Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Rewind (yes, I'm really that far behind)

Well, we returned home a few days ago from a wonderful Christmas holiday spent in Eugene with our families. I know, you're thinking, "if she got home several days ago, why the lack of blog posts? Doesn't she have anything better to do?" I do indeed. Fabulous things like unpacking a stuffed van and reorganizing our entire house to fit in the new toys the girls got. (Don't tell Isabelle and Madeleine but this meant "disappearing" many of their old toys.) We also came home to a bare pantry and a refrigerator holding nothing but baking soda, corn starch and a very suspect container of leftover soup from the week before Christmas. Now, with food restocked and a clean house I'm left again to share our week's adventures with anyone still interested in reading.

Christmas really is the happiest time of year! Here's the holiday in review:

Of course we baked cookies!
Here's Aunt Darla offering to help. Oh, wait - she's offering to taste. The little cutie on the left is my niece Vilia - the other cutie is my Mom who actually allowed us to destroy her newly remodeled kitchen with powdered sugar, chopped nuts and pounds of butter. :)
We played games.
Vilia chilled.
We sang Christmas carols with the whole family.
Madeleine watched for Santa.

We spent time with Grandma Barbara and Papa Bob, who is conspicuously absent from this picture even though Madeleine learned how to say a shortened version of his name: "Pop"!
Vilia did some more chilling - this time while wearing evening wear.
We read Christmas stories by the fire.
Santa paid a visit to Isabelle...
...and Madeleine.
He brought Isabelle a dollhouse that folds into a book and the stroller and new dolly she had asked for.
Madeleine loved her new "band in a box" from Mommy and Daddy.
Vilia seemed impressed with her new toy too.
We were also able to visit Jason's parents and enjoy some time with them.
Madeleine thought it was high time she start burning off some of those Christmas calories on Grandma Janet's exercise bike...
...and then promptly took a nap with Grandpa Wayne.
Back at my parent's house Madeleine was eager to help Vilia open some more presents.
The next day the girls tried on some of the new clothes they got. As you can see, Madeleine totally digs her outfit...
...and Isabelle was all about twirling in the new dress she received from Great-Grandma Nancy.
What a wonderful holiday with our families! Only 360 days until Christmas, 2010!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Polar Express

Isabelle and Madeleine, who were very good little girls this year, were invited by Rudolph to visit Santa Claus at the North Pole! They boarded the Polar Express in Hood River, Oregon and had a lovely time traversing the mountaintops to get to Santa's home. It was just like the story The Polar Express, complete with hot chocolate and cookies, caroling and a visit from the jolly old elf himself. The girls were even given Christmas bells - the first gift of Christmas.

We have a Santa's workshop Advent calendar that, with the help of a little Christmas magic, Santa somehow manages to fill with small little tokens every evening. Sometimes there is a clue about a gift Santa has hidden in our house. The other night the clue led them to Madeleine's closet where they discovered their special invitation.

Santa also left a couple presents to help prepare them for their journey.
Cozy new Christmas pajamas!

Here we are right after we boarded the train!
Madeleine was thrilled! (And a little zany since it was way past her bedtime.)

Isabelle with her Polar Express hot chocolate mug.
Daddy and Madeleine
Oh, happy day when hot chocolate is part of the menu!

On the way to the North Pole we listened to the original story. Madeleine helped hold the book.
The lights of the North Pole! And, as it turns out the North Pole gets more rain than snow! :)
Santa time!

This is the closest Isabelle has come to Santa as she is deathly afraid of the elderly gentleman.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A-Gifting We Will Go!

This past week I've been busy putting together gifts to spread some holiday cheer. For me this includes my students, my friends at work, Isabelle and Madeleine's friends and various instructors as well as my barista who always has my coffee ready for me in the morning (this also ensures another year of spit-free lattes) and our mail carrier (this one is preemptive and will hopefully encourage him to be a bit more accurate with mail delivery). It's a lot of work but I really enjoy making treats and decorating goody boxes. Besides it's a nice way to thank everyone who has made my life a little easier this year! Okay, my students have probably been a bigger challenge than help but I do love those little cherubic/devilish faces I see everyday!

In an effort to be helpful, as I myself am a skilled copycat, I thought I'd post some great links and recipes in case any of you other midnight bloggers would like just one more thing to do in the middle of the night. If you've ever visited the Foodblogga site you may have tasted some of the delectable delights posted there. This recipe for peanut butter fudge turned out fantastic and it was super easy. Yummy in my tummy - chocolate and peanut butter together? Can I get an Amen?! (Come on - you know God loves him some tasty fudge.)

Get the recipe here. I also packed up some Toffee Triangles to accompany the fudge. I've been making this recipe for years and it's always a hit.
Toffee Triangles
Adapted (slightly) from Better Homes and Gardens New Baking Book

3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2 Tblsp. butter
2 tsp. vanilla
1 12-ounce package semisweet chocolate pieces
1 cup crumbled Heath Bar (find this already packaged on the baking aisle)

1. Grease a 13x9x2-inch baking pan; set aside. In a large mixing bowl beat 3/4 cup butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer on medium to high speed until combined. Add egg yolk; beat well. Stir in flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt; mix well. With floured hands, press dough into prepared pan.

2. Bake in a 350 degree oven about 20 minutes or until light brown. Transfer pan to a wire rack.

3. For filling, in a heavy medium saucepan heat condensed milk and 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat until bubbly, stirring constantly. Cook and stir for 5 minutes more. (Mixture will thicken and become smooth.) Stir in vanilla. Spread filling over baked layer. Bake in the 350 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes more or until top layer is golden.

4. Sprinkle baked layers evenly with chocolate pieces. Bake 1 to 2 minutes more or until pieces are shiny and melted. Remove from oven; transfer to a wire rack. Immediately spread chocolate evenly over baked layer. Sprinkle with the Heath Bar pieces. Cool. Cover and chill until chocolate is set. Cut into 3x2-inch rectangles; cut diagonally into triangles. Store, covered, in the refrigerator.

Then it was time to complete the assembly. I found these candy boxes at Michael's, added a pretty ribbon and then downloaded these FREE (and very cute) gift tags from the Everybody Likes Sandwiches blog. I usually make my own tags by hand but when I came across these I had an epiphany! Why waste time making your own labels when someone else has already made them for you? Click HERE to get your own. All packaged and ready to go!
Thursday night it was time to host my staff party. Don't my treats look lonely pre-party sitting there all by themselves?
Ready for the party to begin!
This antipasto is easy and also very Christmasy (I'm sure that's not a word).
Lemony Marinated Antipasto
From Better Homes and Gardens

1 pound uncooked chicken or turkey spicy Italian sausage links
1 Tblsp. cooking oil
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tsp. finely shredded lemon peel
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 Tblsp. snipped fresh basil
2 tsp. dried Italian seasoning, crushed
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 12-oz. jar roasted red sweet peppers, drained and cut into bite-size strips
12 ounces mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup pitted kalamata olives

1. In a large skillet cook sausage links in cooking oil over medium heat about 10 minutes or until sausage is thoroughly cooked, turning frequently to brown evenly. Remove from heat; cool. Cut the cooked sausage links into 1/4-inch slices; set aside.

2. Meanwhile, for dressing, whisk together olive oil, lemon peel, lemon juice, basil, Italian seasoning, and garlic; set aside.

3. Layer cooked sausage, red pepper strips, cheese cubes, and olives in a 2-quart jar or two 1-quart jars. Pour dressing into jar(s). Cover tightly and refrigerate for 1 to 2 days. Turn jar(s) upside down occasionally to distribute the dressing.

4. Before service, let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Arrange on a platter.

The party in full swing. My friend Marie brought her little boy Aiden. Here he is with my friend Vicki. He is so cute and just a few months younger than Madeleine.
Aiden and Madeleine haven't seen each other since their joint baby shower last spring.
Isabelle has had a best friend since she was Madeleine's age and that has been wonderful. I'm hopeful these two will become good friends too!

I hope you're all enjoying the holiday season! School's out - I certainly am!