Thanksgiving Domination

Soooooo Thanksgiving happened.

As you already know, I was pretty nervous about cooking my first big meal. So when I pulled something incredibly intelligent like slice my left ring finger open while trying to cut a bagel with a brand new extremely sharp steak knife the night before Thanksgiving, I not only worried about the outcome of the meal, but now about the safety of everyone in a 1-mile radius as well. I thought I needed stitches, but decided to let Bill quell my anxiety for once in my life. I cried for a while, put pressure on it with a paper towel until it finally stopped bleeding, let Billy doctored me up, and then moped for a decidedly finite period of time, absolutely sure my efforts the next day would be futile. I was done for. The turkey had already won, and it was strictly my doing. Not a great start.

In the morning, however, it was ON. I was determined to throw down. And despite the misstep the night before, here is how THAT turned out.

BOOM.

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You GUYS. I did that.

I don’t have the faintest idea how it happened, but it was awesome. Getting started was tough since I get easily overwhelmed by too many things going on at once and couldn’t quite figure out where to begin. So I started by making breakfast, sitting down with a magazine, and taking a deep metaphorical breath. I highly recommend this first step to everyone. Take notes.

After that, things went smoothly for the most part. Well, besides not having any idea how to stick my hand in a turkey to pull out the neck and giblets. Or loosen the skin from the flesh. Or tuck the wings under. You know.

There was only one moment that I started to panic, thinking I bit off more than I could chew, and that, of course, was during the hour before dinner is served – that magic chaos period my mom has always talked about as if it were a swarm of locusts descending over both the kitchen and whoever pulled the short straw when deciding who was cooking dinner. But my friends, thank goodness for Bill. He has proven me wrong yet again, this time by being the best sous chef a lady could ask for. And for the second time in less than 24 hours, he managed to calm the wife-beast just as things started to spiral out of anxiety-ridden control – all while trimming the green beans, pureeing the gravy, and carving that god-forsaken bird.

As there is no way that I could give you what Bill would call the “play-by-play” of the day, because 1) I don’t think you need a tedious detailed run-down on this fine Tuesday, and 2) I most likely blacked out multiple times throughout the day just to get through it, here are the highlights:

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Those are fresh cranberries. I mean, really fresh. Like, so fresh I they needed to be rinsed and drained and smashed and blended.

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It took me a few minutes to figure out the pan… Yeah, just the pan.

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That was grosser than I anticipated, but…

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DOMINATION! I’ve been getting the “What’s in the bottom of the pan?” question a lot, and the answer would be halved pears and onions to flavor the drippings to make the gravy. (Find the recipe from Cooking Light here: Oil-Basted Parmesan Turkey with Walnut Gravy)

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Now that’s a man. You carve that turkey, Billy. (We all grew up a little that day.)

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Butternut-Bacon Stuffing from Cooking Light: Delish, especially as leftovers reheated in the toaster oven!

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Green Beans with Sherried Mushroom Sauce from Cooking Light… We cheated and put the fried onions on top anyway. Don’t tell my arteries.

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Maple-Pecan Sweet Potatoes from, you guessed it, Cooking Light! Made with real maple syrup and vanilla, these puppies are GOOD. Bill’s self-declared favorite.

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A relatively clean production area, obviously post-chaos hour.

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And homemade – 100% from scratch – Cranberry-Orange Relish. This was surprisingly easy, but for some reason telling everyone you made your cranberries from scratch is really impressive. Probably because they are so easy to buy at the market would be my guess! Anyway, this is an awesome recipe. It includes a whole orange and the zest of an orange rind, so the tangy citrus kick gives it a little something extra. It’s so great to eat straight out of the fridge as well, and it feels like a grown-up version of applesauce. Which is, obviously, rad.

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And here it is… the finished product! (In true do(hot mess)tication, notice the one little drip of sweet potatoes chilling on the edge of the plate. Polished presentations are for cowards.

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Happy husband with turkey hands!

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Okay, so I’m PROUD. I’ve never felt like a chef before, and until Thanksgiving, I never felt like cooking would be something I would ever be good at. There’s hope, everyone! There is HOPE.

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One more presentation pic for good measure.

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So this is how I celebrated. A much, MUCH deserved glass of wine.

All in all, I feel like the day was successful, and the biggest success was probably that despite the difficult decision to be away from my family of origin for the first time on such an important day, there were many more “best parts” than I expected. Bill and I had our first major holiday together. We got to take on the challenge in the kitchen and conquer that turkey. We proved that we are a great team, even when we have no idea what we are doing. We sat down in our sweats, fully intending to change into nice clothes and do our hair but deciding we were just too exhausted, and we ate a huge meal, just the two of us, and it was AMAZING. And lastly, I thoroughly passed out on the couch, fat and very happy, at around 7:30 p.m. in the middle of one of my favorite shows like an old grandma. It was SO worth it.

I do, however, have one main piece of advice for you when embarking on your first Thanksgiving meal. Do not – I repeat, DO NOT – slice your hand open the night before. Raw turkey juice is not pleasant to begin with, and it is even less so when it seeps into unnecessary wounds.

Just a thought.

Make Your Home Happy

The single best piece of advice I got on marriage came from a coworker at the bridal shower my office threw for me a few weeks before our wedding. This instruction came from a particular coworker who is someone I look up to greatly: she is always fun, doesn’t take life too seriously (in the best way), lives in a constant state of utter fabulousness, and is generally the life of the party, whether you like it or not thankyouverymuch. Her advice, which I have taken to heart is simple.

“Always try to make your home happy. Do something, no matter how small, every day to make it that way.”

Every few weeks, she comes up to me at work with the sole intent of asking me, “Ashleigh, are you making your home happy?” The anecdote that came with this question on the last occasion really shed some light on just how central this practice is to her marriage and just how well it works. “Even just lighting a candle. Sometimes when my husband and I are fighting and we can’t solve it, we stop talking, light a candle, and just sit in silence. It totally works.” Then she fell into her contagious little fit of laughter that seems to convey just how little she cares about how absurd she thinks she’s being. Well, oh-role-model-of-mine, I don’t think you are absurd at all. I think you are quite marvelous.

Putting this into practice is not always easy, and the simple things are often the ones that fall through the cracks. This is even more true due to the fact that Bill and I have opposite work schedules, and it is quite the bummer. I work a normal 40-hour work week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Easy enough. But layer on top of that Bill’s schedule of Friday through Tuesday from 2 p.m. to midnight, and things become tricky. We almost never have a full day off together. Case in point, from September 3rd to December 24th, we will not have had a single day off to spend together. So basically, as newlyweds, we are not only trying to figure out this whole marriage thing, but we’re trying to figure out this whole marriage thing with very limited time together. I find find myself wanting to put a lot of effort into making the moments we do have a little extra special, but life often gets in the way and the “important” things take over.

This Sunday, an autumn-themed breakfast prepared while Bill was still asleep meant that he woke up to a home warmed with the smell of pumpkin and cinnamon, and we spent a very rare quiet morning sharing a lazy breakfast at our dining room table. To bring the spirit of fall inside, I pulled one of my favorite things out of the cupboard.

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This stuff is to die for. Pumpkin plus cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg is QUITE the combo, let me tell you.

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I decided to add a little something extra in the form of honey and chopped pecans in place of the traditional butter-and-syrup staples. Great decision.

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One of the things that makes home happier for me is having flowers in plain sight, so these autumn lovelies took center stage on the table.

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A surefire way to measure success when it comes to Bill and food? A severe lack of eye contact while said meal is present. This quick little spread took about 20 minutes to prepare but made a huge impact on my week. I easily could have poured myself a bowl of cereal and called it breakfast, but it was much more rewarding to hear the grizzly bear upstairs awaken from his slumber to the whiff of something delicious coming from the kitchen and subsequently follow his nose, stumbling loudly down the stairs. The payoff that resulted – the look of utter surprise followed by hungry anticipation followed by genuine appreciation followed by complete mutual contentedness in our full, happy bellies – will always be worth the effort.

Sounds like a happy home to me! This is officially my mission from here on out.

Halterween: A Tradition is Born

Here’s a piece of irony for you.

One of the things I’ve been so looking forward to in marriage – and I mean really excited about – is the establishment of new traditions. Why is that ironic? Well, I suppose it’s because the very definition of tradition (according to Dictionary.com) is “a continuing practice” or “a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting”. So basically I’ve been excited about doing the same thing over and over again for an undetermined amount of time. Coming from a generation obsessed with a constant stream of shiny new things and keeping up with the (fill in the blank here: times, trends, outrageous/materialistic/overly dramatized reality TV family that I’m secretly infatuated with… don’t hate me for my guilty pleasures), you would think traditions would be the last thing that would get me going. But maybe that is one of the reasons why I AM so fired up about new ideas becoming Halter family mainstays. Traditions offer a warm, home-y sense of security in an age where constant bombardment with pressure and expectations is commonplace. If you think about it, traditions are great conversation starters and so fun to talk about because they are always so… weird. Quirky. Ridiculous. In fact, they are often the only excuse we have to legitimize being weird, quirky, and ridiculous. I mean, seriously, how else would I get away with some of the things I wrote about in a previous post, like eating cookies for breakfast on a certain magical holiday? Traditionally, calories don’t count on Christmas morning. And you can’t argue with that – it’s FAMILY TRADITION.

It seems to me that in order for something to become tradition, it has to have happened twice. After the first time, we can intend for something to become tradition, but that’s all talk until it actually does. That is why Halloween was so highly anticipated for me this year. Last Halloween, my roommate and I co-hosted a dinner party that consisted of a small guest list, butternut squash lasagna, costumes, and lots of candy. We were over the downtown scene with the 21+ crazies shedding themselves of any and all sensibilities or societal rules (plus, getting a ride home on this particular night is a big, fat pain…), and we decided to bring the party to us. It went well, and a bar was set. Since that night, however, I have referred to it in my brain as the “First Annual”, but I’ve been unable to put my money where my mouth is until this year’s fete.

SO I’m proud to introduce to you snapshots from “The 2nd Annual Supper Bloody Supper at the Halterween Mansion”!

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First up, we took down every ounce of normality in terms of decor and created an ambiance and vibe that was sure to please. (Those apple slices you see in that picture? Caramel apply vodka jello shots. Deadly.)

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My gorgeous co-host to the left (Cher from Clueless) and some lifesaving help to the right (Mean Girls!).

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On the menu, slow-cooker vegetarian chili with optional pulled pork on the side, corn bread, and a sweet potato bar complete with all the fixin’s you could ever dream of.

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An endless spread of booze and sugar guarantee a good time.

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Next ingredient: amazing friends bringing the cheer.

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Mixing and mingling…

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The hubby as Minnesota Vikings embarrassment Josh Freeman and the pup as the penguin to my polar bear.

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New friends were made when Jim Harbaugh joined the festivities.

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And NFL coach royalty Harbaugh and Ditka put Freeman in his place.

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Again with Caramel Apples… Deliciously dangerous.

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An unplanned Arctic (and okay, OKAY, Antarctic) takeover.

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And finally, the family to make it a family tradition.

The bar has been set high, my lovelies. I’m already jazzed for the 3rd Annual Supper Bloody Supper at the Halterween Mansion, and all the “Annuals” come, in all their weird, quirky, ridiculous glory.

Weekend Snapshots: Pumpkin Overload and Auntie Ash

I pretty much had the best weekend ever. Let me lay it out for you.

After work on Friday, I picked up a little lady named Tori. I have considered her family from the beginning, even though our connection to one another is a far too complicated to be fully conveyed in a single breath. Needless to say, I inherited her when I took the Halter name, and she’s pretty much, well, awesome. Not to mention that the amount of laughing we did on 6-hour late night drive to San Diego could have fueled us passed the Mexican border and back again.

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Dinner was a pit stop in Santa Barbara to avoid traffic and to not avoid heaven in a seafood burrito from Los Arroyos off of State Street.

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Is 90 miles too far to drive for burritos on a regular basis?

A ridiculous drive could only end in more ridiculousness when we end up in the Gaslamp District with Tori’s hotel in full view but utterly inaccessible due to a canal and what seemed like hundreds of blocked off streets and “No Left Turn” signs. I dropped her off with her dad and finally rolled into my amazing step-sister’s and brother-in-law’s house around midnight. Within 30 minutes, I passed out despite the unbearable anticipation and excitement of what the morning would bring.

And of course the morning brought it with the adorable noises and delighted screams of a 15-month-old nephew enjoying waffles and bananas for breakfast in his high chair.

At 5:15 a.m.

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I already knew it was love when I met him for the first time last Christmas. What I didn’t realize was just how much power such a little man could hold over me. Exhibit A is the fact that he got me making up silly games pre-hair and makeup (and oof, there’s the picture above to prove it…).

The weekend following was a whirlwind that included…

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A dangerous amount of Pinteresting dotted by fits of sister-bonding over baking…

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Pumpkin White Chocolate Chip Muffins with a recipe via Culinary Concoctions by Peabody (via Pinterest, of course)…

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I love partaking in one of my favorite festivities of the season: pumpkin carving!

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…with an obvious gap in talent and capability between myself and the surgeon. No, seriously. Doug’s a Physician’s Assistant. He operates.

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And Saturday ended with meticulous separation of pumpkin guts and seeds for the roasting of one delicious snack.

Sunday was another early morning that transformed into a run with Jess on trails around a lake near her house. There was girl talk. There was wife talk. There was I-Can’t-Breathe-But-I’m-Still-Talking talk.

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And since my mom and stepdad (or Grandma and Papa depending on your personal situation in the family hierarchy) were walking the dog and the babe behind us, and lake usually equals ducks, we obviously had to partake in some duck watching post-run.

The whole trip was downright amazing. I’m pretty much overcome by all the love and family that surrounded me, and I never even questioned driving the 6 hours each way in the span of around 48 hours. It did, however, make for a very bittersweet, sad-happy Monday of daydreaming at my desk, knowing I’m so far away from some of the most important people in my life. I’m very recently beginning to understand the feeling of family – ironically, through the addition of new members resulting from the breakup if my traditional immediate family. Despite everything, it’s so beautiful to walk into the home of someone you didn’t know six or so years ago and truly feel like you belong. Life just seems that much more wonderful with so many loved ones around, and it’s hard to be away from them most of the time. It’s a good thing that every time I see them, I take a little more of them with me when I leave. Is it possible for your heart burst right out of your chest? Because looking back at pictures from the past few days, that’s about how I’m feeling.

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Especially when I see this sweet little face. He kills me.

Obsession

Fall makes me feel, well, tingly.

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We found each other. I have special plans for this cutie.