5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving

5 Things You Can Do Now for ThanksgivingI’m a little bit giddy about Thanksgiving this year, but not for reasons you might think. Yes, I’ll get to spend it in the company of friends, of people I love, and yes, there will be delicious things to nibble and drink, games to play, and fun to be had with some of my favorite faces. But this year, Thanksgiving, or Friendsgiving as it really is, is the first time in five years that I’m not responsible for the meal – and I’m pretty thrilled about it!

Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook for my friends, to feed them delicious treats, to decorate my home and make it super inviting, but it’s a lot of work that starts weeks in advance. This year, I only have to bring two vegetable side dishes, my best beau, some board games…and that’s it! That’s all that is required of me! I’m so excited to spend time enjoying my friends and being very present in the moment, as opposed to running back and forth to the kitchen like I normally do when hosting. I’ll be the girl on the couch with her feet up and a glass of rosé in her manicured hand – and I can’t wait!

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
But all of my years of hosting in the past have taught me a lot about how to have a beautiful Thanksgiving and what you can do days, even weeks, ahead in order to make the day itself less busy and more enjoyable. Let’s take a look at the 5 things you can do now for Thanksgiving!

1. Prepare your Lists
I’m no one if not someone who loves a list. And while it can get borderline neurotic any other time, if you’re hosting any big event or holiday gathering, organization is key. So get yourself situated early on by preparing your four main lists: guest list, menu, shopping list, and your day-of agenda.

  • Several weeks in advance, you should have a firm sense of who is attending the fête and what they’re bringing. Lock in folks on one item or another based on their strengths. Once you know that one person is responsible for wine and another for their famous pumpkin cheesecake, you’re well on your way to organizing your menu and filling in the gaps.
  • Having a menu in place early on should give you a sense of calm as the day gets closer because you know what’s ahead of you. Building in old reliables that you’re comfortable with executing and the rare new recipe or technique allows you the ability to foresee how to structure your time before and the day itself. You’ll know where you need to build in extra time for your first-time making a meringue-topped dessert for instance versus the mashed potatoes you whip up once a month, that feel like old hat.
  • Planning your menu in advance also allows you to buy responsibly. Thanksgiving – and all holidays – can be expensive for the person hosting. If you take time ahead of time to plan a potluck or to designate specific items or dishes to others, it can alleviate some of the financial strain. If you’re going it alone and intend on not asking your guests to bring anything, planning your menu in advance also gives you time to take stock of what you have already. You’ll know if you’re down to half a bag of confectioner’s sugar or have four pounds stacked up in the back of the pantry.
  • A little planning prevents overbuying as much as it helps you to not miss any key ingredients as you head to the store. Organize your shopping list based on the layout of the spot where you plan to do your shopping. You’ll move through your list faster this way and will be less likely to forget something integral. I always make sure to mark on my shopping list what I have a coupon for or what the sale/deal is so that I’m also certain I’m buying the specific item (the 10oz box versus the 12oz box) that is actually on sale.
  • A day-of agenda for executing the meal itself is where many folks would draw the line with list-making, but I promise you that it’s worth doing – especially if you’re new to planning or cooking a big meal for a crowd. Doing so will allow you to have a schedule to keep yourself to – one that has already considered that the stuffing can go in the oven at the same temperature as the sweet potatoes, but 20 minutes after. A day-of agenda also comes in handy once you’re ready to put all the food out to confirm you haven’t forgotten to warm something or put out the dinner rolls. Consider it a little blueprint to get you through the day.

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
2. Ready your serveware, your place settings, and your tools
A week or two before the event is the time to make sure you have everything you need in terms of your tools prior to the event. Take down your platters from the tops of your cupboards, pull out your box of extra wine glasses, dig through your utensil drawer and find the baster and meat thermometer, sharpen your knives. The worst thing is a stressful day before the holiday when you’re scrambling around trying to finish cooking and prepping and you still have to gather together all of the serving pieces you’re going to need the next day. Be good to yourself and take the time to plan so that on the night before, you can order a pizza, maybe trim some veggies, and take it easy. I like to gather all of my plates together, wash anything that got a little dusty during the year in the back of the closet, and then wrap everything in a clean, spare table cloth and keep them on an empty closet shelf.

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
3. Wash and press your linens
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I have a thing for cloth napkins. Do Bear and I use them every day? No, of course not. Laundry isn’t free, nor is it in our apartment, and we’re not jerks. That said, though, I love a cloth napkin when I’m entertaining people, so the week before, I figure out what my table is going to look like and what table cloth and napkins I’m going to use. You know what you don’t want to be doing the night before Thanksgiving? Laundry. Two hours of work weeks ahead of time will save you last-minute annoyance and anguish closer to the holiday. Of course, if you’re thinking of using paper napkins for your event, I say there’s no shame in that. Easy clean-up where you can get it is totally respectable in the face of cooking a huge meal. If linens aren’t where you think your precious time needs to be spent, I get it! No shame!

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
4. Plan your table decoration and layout
A beautiful table doesn’t have to be difficult, elaborate, or expensive. A simple bouquet of flowers separated into smaller, shorter bouquets with a few small tea light candles won’t put you back much and will make you and your guests feel truly special. Pinterest, of course, is a great source of inspiration, so I recommend browsing around in your very early planning stages and getting some ideas. Two things I like to keep in mind as I plan what I’ll have on my table: 1) It’s important for your guests to be able to see each other, so I tend to put together items that aren’t very tall. For Thanksgiving, think pumpkins, gourds, candles shaped like maple leaves, pine cones, etc. An arrangement that includes lower-profile items will be beautiful and won’t risk interfering with conversation. 2) Remember that you’re going to have other things on your table aside from your centerpiece. Be sure you allow room for everyone’s place setting, rogue drinks that make it to the table, extra serving dishes of sides if you’re not buffeting your meal, and elbows! Don’t sacrifice you or your guests’ comfort and ability to stretch out a bit for a really elaborate table design. The whole point of getting together is to enjoy your time together and that’s not possible if you’re getting pushed out by too many wicker turkeys.

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
5. Look to make-ahead dishes
After my first two years of cooking Thanksgiving, it took me about two to three days to fully recover from the amount of work and stress it was – and I was still in my 20s then! But all of that changed as I started to plan better and learned from experience that there were several key parts of the meal I could prepare ahead of time to save me such valuable time. The first? The gravy! Every Thanksgiving I’ve ever had includes this incredible gravy from the one and only Ina Garten. For me, there’s no turkey without this gravy. But you know what? Making gravy in the final moments before your meal goes to the table is hella stressful. It is the worst! So what do I do? I make my gravy two weeks ahead of time and keep it in my freezer. On the morning of Thanksgiving, I thaw it and warm it on the stove (or gasp! In the microwave!) right before we dig in. Sometimes it needs a little whisk or a quick buzz with the immersion blender to bring it fully together, but that’s nothing. Making the gravy in advance is such a time-saver and the result is piping hot, which is never the case when you’re whisking gravy together at the last minute. I make the gravy with drippings from a chicken I roast for dinner a few weeks prior and you’d never know that it didn’t start with a turkey. Take this tip and run with it, seriously!
Cranberry & Clementine Conserve
I also make my cranberry and clementine conserve weeks ahead of time and freeze it as well. For Thanksgiving prep, these containers are your best friends, allowing you to make several different pieces of your meal in advance, and strong enough to withstand the chill of your freezer for a few weeks. Last year, I even made my mashed potatoes a day or two prior (don’t freeze these – the texture will never be the same), smoothed them into a 9×13 pan, covered it tightly with foil, and about 40 minutes out from the meal, I put them oven covered and let them get nice and hot. They fluffed up beautifully as I added them to the serving bowl and there was no last minute mashing and whipping of potatoes either. If you plan a menu in advance, with the possibility of doing some of it ahead of time, you can really take a lot off your plate for the day-of, allowing you to do what you’re meant to: enjoy your friends and family and reflect on how to improve, or contribute more to, our various communities.

Whether you’re hosting your first big meal, bringing a pie, or staying home with take-out and Netflix, I wish you a wonderful, stress-free day of entertainment and one hell of a big piece of pumpkin pie. Enjoy, everyone!

Charlotte & Katie’s DIY Wedding Feature!

DIY Wedding JarsCharlotte and Katie’s beautiful DIY wedding has been wonderfully featured this week on the blog Lesbian Wedding Style Guide! There are photos there to showcase some of the projects we took on and an interview with yours truly.  I’ll have another post or two here on some of the elements we made, but here’s a chance in the meantime to learn a bit more of the story and see some photos of their beautiful day. Won’t you check it out?

Here’s a sneak peek…

Charlotte and I met through our Ph.D. program. She’s since left Minneapolis for a visiting assistant professor position in Ohio, but because it’s not permanent, her partner Katie has stayed in Minneapolis working on her electrician apprenticeship. My priority for their wedding was to stay within their budget while maintaining all the details that would make it beautiful and worthy of them.

Read the rest of the full post here!

Photo courtesy of Ethan Ethan

DIY Photo Confetti

DIY Photo ConfettiOnce upon a time, I wanted to create a design element for my friends’ DIY wedding reception that would wow them and their guests. Knowing that the bride, Charlotte, wanted a way to integrate some photos of her and Katie from their wedding ceremony, which happened a few weeks prior, I wracked my brain thinking of how to do so in a fun, innovative way. That’s when I landed on what is probably my all-time favorite DIY idea to date: photo confetti! This was it! The party idea I had been searching for and after seeking out the right tools and templates, and selecting the perfect shades of coral and navy to match their colors, I was well on my way. Before I knew it, I had cups filled with varying sizes of their faces betwixt pops of color and a bit of gold glitter. I was stoked! This would be the perfect final touch on their wedding reception’s welcome table! DIY Photo ConfettiAnd it would have been…had I remembered to put it out. Wah-wah. Truth is that we were so busy finalizing appetizer trays, piping whipped cream rosettes, and readying ourselves that the final moments of party prep saw my lonely bag of confetti abandoned on a bookshelf, forgotten, until I was home, showered, getting into bed, and suddenly I remembered it! What followed was one of my best cursing streaks yet. Sigh. I guess Virgos mess up after all! DIY Photo ConfettiThis doesn’t mean that we can’t still have a tutorial though and, of course, there are still pictures to ogle and inspire your own varieties. This project comes together much easier than you might think and, truly, the only potential drama of the whole thing is that you’ll want to make sure you have full ink cartridges on your printer or ones very nearby. Or, better yet, you can skip all the at-home printing and upload and order photos fresh from somewhere like Shutterfly, which would definitely cut out the only time-consuming part of this project; I suggest ordering your prints first and then choosing the sizes of your dots. If you go the at-home, DIY route, you’ll need access to Photoshop or some kind of similar photo editing program that gives you the option to create patterns and fill images with them – I hear Open Office is good for this, but I’ve never tried it. I have access to Photoshop CS5, so my directions are based on that particular software and version; I’m happy to try and help troubleshoot in the comments if you run into any issues. There is also a pretty foolproof video made by someone much more qualified than me to explain this whole pattern/fill process we’re going to undertake, so I’ve linked to that below too. DIY Photo ConfettiI knew from the start that I’d be using some hole punches (you can’t even imagine the mess it would be if I tried to cut these out freehand! Oy!), which you can find in the scrapbooking section of your craft store or on Amazon, and decided on two sizes – 1″ and 1.75″. I used the 1″ punch for individual shots of Charlotte’s and Katie’s faces and then used the bigger punch for shots of them together. What I was less clear on was how I could print the images in a way that would allow me to easily punch out the areas (close-ups of the faces) of the photos I wanted to, within the dimensions I needed, and also without wasting a ton of ink printing out whole 4×6 photos. Tricky stuff – but easily mastered! DIY Photo ConfettiThank goodness for Bear who quickly suggested trying to find a Photoshop-friendly template for a button maker online so that I’d have the exact size I needed for the confetti dots and with an allowed rim for bleed – meaning, in case I cut a bit outside where I had intended, I’d still have a little room within the photo itself and wouldn’t be cutting outside it onto the blank photo paper. Admittedly, this wound up happening a few times any way just because when I initially started punching out photos I did so with the photo facing up, obscured by the punch, so my aim was sort of a guessing game. I soon realized, though, that if you flip the photo image-side down, you can see where you are about to cut by turning the punch over, as the underside of the punch is exposed. That observation made this project a lot easier. You’re welcome. DIY Photo ConfettiAfter a quick bit of searching, I found these templates to be exactly what I needed and once I lined up the image in the template through Photoshop, I was able to create a quick pattern out of it (more details below), and then fill a page with my image repeated over and over on it. Once the sheets of photos are printed, the punching out goes quickly. I supplemented the photo dots of the confetti with, as mentioned above, some coral and navy 1″ dots, as well as some gold glittered ones because glitter only increases the wow factor of all things, amiright? I also used my old, reliable standard 1/4″ hole punch to punch out some much smaller dots in order to bulk up the mix and make it a bit more like your standard confetti.

This is such a sweet idea for wedding decorations, or even ones for an engagement or bridal party. I can see incorporating photos of the couple as kids, or awkward teens, to make them really fun! Outside of weddings, though, the confetti is great for pretty much any special occasion – birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, etc. It’s a great, inventive way to add a personal touch to a party and celebrate a certain someone(s). It’ll be the talk of the event – just remember to put it out and use it liberally! This stuff is made for fun!

Think you’ll try making some photo confetti of your own? Have you ever helped a friend or family member with their wedding décor? What did you make? Would love to hear from you in the comments!

DIY Photo Confetti

Supplies
Hole punches of varying sizes – I used 1/4″, 1″, and 1.75″
Scrapbook paper or card stock in your desired colors and textures
Photos printed to the size of your hole punch OR, if DIY-ing this, you will need:
An inkjet printer with both color and black & white ink cartridges
Several sheets of 8.5 x11 glossy photo paper for printers – I used this kind from Canon
Photo editing software, Photoshop preferred
Templates that match the size of your hole punches
Scissors

Directions
Download the templates you will need that match the size of the hole punches you intend to use for the photo dots. Once you’ve opened the templates in Photoshop, paste in your photo, making certain that it resides in its own, new layer below the layers labeled “cut line” and “face line.” The “face line” marks the edge of your image within the dimensions of the template. For example, if you select a 2″ template, the “face line” is the end of the 2″, so what you want to punch out with a 2″ hole punch needs to be within this circle and aligned accordingly. The “cut line” represents the edge of the bleed area in the event you cut a bit beyond the face line or, in the case of this being made to make buttons, the space between the “face line” and the “cut line” is what would wrap around the edge of the button. The video tutorial at Buttonmakers.net is a good resource for understanding this process better, as well as creating a pattern from the photo, which is our next step.

Once you have pasted your photo into the template and adjusted it accordingly to the “face line,” (you may need to change the size of the image in order to get it to fit) hide the “face line” by deselecting it in the layers frame so that it disappears from your image. Next, go to Edit >> Define Pattern and name your pattern something discernible, i.e. Char Face. Your pattern is now saved and ready to use! Open a new Photoshop document that is size 8″ by 10″ and set the resolution to 300 pixels/inch. With the new, blank image open, select Edit >> Fill and then on the “Use” menu, select “pattern.” Below this, you will have the option to choose your custom pattern. Select this drop-down and find your image within the library. Depending on how many patterns you have, you may need to scroll through to the bottom to find your newest one. Select your pattern and then click “ok.” The new, blank image will fill itself with as many iterations of your image it can to allow for on an 8.5″ x 11″ page. You may now print this on a sheet of glossy photo paper.

Once the photos are printed, you can punch out the images using your hole punch that matches the size of the template you used; as a point of reference, I got 12 1.75″ dots out of my 1.75″ template. After punching out all of the images on the periphery of the paper, you may need to use scissors to free up the inner area so that you can punch those dots out too; my hole punch couldn’t extend that far into the page from the paper’s edge. When punching out your photos, turn the image upside down in order to view it from the underside of the hole punch. This will allow you to see what you have lined up to punch, so that you can make sure your image is centered, within your margins, etc. Print and punch as many images and sizes as you desire and follow suit with some dots of scrapbook paper or card stock to integrate colors and textures in your custom blend. If your event is outdoors, you may want to stick with paper that has a heavier weight to it so that it does not blow away. Incorporate a sizable amount of 1/4″ dots in order to really stretch your confetti, but to also increase its tossability …that’s a word now, I swear.

Macho Nachos, or You Can Call it a Comeback

Macho NachosWell, it’s true. Femme Fraîche went on an 8 month hiatus, but I’m back and so excited to be! Readers, the past few months have been a total trip and if you heard about all of it, you’d understand why I was gone for so long. I’ll spare you the more involved details, but leave you with these two major culprits: 1) My gorgeous and expensive camera broke and the $250 price tag to fix it didn’t fall under “immediate need” and 2) We had a bit of remodeling work done on the homestead that completely overtook the summer and early fall. It wasn’t a pretty time here. The kitchen was torn out and unusable for weeks. Bear and I spent more time at Sonic and in Ikea than at home where we were often confined to living in one room while the others were under various forms of demolition. At one point, the only accessible water we had for drinking had to come out of the spout for the tub. Bleak.

The good news is that all of this is behind us, though I did totally have a nightmare about our contractor just two nights ago, so the trauma is REAL. That being said, I’m presently writing you from an updated home where the kitchen has a whole 3ft. of new counter space (up from barely 1ft. Yea, city living!), a tiny dishwasher, and cabinetry like it, quite literally, never had before. Just the perfect space to stage a comeback with these Macho Nachos that get their close-up courtesy of Santa and the new camera he brought me for Christmas. These are perfect for a winter movie night or for the upcoming Super Bowl and satisfy so many different cravings. Let’s get to gettin’, shall we?

Macho Nachos, a river of cheese!Is your first question after viewing this photo “what makes these nachos so macho?” or is it “can I please dive into that and hollow out a home?” The answer to the latter is “Yes, of course you can, weirdo,” and in terms of how these nachos get their moxy, well, let’s just consider their composition. That cheese sauce? It’s a BEER CHEESE SAUCE. You know, like the kind you’d dip soft pretzels into? Yes! It’s smooth and creamy and spiked with just the right amount of ale to make it have that slightly bitter taste that offsets all of the cheese. Studded amidst that boozy golden river of cheese are big, crispy pieces of bacon and slices of a spice-rubbed, grilled sirloin steak. I did say “macho,” friends!

Macho Nachos, Salsa VegBut it’s not just salty, delicious meats and cheeses that make these nachos so macho, you know… It’s big flavors! So on top of all this unctuous goodness is a homemade, charred tomato and pepper salsa that cuts through all of that indulgence with some really bright, fresh taste courtesy of an entire fistful of cilantro, green onions, and jalapeños. This salsa on its own is worth a spot on your Pinterest recipe board for when you want something impressive, but that takes only the effort of pressing the pulse button on your food processor a few times.
MachoNachos, SalsaIn fact, many of the elements on this plate of macho nachos can be made individually to just as many rave reviews as the completed dish. And, let’s just be honest, that nacho beer cheese sauce is going to be good on pretty much anything you put in, or near, your mouth.

Macho Nachos
Macho
Nachos

Makes one large platter, about 8-10 servings

Charred Tomato, Garlic, & Pepper Salsa

Ingredients:
3-4 plum tomatoes, quartered with seeds & guts removed and set aside
1 poblano pepper, de-veined, seeded and cut into large chunks
1/2 large red onion, cut into large chunks
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 jalapeño, de-veined, seeded and cut into large chunks
Olive oil
Salt
1-14.5oz can of diced tomatoes (fire roasted variety is best)
1 cup of cilantro
Juice of half a lime
3 green onions, chopped roughly
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
Hot sauce

Directions:
Preheat oven to 450° F. De-pulp/seed/vein tomatoes, peppers, and onion and add to large bowl. Add peeled and chopped garlic cloves. Drizzle with 2-3Tablespoons of olive oil, toss, and sprinkle with salt before tossing again. Arrange vegetables on a large baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until edges are very dark brown and lightly charred. Remove from oven and then add to food processor with reserved tomato pulp, canned tomatoes, cilantro, green onions, cumin, lime juice, and a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce. Pulse until desired texture is achieved. Store in an airtight container for 7-10 days.

Beer Cheese Nacho Sauce

Ingredients:
4Tablespoons of butter
4Tablespoons of flour
1/2lb. of sliced yellow, deli-style American Cheese (I am partial to Land o’Lakes)
8oz. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1-12oz. bottle of beer (I used Fat Tire’s Amber Ale)
Salt
Hot Sauce

Directions:
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When it is liquified, whisk in the flour, forming a roux. Cook the roux, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes. Slowly add 1 cup of the beer while whisking the mixture and allow to thicken slightly. Add both cheeses and half of the remaining beer. Allow to melt completely and season with salt and hot sauce to taste. Remaining 2oz. (and remainder of 6-pack) of beer go to the chef!

Spice-Rubbed Sirloin Steak

Ingredients:
1 sirloin steak (rib-eye & T-bone would also work here)
Olive oil
Canola oil
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1 Tablespoon of chili powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
3/4 teaspoon of cumin
1/2 teaspoon of oregano
1/2 teaspoon of onion powder
1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika

Directions:
Rinse meat, pat dry, and allow to come to room temperature. Meanwhile, combine spices into a rub. Drizzle meet with olive oil on both sides and then rub spice mixture into meat on both sides and all edges. Heat a grill or grill pan on high with 1 Tablespoon of canola oil and allow to get very hot; oil will ripple to indicate it’s ready. Add steak and cook for 5 minutes, allowing char lines to form. Flip steak and reduce heat to medium high and finish cooking for another 5-7 minutes depending on your desired doneness. When finished, removed meat from pan and allow to rest before slicing or cubing for nachos.

Macho Nachos Assembly
You will need, the above elements, tortilla chips, sour cream, and additional chopped green onions, cilantro, jalapeños, & red onion.

1. Prepare a mountain of your favorite tortilla chips.
2. Pour melted beer cheese sauce over the chips. Be generous.
3. Add ribbons of steak and bacon. Be further generous.
4. Add salsa over the chips to your liking.
5. Crown the pile with a hearty scoop of sour cream, if desired.
6. Sprinkle sliced green onions, cilantro, and diced jalapeños and/or red onion for flourish that your tongue and eyes can appreciate.
7. Serve immediately.
8. Devour!