Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Using Turkey Leftovers

For Christmas this year, we hosted dinner - it was our first experience cooking a holiday dinner as well as our first experience cooking a turkey. I like cooking to be somewhat challenging, so I wasn't content with just any old turkey (plus I don't really like turkey). It had to be an exceptional turkey! So, we made a Tyler Florence recipe... fresh sage and butter rubbed under the skin of a maple-roasted turkey shingled with smoked bacon on top and homemade sage cornbread stuffing inside. We totally misjudged the time and dinner ended up being later than planned but it turned out great. It was super moist, just the way I like it! But it was a 13.5 pound turkey served to just four adults and one toddler, so there was plenty of turkey left. After two days of leftovers, we had eaten all of the side dishes but still had quite a bit of turkey. So I decided to adapt a chicken salad recipe and make turkey salad for dinner last night. The cold, creamy salad made a nice change from eating hot turkey. (And I still had turkey left after making this, so the remaining turkey went into the freezer and I expect we'll do something like turkey club sandwiches with sometime, whenever we recover from turkey burn-out.)

Turkey Salad with Walnuts and Grapes

1/2 c. Miracle Whip
2 Tbsp. sour cream
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. honey
2 c. turkey, broken or shredded into bite-sized pieces
1 c. seedless green grapes, quartered or sliced
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 rib celery, thinly sliced
1/2 c. walnut pieces

Combine the Miracle Whip, sour cream, lemon juice, and honey in a medium mixing bowl. Add turkey, grapes, onions, celery, and walnut pieces and stir gently until mixed in. Add more Miracle Whip if needed.

Note: I used a mix of dark and light meat, but it could be made any way you prefer.

Find this recipe and more over at my new blog, Cucina di Christina!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Poppy Seed Bread

My mom has been making this delicious bread for as long as I can remember. She makes it every Christmas season and it was usually part of our traditional Christmas breakfast (which also consists of Pillsbury cinnamon rolls, sliced peaches from a can, and orange juice... eclectic but yummy!). Of course I have to carry on this tradition, so I've got a loaf tucked away in the freezer waiting for us to eat this Christmas morning.

Poppy Seed Bread

1 pkg. white cake mix
1 small pkg. instant coconut cream pudding
1/2 c. oil
1 c. boiling water
4 eggs, beaten
1/4 c. poppy seeds

Combine all ingredients and mix for about 4 minutes with an electric mixer. Pour into two greased and floured loaf pans. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Yields two loaves.

These freeze beautifully!

Find this recipe and more over at my new blog, Cucina di Christina!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Orange Juice Balls

This unique no-bake "cookie" (it's not a true cookie, but I'm not sure what else to call it) tastes delicious served right out of the freezer. Other recipes I've seen only call for refrigerating the balls, so it really just depends on your preferences. I served these at a party last week where they sat out for about 5 hours and still tasted fine, but were a bit mushy at that point.

Orange Juice Balls

6 oz. frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
1 c. melted butter
1 box (12 oz.) vanilla wafers, finely crushed
1 c. finely chopped pecans
3 1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 1/2 c. coconut

Beat orange concentrate and butter together until well combined. Mix in vanilla wafers and pecans. Slowly add powdered sugar and mix until incorporated. Form dough into small balls (use approximately 1 tablespoon of dough per ball) then roll in coconut. Freeze on wax paper in an airtight container until just before serving. Yields about 7 dozen.

To easily crush the vanilla wafers, place about half of them into a gallon ziplock bag and use a rolling pin until finely crushed. Repeat with remaining wafers.

Use a Pampered Chef small scoop or something similar to get perfectly-sized balls. This was a lifesaver - the scoop shaped them for me into a mostly round shape and they all ended up roughly the same size.

Find this recipe and more over at my new blog, Cucina di Christina!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Holiday Baking

One of my favorite parts of the Christmas season is the holiday baking! Growing up, we had some great recipes that became traditions that were made every year for as long as I can remember such as Sugar Cookies, Poppyseed Bread, and White Chocolate Dipped Pretzels. New traditions later would come along like English Toffee or Spiced Pecans. Now that I have my own family, I am enjoying sharing some of these same traditions with Peter and this year we will be making a few recipes from my own childhood as well as a few new ones. (It is my goal to share all of these recipes on the blog at some point this month, but we'll see if that actually happens or not!)

My baking list:
Sugar Cookies
Poppy Seed Bread
Orange Juice Balls
Oreo Truffles
Buck Eyes

Technically, some of these items probably don't count as "baking" since they aren't baked, but who cares. So far I've got the first three recipes made and will hopefully complete the last two this week. The Buck Eyes are for a cookie exchange that I'm attending next Tuesday morning so that definitely needs to be completed soon!

What are some of your favorite holiday food traditions? Please feel free to include entire recipes in your comments. I love finding new recipes!

Find these recipes and more over at my new blog, Cucina di Christina!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Santa Myth

As Christmas approaches this year, we are faced for the first time with the decision of how we will handle what I like to call "The Santa Myth" with our son, Peter. This is his third Christmas, but his first year with a significant comprehension level so it hasn't been much of an issue previously.

Growing up, my brothers and I never "did" Santa but my parents weren't militant about it either; we didn't ignore Santa's mythical existence, we simply knew the truth that he wasn't real. While some of the more radical people we knew shunned such things, we still watched Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and even had some Santa ornaments hanging on the tree. My parents preferred to tell us about the real St. Nicholas, the person who the Santa Claus myth developed from, and we even had a nifty picture storybook about him. So since Santa was never a part of my childhood, I have difficulty relating to the notion that it's somehow mean to "deprive" a child of this experience. And the suggestion that it is deprivation raises the question that if Santa is so important to the holiday, then perhaps our entire focus is wrong. In fact, two years ago I responded to someone on a message board when they stated that "Christmas was less satisfying with Santa out of the equation":

"I want my kids to focus on the real meaning of Christmas, that God loved them enough to send His Son under the most humble of circumstances so that they could be redeemed. That has nothing to do with Santa and if they can't cherish Christmas without Santa, then they would be totally missing the point."

So here are my top reasons for questioning Santa Claus, none of which involve wacko conspiracy theories like how the letters of Santa can be rearranged to spell Satan or anything like that. *grin*

1. This may seem pretty basic, but in case it's not: it's a lie. It may seem like a harmless lie, but that doesn't make it any less false. And it's not that it's just one lie - pretending that Santa exists when he does not - but often an entire package of them. Because once you start down that road, then you have to buy presents that are "from" Santa, then eat the cookies and pretend that it was Santa who ate them, etc. When I was 4 years old, I asked my mom why we gave toys to "Toys for Tots" if Santa brought toys to everyone. Instead of trying to spin it, my mom told me the truth (and apparently, I had already been told that Santa wasn't real the year before, but had forgotten).

2. Believing in Santa can take the focus of the Christmas season off of Jesus, and on to the more materialistic aspects of the holiday. Sure, presents are a fun part of the holiday, but should not take center focus. Santa tends to emphasize the "me, me, me" aspect because it's all about what he is going to bring you. This also detracts from the concept that gifts are about giving, not receiving.

This doesn't mean pretending about something is always bad. When I was little, we didn't believe that the Tooth Fairy was real but we still had fun with the idea. We'd put our tooth under the pillow and get money, which we knew had been left by our parents but we still would tell people, "Yeah, the Tooth Fairy left me a dollar!" But the difference with that was there's nothing inherently spiritual about the tooth-loss process and our fun make-believe involving a tooth-stealing fairy wasn't distracting us from something more important.

3. Mixing truth with myth can cause confusion in the mind of a young child. We live in a country where Christianity is continually questioned. Then we have Christmas, which is supposed to be about Jesus' birth, but instead is largely secularized. (Just watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and count how many religious references you see compared to secular.) To a child who had believed in Santa, learning that he is actually not real could cause confusion. That child might then wonder what other things about Christmas are not real, maybe the nativity story or even Jesus Himself. In a world where the real meaning of Christmas - the celebration of Jesus Christ's human incarnation to redeem sinners - is often ignored in the name of political correctness, why have another figure competing with Jesus?

Noel Piper in Treasuring God in Our Traditions observes "...celebrating Santa and manger will postone a child's clear understanding of what the real truth of God is. It's very difficult for a young child to pick through a marble cake of part truth and part imagination to find the crumbs of reality.... Santa is so much like what we're trying all year to teach our children about God."

She then goes on to list the similarities that Santa has:
"He's omniscient--he sees everything you do.
He rewards you if you're good.
He's omnipresent--at least he can be everywhere in one night.
He gives you good gifts.
He's the most famous 'old man in the sky' figure."

For my own children, my conclusion is that it is simply not worth it to perpetuate a myth that adds nothing to the real Reason we celebrate while having the potential to take much away. Instead, there are plenty of meaningful Christmas traditions such as Advent wreaths as well as harmlessly pointless ones (baking sugar cookies!) that will build lasting memories with our little ones.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Liberty's Birth Story, Part 2

Note: The following story contains discreet references to various aspects of the birthing process.

After I finished the IV fluids, I was transferred to a delivery room a little bit before 4 AM. As I was wheeled to the room, I passed my doctor in the hallway and waved. It was kind of funny because ealier in the week when we had discussed scheduling my induction and I had mentioned that I'd like to wait until after July 1 (because of my mom flying in), my doctor had commented, "Oh that's a bad day for me anyway." Oh well - I guess my mom wasn't the only one for whom the timing wasn't great. Anyway once I got to the room, my doctor came in to check me. After exchanging pleasantries, I inquired about my epidural since obviously nothing on earth was more important than that. The pain was getting worse, for both me and Eddie's hand. Tragically, I was told that there were two emergency c-sections that had recently come in and only one anesthesiologist on duty. But, she assured me, she would have him sent in as soon as possible and she hoped that I would get it in time. This concept was a bit of a shock for me, because I had not entertained the possibility of not getting an epidural. But I was optimistic about getting it in time though not thrilled about enduring more un-drugged labor while waiting for it. I was measuring 6 cm now, which means I had only dilated another 1 1/2 cm in the past hour. My doctor said they could probably do the epidural up to 8 cm, so I calculated that I had at least another hour before I'd reach that, maybe more. Dilation sometimes slows down toward the end and people get "stuck"... and getting stuck would have been fine with me.

While my doctor was in the room, I was unable to talk through contractions though they weren't unbearable. But after my doctor left, stating that she would return to check on me soon, the contractions started getting so bad, with each one seeming worse than the last, that I became vocal. Not actual screaming (yet), but I really started panicking about the idea of having to go through the entire birthing process with no epidural and I asked Eddie to please, please, please pray that I wouldn't have to because, as I told him through suppressed screaming, I simply cannot.

Apparently we can do the things we think we can't.

My doctor came back when she heard my screaming from the hallway. It was about 4:25 AM [by the way, I am able to be pretty precise with these times because there was a big clock on the wall in front of me and I had nothing else to do between contractions besides look at it] and I asked her to check my dilation again. I was horrified when she told me I was already 9 cm. I knew that this meant no epidural and that I was going to feel every bit of the rest of the labor. The contractions were absolutely unbearable at this point. At the risk of sounding overly melodramatic, I was writhing and kicking in agony and screaming through the contractions. It was almost like childbirth was some terrible punishment resulting from the curse of sin... oh wait, that is what it was!

Within a few minutes of the doctor checking my cervix, I suddenly felt like I had to push. I told her that I felt sure my body was telling me to push, so she checked me again; I was fully dilated and effaced. The nurse team quickly started breaking down the bed and prepping the doctor for delivery. You know how sometimes Hollywood portrays things unrealistically and we say about something like, "It's not like the movies"? Well, this time it was. It was every bit as dramatic as a movie birth, complete with blood-curdling screaming. But I pushed for just under 15 minutes, so it wasn't as long as it could have been. The contractions were coming every minute or less at that point and I pushed with every contraction, so that was about 15 rounds of pushing, give or take. After Liberty's head was fully out, the doctor told me to shop pushing, so I "sat out' one contraction. Later, Eddie told me that the cord was wrapped around Liberty's neck and that was why I couldn't push. After that, it was one more push to get the rest of her out and she was born at 4:45 AM.

Liberty was placed against me immediately and it was wonderful to hold her, but I must confess that I was rather dazed from the whole experience. After Peter came out, I felt fabulous because I had felt no pain. This time I felt so drained, physically and emotionally. But there were some positive difference between the two births. Like, I had been worried about the placenta not birthing (with Peter it didn't on its own and had to be removed) but this time it came out pretty quickly. Good thing too, because I've heard that having the placenta removed is more painful than pushing the baby out (I wouldn't know though - I didn't feel any of it with Peter). The biggest plus though was that there was no tearing with Liberty which ended up making my overall recovery much less painful than it had been after Peter (2nd degree tear then).

Afterward, in contrasting my epidural birth with my natural birth, I'm still a total epidural fan. I never experienced any of the possible side effects of an epidural (like headaches or the baby being too drowsy to nurse) and even though I tend to be "kinda crunchy" (as one Facebook quiz called my parenting syle), when it comes to pain that bad I can't logically process why I shouldn't make it go away if I can. I did ask my doctor if she thought that not having the epidural is what helped me to not tear this time around, but she did not think there was any correlation. Oh and speaking of being kinda crunchy, even though I had horrible afterbirth cramping every time I nursed Liberty, I didn't take any pain meds other than Ibuprofren (they kept offering me something like Darvocet or one of those narcotic painkillers, can't remember which exactly). So this thing really turned into a drug-free experience from start to finish!

I also had an excellent hospital experience and liked this hospital even better than the one Peter had been born at. The nursing staff was wonderful, I labored and recovered in the same room/bed so I didn't have to be moved an hour after giving birth (like seriously, why do they make you do that at other hospitals?!), the visitor rules were not enforced, and the food was great (and yes, after 9 months of pregnancy involving first nausea/vomiting and then heartburn, good food is important). This hospital also allowed the baby to room in with me even when I was sleeping, so Liberty didn't spend any time in the nursery at all. I think the only time she left me was for her hearing test. Overall, the experience was completely positive other than the agonizing pain, which was nobody's fault, and I'd definitely birth at that hospital again (hopefully not for a while though!).

Liberty Elisabeth

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Liberty's Birth Story, Part 1

Eddie and me on June 25th, less than a week before Liberty's birth

Note: The following story contains discreet references to various aspects of the birthing process.

Before I really begin this story, I probably should provide a little background info to explain why I happened to be awake at 1:30 in the morning. Without getting into too much detail, let's just say I had gone to bed intending to go to sleep but Baby apparently was crushing my bladder into oblivion. After getting up several times to try to alleviate this feeling, it was so uncomfortable that I couldn't sleep and I was getting tired of walking to the bathroom every 2 minutes, so I decided to sit up and read until I wore myself out. So that is how it came to be that at around 1:30 AM on July 1, I was propped up in bed reading a Francine Rivers novel.

At about that time, I noticed something that I thought might be a contraction. Not painful at all, but noticeable. I had been having mild contractions occasionally for the past few weeks, so I didn't think much of it. Several minutes later though, I noticed another one so I decided to start roughly timing them. I glanced at the digital alarm clock on Eddie's nightstand and went back to reading my book. About 5 minutes later, I felt another contraction, followed by more. My contractions were spaced between 5 and 7 minutes apart and seemed to be stronger than any I had felt prior to that night. I decided that if they hadn't stopped at 2:00, then I would wake Eddie up. They continued so I woke him up and said, "I might be in labor, but I'm not sure. I don't know what to do."

What I meant by that was, "I don't know what to do now that we have a toddler sleeping across the hall." Back when I had been pregnant with Peter, we had a false labor episode which involved going to the hospital at 3 AM but since we didn't have any other kids yet, it wasn't a big deal. (Other than having to pay the 10% coinsurance on this which was about $25. But I digress...) The issue now was that if we dragged Peter out of bed and woke my BIL and SIL up in the middle of the night for a false alarm, then I'd feel like an idiot (after all, with this being the second baby, I shouldn't fall victim to false labor, right?). So I told Eddie that I was going walk around the house for a while to see if the contractions slowed. I walked from our bedroom to the kitchen on the opposite end of the house and then back. Then I walked back to the kitchen; as I passed the clock/radio next to the stove, the time read 2:07. I started walked back toward the living room and had just reached the edge of the kitchen when I felt something that might be my water breaking. It was just a little bit though, not enough to get on the floor. I stood for a moment on the tiled kitchen floor contemplating whether this was really happening or not and then I did something very stupid. For some reason, or perhaps no reason at all, I chose to leave the tiled kitchen and run across the carpeted living, down the carpeted hallway (passing the tiled hall bathroom as I went), through our carpeted bedroom, and into the master bathroom. As I passed the semi-conscious Eddie, I said, "I think my water might have broken but I'm not sure." A few seconds after reaching the tiled bathroom, the floodgates opened.

Okay, let me just say that even though this was my second baby, having my water break like this was a totally new experience. With Peter, my water was artificially broken by my doctor in a hospital bed and shortly followed by an epidural, so I had no idea what to expect with "natural" water breakage. Seriously, I have to wonder how it is possible that I had that much liquid inside of me. Finally it stopped, so I felt safe enough to change clothes. Then it started again, so I had to change AGAIN, and also grabbed a towel to put on the seat in the car. During this time, Eddie broke down the pack-n-play, put it in the trunk, put all of our bags in the car (one for each of us, including Peter), got Peter up, and strapped him in the carseat. We were pulling out of the driveway within 10 minutes. We took Peter to his Uncle Jeremy and Aunt Jen's which was only slightly out of the way from the hospital, and then were back on the road. During this time I also managed to call my mom...

Brief rabbit trail about her. My mom had wanted to be present for the actual birth. She was there for Peter's delivery and quite enjoyed watching her first grandchild enter the world. And so, she had booked her flight for July 1; the baby was due July 11 so it seemed safe. Then when I had problems with high blood pressure and was put on total bedrest, my doctor and I decided to induce on July 3, so everything was all scheduled so that my mom would be there.

So anyway, I called my mom and had to share the news that I expected that she would be missing the birth since at this point it was about 2:30 AM and her flight wasn't due until 5 PM. At least, I fervently hoped that she would be missing the birth, otherwise I'd be in labor forever which even with an awesome epidural would still be boring. In a strange twist of fate, I did absolutely get my wish to not be in labor forever but I would later regret that I wasn't in labor longer. More on that later.

While I was speaking to my mom, she was surprised that I did not seem to be in any pain. By then it had been at least 20 minutes since the water breaking and although I was having regular contractions, they were not painful. They were a bit uncomfortable, but hey, pregnancy generally is at the point anyway! So I was having a totally normal conversation without any indicators that I was in active labor. I remember thinking that my labor must not be progressing very fast since the contractions didn't hurt and I wondered if I would be dilated much more than I already had been.

We reached the hospital at about 2:45 AM and pulled up in front of the emergency entrance. Once we got into the labor/delivery triage, we discovered that I didn't have my insurance card with me (of course!). I had given it to Eddie two days earlier to pick up my self-use blood pressure cuff and he had left it on his bureau. Naturally since I was in labor they couldn't not treat me, so we moved past that. I was still feeling okay and was standing at the counter checking in for several minutes without much discomfort and no pain at all. Then I was put in a little room while Eddie went to park the car. At about 3 AM, a nurse confirmed that my water had broken (not that I needed confirmation) and she measured my dilation at between 4 and 5 cm. I had progressed roughly 1 1/2 cm since going into labor, since I had been 3 cm at a check-up two days earlier.

I don't remember exactly when the contractions went from uncomfortable to painful, but it was shortly after the time Eddie returned to my little room that I started squeezing his hand during contractions. A nurse came to my room to get some bloodwork and detailed information from me since I had forgotten to preregister with the hospital. She also started the IV fluids which are required before getting an epidural (this I had requested as soon as I checked in... wasn't about to go through labor without that!). At that time I asked whether I would be delivering in the room I was in now... I didn't think so because it was pretty small... but they hadn't mentioned moving me. I was told that I was not in a delivery room but that they could deliver in it if the hospital was really full, which it was! Turns out I was one of 3 laboring women in the triage at the moment and there were only 2 empty delivery rooms. But, she told me, "You're the only one with water broken so I think you've won the race." Yay.

By the way, there's nothing worth watching on TV at 3 AM, even with 70+ channels to choose from. Next time I will plan to go into labor during the day, when programming is much more exciting. And by this point I needed some distraction from the pain, but since the TV wasn't cutting it for me, I contented myself with leaving semi-permanent fingernail indentations in Eddie's hand.

To be continued...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Turkey Muffuletta

Ever had a muffuletta at a sandwich shop or other restaurant? It's a delicious, unique sandwich that is popular in New Orleans. A muffuletta is traditionally made with Italian meats like salami and ham. This recipe however uses turkey, a healthier meat choice. It tastes fabulous and is a favorite in our house.

Turkey Muffuletta

1 loaf (16 ounces) Italian bread

1/3 c. olive oil
3. Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. fresh minced basil or 1 tsp. dried basil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

3/4 lb. sliced deli turkey
6 oz. Swiss or provolone cheese, thinly sliced
1 jar (7 oz.) roasted sweet red peppers, drained and chopped
1/4 c. pimiento-stuffed green olives, chopped
1/4 c. black olives, chopped
1 large tomato, sliced
3 Tbsp. shredded Romano cheese
1 Tbsp. minced fresh oregano or 1 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Optional: chopped red onion

Cut bread in half lengthwise; carefully hollow out top and bottom, leaving a 1-inch shell (discard removed bread or save).* In a small bowl, combine oil, vinegar, basil, garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes. Brush over cut sides of bread. Combine chopped red peppers, green olives, and black olives. If using red onion (it adds some nice color and flavor), combine with the peppers and olive as well. In the bottom bread shell, layer turkey, cheese, pepper-olive mixture, and tomato. Sprinkle with Romano cheese, oregano, and black pepper. Replace bread top. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Cut into slices and serve.

Healthy tip: for a low-carb version, try omitting the bread and cutting the turkey and cheese in bite-sized pieces. Toss all filling ingredients with a green salad topped with the dressing. I haven't actually tried this (we love bread), but it can't be bad!

*A good use for the saved bread is homemade bread crumbs. The bread can be reduced to crumbs in a food processor and then toasted in a toaster oven or in the oven on a baking sheet at low heat. Whenever I've done this, I use the crumbs within a few days so I'm not sure how long these would last stored in a container (not having the preservatives that store-bought bread crumbs have). It would probably be best to freeze the bread or bread crumbs if they won't be used within a few days.

Recipe adapted from Taste of Home December/January 2008 issue.

Find this recipe and more over at my new blog, Cucina di Christina!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Welcome to my new but kinda old blog!

I have decided that I miss having a personal blog, since I've stopped posting on my Xanga (because no one is on Xanga anymore) and I kept forgetting about my old Blogspot. So I've started this new blog but I have imported some posts from my old Blogspot. Anyway, that is why there's a three year gap between this post and the last one...