I Want a Valium for Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown.

©1973 United Feature Syndicate Inc.

©1973 United Feature Syndicate Inc.

My job can be quite stressful. It can therefore keep me away from blogging for lengthy periods of time, especially when there are deadlines right before a long holiday weekend. Like this week!

When at last this long-but-short week came to an end, the relief was palpable. I could finally, completely, head-to-toe relax, even if all that meant was taking a breather between work and beginning to prepare for Thanksgiving and what I’d be contributing to our family meal this year.

I pride myself on my pumpkin pies. Sure, they’re like, the easiest pie to make out of All The Pies, but it’s one of the few–literally a few–things I actually take pleasure in making, and I have my little tricks to make them especially delicious. Furthermore, once I know how to perfect something to my own unique standards, it’s kind of compulsive for me to have to make it. Even if I weren’t going to bring it to a family meal, I wouldn’t be able to not make it. It’s my little Billy Bob Thornton thing.

What I love about this particular time of year is that the holiday season gets into full swing. Stores are an explosion of green and red, and homes and storefronts alike are decked out in lights, garlands, and wreaths. The dude and I have established a couple of our own holiday traditions, including getting a Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving and getting out all of the Christmas tchotchkes. (“Christmas tchotchkes” just might be an oxymoron, but I’m going with it, anyway.) There really is something special about this time of year that I cherish dearly.

To go with that special holiday feeling is the underlying stress of getting everything done in time for family gatherings, and holiday parties, and gift exchanges, and shipping presents off in time to be opened on Christmas Day, and blowing your wad on stuff you don’t need staying on budget. But we also have a particular salve for that stress: the holiday specials. Do a cursory search for “Christmas” on Netflix or your cable guide and there are no fewer than several hundred airings of all different specials and movies for an entire month. Heck, we’ve already seen Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and it’s not even December yet!

As you may know, we are huge Charlie Brown/Peanuts fans. These holiday specials in particular hold a special place in our hearts, along with millions of others’, I’m sure.

HOWEVER: although I am well aware that it is impossible to freeze children’s voices so they can produce dozens of holiday specials just for the sake of continuity, there are only a few of the Charlie Brown holiday specials I can tolerate aside from the original and sacred A Charlie Brown Christmas. The producers of that special did way too good of a job with casting and have subsequently ruined me for most of the other specials. There is one in particular I can not stomach, and it is A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.

First things first: the only voices that sound genuine to the characters, in this blogger’s opinion, are Marcie’s and Peppermint Patty’s. Patty’s tomboy gruffness is dead on and Marcie’s sweet squeaks are endearing. All of the other main characters sound totally off, rendering them all L’Etranger. My suspension of disbelief just ain’t happening.

Secondly, Charlie’s extremely low self-esteem notwithstanding (and it really is quite heartbreaking, between his depression about holidays in general, being tricked by Lucy once again on kicking the football, and being steamrolled by Patty et al. as they invite themselves over for dinner), my squeamishness is a direct result of Peppermint Patty’s overbearing personality. Charlie is trying to rev himself up for a holiday at his grandmother’s, when suddenly Patty and the Gang inform him that they’re about to ascend his threshold for a full-on Thanksgiving meal, thank you very much.

We see Snoopy and Woodstock in the kitchen and Snoopy is making buttered toast and popcorn like a pro. One burned dog ear later, he’s got dinner on the (ping pong) table.

Sweet Snoopy happily serves up his homemade toast, pretzels, jelly beans, and popcorn. There are even pink parfaits on the table. A little carb-heavy, sure. But it’s the holiday season, after all. Their ten-year-old metabolisms can probably handle it.

©1973 United Feature Syndicate Inc.

©1973 United Feature Syndicate Inc.

But instead of feeling happy and grateful to be with friends (heck, let’s call a spade a spade–they’re acquaintances at best), Patty goes on a belittling rampage about the food, shredding any pride Charlie may have had in providing her with a meal. Linus’s gracious speech fell on deaf ears, apparently. Thankfully Patty had brought her subordinate BFF Marcie with her, who becomes the voice of reason, talks Patty down from her rage high, and gets her to apologize. That’s a solid friend right there.

The whole scene gives me disgusted knots in my stomach, quite frankly, to the point where between it and the not-so-great voice casting, I have a high aversion to the special, so much so that it wouldn’t bother me if that particular DVD of the Peanuts Holiday Collection somehow got lost.

In short, this storyline makes me want to reach for a glass of wine or a Valium. It does not embody thankfulness or the spirit of Thanksgiving. To me, the kids’ meal that Snoopy and Charlie and Linus prepared IS what the holiday is all about: gathering with your friends/loved ones and enjoying what you have before you.

Other than watching Snoopy’s antics with Woodstock, I think the best part of the special is when all the kids are singing Over the River and Through the Woods in their off-key and inharmonious way. Also because it’s at the end of this not-so-well-done program. I’m sorry, Chuck. I love ya, but they can’t all be winners.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope your feast is belittling-free and full of delicious eats, even and especially if they’re toast and popcorn.

Underdog Holiday Favorite

Well hello there.

Are you not much of a “baker?” Are you looking for something completely mind-blowingly easy to make for the holidays to share with friends that will astound them with deliciousness?

Look no more, for I am about to share with you a classic favorite that has wowed many with whom I’ve shared this recipe.

It’s actually not even a recipe from my own family; it comes from one of my mom’s best friends.

But it is a HIT and you would never guess that these little babies would rock your world–but oh, they will.

There are four ingredients and about three easy steps. Sound good? Of course it does.

——

Toasted Pecans à la Zoe Says

(This recipe can easily be doubled – and probably should be, since they’ll go fast.)

4 C. pecan halves     1/4 C. unsalted butter (same as 4T. or half a stick)
1 tsp. seasoned salt     1 tsp. aromatic bitters

If you’re wondering what the heck aromatic bitters are, it’s an elixir that can be found in most liquor aisles of a grocery store. Or you can go straight to a large liquor store, where they’ll probably have it. You can search high and low for bitters in the baking aisle but you will not find it – take it from me. It’s usually used in cocktails. And now, it’s also used to enhance toasted pecans.

Oh yeah, and if you have a nut allergy or are like my friend Meg who just thinks pecans look and taste gross (she says the wrinkles creep her out), then yeah, you won’t like these. But EVERYONE ELSE will.

——

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lay the pecans flat within a jelly roll pan or on a baking sheet that doesn’t have an open end on one side. Toast the pecan halves for 20 minutes. They will look slightly darker and your kitchen will smell awesome.

Gently melt the butter in a bowl in the microwave or over low heat on the stove until it’s liquified.

Mix together the butter, bitters and seasoned salt. Mix well! Drizzle this Magic Potion over the pecans. Toss the pecans to ensure they’re equally coated (using two spatulas is easiest).

Bake for another 15 minutes, tossing every 5-7 minutes until done.

Cool on paper towels. Amaze friends.

Note: If you are going to put these in a festive holiday tin, definitely line the tin with paper towels. It’ll prevent the tin from getting the salt and oil from the butter in it.

——

Did I take illustrative photos? Naturally.

You know what melted butter looks like. I just like my little French bowl.

The festiveness is killing me.

The Lustre of Mid-Day (to Objects Below)

Happy Feast of St. Nicholas! I don’t know about you but before researching this a little bit, I had never seen a photo of St. Nick before. So here you go.

Bam!

The lean and holy Saint Nicholas (pre fat and jolly Santa).

If you want to read a very in-depth back story, click here where this other blogger has laid it out so nicely for us.

The real question is…did anyone receive any coins or chocolates in their shoes this morning?

I don’t know about you guys, but when I was a kid, December 6 helped to build up our anticipation of Christmas Day even more because my mom liked to have us participate in the ritual of putting a shoe out by the front door. In the morning, we’d run to check it and we’d usually have “gold” (chocolate) coins and a few other candies stuffed inside our shoes.

In our chocolate induced haze, we came to associate St. Nick with Santa Claus, though I never really understood the motivation behind having the mini Christmas (or “feast”) versus everything we did on Christmas Day. Wikipedia does a nice job of filling in some holes, though.

Now that I’m all grown up, I’m not currently celebrating the chocolate-in-the-shoe thing but I definitely reflected briefly with a hint of excitement that Christmas is getting closer and closer (and if I were a kid, I’d have enjoyed some chocolate with breakfast…or for breakfast).

Instead, I’m using the Feast of St. Nicholas to do a quick Zoe Recommends. I thought the St. Nick’s day thing would be a fun segue. Today’s Zoe Recommends is…a sunrise clock! It helps to make your room glow with “the lustre of mid-day to objects below,” a line I snagged from the classic poem Twas the Night Before Christmas, which features our boy St. Nick, just in case anyone hadn’t clued in on that.

What’s a sunrise clock, you say? It’s a lamp which you set to go off at a certain time in the morning and for about a half hour, the light goes from very dim to very bright (you set the highest bright setting) and the natural “rising” of the “sun” helps to wake you up more naturally than traditional alarm clocks that we all want to throw through a wall every morning.

Some sunrise clocks look like this:

And others look like this (including mine):

I don’t know if all sunrise lamps come with sounds but mine will not just use the light, it forces you to choose an ambient noise, such as birds chirping or meditation sounds or the radio. I choose the meditation sounds because they’re repetitive but not awful and between them and the light, I much more easily awaken in the morning, especially in the winter when the sun doesn’t come out until after 7 o’clock.

Both Kevin and I have found it sooo much easier to wake up in the mornings with this little baby. We’re in better moods upon getting out of bed (most of the time) and we’re not as aware of the pitch blackness going on outside.

Our sunrise clock is the gift that keeps on giving, year after year, day after day, Feast of St. Nicholas to Feast of St. Nicholas. It’s the new chocolate/gold coins in my shoe.

Paying Homage to Pretty

So even though I usually keep the photo posts over on my photo blog, I wanted to share a little bit over here because that’s how much I love staring at pretty, sparkly, lit up Christmas trees.

I think the pagans were right on the mark with this whole tree idea.

Even at this very moment, my tree is sitting lit behind me and I keep turning around to look at its pretty lights and the reflections on the ornaments. Having a beautifully decorated Christmas tree helps to make up for not having a fireplace or mantel, something I grew up with and adored. (Someday….!)

Below are one picture I slated for Zoe Says and another from Flickr that I’m linking here because I couldn’t decide which look I loved most. Ah, the magic of editing software.

However, if you want to see more, because obviously I took lots of different shots from different angles and processed them differently, go here or here.

What are your favorite holiday decorations? (We have stockings up, too, but they pale in comparison to the tree.)

Tree Triptych

B-Y-O-L: A Peccadillo Story

I’m about to share both a quirk of mine and an awesome way to enhance what will hopefully be your already-kickass Thanksgiving dinner.

Ready?

Set.

Lemon!

No but seriously, that’s it. I don’t even remember how many years ago now I discovered that lemon on top of my Thanksgiving dinner was delicious but it is a tradition I will not forgo.

If I have Thanksgiving dinner without freshly squeezed lemon juice on top of my turkey, stuffing, and [insert green here – usually broccoli], the meal is kind of ruined. I know, it sounds drastic. But have you ever squeezed lemon onto turkey or stuffing?

Broccoli and greens are kind of a given (unless it’s something like green been casserole, which I wouldn’t eat, and then I can’t say for sure) but lemon juice on the dressing/stuffing is SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD.

I repeat: soooooooooooooo goooooooooooooooooooooood!

People like my  mother and aunt think I’m a freak show and that the lemon is “ruining” the flavors of Thanksgiving. Nay! It just brings out all the delicious flavors and textures in my mind. But I have such a penchant for tart and sour flavors, which is why I love anything vinegary, as well.

My brother is also a big fan of adding lemon to his dinner. We have to chop up at least three because there’s a lot of lemon squeezing happening at the table.  (Oh, and if anyone is wondering, “What about the cranberry sauce?” it’s a moot point for me because I don’t eat cranberry sauce.)

I have one or two friends who have begrudgingly admitted that it’s pretty dang tasty, which it is. But it’s not a Must Have for their dinners, whereas it’s do or die time when it comes to lemon and my holiday meal.

To recap:

I'm so crafty.

And, when I’m not having Thanksgiving dinner at my family’s house, as is the case this year, it’s all about BYOL: bring-your-own-lemon. (I’m not even exaggerating. I will be bringing my own Special Thanksgiving Dinner Lemon. I will not risk there not being any for the table.)

What are your mealtime traditions? Any oddball ones like mine?

Last but not least: Happy Thanksgiving!!

Who Decided Peppermint is the Flavor of Christmas?

The above question is not rhetorical. I would really, really like to know.

So if any of you fine readers out there have a conspiracy theory or an actual fact for me, I’d love to hear it. In lieu of knowing the answer, I’ll pose the question a different way, phrasing it around my own personal unsubstantiated hypothesis:

When the heads of food companies get together to strategize on just how to brainwash the masses with the next food trend, how did they decide that peppermint should be the ubiquitous flavor of the holiday season?

Peppermint is on my “Not a Huge Fan of” taste list. There are exactly five things I can withstand with peppermint/wintergreen/menthol crème de menthe:

  • Breath mints and gum
  • Thin Mints (also known as Grasshoppers, made by those wonderful Keebler Elves; they also make Samoas that aren’t Samoas, in case any of you are still keeping up with my Girl Scout Cookies in Disguise)
  • Andes Mints (pretty much the only chocolate/mint candy I find that balances the chocolate and mint JUST right)
  • Toothpaste

I don’t “do” Mojitos, peppermint candy canes are only for decoration in my mind (though the cherry ones are amaaaaaaziiiiiiing!), I will not deign to eat the round peppermint candy after-dinner-mints, and I’m unsure why peppermint flavored lip gloss is so popular, but it is. (I think it has to do with the lip plumping. Or maybe that it’s the most effective way to make something taste like candy without it being too childish, as is the case with watermelon flavored things.)

Is mint a wintertime thing? Does the cooling sensation remind us of snow? I guess that’s where York Peppermint Patties got their whole shtick.

And also, is it just me or does anyone else have difficulty drinking water after eating anything minty? I never know how long I’m going to have to wait before I can consume liquids again.

Some people jump for joy at the release of Everything Mint come November but I’m finding it more challenging to get to the regular, non-minty holiday candy. Just today, I went to go get a favorite holiday staple of mine: the red, green, and silver Hershey’s Kisses.


Sorry, a little nostalgia break.

In my search for the plain old, delicious, nothing-extra-just-chocolate-Kisses, I came upon a WALL of peppermint candy. At the bottom of this post are just TEN examples of the bags of candy proudly put on display. It’s like the peppermint candy went through some kind of population explosion. It’s seriously crazy. My jaw was slightly slack while I snapped the photos with my phone. (I may have looked a little daft at Walgreen’s.)

Even my friend who was with me was surprised at all the inventive ways that candy companies are making peppermint more enticing. Is there just some huge stash of mint laying around somewhere that needs to be used up? Do the mint farmers have something with which to blackmail the food companies?

Maybe I’m in alone in this and it’s just a popular flavor that everyone else digs but me. I can name a handful of flavors I love to enjoy during the holidays, but peppermint ain’t one.

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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!