Thanksgiving Planning in 7 Easy Steps

As many of you know I love I love a good party, any holiday I can get my hands on and run with. Well Thanksgiving is one of my favorites, mostly because it’s all about the food. Food, family, and just enjoying each other, can’t beat that with a stick. As much as I am excited about next week, I know that some are nervous, stressed, overwhelmed, which is totally taking away from your ability to enjoy the holiday. In an effort to help prevent any of you from “Gettin’ all Holiday”(defined below for those of you who were unaware) on anyone I made a list (yay, lists!) of things that help me stay sane/cheerful/fairly relaxed during the next week. Keep in mind, I firmly belive if you aren’t having fun, stop, do it differently, don’t do it at all, whatever, but holidays should be fun, for EVERYONE, not just the kids, not just the in-laws, not just your own family. Kay, back off of soap box & onto list of helpfulness…

  1. Make a Master list. I know, first item on the list is make a list, but this helps, I promise. Make a list of whose (probably) going to be there. (this gives you a head count & keeps fresh in your mind any dietary restrictions, which you should write next to people’s name on this list) On your Master list you have eaters and eaten. So you should list all the food you want to serve. (like you are brainstorming, you can cut items later).
  2. Edit that list! Go through the Master list and evaluate it. Are you serving 8 sweet potato dishes? Is someone going to be rushed to the hospital due to the fact that every dish has their allergen in it? Is the vegetarian in your group about to waste away? What about the no veggie/meat and PLAIN potatoes only eater? Do you have more deserts that side dishes? Balance your menu as best you can and rewrite it. This list goes on the fridge so you can find it all week long.
  3. Calender. Draw a 1 to 2 week calendar on a sheet of notebook paper. (I recommend 2 week for maximum holiday chill time, but as long as you have a week you should be fine) Plot 2 days to go grocery shopping (the second should be no earlier than the Monday before Thanksgiving and no later than the Wednesday before, DO NOT plan to go on Thanksgiving! Yes, you can go for an emergency, but don’t do that to you intentionally!) Using you edited menu, decide what you are going to cook and when. Keep in mind fridge space when you do this. Your goal is to cook as few things as humanly possible on Thanksgiving day. (think Turkey on the day, Sweet Potato Pie can be cooked 2 weeks early, boil eggs on Saturday to Devil on Thanksgiving Day, etc)
  4. Grocery Lists (yes 2 lists) and Shopping your Pantry. Sit down with your Edited list, Calendar, and all your recipes along with 2 sheets of paper. One list will be for that first trip to the store, you get the idea. It helps to have a child (or relative/friend/etc) look for items as you call them out from recipe cards. If you have the item on stock, pull it out (try putting all non perishables in a box), if you don’t it goes on one of your two lists. Place items on your list with an eye on when you plan to make what. However, I would buy the Turkey at least one week early, so you still get to pick. 2 lists have 3 main benefits, #1 it spreads out your grocery budget across (hopefully) more than one paycheck, #2 if you forgot/underestimated how much you needed/etc you have PLANNED to go back (this is emotionally important, I promise) making 1 “extra” trip is waaay more relaxing than 4 or 5 for other little things, #3 you can start cooking 1 1/2 to 2 weeks in advance and still have fresh veggies on the actual day.       *At this point I point out that if you aren’t already the owner of one of those magnetic clips? Invest. They look like the clip part of an old clipboard, but stick to the fridge. they are perfect for holding school flyers, and will keep all of your lists in order (ie not lost).*
  5. Follow your Plan. Except when your life happens, then adjust your plan. You will have more freedom to do this the earlier you start. See how much more relaxing that is?
  6. Enjoy Thanksgiving! You did all of this! You are the conductor of your very own gastronomical symphony! (Many pats on the back)
  7. Do not leave house on Black Friday. An important final stress reducing step. Out of milk? It’s all good, no one will die between now and Saturday, I promise. Make sure some Holiday Booze was secreted away for today, enjoy it, prop your feet and laugh at the people assaulting each other on the news while wearing your fuzzy pjs.

Hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving! recipes/etc to follow this week!

*Gettin’ all Holiday: Usually used as in “I was so mad about how that woman was acting, I was this close to Gettin’ all Holiday on her ass.” Comes from years in restaurants that were open on the holidays and located near malls, refers to the way people act (like complete shit heads)/treat each other (as though they are actually insane and self-species-loathing) from November 1st through January 10th or so every year. Is most famous for occurring on Black Friday, but can be seen in disrespectful, self-absorbed,and hatefully people any day during this time period. We have been using it for years (pre YouTube) along with “Y’all have a Rainbow F-ing Day” (which is a story for later) but last year it was demonstrated even better than I can explain by folks all over the good ole US of A. Try to avoid Gettin’ all Holiday on folks, you could end up on the internet…*

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4 Quick Dinners for the Little Ghouls

Happy Halloween everyone! Prayers to those of you still without power or under water. I hope you all go Trick-or-Treating as soon as you are able. For the rest of us, it’s Trick-or-Treating on a school night. (Ugh) I always hate that when it happens, you can’t let them eat their candy while you are walking around the neighborhood (Ahh! Potential poisons/razor blades/allergens/oh my!!), which you are doing at an unreasonably early hour (it’s still daylight and only the toddler crowd and complete lame-os Trick-or-Treat before dark; ask any of my kids, they will totally confirm this fact), so you go home after, everyone gets one piece of candy then it’s teeth brushed, pjs on, and off to bed. (hurry, hurry) And the next day? Cranky, pissy, sugar-hungover kids; hanging out at school with other kids of a similar disposition. (an excellent reason to not teach elementary school, or to give your kids teacher an excellent gift prior to the “winter holiday”, however you want to interpret that) I’m kind of surprised there aren’t more fights at school the day after Halloween, I wonder… (To do: Google average day of school year with most fights…) Anyway so before the treating and tricking this evening you still have to feed the little dears (I normally wouldn’t refer to kids that way, but trying to get them to anything like eat a healthy meal prior to Trick-or-Treating? Psht, right), my mommy guilt gets on me and I’m all “a healthy meal before we indulge this evening” while they are all (picture short people vibrating with excitement) “but I’m not hungry for supper (same child is normally in the final death throes of starvation by this time in the afternoon), I just want to put on my costume and goooooo (whiney tone added to the physical vibration here)”.  Ahh, these are the days… Good times and all that. I have discovered a few (very fast) fairly appealing and yet moderately nutritional Halloween suppers. I thought I’d share (since most of them were ideas from cookbooks that I simplified or used as is). These are also fun for any busy night in October or, I suppose, if you go for the ghoulish, any busy night year round.

Ghost Soup and Graveyard Salad

*the trick to any Halloween dish is make it sound as gross/scary as possible*

Ghost Soup is actually low-sodium New England Clam Chowder topped with a slice of Provolone Cheese cut with a ghost shaped cookie cutter. (place cheese while steamy hot and your ghost will be more melty and less cookie cuttery-yes I just made that word up) Graveyard Salad is Base Salad with large wheat croutons (gravestones) and alfalfa sprouts (moss) and raspberry vinaigrette dressing (zombie blood), delish!

Wormy Sandwiches with Bug-Infested Logs

Wormy Sandwiches are hotdogs, sliced length-wise into thin strips and tossed in your fav BBQ sauce, served in a pile on a hamburger bun (or dinner roll for littler monsters). Bug-Infested Logs are a gross (er?) take on the classic ants on a log (aka the only way anyone has ever been excited about celery, ever). You cut your celery logs and fill the trough with cream cheese (maggots) or cottage cheese (if you kids are willing-mine aren’t & well, neither am I *shudder*) top with raisins (flys, bugs, whatever you wanna call them). Bon-appetit! 🙂

Vampire Soup and Fang Sandwiches

Vampire Soup is just classic tomato soup (blood) with a slice of Colby (or American, just orange cheese) cut with bat-shaped cookie cutter (you can usually get 2 bats per slice) floating on top. Fang Sandwiches are grilled cheese sandwiches cut into 4 triangles (arrange into a toothy grin on plate around bowl of soup). This one usually makes even the pickiest monster happy.

Mummies and Garbage Dip

The Mummies are hot dogs wrapped with crescent roll dough that is sliced into strips. (Make sure to wrap haphazardly so that it looks like mummy wrappings, also kids can do this part, if they want to help) Bake as directed on crescent roll package. When cooled enough to eat give your mummies ketchup (or mustard) eyes. Garbage Dip is Ranch veggie dip (get a kind that has chunks of veggies in it) with cut up veggies spread all around on a serving platter. The trick is you need 5 baby carrots arranged in the dip as though they are a hand reaching up out of the dip. Try adding to this “illusion” by putting a plastic spider ring on the ring ‘finger”. Mmmmm…

These are the easiest, I’ve seen others, but the whole point is quick and easy, right? Save the Spider Web Pancakes for breakfast, not between school and candy time Trick-or-Treating.

 

 

 

 

 

Have a fun (and safe) time!

Crockpot Chicken n’ Dumplin’s

No those are not type-os, that’s exactly how you should say Chicken n’ dumplin’s. With everybody sick off their rears still and the weather starting to turn all Fall on us (go figure) it seemed like Chicken n’ Dumplin’s was the way to go. Again this recipe is easy and perfect for those of us who have to work all day especially when we are sick.

What you will need:

Crockpot that holds at least 6 quarts

3 Medium (or 2 large) Boneless, skinless Chicken Breasts ( you can use on the bone, but you will need 1 additional breast, and prior to putting in the dumplings you will need to fish out any bone/cartilage/skin/fat chunks)

1/4 cup dried minced onion (which is about 1/2 fresh onion)

4 Tablespoons Paprika

3 Tablespoons Seasoned Salt

4 Tablespoons Dried Rosemary

2 cans Cream of Chicken Soup

1 Can Cream of Celery Soup (If you have people for whom this will be a deal-breaker ingredient, use 3 cans Cream of Chicken instead)

Water

4 small cans biscuits (the kind that often come with soda can style plastic rings around sets of 4)

Black Pepper (to taste)

To Begin: (start Crockpot the night before or in the morning of the day you plan to eat this for supper, either is fine. Just add 3 additional cups of water if you start this the night before)

Place in Crockpot Chicken and seasonings.

*Make sure to crush Rosemary*

Add all Cream of Soups

Fill each empty Cream of can with water twice (use spatula to get everything out of cans) and add to Crockpot.

Place lid on Crockpot and set to cook on low setting.

To Finish: (This part will take about 30 minutes to cook after it is all in the crockpot)

Use a slotted cooking spoon, remove Chicken Breasts and place them on cutting Bord.

Chicken will be fall apart tender and completely cooked at this time. Use two forks or a fork and a knife to make pieces of chicken very small (bite sized or smaller). Return chicken to Crockpot.

On a clean (and cool/room temp, so as not to start “cooking” the canned biscuits) cutting board open all 4 cans of biscuits.

Cut each biscuit in half.

Remove lid from Crockpot and add each 1/2 biscuit to pot, making sure each 1/2 is dunked at least once in broth.

*This part needs to be done very quickly. The biscuits will immediately start to swell and if you stir them too much they will just turn to mush, instead of fluffy dumplings. Use the slotted spoon from before to quickly drop them in one at a time while holding other dumplings out-of-the-way*

Replace lid. Turn setting to high. DO NOT stir for at least 10 minutes!

Now is when you get out plates/bowls/silverware and some raw carrots or some other veggie to go with this comfort dish.

After about 10 minutes, remove lid and, still not actually stirring, use slotted serving spoon to push dumplings down into crockpot (and break up ones that have fused into giant scary mass dumplings) and alow chicken pieces and broth to cover them.

* Make sure to get any stuck to sides off, they will burn if you leave them there.*

Replace lid and allow to finish cooking/thickening. This should take about 20 minutes.

*Dumplings are done when if you poke into one it looks like a pale cooked biscuit inside.*

Once Dumplings are done cut setting to warm (or off if you do not have a warm) and serve. Once everybody has gotten a serving, cut Crockpot off and allow to cool before placing leftovers in fridge.

Who here is psychic and knows that we are gonna be jazzing up these leftovers later in the week? Mmm Chicken Stew…

Anyway, enjoy both the soup and the dumplin’s and read this , when your  eyes aren’t watering, about why both of these recipes are great (but especially the soup) for sick folks.

Hope y’all stay well & we demolish the September Crud soon!

Crockpot Chicken Noodle Soup

Here at the table people are dropping like flies. Life is a little sad when you come home from the doctor and say, “Great news! It’s not strep.” And mean it. It is a fever of about 103, stuffy nose, achy body, sore throat, general ugh. We are calling it September Crud. We are all passing it back and forth (sharing is caring and all that) despite the constant Lysoling and bleaching of every GD thing in the house. Sorry I have had this for about a week on top of that whole dental issue I mentioned before, and now I’m bitter. So I have actually been doing a lot of easy to prepare comfort meals this past week and thought I’d share some with you.

First I’ll need to introduce you to my bestie in the kitchen. My Crockpot. She’s awesome, I get her going in the morning and she just cooks away all day while I’m at work, hot meal ready when I get home. I actually own 3 Crockpots (each is a different size) but the one I like best was a gift from my former mother-in-law (awesome lady btw). It is a Crockpot with a removable cooking bowl, which means easier cleaning and dishwasher safe! I try to avoid not dishwasher safe stuff in the same manner I avoid dry-clean-only clothes. Now the removable cooking bowl is actually 3 bowls. So this one Crockpot can be a 2 quart, a 4 quart, and a 6 quart, depending on what I am cooking, very cool. She not only has the traditional high/low/off settings, there is a setting for each sized bowl and a warm setting, which is nice for buffet style serving.

Now that you’ve been introduced, I will give you directions for making Crockpot Chicken Noodle Soup. (Cause that’s the first thing I think to cook when people are sick) Who doesn’t, though, right?

You will need:

Crockpot that will hold at least 6 quarts (we are not making 6 quarts of soup, but you need the space for stirring, etc)

2 very large (think larger than an adult hand or two of my hands) or 3 medium boneless skinless chicken breasts

About 1/2 a celery bunch

1/2 medium yellow onion

About 1 pound baby carrots

1 box low sodium/fat chicken broth          

Rosemary (dried)

Paprika

Seasoned salt

Black pepper

Egg Noodles (medium-sized)

Water

To start: (If planning on eating for lunch begin the night before, if soup will be for supper, begin in the morning prior to 9 am)

*Note: If you are not a morning person (like me who totally doesn’t want to ever do anything pre 10am, well, much less sick)You can dice all veggies and store them in a Ziploc baggie in the fridge the night before, then just empty the baggie in the am.*

Dice into tiny pieces celery and onion then toss in the Crockpot.

*Tip: Adding these at this point makes them all but disappear by the time you are eating this soup, which means fewer “Ew, what is that?” kind of commentary at your table.*

*Onions will release less sulfur (which is what makes you cry) if they are very cold. Put the onion in the freezer for 30 minutes before cutting and you can avoid shedding any tears.*

Cut each baby carrot into thirds and add to Crockpot.

Dice chicken breasts and add to Crockpot.

Add broth.

Fill broth box 1/2 full with water, add to Crockpot.

Sprinkle enough paprika to thinly cover top of broth.

Repeat with Seasoned salt.

Add a pinch of black pepper. (If you decide later you want more, add it to taste after the chicken is fully cooked)

Place 2 tablespoons of rosemary either in palm of hand or in mortar and pestle. Crush (to break it down & release flavor better) before adding to Crockpot.

Set on low cooking setting with the lid on. Then leave alone.

To finish: (this will need to cook about 30 minutes before you can eat it)

Give everything a good stir. (it will look closer to a thin stew than soup at this point)

*If you wanted to freeze your soup concentrate for later, this is when you should do that.*

Add 5 cups of water.

Add about 2 cups of egg noodles. (If you want more noodles that will be fine, just make sure to add equal water and noodle amounts after what is mentioned here)

Stir so that noodles are fully submerged.

Replace lid and turn setting to high.

Enjoy your soup!

Self Esteem, Storm Troopers and Losing

This is something I have always thought was ridiculous. But with it having been all over the web recently with articles like this, and the commencement address at the beginning of summer I haven’t said anything, most of it’s already been said. I only posted to Twitter the ridiculousness of BC II winning a certificate of Achievement for  (not making this up) Confidence. At lunch. At the end of the school year award ceremony. What?! He thought it was silly too. His words, “I’ve always been confident at lunch. It’s something I’ve always been good at. You know, eating, so I am confident, but it’s not like I got better at it. Weird, huh, Mom?” He and I talked about how he would rather of not gotten an award at all if it was going to be something like that. I did ask him if it was fun to get an award, instead of no award. He said, “No. Mom, it’d be like if we had a race and everyone won. That’s not a race, the real winner doesn’t get to celebrate ’cause it wasn’t special. That’d be lame. Then no one would want to race.”

But this week, I’m planning yet another birthday party, BC II is turning 8, and I am reminded of another party a few years ago. Because since that party I have debated the very way I throw parties for kids, at each party I consider this one boy who brought the dark side of this issue screaming into my little village. (For the record this kid, who lives 2 blocks away was never invited back) I wanted to tell this story to help parents understand why those of us in the participation trophies make entitled little brats grow up to be entitled, jobless thirty year olds sleeping on Mom and Dad’s couch complaining about how the world has done them wrong, think that way. This is not the story of a thirty year old, it’s the story of a birthday party for a ten-year-old (BC I) and how we all need to be careful with how much we protect our “babies” from the world. If they never get to lose as a child, they will lose at life, not cool Mom, not cool.

So to set the scene it’s a lovely October afternoon, and we are having an outside birthday party with about 12 9 to 11 year olds in attendance. The theme is Halloween, as Halloween will be the following week, and all the boys are in costumes. The problems start when we play Halloween Bingo and escalate from there. The boy dressed as a Jedi wins, we all cheer and he picks a bouncy rubber vampire on a spring as his prize (there is a large tin that used to contain Halloween popcorn filled with items like this, you know the stuff you would put in a goody bag, and as prizes each kid gets to pick one). I had the boys decorate trick-or-treat bags (orange lunch bag sized bags) earlier and wrote everyone’s name on theirs. I had explained at the time that we would use them to hold everyone’s game prizes and other take home treats. I told the young Jedi congrats again and to put the vampire in his bag. Then I asked the boys if they wanted to play again or if we should move on to the next game. We ended up playing until two other boys had also won (a vampire and a batman). Then I put up the bingo and got out this blow up pumpkin and started organizing the boys to play “rotten pumpkin” (like hot potato) explaining the rules as I cue the music. A little (well actually he was really tall for 11 and pretty pudgy too) Storm Trooper starts whining. “But I didn’t get my prize” (Imagine all the letters drawn out & high-pitched) “But you didn’t win yet,” my own 5-year-old Spiderman pipes up, “you have to win to get prizes.” “that’s not fair.” (same whiney tone) ” We will play lots of games, I’m sure you will win a prize, too,” I step in, mostly because I can’t stand that whiney voice. We begin the game the Storm Trooper gets eliminated about the third or fourth time the music stops. He starts crying, “No FAIR! NO FAIR!” I come over and pat his shoulder, trying to console him with the fact that we will play this game again and several others and that would he like some punch or some of the food laid out while he waited for this one to be over. The other boys who were already out (one of whom was K-man and 2 at the time were staring at this kid like he was crazy while munching and watching the game. Star Trooper didn’t calm down until I got him a cookie (he was not interested in the veggie garbage dip & I have a theory now regarding his chubbiness) and a brownie. We play 3 rounds in all. Guess who one the third round? Yup, our Storm Trooper. We move on to play Graveyard Dash, which is a race/relay game I invented involving cardboard gravestones with the party guests’ (ahem who remembered to RSVP) names on them. We begin and the Knight wins. Again with the crying. “But I tried really hard. We should all get prizes. My Mommy would never let anyone not get a prize, it’s not good for our self-esteem.” I mentally put on the breaks, my brain tires smoked a bit as I just stared at this kid. “What?!” “My Mommy knows I should always win so that I will be happy, you are mean!” (brief pause in the story to remind you this kid is ELEVEN, not two) Now I’m just dumbfounded, I can’t say “Well your Mom is an idiot, raising a spoiled brat” so I just stare. BC I (as a Gladiator, he was going through an ancient Rome phase at the time) rushes to the Storm Trooper and starts angrily telling him, “My Mom is not mean. She has enough respect for us that she doesn’t baby us like the teachers do. Her games are fun because we all get to play and someone ACTUALLY wins.”  “Yeah, ” pipes up the Jedi, “BC I’s parties are always awesome cause there is good food, and cool games with real prizes.” “You’re just being a baby, ” this was from my five-year-old Spiderman. I break up the verbal assault, with thank yous to my defenders, but reminders that we are all going to play nicely and enjoy the party and not be mean to each other. (blah blah blah, had to be the mom there) We continue on like this with each and every game we play. If the Storm Trooper wins, he’s happy, if someone else wins, tears and whining. When we stopped playing games each of the kids had won something about two or three times each. We move on to presents. My Gladiator opens gifts and profusely thanks the givers. We start to move on to cake (and the end of the party) when Storm Trooper starts whining again! “Where are MY presents?” I didn’t get a present!” My Spiderman points out that it’s not his birthday and everybody only gets one birthday turn a year, so it’s fair. (The answer I have given every toddler in my house when this issue has come up before) “I’m telling my mommy how mean you are!” This is directed at me as I am lighting candles on a haunted house cake. ” Honey, you won several prizes, have a cool bag and a pumpkin you painted and a ghost lollipop all to go home with. Isn’t that nice?” “NO! I want MY PRESENTS!” “Well I am sorry, but we are having cake right now, would you like some?” (this calmed him down until his mother got there)We thanked him for coming (and my Gladiator learned an important lesson in politeness) as he walked away, arms full of loot (including a plate piled with snacks “for the ride home, he gets cranky in the car and transitions are just so hard for him” was the explanation from his Mom) I heard him telling her all bout how mean it was that he didn’t win every game and there were no presents for him.

I tell this story because it’s so ridiculous an example of what people are doing to their kids. That 11-year-old had a miserable time at a party that the other boys had a blast at. He hasn’t been invited to any parties at my house since then. He is missing out on a lot the joy of being a kid thanks to the way his mother (and I have to assume father) allows him to always win. I know this is how they treat the kids in Elementary school at least and that not all of them were acting like that, but this little Storm Trooper will always be on my mind, every time I plan a party. I worry, am I too firm? Was I too unaccepting? Or was that kid just a brat? I haven’t run across another as bad as the Storm Trooper (which is what we call him now, since the memory is burned in our brains, but we can’t remember his name) but I often wonder what, if anything I should have done differently?

What do you think? As we get geared up for party season around here I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions regarding dealing with any future Storm Troopers.