I guess I will always feel a little melancholy in January.
I lost my mom two years ago this month, and I continue to be surprised at just how much harder it is to move on from her death than what I’ve experienced after losing our other parents. I don’t know if it was the fact that she was our last living parent, if it is because I was closer to her than any of our other parents, or if it’s something else. Without a doubt, though, grief is taking it’s sweet time with me, it seems.
I think most people tend to give a lot of leeway to family members and friends in the first year after the loss of a close loved one. Tackling all those “firsts” can be so, so hard, and I certainly found that to be true after losing my mother, just as it was after we lost our other parents. I had quite a bit of support, especially from my closest friends, and I’m grateful for the love shown that truly helped me through that first year.
Grief didn’t care about that calendar, though. Not one bit.
Last year was my second full year without Mom, and I swear it was just as hard on many occasions as it was in year one. Understandably, most people assume that after that first year, all is fine… or at least better, so I started to just keep my feelings to myself and not burden others with my continuing feelings. Friends have other interests in their lives and suffer their own heartaches.
Life moves on for all of us.
But, as Shelby’s mom said in Steel Magnolias after the graveside service for her sweet Shelby…
“I’ll tell you what I wish. … That’s what my mind says, I just wish somebody would explain it to my heart.” (Steel Magnolias… 1989)
Oh, how very true that statement is. So, so true. (I’m not sure a movie ever truly captured such a true manifestation of grief as this particular scene at the cemetery.)
I have no sage wisdom to share today, except to simply acknowledge that grief doesn’t stick to a one-year calendar, despite that conventional viewpoint these days. Acknowledging the ongoing grief helps a bit, and that’s why I’m writing today. Simple acknowledgement.
I hope this lesson sticks with me and reminds me to have a tender heart toward others in the future, perhaps by simply marking my calendar and letting them know that I’m thinking of them and offering a heart-felt, sympathetic prayer for them on their own hard anniversaries.
I want to make it count, this often hard path I continue to find myself on without my Mom in my life. (The article linked is absolutely fabulous.)
During this anniversary month of Mom’s passing, I’m reading The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp, and so far, it is quietly speaking to my broken heart. Ann’s writings are best savored slowly and deliberately, and every day, I’m slowly “getting it.” Perhaps if you find yourself with a broken heart right now, this book might offer some insight to you, too. If not right now, perhaps make a note of this great book for a time you might need it in the future?
Ann is “explaining it to my heart,” and I am grateful.
A camping Christmas trip with our family ended 2016 in a delightful way!
2016 is now in the “books,” and 2017 has already seen our first snow of the winter season and of the new year. Thankfully, it was nothing like the mega storm that introduced 2016 to us, and we only received about an inch this time. My back starts hurting just looking again at some of the photos from last January and remembering all the snow Hubby and I shoveled for three straight days. Ugh!
It’s been several weeks since my last post, but all is well, good in fact. I just took a little break to enjoy the Christmas season and take a few things “off my plate” for a bit. I also had more holiday prep work to do this year, due to our ten day Christmas and New Years trip to the mountains of far West Texas.
All our kids joined us for a long Christmas weekend in the Davis Mountains, and they all departed for home on Tuesday afternoon after lunch, driving to El Paso together then catching their respective flights. It was a most enjoyable holiday for me, and I think for all of us. After all, what mama doesn’t like to have all her kiddos with her for the holidays?
We secured our daughter and son-in-law a room at the historic Indian Lodge (see photos below) during their stay, which was just a mile away from our RV in the state park, and our son stayed with us in the RV. With all the additional space inside now, as compared to our previous RV, we were all quite comfortable, even with the dogs who slept on their nice, new beds next to him.
By cooking some dishes ahead of time, I was able to serve all our favorite holiday foods in the RV… tamales for Christmas Eve, sausage toasts and eggs for Christmas morning, and ham, turkey, cornbread dressing, black-eyed peas, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and yeast rolls for Christmas dinner. We even enjoyed a Christmas morning picnic together at our site for breakfast, which was a real treat! Truly, the weather was gorgeous the entire week we were there.
Following our picnic breakfast, we opened gifts inside the RV in our comfortable living area, which was so much fun. As usual, the dogs each had a gift of their own to start things off, and I can say that we all received some very nice gifts. My family was especially good to me, but the real treat for me was just having everyone together for a few days of fun.
The weather was gorgeous in far West Texas the entire week we were there, which certainly helped make our trip more manageable and truly enjoyable. We even ran our air conditioner for a bit on a few afternoons, too. I’m sure some friends may think we’ve lost our minds spending the holidays in our RV, but we enjoyed our time in the Davis Mountains with our family more than anything we’ve done for the holidays in many years. With all the cooking done ahead of time, meals were easy and tasty with minimal clean-up needed afterward, leaving quality time for visiting, hiking and playing games together.
After the kids left, Hubby and I enjoyed a few days all by ourselves, followed by two days with two friends who made their first trip to the area for the New Year’s weekend in their RV, the same friends we’ve started traveling with a bit over the past year. We enjoyed showing them around, and they also spent some time on their own at the McDonald Observatory, which we have seen many times on previous trips. Hubby and the friends hiked from the state park to the national park, and I picked them up there after we all toured the fort area together on New Years Eve.
Our holiday trip was pretty much perfect for us, spending time both with family and friends, as well as quality time alone. We even made new friends, a couple close to our age that just recently started their full-time RV journey, and we exchanged contact information with them. It was delightful to visit with them off and on all during our vacation week.
Hubby and I opted to dine out a little more on this trip because there are some really good restaurants in town. Rumor has it we dined at our favorite Mexican food restaurant three times during our week in the area and that our waitress knew what we wanted to order as soon as we sat down on our second and third visits. We dined there on the evening we arrived with our son, for lunch with all the kids on Tuesday before they left, and again with our friends on New Year’s Eve.
We also dined at three other restaurants in town during our stay, which was a nice treat for us. All were very good, and two were new to us.
(On a side note, I couldn’t disagree more with the Trip Advisor restaurant ratings for Fort Davis restaurants, especially the #1 pick listed right now. We’ve tried that place twice and are not at all impressed with it. We won’t try again. In our opinion, after many trips to the area, Cueva De Leon is by far the best in town.)
Hubby and I also drove to both Alpine and Marfa on separate drives. We had to make a quick trip to Alpine with our son on Christmas Eve morning in search of a new coffee pot, after ours unexpectedly died on us. Thankfully, we found one at the big hardware store, the last one on the shelf, because we would have had a crisis on our hands without a coffee pot!
Our scenic drive to Marfa on an overcast day after the kids left was nice, and we saw the pretty courthouse there, along with the historic Hotel Paisano and the whimsical El Cosmico campground south of town. On their drive back to El Paso, the kids stopped for photos at Prada Marfa, too.
Hubby and I also enjoyed a Thursday evening presentation at Indian Lodge where the hotel manager told us all about the history of the lodge from the CCC era to date, and she also pointed out several of the original furniture pieces from that time period, marked by the metal strappings at the bottom of each one. It was a nice evening with other hotel guests and campers, complete with hot cider and cookies by a warm fire inside.
She also shared that Indian Lodge will close in September 2017 for four months for exterior resurfacing, just in case anyone is planning a trip to the area and would like to stay there.
The week prior to our trip was a fun and busy week, too.
Prior to Christmas, I also hosted my second annual cookie swap on the Monday evening before Christmas. It was a big success once again, with two new participants this year, in addition to those returning from last year’s swap. This year, we actually decorated cookies together for the first time, and it was so much fun, even though it was more prep work for me. I think we will have to keep doing this in future years, if only for the laughs… which were many! Those ladies pretty much destroyed my kitchen decorating cookies, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
After the cookie swap, I was able to provide some awesome cookie platters to my elderly neighbor, to Hubby’s side of the family during our evening together the next night and to the state park staff on Christmas Eve morning, while also saving lots of cookies for my family to enjoy during our trip, too.
Just before we departed on our Christmas trip, we spent a delightful evening with Hubby’s side of the family on Tuesday evening, including some family members from the Dallas area. The big home-cooked meal was a real treat for all of us during those last busy days before Christmas, with meatloaf served as the main entrée. It was our first opportunity to gather together in our nephew’s new home with his precious wife and girls, and they were good sports to host everyone while still in the process of moving in. They wouldn’t have it any other way.
I didn’t have an opportunity to celebrate a friends Christmas with my two special friends here before we left on our trip, but we are hoping to finally get together one evening this week. I have grown accustomed to this fun tradition over more recent years and definitely missed our fun gathering.
I trust you all had a wonderful Christmas and wish you all the best in 2017!
Make your own tasty dressing instead of buying it at the store!
Years ago, I started making our holiday dressing from scratch, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made as far as our holiday menu each year. Cornbread dressing has to be one of the most forgiving recipes ever, and anyone can tweak it to their own taste. Indeed, I think I’ve varied my own recipe just a tad every year, and that is just part of the fun of making it.
Today, I’m sharing my dressing recipe, along with photos of each step.
Steps in Part 1 of this process can be done ahead of time to save time on the day the meal is to be served.
Steps in Part 2 are best done on the day the meal is served.
Part 1 (Advance Preparation)
In my previous post, I shared the first aromatic step in making this dressing, sautéing the Creole mirepoix (meer-PWAH). While this recipe can certainly be tweaked in many ways, omitting a basic mirepoix of onion and celery with another ingredient would be a mistake, since this is the foundation of the dish as far as flavor. For several years, I just used diced onion and celery, but more recently, I have added diced red bell pepper to the mix because it adds even more flavor and also some nice color.
The mirepoix for the dressing consists of one large sweet onion, the green stalks of a bunch of celery (not the tougher white parts) and one large red bell pepper, all chopped finely by hand or in a food processor. The mirepoix is then sautéed in about two tablespoons of Land O’ Lakes soft butter/canola oil, but feel free to just use butter or oil, if you desire.
Good cornbread is the base of the dressing, and I prepare two boxes of Jiffy Cornbread Mix. Jiffy cornbread is actually a traditional family dish and the only cornbread my mother ever baked. She also added a little sugar to her cornbread, and I’ve been known to do that a few times myself. For this recipe, I follow the recipe on the box, which calls for one egg and 1/3 cup of whole milk per box, doubling those for this recipe.
The cornbread can be baked as desired, but I start mine on the stove on medium high heat in an enameled cast iron skillet that has been warmed to 400 degrees in the preheated oven. Before adding the cornbread mix to the skillet, I melt two tablespoons of Land O’ Lakes butter with canola oil in the skillet, but butter or oil alone would be fine, too. Allow the mix to heat on the stove for only one minute, no longer, then transfer the skillet to the 400 degree oven for twenty minutes or until the cornbread is thoroughly done in the middle, using the toothpick test.
Cornbread is a real treat for me these days, as I have to follow a low-carb diet most of the time. So, when I make it, I want it to be pretty much perfect. This method of preparation is the best I’ve ever found, as the cornbread has a little crunch on the bottom and is evenly cooked throughout.
Isn’t this a beautiful… gorgeous… lovely sight?
I could have just stopped right there and eaten the whole thing! Seriously.
After letting the cornbread cool, crumble it into a bowl or large pan and leave it on the kitchen counter covered by a paper towel for one or two days. I used a pan with more surface area to allow it to dry out a little faster. If pressed for time, use the oven at 250 degrees to help the cornbread dry out faster, stirring it every ten minutes until it is a bit crunchy but retains some moisture, too.
Adding one pound of cooked pork breakfast sausage is an optional step, but it is a requirement for us because it adds even more flavor and helps keep the dressing moist. Simply cook a pound of regular sausage, then drain it thoroughly on paper towels, removing as much fat as possible. Store the sausage in a sealed container in the refrigerator until the day to make the dressing or in the freezer if making the dressing more than two days later.
At this point, I add some finely diced fresh parsley. It adds a subtle flavor and also adds some color, complimenting the red bell pepper nicely, and I store it in a sealed container in the refrigerator until I’m ready to make the dressing.
Part 2 (Assemble and bake)
On Thanksgiving, all that is left to do is combine the pre-prepared ingredients with the seasonings and chicken broth, then bake the dressing in the oven. Yes, that’s it! Easy peasy.
Combine the cornbread, mirepoix, sausage and parsley, then add most of a 32 oz. carton of chicken broth, reserving just a bit of the broth. Add seasoned salt and poultry seasoning, sprinkling both generously over the top, then stir well to combine. Feel free to taste test and add seasoning as desired, being careful to not over-season the mix. I don’t add pepper but some other people include it.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place the empty baking dish in the oven to also preheat. I used an enameled cast iron baking dish. When the oven and baking dish are preheated, remove the dish from the oven and spray it with non-stick spray. (Don’t spray the dish before pre-heating it.)
Pour the dressing mix into the pre-heated dish, smooth it out, then bake it at 350 degrees for thirty minutes. At that point, remove the dressing from the oven and stir it thoroughly, then bake it for fifteen minutes or more until it reaches your desired consistency.
I love, love, love this dressing!
I can make a meal on this dressing and nothing else. It’s that good.
As I said earlier, dressing is a very forgiving dish to make. If your dressing is a bit dry, just add a little more chicken broth and heat it a bit longer. Take it to new levels by adding even more tasty ingredients, like sautéed diced mushroomsor finely diced jalapeno pepper.
For this dish, I do not recommend adding any other types of bread other than cornbread, but feel free to give it a try if you’re feeling especially adventurous. The consistency and flavor of the cornbread is what makes this dish, in my opinion. If you opt to use other breads in place of part of the cornbread, just be sure to dry them out as much as possible before making the dressing.
Here is the complete list of ingredients. Just read back through this post for the preparation instructions. Enjoy!
Southern Cornbread Dressing
For the Mirepoix:
one large sweet onion one bunch of celery (use only green stalks) one large red bell pepper, seeded and cored
two tablespoons Land O’ Lakes butter/canola oil spread
For the cornbread: two boxes Jiffy Cornbread Mix
two extra large eggs
2/3 cup milk
two tablespoons Land O’ Lakes butter/canola oil spread
one pound regular pork breakfast sausage
7-8 stalks of parsley leaves, diced
poultry seasoning (to taste)
seasoned salt (to taste)
32 oz. box regular chicken broth (if using low sodium broth, use a little more seasoned salt or regular salt)
non-stick spray for the bottom of the baking dish
I use enameled cast iron dishes (pre-heated) to bake both the cornbread and the dressing for best results. If using other non-heated baking dishes, cooking times may take a bit longer.
Happy Thanksgiving cooking! Savor every moment of the fun! 🙂
I’m not sure I enjoy savoring anything more than the colorful look and the fragrant aroma of a nice Mirepoix (meer-PWAH). My personal favorite is a creole variation with red bell pepper, and I also like equal parts celery and onion in mine.
Sautéing mirepoix is the first step in making our traditional Southern cornbread dressing, and I’m pleased to share these photos today as a part of the daily prompt, “aromatic.” I only wish I could also share the actual aroma here, too. Ahhhh!
Even though we will be dining out with family and friends this Thanksgiving, I still had to make a pan of our traditional dressing because it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving to me without it, even if we enjoy it in the days after the holiday.
Dressing is not difficult to make, and over the past few years, I’ve convinced a few friends to ditch the store-bought dressings in favor of their own homemade versions, especially since most everything can be done ahead of time. Tomorrow, I hope to share my recipe here, complete with step-by-step photos, but today, I will just enjoy the aroma of this fabulous mirepoix!