Thursday, December 30, 2010

Happy New Year!

Yep, it's her!
Do you suppose my mother and aunt rue the day they allowed me
to make off with copious amounts of old photos?
Who'd a thunk they would wind up on the
World Wide Web!

But I digress and I haven't even started.
We did our customary 
!!!Appetizer Extravaganza!!!
for Christmas Eve "dinner" this year.
It's a crazy combination of items that I kind of "roll" out.
Here's this year's list:

Shrimp and Cocktail sauce
Roasted Red Pepper Hummus (America's Test Kitchen)
Avocado Chimichurri Bruschetta (Vegetarian Times)
Cream Cheese with Pepper Jelly
Olive Cheese Bread (Pioneer Woman)
Pretzel Crusted Fried Pickles (Food Network magazine)
Sweet Bacon Chicken Wraps (Paula Deen)
Grape Tomatoes and Marinated Mozzarella Balls on a stick
(that one's rocket science)
Party Meatballs (any woman with a crockpot)

Want some pictures?

 Did you catch what we did with the Hummus and Chimichurri?
Yep, two great tastes that taste great together!

And whereas this arrangement screams
Christmas Eve to me,
there may be a larger segment of the population who
would find it more appropriate for New Year's Eve.
So I provide the aforementioned menu as 
a service to the rest of the world.

Oh, and can I just say, 
Big Mary may be getting older.
And she may even need a walker.
But never let it be said she will let a walker or old age get 
in the way of a good time!
I love you, Big!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Christmas Tree Tale

I find it intriguing that the most mundane things in my life turn into stories.
This one kinda cracks me up.

Michael has been in charge of procuring our Christmas trees
ever since we moved into this house.
It's been a pretty sweet deal for the past 8 years.
He voiced an opinion our first year here that he would like a tree 
that went all the way up to the peak in 
the Family room ceiling. 
I saw my opportunity and pounced!
I told him we could have as big a tree as HE was willing to buy.
Cue choir of angels, AHHHHHH ;o)

It was a sweet deal until he decided to get married this past year. 
At some point in November I looked at Mike and said, 
"I don't suppose Michael is gonna buy our 
Christmas tree this year, do you?"
Cut the angels, ARRRGHHHH:o(
(I have an entire Broadway musical going on in my head)

I determined that I would like one of those skinny trees.
Actually I could do without one altogether but my 
family gathers here during the holidays and I thought I 
might get some flack if there wasn't some sort of tall
green thing with lights on it somewhere.

I checked out Joann's and found a 7 foot skinny tree
on sale for 40% off the $150 price.
Hmm, more than I wanted to part with after the money pit that
was the flooring. 
But wait! I have a coupon for what I "think" is $25 off.
Hmmmn, head math says "halfish" off of $150, plus $25
off, I may be able to wrangle this thing for 50 bucks.
I could totally spend 50 bucks on that!

So, off to Joann's I go, load up one of those puppies
in my cart and go to check out.
I pull out my coupon and oops, it's for $15 off.
Hmm, 40% off of 150 is NOT 75 like I was guesstimating.
All said and done it comes to $87,
 not quite the $50 I wanted to spend.
I tell the checker that I really only wanted to pay $50 for the tree so  
I'm going to put it back to which he replies,
 "Well, that would be like 60% off!"
(kind of indignant), 
to which I reply, 
"Well, I didn't say it was reasonable."

I wasn't too worked up about the whole thing
and was keeping my eyes open for something to materialize 
when Joann's circular for Black Friday crosses my door.
HAH! There's THE TREE for....
......wait for it.......
35 DOLLARS!!!!!!

So here is the ridicule thus far:

 "You paid 35 dollars for that? Good thing cause
it's not worth 36."

"Would you put these packages under that green thing 
in the family room."

And it's not even the day before the day before Christmas.
This is gonna be gooood. 

Red Kettles and Party Hats

You may recognize this image:
But maybe not this one so much:
But they are firmly linked in my world.

There is a story and it turns out that my brother Mark may
be the only person who knows all the facts.
I thought it was a bet my Grandpa Osborne had with Mark in 
regards to smoking, Mom says it was an agreement
they had in regards to what age Mark should wait to get married.
Mark was about 12 when Grandpa died so either
scenario seems premature given the era, but for whatever
the deal, all Mom and I are in agreement about is that if 
Mark should come out on the short end of the agreement, 
Grandpa's payment was to be given to the Salvation Army.

I'm not clear on the "why" for Grandpa's affection
for the Salvation Army, I just know it existed. 
 I was rather fond of my Grandpa who is permanently 
etched in my mind sitting in his chair smoking his pipe.
 Grandpa's lap was always open for a snuggle. 
Grandpa liked him some whole wheat bread.
Grandpa slept during the day because he worked nights.
Grandpa worked as a lineman and a pressman.
Grandpa liked those red kettles. 

I'm thankful for an opportunity to pay a little homage
to Grandpa Osborne each time I tuck a dollar into one of those kettles.

Appears Grandpa liked him a festive party.
Hey! With festive head gear!
Appears I'm A LOT like my Grandpa!

Oh, and BTW, that IS Big Mary in the middle.
But we already knew, she likes a good time :o)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Never Take Yourself Too Seriously

Or your friends.
I've had this compulsion for some years.
It actually started waaaay back when with Marianne.
Luckily for her it was before the digital camera age.
Lory is now my most frequent victim, er, model!
We go to an antique store in Elburn and always stop in one 
little room where we can count on finding the finest in haberdashery.
Lory's a good sport, huh?

Val's a pretty good egg too.
Carol just smiles and pats me on the head.
And I just think it's all fabulous!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Cookie Day 2010

And a bright idea that's not mine!
Here we are with the fruits of our labors.
But it didn't seem like labor this year.
We figured out we have been at this for over 10 years.
Neither one of is is too sure how much longer.
But after all these years we seem to getting in the groove. 
Here's a little something that helped:
America's Test Kitchen had cookie presses in their
equipment review the day before cookie day.
I took that as a sign.
Lory thought it could have been a threat to our sanity.
Or perhaps, a testament to my sanity.
Or lack thereof. 
But NO! 
America's Test Kitchen prevails once again!

We made nine kinds of cookies, even though I clearly
stated nine was too many. 

We only went through two bottles of wine before
the guys joined us.
Well, I guess "we" is relative because every time
I looked I saw something like this:
Maybe not both at once. But Lory was not too concerned
with what color glass she drank from.

We even made peppermint crusted marshmallows
on a stick. That was more of a craft project than cooking. 
And I didn't take a picture.
Just make up a glaze of powdered sugar and water,
stick a lollipop stick into a marshmallow, 
dip it in the glaze and then dip it in busted up 
peppermint candies.
you use them to stir your hot chocolate!
Cute, huh?

But here's the good idea: 
Lory told me about a group of women who get together to 
make Christmas cookies.
How they work it is that each lady brings a 
cookie dough all ready to bake. 
They all bake together and then divvy up the spoils. 
I think that's a great idea.

If Lory and I ever decide to let others in on our fun. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Little Transportation Tip With Frosting on Top

Are you going to take cupcakes to a party?
Wonder how you're going to get them there?
The whole "tooth picks and saran wrap" thing not working for you?
Looky what I found!
They are sold as Cake pans.
They are 13x9 and come with lids.
They fit 12 to 15 cupcakes each.
And look there, the lids are high enough that you could REALLY 
pile on the frosting! 

And, yes those are the infamous bacon cupcakes in there.
Along with the cookie stuffed cupcakes.
I believe I have simplified the bacon cupcakes.
I used a dark chocolate box mix but used the 
grease from cooking the bacon in place of the oil, 
and crumbled bacon into the batter.

The frosting is amazing and has no bacon in it 
so you sissies out there could use it on "regular" cupcakes.
It's really a basic powdered sugar frosting but you
use the Hershey's Special Dark cocoa instead of 
the stuff you have in your cupboard. 

Mike's office is having their Christmas lunch today.
I usually send some pretty amazing baked beans but
I felt like branching out this year.
I can't wait to see how many of the bacon cupcakes
come back.

I will be making judgments based on those numbers.  

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Gingerbread MAN

There's a funny story here.
We had dinner here the other night with our 
Generations Bible Study group.
Sharon brought this bad boy :o)

How cute is he? 
She traditionally makes a gingerbread house each year. 
She happened upon the form for this at
Bed, Bath and Beyond and thought her grandkids might enjoy
making their own Giant Gingerbread Man. 
I think it's a great idea and the creative possibilities
are endless.

She used the recipe included with the form.
Heads up, the basic cake/cookie recipe is good.
It makes a very dense cake that is just short of a cookie.
The spices were off.
 If you try this, increase the spice amounts.

So here's the funny, 
somehow I thought I was being so witty in saying that it's too 
bad they didn't include a recipe for a Gingerbread Girl.
Sharon, absolutely straight faced, explained that they only include
the recipe for the boy but if you want to make 
it a girl you need to buy one of those box mixes. 

I thought I was gonna lose it. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Chicken Tortilla Soup

An experiment that went right!
Who doesn't love soup?
I got it in my head to create a chicken tortilla soup.
I make a Taco soup that is so easy it's dumb.
I figured if I took the bones of that and just take it up a notch
I could be on to something.

Here's the Taco soup recipe:
1 lb. ground beef that you brown with a taco seasoning packet
1 - 24 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 - can corn (not drained)
1 - can beans
And that's it!
Stupid easy, right?

Here we go, 
I got bone in, skin on chicken breasts, rubbed taco 
seasoning between the skin and the meat and baked
them in a 350 oven for about 40 min.
I shredded the meat and then took the bones and skin,
put them in a pot, covered with water and simmered for 4 hours.
This made some pretty intense stock so I used mostly 
regular chicken stock and just a hit of this stuff.
Probably 3 to 1 ratio. 
The rest I put in quart size ziploc bags
and froze, with a warning on the label, "hot".

Now the construction! 
Into my pot:
The shredded chicken,
black beans that I drained and rinsed,
frozen roasted corn (from Trader Joes)
24 oz. can crushed tomatoes
14 oz can of diced tomatoes with chilies
The chicken stocks
and the the secret ingredient,
strips of corn tortillas!
They melt away and thicken the soup and give it that
extra layer of flavor.
Ina would be so proud!

For toppings I served the usual suspects, shredded cheese and
sour cream, but then I made my own tortilla strips.
You just take corn tortillas and sprayed them with Pam,
sprinkled them with a little salt, cut them into strips
and then baked them in a 375 oven for about 30 minutes.
They're baked, not fried.
They're a health food, right?

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Request From The Prince of Dirkness

Remember when 60 Minutes had the 
Point and Counter Point segment?
My brother has requested a 
Counter Point
to my previous post.
My Depraved Adolescence.
Yeah, can't say it won't show up here.
Just not quite yet.
I do believe there may be some money to be made here.
I know things. 
Let's start with The Prince.
Shall we discuss the "vase" mom found in your trunk?
Just sayin'.......

Making Up For A Deprived Childhood

They never made these with my name on them.
 A few years back someone got the bright idea
that just the word "Merry" conveyed the spirit of 
the season and they could save a couple of bucks on lettering(?)

Yea, I'm cashing in. 
I hate to tell you but a few of those "Merry's" live here
year round.
My Mom is responsible for many of these items.
I think she feels bad she robbed me of personalized
bike plates as a child.

I met another "Merry" once.
She wasn't.
I felt like demanding the name back.

There is a legend attached to my name.
The tale goes that while inutero I was referred to as
Happy Storm.
Hence my name,
Merry Gail.

My mom also told me in recent years that part of the reason
for the unusual spelling was to help differentiate 
 me from my Aunt, Mary.
Hence the name,
Little Merry.

All indications are that my mother was always a 
fairly intelligent woman. 
I was number four.
Perhaps she was tired.

Oh, and PS, mom,

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Countdown to Cookies!

The shopping is done.
The lists are made.
I have a game plan.
For baking.
Still working on the plan to not gain a bazillion pounds
over the holidays.

Here's an old one from Weight Watchers:
wear your bathing suit under your clothes while you bake.

Hmm, I'll let you know.....

Monday, December 6, 2010

Crafty Christmas Capers

I have 3 crafty girlfriends.
I mean that in the best way.
We get together at odd times and craft together.
Sometimes we work on individual projects
and some times one of us will come with a project for 
the four of us to do together.
That might be my favorite thing we do.
We each have very different styles and it's so much fun
to see that one set of instructions can lead to four
very different results.

We have had a tradition of having a 
Christmas Lunch at one of our homes. 
It's here this year. 
They have to see the powder room wall!!!!!
And write on it.
I may put a step stool in there.
The top of the wall is being neglected.
But I digress.

We exchange gifts. 
They usually relate in some way to our creative sides.
Sometimes a unique book about some art form we may need to try.
Sometimes something we have created.
I seem to be going in the food direction the past few years.

This year did not disappoint.
I did the oven mitts and here is what they did!

Carol put together bags with fun things that
 included some really wild glitter
and made these really cool charms.
Cheryl made felted mittens for each of us.
Val burned and painted wooden plates.

In lieu of crafting together I had us cook together.
Everybody built their own lasagna to "float".
It was a great afternoon!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My Husband is VERY Married

If wedding bands are any indication.
There's a story there.

Mike and I were separated once.
For two years.
We like to say we got in a fight. 

In all the emotional drama I traded in our original 
wedding bands for a ring I *would* wear.
I was young and dumb.
But maybe not.
God can work all our screw ups for good.

When we reconciled Mike didn't have a wedding band.
My bad.
And he was not inclined to change that situation.
It really upset me and one day I just sat him down, 
looked him in the eye,
and made it clear what all that little ring meant to me.
I promised to never bring it up again.

And I didn't.

And one day he came home from work with a ring on his finger.
He chose to get a ring. 
He chooses to put one on every day.
He chooses me each time.

Each of those rings has a story. 
The second one in from the left is the one he came home with
that afternoon twenty-some years ago.
It came from Service Merchandise.
The second one in from the right came from Grunwald's.
That one on the left is far more precious.

As is my Husband. 
I am a blessed woman.

Hostess Gifts

I have a couple of thoughts about hostess gifts
I'm sure the world needs to hear about. 
(Or at least the 3 people who read this blog)

The first is from my favorite Blogger, Aggie. 
I'm not certain how long the fruit in this will hold up but
even the spiced simple syrup would be a great gift. 
Aggie has a couple of suggestions for other uses for the syrup. 
It just sounds like holiday!

The other great idea comes from my friend Kristie.
I had a huge Halloween party one year and she brought 
a basket of breakfast for the next morning.
What a great idea!
After all the focus on the party preparations the last
thing I was thinking of was eating the next morning. 
This was a couple of years ago but it seems to me she had
a bag of coffee and donuts in a basket but you could do the 
coffee and some banana bread, muffins, Alka Seltzer, 
a can of tomato juice, tobasco sauce.
(depending on what *kind* of party it is) 
A couple of mugs.
The possibilities are endless!

There you go!
Now, have I wormed my way into any parties?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Fun Girlfriend Gift!

Here's a cool idea!
My friend, Aggie, had a great appetizer recipe
on her blog, 
This idea evolved, as I showered 
(at least it wasn't 4 in the morning, when I usually get my best ideas).
I printed up her recipe and bought the shelf stable components,
dried figs, roasted pecans and balsamic.
I picked up some festive oven mitts and put all the 
items in them and tied the recipe on the loop. 
The girls were coming for lunch so I tied the mitts
onto the backs of their chairs.
How fun is that!?
They just need to grab some cheese to keep in the fridge and then 
when they need a last minute app, they're set!
I figure at the holidays who couldn't use a little somthin' up 
their sleeves?

So, here you have it. 
The basic concept is fun but you can totally adapt it.
If you have a favorite appetizer that has mostly
shelf stable ingredients then use that.
Merry Christmas!!!