Friday, November 18, 2011

Holiday Stuff

Hello, dear friends!

Car Heart. I really came out to this one recent frosty morning. Lucky girl, right?
I thought I'd share some holiday ideas and recipes today. Which is very uncharacteristically useful of me, I know.


First off, if you wanted to give homemade vanilla for the holidays, and I really recommend this, now is the time to start making it. For bottles, do a search for "flint glass bottles" on ebay--unless you have a nice collection of small recycled bottles at your disposal. Likewise, search "vanilla beans" on ebay to buy them in bulk. And do this right now, so you can get a move on, okay? It needs to steep for a month or so. Also, I should warn you, now that it's been 3 years since I've been making it, that every time somebody runs out of vanilla, they will bring you their empty bottle with the pleasant-faced expectation that you will refill it. It is, more or less, like giving a magazine subscription, and you'd better be willing to stay on top of it. Forever.

Relatedly, I often make a little boozey something at the holidays that needs to sit around for a while before it gets really good. Limoncello, for example, is very beautiful and elegant (I use vodka instead of Everclear, just by the by). But this year I am making this warm, fragrant, utterly delicious Honey Citrus Liqueur:


Because I am meticulous, I taste it every day to make sure it's good.  So far, a week in, it is really, really good. I think I'll borrow bottles from Birdy's dollhouse when it comes time to decant it for gifts. I made up the recipe, in consultation with various versions online because we had some gorgeous honey to use, and here's what it is: In a small pot, bring 1 1/2 cups of honey to a boil with 2/3 cup water, 3 cloves, and 2 cut-up vanilla beans. Simmer for 5 minutes, cool to warm, then pour it into a bottle into which you've already put the peeled zest of one large, clean orange. Fill the bottle up with Jim Beam or something similar (around 3 1/2 cups), then let it sit in the dark for a month, shaking it as often as you think to, and tasting it constantly. Strain through a fine sieve, decant into smaller bottles, and give it away, weeping. If you want to call it by its Lithuanian name, write "Grietai Pagamintas Krupnikas" in festive script on the labels.

That's all you need to deal with for now, although if you wanted to get a jump on ordering games for your kids, these are my posts on the subject from years past: last year's big-kid games; last-year's little-kid games. And this stray one. There is not a dud in the bunch. Oh, and this holiday book round-up, which I still stand by as well. I'll be posting a few new thoughts in the coming weeks too.

And, finally: Thanksgiving? Are you in? I mean, really. What choice do you have. Here are a few recipes from years past that might come in handy:

Sparkling Cranberry Centerpiece
Wonderful Cranberry Sauce
Beautiful Cranberry Upside Down Cake
Fantastic Crudite Platter with the World's Best Dip
Caramelized Brussels Sprouts

I am really going to try to keep track of all my traditional dishes this year--stuffing, mashed potatoes, and the Bird Himself--so that I can offer some basics next year. But it's hard to remember, what with my dad's forceful taking over of the mashing of the potatoes, and the turkey's uncertain doneness, and the holiday caving in on itself in a puddle of food and drink, as I know you know. I might try to post pecan pie on Monday. Which would give me an excuse to make it over the weekend!

Speaking of: have a great one. xo

32 comments:

  1. Please, please, please post a pecan pie recipe!!!! I have been looking for a new one and I know yours would be great! Pecan pie is my dad's entire reason for coming to Thanksgiving dinner, I think. ;)

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  2. Anonymous11:49 AM

    A great weekend to you too! My siter asked me to tell you that while she was on a week of hospital bedrest before giving birth to her new twins (Ben and Tom, born 10/28/11!) she read Waiting for Birdy again and wanted you to know that she thanks you for keeping her company while she was in the hospital1 :)
    Kristin

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  3. Sandra12:14 PM

    Vanilla extract question:

    I read through the comments on Dalai Mama and someone had a question about the vanilla seeds. Do I remove the seeds before putting them in the jars?

    Thank you for all your wonderful recipes!

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  4. Thanks, guys! Kristin, tell your sister congratulations for me, please. And Sandra, no--you just put the whole beans in and leave them in. You can even refill the bottles later and get a serviceable, if slightly weak, extract.

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  5. Just popping in to say, again, that I love everything you write. ("Thanksgiving...What choice do you have?") Genius. And just the plain truth.

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  6. Have a great thanksgiving. And yes, do post a pie recipe on monday... even if you end up not doing, well, the pie recipe!! :)

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  7. allison3:29 PM

    Thanks, will be making the crudites as has become our tradition. It's great to fill up with veges.

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  8. Happy Thanksgiving. I am thankful for all your fun suggestions and recipes. I've got four bottles of vanilla going for teacher gifts; I bottled them in late August, so they're nice and dark now. Our Costco will, on occasion, have bulk vanilla pods, so get them when the getting's good.

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  9. @Jenny: I can send you my late godmother's pecan pie recipe. She had pecan trees in her yard in Winterville, GA. It's a good one.

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  10. What exactly is the peeled zest of a large clean orange? is it just a large orange that you zest the whole thing of? Do I need a special zest peeler?

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  11. @J: You can zest using a fine grater. I have a Microplane. There are smaller zesters out there that have a few circles at the top, but it would take longer to do an orange.

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  12. oh good question--sorry. i just did it in wide strips with a potato peeler!

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  13. Catherine, thank you so, so much for this timely post. You have solved my "what-to-give-everyone-that-already-has-everything" problem! Homemade vanilla it is! I can't wait to make them. Thank you again

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  14. Aunt Jerry's Georgia Pecan Pie
    1/4 cup butter
    1/2 cup sugar
    1 cup dark corn syrup (Karo)
    1/4 tsp. salt
    3 eggs
    1 cup Georgia pecan halves
    1 9 inch unbaked pie shell

    Cream butter
    Add sugar gradually, cream until fluffy
    Add syrup and salt
    Add eggs, one at a time, beating each in thoroughly
    Stir in pecans
    Pour into pie shell
    Bake at 350 for 50 minutes or until knife comes out clean.
    Let pie cool for at least three hours.

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  15. tracey m11:12 AM

    OMG - Looking back at your gorgeous Crudite post (as in I want to gorge on those veggies and dip!) I was transported back to grade school by the apple core necklace. I HAD THE SAME ONE! (Sorry to shout, but wow, how cool is that?) Thanks always for the great recipes and your gifted commentary on kids, motherhood, and life. I am thankful for you!

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  16. Thank you teafortwo!!!

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  17. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for the book and toy recommendations! And I love that you are planning to post more.

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  18. I tend to suck at homemade gifts, but I'm very tempted to try on the limoncello. What kind of jar would you put it in, for gifting? How much -- 8 oz? 16 oz? I found a lot of 12 8 oz flasks on ebay and that sounded like a cool idea...thoughts?
    Kim

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  19. Erin K.8:24 PM

    that IS the worlds best veg. dip! Now I HAVE to make it for T-day or I'm in big trouble!

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  20. Oh, pecan pie! Oh, for the love of pecan pie! My very very first taste of pecan pie was at a meeting of English majors my first year of college, and said pecan pie was made by my Shakespeare professor, a beautiful, brilliant, modest woman with whom I fell instantly in love. Only partially because of the pie, I promise.

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  21. I bought the 3.3 oz. Hermetic Milk Bottle from The Container Store and I'm absolutely in love with them!! I just can't wait to make the vanilla extract for gifts!

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  22. Interesting post, I am so glad that I have visited your site. Such a wonderful time reading this.

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  23. dale in denver4:46 PM

    your crudites are now my crudites - must haves for all of our family gatherings.

    we gave vanilla to all the kiddos teachers last year. i purchased bottles and beans on ebay in july and brewed it for months - it was a huge hit.

    we've also done the worsted wool wreath xmas ornaments. they are so lovely and such a "little house on the prarie" homey kind of gift.

    this year, i water processed your pickled beet recipe and canned some spicy green beans into half pint containers - i can hardly wait to pass them out!

    i am thankful to you for making me look like such a freaking rock star!!! moty, here i come!

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  24. That cranberry sauce you posted in 2009 is now the "expected" and much-anticipated Thanksgiving side dish with my family. While it's still warm I'll put some in a little bowl and eat it with a spoon. It's that good. Thank you!

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  25. ladidah12:57 AM

    just read through your game posts again and enjoyed them just as much as last year! your description of aquire especially makes me crack up.

    hope you had a great thanksgiving!

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  26. ladidah12:57 AM

    just read through your game posts again and enjoyed them just as much as last year! your description of aquire especially makes me crack up.

    hope you had a great thanksgiving!

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  27. I'm looking at vanilla beans on ebay and feeling overwhelmed! So many options for quantity, country of origin, purported quality... and a pretty wide range of prices. Do you just get the cheapest ones you can find? Do you use all the beans you get for extract? After they've been used for extract, do you ever use the beans themselves in recipes? Do you ever have leftover beans and can you store them? Sorry for the barrage - would be grateful for any extra info!

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  28. Anonymous12:30 AM

    Your wonderful cranberry upside down cake, brussell sprouts, and crudite dip were among the hits of Thanksgiving. Go fish sauce!
    Thank you for your encouragement and inspiration--

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  29. Cheryl, I hope I'm not too late to be helpful! I bought some cheaper beans, and I can't remember how I came to that particular decision. Oh, wait! Yes I can. Because I like to not spend very much. : ) I don't think they were the very cheapest, but I wanted to make 12 bottles of vanilla, and needed lots of beans. Extras keep well, if they're wrapped airtight. What else. Yes, you can scrape the vanilla bean seeds out with the tip of a knife after the vanilla is used up, and you can add these to cakes or puddings. But I tend to leave the old beans in the bottle and add new beans and top it up with booze--kind of indefinitely. Let me know if I can be more helpful than that!

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  30. I made the vanilla extract a couple of years back, the first time you posted the recipe...funnily enough my Mother-in-law asked for more this summer (she said there is no comparison to store bought vanilla) so I made up a Christmas batch months ago - its darkening up nicely in a closet waiting to be decorated festively for gift giving! My mother in law said she puts the vanilla on cottage cheese, or something like that...some diet trick she knows for a sweet treat in the evening!

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  31. You weren't too late to be helpful - I was already procrastinating and still am. I think I might start on vanilla gifts for next year now because I guess I am also sort of a slow cooker or pressure cooker person. This vanilla will either be super late or way early, depending on how you look at it! And thanks for the tip - I have a bad habit of maximizing instead of satisficing and therefore get all kinds of anxious when there are so many different options available. What if I get the wrong kind and am sad forever thereafter? Forgetting that hello, they are vanilla beans and I will be happy to have real, whole, delicious vanilla beans because they smell so good and they make things delicious and do I really think I have the kind of palate that can distinguish between beans grown in Tahiti or in Madagascar? I do not. ANYway, thank you! Off to buy some beans...

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  32. Just finished making our batch! My bottles of vanilla are 8 oz though! HUGE. Not sure why I got 8oz instead of 4 oz...so we made them, but of course we had to use 1 c of vodka instead of 1/2. Will they suck?? I put 10 pieces of vanilla in them so 2 1/2 beans...please say they won't suck :)

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