Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Days Are Merry & Bright

The last week has been a whirlwind of family, friends and holiday festivities...and a lot of eating too, of course. I've loved every minute of it. I had a bunch of vacation days to use up before the end of the year, so I took off a full two weeks of work to spend at home with Riker and Matt, who also has almost two weeks off. I love the end of the year! I feel like the days have been simultaneously relaxing and lazy while packed and busy, and I haven't had a chance to sit down and blog since last weekend, so we have some catching up to do!

In holiday week recap, here we go...


I was on a lox kick all weekend and ate it for multiple meals. My favorite was Sunday's lunch of whole wheat toast with herb cream cheese, lox and fried eggs. Can't get enough of this stuff.

That evening my sister Amanda, her boyfriend Justyn and my grandmother arrived to spend Christmas with us. Since it's rare we get to stay up late for Sunday night games, my grandma offered stayed home with Riker while the rest of us went out to our favorite local hangout, The Spot, to watch the Eagles game.

A fun little night to kick off the vacation/holiday week!


Monday was spent doing a lot of prep cooking for Christmas Eve, running last minute errands and hanging around the house working on puzzles and watching Christmas movies with the fam. 

I got up early and made a quick batch of apple muffins for breakfast before we got started on the day. I hardly ever make muffins, but you gotta have something a little special and home baked when the family comes to stay.

We like to snack in this household, so around mid-afternoon we made a cheese & cracker spread to nibble on before dinner, which was our annual Christmas Eve-Eve dinner of Nana's Tomato & Mushroom Mac & Cheese. I didn't snap a picture before devouring mine, but it was fantastic as always.

Christmas Eve

We host Christmas Eve at our house every year. We usually just have our immediate family of around 10 people, so we're able to do a sit-down dinner. I absolutely love hosting this evening. Cocktails and appetizers start at 5 in the bar, dinner is at 7 in the dining room, and then dessert and after-dinner drinks come sometime around 10 in the living room. 

My friend Heather always gives a hostess gift or favor to all her guests on Christmas Eve, which I thought was a really cute idea, so decided to do the same this year. I ran out of time to order something, so had to make my own. Which, let's be serious, I loved doing. I made everyone Mason jars full of holiday muddy buddies and tied them off with name tags that served double duty as dinner place cards. They were really cute, but almost everyone forgot to take theirs home at the end of the night. Booo.

The details...

The appetizers...

The Main Event...

The Menu:

- Mixed greens salad with glazed walnuts, blue cheese, dried cranberries and balsamic vinaigrette
- Homemade crab cakes with homemade hollandaise sauce
- Roasted asparagus with citrus fleur de sel
- Lemon, butter and parsley rice


- Chocolate cake with peppermint hot fudge, homemade whipped cream, Oreos and peppermint bark

We ended up staying up until about 2 am putting together a train set for Riker - the one thing he had been asking for for weeks - so by the time I went to bed I was exhausted, but it was all well worth it to see the look on that little boy's face on Christmas morning. The joy was palpable. <3

Christmas Day


And Overnight Blueberry French Toast!

And A Christmas Story, naps, a quick visit with Heather and Kevin at their family's open house, and then a big dinner and party at Matt's parents' house with all the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

It was a really wonderful Christmas. If you celebrate, I hope yours was as well!


A leisurely morning at home, followed by an early dinner and presents with the family at Matt's parents' house. That night we also had Heather, Kevin and their girls over to hang out and try Matt's three new homebrews - a chocolate orange stout, black IPA and pumpkin stout.

The kids all had a blast playing with Riker's new toys, especially the teepee Amanda and Justyn got him. They screamed like wild children in this thing!

Love them.


Matt and I have an annual tradition of going on a day date over Christmas break, which I always look forward to. On Friday morning we dropped Riker off at daycare, then went to see a movie (American Hustle - so good!), out to lunch at an amazing Cuban restaurant on the ocean called Cubacan (which is now our new favorite and I can't wait to go back) and then to the outlets for a little shopping. 

The rest of the weekend we felt like we should be a little productive after a week of fun, so we've been laying low and getting stuff done around the house. And going out with friends last night to celebrate a good friend's Christmas engagement. And working on a new puzzle my grandma got us for Christmas. ;)

I've also been trying to get back to a normal eating schedule after such a crazy week of feasting.

Lots of yogurt, fruit and vegetables. Except for tonight. Amanda and Justyn just got here to spend the night with us and watch the very important Eagles game tonight. None of us feel like cooking, so it's going to be a pizza delivery kind of night. :)

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Old Fashioned Butter Cookies with Vanilla Frosting

Last weekend I invited MomMom over for my annual cookie baking extravaganza. Every year I pick a day to bake dozens of Christmas cookies to pack up in tins to give out to neighbors and friends, and to keep in our cookie jar too of course. I usually don't keep sweets in the house, but at the holidays I love having a stocked cookie jar and little bowls of Andes mints and other goodies around the house for friends to enjoy when they visit.

For years now I've been making all of MomMom's old family cookie recipes at Christmastime, and I like to have her here with me when I do it because I'm a sucker for nostalgia and really enjoy being with her when I make them. I also get little insider tips from her as I go along, which I love.

I made several batches of our favorite Crunchy Chocolate Pecan Cookies, moon cookies (my personal favorite, filled with pecans and almonds and coated with powdered sugar), and old fashioned butter cookies. Everyone loves the butter cookies, but the traditional cookie is a little boring to me. Add frosting, and well, now we're talking.

I LOVE frosting covered butter cookies. 

If you need a last minute cookie idea for Christmas, give these a try. Just don't tell MomMom I gave you the recipe. ;)

Old Fashioned Butter Cookies w/ Vanilla Frosting

2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 stick butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. milk
Red or green food coloring
Sprinkles for decorating

Cream the butter, sugar, egg and vanilla together until creamy. Add flour and baking powder a little at a time, mixing as you add, until a dough forms.

Separate the dough into two balls; flatten them out slightly into discs and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350. Roll chilled dough out on a floured surface to about 1/4 inch thick. Cut into cookies with either cookie cutters or a small round glass. Put on ungreased cookie sheet and bake 8-10 minutes. Cookies should just be slightly brown around the edges, but not brown all over. Immediately place on cooling racks until cool.

To make frosting
In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and powdered sugar. Gradually add the vanilla and milk, and keep mixing until the frosting turns smooth. Add food coloring and mix until fully combined.

Once cookies are cool, top with frosting and sprinkles. Let harden before packing into containers.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Tomato, Escarole & Macaroni Soup

Well it's not quite Christmas yet, but it's Recipe ReDux time and this month we're focusing on "lucky foods" for the new year.

I have to admit, when I saw the theme I was a bit perplexed as to what to make. I've never thought of foods as being lucky, so I had to Google around until I found a list of traditionally lucky eats in different cultures. Here's a list if you're interested - I bet some of the things you already eat are on there. There certainly were for me. When I saw "leafy greens" on the list as a lucky food since they resemble money and supposedly can bring prosperity, I knew I'd be cooking greens today. Thankfully I already had a bunch of kale, mesclun greens and escarole in the fridge, because I definitely did not prep ahead for the challenge this month!

This soup comes together in about a half hour and resembles pasta fagioli, but without the beans and sausage you traditionally see. It's brothy, full of escarole and is super hearty without being too filling. Great for a Saturday evening on the couch!

Tomato, Escarole and Macaroni Soup

Serves 3-4

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 package button mushrooms, sliced
1 head escarole, washed and roughly chopped
1/2 jar organic tomato sauce
3 cups water
1 vegetable bouillon
4 oz. whole wheat macaroni
Dash of crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a stock pot, saute onions, garlic and mushrooms in the olive oil. Once soft, add the escarole; stir to combine and let cook until escarole wilts down.

Add the tomato sauce, water and bouillon. Bring to a boil, then add the macaroni, red pepper flakes and salt & pepper. Cook for approximately 15 minutes (depending on cooking time of the pasta).

Serve with parmesan cheese on top.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Riker's 2nd Birthday

I can hardly believe that our little baby Riker is really no longer a baby. He's a full blown toddler 2 year old. It's amazing how fast the past two years have flown by, and this little boy has brought our lives so, so much joy, love and laughter. I am grateful every day for the gift of being his mom - yes, even on the crazy days. ;)

Riker was so excited for his birthday and it made throwing his party this past weekend that much more fun. Putting him to bed Friday night was even easier than usual since he knew that when he woke up, it would be "party day" and he would get "cake" and "presents!" and everyone would sing "happy birthday Riker." He recited all of those words over and over with the glee of a, well a 2-year old. He also made us sing happy birthday probably 15 times, grinning from ear to ear and blowing out my Yankee candle on the kitchen table. That kid looooves his birthday.

We had planned a little pool party for Riker at a local gym, with just family, close friends and other kids that Riker plays with. After not being in a pool for a few months, all the kids seemed thrilled to go swimming for an hour.

The dads all went in with the kids while us moms snapped pics and chatted from the sidelines. I'm not really feelin' a bathing suit in December (Christmas cookies, I'm looking at you).

After pool time we had snacks, pizza and ice cream cake back in the party room, followed by some parachute fun in one of the studios.

It's safe to say Riker enjoyed every second of his party and being the center of attention. After the party our family came back to the house to watch Riker open his presents, which was a whole event in and of itself. It took about two hours since he wanted to stop and play with everything he opened. Can't blame the kid, he got a lot of great stuff from our amazing friends and family!

Something tells me he might be a carpenter when he grows up. ;) Happy birthday, Riker, we love you to pieces!


Matt and I stayed up later than usual Saturday night watching a movie (from start to finish, crazy!), so I was a little zapped on Sunday morning. We lazed around for a while eating a leisurely breakfast and sipping on coffee while Riker played with his new toys before getting a move on the day.

While grocery shopping on Saturday morning I spotted a new breakfast cereal - quinoa flakes - and was intrigued. They have a consistency similar to Cream of Wheat (though not as creamy) but have a ton more protein and nutrients. I cooked them up with some banana, walnuts and coconut palm sugar, and ate it with a clementine on the side.

The rest of the day included finishing up my Christmas shopping, baking about 6 batches of Christmas cookies, writing out Christmas cards (are you spotting a theme here?) and eventually eating shell-less fish tacos for dinner while catching up on Top Chef.

Not a bad little Sunday, that's for sure.

I'm on the bus headed home and my hotspot's about to die, so it's time to sign off and indulge in some Kindle reading for the rest of the ride. Have a great night!