Tasty Tuesday–A Look Back at Festive Feasts and Holiday Baking

I often take a look back at the holiday baking I did from Thanksgiving through Epiphany; this year, I thought it would be fun to look back at all of the holiday meals and treats we’ve enjoyed, starting with Thanksgiving dinner:

We had our pick out dinner on Christmas Day this time:

And our fancy Christmas dinner on the Sunday after Christmas:

Of course we had our traditional New Year’s Eve hot chocolate bar:

And a special New Year’s Day dinner to start the new year right:

And finally, our Ryan’s Birthday/Epiphany feast:

On to the baking. There were pies for Thanksgiving:

And several cakes throughout the season, for St. Nicholas Day, Santa Lucia Day, Jesus’ Birthday, the fancy Christmas dinner, and New Year’s Day:

We baked so many Christmas cookies!

And an obligatory “other” section, for things like lussekattes, coffee cake, and even some special holiday beverages:

I put in a little extra effort this year, to make up for the fact that we couldn’t go anywhere or do most of our normal Christmas activities. In the end, I think we’ll have a lot of delicious memories from this holiday season!

Dreaming of Travel

American Girl has a new World Traveller collection for their Truly Me line. I don’t know if they created it because so many people’s travel dreams are on hold due to COVID-19, or if it’s something they would have produced anyway, but the timing is perfect. Even though we don’t have any Truly Me dolls, that didn’t stop us from ordering outfits for our historical characters. So we have Julie (1970s) in France, Courtney (1980s) in England, and Maryellen (1950s) in Ireland:

There are also outfits for Japan (which I’ve put away for summer school, assuming we actually get to learn about Japan during the Tokyo Olympics this summer), and Italy. I think this is a really cool new range, and I wouldn’t mind if they added some more countries to the collection. For a family who watches episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe on pretty much an endless loop, this is another fun way to dream of visiting new places!

Tasty Tuesday–Cooking Through a Pandemic, the Tenth Month

This has been a good month for cooking! We’ve had some favorite meals and some special meals, and we even had two different dinners from Portillo’s, because this time when I ordered our Italian beef and sausage combo I added in an order of tamales (totally delicious, and we have enough left in the freezer for another meal!). I’ll admit I was a little worried about being able to find everything I needed for all of our culinary traditions, but while I did have to enter a few more stores than I would have preferred, in the end I found everything that was necessary.

We also baked all of the things. I’m shocked there are any baking supplies left in our town. The kitchen still smells vaguely like a bakery!

And a few special beverages for the holidays…hot chocolate from our New Year’s Eve hot chocolate bar, wassail (which I’ve made a few times in the last two months), and homemade eggnog, which is a real treat!

You’d think that would be the end of fancy meals for a while, but Ryan’s birthday is tomorrow, so we’ll have at least one more special dinner in the next month!

Celebrating the New Year in the Time of COVID-19

How in the world do you say goodbye (or perhaps good riddance), to a year like 2020 and then immediately move into celebrating what we all hope will be a better, brighter future?

In our case, we did what we usually do on New Year’s Eve and Day…stay home. I made stromboli, one of our favorite dinners, for New Year’s Eve:

And we had our traditional hot chocolate bar while watching Apollo 13. It wasn’t as fancy as it has been in the past (finding all of the things I usually include was too difficult due to COVID-19), but all things considered, I think I did a pretty good job of putting it together!

Most of the rest of the evening was spent playing Animal Crossing New Horizons and waiting for the final countdown, if you will, while we watched Ocean’s 11.

Roald had some wisdom to share:

Aurora and Wade echoed my thoughts on the year, too:

After staying up far too late trying to place an order on Lego’s website (I finally had success at 1:30 a.m.!), I was up fairly early this morning, and got to see the ice on the trees before it melted:

Sprinkle must not have gotten enough sleep, either, because she was in desperate search of coffee:

I think Ursula summed up my feelings on the new year pretty well:

A new year deserves a fancy dinner. I went with cool colors for the table this time:

I kind of took the easy way out with dinner…I just made pork tenderloin for the main course, which isn’t difficult to make and doesn’t even take much time, but feels fancy. I also made roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts, creamed spinach, breaded artichokes, and rolls. We even had spiced apple rings, which are a favorite of mine!

It was a really delicious dinner!

After watching Happy New Year, Charlie Brown!, we had dessert, a hot chocolate cake. I won’t lie, I used a mix, and canned frosting. But I still tried to make it look fancy:

I’ll leave you with a gently misquoted toast to the New Year by Colonel Potter on M*A*S*H:

“Here’s to the New Year. May she be a damn sight better than the old one, and may we all leave home before she’s over.”

Happy New Year!

2020 in Review

“It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times.”

All jokes from The Golden Girls aside, I think we can all agree that this was an “annus horribilis” for the entire world. It’s difficult to look back at all of the things we didn’t do this year, and challenging to look for the positives we did experience. But there were positives, and I’m going to try to focus on those…as much as I can, anyway.

Way back in January, the world was still “normal,” so to speak. I started the year looking forward to many things, some of which actually happened! We attended the Star Wars First Friday at the St. Louis Science Center. Ryan celebrated his 40th birthday! We traveled north to Chicago for Frosty Faustings, and visited Brookfield Zoo and Medieval Times while we were there. On the way home, we stopped by the Chicago Baháʼí Temple, the lakefront, and of course Portillo’s. Turkey and I went to see Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back live in concert at Powell Hall with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

By February, everyone had heard of COVID-19, but we were still unsure of its impact on us. So we carried on mostly as usual, although there was already a certain wariness, such as when Bunny and I went to see Riverdance at the Fabulous Fox Theatre, and wondered about the person coughing just a few seats down from us. We celebrated Bobunk with a carryout meal from Beast Craft BBQ…if only I had known then that the few other meals we got from restaurants this year would all have to be carryout! We had what would be our last field trip of the year to see the DaVinci exhibit at the St. Louis Science Center. We visited the Orchid Show at the Missouri Botanical Garden. We were sad to say farewell to Pheasant Run Resort (from a distance), as it ceased operations at the end of the month.

Obviously, the world turned upside down in March. It started out ok, with me getting bangs, Ladybug and I getting some ear piercings together, and what ended up being the last time I would visit the mall this year. I got a new iPhone. But then the announcement came that the schools in the area were moving to distance learning, which ended up lasting through the end of that school year…and the start of the next. Turkey and Bunny were worried that the SAT that they had been diligently preparing for would also be cancelled, but they were in pretty much the last group to get in to take it…and both did exceptionally well! We celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. Turkey turned 17! One of the highlights of my year was the day Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released…the same day that the stay at home order for our state was announced. Chickadee turned eight! She started doing catechesis from home on Zoom, while Moose started doing school from home with the rest of us.

April was a weird month. We attended all of the Holy Week and Easter services in our living room, where we also attended regular Sunday services for three months straight. The announcement was made that the school buildings would remain closed through the end of the school year. I started grocery shopping once every two weeks (no small task when you’re shopping for a family of seven and don’t have a bonus fridge or freezer!), and started wearing a mask everywhere even before it was required…I was very thankful we already had one Ryan received at a previous Combo Breaker!

I’m not going to lie…May was a very difficult month for me. It was almost impossible not to dwell on all of the things I usually look forward to that month that we weren’t doing. Ladybug turned 13! We celebrated Mother’s Day in an unusual way. The 2019-20 school year came to an end. So did Moose’s school year, complete with a virtual 8th grade graduation. I imagined a virtual vacation to Chicago in lieu of our annual trip north for Combo Breaker, which, like everything else this year, was cancelled.

June came with its own challenges, as we realized that with school over, we really had nothing to do. I did plan a few fun activities, and we actually left the house as a family! I celebrated my 3rd 39th birthday with Roald and a reminder of Lake Michigan. I trimmed my own bangs for the first time! For the first time in almost three months, I finally put gas in the minivan. I got in line in a virtual waiting room to “secure the asset”…The Child!

In July we were finally able to attend church in person, and I Was Glad! We watched Hamilton so many times. We also watched every Pixar movie, including a few we hadn’t seen yet. Bunny turned 16! I achieved a perfect island rating in Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

In August, we had a Hamilton-themed movie night at home. Did I mention we made a lot of waffles over the summer? I think we were all relieved when school started up again, (Turkey’s and Bunny’s senior year!!!), because at least it was something mostly normal…although Moose was still distance learning.

September saw us getting a lot of use out of our new omelette maker. We celebrated Oktoberfest. We were relieved that the temperature finally cooled off, and we could start enjoying our morning walks around our neighborhood again. We had a special feast for Michaelmas Eve.

Some things in October seemed almost normal. Ladybug and Chickadee started working on an election lap book in the lead-up to Election Day, and I was able to show them what an actual ballot looks like before Ryan and I voted in a new way. Bunny and I were very excited that Supermarket Sweep came back on the air, this time with the inimitable Leslie Jones as the host. Continuing a trend of breaking electronics this year, I got a new laptop. We went pumpkin picking! We had a stay-at-home Halloween, which honestly wasn’t that unusual for us.

November was another hard month, although it started out pretty well. We took our annual walk around Creve Coeur Lake. Ladybug and Chickadee finished their lap books just in time for what I’m sure will be a very memorable Election Day! We attended Garden Glow. Moose turned 15! Then things kind of fell apart. My mom spent almost two weeks in the ICU and about a month after that in a rehabilitation facility. Things were kind of a blur during that time, but we still visited Cahokia Mounds in the lead-up to Thanksgiving, baked a ton of pies, and had a very nice family dinner. I even participated in my second Dapper Day (At Home) in the midst of all of that! The beginning of Advent at the end of the month, and a special Lego project with it, was a very welcome time.

And that brings us to December. I guess I had kind of been dreading this month all year, because I knew how many special Christmas traditions and events we were going to miss. And we did. Some things weren’t too difficult to let go of, and others really hurt. But there were a lot of good moments, too. We got to preview the newest concept from Beast Craft BBQ, Beast Southern Kitchen & BBQ, before they opened to the public (from home, of course). We decorated the Christmas tree on St. Nicholas Day, like we always do. We also celebrated Santa Lucia Day. We had a very nice Advent, and this may have been our best week of “Christmas School” ever! My website celebrated a significant anniversary. We had a very nice Christmas, including a new experience of dressing for an outdoor Christmas Eve service, and a delayed yet still lovely Christmas dinner. We also participated in what I hope will become a new day-after-Christmas tradition, Lego Build Day.

This wasn’t the year anybody wanted. It’s certainly not a year I’d care to repeat. But it is part of our history, and we definitely won’t forget it!

The Top Five–Photos of 2020

For my final “Top Five” list of 2020, I’m looking at photos that were taken the few times we actually went somewhere, starting with this wolf we saw at Brookfield Zoo back in January:

One of the last places Bunny and I went was to the Fabulous Fox Theatre to see Riverdance in February:

We took a lovely walk around Creve Coeur Lake in November:

Later that month, we attended Garden Glow at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Because the event started earlier than usual, we had the added bonus of not just seeing beautiful lights, but also a carpet of bright yellow gingko leaves!

When we visited Cahokia Mounds in November, I thought this tree stump was really cool:

It wasn’t hard to choose these pictures, because I just didn’t have many pictures taken away from home from which to choose. But in a way, that made these moments more special, and helped me appreciate the beauty around me in a way I might not have otherwise!

Chickadee Thursday

Here’s a look at two of the Christmas cookies Chickadee decorated yesterday…she really likes red hots!

This evening, Chickadee and I visited Ryan’s Animal Crossing island for the New Year’s countdown…we all wore masks to commemorate the year!

The Top Five–Around the Neighborhood Photos of 2020

For today’s “Top Five,” I’m venturing out of the house…and into our neighborhood. We might not have been able to go places this year, but we spent a lot of time walking around our subdivision, from the 2-mile walks we took in the morning before school started every day the weather was amenable to evening sunset walks. The two ponds in our neighborhood are an especially good spot for a nice view, starting with this one in the early spring:

I really like this tree I started noticing while we were walking, and I think Bob Ross would have liked it, too…it looks like it’s led an interesting life!

I caught the evening light at just the right moment for this photo:

And I’m pretty sure the evening light caught me for this one!

One last sunset photo, near one of the ponds, but looking out toward the farmland that borders the neighborhood:

My only disappointment with this list is that there aren’t any snow pictures…I hope we don’t have to wait too much longer for a real snowfall!

The Top Five–Food Photos of 2020

Today’s “Top Five” continues in the home and focuses on food photography. If there’s anything I’ve done a lot this year, it’s cook. I already did a lot of cooking to begin with, but between not being able to go out to eat at all, and wanting to find something nice I could do for my family at home, I upped my cooking game (in my opinion, anyway). And while I was cooking a lot, I decided to work on my food plating and photography, too. I actually think I’ve improved a lot this year, so at least I learned something!

The first picture I chose is from the very beginning of the year, when I made Beef Wellington for Ryan’s 40th birthday on Epiphany:

We have had shawarma so many times this year. It’s always a pretty meal because it’s so colorful…this is my favorite picture of that dinner:

I’ve also done a lot of baking this year, including this lovely carrot cake:

I found a new recipe for potato-parsnip soup, and not only was it delicious, it looked beautiful!

And finally, a picture of the dessert I made to accompany our fancy Christmas dinner on Sunday. I love the colors and textures in this picture!

Food can be a tricky thing to photograph, so I’m going to keep working on improving my skills!