Sunday, November 29, 2009

Little Angels

Here's a selection of photos that will not be gracing this year's Christmas card....

Do you know where he has his hand??!

This one speaks for itself.

When are we going to be done......

I can't take this anymore..

Flames are beginning to shoot out of Lucy's head.....

The Christmas photo shoot. Such a delightful tradition.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Turkey Talk Continued

4am on black Friday, and my first thought as I was kicked in the gut by my 10 month old was, surely food poisoning would have hit by now? In which case, oh my God, maybe I managed not to kill everyone with my turkey. Just maybe I pulled it off......

I can't tell you how fantastic all your turkey tips were. I can't believe chole found the exact Bon Appetit article I'd been searching so fruitlessly for - thankyou! Wading through all the suggestions of roasting the bird at a high temperature early vs browning at the end, vs cooking upside down right from the start vs flipping the bird as it rests at the end, well, to quote my Aunty, I was 'in a tailspin of indecision'. So I'll tell you what swayed me. I'll admit I was very tempted to take Fluffy's advice and just buy a pre-cooked bird, but in the end I was too heavily invested in the challenge. I wasn't going to take a beating from the only land animal with a wattle more impressive than mine. I was going to cook the hell out of a turkey!! Round three!

In the end I abandoned my old method, tempted by a promise left in my comments:


Now that's a culinary phrase that appeals.

I invested in a Reynolds cooking bag, and as had been promised by Carrie and Anonymous (love her) the bird was simple, juicy, flavourful and edible.

Lord have mercy.

Now I'm not entirely sure why cooking a turkey in a condom works wonders, or even how food-safe it is but by jove that was one tasty bird. I'm sure the polyethylene or similar inorganic compound added a certain je ne sais quoi that my earlier herb rub was unable to reproduce -, it even browned nicely in there. Well, it looked lovely and brown until I cut in to the bag, dislodging the tablespoon of flour I'd put in there to keep the bag from popping and watched it cascade whitely all over the breast. My lovely browned bird was suddenly covered with mildew. Apparently there's foolproof, and then there's me. Anyway, I dusted off the flour and my Dad set to carving. I know I should have taken a photo, but by the time I remembered the carcass had been picked clean and was carried off by Beth to make soup. Perhaps I should suggest to her she makes the soup in a bag? Hmm, a whole new world of cookery just opened up...

Here's a photo I did remember to take:

My two little turkeys.

Oh, and before I forget, I also bought an oven thermometer, wisely suggested by Julie. And wouldn't you know it, I discovered that yes, my oven thermostat must be way off base because the 'oven ready' light comes on a good 100º before the required temperature is actually reached. I'm starting to think that all those fucked up cupcakes, birthday cakes, appetizers, and well, quite frankly food may not have been entirely my fault. I'm not quite ready to quit the dizzying heights of medical office managership for culinary school, but I am confident the meals round here may improve as a result.

I would also like to say a huge thanks to Chilly for supplying the bird, to my Mum and Dad for peeling a hundred thousand potatoes, cleaning the bathrooms (really, above and beyond), watching the girls, and to LK for doing a sterling job of keeping everyone the hell out of the kitchen so I could frenzy-cook in peace.

Now I'm off to make a cup of tea. In a plastic bag.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Let's Talk Turkey

I need advice. I'm hosting Thanksgiving in a week and I've got about twelve guests coming, two of whom are my parents and it'll be their first Thanksgiving dinner. Believe it or not I'm actually very excited at the prospect, I love Thanksgiving, it's one of my favourite American holidays. Any holiday based entirely around a large meal is alright by me. The problem is Thanksgiving doesn't love me back. Or more specifically, turkeys.

I've hosted Thanksgiving before, and I've cooked turkeys before. I had a dynamite Alton Brown turkey recipe from Bon Appetit magazine that has produced a very tasty turkey twice. I've now lost the recipe and can't seem to find it on the old interweb. I wasn't too phased, after all I've done it before, how hard could it be?

I decided to hedge my bets and cook a practice turkey. It went badly. I cooked another. Even worse. LK has admitted he 'doesn't know if he has another practice turkey in him', so the next turkey I cook will be on Thanksgiving. I'm hoping for third time's the charm, but luck favours the prepared, so here's what I did wrong, and if you have any advice I'm all ears. Specifically, where do you stick the thermometer and at what temperature do you pull the bird out?

Turkey A

Liberally spread with herbed butter both under the skin and above the breast. Blasted with heat for the first 20 minutes, then cooked upside down until the thigh thermometer read 175º.

Problems: The turkey turned out both rubbery/tough yet moist. WTF? As LK said "wow, you sure cooked the hell out of that turkey". Oh, and we also had the minor problem of me cooking the bird with the giblets still inside. In my defence I had taken out the neck thing, done a thorough cavity search (not that thorough it turns out) and concluded like a moron that this particular bird was giblet free. I discovered it wasn't when LK took a scalpel to the bird and produced a plastic bag full of entrails. Yum! I have a feeling that cooked plastic aside, this may have been a good cooking method except that it was a stringy old bird and that's why it was both tough and moist? Am I kidding myself?

Turkey B

After further googling I decided to stick the thermometer in the breast this time and not flip the bird. I even (oh and how stupid was this in hindsight) invited my in-laws over for some practice turkey. I confidently lubed the bird, removed all plastic (genius! this was going to be good!) roasted for 20 minutes, lowered the temperature then removed from the oven when the breast temp said 161º. Of course, this bird's thighs proved to be as red and raw as a North Yorkshire schoolchild forced to do a cross country run in sideways sleet. Now I love my in-laws, and that is why they are still alive. I do not deal well with frustration. *understatement* I was PISSED OFF and my air hostess smile was cracking under the pressure. Of course everyone was lovely, terrified but lovely. Oh my roast potatoes were simply marvelous! The carrots, a revelation! Such a shame we can't stay until the turkey claws its way back to room temperature. So sad to hear about Lucy having salmonella! Must dash!

OK, they weren't that cruel, they manfully ate their way through all the side dishes and then waited a further hour til the turkey re-emerged from the oven. They are family after all, and being family means you have to suffer through your daughter in laws 'cooking'.

Please don't let me kill my guests. In this horrid economy I need all the friends I can get. All I'm asking is for a recipe for the perfect turkey. How hard can it be?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Paradise Lost

This is where I live. It's pretty gorgeous I think you'll admit - particularly if you're knee deep in North American snow or leaf mulch right now. White sandy beaches, palm trees, tropical flowers, hummingbirds, year-round sunshine and margaritas. What's not to love?

Yesterday a man walked in to my office and noticed my Yorkshire calendar on the wall. A lovely snapshot of Staithes (try finding a Yorkshire calendar without this picture quite frankly).

"Is that where you're from then?" he asked.
"Yes, but I've been here about 15 years"
"How'd you end up here?"
"My husband's from Santa Barbara"
"And what do you think of it?"
"Well, I always say he'd have had to have done a lot more talking to get me to move to Gary, Indiana".

Which is what I always say, even though I've never been to Gary, Indiana and quite frankly after all these years I feel more than a little guilty about using their name in vain like that. It's my way of deflecting the inevitable question, the inevitable 'aren't we lucky to live here?' question.

Which is why what happened next almost made me fall of my chair.

"But what do you really think of the place" he pushed, "I mean, I've lived here all my life and I'm always curious".

At this point I started looking around for the thought police. Never one to start a fight with a patient at work (well, OK, that's a lie), I said diplomatically "oh, it's a beautiful place to live". You could just hear the "aren't we lucky to live here" tag line hanging in the air.

"Really? I've come to think that this is probably one of the worst places in the country for any young couple, particularly if they have children. I'm telling my girls to get the hell out of here".


He went on to say that he'd been a loan officer for over thirty years and that no middle income family could survive the place and stay married. "The pressure's too intense" he said. "You end up mortgage poor, bickering about money all the time, you want kids but you can't afford them, or you have kids but you can't afford to spend any time with them you're working so damn hard, and then the worst case scenario is if one spouse was born here because they'll do anything to hang on here, and the other spouse will be desperate to leave and can't understand why they're making their lives so miserable staying in Santa Barbara. Then it ends up heading towards divorce, except where does that leave you? Two single parents who can't stay in the same town to be with their kids because it costs too much".

I swear to God I almost burst in to tears. Except I didn't, because I was at work, but my stiff upper lip may have trembled a little.

You may be thinking - what the hell was he doing? How about a little light conversation instead of this descent in to inevitable divorce. Not exactly a barrel of laughs mate, but he was actually a really nice bloke chatting about his daughters and their future and reading my chuffing mind.

It's what I think every day. I do love this town and we make the most of living here. My Mum and Dad are flying out in a couple of days and I bet right now they're packing their swimming cozzies and their sun tan lotion thinking 'I can't wait to get to Santa Barbara, seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness my arse, give me a beer by the pool any day'. To hear someone from SB, a native no less, say so succinctly what I've concluded after fifteen years of living here was gobsmacking. Santa Barbarans never criticize their town. It was literally like he was reading my mind, or my blog (far more likely that he was reading my mind....).

I've become so used to this 'aren't we lucky to live here' mentality that I really have started to doubt myself. It's as if everyone is under a collective delusion that this is a perfect town. A Stepford town. I questioned, was I digging in my heels and criticizing Santa Barbara because I hadn't fully committed to living here? Did I really only have a problem with this place because I hadn't let go of England? I have one friend from Boston who wholeheartedly agrees with me, but we both like cloudy days and a bit of drizzle, so I'd ended up concluding we were both bonkers.

It was so unbelievably refreshing and validating to hear someone come to the same conclusions.. This is a great town, but it's toxic. I half thought his comments were a trap, I half believed I would find my in-laws crouched behind a filing cabinet waiting for me to agree with him so they could leap out and yell "aha! we knew you were planning on stealing our son from us." I also thought, hang on a minute, why's he saying all this to me, why does he know it'll resonate? Do I have the worry-etched face of the negatively amortized? Has he been doing some research - is he going to spring a loan proposal on me? That's how rare it is to hear anyone, anyone say anything critical about this town.

I know that these days people are struggling to live everywhere, but to deliberately set yourself up to fail in a town that's too expensive to live in has always seemed insane to me. I've always felt like saying, it's not that great. Yes it's beautiful, the climate is amazing, and we can swim in the Pacific whenever we want, but is it worth it? Is it worth the sacrifice? I've always felt a little alone in questioning this town's halo. I'm not trying to say we'll be leaving any day now, I do honestly enjoy a lot about this place, I'm just trying to put in words how nice it felt to feel understood by a perfect stranger, to not have to initiate the conversation, to be on the receiving end of someone else's conclusions that echoed mine and made me feel a little less alone and a little less insane.

Somehow Santa Barbara seems a little more beautiful, a little more livable and human now that somebody else has seen its flaws.

Saturday, November 07, 2009



Well that was certainly interesting. It appears the answer was e) none of the above. Lucy had salmonella. There's nothing like getting a phonecall from the Public Health Department to make you feel like parent of the year. They had a huge list of questions, including 'was she born in this country'. Perhaps they suspect that only Americans use chlorox to wipe down their surfaces instead of giving the kitchen counters a good rub-down with an uncooked chicken like the British do. I found the questions about her diet rather ironic, because she only technically eats formula and organic babyfood, but she does put everything else within reach in her mouth too; soil, rocks, her sisters shoes, dogs noses. I have always been of the mindset that 'it takes a lot of dirt before you die', but apparently not, it just takes a quick nibble of a contaminated item, whatever that was.

The good news is that Lucy is now completely fine. Her second round of stool samples (boy was that fun) were given the all clear and nobody else in the K household is sick. This makes me think it's not lax housekeeping on my part, rather lax parenting. I swear to God we went to a party down in Ventura two weeks ago, and such is my life right now, I was assembling hors d'oeuvres in the front seat of the car waiting for my husband to finish work, while both Anna and Lucy played in the carpark. I was spearing a tomato/basil leaf/mozzarella ball and watching Lucy try to teeth on a large pebble when I thought 'God I would never have let Anna do that as a baby, but I've either stopped caring or stopped worrying'. Incidentally, if you read this blog and went to the party, I'm a lot more careful in my front-seat food prep then I am with my carpark parenting.

While these last few posts may seem like I'm up to my ears in catastrophes, I actually feel very lucky. Yes, LK and the girls were in a freeway crash - but no-one was hurt, and yes Lucy was very sick there for a while, but her 9 month old constitution was able to fight the bug. I even lost my wallet in the parking lot at Costco last week and some kind soul handed it in - my six dollars of hard cash still intact.

I will be trusting my judgment in the future regarding when to take my daughters in to the doctors. We made two phonecalls to Lucy's doctor's office regarding her bloody diarrhea. The on-call doctor told us to push fluids, and the nurse a couple of days later tried to convince us that it very rarely is blood that parents notice in a diaper, usually red pepper or tomato skin. Hearing that I was thinking - listen lady, I know my daughter goes around licking the ground you walk on, but I think I would know if she'd suddenly switched to a Mediterrannean diet....When we finally took Lucy in to see the Nurse Practitioner five days after Lucy's diarrhea started she took one look at her diaper and said 'oh yes, that's blood, you should always bring them in the minute you see any bloody stool'. Thanks for that. I could have kicked myself. It's amazing how a brief phonecall with a doctor can take precedence over your concerns that your daughter is a) the colour of wallpaper paste b) has suddenly started taking 6 hour naps and c) is shooting blood out of her arse.

To all those coming to Thanksgiving dinner in three weeks; I will be washing my hands thoroughly. And then drying them on that 3 week old tea towel.