Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmas done right

Christmas wouldn't be the same, without a Ninja...

Or, a cute baby in the house...

Or, pillow pets. What is it about pillow pets? I am so attracted to them, and secretly want one of my own.   (I know you think they are cute too, so hush)

I am so grateful that this year all of our families were healthy enough to be together after many years of at least one person being very sick for Christmas. This year it was (almost) sneeze free, and for that I felt very fortunate to be in the company of our sibs and families this year. Blessings abound. And, Christmas Eve Tello Taco's too!

        This is the same table I ate Christmas Eve dinner on for 30-ahem- something years now, and it now seats my daughter. I do love how some things never change. I love the tradition.

  Jeremy got a guitar for Christmas. My dad, showing him a thing or two. Stairway to Heaven, here we come..

                    Wow. Christmas Ninja keeps popping up everywhere. Was he at your house too?

Remember the magic of the Christmas tree? I sure do. I suppose it never ceases to draw your eye as well as your heart.

And now, we are back at home, leaving goodies for Santa. She really didn't want to leave him a cookie, she wanted just healthy food on his plate. No milk for him either, this year. Water instead. Sheesh.

                    Christmas morning with smiles, the smell of coffee brewing, and lounging in jammies.

Jeremy was confused at this pink envelope found at the very bottom of his stocking.  Wha??? Tickets to go see Roger Waters" The Wall" Live tour 2012??? EEEEEE!!! He can scream just like a little girl. We are sososososososososososo excited! This has been on our bucket list for many, many years.

            And then it was off to Nana and Papa's to celebrate the morning with the rest of the family.

Pot holder city. Homemade from my sweet little girl.

And then it was back home again to set the table and prep for Christmas dinner.

A place for everyone, and everyone in their place.

Add family, food, pleasant conversation, hearty laughter and you've got yourself a very fine holiday.

And then it's back to a quiet house, and another year has gone by.

Tipping my glass to all of you and wishing you and your families a great year ahead. 2012, can you believe it? Be safe tonight, drive carefully, and Happy New Years!

Oh, and watch out. That Christmas Ninja has a knack for popping up unexpectedly................

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Have yourself a Merry little Christmas

Sending you all heaping mounds of joyful Chritsmas spirit, and loads of love. May you have satisfied tummies, warm and cozy dwellings, and lovely memories to last you the whole year through. May the heart of this joyful day be in you always, and may you have the pleausure of being with the ones you love on this Christmas day. Thank you for allowing me to share my heart with you all this year. Thanks for listening, and for the sweet, heartfelt comments. Wishing you a Very Merry Christmas and a blessed, safe and healthful 2012.
                                                       The Smith Family


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Favorite Things, Part Two

So, my clean kitchen lasted all of 2.8 seconds.

It may return sometime in 2012. We'll see. No promises. : )

There is this memory I have of a Christmas long, long ago, like, way back in the dark ages. When I say dark ages, I mean the early '80's, which to me, feels like lifetimes ago. I am young, not sure what age, but at a time in my life where I don't notice or care much about what I look like, have an obsession with My Little Ponies, or watch anything on t.v. besides cartoons. I'm guessing I'm about my daughters age, because that description fits her to a T. I am at a neighborhood Christmas party, and we are at a house where they have no kids. The house is very tidy, and Christmas decorations are out, breakable, and neatly placed on low surfaces that scream "Look, but don't touch!  The owners of the house are friends of my parents. Back then, we used to do these awesome neighborhood parties where there are appetizers at one house, dinner at another, and desserts at another. I loved it, all that house hopping. It meant for long nights of eating, laughing, and playing with the tight nit neighborhood pals I spent my childhood with. If I remember right, this was one of those parties. On a side table I immediately spy food that contain s-u-g-a-r. I beeline towards it, in particular, towards these brown and tan little bon-bon  numbers I had never seen before. The contrast of colors between the tan and brown are attractive to me, and I pop one in my mouth. It is one of the best things I had ever tasted in my life. I chew it slowly, making sure to coat my tongue so I can savor this happy dance that is happening in my mouth. I taste chocolate. I taste sugar. I taste peanut butter.
 Peanut butter.
 I grew up in a house that did not like peanut butter, so it wasn't around much, and this taste was so exotic.  I can't remember how many I ate, but I was told to stop. Phooey. Reluctantly, I went home later, and said goodbye to the best dessert I had ever had. It wasn't but twenty or so years later that I would suddenly remember that night and crazily track down the recipe and make it. Ever since then, I traditionally make these once a year, at Christmastime. They remind me of that crisp, clear winter night. The cloudless navy sky poked with tiny ivory stars, and the crunch of the frosty grass as we walked the neighborhood. The clean, warm, house of goodies. The low, then loud laughter of  the adults, and the tired, sugar laden kids that knew it was way past their bedtime. It reminds me of being little, and also, of my parents being young.
Here is the recipe of these little Christmas Bon Bons. For the peanut butter, make sure to use a stiffer, not oily peanut butter.  Jiff or Skippy is good, not Adams, or Trader Joe's. These freeze well too. : )


                                                  1  18oz jar of creamy peanut butter

                                                  1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

                                                  1 teaspoon vanilla extract

                                                  4 cups Powdered Sugar

                                                  2 Cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

                                                  1 Tbsp vegetable shortening  (optional)

               Line a cookie sheet with waxed paper

               In the bowl of a stand up mixer, mix together the peanut butter, softened butter (make sure it is softened all the way or else you will get clumps of butter in your bon bons), vanilla, and powdered sugar. Mix until you just get a stiff dough.

               By hand, shape pieces of dough into small balls, using about 1 1/2 teaspoons of dough, or so. These little guys are very rich, so make them on the smaller side to avoid tummy aches. Place them on your prepared cookie sheet, and refrigerate them for an hour.

             After an hour, melt the chocolate chips in the microwave in a glass 2 cup Pyrex measuring cup (plus the shortening if you are using. Sometimes I use it, sometimes I don't. I don't notice much of a difference when I don't).

                       My friend, and awesome photographer, Sarah, helping me out. Thank You!

            Take out the peanut butter balls from the refrigerator. Insert a wooden toothpick into the top of the ball to pick it up, and dip the ball into the melted chocolate making sure not to dip it all the way. Leave a circle circumference along the top, to make it look like an eye. Return to the waxed paper, chocolate side down, and remove the toothpick. Repeat until all the balls are finished, reheating the chocolate so it is on the thinner side, if needed. Once done, if you don't like the hole the toothpick left, take your finger and carefully smooth out the little belly button. I usually do this to make a smoother looking presentation. Refrigerate for one hour, or until set. Store in the refrigerator or freezer if not immediately devoured by your family.

                                                           Glitter Ornaments

                  Here is an easy craft I saw on good old Pinterest. It is easy, can be messy, but fun.

                       You will need:

                                           Clear glass ornaments with removable tops

                                            Hair Spray




              Remove the top of the ornament.

              Holding it over the sink, take your hairspray and give it a good spray into the glass ornament.  Immediately hold it upside down to make sure and coat all the sides of the inside. Maybe do it again, just to make sure.

              Then, pour in some glitter, and plug the top with your thumb, and give it a good, healthy, shake to distribute the glitter all around the ball.

               After making sure all the inside is glittered, put the top back on the ball.

               Add a ribbon the the top, and voila! You have yourself a glittered ornament!


I love to do this next craft. They were very nice to give away last year as gifts. It is easy, and makes a fine detail, and I love me anything with detail. I also love paper, and paper crafts. When you are searching for paper to use on these, make sure and look for paper with detail that is smaller, so it will look nice on your clothespins.

                                              Clothespin Happiness

                                            Here is what you will need:

                                                        Wood Clothespins

                                                         Mod Podge

                                                         Paint brush

                                                         Glitter (you all know I love it, but this is optional)

                                                         Decorative papers

                  Take your clothespin, and with a pencil lightly trace it onto the wrong side of your decorative paper. Cut out your clothespin shape.


                     Place your cut paper on your clothespin and make any adjustments you need to make it fit perfectly. On a small paper plate, mix together some Mod Podge and a pinch of glitter to make it sparkly. Put a coat of Mod Podge onto your clothespin, making sure to coat the whole surface. Place your decorative paper on top, pushing down gently so it will adhere. Take your glittered Mod Podge mixture and give a generous coat to the top of the paper, but not too thick, or it will bubble.

 Let dry and use these cute little details everywhere in your house.


            Here, I have used my glue gun to glue little magnets to the backs of them so I could use them on my fridge as photo holders. The small magnets can be found at craft stores or home improvement stores.

So there you have it. Crafts and food to keep you busy this week before Christmas. My mind is already starting to look into 2012, and what direction I want my family to take for the next year. The things that are in the forefront are experiences, and memories. Generosity, and helping. Sharing and teaching kindness. Getting to know myself better, and feeling more secure in my skin. Laughing more. Searching more. Being the best parent I can be, mistakes and all. Next year is a blank slate, full of a whole 365 days yet to be written. If you don't mind, tell me what are your hopes and dreams for 2012?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Favorite Things, Part One

I do love a good recipe, and I do love to share.
The kitchen is ready for the next two weeks of tearing it apart, using every square inch of unused space, splats, spills, glops, and gigantic mounds of dirty dishes. It is very rare for my kitchen not to look as if it has been turned upside down. I do a lot of cooking, and like most cooks I know, I loathe the aftermath.  I can tell you I can sleep quite well with a mountain of dishes in the sink and knowing there is not one clean cup to pour my juice in when I wake up, but it's all worth it, because we eat very well.
Today, though, I am one step ahead. My kitchen is clean, for the most part. Wiped down, fridge cleaned out, recipes prepped for the marathon that is about to start:  Homemade individual chicken pot pies for Christmas dinner. A pear and Roquefort salad to go with it. Savory Coeur a la creme along with marinated olives and sweet spicy rosemary roasted nuts with our homemade sweet blackberry wine for an appetizer. Homemade granola. Peanut butter buckeyes. Rice crispy treat Popsicles dipped in white chocolate. Gingerbread people. Sun dried tomato and basil cream cheese spread. New York Cheesecake with an apple and cranberry puree dessert sauce. Homemade Framboise that has been curing since September. Spicy homemade grainy mustard. Cherry pecan streusel loaves. Fleur de sel Caramels. These are all on my list clipped to my recipe station on the counter guaranteed to make a disaster out of my clean-ish kitchen. Sooooo let the fun begin! Here are two of my most favorite recipes. Go ahead, make them for yourself, or package them up to give away if you can part with it. : )

This is my homemade granola. I eat this for breakfast over yogurt 80% of the year and never tire of it. In the summer I omit the dried fruit and add fresh berries instead. When the calendar flips to September, I add cinnamon and nutmeg to the oil and honey mixture and add only dried apples, and throw in some pecans too, for some fall flair. You can change up the nuts or the dried fruit to your liking. Keep the chocolate chips or not, but make sure you add it along with the dried fruit after the granola has cooled completely so it won't get gloppy. I store my cooled granola with all the mixin's in a plastic resealable gallon bag in the freezer so it will stay as fresh as possible. If gift giving, pour into jam jars, make a cute tag, attach with a ribbon and make someone happy.

                                      Homemade Granola

                                    4 Cups Quaker Oats (not quick cooking)
                                   1/4 Cup Sunflower Seeds

                                   1/4 Cup Sliced or Slivered Almonds

                                   1/2 Cup Roasted Salted Cashews

                                   1/4 Cup Shredded sweetened Coconut

                                    Just shy of a half cup of Canola oil  (eyeball it)

                                   1/4 Cup Honey

                                   1/4 Cup packed Brown Sugar

                                   1/4 Tsp. Kosher Salt

                                   1 Tsp. Vanilla

                                   Dried Fruit ( cranberries, apples, apricots, etc...)

                                   Generous Handful of Mini Chocolate Chips

       Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

      In a large bowl mix together oats, sunflower seeds, nuts, and coconut. Set aside.

      In a small saucepan over medium heat mix the oil, honey, brown sugar, salt and vanilla until the honey and sugar have dissolved, then take off heat.  Do not boil.

      Pour the oil mixture over the oat mixture and stir well to combine.

      On a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet spread the granola out into an even layer. Pop it into the oven for 12 minutes, then take it out and give it a good stir. Your house will start to smell wonderful about now. Put back into the oven and cook for another 8-10 minutes or until it is just starting to get golden brown on the top. Granola is notorious for burning quickly, so keep close watch during the last few minutes. Let the granola cool completely, stirring every now and then to break it up. As it cools it will become chunky, so take your spatula and break it into little chunks if you like. Once it is completely cool, add in your fruit, and if you like sugar in the morning like me, the mini chocolate chips. Package it up or eat as you like, over yogurt, plain, or with milk.

Here is something that I fix all year round and usually keep a jar of it in the fridge. Grace loves them, and came home the other day from school with a frown on her face 'cause someone reached over at snack time and stole some from her. Big meanie. These keep for a long time in the fridge, but they do need to be kept refrigerated. We put them in sauces, on pizza, in omelets, in sandwiches, on salads, or just nosh on them straight up. I serve these as an appetizer quite a bit with little toothpicks. It makes for happy guests. These make great gifts in jam jars too, but keep in mind they do need to be kept cold. They get better with age and do need to be started at least two days before eating, so plan ahead if you are planning on partying with these bad boys.

                                            Marinated Olives

                   2   6oz. Cans of good quality Medium Olives, drained well

                                1/2 Cup Vegetable or Canola oil

                                1/4 Cup Red Wine Vinegar

                                 1 Tbsp. Dried Oregano

                                 1/2- 1 Tsp. Red Pepper Flakes (depending on how spicy you like)

                                  3 large Garlic Cloves pressed through a garlic press

Put the drained olives in a large glass jar or Tupperware dish. In a small bowl mix together all the other ingredients. Pour the oil mixture over the olives making sure most of the olives are submerged in the marinade. Cover with a lid and gently shake. Put them in the fridge for at least two days before eating them to allow the marinade to do it's work, stirring or shaking occasionally. Easy cheesy.


Hope you enjoy these recipes. They are a staple in our kitchen and I am happy to pass them along. Happy Cooking!! Merry Christmas-ing!

                                         Father Christmas wishing Gracie a very Merry Christmas


Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Mad Crafter

This is Ew.

So is this.

Daisy  loves to kiss on the lips. Come down our walkway and if you are not a stranger to her, she will jump the full length of your body, stretching her neck out as far as it can go to reach her little tongue out and meet your lips. We call her our "french kissing dog" since nothing but kissing on the lips will do. Ew. She will also piddle out of excitement too, so you just might be treated to wet shoes as you wipe the dog kiss off your mouth. Double, Ew. You are forewarned.
 Dogs. huh.
It's a good thing she's so darned cute.

This week has been a fog. I just can't shake November off my back. I swear, my cells hold a memory as a seasonal reminder that makes me struggle through these months. They still hold that pain, the kind that makes your feet slow and your chest ache to the deepest part of you, even after all these years gone by. It doesn't help that there are only precious few hours of daylight now.  It's cold, and today was that crisp, cool sunshine with that bite of winter wind, and I only cared to look blankly at it through the window instead of heading outside to enjoy it. Sigh.
 One thing that has gotten me through these kinds of days throughout the years is Crafting. For some reason, crafting and sadness for me go together like a hand in a glove. After Vanessa passed, I made baby blanket, after baby blanket, after baby blanket. I sewed them. I crochet them. I cut up some of her clothes and made a blanket for each of our families. I started a pillowcase out of her clothes for myself, but suddenly stopped one day, when it became clear in my muddled mind that "hey, I was cutting up her clothes.", and I haven't picked up the project since. One of the blankets I made those many years ago is now Gracie's most coveted thing ever, a blanket she has named DeeDee. It is her most treasured possession, and it was made before I knew her and somehow it links that time in my life with this time in my life which is therapeutic somehow.  When my niece Miley passed, for two weeks straight all I did was cut out recipes and paste them into a scrapbook. I searched high and low, furiously ripping out pages of food in magazines that looked appetizing, organizing them and madly gluing them down until one day I put the scissors down and stopped, and haven't picked up the scrapbook since. For reasons unknown, these crafts feed from my pain. They are an outlet, a productive sorrow, something I have control over that is tactile and something I don't have to think about while I'm doing it. It allows my mind to silence, and my heart to bleed, and gives the message to anyone around me: I am busy, and in my own head. So don't bother me.
Last year on Vanessa's November anniversary, I came down with a virus similar to chicken pox. It wasn't as severe, but just as itchy and lasted for almost six weeks. Worst timing ever. Since I was sad, and down, I started to craft, and made these:

Mitten garlands. I made three sets, one for each of the windows in our living room. This November, I made Daisy's paw stocking that was in the last post, and made a few holiday hair clips and an ornament:

Grace has become a crafter too, and is now learning to sew. I do hope she will learn to love crafting for the simple love of making something and not for solemn reasons like mine. I suppose not all my crafting is sad, though. Today we decorated the gingerbread house, happily, and with smiles. The sun even joined in, caressing the table top with light and a gentle warmth that made the afternoon softer, and sweeter.

So I will continue to craft out of sadness. The upside is making something beautiful out of something that is not, and feeling a sense of accomplishment for finishing something. Maybe each project is a bucket of water meant to douse the fire within, and maybe someday it will put that fire out for good so I can craft out of happiness instead.  For now, though, onward to the next project. And, the next. And, the next. And, the next.

A portrait I took over the weekend. Thought I'd share. : )