A Few Thanksgiving Classics

It’s been a little rough in the JavaFamily household this week… JavaDad has had the flu and a kidney infection and when JavaDad is sick, no one is happy! It is clear how much we function as an entire unit — when one of us is out of commission, it throws the household out of whack.

So pardon the absence of posts of late, but I thought some of my readers might enjoy a couple from this time last year:

Happy Thanksgiving to you, and among my many blessings are YOU — the readers of Caffeine and a Prayer, which is now ONE YEAR OLD!

Fall Fun Guide Is Here!

2008 10 17_Great Country Farms peanuts and pumpkins_0025Fall began yesterday and the Fall Gun Guide is now officially up!  Just like its Summer companion, the Fall Fun Guide is filled with classes and events for kids and families.  Some are free, some are not, but somewhere in the guide there should be something for everyone.  I am always looking for new things to add to the guide, so please contact me if you know of something that you think should be on there.  And please check the guide frequently.  The Fall Fun Guide is “younger” than the Summer Fun Guide, so it is still maturing and is not quite as far-reaching yet — it has lots of room to grow!

It includes a list of children’s consignment sales (coming up – My Child’s Closet and Catholic Consignments), pumpkin patches and corn mazes, a list of activities by dates, classes and events, day and weekend trips, and so much more!

Go check it out and then tell all your friends about it!

Oh — and start letting me know about events you think should be included in the HOLIDAY FUN GUIDE!!

Foolproof Way to Roast a Turkey (and Cornbread Stuffing, Too!)

This is not really a foodie blog, but apparently that is where my mind is at during the holidays!

When I made my first Thanksgiving turkey nearly 15 years ago, my mother sent me a sage, yet humorous email, with instructions.  I printed that email out and pulled it out year after year and managed to keep it despite moving cross-country twice since then.  I’ve also picked up a few tricks of my own along the way and have written them in the margins and finally got wise last year and wrote up my own version for future generations on our family blog (and also because I was terrified of losing all those precious notes!

So for anyone who may not have the benefit of such notes, I share with you, a time-tested way to roast a (usually extremely large) holiday turkey, complete with humorous asides and a to-die for cornbread stuffing recipe from my mother!

Turkey Prep (notes written for myself and future generations)

We buy a local brand of turkey, Shady Brook Farm, rather than Butterball and I think it makes a difference.  But my second choice would be a Butterball.  I prefer fresh to frozen.  If you have to buy frozen, remember to give it several days to thaw in the fridge.  If it is still not thawed, you will have to let it thawed in a bucket or sink filled with cold water and make sure the turkey is fully submerged.

I also prefer a covered roasting pan (you’ll need a really, really big one if you follow my tradition of cooking 20+ pound birds).

Ready… this is the part JavaDad and I always forget.  BEFORE YOU PREHEAT THE OVEN… remove the second rack and make sure to put the remaining one at the lowest level.  Should you forget to do this, say every year for 9 straight years, you can always put the rack out in the cold on the deck.

Oh yeah, now is a good time to make sure that your roasting pan is on the counter, ready for the big bird.  Not, say, down in the basement.

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees.  Nope, not a typo, you are going to cook it for 30 minutes at 500 degrees to give the bird a beautiful tan and seal the juices in.  It takes a while to get up that high, so turn that oven on now.

Always check the neck and chest cavities for a plastic bag with the gizzards and liver, and also for the neck itself.

Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water and put it in your rack.  Make sure you rinse out the sink and anything else you may have touched (faucet handles, etc.) and Clorox them as well afterward.

Stuff the turkey (some of your relatives are anti-stuffed turkey — they don’t realize that the turkey is merely a gigantic cooking/flavoring hole for the stuffing, why else would I cook a turkey?)  You need to not pack the stuffing very tightly, it needs to go in loosely.  I make sort of small loose balls to put it in.  Don’t forget you can put stuffing in the neck cavity as well.  You will remove the stuffing before carving the turkey — do not let stuffing sit in the turkey after it has been cooked!  And remember, your stuffed turkey will take longer to cook than a non-stuffed turkey.

Oh, and I leave the “pope’s nose” (fatty bit just under the chest cavity) on the turkey, but Grandma E always cut it off.  It adds good flavoring to the drippings.

After you’ve stuffed the turkey, rub some poultry seasoning all over the skin — everywhere.  Then rub softened butter all over the skin (I find it easier to do the poultry seasoning first, then the butter).  I tend to put a few bits of butter on the top of the exposed stuffing as well.

Pour some water (about 1/2 cup) into the bottom of the pan.  Don’t worry about any stuffing or butter that has dropped into the pan.

Put tin foil over the wing tips and ends of the drumsticks to protect them from burning.

Put the bird in the oven with no lid for 30 minutes at 500 degrees.  I put about half a stick of butter into a bowl and put that on top of the middle part of the stove so it softens during that 30 minutes of time.  When the time goes off, baste with the melted butter and also the pan drippings, then put the cover on, turn down the temperature to 350 degrees, and set timer for another 30 minutes, repeat butter softening trick.  I baste every 30 minutes to 1 hour (depending on how frantic the other food prep is).

Do not rely on the “pop-up” device in the turkey to tell you when the turkey is done.  Use a thermometer.  Or if something terrible has happened to your thermometer that year, you will know your turkey is done when the legs move freely at the joint and the juices run clear.  When using the roaster, my turkey usually cooks about an hour faster than the timetable says it should.  Make sure you check both the turkey itself and the stuffing when you use a thermometer.

Because you have browned and sealed the turkey at the beginning of the cooking, you will not have to worry about removing the lid/tin foil at the end of the process to get that golden color, so if you are looking at other cooking instructions, ignore that part.

The turkey carves better after it has been allowed to “rest” — I usually let JavaDad take the pictures when it is right out of the oven, then I have him make one cut at the breast to ensure the turkey is cooked through.  Then I put the lid back on and let it rest and stay warm while we put the casseroles in the oven.  (Note:  At this point I usually announce to everyone in the house that I am about to go into “crazy mode” because I am going to assemble 3-5 casseroles at once so I want no one walking into the kitchen or talking to me for the next 10 minutes, please because I am trying to keep measurements and times in my head and am criss-crossing the kitchen.  Regardless which side of the family is visiting, they will take this as their cue to come in and fix drinks at that exact time and ask me lots of questions.  Even JavaDad, who should know better because I have threatened his very life if he does that yet again this year.  If you ever figure out a better plan, let me know.  I still love them all – I just have never figured the mystery of this out.)    You can cook the squash, green beans, and sweet potatoes at the same time, even if the recipes contradict each other as to temperature.  I usually go with whatever is the highest temp and then reduce the cooking time for the other dishes accordingly.

Remember to remove that stuffing from both cavities!

By the way, it is apparently a weird Newby family tradition to ask each other what size bird you are cooking.  I didn’t realize other families didn’t do this until I got married and had married friends.  Keep up the tradition, for my sake.  : )

Grandma’s Cornbread Stuffing
You may want to make the cornbread the night before.

(Makes 7 cups, I usually double the recipe)

  • 2 cups cornmeal
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1.5 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 425F.  Sift dry ingredients together.  Combine with well-beaten eggs and milk.  Blend well.  Stir in butter.  Pour into well-buttered shallow baking pan.  Bake at 425F for 15-20 minutes.

(make twice the recipe, then stuff the turkey with as much as you can and bake the extra stuffing in a pan.  NEVER stuff a turkey and leave it to sit – stuff JUST BEFORE cooking and empty the stuffing from the turkey as soon as dinner is over.)

  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup celery with leaves, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • dash black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons parsley
  • 5 cups cornbread crumbs
  • water to moisten the stuffing

Sautee vegetables in butter until tender, but not browned.  Combine seasonings and crumbs.  Toss with vegetable mixture until well mixed.  Add enough water to moisten crumbs.  When you have a separate pan of extra stuffing, make sure to add even more water to that batch b/c it will not benefit from the juices of the turkey.  Put some water in it at prep time, then sprinkle a little more just before it goes into the oven.

What’s YOUR favorite recipe for the holidays? Post it on your blog and link here or post your recipe in the comments section!

So Much to Be Thankful For!

This particular Thanksgiving week has been a time of reflection for me, because this time last year I was curled up in pain with a never-ending migraine and bizarre facial pain that was set off by the most gentle of touches.

It turned out to be something called trigeminal neuralgia, which has the lovely nickname of “the suicide disease” because the pain can be so excrutiating people sometimes kill themselves to escape the pain — sometimes they go from doctor to doctor looking for a diagnosis and sucumb to the pain before they get a diagnosis and treatment.

I, however, was fortunate.  I went to a meeting I was really trying to get out of because of how awful I felt, and when a friend of mine there overhead my symptoms, she told me it sounded exactly like what her cousin had, and voila — through the beauty of the Internet and having the right term to search on — I was able to go into my doctor with what I was sure it was.  I had been searching the Internet for days prior to that, trying to find something that accurately described the kind of headache and pain it was — knowing it was far, far different from my “typical” migraine and I hadn’t found anything.  (As a friend would say, it was a “God moment” — had I missed the meeting, I would’ve missed out on that friend’s insight!)

My doctor agreed with me that I seemed to have found the right diagnosis and off the neurologist I went.  I had the added scare of a “suspicious mass” in my CT scan — discovered the Wed. before Thanksgiving — which fortunately turned out to be nothing — but that “nothing” gave me plenty to worry about for a few weeks until I had an MRI done.    

As for the trigeminal neuralgia it was a long journey of pills (at one time — four anticonvulsants a day) and discussions of brain surgery, and those pills made me sick and loopy and really interfered with my life as a mother.  At times I lost my ability to select the right words when speaking or writing, sometimes I couldn’t even handwrite because I couldn’t get my hand to coordinate with my mind correctly — I felt brain damaged a lot of the time and it frustrated me.  The pain still remained — it was duller, but still there.  I felt like an old person in a younger woman’s body.  I felt robbed of my life and wondered if this was going to be the best quality of life I was going to face — and if so, was this really the quality of life I could live with.  Thank God I have kids — they are who and what kept me going through the worst of it all.  I tried to hide my struggles from them — still taking them to everything, still trying to be supermom — but I couldn’t hide the fact that I was exhausted by 4pm and that I cringed everytime they tried to touch my right cheek.

And finally, through a change of doctors and perseverance of the right doctor, we found the right medication — for me, just one high-dose Topamax pill a day does the trick.  No more dopiness.  Some pain, but not curling up in a ball, hiding from the world pain.  I don’t flinch every time my children come up to kiss my cheek.

I have my life back.  I am back to being a vibrant mother to my kids, a wife to my husband.  Last year I remember having to cede part of the Thanksgiving cooking over to my mother because the pain became so great I could no longer stand, but this Thanksgiving, I cooked up a storm, played Wii, and even had time to run out for some Thanksgiving evening shopping!

The evening news is filled with lots of doom and gloom and of course I’m concerned about our economy and the world around us, but this year I am thrilled to be back to my old self.  I have a long list of things to be thankful for — our beautiful family, my husband’s job, our home, but frankly, this year, at the top of the list is being so much better than I was last year.  I still have TN, and brain surgery isn’t entirely off the table, but at least I am doing so much better than this time last year.

Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Advent — may  you find time to count your own blessings today!

Yummy Thanksgiving Treats — Bree Hodges Would Be Proud Of You

Go ahead, indulge your inner Martha (or Bree Hodges) and impress your friends, neighbors or those other moms at school.  Or just thrill the hearts of your kids.  These little treats are oh-so-easy to make! (Although if you want “picture perfect” results, you may want to work faster than your four-year-old helpers.)

Pilgrim Hats

The Pilgrim hats were super-easy and came from Family Fun magazine.  Althought I’ll link to their original instructions, I’ll add some notes as to what I learned along the way.  Ours were a bit sloppy, so with care, you can get neater results, but this is a pic you can use as a reference:

Basically you need:

·         some fudge-striped cookies

·         marshmallows

·         some form of chocolate to melt – I used milk chocolate chips

·         and one of those small icing tubes you can get in the grocery store in the color yellow (for the buckle) – I recommend NOT GEL icing

·         toothpicks

·         Start out with a cookie tray lined with wax paper.

·         Put your fudge striped cookies with the STRIPES DOWN (so you are seeing the chocolate covered back of the cookie).  These will be the brim of your hat.

·         Melt your chocolate – I did mine in the microwave by pouring one bag of chocolate chips in a glass bowl, then microwaved for 30 seconds, stirred, 30 seconds again, stirred, and then 15 seconds more and stirred.  If you do it all at once, you can burn the chocolate, so you have to keep stopping and stirring.  Online I noticed some people used a fondue mix, and others used chocolate bark candies instead.

·         Stick a toothpick in your marshmallow and dip it into the chocolate until you have it completely covered.  You may need to drizzle some on top with a spoon.  We were quite sloppy in our dipping/drizzling, so this is where more finesse produces finer results.

·         Plop the marshmallow onto a cookie brim, use a second toothpick to help pull out the first toothpick.

·         Repeat until you’ve made all the hats.  Set them in the fridge for a while to set up.

·         Take the frosting tube and make a small square on the marshmallow, but close to the brim to represent the buckle.  Now, if you are planning on bagging these, which is what I was originally going to do, you may want to use a harder frosting than the gel or you may want to melt some yellow candy bark, b/c I found the gel icing never set up to be hard enough not to smear.  If you are going to serve them on a tray, then don’t worry about it. 

Ritzy Turkeys 

This is an adaptation of a recipe I originally found on a scrapbooking board http://www.scrappertalk.com/bbs/ a few years ago.  I thought these were so adorable, I couldn’t wait to have kids old enough to do this with!  The woman who makes them said her mother always made them until the last year of her life, when the daughter picked up the tradition and now makes them every Thanksgiving in remembrance of her mother — I didn’t keep the original post to remember the name of the woman in order to give her credit, I am sorry to say, I just kept the photo.  UPDATE: I have gotten back in touch with the woman who first posted this and she likes to go by “Peggy J” on Scrapbook Addict.  Many thanks to Peggy J!

Here’s a picture of the original version:

Ritz cracker turkey

Ritz cracker turkey








Here’s a picture of the version we made:

Ritz cracker turkey - chocolate

Ritz cracker turkey - chocolate









  • Ritz crackers (I used the original flavor rather than the whole wheat ones)
  • Hershey’s kisses, with foil off
  • Candy corns (for tailfeathers and beak)
  • Frosting (original version used white frosting, I chose to use chocolate b/c I liked having the Hershey’s kiss body blend in with the frosting color) – I used canned frosting, but a thicker frosting may hold the candy better
  • A candy to make the turkey stand up – the original directions used a caramel cube, but I couldn’t find any, so I just used and additional Hershey’s kiss and cemented it with some frosting.

Quick note – apparently candy corn is considered a Halloween candy (who knew?) so I found “Indian Corn” at Wegman’s, which is brown/orange/white instead of the brighter orange/yellow/white of candy corn.  So my corn was a different color than the original candy corn, which also guided my choice in using chocolate frosting.  I actually like that better because I think it is more turkey-like!

  • Start with a wax-paper lined cookie sheet
  • Lay out your Ritz crackers – I chose to use the salted part as the front, I’m not sure that it matters
  • Spread some frosting all over the front of the cracker – you want a fairly thick layer b/c this is what will hold your candy corn and Hershey’s kiss – I’ve done this two years now and have found that there is a fine line between too thin and too thick — you want it thick enough to hold the candy corns, but not so thick that it won’t “set up” — so don’t do it paper thin but don’t do it overly thick either.
  • Arrange some candy corns in an arc on one side of the Ritz, I used 5 per tail, and that seems to be the right amount because more than that and it gets a bit unwieldly when you try to prop it up in the next stage.
  • Take your kiss and plop the flat side onto the cracker, pretty much towards the bottom of the cracker from the center part of the tail.
  • After I did this for all of them, I put them in the fridge to harden a little before propping them up.   You can also put it in the freezer if you have more freezer space than fridge space.
  • Do the next steps in either order.
  • For the beak, take a candy corn, smear a little frosting on the back, and smoosh it down on the pointy part of the kiss – it is just going to follow the slope of the kiss, I let it hang off a little further than the tip of the beak.
  • To prop up the turkey, put either a caramel cube (either slightly melted or with a dab of icing) or a kiss (I did mine with the flat side down, and a blob of icing going up the slope of one side) and smush it against the back of the crackers.
  • JavaBory wanted to make eyes, I wasn’t up for it, but I suppose you could with a little dab of icing from one of those small icing tubes.
  • These look better when displayed on a tray rather than bagged.  This year I put them into little cupcake paper cups and gave them out to the kids that way rather than bagging them (transporting them in my really nifty cupcake carrier).