home is where the cat is

Home for the holidays was so, so good. I’d been dealing with the same nasty cold virus for going on six weeks and just spent time at home taking medicine (yes, finally going to the doctor was a good idea), reading, and playing with the cat.

Cat moustache!

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Since I’d had so much fun making a gingerbread house with my little boyfriend in North Carolina, I decided I ought to also make one with my charming sister. I did the dough and made the pieces for the structure. Then there was extra dough to make little gingerbread characters. My sister, demonstrating her awesomeness, decided we needed a gingerbread goat. Armed only with a piece of clip art, she made something pretty spectacular.

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And then we put it all together. I deeply loved my chocolate-covered-espresso-beans front path.

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But I will say again, GET A GINGERBREAD HOUSE KIT. Because those pieces will tidily push up against each other, and be perfectly ready for assembly. When you make your own gingerbread pieces, they bake oddly and puff and warp and don’t create neat perfect seams and corners and things. Furthermore, the royal icing is key, and the only thing that kept this bad boy from falling apart immediately.

So we loved the whimsy of our house, but it collapsed in a matter of days and we couldn’t show it off at our Christmas party as planned.

A mini twix bar was nice for making a chimney to disguise the substantial gap between the two roof pieces.

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Back of the house

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Side of the house

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Front of the house, with Malindi’s goat and beaming Snowman in the front yard. They make me so happy.

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A few other cookies made for Christmas trees and… random giant stars in the yard.

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Malindi and I went and got the tree. Our family always decorates our tree to within an inch of its life. We have a LOT of ornaments! We also had a LOT of presents!

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I always love unpacking this snow globe from Malindi’s godparents when we get out the Christmas stuff. It plays “Here Comes Santa Clause” when you turn the key at the bottom. I just stare at it and think about Christmas.

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I ate well when I was home. I made some twice baked potatoes as part of a clean out the fridge/pantry endeavor. They were good but not great- I think the secret to good twice baked potatoes is just ABSURD amounts of cheese. I put some- in the form of cottage cheese and Swiss- but should’ve put more.

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Another night we went and hung out at my wonderful aunt Jeanie’s and had a sushi feast.

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Little Scotties would very much like to have some.

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Jeanie does such a wonderful job cultivating an atmosphere for relaxation in her house. I sat by the fire (expertly stoked by my Uncle Tim) reading Cook’s Illustrated.

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Then I COLORED, which was so fun!

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And then we watched The Wizard of Oz on cable with the doglets, who were SO EXCITED to see a fellow terrier on screen! Then Alice fell asleep. I ask you, have you EVER been this relaxed?!

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Christmas day! We had to keep Sheila entertained. She got a cat toy as a reward for suffering through the vet’s office. It dangles and jingles and is filled with catnip.

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Malindi is cute. Sheila is cute.

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Gettin’ kitty high!

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Then we opened our stockings. Santa had given me a candy cane, which I offered to Sheila. She LOVED it! As my mother pointed out, when batting around a candy cane, it moves in an unpredictable manner. Lots of fun.

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“Get her crazy eyes!” instructed Malindi.

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She broke the candy cane. I’m realizing now I don’t really know what happened to it.

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I ate my traditional Chirstmas morning breakfast of See’s Candy, which my wonderful godparents always send us from Washington State. On the West coast they have the standing See’s stores, where you can buy things that you can’t from the mail order. They had bon bons and things. The ones with pecans on top were like praline crack!

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Then, as is our Christmas tradition, we went to my aunt Kathy’s and uncle Tom’s house for an absolute FEAST! Everything was so beautiful and delicious.

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So many yummy things! Baked brie in puff pastry with fig jam is always binge-able.

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Quiche, strata…

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More strata… This had asparagus and was really special.

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New York breakfast: brown bread with cream cheese, smoked oysters, smoked salmon, and capers and red onion to sprinkle atop.

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Our contribution was this almond ring made by one of my mom’s fellow voice students. It was filled with almond paste and tasted like heaven. I can never get enough almond paste.

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But the REAL dessert highlight was this cake. My aunt Nan made this anise-y apple cake from Smitten Kitchen and it was soooooooo rich and amazing. It’s flanked by cookies, including some gluten free ones, which my aunt thoughtfully got for my sister’s gluten free boyfriend, who joined us.

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After presents and merriment (launching various items at each other is an important tradition in my extended family, maintained this year by my cousin Steven, who received a small remote-control-operated tank that shot nerf balls) we headed home to regroup, then to celebrate with my dad’s side of the family.

Bodie the dog goes LOVE ME LOVE ME LOVE ME and is a bit of a personal space invader. This picture makes me laugh.

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We always have a party for friends and family the Saturday after Christmas. Since this year Christmas was a Thursday, we only had a day to prepare. Still, we managed to produce quite a feast in that period of time. It was also a really nice experience cooking and cleaning and prepping together. At one point I turned to my sister and marveled, “Nothing has gone crazily wrong today! No one has had a screaming fit! This is so nice!”

The meal included, at left, pickled turnips and eggplants (bought at the Mediterranean store), pigs in a blanket and deviled eggs made by my sister. At right, labneh (Arabic yogurt cheese) and taramosalata (Greek lemony fish roe dip) and pita (also from the Mediterranean store) and more dips detailed below.

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Along with the cheese tray, this photo features the two dips I made. One, at left, was the best baba ghanoush I’ve ever made. Back story: we go to church with a lot of Lebanese and Palestinian women, and they make the BEST smoky, velvety baba ghanoush. We’ve never figured out how to get the eggplant to be so succulent, but finally my mom was spying in the kitchen and got the scoop: they used canned grilled eggplant! Sure enough, we picked it up at the Mediterranean store and I used it to make the best baba ghanoush ever (just mixed it with tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, cumin, and salt).

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The dip at right, featured in a closeup below, was muhammara from Cooking Light, which got demolished! Muhammara is dip red from roasted red peppers, walnuts, spices, and all the other good things. The cheese tray featured selections from Costco’s awesome cheese section- smoked gouda, boursain, and aged cheddar.

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We also made turkey (just in the edge of the picture below) which was wonderful as always because of the brine. We use Cooking Light’s recipe for apple cider brined turkey, and it never fails. We cook it longer than the recipe calls because we had a 22 pound instead of 12 pound turkey, but there are important aspects of the recipe to follow. Start it at high heat, then lower. Start it breast down to let white meat absorb some moisture from above and keep from drying out too soon. Finally, I monitored it during the last hour of cooking because you want to take it out of the oven right when the meat thermometer hits 165 in the thickest part of the thigh. Anyway, we made it, and a ham (bone in, not presliced, for maximum flavor and minimum dryness. Glazed with a mixture of grainy mustard, brown sugar, and apple cider vinegar) and served them with various condiments and rolls (also from Costco, and delicious!). Also, another cheese plate! We like cheese 🙂 This had brie and havarti.

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Of course we also had a lot of desserts. I made vegan peanut butter cookies (left) and macademia butter cookies with dried cranberries from Cooking Light (lower right). My mom bought yummy Arabic date-filled cookies at our church bazaar (upper right).

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I also made gluten free mocha brownies. I totally winged the recipe- it included melted chocolate truffles and butter, almond flour, eggs, Starbucks Via instant coffee, and not much else- and it was REALLY GOOD!

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Finally, my mom made a megabatch of delicious baklava (this was one of like four trays), and my sister made and decorated sugar cookies so perfectly that it was almost suspicious that they weren’t from a bakery or something.

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We had a LOT OF PEOPLE go through our house. Family, old friends (my mom still hangs out with her buddies from college and her first job after graduation, and my sister and I are now friends with their kids, which I love), neighbors, church friends. People did such a nice job mixing, and this year I actually feel like I got quality conversations with everyone I talked to. It was crowded and busy but also really happy and friendly. Also, our new neighbors came and were awesome about sharing their ADORABLE baby. So that was fun!

Then when everyone left we kind of gaped at all the goodies people had brought as hostess gifts.

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Yes, that is literally a dozen bottles of wine. Note the one in the attractive Santa hat and Christmas sweater. Well done, Kathy.

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Sheila was furious with us, as usual, for having strangers in her house. However, she did appreciate the abundance of ribbons they left behind.

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I left shortly thereafter. Feeling so so revitalized. Mom, sis, and me. I love our family so much.

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