Friday Five: The Best of 2015

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

Like the holidays before it, Joe and I will be ushering in the new year in the most low-key way possible: a little football, some special food, some homemade cassis from Chris and Chilali…and, if all goes well, peanut butter brown butter rice krispie treats. And, of course, lots of time with this little one who is the most precious of snow bunnies.
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Her wish for the new year? Snow. Carrots. Apples. Snow. Sleep.

My wish for the new year? Health. Happiness. Adventure. Health. Sleep.

We’re not too far off from each other.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t ready for this year to end. In life’s land of peaks and pits it feels like there were way more pits to navigate, but it doesn’t mean we were without some really spectacular moments. Here are some of my top-five favorites of the year:

TV

5. Modern Family
4. The Man in the High Castle
3. Game of Thrones
2. Downton Abbey
1. Homeland

Movies

5. Inside Out
4. Pitch Perfect 2
3. Jurassic World
2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
1. Woman in Gold

Music

5. The Lone Bellow
4. Tony Bennett and Lady GaGa
3. Leon Bridges
2. Adele
1. Brandi Carlile

Books

5. The Girl in the Spider’s Web
4. The Nightingale
3. Go Set a Watchman
2. Station Eleven
1. All the Light We Cannot See

Recipes

5. Thanksgiving Gravy
4. Carrot Coconut Scones
3. Homemade Gnocchi in Tomato Broth
2. Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars
1. Chocolate Bourbon Peanut Butter Cake

Moments

7. Biggio HOF (part 1, part 2)
6. Reuniting with Miami (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4)
5. Summer with the Vores
4. Utah Littles (part 1, part 2, part 3)
3. Bella Feeling Better
2. Trip to Texas (part 1, part 2)
1. Hawaii (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5)

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Friday Five: Christmas 2015 Final Countdown

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

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We are checking things off our list like mad. Two days, everyone! Since I missed last Friday’s post, here’s a recap of how our final countdown has looked.

5. Prime Time

We finally started exploring perks other than the free and fast shipping of our Amazon Prime membership. Turns out The Man in the High Castle is just the kind of show we love to watch. For those who haven’t heard, it imagines our country if Germany (and Japan) had won the war. Very interesting and compelling. (It’s also based on a book.) Since we’ll be spending Christmas in Utah, we’ve decided to binge watch the latest season of Homeland this week. Nothing says the holidays like fighting terrorism.

4. Winter Wonderland

Like last year, we’ll have another white Christmas. It’s been relentless and I’ve become that crazy lady that goes out every morning and sticks a ruler in the snow. It’s the only way I can wrap my mind around it. We have even more coming tomorrow.

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Bella surrenders to her boots every time. They are getting quite the work-out.

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3.The War of Stars

After months years of anticipation, we saw the new Star Wars movie last  Thursday night. Waaay past this girl’s i-work-on-Eastern-time bedtime. It was well worth it, though, if only to see Joe’s excitement.

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2.Bowl or Bust

USU’s bowl game was today, marking the end of the season. Finally. It’s been a long one. ESPN granted me this glimpse of Joe early on in the game.

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1.Cookie Plate Success

Remember my plan for 2015’s cookie plates? I’m happy to report they were a hit.

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I combined my famed sugar cookies with those cookie butter truffles that I topped with course sea salt.

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Not bad. Joe really liked them, but I think I would have been way more excited if they had been peanut butter. What’s new?

It’s possible I was way too preoccupied by these guys.

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The chocolate candy cane kisses were out of control. So good. Everyone said they were the favorites on the tray.

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The cookie itself was like a rich brownie that split perfectly around the peppermint kiss. There’s only one left and I’m going to savor each bite. Here’s the recipe. The only change I made was rolling the dough in regular sugar before baking. That’s what makes those deep crevices. Don’t skip it!

A very merry Christmas from a very snowy Utah!

Friday Five: Christmas 2015 Sweets and Snacks

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

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We are two weeks away, people. The tree is up. The music is on repeat. All that’s left is a bowl game and then we are there.

I have a few cookie plates to make for friends and Etsy business partners, so I’ve been working on that menu as well as our own home menu.

Same as Thanksgiving, I’m looking forward to having a few favorites and trying some new treats. We plan to spread these out between next week and New Year’s so we’re not overloaded. Though, let’s be honest, we’ll be overloaded. ‘Tis the season!

Before I get to the new, here are some of the traditions we’ll be continuing:

Sninny Rolls (now that I know how to handle yeast dough in high altitude)
Sugar Cookies (this time with the new cookie cutters!)
Chocolate Crinkles (because, wow, are these amazing)
Lemon Bars (Joe’s favorite)
Pizza Bread on Christmas Eve

And now for the new…

Drum Roll, please. Drum Roll.

5. Sausage Stars

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Okay, this isn’t new, at least not a new-to-me recipe. This is a request from Joe. He first tasted them at a Christmas party I threw in grad school, months before we were dating. Mere babes at this point.

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Maybe they are what sealed the deal. If so, I should thank my sister. This is her recipe and its all Oklahoma in an appetizer. Ranch + Cheese + Sausage. Pre-vegetarian me loved them, so I’m going to have to come up with a veggie version to try this year. Or I may just eat my weight in my family’s Cracker Crew.

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4. Cookie Butter Truffles

I don’t do most fudge, and growing up we had a bar version of my favorite chocolate-peanut butter buckeyes, which was as close to fudge as I would ever get. Instead of making buckeyes, this year we’re trying some cookie dough truffles. The jars from Trader Joe’s have a better life to live than one that just involves me and a spoon! They are screaming for a chocolate coat to wear.

These and these look promising!

Don’t like Cookie Butter? I bet you like Baileys!

3. Chocolate Candy Cane Kiss Cookies

These are mostly for my cookie plates to distribute. I have a freezer with three bags of Candy Cane Hershey’s Kisses (I like them in ebelskivers) that I need to use and this seems like the ideal way to do it: Cookies for other people!

This is the recipe I’ll try.

2. Seasoned Pretzels

Instead of Nat Nix (gasp!), we’re going to try this baked pretzel as our main snack. As much as I love Nat Nix, it always makes a lot, which means I eat a lot. We’ll see how it goes. I may break down and make Nat Nix for New Year’s!

This is the recipe I’ll try.

1. Peanut Butter Rice Krispie Treats

Since we won’t have our normal buckeyes, Joe requested this peanut butter treat and I was absolutely on board. Especially when I noticed Joy the Baker had a browned-butter-peanut-butter version in her first cookbook. I’ll follow her to the ends of the earth for providing our INCREDIBLE Thanksgiving dessert.

The recipe is found in her first cookbook. Stay tuned, I just might cut them into Christmas trees. Probably not. But, maybe!

What are you making this year? Check out my new Pinterest board dedicated to all things holiday.

 

# harry potter illustrated edition

If you know me or followed any of my Shelf Life posts, you know I love me some Harry Potter. I’ve read all of the books at least twice, some more. The series made my Top Five Books List. It topped my YA Madness Bracket. And, a trip to HP World with my Sibs is one of my very favorite trips.

The proof is in the {treacle} pudding. I just love it.

So when a new illustrated edition of the first book was announced, I knew I wanted to check it out. But, so did everyone else on the planet because Amazon sold out of their entire stock faster than you can say Alohomora.

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Luckily our library had already nabbed a copy and I finally made it to the top of the reserve list last week.

I didn’t plan on reading it, I just wanted to look at it. But I was absolutely transfixed by its beauty. (You know I love pretty books.) I didn’t want to stop flipping through it, so I started reading it on Saturday night before I went to bed and by lunch on Sunday, it was finished. Devoured every page and its intricate detail.

Jim Kay’s illustrations are breathtaking. When you’ve read the books and let your imagination roam, and then seen the movies, and then visited the theme-park version, you’d think it would be hard to imagine this world any differently than what you’ve already experienced. But, Kay’s world is glorious–familiar, yet novel–and surprising. Check out this video about his illustration process and get a sneak peek of drawings for the second book. YES! Please do the entire series!

There are videos online where you can see each page of the entire book, but here are a few of my favorite pages:

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In some instances, he illustrates sections from textbooks Rowling published separately so you can see what they’d be studying. Amazing.

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Just look at this detail!

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Reading this new edition takes me back to when I was first introduced to the series and made me realize how much I’d love to discover this world again for the first time. Luckily, this is as close to that nirvana as I can imagine. Thank you, Jim Kay.

Friday Five: Christmas 2015 New Decor

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

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Ask anyone in my family and they’ll tell you I’m the most nostalgic of the bunch. I love to remember and revisit. This year we have a few new decor pieces that remember and revisit both the high points of our year, as well as high points from my past. And since the big camera was out to capture a certain amazing dessert I’m STILL obsessing over, you get real-deal pics. It’s a blog miracle!

5. Hawaii

Hands down, the best part of our year was our anniversary trip to Hawaii. My family has a tradition of collecting ornaments from trips and it’s one I’ve happily adopted for us. If you search for “Hawaii ornaments” you’re going to get a lot of hula-ing Santas and sunsets painted on sea shells. Not really our style, but we did hit gold with this Oahu highway sign.

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It’s so perfect since our condo was on Ala Moana Boulevard on Waikiki and we hiked Diamond Head. I was SO BUMMED to learn its matching Maui ornament (that also featured the place where we stayed) is (forever?) out of stock. Ugh. Sad trombone.

But, I still love the one we have. Especially it’s glittery edges that shimmer in the tree’s lights.

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We also nabbed this sparkly sea turtle since it was the highlight of the highlight. We are still enamored with our chance encounter with these guys on the beach.

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4. Penguin Paradise

You might remember a very special visit by my sister and her family a few months ago. Another big highlight from our year. Since Lily, Tim, Joe and I got to feed the penguins together, I thought it would be fun to have matching ornaments commemorating the fun.

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This tiny penguin playing a horn totally fit the bill, so now we both have one on our tree. He’s in good company with my favorite ornament of all time, near the top of the tree.

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3. Doughnut Dreams

Great minds think alike. That’s typical when it comes to me and my sister; we’re almost always on the same wave length. She was already on her ornament game when I sent off our matching penguins. But she totally knocked my socks off with his handmade Judy Doughnut, complete with orangey-pink frosting.

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EXACTLY like the ones Lily and I made together while they were here. Melted my heart. What a sweet (literally!) reminder.

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2. My Angels

2015 wasn’t a walk in the park, by any means, despite these highlights. I lost two wonderful men in my life. After Gramps died, my friend Bobbie–who knows me so very well–gave me the most perfect gift. A metal ornament with special photos honoring our time together. I was blown away.

Christmas, we agree, is the best time for remembering those we’ve lost. So I made two more ornaments for Pops and Uncle Dick and now my tree is covered with special moments I can relive each holiday season. Can you hear my heart about to burst? The seams are splitting as I type.

Each one has color photos on the front with their names, while the back has black and white photos with their dates. I am absolutely in love with them. I miss seeing their faces, but this is a wonderful way for me to see them every day.

Here’s Gramps‘:

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Here’s Uncle Dickie‘s:

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And here’s Pops‘:

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All the hearts, all the memories. Thank you so much, Bobbie, for starting a new tradition.

1. Cut(ters) to the Heart

Making sugar cookies is the #1 holiday memory from my childhood. You can click here to see all of the photographic proof of our obsession, along with the dang-good recipe, but one thing that really made it special was the cookie cutters. They are Hallmark cutters from the late 70s and early 80s. What one would now call “vintage.” You’d be hard-pressed to find an old photo of us making cookies without them being there.

Like in this Halloween example.

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My mom still has her set that gets pulled out every year and I know my siblings and I would each love to eventually own them and continue using them every holiday. So, I’ve taken matters into my own hands and–with the help of ebay–created my own matching set.

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I had my mom take pictures of the cutters she has and hit up in the interwebs to find exact matches. And I had so much fun doing it.

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Eventually I want to have them sitting in my kitchen in glass jars like these, but until the snow melts and I can get to Target, I’m using a glass mixing bowl I already have.

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I love my new centerpiece and the flood of memories that wash over me when I see (and smell) it.

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Plus, they’re all ready for me whenever I’m ready to make my own set of cookies.

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For someone whose holiday is hijacked by NCAA bowl games, this is just one sweet and special way to bring my hometown holiday to me. (I also recreated our Halloween cutters, so stay tuned for October 2016! Ha!)

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Are your decorations up? What new traditions are you starting this year?

# bourbon chocolate pecan pie bars

I’ve done it! I have found my new Thanksgiving tradition in these bars.

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Thanksgiving dessert has always been a tough one for me. Without trying to sound like a broken record, pie is not really my thing. Cookies are most definitely all Christmas and cakes are birthday items. I really wanted to find something that tasted of Thanksgiving and its familiar flavors, but was a fly-by-and-grab type of deal. Something that could be sitting out on the table, ready whenever you are.

And. This. Is. It.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars.

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They are basically a pecan pie over a buttery shortbread crust that, when paired with the dark chocolate chips, tastes like a decadent chocolate chip cookie.

Not to mention, b o u r b o n.

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It’s absolutely dreamy. Any recipe that says “whip until glossy” is dreamy, but this one really is. It’s all-Thanksgiving without making pie crust. Cue up the Hallelujah Chorus!

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I’m serious when I say I will look no further. This was by far the best thing about our Thanksgiving meal. I knew Joy wouldn’t let me down. Forever more, my Thanksgiving dessert:

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Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars

Source: Joy the Baker’s Homemade Decadence

Shortbread crust:

2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. confectioners’ sugar
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. salt

Filling:

1/4 c. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 c. packed light brown sugar
1/2 c. light corn syrup
3 large eggs
2 Tbs. bourbon
1/2 tsp. salt
2 c. toasted pecan halves, coarsely chopped
1 c. dark chocolate chunks

Put a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 350-degrees. Grease a 9×13 baking dish with butter, line with parchment paper, and grease the parchment paper.

For the crust, in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flour, confectioners’ sugar, butter and salt. Beat until the mixture is combined, but crumbly, about 4 minutes. Dump the mixture into the prepared baking dish and use your fingers to press the crust evenly across the bottom.

Bake until lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, but leave the oven on.

For the filling, in a medium bowl, whisk together the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, eggs, bourbon and salt until thoroughly combined and glossy. Stir in the pecans and chocolate pieces. Pour the mixture over the baked crust, distributing the pecans and chocolate evenly.

Bake until set, 25-30 minutes. Let cool completely in the baking dish before slicing the bars. The bars will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days and is easily halved for an 8×8 pan.

 

# visitors and Thanksgiving 2015

It’s been a few long and difficult weeks around here, but we’ve had some very bright spots that I’ve been meaning to share!

A little over a month ago, my Dad came to visit. It was such a fun week with him here and we made the most of it with many wonderful meals…

…including the special Mortician Burger (double patty, double cheese, bacon, pastrami, onion rings and sauce) for the boys…

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and a very cold football game.

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Joe’s band did an awesome custom show for Halloween called “Zombie Apocalypse.”  I loved his zombie cymbal players in the school’s old uniforms.

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Later that weekend we hit up some shopping and eating in Salt Lake, including visiting the new Penzeys Spice store, which was pretty much heaven for me.

Then, that next weekend, my mom and Mike came to visit.

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It was their first time here without it being homecoming. Ha! We made use of all the extra time by making pumpkin cinnamon rolls.

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This was a huge deal since A) I haven’t, until then, had any luck with yeast dough at high altitude, and B) my mom is the queen of cinnamon rolls. I know she was the good luck charm I needed to make it work.

We also played our Bella’s favorite game, Cards Against Humanity.

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This pretty much sums up the entire game. Joe laughing hysterically and my mom staring blankly at a card. hahahahahaha! Too bad it’s blurry, but I don’t even care.

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Sorry, mom. Truth be told, she almost won the game.

And, then there was last week’s Thanksgiving. It was such a quiet day, which we really needed. I didn’t take many pictures because we were either in a heap on the couch in our PJs or we were in the kitchen with flour everywhere. But, here are the few I managed to snap throughout the day.

First up, pretzel bites. It’s one of our favorite things to make and eat. I paired them with a cheesy cider fondue that was really easy. The perfect snack for parade/football watching.

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This was the only picture of the spread I have (ha!). Shown: turkey, gravy, green bean casserole, rolls, mashed potatoes, spinach tart and Joe’s sliver of canned cranberry. I halved every single recipe. It was the most math I’ve done since roughly 2000.

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The best part was, every single thing was prepped in advance, so all I had to do on Thursday was cook everything off. Amazing.

Here’s the vegetarian’s plate. So. good. Especially the gravy, which was a new-to-me recipe that used nutritional yeast. Totally rocked my world. It’ll be my forever gravy from now on.

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I’ll dedicate a separate post to the dessert I chose (with REAL pictures!), but this was Joe’s Vanilla Bourbon Pumpkin Pie. I’m not a big pie person, but I was happy with how it turned out. Bella was too.

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That’s where we’ve been…now we continue to stalk bowl predictions and look toward Christmas and a new year.