Thanksgiving — The In-Between Holiday

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Last year’s tree

I have found among my friends on social media that there are two camps of people: those who start their Christmas celebrations in early to mid-November, and those who wait until after Thanksgiving. Not only are there two different camps, the two groups have become openly contemptuous of the other side. Stores are running commercials now mocking other stores that are opening on thanksgiving, purporting that they are supporting family values by staying closed.

What are your thoughts? I sit on the fence. Some years we put up our tree a day or two before Thanksgiving, while other years we wait until the day after, also known as Black Friday. I refuse to listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving, despite the fact that my regular radio station switches to all Christmas songs on November 1. I promptly switch stations until after Christmas.

Here are some of my favorite traditions for Thanksgiving:

This is the only holiday that my family comes up from Georgia, so I spend extra time on the table. I use my good china and my grandmother’s “grape glasses.”

This year, I’m making a cheeseball for an appetizer, homemade cranberry sauce, and corn. My amazing husband will make the turkey, ham, and cornbread dressing (not stuffing). My daughter will make the deviled eggs (her specialty). (When we first started hosting thanksgiving for my family seventeen years ago, I said I would do it but I would not touch the turkey. That stipulation continues today.)

My mother brings sweet potato casserole and pecan pies. My sister brings hash brown casserole and this year is bringing green beans. Our cousin Barbara will bring macaroni pie, Veg-All casserole and grape salad.

I love a good casserole. Yes, I was raised in the eighties in the South, and I love casseroles. I would make a green bean casserole but my husband doesn’t like them. Sigh.

Sometimes we might add a dish here or there, or swap a vegetable, but I’m not interested in trying new dishes on Thanksgiving. Everyone wants their tried and true favorites. My mom sighed when I confirmed this morning that she planned to bring the sweet potatoes and pecan pies. She may be tired of fixing it, and bored, but we don’t care. It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving for us without them.

What are your family traditions for Thanksgiving? Do you go shopping on Friday? or on Thursday night? I don’t like crowds, so I avoid all of that mess on Friday, but my mother and sister meet and hit the stores early. More power to them. Whatever your traditions, Happy thanksgiving!!

 

Cube Steak with Blue Cheese

I love some cubed steak. When I was younger, I lived with my grandparents, and they loved cubed steak on Sunday morning before church. I remember lying in bed and hearing my grandfather beating the steak with a meat tenderizer. My grandmother dusted it in flour and fried it crispy. She would serve it with homemade biscuits and sawmill gravy.

I make cubed steak at my house about once a month, and it’s one of our favorites. While I can make homemadecubed steak biscuits, usually these days I buy frozen. I don’t make gravy, but sometimes my husband does.

We love cubed steak, but with the flour and frying, it’s not the healthiest, and it takes a while to get the oil hot, bread the cube steak, and then cook. Not to mention the mess.

Here’s a yummy alternative. Spray a broiler pan with nonstick spray.  Cut the cubed steak in small pieces, about two or three inches square, or a slightly larger rectangle. Lay the cubed steak out over the broiler pan. Dust with coarse cracked pepper.

Broil on high for about five minutes, until the top darkens and is edged in black. (You have to get past the gray stage). Take out, flip each piece over with tongs,  top with blue cheese crumbles, and broil again. Take out after about five minutes, when cheese has melted and edges look crispy.

To make this work, you have to like blue cheese. It’s good with cracked pepper alone, and I usually leave some that way for my son. I think you could top with Heinz 57 or a thicker steak sauce if you didn’t want the blue cheese but wanted to add flavor.

Art Imitating Life

Every writer gets asked this question from time to time, and it comes in different forms. How do you come up with all those stories? Where do you get your ideas?

For my embezzlement plot arc, I studied different cases online, looking at some of the techniques and Ponzi schemes that have been prosecuted lately. I’ve worked in offices for most of my adult life, and some of that is drawn from events I’ve seen.

Some of book three is taking place in Venezuela, and there were actually some big international crime rings busted from Venezuela, so I’m looking at some of that for inspiration.

There is one scene in No Strings Attached that was ripped from the headlines of my life, and that’s when an employee is let go near the end of the book. This particular employee is eating a muffin while she is being terminated, and its’ sticky, and she doesn’t know what to do with her hands. Awkward. I thought so.

Chocolate.jpg

“Chocolate” by André Karwath aka Aka – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

Because it happened to me. I was in a terrible job, looking for another one, but nothing was panning out yet. I went to work every day telling my husband that I might quit soon. The kids were young, 3 and 4, and if I pulled them out of their preschool they would lose their slots. If I wasn’t working I couldn’t pay the preschool tuition. It was a Catch-22, so I had held on, looking but not ready to let go of the job that I had.

Right before Christmas, my boss’s boss called me into his office.  I had been there almost three months, and it was a bad fit. I knew it. They knew it. No one had made a move.

We had been working on a document all morning, and I thought he had more changes. I walked in his office carrying a gourmet chocolate bar imported from Greece that one of the drivers had given everyone in the office. The bar was a milk chocolate bar that was firm enough to eat, but still left chocolate all over everything. He proceeded to let me go – gently – right before Christmas. I had the presence of mind to ask for severance and got paid through the end of February. I had a new job by then, and all was right in the world. Seven years later, I’m still in the same job, and still love it, but I will never forget that moment of shock. My husband had tried to warn me, but I thought they didn’t have the guts to do it.

So, there you have it. I don’t usually use things that happen to me in my fiction, but in this case, I couldn’t pass it up.

Sometimes things happen in real life that are way too strange for fiction.

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My Husband Brought Home Watermelon

I know he loves me. He brought home a watermelon from the store. I texted my sister (who almost loves watermelon as much as I do) and she asked what my husband and kids would eat. In my defense, I did (grudgingly) share it.

Quick Tips for Picking a Watermelon — You don’t want one that is shiny. You want a flat spot, and you want the flat spot to be dark yellow. Symmetrical shaped melons are better. If two are the same size, choose the heavier one. Seeded ones usually are sweeter than non-seeded.

Watermelon

Watermelon

I love watermelon. I admit it. It’s a summer obsession. My family went to a bbq party last weekend, and the dessert table held an oversized bowl of red temptation. Red velvet cake you say? No. Watermelon. And not just any watermelon. Watermelon that had been cut and seeded already. (insert longing sigh)

My love for watermelon goes back to late summer days growing up when my grandpa would bring in a watermelon from the garden. My sister and cousins had epic seed fights, and it seems like our hands and faces were always sticky with watermelon juice. We didn’t have air conditioning, and nothing cooled us off more on a hot summer afternoon than … well, you’ve got the picture.

Sometimes we would even eat it warm. I know, that may not sound appetizing to you, but to this day it doesn’t really bother me if watermelon isn’t ice cold. Watermelon that’s been heated with the sun’s kiss has it’s own uniqueness.

Since I’ve grown up and no longer live in a house that has its own amazing watermelon patch, watermelon has become more of a treat for summer and less of an everyday occurrence.  That first watermelon of the summer is always extra special and tonight’s was no exception.

My husband and I talked about watermelon at dinner. He said that watermelon is unlike other fruit, in that it’s so inconsistent. With a banana, ripeness can vary, but you usually can expect a consistent taste. Once you choose a variety of apple, generally within that variety they are consistent. The entire melon family can range from tasting like plywood to being sweeter than the sweetest honey.

My husband won’t even look at a cantaloupe unless I give him the thumbs-up sign, which means that I have tasted it and am willing to verify that it’s on the overly sweet end of the spectrum. He does not like an average cantaloupe. I have to guarantee that it will be the best cantaloupe of the season before he will try it. Sometimes you will stumble across a sweet honeydew, and those can be good. (The bland ones on the salad bar, not so much)

You might have to cut a lot of average watermelon to find perfection, but when you do, here’s what it looks like. When you start the knife in the rind, you cut just a little, and you hear the rind pop, then you know it’s swollen with flavor. If you can split the watermelon without cutting it, and a large part stays intact in the middle, that’s the heart. If you find the heart and it separates in the center, that’s when you know you’ve got a watermelon of mythical proportions. And that is when my heart sings.

Now I have to go eat some more of that watermelon.

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