Turkey Day and Despite a Tough Year, Still Grateful

Thursday is the American holiday of Thanksgiving.  For those that follow me you know this is my favourite holiday.  With all the materialism built in with a lot of holidays I like we have one where is’t just family and good food.

It’s been a tough year for my family.  We have 12 round the table and we weren’t guaranteed we’d have 12 this time round.  Fortunately my sister’s neck is just about good as new and my dad’s life saving surgery went as well as it should have.  And we are fortunate my cousin in Kenya has made a near complete recovery from his car accident.  Thank goodness the two taxi drivers rushed him to hospital barely alive.  This was while others looted his car.  So you can imagine the amount of gray hair that made light of day in our family this year!

We’re very much looking forward to 2016, as you can imagine!

For this post I wanted to reshare a few of my recipes I’ve made over the years for Thanksgiving.  I figured I’d get them in before the holiday rather than after for once.  🙂

Sage pear turkey 5 2014

The Sage Pear Turkey fast became a favourite of mine.  Pear works so well with the sage and stuffing the skin with butter just makes it divine.

Cranberry Raisin Sauce 6 2014

Hopefully this year I won’t forget to serve the cranberry sauce!  I made this last year with port and it was really delicious.  I like to do variations each year for something new.  I’ve done it with orange, ginger, thyme.  Surprisingly cranberry is a good match for many different ingredients.

Stuffing balls 6 2013

Stuffing balls are a fun variation.  These are made with pork.  This year I’ll be separating these out to have sourdough stuffing then pork balls as some can’t have gluten.

I was going to share a blog post of pumpkin pie.  Looks like I haven’t done a post on that!  Guess what will be coming soon?

For those that celebrate this holiday I hope it is a safe and fun one.  And may you not have to travel too far!

Advertisements

Let’s Be Radical and Say Down With Resolutions!

New Years Eve 1 2014

Ah the time of year where resolutions fly willy nilly dooming their proclaimers to failure.  I used to be a big fan of resolutions.  It’s a rookie mistake and after a few years (ok several) I realised I was following the definition of insanity.  If you keep doing the same thing expecting different results….

I suppose, as I get older (not old), I’m less worried about what needs to be fixed.  And I am lucky as there isn’t much to fix.  It’s been another wonderful year with my husband and kids.  They are healthy, happy, and doing well.  What more could I wish for?

Hopefully 2015 will be just as good.  I do know one thing for certain.  I won’t make the year without my daughter passing me in height and my son is hot on her heels!  I’m destined to be the short one in the family.  🙂

I wish everyone a very happy and healthy 2015.  And cheers to a fun night tonight!

Christmas Traditions As The Kids Grow

It’s official, our kids have aged out of believing in Santa.  I have mixed feelings about that.  On the one hand I’ll miss them wanting to put out carrots for the reindeer, cookies and milk for Santa, and glitter to guide in the reindeer.  But then again we have a closet full of secret Santa paper that we’ve kept hidden.  We would wrap our son’s gifts in different paper from our daughter’s so no handwriting would be on the gifts to give away the magic.  That’s how I figured it out when I was a kid!

Because my husband had to travel half this month we got our Christmas tree right after Thanksgiving which is really early for us but we lucked out with amazing weather.  We go to a local farm where they have horse drawn carriages and pick out a tree.  Afterwards we have free homemade donuts and hot chocolate.

Christmas 2014 2 2014

I had a Griswold moment as we were picking out a tree.  As we found one I saw across the way The Tree.  I told the family to stay put, to hedge our bets, and took off running.  Now I don’t run.  There was a foot of snow and I’m in my winter boots huffing and puffing going as fast as I could.  Which isn’t very fast.  I got passed by the guy with a saw and a dolled up woman who laid claim to the tree.  I did a “Noooo!” and fell to my knees gasping.  The nice man said to me but there is another one right over there.  Before I could raise my hand and say “Yes!” the woman whipped round and claimed that one too.  I nearly did a faceplant in the snow.  So I trudged back to the family and claimed the one we hedged our bets with.  Actually it’s a gorgeous tree, just a bare spot in the back but we put that against the wall.  🙂

Christmas 2014 5 2014

We do have fun decorating the tree with our favourite ornaments and Christmas music is put on.  Guinness could care less but Murphy is always willing to be in the way.  He generally curls up right at the tree looking up to see what we are doing.

Christmas 2014 3 2014

I was way behind with things this month.  I only made the Christmas cake two Sundays ago!  The recipe is here part 1 and part 2.  I thought, because we are obviously not having a white Christmas, it would be fun to decorate the cake with the three stages of the snowman.  I had in my head how I wanted to do the snowman and knew I had to head to the local candy shop.  And right there were snowman done out of marshmallow!  Perfect so I was able to recreate using what they did.

Christmas 2014 4 2014

Today we’ll be playing games and watching Christmas movies in our PJs.  After we bake mince meat pies and sticky buns for tomorrow’s breakfast.  And it’s tradition to order Chinese food for dinner tonight.  We eat it next to the tree with the fire going.  And can’t forget the Christmas crackers!

Christmas 2014 1 2014

Guinness and Murphy are taken care of with big bones for them to entertain themselves with.  🙂

For those that celebrate Christmas, have a very Happy Christmas.  May it be safe and fun.  🙂

Having Fun Deep in the Heart of Texas

My husband and I had a much needed getaway to Texas for the Texas RenFest this past week.  We’re exhausted after it all but it was good to have some fun and let our hair down.  It was also nice to catch up with friends.

Our friends have three horses and a pony and they are characters.  The funniest thing to discover was that there is a 1000lb horse who is an overgrown Murphy.  It’s one thing to see the antics in a 50lb dog but quite another to see it in a horse!

Texas Fun 7 2014

You have to be careful because he’ll leap about with all four hoofs off the ground.  But he is really sweet and like Murphy he just wants to be loved.  Once he is comfortable with you he loves his face rubbed.  I was doing that and he slipped into neutral with just enough energy to try to nibble my ear.  Just like Murphy!

Texas Fun 5 2014

These horses will do anything for a treat, especially carrots.  They see the orange sticks and it doesn’t take long for them to circle round.  At one point Major had carrot orange lips that matched his coat!

Texas Fun 1 2014

There is all sorts of wildlife including this road runner.  Of course my husband quipped it was running from the Wiley Coyote.  Sad to say it took me a second to cotton on.  I must be slipping!

There are bits of Texas that show a kind of raw rough beauty.  I can’t lie, I prefer the rolling hills of the UK or the gorgeous colours of autumn in New England, the lush green, and the four seasons.  The crsipiness of the landscape I find harsh but it gives rise to spots of stark beauty.  This tree was about 200 years old when the drought killed it.

Texas Fun 4 2014

Fortunately most survive and provide small canopies here and there, shelter from the harsh sun.

Texas Fun 2 2014

One spot on their property I’ve never really noticed but should have is under the canopy of a very old and large live oak.  They set up a cosy area for relaxing and grilling.  It’s fabulous!  It’s like an adult fort to hide out in.  I want one.  🙂

Texas Fun 6 2014

Of course we found time for good drink and food.  One restaurant we went to is called Sway in Ausin and it’s a modern Thai restaurant.  The food was out of this world amazing.  I had raw oysters for the first time and it had a spicy citrus cold “broth” with crispy shallots and micro greens.  I couldn’t get enough.  And their curries were very spicy but absolutely balanced in their flavour.  I will be trying to recreate some of the dishes.  I didn’t get any photos because I spaced but the lighting wasn’t good enough and they would have been washed out with the flash.

Texas Fun 8 2014

As icing on the cake on a great trip we enjoyed this excellent French hard cider to finish our holiday.  I’ll have to see if we can get it here in NH at our liquor store.

We got back very late Tuesday night and it was back to reality yesterday but it was great to see the kids and now it’s back to the everyday routine.  Until our next adventure.  🙂

Deck the Halls!

Before Thanksgiving I’m a scrooge.  A bah humbug.  I don’t believe Christmas should be dragged out for 3 months.  I love Christmas but it fits nicely into December.  After Thanksgiving?  Bring it!  I love the carols, the food, the tree, and the joy on my kids’ faces.  I am a huge fan of the traditions that we pass along.  The Christmas crackers, mince pies, chinese food on the eve.  What’s not to like?  And the great tradition?  Getting the tree.

When I was a kid, when trees were cheap, my dad started the game of what’s the least amount we can spend on a great looking tree?  For years we would get trees for less than $10.  It was a point of pride.  Our chances were increased because we waited until after my sister’s birthday so we wouldn’t get a tree until a week or two before Christmas so vendors were looking to get rid of inventory.  And because we followed the 12 days of Christmas and kept the tree up until the 7th of January we never missed out on tree time.

This past weekend it was time to get our tree.  We go to a tree farm just north of us.  They have free donuts and hot chocolate.  It was an easy choice to keep going to this farm.  Plus they really make it an adventure for the families.  Once you are able to find a parking space, which isn’t always easy as this is a very popular spot, you get in line for the horse drawn carriages which take you down to the trees then bring you back again with your trees.

Christmas 1 2013

They even play Christmas carols for the ride.  As it is usually bitter cold we all huddle together for warmth.  We did quite well this year as we found our tree as soon as we got off the carriage.  Usually it takes awhile as we compare and search.  We have high ceilings so it needs to be tall, full but not overly wide.  Not always easy to find.  But this year it was waiting for us.  🙂

Christmas 2 2013

Then it was the ride back for the donuts and hot chocolate while we waited for our tree to catch up with us.  It was very busy so they couldn’t get all the trees up at the same time.  The next day we decorated it, good thing for ladders!  I love our decorations.  We have blue and white lights which are the colours we used to honour Grammy at Christmas time but as they are so pretty I continued it, we have glass ornaments I got from Harrods when I was a student and they were on sale, and we have several ornaments the kids made.  Those are my favourites.  There is one that has our son’s tiny hand print on it.  How they grow.  We hang round the house various paper santas and snowmen they have made over the years.  I’m amazed they survived!

Christmas 4 2013

It was quite the task getting the angel to stay up.  It took a complete nose dive to the floor.  Most of it survived.  We had to trim the top a bit so it was stable but we got it to behave.  I love having the regular lights off and just have the tree lights on.  So pretty.  I even like taking my glasses off and have it all a soft blur.

Christmas 3 2013

The next step is to organise the presents and start putting them under the tree.  Fortunately our pets leave it all alone!  Though Murphy is always interested in our decorating.  He gets right in the thick of things.  🙂

 

Get Stuffed….

I love stuffing especially with gravy.  To me it is great comfort food that is dressed up for the holidays.  I generally make this stuffing for Thanksgiving but when we were back in the UK my MIL did up a lovely roast pork with stuffing balls.  If I was smart I would have asked for the recipe.  I wasn’t.  However, I figured I could adjust my usual stuffing, add an ingredient, and make them into balls.  I think they are great because the best part of stuffing is the browned edges with a bit of crispy to it.  Now everyone gets it with their stuffing.

Unlike the spinach balls, I knew I had all the ingredients!  🙂

It’s important to plan ahead somewhat for this dish as the bread needs to be stale.  I usually get a sourdough boule and break it up a day or two before making this.  Leave it out for all the pieces to get a bit hard.  Because these will make the balls the pieces need to be somewhat small.

I baked these at about 350F/175C.  Because we had so many things going on in the oven this seemed the average temp.  These can be baked at a higher temp, just keep an eye on them.

Chop up about a half an onion finely and a few cloves of garlic.  Saute them in olive oil until softened.

Stuffing balls 3 2013

Add two cups of veg bouillon and simmer for about 10 minutes.  While this is cooking chop about a cup of cranberries and several fresh sage leaves.

Stuffing balls 1 2013 Stuffing balls 2 2013

Mix the cranberries and sage in with the bread and then work in about a pound of sausage of your choice.  I chose mild Italian sausage for this.  I didn’t want any flavours overpowering the sourdough or the sage.

Stuffing balls 4 2013

Now here comes the messy part.  Just take off your rings and roll up your sleeves!  Pour in the broth with the onions and garlic and mix well.  Take a few minutes to do this so you don’t have any dry bread bits.  Add about a cup of shredded Italian cheeses and mix thoroughly.  Form into balls and place onto a cookie sheet.  As these won’t spread while baking you can keep them somewhat close to each other.  This recipe makes a lot of balls.

Stuffing balls 5 2013

I baked these about 20 minutes or so.  Once they are golden brown check one to make sure it is cooked through.

Stuffing balls 6 2013

These could easily be made vegetarian.  Just remove the sausage.  Though I have to say this is the first time I used meat in stuffing and it worked really well with the sourdough.

Stuffing balls 7 2013

It also paired well with the apple sage gravy I made to go with the turkey.

Wine, Vigo, and Cambados Makes for a Lovely Day

Our last port before we shifted back to reality was Vigo.  The area is known as the Wales of Spain as it is so lush and full of green hills.  Our expectations weren’t high for this stop as we didn’t know much about it and all we could see was that Vigo was a small place.  We decided for this stop we’d do a shore excursion that took us wine tasting.  I am really glad we did as the scenery was beautiful and the wine was wonderful.  Plus it turns out two of our new friends had also signed up for the wine tasting so we had a blast with them.  They even brought crisps and chocolates for us so we didn’t go hungry.  Not sure if it is a good or bad thing they had figured out in a very short time we get cranky without snacks!  In either case it was cheers for them bringing the goods.  🙂

We had the best bus driver.  He drove that thing like it was a sports car.  The bus kept up with him as well.  The toll booths had arms that would fly up once the computer sensed the bus going through.  He had it timed just right and would fly through.  The first time we all gasped as we thought he was going to bust through the arm.  Then we burst out laughing.  He just grinned.  On the way back he actually accelerated towards it.  By this time we were all for this and were very disappointed when we got stuck behind a small delivery truck.  Coming into the port we saw another arm and were egging him on but he had to stop because it was a manual arm.  A lot of sighs and nuts to that!  Guess we’re all kids at heart.

On the way to the first winery we passed large squares in the water.  We saw them as we glided into port but couldn’t figure out what they were.  They were raised just above the water so they didn’t look like fish farms but what else could they be?  Turns out we weren’t far off.  They were mussel farms.  They would attach baby mussels to ropes that hung underneath and they would harvest them 18 months later.

Vigo 1 2013

The winery we went to is Granbazan Winery and the grapes they grow are Albarino grapes which makes a white wine.  They have a winery outside of Valencia that makes red and we got to taste one red.  But this place focuses on the white.

Vigo 4 2013

It was a lovely place.  The way they grow the grapes is horizontally up off the ground so it makes a canopy and allows the air to circulation round the grapes.  Notice at the bottom right of the photo there is a red car.  They parked their cars under the grapes!

Vigo 6 2013

Nearly every home we drove by, no matter the size of their yard, had some sort of crops growing.  Those that grew grapes would sell some to this winery and keep some to make their own wine.  Even in the villages we would come across what looked like mini churches.  These held the grains for the winter.  They are built up off the ground to keep the critters out.

Vigo 5 2013

After a tour of the winery and how they make the wine it was time for the tasting.  My favourite part.  I’ve moved away from white wines and prefer red but I really enjoyed their whites.  Crisp and not too sweet which is the way I like it.

Vigo 2 2013

A select amount of the wine would be oak aged but most of their whites weren’t oak aged.

Vigo 7 2013

After the tasting we retraced our steps to Cambados for a sort of second wine tasting.  They took us to a hotel there where they had basic tapas and wine was out for us to have.  A bit of a disappointment as I thought we were going to two wineries and I’ve been spoilt by the tapas thus far.  The four of us then wandered the village a bit and found a pastry shop that sold meringue for a Euro.  These things were massive so we split one between the four of us.  Oh so delicious and one hell of a sugar rush.  It was a neat little village so it’s on our list of where to return.  Quiet streets with cafes and old world buildings.

Vigo 3 2013

We enjoyed our visit there and the whole cruise.  It was bittersweet as we got to the end.  We missed the kids like mad but we enjoyed ourselves very much experiencing new things and making new friends.

The Storminess of Lisbon

Lisbon was high on my list of places I wanted to see on this trip.  I follow a few blogs of people who live there.  I’ve had family and friends visit and was a bit envious once I saw the photos.  Always sunny and colourful.  I had high hopes!  It was not to be.  We had been very lucky with the weather for the trip but our luck ran out once we docked.

It is a very strange sensation waking up to the sound of millions of bees.  Once we were fully awake and poked our head out we could see that we were docked right next to the April 25th Bridge and thousands of vehicles were driving across making that sound.

Lisbon 1 2013

The announcements did warn us that the weather will get quite nasty with driving rain and high winds.  Not the most motivating of notices.  So we dressed accordingly and I left my good camera behind and just brought the iPhone, wore our trainers and braced ourselves for our adventure.  Nearly got blown away getting off the ship!  We were docked near the containers and there were high aisles where the wind tunneled through.  The shuttle bus dropped us off in the old part of the city near the cathedral.  The interesting bit about Lisbon is that in 1755 they had a massive earthquake.  It’s estimated that the scored 8.5-9 on the Moment Magnitude Scale.  The king at the time sent out surveys to all the villages asking when they felt the tremors, how strong they were, and which direction they came from.  It was the beginning of modern seismology.  Because the earthquake was so damaging most of the city is in the 18th century style after they rebuilt.  The cathedral was damaged but still stood.

Lisbon 2 2013

The cloister floor is now an archaeological dig.  They’ve dug back to the Islamic times as well as the Roman times.  In the picture where you see red and white, that is the Islamic style.

Lisbon 4 2013 Lisbon 3 2013

At this point we were getting high winds and a bit of rain but nothing major so we continued to the castle.  There we bought tickets to walk round and the skies opened up.  Winds were whipping about and it was a downpour.  We dashed to the museum to take refuge.  Unfortunately it wasn’t a big museum and it was filling up fast with others taking cover.  We decided to brave the elements.  Within a minute or so our umbrellas were destroyed.  To be fair they were only good for being in the sun.  They were from the ship.  Many of these ended in the bin all around the city that day.

Lisbon 5 2013

This poor guy and his peahens were wandering around in the storm.  I did take pictures of the peahens but in the rain they blended in with the cobblestones.

Lisbon 7 2013

We trudged our way back down the hill in search of shelter and food.   There were pedestrian streets with shops and we wandered down one of them.  The rain was letting up finally but the wind wasn’t finished with us just yet.

Lisbon 6 2013

We found a bright cafe to rest a bit in.  And dry off!  The hostess was wonderful and she helped us with our Portuguese.  I had my little phrase book out and my husband and I were trying our best with the words.  I ordered a fantastic grilled sardine dish.  You can’t find something like this back home.  My mum used to make me sardine sandwiches when I was a kid.  Don’t think I was too popular at school lunch but I loved them.  These sardines were full size and grilled whole.  The flavour was strong and pungent.  Loved it.

Lisbon 8 2013

After that we wandered a bit more as the rain stopped and the wind died down a bit.  We found a wine tasting shop which was lovely and then it was time to get back on the ship.  We’ll come back.  It’s a lovely city and in the warm sun it must be amazing.

Almost Didn’t See You Cartagena

As we glided into the port of Cartagena we were still in dreamland and were gradually brought to the surface by the fog horns.  My husband peeked out the curtains and saw nothing.  Literally nothing.  The fog was thick as can be, we couldn’t even see the water below.  As I mentioned in the post about the ship the port had been closed but the captain convinced the port to reopen for the ship.  Occasionally there were pockets of cleared air and we got glimpses of the port.  At one point a Navy ship headed out with the crew lined up and it was blasting rock music.  Because of the thick fog no one rushed off the ship.

To give you an idea of the skill needed to dock the ship in zero visibility here is a picture of the ship in bright sun.  Notice how small the port opening is and that you kind of have to do an S shape line before turning round and sidling into the dock.

Cartagena 7 2013

Needless to say, once we finally saw the full port we were impressed.  When we got off the ship it was still very foggy so we decided to kill some time at the underwater archaeology museum right on the water.  Archaeology fascinates me and to be able to do it underwater is something else.  So many more variables!  So I found this very interesting looking at the tools, finds, etc.

Cartagena 3 2013 Cartagena 4 2013 Cartagena 5 2013

Once the sun came out completely we started wandering around the old city which fortunately was right at the port.  We decided to stop and get a snack at one of the cafes.  It was here that I started to realise that Cartagena is a city of big food.  I asked for the calamari as a small snack and a large sandwich came out!  Maybe it would be a one off.  Not really.  First on our list to see was the Roman Theatre.  It was discovered about 120 years ago but wasn’t excavated until the late 80’s.  There was a church and several buildings on top of the theatre.  All that had to be removed or partially removed in order for that to go forward.  The museum was great as it had examples of the various occupiers and their building techniques.

Cartagena 1 2013

We wandered up to the castle to take in the views.  It was getting quite warm so it was nice to be up high enough to catch a breeze.  We also saw this guy wandering around the grounds.

Cartagena 6 2013

Then it was time for more tapas!  We found a place on a square that had great people watching.  One street performer would pretend to do the running of the bulls.  He had tiny bulls on the ground then he would take off with a great yelp and run round the square.  Some people would race with him.  I was waiting for someone in a mobility scooter to run over the bulls.  We ordered several dishes as tapas is small.  Not in Cartagena!  The toast plate was enough for 4 people!  It was very tasty though.

Cartagena 2 2013

After that we decided to wander back to the ship as there wasn’t a lot of time in Cartagena.  We had a lovely day just puttering about.

Best in the Country, Best in Europe, No! It’s the Best in the World! – Valencia

Valencia was an interesting city.  In part because of our tour guide.  We decided to do a tour at this port as the ship was, seemingly, miles from the city, nevermind, the old city.  I think it would have taken us over an hour just to get anywhere and then we’d have all the walking to sight see.  Our tour guide was very nice and reminded me of a young Liberace, without the furs and jewels.  He seemed very knowledgeable but I believe he thinks Valencia is the centre of the universe.

As we began our tour and were driving through the port he was describing how the port throughout history was the most important port on the Mediterranean.  And then we drove by the warehouses and he described how they were the nicest warehouses in Europe.  I was beginning to see a pattern.  They were good looking buildings and all but it seemed a bit much! And he was only getting started.  🙂  The blue in front of the buildings outlines the pit stops for the F1 race.

Valencia 1 2013

Valencia is a city that is not afraid to keep improving and be creative with their architecture.  The river that ran through the centre of the city kept flooding so they redirected it but kept the river bed.  They then built large gardens, museums, and the opera house.  They still have the bridges going over the river bed as well.  It really is quite well done.  He stopped short of saying the opera house was the best in the world.  Instead he said the opera house was second only to the Sydney Opera House.  It looked to me like a war helmet.

Valencia 2 2013

I did find the new science museum very interesting, reminded me of fossils but with a lot of light.

Valencia 3 2013

We worked our way through the city and arrived at the indoor market.  Again the best in Europe.  I was wondering how they could beat the La Boqueria and was prepared to be amazed.  It was a neat, clean market.  No vibrancy and everything was sealed in cling film or containers.  I’m sure the FDA would approve.  In fact I was able to get one picture of food free from any clutches.

Valencia 7 2013

I did find the roof of the building to be very pretty.

Valencia 6 2013

Next was the silk market.  Now this was on my list of things we had to visit.  I love silk, the vibrant colours, the feel.  I was ready to shop.  So imagine my disappointment to find there is no longer a silk market, just the building!  I do not like shopping so for me to be ready to shop is a big thing.  However, the history of the building was fascinating.  Valencia was the end of the silk road and there was a lot of trading that went on.  Fortunes made and lost.  They painted the spiraling columns green and they painted the ceiling bright blue with the medallions yellow to imitate the sky.  That must have been something.

Valencia 8 2013

On the way to the cathedral we came across this funny doorway.  Never underestimate humans doing their best to stick it to the big man.  Apparently there was a rule that you were taxed based on the width of the front of the building.  So this gentleman created building with a front only 105 cm wide then it opened wide towards the back like a triangle.  So it’s a full sized building.  Have to hand it to him!

Valencia 9 2013

The cathedral took about 500 years to make as they kept having trouble with funds so it shows many different styles.  What took the cake though is the guide said the frescos were the best in Europe!  Ahem, Sistine Chapel anyone?  Credibility was completely lost at this point.  Ah well, we were having fun.

Valencia 4 2013

The city used to be surrounded by a massive city wall with great big gates.  Because the city likes to continually improve they knocked down all of the walls except two gates.  Not sure how much that is an improvement as I like the history of those sort of things but thank goodness they kept some gates.  These date I believe back to the 1300’s.  They are massive!

Valencia 10 2013

After the tour was over they brought us back to the ship but as we had several hours to kill we headed back in on the shuttle bus.  Back in the square where the cathedral was we found a shady spot to have tapas.  Again it was delicious.  I really miss the food!

Valencia 5 2013

I’d like to explore Valencia a bit more.  There were interesting areas of history.  And I’d like to explore all the gardens in the old riverbed.