Christmas Everything - A 2015 Recap

Wow, the holidays flew by faster than Santa and his sleigh on Christmas Eve (do you like what I did there?). Our holidays were jam packed and full of merriment. I thought I'd share a holiday run down through photos. Let's do it...

My parents and sister flew up for Christmas and a few additional days. It was so wonderful to have the whole family here and to spend some quality time together.

Even though I had a million other things happening in my life, I just had to get a tree! I think this was our tallest tree yet.

Josh picked out the pig ornament. It makes me think about the dog trainer telling us to read the book, When Pigs Fly: Training for Impossible Dogs (ehh, that's encouraging...NOT). And so I dedicate that ornament to Asha's first Christmas with us. 

Of course, one of my favorite things is getting all the holiday cards and greetings from friends and family. This year I had a little ribbon to display them all.

There should be a Christmas song about Christmas cookies. Well, I bet there is one really, but let's start our own. "Oh Christmas cookie, how sweet thou art. You fill my tummy with happiness and glee." Uh, that needs some work. 

I kept the cookies simple this year - no macarons or pepakakor like years past. But these were delicious! Here's what I made this year:

Oh and for Christmas Eve dessert, I made a delicious Salted Caramel Apple Pie with a crumble topping. Oh man, so good!

I also organized a cookie exchange at work. I had organized it last year as well and it just so much fun to swap cookies and get new recipes. Lots of deliciousness. Let's sing that cookie song again.

And to round out the sweetness of the cookies, we enjoyed some delicious savory meals. Being preggo for Christmas, I opted to have us go out for dinner. Christmas Eve we celebrated at Bastille and Christmas Day at Rays Boathouse. I did manage a Spinach & Cheese Strata for Christmas morning brunch, though! 

Of course, we went to our church for the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. This is always a favorite of mine, probably because we get to sing so many Christmas songs. 

Presents! Gifts! Oh boy! Apparently we were all very good this year. ;)

And do you like my wrapping paper. I think it's the cutest!

Then we opened all the gifts. Look at those Christmas smiles!

As you know, I was pregnant this holiday season. This little guy will be the greatest gift - a bit late for Christmas, but I'm sure he'll ring in the new year.

This was also Asha's first Christmas with us. She was a good dog and didn't drink the water out of the tree. I do think she wondered why we brought the tree inside, though.

Well, that was one mighty fine holiday. I hope you all had a wonderful holiday as well. 

Merry Christmas 2015

Merry Christmas!

I can't believe it's here. This is the fastest holiday season I have ever experienced. EVER. 

I hope this season finds you in good health, cheery spirits, and bright tidings. It has been a wonderful year for us - a new home, a dog, and a baby on the way! We would to share it with you. Check out our Christmas letter

Please keep in touch in 2016, my friends. I just know it'll be another great year. XO, Heather

Bye 2014, Hello 2015

Happy 2015!

I have a really good feeling about 2015. I usually don't like odd numbers much, but I feel this is going to be a good year. As my mom would say, "I can feel it in my bones." Josh and I have big plans for the year - moving apartments, getting a dog, hopefully a big trip, and so much more. I wouldn't call them resolutions, but hopes and goals for the year.

As for resolutions, well, I really don't like them. I do like to have hopes and goals, though. Some hopes include...

  • Yoga - I started this fall, and I'm really enjoying it. I have a hard time stopping - like stop moving around the house and making my brain just STOP. When I do yoga, my brain just concentrates on the poses & movements which I imagine is good for me. So I'll try to do this more.
  • Cooking/Baking Technique - 2014 was the year of the macaron. And I am happy to report my last batch didn't crack. Of course, I'll continue to make these precious cookies, but I want to take on another technique. I was thinking cinnamon rolls, or something with yeast. Yeast scares me - so scientific. But I think it's good to keep trying new things. 
  • Photography - I want to continue to learn more and take some awesome photos. A co-worker recently complemented my photos, and suggested I enter in an amateur contest. This year I think I might try it out this year.
  • Blogging - Just to keep doing it. It's hard to find the time, especially if I include pictures since they need to be edited first. Finding time can be challenging, but I'm hoping to keep doing at least one post a week. 

Top Posts of 2014

Speaking of blogging, let's take a moment to see what you liked best this year on my blog. 

  1. Christmas Letter - It's no wonder that this is the top post since I basically forced it on you with a blog cover page and having it on my Christmas card. If you haven't read it yet, you should. It fills you in on our whole year.
  2. Baker's Corner: Christmas Cookies - Did someone say cookies? Who doesn't like a good Christmas cookie. These were some good ones this year. I might make that gingerbread biscotti again soon. 
  3. Christmas Flashback - I just wrote this yesterday - dang. It was a good Christmas - filled with the three F's: family, friends, and food.
  4. Merry Christmas 2014 - I am seeing a trend, you guys like Christmas. And food. Christmas and food. Got it, so my 2015 posts should cover these topics. Sadly, Christmas in June doesn't really work. Bummer.
  5. Cooking is so Hip - More food! This was a fun night with co-workers. We took a cooking class together and learned how to make some Spanish tapas. Maybe I'll host a party this year!

2014 you treated me good. 2015, I expected even better.

Happy New Years All!!

Christmas 2014 Flashback

Dude, Christmas was sooo totally six day ago (in my best beach dude voice). It's like New Years now, dude. Ok, I'll stop the "dudes" but I do want to do a quick flashback to my Christmas. Dude.

Josh and spent Christmas down in California with family. The first half (the days up until Christmas) was with my parents and sister. It was nice to see the fam and just chill out (not to mention, nice sunny weather!). We did lots of fun things like mani-pedis with my mom, walked along the Batiquitos Lagoon, ate some great food (In-N-OutQ'ero, El Nopalito tamales, Honey's muffins, Lofty Bean lattes!!), played with the pooch, shopped, baked Christmas cookies - never a dull moment with the O'Neill family. It was a blast.

Then Christmas rolled around, and we got to opening gifts. I got some great things this year including a snug, puff jacket, earrings, booties - apparently, I was a good girl. Josh got some gift cards to go shopping (that's like two gifts in one - getting the card, and then using it!), t-shirts, and some other awesome gifts.

My parents and sister enjoyed the gift opening as well. My dad really likes the Geico Hump Day commercial (especially, the "Mike Mike Mike" part), so he got a t-shirt. My mom liked the fox wrapping paper I used (I'm a sucker for cute wrapping paper, darn you Paper Source!). Lindsay also liked the wrapping paper. Yay, foxes!!!!!

Sadly, Josh and I didn't get a Christmas tree for our apartment this year. Luckily, my parent's Christmas filled the hole in my heart and was really quite stunning.

And we can't forget the stockings. They are BIG for my family - both literally and figuratively. We have to go around a circle and open one-by-one. It really is a lot of fun. My stocking was made by my grandma, and I've had it since I was a little girl. 

Around 2pm, we transitioned families. Christmas Day evening was with the extended Brown family in Temecula. It was great to see Josh's aunts, uncles, and cousins. 

All in all, it was a darn good Christmas. Next, I'll tell you about my time with the in-laws in Death Valley. I just had to share Christmas before it turned to 2015! 


Baker's Corner: Christmas Cookies 2014

It's Christmas Eve and my cookies are ready just in time to set out for Santa tonight. And I tell you, he's got a lot of cookies to eat! Funny since at the beginning of December I was extremely worried I wouldn't have time to make barely any cookies. But somehow I managed to squeeze in several. Yay for cookies!

Gingerbread Macarons

Of course, I wanted to make macarons, my current favorite. Making macarons takes a quite a bit of time, but I divided it out between days. I made the shells on a Sunday (letting them dry before baking while grocery shopping), and then the filling later. The shells freeze nicely, in fact, the cookies freeze well which makes advanced baking a breeze.

Although I made gingerbread macarons last year, I tried a different recipe out this year. I think I liked these even better. I was more than ecstatic to see I had zero cracks in the shells. No joke, this fact made my day. Better yet, these were absolutely delicious. Huzzah!

Get the Recipe from It's Just Chicken

Peppermint Crinkles

I coordinated a cookie exchange at work this year, which I still hope to write about. I called it the Great Oracle Christmas Cookie Swap. For the swap, I made these peppermint crinkles. I hadn't made them before, but they turned out great (whew!). The batter seems super runny, but after refrigerating them, it works. Trust me. Another interesting thing with these cookies is that they only have 1/3 cup flour and include nutella. Beware, these are crazy chocolately.

Get the Recipe from Baker's Royale

Gingerbread Biscotti

This was the year of gingerbread I guess since I made the gingerbread macarons, pepparkakor which are gingerbread-like, and then these gingerbread biscottis. What's great about biscotti, is it's pretty easy. You make a log with the dough, bake it, slice it, and bake it again. Yes, biscotti is a twice baked cookie which makes them great for dipping in coffee or tea. I dipped mine in Trader Joe's Peppermint tea. Yum!

Get the Recipe from Smitten Kitchen

Pepparkakor

No Christmas passes without making Pepparkakor. I have to carry on the tradition from my Grandma Norma who always made these. They are a Swedish cookie, and have lots of delicious spices like cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. This time I added a tad of cardamon and allspice. These are similar to gingerbread cookies, but thinner and crispier.

Recipe is a secret! (If you're nice, maybe I'll share someday!)

Krum Kager

This is another Grandma Norma cookie. For the longest time my family said these were Swedish cookies only to learn that they are actually Norwegian. Still they are Scandinavian, so we're covered. These are like a wafer-thin butter cookie that is made with a cookie iron and then rolled - sort of like a waffle cookie! They are pesky cookies since they are delicate and break easily, but they are so pretty. I didn't make the dough, my mom did that, but I did the cookie creation - pressing, rolling, and sugar sprinkles.

Another Handed down recipe, but this one is pretty similar from Recipes from Grandma.

Spritz

This is a John O'Neill favorite. He literally took the tin after dinner and started eating them. I'm not going to lie, but it was quite the battle with the cookie press. My mom had two cookie presses, and I killed the first part. Then the other one was battery operated and just worked poorly. But I conquered and managed to make these gems. Normally, I like to use green sprinkles, but we only had the colorful ones so just imagine they are ornaments on the trees.

Get the recipe below! You're welcome.

Spritz Recipe

From the Kitchen of Grandma Norma, Jan O'Neill, and now Heather Brown.

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Colored Sprinkles - Red & Green for Christmas

Preheat oven to 350 degrees/

Cream butter, add sugar and cream thoroughly. Add extract, egg, and then flour. We recommend refrigerating this for 2-3 hours.

Push dough into cookie press, and then press onto a greased baking sheet. Shake on sprinkles before baking. Bake 7-10 minutes in 350 degree oven (Note: watch the temperate, the original recipe called for 400 but we found that too hot and burning the edges).

Let cool 1-2 minutes, and then remove from pan. Let cool and enjoy!

Thanksgiving is Here!

Thanksgiving is here! Somehow 2014 is just flying by and it's already the holiday season. Josh and I are keeping it pretty low key this year for Thanksgiving. Later this evening we are heading over to the Golden Beetle where they will have a Thanksgiving feast waiting for us. Yes, it'll be there all cooked and ready for us to devour. No kitchen required. Although, I have to say, I do enjoy being in the kitchen - seriously, I do - but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to cook a turkey, all the sides, and dessert for two people. Instead, we're going to have a professional chef cook it for us. And to fulfill my kitchen needs, I am making a pumpkin pie from scratch. Bam! That's how you do Thanksgiving for two. 

I'll share food and pie photos once it's all done and the dinner is eaten. In the meantime, let me tell you about our Worksgiving. Last Friday we had a Thanksgiving potluck at work. People, it was big. There was a ton of food. We really out did ourselves. 

I made the Rustic Herb Stuffing - same as I made last year. I had to transfer it to a crockpot to keep it warm at the office. I think it may have dried it out a bit, but it still had good flavor. Here's the recipe

So that's really all I got for now. I'll leave you with some fun Thanksgiving links to check out....

  • The Thanksgiving Recipes Googled in Every State - Check out what foods folks are eating today across the country. Not sure what frog eyed salad is, or why someone would make funeral potatoes? It's a thing, though, apparently. But I do have to say I'm intrigued by the idea of a cookie salad or pumpkin crunch. 
  • The Oatmeal's Thanksgiving as a Kid vs. Adult - Although some of it is a bit crass, it has some truth and is pretty comical. 
  • 'All About That Baste' Parody Video - More butter! 
  • 23 Thanksgiving Facts - Okay, so thousands of turkeys die each year of heart attacks. And did you know Romans ate stuffing? Or you can tell if a cranberry is sweet if it bounces (bounberries!). Fun facts!

Happy Thanksgiving Friends! 

October 31st

Happy Halloween Friends! 

Did you pick a movie to watch tonight? 

My office had a little Halloween party today. It was a fun party, which included some pumpkin bars made by yours truly. Not to mention, the costume turnout was fantastic. Wanna see?

I was a fox. This might lead you to ask...What does a fox say? Hence my pose in every picture - ha! Please tell me you've watched this video. 

The Cool Cats - Shane's team

Viking Pimp, Urkel, Foxy, Beeyonce, Snoopy

Team Safeway (minus a few - who knows where they were)

"photo booth"

What does the fox say?

More costumes!

Did you guess them all correctly? We had Robin, Havana 1960s guy, Urkel, Beeyonce, Viking Pimp, Katniss, Fiona, Mario, a Pancake Baker, Banana man, Khaleesi (Game of Thrones), Snoopy, Rocky Raccoon, Batman...oh so many. The Where the Wild Things are costumes were fantastic.

Happy Hallows! Boo! 

Get Your Spook On

Someone at my office said, "I'm going to spook on you." So, of course, in total office professionalism, we decided to go around and say this to one another. This was the inspiration behind, "Get your spook on."

To be totally honest, I don't love with scary movies. Surprised? I know, I know, I seem the type. But let me tell you, when my friend asked me to watch The Ring with her in college, I thought it would be a romantic comedy about marriage. WRONG. Or the other time when my co-workers / neighbors invited me over to watch Silent Hill. I thought it was after a video game (which it is), but what horrible video games are they playing? Gah! Where's Mario?

Needless to say, I prefer comedic scary movies or ones that are more psychological thriller than horror. So in honor of Halloween I thought I'd share some of my choice "scary" movies. 

The Sixth Sense: I will always remember my reaction at the end of the movie - shock. I can't say more since maybe you haven't seen it. Wait...did you just say you didn't see it? Heavens! Please watch this now. So anyway, this one runs more on the psychological thriller side of the spectrum. For me, some parts were scary, but it wasn't like blood and gore scary. I think you can handle it.

Ghostbusters: Okay, circle of trust, when I was little this scared the gaw-jee-bees outta me (time out: Josh says gaw-jee-bees is not a word... uhh, whatever). Then we saw this last weekend at Central Cinema and I realized it's actually a comedy. Bill Murray and marshmallows...well, you can't go wrong. 

Interview with the Vampire: I had a nightmare after watching this - so vivid, so real. In the dream, I said I didn't believe in vampires, but then one came floating outside my bedroom window to prove me wrong. Yikes! But this is one of my favorite scary movies. The history and characters really intrigue me. A good vampire flick and one without teenage angst. 

Shutter Island: Here is another one that's a thriller, but more of an atmospheric thriller. It takes place on an island and there are insane people...I'm not going to say more. Believe me, you'll enjoy it and it's higher on the scary meter for me.

Practical Magic: This has Halloween movie written all over it. It's a good mix of fun and scary with witches, curses, and true love. Not to mention Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. I honestly haven't seen it in a long time, but I'm tempted to rent it. 

The Others: I think this is one that Josh and I will watch this year. In fact, Josh owns it, and I swear I haven't seen it yet. I'll report back, but I'm pretty sure it'll be great to cozy up on the couch with candles (and most probably rain outside).

What Lies Beneath: This is a great thriller. It's not necessarily scary, but it'll certainly startle or surprise you. Isn't always the more realistic movies that are scarier? Oh, the suspense! And look at the movie cover, the hand...oh my! And who doesn't like Harrison Ford movies? 

Lady in White: This used to be THE scary movie the O'Neill family watched. It would freak me out as a kid. I went a number of years without watching it, and then one Halloween Josh and I watched it together. Well, sadly it's seeing it's age in some of the scenes (can we say greenscreen). In result, it's a bit cheesy, but I still like it. 

Hocus Pocus: Moral of this story: don't steal witches brooms. This is definitely more slap sticky and more child friendly. It's goofy and funny and all that warm fuzzy stuff. Silly witches. 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Bahahaha! This is a movie Lindsay and I used to watch together. It cracks me up. And I love her name is Buffy. This is not the same of the tv series - so much "better." All the classic vampire stuff with wood stakes and whole shabang. This is just ridiculously hilarious. 

So I ask you this.....Do you like scary movies?

Have a Spook-takulor Halloween! 

One Fine Easter

Happy Easter Friends! (belated)

Josh and I had one of those "one fine day" type days on Easter. Spring was in the air, it was Easter, the sun was shining, and we were happy. Nothing super thrilling, but just mighty fine.

We started off by sleeping in (ahh, heavenly). I think God would be happy to see us relax. It's been long work weeks for us lately. And Josh has a cough, so we thought we'd get some extra rest would do us good. We lounged in the morning, and I whipped up a delicious brunch - a ham and asparagus strata. I love lazy mornings!

We continued to lounge and watch some TV. Since it was Easter, and we had been putting it off for a while (months actually), we finally watched the last episode of the History Channel's series, The Bible. It really set the mood for the day. 

Then we decided to venture outdoor, so we headed to Warren G Magnuson Park. What a great park?! It runs along Lake Washington and has nice paths, and there is also a dog park. Yes, we went to the dog park and watched other people's dogs play. They would run into the water and chase each other - cute. Oh man, I'm dog crazy.

We got some good photo opps at the park as well. Look at these beautiful people...

Heather and Josh at Warren G Magnuson Park

We enjoyed the sun, scrolling around, and getting our feet in the grass.

Then we did something we never do on a Sunday afternoon...we went to happy hour. Usually we're old farts and do groceries and laundry on Sunday afternoons. No time for fun. But we broke all the rules and had a drink and appetizers at Westward. A darling restaurant along Lake Union. 

We wrapped up the day with some lemon greek chicken on the BBQ at home, tasty carrot cake whoopie pies made by yours truly, and decorating some hard boiled eggs (see photo in collage above). 

And that was one fine Easter.

See all the photos in my Spring 2014 album.

Funny Faces & Silly People

Well, the holidays are over. The last holiday event was last weekend, which was Josh's company office party. It was pretty fun at the Pan Pacific hotel here in Seattle. 

It seems like every good party these days has a photobooth. Who doesn't like a good photobooth? They are so popular right now. It's not a party without some sort of photobooth. And Josh's company didn't disappoint. Here's our fun snaps:

(I think the two bottom ones are my favorite)

But wait! My office party also had a photobooth. I told you, photobooths are popular. For this one, my co-worker James and his wife Sarah joined us. Yes, that's mountains and bears in the background. It's cool. 

Oh, and there is more. How many times do I have to tell you photobooths are popular? For New Year's Eve our friends Mark & Sarah co-hosted a party. They turned an iPad into a photobooth. Now, that's clever. 

We took quite a few photobooth pictures at New Years. Here's some more...

Are you sick of these funny poses and faces yet? I have even more in my back pocket. We did a photobooth back in 2012 at our friend Manuel & Alley's wedding. So, yes, it has been popular for a few years now. 

I sorta love photobooths. 

Christmas Vacation

Wow, we blew through Christmas, New Years, and Epiphany before I've even told you about my vacation. 2014 is going to be over before I even get to sit down and write to you about the end of 2013! Okay, that's an exaggeration, but really it's crazy how time moves.

But before we move on with 2014, I really do want to tell you about my holidays. They were oh-so-nice.  Similar to past years, Josh and I flew down to SoCal for the holidays since both parents are down there. Yes, I know this is incredibly convenient (and lucky). We did a little switch-a-roo and started at my parents house rather than at the Browns. So that's where we'll start, at my parents house...

The O'Neill's 

We flew down on Saturday. Lucky for me, the cold I had was on the mends by the time we flew down. Better not be sick during the holiday, or for Disneyland! Yea, you heard me, we went to Disneyland! (Comm'on, you have to say it like the commercials).

I love Disneyland during the holidays.They deck the park with everything holiday. They even switch up the Haunted House for the Nightmare Before Christmas. Some of my family doesn't like how they alter the Haunted House, but for me, I think it's fun. They also have the Jingle Cruise instead of the Jungle Cruise. Love it.

disneyland1.jpg

We had the happiest time of our lives - how could you not at the happiest place on Earth?! 

IMG_0208.jpg

Disneyland was a great kick-start to the holidays. The rest of the time with my parents was everything holiday. I squeezed in another Christmas cookie, Peppakakor. We did some shopping, wrapping, and saw good friends. 

Christmas Eve we went to a lovely dinner at Vigilucci's and then the candlelight service at my childhood church, Bethlehem Lutheran Church. We sang Christmas songs and celebrated the reason for the season.

Then it was Christmas morning. We were all very good this year because Santa visited us. He came with lots of gifts, so we had to spend the whole morning unwrapping. 

See that red-head in the picture? Meet Olivia. She's part of the family. No really, she is. She's related to our relatives in Germany - so like a second cousin. She's from Rust, Germany and staying with my parents for the year learning English and getting the American High School experience.

opening-gifts.jpg

At halftime, eh hem, I mean after the Christmas tree presents, we switched to stockings. My mom takes stockings seriously. You DON'T MESS with stockings, man. Everyone gets the same number of gifts, and you have to open one by one around the room. Let me tell you, these stockings are crazy. The gifts spill out of the sock, and some (like a hula hoop) need to just hang out by the mantel. 

stocking-etc.jpg

Also, we got some visitors. My cousin Brennan, Anne, and their little girl, Marina came over. Marina was very much into the gifts, too - especially dropping them. Keely (that's the other daughter, I mean dog) was thrilled for all the people around to pet her - she's just too cute not to pet.

Fam at Christmas.jpg

Around noon, it was time to transition, and we packed the car and headed off to...

The Brown's

The drive takes about 2.5 hours to drive, and you cross over the San Jacinto mountains. We arrived mid-afternoon, just in time for more gifts and a homemade turkey dinner.

brownsxmas.jpg

We finished off Christmas with more gifts and a tasty dinner. What a great holiday!

For the rest of our stay with the Browns, we had some fun at Joshua Tree. More about that later. We went to the movies, and just relaxed. It was heavenly. Not to mention the warm weather, iced beverages, and short sleeves. 

I love Christmas - it's the best time of year. And in the words of Tiny Tim, "God bless us, everyone."

For more pictures, go here!

Pre-Christmas Look Back

I've said it before, but I'll say it again. Dang, Christmas came quickly! I barely got everything done. Somehow I managed to get most of the pre-Christmas activities and decorating done. I did miss a few things, but given the short time we accomplished a lot. Let me give you a peek at our Christmas preparations.

Let me share some of what you're seeing in the collage. (Note: My counting starts in top-left and goes across & then down)

  • Buying our Christmas tree (pics 1, 3, 5): We stopped at three lots this year, and we ended up at the same lot as last year. Figures. We got a Douglas fir at about 5 feet tall. We got it all decorated and it just glowed. We always use a little fresh babys breath (Brown family thing) and some good-looking, but fake poinsettias (O'Neill family thing). Then you add ornaments and lights. It's magical. And it's a great scent for the house.
  • Shopping (pic 2): Got to get those gifts! We did some shopping at local shops, Seattle's Urban Craft Uprising, and the Bellevue Square mall (shown). I love seeing the stores all decorated. 
  • Gingerbread Village (pic 3): Every year the Sheraton hosts a Gingerbread village. I heard about it before, but this was our first year going. I imaged it being a large gingerbread house, but it was actually about five gingerbread creations all following a theme. This year's theme was There's a Rhythm and a Reason this Holiday Season. All the gingerbread was in nursery rhymes like London Bridge is Falling Down. The one I have pictured is Hey Diddle Diddle. It was cute, and better yet free.
  • Swanson's Nursery (pic 6): Yep, I saw Dasher! The nursery up in Ballard gets all decked out for the holidays. They have reindeer and a camel. We needed a new tree stand, so we swung by. It was a fun little Christmas visit.
  • Responsys Holiday Party (pic 7): My office holiday party was on 12/19 this year. It was at a trendy place called Fred's Wildlife Refuge. No, it wasn't a zoo or have any animals roaming around - it is just an event space, They did up all cool with a video wall, which basically projected different scenes onto the walls like snow falling & doves. We all had a great time.
  • Snow! (pic 8): It snowed the day before Josh and I headed to SoCal. I totally didn't expect it, but it was there in the morning. It only stuck around until the afternoon, and then melted away. Fun but it totally messes up commutes.
  • Baking (pic 9): Ahh yes, my baking, I can't let Christmas pass without some cookies. I made some gingerbread macarons, chocolate peppermint cake balls, and peppakakor. All I can say is...YUM.

The first picture collage was more activities, and this one is more about decorations. I didn't nearly get as many decorations up as I'd like, but I still got some Christmas spirit in the house.

  • Christmas Card ribbon: I really wanted to hang the Christmas cards on the ribbon horizontally, but our tiny apartment didn't have enough space. So I took it vertical! Then overflow when over to our cabinet thing in our living room. I love getting Christmas cards in the mail and hearing from all our friends and family. 
  • A Christmas Story Lamp: FRAGILE (FRA-GEE_LAY) it must be Italian! // Do you know what this is? This is... A lamp! // This is a major award! // Yes, Josh and I have the โ€œSoft Glow of Electric Sexโ€ in our apartment. Please watch the movie, then you'll understand.
  • Table Centerpiece: I tried to get creative this year. I got some winterberry while at Swanson's Nursery and put it in a vase with babys breath. Then I added some pine cones, a candy cane swirl candy, and my little owl (I just love owls!).
  • Lights around the door: Not pictured! But yes, we got some lights up, too.

That was our pre-Christmas. Christmas is the best time of year! Love it! I hope you had a nice holiday season as well.

Christmas Cookie Challenge

I really didn't know how I was going to make it happen this year. There was just so little time for Christmas preparations this year. It all happened so fast after Thanksgiving. Usually I have one weekend dedicated to Christmas cookie baking, but this year I had to squeeze it into one day. Ahhh, so many cookies, so little time!!

Of course, crazy me picked two time intensive recipes to make this year - macarons and cake balls. Macarons because I have recently declared them my favorite cookie (why did I pick the most expensive cookie? I seem to always pick the most expensive things). And then cake balls since my co-workers had been begging for them. 

And although I had just one day, I conquered. Here's the baker in action:

Baker  Heather

Chocolate Peppermint Cake Balls

Look at these beauties:

These are not necessarily complicated, but they are time consuming. You might remember the class I took earlier this year. Well, we swore not to share the secrets. However, this recipe isn't too far off if you really want to try it out. The peppermint flavor came from peppermint extract, and then I added some Andres Peppermint pieces inside. Of course a chocolate cake base. Then some red sprinkles and candy cane crumbles. Voila! No joke, my co-worker said these were, "a Christmas miracle!"

Gingerbread Macarons

Now, look at these beauties:

These cookies...well, where to start. It has been a love hate relationship for me. I absolutely love macarons, but they are a pain in the patootie to bake.

Here's something about me: I'm a perfectionist. Surprise! (well, you might have known that already.) These cookies test my perfectionism. The first time I made them after the class I took, they turned out quite well. Then the next time, they all cracked. Although, they still tasted good. This time, yet again, they cracked. I tried a new recipes, a new method, and I was so careful!

It's so sad. I dedicated so much time to them. They were like my little babies, and I spoke to them (oh wait, that's creepy, scratch that). Anyway...moving on...I so desperately wanted them to look like a French bakery. I had it all pictured in my head, and after they were done, I'd wrap them up so cute with ribbons. Not to mention...I am a baker and have a reputation to uphold.

The first batch came out great - they were smooth and pretty. Then the rest where just cracked. I tried so many things. I wanted to throw up my hands and give up. Then I tasted knew they were worth it, even though they weren't perfect.

Oh my goodness, where they good. Here's the recipe inspiration (considering how time consuming they are in the first place, I was not about to make them gingerbread man shaped). Then I followed Annie's step-by-step instructions.

In the end, totally worth it. But it was an emotional roller coaster. At one point, I thought I would never make these cookies again. Then I thought to myself...challenge accepted. Should I try these for New Years?

Peppakakor

Oh yea, one more:

Peppakakor

I lied to you at the start of this post. I said I only had time for two types of cookies, but another Christmas miracle I was able to squeeze in peppakakor. I made it while I was at home with my parents on Christmas Eve. I am so glad I was able to include these cookies in this year's cookie array - they are a tradition! (2009, 2010, 2011). These are a Swedish cookie that taste similar to gingersnap - a thin, delicate ginger type cookie. The tradition is passed down from my Grandma Norma (my Swedish side!). The picture I show is a Swedish Dala horse.

Whew, so glad I got my cookie baking in this year! YUM!

Cook's Corner: Thanksgiving Feast

I know, I know, it's already mid-December and I'm only just sharing my Thanksgiving with you now. Is there a 12 days of Thanksgiving? No? Bummer. Well, maybe you can pick up some of these recipes for Christmas. The two dinners are pretty similar (at least, in my family), so there's that at least.

So I bring you Cook's Corner as opposed to Baker's Corner. And this is a special Thanksgiving edition! 

Spiced Cranberry Sauce

I found this while looking on Sunset magazine's website for recipes. I saw the secret ingredient - Earl Grey tea - and knew it must be made. I love the brightness of cranberries, and the punch it gives to your meal. The best part, though, is putting git on a turkey sandwich. We were originally going to skip this one and buy cranberry sauce to save time, but Josh gave the saddest face, so we ended up making it. Glad we did!

Rustic Herb Skillet Stuffing 

[aka Dressing - my parents call stuffing dressing. I'm not sure how I ended up calling it stuffing. Weird] Now here's something about me. I don't like stuffing. But, this stuffing made me change my mind. No joke, it was that good. I picked it because it was mostly made on the stove top, and I knew I wouldn't have much time with the oven given the turkey and all. The other reason was the parmesan. I am a sucker for parm - Josh and I put it on practically everything. Oh, and we used a tasty potato bread from a local bakery, MarcinaSo give this one a whirl, you won't be disappointed.  

Mashed Potatoes

This is more of a method than a recipe. I used the video to make these lovely mashed potatoes. They turned out perfect - smooth, creamy, and oh-so-good. I watched the video and then wrote the recipe out, printed it, and then deleted it (sorry). Watch the video though, it'll be great. You could be doing it all wrong!

Roasted Veggies

I wanted to make both sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts. Alas there was not enough time. So I cooked both in one! So clever. This was a classic roasted veggie dish, and they were a great side to the meal. I added some brown sugar for the last few minutes of roasting to add some sweetness. 

And I didn't make my own rolls. I wanted to, but there wasn't enough time. Just pop them in the oven and they taste homemade. Guess there is always next year! 

Turkey Breast

The main event: the turkey! Although in my opinion, it should be dessert. Wink wink. For one, I totally need to take the time to brine the bird. Just do it. I use this brine from Allrecipes. Then I used this recipe for the bird itself. I only did a beast - we just don't need the whole bird. This was just enough for the four of us, and it even made leftovers (and we used the carcass for soup - eh carcass, that sounds gross, but the soup is good).

Pumpkin Pie

Now, this is what I'm talking about - dessert! This is the main event, no doubt. I made the pumpkin pie the way I like it - with a gingersnap crush. This pie was perfection. I think it helped that I made my own pumpkin puree. I found that this is actually pretty easy. You know what made this even better, the spiced whipped cream. And Nada & Don bought us a special whipped cream dispenser. I reminded me of my Starbucks days. I know there are fun creations with this ahead. 

The Table

The flowers were a gift from my father-in-law. Isn't he sweet. Without them, the table would have been lacking. This was the wonderful table upon which we ate all the food above. If you go to so much trouble to make the food, let's dress the table up too. The table wants to be part of the party.

The Cooks

Nada and I were the cooks of the feast. I was the chef, and Nada my sous chef. We were great together. 

Thankful on Thanksgiving

You know what I'm thankful for...Thanksgiving. It's frustrating how lots of retailers just skip right over Thanksgiving. But Thanksgiving should not be skipped over. It's a time to remember what's important in life - family and friends (and food, you need it for survival, duh). It's a day to step back and put things in perceptive and remember these important things in your life.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I'm going to share some of the things I'm thankful for this Thanksgiving.

1. A Loving Husband & Happy Marriage

2. Family - Parents, Sister, & In-Laws - that are always there for you

3. Friends that make you Laugh

4. A Beautiful City

5. Good Job with Fun Co-workers

This list could go on and on, but I need to get back in the kitchen to continue the Thanksgiving feast. My in-laws are in town, and we're planning a awesome dinner. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

xoxo, Heather