Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve - not my favorite

So tonight we were supposed to have a cozy evening with friends.  Our kids had plans elsewhere so everything was set.  But then the freezing rain set in.  While in the grocery store buying goodies, our car developed a thick coat of ice.  So we made the wildly unpopular decision that our teen kids weren't traveling to friends' houses, far out in the country, for parties.  Some kids came to our place but plenty still went to the in-the-boonies party.  Making parental decrees is an inexact science subject to plenty of teen ridicule.

New Year's Eve has always been the raspberry seed in my wisdom tooth.  I've truly enjoyed maybe two of them in my life.  Often because the weather is dangerous or downright annoying.  It's supposed to be all fire-worky and noise-makery and kissy but somehow I just end up feeling cold, cranky, and ready for bed.  One of these years I'm going to get a stack of movies, a thermos of hot chocolate, my comfy pjs and invite Johnny C to join me on the couch.

Do YOU like New Year's Eve?

So welcome 2011 - whaddya got?  I'm hoping it's a nice fat bundle of money or a lucrative job offer for Johnny C.  And of course I want all the usual things like good health, peace, all the best for my friends, etc.
How about you?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

After Christmas Blahs

So how are you?  I'm having the stereotypical after-Christmas let down.  Perhaps it's the sudden drop in cookie sugar.  Or maybe the lack of shopping high.  Although I did hit some great after-holiday sales and got some much-needed underwear.  I'm sure you feel better knowing I'm starting 2011 with new panties.

Yours truly was well-gifted this Christmas.  My kids and Johnny C were incredibly good to me; pjs, homemade pots, cologne, a sweater, etc.

Anyway - let me hear your suggestions for pepping up January and February on a shoestring budget. Yes I do have a birthday in January, but that's just one cold day out of many coming without sun or warmth.  Maybe I'll try some new recipes.  What I'd really like to do is spend every single day in my new fleece pajamas with a hot drink in my hand.  Can't we just make a state law that everything is closed if it's below 10 degrees????

Sunday, December 26, 2010

mymy meme

 No one tagged me, but I'm going to just jump right in and play anyway . . . . join me!

1. When do you usually know it's the holidays?
When the stores start decorating, right around Halloween.

2. What do you want for Christmas this year?
I wanted a financial miracle, and that still might happen, but mostly I just wanted a safe warm cozy holiday and I got that in spades.

3. Do you go all out with decorations?
I don't get everything out - each year I pick and choose.  But all the nutcrackers come out for a Christmas parade across some shelf or table.  I'm never really into it, but I'm happy when it's done.

4. What are you doing Christmas Eve?
The other Italian family in town usually comes over, but this year they had the flu.  So we dined well just the 5 of us at home.

5. What are you doing Christmas Day?
What we do every year - open presents, eat waffles with berries and cream, then stockings, then laze around snacking all day, watching holiday movies, and playing board games.

6. It's Christmas time. What are you reading?
Dave Berry's   "I'll Mature When I'm Dead" - I needed a little levity.

7. Favorite movie to watch during the holidays?
"It's a Wonderful Life" and "Muppet Christmas Carol", or "White Christmas"

8. Favorite Christmas song?
O Holy Night, sung by Phyllis Willer at late night services, First United Methodist Church Decorah, Iowa during my growing up years.  Phyllis left us years ago, but that memory will stay with me forever.

9. Favorite holiday drink?
Hot chocolate

10. How is your Christmas shopping going?
I got it all done with lots of time to spare.  We keep the budget low!

11. If you could spend Christmas Day anywhere else, where would you spend it?
In some kind of space/time warp machine so my parents could be with us.

12. Any holiday traditions?
Lots - special ornaments on the tree, waffles Christmas morning, shrimp scampi Christmas Eve, cookies, movies, etc

13. Favorite thing about the holidays?
How people just try to be better and more generous.  And of course the food!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Buche de Noel Success!

I've been wanting to make an authentic Buche de Noel, aka a Yule Log Cake, for many years.  Last year's was a disaster when the genoise cake fell apart.  This year however - SUCCESS!  I used my own trustworthy scratch cake recipe and buttercream frostings.

Here is the "log" before decoration.

And behold!  A lovely log from the snowy forest floor!
 I set Twin #2 to the chore of molding the marzipan.  According to my direction, she created luscious edible mushrooms and pine cones.   The whole thing was as delicious as it was pretty.

Can you spy cupcake eyeing the results?

We've decided this is a new tradition. So fun and so rewarding.
Our Christmas Eve guests had to bail with the flu, but we had a warm and merry time thanks to the spiced wine, chicken parmesan, shrimp scampi, and Buche de Noel.
This has been a wonderful Christmas - wishing the same for you and yours.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve Update

The du Noel has been Buched, the wine is mulled, the nuts are spiced and soon the chicken will be parmesaned, the shrimp scampied, and the Eve-ing underway.  Our regular Christmas guests had to bail with the crud.  But we will make merry on our own.  The Hippocras is one of my favorite holiday drinks - just enough to get all warm and merry.  Just wish I had some medieval-type goblets!

HIPPOCRAS - warm spiced wine

2 quarts of good red wine
1T. ginger
2T. cinnamon (use less!!)
1/2t. nutmeg
6-7 whole peppercorns
9-10 whole cloves
1/2t. rosemary
1 cup sugar

Pour wine into a large glass jar.  Add ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  With a pestle or the edge of a heavy fry pan, crush peppercorns, cloves, and rosemary together.  Add these and the sugar to the wine.  Stir well.  Cover and let stand at least 12 hours - stir once during that time.  We put ours in the mudroom where it's cooler.  Strain well and heat on low or in a crock pot.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Christmas Race is in the clubhouse turn . . . .

The title is from the book above.  Cheesy, perhaps, but this little book has always been one of my favorites.  We're in the clubhouse turn here.  Grocery-getting scheduled for tonight, then a full-on Christmas eve kitchen assault involving Chicken Parmesan, Shrimp Scampi, spiced nuts, and perhaps a Yule Log cake.  Our annual Christmas Even guests - the other paisano family in Northfield - is bringing the salad, bread, and antipasti platter.  Today I'm scrambling with laundry and getting gifts into bags.

Last night I achieved one of my non-gift oriented Christmas activities - visiting the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis:

No, not that one.

This one, which for $6 admission was a whopping good time.  Our planned evening was cut short by inexplicable traffic on I35 - took us over an hour to go 15 miles.  But the one hour we had was well worth the drive.  This place is amazing!  All lit up and decorated for Christmas.  One of my favorite things to tour are old mansions.  I always envision living there.  I took three teens with me and they loved it, much to their own surprise.  They've even got things to entertain little ones.  How did I miss this gem for 13 years?

The evening was rounded out by a drive-through at White Castle on Lake Street.  The teen friend with us had NEVER had a White Castle!  Can you imagine?  He's hooked now.  Another nice white boy discovers trailer-trashdom at my hands.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

Norwegian Sweaters Save Christmas

This is the native costuming of immigrant offspring where I grew up.   Our little corner of Iowa was packed full of Norwegians, better knows as IOWEGIANS.  
These sweaters are ridiculously expensive and therefore the only status symbol among unusually rigid frugal folks.  On the male gender they often substitute for a sport coat.  On the females they are to be worn with sensible slacks.  They are practical as they are beautiful because Norwegians wouldn't have it otherwise.  They are made from such high-quality wool that they can repel water.  And just scratchy enough on the inside to maintain a Norwegian's required daily discomfort level.  They are rated to 40 below.

Appropriate Iowegian family Christmas photos usually involve these intricate coverings.  And if most of the family, or at least those of the same gender, can wear the same print all the better.  Prospective marriage partners must sign legal documents stating their intent to purchase the family pattern before the next holiday photo date.

The above photo is NOT an Iowegian.  Norwegians don't wear their sweaters for active play.  They are for "good" much like those embroidered towels in the bathroom.  You don't muss them up outside.  You wear them to midnight services at First Lutheran, or to the Jul Fest at Luther College or the Christmas Fest at St. Olaf.  They are for quietly sitting and reflecting on your sins, suffering with good Lutheran guilt, and maybe chasing that down with some weak coffee.

PS - Homemade Norwegian sweaters are not acceptable, unless your great-great grandmother made it in Oslo and brought it with her to America in her rosemaled trunk. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Best Things Happen When You're Dancing

Johnny C and I often do this after dinner.  The kids just hate it.  Our house is rather small, and we frequently knock over lamps, knick knacks, and the Christmas tree.  This means I always end up spilling something on my dancing frocks or stepping on someone's head, but small price to pay for pure bliss.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Go back to your homes and places of business . .

I'm as boring as death lately.  Nothing to see here.

Feeling blah going into the holidays.  Johnny C says I state this every December.  Even my predictability has become predictable.

Eating way too many carbs in the form of Christmas cookies and my energy level shows it.  Most days I just want to pull on my elastic-waist pjs and crawl into bed after work.  A good book or movie just seals the deal.

We had a wicked good snowstorm on Saturday - perhaps you heard about it?  It really was something to watch - from inside - with coffee.  Johnny C took it as a challenge and ran errands, including a coffee delivery to Deanna.  He's a mighty handy man that guy.  See below.

Next week school, and therefore my job, are out for winter break.  This year I resolve to keep my parenting expectations low - meaning I've given up on any Ma/Laura/Mary Ingalls moments.  Instead I'll just take it as it comes.  One thing I will do, even if it's by myself, is visit the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis.  They are showcasing an exhibit on artist Haddon Sundblom - the man who solidified the American version of Santa Claus in the Coca-cola ads of the 20th century.  A coworker was gushing about all the other offerings there and now I'm determined to see it.  Anyone want to come along?  My great-grandmother Hannah Petersen from Sweden would be proud of me.

I blame the recent extreme cold for most of my ennui and angst.  Going outside when the air hurts is not much incentive to leave my flannel sheets.  And giant piles of snow just make every single errand such a damned chore!  The thick layering of mittens, parkas, scarves etc does not help - like dealing with the world from inside a sleeping bag.  Add to that the darkness that settles at 4:30pm.

Oh Solstice, where for art thou?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Recurring Dream is Making Me Crazy!

HELP ME!  I've been having this dream almost every night for years  - what the heck does it mean?

We are moving into a large unkempt home in the country or a very large city lot.  It usually has lots of outbuildings, sometimes a pool, usually gardens, with all in need of some TLC.  Throughout the dream I'm very excited about the construction magic Johnny C will work on the place, but also frustrated because I know it'll take a while.  And all of them have a KILLER kitchen and dining room, and lots of bedrooms for kids and visitors.  Often the house belongs to my friend Amy P and has a ballroom in the attic.

Here are some general images:

Inside the house and outbuildings are piles of clutter - some of it wonderful and some of it junk, but we must sort through all of it.  It's as though the previous occupant died or ran away and left everything behind.

What do you think?

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Christmas List

Things I love about Christmas
The smell of pine
The homemade foil/cardboard star on our tree
Really good Christmas music
Winter Walk in downtown Northfield
Store windows
Muppet Christmas Carol
Reading the original Dickens
The quiet of Christmas Eve
A Christmas Story - you'll shoot your eye out kid!
How people just get a little giddy
Our Christmas morning tradition of waffles with strawberries and whipped cream.
My shelf full of nutcrackers, received as gifts from my kids.
Christmas cards
Christmas Eve traditions with the "other" Italian family in town.

Bah Humbug!
Christmas music from Mariah Carey, the Beach Boys, etc
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Merchants putting out Christmas things before Thanksgiving.
All the commercials for big expensive presents
Every year some family's home is broken in to and all their gifts stolen
Missing my parents so bad it hurts
Bragging Christmas letters.
My obsession with frosted sugar cookies and fudge

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Eat Many Cookies

As if National Cookie Day didn't fill my house with enough dangerous carbs, Cupcake brings home another 1.7 cubic tons of homemade morsels from a friend's house.  If we eat only cookies 3X per day I've got every meal covered for the next 3 months.

Now to share; here are two of my recipes that have been requested.  And BTW I always double the batch.  I mean, why go to all the trouble of making cookies without making some for the freezer?

Egg Nog Spritz

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup butter, softened
2t. vanilla
2t. rum flavoring
1 egg
3 cups flour
1t. fresh grated nutmeg (if you haven't tried fresh nutmeg yet, you are in for a real treat!!

Rum Glaze
2T. butter, melted
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1t. rum flavor
1T. water
Grated nutmeg to taste

Heat oven to 350.  In a large bowl, beat sugar and butter on medium until fluffy.  Beat in vanilla, rum flavoring, and egg until smooth.  Beat in flour and nutmeg.

Use a cookie press according to directions.  Form desired shapes on an ungreased cookie sheet.  While I'm partial to using parchment paper for baking, it won't work with spritz cookies.  The dough just won't "stick" on the paper surface and release from the cookie press.

You could also form this dough into a finger-width roll, and cut into small bite-sized logs.  Or you could roll it out and cut small shapes.

Bake 6-10 minutes until edges are lightly browned.  Cool 1-2 minutes then remove from the cookie sheet to a smooth surface for cooling further.

Mix ingredients for rum glaze.  If it's too thick, add more water.  Too runny? Add more powdered sugar.  Pour glaze into a small resealable sandwich bag, then cut off a VERY TINY corner at the bottom. Squeeze the bag to drizzle glaze on the cookies.  Or make it slightly thick and just spread it on with a small spoon.

Mocha Orange Pinwheels

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1t. vanilla
1 1/2 c. flour
1/2t. baking powder
1/4t. salt
1 square (1oz) unsweetened chocolate, melted, then cooled
1t. espresso powder (optional - which sounds silly because the title says "mocha" but it was late at night and I'm lazy so there)
1T. freshly grated orange peel.  Do yourself a favor and use fresh.  Don't use that horrible freeze-dried abomination.

With mixer beat sugar, butter, egg, and vanilla in a large bowl until creamy.  Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt until blended, then beat it into the soft dough.  Divide the dough into two bowls.
Combine melted chocolate and espresso powder in a bowl.  Add 1/2 of the dough until blended.  Mix orange peel into remaining 1/2 of dough until well blended.  Shape each section of dough into a 4x5 rectangle.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 2 hours. (Dough can be frozen at this point.  Defrost WELL before moving on).

Roll out the chocolate dough between two sheets of lightly floured waxed paper to a 12x7 rectangle.  Repeat with the orange dough.  Place the orange dough on top of the chocolate dough.  Gently press them together. Roll up, jelly-roll style, starting with the 12" side.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm.  This roll can wait in the frig a couple of days if need be.

Heat oven to 375.  Cut the dough with a sharp knife into 1/4" slices. Eat the ends immediately.  Place 1/2" apart on parchment covered cookie sheets.  Bake 7-10 minutes or until set.

VARIATION - you can also make these into Chocolate-Cherry pinwheels!  Don't add espresso to the chocolate dough.  And to the other 1/2 instead of orange peel, add 1/ maraschino cherries, finely chopped and drained on a paper towel.  Also add 1 drop of red food coloring and 1/4t. almond extract.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Suddenly, I want a cocktail.

Take 11 minutes out of your day and laugh till gin comes out your nose.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sweet Photos, literally

Saturday was Cookie Extravaganza!  Annually, the lovely MG and I get together to bake piles of Christmas cookies.  This year's event was extra special because 1. We met our MN Blogger friends MommyLisa, Lesli, Whiskey Marie, and Cathy (who's blog has has gone into the witness protection program) for happy hour and cookie exchange and 2. It was National Cookie Day!   Lovely MG once again swallowed the bitter pill of cookie disappointment when his chocolate crinkle recipe failed for the 3rd year in a row.  Gotta admire his tenacity.  The bitterness was magnified by my relative ease at chocolate crinkle success.
MG and I hustled our sugar-coated asses to get to the blogger party on time.  We arrived to a relatively empty restaurant.  With much self-righteous indignation as the time ticked by, we couldn't believe the others had canceled without telling us.  MG searched FB on his Blackberry for cell phone numbers.  We called but no one answered.  Finally Lesli checked her messages and called back. MG and I were waiting in the WRONG RESTAURANT next door!
 MG's sugar balls of butter followed by my chocolate crinkles.

 MG's date/cherry balls which are incredible!!!  Last year I literally made myself sick on them they are that good.  On the right is MG's version of WhiskeyMarie's Fucking Awesome Chocolate Chip Cookies.

 Above are my Egg Nog spritz and Mocha/Orange pinwheels

One of our many Christmas card attempts.  Pretty much all of you are FB friends too, so FB email me your mailing address so you can get a card!
 Above is a pancake I made for cupcake.  Do you see the baby seal in it?  That is NOT photo shopped!  It actually came out like that.
Below is MY version of WhiskeyMarie's Fucking Awesome chocolate chip cookies.

Above, more of my egg nog spritz.

Below is the countdown calendar cupcake and I made.  I'm getting crafty in my dotage.  We used cut up grocery bags and bits from the craft crap bag.  Then strung the little bags on a ribbon and pinned it up.  Each day the "Christmas Fairy" leaves them a little treat.  Yes my kids are too old for this, but hey it's CHRISTMAS so get off my back!!

Friday, December 3, 2010


I'm back - went to work today and all is fine.  Spending a few days horizontal, and on drugs, wasn't too bad.  Except there was a reason I needed the Percocet, and that stunk frankly.

You other Moms - do your kids and husband live like animals when you're sick?  Once I'm thinking clearly I get a good look around and marvel at how fast things degenerate without my consistent nagging.  Proof that I really am the heart of this family, and I need to get healthier so I can keep my job.  The other sad thing about being a Mom is that folks don't take CARE of you the way you do when THEY are down and out.  Don't get me wrong.  Johnny C brought me my drugs, and brought home so chicken fingers.  But they aren't a MOM and don't do it like a MOM.

Right before surgery, when the anesthesiologist is listing my medical maladies, it dawned on me that I'm now a cliche.  A boring fat midwestern female cliche, with the requisite GERD, sleep apnea, etc.  At least I'm not diabetic . . .  yet.

This is not a good realization right before Christmas Cookie Season!  Tomorrow is my annual cookie day with MG, followed by a cookie exchange with the Minnesota Bloggers. So maybe I'll start making better choices on Sunday,  Yeah Sunday, that'll work.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

End of an Era

Tomorrow will be the end of my reproductive life.  Because of some recent "unpleasantness", I'm having my insides redecorated.  Not a total renovation - just a little remodel.

My kids have been vaguely aware this is coming.  Tonight one of the teens asked about some details then, in all caring honesty, asked "So no more babies?"

Nope, no more babies my lovely.  Hasn't really been an option for awhile, but willingly and knowingly shutting that door feels kinda sad.  I have loved having babies more than I can relate with mere words.  Me and my endometrium - it's been a good run.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Full as a . .

I blame it all on my family.  If they weren't such good cooks, I could restrain myself.  But damn if we don't make the most delicious food ever.  With no limit.  All over the place.  In a fun setting.  I never stood a chance.

Here's what we had available at Thanksgiving:

Smoked Turkey
Fried Turkey
Roasted Turkey
Smoked ham
Mashed potatoes and gravy
Gruyere-onion-cream potato galette
Stuffing - 2 kinds
Baked squash
Whiskey cranberry sauce
Gingered cranberry sauce
Green beans
Spinach salad with bleu cheese, craisins, nuts, and homemade dressing
Spinach balls
Veggie tray extraordinaire with spinach/veg dip or pesto dip
Pumpkin pie
Pecan pie
Apple pie
Red Velvet cake

All this gluttony followed by multiple games of 500 and Celebrity.  Darling MG taught us Celebrity a few years ago and it's now a family tradition.  Here's how it's played but don't blame me if you have a cardiac arrest from laughing.  The funniest part is when the younger kids are better than the adults.


Take everybody, and divide the group into 2 teams.  Whoever refuses to play must clean up the entire kitchen by themselves.  Designate a person to keep time on each team.

Give EVERYBODY 2-4 slips of paper.  If you have a lot of people, do just 2.
Everybody writes the name of a "celebrity" on their slips.  Try to make them names everyone in the group is likely to recognize - authors, cartoons, actors, musicians, etc.  You can even use the names of people there, or mutual friends. You may have more than one person write the same name - that's OK!

Put all those slips in a bowl, and have an empty bowl ready as well.

ROUND ONE - someone from team #1 volunteers to go first.  Someone from team #2 holds the guessing bowl full of slips ready for player #1 to draw from.  Someone on team #2 has their watch or timer ready to time one minute.
Timer says "GO"
Player #1 takes a slip of paper from the bowl and using words, songs, etc gets their teammates to guess the correct name.  If they get it right, player #1 throws the slip in the empty bowl and takes another etc etc.  If the team is stumped, player #1 throws the slip at their feet and takes another.  This keeps going until timer says "STOP!".  If they were in the middle of a guessing round, that name slip goes back into the guessing bowl.  Team #1 counts how many they got right, and subtracts any they had to skip.  KEEP SCORE!

Someone puts the correctly guessed slips from the 2nd bowl in a pile off to the side.  The skipped names go back into the guessing bowl.

Then a volunteer from Team #2 goes, and Team #1 keeps the time.  This goes back and forth until all the slips are gone.

Starting and playing just like Round One, except this time the player can say only ONE WORD! and NO GESTURES!  This is where anything that happened in round one comes in handy.

Starting and playing stays the same, but this time it's pantomime, like charades.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pre-Thanksgiving Moment

So I'm shopping for Thanksgiving ingredients.  My sister calls and asked if I'm bringing the veggie tray because cousin Sarah asked if SHE was bringing it, and she said that no, I think Mnmom is, and what should SHE bring?

Sister #3 is bringing a potato dish, and brother is frying the turkey, and who the hell is making the stuffing?  We didn't know, so she'll call cousin Sarah.

Meanwhile I hit the produce section and realize no one has claimed the cranberries!  So I call sister #2 back while I'm unloading my groceries and we realize no one has claimed rolls either and of COURSE what does this remind me of??


Monday, November 22, 2010

Gettin Jiggy with the Veggie Tray

Much like Kirby, I'm bringing the veggie tray to Thanksgiving.  Either my family is being very kind since I'm traveling over 2 hours that morning, or this is their subtle way of saying "we hate your cooking".
Americans like their veggie trays in standard formation, don't they?  Vegetables arranged in spokes coming from a nice round bowl of ranch dip in the middle.

But what if I spiced things up?  Luckily my family would get a hoot out of it.  And I'm making SPINACH dip!

Here's something fun - a cabbage dip bowl!  Nothing says "greedy pig-dog American" like using food as a decoration.

I'm partial to THIS design.  It's reminiscent of us Midwestern women and our unshaved legs in the winter.

Off center, stacked, kinky, I like it!

PESTO!  I've got lots of that in the freezer!

AND I'm bringing Red Velvet Cake.  But I make mine in a jelly-roll pan - it goes lots farther that way.  An old pot-luck trick.  

So what are YOU making for Thanksgiving?