Merry Week-After-Christmas! My mother-in-law continues to give me the best possible gift: time away from my children. I kid! Except no. I’m sitting in a quiet coffee shop, sipping a hot chocolate, and writing this blog post in the company of other adults while she plays Uno with Henry and chases a naked George who delights in ripping off his diaper and leaving it on the kitchen floor. Mary, you are my everything. The holidays were awesome, and I felt filled with love for the friends and family in my life, but this break is glorious.
In the past week, we sort of recovered from a stomach bug, crafted furiously, ate not a lot and then too much, and spent lots of time with loved ones. Here’s what it looked like.
Bagel. So I got that stomach flu too. When I was still feeling healthy and spry, I went to the farmers market and bought tons of random vegetables- purple cauliflower, fennel, rainbow chard, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes. I started feeling sick the next day and the sound of eating a steaming pile of cauliflower made me want to ralph, so we all ate bagels for dinner instead. Those vegetables are all still hanging around the house. I’m going to salvage what I can this week.
Tangerine and Cranberry Jello. For the summer solstice, we always make jiggly lemonade jello cubes with packaged gelatin and lemonade. For the winter solstice on Tuesday, Henry wanted to make a blueberry jello thing. I dug through the freezer but it turns out I finally threw away the half-bag of freezer-damaged blueberries that had been in there for 3 years. But I found a bag of whole cranberries! So we put those in a pot with water and sugar and let them heat up and burst. We also had a big bowl of sour tangerines from an unschooling friend, so we juiced those and made a pretty fantastic jello from a combination of the two.
Thai Red Lentil Soup. This was our first foray back into real food after eating the BRAT diet for several days. It’s a glorious, simple soup. It felt perfect for the solstice because the bright color is like a celebration of the days lengthening and it used several ingredients from our anemic little garden- lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, cilantro, and thinly-sliced green beans. It’s supposed to have an infused chile oil drizzled on top, but that felt like way too much of a gamble on our pitifully tender stomachs.
Roast Chicken, Apple Panzanella, Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad. Festivus Dinner! I have celebrated festivus with my friend Molly almost every year since that Seinfeld episode came out in the late ’90s. Back then we did the whole nine- metal pole, airing of grievances, the feats of strength. I strongly encourage you to do none of these things. The airing of grievances would always start out lighthearted, but then someone would air an actual real-life grievance and then the door would be open for the other to retaliate, and retaliate we did, until it was a full-blown fight where we rehashed all the wrongs we’d inflicted on each other in the past year. The feats of strength is also demoralizing because I’m a weak pile of nutrient-deficient flab, and Molly is 5 feet 4 inches of lean muscle. This year we wised up and did a simple arm-wrestling competition for the feats of strength, and Molly won, no surprises there. There was some discussion that her beefy-armed boyfriend might have let her won (he claims there’s a whole suite of youtube videos of boyfriends accidentally snapping their girlfriend’s arms during arm wrestling competitions) but I think she won fair and square- she’s scrappy.
Christmas Eve Dessert Platter: Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treats, Chocolate Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies, Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, Magical, Marvelous, Memorable Cookies, Moonrock Cookies, Sea Salt Caramels. I made a batch of my favorite chocolate cookie dough and split it in half. I mixed in peanut butter chips and chopped peanuts into one half, and toffee bits into the other- a recipe my mom used to make and which she named moonrock cookies. I had leftover peanut butter cup filling and used it to make sandwiches out of the peanut butter chocolate cookies. I don’t know if they were any good or not because I was feeling sick again on this day and didn’t want any of these beautiful things. A tragedy. We brought these to my sister’s house for a Christmas Eve day hangout where the kids mostly ignored them in favor of a bowl of taco-flavored Doritos. I didn’t eat anything after we left, and I was still feeling super nauseous, but then I thought it might be the sort of nausea you feel when you haven’t eaten anything. Is this a thing that happens to other people? I am weak and sickly. Anyway, I decided to throw caution to the wind and drive through Taco Cabana and get a plate of greasy cheese enchiladas with rice and beans. I ate the whole damn thing and felt better. I’m going to patent a jar of cheese enchilada sludge as a cure for the stomach flu.
Christmas Eve Dinner at Molly’s. Pumpkin Soup, Tamales, Corn Dip, Pomegranate and Orange Salad, Tomatillo Pecan Breakfast Pie. I made none of these things, but they were so pretty I had to photograph them. I have recipes for nothing except for that quiche-y looking thing on the bottom left- it is insane! Thinly-sliced tomatillos layered with bacon and egg in a crust made from pecans and masa harina and bacon fat- how cool is that? Molly’s mom made it and I am absolutely adding it to my dinner rotation.
Banana Bread. The kids woke up at 7:30 on Christmas and we all dove into our stockings. Henry got the saf-t-pops and butterfly gummies he’d been hoping for and George got a My Little Pony pink camera. I got good paint brushes and lovely watercolors, dark chocolate sea salt caramels, and a mole-flavored (imagine an accent over that ‘e’ in mole. It’s the Mexican spice blend, not the blind ground rodent) chocolate bar. Thanks, Andy! We ate a breakfast of this banana bread and stocking candy.
Apple Pie for Christmas. We spent the morning with my sister Helen, brother-in-law Jordan, and my niece Phinnie. The kids got light sabers from my mom and my brother Caleb and they all fought with them on the front yard. Helen gave the kids a beautiful hand-painted constellation book and homemade puzzles, and brought over warm cinnamon rolls too! Then we drove out to Dripping Springs to Joanna’s house and spent the rest of the afternoon walking through their expansive vegetable garden, roasting homemade marshmallows at the fire pit, and playing in the epic fort Joanna’s girls built in the woods with Aunt Magi. It was such a beautiful day and I felt so grateful to have married into this family. The only negative was when we took a goofy family picture and I forgot to not unhinge my jaw so there’s another photo in the world of me looking like a sarlacc.
This is a gluten-free version of my very favorite Apple Crunch Pie, a recipe my mom found in a magazine when I was a kid. Lately I have felt like the filling has needed a few tweaks- I only use granny smith apples and I thought it was tasting too boring and pasty. I used the juice of a whole lemon instead of just a tablespoon, added a heaping half-cup of white sugar and another 1/4 cup of loosely-packed brown sugar, plus warm spices (cinnamon/clove/nutmeg/allspice). I thought it was my favorite version yet, so I wanted to note the changes for next time.
Homemade Christmas! A selection of the homemade presents that I remembered to photograph. I needle-felted a play mat for my niece Lucy with help from Molly and Christy and Christy’s daughter Josie, who is 8 years old and a far more talented crafter than I’ll ever hope to be. Andy helped me make the wooden accessories and Christy and Josie taught me how to make the little pipe cleaner dolls with acorn hats. I gathered natural elements from around the yard to make little snacks for their table. For Lucy’s sister, Clara, I filled a briefcase I found at a thrift store with the equipment one might need to be a spy. Invisible ink pens, a fingerprinting kit, rope, and even a tiny crowbar. Yes, I gave a seven-year-old a crowbar for Christmas. I’m not sure it was a successful gift- time will tell! For Henry, Andy made a sweet exponentiation chart that Henry is super into, and I made a science kit with test tubes and powders to crush in a tiny mortar and pestle and tons of food dyes that he has already used to paint his hands a vibrant purple. George got a treasure chest that he can paint, filled with beads and rhinestone jewelry- he loves it! My niece Phinnie got a book with the lyrics from The More We Get Together paired with pictures of her friends and family, plus a little needle-felted vegetable garden playmat to go with the adorable doll house Helen made her for Christmas. For my grown up friends, I just gave homemade treats- jams, jellies, pickled jalapenos, homemade cocoa mix and marshmallows, and the treats you’ve already seen here.
Every year I vow I’m going to start homemade Christmas earlier, but I never do, and I spend the last week or so before Christmas crafting frantically. And I phoned it in this year with several gifts (science kit, treasure kit, spy case) that could only generously be described as semi-homemade. Even so, I love it. I like that the pile of presents under our tree is modest and that the emphasis is on spending the day with our family. Plus eating a lot of candy. I hope those of you who celebrate had a wonderful day too!
Butternut Risotto. I don’t ever want to eat another bowl of risotto for as long as I live. I had chicken stock in the house though, and Henry knew it, and asked if I could please please make him risotto, so I did. Not pictured, because I wanted to take a break from sharing sad taco pictures with you, but Andy, George, and I all ate bacon and egg tacos instead.
Chicken Pot Pie with a Flaky Double Crust. A cold front came in yesterday- it was in the low 40s, y’all. So we stayed inside all day and all got sick of each other. Henry got Uno in his stocking and is obsessed. He played probably two dozen games with Andy. He is savagely competitive, but mostly doesn’t get mad at his opponent anymore unless he has a wild/draw four card that he doesn’t get a chance to use before the other person wins. Then he gets really mad and it’s a whole big thing. George slept terribly the night before and accidentally fell asleep so I got to take a very rare nap with him- it was glorious. I made a double crust for a pie by cutting two sticks of butter into 3 cups of flour, 2 tsp kosher salt, and big pinch of sugar. I mixed in 1/2 cup of ice water, and then used the fraisage technique where you use the heel of your hand to smear the dough into sheets across the counter, which makes thin layers of butter that steam up beautifully in the oven and make a super flaky pie crust. I halved the filling recipe from the linked recipe and it was just the perfect amount.
In the last few days of this year, I’ve got a to do list a mile long of all the stuff we’ve been neglecting around the house. Andy’s off from work and you better believe I’m taking full advantage of it/him! Wishing you a very happy New Year! See you on the other side.