Monday, December 28, 2009

The Children's Book

When I saw that A.S. Byatt, author of Possession (which I absolutely loved), had a new book coming out, I rushed right to Lemuria to get it in hardback. However, once I got the book home, I found it much easier to put down than Possession.

Here's the skinny: The Children's Book is peopled with a large array of characters. First, the reader is introduced to the Wellwood family. Olive, a successful children's author, and Humphrey, a banker, tend to a boisterous group of children at an idyllic estate. We also meet Benedict Fludd, a celebrated potter, and his assorted family. And we also meet a motley group of other key characters - puppeteers, schoolmates, mistresses, museum directors, etc. In fact, there are so many characters, whose story lines are picked up and dropped again throughout the book, that it is difficult to care incredibly deeply about any of them. I think the book would have benefitted from a slightly narrower character focus.

Byatt's writing is, as always, lush with description and detail. However, I think she almost goes overboard with the research sometimes. Some sections began with several pages of "setting the cultural/political scene," which felt to me more like a display of her contextual knowledge rather than elegant backgrounding.

And, honestly, the plot just doesn't move along. The book is more of a character study, and a detailed view of a certain time and place, than anything. And while that is perfectly acceptable on its own merits, it's quite different from the gripping revelation found in Possession. Though not without its own charms, the new novel is a different kind of book altogether.

Overall, though I did find parts of the book enjoyable, it's slow going to read, and the payoff may not be worth it. Might be one to skip.

It's (almost) a wrap!

More Christmas recap -

We celebrated Christmas with my side of the family on Christmas Eve, as we always do. On the menu:

Appetizers
MS State cheese with crackers, a delicious melted brie topped with fig jam, hummus with baby carrots, and a nice fresh fruit plate

Dinner
Crown pork roast. This turned out really well. I just rubbed it well with a mixture of olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme, and sage. I roasted it in a 350 oven, basting every half hour or so with a seasoned mixture of warmed butter, chicken broth, and champagne. Delish! We got 9 ribs for a group of 6 adults and two little ones. That gave us plenty for dinner that night, as well as a couple of chops for sandwiches later. At about 8.5 pounds, it was the perfect amount.

Mashed potatoes

Green beans with bacon, balsamic vinegar, and a touch of brown sugar. My sister made this, and it was divine. I'm definitely trying it later.

Sister Schubert rolls (or hubs would revolt).

Salad with Dad's famous dressing.

This was all washed down with liberal amounts of champagne, red wine, and sweet tea.

Dessert
Christmas cupcakes. Clay and I made these white cupcakes with white icing, which we decorated with all kinds of Christmas sugars and sprinkles.

Gold butter rum cake with freshly whipped cream. Oh. My Lord. This was a new recipe for this year, and I am soooo glad I tried it. I picked it because I was looking for something different and Christmasy. And what's more Christmasy than a liquor-soaked cake, topped with a generous helping of walnuts and a large dollop of pillowy whipped cream? Everyone loved this. Definitely a keeper.

The food was absolutely delish, and we opened presents after dinner while we patted our (very full) tummies. Clay had a blast playing with his cousin and trying out his new doctor's kit on all the assembled "patients."

Then, it was off to home, where hubs and I put booger to bed and set up all the Christmas presents for the morning. In a true Christmas miracle, Clay slept in until 7 a.m. (Yes, Nicole, there is a Santa Claus.) When he woke up, we opened presents while enjoying our traditional Christmas breakfast of little country ham sandwiches with mimosas.

Clay loved his Mr. Potato Head and his carpenter tool set, but the favorites of the day were the three little plastic animals (a zebra, a kangaroo, and a leopard) that we tucked into his stocking. He has slept with them every night since.

Now, we have ONE MORE Christmas celebration this weekend, and our merry-making will be complete! In the meantime, we've taken all the decorations down at the house (save the wreath on the door), and we're in the process of the Great Annual Clutter Purge of 2009. I've got a call in to Gateway, 'cause we are getting rid of ALOT of stuff!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

More merriment!

We've been BUSY!

On a whim, I loaded booger up in the car over the weekend and headed to Bass Pro Shops. I'd never been there, but I heard they had a Santa (for pictures) and a whole Christmas activity area for kids. And the cost? FREE! Thought it would be worth a shot.

First of all, little man LOVED Bass Pro Shops. Just the store itself. He loved all of the (very still) animals, the fish tanks, the steps, the big fire in the fireplace up at the front, all of it. It took me a while, actually, to even coax him back to Santa's Wonderland. And even then, it was some quick playing with the remote control cars they had set up, and then back to hopping in and out of the one-man tent on display and pretending he was zooming through the mud on the child-sized four-wheelers. We stayed there, playing, for TWO HOURS, then had a quick lunch in the restaurant located inside the store before I had to carry him, SCREAMING, out of that place. I think I have a budding sportsman on my hands here.

Hubs and I also took him out to Winners Circle Park in Flowood this past week. We didn't go on a night Santa was there (primarily because Clay has shown absolutely no interest in sitting on Santa's lap, but also because I didn't think I could stand in line one more time to ride a kiddie train). Instead, we headed out just to see the lights. Clay loved this. He ran all around the park. He played some on the playground equipment. He said "Hello there, reindeer!" to every lit-up fake reindeer in the place.

Last night, I took him to a wonderful annual dinner hosted by some of our oldest and dearest friends. He got to play with his cousin and meet a new little addition to our group. We all drank Christmas punch (equal parts ginger ale, blush/rose, and sweetened cranberry juice) and caught up with one another. The food was delicious, the company was delightful, and we left at 9 p.m. when he started to get cranky.

TODAY, we've made an absolutely sinful butter rum cake and an army of gorgeous little cupcakes. All that's left is to put the very large crown pork roast into the oven and whip up a little cream to top dessert with. (And, well, I can't spike the cream with rum, can I? That's a bit much. Maybe I could add a bit of cocoa?) We'll head out to meet the fam around 5 p.m. Can't wait, can't wait, can't wait!!!!

My heart is full. The very merriest of Christmases to you!!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The most wonderful time of the year!

It's Christmastime, and we've been busy!!

Little man and I baked last weekend, then we delivered treats to our neighbors during the week. Everyone got a kick out of seeing booger all tricked out in his winter coat and hat, and I hope they enjoyed their cranberry bread! (The older couple across the street always seems to like our visits. And Clay LOVES the lit-up Santa they are displaying on their porch this holiday season.) Booger also had his little Christmas program at daycare. (That's my little reindeer at left, chilling out by the tree once we got home from the show.)

Got to eat a fun holiday lunch this week with some of my co-workers, too. We met at Broad Street, exchanged gifts, and ate WAY too much. (But not so much that I didn't pick up some baked goods to munch on over the weekend. Their apricot ginger scone? AMAZING, people.) Some other buddies met me at Margarita's for dinner one night, AND I've gotten lots of gifts of cookies, cheese straws, and other fattening goodness. Looks like I'll be dieting come January.

We ordered a crown pork roast for our holiday feast this year. Anybody ever make one? Not planning on stuffing it with anything, so it should be a pretty simple season and roast job. Hoping for a good result!

We took little man out to Canton last night to look at all the pretty lights, ride the carousel, and jut enjoy the general Christmasy wonderlandness of it all. He loved running around amidst the lights. Even more, he loved riding on the little rides and the trains. Hubs and I finally got weary of paying dollars and standing in lines, so we talked him into the car after about an hour and half. I'd recommend going out, though, to anyone. It makes for a great little evening. We may go out to Winners Circle Park, too, before the season is over. I've heard that even Bass Pro Shop has some cool holiday stuff going on.

On tap for this weekend - hanging out at home and loving on my two sweeties! I have a great creamy mushroom pasta dish I'm trying out tonight, and I have to figure out what fabulous dessert I'll make for after Christmas Eve dinner. Suggestions?

Never a dull moment!!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Delicious homemade pralines!

These are sooo good! We made them for the first time this year off a recipe we adapted from allrecipes.com. These would make GREAT gifts, but so far we've eaten nearly the entire recipe. (Whoops.)

Nicole's Pralines

1 egg white
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 pound pecan halves

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F (120 degrees C). Lightly butter a baking sheet. In a bowl, beat the egg white until foamy. Mix in cinnamon, sugars, salt, and vanilla. Mix well. Stir in pecan halves, stirring until well coated. Spread on baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

Eat, eat, eat!! They are especially good while they are still warm. Don't box them up before they cool, and they'll stay wonderfully crisp.

Note: When I make these again, I might add a tablespoon of whisky or amaretto to the coating mixture. I didn't think of it until I was already toasting the pecans, but it would be divine. As well, you can adjust the amount of sugar and salt to your tastes. The recipe above makes a pecan that's coated with the sugar mixture, but not encased or clumpy.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas all over the place!

It's Christmas!! Woo hoo!!

So far, Clay and I have made peppermint bark (yum) and candied pecans. (OMG. Double yum. I'll post that recipe in a few.) I've already made my grocery list, and we'll hit Kroger in the a.m. to load up for our annual holiday baking extravaganza. We'll make cranberry orange bread (something new for us this year), plus a bunch of different cookies. Those will be for both eating and giving.

I took yesterday off work to finish my Christmas shopping. Now, everything's bought except for hubs' gift. Tonight, the two of us will wrap gifts while we sip hot buttered rum and spiked apple ciders. (Hmmm . . . I wonder how crooked the bows will turn out?!)

Today, hubs secretly took the day off today to do a few things around the house. When Clay and I drove home tonight, it was all lit up!! We NEVER put holiday lights on the house. It's just something we've never had the energy to do. I took Clay out a couple of times last week to see other people's lights, though, and he LOVED them. (He was sooo cute, ooohing and aaahing over everything. He'd gasp and say, "Oh, mama! Look at the lights! They are so pretty!" Then, we'd try to find snowmen or Santas or reindeer. Cutest thing ever.) It was such a festive surprise to see them there tonight, and I thought it was an incredibly sweet thing for hubs to do for the baby.

This weekend, we're planning on taking him him out on Sunday night to Winners Circle Park to see the lights and Santa. He went last year and had a BLAST. We may also try to swing by the Old Capitol Museum (Mom used to take us here during the holidays, to see the big tree and the toy train.) or the Ag Museum tomorrow, to check out all the holiday decorations.

My parents are coming over tomorrow night for dinner, and they are bringing my sweet nephew! Clay LOVES his cousin, so I know we'll have a good time!

There is so much going on, and I'm giddy with the excitement of the season! Merry, merry Christmas!!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Quick Weekend in the Big Easy

A good friend of mine from work is moving to New Orleans. More correctly, she got a big promotion, and she's moving to New Orleans to take said promotion. While I am thrilled that she got this very deserved opportunity, I am selfishly sorry for myself, because I will miss her like crazy.

At any rate, she went to New Orleans over the weekend to hunt up a place to live. When I heard of this, I decided to crash her hotel pad and enjoy myself for the weekend. Here's how it shook out:

I didn't leave Jackson until about 10 a.m. I was chilling out with little man and hubs, and I almost chucked the whole trip all together when I was telling Clay it was time for me to go, and he said "Clay go? Go?" I got a little verklempt and almost couldn't leave him.

But forge on I did, because I had lunch at Middendorf's to look forward to. If you've never been to Middendorf's, you are missing out on the most perfectly fried thin catfish in the world. In the WORLD. I am so not kidding. There used to be huge Middendorf's billboards all the way down I-55. They're gone now, but the restaurant is still there. It seems to be about the only thing in the tiny town of Manchac, Louisiana.

Anyway, after fortifying myself over a nice helping of catfish, I cruised on into New Orleans. We were staying in the Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel, located on Commons Street. It was a great location - just outside the Quarter. It was quiet and yet still convenient to everything. We were on the 16th floor in a nice room with two queen beds. They had valet parking, some great common spaces on the first floor, and a fun bar and restaurant.

Said friend took me to see one of the units she was eyeing before we did a bit of retail damage in the Shops at Canal. I was woebegone when I realized I found the perfect store for me at 5:25 p.m. (We had dinner reservations at 5:30 p.m. Boo. And may I also say, hoo.)

Already obsessing over the green dress I didn't get to try on and the purple coat that I KNOW would have looked fabulous on me, I walked with sweet friend to Cafe Adelaide, a divine little restaurant located in the Lowe's Hotel.

Once there, we were awarded our Christmas jingle bells (The restaurant gives them out to every guest during the month of December.) and commenced to dine. I had the fried oysters, the delightful soup of the day (a creamy potato made with Yukon Golds), and then the absolutely palate-enthralling satsuma strudel, topped with vanilla ice cream. Throw in a few delicious cocktails and some lagniappe (a tiny cup of minestrone, a small shot of thick egg nog), and I was STUFFED. Service was great, and I think each of us got out of there for about $40.

Not to worry, though. I didn't have to drive to see the show we'd bought tickets for. The cafe has a Broadway Express shuttle, which ferries patrons from the restaurant to the theatre and back again. They even validate parking for the car you drove to the cafe. It's completely brilliant.

We went to see The Color Purple, and it was wonderful. (I'll post a full review later.)

After that, well, I was so bloated and tired that I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

The next morning, in a few hours of pure luxury, I got to STAY IN BED. I read a bit of my novel. I chatted with sweet friend. I lolled in my jammers. Those of you with young children know what a rarity this is.

I finally roused myself from the cocoon of covers in time to head over to The Court of Two Sisters for what is, perhaps, the most sinful brunch served on planet Earth. It's pricey (about $30 per person), but for the money you get a HUGE, all-you-can-eat buffet of New Orleans goodness. Omelets and eggs benedict made to order. Piles of fresh fruits and desserts. Breads, rolls, and biscuits. Turtle soup. Ham, bacon, sausage. Cornbread dressing, divinely-seasoned grits, and all kinds of entrees that would be perfectly at home on the luncheon table. I loaded up about three plates, while repeatedly telling myself that we were all going straight to hell for gluttony. Needless to say, we ate a metric ton. We took our time, though, listening to the jazz trio and enjoying the light-filled dining room. (Oh, and trash talking. There was definitely some of that.)

After that, it was time to hit the road for home! Now that sweet friend will be in New Orleans, you can bet I'll be visiting more often. I now have 3-4 friends in the city, which gives me even more of a reason to make the occasional weekend trip!