No Turkey Sandwiches Here…

Last Saturday was our annual Thanksgiving party and it’s an event that gets bigger and bigger every year- which I’m grateful for because it means that every year, we have more and more friends.

This year, if I had one regret, it was that we didn’t have enough food.  For Me. For leftovers.  Or to eat on the day.  Yep, we had a pack of hungry people come through and we barely had a scrap left.  Luckily, I followed my Grandmother’s old mantra, “always hold some back”- and luckily I did because after the first round of people, there was not a scrap left on the table.  I put out some more of nearly everything but it still wasn’t enough!  Neither The Runner nor I got to eat!  And I was really looking forward to a turkey sandwich on Sunday morning!

But we had great feedback about the food, so it was worth not getting to eat.  As always, my Grandmother’s Corn Casserole Recipe was the hero dish of the day, followed by the Sweet Potato Casserole.  Non-Americans are always quite surprised by the combination of marshmallow and sweet potato.  For those of you who have enquired about the recipe, I use a mixture of a few different recipes- one of which is this one from Martha Stewart.  It’s really easy- basically mash a few sweet potatoes, season with spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, etc), top with marshmallows and bake!  It’s not rocket science but it’s delicious.  Of course, I do add a bit more to mine, but that recipe or a google of sweet potato casserole should get you started.  P.S.- the hardest part will be finding white marshmallows in Australia- for some reason all marshmallows are sold in pink and white packets rather than just white.  You have no idea how many packets we had to buy to get all white marshmallows to top the casserole with!

If you missed out on anything, the full menu was:

 

Turkey

Corn Casserole

Sweet Potato Casserole with Marshmallow Topping

Green Bean Casserole

Pasta salad with feta, bacon, tomato and mint

Watermelon and Haloumi Tabbouleh

Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil Salad

Potato Salad with Scallions and Dill

Cornbread

Sausages

Pumpkin Pie

Sweet Potato Pie

Fruit Mince Brownies

Trifle (made by Eleni)

Egg Nog

 

I’m so thankful for everyone who came out to celebrate the day with us- if you happen to have any photos, please send them to steph@herunsicook.com

See you next year- the date as so many other things is triathlon dependent!  We’ll keep you posted!

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Thanksgiving is Cancelled.

At least in our house this year.

Seriously, I think we’ve fed our friends enough this year between our wedding and then the party we had in Coogee.  I don’t mean that in a mean way, it’s just, well I’m slightly partied out at the moment.

It’s a shame, because my fun new kitchen toys were all waiting to be pressed into service.  My turkey platter I bought on sale at Pottery Barn last December was itching for its first use.  But sadly not this year, not this Thanksgiving.  Not this turkey.

It doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about Thanksgiving.  I’m ALWAYS thinking about Thanksgiving.  So over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing interesting tips and recipes to help you do Thanksgiving better…. Here are a couple to get you started.

Healthy Thanksgiving Sides from Glitter Guide

A Modern Guide to Thanksgiving Ettiquette from Bon Appetit

How to get your house “holiday ready” from The Washington Post 

Good Luck!

I missed Christmas…

Clearly, that’s not true but I did miss St Patrick’s Day, which is a holiday I enjoy nearly more than Christmas.

Criticize if you like but as holidays go, I think St Patricks Day is pretty good.  It’s one of my favourite holidays ranked just behind Thanksgiving and my birthday– no really, in Australia sometimes my birthday is a holiday (it often coincides with the Easter long weekend).  Similar to Thanksgiving, it’s a holiday built around eating, drinking, spending time with friends.  It’s about celebrating what’s great about being Irish (or American for Thanksgiving).  There are no presents involved and really it’s just about getting together with friends- and it has a colour scheme/costume idea just to add an extra element!

 Or at least that’s my interpretation.

 I know that St Patricks day means different things to different people.  Until recently, in Ireland, it was a religious holiday and pubs weren’t even allowed to open- seriously.  American Irish or rather Irish Americans in New York, Chicago, and Boston were the ones who turned it into an occasion for a parade and wearing green and celebrating their Irishness and all things Irish in the US.  As it turns out, there are Irish people and Irish pubs in nearly every corner of the world—I think there’s a Chinatown and at least one Irish pub in every city on earth.  So the American version of St Patrick’s Day caught on pretty quickly. Unsurprisingly, Guinness saw a marketing opportunity for their uniquely Irish product and really promoted the party and pub aspect of St Patricks day, and once the marketing kids got involved-  boom, it’s pretty much taken off from there!

 As we all know, I’m an absolute sucker for marketing and St. Patrick’s Day is a product I’ve fully bought into.  I have no doubt I’ll be one of those parents who decorates the house with gold coins and rainbows and who tells the kids to find the leprechauns (apparently that’s a thing now).

 My first memories of St Patrick’s Day were from school, we had to wear green on March 17th.  We also wore red or pink on February 14th so what can I say, I went to a school where being seasonally appropriate was important.  It wasn’t a big deal growing up except that a few cities in the US would dye rivers green and they would do a quick news story on it.  Between that and my green turtleneck that was it. 

 When I lived in London, I remember hitting the pubs and being surrounded by Irish expats out for a few pints.  I think London was where I had my first Guinness- tasty but how did people keep drinking it??  Somewhere there is a picture of me in a Heineken hat – (it was the only green I had)- outside of a pub with a pint of Guinness!  I remember being surprised by the sheer volume of people who were all celebrating and hanging out in the street that night.  We didn’t have anything in common (I’m certainly not Irish, nor were the Italians I was with) but we all found ourselves in the same place.

 Realistically, it was moving to Sydney that really cemented things for me and St P.  Having two close Irish girl friends I got introduced to actual Irish people- not Americans with a vague connection to Ireland who listened to House of Pain and had a great great someone who had migrated across but actual, real live, real life Irish people.  For the first time Ireland was more than leprechauns and U2 and Sinead O’Connor and a vague concept of bombings and ‘troubles’.  Growing up in the 80s in the US, that was pretty much what the press coverage on Ireland could be condensed into.

After my first St Patrick’s Day with Irish friends, I was hooked.  Not just on the holiday but on what an amazing culture and people it celebrates.  Of course St Patrick’s Day oversimplifies 1000 years of history into a few key symbols that are easy to understand and celebrate- music, leprechaun, green, Guinness, shamrock, rainbows, pot of gold- most of which have nothing to do with the real Ireland – but I’m really pleased that I have friends and a fiancée whose culture is so rich, varied, and interesting.  Considering the population in Ireland is about the same as the Sydney metropolitan region, it really has made quite a big mark on the world—possibly because most people of Irish descent aren’t actually in Ireland.  

St Patrick’s Day for Irish expats is a day to celebrate “home” whatever that means to them- that’s the great thing about being an expat- you can pick and choose what from home you want to celebrate and what you want to sweep under the rug.   Everyone’s family and everyone’s experience with “Home” is different.  Much like Thanksgiving, It’s not how the holiday first started and everyone celebrates differently but it is an experience that everyone can share- Irish or not.

 Except for me this year.

 No sugar March meant I didn’t bake chocolate Guinness cupcakes this year, a downpour meant that we didn’t venture in for Sydney’s festivities in Hyde Park and a sprained ankle meant no going to the pub to soak up the atmosphere.  In fact, The Runner and I had a quiet dinner and although we had spoken about going to get a can of Guinness to share at home, we didn’t.  I don’t even think The Runner has worn his green t shirt in the past two weeks. A pretty poor effort from us really!

 So I feel a bit deflated and defeated, not only am I limping around pathetically but I missed one of my favorite days of the year.   On the bright side, it’s only 363 days until next year and less than a month until my favorite holiday of all- my birthday!

Anniversary.

1 year ago yesterday I was hosting our annual Thanksgiving party.

1 year ago today I got a call telling me I needed to come home- my father was on life support.

1 year ago tomorrow I was sitting in Sydney airport when my sister told me he had died.

5 years ago on Wednesday, The Runner and I met at a mutual friend’s birthday party.

This year, in many ways, has been by far the worst I have been through- losing my father is something that I will never ever fully recover from.  If the past year is anything to go by, I will think about him every day and I will miss him every day for the rest of my life.  When you lose someone, they’re never really gone but it’s hard getting used to them not physically being here.  It’s been a difficult year learning that.  I can’t believe it’s been a year.  It’s surreal and sad and somehow seems really final.  Death is always final but it’s hard to believe it’s true. I’m sure the first year is the hardest- or at least I hope it is, so in some ways it feels good to have survived it.  It doesn’t make it easier but it feels like an accomplishment to have survived relatively unscathed.

On a different note, I also can’t believe it’s been 5 years since The Runner and I met.  5 years.  Half a decade, wow.  The last 5 years have been amazing in a lot of ways- it’s hard to argue that I’ve had a better set of 5 years (well, unless you count College but that was only 4 and it was a different type of amazing!)  I’m really lucky to have him in my life and if anything’s gotten me through the past 12 months, it’s The Runner and his support. 

So this week is pretty crazy- I’ll be celebrating the high and mourning the low. 

I’ll also be keeping myself busy with my new job and of course, planning our annual Thanksgiving party.  I keep saying it’s going to be far more low key than years past but having finally organised the menu actually doing some of the shopping today, I’m not sure if that’s true.  It’s definitely not true actually.  It is more geared toward finger food (which is actually more work than big dishes- doh!) and more of a BBQ.  This year’s menu:  Black Bean Dip, corn casserole, mini mac and cheese, caprese bites, mini sweet potato pie, mini pecan pie, and mini pumpkin pies.   Plus, turkey sausages and burgers on the BBQ.  Hopefully the weather cooperates…. Either way, I’ll be thankful to everyone who comes and thankful to everyone who has supported me this year and helped me- it’s been a tough year but the amazing friends and family around me have made a world of difference and I truly am thankful for them.

My Second Thanksgiving

Unfortunately this year I had two Thanksgivings.  Whilst normally, I wouldn’t be one to complain about a second turkey, second corn casserole, and more pie, this was an unexpected second thanksgiving under tragic circumstances.

Sadly, my father died on Sunday night in the US, the day after our fabulous Thanksgiving party, and the Sunday before Thanksgiving here in the US.  I’ll spare you all the details but when I got the call in Sydney on Sunday morning to come home, I had thoughts of a Thanksgiving spent eating hospital turkey with my Dad and siblings, joking as he recovered, about how he managed to get all of his kids together for Thanksgiving– not an easy feat for a family of half siblings like mine.   Sadly this wasn’t the case, and 5 minutes before I boarded my flight in Sydney, I got the call to say my father had passed on.  Needless to say, it’s been a terrible week.  I actually can’t believe it hasn’t actually been a week yet.  It feels like it’s been a year, or longer even.  I don’t know if this is a common feeling at a time like this or not, but it feels like months since I’ve been in Sydney and since things were “normal”.  This time last week, we had just picked up our new car, and just finished feeding the masses, and the most taxing thing on our minds was cleaning up.  Seriously, I don’t think I realised exactly how happy I was- I knew I was really pleased with my life, but I didn’t realise how good things were.  A big huge Thank You to The Runner for cleaning up by the way– the poor thing has been living on leftover cakes and pies from our party all week.

How quickly life changes.  Monday, I was in Miami, Tuesday, I was in Orlando, and Thursday morning I was on a plane to DC.   If you had asked me Thursday morning, I would have told you that it was hard to be thankful for anything this year, and after the 72 hours that I had, could you blame me? It’s Saturday night, now and I’m  at my mom’s house in DC and even though I’m still devastated, distraught and really heartbroken over losing my Dad, I realise I have a lot to be thankful for this year.

The biggest thing I’m thankful for- my family:  My memories of my Dad- the man he was, the person he helped to make me and the way he touched those around him; My Mom- her strength, her loving and supportive ways, the way that just being around her gives me the balance I need to feel better, the way that we’re so much alike, it sometimes scares people around us– including each other; My Sister- I think everyone needs a sister, especially one as wonderful as mine, spending time with my sister, nieces, and brother in law was beyond words- surprising my 5 year old niece with a trip to Disney and seeing the look on her face, priceless- and bittersweet since it’s something my Dad talked about all the time; My brothers and their strength, and my Aunts and Uncles as well.  I’m also thankful for my friends.  I’ve heard form people who I haven’t spoken to in ages and it really has touched me to know that they’re thinking of me and is helping me get through what has been a horrible time.

But enough of all that, since I’m tearing up yet again, I am really Thankful that I got to spend Thanksgiving with my mom.  Not just because of the yummy, succulent, juicily brined Turkey– but because it gave me validation that it really was as I remember.   Please refer back to my initial post on Thanksgiving for more information but, it really hasn’t changed much– ever at my mom’s house.  

It’s still fun and chaotic with three different china sets (and two random tea cups which apparently appeared from nowhere–here are two of the three sets- the third set is the cheap set, so not worth mentioning according to my mom– it’s still nicer than the $3 Ikea plates The Runner and I use for guests……)Image

 

ImageThere was also napkin folding- of course, and decorative butter which I will do a whole separate blog post about another day– because THAT is a post all for itself.  (Here’s a teaser, because I know you’re curious).  And more silver platters, trays, etc than I normal person should know what to do with, seriously – Mom, I know you’re reading, what are they all for?  You know you could have canapes for 500 people with the number of silver trays you have….. and what is that little silver oyster-y shaped dish for……. I digress again.  Although I will bring up the wine bottle caddy…..what and why?  It’s cute, but it takes up more room on a table than just putting down a bottle of wine– and you can’t say that it’s so that you don’t stain the tablecloth, because you have a wine bottle coaster as well.Image

My Mom made a soup- it was delicious- Sweet potato with red curry or something like that.

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 I was chastised for adding too much cilantro (coriander) garnish.  I also didn’t make anything other than the butter this year– apparently I shouldn’t have reminded everyone of the Waldorf Salad incident, they weren’t willing to risk it again.  My cousin made a lovely corn casserole– always a crowd favourite, only someone didn’t give her the full recipe, so it didn’t quite turn out- so next year we can tell the story of the fallen corn casserole which will be funny.

I love Thanksgiving at my mom’s house, because it’s a proper grown up Thanksgiving- yes, it’s Capt. Obvious speaking.  But it’s true, everything matches, there are actual tablecloths and napkin rings, and you can’t throw the plates away when you’re done with dinner.Image

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And, it’s a pretty good spread of food too (note, that’s on one of the cheap plates, so sorry if it doesn’t look as good)  

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.  I hope you’ve spent it with people you love and I hope you treasured every moment with them.   

 

 

Let the Thanksgiving Prep begin!

So, 2 of the 3 (hopefully) shops are done!  And now it’s time to start cutting, chopping, pre-cooking, assembling, etc!  48 hours from now, hopefully the turkey will be on the table and people will be digging in!  

I’m making a miso gravy which can be made ahead of time and seeing how I HATE making gravy, I might just get this one out of the way!  Then I’ll be peeling carrots, chopping up cauliflower, and getting a head start on as much as possible!  Let’s go, let’s get the party started!!!!!

 

P.S.  You can follow my progress in pictures on instagram (@stephzuniga) and flickr… I won’t be getting the big SLR camera out for the action/prep shots in the next 24 hours– there’s just too much to do!!!!