Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How to Handle the Post-Thanksgiving Food Hangover: A Serious Tutorial

Most of us have been there: bloated, groaning on the couch, loosening every piece of clothing in hopes for relief from all the eating.  That extra piece of pie, while delicious, just sent you from almost too full to function into a complete descent into absolute misery (Eric, come bestow the True Death upon me!  That roll wasn't worth the pain!).

One more bite, and I'll die!
But I've got a plan for you this year.  A plan that will make you forget your thankful binge and bring you back to tip top shape for whatever you need to do for the holiday season. Just follow these simple steps starting Friday morning:

1) Dress head to toe in your nicest workout gear.  Top, bottom, running shoes.  Don't own any?  There's still time to buy overpriced anti-jiggle wear (just remember Lululemon doesn't have anything over a size 12, so you might have to settle for Tar-jay. Yes, the irony of selling workout gear to the already thin is obvious to me, but I just don't have the startup cash yet for my own idea of "Big Boobie, Belly, and Booty Unitards". I'll keep dreaming, though).  Believe me, being dressed for an active day will make you feel energized and alive.  The more expensive stuff does the best job.  Don't know why, but stuffing your thighs into $100 skin-tight pants gets the blood flowing.  Just getting into them counts as a workout.

You'll lose inches just getting dressed.
2) After you're dressed, make up a huge batch of Sangria.  It's for your heart, of course!  Not only is the wine good for your cardiac health, but the Sangria is especially healthful (there's a well-known celebrity who loves to call her recipes "healthful" while she dumps 8 lb of sausage into a pot, and I have to do everything she does) because it has FRUIT in it.  It's akin to pureeing carrots to hide in your kids' Lucky Charms cereal--disguising the health food with something more pleasurable.  Put the mixture in the fridge to cool off.

Fruit = healthful
2.5) Feel smug and accomplished.

3) Head to your local SchmarBucks and pick up a no-fat chemical-laden anti-sweetener fake coffee smoothie.  You need all the factory made stimulant help you can get today.

4) When you return home, grab a pastry.  Chocolate Croissant, Almond Croissant, Plain Croissant. Whatever you pick, it must be a croissant.  And you must pronounce to the world what you're eating, taking care to say "Cwoi-sant" rather than "crescent", adding in a nice guttural R.  (If you can't get it right, chain smoke some heavy duty ciggies to ensure a certain je ne sais quoi when you're parroting French words)  Have the entire family repeat after you: Croissant, Croissant, Croissant.  Then send the hubs and kids back into the basement so they can continue their 24 hour Christmas movie marathon on TBS.

Why the French pastry? Because French women are ultra-skinny, and they eat pastries, right?  I think perhaps they don't eat an entire half-dozen in one sitting, but I don't have definitive proof, so enjoy as many pastries as you wish.  It's for your health!

5) After breakfast, you're ready for serious research.  You only have about five weeks to start making your New Year's resolution plan, so it's time to begin screening workout tapes for your body transformation that's sure to end in complete success by the end of January.  Don't even think of actually working out, though. You're recovering from yesterday and physical activity must be carefully rationed.  List the ones that look the most fun.  Make a warning list of "DO NOT EVEN ATTEMPT" for the tapes that encourage too much fitness--I mean, you can go too far.  These lists will come in handy when by January 2nd, you're already bored by squats and would rather do "chair-based calisthenics".

6) The real workout is for after your healthful lunch of leftover gravy and Sangria.  Have your friend pick you up (since you've been drinking), and go see Skyfall. I read recently that watching a horror movie can raise your heart rate and help you burn calories without actually sweating, and I'm guessing an action flick can count, too.  Daniel Craig's chiseled abs make my heart flutter.  I bet your pants will fit better after the movie as long as you stick to calorie-free snacks such as unbuttered popcorn and fake nacho cheese.

7) When you get home, the family looks famished, so feed them leftovers from yesterday.  You're out to be "healthful", so make fruit salad with the Sangria bits and top it with whipped cream (for the protein, of course).  Man, you really sacrifice.

8) After eating, you realize it's time for some family togetherness and exercise.  Since you've already worked out (James Bond movie!), send everyone else for a walk.  Put your feet up so you can catch up on the latest People magazine.

9) When they finally return (2 hours later. Well, actually they came back 45 minutes after leaving, but you had locked all the doors and windows so you could enjoy your well-deserved quiet time, which wasn't so quiet with all their selfish screaming that you needed to come unlock the door RIGHT NOW), go ahead and put in the mail that letter you penned to the Pope making the case for your early sainthood.  Hug your family. Then go watch reruns of Honey Booboo.  High-brow TV is always a great antidote to over-exertion, and you, my friend, have had a busy day.

If you follow the steps of my plan, you won't even remember how stuffed you were on Thanksgiving evening.  

What if you're out shopping on Friday, though? How will you recover from the holiday?  While I'm usually loathe to recommend medicinal fixes, I think you'll need something stronger than Sangria if you've been out in the maelstrom of bargain shopping.  A lobotomy, perhaps?

Or maybe a sympathetic cookie would help.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Man, I'm Broke Monday: Holiday Libations on A Budget

The residents of The Kiefer Cottage enjoy a good party.  But because we're a one-income family, a well-lubricated holiday extravaganza can seem too frivolous and absolutely too expensive.  During the year, we don't keep loads of alcohol in the house, in part because of the cost but also because our pants are already too tight (thankfully, I did hear that muffin tops are the new black, though, so at least I'm stylish in my plumpness.  Don't correct me if I'm wrong).  However, for Thanksgiving and Christmas (and the occasional shindig), we like to kick back and enjoy a few adult beverages.

How do we do it without breaking the bank?

First off, all alcohol purchased must fall within the weekly grocery budget, so there is no extra spending.  The exception is Thanksgiving, when I go all out with food (just spent $30 on shrimp for instance), but otherwise, all extras have to still keep us under our $150 per week grocery budget.  Sometimes, that means we'll choose a cheaper dinner to make up the difference, but we're not eating beans and rice for a week so we can get wasted.  Instead, we do this for special occasions.

Found at Trader Joe's for far less than $10.
Secondly, we look for deals. While I've never seen a coupon for alcohol (perhaps they exist, but not in my state), I do see the circulars advertising specials.  For us, it's cheapest to purchase the booze at our local grocery store--we cross into Missouri to head to the Sun Fresh (in Westport).  Not only does Missouri enjoy a low tax rate for alcohol, but the state also allows for all types of adult drinks to be sold alongside groceries, so we can get it all in one trip. In Kansas, to get the hard stuff or regular beer for that matter (it's 3.2 beer at the food sto'), we'd have to go to a separate store.

Side note: don't be afraid to look in unexpected places for good prices.  My friends just told me that there's a CVS on the Missouri side of the state line that offers fantastic deals.  I plan on visiting there soon.

Cava, which is Spanish sparkling wine, for $7.99 a bottle.
Third, we're not snobs nor are we loyal to one type of drink.  We buy what's on sale unless we're talking about a few domestic varieties that shall never pass these lips again (let me make a case for Miller High Life, though. It is indeed the champagne of beers. Good stuff).  I have tried expensive champagne (excuse me, sparkling wine), and the difference in taste isn't great enough to justify spending a lot more, so never do I spend more than $10 on a bottle.  We still enjoy Cook's which can be found for about $5 at some stores.

Finally, we keep our eyes peeled for unadvertised clearance items.  For this week, we got two varieties for 60% off retail because they are about to go beyond their "fresh" dates.  I've yet to have a skunky beer when partaking in such deals.

The Apple Ale was priced at over $9, and we got it for less than $4 on clearance.
Other strategies for saving money on holiday cheer in a bottle: 

1) Consider serving a cocktail like mimosas or sangria (as opposed to something like a martini).  That'll stretch the expensive stuff.  Also, if you're mixing, you often can get by with a cheaper variety rather than the top shelf.  Anyway, this'll tone down the strength of the drinks, which can be a good thing if Uncle Darryl tends to go too far at holiday dinners, insisting that everyone join in a rousing naked rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas (for the 8th time in one evening).

2) Buy by the case if you can because many stores offer a discount.  A liquor store near my Alma Mater would offer women an even higher discount on Wednesdays.  

3) Don't be afraid to try something new. 

4) Save the expense for a special occasion rather than partaking every night this season.

Even cheapskates can enjoy a few drinks, so hopefully you can find a place in your budget to make it happen if you so desire. 

Please don't drink and drive, though.  Have fun, but stay safe this year!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Man, I'm Broke Monday: Buying a table that'll last

There have been times in my life when I've felt that buying an "assemble yourself" piece of furniture was a good idea.  Or when it's been better to buy a new, cheap piece because I needed it ASAP and knew there weren't many alternatives for me (like a futon).

But when it came to filling this space in the kitchen, I knew that I needed to take my time and search for a good value, which meant purchasing something that would withstand some roughhousing by the kids or even a cross-country move if necessary, without breaking the bank (no, we're not planning on moving anytime soon, but it could happen. You just never know!).

See that huge space?  Couldn't have some teeny tiny table there.
So where did I go? To the vintage furniture markets held every month on the west side of town.  You never know what you're going to get, so it can take months to find the right piece. I searched up and down and all around while the kitchen space sat empty.  We ate in our cramped dining room in the meantime (you can see our other lovely table on that post).

Last year, though, I found just the right table.  When I laid eyes on it, I knew it was right.

Country, pocked, but solid.

And the perfect size for our enormous kitchen.

Reminded me of this table (and many others I've seen in catalogs lately):

Benchwright Reclaimed Wood Extending Dining Table - Wax Pine finish
Pottery Barn Reclaimed Wood Table
The one I bought is also made of reclaimed wood, although it was the painstakingly faux'd with layer upon layer of paint and distress.

And rather than $1700 on sale, my table cost less than $250.

I've had friends ask to buy it from me, others say it's their favorite piece in the house. My mother sent me an article on Ellen DeGeneres's home (which I think has been put on the market since then) and highlighted their barnwood table, declaring that mine was obviously better looking.  So I think I did good.

Sure, the table isn't perfectly level in all spots, but that's a result of the inconsistencies in the wood. And the finish on it has withstood plenty of abuse from the family.  Couldn't ask for much more. A lovely table I love looking at every day that doesn't require special treatment or a payment plan from the local furniture mart.

It's usually worth it to take your time looking for quality used pieces of furniture--you'll probably save money in the short run and most definitely will in the long run.

Shared at Miss Mustard Seed's Furniture Feature Friday.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Happy Birthday Katie Bel!

Happy 5th birthday to my funny, silly smarty-pants!  

You are my shining star, complete with sweet frosting.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I'm on a Diet: How to Cook A Heritage Turkey

Y'all know I'm not a fan of turkey.  It takes a lot of work to make one tasty. Otherwise, it's usually dry or bland or both.

But last year, we had pretty good success with a heritage turkey purchased at a local farm.  So I'm gonna share with you how we prepared the bird.  And no, it didn't look like this:

Our free turkey from Ryan's job.  We made it only for this photo last year.  And then we grudgingly ate it.

For the most part, it's not a good idea to cook a turkey whole.  The breast takes less time than the dark meat to cook.  And since a heritage turkey has smaller boobies, there's an even higher risk of ashy turkey that even the best gravy can't fix.

So whaddya do?  Cut the bird into pieces. Seriously. Hack its arms off and remove the jaw so it won't eat your flesh. Wait, that's what you do with zombies.  With a turkey, you separate the dark meat from the carcass and cook it a different way to preserve the integrity of the meat.  

You'll first cut the legs and thighs off the bird.  Then you'll rub the carcass and pieces with salt and herbs (in our case, rosemary), dump it into a bag, and leave it in the fridge for a day or two.  Impress your friends and tell them you're dry-brining your bird.  A water-based brine is so 2010.

Then take it out an hour before roasting.  Place the carcass into a roasting pan.  Lay pancetta slices over the breasts, then roast for 2 to 2 1/2 hours at 350 degrees.  You can try tenting it with foil the last 45 minutes to protect the pancetta, but honestly, I couldn't get that work because of our hobbit sized oven, and everything turned out great.

The legs, however, get a different treatment.  Pick a big pan for this--we used a large Le Creuset round casserole-ish type pan--because you're gonna need some space.  Heat up some oil and then sear both sides of the legs/thighs til each one is brown.  8 minutes on one side, 4 on the other.  Don't move them except to flip once. 

Take out the turkey from the pan. Add in 2 chopped carrots and a diced onion to the hot pan.  Add celery if you like. We don't like, so we went celery-free.  Put in a bay leaf.  Cook those veggies until soft.

Put the turkey back into the pan.  Pour in turkey or chicken stock until it comes halfway up the sides of the legs.  Reduce heat to simmer, covered, for about an hour until done.

At this point, you remove the turkey from the pan and let rest while you make the gravy with the pan drippings.  

Gravy you might not want to try
This gravy was pretty good, but I'm not sure it was totally worth the extra labor of watching the dry flour.  But here's what I did.

Toast 1/2 c flour (dry, with no fat) in a large stockpot over medium heat until it's golden brown.  Whisk it the entire time. Don't even think about stopping. Also, if the recipe says it'll take 10 minutes, it could take 20. Or more.  You might get a back ache.    Have a glass of wine in the other hand while you get cramps whisking.

After it's toasted, pour in 2 cups of chicken broth and whisk. It'll form a smooth paste.  Then you pour in 3.5 to 4 cups of the stock you just made with the braised turkey legs.  Or use other stock.  Boil it and then simmer 10 minutes.  

At this point, curse the recipe because it's not thick like gravy. Add more flour until it's lumpy but thick and serve it because you're too darn tired to do anything else.  It's time to eat.

Peabody Duck Apron is non-optional.
Delegate carving the turkey.

Enough food for about dozen families.

Enjoy the feast of turkey, asparagus, dressing, mac'n'cheese, sweet potato casserole, corn and mint, and a very strong, very tart cocktail that sounded better than it tasted (but did the job).  

Finish with a pumpkin cheesecake topped with candied pecans.

I don't think the leg braising is optional in the case of a heritage turkey.  It's worth the extra effort, and we got good reviews from turkey lovers (and non-lovers).  Thanks to Sunset Magazine for the recipe.

*Note: These photos are from last year and that's why I don't have a lot of them.  Yes, I waited a year to tell you all about this and managed to remember.  Why? Because I love you.

**Note 2: We are not eating turkey this year for Thanksgiving. It's just me, Ryan and the kids celebrating, so we'll enjoy Thanksgiving Shrimp. It shall be delicious. I shall share the recipe soon.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Man, I'm Broke Monday: It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

At our favorite stores, we're reminded that Christmas is already nigh.  And I know many of you probably have been shopping all year for the occasion.  Others shall decide to go out into the Black Friday frenzy, while some will wait until the very last minute (Do you think everyone will enjoy these Halloween leggings I found in the almost-free pile?  Everything else is sold out).  

I've never been a huge Christmas shopper, mainly because I've never had the means to be and have never felt inclined to charge thousands of dollars worth of gifts that require twelve months of payments.  But this year, I came to a realization after watching the film "What Would Jesus Buy?"

(Some of you might be surprised. I'm not a devout follower of any religion. I do, however, think there's plenty to be learned from what Christ had to say. I mean, love one another?  That's good stuff!)

Anyway, the film follows a touring choir that travels all over the country spreading the gospel of anti-consumerism, suggesting that perhaps it's not a great idea to spend a fortune on stuff and that real gifts don't need to cost a thing.  I'll admit that some of the folks featured in the film, including the Rev. Billy, are pretty fanatical about their message, and it's far from a great movie, but I see a lot of value in getting people to be more deliberate and thoughtful when it comes to the holiday shopping bonanza we endure every year.

Ryan and I have talked a lot about what makes a good Christmas. Does it require tons of gifts and doodads?  For one thing, buying dozens of presents would put us into loads of debt, which hardly gives me a warm feeling.  And most of us have witnessed a child ripping open gifts, tossing the stuff aside, and then asking if there are any more to open.  Then of course everything gets ignored while the kids play with the tissue paper, boxes, and hangers rather than the plastic beeping thingies you actually paid for.

The best part of the holidays. The Food.
For me, what I really enjoy is the eating. And relaxing with family. And then family naptime followed by more eating.

So perhaps the purchasing frenzy just ain't worth it.  

This isn't to say I haven't been grateful for some of the gifts I've received. Both Ryan and I come from very generous families, and we as well as the children have benefited from their presents, which are usually quite mindful and often very interesting (that awesome playset in the backyard? Yup, thanks to the grandparents.  The large tinker-toys that are going to be presented to the children this Christmas? Thanks to YiaYia).  But I've also received gifts from others who obviously scrambled for "the right thing", and once I was even re-gifted an item. No big deal (who hasn't regifted something?  I have without shame) except that the gift was something I had given to that person a few years back. Must've been really meaningful, huh?

So why not lift that burden a bit by not worrying about "the right thing" and not giving cheap tchotchkes as a token because you feel obligated to send something to your neighbor's friend's therapist you met once three years ago?  And why not reconsider the ingrained need to show gratitude and love with a thing you bought and instead offer your time, your kitchen, your expertise, or something you made?

Mom, I don't need 100 gifts that beep (and then break soon after)!
Giving to charity is a great alternative as well.  We gave to Heifer International last year in honor of our parents (all five of them), and this year, we'll aim for charity, too, although we might give to another organization if the urge strikes us.  And for the kids in the extended family (all of whom live far away from us), we're digging deep to find toys that aren't too junky and might have staying power, although this one is the toughest challenge of the season, especially since we rarely see the children.

For our own brood, we've been throwing around ideas, and while the kids will have a few things to open--socks and underwear of course!--we're looking for experiential gifts. One thing we've thrown around is setting aside a portion of the budget each month to go to a new restaurant. The children love eating out, and so do we, but it can be expensive for a family of five.  By bypassing a large gift in December, we can divert that Christmas money into something we'll all enjoy for an entire year.  Plus, it fits in well with the obligation I feel to teach my children to behave in restaurants (Katie, which utensil is appropriate for oysters?).

We're also thinking of ways to give to our community that can involve the children (while writing a check is a great idea, it's not that much fun for the kids who still don't really understand money that well). The local elementary school recently communicated that the school nurse needs granola bars and children's underwear for kids in need.  And picking up a few extra jars of peanut butter for a donation to the food pantry is a simple way to engage that "I just gave" good feeling.

Ideas for friends:
* Babysitting coupons
* Vouchers for a home-cooked meal
* Access to your home library (if you have lots of books, for instance)
* Alcohol (it's expensive, so for us, it's a treat. Sure, it's a "thing" but boy it's fun!)
* Scarves you've knitted or something else you've made

Notice I haven't thrown down the gauntlet and told you that only bad people spend money on stuff at Christmas.  I just hope you can give out of the goodness of your heart and not because everyone else expects a particular way of doing things. And please avoid debt.  A great gift you can give to your family is financial stability.  But really, there are no rules.  Celebrate as you see fit in the way you find the most meaningful.
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