Holidays

Chestnuts

We’ve been listening to songs and reading picture books about having chestnuts around holiday time, so I bought some, looked up a Martha Stewart recipe and we roasted them.

They were yucky.

It’s possible that Martha Stewart recipe wasn’t a good one, but also I think it’s possible that chestnuts are not going to be my favorite food. I’d been imagining something fatty and smooth and a little crunchy — something in the filbert or hazlenut or pecan range of tastes and textures. These were starchy and mushy and sweet like water chestnuts, but not in a way I liked.

I sat there thinking, “People will write songs about anything.” Then I remembered other holiday songs and realized that lots of them are about snow, and that I hate snow. I like it in pictures, but I don’t like being cold and wet. And then I realized that all these holiday children’s books with pictures of certain kinds of weather (snow) and certain groups of people (big gatherings of family and friends) and certain activities (sleigh rides and ice skating) and certain specific foods (chestnuts and plum pudding) were not things I necessarily needed to copy in order to give myself a warm holiday glow.

The thing to do to get that warm holiday glow was to do things I liked (and things that were available to me as options instead of pining away over things that weren’t).

When I first started reading Thanksgiving books to my little one and thinking about how the holidays were going to go, I felt depressed. Our weather is sunny. (Boring!) We weren’t going to have a big group of people this year. (Lonely!)

Then I started thinking about what my options were. We could go on a trip, or we could have an intimate holiday at home. I’ve never cooked Thanksgiving dinner by myself before, and I wanted to. If it was just going to be the three of us on Thanksgiving day, I could try all the recipes I wanted to try without worrying about having it ready at the same time or having the house ready for guests. I ended up excited about it, and we stayed home, and the food timed out anyway, and I felt a rush of pride and pleasure.

These yucky chestnuts a few days after Thanksgiving confirmed it for me. Warm holidays are not about checking things off picture book lists. They’re about doing things that feel good, and what feels good to me is not necessarily going to be what felt good to the people who wrote the holiday songs and picture books that I love.

Thanksgiving

I made mushroom stock for the cream of mushroom soup the night before.

In the morning, Gavin took our little one out to the park so I could cook. I watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving on my laptop while I was stirring and mixing and roasting.

This is the first year I cooked Thanksgiving dinner by myself. (Gavin coached me on the gravy, but I am the one who made it.) I am so pleased and proud of how it turned out!

After dinner decaf.

Our first Thanksgiving of the season

This year we decided to try having two Thanksgivings, and we’re having them far enough apart that it’s an enjoyable swell of turkey and cranberries without being stressful or overwhelming.

Gavin carving the turkey

We had Thanksgiving with the big boys on Saturday, and Gavin cooked his traditional recipes: a Butterball style turkey, homemade gravy, stuffing, green beans and his roasted walnuts with rosemary and butter.

I made the pumpkin pie, though.

Saturday afternoon was a lot of fun. We didn’t get a huge bird, so there are just enough leftovers to have a few turkey-cranberry-stuffing sandwiches without getting sick of them. Then, this coming Thursday, I’ll be the one to cook Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve never done it before by myself, and I’m excited about it. I ordered a heritage turkey, and I’m still researching good recipes.

Mummy cupcakes

Carrot cake mummies with cream cheese frosting, inspired by this picture on Pinterest

To make the mummies’s bandages, I used a #103 cake decorating tip. I used a star tip for the whites of the eyes and a #3 cake decorating tip and melted semi-sweet chocolate for the pupils, but next time I want to try using this tutorial for making googly eyes.

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Wanda’s Carrot Cake

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Sift together:

  • 2 cups sifted flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp salt

Mix together:

  • 1-1/2 cups cooking oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 cups grated carrots — packed
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

Mix together well.

For cupcakes, place cupcake liners into two cupcake pans, and fill with batter. Bake at 300 degrees for 45-50 minutes. (When they are done, a toothpick poked into the center of a cupcake will come out clean.) Yields 24 cupcakes.

For a larger cake, bake at 300 degrees in a greased pan for one hour.

Cream Cheese Frosting

Mix together:

  • 1 lb confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 8-oz. container of cream cheese
  • 1 tsp vanilla
Frost cool cake.
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Halloween books: Pumpkins / Field trips: Tanaka Farms Pumpkin Patch

Pumpkins by Ken Robbins is a beautiful book. There are gorgeous pictures of pumpkin farms, and pictures showing the life cycle of pumpkins from seeds to decomposition. It also shows how big and small they can be and how different they can look. The farm pictures include a wagon like the one on the cover and a tractor in the background, which were some of the most excitedly exclaimed over pages in our house. It also devotes a few pages to Halloween and jack-o-lanterns. It’s the perfect book to read at the beginning of October just as pumpkins start showing up everywhere.

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We read it before visiting the Tanaka Farms pumpkin patch in Irvine, and it was a great preparation. At Tanaka Farms, you can pick pumpkins off the vine, and you can ride around the farm in a wagon attached to the back of a tractor.


The Tanaka Farms pumpkin patch, as seen from a wagon ride around the farm.

Unlike the book, it had a petting zoo, and it was the best petting zoo we’ve been to so far consisting of relatively sturdy, small animals that are unlikely to stress kids out and that kids are unlikely to stress out in return. There were no rabbits or chickens, for example, which was wonderful, and there were lots of pygmy goats and baby pygmy goats, and young normal goats and a few sheep and pot bellied piglets. There were three separate pens, each one a good, respectable petting zoo on its own, and one of the pens was getting a rest period while we were there to give the animals a chance to relax. The animals we visited with seemed pretty comfortable with the whole situation.

It also had a produce stand, old-fashioned games for older kids (bean-bag toss sorts of games with no flashing lights or loud noises) and a track surrounded by large potted plants where kids could ride gas-powered mini tractors around.

We’ll definitely be going back.

Tanaka Farms Pumpkin Patch
5380 University Drive
Irvine, CA 92612

Snake wreath in progress

Snake wreath in progress.

This is my first Martha Stewart project. I’ve been reading the magazine for years, but I’ve never made anything from it, not even a recipe. I’ve probably spent ten hours on this so far, and it’s not even close to done. I found all the materials, I spray painted the wreath black, I’ve been painting all the little vinyl snakes black with a little paint brush, and then I’m wiring them onto the wreath one by one. I love it and it’s tedious and I still love it. I also wonder how many hours women in the world have spent making Martha Stewart projects, collectively.