Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Miss Bee's Christmas Movie Review:

The Homecoming  * * * * * (5 out of 5 stars)
Let me tell you a little about my thought process for selecting Christmas movies with an eye towards adding them to my permanent DVD collection.  First there are the big guns, the movies  that start appearing in theatres across the United States sometime in November.  Then we have the made-for-TV movies that show up on regular network TV either as “specials,” or as expanded regularly programmed shows.  Then there are the films that show up on cable etc.  Back in my day, it used to cost a network major bucks to put together a Christmas show only to be seen just one time.  It was always risky.

In 1971, I was 16 years old.  My sweetheart had graduated in the spring and was now in the US Navy, up to his butt in BUDS/SEAL training and not able to get home for Christmas.  I hadn’t been on a date in months.  And it was Sunday.  Dull, boring Sunday.  I was blue and bored and everything nasty that a teenage girl in the early 70’s could be. It was a Sunday and it had been snowing.
Most of the neighbors' yards were covered with white fluffy blankets of snow.  My own front yard was a mass of brown muddy slush as my three brothers and a dozen of their friends had spent the day playing football in it. 

On December 19, 1971 CBS aired a Christmas special called, The Homecoming – A Christmas Story. My mom had been watching the ads for the show for the past couple of weeks and was excited because, ”Patricia Neal is going to be in it and this is a pretty big deal because Patricia Neal is a movie star – not a TV actress, and Patricia Neal has won an Oscar, and she’s old time Hollywood.  She used to be so gorgeous but lately she’s had some health issues and we never get to see her anymore.  Do you want to watch with me?” “What’s it about?” I asked as if I had something better to do.  The Depression, I guess.  Christmas in the Depression.”  Now wasn’t that depressing.

A note here about The Depression: While I did not grow up during The Depression, that era lived with us and all of our friends' families.  Our parents did grow up in The Depression when times were really hard. From them we learned not to waste ANYTHING from scraping the peanut butter jar clean to not dumping an inch of milk down the sink.  Snacks were usually popcorn.  We never had soda.  And every single item of clothing usually came from somebody else.  We used vinegar in our hair to soften it and we might have had an automatic washer as opposed to my boyfriend’s family who had a ringer washing machine, but very few people had a dryer.  Clothes were hung on lines in the basement during the winter and on an outside line in the summer. We ironed sheets and pillow cases because the heat from the irom killed germs and that way you wouldn't get sick and have to go to the doctor. 

The Depression was also used to constantly remind every single child born from 1945 on how rough it used to be in the olden days.  The LAST thing I wanted to see was something about the depressing Depression.  But, there was my mom.  So excited.  And she did kinda ask me to watch it with her, and usually tries to avoid me so … damn.
The Homecoming was written by Earl Hamner, Jr. and it was basically autobiographical.  It’s a story about a family of six red-headed children ages 15 down to 3, three boys and three girls.  They lived on a mountain in Virginia.  Mama is a bible thumper and daddy is a rascal.  Daddy’s aged folks live with them.  Everyone is poor.  They live on a small farm where most of what they eat they raised themselves.  And the kids all have chores and responsibilities. 

Daddy has gone to a town 50 miles away to work and only comes home periodically.  Now, I know, there are many of you out there that drive more than that every day, but in 1933 with no money for gas and even if you had the money, you didn’t have a car – 50 miles was a loooong way.  And this movie is about this family and how they occupy about 12 hours while they wait for their Daddy to come home.

Daddy.  That word always choked me in the craw.  Up in Michigan most of us stop calling our fathers, our dads “Daddy” but the time we start school.  And here were these children – even the 15 year old – calling his daddy "Daddy."  Since those years, I’ve lived here in the south longer than I ever lived in Michigan and Daddy rolls off my tongue just as easy as you please and I know longer cringe. 

This is a small movie by today’s standards.  But the characters are wonderful.  It’s a reminder that we can be happy without a pot or a window if we have love and family.  It reminds us that there have been times in the history of this country where an orange was a holiday treat and a hand knit scarf was a cherished gift.  It reminds us that we are all just small pieces in a great big puzzle and SOMETIMES it isn’t about us at all.  As an adult, it reminds us that what our children learn about family and relationships they learn from us. 
The movie is rated PG because I believe the oldest bog says “bosoms.”  But every single person in the family can enjoy this movie.  And it’s a movie to watch, not just have on in the back ground.
This movie was so popular that it was turned into a regular hour long drama for CBS called The Waltons.  Even if you remember The Waltons and hate it, don’t judge this Christmas movie by those standards.  The very best the writers and actors had are in this movie.  A must have for your Christmas DVD collection.

From the Box:
"The Walton's Love and Courage Face a Difficult Test.
Patricia Neal, Richard Thomas, Edgar Bergen and Cleavon Little star in this award-winning drama that inspired the long-running, vastly popular TV series, “The Waltons.”

Set on a Depression Christmas Eve in 1933, this heart-tugging story centers around the Waltons.  They’re a rural American family preparing to celebrate Christmas together.  Though times are tough, love and sharing are abundant in this family. 
An inspiring tale of love, hope and spirit, this deeply moving story goes far beyond the boundaries of time and place to reach out and touch everyone, every where."

Christmas Tree Garland Idea:

While we are on the subject of festive, fun and frugal DIY Christmas tree garlands, we have to think about cranberries.  Years ago, I purchased several garlands made from cranberry colored wooden beads because I loved them for their subtlety.  But a couple years ago I realized that a bag of fresh cranberries is not flat dark red.  Some are, yes, but most of the berries are several shades, from the deep, dark red to the almost pink.  So I decided to give fresh a whirl. 

Gather Your Materials:
  • A couple of bags of FRESH cranberries
  • Scissors
  • Needles.  I used a doll needle.
  • DMC crochet cotton.  Or you can use dental floss, but be careful, the floss can cut the cranberries in half.
  • Pony beads or buttons
  • Decorative beads (optional)
1)  It's easier to dump the cranberries in a bowl.  Discard any berry that is soft or starting to rot.
2)  Cut off a length of thread, crochet cotton or dental floss.  I like 8-10 feet.
3)  Tie a bead or a button on one end of the thread.  This will act as a stop and keep your cranberries from sliding off the other end. 
4)  Start sliding cranberries on the needle until you get the desired amount.
5)  Tie another button or bead on the needle end.

As you can see, adding some beads really changes the look of the cranberry Christmas tree garland. 

If you plan to use the little seed beads, you'll need a beading needle or even a quilting needle.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Miss Bee's Christmas Movie Review:

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever  * (1 star out of 5)
I feel like Scrooge for what I'm going to say, but, DON'T WASTE YOUR MONEY.  Not only don't waste your money, but don't waste the gas to go to the library or the video store to rent it.  Don't waste one of your Netflix Pix on it.  And don't even waste your time watching it.

We are talking about the TV movie made back in 1986.  The one that bills itself as a "delightful Christmas classic."  The acting was sooooo terrible, I just couldn't get past it.  Shame on Loretta Swit.  All those years with M*A*S*H, I would have thought she might have learned a thing or two.  What would really be great would be if someone out in Hollywood would remake this.

From the Box:
"A delightful Christmas story becomes a home video classic your family will treasure forever!  Loretta Swit stars in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever."
"Touching and funny, it's certain to become a classic." -- Tampa Tribune Times

"Children will love The Best Christmas Pageant Ever." -- Chicago Tribune

BEWARE THE HERDMANS!  They're the nastiest, dirtiest kids you could ever meet ... and they've just decided they belong in this year's pageant.  But the town thinks they belong in the care of the local police.  When the curtain finally goes up, a miracle begins -- and it all turns into -- The Best Christmas Pageant Ever!"
Now, with all that being said, I will say this -- and please listen to me -- BUY THE BOOK!  Go to WalMart or, Books-A-Million or Barnes and Noble and buy the book.  The name of the book (which came before the movie) is The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson.  They book is so much better, funny and lighthearted and you can read it to yourself in a couple of hours.  Or, better yet, read it to your kidlets over a couple of nights as we head towards Christmas.  You really get to know the Herdmans and while it is, after all Christmas with peace on Earth, goodwill toward men, the Herdmans are STILL the Herdmans, rotten as the come.  They don't want your charity -- because if you something they want, they'll just take it from you any ways. 

In the past, I have bought this book by the case and gave it as office gifts, teacher gifts, kid gifts, family gifts, Secret Santa gifts, pen friend gifts -- it really is a wonderful story. 

Christmas Tree Garland Idea:

Paper Chain - Chain - Chain!
Most of us haven't thought about making a paper chain Christmas tree garland since kindergarten -- when a whole lot of effort ended with very unsatisfactory results. 

First, there were the terrible colors available in the large sheets of construction paper.  Usually all the "good" colors had been used up (making autumn leaves), leaving faded black, faded brown and faded purple.  YUCK!

Next was the tedious chore of cutting strips by hand.  It was hard to follow a pencil line on dark colors, let alone get a nice smooth edge from those blunt-nosed silver safety sisscors that tore more often than they cut.

If that wasn't hard enough, then there was the mind-numbing task if holding paper circles together until the paste/glue dried.  Under the best of circumstances you could only get four or five links completed in an hour.

And, finally, the limp construction paper didn't make nice stiff links but loopy ovals that in a few days time would unglue themselves.  No wonder making a paper chain Christmas tree garland left a sour taste in your mouth.

But guess what?  You're not in kindergarten anymore!  Times have changed.  Paper has changed.  Glue has changed.  Little kid scissors have changed.  You're old enough to be trusted with a stapler and a whole roll of scotch tape. And many homes house crafters, scrapbookers and home offices where people have their very own paper cutters or slicers.
All of this not only means making a paper chain Christmas tree garland easy-peasy, but a fun activity to do with the kids.

Round up Your Materials: card stock, scissors, a paper cutter or paper slicer if you've got one, ruler, pencil, clear tape or one of those little red staplers in the school supply aisle.  You could also use an office stapler, but that makes bigger links and you'll have to adust your size.

1)  Cut the long way on your piece of card stock.  Each strip will get you two links with no waste.  I used strips that were 1/2" wide. 

2)  Then cut the long strips in half.

Finally, build your chain.  If you have opted to use tape, I found it easier to go around the strip, instead of taping an end.  That way you can use any width of tape.  I also found it easier to link one paper chain into another, rather than making a bunch of links then linking on to another by making a new link.  It's also helpful if you let them puddle up in a bowl or a bucket.  Paper chain Christmas tree garlands will squash if you step on them.   

 And paper chain garlands can be used as an inexpensive decoration for Halloween, Easter and 4th of July, as well as birthdays.  I'm 56 and I still think they're fun to make. So give it a try ... it'll make you feel like a kid again. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Miss Bee's Christmas Movie Review:

The Mousehole Cat  * * * * * ( 5 out of 5 stars)
The Mousehole Cat  was first a book by Sian Phillips.  And, for once, a child's book has been adapted to a movie without losing any of the beauty of the wonderful drawings.  And I say "drawings" because each page is a work of art.

This movie made me wish I still had little ones at home.  I spent many years, trying to find the perfect movie to let them watch on Christmas Eve.  A movie that was sweet.  A movie that had a happy ending so there were no tears before bedtime.  A movie that is ONLY 30 minutes long.  A movie that would appeal to my two year old, my mother-in-law and myself.  I would put this movie on between bath time and bedtime on Christmas Eve.  But I definitely will have to watch it several times during the holiday season. 

As a bonus feature, there is a "The Making of The Moushole Cat."  Mousehole is a real place, off the tip of Cornwall, the land of my people. 

From the Box:
"Based on an old Cornish legend, The Mousehole Cat tells the story of Tom Bawcock through the eyes of his cat, Mowzer.  One winter, the Great Storm-Cat comes snarling and leaping at the harbor walls so that no boat can go out to fish.  When all the food in the village is gone, Tom decides he must brave the terrible weather.  As they sail into the mountainous seas, Mowzer sings a lullaby to calm the Great Storm-Cat of the sea.  Tom catches enough fish to feed the entire village.  And to this day, the people of Mousehole hold a procession and feast every Christmas in memory of brave Tom Bawcock."
Just Don't Take My Word for it:
  • "For me it has become a Christmas favorite."
  • "The narration is wonderful.  The voice is soft and calming."
  • "It's one of the more quality stories I've ever seen for children (and adults).
  • "It's a classic and should be in every one's library of time-tested DVDs."
  • "This is so pretty to watch and the story is about friendship and responsibility."

Christmas Tree Garland Idea

Snowflake Paper Punch + Card Stock + Ribbon =a fun and cheap Christmas tree garland

Over the last couple of months I've gotten a little obsessed with Pinterest.  What is Pinterest you ask?  Oh mama!  No matter what I say I couldn't do it justice, so just go here: and take a look around.  Crafting, sewing, quilting, cooking, knitting, fashion, home, style gardening, travel.  It's got it all.

One of the little craft projects I found was how to make a garland for a Christmas tree out of circles punched from paper.  The first one was a whole garland made from the little traditional size punched paper dots.  Then someone posted a picture of a Christmas tree garland made out of a 1 1/4" circle punch, usually used in scrap booking.  Well, that started me thinking --

Several months ago, I bought a big snowflake punch at JoAnn Fabrics.  It was usually about $16, but I got it for $8 using a 50% off coupon.  I was trying to justify the splurge (even on sale) and I gathered up some supplies:

First I tried sewing the snowflakes on my sewing machine.  I just used machine quilting thread that I had laying around my sewing room. Fast and easy!

But then I thought some people might say, "Miss Bee, are your crazy?  I don't have a sewing machine, and I'm not going to go out and buy one.  But I really, really want to make this Snowflake Christmas Tree Garland, what can I do?"

Hole punch.  If you've got any kind of hole punch that's small enough to punch two holes side by side, you can make this garland. Actually I think I like it better because it's easier to manipulate ribbon.

Free Yo-Yo Garland Tutorial

I learned to sew in 1967, at the knee of Mrs. Sophie Lahner, my Hungarian neighbor lady. In the 70's, I branched off into making quilts. Yo-yo quilts were the rage, many made in the hideous rusts and avocado greens that we were also using on our kitchen appliances and shag carpeting.
It seemed simple enough, but as hard as I tried, I had terrible, ugly results. Not pleasant. Not easy. Not quick. So I threw in the towel and banished them forever.

But then -- 40 years later -- I learned THE TRICK. That's right. There's a little trick. And here is my tutorial to teach you exactly how to make a fabric yo-yo.

  1. Gather Your Materials.
  • Fabric: Now is a good time to use up all those scraps you've been hoarding. Medium and lightweight fabrics are ideal, as they are easier to pull down into tight yo-yos.
  • Quilting thread or embroidery floss: DMC floss is made up of six strands of thread. Snip off a piece of floss about 16"-18" long. Separate the threads, and then put 3 of them back together. This should be strong enough to stitch most fabrics.
  • Something to trace around to make your circle. Keep in mind that your finished yoyos will end up being a little less than half the diameter of the cut circles. Coffee and tea cups work great as well as drinking glasses and saucers. Anything that is round. As you can see -- I just used a roll of painter's tape that was lying on the coffee table.
  • Something to mark your fabric with a pencil or fabric marking pen. Since this Christmas tree garland isn't going to be washed, you could use a regular ball point pen or a felt tipped marker. Whatever is handy.
  • OPTIONAL: Round up some miscellaneous buttons, bells, silk flowers or other little trinkets to use as embellishments in the center of you yoyos. This is a perfect place to use up those random buttons left over from other projects or those really ugly buttons you hacked off your sweetie's favorite shirt just before you threw it away. Jars of buttons are always lurking in corners at thrift stores. Also, regular bags of craft buttons can be bought for cheap at the fabric stores. Shrinky Dinks make cute centers as well.
     2.  Trace Circles all Over Your Fabric: Squeeze in as many circles as you can. I find it's  easiest to alternate between tracing and cutting, so I don't get bored. It is the perfect, mindless task to do while you're watching a DVD or your favorite TV show.

The Yo-yo Trick: The Trick is this -- the bigger the stitch -- the tighter you will be able to pull the center of the yo-yo. The smaller the stitch, the more little gathers you'll have to pull into the center, and there will be a gap about the size of a dime in the center of the yo-yo (no matter how hard you try to pull it). It's okay to have a gap in the center of your yo-yo, if that's what you want. I like it because it's the perfect place to nestle an antique button. If you want the gap in yo-yo, make your stitches about 1/8" long and about 1/8" apart. If you want no gap and your yo-yo closed up in the center, make your stitches at least 3/8" long and 3/8" apart (more if you're using heavy fabric).

4. Sewing Around the Fabric Disks: Making your first few yoyos may feel awkward, but here are three tips to make it easier. 1) Don't bother marking a fold line. The fabric is going to roll to the wrong side differently with each inch of the outside edge, because it is the nature of the circle. 2) Don't bother to pin the folded/rolled edge in place to sew it. You'll just get a handful of pin pricks. 3) If you get a few little tucks when you're stitching you gathering stitches -- who cares? Nobody will see those little tucks once it's gathered into a yo-yo.
5. Start the Stitching: Take three strands of floss and tie a knot on the long end. With the wrong side of the fabric facing up, turn under the smallest amount of raw edge that you can handle. In the beginning, it might be as much as a quarter of an inch, but as your fingers get more adept, you'll work your way down to about 1/8th inch. Push the needle from the right side (underneath) to the wrong side (the side that's facing you) through the turned down edge. The knot will be on the right side of the fabric. Pinching the rolled edge between your thumb and forefinger, take a few stitches. As you work your way around the edge, fold down just enough edge to do a few stitches at a time. If you are right handed, you'll probably find it easier to stitch counter clockwise. If your left handed -- clockwise. Once you get back around to your knot, push your needle to the right side of the fabric.
6. Time to Make the Yoyo! Grab the knot and start pulling the tread, gathering up the  yo-yo. Pull the knot until you have about 2" of excess floss, then start to gather from the needle end. Keep pulling on both ends of the floss until your yo-yo is gathered as tightly as you want to be. If your yoyos are becoming a Christmas tree garland and not a quilt, just tie the ends of floss together in a tight knot, then trim off the excess floss.

7. Embellishing -- an Option: If you want to embellish your yoyos with buttons, bells or trinkets, now is the time. I take three strands of embroidery floss that I cut 36" long, and double it over. Starting on the flat side of the yo-yo, I push the needle through the back and through the center of the gap on the gathered side of the yo-yo. String on the embellishment, and go back the way you came to the flat side of the yo-yo. Tie in a secure knot. Trim off the excess thread.

8. Turning Your Yo-yos into a Christmas Tree Garland: Sew the yoyos together on the outside edge, using three or four stitches by hand and strong thread. You can also use the bar tack stitch on your sewing machine.

And that's all there is to it. After you make a few, it will be a quick and easy project

Monday, November 21, 2011

Christmas Tree Garland -- Tips and Tricks

I'm Still on the Fence:

I thought I wasn't a fan of Christmas tree garlands until I started researching this article.  Technically, don't long strings of strung popcorn or cranberries qualify as garlands? And paper chains?

So I have to rethink my feelings about Christmas tree garlands.

Okay, let me be more specific -- I'm not a fan of the fuzzy metallic garlands.  They always look a little worse for wear after a year in the attic.  And they just seem a little jolting when used with tinsel.  And, I am the Tinsel Queen.  

Over the years, I've brought some stings of cranberry colored wooden beads and one year, at an after Christmas sale at Sears, I bought all the mirrored disco ball garlands that they had -- which was exactly two and not enough to even make a statement. But I had to have them.

My biggest issue with Christmas tree garlands is the expense.  Most of the non-metallic, non-fuzzy ones are about 6-9 feet long and can cost anywhere  from $4-$20 depending on the fanciness of the garland.  Yikes! And how much Christmas tree garland do you actually need?  I found several websites that recommend 10 feet of garland per one foot of Christmas tree.  And if you have an eight foot tree, that can really add up.

I'm a pretty traditional gal and have always thought that the Christmas tree garland had to follow the path of the Christmas tree lights, spiralling round and 'round.  But thanks to YouTube, I saw some pretty awesome trees where the Christmas tree garland starts at the top and cascades to the floor.  This looks extremely lovely if using wired ribbon or swathes of organza off the roll or cut into 7 or 8 inch strips.  It might not be my particular cup of tea this year, but it is very beautiful and sophisticated if that's the look you're going for.

So, as far as Christmas tree garlands go -- anything goes!  Besides the traditional garlands such as: popcorn, metallic fuzzies, cranberries, paper chains and beads, I've also seen artificial holly used as garlands, paper doll cut outs, candy, plastic beads, artificial poinsettias, shells and on and on. I even saw white and red yarn chained together that looks really cool -- especially if you're a fiber person.

Just remember:
  1. Put your Christmas tree garland on the Christmas tree AFTER you've put on the Christmas tree lights but BEFORE you start with the ornaments.
  2. Don't put them on too straight and too tight, you want them to "swag" a little. 
  3. Either lay them on the top of the branches or secure their position with bits or ribbon or wire.
  4. Garlands can go up and down or round and 'round but not both.
  5. When your Christmas tree garland finally breaks in to pieces, just throw it away. 
  6. Don't try and store the popcorn and/or cranberry Christmas tree garlands.  Put them outside for the birds to enjoy.
And if you're like me and still on the fence about whether there is a place in your plan for a Christmas tree garland, OR if you're looking for something new, check out this video:

How to Cook a Turkey: Part One

A Practice Run for Christmas:

We cook a lot of turkey in my house.  We don't consider it just for the holidays.  So when it comes to Thanksgiving and Christmas there is no stress. I can cook a turkey.  In my sleep.  Over the years, I've tried several different techniques to see if I can improve on what I usually do.  A couple of weeks ago, when the turkeys started showing up on sale in the grocery stores, I picked up a 13 pound frozen bird.

In my 56 years, I've had smoked turkey, deep fried turkey, turkey cooked at a very high temperature -- flipping every 20 minutes or so, turkeys roasted low and slow.  Daughter Jessi cooks her turkey upside down -- which I've never had much luck with.  I've had beer can turkey on a grill and in the oven.  I've had wild turkey.  But this time, I wanted a turkey that would be moist and edible after the initial hogging out.  I wanted turkey that was moist when cold.  Ah ---

Whenever I'm in the mood for something new, I think back to "the best I ever had."  And this year, I racked my memory for the best turkey recipe and I'm almost embarrassed to tell you...

Back around 1988 we met my husband's old SEAL buddy "Fats" and his family in Cocoa Beach, Florida.  The deal was that Fats and Jack would re-roof the Uncle's house.  In exchange for the roof, Fat's wife and myself along with our 4 kids would stay in a house on the beach.  Sounds like a good deal to me and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.  The roof was to be installed over Thanksgiving week.  The Aunt invited us all for Thanksgiving dinner.

I was a little concerned when I stepped into the kitchen to see if I could help out with the preparations and found the turkey in a microwave oven.  This is back when microwaves were big monsters that could hardly fit on a counter.  I looked in the microwave and the turkey, wrapped in some kind of plastic was going round and round.  I prepared myself for the worst turkey ever. 

Imagine my chagrin when the turkey was brought out, carefully lifted from the plastic bag and placed on an antique serving platter, a lovely roasted brown with oozing juices.  This turkey was so moist that it spoiled me forever.  Wings (my fave) were NOT over done, the legs (usually difficult to keep moist) were juicy and succulent.  The breasts were shameful in their plumpness and perfection.  Usually I like the sides best, but that year I couldn't get enough turkey.

While I don't even know if they make microwaves big enough to hold a turkey anymore, I thought that I would try the oven bag technique in my conventional oven.  I already had a box of the Reynolds Oven Bags in the pantry so why not.  I went to the Reynolds Oven Bag website to see if there were any tips or tricks that would make it fool proof.  Here's a link and there is a really wonderful video on how to make the perfect turkey in an oven bag:

You know how sometimes you watch things or read things and you think "Easy Peasy" and then you get into it and it turns into a nightmare?  Not this.  It really is as simple as it sounds.  Really.  Let me tell you how I did it:

  • Don't even get me started on long it took to thaw my turkey.  I keep my refrigerator pretty cold.  That started out of habit when my son was still living at home.  He adored his milk hurt-your-teeth ice cold.  But anyway, thaw the bird.
  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  • You'll need a pan that is at least two inches deep.  My turkey was 13 pounds and fit perfectly fine in a 13 x 9 x 2 pan -- that's right, the kind of pan you make a cake in.
  • Take 1 tablespoon of flour, and toss it in the bag.  Grab the opening and shake the flour all around.
  • Place the bag on its side, in the pan with the opening of the bag to the side.  In the bottom of the bag, I tossed a couple of stalks of celery, a couple of carrots and two onions cut in half.  You will not be eating these vegetables.  They will help keep the back of the turkey up out of the juices and also lend their flavor to those juices that you can turn into the best gravy ever.  I cooked the neck bone separately, but you could put that in the bottom as well.
  • Make sure you check both cavities of the turkey for bags of giblets and the neck bone.  Remove. 
  • Remove the little plastic pop up timer. 
  • Dry turkey with paper towels.
  • Using your hands or a pastry brush, rub oil or butter into the skin of the turkey.
  • You can use your own favorite seasonings, but I use salt, pepper and paprika.  I thought I might need the paprika to help with the color, but I think it would have been fine without it.
  • It's okay to leave the legs just the way they were when you got it or you can tie them up.
  • Place the turkey in the Oven Bag.  Close it up with the included ties.  Cut 6 half inch slits in the top of the bag.  Tuck all the bag loosely into the pan. 
  • Place pan on bottom rack in oven.
  • It is recommended that you follow the roasting timetable that is included with the Oven Bags rather than the roasting timetable that comes with your turkey.
The Oven Bag takes just about 1 hour off of the roasting time.  The time wasn't that big of a deal, it was the moistness that I was looking for.

2.25 hours later, my turkey was done to perfection.  And the juiciness and beauty is unforgettable. And I did NOT start with a premium turkey.  Just an old store brand, Winn Dixie frozen turkey.  I also didn't stuff the bird.  It's just way easier to make it on the side.

Since I made the turkey in the middle of the day, I let it rest lightly tented on the counter and proceeded to make the gravy.  First I discard the spend celery, onions and carrots.  Then I poured the contents from the bag into a large bowl.  I tore the bits of meat off the neck bone.  I was able to skim the fat after it rest for about a half an hour, leaving behind the juices and other delicious tidbits.  And by this time I had already rinsed out the roasting pan -- how great was that.  I made my gravy in my big frying pan which was much easier that trying to use two burners under  the roasting pan. 

So what I'm trying to say is that this was the best turkey and the best gravy I've ever had in my 56 years of life.  AND it was the easiest.  So if you're tired of stressing over a turkey, worrying about over cooking it, under cooking it, or ending up so dry that it resembles that turkey from Christmas Vacation, I hope you'll give the Oven Bag technique a try. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Christmas Side Note

This has been bouncing around the Internet for the last couple of weeks and I'm surprised at how many people are posting it on their Facebook page.  What I would really like for my family and friends AND this country is for everyone to pull back a little and just think twice about what your spend during the holiday season.  I want people to keep their credit cards in their wallets and just pay cash.  Remember, folks, I'm living in Fort Myers, Florida.  You might have seen us on the news lately as our practically the entire city was foreclosed on. 

Just think about it.
"As the holidays approach, the giant Asian factories are kicking into high
gear to provide Americans with monstrous piles of cheaply produced goods --
merchandise that has been produced at the expense of American labor. This
year will be different. This year Americans will give the gift of genuine
concern for other Americans. There is no longer an excuse that, at gift
giving time, nothing can be found that is produced by American hands. Yes
there is!
It's time to think outside the box, people. Who says a gift needs to fit in
a shirt box, wrapped in Chinese produced wrapping paper?
Everyone -- yes EVERYONE gets their hair cut. How about gift certificates
from your local American hair salon or barber?
Gym membership? It's appropriate for all ages who are thinking about some
health improvement.

Who wouldn't appreciate getting their car detailed? Small, American owned
detail shops and car washes would love to sell you a gift certificate or a
book of gift certificates.

Are you one of those extravagant givers who think nothing of plunking down
the Benjamin’s on a Chinese made flat-screen? Perhaps that grateful gift
receiver would like his driveway sealed, or lawn mowed for the summer, or
driveway plowed all winter, or games at the local golf course.

There are a bazillion owner-run restaurants -- all offering gift
certificates. And, if your intended isn't the fancy eatery sort, what about
a half dozen breakfasts at the local breakfast joint. Remember, folks this
isn't about big National chains -- this is about supporting your home town
Americans with their financial lives on the line to keep their doors open.

How many people couldn't use an oil change for their car, truck or
motorcycle, done at a shop run by the American working guy?

Thinking about a heartfelt gift for mom? Mom would LOVE the services of a
local cleaning lady for a day.
My computer could use a tune-up, and I KNOW I can find some young guy who
is struggling to get his repair business up and running.

Okay, you were looking for something more personal?  Local crafts people spin their own wool and knit them into scarves.  They make jewelry, and pottery and beautiful wooden boxes.
Plan your holiday outings at local, owner operated restaurants and leave your server a nice tip. And, how about going to see a play or ballet at your hometown theatre.

Musicians need love too, so find a venue showcasing local bands.
Honestly, people, do you really need to buy another ten thousand Chinese lights for the house?  When you buy a five dollar string of lights, about 50 cents stays in the community.  If you have those kinds of bucks to burn, leave the mailman, trash guy or babysitter a nice BIG tip. 
You see, Christmas is no longer about draining American pockets so that China can build another glittering city.  Christmas is now about caring about US, encouraging American small businesses to keep plugging away to follow their dreams.  And, when we care about other Americans, we care about our communities, and the benefits come back to us in ways we couldn't imagine.

This is the new American Christmas tradition."
Forward this to everyone on your mailing list -- post it to discussion
groups -- throw up a post on Craigslist
your city -- send it to the editor of your local paper and radio stations,
and TV news departments. This is a revolution of caring about each other,
and isn't that what Christmas is about?

Christmas Cookies for Thanksgiving? The New One's Debut!

The Fab Four: Saving the Best for Last

Quadruple Chocolate Cookie
I am very proud of this cookie, because it's mine all mine.  Kinda.  I was looking around for something new, something different to put in the Saturday Cookie Rotation.  I had been watching an America's Test Kitchen DVD and they baked a pretty good looking chocolate cookie.  I'm not a fan of too much chocolate, but I decided to give them a go.  I printed out the free recipe at America's Test Kitchen's website -- but I also have a premium content membership so I found a couple of more recipes.  I read them all through and decided that there were way too many ingredients and way too complicated for a lazy Saturday afternoon and decided to take a nap instead. 

Later that afternoon, my husband called and woke me up (and because I felt guilty for sleeping when he was out working) I changed my mind about baking.  When he asked if I needed anything from the store, I tried to remember the ingredients and rattled off several things that I know I needed.  Unfortunately, what happened is that all four recipes had fused in my mind and I didn't have all the ingredients to make any one recipe.  And this is what happened:

  • 5 ounces of unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 4 ounce bar of bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 7 tablespoons of unsalted butter cut into cubes
  • 1/4 cup Dutch processed  cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons instant coffee
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1.69 ounce pack of Plain M & Ms (this is the size you get at the check out line at the grocery store)
  • 3/4 cup roughly chopped pecans
  • Melt the unsweetened chocolate and bittersweet chocolate only along with the butter in a heatproof bowl set over a simmering pan of water, stirring often, until completely smooth and glossy.  Remember to not let the water in the pan touch the bottom of the bowl.  Set aside to cool a little while you continue on.
  • Stir the coffee powder and vanilla extract together in a small bowl until the powder is dissolved. Set aside. 
  • In a large bowl, at medium speed, beat the eggs and sugar until very thick and pale.  Depending on your mixer that could take up to 4 minutes. 
  • Add coffee/vanilla mixture and beat until incorporated -- about 20-30 seconds.
  • Reducing the mixer speed to low, add the melted chocolate mixture and mix until totally combined -- approximately 30-40 seconds.
  • In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.  Whisk together. 
  • Fold flour mixture, the semi-sweet chocolate chips, M&Ms and chopped pecans into the batter.
  • Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 - 30 minutes.  Batter will really firm up.
  • Adjust oven rack to middle position.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Cover cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  • Using one heaping tablespoon of batter per cookie, place cookies about 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheet.
  • Bake for 11 - 14 minutes, until the cookie is glossy and cracked on the top.  Inside the cracks, the cookie will still look quite raw. 
  • Let the cookies sit on the cookie sheet for 2 or 3 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. 
Yields about 2 dozen cookies.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Christmas Cookies for Thanksgiving? Yes, Please!

More of the Fab Four:
Big and Nutty, Super Yummy Peanut Butter Cookies
But first a few tips and tricks:  Make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature -- eggs, butter, peanut butter.  Since I live in the South, I even keep my flour in a zip-loc bag in the refrigerator and that needs to warm up as well.  Don't forget to check the date on your baking powder.

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar (or you can use dark brown sugar)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup Planter's Crunchy Peanut Butter (or an extra crunchy brand is fine, too)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extra (even the imitation vanilla works fine)
  • 1 cup honey roasted peanuts, chopped to the consistency of bread crumbs
  • Adjust the oven rack to lower middle position.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  • In a large bowl, (and it's easier to use an electric mixer) beat the butter until creamy.  Add the sugars and beat until fluffy.  Depending on your mixer, this could take 3-4 minutes. Don't forget to scrape down the bowl periodically.
  • Beat in the peanut butter.
  • Continue beating as you add in the eggs, one at a time.
  • Add vanilla and beat until thoroughly incorporated.
  • Change over to a wood spoon or a spatula and gently stir in the dry ingredients.
  • Continue to stir gently as the ground honey roasted peanuts are add in -- just until incorporated.
Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Each cookie uses about two tablespoons of dough. Roll into a large ball and place each ball on the cookie sheet about 2 inches apart.  Using the tines of a fork, press each ball with a criss-cross pattern, then sprinkle the top of each cookie with a pinch of sugar.

Bake cookies until they have puffed up a little and the very edges (not the top) are slightly browned.  Even though they will look pretty raw, pull them out.  They will finish baking on the cookie sheet.  Let them sit on the cookie sheet until they have firmed up -- about 4 minutes. 

Yields 33 -36 cookies.

Christmas Cookies for Thanksgiving?

The Fab Four: The Quintessential Oatmeal Raisin Cookie
And I'm not talking about The Beatles either.

One of the things that happen in families, is when the kids cease being kids, grow up and all of a sudden they think they can do the Annual Bishop Family Thanksgiving.  On their own.  With no help from their old ma.  Of course, I don't think the kids have ever seen me cook a Thanksgiving dinner.  I think there were 10 Thanksgivings in a row that we spent on the road, traveling to where ever the biggest Thanksgiving soccer tournament was being played.  I did make turkey a couple of times, but only to tear it up for sandwiches to eat on the road.

Anyway, with no training from me, apparently both of my daughters turned out to be pretty good cooks, and more than capable of turning out a magnificent feast, with no help from me.  Hmmmm.  But I don't know if I'm ready to be benched and relegated to the sideline quite yet.   
So what I have chosen to do with all the extra time (and also to be crowned "The Best Granny Ever") is to audition my Christmas cookies.  While others slave away to peel potatoes, cut crudites, bake cornbread for stuffing, make giblet gravy, I'll be sitting with my grand kids and getting evaluations/opinions of the cookies that will be going out to family, friends and business connections. 

To me, the perfect cookie is a cookie that is made from grocery store ingredients.  I don't have the time to get specialty items from a chocolatier, a candy shop or mail order website.  And the cookie can't be finicky.  I also like big cookies, that hold their shapes.  I don't like a cookie that spreads out too much and gets thin around the edges.  I like a cookie that you can eat several of. without being overwhelmed with sugar and goo.  I need a cookie that can stay fresh for several days.  I like chewy cookies because I think they pack and mail easier.  I also need a cookie where you can substitute some store brand ingredients and they still turn out great.
Over the years I've perfected four cookie recipes: Oatmeal Raisin, Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter and Quadruple Chocolate.  
I'll start with the Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.  But first, an explanation ...
I love oatmeal cookies.  When I was a kid my dad would take me to Malnight's Bakery across from Central High School in Kalamazoo, Michigan and the old gal behind the counter would had me a thick, salty yet sweet oatmeal cookie.  The sugar would melt on my tongue and leave behind the toasty oats -- an oatmeal cookie at its purest.  At that tender age, I didn't know that there were people out there who would desecrate an oatmeal cookie recipe by putting raisins in it.  Oh, gag.  I think I just threw up a little.  I can't tell you when I developed an aversion to raisins, but I've had it all my life.
When the kids were little, I'd bake oatmeal cookies for a couple of reasons -- oatmeal is good for you (right?), I always had oatmeal on hand AND they weren't my husband's favorite.  Baking treats in my household was always precarious.  If I baked chocolate chip cookies, each of the children would would have a couple, put a couple in their lunches.  After they went to bed, their dad would eat the rest.  Every last one of them.  Two dozen?  Three dozen? It didn't matter.  He'd eat them until he got sick and then he'd eat some more.  Cookies for a class party? A bake sale?  Didn't matter.  He'd eat them all.  So I made oatmeal cookies
After the kids left home, I stopped baking.  It's no fun to spend a couple hours in the kitchen and have all my hard worked inhaled and only getting a few of the treats myself.  Every once in a while on a Saturday, I'd get in the mood to bake.  "How do you feel about oatmeal cookies," I'd holler down to the office.  "Only if they've got raisins in them," would be the muffled reply.  "You won't eat them if they don't have raisins in them?"  "I didn't say that," was the answer
So this went on for several years.  And then one day I got a craving.  A craving for oatmeal cookies.  I wanted a better recipe than the old standby Betty Crocker Cookbook from the 70s.  So I Googled BEST OATMEAL COOKIE RECIPE and this recipe came up.  Five out of 5 stars with reviews from 174 people.  Really?  How could could this recipe be that good?  The only problem with the cookie?  Raisins. 
But I was feeling a little sweeter than I usually do, so I thought I'd try it out and put the raisins in half of them for my husband.  As soon as I started reading the recipe I knew this was really different from all the other oatmeal cookie recipes I've tried for one reason.  This gal (Merrie Wold) says that it's absolutely mandatory that the raisins, eggs and vanilla are all combined together and then let stand for one hour.  

And so I followed the directions.  As I was assembling the rest of the ingredients, my son called from North Carolina.  As we yacked it up, I just started dumping the ingredients into the mixing bowl.  Being sidetracked as I was, I didn't even hesitate as I add the raisin/egg/vanilla mixture into the entire batch.  I broke my own heart.  I even contemplated picking all the raisins out of the dough, but eventually just said to heck with it.

I apprehension I tried one cookie fresh out of the oven.  I was prepared to spit out the raisins.  After one bite, I realized that this cookie was on a whole 'nother level.  I couldn't actually detect a raisin.  It had melted into a sweet moist swirl into the cookie, adding to the texture and flavor, but not demanding attention.  Sometimes oatmeal cookies can be kind of dry, but the macerated raisins solved that problem. 

So this is that recipe.  Even if you don't like raisins, try it anyway.  And in my 45 years of baking cookies, this is the one recipe that I have never altered.  The only things I added here were instructional: use butter that is room temperature, when to start preheating the oven, lightly pack the brown sugar, and how I formed the cookie.  I found this recipe at, under the title "Best Oatmeal Cookies."  It's recipe # 54351 and it's by Merrie Wold.

Here's a link to a picture of the finished cookie posted by a fan:

Best Oatmeal Cookies
"This is a family favorite that I have been making for years.  It's the most requested oatmeal cookie recipe I've ever made.  I found it somewhere years ago, but have lost the source.  The secret is soaking the raisins which makes all the difference/"
  • 3 eggs, well beaten
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup softened butter
  • 1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 cups oatmeal
  • 3/4 chopped pecans
  1. This is a very important first step that makes the cookie: combine eggs, raisins and vanilla and let stand for one hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Cream together butter and sugars.
  4. Add flour, salt, cinnamon and baking soda and mix well.
  5. Blend in egg-raisin-vanilla mixture, oatmeal and chopped nuts.
  6. Dough will be stiff.
  7. Drop by heaping teaspoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet, or roll into balls and flatten slightly.
  8. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. 
Yield: 72 cookies

I very lightly rolled the dough into a ball.  And 10 minutes was the magic number in my oven.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How to Put Christmas Tree Lights on a Christmas Tree: Part 13

Ready, Set ... GO!

It is my humble opinion, that before you start to light the tree, take a power strip and zip tie it to the center of the tree, against the trunk, so it's not visible from the viewing area.  Then plug the power strip into the wall outlet. All the lead wires from all the strings will be at the back of the tree, not just looking bare and ugly.  With that being said, if you have a better plan, please email me and let me know. 

How you put your Christmas tree lights on your tree depends on your own personal experience, advice that you've gotten from garden centers and the tree lot guy, and maybe some tips you gleaned off of YouTube.  There are several different techniques or styles of Christmas tree light installation, all depending on the number of lights you have, and your pain tolerance.

The Zen Approach:  The advantage of this technique is that you are taking into consideration that the branches of your Christmas tree will droop with the weight of lights and ornaments.  But by alternating branches, the tree limbs won't sag in the same place and the lower branches will actually help support the branches above it.  This technique will also appear more random and you won't be fighting straight lines of lights, which is hard to fix -- once you notice it -- usually after you get your ornaments on.

Starting at the bottom of the tree, and with your lights plugged into the power source, determine which way around the Christmas tree you are going to go (either clockwise or counter clockwise) and then keep it consistent.  Place your light strand over the first branch, then under the next, laying the Christmas tree lights on top of the branches.  As you're weaving over and under the branches, go deeper towards the trunk, then work your way out to the tips of the branches, then back towards the trunk and so forth.

There is no winding of the light wires around the branches with this technique, just lay the lights gently across the top of the branches.  Work your way to the top, spiraling around and around.  As the tree narrows at the top, you might have to adjust as there are less branches to work with per cycle/circle/rotation.

The Professional Designer Style: There are people that get paid for decorating Christmas trees -- for parties, for businesses, for displays, for weddings -- I know!  What a great job that would be.  But even the professionals don't all agree on the same way to light up a Christmas tree. Some start low and go up, some start at the top and go down.  Some go clockwise and some go counter clockwise. But this will get you started:

Which way are you going to circle the tree?  It really doesn't matter as long as you maintain that rhythm throughout the installation.  Start at the bottom, and back at the trunk, with your lights plugged in.  Pick a branch.  Now you are going to get the lights from the trunk to the tip of that branch and there are two ways to do it:
  1. Wrap the lights two or three times around the branch, from the trunk to the tip.
  2. "S" the lights across the top of the branch from the trunk to the tip, then wrap the the wire around the tip a couple of times, trying to get a light right on the tip of the branch.
Either way, once you reach the tip, the lights then go straight back across the top of the branch to the trunk.  Move on to the next branch.

Amateur Hour: This is probably the technique used in most homes.  Start by lighting the inside of the tree by wrapping the first string of Christmas tree lights around the trunk.  Personally, I find that a little distracting, but it does get the lovely glow and color of lights deep into the tree.  Then, starting at the top, lay the Christmas tree lights gently on the top of the branches.  Leave a little slack so you can push some of the lights deeper in to the tree and pull some of them a little closer to the tips of the branches.  Try not to form a straight line, but maneuver the lights over the smaller, inner branches and under as well.

This is a pretty good video that I found on YouTube.  It has some great instructions for the this method, all in less than three minutes:

When you reach the end of a string of Christmas tree lights, add another -- or stack another.  And remember to please follow the manufacturers recommendations as to the number of strings you can hook together via stacking or plugging end to end. 

How to Put Christmas Tree Lights on a Christmas Tree: Part 12

A Few Last Tidbits of Advice:

So, you've picked the perfect Christmas tree, you've put it in the Christmas tree stand (and filled it with water), you've got all your Christmas tree lights organized and ready to go -- just one more thing:
It will be a lot easier if you give yourself 1-2 feet of clearance between the tree and and the wall.  More if you are Rubenesque like moi, and less if you've got a child helping you.  This way you can get all the way around the Christmas tree with the Christmas tree lights.  Let me repeat -- 1 to 2 feet of clearance between the tree and the wall, so your husband/boyfriend/dad/son has plenty of room to move around to the back of the tree. 
While it's not really necessary to put ornaments on the "wall" side of your Christmas tree, you really do need some lights.  You want the lights to shine through the tree and your ornaments. 

And finally, one last word of advice:  if you have a tree topper, don't wrap the very tip-top of the Christmas tree (also called the "spire") with lights.  And if your tree topper lights up, give the tree topper is own place on the power strip.  They use more energy than regular strands of lights.

How to Put Christmas Tree Lights on a Christmas Tree: Part 11

Christmas Tree Light Covers --
A Fun Option

Before we get to the actual installing of the Christmas tree lights, here's a few more lighting options to consider ...

You can make a fashion or political statement by purchasing strings of lights that have ornamental covers over the bulb.  If you have ever visited a trailer park in Florida, you'll see these lights strung across the canopies.  Actually, it's pretty cool looking at night.  I've seen: fish, palm trees, tropical fish, smiley faces, cupcakes, cars, flip flops, parrots, Pittsburgh Steelers, the Detroit Tigers, soccer balls, footballs, boats, pink flamingos -- pretty much anything you can imagine.  While not traditional in the Santa sense, they might be a cute option for a themed Christmas tree.

Unfortunately Christmas tree lights that already have light covers installed can be a little pricey.  For example, I found a strand of R2D2 (from Star Wars) lights that were 138 inches long with a 30" lead in wire.  There were 10 lights and the cost was $24.99.  YIKES! 

But don't despair.  There's another option.  Why not use the Christmas tree lights you already have and just buy the light cover.  There are three advantages to this:
  1. The expense.  It's a lot cheaper, therefore, you can buy more light covers.  More bang for your buck.
  2. You don't have to cover every light in the strand.  That way you can strategically place these special lights anywhere on the tree -- not just in a line.
  3. You can change them out.  Your team traded your favorite play?  Change your light covers.  Had a midlife crisis and bought a sports car?  Change your light covers.  Going to Paris in the new year?  Change your light covers.
You can find some pretty unique ones on Ebay and Etsy as well as your local hardware store. 

And one last thing, if you are in the market for new lights this year, think about buying some commercial Christmas tree lights.  These are the kinds of lights that are used by cities, universities, landscapers and designers.  Yes, they cost more money, but they are so much more heavy duty than the ones us civilians usually buy.  Most of the time you can find them in stores right next to the regular lights.