Category Archives: Thanksgiving

That Escalated Quickly

How did I go from Halloween to December in a blink? Seriously, this is the first time I didn’t do a Thanksgiving wrap-up. My apologies.  The good news is everything worked out well.  I made Ted Allen’s deconstructed turkey again but just used an herb butter of my own making – 2 sticks softened, unsalted butter mixed with 1/2 of mixed chopped parsley, chives, sage, salt & pepper  – rubbed under the skin and used a little of it melted for basting.

I used this Serious Eats dry brine, much easier than wet brine. Only difference is I mixed in a little dried thyme and rubbed sage. Used Sally’s Baking Addiction Apple Cranberry Herb Stuffing. A good showing.

If I am making Chex Party Mix, Drummer Boy will walk in the house and say “mmm, smells like Christmas”.  So I thought this an appropriate party favor:

A dessert I meant to make for Thanksgiving but ran out of time, should still be made nonetheless, as it is delicious.  All the ingredients are from Trader Joe’s and it is practically a holiday in a jar.

Winter Spice Trifle

WHAT YOU NEED (all from Trader Joe’s)
triple ginger snaps
5 TBSP cookie butter
4 oz whipped cream
3 TBSP maple syrup
Fleur de sel caramel sauce

Crumble the ginger snaps into the bottom of a jar/glass.  Combine the mascarpone cheese with the cookie butter.  Beat the whipped cream and maple syrup until stiff peaks form.  Melt the caramel sauce in the microwave (top off!) until pourable.  Layer the mascarpone mixture over the cookies, top with whipped cream and drizzle with caramel sauce.   Amounts depend on the size of your jar or glass.  Guitar boy had four of these over the course of a day.  Shhh, don’t tell him it’s cheese!

So on to Christmas.  The tree themes are Rainbow (as a result of me losing the white lights vs. colored lights argument to Drummer Boy).

The ornaments follow the ROYGBIV pattern of the rainbow with admittedly copper/rose gold subbing in for orange.

Front tree is Eat, Drink and be Merry so all food, drink, and music ornaments. It may be a touch too reflective of our lives (hotdogs, donuts and Diet Coke?).  Um, can someone buy me an asparagus ornament?!

See if you can spot my new favorite Christmas tea towel.

That’s right, Batman smells has now been incorporated into our decor!

But yesterday we went to the Christkindlmarket, a very cute German market set up in both Naperville and downtown Chicago. We drank cider and cocoa out of commemorative mugs, ate bavarian pretzels and shopped for ornaments. They had loads of delicately hand-painted Santas, stockings, peaceful nativity scenes and woodland creatures. Beautiful.  So what did we get #momofboys?

That’s right, can you spot the secret Krampus on each tree?  Now I’m being lobbied for an all bad guys tree next year.  Darth Vader ornament, I think you are about to have your moment!

Trying out a few Christmas cookies this weekend.  These Brown Sugar Shortbread cookies were a big hit with the teen crowd.

Making a birthday dinner tonight for mbork of F’ing Ziti (a nod to season one of Sopranos where AJ is mad that Tony’s panic attack made him drop the leftover tray of ziti – if you are over 18 go watch it, it’s a classic).  Really it’s Penne with Two Cheeses from Epicurious, but when I first made it for Aunt Mary and Treasured Guest decades ago, we were watching Sopranos so F’ing Ziti it became.  Adding in Smitten Kitchen’s Perfect Garlic Bread because carbs were requested, so carbs will be bestowed!

Next up – Holiday Pizza Night. Have some homemade favors to share with you but more on that later.

Have a great week everyone!




Dry Rub Dry Run

They say practice makes perfect.  I don’t know about that, but people do seem to enjoy the practice efforts.
20161106_124906_resizedThe Kiddie Cocktails do make it go down a little easier, if ya know what I’m sayin’

First up, the turkey.  I made this Cranberry Dry Rub from Foodie with Family. The only snafu was I could not find freeze dried cranberries anywhere. So I had to oven-dry Craisins as I mentioned in a prior post. Nonetheless, I used Foodie with Family’s Turkey recipe, replacing sweet potatoes with regular and used butter instead of olive oil. Turned out great.

20161106_121008_resizedThe potatoes underneath were just so-so. But not to fear, made Smitten Kitchen’s Sweet Potato Roast. Even people who don’t like sweet potatoes liked these.


Made Pioneer Woman’s Beautiful Brussel Sprouts. Sorry PW, it’s not you, it’s me. Just not a huge sprout fan.


And now this.

20161106_124145_resizedHey, it is practice after all. I might add, this was the only dish completely polished off.

We finished with Smitten Kitchen’s Pear, Cranberry and Gingersnap Crumble with vanilla ice cream. It was delicious.

20161106_140441_resizedI found some gluten free gingersnaps yesterday at Whole Foods. Might try this again for McNamara Christmas. Which is what I’m practicing for today!

That’s right, I have 6 events in 45 days here. So there’s a lot of list-making and practicing coming up.  For now,  I think I’ll practice with some sangria.


And leave you with this, from our event last night at the Museum of Science and Industry. I hope science can fix whatever is wrong with Guitar Boy’s neck.

dsc_0312Have a great week and a safe and warm Thanksgiving everyone.

Thanksgiving to Christmas in 37 Hours

Well another Thanksgiving in the books. This one with the oven going berserk three (3) times while turkey was in. First, beeping uncontrollably until we had to throw the breaker.  Second, decided to go into Sabbath mode (who knew?!) where it holds only the last temperature so that people don’t have to turn on the ovens during Sabbath.   Except the last temperature was now about 40 degrees lower than it needed to be to finish the turkey.  And finally, one more combo beeping/Sabbath mode until the breaker was thrown again.

Thankfully the turkey was at a safe temperature to remove to rest, so I shoved those stuffings in before my oven taught me any new religious holidays and told everyone NOT to open the oven doors until I was sure the stuffing was cooked. There is clearly a curse on me related to ovens as this is the 4th oven in 16 years in houses. Each one pulling antics like this until we gave up/it stopped working.  Perhaps I should have heeded the warning from the gypsies after all.


Made a cheese turkey. Because we all need a cheese turkey in our lives.


Did the deconstructed turkey again but used the Martha Stewart Bacon Herb Roasted Turkey Breast recipe and just put the butter mixture under the skin of each piece.  Did the Pumpkin Cornbread Sausage stuffing from last year and Pioneer Woman’s Thanksgiving Stuffing for the traditionalists. Made the cranberry sauce from my practice Thanksgiving post, Ina Garten’s Honey Orange Glazed Carrots and mashed and sweet potatoes. And buttered noodles, because my kids still eat no food.


Yep, that’s two can shaped cranberry lumps. That my kids will eat.  And Bobby Flay’s Fall Sangria. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. It definitely has a lot of fall flavors and is very pretty.


Did the tables with this cute runner from Kitch Studios,

Lots of fall colors, cute teensy vases from POSH (that’s like Fishs Eddy to you New Yorkers), flowers buried in fresh cranberries, and of course, chocolate turkeys.


A good time was had by all.

DSC_0144Especially this dapper gentleman,


Who Skunk the Cat could not bring himself to acknowledge.


Someone just needs to be the cutest thing in the house all the time. #selfabsorbedcat

For dessert I wimped out (new job people! No time for baking). And besides, when I have the head baker from Pastries So Tasty living next door, I’m not going to do apple and blueberry pies any better. But I can pour cheese and caramel popcorn into a bowl like nobody’s business. Just like the Pilgrims did.


No one complained. Packed up leftovers in these containers I made with Avery labels at their design site.


Super easy to use, I highly recommend it. There’s lots of pre-made designs to choose from or you can design your own (FORESHADOWING!!!).

So that was Thursday.  By Friday at 3:00, this was happening


Theme on this tree (family room) is red, gold and music.

DSC_0176 DSC_0168 DSC_0180Front room skinny tree is decked in green and silver,

And the basement tree is an homage to the upcoming Star Wars VII movie. I assume you all have your tickets already like we do. Right? *crickets*   #Nerdfoiles


We made the garland using Avery labels and silver cord. I’m telling you, it is ridiculously easy. You’ll see this again in upcoming posts (MORE FORESHADOWING!!!!).

And finally, The Simp…..sons Christmas Village.  “Um, Dasher, Dancer….Prancer, Nixon…Comet, Cupid…Donna Dixon?”  “Sit down Simpson”


Jealous, much?

I hope everyone gets to enjoy the beginning of the holiday season. I’ll be back with some treat ideas in the near future. With labels!!


From Halloween Roundup to
Practice Thanksgiving

For those who live in Chicago-land, it was your typical, rainy and cold Halloween. Followed immediately by a week of gorgeous 70 degree days. D’oh!

The rain didn’t stop the intrepid Green Arrow and Coke Can though, joined by their friend the Jawa.

or spooky porch decorations from being up, complete with fog bubbles

20151031_113012 20151031_113020

or dads from The Block, providing images that nightmares are made of.

IMG_1814 IMG_1807

Post trick-or-treating we came back here for some chili, Smitten Kitchen’s Easy Baked Mac-and-Cheese (I didn’t take a picture, so just imagine….mac and cheese) and of course, pizza.  We had a kids drink station, complete with haunted lamp and Sprite with brain ice-cubes (oh the things you find when you clean up your utility room after eight years!).

20151031_102823 20151031_132717

Mbork made spooky deviled egg eyeballs


We made Halloween chocolate covered pretzels with bloody eyes (as one does)


And we also had this Hot Maple Bourbon Cider from Foodie with Family. Delicious. What is wrong with me, why do I suddenly like the hint of bourbon? Oh, no! I’m old!

Ok, that’s done. NEXT!

On to Practice Thanksgiving. Here is what was tried:

The Pioneer Woman’s basic Thanksgiving stuffing.


Food 52’s Andouille and Cornbread Stuffing and Martha’s Bacon and Herb Turkey Breast.


Yep, bacon in your turkey. That’s a thing.

Food and Wine’s Maple Ginger Roasted Vegetables. I only did carrots and Brussel sprouts because that’s what I had. And at the last minute, and because there was clear demand for the can-shaped cranberry relish *now with more can ridges!*  I decided to use the leftover cranberries from the stuffing to make a fresh cranberry sauce. I’ve done all sorts cranberry sauces with a bevy of fancy ingredients over the years: orange zest, Grand Marnier, ginger, citrus, etc. Yet this sauce won over even the most die hard non-cranberry eater next door.

Easy Cranberry Sauce

WHAT YOU NEED (for 5 adults)
2 cups cranberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a pot.  Cook about 10 minutes until cranberries burst, stirring frequently. Crush the cranberries with your spoon, but leave some whole.  It will thicken naturally.  That’s it.  All in, you’re talking about 15 minutes. No tubular plop sound and it lacks the slicing precision of the canned stuff, but delicious nonetheless.


While some liked the andouille sausage and cornbread stuffing, we didn’t think it was right for the Thanksgiving vibe.  So Pioneer Woman wins that round. The turkey is a keeper, though if I do a deconstructed turkey again, that means putting the bacon butter compound into all the pieces. But, then again, gravy flavored like bacon. Soooo…….yes.

And now, this.

IMG_1798Have a great week everyone.

Thanksgiving Wrap Up

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. Cheers!


Oh relax, its a pomegranate/apple juice spritzer. But Cousin Minecraft’s face does have a Dorothy Parker Algonquin Round Table “bored with you all” kind of look to him.

The Table

Because this is the smallest of McNamara/Guilfoile/Kuhn holidays, what with people going to various in-laws’ houses, we can, for this one-time only, fit at one table.

These are my new dishes that Kevin got me for my birthday.   My other ones are almost 20 years old and are starting to show their age.   I’ll still keep the ones that aren’t chipped, but I thought it was time to class things up around here.


The aforementioned salted butter:


The Final Menu


The Gravy  While the gravy made with the turkey was good, it was not that different from the gravy made two weeks ago and frozen.  Therefore, that gravy wins as it doesn’t require sweating over the stove at the last minute until your previously flat bangs turn into water buffalo horns.

The Turkey from Epicurious.  Was done even faster than the recipe said (maybe because I only did one pan, not two).

The Pumpkin Cornbread Stuffing

The Salad.  I used the dressing from this Brussels sprout slaw from The View From Great Island but poured it over butter lettuce, toasted walnuts, shredded carrots and dried cranberries.

Also Colleen & Mitch’s cheesy potatoes, sweet potatoes, Mom’s stuffing, corn and fruit.  So for those counting, yes, that is 3 potato dishes and 2 stuffings.  For 13 people.   Irish Thanksgiving.

Dessert Table

Chocolate Pie from the Pioneer Woman.  Guitar Boy’s comment:  My life has been changed forever.   So I think he liked it.

Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats   I’d seen so many food bloggers comment on Smitten Kitchen’s recipe that I had to try them.  Plus, Drummer Boy doesn’t really like cake, pie, pudding or candy which leaves him a bit stranded in the McNamara dessert oasis.

Apple Pie – from Kirschbaum’s bakery.   Why mess with greatness.

Cranberry Orange Scones from Trader Joes – because GG likes them.

And Aunt Colleen brought brownies.   Because you can’t have only 4 desserts for 13 people!


Who Was There?


But Really, Who Was the Cutest Person There?


Why it was Colleen and Mitch’s grand-nephew, Sweet Baby D.

So what now?

Christmas is going up.  I’ll come back with a post about some of my favorite Christmas items a little later.  With respect to recipes on deck, I’ve got to take something to Rob and Nancy’s most awesome white elephant Holiday Party that we look forward to every year.  But my company’s party is the same night, so it’s going to have to be cookies that I can pre-wrap on the tray I’m giving them:


And then Kevin can just bring the cookies with him when he picks me up at the train from the company party.  Note, the tray is not our white elephant gift as it is not impractical, inappropriate, useless or hilarious. I’ll let you know what we gave/received after the party.

Here are some of the possible choices on the cookies though:

The Pioneer Woman’s Brown Sugar Oatmeal Cookies

I’ve made them before and they are quite tasty.  However, the Chocolate Pistachio Sablés from Bon Appetit look delicious and fancy (you can tell they are fancy because of l’accent aigu over the e).    Food always tastes better with an accent aigu or accent grave.  It’s a fact.  I’m sure it’s on Wikipedia somewhere. Or it will be shortly.

If I find myself slacking off and sleeping more than 4 hours a night, I might do these wonderful, but time-intensive, Lemon Wreaths from Martha Stewart.

Now go get your weekend on!






A Time to Give Thanks

As far as my young children are concerned, Thanksgiving is just a small step between Halloween and Christmas. A step where people eat “gross” food (except for canned, jellied cranberry sauce – that apparently is acceptable). So we were trying to make it more meaningful last week and in talking about what we are thankful for, the main thing the boys agreed we are thankful for is:


Skunk, our cat.   Sure, we love our family and friends.  Happiness and health – good things as well, both boys agreed.  But survey says what we are most grateful for is our cat.   That, and Xbox.

Since we cannot show our appreciation and thanks to the folks at the Microsoft corporation, we instead agreed with the boys that if we are thankful for Skunk, we should show our thanks during this season by donating to the shelter that saved him.   So the boys gathered up their tooth fairy and the occasional chore money and we took it over to the shelter (Mom and Dad augmented the donation).


The shelter couldn’t have been more gracious. Getting out of there without another kitten may qualify as a Thanksgiving miracle.


But enough about giving thanks for the things we should, let’s talk about giving thanks for the little things that make Thanksgiving easier or more fun.  After all, this blog is about tabletops and recipes, written at night by someone who works 12 hour days sitting behind a desk and really isn’t physically fit or mentally competent to be offering any kind of life advice.  If you want to read some truly uplifting and spiritual discussions about how to live your life, I suggest you try my sister-in-law’s blog at Everyday Faith.

But as for me, on with the material possessions!

Serving Platter/Carving Board

This carving board from Cost Plus World Market:


Isn’t it pretty?  I most often use it as a cheese board but this year will use it for the turkey.  And right now it’s $29.99 and, if you still have the Sunday Chicago Tribune around from 2 weeks ago, there’s a coupon in there for 10% off.   THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.   It’s a newspaper.  Yes, on paper.  Yes, we still get one.


Given that I have two boys who feel bad about eating animals (but won’t eat beans, kale, spinach, cheese or any other protein or iron based food – so chicken nuggets it is!),  I’m not sure how they’d feel about breaking a turkey’s furcula (look it up!).   But hey, tradition, so I had them make a bunch of these fun clay wishbones from Oh Happy Day.  Added bonus, everyone who comes for Thanksgiving can make a wish.


By the way, I told Guitar Boy and Drummer Boy  that I think Turkey’s Furcula should be the name of their band someday “THANK YOU CHICAGO  – WE ARE TURKEY’S FURCULA – GOODNIGHT!!!”   They did not agree.

Salted Butter on Little Plates

I read this story at TheKitchn about salting butter. Now I don’t usually use butter on bread, but Faith Durand’s story about how this simple act – slicing butter and sprinkling smoked salt on it – would transform people’s opinion on bread and butter moved me to action. And I can tell you, it totally works, everyone comments on it. You know, because we need to find a way for Americans to eat more bread and butter. I’m a patriot really.

I use this smoked salt from Williams and Sonoma.


 And I serve on little plates.  Such as these.  From TJ Maxx/HomeGoods.   I know.


Chocolate turkeys:


Because I can.   WorldMarket, Dylan’s Candy Bar and Godiva all have some.

Turkey – to heck with tradition

After seeing 3 or so articles from chefs about how we are all suckers for cooking a turkey whole, where the breast is done and dry way before the dark meat was fully cooked, I decided to try the turkey in parts. You show everyone the turkey for like 1 minute and then take it back to the kitchen for slicing, so why all the hype about a whole turkey? *shaking fist at Norman Rockwell in heaven*

The practice turkey from House Beautiful turned out well. The whole turkey, white and dark done to perfection, in 1 ½ hours.

However, we thought it needed a little something-something. So Thanksgiving turkey will be some combination of these two recipes from Epicurious: Deconstructed Holiday Turkey with Sage Gravy or Citrus Sage Roast Turkey Breast.

I’ve made the latter turkey breast before in testing out the stuffing recipe (see below), but kind of think brining could help. I’ve also pre-made the gravy (wha?!) because TheKitchn told me I could. We’ll do a gravy taste-test on Thanksgiving to see if TheKItchn was right. Mmmmmmh, gravy taste-test.

I’ll let you know how everything turns out afterwards – in between cleaning up Thanksgiving and putting up Christmas.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!