Tuesday, December 31, 2019

~~December~~





















 We had a wonderful December, full of ups and downs, just like it is every year. Last year I was so overwhelmed by the time Christmas came around that the day after Christmas I made a plan for the following year. Starting with September I put holiday to do list post it notes on the calendar. It was very helpful and a huge improvement over the previous year. I got my shopping done a lot earlier and it helped me not buy extra stuff. This year every time I walked through a shop and saw something little and cute I thought, "I don't need to buy that. Christmas shopping, especially stocking stuffers, is done already." This year, like last year, I helped organize the school Book Fair at Annie Bloom's Books, a local bookstore, in November and did a bunch of holiday shopping at that. The post it notes ensured that I had shopping and wrapping mostly finished early, the holiday menus planned early, and Christmas cards in the mail before Christmas. If I had followed all of my instructions I would have also baked and frozen cookies and lasagna in November and not saved making the teachers' gifts (jam) for the day before they were needed. As it turned out I made and froze the lasagnas less than a week before Christmas, made spritz cookies (my favorite) two days before Christmas, and still have yet to bake and frost traditional sugar cookies. Next year I will do the baking in November; lesson learned.

This is our kitty's first Christmas and he has had so much fun climbing the Christmas tree. Some days he climbs it multiple times, other days he doesn't even look at it. We have also discovered his love of white bread products, finding bite marks through plastic bags into rolls and tortillas. So strange (and annoying). Every evening he curls up on the floor of the kitchen while I make dinner and try not to step on him. Dean made him a last minute stocking this year, complete with a drawing of him on it.

Every year my mom makes ornaments to give to everyone. Last year her ornaments were pieced out of paper, the year before she collected seed pods, painted them and added ribbon, a few years before that she repurposed cat food can lids (the funniest!), and this year she used buttons and pins. They're all unique and so beautiful.

For Christmas Eve I made Cornish Game Hens, mashed potatoes, and roasted brussels sprouts. Even with all of my earlier planning, I was still overwhelmed and in tears on Christmas Eve morning, staring at a huge list of things still to do. The previous day I had listened to a podcast from The Lazy Genius titled "A Christmas Pep Talk" and I totally needed it. As I was feeling overwhelmed I remember her saying something like, 'remember what matters and put your energy toward that.' I told my family I needed help. My husband smiled, said this happens every year, and asked how he could help. I scrapped the plans to bake and frost cookies (sorry kids), and sent my husband to the store for rolls and cinnamon rolls in a can. I just couldn't do it all from scratch this year. I still had to do some cooking, yes, but also enjoy the day which is the whole point of it.

We wouldn't have had mashed potatoes that night if I hadn't already made them in advance. Also, I learned that if russet potatoes are gently boiled with their skins on, the skins can be easily peeled off once they're cooked and cooled a bit. My least favorite aspect of making mashed potatoes is peeling them, and now I don't ever have to do it again. Hooray for small wins!

After dinner we watched "Will Vinton's Claymation Christmas," our family tradition and drank hot chocolate. The kids reluctantly went to bed. I put on Love Actually, sadly one of the only Christmas movies we managed to watch this year, and started getting everything ready. I loaded the dishwasher and finished wrapping gifts in the garage. My mom always spends the night on Christmas Eve so she can be with us Christmas morning. I missed many parts of the movie but got to see Hugh Grant do his dance, which is my favorite part. It's so awkward and funny!

Christmas Day was busy and great. We thoroughly enjoyed the cinnamon rolls from a can. Dean got lots of craft projects and started putting them together as soon as possible. Gianna got a polaroid camera and had a lot of fun documenting the day. In the late afternoon some friends and family joined us for lasagna (freezer to oven!), kale/brussels sprouts slaw (more about that in an upcoming post), and rolls. Dean's gift from Santa was a beyblade arena and a bunch of beyblades. They're basically spinning tops that battle each other. Kids and adults were taking turns with the tops in the arena and having a great time. For dessert I made a Baked Alaska Tree. I chose it mainly because I could make and freeze it three days ahead and then apply the meringue and torch it right before serving it. Because I didn't do a trial run, it came out lopsided. We joked that it was a crooked santa hat, a tipping tree, or the sorting hat from Harry Potter. It was hard to slice into but it was delicious. It was filled with peppermint ice cream (vanilla ice cream that I added crushed candy canes and peppermint extract to) and chocolate chocolate chip ice cream. My husband had gotten some very nice tequila as a gift and after dinner we all had a taste. It was a wonderful, gluttonous couple of days, as it should be.

In the days since Christmas we have mainly been at home. We took a hike and grilled some pork chops. I finished a book and started another. Today is New Year's Eve and we are going to a party tonight. The family hosting it has a wood fired pizza oven and I'm excited! Usually we do a First Day of the Year Hike the morning of Januray 1st. We'll see if any of us have the energy for that tomorrow. Happy New Year Friends!


Sunday, December 1, 2019

Baking Buddy









As I prepared my Thanksgiving cooking schedule, Dean volunteered to help me make the pies, specifically the pumpkin pie. He helped get the dough together and then came back when I was shaping the crust. He used some dough scraps to make a tiny crust. I put a little filling in it and baked it up. It was so cute, about the size of a quarter. He popped it into his mouth before I could snap a picture of it! Also, showing my kid a sweater at the resale shop while thinking there's no way he'd be interested, only to have him declare it his favorite sweater and want to wear it all the time, even when in the kitchen, was the best.

I got the pumpkin pie in the oven, only to forget to start the timer. Eventually I checked on it.
The crust is a bit burned, and it has more cracks than I'd prefer, but everyone seems to love it. Whew! I made Gianna's favorite, a Brown Sugar Yogurt Tart. I had planned on making a Tart Tatin, which I've never made, but then I saw the frozen peach pie filling in the freezer and decided that it was meant to be. It was a gamble, trying something untested for a family holiday, but it totally paid off! It took over an hour to bake. It smelled like summer. I also made a Green Bean Casserole from Smitten Kitchen. It is so good. I make it every year.

Our approach to Black Friday is to avoid stores (too much of a zoo!) and get out in nature as a family. We played two games and took a walk in the forest. It was great. For dinner I made one of my favorite comfort food dishes: Pasta Pomodoro. I love it because it is delicious - like restaurant pasta delicious - and I almost always have the ingredients on hand. Canned tomatoes, garlic, spaghetti, parmesan; so easy and simple.

A couple of weeks ago we were at the park with friends. The park is across the street from the kids' old preschool. When there were in school there they got to participate in Soup Day once a month where each kid would bring in a vegetable and they would all prepare the veggies and turn them into a big pot of soup for lunch. Such sweet memories. Well, it happened to be Soup Day when we were at the park that day, and as we were shivering at the picnic table while Gianna ran with her friends, preschool teacher Brynn walked over to us bearing bowls of hot leftover Soup Day soup. It was such a treat. Dean especially loved it and continued the talk about how delicious it was the next day. I took note and decided to make my own special soup yesterday for lunch. One of the great thing about Soup Day soup is that it is different every time because kids bring different veggies each time. So I just used what I had; carrots, celery, a few tablespoons of starina pasta, onion, garlic, dry herbs, a can of cannellini beans, and chicken broth. I made a small amount of soup figuring that only Dean and I would eat it. Vincent isn't much of a soup eater and it had too many veggies for Gianna's taste. It was delicious and Dean and I both really enjoyed it. I was especially surprised to walk into the kitchen and see that Vincent had eaten the rest of it and enjoyed it! I fall in the trap of assuming that my family won't eat something new/different a lot. This was a great reminder that we aren't all completely set in our ways and making something as simple as soup can open new doors.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

This and That











Earlier this month I took Gianna to The Portland Book Festival where we got to see a panel of some her favorite graphic novel author/illustrators. Despite standing in a long line to get in, another line to get a seat, and an even longer line to get books signed, we had a great time. We came home that night, told Dean all about it, and then both kids disappeared into their rooms to draw and write their own comics. The best!

On Friday we got a new front door! After living here for five years we finally got the house painted last summer. It has looked amazing, except for the old scratched up purple front door that we never liked. Now when I pull up to the house it all looks like it should. The only funny thing is that the previous door didn't have windows in it and now the light coming through catches my eye and instinctively I think the door is ajar. While the door installer was here I sorted through the kitchen cabinets, throwing out candy from last Christmas, and weeded out extraneous mugs. While sorting I found a baby tooth I had stashed one night in a cup after the tooth fairy came to visit. I'm crossing my fingers that I can figure out which kid it belongs too...

This week is Thanksgiving and the kids have the whole week off of school. Yesterday and today they had their parent/teacher conferences. Great reports for both of them! We ran some errands, chatted with a sweet elderly German woman in the grocery store check out line who encouraged us to visit her homeland, and went to visit a new bakery. It was glorious. We each picked something out. I chose a croissant stuffed with whipped cream and strawberries, dusted with powdered sugar. Gianna picked an almond croissant, Dean a pastry covered with raspberry jam, whipped cream and fresh raspberries. We were all very happy. And now we are home and I am cuddled under a blanket, ignoring all of the baking and cooking that is waiting for me in the kitchen. I've written up my Thanksgiving cooking schedule and I'm already behind by one pumpkin pie. Send reinforcements!

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Minimal














My husband was out of town for almost two weeks and my cooking got quite minimal. So minimal that most of it wasn't worthy of snapping a photo or two. Lots of beans and rice, take out burritos, pasta, and chili. Once he came back, and I didn't have to do everything anymore, I braised some pork, made custard for our Great British Baking Show viewing, and baked some Jam Buns. I tried putting raspberry jam and lemon curd in the buns (which are more like biscuits) and, while the lemon curd was delicious, it spilled everywhere. The jam is a better choice, especially since I made them to go backpacks to be eaten for snacks at school. This week I've been consumed with listening to the impeachment hearings, so I've kept cooking fairly minimal; spatchcocked chicken, sausage with squash and orzo, beans and rice, pasta with meat sauce, chili, etc. Easy and pleasing.

We've had a knitting renaissance here, with both kids picking up their needles after many months or possibly even a year off of knitting. They're both working on scarves. I'm working on a hat that I started forever ago as well.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Full Fall









Last night I made a fire in our wood stove because it was so cold, but now that it is the next afternoon it is warm and wonderful outside. Usually the 6-9 months long rainy season has begun by November 1st, but not this year. This is my favorite part of fall; wearing sweaters, sitting by the fire, warm-ish afternoon walks, chilly nights. I recently got two new sweaters. Well, really the same sweater in two colors; blue and pink. I'm wearing it in the bathroom selfie pictured above. So cozy.

After the cinnamon croissant loaf that we all loved in my last post I decided to bake a loaf of cinnamon swirl bread. It was good, but needed to be rolled thinner to accommodate more cinnamon/sugar goodness in every slice. Lessons for next time... Over the weekend I made French toast with it which was really, really good. I roast a whole chicken almost every week, usually spatchcocked. It cooks quicker that way and more of the skin gets crispy, which is a huge bonus. This week I tried a technique I read about in Dynamite Chicken where the chicken is coated in cornstarch and seared breast side down for the first half of the cooking time. It did result in a crispier chicken, although the skin tore a bit when I flipped it. I think I'll do it again. The crispy chicken is the only reason my kids eat the chicken at all. Honestly it's what I want too!