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Friday, December 25, 2009

HAPPY BIRTHDAY JACKIE!!


Today is my sister Yvonne's birthday (I won't say how old though) so I wanted to say Happy Birthday/Merry Christmas to the best big sister any little sister can have!! She is a little kooky and impulsive but she rocks!! Love you, Jackie!



CHEERS, HERMANA!!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Memories - Tamales

Be warned, this is going to be a long post. I have no pictures of our family making tamales but I have included several pictures of us when we were little at Christmas. Also, I won't be posting a lot next week because I am taking a break from the blogs and we might be taking a little trip. So be warned. Of course, you can always come back everyday and read my old entries but that would be creepy, really, really creepy.

I was thinking about Christmas the other day and thinking back on all the Christmases when I was little. I used to love Christmas time. We usually had lots of people over our house for Christmas. Christmas is also my sister's birthday. But the one thing that stands out in my mind about Christmas is the tradition we had of making tamales to give out to friends and family.

Making tamales is a long and very time consuming process. But of all the Costa Rican dishes, I love these the most. Well tamales and olla de carne. The bottom line is that in Costa Rica you make like a billion tamales during the holiday season. You give them out to friends and family and anyone who comes by your house. You eat them for breakfast and at coffee time (sort of like tea time in the UK) and for dinner. At a certain point you get tamalied out because not only are you eating your own but others give them to you as well.

Anyhow, at our house this was something that was done once a year during Christmas and the whole family was involved. The process started a week or so before the day of making the tamales. And you had to have them done before Christmas Eve. The first thing was to gather banana leaves. We lived in Los Angeles and had several banana trees at our house. My dad would go out and cut down the leaves with is machete. He would bring them in where we would boil them and then cut them into a uniform size for the tamales. You can also "grill" the leaves to get them ready. In Costa Rica, you wrap the whole tamale in the banana leaf but my mom used parchment paper and banana leaves. We used the leaves for that flavor but the paper was easier to wrap around the tamales. If we didn't have enough leaves, we bought them at the Mexican grocery store where my mom bought the masa.

The masa is a chore. My mom bought the raw masa and then we had to flavor it and cook it for the tamales. Now this is the part I am not sure about it. Because I remember that my mom would cook up a whole bunch of potatoes to add to the masa. This is the only part of the recipe that I would be iffy on if I had to make my own tamales. Somehow the potatoes were incorporated into the masa and then you would cook them together.

To flavor the masa, we used all type of things. The day before, my mom cooked up a few pork shoulders or butts with tons of spices. There were also a few whole chickens cooked up as well. The meat was heavily spiced because the broth was to be used to loosen up and flavor the masa. The meat itself was used in the tamales. So the day before it was heaven in our house with the smell of pork and chicken. Also used were chicharrones (fried pork skin) and pork fat. My god, I am all about pork fat. In later years, we decided that bacon was also a great way to flavor the masa.

So basically once the masa and potatoes were mixed, we added the broth from the chickens and pork, pork fat and finely chopped pork skin to flavor the masa. Salt, pepper, Salsa Lizano, Tabasco sauce and other spices were added as well. When I was real little my mom and grandmother were always the tasters. Somewhere along the way, I became the person who had the Final Word on the masa because I had a really good taste for it. I remember tasting it and saying it needed more salt, more Salsa Lizano or more pork fat. I usually said it needed more pork fat all the time.

Once the masa was flavored and cooked, the process of actually putting together the tamales began. Of course before this we would lay out the tamale fillings. Costa Rican tamales are filled with a lot of stuff. I can't remember everything but there were carrots, capers, olives, prunes, raisins , peas, pork, chicken, green beans, red pepper, garbanzo beans and rice. I am sure I forgot something but that is all I remember. The rice was usually over seasoned especially with pepper and undercooked so that it would finish cooking when the tamales were cooked.

So we had to cut up all these items. Many times we used frozen peas or canned green beans etc. to make it easier. All the fillings had to be laid out on the table so we could start the assembly line. The whole family would help. My dad I remember was the person who would pick up the giant pots of masa and bring it to the table so we could start the process. He also built a fire outside because once the tamales were ready, they needed to be cooked and since there were so many tamales, we cooked them outside. Me and my sister were usually the tamale stuffers.

To make a tamale you take a sheet of the parchment paper that has been cut to a uniform size. You then take a banana leaf and place it on top of the paper. The next step is a dollop of masa. I can't tell you how much masa because that was something you just figured out by eyeballing it. The next item on the tamale was the rice. At this point the tamale was passed on onto the next person who had 3-4 ingredients that they had to add to the tamale. After they finished it went down to the next person who finished adding the fillings. My mother or grandmother were always the last leg of the process because this was the tricky part. Once the items were placed on the masa, the last person would take another smaller dollop of masa and place it on top. Then a smaller banana leaf was placed on top of that. Then the tamale had to be wrapped up like a little present. Once you had two tamales, they were tied together and put aside to be cooked outside.

We used to make hundreds of these babies and it would take all day. Luckily we could sit and I loved snacking on the ingredients especially the pork but I would always get in trouble because some item would always run out faster. But these were the best times ever. We would talk and laugh. It was during those times that I learned so many things from both my mom and grandmother and those were special times. We would also hear all the gossip about the family, which I loved. My grandmother would also tell us stories about her childhood and my mom's childhood in Costa Rica. I remember begging my grandmother to tell me stories I have heard 1,000 times before.

Usually I would make her tell me the scary stories about the hauntings at my great-grandparents' house. She would never say no and although I knew the stories by heart, I always enjoyed hearing them over and over. I especially loved the stories about the dead people she saw and the spirits that would haunt the house and property. I only wish that I had made my grandmother write these down so I could remember every detail now.

Anyway, at the end of the tamale-making process there was always too much masa left or too few ingredients so we made a tamale called a tonto. A tonto (dummy) tamale was the last tamale made. Usually it was huge and jammed packed full of some ingredients and missing others. Usually my dad ate this one. I never liked it because it had too many ingredients and I didn't like that.

As I got older, I would make my mom and grandmother make me my own special tamales. I hated capers and prunes and red peppers so ultimately, I would get my special tamales that consisted of just masa, rice and meat and sometimes an olive. Yummy. To this day I still would rather have my tamales this way.

After the tamales were assembled, the next step was to cook the tamales. My dad would take them out to the fire outside and place them in huge pots full of water. They would cook for awhile. While that was being done, we had to clean up and wait for the the first taste. My grandmother and mom were amazing because this process took so much effort yet they pulled it off every year. Once the tamales were done we had to sample them of course.

Oh the first bite of a warm tamale is something close to heaven. I always hoped my first bite was that of the pure masa with maybe just a little rice. Oh the taste! I would savor it. Then I would move on to my next bite and I always made sure I got a piece of pork in that bite. And it was always a great thing if you got a piece of fatty pork. Exquisite. The unexpected surprise was always the bite of the olive. It was tart and balanced well with masa.

That was the payoff to a whole day of slaving over a hot stove and standing all day on our feet. Once we got our reward, it was back to stacking the tamales in the refrigerator and trying to find a place to put them. Because these were always done right before Christmas, we knew that almost all of them would be gone by the 26th.

People would come on Noche Buena and have tamales. Then they would arrive all day on Christmas. After a few years my parents didn't even invite people, they just showed up. We never knew who would show up but people always did. And they expected tamales. On the 25th, we would also have ham or turkey or both and other foods but the tamales were always the favorite. Of course, when people left we had to give them 4 or 6 tamales to take back home in addition to any presents they got. Once in a while my parents friends would bring their tamales but, to be perfectly honest, they were never ever as good as ours. To this day, I still contend ours were the best ever!

Once I left Los Angeles to live in Miami where I attended the University of Miami, the days of wine and tamales were over. I never found tamales in Miami. But while in school, I would visit my mom and dad in Costa Rica at Christmastime. I would then help my mother make tamales. My grandmother was still in L.A. and my sister would often tell me that she would make her tamales. My grandmother didn't make the full on Costa Rican tamales. During the year, she would make tamales but they were filled with beans or mustard greens. Her bean tamales were one of the best things in this world. God, how I miss my abuelita's bean tamales.

Now I rarely get tamales. I had a few last year when we went to Costa Rica to visit my parents. My mom had already made them so I totally missed on on the process. I think I will have to ask my mom for the recipe and try to make some here in North Carolina. I know I can probably find masa because we have a Mexican grocery store here in town. I know my mom reads this so mami send me the recipe!!

I had to share this story because the one thing that reminds me of Christmas, besides my sister since her birthday is on Christmas, are tamales. Anytime I think of Christmas my mouth waters for those delicious packets of goodness. Oh I am so hungry now.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYONE!!!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wordless Wednesday ~ A Tom Christmas

Tomorrow I will be posting 1,000 Christmas pictures of me when I was little so I decided to post one of Tom when he was a little boy. Here he is with his sister Diane and Santa. He is so adorable!

Happy Holidays!


Monday, December 21, 2009

Off The Hook ~ 200th Post and Giveaway ~ CLOSED

Well, this is actually my 201st post since I added an extra post because of the snow we got but oh well, close enough!

It hasn't even been a year that my blog has been in existence and I already have 200 posts. So under a year, I have been busy writing and documenting my life. It's pretty cool.

Since my 100th post in July, a lot of stuff has happened. I got married. I didn't have Fat Elvis but we had two friends who we dragged to the courthouse to be our witnesses. I also got married on a cold rainy day Columbus Day in the jailhouse. How many women can say that? Not many. It also made for a good blog post. By the way people, I am still waiting for those wedding gifts!!! You can send them anytime!

Also, thanks to the wonderful people at Nutrisystem, I was given the chance to start a journey to a healthier me. It's slow going but I am slowly but surely losing weight. The most important thing is that I am learning to eat better and exercise more. Yay Nutrisystem and thanks so much for helping me out!!

I also became an official gardener and documented all my trials and tribulations in the garden. I learned to put up tomatoes and I still have a bunch in the freezer for winter. Who knew I, Carolyn, hater of everything outdoorsy would actually have her own veggie garden and grow good things to eat. Not me.

In August, I went to my first blogger conference and had a ball and met some real cool ladies who I am still in contact with. Fall came and went and it was freaking amazing. It was a nice Fall and I miss it already.

I traveled here in NC and elsewhere. I had an amazing trip to Cancun with my sister. We also did local trips that were fun. Asheville, Dillsboro and we went to our first corn maze but I didn't get to see children with sickles who would kill you in a heartbeat like in the movie: Children of the Corn. Darn! A real high point came when I got the opportunity to play with an axe and pick and beat the crap out of Ghostface the pumpkin. *sigh, good times* I really liked playing with that axe.

I learned how to scan old photos of my childhood and now I can document so many events. I talked about my grandmother and my other grandparents, thanksgiving memories and the fact that I was a swinger.

It hasn't been all good though. We were almost flooded out. I got attacked by an evil jar of pickles and got beaten up by a kitchen cabinet door. I was almost attacked by a killer bird and on Halloween was almost killed and maimed by a demented jester named Rob. WTH??? So it has been an eventful few months.
In July, for my 100th post I gave away some goodies from Costa Rica. I wasn't sure what I should giveaway for my 200th post. I wasn't even sure if I would do anything but what the heck. I love giveaways and I love giving stuff out as well. So I figured I should do a giveaway to celebrate my 200th post as well.

A few months ago, my sister Yvonne aka Jackie (to me) did something really cool. She was able to go to a filming of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. For those not familiar with this Food Network show, it is hosted by Guy Fieri. Guy goes out and find just that: diners, drive-ins and boy some dives in search of cool cuisine. It is a great show. Plus, I love, love, love Guy. I could watch him all day long. Even Tom likes watching Guy's shows which is amazing since he barely tolerates my extreme obsession with the all things Food Network! But if Guy is on, he will definitely watch. Who wouldn't?

Anyway, while at the shooting of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives my sister met Guy. I am soooo super duper jealous! I would give anything to meet Guy!! But Jackie was so nice as to get him to sign a cookbook just for me. He personalized it and everything!! Woo-Hoo! And because my sister so rocks the house, she also got him to sign an extra book for me to giveaway on my blogs. And here it is for you to see. Isn't my sister the coolest? Thanks Jackie!!

So as a thank you to my loyal followers and to celebrate 200 posts, I am doing a giveaway. You can win this autographed copy of Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. It's really easy to enter. Just follow the rules and comment!!

I also want to thank everyone who comes to my blog and reads it religiously. I know many of you don't ever comment but I know you do come all the time. But you guys should try to comment as I like hearing from you!! I appreciate the support!!


Mandatory Entry:

Comment on this post on why you like my blog or why you would like to win this prize. Hey, if you are here just to win the prize, write that.

Extra entries:

* Tell me which is your favorite post or picture. (1 entry)
* Tweet about this giveaway (1 entry)
* Blog about this giveaway (2 entries)

That's it! Deadline: Monday, January 4th at 11:59 pm EST. I will use random.org to pick a winner so everyone has a chance to win. PLEASE leave an email if your blogger profile does not include it or you don't have a blog. I need a way to contact you. Once a winner is drawn I will contact them and the winner will have 48 hours to reply back before I draw a new winner. Giveaway is open to US residents only who are 18 years of age or older.




Friday, December 18, 2009

Snow Day!

When I woke up today, the landscape was covered in snow. It has snowed the whole day. It's quite pretty and for some ungodly reason I have been out in the snow a few times today. One to take pictures. I have been out about 6 times clearing the snow from the satellite dish and another times just walking around. Once Tom came home, I actually went out and helped him drag some wood to our patio so we can have a nice toasty fire. Now we are hunkered in for today and tomorrow. I think the snow is supposed to clear by Sunday! BRRR Enjoy the photos, it is quite lovely here with the snow especially with the river right there.





















Made an Executive Decision

Nutrisystem is providing me the Nutrisystem food free of charge for my weight loss journey. The compensation received will never influence the content of my posts. No other form compensation has been offered or given.


I have decided that for the next 2 weeks up to New Year's I am not going to worry or stress about my diet. This does not mean I am going off of the Nutrisystem program. But I know that in the next 2 weeks I will be off on some days so in the interest of me not getting depressed or freaking out that I am not losing weight, I am taking a break.

Next week, I will be making our Christmas Eve dinner that will consist of a Turkey, my pork/mushroom stuffing, mashed potatoes, roasted acorn squash and dessert. After that, we might be going on a short trip so I will be eating out. Again, I am going to follow the Nutrisystem guidelines of portion size and also choosing the healthier food but I know that I don't want to freak out if I eat a cookie or don't exercise. Moderation is the key.

So don't expect an update next week and I can only hope I survive the holiday season without gaining an ounce and maybe losing a few!! I am hopeful but I won't promise myself that either. The New Year will bring new weight loss I hope!!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mostly Wordless Wednesday. Oh Christmas Tree! Oh Christmas Tree!

I have come to the sad realization that I take sucky ass photos. I am obviously not a good photographer. My photos lack creativity, composition and style. My food pictures are the worst. I love cooking but after I take a photo I think who the hell would want to eat that crap although the food is ALWAYS tasty. So bear with my crappy pictures of our Christmas Tree. I have two from inside and the rest I went out in front of the house to show you how the tree would look to people who drive down the road. In real life it is actually quite beautiful but my pictures make it look like a stink ass tree. Oh well.

Umm, also notice the lack of presents under the tree. You know you could send us some if you really wanted. (hee hee)












Monday, December 14, 2009

Still Have nothing to say

I am still unmotivated to write about anything. I guess because nothing is really going on here. Tom got sick this weekend as well but whatever we have, he got it worse. We know it's not the flu because there is no fever, nausea or vomiting. We can still eat. But we have the stuffy head, coughing and scratchy throat. Luckily, I am feeling better and feel motivated to clean the house and do the usual boring stuff I have to do.

I am still working on doing a bunch of reviews at my other blog so if you really have Carolyn withdrawals you can go over there and read those.

I have to say that I recently reviewed a Slanket and I totally love my Slanket. Who knew a blanket with sleeves would warm my heart and body?? It is one of the best things I have ever reviewed or owned. It keeps me warm at night when Tom refuses to turn up the heat because he is warm and I am not.

So sorry I have no entertaining stories or tales.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Feeling a Little Down - Sicky Version

Nutrisystem is providing me the Nutrisystem food free of charge for my weight loss journey. The compensation received will never influence the content of my posts. No other form compensation has been offered or given.


Been a little tired this week. I have been a little under the weather and not eating regularly and feeling achy and poopy. I am down a few ounces this week and not happy about it. I feel like I am doing well but it seems like I hit a plateau. I hate hitting plateaus because it means that I need to step it up. Hopefully, I will feel better next week.

You know I always see those Marie Osmond commercials about how she lost 50 lbs. on Nutrisystem and I want to lose 50 lbs. on Nutrisystem. I wonder how long it took her and if the Nutrisystem people are wondering why I am not losing like she did. I know weight loss is a long journey but I want to lose it all NOW! Boo!

By the way, I love Marie Osmond. I remember when I was younger, I wanted to be just like her. Silly, isn't it? And I love Donny. When I was 5, I couldn't decide if I wanted to marry him or Michael Jackson. Obviously, I didn't marry either. I was so excited when Donny won Dancing with the Stars. Yeah, I watch Dancing with the Stars and love it!! Don't judge me! It is so one of my guilty pleasures. I have no idea why I love it so much but I do.

Anyway I digress, a friend of mine lost 8 pounds in one week and I want to lose that much every week but I know that is just not healthy. One to 2 lbs. is the healthier way to do it and I am glad that's how I am doing it. I figure that I can probably lose more on the program if I didn't incorporate other foods and leave myself a little leeway. But then I wonder that if I did that what will happen when I go off the program. Would I be able to maintain the weight loss? UGH!

I think I am in a philosophical mood because I am not feeling well. When I get sick, I start thinking stupid things. Sue me. Anyhow, nothing much else to report this week since I have been busy with my other blog. Somehow it has gotten nuts and I have to catch up on that one before I write more here.

I am so glad Nutrisystem has soup on the menu. I am eating the Chicken Noodle soup which is exactly what I need right now. I don't know what I have. It isn't the flu but more like a mild cold. I have a stuffy head, achy body and just an overall feeling of malaise. Hopefully it will go away by next week.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - Tom's Ornament

While putting up the tree, Tom found an ornament he made when he was just a little tyke. It's a blue clown with a hat and a scarf. I think he was like 5 or 6 years old when he made it, so that's pretty good for a little kid. I have no idea how long he has been carrying this ornament around but it's pretty cute and so is he.



Monday, December 7, 2009

Busy Weekend and Christmas Prep

This weekend was extremely nuts. Fun but tiring. It started out with me going on a baking spree. Last year, I made cookies for Tom's co-workers so he could give out as little gifts. Nothing fancy but homemade cookies make a nice little thank you gift. This year Tom asked if I would do it again. Of course, being the sweet, wonderful, darling wife that I am, I said yes. **snicker** That's how I roll.
So Saturday I spent my day baking. I had received a cookie book in the mail a few weeks ago so I scoured the pages and came up with some ideas. I decided to try making some Jam Thumbprint cookies since I had some of that tasty jam from Imladris Farms that I bought during our Asheville adventure. I also decided on Christmas Russian Tea Cake Cookies, Peanut Butter Hershey Kiss cookies, Chocolate Chip Cookies and Spritz cookies. I decided to try a recipe for the thumbprint cookies from my nemesis: Ina Garten the Barefoot Contessa. And once again, Ina let me down. I followed her instructions and although my Jam Thumbprint cookies tasted really good they came out horribly demented and I blame Ina.

Okay, maybe it wasn't Ina. I decided to use the jam I had bought from Imladris Farms. OMG you have to go check out their site if you are a jam fan because this stuff is soooooo good. I hadn't opened it since we bought it so it was also the first time I tried it. LOVE IT! I think though the problem is that it was a little more runny than the store bought stuff. The cookies then absorbed the liquid during cooking and they spread out and came out looking weird. Of course, nowhere in the Barefoot Contessa's recipe was I warned this might happen. Yeah, thanks Ina! Whatever. Luckily, one bite told us that they were delish!! So sure people will see them and be horrified but if the ugliness of the cookie doesn't stop them, they will have a tasty treat. No thanks to the Barefoot Contessa.

On Sunday, I finished making the rest of the cookies. The Hershey Kiss Peanut Butter cookies were easy peasy to make as were the Chocolate Chip cookies. The Spritz Cookies were a nightmare! Now to make Spritz cookies you have to use a cookie press. We have one that has been in Tom's family for god knows how long. Tom usually is my Spritz Cookie maker but since he was busy with the tree, I had to do it on my own. The damn cookie press is hard to use and it took me several tries and 100 ruined cookies before I got the hang of it. I tried to make Christmas trees but they didn't work so I stuck with the stars. Sure some of the stars came out demented and blobish looking but in the end I covered them in powdered and colored sugar to disguise the hideousness. Let me tell you, a little powdered sugar makes everything look better than it really is.

Tom did a lot of work because he had to climb up to the highest shelves of the garage to get the tree down. We have to have a fake tree because one year we decided to buy a real tree and Scoutie got sick. She started chewing on it and her mouth got a nasty rash. So we never got a real tree again. When we moved back to Florida from PA, we got a fake tree and it is actually quite nice. No mess, no fuss and it looks pretty good.

So Tom got the fake tree out and started assembling it and also decorating it. We haven't had a Christmas tree up for years. The last time was in Florida. The reason being is we are never home for Christmas or Tom had to work on Christmas doing shows at the Caldwell Theatre so it was sort of a waste to do so. And my lazy ass wasn't going to drag the tree in and do it, so I always went without it. I usually grabbed a wreath and some decorations and called it Christmas. I figure as long as I get gifts, I don't care if they are under a tree or under a rock. Just give me presents!

So the whole day was spent baking and decorating and we were beat by the end of the night. Poor Tom got a TV dinner as a meal because after baking for hours, I was in no mood to cook. We were pooped. But the tree is up and the cookies are packed and ready to give away.

I bought some cute little boxes to pack cookies in. They are the perfect way to package delicious homemade cookies.

Anyhow, I am not going to blog a lot this week. I have tons of reviews and giveaways to do on my other blog so I am going to focus on that so I can get them up before Christmas. I also have to finish the decorating the tree. The tree still needs so many more ornaments! I will do a Wordless Wednesday and my regular Nutrisystem post on Friday which I am dreading because it seems like I am a little stalled on the weight loss because of the holidays. I was good with the cookies. I tasted the dough and then had Tom taste the cookies to make sure they didn't taste as horrible as they looked! But I didn't snack on them at all. And Tom took them all to work this morning so I am not tempted to munch on them.

I am also very close to my 200th post!! And I will be doing a special giveaway for my readers so keep an eye out. It's "Off the Hook."