Monday, November 29, 2010

Spiced Apples

I liked the way this picture came out -- nice and eery with that alien glow coming out of the jar. It looks a little like primordial ooze gone nuclear, I admit. But what you see below is the fruit of the gods.

This jar contains the end of the Thanksgiving spiced apples that Dad makes each year. It's a bit like Christmas, it only comes around once and the anticipation combined with the chemistry of the cooked apples, red hots, and sugar could destroy the table by the time we sit down to eat it. The sweetness combines so perfectly with the turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, and green bean casserole that I found myself this year portioning each of these four elements around a center of glowing red apples on the plate a bit like a scientist's chemical formula. If everything equally touches the supernova catalyst, I caught myself thinking, we'll have perfect synthesis.

The picture below was taken a couple of Thanksgivings ago when Dad filled a 9x13 pan of the stuff for only 6 of us, and we still managed to consume it all.

So, as the leftover apples of Thanksgiving 2010 get eaten with, well, just about anything, and I start to hoard the last bits in the dark recesses of the refrigerator, here is the recipe, should any other soul be brave enough to take it on:

(Please note diabetics should stay as far away from this dish as the plague.)

10 Red Delicious Apples (the really big ones) If you only have small, make it 15
3-4 bags of Imperial Red Hots
1 pound of sugar

Peel and slice the apples into a pot of water, just full enough to cover them. Boil for 20 minutes to soften. The froth should have dissipated by that time.

Next, by 1/2 cups, add red hots and stir into boiling pot to melt. After each 1/2 cup, add a cup of sugar. You will need at least 6 cups of sugar altogether.

Pour off the extra juice as you go (into a jar -- Dad calls this the true nectar of the gods and uses it as syrup)

Mash gently with a potato masher or a wooden spoon to desired consistency.

Total time: 1 hour

Set up overnight in the fridge to chill.

When Nick had his extra credit project due in Creative Foods for "family traditions" this is what he made. I think he got a 125 out of 100. None came home to us, either.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Lead Pipe

I mentioned my love of board games in the Thanksgiving blog. One of my favorites has always been "Clue." Since I can remember, I was always Professor Plum.

Only at Target, just in time for the holidays, is the Vintage Games Collection. It appears they've remade the boards and pieces of 7 different classic games in their original styles and put them in big brown boxes suitable for sitting on your bookshelf.

However, having kept the original Clue that pre-dates me, I have to take issue with their reissue.

1. "Clue" should be in quotation marks and the cover should have the 60s magnifying glass over the fingerprint with the characters in the handle.

2. The cards appear to be correctly reproduced, but the solution sleeve is wrong, as are the detective notes pads.

2. From what I can ascertain from the back of the box, they have reissued the player pieces in wood, but they've recreated the weapons in plastic, not METAL.

Now, as this is a picture of my original set, you are probably wondering why I care. Note if you will the metal weapons (with exception of the plastic rope) laid around the center of the board. There are five. Now note that there are SIX weapons cards. What's missing?

The lead pipe.

Note, too, that I have two game boards. I also have two sets of cards, two solution sleeves, two sets of wooden character pieces, and FIVE more weapons. I bought that set in a garage sale for a quarter in hopes any bent cards could be traded out and a piece of the original box could help me repair mine. And this set ALSO had NO LEAD PIPE.

Here's a later set (these are not the original molds, nor is the metal the same) with all six weapons:

I have to believe most original sets of "Clue" may well be missing the lead pipe. I mean, look at it. It's the piece most likely to roll off the table or out of the box, to be mistaken for some broken screw, and tossed into the trash.

So when I saw the reissue of the game in Target, I seriously considered for a moment spending $19.99 just to get the lead pipe. That tiny little bent piece of metal. Ok, so the moment didn't last long, and of course then I realized the "vintage" weapons were plastic, so the temporary insanity didn't last terribly long.

Still, just putting this out there -- if any of you have a half crushed box that looks like my set above up in your attic and you're cleaning things out, just take a second to peek inside and see if there's a miniature lead pipe that looks like it's already been broken across someone's skull. It's my little grail. And we all need our little grails. :)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Road Trip Roundup

Day 1
We set out on Tuesday night for Colorado Springs to spend the night with Mom and Dad and then headed south Wednesday morning for Dumas, Texas. (Every time I say the name of this town I hear Heywood from Shawshank Redemption trying to pronounce the author of The Count of Monte "Crisco" by "Alexandree . . . Dumb-ass" . . .)

Since my parents were driving down too, the trip there was pretty spacious, since the dogs could spread out in our backseat and Nick could spread out in theirs. We made it through Raton pass before 11:00 and on to our destination by 4:00 that afternoon with only the endless road construction, "safety corridor" speed limits, and potty stops to slow us down.

Those travelling days are always wipe-outs by the time you arrive, so we had dinner early (having skipped lunch), collapsed at the ridiculous hour of 7:00 p.m. and soundly slept for 11 hours. Side note: I am seriously in love with my new phone. Not only can it wake me gently with my choice of music (Hands on the Wheel), it can also keep me asleep until then with the EasySleep app that has about 10 different white noise sounds.

Day 2

The next morning was Thanksgiving, which meant coffee and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. It wasn't until this point that we discovered that Melissa, who was doing the turkey, had spoken with Pop about what time to eat. Rule #1: Thanksgiving "Dinner" is the southern term for LUNCH, which should happen at NOON. I'm not sure where these two come from, but 2:00 is WAY TOO LATE. But by that time, there was nothing left to do but wait as the turkey had to cook.

So in the interim, we visited, played with the dogs, and drove about town to see the sights.

We'd neglected to bring any tennis balls with us, but it turned out that the dogs were just as happy to chase after the fallen pears from the tree in the backyard.

This worked very well until they wanted to take it in the house and continue chewing on them, since the pears got sticky pretty quickly. Still, the joy in these bounding dogs is enough to make you forget how hungry you are for turkey and stuffing at NOON... (this is all to poke at Melissa)

Dad and I drove around town for awhile, which doesn't take too terribly long with a population of around 13,000, even if it is double the size of Navasota.

Those endless Texas skies were stretching out across the plains of the panhandle over the bleachers at the rodeo stadium next to the football field.

And the old high school which must have been built in the 3os is beautifully detailed in Art Deco.

The county seat of Moore, the 1930 courthouse in the center of town also has some fantastic art deco details, more than I managed to photograph, but here's a link to some better pictures.

And being further south also meant there was some lovely fall color still on the trees.

Once we got back to the house, there wasn't a lot to do except visit and watch the squirrels play in the backyard under the pecan trees.

Their window seat is my favorite spot in the house to squirrel watch.

This Thanksgiving is bittersweet as the last one before Nick leaves home. Next year and from here on out, he will be just "coming back" for Thanksgiving. I don't know where the time went.

I still have Sammi for three more Thanksgivings, though. She's already been warned that as an only child, smothering will be the rule instead of the exception.

So while Sammi whiled away the hours on the computer, Nick had football. . .

And we finally got the sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, rolls, mac and cheese, and green bean casserole going, as well as tending to the dressing Matt had made the night before. (My mom and dad brought the spiced apples and the pies, so we had an equal balance of sweet to starch.)

Note in the picture below that the foil that has just been taken off the dressing here, coming out of the oven. Mistake #2: the foil should've come off before going in (which Matt's instructions stated). Still tasted very yummy, though.

Mistake #3 was my own (so no picture): never take your eyes off the sweet potato casserole when you are broiling the marshmallows. There is basically a split second between golden brown and burning the house down. Then you will be scraping crispy critters off and trying again. And when you try again, even though you vow not to take your eyes off it, someone will walk in, carrying the long awaited turkey or something similar. And you will burn them again.

But the turkey will be perfect. :)

We ate and ate and talked and ate. Then fell into the inevitable tryptophan coma until dark. And then ate pie in front of the fireplace with dogs at our feet.

THIS is Thanksgiving, even if you do have to wait half the day for it to start ;)

Day 3

Friday morning at dawn, the cold front had taken hold and it was a brisk 13 degrees when I wandered out into the backyard to catch the morning light through the plum tree.

We met up with Mom and Dad at the local diner, Albert's, which makes divine homemade biscuits with gravy as well as green chili omelettes. After breakfast, Mom and Dad headed back for Colorado.

Back at the Masks, Nick picked around on the guitar while we pulled in Nell's Christmas decorations from the garage to set up her tree.

And Pop was more interested in the guitar than decorating, too. . .

He did get into the ornaments for just a bit, though.

Evan has gotten so used to pictures, he tends to happily pose in our group shots, invited or not.

And then, it was time for the other road trip: to the closest Whataburger in Texas, a little less than an hour away in Amarillo. This also happens to be the closest Whataburger to Denver, some 7 hours away. While there are a few tiny pockets in Colorado to locate Bluebell Ice Cream, there is no chance you will find a Whataburger, so once you're within an hour, you have to go.

We did get quite a kick out of the marketing slogan, though.

The rest of the day was another lazy, relaxing one, in anticipation of the road home on Saturday.

Nick did finally get around to making his bread pudding for us, though. Because, you know, we haven't had enough to eat yet.

That evening, Melissa and Heather came over to help us recreate a photo taken on the last Thanksgiving we were all together like this, some 11 years ago. Just a few changes of note:

Day 4

And then Saturday came around too soon and it was time to pack up and head home.

Nick bid farewell to the Texas cow in Dalhart as we set off for the mountains again.

And since Mom and Dad had gone back the day before, that meant we were all in for some serious togetherness for the next 7 hours.


The moon kept us company for a good part of the morning as we made our way across the border into New Mexico (and the endless road work)

Then Katy moved up front under my feet early on and stayed there the rest of the time. Did I mention togetherness? I would also like to take a quick detour here and note that while my mother was aghast that these were the only shoes I brought, I was never accosted by the fashion police because I dared shuffle around in my slippers the whole week.

The antelope were also playing in New Mexico, although I guess the deer stayed back in Texas.

After hours, the first signs of home were visible in the distance:

Entering Raton, should you wish to take a left and head south into the rest of New Mexico, you're just an hour or two away from some amazing spots.

But a right turn north means home to Colorado.

Nick pointed out that the 100 yards or so between the leaving New Mexico sign and the entering Colorado sign must be the twilight zone of the black lines on the U.S. map. . .

And the irony of the very brown picture below is always good for a smile:

But the snow capped mountains were getting larger in the distance, which meant home was not far off. There is something amazing about these mountains and the fresh air that makes you so much more glad to be alive. And there is something even better about leaving them for just a few days and coming back. I suppose that's the best part of all road trips, after all the miles, and the conversations, and that laughter, is having discovered all those wonderful moments on the journey that always leads back home.

All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware. ~Martin Buber

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Impressions

This has been a banner Thanksgiving. For the first time in more than a decade almost all of the family gathered together in one house, although not one table, to feast and share in the holiday. Heather's friend Amber joined us, but Matt had to work all day, resulting in a group of 11.

Driving down to Texas, even if it is just the panhandle, awakens all kinds of imagery from my childhood. I think it's the trees -- the oaks and the pecan trees, the flatness of the land stretching out again the sky except where a tree intersects it. Much of Dumas reminds me of Mexia, which was Thanksgiving central for many years. Before I was born, the Saltsmans gathered around my grandmother's table dressed in their finest, using the china that was never used any other time in the year (except Christmas dinner). Below are my grandparents Saltsman with my Aunt Laverne to the right of my granddaddy in the dining room, whose central feature in my memory is the dark hard wood floors and the big table that I played underneath.

Many years after, Me-Maw was still making Thanksgiving dinner in that same kitchen, starting in the wee hours of the morning, always with a smile.

When you're a kid, the length of the day seems endless, the forever waiting while the adults cook and cook and cook, the boredom with the football on the TV where all the men looked at you like you should just go play outside (which, if it wasn't too cold, you were always happy to do.)

Sometimes, you'd get lucky and get company out in the crunchy leaves for a little while.

But mostly, as an only child in a family where there just weren't any cousins your age, where you were always the youngest and typically asked to either find something to do on your own or stay quiet, the day lagged on interminably.

At least until after dark. Because the highlight of the day as a kid, at least for me, was that Thanksgiving also always meant board games at night: Clue and Life and Yahtzee. As you can tell above, they got me started on the dice early ;). Aunt Dot and cousin Christy kept me quiet with goldfish here, circa 1971.

Thanksgiving also meant colorful "hand" turkeys posted on the fridge and the obligatory Pilgrims and Indians play at school.

Other impressions that stick with me . . . the garage of my childhood home that had been converted into a large kitchen, with the big sun-filled window and 70s floral wallpaper and green carpet. I found just one picture in the files of the yellow countertops, avocado dishwasher, and goldenrod refrigerator. There was plenty of Thanksgiving prep in there on the years everyone came to our house.

And there are the memories of the Thanksgivings spent at Aunt Dot's home in Brenham, as the family dinners grew smaller when the older cousins went elsewhere to other homes. Of course, they grew larger again as the grandchildren came along. I wish I could find the pictures of the year Aunt Dot made us all wear Indian headdresses or pilgrim hats to the dinner table to the delight of her grandsons.

But now, at my 40th Thanksgiving, looking back across the years, I cherish those long, boring days of solitary play, listening in to those adult conversations, the moans over Lions football, and the sounds of crunchy leaves outside. It makes me thankful for a life where a day of leisure is combined with setting off the fire alarm when you broil the marshmallows on the sweet potato casserole a minute too long, where memories of days past creep into the corners of your mind and make you smile for the faces that aren't around the table any more.

Of course, it makes me doubly thankful for those faces who still sit at my table, for the years that I've been blessed to have them with me . . .

For the different tables that bind us together . . .for the years that seem to race by . . . for the realization that my oldest will be coming "back home" for Thanksgiving next year. . .

. . . I am deeply thankful.