A couple scarves for a couple moms

For Christmas, I made my mom and my mom-in-law both scarves.  Hopefully, they will have an opportunity to wear them at the same time at the same place because it would be adorable to see them in matching scarves.  Right?  Right.

All in all, these scarves weren’t all that difficult.  I just did a basic knit stitch for the whole thing.  The difficulty came with the yarn that I chose.  This yarn is pretty ridiculous to work with.  It has a fun texture and it looks really great when it’s done, however, it gets caught up in the knitting needles way too easily.  There were far too many times that I realized far too late that I had gone right through the middle of the yarn.  Then, I would end up doubling my stitches without even realizing it.  If I use this type of yarn again, maybe I’ll play around with different needle sizes.  Perhaps if I changed that up it wouldn’t be as tricky to work with….

I am a Christmas decoration snob

When we were younger, immediately after attending Christmas Eve Mass, we would all hop back into the car with a purpose.  We would drive around town to look at all of the Christmas decorations.  It is important to remember that we did not just sit back and “ooh” and “aah”.  No, we would judge the decorations on the houses as a family.  That is a Christmas tradition that still continues with me.

While driving or walking through the city, I can not help but comment out loud when I see Christmas decorations.  Over the years, I have developed strong feelings toward what I do and what I don’t like.  I love classic decorations – all white lights, or all multi-colored lights outlining a house.  But I also love when a house looks like Christmas exploded all over it.

I thoroughly believe that if you are going to go with a classy look, that should be your driving force.  If you are going for a crazy-everything-except-the-kitchen-sink look, well, that should be your driving force.  If you are going to do it, be dedicated to it.  If you want your house to look like Martha Stewart decorated it?  Go ahead and do it.  If you want to put the Griswold house to shame?  Go ahead and do that.

Most importantly, though, your Christmas decorations should be something that you love and that you are proud of.  If you want to just throw some net lights on your bushes and be done with it, that’s fine.  If you want to start planning next years decorations the day after Christmas, well that’s fine too.

Every Christmas, our landlord places a small artificial tree in the front yard.  He decorates it with one strand of garland and a string of red lights.  I think it looks ridiculous, but I smile every time I see it because when I see that little tree glowing red from down the street I know I’m almost home.

Merry Christmas!

Christmas cookie extravaganza – No Bake Chocolate Cookies

When I was almost done with all of the cookies, I realized that there was a particular taste that our cookie batches were missing.  We didn’t have any chocolate!  This had to be remedied and remedied quickly.  Unfortunately, I was pretty tired of baking at this point.  Fortunately, one of my favorite chocolate cookies requires no baking.

I have many memories of this cookie appearing on plates of cookies that had been dropped off by friends and family.  No Bake Chocolate Cookies!  Or as Ryan referred to them, “the oatmeal blobs of chocolate.”  Yes, it was time for some oatmeal blobs of chocolate.

It was actually kind of difficult to find a recipe.  Finally, I found this one.  (What would I do without the Food Network?)  The recipe was really simple and the smell of the peanut butter and chocolate melting together was just fantastic.  If you are going to make these, add the oatmeal in small batches because it gets pretty difficult to stir pretty quickly.

The final outcome of the oatmeal blobs of chocolate?  Delicious.

Christmas cookie extravaganza – Sugar Cookies

The next cookie on the extravaganza list was Ryan’s request – sugar cookies.  Since the other cookies that I was going to make were going to take quite some time, I decided to cheat a little bit.  My sugar cookies were going to come from the tube.  I can already hear people saying out loud “But, sugar cookies are easy to make!  They hardly take any time at all!!” I think that this stems from the fact that for me, the whole point of sugar cookies is getting to the decorating of the cookies.  That’s where all of the time should go.  So, we have frosting that I will dye in lots of different colors.  The grocery store was out of many of the normal types of sprinkles, so Ryan bought me a big jar of Winnie-the-Pooh sprinkles!

So, I encountered a problem fairly early with these cookies.  There is just something weird about the dough I used.  It was sticking to everything!  I had flour everywhere.  The rolling pin?  Covered in flour.  The table?  Covered in flour.  The dough?  Covered in flour.  Me?  Covered in flour.  And yet the dough just kept sticking.  So, I had a difficult time getting all of the dough to hit the same width.  Some cookies are just going to end up being fatter than others.

The second problem happened involved my cookie cutters.  I don’t know if the cookie cutters weren’t defined enough or if the dough just wasn’t cooperating but everything came out looking like a blob.  So, we have Christmas tree blobs, snowmen blobs, and little people blobs.

Once the cookies had cooled, it was time for the really fun part.  I have never thought of myself as a decorator and most of the cookies that I decorate are actually just a pile of frosting on top of a cookie.  (Although who can really complain about a pile of frosting on top of a cookie?  Mmmmmmm.  Frosting.)  So it should come as no surprise that some of the blob cookies look like blob cookies with a blob of frosting on top.Some of the cookies do, actually look kind of cute.  The Winnie-the-Pooh sprinkles look pretty great on the Christmas tree blob cookies. In fact, the Winnie-the-Pooh sprinkles don’t really look like Winnie-the-Pooh characters.  They really do look more like different colored blobs.  So, it’s actually very fitting.

Christmas cookie extravaganza – Baklava

One of my favorite Christmas cookies isn’t actually a cookie. Baklava is actually a pastry but my mom made it several years when we were younger for her Christmas cookie extravaganza. I can still remember the smell of honey and butter coming from the kitchen as she made the baklava. I tried to find a recipe in my cookbooks but I couldn’t find one! Next year, I’ll just have to figure out what recipe my mom used. This year, I’ll get some help from Emeril. You can find the recipe that I used here.

This is a really great recipe. It’s written well and makes baklava seem like a fairly simple thing to make. Actually, it is a pretty simple pastry to make. The most time consuming part is the actual building of the pastry. Butter, phyllo, butter, phyllo, butter, phyllo. I lost track several times. This is not the food to try to make while also trying to carry on a conversation. It is far too easily to get distracted.

I learned a very important lesson when making these. We need a new set of knives. All of our knives are old and dull so when the recipe says to cut the diamond shapes out of the pastry, I ended up with pieces sticking up all over the top. But, the important thing is how it tastes. And, it is delicious.

Christmas cookie extravaganza – Cream Wafers

Every Christmas, Nana would bake dozens upon dozens of cookies. We would gorge ourselves on them during December. She would send home a giant pile with each family when we left Christmas morning. The rest would be frozen in an empty gallon ice cream container. There is nothing quite like ice cream and Christmas cookies in the middle of July.

This year, I decided that I was going to try to reclaim some of that cookie goodness. Whenever the cookie plate was passed around, I would carefully move other cookies out of the way so that I could get to the wafer cookies. So, I knew already that that was going to be on the cookie list.

And thus, Christmas cookie extravaganza 2009 began.

The recipe for these cream wafer cookies can be found in this book.

When you take a look at the ingredient list, you know right away that this is a very buttery cookie.  That is mostly because of, well, just how much butter is in this cookie.  There is a cup of butter in the cookie dough alone.  That actually made it kind of difficult to work with.  After the dough is mixed it is chilled so you basically have to roll out two sticks of butter.  That’s not an easy thing to do.

Then, I realized that I don’t have any cookie or biscuit cutters that are 1 1/2″ round.  I ended up using the top of shot glass.  Strangely, the width was almost exactly the same as what I remember Nana’s cookies being.  Although, since I had trouble rolling out the dough, they are definitely not as thin and dainty as the ones that Nana made.  In fact, they are kind of ridiculous looking.  But, they meet the most important criteria – they are delicious.  It’s like eating a baked ball of butter that is rolled in sugar.  Mmmmmmmmm.

A tale of two trees

I love Christmas trees.  One of my favorite things to do during the holiday season is to see the Christmas trees at the Museum of Science and Industry.  They are amazing! (If you go, download the podcast to get even more information about each tree.)

I love getting Christmas trees ready for the season.  Checking the lights.  Carefully unwrapping the ornaments.  Super gluing any ornaments that have broken during storage.  Turning on Christmas Eve on Sesame Street which just happens to be the best movie to watch while decorating for Christmas.

Ryan and I have two trees in the apartment.  We have pretty tree and crazy tree.

Pretty tree has only white lights.  The garlands are burgundy and silver ribbons.  The ornaments are only gold, silver or clear glass.  And those are the only things that will go on pretty tree.  Resting under pretty tree, of course, is Bessie the Holiday Cow.

Crazy tree is the exact opposite.  There are blue lights, multi-colored lights, bubble lights and pink flamingo lights.  The garlands are raggedy ones that I’ve had for years and a couple that I made as craft projects when I was a child.  Crazy tree has every single ornament that we have each accumulated throughout our lives.  Since Christmas ornaments have always been a popular gift for both of our families, this tree is packed.

There really are few things that make me as happy as sitting on the couch with all of the lights off in the apartment with the exception of the lights on the trees.  And perhaps, the glow of the tv as we watch Love Actually.

A holly jolly wreath

As is probably not very surprising, I enjoy watching Martha Stewart.  I especially love it when she does something that I actually think that I could accomplish.  Last year, I was watching one of her segments in which she was making wreaths for Christmas.  I got the crazy idea that maybe this was one of those things that didn’t just look like it was easy to do.  Maybe this project actually was pretty easy.  You can find a similar video here.

To ensure that all of the work that I put into my wreath would last longer than a couple weeks, I bought a couple garlands of artificial greenery from Michaels.

This really is a great craft project.  It doesn’t take that much time and it really is pretty easy.

If you are trying to make your wreath last from year to year by using artificial greenery, be prepared to refill the wreath over time.  There are many branches of greenery and holly berries scattered around our back porch from storage.

In praise of the snack cake

There really is something magical about a Little Debbie snack cake.  Even after reading this book I am still in love with the snack cake.  Even after reading this book and then reading the ingredients on the back of the Little Debbie box, I am still not deterred in my love for the snack cake.  (Both are very good books and I highly recommend reading them.  It will change how you think about what you eat.)

I actually have snack cakes in my lunch more often now that I am a grown up than when I was a child.  We rarely ever had them growing up.  One of the best days of the whole school year was field trip day.  Not only did we get to wear jeans, shorts and t-shirts (my school had a strict dress code) but that was the one day of the year in which our lunch boxes would be filled with stuff that we couldn’t have the rest of the year.  Lunchables? Definitely.  Capri Sun?  Of course.  Snack cake? Couldn’t have a lunch without it.

There is just something about pulling out a snack cake out of your lunch bag.  As a grown-up, I’m pretty sure that I might look a bit ridiculous as I smile at my dessert.  But it is December and that means that my lunch has a new addition…..

Knitting videos

As someone who is still a beginner when it comes to knitting, I still get stuck. I still forget which way I am supposed to hold the yarn. I still forget how to start. I still forget how to finish. Although I have found some useful books, I have found that I need more than a drawing that shows the steps of casting on.

If you are also a beginner (or even if you are a pro), I’m betting that you would probably find this to be quite useful.

Go to YouTube. Do a search for knitting videos. Knitpicks is a great channel of knitting videos that my knitting teacher shared with me. I also really like the Knit Witch. In fact, the Knit Witch saved my work when I completely forgot how to finish off. There are many many more to choose from. I’ve found, for me, that the most helpful videos are ones in which the video consists only of close-ups of hands, needles, and yarn.

There are many sites to choose from that aren’t on YouTube. KnittingHelp.com has a lot of great videos.

It’s nice to know that there is are countless great resources out there available at the click of a button.