The day at Chez Frank began with taking down the holiday decorations. I don’t know about all y’all, but I was SO HAPPY to get everything down and to reclaim my home from all the holiday cheer. When I called my mom to wish her a Happy New Year and told her what I was doing, she retorted with, “Already?!” If you’ll remember, she likes to keep it up so she can enjoy it for a good, long time.
(Clearly, this apple was flung from the family tree. And yes, the lights came off the house too. I am unlike my mother in that regard as well in that I don’t leave them up until the summer months.)
I’m not sure about the rest of y’all, but I am a very predictable person. Every year I can’t WAIT to get my Xmas decorations up and to
vomit spread holiday cheer everywhere. I prefer the smell of a real tree and resist the temptation of buying one of those fancy pre-lit artificial trees (read: too frugal to pay full price before the holidays, and too sick of it all to look for them during the clearance sales after the holidays!). So I spend hours wrapping the lights onto the tree. I like a well-lit tree, so I use about 10 strings of lights and like to wrap the lights from the inside to the outside of almost every branch. Makes for a lovely tree. Every time I pass the tree I move around the decorations to make it just perfect.
Then, after about three weeks, I try to block out the decorations for the most part and if it weren’t for the timers, I’d forget to turn the lights on at all.
Finally, normally the day of Christmas, I am itching to take it all down and get on with my life. I try to wait until New Year’s Day, at which time I bound out of bed in the wee hours like a child on Christmas morning anxiously looking if Santa has arrived. I then spend three hours cursing myself as I gingerly attempt to take off the decorations and lights FROM EVERY BRANCH of the tree only to have more needles on the ground than there are left on the branches. And, predictably, I SWEAR that I will NEVER put up another real tree, regardless of the price of artificial, pre-lit trees the next year.
Eleven months go by, and I repeat the cycle. Sigh.
One trick I have learned to help make taking down the tree easier, is the “Cut As You Go” Method. Here in the big city, we have a green bin that we put our yard waste (grass clippings, etc.) into. It gets collected every week just like the garbage and recyclables. Unfortunately, they won’t take it if the lid isn’t closed (hence, putting eliminating the option of putting a big ole Xmas tree right into the container).
So instead, I begin by taking off all of the decorations. After those are removed, I begin taking off the lights. Years of practice has taught me begin putting on the lights from the bottoms and in sections (NOT wrapping around and around in a spiral. That would drive me to tossing out the lights with tree.). Starting from the top, I take off the lights from a few branches and then cut off those branches and put them into the recycling container (which I have wheeled into the house, thereby eliminating the Trail of
Tears Needles.) This is what it looks like in-process:
Rather effective. And it’s so nice having our house back!
Our dear friend, Marguerite, has her mom and aunt visiting from the Ivory Coast. We’ve been fortunate to spend a fair amount of time with them, including getting to eat their scrumptious cooking. To reciprocate, I decided to make them a “typical” (for me) American meal. I made meat loaf, twice-baked potatoes (How-To at the bottom), corn on the cob (yes, we can get it here in Southern California, although, truth be told, it didn’t taste very good), and for dessert, an apple and cranberry crumble over vanilla ice cream.
We also invited our friends Cat and Paul and their two kids, I. and S. Cat brought homemade chili (I know, I don’t know what I was thinking. It was WAY too much food. But everyone ended up taking a fairly good-sized take home container with them when they left!).
As soon as Makende walked through the door and saw her pal, I., she started screaming his name. They quickly settled into a chair to watch some vintage Popeye (one of my gifts to My Partner for Xmas).
After an appetizer of the most delicious brie (which I melted in the oven and served with warm french bread), we made our way to the table.
My Partner, Marguerite, Makende, Roger, Mami Emilie (Marguerite’s Aunt), and Mami (Marguerite’s Mom).
Paul, S., Cat, and I.
It was a really great meal and a wonderful way to ring in the new year.
*Twice-Baked Potatoes Ala Frank
I’m not really a recipe kind of cook, so I’ll apologize in advance. But to make these, I begin by wrapping russet potatoes (1 for each guest) in aluminum foil and baking for about an hour or until a fork pierces them with the least bit of resistance. You don’t want them too soft otherwise they won’t hold their shape. Too hard and you won’t be able to scoop out the insides.
After they’re baked I let them cool. Then I take a knife and cut off the top 1/3 of each potato.
I scoop out the inside from the top 1/3 (toss the rest of the top) and the insides from the bottom part, begin careful to leave a shell that’s thick enough to maintain its shape. I normally bake a few extra because I will inevitably mess up one or two. These are what they look like once they’re scooped out.
As I’m scooping, I’m putting the insides into a bowl, being careful not to get any of the skin in the bowl. After I’ve got all the potatoes scooped, I mix in some cream cheese, sour cream, and milk (I know, it’s annoying that I don’t have a measurement, but really, I don’t measure! For 12 potatoes I used about 16 oz sour cream, about 8 oz of whipped cream cheese, and a splash (1/4 cup?) of milk). I also add seasonings including garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Taste (frequently) to make sure it tastes good and that it has a creamy consistency.
Then I scoop the mixture into a large piping bag with a star tip and pipe the potato mixture into each of the shells making sure to pile them nice and high. Sprinkle with chives, paprika, or some such to give it some color.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes (or until the tops get browned) and voila! Twice-Baked Potatoes!
Meatloaf Ala Frank
Again, this is gonna frustrate the hell out of most of you. But I normally use 1/3 ground turkey, 1/3 ground beef (98% fat-free), and 1/3 sweet italian sausage. Sautee an onion or two, throw it in with the meat. Add a couple of jiggers of Worcester Sauce, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and some chopped, fresh rosemary (kiped from the neighbor’s bush), an egg or two, and 1/2 sleeve of saltines (today I used butter crackers borrowed from the neighbor!). Mix (usually with my impeccably clean and well-manicured hands) until it’s all well-blended and will hold the shape of a ball (not too stiff, not too runny). Put into a loaf pan, level it out, dump gobs of ketchup on top and bake in a 350 degree oven for about an hour.