Hearty Homemade Oatmeal

Sometimes we would have oatmeal for supper when I was little.  My mom would make a pot of it on the stove, and then set out molasses, maple syrup, raisins, and brown sugar.  We had fun building our own bowls…like an ice cream bar. 

Until this winter I hadn’t had homemade oatmeal in roughly 20 years.  I upgraded from the sugar-laden packets last fall when I couldn’t get enough Three Sisters oatmeal (still my daily breakfast at work, where the whole office can tell by nose if it’s a brown sugar or apples and cinnamon kind of day), but eventually, I had to go back to the original source.  It seems a simple thing, but sweetening home-cooked oats with nothing more than dried fruits and natural sugars makes me feel like I am eating the stuff of pioneers.

Like I am Laura Ingalls Wilder, getting ready for a day of playing on the grassy roof of my dugout house.  Oh, if only…

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Christmas Review

Vintage Christmas figurines from thetoadhouse on Etsy.

Another Christmas has come and gone.  Well…just about.  I still haven’t exchanged gifts with my family, but we’ll get to that eventually.  I spent Christmas Eve with John’s family in Plymouth, where his aunt and uncle hosted their annual cozy gathering, this year with the addition of a Yankee Swap. 

In related news…I am now the proud owner of a Shake Weight!

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Sour Cream Coffee Cake

I grew up with two kinds of coffee cake…the homemade tube-pan version my mom made and the Drake’s packaged version my grandparents always had in the cabinet, alongside the Devil Dogs and Swiss Cake Rolls.

My mom’s version, sweet and crunchy with nuts, memorably served as my birthday cake one year when I had a pancake breakfast party.  The packaged version (and Nana) consoled me when I had to stay home from school with the chicken pox in kindergarten. 

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The Stairway Cafe

After a super fun night at Greg and Courtney’s wedding, nothing could have been more delightful than waking up Sunday morning to the sight of falling snow.  It really capped off the Currier and Ives feel of the weekend, and since I knew I wasn’t the one that was going to be driving in it, I could enjoy it without an ounce of dread.

After we packed up the car and said our goodbyes, we headed towards North Conway to see what we could find for breakfast.  It’s no secret that I like breakfast as more than a friend.  I used my phone for suggestions, and we ended up at the Stairway Cafe, a mother and daughter owned spot on North Conway’s charming, shop-filled main thoroughfare.

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White Mountain Winter Wedding

I love weddings, I love the holidays, and I love classic New England…so this past weekend in the White Mountains for Greg and Courtney’s wedding was a total home run.

It started with the three plus hour drive up to Jackson, New Hampshire.  We knew we were getting close when the view outside started to look more like this:

The Wildcat Inn and Tavern couldn’t have been more cozy and charming, and everyone was in such high spirits because we were there to celebrate something so joyful.  There was snow, lights, trees, and wreaths everywhere.

I started to feel that happy, glowing feeling inside. 

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Drop In And Decorate

John and I are headed up to the Wildcat Inn and Tavern in Jackson, NH this weekend for Greg and Courtney’s wedding (yay!) so I am giving you a photo-laden post today to tide you over.

Last weekend I was delighted to hostess my 2nd annual Drop in and Decorate cookie donation party.

I knew it was going to be a long night on Friday because I needed to make cookies, frittata, coffee cake, and holiday bark.  I also needed to clean up and do laundry.

I had a bad start when my raspberry pecan coffee cake burned, so I had to add scones to my menu as a substitute.  The inside of the cake was unblemished, so I am not ashamed to admit that I began breaking it apart and eating hunks of  it after 1:00 AM when I started to get cranky and tired.

Oh boy, do I love pecans and raspberries.

The scones came out great, thank goodness.

So did the Trader Joe’s “potato puffs”.  I have a strong aversion to the phrase “tater tots” so I will go with the phrase I grew up with at Hurd Elementary in Wakefield, MA…though both are terrible.

A few scoops of TJ Mulling Spice in some water was set to simmer on the stove, making my whole apartment smell amazing.

Felt penguins (I made them from a $2 kit at Target) were tucked into my wall Bundts.

Festive gumdrops were put out.

And the “scary elf” ornament was added to my wayward pine bough centerpiece.

Completed cookies were stacked and ready.

Royal icing was made.  Starting, of course, with the beautiful sight of a bowl of perfectly sifted powdered sugar.

White icing was divided into cups.

And colored to perfection with colored gel paste.  Ziptop bags helped get them into the squeeze bottles.

Beautiful spoons!

Beautiful sprinkles.

Beautiful brunch!

My scone was slathered with butter and Courtney’s homemade raspberry jam, and the delicious vegetable frittata, that I forgot to photograph because I was running around like a crazy woman, is hiding in the back.

On to decorating with the ladies!  Jessica O, Teresa, me, Sarah, and Gretchen.

Same group, but with Courtney swapped in for me.  I am standing on the couch taking this one.

Sarah’s lovely blue tree and my IRL tree.

Jessica’s miniature candy cane on a cookie, decorated…

…and tweeted.

Gretchen and I made some non-traditional cookies.

And when we were done, Courtney announced the big prize winner.  This was the person that guessed the closest number of cookies we had decorated.

Teresa won the prize – some holiday Jelly Belly’s and the Betty Crocker Cookie Book! 

We decorated 106 beautiful cookies.

I donated them to the Cambridge Senior Center in Cambridge, MA.  Their food service manager, Julie, was beyond nice and even sent me a follow-up email letting me know how much the seniors enjoyed them.

And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown. 

Extra special thanks to Courtney, who came early and stayed late to help me set up and clean up.

Merry Mini Cupcakes

Merry Mini Cupcakes

I am very fortunate have a Bruegger’s Bagel Bakery on the first floor of my work building, for 2 reasons:

  1. Their Coffee Club Card program.  Every year I buy my card, and then it’s good for unlimited coffee, tea, and soda fountain beverages for the rest of the year.  I figure at the rate I drink coffee, it pretty much pays for itself by March.
  2. Their great staff.  Every morning day they make getting coffee an enjoyable experience.  I used to work with hungry people and caffeine crazy people so I know how much fun their job isn’t.  I can honestly tell you I am sad when one of them quits and I didn’t get to say goodbye (I am talking to you Helen, Amanda, and Jess). 

When I learned that one of the managers was about to turn the same age as me, I thought it would be nice to make him something…since I like all the company at this age I can get.

I went with some festive mini cupcakes.  Vanilla cake was topped with vanilla buttercream.  Have I mentioned I don’t like chocolate?

For fun I filled them first with a teeny bit of seedless raspberry jam.

I thought it provided a nice little bit of juicy sweetness in the midst of all that smooth, creamy vanilla sweetness.

The mini red polka dot and gingham (not pictured) wrappers are also awesome, and came from The Bakers Confections on Etsy.  Visit them for all of your cupcake supply needs – they are terrific, and are located in Maine. 

Another point for New England!

I forgot to photograph an ornament with the one cupcake I allowed myself before I ate it (oops), so no ornament today…but I knew I could turn to Etsy for today’s Cup of Cheer.

Make that three cups.  Two for Christmas and one for me.

1.  I love these napkins.  Period.

Screen Printed Organic Cotton Merry Christmas Cloth Napkins from ohlittlerabbit, $20

2.  This vintage card is so hilarious and dated, but I love it, and I love the way the woman’s legs are stretched towards the man.  Speaking volumes with limbs only.  And oh yeah, Merry Christmas.

1930’s Cigarette Christmas Holiday Card from takingshape, $4

3.  I basically want everything for sale at jimboart.  Look at this bear.  He smells cakes and he just wants a little slice.  He is skin and bones! 

Bear Smells Cake Hand Painted Side Plate from jimbobart, $37.50

How’s your holiday shopping coming?  I need to kick mine into some serious high gear.  I haven’t even started my cards.  Maybe tonight will be the night I make THE LIST.  Do you go off a list or buy as you see?  Do you shop online or haul yourself to the stores?  Both?

Help me help you help me!

Cranberry Coins

Kris Kringle Cranberry Coins

One of my favorite cookie combinations is a tart, dense dried fruit paired with a rich, buttery shortbread.  In a nutshell, these cranberry shortbread coin cookies. 

I wanted to send some Delicious Mail to my cousin Jaime in Mississippi, so I needed a cookie that would hold up for the journey.  Shortbread is great for that, if you have made it correctly and it’s not too crumbly.

I used some amazing dried cranberries I picked up at the Sherman Market from Willows Cranberries out of Wareham, MA.  I love Sherman for supplying me with fresh, local eggs for all of my baking, but sometimes I allow myself a little extra browsing – and it always pays off.  On my last visit I picked up these cranberries and some horseradish.  I haven’t tried the latter yet, but the former were terrific.  They were dried, but also plump and juicy.  Willows are doing it right.

A little edge of sanding sugar and these coins were ready to bake.

And stack.

And eat a little.  They were so delicious!

Today’s featured ornament is a vintage (made in Japan) porcelain bell we had on our tree when I was growing up.  There are two of them but I like this one the best because of the fancy “Merry Christmas” script.  It has a little ringer inside and the tattered green ribbon has never been replaced, which is just how I like it. 

I also like knowing that I am personally responsible for at least a few angels getting their wings each holiday season thanks to my bell duo.

For today’s Cup of Cheer, I have to show you a picture of my little tree.  It’s actually around 6 feet tall, but it seems smaller because it’s a slender thing.  Since it is my first solo tree, I decorated it the way I have always dreamed…with the large old-fashioned bulbs and a strand of homemade popcorn and cranberry garland.  That garland took me 4 episodes of “Veronica Mars” on Netflix to make (don’t judge, it’s mighty entertaining)…but it was worth it.

Do you have any “rules” for your tree?  I find that most people do…and I bet it somehow speaks volumes about personality. 

Also, a big thank you and congratulations to my four Three Sisters contest winners!  Ashley Mac, Ashley G-W, Lisa, and Fatima all have coupons coming their way!

Click for the full recipe!

French Onion Soup

Three French Hens French Onion Soup

What could be cozier while watching a holiday movie, playing Scrabble by the fire, or after coming in from sledding than a steaming crock of soup?

Besides a pair of fleecy sweatpants, not much else.

I should tell you that I love onions.  I love them a LOT.  They make a world a tastier, more fragrant place.

Unfortunately, the delicious soup dedicated to my favorite vegetable is often made with beef stock, meaning I can look and smell, but not taste.  The solution was clearly just to make my own.  And keep it healthier by omitting the traditional enormous baguette crouton smothered in melted gruyère (delicious as it is).

When I realized how easy it was to make this soup, I kicked myself for not trying it earlier.

First, place a mess of thinly-sliced onions in a stockpot, along with 2 tbsp. of oil.  Make sure to get your reflection in the teapot.

Move the teapot and sautee, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes until soft and translucent, but not browned.  Add sugar, garlic, salt, and pepper and keep sauteeing.

After another 20 – 30 minutes the onions are a lovely golden brown in color and taste very sweet.  At this point you can continue to sautee them to deepen the flavor, or add the broth.  Just don’t let the onions burn!

Add 2 quarts of vegetable broth, and bring to a boil.  Then reduce heat and simmer for another 15 minutes.

I added a pinch of grated swiss to my bowl in homage to the gruyère. 

All of my dishes this month will have their photo taken with something that comes out only at Christmas.

Today’s featured Christmas item is an ornament – a wooden heart with a hand-painted poinsettia.  It was given to me in 1996 by my oldest and dearest friend Lauren and her family to commemorate an annual summer weekend in Ogunquit, Maine.  I spent the majority of my most awkward years with Lauren and her parents, but I never felt awkward with them.  They made me a member of their family, always supported and encouraged me to go for whatever my heart was calling for.  I don’t get to visit with them nearly as much as I want to …but there are many ornaments from them on my tree to help remind me of how awesome they are, and there always will be. 

And finally, in honor of Ogunquit and the great state of Maine in general, here is your Cup of Cheer.

Image from Kportimages via Flickr.  Click on the image to see more great Kennebunkport, Maine holiday images!

I have never seen a Christmas tree of lobster traps in real life, but it’s on my list.

Hope you have a fun and festive weekend!

Click for the full recipe!

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Beginning with a Gift!

Now that we have entered the most magical of months, it’s time to celebrate all things holiday – and that includes here at A&A!  I will be trying out holiday recipes and featuring some of my favorite sights, sounds, and smells of the season, along with the occasional cup of cheer.

This is the time when we especially focus on doing and giving.  We remember the magic of childhood and carry on the traditions that bring back a little of that magic.  It is a time for family, old friends, new friends, and hope for good things in the fresh start of the coming year. 

It’s also a time for:

  • an elf that wants to be a dentist
  • Buzz’s girlfriend (woof)
  • the phrase “hee haw”

You know what I mean by those, right?

In the spirit of giving, I am delighted to kick off December with a giveaway!

Does this sight look familiar?

This was my breakfast Saturday morning (and has been for weeks)…ever since I discovered Three Sisters oatmeal, which is available exclusively at Whole Foods.  I just cannot get enough of it.  It tastes delicious, is made from wholesome ingredients, is kind to the planet, and it warms me up on these increasingly cold mornings.

The folks at Three Sisters were kind enough to send me some of their cereal to try as well, and I have to say, the varieties I have had (Honey Puffs and Cinnamon Sweets) were super delicious, and free from artificial additives to boot.  Their cereals are also bagged to reduce wasteful packaging, and are made using renewable wind energy.

Wouldn’t you like to try some yourself?

Leave a comment below telling me about your favorite holiday breakfast or breakfast tradition!

All comment posters will be eligible to receive a coupon towards one free Three Sisters cereal product!*  I have 4 coupons, so you will have a good chance.

If you don’t live near a Whole Foods then I will gladly send you one of their products instead – your choice.

The giveaway will run through noon EST on Friday, December 3rd.

I am in love with all things breakfast.  Oatmeal is my quick morning version.  My weekend versions and “breakfast for supper” versions tend to look more like this:

I have a few friends out there that are “expecting” – I hope the sight of those beans and eggs didn’t make your stomachs heave!  Personally, it makes me hungry…

Holiday versions of breakfast are special.  When I was growing up it was actually the one day of the year where we all sat down and ate breakfast together.  After we spent Christmas in Ireland in 1997 we started doing Christmas Crackers at home, including the wearing of the dorky paper hat. 

Probably why I had a hard time finding any photos where someone wasn’t making a face, but that’s part of what makes it special.

I am looking forward to sharing my love of the season with you this month and reading about your own holiday favorites.  No Scrooges need apply.  I am so over people who hate the holidays.

So grab some eggnog, crafting glue, Nat King Cole… and let’s go!

*Although Three Sisters provided the prizes for this giveaway they are not sponsors, endorsers, or affiliated with the giveaway.