Saturday, December 31, 2011

It's better to give than to receive

{but sometimes, both the giving and the receiving work out very well!}

We are having a great, extended Christmas with my family. My sister and I both loved the present that we picked out for each other!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

new wheels

We made it through 9.5 years of parenthood without a ginormous battery powered brightly colored plastic vehicle landing in our garage and thought we were in the clear, but when we woke up on Christmas morning we saw that Santa had left Caroline a pink and purple Surfer Girl jeep. She took it for a little joy ride the day after Christmas.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas!

{family Christmas photo made possible by tripod & clearly visible remote timer}

Just a few minutes left of what my kids have named the "best day ever!" And it was definitely a great one. Hope that yours was merry too!

Friday, December 23, 2011

All she wants for Christmas is . . . {drumroll please}

12 treats of Christmas, day 12: candy cane biscotti

I wanted to conclude the 12 days with something über-Christmasy, and bonus points if I could use up some of the crushed candy cane that had been sitting in bowls on my counter for week!! I knew that I'd found my 12th treat when I saw this post for candy cane biscotti on one of my favorite food blogs. What makes these perfect for the holidays, in addition to the fact that THEY CONTAIN CANDY CANES, is that they are really good keepers. Biscotti kind of taste dry and stale to begin with (but in a good way!) when you get right down to it, so if you eat one a week or so after they came out of the oven and they are kind of dry and stale (but buttery! And rich! And chock full o' candy canes!), well, that's how they are supposed to taste. And biscotti are meant to hold up to dipping -- in coffee, in hot chocolate -- so you don't want a dainty cookie that's going to fall apart on first plunge.

I wouldn't call myself a candy cane lover, but I am now a candy cane biscotti lover. The peppermint taste of the candy cane is not overwhelming here, and it's complemented nicely by the buttery cookie. This one is a keeper.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A right jolly old el(ves)

I think we may have gotten in on the early side on the elf craze, because for some reason we had elves causing mayhem at our house around Christmastime before their mass proliferation and takeover of the Christmas land. And now, the backlash has begun (see this hilarious article . I see (and agree with) many of her points.) That said, it's hard to understate how much these kids love their elves. They really do create a kind of Christmas magic for children that only comes with overturned furniture and Christmas trees rolled with TP.

Jacob has always been our most difficult child for the elves to please. Certain elf antics that I personally loved, like the time they joined in singing along with our Christmas carolers, left him seriously unimpressed. But this year Jacob is 9 and has joined Team Elf, if you know what I mean, and the girls tend to be delighted with whatever the elves decide to do.

Like decorating the palm tree? Jacob would have revolted when he was younger if that's all they managed to come up with. But the girls were tickled.

Now I start to worry when they start messing with the lights. Seriously -- we all know how temperamental these things can be. Thankfully they just needed a little untangling and we didn't wake up to a string of white lights that was only half illuminated.

Ah, the old post-it-note-all-over-the-house trick. They must have heard about this one from the elves back at the Pole. Why is it that whenever I need a post-it note, I can't find even one, but we get a bunch of Christmas elves running around the house and they manage to find a whole pad of them to stick all over the place?

Now we like to hold onto boxes in December because we tend to need them for mailing packages and wrapping presents. But David and I had just been talking about how we were probably good with the boxes and really needed to set a lot of them out to recycling, or we'd be buried in boxes after Christmas. And then the elves really drove home that point for us.

One night I could have sworn I heard this kind of knock-knock-knocking sound. When we woke up the next morning, we saw that the elves had been having an air hockey tournament in the basement.

Bix had on his game face.

They were cheered on by some Community Helper puppets.

I woke up early this morning and decided that I'd knock out the final treat for the 12 treats of Christmas project. Yeah -- maybe not. I couldn't even make my (desperately needed) coffee, because the elves had taken my kitchen twine and rigged up some kind of booby trap in my kitchen.

There's always a ringleader -- this time, it was Libby.

One thing about Christmas is that there is a lot of extra "stuff" around, and the elves seem use it to find trouble. One morning we woke up to find Bix's head stuck in the Nutcracker:

Libby (or is that Colline? I seriously cannot tell those two apart, and it drives my kids BONKERS) was trying to work the lever to free Bix (or was she holding the lever up to keep him stuck? You decide.) While Colline/Libby had gotten out the toolbox to look for something that would assist in Bix's liberation. It looks like they found the WD-40 -- even halfway smart elves know that WD-40 and duct tape can fix almost any problem.

Just a few more days with these elves! As is the case every year, my kids will be very sad about that, but David and I will be happy not to have "undo elf mischief" on our daily to-do list. But we'll miss watching the kids react to the daily antics of their tiny red and green friends!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

12 treats of Christmas, day 11: holiday scones (x2)

Well, somewhat frighteningly, it appears that I have/plan to make considerably more than treats than there are days of Christmas. Since I'm running out of days I probably won't get to post the sablés; cranberry, pecan and white chocolate cookies; dipped hot chocolate spoons; and salted butter caramel sauce that I've already made this season. Still on tap for sure are fudge; David's favorite Christmas coffee cake; baked egg nog french toast; and egg nog pannetone bread pudding. Not sure what will end up on day 12 tomorrow, but I'm doubling up today to jam as much in as possible.

First, fresh cranberry scones:

Next, egg nog cinnamon chip scones (my favorite ever. When it's not egg nog season I make them with creamm):

These two recipes have essentially the same technique, so I whipped them up, shaped them, and cut them at the same time; stuck them in the freezer; and baked them straight from frozen (separating them an inch or so during baking and adding a few minutes to the stated bake time). We packed these up for neighbors just to keep 'em guessing.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

12 treats of Christmas, day 10: hot cocoa favors

I've officially given up on trying to get a picture that captures how cute these guys are, but I love these little hot chocolate favors sooooo much. I've seen them all over the web, but they are really way cuter in person. And they are just so useful! Stocking stuffers, party favors, treats for the class after reading The Polar Express, Valentines treats, treats when you are just walking out the door and realize that you have presents for the four main Sunday school teachers, but not their eight high school assistants -- I mean, the possibilities are endless! Just think about how many times in a day you think "geez, if only I had some little hot cocoa favors right now." Er, maybe that's just me. Moving on . . .

They could not be easier to assemble. I bought a big box of disposable decorating bags and a roll of red & white baker's twine (ribbon, jute twine, etc. would be equally cute depending on the occasion). I now have enough decorating bags and twine to last me through nine lifetimes of making hot cocoa favors. Wilton slapped their huge purple logo in the center of the bags, so I cut them off right below the logo and then filled the bags with 2 tablespoons hot cocoa and a heaping tablespoon each of chocolate chips, crushed candy canes and mini marshmallows. Tie off with the twine, and that's it -- much-cuter-in-real-life hot cocoa favors!

Monday, December 19, 2011

12 treats of Christmas, day 9: Red Velvet Cheesecake cookies

Whenever I see red velvet anything (well, aside from drapes and smoking jackets, I suppose), I want to eat it. So when I saw these red velvet cheesecake cookies, I knew I had to make them. I thought they were so pretty and festive! I made mine half the size of what the recipe on the blog calls for (I only used 2T of red velvet cookie dough, but kept the full teaspoon of cream cheese filling called for in the recipe) and they still made very large cookies. In an attempt to avoid the underbaking mishaps I've recently experienced, I ended up overbaking them by a minute or two, but they were still delicious. These are officially added to my Christmas cookie must-bake list!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

12 treats of Christmas, day 8: cranberry margaritas

We sent the kids downstairs to watch the Polar Express during our party intimate get together, and broke out some of these festive cranberry margaritas. David hates tequila, and I don't particularly like drinks that taste too boozy in general, so I'm not really sure which recipe we followed -- it was {a weakened version} of this one, this one, or this one, I think. We served them in red martini glasses that miraculously survived The Great Spring Purge of 2010. Topped off with green decorating sugar and cranberries and limes skewered onto frilly toothpicks - well, drinking one of these you just can't help but feel merry!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

12 treats of Christmas, day 7: gingerbread lattes

I started making lattes at home because I wanted to give up that $5/pop Starbucks habit without actually giving up lattes; plus, I can control the sugar content and the ingredients in general when I make my own. These gingerbread lattes come from one of my favorite crock pot blogs. I had these simmering away in the crockpot, ready to serve at our party intimate get together, and will enjoy them in lieu of my morning coffee all week long.

Friday, December 16, 2011

12 treats of Christmas, day 6: Santa hat cake pops

Making cake pops has gone well for me twice and miserably about a dozen times, but their cuteness (even in their most rustic and amateurish form, see photo above) is irresistible to me, so I continue to suffer through them. Recipe and technique at Bakerella.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

12 treats of christmas, day 5: peppermint bark

The first peppermint bark I ever tried was at Williams Sonoma, when I wandered in there with David during a date night years ago, probably when it was just Jacob (oh and before you feel too sorry for David for having a wife who drags him to Williams Sonoma on date nights, I'll go ahead and mention that we probably stopped at Home Depot for air filters during the same date. Okay -- now you can feel sorry for him.)

Anyway, the stuff is ah-maz-ing. But given what they charge for it you'd think it was some rare truffle that could only be sniffed out by hogs on the endangered species list or something. Seriously - making this is brain-dead easy. You melt the dark chocolate (I use about a pound). Spread it into a pan lined with parchment (I use a 9x13). Stick in freezer for about 20 minutes. Then melt the white chocolate (also about a pound). Spread on the dark chocolate and cover with crushed up candy canes. Let set. Ta-da! Homemade peppermint bark for a fraction of what WS charges for it, and ready in less time than it would take to run to the store for it. Now granted, you'd miss out on that extra trip to Williams Sonoma, which would be disappointing. But it's all about having options!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

12 treats of Christmas: day 4

Gingerbread men.

We are having a party this weekend; well, it's not a party, but an intimate get-together (Candace party! Candace party!)

Since we'll have a bunch of kids here, we are going to set up cookie decorating. I actually ordered gingerbread men from a local bakery, but once I saw this recipe I cancelled my order and decided to make them myself. It almost doesn't matter how the cookies taste since they'll be piled 6" high with frosting and sprinkles, but still, these are reeeeeaaaaallllly good.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

12 treats of Christmas: day 3

World Peace Cookies. AKA, the best cookies on earth.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Twelve Treats of Christmas, Day 2: Santa hat snack mix

I saw this on Pinterest months ago and knew that I had to make it around Christmas.

When I saw those Santa hat bugles, I died. (Now there is another sentence I never thought I'd say). And when I happened upon Caramel Bugles in the store, I knew that it was meant to be. I don't think that David has been as confused by one of my grocery store purchases since the day I came home with Chocolate Lucky Charms (purchased under duress during one of our 27 bathroom runs to Publix during swim lessons).

Anyway, making the Santa hats does require dipping things (here, Bugles) into melted chocolate -- not my favorite activity -- but the end result is worth it. FYI, after trying it both ways, I found that it worked much better to skip the white sprikles and just use white candy coating for the brim of the Santa hat.

The Santa hats are the star of this mix, of course, but you can use pretty much anything you want in it. I used pretzels, rice chex, pecans, and salted peanuts, all drizzled with white chocolate, and then added in red and green m&ms and the Santa hats.

I put the mix into a few large ball jars, but this is going to be gone before I do my food gifting rounds next weekend.

Ho ho ho!!!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Twelve Cookies* (*or assorted other treats) of Christmas

I am sure that I will make at least twelve cookies/Christmas treats this year, so I've decided to attempt to blog them. Because I'm so good at keeping up with self-imposed blog challenges. But I figure that if I actually do it, it will help me remember what I baked, what worked and what didn't work, etc. so I can remember all that for next year (because I really have no idea what I baked last year!

So here goes! Day 1: Speculoos by Dorie Greenspan

This is one cookie that I DO remember making for the first time ever last year, and it will forever be one of my favorite Christmas cookies. It's the perfect cookie for people who like a mild spice cookie around Christmas but don't love really spicy gingerbread. The predominate flavor here is cinnamon. This is the traditional Christmas cookie in Belgium, and what can I say? -- those Belgians know what they are talking about. Speculoos pack in a burst of Christmas cheer in every bite!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christmas tree 2011

We've had ours up since last weekend, and while it's not the best tree we've ever had, it does the job ("the job" being: look festive and make us merry). The decorating process got a little crazy since the kids were eager to help, and the whole thing kind of collapsed into a mass free-for-all with everybody grabbing at (the same) ornaments and going for (the same) branches, which were in many cases too light for the heavy ornament that the child(ren) at issue had chosen. Bickering may or may not have ensued. I admit that I cringed every time Caroline ran off with one my treasured ceramic balls with the kids' handprints (i.e., priceless to me), but as often happens with this kind of thing, any stress and discord associated with the tree trimming has already been forgotten and I have nothing left but magical Norman Rockwellesque memories of it. See also, Disney World Vacations.

Still, I have some strategies to help things run a little more smoothly next year. First, I think we might finally put up two Christmas trees -- a "kids' tree" with the big honking colored lights (preferred by David) and non-fragile and homemade ornaments, and a "Cathy tree" with dainty white lights (preferred by me) and an extremely rigid and humorless white and gold color scheme. This would allow the kids to have at their tree with exclusively non-fragile ornaments, and eliminate/minimize situations in which we have three children diving at a blown glass "Grinch & Max" ornament at the same time. We've talked about doing this for years, especially since we have an empty sunroom that would be perfect for a kids' tree, but it just didn't seem to make a whole lot of sense in the middle of the toddler years when just keeping the kids from knocking down ONE tree was a feat. But we're pretty much past that now, so next year may well be the year. Especially since we've reached a point where a nearly 9-foot tree does not hold even half of our ornaments. I guess that's what happens when you have ornaments coming in fast and furious from the craziest places:

We actually didn't even get through all of our ornaments before we ran out of room, so I'm sure there are some "A-list" ornaments that didn't make it onto the tree this year. When I pack up after Christmas I'm going to follow the brilliant suggestion of a good friend and pack separate boxes of "back of the tree ornaments," "non-breakable ornaments," "ornaments that we'd just get rid of if we were smart," etc. so that it's easier to find what we need next year. So yes, Christmas is still two weeks away, but I've already learned some lessons from Christmas 2011 and have BIG PLANS for Christmas 2012!!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Letter to Santa

Jacob's teacher emailed us the letter that Jacob wrote to Santa Claus in school:

On one hand, I'm glad that Jacob made it clear that he was interested in the official, legally trademarked editions of the Goosebumps (TM) books -- we certainly don't want to wake up on Christmas morning and find ourselves in receipt of pirated merchandise. On the other hand, I'm a little troubled that I can't even remember what his mean sisters might have done the morning he wrote this letter that would have led him to rat them out to Santa in such dramatic fashion this close to Christmas. Hopefully if I can't remember, Santa won't be able to remember either and the sisters will be spared the coal.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

It's not the tree, it's the ideaaaa

(Hens, if any of you are reading, that one's for you)

We went to pick out our Christmas tree last night. It's always interesting to me how each family unit has a different tree-hunting personality. When I was a kid, my dad and sister were the "we need to look closely at every branch on every tree to find the perfect one!" members of the family, while my mom and I were more in the "it's bleeping cold out here, these all look awesome to me, let's just pick one please" camp. (***IMPORTANT NOTE: my mom just thought it was cold, not bleeping cold; I'm sure that I'm the only one who thought it was bleeping cold, at least from high school on). In college, my roomates and I went to a tree farm one year to look for a Christmas tree for our townhouse. We quickly learned that all five of us had very different visions of what the perfect tree should look like, and college girl drama ensued right there in the middle of the farm. It was then that Bruno, the kindly tree farm proprietor with the thick Eastern European accent, intervened with "Girls, girls, girls! It's not the tree. It's the ideaaaaaaa." And at that moment, we were filled with the True Meaning of Christmas, even if someone in our group DID want a tree that was way too short and squat (I won't name names).

In our family, David has the same "examine every tree" gene that my dad and sister have; I still think it's bleeping cold and we just need to hurry up and pick a tree (even though I'm now looking at trees 1000 miles South of where I did as a kid); and my kids just want to run through the maze of trees and make a lot of noise. Even though they did not seem to care about weighing in on the tree that we ended up choosing, they were happy to guard it while David went to find someone to help us load the tree. So mission accomplished: we have a tree, it's in the stand in the living room, and the lights are on. Today, we decorate.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

drama-free St. Nick visit

I knew this day would come. In fact, last year I predicted that it (last year's Santa visit) would likely be the last one filled with Santa-induced angst. Not that I want my children to experience terror. But I admit, I adore/treasure/cherish my extensive collection of Freaked Out Kids with Santa photography. I believe I may have one of the finest collections east of the Mississippi. The dark photo at the end of this post is just one of our many classic Santaphobia moments caught on film.

This year, we headed to our town's Christmas tree lighting event and lined up to meet Santa Claus. Caroline was super excited about it all day long (seriously!); started to have second thoughts while in line; but ultimately went with it. The result?

Three happy kids with Santa (and Mrs.) Claus. I know, yaaaaaaaawn. I mean, I love it because they are my kids and I definitely prefer them to be happy, but it's just missing that extra something you get when the child has trust issues with Santa, like here (a fantastic scientific summary, by the way, and worth a read).

Caroline was so cool with the whole thing this year, in fact, that she went BACK to visit with Santa herself after the big kids had left, holding up the line in the process:

What's next, willingly posing with Goofy? Sniff. My baby's growing up.