Friday, December 28, 2012

Foodie Fridays: Almond Diamond Cookies

From Dairy Goodness

For this last Friday of the year I have selected a recipe in honor of my beloved dog Diamond.  Almond Diamond Cookies are rich, delicious, and easy, as well as attractive, so they are also a perfect holiday choice, great for serving or giving as gifts.  Be sure to bake up a batch of these delightful sweets for your loved ones before year's end!

Almond Diamond Cookies

2 C. butter, softened
1 C. brown sugar
1 T. finely grated orange peel
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. salt
4 C. flour
2 T. milk
1 C. sliced almonds
2 T. sugar

Combine the first five ingredients until fluffy.  Stir in the flour half a cup at a time until well combined.  Press the dough evenly into a buttered 15x10-inch rimmed baking sheet.  Brush evenly with milk.  Sprinkle with the almonds and press them lightly into the dough.  Sprinkle evenly with the 2 T. sugar.  Bake at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes until lightly browned.  Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes.  Starting in one corner, slice into bars.  Rotate the pan and slice again starting at the opposite corner to make diamond shapes.  Let cool in the pan on a rack.  Makes 60 cookies.
             

Thursday, December 27, 2012

This 'n That Thursdays: Fruitcake -- Friend or Foe?

From Atomic Books

This is National Fruitcake Day, so I must mention one other deep, dark secret about Christmas that I revealed in a previous post -- while I myself am not one, I come from a family of fruitcake lovers.  Yes, such people actually do exist, and they are among my nearest and dearest.  Despite the fact that I now live in a state with a town that claims to be the fruitcake capital of the world, I will never develop a taste for this heavy, candied fruit-laden concoction.  Still, I do consider it a good idea to "know thy enemy", so I may just have to pay a visit to the aforementioned fruitcake town of Claxton here in Georgia.  There are actually two fruitcake bakeries there -- the original Claxton Bakery and the newer Georgia Fruit Cake Company.  I could also check out the Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas, which has been making fruitcakes for over 115 years and also claims to be the world's fruitcake capital.  And for those of you who are looking for more convenient locations, there is even a map of fruitcake locations in the United States:

From MapMuse

For me, however, the most enjoyable experience would most likely be at the Great Fruitcake Toss in Manitou Springs, Colorado.  This event features fruitcakes launched by a creative array of mechanical and pneumatic devices, all in the name of charity fund-raising.  The flying fruitcakes will become airborne soon, on January 12th, so anyone who wishes to be a part of the excitement had better make plans now.  I think I could even learn to like fruitcakes there, if only as flying objects!

From Sallan's Corner

Should you be one of the many who received but do not eat fruitcake, here is a list of alternative uses:

1) doorstop;
2) Yule log;
3) paperweight;
4) boot scraper;
5) computer stand;
6) weapon to throw at an intruder;
7) base for flower arrangements;
8) building blocks for a home fort.

If these suggestions aren't enough, you can find a few more here.  Fruitcake truly is the gift that keeps on giving (and giving, and giving, and giving... preferably to someone else)!


From Etsy
             

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Wish List Wednesdays: Tropical Vacation


What could possibly be on my wish list the day after Christmas?  How about a nice warm tropical vacation getaway!  With the start of winter, it would be delightful to fly off to a place like the fourteen-acre Olivia d'Windrift estate on a quiet Cat Island cove in the Bahamas.  I have been to the tropics many times -- several trips to Hawaii, once to Fiji, and I actually lived in the Caribbean for over a year when I was a graduate student -- but I have never been to the Bahamas, and I think it is time to remedy that situation!


From VacationKey.com

Olivia d'Windrift Estate (From Tripmondo)

So, is anyone else ready for some tropical cocktails on a Bahamian beach?

The Bahamian Goombay Smash (from CaterBid)
             

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Picture Parade: Beautiful Christmas Interiors

From lisa angel

Merry Christmas!  In addition to all of the other festivities, I thought a few examples of beautiful interiors dressed for the holidays would be a wonderful way to enjoy the day, so here they are:

From Home Klondike

From HGTV

From Apartment Therapy

From IdeasHomeConcept.com

From Interior Decoration Site

From Interior Decoration Site

From Blue Marlin Construction

From Minimalisti

From Houzz

From Frenzedwaters

From Home Relation

Whatever your holiday setting, I hope it is filled with family, friends, love, and joy!  Happy Holidays!
             

Monday, December 24, 2012

Picture Parade: Simple Holiday Décor


When it comes to decorating for the holidays, I like to set up festive arrangements in strategic places around the house, rather than spreading the cheer to every available surface.  Fireplace mantels and our entry hall table are the prime locations at our house.  I also prefer a simple but stunning look, such as the ones shown in the following examples:

From Crate and Barrel

From Crate and Barrel

From New England Home

From Sunset

From Modern House Insight

From Modern House Insight

From House to Home

From Tenniswood Blog

On this Christmas Eve day, may your holidays be merry and bright, with nary a lump of coal in sight!
                

Friday, December 21, 2012

Seasonal Style: Winter Geometric

Winter officially starts today, and for this shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere I thought a cool and mathematically precise look with a touch of fiery red warmth as well as a hint of icy pale blue would be appropriate:

(Link no longer available)

(Link no longer available)

This is a very sleek and rather masculine look, and while it is not necessarily my style it certainly fits the winter season.  The attractive but practical outfit would keep one stylishly snug on a cold winter day.  The living room can be warmed up with some holiday décor, but after the festivities are over this minimal design could actually be quite a soothing break from the excesses of the holidays -- and just imagine how relaxing this space would be on a hot summer's day!
             

Foodie Fridays: Naughty and Nice Cookies

Snickerdoodles (from How to Eat a Cupcake)

Cookies for Christmas is my theme for Foodie Fridays this month.  As a special bonus, this week I am providing two cookie recipes which I call "naughty and nice".  Vanilla- and cinnamon-flavored, buttery Snickerdoodles are extra nice, while Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies, with their added kick of cocoa powder and ground chipotle chiles, are an intriguingly naughty contrast.  I suggest baking up a batch of each, and letting guests decide which category is appropriate for them!

Snickerdoodles

1 1/2 C. sugar
1/2 C. (1 stick) butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
2 3/4 C. flour
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 T. sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon

Cream the sugar and butter together in a large bowl.  Stir in the vanilla, then add the eggs and blend well.  Stir together the next four ingredients in a medium bowl, then add gradually to the first mixture, combining thoroughly.  Shape the dough into one-inch balls (chill the dough slightly if it is too soft to roll easily).  Combine the remaining sugar and cinnamon in a pie plate.  Roll the dough balls in the mixture and place two inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes until set.  Cool briefly on the cookie sheets, then remove and cool completely on a wire rack.  Makes 48 cookies.

Note: Many Snickerdoodle recipes call for vegetable shortening as half of the fat, but I try to avoid this hydrogenated fat-laden ingredient and prefer an all-butter version instead as the lesser of two evils.  Also, for a more festive touch, try using colored sugars instead of plain white for the rolling mixture:

Christmas Snickerdoodles (from The Traveling Spoon)

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies

2 1/4 C. flour
1/2 C. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground chipotle chile
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/2 C. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 C. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground chipotle chile

Combine the first seven ingredients in a medium bowl.  Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla.  Gradually add the dry mixture to the creamed mixture, combining thoroughly.  Shape the dough into one-inch balls.  Combine the last three ingredients in a pie plate.  Roll the dough balls in the mixture and place three inches apart on parchment- or Silpat-lined cookie sheets.  Bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes until set in the center and beginning to crack.  Cool on the cookie sheets for five minutes, then remove and cool completely on a wire rack.  Makes 36 cookies.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies (from The Busty Baker)

Happy Holidays to all, whether naughty or nice!
          

Thursday, December 20, 2012

This 'n That Thursdays: Christmas Trees -- Bah, Humbug?

From HomeKlondike

Okay, I am about to share one of my deepest, darkest secrets about Christmas, so try not to be too shocked.  Ashamed as I am to admit it, the older I get the less enthusiastic I feel about setting up a Christmas tree.  I still very much enjoy all other holiday decorating traditions -- lights, garlands and wreaths, stockings, candles, table settings, and all the rest of the Christmas-themed decorations I dutifully haul out each year.  Everything delights me except for the tree.  I put this down to the fact that we switched to an artificial tree a few years ago.  It is actually quite lovely, very realistic and conveniently pre-lit, but somehow it is just not the same as the real thing.  Unfortunately, because of two rather rambunctious dogs, our Christmas tree must be set up on the second floor, and it is just too difficult to drag a full-sized real tree up our narrow staircase every year, so the fake tree is our only option.  Because I will not be decorating this year after just losing our beloved dog Diamond, I do get a reprieve from tree duty, but I am seriously considering not doing the standard Christmas tree at all from now on.  Now that's downright Scrooge-like!

Of course, there are other options.  A small, pre-decorated tabletop tree might work:

From Harry & David

Or I suppose I could borrow the Festivus tradition of a plain aluminum pole:


But then again, I think I would miss the Dalmatian-themed tree that has become our Christmas trademark:


Much as I have come to dread dragging out the dastardly tree, I have a feeling I am going to continue this Christmas tradition anyway.  To paraphrase the classic Charles Dickens quote, "Gosh darn it, every year!"
                

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wish List Wednesdays: Winter Solstice Animal Dessert Plates


'Tis the season of many holidays, and one that rarely seems to get much attention is the Winter Solstice on December 21st.  I for one am always happy to see the end of short winter days and the return of more sunlight, so I may just have to put together an easy dinner in honor of this occasion for my husband and myself this year.  I have already found some ideas for a simple celebration, but I have to admit that my initial inspiration came from these lovely Winter Solstice Animal Dessert Plates from West Elm.  They are even on sale at $5.99 each, so one each of the four designs costs less than $24!  I have already ordered mine, and they are supposed to be here in time for December 21st.  Now all I have to do is decide what to have for dessert!
             

Friday, December 14, 2012

Foodie Fridays: Snowballs

From Land O'Lakes

Way back when I was a freshman in college, I lived in a dorm with a small kitchen available for residents.  This kitchen was not used very often, as most of the students rarely had time to cook.  At the end of the semester, after finals, I found myself with time on my hands before I would be able to head home for Christmas.  This was the first time I had been away for so long, and needless to say I was quite homesick.  I decided that I would do something special for my family, and what I chose to do was bake.  At the time I had done very little baking, so I pulled out one of my few cookbooks (by Betty Crocker, which I still own to this day) and searched for a recipe that was both simple and appropriate for the holidays.  The recipe I selected was for these Snowballs (called Russian Teacakes in my book, but also known as Mexican Wedding Cakes, Swedish Tea Cakes, Italian Butter Nuts, Southern Pecan Butterballs, Sand Tarts, Viennese Sugar Balls, and goodness knows what else!).  Fortunately, they proved to be easy to make and quite delicious.  They were a big hit with my family, and for the rest of my college years these cookies were always part of my ever-expanding repertoire of baked goods for Christmas at home.  Snowballs are the perfect holiday treat, and may just become a tradition for your family as well.  After all, with so many different names from so many different regions, it is obvious that these sweet treats have universal appeal!

Snowballs

1 C. butter, softened
1/2 C. confectioner's sugar (plus extra for rolling)
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 C. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 C. finely chopped nuts (I prefer pecans)

Thoroughly combine the butter, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl.  Stir together the flour and salt, then work into the first mixture with the nuts until the dough holds together.  Cover the bowl and chill for about an hour.  Shape the dough into one-inch balls.  Place on ungreased baking sheets about one inch apart.  Bake at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes, until set but not brown.  Remove from the oven and cool slightly on wire racks.  Place confectioner's sugar in a shallow bowl and roll the warm cookies in the sugar.  Cool completely, then roll in the sugar once again.  Store in an airtight container.  Makes 4 dozen cookies.
             

Thursday, December 13, 2012

This 'n That Thursdays: Traditional Christmas-Inspired Pier 1 Living Room

From Rocky Mountain Cabin Decor

Although my usual preference for interior design is modern, when the Yuletide approaches I am suddenly overcome with a sentimental need for a more traditional look.  To me, nothing says Christmas like red and green, and these colors always show up in our home for the holidays.  With the season in mind, I thought I would create a traditional living room style board of items available from Pier 1 Imports, mostly sporting that classic red and green palette:

Clockwise from top left: Beaded Reindeer PillowAbbie Sofa in Sage; Velvet Snowflake Pillow; Snowflake LED Candles; Bronze Pear Lamp; Meyers Side Table; Green Flounce Pillow; Abbie Armchair in Berry; Ornament Wreath; Standing & Grazing Reindeer; Center top: Meyers Coffee Table; Center bottom: Stunning Simplicity Art; Background: Sunset Diamond Floral Rug

While this living room style board may have been inspired by traditional Christmas colors, the design would look great all year long, with or without the decorative Christmas touches!
                

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wish List Wednesdays: Black Cat Mug and Plate Sets


They're back!  Last December, just after Christmas, I posted a comment about these Black Cat Mug and Plate Sets, lamenting the fact that they were no longer available and expressing the hope that they would return.  My wish has been granted!  Offered now by Wind & Weather, each set of four costs just under $50.  This year I won't wait -- I am placing my order for this cute dinnerware in plenty of time for Christmas!
             

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

On the Homefront: Carrying on with the Blog

Christmas 2010
Christmas 2011

While I don't have the heart to decorate for Christmas this year after losing my sweet Diamond, I have decided to continue blogging again, mostly because I already have some posts written and ready to go.  I wrote these before I lost my little girl, so I may or may not continue with Christmas comments after I post these, but I started this blog mostly because of Diamond (while she recovered from cruciate ligament surgery) and I intend to keep it going in her honor.  This has always been a sort of personal (but not private) journal for me, so I can't think of a better place to keep my beloved dog's memories alive in addition to storing information of interest to me.  Tomorrow it will be back to blogging as usual, from now on dedicated to my little girl Diamond.

Gia, Ruby, and Diamond with my husband (Christmas 2011)
             

Monday, December 10, 2012

On the Homefront: Remembering Diamond (2004-2012)

Diamond (2004-2012)

To my Diamond:

I remember that day in late January 2007 when we first met.  I had just lost my old Dalmatian, Dottie, in early December.  For almost two months I was without dogs, and that was one of the saddest and most depressing periods of my entire life.  Our house was no longer a home, merely an empty shell, forlornly waiting to be filled with canine companions again.  When we first saw you, you had only been back with your foster mother for a week.  Your previous owners had no time for you, locking you outside on their apartment balcony while they were at work and finally abandoning you at a local shelter when they decided they no longer wanted you.  Luckily your foster mom went to pick you up, and found you howling frantically, confused as to why you were no longer wanted.  Much as Liz loved you, she had far too many dogs and knew you needed a home of your own.  You and your best Dalmatian friend, Gia, were together at the adoption site.  Gia, always full of self-confidence, was immediately comfortable with us and ready to take charge, but you were not so sure.  I was afraid you were not going to want to become our dog, especially when you started to whimper as we drove away from Liz.

Your first two weeks were tough.  You became quite ill and refused to eat, but our vet put you on a bland diet and I began to try to win your trust.  We were told you were both crate-trained and you, Diamond, were indeed accepting of the crate -- I think it made you feel secure to have your own space.  Gia, on the other hand, was outraged, fighting to get out every time, and eventually I decided both of you could be trusted in the house (I am not a big fan of crates either).  Both of you blossomed almost immediately.  You were perfectly willing to accept limits on where you could and could not roam (Gia was not), and could be trusted off-leash on walks (again, Gia could not).  Your health recovered completely, and the happy, playful Diamond we grew to love so much became evident.  Occasionally Gia would get you into trouble on the rare occasions she managed to escape -- your bond to Gia was still stronger than the one to us in those early days, and you always dutifully followed wherever she led.  Twice I was sure we had lost you forever, but you always managed to find help from someone and I was able to get you back home.

We soon settled into a comfortable and happy routine of walks, playtimes, and feedings.  I loved the way you would roll on the floor when you were happy, just asking for a belly rub.  You also enjoyed a good ear rub.  Tennis balls were your favorite toy, and when I got you one shaped like a football that squeaked, you knew you had found your perfect match.  Whenever I came home you would grab that toy and squeak away joyfully -- it was your way of telling me that you were glad I was back.  Of course, you would do the same thing every time I was on the phone, forcing me to take it away from you so I could carry on a conversation, but you never minded, because you had gotten my attention.  You were never happier than when your people surrounded you, and while you were not much of a snuggler, every once in a while you would join us on the couch and roll around happily, nudging us with your nose to tell us how glad you were to be with us.  Your coat was the softest I ever felt on a dog.  I loved to stroke your soft, velvety head.  And how you loved to watch me cook!  Even if you never got a morsel, just the smell of food cooking made you roll about on the floor with joy.  And if I did relent and let you and Gia have a taste, you just knew that life did not get much better.  At first you were not enthusiastic when the little stray we named Ruby followed us home one morning, but after about a week she managed to wriggle her way into your affections, and the two of you became playmates, probably one of the few times in your life that you actually got to act like a carefree puppy.

Life was so idyllic until that day a little over two years ago when a thoughtless owner let her aggressive off-leash dog attack you.  Your injured leg required surgery which was not as successful as it should have been.  Yet you still managed to recover, only to end up with renal disease from the process.  How I hoped against hope that your condition was one that could be managed indefinitely.  For a while you did quite well with the prescription diet and some medication, showing no signs of the disease at all.  Your leg healed so well you could even go for long walks and jump on the couch again, and life seemed to return to normal.

Then, early this year, your health began to decline.  It was subtle at first, and a short stay at the vet hospital for IV fluids was all you needed.  But more and more medications were soon needed, and then subcutaneous fluids, and then you began to lose your appetite.  We fought so hard, you and I, to get you feeling comfortable again, but, far more quickly than I could have believed possible, your condition worsened.  Your last stay at the vet hospital was a disaster.  I was so afraid I would lose you there, but you rallied enough to come home.  It was a relief for both of us just to have you here, even though you were not well and required so much care.  Finally, it just became too much for you.  I almost lost you when you stopped breathing, but you managed to revive somehow and we kept you comfortable until the kind and caring vet could come and let you leave us gently and without pain.

My poor sweet girl, your suffering was mercifully short and is over now, but my pain and sorrow at losing you continues.  December 2nd, the day we lost you, was the same day we lost our Dottie six years ago.  There will be no Christmas at our house this year -- I just can't face a holiday that should be all about joy and celebration.  Instead I will mourn your loss, and will miss all of my dear sweet departed dogs.  But I will also remember the good times, and what a wonderful, beautiful, sweet, good dog you were, and be thankful that I had you in my life, even if the time was far too short.  This letter is long, but still cannot even begin to touch on all of the wonderful moments we had together, or express just how much you mean to me.  I love you so much, Diamond, and will keep you in my heart forever.  Please wait for me with my other girls, and one day I will be with you again.

With tears and kisses for my sweetest little girl,
   from your Forever Mom