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Holidays — Page 4

When I was little, my grandma made this gorgeous advent calendar for me.  Sadly, as a child, I didn’t really appreciate it.  It’s been hanging in my closet for about 15 years, I’d guess.

The other night, Remarkably Domestic Husband mentions that we should get an advent calendar.  (Yes, it was around December 20.  Better late than never.)  I thought, “What ever happened to that advent calendar I used to have?”  And lo and behold, I found it in the back of the closet, hanging there, waiting to enjoy another Christmas.

this is how the calendar starts out at the beginning of the season

this is how the calendar starts out at the beginning of the season

Since this isn’t the greatest photo (I need some kind of studio with proper lighting), let me explain.  The whole thing is made out of a long rectangular piece of burlap.  The top has a felt tree with silver grosgrain garland, and the bottom has 24 pockets made out of red felt.  I love the little Santa on his sleigh with his reindeer.  Why exactly is Santa carrying a broom?

this Santa will clean up after he tracks soot through your house

The idea is that every day you open a “present,” you get a new ornament for the tree.  It’s crazy adorable, don’t you think?  One of the best parts was that, since my birthday is in December, that day was a birthday cake.  Really cute.

What’s also amazing is that my Grandma made all of the ornaments, and they are so old school you cannot believe.  I’ll elaborate on some of my faves.

golf tee trumpet. How did she think of these things?!?

Who is this guy supposed to be? A snowman? An astronaut? The Michelin Man?

a pipe cleaner angel, compete with blonde hair

this drum is BRILLIANT

felt and grosgrain gingerbread man

A partridge in a pear tree! Ingenious!

felt stocking

the birthday cake

This one has to be a snowman, yes?

Now, can you stand how ingenious some of these ornaments are?  My favorite thing is the very judicious use of styrofoam packing peanuts.  They aren’t actually those peanut-shaped things, but those kind of bowl-shaped ones– do you remember those?  I haven’t seen them in a while.  Grandma used them for the ends of the drum– which is, in the middle, a rolled piece of holiday ribbon, all encased in red yarn for the design.  It’s so clever.  She also used these styrofoam pieces for the layers of the cake.  I also love the crazy silver round ball/bead guy– what on earth is he supposed to be?  All highly adorable and clearly handmade.

Over the years, though, I’ve lost a few, so I decided I’d make up for it, seeing as we’re using this thing now, and make some more ornaments to complete the 24 days.  I jetted on over to Michaels and searched the aisles looking for raw material.  So here’s what I came up with:

this one is the 6 year old's fave

Now, this one didn’t require Michaels.  The kids found these pinecones outside, and they were tiny enough that I thought they’d work.  And they did.  Are you getting the scale here, y’all?  This crap is TINY.

yes, he looks a LEETLE awkward

So, the snowman turned out looking a little like his magic hat is on just a tad too tight, but everything was so darn small it was hard to do much better.  Three pom poms glued together, seed beads for the buttons, googley eyes, a piece of ribbon all rolled up for the carrot nose, and I made that darn hat– MADE IT!– from a foam sheet.  Did I mention how small all this stuff is?

This one is my favorite, though:

silver bells... silver bells...

I strung a whole bunch of these tiny little bells on a wire, shaped it into a circle, managed to get it to stick together, and added the ribbon.  I love it.

The kids are loving putting the little ornaments on the tree, even if we did do 19 in one afternoon.

the advent calendar with ornaments attached

I love this little tree so much, I’m tempted to make them and sell them on Etsy.  There are some similar ones up there, but nothing with these old school craft ornaments.

Two days until Christmas!

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Cookie Exchange with a Twist

For several years now, one of my holiday traditions is hosting a ladies’ cookie exchange with some good friends.  On the surface, it’s pretty much your average cookie exchange; we all bring cookies and get to leave with a collection of different holiday treats.  What makes this party incredible, though, are the fantastic ladies who attend.  We all get to have some quality time drinking wine and chatting, and eating, of course, our own confections.  It feels like a nice moment in the holiday season to do something for yourself, in a way, attending a party that is about building your own social circle and indulging your own community.

But at this party, we don’t forget the outside world or our gratitude for what we have.  Each participant brings cookies to share with each other but also with a women’s shelter.  We all work together around the table of treats, packing individual bags of cookies to be delivered to a special charity.  Two years ago, it was a shelter for battered women and children; last year it was a homeless women’s shelter and resource center (which, sadly, has had to close its doors this month after 25 years of service to local women and children).  This year, the cookies will go to our local food pantry, which serves over 400 families a week.  Staying connected to the charity of the season is our special twist at this party.

This year, the party fell a little later in the season, so our numbers were a little low.  But we were all in good cheer, packed a whole bunch of bags for the food pantry, and tasted some delicious cookies.

Don’t they look fab?  We packed some of them up into little individual bags for the families at the food pantry.

packed treats, ready for delivery

It was, as always, a lovely party (and not just because we had rosé champagne this year).  Thanks to all my peeps for coming out and sharing!

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Thanksgiving, Part Deux

I haven’t been this tired in a long time.

After a fabulous meal on Thursday, we came home on Friday and I promptly started cooking for our second Thanksgiving meal on Saturday.  I spent most Friday afternoon and evening and Saturday morning cooking, but I do think it turned out great.  I decided to cook a real vegetarian feast, one that did not involve Tofurkey but instead featured a lot of fantastic vegetable dishes.  I figured most of our family would be tired of turkey by Saturday, anyway.

THE MENU:

Cheese plate: Manchego with honey, Brie with Asian pears, and Blue Castello with figs

Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut Dip

Three Sisters Stew

Wild Rice Pilaf

Potato Pave

Creamed Spinach Gratin

Spinach Salad

Cranberry Sauce

Triple Berry Pie

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Squares

All in all, the feast went over fabulously.  I made a few old things and a few new things and, as is my wont, I tried something relatively spectacular that turned out pretty well.  The main dish was the Three Sisters Stew, which is a traditional dish with the Native American “three sisters”: squash, corn, and beans.

Three Sisters Stew cooking in the pot

The rice pilaf was a recipe from Martha, one of my muses.  I used half wild rice and half brown rice, which seemed to work really well.

wild rice pilaf with cranberries, pecans and golden raisins

The Spinach Gratin was amazing and the dish that went the fastest.  The adults absolutely loved it; the tween/teens not as much, but how can you expect a teen to eat spinach?  It went so fast that I didn’t get a photo of it.

Finally, the pièce de resistance.  I like to try one thing that’s a tad elaborate when I cook a meal, and I found this year’s contender while watching Martha: Thomas Keller’s Potato Pave.  You definitely do not want to try this recipe without a mandoline since it required stacking layer after layer of extremely thin slices of potato into a loaf pan, letting it chill and sit overnight, and then slicing this “loaf” into 1/2″ pieces and frying them in canola oil.  The result?  A beautiful stack of thin potatoes that’s crispy on the outside and deliciously creamy and soft on the inside.  Oh, did I happen to mention that this dish involves cream and butter, too?

slices of "loaf" waiting to be fried

a slice of pave fried to crispy perfection

We also had a simple spinach salad with cranberries and gorgonzola and balsamic dressing; steamed green beans; and warm baguette.  I also made homemade cranberry sauce, which for me is a kind of side dish, in spite of my husband’s repeated admonitions: “Cranberry sauce is a condiment.  I’m not even counting that as a dish.”  I personally like to eat it on the side, and several other people did too, so there.  It was yummy.

For dessert, I made a Blackberry Raspberry Pie, but I added blueberries, too, so I dubbed it “Triple Berry.”  And I made pumpkin chocolate chip squares, also courtesy of Martha, that are a staple at the holidays now because they are so. dang.  good.

Pumpkin Squares and Triple Berry Pie

I made both of these desserts because I expected that some people might not like one or the other.  Turns out pretty much every one had some of each, so the desserts went quickly.

All in all, a fabulous vegetarian feast.  And the composter got an amazing meal, too:

ready for the composter

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Our bellies are all full and we’ve had a great Thanksgiving with family and friends.

Every year, Remarkably Domestic Mom makes an epic Thanksgiving dinner.  It always includes traditional fare from years and years of Thanksgivings, likely started with my Grandmother.  She makes everything from scratch, starting several days before the event.  My aunt and uncle and my two cousins come in from back East, and it’s the only time we see them all year, so it’s a big party.

the meal is about to begin...

One of the dishes that she makes every year that I’ve never seen anywhere else is cranberry jello.  In fact, once I brought it to a potluck Thanksgiving where I was looked at sideways for the wackniess of my contribution.  But for my family, Thanksgiving just isn’t Thanksgiving without this jello.  Most of us eat it with the meal; a few of us eat it as a kind of palate cleanser at the end of the meal before pie.  It’s fantastically light and sweet and lovely.  You could have it as a light fruity dessert if it’s too much to have it with dinner.  Try it out sometime!

the jello in the foreground, yams with marshmellows in the back

This dish is best made a day ahead so it can chill thoroughly.

Cranberry Jello

  • 8 ounce can crushed pineapple
  • 1 package cherry jello
  • 1 can (14 oz.) whole cranberry sauce
  • 1 tsp orange rind
  • 1 can mandarin oranges, drained
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Drain the crushed pineapple, setting aside the juice and the pineapple.  Add boiling water to the juice to make 1 1/4 cups.  Dissolve the cherry jello in the juice mixture; chill until the jello is set and not runny, but still soft and malleable (sort of custard consistency).  Fold in the whole cranberry sauce, orange rind, mandarin oranges and pineapple.  Whip the heavy cream and fold it into the jello mixture.  Pour into a mold and chill, preferably overnight.

After dinner we dig into the pies.  Mom always makes at least four: custard, Dutch apple, pecan and, of course, pumpkin.

deeeeeeelish!

I’m hosting Thanksgiving for some of the husband’s family on Saturday– it’ll be a vegetarian meal– so I’ll post how that went Saturday night.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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