C is for Cookie

OMG CHRISTMAS IS ALMOST HERE IT’S SO CLOSE I CAN TASTE ITTTTTTT!!

Ahem.

So, hey guys! I know it’s a little unusual for me to post on a Saturday, but since my schedule is all messed up due to the impending holidays and whatnot anyway, I figured what the heck. Besides, I needed to document my culinary achievements from yesterday before too much time has passed anyway. Because, yes, yesterday, I made something MAGICAL. Spoiler alert, the end of the story looks like this:

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A little backstory. My Aunt Joanie makes the best sugar cookies in the entire universe. Not just the entire world. The universe. Like, The Doctor himself would agree that these are the best sugar cookies ever. And each year, she mails a tin of said cookies to my parents, and I greedily consume over half of them myself (and we all wonder why I have issues maintaining my weight over the holidays, hahahaha). My family has long tried to recreate what I *thought* was her epic cookie recipe, and year after year… we failed. So, last year after Christmas I finally, FINALLY wrote my Aunt Joanie asking her for the recipe, STRAIGHT FROM THE SOURCE. And a week or so later, what to my wondering eyes should appear?

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That’s right — the handwritten source of all deliciousness. So I’ve been delicately sitting on this treasure map to sugary goodness for the past year (and may or may not have had a sliiiiight freakout when I thought I lost it…) and yesterday, I headed over to my parents’ place and got down to work!

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As you can see from the photos above, these are REAL sugar cookies. These aren’t dumbed-down, healthified-up, or any other such nonsense. These are I-hope-you-have-a-lot-of-people-coming-for-the-holidays-cause-otherwise-you’re-gonna-get-really-fat cookies.

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Now, I should preface this whole thing by saying that this was an incredibly harrowing cookie-baking experience for me. I was so dead-set on getting the cookies EXACTLY right, what with the amazing taste of Aunt Joanie’s cookies eternally emblazoned in my brain and tastebuds, that I kind of went a little crazy after the first couple of trays came out of the oven less than perfect. The taste was there but they were far too crisp and crunchy. Sugar cookie fail! Sure, it was all smiles at first…

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But seeing as how this was my helper:

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It wasn’t long before the entire process started to get to me.

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Luckily, I eventually worked out the tweaks and adjustments needed to accommodate for my mother’s super-hot oven and the fact that I was simply rolling the cookies too thin. And soon, I was pulling tray after tray of cookie perfection out of the oven!

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Huzzah! This means I was done, right? It was over?

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WRONG.

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After an intermission where we were able to, like, eat dinner and stuff, it was time for Act II: decorating. My sister and father had already baked up the necessary pieces for our family’s traditional gingerbread house earlier that day, and those PLUS the plethora of naked sugar cookies I’d just created meant we definitely had our work cut out for us.

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Luckily, I had more than a few willing helpers for this part.

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I was actually pretty amazed at my family’s ability to get through decorating the scores and scores of cookies we had. Sean was an AMAZING sport (and a surprisingly awesome cookie decorator. I was actually getting a little jealous of his skills, hahaha) and we ended up with tins full of delicious cookies, many of which rival the deliciousness of my Aunt Joanie’s (though, of course, I’ve simply come to realize that they really will never be quite as good.) And we all definitely made sure to continue the tradition of creating tiny cookie versions of ourselves (Jenny even made hers a pregnant profile version of herself, hahaha). For us to eat. Hmm. There may be something psychologically telling somewhere in there.

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It’ll probably take another round of cookie-making at some point before I deem this recipe (and the subsequent tweaks I needed to make) suitable for sharing, since only the latter half of the cookies turned out really good. And, of course, some more taste-testing. Heheheheheheheh. Baking and decorating cookies and our family’s gingerbread house is absolutely my favorite family Christmas tradition. (Well, outside of the actual Christmas morning stuff. Cause, I mean, c’mon. Presents.)

I hope you are all having an absolutely amazing pre-Christmas weekend! Try not to get blown away — the wind has been CRAZY around here today!!

POPs

Before I get into my little weekend recap post, I just wanted to take a second to pay homage to the tragedy that occurred last week in Newtown, CT. I would feel like an a-hole if I said absolutely nothing, but, of course, there’s really nothing I can say. It’s a horrific tragedy, and I just… there are simply no words. Anyway, I’m not trying to be a downer, I just think that a tragedy of this magnitude deserves acknowledgement and, of course, remembrance. Not for the monster that did this, but to commemorate and celebrate the lives that were taken.

Okay. So. Now to pluck myself out of the doldrums again, very awkwardly and non sequitur…ly. Eeeeyeah.

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Thanks to my book release as well as the birth of one pretty neat older brother, this weekend was full of little celebrations. Friday night, my boyfriend Sean took me on a date to my beloved Sweetwater Tavern to celebrate the book, then Saturday we had a birthday potluck in honor of Ben’s 29th birthday at the house! Sadly, I took absolutely zero photos of either event. Womp womp fail.

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What I *did* take photos of was Sunday’s excursion. Also, many vain outfit shots. Heh. My whole family gathered together to go see the National Symphony Orchestra’s Holiday POPs concert at the Kennedy Center! Naturally, I found this the perfect excuse to bust out one of my Oh-em-gee-this-dress-is-only-$9-but-when-am-I-ever-going-to-wear-it purchases from when I decimated the Leesburg Outlets with my friend Holly back in October.

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I love a good reason to get dressed up! We had dinner at the Terrace Restaurant in the Kennedy Center before the show, which was delicious and extravagant.

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I started with a salad that had bibb lettuce, blue cheese, candied cashews, apples, and an apple vinaigrette (and helped myself to not a small amount of Sean’s seafood chowder, hahaha). I got the mussels & frites for my entree, which was actually listed as an appetizer so I got an OBSCENE amount of mussels. Not that I’m complaining. But yeah, literally, I had a cauldron full of mussels. Om nom nom.

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Then it was time for the show! The concert itself was wonderful. It was a lot more jazzy than I expected — the NSO collaborated with an a cappella quartet called “New York Voices” and the result was a lot of complex harmonies and jazz interpretations of our favorite traditional holiday tunes.

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Okay, fine, it was mostly Christmas tunes (they even had Santa come out at the end, haha), but they DID play one non-Christmas song (O, Chanukah) so I guess that’s what makes it a “Holiday” concert, hahaha. Either way, it was super enjoyable, very impressive, and really got my holiday gears cranking (’cause… you know… I have such a difficult time getting excited for Christmas… lololol). GUYS. THIS IS THE LAST WEEK BEFORE CHRISTMAS WEEK. AAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!

What’s your favorite thing about the holiday season? You know, pre-actual Christmas, what’s your favorite thing about this Decemberiffic time? The decorations, the baked goods constantly available, the tacky sweater parties…?

PS: Quick note. Just in case any of you are looking for me on Twitter moving forward, I’ve updated my handle to @gretchenpowell!

5 Favorite Holiday Films

Keeping on with this theme of random lists of 5 things I evidently have going this week, we move onto… HOLIDAY MOVIES!

This is a countdown of all my Christmas-y & holiday-y faves. I absolutely LOVE this time of year, and part of the reason for that is because it’s acceptable for me to watch these movies pretty much nonstop (and back to back). First up…

5.The Nightmare Before Christmas

What with ditties like, “This is Halloween” and all, you might think this is actually a Halloween movie. YOU WOULD BE WRONG. This movie is Christmas through-and-through, and is so much fun to watch year after year. It’s charming, heartwarming, funny, and just so, so good. Oh, claymation. I miss you.

I’m going to assume that everyone who is anyone has seen it already, but if you’re part of the no one group at the moment, I think you know what needs to be done.

4. Holiday Inn

You might not know that “Holiday Inn” wasn’t always a reference to economic hotel stays. In fact, it was first a 1942 movie starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Yes. Both of them, in one movie. Epic. I’m a sucker for old movies in general (“Singin’ in the Rain” is still my all-time favorite movie!) and this is no exception. This is THE movie where “White Christmas” first originated (well, the song, not the concept), and is such a delight. It’s about an inn that’s only opened on the holidays (go figure), and is chock-full of singing, dancing, and amazing 40s-style writing.

Fair warning, there is an entire part of the movie that centers around the characters wearing blackface (in commemoration of Lincoln’s Birthday). I mean… it was the 40s. So yeah. But that aside, the movie really does hold up!

3. Love, Actually

As if I’d have a holiday movie without “Love, Actually.” I’m sure there aren’t too many of you out there who haven’t seen this delightful Christmas-themed British film of interwoven vignettes. It is THE ORIGINAL (and without fail, the best) of all the subsequent vignette-ridden holiday-themed movies that have come out (Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, blah blah blah).

If nothing else, the movie is worth it just to see Rick from The Walking Dead pour his adorabe cue-carded heart out to Keira Knightley. I think it’s safe to assume that this film takes place pre-zombie apocalypse.

2. The Holiday

I’m a sucker for the rom coms, it’s true. And I’m a sucker for Jude Law in… just about anything (though I have to admit, the way he’s styled in Anna Karenina doesn’t do much for me, hahaha). And since the first time I saw this movie, I have loved it.

The basic summary is this: Iris (Kate Winslet) and Amanda (Cameron Diaz) are two equally unlucky-in-love women, who trade houses with each other over Christmas in an attempt to shake up/escape their lives. Hilarity, friendship, and romance ensues. OH, and the score is AMAZING. Like, seriously. Hans Zimmer wrote the score (he is also the amazing composer responsible for Pirates of the Caribbean, and other huge blockbuster films) and it is just wonderful. Like, makes you want to fly up out of your seat and go chase after the one you love.

1. ELF!

And yes, to put the cap on this cake of delicious holiday festiveness, we have the piece de resistance: ELF! I don’t care how many people think Will Ferrel is annoying or this movie is over-quoted or whatever. To me, it is perfect. And I will watch and laugh and quote ’til my heart spilleth over!

Plus, it doesn’t hurt that it’s got Zooey Deschenel in it (do you guys watch New Girl? UGH I DIE LAUGHING EVERY WEEK). Of course, she is blonde in Elf, which is kind of weird, but she sings, so it makes up for it. (If you’re looking for Christmas music to get into, by the way, the She & Him Christmas album stars Ms. Deschenel’s sultry tones and is really delightful.)

ANYWAY. SO there you have it! My top 5. And if you are like Sean, and find yourself surprised that A Christmas Story wasn’t on this list, I have some potentially shocking news for you. I… don’t actually like A Christmas Story very much. I mean, I can appreciate it from a cultural perspective, and I’ve seen it enough times to get all the references, of course. But, as a movie, I’m just kinda like, ehhhhh? Don’t hate me!

Favorite holiday film: GO!

PS: Final reminder about the Blue Diamond Almonds giveaway! I’m drawing the winners tomorrow AM, so get your last minute entries in now!

5 Things I Cannot Fracking Wait For

Do forgive the Battlestar Galactica-style swearing in this post title, but there are a few upcoming things that I am pretty gosh-darned-tootin’ dang-nabbit excited for, and you are about to hear all about them. Happy Monday! Hahaha.

1. MY BOOK RELEASE!!

I know, I know, you are probably (definitely?) sick and tired of hearing about book-related stuff here. But rest assured, we can all see the light at the end of that tunnel! The release day of Terra is THIS WEDNESDAY (which happens to be 12/12/12. I actually did not plan this on purpose, but it really worked out nicely, hahaha) and I am SO EXCITED SOMETIMES I JUST SIT AND BOUNCE UP AND DOWN IN MY CHAIR. Or on my feet. Or laying prostrate in my bed. (Have you ever tried bouncing whilst laying down, by the way? Not as easy as one might think.)

Auuuuugh, I’m just so excited and terrified but mostly excited and pipe-dreamily hopeful and… eeep! If you’re one of the sporadic-check-in readers and aren’t too sure what all this book-talk is about, feel free to check out my writing blog, or the book’s Goodreads page. THREE DAYS!

Preggo Jenny!

2. My super preggo sister!

My “big” sister Jenny (I use that term loosely since she is 7 inches shorter than I am) and her husband are coming home for the holidays on the 19th! They moved to Houston over the summer, just when they found out that Jenny was super-dee-duper preggo (for the first time, yayyyy!) and even though I’ve been lucky to see her sporadically since the move, I’m SO excited to get a nice long period of hang-outage with my sissy poo.

I do need to prepare myself though, because every time I see her, she is more and more pregnant (um, duh) and it’s always a little jarring. As in, I pretty much just hone in straight on her belly and start to cry. Luckily, this surprises no one.

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3. CHRISTMAS!!!

Poor, unaware readers who have found this job in the time between last Christmas and this one… I’m sorry. You are probably not yet aware of the extreme, dear, obsessive, passionate love I have for this time of year. I. LOVE. CHRISTMAS. And this year is, of course, no exception. Once Jenny & Dan get back into town, there will be much cookie decorating, gingerbread house making, eggnog drinking, and general merriment. Yayyyyyyy!

4. Les Mis

Speaking of Christmas, guess what movie comes out Christmas Day? Yep, Les Miserables! (Well, the musical movie, not to be confused with the non-musical movie that came out in 1998.) I am a die-hard Les Mis fan (I’ve seen the musical like five times, and would gladly see it a dozen times more) and am SO excited about the cast, the director, the everything. Ahhhhhh, it’s gonna be so gooooooood, ermahgerrrrrd.

5. Game of Thrones

I know this is kind of a jump, since the new season of Game of Thrones won’t be starting until March 2013 (whyyyyy?), but I really needed something to round out this list, since 5 Things always sounds better than 4 Things, hahaha. Anyway, if you’re not already a GoT fan, you need to load up on Seasons 1 & 2 ASAP, because it’s flippin’ amazing. Although, fair warning, there is not a small amount of boobage shown, hahahaha. Anyway, this is definitely one of the most highly anticipated shows on my list (y’know, given the fact that Vampire Diaries is already on TV… though this week is the last episode before the winter break, nooooo!) and I just wanted to spread the word. Jon Snow forevs!

Aaaaand, there you have it. Just a little taste of what’s whetting my appetite lately.

What upcoming things are you most excited for right now?

PS: There’s still time to get your entries in for my Blue Diamond Almonds giveaway!

Holiday Mental Check

I love holiday season. I love the festivities, I love the food (duh), and I love the general feelings of goodwill towards man that flow through the air from November through January. Everyone seems just a little friendlier, a little more willing to say hi or lend a hand. Also, presents.

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But the holidays are also a time plagued with other issues for me. The constant, continual offerings of food and feasting, drinks and dessert, have been very conflicting for me in the past. I’m sure it’s far too generalizing to say that it’s an issue that anyone who has struggled with eating issues has had, but I’d venture to guess that it is. It’s very wearying to have a running battle inside your mind, pitting your wants and desires against each other.

Yes, I want to eat and be merry and have fun with my family. No, I don’t want to overeat and feel guilty and stuffed, or look like a pig. Yes, I want to be able to indulge in food that I usually only get to eat once a year. No, I don’t want to gain that holiday weight. Yes, I want to eat pumpkin pie. No, I’m not sure I’ll be able to stop at just one slice.

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It’s exhausting. So this year, I’ve put some pretty serious thought to mentally checking myself for the holidays. It might sound kind of silly, maybe a little bit like an overreaction, to have to mentally prepare for a meal. But c’mon, food is a pretty pervasive thing during the holidays. And I do have known and admitted, past and present, issues with food, my body, eating, and the feelings that that are wrapped up in those things. I try to embrace both parts of me when it comes to holiday meals now: the part that still loves the food, the smells, the spirit AND the part that wants to strive for balance and health in her life. It’s what led me to create some of my awesome healthier-but-still-awesomely-indulgent holiday recipes.

Stuffing Ingredients

I am SO looking forward to Thanksgiving tomorrow. I can’t wait to start prepping tonight, to get together with my family in the kitchen tomorrow, and have my only job for the day be to cook, and then eat. But I am going into the entire day with thought and purpose. And in that spirit, here is my Thanksgiving credo: I will eat what I choose. I will enjoy every bite, and not eat for the sake of eating. I will listen to the cues of my body, and strive not to stuff myself to the point of belly-rubbin’, jeans-poppin’, about-to-burst fullness, BUT if I do, I will not beat myself up about it. I will not obsess over what the scale will say afterward.
I mean, c’mon. It’s freaking Thanksgiving, you know?

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I sincerely hope you have an awesome holiday, filled with friends, family, food — or however you choose to spend it!