A Tabletop of Memories

A Tabletop of Memories

This afternoon the last remnants of Christmas were boxed up and put away.

I love setting up the tree every year and enjoying the ornaments all season long. Some people like their tree to match their decorations. Some people have concerns about little children, or pets. Some like a live tree, some an artificial. Some are attracted to tall spindly trees, some like them squat and fat. I enjoy them all, since each tree reflects the personality and character of both the individual, family and business.

In our home, we have a ‘family’ tree. (see Christmas Past) A few ornaments from my childhood, a few from my parents, one or two from a great grandmother, and a myriad collection from every year our my marriage and motherhood. It is part of a tradition I started on the first year of our marriage, an ornament to reflect the passing year.

One year we took the family on a Disney Cruise (highly recommended), so the ornament was a medallion from the ship. One year was a gold 3D City of Portland cityscape, in remembrance of my hometown which we had moved from that year. One of my favorites is the Christopher Radko ‘baby’ I found with my mother (top center) when were celebrating the birth of my oldest. One year, we had a giant ornament making part for my daughters and their friends. (the ’09 cinnamon ornament you see) A more recent collection included a clay miniature Army hat for my college freshman who had enrolled in ROTC, an angel for my youngest ‘angel’, a mini cigar box for hubby and a roll of sushi for me. This year, to honor our trip to the Hawaiian Islands, you see the snorkel gear and fins in the foreground.

Grandpa Bill adds to the collection, sending an ornament to the girls every single year. And every year, I pack away the ornaments for the girls to a special box designated ‘Girls Ornaments’. That way, when my daughters finally fledge the nest, they will have a Tree of Memories all their own.

This is just one of our family traditions. What traditions do you have? Ones that you will pass on to your kids? Try to find ones that last beyond the moment, ones that are part of an annual event. Ones that will hopefully cause your own children, and grandchildren, to pause and think about family and the memories you have created along the road of life.


Kauai. From the Birds’ Eye


Things have settled down here in this iceberg we call Minnesota. The bags are unpacked and put away. The laundry finally waded through. The last bit of sand knocked out of my sandals and back in to the ‘winter storage’ bins. It makes for a melancholy feeling.

So, to perk me up, I thought I would share one of the highlights from the island of Kauai: A helicopter tour.

When we got to Kauai, I gave my family an ultimatum, either we spend a day driving around the island, seeing some of its’ unique island beauty, or do a 1 hour helicopter tour. Faced with the decision to give up nearly a whole day laying on the beach getting tan, or a total of 2 hours to see the entire island (and appease MOM), they chose the latter.

I waited with childish anticipation. To see this gorgeous island from the eye of a bird had me standing on the helicopter pad, literally hopping on my toes with anticipation and excitement. I can’t recall any recent event  where I felt so much excitement! For my family however, there was more than just a little hesitation and actual trepidation. You see, my dear sweet MANLY hubby is just more than a little terrified of heights. (I can be sympathetic as I have a bad case of arachnophobia myself. I am lucky to have my valiant prince to ‘rescue’ me when those terrifying moments present themselves) Secondly, my youngest daughter was diagnosed in the late fall with inner ear damage. How? We have no idea. A fall from her horse, a hit on the head from a LaCrosse stick? Who knows. What we do know is that it makes her dizzy and she has been going through therapy to re-train her brain to ignore it. Since there was real queasiness and distress from the Catamaran ride to Molokini, she had good reason to be a little anxious. My oldest offspring was just pacifying mom so she could get back to her tanning regimen. With all three of them having trouble with the motion sickness on the boat, I insisted that everyone take a non-drowsy motion sickness pill, two for them, one for me.  Just in case.

We arrived at Safari Helicopters, which is located very close to the airport in Lihue. We were guided to this particular company by a very sweet and very helpful car rental agent at the airport when we arrived. She recommended this company because the craft had floor to ceiling glass which allowed for the best viewing, they accomplished the entire island in 55 minutes (which she felt was MORE than enough time), and it was the best value out there. The office was clean, the personnel and pilot were friendly, helpful, safety conscious, and made us feel like guests rather than tourists. They had a goofy, knowledgable, and sweet ‘ice-breaker’ guide who took us to the ‘copter and back, instructing us on safety, minus the freakout factor. He was entertaining and you could tell he LOVED what he did, as did all those we met there.

Here’s the meat and potatoes: DO THIS! If you have the spirit of adventure, it is absolutely worth every single penny.

I saw the ‘copters from the other companies, and ours had the BEST viewing of them all. Literally floor to ceiling viewing, which allows you to see things as if you were in a glass cube. The ‘copter holds 6 and another couple was included in our tour. Take the advice they give you, one of which: Don’t sweat it taking pictures, enjoy the ride. They tape your flight and you can buy the DVD. Everything you see, they record. TRUST ME…..you will want to do this, because if you spend any, and I mean ANY time looking through your camera viewfinder, YOU-WILL-GET-NAUSEOUS. The pilot warned the woman in the back, she didn’t listen, and I didn’t think she would make it back in time. She made a bee-line to the port-a-potty upon landing. I started off taking a couple pics with hubby’s iPhone, and even I got a little disoriented. Take my advice, don’t bother with your camera, just enjoy.

The pilot will give you a history of the island along with fun facts, such as movies that were filmed on the island. One valley we went through was where South Pacific was filmed. He turned to my daughter next to me and said “I don’t suppose you know what I’m talking about”.

She turned to him and said : “Oh yes, I’ve seen South Pacific”.

He replied “Really?”

“Yeah, when I was young, my mom had us watch a lot of old black and whites”

I followed up with “Oh yes I did, at least I could trust they weren’t full of garbage!”

He got a chuckle out of that!

(And I did do that. The stuff the entertainment industry puts out now makes ME blush, let alone what I would want to expose young kids to)

I was beyond overjoyed that I got the front window seat (my oldest was between me and the pilot, hubby to the inside back left and youngest on the back left window) and I loved the panoramic view I had. We flew the island in a clockwise circle, so as we passed, the pilot would accommodate the passengers on the left by ‘spinning’ the helicopter around on its nose, with it ‘tipping’ so that they could get a full view of the hundreds of waterfalls, canyons, circular rainbows, beaches, reefs, cliff, volcano crater, ect. While I was grinning ear to ear, the look on the faces of my husband and youngest were far less ‘enthusiastic’. I think she would have preferred the pilot not be QUITE so accommodating with the desire to let her see how far up from the ground we were!

Wear comfortable clothing and be aware they do not allow anything on the craft. You will be given a locker to lock up your purse, backpack or camera case. You are allowed a camera, but they recommend against it. No phones, or they have to be on ‘flight’ mode. They do not want anything rolling around that cabin, so leave it behind. The aircraft is perfectly comfortable. It wasn’t too cold, nor hot. Bring your enthusiasm, and be prepared to be awed by the beauty of this island.

When we landed, my husband turned to me and smiled. “That was really awesome”, he said with a rather whitish tone to his otherwise tan skin.

“Really? You really liked it? I thought you’d hate it because of the heights.”

“Oh, I was scared speechless” he said smiling, “But I’m glad I did it. That was really beautiful”.

So, even if you are a little hesitant about being in a whirly bird, take the leap of faith. Do it. You live one life, and this is something you will NOT want to miss.

Add another check mark on the bucket list.

Salt Brined Roasted Turkey

Salt Brined Roasted Turkey

Since I posted the photo of my Leftovers Soup, I thought it fitting to show the turkey meal from which it started. While I’m at it, I thought I’d share a couple of cooking ideas and tips I’ve learned along the way.

I favor organically grown, free-range, non-injected birds. I know they are a bit more in cost, but I can be sure there are no added hormones or pesticides to mess with my still maturing/developing daughters bodies and ensure the animals were raised and slaughtered ethically and humanely. As mentioned in a previous post ‘Todd & A Well Stocked Freezer‘, I get most of my meat from the local farmer who takes it to the local butcher. However, I don’t yet have a source for my poultry, so I look for the best I can find at my grocer.

When you bring home your bird, remove the neck bone from the cavity and the innards from the neck flap. (if you have them) Then gently slide your fingers under the skin of the breast, loosening it on both ends. Try not to rip or tear the skin. Then, take kosher salt, and lightly rub on the breast meat in between the flesh and the skin. This will give your fingers a good workout and yes, it will be a bit chilly. But take heart, while your digits shiver, your turkey meat will come out seasoned, tender and juicy. I can’t give you an exact amount of salt to use, just make sure you’re not slathering it on. You will want it LIGHTLY dispersed. Then give the skin and thighs a good liberal rubbing of the salt, place on a dish or platter and wrap in saran wrap. I put a clean kitchen wash cloth under the bird to absorb any juices that it might give off. You can also use a few paper towels, but I find those can get kind of slimy.

Then put in the fridge and let sit for a couple of days. This is ‘dry’ brining. It’s results are similar to wet brining- juicy flavorful and tender meat – but this method allows the skin to cook up and not be all flabby soggy.

After a couple of days, the process should be complete and you can cook that baby up. I use an air roaster oven because it frees up my regular oven for yummy dishes like this creamed spinach. I got the idea from Emeril over at the Food Network, but modified it a bit by adding parmesan and baking it after cooking on the stove top. It was just scrumptious.

While the turkey was cooking I boiled a combination of jersey sweet potatoes with red potatoes, along with a thinly sliced leek. Try this sometime: cook the onion with the potatoes, then drain and mash together, its delicious! You can ‘scent’ your liquid with herbs, garlic, shallots or leeks. For example, rosemary scented mashed potatoes is a delicious pairing with lamb.

To make the gravy, simply pour all the drippings from your turkey (i baste my bird with white wine, butter and sage, it adds a lot of flavor to the gravy) in to a fat separator, pour a few tablespoons of the rendered fat in to a saucepan. Add equal amounts of gluten free flour and cook it a bit to get the starchy taste out of the flour. I figure I need about 1tbsp of fat and flour for each cup of gravy. Then add back those yummy drippings along with enough chicken stock to make a gravy. If you have time, it’s nice to make a turkey stock from the neck & gizzards, but chicken stock works as well. The wonderful thing about brining your bird is that the drippings are naturally seasoned. You will need very little salt, if any. Adjust the seasoning, if need be. I added a healthy sprinkle of Penzeys “Mural of Flavor” to mine.

Also, another trick is to pour the gravy back in to the roasting pan, (or make it in the pan) and really scrape up to include those bits called ‘fond’. It will add depth to your gravy, or any pan sauce you make.

Dry Brining is excellent to use for any thick cuts of meat such as roasts. I used this technique on my Christmas Prime Rib Roast.

So say goodbye to blah and bland meat. Give this simple and yet effective technique a try. I think you’ll be very pleased when your family and friends say YUMMMMM.