Friday, November 24, 2023

Thanksgiving 2023, with Calico Cat Cookies

Thanksgiving 2023 dawned as a freezing cold, yet beautiful and sunny day here in Northeast Georgia. My sister and nephew were visiting for a few days. I started the morning by running my first 8K race. (Only the third time that I have run this distance of 8 kilometers/ 5 miles). I finished it in decent time. Thanksgiving runs are very popular and now I see why! There were people running in turkey costumes and funny hats. It was a fun and cheerful time out in the fresh air before the day of feasting got underway.

We were a cozy group of 6 at the Thanksgiving table- 3 adults and 3 kids. I had toyed with the idea of making a innovative menu but in the end inertia, tradition, and the kids' wishes won out and we made more or less the same menu as last year. Don't fix what ain't broken, right?

  • Portobello Mushroom Wellington 
    • Puff pastry encasing roasted portobellos with a savory stuffing of pecans and chestnuts seasoned with fresh herbs, onion and garlic
  • Gardein Ultimate Plant-Based Chick’n Filets
  • Mac and cheese
    • In bechamel sauce, baked with a topping of breadcrumbs
  • Mashed potatoes
    • Made in the Instant pot
  • Garden salad
    • Mixed greens, carrots, red peppers in a balsamic dressing
  • Mushroom gravy
  • Cranberry sauce
    • Orange and cinnamon scented
  • Pumpkin pie
  • Chocolate pecan pie
    • I was glad it did not crack this time!

I'm jotting down the timeline of prep and cooking here for future reference. Having my sister around was so helpful- she made the crusts for both pie, and the entirety of the pumpkin pie, made the gravy, and we assembled the Wellington together. 
  • Tuesday
    • Review all recipes and stock up on ingredients
    • Make a double batch of pie crust, and store halves wrapped in the fridge
    • Make the cranberry sauce
  • Wednesday
    • Make the mashed potatoes and store in fridge
    • Make the mac and cheese and store in fridge
    • Roast portobellos and store in fridge
    • Make both pies and store in fridge
    • Make the salad, and the dressing in a separate jar
      • Serve half of the salad with takeout pizza for dinner
  • Thursday
    • Make the gravy on the stovetop
    • Make the stuffing for the Wellington
      • Start by making fresh breadcrumbs, which will be used for the mac and cheese topping and also for the stuffing
    • Fire up the oven
      • Bake the mac and cheese with a breadcrumb topping
      • Bake the chick'n filets
      • Assemble and bake the Wellington
    • Warm the mashed potatoes in microwave oven
    • Toss the salad
    • Serve a buffet meal at 1:30 PM followed by a nap
    • Serve pies (each cut in 12 slices) with whipped cream and coffee at 3:30 PM
    • Pick at leftovers the rest of the day and on Friday morning
* * *

After a Thanksgiving late lunch, V took the kids bowling. We capped off the day with cookie making and a couple round of Codenames, our favorite board game, all while fridge-diving for leftovers.

For the cookies, I made a batch of my favorite sugar cookie dough, and divided it in several portions so each cookie baker had their own dough to play with. We had a few gel food colors on hand. 

I was inspired by a post on the Reddit baking forum and made these cute (and easy!) Calico cat cookies. Calico cats have a tricolor coat with random patterns of white, orange and black. I split dough into three portions, made one orange with orange gel color, one brown with cocoa powder (next time I will use black gel color) and left one white. I rolled out some plain dough and laid a few chunks of the colored dough randomly on top and kept rolling it out to get the random look, then stamped out cookies with a cat shaped cookie cutter. 

Baked calico cat cookies

The kids made their own
colorful cookies

Duncan has somehow bounced back and is doing okay, even as the tumor keeps growing.We went on lots of long walks this week and he loved it. He got a special dinner of his own on Thanksgiving. 

* * *

Listening to: Taking Things for Granted by Joy Olakodun (Released 2023)- - a beautiful song, heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. 

      "    Sometimes it feels like this world's got nothing for me

             Gettin' blind stares in return for what I give" 

I also had the unmatched joy of watching two live performances in the last week. The first was a local theater production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It is a horror/musical that first opened on Broadway in 1979. I've heard about it for years and was glad to go see it with a friend. Set in Victorian London, it is the lurid and infamous tale Sweeney Todd, who returns to the city to seek revenge after an unjust exile. He teams up with the baker Mrs. Lovett, and carnage ensues. Here's a famous song from this musical where the late, great Angela Lansbury (of Murder, She Wrote fame) plays Mrs. Lovett.

The second performance was a rousing chorus with the theme of thanks and gratitude- we took all the kids to this one (the youngest one had FOMO and insisted on coming along), and they were quiet and attentive for the most part. 

As always, I am most grateful for this blog and the lovely folks I meet here!

Thursday, November 16, 2023

NaBloPoMo Day 16: Sweater

My friend Cathy taught me to knit in 2008 and what a gift it has been in my life- it has brought me endless joy even though I don't have a project on the needles at all times. Cathy started as a food blog friend and became a real life friend- we've stayed in each other's homes and everything. Just one example of how food blogging has enriched my life in tangible and intangible ways, giving me much more than I put into it. 

Anyway, I had not been knitting much this year and wanted to get back into it. I used my stashed yarn to make some hats as a warm-up. And then inspiration struck- I saw a pattern for a beautiful top that I immediately wanted to knit. 

In my years of knitting, I've made so many different projects from baby sweaters to blankets to scarves and dozens of hats, but have made exactly one garment for myself. (But I do love it and wear it often- don't remember if I ever shared it on the blog.) The reason is that garments have to fit, and it is annoying to spend days/weeks knitting an item only to have it not fit. But I really wanted to make this sweater.

I purchased yarn for the project and when it arrived after some delay, I realized with dismay that I bought the wrong yarn- a thinner version than what the pattern called for. So now I had to look for an different project for the wrong yarn, and in this roundabout way, I found this pretty summer top which could be knitted by holding two strands of the thinner yarn.

It was a really fun, meditative project since the pattern is not complicated. I took the project along on a work trip to Chicago last month and had the BEST time turning down invitations to schmoozing receptions and instead sitting luxuriously alone in my hotel room knitting this sweater and watching reruns of Law & Order. 

AND IT FITS. Sorry for shouting, I'm just excited to wear something I've knitted myself. And now I am dreaming of making more wearables this winter. 

So...I made it through 16 days of NaBloPoMo and it was refreshing to post again, and a whole lot of fun. Thanks to everyone who has been reading along and leaving sweet comments. It shook me out of my rut. 

But today I feel a slight sense of dread and overwhelm. Dunkie is clearly declining, although he is still eating and walking. There are clear signs that things are changing, like his insistence on sleeping at night outside on the porch this week, when he has slept indoors in our bedroom his whole life. I want to spend as much time with our big boi as possible. 

On top of this, Thanksgiving snuck up on me this year and is now just a week away. Two of my favorite people are arriving for the holiday. This time of year always feels very hectic and the calendar is packed. Work has been stressful and I have a long list of things to check off before I take some vacation time next week. Clearly, something has to give. And so I'm ending the blogging streak early with a promise to myself that I will post every weekend. Thanks all, and I'll see you in a few. 💙

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

NaBloPoMo Day 15: Outside

Many years ago, when I was a few weeks away from delivering my daughter, V and I sat in her prospective pediatrician's office for a meet and greet. We liked him right away- he told me, your daughter is not born but I am her doctor already and you can call me anytime. He said to us, "As parents, you should focus on providing four things to your child: nutritious food, good sleep habits, fresh air and outdoor play, and stimulating their brain by talking to them, and singing and reading to them". He went on to say that you would be surprised how many problems can be avoided by prioritizing these four things. When more critical things come up, he said (at this point, he waved to his office window in the direction of the big children's hospital down the street), we can and will invoke the latest and greatest medical care. But the vast majority of children will grow up healthy and happy if you focus on these basics. 

Over twelve years later, I still remember this advice vividly and have tried to abide by it. It is common sense but difficult to put into practice consistently. Good food, sleep, outdoor exercise, and mental stimulation is the basis of a wholesome and healthful life not just for babies and children, but also for adults. (Also for dogs. We make sure Duncan gets out to a dog park or a trail- somewhere other than his usual walking routes- every weekend, to get him interesting new things to see and smell.)

Parenting in this day and age feels like an uphill slog sometimes, and I know I'm not alone in feeling this way. You want your kids to eat simple wholesome food in a society where they are constantly lured by fried, sugary and processed food. You want them to play outside but putting limits on screen-time is such a battle, made only worse since the pandemic when we were forced to use screens as a crutch. 

I'm reading a book called Enchantment by Katherine May, and she says, "Childhood used to have dirt under its fingernails. Now it has hand sanitiser." She longs to take her young son to the woods, to a nature preserve, but he prefers the trampoline center and bright beeping plastic toys. Relatable! On glorious weekend afternoons, getting our kids to come out to the park is like pulling teeth. Once we are there, they play happily for hours and have a wonderful time, but pulling them away from home can take some exhausting combination of begging, cajoling, stern admonishments, the occasional bribe or threat. 

Yesterday, I was driving back with my daughter and happened to glance up, and noticed, as if for the first time, the Fall colors on the trees in the neighborhood. I slowed to a crawl (luckily there were no cars behind me) and pointed them out to her, and the two of us had a quiet moment of awe as we stared at the blazing yellows, oranges, reds, greens and browns on display. There is so much beauty in this world if only we would stop and look up from our distracted lives. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

NaBloPoMo Day 14: Quesadilla

Last night I found myself picking up my son from school and back home around 5 PM with no plans for the dinner meal whatsoever. That meant it was time for a "fridge-cleaning dinner"- pulling out all odds and ends and putting them together creatively. (These often end up being my favorite meals, better than the planned ones.) 

Roz Chast, one of my favorite cartoonists and writers, wrote a great little essay on fridge-foraging dinners and how everyone has quirky little names for this common phenomenon. I had fits of laughter reading this one. Some of my favorites: trash panda, having weirds, and anarchy kitchen. I could probably add a Marathi expression to this list- urla surla, roughly translated as leftover bits.

Anyway, last night, I found half a packet of soy chorizo from Trader Joe's, a couple of boiled potatoes (left over from Diwali puff pastry samosas), half a tomato (from a kid making a sandwich, probably) and bits of cheese. There was a can of pinto beans in the pantry and a packet of whole wheat tortillas. (Whenever I take the time to grocery shop and stock the kitchen with basics, it always pays off mid-week.)

I heated a pan and simply sautéed the soy chorizo with diced potatoes and tomato. It is spicy and greasy enough that no more oil or seasoning is needed. Then I added a rinsed and drained can of pinto beans. The mixture went into tortillas with a bit of cheese and we had quesadillas ready for dinner in barely any time at all. 

This plus a ripe avocado plus leftover Diwali sweets and snacks- that was dinner. A feast fit for a trash panda! 

Monday, November 13, 2023

NaBloPoMo Day 13: Games

I'm a huge fan of word games. If I have people around to play with (does not happen often), then Codenames and Scrabble are my favorites. But typically it is solitary word games that keep me engaged on a daily basis. Every so often, a new game comes on the scene and one that really created a splash during the pandemic was Wordle, now with its umpteen versions like Quordle and Octordle

I found yet another game NYTimes recently and now have gotten into the habit of doing it with my first cup of coffee in the morning. It is called Connections, and here is an example. You get 16 words and you have to create 4 groups of four.

Connections Game in the NYTimes

I did it but my results were not particularly great. The hollow cylinders category tripped me up as I thought it was about skinny long things and included words like rope and cigarette in it. It is a fun game and can be quite tricky, especially if you're not well versed in the names of bands and sports teams and other obscure (to me) categories.

Of course my favorite solitary word game of all time is the Crossword puzzle. We think they have been around forever but apparently the first puzzle only appeared in 1913. I do (try to do) the ones at the back of the New Yorker- they cycle through puzzles that are beginner level, lightly challenging, moderately challenging, and very challenging. 

I read an interesting chapter on crossword puzzles in the book The Puzzler by A.J. Jacobs and maybe it was a coincidence or maybe I was just inspired to try harder, but I finished a very challenging puzzle for the first time ever. (Usually, the magazines are littered with my half-done and abandoned puzzles.) The clue for 33 Across- "Hollow, deep-fried bread" was the first one I filled in- Puri :) 

Cryptic clues are the ones that are most satisfying to crack, but they are not as popular in American puzzles, and also I am terrible at them ha ha. 

Words are such fun! 

Sunday, November 12, 2023

NaBloPoMo Day 12: Diwali

 Festive wishes to all who are celebrating today!

Recipe for coconut burfi here. The bottom layer is pistachio with a drop of green food coloring, and the top layer is flavored with rose water and edible rose petals with a drop of red food coloring. May your year be filled with goodness and light. 

Saturday, November 11, 2023

NaBloPoMo Day 11: Lattes

My daughter started middle school this year, a time of great change and growing freedom for the kids. The school is in a busy urban area and packs of kids walk about in the shopping center after school, saving a few bucks to buy a treat here and a cold drink there. There is a fascination with brands and trends which I am trying my best to place reasonable restrictions on. 

For her birthday, my daughter's biggest ask was to stop by Starbucks with her two friends before school for breakfast. Not my favorite place at all, but this was a special day. All three girls ordered Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccinos, and were served these big drinks that were sugar bombs for sure. 

A few weeks later, when she had a friend over for a few hours, I offered to look up a copycat recipe and try to recreate this drink at home. We used this recipe as a starting point. We had decaf instant coffee, milk, and ice at home. And had to buy four ingredients from the store: dry instant vanilla pudding, caramel sauce, Heath toffee bits, and whipped cream. Even with the purchases, it is clearly much cheaper to fix these drinks at home.

1. Start by blending decaf (or regular) coffee- I used instant coffee granules, milk, and lots of ice
2. Add caramel sauce and instant pudding mix and blend again until thick and creamy
3. Pulse in some toffee bits
4. Serve in a tall glass topped with whipped cream, caramel sauce, and toffee bits

The kids were thrilled with the drinks. To me it was entirely too sweet and undrinkable. Sweetness can be adjusted up and down. 

I've tried other Starbucks knock-off drink recipes in the past, and some of them call for xanthan gum as a thickener to make the blended drink smooth and not icy. Xanthan gum is sold in the baking aisle and is a good ingredient to keep on hand for these homemade coffeeshop drinks- it works well. 

Enjoy your weekend!