Attack of the Germs

Gak.

My husband and I have caught some type of germy cold that has made the past three nights a restless hot mess. It sure doesn’t help matters than Bean thinks bedtime is dance time, or that my day off today ended up being more work than play. We are all looking a little worse for wear. My poor husband even tried gargling a mixture of water, salt and cayenne pepper to get some relief from the crippling congestion…don’t ask me where the yahoo came up with that crazy plan, but I hear from the heathens it was entertaining to watch.

TGIF is all I can say.

New Year’s: Looking Ahead With Cautious Ambition

The holiday rush is over!

Now, it’s time to celebrate the New Year, which for me, means it’s also time to slow down and focus inward a little bit. Though I know some people are just not that into it, I really like taking some time during the New Year’s holiday to look ahead at what I hope to accomplish within both myself and my home in the coming months.

I wouldn’t call these resolutions…just a matter of strategically regrouping.

From October through December, I operate on overdrive. I’m decorating, planning, running, entertaining and juggling, all while making Christmas gifts and generally jumping from one task to the next. Though this process is exciting and the stuff of making memories, I also end up being so goal-oriented that many day-to-day needs slip through the cracks of procrastination.

However, come New Year’s, I’m ready to ease up and focus on getting both myself and our home in semi-organized order. I usually have a waiting list of things that I’ve been promising myself I would get to after the holidays; like straightening a few drawers, cleaning out a cabinet here and there, and finding ways to streamline tasks for those soon-to-be-busy school days. The freakishly sterile and ascetic pages of a Martha Stewart magazine are usually enough visual stimuli to help motivate me toward these goals. All I have to do is flip through the January issue of Living, and I’m ready to reorganize my closet while simultaneously attacking my house with an electronic label maker…nothing like the images of impossible perfection to get a girl off the couch. But seriously, New Year’s is always a good time to tackle those dozen little projects that will make day-to-day life somewhat neater and easier. This could be the OCD talking, but who doesn’t like euphoric high that comes from a freshly organized something.

This year, I have the added fun of planning and executing the nursery for Bean (assuming that my brain and my budget come to some sort of compromise soon), so that project should fulfill my deep-seated need for little New Year’s home improvement as well. Expect “before” picture soon, because I will definitely want to document the room’s transformation from messy office into baby girl haven.

As for creative projects, I can now tackle all those ideas that took a backseat during my marathon of Christmas knitting. I’ve already started Bean’s first blanket:

 

And I have a whole list of crafty ideas just waiting to take shape, including becoming reacquainted with my sewing machine.

Budget-wise…well, that’s probably the biggest goal for my year. Adding another child to our family will definitely be a financial adventure, but I also want to work on reevaluating the way we do things. I think the concept of saving needs a little less conversation and a little more action, if you know what I mean. That will require me to work on my self-control in a big way.

So, those are my New Year’s musings in a nutshell. I’m never into overly ambitious, grandiose resolutions that set me up for failure, but I’m also not anti-New Year’s either. If anything, a few carefully constructed goals help ease the sting of the post-Christmas endorphin crash, and they help reboot my internal systems into finding the peace and joy in the simplicity of the everyday.

The promise of King Cake soon sure doesn’t hurt either…

Cookie Decorating—30 Minutes of Peace in an Otherwise Busy Week

After a long day of baking yesterday, I gathered the guys for a round of cookie decorating. I hit the timing jackpot, because they were all excited to do it, and it gave them a nice distraction from their near-manic anticipation of Christmas Eve. We had a great time, and I got a welcome break from the laps they had been running around the house. Two boys running around the hardwood floors of a 100 year-old house sounds remarkably like a herd of stampeding elephants. Cookie decorating can be a wonderful tool for corralling a couple of overly excited kids.

And yes, I cheated and bought the bottled icing…it was the most kid-friendly option for their little boy hands. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Sure, it was messy. They also had the expected sugar high by the time we were done, because what it decorating without “sampling?”

By the time we were done, we had plenty of “masterpieces” that the kids can’t wait to show off:

And I got to spend some genuine quality time with my guys. That makes for a great day.

Bourbon-Pecan Pralines…Yummy but Tricky

As part of my baking extravaganza this week, I made a batch of Bourbon-Pecan Pralines. I found the recipe in this month’s Southern Living, and knew I had to try it. Pralines AND bourbon? What’s not to like?

Here is the link, if you are interested in trying it out for yourself.

Overall, this was an easy recipe, and the finished pralines were very tasty. However, I did learn a valuable lesson in just how quickly candy can set. If you do try these, take heed. When cooling the sugar mixture in step three, I would only cool it to 175 degrees before adding the pecans. I waited until the suggested 150 degrees, and the mixture began to set quite rapidly. As you can see from the above picture, the first few pralines were perfect. But, as I finished scooping the last third of the mixture onto wax paper, it started to look more like this:

I worked very quickly, and probably had the whole batch scooped in less than two minutes, so I know unreasonable delays were not a factor. I think the mixture just began to cool rapidly with the addition of the pecans. By adding them at 175 degrees instead of 150, I think you would buy a little more time, as well as consistency in the final product. Also, in case you didn’t know this, you should never make pralines (or any other candy for that matter) on a rainy or excessively cloudy/humid day. Don’t ask me why…I just know it never works out. Granny says so, and that’s good enough for me.

We also tried the Bourbon Balls, but they turned out so stout, even my husband couldn’t finish them. However, I must confess that I used the cheap-o bourbon, so I won’t write this recipe off until I make it with bourbon I would actually drink. Why did I buy the cheap-o bourbon, you ask? Pregnancy obviously means no cocktails, and I find it a whole lot easier to bear if I don’t have temptation mocking me in my own house. By buying something I wouldn’t ever drink in the first place, I don’t have the constant reminder that I’ve still got three more months off the sauce. So, $10 bourbon it was. I really should have known better…I don’t cook with wine I wouldn’t drink, so why would I use bad booze in my candy? I guess I just wasn’t thinking.

Now, if I can just get through the next two days of baking, cooking, cleaning and excessively excited heathens, I’ll be doing a-ok.

 

Bake, Bake and then Bake Some More

Though I have some days off this week, I am spending what little time I have getting the jump on our Christmas baking/food preparations that will continue through the rest of the week. This afternoon, I made both the sugar cookie and gingerbread men doughs (which I’ll bake with the kids on Thursday), bourbon balls, vanilla-spice pumpkin fudge and bourbon pralines. I also mixed up the dough to make the bagillion pecan tarts my husband and I will be assembling tonight as our Christmas gift to his co-workers.

Last night, my husband and G-man baked several dozen white chocolate-oatmeal cookies, which turned out absolutely perfect. I love it when the guys do the cooking for a change:

I get to eat food I don’t have to cook (always a treat), and they are pretty darn cute puttering around the kitchen.

Tune in tomorrow for the Bourbon Praline recipe…I have to get back in the kitchen and get some kind of dinner on the table before the masses riot.

But on the bright side, I officially finished all of my handmade Christmas gifts, on time and on budget.

I think that deserves a cookie…don’t you?

Adventures in Fruitcake

My husband and my mom share a secret…and I’m almost embarrassed to admit it. For two people that have reasonably trustworthy taste-buds, they both love fruitcake. Weirdos, I know. They are the lone rebels on our family with this affliction. Come holiday time, they really want some dang fruitcake.

 

Normally, I take a lazy way out and order them a Kentucky Bourbon Fruitcake from Gethsemani Farms, which they agree is the best fruitcake on earth (those monks sure know what they’re doing). Unfortunately, time got away from me this year, so I assumed that they would just have to do without.

 

That is, until my husband happened to catch the tail-end of the Good Eats episode in which Alton Brown makes a fruitcake. Next thing I know, I’m on an adventure through the supermarket to track down a laundry list of fruitcake-making items.

 

Surprisingly, it was a fairly easy process. I particularly liked soaking the fruit in rum:

I figure if I can’t have a cocktail, I can at least live vicariously through others by cooking with very good booze. I also like to make my husband the cocktails I wish I could have:

But that’s beside the point, I guess. The cake appears to have turned out ok:

But it still needs a few days to “cure” and a couple of more brandy showers before they give it the official taste test. I’ll be interested to see how it compares, or whether we should leave the fruitcake prep to the monks next year.

So, mom and my husband get their yearly dose of holiday cliché.

But personally, I still think they are weirdos.

Christmas-Craft-Palooza

I am officially in the home stretch of my handcrafted Christmas-gift-palooza. Every spare second of the past few weeks has been spent knitting, crafting and wrapping. By week’s end, I will have accomplished my goal of ensuring that every person in our extended family (over the age of ten) will receive a handmade Christmas gift. Even though my Christmas crafting consumed all of my time in the past month, I am thrilled that we will be giving unique, heartfelt gifts that did not land us in debt-city.

To recap, I knitted:

And then I knitted some more:

And in between all of that, I may have knitted a little something for Bean:

I’ve glued:

And then I knitted some more:

In the meantime, the heathens have discovered the joys of pulling carrots:

Now, if I can only convince them that pulling weeds is just as much fun…

Now that I’m nearly done with the crafting, it’s time for a week of cooking, baking, relaxing and family time.