29 December 2012

Let it snow.

Remember when I said it finally started snowing yesterday? Well... it's still snowing! Yeah!!

Hello from snowy St. Joe!

There hasn't been much accumulation (I blame the wind!), but it sure is pretty. Brad and I stepped out for a quick dinner (the best soup I have EVER had - butternut squash bisque with ginger and shrimp. I am neither a big soup nor a big squash person, but I just loved every last bite of this) and a short drive around town to check out the snow and waves on the lake and everyone's Christmas lights in the belated Christmas snow. Perfect. Just perfect.

[Speaking of perfect, I'm hoarding the last of my white chocolate-cherry chip cookies I made on Sunday. Like I said earlier, it's just the plain old Tollhouse recipe with white chocolate chips and cherry chips in place of chocolate chips, but they are a special kind of delicious and I haven't bored of them yet.]

Luckily, I have my trusty new coffee mug for keeping-me-warm coffee and/or cocoa during this winter storm. Thanks to our nephew Brendan for this super special Christmas present (that's his artwork - pretty cool!).

Happy snow, friends! PS Guess what is also snow white? Our new kitchen! More on that soon...... :)

28 December 2012

The three days of Christmas.

Merry Christmas plus three! ;) While vacation is going way too fast and I'm already dreading its end, I must confess that it also feels like we've been off forever and Christmas day feels like ages ago. I suppose that's what happens when your days are full of family, friends, fun, and food! And our past several days have been all of the above.

After my family left Sunday, we fell right into Christmas Eve and our third annual finger food buffet (I really like "annual" events, clearly), our second with Brad's parents. This year we added a special dessert (date shakes a la Palm Springs) to go along with our second year of viewing It's a Wonderful Life, which we bought this year to avoid the three-hour viewing time on tv w/ commercials.

It was finally time to pull out the Zingerman's cheeses from Local, the pimento and the Cheshire, which tasted amazing with the fancy honey I also picked up. More cheese, strawberry jalapeno jam, olives, shrimp cocktail, crackers, veggies, the works!

Made all the more special by my Christmas eve present to Brad....

Movie intermission.... Milkshake time!

I would imagine in general these are pretty simple, but I went with the Saveur recipe, which was as easy as easy could be. The hardest part? Chopping dates - those things are sticky! And, of course, a chance to use (and show off) my beautiful new blue blender! Bottom's up!

I have such strong, vivid memories of Christmas mornings growing up that I honestly don't think I'll ever grow out of looking forward to it - or trying to make it special, even for pooches. The older I get, the more I realize how much I channel my mother, and I snuck downstairs first, turning all the lights on, queuing up the Christmas music, putting the coffee on, and "setting up" Christmas. This year we went with a salad trail ending in two Dinobones for George and Heidi, and I'm sure they appreciate the gesture, wink.

Santa was very kind and generous to Brad and I both, and we had a blast sitting on the floor by the tree opening all of our gifts.

Merry Christmas from the Churches!

The grand finale being, of course, the Hot Dog the Movie-inspired ski man sweater I've had under wraps for months - you wouldn't believe how difficult it is to find these type of sweaters, let alone in a size that isn't a small or XXL. It suits Brad perfectly. Especially with his Uncle Eddie Marty Moose mug (credit to Hillary for putting this gift on my radar over a year ago!).

Thank goodness I'd planned ahead and made the majority of the food for Christmas dinner the day before, so I only had one dish to make - the rest I just popped into the oven for a more relaxing day. On the menu: broccoli gratin (which I under broccoli'd, but was still delicious if extra saucy), Daphne Oz's ginger carrots (only the second cooked carrot I've ever really liked - I'm looking at you, Lisa Z and your Christmas Potluck carrots!), and, for the main course, spinach and three-cheese stuffed shells with tomato basil sauce as well as bechamel (yum) from the Mainstreet Ventures cookbook (from Ann Arbor). M-i-l brought ham, and Hillary made her world-famous coconut cake. By three, everything was done, so I called in the troops to come and get it while it was hot.


I miss having my mom here on Christmas, so I'm so thankful to have the Smurches around for lots of holiday love. Having the little ones running around makes it extra special, so a special shout out to Daphne and Maren, who help keep the Christmas spirit front and center.

But that wasn't the end of the celebrating! Wednesday brought the East Side Churches out, despite winter weather and an extra long drive. Everyone was all smiles when they arrived - a little (lot) extra time in the car wasn't dampening anyone's spirits.

...especially when there is a mountain of presents to be opened!

So glad everyone was able to make it out to round out the Christmas week!

And now... guess what?

It's FINALLY showing! Sheesh! Nothing like a white Christmas plus three! Hope everyone's holidays have been filled with as much fun and love as ours! xoxo

23 December 2012

Cherry chocolate Christmas.

The official Christmas festivities began this weekend, with our annual visit from my mom, Larry, and Jordan. Part birthday celebration (Christmas day for my mom!), part Christmas celebration, it is always one hilarious, crazy, and love-filled visit, and this year was no exception - although I think there may have been even more smiles and giggles this year than ever! Mostly courtesy of our main man Jordan, who was hilarious and sweet, and made quite an impression on Heidi, who spent a lot of time following him around.

We kept it low-key Friday night, ordering pizza in and watching Scrooged. Saturday, my mom and I snuck off for her birthday surprise - a spa pedicure and a manicure. Then back home for lunch and giggles and cocktails and naps before dinner.

Going out on a limb here and also posting this pic of my mom and Larry even though I know my mom would kill me for doing so but it is SO CUTE no matter what she could possibly say about it.

Note, the sparkly birthday nails!

Typically I've made a big birthdaymas dinner, but this year we decided to take the family out, making reservations a few weeks ago at the happiest place on Earth, the Grand Mere Inn. It's a very traditional, family restaurant, with your basic meats and potatoes and seafoods, done deliciously and decadently with lots of butter and sauces. I knew they'd love it, and they did.

Luckily, Jordan found ways to amuse himself, even though he didn't really eat (I don't consider fries and vanilla ice cream "dinner").

I have to give him credit for being pretty patient, knowing open-presents-time was waiting at home. And I'm definitely not going to complain about the 30 solid minutes of butter-Aunt-Stephanie-up-time. I'll take my hugs and kisses any way I can get them! A brief detour to see the lights on the bluff after dinner, then home for PRESENTS!

Straight to the table to put together his new Christmas legos. Should I be surprised that it was completed by the time he went to bed?

I made breakfast this morning - pumpkin and pecan pancakes. (I want to take a brief moment to say how fantastic it is to wake up and have coffee made and ready. Thanks, Larry!) Needed to offer the fam something homemade! Then everyone left around noon, and I miss them all already.

But no time to rest.... Christmas dinner is coming soon, so while Brad got to work on painting the cabinets (more on that to come soon!), I headed to the grocery store, where I could no longer resist the cherry chips I saw a few weeks ago. Coupled with the new baking sheets from Santa Mama, I threw together some white chocolate chip and cherry chip cookies (just using the basic Tollhouse recipe).

Seriously love working for a kitchen-related company.

Always a sous chef on hand.

I wasn't sure how these would turn out because the cherry chips on their own tasted a little odd. Surprisingly enough, as they baked, they smelled a lot like Fruity Pebbles. I'm also making a concerted effort to NOT overcook cookies anymore. Because I ALWAYS overcook cookies. I did much better this time, for sure.

A little thin, but still soft (yeah!!). Still faintly smelling of Fruity Pebbles - and, really, tasting a little bit like it, too. I LOVE these cookies. Love. I absolutely recommend the combination of the weird cherry chips with the white chocolate. I'm sure these would taste fantastic with milk chocolate, too, or instead of white, even. But for a beautiful holiday treat, these are just perfect.

Seriously. What a great weekend.

21 December 2012

Stainless steel santa.

Christmas came early this year by way of upgraded kitchen appliances. The perks of working where we work... not too shabby. Well, Brad's perks of working where we work. He's fancy. I'm not. Luckily - because both our fridge and dishwasher were in need of repair - we were able to swap them both out for new, non-broken models. Hooray!

I hate you, broken dishwasher!

After nearly three hours of disassembly, assembly, reassembly... We had shiny new appliances. The dishwasher basically looks the same. Nothing exciting there. But the new fridge, well, it deserves a bit of a drumroll.

Heidi says, looks the same to me!

Inside, new fridge is lovely. Just lovely. The lights brighten progressively as you open the doors for extra dramatic effect. The shelves/door shelves make much more sense. And... there is a wine rack!

The freezer has been improved, as well, with THREE drawers and a special spot just for frozen pizzas (I don't buy frozen pizzas but it's a nice little space!).

Where's the food?

A well-stocked, organized fridge is one of my favorite sites in the world. And a well-stocked, organized fridge that contains eggnog? EVEN better.

The eggnog served us well for this year's annual Holiday Inn viewing. Thanks for joining us again this year to Ceile and we were thrilled to add Hillary for her first time ever. Aaaaabrahaaaam!

16 December 2012

Christmas spirits.

To get in the Christmas spirit this week, Brad and I watched a classic Christmas movie while treadmilling in the basement.

Gremlins, of course! It's been too many years since I'd watched this movie in full, but I assure you, it is every bit as fun, funny, and scary as you remember from your childhood. I'd forgotten how very Christmasy it is, actually, and it is a nice change from your traditional holiday viewing.

I'm dreaming of a green Christmas...

So, full of the holiday spirit, Brad and I set out this weekend to finish our Christmas errands. Of course, we needed fuel first, so we stopped in Harbert for breakfast at Luisa's for Swedish pancakes (me) and fluffy eggs (Brad). Down to the outlet mall next, then back through New Buffalo for a stop at Local, where I discovered.......

ZINGERMAN'S CHEESE! Perhaps I spent $20 on pimento cheese... perhaps not. But probably I did. ;)

Then it was over to Three Oaks for Brad's first visit to Journeyman Distillery (main goal was to pick up a Christmas gift) and my first time back since they started serving food. I was surprised to discover a handful of new spirits as well, which, of course, meant many more specialty cocktails to choose from. We both started with a Moscow mule, then moved on to whiskey drinks - a sazerac for me and an "I'll Have Another" for Brad (the more delicious of the two).

The menu boasted an assortment of things we wanted to sample - alas, we narrowed it down to three. Bison sloppy joe (for Brad), mac and cheese, and whitefish spread. Brad's response to the bison joe? "It's f-ing good." Always his highest review.

I have to say, the whitefish spread and mac were also... pretty f-ing good. I realize 20 minutes is NOT that far away. But I still wish this place had set up shop in our town. It would get much repeat business from us.

Today, we finished up our holiday shopping in town (high five!) and celebrated with beer and burgers for brunch. I had a Christmas ale from Greenbush. Gotta stick with the theme!

And then I spent the rest of the day wrapping everything. Love a populated tree. So sparkly and full of love!

12 December 2012

Cookie monster.

...since you been goooooone! Oh wait. Since I've been gone:

We had a very special Thanksgiving eve visitor.
We showed her a good time.

I made some pies and my first-ever from-scratch stuffing.
For a captive audience.

I solidified my love for Tofurkey.

Christmas cheer exploded all over our house.

...and I celebrated SHSGW '12 with some awesome, awesome chicks -

We drank some champagne, bought some crafts, and ate snacks at.... GIRL AND THE GOAT.

Keep it together... stay cool....

Just kidding! SO EXCITED! Eeee!

Love spending a holiday weekend in the big city with my girls!

Now it's time to focus on the very-quickly-approaching Christmas - getting everything ready for the big day while also trying to enjoy this very special time of year. No real snow yet, but making up for it with oodles of cheer. Including the 2nd Annual S. State Triangle Cookie Exchange, which took place last night. As last year, Ceile, Hillary, and I co-hosted at Ceile's house. We provided the snacks (I highly recommend this super easy and festive snack if anyone is in need of a quick holiday recipe!) and everyone provided three dozen cookies each.

I debated my cookie selection for a few weeks before finally settling on cranberry bliss cookies. I'm still a fairly anxious baker, especially when I'll be sharing with someone other than Brad, but I had pretty good luck with these guys. Before sharing with the ladies, I got the thumbs up from both Brad and my boss, who I shared some advance copies with.



After after.

While delicious, these are super sweet, so I decided against the additional sugar drizzle + cranberry topping. A little dollop of frosting was more than enough.

As always, I had help in the kitchen.


We all consider this year's event a grand success, and you could feel the holiday love throughout the evening. So proud of our packed house!

Cookies. Yum.

It's been a good month. :)