Monday, December 28, 2009

All you want is one more Saturday

With my trip to Herkimer for Christmas revelry, the holidays for me have pretty much ended. And it's surprising how quickly this actually happened. It feels like yesterday Darren and I were at my grandparents' house in Richfield Springs, along with my parents, brother and aunt, enjoying some holiday ham, deviled eggs, French slaw (I'd never heard of this before but found it wildly delicious), green bean casserole (much to Darren's delight), seafood Newburg (with fresh shrimp and lobster) and two kinds of pie; opening presents; and collapsing into a heap watching the "Claymation Christmas" DVD I'd given my grandparents. It's with a hint of nostalgia now that I look back on those few days we had together without the stresses of work and household obligations hanging over our heads.

Even traveling was pretty unstressful. It took us about four hours each way, which pleasantly surprised me, because I was certain we'd catch tons of holiday traffic on the way home. The weather even cooperated, and much of the snow we'd gotten in Dedham had melted by the time we got back home.

The holidays were filled with the very things I love about them: the warm feelings sitting by the fire, decorating the tree, listening to holiday-themed music, baking delicious treats, sharing them with friends and family, choosing just the right gifts and seeing the joy on people's faces when they receive them. The one hangup I'm left with is that Christmas in my family is always a huge marathon of gifts. This year was the first year I truly felt I received too many. Seriously, I don't need this much stuff! I received at least two sets of winter wear (scarves, gloves, hats, etc.), and I already have one set from last year that I still use regularly! Darren also received gobs of clothing he already has lots of. Each post-Christmas period before the new year becomes a time of cleaning house: assessing the damage of this year's marathon and going through all the old stuff we have to see what we can get rid of. That stuff gets either thrown out or donated to the Red Cross, Salvation Army or other charity. It's not that I'm ungrateful for the bounty of gifts I receive from relatives each year — quite the contrary — it's just too much, and I'd rather share the bounty with someone less fortunate who can actually use this stuff than have it sit on a shelf, in a closet or in a dresser drawer, forgotten for all eternity, or at least until the next time I go through my stuff, which is about twice a year. Even more stressful for me than choosing just the right gifts for everyone and having them ready for Christmas is finding good ways to get rid of all the old stuff I don't need during my post-holiday clean-out. I've sort of taken Darren under my wing, since before we started dating, he was a notorious pack rat, and still is to an extent.

Still, I've been able to enjoy the gifts I received that I can actually use: a 1-terabyte external hard drive from Dad and Mike, a new lunch bag my mom included in my stocking and the pasta-making attachments Darren got me for my KitchenAid professional-grade stand mixer he got me last year. I got to work last night making some whole-wheat pasta, some of which I left in the fridge for Darren to make for his lunch today.

And so now that the whirlwind feelings, sights, sounds and smells that come with the holidays have gone, all that's left is the heartbreaking knowledge that at least 2 1/2 months of winter (and the potential for torrential snowstorms) remain, with no holidays to look forward to in the interim. Time to really hunker down and settle in to the daily (indoor) grind of work and household routine until the snow melts, the temperatures rise, the leaves reappear on the trees and the prospect of outdoor activities returns. After the new year, which I don't foresee being all that exciting, besides a party I may or may not attend, this is all I have to look forward to. Maybe some fun knitting will keep me occupied through the winter doldrums. Wish me luck!

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Monday, December 21, 2009

I wanna relive all my adolescent dreams

It's back for a short work week after a long snowstorm that blanketed Boston with about eight inches of snow. I was invited to a holiday party at Elyse and Mike's in Somerville, but unfortunately, the weather report scared me away. It didn't actually start really coming down until much later Saturday evening, but better safe than sorry, I suppose. Still, I really would have loved to be there! Darren and I had a little party of our own; we hunkered down in our little townhouse, played "Uno" and watched the last two episodes of this season of "Dexter." I also got to finish my gift for the company Yankee swap, scheduled for Wednesday afternoon at 4. It looks great and especially comfy and warm. I hope whoever gets it really likes it!

I've created a playlist in iTunes of four Christmas albums to bring to Herkimer when Darren and I head over on Wednesday evening for four days of celebration. It combines some classic stuff from Christmases past, as well as less -familiar tunes:
Alvin & the Chipmunks — "Christmas with the Chipmunks"
Frank Sinatra — "The Christmas Collection"
"O' Holy Night" (collection of instrumental Christmas songs)
Amy Grant — "The Christmas Album"
I might throw in Mariah Carey's Christmas album just for kicks — it's Darren's favorite.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Everyone loves a situation

The tinsel's out, the stockings have been hung on the windowsill with care, and our little tree has made its yearly appearance, decked out in all its glory with lights and some new ornaments I received for my 24th birthday last Saturday. It's officially the holidays, and though the massive snow that occurred across New England a couple weeks ago has since melted (much to my pleasure), the temperature has not relented in demonstrating its own holiday spirit: chilliness and utterly icy winds.

I'm not complaining, though. At least the roads are clear and inside it's warm and toasty. We took my new car last weekend to my parents' house in Herkimer to show them for the first time, as well as to celebrate the day of both my and my grandfather's birth (I was born on his 60th birthday). Now, I'm not much of a birthday person, probably because I'm so used to celebrating it both so close to Christmas and on the same day as a member of my family. And this year, things were a little more dysfunctional than usual around the family table. What I thought would be a nice, cozy weekend getaway to celebrate my birthday turned into a mess of my parents arguing over the littlest things, my mom freaking out about everything being perfect, my dad yelling at my mom for freaking out, my grandfather making ignorant and bordering-on-racist comments (which made me extremely uncomfortable), my grandmother telling me and Darren we were being forced to attend church the following day, and my aunt being oblivious to it all and going on talking about God-knows-what above the clamor. Now, I'm sure this is typical with other people's families around the holidays, especially when they're all forced to gather together around the same table, but for me, it was more than I could handle. Usually, we all get along (for the most part) and are able to enjoy a nice get-together in the comfort of a warm and loving home. The addition of several rounds of booze for my grandmother, of course, helps keep things at their calmest. But this just frustrated me to no end, on my birthday, no less!

"Can we please be civil today, on my birthday ... please?!" I begged, but of course, everyone was talking over everyone else, so no one heard me. I felt most bad for Darren, who had to sit through it all and watch the spectacle right before his eyes.

I can only imagine what Christmas will be like at my grandparents' house this year. We're heading over on the evening of Dec. 23, as I'm on break from work from the 24th till Monday the 28th. Darren, the lucky bum, is off until Jan. 4, as his company shuts down completely during the holidays. I can only wish that things won't be as dysfunctional as they were on my birthday, but with the same cast of characters in attendance (with the addition of my brother, who will most likely steal the entire show, as he lives in Nashville and rarely gets the chance to visit the Northeast), it should certainly be a crazy extra-long weekend ... I'll let you know if Darren and I survive!

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

A thousand years in one piece of silver

And a successful, relaxing and utterly enjoyable Thanksgiving it was! For the first time, Darren and I cooked an entire Thanksgiving feast and spent the rest of the day eating it and enjoying each other's company.

Our menu included, of course, turkey, more specifically a more than 13.5-pound bird I got pretty cheap at Stop & Shop. Those of you who will only buy fresh turkeys, heed the wise words of Alton Brown, who contests frozen birds are actually "fresher" than "fresh" birds, because while fresh (read: unfrozen) birds were killed earlier, frozen birds are flash-frozen, so when they're thawed, it's as if they were killed only a day or two ago, whereas "fresh" birds are killed and then shipped around the country to the grocery store, thereby losing its freshness with each hour it sits in a truck or in a store. Of course, if you buy your turkey from a local farm, that's the freshest you'll get, though you'll certainly pay more for it as opposed to a frozen turkey like I got. Unlike Alton Brown, however, I did not brine my bird, though some of my coworkers did, and they reported resoundingly positive results. The turkey we made came out with a nice crisp skin outside and a moist inside, and though my vegetarianism forbade me from eating any, Darren sure liked it, and he's been feeding off the leftovers ever since!

We also made a vegetarian bread stuffing, with bread taken from a loaf I baked up a couple weeks ago in our breadmaker, cubed it and stored it in the freezer. Combined with caramelized onions, carrots, celery and vegetable stock, it made a great main course for me.

Something I never really had regularly at Thanksgiving (I remember having it a couple times, but not too often) but was key to a perfect turkey-day meal in Darren's eyes was green-bean casserole. Naturally, his favorite part of the dish wasn't the beans baked in cream-of-mushroom soup, rather the crispy fried onions on top. I never used to like them very much, but I found myself eating them right out of the can this time! The dish itself turned out great, and it wasn't long before those leftovers were history.

Rounding out the meal were fresh-baked rolls (the dough made from scratch in the breadmaker) and corn, with from-scratch pumpkin pie for dessert. The rolls were surprisingly addicting, and I even baked up another batch a couple days later, after we'd completely annihilated the first.

Below, the glorious results of our three-hour cooking spree.

A note on the pie: I had put tin foil on the edges of the crust so it wouldn't burn, but some of the foil ended up sinking into the filling as it baked, giving it the look as if someone had scooped some out before serving! No matter — it was delicious anyway.

The roll on the bottom-left was Darren's own creation: a Mickey Mouse roll.

Green bean casserole — a staple at Darren's sister's house (his favorite part has always been the crispy fried onions on top) that never usually made the menu in my family. Thanksgiving holier-than-thous may balk, but I think this is a dish that will be making repeat visits to my Thanksgiving table for years to come.

The feast, showcasing the delightfully cooked turkey, of which I'm especially proud. I may not eat meat, but I'm pretty proud of my ability to cook it!

It wasn't a holiday filled with family and travel, but it sure felt good knowing we didn't have to drive anywhere or pack our bags and sleep in foreign beds in rooms I used to live in but are now practically alien to me. If you've never hosted a Thanksgiving at your own home — whether with family or just a small affair — I suggest you give it a try. You'll be amazed how good it feels to not have to load up the car, drive for hours and sit interminably in holiday traffic.

The rest of the extra-long weekend we could spend at home, enjoying the freedom of no work and the ability to take care of household chores while avoiding the holiday shopping masses at all costs. We even got to the gym on Sunday; it was great to be able to run without reams of people beside you, yukking and sweating up the place. I was actually surprised there weren't more exercisers there, eager to work off the gluttony of the holiday. We later discovered they were holding off until yesterday, Monday, usually the highest-trafficked evening of the week at our gym (and probably at most other gyms, too). I suspect it's because so many people allow themselves to "go wild" over the weekend, and a Monday workout is their way of making up for it. Instead of church, this is their weekly atonement for the sin of gluttony.

So, it's back to work in full force. For me, it's been kind of a relief, because most of the projects I've been involved with are coming to a close. There's always a short lull between the time projects end and new ones start up. Instead of slacking, though, I'm busy tying up loose ends and preparing myself for what lies ahead. I'm excited for the new projects I'll be working on in full force soon, and I'm proud of the work we completed on the ones I just finished.

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