Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Salad days

The title for the post is appropriate as this is my first time hosting Thanksgiving.

Now for the touch of green, aside from the green bean casserole, for your Thanksgiving feast. And I am not talking Brussels Sprouts. Ew.

It's green salad time, folks.

And while it might seem simple, there are some tips that will take your salad from ordinary to extraordinary.

The cast of characters. Already washed, gourmet baby lettuce and pre-sliced mushrooms because, easy. Feta, cucumber, croutons (of course), red onion, and some kind of protein. We're going with pepperoni here, but you could just as easily use shrimp or bacon.

There are some common pitfalls to avoid with the green salad.

The Mister was given specific instructions to feel the ends of the cucumbers. He said he did but... This isn't scientific but I always pinch the ends. If they're firm and not mushy, the cucumber is usually good.

Sort through your lettuce and pick out the slimy bits. Nobody wants to come across slime in their salad. This only takes a minute. Please, do it.

You have options when slicing your cucumber. The cucs on the right had the tines of a fork pulled through the cucumber flesh all around. Pretty.

My sister-in-law declared the pepperoni to be the perfect touch and the perfect size. I used a stick of pepperoni and sliced it myself, cutting the rounds into halves.

In my opinion raw red onion is a must, but do not go overboard with it. I sliced 1/4 onion into half-moons, giving the salad just the right amount of bite. Also, don't add it until just before dinner. Red onions are pungent and can take over the salad.

My vinaigrette of choice. A nice hit of...acid. Ahem. That sounds so wrong, but it feels so right. Plus, does anybody even do acid any more? I dunno, but Brianna's is a flavorful dressing that everyone likes.

For those who are less-refined, ranch. But not any ranch. Make it from scratch with the dry packets, buttermilk-style, with a dash of Worcestershire sauce. I love this whole milk buttermilk. So luxurious. I especially love it in my pancakes. 

One more thing, let's talk about a Thanksgiving necessity. Dish towels. In particular, flour sack towels, which are indisputably the best. 

Wash all of your dish towels ahead of time. They're perfect for the inevitable spills, hand drying, and in a pinch hot pads. But, I don't recommend that. I will probably go through all of these come Thursday and wish I had more.
Which is why I even include this one. Yeah...

Remember, the real work starts tomorrow. Bake pecan pie. Tear bread into cubes. Set table. Begin dry-brining the bird. Panic.

Happy prep! 

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Monday, November 20, 2017

Time for pie. But, not that pie. This pie.

A lot like my love for cranberries, I am also a fan of another of the less-celebrated gems of Thanksgiving.

eve rousseau
Pecan pie.

Nothing makes Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Tuesdays, more special than this pie. My Grandma always made me a pecan pie for Thanksgiving (as well as my birthday), and now I'm the steward in charge. It's sweet, such is the nature of pecan pie, but this particular recipe isn't overly sweet, which is why it's the best. It's the perfect party in your mouth with its soft, caramelized custard base and the pleasing chew of the pecans.

If you've ever had bad pecan pie, give this one a try. It's not dry or gelatinous; two properties in a pecan pie that will ruin anyone's day.

best pecan pie
There are some potential pitfalls when making pecan pie. And you don't want to blow it, so read carefully, and proceed with caution. As long as you follow these few rules, this pie is easy to make and a hit. No pumpkins needed.

not gelatinous pecan pie
1. Watch for the wiggle. This pie takes a bit of coddling. And you MUST take it out of the oven before it's completely firm. Wiggle in the middle, but not on the sides.

2. Watch for over-browning. The last thing you want is overcooked pecans or crust. If it's browning too fast, but the filling is still too jiggly in the center, throw on a tented piece of foil. As a rule, I always foil it with about 25 to 30 minutes left of cooking time.

3. Do not toast your pecans or they will end up dry and not delicious. That's it. Not too much to pay attention to for the best pie around.

delicious pecan pie
Pecan Pie

1- 9" pie crust, unbaked. Use a frozen store-bought crust. Life's too short to fuss with crust.
6 T. Butter
1 C. light corn syrup
3/4 C. Sugar
3 eggs, whisked
2 t. Vanilla
1/2 t. Kosher salt
2 C. chopped pecans

Heat oven to 350 F. Place a cookie sheet in the center of your oven while preheating. This is your protective shield. In case the pie filling bubbles over the cookie sheet will catch the overflow.

Place your pecans in the uncooked pie crust.

In small saucepan heat the butter, corn syrup, and sugar over medium-low until the butter is melted

In  a mixing bowl combine your eggs, vanilla, and Kosher Salt.

Here's the marginally tricky part.  You must add the melted butter mixture to the egg mixture, but you do not want to cook your eggs. So, allow the melted butter and sugar mixture to cool a bit before pouring it into the eggs. Whisk constantly as you're mixing the two together.

Pour your filling over the pecans in the pie crust.

Bake between 60 to 80 minutes. I know that's a big time difference. Just watch your pie carefully. Mine baked for about 67 minutes and it was pretty perfect; nicely golden and custardy in the middle.

Let it cool completely (at least two hours).

You can even bake this pie the night before.

homemade pecan pie
Serve with a dollop of very lightly sweetened whipped cream and experience Thanksgiving bliss.

Give pecan pie a try this year. You'll be glad you did.

How to make the perfect salad
And cranberries

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Check out what I'm writing when I'm not prepping Thanksgiving dinner

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Cranberries, the unspoken hero

Let's face it, gravy is the hero of Thanksgiving.

Turkey a little bland? Nothing a little gravy can't handle.

Dressing dry? Go ahead, ladle a little extra gravy on top. Dressing or stuffing? I really go either way.

Got a spare bite of roll? Run it through the last drizzle of gravy on your plate.

But, the unspoken hero has to be the cranberries. They add the nicest zing to everything on your plate. Paired with the gravy, of course. And, you don't need jam to go with your rolls. The cranberries can be your jam.

The thing is, I'm not talking the cranberries from a can. While I know people swear high and low that they're the best, they're wrong. I think the only reason people believe this way is they've never had homemade cranberries. I might be talking about the Mister's family, here. Until I showed up they used the dreaded can. And nobody ate them! Now, I'm assigned the cran every year.

They're so incredibly easy and add the prettiest burst of color to your meal.

Of course, it's me here, so I meddle with the recipe. But to be fair, I learned this technique from my Grandma, so it's not just me being fancy. The secret is, in place of the water, use orange juice.

eve rousseau
Couldn't be simpler. Here are the steps:

Go to store.

Head to the produce section.

Buy a package of fresh cranberries. Ocean Spray have never steered me wrong.

Bring 1 cup orange juice and a scant cup of sugar to a boil. Add the cranberries. Simmer ten minutes. Some will burst, some won't. It's all good.

Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Best part, they can be made way ahead when you have a free burner. After they come to room temp, throw them in the fridge until they're needed.

What you'll have is a lightly jammy, tangy-sweet accompaniment to your meal that cuts through the richness of the gravy to give your turkey that slight nudge towards brilliance.

Try cranberries from scratch this year, you won't regret it.

Also, in the Mister's family we always have pumpkin chocolate chip cookies to accompany the various pies for dessert. I'm in charge of these this year and gave this recipe from Food Network a shot.

I couldn't be happier with how they turned out. They are soft, moist, and flavorful. Plus, they use butter and didn't need to be chilled. That's a bonus in my book.

eve rousseau
Mine didn't take as long to cook as the recipe called for, more like 12 to 13 minutes. Also, I didn't get 60 cookies out of this batch, more like 4 dozen.

Now, this is very important, the thing to remember about pumpkin cookies is they are very moist. So, beware stacking them for transport otherwise they'll stick to each other and look all dumpy. And that would be a tragedy.

I know it's not beautiful, but this is how I'm doing it. A piece of parchment between the layers.

So, if you're looking for an amazing pumpkin cookie and are overwhelmed by recipe options, give this one a try.

Coming tomorrow: How to make an amazing salad. This might seem like a joke to some, a post on how to make a salad, but there's a skill to making a well-balanced, finger-licking salad. I mean, how many people slide right passed the salad because, mashed potatoes. But, if you make the salad right it'll be just as popular as the green bean casserole. Well... maybe not, but you will go home with an empty salad bowl.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

T Minus 1 week and counting

With one week to go here's what's happening at the hearth.

Well, the stock I said I was going to make yesterday is simmering, as we speak.

I know, the first picture is beautiful, fresh, and lovely. The second picture is ew. But hopefully it turns out tasty and my gravy is a hit. I'm using this bon appetit recipe but not exactly. The way I figure it, stock should use what you have on hand. I don't have white wine, peppercorns, chicken wings, or a ham hock.  Right, apparently I'm only barely following this recipe.

Instead, I am using several grinds from my pepper-mill that doesn't open (which is why I don't have peppercorns), a roasted chicken carcass that I froze a few weeks ago, a couple pieces of bacon, and a giblet. Don't even ask me what a giblet is. All I know is my grandma made turkey neck and giblet gravy. They didn't have turkey necks so I went with the giblet.

Tonight's dinner prep is also happening. We're having breakfast for dinner. The Mister is headed home after being on business for a few days, and my young declared breakfast was what he'd want to eat most of all upon returning to the good old U. S. of A.

Well, breakfast for dinner in this house means sourdough pancakes or waffles. So that means, make the sponge!

My starter lives in this quart jar and gets quite neglected. I really should feed it once a week. Which I  often do, but only if we're eating pancakes on the weekends. If we're not eating pancakes regularly... it'll go two, maybe three weeks between feedings. Bad sourdough starter mama. Bad.

I'll go into more detail on what's happening here, but not today.

The view from my table: Sponge sponge-ing and starter gobbling up its first meal in a while. Plus the pile of backpack detritus my oldest left before heading off to school this morning.

As all this is happening I'm also scrambling to do a mountain of laundry. Don't want the Mister to see the squalor we live in when he's not home.

Basically, my children wear dirty socks and subsist on soup straight from the can and cold hotdogs, while mama wears her sweatpants for the third day in a row and eats whatever is left on their plates and anything we have floating in jars in the fridge. I try not to cook or clean while the husband is away.

Oh, remember to buy your frozen pie crusts before they run out. Do it soon. They'll probably get a shipment but were running short this morning, and I don't want to mess with that crap.  I no longer make scratch pie crust, it ruins my day.

That's about it. Off to fold some more towels!

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4 1/2 hours later...

Here's what I pulled out of the stock pot. Lots of little bones. 

And the final result. Nice hue, good flavor, and not too salty. Making stock for Thanksgiving wasn't hard, and hopefully it will result in superior gravy.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

T minus 8 days and counting

Alert! Alert! Thanksgiving is eight days away!

Time to panic.

I've never done this before.

Why did my mother have to go and replace her knee now of all times? She could've waited until after the holidays. That would've been much more accommodating... to me.

Okay, deep breaths.

Repeat new mantra: You can do this. You are a capable human being who has cooked for yourself for twenty years now. This is like, nothing. Delegate. It's bloody time you hosted Thanksgiving, did you think Mom was going to keep doing it forever, stupid? Grow up and grow a pair.

Eeks. My mantra is getting increasingly hostile.

Luckily for me I have a to-do list. I read my Bon Appetit Thanksgiving issue, and it's making me feel pretty good about things.

I even have a picture of my first list (of many to come) to prove I've got this.

If you'll direct your attention to the upper right you might notice a happy little breakfast raisin.

Yup, that's how we do it here, rogue raisins. I so got this.

It's not very detailed yet. As I get closer the panic will set in and I'll get into the nitty-gritty. As for today my task is to make stock. This is so we can have loads of amazing gravy. Gravy is the worst, it always seems to be the first thing to go. Not this year. Not on my watch.

Future tasks include:

Practice deep breathing techniques.

Consider writing a new mantra.

Shop. Shop. Shop. I'm buying new dishes. Who else feels like they've got to up their game? No crummy chipped plates at my Thanksgiving. Not this gal. We still won't have matching silverware or glasses, though. That's for the next time I host. Hopefully years and years from now.

Time to get to work. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Cover Art?

Step one: Write a manuscript. 

Step two: Edit the heck out of it. In fact, never stop editing. Every time you let somebody read it to give you feedback, edit the entire thing all over again. That is until The Mister entices you with bribes to just send it for once and not edit it beforehand. This may have happened yesterday. And I only edited a bit. Just the opening line. Because, I can't stop messing with it. Also, let it be known the Mister needs to up his bribe game.

For your FYI, the first line is called the hook. It's meant to hook your reader into asking questions, wanting answers, and keep bloody reading.

Step three: Publish. I guess.

Nope. Not even close. There's all these little details that follow writing a manuscript. You know, the minutiae you never thought about until right this second. And the step I'm talking about today is the shiny red ribbon perched on the package. That is to say, the cover art. The enticement for readers to choose your book over all the others they could read. 

But, where do I go from here? How do I find a digital artist to turn my vision into reality. The web? Ha! Have you tried looking up that crap? There's a million and one web pages all devoted to E-Book cover art. Gah!

So, I figure, I'm an artist (insert scoff here). Just look at all my quilts and that one time I made a vest for my daughter's Annie Oakley project.  I'll make my own darn cover art. 

It's pretty great.

Pretty, pretty great.

e-book cover art

So, this was my first attempt. I was going for a mysterious lady in the snow packed woods. Barefoot. Whoa, right? With FIRE engulfing her. I wanted it to be mainly white-ish in the background so my girl would stand out. 

Problem. She's more standing in profile when I wanted her looking behind her back coquettishly. And The Mister said he didn't like her skirt on fire. That, instead of looking magic-y she appeared as though she was actually on fire. 

That prompted effort number two.

ebook fantasy cover art

Okay, yeah. Yeah, this is pretty good. Aside from the fact I drew her too big so had to add another piece of paper. But, I've got the Little Red Riding Hood thing going on which I like. Still barefoot and now looking over her shoulder, though not right at you as I had wanted. Hmmm, eyes are complicated. 

And her smile needs to be more enigmatic. Like she's got a secret that you're just dying to figure out. But the only way to learn more is to BUY THE DAMN BOOK!

The Mister says he likes this one, but likes the first one's perspective better. That is, her standing further back, more in the distance, almost swallowed by the woods.

Whatever. We've had drawing contests before and I'm always the winner.  I'm thinking just maybe I should find an actual graphic designer to turn this into a more photo-realistic image. Maybe. I'm still thinking about it. What do you think?

Also, do you like image A or B?

Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Everything I disliked about An American Paris and the one thing I did like

Wow. That's a loaded title, I know.

Disclaimer: if An American in Paris is on your wish list of Broadway plays to see and you don't want spoilers, you've been warned. I'm going to gripe a lot. In detail.

why i hated an american in paris
The Mister and I before the crushing reality of An American in Paris destroyed my zest for life
Maybe the movie is better, but I've not seen it. The play though, uggh. Let's begin my tear down of a beloved classic.

Jerry. Just, why? The hero I never liked. The American with the hokey, it's all about me attitude. The song where he changes Lise's name from Lise because it's too sad--aww, precious--to Liza. Like men on the street telling women with resting bitch face to smile. No, you smile.

Adam. In love with a figment of his imagination. Why, oh why, were you not the hero I wanted? At first I hoped Lise would turn the story upside down and choose you. But that changed when I learned you were content to love your version of Lise; the beautiful ballerina with a smile pasted on her face. You forget, to love a woman means to love the negative that comes along with the good. I'm someone who loves a tragic love story. But not yours.

Henri. The hero that should have been. Why weren't you the hero I needed. Where was your story? I got a taste of what could be, but it wasn't to be. Yours was the only story with heart, but were deemed nothing more than a secondary plot line. All you got was a wink, winkdon't you like girls? Where was the suspense regarding why you didn't fight? Where was the intrigue?  Where was the grand reveal that no, you weren't in fact a coward but had protected Lise all along. Instead it was merely, meh.

Henri's parents. So not a factor I don't even remember your names. Where was your dignity in the end? You were merely a comedic device where all we got was a few lackluster laughs at your stodgy expense.

Milo. The McGuffin. def. An object or device in a movie or book or play that serves merely as a trigger for the plot. Gag.

The songs: Fidgety Feet and S'wonderful. So mind-numbingly stupid I want to rip their putrid melodies from existence as they continue to recycle through my brain.


Now for what I liked.

The ballet dancing was beautiful.

I appreciate the artistry and the talent of the actors, but never again, An American in Paris. Never again.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Changing Gears

A bit.

I'll still share crafts and cooking as those topics are dear to my heart. But I've been an aspiring romance novelist since I was 18 or so. Sitting in my room in my parent's house furiously plotting and writing up characterizations. Not always in any order. Sometimes my protagonist spoke to me before any semblance of plot did. Sometimes I had every twist and turn laid out but didn't know who starred in it. But always the ideas.

indie author
My set up. I work standing up at my kitchen counter.
But I was a dumb teenager and decided money needed to line my pockets.

So, instead of going to school and learning about the craft I so dearly loved I joined the working masses. I jumped from police dispatcher, to call center drone, to finally land as a medical billing specialist. Don't despair, there were a few positives. My husband, namely. And money is an unfortunate necessity.

Now though, now I'm back to my original plan. And even have a manuscript to show for it.

But now what?

how to indie author
Only high tech office equipment for me
If you're an aspiring novelist you might be thinking the same thing. So, as I'm sure there are more of us who don't know what we're doing than do, I'm going to show you how I'm doing it. It doesn't mean it's right. It's just what I'm figuring out as I go along.

So far, I have completed two steps out of goodness only knows how many and am working on step 3.

Step 1: Write manuscript
Step 2: Edit the crap out of it. Never stop editing.  I even hired an editor which was eye opening if costly.  Edit some more.
Step 3: Find agent. This is h.e. double hockey sticks. Here's the thing, apparently, I've written in a genre that's currently not being picked up by publishing houses. Pararomance. Blah. So that means self-publishing is up my alley. Fine. But...

How the heck do I do it?

indie author la croix
Me: need la croix. Kids:need art supplies 
Going forward I'll chronicle the life of an indie author and how I got there. Hopefully. Right now I'm just a gal who has 103,000 words giving me the evil eye.

I'd love it if you stick with me through it all.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The bees knees

I like bees. It could be because I'm from the beehive state. It could be because I grew up eating butter and honey toast. And Honey Nut Cheerios. And my Great Grandma's honey popcorn balls. And... yeah, I like bees.

So when colony collapse disorder became a thing I panicked and began planting things bees like.

Save the bees became my mantra. Not really. But now that I think about it, I need a mantra. Other than the golden rule, I guess. Nah, that's a good'un. I'll keep it. Different than the golden ratio, but no less important.

I also began sewing bee-related stuff. I had a fever inside. Full disclosure, I have been stung, and I still like them. And if I had a bigger yard, I'd have a hive of my own. The Mister has reservations.

I do have a need to replace this wall hanging, though. I've got a vision floating inside my head of denim-dyed linen. Yeahhh.

Plus, my kids will always choose honey on their PB&J's over jelly. Guess they're their mama's girls.

Speaking of which,

Definitely mama's girl. And man, you should see this girl chain. One day in and I'm about ready to start her on single crochet. As I was teaching her all I could think about was this long ago beginning and how cute is that little 5 year old. But she hasn't wanted to touch a hook since. I also love that she's hanging around in a swimming suit. As a wee-one I couldn't get her out of her "swim poot".

Then, my oldest decided if her baby sister was crocheting she was crocheting. Which reminded me of this: My proudest crafting moment when my oldest crocheted herself a rat tail. Miss the days she let me piggy tail her hair.

I do enjoy that my daughters both crochet while sitting the same way.

Aww, summer. Bees, lazy days of crafting, and fussing. Oh, the fussing.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Needle Minder Time

I don't know, I've been sewing a long time and have only just heard about needle minders. Maybe it's because I'm spending all my time writing, but really, where have I been? They're all over the internet.

Now, I have never been the type of person to just buy something. I want to make it. In fact, the Mister just suggested to me that I need to go into blacksmithing. Uh, yes please. Let's just add it to the list of all the other things I want to learn. Glass work, knitting more better, refurnishing furniture, tailoring (I might have to practice making vests), sashiko embroidery, tomato grafting... it just keeps going.

But, as soon as I learned of needle minders I needed one.

So, I busted out my button-maker, aida, thread, needles, a couple rare earth magnets, and some sturdy craft glue.

Then, I cross-stitched a cute little something. Turned it into a button. Glued one magnet to the back of the button. Let it dry.

And finally, using a second rare earth magnet I affixed the needle minder to the back of my work and hopefully the days of stepping on lost needles are gone.

My mama's needle minder

And this one is mine. In action. I've lost my mind and am making a millefiori quilt. Why? I thought I needed something to do while the girls are at water polo practice.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

How hard is it to make a &*$#@ vest?

Due to the emotional trauma suffered in the making of my daughter's Annie Oakley vest expect few pictures. In fact, you get only one.

I fancy myself a decent quilter. That means I can make anything I want, right? Wrong.
I've made pajamas and a Little Red Riding Hood cloak. That means I can make a vest, right? Wrong. Well, right, because I made it, but wrong in assuming I can just waltz in and make anything and have it work out seamlessly. Ha! See what I did there? Sewing humor.

I chose to make McCall's pattern M7416 F. Why? I knew my baby would get a kick out of the swingy fringe.

There were words like: understitch, dart, lining, and most horrific of all band facing. This pattern broke me. The part where I needed to "open out lining" sent me straight to the bottle. Luckily, after copious amounts of googling, crying, and hair pulling I figured it out.

fringed vest

But in the end, it turned out pretty great. Fudged bits and all. And she made one heck of an Annie Oakley. Never again, though. Never again. Alright, you know that's not true. Like childbirth I'll forget the horror and try something I'm unqualified for and soon, no doubt.

Thanks for reading.

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