Wishing You a Merry Christmas

Hello and Merry Christmas from Washington D.C. I arrived here yesterday evening, just in time to meet My Parents and My Sister for a cocktail and head to My Sister's apartment for our traditional seafood chowder.

Then we sat by the tree (the real tree!) My Sister put up this year, which now has two ornaments on it (I brought them to her from Three Roses in L-Town). We sat by the tree, drank wine, ate Christmas treats, and listened to festive tunes.

(And then, for some reason, some of the lights went out. Oops.)

Eventually, we went to bed, which is what you have to do if you want Santa Claus to come and fill your stockings.

(He did, bringing us Lulu gear and turquoise from New Mexico and other little treasures.)

After we dug into our stockings, the day got busy. We're talking really busy. We had to drink coffee and eat more sugar cookies and watch part of A Christmas Story. It was hard work.

Then we made brunch. Or, rather, My Sister and My Mom made brunch and I took photos.

It's a salmon and brie breakfast strata from Coastal Living and I highly recommend it.

What's not to like about smoked salmon, brie, Parmesan cheese, and delicious whole wheat bread ...

with cream and eggs poured over it all ...

especially when it has been baked in the oven and is nice and brown on top.

Deeeelicious. We served ours with mimosas, of course.

After that, we relaxed some more. And then actually got dressed and went out into the dreary D.C. day, in order to have a cocktail at Hard Rock Cafe and see NINE at a theater downtown.

Not a bad way to spend the holiday, eh?


Holiday Decor

I love the holidays.

I love the festive reds and greens and golds and silvers of Christmastime.

I love the lights on trees and eaves, the bold leaves of poinsettias, the small tokens of tradition that get displayed each and every December.

I try not to go overboard with decorations around the house, but a few of my favorite things make an appearance every year—and I try to add one new Christmas treasure each holiday season.

Like this pretty gold star, which sits on the dining room table.

And this little silver swirly tree.

This candy cane dish.

A few lovely poinsettias.

And, of course, the tree.

This year, the tree is adorned with brand-new LED lights. Conservative Boy says they're blue, but even so, they look lovely. And they match the lights hanging on the exterior of our house.

Butter doesn't care if the lights look blue at night.

He loves the Christmas decorations (and having his photo taken).

But of course you know which decorations he likes best.


Omelets Diablo

Before he commenced bar-building on Saturday, Conservative Boy headed to the kitchen for another edition of EXTREME Cooking with C.B.

This time, he made omelets. They had ham and salsa and lots and lots of cheese.

When I asked him what they were called, C.B. proudly christened them "Omelets Diablo."

I don't think the Casa del Diablo stocking hat he was wearing while cooking (which is adorned with horns) had anything to do with the name, but I could be wrong.


Building a Bar

Let's get something straight right away.

I did not actually build a bar. Conservative Boy and his buddies built a bar.

I just watched. And clapped ecstatically as the bar took shape ... and thought ahead to the time in the near future when I will have to stain the whole darn thing. But since Conservative Boy doesn't have his own blog devoted to things he tries, I thought I'd share here.

The action began about 1 p.m. on Saturday, when our garage was filled with wood and saws and an assortment of fellows cutting away. By 4 p.m., a number of us were standing around the bar, even though it still had a long way to go.

At 10 p.m., we were still standing around the bar, observing the boys in action. It was like a real-life DIY show right in our basement—how could we not watch?

There are a number of exciting details. Like the shelves for booze and glasses and other important items.

And the cubbies that just so happen to fit C.B.'s recycling cans perfectly.

The bar was finished yesterday and open for business, although as you can see we still need stools that fit. And a fridge to fill the hole below the Crown sign. Plus C.B.'s attempts at sliding beers down the bar were met with resistance since the wood hasn't been sanded and stained yet.

We're getting closer though. And soon—soon!—you can come on down and enjoy a beer with C.B. and The Duke.



I save boxes. Big boxes. Small boxes. Shoe boxes. Shipping boxes. Any boxes.

It drives Conservative Boy crazy. And I have to admit, the boxes have taken over a few areas of our house. I am resolving—before the New Year strikes—to declutter our lives and recycle some of those boxes. But that's a story for another day (maybe tomorrow).

In the meantime, I have to prove to you that I actually use them.

Here's the stack of boxes I took to the post office the other day. All from my closet.

See, C.B.? I told you they're handy to have around.

(Err ... as long as you remember to cover up the FedEx labels when you take them to the post office. The lady at the window didn't look at me very kindly when she had to tape over them.)


Cookie-Making Extravaganza Update: Day 3

As you learned the other day, cookie-making extravaganza day two was a bit of a dud—to say the least.

(Although I have to admit, even the ugly dud Christmas tree cookies were rather tasty. Not that I just ate one with my morning mug of coffee or anything.)

So on day three, last Sunday, I was on a mission to redeem myself. Essentially, my entire day involved only two tasks: studying for ecology (which I don't think I did enough of) and baking cookies. Well, those two tasks and petting Butter. But that's a given.

Day three was all about timing. First I mixed up a double batch of sugar cookie dough (yes, in the shiny new artisan mixer). Then, while the dough chilled in the fridge, I rolled up my sleeves and prepared to redeem myself.

Armed with a brand-new cookie press we purchased on Saturday to replace the lovely old one I broke, I made a new batch of Christmas tree cookies. All I had to do was place the dough in the barrel and pull the trigger.

It worked! It was easy! They turned out wonderfully! I will stop using exclamation points now! OK, now.

After I did a happy dance around the kitchen, I went back to the sugar cookie dough. I rolled, I cut, I baked.

Then, while the sugar cookies cooled, I mixed up a batch of candy cane cookie dough, dyed it, and twisted and baked the candy canes.

Once those babies were done, it was on to frosting and decorating the sugar cookies.

And then, victory of all victories, my cookie-making extravaganza was done.

Well, almost. First I packaged the cookies and fudge up in cute little tins to give to friends and neighbors, loaded some plates with cookies for family, and ate a few myself.

Then I was done. Really done. I sure do love baking, but by the time you frost your 30th cookie it's a bit exhausting.

I think I'll call it quits until next year. Or until I get bored this weekend.


The New Mixer

You may have a noticed a little something different in my last post. Instead of the usual handheld mixer and Pyrex bowl, I gave you a glimpse of a rather shiny contraption with a silver bowl and paddle.

It was none other than my (er ... our) very lovely, brand-new KitchenAid Mixer!

It has been on my "dream kitchen item" list for years, even before I had my own kitchen in which to place the mixer. I've long fantasized about whipping up huge batches of cookies, of mixing bread dough, of all the wonderful things you can do with these stand mixers.

Plus, I worked on enough dreamy kitchen magazines in my last life to know that any stylish, striking kitchen has one on the counter. And you all know that my salmon tile and peeling cupboards are the height of style, so naturally all I needed to complete the space was a KitchenAid Mixer.

This rather heavy creature arrived one day as an extremely generous wedding gift from some very good family friends of Conservative Family (thank you thank you thank you!). And, because of school, it sat on the countertop for about a week, looking lovely yet lonely and waiting for me to use it.

Fortunately, the cookie-making extravaganza was the perfect opportunity to try it out.

It allowed me to make a double-batch of sugar cookies (more on that tomorrow) with ease. It was the only bearable portion of my Christmas tree cookie disaster. And it made the candy cane cookies come together beautifully.

(In fact, they taste better than usual. Is it possible my mixer has magical powers?)

Oh, and did I mention it looks good too? (Although I do need to master taking photos of it. All those shiny parts confuse my precious little point and shoot.)


Cookie-Making Extravaganza Update: Day 2

Saturday was day two of the cookie-making extravaganza. Only it was a short day because Conservative Boy (or Hubby—which do you prefer?) and I had to go Christmas shopping.

It's probably for the best that the cookie-making portion of the day was short. It turned out to be rather disastrous.

You see, I decided that I would make Christmas tree cookies for C.B. They're another of his favorites that he requests every year. Usually, somehow, I skip making them. But this year I decided to oblige. I think that's what you're supposed to do when you marry someone, right? On occasion at least?

So I borrowed the all-important cookie press from Conservative Mom. It's the secret to making Christmas tree cookies and has been around for forever.

Although I've borrowed it before, I've never actually used it. But it looked like a relatively easy process, so I set to work.

First, you need the ingredients:

1 cup shortening
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon almond extract
green food coloring
2 1/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

You begin by creaming the shortening and then adding the sugar gradually. Next, add the egg and almond extract and beat the mixture very well.

Then it's time to sift the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Gradually add it to the first mixture and stir until blended well. Don't forget to add green food coloring too!

Then comes the important part: filling the cookie press. Once it's filled, you simply place the press on an ungreased cookie sheet, turn the handle and, magically, a little Christmas tree cookie appears.

Or at least that's how it's supposed to work.

The cookie press takes a bit of getting used to, so my first couple of cookies were either scraggly or smushed. (Yes, I know smushed isn't a word. But it's my story so I'll use it if I want to.)

Then I got the hang of it. The next couple of cookies were easy to make and quite Christmas tree-like.

Only then I hit a snag. The top of the press, the handle you hold when turning it, fell off.

And try as I might, I couldn't get it back on.

About 20 minutes later, C.B. arrived home from the gym to find me in a rage. I was still trying to get those cookies made, after trying all manner of ways to hold the handle in place, to turn the press with pliers, anything I could think of. It. wasn't. working.

So I resorted to making little Christmas ornaments rather than trees. (At least, that's what I decided to call them in an attempt to be festive, even though I really just wanted to throw them at the wall.)

With C.B.'s help (I held the press, he twisted the handle with pliers) we made a couple more deformed trees. But then we called it quits and went back to Christmas balls for the rest of the dough. Not nearly as exciting as Christmas trees, but they taste the same.

And so day two of the cookie-making extravaganza ended in defeat. I vowed to redeem myself on day three, however.

Did I? I guess you'll just have to wait and see.


Gratitude: Lemon Echinacea Throat Coat Tea

When I am sick or my throat is a bit scratchy or I'm even just craving something warm and soothing, I make a big cup of lemon echinacea throat coat tea by Traditional Medicinals Tea.

A good friend of mine recommended the tea a few years ago when I was feeling under the weather, and since then I always make sure to have some around.

Even if you're not a tea fan, if you have a sore throat I think you'll find it makes life much better—or at least makes swallowing more bearable.

I finally got Conservative Hubby to try it a few evenings ago. Of course, I had to give him my germs first. But then, for the first time in what may be the history of our relationship, he asked if I would make him some tea.

Tea! This is the fellow that until about a year ago hated all hot beverages and refused to drink coffee. Now he regularly drinks coffee in the morning and requested hot tea. I thought I was going to pass out from shock.

So I made him some lemon echinacea throat coat tea and he drank it all without a word of complaint. When I asked if he liked it, he even nodded. Perhaps not the emphatic yes I was hoping for, but he didn't say it was nasty and slam the mug down in disgust.

See? So you'll like it too. I'm just sure of it.

Plus each tea bag comes with an inspiring message. And you can't beat that.


Cookie-Making Extravaganza Update: Day 1

Friday was the first of three days in my cookie-making extravaganza. Or, perhaps a better phrase would be holiday-treat extravaganza, as it's not all cookies.

First, I made fantasy fudge. It's a long-standing tradition in my family to make this fudge at least once—if not twice—during the holiday season.

Then I made Conservative Boy's favorite (well, one of them anyway): peanut butter blossoms.

And finally, I finished the day with a brand-new holiday cookie, that I first spotted after I completed my cookie-baking foray last year and vowed to try this year. They're chocolate candy cane cookies, courtesy of the lovely Pioneer Woman (whose photos are oh so much better than mine and cookies are considerably more perfect—alas, I try).

Don't they look tasty? They are.

You can get the full low-down on the cookie recipe on her site, but essentially it goes like this:

Cream 2 sticks of slightly softened butter with 1 cup powdered sugar.

Add 1 whole egg and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Mix to combine.

Add 2 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix until dough comes together. Refrigerate, covered in plastic wrap, for 2 hours.

While the dough is chilling, unwrap peppermint candies or small candy canes (I used the latter), place them in a plastic bag, and beat them with a mallet until they are crushed.

Use the rest of your two hours to give yourself a pedicure (PW's recommendation) or make homemade chicken noodle soup (that's what I did).

Once the 2 hours is up (or close to it, if you're impatient like I am), preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Roll the cookie dough into walnut-size pieces and place each piece on a cookie sheet. Gently press the balls flat with a plain, smooth surface (I used a Christmas mug to stay as festive as humanly possible).

Bake for 7 to 9 minutes. Be careful not to burn them.

Once you remove the cookies from the oven, place them on a cooling rack and cool them completely.

Meanwhile, melt 4 ounces of almond bark or white baking chocolate (I used the chocolate, although PW recommends the almond bark).

Dip the cooled cookies into the chocolate, coating half the cookie. Immediately sprinkle crushed peppermints on both sides of the chocolate. Gently set the cookies on a nonstick surface and allow them to cool.

Try not to eat them all at once. Then again, it's the holidays.

Go ahead and do it.


A Cookie-Baking Sidekick

I'm in the throes of day two of the cookie-making extravaganza right now.

And at various points during the past couple of days, this fellow has made a point of following me around and licking the floor after me, just in case any particularly delicious morsels miss the counter and end up on the floor. (Admittedly, they often do. I'm not tidy when it comes to baking.)

As you can see, Butter has gotten into the Christmas spirit a bit himself. Yesterday, he wore these festive beads around most of the day. I am sure they made him look particularly handsome when he sat in the window next to Larry and Mo.

(And no, the beads weren't my idea. Conservative Boy found them in his pocket and put them on Butter at lunch yesterday.)

Gratitude: Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

I have never made my own chicken broth before.

I know this statement will garner a mix of reactions. Some of you will be amazed, shocked, appalled. Others will say, "Umm ... why would you? That's what Campbell's is for." And at least one of you will say, "Dirty chickens."

Regardless, it's something I've been meaning to do. I even thought I might do it yesterday. But then I got distracted embarking on my cookie-making extravaganza (more on that later) and, in a quest to make homemade chicken noodle soup with our leftover herb-backed chicken from Wednesday night, I settled for purchasing some tasty broth from the store to complete my recipe.

Despite the lack of homemade broth, the chicken soup was good. Very good. And I am incredibly grateful for it.

There are few things as wonderful as homemade chicken noodle soup. Particularly when you're sick (which I am), it's cold outside (it is), or it's a day that ends in y.

Anything warm and hearty and homemade is reason to celebrate.


Gratitude: My Garlic Press

'Tis the season to be grateful for things large and small.

So I've decided over the next couple of weeks I'll share (sporadically, of course), some of the random things I am grateful for. Some are rather inconsequential, but—in my world at least—fun. Others are much more important and much less tangible.

Today I am grateful for this swell garlic press. Guess which category this falls into?

It was a birthday gift from one of my lovely friends, who heard me lamenting the fact I didn't have one all the way back in June ... and managed to discover I still didn't have one by October and buy this beauty for me.

Life is so much better when your garlic is ready to go in mere seconds, as opposed to the minutes it used to take this perfectionist to dice garlic sans press.

Most kitchen gadgets are overrated and unnecessary (and often forgotten). But I'm pretty sure this garlic press will be an often-used friend for many years.


New Friends for Butter

Meet Larry and Mo.

This holiday season, they're hanging out at Butter's window to keep him company.

He doesn't usually give them the time of day, because he has more important things to do like keep an eye on the neighborhood. But they sure do look good sitting on either side of him.

And when intruders threaten and he's on guard, they make good sidekicks. These penguins look sweet, but they're fierce I tell you. Fierce. Just like precious Butter.

I'm thinking there's a good chance their nighttime presence will draw passersby down our street.

What do you think?