Saturday, December 21, 2013

Garden Update

In December?  Oh yeah--just because I can!  Of course, being in the depths of winter, it's a pretty brief update.

Well, there are the parsnips hanging out in the far right corner, and in the background, our wildly re-seeded parsley just keeps coming back, even after several hard freezes.  But along the edges of the bed, next year's crop is already sprouting up through the leafy mulch.

Yep, my garlic is coming up!

I have one soft-neck and two hard-neck varieties (I don't know any of their names).  One of the hard-neck types came up a full week after the other two were already peeking at the sun.  I'll be interested to see how they grow, mature and develop bulbs.  But it will be another six months before I get to dig them up and see how they did.

In the meantime, Miss Chef is on break for four whole weeks!  Normally that would have been a troublesome prospect, as part-time employees don't get paid when classes are out.  However, Miss Chef has recently been offered a full-time position, so she can focus wholeheartedly on this winter's projects.

There were several batches of sausage to be mixed, ground, and vacuum-sealed (hat tip to Mom and Dad for their gift of a Food Saver several years back--we're using it!)

And the shower needs some new grout and caulking.

Since I was at work, McKenna stepped in to assist.  Isn't she sweet?

Miss Chef has plenty of other plans, but for the moment we are both ready for a little bit of down time.  Hope you all get a chance to rest and reflect as this year draws to a close.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas Tree Part 2 / Cooking with Joe

When last I left you, we had just managed to get our Christmas tree upright in the living room.  It stood there, naked and confused, for over a week.  The plan was to leave it that way until the next weekend, to give McKenna a chance to get bored with it, before going ahead and making things oh so much more interesting.

It wasn’t until Tuesday night, however, that we were able to coordinate ourselves and get some lights and decorations on the dang thing.  We started with McKenna locked in the bedroom.  My theory was that she was less likely to go after the ornaments if she didn’t see us fussing with them.  However, at some point I needed to get into the bedroom to fetch the stepladder, so out she came early to meet the (partially) decorated tree.


As she came around the corner and spotted the sparkling tree, she came to a complete halt.  Even her tail was still for several seconds.  Then she proceeded to calmly inspect every box of decorations scattered around the living room.

Eventually, she found her way to the tabletop, jumping up next to our feet as we were reaching up to the highest branches.  Yes, the two of us and the six-foot tree were all supported by that sturdy table.  Oh, and the cat, too, but only for a few seconds, as she had to make way for our feet, and there wasn’t a whole lot of room to maneuver.

McKenna was content to explore the boxes and baubles as we added ornaments to the lower branches.  Her experience with our feet probably kept her a little wary of returning to the tabletop.  By the next morning, though, she was eagerly leaping up there and experimenting with the lowest ornaments.




I, however, had to head to work, so I left Miss Chef sitting on the couch with the spray bottle, just waiting for McKenna to make a wrong move.

I never did find out exactly what went down at the OK Corral Tree Table that morning, but everything was still in place when I came home that night.  In fact, it took at least half an hour before McKenna found her way back up there.  There was a lot of rustling and shaking of branches, but in the end, she was just making herself comfortable.  Sure, she checked out the ornaments a little bit…




…but in the end, she just settled down and eventually drifted off into a catnap.




And that, my friends, is the delightfully anticlimactic conclusion to this chapter of Cat vs. Tree 2013.  In spite of predictions of needle-shaking feline adventures, she’s just not that interested in something that stands still, no matter how glittery and dangly it may be.

Moving things, on the other hand, immediately get her attention.  A few days later, we both practiced Wrapping With a Cat.



“I tinks you needs moar tapes heer, Hooman.”



To be honest, neither Miss Chef or I are really feeling the whole jolly ho-ho-ho thing this year, so I’m glad that we do have the tree up and that I did get some wrapped gifts under it.  This will be Miss Chef’s first Christmas without her mom; it was only a few weeks afterwards that a heart attack claimed her.  For my part, the whole Thanksgiving plumbing debacle put a bit of a wrench* in the opening of my holiday season, and then I’ll be working all Christmas week, aside from the day itself.  So it’s going to be a low-key event here, cat antics notwithstanding.  (*pun intended!)

Not that there aren’t bright spots in our December days!  Just last night, one of Miss Chef’s most admired mentors invited us for a “small” dinner party at his place.  It’s always chaos when he cooks; he makes way too much and generally the food comes out a couple of hours later than he plans.  But Miss Chef got to have a load of fun cooking with him!




I’m not the only one documenting everything around here…

That’s cajun bbq shrimp Miss Chef is tossing around in that big old wok.  There was also gumbo, pork and beans,  guacamole, ceviche and halibut, a slow-smoked pork shoulder, mac ‘n’ cheese, slow-cooked collards, cornbread…and a rather impressive cheese board.


Oh, those are brussels sprouts in the background.  I didn’t taste those, there’s only so much a girl can fit in her stomach.  But that’s ok, we came home loaded down with leftovers.  As well as plans to meet some other friends for dinner the next night, before going to a Carolina Chocolate Drops show we discovered we were both planning on attending.

So maybe our Christmas season won’t be so glum after all.  We certainly won’t starve, and it also looks like we won’t have to worry about tree-based chaos at home.  That’s not such a bad start, after all. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013


It’s been a doozy of a holiday…  I’m still not finished catching up with myself, but some things just need to be captured for posterity.  So here’s a brief photo album.

To start, the farmers from which we ordered turkeys this year had a puzzlingly small crop.  Instead of being awash in giant birds, we found ourselves pondering the preparation and distribution of an 8-pounder and a 4-pounder.  If we weren’t friends with Carl, I’d have accused him of trying to foist off a chicken on us!  Still, we thought ok, that will be enough turkey for everyone, but no leftovers.

Then I got a voicemail: “Hi Alison, we’ve got three more people coming.”  So, in spite of my careful planning to avoid it, I found myself here on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.


Please notice that cart that has more than “just a few things we forgot.”  I was staggered to realize that a great portion of these shoppers were doing all of their Thanksgiving shopping on this day.  Had they only recently received the memo that Thanksgiving was on its way!?

Anyway, with a lot of patience, and joy at finding a large selection of unfrozen turkey breasts, the experience wasn’t that bad.  Once back home, I dunked it into the providentially extra brine that Miss Chef had left over from the other two birds.  Then finally, Mom and I turned to our day’s assignment: pies.


That’s pumpkin, apple and pecan.  We used pre-made crusts, so other than cutting up a lot of apples, it was pretty easy.  I did figure out that crimping the edges on the single-crust pies is easy, and was rather proud of how much nicer they can look that way.

Now, earlier that day, we’d noticed that the kitchen sink gurgled when Miss Chef was in the shower,  She reported that the water had backed up, but it drained afterwards, so we didn’t think about it too much.  We went about our day, pulling our pies out of the oven and doing our best to work around an overstuffed refrigerator.

Thanksgiving morning, after Miss Chef was well immersed in the preparations of turkey and green bean casserole, Mom and I both discovered clogged toilets in our respective bathrooms.  And, since it was Thanksgiving, you know it couldn’t possibly be a simple fix.

I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say that it was very fortunate that we were guests rather than hosts for the big meal (we celebrate with friends who have a much larger home, so we bring turkey and dessert, and they take care of the rest.)  Also, we made very liberal use of the facilities while we were there.  But aside from our “little” problem lurking back home, Thanksgiving itself went wonderfully.  We met some new people, spent time with good friends, and had one of the best meals we can remember.

And then came Friday morning.


Yes, that’s a backhoe, digging up the section of sewer pipe that had cracked after one of our rugged holly bushes poked and wriggled its roots through.  We spent over 24 hours without being able to flush (though Miss Chef bravely drained some water out of a main access, so we were able to do some judicious hand washing and tooth brushing.)  Fortunately, we are friendly enough with our neighbors that we were able to make a few pit stops in their house Thursday and Friday.  I haven’t quite figured out what would be a sufficient “thank you” gift for such hospitality!

Although our bank accounts will be reeling for a few months, we were happy to have the problem fixed and toilets flushing by Friday afternoon.  When the plumber delivered the diagnosis, I assumed we’d be looking at another day of work, but the backhoe showed up less than an hour after we opened our veins signed the papers, and the repairs were made rather efficiently.  I am still exceptionally grateful to have ready access to a fully functional bathroom in my very own house.

Saturday was mostly taken up with holiday shopping and some overdue chores.  By Sunday, the house was back together—bathrooms cleaned, dishes done, laundry getting caught up.  So Miss Chef and I decided it was time to try to rouse some holiday cheer.  Though neither of us was feeling at all Christmas-y after our budget-busting Thanksgiving, we got ourselves a tree and set it up in the living room



Yes, the tree is bare.  No, we’re not giving up on the rest of the process.  This is just as far as we’re going for now…because we’re waiting to see how that mixes with this:


We had McKenna out on the dog run when we brought the tree in, and when I carried her back inside, she mostly seemed intimidated by it.  She stood on top of her cat tree and teetered as if she were going to jump onto it, but never launched herself.  She did some sniffing from the floor, and even played a bit with the tablecloth…but after four or five hours, she has mostly ignored it.

We are going to leave the tree undecorated until next weekend, just to see if anything changes once McKenna has become more familiar with it.  Like Rosie, her initial nervousness invariably gives way to curiosity, so I expect the cat to investigate more closely in the coming days.  However, I’m sure the fun won’t really get underway until we’ve hung shiny, trembling baubles all over it.  I have visions of coming in the door after work to find the tree lying on the couch, with water and ornaments all over the place.  As I told my parents, “We are walking fully open-eyed into potential disaster.”

On the other hand, there is always hope that the end of this story is anticlimactic.  It certainly would be nice if our Christmas were a bit less traumatic than our Thanksgiving!