Friday Five

1. I am the worst gift wrapper in the history of gift wrapping. Even a standard rectangular box turns out looking like a blind person wrapped it. In all fairness, a blind person could probably do a better job. I go through about 1,342 yards of tape each holiday season, and I cut enough paper from the roll to wrap a small elephant. Then I end up  hacking at the paper, machete style, so that the edges are torn and jagged. To all of my gift recipients, I apologize in advance. I’m pathetic. Next year: gift cards for all.

2. It’s a family tradition. Hank Williams, Jr. aside, one of my favorite Christmas traditions is a relatively new one. For the past few years, my cousin and I have gone on a day-long shopping expedition. Or to be more correct about it – she goes shopping and I tag along. As you faithful readers know, I’m not much of a shopper. In fact, I made almost all of my gift purchases online this year. And the last thing I want to do is fight the mega-mall crowds of New Jersey to rip the last Justin Beiber doll from the hands of some kid’s grandma. What I enjoy about this annual pilgrimage is spending time with my cousin. I go with no agenda – the wisest course of action for the power shopper that she is – except to tell her that she looks good in whatever she’s trying on. We snack and have lunch and then get coffee. I help her carry packages into her car (which has heated seats!!!).  I don’t mingle much with my extended family for many reasons. (There could be an entire blog devoted to that.) So the entire day is a festival of oddities for me. One even I wouldn’t think I would enjoy, but do all the same.

3. Does your company host a holiday party? Mine doesn’t have a company wide party, but each department tries to cobble together some kind of lame, I mean awesome, shindig. Each year we have a grab bag gift exchange. We call it “white elephant” (I have absolutely no idea why). The premise is this: you buy a generic gift not to exceed a certain dollar amount. At the party you pick a number from the hat. When it’s your turn, you have the option to pick a gift from the pile or “steal” a gift from one that’s already been opened by someone who’s gone before you. If your gift is stolen you choose again from the pile, but you don’t have the option to steal this time. Are you familiar with this? It is at the same time brilliant and ridiculous.

The whole point of this is that there are some gifts that are highly prized (bottles of wine, for example) and some that are, well to put it nicely, duds (talking Sigmund Freud head key chain, for example). In other words, sometimes a new car is hiding behind door number one and sometimes it’s a year’s supply of tuna fish. People, occasionally I’ve been stuck with the tuna fish. But them’s the breaks. Oh, no, say my co-workers, as if they’re expecting a repeat of Oprah’s Favorite Things at an office grab bag. Now they want to tell you where to shop and what you can and can’t buy. If you want to get serious about doing something useful, let’s take the money we would use to buy gifts and donate it to a few charities. But no one’s biting. I think I’m stocking up on tuna fish. 🙂

4. I almost got myself a cat. There’s a little stray cat, black with white paws, who’s been hanging around my building late at night, due in no small part because I feed her. When I take Reggie on his last walk of the day, she appears from nowhere, all stealth-like. I empty my pockets of any kibble and she eats it immediately.  Then she prances back and forth in front of Reggie as if she’s inviting him to play. At first I was nervous because I wasn’t sure how he’d react to a cat. He’d never gotten up close and personal before. So wasn’t I pleasantly surprised when he sniffed her and then got interested in a few napkins on the sidewalk. Now she comes by a few times a week. Sometimes she watches us through the glass door to my building after we go inside the lobby. Does she want to come in? I was concerned the other night when temperatures were in the 20s. Bringing her into my apartment didn’t seem like a good idea. As an outdoor cat, she might freak out once inside. (Ditto for trying to bring her to a shelter. Also some shelters euthanize community cats straight away for that reason.)  Then I also have to consider Reggie, who has an immune disorder. She seems healthy but I don’t want to take a chance. What to do?

5. It’s soup season! I have a new recipe for you: Creamy Mushroom Chestnut Soup. Sounds a little different, right? It’s not too involved or expensive. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

2.5 pounds of a variety of mixed mushrooms – choose your faves. I like cremini and shiitake – quartered

1/4 cup onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

3 cups vegetable broth

2 cups water (make it 3 cups if you like your soup thinner)

1 cup bottled chestnuts, chopped (Bottled chestnuts are pre-shelled and soaked!)

1/2 teaspoon thyme

1/2 teaspoon tarragon

dash of salt and pepper

1/2 cup sour cream

Saute mushrooms in olive oil for 15 minutes until browned. Add onion and garlic for 1 minute. Add broth, water, chestnuts, tarragon, thyme, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Place half of soup in blender and puree until smooth. (This is a good time for one of those immersion blenders, if you have one.) Pour into a large bowl and repeat with remaining soup. Stir in sour cream.

A few weeks ago I posted a recipe for Pumpkin Black Bean Soup here – one of my favorites. Next up, chili. Oh and there’s a story behind this one!

Have a great weekend everyone!

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