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Posts Tagged With: cheese ball

The gift of an unconventional Holiday

I knew the day was coming, and tried to keep my voice cheery as I zipped his parka, handed off his Ninja Turtle backpack, and sent my 4-year-old off with his father.  Freshly divorced, and newly navigating the every-other-holiday thing, I kissed my boy good-bye and squeezed his mittened hand one more time.  He took his cues from me, and although bio-Dad was consistently inconsistent with visitation, and I had not yet met  (or even imagined) the man-who-would-be-Hubbs, I needed to keep my act together so my little guy would be OK.

Shutting the door, I stood in the darkened entry and watched them drive away, a wave of sadness fell over me. It felt like the wettest blanket on the coldest night.  It was a rainy, dreary Wednesday afternoon in western Connecticut.  My family was a million miles away in Canada and I’d been too busy surviving working to have made plans.  At least he would only be gone for the weekend, and knowing the other one, probably coming home early.   I looked around our sparse apartment, at my pull-out sofa in the living room, his bunk beds and toys in the bedroom.  My eyes landed on our small table with two chairs, at books and Play-Doh from earlier play.

Calling Mom, we chatted for a while and caught up on the goings on there.  I heard her attempts at a cheerful voice, knowing we were so far away, and that I was by myself tonight.  When she asked what I’d be doing for the Holiday, I sputtered out something about being invited to a friend’s apartment.  “Oh, that’s good, dear.  You should go, there’s no need to be by yourself, and, well, we’d feel better if you did.”  She was right, of course, but there was about a .001% of me that wanted to go out and meet new people.   I promised her I’d think about it.

Later that night my friend Dee called.  Practically begging,  she admitted her parents were coming, too, and “you know how my Dad can be.”  Yes, I’d met them both, they were European, on-again-off-again as a couple, the Mom, quiet and nervous, the Dad, critical and imposing.  I knew she needed a buffer and, quite frankly, I suddenly had a need to get out of that apartment.   We agreed I’d be there mid morning the next day.

Upon arrival, I learned she’d also invited the “strays” ~ anyone in her building who didn’t have a place to be or family to spend the Holiday with.  Wow!

We quickly set to work peeling potatoes, setting a card table & chairs at the end of the kitchen table, scrounging around for Fast Food napkins, extra plates, plastic cutlery, tablecloths and a couple of old candles.  She turned on the radio – with a countdown of sorts, a mixture of Motown and Classic Rock, fun.  The turkey simmered in the oven, and the aroma, unmistakable.

Next she announced we had turnips to prepare ~ her crusty Dad had a thing for buttered  turnips, except she had no clue how to peel the waxy layer off of  it and neither did I.  We managed to get a steak knife stuck embedded in that thing more than once.  Laughing, we developed a rhythm, but we were more like Lucy and Ethel than Fred and Ginger. I peeled carrots and steamed them with peas, poured off the turkey drippings to make gravy, and mashed the potatoes.  She stirred corn and cream and butter together, microwaved Stove-Top Stuffing.  We ran into each other more than once.  Yep, Lucy and Ethel.

Soon guests began arriving ~ old and young, a shy woman with a bright-eyed toddler and no mention of the father, a married couple from Venezuela, she with lovely accent, his hand on the small of her back.  My friend’s son and his girlfriend, her parents and me, and Ivan, the lanky maintenance man with a heavy Russian accent, a shy smile and two bottles of vodka.  Everyone streamed in, offering what they had, ~ buttery Seafood Paela, a cheesecake, Wine, chocolates, sausage, pickles and cheese. We sent her son to 7-11 for more plates and paper products while her Dad took a seat to carve the turkey.  Her Mom, a bit tipsy from the vodka, chatted animatedly with Ivan.  We all found a seat on uneven and mismatched chairs, making small talk, clanking glasses,and savoring the moment.  I was in and out, serving, and bringing more to share.

It was there, grabbing another bowl of something in my friend’s kitchen, when I remembered that I’d forgotten about being sad. About being far from home.  I felt a tug ~ a love of cooking I’d not experienced in years.  See, since the divorce, I’d been getting by on “functional cooking” —  cooking to live, cooking to check the box.  Day-to-day. No joy, no creativity.  This was different.  This effort, stirring the gravy and mashing turnips in a new-to-me kitchen – transported me to my mother’s kitchen.  To Holiday meals and Mom’s and my Grandmother’s tables so lovingly prepared one couldn’t feel anything but gratitude at being included.  To feelings of warmth and happiness and appreciation for everything – the love and the labor, the sweat and the tears, that went into it creating so much magic for all of us.  It was in that moment, on that unorthodox Holiday, when I felt my love of cooking re-ignite. It was there, tasting the turnips, that I gave thanks.

one end of my Grandmother’s Holiday Table, an Emjayandthem (C) picture

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Flash forward to now:  After a visit with our grand-daughter at school yesterday morning, my son and I enjoyed a brief lunch together.   He’s no longer that little tow-headed boy, he towers over me by a foot, and has a family of his own.  He helps them with their mittens and coats.  Full circle.

I told him the story of my unorthodox Thanksgiving holiday so long ago, and how I thought we would all be well served to experience a holiday like that.  I told him that getting through that helped me appreciate where I’m from, and the traditions we enjoy today.

He gently teased me about my “holiday marathons” ~ I pointed out that when I start cooking 2-3 days ahead of the holiday, it’s because I want to.

When I prep multiple appetizers and side dishes, meats and desserts, it’s because I have people to cook for.

And when I decorate the table well before anybody steps foot through the door, I channel all of them: my Mom, My Grandmother, and the other wonderful women of my childhood who did such things for me.

  • Did you ever spend a holiday in an unconventional way? What do you remember from the experience?
  • What traditions are you carrying forward?
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Categories: Attitude, Beauty, Determination, Faith, Family, Food, Growth, Holidays, Home, Joy, Life, Life Lessons, Mom, music, News, Opinion, Personal, Recipes, Seasons, Thoughts, Traditions, Wisdom, Women, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Look No Further” Cheese Ball

..a cute lil' cheeseball .. all dressed up for the Holiday!

Look at that cute lil’ cheeseball .. all dressed up for the Holiday!

Your search is over.

I know what you’re after, yes I do.  You’re looking for that one recipe this Holiday Season that’ll knock their socks off.  The one … singular sensation … the one that brings them out of the woodwork to get the last scrapings off the plate, the one people will ask you about one year later.

Look no further, it’s here for you right here, right now.

Why is it so good, you ask?

I don’t know (curry) but I do know this: every single time I’ve taken it anywhere I have been asked to hand over the recipe. Every. Single. Time.

Oh, there was a time I didn’t give it up. Oh no.  I held my trade secrets close to my heart like the treasures they are …. and, truth be told, I still do that if the person clamoring is someone I’m not sure of.  You know the ones, they take your recipes and claim ’em as their own.  But .. I’m past that now.

That’s right, I’m opening the vault to you, my delicious readership, you.

Why?

Because you deserve it.  You deserve the slice of hap-hap-happiness this cheese ball recipe will add to your Holiday gatherings!

2 Words of advice? Stretchy pants.  You’re welcome. 🙂

**MJ’s Look-No-Further Cheese Ball**   (makes 3)

  • 2 blocks of cream cheese
  • 2 packets of Carl Buddig Smoked Ham, chopped (sold in the deli meats section)
  • 1 envelope of dry ranch dressing seasoning
  • 3 green onions, chopped with some green, too
  • 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon of curry (I don’t measure,  just give it a shake)
  • 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon of Mrs. Dash regular or onion (I don’t measure,  just give it a shake)
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
  • If you want to “fancy  it up” you can roll the cheese ball in chopped pecans or walnuts before wrapping. My personal pack of Wolverines could care less but some peeps like it like that.
google.images.com

google.images.com

Directions:

Bring cream cheese to room temperature OR microwave on low heat ’til soft. Stir in seasonings: ranch dressing, curry, and Mrs. Dash. You can add a pinch of garlic powder if you’re so inclined.

Next blend in the chopped onion & ham. Lastly, add the shredded cheddar.

Divide into 3 cheese balls about the size of your palm and roll in chopped nuts if you’re getting jiggy with it.  If not, skip the nuts and wrap each cheese ball in plastic wrap. Think you’re done? Not so fast … wrap again and refrigerate immediately.  Bing, bang, boom – done!

These are best if made at least a day ahead (the ultimate party food!) but can be made up in less time than it takes you to shower and slip on your Holiday sweater!   They can also be frozen although the texture will shift from creamy to crumbly .. but still plate-scrapingly good.

15-20 minutes before serving, take cheese ball out of the fridge so it has time to soften.  Serve with your favorite crackers (we like Triscuit Rosemary & Herb … mmm), stand back  and prepare for the accolades sure to come your way.

Me? I like to set it out, step away quietly and watch the frenzy from a safe distance!

Happy Noshing 🙂

How about you? Got a “go-to” Holiday recipe to share with me?

Categories: Family, Food, Home, Joy, Share, Traditions, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Holiday Hosts & Holy Crap!

Being the Holiday Host takes time & practice.  I’ve had my share of distractions & disasters on the day of — power outages, waylaid guests, defective ovens and birds that refused to defrost.  Over the years, the holiday meal and the preparation thereof, has evolved. How? I’ve added new traditions, stripped away some old, but held onto just enough for good measure.

Thanksgiving is only 2 weeks away and my goal this year, and every year, is to have more fun and less stress!

If you've got something pretty .. use it. What are you waiting for?

Here are my 5 Survival Steps to keep sanity in check as a Holiday Host:

1. Make it your own.  Just because Mom served turkey & turnips doesn’t mean you have to.  If your family prefers pizza or meatballs, by all means have them!  I choose to serve a traditional Thanksgiving meal – you know roast turkey, mashed potatoes & gravy, dressing, etc.  But it’s the “etc” that I’ve changed up over the years. I steam sweet peas and fresh carrots because that’s what Grandpa and I like. Hubbs and son#1 get their beloved asparagus and we round it off with a tossed salad for our daughter in law and son #2. I’ve stopped serving rolls, yams and jellied salads. Why? No one ate them.  D’uh!   There’s no law written that mandates what we should load up on … just have what you like and enjoy being together.

Don't be a turkey; let others help!

2. Let others help.  This was a hard one for me to learn. For years, I insisted on doing it all and ended up exhausted.  I’ve learned that letting others help lets them feel like they’re part of it all and isn’t that the feeling we’re aiming for anyways?

3. Make ahead/do ahead.  In the days leading up to any big Holiday get-together, I do as much ahead of time as I can.   I tidy up the house, clear the counters, and wash & dry my favorite “pretty” platters (a few heirlooms but most are from yard sales).  I empty the dishwasher and assemble place mats and decorations. I cut up all fresh vegetables and make my world famous cheese balls *see recipe below. Lastly, I write out the menu in a timeline format – pick your meal time and count backwards.   I.E. If you’re planning to serve the meal at 4:00 pm and the turkey (size) you picked takes 4 hours to cook, put it in the oven at 11:30 am (allowing ~30 min for the bird to sit before carving).  Potatoes should be peeled and boiling by 2:30 and so on.

.. so funny, so good. Image from Holycrap.ca

4.  Be kind to yourself.  Get your rest, drink water, take a stroll through the neighborhood and for goodness sakes, eat something – No one wants a faintly, cranky cook snarling at them from the kitchen.  My favorite go-to snack?  1 cup of Greek Yoghurt with 2 tbsp of Holy Crap stirred in – this is a high protein, high fiber and energy inducing treat!  (for more about the world’s most amazing breakfast cereal please visit http://holycrap.ca/)

5.  Have fun.Hubbs insists on taking me out the night before a major holiday and I never protest.  We visit with friends, have a few drinks, and enjoy getting waited on.  It makes for a relaxed and happy cook (me!) and he’s just a darn hero for coming up with the idea … every year. Hee hee.

Duh duh duh!! It's SuperHubby!! Underdog image from wikipedia.org

It’s my privilege to have loved ones to host and I don’t often find cooking to be a chore.  It’s a gift I give, with my whole heart, to those I adore most.  It’s creative, meaningful and the effort feeds my soul. And that, to me, is what hosting a Holiday meal is all about anyways.

MJ’s Marvelous Cheese Ball

  • 2 blocks of cream cheese
  • 2 packets of Carl Buddig Smoked Ham, chopped (sold in the deli meats section)
  • 1 envelope of dry ranch dressing seasoning
  • 2-3 green onions, chopped with some green, too
  • About 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon of curry (I don’t measure, I just give it a liberal shake)
  • About 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon of Mrs. Dash regular or onion (I don’t measure, I just give it a liberal shake)
  • About 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
  • If you want to “fancy  it up” you can roll the cheese ball in chopped pecans or walnuts before wrapping.

Directions:

Bring cream cheese to room temperature OR microwave until soft. Stir in seasonings: ranch dressing, curry, and Mrs. Dash.

Stir in chopped onion & ham. Lastly, stir in shredded cheddar.

Divide into 3 cheese balls and wrap in Plastic Wrap; wrap in 2 layers. Refrigerate immediately.

Best if made ahead of time and these can be frozen although they will be crumbly vs. creamy when defrosted.

Serve with your favorite crackers & stand back (I prefer to take it the cheese ball out of the fridge about 15 min before serving so it has time to soften).

How about you? Are you a Holiday Host or a Holiday Guest? Any tips to share?

Categories: Family, Food, Holidays, Life, Recipes | Tags: , , , , | 26 Comments

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