Friday, December 30, 2011

Tartan Tree

After cutting down a tree this year, we decorated it upon our return from Arch Cape with Mr.W's sister and brother in law. In the past I have covered it in tartan bows, but I couldn't find those shorter ribbons in the box I thought they ought to be in, so I strung the tree with tartan ribbon instead.
My Little Helper was of course helping me with the lights and everything and was very concerned that the tree was "not pretty enough" More ornaments are needed in his opinion. He hung up many ornaments himself, you may notice his 'cluster' technique of about 3-4 glass balls per branch! Mrs. Hg decorated the tree with us. It has been so nice having her here to visit. I really wish we could live in the same city again someday!
She asked me why we have no proper tree topper, a angel or even a star. The truth is I have never found anything Ilike enough. And a little part of me is hoping that I could hold out until our Black Forest sabbatical bike trip. That is a long time in the future, and frankly it would probably be better to go during the winter so we can take advantage of the Advent stalls. Somehow I feel like German Christmas tree toppers will be much better than any made in China thing I can find here in the department stores. So for now I content myself with more tartan ribbon, much to My Little Helper's dismay.
Now that he is one baby Boy is trying to feed himself. Sometimes he hasn't quite figured which end of the spoon to use.But he is learning! And hopefully soon he'll begin to eat more of the table foods I offer him. So far it is a limited number of foods that he won't spit out.

Peacock Lane Happy Hour

Since this will be our final Christmas in the Laburnum Bungalow, we decided to go out with a bang. Our last big party would be our Happy Hour: Family Edition Peacock Lane. As mentioned in years past, Mr. W's friends started rotating home hosted HHs after everyone began breeding. Most of these events have fallen by the wayside, but since I like to keep Advent and decline most party invitations before Christmas officially begins, it is nice to host this gathering.
I out together the same menu of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. I always like to have American cheese on sourdough bread and the more grown up option this year was Swiss & Gruyere on whole wheat.I used the MS Creamy Tomato Soup recipe and had just enough oregano in the garden. I serve it in mugs since everyone is mingling.
Mr. W made another batch of eggnog and this time we used the silver punch bowl, it is so festive I think. We also had coffee and people could choose how they spike it. I made hot chocolate for the children.
This is also a good time to put out all the Christmas cookie we receive. I don't know why eeryone else being on a diet means that Mr. W and I want to take all the leftover sweets, but somehow this is how our family and friends treat us. I bought the peppermint bark during my escaped to Costco for Baby Boy's birthday and the saltwater taffy from our pre Christmas trip to Arch Cape. My mother in law sent the cookies and the fruit cake. Mr. W loves fruit cake!Since My Little Helper's birthday falls before the school year begins I thought it would be nice to invite his new pre-school friends to our HH:FE. Several of them came which was nice since they are on a 2 week winter break. The nursery was a mad hose with all the children and the new toys!!
Having the party on St. Stephen's Day means that lots of people are still out of town for the holidays, but we wanted Mr. & Mrs. L and Mr. & Mrs. HG to be able to visit with people before they left town.
Shortly after dusk we bundled up all the children, filled the travel mugs, configured the strollers and headed out on our walk to Peacock Lane. With a large group like this, it is always hard to keep track of everyone while looking at the Christmas lights, but we are able to meet back up again before returning home. I was a little disappointed that several of the houses did not have their lights on, but it was still a special block for the children to walk down and enjoy the season.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Feast of Seven Fishes

Just about every year since we have been married we have hosted a Feast of 7 Fishes Christmas Eve meal. I had never of it until I read about it on thenest, but instantly fell in love with the idea. It combines my love of obscure Catholic traditions with Mr. W's love of cooking food that is kind of a dare.
Each year I have suggested lobster bisque, but Mr. W is too squeemish to kill them. He has always suggested that we wait until his brother in law, Mr. L, comes for Christmas. Mr. L is a big time foodie and up for a food challenge. Since The L's and the H-Gs were coming to celebrate our Last Christmas in the bungalow, this was our year to finally attempt lobster. Mr. L is really into the loco-vore movement right now, so he was a bit aprehensive about importing lobster from the East Coast, but we were able to talk him into it by being Pacific heavy with the other courses.
What actually happened was that the Fo7F became a man-off with the men folk outdoing themselves. To begin with, they couldn't narrow it down to just 7 fish, and even numbers are unlucky so we had our first Feast of 9 Fishes. They ordered calamari and mussels from Zupan's, but everything else they bought at Newman's Fish Market. They decided upon live lobster and live crab. Mr. L handled the slaughter. Mrs. L provided the moral support and acted as photographer.
(I frankly don't know where Mr. W was in all of this. I had taken the baby and the H-Gs to The Grilled Cheese Grill for lunch. It was my intention to take My Little Helper too to keep him out from being underfoot, but he had no interest in grilled cheese with live crustaceans in the house.) But here is the team working together.I meanwhile set the table for 10 using the green linen table cloth and mine and my mom's Christmas china. As it would happen, our dining room light fixture broke right after Baby Boy's birthday party so we had a very candle lit meal.I pulled out just about every candle I could, it was actually very pretty.The first course they served was oysters on the half shell. I don't like oysters and I eventually manage to choke down one of them just to be social. All my drama working up the nerve to swallow it and I forgot to take a photo. They are pretty unattractive though, so I don't think we are missing much.
Next up was the calamari. I had been actually been looking forward to this for several days.The third course was the lobster bisque. This was so good, seriously everything I had been looking forward too! I wish I could have had another serving. I hope it was obvious to Mr. L and Mr. W how much I appreciate all the work they had put into the meal for just this soup. I kept oohing and aahing over it!
The next dish was steamed mussels with a shallot and wine broth. I always pass on the mussels, but this year I was ambitious and finally tried one. They look totally unappealing to me, like a female body part, and I can't say that I am a fan. The broth smells delightful though because there is so much butter in it. It seems I failed to take a photo of the mussel course too.
We reached the mid point of our meal by now and we were back to the deep fryer. This recipe for crab cakes came from a date night cooking class at Sur La Tabla. It is served with an aioli. I should mention that the gentlemen had put a lot of thought into selecting the perfect wine for each course. My one contribution was '7 Pastors Pinot'. This wine is a fundraiser at our church, celebrating our centennial and the 7 priests we've had during our 100 year existence. The funds are go towards the restoration of the old church.The following course was new to us this year. Mr. L really wanted to include octopus so he suggested octopus salad with arugula, radicchio, cannellini beans, carrot, onion, celery and parsely. I was apprehensive about eating the octopus; the idea of feeling the suction cups with me tongue is off putting. But the taste and texture wasn't too bad. It felt very meaty to me and not grainy or slimy like I was afraid. The colors looked very festive though. I would eat this again.Another highlight was the lobster poached in butter course. There wasn't a lot of it (this was a dinner plate used as the serving plate), but that which we had was heavenly!Nearing the end of the meal we move into entree type dishes with the traditional baccala or salt cod. Mr. W and I are really acquiring a taste for this.We pair the baccala with broccoli rabe.We usually finish with salmon tagliatelli, but this year salmon lost out to scallops. The fresh pasta is also from Newman's. I signed up to be a Eucharistic minister at the 4 o'clock Mass. While I prefer Midnight Mass, it just isn't practical for the children at this age. This allowed us to return home by 6 PM and have a nice leisurely meal without feeling rushed to leave for Mass. And since we weren't rushed we had our first ever Fo7F dessert! Mom made this white cheese and creme between filbert and chocolate disks. She added raspberries, blue berries and a raspberry syrup. Mr. L called it the perfect palate cleanser.
The two really enjoyed working together. Often times I heard them debating their different views on how best to prepare whatever, but their back and forth banter was enjoyable. Mr. L was actually amazed that Mr. W can ever pull this off alone because it is! I agree, I am very lucky to have him provide us with such a special meal each Christmas.
Everyone enjoyed themselves, Mrs. H-G is really the perfect food audience, she'll eat everything happily. It was after 1 AM by the time we finished dinner. And then I still had to wrap presents. By the time I got to sleep it was 3 AM. Fortunately the boys aren't eager to wake up super early to open presents so I was able to sleep in until 8, but it was a long hard day! (Lesson learned, go back to wrapping presents well in advance!)

Christmas Tree hunting

Mr. W's sister and brother in law, the Ls, came to spend Christmas with us as did my college friends the H-Gs. I thought it would be a good opportunity to go cut down our own tree since we would have extra hands. So, the Wednesday before Christmas we drove out to Estacada before heading down to the coast for 2 nights.
In the past we have just followed Ms. Mc and her husband and gone out H213 and looked for a place that looked good. But being mid week, and knowing we had an even longer drive ahead of us, I didn't want to leave it up to chance so I looked online and decided Bob'z Garden Center looked like our best option. It was like a Pumpkin Patch for Christmas trees. And it is near my Aunt R's log home so in the future we can make a nice trip and visit out of it. Anyway, they have hot drinks, a big fire pit, a shaker, and a wrapper. They also flock, but I don't believe in that on principle.
It was a wonderfully foggy morning as we headed out looking for a grand fir. I learned something on this trip. I thought I liked grand firs. It turns out the species I like is actually a noble fir. I thought that noble firs always have that crazy spacing between the branches, which I don't care for. Turns out nobles can be full or sparse; I like the full ones.
This was the tree that Our Little Helper wanted to take home, but it's far too tall. This is the tree we settled on, but he didn't like it. At all.So we had to take a family photo with out him.This was the tree he wanted. I think this is actually a grand fir. I just am not a fan of these needles. And it was too short. Poor thing is so miserable we won't take this one home.Mr. L and Mr. W cutting down the tree.Hauling it back to the car.

Showing off their skills. Neither of them grew up with real trees in Ohio so this is the first time Mr. L ever participated in cutting a Christmas tree and only Mr. W's second. With the guys carrying the tree and Mrs. L carrying the saw and camera, I was left to herd in the boys. I obviously had to carry the baby, but because he was still pitching a fit I couldn't get My Little Helper to walk back. He would only agree to a piggy back ride. Momma is always a pack mule. It was a long walk.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Little Rookie Baseball birthday party

I love baseball! My dad raised me as a Yankees fan and when it came time to design a nursery I settled on a red, white, and blue color scheme that I could play up with baseballs, teddy bears, or Raggedy Ann & Andy depending on what my baby's sex would be. Needless to say I collected a gazillion baseball things over the years and the collection quadrupled after my dad died. As a result, I have done baseball themed 1st birthday parties for both boys. I have always done cupcakes decorated like baseballs and for My Little Helper's 2nd birthday I made a separate cake decorated like a baseball glove. When I did that I saw someone on the internet did a home plate shaped cake and saved that idea for Baby Boy. I used box cake mix, but made the buttercream frosting from scratch. Ground up graham crackers are the 'dirt' on the plate.I found some inspiration here and here. I considered ordering the printable package from Dimpleprints, because I thought that pennant 'Concessions' banner was adorable, but I decided I didn't need to spend that much since I wouldn't be printing out all the food labels and such and had other plans for the invitation. I bought the red scalloped card stock for his invitations at Paper Source and the light blue brads and paper at Paper Zone. That's also where I found the apple tote bags for the party favors.
I had left over baseball plates, party hats, and a 'Happy birthday' banner from My Little Helper's 2nd birthday party so I augmented that with these Little Slugger plates.I had bought a tin bucket a few years ago at Target during Easter to decorate the nursery. I thought the little bat on the handle was adorable. It promptly broke. But I thought I could salvage it and turned it into a centerpiece filled with baseballs. I borrowed a crate of gloves and balls from my parents' house. In it I found a posthumous gift from my father. There was a baseball which he had signed for whatever reason. Truly a gift! And just like that, the wind was knocked out of me. Why would he have signed a filthy, dirty baseball? Why would it just be buried in amongst the other balls? Four years, 3 months, and 26 days later I still have moments of complete and total heart break. He had amassed enough equipment for an entire team. Damn, he would have loved having grandsons, clearly he had been preparing for them for a long time. It still sucks so bad!
After calming down and drying my eyes, I used his balls and antique gloves as decoration for the table. The cute table runner I found on sale at PB several years ago.I used one of those gloves as a holder for the autograph ball/guest book idea I stole from one of the sites posted above. I used a couple books as decoration as well. Everybody is a ham so Pete Rose and Babe Ruth have signed the ball too.I spent five seasons working at Oaks Park, but that first one I was only 17 so I was assigned to the food stands. Back then the corn dogs were made from scratch and we hand dipped each one. I love foods on sticks and since we have a deep fryer I thought this would be a cute food to serve for the birthday party. Normally deep fryer season doesn't begin until Christmas Eve in our house, but Baby Boy's birthday seemed a very good reason to open it earlier. I don't remember what the Park's recipe was so I used this corn dog batter. It was way too thick so we thinned it with more milk and it ended up being like loaves and fishes...just when I was sure I would run out, I kept having enough batter.I went with stadium food for the menu and took a trip to Costco with Mrs. F. I was hoping to find soft pretzels and nacho sauce. I ended up only coming home with an enormous bag of corn chips for the nachos and a tub of Red Vines. It took a lot of will power to not eat all the licorice before the party! I transferred them into a glass canister so they'd stay fresher (and look prettier!)I had the nachos on the baseball plate from Fishs Eddy. I also made a simple Concessions sign for the kitchen table.I bought this baseball birthday onesie shortly after My Little Helper had his first birthday, in the hopes that I'd have more children to use a baseball themed party. I loved it because it was exactly like the cupcakes I made.Everyone waiting to sing to the birthday boy.He wasn't quite sure what was going on, but he did enjoy clapping at the end of the song.He's not transitioning easily to table food so his first cupcake experience was lost on him. He shoved some of it in his mouth, but didn't really eat it.Double fisting.Babies and little toddlers have short attention spans so I didn't organize any games or crafts. Eating and opening presents is about all they can handle. I was surprised and pleased with how many of our guests came in baseball attire; I hadn't suggested it at all.
Every family went home with a favor bag filled with Cracker Jacks, a bag of peanuts, a pack of trading cards, Baby Ruths, baseball socks and stickers.That vintage bobblehead was from my grandpa's cousin Mr. D. He had an extensive collection of Portland Beavers memorabilia which passed to my father and now me. The mini baseball bats on the table are also Beavers memoribilia I found antiquing years ago. The have Beavers in script on them and whomever they originally belonged to wrote the date, opponent, and score on them. Such a treasure!