Thursday, December 27, 2012

As Green a Christmas as Possible

We haven't had Christmas yet. We are waiting until everyone can be here.

January 1 is the date of our Christmas. I have to admit it was kind of nice last week when people asked, "Are you ready for Christmas?" to be able to say, "No, but I've got another week."

The menus are almost finalized, and most of our gifts are purchased and wrapped. Here's one for Bill.

One of my goals this year was to continue to be as green as possible--on an occasion that doesn't necessarily encourage that.

A number of years ago I was so horrified at the amount of trash (mostly generated by gift wrapping, ribbons, and packaging) at a Christmas gathering that I resolved to minimize that kind of waste in our household as much as possible. We started using and re-using and re-re-using and re-re-re-using (you get the idea) all gift bags. We saved boxes, tissue paper, and ribbons. Gift wrap was harder, but, if it wasn't too mangled, we saved it, folded it, and put it away.

We became a family recycling machine. During and immediately after the gift exchange, we and our children grabbed everything that could be re-used. We didn't practice single stream recycling. We sorted ribbons, bags, tissue paper, and boxes--separately. I remember having guests one year who looked at us as though we were a little crazy when we went into our by-now-ingrained ribbon and box saving routine.

When we downsized and moved downtown, we gave up the big house and the space to store these things.  For many years, I had a closet devoted to recycled gift giving supplies. Figuring out how to hang on to re-usables with our limited space has been a challenge, but I think I've found the solution.

I tend to be given things that come with ribbons and tissue paper all year long--some from gifts, some from purchases. I saved the ribbons in a drawer in my kitchen. This is the stash AFTER I wrapped all the gifts. Good start on next year.

I saved the tissue paper in a drawer in the utility closet. I couldn't believe how many sheets I saved during a year. This is the stack AFTER I wrapped all the  gifts. Another good start on next year.

Gift tags? Not a problem. During my years as a professor at Pellissippi State, I saved every piece of paper that was blank on the back and cut them into "note squares." When I had a student worker for a few years, I know he dreaded the days when part of his job was to cut note squares. [When he protested, I once left him a note that said: You can never be too thin or too rich or have too many note squares.] Well, of course, I still make note squares.

Each of these can be used to make at least 8 gift tags.

So my menu is mostly planned, and my gifts are mostly wrapped--using leftover tissue paper, leftover ribbons, and portions of note squares. I think they look pretty good.

I'm not sure how much of the tissue paper can be re-used, but the ribbons can be re-used for years--and at least the tissue paper got one more use after it came my way.

As Green a Christmas as Possible...That's what we're having.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Savory French Toast with Marinara Sauce & Fried Eggs

This was a quick & easy brunch dish, inspired by what I happened to have on hand.

Savory French Toast Topped with Marinara Sauce and Fried Egg.

Start with the marinara sauce. I used plain old tomato sauce jazzed up with a lot of savory herbs.

I sliced off a couple of patties of soysage to have as a side. I like to perk these up with a sprinkle of red pepper flakes as they cook.

Next up: the French toast made with leftover Tuscan bread. Dip the bread in a mix of eggs, milk, salt, pepper, and grated Parmesan. Then coat each side with some more grated Parmesan. Fry until browned on both sides. It doesn't take long. The Parmesan browns nicely.

You don't want to make the eggs until everything else is ready and waiting. I popped the sauce, soysage, and toast into the warming drawer while I made the eggs.

To read about various techniques for creating the perfect fried egg, the information at this link is helpful.

Perfect Fried Eggs

I use a combination of some of the techniques described in the article. I use a mix of olive oil and butter and add the eggs while the butter is melting. I crack each egg into a saucer before sliding it into the pan. I'm not sure why the softer landing helps, but it does. I swirl the pan a bit to set the eggs then I cover the pan with a glass lid and cook over medium heat. I like them over easy--very briefly. Flip the egg and turn off the burner.

Quickly assemble the dish: Top a slice of toast with marinara sauce and then top with an egg.

A quick & easy brunch--That's what we're having.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A quiet dinner before a fun-filled day and evening

Having a pork tenderloin in the refrigerator, an unreliable (soon-to-be-replaced!) oven, and a bunch of errands to run today, I did some research on cooking pork tenderloin in a slow cooker and found a weird recipe with just a few ingredients: pork tenderloin, sauerkraut, sweet and hot mustard, and Mountain Dew. Yes, you read that right. I'd likely have sailed right past that recipe except that I had all the ingredients--including, improbably, Mountain Dew. No one in our house drinks Mountain Dew, but one appeared in our beverage refrigerator at some point in the last few months. If nothing else came of this recipe, we could at least get rid of that Mountain Dew.

Another reason to do something quick and easy tonight: I've already set the table for our part of a progressive party tomorrow night.

So we are eating at the kitchen counter tonight.

The pork tenderloin was fork-tender and surprisingly tasty.

I served it with sauteed green beans tossed with butter, Dijon mustard, and tarragon.

And because I'm taking a big dish of dressing to a covered dish holiday luncheon tomorrow, tonight we had a little dish of dressing made with cornbread, onions, scallions, celery, Granny Smith apples, and a splash of bourbon.

A quiet evening at home while prepping for a busy, fun tomorrow. That's what we're having.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Post-Thanksgiving All Girl Vegetarian Extravaganza

I'm a compulsive planner, but I also enjoy a last minute get-together. With no plans for Friday night and not having cooked much because Liz and I had Thanksgiving dinner with Judith and Michael Foltz and their extended family, I decided to put together the Post-Thanksgiving All Girl Vegetarian Extravaganza with daughters Liz and Laura and Laura's friends Kelly, Lisa, and Cheri. There's nothing like a group of women and some festive beverages to make the kitchen a merry place--and raise the noise level.

Left to right: Liz, Kelly, Lisa, Cheri, and Laura.

Every guest brought a bottle of red wine, but we started with Rosemary Pomegranate Royales.

These are a delicious concoction of rosemary-infused simple syrup, pomegranate juice, prosecco, pomegranate seeds, and a rosemary garnish. Following the cocktail hour, we opened some wine and hit the buffet.

Cornbread dressing and port-tangerine cranberry sauce. The Tofurkey is a prop. We are not fans of most faux meats.

Carrot souffle, a longtime family favorite, takes 2 pounds of healthy carrots and, with the addition of milk, eggs, and cheddar cheese, turns them into something decadent.

Who doesn't love red potatoes roasted with olive oil and rosemary?

The secret to the baked spinach and artichoke hearts is the bechamel sauce and two bags of baby spinach wilted in olive oil and minced garlic..

What's Thanksgiving without deviled eggs?

Or cheese biscuits?

We lingered at the table before bringing in the dessert: Spicy pumpkin trifle. I was inspired by a recipe I found for gingerbread pumpkin trifle, but I made lots of changes, including swapping spice cake for the gingerbread. I like trying experiments out on guests--you get lots of opinions that way.

Here's the side view:

And the top view:

Our family has a favorite summer strawberry trifle. Now we have a favorite winter trifle. This one's a keeper!

A Post-Thanksgiving All Girl Vegetarian Extravaganza--That's what we're having.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Last Pear

Last night we had a little party at Kendrick Place to celebrate the life of our pear tree. It stood along the fence row between Kendrick Place and the Masonic Temple. We've long speculated how it came to be there. Who plants a pear tree in the middle of the city? My favorite explanation is that it's a remnant from the farmland that was here before the city expanded.

The tree had developed both blight and canker--and on the recommendation of the experts at Cortese Tree Specialists, who had tried in vain to save it, the decision was made to take it down. Here's how it looked in full bloom this spring. Pretty, isn't it?

I was too busy pouring pear bellinis for the party guests to take any photos last night, but when men with chain saws and a wood chipper arrived early this morning. I was ready. Here's the view from the bedroom window. That speck of blue up in the tree is the guy from Cortese whose job it was to climb the tree and start sawing off the top branches.

With the branches gone, you can see the guy a little more.

At the end of the courtyard, a big wood chipper waited.

All gone--except for the stump.

Heard the expression "rotten to the core"? That's a pretty good description of this tree's core, which they handed me as a souvenir.

Here's a close-up view of the core.

Speaking of souvenirs--some of us decided last night that we wanted a slice of the trunk. I am not exactly sure how we will use these, but the guys were nice about honoring our request. Here's one of the guys doing the slicing.

My neighbor Mary Holbrook, who joined me in witnessing the take-down, started stacking the slices.

Ultimately, we stacked them on our stoop--while we decide what to do with them. The rings were too indistinct for anyone to gauge the age of the trees, but we were told that when they are sanded a bit, we might be able to see the rings.

Here's the new view from the bedroom window. No pear tree.

There was one final surprise. A pear! This was a big surprise because there were very few pears this year

Now, back to thinking about what to do with the pear tree slices...Suggestions welcome!!!

A chain saw and wood chipper kind of morning. That's what we're having.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Progressive Pre-Gameday Tailgate Party

Last night's Downtown Progressive was a lot of fun--as always. You can read about the last one at this link:

For these Progressives, we always choose a theme and invite a guest or two we are hoping to recruit to downtown living. Since the party was set for the night before the UT vs Florida game, we decided on a tailgate theme. Our recruits? Dan and Cathy Brown. I kept it easy and casual: a chili bar with 10 toppings and box wine on our roof. A tailgate party on a roof? Why not? It's just like the G-10 parking garage next to the stadium--but a lot less crowded.

A word about chili. Whatever else I throw into the pot, my basic recipe has two essential ingredients, Mexene Chili Powder and Bush's Best Chili Hot Beans.

Last night's version was vegetarian and less spicy than usual to accommodate various palates and preferences.

We started in the courtyard at Cherokee Lofts, home of Cynthia Moxley and Alan Carmichael, where we had bacon-wrapped cream cheese jalapeno bites, tomato-basil spread, and a cheese ball. Note the pretty Vol-themed platters--in keeping with our tailgate theme. That's a glass of "Gator Blood" in the background--more about those in a minute.

Cynthia thought the bacon-wrapped jalapenos were way too hot and almost didn't put them out, but most of us loved them. If you want to decide for yourself, you can get the recipe at this link:

Check out this "pumpkin"--a creative fall take on a cheese ball. (The orange color comes from crushed Nacho Cheese Doritos!)

Get the recipe at this link:

Cynthia always has amusing cocktail napkins:

The Gator Blood--aka Orange Slush--was refreshing and delicious. Here's the recipe:

Orange Slush aka Gator Blood
6 oz. fresh orange juice
12 oz. frozen lemonade
6 oz. vodka
6 oz. apricot brandy
1 quart Fresca
Chablis (chilled)

Enjoying the food, drinks, and company:

Kristin Grove, Karen Eberle, and Eddie Mannis, all residents at the Glencoe.

Alan Carmichael and Monique Anderson, who also lives at the Glencoe

Mickey Mallonee, who lives at the Emporium, and Nora Robinson, 
another Glencoe resident. The Glencoe was well represented last night.

Bruce Anderson and Bill Lyons

Kristin took a photo of me with Kim Trent, who lives at the Emporium, just before she and I left for Kendrick Place to set out the food and drinks there. 

When the guests arrived they headed straight for the crockpot of chili and started piling on their favorite toppings.

Wonder what Nora and Mickey are looking at?

Love the lights in the background. Seated far right is Kkin Fairbank,
who will soon be moving into the Elliot (at the corner of Church & State)

Uh-oh, I think Cynthia put a blurry hex on my camera when she saw me taking her picture. 

Karen, Bruce, and Dan Brown, whose wife Cathy joined us later

Then it was off to the courtyard between the Glencoe and the Elliott for BBQ and dessert hosted by Eddie, who recently moved to the top floor of the Glencoe. I got one final picture before my flash sputtered and died.

Kristin, Kim, and Gina Changas

Another fun Downtown Progressive...That's what we're having.