Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy, Joyful, Deliriously Glee-filled Christmas!

Presenting Rom-olph.
Thrilled, as you can see, about his antlers.

Roman has been pretty good this year (or the 8 months of it that he's been alive!), so we'll see what Santa brings, but I know of another little kid who wasn't so sure he'd be getting anything but a piece of coal. I can't help but smile, because I'm pretty sure I've definitely been in that situation before, and have a feeling maybe Roman will be too one of these years very soon. :)

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Merry, Happy, Joyful, Indulgent, Deliriously-Glee-filled
Christmas to everyone!

Even the bad kids. >:P
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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Jolly Good Cranberry-Almond Biscotti.

crispy, crumbly, jolly good.

'Tis the season to be jolly, and never am I jollier than when I am baking.

I have a Christmas party to attend today with a couple of girlfriends and their babies, and when I racked my brain last week for what I could bring that was delicious, appropriate, and relatively simple to make, I quickly decided upon an old tried and true favorite recipe adapted from my favorite baking book: Cranberry-Almond Biscotti.

These Italian "twice-baked" cookies or "bis-cotti" are from the same baking master that brought you my "Best Banana Nut Bread Ever. Period." - Francois Payard. And I would say that both recipes are of the same ilk: dead simple and shockingly delicious. His original recipe is for Pistachio-Almond Biscotti, but I like cranberries and almonds together much more, and I scale down the, IMO, over-the-top amount of anise seeds he uses.

Either way, the biscotti are always a hit because they are not-too-sweet and make wonderful small gifts or favors for any kind of holiday get-together.

If that's not enough reason to be jolly, what is?

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Top 5 Reasons to be Jolly this Christmas
rosey cheeks, jelly-belly and all

5. Mulled Wine
Not only does this Christmas favorite taste good, it generally does the job of making you feel "jolly" pretty quickly. At least I know my version always includes copious amounts of rum in addition to red wine, and everytime I've ever served it at a party it's the first thing to go and the last thing people forget.

There's many-a-something old-fashioned, traditional and wonderful about mulled wine: the aromas, the sweet warmth, the delicate cupping of the mug. Perfect.

4. Baked Goodlies
The holidays are guaranteed to bring the inner baker out in everyone - even those of us that should maybe make a bigger effort to keep it hidden, even now. But, in general this jekyll-hyde transformation is a good thing because it brings us things like mince pies, cookies, brownies, muffins and all sorts of amazing cakes and pies.

I know I'm a professes savor-ite, but at Christmas even I can't keep my grubby little paws off the baked goodlies. :)

3. The Quintessential "Christmas Drink"
It seems to me that Christmas is the perfect excuse to catch up with or finally approach all the people you've neglected during the year. Long-lost friends, silent neighbors, even family members you haven't seen for too long.

And how better to rekindle interaction than over a quintessential "Christmas drink?" How many times do you hear that phrase thrown around in these two weeks of the home stretch?

The Christmas drink: It's not just a pint anymore.

2. Stocking Stuffers
I don't know about you, but I love hunting for fun stocking stuffers. Ironically, we never had stockings growing up (I think in Mexico kids use shoes instead, which we never did either but whatever), but we always got random little gifts that would have been considered "stocking-stuffers" had we had stockings: barbie underwear, bags of Hershey's nuggets, silly little toys, stickers, or trinkets of one sort or another.

This year as a joke, I've bought two bags of chocolate coins which I plan to present to the scrooges of the family (read: men) in little Dickensian-style money-bags. Hey, it's been a rough year for everyone. :) And as Dickens might have once said, it's all "jolly good fun!"

1. The Reason for the Season
I won't go "Papa Ratzi" on you here, but I will say that whether I say it or not, I do think it's a jolly good idea to reflect on the deeper meanings of Christmas. And if nothing else, it makes me happy to be able to once again give thanks for a year well-lived, well-enjoyed, well-eaten up. Amen!

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Jolly Good Cranberry-Almond Biscotti
adapted from Payard's Pistachio-Almond Biscotti recipe

Makes about 20 Chunky Biscotti

pre-slicing and pre-second-baking

I'm not a big "biscuit" person in the American or British sense of the word. But I love biscotti. Maybe it's the Classicist in me, but there is something about the fact that these cookies were originally conceived as durable food for the Roman Army's many legions that I find hopelessly romantic and exciting. Plus, having lived in Italy a couple of times, there are issues of nostalgia to also be dealt with in my psyche, and these biscotti are a quick-fix.

As an added bonus, all Roman wants for Christmas this year is his two front teeth. These biscotti are great teething-biscuits for any little ones who love to or need to gnaw. :)

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3 tbsps unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsps sugar
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tbsps all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs
2/3 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 tsp anise seeds


1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Combine all dry ingredients including lemon zest in a bowl and set aside.

3. In another bowl beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until combined. Then add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

4. Mix in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each one. You may want to use your hands to make the dough come together.

5. Add the nuts and cranberries and work into the dough until just incorporated; do not kneed the dough, just combine.

6. Put on a lightly floured surface and shape the dough into a 12-inch long log. Then place on the cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until the the top is firm to the touch. Don't worry, the log may look thin, but it widens up while baking to give the biscotti their long, traditional shape.

7. Remove from the oven, but leave the oven on. Allow to cool on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes, then slice into thin biscotti with a serrated knife and put back on the cookie sheet.

8. Bake for an additional 12-14 minutes or until biscotti are golden and baked-through-crispity.

Enjoy with a good Italian coffee or a glass of wine for dipping!

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My Son the Creepy Crawler!

One of Roman's many pre-crawling fruitless attempts at
creeping, slinking, scooting and generally getting from here to there.

The past few days have been a game of intense anticipation. In addition to eagerly awaiting the day that Roman, Matt and I will all finally be rid of our respective cold / swine flu / infection thingies, we have all been on pins and needles waiting for Roman to finally crawl.

No, we weren't sitting there in front of him willing him with intense stares to do it (not all the time anyway :)), but it's just that in the past week he has gone from being able to only get on all-fours and rock a little, to being able to do all sorts of other things, including crawling backwards, almost standing up from a sitting position, and sitting up from a complete laying position (If you don't have kids, these things may sound mundane, but to me and most parents it's tantamount to watching a spiritual revelation.).

Yesterday I thought I saw him crawl twice, but only maybe two movements in a row. This morning I was woken up by Matt running up the stairs (he had been down breakfasting with the little beast) and yelling "I saw him crawl! I saw him crawl!" And this time he'd taken 3 or 4 little crawls, making it indisputably real: we now officially have a little creepy crawler!

"Creepy?!" you say, "why creepy?"

Poor Roman. I've taken to calling him all sorts of silly names to describe his pre-crawling attempts at mobility: slug, frog, slithery slink, and today my friend Stacey called her son Hunter a "limpet," which I have also, in a last-ditch effort to call my child one more awkward thing, adopted for Roman. Creepy enough, right? Well now he also crawls.

But you don't have to take MY word for it.

The only way I could get Roman to crawl was by baiting him with the "forbidden fruit" that he LOVES to slobber on: the remote control. :) I have a feeling he'll be "selectively" showing off his skills for quite a convenient while.
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Saturday, December 5, 2009

An Austere but Eye-catching Beauty: Sea Buckthorn

Sea Buckthorn: an eye-catching beauty.
image credit

There is a cute little flower and plant stand at our local mall that I pass every time I go shopping. In the leadup to our Thanksgiving feast-orama I kept my eyes peeled for something simple, sturdy and colorful that would make a striking yet understated centerpiece to the Thanksgiving table. If chosen correctly, this piece of foliage could also serve as an enduring autumnal-transitioning-into-invernal
centerpiece for the house.

Low-maintenance but beautiful was my game. With those prerequisites in mind, I knew flowers, unless potted, were out of the question. And besides, I did not want to go
the Poinsettia route although my family has established luck with those Christmas flowers.**

The flower stand offered a variety of evergreen wreaths, garlands, bunches of leaves and branches of many sorts - real or fake, bare or full of white fluffy poofs. But one thing caught my eye on day one and continued to do so until almost two weeks later when I finally bought it: a bucket full of tree branches with nothing but bright, brilliantly orange berries on them. I didn't ask the name then, though I should have. I just knew those two big branches of berries were my perfect centerpiece.

It turns out they are from a species of Central Asian / Eastern European shrub called Sea Buckthorn, and though deceptively austere in appearance - no leaves, no flowers, just berries and wood - the species is surprisingly versatile, delicate and above all, beautiful.

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Top 3 Interesting Things About Sea Buckthorn
the bold and the beautiful

3. Resilient Little Bugger
Though the berries fall off easily and they are an awkward and ostensibly delicate thing to carry home from the florist, these shrubs in their full and natural form are about as resilient as plants come. They can survive temperatures up to -40C (that's -40F for you Americans), and are drought AND salt tolerant. They can grown in sand, soil, you name it. Sadly, their resilience means they tend to spread and create ugly large thickets if not kept in check - and they have gigantic thorns when fully mature. Oh well.

2. Berry Good Indeed.

In the Cold War the Russians and East Germans developed a new and improved Sea Buckthorn plant that was tougher, more resilient, yielded more berries, and spiked only westerners with its thorns. Ok kidding about the last part but I guess you could kind of call it the "communist sea buckthorn." :)

The reason they did this is because of the possible precious nature of Sea Buckthorn berries. While nothing has been proven as to their possible benefits with regards to things like cancer or other diseases, we do know that they contain almost 12 TIMES the Vitamin C of oranges, and can
be combined with other sweeter, less astringent juices to make a delicious breakfast smoothy!

1. "She's a Beaut, that One."
There are male and female Sea Buckthorns, which makes sense since the name sounds like some kind of mythical creature out of Harry Potter.

The female, of course, is the only one that bears the much-sought berries. And I say much-sought with no socio-political agenda in mind. I say sought-after for one very simple rea
son of great importance to an aesthetist such as I: their eye-catching beauty.

Or in technical terms:
"The combination of fruit shape and size, together with the contrast between the colour of the fruit and leaves, contributes to the ornamental value of this plant."
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Here is one of my favorite shots of my lovely Sea Buckthorn branches:

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**My grandmother once received a poinsettia as a Christmas gift from a house guest. This was back in the 70s. She took it and planted it in her front garden. It thrived and is currently still alive and well, in tree form, in her front yard in Mexico City.
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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Manitas Calientitas: Homemade Felt Mittens

Hand-made mittens = straight shot of Christmas Spirit

Happy December!

Month of my birth and all-things much-anticipated :) It's officially the holidays now! Thanksgiving is over, and it's time to pull out the Christmas tree and get to real-deal Christmas present hunting.

I spent the better half of my weekend browing and cursing strangers who out-bid me for an embossing gun on ebay (I am already in elf-mode when it comes to our Christmas cards, as you can see). I can hardly contain the excitement! And even the inevitable last-minute stuff that will stress me out in a couple of weeks sounds funny right now. :)

I always have ambitious plans to create all sorts of personalized Christmas gifts and favors, and
while I usually only get 3/4 of what I want to do done, it's a pursuit I usually love, but this year I saw it as daunting for the first time with the prospect of crafting while having Roman to watch as well.

That's right, I think everyone, including myself, thought (and Matt hoped) I'd given up on my random crafty pursuits of the knitting / haberdashery persuasion once Roman appeared. Happily for most, including me, and sadly for Matt and his fervent desire that I get rid of my piles of yarn and fabric, everyone was wrong.

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The Incredible Shrinking Sweater

After I shrank one of my favorite (and only) wool sweaters last year by putting it in a warm washer cycle, I decided I should do something crafty and wonderful with the resulting midget-felt-sweater. (So yes, apparently wool turns to felt when it is heated and washed.) I only wish I had known sooner all the fun crafty things there are out there to do with these spoils of bad washing! I would have kept the many pieces of wool apparel I've ruined over the years. I mean, yes, you can probably use them as doll clothing, but I like to think there are things that involve a lot more buying of cool gadgets or crafting items, experimenting, procrastinating, and off-the-cuff embroidering, which is basically what almost every single craft project I undertake involves. :D

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Manitas Calientitas: The Gift of Warmth

**SPOILER ALERT: Ava-luna, my newly 1-year-old neice, if you're reading this, you'd better stop before you ruin one of your birthday presents.**

In a vain attempt to distract me in the last 3 weeks of my extended pregnancy my mother brought a fun article she clipped from a magazine on the subject of felt sewing projects. And it included a section on how to make your own felt mittens (along with other interesting items such as a hot water bag cover, an iPod case, and a remove control cosy).

In my world, that is the perfect reason to take those magazine pages, keep them laying around in a pile for approximately 7 months until I had almost driven Matt insane and, coincidentally, the time was exactly right for making some felt mittens for my two favorite midgets: Roman and Ava.

What better to give at the holidays than a gift of warmth? Living in a cold-ish place, I am always reminded how wonderful warm gifts are: warm cookies, hand warmers, muffs, turtleneck neck muffs, scarves, hot sauce, you name it. These mittens will hopefully keep those pretty miniature hands and fingers of my niece and offspring warm all winter long. :)

the magazine cut-outs that started it all

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Handmade Felt Oven Mi--err, Mittens

It took me a while to draw the pattern exactly as I wanted it, and the result looks a little more like an oven-mit than I realized at first. Maybe it's because I made the mittens longer, but since they have no elastic around the wrist, I didn't want to risk unpleasant drafts getting in when worn outside.

personalized warmth....oooh....aaaahhh.....

To personalize the matching mitten sets for Roman and Ava I also embroidered their names and some whimsical girl / boy symbols. Ava got a pretty flower. Roman got a shooting star, and, the one I'm most proud of but probably doesn't show up well on these pictures: a puppy!

I have never really embroidered much by hand, so the names and symbols have a silly, awkward, hand-made quality to them. Here's to hoping Roman and Ava grow to one day see that as infinitely charming.

the adorable finished products
, sure to keep all mini-hands extra warm

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