Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Scenes from the holiday

What a great weekend.  Seven Fishes 2011 went off perfectly and we had a lot of people stop by after dinner for our annual open house.

I went with green and red for the Christmas table, rather than green and white (like I typically do).

Penny offered to help out in whatever way she could.  She loves nothing more than warming her belly on the dishwasher door after all of the clean dishes have been unloaded.  Like I said, big help.

I have zero recollection of this picture being taken--I'm guessing my mom or my sister took it.  It really bothers me that I don't remember that.  The Chef is busy at work in the background frying up calamari.

We used up a "roll of film" on the Fuji Instax.  Everybody hates how the flash washes them out--but that's the whole point.

Ron and I found ourselves turning off the front light and pulling out the extra leaf from the table by 11:30pm.  Typically, the house doesn't empty out until 12 or 1am, but I think it still managed to feel like a long day for all of those involved.  

We spent the next morning at my parents', opening gifts and enjoying breakfast.


After we came home from my parents', I experienced a Christmas miracle: I used my curling iron CORRECTLY for the first time EVER. Bonus miracle?  I slept on it, and the waves lasted 36 hours.  I'll never be able to duplicate that ever again. I've only been trying to master this since second grade. It was fun while it lasted.

PROOF. Because even I don't believe it.
Christmas dinner took place at Ron's parents' house.  The big talk this year was about the brand new "skinny" tree from Wegman's. I think it's cute.


I love all of the colors and textures on this table--it's really luxurious.

We enjoyed beef tenderloin, parmesan mashed potatoes, and green beans with walnuts and mushrooms.  I wish I had taken a picture of the desserts--of course, everyone was too full to partake.  We were home by 11pm, but I stayed up until 2am watching Home Alone and flipping through magazines.  ("Look what you did, you little jerk!" hahaha!)

The next morning, I was off and running to Erin's house for our annual Christmas lunch and pollyanna. Over the past five years, my friends and I have learned that--barring unexpected illness--this is the only day of the whole year where it's guaranteed that we'll all be in the same room together at the same time.  I hosted last year, so Erin took over this year.

Amalie and Erin

Look closely at our plates to see what Erin made: acorn squash stuffed with quinoa and chicken sausage.  It was amazing.  Ama baked pears stuffed with walnuts, crasins, and a sweet glaze for dessert. Another gorgeous course, but I don't have a picture.

Sarah and Megan (yes: they are twins)

We try to remember taking our annual photo before someone has to rush out the door for another party.  There have been years where there's only four of us because we didn't remember in time.  This year, we included what Erin affectionately calls her "Crazy Baby Tree."  It's a long story, but there was no time for a real tree due to an abscessed tooth and some really bad allergies.

So that's it for now.  For three years now, Ron and I typically watch the Band of Brothers marathon that airs every year on the 26th. I missed most of it this year (tuning it at the Bastogne like I always do--I keep missing the first two-thirds when it comes on). Coming up, we have a big 60th bday party for my mother-in-law and, of course, New Year's Eve with Erin and Tom and possibly Megan and her new beau, Tyler.

I'll have to put together a post with all of the gorgeous, lovely things that friends and family gave to me for Christmas. Nothing beats cashmere this-and-that with Clinique chubby sticks and Anthro earrings ; )

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Buon Natale

Crane's Paper

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Today's mantra

I will try to channel her:

Neryl Walker for Marcel Schurman Collection
... and to make my home feel like this:
Art credit unknown

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas decor tour

I broke out the tripod this morning and photographed everything while it was still cloudy.

This is one of my favorite little corners.  The ceramic tree was painted by my Aunt Debbie years ago.  She gave it to my mom, and my mom passed it on to me a few years ago. I love the way it looks on the sea glass green desk.  People don't really "do ceramics" anymore.  I wouldn't even know where to buy a project like that.  My mother-in-law gave me the white Santa. It's hard to see, but he has a bird resting on each hand.  I love birds--they're all over my house (not real ones, but I sorta wish that was the case ... Martha Stewart has a HUGE bird cage--HUGE--filled with birds in one of her dining rooms. It's gorgeous).  The mercury glass tree is just Home Goods.

This is the front table that sits behind the front door. It's covered in a true mix of "high" and low."  The candelabra with the crystals all on the way on the right is part of a pair.  I found the pair at a consignment shop for TWELVE dollars a few days before Christmas in 2006.  Apparently, some woman who was cleaning out her mom's house dropped them off and they narrowly missed a sad death in a landfill.  I was told they're from Russia?  I can't actually tell if that's true. They're one of my favorite things.  Since the Fluffs hang out on the back of the couch, the white candles are flameless (because we had too many near-misses with real flames and fluffy kitty tails). The glass tree next to them is from Simon Pearce.  If I had unlimited money, I would buy ten or twenty of them and put them all over my (currently non-existent) mantle and in the center of my dining room table for the winter.

The wood church was unfinished when I bought it at Michael's last year. I spray painted it white and glittered it gold. I want to create stained "glass" for the windows, but I can't figure out how.  It sits on top of a mirror that I (not kidding) filched from someone's trash on the side of the road. (The turquoise frame that surrounded the mirror has been turned into a cork board.)  All of the green trees are from Michael's and Kmart, and the glass nativity came from my Aunt Janet.  The plastic Infant of Prague--serving as a statue in the "churchyard"--came from a flea market.

The stockings are hung on the staircase with care ... because we don't have a fireplace.  My mom did the crewel work on my stocking.  She started it when she was pregnant with me ... and it remained unfinished until a year and half ago when I finally put the whole thing together and assembled it on my sewing machine.  My mom bought a chocolate velvet for the back, and it was her idea to do the brown pom-poms around the edge. It was so hard to sew together.  Seriously, it took 26 years to start and finish this project.  And I wonder why I have so much trouble and personal issues with procrastination?? Clearly: it's genetic!!

I'm not sure what I'll use on the table for Christmas Eve.  Typically, I use a darkish green damask tablecloth with white china.  The other day, I picked up a goldy-beige damask table cloth (like the placemats here) that would work with white china or the china in this picture. I'm tempted to do beige ... but we're eating two courses with marinara sauce ... so that may be a really, really bad idea.  The green has been covered in marinara over the years, but it washes out every time.  I'm always sad in January when I have to remove all of the ornaments from my Norfolk pine in the corner.  Sometimes I think I'll keep them up all year, but I ultimately force myself to put them away.

I wanted to have cloth napkins for last year's Christmas Eve dinner, but I couldn't find anything I liked that was affordable. I ended up buying a huge tablecloth and simply cutting it into 18 or 20 inch dinner napkins.  The tablecloth produced 12 or 13 napkins--perfect.  I've been using them all month this year.

This is the only spot in the house that isn't primarily silver, gold, beige, white, and green.  It's the only place where I can use some turquoise and it makes sense.  I ordered the snowflakes from Lillian Vernon years ago and used fishing line to create a garland from them.  The cupcake ornaments are from Anthro--I think I've had them since college.  They look weird on my tree, but they make sense in the kitchen.  My friend Joan bought me the bunny at Anthro when she and I were in NYC during Christmas week for the APA.  The turquoise garland is from a skein of Pomp-a-Doodle--you can find it in the yarn aisle at Michael's or Jo-Ann Fabric. I like to think my window is wearing a necklace.  Everybody could use a necklace.

My only real task tomorrow is to make sure all of my gifts are wrapped and bowed.  I have to do my nails at some point too.  And I have to vacuum again and make sure the floors aren't completely nasty.  And I have to keep out of Ron's way as he officially tackles Christmas Eve Dinner 2011--a daunting task if ever there was one.

Merry Merry!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas week: "Strangle me. NOW." Edition

Ok, so let me first address the "Winter is here" post (below): When I typed that up on Sunday or Monday night (and scheduled it to post early this morning), I had no idea it would be 60 freakin degrees all week. Seriously, people: I am loving this.  No purple lips or numb fingers or toes for me this week.  Wahoo!

In other news, if I spend one more dollar this month, I'm afraid that my wallet will spontaneously burst into flames.  Really, I should stuff an oven mitt in my coat pocket just in case it happens.  Ugh, has it been a retail-nightmare-kinda week or what?  I am so sick of buying stuff and going to stores that it's not even funny.  On Monday, I wasted THREE HOURS of my life (that I will never, ever get back) buying and returning (TWICE) a watch that CANNOT BE RESIZED BY ANY DEPARTMENT STORE OR WATCH RETAILER IN PHILADELPHIA.

No: I'm not joking.  Apparently, a very well known watch brand that shall remain nameless (you can thank me later, Citizen) sells watches to department stores that require "A Special Tool" (this is Real Technical Timepiece Language used by overworked and underpaid salespeople at the mall) to remove links from the watch ... but nobody in PHILADELPHIA has Said Tool.  In fact, Ron and I managed to baffle EXACTLY seven (SEVEN) salespeople at THREE different stores trying to resize Said Watch.  It didn't end well.  Blah blah blah.


I just bought (seriously: 15 minutes ago) a last minute gift for my mom and then realized AFTER I FINISHED THE TRANSACTION THAT IT WAS ELIGIBLE FOR A 20% DISCOUNT.

Those bastards.  I almost started to cry because (I don't think any guys read this blog?) I was PMS-ing so bad and just couldn't take it anymore.  So I wrote this email to the customer service team at the website (this is a real email--not joking):

"Dear [website],

I just placed a $76 order with you (Order # 12345). Before I submitted my order, I failed to notice the button at the top of the page: "20% off 3 DAYS ONLY!"  Apparently, the offer ends this Saturday, 12/24. I missed this because it's out of the way at the top of the page, and--basically--I feel ripped off. I could have saved FIFTEEN dollars on my order.  Is there ANY WAY you would consider reimbursing the discount to the credit card I used to place my order?  (The coupon code is SAVEUS20) Retailers never fail to disappoint me ... won't you SAVEMYSANITY and ruin this trend?  PLEASE? Pretty please?

Thanks so much for considering."
We'll see if they get back to me.

Despite ALL OF THIS, it's been a good week because so much has gotten done around this place. Last night was Cookie Night.

Ron did biscotti last night.  "Biscotti" literally translates to "twice baked."  (Thank you, undergraduate Italian studies.)  You shape the dough in logs--like so, below--and put them in the oven for the first half of the process. *I have NO IDEA why the font is messed up here--just another reason why I hate you, Blogger!*

Then you slice the logs into individual cookies and bake them the second time.  Ron always does almond flavored biscotti, but I LOVE anise flavor.  My mother-in-law did chocolate almond biscotti earlier this week, and they were really chewy (like a brownie edge) rather than dry and crumbly like most biscotti typically are. I really couldn't pick a favorite if I tried.

Here's the recipe Ron uses.
When he finished the biscotti, I decided to try making peanut butter cookies. I've never made these before, so I went with this recipe.  I'm not gonna lie: they're not that great. I wanted a moist, chewy cookie and these turned out seriously dry and nearly dusty.  I'm thirsty just thinking about them. ("THESE PRETZELS ARE MAKING ME THIRSTY!!" hahaha!)

Here's a good trick when you make them: When you use your fork to make the cross-hatching, dip the fork in water each time so that it won't stick to the cookies and ruin them.

At least they're pretty.

I did have one kitchen success story yesterday: my mom's "holiday loaf." She asked me a few months ago to keep this in mind and make it for Christmas.

This recipe is out of a magazine from 2001 ... if you want it that badly, I'll type it up.  I will tell you that this is really good. It's not really a fruitcake: A fruitcake has a ton of booze in it and this has none.  This is heavy like a poundcake, very lemony, and really, really good.  Worth the work (which wasn't too bad).

More importantly than Holiday Loaf (that name totally cracks me up), Ron made MARSHMALLOWS this morning.  I don't remember the last time he made these ... I don't think he had time at Easter, so it was probably last Christmas.

We swear by Ina's recipe. It's not exactly easy (you can't zone out or be distracted while doing it), and you have to be precise. If you have a crappy thermometer and you don't know it, an overcooked batch or marshmallows will tell you to buy a new one. (I'm not picky though: There's no real difference between "good" and "bad" marshmallows.)

This batch turned out absurdly soft and fluffy.  If you're up for it, try these out: They will change your life forever.

After all of that, I had to give my kitchen chandelier its semi-annual cleaning.

Most of the people who come to my house for the first time ask about my chandelier.  It was a hand-me-down from my Aunt Debbie. Years ago, my great-grandmother bought it for my aunt's house. My aunt had it in her dining room for years, and when she redecorated a few years ago, the chandelier came down and went into a box in the shed.  I think my aunt felt really guilty about this (although I don't think she should have at all--sometimes you just need a change).  She told me, "If you ever really want it, just call me: It's yours."  The problem? I still lived in my childhood bedroom at the time.  A few years later though, I called her up: "So ... do you still have that chandelier?"  It was in my kitchen the next week.

Everybody who's a generation older than me says, "Ugh, a crystal chandelier? Those things are AWFUL to clean."

ummm, well, I don't know how you bothered cleaning yours (or how filthy your kitchen is), but it's actually really easy. I just take the whole damn thing apart, soak it in a huge bowl of hot, soapy water, and then put the whole thing back together again. It usually takes 60 minutes or less. When Ron helps (like today), it takes 30 minutes.  Don't forget to wipe off the bulbs with Windex--it makes a big difference. (I forgot earlier today, so that will get done tomorrow ...)

All done. That's it until June.
I only do this twice a year in December and June.  The only bad part about it is that it's a graveyard for every gnat that flew through our kitchen during the past six months. And the stinkbugs: Dear God, the stinkbugs.  Maybe it would be nice if I cleaned this four or six times a year, but life is too short and no one seems to notice anyway.

Ron's working on pizzelles right now.

This is a process that can last quite a few hours.  Again, I love anise flavored pizzelles, but Ron insists they have citrus as well AND they have to be see-through-paper-thin.  (I have to admit, there's nothing more pointless than thick pizzelle--store bought ones tend to miss the mark here.) The end result is still fantastic.  You do need a pizzelle iron to do these (obviously). When we were engaged, I never thought to register for one of these, but my Aunt Fil (as in "Filomena") had the foresight to make sure we had one.  It was one of my favorite gifts.

We skip the anise seeds and we forgot to buy an orange (oops).
Somewhere in the middle of all of this I altered a dress and a pair of pants, went for a run, painted my toe nails, and cleaned everything upstairs in my house right down to the bathtub.  What's funny is that an hour ago I was getting sorta mad at myself for failing "to accomplish much today."  Nevermind--I take it back.

Tomorrow, I fold all the laundry I did today and tackle all the surfaces and floors downstairs.  Merry Christmas to me! : )

Winter is officially here. Boo.

Mutts by P. McDonnell
Well, I'll do Christmas week first ... but then, seriously: Don't wake me till March.  I've already had too many days walking around with purple lips and numb fingers and toes (not joking).

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The week in review ... including the bun who's no longer in the oven

Ron was away last week, which was just fine because I had all of my final exam, etc., grading to do.  All of that was a complete time-suck for three and half straight days.  But, it's over for yet another semester. They go so fast ... it creeps me out.

Sunset last Tuesday
The week was a blur.  I had a 9am exam on Monday, and I graded exams from the previous week during that test period.  Then, I went to my 2:25pm exam and continued grading as 26 more students turned in four questions each.  I went home and graded some more.  Tuesday, I graded five more exams in the morning, and I don't remember what happened after that, but I did go to the supermarket at some point and I made spaghetti for dinner (which lasted me the whole week--note earlier comment that Ron was away all week).  After dinner, I finished the last of Monday's exams and created a reading quiz for my Wednesday night class which (this was a surprise for the students later) was only going to count for extra credit the next day.

Do I get the bed to myself when Ron's away? Of course not.
Blah blah blah.  There were two presentations on Wednesday, and (you guessed it) more grading Wednesday night.  At some point, I finally had to trim Pearl's neckfluff because it was Out.Of.Control. Beyond insane and borderline gross.

Believe it or not, she held perfectly still and didn't really seem to care about what the scissors were doing.

I'm pretty sure this is an "After" shot. 
THEN, Thursday rolled around. I was SUPPOSED to go to Starbucks with 40-week-pregnant-Laurie, but she cancelled on me because she was "exhausted."  Ok, fine.

I resisted until Friday morning before I broke down and texted her: "Is 'exhausted' code for 'Sorry, but I'm having a baby'?"  Reply: "HA! No, I thought you would think that. How about tomorrow at 2pm?"

But, I knew--I KNEW--when I went to bed that it was not meant to be.  Laurie consumed every inch of space in my head all day Friday, and it got worse as the day went on.  I didn't know whether to laugh, cry, slam my head against a wall, or call a psychiatrist to make it go away.  I knew what it meant, but I didn't call. And believe me, I wanted to call SO BAD.  My friend Marcie calls it "being on the same wavelength" as another person.

Sure enough, I received a text at 7am on Saturday: "Leah Ann, born at 12:19am. 20.5 in. 7lb 13oz. We are happy and healthy ... Needless to say, no coffee today."

Let the freak out commence.

Laurie was so nice--she let me come visit in the hospital. She and Nick told me everything--she lucked out with a super-fast delivery, zero complications.  Why can't they all be that way?

I didn't take any pictures of the baby because I just wanted to look at her without a lens in the way.  I'll have some soon, I'm sure.

In much lesser news, I bought some new area rugs for the house and the Fluffs LOVE them.

I barely had this thing straightened out on the floor, and the Fluffs were rolling all over it.  Luckily, it's not going back.  It's really plush and cushy AND reversible.  I catch them randomly sitting on it throughout the day when they typically would be on the couch or the bed.

Now that school's out, I hope I'm posting more frequently (until school's back in).  I have a lot of baking to do, and there will definitely be pix of Ron's magnificent Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve.

You good Catholics out there should know what the Seven Fishes represents.  My college Italian prof--an 80-something Napolitano--asked us this question in our Italian Civilization class.  Keep in mind, just about EVERYBODY in that class was a product of Catholic school except for me.  He asks in Italian, "Who can tell me the significance of the seven fishes?  Why do the Italians pick seven?"  My mind totally blanks as some kid goes, "For the seven mortal sins?"  Whereupon my prof rolls his eyes and snorts, "No ...  chissa' ?  ....     ....   [rolls eyes]  PER I SACRAMENTI: il battesimo, la penitenza, la prima comunione, la cresima, il matrimonio, gli ordini sacri, gli unzioni degli infermi  [rolls eyes] .... [in his accented English] Don't any of you know your catechismo?" **

ummm, they don't teach that in public school. And I didn't learn crap in CCD ... so, uhh, no?

That's what so cool about majoring in a language: You learn another way of life. It's not about memorizing the words and stringing them into coherent sentences.  People who look at another language that way never really get it. It's about reading, for example, San Francesco's "Canticle of the Creatures" in his native language and then studying the geography of his native Umbria so to understand, "ohhh ... it's hard to live there and not dedicate your medieval life to becoming a holy tree hugger. I get it."  It's about learning the details of the Italian Civil War and understanding that spaghetti carbonara is a result of the resistance fighters having nothing else to eat while on the run across the countryside.  It's about reading Machiavelli's Il Principe and sadly understanding that old Niccolo' was a corrupt American capitalist approximately 300 years before corrupt American capitalists even existed.  It's about understanding that seven fish represent seven (well, six depending on which path you choose for yourself) necessary and essential milestones to nearly every individual in an entire country for nearly 2,000 years.

Even then, I knew my professore had every right to roll his eyes (many times) at us.

So anyway. I'm still trying to decide if I'm going to bake this holiday fruitcake loaf thing tonight that my mom asked for a few months ago.  We have to do pizzelles, biscotti (both Ron's projects) as well as cut-outs, marshmallows, and ... I'm sure I'm leaving other cookies out.  Who am I kidding? Ron will be doing all of them too. I will DEF dedicate a post to the marshmallows.  They are freakin incredible and even better to eat.

I'll be around more this week ... one week and counting.

** I have no idea if any of my Italian is correct there. I used Google translate because I'm too pigra (lazy) to cross to the other side of the room for my dictionary.

Monday, December 12, 2011

More Christmas photo out-takes

Yup, we tried taking our Official Christmas Photo 2012 this past weekend. I don't need to say a word: I think these photos speak for themselves ... they failed to make the final cut. Enjoy.

If this doesn't make you laugh, then you must be dead.

Apparently, "red eye fix" does not correct "yellow eye" issues.

We actually did get a few good ones.  If you know me, you'll get a card with the Official Photo. And if you don't ... well, trust me: these are a helluva lot funnier anyway.

25 more exams to grade and I'm done!