team gale or team peeta? a discussion of catching fire

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If you don’t know what I am talking about, then first you need to go out and get The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Click here if you want to read my review of The Hunger Games), and read it. If you leave right now to go get it, you should have the book finished by tomorrow afternoon, easy. Then go out and get Catching Fire and read that.

Good.

I may spoil things for you if you read on, so be sure you read the books first, or that you don’t care about stuff like that. I won’t spill anything from Catching Fire, but I’ll talk as if you are up to speed on Hunger Games.

Phew! Now that that’s out of the way—let’s get to my question.

how to make your own perfect mashed potatoes

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Well, here’s the thing: I really can’t give you the exact recipe for perfect mashed potatoes, but I can tell you all the tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years so that you can make your very own mashed potatoes that you will deem perfect.

The only thing I stand by when making mashed potatoes is this: MASHED POTATOES SHOULD NEVER COME FROM A BOX!!! That is an absolute rule with me, and I never bend. I have never eaten potato flakes/potato pearls and been duped into thinking they are a) real or b) good. Oh, how I struggled my freshman year of college when that was all the cafeteria served!! But listen, if you like potato pearls, or potato flakes, that’s okay. We’re still cool.

But, you know, maybe you never make the real thing because you’ve only ever had a cruddy potato peeler. Here’s my solution: an Oxo Good Grips potato peeler. They cost about 8 bucks, but will be making you a happy potato/apple/vegetable peeler for years and years. Mine has lasted over ten years (which is more than I can say for some other things in my life).

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(Is it just me, or does my son wear this shirt an awful lot in these pictures?)

much to be grateful for: a thanksgiving with friends

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This year, as my family’s new life twists and unfolds in ways we never expected, I reflect on the ways close and true friends are absolutely vital.  My three children and I recently moved into the home of friends who have willingly and unselfishly opened their doors to us.  I can never repay them for as long as I live, but I will most certainly try.  Angie, the friend I am staying with, was a roommate in college, and over the years, has invited me to join with her in countless family gatherings.  Those experiences meant the world to me when I was thousands of miles from home.

Nearby to where we currently live, are friends I have made over the years who are just as good and true as Angie, and have been my safe haven these last several months.  They have given me advice, called me several times a week to be sure I am doing alright, taken me to dinner, or simply been a listening ear.  In addition to these friends are the ones I left behind in my last home, who were equally faithful.  I don’t believe I have done anything to deserve any of these people’s friendship, but nevertheless, there they are.  And I love them.

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I have mentioned Shannon before on my blog.  She is an amazing person.  I love her home.  It is lovely.  She and her husband have made it into something special that is all their own.  From the wood shop in the back, to the tree fort in the side yard, to the garden and the chickens they keep, I observe their life in admiration every time I visit.  She and her husband are endlessly talented, and I feel it a privilege to know them.

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Last week they agreed to let me have a little Thanksgiving at their house for the blog. Shannon and I cooked all day, and had a great time.  The kids played, helped with the meal, and even chased the chickens back into their pens.  To my delight, just before dinner, Shannon lit a fire in the fire place.  As she did, I felt a pang of longing for my home in Massachusetts.  But really, when I am with any of these my friends, who mean so much to me, I am home.

For our menu, which I will be sharing throughout the week, was the artisan bread stuffing with sausage and apricots, braised Brussels sprouts with caramelized shallots (listed below), mashed potatoes and gravy, and sweet potato mash with candied pear (also listed below). Shannon made the turkey, and I will share her techniques later this week. For dessert, we ate a pumpkin crème caramel, which you won’t want to miss.

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In case you were wondering, Shannon took that picture of my hands grating the orange zest into the cranberries, and if you’d like that recipe, click here.

artisan bread stuffing with sausage and apricots

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A certain family member used to always beg for a certain kind of stuffing every year. Oh, don’t worry, he didn’t insist on Stove Top or anything (cranberry sauce was a different matter entirely, but we won’t go there—or maybe we will.  You can’t marry someone who grew up 20 minutes away from where the Pilgrims landed, who had a bus stop at a cranberry bog all through high school, and then expect her to condone cranberry sauce from a can.  I’m sorry, you just can’t!  In case you’re wondering, my cranberry sauce can help cure people of cranberry sauce aversion, and addiction to canned cranberry sauce.   Click here for the recipe).

Anyway!  He actually used to insist on Martha Stewart’s Cranberry Cornbread Stuffing, which I made for the first time back in 2003, and made every Thanksgiving up until last year.

In light of unfolding events last Thanksgiving (if you’re out of the loop, click here), I felt at liberty to finally try out a new recipe that had been brewing in my head for some time.

Remember that movie Hanging Up? I saw it when it first came out. I hardly remember anything from it other than it was completely different from the trailers, and that Meg Ryan kept nagging her sister about a stuffing she was going to make that had apricots in it. I knew I could not rest until I had made a stuffing like that. So last year, I dusted myself off from the rubble of a failing marriage, and made the darn stuffing I wanted. It’s pretty good, if I do say so myself.

The first people to taste this stuffing outside last year’s guest-less Richardson Thanksgiving table, were the fine folks at For Your Kitchen in Ogden, Utah. Last Saturday I taught a little class there on Thanksgiving side dishes, and it was great to meet lots of people, cook, share ideas, and eat. If you’re in the neighborhood, I’ll actually be teaching another class in December on time saving Christmas cookies. It’ll be fun, so if you want to come, sign up as soon as you can!