Category Archives: Christmas

For Auld Lang Syne, For Sure

Happy 2017 everyone. I’ve de-Christmased the house in preparation for an organizing binge. More on that later.

Was going to make a bunch of appetizers for New Year’s Eve, but apparently while I was sleeping there was a run on mini-pita breads and red pepper jelly so Imma gonna just bookmark this recipe for chicken salad pitas right here for next time.

Did make these tidbits though.  Easy and can be served warm or at room temperature.

Beef Tenderloin Crostini with Caramelized Onions and Horseradish Cream Sauce

WHAT YOU NEED
For the beef:
2-3 lb. beef tenderloin roast
2 tsp kosher salt
1 TBSP extra virgin olive oil

For the onions:
1 medium size yellow onion
1 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
1 TBSP unsalted butter
pinch of salt, pepper and cayenne pepper

For the cream sauce:
1/2 cup lite sour cream
1 TBSP prepared horseradish
1 TBSP pink peppercorns, crushed or ground

1 long French baguette, sliced into thin rounds.

WHAT YOU DO
The day before you cook it, place beef on a rack on cookie sheet. Coat the beef with the salt and place uncovered in a refrigerator overnight (gotta trust me here).

The next day, take beef out of refrigerator about 1 hour before you are ready to cook.  Heat oven to 425ºF. Rub beef with the 1 TBSP of olive oil and place back on the rack on cookie sheet. Roast about 30 minutes or until the meat temperature reaches 135ºF (that’s my version of medium rare).  Remove from oven and let rest.

While the beef roasts, prepare onions.  Slice onion into thin slices.  Melt butter and oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté for about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until onions are fully caramelized, about 20 more minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350ºF. Place slices of baguette on a different baking sheet and toast rounds for about 10-15 minutes.

Combine sour cream, horseradish and a pinch of the ground pepper in a small bowl and refrigerate until needed.

When ready to assemble, thinly slice the beef (an electric knife is a useful thing here). Place a smidge of onions on each toast, top with a slice of beef, a dollop of the cream and sprinkle with some ground pink pepper.  If you had fresh parsley around, you could also chop that finely and sprinkle on for some color.

Here’s a quick recap of Plaid Christmases.

Kids table

Blurry grown-up table

The gang from Plaid Christmas One

Ka-Pow!

Made a new cocktail that was a hit, even with the Manhattan die hards. #diehardisachristmasmovie.  It’s call Santa’s Little Helper from blogger Aunt Peaches.

All you do is soak two cinnamon sticks and a bunch of whole cranberries in good bourbon overnight. Note – Aunt Peaches uses cloves. I’m not a fan, I think they overpower. Make your own call, I’m not the boss of you!  The next day, fill a glass with ice.  Pour in three parts infused bourbon, one part triple sec, and fill the glass with Sprite or even diet Sierra Mist. Garnish with the cranberries from the bourbon.

Onward folks.  We saw 2016 off in style, at the Harrison’s last Illinois-based NYE bash before they take the party back to the land of Oz.

There were lots of laughs and many tears.  We will miss these people with all our hearts.

But not their Vegemite.

A cup o’ kindness to you all and best wishes for a happy and healthy 2017.

 

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like The Middle of February

Seriously, 11 degrees below zero in the middle of December?  Two major snowstorms? Is the universe trying to stop Plaid Christmas?!  Because nothing stops Plaid Christmas. Nothing!

All right, well, the weather did move the first Plaid Christmas back by a week. But I’ll give you the recipes now because now next week I’m doing two Plaid Christmases (Christmasi??) in two days. So not likely going to feel like recipe writing. And thanks to The Block

we did an impromptu practice Plaid Christmas last night when the original got pushed back.

However, moving Plaid Christmas One closer to Plaid Christmas Two allowed me to go to a cookie exchange yesterday.

Twas a bittersweet cookie exchange though to honor our dear friends, the Harrisons, who are moving back to Australia. The Block will be all the less kind, funny and joyful without them. *stupid computer got something in my eyes again*

For the exchange I made these Brown Butter Sugar Cookies from Sally’s Baking Addiction.

We tried multiple toppings and all agreed sanding sugar was a better topping than sprinkles. But everyone loved them, even Drummer Boy, who is not a big cookie eater.

However, those cookies were incorrectly attributed by me on Instagram to What’s Gaby Cooking. So to make up for it, I made her Molasses Cookies. Couldn’t be easier.  Used a scant two tablespoon cookie scoop and cooked 2 minutes longer than the recipe called for.

As a gift for the hostess and a snack for Plaid Christmas (one cannot exist on Chex Mix alone. JK – yes you can) I made these Union Square Cafe Nuts via Smitten Kitchen.  Only thing I did different is reduced the cayenne pepper a little. Glad I did, they still have heat at the end, but not overwhelming.

On to the meal. Totally pulled a Rachel from Friends – a layer of jelly, a layer of ground beef – when making GF meatballs and marinara sauce simultaneously.  I started the meatballs, paused probably to tell the cat to get off the table, then looked up a the meatball recipe and continued. That is, until I got to the “add a whole can of tomatoes”. That seemed wrong. Yep, was following the marinara recipe in the middle of the meatball recipe.

I soldiered on though, and what a happy accident indeed. So I present to you:

Accidental Gluten Free Meatballs

WHAT YOU NEED
1 lb. ground beef
1/3 heaping cup of gluten free panko crumbs
scant 1/4 cup of milk (I actually used a little less)
1/2 TBSP dried parsley
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp ground pepper
1/4 tsp kosher salt
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
3 TBSP finely minced onion
1 egg
2 TBSP olive oil

WHAT YOU DO
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix all ingredients except olive oil in a large bowl with your hands until fully incorporated. Shape in to balls with about 2-3 tablespoons of meat per meatball. Heat oil in a skillet and add meatballs. Brown, turning very gently, until browned all over.  Place meatballs on a greased baking pan and cook until done, about 15-20 minutes. These can be chilled and reheated in the sauce.

Plaid Christmas will include Skinnytaste’s Crockpot Bolognese Sauce and Two Peas and Their Pod’s Slow Cooker Marinara.  That way we take care of the meat eaters, the vegetarians, the gluten free crowd and the butter noodles crowd. Trying a new GF pasta, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Will also be making the world’s easiest Rosemary Roast Salmon that I’ve talked about before. The only thing I do differently is mix olive oil with dijon mustard and pinch of chopped rosemary and rub it over the salmon before putting the lemons on. It’s a hit every time and can be prepped ahead and kept in the fridge.  Thanks to The Block for taking care of yesterday’s salmon with gusto

all the while not being allowed in the front room or dining room because I had already set the tables before Plaid Christmas was moved. So it was a cozy practice Plaid Christmas.

In between all these festivities, we had one of the best School of Rock shows to date. Drummer Boy, Guitar Boy and friend and neighbor Singer Girl were all in the Motown band together and they killed it.

See Kevin’s Facebook account for some video footage if you are interested. Or I can send you some, I only have like 40GB of video though #proud parent.

I would be remiss in all my talk about Plaid Christmas – which, by the way, I’ve been planning for 4 years because that’s the McNamara Christmas rotation – if I did not link to one of the funniest annual features on the internet.  The 2016 Hater’s Guide to The Williams-Sonoma Catalog.  Even though it is a little close to home this year (ok I know he’s making fun of me), it still is one of my favorite reads. Not safe for delicate eyes though.

May Santa bring you all a Murder Vacuum.   Have a great holiday everyone.

 

Well, That Went By Fast

People, I cannot believe it is December 29th. What happened? There was no snow before Christmas (note – hating on the snow now). There was a Wednesday night Pizza Night. There were holidays rendered in cheese.

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Ok. I promise, that’s it. No more cheese sculptures. Until it’s time for cheese hearts, cheese shamrocks….  Although I will say that after Cheese Snowman was mangled I made a joke on Instagram about zombies and Darryl Dixon/Norman Reedus’ body double liked my picture. Swoon.

Moving on, I made a lot of different food that wasn’t cheese based. I made these easy Apricot Glazed Chicken Thighs from Shutterbean on one busy weeknight. Super fast and super delicious. Didn’t take a picture because, well, we’ve been over how my brown food photography skills are. So you’ll just have to trust me and make it soon.

This Big Italian Salad from Once Upon a Chef:

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The dressing for this salad was really good. I think it would go well with any type of salad you want. And probably fantastic during summer with freshly grown herbs.

For Christmas Eve dinner, I did what I always do, Smitten Kitchen’s Braised Short Ribs with mashed potatoes. The crowd demands it. Plus you can make it the day before.

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In the treats category, How Sweet Eats Peppermint Pattie Brownies

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Smitten Kitchen’s Easy Roasted Sugar and Spice Candied Nuts.

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Smitten Kitchen’s Mom’s Apple Cake – Guitar Boy’s favorite.

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Gluten Free Chocolate Pan Cake from King Arthur Flour. With their Easy Chocolate Frosting. It was good. LIght and fluffy. I used milk and not water as we aren’t watching dairy.

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For both Neighbors Christmas and Mac Christmas I made everyone sprinkles mix using Avery design website again.

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My favorite one was “Bears on the Glen” mix with green sprinkles on the bottom and orange and blue on the top. Get it? Fun, right? I’ll understand if you want to leave and click back over to Facebook now.

As to presents, we had a very llama/narwhal-heavy Christmas. Want some salt or pepper?  No probllama!

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And of course, Star Wars figured prominently. Went to the movie too and it was great.

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One of my favorite gifts was this handmade artwork by Fake Sister.

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Or from my Nerd collection of gifts, maybe my very-hard-to-photograph Mother of Dragons wine glasses.

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Or maybe this?

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Ah yes, just like my childhood, when my mom would make 2001: A Space Odyssey pancakes every Sunday.

There were Christmas carols at GG’s.

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And we did some Christmas Crackers this year (the English party favor kind, not the snowflake-shaped Ritz kind). Then the kids put on a musical number with bells that were in the crackers, as expertly directed by me. Well, “expertly” might be a bit of a stretch. As is “musical number.” A clanging mess just might be slightly more accurate. At least they all cooperated for the picture.

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Mmmmmngh.

So I’ll take a one day breather, and then on to New Year’s Eve, Guitar Boy’s New Year’s Day family party brunch and then some classmates coming over to celebrate his birthday with Nerf and Halo–as one does as a tween–on Saturday. There will be some Avery projects and a significant amount of puff pastry goin’ on the next few days. I’ll report back as soon as I dig out.

Have a safe and happy New Year everyone. Peace out 2015.

Thanksgiving to Christmas in 37 Hours

Well another Thanksgiving in the books. This one with the oven going berserk three (3) times while turkey was in. First, beeping uncontrollably until we had to throw the breaker.  Second, decided to go into Sabbath mode (who knew?!) where it holds only the last temperature so that people don’t have to turn on the ovens during Sabbath.   Except the last temperature was now about 40 degrees lower than it needed to be to finish the turkey.  And finally, one more combo beeping/Sabbath mode until the breaker was thrown again.

Thankfully the turkey was at a safe temperature to remove to rest, so I shoved those stuffings in before my oven taught me any new religious holidays and told everyone NOT to open the oven doors until I was sure the stuffing was cooked. There is clearly a curse on me related to ovens as this is the 4th oven in 16 years in houses. Each one pulling antics like this until we gave up/it stopped working.  Perhaps I should have heeded the warning from the gypsies after all.

Anyhoo.

Made a cheese turkey. Because we all need a cheese turkey in our lives.

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Did the deconstructed turkey again but used the Martha Stewart Bacon Herb Roasted Turkey Breast recipe and just put the butter mixture under the skin of each piece.  Did the Pumpkin Cornbread Sausage stuffing from last year and Pioneer Woman’s Thanksgiving Stuffing for the traditionalists. Made the cranberry sauce from my practice Thanksgiving post, Ina Garten’s Honey Orange Glazed Carrots and mashed and sweet potatoes. And buttered noodles, because my kids still eat no food.

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Yep, that’s two can shaped cranberry lumps. That my kids will eat.  And Bobby Flay’s Fall Sangria. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. It definitely has a lot of fall flavors and is very pretty.

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Did the tables with this cute runner from Kitch Studios,
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Lots of fall colors, cute teensy vases from POSH (that’s like Fishs Eddy to you New Yorkers), flowers buried in fresh cranberries, and of course, chocolate turkeys.

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A good time was had by all.

DSC_0144Especially this dapper gentleman,

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Who Skunk the Cat could not bring himself to acknowledge.

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Someone just needs to be the cutest thing in the house all the time. #selfabsorbedcat

For dessert I wimped out (new job people! No time for baking). And besides, when I have the head baker from Pastries So Tasty living next door, I’m not going to do apple and blueberry pies any better. But I can pour cheese and caramel popcorn into a bowl like nobody’s business. Just like the Pilgrims did.

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No one complained. Packed up leftovers in these containers I made with Avery labels at their design site.

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Super easy to use, I highly recommend it. There’s lots of pre-made designs to choose from or you can design your own (FORESHADOWING!!!).

So that was Thursday.  By Friday at 3:00, this was happening

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Theme on this tree (family room) is red, gold and music.

DSC_0176 DSC_0168 DSC_0180Front room skinny tree is decked in green and silver,
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And the basement tree is an homage to the upcoming Star Wars VII movie. I assume you all have your tickets already like we do. Right? *crickets*   #Nerdfoiles

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We made the garland using Avery labels and silver cord. I’m telling you, it is ridiculously easy. You’ll see this again in upcoming posts (MORE FORESHADOWING!!!!).

And finally, The Simp…..sons Christmas Village.  “Um, Dasher, Dancer….Prancer, Nixon…Comet, Cupid…Donna Dixon?”  “Sit down Simpson”

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Jealous, much?

I hope everyone gets to enjoy the beginning of the holiday season. I’ll be back with some treat ideas in the near future. With labels!!

 

Getting Ready for the Holidays? Better Call Skunk

Our cat Skunk has offered to help you get ready for the holidays any way he can.   He will help with:

Setting the table

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#nothelpful (and Ewww!)

Ordering presents online image

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Wrapping the presentsimage

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 Changing the sheets:

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#nothelpful

Perhaps some baking?

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Setting the other table

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#nothelpful  (and Get down!)

Getting the kids to stop playing video games and help pick-up

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#nothelpful

Well, at least when all is said and done, you can relax and read a good book: image

Non-Cat Stuff 

Here are some recent recipes that we’ve made for the various parties or just because:

Rainbow cookies from How Sweet It Is

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I’ll be honest, these were way too sweet for me but Guitar Boy gave them thumbs up.  Mine needed more cooking time than the recipe states as the first batch wasn’t quite done.  I made the small ones (yes, those are the “small” ones).

Soft Gingersnaps from Two Peas and Their Pod

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These were delicious.  I definitely preferred them flattened with the bottom of a glass rather than puffy. To keep the coating both sparkly and crunchy, I used a mix of white sugar and Demerara sugar (also known as Turbinado sugar.  Also known as cheap at Trader Joe’s.)

Gingerbread Granola from Minimalist Baker

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Well, since I opened a jar of molasses, might as well find other things to do with it.   This is granolatastic.   Every time either Kevin or I walked by it, we would grab a handful.    And the house smells great while it is cooking.   I used one extra tablespoon of sugar and you could probably use another tablespoon of maple syrup if you want it more maple than ginger.   Either I didn’t use a big enough pan or my oven runs cool, but I cooked it about 25 minutes before it started to brown.  So check it at 18 but if it still feels really wet, leave it in for 3 minute intervals.  It was great over vanilla Greek yogurt for breakfast.  What is not great?  Pieces of granola in my work keyboard.

Oh and one other thing:

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#notregrettingthispurchaseatall

Merry 3 days to go!

Welcome to Middle Christmas

So here we are midway through the festivities, with Neighborhood Pizza Night and McNamara Christmas behind us. Let’s review, shall we?

Neighborhood Pizza Night was a fine time with many food gifts made.  I made this Sriracha Salt, Middendorfs made all sorts of chocolate bark, Madly Pop’n sent Chicago Mix popcorn and the Coluntuano’s gave everyone their famous hand made tomato sauce so we have something to look forward to.  I had planned to serve this Cake Batter Chocolate Bark from How Sweet It Is, but by the time I got home from work on Friday, this is all that was left:

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Looking at you, Guitar Boy!

Fortunately, our neighbors from Pastries So Tasty make cake pops!

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For the record, Baker Boy made lots and lots of cake pops, but by the time I could clear the children out to get a picture, this is what was left!

And they also did this with a Christmas wine topper.  Cute!

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Every year since we’ve moved here, which is also the year we acquired a digital SLR camera in an attempt to capture ANY picture of baby Drummer Boy smiling, we have created The Block book of pictures through the year.  It forces us to actually create a yearly photo book and it makes a nice gift for the neighbors. Here is the 2014 edition on top of all the others:

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Speaking of gifts, in honor of this here blog, the Borkowskis gave us these awesome lucky rhino bookends.   And a gift card to TJ Maxx.   Borkowskis are enablers.

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In other gift news, when you make a joke saying the boys’ band should be called Turkey’s Furcula and you have a friend like John with immense creativity (see Fake Sister’s costume in Halloween posts), a touch of OCD and a love of music, you get this from the Rehors:

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That’s right, Furcula concert t-shirts.  For the whole family.  Here’s the back:

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Turkey’s Furcula, with the special guest, The Cranberries.  Oh wait, such a gift would’t be complete without an magazine cover (bonus Furcula poster inside!):

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In the end, all 34 people had a lovely time, and Kevin ordered…

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…just the right amount of pizza.

Next day was McNamara Christmas.  At the last minute (since Thursday I was flying from LaGuardia to Chicago, so it was anyone’s guess whether I’d be home by Saturday) I made this Smoked Salmon Dip from thekitchn.  It was yummy and it tastes great with Trader Joe’s Everything Bagel Chips.

The boys went with ugly Christmas sweater theme for Mac Christmas:

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And here is the whole crew:

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it was basically your standard McNamara Christmas, with Irish dancing demonstrations, the cousins grab bag, and the children gathered around:

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one kid playing Minecraft on an iPhone, while the rest of the family gathered around the traditional…

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Danimals tree.  Yep, your basic Christmas celebration.

I hope you’ve all made a dent in your shopping and will have time to relax and enjoy the rest of the month  I just finished making the 5th batch of Chex Mix to create teacher gifts today, will move on to cookies next weekend.

Happy Middle Christmas everyone.

We Need a Little Christmas

Christmas is UP!   So let’s take a look.   In order to save us all time and effort, let’s just assume that if I don’t state where something is from, you can know that it is from TJ Maxx/HomeGoods.  It’s either that or we turn this into some kind of “Hi Bob” type drinking game.

The Sparkly Trees

Many years ago, a former colleague at Merrill Lynch and I took an epic lunch trip to the Tag outlet store called the 1730 Outlet on the north side of Chicago which had no sign, no parking, was in the back of a warehouse and was only open for about 3.2 hours a day. But in this glorious space were items you normally see from Tag at Crate & Barrel, Macy’s or the Container Store at ¼ of the price.  Now, this was before the Internet allowed Tag to sell to just anyone, not just to those with the stamina to forego lunch and race up the Kennedy to save a bunch on housewares, and then lug them, piece by piece, home on the train over the course of the next two weeks.  But it does explain why I have Easter napkins, Halloween appetizer plates, Thanksgiving napkins, 67 napkin rings, seasonal doormats, and these:

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I put Starry String Lights from Restoration Hardware inside them on timers.  They are tiny little lights on copper wires so you can bend them. Looks cute in mercury glass too.

The Santas

Once again, I find myself with a collection of things that I don’t actually collect.  It started with one wooden Santa that Marge and Dad gave me, then I found another in an existing Christmas bin, then someone else gave me one as a hostess gift, then I saw another at *do a shot*.   And so on, and so on,

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In honor of this non-collection, we also decided to do the family room tree as a Santa theme:

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The Christmas Art

I love this Christmas Motawi tile that we purchased at The Art Stop here in town.

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Favorite Christmas pictures of Baby Guitar Boy:

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And Baby Drummer Boy.  Frames from Exposures.

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As an aside, here is Guitar Boy performing at his first gig at a bar yesterday with the Hinsdale School of Rock band.  They played Tom Petty songs:

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Ok, so it was at 3:00 p.m. on a Saturday, but still, pretty cool.   Drummer Boy has just been promoted up to the performance group as well, so he’ll join his brother on stage later in the year.

Back to this business of Christmas.

Other Stuff

Front Room Tree

Went with a turquoise and red theme on this one. Turned out cute, huh?

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The White Elephant Party

This is a great group and we always have a blast.  The gifts are always ridiculous and we each collect stuff throughout the year/run to Walgreens 5 minutes before the party to come up with the most irrelevant items you never wanted to own, but yet somehow were mass produced anyway.

Here is what we gifted:

The Date Night In Package consisting of a Big Bang Theory fleece blanket, a White Castle scented candle, (Yep, scented like a slider.  Yep, it smells as disgusting as it sounds), bacon lip balm and a yodeling pickle.

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The Dessert Package consisting of a set of Presidential Pez, blue rock candy that looks like meth from Breaking Bad (was supposed to go with Kevin’s Halloween costume but we forgot) a chocolate zombie Santa and a unicorn shaker where sprinkles come out of its butt.    Happy birthday baby Jesus.

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About 10 years ago, the white elephant gifts would lean towards inappropriate adult gifts. This year, 5 of them were toilet related.  We received two humorous toilet paper roll holders, including one that looks like a Polaroid camera with toilet paper that looks like Polaroid pictures. We are old.

To close, we present one of many awful pictures that Drummer Boy took with Santa at the mall over the years.  Even the presence of Fake Sister could not cheer him up.

This has a “let’s re-create this picture when we’re in our 30s” written all over it.

Happy pre-Christmas everyone!

McNamara Christmas 2013 – Ann Marie’s House

Barefoot Contessa’s Caramelized Onion Dip

The nice thing about this is you can caramelize a bunch of onions ahead of time, split them into separate freezer bags and thaw one the night before to make the dip.  Though I am no one to doubt Ina Garten, I find caramelizing the onions on low for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, creates an even deeper flavor.

H&H Gluten-Free Chocolate Peppermint Snowcaps

I saw this one in Canadian House and Home magazine, which if you haven’t read, is awesome.  First, because you see different household goods than we do in the U.S.  Second, because a summer home in upper Canada is sometimes one house on a small island.  And finally, what excellent taste in decorating Mr. Michael Buble has! Continue reading