Friday, December 31, 2010

Miss Helen Livin' Large

My mom has been very busy at Raider Ranch.  I'm closing out this year with a couple of videos of her crazy eighties.  Her motto:  Have sequins - will party.

Happy New Year to you and yours!!


video
Thanks, Sherry, for "regifting" the Saxy Santa!!!

video
OK.  I had no idea that if I held the camera vertically 
the video would forever be sideways.  
Oh, well.  I just wanted to share Mimi's new hat with you.

video
Precious Alan cuttin' the rug with The Meems at the Raider Ranch Christmas party.

The Belle of the Raider Ranch New Year's Eve Ball

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

2010 Lackey Christmas Letter

Merry Christmas from the High Plains of Texas!

Here is an update on the Lackeys in the form of a detailed description of our home "in this moment" on December 22, 2010, at 3:08PM.  Bryce and Reed are home.  Jonathan just left to go "hang out" with friends.  Overall, it's pretty quiet and peaceful.  I'm thinking that Bryce and Reed must be wearing headphones.

Living Room:
Both the doors on the top and bottom of our entertainment center are flung wide open.  The TV is still warm from being on for most of the day.  There are 2 empty string cheese wrappers peeking up from underneath a throw pillow on a cozy chair.  An empty Dr. Pepper can is sitting on the table next to the chair.  All of the throw pillows which were carefully re-fluffed and replaced last night have been un-fluffed and "rearranged."  The remote control is on the floor next to the couch.  From the look of the throw blanket on the couch and the configuration of the pillows, someone got real cozy while zoning out in front of the TV this morning.  Actually, the room is pretty orderly.  There are no shoes or socks scattered about.  The Christmas tree stands tall in the corner with its tiny white lights and 200+ Santa ornaments winking at me.  Underneath its boughs are piles of wrapped gifts which have been carefully arranged in such a way that shows off the  pretty wrapping paper and bows.  About 2 feet in front of this lovely array of gifts are the gifts that the boys "wrapped" yesterday by plopping their purchases into recycled gift sacks and topped with shocks of tissue.  There are small items swimming in the depths of large sacks and large items poking their heads out of medium sized sacks.  This system of wrapping works for me because I tend to be a "peeker."

Jonathan's, Bryce's and Reed's Rooms:
Other than the furnishings and bedding, these three rooms look basically the same.  There are piles of dirty clothes on the floor topped off with wet bath towels.  Empty Dr. Pepper cans have been left alone to rust like little Tinmen in the forrest.  I stop and listen in case they are crying out, "Please...recycle me!" with their tiny, tinny voices.  Laptops and headphones have sprawled across their beds resting up for the next round of World of Warcraft adventures.  Loose change confettis their floors near discarded dirty jeans.  In Jonathan's room his cat, Pepe, is curled up under the bed sleeping off the antics of his late night ramblings.  He should be very tired after Saturday's adventure of airport nightmares from Chicago Midway to Kansas City to Lubbock.  There are no traces of higher education to be found amidst the chaos.  The textbooks which served them so valiantly during the Fall semester were sold at their college bookstores minutes after their respective finals were taken.  "Begone, Brit Lit!  I will never spend another Saturday night in the library with thee!"  "Begone, Mythology!  May the gods be with you!  Gone are the bedside books which once patiently waited for their late night readers.  Pleasure reading is a thing of the past.  Thick textbooks have created vacuums in the boys' heads where the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter once held court.   

Kitchen:
Oh, the kitchen.  I was out most of the day for my morning cut-'n'-color appointment and, then,  lunch with my CASA kids.  While I was gone, Alan must have stopped by for lunch.  There are 2 mostly empty containers of Activia yogurt sitting next to the sink with telltale rims of yogurty goodness lining their tops.  They have not been thrown in the trash.  Neither have they been rinsed out and recycled.  Nope.  Alan left them displayed there on the kitchen counter for no apparent reason amidst the dirty glasses - some with bits of ice melting in what looks like watered down Dr. Pepper - that are strewn across that same counter.  A sauce pan 1/2 full of coagulated homemade queso dip is sitting cock-eyed on a burner.  According to the indicator glowing above the  burner's knob which is now in the "Off" position, the perpetrator should still be in the area.  There must be a trail of Dorito crumbs around here somewhere.  That trail would lead me straight to the perp's lair.  Next to the cooktop are two opened cans of Rotel tomatoes that are waving at me with their ruffled lids which are bent up and twisted this way and that.  On the table are 6 bottles of wine which Alan has left for someone to wrap up for him to give as gifts to some bank customers.  I suppose that when the little fairy comes to clean up his Activia mess, she will also bedazzle the bottles with Yuletide gaiety.  A large bin of gift boxes and gift sacks sits at the ready in the corner by the table.  Next to it stand brightly colored rolls of Christmas wrapping paper with scraggly cut edges waiting for the next call to arms when a gift is presented for adornment.  They, too, are waiting for Alan's magic fairy to come wrap the gifts he will then label "From - ALL  To - CEL."  No, they are not from everybody to me.  Alan's middle name is Loyd. 

The Master Bedroom:
Ahhh.  The sanctuary.  Lily and Dixie, our 2 black and white cats, are curled up on the bed napping the afternoon away.  Lily's ears twitch a bit when she hears me tiptoe into the room, but her eyes remain closed as she focuses on her dreams of dining on fresh trout plucked from a Rocky Mountain Stream while stretched out on a cozy bed fashioned from my favorite pink fuzzy robe.  On my bedside table next to a small stack of books are an economy sized container of Tums and a tube of Burt's Bees lip balm.  These items share the tabletop with a clear glass Tiffany heart paperweight - a Valentine's treasure from years ago - and clock on a stand that has never kept good time.  Alan's bedside table boasts some travel books and a little collection of his nighttime vitamins left there so that he can't forget to take them.  Out of habit, I glance towards the foot of our bed.  A bench has been placed there where Pepper slept every night for the past 13 years up until a long, dark August night last summer.  Gone are the clumps border collie hair.  Gone is our faithful protector.  Gone is the pup that sat shiva with me for months after my sister, Kathy, died.  Now, I've done it.  I've gone and picked my scab of family pet grief inviting tears to journey down my cheeks.  Move on, Carolyn.  Deep breath.  In through the nose and out through the mouth.  Oh, there is also a dresser and a couple of chairs...the usual  accoutrements that are placed in bedrooms to create a haven of sorts for people who need a "soft place to fall" at the end of each day.  This room is my favorite room in our home.  It has its own sort of gravitational pull that keeps me from flying out into deep space on days when I'm busy, "full-on" Carolyn.

The Dining Room:
Since Thanksgiving, the dining table has been set for Christmas Eve dinner with my Spode Christmas china, our wedding Waterford wine glasses and champagne flutes and Mom's vintage water goblets with clear stems and emerald green bowls.  Something old.  Something new.  Something passed down.  There are eight places set for our small family gathering.  Joining us this Christmas Eve will be Nana, Mimi, and Leonard.  Leonard is one of Mimi's dear friends from Raider Ranch whose daughter, a nurse, will be working that night.  After the candelight service at our church, we will gather around that lovely table and hold hands, heads bowed, while Leonard says grace.  He prays in the most elegant, spiritual and loving way.  Once the amens are said, we will feast on honeyed ham, a three-potato gratin, cranberry salad and other tasty seasonal morsels.  Then, we will push our chairs back swearing that we will never be able to eat again in our lifetimes and clear the table before gathering in the living room in front of the crackling fire for dessert - sugar cookies and thick, rich sipping chocolate topped with toasted marshmallows.

I'm off to the kitchen to clear off the counters so that I can whip up my boys' favorite, Homemade White Cheddar Mac and Cheese.  They like it served in huge steaming piles in soup bowls alongside crusty, hot, buttery rolls.  I must quintuple the recipe.  This is a week filled with comfort foods, cookies, candy and my four men.  Heaven on earth.


Merry Christmas from the Lackeys!

For unto us a Child is born! Unto us a Son is given!  
And the government shall be upon His shoulder!
And his name shall be called - Wonderful, Counsellor, 
the Mighty God, 
the Everlasting Father, 
the Prince of Peace.
The Prince of Peace
Isaiah 9:6





Tuesday, December 21, 2010

2002 Lackey Christmas Letter

This is my all-time favorite Lackey Christmas letter.  It tells the truth.  Mostly.

Christmas 2002
The High Plains of Texas

For those of you who chastised me for not sending a letter last Christmas, I am sitting here staring at my computer screen trying to think of something exciting or remarkable or at least humorous to report.  The innocent, cute remarks made by the boys years ago now ring a bit sarcastic when made by towering teenagers whose voices have dropped two octaves.  Telling you about their collective athletic prowess or stellar academic success would make for rewarding writing, yet, boring and - in some cases - fictional reading.  As I search for the words to paint an accurate view of the 2002 Life of the Lackeys, I am mentally scanning my house.  Perhaps a detailed description of the state of our home at 9AM on this bright Friday morning will suffice as our yearly report.

Living Room:  PlayStation 2 game controllers snake down the entertainment center across the floor.  Reed's electric guitar lounges across the two slipper chairs.  Alan's "vintage" acoustic guitar (seldom played by the father in the 70's, but often played by the sons) lazes on the floor in front of the fireplace.  A crumpled Coke can sits amidst the "Annalee" Santa tableau on the sofa table.  (At least the reds match.)  The pillows which belong on the couch lay crumpled on the floor in front of the TV still freshly molded with impressions of boy heads.  Two guitar picks lay in hiding just under the couch's skirt awaiting an unsuspecting vacuum cleaner.  The coveted Musician's Friend catalogue - pages ruffled and dog-eared - sits askew on top of a pile of neatly stacked magazines (Southern Living, Architectural Digest, and Martha Stewart Living) seldom thoroughly enjoyed by the adults in the household.  One size 12 skateboarding shoe lays on its side in the middle of the room, its odor competing with my "Stress-Free Rosemary Mint" candle softly burning on a nearby table.  Today is actually a good day.  There are no discarded dirty socks or shirts to be found on the floor or the furniture.

Kitchen:  The breakfast remains from boys in a hurry to skid to school are quite telling.  The Cocoa Krispy box sits open on the table with the "Welcome to Cocoa Stone National Park" joke-filled seek-and-find facing a bowl 2/3 full of pale brown milk in which a few swollen, leftover "Krispies" are floating.  Nearby, the milk jug languishes sans lid.  The droplets of water that had earlier condensed on the sides of the jug have all but evaporated.  A 16 oz. glass containing about 6 oz. of lukewarm chocolate milk accompanies the cereal bowl.  Hmm.  There on the counter under the microwave, I spy an empty bag of chicken nuggets which has been hastily cast aside.  My eyes can follow the trail of nugget crumbs to the bar where a dinner plate, also peppered with crumbs, sits abandoned.  One of my creme brulee ramekins, now only 1/2 full of ketchup sits on the plate amidst the crumbs.  [Bryce prefers breakfast foods like leftover pizza, chicken nuggets, or happily discovered leftover tamales.  He has never in his whole life had a bowl of cereal.  He actually went through a gagging phase a few years ago making it impossible for him to be in the same room with anyone casually enjoying a bowl of Frosted Flakes.]  Let's see...there is no trace of Jonathan's breakfast.  He's a late sleeper.  Oh, wait!  There it is.  The spoon.  He had just enough time to sail through the kitchen for a quick spoon of Cool Whip before scurrying out the door.  The wadded gum wrapper next to the spoon is evidence that he also didn't have quite enough time to brush his teeth.  The raucous Breakfast of Champions has softened into the peace of the chatty hour on the Today Show.  Welcome, Matt and Katie.

Jonathan's Lair:  Jonathan's kelly green walls scream with pages ripped from magazines, Coca Cola signs, and whatever else he can affix to the wall with staples.  A quick scan reveals the following:  movie ticket stubs, name tags from church youth events, clothing labels, posters of skateboarders frozen mid-trick, a paper Krispy Kreme hat, a cardboard Sonic "Fountain Beverages" sign, and a DC-NYC train ticket stubb from the summer of 2001.  Tucked into the frame of a Coke sign is his ticket stub from the Top of the World Trade Center elevator ride also saved from the New York trip.  The bed is "made."  The plaid comforter has been thrown up over the pillows and whatever else happened to be on the bed during hasty bedmaking.  A quick frisking tells me that no cat has been trapped within.  Jonathan refused the offer of a coordinating dust ruffle for his bed.  Therefore, the box springs are generally in full view along with the collection of clothes that he "stores" under the bed.  The floor is littered with cast off this-looks-dumb-on-me-today clothing, and, in contrast, his collection of CDs is meticulously stacked next to his stereo.  The closet doors are plastered with stickers.  On his desk just above the pile of dirty clothes growing up from the floor, a bottle of Davidoff's Cool Water por homme perches at the ready.

Bryce's Kingdom:  After 13 1/2 years of sharing a room with a brother, Bryce is finally the master of his domain.  Now, the room sports a few interesting amenities.  Crammed between the foot of the bunk beds and the closet door looms the Walmart weight set Bryce purchased with his accrued allowance this fall.  The weights are scattered about the room amidst discarded clothing.  A few weeks ago, Bryce returned from a Savers' shopping spree lugging a wingback-ish blue chair without legs.  [The mother who drove the pack of boys to Savers profusely apologized for letting him buy it, but he kept insisting that I wouldn't care.]  He plopped that lovely chair smack dab in the middle of his milieu and declared it the perfect height for watching the big screen TV he plans to purchase someday and put "right there."  His walls are adorned with the following:  One large poster of Einstein, numerous signs that he has rescued from roadsides and dumpsters, a poster of guitar chords, and a huge Baker skateboard banner.  One of the found signs reads "Wide Load."  Another advertises Kodak film processing.  An interesting side note:  Since the boys started doing their own laundry last summer, Bryce has discovered that the fewer clothes he wears, the less he has to wash.  I'm pretty sure that since 10/31/02, he has been wearing the orange boxer shorts with the black bat design that I gave him for Halloween tagged "your costume."  My new mantra:  "I will not give in and do his laundry.  I will not give in.  I will not."  

Reed's "Room" (fka the guest room and still doubling as my office):  Reed has been very congenial about sharing his new room with me.  Knowing that the mess restriction level would  be high since we share the space, he has tried to keep the floor clear of debris.  The walls of his room are painted a sour dill pickle green and decorated with framed vintage postcards ala Route 66.  The adjoining bathroom's walls are a sunny mustard yellow.  He chose the paint colors.  His electric guitar and mini-amp lean against the side of his/my desk and seem to be anticipating the boy's return like lonely little puppies.  By the way, I LOVE the mini-amp.  It's about the size of a purse and makes about as much noise.  Reed's beloved Raider's football helmet (as in the YFL 5th Grade Super Bowl Champion Raiders) apparently rolled off his bed and is now resting upside down against his dresser.  Propped up on display against one wall is the prized Simpson's "3-D" chess set that Reed purchased as his "special souvenir" during a family trip to San Francisco last summer.  The chess pieces are miniature Homers, Barts and Marges.  A peek into his closet reveals...aha!...a mountainous pile of all the stuff that was on his bedroom floor before he "straightened up" this morning.  On his bed, The Lord of the Rings patiently awaits bedtime reading.  I could tell you all the little hiding places which keep his money safe.  Reed saves money forever.  One day last spring, he asked Alan for a ride to Toys-R-Us so that he could "pick up and XBox."  Sure enough, he had squirreled away about $300 between his allowance and birthday checks.  Say...wouldn't it be nice if someday he asked Alan for a ride to college so that he could "pick up" his tuition?!  On second thought, I won't reveal his little hiding places.

The Master Bedroom:  Ahhhh.  The bed is made neatly with the decorative pillows placed just so.  The carpet is fully visible throughout the room.  The bedside lamps glow a subtle invitation to stay for a while to read my book du jour.  In the corner by Alan's side of the bed is a helter skelter stash of travel and ski magazines, travel books, and random catalogues.  Oh!  There is the Simpson's A Go-Go book that he and the boys surreptitiously pass back and forth with hearty recommendations.  "Dad!  Page 86!  Homer is trying to convince Marge to buy him a $300 toilet-thingy for his birthday!  Doh!"  On Alan's bedside table, a used cereal bowl sits waiting for the "little magic fairy" [Alan's words] to whisk it away to the kitchen.  Along the walls of my bedside corner the floor is stacked with books:  books I want to read...books I need to read...books I want to reread...books someone else wants me to read...and the October, November, and December issues of magazine that I have yet to crack open.  Lily and Dixie, our 2 black and white cats, are curled up together in my bedside chair looking very much like a hibernating two-headed cat.  I long to curl up with them and several of the magazines.

There you have it!  All is well in the Lackey household!  We are thoroughly enjoying our 3 active, humorous, messy sons!  Whenever their piles of rubble begin to get to me, I remind myself that in a few short years I will be lonely because they have ventured out into the world leaving us on our own in a very clean house.  The thought makes me feel tearful and giddy at the same time.  We are truly living our dreams.  I hope that the boys' dreams come true, and that they someday marry their own "little magic fairies."

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Letters: Fact or Fiction

The older I get, the more I enjoy receiving Christmas cards.  I wallpaper my refrigerator with  photo cards of family groups standing in front of everything from the family Christmas tree to African safari vistas.  I gasp in disbelief when I come across wedding photo of a former backdoor neighbor's child.  "Could Emma be that grown up already?!"  The traditional cards are lovingly displayed on my kitchen counter.  I pour over Christmas letters starving for news of my Christmas pen pals.  Generally, people who write Christmas letters are the parents of gifted, talented, well-behaved children who regularly receive high, noble accolades befitting Olympic athletes.  Then, there are my children.  My Christmas letters.

Of course my children are amazing in many ways.  Their feats of academic and/or athletic prowess come in drips and spurts.  Their chosen college majors - audio acoustics, psychology, and business - seem banal when juxtaposed with some family's budding doctor, lawyer, or Indian chief.  Phrases like "at the top of his class" and "paid internship in Paris" would not be mentioned in reference to any of my precious offspring. 


Despite our family outings to help out at the local Food Bank, the boys have never embraced the joy of volunteering.  Thank goodness that my children are all sons.  No sorority would give them a second look due to their extremely lacking give-back-to-the-community resumes.  Until one of them is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize or captures Osama Bin Laden, I will have no particularly outstanding or monumental deeds to report to my Christmas card audience.  "Pulled weeds for a couple of hours at Nana's townhouse" or "drove Mimi to Chico's so that she could return a blouse" don't seem to measure up to the philanthropic excellence of some of my friends' amazing children.

Actually this year's letter would be pretty short.  Bryce and Reed are students at Baylor University.  Doin' good.  Jonathan is studying at Columbia College Chicago.  Doin' good.  Alan and I are empty nesters.  Doin' good.  Dixie and Lily, our cats, are, well, doin' good.  When the boys were little, they provided me with many funny stories.  Nowadays, my hairy legged 18, 21, and 23 year old sons don't supply me with enough quality fodder to convert into a page full of witty, repeatable quips and quotes.  To top it off,  last summer we didn't trek to Norwegian fjords or the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu.  Nor do we have "thumbs up " pictures from the Swiss Alps.

A friend and I once sat laughing as we listed the family "truths" that we would just once like to see published in a Christmas letter.
  • Elroy has really enjoyed his second go-round in Mrs. Smith's third grade class!
  • We are proud to report that little Winifred has gone without biting her classmates for three consecutive weeks.
  • After years of screaming and yelling at our firstborn, Leonard,  for all the crap he kept getting into during his tumultuous high school career, you can imagine our surprise when he decided to join the local police force.  He said that he finally decided that if he couldn't beat 'em, he might as well join 'em.
  • Gwendolyn recently passed her 3rd consecutive drug screening!  Keep up the good work, Gwennie!
  • If it weren't for our friends at Sylvan, Bonnie Sue would be having a devil of a time passing 6th grade math!
  • Jim Ed is attending a local college, and we are paying full price due to his lack of scholarships!  And, wouldn't you know it?!  With our combined incomes, we don't qualify one penny of government aid or grants.
My mother once received a Christmas letter from a fellow octogenarian which listed, in chronological order, her year's disappointments, illnesses and hospitalizations.  "In June, just after I recovered from a kidney infection that kept me in bed for 2 weeks, I ended up in the hospital with a nasty bout of gout."  "My son, Robert, lost his job and was divorced by his wife of 20 years in early October."  Her candor was as refreshing as it was depressing.  I enjoyed her letter so much that I read it twice.  Like an evening spent watching back to back episodes of "Hoarders," reading her "annual report" made me feel better about me and mine.   

True confession. Sometimes when scrolling down the lengthy lists of sparkling accomplishments and adventurous international travels inventoried in a friend's Christmas letter, I glare at my own family and softly growl from the deepest part of my throat.  Why, oh, why did we raise up such healthy, normal, somewhat average children?  There is not an Olympic skater or super star professional chef in the bunch.  My passport expired way back in the 80's.  Perhaps if I wait about ten years, I can write nice, long letter about "my son, the amazing husband and recording studio guy"...or "my son, the involved, loving psychologist father," or "my son, the  reliable Boy Scout leader and business man."  Yes, sir.  Those would be proud words, indeed.  Go get 'em, tigers!

Merry Christmas from the All-American, Uber-Normal Lackeys!

Elaine's Sugar Cookies

I have been a bakin' foo' over the past few days.  I never, ever baked when the boys were little.  During room mother meetings when a bright-eyed mother of a first born said something crazy like, "Let's all bake cupcakes and ice them like little snowmen for the party," I would respond with a rowdy Bronx cheer followed by a bellowed "NO."  Why bake what you can buy at United?  Not me.  Nope.  In fact I would have chosen getting my teeth cleaned (which requires a generous dose of nitrous oxide to keep me from bolting from the building) over baking circle-shaped Slice and Bake sugar cookies iced white with canned vanilla icing.  Then, several years - and pounds - ago, a Cookie Fairy must have visited me in a dream and done a Sugar Plum dance in my head.  I now love mixing, baking and icing cookies all day long in my kitchen while watching old movies on TCM.  Lolly, lolly, la.  Go figure.

I am the messiest cook on the entire planet.  My Kitchenaide mixer has yet to teach me not to add too much flour at a time despite its repeated warnings sent in the form of clouds of white powder blown up into my face like some sort of culinary Bare Escentual matt finish foundation.  If there is an empty butter stick wrapper in my kitchen, you can be sure that it will end up on the floor - buttery side down.  Martha Stewart would have a complete and total panic attack if she saw my kitchen counters strewn with open containers of coloring paste, table knives coated with icing, sprinkle containers knocked over on their sides, and doughy mixer beaters carelessly cast aside.  My fingernails, rimmed underneath with green icing, would send her into a full-on hand-washing OCD rigor.  I scoff in the face of both Martha and the Health Department as I bake like a bakin' foo'.

These are my husband's all-time favorite cookies.  I got the recipe from a dear friend in Dallas, Elaine Carlton Harton, who made about 100 of these for a children’s Christmas cookie decorating party when our boys were preschoolers.  I never particularly liked sugar cookies until I sampled one of Elaine's.   They are a bit crispy on the outside and then chewy on the inside.  They kind of remind me of really good shortbread.  The dough is wonderful to work with.  Happy baking!!

Elaine’s Sugar Cookies

Preheat oven to 350.

Cream together:
1 lb butter
2 c. sugar
2 eggs

Then add and mix:
1-2 t. vanilla

In a separate bowl combine and mix:
5 c. flour
1/8 t. salt
1 t. soda

Slowly blend the dry ingredients into the butter mixture.  Add around 3 T. milk to make the dough smooth out a bit.  Chill dough for about 10 minutes.  Roll out to about 1/2” thick and cut with cookie cutters.  Place the cookies about 2” apart on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper or a Silpat (keeps them light on the bottom).  Bake for 6 minutes, and then switch the cookie sheets around in the oven (top sheet to the bottom rack, bottom sheet to the top rack, and rotate each sheet so that the side that was facing the back of the oven is now facing the front…I know…I know…but it’s worth it).  Bake for about 4 minutes longer.  The cookies should be  very lightly browned around the edges.  For really crunchy, dark brown cookies, bake them for about 30-45 minutes longer…

Ice the cookies with butter frosting or royal icing.  I don’t measure anything when I make icing for cookies.  I used about 3-4 c. of powdered sugar, 2 t. vanilla, food coloring, and then added milk until the icing was thick but still a bit runny.  Truth be told, I generally use store bought buttercream frosting that I "hand color."

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Sort of Festivus Mockumentary

Two-thirds of our sons are home for Christmas.  Jonathan flies in on Saturday.  Bryce and Reed drove in from Waco last night.  As I blog this, they are slumbering in their cozy beds.  With bacon and eggs to fry up and piles of laundry to delouse, I haven't much time to spend with you this beautiful December 17th.  So, I leave you with some educational information...  Have a spectacular Friday!  And, Happy Festivus!

PS.  If you are perusing this blog while you're supposed to be working at your "job-job," you might want to turn the sound down on your computer and have some paperwork stacked around on your desk so that you can look busy when your co-workers stroll past.  Oh, and you might want to wrinkle your eyebrows, tilt your head just a bit to the right, and kind of squint your eyes when you hear someone coming.  It will give you the appearance of being not only deeply intellectual but also totally enmeshed in some job-related task.  Heaven forbid they would discover that you spend precious company time blog-surfing on the job.

Alan and I are huge fans of Seinfeld.  The sitcom used to come on at 10:00, the Universal Banker's Bedtime, on Fox each weeknight, then, it moved to 10:30 - a wee bit late for Alan, the early riser.  Now, the television moguls have gone and moved it to 11:00PM Central Standard Time.  Thank goodness that  we have the boxed set of every Seinfeld episode ever taped.  We never tire of watching the familiar shows over and over and over.  We love to be lulled to sleep every night with Seinfeld glowing in the dark of our bedroom.  The voices of Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer are like those of old, familiar friends.  Every fall as the holidays grow nigh, we begin quoting the Festivus episode.  We've even talked about putting up a Festivus pole to mark the auspicious holiday.

I've done a bit of research on Festivus traditions.  Below you will find some informational videos which explain the finer points of enjoying a halfway decent Festivus.


A Festivus Overview


(For your convenience...)

The Festivus Pole

The Airing of Grievances


Feats of Strength



Thursday, December 16, 2010

Egg Nog Cupcakes with Peppermint Crunch Icing

 Before you learn the secrets of mastering Egg Nog Cupcakes with Peppermint Crunch Icing, be warned that there are some legal issues to consider when making cupcakes.  Please carefully watch the following news story before proceeding into the Cupcake Sistahood or Brothahood, as the case may be.


"But what are you gonna do?  You're just gonna kinda smile and keep on bakin'."


Do not be intimidated by the beauty of these Christmas creations!  I cannot even begin to tell you how easy these cupcakes are to produce.  I'm not about the home-baked goodness.  I'm all about the "bling."  This cupcake "recipe" is, however, quite delicious.  To avoid any kind of legal "hassles," please read this blog in its entirety.


Eggnog Cupcakes (as seen on the Today Show):
1 store-bought white cake mix (I usually look for a box that promises moist cupcakes.)
Store-bought store brand egg nog
nutmeg
When making the cupcakes, use egg nog instead of water.  Add 2-10 dashes of nutmeg depending on your love for nutmeg.  Bake.
Tip:  I used to just whisk my store-bought cake mixes without timing the whisking.  Once I got a Kitchen Aide stand mixer, with the utilization of my kitchen timer, I began producing superior cupcakes.  The batter of this particular specimen is thick and creamy.  I tasted it "several" times.

Icing (as seen on youtube, my source of lots of cooking secrets):
3 containers of store-bought buttercream icing per box of cupcake mix purchased
1 container of Wilton red coloring paste (Don't think that you'll get this divine red color with a whole bunch of red liquid food coloring.  Save all of your liquid food coloring for its designed purpose:  dying Easter eggs.)
I buy plastic disposable icing bags at Michael's.  You'll need to get a pretty big "star" tip.  The one I used is the Wilton 1M.  Cut off the tip of the bag and slip the icing tip thing-y into the hole you just made.  Place the bag with the tip down into a big iced tea glass.  Note that I did NOT say "glass of iced tea."  The glass will hold up the bag while you dump in the store-bought icing.  The bag will hold at least one whole container of icing.  Squeeze the icing down in the bag until it begins to extrude from the tip a little bit.  Twist the open end of the bag to keep the icing from oozing out on you when you begin icing the cupcakes.

To "stripe" the icing, simply dip the tip of a table knife down into the red coloring paste.  Then, slowly shove that knife down along one side of the icing bag.  Repeat a couple of times in the same exact spot of the bag until you get a good red stripe going.  You only need ONE approximately knife-wide stripe in the bag.  Now, watch this video on icing the cupcake.  This guy uses a bigger star tip, but I kind of like my Wilton 1M.  From yet another cooking show on TV, I learned to start by putting a big blob of icing in the very middle of the cupcake first.  Then, as you work from the outside edge of the cupcake, you can get more height in the center by using the blob as your base.  I advise that you change to a fresh bag every time you need a refill of icing.  Otherwise, the red stripe wanders around the bag making the icing pink.
Once you ice the cupcake, lightly sprinkle a bit of crushed up candy cane and Christmas sprinkles on top.  I used a combo pack of  red and green Christmas tree sprinkles.

The Crowning Glory Peppermint (as seen on the Today Show):
1 bag of regular old peppermints (usually found on the candy aisle hanging with the Jolly Ranchers and those weird orange peanut shaped candy things)
Preheat oven to 325.  For the seriously baking impaired, I'll begin from the very beginning.  Unwrap the peppermints.  Place them on a cookie sheet about 3 inches apart.  Place in the oven for about 5 minutes.  I set my timer on 5 minutes and kept peeking every minute or so after that.  The peppermints will begin to melt down into really cool looking disks.  If you get distracted and start unloading the dishwasher or folding a load of towels, the peppermints will melt totally down into one thin sheet of interesting looking "candy."  Once melted down into disks the size shown in the picture above, remove cookie sheet and set aside until they are totally cooled.  I didn't think to use parchment paper or a Silpat.  At first I thought I'd never get those suckers off of the pan.  The trick is to let them cool completely.  You might try sticking the cooled pan into the frig for a few minutes.  Most of the disks will eventually gracefully slide off of the pan.  A couple will totally crack to smithereens.  Eat those.  Place the ones that may have a little chink taken out by your coaxing fingernail with the chink side down when you place them on top of the cupcake.

There you have it!  Totally easy!  I really think that icing cupcakes with a bag and tip is easier and tidier than using a kitchen knife or spatula.

Legal Disclaimer:  If you or any member of your family is an attorney who represents the Today Show or the dude on youtube who is demonstrating the icing of cupcakes in the video above, please note that these cupcakes are mostly made for personal use.

Fine Print:  If you want to buy a black market Egg Nog Cupcakes with Peppermint Crunch Icing made from 100% store-bought ingredients, meet me in the alley behind Kingsgate Shopping Center tonight at midnight.  (For today's batch, I'll try to remember not to lick the rubber spatula before putting it back in the bowl of cupcake batter.)  I'll let you have them for $3 each.  Come alone, and bring your own bakery box.  I'll be wearing a trench coat, sunglasses, and a really cute Christmas pashmina.  

You know I'm kidding.  Right?  Well, I am.  Totally kidding.  I'm selling them for $5 each.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Love of My Lifetime

According to my brother-in-law, David, the moment I first laid eyes on my husband, Alan, my heart began to pitter patter.  David should know.  He was there.  It was February, 1977, and as a PKA Little Sis, I attended a "Smoker" (where no one smoked anything at all) in the Barfield Drawing Room of the Baylor Student Union Building.  Standing next to David scanning the crowd of potential rushees, my eyes fell upon a handsome, dark-haired boy wearing a charcoal pinstripe suit with a starched white buttoned down shirt and a burgundy tie.  "Who is THAT?!" I asked David.  "Oh, him?  He's my younger brother," he casually replied.  In David's version of this story, this is the point where I grabbed his arm, shoved him in the direction of said brother, and exclaimed, "Introduce me right now!"  He's probably right.  Sometimes I do tend to be pretty enthusiastic. 

Alan was a tender, young 19 year-old Donny-Osmond-ringer freshman when we met.  I was a cradle robbing 19 year-old sophomore.  He read the Wall Street Journal.  I read the Baylor Lariat.  He was studious.  I was fun.  We shared many fluorescent lit suppers together at Penland Cafeteria.  One night as we dined, he asked me about my GPA.   His was 3.8.  Mine wasn't.  My response:  "I will happily tell you exactly how much I weigh, but my GPA will remain a well kept secret."  He laughed out loud as he proceeded to open a salad bar sized packet of Saltines and crumble them over his brick of vanilla ice cream.  That meal was a defining moment in our relationship.  He deduced that my GPS was less than stellar.  I witnessed one of his many "folksy" eating habits.  And yet, we remained intensely smitten with each other.

Oh, my romantic Baylor boy.  He swept me off my feet time after time with huge, toothy jack-o-lanterns left glowing on my doorstep, affectionate notes tucked under the windshield wipers of my avocado green Gran Torino, and homemade white chocolate birthday cakes topped with toasted slivered almonds. On February 23rd, 1979, as we sat in the middle of the Waco Suspension Bridge dangling our feet over the Brazos River under a moonlit sky, Alan asked me to be his bride.  We toasted the occasion with a bottle of champagne that he had iced down in his desk trashcan and tucked into the trunk of his car.  The champagne glasses he purchased for the occasion are on display in my china cabinet to this very day.  Timeless treasures.

On December 15, 1979, we were married at First United Methodist Church in Waco, Texas.  After our Acapulco Princess honeymoon, we settled into our tiny, furnished apartment at La Casa Mia a few blocks from the Baylor campus.  Together, we blazed our own trail living happily on my meager $7800 teacher's salary while Alan finished his degree in Accounting on his way to earning an MBA.  By candlelight, we feasted on tuna-mata casserole and Chunky Soup over rice served on our Royal Doulton Clarendon dinner plates.  Our  tired cars had names like "The Mean Green Machine" and "Old Yeller."  Alan's monthly spreadsheet parceled out every penny of our income.  Under a line item labeled "Entertainment," was a frivolous $10 with which we splurged on either dinner out or a movie with popcorn.  One or the other.  Never both. 

Oh, how far we've come.  We no longer count Chunky Soup as a dinner entree.  Last night, we feasted on Coq au Vin by the light of our Christmas tree.  Nowadays, we enjoy dinner out and a movie...on the same night.  We've settled into a relationship of deep understanding - a predictable ballet of I-cook-you-clean, Seinfeld-at-bedtime, and sitting-in-the-front-yard-on-summer-evenings.  Together, we've weathered the woes of infertility, the challenges of raising teenagers, and the loss of loved ones.  We do not sweat the big stuff.  It's the small stuff like the proper loading of silverware into the dishwasher that causes us to squabble. 

Last night as I was working on this blog, I could hear Alan in the kitchen sweeping and "Haaning" the kitchen floor which I had littered with Christmas sprinkles and Chex Mix fixin's.  I then heard him rearranging the silverware in the dishwasher.  Heaven forbid that the spoons would "spoon."  Can't help lovin' that man of mine.

 Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: 
for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: 
thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.
Ruth 1:16

Happy 31st Anniversary, Alan.  
You will forever be the love of my lifetime and the desire of my heart.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Blankety-Blank Beloved Christmas Tree Cookies

Despite all of my efforts to avoid the Stress of the Season, I have been walking around with a stiff neck for a couple of weeks.  The house has been totally decorated since Thanksgiving.  All of the gifts have been purchased.  We've already celebrated Christmas with Alan's family.  As of yesterday, 97% of the remaining gifts have been wrapped.  The stocking stuffers are tucked away in a totally new hiding place that the boys will never think to look.  (I mean it boys.  Don't even try.  This year I will win.)

This morning, I once again awoke bright and early with a tightness in the back of my neck so clenching that as I wandered out of my sleepy stupor, I did a mental check of my overall physical condition.  Heart beating normally?  Check!  Arms and legs moving?  Check!  How many fingers am I holding up?  None!  Co-rect!  It's not a finger!  It's a thumb!  According to my unscientific self-exam, I deemed myself to be pretty much alive and well.  Except for the nagging stiff neck that follows me wherever I go.

Perhaps this morning the stiffness was brought on by the first thought that entered my mind -  a favorite holiday tradition that has been in my family for probably 50 years.  It "wouldn't be Christmas" without them.  Recently when each son was independently asked to name his favorite Christmas goodie, all three immediately said the same thing with much enthusiasm:  Mimi's Christmas Tree Cookies!  Actually, they each called them by different "names."  "Those little cookies that you make with that thing."  "The little cookies that look like trees.  Not the big sugar cookies.  The ones that are about 2" big that you ice with green icing."  "Those ones that Mimi used to make."  (Yup.  "Those ones."  Thank you very much Baylor University.)

I tried to steer them in another direction.

"What about the yummy ginger cookies you guys like so much?  The ones that are sooo good with hot chocolate!"
"Yeah.  Make those, too!"
"What about the big decorated sugar cookies that have a pound of butter in the dough?"
"Some of those, too!!"  

They were firm on their requests for the cookie that I consider to be the season's biggest pain in the neck.  Thus, this morning's inability to look to the left or right without turning my whole torso.

Way back before most of us were born, the Mirro Aluminum Company in Manitowoc, Wisconsin (inventors of the wondrous, time-saving Mirro-Matic Pressure Pan) came up with a nifty little kitchen gadget that became a must-have in the well-appointed 50's kitchen:  The "Cooky"-Pastry Press.  (I compliment the people in the name branding department of the Mirro Aluminum Company for exercising great restraint by not adding "O-Matic" to the name as was common in those days of new-fangled kitchen gizmos.)  

Using her very own Mirro Cooky-Pastry Press, my mom used to crank out dozens of perfect little Christmas trees the week before Christmas which she then carefully decorated with green royal icing sprinkled with tiny multi-colored nonpareils sprinkles.  The Mirro spritz cookie recipe, with its hint of almond extract, produced a light, crisp, melt-in-your-mouth morsel of a cookie which I must confess is my all time favorite Christmas cookie.  

Alas and alack, try as I might...cry as I might...I cannot recreate those delectable little trees for love nor money.  During the early years of my Christmas baking, I purchased a "knock off" cookie press thinking that all cookie presses were created equal.  Soon the "lesser cousin" press went flying into the dumpster.  I then upgraded to a more expensive electric model.  I thought that the addition of electricity would counteract most or all of my human error.  Again, to the dumpster.  Trolling through estate sales, I found an old Mirro cookie press identical to Mimi's.  "Aha!" I thought, "Now, I can master the spritz cookie!"  Not so much.

There are many "variables" involved in creating the perfectly shaped Christmas tree cookie using a Mirro Cooky-Pastry Press.  You mustn't overfill the tube with dough.  You mustn't "over-rotate" the knob when extruding the dough.  Over-rotated cookies become large nondescript blobs in a 325 degree oven.  You mustn't "under-rotate" the knob.  The "boughs" of the under-rotated cookie do not properly adhere to one another in the oven creating trees that easily lose limbs during the icing process.  Be warned that sometimes the cookie press mocks the baker by failing to release the occasional perfectly formed cookie onto the cookie sheet.

Mimi's advice?  "You've got to get the dough just right."  I've tried moist dough.  Dryish dough. Room temperature dough.  Chilled dough.  I've spoken certain words over the press as I've tried to coax it into submission.  Words like "please make pretty little trees" and "I'm begging  you...don't make me look stupid" and "#$%&$*&!"  During my days of struggling with carpal tunnel syndrome, the cookie press added pain to my humiliation.  Alan has actually stepped in between me and my press to end the war of wills.  I'm certain that his analytical banking executive brain was thinking "How hard can this be?"  Fortunately, he has held these thoughts close to his heart saving me the trouble of having to find something to hit him with.  I finally decided that no matter how blobby or limb-less the cookies turned out, I would cosmetically ice them to resemble trees.  I didn't win the battle.  I simply established a rather one-sided truce.

Last night during our phone call to Jonathan, Alan saw panic light up in my eyes when Jonathan mentioned that Christmas Tree Cookies were his all-time favorite holiday cookies.  Later my sweet husband has assured me that he will be in charge of making the dough and pressing the cookies this year.  I, in turn, will be in charge of my specialty, cosmetic decoration.

The Kicker:
We went skiing in Beaver Creek last Christmas.  I loaded the Suburban with decorated sugar cookies, heart-shaped ginger cookies, Chex Mix and chocolate covered pretzels.  Hoping the boys wouldn't notice the absence of Mimi's spritz trees, I threw in some good old chocolate chip cookies.  I had decided not to let one little cookie press come between me, my mental health, and the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

Low and behold, as we unpacked our ski paraphernalia upon our arrival in Beaver Creek, my little 83 year old, legally blind mother came strolling out of her room bearing an ancient Collin Street Bakery fruitcake tin.  "Look what I brought!" she exclaimed, eyes bright and shining.  "Oh, no.  Here it comes.  She's gone and tried a new cookie recipe that she got from a friend's cousin's daughter who uses 'pudding in the mix' cake mixes to create a myriad of various cookies, or she experimented with making some sort of cookie bar with creative substitutions for ingredients that she forgot to buy when Waco Transit took her to the store," I thought.  

Opening the tin I gasped out loud when I saw that it was full of near perfect little Christmas trees.  The Meems (so dubbed by Bryce) grinned from ear to ear as she exclaimed, "Surprise!"  I stood before my mother - humbled and amazed.  She is still the Christmas Tree Cookie Queen.  The Keebler elves and I bow before her.  



For more information on the fascinating history of the Mirro Aluminum Company of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, please visit:  




Visitation

Meems had a very special visitor this weekend.  Our friend, Laura Ard, flew down from DC to spend time with her.  Laura lived next door t...