35 Days of Celebration: 02

35 Days of Celebration: Day 02Uff da! I am so full I am honestly surprised nothing has burst yet. However it was only the first day of having the extended family in town. There are still two more days to try, although traditionally Sunday is extremely low key. The day started with me turning on the car and hearing the Black Eyed Peas song I Gotta Feeling.

Tonight’s gonna be a good night…

How right the song was. SunriseOn my way to the parents I was greeted with a gorgeous sunrise which helped put me in a good mind set to undertake a new adventure: shopping on Friday. This doesn’t happen. Ever. I don’t really love to shop competitively so Black Friday shopping has never really been my thing. However since the stores we were going to weren’t popular targets for most, it wasn’t such an overwhelming notion to try.

The trip was spear-headed by my oldest sister and her quest to get a hair straightener. Luckily the store she was going to was right next to both a grocery store (since we needed some more staples) and Hobby Lobby. Clearly not the standard stops for the avid shopper. We had a rather successful outing in which we all chose our separate colors of wrapping paper, I claimed black and white chevrons myself. Then we headed home after making one pit stop so I could get a tree stand. Oh how the details elude me – I had a tree skirt but no stand….priorities. Once we got home we continued to hang out until my mother’s extended family started trickling in.

My mother’s two sisters and brother (and their families) come down every year for the weekend. This year was no different. What was different was that before the meal there were house tours and appetizers at my place. I headed home around two with every intention of starting the pinwheels, the warm appetizer I was serving. However as mentioned before sometimes my priorities are a bit out of whack. Instead I decided I really really needed to get my tree stand sorted out. After working on that for ten minutes I finally mentally berated myself enough to get the appetizers prepped and in the oven before continuing with the madness. After fighting with the bolts I was able to get the tree in the stand quite easily…crooked, as my darling sister later pointed out, but in none the less. I was a bit more focused on watering my dying tree and since it’s not even December I wont even begin to worry about how the tree looks.

The evening continued and after we all went through the house and chatted we returned to my parent’s home so the eating could start. And once it started it kept going and going.

Eat through the pain!

Now, five hours later, and I’m still somewhat regretting my food choices. I started off well, but then quickly crumbled. My family knows how to cook and there is just something about Thanksgiving food. Perhaps the fact it’s comprised of the best comfort foods.

The "kids" table (with the adults' table in the background) - I love panorama shots, it results in the best distortions.

The “kids” table (with the adults’ table in the background) – I love panorama shots, it results in the best distortions.

We managed to get everyone off to their various shelters for the night and things are winding down. Which is probably for the best because we all have been fighting off a mass food coma. I can hardly wait for tomorrow for all the games and catching up that will occur. Also, of course, for more food – it’s soups day!!

Until next time
~ Q

35 Days of Celebration

35 Days of Celebration: 01

35 Days of Celebration: Day 01It’s here! The best part? All the time I’ll get to spend with friends and family over the next month. One of the best parts of the holidays is that all my friends that have moved away come home to visit their families. More often then not I get to see them for a cup of coffee at least. Anyway, the season has started and our family kicked it off well. Our Thanksgiving is never really traditional. We (my immediate family) usually have a laid back Thursday since my mom’s family comes down for the entire weekend. This year we had breakfast for dinner before heading out to go Christmas Tree Hunting. I got to help my sister make dinner, under her very watchful eye, which was fun.

What are you doing? This is a very critical moment, the meat is sticking together! ― Bailey

This year was a bit different in that 1) my nephew got to come with us on the hunt (he’s three) and 2) I also had the fun of picking out a tree for my house too. We had a very successful hunt and the three of us (me and my sisters are always the ones that get to pick the tree) were able to agree on a tree in record time. It was quite fun having the whole family along, even though nephew wasn’t super helpful on the narrowing down process. He liked all the trees, but since we couldn’t get them all it was down to the three of us. Christmas Tree Hunting I have an inkling that as the kid gets older his opinion will start to be a factor. Time will tell on that though. So as day one winds down, with all the fun I’ve had with my family so far, I know this next month (and change) will be lots of fun.

Until next time
~ Q

41 days of Celebration Surprises

Wow, twenty days…where does the time go? Not only that, but now it’s 36 days until the new year and already 4 days of my ’41 days of Celebration and Surprises’ have passed. I feel like 25 just aren’t enough (the 25 days of Christmas made popular by ABC Family…and Advent and just so many things in general.) Also, by having 41, instead of just 25, there isn’t the…what’s the word? Let down isn’t right, but if you do that 25 it’s like excitement excitement excitement, Christmas hits and then BAM nothing…so instead I’m gonna keep going right through to the new year, and greet 2013 in a way I haven’t greeted the others.

Day 1: Thursday, November 22: Thanksgiving
Although we are thankful to be together, my immediate family doesn’t really do Thanksgiving in a traditional sense anyway, on the day of

As my dad calls us, The Brain Trust had lots to discuss about the various trees. We’re even starting my nephew off early, he’s not even two yet.

. No, instead our family usually goes Christmas Tree hunting. In the past the hunt has been…heated. All three of us siblings can be headstrong with our opinions on which tree is ‘perfect’. The first year it took us over two hours to agree on a tree. However since then it’s been easier and easier to agree. Either we’re growing up, learning to pick our battles, or know/understand the traits we each look for most. After our tree expedition out to the tree farm we returned home to have dinner. Rather than having turkey or ham we had Nachos (why I love my family). Then we did prep and cooking for the big weekend.

Day 2: Friday, November 23: Atkins Thanksgiving
Every year my mom’s family comes to town for Thanksgiving weekend. Two days of nearly 20 adults in my parents house. It’s awesome and usually crazy. Friday is the big traditional meal day. The family starts arriving around noon and spends the time before the meal either helping with the cooking or out shopping (trying to score a couple Black Friday deals). This year two (of the three that would travel to our house) siblings were able to make it. It was weird, for whatever reason with four less people than usual (still leaving us with 17) it seemed like a much smaller crowd. Seriously, that line of thinking seems rather ridiculous. Anyway, Friday is the day we have our typical Thanksgiving meal. After we washed up and ate too many desserts my cousins and I went to my apartment to finish watching the Creighton- Wisconsin game. It was favorable that we left. One of the families are huge Creighton fans while my brother-in-law is a Wisconsin man. My cousins were able to rejoice in the win without punishing him too much.

Day 3: Saturday, November 24: Atkins Thanksgiving continued & Brunch with the Girls
I was fortunate enough to be able to meet up with a couple of my besties since they were in town for the holidays. (This is a major bonus to me staying close to home. I’m always here when they come home to visit their families, so if they have spare time for a cup of coffee or something we can usually meet up. We decided to head to The Cafe for brunch, us and maybe a fourth of the population, but I can taste why. It was sooooo good. Pumpkin pancakes, cranberry-lime scones, parfaits. Perfection. It was fun seeing the two of them and hearing about their shenanigans (one of them just closed on a house, the other is a teacher. There are always shenanigans to discuss). After returning home the day was full of soup, games (like Ticket to Ride which, with many of us being rather cut-throat, means it’s usually a five-way battle of wits. My only goal this year was to get longest route. A goal which I did achieve even though I didn’t win overall) , and a couple episodes of Top Gear. (My uncle is really into car, a passion he has somewhat passed onto his son. He had talked about this show and despite myself I may be hooked on it).

Day 4: Sunday, November 25: Cooking and a Classic
My darling sister likes to do some of her Thanksgiving baking weeks ahead and then freeze it (like the amazing rolls/breads we usually have just laying about on Saturday). This has lead me to try an experiment this year. I’m going to start cooking holiday goodies now for our Christmas festivities. That was the plan anyway. Yesterday I tried 4 recipes: Honey-Almond Fudge, Honey Cakes, Pumpkin ‘Fluff’, and Pumpkin Poppers. I had a 75 percent success rating. Care to guess which one didn’t work out?
The Honey Cakes, although more biscuit like, turned out just fine. They are these dense tough cookie-like baked goods that taste really good with some jam. (Sadly I didn’t bring my camera from my parent’s house after the other weekend activities so I don’t have any photos. I even told my mother I wouldn’t be needing it, once again, mother knows best. However since I’ll have the goods for a while, I’ll post a follow up post with both the pictures and the successful recipes when I get it back). I don’t usually bake from scratch, and part of the reason is obvious: I don’t have the proper materials. I had to use a cup to roll out my dough since I didn’t have a proper roller, nor did I have a round cookie cutter. Then I realized I had mason jars and the lids were the perfect size, so that worked out rather well.
Pumpkin Poppers are delicious. They are meant to be more doughnut hole-esque though and I didn’t have the right materials for them either. You’re suppose to cook them in mini-cupcake tins. I only have normal sized ones. Once I had filled them up I decided to just make a shallow loaf/cake with the rest of that batter. It worked shockingly well…except for when I dumped it out and broke it. Even then I just cut it up into various shapes (based on how it had fractured) and it worked out just fine. The ones that I had cooked in pumpkin tins I finished the way the recipe intended (brushing/rolling them in butter then in cinnamon-sugar). The loaf I combined with the Pumpkin Fluff.
Pumpkin Fluff is cool-whip with instant pudding and pumpkin added and is a bit addicting. It made a lovely ‘frosting’ for the Pumpkin loaf-cake and will taste amazing with graham crackers. (This last bit is an extrapolation, but it tasted good with the pumpkin loaf and on it’s own.)
This leaves the fudge being a fail. I don’t have a candy thermometer, so perhaps that was my downfall, but I’ve made fudge without it before. The directions were just poor. I was trying a new recipe and after heating the mixture to soft-ball stage I was instructed to cool it until it reached 100 something degrees (which was suppose to take 50-60 minutes). After 40 I checked it and had a hard mess stuck to the bottom of the pot. The poor pot will never be the same…it still has hardened sugar stuck to it. I’m going to have loads of fun trying to fix that situation. Rather than trying the fudge again I decided to pass on it. I’ll be making more fudge in the next couple of weeks. We don’t need this batch of fudge.
To finish up the day I watched a classic movie. Oh perhaps I should take this time to explain the ‘surprise’ part of the next month. Earlier this month I put a handful of movies in two separate opaque bags. On Friday/Sunday I will close my eyes (for good measure) and pull one out to watch. The ones on Sunday are suppose to be older movies (I honestly can’t recall what I set aside for either night). Yesterday it was The Court Jester starring Danny Kaye. (Also Basil Rathbone who, of course, voiced Sherlock Holmes for so many years)

I love old movies, particularly this one. The writing, although decades old, is still funny and witty. The large ensembles are amusing and add a sense of grandeur that just isn’t the same nowadays.  Which makes it highly re-watchable. If you’ve never seen the movie and are looking for a comedy set in the days of lords and vassals pick this sucker up, you wont be disappointed.

Must dash – plenty of fun to come though, let the holiday festivities begin!
Until next time ~ Q

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

Ah fall, the time of the year that my skin goes all komodo dragon on me, my hair can summon socks there is so much static, and I leave for the day in a sweater and wish for a tank by the afternoon. Yes, fall is here. Joking aside fall may just be my favorite time of year. I’m a sweatshirt and jeans girl and fall is the best time for those. If you wear them in summer you will definitely get looked at funny and it’s annoying wearing full on sweatshirts in winter because they are quite bulky or grabby when layering with a winter coat. No no, fall is the time for me. Despite all the shortcomings (read the first sentence again if you’ve forgotten) they can be easily overcome: lotion, hairspray, layers. Why do I love fall so much? Everything starts back up.

The performing arts series have started back up, town activities are in full swing. I’ve already written about the Story festival, now tonight there are business tours, this weekened there is a halloween party, and then I’m in charge of trick-or-treating downtown. I’m really excited for that event, it’s the first time we’ve done it in town and so far it sounds like it will be a hit. Especially because even if the weather is bad it’s the most sensical place for people to still go. A lot of the businesses are participating so even if its really cold you can go to a lot of different places in a short amount of space. Lot’s of bang for your buck, in the kids’ eyes (and it’s free to boot). Things just happen in fall. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that after vacationing all summer one only has about two months (or so) before the ground is overcome with snow that urges things to be crammed in to the best season.

There is also the crispness in the air, the crunching of leaves underfoot and all the homey food. Fall is the best food season, with the finally (Thanksgiving) at the end. Think about it, there are apple pies, apple cider, squash, pumpkin pie and more. Its the harvest season so everything is fresh. Also the color palette isn’t to shabby. The greens fade to yellow, orange and red while still being set off by a brilliant blue sky. I was taking a drive last week and looked out at the golden fields against the blue sky and green trees and the phrase ‘Is this heaven? No it’s Iowa’ popped into my head and it’s so true. So get out and enjoy the season, it’s halfway gone already and winter is coming.

Ciao ~ Q