and pepper shakers, above). I have more Holiday serving pieces than Eternal (I actually have none for that), because Holiday goes way on sale around the holidays, and Eternal never does! Get that wedding registry money, Macy’s–you jerks! But. I love these, and I generally entertain a lot around the holidays, so I use them a lot.

Rosanna Twelve Days of Christmas & More

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While the Lenox Holiday is my drug of choice, my gateway plates are from Rosanna, a Seattle company that designs delightful tableware. I believe I first saw these 12 Days of Christmas appetizer plates in Martha Stewart, and they’re still available on the Rosanna site! A real bonus: Rosanna packages their wares in collectible boxes that are cute and actually useful for storage.

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Yes, there’s more. Listen, I can stop whenever I want. These three items were all presents from my brother, who raided Rosanna’s Jolly Holiday collection. Unfortunately, these are no longer available on the site. I use the small tray for cookies for “Santa,” and the plates and mugs for snacks and hot chocolate.

Thrift/Unknown

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I got this large vintage plastic (melamine?) tray at a thrift store a long time ago and I love it. The pearlized plastic is embedded with flecks of silver, and it’s unbreakable. Thrift and vintage stores can be a great source of holiday china and serve ware–garage and estate sales, too!

When I see my holiday china all laid out like this, 50% of me is embarrassed and the other 50% wants to roll around on it like Indecent Proposal (weird, also: ouch). But I love it so much: I love the holidays, and entertaining, and family traditions, and I love having something special to use in December. I look at my china and I see decades of holidays around the table, and it makes me very happy.

I’m gonna close with another shot of salt-and-pepper Santa! Thanks for reading about my jolly folly!

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I Hate Taking Down Christmas

takechristmasdown

As soon as I touch this, the remaining needles are gonna hit the floor. Help me Hellboy!

It was about 6:00 last night when I realized that–ugh–garbage and recycling pickup was the next morning, which meant I needed to buckle down and get our once-beautiful Christmas tree out to the curb. This was made easier by the fact that our tree had completely dried out and only weighed about five pounds, but still: I hate taking down Christmas.

Preparing for Christmas is magical–getting out the decorations! Picking the tree! Lovingly reminiscing over ornaments! Your family members join in, because we’re making beautiful memories we’ll cherish forever!

Putting Christmas away is drag. Why do we keep some of these hideous ornaments? Can I get rid of them without anyone noticing? Why did I put so many lights on the tree? Is there any way to take them off without taking out half the branches (answer: science is working on it)? As I grimly wound hundreds of tiny lights and stuffed them back into their boxes, a traitorous, non-Christmassy though invaded my head: what if we didn’t do a Christmas tree next year?

What has happened to me? Along with my brother, I’m the most Christmassy jerk I know! But trees are expensive. And messy. And wasteful. And I hate doing the lights. But I won’t let anyone else do the lights. And our house is small. And WARM (hence the extra-crispy needles all over the house).

Every year about this time, I have a very special fantasy. Close your eyes, Mom! Just kidding. I think about artificial Christmas trees: beautiful, non-shedding, pre-lit Christmas trees that are perfectly shaped and can hold those super-heavy ornaments that came from god-knows-where. But then I sigh and realize I don’t have the space to store one–that’s why I keep our artificial garlands up all year long (also: I’m a Christmassy jerk, see above).

I know that I have a year to regain my Christmas spirit. Sid loves doing the tree (and is getting pretty good at helping with the lights). Sarah is only two–I certainly can’t deprive her of these precious Christmas traditions (I can’t, right?!?). But today, I still have a whole house of ho-ho-ho to stuff under the beds. Maybe some holiday music would help . . .

 

turkey enchiladas

Thanksgiving Recovery

turkey enchiladas

Image via Epicurious. Get. In. My. Belly!

Whew! And how was your Thanksgiving? Mine was wonderful and exhausting, but this morning, I was confronted with the reality that it was not over: I still had a turkey carcass in my fridge that had to be dealt with. So I put on a YouTube playlist (The Daily Connoisseur gets me motivated), pushed up my sleeves, and got to work, carving off and saving the extra meat and tearing apart the bird so I could make two pots of broth (we had a 20-pound turkey this year–huge!). As I worked I had the following random thoughts, which you might appreciate:

  • Next year I need to look for the baggie of giblets a little harder. My Dad discovered it (fully cooked, in paper) while he carved the turkey. Whoops.
  • I feel like I did not sell my Fresh Herb Stuffing recipe as well as I could have (seeing that I hadn’t eaten it in a year when I typed it out). Frankly: it is gooooooood. So good! So simple, so the fresh herbs take center stage. And the texture from the artisan bread was perfect: soft yet substantial, with toasty edges. Oh, I want more. My friend Mary-Suzanne used my recipe and added some dried cherries, which sounds fantastic.
  • Finally, after 41 years, I am over canned cranberry sauce. It’s too sweet. So I need a good whole-berry recipe–anyone want to share?

Okay, fess up–do you have a bird in your fridge right now? Don’t let it go to waste! I had to toss some leftover pie this morning and was very sad. Here are my plans to put our turkey to good use:

  • Turkey broth: I follow the guidelines for my chicken broth recipe, but I usually divide the bird between two pots and make double.
  • Mexican Turkey Soup: I use the recipe from Soup Makes the Meal, by Ken Haedrich, but this recipe from the New York Times looks lovely.
  • Turkey Enchiladas: This was a suggestion from a friend on Facebook–I love enchiladas, and I like to avoid traditional Thanksgiving flavors when I use up my turkey leftovers (see soup above)–it makes them more interesting.
  • Paleo Turkey Tetrazzini: I am not paleo, but my friend Melissa is, and she is fantastic at choosing recipes, so I’m excited to try this. My husband loves spaghetti squash and will be excited to eat more vegetables.

What are your Thanksgiving recovery plans? Do you have a whole-berry cranberry sauce recipe to share? Post below!

Thanksgiving Menu 2016

thanksgivingWhew! Do you like how I’ve posted more in the past few days than the past few months? It’s all been leading up to this: my Thanksgiving 2016 menu!

These are all tried-and-true, crowd-pleasing recipes that aren’t terribly difficult and are so worth it. Anyway, I’m pleased to have them all in one place so I can refer to this post next year!

Elisabeth’s Thanksgiving 2016 Menu

Alton Brown’s Classic Brined and Roasted Turkey – This is simple yet delicious! Includes a recipe for gravy. It does require a 5-gallon drink cooler (the kind you dump on your coach after the winning game). If you don’t want to buy one, check your local party rental shop, you can probably rent one for less than $10.

The Pioneer Woman’s Parker House Rolls – These rolls are buttery and amazing. I don’t shape the dough for Parker House Rolls, however–I shape them into two-ounce balls.

Fresh Herb Stuffing – This stuffing is delicious and has countless variations!

Mashed Potatoes – I actually don’t use a recipe (I boil about 1/2 lb of potatoes per person in salted water, rice them, and add cream, butter, and salt and pepper to taste), but this one is great!

Green Bean Casserole – The classic! My brother’s favorite.

Green Beans with Filberts, Fennel & Orange – Yes, I’m having two green bean dishes. However, this one is so wildly different from the casserole, I don’t think anyone will notice.

Cranberry Jelly – The ridged kind from the can–aw yeah!

Great Pumpkin Pie – Fortunately, I don’t have to make pie this year (my Mom is making her delicious pie), but when I make pumpkin pie, I use Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recipe from The Pie and Pastry Bible. It has a layer of ground gingersnaps and pecans at the bottom, and it is soooooo good.

I hope you enjoy my picks!

Green Beans With Filberts, Fennel & Orange

Thanksgiving! It’s less than a week away. I never worry about my menu, because guess what: my family likes to eat the same dishes every year, no matter what. Sure, I might try a new stuffing recipe or add a new appetizer, but if I take out the green bean casserole? It’s over. But I can usually add a new vegetable dish, and this year, it’s Green Beans with Filberts, Fennel, and Orange.

My friend Sara Proctor adapted this from a very different Ottolenghi recipe. It’s zesty and fresh and tart–the perfect thing to cut through the richness of mashed potatoes and gravy. Plus it’s delicious at room temperature!

Green Beans with Filberts, Fennel & Orange

1 fennel bulb, stems removed and thinly sliced, then quick pickled (see below)
2 cups green beans, stems removed and cut in half
1 small blood orange, zested and juiced
2 Tablespoons sesame oil (olive or any nut oil will work)
3/4 cup filberts, roasted (see below)
2 Tablespoons chopped chives
Lemon juice to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Quick-Pickled Fennel:

3/4 cup rice vinegar
3/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon peppercorns

Bring all ingredients to a boil, then allow to cool. Pour over fennel and let sit for at least 20 minutes.

Roasted Filberts:

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  In an oven-proof dish, place filberts on the middle rack and roast for approximately 15 minutes, checking and shaking every few minutes. Once roasted, place in a clean kitchen towel and rub to remove skins. Roughly chop.

Main Recipe:

Blanch green beans in boiling water for 4 minutes, then shock in ice-cold water. Drain and towel dry. Place in a medium bowl and add chives, orange zest and chopped fennel. Mix.

In a small bowl, mix orange juice, sesame oil, salt and pepper, and a few squirts of lemon juice. Pour over green bean mixture.

Add filberts, toss, and serve.

Fresh Herb Stuffing With Artisan Bread

Episode # 12440

I didn’t have a picture so I included one of General Hospital‘s Quartermaine family, who always have comically horrible Thanksgivings. The pizza will arrive shortly.

Like most of you, I love stuffing at Thanksgiving–it’s all the more special because now that I think of it, Thanksgiving is the only time I eat stuffing (note to self: make stuffing more often). This simple-yet-delicious Fresh Herb Stuffing recipe originally appeared in the Oregonian, probably in 2005 or 2006. Googling does me no good, so I’m glad my Mom and I saved it!

After years of more complicated recipes, I was surprised by how much I liked this one. The fresh herbs really make it delicious, and it complements, rather than competes with, your other dishes. However, there are several jazzier variations included below!

Fresh Herb Stuffing

Makes 8 servings

You Need:

1 1-lb. loaf firm-textured artisan white or sourdough bread (Note: if you live in Portland, Grand Central’s Piccolo Como is perfect)
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (divided)
1 yellow onion, diced 1/4 inch
2 stalks celery, diced 1/4 inch
1/2 cup packed finely chopped fresh parsley
2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons chopped fresh savory or marjoram
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cups chicken stock
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Tear the bread, including crusts, into small bite-size pieces, about the size of walnut halves. Place them on an ungreased baking sheet in a single layer and toast in the oven for 15 to 18 minutes, turning once, until crisp but not browned. You will have about 10 cups. Set aside to cool.

Use 1 tablespoon of the butter to grease a wide 10- to 12-cup baking dish. Melt 1/2 cup of butter (1 stick) in a sauté pan over medium heat. When it foams, add the onion and celery and cook for 8 minutes until vegetables have softened. Scrape all the butter and vegetables into a large mixing bowl and let cool for 10 minutes.

Add the toasted bread to the mixing bowl, along with the parsley, sage, thyme, savory or marjoram, salt and pepper. Toss to combine all the ingredients and coat the bread with the melted butter. Pour in 2 cups of the stock (it should be cool) and stir. Beat the 2 eggs into the remaining 1 cup stock and stir into the stuffing just enough to blend without over-mixing. Spoon the stuffing into the baking dish without packing it down. Dot it with the remaining tablespoon of butter and cover the baking dish with aluminum foil. Refrigerate overnight or until ready to bake.

To bake, place the covered stuffing into an oven set at anywhere between 350 to 425 degrees; bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until stuffing crowns in the center and the top browns, 30 to 45 minutes more.

Sausage variation: Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add 8 ounces pork sausage and cook, stirring to break it up, just until it changes color but does not brown. Strain out the sausage and reserve, leaving the fats (no more than 1/4 cup) in the pan. Add only 1/4 cup more butter to the hot pan to cook the onions and celery. Reduce the salt to 3/4 teaspoon. Mix the reserved sausage into the stuffing with the herbs.

Mushroom variation: Roughly chop 1 pound cleaned fresh mushrooms, such as cremini, white button or portobello, and cook with the onions and celery until softened.

Chestnut variation: Roughly chop 1 cup fresh roasted and shelled, or canned, but unsweetened chestnuts. Mix them into the stuffing with the herbs.

Oyster variation: Drain 1 pint fresh, shucked oysters. Measure the liquor from the oysters and use it to replace an equal amount of the chicken stock for the stuffing. Gently mix the whole oysters into the stuffing with the herbs.

Bacon variation: Slice 4 ounces bacon strips into 1/2-inch pieces. Cook in a skillet over medium-low heat until all the fat is rendered but the bacon is not browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve, leaving the fat in the pan. Add only 1/4 cup of the butter to the hot pan to cook the onions and celery. Reduce the salt to 3/4 teaspoon. If desired, mix the reserved bacon into the stuffing with the herbs.

Apple variation: Peel, core and cut 4 apples, such as Gala, Rome or Granny Smith, into 1/2-inch dice. Cook them with the onions and celery until softened.

Are you all set for Thanksgiving? I’ll be posting this year’s menu shortly!

Totino's Christmas

How to Prepare for the Holidays

Totino's Christmas

Bonus tip: have some Totino’s in the freezer.

Well hello there! It’s been more than a month since my last post, and I missed you all so much. I’ve been busy working on GeekCraft Expo Seattle (watch for me on New Day Northwest next month) and spreading the word for The Doubleclicks, but I am so glad to be back writing for me.

So . . . what’s new? Anything big happen in the last month? Looks like Nazis are a thing again. I found myself wondering the other day–will Captain Germany end up coming to America and defeating the Orange Skull? Comics gallows humor, folks. My main takeaways from the election: I need to get involved in (or at least be aware of) local politics, and I need to get my news from credible sources rather than Facebook.

But that’s not what I came here to talk about–what are you doing to get ready for the holidays? I love, love Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I’m looking forward to spending this time with my family, without stressing out too much. Here are my suggestions to prepare:

  • Roast a chicken. Really! It’s a simple, elegant dinner, but even more important–you’re going to need a lot of chicken broth in the next two months. Make it and freeze it now.
  • Deep-clean the kitchen. Ugh, I hate this part. But it is necessary. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to be cooking a lot and having people over. It’s going to be easier if you clean out your cabinets and fridge. One, you’ll have a good idea of what you already have (so you don’t go buy more molasses and miss the bottle in the back), and two, you’ll have room for everything you’re going to buy.
  • Count your dishes, plates, and silverware. I recommended this last year and didn’t follow my own advice. Then when I was setting the table for Thanksgiving, I realized I was missing two forks! Don’t be like me. This year I went to Replacements to replace a chipped plate and those two forks. If you’re not compulsive like me and don’t care if your pieces match, head over to Goodwill or a thrift store and stock up.
  • Envision your holiday gifts and projects. Now is the time to start putting together your Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa gifts, especially if you plan on making a lot of them, like I do. Jo-Ann Fabrics is having great sales right now–I got a bunch of wire-edged holiday ribbon for 50% off, and felt was on sale, too. I can’t get into what things I’m making this year (or I’ll ruin the surprise), but I will put together a post about the jar gifts I made last year. Also, there’s always my White Christmas cross stitch. I would love to see pics if anyone is crazy enough to make it!
  • Plan your Thanksgiving menu. I put this last because for most people, Thanksgiving doesn’t require a lot of planning–people tend to demand the same treasured recipes year after year (like my brother with green bean casserole). But you can usually slip in a new appetizer or salad. No one eats salad on Thanksgiving, they won’t care.

What are your holiday prep secrets? Post them below!