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Saturday Project: Denim Placemats

6a0120a8a2f331970b015432de7346970c-800wiWe have a bin full of old “scrap” jeans. These are pants that knees have ripped out on or hems have frayed or have some other condition that make them non-wearable. But most of their fabric is still good and I am always looking for projects to do with them. Today’s project will use up a bunch of the jeans…by making placemats. Today’s Nest has great instructions for making denim placemats from jeans.

If you don’t have enough scrap jeans, consider hitting a thrift store or yard sale, where you can often pick them up for $2 a pair.

ALTERNATE IDEA: If you don’t want to do all the sewing or have full denim placemats consider adding just the pocket to existing placemats. Either pick up some inexpensive ones or use what you already have. Simply remove the back pockets from jeans and sew them on to existing placemats.

Basic Etiquette

Today it seems that many of the basic etiquette rules that I was raised with (and I am not that old!) are just missing from our society. It isn’t just that people aren’t doing these things anymore, but that no one is teaching them and now we have a generation of adults who don’t follow some of the basic rules, not because they are choosing to ignore them, but because they just don’t know. So here are some basic rules of etiquette and entertaining that will serve you well.

  1. RSVP means the hostess wants a response. This doesn’t just mean call if you are coming. They want to know either way, by the date specified. Do the hostess a favor and just let her know if you are coming or not.
  2. When you go to someone’s home, never arrive empty-handed. Bring a dessert or salad or bread for dinner, a bottle of wine or other drink, a house plant, a picture frame, but never arrive without a gift for your hosts. If they have invited you over for dinner or a party, giving them this small gift lets your hosts know you appreciate their work to entertain you.
  3. Write a Thank You Note! Seriously, when someone does something for you (has you over for dinner or provides a service) or gives you something, take 5 minutes to hand-write (no emails!) a Thank You note. It doesn’t take much time and people appreciate the sentiment. Teach your kids to do the same to family and friends for gifts and to parents of friends who host them.
  4. Whenever possible, reciprocate. When a family has yours over for dinner, a few weeks later, return the gesture and host them at your house. When someone offers you a service (raking your lawn, watching your kids…whatever), as long as it isn’t something you are paying for, return the gesture and do something nice for them (watch their kids on a different night etc.)
  5. Introduce new adults to children as Mr. or Mrs./Ms. & their last. It is up to the adult if they want to allow your child to call them by their first name (or Miss First Name). Just teaching your kids this simple courtesy will help them in relationships with adults and help your child understand that adults are to be respected.

These simple etiquette rules will make a huge difference in your family’s interactions with others. They take little or no time and money, but the payoff can be amazing.

The Best Turkey I Ever Made

Maybe it was because of the way it was cooked or maybe because it was our first Thanksgiving living outside the US, but the Turkey we made our first year in Taiwan was amazing. We had a local friend find us a turkey that year. He went to a turkey rice restaurant and asked if we could buy a turkey. They wanted to sell us a 44 kg turkey! We convinced them to sell us a smaller size. Little did we know that would mean we would get half a turkey. Literally, they took a chainsaw and cut the 44 kg turkey in half and we were presented with the right side.

When my husband brought this giant side of a turkey home, he was pretty proud. Right up until he had to break the thing down and get rid of the neck. Cooking this thing cook creativity. We had a slow cooker and a toaster oven. Since cooking a turkey in a toaster over would take days, we opted for the slow cooker. This made the best roasted turkey I have ever eaten. Here are the steps:

  1. Defrost turkey completely.
  2. Line the bottom of the slow cooker with several loose foil balls. These will support the turkey and turn the slow cooker into a roaster.
  3. Surround foil with carrots, celery, onions & garlic. Don’t worry about how these look. They are just to flavor the turkey, not to serve.
  4. Add chicken stock so that it covers half way up the depth of the foil. Don’t add too much as the turkey will produce moisture too and you aren’t trying to braise the thing.
  5. Rub your turkey with butter and spices (basil, sage, garlic, onion, parsley, etc.)
  6. Place your turkey in the slow cooker. Cook on high for 6-8 hours until the internal temperature of the turkey is 180°F.
  7. Allow the meat to rest 15-30 minutes before carving.

We ended up with a wonderfully juicy roasted turkey, with lovely golden color. This turkey was so good that this year my husband and kids are asking me to do our Thanksgiving turkey in the slow cooker again.

TIP: If your turkey is too large for the slow cooker, do it in sections. We roasted the dark meat part of the turkey the night before and simply reheated it. The turkey was still juicy and wonderful.

Thanksgiving Portions

We are working on our Thanksgiving menu this week. The first major Thanksgiving I prepared was in Taiwan and we managed to pull off a traditional American Thanksgiving feast for many local and expat friends (see picture). After you figure out what you want to serve (and there will be some recipes coming!) you need to figure out how much to make of each dish. Here are a few good guidelines:

Turkey: You will generally need 1 lb. of turkey weight per person. That may sound like a lot, but remember that the turkey weight includes bones and things you won’t be eating. If you want to be sure to have a lot of leftovers to freeze or making into great dishes like turkey pot pie, purchase 1.5-2 lbs. of turkey per person.

Sides: If you are serving a lot of sides, go with smaller potions because people will want to try many of your dishes.

  • Mashed Potatoes: 4 oz. of potatoes per person is a small portion, 8 oz. is a large serving. Base your choice of serving size in consideration of other sides being served. TIP: Use an ice cream scoop as a serving spoon to “suggest” a serving size to your friends.
  • Stuffing: If you are having a lot of sides go with 3×3 squares per serving. If you are having a small number of sides, go with larger portions of 5×5 squares. TIP: Cut the stuffing into portion sizes before serving. This will let you control the serving size.
  • Yams/Sweet Potatoes: Same guide as mashed potatoes – 4 oz. per person for small portions, 8 oz. per person for large serving sizes
  • Veggies: 3-5 oz. per person

Appetizers: I don’t advocate these during Thanksgiving, because people still tend to overeat. But if you decide to serve them, go with only 4-6 pieces per person.

Breads: 1-2 rolls per person

Pies: 3 inch slice per person

Happy Eating!

Hospitality through Food & Drink

While it is important to plan food and drinks for parties and organized gatherings, today I want to remind us of the importance of having food around to share hospitality with on spur of the moment occasions. This may be to take a meal to someone who has lost a job or a loved one or to have all the neighborhood kids play at your house so that you can keep an eye on what your own kids are up to. It is important to have some standard hospitality items around.

First of all, I alway keep the items needed to put together a quick freezer meal for someone in need. Around our house this usually means pasta, sauce, and broccoli (because these all freeze well). We also always have hot dogs, buns, and veggie sticks around. These are inexpensive items, but having them on hand will allow you to jump in and feed someone going through a difficult time or just because of a last-minute get together. You can have them over to eat at your home or take a meal to them. Either way, you are offering them hospitality. You would be surprised how much a meal can mean to someone. When we lost a child through miscarriage we had friends feed us for several nights. This helped more than all the words and calls. I just didn’t have to worry about what to have for dinner.

Secondly, I keep snacks on hand for impromptu get-togethers. We limit the amounts of processed foods on hand but we keep things like bulk yogurt (which can be frozen into coin-sized treats or served in bowls), applesauce, carrot sticks, graham crackers, and peanut butter. Almost any kid will snack on these foods. We also keep Kool-Aid and water cold for the same reasons. (Be sure to check with parents about allergies.)

Third, I keep paper plates, cups, plasticware, and Take-and-Toss sippy or straw cups stocked in the house at all times. These items are again inexpensive, but if we end up hosting people last-minute they come in very handy. We have a bin in the pantry (a dish washing bin that was under $2 at our local “Mart) with all these disposable products in them.  This way when we have the chance for last-minute hospitality, all we have to do is set out the bin and all the needed items are ready to go!

Never underestimate the positive influence you can be on a child or a family simply by sharing the gift of hospitality through food and drink!

Hospitality vs. Entertaining

We often hear these two words used interchangeably but hospitality and entertaining are two different things. Hospitality is opening you home to family, friends, and strangers, even with little or no notice with a focus on the comfort and enjoyment of your guest. Entertaining is setting up a perfect tablescape and meal with much planning and preparation, with a focus on you as the host.

The key to creating a hospitable environment is to keep your focus on your guests, making them comfortable. A perfectly clean and organized home may look nice, but often something “too perfect” will cause guests to feel ill-at-ease and out of place because they fear messing up all your hard work. Studies show that people are most comfortable in an environment that feels lived-in and makes them feel like family. So how to you achieve this?

First of all, quit waiting for your house to be perfect to have people over. You will always find one more project that needs to be done. Don’t wait for that never ending list to be finished before you decide to invite people into your home. I have never had anyone refuse to hang out at my house because we were painting or building a deck or whatever project we happened to be in the middle of doing! Spend your time focusing on how you can make your space into something people will describe as comfortable, homey, relaxed, welcoming, and inviting.

Second, spend time (and maybe even a little money) decorating your space in a way that welcomes guests. We make sure to have a lot of seating available, especially chairs and stools that can be moved around to allow the space flexibility depending on the group we are hosting. Chose furniture and accent pieces that have a story behind them. People love to hear about how we bartered with a street vendor in China to get our porcelain vases or how we bought our antique Hoosier cabinet on eBay – sight unseen! Mix and match piece and incorporate old and new. This will help create a comfortable environment.

Third, feed them! Food has a way of welcoming and comforting people so use it. But don’t spend hours preparing elaborate dinner parties when you know your crowd is more pizza or subs. Tomorrow we will look more at foods to promote hospitality.