Monthly Archives

December 2011

The Gifts We Give Each Other.

December 16, 2011

It was exceptionally dreary as we made our way through the fog on our daily pre-dawn commute to school. The weather was grey, the morning was hectic, and I felt like someone was missing in the car, the way you do when you overachieve at miscarriage. The more we stopped and started, inching forward behind miles of tiny red taillights, the bluer I became.

It’s the holidays, Man. A tough season for anyone over the age of 11. And honestly, it seems the more most wonderful times of the year you’ve chalked up through the decades, the further down you can find yourself in the weeks leading up to the happiest season of all. This is all coming from someone who’s obnoxiously Glass Half Full!…This time of year can be brutal. Sure it brings out the best in us, and also the worst. You don’t have to get many feet from your driveway to figure that out. And we were miles from home.

So I turned up the Holly station and challenged Harry to a contest to see who could sing the loudest. (He won. He screams.) And by the time we pulled into his school lot, I had veered back into the direction of normal. We parted ways, and I moved into the day.

But first, I had to stop for coffee.

This is what’s rough about getting out of the house in the sixes. Time is of the essence, and I excel at not making enough time to get it together to prepare the necessary to-go cup before going.  So I stopped in at the giant chain up the street and stood in line. The line is always the feature in this place, it’s the main thing going on, and it winds around every table in the room…tables that no one in her right mind would even attempt to sit in because of all the crappy line people standing over your head in the line. It also creates the perfect environment for eavesdropping.

So I was standing in line, eavesdropping, over this mom and her four-year-old daughter who had crammed themselves around one of these tables. The mother was beautiful, in a seemingly and annoyingly no-effort kind of way, and she was dressed in the area’s mom uniform…fancy workout clothes. The ringlet child next to her was wearing some kind of pink and red fancy dress. It was 8 a.m. They didn’t have any food or beverage on their tiny table. They were just sitting there, waiting for something maybe, and the daughter was begging for a cookie. The mom said, “Sweetheart, no, no cookies, you don’t want cookies. You need to lose some weight.”

And then I stopped breathing.

I didn’t hear anything after that because my senses were no longer working as a team. My body was taken over by that punch-gut feeling you get when the boy you love breaks up with you.  I went through all five stages of grief in 27 seconds.

Then I pulled out my phone. In a desperate attempt to remind myself I wasn’t in some kind of weird dream sequence, I did a version of “OH MY GOD DID YOU JUST HEAR THAT?” to the only other people around, the pixelated people on the electronic device in my hand…

I still wasn’t thinking clearly. I was typing this on Twitter and trying to breathe. I went through all the grief stages again and added on a few more just for fun. And then it was my turn to order. My ears were still numb and I was frankly still a little dazed when I stepped up and ordered a tiny hot chocolate with extra whipping cream. No. Make that two. No. Make that three.

As I waited for the beverages to be properly frothed and for my name to be called, I suddenly sobered up. Crap. Seriously. What the hell was I doing? I was taking eavesdropping to a new and inappropriate level of butting into someone’s life and parenting issues.

But then I realized this wasn’t about them.

It was about me. And my ears. And my blue mood that suddenly went exploding red hot with the utterance of six words. This was about me on about six levels. And it was about all of us…as girls, as mothers, as daughters, as people. Enough. We don’t even realize what we’re doing to each other. We don’t realize what we have. And we don’t realize how fragile, how resilient, and how powerful we all are.

I’d never expect a tiny hot chocolate to fix that. But that’s what I had at my disposal.

I collected my offering and walked over to the tiny table. I told the mom that ‘seeing such a beautiful mother and daughter out this morning made my day. Because it’s so great to see them together out during the holiday season. And what a wonderful thing to get to start the day with such a beautiful little girl. I came in for coffee, but I decided to treat myself to a hot chocolate and I wanted to buy them one too and say Happy Holidays!‘ And my God as I’m typing this now, it just sounds crazy. But in that surreal moment of weirdo dreamland perfectionville nonsense, it all somehow made sense.

And then the mom took the chocolate. It seemed she didn’t know exactly what to say. But then she started to tear up a tiny bit. And she thanked me.

I don’t think she’d had hot chocolate in a very long time.

And her reaction made me remember something. We all have our things. And we’re all missing things. And we should all be easier on ourselves and each other.

Let your heart be light. Just let it be.

Soundtrack: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. 

Holiday Hack: Hauling Out the Holly.

December 16, 2011

Okay, I think it’s technically not holly. From what I understand, Holly is sharp and hurts people (the plant, not Hugh Hefner’s ex girlfriend). I think this is technically garland. If you’ve ever spent time in London over the Holidays you may have noticed that almost every doorway is adorned with living pine draperies of awesome. They’re imperfect, they’re unique, and they smell amazing. This kind of live garland is super hard to find in the states (at least around here), and when I have spotted it, it has been priced at about 4,000 times more than what I would ever pay. So. Last year, I did this little hack and it worked out so well, I rocked it out again this weekend. First, I started with this horrible plastic garland that I purchased at the dollar store.

It has lights included. It’s ugly (it’s actually even more ugly in person, trust me). And it was $5.

Then I got out the bakers twine and cut off a few branches from the bottom of our Christmas tree.

I began to tie the pieces of cut branch to the plastic garland. Along with ornaments. And love. Etc.

It’s nice, yes?

I didn’t even clip off the baker’s twine very well. I don’t even care.

Even if the crappy plastic garland shows up in some spots, the overall effect is so great it doesn’t matter.

The house smells amazing. And if I squint, I can almost believe I’m at the Gore Hotel in London. Or at least believe that these incredibly decked halls cost me more than $10.

The Holiday Cookie Exchange Party: Trays, Traditions & Taboo

December 5, 2011

Every year, for as long as I can remember, I’ve attended a cookie exchange party. I’m not sure if this is a Texas thing, or a Southern thing… I thought it was just a Holiday thing that everyone does…but apparently, it’s not. Kind of like when you first learn that not everyone’s great uncle wears a toga to Easter brunch. (Yours doesn’t? Weird.) It’s like that.

Here’s how it works: You bake a large batch of cookies, sort the cookies for distribution (for instance, you make 15 sacks with 1/2 dozen cookies in each), and bring them to a party. And 10-20 other people do the same thing. So you go home with a billion different cookies of various kinds. It’s this weird cookie math.

I think this idea started by some smart people who wanted lots of choice on their Holiday cookie trays without having to bake a million kinds. What’s a Holiday cookie tray, you ask? This might be a Southern thing too.

See, back in the day, every house had these fantastic cookie trays full of different kinds of cookies to offer people as they came over for gatherings, or dropped by to visit, or whatever people used to do. My grandmother always had these slammin cookie collections, at the ready, in case Hattie, Stella or Mabel Claire (all actual relatives and my grandmother’s bffs) came over for coffee. Or in case some farmer stopped by because his cow wandered onto their land. Or in case the grandchildren descended, as we did almost every day. Especially during cookie tray season.

It’s a super old fashioned way of rocking out Christmas, and I love it.

When I lived in Houston, my friend Cassie always held one (and she’s from Maryland, and they celebrate Hanukkah) and now that I’m back in Central Texas, I get to go to my Sister-in-Law’s annual cookiepalooza. So great. If I didn’t have swell people in my life who throw these, I would totally do it. It’s easy, traditional, practical, and a great reason to get together and sip mulled wine. And play Taboo. Because that’s also what we did this year, and I forgot how fun that game is.

Here’s my favorite easy holiday cookie party recipe, and here are some others I want to try. (But honestly, the best recipe I discovered at this gathering: The Shrimp & Grits Tarts appetizer that my SIL made. Amazing.)

Do you go to a cookie exchange? Have you ever heard of these? Are you into it? Or confused why they exist?

I Went to a Cookie Party & Came Back with an Even Better Recipe: Shrimp & Grits Tarts.

December 5, 2011

This weekend, I went to a cookie exchange party at my sister-in-law’s (and brother’s) house. As happens at cookie exchange parties, I returned home with 12 new cookie recipes. But what I’ve been craving ever since is this slammin appetizer my SIL served. Like, honestly, it’s a little concerning how much I’ve thought about this since Friday. This is officially my new favorite food item. And here you go. You’re welcome.

My SIL’s Shrimp and Grits Tarts

from Vera Bradley’s Cooking with Friends

2 c chk broth
1 c milk
2 Tbl butter
1/2 tsp white pepper
1 c uncooked grits
2/3 c shredded Parm

2/3 c diced bacon
3 Tbl flour
1 1/2 c ckn broth
3 Tbl chop fresh parsley + some for garnish
3/4 Tbl white wine Worcestershire (could not find so used regular)
36 medium shrimp

Combine ckn broth, milk, butter and white pepper in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over med-high heat.  Gradually whisk in the grits; return to a boil.  Reduce heat, simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 min until thickened.  Add the parm and stir until melted and blended.

Spoon 1 rounded Tbl of grits into 36 sprayed muffin cups. Bake for 25 min. Make an indentation in center of warm tart.  Let cool completely.

Saute bacon in skillet of a couple of minutes, sprinkle flour evenly over bacon, stirring frequently, 2 min or until lightly browned.  Gradually add broth, stirring until smooth.

Reduce heat and cook 5-7 min or until thickened stirring often. Stir in the parsley and worcestershire.  Spoon evenly into tarts. Top each with 1 shrimp.

Bake for 5-10 min or just until warm. Garnish with chopped parsley.

You can make shrimp earlier, keep in refrig, pull out to warm up before adding to tarts. You can also make grits earlier, let cool, leave on counter top until ready for sauce and shrimp.