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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

We Wish Ewe a Merry Christmas

It was a fabulous holiday here at Purls Before Wine. As mentioned in the previous post, I have been awash in the Christmas spirit.

On Christmas Eve, we hosted our (nearly) annual dinner party for our friends, the Feinsteins and the Cohens. A good time was had by all, although I did select a menu that kept me in the kitchen for the two days prior and much of the evening. I served:
  • Hot Spiced Cider (my recipe)
  • Shrimp Cocktail
  • Gougeres (delectable cheese puffs from the Barefoot Contessa Paris Cookbook)
  • Hot Spiced Cashews (also from a Barefoot Contessa book)
  • Roasted Baby Potatoes and Baby Carrots with Thyme and Rosemary
  • Spinach Gratin (the Contessa again)
  • Parkerhouse Rolls (the Sister Schubert cookbook--yum!)
  • Beef au Poivre (Contessa Paris again)
  • Walnut Cake (The Fearless Chef Cookbook--I've made this cake three times this month!)
  • Pumpkin Pie with Cointreau-spiked Whipped Cream (the one on the Libby canned pumpkin label with my own crust recipe)

I have about 3' of usable counter space in my kitchen, so it was pretty harrowing in there. I worked ahead as much as possible, but the schedule for taking things out of the fridge, putting them in the oven, searing the filets, making sauce, taking things out of the oven, etc. was a little crazy. I really should simplify things so that I can relax with our guests before dinner, but where would the challenge be in that?! (When we redo the kitchen, I want to annex the room next door so that I have a place where people can mingle while I cook. That would help tremendously.)

The next day, the husband and I got up a bit on the late side. (Well, I got up earlier and put in another load of dishes and watched A Christmas Story. Again. I had stayed up late the night before and watched it. Twice.) After his requisite trip to our neighborhood Starbucks, we settled in to exchange gifts. His holiday is always like a trip to the Men's Furnishings floor of a department store: socks, underwear, t-shirts, etc. Occasionally he gets something that shakes things up, and I did score on the Pixar Short Films DVD, an impulse buy that seemed to thrill him.

He gave me several very thoughtful gifts, but the highlight came courtesy of a suggestion made by the Yarn Harlot. It seems that he wrote an email to her a while back asking for unique knitting-related gift suggestions. She graciously took the time to respond with the recommendation that he get me a signed copy of an Elizabeth Zimmerman book. He took her advice and found a remarkably well-kept copy of The Knitting Workshop signed and dated in 1985. I could not have been more thrilled!

We relaxed about for a few hours, and I made Potato Filling (I have my own recipe, but this one is similar) and Dried Sweet Corn , two Pennsylvania Dutch favorites that are holiday must-haves around here, to take to our friends' home for Christmas dinner. (I'd also made extra Parkerhouse Rolls and another Pumpkin Pie to take along.) My friend, Sandra, made a Pork Crown Roast, Apple Stuffing, Green Beans with Honey and Cashews, and a delicious salad. (Whenever we are in town, we celebrate the big holidays together and we share the cooking. It lightens the load for both of us, and it does result in a pretty fantastic feast!)

While things were finishing up in the kitchen, we exchanged gifts. My dear, sweet friends, Sandra and SA, adopted a Coopworth sheep for me! She is "mine" from April, 2008, to April, 2009. They will send me her picture and letters from the farm, I will get a call when she lambs, and they will ship me her fleece when they shear her! I can visit her on the farm if I want to, though she is in New Hampshire. Isn't that amazing? I practically squealed!

I am beyond thrilled, but I had better sharpen up my spinning skills before shearing time!

Everyone seemed to be happy with the gifts we gave this year. Because we have to ship everything, our holiday shopping tends to be finished quite early. (I get panicky if we get down to the wire. Fortunately, everything arrived in time and intact.) Apparently, our niece had to be prevented from calling us at 7:30am Christmas morning to thank us for her gift. (Cooler heads prevailed at her house and we spoke later in the morning, after coffee was had.) The one knitted gift I gave this Christmas, aside from the ornaments pictured in the last entry, was a pair of Monkey Socks made with Tofutsies. I made them for my cousin because (a) she has demonstrated a true appreciation for the things I have knit for her before and (b) because I thought she would find the yarn content interesting. I'm told she put them on as soon as she opened them and wore them all day--hurrah!

I hope you all had a wonderful day, too, and have a safe, happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Making Merry

I would have never guessed that I would be so busy being unemployed! For the first time in a decade, I am really getting to enjoy the holidays. For the past five years I held a very stressful job that seemed to overshadow the season, and for the five years prior to that, I had a retail store. In retail you are all about Christmas, but I found that I never really had time to enjoy it. This year I am going at it full-force: decorating like mad, baking cookies with a friend, going on my annual date with my husband to the Chriskindlmarket (check out the big, scary angel hovering over Daley Plaza in the picture) and to see the department store windows , dropping by another friend's shop with cookies and hot glogg, flying down to Indianapolis to see one of my best friends in a corny-but-fun Christmas show, going to "A Christmas Carol" at the Goodman Theatre, hosting my book group's annual December gathering, yarncrawling with a friend in from Minneapolis, and preparing for a dinner party on Christmas Eve. All the while I have been operating my own personal Christmas ornament, sock, and baby booty sweatshop.

(Two friends had babies last week that were due to arrive in January. I have bigger projects planned for them, but booties will have to do for now.) I haven't been able to enjoy the hustle and bustle to this extent for years.

I can already tell that the post-New Year letdown is going to creep in, but SA is visiting from Alabama from January 2nd to the 9th, so that will help to ease the transition out of the holidays and into the long, grey Chicago winter. I know that I am going to be sweeping up needles and Buffalo Snow for months--and maybe years. (I just found an old, dried sprig from a Christmas tree behind a radiator. We didn't have a live tree last year because we travelled to PA, so it was at least two years old. A fastidious housekeeper I am not.) Even though I am still putting the finishing touches on the decorating, I am already thinking about having to take it all down, from the hundreds of blown-glass ornaments on the tree, to the poinsettias that will begin dropping leaves in no time, to each little house, lead skater, and bottle brush tree in the the winter village scene.
(Here is a link to one explanation of this Pennsylvania Dutch tradition. I grew up calling it a "Christmas Yard." The real term is a "putz," but that has different connotations in certain circles!) My grandparents always put up a table-top tree and the train and Christmas Yard surrounded it. Their yard was a marvel: Independence Hall was just down the block from Noah's Ark; tiny dinosaurs lined up to board with bunny rabbits; and skaters did figure eights in front of a fort. Scale and context were not part of the plan. Because I came home last Christmas, they put the yard up but they skipped the tree. They are getting older and they haven't done it this year, so last year may have been one of the last times for Grandma and Pop Pop's Christmas Yard:
(It's hard to see, but the frame on the wall holds a beautiful handpainted photograph of their old farm. I love that picture.)

I hope all of you are enjoying the holiday season as much as I am. Until next post, happy winter knitting!