Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Very Best Gifts

I do not take Christmases for granted.


They are too precious to merely expect they will always be the same.

I realized that last year when our world was weird and sad and strained. When we lived in this surreal state of doughnuts and cold, long drives to spend time with the one person who belonged in the that place the least.

I realized that I had years of believing that my little world was impenetrable.

But, God.

God gave us a new memory to make. This year was different, peaceful, full of joy. And we were all together, the whole crazy lot.

These are the very best gifts.

Sisters, Take 8

When you put Claire and I together with a lot of time on our hands and you give us a camera, the following happens:

Duck Face:



Stink Eye:

Fake Sadness:

Eye Candy:

Uncomfortable Nuzzling:


Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Sixth Love Language

I think there should be a sixth love language and I would call it "baking."

I find that I feel the most-loved when my oven is on and some form of chocolate is ready to be devoured.

I have spent most of this day in the kitchen. It has been both calming and chaotic because while I find all forms of baking therapeutic, it is much harder to remain stress-free when your darling nephew is whacking you from behind with a wrapping paper tube.

So, I did what any good aunt would do and called him to a duel.

Unfortunately, I lost. But I blame weak cardboard and not because I am one-handed and a big sissy.

Today is our baking day because tomorrow will be filled with a trip to Alamosa to pick up our favorite member of the community corrections system. He has 48 hours to spend eating all the fudge I can make and relaxing on his very own couch.

I love the thought of this.

So, to make everyone's culinary dreams come true, on the list today is the following:
Vanilla bean cheesecake with fresh cranberry sauce
Walnut fudge
Chocolate coved pretzels
Cheddar and pecan cheese ball
Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies
Magic bars

Speaking of which, while I was in New York, I had one of Magnolia Bakery's Magic bars, which are bars layered with graham cracker crumbs, sweetened condensed milk, coconut, walnuts and chocolate chips.

And let me tell you, they were magical. The kind of magic that you want to stick your face in.

To combat all of this heavenly sugar, we are making shrimp gumbo, my Grandma R's famous recipe, flank steak and bacon and Swiss quiche to round out the other meals.

I guarantee I will gain five pounds this week and I am totally okay with that.

Happy baking.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Recipe Round-Up: Cherry, Pistachio and Dark Chocolate Bark



You should make this. You know, if you are in to that sort of thing.

If you are in to dark chocolate infused with orange zest and cinnamon and covered in dried, tart cherries and roasted pistachios.

If you are in to recipes that only have 5 ingredients and take 20 minutes to make.

If you are, then, this recipe is for you. Merry Christmas!

With only four days to go, we need things that are stress-free and fabulous. Like most barks, this is so simple that it is ridiculous. Heck, I put it together with only one hand so if I can do it, you will do it beautifully! 

Here is what you need:

Oranges zest (I used clementines), dried cherries, pistachios, dark chocolate and cinnamon. That's it!

First up, put your dark chocolate in a sauce pan...

Add cinnamon...

And orange zest.

Oh, how I love that zest. "Zest" could be my favorite word. Well, that and "ganache."


While that melts over low heat...

Chop up your pistachios. De-shelling these beauties is the longest process of this entire recipe. It's a good thing they are so easy to crack open. And don't forget to sample a few. It's called quality control, people.

Once the chocolate/cinnamon/orange zest is melted and extremely happy, dump in most of your chopped pistachios and dried cherries and stir.

Pour into a foil-lined jelly roll pan and smooth out.

And then sprinkle the remaining nuts and cherries on top. So so pretty.

Pop that pan in the freezer for 15-20 minutes until firm.

Once it is set, pull up the corner and begin breaking it into pieces. You can also use a knife if that is helpful. But remember: this doesn't have to be perfect. It's bark.

Ta-da! You did it! You are a winner!

Now, just dive right on in. A hot cup of coffee would be a most perfect compliment. Put a few pieces in a pretty box or bag and they will make an excellent last-minute gift to friends or family.

Or...they will also make an excellent last-minute gift for you.

Go ahead, enjoy.

You deserve it, rock star.

Cherry, Pistachio and Dark Chocolate Bark:
2 10oz bags dark chocolate (I prefer Ghiradellie 60%)
3/4 cup dried cherries
3/4 cup pistachios, chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon orange zest

Line a jelly roll pan with foil or wax paper, set aside. Pour chocolate into medium sauce pan. Add cinnamon and orange zest and place over low heat. Stir frequently until chocolate is melted. Meanwhile, de-shell and chop pistachios. Once chocolate is melted, add cherries and pistachios, reserving 2 tablespoons of each. Mix to incorporate. Pour chocolate mixutre into prepared pan and smooth out. Sprinkle remaining cherries and pistachios on top. Place in freezer for 15-20 minutes or until firm. Remove from freezer and break into pieces. Store in an air-tight container in refrigerator or freezer.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Few Days Before

I think this is my favorite time of December, these last few days before Christmas.

Granted, they are usually crazy-busy with last-minute shopping (what the heck do I get my dad? A Walmart gift card?) and cleaning (I think the last time I dusted was 2010) and finishing work for the year (year-end giving is as predictable as my ability to ice skate again), but I feel like we are slowly easing into a day of bliss.

A day of pajamas and fudge and movies.

A day of rest.

SIDE NOTE: If you are reading this and are silently hating my guts because you currently have a dozen children, all of which are running around in varying degrees of nudity, or have to somehow wrangle your children so they can board a plane and fly across the country so you can eat three different kinds of jello salad, or you have a house that is so dirty that it would look better as a meth lab, please know this:

I am single and do not have children.

I only have one nephew who is now old enough to boss me around.

I am not traveling for Christmas nor is anyone visiting us (Hint, hint, Oklahoma family).

All of these things greatly contribute to a day in which I am the master of my own schedule. Little do you realize that I look forward to the day when I can embrace some of your chaos. But in the meantime, I will be praying for you and that all of you come out of this holiday season alive.

Besides, with only one good elbow, my activity options are limited to working the remote and snacking.

It's actually not a bad gig. 
Unlike many, I don't mind a bit of chaos this time of year. I thrive on dazzling Christmas parties and funky wrapping paper and homemade baked goods. I live for skirts that have sequins and houses that look like the Griswold's. And I am a firm believer that one can never, ever have enough salted caramel anything.

But something happens to me on December 20 that causes me to breathe deep. I feel a stillness, a sense of calm, which defies reason since apparently the world is ending tomorrow.

(In which case, can I get a "Hallelujah!")

It has taken four weeks, but I think all of the chaos has fallen away and the expectation of what is to come has settled in.

Advent has finally arrived.

And I welcome it with my whole heart.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Prequel to the BEST Christmas Story Ever!

Hello friends. I am happy to report that my elbow is getting better. I was able to put my hair in a ponytail yesterday, which I consider my very own Christmas miracle.

Do you remember this clip from last year? It is one of my most favorite videos for so many reasons, the star and the sheep being two of them.

And did you know that there is a prequel to last year's video? Me either but I just sat and watched it five times. It is amazing.

I love the simplicity, the beauty, and the hope of this message.

It is exactly what my heart needed to hear. Enjoy.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Our Favorite Things Party

Last night was our Women's Group Christmas party. Usually, we swap names and exchange pajamas, but this year we decided to give each other our favorite things!

Kind of like Oprah but with a $5 budget.

I highly recommend this kind of gift exchange because you find new treasures that you realize you have wanted your whole life but didn't even know it. And it shows the fun, creative, artistic and ingenious side of your friends!

Here's the loot:

  • Harry and David coffee and pasta from Kim, 
  • Scentsy lotion that smells divine (Rachel is now selling it), 
  • Handmade seasonal greetings that Abby printed and framed, 
  • Bangles and a hand-sewn bracelet from Jenn,
  • Minty green nail polish (the official color of 2013!) and a purse-sized nail file from yours truly,
  • Travel-sized hair spray and brush from Natalie
  • Heather's MOPS cookbook
I am amazed that we all came up with something different! And all for under $5. 

We are all just a a few million dollars away from having our own talk show.

Here we are holding our favorite things.

What you don't see is my gimpy elbow that I have conspicuously hid so that this Christmas photo will not be remembered as "the year Sarah cracked her elbow while trying to do a triple toe loop."

Instead, it will be remembered as my favorite Christmas party yet.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Few More

Typing with one hand is not my favorite thing in the world but it could be worse. I could have a hook and that really wouldn't be fun for anyone. Poor pirates.

But my elbow is still in tact, although a bit bruised, cracked and swollen. My biggest complaint is not being able to fix my hair. There's nothing quite like an injury to help point out your vanity. The world will just have to embrace my straight, flat hair for the next few weeks.

Thankfully, my coworkers have offered to open a beauty salon in our office. I am thinking of showing up at 7:30 just so I could have a pony tail. Shoot, as long as they don't crimp my hair or give me a big claw for bangs, they can do anything they want! Stay tuned for updates on this experiment.

Since I am a bit slow at typing these days, I thought I would show you a few more pictures from NYC. I know you have been dying to see them.

The Empire State Building:

The Liberty Cruise:

So beautiful and inspiring. I think there should always be fireworks around her.

The 9/11 Memorial:

This nearly knocked the wind out of me.

And finally, a little Stage Door Pizza:

Despite the gimpy elbow, it was a most perfect trip.

Monday, December 10, 2012

And the Diagnosis Is...

It appears that I may have a cracked left elbow with bruised tendons. I am rocking a sling and loving the pain medication.

It looks like typing with one hand will be my MO for a while.

I am so thankful this happened at the end of the trip. It was a fairly spectacular way to conclude our weekend. Go big or go home, right?!

Apparently, I did both.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Ice Capade Drop-Out

So, here's the scoop: we went ice skating tonight and it was Christmasy and spectacular and then I lost my balance and wiped out in front of hundreds of people.

I hate when that happens.

I knew I was going down. I knew that it was only a matter of seconds before the ice and I became familiar with each other, but the only thing I could think of was, "ACTIVATE YOUR CORE, SARAH! Activate your core!!"

Either it didn't activate or what did activate was deemed immobile by the pizza I had for lunch, but after what seemed like 4 minutes of flailing, I ate ice like it was a snow cone.

I laughed. Tara giggled. And I heard a few gasps from the crowd. All in all, I would say it was fairly magnificent. And somehow I managed to get up and keep skating.

I decided to share a couple of clips with you so you can hear about it. Also, please notice how well Tara skates. She is one bowl haircut away from being called Dorothy.

YouTube Video

And after a few minutes, I noticed that my left arm began to ache. Here is Tara re-enacting my fall:

YouTube Video

My left arm is now immobile and I am simultaneously typing this and eating M&MS with my right hand. Hopefully nothing is too wrong, I do so enjoy my left arm. But I am thankful that this happened on our last night.

Stupid core.