Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

My wish for everyone this year is that we should all feel the joy that Bailey the Snowdog feels in this video.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

December Phone-y photos

Random photos I pulled from my phone today.

Robb can be a real turkey sometimes...

A cake topper for the bride who has everything, including a bun in the oven.

A photo of the cheese counter at Joan's On Third.
You probably can't see what I was aiming for, it's so far away...
Buffalo mozzarella CHEESE SNOWMEN!

The crowd surging outside Santa Monica Seafood on Christmas Eve. You had to take a number to get inside. Luckily the tent you see on the left is for lobster purchasing. We got 24 lbs of lobster for Christmas dinner... for four people. You know I loves my leftovers!

The sunset on Monday from the 134 freeway above Eagle Rock. You can see all the way to the ocean. It was 80° today, I wasn't wearing socks and I had the roof down on the car. (of course by the time the sun was going down it was 67° and I had the seat heater on with the heater on full blast on my hands and ankles, but let's not go there.)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

I can't stop Elfing myself!

This one's gone COUNTRY!

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

Miniature Parisian dioramas

I've either been spending my holiday free time building miniature replicas of Paris...
Or perhaps playing with Photoshop filters...

Either way, I've been dreaming of Paris.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Elfing Fun!

It goes around each year and every year it gets better... I'm not talking about the flu, I'm talking about "Go Elf Yourself"! Last year I got one from my sister, this year from Carolyn's family.

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

Cleanliness is next to dogliness

My friend Annette sent me this cartoon from Off The Mark. It pretty much sums up what tries to happen at my house every single day.

I was going to share it here for you, but the website states they want $10 from me to show it to you here for a year.

So, as funny as it is... I guess you'll have to follow this link. Cause I love ya', but I don't love ya' $10!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Naughty and Nice

I guess we've been the naughty ones, dressing up our poor helpless pooches.

I promise we did right by them and they both enjoyed a treat or two for their trouble.

Which should technically place us all back square in the nice column. Right?

Merry Christmas from our house to yours!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Santa Claus comes tonight!

When Blogs collide

We had a visitor and it wasn't Santa.

Click here to find out more...

My Christmas Secret... Shhhhh....

At last I shall reveal to you all how I get so much holiday decor up in the house "all by myself". I actually have help just like in this video...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Elves are working hard

Brrrrrrrrr at the Borderrrrrrrrr

20 minutes North of my parents house at the Peace Arch crossing into Canada:That is the culmination of I-5.
That is at 10:22 this morning.

(Click here for more traffic camera views of Whatcom county)

Monday, December 22, 2008

A "quick" tour of our nation's Christmas Capitol (My house!)

(You can click on most of the photos to see them in a larger format.)

I recently watched a special on HGTV about how the White House is decorated for Christmas. As I watched the massive amount of volunteers, professional florists, gardeners and decoraters go about the massive undertaking I had really one thought, "I could do that."

As you enter our gracious home for the Holidays, you are greeted by seasonal artwork of snow laden trees and the entry arch theme for this year, puppies!
The dog's stockings are hung with great care and the floating shelf is adorned with the larger dog decor.
The double arches that lead you into either the dining or living room are festooned (don't you love that word) with over 100 ornaments featuring Dalmatians or black and white Cocker Spaniels.
Looking the living room, you can glimpse the snow village on the right, the silver bar tree in the background center, and the archway between the living room and dining room to the left.

No detail is left unattended.

The mantle is swagged with a greenery garland wrapped in pine cones and ornaments. The 10 foot tree shimmers in red and white.

The red & white theme is continued throughout the ten foot tree.

The fireplace mantle features the country/handcrafted theme with teddy bears nestled among birch logs.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to get photos in our house that don't have a dog in them?

Lyle's parents put together the best version of our snow village that I have ever seen. They built a hill and even got the train to run around the outside of the village (you can just barely see the train in the background)

Looking back into the living room from the dinning room through the snow crystal theme archway.

In the dining room our view of the Parisian streets is surrounded by a garland of nutcrackers and toys with white poinsettias filling the garden boxes below.

Lyle raises his glass (Snowball of course) to salute our crew and staff of elves who made all this possible. And by crew and staff I mean me. Almost all by myself. Please send help. Clearly I have an illness. But such a delightful one to see!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Drinking again.

When I was a child (and not just childish like I am now) we spent every Christmas Eve at my grandpa Don and Grandma Mable's house. It was a massive undertaking. EVERYONE was there. The main family of my mother's siblings and all their families would all be at Christmas dinner the next day, but Christmas Eve brought out all the aunts, great aunts, uncles, great uncles, great grandparents, cousins, cousins twice removed and everyone else we only saw at potlucks at the lake during the summer. If you're old enough to remember the reference, we looked like the King Family Singers.
It has colored my impression of what a holiday should look like for the rest of my life.

As the family would gather at my grandparents, everyone got a "Snowball". If you were a kid, you could have a snowball without the vodka. My grandpa Don would stand off in the corner of the kitchen with all his supplies ready. Ice. Ice crasher (not a crusher - this was a long handle with a ball bearing at the end surrounded by a rubber ring that he would use to "Whack" the ice cubes into his hand and smash them into smaller pieces). Whipping cream in a carton. 7-Up. Alcohol. Snowball glasses.

I can still picture it exactly in my head. Right over there in the corner by the fridge, in front of the cupboard that held my favorite glasses that had antique cars on them and of course the "farm glass" that had a drawing of barn and barnyard animals that I would "drown" when I filled the glass with grape juice up to the weather vane.

After my grandfather passed away, Christmas Eve moved to my family's house. Less extended family came by and more friends dropped in. My dad took over The Snowball Business.
Can I help? I'd chirp next to his elbow.
Why not?
Because why?
"Because I said so."
Why'd you say so?
"Because you don't get to touch booze."
Can I make one without?
But I won't touch the booze.
"You don't know what you're doing."
Can I watch?
Why not?
And then I would take a step back and spy on him anyway. We all did. The Snowball was shrouded in mystery as to how it works. Once we were older and closer to college age we would sneak into The Snowball zone on Christmas Eve while my dad was talking in the living room and try to make them ourselves. My dad would come back and shoo us away, "You don't know what your doing. You're just wasting all the ingredients. Here, I'll make you one. JUST ONE."

And then we got brave enough to try them on our own. I remember it exactly. My brother and sister were going to have a Christmas party that would start at my brother's apartment and finish at my sisters. They lived about two blocks apart and we could all walk between them. My sister would be doing all the food at her house and my brother announced he would be making The Snowball. I think my response was "Can we just do that?"

By this time we had all had a turn making snowballs on Christmas Eve behind my dad's back. When friend's would arrive and we didn't want to drag dad back to the kitchen, or tell him we had friends who drank alcohol.

The snowballs at my brother's house were amazing. They tasted just like the kind dad made at home with a hint of something illicit. We were officially adults now and we were still in our 20's!

I've carried this recipe with me in my head all these years and recently a cousin asked my mother about "the drink of our people" and my mom said "ask Jim." So I tried to write it down as best as I can. I think it's a visual. Impossible to write down. And yet I will try.

Be warned, this is a difficult recipe... Not because of the ingredients, but the technique it seems to require. I have a theory that you you must experience a “master” maker and an “apprentice” maker before you should attempt. For instance, in my group of friends who have learned from me (an apprentice level) they have all seen my dad make them (the master level). And I watched my dad when he was at an apprentice level and learned it all from my grandpa Don who was the master of the recipe (for all I know, he invented it!).

That being said, I am trying to share it anyway! This recipe has never been given away and I may even take it back later. My friend Gina McGowan is the one who coined the term "The drink of your people" in reference to this amazing cocktail and as such I feel very proprietary over it.

Not one ingredient or direction can be altered. (and trust me I have tried and failed)

Start with a tall straight glass glass.

In the bottom of the glass add three or four crushed ice cubes (or buy your ice crushed and add a handful) about three fingers measure from the bottom of the glass when you wrap your hand around the tumbler.

Then you pour one shot of Vodka over the ice.

Then one shot of whipping cream over the ice.

Now the tricky part!

Get a spoon (longer is better) and with one hand you start to jiggle the ice. With the other hand you slowly pour in 7-Up. DO NOT USE SPRITE. DO NOT USE DIET. (I don’t know why, but they don’t work!)

So, as you are pouring, and jiggling, the ice will start to free up from it’s place in the bottom of the glass. Jiggle a little more, then begin swirling the mixture. Still pouring the 7-Up slowly. The mixture will froth and foam... It will expand towards the top of the glass. SLOW DOWN! DON’T POUR TO THE TOP. Pause and give it all a good swirling and wait for the reaction to catch up and see where the foam is headed. If it stops just below the rim of the glass, pour a little hit of 7-Up through the foam to give it a bump up. If it has overflowed (like a root beer float will), wipe down the glass and serve it with a cocktail napkin.

Or perhaps you have stopped just right and... VOILA!
Two perfect Snowballs.

Updated: My brother wrote in to add these fine points on The Snowball.
1. The colder the ice is, the better it works. A little water on the surface of the ice, makes the drink fizz a little less. (so you should always rinse out the glass for a new drink)

2. The key to the drink, is the aroma of the vodka suspended in the foam at the top of the glass, therefore, better top equals better drink.

3. Don't use expensive vodka. It's best if you use whatever Dad brings. It's even better if he wins the bottle at the Elks club.
Updated 2:
Use a metal spoon.

The Snowball season is strict. Snowballs may only be consumed from after Thanksgiving dinner through the end of New Year's Day.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

O Tannenbaum

Let's do Christmas math.

This:+ this:

= this!That

(disclaimer: Professional decorator on a closed course. Do not attempt at home. Your results may vary. This is not a guarantee.)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Gobble Gobble Fat Turkey

No, not me.

Recently it was Thanksgiving. I know, not that recent, but I have to show off this damn turkey!

Lyle decided this year that we would get a "healthy" bird. Free-Range you say? Oh no, Pasture raised. The difference being that free range just means "not caged" but can still be in cramped quarters or enclosed in a barn. Pasture raised is the idea that you thought free range was.

Wow, I thought, this bird is gonna' be PRICEY. But we got Mary's Pasture Raised Turkey at Whole Foods and it was around a reasonable $3 a lb. Under $50 for the whole bird. Seriously, I think that is a good price.

Once home the bird was brined in Williams-Sonoma Brining Blend (I think it may be only seasonably available) overnight and then... smoked in the smoker for about 6 hours.

And when it emerged... Voilá!
Admit it, that is a stunning bird. And unbelievably moist (thank you brining) and tasty!

Lyle also picked up a little cooking toy while at Williams-Sonoma, a potato ricer. You mash the potatoes through this baby and man they are creamy without being whipped. Lyle's parents were here and remarked that Lyle's grandmother had one of those and Lyle said that he thought it looked familiar in the store.
Rice it, rice it, baby.

I was in charge of the stuffing. I have taken Lyle's family recipe and modified it slightly to the point where it is really all I need on Thanksgiving. Lyle's dad says that's because I've put an entire meal in there (mind you, he's not complaining).

Jim & Lyle's stuffing
(read this all the way through if you are going to attempt it because I don't really have a recipe and I am just writing it as if I were cooking it in the kitchen. You should slice and dice all the ingredients ahead of time)

Two days in advance, two loaves of bread you love. This year I used a loaf of ciabatta, half a baguette, and half a loaf of whole wheat from my local farmer's market - there were halves as we had already eaten the other parts of bread before I could tear it up. Tear the bread into "rustic" pieces. Non uniform. Not too big, not too small. Bite sized. Set this aside to dry out. Toss and flip over the next few days to ensure even drying. Bread should get a crusty "toasted" feel on the outside, but remain tender to the squish)

Day of -
  • One pound bacon, (I like thick cut apple wood smoked bacon from Trader Joe's) cut the slices into about inch squares
  • Turkey gizzard and heart, (you know, that stuff you had to remove from the cavity) finely diced so you get the flavor without getting a big bite of gross
  • One onion, chopped into pieces about the size of a kernel of corn
  • One red or orange bell pepper, chopped into pieces about the size of a kernel of corn (I like the color splash!)
  • 8-12 stalks of celery, chopped into little moon crescents (if my dad is coming for dinner I put in less celery, he doesn't care for celery) try to keep the slices about as thick as you've been cutting everything else but in the stalk crescent still, not cubed.
  • Two boxes of mushrooms sliced.
  • Two ears of corn on the cob, taken off the cob (or half a bag of frozen corn)
  • A large handful of dried cranberries (more or less, depending on your taste for dried cranberries
  • Fresh sage, to taste. As a general rule I use just a fair bit more than I think needed as it cooks down (I have pineapple sage in my yard that I love to use)
  • 1 cup of poultry broth (maybe a little more, you never know) This year I had duck broth!

Start with the pound of bacon, throw it into the largest pan you own to cook. I like it crisp in the stuffing so I brown it to "near crisp" (as it will keep cooking in the pan with more ingredients).

Once you've got your bacon "near crisp" add the chopped onions. Mix, mix... Stir, stir, stir...

Hold on to your heart, I do not drain the bacon fat off this pan, ever. I think that's why I like the nicer bacon from Trader Joe's, not too much fat... but enough to get a lot of FLAVOR.

So we've added the onions, cook until they start to go translucent, not brown. Add the chopped bell pepper. Mix, mix... Stir, stir, stir...

Now the crescent moon celery goes in and you will cook it all together until the celery starts to get just slightly translucent (it doesn't look the same as when the onions go translucent) and again, before it gets brown. Mix, mix... Stir, stir, stir...

Add the sliced mushrooms. Mix, mix... Stir, stir, stir... Don't cook the mushrooms down to nothingness.

Now its looking amazing and smells even better all thanks to the great god of bacon fat.

Throw in some salt, throw in some more, add pepper. No, add more. I use white pepper so no one can figure out where that pepper taste comes from. Taste. You will say, "Oh my god, this is perfect!" Then you need to add more salt and pepper because what you have in your pan will be distributed amongst all that bread you've been drying for two days (Oh yeah, I forgot I have to mix this in with bread!)

Time to add the final ingredients, throw in your corn, dried cranberries and chopped sage. I add these all near the end because they can get overcooked if thrown in too soon. Mix, mix... Stir, stir, stir... taste, add more seasoning. Remember it should be a strong flavor becasue it will be diluted in that bread. Happy? Remove from heat.

Go find a friend. You're going to need help. Get out the biggest bowl you have, maybe two bowls. Time to stir the cooked pan mixture into your dried out bread. Mix, mix... Stir, stir, stir... Spill over the side. Mix, mix... Stir, stir, stir... and it will start to compact a little. Mix, mix... Stir, stir, stir...

And finally place into a 9 x 12 baking pan (if you went crazy with your bread, you're gonna need two pans). Lightly pack the pan. Slightly press it all in. You want each piece of bread to become very good friends with its neighbor but not meld into one single cell. Once all that bread is in the pan, evenly pour your poultry stock over top. Back and forth lightly with a little extra on the edges and slightly more generous splash into the corners (where it will likely dry out first if it's going to dry out).

At this point I turn to Lyle and say, "Is that enough?" and he says, "Yes. Stop." Then I throw in maybe 1/3 cup more. Lyle always says stop 1/3 cup early of the perfect moist dressing.

Back in the over about 1 hour at 350˚.
All that recipe just to show off my turkey dishes!

After dinner we played Disney "Sorry". We play it like we were in a Mama's Family skit on the Carol Burnett Show.

Every time you play a Sorry card you must ring the bell and sing, "Soooooooorrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyyyyyyy" as annoying as possible.
Lyle was the Princesses.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Happy Birthday Tony Sweet!

I went out to celebrate my friend Tony's birthday last weekend. I know, I seem to go out a lot lately on my blog. Actually, I'm just taking my camera out with me a little more, and then waiting until once a month to go through all the photos.
Tony is amusing me in this photo. He doesn't drink but is humoring me by holding my glass while I take photos.

This is not the best photo of either one of us.... but doesn't my bow tie look fabulous!

Everyone loves getting bunny ears, especially Greg and Jose!

I don't know what else the occasion was but the "Here Lounge".
As in:
"Where are you going tonight?"
Not here here, Here the Bar.

God I hate that bar's name.

So in addition to public outing Tony for getting older, I mostly wanted to show the world that I can tie a bow tie.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Broken ornaments

Christmas is hard. Everything around you portrays a perfection that is impossible to achieve. Television, movies, advertising, editorials all conspire to make regular people fall short of the Norman Rockwell vision of how the world should work.

It's taken me a long time to give up that goal. Who am I kidding, I'm still trying for perfection, but with the goal of stopping when its "good enough" and not being critical of myself when I can't force the world to spin backwards on its axis to work the way I thought it should.

I go overboard. I fall short. I take a deep breath and reset my mind.

In my family each family member was given a unique ornament every year. As the tradition progressed we started writing the year on the ornament. My mother's plan was for each of us to take our ornaments with us when we moved out and we'd have a start on our own traditions when we were adults.

I did take this with me. Lyle and I continue this tradition and we include the dogs. It's a very Norman Rockwell tradition in my mind. But there is a caveat to the tradition. Something I did not see going in. After our first two dogs passed away Christmas became an emotional minefield.

The first two Christmases without Sophia and Nora I couldn't put their ornaments out. I would find the box with them in it and just sit down and cry. Thus ended that day of decorating. Three years later (last year) I was finally able to do an entire tree in dog ornaments. This year I placed all the dog ornaments in the garlands in the entryway. As I took each ornament out it was accompanied with a heavy sigh. Twenty-nine HEAVY SIGHS. But I made it. I made it! Getting the ornaments out is the hardest part. Touching each one, reading the year, the quiver of my lip and the mist in my eye... but I made it. I can't say it enough times, I made it through.

Then last night I was going into a different box of ornaments to get a different theme out (shut up, you know I have 8 complete unique themes going on in different zones of the house) and I got caught off guard.

I found ornaments that Nora had eaten one year when we left town for Christmas. Each day, apparently, she would walk up to the tree and select one ornament to chew up. Only one a day. just to show her displeasure. Pissed me off, but made me laugh because it was clearly thought out. She didn't eat them all in one day. One each day that we were gone.

So it caught me off guard and the next thing you know, I am literally on the floor in a ball crying. It's the strange thing about grief. I describe it like a wave (sometimes on the North shore of Hawaii). It comes and it goes. It ebbs and flows. Sometimes it stays away for a long time, but when it washes over you it is just as strong as the first time the wave swept over you. But it does go away.

And I am much better today. No need for concern. If I wasn't better I couldn't write this.

My reason for sharing is to remind you to relax. Breathe. There is no perfection. Emotions are natural and if you squash them down (hello, heavy sigh!) they will make their way out anyway (hello, ball on floor!) because they are necessary. And seriously, I am doing well today. When I look at that picture of the broken ornaments I can remember how great Sophia and Nora were and how lucky we were to have them and all the good things they brought into my life.