Monday, November 30, 2009

an invitation:

Friday, November 27, 2009

Where You WON'T Find Me on Black Friday...

Today is Black Friday. It is a day when the masses flood the retail stores to snag great deals on holiday merchandise. A day for merriment and joy. A day for glee.

But you won’t find me joyfully shopping, and here are the reasons why:

* It interferes with my dedicated plans for laziness:
I know there are plenty of families who love to round-out a weekend of eating and napping with a high-energy tour of the malls (it’s like retail exercise), but I don’t come from a family like that. Instead, I have grown up in a culture that believes that the four-day holiday break is good for one thing: doing nothing. We sleep in. We nap. We watch movies. We leisurely eat a mountain of leftovers. I just can’t break from tradition. My family needs me.

* I’m a holiday-shopping-procrastinator:
In other words, I’m not prepared for Black Friday.
Yes, I’ve typed up and emailed my Christmas list to everyone, but I’m nowhere near determining my lists for others (I may have just confessed to a series character flaw here....). So though I suppose I could go out to the stores, I would just wander the jam-packed aisles with no purpose.

And with no purpose we all know what happens--
I end up buying an armload of absolutely adorable gifts....for me.

* Finally, it’s absolutely crazy out there!
I’m not telling you something you don’t already know.
The one and only time I’ve ever ventured out on Black Friday I reached the parking lot before dawn only to realize that there were no parking spaces left.

Who are these CRAZY PEOPLE that get up that early and camp out in front of retail stores?!!!

Please...please...if you are one of them, tell me what I’m missing.
Is it the deals? The adrenaline rush? The thrill of the sale? The smell of blood in the air?

Because I’m dying to know. I just don’t get it.

So today, when the sun rises, you’ll know just where to find me: in bed, sleeping.

Merry Black Friday. Now leave me alone--I’m trying to rest.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sides and Pie...

Everyone knows that a Thanksgiving meal isn't just about the turkey. There are the sides, too. Like pie. And stuffing. And gravy. And mashed potatoes.

And did I mention pie?

In the great division of annual holiday labor, the stuffing fell to me this year. Which is funny since I don't even like stuffing. Stuffing from a box, that is. So this year I decided to try a new recipe: Artichoke Sourdough stuffing with Parmesan cheese.

The ingredients include all of those lovely veggies you see above, plus artichokes, parmesan, and sourdough bread.

Everything is mixed together, soaked in chicken broth, and baked in the oven.

Truth be told, I still don't like stuffing, so this wasn't my favorite side, but my husband loved it and said it was a keeper. The already half-eaten container of leftovers testifies that he wasn't lying, so if you're searching for a new recipe, this might be a great fit!

Moving on, have you ever seen such perfect rolls in all of your life? They are the prettiest we've ever made. I believe you might have even caught me cooing at them....

Contrary to the rest of our meal, these babies aren't from scratch, but instead are Rhodes frozen rolls that you can pick up at any grocer.

You have to take a few shortcuts, after all.

Next comes the gravy. Like stuffing, I'm not traditionally a gravy fan, but I have to admit that this year's batch wasn't half bad. What you see above is one turkey leg, the gizzards, herbs and broth getting ready to simmer on the stovetop for an hour or two. Then comes the thickening agent (otherwise known as cornstarch) and seasoning.

I let my husband, who is a gravy enthusiast, concoct the brew. He was pretty pleased with himself. Pretty pleased indeed.

While he was brewing the gravy, I was working on something I enjoy much, much more: homemade apple pie. It is probably the easiest item on the whole menu. It starts with the dough, which takes about two minutes to whip up in a food processor.

And then comes the filling. Fresh Granny Smith apples, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. It's that easy, folks.

If you were spying on me as I pulled this beauty out of the oven, you just might have caught some more cooing. It's just so pretty I can hardly stand it. And tasty, too, all warm and gooey with vanilla ice cream on top.

And of course Guiness, if you're my husband, who stocked up on the dark beer just for the apple-pie-eating occasion.

And the best part of the whole thing, in my opinion, is the leftovers. I've already eaten about half-a-dozen turkey & roll sandwiches for lunch and enjoyed more than one slice of pie for breakfast (you already know how I feel about pie for breakfast...).

And considering that Thanksgiving doesn't even commence until tomorrow, I'd say I've gotten a fairly good head start, wouldn't you?

What are your favorite holiday sides? Share your comments by posting here!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I've Died...(part 2)

...and gone to turkey heaven. Again.

As I mentioned yesterday, my husband and I are
deeply committed to cooking the perfect holiday turkey. This year we think we may have found it....

But before I unveil the finished bird, let's review. First there was the 24-hour brine.

And then the butterflying technique whereby the turkey is cut in half and laid out flat.

One additional intermediary step that I unfortunately forgot to snap photos of is the herbed-butter rub. This is where you create an intoxicating blend of herbs (the trifecta again: rosemary, sage and thyme), garlic, salt and pepper, and mix it into a buttery spread.

Then you rub the buttered mix in between the skin and meat of the turkey. This makes the turkey taste divine. Trust me. Divine.

And finally it is ready for the grill. As I said yesterday, this is the first year we have grilled our bird. And it is unquestionably the only way we'll cook our turkeys in the future.

It was that good.

That good, people.

The charcoal briquets were laid into the bottom of an old propane grill we had along with a drip pan and hickory chips (ummm...hickory...), and the turkey was laid out directly over the grate.

I only wish you could smell it.

And here, my friends, is the final result. It is a golden masterpiece if I do say so.

It took about two hours on the grill to get up to 165 degrees
(the temp needed to avoid nasty things like food poisoning), and then another 10 minutes to rest.

And the flavor. Oh the flavor. The smoky goodness hits you first, followed by the more subtle hint of herbs. And both the white and dark meats were so juicy.

Let me just say that there were lots of high-fives and self-congratulations at the Hillberry house.

And of course some very hungry dogs hoping to get lucky.

They know a good turkey when they smell one.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the sides
, like the artichoke parmesan stuffing I tried, and of course homemade apple pie!

in case you want to try:
recipe for grilled butterflied turkey from Sunset Magazine

Monday, November 23, 2009

I've Died (part one)...

...and gone to turkey heaven.

Every year since my husband and I tied the knot we have been on a quest to cook the perfect holiday bird. We watch the Food Network and take copious notes. We scour magazine recipes looking for tips and hints. We search the internet for prized tricks. And every year we get closer and closer to perfecting our technique.

This year was no exception.

It started with some salt. About a cups worth.

And then some brown sugar.

And molasses, naturally.

Followed by the trifecta of holiday herbs: rosemary, sage, and thyme.

These ingredients create the brine. That's right: brine. It's basically a soak for the turkey. Like a bath, only for Thanksgiving poultry.

And here is the bird. This one is about 12 lbs and has been sitting in the fridge defrosting for several days.

My handy helper is now rinsing the turkey. He gets very excited about turkey.

Very excited.

Now comes the Big Dunk.

See it soaking so happily in that brown brine-y goodness? From here it goes into the fridge for 24 hours.

After the customary soak, we decided to try something new this year. Martha calls it "spatchcocking," but of course normal people simply call it butterflying.

I promised to use the latter phrase because my husband feels uncomfortable with the term "spatchcock."
For some unexplainable reason it makes him squirm.... Okay, maybe it is explainable.

It starts with some heavy duty poultry shears. These basically look like pruners, and they're needed to cut the backbone out of the turkey.

Once cut, you flip the bird and break the breastbone. For some reason this is a particularly satisfying chore for a man. I think it's the cracking sound.

Then you tuck the wings under the sides and prepare it to cook.

Butterflying the turkey cuts the cooking time in about half,
which sounded perfect for us since we decided to ditch the oven entirely this year and head out to the patio grill.

But more on that tomorrow...

What is your favorite turkey recipe? Share by posting your comments here!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Original Extension

Normally come Friday morning I am in the mood to be a little silly. Because it is the end of the week, and couldn’t we all use a break? Today, however, is not my usual Friday. Today is the end of a series, and I can’t in good taste go out with silliness.

Which, I suppose, works out conveniently because there is one more subject related to originality
that I want to chat about before the series closes, and that is the practice of extending ourselves to others.

I use the words “practice” and “extension” intentionally here, because that is exactly how I feel about stretching myself to serve. It is figuratively a stretch for me--and like my sad, sad hamstrings, I’m often a bit tight and cramped up. And so I need practice. Lots of it.

This time of year we are often encouraged (or “bombarded” depending on how you look at) with opportunities to give of ourselves. And I wouldn’t be a good citizen or good human without urging all of us to take advantage of these open doors and give.

However, this year I want to dig a little deeper--make it a little more personal.
And, frankly, a little more fun. And that is the “original” part of my quest. What I want is to start with what I have, meaning my skills and talents and resources, and explore the creative ways I can use those skills and/or stuff to extend myself to others.

So, for instance, when my good friend petitioned me last week to help her knit baby items as a fundraising effort for her international adoption, I was thrilled to say yes. Not only do I have a special place in my heart for women who are pursuing unconventional families (because I am one of them), but also I love to knit. Love it. And donating my time is a perfect way to extend myself for a good cause. It’s just the kind of practice I need.

During this season, then, I want to challenge myself (and you) to consider ways to give beyond the usual food donations and Good Samaritan coin collections (but of course give to them too!) by considering ways that we can creatively and with originality extend ourselves using the gifts we have been given. Maybe your talent is for cooking or sewing or organizing or just listening. Find it and give.

Because originality may start with us as an individuals, but I’d hate for it to end there.

And with that final note, I’m signing off! Stay tuned next week for photos and anecdotes from my Thanksgiving week, and then come back for the launch of my new series on handmade holiday fun! Until then--have a great Friday!

Photo Glossary:
photos 1-2: handknit baby sweater-dress, my latest knit design (I love how it turned out, don't you!?)
photo 3: handknit bunny from Last Minute Knitted Gifts

photo 4: bunny on baby girl quilt designed by me and sewn from recycled fabrics

photos 5-6: handknit raglan from Last Minute Knitted Gifts on baby boy quilt designed by me and sewn from recycled fabrics

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Where Originality Lives

This is the time of year when we start to pen our holiday gift lists--the emails and sticky notes and scratch papers that catalog the things we want and the things we need. And of course the things we will give to others.

Certainly I am a fan of this process.
For the record, I sent my gift list to family members two weeks ago. And I keep thinking of new things I want to add to the list: Aveda lip amber-colored lamp...pretty new design books.... I frankly love the festivity of giving and receiving gifts.

However, I can’t very well close out a series on being original with a Christmas list. Because being an original doesn’t start with the question “what do you want?” but instead with “what do you have?”

I’ve read a lot of answers to this question lately on Facebook as my friends daily list the things they are thankful for in this month of thanksgiving. It is undoubtedly a good practice--noting the things we have in our lives that bring us joy.

But beyond the art of simple appreciation there is also the adventure of reinventing and reinvesting the resources we have into new things. You’ve heard me refer to it as the new Midas touch during posts last spring, and I’ll likely keep talking about it until next spring. Because I know with conviction that there is a world of possibility lying dormant in our closets and our under our beds and tucked into our garages.

It is where originality lives.

It might come as no surprise to you, then, to learn that this year’s annual handmade holiday series (starting in about a week) will place a heavy premium on uncovering the original creations hiding in our nooks and crannies. The revamped sweater and upgraded shoes. The patchwork pillows and sparkly surprises. All starting not with what do you want?, but what do you have?

(note: the above photo is probably Not where originality lives, but it was so pretty I couldn't resist...)

And so I suppose that originality won’t end tomorrow, but will keep going into the holiday season and beyond.

Thank goodness, because I could really get used to this theme...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I've been very distracted lately with design projects. I'm not sure why this happens to me. Maybe it's a genetic disorder. Or some kind of syndrome. And although normally it complicates my ability to focus on important things, sometimes it comes in handy for illustrating a point.

And the point, naturally, has to do with originality since this is the final week (sniff sniff) of our series on Being an Original. During this final week I want to focus on one of my favorite themes: creatively adapting our existing resources to fit a need.

A need for new art, as in my case.

Take the above canvas, for instance. It was formerly a lovely Tuscan scene, painted by someone with more skill than myself. Lovely indeed, but entirely inappropriate for the design of my home. Like my inevitable future feelings for my skinny jeans, I wondered "what was I thinking?" when I glanced at the painting recently. And so I decided to adapt the canvas.

Some paint, some faux bois contact paper, and Voila! A pretty stag head on gray-blue. And even though my husband says it's creepy, I love it.

With my "stag success" (try using that phrase in a sentence today...), I moved onto another lackluster canvas. This pretty frame was once a floral scene perfect for adorning the walls of a hotel room. In other words, it was ridiculously generic.

So last spring I decided to give it an upgrade by painting over the floral motif and creating a fabric collage on the surface with remnants and spray adhesive.

Bad idea.

And then I saw this photo, courtesy of the Pioneer Woman, and suddenly I knew what Really should have been in the frame all along.

Which is steers butting heads. My husband and I are both pretty stubborn, so I figured it was a fitting image for our home. I'm the one on the right--can't you tell?

By this point I was really on a roll, so I decided to decoupage a lovely photo from a magazine onto this piece of wood.

It looked like first grade art.

Plan B, therefore, was to take off the image using some water and a knife and repaint. But lo and behold, under the pretty picture was an imprint of the opposite page, stamped right onto the wood. And I love it.

Even accidents can be more original than expected!

The point is that often what we need to create original spaces and clothing and gifts already exists in our home. We just need to practice our skills of adaptation. It all starts with the question: what do you have?

But more on that tomorrow! Cheers!
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