31 December 2009

So Long, 2009

I'm not sure why I decided to add a photo of my breakfast to this post. But I did. It was pretty yummy.

I know this was not a great year for many people. At work, I'm thrilled to be able to say good-bye to 2009. It was crazy and insane. Brian and I were fortunate to survive during a time of budget cuts and lay-offs. But overall, I have to say, 2009 was a really great year for our family. Some of the highlights of our year were:
See? We pretty much had a blast. There were so many other fun times with friends and family too. We are so lucky to have such great people in our lives.

It's a blue moon tonight (the first NYE blue moon since 1990) -- that has to be a good sign.

Here's to a great 2010!

29 December 2009

Wine & Cheese

Tonight, we went over to Chris & Penny's, along with some other neighbors -- Isabelle, Francois, and their three kids -- for a little wine, cheese and homemade bread. It was absolutely delicious.

27 December 2009

Christmas in Wisconsin - Day Two

Next up, a day with Brian's family. Brian's mom had a fantastic Christmas lunch for us. We spent a great afternoon with her, then went over and visited Brian's sister and her family. I know we don't need to hop on a plane, or travel many, many hours in a car to visit our families, but sometimes, it would really be nice to live closer than a couple hours away. We had a great time with everyone. Thank you, Wisconsin. We miss you already.


We left fairly early for our next leg of the Wisconsin journey, but not before a bit of time in the snow. My mom loves it as much as the boys, I think. She took them sledding. My dad plowed the driveway while C stood under the blowing snow and Storm chased the tractor.

Christmas in Wisconsin - Day One

Florida girl making snow angels -- Santa's helpers (yes, C is wearing his suit coat, again)
Christie and me with our cousin, Justin.Storm with my sister, the former non-dog lover.
Most of the gang.The day after Christmas, we traveled to Wisconsin to spend the holidays with our families. My parents hosted an awesome chili lunch, and we were very happy to get to spend time with my sister and her family and my cousin and his family from Tampa. My parents live in the woods, and it was a beautiful winter wonderland while we were there. My dad's tractor rides while pulling the sled(s) around the driveway were a huge hit with the kids. What a great day.

(Here's a video, of the tractor sled ride, in case you are interested):

25 December 2009

Christmas 2009

The boys woke up at 7:00 a.m. They were so excited about the slot car set they got -- but H was mostly thrilled about the letter Santa wrote him in response to his. At 3:00 p.m. we finally got out of our PJs and got ready for our guests. Melissa and I took turns with the courses, and had a great meal. We had sweet potato ravioli.

French onion soup.

Shrimp with bok choy and an Asian Beurre Blanc Sauce.

And chocolate cake and cookies. We also did wine parings, so by this point, quite frankly I forgot to take pictures (updated note: for really good food shots, and a photo of the finished lamb dish, visit Tales of the Elsmo Four). It was a great night, and now, we are looking forward to our trip up to Wisconsin. Merry Christmas.

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

C donned his finest suit jacket (the only one he owns -- the first time he's worn it) and we walked across the street to The Frigs house for our annual Christmas Eve. appetizer extravaganza. This year, Penny's parents were in town from Mississippi, and it was a pleasure sharing the evening with them. By 9:00, the boys (and M) were anxious for us to go. They had been tracking Santa and noticed he was already in Canada. Needless to say, H & C were asleep within minutes. Thanks for a wonderful night Chris & Penny!

24 December 2009

Happy Holidays ... from me to you!

We'll be home for the holidays this year. It's really icy out, so probably is a good thing our plans don't take us more than a block away from home, celebrating with great friends, sitting by our fire. We'll travel to Wisconsin this weekend to see our families, and can't wait. Besides, there's nothing wrong with celebrating four days of Christmas now, is there?

Wishing you and your loved ones a merry holiday season. Love, A, B, C & H

22 December 2009

Cookies: Dark Chocolate Meringues

Dark Chocolate Meringues
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60-75% cacao), divided
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted (preferably dark chocolate)
3 tablespoons cocoa nibs, optional
1/3 cup egg whites (about 3 large), room temperature
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat over to 350 degrees F. Coarsely chop 3 ounces of chocolate; melt it and set aside. Chop remaining 2 ounces of chocolate into pieces the size of mini-chocolate chips. In a small bowl, combine chopped chocolate with cocoa and cocoa nibs, if using. In separate glass bowl, combine egg whites and cream of tartar; beat with electric mixer at low speed for 30 sections, then at medium speed until soft peaks form. Slowly add sugar, about a tablespoon at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Beat mixture about 2 minutes longer, using medium speed of mixer. Mixture should be smooth, opaque, glossy and thickened. Beat at high speed for 30 seconds more. Lightly fold in cocoa mixture and melted chocolate just until evenly blended and no streaks remain. Do not over mix. Drop rounded teaspoonfuls about 1-inch apart on parchment paper lined cookie sheets.

Bake at 350 degrees for 8-12 minutes. Cookies will be firm when pressed gently by still soft inside. Cool for 1-2 minutes on pans, then transfer to wire cooling racks to cool completely. Cookies are best served fresh, but may be stored in tightly covered container for up to 3 days or in freezer for up to 3 weeks. Makes about 4 dozen.

21 December 2009

Bright Lights

We are not big outdoor holiday decoration people. We plop a wreath on the door. And I put some red tree branches in our outdoor planters. But I do get a kick out of some of the homes in our neighborhood. Here's just a few we found around the neighborhood from when H & I took Storm on a walk today.

Buiding Towers

The boys built a giant tower with their House of Cards (we have two sets). It lasted about a minute -- then had to be knocked down.

Cookies: Chocolate Roll

Chocolate Roll Cookies
1 cup (6-ounce package) semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ cup sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated)
¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon butter, softened
¾ cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2-3 teaspoons milk, if needed
¾ cup finely chopped walnuts

Combine chocolate, sweetened condensed milk and 1 tablespoon butter. Heat until chocolate is melted; stir to blend. Cool slightly. In separate bowl, cream ¾ cup butter. Add sugar gradually; cream until fluffy Add vanilla, flour and salt; mix well. If dough is too crumbly, mix in 2-3 teaspoons milk. Divide dough into thirds; roll each on lightly floured surface into 6x10-inch rectangle. Spread each with 1/3 of the chocolate mixture; sprinkle with ¼ cup nuts. Roll carefully to for 10-inch roll. Refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut each roll into 1/4 –inch slices. Place on ungreased cookie sheets and bake for 6-8 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on pan for about 2 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely. Makes about 9 dozen.

20 December 2009

Big Bad C Wolf

Night & Day

The Elsmo's threw an awesome holiday party last night. It was so much fun spending the evening with friends, old and new, from far and near. We stayed out later than we have in awhile (I'm speaking for myself of course). This morning, the "out-of-towners" and Elsmo's came over for brunch ... complete with Bloody Marys. Very good times.

19 December 2009

Cookies: Rum Balls

Rum Balls
1-1/2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs
1/4 cup rum
1/4 cup honey
2 cups ground walnuts
Powdered sugar

Thoroughly mix together crumbs, rum, honey and walnuts. Shape teaspoonfuls of mixture into small balls. Roll in powdered sugar. Store in airtight container until ready to serve. Makes about 3 dozen.

18 December 2009

Art by C: Angel

Cookies: Cookie Canes

Cookie Canes
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup instant malted milk powder (not chocolate)
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon water
Red and green colored sugar

Preheat over to 350 degrees F. Cream butter; add sugar gradually. Beat in eggs and vanilla. In separate bowl, mix flour, balking powder, salt and malted milk powder. Add dry ingredients and walnuts to butter mixture; blend well. Dough will be stiff. Shape rounded teaspoonfuls into pencil-like strips. Place on greased cookie sheets; turn one end to resemble a cane OR shape level tablespoonfuls into balls and flatten to 1/4 –inch thickness. Combine egg and water; brush on cookies and sprinkle with colored sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Cool on pan for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Makes about 8 dozen.

17 December 2009

Cookies: Peppermint Snowballs

I have no idea what got into me. I'm not a cookie maker. I've never felt the need to bake cookies during the holidays. Once -- I think it was our first year in our first house -- I made some cookies. That was a long time ago. For some reason, this year I decided to tackle not one, not two, but a few different cookies recipes. I'm half way done.

Peppermint Snowballs
1 cup butter, softened
½ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

Preheat over to 350 degrees F. Cream butter, gradually adding powdered sugar; mix in vanilla. Blend in flour; mix well. Shape rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into balls. Make a deep well in center of each ball with a handle of a wooden spoon. Fill with ¼ teaspoon of Filling Shape scant ¼ teaspoonful of dough into a flat round and place on top of filling; press to seal. Place on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 1-2 minutes; then roll warm cookies in Coating. Make about 3-1/2 dozen.

2 tablespoons cream cheese, room temperature
1 teaspoon milk
½ cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons finely crushed peppermint candy
¼ teaspoon peppermint extract
1 drop red food coloring

Combine cream cheese and milk; blend in sugar gradually. Stir in candy, extract and food coloring.

¼ cup powdered sugar
½ cup finely crushed peppermint candy

Combine ingredients.


A little girl at H's school was selling mistletoe to raise money for American Cancer Society. We bought two. Last weekend, I took the boys to the store, and asked Brian if he could hang it up while we were gone. One is hanging up in the living room. But I completely cracked up when I found the other one ... hanging above our bed.

Art by H: Weaving

16 December 2009

Holiday Concert with H

This morning we got treated with an awesome concert at H's school. I'm always amazed at the show they put on, and the 2nd and 3rd graders were very impressive. The 2nd grade sang I Saw Three Ships (H played xylophone) and Kye, Kye, Kule, a West African call-and-response song (wow - I found video of the actual production of this song here!). Third grade sang a Hanukkah song, In the Window, and a very sweet version of The Twelve Days of Christmas. Together they sang The Hope of the Future, and signed along with it. It was really wonderful. As an extra treat for H, Brian was the "mystery reader" in his classroom in the afternoon. They enter the room covered in a blanket, and the children have three clues to guess. H got it right away, and couldn't have been more thrilled. From the sounds of it, Brian had a pretty awesome time too. (He read Sancho the Snowboarder, and it was a big hit.)

15 December 2009

Friends & Art by C: Rainbow

Brian and I bought our first house house about twelve years ago. It was a 2-flat in the River West neighborhood in Chicago. We immediately hit it off with the couple who were living in the building (even though she once blamed our dog of peeing in her purse -- we found out later it was really her EX-husband, if you can imagine). And while it was only four months later before they bought their own place and moved out, those four months were amazing. We spent the summer hanging out in the back yard, practically sharing every meal and staying up until the wee hours of the night laughing and talking. We've stayed friends throughout the years, but it's been almost three since we saw her last. Tonight, our friend Basia came over for dinner. It was simple evening. We ordered Thai. And had a great time catching up. I can't wait to do it again.