Thursday, December 30, 2010

cheers to 2011

christmas was almost a week ago, and the new year is just over a day away.  tomorrow night my parents' are hosting their annual new year's eve party (with a twist).  this year they're not only celebrating the approach of 2011, they're ringing in our wedding year and inviting friends and family to toast craig and me as we enter into the official countdown to 11.5.11.

picture credit {here}
my mom is the ultimate hostess and can make a party for 50 seem like a walk in the park.  and she's "trained" me and my sis, hannah, well.  the three of us can seamlessly maneuver around the kitchen prepping, chopping, cooking and baking with nary a word.  we can anticipate the others' moves and just know what needs to get done.  but this year, because craig and i are the "guests of honor", i don't know how much helping they'll allow me to do...

with my mom's natural hosting ability, i often take for granted that it's a true (and coveted) skill to host a good party.  here are some tricks, tips & techniques i've learned from my mom (a.k.a. the nice martha stewart).

picture credit {here}
-plan out your menu - pick your recipes & review ingredients needed, and grocery shop a few days beforehand.  make whatever you can in advance.

-set up a bar - (not in the kitchen) when guests arrive make sure the bar is set and ready to go, that way they can get a drink even if the food isn't out yet.  don't have room for a fully stocked bar?  no problem.  get a few bottles of wine, some beer and do one signature cocktail.  guests will love it.  oh, and don't forget to buy extra bags of ice for the ice & wine/beer buckets.

picture credit {here}
-take shortcuts - if people offer to bring something, let them!  if you're concerned about the cohesiveness of your menu, suggest they make something specific and send them the recipe.  trust me, it'll simplify their life too!  also, stick to a few good recipes that you do well.  no experimenting with new stuff.

-get in the flow - if you're doing appetizers/hors d'ouevres before dinner, put them around the house (again, not in the kitchen) to encourage people to move around and mingle (as they search for food : )

-set the mood - never underestimate the importance of music and lighting.  candles and low lighting put people at ease and music sets the tone for the party.  are you a classical or classic rock group?

-beautiful buffets - though sit down dinners are great, they're sometimes hard to pull off (i.e. more stressful).  instead, consider a buffet.  guests like the laid-back feel but that doesn't mean it can't be fancy.  add candles, crystal and silver to glam it up.  no aluminum chaffing dishes, thank you very much!

i hope you have a fabulous time ringing in the new year.  cheers to 2011!

have any fun plans?

Friday, December 24, 2010

have yourself a merry little christmas

it's christmas eve, and there's magic in the air.  i wish you all a wonderful christmas and the happiest of new years.

my holiday gift to you...the gift of song : )
(music automatically plays on my blog, so you'll have to scroll to the bottom to pause it.)

in the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, 
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter, long ago.

merry, merry christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

holiday happenings (in no particular order)

this month has flown usual.  each year i try to savor each moment, but it seems to get harder and harder to find the time to just sit back, relax and revel in that seasonal glow.  it's december 22.  can you believe it?  and i don't know about you, but i plan on making the most of the next few days leading up to christmas and the new year.  after all, it only comes around once a year : )

here are some picts from the past few weeks.  hope they make you smile.

charlie brown tree

my homemade cinnamon rolls : )

craig, me and han (my sis) at the continental in philly

my laptop advent calendar from my mom

wanamaker's light show in philly

me cutting the cinnamon rolls

recipes galore!

light show : )
well, that's the photo summary of a few of the holiday-ish things i've been up to.  and tonight, we're going on our "christmas ride" to see all the decorated houses in the area.  yay!

so, what have you been up to this holiday season?  make time for anything super fun?

Monday, December 20, 2010

blog swap - tu parleras français

today’s post is courtesy of katherina, world-traveler extraordinaire, from 100 miles highway.  as members of 20 something bloggers, we’re both participating in our first-ever blog swap.  very exciting!  so, we were tasked with writing posts about what we want to do in 2011 that we’ve been putting off for too long.  (i’m sure many of you can relate…)  so without further ado, enjoy katherina’s guest post.  c’est magnifique!  ...and when you’re  done, check out my guest post {here}.

picture credit {here}
2011 is less than two weeks away and I’m starting to feel the usual pressure of the common “new year, new life” therapy. Every year, I start with a big list of resolutions which I firmly believe in, but then, life gets in the way of my plans, and some of my resolutions fade away while others are conveniently transferred into the next year. This, again, leaves me with a fairly long list of resolutions that have been transferred from one year to another because they’re still changes I want or need to make, sometime (soon, I promise!).

Anyway, probably the most important of those promises I’ve been making myself in the last couple of years (yeah, I know, years!!) is to learn French. And by that, I don’t mean managing to tell the butcher if I want poulet (chicken) or bœuf (beef), but to be able to follow a conversation among a group of native French-speakers. The reason for this is simple: I’m living in la Suisse Romande (the French-speaking part of Switzerland), since a year and 4 months and am still struggling to pronounce correctly the name of my street. Ridiculous. I know. However, speaking Spanish, English and German you pretty much manage to survive anywhere needed in this country – which, up to now, has led me to postpone the French classes again and again.

What makes 2011 different? Well, first there are all those shiny French cuisine cooking books that I've been piling up in my kitchen and would love to try (but are written in French). Then, living just a 10 minutes drive from Lavaux, a wine-growing region recognized as a World heritage site by Unesco (and being the wine-lover that I am), it feels incomplete not to know how to explain the taste and smell of the wine you are actually drinking (and not knowing how to tell the waiter that it tastes like cork!). Having to ask my work colleague or friend to call my landlord or to come along with me when I go to the doctor makes me feel so dependent! It’s really getting time to know my body parts without any additional help.
I’ve finally got the point: as difficult as it might be to admit, to feel part of the country and its culture, I need to excel French - This one is going to be tough, but at least now the motivation is there!

I hope you all have a nice holiday and a happy new year, and thanks so much Cailen for allowing me to invade your blog :)

if you enjoyed her post (which i'm sure you did), be sure to check out her lovely blog {here}, where you can also enjoy the guest post i wrote for our blog swap : )

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

cocktails & carols

no, this is not a post about me drinking a bit too much and then breaking into song.  (though that would be quite entertaining...)  last night craig and i joined my parents and sis at a local bar lounge to partake in some (organized) carol singing to celebrate the holiday season.  how festive! 

picture credit {here}
we ordered our drinks as they passed out song books and prepped the crowd for the sing along.  (for those of you who don't know, i love does my family.  we sing a lot.  in the car.  while cooking.  for no reason whatsoever.  we break into song quite often.)

the event was organized by a local carol society (yes...they do exist...).  needless to say we had a lot of fun.  and a lot of laughs.  my recommendation?  while the holiday season is upon us and public displays of unabashed singing is allowed (more or less), indulge yourself.  i mean really...who doesn't love to sing?!  even people who "can't" sing, love to sing.  (i learned that last

picture credit {here}
so, sing in your car.  sing while baking christmas cookies.  and sing to your neighbors when you deliver them...if you dare...

oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

christmas traditions : )

light show at wanamaker's in philadelphia
1. eggnog or hot chocolate?
"put your hands together."  (just a little f.r.i.e.n.d.s. reference for all of you who miss them as much as i do...)  i make killer hot chocolate that's mixed with egg nog instead of milk.  yum!

2. does santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?
presents of santa are unwrapped.  presents from family are wrapped : )

3. colored lights or white lights on the tree/house?
growing up we did our big, 12ft tree in the family room with white lights and our little, 6ft tree in the living room with colored lights.  at our place this year, craig and i decorated both tree & barn with colored lights.  it looks awfully cute, if i do say so myself...

4. do you have mistletoe?
not currently.

5. when do you start putting your decorations up?
about a week after thanksgiving.

6. what is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?
does "holiday" include thanksgiving?  because i really love my mom's stuffing.  mmm mmm good.  oh, and also my homemade cranberry sauce.

7. favorite holiday memory as a child?
that's a tough one.  i have sooo many wonderful memories.  decorating the house.  baking christmas goodies.  carolling.  holiday gatherings with family & friends.  christmas eve dinner at hotel du village.  not being able to sleep at all on christmas eve.  one thing i have very fond memories of is our annual christmas ride, which we still do to this day. we all pile into the car in our pjs and drive around to see all the lights and decorations while munching on fun (i.e. unhealthy) food and listening to christmas music! 

hotel du village
8. do you open a gift on christmas eve?
craig & i are doing our gift exchange on christmas eve this year before spending the holiday with family.

9. when and how did you learn the truth about santa?
hmm...i don't remember exactly.  i think i was 8 or 9 when i first started questioning.  but, to this day, i still refuse to become a true non-believer.

10. how do you decorate your christmas tree?
growing up, we decorated the big tree with hand-crafted, homemade ornaments and then decked the little tree with all the truly special antique ornaments.  craig and i don't have many of our own ornaments yet, so we invested in a small starter kit of red, green and gold ornaments.

11. snow! love it or hate it?
are you joking?  who cannot love snow?!!  (especially at christmas)

12. can you ice skate?
i don't think so.  i haven't tried since i was about 7 years old.  craig's a fabulous skater, though.  (he's a hockey boy.)

craig in all his glory : )
13. do you remember your favorite gift?
one of my favorite and most memorable gifts was my cockatiel, tucket.  i desperately wanted a bird in a beautiful cage and come christmas morning, there he was beside the tree.  magical.

14. what is the most important thing about the holidays for you?
being with family & friends and savoring every minute!

15. what tops your tree?
usually an angel.  but, this year, my parents' tree is too tall for the angel to fit.  and craig and i have a small sock monkey ornament bedecked with scarf and hat atop ours : )

16. what's your favorite holiday tradition?
what isn't my favorite?!  i love them all.  i'm big on traditions...  but i would have to say that my ultimate fave is our philadelphia weekend.  for years, we've gone into philly around the holidays to see the light show at wanamaker's (now macy's) and walk through the dickens' village.  in the past, we've stayed at the rittenhouse hotel for the entire weekend to christmas shop and enjoy delicious meals at amazing restaurants.  this year, we're heading in on the 18th!  i cannot wait : ) 

lobby at the rittenhouse hotel
17. which do you prefer giving or receiving?
giving.  i love watching someone open a present that i'm excited to give.

18. what is your favorite holiday dessert?
hmm...another tough one.  i love all the homemade cookies that we bake each year.  especially the shortbread cookies that i just wrote about in my previous post.  so delicious!  and the oatmeal scotchies are great too!

19. what is your favorite christmas song?
i love "the christmas song" sung by karen carpenter.  "white christmas" performed by bing crosby.  and "have yourself a merry little christmas" sung by judy garland.

20. candy canes! yuck or yum?
candy canes, though not my favorite holiday treat, definitely have their place.  i like stirring my hot cocoa with them : )

21. what is your favorite christmas special/movie?
i adore the oldies.  "christmas in connecticut" with barbara stanwyck, "white christmas" with danny kaye and bing crosby and "miracle on 34th street" (both the old and new versions).

christmas in connecticut
feel free to answer any/all of these questions on your blog.  just be sure to send me the link so i can read yours, too!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

butter, sugar & love

part of our pre-christmas prepping always includes a day...or two...or three of baking.  each year, me, my sis and my mom set aside a day to gather in the kitchen and bake up a storm.  this year we're planning our bake-a-thon for next friday.  with my baking day on the horizon, i thought i'd share a recipe that we make year after year (and always get lots and lots of compliments on).  these amazingly delicious cookies come straight from scotland and have been enjoyed by my family for generations : )  i hope you enjoy them too!

our holiday dessert table
authentic scottish shortbread cookies

1 pound butter (4 sticks)
1 egg
1 cup sugar
4 cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt

1. preheat oven to 350 degrees. add sugar to room temperature butter and knead with hands.

2. add beaten egg and salt.

3. add flour gradually, continuing to knead dough with hands.

4. roll dough to ½ inch thickness and place on a cookie sheet with a lip.

5. cut dough into rectangular cookies (¾ inch by 2 inches). for a decorative touch, score each cookie 3 times with the tines of a fork, leaving 9 dots on the face of each cookie.

6. bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 200 degrees and continue to bake for 1 hour or until lightly golden brown.

7. while cookies are still warm, cut again along same grid lines. allow to cool completely on baking sheet.

(the baking tray we use has lots of score marks in it from all the years of making these cookies.  i just love that.)

credit {here}
happy holiday (cookies)!

Monday, December 6, 2010

stopping by woods...

credit {here}
winter weather is certainly descending upon us.  there's a chill in the air, frost on the windows and smoke rising from the chimneys.  with the promise of snow, i cannot help but think of one of my favorite winter poems.  it's an oldie but a goodie : )

stopping by woods on a snowy evening

whose woods these are i think i know.
his house is in the village, though;
he will not see me stopping here
to watch his woods fill up with snow.

my little horse must think it queer
to stop without a farmhouse near
between the woods and frozen lake
the darkest evening of the year.

he gives his harness bells a shake
to ask if there is some mistake.
the only other sound's the sweep
of easy wind and downy flake.

the woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
but i have promises to keep,
and miles to go before i sleep,
and miles to go before i sleep.

- robert frost

i hope those lovely lines leave you with a wonderful wintry image in your mind.  happy december!

credit {here}

Thursday, December 2, 2010

nooks & books

i love nooks & books.  whenever i see a cozy space to curl up and indulge in my favorite read, i can't help but wish it were mine : )  below are just a few of the nooks with books that i love.
picture credit {here}

picture credit {here}

cozy bedroom

picture credit {here}
so cozy.  so charming.  so homey.  i would just love to settle in with a cup of tea and a great novel.  peyton place, anyone?  the only thing that would make these nooks even better (in my opinion) would be if they each had a blazing fire and it was snowing outside : )

so, what would be your read of choice, if you had a lovely nook to enjoy?

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