Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Day is come, let's all prepare for mirth

It's Christmas Eve, can you believe it? We're in a flurry of activity over here as I'm sure you all are.

We're counting down HOURS now until faithful ones who are dear to us gather near to us once more.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Two Days...I said TWO DAYS!

No photos today; there is just too much to do. It looks almost like a bomb's gone off in here. I don't know how it happens, but getting ready for any major event like this just seems to bring out all the mess in my house like a drawing salve. There's laundry piled all over the living room, wrapping paper scraps and empty bags strewn about the kitchen island and dining room table (both serving as wrapping stations), boots, gloves, scarves and hats draped over every available surface for air drying and dishes left behind from hasty meals and snacks eaten on the run.

I still have to bake one pie and prepare three other crusts for assembly tomorrow, wash, dry and fold the rest of the laundry and get the downstairs under control! You see why I can't be posting photos, right?

In much, much more festive and spectacular news, I GET TO SEE ALL THREE SISTERS IN JUST TWO DAYS! Not to mention both brothers-in-law and my nephew and nieces! I just cannot wait. The four of us aren't all together at once very often (not usually more than twice a year) so it's a great treat when we are! The Viking is very stoked about getting to chill with his brothers-in-law or partners in crime. Though they won't be able to blow things up this time, I'm sure they'll find plenty of shenanigans to get up to.

Right, so I'm off to clean the kitchen and teach Redheaded Snippet the joys of pie crust and fraisage!

Monday, December 21, 2009


I don't care how much snow gets tracked into the house or how much longer it takes to drive anywhere, having a White Christmas is FANTASTIC! We will remember this Christmas for the rest of our lives!

Last night, while The Viking and Man-Cub went out foraging for our Christmas tree, Redheaded Snippet and I decided to try our hand at making marshmallows. Peppermint marshmallows. Which means she sat at the computer the whole time while I made them myself, the brat. But she sure was quick to aid in the tasting of them, wasn't she?

Making these was a bit more involved than I would have thought and I have a new found gratitude for the good people of Kraft for providing me with countless convenient bags of the things throughout my lifetime. That there is the one "action" shot I got: I was super glad for my Kitchen Aid last night. There is no way I would have been able to whip that stuff at that speed for 15 full minutes!

Basically, marshmallows are made of sugar, corn syrup, water, gelatin and egg whites. I added some peppermint extract to give them a bit of a "holiday" flavor and some red food coloring which we'll get to later. You have to melt the gelatin in some water, then dissolve it using a double boiler (at least that's what Martha Stewart says and I am, as of yet, not in any position to differ with her), boil the sugar, syrup and water until it reaches 260 degrees on a candy thermometer, whisk the gelatin into the syrup, then gradually add that mess to two egg whites which you've whipped into soft peaks. After 15 minutes, you get marshmallow fluff! We were sorely tempted to just get out the peanut butter and some bread and forget the marshmallows altogether, but we persisted. Probably because these are intended as gifts and we have no other ideas of what to give people this year!

Once you've poured the goo into a greased, lined and greased again pan, you can use whichever color food coloring you'd like and a toothpick to make fancy swirls. Of course, my version looks nothing like the candy cane-esque version on Martha's website, but there's only so much a girl can do.

And when marbling and swirling is over, the thing just sits out to set. You don't even have to refrigerate it. THAT'S the easy part. I could do that with my eyes closed! The next part? Not so much. I don't even have photos of it because it just wasn't pretty. This is clearly a recipe developed by a woman with an entire staff of sous chefs and kitchen cleaners at her disposal. Quite a far cry from the "servant-less cook" philosophy behind Julia Child's endeavors...

Anyway, after careful slicing and some very messy dabbing of confectioners sugar (I swear it's everywhere now--see it on the counter?), the end result is a plate of intriguing looking, meltingly soft and deadly sweet homemade marshmallows! I'm not sure I want to make more of them so now I have to decide who to give these to. I have a friend who is simply mad for marshmallows so I may just give the lot to her but that means I have to think of something else for everyone else. But at least now I can say I've done it, right?

Speaking of Christmas trees (I was, way up there), here is ours, partially finished. Man-Cub picked it out all by himself and I, for one, think he did a fabulous job.

I've never done this before, but decided to take a few shots of a few of our ornaments. This is one of my favorites: a wax ornament Dharma and Vance bought for us on their honeymoon in Vienna. They bought one for Redheaded Snippet, who was three at the time, and this one for our first son who was only a month old and died within a few days of their return. I love that we actually have an ornament for him and it always brings a bittersweet smile to my face when I unpack it.

When my parents moved from their house to a much smaller apartment, I was endowed with all their old ornaments. These are the ornaments we always had on our tree when I was a child and some of them, like this one, date from when my father was a child. I love the 40+ years of spray snow caked on them.

This is one of the few bows that survived from me and The Viking's first Christmas together. I was pregnant with Redheaded Snippet and very ill, having been hospitalized several times in the first trimester for severe morning sickness. We had neither the energy nor the money for a full-blown Christmas celebration, but we managed to get a small tree and decorate it with a string of white lights and a package of red tartan bows. It was beautiful, in a simple, minimalistic way, and this bow always reminds me of our first bittersweet year.

Another of the ancient ornaments from my father's childhood. I never liked this one as a child; I thought it was weird. But now that I'm older I have grown to appreciate it much more!

Why, hello, Harry! This is part of Redheaded Snippet's collection. She went through a major Harry Potter phase several years ago (I'm still in one) and this was her ornament that year. Man-Cub has a Batman ornament that hangs not far from Harry, but his dark suit proved to be too great a photographic challenge for me. You'll just have to use your imagination.

And don't you just love this one? I found it whilst looking among the branches for a few ornaments to shoot. Maybe someone should take that down.

We decided last night was close enough to Christmas to unpack the creche. This was a gift from The Viking's parents long ago and I am always glad I have it to put on display. It is beautiful but I always find myself wishing most of the figures didn't look quite so Anglicized. I really don't believe Mary, Joseph, and certainly not Baby Jesus (whom you cannot see in this photo but is a blond, curly-headed, little cherub) actually looked like this. I mean, if you're going for accuracy, there probably shouldn't be any blonds in there. But I'm not sure I want to split hairs over it so I unpack it every year and enjoy it.

And, of course, it wouldn't be Christmas without my dad's old Santa bank. This went on the tippy top of our old piano when I was growing up. My mother was the only one allowed to touch it and we were expected to not even breathe too close to it. It was a gift to my father from his grandfather on his very first Christmas in 1948. Fifty-three years later, in 2001, my father gave it to Man-Cub on his very first Christmas. I keep it locked safely away all year and bring it out with the same solemnity and ceremony as my mother used to.

As you can see, we're slowly getting up to speed around here. I managed to get the children to clean their rooms and get the downstairs under control today while I did endless loads of laundry. The tree is up, candles are in the windows, presents are wrapped and I'm just starting to think we might actually be ready in time (keep your fingers crossed)!

Wishing you productive days and restful nights!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Day After

And the dig out begins. We got about 18 inches of snow when all was said and done. Of course, the drifts are varying levels of depth above that, but 18 seems to be about the average around here. It's just spectacular.

The Viking, wise man that he is, set the children to digging around the wheels of the vehicles just enough so he could get in them and then run back and forth up and down the driveway, packing the snow flat. Our driveway is just too long and wide to shovel, especially for a man with two herniated disks.

Redheaded Snippet sure put those superior stick skills to use. I bet she's grateful we provided her with a way to stay in shape during the off season.

I can only attribute the harmonious and peaceful way the children worked together to the lingering effects of the Christmas Miracle Blizzard, though it didn't last long...

Redheaded Snippet, resting from her labors, decided to build a snow child (she has been very precise on that point, a child, not a man). Man-Cub saw this as a display of weakness and an opportunity to mash her into the snow underfoot.

Smelling danger, almost too late, the female turns to see her attacker poised to strike.

I didn't stay to watch what unfolded next, but there were shrieks and howls and the unmistakable sounds of a robust snow fight echoing through the yard. I didn't worry about it as they sounded like they were having fun and The Viking was out there in case things got dodgy.

Well, my tired, wet crew needs sustenance in the form of bacon, eggs and copious amounts of hot chocolate. So this is where I do my part in the Digging Out Project, feeding the team!

Off to fry and boil...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Winter Wonderland

Depending on where you are in the world, you may have heard about the giant Nor'easter which is currently wreaking havoc up and down the East Coast of the United States. We rarely have snow before January here in NJ and today we've gotten almost a foot of snow (last I checked) and it's still supposed to continue another seven hours!

There's The Viking, knee-deep in the beautiful fluffy stuff as he attempts to clean off my car. Man-Cub had a hard time getting through some of the drifts and came in for the night after he ran into a stump hidden in the snow.

Here's the view from our backdoor into our neighbor's yard. The Viking's truck has 4-wheel drive so we were out driving around this afternoon, running errands and stopping over at our dear friends' house for their daughter's first birthday party. It was slow going because of the poor visibility (not to mention the hordes of NJ drivers who have no clue how to drive in snow and freak out at the slightest coating), but we had great fun doing it!

From the kitchen porch. We're back home now and hunkered down for the night. The timing of our stove being completed couldn't be better. We've got plenty of wood and hot chocolate and eggnog and in a few minutes I'm making another stellar Cottage Pie! I think we'll be eating in the living room around the stove tonight! Last night, Man-Cub fell asleep on the floor in front of it with faithful Nutmeg beside him. What a photographic opportunity lost!

After dinner, we're supposed to bake some yummy things: some to give away as gifts and others simply for our own enjoyment. But first things first...time to make some Cottage Pie magic!

Take any hunk of leftover beef you may have on hand and, if it's tough and dried out, give it a braise bath in a pan half full of a mixture of beef broth and wine for about 30 minutes. Trust me, you'll be amazed at how tender and flavorful it is when it's done. If it's just fine the way it is, just cube it up into bite-sized pieces.

Fortunately (miraculously) I did not need to revive this meat. This time. This time I was smart and braised it right from the start. A good searing, then a 3 hour simmer in some beef broth and the last of the cranberry wine with a large onion chunked into it was all it needed. And, I promise you, despite its appearance in this photo, it did NOT look like dog food.

Some minced onion, sauteed in butter...

The rest of the carrots, threatening to turn manky in the fridge, chopped and added with some frozen corn (only veg I had in the freezer: WHERE did that bag of peas get to?)...

About a cup-and-a-half of beef broth, one-and-a-half tablespoons flour slurried with a few teaspoons water, some rosemary and thyme were all that was left to make a nice Cottage Pie base. But, WHOOPS! I forgot we were out of potatoes...dear oh dear...can't have Cottage Pie without potatoes. So, a quick flip through my cookbook and a quick scan online later, the Cottage Pie became...

Beef Pot Pie! Biscuit mix really is a great thing. And I don't mean biscuit mix out of a box. I mean the kind you can make easily yourself with some flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, some sugar and milk, buttermilk or cream! As you can see, we all tore into it pretty well. I actually remembered to stop and take this photo which is quite an accomplishment for me! It was darn tasty. And now I know: this recipe works with either potatoes or biscuits on top. Who can resist a recipe like that?

We ate our delectable dinner in the living room within cozy range of the stove while the weather outside got crazier and crazier. This is the view from the dining room window at around 10:30 tonight.

The view of our deck out of the laundry room window. This is where we let Nutmeg out to conduct her business of keeping our property free of small animals (among other things). She was not happy about having to walk around in cold wet stuff up to her armpits (do dogs have armpits, technically?) in order to continue business as usual. It took a few doses of tough love in order to get her out there. Sissy dog.

And the money shot, my car nearly completely snowed in. If you compare this to the above shot of The Viking you can see just how much snow has fallen in just six hours around here. We're estimating we've gotten nearly two feet and it hasn't stopped yet! I wonder what the grand total will be when we venture out tomorrow. We're supposed to be getting our tree which I'm sure will be a grand adventure! It sure will be a tree retrieval the kids will always remember!

Right, then, it's late and I've got great plans to nestle all snug in my bed while sparkling snowflakes swirl overhead.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Tonight, after a quick trip for some last minute items, The Viking completed a project that we've been dreaming about for almost our entire marriage.

Now, obviously, the stone isn't finished (or started, for that matter) but it's in, it's functional...

It's heavenly!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Getting Closer...

Seriously? Seriously.

I did manage to buy a gift last night and we're pretty settled on what we're getting everyone on our list, it's just a matter of getting out there and buying it. However (and thankfully), it's not the gifts that will be taking up the majority of my time in the next week+ but getting prepared for our Christmas gathering! This is the year all the sisters come home for Christmas (my two married sisters alternate each year with their husbands' families) and with all the expansion we've had since we've last Christmased together, it is quite a logistical endeavor. Thanks to both Dharma and Lobelia's fruitfulness in multiplying, we now number 15! And, as we seem to be a large family of dog lovers, there are six dogs in the mix when we all gather. That's a lot of turkey! And PIE, don't forget pie! Heavens, if we had five pies for nine people on Thanksgiving, just imagine how much pie there will be for 15! You can probably also imagine how much preparation is needed in the area of linens, laundry, baking, cooking, food prep and cleaning! WHY AM I STILL SITTING HERE??? 'Cause I'm a dolt.

Anyway, in other news, with Christmas being little more than a week away, I am ready to start putting up Christmas decorations! We're toning things down this year, not that we usually go hog wild or anything (we're not those kinds of people), but with The Viking's back in its current condition the garland and giant wreath are just going to have to take a year off. We'll still the wreaths on all the windows and the candles in the windows, but that will probably be it. And I, for one, am thrilled about it! I always prefer a simpler display when it comes to Christmas lights but The Viking always insists on more. We will probably be going to get our tree and putting it up this weekend and to coincide with such a happy and timely event, I will be changing the decor of the blog.

It's time to deck the halls all over the place so stay tuned...

Monday, December 14, 2009

It's Coming...

I just cannot seem to get my rear into gear. And Christmas is only...hang on let's look...EGADS...ELEVEN DAYS AWAY.

This is getting critical, people.

I know, I know, it's Advent and we're supposed to be calm and serene and blissful. But things still need to get done, right? I am having trouble knowing how to get things accomplished without all the craziness and chaos in which I usually partake during what I used to call the Christmas season.

Still redefining Christmas over here. If I don't run around like a fiend for a solid month before the 25th, getting done all the things everyone else tells me I need to do, when, exactly, am I supposed to do the things I AM supposed to do?

I think, maybe, I've been misusing Advent. It is not an excuse to be lazy and procrastinate after all, is it?

In my defense, things have been a wee bit unusual around here. True, Redheaded Snippet is not doing basketball this year which has been a HUGE improvement, schedule-wise, and The Viking's back is getting gradually better all the time, but there always seems to be some kind of wackiness to fill in the gaps when other wackiness departs from us.

We're having our stove put in, which you know about. It's still not done. I don't really want to talk about it. Okay, being no stranger to home improvement projects, I am fully aware that NO project EVER goes as quickly or smoothly as you think and predict it will. There is ALWAYS some unseen problem and some surprising drama. Otherwise, they wouldn't be able to fill all those programming hours on HGTV. Can you imagine? Today on Home Renovators, Joe and Darlene are upgrading their upstairs bathroom, taking an out-dated, boring, 1980's-style glorified closet and turning it into an up-dated, boring, 2009-style glorified closet with a granite vanity and cocoa paint! They finish the project in the allotted time and within budget and they like it very much. BORING!

Or how about this:

Today, on House Hunters, Mike and Joann are looking for a modest 3 bedroom, 1.5 bath home in a middle-class neighborhood in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Their budget is $300,000 and they have plenty of time to move. They find the perfect house on their very first try. Moving day goes super-smoothly and, three months later, they still like their new, boring house a lot. SNORE!

Okay, I digress (how unlike me).

So, yeah, I knew things would decidedly NOT go as planned. But, I did NOT think it would take THIS long to get the job done. It's going to get done, there is no major drama; we didn't have to move a wall or evict a colony of pests or call the fire department or anything. But, we're not going to have the cozy living room hearth by Christmas that we were dreaming of. It may or may not be functional by this evening, but it certainly isn't going to be pretty.

Long story short, the project took a lot longer and we don't have enough money in our budget to pay the very nice, very honest man who is doing the installation for the extra time he's going to have to put in. He wants to just put in the time and have us pay him the amount he originally quoted us, but The Viking won't have it. As a part-time handyman himself, he understands how these things go and while he appreciates the man's integrity does not want him to put all those hours in and not be compensated for it (and we just can't afford to do that). So, our honest, nice installer is going to finish the pipe/chimney thing so the stove is functional and The Viking is going to finish the aesthetic part (the stone facing for the walls and floor) himself (and with lots of help).

As long as we can use the thing before Christmas, I will be placated. I just want ONE evening of sitting in front of a blazing fire in my own living room with Christmas carols blaring or Holiday Inn on the television, stringing popcorn and cranberries or wrapping gifts. Is that so wrong?

Anyway, The Viking is going away on a two-day business trip (BOO) so the kids and I are on our own for 47 hours. Yikes. One good thing, we get to have pancakes and bacon for dinner tonight! The Viking hates breakfast for dinner but the kids and I love it so we whoop it up whenever he's not here. And Man-Cub will get to sleep in our bed with me. They're little things, but they help make The Viking's absence not so horrible. I hate it when he's not here; it just doesn't feel right at all. If only our silly dog would bark at creatures that walk on two legs and have no fur, I might feel a little better...

Well, I suppose I'd better get my chores done and then see about getting some Christmas shopping done. I'm going to try to do the vast majority of my shopping online again this year. I hate shopping, especially at Christmas time and am hoping I can avoid the long lines and cranky people and fake sales completely this year.

Off to the salt mines...