Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas, Part A and B

Subtitle: Sleep, Snow and Food

(Don't forget to get ready for our shared "15 Positive Things" post!  I will probably put mine up this weekend, so check back Sunday if you're planning on playing along.)

I know everyone's been Christmased to death by now, and is looking forward (or not) to ringing in the New Year.  But this is my personal journal, and although Rosie did her usual charming job sharing some of our preparations, I want to remember some of the actual day.

Or, maybe not.  Miss Chef had been feeling very much under the weather for several days--enough so that Chef Adam took a good look at her one night and sent her home.  So Christmas morning started late; about 9:30!  After opening our gifts, we spoke with my brother's family in London, and then the rest of the day went something like this:

There was a lot of snoozing on the couch that day.  And in spite of the fact that she had spent most of Christmas Eve prepping for her usual luxurious Christmas dinner, it was clear to me that Miss Chef was in no mood to cook that night!

So like millions of non-Christians and service workers everywhere, we had Chinese for Christmas dinner!

Don't be alarmed!  We knew a fully unscheduled Sunday lay ahead of us, and as fate would have it, our Christmas traditions extended themselves right along to match the extra time.  You see, when I got back from fetching Christmas dinner from China Town, I had the pleasure of announcing, "It's snowing!"  Snow had been predicted all week, but I had pshawed it, expecting no more than a dusting.

I am happy, for once, to say that I was wrong!

It was absolutely beautiful.  (So you know there are a lot of pictures to follow, right?)

Rosie and I were both eager to go exploring.  There were tons of birds out, but they didn't seem to mind the inconvenience posed by the sudden change in their world.

As I let Rosie tear around the wooded area behind the neighborhood pond, I found the most amazing sight--a single snowflake trapped by a broken web.

How happy was I to have my camera with me!?

There was no one but the crazy Yankee and her equally crazy dog out and about early that morning.  Everything was hushed; no other footsteps marked the ever-rising snow.

Ok, maybe a few "foot"prints...

Rabbit prints, if I'm not mistaken...and very fresh!

A few hours later, Miss Chef felt up to venturing outside.  We visited the neighbors who had done weeks of kitten-sitting this past fall, to deliver a little Christmas/Thank you gift.  Miss Chef also got me to reluctantly--and briefly--engage in a snowball fight.  (I have horrible aim, and spent too many winters growing up as the younger, weaker target of my brother's snowball fun.)  We also built a snowman so pathetic we neglected to give him a face or take his picture.  Instead, I will imagine that we re-created this sweetie from last year:

Ok, and yes, I did finally badger Miss Chef into getting into the kitchen and putting all that prepped food to good use.  And for you, dear food lovers, I took a few pictures.

We started with a salad...with pears poached in wine, baby greens, Bosky Acres goat cheese and a dressing made from the last of the lemon-flavored olive oil we bought in Chicago a year and a half ago!

There was also mushroom risotto (not shown), chestnut soup (with a generous dose of sherry), brussels sprouts and pecans sautéed in butter, and our usual duck breast being seared by the resident expert.

Or, as Miss Chef would say:

That's a ridiculously rich pomegranate demi/reduction/, sauce.  (Miss Chef's not here to provide me with the correct term.)  I would like to apologize for the mediocre quality of the picture, but I'm sure you can understand my anxiousness to put down the camera and pick up my fork!

As for dessert...well, we didn't eat it, we were too full!  But in answer to Lisa's question on my last post, those pink cookies with the kisses are actually flavored with maraschino cherries.  The recipe comes from Miss Chef's holiday cookie bible: a 2001 Better Homes and Gardens special issue titled..."Christmas Cookies," that she bought in the supermarket checkout!

At the risk of copyright infringement, here's the recipe:

Cherry Chocolate Kisses

Prep: 20 min.  Bake: 14 min per batch

1 cup softened butter
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1/8 tsp salt
2 tsp maraschino cherry liquid
1/4 tsp almond extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped maraschino cherries
granulated sugar
48 chocolate kisses

Heat oven to 325ºF.  Beat butter in a mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds.  Add powdered sugar and salt, beat till combined.  Beat in cherry liquid and almond extract till combined.  Beat in as much flour as you can with the mixer.  Stir in remaining flour and the cherries with a wooden spoon.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls.  Place balls 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Flatten to 1/2-inch thickness with the bottom of a glass dipped in granulated sugar.  Bake about 14 minutes, or until bottoms are lightly browned.  Remove from oven; press an unwrapped kiss into each cookie.  Transfer to wire racks to cool.
My notes: put the kisses in immediately, or the cookies will crack--which they may do anyway; don't worry about it, they're still yummy!  Then wait about 30 seconds and eat them up!  Alternatively, push the tips of the kisses downward as they melt and you will get a nice pool of melty chocolate.  This is the very best way to eat them, according to the experts. ;-)

Also, don't forget, you can freeze them after you shape and flatten them, but before you bake them.  Freeze them on the cookie sheet to prevent sticking, then transfer to a ziploc bag, to await later baking at your convenience.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Rosie Days!

Hi everyone, Rosie here again.  My mommies are busy sneaking around with wrapped boxes while the other one's in the water room, and other weird sports.  But they already gave me brekkies, so I am happy to let them play.

I wanted to wish you all Happy Rosie Days and hope that you are having fun celebrations.  I don't know if you all celebrate with us, but it looks like everyone in our neighborhood does, because they light up their bushes for me.  You see, this is the anniversary month of when I came to live here as my forever home.  My mommies get so excited every year that they make a big deal about the whole month!

First they go and get a smelly tree and bring it inside just for me!  Then they hang lights and shiny things all over it.

Dog's-eye view
I'm sure they bring it in because I like to be outside so much, and this way I can have the outside inside all day long.  I was a little confused the first couple of times they did this, because they got mad when I marked it as my very own.  But after a few years, I figured out no other dogs were going to notice, anyway.  And then they put the tree up on a table, so I know it's safe now.

They also hang up really big socks.

I think this is because I used to like to use socks as chew toys.  I had a whole collection that Mommy #2 gave me of ones she didn't want anymore.  But it got kind of confusing, because I never knew which socks were mine.  So now we just have these for decoration.  And sometimes they take them down and let me sniff inside and I find YUMMERS in there!  Doesn't that sound fun?

Speaking of yummers, those are part of Rosie Days, too.

Both mommies have been making these all month.  But remember I told you humans make no sense?  Well, they spend all that time making yummers to celebrate ME, but they don't share any with ME!!  They keep taking them to other places, like the Work.  I guess it's nice of them to share their happiness with others, but why don't they share with me, too?  I mean, I'm the reason for the season, you know??

But that's ok, I guess, because I smell more yummers being made today, too.  And these seem to involve meat, so I'd rather have those anyway.  I guess they saved the good stuff for me.

There are some other Rosie Days traditions I don't understand.  Like this:

Not only does George put on a fuzzy hat, but this weird green guy shows up to lurk around the living room.  Creepy, huh?  Oh, and get this...he sings, too, about some mean guy and an eel or something.  The mommies seem to like it, though; it makes them laugh.  I guess Rosie Days is about laughing, too.

There is one bit of bad news, though.  For some unexplained reason, they brought THIS back!

I'm trying not to be insulted, but I am a little confused.  I came back from visiting the Other Dog's people, and here she was.  It just goes to show, home protection is important!  I should have asked my friend Bonnie to keep an eye on the place while I was gone.

The mommies say that this "Smoky" is only here for a week or so, while her person is traveling.  But I don't trust that cat...look at her!  Plus, she keeps growing.  I'm afraid I'll wake up one morning and she'll be bigger than me.  So I am trying to teach her some manners, like not poking her face in my bowl while I'm eating ("growf!!") and not crawling on my face when I'm napping ("grwalf!").  The mommies are helping, too, by trying to teach her that it's my inside tree, not hers...but they're not as good cat trainers as I am.

When I tried...uh oh.  I gotta go.  The mommies are calling me; it's sock-sniffing time!  Hooray!

Happy Rosie Days, everybody!!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Holiday Visit

I saved up two last vacation days for the end of the year, as a pause before the final plunge into the holidays.  Or, as it turns out, a bit of a recovery from the push to be prepared.  Presents are wrapped, some of them mailed, some of them cards done, but the house is decorated, and the tree is up, with Miss Chef's wrapped gifts underneath.  That's good enough to get by.

So I'm using my two days to visit Ma and Pa. Not at the old farmhouse, but on The Island.  They retired south about 12 years ago, tired of 20 years of shoveling snow and shivering through 6-month long winters in that charming old farmhouse!

Now the house is backed by an entirely different species of pine.

It takes some getting used to, these balmy days during the holiday season.  Seeing the familiar old decorations helps.

And, of course, the Christmas tree, with ornaments old and new.

After several years of an artificial tree, then using potted houseplant trees, Mom insisted she wanted a "real tree" this year.  Full circle.

Saturday morning, I accompanied Mom to the ReHome store, a resale outlet supporting Habitat for Humanity.  She volunteers behind the counter every week, which is good for her and for Habitat.  The original concept was as an outlet for items removed from homes by builders, or leftovers, odd bits that homeowners could use for their own homes.

The concept has spread a bit, to resemble other charity-run resale stores.

After meeting some of the staff and volunteers, I wandered, finding some weird stuff here and there.

Stacks of wax, but no hidden gems that I could find.

After a few hours, it was back to the house, a little break for Mom...

Rosie is having a great time.  She's not been left alone for a minute since we left Charlotte, which makes her very contented and relaxed.  There are lots of brand-new scents to parse in the strong ocean breezes, too.

Of course, you know that for me, home plus holidays has to mean this case, Christmas cookies, a fun tradition I've shared here before, but not had time for in my own home this year.  But as I rediscovered, that's the kind of thing that vacations are for!

I always recruit Dad to help with the decorating, as he enjoys breaking the rules of design now and then.  We could all use a little more fun in our days.  Rosie did not get to help this year, though Dad continued to rise in her esteem by sharing bits of extra dough.

Aside from a trip to the grocery store and a brief tick hunt through Rosie's double-thick coat ("You have too much hair!"), that's what we Flartopians have been up to.  Tomorrow I head back to reality, hopefully refreshed and re-energized for whatever the holidays may bring.  Or, maybe just relaxed enough to get through these darkest days of winter in a brighter mood.

Happy solstice, y'all!

P.S.  My folks' computer is not letting some of your blogs load, and blanking out pictures on the others, so I haven't been able to keep up with y'all as I'd like.  In case you're wondering where my trenchant, witty comments have been. ;)

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Borrowed with permission from Happy Frog and I

Are you keeping up with your 15 Postive Things?  I have to admit, I fell off the wagon over the weekend.  But I'm back on track, scribbling down one or two things I felt good about each day.  (Except last Sunday...every once in a while, the whole day is too poopy to bother remembering.)

If you don't know what I'm going on about, have forgotten, or never got started, it's not too late to catch up!  You still have 15 days, and I guarantee if you look hard enough, you'll have more than one Positive Thing to report most days.

My positive thing for today?  Gave my final exam, got it graded and submitted my final course grades.  And two or three near-F students passed the class!  Phew!  A positive for more than just myself, eh?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden

As much as I tell myself I'm opting out of the Holiday Hysteria, somehow I find myself overwhelmed every year.  I have so much I want to take time out to do--baking, decorating, cards--but my job and a half don't seem to care.  Add to this Miss Chef's December schedule, which now runs 7 days a week, often for 12 hours a day, and I've got just a little too much on my plate right now.  (Except for cookies...could still use more cookies on that plate.)

However!  Thanks to some friends who arranged a fun holiday-themed get-together, I did take a few hours this weekend to stop and...see the lights.

The Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden is located just west of Charlotte.  It is a relatively new place, but already has several acres of beautifully designed gardens.  For the holiday season, the entire place is wrapped, draped and trimmed with seasonal lighting.  (Fair warning: this is a picture-heavy post!)

The arbors were still hung with "winsteria"...

The naked crape myrtles showed off their lovely limbs in a grove of white lights.

(I've run most of these through photo-editing software to adjust the lighting and try to sharpen them up.)

There's a mini canal with a fountain at one end, which is one of my favorite spots.  You can see back to the main entrance building at the other end.

Here's a lovely planter full of bright blooms...

It was one of many lining this snowflake-studded walkway.

The highlight for me is always the three-story high glass orchid conservatory.  It's a beautiful way to warm up on a cold December night.

One of my favorite sights here is the wall of orchids.  This is just a section of it.

I'm amazed at the variety of colors and structures of the orchids.  Doesn't this one look just like an iris?

Similar colors, totally different flower:

I love this yellow spray of blossoms.

This is not a flower!

Back to the beautiful colors...this one also reminds me of an iris.

These are very Easter-y colors, to me.  Oh, but wait...isn't it winter outside?  Oh, yes...there is indeed a Christmas tree in the main entrance building.  One like you've probably never seen before!

Yup, a tree composed entirely of orchids!  Ours at home is beautiful, but it can't compare to this one.

Hope you all are having a calm, peaceful holiday season.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Food Again

Allow me to apologize.  I know many of you enjoy coming here to drool over my descriptions and pictures of the wonderful produce, meats and other local products we buy at the farmers' markets, and the delicious dishes Miss Chef whips up at home.

I have neglected you.

Not only did this blog turn into "I ♥ Cute Kitteh" for awhile, but I let Thanksgiving pass on by without a single photo of our food.  However, there is good reason for that--Miss Chef went to visit her family and took the camera with her.  Which meant not only no camera, but no Miss Chef in the kitchen! 

I must say I acquitted myself ably with the bit of turkey I prepared, but mostly because Miss Chef set me up--she broke down the 19-pound bird and left me with the brine for the breast and leg quarter we were roasting.  Mom made the pies (as I notice Rosie already told you), and we collaborated on the gravy.

Then we schlepped it all over to our friends' home and had a wonderful time eating, drinking and talking.

However, I will not leave you completely adrift, for we have spent a bit of time in the kitchen here and there.  For example, instead of busting down the doors at Best Buy, Mom and I dedicated our post-turkey weekend to taking care of the half bushel of apples remaining from Miss Chef's and my anniversary trip a month earlier!  Thanks to lots of help from both my parents, a day and a half of labor resulted in a ready platoon of fall goodness in glass. 

From left to right, you're looking at apple pie filling, some weird stuff I made from leftovers of apple pie filling, and the infantry of applesauce.  Nine quarts of applesauce, to be exact.  That's a lot of applesauce.  So much that today, a week later, it's still sitting on the counter as we ponder where exactly to store it all!

Thankfully, Miss Chef came safely back to me at the end of the weekend, and we all tried to settle back into our "normal" routines.  Back in my cubicle one afternoon, I got a call from Miss Chef at home.  "You know you're pushing it, calling at 4:30 at month-end," I grumbled into the phone.  But I quickly forgave her, because she was calling to ask me to pick up an ingredient for the potato soup she was making.

Here's the last bowlful, which I enjoyed tonight, after freezing my extremities walking Rosie in an icy-cold rain.

I enjoyed it with a glass of sweet, local and unpasteurized apple cider.  After we'd bought two quarts at the farmers' market, Miss Chef remembered she could freeze it, so back we went to buy two more!

Speaking of farmers' markets, I somewhat guiltily showed up today at our super-local Matthews Farmers' Market for the volunteer thank-you "lunch."  I put lunch in quotes because it was served at 10:30.  And I say guiltily because I've hardly been to the market since August.

Chef Adam came through for the market once again, serving up a hot potato-chili bar with all the fixin's.  Most unfortunately, Miss Chef was volunteering at the school, so was unable to join me.  Sadly, she wasn't the only one with prior commitments, and the turnout was small.

Can you tell how cold it was?  Apparently there were a few snowflakes spotted earlier during the market!  So we ate our chili quickly!  Even though the crowd was sparse and our fingers frozen, the sincere thanks from both the market coordinator and the farmers kept us warm least for a little bit.

Oh, and how's this for the most awesome Christmas present?  Jenifer Mullis of Laughing Owl Farms brought each volunteer a dozen fresh eggs in thanks. I've already cracked one open; the yolk was a beautiful bright orange.

I say "was" because I quickly mixed it into cookie dough!

Yeeeah, snickerdoodles!!  Miss Chef's are the best, but I thought I'd give her a hand this year, and get a jump on the holiday baking.  I was in the mood.


Ah, but here's where Miss Chef's brilliance shows itself.  I only baked about 10 cookies tonight.  The rest?  Formed, rolled in cinnamon sugar, and...

Into the freezer.  Anytime we want fresh, warm cookies, it only takes about 12 minutes.  Pop a half-dozen in the hot oven after you pull dinner out, and you couldn't ask for a better dessert.

Or, um, we could, y'know, bake them off in a couple of weeks as Christmas gifts.  If we wanted. ;-)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

An Invitation to Happiness

Picture from Happy Frog and I
 In spite of trying to keep my blogroll small, I do enjoy visiting new blogs.  Every once in a while (when you all are off having interesting lives in between providing me with new posts to read!) I check out the Blogs of Note.

That is how I happened upon Happy Frog and I a couple of days ago.  It is written by an English woman "closer to [her] forties than [her] thirties," who uses a stuffed smiling frog as her muse.  I quite liked one of her regular postings, and told her I was going to copy it here!

It's called 15 Positive Things, and every month she posts about 15, um, positive things that happened throughout the previous 30-odd days.  What a great way to stop and smell the roses, I thought.  And then, I realized how brilliant an idea it is.

See, not only will I have to sit down each month to reflect on all the good things that happen to me, I won't be able to come up with them all in one sitting.  Which means that throughout my month, I will have to focus on and jot down happy things; about one every other day.

What a great way to program myself for happiness.  I don't think it will take much time; just a second or two to write things in my planner every day or so.  And then, voila!  At the end of the month, a ready-made blog post!  And, in the process, I will hopefully develop a more positive mindset in my everyday life.  It's like free therapy. *grin*

I'm so excited about the idea that I'm inviting you all to play along.  I know December's a bit of a challenge, but I've never believed in waiting until the New Year to make resolutions for myself!  So, in the last week of December or first week of January, I plan to post my 15 Positive Things.  If you'd like to participate, I can do a Mr. Linky, and you can post your own list, and we can share it here.  And if December's too crazy, there's always January...

So whaddya think, wanna try it?