Delights of the Last Week of the Year

Joys…simple and somewhat unexpected…have happened this week.

We had long, lazy, pajama-clad mornings of game playing. (The game was Settlers of Catan. Very fun!)


Max had a birthday! Waffles were requested for breakfast. We saw the new Sherlock Holmes movie in the afternoon. Then Walter, Felicity, and Theo came for dinner of Baked Potato Soup, dessert of chocolate cake and ice cream, and present opening.


Coming home from a mile-long walk, I discovered a large package by the back door. It was marked all over – “Fragile – Glass”. Oh my!!! Recognizing the label and daring to hope, I carefully but gleefully carried it inside. And I was right! Oh the joy! A whole gallon of the world’s BEST fresh-pressed apple cider! Apple heaven on earth! What fabulous friends we have! Sent all the way from California! Like a gallon of liquid gold! We are savoring every drop. I may be found attempting to lick out the empty jug once we’ve drained every precious drop.


And Thursday afternoon, we got an invitation to a spaghetti dinner with Mitt Romeny! We accepted, and last night we went. I haven’t decided who I’m voting for in the January 10th primary election, but I was curious to hear him speak. It was held at the V.F.W. in a nearby town.


LOTS of people were there.


But we did get to meet him, and shake his hand, and say “how nice to meet you”, and pose for a picture. Five of us posed for this picture…Mr. Romney and the four of us. Unfortunately, the complete stranger I handed my camera to to take the picture managed to get just this. Brilliant, eh?


Dinner was served and it was really delicious!


And so ends the last week of this year. A very HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all!

Christmas

Well, it’s been a few days since Christmas. I haven’t blogged because I’ve been l-a-z-y…and it felt GOOD! I hope you had a lovely Christmas. We did! It was Theo’s first Christmas, so that made it a very special one! I was so busy enjoying each moment that I didn’t take many pictures. But here’s a small glimpse at our Christmas celebration.


Theo checks out the frog pull-toy we gave him.


Walter and Felicity are too cute…sharing Technohubby’s chair. And Bailey was sporting a red bow for the day.



Colette was happy with some new DVDs from Grandma and Grandpa.




Theo was tickled with the giant Bernese Mountain dog that Max gave him.



Even the doggies got gifts…stuffed Canadian geese. Bailey adores hers. Chase is scared of his goose.



Christmas Plans



We awakened today to find snow!!! Not much. Just a dusting. And some of it melted. But we still have enough that it looks snowy, so we are thrilled! And it’s supposed to be cold tomorrow, so it shouldn’t melt anymore, and it’ll be around for Christmas day! Yay!

Tomorrow will be spent mostly indoors, not only because it’s only supposed to be 30 degrees, but because we’ve got lots of kitchen fun to create! Colette is going to make the trifle and the rolls. And she and Technohubby are going to run to the store for the potatoes I forgot to buy. And I’m going to prepare the egg casserole, potato casserole, and raspberry coffee cake for Christmas breakfast. (I made the cheeseball today.) And they’ll be some light dusting, some sweeping and vaccuming happening too. Then, about 5:00, we’re going to sit down to cheese fondue for dinner. And at 7:00, we’ll attend our church’s Christmas Eve service. It’s always so lovely! The handbell choir will play Christmas hymns. They’ll be an excellent sermon. And then we’ll all hold candles and sing “Silent Night”. Then we’ll come home and Colette and Max will open their Christmas Eve gifts.

On Christmas morning, Technohubby and I will be the first ones downstairs. I’ll put the egg casserole and the potato casserole in the oven, and then we’ll call Max and Colette down. They’ll open their “big gifts”. Then we’ll have a casual breakfast in the family room…all comfy and cozy. After that, we’ll get ready to go to church, since Christmas is on the Sabbath this year. What a joy to go worship with other believers on Christmas day! After church, Walter, Felicity, and Theo will come back with us for the day. Theo's first Christmas! We anticipate that he will like the wrapping and boxes the most. Felicity will be more than happy to eat breakfast leftovers. As she says, “I am here for the food!” (Quote from “Muppets’ Christmas Carol”.) Then we’ll all open presents together. I can’t wait to see how everyone likes their gifts! When present opening is over, the cheeseball and crackers will come out for a snack to keep hungry people happy while we make dinner. Dinner will be served on our Christmas Spode china, a collection that began as a wedding gift from my boss in college. Then there will be trifle. Yum! It will, Lord willing, be a very joyous Christmas day!

And a very Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

Christmas Party

Last Saturday was our annual Christmas party! This is the 17th year of our family hosting a Christmas party.  When we lived in California, it was a "Cookie and Caroling Party".  But when we moved here, it beccame a "Cookie Party".  We don’t carol here, mostly due to the fact that I don’t want people slipping and falling on icy and/or snowy streets, AND it’s very dark out here in the country at night, AND it’s cold! Put all that together, and only the most adventurous would consider caroling. Most would rather stay inside, warm and cozy, sipping wassail. Another difference is that New Englanders just do not eat many sweets. We always had so many cookies leftover after the party, and last year I felt like people hardly ate anything. So this year we added savories to the menu. Surprise! People not only gobbled up the savories, but ate more cookies too! Win, win!

We made six types of cookies: gingerbread men (of course!), Chocolate-Mint Parfait Bars, Chocolate-Raspberry Bars, Scottish Shortbread, Chocolate-Peanut Butter Bars, and Chocolate-Cranberry Brownies. Mmm.

For savories, I wanted to serve appetizers that didn’t require me to be pulling hot things out of the oven (and putting in another batch) all night long. I really do not like that degree of fussing in the midst of a party, as I'd rather devote time to my guests.  So I made it easy on myself. We served:

-four different types of cheeses (set on a cutting board with cheese knives, so people could cut it themselves), served with assorted crackers

-Cowboy Caviar with tortilla chips with a “hint of lime”

-baked brie with a coating of brown sugar, maple syrup, dried cranberries, and toasted pecans, served with crackers (sounds better than it was)

-meatballs in sauce (Bought the meatballs, frozen, at Costco. Topped with a mixture of barbecue sauce and Hot Pepper Raspberry Chipotle Sauce…both available at Costco.) Positively delicious!

And Colette made her annual gingerbread creation for the party! This year’s was a tardis, a time-traveling device from the BBC series, “Dr. Who” (all my kids are fans).



Tutorial: Fresh Greens Table Decoration

Inspired by a photo I saw online, yet doing my own take on the idea, I created a fresh greens and candles table decoration for the family room coffee table. It was so simple to make and only took a few minutes. The online photo showed it made in an antique box. But antique boxes are ridiculously priced, I discovered. Instead, I used an antique basket that I bought for just $12.

To make this yourself, you will need some sort of vessel (box, basket, bowl), a plastic trash bag, green florist foam (the type that will hold water), and assorted fresh greens (trimmings from your Christmas tree will work, but a mixture will look best). You will also need some candle holders. The photo that inspired me used small canning jars. I’m a bit in love with mercury glass this Christmas, so I bought three mercury glass holders (slightly bigger than votive holders) at Target. You will need candles to fit your holders.

The first step is to line your basket (or other vessel) with the opened trash bag. This will protect the surface you set it on from getting wet.


Then fill your kitchen sink with water. Cut the green foam (with a kitchen knife) to fit your vessel. You will want to stack and cut it so that it comes nearly to the top of your vessel. Put the green foam in the sink to soak until it will absorb no more water.

Remove the foam from the water, allowing it to drip out any excess water. Then add the foam to your basket, making sure that it’s not going to leak water anywhere.


Push and screw the candle holders into the foam until they are secure.


Insert greens here and there into the wet foam (the water will keep them fresh) until you can’t see the foam. I used three types of pine and some holly in mine.


Fresh green table decoration in 10 minutes time. And fun too!



Someone's Watching

Last Friday, just before the party, I went outside to light the votive candles that were lining our front walk to welcome the guests. I took my camera with me to see if I could capture a good picture of them. (I couldn’t.) But as I turned to go in, I was struck with how cozy the house looked…clean and nicely lit…looking its party best.


And then I realized that I wasn’t the only one doing the looking.


He’s such a good and faithful dog!

Christmas by Candlelight

Last night, Colette and I went to Old Sturbridge Village’s “Christmas by Candlelight” program. Technohubby and Max didn’t go…it’s a long story. Well…okay…I’ll tell you why. The first year we went to this program, Max was coming down with the flu (but we didn’t know it at the time), so the event sort of has bad associations for him. And it was so bitterly cold that night that Technohubby thought it was too cold to be fun, and has declined to go since. But Colette and I are undaunted! It's become a tradition for the two of us! And last night, even though the temperature was hovering right around 32 degrees when we arrived (at 4:00 p.m.), it was the warmest night we’ve ever spent at this event! There was no breeze. I even wore a skirt (with lots of layers) and a wool coat and scarf, and I was pretty much toasty warm all night. But even if it’d been 15 degrees, we would’ve gone, because it’s just so lovely!


I love all the white lights and candles, and the smoke curling from the chimneys.







This was the first building we went in, the “Parson’s House”. The wreath was made of fresh greens and globe amaranth. Very pretty! I have some globe amaranth hanging in my laundry room, waiting to be made into bouquets this January.


Inside, in the kitchen, was a costumed interpreter making fruitcake from a period recipe (not at all like that icky, modern type).


She was baking the fruitcake in a tin kitchen, using it as a reflector to radiate the heat.


Outside, we saw this pretty lady with her basket.


The fire on the green looked like a cozy spot to gather.


Then we went in another house, where gingerbread was being offered. Mmmm.


We went in the Towne House, where we listened to some period music and sampled hot mulled cider.


Then we went in the tavern.


Inside, it smelled delicious, as this woman was demonstrating how cocoa beans were processed into chocolate. It would’ve been processed commercially in large cities, like Boston, in the 1830′s (Sturbridge’s time period).


I may have the details wrong, but I believe the cocoa beans in the bowl on the right are unroasted. The beans in the middle bowl are roasted. And then they are put on that slanting stone over hot coals and melted into a form of chocolate that could be used. That’s probably not right, but it’s something like that. She said that cocoa powder and cocoa butter are two elements that exist in that pool of chocolate and the trick is to keep them together.


She had a variety of edibles that would’ve been added to hot cocoa to flavor it.



And in another part of the room were two interpreters demonstrating marzipan molding.


We listened to carolers! I love costumed carolers!



And we heard a bit of fiddle music.


Our last stop was to sample some roasted chestnuts. Yum!


Another wonderful “Christmas by Candlelight”!



Hot Cocoa Bar

Max's civics club had their Christmas party at our house last night. Everyone brought food to share…something savory and something sweet. Our “sweet” was a hot cocoa bar!

I found a recipe for crockpot hot cocoa (to serve a crowd) online. We sampled it and pronounced it too (TOO!) sweet, tweaked the recipe a bit, and got a hot cocoa we liked.


Here’s our version of the recipe:

CROCKPOT HOT COCOA

6 c. milk
1 1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 c. bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 of a can of sweetened condensed milk
1 t. vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a crockpot. Set on “high” temperature until hot enough (will take about 2 hrs.), whisking to combine the melting chocolate every 20-30 mins. Then reduce temperature to “low” or “hold warm” setting to keep steaming hot. Serves 8. (We doubled the recipe to serve a larger number of people.)

And what’s hot cocoa without marshmallows? Homemade marshmallows taste SO much better than store bought ones. This is the recipe I use. Here’s our pan of marshmallows after it had sat overnight.


And here they are cut and ready for topping steaming cups of cocoa.


Other additions to the hot cocoa bar were:

candy canes (unwrapped) for stirring
Pepperidge Farm’s Mint Pirouette Cookies (for dunking and stirring)
a big bowl of whipped cream
chocolate syrup for drizzling
caramel syrup for drizzling
a shaker full of cocoa powder for dusting

Decking the Halls

When it comes to Christmas decorating, I tend to do the same thing for a couple of years. Then I get restless and want to try something new. This year was one of those years. Also, since living in New England, I have developed a greater appreciation for the simple beauty of natural things, and so this year I wanted to incorporate more of the beauty of nature into our decorating. Here’s a glimpse around our home this Christmas.

The family room mantle was decorated with a mix of real and artificial greens, a strand of wooden beads, pewter pieces, candlesticks made from old wooden spools, beeswax candles, and oranges that Colette studded with cloves.


The front door with its wreath of fresh greens.


And this year, I discovered THESE! Guess what they are? They are rosehips! Yes, rosehips! In California (where I used to live), these are more like the size of a small kumquat and develop when you don’t cut your roses (but just let them die and fall off). In New England, they are tiny (pea-size), and I was told they grow on small, wild roses. I bought this bunch at a boutique-like booth in an antique store. The clerk who rang up my purchase bundled them up quite artfully in a piece of paper and tied it round with a bit of rafia. Another clerk said to me, “Believe it or not, she used to be a stylist for Martha Stewart!” True.  Now they grace my kitchen windowsill.


And then I went to the winter farmers’ market, and spotted a rosehip wreath. Honestly, I was sold at the sight of it, but the sweetly-written tag sealed the deal.



I love how it still has some of the green leaves clinging to the vines.


The stair bannister was decorated with fresh green garland. We love the colonial look it gives the stairs…straight out of “Little Women”, according to Colette.


Colette was inspired to make some garland from greens cut from our own woods! She made one especially to fit the space over my kitchen window.


Hanging from it are the molded, cinnamon-scented, beeswax ornaments I bought at Old Sturbridge Village a couple of years ago. I just adore these!


Lastly, a little spray of greens tied with a pretty ribbon on the bedpost, because bedrooms (especially the master bedroom) are the sadly neglected rooms in Christmas decorating, and this little touch makes me smile.


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