Saturday, December 31, 2011

Good Night 2011

I am ready to put this year to bed. In a lot of ways, this has been a really hard year. I’ve tried letting go of the gloom, but there were things out of my control still weighing heavy. As hard as it was, the gloom was a good motivator to do everything in my limited power to make some real changes, and I’m truly amazed at how lucky we are and how the timing of everything has worked out so well. Andrew and I both spent the summer writing applications and resumes and cover letters and persevering, and we were both lucky enough to start new jobs this month. We’ve done lots of other fun stuff this year and had other successes and joys, but this is truly what will give us a fresh start as we begin 2012. I feel so thankful.

As great as this accomplishment is, I think it’s valuable to reflect on the other milestones and accomplishments and experiences of the year, and I’m happy to be able to record them here to review again in the coming year. 

2011 in Review 
Chez MeghAndrew

We committed to a healthier lifestyle. We joined our local community center and started working out, and I’ve been cooking healthier and more vegetarian meals. We have come a long way in improving how we feel since December 2010.

We spent the winter skiing and snowshoeing (as best we could with so little snow) and spent lots of time outdoors in the fresh mountain air. I improved enough to commit to becoming a really good skier some day and this year I bought new skis, boots and accoutrements. I’m doing an ok job of not feeling too guilty about spending so much money on myself.

We won worst players in the football pool, and braved a blizzard to attend the super bowl party at the ranch.

I attended my sister’s college graduation in Minneapolis in May. I was home for a whole glorious week and was able to catch up with family and friends and cheer Marisa on as she completed college.

We bought a river raft, and Andrew increased his proficiency in rowing! We (half the family at least) love our little blue raft. This was a big investment in a hobby that we both have really enjoyed but could never do on our own because we didn’t have the equipment. We weren’t planning to buy a raft in 2011, but a great opportunity came up, and we went for it. One of the things we’ve prioritized in our marriage is pursuing hobbies that we can enjoy together and that will allow us to spend time outdoors. This was a good investment in our future fun adventures on the rivers of the Southwest!

We did a small remodel on our cabin, which felt great because we’ve spent so much time just trying to pay it off and now we can actually invest in improving it. We removed a wall and added a door upstairs that will eventually lead to a deck behind the house. We worked together and Andrew got to show off his carpentry skills.

We planted two tasty and healthy gardens that gave us tons of good veggies. My freezer is now stocked with pesto, tomatillo salsa, roasted beet ravioli, roasted carrot ravioli, and veggie broth.

We spent lots of weekends hiking and enjoying spending time together as a family.

We had visits from Andrew’s family in July and December and my parents in October. We tromped around the ranch, Taos, and Santa Fe and went to the Santa Fe Opera.

I started this blog and had the chance to connect with some amazing ladies. Sara and Matt and Henry even visited us in Santa Fe this summer!

We spent Labor Day in Minnesota enjoying the MN State Fair, Garrison Keillor and the Twins. A yearly tradition that I hold very dear.

We celebrated our second wedding anniversary! We love to reflect on the wedding, reread our vows out loud (twice so we can each read to the other), drink champagne and talk about how freakin’ lucky we are. It’s a huge cheese fest, and I love it. This year was extra special because we were at the ranch where we were married.

I became a published author! I feel pleased to have contributed to a field that I am very interested and passionate about.

We spent a few fun weekends at the ranch where we were married, including our second wedding anniversary. We had the chance to visit other parts of the ranch that we had never seen, including the camp house, two 18th century cemeteries, a forgotten shrine, and Chaperito, a town that was abandoned in the 1950s. We brought my parents to the shrine when they visited in October and even discovered Stations of the Cross that lead to the shrine from Chaperito.

We took an amazing trip to Nicaragua and realized that traveling is definitely one of our family values. We are already planning our next trip to the beach for more fishing and relaxing. I will be a paradise people gosh darnit!

We’ve developed a budget that will allow us to live comfortably but also pay down debt and open more options in the coming years for us. I can now day dream about being able to work part time or do contract work or go back to school in five years without knowing that it is impossible.

Friday, December 30, 2011

(New) Mexican Christmas Salad

I wrote about our new holiday traditions chez Meghandrew yesterday, and this take on a Mexican Christmas Salad is one of them. I combined a few recipes I found online, and came up with this salad composed of beets, navel oranges and jicama, topped with roasted peanuts and an orange-red wine vinegar dressing. It is simple and tasty, and you can get all of the components ready ahead of time and assemble right before serving. I like the salad itself well enough, but what I really love is the presentation. Serve on a large round plate and arrange the layers to look like a flower. It’s a bit of a stretch, but it reminds me of a poinsettia.

(New) Mexican Christmas Salad

3 beets
3 navel oranges
1 small jicama (If you can find pre-peeled and cut, go for it. It’s worth the extra money)
½ cup unsalted raw peanuts
1 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs red wine vinegar
1 Tbs orange juice
1 Tsp minced shallot
½ Tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Roast beets in oven (wrap them in foil and roast for about an hour at 350 degrees). When they are cool enough to handle, slice beets. Peel and slice oranges and jicama. Toast peanuts in a pan over medium heat. Mix olive oil, vinegar, orange juice, shallot, mustard and salt and pepper to make vinaigrette; adjust seasoning by adding more oil, vinegar or juice as desired. Arrange a layer of orange slices, layer of jicama and top with a layer of beets. Sprinkle peanuts on top and drizzle dressing over entire salad.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas Traditions: Learning to Change a Little...

We spent Christmas in Santa Fe with Andrew’s family this year. Santa Fe has so many lovely holiday traditions and with our recent snow storms, it has been a beautiful December this year. I’ve been missing my Minnesota holiday traditions, but I’ve been trying my hardest to be a good sport and focus on the new ones we’re making in New Mexico. As I’ve written about before, one of the hardest things about being married has been navigating where we spend our holidays. The truth is, if I had my way, we’d spend every Christmas in Minnesota, but I’m not in charge and this is a good lesson in partnership and compromise and flexibility and openness.

This Christmas was much easier than the first one I spent away from Minnesota, and I only had one minor breakdown of crying in the bathroom. That darn Bing Crosby and his crooning about no place like home for the holidays… (ack, just thinking about it makes me want to burst into tears – that song should be banned from Pandora)

Here are some of our new traditions in the making chez MeghAndrew:

Christmas skiing – It was a bit of a war zone on the mountain last weekend, but we still had fun. We had a good laugh at this photo because Zach looks like a giant next to me.

Farolito walk on Canyon Road – Christmas carols and bonfires and pretty decorations and warming up at our friend Jennifer’s Christmas eve party.

A crowned pork rib roast for Christmas dinner – Isn’t it a beaut? We could have easily served a dozen people with all of that food, but we’ve been enjoying good pork sandwiches as leftovers. I served my favorite Brussels Sprouts on the side sautéed in butter and garlic and served with toasted pecans and little sea salt. My family in Minnesota likes them so much that they even make them the years I’m not there. My brother cooked them this year in Minnesota.

Lemon Tart to harness the energy of the sun as we enter 2012 (I sound like I’ve been in New Mexico too long) – This is one of my favorite recipes to make because it reminds me of my friend Rosie and all of the good food we’ve cooked and eaten together AND who couldn’t use a little energy from the sun as we enter a new year??  Somehow I missed a photo of the tart, but I'm sure we'll be making another soon.

(New) Mexican Christmas Salad - A pretty salad with beets, jicama (as you can see ours is missing it this year because they were out at the grocery) and oranges topped with toasted peanuts.

These new traditions have been fun, and since Andrew’s family was in town, we got to enjoy several of their traditions as well – Panettone bread pudding and mimosas on Christmas morning while opening presents, stockings from childhood, and Andrew’s dad’s famous potato soup.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays

Here we go, folks.  Christmas holidays are here.  As crazy as this month has been, it doesn't seem like Christmas here in Santa Fe.  At least we have the snow, which I'll be enjoying tomorrow at Ski Santa Fe.  Best wishes to you and yours this holiday season!

This is the photo we used on our card this year.  Isn't it awesome?!?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Solstice!

Some snow shoeing photos of my shortest friends for the shortest day of the year.  Happy Solstice!!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hotdish (or Midwestern casserole, if you will)

I recently went to potluck with co-workers, and when I asked what I could bring this was the email I received:

Hi Meghan – I’m making my famous green chile stew, but we could use another main dish. Can you bring a Midwestern casserole (I think you call it hotdish). Ann [another coworker who is from Iowa] puts tater tots in hers. Your choice though – whatever you want to bring is great.

Well, being the good Minnesotan that I am, I couldn’t deny this guy and my other coworkers Midwestern casserole.

For those of you who don’t know what hotdish is (this surprises me because it’s so common where I come from, but even my very own husband had never heard of hotdish before he met me), Wikipedia defines hotdish as:

Hotdish is a variety of baked casserole that typically contains a starch, a meat or other protein, and a canned and/ or frozen vegetable, mixed together with canned soup. The dish is popular in Minnesota. (You can read the full entry here.)

The thing is, though, I didn’t have my own recipe for hotdish. GASP! I know! I thought about looking online or in my Minnesota State Fair recipes book, but recipes that call for a can of cream of chicken or cream of mushroom or cream of anything gross me out to no end. I just couldn’t stomach the thought of mixing cans of soup with noodles and topping with tots. Eeeew!

So, here is a healthier version of hotdish with whole ingredients and no cans of cream of anything! I used a recipe from the Moosewood Cookbook - hippie hotdish as Andrew calls it - and added a Minnesotan touch of potato chips on top.  It was a big hit at the potluck, and I had enough to make a second smaller casserole, which I served to some other Midwesterners who practically licked their plates. I’d say my first attempt at hotdish was a success.

Broccoli Mushroom Noodle Hotdish
adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook

1 1-lb (or 12 oz) package wide flat egg noodles
2 Tbs butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chopped onion
1 large bunch fresh broccoli, chopped
1 lb mushrooms, sliced
½ tsp salt
Fresh black pepper to taste
3 eggs, beaten
3 cups (1 ½ lbs) cottage cheese
1 cup sour cream
1 ½ cups fine bread crumbs
1 cup (packed) grated sharp white cheddar cheese
1 cup crushed potato chips (preferably with ridges)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x13 baking pan (I had enough filling for a 6x6 baking pan too). Cook noodles until half done. Drain and rinse with cold water and set aside. Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat; add onions and garlic and sauté until soft. Add broccoli, mushrooms, salt and pepper. Stir frequently until broccoli is bright green and just tender. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, beat together eggs, cottage cheese and sour cream. Add noodles, sautéed vegetables and 1 cup of bread crumbs. Mix well. Spread into prepared pan and top with remaining bread crumbs, shredded cheese and crushed potato chips. Bake covered for 30 minutes; uncovered for 15 minutes.

First Day on the Slopes

I feel rejuvenated and so much more relaxed after getting out in the fresh air and sun.  We had our first days skiing this weekend, and the snow was fantastic.  We've already had a few storms with another on the way.  Ça c’est bon signe!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Comfort Curry

Starting a new job is always overwhelming for me - so many people to meet and new things to learn.  I find it emotionally and physically exhausting, and I can't believe it's only Wednesday.  Every night (both of them) this week, Andrew and I have come home and debriefed on what happened that day and talked about the new jobs. 

By last night, even though it was only Tuesday, I was in serious need of some comfort food.  I wasn't up for going out for Indian food so I made this curry dish, which I think is awesome.  It fit the bill perfectly, and it is a quick and easy recipe for a week night.  I made it with chicken like the recipe calls for, but next time, I'm going to use tofu.

Chicken Curry with Cashews
adapted from epicurious

3 Tbsp. butter
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. fresh ginger, minced (I left this out because Andrew doesn't like ginger)
3 Tbsp. curry powder
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. salt (I used only about 1/2 a tsp. and then seasoned to taste before serving)
1/2 - 1 tsp. cayenne pepper (I used 1 tsp. + and it could have been a lot hotter.  Next time, I'll use more)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 chicken breasts, cut into 2 inch pieces
1 cup cashews
3/4 cup plain whole-milk yogurt

Heat butter in large skillet.  Saute onions, garlic and ginger until softened.  Add curry powder, cumin, salt, and cayenne pepper.  Cook 2-3 minutes until fragrant.  Add chicken and stir to coat with spices.  Add tomatoes with their juices and half of the cilantro.  Cover and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes.  Finely chop the cashews (or grind them in a food processor depending on preferences).  When chicken is cooked through, stir in the yogurt, remaining cilantro and salt to taste.  Stir over low heat until slightly thickened.  Serve with basmati rice.

Monday, December 12, 2011

First Days

It's a big day at our house. Andrew and I both start our new jobs today. 

I've been waiting for this day for years. I'm so ready to start something new and move on. I feel excited, hopeful, scared, thankful, and overwhelmed. 

We had big plans to go out and celebrate on Friday after our last days, but we were both too exhausted so we stayed in, opened the fancy bottle of Blanton's and ordered take out. It was just what we needed.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


My grandparents on their wedding day.

Today is the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It's also the anniversary of my grandparents' engagement. My grandfather was stationed in Long Beach, CA, and after hearing about the attack, my grandfather proposed to my grandmother.  An important date for the world and an important date for our family.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Nicaragua: An Our People Place

I’ve only traveled in Western Europe before so it was a real treat to travel to someplace new and so different. One thing that really stood out on this trip was that the only Americans we met were from the West. A surprising number were from New Mexico – we met folks from Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Socorro, Silver City, Taos, and even Farmington. And on top of that, the Europeans, Australians, and South Americans we met had all either been to New Mexico or wanted to go there.

This was surprising to me because when I go home to Minnesota or go to national conferences in the East, I often receive a blank stare from people when I tell them I live in Santa Fe. An alarming number of people think that Santa Fe is in fact the same as San Jose or that Santa Fe is in Arizona and we have weather like Phoenix. You wouldn’t believe (or maybe you would if you live in the West) how many people think we don’t have trees in New Mexico and are really surprised to hear we have mountains and skiing.

I definitely do not go out of my way to meet loads of new people while traveling so I figure that if even I met all of those people from New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, Oregon and California, there must be a lot of us traveling in Nicaragua.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

December Goals

My November goal of having a slow and relaxing vacation in Nicaragua was a huge success! We’ve discovered that one of the best things about being gone in November is that we’ve missed all of the holiday commercials and music and hoopla, and now here we are only a few weeks from Christmas. I’m actually feeling excited to get in the holiday spirit and decorate the house. We unpacked our decorations, decorated the tree, and hung the girls’ stockings this weekend.

Here are my goals for December:

Finish up my work at my old job, say goodbye and leave all of my files and projects in good order.  Only 3 days to go.

Start a new job!!!!

Buy new ski boots, get my bindings adjusted and start skiing. (this is mostly up to the weather…)

Cook a delicious Thanksgiving Dinner for ourselves since we were in Nicaragua for the holiday this year.  We're going to do Thanksgiving on New Year's Eve this year, and we've decided to put a G on the sweet potatoes this year for Ganesh in honor of our new beginnings.

Have a fun Christmas with Andrew’s family in Santa Fe.  We're going to our friend Jennifer's Christmas Eve party and to see the faralitos on Canyon Road.  I want to cook a fun Christmas Day dinner with my brother-in-law and father-in-law.  I'd also like to see the Gustave Bauman puppet show at the Folk Art Museum and hopefully get in some skiing with Zach and Andrew.

Make corned beef for Andrew’s dad’s Christmas present.  I got a charcuterie book for Christmas last year, and we still haven't made anything from it.  Andrew's dad loves corned beef so we're going to surprise him with a corned beef and hash breakfast.

Send out holiday cards to family and friends.  We ordered them this weekend and they should be here next week.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Nicaragua Highlights

We’re back, and our trip was awesome! I had pretty high expectations for this vacation, and they were all exceeded. There was lots of time for relaxing, reading, thinking, and it was a very reflective trip. I have a lot that I’ve been thinking about and want to write about – thoughts on why we travel and on trying to be a paradise people and on getting a good hold on my 30s, but for now, here are some highlights from the trip.

Walking among thousands of nesting Olive Ridley turtles under the full moon on La Flor beach.

Catching a barracuda bigger than me! We also caught Jacks, White Tuna, Black Tuna, Little Fish, and lots of Mackerel, which our captain used to make the freshest and best ceviche I’ve ever tasted.

Loads of fresh fruit and juices.

Watching the sunset on the shore of Lake Nicaragua and seeing fireflies for the first time in almost 20 years.

Climbing the Maderas Volcano and hiking through the cloud forest, which was so different than anywhere I’ve ever been. It was magical.

Kayaking through the marshy Rio Istian on Ometepe Island under the two towering volcanoes.

Doing nothing on the plages sauvages of Little Corn Island for a long, decadent week.

Exploring Leon with our newest Nicaraguan friend who was a guerrilla fighter during the revolution and hearing his personal stories about the history of the country.

 Lots of leisurely sunsets drinking Victoria and Tonas.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Toasty Tootsies

Handmade socks for the first day of December

I took a sock class, and I think these turned out pretty good.  I'm going to make some for myself next.  

Monday, November 28, 2011

Buffalo Trace

I was excited to try some new bourbons last month for National Bourbon Month. I was hoping to find a less expensive “everyday” bourbon, but that was a huge FAIL as I’ve found anything less expensive than what we normally drink is undrinkable and headache inducing (something about getting older I guess, but I just can’t drink cheap liquor without getting a hangover). I do have a good lead from our friend John who is a rancher and drinker of excellent bourbon who drinks Weller Bourbon as his everyday bourbon so I’m going to have to check that out.

In the meantime, we’re sticking with Buffalo Trace as our everyday bourbon. I love the smoothness and tiny bit of sweetness.

We “discovered” Buffalo Trace two years ago at our wedding. My dad really wanted to buy John, the owner of the ranch, a bottle of bourbon to thank him for hosting the wedding. I didn’t drink bourbon back then, and I had no idea what to get so my dad took to the interwebs. He began researching and found the phone number for one of the other family ranches in Texas. He called over there and they referred him to another guy in the accounting office who said with total certainty that John’s preferred bourbon is Buffalo Trace, which, as it turned out, was easy to find and inexpensive.

So, my dad brought some Buffalo Trace down for the wedding and gave it to John. My dad was quite pleased that he had found John’s favorite bourbon. The day after the wedding, we had a great time sitting around the main house drinking bourbon with our parents, John and his wife, and the ranch manager and his wife (who was also our photographer). After a couple of glasses, John remarked that this bourbon is pretty good, and my dad was, of course, surprised. It turns out that John had never heard of Buffalo Trace before, but we all agreed that it was pretty good, and we’ve been drinking it ever since.

UPDATE: I just googled Weller Bourbon, and it turns out that it is now bottled by the Buffalo Trace Distillery. Maybe that solves the mystery as to why the accountant was so certain that John drinks Buffalo Trace. We’ll have to do a taste test comparison!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner: The Ultimate Leftover Sandwich

The last of my Thanksgiving favorites - the leftovers sandwich. Andrew had this sandwich at a bakery on Bainbridge Island the day after Thanksgiving many years ago. Ever since, it is our family tradition on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Loaf of High Quality Fresh Bread, sliced
Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey
The most decadent Brie Cheese you can get your hands on, sliced
Mango Chutney
Mixed Baby Greens

Serve with a green salad, leftover sweet potatoes and stuffing and a generously poured mimosa. Yum!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner: The Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin pie on left

We can’t have a Thanksgiving dinner at our house without the grand finale – the pumpkin pie. I’ve never been much of a pumpkin pie person. I find that often pumpkin pie is kind of boring and soggy, but when I tried Rosie’s mom’s, it changed pumpkin pie for me. I love this recipe because it is rich and creamy and the apricot jam gives it a nice kick. The crust calls for whipping cream instead of water. I use canned pumpkin because according to the folks at America’s Test Kitchen, most people can’t distinguish between fresh and canned pumpkin once it is baked in a pie. This can be made one day ahead.

The Ultimate Pumpkin Pie 
(there sure are a lot of ultimates in Thanksgiving recipes)
Adapted from a Bon Appétit recipe, but I’m not sure what month or year

1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
½ cup powdered sugar
½ (1 stick) chilled butter, cut into pieces
3 tablespoons whipping cream

¾ cup sugar
1 tablespoon packed golden brown sugar
1 tablespoon corn starch
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoons ground ginger
¼ teaspoon (generous) salt
1 16-ounce can solid pack pumpkin
¾ cup whipping cream
½ cup sour cream
3 large eggs, beaten to blend
¼ cup apricot preserves

For crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Blend first 3 ingredients in processor until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add cream and process until moist clumps form. Gather dough into a ball; flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic; chill 15 minutes.

Roll out dough on floured surface to 14-inch round. Transfer dough to 9-inch glass pie dish. Trim overhang to 1 inch. Fold overhang under. Make cut in crust edge at ½ inch intervals. Bend alternate edge pieces inward. Freeze 15 minutes.

Line crust with foil, pressing firmly. Bake until sides are set, about 10 minutes. Remove foil. Bake crust until pale brown, about 10 minutes more. Reduce oven to 325 degrees.

Spread preserves over bottom of crust; pour in filling. Bake until filling puffs at edges and center is almost set, about 55 minutes. Cool on rack. Cover; chill until cold.

For Filling:
Using whisk, mix first 6 ingredients in bowl until no lumps remain. Blend in pumpkin, whipping cream, sour cream and eggs.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I laughed when I saw this slide show on to test your gaybardar. A few weeks ago, we wanted to grab a quick drink before our dinner reservations. We stopped in for a drink at a new bar (well, I don’t really know how new it is because we don’t stroll around downtown very often anymore, but it was new to us).

After we had ordered and been served, we noticed that this is a gay bar. We took note so we can bring Andrew’s brother there in December when he’s visiting. We’ve promised him that Santa Fe is crawling with the gays, and we don’t want to disappoint. We are one of the gayest cities in America after all!

There was a family of touristos sitting near the door. From what we could tell, it was a woman and her husband and the woman’s parents. They were drinking chocolate martinis and talking loudly about the Simpsons and Glenn Close in Damages. About a half hour after we sat down, the family realized that they were at a gay bar and were obviously totally embarrassed. They high tailed it out of there pretty fast.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner: The Stuffing

I love Thanksgiving stuffing and have tried many recipes over the years, but my favorite is from the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, which Andrew's dad introduced me to. How can you not love a cookbook with a cover like this:

We don’t actually stuff our stuffing, but it is still awesome. It’s packed full of good stuff like dried apricots, slivered almonds, pork sausage and Grand Marnier!

Grand Marnier Apricot Stuffing
Adapted from the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook

1 cup diced dried apricots
1 ½ cups Grand Marnier
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups coarsely chopped celery
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 pound bulk pork sausage
1 pound herb stuffing mix (I use a box or bag from the coop or Whole Foods)
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cups homemade chicken stock
½ teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Place the apricots and 1 cup of Grand Marnier in small saucepan. Heat to boiling. Remove from the heat and set aside. Melt ½ cup of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the celery and onion and sauté for 10 minutes. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Cook the pork sausage in the same skillet, crumbling with a fork, until it is no longer pink. Remove from the heat and add to the celery/onion mixture. Add the stuffing mix, apricots with liquid and almonds. Heat the remaining ½ cup butter and the stock in a small saucepan just until the butter melts. Pour over the stuffing mixture and add the remaining ½ cup Grand Marnier. Stir well to moisten the stuffing. Season with the thyme and salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake stuffing, covered, 45 minutes.  Uncover and bake until cooked through and beginning to brown on top, about 20 minutes longer.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Princeton 55ers

Blaine and his grandson.
Our families and closest friends live across the country, and while I do love our friends in New Mexico, it can feel a little lonely sometimes. For me, it’s so comforting to be with people who have known me for years and years through different parts of my life. That will come eventually with our friends in New Mexico, I hope, but in the meantime, I feel so honored that we’ve been welcomed into a group of lifelong friends who’ve known each other for decades.

Our friend Blaine graduated from Princeton in 1955, and every year his college roommates come out to New Mexico for a rafting trip. They’ve been doing the rafting trip for plus or minus 13 years and have rafted many of the great rivers of the Southwest. The Princeton trip also includes good friends of Blaine’s that he has met over the years rafting, and the 55ers always have family members – wives, kids, grandkids – along too. There are about 10 people who go every year, and last summer we were 30. We ranged in age from 13 to 87!

This was the year that Blaine's wife got us all matching t-shirts in the Princeton colors.

We were lucky enough to be invited on the Princeton trip for the first time a few years ago, and it is so much fun to spend a weekend on the river with this special group of people that has been doing it for years. It’s like a rafting family.

Hanging out in the river drinking beer after a day on the river.
We missed the Princeton trip this summer because of work, but there was a reunion this week. One of the 55ers passed away last year after a battle with cancer, and his wife had never met all of the rafting people. She came out to New Mexico this week to meet everyone and hear rafting stories and share a wonderful meal. (One of the best parts of rafting with Blaine is that he is an amazing cook, and we eat incredible gourmet food on the river.)

Until next summer!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Thanksgiving Turkey

Dog girls are always so attentive when it's time to carve the turkey!

The first year that Andrew and I spent Thanksgiving together, we house sat for some friends in Taos. I had spent weeks planning the menu and gathering all of the ingredients. We headed to Taos with no less than three big coolers filled with food.

When we arrived on Wednesday night, Andrew spent three hours cleaning the oven in preparation for the next day (our friends had warned us that the last time they used it, something had spilled and that we would probably want to clean it out first). If you’ve cleaned an oven, you know how gross it is. The next morning, he got up and finished cleaning the oven so we could start baking.

After trying to pre-heat the oven, we quickly discovered that the oven didn’t actually work. It was about 11:00 am on Thanksgiving morning in Taos, and we had a ridiculously expensive fresh turkey that needed cooking. Ack!

After all of the preparations we had done, there was no way we were going to abandon our plan. Andrew quickly got on the phone with his relatives in Memphis, and his grandmother advised that we could cook our turkey on a charcoal grill. Luckily, our friends had a big grill so we headed to town and bought all of the charcoal we could find at the gas stations that were open. I think we ended up with three or four small bags.

It was a lot of fun maneuvering that huge turkey on the grill, and even more fun because it turned out just fine. The pumpkin pie tasted a little like charcoal, but it was an awesome Thanksgiving.

It turned out pretty good, don't you think?
We’ve refined our turkey cooking over the years, and I think we have a pretty good recipe now. I use the Ultimate Turkey recipe from the November 2005 Bon Appétit as my base recipe.

Tips that I follow from this issue include:
  • Buy a fresh turkey – frozen turkeys won’t be nearly as juicy. All of that water you see when you defrost a turkey used to be in the bird.
  • Buy organic – without a doubt it will taste better. Our coop offers a variety of local turkeys so we’ve tried several types over the years. I like the gamier tasting ones.
  • Butter makes everything better – Amen!
  • Baste – don’t underestimate its value in keeping your bird moist.
  • Let the bird brown – the previous two tips will keep it moist. Don’t be afraid to let it be a nice chestnut brown.
The tips that I’ve added on my own are:
  • Use homemade chicken broth for basting - It’s super easy and tastes way way better. It’s definitely worth it! You can make your broth now and freeze it so it is all ready for Thanksgiving.
  • Set your turkey out on the counter for a few hours before you put it in the oven to get it to room temperature.
  • Use thick, good quality bacon strips to keep your bird moist.  As a bonus, you can snack on them while the turkey is being carved.

The Ultimate Turkey
8 servings
adapted from Bon Appétit, November 2005

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature, divided
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme plus 15 fresh thyme sprigs
2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon plus 5 large fresh tarragon sprigs
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary plus 5 fresh rosemary sprigs
2 teaspoons minced fresh sage plus 5 fresh sage sprigs

1 14- to 16- pound turkey
12-15 pieces thick bacon

4 cups homemade chicken broth, divided

Mix ½ cup butter and all minced herbs in small bowl; season with salt and pepper.

Set rack at lowest position in oven and preheat to 425 degrees. Rinse turkey inside and out; pat dry. Starting at the neck end, slide your hand between the skin and breast meat to loosen the skin. Rub 4 tablespoons herbed butter over breast meat under the skin. Place turkey on rack set in large roasting pan. Sprinkle main cavity generously with salt and pepper. Place 4 tablespoons plain butter and all fresh herb sprigs in main cavity. Tuck wing tips under. Tie legs together loosely. Rub remaining herb butter over outside of turkey. Sprinkle turkey generously with salt and pepper. Place bacon strips over the legs, wing tips and breast.

Place turkey in oven and roast 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Roast turkey 30 minutes; pour 1 cup broth over and add 1 tablespoon remaining plain butter to roasting pan. Roast turkey 30 minutes; baste with pan juices, then pour 1 cup broth over and add 1 tablespoon butter to pan. Cover turkey loosely with foil. Roast until thermometer inserted into thickest part of the thigh registers 175 degrees, basting with pan juices and adding 1 cup of broth and 1 tablespoon butter to pan every 45 minutes, about 1 hour 45 minutes longer. Transfer turkey to platter; let stand 30 minutes (internal temp will rise 5 to 10 degrees).

Strain pan juices into bowl; and if desired, they can be used to create the gravy.
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