Saturday, December 31, 2011

What are you doing New Year's Eve?

This video has been making its viral way around the interwebs the past couple of days. If you're a Zooey and/or Joseph fan (and maybe even if you're not), you'll love this sweet rendition.

When I first viewed it on YouTube, the comment directly under the video said, "Just marry each other already" and I laughed out loud. Their doomed romance in 500 Days of Summer kind of sealed them as indie sweethearts, and I agree that they'd be lovely together. But even if that doesn't come to pass, I appreciate their chemistry.

I'm not always a fan of the rhyming ditties, but this one just struck a chord when I saw it today... Pretty much covers the gamut of most years for most of us!

What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That's not been said a thousand times?
The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.
We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.
We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.
We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our prides, we sheet our dead.
We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that's the burden of a year.
-Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Husband and I are off to dinner and a movie, nice and quiet, we two... What are you up to tonight? I hope that whatever your New Year's Eve brings, when you wake (happy and healthy, please) tomorrow, you're filled with the possibility that 2012 brings.

 And tomorrow, recaps and resolutions! Happy New Year's to you and yours.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday night grateful moment

It's been quite a while since I've let almost a whole week go by without posting... if ever there was a week to do it, though, this staycation-ish week was definitely it. There wasn't a lot of intention behind it--I know quite a few bloggers who take an intentional online hiatus, but nope, not me. I just get super chill with the whole holiday thing and before you know it, nada. Zippo. Zilch. Alas.

I'm ever so grateful for this week, for the time that husband and I have had, here at home. Usually we're running around one place or another, but this year it just seemed right to stay home. And rather than chafe with that decision, it's been one of the best weeks husband and I have had for a vacation week. Even though he's actually worked a bit most days, he's been able to relax. And I've gotten far less done than I wanted to/thought I would/aspired to, so naturally it's been quite relaxing for me as well!

We got a tip on Christmas day from husband's sister that maybe we might like watching House Hunters, on HGTV. We both love real estate, looking at houses, dreaming of possibilities... and so we dialed up a few on the dvr... and what do you know, we do like it! We also watched some of the international variety, and I think we both got a little of our traveling/wanderlust taken care of vicariously through that! 

The weather has been unseasonable, to say the least. Oddly warm, with wind and some rain, but no snow... drat for that, but otherwise, it's been quite pleasant. I'm grateful for the warmth (of a kind, don't go comparing us to somewhere actually WARM), and know that it will probably end here soon...

Lots and lots of year-end lists and recaps and rundowns running around online and in the media right now... I am reading some, but not all. I get tired of all the recap hoo-ha. I much prefer looking forward (especially this year, for some reason), with a little inspiration thrown in. I saw this 2011 recap post from Purl Bee this morning and am in the midst of a new crochet project myself, so the crafty inspirational groove is on, baby! I'm always grateful for color and texture and creativity.

While I didn't make as much progress with my home office this week as I'd like, I did make SOME progress. What's the saying, it's always messier before it's cleaner? Well, if it's not a saying, it should be. It's my saying, anyway. I'm still in the messier, but veering toward the cleaner/more organized. I have to say (once again), that Pinterest is making the idea of throwing out magazines that much more appealing. Why would I keep old copies of Bon Apetit or Food&Wine, when I KNOW I won't go through them. Why would this year be any different than the past 6 years I've had them tucked away? Really! Welcome to my recycling pile! (Though, if anyone local would like them, holler and I will box them up all special-like for you. Seriously. But the clock is ticking. Monday morning is recycle day!) All that is to say, I'm grateful for the cleaning bug, when it does arrive.

I got a croissant tutorial from my dear friend Laura this morning, and there is croissant dough in my fridge just waiting for tomorrow morning to be baked. Can't wait! I learned a lot about smashing butter into submission, and I won't share how much butter exactly is in croissants, but we're slipping them in under the new year's wire, before butter takes a hiatus for a little while and we focus more on bran muffins than buttery pastries. But oh, how heavenly they will be! I'm grateful for inspirational friends, who listen and share, too. I also had a chance to catch up with a friend from boarding school days this past week--we last saw each other during our college years when I visited the college she was at in Texas for a inter-collegiate conference. I think we decided it must have been 1990... a very long time ago! But we picked up with not much (some Facebook, of course) chit chat over the years, and I thoroughly enjoyed our time together. Andrea is inspirational in many ways, running a business and juggling home and work and all her creative artistic ventures! Fabulous to catch up, and hopefully it won't be another 21 years!

I've been oddly grateful for the break from holiday sweets and treats. I posted something about caramel corn on Facebook--should I taper off or go cold turkey? Truth is, I just lost interest. Sometimes my sweet tooth runs its course and I'm just done. D.O.N.E. That also coincides nicely with the new-year-must-behave thoughts that always roll around (literally, roll. Get it?) in my brain each late December.

Just got a call from my Grandma, with some thanks for a Christmas gift. I am SO grateful to have a Grandma, period. That she calls me on occasion, that's just gravy. I am always so tickled when she does that!

In spite of all the relaxation of the week (or maybe because of it?), I am glad and grateful to be at the weekend, and ready to celebrate the new year with husband. What do you have on tap for NYE'11? I hope it brings you a lot of joy and happiness, even if it's to bed by 9 with a good book!

What are you grateful for this week? Another year gone by? Survived the holiday with the relatives, everybody's still alive? Got what you wanted from Santa? Tell me!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

With a little YouTube rummaging around, I have managed to find a video for (almost) any Christmas mood. Let me know if I've missed a mood that you're in and I'm sure I can find one for it!

(When I was done with my tagging each video with imagined "moods," it occurred to me that maybe someone needs to write a book about the Christmas elves... you know, Peaceful, Surly, Thoughtful, Tearful, Nostalgic, Peppy... OK, I obviously have too much time on my hands now that the baking is over. On the bright side, I got some absolutely amazing colorful yarn for Christmas, so I should be getting busy with that any moment...)



Surly/cynical (language warning)



(Sarah's pretty much a surefire go-to for tears, for me...)

Nostalgic for the '80s

Nostalgic for the '70s

Peppy/rockin' out

(I have those mittens, fyi!)

I'm not sure what mood this represents, but I'm in awe of the work that this took...

And special for Seth, who really enjoyed Straight No Chaser this year more than ever:

Merry Christmas, everyone. May the spirit of Christmas be with you, not just today but throughout the year. Wouldn't that be amazing? And exhausting. But amazing, for sure.


Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday night grateful moment

At our house, today was Christmas. We do know how to whoop it up, don't we?--a big family Christmas at Thanksgiving, another one now, and then a little bit still on the "actual" day of. But we do have our excuses... Seth takes off tomorrow with his dad, and we wanted to have a special family time, just the three of us.

So much to be thankful for this week, as every week. Probably even more, when I stop to think about it... Tis the season, after all!

This week I'm especially grateful for time with Seth. It's been a lovely week. His thoughtfulness in picking out gifts for husband and I that he thought we'd really appreciate was touching. He got me a little individual pie-maker; so of course, we had pumpkin pies with dinner tonight! Fabulous and easy peasy.

Also tis the season for fun family movies, together. I love going to the movies! Sometimes, when it's been awhile since I've been, I forget how very much I love the ritual of going, getting popcorn and Junior Mints, settling in to the comfy seats, watching trailers for upcoming movies... This week we saw Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and The Adventures of Tintin, both really fabulous movies. I am always glad when there are movies that I want to watch with my son (as in, appropriate with language and nudity), and I was extra appreciative this go-around that he wanted to go to the movies with his mom... that's not always the case with these wing-stretching teens, and I know that.

Holiday music never fails to get me in the mood for all things Christmasy. I think I have a mix of songs for every mood--want to cry? I can probably wring a tear out of you with some sorrowful holiday song. Want to laugh? We've got that in spades (Straight No Chaser is reliable there). Want to sing a carol or two? Yep, got that too. I am grateful for all my holiday music, my music-sharing friends and all the cheer it brings. (I think Michael Buble may be my very favorite new addition this year, just SO singable-alongable, he is!)

I actually went looking for other-than-holiday music the other day. I know, seems almost sacrilegious this time of year. But I heard a voice and wanted to know who it came from. So I found her. Haven't done much exploring, but the video below is the song I heard, and I like the sentiments.

Where have I been that I just saw this song of OK Go and the Muppets? For some reason, I have had the "Are you a man or a Muppet?" song stuck in my head this week (I think it came up while making pierogies last weekend, so I'm blaming my pierogi cohorts), so I'm sharing both these songs, just in case you need a song or two stuck in your head too!

I wish I could say I was thankful for snow... I really, really want snow. But if I can't have snow, I will be thankful that we have had some sunshine this week, some beautiful blue skies and clear views of the hills. After the gray of the past few weeks, it was easy to forget what those hills actually look like!

I am so grateful for my wonderful husband, who juggles so much between work and home, and takes such good care of us. I love his joy at Christmas, and our family, and our time together. I am ecstatic at a week of him at home, and the fact that we're not traveling anywhere. Much as I wouldn't mind being somewhere else (tropical), I am glad to not make the effort to actually GET there.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the past few weeks of butter and flour and eggs and sugar, quite thoroughly indeed. But, I'm grateful to be done with holiday baking. I'm ready for some "cleaner" eating (ie less butter), for a good old fashioned January cleanse, and for my hands to heal up from constantly being in hot water (yes, I know what kitchen gloves are, and I rarely use them...)

I'm grateful to have so many reminders of my marvelous friends at the holidays. From thoughtful to sweet to personal and back around to thoughtful and sweet, I have cherished this season of cookie exchanges and music swaps and coffees and lunches and catch-up chats. I am blessed.

Under all the flour and sugar and such is our house, which I am also very grateful for. I love the holiday decorating, the candles, the fireplace, the smell of whatever is currently baking. I will be glad to reclaim the house in a less cluttered state, however, but could get used to twinkle lights all year long!

Here are some of my favorite owls on the tree this year. There ARE other ornaments, but the past few years I've added an owl here or there. This year, what with the current owl mania out in the world, I have gotten a number of them--I bought a couple and have received another few as gifts--so the tree actually has a rather owly feel... Kinda cool (if you like owls).

I have been told I have a bit of an owl "problem," but I don't see it that way. Baking... that might (have been) a problem. But owls? Pffft.

I hope that wherever you are tonight, the spirit of Christmas has caught up with you, just a little. Even if it's not a lot, just a little... What are you grateful for this week?


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ten Word Tuesday

Moms, sons, Sherlock Holmes, lunch downtown, laughter, friendship, lovely holidays!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas caramel corn

Caramel corn holds a very special place in my heart. I know, you're thinking to yourself, doesn't EVERY thing Sher makes hold a "special place" in her heart? The way I rant and rave about food... well, yes, I suppose there's some truth to that. But in this case, it's REALLY extra-super-duper true; there is a particularly sentimental sway that caramel corn holds...

It wasn't rare on a Saturday night during my childhood for my mom and I to make a pan of caramel corn. I associate it mostly with winter evenings, probably even near the holidays? I have enjoyed making it occasionally myself over the years, turning a bit of a blind eye to the butter factor! Also, my sister-in-law Kim and I have been known to plow through one of those rather large-ish bins of popcorn during the holidays, though usually those have the added "benefit" of having a cheese or buttery or chocolate partition. Hmmm. Benefit? Sure...

Well, this year I had been thinking I would haul out the homegrown caramel corn recipes again, and wouldn't it be fun to make it "holiday-ish?" I looked over quite a few recipes and was very pleased to find this recipe via Pinterest for a red and green version. In many recipes I've seen, the red and green effect is arrived at via Jello as the coloring method. While I'm sure that works out great, I just wasn't in the mood for lime and strawberry caramel corn--I want caramel corn that tastes like caramel corn! And I was happy to let good old fashioned food coloring help me out with the holiday-ish aspect...

Caramel Popcorn
slightly adapted from Baked Perfection's version
21 cups airpopped popcorn
3/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/4 + 1/8 cup light corn syrup
1/4 + 1/8 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
red and green food coloring

Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a medium saucepan, melt together the butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup. Bring to a boil, sitting frequently. Boil over low heat for five minutes. Remove from heat and add the baking soda and vanilla.

Place half of the popcorn in a 9x13 pan coated with cooking spray. Place the other half in another 9x13 pan coated with cooking spray.

Place half the carmel in a medium bowl and add red food coloring until you reach the desired shade of red. Immediately pour over one pan of popcorn. Toss to coat.

Add green food coloring to the remaining caramel until you reach desired shade of green. Immediately pour over second pan of popcorn. Toss to coat.

Bake for 45 minutes, rotating pans and stirring each pan with a spatula coated with cooking spray every 15 minutes. Cool completely before serving.

So fun, so easy and so pretty! A complete keeper for this holiday, and one I expect to haul out many times in the years to come.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday night grateful list

From an airplane, my view is always a bit skewed. I find myself consistently more thankful, more aware, really "awake," maybe even hyper-so. Very profound, too. Just wait, you'll see. Ha.

OK, I'm mostly kidding about the profound. But I am thankful, as always.

This week went by so quickly. Being gone for two days--one play, one work--will do that! I am grateful to be a 38-minute flight from home as I write this... Well, 38 minutes plus one hour to drive... somebody didn't book their ticket early and forgot that the departure day would also be a prime "get out of Dodge" travel day for many local college students leaving Walla Walla... Hence, ticket from Pasco...

My play day was a lovely catch up with dear friend Kate, a little shopping, a movie and a whole lotta talking. And a really great lunch at a new place in Seattle's U Village shopping area: Grace Kitchen. Yum comfort food, and what a great name, eh? I'm grateful for longstanding friendships, and the ease with which I can just be me with my good friends... I know I am amply blessed in that arena, and I don't take it for granted, at all.

I'm grateful to return home tonight to husband, to a warm house and a loving spouse. Again: blessed and not taking it for granted.

Here comes Christmas! I can't believe it is so soon! What happened to December, seriously?! While it's been quite a pleasant month, really, I could handle a bit of a slowdown... Maybe, in old LP vernacular, I'd like the month (a 45, if you will) played at 33 1/3... Hmmm, that was a little less graceful sounding than I imagined... So much for profundity... so where's the grateful in this paragraph? I'm grateful for the moments of quiet December has held, in spite of the apparent whoosing noise as it zooms by...

Once I'm home tonight, it can snow. And snow. And then snow some more. I am grateful that my travel this month hasn't been terribly stunted by the weather (if you don't count that icky fog last Friday!), and all roads/paths passable.

I'm grateful that Seth gets a break from school, and that we get a piece of that break. In the world of divvied up holidays, it's rare to get both a chunk of Thanksgiving and the Christmas break too, do I'm extra-bonus-grateful for the week ahead. Time to savor, for Mom.

I'm not yet sick of the flavors of the season... In fact, I'm not sure I could ever get tired of them... I suppose in time... The cranberries, the pumpkin (creamer, especially!), the eggnog--I have two serious eggnog boys in my house, I'm pale by comparison--the peppermint, the chocolate, the nuts... Oh, I'm getting the baking crave going again... Just a few more goodies to make... I'm so grateful for these flavors, and all the memories they elicit in me.

Now, finally, safely home. I promised myself that tonight the list would be "plane-length"--whatever I could get written in those 38 minutes, that would be it... so, although I'm sure I could dream up a few more things to be grateful for, I'm going to stick with this, and say good night. I wish you a glorious weekend, filled with all the things that make your particular holiday special and merry.

But, I can't resist sharing a couple of songs that went through my mind tonight as I was on my way home... not Christmasy, but very much in the mind toward heading back to my place of comfort and love: home.

What stood out from the holiday rush and bustle on your grateful list this week? Tell me.

I hope that whatever your weekend holds, you are home.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thursday 13: Thirteen Christmas quotes/poems

Christmas is coming, it's getting really close! Can't you feel it? I am always amazed by how quickly the weeks after Thanksgiving zoom by until--WHAM --it's going to take a very special amount of postage to get that package where it needs to go! (Some of us just don't learn!).

To celebrate the glorious arrival of the actual holiday itself, here are 13 quotes and poem snippets to get you in the holiday mood...

1. To the American People: Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. If we think on these things, there will be born in us a Savior and over us will shine a star sending its gleam of hope to the world."
-Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933), American president. Presidential message (December 25, 1927)

2. The worst gift is a fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other. -Johnny Carson

3. Christmas is a time when you get homesick--even when you're home. -Carol Nelson

4. Christmas gift suggestions: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.
-Oren Arnold

5. I love the Christmas-tide, and yet,
I notice this, each year I live;
I always like the gifts I get,
But how I love the gifts I give!
-Carolyn Wells

6. One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don't clean it up too quickly. -Andy Rooney

7. Somehow, not only for Christmas,
but all the long year through,
The joy that you give to others,
Is the joy that comes back to you.
-John Greenleaf Whittier

8. I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. -Charles Dickens

10. There has been only one Christmas--the rest are anniversaries. -W.J. Cameron

11. Christmas is a necessity. There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we're here for something else besides ourselves. -Eric Sevareid

12. I wish we could put up some of the Christmas spirit in jars and open a jar of it every month. -Harlan Miller

13. We hear the beating of wings over Bethlehem and a light that is not of the sun or of the stars shines in the midnight sky. Let the beauty of the story take away all narrowness, all thought of formal creeds. Let it be remembered as a story that has happened again and again, to men of many different races, that has been expressed through many religions, that has been called by many different names. Time and space and language lay no limitations upon human brotherhood. -New York Times, 25 December 1937

Ah, Christmas... thanks for coming around and reminding us about all the really important stuff...

Here's a last-minute bonus posted by a friend on Facebook today:
Preparing for the holidays is primarily a preparing of the heart. Because what comes down is love and the way to receive love isn’t to wrap anything up--but to unwrap your heart. -Ann Voskamp

Lovely. I'm ready to unwrap my heart and a few other things too! Ha.

Got a Christmas quote to share? I'd love to hear it.

For more Thursday 13s, go here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Midweek reminder: Shadows make the light show

Maybe this is what grace is, the unseen sounds that make you look up. I think it’s why we are here, to see as many chips of blue sky as we can bear. To find the diamond hearts within one another’s meatballs. To notice flickers of the divine, like dust motes on sunbeams in your dusty kitchen. Without all the shade and shadows, you’d miss the beauty of the veil. The shadow is always there, and if you don’t remember it, when it falls on you and your life again, you’re plunged into darkness. Shadows make the light show. –Anne Lamott

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Whimsical swirl cookies

The minute I saw these cookies (on Pinterest, of course), I knew I needed to make them. This year. The theme at work for Christmas decor is "whimsical" Christmas, which involves a bit of the Krinkles look, with a touch of Dr. Seuss thrown in. These cookies looked perfect for that theme, and besides, all that green? I love it. I've made rolled cookies before (a cranberry concoction from Joy of Baking, years ago) and they turned out fairly well, so that memory just bolstered my resolve!

And, they turned out to be just as easy as I was hoping. The steps themselves take a little bit of time, but the "wow-cool" factor makes them well worth it.

Colorful swirl cookies 
2 cups flour, plus possibly a few more tbsp (the original recipe called for cake flour, but I used all-purpose flour and the dough was amply soft)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup unsifted powdered sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (cut in chunks)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp of food coloring of your choice(and/or 1/2 tsp of any desired extra extracts; I skipped this)
1 1/2 cup holiday sprinkles

In a stand mixer, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and sugars with paddle on medium until well blended.

Add butter in, gradually, and continue mixing. Add in vanilla extract. At this point, your dough will form a ball on your paddle.

Remove all your dough and divide into two equal parts. Return one portion back in to the mixer and add the food coloring and any extra extracts. If you are using liquid food coloring, you will need to add a few tbsp of flour to keep the dough from becoming too wet. Mix until the color is spread out evenly.

Roll out each portions of your dough, between two sheets a wax paper until is reaches about 11 x 9 inches and is 1/4 inch thick. Slide both unto a cookie sheet and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

When firm, remove the top sheets of wax paper from both. Brush the uncolored vanilla dough lightly with water using a pastry brush. Then flip the colored dough onto the vanilla uncolored dough so they are stacked atop each other and even. Press the edges lightly with your fingertips to seal them together. Using a small pairing knife, trim the edges of the dough to make straight, even lines.

Pour out sprinkles onto a large platter and set aside. Be sure your dough is still cold, but flexible. Once it's ready, begin rolling the long side of dough into a swirl, jelly-roll style. Now, don't get nervous if the outer layer of uncolored dough tears a bit. It's no problem, just pinch and pat those tears and reseal them, then just keep rolling.

Now gently lift your dough log onto the sprinkles and roll away. Cover the log completely with your sprinkles. Wrap the colorfully decorated log in plastic wrap twice. Depending on when you want to bake the cookies, either place the wrapped dough into refrigerator for about 3-4 hours or you can put it the freezer and keep it there for up to 2 months. (If freezing, give yourself time for the dough to defrost in the fridge overnight before cutting.)

Slice your dough into 1/4-1/8 inch slices and bake on parchment lined baking sheets. Bake at 350 for 15-17 minutes until edges are slightly golden. Let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then move them to a cookie rack to finish cooling. Enjoy!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Common Miracles Week #31: In list form

“Rejoicing in ordinary things is not sentimental or trite. It actually takes guts. Each time we drop our complaints and allow everyday good fortune to inspire us, we enter the warrior’s world.” 
–Pema Chodron

I haven't paused consistently for Common Miracles lately, but it does seem to me that of any season of the year, THIS should be the one where I feel and see Common Miracles all around me... and I doooooo (can you hear the hesitation in my "voice?"). The pausing really takes a little extra effort for me when I'm bouncing around between oven and stove and computer and tree and oven and stove and computer and tree. (Think Dug, from Up. "Squirrel!")

So to pause.

My list of Common Miracles includes (but is not limited) (just to cover myself, of course) to:
*The amazing ice that formed in the heavy fog on Friday. The beauty on each stem, fence post, tree branch, is amazing. Also amazing, the thought that this frozen wasteland will come to life again in the spring. That seems particularly miraculous right now.
*Lights in the darkness. I know I curse the darkness a lot, but boy do twinkle lights help. The tree, the stair bannister... I love the lights.
*The fireplace. I feel so blessed to have warmth at all, much less a fireplace. I love sitting by it, and the tree, and just being cozy... Seth and I tried each taking an end of the sofa while reading this weekend, but we found that our combined size now makes that less comfortable than in winters past. So apparently we'll need a second sofa! Ha.
*Laughter. Such a good thing.
*Tears. Also a good thing, in moderation.
*Holiday baking. Working on the moderation there...
*I take great joy in rugging up to go outside. Boots, coats, mittens, scarves, sweaters, you name it, I will layer upon layer to stay warm. I wore my funky green and chunky lumberjack-ish hat to drop off Seth and a buddy at the basketball game Saturday night... I think they were very glad I didn't come inside!
*GPS. Love being able to find my way around without having to use my apparently nonexistent sense of direction. Whomever invented GPS (the government? Ack.), I want to kiss you.
*Fondue. Well, OK, cheese in general. I had fondue with Jen in Portland on Friday, as well as a really great chicken schnitzle dish that had braised red cabbage, and it was divine. I know, who knew? I would not have thought that in my lifetime the words "braised red cabbage" and "divine" would show up in the same sentence. But they did, and it was. Yum. But back to fondue. It's been too long, girls. I'm feeling a fondue coming on...
*Shoulder rubs. I tweaked my back on Friday morning doing something pretty mudane. (Please, keep your snickering to a minimum.) Brushing. My. Teeth. Seriously. Quite the tweak, too. I got a few really good, gentle-ish shoulder rubs from husband over the weekend that went a long way toward fixing my tweak. Ahhh.

I'm sure I'm forgetting something--clean air to breathe? good well water to drink? an ample pantry? a roof over my head? all these and more--but for today, these are the ordinary things that make me smile, remind me that life is good, and we are all quite blessed.

To see how the Common Miracle project started, go here.

Coconut snowballs

So,  crazy cake ball trend has been going strong for a couple of years, doesn't it seem? Giving credit where credit is due for the invention itself seems a bit hard to do, and there is even some internet sniping about who did what when, first, etc. I first stumbled on cake balls via Bakerella at least two or three years ago, and they have certainly done a lot to popularize the trend. But hello, Starbucks makes them now, so you know it's time for a new fad when THAT happens...

I've never been big on the whole "balls" aspect, so any time I'm able to think of another name, I do it. Hence, the coconut snowballs. See, so much more acceptable! And since I have yet to stick a stick in my cake balls, I obviously haven't truly embraced the "pop" angle... but maybe that day will come. It honestly just seems like an unnecessary step...

I've made these coconut babies at least the past two holiday seasons and had to roll them out again. They are just so good and easy and a wee bit addictive. Of course, you kinda have to like coconut, and as luck would have it, I live with two non-coconut guys. So... more for me? Maybe... and probably more for you too, because of it.

There's something definitely Sandra-Lee-Semi-Homemade about cake balls, and while it may be easy to turn one's nose up at when looking for some chi-chi homemade dessert, I would say get over yourself and enjoy this truly easy-to-make sweet nibble. These are beyond yummy and I would bet that even homemade cake and frosting would not stack up against the boxed. So there.

I sent this picture via phone last week to my sister-in-law Kim. I'm nothing if not a big tease.

Coconut cake snowballs
Makes about 50 snowballs
1 box of cake mix--white, vanilla, your choice
Frosting--white, vanilla, your choice
White chocolate or almond bark candy coating--your choice
Flaked coconut
Coconut extract

Make up the cake recipe according to directions on the box. Bake.

When the cake is done, take it out of the oven and let it rest about 5-10 minutes, so that it's still warm but not hot. Then crumble it into a big bowl. If you have a stand mixer, this is a great use for it (especially when you double the recipe, which I highly recommend). Using the paddle attachment, stir the cake until it's crumbly, and then add about half the container of frosting (1/2 - 3/4 cup). Now is a good time to add your coconut extract, as well. Add about 2 tsp. Taste and if you want it a stronger coconut flavor, add a bit more. Remember that you'll also be dipping it in coconut, so don't go overboard!

Continue mixing until the cake and frosting have combined into a glorious mass. Best to start on the low end with the amount of frosting and keep adding, as you can't undo a too-soft mixture (unless you have another cake lying about). When you get it to a cookie-dough-like consistency, that will be perfect for rolling. (I read one blogger who said she never added frosting, just beat up her cake and made balls. If I didn't love frosting so much, I might just try that some time... Without having tried her concoction, I think the overall consistency would be more "truffle-like" with the frosting... Just wanting you to have all the information, though. If you find yourself frosting-less, all is not lost!)

I usually chill the dough for a bit. That way it will roll up into balls quickly.

Roll the dough into 1- to 1.5-inch balls, and then freeze them (1 hour or all the way to overnight). Frozen always dips better.

Meanwhile, be melting your white chocolate. There are a few methods for that, but once you've burnt it a few times in the microwave, I'll bet you'll come back to the lovely double-boiler method. Not that I'd know anything about that...

Prepare a bowl of grated coconut for rolling the just-chocolate-dipped balls. This is where they will take on their snowball-ish appearance.

It's time to dip. A bit of technique helps here. I usually take a couple of forks and plop one into the chocolate, kind of toss it between the forks, then lift and gently let the chocolate fall, scraping any excess before gently lowering into the flaked coconut and rolling around with my hands. A gentle roll in the coconut, and out they can come to a wax paper lined cookie tray, where they can go into the fridge to firm up for a few minutes.

The snowballs keep best in the fridge in an airtight container, for a week or two. Longer than that and you should freeze them, which also works well. Just bring them out to your fridge overnight to thaw and enjoy!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Betcha can't eat just one: Flourless chocolate bites

These little flourless chocolate morsels have come out of my oven more than any other sweet thing, ever. I feel pretty confident saying that, as one year (2003, I believe) I made 2,000+ of them for a local winery during the winter barrel tasting weekend.

I remember the first time I made the recipe at home (which I found at epicurious). In 2000, epicurious was pretty much the best online source for recipes. I made it as a full-size cake for a dinner party, which was what the recipe called for--a 10-inch springform pan. It was good, but I found it a little dry at the outside, and a little wet at the center, and decided the recipe would work much better, and spend much less time in the oven, as smaller cakes.

Since then, I've never made a full-size flourless chocolate cake again. I've made them mostly in mini muffin tins and popped them out as "bites," or as individual desserts in a larger muffin pan (about 1.5 x a regular muffin size). They don't puff up like a muffin, thankfully, so they have a really pretty look. (Key: don't fill the tins too full. An ample half-fill is about the right amount.)

This year I decided that a) I finally need to post the recipe, and b) I was ready to try a couple of variations.

First, the recipe:

Flourless chocolate cake bites
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut into pieces
8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup sifted unsweetened cocoa powder
6 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Stir butter and chocolate in heavy large saucepan over low heat until melted. Mix sugar and cocoa in large bowl. Add eggs; whisk until well blended. Pour in the butter-chocolate mixture and stir until well combined.

At this point, you're ready to bake. You can follow the directions at epicurious and bake in a 10-inch springform pan, or you can deviate as I do and make many smaller cakes.

This recipe multiplies well. In fact, I don't think I've ever made a single recipe--I've made as many as 10x the recipe, and just recently made it 5x. So my stab at how many a recipe makes... is around 72 little bites, which is three of the mini muffin tins.

A couple of my tips: Let the batter sit for a bit and cool before putting into the well-sprayed (baking spray) muffin tins. In fact, you can refrigerate the batter for a few hours or overnight and scoop it into the tins with a spoon. (At that point, you'll have to let it sit out for a bit to actually warm to the point of scooping.)  I have always found that a little easier than trying to pour it in as a runny batter. I haven't frozen the batter, but I have definitely frozen the baked cake bites, and they thaw and even reheat quite beautifully. The larger size that I've made can almost resemble a molten chocolate cake once it's been reheated in the oven for a few minutes.

Variations: This year I decided I would make them with a hazelnut twist and an Almond Joy twist. Oddly, I'm not sure I would again; both of them felt like they needed to be baked in little baking cups to accommodate the extra ingredients, and so it added a cumbersome aspect to the process. (I know that sounds lazy, but when one is making 500 or so, being able to be efficient gets kind of important...) The Almond Joy variation turned out messier in both the making and the eating than I like, but very yummy. The hazelnut version (see the picture above) was also quite delicious, and less messy than the almond variation. To accomplish the hazelnut, I baked the bites for about 7 minutes (filling the tins with a little less batter than usual), pulled them from the oven, piped Nutella into the middle of the bite, topped it with a roasted hazelnut and popped them back in the oven for another 5-7 minutes. Worked well, but not sure it's that big of an improvement over the original...

Finally! The flourless chocolate bites have been shared. They are a really easy little sweet nibble to master, but be sure to spray whatever you bake them in very well. The batter loves to stick, and I have thumped many a muffin tin on a countertop to try and separate cake from tin... At this point my muffin tins are quite well seasoned and the baked cakes fairly leap from the pan. But be warned: PAM!

Bake up a couple of batches of these and you'll be set for those drop-in guests throughout the holidays! Enjoy.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Friday night grateful moment

Darn these short, dark weeks... this was one of those. Zoom zoom.

I'm grateful tonight to be home with my men after a long day, a long drive, and a long (well, not really) but very productive meeting. When you don't have the built-up stamina for meetings (once upon a time I was a meeting rockstar!), they can be super-draining. So I'm glad to be done, for this week... I am honored to be a part of an organization with such dedication to the betterment of children's lives.

I'm grateful that the week held, once again, more sunshine than any other kind of weather. It got colder, for sure (especially the past 24 hours!), but as long as there is sunshine, the world seems to move along more kindly. That's just my opinion, of course, but I know a lot of people who concur. I still find it positively amazing that when I pick Seth up at 3:15, it feels like the sun is setting That. Minute. If I could hold the sun up just a few more minutes, I would. But while the sun is here, I'll take it, every last ray of it.

Of course, the past 24 hours have obliterated any memory of sunshine for Walla Wallans, I'm afraid. Thursday night the freezing fog rolled in and stayed all day. I drove out of town this morning in a heavy blanket of fog that actually lasted much longer than it usually does--I went more than two hours before it lifted. On the way back, it was much lighter, but still present... I'm grateful that the roads were clear and mostly dry, and that the little precipitation I encountered was misty and brief. Now that I'm home it can snow snow snow. But while I'm driving solo across the state? No thanks.

(It was rather funny to be in the Vancouver/Portland area for the day and have it be brilliantly sunny. I am used to hearing about their gray skies and rain rain rain, while we're usually warmer and sunnier. Ha. Glad I took my sunglasses!)

The wild frenzy of baking is over for the moment, and I'm grateful that the work party went well. I still have supplies upon supplies that I will make up for my own little baking endeavors and tins of this and that to give to friends... but the multiplying recipes by six or eight or such nonsense is over for this year!

My health has been good so far this fall/winter (knock on wood), and I'm grateful for that. I'm currently giving credit to my Vitamin D levels, which I've gotten up to a decent place with some dedication the past year or so, and to sleep. Dear dear sleep. I know I take my good health for granted, and I don't want to. I want to put in the time and energy to eat well, exercise and be well mentally, physically and emotionally... there's something to put on the New Year's resolution list, eh? This year, as every year...

I am grateful for friendship, always. For words of encouragement, support and cheer, for long lunches/breakfasts/coffees and for the shared history of more than a couple of decades with some, too. I had a late lunch with dear friend Jen in Portland before heading home this afternoon, and it is always good to catch up with her, even though I feel like we're "in touch" via Facebook anyway. Nothing beats the face-to-face, Mr. Zuckerberg. Just sayin'. (And thanks for the chat while I was traveling, Kim. That helped.)

The ornaments are up, the pretty glass orbs are all tucked into their places and they never fail to make me smile. Seth arranged one big vase, as you can see, and does he know his mom or what? Love the rainbow spectrum. I'm grateful for color. (Jen, bet you couldn't see that picture coming, eh?!) (Sorry about the photo quality, I'll need to retake that one... sometimes the iPhone just doesn't cut it.)

My head's been down this week, and not much on the computer, so my Pinterest stats are waning. Sad days. Ha ha. I'm sure I'll be back at it soon, but for now, check out these sweet, cute pictures... each in their own way... I'm grateful for cute and sweet, they are a good antidote to reality some days!

Always, always, grateful for words. Especially grateful for words that ground me, that bring me back to me and remind me what I need to keep front and center. These words especially worked on me this week:
Whatever your fate is, whatever the hell happens, you say, "This is what I need." It may look like a wreck, but go at it as though it were an opportunity, a challenge. If you bring love to that moment--not discouragement--you will find the strength there. Any disaster you can survive is an improvement in your character, your stature, and your life. What a privilege!! This is when the spontaneity of your own nature will have a chance to flow. Then, when looking back at your life, you will see that the moments which seemed to be great failures, followed by wreckage, were the incidents that shaped the life you have now. You'll see this is really true. Nothing can happen to you that is not positive. Even though it looks and feels at the moment like a negative crisis, it is not. The crisis throws you back, and when you are required to exhibit strength, it comes.-Joseph Campbell

That's the stuff. I listened to a sermon while driving today by Timothy Keller that jived with that sentiment, called Reconciliation. Good listening.

I hope the stuff of your week has been blessed and hopeful, and that a bit of the magic of the season is reaching you. I have talked with more friends this year than any other about the stress and anxiety of the holidays, and how the picture of a lovely and peaceful family time together is such a pipe dream for so many. If that's the case for you, I hope you're able to gather close the people and memories that mean a lot to you and make some new, joyful memories. At the very least, I wish you less stress and more chill.

What are you grateful for this week? I hope the list is long.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Thursday 13: Gingerbread houses galore!

Last holiday season, a gingerbread house caught my fancy. And boy did it. I have looked at this house numerous times in the intervening months, thinking about what it would take to pull off making a replica... and then, just tonight I saw that the plans for it (my big holdout on making it--ugh, drawing up plans, where's my dad when I need him?) are now for sale. Sweet.

Check it out. An inspired approach to gingerbreading, this take on Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater.

In my research on gingerbread houses, thinking about making one (other than the grocery store kits I've bought in the past!), I uncovered some beauties. I can't help but share 13 of them with you...

1. An Ewok gingerbread house (and catch a load of that Death Star!)

2. A sweet little stone-front gingerbread house. Cute shutters, too!

3. A sweet white gingerbread house. Not to be confused with THE White House (which has also been made gingerbread style...).

4. A midcentury-modern style gingerbread house. That's my speed!

5. A whole host of amazing gingerbread houses featured in a Festival of Trees.

6. A replica of a historical Newfoundland gingerbread house--lit up!

7. And of course you know Martha's got to have a gingerbread house contest, right? I thought this shoe house was quite a unique creation!

8. There were quite a few good ideas over at this post about gingerbread house inspiration. The house is very cute too--lots of attention to detail.

9. A few actual house patterns and gingerbread swans! I couldn't help but include them... somewhere under all that icing is gingerbread, I suppose.

10. How-tos and a beautiful gingerbread hotel.

11. A beach house!

12. Rustic, a log cabin gingerbread house

13. And, while not really a ginger bread house, it does have gingerbread houses IN it, and it is so colorful, I just had to include it.

Well, there you have it. More gingerbread houses than you could ever hope to make in a lifetime...

Which one is your favorite? Me, I'm still hankering after Fallingwater...

To check out more Thursday 13s, go here.
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