The Tenth Circle of Hell

We finally finished packing up our house yesterday. Remind me never to live in a four bedroom house again. Also remind me that just because I see something free on the curb does not mean I should take it home and find a use for it (see Dumpster Diving in Deltona, Parts 1 and 2). This week we left our own pile mountain of junk treasures out in front of our house. Actually, we did it multiple times, and each time the stuff, whether it was a duct-tape repaired beach umbrella or a large rubbermaid tub full of dirty old scratchy towels, it was all gone within hours, if not minutes. If you haven’t lived in Deltona, it’s hard to imagine, but there was very little left at the end for the garbage man. Which I applaud, because that means less of it goes to the landfill. Still, sometimes I wonder if we should all stop endlessly passing the junk around. Sorry I neglected to take a photo of the mountain of trash, but you didn’t really want to see it anyway, and I definitely don’t want to see it again.

Moving is the worst. I hate it with a fierce passion. But paradoxically, the longer you go between moves, the worse it is to move when you finally do move. I guess the only real solution to that is to never move at all. Maybe that will happen to me someday. It could happen. I hope it does.

I did spend some time walking around the house and crying once it was all empty. It’s weird. I never particularly wished to move to Florida, and while it was a very nice house, I was never terribly attached to it. In fact, this is where I decided that I absolutely hate living in the suburbs. Living in a housing development with an HOA gives me a special kind of desperate angst. It’s like all my deepest fears and suspicions are incarnated in the landscape. And the fact that it all looks so deceptively, devastatingly innocuous, so . . . pretty, makes it all the more ominous. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Because there’s this:

“Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.”

And this too:

“Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small,
Then we can never get away from the sprawl,
Living in the sprawl,
Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains,
And there’s no end in sight,
I need the darkness someone please cut the lights.”

Those are lyrics that have run through my head so many times as I sat on my manicured lawn looking down the rows of nice little identical houses. So it was hard to explain to myself my sudden attachment to the house just as we were leaving and I had finally finished emptying it out of all my ridiculous belongings. I guess it was partly that I was saying goodbye to all the things that have happened to me in that house–these three years of our lives that have passed here. Axa was just seven years old when we moved here. I was a stay-at-home mom. We were staunch Mormons. We’d spent the previous year living in Tunisia, and the future was hazy. It all seems like forever ago. And yet, the time has passed almost in the blink of an eye.

I think one of the things that makes moving so emotional for me is that it sets two powerful impulses against each other–my fear of change, and my simultaneously rabid craving for it. Anything could happen in the future, especially if the future is going to happen somewhere new and strange. It’s terrifying. And exhilarating. And it’s coming at me like a steam-roller.

So anyway. Enough amateur psychology. My socially aware self realizes that my privilege is talking here. First world problems, and all that. In any case, even though it was rough, I’m happy that we’re done packing up the house.  For the next several weeks I’ll be staying at a cute little bed and breakfast in Deland, run by an English couple. Here’s my home sweet home for the next few weeks:

It’s a classic old Florida house, with a big wrap-around porch (complete with rocking chairs and a swing) and wavy glass windows. I had my first yummy English breakfast this morning, and here’s my cute little room, which is on the bottom floor on the left in the photo above. You can see my teddy bear is already getting cozy.

Our Family Christmas Letter (+ a Destination Change)

If you are Facebook friends with me or on our woefully outdated Christmas email list, this may be the second or third time you’ve seen this. But if you missed it, here’s 2014 in a nutshell:

Dear friends and family,

It’s been another year in Florida. Probably the most exciting thing we did was get out and actually see some Florida landmarks. At the beginning of the year we visited St. Augustine, which locals like to call the oldest city in the U.S, although Wikipedia uses rather more adjectives to define it precisely as “the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement in the Continental United States.” Whatever its exact claim to fame, St. Augustine is atmospheric, in a Pirates of the Caribbean sort of way. Our first stop when we got there was the Pirate Museum, which boasts a creepy life-sized talking Blackbeard head, as well as a variety of real-life artifacts recovered from sunken pirate vessels off the coast of Florida. Our trip also included a visit to St. Augustine’s main landmark, the Castillo de San Marcos, which isn’t actually a castle, but an impressive fort built out of the native coquina stone, with seashells embedded in it. The highlight of our fort visit was watching the cannon being fired by a bunch of guys in red stockings and tri-cornered hats.
Firing the Cannon
The 4th of July found us in Miami, where we ate amazing ceviche while watching the World Cup with a large, noisy crowd of various Latin American nationalities. On the way home, we popped into the Everglades, which we experienced unforgettably via airboat. The mangrove-lined waterways had a sort of dramatic, unearthly beauty, at least until the still air and reflective water were shattered by the deafening roar and roiling wake of our airboat. We’re still nursing some environmental guilt over that.
    Airboat in the Everglades
Axa and Raj had another great year with Irish Dance, culminating in going to the Oireachtas (the big regional competition) with their team.
Irish Dance
Sarah’s still doing marketing at work, and has developed an obsession with Doctor Who, which has spilled over to the rest of the family in the form of a homeschool history class based on the Doctor’s travels in time and space, and a Whovian Halloween. Tony is still doing marketing from home, as well as managing the homeschooling. He also bought a massage table, and has become quite an accomplished masseuse (yet another reason to come visit us).
Whovian Halloween
Actually, if you want to visit us here, you’ll have to make it soon, since we’ve already begun packing up our house. Yes, the time has come to say goodbye to Florida. Our original plan was to move to a Greek island and start a commune. However, after our prospective co-communists eventually all bailed on us (you know who you are, and how much we’ll miss living on a commune with you!) we decided to try a different plan: Amsterdam! We leave in March. Sarah will keep working remotely for her company, and Tony is planning to do a Master’s program at VU University in Amsterdam. We are excited to get back on the other side of the Atlantic, and start a new international adventure, not to mention ditch our car and start biking everywhere like true Amsterdammers.
Tony&Sarah
We hope it’s been a great year for you, and that next year will be even better. Let us know what you’ve been up to, and have a wonderful new year!
Love,
Tony, Sarah, Axa & Raj

New Year’s Eve, Blooper Reel Edition

After a lovely week with family in California, I’m pulling a solo couple of weeks again, while Tony and the kids spend some more laid-back grandparent time. Fortunately, it’s not summer this time around, so the lawn looks to be in a fairly dormant state (which for Florida means bright green still, but not shooting up like a jungle). So I don’t think I’ll have to mow it, which is good, because I hate mowing the lawn, it takes me forever, and I’m terrible at it. I may trim the bushes, which I actually enjoy, and which by itself goes a long way toward preventing our house from turning into The Haunted Mansion.

I haven’t been quite as successful in other areas. For example, I have been home exactly three days, and I am 0 for 3 when it comes to breakfast. The first day I made my regular breakfast (oatmeal smoothie), but left it in the blender and realized halfway to work (at which point I would have been an hour late for work if I’d turned back) that I’d forgotten it. At least I remembered my laptop, which I have forgotten before, inspiring Tony to make me this sign and tape it on the inside of our front door:

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I stuck the unused breakfast in the fridge when I got home, and then enterprisingly took it to work the next day, realizing only belatedly that I should have smelled it first. When I opened it to take a swig, I was assaulted by the heady aroma of highly fermented milk. And not fermented in a trendy, health-food way either. More like a milk-left-out-on-the-counter-for-ten-hours-even-if-it’s-amond-milk-spoils kind of way. I know, I know. Cue food safety lecture.

Today I actually made it out the door with my (freshly made) breakfast smoothie. Precariously balancing my lunch bento, my green lunch smoothie (OK, I’m into smoothies), and my breakfast smoothie, I turned to responsibly lock the door, recalling that there would be nobody in the house all day. The lock is a little sticky, so turning the key requires some force. Unfortunately, the force required sent my breakfast smoothie tumbling to the ground, where the plastic blender bullet bottle shattered, spilling breakfast smoothie all over my front porch, my welcome mat, my shoes, and my feet.

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As you can see, my first thought was that I should take a foot selfie so I could at least get something out of the situation by blogging about it. Since I was now balancing only my lunch smoothie and lunch bento, I was able to easily re-open the front door. I removed my shoes and cleaned off the worst of the smoothie with a rag, but eventually determined it would be best to reserve the shoes for a more thorough cleaning at my leisure. Fortunately, seven wet wipes later, I was able to salvage my tights, which was good, since I knew that all my other black tights and leggings were dirty, so changing would have required me to change my entire outfit. (Maybe it’s time to do some laundry?) I put on another pair of shoes, and headed back out the door. I really need to stop doing this, because it resulted in my third straight day eating kit-kats out of the office candy jar for breakfast. Don’t tell my kids.

With only a slight twinge of guilt, I left the puddle of slowly congealing smoothie on the porch. Nobody is likely to visit me and see it while I’m gone today anyway. By the time I pulled out of the driveway on my way to work, I was, of course, running rather late. So when I glanced behind me and saw that my garbage can (which I had forgotten to put out Monday morning) had been knocked over in the night, probably by a black bear, a gang of rabid raccoons, or a conglomeration of tortoises, armadillos, and opossums (thank you, Florida!), I just left it.

Tony, I love and appreciate you for many things, among which two of the more minor, but very present in my mind today, are that you always remember to put out the garbage, and that you spoil me by making me breakfast.

But not everything is bleak. The breakfast smoothie disaster is now completely cleaned up, and the garbage can is upright with its contents replaced, hopefully to be put out and emptied (by waste management, not the local wildlife) this coming Monday. And this is me, ringing in the new year with seared scallops in white wine sauce (with a little more white wine on the side for good measure), quinoa, green bean salad, bruschetta with Trader Joe’s artichoke tapenade, and Battlestar Galactica.

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I’m actually rocking this whole living alone thing. Happy New Year to all, and to all a good night!

Thanksgiving in Florida, 2014

We’re kind of foodies at our house, so Thanksgiving is generally a gala affair. (See Last Year’s Menu and the Even More Dramatic Year Before) However, I’ve noticed that since I started working full time, I have less and less of a desire to spend my entire day off cooking when it’s a holiday. Go figure. Tony has even less of a desire to cook a big Thanksgiving, possibly due to the fact that nearly all of the everyday cooking at our house currently falls to him.

So this year we’ve decided to pare down Thanksgiving a bit. No, make that a lot. In fact, I’m embarrassed to even say what we’re contemplating, nay have actually determined to do. Suffice it to say that our plans for Thanksgiving do not involve either brining the turkey, wrapping it in bacon, cooking it upside down, or even stuffing it. In fact, they don’t involve a turkey at all. Are you ready for it? We’re going to pick up a rotisserie chicken. It was Tony’s idea, since I wouldn’t have been able to bear coming up with such an travesty. However, once he brought it up and I weighed the merits of a rotisserie chicken against the hours of preparation and the reality of turkey leftovers in the freezer for the next several months, I could see he had a point.

But his next idea was the real bombshell: Stovetop stuffing. I was not amused. Stovetop stuffing is too far even for me. I think he was mainly attracted by the ease of preparation, but he claimed (out loud!) that he actually prefers it to homemade stuffing. I was offended. Was he referring to the Leek and Wild Mushroom Stuffing I made last year? Or the  Apple, Sausage & Parsnip Stuffing the year before? Only when I promised to make a completely normal and unadventurous stuffing this year (and reminded him that I’d already consented to rotisserie chicken) did he relent and agree to the compromise.

So I am passing over recipes like Spinach, Fennel, and Sausage Stuffing with Toasted Brioche, Rustic Bread Stuffing with Red Mustard Greens, Currants, and Pine Nuts, and Masa Cornbread Stuffing with Chiles with many a sigh and backward glance. Instead, I have chosen the irreproachable “Simple is Best” Dressing, featuring those old staples of Thanksgiving and Simon & Garfunkel, parsley, sage, rosemary and time. Per the reviews on Epicurious (which one should always, always read, for entertainment value as well as culinary wisdom), I’ll double the herbs and add more broth, especially since I’ll probably sub in sourdough bread if I can get away with it under the nose of Tony, the Thanksgiving Grinch.

High on Axa’s list of important foods for Thanksgiving dinner is pumpkin pie. In fact, she’s been asking if we could have pumpkin pie this year since early October. Pumpkin pie is not my favorite thing, but since it doesn’t have a top crust, it is a candidate for my secret weapon/pie crust dodge (aka the easiest French Tart Crust recipe I have ever encountered). She’s looking forward to making it from an actual pumpkin, so there’s no cutting corners there. I am thinking of using this recipe, which includes white pepper, since I love using pepper in desserts and getting away with it. We fell in love with white pepper when we discovered it in Italy, and started putting it in everything. Everything was better with white pepper, until Tony put it in the breakfast oatmeal one morning. It took me awhile to figure out what the weird taste was, but I could barely choke down my oatmeal. We’ll have whipped cream (NOT the kind from a can) with the pie.

Pineapple bacon wraps are a Bringhurst family tradition. We used to make them for Christmas Eve, but since we’re so often out of town at Christmastime, we make them for Thanksgiving now. They are as easy as they sound–just slices (or half-slices) of bacon wrapped around chunks of pineapple. I think we sometimes might have used canned pineapple growing up, but we always get a fresh pineapple now. Tony learned how to efficiently cut up a pineapple on his mission in the Philippines. Here’s Benjamin managing to burn the pineapple bacon wraps when we invited him to Thanksgiving at BYU eight or nine years ago. No, that’s not a bad quality photo. It’s the smoke in the air.

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True to form, Tony suggested that we just buy rolls this year, and get berry jam instead of making cranberry sauce. So no recipes to post for that. And our final menu item is roasted veggies, which we usually cook without a recipe, and are somewhere along these lines. And that’s it; the entire contents of our Thanksgiving spread this year.

What are you planning for Thanksgiving? Is your turkey already marinating? Will you be making homemade rolls, mashed potatoes from scratch, and fourteen kinds of pies? Or will you choose the quick and easy path as Vader did? Remember,

We Got Our Christmas Letter Out Before Christmas This Year!

Barely.

Special Note: I know that a lot of you are also on our mailing list (I mean email, of course; you didn’t think we were organized enough to actually mail something out, did you?). I apologize for the duplication and will eventually be able to bring myself to forgive you if our letter is not interesting enough to read twice. For those who are not on our email list of people who like us and would like to be (if such exist), it is not because we don’t love you. Give me your email, and I will add you.

Dear Friends, Family and other Special People,

It’s been one of those years where nothing happens. No moving, no international adventures, no exotic new pets, literally nothing, people. You know when you’re actually considering mentioning the fact that you’ve instituted a weekly family sushi night in your Christmas letter that it’s been a truly, madly, deeply boring year.

Still, we’ll see what we can dredge up other than the fact that we’re all still alive, and (yes) still living in Florida. Although it was already news last year that we were setting a record for longest time living in one place since we got married. That means that by now we’ve been living in Florida for about five decades in Familia years. During that time, we’ve managed to make it to three out of four Disney World theme parks, thanks to the kind intervention of the Grandparents, who took us to the Magic Kingdom when they came out for Axa’s baptism in February. It was a lovely baptism, and Axa is now officially Mormon. We’re not sure how our little girl grew up so fast.

Early in the year, we added two darling little sugar glider girls to our family, which now consists of as many sugar gliders as people. Following the Lord of the Rings theme, we named them Galadriel and Nimrodel, appropriately shortened to Gala and Nim, to match their diminutive stature. And really, they only answer reliably to the same name as our other sugar gliders: “do you want a yummy?”

Axa and Raj both started Irish Dance (think Riverdance), and participated in their first Feis (Irish Dance competition), garnering medals, experience, and confidence. We made it out of Florida briefly in July for a Familia Family reunion in Angel’s Camp, California, where we participated in such exciting activities as blackberry picking, water fights with the cousins, and exploring a cave discovered by gold-diggers.

Sarah recently landed a job as Marketing Coordinator for a small company in Palm Coast, and spends most of her time these days immersed in website design, SEO, and blogging (but not on her personal blog, alas!). Yes, I know you were dying to ask: the sugar gliders do go to work with her almost every day. Tony has achieved the level of Domestic God as a stay-at-home dad with a laundry, meal, and cleaning schedule that puts his predecessor to shame. So yeah, we’ve pretty much attained the coveted status of Typical Suburban Family.

Goals for next year: move to Europe, and get a puppy. In that order.
We hope you’ve had a wonderful year, and wish you all the best in the coming new year. Let us know what you’ve been up to lately, and if you want to escape the winter weather, our guest room is always open!

Love,

Sarah, Tony, Axa & Raj

(+ Merry, Pippin, Gala & Nim)
P.S. Yes, I know the photo formatting is really wonky, but fixing it would probably cause the subject line of this post to become untrue.

 

The Familia Family’s Very Late Christmas Letter

I realized that not all of my faithful blog readers are also Facebook friends or email connections. So lest you miss the delight of receiving our family Christmas letter, here it is, reproduced in full (and for those of you who’ve already read it twice and are wondering when I’m going to stop posting it . . . um, sorry):

Dear Family, Friends, and Random People Whose Emails May Have Been Accidentally Added to our Mailing List and are Thus Subjected to the Annual Honor of a Summary of our Life,

It seems like 2012 was an unusually tranquil year. Maybe it’s because we only moved once, and it wasn’t even internationally, just cross-country. Last year at this time found us in California, temporarily staying with family after returning home from more adventures abroad. In February we moved to Deltona, Florida, which is more or less a suburb of Orlando. Hilariously enough, we were written up once again in the local newspaper, just for moving here and being odd.


A dubious honor, to be sure, but we’ll take fame where we can get it. We have not yet made our pilgrimage to Disney World (we’re going next month, courtesy of Grammy and Pampa), but we’ve spent plenty of time at the beautiful beaches nearby and hiking in the lovely and fascinating Florida scrub habitat.


We haven’t seen any alligators yet either, but we’ve encountered manatees, snakes, anole lizards, cardinals, blue jays, gopher tortoises, frogs, toads, ibises, foxes, cranes, eagles, raccoons, and various other wildlife, much of it right in our backyard.


In addition, there have been a few nastier run-ins with things like scorpions, poisonous brown widow spiders, and huge flying palmetto bugs (in case you haven’t yet had the pleasure of their acquaintance, I’d describe them as cockroaches on steroids).


Despite the bugs, the heat, and the hurricanes, at eleven months we have now lived in this house longer than we’ve ever lived anywhere during our entire nine-year marriage. Hurrah for us (or hurrah for Florida, perhaps). Tony has a glamorous job working for The Nielsen Company’s Television Ratings Project. Highlights include getting bitten by a dog in the wilds of Ocala, going on an exotic trip to New Orleans, and meeting some of the more eccentric residents of Florida, like gun-toting survivalists and Star Wars geeks who make costumes for conventions. Sarah has fulfilled a long-cherished desire by acquiring an adorable pair of sugar gliders (yes, in Florida it’s legal to own just about any exotic pet you can think of).


Christened Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took, they go everywhere with her, ensconced in a discreet purse designed especially to accommodate them.


Casteluzzo Academy (aka homeschool) is flourishing, built on a foundation of the ever-overflowing book collection (we just bought another bookshelf last month) and supplemented by weekly trips to the library and the goat farm.


Axa keeps busy catching lizards, snakes, and toads and reading everything she can get her hands on about dinosaurs.


Raj envisions a future world in which robots do all our work for us, and he can usually be found toiling to make his dream a reality through the mediums of K’nex, legos, tinkertoys, cardboard, scotch tape, and miscellaneous recycled household items.


If you hunger for more details about our fascinating life, the links above will take you directly to Sarah’s blog, where you can also find a virtual tour of our house, complete 2012 book reviews, and other random delights. We wish you and yours a wonderful new year and good fortune and blessings of every sort.

Love,

Sarah, Tony, Axa & Raj

Christmas Tree: After

We incorrigibly insist upon cutting down our own Christmas tree, even when we’re living in climates not necessarily conducive to lush evergreen foliage. Such as southern California or Florida. So we duly went to the Christmas tree farm and hopped on the hayride to find our perfect tree.

The pickings were a little slim. Most of the trees were either under three feet tall or over twenty, giving the farm a sort of “Ents herding guinea pigs” look. The ones of moderate size were all, shall we say, eccentric. One tree was half green, half yellow. Another had a trunk that zig-zagged like a lightning bolt. Still another looked as if someone had been taking bites out of it.

After walking through row upon row of sorry stragglers (who’s scruffy looking?), I was feeling sorely tempted to throw in the towel and just settle for one of the already cut spruces or firs evidently trucked in from some far distant northern clime.

And then we saw it: one fairly decent looking tree. Needless to say, we made quick work of the sawing, and skipped the dusty hayride back, carrying our prize to the barn to be shaken, netted, and packed into our car (yep, it fit inside through the trunk instead of on top, and now we no longer need a “fresh spruce” air freshener).

Once we got it home and into the stand, we realized that very thin branches are characteristic of the quick-growing pines of Florida. Most of the ornaments had to be hung well in on the branches of the tree, so as to avoid the branch bending and dropping them to shatter on our tile floor. Fortunately, Florida pines are also obligingly sparse, so even ornaments hung near the trunk are perfectly visible. Even better, our tree decorating ensemble includes a dozen fake poinsettias, large enough to fill in even the most egregious gaps.

So without further ado, I give you our Christmas tree!

Stay tuned tomorrow for an intimate introduction to some of my favorite Christmas ornaments.

Thanksgiving Menu – Florida

It’s that time of year when I have an excuse to get the kitchen really messy. We have a family tradition of spending the whole of Thanksgiving Day cooking together. For normal everyday cooking I tend to make the same 20-or-so recipes over and over, although every time we move I change things up to reflect which ingredients are cheap and easy to find where we live. But for Thanksgiving, I like to try new recipes every year.

I’ve come a long way from our first Thanksgiving as a little family, in which my freshman sister Hannah arrived just in time to prevent me from sticking the turkey in the oven completely unseasoned and with the giblets still inside their plastic bag in one of the mysterious cavities.

Our most adventurous Thanksgiving was the year we had gone all-raw. It was weird how even in the unchangeable climate of San Diego I started to crave hot food. Especially the smell of food cooking. By the time Thanksgiving came around, we had compromised with ourselves and switched to being just vegetarian. We stuffed a pretty impressive pumpkin, and had some yummy mushroom gravy, but I can’t say it was the best Thanksgiving ever.

Now we’re back to being regular old omnivores, so our Thanksgiving choices are a little more extensive. For recipes, I turned, as usual, to my normal go-to source for recipes, Epicurious. Like any self-respecting foodie site (well at least any American one), they have an extensive section devoted to Thanksgiving. I had quite an enjoyable time clicking on their menus from different parts of the U.S. I’ve only lived in California, the Northwest, and now the South (although I’m told that Florida is not really The South), so it was interesting to see what is normal to eat in other places (rice stuffing anyone? oysters? what about Maple Gingerbread Layer Cake with Salted Maple Caramel Sauce?)  The coolest idea I found was stuffing the Turkey with Tamales. I would totally consider it if we were living back in California and awesome tamales were easy to find.

After an afternoon of serious deliberation (and before the list is pared down by Tony and his unerring sense of the [im]practicality of cooking a dozen different dishes on one day to feed a grand total of four people), I give you our Thanksgiving menu!

Antipasti

Pickled Okra . Yes, this might sound like kind of a weird recipe, but it was the only one off the “Southern” menu that sounded good to me. Plus, it’s supposed to be made beforehand, so it won’t be competing for oven space on the Big Day.

Pigs in a Blanket. I found a recipe for this in the Afternoon Tea Recipe Book I’ve been drooling over lately, and told my kids about eating it when I was a kid. Back then, we used vienna sausages for the pigs, and we thought it was so cool that they came in a package of seven. They were obviously a food tailor-made for our family. I don’t know if I could eat vienna sausages now without gagging, so I think we’ll just use regular sausage.

Primo

Heirloom Squash Farrotto. This one just sounded delicious, especially with the cumin yoghurt sauce. I don’t know what my odds are of finding reasonably-priced farro anywhere around here, but there’s always pearl barley.

Secondo

So, I saw this picture on Facebook a few days ago, and thought it looked pretty impressive:

I looked over a couple of recipes though, and found them unconvincing. Enter Pancetta-Sage Turkey with Pancetta-Sage Gravy. Instead of wrapping the whole thing in bacon, you make a delectable sounding pancetta butter to slather all over it.

Italian Sausage and Bread Stuffing and Apple, Sausage and Parsnip Stuffing. Actually, I’m going to combine these two recipes, since the first one sounded more flavorful, but I loved the idea of adding apples and parsnips, and I think it will go swimmingly with the pancetta-sage turkey.

Contorni

Not Your Mother’s Green Beans. From Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, and one of my favorite recipes ever. Just-tender green beans tossed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, toasted pine nuts, scallions, and herbs. I’ve made this recipe in dozens of variations: orange juice or other flavored vinegars instead of the balsamic, walnuts, pecans or almonds, garlic or thinly-sliced red onion, butter instead of the olive oil, etc. It’s easy to whip up in a few minutes, but dressy enough for company (or Thanksgiving dinner).

Roasted Winter Vegetables. This is our only real traditional recipe. We make it every year because it’s just so delicious, and it feels so much like fall.

Pane

Bubble-Top Brioches. These look yummy, and my grandma used to make rolls in triplicate like this. Actually, she also made some delicious cheesy rolls that were rolled up like little cones. I’ll have to ask my mom if she has the recipe.

Dolci

Berry Streusel Pie. Tony wanted either berry or apple, and I’m not fond of apple. Also, I’m not very good at pie crusts, so it’s better to just have a single rather heavy pie crust than a double one. Plus, streusel!

Key Lime Pie. O.K. I have never even tasted key lime pie. But we are living in Florida, and I saw real key limes at the grocery store last week. So I thought it would be a terrible opportunity to waste. For those of you who are key lime pie purists, which topping is more authentic? My recipe has whipped cream, but I’ve also seen meringue (I’m assuming whipped topping is out?). Also, fifteen minutes in the oven? That’s not really long enough to cook a custard. I’m pretty sure it’s not a mistake, since I saw some recipes where the filling wasn’t cooked at all. Maybe this is just my cultural ignorance showing (and I’m no one to judge, since I can put away as much unpasteurized cookie dough as the next baker), but is this dessert actually composed of raw egg yolk mixed with lime juice? Please enlighten me.

What are you having for Thanksgiving, dear readers? Do you make the same recipes every year, or do you like to try new ones? And have you ever cooked a turkey with the plastic giblet bag intact?

photo credit

Stomach Flu and Manatees

The awful thing about a blogging gap is that the longer it persists, the more earth-shattering I think my next post needs to be to break the gap. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of earth-shattering stuff going on in my world lately, so the gap keeps getting longer and longer as I wait and hope that I’ll come up with something blog-worthy to write about. It’s a vicious circle. I justified my laziness about posting for awhile by telling myself it was just as well to leave up my Obamapost until nearer to the election. But the election has now come and gone, and I haven’t posted on my blog for the past month and a half. How long does it take for a blog to go dead?

The sad (or happy?) thing is that my viewing stats haven’t really changed much. I’m not sure what that means; probably that nobody actually reads this blog except people searching for information on pressing questions like the dangers of hubbly bubbly (unless you, my faithful readers, are coming back day after day in the vain hope of reading something new). There was one really weird day last week when I had a bizarrely high number of people visiting The Great Bumper Sticker Poll, but then none of them even voted. What’s up with that?

In other news, we had a bout of stomach flu last week. Axa was the only one affected, so we’re hoping it doesn’t spread. We also went to Blue Springs State Park in pursuit of manatees. We wanted to go back in April or May, but it was already too warm. The Manatees retreat from the open sea to the warmth of Blue Springs only when it gets too cold in the ocean.

It’s a really lovely spot, with a built-in boardwalk through the jungle.

It was also a perfect place for Tony to wear his new aviator shades.

The wooden boardwalk goes straight down to a metal landing over the river, and the manatees are right there! You can’t see it from the picture, but I’m looking at a manatee that is resting almost right under my feet.

I feel like I’m trying to sell a picture of the Loch Ness Monster, but here you can see some actual manatees:

OK, here’s a closeup. Does that make it more clear?

And here is a little baby manatee. He kept rolling all over the adults, and we’re pretty sure we saw him nursing. So cute!

We’re Famous . . . Again!

When I was dating Tony, one of the interesting things that he told me about himself was that he had lived with his family in Indonesia as a teenager. While living there, they spent a summer visiting family in a little town in Idaho, where their exotic expatriate exploit made them instant celebrities. An article even appeared in the local newspaper about the American family who were living in Southeast Asia, and had now brought their international selves home to grace tiny Aberdeen Idaho.

It became an even better story after the same thing happened to us. In 2008, we moved our little family to Chiusa di Pesio, Italy so that we could reconnect with our Italian roots and claim our long-lost Italian citizenship. It was the first time such a thing had ever occurred in Chiusa, and our very existence there  caused something of a sensation. It seemed that everyone had already told everyone else our story. Still, in due time, we were visited in our home by a local reporter, who wanted to publish an account of us in the weekly paper, just in case someone had missed it.

We were flattered, but a little embarrassed, especially after we read the article, and she gushed so liberally about us. Still, it was quite a novelty to read a story about ourselves in the newspaper in the first place. I mean, how often does it happen that you end up in the paper just for being you?

Well, not as infrequently as I thought, apparently. A few weeks ago I was contacted by a reporter from the Daytona Beach News Journal. He had stumbled upon my blog, and remarked that he thought we didn’t really fit in here in Deltona. In fact, he went on to speculate that we probably weren’t going to be around long. I guess reporters can say anything.

Mark turned out to be very nice, though, and we spent a lovely morning chatting. It’s not every day that a captive audience spends an hour and a half listening to your life story, acting really interested and even taking notes. I found I enjoyed it thoroughly. Yesterday, we bought a paper so we could clip it out for our scrap book. And since our family scrapbook only exists in the form of this blog and our family website, here it is:

If you can’t read the small print, the full article is here. Mark took some liberties with the quotes, and bit more with the facts, so if you know us well you can amuse yourself by spotting errors. But at least when he quoted my mom he got it perfect.