If bacon drippings were gold

I  have this dream, fantasy….ok, completely unrealistic expectation that one day when I entertain everything will be perfect.  Other people seem to do it.  Martha Stewart comes to mind.  A bit closer to home, my sister-in-law Kathe has the perfect home.  It’s so perfect to the teensiest detail that the lamp in the guest bedroom has a tiny little decorative ladybug on it.  My house gets actual infestations.  Here’s another less out-there example:  my sister, who lives an outrageously crazy life and whose house would at times scare a health inspector, pulled off a house-perfect event this August.

Who knows what lurks in yonder fridge? Today, at least, no bacon drippings.

Some of you are choking on your coffee at this.  Come on, you think, you’ve pulled off two wedding receptions, a cousin reunion, countless Thanksgivings and office parties.  True enough.  Here’s what has set me off:  I just wish that getting ready for Thanksgiving (which involves the death-defying act of cleaning out the refrigerator) did not involve bacon drippings.

My daughter had done a preliminary pass of the fridge, dumping out her old lentils and such.  She saved for me the dish of evaporated something formerly known as junket that had been pushed to the way back and managed to glue itself to the shelf.  I had to remove the entire shelf–with dish attached–and run hot water over it to dislodge the dish.  What made it more annoying is that I love junket and would never have let that get past Day 2 if I had known it was in there.

She also left all the containers of bacon drippings.  She probably did not want to be the responsible party when her dad discovered their absence.  I, however, am willing to “out-wrath” him.  I need room in the fridge for two turkeys, plus a bazillion casseroles, and the fridge is already not big enough.  I need every square inch of shelf space possible.  Multiple–and I mean multiple–containers of bacon drippings are wasting valuable shelf space.  So I pull them all out and discover that two of them are essentially empty!  They aren’t completely empty.  They are end of the peanut butter jar empty.  You could scrape more out if you were desperate for peanut butter, but if you had a fresh jar in the pantry, you’d toss it.  That kind of empty.  But not so empty that you can just plop the greasy thing in the dishwasher with glassware.  So I have to wipe them empty.  I could just run hot water in them in the sink, but it would take a lot of running water plus that much grease is not so great for the pipes and septic system.  So wipe, wipe, wipe.

Why, when I have actual party prep to do, am I cleaning out bacon grease containers?  Why, you ask, are you cleaning out bacon grease containers?  Why, you ask, don’t you just throw them out?  Because, dear reader, they are not in tin (aluminum, whatever) cans–they are in coffee mugs.  As a teacher, I have a plethora of coffee mugs–just yesterday I was given a lovely set of two from a parent who flew in from Korea for parent conferences–but that doesn’t mean I want to just throw them out.

So here I am cleaning out bacon-dripping filled coffee mugs when there is silver to be polished.  And I’m gonna hear it when hubby discovers (probably by reading this) that the drippings are gone.  It’s not like we won’t generate more.  Sheesh.  The way my husband hoards bacon drippings, you’d think they were gold.  If only.  If bacon drippings were gold, I could retire.

Countdown to Thanksgiving

For some people the upcoming days count down to serious Christmas shopping.  Others are counting the days to shotgun season.  For me, multiple checklists focus me toward the annual Thanksgiving crowd at my house.  With about forty guests expected, the checklists–my marching orders–keep me from total panic.  I used to spend a whole weekend making lists, but one year I used half a brain cell and decided to save the lists on the computer.  Now I whip out those files, do a little tweaking, and get marching.

Ok, marching is an optimistic way to phrase that.  Marching implies order and calmness.  Every year my Thanksgiving prep  begins with total shock. What? Thanksgiving is in ten days???  How  did that happen?  It’s not like I don’t know it’s coming.  Every week since September I’ve been telling myself to clean the cobwebs off the front door.  Halloween has come and gone, along with the excuse for having cobwebs on the front door.  I know it’s November.   Thanksgiving is at the end of November.  What?  It’s the middle of November already?  Ack!!!

Inevitably a family member will email me and ask if I’m sending the annual Thanksgiving Family-gram.  They don’t want to presume that I’m hosting, but…am I?  Of course.  Where better to spend T-day than over the river and through the woods to a cozy log home where there is shooting down on the field and big-screen football inside followed by cigars under the stars?  Plus, over the years, I’ve collected dishes, card tables and chairs, coffee urns, table linens, even a chocolate fountain.  Someone else would have to borrow all that stuff.

So, I have to send the Family-gram.  This is the “tell me who is coming and what you are bringing” communication.  We have finally almost mastered the skill of building the menu online by clicking “Reply All” to the last email and adding meal contributions directly onto the menu.   I say “almost” because one sister, who shall be unnamed but it’s the one who is so high up in corporate management that her territory consists of our entire galaxy, well, she must need a secretary to do it for her.  She can’t seem to get her items into the menu itself.  Every year we try again and inch toward getting it right.

A burst of adrenalin has launched me to the computer. I open all my to-do lists, tweak last year’s family-gram and send it, and order the turkeys.  Now a second wave of denial hits me.  I have almost two weeks to do all the things on the list.  So I write a blog post about it.  I grab a snack and note the despicable condition of the fridge.  I stare at the silver that wants polishing.   I ponder setting the auto-clean on the oven.  (Really, how hard is it to set the auto-clean?  Why do I not have a sparkling oven?)

I may have marching orders, but I don’t march.  It’s more like running hurdles.  With rest-stops between the hurdles.  (No one has ever accused me of being an athlete.)  Ok, I’m going to get up now.  What’s that proverb?  A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Really, I am.  I’m getting up now.  Promise.

Holiday Traditions

Thanksgiving to Christmas is just crazy busy.  What makes the busy-ness tolerable is the fun stuff that we do every year.  Last Saturday, after hosting 42 people here for Thanksgiving, we girls had our fifth annual Christmas cookie bake.  Ok, let me re-phrase that…Kristin and Shelley came over and baked all day.  Julie’s sorry excuse was that she was in the hospital (what some people will do to  get out of baking…).  And my sorry excuse for fading on the sofa while cookie sheet after cookie sheet came out of the oven was, well, 42 people here on Thanksgiving.  Don’t get me wrong—I love hosting the Thanksgiving gathering.  But by Saturday, I’m ready for some couch time.   A week later, though, I’m all ready to head downtown to Tuba Christmas. (Don’t miss the picture at the very end of this post!)

And everyone was afraid we wouldn't have enough dessert!

I love this shot of Mario digging into desserts.  Well, he is eating for two these days.  Oh wait, that’s Kristin who’s eating for two!

Harper and Ally enjoy the chocolate fountain on Thanksgiving

Did someone tell Carol it was the fountain of youth?  Looks like it works, based on her two little side-kicks.

The cookie  bake-off began around noon on Saturday.  Kristin and Shelley–both former Graul’s bakery girls–put their two Kitchen Aid mixers to work.  Kristin swears by the Joy of Cooking recipe for chocolate chip (her 2005 Bride Edition cookbook which is falling apart already).  It’s pretty much the same as the Tollhouse recipe on the Nestle’s bag except for the higher ratio of brown to white sugar.  As a variation, they also made a cranberry white chocolate version. Yum. 
Rolled cookies included classic sugar cookies and gingerbread.  Unlike Aunt Kathe’s amazing legendary Thanksgiving sugar cookies, our sugar cookies are rolled thin and absolutely, positively made with almond extract. The basic recipe (with vanilla) that we used was from my 1980 Better Homes and Garden Cookbook. ( That one is falling apart, too, but at least it’s from age and not poor binding.)
The gingerbread was made using Mom’s (aka Hanny’s) 1955 Fannie Farmer Cookbook recipe.  (The recipe has outlasted her cookbook!)   It is crucial that the dough be rolled thick enough to remain soft after  baking.  My grown daughters don’t realize that the thickness must replicate the softness of the gingerbread that Mom bought from Portner’s Bakery in Margate, NJ when I was a kid.   The cookies this year turned out perfect.
Traditions are fluid things, the same  but evolving.  This year I searched for a recipe that would use the fennel seed I harvested this fall.  I found a really tasty Fennel Tea Cookie recipe that is very much like a Pfeffernusse cookie.  These cookies will be my downfall if I don’t keep them hidden in the freezer.  (And  even then, they are just a microwave beep away from my mouth.)
Here is the recipe which I have just copied and pasted from the source:http://www.tasteofhome.com/Recipes/Fennel-Tea-Cookies
  • 18 Servings
  • Prep: 20 min. Bake: 15 min.
  • Ingredients

    • 1 tablespoon fennel seed, crushed
    • 2 tablespoons boiling water
    • 3/4 cup butter, softened
    • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
    • 1 egg
    • 2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    • Confectioners’ sugar


    • In a small bowl, soak fennel seed in boiling water; set aside. In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg. Drain fennel seed. Combine the flour, baking soda and fennel seed; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well.
    • Roll into 1-in. balls; place 2 in. apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. Roll warm cookies in confectioners’ sugar. Cool on wire racks. Yield: 3 dozen.

    William Donald Schafer comes to Baltimore Tuba Christmas 2010

    About 230 tubas and tuba-type horns showed up at the Inner Harbor Ampitheatre for the annual Baltimore Merry Tuba Christmas.  We’ve been going for 12 years, since newlywed Julie was in 6th grade.  Back then, we would go have lunch at Phillip’s while she had tuba rehearsal.  We no longer have to drive her, but we have continued the tradition of having lunch before the concert.  This year, Mom, Shelley and I met at Tir Na Nog.

    The tuba newlyweds

      After the concert Mom and I went back with Julie and Chris for some dinner.  We devoured a piece of Fresh Ginger Guiness Spice Cake.  Look for that in the next  post!

    Only in Baltimore does a crabby mood make you smile. Here's Hanny enjoying a crabby day.