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.