We can always tell when the holidays are approaching. The cat ends up in the tree (you can see previous years here and here). She litteraly didn't even wait for Mr. L to finish putting the tree together this year, Tiggher started climbing the minute he got the trunk up. She was at the top before he had even organized the branches.
As for Pumpkin, she does what big sister does and made a quick climb up the tree herself. Alas, because of her balance problems she promptly fell out of the tree. One snowman broken, but Pumpkin herself, seemed to be none the worse for wear. We plan on keeping a keen eye on her if she ventures up in the tree again (and yes I have considered a baby bumper all around the tree!).
It's become tradition for me every year to take bits of each Christmas card I receive and make a layout with those pieces along with the card that we sent out. Last year I completed the layout by April (you can check it out here), this year I didn't finish until November!
We actually received less traditional Christmas cards last year and more photo cards, which isn't a bad thing, I just can't figure out how to make a layout with them!
This past weekend, while Mr. L and I were running around, scrambling to get errands done (read that as prepping for Christmas) we stopped dead in our tracks while driving down a street not far from our house (Cherry Ave in Willow Glen for those locals). The sidewalks and lawns of those living on this particular stretch were blanketed in yellow leaves. You can see from the photo that there is even a line of the leaves between lanes in the street. Literally several blocks looked like there was a fresh snow of yellow leaves. It was absolutely beautiful, and it made us stop for a bit to marvel at what Mother Nature had done. Those that get snow might not think something like this is is a big deal, but for an area that doesn't really have seasons, something like this is impressive. Alas, once the rain and wind came, all evidence of the "yellow leaves of snow" disappeared.
Not a lot of posting going on these past few weeks as, typical of the holiday season, life is crazy busy. Both mine and Mr. L's work has us putting in long hours. There have been home cooked meals, a few frozen meals from the freezer and, okay I'll admit, we gave in to a craving for McDonald fries last night (not so fond of the new Angus Burgers by the way). We tried a new (to us) Mexican food place that is right down the street (Mexico Lindo) and we got some take out BBQ that fed us for days (Famous Daves).
We have so many Christmas lights, lit snowmen and flame-less candles going in our house that you can walk from room to room and never turn on a regular light. It may take ten minutes to turn everything off before we go to bed at night but it's worth it.
I'm hoping to find a bit of time to post a few things, but honestly any spare time we have we'd rather spend in front of the fireplace, reading a good book, sipping some piping hot cocoa from our Christmas mugs, marveling at all our Christmas lights. And trying to ignore the cat in the tree.
Around our house we like any excuse to keep the spirit of Halloween going even just for a few more days. That's why we celebrate right through November 2nd honoring the Day of the Dead (or more formally, Día de los Muertos). Though we aren't eating any sugar skulls, we might have a sip of some merlot with dinner tonight.
This day also signals the last day Halloween decorations are up. Tomorrow (or frankly whenever I get around to it, but not before) the pumpkins go in the trash, the spooky candles get put away, all things Halloween get stored. To be followed by a brief few weeks of all things Turkey and Thanksgiving related. To be followed by panic as the thought that Christmas decorations will start going up in three weeks.
Christmas? Already? Dang, maybe we'll drink that whole bottle of merlot tonight instead of just having a sip!!
Not the best photo of these. For a couple of reasons. We gave all the good Chocolate Pretzel Bites to family and friends as part of their Christmas goodie package. What you see are the rejects. And they are the rejects of the rejects because we ate most of what was left. Cuz these are what Mrs. L calls "pop in the mouthable". He says they are addicting. Salty. Sweet. Chocolate. What's not to love? And so simple to make. Take some pretzels, add Hershey's Kisses, bake, pop on an M&M. Done.
These can also be made to coordinate with any holiday you make them around. We used red and green Christmas M&M's for our Christmas presents. You can use pink for Valentines Day or orange and purple for Halloween. Different Hershey's Kisses can be used too. We made batches of these with Hugs, Dark Chocolate and Milk Chocolate Kisses (though there are
some different baking times, see below). I've seen versions of these made with round or square pretzels (the only ones I could find locally were the standard shape). Peanut M & M's? Reese's Pieces? The possibilities are endless. These can be made quick and without a lot of fuss which makes them perfect little treats to take to a Super Bowl party this weekend. The other nice thing is you can make these in any quantity. I went through three bags of Kisses at a time making batches of these for Christmas but then I also made small batches using ten Hugs to take to work.
CHOCOLATE PRETZEL BITES
Hershey's Kisses Small Pretzels M & M's
Preheat oven for the type of Kiss that you are using (see notes below). Line baking sheet with foil. Place pretzels on baking sheet. Top each pretzel with a Hershey's Kiss. Bake for recommended time. When they are done, remove from oven. Place an M & M on top of each kiss sort of pushing the chocolate down into the pretzel. Put in a cool area to set.
Note: The different types of Kisses cook/bake at a different temperature and a different length of time. The Hugs (which are the white and chocolate stripe ones) melt very quickly at a much lower temperature than say the dark chocolate. I experimented with each type by baking a few in my oven until I figured out what was the best procedure. The Hugs went in about 180 for three minutes (I've read where it can take up to six). The dark chocolate was at 350 degrees for three minutes. The milk chocolate about the same but maybe a bit shorter time. I think it really depends on your oven as I saw so many different temps and times for these in various recipes, so experiment for what works best in your oven.
Note: The Hugs especially don't really lose their shape as they bake. So if you look at them, you think that they aren't melted, but then you take them out and they fall flat! You want to take them out and put an M & M on them just as they are reaching that "melting point". The dark and milk chocolate were a little more "stubborn" in that if you aren't careful, they don't melt they just get kinda hard. As long as they melt enough to adhere to the pretzel it's easy to push an M & M into the chocolate even if it doesn't melt completely. I would say with the dark or milk chocolate a higher temp and shorter melting time is best.
Note: I saw folks that put these in the fridge to harden but I read that for some that put the chocolate "bloom" on them so I just made several batches and put them in the cold garage to set. They still got the "bloom" on them after about a week but trust me, these probably won't last that long.
Remember all those cookies I made for Christmas presents? Did I mention I forgot to photograph any of them? Well, any of the perfect ones anyway. Bad food blogger. I did keep a few back in order for Mr. L and I to munch on so I'll try to post them. Except for the Pretzel Chocolate Bites. Mr. L finds them a little addicting. There aren't any left. I have to make another batch...to photograph for the blog of course...that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
I found these little shortbread cookies on the FoodGal blog. They intrigued me because they contained "cocoa nibs", something I'd never heard of. Cocoa Nibs are "small broken nuggets of roasted, shelled and cracked cocoa beans". Sounded interesting so I set out to find some nibs and make these cookies. Which was easier said than done. No one seemed to have (or would be able to ship in time) roasted cocoa nibs. I was able to find some raw nibs at Whole Foods which I roasted and used in the recipe.
I liked the chocolate flavor of this and the kinda crunch the nibs gave it. Mr. L, not so much. As he put it "not my favorite". For him to turn down something chocolate? Interesting that we had such a different view of the same cookie. I'd say if you like cocoa nibs, the flavor and crunch, you'll like these.The recipe originally came from The Art and Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet. Do check out the FoodGal blog post about the recipe and some of the comments here.
Note: I used Challenge Butter Note: I used King Arthur unbleached, all purpose flour Note: I used E. Guittard Cocoa Rouge Cocoa Powder (dutch processes)
Note: I used Ultimate Organic Real Raw Cocoa Nibs. I read online to roast the raw nibs for 15 minutes. I roasted for 5 minutes at 150ºC,
then reduced the temperature to 120ºC and roasted for another ten minutes.
Note: I had some red sugar type stuff in the cupboards...not sure if it was sanding sugar or what but I rolled the dough log in the stuff. It seemed to melt right in but you can see some of the red sugar on the edge of the cookies.
I do not have a smooth place to roll dough. I don't own a nice marble counter top nor a special marble cutting board. Making a "roll log" wasn't the easiest thing to do. My cookies didn't exactly come out perfectly round but close enough for government work. The cardboard paper towel trick really helped (see recipe).
Since I had problems with the other shortbreads I made crumbling, I made the dough and then kept it in the fridge overnight to get very cold until I sliced them.
They said this made 36 cookies. I got about 25 out of the batch.
I'd actually make these again. I'd like to use a different cocoa nib brand that has already been roasted to see if that changes the flavor a bit. And I'd have no problem not sharing them with Mr. L!
I think Tiggher just assumes this is her new playride. Something like a tree roller-coaster. Run up the middle tree trunk and then just run round and round on the outside tree branches until you reach the bottom. And then bat around the low hanging lights.
You would think there was a movie out there called "Almost Christmas" but I couldn't find one. Me thinks it's a great title and someone should come up with a movie for it.
I'm not ignoring the blog. Nor am I ignoring cooking. But like every year, it seems the holidays rushed in like a bullet train and I blinked and Christmas is only days away. So forgive me for not keeping up with posting.
And about that cooking, or in this case, baking. My bright idea was to bake a whole bunch of different cookies and edible presents for friends and family this year. So I spent days pouring through magazines, cookbooks, blogs, looking for just the right goodies and treats to make. I picked ten. Yes you read that right, TEN.Ten different items that I had never made before. Wanna guess how that is going? What was I thinking?? Lets just say if it reads "Makes 36 cookies" figure you'll get about 20. Short bread and me don't mix (and I picked no less than three different shortbread type cookies). I've thrown away every batch of "spiced" nuts I've tried to make (so if you get a bag of plain mixed nuts you'll understand why). And I've learned that egg nog mixed with a healthy dose of rum is a lifesaver (though it doesn't really go well with getting that chocolate perfectly on those peanut butter balls). Sigh. Next year I think I'll stick to just three recipes, none of them shortbread and all will get a trial run in July!!