Ready For December

 

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When Carter was little I used her as my excuse for wanting to have a fully Christmased out house the month of December. What could be more magical than living in a house that fully embraced the magic of Christmas? As the years went on and the child got older I had to own that I was the one who wanted the full Christmas experience. In fact, both Carter and Russ say they don’t like it.

 

What I think they don’t like is the work of getting the boxes out of the attic and helping put the tree together. That is all they have to do. I do all the actual decorating and without complaint because then I get it done exactly the way I want.

 

This year I was tracking how much work it is by how many steps I take while doing it. Sadly it is not that much actual exercise. I think that I inadvertently saved myself a lot of steps this year by employing a bucket to carry a dozen or more ornaments at a time up the twelve-foot ladder when I was decorating the top half of the tree. Standing in one place on the ladder and hanging each glass ball, felt snowman or glittery tree is virtually no work out.

 

The only real bad part about decorating this year is that I found I had to wear my reading glasses almost the whole time so I could see how to put the hanger on the string of each ornament. Even after every room was decked and sparkle filled the house I was under10,000 steps each day from decorating.

 

It may be no comfort for my family that I am ready to entertain at the drop of a hat all month, but for me this makes December the happiest month of the year. Carter asked me today if we were having a Boxing Day party and when I told her no since she had a basketball tournament she asked if I still make the boxing day Mac and cheese. I think she doesn’t care a lick about the party, but just wants me to cook for her.

 

The cooking will come soon enough. As will the shopping and the wrapping and the fa, la, la. I can hardly wait.


The End of an Era

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Carter’s love for all things horses started when she was two. She had a baby sitter who exercised horses at a lovely barn in town. Being a smart girl she learned to double dip by baby sitting for Carter and exercising horses at the same time. One of the sitter’s charges was a horse named Bob, who had an injury and could not take any weight above 50 pounds. Carter was the perfect rider.

 

Then Carter started riding in the summer at a barn near her grand parents farm. Mrs. Brown’s summer horse camp gave Carter a lot of experience taking care of horse and riding. The taking care part was almost her favorite part.

 

Eventually she wore me down by begging to find a barn at home so she could ride every week. When Carter was about seven she started going to Rolling Hills stables in Chapel Hill. It is quite a trek from our house, but every week and sometimes twice a week or more since then she has been going to Rolling Hills.

 

When Carter was ten her trainer Piper asked her if she wanted a job as a barn girl. Are you kidding? A job where she got to clean up after horses, who cares what she got paid. SO even though most barn girls had to be twelve, Carter, who was bigger and stronger than most girls three years older than her started working and riding.

 

Eventually she went from the junior barn girl to the senior and about four years ago she started working on Saturday mornings, which meant she was responsible to all the morning feedings and cleanings since Piper was not usually out at the barn at 8:00 in the morning.

 

This early morning Saturday job meant that some parent had to get up at 7:00 in order to get Carter to the barn a half an hour away. Carter was incredibly lucky that her sweet father, who never gets to sleep any day of the week, dutifully and willingly volunteered to do the one hour round trip there and back twice every Saturday.

 

No matter how much work he has, even when I say I am happy to do the driving, he says, “No, I’ll take her.” Carter and Russ have their Saturday rituals. Shay goes with them and the three of them stop into Bruggers to get bagels and Russ goes to Starbucks and gets his coffee. Even shay gets a bagel that she eats while riding on Russ’ lap.

 

Then around 1:00 Russ and Shay will get back in the car and make the trip back to the barn, stopping someplace to get lunch with Carter on the way home. Even though it takes up a good part of Russ’ day of rest he always does it with a smile.

 

Today, when Russ got home from picking Carter up form the barn he said with a sigh, “That was the last time I’ll ever take Carter to the barn.” She next Saturday Carter has an away basketball game in Charlotte and then the next Saturday she will have her drivers license, assuming she passes the test.

 

It was a sad day for Russ and even sadder for Shay. Those hours in the car are the biggest block of time he gets to spend with Carter alone. More learning, conversations and growing up probably happens on those Saturday mornings than any other time of the week.

 

I think that when Carter gets her drivers license I am going to have to find some errands I need her to run that involve carting her father around.


It’s Red & Green Friday at Our House

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To so many Americans today is known as black Friday, the day that stores generally go in the black for the year because the Christmas Holiday shopping is what their business lives for. Not from me though. I am not one to rush out to stores when every one else is there. I am that demanding kind of shopper who needs the sole attention of a great sales associate at the least, but really more like a senior manager to wait on me. Knowing that today is not the day to get superior customer service I save today to start my Christmas decorating.

 

Actually we spent the better part of the day at the farm, visiting with my cousins and their families. As is their tradition, my cousin Brooks and the other men of the family spend the afternoon of Black Friday at the Country Club Lanes, bowling. This started many years ago as a way for the guys to get away from the family after so much togetherness on Thanksgiving and has morphed into, “Dads taking the kids bowling,” so the Moms could get a rest day. My favorite part of it is that they go to “Country Club Lanes.” There is nothing country club about bowling, but for Danville it might be as uptown as things can get.

 

After my getting to have a good visit with my Uncle Wilson and Russ taking Shay on a big time farm walk we got in the car for the ride home to Santa town. Carter was dreading the only part of decorating she has to do, taking the boxes out of the attic.

 

Since it was too late to start on the tree I began the “House” decorations. I first have to remove the ‘Non-Christmas” nick-knacks that take up space on top of coffee tables and chests so make room for the various Christmas vignettes. As I was doing this today I noticed that all my regular rooms are decorated in a form of green or red so that when I make the switch from civilian to holiday it all fits together.

 

I have to say that I did not decorate my house with Christmas in mind. I think that I subconsciously picked color schemes that would “Holiday-up” well. Of course a red entry hall and a red dining room scream Christmas, but most of the year it is not the feeling I get from those rooms.

 

When I really noticed that I had an underlying Christmas subtext was when I was decorating the kitchen and noticed that even Shay Shay’s bed was a green and white ticking. Now it looks springy most of the year, but it sure does say, “Hey Santa, I’ve been a really good dog,” during the holidays. Maybe this explains why I don’t have any orange rooms. Nothing feels less Christmassy that an orange room no matter how much glitter you throw up it.

 

So happy red and green Friday. Black may be a good word when you are talking about ledgers, but as far as I’m concerned it is not a very Christmassy color.


Thanksgiving — The Perfect Holiday

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When I was a child Christmas was my favorite holiday, followed by Halloween and Easter.  Thanksgiving was way down the list.  How could a day that had me waiting all day for the chance to sit at the children’s table, which was a rickety old card table surrounded by my much younger cousins and sisters to eat a meal that was just not that good and then be told to go out into the cold Connecticut weather and rake leaves.  What, no presents, no bags or baskets full of candy.  How could Thanksgiving ever win?

I guess all I had to do was grow up to change my perspective on turkey day because today was about as perfect as it comes.  We woke up this morning at home after getting to sleep in a little.  Since I cooked all the food I was bringing yesterday it allowed me a leisurely start to the day.  We packed up and went to meet our South African friends, Mark, Kelly, Cait and Adam Ushpol, who we were bringing to the farm for Thanksgiving.

There is no better offense to a family meal than bringing guests, and guests of a different nationality, with no family tradition expectations, are the best.  It also helps that these guests brought an over the top amount of South African Wine to make them welcome back any time.

My Dad did an excellent job brining and cooking the turkey and the only hiccup came when Russ took the turkey, in a foil pan, out of the oven and spilled a huge amount of drippings on the floor of the kitchen. Four adults, a roll of paper towels and two Swiffers later and we were out of danger of slipping on the greasy floor and going to the emergency room in Danville were patients check in alive and out dead.

Carter was happy since the Ushpol kids are her good friends who are her age and there is never a children’s table at our Thanksgiving.  The kids got to drive the four wheelers and the Kubota bus and explore the farm.  Cait took a most beautiful picture of the back lake at the farm.  Shay got to frolic and run in the fields as the Ushpols and Russ and I walked during the sunnier times of the day.

The dinner was fantastic.  Everything was hot at the right time and no fighting took place during any part of the preparation.  Mark sat next to my Dad at dinner and they shared stories of what it is like to work internationally, and even though my mother begged my father to stop talking, Mark did not seem to mind.  My parents enjoyed our guests so much they asked me if we could make sure they came back to the farm again.

My mother was especially glad to have Adam come and talk football with her since all she has is daughter and a grand daughter who do not share her love of watching sports.  I could not have invented a better scenario.

Sadly as evening rolled around the Ushpol’s had to get home, but we still have three more days of the perfect holiday to enjoy.  No presents, no candy, no problem.


Baked Out

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Two Christmases ago, in the height of my weight loss push Russ gave me a cookbook that I opened for one minute and then gave him that, “what were you thinking look.” It is a book called Milk from the great New York Bakery the Momofuku Milk Bar. In it are the most intricate recipes for really interesting sweets. I could hardly look at the pictures without gaining weight.

 

I put the book on my shelf and promised that someday I would make something from it. Well that day came today. My father tasked me with bringing the desserts for Thanksgiving. The last couple of years I have made one healthy crust less pumpkin pie along with the regular Thanksgiving feast pies. No one but me would eat it so this year I gave up.

 

Carter wanted to make a cake. In the Milk book was a cake I was dying for her to make called an Apple Pie cake. In involved making cake, apple pie filling, crust crumbles, a liquid cheesecake filling, cider glaze and frosting. Before she even looked at the picture she told me her friend Cait, who is one of our guest said not fruit with her cake. I don’t think she knew fruitcake could be like this, but Carter voted to make a devils food cake with butter cream frosting. It turned out quite cute and will be easy for me to forgo.

 

That left me looking through the Milk book at pies. The very last recipe in the whole book is for something they have trademarked called Crack Pie™. The description is for a pie that tastes like the inside of a pecan pie without the nuts. Following the four pages of instructions is a note, you can add pecans if you want to guild the lily.

 

That sealed the deal. So I spent the better part of today: baking the giant oatmeal cookie that then gets crumbled up to be the crust, going back to Whole Foods, after I had already shopped there yesterday vowing not to have to return on the day before T-day to buy freeze-dried corn, that I pulverized for the filling, and making the filling and baking the pie. I am taking a big risk by only bringing these two pies for dessert. Yes I have Carter’s cake, which is very non-traditional, but what if these pies are horrible?

 

Maybe that would be a good thing. I have a feeling that it might be the best pie I have eaten and I don’t need to have more than a hair wide sliver. The best part of making this very complicated dessert is it has satisfied my need to bake for the rest of the year. I might have dodged a Christmas cookie bullet by blowing my whole baking wad on two Thanksgiving pies.

 

I followed up the baking with daylong cooking of stewed tomatoes, cauliflower, Brussels sprout and pearl onion gratin and a boatload of fresh cranberry sauce. I’m ready for turkey day. Now if I can just find room in my refrigerator for it all.


Baking Is the Gateway Drug of Cooking

 

I am a purely self taught cook. Yes, I learned a few things from my grandmother via my father, but outside of that I did not have anyone around who knew how to or liked to cook. Since I liked to eat, learning to throw together the limited ingredients I had at my disposal as a child into something better together than alone was an art I perfected.

 

I had only a couple of cookbooks in my childhood home. A 1956 edition of the Joy of Cooking, which was so out of date that every time a recipe called for baking powder the instructions on how to make it from scratch followed.   That thick cornflower blue volume was well worn by the time I was fourteen.

 

The other cookbooks were a set of Time Life Cookbooks by country, Like the Cuisine of Italy, or France. They were much more like travel logs than cook books. They spoke a language of chefs that was way over my childhood vocabulary, let alone full of ingredients that never darkened the door of my mother’s kitchen. The best part about them was they were full of full color pictures so I could get an idea of what a dish was supposed to look like. This was very helpful when I was preparing something out of the Joy of Cooking that might have had at best a line drawing of a whole chicken, but no clue as to what it was supposed to look like fried.

 

For me the gateway drug of cooking was baking. Like so many kids I first leaned to make things like cookies and brownies, mostly out of a desire for a dessert, which was always forbidden in our house. Understanding how to bake successfully, made cooking easy. Making a soup is much more forgiving than baking a cake, but what child wants to learn to cook soup?

 

I have been worried that Carter was going to grow up with very few cooking skills since she was more than content to eat my cooking. I have robbed her of the need to learn to cook by being too good a cook. Except that in the last few years I have rarely baked anything.

 

This past summer Carter got a bee in her bonnet to want to learn how to make a cake from scratch. It was a big success, but she discovered that it is a long process. Since she hardly ever has six free hours she has not repeated that task, but suddenly with a day off from school before Thanksgiving and the need for us to provide the desserts she has volunteered to bake something.

 

Now’s my chance to kick up her learning curve and throw something fairly complicated at her. I see being a skilled baker as a good prerequisite to taking chemistry. Once you understand the science behind baking you can be set free to create your own concoctions with a better chance at success.

 

Now I have tonight to convince her that making an apple pie layer cake will be fun and make her father very happy. Pray for me tomorrow. I will post a picture if we make it.


I Need a Basketball Spectator Diet Plan

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Basketball season is kicking my butt and I have not even dribbled the ball once. Carter is playing varsity and the schedule is grueling. Late practices and even later games are throwing me off my normal routine. Dinner is not getting cooked, steps are not getting completed, laundry is pilling up and I am staying up later than ever.

 

Although I may not be getting my regular exercise I must be burning some kind of calories by being an uber spectator at the games. I know that wildly clapping is an actual exercise, but do you think that screaming, “Go DA,” at the top of my lungs burns any calories?

 

Tonight’s game girl’s against Voyager Academy was doubly exciting because Junior Liz Roberts reached her 1000th point as a Durham Academy Varsity player. She did not disappoint the spectators by playing a fabulous game. The whole team contributed to the big win of 59-14.

 

By the end of the girl’s game I was ready to go home, but Carter wanted to stay to watch the boy’s game. What the hell, it was already so late and no dinner was going to get made anyway, I agreed to stay.

 

The boys game was a much closer and heart stopping game. The Voyager boys had a six foot ten inch player and a number of great three point shooters. I think I screamed until my stomach hurt during the close game. Sadly, the DA boys were behind at the end, but it was not due to trying their best.

 

I think that I now need to create a new basketball season diet plan because I can’t spend so much time sitting in the bleachers cheering as a form of exercise. I can’t wait until eight or nine at night to begin thinking about what to make for dinner. This late arrival home without a plan is causing me to make bad food choices in the name of exhaustive hunger.

 

If only I was allowed to pace the sidelines like a big time coach I would be in better shape, but alas I am just a mother and must stay in my place, only getting to stand and cheer at the appropriate moments. We have three months to go. I’m going to have to change, but I am going to have a great time watching the girl’s team and spending time with Carter watching the other games. I only have three short years left to do this and I am going to savor every moment.