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Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

Christmas

Matching jumpsuits for Christmas: My family was multiple shades of awesome in 1976.

Actually, we’re still pretty awesome, even with fewer matching jumpsuits.

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True story: I haven’t had a Christmas tree since 1995 because I adopted two cats in 1996. Two trouble-seeking cats who pursued destruction with an unimaginable ferocity.

It’s possible I could have put up a tree last year, when the cat count was down to one 15-year-old feline who didn’t seem quite as keen on mischief as he once was. Once you get out of the habit of NOT having a tree, however, it’s a lot of trouble to get back in the spirit.

When I saw this Christmas light canvas on Pinterest, I knew it was a project I could handle. Canvas. Holes. Lights. CHECK.

For weeks, I meant to buy a blank canvas, but honestly it’s hard to convince myself to drive around in Atlanta unless I’m LEAVING Atlanta. So if I can’t buy something at Publix, Trader Joe’s, Walgreens or Moes Southwest Grill, I usually find that I can get by without it.

Luckily, my apartment complex parks a big Dumpster in the parking garage on my floor for folks who just can’t manage to haul their cast-offs to the first floor as they’re moving in or out. I spotted two canvases leaning against a big pile of flattened boxes one morning when I darted in to put my trash in the chute.

I think it must be ex-boyfriend art. I mean, the canvases are in great shape, other than what’s painted on them. The one on the left is almost passable, except the longer you look at that big purple flower, the more uneasy and antsy it makes you. Or maybe it’s just me. Art. You know. It’s weird.

I suspect I was supposed to paint over the old paintings with gesso, but all I had was some leftover beige ceiling paint and some red latex from another project. Two nights, two coats of paint.

I kind of doubted my ability to complete a random shape like the writer of the original post did, so I looked for stencils to trace. I found a swoopy, modern-looking tree stencil at Altogether Christmas and ended up drawing it freehand on the back of the larger canvas with a pencil.

First, however, I attempted to estimate how many “levels” the tree should have, based on the number of lights I had (150) and a rough estimate of how far apart the lights would go. And then I gave up and just drew a big swoopy tree.

While watching “The Walking Dead” (holidays! guts! zombies!), I punched holes approximately 1 inch apart along the pencil lines with a sharp kitchen knife (the original writer used an awl, and I’m pretty sure I don’t own one). An awl would have probably made it easier to make standard-sized holes; instead, I had to use my own somewhat distracted judgment. Ideally, I think, the holes should be ever so slightly smaller than the light bulbs being punched through the back. Any bigger and the bulbs won’t stay in without tape (or, I guess, glue); too small and you may stand a change of breaking the bulb trying to force it through.

I had about 20 lights left over when I was done punching holes. Considering the big mess of wires draped along the back of the canvas, a few extra lights don’t really make much of a difference.

The original instructions advised me to secure each light with hot glue, but that seemed like a lot of trouble. It also seemed incredibly permanent, and I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to change any bulbs that burned out if they were glued in. Sure enough, after I unplugged the strand and moved the finished product across the room, none of the red bulbs worked when I plugged the lights back in.

While I don’t pretend to understand Christmas lights, I did remember that I had a small baggie of replacement bulbs. I guess I replaced the right bulb (first red one on the strand), because everything worked again afterwards.

It’s not much to look at in daylight, but it’s absolutely magical after dark. And, above all else, the holidays should be magical.

Onward, then, to the eggnog. Oh, and I guess I have another canvas to light up.

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I have purchased no eggnog this year.

Normally, I would be on my second carton by now.

When I first spotted cartons of eggnog in the dairy aisle a few weeks ago, however, it just didn’t seem worth the calories.

Part of this attitude, admittedly, results from attending boot camp at 5:30 a.m. three days a week. I’m not negating that much hard work with 6 ounces of sugar and fat.

Part of it, though, is the realization that eggnog is simply a nostalgic food for me, a trip back in time to childhood.

When I was a child, eggnog was something that I drank only at my grandparents’ house, and only in the days leading up to Christmas. We drank it out of these fabulous Santa mugs:

As my friends Kristen and Harold have noted, however, nostalgia can be burdensome. I can’t re-create those Christmas scenes, and I shouldn’t want to. Every day of the year gives us another chance to create NEW memories. Trying to redo the past, even the little pieces of it, can only lead to bitterness and disappointment.

My brother’s kids are going to remember that Tia always made red velvet cake pops for them at Christmas, and Tia’s going to remind them that, for little girls under 50 lbs., they ate an impressive number of the rich morsels. And in 20 years or so, I hope they come up with their very own tradition, leaving cake pops in the dust if that’s not really their thing anymore.

I’ll give them the Santa mugs, though, if they decide that eggnog is their thing.

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Everybody’s got something to say about the holidays.

As Christmas nears, even the most thick-skinned writers seem to get the nostalgia bug. Some of us simply enjoy the sheer culinary freedom afforded by the season’s party circuit and feel compelled to share their kitchen adventures (cake pops and glittering lemon sandwich cookies are among the festive holiday treats that I urge you to attempt). Others share photos of their sparkling decor, or memories of craftiness gone wrong.

You can find a little bit of everything holiday from some of the best writers in Huntsville in the fifth edition of the Rocket City Bloggers Carnival:

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I got cake balls right this year. I followed Bakerella’s instructions, for the most part, but I also scouted around on a few other food blogs to try to improve on my last effort.

I discovered four secrets:

  1. Chill the undipped cake balls in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to get them firm enough for dipping. If you’re in a hurry and decide to pop them into the freezer instead, prepare for cracked cake balls. I only used the refrigerator for this last batch, and I had exactly ZERO cracked cake balls. More than half of the previous batch, which all went into the freezer so I could dip them more quickly, cracked within an hour after dipping. Plan ahead and leave yourself plenty of time.
  2. Put the refrigerated cake balls on lollipop sticks before you dip them into the melted chocolate coating. This technically turns cake balls into cake pops. Go with it. Dip the tip of each stick into the melted coating before inserting it into a cake ball, then put the cake balls back into the refrigerator for at least five more minutes. The lollipop sticks make the coating process a lot easier, and, if you heed the advice in steps 3 and 4, they give you a more professional-looking product.
  3. Melt the chocolate coating in the microwave if you like, but hold it over simmering water in a double boiler to keep it thin enough while you’re dipping the cake balls. This will make the dipping process go faster, since you won’t have to worry about thickened chocolate that has to go back in the microwave every few minutes. Maintaining the melted coating at the same consistency throughout the dipping process simply results in prettier cake pops, too.
  4. After dipping the cake balls in the melted chocolate coating and letting the excess drip off for a few seconds, drizzle the wet cake balls with colored sugar or sprinkles — if that’s your decor of choice — and stick the clean end of the lollipop stick into a sturdy piece of Styrofoam (you may want to poke tiny holes in it before you start so the sticks will go in easily). This eliminates the flat spot and messy melted chocolate spread on the bottom of the finished cake balls.

I covered the business end of most of the cake pops with a small, clear treat bag and secured it with a small piece of Christmas ribbon, quickly tied into a simple knot (you can also just use twist ties). This made the cake pops fancy AND portable and helped keep them fresh for the better part of a week.

I won’t lie. These take forever and a day to make, and you’ll be cleaning chocolate smears off your stove and countertop and sweeping colored sugar off your kitchen floor for days. But well-made cake pops are beyond delicious and will impress the heck out of most people. Especially the 5-year-old princess fanatics in your life.

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My first thought when I saw the recipe for tiny Glittering Lemon Sandwich Cookies on Serious Eats, one of my favorite food sites, was that I would rename them Princess Cookies and present them to my princess-crazy nieces, thus fulfilling their royal aspirations without giving any money to the manufacturers of inane, princess-themed junk.

Now, I’m convinced that these cookies are much too complicated for toddler tastes. No offense to toddlers.

The end result of a dough heavy on powdered sugar and corn starch (we’re talking 2/3 cup of corn starch) is a crumbly cookie that, to me, resembles shortbread.

I found them much too tart right after I made them, so I figured the recipe was destined to be forgotten. But when I popped open the box Wednesday morning for another taste (first person to ask why I was eating cookies at 9 a.m. gets blocked from comments), they were simply delectable, with just the right amount of lemon flavor and a light, satisfying crunch from the sugar coating.

I’m still not convinced they’re entirely worth the effort (it’s outrageously difficult to balance the cookies after you’ve spread on the filling so that they don’t slide apart), but they’re on the list of favorites this year, at any rate.

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I have a ramshackle collection of holiday decorating accessories — when you don’t put up a tree due to extraordinarily inquisitive cats, you make do with whatever fits on the fireplace mantel. You also don’t buy many new items, since that mantel’s not getting any bigger.

I couldn’t let this golden burst of sparkle sit on the shelf, however, when I found it at the New Leash on Life Marketplace today. Only 25 cents, too, since all Christmas items were half off.

I’m not entirely sure it’s going back in the Christmas box after the holidays are over.

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Kids love routine. You may think it’s exciting that you never know what you’re having for dinner until you pull it out of the freezer or the drive-through worker’s hands, or that you can make it to work/school on time only if you miss that first critical red light, but trust me, children want a degree of predictability.

Growing up, my brother and I had a few entirely predictable Christmas gifts, and I, for one, loved the routine. They were all candy items, and they didn’t stop until we had probably grown too old for some of them:

  • DeMet’s Turtles: Our maternal grandparents would give us each a box of these rich goodies every year. They were pretty basic: caramel-covered pecans coated with chocolate, in a vaguely turtle-like shape. They were also huge: If you ate more than two at a time (and just try to stop us), you could potentially suffer from that mythical stomachache that adults always warned us about. Meh. We were hardy children. No candy-induced stomachaches for us.
  • Chocolate mint patties: My paternal grandmother used to wrap up a box of these for each of us every year. You’d think that, given the popularity and year-round availability of the York Peppermint Pattie, these wouldn’t have been such a big deal, but they were thinner than Peppermint Patties and just more Christmas-y. (My in-laws still give my husband a box of them every year.)
  • Chocolate-covered cherries: My mom always made sure I got a box of these – not sure if my brother ever liked them. I loved biting through the thin chocolate shell to release the liquid surrounding the cherry. Looking back, I’m not sure how I ever ate so many — they may be the richest, sweetest Christmastime treat I remember.
  • Lifesavers Storybook: It was just a little cardboard box, hinged to resemble a book, but it held six or eight rolls of Lifesavers in different flavors and I was ALL about different flavors. Imagine. My favorite flavor was pineapple. I recently stumbled across a Lifesavers Storybook filled with gummy Lifesavers. We would have scarfed those down in minutes — maybe our paternal grandmother knew it would take us awhile to get through a box of hard candy.

We had other holiday traditions. We always went to my paternal grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve to unwrap presents, and left when the weatherman announced that Santa was getting close. My maternal grandmother always put walnuts in our stockings hung by the chimney with care, and we always dumped them back into the walnut bowl on Christmas morning. At some point, my grandmother started making fruitcake cookies every year, despite the face that nobody seemed to like them.

It’s funny that the goofy little things are the ones you remember the best. I can’t recall the “big gifts” that I got from year to year, but I can assure you that I would trade them all for one more Christmas with all my grandparents, swapping turtles and chocolate-covered cherries around the tree.

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Freezing near the Rockefeller Center, I ungloved one hand long enough to get this shot, because I knew I just HAD to run it through the TiltShift Generator.

If I make any more trips to Manhattan in December, I’m getting a pair of those iPhone-friendly gloves.

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I don’t make pretty food. (I also don’t seem to be able to make pretty photographs of light-colored objects.) So why I zoned in on Bakerella’s Red Velvet Cake Balls several months ago is up for discussion.

Whatever the reason, I decided they were the perfect dessert for wherever I was going to spend Christmas. Red velvet cake, mixed with cream cheese frosting and coated in white chocolate, seemed to be the most festive food I could contribute.

I had seen plenty of attempted cake balls on last year’s holiday party circuit. Most were delicious, but they were also about the size of ping-pong balls, making them difficult to eat. Most also suffered from a common rookie mistake: The balls hadn’t been properly chilled before they were dipped in the chocolate mixture, and thus coverage was spotty. Picture big, unruly wads of cake with about 75 percent chocolate coverage.

From the moment I hauled out the mixer, I knew this project was going to turn into a big mess. My old, scratched-up countertop has lost any stain-guarding properties it may have ever had, so I had to be ever so careful not to drop any (OK, much) red batter. Luckily, I had food-safe disposable gloves in the cabinet, because I don’t think I could sell bright red palms as part of the charm on Christmas morning.

Part two of the mess was the actually coating of the cake balls with melted chocolate bark. Bakerella says to use a spoon to dip and roll each cake ball in the chocolate. This didn’t work out for me, and I was left with uneven coverage. A couple of comments on the post recommended using a toothpick for the dipping and rolling; this worked out much better, only it left a tiny hole in the top. A tiny hole that looked way worse after my futile attempts at re-dipping or filling. (I realize now that a little creative drizzling would have upped the wow factor substantially.) And if I didn’t remove the toothpick soon enough, it left a huge crack in the top, leading to a small pile of discards. Tasty, tasty discards.

The non-discards were also delicious. And I guess they looked good enough to eat, since I don’t have that many left.

I’m almost sad to see the holidays end, since now I don’t have much reason to turn the kitchen into my own experimental lab. My solace is the hope that the office Whistling Guy will take the Christmas songs out of his repertoire.

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