Wednesday, November 21, 2012

TURKEY DAY DISASTERS: IT'S ALWAYS SOMETHING

This blog title could have been "Janet’s Soup Kitchen and Salsa Factory" but then I would’ve left out the best part.

This day started out like most days…an episode in the kitchen. It was a mess to be cleaned up as a result of being organized and prepared…and it’s only 5:30 AM.

It is Wednesday, the day before the big day. Yesterday I took the frozen container of perfect chicken stock that I had so painstakingly prepared and babied, out of the freezer and put it in the refrigerator to thaw. It will be used as the broth for the turkey gravy and stuffing.

I placed it on the top shelf of the icebox with the many beverages we had just purchased for the “big day”.

As I removed a beverage from the shelf to have with dinner last night, I noticed that there was moisture on the shelf around the container of chicken stock. I assumed (if you assume something it makes an a.s out of you and me), stupidly, that it was condensation dripping from the outside of the thawing container.

WRONG!! This morning there was chicken broth all over the top shelf and the beverages were swimming in the slimy greasy yellow stuff.

On further examination, it was discovered that there was a big chunk of plastic missing from the bottom of the container. I’ll have to look for that later…in the gravy.

I know this will be hard to believe from someone as experienced as I am in the kitchen…it’s only been 66 years that I have been eating and going on 45+ years that I have been cooking…but something else just happened that “blows me away”, so to speak. I wish I could blow away at this point. What was I thinking when I decided to cook Thanksgiving dinner?

My task this morning was to take the turkey out of the icebox, (praying that it was thawed) putting it in the brine and back in the IB for the day.

Sounds simple, right?

With plastic work gloves on (that I had worn last night to clean the oven…yes, I washed them well) I removed the packaging from the turkey. It seemed to be well thawed with some parts still frozen where I had to remove the packages of giblets and neck.

I placed the turkey in a large bowl in the sink and ran cold water over the ends to finish the thawing process.

I was able to get my hand inside to retrieve the package and rinse the inside of the turkey.

Except for one important thing…there was no package of giblets. There was a neck all right…not in packaging…and some piece of indescribably sickening piece of something that looked so disgusting it made me want to throw the whole turkey away. I picked it up with my gloved hand, closed my eyes and tossed it in the trash.

I dug around inside blindly searching for the giblets. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake I have made in the past a few times…roasting the package of giblets in the turkey stuffing.

There was no package. I felt something that felt like a liver or gizzard or heart…but when I pulled it out it was fresh turkey meat.

OK…so now I have demolished the inside of the turkey. Maybe no one will notice. I think I’ll make a double batch of stuffing just in case. 

Maybe the "package" will be floating in the brine later today.

I rinsed the turkey and placed it in the brine in a large stock pot. I had adjusted shelves in the refrigerator to make room for it after cleaning up the previously described mess. As I went to pick up the pot it didn't take me long to realize I couldn't lift it out of the sink.

PEEE...TERRRRR...HELLLLL...PPPP!!!!

Of course, there appeared my "knight in painting clothes" to rescue me once more.

Mi amigo Pedro made his famous cranberry sauce yesterday and it was delicious. We had a taste last night with our chicken. One good thing has happened.

This is only Wednesday…about 27 hours until show time.

I can do this!!

One way to avoid these situations is to not cook Thanksgiving dinner but then you’d miss all the fun…sarcasm intended.

With any luck at all there won’t be more blog posts on this subject.



Friday, November 16, 2012

THANKSGIVING THOUGHTS 2012

Last year I was just learning how to blog. Obviously, I'm still in the experimental stages. As I look back on doing the Thanksgiving posts...and having just reread them...I am amazed at how much time I devoted to it and just how complete they are...from my perspective. All were done before I learned how to include pictures.  

I invite you to visit those other posts. I will probably combine them in the future but not this year. There is nothing fancy about the instructional ones. I hope you find them simple and easy to follow.. There are actually a total of ten posts related to Thanksgiving on this blog. Yes...it is a very important holiday to me.

So many memories of Thanksgivings past flood my mind...and heart. I always hope that what I can contribute will make memories for others.

It is the one time of year that I don't consult with Pedro about who I can invite to dinner. I have always invited everyone that happens to mention that they don't have family or plans. Our first Thanksgiving together he was surprised to find strangers joining us. He knows me better now.

Two years ago, we had twenty family members celebrating with us in our small house. We had the dining event in the garage where we had set tables with hurricane lamps and Thanksgiving decorations.

It did rain that year. 


Last year we joined one son with his family at a luxurious golf resort restaurant in Tucson. It was a special time. 

In 2008 and 2009 we spent the event at the Tanque Verde Guest Ranch. Just the two of us enjoyed a very elegant dinner with champagne and candlelight in 2008.

 In 2009 there were ten of us at Tanque Verde Guest Ranch.

This year we're cooking again.

We will have two of our children with their families and some dear friends from "the mountain". I estimate there will be ten of us. If the weather stays nice, we might dine "al fresco". The only thing that could "dampen" that idea would be rain or wind. The forecast is for sunshine, high 70s, and gentle breezes.

I am thankful to feel healthy enough to offer to cook, to have a husband who makes delicious cranberry sauce, is an expert potato masher and turkey carver...and,  to have family who still want to come to my house for dinner.

Getting here isn't very traditional though. It's "Over the Gila (river) and through the cactus to Nana's casa we go...the truck knows the way to carry the kids through the brown and green saguaros"...lalalalala.

Happy Thanksgiving and God's blessings to everyone!





Monday, November 12, 2012

SIMPLE TATER TOT CASSEROLE


When the weather turns a bit chilly…or downright cold…there’s nothing better than a hot, bubbling casserole to take the edge off. Serve with some fruit or a fresh green salad and you’ve got a meal. Also, you might have leftovers to take to work or school the next day. One serving of any casserole, reheated for a minute in the microwave, gives you a hot lunch that is delicious and nutritious.

This is one I learned from Mi Amigo Pedro. There are lots of versions of this out there but this is the simple, uncomplicated and perfect version…every time.

Ingredients:

1-pound ground beef
1-32 ounce package of frozen tater tots
1-can Cream of Mushroom soup
1-14.5 ounce can of green beans
¼ cup milk or another can of Cream of Mushroom soup
2-cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1-tablespoon minced garlic (in the produce section in a small glass jar)
1-tablespoon dehydrated minced onion (1 tablespoon of this equals one hole chopped onion. It’s in the spice section at the grocery store and usually in a plastic shaker-type container)
1-teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Process:

Preheat oven to 375.

Brown the ground beef on medium heat until it is cooked thoroughly and crumbly.

I use a Dutch oven so I can mix everything together in it instead of having to get two pans dirty. If you use a skillet, you will need a large bowl to mix the rest of the ingredients together before putting them in the casserole.

Sprinkle the onion, garlic, salt and pepper over the meat, mixing it in with a large spoon.

To the browned meat, add the green beans, soup, tator tots, milk and 1-½ cups of cheese.

Toss gently with two large spoons to mix thoroughly.

Dump this mixture into a 2-½ quart casserole.

Sprinkle the rest of the cheese over the top.

Bake uncovered for one hour.




Sunday, November 11, 2012

GLUTEN-FREE BODY OF CHRIST?

Sometimes the only way to get something off your mind is to write about it. This has been bugging me for a week now. I’m not sure why. I’m okay with it…BUT…it got my attention…and not in a positive way, I now realize.

I admit…I’m not a regular churchgoer.

Mea culpa.

At least, I don’t go to the same church regularly.

I do go to church.

I’m constantly searching for the right fit.

Sometimes it’s the Roman Catholic Church but I can’t receive the Sacrament there. It’s against the rules. Divorce got me kicked out. I had a Catholic baptism before I was married. No Catholic education or First Holy Communion or Confirmation, just baptized and led down the aisle.

My grandmother disowned me and said I would go to Hell. That hurt my feelings. I always wanted to please her. She was a Methodist.

Sometimes it’s a protestant church like Methodist, Presbyterian or Baptist that beckons me. I even attended a Nazarene church service being held in a school. It’s the closest church service to where I live. There are very nice people there and good music. There are unorthodox names of churches like the "cool" church, the "harvest" church, the "epic' church, etc. There are different churches for different people.

The good news about the protestant churches is that I am usually the youngest one there…or at least I’m with my peer group. I like the hymns because they are familiar. And, my grandmother would be pleased.

It is obvious though that these protestant churches in small towns and communities are on their way out. They are beautiful old buildings with dwindling congregations, which translates to financial hardship.

Too many “baby boomers” like me, I guess. Lots of us either don't go to church or bounce around and don’t make a financial commitment to any one church.

It’s confusing. Growing up, women wore hats and gloves to church. I always thought, even as a youngster, that God didn’t care what they wore.

I also remember the elderly commenting about how so and so wasn’t in church…actually gossiping about it. I didn’t think that was right either.

Now these protestant churches have become less formal and strict in their protocol. People are more casual; there are lots of women in pants, men in sports shirts with open collars, people visiting with each other and laughing. Is this to attract younger families? Is this to compete with the new bigger-than-ever churches? Is it to be more like the Catholics?

They just don’t “get it”. Maybe I’m the one who doesn’t get it.

Roman Catholic Churches have welcomed the faithful no matter what they were wearing. I witnessed this first hand when I was 19.

While attending summer school in Guadalajara, Mexico in 1965 I happened into a Roman Catholic Church. I sat in the back and quietly watched the people coming to the mass that was about to begin.

Young and old men, women, children, and families were coming into the church, blessing themselves with Holy Water, kneeling, praying, and silently practicing their faith. Many were barefoot; some women were sharing rebozos so that their heads would be covered. Children were well behaved, knowing it was expected of them, as family members held them so that they felt secure. They were learning how to worship God by example.

I returned to college after a summer in Mexico and enrolled in a class called “The Study of Far Eastern Religions”. That confused me even more. There are lots of prophets and philosophers with endless opinions, questions and interesting parables about how to live life. I attended the non-denominational chapel services on campus and did some charity work. There wasn’t any mention of Jesus, as I recall.

A couple of times I have attended one of those new mega-churches that have their services in huge auditoriums with a rock band playing during the worship service and a coffee shop in the lobby. Some are in “converted” Wal-Marts. Some are so prosperous that they have acres of land with campuses that rival a college or university. They seem to attract young families and singles…and some elderly persons, as well.

They are multi-denominational protestant “churches”. Everyone…every sinner…is welcome.

The last time I ventured into one of those (with an open mind) the minister felt compelled to teach a spiritual lesson about sex. Excuse me, Lord, but I felt a bit uncomfortable being with my teenage grandsons and my daughter and her husband.

I understand that it is necessary to learn about sex and what the Bible teaches us about it but, pul…eaze, send the information to me in a newsletter.

I am confident that my Puritan Methodist grandmother would have been equally disturbed. I can just hear her now, clearing her throat.

On television, Joel Osteen is easy to watch on Sunday mornings from my recliner. They call him a “prosperity” minister. He is definitely prosperous. It’s kind of like a Dale Carnegie class.

I have attended funeral services at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and I visit their Family History Center to do genealogy research.

The Mormons teach their children about life and how to live it but in segregated groups…the women teach the girls and the men teach the boys. I’m in favor of that method.

One of my favorite churches is Thoreau’s church. It serves me well; “communing” with Nature (a capital N), sauntering and meandering by the river while praying and quietly enjoying God’s creations. His essay called “Walking” is my peace.



They all have a part to play in my religious life. The persistent quest keeps me searching and keeps me praying and grounded.

There is little doubt with casual observation that the Mormons and the Roman Catholics have the most churches and the largest congregations in this country. One is 958 years old and the other is only 182 years old.

What is the oldest Christian church?  Jesus Christ, the Son of God founded the Orthodox Church in the year 33. It has not changed since that time and is now 1,979 years old.

I’ve accepted the fact that I’m not going to join a church at my age…which is old. Was it Ben Franklin who said that when women cease to be handsome they study to be good? Well, I’ll never be that good.

I believe in God. I believe that we should treat each other like we want to be treated. I believe that Love Wins. I believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. I believe that Compassion is God.

Sometimes, I honestly wish that I had never had the formal education I have had. It has caused me to question everything…to be skeptical…to see through things that I might otherwise have accepted.

I wish that someone had squelched my curiosity at a young age. Then I wouldn’t know about the lives of the saints, about all of the prophets of the world since the beginning of time.

I wish that I wouldn’t have studied comparative religions to reach the conclusion that I have reached.

I wish that I hadn’t noticed that all wars are a result of religious differences, which are tied to cultural differences and race.

Aren’t we all the same? Isn’t race just skin deep? Why, oh, why can’t we respect each other’s ideas and belief systems and let each other “be”?

Maybe then, I wouldn’t have been so bothered by what the minister said last Sunday at the church I was attending.

When preparing the Sacrament, she held up the bread with both hands, looked at it solemnly and said, “The Body of Christ and it’s gluten-free. We have to be politically correct.”

Good God Almighty.