Monday, November 29, 2010

Field trip: choose and cut your own Christmas tree at Durkee Tree Farm

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. A fragrant, lush seven-foot fir stands ready in the corner of the family room, waiting for lights and ornaments. The littles have already decked its lower branches with assorted Silly Bandz. Just squelching any stray Martha Stewart-esque aspirations I may have had.

Yesterday, we continued our New England tradition (two years and counting) of heading to Durkee Tree Farm In Littleton, Massachusetts, and cutting our own Christmas tree. What a beautiful scene to start your holiday season.

A sunny, crisp winter day. Perfect for wandering amongst the trees and discussing the coniferous candidates. Too tall? Too skinny? A Fraser fir or a Concolor?

No matter the tree, they're all $50, plus $1 for baling. Durkee had plenty of saws to use if yours has gone astray in the shed. Their workers were swift and cheerful, willing to carry your tree from one parking lot to another with a smile.

Picking just the right tree will involve a bit of walking so wear comfortable shoes.

This tree cutting is serious business. The Bluebonnet 2010 Christmas tree. A fine, fluffy tree, chosen after some spirited debate between the ayes (the girls) and the nay (the boy). Lest you think the boy always loses out, he chose last year's tree.

Suggestion: trim the lower branches before taking the tree home. It's less mess, and makes putting the tree in the stand much easier.

And off the tree goes. I hope that your winter holidays have gotten off to a great start.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Go-to leftover turkey recipes: Knife and fork turkey sandwich

This is another family favorite for our Thanksgiving leftover turkey and sides. It's not really a recipe. More a way of combining and reheating leftovers. It really tastes better when heated in the oven, but sometimes we just pile everything on a plate and zap it in the microwave. 

Knife and fork turkey sandwich
Recipe published in The New Basics Cookbook, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins
The ingredients is for one sandwich. 

2 large slices (1/4 inch thick) cooked turkey
1/4 cup leftover turkey stuffing
1 heaping tablespoon cranberry sauve
1 slice cheddar cheese
1/3 cup leftover turkey gravy

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Assemble the "sandwich," using the turkey slices in place of bread. Place one slice of the turkey on a piece of aluminum foil. Spread the stuffing over the turkey. Spread the cranberry sauce over the stuffing, lay the slice of cheese over the cranberry sauce, and cover with the remaining turkey.

Wrap the foil loosely around the sandwich, place it on a baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes.

While the sandwich is baking, heat the gravy in a small saucepan.

Unwrap the sandwich, transfer it to a plate, and pour the gravy over it. Serve immediately.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Go-to leftover turkey recipes: Emeril's turkey gumbo

We did a gigantic bird yesterday, and consequently, have lots and lots of leftover turkey meat. Some we froze. And some we'll use in our tried-and-true leftover Thanksgiving turkey recipes. Here's one of our favorites. Dark and flavorful and redolent of N'Awlins. What are you planning with your leftovers?

Emeril's turkey gumbo
From the kitchens of Emeril Lagasse. Recipe published at Good Morning, America
Serves 8

Note: prepare the turkey broth before cooking gumbo. We made our broth yesterday. If you've already disposed of the carcass, chicken broth would probably suffice.

3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups yellow onions, chopped
1/2 cup green bell peppers, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 pound smoked sausage (such as andouille or kielbasa), chopped
2 quarts Turkey Broth (Recipe below)
Reserved turkey meat from broth
Reserved onions and celery from broth
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons green onions, chopped

Steamed white rice, accompaniment (can be boxed instant, make as much as you like)
1 loaf French bread, accompaniment
Filé powder, (optional accompaniment - powdered leaves of the sassafras tree, available in the spice section of some supermarkets)

Combine the oil and flour in a large cast-iron pot or Dutch oven. Cook over medium heat, stirring slowly and constantly with a heavy wooden spoon for 20 minutes to 25 minutes, to make a dark brown roux the color of chocolate.

(My note: Above, the roux nears completion, getting close to the final color of Hershey's chocolate syrup. You must keep stirring. Stir, stir, stir or your roux will burn. Think of this as your post-Thanksgiving workout.)

In a bowl, season the onions, bell peppers, and celery with the salt and cayenne. Add to the roux and cook, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add the cooled broth and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes. Add the reserved turkey meat and the reserved onions and celery and cook for 15 minutes. Add the parsley and green onions.

Remove from the heat and adjust the seasoning to taste. Spoon rice into the bottom of large soup bowls and ladle the gumbo on top. Serve with hot French bread if desired. Sprinkle filé powder into the gumbo at tableside according to personal taste.

Turkey Broth
1 turkey carcass
3 ribs celery, cut into 4-inch pieces
2 medium onions, quartered
4 quarts water, or enough to cover the carcass
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
4 bay leaves

Place the carcass in a large stockpot. Add the celery, onions, water, salt, peppercorns, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer uncovered for 2 hours, stirring occasionally and skimming any foam that forms on the surface.

Remove from the heat and let cool. Skim any fat that has risen to the surface. Strain through a large fine-mesh strainer. Reserve any meat that has fallen off the bones and pick off any meat that may still remain on the carcass. Reserve the onions and celery for the gumbo.

Use right away or store the broth in quart containers in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, and in the freezer for up to 2 months.

Recipe excerpted from Louisiana Real and Rustic, Emeril Lagasse with Marcelle Bienvenu, William Morrow and Company, New York, © 1996

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The small things

The details that may go unnoticed. The unimportant things that just may be important.

Today, I'm thankful for so many things. My ridiculous, exuberant, curious children. My husband. His job. Our house. Our friends. Our families. Our neighbors. So many blessings that it feels awkwardly self-indulgent to name them all.

But I'm also profoundly grateful for the small things. The little details that delight an otherwise routine day.

Lately, I've begun taking our dog for walks. They began as short jaunts around the block, but as she grew stronger, the walks grew longer. And longer. And became jogs. I don't have as much time as I'd like for these outings, but I love them. The other day, I noticed these berries on the edge of our yard as we headed out. The patient sheltie that she is, she tolerated my dashing back inside the house for the camera.

Look at these little gems. Like beaded jewelry from a little bohemian boutique.

They're tiny. Maybe a third the size of my pinky fingernail.

And I love their ridiculous little hats. Sometimes, if you get very close, they look like little aliens or monsters.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends. May you delight in all your blessings, both large and small.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Deal flash: 13-piece tri-ply Tramontina cookware at Costco

Just in case you need a few pots and pans to create your Thanksgiving feast. Or maybe as a new treat for your new kitchen. Or to launch your child into culinary independence. Or just because...

The 13-piece tri-ply 18/10 stainless steel Tramontina cookware set is currently selling at Costco for $99.97. I don't think this is full body tri-ply. The tri-ply appears to be the bottom of the pots/pans. It  goes up the sides for a little bit which should reduce the hot spots at the seam. So no, it's not All-Clad, but you can't pass that price up. At least, I couldn't. Warning: only one Costco of the two in my area were selling this set. Before heading out, it may be worth a call.

Included in this set are:
8 inch sauté pan
10 inch sauté pan
2 quart covered sauce pan
3 quart covered sauce pan
4 quart covered sauce pan
steamer insert
5 quart covered deep sauté pan
8 quart covered stock pot

Happy cooking!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fresh cranberry scones with crystallized ginger

When you're at the grocery store grabbing fresh cranberries for your cranberry sauce, get a little extra. I thought this was the perfect treat for out-of-town guests, especially during Thanksgiving. Think of your sleep-tousled uncle/aunt/mom/niece shuffling down to breakfast to be greeted with this treat. Served with lots of butter and freshly brewed coffee, of course. How seasonal! How bed and breakfast! Of course, this scenario depends on how well you get along with your relatives. If you'd prefer that they cut their visit short, probably best to avoid warm, home-baked breakfast treats.

I'd wanted to do something with fresh cranberries for over a year. It seemed so New England. Evocative of Cape Cod cranberry bogs. A year passed, and I did nothing. Not even cranberry sauce for the Thanksgiving turkey.

This year, I found this recipe on It sounded delicious and easy. Perfect! I fiddled with it a little by adding some crystallized ginger. I wish I had some haute culinary reason for this change. Really it's because I like crystallized ginger, and I have a huge package of it in my pantry. So there.

It was dangerously yummy. The cranberries lend a little tang, balanced by the glittery sugary topping and the slightly crumbly, sweet scone. As warned in the recipe, the dough is very, very sticky. Keep plenty of flour at hand for flouring your work surface.

Fresh cranberry scones with crystallized ginger
Adapted from a recipe originally published on

1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 heaping tablespoon of fresh orange zest
1 tablespoon of finely minced crystallized ginger
2 1/4 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk
Extra flour
White sugar, for topping

Heat the oven to 350ºF and prepare two baking sheets by lining with parchment or lightly spraying with spray oil.

In a food processor, process the cranberries until lightly chopped. Scrape into a bowl, and toss with brown sugar, orange zest, and crystallized ginger. In the food processor, process the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut the chilled butter into small pieces, add to the food processor, and work with the flour until fine and crumbly. Transfer the flour/butter mixture into a large mixing bowl. Mix in the sugary cranberries. Stir in beaten egg and milk. Mix thoroughly.

Sprinkle the counter or a board liberally with flour. Turn the dough out on it. It will be very wet and sticky. With your hands, flatten the dough to about an inch high (approximately I'd mentioned...the dough is very sticky). Cut out rounds using a biscuit cutter, and put on baking sheet. Sprinkle the tops with sugar.

Bake for about 25 minutes or until just getting golden. Serve warm with plenty of butter.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Times are Lean Rice & Bean Cuisine

Today, I dusted off an old recipe given to us years and years (decades?) ago by my sister-in-law. As it is with all well-loved and oft-used recipes, the paper is now crumpled, smeared, and grease-stained.

Times are thankfully not as lean as they were when we were students. However, with the holiday spending season here, it's always good to cut back. This is a delicious way to do just that. Yummy layered with a sprinkling of shredded cheese, some diced avocado, and a splash of salsa. Refrigerate leftovers for great quesadillas or tacos for a future lunch or dinner.

Cuban Beans
Adapted from a recipe, courtesy of E.O.

1 lb. dry black beans
10 cups water
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large onion
4 cloves garlic
1 large green bell pepper (I used red bell)
4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons dry white wine (optional)

In the morning (if you're preparing this for dinner), pick through the beans to remove stray gravel. Wash beans and put them in a pot with 10 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Turn off heat, cover, and let sit until dinnertime.

When ready to cook, bring beans to a boil again, and then simmer while preparing the rest of the ingredients.

Make a sofrito by chopping the onion, garlic, and bell pepper roughly. Puree in a blender or food processor.  Fry the puree in the olive oil for 8-10 minutes until it is cooked and fragrant. Add the sofrito to the boiling beans, along with the remainder of the seasonings. Cook for an additional hour or until the beans are soft, and the sauce is creamy.

Will's Mexican Rice
Adapted from a recipe, courtesy of Luz

1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups white rice
1/4 cup salsa (not chunky)
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
handful of frozen corn
1 carrot, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat until it starts to get hot. Add rice and saute for a few minutes, until it starts to get a little golden. Add salsa and stir until the liquid starts to get absorbed into the rice. Add chicken broth. Stir in other ingredients.

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes until the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and leave covered for at least 5 more minutes before serving.

Ingredient amounts above are approximate except for rice and broth.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010



The girls and I enjoyed a lazy evening tonight, watching Up. That movie never fails to bring me to tears. I'm such a sap.

These slow, unscheduled moments have been precious and few at our house. And from listening to friends and reading blogs, rare at others' households as well.

Like this industrious little critter I caught on camera this morning, we've been scurrying about with our fall activities. Raking fallen leaves and pine needles. Many, many bags of leaves. Last weekend, Will planted 130 tulip bulbs. As he dug into the earth, he discovered a little cache of buried acorns. Poor squirrel. A few meals lost.

We're hoping that we won't be providing a lavish bulb banquet for our neighborhood critters. So we're trying a tip I'd heard. Plant the tulip bulbs as usual. Add a layer of dirt. Then place chicken wire over the planted bulbs. Add a little more dirt and mulch. The chicken wire should hinder the squirrels from digging up the bulbs. Last spring, we had a pitiful tulip showing. A few scattered flowers here and there, the remnants of larger plantings. If the chicken wire works, I hope to have some lovely swathes of flowers. We'll see.

Monday, November 15, 2010

1st Light in Brookline

Can the holidays be upon us already? Our first holiday party invitation just arrived in the mail. I've started squirreling away toys in (hopefully) secret places. And by the way, which Hasbro decision-maker designed a barking toy dog that can't be turned off while still in package? I drove home listening to two Fur Real GoGo My Walkin' Pups yap nonstop for twenty minutes. Their sensors saw right through the enveloping plastic bags. A yapping, panting wrapped box isn't exactly going to surprise anyone, is it?

Tonight, I received an email about Brookline's 1st Light celebration to be held this Thursday, November 18, from 5 - 8 p.m. We're planning to head to Coolidge Corner where we can stop by Eureka! for a free gift. (If you've never been to Eureka!, visit sometime. It's a most wonderful puzzle and game store. I could spend hours there.) Those who find all the hidden items in a scavenger hunt will receive a special prize. Musicians, street performers, free food, and family activities will be found throughout Coolidge Corner, Brookline Village, and other Brookline commercial districts.

Last year, 1st Light was my family's first holiday activity as New Englanders. We had so much fun, and are looking forward to continuing our new tradition.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pumpkin pancakes

Are you burned out on pumpkin yet?

We might all be on the brink of pumpkin overload, but this recipe was so yummy that I had to share. It's a great weekend breakfast, paired with some turkey sausage and eggs. Best of all, it makes lots of pancakes. Plenty left over to freeze for quick weekday breakfasts. My little girls can't get enough of these.

Pumpkin pancakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/2 cups milk
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar in the spirit of the fall season)

In a separate bowl, mix together the milk, pumpkin, egg, oil and vinegar. Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, allspice, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Stir into the pumpkin mixture just enough to combine.

Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake. Brown on both sides and serve hot.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Crockpot mulled apple cider

I learned something Sunday at the big 6th birthday blowout. There are two great ingredients to add to your next New England cold-weather party: a propane deck heater (about $130-$150 at your local big box hardware store) and hot mulled apple cider. Both give a lovely sense of warmth and comfort, perfect for extending the outdoor entertaining season.

The hot apple cider, especially prepared in a crockpot, is very easy and proved to be very popular. Place a bottle of Calvados or other brandy by the cider when serving so folks can add a splash if they wish.

Crockpot mulled apple cider
1 gallon of apple cider
4 cinnamon sticks
12 whole cloves
12 allspice berries
3 pieces of crystallized ginger
2 tablespoons maple syrup
peel from 1 orange, cut into strips
peel from 1/4 lemon, cut into strips

Pour apple cider into crockpot. Add cinnamon sticks, maple syrup, orange peel, and lemon peel. Put cloves, allspice, and ginger into a teaball or cheesecloth bag, and place teaball or bag into the cider. Cook covered on high for 2 hours. After 20 minutes, skim out the lemon peel. After 1 hour, skim out the orange peel. After 2 hours, remove spices. Set temperature to low. Prior to serving, set temperature to keep warm.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Lucky, lucky

Yesterday was my daughter's 6th birthday party.

Following her "treasure hunter" theme, twenty-plus children charged by joy, sugar, and excitement decorated treasure chests, cracked open geodes, and dug for tumbled gemstones. They frolicked through the house, the basement, upstairs, outside. The rains held off so the children could bounce, bounce, bounce in the moonwalk.

I am so lucky.

Lucky that I have these three children who did not come easily (but that is a story for another day). Lucky that we have the means and opportunities to juggle extracurriculars. Lucky that my worries revolve around what to cook for dinner, not if there is enough for dinner.

Funny. It's really in one's perspective, isn't it? This gray and blustery morning, I'm looking forward to some quiet days. Maybe we'll clear some time to decorate more treasure chests.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Around and around we go

Where we stop, nobody knows.

At preschool drop-off the other day, a mom of two (very soon to be three) commented, "You're my light at the end of the tunnel. I see that eventually, I'll get there too."

Which was funny to me because I'm not feeling particularly inspirational lately. What I am feeling is as if I'm on a merry-go-round, whirling and whirling at a dizzying speed to crazed, frenetic carnival music.

See that wild eye. Those flaring nostrils? That's me confronting my schedule. Three children. Twelve extracurriculars. Pet care. Playdates. Housecleaning. Yard work. Groceries. Cooking. Volunteer work. Appointments with various doctors, dentists, orthodontists.

Is this life? No savoring the leaves turning? No gentle and unhurried ambles through the woods. Just run, run, run from here to there. From there to here? It seems to be the norm in my suburban Boston town, but some tiny part of me wonders about just stopping. Stopping and dismounting and wobbling off the carousel to explore the other wonders of the carnival. The ferris wheel, maybe. Or the games.

But meanwhile, I ride.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Deal flash: Half-price tickets at the 7th Annual Mayor's Holiday Special

The kind folks at ArtsBoston let me know today that the 7th Annual Mayor's Holiday Special website is up for the season. This partnership between the Mayor’s Office of Arts, Tourism and Special Events, the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, and ArtsBoston enables folks to purchase half-price tickets to 100 area shows. Shows include Boston Ballet's The Nutcracker, Boston Symphony Orchestra's Holiday Pops, Radio City Christmas Spectacular, It's Christmas Time presented by the Reagle Music Theatre, BalletRox's Urban Nutcracker, and performances of Handel's Messiah.

This year, you can also find a free click-and-print coupon for $10 restaurant voucher (for $10 off a $10 purchase at participating restaurants). This voucher is good through January 1, 2011 with a few blackout dates.

Call me childish or hopelessly naive or steeped in Hallmark. The holiday season is my very favorite time of year. There's just something magical about it. Some essence of hope and love and gingerbread and wood smoke. And the carols. And watching The Grinch (our old favorite) and Elf (our new favorite). I can't wait to browse through the website's free/low-cost activities and their kids & families section. Since I'm so new to the area, I'm still searching for activities and events to build our family's New England holiday traditions.

Last year, I discovered Brookline's wonderful 1st Light Festival. This year, I'm so excited about sharing The Nutcracker with my daughters for the first time. As the temperatures dip and trees etch the sky with newly bare branches, it's beginning to feel like the most wonderful time of the year.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Time flies frittata

Do you remember that tree in its autumn glory that I photographed just last week? As I drove up to the house today, I realized that it was almost bare. A few bedraggled leaves clung to its branches.

Time flies.

Yesterday may have been my son's last Halloween to go trick or treating. He's eleven. We talked about whether or not he was going. In the end, he went with some friends. He donned some funky shades, a skinny tie, and spiky blue hair to go as the 80s. Too cool for an adorable, elaborately detailed costume anymore.

Time flies.

Some friends of mine have an incredible vegetable garden in the front yard of their suburban Boston home. I think I've written about them before. A couple of days ago, they were preparing their garden for its winter rest. They shared some gorgeous Italian sweet peppers with us, the last of the summer crop.

So this is my time flies frittata, using the reminders of a summer garden as the temperatures dip near freezing.

A frittata is an incredibly versatile dish, one perfectly suited to this age of economizing. Refrigerate any extra veggies from your recipes. After a few days, cook with eggs and cheese for a quick, easy, frugal meal.

This particular frittata combined Italian sweet peppers with Italian pork sausage, eggs, and a mixture of parmigiano reggiano and mozzarella. Hearty, delicious, and the perfect protein antidote to the Halloween sugar rush.

Italian sweet pepper and sausage frittata

3/4 lb Italian sausage
2 Italian sweet peppers, chopped fine
1/2 large purple onion, chopped fine
12 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
1 cup shredded mozzarella
olive oil

Cook and crumble sausage in a large pan. Set aside.

Drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil on pan. Saute peppers and onion until tender. Add sausage to pepper/onion mixture in pan and spread flat. Pour eggs over mixture and cook over medium heat until the eggs start to set on top.

Sprinkle parmigiano reggiano, then mozzarella over the top. Place pan under a broiler until the cheeses start to brown.