Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year and WELCOME 2011

It seems like it was months ago I was at my favorite California place . . . but it was only days ago.

I had a place by this fire the day I left my Christmas vacation. It was 5:30 am and I was alone with my book. I might have dozed a little.

While I dozed and read and drank my "keep your kidneys healthy" herbal tea (it doesn't work) others were pursuing their passion on surfboards. On December 26th.

Goodbye Laguna Beach. Hello real life. And it is good. And beautiful.

In 2010 I gave up processed food and said goodbye to all things 'lean cuisine' and low fat foods that taste like cardboard (or fish food, depending upon your perspective). I have never felt better in my life. Spinach rules.

I read this post and then I bookmarked it. I read it once a week now. It has to be okay if someone doesn't like you, even if it's someone you really like. Or, heaven forbid, love. No peace otherwise.

In 2010, more than ever, I learned that doing things for others will cure just about anything. That noble fir trees are the very best. Christmas smells are important. Wesley Snipes needs to stop whining and serve his time in jail. Sticky toffee pudding is one of the best things I've ever eaten. Craigslist, if you're tenacious (and patient), brings forth awesome furniture. Frugal can be really fun. Your adult children can become your best friends, understanding and full of love. Sometimes a cousin can fill a spot in your heart you never thought would fill after you lost your sister. And once in a while you make a lifelong friend who helps fill that hole, too. It seems you usually meet that friend while you're doing something for someone else. Life is better than good. Also, my spouse (who I love more than life itself) does laundry. How could 2011 be better? I already know it's going to be. I really love my life.

Happy New Year

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas on opposite coasts...

Bridget on the beach near Weston, Florida. We miss her but we're happy she's having so much fun.

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Christmas Brunch . . .

It's overcast and chilly today. And that's okay. What isn't okay is the untimely demise of my Blackberry. Dead. Now you know why I didn't reply to your text. You didn't send me one? No worries. A broken phone on Christmas Day did not change the fact that brunch was spectacular. Here are a few of the highlights.

Roast turkey with cranberry compote, roast pork tenderloin with an apple relish and prime rib with a tremendous assortment of imported mustards and horseradish.

Pates and cheeses and breads . . .

Yes, caviar. With everything that should be served with it. Are you thinking about Tom Hanks? He was wrong. It's delicious.

A beautiful charcuterie platter. Salami and prosciutto . . . olives and capers and cheese.

And sushi. Sashimi. Octopus...

Beautiful festive desserts, including a sticky toffee pudding, something I've always wanted to try. Delicious.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas ramblings...

Sprinkles was full of special orders boxed up and ready to go. They had a spice cupcake with egg nog frosting and a chocolate candy cane cupcake. Festive. Did you know you can buy a shot of frosting there? Well, you can. A shot of Sprinkles frosting. Seventy-five cents. Awesome.

This is the gingerbread display at our hotel. CRAZY, right? It's a replica of a 1948 Ford Woodie. 150 pounds of gingerbread covered with candy and held together with 300 pounds of royal icing. It took 800 hours to make this thing - you should see the kids when they see this 18 foot long gingerbread display. Wide-eyed.

We sat here and read today (facing the Pacific) until the blanket just wasn't enough. It was lovely. The surfers were encouraged to get out of the water, but the beach wasn't closed. Beach patrol officers suggested surfers take 15 minute hot showers to rid themselves of the bacteria from the storm.

We decided to go to one of our favorite little places for some Christmas Eve guacamole. The power was out and the door was locked. I did the "but we're from Vegas and all we want is some of your guacamole." It worked. They packaged up a bag for us and then asked us, "What do you want - on the house - we'd have to throw it away anyway." A Christmas miracle I say. Carne asada, yes please. Delicious. Not exactly your typical Christmas Eve feast, but we loved it.

We're watching A Christmas Story and doing a lot of Christmas reminiscing. Christmas isn't the same without your kids, but you raise them to lead their own lives and be happy. It's great when they are. I'm happy when they're happy . . . and really grateful the man I married still wants to play tennis with me, even though he's so much better than I am. He voluntarily watches that holiday movie for the 1,000,000th time just because he knows it will make me happy. And sometimes he eats Thai food with me even though he'd rather have a hamburger or some pizza. Life is good, sometimes for really simple reasons.

Merry Christmas. I hope yours is full of peace and love.

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Is it really Christmas Eve?

This was the view from my treadmill this morning. Yes, that's a chandelier. Makes no sense to me, either.

The walk to the tennis courts...

Tennis? On Christmas Eve?

We're headed out for a Christmas Eve lunch. Have a blast...

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas sunsets, Thai Brothers and adirondack chairs . . .

My reading spot for tomorrow is on this cliff. I'm excited.

The hotel is bustling with holiday parties. We hopped in the car and went to our favorite little Thai place in downtown Laguna. Soggy downtown Laguna. It was yummy. We rented two Redbox DVDs . . . it's going to be an early night. Tomorrow we have gym plans and lazing around plans. It might not feel like Christmas, but this little trip is like a dream come true.

Last but not least, once again, Patti wins at ping pong...

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Christmas, flooding, Laguna and Dana Point...

We flew into Long Beach . . . hooray for Jet Blue and $22 flights. Awesome. No nail biting drive for Patti and a beautiful 40 mile drive to our destination south on Pacific Coast Highway. How I love that drive. Pictures will follow later, but Laguna Beach (the downtown area) took a bad hit from the rain. A big part of the boardwalk is just gone. Today the sun is shining and we are shortly headed out to sit in some adirondack chairs to read. The lobby is pretty, yes?

The view from the balcony and french doors in our room is lush. Thick green landscaping. It looks like Hawaii. Also, it does not feel like Christmas here.

I am bundling up in an Irish knit sweater and taking a blanket down to the terrace area. It's on a cliff overlooking the Pacific and there isn't a soul in sight.

Merry Christmas. I think.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas evidence and have a merry...

I've been a baking fool. I've managed to bake all the specialties, including Ina's Pecan Squares, Whoopie Pies (enough already), Almond Crescent Cookies, Desert Island butter cakes (with a twist) . . . and more. It's been fun.

Decorating is done . . . smaller scale this year because it's just us. I am crazy about every Christmas pillow in the house, especially the extra large red velvet ones.

Soon we depart rainy Las Vegas (huh?) to sit by the sea, hoping the Southern Calilfornia deluge has stopped and our hotel hasn't disappeared off the side of that beautiful Laguna cliff. We have reservations for Christmas Day brunch and a stack of novels and some rather indulgent specialty magazines. First up on the reading stack, One Day by David Nicholls. I'm excited about this one. There are three other novels that are part of the plan, a trip to Sprinkles for that vanilla cupcake I didn't eat in August . . . and some general relaxation and escape.

Yes, this is our walk down to the beach:

I hope your Christmas is merry and bright - and full of love and peace. I know He knows me, I know He loves me, and I know He's felt everything I've ever felt. For me, therein lies the peace I feel. Merry Christmas.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

random Christmas and snowy Boston afternoons...

I birthed this boy 22 years ago (today) on a snowy and gray Boston afternoon. I had that "I can do anything" adrenalin high I felt after every baby . . . and it was Christmas. My shopping was done and wrapped and my tree was waiting. I went home the next morning. Bliss. We didn't have much (understatement), but it might have been our best Christmas ever. I still remember what it felt like . . . a new baby and a warm home with a Christmas fridge (thank you, Caity).

He says things to me like, "How were your visits tonight, Mom?" And, "Do you have things in the car I can help bring in?" Sometimes he helps me set up tables for Relief Society things and maybe even helps put tablecloths on them. He likes nice clothes like his mother and asks me questions about things like belts and shoes and what's supposed to match what. He never cuts into a cake without asking, "Is this for us?" And even though his bathroom doesn't pass inspection (the one in my head) and he forgets to wipe his feet sometimes, I love him to death. He is a tender-hearted soul who misses his siblings and isn't afraid to say it. Sweet to me.

I have none of that name remorse you hear people talk about. Naming your baby is a daunting task, don't you think? After all, it's the first thing you really give your child. My entire life I wanted a "Patrick". Loved the name then and love the name now. And even when his friends sometimes call him "Patty", well, I love that just as much.

I made him the thing he loves the most. He's happy.

So today on this gray Las Vegas day I am remembering back to that day and the incredible feeling I had going home with a new baby just days before Christmas. Also, just for the record . . . cutest toddler ever.

Today's agenda (after birthday cake) includes making candy. More about that tomorrow.

Happy birthday, Patrick. "I'll love you forever, I'll love you for always, as long as I'm living my baby you'll be."

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hot Fudge Sauce (Nana's...)

I love this recipe! The funny thing is, I think it's better the next day . . . somehow there's a sugary/chewy quality to it when it's a day old.

Need to feed a crowd? Scoop the ice cream into balls (make sure you wear rubber gloves - this is a cold proposition) and roll them in coconut, toasted coconut or chopped almonds. Freeze on a cookie sheet until ready to serve. Cover in hot fudge and heavy whipping cream flavored with a little vanilla.

No crowd? Pour it over peppermint stick ice cream. Vanilla bean? Delicious either way...

1/4 cup butter
1 1/2 square chocolate
1/4 cup cocoa
3/4 cup granulated sugar
dash salt
1/2 cup cream
1 t. vanilla

Melt together over low heat butter and chocolate. Mix sugar, cocoa and salt and add to chocolate mixture stirring until smooth. Add cream slowly and bring to boil. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

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Whoopie Pies (redux...)

I'm re-posting this recipe after my daughter suggested a modification. She was so right. Increase the baking powder to 1 teaspoon vs. the original recipe calling for 1/2 teaspoon. The end result avoids that occasional flat whoopie pie . . . they are nice and consistently round after adding that additional baking powder.

There were two bakery boxes full of these yesterday. My definition of fun.

1/2 cup butter
1 egg
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 t. baking powder
1.5 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 cup milk
1 t. vanilla
1/2 cup cocoa

Filling: 1 cup crisco, 1 cup sugar, 1.5 cups Marshamallow Fluff, 1 t. vanilla

Bake at 425 for 7-8 minutes.

P.S. There are some members of my family who beg for double cream filling...

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Caramel Brownies

This recipe just won't go away . . . for good reason. I love it that the Kraft caramels come unwrapped now. That was always a "keep a boy busy" job in my house.

1 package swiss chocolate cake mix
3/4 cup melted butter
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1 14 oz. Kraft caramels
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Combine cake mix, melted butter and 1/3 cup evaporated milk. Layer 1/2 mixture on bottom of 9 x 13 pan and bake for 6 minutes only. Melt caramels in heavy saucepan with 1/3 cup evaporated milk. Sprinkle chocolate chips over baked layer and drizzle caramel mixture over top. Top with remaining batter. Bake 15-18 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting into squares.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Jam Thumbprints . . .

I like these. My spouse does not. They look pretty in a bakery box all wrapped up for Christmas. Thank you, Ina.

3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
7 ounces sweetened flaked coconut
Raspberry and/or apricot jam

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until they are just combined and then add the vanilla. Separately, sift together the flour and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar. Mix until the dough starts to come together. Dump on a floured board and roll together into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. Dip each ball into the egg wash and then roll it in coconut. Place the balls on an ungreased cookie sheet and press a light indentation into the top of each with your finger. Drop 1/4 teaspoon of jam into each indentation. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the coconut is a golden brown. Cool and serve.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Bakery boxes, bakers' twine and tiny prints labels...

There are goodies in these boxes and I'm crazy about the way they look. Caity has some bakers' labels from Felix Doolittle. Oh my. Everything they sell is delightful and beautiful. Our family gets a little stuck on nice stationery. It's just us. My labels are from Tiny Prints . . . I love the brown in them, don't you? What's inside the boxes is fun, too.

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Peanut Butter Bon Bons

It doesn't get any easier than this. These fall in the "family favorites" category at my house.

1 cup finely chopped nuts
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup peanut butter
1 t. vanilla
1/4 cup butter
6 oz. chocolate chips

Combine nuts, sugar and peanut butter. Add butter and vanilla and process. Shape into 1" balls and chill. Dip in chocolate and place on wax paper to solidify.

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Monday, December 6, 2010

Mexican Wedding Cookies

This recipe is from the Proud Italian Cook . . . I like her version simply because it makes so many. This is one of my favorite cookies. This version is also terrific. Perfect for a Christmas bakery box...

1 lb. unsalted butter at room temperature
4 cups of un-bleached flour
2 t. vanilla
8 t. granulated sugar (just 8)
3/4 cup of ground pecans (optional, and I prefer almonds)
Bowl of powdered sugar

Cream butter, add sugar and mix until light and fluffy. Next, add the flour and mix until all incorporated. Roll in balls and place on cookie sheet, making a thumbprint in each one. Bake at 350 for 20 min. Immediately roll in powdered sugar.

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Friday, December 3, 2010


My grandmother could really make candy. It's an art, I think. She had a repertoire full of different kinds of candy... butterscotch, fudge, coconut chocolates made with mashed potato. I was happy to find this recipe (in her own handwriting) for the fudge I like the most, penuche.

2 cups brown sugar
1 cup cream
2 T. butter
2 T. marshmallow
Nuts (optional)

Cook brown sugar and cream to soft ball stage and add butter and marshmallow.

I'm posting this recipe exactly as written. Consider yourselves lucky - this has more detail than most of her recipes.

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Cinnamon Christmas Ornaments

1 cup cinnamon
1 T. ground cloves
1 T. nutmeg
2 T. white glue
3/4 cup applesauce

Roll between waxed paper and cut out with cookie cutters. Let ornaments dry overnight. Use straw to poke hole to hang ornaments.

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Patisserie Manon

Put on your running shoes . . . and go to Patisserie Manon. Chef Jean-Paul talked to me very deliberately about the filling in one of his pastries (the St. Honore), his chocolate croissants and his macarons. Many macarons in many flavors. Take a peek:

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