Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Books, Read and Released

Although all of my recent Christmas-themed posts may make it seem like I haven't been reading anything lately, I actually have. Here's the brief recap:

Just before Christmas I finished Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. I've heard of so many people who love this book, and although I did like it a lot, I'm not entirely sure what all of the fuss is about. I thought it was extremely well written, and it kept me interested throughout the many generations covered in this sweeping book, but that can be said about other family sagas I've read. As I neared the end of the book, I kept waiting for some big revelation that would put the whole preceding book into a new perspective. There is one surprise twist, but it didn't seem like enough to me. A good, interesting, and entertaining book, but not earth-shattering.

I also quickly read through a free advance galley copy that I got for an upcoming YA book called The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. It was a sweet, teenage romantic-drama, but again, nothing earth shattering. I think that will be the first book that I "release" as part of this BookCrossing program that I just found out about.

BookCrossing is a free program that's meant to encourage the sharing of books. It works like this: you read a book, register it online and get a tracking number, then release it into the wild wherever you want. Whoever finds it next can go onto the BookCrossing website and, by looking up the tracking number, can see where the book's been. It seems like the program was designed to promote the spread of literacy and the recycling of books, but I think it just sounds like fun. Who knows if anyone will actually continue the chain with the books they find, but at least this will prompt me to weed through my shelves and part with some of my books.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Eve Dinner

Before celebrating with our extended clan of relatives on Christmas Day, my family traditionally celebrates Christmas Eve ourselves by going to mass, having dinner at home, and opening some presents. Since I've started to like to cook in recent years, I've taken over the task of making the dinner. I usually try to do something that's a little bit elegant to make it a special occasion. This year's meal came out especially delicious, if I do say so myself.

For the salad, I added pomegranate seeds and gorgonzola cheese to some greens. For the main course, I made butternut squash tortelloni (a Giada recipe).

It was pretty labor-intensive. It took me a good 45 minutes just to wrestle with peeling and chopping the squash. I used wonton wrappers for the pasta, and filling and shaping them was a bit of a slow process too. It was worth it, though, and came out really good in the end.

For dessert I made panna cotta (another Giada recipe- she really does not disappoint). This is one of my favorites. It takes only a few simple ingredients to make, but seems like a really fancy dessert and has the most wonderful, delicate flavor of cream and honey. I need to find more excuses to make this throughout the year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Oh, Christmas Tree!

In honor of my last post before Christmas, I thought I'd give a quick tour of my family's tree. I'm sure that every family thinks their tree is the best, but I really do think ours might be a strong contender for the title, largely because we have such an eclectic mix of ornaments.

These first two are some of our antique ornaments that were passed down from my dad's grandmother. I think they're about 75 years old. The second one is Cinderella's coach and has always been considered the most special ornament on our tree.

Speaking of Cinderella, these are a set of Cinderella ornaments, including the prince, the fairy godmother, and the glass slipper.

This vintage, kitschy ornament is like a little dioramas. We have several of these and each one shows a different scene of the nativity or the wise men.

This is a vintage Snoopy:

And, as a way of remembering our real-life Snoopy, a picture ornament of our beagle Jasper.

This grouping shows my baby ornaments, a pear ornament that my mom glittered a couple of years ago, and, near the back, a glass ornament that we made with real Bermuda sand that we brought back from a cruise that my entire family went on back in 2000.

Here are some of the homemade ornaments I made through the years, plus some college ornaments and another little beagle.

And finally, every year we cut down our tree from a tree farm and several years ago, we found a perfectly formed empty bird's nest in the tree. My dad varnished it to preserve it and now, nestled in one of the inner branches, it's the perfect spot for this bird ornament.

And that's really only a fraction of our ornaments. I could show so many more, but I'll save something for next year...

Merry Christmas to all and to all a Good Night!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Owl I Want for Christmas

Oh, I just can't resist a good pun! Especially one that's related to a cute Christmas craft project. This one was based on a pattern to make paper owls that my friend Lara had tucked into my birthday package. Those owls come out like this:

They inspired me to try to making some of my own, with a holiday spin. I traced the pattern onto some metallic Martha Stewart craft paper, then assembled the owls and added some glitter to the ears, beaks, and feet.

I think they're cute and could make good ornaments or package decorations.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Baking

I enjoy cooking and baking all year round, but there's just something extra-special about holiday baking that puts me in the mood to go a little overboard. This year I made a combination of new recipes and old favorites. Some will come to my aunt's house on Christmas Day and some will be munched on throughout the night on Christmas Eve. Of course, I've already had quite a few samples over the past few days.

First, I made chocolate chip cherry cookies, one of may favorites among the Christmas cookie recipes that have been in my family's repertoire for years and years.

Next, I whipped up a fudge wreath:

And then, in an encore from Thanksgiving, I made another one of Paula Deen's pumpkin ooey-gooey butter cakes.

Finally, I tried out a new recipe from a cookbook I got through work, Chocolate Chocolate by Lisa Yockelson.

I have to admit that although this book is beautiful to look at, I haven't actually made that many recipes from it. This year, I decided to try making a layered chocolate bar from the book, which I'm officially christening "Chocolate Macaroon bars", because of all of the coconut that they're topped with.

The recipe couldn't be easier to make. You press 'Nilla wafer crumbs and butter into a pan to make a crust, then top with layers of white and dark chocolate chips and coconut. Pour a can of sweetened condensed milk over the whole thing, bake, and voila!- the Chocolate Macaroon bars are ready. They came out deliciously chocolaty and sweet. Definitely a recipe I'll make again.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dreaming of a White Christmas

I couldn't believe the amount of snow that fell over the weekend. It's the most I remember ever coming before Christmas. White flakes were falling when I woke up on Saturday, and they kept coming at a steady pace into Saturday night. It made me thankful that I had already arrived home for my Christmas vacation and could stay snug inside, eating popcorn and hot chocolate while watching Christmas movies. Today I ventured out to take some pictures of the snow-blanketed scenery.

We must have gotten about two feet of snow. I put my wellies to work in the front yard.

I even got to try working the snow blower! It was pretty exciting for a few passes back and forth, but I don't think I would be able to keep it up for very long- it's harder than it looks.

The lights and snow looked even prettier at night.

There's a full nativity scene buried under there somewhere.

That speck of light in the upper right corner is actually a crescent moon.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Another Scarf, Buttoned Up

I recently finished another scarf. It's a muffler-style button up scarf that came from a pattern in the knitting book Mother Daughter Knits. One of the more unusual things about this pattern is that instead of knitting rows across the width of the scarf, you knit rows that make up the entire length of the scarf.

I finished it so quickly and liked it so much, I whipped up a couple more that I'll be giving out as gifts.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mexican Wedding Cakes

Yesterday I baked Mexican Wedding Cakes to bring into my office, where we're having a potluck of desserts and sweets for our Christmas party this year. The Mexican Wedding Cakes are actually cookies that are sometimes called by other names, like Snowballs or Russian Tea Cakes. They're a cookie that I first learned to make from a very sophisticated and professional cookbook:

This is left over from when my first grade class made different Christmas cookies from around the world. The recipe from the first grade cookbook didn't quite work out this year because it called for margarine, which I didn't have and didn't want to buy. I found another recipe online that called for only butter and it ended up working out pretty well. The dough is made from just a handful of ingredients, formed into balls, and then rolled in powdered sugar. Pretty basic, but very tasty.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas Music

This past week I've had my ipod on full-on Christmas music rotation. I especially like listening to it at the office, where it makes all of my work seem so much cheerier. Here, in no particular order, are some of my favorites:
A Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi- probably some of the best Christmas music ever. Like those marathon showings of A Christmas Story, I could listen to this on a non-stop loop for 24 hours and never get tired of it.

Noel by Josh Groban- I bought this a couple of years ago for my mom and, at the time, never would have expected that it would become one of my favorites, but it has. Every song on it is great.

When My Heart Finds Christmas by Harry Connick- a modern classic, in my mind.

This Warm December by Jack Johnson and friends- this is filled with both old and new songs done by Jack Johnson, Rogue Wave, and other alternative and mellow-strumming types. It offers a nice change of pace when mixed in with other more traditional music.
I'd highly recommend buying or downloading all of these, plus as many versions as possible of my favorite Christmas song of all time, "Silver Bells". I love how it's all about shopping on bustling, decorated city streets. I always makes me picture Fifth Ave. in New York, right where that snowflake hangs over the street.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


I decided to read the short story collection No One Belongs Here More Than You after I saw a video of the author Miranda July's art on the Lula magazine site.

I checked the book out from the library and when I opened it, I found this slipped in front of the jacket flap:

It's a note congratulating me on picking the book and complimenting my good choice, written by someone who loves the book! What a cute idea! Then, turning to the first story, I came across another:

I felt a little bit like Amelie, finding notes and secret messages!

Now after all that, I feel a bit sheepish to have to admit that I actually didn't like the book that much. Miranda July is a very quirky writer and her characters are oddballs and misfits. She writes with a certain empathy that creates moments where you feel for characters that you wouldn't necessarily expect to. Although I can admire that, for me the stories didn't quite create that sense of "life is wonderful" that the description (and those notes) promised.

But...I'm still glad I read it, mostly because finding those notes was such charming surprise. I may have to start doing that with some of my favorite library books.

Monday, December 7, 2009

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like....

Today I put up my little tree in my apartment. It may only be four feet tall, but it's really bright!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Wizard of Earthsea

I was pretty excited when my book club picked A Wizard of Earthsea as the latest book we're reading. In the back of my mind, I had always wanted to read something by Ursula Le Guin, solely for the fact that her books are mentioned in the movie The Jane Austen Book Club. They're the favorite books of the character Grigg, the only male member of that book club. All of this being said, I was predisposed to really like this book, but was disappointed to find out that I didn't like it that much at all.

A Wizard of Earthsea is set in a totally fictional fantasy world and follows a young wizard named Ged, first through his schooling as a wizard and then, after he inadvertently unleashes an evil shadow, on his quest to first run from, and then ultimately confront, this shadow. And, yes, it's literally a shadow. The best word I can use to describe this book is "blah". I never really warmed up to Ged and all of his adventures were kind of boring. I found myself reading just so I could get through the book and move on to something else. In the end, Ged defeats the shadow by realizing that it's a part of himself. The one positive thing I can say about the book is that I did like the overall allegory of the story- how he was his own worst enemy, and had to come to a state of self-knowledge and self-acceptance. It seems like it would have been ripe for analysis in the Young Adult Lit. class I took in college, and I can see how this would be a good message for the young readers, but, on the whole, a disappointing reading experience for me.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A New Taco Truck in Town

A new taco truck has been parking near my office building lately. Since I had to work late tonight, I decided to treat myself by stopping there to pick up some dinner. I tried the chicken tacos, which come in pairs of two, and thought they were really, really good. My favorite part was the soft tortilla shells they were wrapped in- so delicious!

I'm definitely planning to get lunch from there often. And although not quite as delicious as Lucinda's burritos, this taco truck has the cuter packaging. The tacos come wrapped up like little presents.


Related Posts with Thumbnails