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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Santa Letter 2007

Oh, My Dear, Sweet FriedOkra Family,

Ho Ho Ho! What a year here on Feldin Road. Santa has enjoyed watching another year of your lives unfold, once again with so much love between and among you that it makes his toes curl up like elf shoes.

Bean, you are the prettiest, sweetest, smartest and funniest three-year-old on Santa's route, and Santa knows it's safe to tell you that because you're also very modest and humble. Santa loves the magical sparkle in your eyes and the merry dimples in your cheeks, and appreciates sincerely your wit, charm and infectious laugh.

Al, Santa watched you faithfully and good-heartedly hang in there in your old job, though times were tough, always doing what was in the best interest of your family, and then carefully but diligently and gracefully seek and find a new position that will not only make excellent use of your talents, but also bring you a bit more peace and satisfaction. Well done, young man.

Megan, Santa watched you spread your wings a bit as a wife and mother, as well as a friend and neighbor, and most surprisingly, a blogger! Santa is proud and happy to see you developing more confidence in yourself, taking on new challenges and practicing your skills as a writer.

You are all special people whom Santa loves very much, and Santa hopes you will spend the coming year together in peace, love and much happiness.

God loves you all, too, and He hears your prayers and welcomes with joy your gratitude and praise as well as your sadness, pain and needs. He is your Heavenly Father, your Creator, your Rock. Lean on Him, give Him your trust always - for He is the One who will never fail you. He is the one who sent Jesus, your Savior, whose birth we celebrate this holy season.

Merry Christmas to All,

Love,

Santa S. Claus

Added to the back of the envelope, apparently in haste:
"Santa heard he'll need to plan to fill one more stocking next year! HO HO HO! Congratulations to you all and a special Merry Christmas to Baby Peanut!"

Friday, December 21, 2007

Ho Ho ... er ... Hum.

I'm a little bored sittin' here waitin' for Al to get himself home in the foggy night to spend the NEXT FIVE GLORIOUS DAYS taking care of his pathetic wife gathered close to the bosom of his family, celebrating this lovely season.

I ran across this little quiz on one of my favorite bloggity friend's blogs and thought I'd play along. If y'all hit one of these weird lulls in your otherwise busy days, give it a whirl.

You Should Have a Green Christmas Tree

For you, the holidays represent tradition and memories.
You tend to do things the same way each year. You find your holiday customs comforting.

You enjoy all of the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of Christmas.
You can't imagine getting any joy from an artificial tree.

Your green tree would look great with: Classic ornaments

You should spend Christmas Eve watching: How the Grinch Stole Christmas
What you should bake for Santa: A gingerbread house


Thanks, T With Honey! Very cute and by gum, it pretty much nailed me, holiday-wise. It even incorporated my gingerbread house. And my undying love for that loveable three-decker toadstool and sauerkraut sandwich with arsenic saaaaaaaaaaauce, good ol' GrinchyClaus.

Merry Christmas, Y'all!

And please make sure you get yourselves up under that mistletoe as often as possible, because every one of you deserves lots and lots and LOTS of kisses, in my opinion!

XOXOXO -

The FriedOkra Family

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hit Me with the Old One-Two, It Has

If I had to describe the early stages of this pregnancy in two words, I'd go with

1) Sucker and 2) Punch.

From the get-go, it's just been one surprise after another, y'all.

The night I wrote about leftover turkey sandwiches and Cyn commented that she'd once put pickles on her leftover turkey sandwiches then discovered herself to be pregnant a few days later, I took the third of three consecutive every-couple-days pregnancy tests and found I'd "passed" this one. Cyn, you get "soothsayer" points for that one, honey!

Shortly after the confirmation of the Peanut's pending-ness, I lost the turkey sandwiches, complete with multiple pepperoncini, the hightly-touted pumpkin crunch, and, accordingly, all desire to live, as the Great Stomach Virus of '07 struck with a vengeance. The only thing more shocking than finding out you're pregnant when you're least expecting it is finding out you're pregnant and then commencing to barf out all your vital organs into a pink bucket two short hours later.

And getting up the next morning to have your kitchen painted Violent Red.

Four coats worth.

Over the course of the next 48 hours.

While you simultaneously vomit, moan in agony, and start the process of adjusting your solid "We're done having children" thinking to "...but God, apparently, isn't."

And that crisis passed, followed by a three-week hiatus from sleep, during which I scrutinized closely the ceiling of every bedroom in the house for hours on end while thrashing around restlessly, praying to God, the Sandman and anyone else who would listen to PLEASE, PLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEASE shut my brain down and grant me a few solid hours of blissful, peace-filled unconsciousness. But that's not how it works around here. Oh no. This brain does not sleep until and unless it's picked over a situation from every angle, every dimension, flow-charted every possible ramification both positive and negative and come up with an illustrated, annotated, 6 part plan for dealing with the situation that keeps the owner of the brain in complete and perfect control for the entire life-span of the situation and its consequential fall-out.

You can imagine that an unexpected brand-new HUMAN BEING showing up on the proverbial doorstep requires a ploob or two more late-night brain activity than your average situation.

Hence, no sleep. For three weeks.

The sleeplessness? It do pack a wallop. Shore do.

And then came the past week.

KABOOM-YEOW!

Allow me to expound.

I wrote in my pregnancy blog on December 11 (LAST Tuesday):

I'm still not feeling much of anything. I worked out (on the treadmill - my regular three mile walk) yesterday for the first time since that horrible virus hit and that went really well. I didn't feel tired or lightheaded at all, and there were times I felt like running but didn't because Bean was close by and she kinda scares me around that treadmill. I don't want it to be going really fast if she somehow knocked something into it or tossed something at it, lest one or both of us be sucked under and ground into a fine paste.


A week later, (THIS Tuesday), I wrote:

Maybe I'll be back later today, or maybe I will instead be lying prone on my kitchen floor with a 32 oz. block of Velveeta in one hand and barf bucket in the other. We shall just have to wait and see.

What a difference a week makes.


The energy level, it has plummeted.

And! BONUS! I also have morning all-day just-please-shoot-me-now-but-make-sure-the-bullet-doesn't-look-or-smell-like-food sickness.

Didn't have morning sickness when I was pregnant with Bean. And in retrospect, I have been smug about that fact, even thought all these years I've thought I was just being grateful. Yes, now in retrospect, I look back at that smug little priss-pot, un-sick, blissfully pregnant Megan and I wish I could smack her smiling little face right off her neck.

Because now Mama is getting her come-uppance in a big, bad, bile-in-the-back-of-her-throat way.

And just in time, all the energylessness and quease, for my two Big Parties that of course, centered around food. For the past week, concurrent with my trip to the depths of morning-sickness hell, (I hope these are the depths, anyway, please God let these be the depths, okay?) I've been up to my armpits in six dozen pecan sandies (choke), a slow-cooker full of queso dip (retch), forty something little blobs of pesto (gag), and oh, best of all, 3 lbs of raw Italian sausage (projectile vomit).

Welcome to The Unblissful Pregnancy, Mama.

Put up yer dukes!

Please know that while I really DO feel lousy right now, I recognize it's a temporary thing only AND I am, we ALL are, absolutely thrilled The Peanut's on his/her way into our lives and into our family. Despite these early unpleasantries, I fully recognize what an amazing blessing another child will be, and that above all of the green-ness and the exhaustion, I'm also feeling delightedly giddy, mushy and overwhelmed with love for this little one, without whom, from the instant I knew about him/her, I've known our family could never be complete.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas at FriedOkra Manor

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Wel-
come to Fried Okra Manor, Y'all.



















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Come on in this house, it's cold out there!


Y'all come into the family room, okay? I'd say "And warm up by the fire," but we don't actually ever burn anything in the fireplace here 'cause in our old house we ended up having to paint the mantle every time we did because it turned the whole thing black as soot. Literally. Also, when we got ready to move and we took all the pictures and stuff off the walls, we discovered that the mantle wasn't the only thing that our fires had turned black. Don't think that particular fireplace was properly ventilated. You know the old saying though, Once bitten, twice shy. So, no fire.



You know, an empty fireplace looks kinda bleak, now that I stare at this picture for awhile.

How come things that you never notice in day to day life become so glaringly apparent when you take a picture of 'em?



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Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketSee our tree? It's the tallest one we've had so far. Eight and a half feet of splendid frazier and balsam glory. We got ourselves a new tree stand this year too, which Al says is the best purchase we've made since we got married. He didn't say, "SONUVVABUCK!" one single time this year while he was gettin' 'er up in that stand. Now that, people, is a Christmas miracle.

New skirt, too. I do love me some puffball trim.

Almost as much as I love me some ric-rac, but not quite.

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I don't really have a Christmas collection, per se. I DO, however, have a bit of a Christmas obsession ... er ... theme. I really love cranberries. Actually, red berries of any sort. And graveviney, twiggy things. I kinda build my decorations loosely around the idea of bringing the outdoors indoors.



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Let's just hope there aren't still any woodland critters in what I brought in, shall we? Al has a tremendous sense of humor, but Clark Griswald he is not.



And that is another Christmas miracle, now that I give it some reflection.

Decorating was really extra-special for me this year. This year I feel at home in our new house. It's our second Christmas here, which means we already have some great holiday memories in the bank, and some really sweet budding family traditions. I loved the feelings of familiarity and stability of going to the same little prairie nursery to get our big tree - the one with the little woodburning stove in the store we could warm our tootsies by after we finished making our selection. I loved pulling out my sweet, sparkle-lit grapevine snowman for the kitchen counter. He and his pretty red scarf will be lighting up a jolly corner of the kitchen through February of next year, just as he did last year, because snowmen are for wintertime, not just Christmas.



And last year Bean, Daddy and I all went shopping one Saturday afternoon right before Christmas. At the mall. We're a little crazy like that, yes. In a kiosk there I found the cutest little personalizable ornaments I'd ever lain eyes on. Among the bears and ballerinas and puppies and kitties I spied a little train. And the little train demanded that I take it home.


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You can't make it out that well in this tiny shot, but the engine of the train says, "The Surnames," and then each consective car says, Sissy or Buddy or Bean. Thing is, while I was standing in line with my engine and my three cars, I just felt this overwhelming sense that I needed to get a fourth car. I reasoned with myself for a few minutes that I did NOT need a fourth car, because we have THREE children, but darn it the feeling I had to HAVE that fourth car wouldn't be denied, so I picked up another and paid for it after the other cars had all been personalized.

The caboose has no name on it this year, as you can see.


But next year.

Next year it will bear the name of our beautiful, sweet, cherished NEW BABY!

Yep. You read that last line right. But let's go on back up and read it again, just for fun, shall we?

NEW. LITTLE. BABY!

Mmmmhmm! The FriedOkra family has an ittybitty pod in the oven. Which has been as much a surprise to us as it probably is to you, unless you subscribe to my blog in Bloglines, in which case, you're not a bit surprised, are you?

Oh, we can talk more about that little bit of happy news later. For now, just sit back, relax and let me serve you a long-time Christmas goodie favorite of my family. My sister calls these the lowliest of the Christmas cookies. But not because they aren't very very delicious!

Pomanders (A Rolled, No-Bake Christmas Cookie)

1 6 oz. pkg semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tsp orange extract or 2 tsp fresh grated orange zest
2 1/2 cups fine vanilla wafer crumbs
1 cup nuts, finely chopped (optional)

Melt chocolate morsels over hot water in double boiler. Blend in sugar, corn syrup and orange juice. Mix nuts and crumbs together, then combine with chocolate until well blended. Form into 1" balls and roll in red and/or green sugar or more finely chopped nuts.

Pomanders need several days of cool storage (I store them in an airtight container out in my garage) in order for their flavors to combine properly. They taste very different on day four vs. just after you've made them. Exercise patience. It will pay a huge dividend in flavor.
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Now let's get y'all bundled back up in your coats and mittens so you can go visit another lovely, festive home. Thanks sincerely for stopping by, y'all, and thanks so much to the lovely BooMama for hosting this special holiday event for all of us.

Go back to rejoin the tour here.



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Friday, December 14, 2007

Princess Teagan, Home for Christmas

I am busy cleaning this house for the big party tomorrow night but had to pop in to tell you all, with a very happy heart and eyes spilling over with tears of joy, that Teagan Grace is right now, this very moment, on her way home to Huntley with her parents after 197 days of surgeries, chemotherapy, complications, recovery and therapy (so much has happened to Teagan and her family that that short list seems completely inadequate, but it is the best summary I can provide.)

I know that many of you joined me in praying for Teagan and her family since I told you about her in July. And many of you bid in the Blanket Auction, too, and we were able to send a very nice check to the family to help pay for the extensive care Teagan's received (and will continue to receive) to treat her.

I wanted to just say here what a miracle of faith I think Teagan's story reflects, and how grateful I am, how deeply, sincerely, humbly grateful I am that our amazing God has brought Teagan so far, from near death to a beautiful, smiling, talking, nearly walking toddler, about to spend this Holy season at home, where she belongs, with her parents and am sure a SLEW of family and friends, overjoyed to have her there.

If you are a praying person, please take a moment to utter a breath of thanksgiving to Our Heavenly Father, for His mercy, His love, his all and everythingness.

I, for one, am singing for joy today and plan to be for many, many days to come.

Welcome home, Teagan!

And the Merriest of Christmases to you and your loved ones.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Holiday Par-Tay Recipes

Holiday Par-Tay

My pal {Karla} at Looking Towards Heaven's hosting a little shindig for all of us cooks to come swap our favorite holiday recipes. Y'all write yours up and go link up to {Karla}'s blog so you can share yours too, okay?

As for my offering, since I'm hosting the third stop on a progressive Christmas party this Saturday, I'm gonna tell you about the evening's menu first (all new recipes I haven't tried yet). And then I'm gonna share a few of my best, most favorite all-time appetizers and treats for this time of year.

Okay so first, Saturday night's menu at FriedOkra Manor:

The Beverage

Pomegranate Sangria by Chef Bobby Flay

The Hors D'Oeuvres

#1 Glazed Italian Sausage Bites

2 pounds of hot Italian sausage
1 chopped onion
1 cup applesauce
3/4 cup brown sugar (packed)
1 to 2 cloves minced garlic
dash cinnamon (optional)

First, preheat your oven to 325° F.
Brown sausage using a large skillet, then drain and cut into small bite-sized pieces.
Next combine sausage, onion, applesauce, and brown sugar in a casserole dish.
Finish up by baking at 325 degrees for 45 minutes.

#2 Winter Fruit Compote with Selection of Cheese
Recipe courtesy Michael Chiarello
Show: Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello

1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup sweet Marsala wine
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cinnamon stick
1/2 cup dried apricots, quartered
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried cherries
Dash gray sea salt
1 cup Granny Smith apples, diced 1/4-inch thick cubes
1 cup pears, 1/4-inch slices
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 wedge sharp Cheddar
1 wedge Gorgonzola

In a 4-quart saucepan or pot bring the first 6 ingredients to a simmer. Stir slowly to dissolve the sugar in the liquid. Add the remaining ingredients except the lemon juice and the cheese. When the liquid comes to a boil, adjust the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes to marry the flavors and soften the fruit. Turn off the heat then stir in the lemon juice. With a slotted spoon remove the fruit to a bowl. Bring the remaining syrup to a simmer and reduce until lightly thickened or when the bubbles formed on the top become small. Remove the syrup for the heat and when it is cool pour it over the fruit. The compote can be held in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Serve the compote at room temperature with the cheese.

#3 Puff Pastry Pinwheels Stuffed with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Pesto by Michael Chiarello.

Yes, yes they DO all sound good, don't they? I am so excited to get crackin' on these four good-lookin' recipes.
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Now, let's talk Tried and True. Old Standards. Golden Spoonies. Shall we?

Leftover Ham Spread (A Ham Pate)

2 cups cooked ham
1 T. Dijon mustard
2 T. mayonnaise (I only use Helman's REAL Mayonnaise®, personally. But I'm a mayo snob like that.)
2 T. sour cream
2 T. artichoke relish
1 1/2 tsp. sugar (I use honey, though.)

Put all these ingredients into a food processor; process until smooth and serve chilled with crackers.

Hot Ham and Cheese Rolls

(This one's from the Garden Club Cookbook from my home town, circa 1986, which was illustrated by my long lost Junior High art teacher Ms. Jeanes. Oh how I LURV this cookbook. I'd say it's among my 5 favorites!)

2 pkgs. Pepperidge Farms Dinner Rolls (These were originally made on the little tearolls by Pepperidge Farms, but my friendly local Pepperidge Farms rep, whom I hassled unmercifully at the supermarket last year around Superbowl Time, says they stopped making those years ago and where have I been? So just get some GOOD dinner rolls that are in a rectangle shape and still all connected together. You'll see why in a minute. Just hold your horses, Gertie.)

8 oz. sliced Swiss cheese
8 oz. thin-sliced deli-ham
1 stick butter, melted
1 1/2 Tbs. poppy seeds
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. prepared mustard
1 Tbs. grated fresh onion

Oh, y'all, my mouth is pawsitively watering.

Do not break the rolls apart. Instead, slice then ALL in half together through the center, separating the tops from the bottoms. One huge dinner roll, sliced open. Got me? Okay now, mix the butter and the next four ingredients together til they're all smooth and saucy. Kinda drizzle about 1/4 of that mixture over the bottom half of your giant roll and spread it around with a knife or a spreader or your clean finger if nobody's looking, then layer on the ham and cheese evenly over the whole thing. Next, put another 1/4 of the sauce on the inside of the giant top and spread. Plop the giant top atop the ham/cheese on the giant bottom and then pour the remaining sauce over the tops of all the rolls. Wrap in foil, sealing edges. Refridgerate overnight. Prior to serving, bake, still wrapped in foil, for 15 minutes at 350°. Remove from oven, unwrap and slice into individual rolls and serve warm.

Growl.

Toasted Chili Nuts

2 Tbs. butter
2 Tbs. Worchestershire sauce
1 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. cayenne
2 cups pecan halves

In a saucepan, combine butter, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, onion powder and cayenne. Heat and stir til butter melts. (You could certainly also just melt the butter in your microwave and add the other ingredients and stir together.) Spread nuts in a baking pan and toss with butter mixture. Bake in 350° oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until toasted, stirring occasionally. Cool and store in an airtight container.

Pecan Sandies (Cookies)

1 cup butter, softened
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup sifted powdered sugar

In a mixing bowl, beat butter with mixer on med-hi for 30 seconds. Add about half the flour, the sugar, vanilla and 1 Tbs. water. Beat until combined. Beat in remaining flour. Stir in pecans.

Shape into 1-inch balls or 2 1/4 inch crescents (that's the more traditional shape - me, I do the balls because they look like little snowballs when they're done). Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. (I use parchment or Silpat® because I am into foolproofiness when I bake. I do not like do things twice, as a rule!) Bake in a 325° oven for about 20 minutes or until the bottoms are lightly browned (although how you will know they're lightly browned I cannot say). Cool on a wire rack and gently shake the cookies in a bag of powdered sugar to coat. Makes about 36 lovely cookies.

Happy Holiday Partyin', people.

Also, I feel this may be the appropriate time to plug a favorite blog of mine, 4 Reluctant Entertainers. If y'all are not terribly confident in your own planning, cooking or hosting skills, you're not alone. And this website, written by a wonderful Christian woman who recounts her experiences as a novice hostess who was sorta thrown into a world of entertainment but has embraced the art, champions it sweetly and elegantly, and Sandy shares her own heart and soul as she does it. If you'd love a gentle nudge and a few words of very very sage advice about throwing parties, hosting dinners or just mingling at home with a few of your close friends, all with confidence and panache, this website would be a very good place to start.

Decisions, Decisions

I can't decide which to be more thankful for this morning:

That Bean accidentally discovered the Barbie™ dolls I had put away from my step-daughter's Barbie™ days.

-or-

That my Mom taught me how to make Creamed Chip Beef on Toast back when I still lived at home. And furthermore that I happened to have all the ingredients on hand this very morning.

-or-

That the SUN's shining! It's still colder than a well-digger's backside out there, but old Mr. Sunshine's glistening off the thick frosting of ice that covers all the trees and shrubs and drips off every edge and corner. Out every window I pass, I glimpse a dazzling spectacle of brilliant white snow and twinkling lights.

A morning can't get much better, can it? A happy, busy daughter chattering away from the playroom, a gloopy glop of salty dried beef over crusty toast and a magical faerieland twinkling at you from your own back yard.

Sigh... I think I'll go have a spoonful of Nutella™ to top it all off.

Monday, December 10, 2007

But I Haven't Showered Since Thursday and My Family is Living on Leftover Necco® Wafers and Store Brand Spice Drops

In the past two days, I scratched three MAJOR to-do items off my Operation Holiday schedule and still managed to take two decent afternoon naps.

Which is, bottom line, how we define a successful weekend at FriedOkra Manor.

We prefer a high nap quotient around here.

And I'm ready to show y'all what I've been up to with my 3 lbs. of mother-of-pearl buttons, too! Are you ready?

I made those darned buttons into Christmas tree ornaments, people. Yes, lawzy, I did!

I've now finished 14 Button Wreath Ornaments for my Bunco ladies, who'll get them this Wednesday at our December Bunco night. We're also doing an Ornament Exchange that evening, so I made an extra little wreath for that, as well. I'll be making 10 to 12 more to give as Christmas gifts to other friends and neighbors, our favorite servers at the diner around the corner, and Bean's KidRock teacher.

This idea came from none other than the Maven of All Things Homemakery, Martha Stewart. Well, or her "people." Because let's be honest: We all know Martha probably didn't string a single button herself. What's really fun is surveying all of my little works of button art and thinking that when you get right down to it, I probably have way more experience at making these ornaments than Martha Stewart herself.

Oh yes, Honey. Compared to Martha, I'm a Button Wreath Making Expert!

(Blink.)

Here's the link for instructions in case, you know, you happen have 3 lbs. of buttons lying around and a whole lot of extra time on your hands and the need for a slew of handmade Christmas tree ornaments. (Though I do also think these would also be mighty cute year round in a pretty guest bedroom, decorating lamps or drawer pulls or what have you.)

(Said the Expert.)

My wreaths are a bit more random than Martha's, thanks to the uniqueness of each mother-of-pearl button, in combination with my spontaneous and impetuous nature. Ahem. I actually love that about them, and how natural and almost beachy they look as a result. I made a few ornaments with just the mother-of-pearl buttons, and then thanks to my mother's donation of her leftover button collection from all those years of sewing clothes for herself and her two girls, I was able to add various colorful elements and patterns to several others.

These ornaments are SO easy to make, as Martha's instructions would indicate. I'd say each one took a maximum of 15 minutes start to finish, and of course the process got faster and faster as I cranked out more of them and was able develop my own little system.

And I must stress to you, in case you have fallen under some sortof strange delusion to the contrary, that I am SOOOOOO NOT a crafty woman. This was a perfect project for someone like me - who's the epitome of "all thumbs-iness" and completely devoid of anything remotely resembling patience. A kid just a little bit older than Bean could make these wreaths and need virtually no help at all except maybe to bend and cut the wire. So simple!

Okay, let's take us a gander now, shall we?

This is the first ornament I made. It's made from all mother of pearl buttons of varying sizes. I used 20 guage crafting wire, 1/8" satin ribbon for the hanging loop and a sheer, slightly shiny 1/2" ribbon for the bows on all of the ornaments, so there would be some consistency among them even though they're all unique.

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For this next one, I added a turquoise button after each 10th or 12th mother-of-pearl button to create a repetitive pattern and infuse a little color and interest.

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Here I alternated between mother-of-pearl and a variety of brown buttons in a 1:1 ratio.

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And for this last one, I created a more traditionally "Christmassy" ornament by adding a touch of red. If you look carefully, you'll see I placed an extra large red button down at the bottom, just to give this one a little extra character.

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So now all I have left is to wrap all the presents for the immediate family, clean the house, make the food for the Progressive Christmas Party on Saturday, take pictures of the house and post them for BooMama's Holiday Tour of Homes (That's less than a week from now, you know. Got your halls decked yet?), bake 8 dozen or so Pecan Sandies and make the snacks and set up the display table for the Christmas Cookie exchange I'm hosting for the neighbhorhood ladies next Tuesday night, make 10 more wreath ornaments and, oh yes, there's that other little baking project I've been working on for a few weeks. That one might get revealed Wednesday at Karla's Holiday Par-Tay. On second thought, Nah. Too soon.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Another Soupendous Idea from BooMama

If you haven't already, y'all need to pull together your all-time favorite soup recipe(s) and post 'em, so you can link up and be part of BooMama's Soup-Tacular. If you don't want to share a recipe, at least go feast your eyes on nearly 200 (and counting) soup recipes from all over the blogosphere.

'Cause soup does a body good, y'all.

Here's one of my little family's tippy top soupy-supper faves, from Bon Appetit, February 2002.

I hasten to tell you, in case you don't know, that in this recipe the ingredient Fennel refers to the actual bulb and stems of the fennel plant - yes, one in the same plant that's grown from fennel seed, (which is often used as a flavor additive in sausages and Italian sauces, etc.) The fennel bulb can be found in the produce department of most major groceries. It looks a bit like celery, but has fern-like fronds at the end of each stem, and the base or bulb is rounder and well, bulbier, frankly, than the celery's bottom half. A raw fennel bulb/stalk smells a bit like anise, or licorice, and may be off-putting to you at first if you aren't a fan of such flavor. Only persevere, dear friend, and do just as the recipe says, not omitting the fennel. Because once cooked, this vegetable loses its pungency and mellows to a gentle, sweet but still pleasingly spicy-flavored tender bite in the soup. I promise. Have I led you astray so far?

After braving it in this recipe the first time, I've grown to love fennel so much now that I slice it thin in salads and even stir-fry it in with other veggies on occasion as a side dish.

If you can't find fennel, ask for Anise. Some stores lable it under that alternate name.

You must try these new things, dear one - in the trying and opening, you will keep yourself young, fresh and alive. Like a fennel bulb, only prettier and without the big round bottom.

So sayeth the Okra. Long may she pontificate.

Cheese Tortellini Soup with Cannellini, Kielbasa and Kale


Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
12 ounces fully cooked smoked kielbasa sausage, thinly sliced
1 onion, chopped
1 cup chopped fresh fennel bulb
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
10 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
4 cups chopped kale (1/2 bunch)
1 15-ounce can cannellini (white kidney beans), rinsed, drained
1 9-ounce package cheese tortellini
1 cup grated Asiago cheese* or Parmesan cheese

Preparation

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add next 6 ingredients and sauté until vegetables are soft and kielbasa is brown, about 12 minutes. Add broth and bring to boil. Stir in kale and cannellini. Reduce heat to low and simmer until kale is wilted, about 4 minutes. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool slightly; cover and refrigerate. Bring to simmer before continuing.) Add tortellini to soup. Simmer until pasta is just tender but still firm to bite, about 5 minutes.

Ladle soup into bowls. Serve, passing cheese separately.

* Available at Italian markets, specialty foods stores and some supermarkets

Thursday, December 6, 2007

I Never Said I was Frank Lloyd Wright

Some of y'all demanded asked to see a picture of the gingerbread house I've been working on for the past four years whoops-I-mean days, and, not one to disappoint a friend, I'm obligingly obliging.

You have to remember as you look at this that it's completely from scratch, and that although I have participated in the making of gingerbread homes for many a year, my level of participation has always been somewhere between interested on-looker and superficial candy-sticker. Such are the privileges of being the "baby" of the family.

Structurally, this bad boy is just about right-on-the-money, which, can I please tell you, is a miracle of loaves-and-fishes proportions because after I'd cut out two sides, eight shutters, a wreath and four window sashes, I had about a teaspoon of dough left to make the front, back and both halves of the roof. And when I finally and very astoundedly rolled out those final pieces, I could literally see directly through them to the speckledies of my granite countertop. These things were like stained glass. Yet I got them all rolled out of a blob of dough no bigger than the tip of my perky little nose and out of the oven and put together with no breakage! You have no idea how good it felt to exhale after 24 hours of constant breath-holding.

I don't have the steadiest hands in the world, particularly after secreting down a pound-and-a-half of assorted gummy, gooey, crunchy, minty and fruity candies (stomach churn stomach churn), so the perfect vision I had in my head prior to beginning the decorating process remains just there - in my head. But then again, I've always rather been an "idea person." Execution, meh, leave it to the grunts, right?

Sigh.

Anyway, there was no kit involved here, which is why this project took so long. On Monday, I made the gingerbread dough. Tuesday I rolled out and cut about half the pieces, yesterday I rolled out and cut the other half of the pieces in the morning and then made royal icing and did the construction plus phase one of the decoration during naptime, and today I finished up the decoration.

I must admit that there's terror in my heart right now as I await the (Oh no there it is! EEEK!) sound of Bean's door opening as she emerges from her boudoir. She's either going to be overjoyed and excited to see the Gingerbread House, or furious she didn't get to help build it.

Tick tock tick tock tick tock...

AND the verdict please?

THANK GOODNESS! She loves it!

But guess how many times she's already asked to lick it?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Yikes! I have more to say about this but something tells me my little gingerbread castle needs a sentry!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Mo-om! I'm Ho-ome! What's for Dinner?

Working on my gingerbread house these past couple days's made me a little bit homesick - nostalgic for those December afternoons in my parents' kitchen in South Carolina with my sister and Mom, 10 pounds of gingerbread dough, a gallon of royal icing and a dimestore bag of every kind of candy known to man.

So I'm goin' back home, just for a minute. Y'all wanna come?

Originally posted July 20, 2007.

My Childhood Home

I was ten going on eleven when my parents had suffered enough in the big city of Atlanta and decided to cash in their chips and move "back home" to the Real South, aka rural South Carolina. Never having lived anywhere else I could remember in my born days except suburban Atlanta (which is about as Southern as New Hampshire, truth be told), and, as stubborn and impervious-to-anyone-else's-good-ideas as any almost eleven-year-old was then, is now, and forever will be, I faced my parents' decision with the commensurate amount (a great big hairy huge ton) of pre-pubescent (Hi Mr. Internet Weirdo!) angst and trepidation. Oh, and fury. Let us not forget the fury.

The first days in our new town served to validate my fears and parent-centered resentment, as rural SC is a far cry from the big city in ever-so-many ways, not the least of which was that I couldn't understand much of what was said by th'natives. They wus all, "Who y'lak? Tahgers er Gamecocks?" (Being a dyed-in-the-wool Tahger fan from the git-go, Ah don't thank Ah'd e'em heard of a Gamecock yet. The Tiger and the Gamecock are the mascots of the two major football teams, er, colleges, in the state, by the way.) An' "Ya'll been ta Quaincy's fer supper yet? Hooooooooooo doggies 'ems good eatin'!" So, in addition to having left my BFFs Mary and Lynne, who shared my love for Lick 'Em Ades, Sean Cassidy and wearing tennis socks with the lil fluffy balls that matched our tops, I was also livin' in a FER'N Country where I din't speak tha language. I was skeert.

However. There WAS my new house. And despite the freakish glowing orange carpet in the family room and the broken air conditioning in July, in South Carolina, (which reminds me of the fact that, not satisfied with dragging me from the cultured and refined city out to cow-patty-n'-ho-cake-ville, my mother had immediately set about the task of bringing me down from my citified high horse by dragging me to our new town's library each afternoon, whereupon she climbed up the wooden stairs to the loft, plopped and stretched herself bottom-out over the huge library clock - tick tock tick tock - on the cushioned bench along the railing that overlooked the entire first floor, and proceeded to TAKE A NICE LONG SNOOZE. Oh Heavens Above... the Humiliation!) the new house had a feature or two that took some of the sting out of becoming a hick. For example there were

My Bathroom - I shared it with my sister but it was ATTACHED to MY BEDROOM. And... it had TWO, people... TWO SINKS. And those sinks... were TURQUOISE. As was the tub. In there was also this COOL metal shelf that revolved and that you could actually turn so that it was COMPLETELY hidden inside the WALL. Oh the treasures I could hide in that thing!! This is the bathroom, coincidentally, that my NEW BFF Marie and I would hide away in, fill the sinks with water with a squirt of nail polish remover on top and LIGHT THE WHOLE THING ON FIRE. And the turquoise bathtub, which is still there, and still turquoise (she said proudly) is the same one in which my friend Angie and I played dentist with the olive green Waterpik, using a stainless steel mixing bowl on a footstool as the spit sink. Oh that bathroom saw some of my most creative moments.

My Bedroom - Which housed my wildly-coveted-and-anticipated CANOPY BED, a set of faux satin sheets so slippery I had to hold onto the headboard when I rolled over so I didn't fall out, and a closet big enough to hold all of my clothes, shoes, junk AND a secret hidden make-up vanity where I spent countless hours making myself beautiful in case Sean Cassidy or Michael Jackson should stumble upon me and fall in love.

My Dad's Desk - Which was built RIGHT INTO THE WALL, creating a little cubby where the chair went, under which was conveniently placed a heat/AC vent that was SHARED with the living room, affording me the ability to sit very discreetly and listen in on my sister's private moments with the gentlemen callers she entertained on the blue velvet sofa on the other side of the wall but only inches from me. Oh Yes I Did!

The Huge Rocks in the Side-Yard - Which sadly eventually became the headstones of several beloved pets over the years, but started out as a perfect place for pre-teen brooding, daydreaming, sulking and secret-telling.

I brooded and sulked at my parents' complete lack of concern for my misery over being transplanted for a couple of months, until I looked up and realized that I was more at home in that house and in that town than I'd ever been in Atlanta. I'd made the best friends I'd ever had, and most of them are STILL my best friends, over 25 years later. I slept better in my new room, where the thick canopy of elderly oaks that nearly touched the roof above me blocked out every splinter of light in the night sky, creating the perfect foil for a thousand fireflies and the flashlights of neighborhood kids playing kick-the-can. I walked a mere block to my new school - one with teachers who made me feel welcome and important, and friends who didn't know much about Sean Cassidy but loved the Tahgers and even wore brilliant orange overhauls on Friday to attest to it! I celebrated my birthday late that summer with my new crew of girls - we danced on the wacky orange carpet to the music of Star Wars, using bananas for light sabers and giggling like we'd known one another forever. I realized now that I had a home filled with new memories, and the promise of a million more.

And now, when I go back to visit my parents in that same house, and I tuck Bean into my cozy old bed (the canopy's gone, but it's the same bed) after a hot bath in the turquoise tub, I am thankful for the move they made (and the moves they HAVEN'T made since then), and for the little town and the friends I made that continue to remind me who I really am, where I REALLY came from. In the quiet stillness of a hot summer afternoon, I can easily remember the feeling I had of safety, peace and belonging, lying on my canopy bed in my shady, cool bedroom, reading and thinking and planning. I can still smell Mom's steak and gravy cooking in the kitchen and hear the whistle of the afternoon train as it rolls through the heart of town. Those memories define me. My childhood. Home.

Monday, December 3, 2007

In Which My Norman Rockwell Weekend Goes All Salvador Dali

We had our weekend all mapped out, which should have been our first clue that something was about to go horribly wrong. I do love gettin' a jump on the special family times of holiday joy, making the most of each moment in this magical season both practically and celebratorially speaking, it's just that in My World, making a plan is basically the same as phoning up Mr. Disaster Himself and inviting him over for cocktails, cheese fondue and an all-night Scrabble tournament.

It all started out so perfectly! Friday afternoon Nicki came over along with the Bubster. Bean and Bubba played while Nicki and I chatted about the upcoming progressive Christmas party, and then the minute Al got home from work, I mean the very minute people, the front doorbell rang and upon the stoop stood the pizza man with a hot, fresh, delicious pizza for us to all share, which we did. Then Bubba and Bean went back to running around like a pair of drunken banshees and Nicki, Al and I sat in the family room watching them, nearly comatose from the massive quantities of pizza we'd horked down.

Bedtime for the kids rolled around, so Nicki and Bubba prepared to make the return trip across the street. As we bid them both goodnight, I congratulated myself on having perpetrated the perfect, relaxing, fun, early Friday evening for the family began to envision the rest of this blissful night that lay before us. We'd get Bean ready and tuck her into her own warm cozy bed, then we'd go jammy-up ourselves and retire to our room for a little Christmas flick, a little hot toddy, and a lot of snuggling. Saturday we'd awake early, bundle into our warmest clothes, coats, scarves and mittens, grab hot coffee and breakfast at the diner around the corner (Where everybody knows our na-ay-ames.) and zip out into the country to pick out our Christmas tree, which we'd deftly lash to the top of the car and drive home to get into its stand, so that by the the time first flake of the predicted snowstorm flitter-fluttered down from the heavens, the FriedOkra family would be snug as bugs in the proverbial rug, listening to old-fashioned carols by the crackling fire, drinking rich, delicious hot cocoa and encrusting our carefully selected Tenenbaum with sparkling lights and sweet, nostalgia-laden ornaments. We'd spend Saturday night basking in the glow of the holiday come home and then have all day Sunday to just BE, together.

But as the door closed behind Nicki and Bubba, the needle violently scraped across the glistening vinyl of my peaceful little weekend fantasy, when Al muttered, "Why do I all of a sudden feel nauseous?"

Blink.

Let's face it, we were naive, very naive, not to see this coming.

I shuffled him off to bed with a bucket on the nightstand and rustled Bean into her pajamas and under her covers. About the time I blew Bean a final kiss and turned out her light, I began hearing the first few notes of Al's All-Night Porcelain and Pizza Symphony.

Sigh.

Al was violently ill for most of the night Friday night. I confess I spent my time hiding under the covers in the guest bedroom, to which I had fled very hastily when the barfing began in earnest.

Saturday featured no picturesque drive to the tree farm, and the only thing that got encrusted with anything was the the master bathroom potty. Nothing sparkly about that. Saturday night I basked in the glow of the bedroom TV as Al lay beside me, so completely spent that he could manage no other facial expression than dogged, him passing in and out of a flinching, moaning doze, me stroking his arm and forehead occasionally and whispering, "My poor sweet Daddy..."

Al awoke "some better" on Sunday but we lay low anyway, against his protests that we should go get the tree. Confidentially, I still do not see how a man who 8 hours earlier was unable to support his own eyebrows planned on carrying a 9 foot Christmas tree across the front yard, up the steps into the house, and wrestling it into its stand. Talk about naive!

We're all on our feet and back to normal today, except that I'm about 36 hours behind on Operation Holidays, which I have scheduled down to 30 minute increments through January 1. So unless I find a way to catch back up, ya'll have a great New Years Eve for me!

Contrary to my carefully devised Holiday Plan, I'll be ringing in 2008 at 12 noon on January 3.

Confounded virus!