After resting up from my surgery of last week and advancing my diet from liquids to soft foods, I was able to enjoy at least some of the menu items from our Thanksgiving feast, especially the softer things like sweet potatoes. Alison and Hannah had chosen the menu from Whole Foods, including a turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans, gravy, cranberry sauce, as well as three delicious pies.
Since our decorations were already up, today I decided to help Hannah get her house in gear for the holidays. Reagan brought the boxes in from the garage and worked on assembling the 12-ft. tree that goes in the living room. He enjoys the process of assembling each section and "fluffing" the branches as he goes. With Hannah's help, the kids and I tackled the smaller lighted tree that goes on the landing outside their upstairs bedrooms. They loved unearthing all of their ornaments, including Disney-related, Paw Patrol and even a Black Panther one, which Noah pronounced "cute". There were some I had bought for them over the years and even a few from Hannah's childhood.
Hannah and I got out the decorations she has for the hall table and put those in place. Then we did the fireplace mantel with their polar bear stocking holders, lighted garland and decorative branches. By this time, I had run out of gas and returned home to take a nap. If they still need help tomorrow, I'll be there.
The kids are into Christmas in a big way, and joyfully unearthed their Elf on the Shelf dolls, named Darth Vader and Princess Leia. Their parents will find new hiding places for them each night and each morning, there are shrieks of happiness as the kids discover them in the Christmas tree, behind a wreath, in a bowl of candy or even in the freezer. Noah talks about Christmas on a daily basis and if he's getting whiny or disrespectful, all Mom has to do is mention calling Santa and he immediately reverts to good behavior!
Tomorrow, I'll take them to choose a new ornament apiece as well as an Advent calendar to help count down the days. These years of Christmas magic are fleeting and we all want to take full advantage of the fun. I look forward to Christmas baking and planning a great menu for Christmas Eve. In these stressful times, I'll take all the fun and good times I can find.
I think all of us have been yearning for something fun and inspiring these days. So today I made my cranberry chutney to accompany Thanksgiving dinner with the gang. Here's the recipe--easy to make and delicious with turkey, chicken or pork, it keeps for a long time in the fridge.
1 bag of fresh cranberries
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 brown sugar
1 navel orange
1 Golden Delicious apple
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup raisins (or dried apricot or pear)
2 t. pumpkin pie spice (contains ground cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and clove)
1 T. balsamic vinegar
1/2 t. salt
I cup cranberry or orange juice, if needed
Place the cranberries and sugars in a large pot like a Dutch oven. Zest the orange and lemon, adding to the pot. Then cut a slice from the top and bottom of the orange. Go around the orange, cutting along the curve to remove the white pith. Do the same thing with the lemon. Chop the fruits, removing any seeds, and add to the pot. Peel the apple, cut in quarters and remove the core. Then dice in 1/4 pieces. Add all three fruits to the pot, along with any accumulated juice from the cutting board. Add dried fruit and the spices, stirring together. Simmer for about 30 minutes. The chutney will thicken, so you may want to add up to a cup of cranberry or orange juice. Stir in the balsamic vinegar. Put into a covered container and let rest for a day or two to marry the flavors.
The oldest of our two gingerbread houses is looking pretty tired, so it will be trashed. Today I made two batches of heavy-duty gingerbread dough (recipe from an old Junior League cookbook), rolled them out in sheet pans, baked and cut out the pieces from a cardboard pattern. I used a round cutter to make "windows" to be backed with aluminum foil. Andy will help me assemble the pieces on a wooden base, using toothpicks for nails and some Elmer's white glue. The house will later be decorated with royal icing and lots of candies and cookies. It smells heavenly and will keep for several years if properly stored.
On Saturday night, our family will gather to help us decorate our tree and get out my Santa collection. We need their help to bring the stuff in from the garage, move furniture and assemble the tree. Then it's pizza and salad for dinner. You may be wondering why I'm doing this all so early, besides doing fun things to relieve quarantine boredom. Very early on Thursday, I'll check into Baylor Hospital in Dallas for a second operation on my esophagus. The first attempt a year ago to clip off a pouch that causes trouble swallowing did not work. So they are trying another technique to staple it--hopefully by endoscopy. Unsure how I'll be feeling after a couple days in the hospital, I wanted to get a jump on the holidays and come home to a beautifully decorated house and Christmas tree.
On Halloween, I turned 75. It seems like an impossible number to me. Most days, I feel great. I stay active, walking the dog, taking care of the house and working on a new freelance writing project for Nemours. We see a lot of our daughters and three grandchildren, and even during this long quarantine, enjoy hanging out in our house. As I've often said, I feel very lucky to be alive and doing well, as many friends and loved ones have not had that chance.
The kids surprised me with a very special gift: a brand new computer system, including a small laptop that serves as the CPU (central processing unit) and a 27" monitor. My old system, purchased 15 years ago, was a genuine antique although it was still running just fine. The system came loaded with the newest versions of Microsoft programs, as well. I really appreciated it, as it will help me so much with my freelance work.
A real surprise was a visit from my son Pete, who lives in Richmond, VA. We had not seen each other since last Christmas when we all gathered in Nashville for our 50th anniversary celebration.
Hannah and Reagan treated us to a memorable dinner at Fearing's in The Ritz-Carlton Dallas. Eight of us, including my 13-year-old grandson Booker, sat at the large square Chef's Table, first ordering cocktails. Reagan ordered barbequed oysters and trays of miniature Tex-Mex specialties. First came a tiny glass of delicious carrot soup with a Parmesan garnish. Then we all chose entrees from a very interesting Southwest-inspired menu. Booker, who was wearing his first suit and was giddy with excitement about being there, ordered a buffalo filet with grits and vegetables, which was a sophisticated choice for someone his age. As we were perusing the dessert menu, the wait staff came in singing Happy Birthday with a special dessert for me and miniature citrusy drinks topped with a meringue ghost for Halloween. Desserts included a pumpkin tart and apple hand pies with a cheddar crisp. Some of the guys ordered port to have with their coffee. Just as we were ready to burst, they brought in small stone tiles with tiny confections, including a chocolate lime one that looked like an eyeball!
The next morning, we gathered at a nearby park for a family photo shoot. The photographer took lots of group and individual shots. I can't wait to see the results. Then we headed off to a neighborhood restaurant for a big breakfast. Andy and Pete enjoyed multiple football games in the afternoon and we watched one of our favorite movies, Diner, while enjoying beef stew. On Sunday, we enjoyed a Tex-Mex feast at Hannah's house for our regular family dinner that included tortilla fillings, sauces, guacamole, refritos and queso fundito. I had baked a Mexican chocolate cake, which features ground pecans and chocolate with lots of cinnamon.
On Monday, it was back to work and school for most of the family and we drove Pete to DFW to catch his plane home to Virginia, with wishes for another reunion in the near future. Thanks to Alison and Matt, Hannah and Reagan, and Pete for making these plans and keeping them secret! All in all, it was a fabulous way to celebrate my 75th.
I'm Chris Barabasz, retired from a 35-year career managing communications for health care development (that's fundraising for you civilians). I'm a wife, mother, grandmother and freelance writer. My husband Andy and I moved from Delaware to Texas to be closer to our daughters and three adorable grandchildren.