Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Christmas dinner 2013

I wanted to keep the Christmas dinner a little more simple than the Thanksgiving meal. Alex requested seafood, but had no particular idea what. Lots to work with there…

I started with an appetizer course of spinach dip and a cheese plate. I used this recipe as a base for the dip, but then used greek yogurt instead of the sour cream and mayo. I also added some additional spices. It didn’t end up quite as creamy as I’d hoped, but it was still tasty. The cheese plate was composed of fresh mozzarella, Brie, Kerry Gold Dubliner, and Prima Donna Maturo. These were paired with pretzel crisps, crackers, and Veggie Dippin’ Chips.

For the meal itself, I picked up a 2 lb bag of mixed seafood. It contained scallops, shrimp, calamari, and mussels. I used this recipe, although with quite a bit more Old Bay. (maybe mine has lost its strength?) I used a regular onion and left out the snow peas. I think my seafood was not completely thawed out, so I ended up with rather a lot of liquid that I don’t think I was supposed to have. The milk part also did not thicken as much as I expected. As in, not much at all. I really debated whether to even add it or just leave it as a garlic sauce, but ended up mixing it in anyway. I am SO glad I did. The overall flavor was amazing, and I’ll definitely be making this again! I’m sure it would have been fine on the angel hair pasta the recipe calls for, but I skipped that part and made some 7-grain medley I had. It appears that mix is no longer available for sale, which is a bummer since it was such a nice, healthy mix of grains. It also worked well to help soak up some of the delicious seafood liquid, as did the baguettes. I baked some sweet potatoes so I could have some form of vegetable and made sure to keep them just the veggie without any heavy butter, cream, or sugars added. I should have made a salad or some other type of green veggie, but I didn’t. We had plenty of food.


I was not sure what kind of dessert I wanted to make. I was torn between a cheesecake and a key lime pie. I did not want to make both, since I knew we would eat both and we did not need that much dessert floating around. I found this recipe that sounded rather like a lime cheesecake. Voila! Perfect! Well, turns out not really. It was a nice, creamy, mild pie with only a hint of lime flavor. It’s nice, but I doubt I’ll make it again. It would have been better with a stronger lime flavor, which perhaps the suggested brand has. I used what I had, and was not impressed. But hey, we had some Lindor chocolates so it all worked out.

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Mom's Happy Thanksgiving

My siblings and I had great fun surprising my mother this year. My brother decided to go visit my parents for Thanksgiving, taking his girlfriend and their 6-month-old baby. My sister decided to visit as well. The thing is, we all kept it from mom. My sister talked to Dad to make sure it was okay and that he would be able to pick her up from the airport. Then she talked to my brother about what time her flight would arrive. My brother then sent mom an email claiming that as the time of HIS arrival. (He actually flew in about 2 hours later, which of course Dad knew.) Mom was so completely surprised and overwhelmed when my sister walked out of customs and said hello, and it was fabulous.

Mom often wants things that either she can’t get or are simply too expensive over there, but overseas shipping costs are prohibitive for just sending things on a whim, so we usually end up loading our luggage when we travel. To keep the secret of my sister’s flight but still find out what Mom wanted, I emailed her to say I had picked up a job that required me to send something overseas. Since the postage was not an issue, did she have anything she was especially wanting right now?  She had a list of things, so my sister and I went shopping for them, and I mailed them up to her to take over. 

We also decided to include presents since in our family, “Christmas” occurs whenever it is convenient. So on actual Thanksgiving, mom had two of her three children celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas in her house. I finally learned how to use Skype, and my dad hooked it up to their TV so Alex & I there via webcam, and it was really like having the entire family there together.

It was a lot of time and effort to get it all organized, but as far as I am concerned, it was totally worth it. I doubt any of us will forget this Thanksgiving any time soon.

Thanksgiving 2013

Once again, I had quite a fun time preparing a mountainous spread of food for Thanksgiving. As per usual, it was heavily carb-laden. Also as per usual, I split up the leftovers and put the majority of them in the freezer for later (more balanced) meals.

  • Turkey – I stuffed it with carrots, celery, and onions, then rubbed it down with olive oil and seasonings. I cooked it breast-down for the majority of the meal. I tried to turn it over near the end to get the breast side a little browned, and it was already so tender that it started to fall apart, so I scrapped that idea. Transferring it to the plate also caused it to inwardly collapse, so it looks a bit disfigured in the photo. It surely did taste good, though. And now I again have homemade turkey stock in the freezer.
  • Stuffing – Ironically, I found a small package of the stuffing from last year tucked away in the freezer. Thawed, baked, served, nice and easy!
  • Sweet potatoes – I used the same recipe as last year.
  • Mashed potatoes – I baked them, then added garlic, used limited butter and sour cream, and it was delicious. I don’t have an actual recipe for these, so they vary a bit each time I make them.
  • Cheesy macaroni – Alex’s favorite item. I used the same base recipe as usual, with additional garlic and seasoning modifications like I always do.
  • Cranberry sauce – I was so pleased with how it came out last year that I did the same thing again. This time I did not bother grating the apple since I knew I was going to puree it. I did not get it made ahead of time, so it was not chilled as fully as I wanted. Still yummy!
  • Green beans with orange essence –It was supposed to have candied pecans on top, which worked out the first time I made the recipe, but unfortunately I burnt them beyond edibility this time so I had to leave them off.

I went a little overboard on the desserts this time.
  • The pumpkin pie came from Costco’s bakery. They make them from scratch, they have the homemade taste as a result, and they are inexpensive.
  • Nutella pie – Alex loves Nutella, so this was something I made for him. I bought a chocolate Oreo pie crust and cut out 25% of the sugar, but otherwise followed the directions. I should have reduced it even more, as I thought rather unpleasantly sweet. Alex still loved it, and I am sure I’ll be asked to make it again. I will completely leave the powdered sugar out as I think the whipped cream, cream cheese, and Nutella will be sufficent sugar. I think the fruit on it would be nice, and might put it on next time even though I know Alex would prefer it without.
  • Beekman Boys’ Cranberry Apple Pie – I found the recipe in a magazine and thought it sounded good. I was not successful in finding it online except for a copy of the magazine page. I bought a pie crust. I made the mistake of just using a 12 oz bag of cranberries and two apples from my Costco package without measuring either of those items. It ended up with enormously too much topping that completely overwhelmed the poor custard base. I basically had enough topping for two pies but smooshed it all onto the one pie. I’ll have to make it properly sometime as it definitely had potential.
Overall, it was a buffet with much more food than needed, and those extras were helpful over the next few busy days when cooking was not particularly an option. I hope you and yours had some good food as well.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

First day of college

First class starts at 11 and last class gets out at 5:15, so he's there for a while. Most of his classes apparently did not do much, so he does not have a good idea how easy/difficult they will be. They don't hand out a syllabus anymore, they put them on "the blackboard" which is an online system, so he has to pull those off and take them back on Wednesday so they can review it. It seems they mostly did cursory reviews of what the classes will be, what expectations are, and a bit of 'introduce yourself'. I know the difference between high school classes and university classes was an enormous difference in how we were treated. I've gotten the impression over the years that community colleges tend to be in the middle, with many teachers treating it as more of a grade 13 than a university attitude. After just one day, he said he could probably agree with that, but that again, he would have to give it more time.

Composition:  He had a reading assignment for English, and he has to log in to take some quiz today to prove he read it. He knows one of the other students in his class, so that could be convenient for note sharing, etc. This is a 50-minute M/W/F class.

Psychology: He thinks he will really like the psych teacher/class based on personality first impressions. This is a class he wanted to take in high school and it never worked out. He's read some psych books (high school summer reading options) and some of our TV shows involve psychology, plus so much of that subject is just fun and somewhat 'common sense', so I was fully expecting him to like this class. Hopefully that isn't just me projecting how much I liked those classes. As obviously did his aunt, since she majored in it. This is a 50-minute M/W/F class.

Algebra:  I wish he had had time to do the tests to see if he could test out of any of the classes, since the math class is possibly too basic for him. Even not using any form of math other than basic functions for the past year, he was doing all the "review" stuff in his head. Either it will get harder, or he has absolutely no excuse not to get a good grade. The teacher explained the school rules about not having cell phones during tests, and if you so much as put your hand in your pocket, it will be assumed you are trying to cheat. Enough people DO cheat, I can understand the reason for that rule. The teacher went on to say that if it were up to him, cell phones would not even be allowed on campus. I'm sure you can all imagine how well that went over with this techno-geek.  This is a 75-minute M/W class.

So, long and short of it, nobody did enough to give him a really good idea of how the classes will go, but neither did any of them immediately scream for him to get his schedule changed. There certainly have been middle/high school classes where he's known the first day that he was going to hate it, so I figure that while the start is tentative, it isn't bad. Me trying to remember that he is in college and to let him take his own responsibility for whether he goes to class or not, whether he does the assignments or not, etc, because those are all his problem and I should not be nagging him about it? A little more challenging.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

School starts Monday

Alex attended orientation at the community college today. Once Orientation was over, they had people to help him pick out and register for classes. We had thought about it before hand, and since a) he has never been a school-loving kind of kid and b) he has been out of school for a year and c) he is still working his part-time job, we thought perhaps starting with just 3 classes would be wiser than jumping right in at 4-5 classes as is a typical load. Thus, he is registered for Algebra I, Composition 1, and General Psychology. They are all Mon/Wed/Fri classes, so he has all of Tues/Thurs for assignments, studying, and working.

There are two types of programs he can do there. One is the basic AA degree that you get when you want to then transfer to another college for the BA/BS degree, and one is to earn him an AS specializing in the computer field. The AA is primarily general education classes with a few electives, while the AS is a few general education classes with a bunch of computer classes. We picked to start with the AS, but will have to speak with a guidance counselor to see which is actually better for him. We figured to get him started, he would have some of the same general ed classes, and any computer classes he took as part of the AS could count as the electives if he switches to the AA/Bachelor route, so there was no harm in choosing the AS for starters. 

Here's to his first semester of college classes!