Shelf Life: Winter 2014-15

ShelfLife

Winter. Even though we haven’t had the highly-predicted horrible season so far, it’s still my favorite time to crawl under a blanket with a book and block out the cold world around me.

This week I’m in Miami, so I’ve blocked all thoughts of cold weather (and books) from my mind. I didn’t even bring one with me, just a stack of old Entertainment Weekly mags that I’ve been neglecting. It’s what the promise of sunshine does to me.

There wasn’t much snow on the ground when I left Utah, but here are a few pics of our recent jaunt down to Ogden.

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Pardon the dash reflections.

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Just the right amount of winter.

Like the last Shelf Life installment, this was truly the list that the library built. It seemed like every few days a new book would come in and I’d be under the gun to finish them all in time. There were a few necessary day-long readathons, but otherwise this has been a few chill months of easy reading with some clear winners. Let’s review!

1. The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters

My guess is that you’ve heard of this book. It’s been all the rage of newspapers, magazines, book clubs… you name it. At 500+ pages, it’s good to know that it will be a quick, all-engrossing read. I don’t want to give its surprises away, but it definitely packs a few plot punches. The ending left me a little wanting, but overall this is a fantastic read.

2.  Belzhar, Meg Wolitzer

I read Meg Wolitzer’s very-adult, very-touching The Interestings last year and couldn’t get over the incredible characters and her beautiful writing. Where had this lady been my entire reading life? This is her latest novel and though it’s meant for the YA crowd, it’s in no way cheesy or underdeveloped. This is a complex story that I felt was truly stunning. It’s a short read and it says a lot that I was considering ignoring the book for a few days just to make it last a little longer. But I couldn’t stay away. She is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.

3. The Girl With All the Gifts, M.R. Carey

My former boss knows I love to read. She’d see me grab my book every day and head off for my lunch break. I knew she was part of a book club, but we rarely talked about what we were reading. Until she read this book. She talked about it so much–no spoiler details, just how much she was enjoying it–that she demanded I read it after her. She gave it to me right before I left, so I was under a bit of a time crunch, but it wouldn’t have mattered. I flew through this thriller like no one’s business. I kept telling Joe every night, “You need to read this.” “It should be a movie.” and on and on and on. No spoilers here, but just be warned that when you start you won’t stop…and you also won’t shut up about it.

4.  Us, David Nicholls

Over the summer, a few of my friends decided they would form a book club in order to read the entire Man Booker Prize list. This is the same group I declined because I couldn’t get on board with all of the books, but when reviewing the list this title stood out above the rest. At the time it was even projected to take the prize (it didn’t), so I requested it from the library and waited. If you’ve been following these posts, you know I’m a sucker for stories that take place over decades/generations. There’s something so fulfilling about them, like a deeper connection to the characters. Us follows a marriage from early, exciting beginnings to crumbling mid-life crisis–skipping back and forth between flashbacks and a present day whirlwind trip around Europe–a last hoorah for the unhappy couple. My favorite part was reading about their adventures in all of these European cities that Joe and I have visited–namely at the start of our relationship when everything was (is!) wonderful and exciting. Made me want to jump on a plane and go back with him in hand. I realize this all sounds depressing, but I swear it’s a funny, funny book. And poignant. I’d highly recommend it.

5. Food: A Love Story, Jim Gaffigan

Other than catching a few of his comedy specials on TV, I wasn’t too familiar with Jim Gaffigan until I read his Dad is Fat two summers ago. This guy….he’s hilarious. And while Dad is Fat chronicles is parenting choices, Food: A Love Story chronicles…you guessed it….his passion for food. I can relate. It was fun reading his take on American eating habits, Cincinnati chili, Portland doughnuts, and Taco Bell to name a few. Some parts were definitely laugh-out-loud funny, but like most comedians, once you get a taste for their tone, their timing, their punchlines….it all starts to blend together a bit. I mean, how much can one wax rhapsodic about bacon before it gets old? (Asks the vegetarian.) I wasn’t blown away by it, but I do appreciate his love of all things tasty.

6. Yes Please, Amy Poehler

Some of the funniest quips I’ve read in the past year have come from leading female comedians who have put pen to paper and written phenomenal reads. Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, even the highly-controversial Lena Dunham. They are hilarious on TV, but on paper they are even better. This is no different for Amy Poehler, comedian gem and newly-minted author. When Yes, Please came out, I put my name on the library wait-list for both the book and the audiobook. Not surprisingly, the audiobook came first. I’m not one to listen to audiobooks normally, especially when I’m not on a road trip. The only other book I’ve listened to in the last year (or two, three?) is one of Maya Angelou’s — and that was only because I wanted to hear her voice after she had died. But, after finishing this, I can’t imagine experiencing it any other way.

Listening to Amy read her thoughts on every conceivable subject made me so happy. Her snark, her wit, her timing…all of those would be hard to replicate in your own head while holding the book. There are several sections where she just laughs at herself in such an honest way. I love it. It was like listening to a friend. It’s not just Amy, either. She employs the help of Carol Burnett, Seth Meyers, Mike Schur (Creator of Parks and Rec), Patrick Stewart, Kathleen Turner, and her own parents. Here are some of my favorite sections:

  1. The “writing is hard work” preface. She speaks many truths.
  2. On the importance of being who you are.
  3. A chapter on the greatest, most-detailed birth plan.
  4. Her favorite SNL memories — touching and pee-your-pants funny
  5. How parenting is a lot of woman-on-woman crime. “The biggest lie is that we all do this on our own and look down on those who can’t.”
  6. THE MOST heartwarming apology story ever that has its own hashtag: #sorrysorrysorry (“Anger and embarrassment are neighbors.” – wow, truth.)
  7. Her thoughts on how women apologize for too much.
  8. Her take on Books on Divorce. (Nails it. I mean, NAILS. IT.)
  9. Ode to Tina Fey
  10. On women. “Too often we women try to tackle chaos that is not ours to fix. …The word “no” should be the end of discussion, not the beginning of a negotiation.”
  11. Her favorite Parks and Rec scenes and dedications to the cast. Including a list of who “Leslie Knope” could’ve been: Leslie Knorbble, Knapdragon, Nasterson, Knob, Knobody, Brocknet, Crapt, Knuckle-Jensen…the list goes on.
  12. “If you can surf your life rather than plant your feet, you will be happier.”
  13. When she talks about her grandpa. (I needed all the tissues.)
  14. When she talks about her sons.

Listen to this, please.

7. Orange is the New Black, Piper Kerman

Here are some words you don’t expect to make repeat appearances in a novel about a women’s prison: camaraderie, friend, buddy. Joe and I watched the first season of the hit Netflix show (of the same name, for those living in a cave) before I decided I wanted to read the book. I was nervous that the book would be too different than the show, that the characters and the drama I loved would be missing, but most everyone was there in some form. What I didn’t expect it to be was so touching and honest. Here are some of my favorite lines:
  • “Our system of ‘corrections’ is about arm’s-length revenge and retribution, all day and all night. Then its overseers wonder why people leave prison more broken than when they went in.”
  • “In prison, for the first time, I understood that faith could help people see beyond themselves, not into the abyss but into the street, into the mix, to offer what was best about themselves to others.”
  • “Small kindnesses and simple pleasures shared were so important, whether given or received, regardless of what quarter they came from, that they brought home to me powerfully that I was not alone in this world, in this life. I shared the most basic operating system with people, who ostensibly had little in common with me. I could connect–perhaps with anyone.”

8. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, Caitlin Doughty

I’m a morbid person, sometimes obsessed with learning details of horrific tragedies like plane crashes and missing children. I know. I’m the worst. I blame it on my not facing death until I was in my 30s. That’s why this book was perfect for me. It’s morbid, sure, but it speaks to our country’s and our generations’ denial of death. There were chapters I had to stomach through–namely cannibalism’s cultural roots and the author’s experience cremating babies born stillborn or with disease–but for the most part I was intrigued by her frank discussions and brutal honesty on a taboo subject. Perhaps the most jarring part for me was the end, where Doughty spells out the lack of dignified deaths by our culture of silence. That we’d rather prolong life at any cost. This, obviously, hit a little too close to home. She also spoke about the number of doctors (spoiler alert: not many) going into geriatric care and how this will be a HUGE problem in a matter of years, if not starting already. Yes, people are terrified of death, but as she writes: “Death might appear to destroy the meaning in our lives, but in fact it is the very source of our creativity. The great achievements of humanity were born out of the deadlines imposed by death.”

More great lines:

  • “It is never too early to start thinking about your own death or the deaths of those you love. Accepting death doesn’t mean that you won’t be devastated when someone you love dies. It means you will be able to focus on your grief, unburdened by bigger existential questions.”
  • “A culture that denies death is a barrier to achieving a good death.”
I wouldn’t recommend this book for anyone who doesn’t want frank details about what happens to your body when you die, but it is a good food for thought. Oh, and one more thing….don’t you dare have me embalmed. K-thanks.

9. Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography, Neil Patrick Harris

I’m a sucker for funny people writing books. Even so, I am not sure I would have picked up this book had EW not told me it was a must-read of the season. Written in the style of the “choose your own adventure” novels loved by children of the 80s, his writing is funny and I was able to connect with him as someone who hated sports, played the horn and was obsessed with Les Mis growing up. But…that’s pretty much where our connection ended. After reading this I’m convinced that NPH is talented and has a wicked sense of humor, but I’m also quite convinced he’s a total jerk. Never was there any humility shown in his pages. I actually feel embarrassed for him that someday his children will read this. NPH….he’s putting the “ass” in “class.” Sorry, EW, this one I just can’t recommend.

10. A Dance with Dragons, George R. R. Martin

Major fist pumping took place when I finally finished this 960-page tome–the last installment (as of now) of the A Song of Ice and Fire (aka: Game of Thrones) series. And just like the last book, GRRM spells out his true feelings in his Acknowledgements. “The last one was a bitch. This one was three bitches and a bastard.” All true things. It was imperative to finish this sucker before the show comes back this Spring. I read Book 4 last summer and this has been on my radar ever since. I’d like to thank the massive blankets of snow that helped me hunker down and git’er done. I honestly liked this book the best of the five and look forward to seeing it play out in the upcoming season. (Sorry, no spoilers.) Bonus: I was surprised to learn that this book has one of my favorite GRRM quotes (I thought it was just a random quote, not from a character in the story): “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads only lives once.” Can I get an ‘Amen!’?

11. Euphoria, Lily King

After dancing with dragons, Euphoria’s 250 pages felt like a magazine. Lots of people and publications have raved about this, which (broken record syndrome) led me to reserve it from the library. I agree that the writing is lovely, but the whole book was a bit “eh” to me. So much so, I have struggled for days to think of something to write about its plot or characters or language. I’ve got nothing. This was all around pretty forgettable to me. Sad face.

12. Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell

Among a shared love of emailing about life, work, family, fitbits and the arts, I love talking books with my dear friend Amy. She highly recommended this one (as did a favorite blogger of mine) and you know how I feel about my friends’ recommendations….Love. Them. This is a beautiful tale of young love and so vividly captures how awkward and unsettling and, yet, all-encompassing that love can be. That special time when each day brings fireworks and doubt and confidence and fear all at the same time. It took me straight back to those high school halls. If you aren’t ready to do the same, I wouldn’t pick this up!

Next up in the queue:

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt
Freedom – Jonathan Franzen
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
Running to Normal – Sandra Clark
It Was Me All Along – Andie Mitchell
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel
Maze Runner series – James Dashner
I’ll Give You The Sun – Jandy Nelson
Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell

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# chocolate cassis cake

Baking in the winter, especially following the holidays, can be rough. I’m typically trying to avoid most sugar and the lack of daylight makes it hard to document anything anyway.

Before I left for a week in Miami, I knew I needed to make something special…not only for the hubs I was leaving behind, but also our awesome friends who hosted us for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

AND gifted us homemade cassis.

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Cassis is black currant liqueur and deeeeelicious. It’s what we added to our Christmas Day champagne and what Joe’s been using to make his magical “Cherry Cokes” ever since.

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This stuff is so, so good.

I knew I wanted to use some to make Barefoot Contessa’s Chocolate Cassis Cake…a flourless wonder that she made on one of her shows with Giada.

What could be better than a flourless cake in the higher altitudes? No flour, no leavening…no math.

The key is to whip the eggs hard until they triple in volume and appear pale, pale yellow. Since you don’t have any leavening, it’s the air in the eggs that will allow the cake to rise.

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Air bubbles are okay.

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The cake is like a dense brownie, and made even better with the cassis ganache that drowns all those flakey bits.

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Oh, my.

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Joe might prefer his ‘Cherry Cokes,’ but this is how I will forever use my cassis.

You don’t even taste the alcohol. Similar to espresso powder or coffee, cassis just makes the cake taste more chocolately.

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It tastes nothing like a cake. More like the most dense, truffle-like brownie of all time. Word to the wise: You really need berries or whipped cream to cut through this richness.

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Find some cassis. Find some friends. And get to it!

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Chocolate Cassis Cake

Source: Barefoot Contessa

Baking spray
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, such as Pernigotti
6 tablespoons creme de cassis liqueur
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 extra-large eggs (6 large), at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

For the glaze:
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 to 3 tablespoons creme de cassis liqueur
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

To serve (optional):
2 (1/2 pint) boxes fresh raspberries
1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and thickly sliced
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup creme de cassis liqueur

Directions
For the cake, Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9-inch round springform pan with baking spray. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and spray it again with baking spray.

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Set aside to cool for 5 minutes. Whisk in the cocoa powder, cassis, and vanilla and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (you can also use a hand mixer), beat the eggs, sugar, and salt on high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until pale yellow and triple in volume. Pour the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and carefully but thoroughly fold them together with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until just barely set in the center. Allow to cool in the pan for 30 minutes and then release the sides of the pan. Remove pan from sides of pan and let cool completely on wire rack.

For the glaze, melt the chocolate and cream together in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until smooth. Off the heat, whisk in the cassis and vanilla. Allow to cool for 10 minutes and spread over just the top of the cake.

Fifteen minutes before serving, toss the berries gently with the sugar and cassis. Cut the cake in wedges and serve with the berries on the side.

Friday Five: Best Movies of the Year

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

As a follow-up to last week’s list of movies-I-can’t-wait-to-see, here are our favorites from the last 12 months.

Keep in mind we’re total library whores. I’m seriously there about every other day–that’s how much we love it. For realz.

Here’s a little tip: Most libraries will add new books and movies to their catalog as soon as they order it (i.e. before it arrives), so if you keep a watch on new release dates (I check on Amazon), you know what to search for in the library’s database and you can be the first to get it (by reserving it) when it finally does arrive and is processed. There. That’s my library secret.

Then you can share your spoils on Instagram.

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Four brand-spankin’-new DVDs (+Anna Karenina and a book) without spending a buck.

The only downside is that you’re seeing most movies way after they have actually been released. You run the risk of spoilers and biased opinions and reviews, but we’re okay with that. We’re patient folk.

Back to the movies. Here are the ones we enjoyed most:

5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

As far as Marvel movies go, I’ve always been an Iron Man girl. But, man, did this movie surprise me. I thought it was really well done and quickly moved to the top three…top two, maybe…of my favorite Marvel installations. Chris Evans was fantastic, Sam Jacks was vulnerable (rare) and I managed to not hate Scarlett Johansson for the *entire* movie. Consider that a pretty big win.

4. Interstellar

The McConaissance is real, y’all. It started with True Detective and Mud (for me) and has carried its way through Dallas Buyers Club and, now, Insterstellar. Is there nothing Matthew can’t do?? (Other than convincingly sell a Lincoln?) This movie got another big bump due to my obsession with Christopher Nolan and his mind-shattering movies (Inception, Dark Knight trilogy, The Prestige). Together they are a tour de force. So glad we saw this in the theater–make sure you do before you lose your chance.

3. Guardians of the Galaxy / 22 Jump Street

A shared title for the two movies that made me laugh the hardest. First up, Guardians: We *finally* got to see this last week and it spoke directly to my 80s-kid heart. There are so many stealable quotes and funny moments. Chris Pratt was absolutely the best casting decision of the year and Bradley Cooper (in voice form) is almost unrecognizable, which is great. 22 Jump Street wasn’t a cinematic masterpiece, but it was damn funny. You have to appreciate a franchise that knows how to make fun of itself. The credits alone had tears running down my face. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are a match made in bromance heaven. Don’t judge me for loving this movie.

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel  

Wes Anderson can be hit or miss to me. I wasn’t crazy about his Moonrise Kingdom, and was therefore pretty skeptical of GBH. And all for naught. This movie is a total triumph and I hope it wins big throughout the continuing awards season. Ralph Fiennes is a riot and there’s something so charming about it all, even in the middle of the half comedic, half dramatic plot. It’s been a long time since a movie that was released so early in the year has been considered for the Best Picture oscar, so they have brought it back to the theaters for anyone who missed it. Now’s your chance….or hit up that library.

1. The Hundred-Foot Journey

This is a bit of a dark horse, but if you are a lover of food and food culture, RUN to your library or Netflix or Redbox and find this movie. I’m unashamedly obsessed with Julie & Julia and this story about the power of food on our souls is no different. I watched it by myself, which was a good thing since I had happy tears rolling off my cheeks at the end…and a killer hankering for an omelet (if you watch, you’ll understand). Helen Mirren is as much perfection as Meryl was as Julia. That’s a tall order! I can’t rave enough about this movie.

Honorable Mention:
* Gone Girl — a superb adaptation from the original thriller book

Reader Repeat: The First

I love talking about food. In fact, it’s probably safe to say the only thing I like more than talking about it is actually eating it, but talking food with those that love it as much as I do makes me incredibly happy.

I really love sharing recipes with others (via blog or otherwise) and frequently am on the search for recipes I know my family and friends will love…like pinning baked Strawberry Doughnuts for Bobbie or emailing my mom a Roasted Garlic Potato Soup.

Yesterday as I was prepping my own Roasted Garlic Potato Soup, my mom texted me a pic of HER making the same soup. We shared pics of ‘roasted garlic on Williams Sonoma towels’. And it made me happy.

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Even from afar, food brings us together.

I obviously love to share food with you guys, my faithful readers, and have high hopes to make this more of a friendlier food(ish) blog. I’d love to get my recipes on Pinterest (formally), add a Recipe Index tab for quick searches, and add a print/save function to my recipes. I’m working on it!

Some of you have tried my #Marci recipes and have shared your successes with me. Nothing makes me happier, so I wanted to start a special recurring series of posts that showcase all of YOUR versions of the recipes I’ve posted.

I’ll call them Reader Repeat posts.

Reader Repeat

If you’d like to be included in the next Reader Repeat, email your photos to hashtagmarci (at) gmail (dot) com.

Let’s dig in and see what you’ve made!

First up, Lily and Booh made the incredibly easy, incredibly delicious Cookie Dough Pretzel Bites for a family night. I want to sit on the couch with her and eat that entire tray.

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My mom and Roberta both raved about the Pumpkin Scones I made for my Dad, Bryan and Robbi. At the time Robbi claimed them the best scone she’d ever had and Roberta said her batch was “melt-in-your-mouth delicious and delicate.” It even won over her pumpkin-averting hubby.

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Robertas scones

Bobbie recently whipped up a batch of my “Judy Doughnuts” to enjoy with her daughter. Smiles all around…especially for Abby, who only wanted the frosted tops! Yum, what a perfect weekend morning!
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Roberta and her daughter Meredith won me over completely by making the yummy Tagalong Cookie Cake Bars for Roberta’s dog’s birthday. Yep, a family after my own dog-lovin’ heart! Of course only the adults enjoyed, but Reese looked pretty happy sitting next to it.

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Thank you for sharing your photos with me! I so enjoy hearing about what sounds (and tastes) good to you! I’ll plan on doing another Reader Repeat in the late Spring or early Summer, so send in your photos and stories!

Happy eating!!

Friday Five: Movies to See

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

Despite what the famous song says, THIS is the most wonderful time of the year. Football has one foot out the door with the Super Bowl being its final bullet. And, more importantly, it’s Award Season. I have an extreme pop culture addiction, so this is basically Christmas all over again.

Tina and Amy started everything off with their final hosting gig for the Golden Globes. I had pen and paper near by to collect all of the movies we need to see, STAT.

Since Joe and I rarely go to the theater–opting for the less-expensive, less-social option of renting from the library–there are definitely more than five on the list, but these are our top contenders. Next week I’ll be back with my Top Five movies we saw this year.

But first, those we still want to see:

5. Big Eyes

I love Amy Adams. I love Christoph Waltz. And this is based on a true story. Wam, bam, thankyoum’am. This is a no brainer.

4. Into the Woods

All of our music friends are going crazy for this one, so it made the cut. Any chance to hear Anna Kendrick sing before Pitch Perfect 2 comes out is a good enough reason for me.

3. Boyhood

Reasons: Because it’s groundbreaking. Because it’s slated to win it all. Because it’s the movie that took 12 years to make.

2. Birdman

Michael Keaton will always be my batman. Sorry, Christian. So, to see him play a washed-up actor who used to portray a super hero is just my kind of irony. Plus, his tearful thank-you speech to his son upon his Golden Globe win tugged alllll the heart strings.

1. The Theory of Everything

I’ve basically been in love with Eddie Redmayne since he was singing from the barricade.  I fully expect him to sweep the awards circuit with his performance as Stephen Hawking. I need to see it so I can fully jump on this growing bandwagon and cheer him on properly.

Five Honorable Mentions:

* Tim’s Vermeer
* The Imitation Game
* Snowpiercer
* American Sniper
* Foxcatcher
 

 

# Christmas 2014

Now that all of the food’s behind us, let’s wrap up Christmas with a pictorial guide to our actual day!

On Christmas Eve, we tucked into bed with not an ounce of white on the ground. Which made it all the more surprising to wake up to this scene.

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A true, magical, whitest of White Christmases! Quite the change from our Cali Christmas last year! I can’t imagine all of the happy faces across Utah when looking out their windows that morning.

We spent the day with friends, but had the morning free to Skype with family and finish cooking. I love getting to Skype with all of the littles and hear about Santa’s deliveries.

First up was Abby, who we watched open a few gifts.

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Then, Lily and Linc — who showed off a few Santa surprises:

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We tried to take a group photo, but someone is pretty wiggly these days.

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Quite the difference from last year, eh?

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We also got to see Freya and Tiegan (not on Xmas morning, but close enough), who also opened presents, let Flip and Bella have Cousin Time and gave us a fashion show while singing Frozen, Little Mermaid and Lion King. It was amazing. Man, I miss those girls.

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Afterwards, we had time for quick showers and putting the finishing touches on the dishes we were bringing. Along with my desserts (ice cream and cookie tray), I always try to bring a vegetarian entree so the hosts don’t have to worry about my dietary choices.

I made a vegetarian pastitsio–which is like a Greek lasagne. Normally there is lamb cooked in sweet spices like cinnamon or nutmeg for the middle layer that sits on a plane of macaroni noodles, but I used roasted eggplant with the same spices. Really, you could put anything in there because it all gets topped with the most ridiculously rich bechemel sauce (read: cheesy heaven).

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Bubbly and beautiful!

Then we loaded up and headed south to Chris and Chiali’s–our amazing holiday (and anytime) hosts.

This was my view as Joe tackled the snowy streets.

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Bella and I watched the snow fall.

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Yes, Bella! Chris and Chilali were kind enough to let Bella spend the day with us and I couldn’t have been more happy. She was pretty thrilled to have a getaway that didn’t involve the vet.

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Upon arrival, she quickly made herself at home (mostly in the kitchen).

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And Chris served up some Champagne mixed with the homemade cassis he made us for Christmas.

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Nothing short of amazing. I love these friends.

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We enjoyed snacks and gifts while waiting for David and Adrienne to arrive.

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And, we totally checked out this group gift to the Gentiles from Santa. It’s an illustrated guide to Mormon prophets that was quite the riot, especially as the day went on.

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I also helped watched Chilali make homemade brioche while Joe held down the living room fort. How great is Chilali’s shirt?

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Bella was still right at home, until we needed to walk her and had to get her bundled up for the elements.

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AH! I die from the cuteness! Those are her new boots from Poppa and Nonna (doggie grandparents) to match her new winter coat. All things she appreciated when going out in this:

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By then, everyone had arrived and it was time to do what we do best…E-A-T!

My view: BREAD!

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We each had a popper thingy (what are these called?!) on our plate to pull apart with whomever was sitting near.

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Chilali won the pen in mine.

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I think I won a shoe horn. Joe won a sewing kit in his. Then, also included, are the infamous crowns, which we wore with too-much pride and resulted in a lot of selfies.

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And then I took pictures of people taking selfies. It’s a sickness.

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I spy a vegetarian plate.

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I spy a cute husband in a silly crown.

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We wrapped up the night with a rousing game of Cards Against Humanity, eating all of the cookies and ice cream (almost), and uncontrollable laughter. This game was made for our group of friends.

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It was an absolutely wonderful day, especially with this Winter Wonderland view driving home.

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And that, my friends, concludes my Christmas posts. “Hallelujah! Holy Shit!…Where’s the Tylenol?” (Best. Christmas Movie. Ever.)

Christmas: The Wild Cards

Okay, seriously. Let’s knock out Christmas with a one-two punch, shall we? I can only drag my feet in the snow for so long.

In figuring out what I was going to make for Christmas, I mentioned wild cards. Something other than cookies. I also have failed to mention the other two items (other than these Sugar Cookies) that I must always, ALWAYS have during the holidays.

So, here’s the last of the Christmas food posts! I know you’re as ready as I am!

First up, the wild card. In looking for foolproof desserts that can be made ahead of time, I always look to ice cream. In this cold climate, it’s unexpected, but fun to serve up a nice bowl of frosty, creamy, typically boozy custard. I think my friends are starting to expect it from me, too. That’s fine. I’d love to be defined as the ice-cream-connoisseur in our circle.

This year I went with Jeni’s Eggnog Custard. Festive, eggy, with a nice warming bit of whiskey. It hit the spot. Unfortunately, I make all of my ice creams at night and somehow failed to take any photos, but trust me when I say it was delicious. Pretty much like an alcoholic version of the Salty Vanilla Custard I can’t get enough of.

The other two wildcards are, once again, staples of my childhood and adulthood. Two things I cannot live without during this time of year.

One: Snack Mix

My family consumes this homemade, anytime treat after breakfast, as a lunch substitute, or a right-after-dinner snack. Really, any time is a good time. My Mimi has been making it for as long as I can remember and we’ve called it Nat Nix or Nat Mix equally as long. The best part about being an adult and making your own Nat Nix is you get to pick what you put in. Oh, the power! If it were up to me, I’d put in all Cheez-Its and Goldfish crackers, but, alas, I live with someone else.

Here’s our version before it received its armor of margarine and spices.

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Again, sorry. These are phone pics because I was making it at night. But, here’s an after shot once it had been roasting away for hours.

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True Story: I ate most of this myself. And don’t regret a damn thing.

You can really put whatever you want in the base mixture. Mimi adds mixed nuts (we went with peanuts only) and, sometimes, shoestring potatoes sticks. We went with cheddar pretzels (which were AMAZING), goldfish crackers and a blend of cereals. You know what would also be good? Bugles.

Here are some other suggestions, though: Rice Chex, Corn or Wheat Chex, Cheerios, Pretzel Sticks, Goldfish Crackers, Mixed Nuts, Cheez-its, Potato Stix. I wouldn’t recommend putting anything sugary in there due to its oven time. This is no place for trail mix m&ms or craisins!

Whatever you choose, place it in a large roasting pan. (I buy the biggest disposable option at the store for easy stirring.) Dump everything in and then smother with this mixture and make sure it’s coated evenly:

Mimi’s Snack Mix

3 sticks margarine, melted
1 Tbs. garlic salt
1 Tbs. onion salt
1 Tbs. celery salt
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. red pepper (to taste, optional)

Then, preheat oven to 250 degrees. Cover with foil and bake one hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional hour, continuing to stir every 15 minutes.

And there you have it. My absolute favorite snack…or should I say my favorite Nat.

Here’s a better shot that I took a few years ago. This is best enjoyed scooped into paper bowls or cups, surrounded by family playing a game. Preferably Mexican Train Dominoes. It’s the Jackson Way.

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Next up would be my Christmas-morning go-to breakfast. CINNAMON ROLLS….that we call SNINNY ROLLS!

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It’s impossible for my family to just call something by its real name. Sorry, not sorry.

My mom has made these as gifts for years and I started making them maybe nine or ten years ago (for just us, ha!) and haven’t looked back. Well, that is until I moved to Utah, where high altitudes are wreaking havoc on every yeast dough I try.

Sadly, these were no different.

See, they are supposed to rise and be an overlapping mountain of warm, sugary goodness. But mine stayed small, opting not to rise a second time, so we enjoyed baby cinnamon rolls this year. It’s probably for the better, but I was missing the real deal.

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Babies! Come on, look at those gaping spaces between them! You rolls are supposed to be ginormous! Like this:

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It’s hard to really tell the size difference in this close-up photo from years ago, but I assure you it’s an astounding difference. At least it tasted the same.

So, focus on this old photo and try your hand at this easy (especially-when-at-sea-level) dough that will knock your socks off!

Cinnamon Roll 1

Paula’s Cinnamon Rolls

Dough:
1 c. water or milk
1/3 c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/4 c. shortening
1 packet of yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 c. warm water
2 eggs
2 Tbs. vanilla
5-5.5 cups flour

Filling mixture:

2 c. sugar
2 Tbs. cinnamon
1/4 c. oil
1/4 tsp. salt

Icing:

½ box powdered sugar
1 stick margarine, melted
pinch of salt

Mix water/milk, 1/3 c. sugar, salt and shortening in a saucepan.  Heat till shortening is melted.  Cool to lukewarm.  Mix yeast, 1 tsp. sugar, and water in a cup.

When first mixture is lukewarm, add about 1/2 of the flour.  Beat with wooden spoon.  Then add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.  Add yeast mixture and vanilla and stir.  Add the remaining flour and knead 8-9 minutes.  Allow to rise 2 hours.

Sprinkle board lightly with flour.  Punch down dough, turn onto board.  Roll out dough to 3/8 inch thickness.  Spread with one stick of butter, melted.  Sprinkle with filling mixture.

Roll from long side and pinch the dough to seal.  Cut slices 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick and place cut side down in greased 13×9 pan (you’ll need two).  Allow to rise one hour.  Bake at 350 degrees 12-15 minutes, or until lightly browned.

For icing: Mix powdered sugar with melted margarine; add a pinch of salt and enough hot water to make the mixture runny.  Brush over baked rolls.

Freezes well.