December Craziness

Something happens to me in December.  I think of it as the month of celebrations and I really push back against doing anything non-fun related.  Of course all the fun things are not non-work related.  In fact I bring way to much work upon myself trying to have more fun.


I usually tr get a bunch of things like decorating the house or buying the Christmas gifts done in advance of December to free up the actual month for merriment and reverie.  This year the house was done in advance, but I have done a terrible job on actual gift purchases.  Perhaps it is because I have not been inspired by any new gift ideas.


My favorite thing to do in December is to entertain, which of course involves a lot of cooking.  I know that this need to spend the month is the kitchen started when I was a kid.  My family used to have a giant, like a 150 people giant, dinner party on Christmas Eve.  My parents invited their close friends with all their kids and any grandparents, aunts or cousins who were visiting.  We had a southern menu to show all our Connecticut friends the best hospitality around.  Country ham from Virginia and Oyster Stew were staples every year.


Our house in Connecticut was built for big parties.  It had three kitchens and multiple big rooms so that the kids and the grown-ups could have their own domains.  Prepping for that party is how I learned to be a caterer since my Dad, the only other cook in the family, depended upon me to make a major amount of food.  The days before Christmas were filled with party prep, which really kept the kid’s minds off the impending arrival of Santa.  So now this need for Christmas parties is part of my DNA.


The other big December event is that it is also Carter’s birthday month.  It is easier now that she is almost 14 and not in the need of a party for her whole class.  When Carter was four we had a snow princess party that precipitated the purchase of a giant twelve-foot tall inflatable snowman, which we put in the front yard.  It became an instant neighborhood landmark.  Young children would beg their parents to drive them by the big Frosty.  It is so tacky and horrible that we really only thought of using it for that one birthday party, but every year people ask us when the snowman is going to arrive so we have succumbed to being that house with the huge white nylon light up man acting as a beacon for potential babysitting customers for Carter.  Every year Russ and Carter have to do some major surgery to the mechanics of Frosty and miraculously it has survived a decade.


So here we are on the cusp of my favorite month.  Don’t ask me to come to a meeting or do any real work.  I have put in double time on doing good the other eleven months.  I reserve December to give parties, go to luncheons, make crafts, shop and wrap presents, cook goodies to give to my friends, decorate gingerbread houses, enjoy libations at friends’ homes, catch up with people I have not seen since last Christmas, listen to the same music I have every December for the last 50 years and hear the same bible stories I have my whole life.  So here’s to the craziness of December.  I’m not going to fight it, but embrace it and pack in as much fun as possible.  Grown up responsibilities can start up again in January.

The right “W’ word is WORK not WAIT

A friend called me this morning lamenting her surprise loss in the Powerball lottery.  She obviously did not read my post from a few days ago “Winning the lottery won’t make you any thinner” since she is already thin she must have thought it did not apply to her.


She went on to say, “Well, good things come to those who wait.”  After consoling her, in my “you will think twice about asking for sympathy from me again way,” we hung up and I got to thinking about that advice about “waiting” for good things to come.  I know that it is just a consolation for those who have been disappointed, but it certainly is bad advice.


I am here today to suggest we change the expression to “Good things come to those who work.”  I don’t think that encouraging the passive life of waiting is going to get most people to a goal they are hoping to reach.  The only way to increase your odds of winning is to work at something.


I have a number of close relatives who have been working incredibly hard and it is paying off for them.  No luck or waiting around was involved, just kept their noses to their respective grindstones, to coin another cliché.


The same is true for losing weight.  I have had a couple of people who don’t know me well or see me often recently run into me and ask me how in the world I lost weight.  I tell them I just work at it everyday and they look at me like I am keeping some secret of national importance from them.  Surely I have had an operation or am taking some experimental drug or whisper worthy, worse, I am actually sick an am not trying to lose weight.


Nothing as tragic or exciting as any of those things, just work.  But work is satisfying for itself not just for reaching a goal you might have set.  So my advice for today, the day you did not win the lottery, is don’t just wait for good things to happen make them happen by working at it.  Not only are you a lot more likely to succeed, you will appreciate it so much more when you do.  You need to stop reading my platitudes; we’ve got work to get done.

Caffeine Free Hot Drinks


One of the drawbacks about losing weight is that I am much colder these days.  I some how have avoided middle-aged hot flash season so far, but now that I have written that I am sure they will begin soon.  I would welcome a little self-created heat because I really don’t want to wear gloves indoors.  One thing I find that does help is drinking hot drinks.  Not only do they warm the inside of me, but I get to warm my freezing hands on the mug.


I am not a black coffee drinker, wish I were. I really try to limit coffee because it is not calorie free after I add milk and sweetener, which I also try and limit so the my brain does not get into the “I wants sweets” mode that even sweet ‘n low can bring on.


Caffeine after 2:00 in the afternoon can also back fire on me.  So that leaves me with herbal teas.  Yes, I will drink them, but they always seem a little wimpy in the flavor department so I am not running to the tea cabinet in the afternoon.


What I really want is something hot, no caffeine, no calories and big flavor so it is satisfying, almost like actually eating something.  My favorite hot drink that fills all these requirements is hot ginger/lemon water.  I drop a knob of peeled ginger root in a teapot with half a squeezed lemon and pour boiling water over it.  I let it sit for at least 10 minutes so that the ginger can let lose its essence in the water.  I pour the mixture in a mug and then zap it in the microwave to bring it back up to really hot. I add a tiny amount of Splenda, to just cut the sourness of the lemon a little, but not enough to spike my brain with some sweet craving.   The best part is that the knob of ginger is good for a couple of pots of hot water before it is spent of its entire spicy flavor.


Sometimes if I think I am hungry I drink a mug or two of hot ginger water and it seems to fill me up and provide enough actual taste that my mouth feels like it had chewed something.  Tricking my brain into thinking it had food is my constant goal.  I certainly have enough reserves to live on, which I want my body to go ahead and use up without going into some starvation panic and start becoming more efficient.  Ginger has been used since the dawning of time to settle stomachs so maybe it makes my stomach happy and therefore makes me happy.  Who knows? It is just another tool in the bag of diet tricks — anything to go another day without a cookie.

The Secret Soup Series – Installment 2 – Vegetable Soup

This is more of a guide than a recipe because you can make a broth based vegetable soup with almost any vegetables.  Like Lima beans, add ‘em, hate carrots, leave ‘em out, like oregano, and go for it.  You will get the picture.  The point is to know how to whip a pot of the best appetite cure there is.  I like to have something like this around to eat before I go to parties.  It is so much easier to pass by the baked brie if I have eaten a cup of soup.

As I have written in the past onions are the key to the flavor a along with carrots, celery, garlic and tomatoes.  Everything else is just what you have on hand or like.


1 large yellow onion – chopped

4 carrots – peeled and chopped

2 stalks of celery – chopped

3 cloves of garlic minced

1 can of diced tomatoes- (I just one with chilies in it)

3 cans of chicken stock – or vegetable stock if you want

1 T. white vinegar

Salt and pepper


Corn cut off 2 ears of corn

1 can white beans drained

Hand full of fresh thyme- tied with a string

1 bay leaf

Other suggested veggies

Peppers, peas, other types of beans, broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, turnips, parsnips, zucchini, yellow squash, spinach …

As usual I spray a soup pot with Pam.  If you are opposed to Pam just put a little olive oil in the pan and swirl it all around.  Don’t write me to complain about using Pam, just don’t use it and keep that information to yourself.

Put the pot on a medium heat and add the onions and cook for 3 minutes, stirring every once in a while.  Add the carrots and the garlic cook another minute.  Add the celery, tomatoes, stock, bay leaf, thyme salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer, add the corn and the beans, which are already cooked.  Simmer for five minutes add the vinegar and serve if you are hungry right then.

The vegetables should still be a little crunchy.  You don’t need to simmer soup forever.  That just makes mush.  I like to turn the heat off in the pan and put a lid on it and just let it sit there for a few hours with no heat the herbs will give up more flavor.  You can add some chopped chicken to make it a meal, or some rice or a few cooked noodles.  The rule to follow is if you add raw vegetables try and cut them roughly the same size.  Add them to the pot like this;  if they are hard ones that take a long time to cook like parsnips add them with the onions, if they are short cooking like peppers or green beans add them with the stock, if they are frozen peas, or canned beans or anything that is already cooked add them at the last minute. The basic soup is a blank canvas awaiting your additions.

The Hostess Gift Dilemma


Now that the house is decorated for Christmas the next thing on my normal schedule of holiday preparedness events is to make or cook my hostess gift of the year.  In my please-don’t-confuse-me-with-Martha-Stewart because I don’t think she has much of a sense of humor, yet I still am very crafty/handy/culinary talented way I like to make a different item from year to year.  Last year I made homemade vanilla, which I put into really cute apothecary bottles I ordered from a bottle manufacturer.  It was not a hard gift to make, but I had to start making it in September so it had the requisite amount of time to age.


Since I have been busy writing this blog and trying to create new healthy recipes I have done no advance planning for the Holiday season.  I usually would have my Christmas shopping done by now and I have barely made a dent in that so far.  I clearly have been spending too much time on me this year.


So here is my dilemma.  Is it kosher for me to make a hostess gift that is something fattening, decedent and really yummy in a year that I have been promoting weight loss?  I think that I am disciplined enough right now to make something that I am not tempted to eat, so I am not in fear for the number on my scale.  But is it hypocritical to give others something I clearly would not eat myself?  Not that most of the people I might give these gifts too need to lose weight, but I hate to pile on to the holiday calorie mountain.


I am thinking about making some fleur de sel caramels, which are absolutely worth every calorie because they are a moment in heaven.  They are a little tricky, but not that time consuming.  I have all the right cute containers, labels, wrapping and bows.  If I give just a few sinful morsels would it be so bad?


If only I had started some vinegars a few months ago I could have kept my diet themed year.  But alas I am too late and I don’t have enough free time to sew, needlepoint or cross-stitch enough non-food items.  If only I had not set the bar so high over the last thirty years.  I can’t turn into a total Scrooge and not give gifts.  Or almost worse, give soaps or lotions, which no one ever uses.


I also would like to give something from a local producer.  That gives me a really grinchy-Grinch idea.  I could get local bacon and make my famous candy bacon.  It is doubly hedonistic being both a sweet and a fat, but then again I could support a local farmer and pork is one of North Carolinas top products.


So weigh in on my ideas and please feel free to suggest others.  At this point I am not beyond trolling the Internet, if only I had the time.

Winning the Lottery Won’t Make You Any Thinner



While everyone was busy eating turkey and camping our overnight in front of big box stores no one noticed that the Powerball Lottery had gotten up to $325 million.  That is because most of the people who are willing to fight for a cheep flat screen TV at Wal-Mart at one in the morning are the same people who regularly buy lottery tickets.  That means that Wednesday’s lottery payout is already up to $450 MILLION and now that the media has drawn attention to it being the biggest lottery in history it will probably get even bigger because even people with advanced degrees and all their important teeth go out and buy lottery tickets when the jackpot gets to be ridiculously huge.


I am not one of those people, although I have all my teeth.  First of all, I only play games where using your brain helps you win, granted I play a lot of those.  But for a one in 175 million odds to win I don’t see any reason to give my money away.  The real reason I won’t play the lottery is that I might win and I can think of no better way to ruin your life than to come into an obscene amount of money for which you basically did nothing to earn it.


The downside is so much greater than the upside.  First everyone you ever met would want you to give them some money and no matter how much you gave them they would say it was not enough since you got to keep like $275 million after taxes.  You would never know if anyone liked you for yourself or just wanted you to like them enough to give them some money.  Even though I love the friends I have now I also like to make some new friends and that would just have to stop.


Second managing all that money is a full time job and not really the job I want.  Granted I could make some big difference in the world like helping end hunger, but that is another full time job.  All that money comes with too many jobs.


Third, it would ruin my child’s life.  I know or knew too many rich kids who never had a reason to work and ended up miserable or dead at a young age.


Lastly, winning the lottery would not help me get any thinner.  Yes, I could go live at a spa until I reached my goal weight, but not really since all that money came with all that work of managing it.  I could not continue to grow my own healthy food for fear of being kidnapped while out in the garden.


So I think the old saying “You can’t be too rich or too thin” just is not true, especially for me.  I think winning the lottery is just a recipe for unhappiness and obesity.

Christmas Threw Up Today at My House


There are two things I can guarantee about Thanksgiving weekend, one was the Mexican restaurant visit I told you about yesterday and the other is that Christmas throws up at our house on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  With turkey day being so early this year the Christmas stuff will be up almost a whole extra week.


I love Christmas and especially decorating for Christmas.  It started when I was a kid and my mother always got a tree that went to the ceiling of our barn big living room.  It was so tall that it had to be wired to the rafters.  I look back at pictures of my childhood trees and think it is a huge mess with its giant colored lights, gold garland rope the large clumps of Styrofoam ornaments not more than four feet from the ground that my mother let us put on.


When I was in boarding school I was a Christmas cadet.  That meant I was one of five girls who dressed in red and green elf-like clothes and would stand up at dinner and announce various holiday related information.  I was often wrapped in lights and my math teacher Ruth Elmore always let me plug in and blink during class.  I also was the countdown cadet.  I had index cards numbered from 100 to 0 on a ribbon and every hour I would flip a card and at a glance let anyone who was interested know exactly how many hours we had until we were able to go home for Christmas break.  I don’t remember a lot of studying for exams, but I do remember the hour cards.


In college I got a tree for my off campus house and began collecting ornaments, many of which I still have.  Christmas ornaments are my souvenirs of choice whenever I go on a trip.  It is so fun to talk about all the places we have been while we decorate the tree.  Consequently I have to have a very large tree to hold so many memories.


We built a special place in our house just for the tree.  Up until the time Carter was about 8 we had a live 14-foot tree.  That last live tree year as we were decorating it we got a call from a good friend of Russ’ from business school, Sylvia.  She had been diagnosed with late stage lung cancer at the age of 39.  It was devastating to us.  A few hours later after the tree was all decorated it fell over and many of my most beloved ornament we destroyed.  I stood looking at the tree on its side with all the lights hanging off and the shards of broken colored glass strewn across the floor and burst into tears.  Carter had a special ornament that had been signed by Christopher Radko, the maker, especially to her that had been broken.  She came up and saw it and put her little hand on my shoulder as I cried and I was sure was going to be upset.  Instead and said, “Mommy, at least we are not sick like Daddy’s friend.”  Talk about putting it all in perspective.


The next year we got a 14-foot fake tree and have never looked back.  Every year as I put the tree up I think about Sylvia who we lost that year.  The ornaments lost in the fall have been replaced by new ones, this year by the many ones I needle pointed as a new Christmas obsession, but the friends and family who have passed away can never be replaced, just remembered.


I hope that whatever your tradition, you take some time to think about those you love and those you miss.  If you come to my house, and you are welcome to visit anytime, don’t think about how much Christmas has thrown up all over my house, but instead about how many memories all those decorations represent.