Sunday, November 23, 2014

And so it begins...

They're coming! By planes, trains and automobiles! Millions will gather their belongings and be homeward bound. Home. I don't think that any other holiday epitomizes that word quite like Thanksgiving does. The celebration of the harvest, a gathering among family and friends, before a long winters song keeps us inside. Yes, Christmas is bigger, bolder and brighter, but there is just something about the amber hues of Thanksgiving that speaks to me.

And speaking of being spoken too, many readers dressed me down last week about whether or not to encourage guests to bring a dish to Thanksgiving dinner. I just assumed that everyone felt like me. Anything brought is something I don't have to make. I was wrong. Some Thanksgiving host are very territorial when it comes to their kitchens. As one reader told me "it's my party, I'll provide the food." So be it...but not at my house.

Both sisters are bringing food, one, favorites her kids like, and the other, things her family likes. It's all good with me. My daughter in-law is bringing the green bean casserole, and my almost daughter in-law is making an apple pie. My sons and nephew will stand out in the cold and deep fry a spicy turkey, while I stay warmly inside roasting the traditional bird.

My young nieces and nephew will be sampling the candy dishes while waiting for the after dinner treasure hunt to begin. It's a family affair. It's not "my" Thanksgiving, it's just at my house. And when I was looking for a place to live a little over a year ago, the ability to have all of my family on Thanksgiving was always foremost on my mind. Especially since my sons, regardless of how many people are here, demand a sit down one continuous table! We somehow make it work.

I have learned to appreciate all of the chaos that goes with observing a day of gratitude. And Lord, there so many things to be thankful for this year. My oldest son and his wife are having a baby in late Spring. And, my youngest son just got engaged. I am grateful to not only love both of the women in their lives, but to like them as well. Good girls, these two. So much to look forward to!

As time goes on, there are a few more aches and pains at the end of a long Thanksgiving day than there were the year before, but for the most part, I'm thankful to be here, standing and able to pull it off. (Although I will admit, my bed at the end of the day feels pretty damn good!)

Each year, the night before Thanksgiving, when the house is quiet and sparkling clean, I light a fire, make some tea and turn off the TV for a few moments. It is in this solitude that I can look past any challenges from the past year, and acknowledge the good in my life. I once read that "You can count your money, you can even count your assets, but until you learn to count your blessings, your not as successful as you think you are." That said, I am a very successful woman.

Photos by GoggleImages

Sunday, November 16, 2014 bring or not to bring!

Recently, I had breakfast with my new soon to be daughter in-law Melissa, and my son Kyle. It was great (especially since my son was paying). While we were eating, Melissa, almost hesitantly, asked quietly "Jo Ann, would it be okay if I made an apple pie to bring on Thanksgiving?" Okay? Kyle chimed in, "if you don't mind, I want to make a coconut custard pie." Mind? Are you kidding me? I'd be happy if somebody brought the turkey!

I will never understand why some Thanksgiving Day host feel it's an intrusion for someone to bring a dish of, well, anything. Recently I was talking to a lady in the grocery store who faces a similar situation. She and her family are going to her mother in-law's for the 12th straight year. "She is kind of a plain-ish cook. Nothing fancy, no great culinary stretches. Turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes. I would love to bring a vegetable casserole. But she would be furious." I. Don't. Get. This!

My Dad, who was the Thanksgiving Day chef for many years, had the mantra "If you know someone who has no place to go, bring them here". So, from time to time, there was an unrelated someone at the table. And, if that someone wanted to bring a favorite dish they knew from years passed, it was encouraged. It's everyone's holiday, not just the host's.

I had an aunt who didn't like anyone to bring food to her house for gatherings. (I suspected that she didn't want anything to overshadow her creations.) And heaven forbid you baked something!  She would reluctantly hold out her arms to take the offering while simultaneously rolling her eyes. So when I hear the question,"what can I bring?", I answer with a smile "anything you want." I will accept it graciously and display prominently. With that in mind, below is a recipe that I found on Pinterest and posted on Facebook for my family and friends to see. It looks wonderful! And I promise, I would not be insulted if anyone brought it!

Creamy Sweet Potato Casserole


 onion, chopped
oz.  (3/4 of 8-oz. pkg.) PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, cubed
can  (14-1/2 oz.) chicken broth
cup  packed brown sugar
lb.  sweet potatoes (about 6), peeled, thinly sliced
 RITZ Crackers, crushed
cup  chopped PLANTERS Pecans

oven to 350ºF.
COOK onions in large skillet sprayed with cooking spray on medium-high heat 5 to 7 min. or until crisp-tender, stirring frequently. Add cream cheese, broth and sugar; cook 5 to 7 min. or until cream cheese is melted and sauce is well blended, stirring frequently.
PLACE potatoes in 13x9-inch baking dish sprayed with cooking spray; cover with sauce.
BAKE 45 min. Combine cracker crumbs and nuts; sprinkle over potatoes. Bake 10 min. or until potatoes are tender

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Letter to My Grandchild In Waiting...

Welcome little one. The very thought of you has unleashed a level of love in me that I wasn't sure existed. And even though you are now tucked inside the warmth and protection of your Mom, the anticipation of your arrival has given so many of us a feeling of exhilaration, a feeling of hope. You will be loved.

And what a start you'll have! I may be a little bias here, put your parents are amazing. I've especially learned this past year, that your father will back his love for you with support that is unwavering. You will always feel his hand gently on your back, as he guides you forward. I pray you inherit his strength and drive to get things done. And your mother...beautiful, smart, inquisitive and engaging. She will pass her love of reading and thirst for knowledge onto you. Along with her passion for Halloween, shopping and, most importantly, the beach. You would be wise to pay attention to this special lady.

And as for your grandparents, well, we will be like the second string, standing on the sidelines waiting for you to need us. Forgive us if we rush the field with every accomplishment you make. A first smile, a first step, the first glimpse of recognition, will send us over the edge. I know the love that is welling within me for you, I've seen the love in the eyes of your other grandparents when holding your cousin Grace, so be assured that everything I just said, is an absolute given.

Now, as for your uncles, aunts and cousins, well, let me put it this way, you won't be able to ramble through this loud, sometimes rowdy group, without tripping over outstretched arms waiting to gather you up! They are a fun bunch, this lot, on both sides. Family gatherings will be an adventure.

There is so much that I simply can't wait to share with you. But I can be patient while you grow and thrive in the most miraculous environment you'll ever experience. But when I can, when the time comes, I will hold you in my arms and whisper everything I know for sure into your ear. It won't take long. Because the first rule is, for "sure" is not always for "certain". As a matter of fact, my new love, it's all pretty much a crap shoot. Which is why the family that surrounds and supports you is so important.

Because of all of the love from your parents and family, life will be good for you, little one. But it won't be perfect all of the time.  But that's what gives it texture. How you handle it, is what defines your character. When ever I'm a little overwhelmed, I find looking out of my bedroom window at the glimmering stars against a dark sky reassuring. They've been there for tens of thousands of years. And nothing I do, accomplish or screw up, can ever change that. To me, it's a clear motivation, and absolute directive, to take chances. You can't always say goodnight to the moon. Rainbows come and go. But even when obscured by clouds, the stars are always there.

And so the journey begins...

I pray, my grandchild, that you are blessed with the ability to dream, and the want to achieve. I wish for you the inner quality to blend kindness with tolerance. But above all, it is my greatest hope that the love in your life is mixed generously with laughter! It is an unbeatable combination.

So, my love, until we meet, I remain,
Your waiting

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Not So Sweet Success!

Easy and fresh!
In my last post, I mentioned that for the most part,when it comes to Thanksgiving, my family members are traditionalist. They pretty much like things to be the same year after year. It was an observation more than an accusation, and the next day I learned how observant I am!

In an effort to curb my intake of sugar, I was trying a little experiment. I remembered a spread in a magazine last November that pointed out which menu items had the most sugar. I was surprised to see that a portion (a mere 1/4 cup) of cranberry sauce had 21 grams. A whole sweet potato only has nine (unless you serve it candied, then a small serving jumps to 41 grams of sugar. Yikes!)

So, you can see where I'm going with this. There is no way to reduce the sugar in store bought cranberry sauce. The only alternative is to make it from scratch at home. I used a a recipe from the Splenda website. (Please no lectures on artificial sweetener choices. I try not to use them at all, but when I need to, this is my choice.)
The "canned stuff"

Anyway, I posted on Facebook that I was making homemade cranberry sauce for the very first time and was really surprised at how easy it was. That is when the text and emails started coming:

"You're not really going to serve that on Thanksgiving, are you?"
"No disrespect, but we are bringing the canned stuff."
"The pilgrims didn't have Splenda."
No they didn't. But if we are going to celebrate like the pilgrims, after dinner I'm going to have to kill most of you and then steal your land! So relax, everyone. Trying this recipe was for me. I love cranberries, in anyway, shape of form. I was trying to find something that worked so I could enjoy them more often.

And, it was actually really good! Now, I'm only including the recipe below if you, or someone coming for dinner, is a diabetic or someone watching their sugar or caloric intake. (Not that anyone in my house is watching calories on Thanksgiving). It only takes about 20 minutes to make, not including the cooling time, and is totally worth the effort for someone at your table who may need it. It can also be made days ahead of time so it won't interfere with the manic mayhem of that particular
Thursday morning.


  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 cup SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1 medium orange, peeled, seeded and diced

    1. Combine the arrowroot (or cornstarch), SPLENDA®Granulated Sweetener and water in a medium saucepan, stirring until SPLENDA® Granulated Sweetener and cornstarch dissolve. Stir in cranberries and diced orange. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring often, over medium-high heat; reduce heat, and simmer, stirring often, 5 minutes or until cranberry skins begin to pop and mixture begins to thicken. Set aside to cool. Cover and chill at least 3 hours.
    2. Serve cold or warm over your favorite roasted meats.
    So, in the next few weeks, there will be plenty of recipes in this space that may or may not be part of our holiday menu. But before any of you point your text messages my way, I promise that everything that is usually there, will still be there! ALONG, with a few new surprises. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

It's November! Start Your Ovens!

This says November...
The beginning of November is so much better to me than the end of December. This is where it all begins. This is where, for one month out of twelve, I get organized.  I actually make lists. Lots of them, as a matter of fact. I start buying non-perishables on sale, flour, sugar, spices, etc.

I start making soup stocks to freeze in small containers. They are perfect for nights like this, rainy and cold. A day where the bloom is certainly off the mums. After running around all day, to have homemade soup waiting at the end, simply warms the soul.

If I put into the whole year, what I put into November, well, life would be infinitely better. The problem is January. I, and most of the people I know, go into hibernation mode, and my organizational skills are reduced to making sure to rotate the cushions on the couch so they wear evenly under my butt.

But, that's months away. For now, there is shopping, coupon cutting, listing, eating, menu planning, recipe clipping, event planning, over eating, sheet changing, trips into the city for special goodies your guests will be looking for.

My family members are traditionalists. Everyone has their favorites and everyone of them are expected on the table. But each year, I try to add something new, something different. As we are a two turkey family, one roasted, one deep fried, last year I introduced a buffalo-style gravy for the fried bird (traditional gravy is always made for the roasted turkey...the one that I eat), anyway, I'm not sure it went over well. So I will eliminate it this year and begin my search now for something that adds the wow factor.

Thanksgiving isn't just a holiday at my house, it's an event. And I savor every day that leads to it. So, over the next three weeks, Please stay the journey with me. Share the recipes, the stories, the excitement of getting the holiday season started.

Kitchen Clatter reaches the military bases of Afghanistan to the hills of Beijing, to every corner of the United States. I love getting emails from so many people who can relate to its content. I enjoy seeing your recipes and reading your family stories.

We are 76K plus readers strong and growing. So many have watched KC start as a family blog and drift into a food blog. For a brief while we took a fun-filled road trip into wedding blogging. So many of you offered support when I felt obligated to share with you a painful divorce. And then celebrated with me while I experienced the joy of independence. Soon, we will turn a new chapter. But for now, it's November and I am so ready to get this party started!!

I guess what I am really saying friends is, join me...and come home for holidays!

 Photos by ImageGoggle