Calamity Kitchen

Happy holidays from the McGuires’, where the house is still kind of trashed and many surfaces still bear a dusting of fire extinguisher residue. But more on that later!

We had a whirlwind three weeks or so of getting ready for Christmas and adjusting to me being back at work full time in the city. But everything has gone pretty well.

Naturally I couldn’t have as much of a “homemade” Christmas as in the past few years. But I was able to indulge my baking fix a little, at least.

The weekend of 12/15 kicked off with me oversleeping and missing Gemma’s basketball practice. Oops. Next I picked up my food order from ShopRite, my new Saturday morning routine, and ran a few errands. Kind of a lazy day after that.  I spent some time on a little art project of mine to be revealed at a later date. That night, we drove about 45 minutes away in search of a good tree. I was trying to get a “fresh-cut” one even though it was too muddy for us to go in the fields and cut it ourselves. After all that, the dang thing had no Christmas tree smell whatsoever. We had fun though.

We took the long way home through my old stomping grounds of Woodbury and had dinner at the Colonial Diner:

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Good times except for the food poisoning scare. Although internet research later determined that our symptoms were probably not food poisoning, the fact remains that at least one of our burgers was, like, raw in areas.

While some of us were grappling with possible mild food poisoning that night, my BFF stopped by with her daughters. 🙂 So great to see them and hang out!

Sunday morning I baked pumpkin muffins for the middle school teachers as part of a gift organized by my friend and fellow MS mom. Later I made gingersnap dough (ended up baking them Tuesday night). Sunday night, we all watched “Elf.”

The weeks are kind of a blur. I was able to buy some gifts/supplies on my lunch breaks. It’s nice to have CVS, Walgreens, Wawa, and even Target within walking distance of my office, not to mention Nordstrom Rack and the whole Liberty Place mall.

The Friday night before Christmas launched my four-day weekend and a period of intense holiday bliss. Friday night was the winter solstice so we did our solstice fire.

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Yes, in the barbecue grill. As we did last year, we all wrote down things about this year that we want to forget or let go of, and then burned the papers in the fire.

My list of things to forget was quite lengthy. Hell of a year, 2018.

Saturday morning, I did a very successful last-minute shopping blitz at Target. Next, I decided to try to do some local shopping. Downtown did not disappoint — I got stocking stuffers at The Candy Jar and some clothes and pajamas for the kids and myself at Frugal. Finally, I indulged in a trip to Occasionette. Oh they just have some of the nicest stuff there. I had been holding off and holding off on buying scented candles for quite some time. I would see cheap ones at CVS or Acme, but I knew there must be some local candlemaker out there that I could support. Well, this one wasn’t exactly local but it is made in the USA, in Tennessee I believe: Paddywax. And after a half hour of sniffing candles I do believe I came away with the very best one: Wassail & Spice. It smells like Christmas at a fancy hotel. So I wrapped that up and tagged it to me from hubs.

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I also picked up some bubble lights there as we had been mourning our old ones, which finally died a few years ago. You can find the desk plates such as “Bitches Get Stuff Done” at Occasionette as well.

Back at home, it was time for more baking: banana bread for a gift. For all the breads I made this season, I used honey in place of sugar. I know sugar is sugar, but I feel a little better about organic, local raw honey compared to processed white sugar. Some of the honey I had on hand actually came from “my” farm. Here are some tips on replacing sugar with honey in recipes.

That night we ate in, did massive amounts of laundry, wrapped some gifts and watched The Wizard of Oz.  The best part came when Dorothy was locked in the Witch’s castle, the sands of the hourglass running out. That part always scared me out when I was young, so I was heartened to hear Gemma pipe up: “Get out of there, girl!” She seemed truly puzzled as to why Dorothy had seemingly given up.

Oh, and this whole day the kids were obsessed with making mug cakes in the microwave. It was funny to watch them. They did it twice. All of a sudden they were just all about it, all three of them. (Inspired by YouTube of course.)

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Sunday, one last shopping trip, to AC Moore and Once Upon a Child. Then back home for a real bake-a-thon: 2 loaves of pumpkin bread and a special dessert for Christmas Eve.  Inspired by my sister-in-law X., who is from the Dominican Republic, I made Dominican bread pudding. This was easy and fun to make. Oh the smells of the spices in the milk and egg! Yum. It called for grated fresh ginger so I was able to use some of the ginger from the farm that I have in the freezer. (Did not think to use it in the gingersnaps.) I had a nice new bottle of high-quality, fair trade cinnamon for all these treats too.

Came out good; one of the pans may have been a tad overdone but the other was perfect. Good with coffee in the morning; good with vanilla ice cream at night.

Once the baking was done, I made gravy. Then it was time to start cleaning the house and getting out dishes, silverware, etc. ahead of Christmas Eve. I was very tired by the time I hit the couch. That night hubs and I watched the original (1951) A Christmas Carol, plus a little British psychodrama called The Holly and the Ivy, both on TCM. When do I get to have Christmas in the English countryside? Maybe next year. Now I’m reminded of perhaps my favorite Christmas story, The Christmas Mouse. I used to check it out of the St. Cecilia’s school library whenever I could. Yes, Christmas in England, new goal!

Christmas Eve day, I woke up super early and could not get back to sleep.  Required many coffee infusions throughout the day.  I started right in on my meatballs. Now, I was really trying to make them good.  I bought live basil to use and a new jar of parsley.  Fresh garlic.  I really took my time rolling them. The beef was grass fed, two pounds of it.

Once ready, I decided to bake them to save time. Usually I fry them.  So I put them on a cookie sheet, in the oven. Long story short, in a few minutes I had a grease fire on my hands. Don’t use rimless cookie sheets for meatballs, but you knew that already. “Go get daddy!” I yelled to the Fortnite players.  Then I grabbed the fire extinguisher, a voice in my head said “PULL PIN,” I did, and I put the fire out.  If I had any sense at all, I would have yanked the meatballs out first. But the terror of fire! It all goes back to that episode of Webster where he burnt his apartment building down.

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So the meatballs got a nice coating of sodium bicarbonate and the internet seemed to lean in the direction of throwing them away. While hubs cleaned the oven and everything in the vicinity, I went to Shop Rite for frozen meatballs and frozen stuffed shells, since now I wasn’t going to have time to make shells myself as planned. Thanks to my boss J. for the tip on P&S brand pasta. They are very good and very local.

Anyway. The rest of Christmas Eve and Day went fine.

I was back at work the 26th-28th. Friday night, I got to spend some time with my dear friend who was in town for the holidays. Prior to that, we all went out to eat at Friendly’s. A last-minute search of my email (at the table) produced a coupon that took off about 20%.

I deemed Saturday “Safety Saturday.” I find that catchy names get me motivated. I bought some new smoke detectors that we needed, put them up and replaced batteries in a few other ones. I thought about buying a new fire extinghisher but remembered we still do have one more. Hubs took the van for a super overdue oil change and tried to get a broken tail light replaced, but they didn’t have the part.

I also splurged a whole $7.50 on one of those giant makeup kits designed for your 13-year-old niece for Christmas. It was 50% off at Target. Plus a set of makeup brushes, also 50% off (so, $5). I desperately needed new eyeshadow, concealer, blush, etc.  Merry Christmas to me.

I totaled up what Santa got the kids and found an overall ratio of about 50/50 of new to used items (with Gemma’s items more likely to be used than Aidan’s). I really lucked out and found some good used items this year. Very glad I made those trips to Frugal and Once Upon a Child. Overall the kids seemed totally pleased with their gifts. Got some help from my parents also in locating a certain used item that Gemma asked for in her extremely last-minute written wishlist. For new items, I did use a few coupons/promo codes. I wouldn’t say I was totally thorough in that area though. Of course, the kids received nice gifts from their relatives as well as some money from some of them so they are free to buy whatever else they may want.

Well I’ve been working on this post for days and it’s time to get ready for New Year’s Eve, so be safe and have a happy New Year. Stop, drop and roll if necessary. See you in 2019.

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