Help Me Make a Christmas Dress

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Look at Beej! We are adorable. Christmas in Tualatin, circa 1979. Oh I just noticed we matched the tree skirt!

Christmas! Like many kids, I grew up loving Christmas. The whole season seemed magical: learning songs in school, making paper-chain advent calendars. Soon after Thanksgiving, my Mom would transform the house into a winter wonderland, bringing out treasured decorations–many of which she had made herself–and she always had new projects going on. The late ’70s-early ’80s was the height of the “dough art” craze, and my Mom would design and painstakingly make, by hand, hundreds of Christmas ornaments that she would sell in local bazaars. I have fond memories of our dining room completely covered with clown marionettes (with ribbon ruffs) or teddy bears sitting on baby blocks, as Mom hand-painted and glazed each and every one.

But my fondest–and most hilarious–memory is when I was four: the year Mom made my brother and I matching green velvet Christmas finery. I was beside myself: the dress was long and trimmed with white eyelet lace. I had, and have, never been so glamorous. My brother, who was two, was decked out in a green velvet vest and shorts, which made him look like an adorable toddler Kermit the Frog. We have pictures. They still make us laugh.

For years my brother and I have been threatening to break out the green velvet and recreate these magical memories, but this year I think I’m actually going to do it: I want to make a big, fancy, green velvet dress that screams Christmas and that I can wear to our fancy Christmas cocktail party.

It’s been almost 20 years since I’ve worked with velvet. It’s not very fashionable for the over-12 set (at least not since the ’90s), and it’s a pain to work with. However, I’m not going to let this stop me–I will make my dreams come true. Unless I lose interest halfway. I’m not making any promises here, folks.

Here are the three patterns I am considering:

Vogue Patterns V2903: Misses V-Neck Fit and Flare Dresses

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Pros: Big, swishy skirt. I feel like a constructed, retro style would lend itself well to velvet. Cons: I don’t think the pleats will work with velvet.

Butterick B6094: Misses’ Fold-Back Facing Dresses

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Pros: The bias-cut skirt is big and swishy without the bulk of gathers or pleats, plus that back is amazing! Cons: Not sure if I want to make a petticoat. I own one, might work.

Butterick B5748: Misses’/Misses’ Petite Flared Dresses

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Pros: I love the idea of an actual retro pattern. Cons: This is basically a less interesting version of Butterick B6094, above.

So what do you think? Which should I pick? And . . . should I make a vest for Beej?!?

My Mom’s Famous Spinach Dip

Every time I throw a party, my lovely, thoughtful mother asks what she can bring, and I always say, “A vegetable platter would be great!” This is for two reasons: one, my mom makes a beautiful vegetable platter–the way she cuts and arranges the veggies is gorgeous. Two, she always makes her famous spinach dip, which everyone loves. It’s rich and creamy and zesty and fresh-tasting, plus the spinach lets you feel healthy.

My mom wants to make sure I tell you it’s from Cookery for Entertaining by Marlene Sorosky. The book is out of print, but that cover is etched in my memory for all time. One day I will make that watermelon whale! Ahem. Back to the recipe.

My Mom’s Famous Spinach Dip

Makes 3 1/2 cups

1 pint sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
3/4 package Knorr dry leek soup mix, about ½ cup (I always use the whole thing)
1 (10-oz.) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well-drained
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1 teaspoon dry dill
1 teaspoon dry Italian salad dressing mix

In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine all ingredients until blended. Refrigerate until ready to serve, or up to two days. Serve dip with assorted raw vegetables.

This truly is a superb dip, perfect for veggies, crackers, bread, or your fingers. Don’t ask how I know the last one. Make it for your next party!

White Christmas cross stitch

White Christmas Cross Stitch Pattern

White Christmas cross stitchOh my god. When I created this White Christmas cross stitch pattern two years ago, I had no idea how difficult it would be to convert my lowly Excel spreadsheet into something someone else could use!

First: Unfortunately, there’s no background grid. When I set it to “Print Gridlines,” it obscures some of my backstitches! And the alternative–hand-changing all of my borders on every individual square, without ruining my current ones–is not feasible at this time. However! I have provided 10 x 10 grid marks to help you locate the snowflakes.

Next: This pattern owes a huge debt to Wee Little Stitches, my favorite Etsy store. They make amazing Pixel People patterns for all kinds of nerdy things: superheroes, TV shows, etc. The only reason I made my own was because they didn’t have any White Christmas patterns. Buy their stuff!

White Christmas is one of my favorite Christmas movies, one that I’ve actually appreciated more as the years have gone by. I think it’s because the driving force behind the movie isn’t romantic love.

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The original! You thought it was my pattern, didn’t you?

In case you haven’t seen the movie: we open on World War II, out on the battlefield, where Captain Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Private Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) are putting on a show to celebrate Christmas and pay tribute to Major General Thomas F. Waverly (Dean Jagger), their beloved leader, who is being replaced by a new General. They even close with a song about how much they love him!

My White Christmas cross stitch pattern, in all its amateur glory.

My White Christmas cross stitch pattern, in all its amateur glory!

These battlefield relationships drive the rest of the film. Phil saves Bob’s life, bonding them, so that they embark on a successful showbiz career. As a favor to a former army colleague (or so they think) they meet the lovely Haynes sisters (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen) and join their adventure. And then! When they travel to Vermont and realize their former General has sunk his pension into a failing Inn, they bring their show to his stage to bring customers–but they also move heaven and earth to bring his old division to the Inn to make sure the General knows how much he’s valued. Tear!

Okay, okay. So back to my White Christmas cross stitch. I used Aida cloth instead of my usual linen, because I wanted it to be “VistaVision” worthy and super square. I used a light-blue 14 count fabric, which yielded a design 8″ x 4 1/8″. Download the file here: WhiteChristmas_Final

Sorry this finally went up after Christmas, but really, what better time to get a head start on next year, right?!? Plus: I have also designed, but never made, two other White Christmas pieces: the Haynes sisters in their feathered blue ensemble, and Bob and Phil as . . . the Haynes sisters, as well. Hopefully I’ll have them up by next fall!

Seriously Good Chili

Seriously Good Chili

Seriously Good Chili

Seriously, seriously good chili. Yum!

I named this delightful concoction “Seriously Good Chili” for two reasons: one, it is seriously good. And two, because I adapted it from a far more labor-intensive chili recipe from Serious Eats. I was going to call it the “easier” version, but you’re still cooking beans from scratch (which is actually easy) and it still includes a ton of ingredients. It’s worth it: this chili is complex and full flavored, thanks to a range of ingredients including chocolate, anchovy paste, coffee, and New Mexico chiles, but it’s still kid friendly.

I made this for Christmas Eve, along with two other soups, and this was the hands-down winner! Here we go:

Seriously Good Chili

You need:

1 pound dried beans–I used pinto because I had them on hand, but kidney beans would also be great
5 whole New Mexico chiles, seeded and torn into rough 1-inch pieces
3 pounds ground beef (note: the next time I do this, I will coarsely grind the equivalent weight of chuck steak or tri tip instead–I like a little more texture)
1 quart low-sodium chicken broth (preferably homemade), divided
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon ground coffee
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder + 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, diced fine
1 jalapeño, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dried oregano leaves
2 bay leaves
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup cider vinegar, plus more to taste
1/4 cup vodka or bourbon
1 tablespoon Buffalo-style hot sauce, such as Frank’s RedHot (or more to taste)
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

Place beans, 6 tablespoons kosher salt (or 3 tablespoons table salt), and water in large plastic container or bowl. Allow to soak at room temperature at least 8 hours, or overnight. (Alternatively, you can bring the beans, salt, and water to a boil. Let rest for one hour, and then proceed with the recipe.) Drain and rinse soaked beans.

Add dried chiles to large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or stock pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until slightly darkened with an intense, roasted aroma, 2 to 5 minutes.

Add 1 cup chicken broth, using a flat wooden spoon or stiff spatula to scrape browned bits off the bottom of pan. Reduce heat until chicken broth is at a bare simmer and cook until chiles have softened and liquid is reduced by half, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer chiles and liquid to a blender, add anchovy paste, soy sauce, tomato paste, ground spices, coffee, cocoa powder, and vegetable oil, and blend at high speed, scraping down sides as necessary, until a completely smooth puree is formed, about 2 minutes. Set chile puree aside.

Heat 4 tablespoons vegetable oil in your Dutch oven or stock pot over medium heat until shimmering. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until softened but not browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the jalapeño, garlic, and oregano and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add ground beef and cook until browned. Then add chile puree and cook, stirring frequently and scraping bottom of pot until chile mixture begins to fry and leaves a coating on bottom of pan, 2 to 4 minutes. Add chicken stock and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer, scraping the bottom of pan to loosen browned bits. Reduce heat to the lowest possible setting, add beans, and cook, with cover slightly ajar, until beans are almost tender, about 1 hour.

Add crushed tomatoes and cider vinegar and cook with cover slightly ajar until beans are fully tender and broth is rich and lightly thickened, 2 to 3 1/2 hours longer, adding water if necessary to keep beans and meat mostly submerged.

Remove and discard bay leaves. Add vodka (or bourbon), hot sauce, and brown sugar, and stir to combine. Season to taste with kosher salt, ground black pepper, and additional vinegar.

Serve immediately, or for best flavor, allow to cool and refrigerate overnight, or up to 1 week in sealed container. Serve with garnishes: shredded cheese, sour cream, cilantro, chopped green onions, sliced avocados, lime slices–whatever you like!

I’d just like to add that I loved having a soup party for Christmas Eve–sooouuup party! And the leftovers were divine. Do you have any go-to soup recipes to share? Post them below!

Merry Christmas + Lessons Learned

 

Do: avoid messing up the kitchen right before Christmas.


Merry Christmas and Happy Boxing Day! (My friend Melissa of the insanely good Special K bars has hosted a Boxing Day brunch the past two years and it’s my new favorite tradition.) And sorry.

I meant to post so much more Christmas stuff! Recipes! Presents! My White Christmas cross stitch pattern! But at least I learned a few lessons, which I will post here and review next November.

While this holiday was pretty awesome, upon review, there were a few things I could do to make things easier/less stress-free:

  • Holiday Party: I usually do it earlier in the month, but thought it would be easier to do it later this year (more time to get the decorations up). Wrong: doing a party for 50+ the week before Christmas gave me very little time to get anything else done.
  • Christmas Eve: We started a new tradition this year and had the family over for chili and two soups! It was awesome, but I spent all day cooking. Next year I’ll make the soups ahead of time and freeze them.
  • Christmas cookies: I did most of my dough ahead of time (I did two rounds of cookies, one for the party and one for Christmas), but I waited on my second batch of Chocolate Peppermint Cookies. Next year all the dough is going in the freezer.
  • Christmas movies: I had planned on Christmas Eve to be a big movie marathon. Big mistake. Huge. People are busy! And tired! More movies throughout the month next year.
  • Christmas wrapping: my husband is awesome–and talented–and did most of it. I’m going to continue this next year!
  • Christmas blogging: write posts in October, dummy!

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday and are enjoying the weekend! What would you tweak next year? Write ’em in the comments and I’ll remind us all in 2016!

Six Christmas TV Episodes to Watch on Netflix

Hey folks! Merry Christmas, and sorry my blogging has been so sporadic (TM Clueless). I totally underestimated how difficult it would be to blog about Christmas while getting ready for Christmas. Live and learn. But I’ll be sharing some posts later this year that I’ll reshare early next year! Ha.

You know I love Christmas–and Christmas movies! But I tend to watch the same ones every year. So I decided to do a little digging and find some Christmas TV episodes that you can stream on Netflix right now. Get yourself some sparkling fresh Christmas cheer, in less time to boot!

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Andy, Opie, and Aunt Bea bring Christmas to the pokey. Photo from BasementRejects.com.

The Andy Griffith Show Season 1, Episode 11, “Christmas Story”: This is old-fashioned sweetness done right. Resident “Scrooge” Ben Weaver insists Andy arrest an amateur moonshiner on Christmas Eve–separating him from his family, and marooning Barney at the jail for the holiday. When Andy “arrests” the man’s family and brings Christmas to them, will ol’ Ben realize the true meaning of Christmas? Three guesses, and the first two don’t count.

The Office

Michael’s weird man-crush on Ryan . . . so icky. Photo from CrushtheBlog.com.

The Office Season 2, Episode 10, “Christmas Party”: This is the episode when I fully fell in love with Jim and Pam. Michael throws an office Christmas party that is both cringingly inappropriate and rage-inducing, and then tries to fix it with unsanctioned booze. Meanwhile, Jim tries to rescue the sweet, personal present he made for Pam (with a note confessing his feelings) when the gift exchange abruptly becomes a Yankee Swap (note: I hate Yankee Swaps, they stress me out). This is a classic episode that perfectly captures the best elements of this show.

ChristmasTV3

“Jessica. We need to talk about that sweater.” Photo from Cabot Cove Gazette.

Murder, She Wrote Season 9, Episode 9, “A Christmas Secret”: I looooove Murder, She Wrote so much–and this is a great Christmas episode in that it takes place in Cabot Cove, it includes plenty of Seth, and–wonder of wonders–it does not have a murder (just an attempted one). But still: it’s weird. Seth spends the episode whining about the time he didn’t get a toy train for Christmas, spoiling his enjoyment of the holiday for the next 60 years (wha??). And the secret? A new resident–who just got engaged and is working for his fiancee’s family business–is hiding the fact that he has a child from a previous relationship. Like, he moves, gets engaged, accepts a job, and foists his daughter on his sister because he’s afraid his fiancee (who is named Elizabeth Forsythe–practically my maiden name!!!!!!) will have issues with being a stepmother? Worst dad ever, AND worst fiance ever. Still a fun episode.

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This episode is probably extra affecting if you have a baby. Sob!

Ally McBeal Season 3, Episode 8, “Blue Christmas”: This is when Ally McBeal was starting to get insufferable, but still had a lot of charm. Elaine finds a baby in a nativity scene and wants to adopt, but has to contend with a lot of flack about her–gasp–promiscuous, unconventional lifestyle. Surprisingly sweet, mostly thanks to an amazing performance by Jane Krakowski. WARNING: I got major secondhand embarrassment when Ally sings a “sexy” version of “Santa Baby.” And Billy bleached his head. ACK.

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THIS PICTURE. Tears. Photo from PopOptiq.com.

The Twilight Zone Season 2, Episode 11, “The Night of the Meek”: Here’s your ugly cry for the holiday. I usually watch The Twilight Zone with a feeling of impending dread–okay, when will this poor schmuck realize he’s trapped in a hell of his own making? But this one is different. After a drunk is fired from his job as “Santa,” he finds a mysterious bag that gives everyone exactly what they want for Christmas. I won’t say anymore–just watch it.

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I ain’t gonna lie. I kind of want this dress. Photo from Disney.

Jessie Season 3, Episode 7: “Good Luck Jessie: New York City Christmas”: Listen, I have a 10-year-old son. I’ve watched a lot of bad tween TV, and Jessie is actually better than most–the dialogue is sharp, and Debby Ryan (nanny Jessie) and Kevin Chamberlin (butler Bertram) give it their all. This G-rated homage to The Hangover is energetic and fast-paced–and ends with a musical number. Of course.

I’m sure there are dozens and dozens of awesome Christmas TV episodes I’ve missed–what are your favorites?

White Christmas Cross Stitch Embroidery

Happy Wednesday! Holiday Best

White Christmas Cross Stitch Embroidery

White Christmas cross-stitch! I’ll post the pattern soon.

Happy . . . Wednesday? Did you know I thought today was Tuesday? Which makes no sense, because yesterday (Tuesday) I was woken up by a call from the dentist wondering where I was–I blew it because I thought my appointment was Wednesday. Which is today.

So my usual Happy Monday blog is two days late–I suck! Unfortunately, I’ve had doctor’s appointments (for me), calls to Poison Control (for Sarah), and Christmas preparations distracting me. But I thought I’d at least put together a quick “best of” list for the holidays.

Best Christmas Movie: White Christmas. This is a fantastic film in the “Let’s put on a show!” genre of the past. The best part is the bromance between former WWII army buddies-turned Broadway entertainers played by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, who put on said show to save their former general’s Vermont inn from going under when snow fails to arrive for the winter. If this movie were made today, the movie would end with “Bob” and “Phil” realizing they’re each others’ soul mates, instead of pairing off with two sisters. But! The songs! The costumes! The witty dialogue!

Even better, White Christmas is available on Netflix streaming, so you can watch it right now! As you can see from the picture above, I actually created a White Christmas cross stitch pattern. I’m going to finish it this week and post the pattern for you all–my only issue is that it was an Excel document, and  of course I only have Numbers now on my Mac and . . . it sucks. I’ll get it going for you guys.

In the meantime, my favorite scene from White Christmas is below. Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen are such a pleasure to watch, and Rosemary Clooney’s line at 3:40 slays me!

Best Drunk Recaps of ABC Family Holiday Movies: My friend Alex Cox did a hilarious 12 Days of Christmas (. . . As Told by ABC Family) over at his World of Awesome blog last year. He did some super funny recaps of “classics” like Snow (starring The Flash‘s Tom Cavanagh) and Desperately Seeking Santa (starring Smallville‘s Laura Vandervoort). It looks like he didn’t make it past Day 5, because . . . Tori Spelling. But still. Worth a read.

Best Holiday China: This, of course, is Lenox’s Holiday china. It says “holiday” right in the name, folks! I’ve been slowly collecting sets of this for four years (with my lovely mother adding a place setting each year) and mixing it with my Lenox Eternal china (my wedding china) for larger dinners. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll see I’ve been using Holiday every day in December and posting pics. I lead an exciting life.

Lenox Holiday China

Lenox Holiday china with greek yogurt and granola. Christmassy!

Best Christmas Cookie: I already said this in my Five Cookies You Meet at Christmas post, but again: Southern Living‘s slice-and-bake cranberry-orange shortbread.

Best Christmas Appetizer That I Haven’t Actually Made Yet: So, I think I mentioned I read Winter Street by Elin Hilderbrand on my trip East last month to my sister-in-law’s wedding? It was an airport book. So it was basically an ABC Family holiday movie in book form, but it had some great descriptions of a holiday party, including several appetizers, including something called a Salted Almond Pinecone, which intrigued me. I looked into it: it’s basically a cheese ball with almonds, which sounds fantastic, and which I’m going to make for my holiday party this year.

Hopefully these very important links will bring you some joy this holiday season. My other piece of advice: do not let your baby play with a “child proof” bottle of infant ibuprofen while you change her diaper, because she’ll probably open it, drenching herself with it, resulting in the above-mentioned call to Poison Control. She’s fine, I’m an idiot.

So what are your holiday favorites? Post them below!