I've been exceptionally busy lately between work and my regular life. So much so, in fact, that I have had next to no time to post. I apologize, but they don't pay me to do this, so I haveta do what pays the bills first.
As, I suspect, so do you.
Anyhoo, the excitement of Christmas is over and all that remains are the reflections and the clean-up. Let's get on with the reflections, shall we?
First up: Bunny Boop. She was stunned - or shell-shocked might be more accurate. She walked around in a daze as though it was just all too much. She loved her wagon and her sled and her snow shovel. She loved the little dolly stroller she got from Grandma. She's a kid, so the clothes didn't make much of an impression. In fact, even the jumpy thing wasn't much of a hit. But, after she had her nap and had more time to reflect, she was like a kid in a candy store. She played hard and had a blast. She loves her big legos and even the jumpy thing. But it was the first time I've ever seen her overwhelmed. It was kind of funny, to be honest.
Prince Charming was not surprised by any of his gifts, by design. It was not a year where we spent a lot on ourselves. Still, he was pleased and happy.
Everyone else, including me, seemed well pleased with their gifts, so it was all good.
Now, on to the food!
For Christmas Eve, I made my lasagna, a salad, and garlic bread. It wasn't fancy, but it was pretty good.
On Christmas morning, we had my cheese danish which was so popular that it will now be tradition. If I find a spare few minutes in the next few weeks I will post the recipe.
For Christmas Dinner we had a glazed spiral cut ham which was out of this world. We also had the family sweet potatoes, corn, homemade dinner rolls, and twice-baked potatoes. The potatoes were amazing! I baked them off on Monday (after making the rolls), then split them and took the guts out. To this I added butter, sour cream, green onions, cheddar cheese, bacon, and a packet of dry Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix. I stuffed the shells and baked them again, putting them on broil at the end to make the tops crunchy. They were amazing!
For dessert, I made the pumpkin cheesecake that was featured in Cuisine at Home. It is absolutely delicious and is a recipe I don't intend to lose.
I've already started taking down the decorations since we have a SpongeBob-themed birthday party to host on Saturday.
Yes, that's right, I am the Surly Christmas Shopper
I had a bit of a run-in with a sales clerk at the mall last night.
As I have no doubt discussed before, I aim to have my shopping done each year by Thanksgiving. I almost did it this year too. I just had a few last items to pick up yesterday after work and for the most part, they were not my shopping.
SpySistah, as also previously mentioned, lives outside of the country. This makes Christmas shopping somewhat problematic. The solution that works best for us is for me to pick up the things she needs for our family members and I take care of it. She pays, but I do the shopping. It works really well.
So, last night, I was at Victoria's Secret picking up an item for SpySistah's shopping list and a last minute item of my own.
When I finally reached the front of the line, I told the clerk that I had two separate transactions. I thought that would be a simple enough request. Indeed, I still think it is completely reasonable and straight forward. But, surprisingly, it wasn't so.
She seemed to think that two transactions wasn't necessary. She said that she could accept a check for part and a card for the rest or some combination of cash and other payment. I get it: she thought she was being helpful. But, she stopped being helpful when I insisted on two transactions. That's when she clearly thought I was stupid.
Nevertheless, she allowed me to finish my two transactions as was my wish. And she could have let it go there, but this wouldn't be a story worth posting if she had...
Instead, as she is handing me my second receipt, she says, "And, just for the record, we could have done that in a single transaction."
So politely pissed I responded with this, "Honey, no. We couldn't. I need two separate receipts. In addition to shopping for myself today, I am also shopping for my sister who lives outside of the country and there is a need for me to keep the financial aspects as clear as possible. I need two separate receipts. It is as simple as that."
And then I walked away. Pissed. I was pissed. It isn't like I even wrote checks and took an exceedingly long time to do so. Both transactions were accomplished with a single swipe of the card. Would it have killed her to have kept her mouth shut? I don't think so. What would it have cost her to have just let me be the keeper of what my needs are? NOTHING. Doesn't she think I have a better handle on my finances than she does? Because I'm certain that I know more about it.
So guess what? I'm going to go online and fill out the little survey dealio that came with my receipt and make sure that corporate knows what happened.
I am the Surly Christmas Shopper. I am reminding myself of that Kathy Bates scene where she plows into those blonde tarts cars explaining that she's older and has better insurance.
I received a real treat in the mail yesterday. My good friend (who is an amazing cook) hooked me up with a box of Christmas cookies of my very own.
I can't even describe how it made me feel. I got all warm and fuzzy and excited, like a kid is supposed to feel at Christmas. The box was absolutely lovely, all wrapped up in a red satin bow. It was luxurious from the outside, but from the inside - pure heaven. Christina wrapped all of the cookie varieties individually in beautiful cellophane bags that had a cute print on them and they each had tags to identify what the cookie's were named. It was charming and beautiful and a real treat.
But, it gets better! The eats were amazing! We haven't yet sampled everything, but the half we have were out of this world. The sand tarts were light and almost disappeared in the mouth. The little cakes were like pillows of heaven on the tongue, reminding me oddly and for reasons I can't fully understand of my childhood. The chocolate toffee cookies were rich and dark and satisfied the chocolate craving.
There is, however, a shameful side to this story.
You are all aware that I am something of a cookie connoiseur. Indeed, I spend two weeks each year baking my own kitchen full of goodies to go out in my own Christmas tins. Some even call me the Cookie Queen. But, I am ashamed to admit that I've been outclassed.
Even my husband was quick to point out that Christina had me beat on presentation. And frankly, she does. It was beautiful! Prince Charming, knowing he had just strayed into the crosshairs, was quick to retreat to the safety of assuring me that my cookies are better, but that was just a piece of self-preservation. I know how good they were and you can be sure that they were everybit as good as my own.
I may have to abdicate my throne or take a lesser title. But somehow, Cookie Duchess just doesn't have the same ring to it.
Do you remember not too long ago when I was bemoaning my single-oven-ness? I had this hypothesis about why my chocolate snowflakes weren't baking correctly on convection bake. It seemed like a reasonable hypothesis. But, as every student of the scientific method knows, a great many reasonable hypotheses prove false in the testing.
Such is the case with my situation.
When my original three batches of snowflakes were baking all wonky, I scrapped the two trays that had come out of the oven flat and tossed them out. I wrapped up what remained of the dough and stuck it in the fridge for the next attempt. Then I made two more batches of dough.
Fast forward to last night. I was exhausted, but feeling energized because I had just successfully added my husband's new shuffle to our itunes account and loaded it with music, so I preheated teh ol' oven and gave it a whirl.
I took out one of the packages of remaining dough and used it up. They came out of the oven...flat. Again. Not on convection, but regular bake. But, they were puffier than the last batch, so I got out so of the new dough and prepped another cookie sheet. First, of course, I used up the last of the old dough, then finished with the new.
Eureka! This new sheet, when out of the oven, was a stark dichotomy. Some of the cookies were perfectly plump. Other, sad little cookies, were flat like roadkill.
The hypothesis, she is false. Out with the old, in with the new: Dumbass must have accidently left out the leavening agent in the first triple-batch of dough. There's no other explanation! So now, I'm going to go home tonight, bake off the rest of the good dough, throw out what's left of the bad, and make another batch of dough to bake tomorrow.
I hate it when it turns out I'm the problem in the kitchen. I was so much happier thinking the recipe didn't lend itself to convection bake.
So, here's the baking schedule for the weekend:
Bake remaining snowflakes Make another batch of snowflake dough bake thumbprints
Grocery shopping make chocolate covered peanuts bake chocolate mint marvels bake last batch of snowflakes bake peanut blossoms
Sunday: make holly bake lemon sex cookies sort cookies into tins and prep for shipping.
Oh, yeah, and somewhere in there I need to wrap presents, do Christmas cards, and clean house.
Not too long ago, I wrote a bit about the murder in my hometown. That case was eventually concluded with a hung jury. And that, my friends, comes down to the prosecutor not knowing his audience.
Here's the dealio: the case is going to be retried, in the same county, from the same jury pool. However, once the first trial was over, the jurors were free to talk about the case. As I've mentioned before, my father's best friend and his brother-in-law were both on the jury. As such, we know a bit about why the jury failed to come to a unanimous decision.
And the fault all lies with the prosecutor and his inability to both a) state the most important parts of the evidence and b) not make assumptions about the jury pool.
I'm no lawyer, but I think when you are presenting evidence to a jury you should be sure to hit the most damning evidence especially hard. Not, oh I don't know, skip it entirely.
You see, in the presentation of the prosecution's case, they presented blood evidence. This blood was collected from two distinct spots on the defendants' porch and a DNA expert confirmed that the blood was a match to the victim. (Keep in mind, no body has ever been found.) The way the evidence was presented, the jury couldn't be sure that these two spots of blood were not from a bloody nose. It might mean fist fight, it might mean more, but they couldn't be sure.
It was only after the jury came back and the gag order was lifted that a member of the jury learned from his son the local cop (who was on the scene at the time of the blood evidence collection) that the blood hadn't just been in two spots, but had fallen down through the cracks and into the soil below.
Now, this would seem like a critical piece of information to me. Blood in enough quantity to flow like that off of a porch would seem to be more than a bloody nose would have to offer. This was the prosecutor's first mistake. It seems to me that if you don't have a body, you need to leave the impression with the jury that the only reasonable conclusion from that much blood loss is death, but again, I'm no lawyer.
On to mistake #2...
As I've mentioned before, we live Out There. We live 3 hours from a mall in a place where you find rattlesnakes and coyotes and most people travel with at least a rifle in the pickup. It is just the way it is. The community as a whole is used to seeing gun racks in the back windows of pickups the way people in the suburbs see those I heart my labrador and My kid is an honor student stickers. We don't even think about it. A gun isn't something to be feared, the guy pointing it at you is.
But the prosecutor saw the fact that the defendant had acquired a new gun just before the alleged incident as damning. And this argument kind of pissed people off, especially considering the lack of a body and no ballistics evidence. The acquisition of a new, legally acquired firearm doesn't make one guilty of murder necessarily. On the day after a gun show that could literally mean hundreds of new crimes and we all know that that isn't in line with reality. Ownership of a gun doesn't make one a murderer and more than ownership of a knife does. The prosecutor saw the case through his suburban Kansas City or Wichita or Topeka eyes and not through those of his jury pool. That was a mistake.
The jury had other questions as well.
Apparently not enough was made or questions asked about whey the defendants got rid of a brand new SUV very shortly after the alleged victim's disappearance. The defendants claim that they "didn't like it", so they replaced it...with the exact same SUV in a different color.
I ask you, would you get rid of a brand new SUV that wasn't in an accident, that wasn't recalled, that was completely operable...because of the color of said SUV? I wouldn't. If the color was that objectionable, I'd get it painted.
So, the case will be going to trial again. Let's hope the prosecutor presents a better case next time, shall we?
As you may or may not be aware, this part of Wisconsin received a bunch of snow over the weekend. This was a fortuitous event, as it turns out.
We knew the storm was coming, so I prepared a game plan. Early Saturday morning I headed out to the grocery store to pick up the necessary items to begin the next phase of my holiday baking schedule. Those items and a few others packed into the Jeep, Bunny Boop and I headed back home. She returned to the living room to enjoy a cartoon marathon and I to the kitchen to bake.
You see, we were warned that a power outage could come with this storm. As such, I started baking at 9 a.m. I made two batches of rocky road fudge before starting in on my pumpkin cookies. When those were completed, I started the Cran-Orange cookies. By the time that was done, the storm was in full force and I opted to call it a day.
On Sunday I was back in front of the oven, this time making coconut cookies and sugar cookies and finally prepping the dough for my chocolate snowflakes. By the time all of this was done, I was feeling hugely accomplished. Indeed, on top of all of that work I managed to also do about a million loads of dishes, all of the laundry, do the floors, and inventory the cookie tins. I was like Superwoman without the golden lasso.
All this and it was my birthday. We didn't go out to celebrate because of the storm, but that was okay with me.
Last night, however, the tide turned.
But first, an aside. Perhaps I have mentioned the fact that I am currently down one oven and am trying to shuttle hundreds of cookies through a single oven? I haven't? It is true. I have a double oven at home, but my top oven is having technical difficulties and we are waiting for parts.
On the advice of my good friend Christina, kitchen goddess, I have been utilizing the convection bake feature of my one working oven in an attempt to speed things up. With convection bake, you are supposed to be able to bake 3 cookie sheets at a time. You drop the baking temperature by 25 degrees and watch the clock to be sure of what time is correct. This has yielded mostly positive results.
That is, until last night.
My Christmas cookie tins are a melanage of flavors and colors. I try to keep the variety fresh, featuring a new cookie or two every year. Some cookies are so popular that I dare not remove them from the lineup, however. Among these every-year cookies are: gingersnaps, lemon sex cookies, and chocolate snowflakes. The Gingersnaps are done and the lemon sex cookies are sheduled for this coming weekend. It is the chocolate snowflakes that are the problem.
These cookies are wildly popular. Imagine, if you can, a brownie-bite: it is crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, high quality chocolate covered in powdered sugar. What's not to like, right? They come out looking like cute little puffed mounds - or at least they are supposed to.
Last night they looked more like roadkill. I believe that the temperature can't be dropped on these cookies. They are ordinarily baked at 400 degrees - much higher than normal baking - and I have learned this lesson the hard way. I believe that the higher temperature means that the exterior of the cookie cooks faster, forming a crust of sorts around the outside. I believe this allows the puffed mound to be maintained while the insides remain chewy. Dropping the temperature, even though it was on convection, prevented this crust from forming resulting in my little mounds spreading into flat little mudpuddles, unattractive and unappetizing. Obviously, I can't be certain of my hypothesis yet.
I intend to make some more dough tonight after I get through another couple of recipes. You learn something new everyday, doncha?