Empathy Cards

February 4, 2016
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Emily McDowell makes really funny cards, but I believe my favorites of hers are those of the Empathy variety. Because it’s true that I am the worst when it comes to knowing what to say in a crappy situation. But then I listen to those talking in a crappy situation and often, they’re the worst too. Sometimes not. But often.

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I don’t have bad feelings for anyone saying anything though, because we’re all just trying our best to stumble through and most of us have no idea what we are talking about. We just try in different ways. I try to not say anything dumb.

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It seems our collective awkwardness gets turned up to 11 whenever someone is diagnosed with something terrible. Or is suddenly put in the hospital. Or well, there are like 5,000 other situations where we all get weird. And now, we have cards to proactively help us be less lame. Thank you, Emily McDowell.

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Today is World Cancer Day, an annual event that unites the globe in the fight against cancer. The campaign is designed to raise awareness and education about the disease, to encourage action to save millions of preventable deaths each year.

You can buy Emily McDowell’s Empathy Cards here. 

How To Make Limoncello

January 1, 2016
How to make limoncello
By Kristin Paull

We travelled to Italy a few years ago, and were lucky enough to stay in the beautiful town of Positano very near Pompeii.  It is a town built on a cliff above a few beaches.  I think it was something like 250,000 steps from our hotel to the beach.  Ok, not really, but it felt like it.  We learned a little late in the game that you can take the local bus for very little and avoid all of the steps.  I highly recommend the bus. 

Everywhere we went in Positano, the lovely pottery for sale was covered in lemons. Every restaurant featured lemon sauces, lemon desserts, etc. all followed with little glasses of limoncello.  If you have ever had it before, at first taste it reminds you of lemon-flavored cough syrup with a kick.  It is meant to be a digestif after all of the pasta and such.  At first, we were not fans, but by the third or so we loved it.

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I asked a local about why everyone serves limoncello.  He said that most of the families there have lemon trees.  After the tourist season ends in October or so, they head home to harvest their lemons with their families.  They get whole grain alcohol from the government, and use the rind from the lemons for the limoncello.  It takes 95 days from start to finish, which means it is ready when the weather starts to warm up.  They use the juice from the lemons for their sauces throughout the summer as well.  It turns out that making limoncello is mostly just waiting and a little bit of making.  I can totally do that!  I found a recipe that included a vanilla bean, which really does soften it just enough.  If you drink limoncello, then be sure you are just serving it in little shot glasses.  Beware, it can get really easy to drink, and before you know it, you have passed the point of no return…and you are desperately needing a nap!  If drinking it intimidates you, I have also served it poured over a lemon sorbet topped with raspberries.  It makes for a really refreshing dessert.  The texture of the drink is syrupy and viscous, so it is best served very cold.  I keep my bottle ready to go in the freezer.  It gets more aggressive the warmer it gets.  Why do I bring up limoncello now?  Well, it is citrus season!  Hooray!  My Meyer Lemons are almost ready to pluck, but they don’t make for good limoncello.  That said, you can run to the grocery store, and grab big lemons right now.  Just be sure that you are only removing the yellow rind- leave the white pith behind.  I used my lemon “innards” in my juicer so that my 10 year old could make his lip-puckering homemade lemonade.  Enjoy!

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Limoncello

(this is a double batch)

What you’ll need:

One liter of Everclear

10-15 really nice lemons (the rind matters, friends)

5 cups of sugar

4 cups of water

1 vanilla bean

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What you’ll do:

First, after you have washed those lemons, you will zest them.  You can use the five whole zester, the microplaner or the carrot peeler.  Put all of the zest in the large sealable jar with the liter of booze.  Don’t do vodka- it’s not the same.  Let it sit for 45 days in a cool dark place.

After 45 days, you will need to make the syrup, and remove the peels.  You can simply pour the mixture through a fine mesh to remove the peels.  Put the lemony goodness back in the jar with one vanilla bean.  This will mellow it out just enough to make it irresistible.  Bring the four cups of water to a boil, and dissolve the 5 cups of sugar into the water.  Allow it all to cool, before you add it to the limoncello.  Once combined, store it back in the cool, dark place.  

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After the second 45 days, take your mesh, and line it with two coffee filters.  Put it over a bowl, and filter your limoncello into the bowl.  This will take a while as it should be thick and syrupy.  You can filter again if you want it to be more clear.  Finally, use a funnel to fill up the bottle or bottles of your choice.  Store in the freezer until you are ready to use.

Salute!

Not Sure What To Leave for Santa? (Here’s a Tip: Leave Him Christmas Cookies.)

December 24, 2015
the best christmas cookies
By Kristin Paull

I don’t know about you, but I am struggling a little bit when I think of how little time I have before Christmas and how much I have yet to do.  How does this happen to me every year?!!!  I mean, I know it is coming and yet I am always pressed for time.  Ugh.  Baking helps me settle the voices, but I know that is not true for everyone.  Lucky for you, these two cookie recipes are easy to manage, and they freeze really well.  The first is an Oatmeal Cookie with Golden Raisins and Dried Cranberries.  I know…I know…you don’t like raisins.  I will tell you this- these cookies are such a hit that the teachers who receive them every year won’t let me make anything else.  I have to share this recipe with someone every year as they can’t get over how much they love them.  But, if you insist that you will not like the oatmeal cookies then I submit to you the Chocolate Chocolate Chip with Peppermint Cookies.  Chocoholics can rejoice, and they look nice and festive as well.  The best part about both of these cookies is that you can use a small ice cream scoop to drop them onto your baking sheet.  Seriously, you can finish one batch in less than one hour.  Heat up your ovens, don your aprons, and don’t forget the holiday music and a glass of wine while you cook.  After all, you deserve it!  Let’s do this!

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Oatmeal Cookies with Golden Raisins and Dried Cranberries
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What you’ll need:

2 ½ sticks of butter, unsalted, room temp

1 cup light brown sugar

1 1/8 cup of regular sugar

1 large egg

1 ½ tsp vanilla

3 cups old fashioned oats

1 ½ cup all purpose flour

¾ tsp salt

2 ½ tsp baking soda

1 ½ cup combo of golden raisins, cranberries, cherries, etc.

(I like the golden raisins and cranberries)

Cinnamon

(I think I use about ½ teaspoon, but honestly I just shake it out over the flower and oat mixture until I can smell it)

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What you’ll do:

Preheat oven to 350.  Cream butter and sugars in a stand mixer with paddle attachment until fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla- mix until combined.  In separate bowl, stir together oats, flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon.  Add the flour mix to the butter mix (half first and then the rest) until combined.  Finally, add the dried fruit.  Use the scoop to portion onto the cookie sheets, and bake 8-10 minutes depending on your oven.  They should be golden brown and a little underdone in the center as they will continue to cook some once removed.

And then try these…

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Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies with Peppermint

ingredients

What you’ll need:

12 oz package of dark chocolate chips (go as dark or semi as you prefer)

2 TBS water

6 TBS unsalted butter, room temp

¾ cup sugar

½ tsp salt

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 ¼ cups all purpose flour

½ tsp baking soda

peppermint chips or crushed peppermint candies

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What you’ll do:

Heat oven to 375.  Set up double boiler with 1 cup of the chips and the water- melt together and let cool some.  Meanwhile, in mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar and salt.  Add eggs and vanilla until combined.  Add melted chocolate until combined.  In bowl, combine flour, baking soda and the last cup of chocolate chips.  Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture.  Here you can add the peppermint chips into the batter.  Or, as I did this time, I scooped my dough, and then sprinkled or dipped the tops into the crushed candies.  Bake for 10-12 minutes depending on your oven.

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BTW, both of these cookies go great with a glass of milk!  Also, they’re total Santa pleasers. Proven.

Bon Apetit!

Kristin Paull is a baker who makes the best cookies I’ve ever consumed in my life. They are like little works of art. Like better than wine. With more traces of lemon zest and cardamom.  Read more about Kristin here.

TBT: Winter Solstice Dinner

December 17, 2015
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Winter Solstice has many associated traditions…Sadly, they’re all pretty bleak. Like the bleak midwinter they honor. But a few years ago we had a Winter Solstice Dinner and it was quite lovely. Here’s a Throwback to some a few of our Winter Solstice Dinner Feast and some of our favorite Winter Solstice treats.

Winter Solstice Pumpkin Soup

Yuletide Yule Wreath

Peppered Guinness Roast Beast with Parsnips and Figs

Gingerbread with Lemon Sauce

All these work great for a Winter Solstice meal, or I think I’ll be making a few of them for Christmas this year.

Merry Yuletide!

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10 Reasons You Need to Stop What You’re Doing and Go Watch “Man Up” Right Now

December 17, 2015
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By Katherine Center

If, like me, you are always tragically hoping for romantic comedies to meet their potential, this one’s for you.

Man Up is a just-about-perfect rom-com. I loved it. I wanted to eat it like a cupcake.  It does everything I ever hope a rom-com will do:  It tickles you with witty banter, churns along with great dialogue, hooks into the pleasure of romantic tension between two people, breaks your heart a little, puts the difference between “alone” and “together” into stark relief, and gives you all the delightful feelings of falling in love.

It’s in some cities in theaters right now–but it’s also for rent to stream on Amazon.  Watch it tonight.  I promise–you’ll be so glad you did.

Here are ten reasons this movie is now in my top rom-coms of all time.

  1. This lonely moment on the train.

OneThere are real stakes in this movie.  There are moments that linger on isolation, and disappointment, and feeling lost and alone.  Pay attention, movie world!  Romantic comedies should never just be comedies!  The story has to have moments of genuine sorrow to give weight and meaning to the act of finding love.

  1. This adorable man.

twoPossibly the cutest rom-com dad ever.  Celebrating his 40th wedding anniversary, he toasts his wife, and says:  “We probably won’t make it another forty years–” And she jumps in and says, “I bloody hope not!”  He concludes: “But here’s to spending whatever time we have left together.”

  1. Lines like:  “Congratulations on your massive pack of lies.”

threeGreat dialogue.  Great banter.  It’s a pleasure to hear, and it creates great chemistry.  Screenwriter Tess Morris rocks it out.  “Massive pack of lies” is my new favorite phrase.

  1. Simon Pegg cries.Twice. 

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What does Brené Brown keep telling us about vulnerability?  “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity.”  It’s also the birthplace of all kinds of goodness in a romantic comedy.  Simon Pegg full-out cries for a long scene in this movie–snurfly, nose-wiping tears. And guess what?  It works.  I’m trying to think of the last time I saw a man cry in any movie–other than Adam Sandler, for yuks.  American rom-coms have been acting too tough of late: leaving out all the raw emotions, the vulnerability, and the bravery that should course through movies like this.  Man Up is not afraid to go all-in, and the tenderness makes the story matter.

  1. Lake Bell does NOT cry.  Much.  Okay, she cries a little.

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She holds it together most of the time–but the way she holds it together, despite disappointment after disappointment, makes you root for her.  You’re RIGHT THERE with her.  One of her goals is to “Put yourself out there.”  Man Up shows us just how hard it is for her to do that–and then she does it anyway.

  1.  The Best Bowling-as-Foreplay Montage Ever

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Bowling is the best. Why HAVEN’T there been more bowling-themed love montages?

  1. The Reflex

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Does this movie NEED a scene with a dance fight to a Duran Duran song?  Not really.  Is it a total bonus that it has one?  Yep.  It’s awesome because of Duran Duran–but it’s also so charmingly comic the way Nancy and Jack’s voices are annoyed but their bodies are having fun.  Plus, is this a real dance?  Is this something that everybody knows, like the Thriller dance?  The minute the song comes on, they both jump in, like, Of course.  Did I miss it back in the ‘eighties?  Doesn’t matter, I guess.  It works.  Plus, they’re singing the nonsense lyrics to each other like those lyrics mean something.  Just yummy all around.

  1. The way Jack watches Nancy while she makes up an imaginary sexual history for them in front of his ex-wife.

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His face just runs the gamut from concerned to surprised to amused to befuddled to titillated and back again.  Great face.  And he is really, really listening.  And who doesn’t love a man who listens?

  1.  The way it doesn’t insult you.

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This is not a rom-com that hates rom-coms.  This movie is unapologetically a story about people who would like to find love–and are trying to do just that.  These people feel like real people and the choices they make feel like real choices for the real world.  There are no jokes about boobies in this movie.  There are no pole dances.  There are no references to Jonah Hill masturbating.  It has a sweetness to it that in today’s movie climate feels very brave.

  1. The end.

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The movie opens with a long tracking shot through a party, and it ends with one, too.  The final shot floats along, checking in on all the characters we’ve just met before floating outside and stepping back.  The whole movie feels like a love letter to love.  It’s a dreamy way to end–tender and sweet–as everybody goes on with their lives.  It leaves you with a feeling not that things will never change and we must statically be Happy Ever After from this second forward–but more that life will move on, as it always does, and there will be sorrows and struggles, but there will also be moments of joy worth savoring.  For the moment, all is well.  I love those moments in life.  Don’t you?

Here’s the trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QgPlqoxu4M

Enjoy!

Katherine Center is the author of five novels: The Bright Side of Disaster (2007), Everyone is Beautiful (2009), Get Lucky (2010), The Lost Husband (2013)–just optioned for a movie!–and Happiness for Beginners (2015), with two more on the way.  Read more about Katherine here.  Or here.

What to Plant In December

December 10, 2015
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Although we haven’t even started the Twelve Days of Christmas, I’m already thinking about Valentines Day…I mean, when it comes to gardening, that is. The things you plant around here* in December mostly remind me of pinks and fragrants. Roses for clipping, strawberries for dipping, you get the gist. Throw in some onions and spinach for a Mardi Gras salad, and you’re good to go. So let’s get going.

What to Plant Decemberber

 

Roses.  This is a new one for me. I’ve never actually been tempted to plant roses before because before they look amazing, they look pretty bleak. Also, borderline ugly. But there’s a whole metaphor in there somewhere, and if 2016 is going to be coming up roses, now’s the time to make that happen. Here’s an overview on how to plant roses.  And here are the top ten roses for a Texas garden.

Onions. These are really easy to plant and grow…and you always need them. Just get your starters at your favorite seed/bulb supply or big box hardware store’s nursery department. They can help you. Or read more here. Basically you just put the starters/bulbs in the ground and get out of the way. You’ll have a ton ready to go before Easter.

Lavender. I think this is most decadent herb. And it grows really well in Central Texas, home of the Blanco Lavender Festival in Blanco, Texas, and a Lavender Festival at Becker Vineyards in Stonewall, Texas.  It does okay in North Texas and not so great the Gulf Coast region. But if you can get it going, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.  Here’s how to plant lavender.

Strawberries. Early next month the Queso gang is headed to strawberry central. And I am inspired. I’ve tried strawberries a few times and it’s never really worked out, but I’ve never tried them this early. I hear that is the key. Let’s see.

Spinach. Spinach is a great companion plant for strawberries. And it’s the green staple that likes to be transplanted a little bit later than all its green cousins. You’ll need it all spring. To be big and strong. 

So skip ahead a few holidays, stop thinking about fudge and start thinking about chocolate…to cover all your strawberries. Merry Valentines!

*This is written for zones 7-9

Gingerbread Pumpkin Trifle

December 8, 2015
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My friend Allison gave me this recipe. I made it for Thanksgiving and it was swell. I think it works really well for any December gathering. Check it.

December Gingerbread Pumpkin Trifle

 1 – 14 oz. package gingerbread mix
1 – 5.1 oz. box “cook and serve” vanilla pudding mix
1 – 30 oz. can pumpkin pie filling
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 – 12 oz. container frozen whipped topping, thawed
1/2 cup gingersnaps

Bake the gingerbread according to the package directions; cool completely. Meanwhile, prepare the pudding and set aside to cool. Stir the pumpkin pie filling, sugar, and cinnamon in to the pudding. Crumble one batch of gingerbread into the bottom of the trifle bowl. Pour 1/2 of the pudding mixture over the gingerbread, then add a layer of whipped topping. Repeat with the remaining gingerbread, pudding, and whipped topping. Sprinkle the top with crushed gingersnaps. Refrigerate overnight.

IMG_3812 (1)That’s it. It’s super easy, looks great and tastes so good. File it under EASY. Enjoy.

TTYL: The Things You’ll Love This Week (The Holidays Are ON!)

December 7, 2015
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Happy Holiday Season! We have been moving slowly in a Thanksgiving hangover but things are speeding up as we’re sliding into the end of the year. We have a lot in store as we are in and out of stores and up to our eyeballs in chores and oh my gosh, you totally know what we are talking about, right? Right. But we are hopped up on sugar now and we are ready to give you that which you’ll love.

This week, here are The Things You’ll Love:sugar
  1. Sugar. ‘Tis the season. And we’re already getting a little punchy. Tomorrow we’re going to talk about a great (and easy) Holiday sugar rush dish to throw together and consume with a spoon. In one sitting, possibly. We’ll also show you what happens when you do that.vegetables
  2. Vegetables. To counterbalance the sugar. Because, as we mentioned, we’re getting a little punchy. We’re going to talk about what vegetables to plant (and harvest) this month and what to do with them.magnolia
  3. Magnolia Market. Waco is the new black, which is hilarious, and also true almost completely because of Chip and Joanna Gaines, who I swear are more sick of hearing their names than we are. (Every time someone says “Chip and Jo,” a popcorn ceiling is replaced with shiplap, somewhere. Only people who watch HGTV and/or are renovating a house will get that or care. But the rest of you should know about this culture phenom and super cool business story.) I’d read about Joanna Gaines on Gabrielle’s blog a long time ago but I’d never seen the resulting HGTV show until this last weekend, after I visited Magnolia Market. And I’ll tell you all about that on Wednesday.gift
  4. Gift boxes. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. We talked about an Austin-based boxed set a couple of weeks ago and we have two different cool box options to share this week.Tameca
  5. Good music. Whether its the best Seasonal Playlist we’ve heard in a while or a new Texas artist you should have on your playlist right now…we have some auditory delights coming your way later in the week.

We also have a few extra treats that we’ve been teasing you with (and completely holding out on you) but this is the week. So buckle up, settle in, grab some sugar and let’s do this. December!

 

 

 

TTYL: The Things You’ll Love This Week (Welcome December!)

December 1, 2015
Peace Tree by Laurie White
By Laurie White

Welcome, December–and the official beginning to all things holiday. So many hashtags, so many feelings, so many love/hate the Elf on the Shelf comments sections, and it’s only the first day of the most wonderful time of the year. This week we’ll take a look at what’s going on out there, starting out with a great big day of giving, a look at Hanukkah (coming up already, this weekend), plans to celebrate peace and light all month long, and books. Because reading is the best, before or after you see the movie.

  1. Giving Tuesday is on. There are so many causes and such great need out there, it can feel overwhelming to our inboxes, and way more importantly, our hearts. But the good news is that the giving message lasts far beyond today, so the trick is to take it all in, see what causes speak to us, and do what we can all year long to help. Some Texas spots among the many close to our Queso hearts include the Texas Diaper Bank, American Red Cross (shop their holiday catalog to donate an item in honor of a friend or just donate) and the Austin Disaster Relief Network that offer help to families affected by this year’s Memorial Day floods in Central Texas, and the Texas Book Festival‘s work to get books in the hands of kids who need them.

Menorah by abbyladybug on Flickr

Image by abbyladybug on Flickr.

2. As of sundown this Sunday, December 6, we’ll be wishing all of our readers who celebrate a happy Hanukkah. The annual Menorah lighting in Houston is Sunday at 2 pm, at City Hall, and includes all kinds of good stuff for free, including a rock concert by Jewish rock band 8th Day. Shalom Austin has Chanukah in the Hood on the books, and Chabad Dallas will hold a ceremonial menorah lighting at noon on December 10 at Thanks-giving Square a space downtown that promotes the spirit and unifying value of giving thanks in our community, nation, and the world. A good spot for this Festival of Lights, and for all of us, all the time.

Thanksgiving Park in Dallas

3. Speaking of light, we’re celebrating the gift of, and the hope for, peace. Thanksgiving may be all over for the year, but we’d like to carry its good vibes through Advent and the holidays. Contributor Karen just shared this quote from Pico Iyer: “It’s no coincidence that the word ‘holiday’ suggests a holy day, or that the longest book in the Torah concerns the Sabbath. If you wish to advance in any sphere, the best way is to take a retreat.” We want to share our spaces to rest and recharge during this hectic time, because, well, there’s really no reason not to. So. Peace. Light. Gratitude. We’re going to try to hold onto that this season–at least for five minutes here and there.

Bookstore in Savannah by Laurie White

4. One of the best things about the internet that I love so much is taking a break from it. It’s true. Lately I’ve been trying to do this by reading books, on real actual paper, and listening to podcasts, too. (I’m one of the millions addicted to anything Serial podcast-related, and I’m currently catching up on Truth and Justice with Bob Ruff, formerly known as Serial Dynasty. Love Bob! It turns out that traffic is a lot more tolerable when I’m engaged in figuring out a true crime mystery all by myself in my car.) It’s my super late 2015 resolution to read more, and my early 2016 plan, for sure. I just finished Fight Club (loved it) and The Book Thief (loved it more). I’m about to finish Jenny’s Furiously Happy (loved it the most) and to start You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day. I loved that UK booksellers went for Civilised Saturday instead of Black Friday, encouraging visits to bookstores. (And it looks even more civilised with the s instead of the z, doesn’t it?) Double points if you bought a book at an independent bookseller on Civilised Saturday, which was also Small Business Saturday, in addition to just Saturday. Basically all I want is books for the holiday, and to trade them, too. I’m all about that book, bout that book, no…you know. Anyway, what are you reading? We here at the Queso would love to know.

Peace, until next time.

This post was written by Laurie White, who writes, takes pictures, and teaches college students from time to to time. She is not from Texas, but she really loves to visit. Until then, find her @lauriemedia on Instagram. 

TTYL: THE THINGS YOU’LL LOVE (This Thanksgiving Week)

November 23, 2015
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Happy Thanksgiving Week! And happy the last week of November (whoa), which means it’s essentially Holiday Season (Happy Hanukkah! Merry Christmas!) and 2016 (Happy New Year!) but before we get ahead of ourselves…Thanksgiving! Our favorite American holiday is this week, and we’re ready to party with food and gratitude, because this week also marks the last week of our November NYC, food & gratitude fest, and we are going to end it with a bang.

Last week, we delivered a few of our favorite spots in NYC, some throwback recipes from Thanksgivings past, a boxed set Coterie Sampler you’ll want to know about (and we’ll feature another box this week as well), and finally, Tish wrote a great piece about a Low-Maintenance and/or Lazy Parents’ Guide to Guiding Art Projects. And while we planned to compare and contrast Hand to God and Hamilton by the end of the week, we completely did not. Not at all. We’ll do that this week instead, well before the Thanksgiving Parade begins, and speaking of that, here’s what else you’ll love.

This week, here are The Things You’ll Love:

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  1. Cheese. This week might be all about turkey, but really, it (and every other week) is all about cheese. We’re going to talk about our favorite cheese shops in NYC…and our favorite in Austin too. Photo credit: Antonelli’s Cheese Shop (that may or may not be a spoiler alert)2
  2. A New York City Restaurant Guide. Because you may want to eat things besides cheese. Maybe. mandarin-hotelNY
  3. A New York City Hotel Guide. Because you gotta stay somewhere. Probably.12
  4. More talk about food. Because while this week may be about tackling your fellow humans for discounts on electronics made in China, it’s also about food. Oh and gratitude.3
  5. Practical ways to help you and yours practice gratitude all year long. Before Black Friday and Red Cup December, comes a few days that we gather together to give thanks. We’ll also offer a few ideas how we are going to take this week into next year and attempt to practice gratitude all year long. Join us.