* yes, there should be FIVE sets of boots but Allen ignored my advice to get adequate rain gear...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thanksgiving Abroad

I'm going to link this up to pretty, happy, funny, real.  It isn't formatted quite right but does include quite a bit of real life.  :-)
round button chicken

Noah dips his
pie into the cream
Allen has been discussing hosting a Thanksgiving celebration in Dublin since we moved here.  I was less enthusiastic.  On the morning of, Allen stood in the middle of the kitchen and proclaimed "I think this is fantastic!"  I pointed out to him that his main contribution to the festivities up to then was picking up the turkey while I had made 6 pies, 2 dozen rolls, cranberry sauce, and several pounds of roasted vegetables.

Megan loved the rolls
Pumpkin is not a big crop here in general (turnips were the traditionally carved item) and canned pumpkin is both hard to find and quite expensive.  If I had been at the top of my game, I would have gotten a few pie pumpkins for the 2 weeks in October they were out and made a fresh puree but that was about the time we went to Scotland.  Thankfully, Jen, our American visitor over Thanksgiving, was happy to bring canned pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, and cranberries with her.  I spoke to the butcher and he got a Turkey killed specially for me- the Irish tend to use turkey mostly for Christmas dinner so we were running a bit ahead of the crowd.

But, how was I going to manage to cook the turkey?  We have an upper and lower oven, both tiny.  Each are around 13 inches by 16 inches and a height of 1-2 feet.  I doubted they could even manage to fit a large chicken.  The upper oven's knob's marking had rubbed off so the one and only time we had attempted to use it, we came close to causing a small gas explosion.  The temperatures were a bit of guesswork to start with, using the gas mark system and the heating fluctuates wildly.  I have yet to have anything cook the same way twice.

Spatchcocked breast
Allen swooped in with a new knob a week or so before Thanksgiving and an Irish friend told me that you just needed to have the butcher spatchcock the turkey.  Spatchcocking is removing the backbone so that the bird lies flat.  It's about the same as butterflying.  Spatchcock is an Irish term derived from "dispatch cock" or preparing a cock for cooking.  I finally decided to cook the legs in the upper oven and the breast in the lower.  By the time the bird is flattened, you won't get a traditional Norman Rockwell bird, anyway.  On the plus side, this means the breast doesn't get dried out and the whole bird cooks much more quickly.

Megan's winter squash
allergy means we also have
an apple dessert
Since my ovens would be otherwise occupied, I cooked pies the day before.  There would be around 12 of us so I thought I would go ahead and make both cans worth of pumpkin pie- that was only 2 pies, after all.  Except, when you use Irish pie plates, it makes 6!  Our Irish guests were very suspicious of pumpkin pie although how a group of people who can face black pudding and fish 1st thing in the morning can be suspicious of ANY food is beyond me.  :-)  But, it was deemed good and they even left with a pie for home.  The cream helped.  I mixed several tablespoons of creme fresh in with the heavy cream and it gave it a delightful zing.

There was rather a lot of consumption of hard cider on my part, the sacrifice of 1 pair of kitchen sheers and a great deal of laughter by Jen and Allen but the turkey was dismembered, massaged, roasted, and declared quite good.

In the end, we wound up with a quite respectable feast of roasted veggies, potatoes, sweet potatoes, homemade cranberry sauce, turkey, stuffing, and rolls as well as 6 pumpkin pies and 2 apple tartines.  An enjoyable time was had by all as well as a good night's sleep- nothing like some turkey just before bed!

Richard carving the turkey

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving's Past

Thanksgiving and Christmas photos are somewhere in Allen's picture stash so generally cute pictures that I *can* find are the order of the day.

It's been a bit since the last post.  There are actually 2 more Scotland posts, maybe a pretty, funny, happy, real and the Irish Thanksgiving post to come.  Over the last few weeks we got back from the Scotland trip, Allen left for a week in the US, Noah got pink eye which is so much more fun with laundry limitations!, we're hosting a houseguest and we're having Thanksgiving for 12 (the butcher got a turkey killed just for me! and he's spatchcoking it!)  So, I've been a little busy.  I'm hoping things settle out a bit next week and I can catch up.  But, until then, I was thinking about Thanksgivings past.  While Thanksgiving abroad is a challenge, I am no stranger to having no idea how to manage to get a holiday meal on the table.

Megan age 2, Noah around 7 months
We have taken a fairly firm stance on not traveling for holidays since we started having children.  This worked out, in large part, because our families are reasonably geographically close and we were the only ones with children for quite a while.  Of course, this also meant that we needed to be happy to host whomever wanted to come for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  So, I've been producing a reasonable holiday meal spread in the midst of newborns, nursing, and pregnancy while chasing a toddler and dealing with morning sickness.
Megan finally had enough hair for pigtails at age 3.
We had a photo shoot.
I want to share my secrets.

First, take help from any corner.  Did you know that Cracker Barrel will let you buy large quantities of most of their side dishes as well as their pies and some mains?  This will save you the year that you are flattened by morning sickness.  Make a list of what you would like to serve.  Put a star next to anything that takes more than 2 steps and start farming them out to anyone who dares ask "can I bring something?"- that includes the green salad- way too much chopping.  If anyone has a special request or something that is just vital to their holiday meal experience, they are welcome to bring it along.

Noah 5 days with our wedding rings
Second, consider how to make the meat someone else's job.  Your husband can take on the very manly task of turkeying.  I suggest you have him smoke that bad boy up on the grill.  Alton Brown makes it simple and it will taste beyond compare.  If you are going the ham route ordering is the easiest way.  But, the grocery store hams also taste good with a simple glaze and require little in the way of tending.  I like Nigella's but I don't do the whole boiling in ginger ale step- I just follow the reheating instructions on the package and top it with the glaze.

Charlie with his great grandfather age 6 months
Third, the slow cooker is your friend.  I always make green beans and just let them hang out until we're ready.  Snip 1/4 pound or so of pancetta or bacon into your slow cooker and flip it to high.  Cook the bacon until it's fairly crispy- about an hour or so.  Fill your crock 1/2 full or so with the flat green beans (italian green beans) from the freezer section- don't add them to the hot crock straight from the freezer or you will crack your crock.  Cover those with a mixture of roughly 1/2 and 1/2 chicken broth and water.  Cook on low for a few hours- you are looking for them to soften up and heat through but they can also hang out for a while.  Periodically check for salt or butter needs.

Charlie 20 months, Megan 1 week
Fourth, you don't have to have rolls AND stuffing- they are both bread.  But, if you feel strongly, might I suggest the Pioneer Woman's rolls?  They start with the frozen kind and lend themselves to being neglected- they need around 5 hours to rise, after all.  Plus, they stay warm for quite a while with no effort since they are in cast iron skillets.  I unabashedly go with a boxed stuffing.

Noah 1st Birthday
Fifth, consider your veggie needs.  If mashed potatoes are a must, ask your mother or MIL to take them on while you nurse the baby or go lie down.  I tend to sidestep both salad and potatoes by going with roasted root veggies.  You can chop as you get time and/or assign someone else to chop.  I usually go with a mixture of veggies including sweet potato, rutabaga, turnip, beets (although consider a separate pan because they will turn everything pink), carrots, onion, and garlic you can also add in cauliflower and broccoli.  Since the turkey is making hay in the grill, you have the oven.  Cut everything into roughly the same size except the onion- that should be in wedges, toss with olive oil until everything looks a little shiny and ready for a day at the beach, sprinkle with a good bit of salt and fennel seeds and pop into a 425' ish oven for about an hour or until everything is tender and caramelized.  Make about twice as much as you think you need- I use the turkey roasting pan (see grill).  The veggies shrink plus they are super tasty and go fast both at the meal and as leftovers but go easy on the turnips and rutabaga because they do taste strong.  Assign someone else to check on them every 15 minutes starting at the 45 minute mark because you will be nursing the baby and/or calming an overstimulated toddler and/or laying down.  They are forgiving.  You can lower the heat to bake the rolls if needed, it might just take them a little longer to finish cooking.  You also have those green beans floating around and never underestimate the power of frozen corn with a good dab of butter.

Charlie 3,  Megan 2
Someone in your family likes to experiment with recipes.  That is your cranberry sauce maker.  Uncle Knorr makes a wonderful gravy.

Finally, dessert.  Farm it out!  Ask someone to bring a couple of pies, let Sara Lee do the lifting or make a quick stop at Cracker Barrel.  If you want, you can actually manage to make homemade whipped cream while holding a baby with colic as long as you have a stand mixer.  Add a capful vanilla to the coffee grounds when you do the after dinner coffee if you want to get all fancy.  If you really must, make your pumpkin and pecan pies a couple of days ahead.  They will keep and you are kidding yourself if you think you'll have time the day of.

There will be a day when you are ready to do a full on Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.  For now, make your goal to make it to the end of the day without crying.  It can be done!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Duplicity of Maps and a Dash of Scotland

Walk in Inverness
Since they don't have Thanksgiving here, Christmas decorating starts in earnest right after Halloween/Samhain/Guy Fawke's Day.  Plus, with all that train time, I began wondering if we might indeed make it to Hogwarts.  What says Highland Christmas like Harry and the Potters playing Wizard Chess?

Obligatory Scottish thistle picture
It took us roughly 12 hours to get from Reagan National to Dublin, when you include the time changes.  That was around 3380 miles covered via 2 plane flights and a taxi ride.  It took about the same amount of time (maybe a touch more) to get from Dublin to Edinburgh.  Milage varies by route but I think we went about 395 miles covered by ferry, 3 trains, and a taxi.  We then rode trains for at least a few hours most days as we went on to Inverness (Loch Ness) and Glasgow.  A friend told Allen that we made the mistake of looking at a map like Americans.  After all, how long could it possibly take to travel a quarter of an inch?  We are thinking that no matter how interesting ferries and trains sound, we are taking a plane for our Englad trip later this year.

The children actually held up as well as we could possibly expect and we saw loads of interesting scenery.  I found the experience pleasant with brief flashes of lovely.  But, it's likely even better if everyone can walk AND carry their own bag or, at the very least, agree to a moratorium on temper tantrums around the time you have to haul everyone and everything on an epic 4 minute dash to catch the next train.  We had quite good luck with ferries and trains until the very end and when we had bad luck things went as well as they could.  Allen talks about this on his blog.  FYI- purse, et al were returned safely to me today!

The last thing Allen wound up booking was our hotel in Edinburgh so we were locked into a day.  For reasons we never did figure out, every single hotel was booked up except the Waldorf Astoria.  I suggest everyone stay in a Waldorf Astoria at least once in your life.  If a hotel room can feel luxurious with 3 young children and a freshly bathed winter coat steaming on the towel warmer (Megan is apparently prone to seasickness), you have truly achieved hotel greatness.  Charlie proclaimed the next hotel (along the lines of a Day's Inn) much more luxurious because he and Megan both had their own cot.  Noah had a "fancy bed" (hotel pack-n-play) at each location and was happy to sleep in them.  Allen and I were stunned.

Doctor Who is in Glasgow?
There was a Dalek in Inverness
but I can't find the picture
I have gotten to a point where my ear doesn't distinguish American and Irish accents unless I'm actively listening.  Both sound "normal."  Allen has apparently taken it one step further and said that he thought Irish and Scottish accents sounded about the same.  I take his point but I found them quite distinct.  I found them similar to the difference between a lemon square and a key lime pie.  Both have that tart citrus note but distinctive finishes.  The Highland Scottish accent sounded almost like a stutter at times with great effort being put into the second syllable and various phonemes.  I find the Irish accent to be more rolling with it more likely that whole syllables or phonemes just aren't pronounced at all rather than being forced.

My favorite part of Glasgow was the breakfast spread at the hotel.  The Scots take their morning meal seriously with a yogurt bar beyond belief, full cold cut spread, haggis, egg and black pudding among other things.  (We do the Hilton Honors program and really like it.  Free breakfast (among other things) at all Hilton family hotels.  This would have been around $75 if we all paid.)  Yes, that is REAL whiskey I added to my porridge not a flavoring extract as I assumed.  I had a warm belly that day.  ;-)

Real Whiskey, cream, and brown sugar.
Tasty porridge!
The UK pound coins all have mottos engraved along the edges representing Scotland, Wales, and England.  The Scottish motto is "No one provokes me with impunity."  There was a hard edge to the Scottish Highlands.  You got the distinct impression that if you were to thrive here, you had to want it.  The Scots were forcibly transported to North and South Carolina during the Highland Clearances.  The Carolina Smokies likely felt at least somewhat familiar.  But, I was much more strongly reminded of the scenery of Upstate New York.  I suspect that the Smokies give over to farming a bit less begrudgingly than either the Adriondacks or the Scottish Highlands, though.

It's all about proper footwear
I had been very worried about how cold it was likely to be in Scotland.  Interestingly, even though the temperatures were quite low, we felt about as warm as in Ireland and indoors tended to be warmer.  The only thing we can figure is that it was a drier cold.  There was a bite to the air but the cold didn't seep into you the way it does in Dublin.  It was the first time I could remember actually feeling quite cozy and not longing to immerse myself in a warm bubble bath.  Our home in Dublin seems to always be a bit chilly.  We keep tweaking the hours the heater runs but even after hours, you still want slippers and a blanket.  Thus, I was delighted to get my Christmas present a bit early.