Looking Back

2010 has been a hell of a year. One year ago from now, I was living in an apartment that I hated in New York City. I had a good job and people I loved working for and with but I knew it was never going to be the job from which I retired.

I didn’t blog regularly. I took photos here and there and posted on Facebook like many people do but I didn’t pursue passions and/or blog about them.

I was living with my wonderful, supportive boyfriend who was applying for law schools and we were doing our best to make ends meet. Then he got into several schools, weighed out his options, made a decision, and we whisked ourselves out of the city and that apartment and back to our Midwestern roots (more specifically, his). We now reside in Illinois, Land of Lincoln and very, very flat land. It’s been an incredible journey and every year that I see to an end, I am reminded of how much can change and how much one can accomplish in 365 days’ time. Just one person’s life can be altered so dramatically. Sometimes it’s hard to turn around and look back because we have come so far.

I took up blogging more regularly the latter half of the year. And then suddenly, as if by magic, I made it onto Freshly Pressed with this post. I had been pondering how I could get more readers and suddenly I was bestowed with the gift of being featured. Ever since, I have felt a complete passion for blogging overtake me and I have been regularly posting ever since. I’ve also been blog-networking more and discovering this whole universe of fellow bloggers who make it look easy and so darn pretty. I can state with confidence that my blog roll will increase exponentially in size.

I received a fabulous present that will aid me in moving forward with authoring my blog with my own photos:

 

Canon EOS Rebel XS

I am so grateful to everyone who reads my wee blog faithfully and those who pass it on to others. Someone at Christmastime even asked me, “Hey what’s the name of your blog? I wanted to check it out.” I was so pleased to hear about one word-of-mouth referral that you’d have thought I had a New York Times bestseller or something. I have been doing my blog since August of 2008 but it is at the end of 2010 that I see it blooming into….well, something. It feels more tangible today than it did two years ago.

And so, as I bask in that warm glow of gratification and appreciation, I now make my list.

Things I’m looking forward to in 2011:

  • Overhauling Zoe Says to a new look and format. (Gulp.)
  • Taking tons more photos; learning how to edit them; sharing those photos.
  • Learning more about logo and button design.
  • Networking with more fellow bloggers and readers.
  • Doing more crafts.
  • Actually meditating, and regularly.
  • Keeping up a nightly facial routine.
  • Not obsessing about my physical appearance (read: weight) but focusing on my health and how I feel in my body.
  • Making new friends in my still new community.
  • Reading more books. I love love love to read but my attentions have been focused elsewhere this year and I haven’t read nearly as much as I’d like.
  • Being more patient.
  • Waking up earlier.
  • Not forgetting for too long how blessed I really am, every day.

Good tidings to you, wherever you are. For family, for friends, for peace among men…we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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Spritz Cookies, Otherwise Known As “Backbreakers”

Happy post Christmas coma!

I don’t know about you but I feel like Buddy the Elf who has been consuming nothing but the four elf food groups for the past week. In essence, all meals begin and end with cookies or chocolate.

The bf and myself made homemade (alcoholic) egg nog, spritz cookies, and sourdough bread as contributions to the big family Christmas potluck yesterday. I’m happy to report that all three went over well.

I was nervous because I had never made spritz cookies by myself before. I mean, they take a cookie press to make, the dough can be rather finicky to work with, and I didn’t have my mom around to coach me!

Nevertheless, we rolled up our sleeves and for over four hours, we mixed up two batches of my mom’s classic spritz cookie recipe (one white, one green) and tried my hand at my heretofore unused cookie press that I had impulsively purchased from Williams Sonoma last year.

At first, the dough wasn’t cooperating whatsoever. It was too cold, even though I had properly left all three sticks of butter out to soften. The dough being warm and sticky is pretty much the key to getting them to stick to one’s cookie sheets. Also, we had no parchment paper or wax paper, two things I will never again be without. I think something extra sticky to grab onto the dough would have made a difference. But when one is baking cookies at 9pm on Christmas night and no stores are open (and who wants to go out and try to find parchment paper and overpay for it on Christmas?), we just did the best we could.

Normally I’d take a photo of the cookie press and some of the pictures I have of the cookies going into the oven but I am attempting to keep this relatively short and I’m running out of space before this just becomes one long tangent, as I am wont to do.

I arranged the photos yesterday on a platter provided by a relative (and it is her tablecloth, as well) and between those things and the natural light, I managed to snap some very worthy shots of these cookies that made my back ache like crazy.

Below are the efforts of our blood, sweat and tears. And they taste even better than they look! Maybe I’ll actually post the recipe sometime. (Side tangent: I can’t stand when pretty cookies or pastries taste like cardboard, or even worse, like crap. It’s such the disappointment. So I was relieved when my cookies lived up to the memories I have of my mother’s Christmas cookies.)

One necessity that should not be overlooked during the Christmas feasting is the possession of antacids. I don’t know about y’all but I have been following every meal with a Tums chaser. I hope your holidays have been festive and merry! (And perhaps with less indigestion than we’ve been experiencing.)

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Merry Christmas Eve Eve!

It’s Christmas Eve Eve! It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year! It’s finally here!

Christmas is one big buildup and when it fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinally gets here, all of the efforts you’ve put in for the past four to six weeks come to a head. The day before Christmas Eve is difficult because for most people, it’s the last day of work when you actually have to show up and still be quasi productive. For children, it’s still not Christmas and there’s yet one more night of sleep before it’s THE night to go to bed and dream of all the presents Santa will be leaving under the tree. I was so one of those kids who woke up at 5 or 6am to creep down to the tree and look at all the presents.

I don’t precisely remember when I realized that my parents were the ones playing Santa but before I came to that realization, I believed in everything about the whole Santa Claus myth and mystery: the flying reindeer and sleigh, that Santa can actually go to each house in the world in one night, that there is a workshop in the North Pole, that Rudolph leads the team, that elves make toys 364 a year – the whole bit.

Aside from the reigning champion of Christmas symbols, the Christmas tree, there is one aspect to the whole Christmas tradition that I absolutely adore. It is the Christmas stocking. I don’t know what it is about this Germanic ritual but it is as important to me to have goodies in stockings as it is to have presents under the tree. In particular, I love going to bed with empty stockings hanging and waking up to their being stuffed full.

Now that I “know how things really work” and am an adult and all that, I understand that it’s not super realistic to have that particular fantasy take place every year. There have been lean stocking years and that’s okay. (Oh, and check out that link above for the history of the Christmas stocking; it even delves into why we get oranges. Something about Santa and gold balls.)

But there is just something about waking up and having a fat stocking full of little goodies that gives me that Christmas feeling. Some might call the stocking the foreplay of Christmas morning. (Yeah, I know, I went there.) Perhaps it’s just the mystery of the whole thing. “What could be in there?!” It’s like kids who are more concerned with playing with the box the gift came in, rather than the present itself. I just get so excited!

I'm like Surprise Party Sue. I can't handle the excitement!

Conversely, I also love finding fun things that are small enough to put into someone else’s stocking. This year I had a blast coming up with what I placed in my boyfriend’s. Obviously I can’t disclose here what went in there but it was a lot of fun. There are just so many ways to be creative with them, especially because there is a size parameter to contend with.

My mom made homemade (gorgeous) stockings for me and my brother that still hang on the mantel to this day. One day, I shall inherit mine and it will be THE Zoe stocking. For now, I have a pretty pink Hello Kitty stocking that will serve me well. It will be very interesting to see what Santa/Boyfriend leaves me this year! I can’t wait!

I leave you with one of my all-time favorite holiday songs, sung by Mr. Christmas himself (Bing): A Marshmallow World. This user on YouTube added his own creative take by driving through a lot of snow to capture the song perfectly.

Enjoy your holidays–and stockings–everyone!

Cookie Exchange Fail

Last week, I got a really cute email forward from a friend. It was entitled Cookie Exchange! Here are the rules:

I’m participating in a collective and hopefully tasty experiment. As such:

You have been invited to be part of a recipe exchange concept. I hope you will participate. I’ve picked those who I think would make this fun. Please send a recipe to the person whose name is in position 1 (even if you don’t know him/her) and it should be something quick, easy and without rare ingredients. Actually, the best one is the one you know in your head and can type out right now. Don’t agonize over it, it is one you make when you are short of time.

After you’ve sent the recipe to the person in position 1 below and only to that person, copy this letter into a new email, move my name to position 1 and put your name in position 2. Only mine and your name should show when you send your email. Send to 20 friends BCC (blind copy).

If you cannot do this within five days, let me know so it will be fair to those participating.

You should receive 36 recipes. It’s fun to see where they come from! Seldom does anyone drop out because we all need new ideas. The turnaround is fast as there are only two names on the list and you only have to do it once.

Person 1:

Person 2:

Sounds easy enough. I wasn’t sure I would know twenty people but who would know how many women I sent the email off to? It seemed fun so I quickly emailed a recipe to Person 1, to whom I was assigned. (For the record, I shared this recipe from Buns in My Oven, as I had recently made it and the cookies tasted as good as they look.)

I heard from one or two people back right away that they wouldn’t be able to participate but since it was a chain email that was sent on to me in the first place, it wasn’t bothersome. I had no idea how many recipes I could expect.

The answer came the next morning.

I had received two emails back. One was from a woman who sent me some kind of chocolate cookie ball recipe (no name for it). The other….Well, let’s just call it an altogether Fail. Here’s what she wrote:

Hi, Sorry all I can think of in my head right now is “throwing together” a mix of sugar, butter, flour, egg whites and vanilla extract, “molding them together” into little balls on a cookie tray and then putting them in the oven. Sounds like how my grandmother made her cake. So they might be good cookies. Might even try them myself. Good luck!

Uhhhhhh.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or what. This isn’t even a recipe! “They might be good cookies.” Really? The only thing I can think of is that the woman felt compelled to forward something on (out of guilt?) but in fact, she should have felt more badly about sending on something that is completely unworkable. No amounts, no instructions, and perhaps, if I’m lucky, I’ll get something that resembles cookies.

Mind = blown.

When I told another girlfriend of mine about the response, since I had also forwarded the chain on to her, she told me that someone who was a friend of a friend had re-forwarded the chain email back to her instead of sending her a recipe. Apparently people weren’t grasping the concept very well, and also? They felt overly pressured to take the instructions literally and think of something in their head, as opposed to going to The Source of All Information, the interwebs, and finding a recipe by typing in “cookie recipe” in Google. That’s literally all one has to do.

(Don’t even get me started on the misuse of quotes. I felt like Joey from Friends was lurking nearby. If you haven’t seen that episode, definitely do.)

Days have passed and that is all I have received. I didn’t put a ton of effort or sentiment behind forwarding the chain so my feelings aren’t hurt that I’m not getting a lot of recipes back. It’s more that I’m astounded that that’s the best one can do on our Internet dependent, instant gratification planet. It’s not like I asked people to make up gift baskets with four different types of handmade cookies and deliver them door-to-door in a wagon.

All this talk of cookies and it being close to lunchtime makes me hungry. I think I’ll go “find something to eat.”

Minty the Candy Cane – Obsessed!

This is probably hitting the web in a far more professional fashion than I am posting here but a new phenomenon has taken over my household and he is called Minty the Candy Cane Who Fell on the Ground.

This comes from my beloved show Conan (because who else could come up with this?) and my boyfriend and I literally sang it in the car on the way to school and work the entire way.

If you don’t have time to watch Conan because you’re just too darn busy, the below clip is all you need to get hooked. Be forewarned: you may never get this song out of your head. Conan and Andy can’t!

Our favorite part is when Conan sings “for just a moment or two!” at the very end. That’s what I’ve been going around saying alllll daaaaay. Also, it’s like adding “in bed” to a Chinese fortune. You can tack it on to pretty much anything anybody says.

Person 1: I have to get some sleep.

Person 2: [singing] ….for just a moment or two!

It’s still up in the air whether the lyrics are “covered in poo” or “covered in goo,” but either way, it fits. It’s the new Christmas hit! Won’t you sing along with me?

for just a moment or two!

An Exception to Every Rule

Some time ago, I realized that despite my usual cheerful demeanor, I do possess one grinchy part of my persona.

I really hate it when people whistle.

There is just something about the loud, piercing sound of it, even when someone is really, really good at it, that I cannot abide. I discovered that the cacophony sound made me want to stamp my feet and scream, “STOP IT!” at the top of my lungs; I made said discovery when I was in college and there was a guy in my class who was an excellent whistler. He could probably whistle Beethoven’s symphonies and make a decent living from the proceeds of an album.

My senior year, I lived in a series of dorms that were over a foot bridge and so were removed from the majority of the rest of campus. Apparently he lived there, also, as I could hear his whistling through my open window on many a day or night. I would seriously grind my teeth until he stopped or I could no longer hear him. Thank God I didn’t have to room with someone who did that all the time. There might have been a murder at my university.

This seething rage against the sound of anybody whistling shrilly and loudly has stuck with me. I have forbade my dearest other half from doing it. Thankfully he didn’t protest much, although he does like to tease me about it.

And yet.

As with all rules, there is at least one exception. Let me preface it by saying that there is a Christmas album that exists that is one of my all-time favorites. We had it on an actual record album when I was a kid. It’s called A Music Box Christmas. You can sample and even buy all of the songs from it on Amazon. It is seriously not Christmas until I listen to every song, start to finish, in their entirety. Generally I decorate my tree to it.

I have met all of two people in my life who don’t like the music. While I do my best to withhold judgment, it completely baffles me. If you like instrumental music and you like old-fashioned Christmas music/hymns, you will enjoy – and even rave about – A Music Box Christmas. It is an imperative staple for me during the holidays.

Back to the exception. My father has always, and still does, managed to whistle in harmony with the carols of this album. I find it endearing and actually miss it when I don’t spend the holidays with him. He is one of those people who can whistle through his teeth, which is a skill I definitely did not inherit from him. For whatever reason on this earth, that whistling is lovely, in tune, and the only time throughout the year or in my life that I welcome the sound.

Aren’t people strange creatures?

I don’t have an explanation but I know that unless you are my father,  it is Christmastime, and A Music Box Christmas is on, you are not welcome to come within any physical distance of me and be whistling. Or there will be consequences.

Do you hate whistling? What drives you absolutely crazy?

Snow Day in the Prairie State

Yesterday, the weather outside was certainly frightful. Inside it wasn’t all that delightful, mostly because I don’t have a fireplace.  Therefore it was just kinda eh, thanks to the house I rent still having its original windows from the 1930s or whenever it was built. Nothing like seeping arctic air to ruin any attempts at low-cost heating.

The 50mph winds didn’t show signs of stopping – and didn’t. It never fails that I had to run errands in the middle of some of the worst weather of the year but run them I did. For the few minutes that the car was warm and I was driving on the smaller side streets, watching the snow fall next to the old-fashioned street lamps was actually quite pretty. Then I had to get out of the car.

Thankfully it’s the modern age with indoor heating. The wind chill was well below 0. Gusts of snow were blowing everywhere.

After running up to the drugstore to buy “emergency butter” so I could go through with my plans for baking, I commenced with making two sets of goodies: Oreo Truffles and “Crack Cookies.” I dubbed the latter with that name because they are definitely as addicting as crack. Plus they have crackers in them and are crunchy. Double Crack Cookies.

These two recipes were so gall durn messy to make, however, that I only captured photos in making the truffles.

So while the wind whistled and blew like a fiend, knocking over trash cans and making our utility shed door bang open and closed a thousand times, I cranked up the Eden Pure heater, blasted some Christmas carols, and balled away.

If you like Oreos. If you like cream cheese. If you like chocolate. Pretty much if you have a pulse, you will enjoy these decadent “candies,” which are dangerously rich and addictive. Needless to say they are sitting on my office’s kitchen table as I write this so I don’t have to have so many staring at me in my home.

Oreos pulverized with cream cheese

Shiny!

Chilled balls, ready for dipping.

Melted milk chocolate chips.

Finished (SLOPPY) product. Delish.

For the Germophobes

This one’s quick and dirty.

Really it’s quick and clean, but — nevermind. I give you: the nail brush!

I hail this tool in the washroom when it comes to scrubbing up, because the nails are where germs are really held. Sure, you can lather up and sing Happy Birthday twice to ensure you’re washing off most of the bad stuff, but you can still wash your hands and have dirty nails. I’m giving myself the willies thinking about it.

I can’t restrict the usage of this simple – yet miraculous – item for just women with longer nails because there are dudes out there with some nasty, funky nails. We don’t need to get into it but you know who you are.

I don’t know about other ladies (or men), but I check out hands on a guy. My boyfriend can attest to this. (He passed the test, obviously.) The nails need to be short ‘n clean. Anything less than that and I am grossed the F out.

Although it’s rare that I have witnessed a woman with dirt crammed underneath her nails, it happens. And it shouldn’t. We live in a modern age where this unsightly and very germ-o-licious situation needn’t occur.

These handy brushes can be found at most drugstores; certainly Target or Walmart has them somewhere in the Health/Beauty aisle.

Zoe Recommends, and can’t recommend enough, having one of these and a spare in your home at all times. It saves any nail embarrassment and most importantly, you get sick less. Really, it’s true. When you inevitably rub your eyes or eat a meal or type at a keyboard, etc, you scrub away these daily activities in about ten seconds of vigor.

So there you have it. The 99¢ lifesaver. You’re welcome.