How to Quickly Carve a Turkey

When the Pie and I would fly home from St. John’s to Ottawa at Christmas, we would generally fly Westjet, because they were very nice to Gren and had the longest window where you could fly a pet at this time of the year. They also offer, as in-flight entertainment, Canadian basic cable. Which includes the Food Network and HGTV. So the Pie and I, since we haven’t had cable in our home for years, would often binge-watch food and home shows the whole flight. And this is how we learned, from Alton Brown, Jamie Oliver, and Gordon Ramsay, how to carve a turkey – quickly and efficiently.

Nobody wants to sit waiting for a special meal and have some dude at the head of the table flash around some knives before doing a hackjob on the bird you just spent the past afternoon slaving over, am I right? Best to carve it yourself when you’re ready, lay it out on whatever pretty dish you like and present it along with the rest of your dishes, which are still hot. Now if you’ll remember our tip from the last time we cooked a turkey at Ali Does It, we time it so the bird is ready an hour or two ahead of time, and spends those remaining hours wrapped snuggly under layers of aluminum foil and towels, staying warm and getting juicy.

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Here it is, unwrapped and ready to carve (this one’s a wee one that we cooked up for our potluck). Make sure your carving knife is lovely and sharp for this. I tend to forego the carving set altogether and use one of my stupid sharp knives and my bare hands.

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Start right away by making a cut right along the breastbone of the turkey and following it down the curve of the bone to sever both breasts. It seems very dramatic but it’s effective and easy.

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You may need to undercut the breasts to get them cleanly off.

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Then you can slice them crosswise for thick, juicy pieces that nobody has to fight over. And your whole turkey is now lighter and easier to move around as you get the rest of it.

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Next, go for the legs, and pop those suckers off. If they’re sizeable, slice off that gorgeous dark meat and set the bones aside.

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Do the same for the wings. Use your knife to sever the tendons at the joints.

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Then flip it over and get all that lovely juicy under-meat on the back. There’s more there than you think, and if you’re a fan of dark meat then this is where to find it.

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Now you have this carcass, already stripped and ready for the stock pot (if you’re going to make soup afterwards, which you really should).

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And then you can arrange your meat however you like in your serving dish  (this is an electric skillet to keep them warm in transit – your arrangement will be prettier).

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Wasn’t that easy?

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Baseball Keychain

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Now we get into all the gift posts that I didn’t have a chance to post before Christmas. But this is why we have the DIY Gift tab so you can look ’em up in time for NEXT holiday season. This one is pretty easy, and you can whip up two of these baseball keychains in less than an hour.

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So what you need is a leather baseball (old or new, it’s your choice, though I like the weathering on an old ball), 2 keychain jump rings (they tend to be sold in pairs), a sturdy sewing needle, some red embroidery floss, a craft knife, and 2 small carabiners (optional). You could also use a pair of scissors to cut the thread, but I just used the knife, like a badass.

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First, take your baseball and rest it on a sturdy surface and hold it firmly in one hand. Use the craft knife to cut along the seam of the ball, severing all the threads that are holding it together.

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Now you can peel off the two leather pieces.

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Discard the ball (it’s basically just a tightly wrapped ball of twine).

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Peel off the string that is stuck to the underside of the leather pieces.

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Try to get as much off as you can.

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Now you can pull out the cut stitching.

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Two naked baseball halves. They will be slightly sticky and so will adhere to themselves when you fold them.

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But before you do, make sure to thread a jump ring on and slide it to the narrow part of the leather.

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Now cut yourself a lengthy piece of embroidery floss and thread it onto your needle so that the thread is doubled.

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Start sewing. I thought about using the blanket stitch here but I wanted the thread lines to align with the old stitching grooves so I ended up just using the whip stitch.

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It was easier to align the grooves on my second one.

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Keep going until you get to the other end.

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Tie off your thread and tuck it between the folds of the leather piece to hide the knot. Add your (optional) carabiner and you’re all set. Feel free to monogram the keychain as well.

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Impressions Ornaments

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I saw this leaf imprint necklace at Happy Hour Projects and I thought it was neat. While I wasn’t that interested in the jewelry aspect of it, I thought that the technique would make for some great Christmas ornaments. What you need to do this is simply some oven-bake polymer clay (like Sculpey) and some leaves or other items to make impressions in the clay. Everything else, the silicone work surface, the craft paint, the bits and bobs, those are all up to you. A note on polymer clay – it is not food-safe. Whatever you use to cut or otherwise work the clay should not be used for food items.

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So. Grab your clay. I used a plain white. Work some of it between your hands to soften it and then flatten it onto your work surface. I’d aim for a thickness between 1/8″ and 1/4″.

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Then take a leaf or whatever else you’d like to impress, and place it on the clay. This leaf is about 2″ wide, to give you an idea of scale.

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Press the leaf into the surface of the clay so that it leaves a full and detailed impression. You won’t get as much detail with the small leaves on polymer clay as you would on natural clay (like with the clay leaf bowls) simply because the substance is more resilient.

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Carefully remove the leaf and then cut it out with a cookie cutter or knife. You can cut it off-centre or however you would like. I’m not grading you on these.

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Use a skewer or some other pokey object to put a hole through for stringing.

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We even got Grenadier in on the action, though he wasn’t happy about it. If you want him to step on something, suddenly his paw is a delicate flower and he can do no harm. If you don’t want him to step on something, he will immediately put his full 40lbs of weight behind it.

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So these impressions were not as deep as I would like.

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But they worked out well enough that I figured they’d do.

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Place your finished items on a sheet of parchment and bake at 275°F for 15 minutes per 1/4″ of thickness of your clay. Let them cool completely before handling.

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Done.

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Now we paint. If you want. I used some craft paint  and a small paintbrush to swipe colour over the impression.

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This one I used a dry paper towel to wipe it off, which left the colour on the majority of the ornament.

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This one I just filled in the leaf part as close as I could.

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Then I used a wet flannel cloth to wipe it gently off.

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The Gren ones took a few applications of paint.

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Then I strung them with some hemp line and some wee bells.

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These would make a great addition to your gift wrap arsenal, a cute personalized stocking stuffer, or you could give a few to a person just starting to collect their own Christmas ornaments.

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Clay Leaf Bowls

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My mother is an artist and as such has a lot of artist friends. When I was a kid, a couple of them ran various art schools and camps and to show support, my mother sent me. I have very little artistic skill, but I loved the camps, because I got to learn new techniques and work with my hands. I especially loved working with clay. I once made a beautiful pistol replica (I was a weird kid) but it blew up in the kiln so I never saw the fruits of my effort. My lack of skill hasn’t stopped me in the years since, and when I saw these beautiful dishes from Urban Comfort, I thought, “I can do that!” So I did.

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First, you need to gather yourself some leaves. Go for the fresh ones, as they’ll be the most flexible. In these sorts of projects everyone seems to go for the beautiful fig leaves and things like that. Well, figs don’t grow in this Arctic wasteland. So I went with what was available: various forms of maple (it is Canada, after all), some ornamental grapes, random roadside vegetation … What ended up working the best, however, in terms of creating easy dishes, was from my own backyard: hostas, nasturtiums, and the gorgeous morning glory that has been tumbling over my fence all summer.

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Then grab yourself some air-dry clay (this means you don’t have to shove it in a kiln, though if you have access to a kiln, you should probably use it for these as it will make them much more durable). I picked up a 5kg block of it for $17.49 at DeSerres (actually, I had a gift card, so it was FREE).

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Grab a hunk of it and roll it out to your desired thickness. I used a fondant roller to get a smooth surface. The leaves look better in clay about 2mm (~1/8″) thick, but that makes it much more fragile to handle, so you probably want to aim for around 5-7mm (~1/4″). I use this Kitchenaid silicone mat as a work surface for anything non-toxic, including pies. It’s amazing and portable and easy to clean.

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Now, I did find that if I went straight to leaf pressing and cutting from this stage, my clay was too firmly stuck to the surface to get a good result.

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Accordingly, I carefully peeled the clay sheet off the mat and flipped it onto a piece of parchment paper and went from there. It was just easier and made sure both sides of the sheet of clay were smooth.

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Then you grab your leaves and flatten them into your clay. I used the fondant roller again to get them in there nice and good.

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These ones I am not turning into dishes – I just wanted to see what effect they would create.

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It’s neat.

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Use tweezers to get tricky ones out of the clay and pick out any stray bits of debris.

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You will have some folds and wrinkles in your leaf, just because it’s hard to press something flat that isn’t naturally flat. But don’t freak out – it just adds to the texture.

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Once you’ve gotten your leaf carefully removed you end up with this lovely impression, veins and blemishes and all.

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Use the tip of a small sharp knife (Xacto, paring, whatever) to cut along the edge of the leaf and carefully peel away the excess clay.

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This was way easier to do with round leaves than with the pointy ones, as you can see, and the round ones made better dishes anyway.

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Make a little ring out of aluminum foil and pick up your clay leaf. Bend the leaf into a more natural shape (which it will want to do anyway) and set it inside the ring to dry. Feel free to play with curling the edges up and down, in the way that the leaf would do in nature. I left mine to dry overnight, then I flipped them over (with support) to dry on the bottom for another night.

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Now you’re done! It’s up to you what you do with them next. They’re pretty fragile still, so nothing hardcore. My biggest morning glory ones broke along their vein fault lines just from picking them up wrong.

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But they make pretty neat little dishes for small items, such as jewelry.

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This leaf with a stem makes a nice holder for rings.

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The larger nasturtiums make neat bowls for pocket change. In Canada we recently got rid of our penny, but with both our $1 and $2 denominations in coin, we still have plenty of change kicking around!

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And these grape leaves make a good place to keep your spectacles, if you’re the type of person who forgets where you put them.

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Because the clay is uncured, it tends to scrape off and leave a residue, so I wanted to finish them off a bit. I used an ultra-fine sandpaper to smooth off the edges of each dish. Make sure you do this outside in a well-ventilated area. Not only does the clay dust get everywhere, but you’re also likely to inhale a bunch of it if you’re not careful. Dust off each piece completely before you do anything else. Compressed air is handy for this, but make sure to do it outside.

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I then painted each piece with an outdoor satin sealer that adhered pretty well to the clay surface. I like the soft shininess of it and the fact that it didn’t sink into the porous clay and discolour it.

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Some of the finished dishes. The one on the left is my favourite, because it’s so thin and delicate. I’m betting good money that whomever I give it to will break it within a week, and it won’t even be that person’s fault.

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And some of the bigger ones. I made so many that pretty much everyone on my gift list is getting at least one. And because of that handy gift certificate, this cost me nothing but time!

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Baseball Bracelet

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Major League Baseball is over for yet another season (go Tigers!).  But who says it has to end for everyone else? We have a baseball fan in our family.  Actually, fan is an understatement.  This person is wholly engrossed in obsessed with baseball.  So this is a wee giftie for that person.

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I got the idea from My Ruby Girl and modified it a bit so it would be a bit bigger.

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First you need yourself a baseball, one made out of genuine leather.  This one is from an Ottawa Little League.  Not sure how we ended up with it, but nonetheless …

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Then you take a sturdy craft knife or box cutter and you cut around the seams, leaving a centimetre or two of space. You don’t want to cut too closely because you might cut the threads binding the whole thing together.

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Then you can peel off those little centre bits away from the seam.

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And then you can peel off the seam, all in one piece.

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You can easily pull off all that sticky string.

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Now you want to find the spot where the seam ends and the stitches are loose. Pull a few of those stitches out so you have space to cut the leather. You don’t want to cut the string.

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Now you want to trim off that excess leather, cutting closer to the seam. Not too close, of course, but close enough that it looks nice and tidy. It’s up to you. Then you’re going to fold your long strip in half and cut it again.

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Now you have two bracelets. If you want, you can stop right here, tack on some string or hardware at the ends for fastening and be done with it.

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But we’re going to take it a little further.

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What if we take both strips and sew them together? Makes the bracelet a bit bigger, right? I have some lovely hemp string here in a nice shade of Toronto Blue Jays blue, for their biggest fan.

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I popped open my Altoids tin containing my special needles.

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And got to work with one of the curved ones. It was a little bit of a challenge to force the string through the small holes, and because of the curve, not all the holes lined up properly but that didn’t really concern me.

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When I had finished, I used the existing holes to sew on some vintage plastic buttons.

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I made sure to tie the knots carefully underneath, and I rubbed a little beeswax over the knots to keep them in place.

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Put a little wax on the buttons, too.

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Then I doubled up the thread to make two loops around which to hook the buttons and fasten the bracelet.

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I used beeswax here too, to strengthen the hemp string.

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And then the loops naturally twisted around themselves.

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The finished product.

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I put a little almond oil into the leather, too, to soften it. It’s a nice little cuff.

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Maple-Glazed Ham

The Pie and I took Easter easy this year, and it was just the two of us, so we kept Easter dinner simple.  We had a maple-glazed ham, creamy garlic mashed potatoes, crisp mashed rutabaga, and roasted asparagus with cheese and bread crumbs.

The Pie and I like ham, and we’ve featured it here before.  Because we’re lazy, we always go with a pre-cooked ham, but this year we thought we’d try something a little different in the glaze department.

So, take your ham and take a knife and score the ham all over in one direction, then another, to make diamond-shaped cuts everywhere.  I just scored along the string lines, and that worked fine.

Stud the ham with cloves.

Mix together 2/3 cup brown sugar, 3 tablespoons maple syrup (the real stuff, please), and 1 tablespoon mustard (I went with an organic dijon).

Grab yourself a pastry brush, a very handy item.  Ours are made of silicone, which makes cleanup so much less of a pain in the bum.

Plaster that ham with your glaze. Bake according to your instructions, adding more glaze as you see fit.  If you bake it at 350°F for an hour or so, you should be good.  You are looking for an internal temperature of about 140°F.

Let it rest for a few minutes, then slice it up.

TADA!

Seeding Peppers in a Flash

If you hate taking time to cut the pith and seeds out of bell peppers and their ilk, and you aren’t too concerned with clean cut lines and uniform pieces, try this next time.

Cut the pepper like you’re peeling it, keeping the knife edge just outside where you think the pith might be.

This way the seeds stay stuck to the pith and don’t get all over your counter, and the compostable parts of the pepper are all in one tidy piece.