Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Stamp this.

When I get a package on my doorstep I know immediately if it was sent from Delight, Arkansas because it makes short work of a book of stamps.

It's a good thing they don't have to lick stamps any more.

Deep-fried Hanukkah

It's the Jewish holiday that's after my own heart....because the mood is festive and the food is fried.

The stars aligned this year for the grandparents to be in town for Hanukkah. In the ten-plus years Dave and I have been dating, this is the first time I've celebrated the holiday with them.

(a little fyi: Hanukkah is not a big holiday on the Jewish calendar and is probably only more important because of the proximity and commercial nature of Christmas. People don't really go home for Hanukkah and some families only give it small glance.)

Dave grew up celebrating the holiday and we always observe it. It was a special treat, though, to have his mother in the kitchen frying up the traditional Latkes, fried chicken, and making homemade applesauce to go with it. Jack was being very picky that day, but he did eat a Latke. With fried potatoes and salt, what's not to like?

Holidays at home

There's something inherently relaxing about spending the holidays at home.

The day might be relaxing, but leading up to it is generally anything but. My husband rolls his eyes at my self-induced stress around the holidays, but he knew about my Christmas addiction before he married me. Perhaps because he's Jewish, he didn't understand just how bad it could get...

100-plus Christmas cards, 35 dozen cookies, and four pie crusts later, he's closer to understanding. I've been patient with him in explaining why you let your kids open one gift early which are undoubtedly new pajamas to wear on Christmas morning, why you can't buy a huge tub of popcorn as a stocking stuffer because it won't fit in a stocking and therefore defeats the purpose of being a stocking stuffer, and why you shop for a new Christmas ornament every year for your kids so when they have their own tree 20 years from now they will also have a collection of ornaments to start their tree that tells their story. The madness continues, but it's the one time a year that I'm a certifiable nut so I embrace it. If I start hanging Easter eggs in trees, someone please commit me.

One set of parents/grandparents arrived on Christmas morning, so I had a brunch prepared. Jack thought it would be fun to break the pie crust (and it was the second I'd made), so our quiche had a bit of extra character. I was pleased with everything else. Our tables looked extra festive because of a florist giving Dave a tablescape he no longer after a segment. (which I included even though it was not in my color scheme)

Items on the menu: Bacon-Smoked Gouda quiche, Shrimp & homemade cocktail sauce (Ina Garten's) , Mini-bagels with lox and bruschetta, cranberry-walnut mini-muffins, sugared cranberries, fancy desserts that Dave also inherited from a TV segment, christmas cookies, coffee, and some excellent cranberry mimosas.

Between the meals, our living room resembled what a living room should on Christmas morning, even though we honestly didn't buy Jack much....everyone else did:For the meal between lunch and supper/dinner... Lupper?.....Linner?.... I set up a table that we noshed on when we were hungry. We had an antipasti platter with meats, olives, and cheeses, sausage balls, cornmeal biscuits baked as mini-muffins, apple pie, a pumpkin cheesecake from the neighbors, the christmas cookie platter, garden salad, and poblano pepper chicken chowder.

The January withdrawl period hasn't hit yet....

Friday, December 23, 2011

God Jul

The amount of Swedish or even Scandinavian heritage in our bloodlines totals up a big fat zero.

So it makes perfect sense that I took Evelyn volunteering at the historic village as a pioneer baby and we volunteered with our favorite part-Swede, Queen P, in the Swedish house. Special thanks to Queen P who made Evelyn a hat for the big day.
As part of our demonstration, we made lefse--which was much easier than I anticipated.Evelyn was an absolute doll and a big hit. Although when she was asleep I was asked "Is she real?" over and over. One lady had the gall to nudge her to see.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Part of a day-in-the-life of a corn-fed kid

Since I've gone back to work part-time, coworkers tell me things like 'enjoy your four day weekend' or 'four days off--any plans?' as if it is a vacation opportunity that happens to me each week. If I was single or just without kids I would probably accomplish all sorts of exciting things with four days in a row off every week. Not so.
Now, I truly understand the exhaustion and concept of running after kids all day and accomplishing absolutely nothing. Special moments like cuddling and reading, baking cookies, playing cars, and tickling and laughing are interwoven with the much less exciting events like temper tantrums, wrestling to put on diapers, failing and then chasing kids, peeing on the carpet (again), crying, wanting more "drinking," and whatever else. At the end of the day, it's amazing how tired I am, how I forgot to eat (again), and how I look around and see the house is a wreck. (again)

I tried to keep my camera handy for a few days to capture some of Jack's recent fiascoes.

He's taken to chatting on the phone with relatives. In this conversation, he told his Grandy about spotting a spider in the kitchen and mom hitting it. It sounded like this: "Spy-dur" then "hit!"
Lately, Jack has started throwing food on the floor after meals (again). We were over this for a spell, but no more. After deciding he was done with part of his breakfast, he got on the floor and used one of his cars to grind pieces of cereal into powder before I discovered it.
A coloring activity ended when Jack started coloring on the floor.
Even though the Nativity Scene has been up for a few weeks, just recently Jack has discovered it. While it is out of his reach, he has decided it is a fun to see the pieces scatter when hit with a ball. I mean, why not? After this recent disaster, the a wiseman was under thetable, a shepherd had been decapitated and only Joseph and baby Jesus survived in their upright positions. A Christmas miracle.

He never has really taken a pacifier, unless he gets a wild hair and wants his sister's. During this trying morning, he decided to monopolize every one he could find....just so no one else could have it.

Diaper time. In an effort to exert his independence, Jack doesn't like to get his diaper changed. He'll squirm and fight and scream during the entire process because there are a zillion other things he'd rather do. Often the tantrum continues as he broods on a diaper-changing defeat:

So back to food. He doesn't have time to eat, but if anything can get him out of a foul-my-diaper-has-just-been-changed-and-I-didn't-like-it-mood, it's corn. Yes, this corn-fed baby would eat corn and raisins all day every day if allowed. Corn is good for the mood and good for the soul:

And most of the time, we manage to get it all in his mouth. Cause in this house, corn never goes on the floor.

Two month month-aversary

Baby Evelyn is nearly three months old, so I know I'm working against the clock to get an update on the second month of her life.
When describing my life, I inevitably compare Evelyn to Jack and vice versa. I know this is a big parental no-no, but I figure we have a few years to weed that out of our conversations. But I am sure the comparisons will always continue in our thoughts.

Evelyn is an easy baby. She seems content to go with the flow of the Schwartz household, even if it is inevitably controlled by That Boy. She generally falls asleep very easily and only cries when 1) wet, 2) hungry, 3) burp-y, or 4) threatened by That Boy, which surprisingly isn't that often. If she cries and it isn't one of the four reasons listed above, you can just hold and talk to her and she'll stop crying and start looking at you in a very curious way.

She is putting on adorable chunky baby pounds and starting to develop a quick grin. She is starting to coo and giggle and gurgle and entertain us immensely with baby sounds. Evelyn is happiest first thing in the morning or late at night before she conks out for five hours or so. (Worth noting, her brother didn't sleep in stretches like that until nearly a year old.)

Evelyn's wardrobe is ever-expanding and we're all guilty of buying cute stuff just to see it on her. She still has no hair, but so far she's never been accused of being a boy.

She's discovering who we all are and I think so far she likes us just fine. She's always followed me around the room, but her head and eyes will visibly turn to her father's voice when he comes on TV. She watches That Boy and smiles and coos at him. Once we had to take the pacifier away from Jack because he was jamming it in her mouth a bit too hard. She didn't mind. She was just smiling adoringly at her brother.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Open season for baking!

It's that time of year again. The time of year when my beloved red KitchenAid is frequently spotted on the kitchen counter.
Sprinkles, nonpareils, and chips perch on my refrigerator.

And I have a freezer that would make Paula Deen proud.It's open season for baking.

One of the reasons why I love Christmas is that it is perfectly acceptable to bake or make ridiculous batches of cookies and candy and pass them out in the name of peace and goodwill. Calories for everyone! I used to frequently pass out batches of baked goods to folks in my neighborhood when I moved in, but then I learned most were diabetics. Major bummer.
Since my Bree Van de Kamp days are over, I focus my inner Martha on the holiday season. I used to bake an assortment of breads and coat everything from nuts to Nutter Butters in chocolate. Now, I focus on creating cookie boxes that might resemble boxes of chocolate. A box of yummy variety where you never quite know what you are going to get. I started planning my Cookie Assault in October and started baking and freezing the day afterHalloween. I mailed out eight boxes to people living in four states, gave out eight boxes to neighbors and friends, and handed out six boxes to coworkers. Plus, we have a tray of our own.

So far, I think the perfect Christmas cookie box must have 1) Cutout cookies w/icing 2) chocolate 3) a traditional, homemade cookie 4) something with nuts 5) Something with a holiday flavor, like peppermint, gingerbread, cranberry, or pumpkin.

This year, I went with a Christmas Tree motif for my cut-outs. I have it on good authority that this recipe came from someone who worked in the Dayton's bakery and yearsago, brought home (or stole?) the famous Sugar Bears recipe. Who knows? It's a wonderful recipe. I found a fabulous icing recipe that makes an icing like play-doh so you can shape it with your hands. I put sprinkles on one tree, peppermint flavored icing on another, and made the other one like a Charlie Brown Tree.

Then, I strayed from the popular Kellerwoman favorite, Andes Mint Cookies, for a Double Chocolate Cookie w/M & Ms recipe that I ripped out of a magazine. It had a complex flavor, but perhaps it was a miss...the Andes Mint Cookies have been missed and mentioned.

This year I made Hillary Clinton's Chocolate Chip Cookies, published in a Little Rock Junior League cookbook when Hillary was still Hillary Rodham. (At the time I was so excited about my Hillary cookies, I tried Bill's enchilada recipe which was also in the cookbook. Ick.) So, I used Hillary's for the favorite cookie.

For the nuts, I begged my coworker to teach me how to make her family's peanut brittle. She says the recipe goes back more than three generations and I can understand why. Previously I have failed miserably at making candy, but this year after my tutorial I made three more batches AND got brave enough to make a batch of English Toffee. All worked very well and all were accomplished during the kids nap time.

For the holiday flavor, I experimented with a cookie to make a Cranberry-Walnut-Orange Sandwich cookie. It's a cut-out with orange zest and orange juice in the dough, a cranberry-walnut mixture inside topped with an orange icing. It's good, but it requires a lot of steps.
I also added a favorite shortbread Corduroy Cookies that require dipping in chocolate and nonpareils. They are delicious, but so delicate that I'm afraid most will be BOA--broken on arrival. (Even though I froze them ahead of time for more successful shipping).
This totals more than 430 cookies or about 36 dozen.

And it means I'm taking January off.

But I've already found a caramel cookie called "Arkansas Travellers" that looks appealing...

Friday, December 9, 2011

Breakfast at the country club

We are not country club people.

But there's generally a few events each where where we inevitably find ourselves at a country club. The Junior League's Breakfast with Santa is one such event, so early on the first Saturday of the month, we put the kids in their Christmas outfits...the clothes that happened to be purchased by their Jewish grandmother.....and set out for the country club.

While we were walking up the hill to the entrance, my heel broke. See, I told you we weren't country club people.

Since we arrived during the latter part of the starting time and the room was a rather tight squeeze, we had to search around for a table. We squeezed into one. Jack ate. Evie slept. As we ate, Jack grew bored. We ate faster. Then, we got in line to see Santa.

Jack could've cared less. When we reached Santa, Jack was more concerned with walking around and not with sitting on anybody's lap. As he struggled against containment, he got mad and started rolling around at Santa's feet. The person who I asked to take a picture of us, asked me what to do...I said go ahead and start snapping.We released Jack and he kept walking around and looking at things. We gathered our gear and ushered him toward the door. As we left, another friend offered to snap a family picture by a Christmas tree. Jack didn't want to be contained here, either.After paying for an overpriced breakfast, we left hungry. We scrambled to the car, broken heel and all, driving away with a sigh of relief and affirmation of why we don't really belong at a country club.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Proud sis

I have a million and one things to do right now, but I have to pause a minute to brag on my brother Luke. I have phenomenal siblings who are each unique in his or her own right, but Luke was in the news today on all three stations in his area talking about a hospital program he's helping develop that will help military veterans. So, it's my turn to brag on them.


Like many in the military, my brother isn't one to talk much about what he has and hasn't done. I was more than a bit impressed to read an online bio for him and find out all sorts of jargon and stats. (I had to paste it below) I doubt many--if any--members of my family know the facts listed in there. Generally a conversation with either one of my brothers is generally one-sided and more than a little frustrating. They do what they do, you know?

Besides excelling in infantry, he's super smart and I'm so very glad he's putting his smarts to good use. (And I hope you don't get mad at me for posting any of this, bro :)

LS is an infantry officer in the US Army and an Army Ranger with significant combat experience. Luke spent more than 27 months deployed in support of the Global War on Terror (OIF/OEF). He has conducted combined arms combat operations with every branch of the military, and conducted operations with both foreign and domestic Private Military/Security Companies. Luke is a subject matter expert on small unit tactics and combined arms integration, with a focus on military operations in urban terrain (MOUT).

In conjunction with his experience as a combat leader, Luke spent more than a year as a training officer for an Airborne Infantry Battalion, where he developed training plans and doctrine. Luke has planned and executed countless small arms densities, live fire exercises, shoot-houses, and stress shoots; incorporating every weapon system from 9mm to .50 Cal. In addition, Luke has conducted joint training exercises with numerous foreign forces including, Thailand, Korea, Australia, and the UK. Luke is also a certified trainer of Modern Army Combatives.

Luke holds a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Central Arkansas and a Master’s Degree from Utica College. He is an instructor and training officer for Syracuse University ROTC, and lectures on International Humanitarian Law and Rules of Engagement for a graduate-level seminar. Luke is currently the military/veteran liaison for the Sitrin Health Care Center, helping to develop a state-of-the-art Veterans’ Rehabilitation Program.