22 December 2011

Pre Christmas in Kansas City

I am proud to report that I got my Christmas "tree" up early this year - the weekend after Thanksgiving! I have been enjoying it so much. Of course, it's not a tree - it's a garland. I decided that this year I didn't have the energy to fight "Scroogio" (who, by the way, has been replaced by a non-Christmas-hating Sergio this year!) over it and to have to make my case for why the Christmas tree is worth all the trouble. I just didn't have it in me this year. Not to mention - a tree would have been the perfect height for Julia to get into and I like to get those native, invasive Eastern Red Cedars that are prickly and I can only imagine what kind of trouble Julia would have gotten into with that. 

garland and three tiny stockings - one for each of us

So I went with our trusty old back up garland. And even though it's artificial and even though it's not a tree, I love it. 
new ornament this year - Julia's hand print cut out and decorated like Santa (from Nina's school party)

With all my cards sent and my gifts purchased, wrapped and shipped, I was ready, this week, to do some long awaited holiday baking. I have yet to figure out why the winter (even a mild winter like what we're having) makes me feel like baking. But it does. So I hunkered down in the kitchen a couple of nights this week and baked two kinds of cookies - Nutmeg Maple Butter Cookies (from Smitten Kitchen), which turned out to be fantastic; and Gingerbread Folk (as I like to call them, since "Gingerbread Men" is so limiting). We bundled these up and distributed them to co-workers and to the concierge staff at our building. Oh, and we kept a few for ourselves. They were all delicious and well worth the hours of rolling and cutting out. 

I make sure my icing is super messy, that way people who receive my cookies know without a doubt that they are home made and not store bought. 

Now, it feels like the night before Christmas because we leave for Mexico tomorrow. The bags are packed; we have wrapped up our Christmas in Kansas City just in time to fly out for the next, big Christmases. (One in Mexico; one in Oklahoma.)

And since my garland is artificial, I'm leaving up until I get home. No reason not to enjoy it a few days into the new year. 

"Frosted Ginger Cut Outs" (or "Gingerbread Folk")

1 cup shortening or butter
1 cup molasses
3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves

In large bowl, combine shortening and molasses; blend well. Add flour and remaining cookie ingredients to molasses mixture; mis well. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate at least 2 hours for easier handling. 

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. On well-floured surface, roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness; cut with floured cookie cutter. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes or until set. Cool completely. 

FROSTING (Emily's Easy Icing)
a lot of powdered sugar
a little milk

To make the icing, mix a tiny bit of milk with a whole lot of powdered sugar. You just have to eye ball it until you get the consistency you want - whatever you need to ooze appropriately from your piping bag without pouring out and without getting stuck. You be the judge. 

GINGERBREAD MEN (or WOMEN!): Roll dough 1/4-inch thick for soft cookies or 1/8 inch thick for crisp cookies. Cut dough with floured gingerbread person cookie cutter. Bake as directed above. To decorate, pipe frosting on cooled cookies. 

(My recommendations on the Gingerbread People - go with 1/4 inch thickness to achieve a softer cookie, and shoot for the shorter end of the 8-10 minute baking time suggestion.)

18 December 2011

ThanksVegan #8

just some of our standards - Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes and gravy, wilted spinach salad, and butternut squash soup (the Teany recipe)

The tradition continues! Our friends, Jon and Erin, traveled to KC last weekend for our 8th Annual ThanksVegan. Each year on the day of our TV meal, we four toil in the kitchen and slave over a hot stove and chop and chop and stir and saute and blend and bake and mash and mix for many hours in a row. It's all good fun and it never feels like hours when we look back on it because Jon often condenses our marathon kitchen stint into an 8-minute video, which, not unlike Food Network programming, makes everything look like a piece of cake - a piece of vegan cake, that is. 

But this year, Jon and Erin had the brilliant idea to prep some food in advance and to buy the main course (instead of making it) to reduce our cook/prep time and to allow for extra time for just enjoying each other's company. This was a particularly prescient move on their part because - as horrible luck would have it - poor Jon came down with a 24-hour bug on Saturday. Had Jon and Erin not prepped so much in advance, and had we not bought a pre-made main course, I think our ThanksVegan would have been severely cramped. 

Gardein (I can't believe it's not turkey!) in the foreground; Julia (who was old enough to join us at the table this year) in the background.

Instead, we were able to get in a full evening of relaxed fun and fellowship before the bug hit - then we all weathered through it on Saturday and since Jon is lucky enough to be married to a doctor, he had professional medical advice at the ready. By Sunday morning he was good as new (phew!) and TV8 commenced without a hitch! 

blueberry hand pies

And it was delicious. This was the year of the pies as Erin made two kinds before they arrived on Friday night. We waited until Sunday morning (such a long wait!) to eat the Blueberry Hand Pies, which we had for breakfast while we were prepping the big meal. They were superb, whether eaten with a fork or a hand. Then for desert we had Pecan Pie (sprinkled with a bit of salt) - it was perfect - all mapley and praline-like. 

Pecan Pie while Julia spends some QT with Uncle Jon, the baby whisperer.  

Before we knew it, the pies and the weekend were coming to an all-to-fast close. So we vowed to get together again soon - much sooner than next fall - to make up for lost time. We are already looking forward to it.

Commemorative ornaments - usually we do corks from beer bottles - this year we decided to embrace the memory of the minor inconvenience of the stomach bug. 

01 December 2011

Thanksgiving and The Flu. And Pink Eye.

Thanksgiving really is my favorite holiday. Such a simple premise - gratitude! - yet one so difficult to master throughout the rest of the year. I love a day meant to emphasize it. (And I love that we do so with food, although, this year, I didn't have the extra hands to snap photos of my Fair Share Farm vegetables or my delicious Badseed goods or that fennel and leek au gratin dish I made two years ago which is ugly in photos anyway, but that was just as tasty as I remembered it being).

Christy and her family used their hand prints for this adorable toilet paper roll pilgrim turkey

This year I geared up for Thanksgiving by watching a couple of holiday-themed shows on the Food Network at my parents house the week before. On those shows, chefs with poise and fervor made masterpieces in record time and wowed judges with their ability to be both innovative and traditional. Fast forward a week and my own version is a little more crazed. I spent Thanksgiving day in my kitchen making a pie completely from scratch (having never done so before!) as well as making ALL the vegetables for our meal (beets, potatoes, fennel, chard, salad). Sergio spent the day getting the flu. Which left him less able to help out than I had expected. Which left me performing the gymnastic stunts required to accommodate a 14 month old underfoot who is busying herself with pots and pans on the floor near her mama while her daddy fever-sleeps unexpectedly in the next room. How come they never show that on the Food Network?

"Primitos de Rayas" - Nina the witch princess (with striped leggings), Emilio the pirate, and Julia the coincidentally, impromptu pirate. Costumes at Thanksgiving: a new tradition? 

Poor Sergio. He made it through our decidedly delicious meal at Christy and Armando's that night; we all had a great time, even him with his fever. The next morning he went to urgent care and came home with a flu diagnosis and something to help with the pain. Then he slept for the next 48 hours. He missed the "recalentado" at Christy's on Friday (it's worth it to spend so much time in the kitchen cooking if the food you make lasts two days!), he missed the lighting of the mayor's Christmas tree at Crown Center, and he was about to miss small business Saturday when, late in the day, he mustered enough strength to go out and buy a few records. Then he came and slept for another day.

Julia and Mommy, missing Daddy, at the Mayor's Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony

By Sunday night he was starting to come out of it. And I was just showing my first signs. I was lucky though. The flu that knocked him flat on his back and sent him down for the count, just sent me stumbling. I was feverish and very tired, but all in all it only lasted a couple of days. (His lasted 5.) I was brazenly bidding the defeated flu "good-bye" and "good riddance" on Tuesday night - perhaps too brazenly, reveling in my victory. Because I woke up Wednesday morning with flu-induced pink eye. Spoke too soon I guess.

We are finally - just today - feeling like we're getting back to normal (although I won't really feel "normal" until my eye clears up and I can put my contacts back in). We're both back at work and we're going about our business and even though it felt like a big wallop, us both being sick like that, it occurs to me that a couple of cases of flu and a spot of conjunctivitis are actually wonderful problems to have in the grand scheme of things. And what's more? Julia has managed to avoid it all (knock on wood).

a happy Thanksgiving indeed

We are fully aware of how fortunate we are and I for one feel very, very grateful.