Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Holiday Adventures and Traditions

Happiest Holidays! For those who celebrate, I hope your Christmas was sparkly and cozy and happy. As we wind down on the last two days of 2020, I find myself reflective and hopeful for what 2021 can be. If nothing else, I feel I at least have my expectations set to an appropriately low and local starting place whereas 2020 began with far loftier hopes and plans for what the year would bring.
We spent Christmas with my parents in Houston. We missed them for Thanksgiving as they were quarantining after a Covid exposure, but after 6 weeks without symptoms and multiple negative Covid tests, we felt comfortable driving over to share the holiday with them. It was fun and lovely and full of all the thoughtful touches they bring to any stay, but my standout memory of the night is singing Christmas carols with my mom while FaceTiming in both sets of great-grandparents.
My mom's retirement goal was to learn piano. Breaking her arm while skiing last year delayed her a bit, but she worked hard to master a few carols before Christmas. And in a year without an in-person church service, standing around the piano and singing together is a sparkly memory in my heart.
After our fancy traditional Christmas Eve meal of flank steak, twice-baked potatoes, asparagus casserole, salad, and rolls, we changed into pj's and got ready for the gifts. Me, with nonalcoholic champagne in hand.
The gifts were, as always, thoughtful and fun. Another highlight was the fact that the kids decided to buy gifts for each other this year. I've never bought them gifts to/from each other, since it would be "from" them in name only and I loved that they decided to save up and exchange on their own. The preparation began weeks before Christmas with the saving up, requesting extra chores for extra dollars, online window shopping, agonizing over which selections their sibling would like most. And they got to feel that joyful anticipation of waiting for your gift to be opened by the recipient, you possibly more excited by them, and I loved how much they loved the giving part of the night.
They also made gifts for my parents (and James and I), as they always do. We take turns opening gifts on Christmas Eve, moving slowly from youngest to oldest and then back around again, so everyone can admire each item as we go. It's important to me that the kids see the adults giving and receiving thoughtful things from one another- it's a family holiday and everyone shares in its joys.
From James this year I got my own set of hand weights (I'd been borrowing the swim school's every time I worked out at home and they're usually outside, wet, and/or dirty, not that I've worked out once since Christmas, but that's what January is for), a beautiful set of fancy teas, two new mugs, including one that stores your tea bag alongside it, and, my favorite: a headache kit made up of every headache remedy google could find him, including the blue light glasses I'm wearing in the picture.
Other highlights of our brief stay in Houston: playing frisbee golf on an empty course on a beautiful Christmas Day, driving the golf cart to the park, playing Pickle Ball in the driveway, racing remote controlled cars around the backyard paths through the trees, learning a new card game, and eating my weight in food and sugar.
Also, my sister-in-law got me a mug with Maggie and me on it that says "World's Best Dog Mom" on the back and I love it.
After packing the car up to the rafters and hugging my parents goodbye, we returned home on Saturday and will remain here for the foreseeable future.
Unlike every year for the last eight, there will be no New Year's ski trip to Colorado to break up the winter holiday, but we're still trying to make it a fun respite from the usual grind. I've taken off work for this whole week and have very purposefully turned off my work phone so as not to casually check my email throughout my time off as I've been doing since we started working from home in March. I had no idea what a weight the dual monitors lurking in my bedroom corner had become until I turned them off and didn't preview their contents through the iPhone, so as not to log in "just to do this one thing" which then turns into five, which then turns into a lot of me telling the kids to get out of my room so I can work. I have been so very present- even in my time along with myself- in a way that I think has been really important and restorative.
Part of my goal for the break was to be purposeful with our time. This doesn't mean a packed schedule- I love a day of nothing, but I want it to be a purposeful day of nothing, not several of them in a row with me back at work feeling like we wasted our days together. So on Sunday we put away the Christmas decorations, cleaned the house, put away new things, and generally felt ready to live in the space again, and then talked as a family at dinner to make a plan for the week ahead, with one goal or activity per day.
On Monday we drove to a nearby state park to hike, picnic, and climb rocks.
I accidentally checked the weather for Houston (sunny with a high of 75!) and not Fort Worth (cloudy with a high of 52!) before we left, so I was a little chilly, but Lake Mineral Wells is a beautiful state park and the rock climbing was a great. We hardly saw a soul and enjoyed the solitude and scenery.
After two hikes we parked near a picnic area and scoped out a table. A woman at a nearby campsite yelled over, "are you guys looking to picni?" "Yep!" I yelled back, wondering if perhaps we were supposed to reserve a table. "We have shelter #3 over there on the point if you'd like to use our space, the kids would love to climb on the rocks and we're headed out on a hike."
It was the most thoughtful gesture and turns out, it was the site on the point that we'd been admiring from across the lake. The kids did love climbing on all the rocks jutting up from the lake and each picked one to eat their sandwiches on. We left them a note of thanks and headed home, with card games to play and jambalaya to make for dinner.
On Tuesday, we lounged and the kids played outside. At one point I realized I was alone in the livingroom midday and fired up the TV with Bridgerton- books I read ages ago and were surprised to see on my Netflix screen. The show is delightful and I was a little sad when my family rejoined me and I had to turn it off. Since then I've been sneaking in parts of episodes when possible, including from 6:30-8:30 this morning, with a cup of tea in a new mug, sleepy bulldog, and quiet house.
My goal for that day was to make pasties. For those who don't know, my grandma Mary is a Yooper from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and pasties (pronounced "pass-tees") are a long-held tradition there, beginning in the early 19th century when miners carried them down the mines to reheat on shovels over an open flame for lunch. They're based on the Cornish meat pie and I can't properly describe the magical combination of flaky shortcrust pastry stuffed tight with piping hot beef, potato, rutabaga, onion, and carrot. The only seasonings are salt and pepper and for reasons I can't explain, they taste AMAZING with ketchup.
Back when we used to visit my grandparents at their summer lake home in Wisconsin, we'd often drive over to my grandma's hometown of Ironwood, Michigan to see her old house and buy Yooper pasties from Joe's Pasty Shop. It's been years since we've been and I've missed the pasties so much. So, after much internet research, I became determined to make them and this became Tuesday's project. It took two stores to locate the lard and a rutabaga and the pastry cutter I'd ordered on Amazon arrived literally moments before I needed to begin.
The pastry was a bear- I've never made a shortcrust before and doubling the recipe on my first attempt probably wasn't the brighest, but despite my rolled out ovals looking more like amoebas, it came together okay. I was skeptical of the raw ground beef in the filling, but blindly followed directions anyway, adding a little pat of butter to each center as other blogs had directed me to do. I crimped the edges of each pasty most sloppily, despite my best attempts, and crossed my fingers as I cleaned up the kitchen during the cook time. These pasties are such an important memory and I didn't have any backup plans for dinner, but I need not have worried.
The were perfection. The pastry came out strong yet almost unbelievably flaky and light. The filling was tender and everything I remembered it to be. The kids were in raptures, James wanted to eat three, and I was choked up as I lifted it up and took my first bite. 12/10 highly recommend.
We have our menu planned out through January 8th and a fancy New Year's Eve charcuterie to look forward to tomorrow. Our last few New Year's have either been in Colorado or a combination of at home and partying with friends, so I thought I'd check in to see what you do for New Year's? Or what did you do once and think it would be fun to do again? Or read about, or heard a friend say? So far we have a menu of beloved appetizers and meats and cheeses, an eclectic playlist with 5 songs contributed from each person, and a list of games nominated by each family member. I got some surprise table decorations and hats for all, but would be happy to add a little something additional to the plan!

Menu: December 26 - January 8

Sat: Lemon Chicken Soup with Orzo
Sun: Slow Cooker Pea Soup (I used 6 cups of broth instead of 7; smoked turkey legs instead of ham; extra 1 tsp. of garlic powder and onion powder), corn bread.
Mon: Oven Jambalaya, steamed green beans, Red Lobster Cheddar Biscuits
Tues: Pasties!
Wed: Takeout! (on the way home from outdoor ice skating)
Thurs: Flank Steak, Charcuterie, Fruit, Raw Veggies, Crackers, Cocktail Meatballs (made into sliders with Hawaiian rolls and melted provolone cheese), and a Cookie Assortment for Dessert.
Fri: Eggs Benedict for brunch; our traditional Bermuda Hopping John for dinner (I don't have my mom's recipe written down, but this is similar!), corn bread.
Sat: Lasagna Florentine, salad, bread.
Sun: Mississippi Pot Roast (we can't stay away; also, I used a full stick of butter and I stand by that decision), mashed potatoes, cooked carrots, wheat rolls.
Mon: Chicken & Pineapple Teriyaki, carrots and broccoli, brown rice.
Tues: Taco Tuesday!, Mexican rice, black beans, toppings.
Wed: Vegetarian Chili, corn chips
Thurs: Chicken Meatballs with Peppers and Orzo, side salad.
Fri: Homemade Pizza!, possibly this Detroit style because I miss it.


  1. We ordered in caviar and lobster and plan to open some really nice champagne. I took October off from drinking with a Sober-tober challenge, after I felt like Covid had made wine a daily occurrence. It reset my tolerance, my taste buds (I no longer like red wine), and also my expectations of each day, so now I'm having a special drink (never more than 2) once a week or so, and it feels lovely.

    1. That sounds lovely! Champagne is my very favorite and I'm glad your reset has set you up to enjoy your selection tonight!

  2. We usually do appetizers for New Year's Eve, too -- typically I have one baked dip (I think this year it's going to be the Buffalo Chicken creamy dip), then meats/cheeses, veggies, crackers etc. I never had a tradition growing up (except black-eyes peas on New Year's Day), so I'm pretty much making it up as I go for my family. One year, my Mom visited and we made Forgotten Cookies -- -- put them in the oven in 2020, take them out in 2021! It was kind-of fun for New Year's, I thought. :)

    1. I have never heard of those, what a fun idea!! We may do that. We're also basically doing an appetizer spread with sliced flank steak, charcuterie spread, meatballs with rolls to make tiny sandwiches, and fruit. I love the baked dip- I need to add that next year. There's so many great ones and I so rarely get to enjoy them!

  3. One of my childhood friends' parents always had a family-friendly NYE party with a costume contest. The theme that was the most fun was "dress as a song." This was 1987 (?) and my costume was "Hungry Eyes." I wore my Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt and sunglasses with food pictures taped to the lenses. In other words, it's an easy, fun, last-minute detail to add to your party, especially if you have the eclectic playlist already arranged.

    1. SO fun! That's hilarious and I'm noting that for a future party one day...

  4. Hey LL, your pasties look amazing!! Thanks for linking to my recipe! Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to you & your family :)

    - Leigha @ The Yooper Girl

    1. THANK YOU! I feel so famous that you found me- your recipe was perfection and I promise I read every single one on the internet. My parents are going to attempt them this weekend! Happy New Year Yooper Girl!

  5. Never had many NYE traditions, but as a couple nice meals out are a big part of how we mark occasions, so this year we’re ordering in a huge meal from a favorite local restaurant that reminds us of our honeymoon, to enjoy after the baby goes to bed!

    1. I love that! Back when our kids were tiny we always made a fancy meal for post-bedtime, whether it was steak (something we never splurged on the rest of the year), or takeout, or a big charcuterie spread. We'd light candles and put on music and toast to each other and the end of one year and start of the next. I have such fond memories of those nights, even when we'd often have to get back up at 2, 3, and/or 5 am to feed those babies afterward... :).

  6. I am crossing my fingers as I've decided to make a "kid friendly" charcuterie board for my 2 and 5 year old. It'll be extra fancy with chicken nuggets, fries, fruits and some snacks :) Planning on having it served picnic style...but we'll see how much patience I have by 5pm.

    1. That is so cute!! We invited the kids to join our fancy charcuterie tradition a few years ago and they were ALL IN. They would have loved a kid-friendly one younger too, for sure. The kids also love a picnic style dinner- I find I can handle it if I spread an old sheet or blanket down first (a big one) and know I can shake out and then wash any crumbs or spills. Let's me relax and enjoy the novelty of eating on the floor (or watching the kids eat on the floor- they still talk about the times they've gotten to do that!).

  7. Thanks for sharing your meal plan--I'll have to try a few recipes. What a cool idea for your mom to learn carols. Live music makes the holidays feel really magical. My husband's been learning songs on guitar and singing songs at Hanukkah and Christmas (we celebrate both) made the holidays at home feel more special.

  8. Happy New Year! My grandparents are also from Ironwood!

  9. Our 3 kids got each other presents for the first time this year too, and it was lovely! HNY LL!

  10. I have read about pasties for years and regularly make full-sized meat pies but have always been intimidated by pasties for some reason. Your post was the push I needed to give them a try this month. I love your recipes! One of my goals this year is to try a new recipe twice a month and yours always look delicious. Thanks!

  11. Loved seeing the Pasties and now I'm trying to figure out when I can fit them into our meal plan (both my parents are and both sets of grandparents were from the UP and much of our family still lives there).