Sunday, January 8, 2012

Taking a Break...

After much consideration and way too much thinking, I've decided to take a break from writing this blog. It's been a lot of fun and I greatly appreciate all who read regularly but for now, I want to focus on other things. I've always said that when something stops being fun and becomes an obligation and, unfortunately, for now, that's the case with this blog.

This is not to say I won't be back. It's not to say I won't have an urgent need to inflict my babblings on the world again sometime soon but, for now, I'm going to keep my writing focused on my novels.

If and when I come back, I promise to let you know. In the meantime, thank you all so much for coming to my site, for reading, commenting and letting me know you enjoy what I have to say.

Signing off for now....


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Vacation...Hurrah!

As of tomorrow, I’m officially on vacation. I’m quite excited about that. It’s nice to have time away from the office.

This week leading up to my vacation hasn’t been quite as festive as I’d have liked due to the impairment of my tastebuds and ability to smell the gingerbread/pepperminty scents of the season. However, I’m recovering my senses slowly and defeating this pesky cold.

On the plus side, I still have been able to get all my festive activities completed. I did finally build the gingerbread house, believe it or not. It actually wasn’t nearly as hard as I remember though actually a lot messier. It turns out that it’s all to do with the consistency of the icing. All these years, I’ve been making it too runny. You’d have think I’d have figured it out before this but, finally, I realized if I make the icing very thick, it sticks better and dries faster. Granted, this epiphany occurred after almost drowning in a cloud of powdered sugar. Note to readers: If you’re going to use a bowl that’s too small for all of the powdered sugar, don’t accidentally put the hand mixer on high when you first start mixing the sugar with the water. This induces a rather large cloud that is hazardous to ones breathing apparatus.

Once I got my house standing, it was a piece of cake to decorate it (pun intended). My only disappointment was that the kit only had three types of candy to decorate the house and the picture on the box showed a lot more. I tried to get creative but at some point, I had to concede, when you stick candy on a prefabricated gingerbread house, it still sort of looks like you stuck candy on the gingerbread house. In my mind, I always envision one of those beautiful, immaculate Hansel and Gretel type houses with the perfectly placed icicles, candy cane pathways and everything else you see in catalogues and magazines. In reality, it’s a slightly splotchy, drippy gingerbread house with gumdrops stuck on it. I did manage to pipe a design on the roof but it dripped a little and instead of having a perfectly symmetrical artistically swirled roof that matched on both sides, I had a bit of a Jackson Pollock thing going on.

Nevertheless, the gingerbread house stands. I was triumphant. Next year, I shall try not to suffer from Gingerbread House Amnesia and will not invest in kit. We’ll see if I remember that when I’m feeling the need to dive into Christmas.

I also got all my gifts wrapped. I managed to bake cookies although next year, I’m using a cookie press. I wanted to make these German cookies that my grandmother used to make. They’re hazelnut cookies that are piped onto baking sheets and baked. I managed to get the recipe right but the piping was not quite so successful. The dough was rather stiff and my disposable decorating bags didn’t hold up very well. I managed to get them done but I used up quite a few decorating bags as well as having to resort to cutting the corner off a Ziploc bag and using that. Next year, I think it’ll be worth using a cookie press instead.

Tomorrow, I head to my parents for a while where I’ll spend Christmas and New Years. I’m hoping it all goes smoothly. My dad has a new puppy who is rather adorable. Unfortunately, my own pups aren’t very fond of her. Sookie, especially, does not like the new puppy to come near me. I didn’t realize quite how possessive of me she was until last weekend when she got rather upset every time the new pup came near me. I’m clearly HER person. I’m hoping that since the puppy won’t be quite so new and unfamiliar that my girls will be a little more accepting this weekend. Unfortunately, you can’t lecture dogs on the spirit of Christmas because they just look up at you like you’re demented. Yes, I have tried and yes, I have firsthand knowledge of that look.

We’ll see how it all goes. Regardless, I’m ready to submit fully to the season. Since this will be the last blog until after Christmas, I’d like to wish every one of you a safe and happy Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Colds Stink!

I have a cold.

I hate having a cold. I generally only get one cold a year. Usually it's around Thanksgiving. This year, I triumphantly passed Thanksgiving in full healthy.

Then, about a week ago, I started getting that scratchy feeling in your throat that you know is the precursor to a cold. I started eating more oranges. I started regularly popping my gummi vitamins that have echinacea and zinc in them. I know these ingredients have not been proven to fight colds but psychologically, they work for me and that's good enough.

It seemed to be working. I got to take my mum out for her gourmet birthday meal and had the luxury of having my taste buds unhindered by a cold and I enjoyed it.

And then, the next day, I woke up with a golf-ball in my throat and a stuffy nose. It was downhill from there.

The thing with colds is that it's hard to argue that you're sick because, well, it's just a cold. Even when it's a lousy cold, it's still just a cold. Just because your taste buds are numb, your nose won't stop running and you develop a cough that won't stop annoying you, you still only have a cold.

Still, colds are horrible things. I hate them. I especially hate this one because it arrived during my very favourite week of the year and has made my Christmas fesivities a little damped. Instead of drinking mulled mead or mulled wine, I'm drinking...tea. Lots of tea. I'm eating soup instead of cheese and crackers and I'm generally not feeling too much like decking the halls.

It doesn't help that I was banished from my office yesterday. One croak from me and I was soon treated like Typhoid Mary. I ended up being sent home to work in fear that I'd infect everyone else. One of my coworkers is off to Mexico for Christmas with her family and she most certainly doesn't want a cold to take with her.

Thus, I was banished today as well. It hasn't been so bad. It's rather nice to work from home, honestly. It's just a little, well, hard to work. It's nice to have the dogs to keep me company though. Rory, in particular, seems rather concerned regarding my coughing fits and stares at me worriedly until I'm done. Then she comes and presses up against me which is her way of wanting me to cuddle her. It's very sweet. It's also a bit of a treat to work with the dogs on my lap even if it is a little hard to work.

On the plus side, it was nice to take it easy today. I know I'll be feeling better tomorrow which means I will be back in the office. Even if my coworkers don't like it, they'll have to deal with it. I'm out on Friday for vacation so I figure I should at least show my face in the office a little this week.

It just stinks having a cold. That's all I have to say. I'm hoping that all my tea with honey drinking and my vitamin C shovelling may make this nasty virus go away and that I'll feel a little more Christmas cheer tomorrow especially as I want to do some baking and baking while having a cold is not as much fun as don't have a cold.

As I always think, you can let the cold win or you can beat the cold. I've let the cold have two days of making me miserable. I'm taking control tomorrow. It's been rather nice working in the comfort of my home but it's time to get back to reality.

At least for two more days. Besides, I have mead to drink!

Happy Wednesday!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Thrill of the Wait

I love this time of year. In previous blogs, I've mentioned how I love Christmas Eve far more than Christmas Day because I love the anticipation. I've always been like that. I think I enjoy the excitement and build up of many things in life far more than I enjoy the actual event.

I think it's the thrill of what might be rather than what something actually is that I like. In many cases, the actual event is everything I hoped, sometimes even more but still, the thrill of the waiting and the hope and anticipation is still something I appreciate.

That's why I love this time of year. I'm fully allowed to indulge in everything Christmas-y because Christmas is close. There's exactly a week until Christmas day and this whole next week gets to be a full on Christmas celebration. It's the countdown until the actual event and it's the best time to buy last minute gifts, bake, wrap, watch holiday movies and, best of all, eat.

I usually spend Christmas with my parents. This year will be no exception. I'll spend the 23rd through January 2nd with them. However, before I leave, I get to do lots of Christmasy things at home. I do need to build that darn gingerbread house but I also want to bake, wrap and watch Christmas movies. It's just too bad that I have to work because I have rather a lot of stuff I could be doing instead of working. However, since working pays the bills and funds my Christmas activities, it's a bit of a catch-22.

Still, I can enjoy the anticipation of Christmas and a vacation in the meantime. The week before Christmas is usually fun at work because no one really wants to be in the office. Some of the staff will already be out and those that are left tend to be a little less dedicated. There's usually treats to be had. There's fun conversation and, best of all, everyone finds a reason to slide out a little early which ends up being fine because most offices are the same way which means no one gets any work done after 4 p.m.

So even though we have to work, it's not so bad. It's nice to go home, have a nice evening and know that there are only a couple of days left before a much-needed vacation. It makes it easier. Also, the anticipation of a vacation is pretty much the same as the anticipation of Christmas: just as much fun because there's a reward at the end of it.

It's worth waiting for like so many things. I finally got my snow this weekend. Granted, I had to visit my parents to get it but since it was a great visit, I can't complain. I took my mum out to Joseph Decuis- a fabulous restaurant in the unlikely location of Roanoke, Indiana. It was expensive as good restaurants are but since every bite was worth it, I certainly didn't mind the check at the end. It's the type of place you want to do well so it survives and continues to maintain its excellence but also the type of place you don't want to do SO well that it because too trendy and gets so busy it becomes difficult to get a reservation if that makes any sense.

The fantastic meal was topped off by a lovely snowfall as we were driving home. I'd say that was pretty much the perfect topping to a wonderful evening. Granted, mum doesn't agree but, well, she enjoyed her meal so she wasn't as unhappy about it as she might have been.

Still, now the snow has melted. There's the possibility we might have a white Christmas. I'm going to hope, wear my snowflake necklace and keep my fingers crossed. Even if it doesn't snow, the hope and anticipation that it might is still quite fun.

I'll just be a little disappointed if it doesn't!

Happy Monday!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Where Are You, Snow?

I’m very disappointed that we haven’t really had any snow this year. We’ve had a mere flurry or two that lasted less than an hour. It’s been so warm that even if it has flurried, it’s gone as soon as it lands.

I know there are readers of my blog who don’t share my disappointment- yes, mother, I am talking to you- but I can’t help but be a little sad that the world around me has yet to be covered with a soft white carpet and I can have my annual “YAY, it’s snowing” mug of peppermint hot chocolate.

The thing is, it hasn’t really even been that cold yet. We’ve had a few cold days but mostly, it’s been rather mild. Yesterday, for example, it was 63 degrees.

I like 63 degrees in the autumn. I like it in the spring. It’s quite nice even in the summer when it gives you a break from the hot summer days.

It’s just that, well, there are ten days until Christmas and it’s just too…warm!

One of the novelties I always found about California when I lived there is that I’d go Christmas shopping in Santa Monica and it would be 68 degrees, warm and sunny about a week before Christmas. I used to smugly think of my family and friends back in the Midwest who were usually in the middle of a frigid spell and bask in the novelty of the warm weather. Of course, I wouldn’t have been so smug if I hadn’t known that I’d be flying back to the Midwest in a few days and I’d get to experience the cold weather.

I was spoiled, you see. I got to come home for the holidays and enjoy a taste of winter but go back to a place where it rarely gets below 45 degrees.

Yet I missed my snow. I missed the days when it was too cold to do anything but wrap up in a blanket, make a mug of tea and sit on the sofa watching movies, reading a book and enjoying the fact that winter gave me an excuse to be lazy.

I won’t wax poetical on why I love snow. All you have to do is search my blogs for the mention of “snow” and you’ll see that I’ve already waxed poetical on the stuff. I’m not just a fickle fan of snow- liking it to fall at Christmas because it’s tradition and then wanting it to go away. I’m a real fan of snow. I like it when it snows and I like it when it sticks around. The only time I don’t like it if it’s worn out its welcome in April and is stepping on the toes of spring or when it’s really messing with my life and being rude which usually means the roads are terrible but not terrible enough for me to be able to stay home, my icescraper doesn’t work or it’s not really snow- it’s ice which is a total different thing.

No, I’d like to see a little gentle snowfall now. It’s time. I’m a traditionalist. I’d like a white Christmas. Also, it feels rather wrong to go outside and have it be warm and balmy when you’re in Ohio in December, only ten days away from Christmas.

I’ve even tried wearing my snowflake necklace. It is actually working its magic but it seems to be a little broken because the magic is working for my parents, two and a half hours north, not for me. Each time I’ve worn it, they’ve seemed to have an unexpected snowfall. The first time I wore it, they were supposed to have a warm day with a little rain. They ended up having a cold day and got four inches of snow.

I’m annoyed. I like my snowflake necklace a lot but I’d like it to bring ME snow! Perhaps this is wrong but, well, I like my snow, as I’ve mentioned quite a few times already.

Still, I suppose I should just do the right thing and appreciate this warm spell. In two months, I’ll probably be dreaming of warm days where I don’t have to wear five layers of clothes, sleep under a heavy comforter and have two dogs with freezing noses fighting to warm them on any exposed part of my body they can find.

It’s just…hard. I mean, I’m listening to Christmas music in my car when I drive and it just doesn’t feel the same knowing that it’s warm outside.

Still, this time of year, I shouldn’t be selfish. Not everyone loves snow or even likes it and so they’re probably getting an early Christmas wish.

But I’m still going to wear my snowflake necklace anyway.

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Unfestive Dogs and Gingerbread House Amnesia

My dogs don’t seem to be quite as fond of Christmas as I am.

It started with the tree. I think my dogs wondered why their ‘mother’ was putting up a fake tree in the house and hanging things on it. They might have preferred a real tree but really, unless it had a squirrel in it, they probably wouldn’t like that either.

They didn’t like the tree going up it an activity that took up rather a lot of time in the evening which meant I wasn’t sitting on the sofa where they could cuddle up next to me. Also, the tree was DIFFERENT and, well, my dogs don’t like DIFFERENT. My dogs like their routine. This is why whenever I get home from work, it is time for a walk regardless of whether it’s bucketing down with rain or not. This is also why when they don’t get said walk due to the torrential rain, they sulk.

My dogs don’t like it when I bake. They mope if I’m in the kitchen because, again, I’m not paying any attention to them. My sense is that they seem to feel that while I am home, it is their canine right to have my full attention. When they don’t get it, they are not happy pups.

I’ve been baking quite a lot lately. Well, I’ve been in the kitchen a lot anyway, not necessarily just baking. The only time that the pups don’t seem to mind when I’m cooking is when it involves cheese. My girls love their cheese. I might have mentioned this. Rory, in particular, is rather partial to the more expensive types of cheese like parmigiano reggiano and gruyere. I know, I know…I shouldn’t give them cheese but…I do anyway. Just not that much.

They love cheese so much that they can actually tell when I’m getting my grater out of the cupboard. This may sound like I’m exaggerating but whenever I reach up to pull out the box grater, there are suddenly two pleading little dachshunds staring up at me whereas moments before, they were in the other room.

So, even though they don’t like it when I’m in the kitchen a lot, they don’t mind when it involves cheese.

However, they also don’t like it when I write Christmas cards. This is also an activity that means I’m not sitting on the couch with them. They don’t like it when I wrap gifts either. Not only am I still not cuddling with them but, also, I’m on the floor where they like to play and there’s a mess of which they don’t approve.

I have several other Christmas activities planned over the next week or two. One involves making a gingerbread house. I bought a kit because when it first becomes permissible to start diving into Christmas without seeming too premature, gingerbread houses seem like a lovely seasonal thing. I mean, gingerbread houses are a little symbol of Christmas festivity, are they not? I love gingerbread. I love houses. The combination seems pretty nifty when it comes in a neato kit with a carrying handle and you have a 50% off coupon.

The problem is that, well, they’re way better in theory than reality. Well, perhaps I should say, they’re way better in the picture on the box and in the images in your head than what generally manifests when you actually try to build one. I know that some of my readers are a lot…craftier than I am and thus may not be able to relate to the trials and tribulations of my former attempts to build gingerbread houses. However, I’ve built a few in the past. I always use kits because frankly I’m too lazy to bake them myself.

These kits usually involve making icing that theoretically should glue the house together. You have to get the icing exactly right otherwise it doesn’t work. And, actually, even if you get it right, it still doesn’t really work. I remember the time I assisted my friend’s son with his gingerbread house. My friend was also building a gingerbread construction with her other son- this was a tree that, essentially, was just a bunch of cookies stacked on top of one another. Our house, on the other hand, proved to be so problematic and the icing so un-gluelike that we literally resorted to duct tape to hold the blasted thing together while it dried. I’m not proud of this. Also, the duct tape did not work. We eventually got some semblance of a house that was standing and we covered the worst parts with lots of candy to hide the problems.

I should have learned from that experience and yet, two years later, I tried another gingerbread construction. This was a little more successful in that I eventually got the house to hold together. However, it did involve multiple dives across the counter to catch the walls as they fell and having to re-build it. Nevertheless, I did end up with a somewhat decent looking house. It just involved rather a lot of colourful adjectives every time I had to save it from collapsing.

I should have learned from THAT experience. Unfortunately, I think I simply suffer from Gingerbread House Amnesia. This is a condition that kicks in at the start of every Christmas season and manifests itself whenever I’m standing in front of a display of gingerbread houses. The amnesia causes me to say “Aw, fun!” instead of “HELL, NO!” and I end up buying a kit.

Then the kit sits in my house. One night, I will think, “time to make the house”. I’ll open the box and pull out that evil bag of icing that will be the glue. Then I’ll put the icing back in the box and put the kit away. This usually happens at least once.

I do eventually make the gingerbread house. I just haven’t done so when I’ve had the dogs. I’m hoping this effort will be slightly smoother than my last ones merely because I get a little mean and crotchety when things don’t go according to plan and I tend to yell a bit. The poor dogs have witnessed this many a time whether it involves my building IKEA furniture, laying down floor tiles, trying to decorate my clock for Christmas with a string of festive berries and knocking the clock off the wall or trying to get a picture on my wall to stay straight. I hate that I do get mean and that I shout but it’s a coping mechanism. It’s rather akin to, say, dropping a hammer on your foot and saying the f-word rather loudly. You can’t really stop it- it’s a reflex reaction. I have dropped a hammer on my foot a couple of times, in case you were wondering.

Anyway, I am eventually going to build this gingerbread house. I just don’t think it will be tonight. Tonight I will wrap more gifts which will not make my dogs happy but it might be a little safer for them than the gingerbread house.

I think they actually like it better when I watch Christmas movies because then, at least, I’m doing what they want which is staying still long enough for them to bury their cold noses in my lap and get comfortable.

It’s even better when I have cheese.

Happy Wednesday and thanks for reading!(And Happy Birthday to my lovely mum and best friend, Saz!)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Gingerbread Cake with Caramel Syrup and Vanilla Whipped Cream

For the Cake:


• 8 tablespoons of butter
• 1/2 cup of sugar
• 1 cup of Lyle's golden syrup***
• 2 eggs
• 2 1/2 cups of flour
• 1/4 teaspoon of salt
• 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda
• 1 1/4 teaspoons of ground ginger
• 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
• 1 cup of water

(***This is a British thing- if you're in the States and don't have access to golden syrup, you can use maple syrup of agave syrup though, on occasion, you can find golden syrup at TJ Maxx!)

Instructions:Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

1. Cream butter and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy.
2. Warm the syrup slightly in the microwave until runny- about 25 seconds should do it.
3. Beat syrup into the creamed butter/sugar.
4. Add eggs to mixture and beat well.
5. Sift flour, baking soda, salt, ginger and cinnamon together and stir into the cream mixture.
6. Add the water slowly and stir until smooth.
7. Pour batter into a well-greased loaf pan and bake for 45-60 minutes- whenever a skewer comes out clean.
8. Leave to cool in tin and turn onto a cooling rack when cooled. It's best reheated just a tad when you serve with the caramel sauce and whipped cream.

Easy Caramel Sauce (Warning- this isn't healthy in any way but SO tasty!)


• 1 cup of sugar
• 6 tablespoons of butter
• 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream


1. Before you begin, make sure you have all ingredients measured out and close by. This process is super fast and if you're not ready, it won't work right!
2. Melt sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan by heating on moderately high heat and stirring constantly once it starts to melt. As soon as it starts getting soft, this is when you want to start stirring. A wooden spoon works best. Don't stop until the sugar comes to a boil. If you stop stirring, it will burn.
3. As soon as all of the sugar has melted, the sugar should be dark amber. Add all of the butter and stir until melted.
4. As soon as butter melts, immediately remove pan from heat. Once pan has been set down somewhere cool, add the cream to the pan and stir constantly. The mixture will bubble up. Keep stirring.
5. Whisk until sauce is smooth and let cool for a few minutes.
6. Pour sauce into a glass container and let cool to room temperature. It will be hot at this point so be very careful.
8. Sauce stores in the fridge for up to a week and re-liquifies when heated in the microwave for about 35 seconds.

Vanilla Whipped Cream


• 1 cup of heavy whipping cream
• 1-2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract depending on how vanilla-y you want it.


(Note: I have a nice stand mixer which makes this very easy. However, before I had a nice stand mixer, I had a cheap $7.99 hand mixer from Walgreens. This works too. Either way, place whatever bowl in which you're going to whip the cream in the fridge or freezer. I usually try to put it in the fridge for a few hours but if I forget, which is often, I put it in the freezer for less time.)

1. Combine cream and vanilla.
2. Beat in chilled stand mixer bowl or in a chilled normal bowl with a hand-held mixer, slowly increasing speed until you're on high. Beat cream until nice and stiff.
3. Serve.

I like to drizzle some sauce on the cake, top with whipped cream and then drizzle a little more caramel on top but that's up to you.

I did mention this wasn't healthy but, well, it's a great recipe for this time of year and we can all make it our New Years' resolution not to eat like this anymore, right?