Friday Five: Christmas Movies

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

Okay, we’re done with Thanksgiving right?! On to C H R I S T M A S!!!!!!! I hope you’re ready for some holiday-themed Friday Fives!

Since ABC is beating me to it, I thought I’d start with my top five favorite Christmas movies. This list may be altered in the near future, because I have a confession to make. I’ve never seen…A Christmas Story, despite TNT’s beat Christmas-day-marathon attempts. I’ve never seen…White Christmas. I’ve also never seen…Miracle on 34th Street. Insane, isn’t it? I have some work to do! But, until then, here is my list as it stands today:

5. Home Alone

This is just fun. I love the soundtrack. I love how cute Macaulay Culkin is–pre Michael Jackson and drugs. I love the scary neighbor. And Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern? #awesome I don’t watch it every year, but I always enjoy it when I do.

4. Love Actually

It’s hard to put this movie into words, but it’s packed with stars and heartwarming/heartbreaking stories. It’s a favorite for most early 30-year-olds, I think. It’ll definitely make you cry.

3. Children’s Classics

There are a few TV Christmas specials I insist on watching every single year. They are: A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and, of course, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It takes me back 20+ years to watch these on TV, usually while sporting my jammies with hot chocolate in hand. You’re never too old for the classics.

2. Elf

I don’t know if it’s my obsession with Will Ferrell, or the premise of this adorable tale, but this is a great movie. It’s silly, almost to the point of stupid, but that’s what I love about it. It’ll make you feel like a kid again, too.

1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

This is not only my favorite Christmas movie, but it’s also one of my favorite movies of all time. I love everything about it. The cast, the jokes, the writing, the soundtrack. Chevy Chase is hilarious and perfectly captures how awesome/stressful the holidays can be. I have almost the entire movie memorized, as does my family, and we constantly quote it throughout the entire year…”III don’t know,” “the BLESSING!,” “it’s a funny, *squeaky* sound,” ….I could go on and on and on. This movie is a must, for me and mine at least.

What are your favorites? Which are ones I need to see? Alright, back to the pit for another Nutcracker performance. No rest for the weary, or at least those in a Thanksgiving-food coma.

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# thanksgiving 2013

Turkey Day 2013 is in the books! We were really grateful to spend the day with some of our new friends here in Utah. Our awesome hosts, Chris and Chilali, had six of us over and we made it a pot-luck dinner of sorts. It reminded me of the pot-luck Thanksgiving and Easter meals we’d have at the Zajkowskis’ home while living in Cinci. It’s fun for everyone and many hands makes light work, right? Something like that.

There are a lot of family favorite recipes Joe and I have every year, but I decided to make new things for this Thanksgiving. It felt right — new home, new friends, new food. I documented my cooking on Instagram, but here’s what we brought to the table (har har):

Barefoot Contessa’s Apple Chutney (to pair with cheese/crackers or turkey), Pioneer Woman’s Burgundy Mushrooms (a vegetarian holiday staple, that happens to take nine (9!) hours to cook), Jeni’s Bourbon Ice Cream with Salty Buttered Pecans and Jeni’s Cranberry Royale Sorbet. The best part of my recipes? Three out of four could be made way in advance, so the only thing I had to do on Turkey Day was wake up at 4am to start the mushrooms. #truestory (I’ve put all of the recipes below.)

Thanksgiving prep

Let me give you a run-down of the entire menu, which is always one of the most important parts to me:

We started with Prosecco, aged cheeses from Amsterdam, cumin cheese, hummus, crackers, olives and…goldfish crackers. I love goldfish crackers and I’m not ashamed to say I ate the majority of them over the course of the night. Can’t get enough. #crackercrack

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For the main meal, we had turkey, mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts with a walnut oil dressing, maple-glazed parsnips, green bean casserole, apple chutney, burgundy mushrooms, oyster stuffing, faux-sausage stuffing (yay!), gravy, mushroom gravy (yay!), rolls and the most amazing selection of wines. It was incredible…and also an incredible amount of food for eight people!

For dessert, we had my ice cream and sorbet, as well as sweet potato pie and a Bakewell tart, which I had never had before but it was delicious. It all was.

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I was pretty horrible about documenting the day. At some point you just want to put the camera down and enjoy your company. I didn’t even bring my BGCs, but here’s a group shot Chris took on his iPad for his family. The biggest travesty is that I didn’t get a photo of our most wonderful hosts, who did so much to make the day perfect and special. We love Chris and Chilali, so I promise to posts some pics of them at some point soon.

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Turkey Day wasn’t all “Utah” either. We spent much of the morning on Facetime with our families. Here are some highlights: Memaw and Uncle Patrick, Lee watched the Lions’ game with Joe, Jack and Sasha in her crate on his request, Lily and Molly (“Sissy”)

Thanksgiving Facetime

Here are the recipes — enjoy!

Apple Chutney

from Barefoot Contessa

6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and half-inch diced
1 cup chopped yellow onion
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (2 oranges)
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon whole dried mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 cup raisins

Combine the apples, onion, ginger, orange juice, vinegar, brown sugar, mustard seeds, pepper flakes and salt and in a large saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to simmer and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Take off the heat and add the raisins. Set aside to cool and store covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Burgundy Mushrooms

from The Pioneer Woman 

4 pounds White Button Mushrooms
2 sticks Butter
1-½ teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
4+ cups Burgundy Wine (other Reds Will Work)
1 teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
2 cups Boiling Water
4 whole Chicken Bouillon Cubes
4 whole Beef Bouillon Cubes
1 teaspoon Dill Seed
5 cloves Garlic, Peeled
2 teaspoons Salt

Thoroughly wash the mushrooms and throw them into a large stockpot. Add all the remaining ingredients except the salt. Stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for six hours. Remove the lid, then continue cooking, uncovered, for three hours. Add salt to taste at the end if desired. The mushrooms will be very dark in color. Simmer until needed. Server straight from the pot or in a serving bowl. Dip crusty bread in the juice—yum!Mushrooms keep for days in the fridge.

Bourbon Ice Cream with Salty Buttered Pecans

from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home

2 c. whole milk
1 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. cornstarch
1 1/2 oz (3 Tbs) cream cheese, softened
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
1 1/4 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. sugar
2 Tbs. light corn syrup
1/4 c. Bourbon
Salty Buttered Pecans (recipe below)

Mix about 2 Tbs. of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry. Whisk cream cheese and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Fill a large bowl with ice and water.

Combine the remaining milk, the cream, sugar and corn syrup in a 4-qt. saucepan, bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat, and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Bring the mixture back to a boil over medium-high heat, and cook, stirring with a heatproof spatula, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.

Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Stir in the Bourbon. Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag and submerge the sealed bag in the ice bath. Let stand, adding more ice if needed, until cold — about 30 minutes.

Pour ice cream base into your ice cream machine’s frozen canister and spin until thick and creamy (20-30 minutes). Fold in the pecans before packing into a storage container and pressing a sheet of parchment paper directly on the surfact. Freeze for at least 4 hours.

Salty Buttered Pecans

3/4 c. pecans, chopped
1 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Combine the nuts with the butter and salt in a bowl, tossing to coat. Spread evenly on a baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes, turning once, until crisp and aromatic. Let cool completely.

Cranberry Royale Sorbet

from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home

2 grapefruits
one 12-oz bag cranberries
1 c. plus 2 Tbs. water
1/4 c. light corn syrup
1 1/2 c. sugar

Using a vegetable peeler, remove 3 large strips of zest from 1 grapefruit. Halve the grapefruits and squeeze 3/4 cup juice.

Combine the grapefruit juice, zest, cranberries, water, corn syrup and sugar in a 4-quart saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil just until the cranberries begin to pop open, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Remove the grapefruit zest. If desired, puree the cranberry mixture or leave for a chunkier sorbet. Fill a large bowl with ice and water. Pour cranberry mixture into a gallon Ziploc freezer bag and submerge the sealed bag in the ice bath. Let stand, adding more ice as needed, until cold — about 30 minutes.

Pour the sorbet base in the frozen canister of your ice cream machine and spin just until the consistency of very softly whipped cream. Pack the sorbet into a storage container, pressing a sheet of parchment directly against the surface and freeze with an air-tight lid for at least 4 hours.

# horning around

Is it just me, or does mid-November to New Years seem to fly by in a flash? It’s my favorite time of year and I find myself willing time to slow down. I feel like this season is also one of the busiest for musicians — holiday pops, Nutcracker, church performances. It’s usually a great time to be playing an instrument, but it also requires a lot of time…time that is passing too quickly as it is.

All this build-up to say: I’ve been spending a lot of time with my horn lately. Between work and holiday prep, I haven’t had much time for anything beyond our gigs. And I’m not complaining — Utah has provided us with WAY more playing opportunities than Virginia ever did. And I’m enjoying the time back in the saddle and sitting next to Joe.

Last weekend we joined Utah State’s orchestra in a very cool performance of Scriabin’s Prometheus: Poem of Fire. Scriabin was influenced by synesthesia, to the point that he saw different colors for each musical note. In Prometheus’ score, he included a part for color organ. Within the last few years, a musicologist named Anna Gawboy (who at the time was finishing up her degree at Yale) unraveled Scriabin’s notations and worked with lighting designers to honor the score. The result is incredible. For the performance, the orchestra sits in darkness while the lights bounce, flash and shine around them. It’s really something else and I was really proud to be one of the eight (!) horns for the performance.

Many of my family and friends were able to watch the concert live, but here’s an awesome video of the first performance with commentary by Anna, who happens to be an OU grad. #boomer (There’s also a former CCMer playing horn. #Martha)

Since that performance we’ve been in the pit every night for The Nutcracker…and then after that, Christmas Pops. ‘Tis the season!

Wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving!

Friday Five: 50 years

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. November 22, 1963 (which also happened to be a Friday) changed the course of our country. So much innocence lost in those three shots. So much sadness that plagued the entire world. So many lives changed forever.

I’ve been borderline obsessed with the Kennedy family (specifically Jackie) since I was in middle school.  The tragedy, her style, his family, their class, the mystery…it’s American royalty/celebrity at its finest…certainly its classiest. I’ve dedicated a lot of time reading about and watching documentaries on their life. But I don’t think I’ve put myself in Jackie’s shoes as much as I have over the last few weeks. After all, I’m almost the age she was when the assassination took place. I’m actually my grandparent’s age from that year and started thinking of what they must have felt during that time, the hopelessness I would have felt in the world especially with young children.

Last night I watched TLC’s Letters to Jackie special and I was in tears within minutes. The poignant messages written within minutes/hours/days of the assassination were so heart-breaking, heart-gripping and gut-wrenching. The raw pain was truly felt around the world–no matter your age, race or religion. I wish I had thought to pick up pen and paper and write to Jackie during the 13 years we shared on earth.

When she was young, Jackie (a nickname she despised) wrote an essay and said she wanted to be the “art director of the 20th century.” Isn’t that incredible? Not just the idea, but that she made it happen. I can’t think of anyone else that did so much for the arts, history preservation, humanities, culture and style during that time. She set new trends while honoring the past at the same time.

I’d like to think we’d be good friends, since we have so many things in common: love of books, writing, photography, family, animals…almost everything minus her expensive clothing and smoking habit.

When she died, JFK Jr. said “My mother died surrounded by her friends and her family and her books, and the people and the things that she loved. She did it in her own way, and on her own terms, and we all feel lucky for that.” I love that…surrounded by her friends and her family and her books. All equals.

Perhaps the most touching statement was also given by John Jr. at her funeral when he described his mother as embracing “the love of words, the bonds of home and family, and the spirit of adventure.” I love this woman. So very much.

In case you want to dive into history, I’ve tried to narrow down my top five ways to learn about Jackie & Co.:

5. One Special Summer

In 1951, Jackie and her sister Lee spent the summer in Europe and to thank their mom and step-father for footing the bill, they created this lovely journal filled with stories and Jackie’s own sketches. I adore this book. It captures so much of the whimsy and hope these girls had, before marriages — before children — before real life.

4. A White House Tour

The first time I saw this video I was first stunned by Jackie’s voice — the girl knew how to speak well, yet with a soft tone that didn’t threaten anyone, especially men. At first it was unnerving that she would almost dumb herself down for public consumption, but she was just very calculated. I love this video because you get to experience her love of history and glimpse how happy she was as First Lady. One of the letters from the special last night spoke about how much they appreciated the White House Tour video, saying “The White House is America’s home and you knew and loved that. You just wanted us to know you were taking care of it.” Gah! Love it.

3. Secret Service Tales

I prefer to read books by the people who actually knew her–not historians taking gambles here and there–so I was thrilled when these two books came out over the last two years. (Yes, two…I knew I couldn’t get this down to five…)

The Kennedy Detail

For the first time since the assassination, the secret service men whose job it was to project the President that day reveal what happened in the weeks leading up to the Texas trip, the months following as some transitioned to serve LBJ, and the guilt that swallowed them whole. It was a fantastic book. I’d highly recommend it.

Mrs. Kennedy and Me

Clint Hill was the secret service agent assigned to Jackie and his was a story I have loved reading most. He tells of what Jackie was really like in her everyday life, how he took her and Robert Kennedy back to JFK’s grave in the middle of the night after the funeral, how he joined in on Kennedy Family football matches, Jackie’s international travels, JFK’s distrust of Aristotle Onassis, the assassination….it goes on and on. Needless to say, I ate this book up. I can’t imagine what Mr. Hill is going through today. (He was the agent that jumped on the back of the car after the shooting and laid down on top of Jackie and JFK on the ride to Parkland Hospital.)

2. Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years

The second best thing to reading about Jackie is to look at photos of her. What a gorgeous woman with impeccable style. I’ve seen many of her dresses at the Kennedy Library in Boston, but this awesome coffee table book has photos of the dresses/suits/hats alongside photos of Jackie wearing them across the globe and the stories behind them. It’s a lovely book to browse here and there and has had a place in my living room since I received it.

1. Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy

What better way to learn about Jackie than by hearing her tell it like it is? These audio interviews were conducted just weeks after the assassination and were just released a few years ago. I can’t imagine how painful it must have been for her, but she was adamant in preserving their history in the White House, saying it was the best time of both their lives.

I don’t think I’ll ever stop reading about the Kennedys. I have A Cruel and Shocking Act on my bedside table and I’d also like to read Killing Kennedy. There’s always something to learn, something to take away from their lives. So on today’s horrible anniversary, I choose to celebrate the Kennedy’s love, passion and pursuit of a brighter future. No bullet could take that away.

# hot springs

We’ve been partying it up with our friend Sean for the last four days and while I didn’t document everything we did, or every incredible bite we ate, I have to share our big Idaho adventure.

Yesterday (while Joe was responsible and worked), Sean and I headed north to visit Lava Hot Springs, a tiny town of 400 that has an incredible collection of mineral pools. Sean and Wallis had been before, but we didn’t end up making it out there over the summer.

It was in the upper-30s when we got there and I was shivering as we walked around to check out the pools. The last thing I wanted to do was change into a swimsuit and walk outside, but let me tell you…any fear or feeling of chilled bones was completely short lived. Once you stepped into the water it felt like a blanket of warmth enveloping you. Imagine the best, most relaxing bath you’ve ever had and multiply it by 1000. And your body temperature was so raised that you could sit on the side in the cold wind and not feel a thing. It was amazing.

The facilities had multiple pools varying in heat. We both liked it pretty warm, but we could only stand the hottest pool for a few minutes at the end. Here are some photos, mostly courtesy of Mr. Vore and his iphone. They don’t really do the steam coming off the water justice, but it’s close enough!

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Hot Springs 4

Some pools had jets…

Hot Springs 5

Hot Springs 1

Hot Springs 2

Hot Springs 3

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The second best part? Squeezing water out of your swimsuit with this machine before leaving…we’re easily entertained.

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We both agreed that it would be awesome to visit when it’s snowing. I’ll see if I can get Joe on board with that. If anything, I’ll be back to bring any future visitors to visit the awesomeness that is Lava Hot Springs. Thanks for visiting, Sean. Can’t wait to spend another summer with you, Wallis and Sophie. #012

# usu band pageant

Sorry for the delay on this post…I’ve been busy hanging out with our dear friend, Sean, who visited for a couple of days. I’ll get to that in a minute, but right now I’ll jump back to how Joe and I spent last Saturday night.

It wasn’t football related, or even movie/TV related…it was the big band pageant–a totally hilarious and non-serious event that takes place each year. And Joe and I were tasked to channel our inner Donald Trump and judge the competition along with two others.

I took my judging duties very seriously (ha), but here are a few *horrible* photos I was able to snap from our perch on the front row of the auditorium.

The introduction of the contestants had a nice 70s vibe going…

Mr and Miss Band 1

The “fitness” competition was 80s themed…

Mr and Miss Band 2

Everyone’s talent portion was from the 90s, so we had Michael Jackson…

Mr and Miss Band 4

“Susan Boyle” singing “Amish Paradise”…

Mr and Miss Band 3

and a girl lip-synced “Part of Your World,” but I was too busy singing along to take any pictures.

The interview/evening wear round was based on Concert Black and each contestant had to answer two questions…the first using only song lyrics.

And here are the winners and runners-up:

Mr and Miss Band 5

Mr and Miss Band 7

And here’s the whole gang — great job, everyone; you’re all winners. 🙂 Thanks for a very entertaining evening.

Mr and Miss Band 6

Friday Five: Gallery Wall (how-to)

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

If I could describe myself in two words I’d probably choose “sentimental” and “photo-holic.” In a dream world, dream house, I’d have photos e v e r y w h e r e. So many photos, so little wall space.

In Virginia, I hung a gallery wall of photos over my computer in the study and I absolutely loved it, since it’s where I spend most of my time. Our last visitor of the year (I’m guessing) comes this weekend, so I wanted to get jumping on our Utah gallery wall. And just like last time, I wanted to hang it over my computer where I can enjoy it every single day. Here’s how to put up your own gallery wall, in 5-ish easy steps:

5. Collect what you want to showcase

I recommend a variety of frame shapes and sizes, as well as a mix of photos and other sentimental items. I also like sticking with one frame color. I prefer the contrast of black frames, but an all-white gallery wall looks amazing too.

Gallery Wall 1

4. Finalize a layout

For this step, I measured the length of wall space I wanted to cover and then moved frames around on the floor until I found something that worked. I was careful to spread out the color (a recurring turquoise blue for mine) and photos, and also knew I didn’t want to have any area be longer than around 3 frames since it was going over my computer monitor.

Gallery Wall 2

3. Cut and Paste

I trace each frame on old newspaper and then arrange the papers on the wall.

Gallery Wall 3

It starts to feel a little John Nash/A Beautiful Mind-y, but don’t worry. This allows you to rearrange an indefinite amount of times before nailing any holes in your wall.

Gallery Wall 4

2. Measure…twice

I measure where each nail should be on the back of the frame, then measure again….then make a note where that lines up on the newspaper version, measure again…and then finally hammer it in. #productplacement

Gallery Wall 5

Gallery Wall 6

Then, with the newspaper still hanging, I hang the frame over it to see that I’m in the right place. If not, take it down and move the nail. (What’s one or two more holes at this point?) You can see little hints of the newspaper peeping out from behind the frames, but mostly they’re spot on.

Gallery Wall 7

1. Finito!

When all nails are in, I remove all of the frames (one at a time), strip down the newspaper and hang the frame back on the wall. Easy peasy! And then you can step back and admire your handiwork.

Gallery Wall 8

The best part about gallery walls is that nothing has to be perfect. It’s all about the collection of special items…like favorite moments and people from your wedding…

Gallery Wall 9

autographed watercolor art from your niece…

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notes of encouragement from your mom the day you left home for college…

Gallery Wall 11

childhood nostalgia and family photos that now need to be updated

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and wonderful gifts, like this hand-sewn beauty from my friend Elizabeth!

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I’m so very pleased with how this gallery wall turned out and look forward to adding items here and there, at least while we’re in this house. I dream of having a long hallway covered with frames someday, but until then, this fits the bill perfectly.

Have some free wall space? Dig out those family photos and treasures and get ’em up where you can enjoy them! This is a very gratifying weekend project.

{Sorry for the bad photos. I did most of this at night with a crazy overhead light, forcing me to use the….*gasp!* flash.}