Dec 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

I'm just stopping in quickly today to wish everybody a very merry Christmas! We will have a big, traditional Danish Christmas Eve celebration tonight with family, and continue the festivities into tomorrow after Santa visits Max. I'm SO excited for all of it.

As promised, here's a peek at our Christmas tree (more info here about our adventures in tree-land)! And I also wanted to show you my very favorite new piece of holiday decor, the bunting I purchased from etsy seller Mimi Article. It says Merry Christmas in Danish and makes me smile everyday. It's something that I will love to pass down to our kids one day so they don't forget about their Danish roots!

You may notice that our den looks a little different ... I'll share more details about that soon!


Dec 21, 2012

December Cookie of the Month: Gingerbread!

I'm in love with this simple, delicious gingerbread cookie recipe that made our whole house smell like Christmas: Big Soft Ginger Cookies via Ben has really been talking up his love for gingerbread cookies this holiday season (I never knew this about him!), so I decided to take a stab at the beloved classic.

I consulted my 'Joy of Cooking,' then did a quick google search, and decided to try this recipe out based on the rave reviews. My goal? To end up with chewy, soft ginger-y cookies. The verdict? This recipe's a winner! Some cookies are all about texture, and this recipe nailed it - a little crunch on the outside, a little bounce on the inside. These tasty delights had just the right kick of spice, too - you could taste the ginger, but it wasn't too strong to keep Max from repeatedly stealing them off the counter!

Max was my ever helpful assistant. He's awesome at stacking measuring cups, dumping ingredients into the bowl and inspecting my mixtures. Stirring is another of his specialties, along with banging forks on the counter like a super professional hibachi chef. Do I have a future gourmet chef on my hands? Perhaps.

I won't even pretend to offer any insight into why these came out so perfectly - all I did was follow the recipe exactly (my only alteration was swapping in Earth Balance non-dairy spread instead of margarine, since this pregnancy has left me sadly lactose intolerant).

Here are the only real tidbits I can offer you...

{1} Per some recipe reviews, I pressed my cookies to about 1/2" thick and they baked up to the perfect size. I cooked them for exactly eight minutes. No more, no less. And I left them to cool on the pan for five minutes before moving to a cooling rack (although every fiber of my being was screaming that I should immediately eat them).

{2} I baked half the dough immediately and half after two days in the fridge - my fresh dough actually came out a little better as far as texture was concerned. Maybe I should have let the refrigerated dough warm up to room temperature for the best results.

{3} Several reviewers suggested substituting the water with orange juice. I meant to try this and forgot, darn! But I bet it would be a tasty little switcheroo. Let me know if you try it!

Anyway, just go check out this recipe, you won't be disappointed!

Dec 18, 2012

Getting Minted, that is. I'm not usually one to call out brands or companies, but my experience with Minted was so fabulous that I have to share a little review here. (I'm not getting paid for this, I'm just a happy customer!)

One of my first orders of business once our lovely new computer arrived last week was to place an order for holiday cards. I had a slew of Max photos to sort through and edit, and it took me days to decide which one to use, and which of the many photo card websites I would order from. I'm a longtime Shutterfly fan; other contenders were Paper Culture and Tiny Prints (which is now a subsidiary of Shutterfly). I've seen samples from all of these sites, and each company offers good quality prints and card stock. My personal style just gelled with Minted best and that was how I finally made my decision. Their cards are slightly more expensive than the basic card options on sites like Shutterfly, but since I'm a graphic design nerd, to me it was worth the money to get something I love (plus their basic card stock is thicker and higher quality than average). And we didn't need to order a ton of cards, which helped keep the cost manageable. Here's a peek at some of their charming holiday card designs:

Once I completed my order, I was surprised to see a message pop up saying that included with my order was free - yes, free - address labeling. {I'm not sure if this is offered year-round or if it's just for the holidays.} All I had to do was upload an excel document of my Christmas card recipients and Minted will print the addresses right onto the envelopes. Score! Already the extra cost was paying off in the form of valuable saved time :)

Also included is a proof of your design, created and reviewed by a graphic designer. My proof arrived in my inbox the next morning with a note saying there were some concerns about the quality of my photo, and that I should try a test print to see if I was happy with it. Just my luck, our printer recently bit the dust (talk about a technology fail at our house lately!), so I called and was thrilled when I was put on the phone with a real, live designer. She spent ten minutes chatting photo quality with me, printing off the card herself, and advising me on my options.

I eventually opted to go with a different photo but also wanted to change up my entire card design, and to my amazement she canceled my order with no problem and allowed me to create a new card with the same promotional discount I had already used. This is a company that would rather see you happy than cut corners or give customers a hard time for uploading a photo that didn't quite work. Here's the photo in question ... sadly it had some grainy patches so it got the axe ... although I do see a frame in our house in its future! Never fear, I had another equally cute photo ready to swoop in and save the day! I'll share it once our cards have gone out ... don't want to ruin the surprise for anybody ;)

The much-anticipated cards should be arriving any day now, and I'm eagerly awaiting that delivery! I'll follow up to let you guys know if the print quality is all I'm expecting from this (so far) great company. Check them out if you haven't already - it's a truly design and quality-driven site that's fun to browse even if you don't need to buy anything.

And since it just seems wrong to do a blog post without at least one more photo, here is Max meeting Santa over the weekend. We went to Cheekwood Art & Gardens, a favorite spot of ours, and made a morning of it. Max had a blast decorating Christmas cookies, checking out the live reindeer and having fun with my mom, but when the moment came to meet Santa ... well, you can see he wasn't thrilled. Luckily he still loves Santa Claus and wasn't traumatized :) On a side note, isn't that the best looking Santa ever? Totally authentic as far as I'm concerned!

Dec 13, 2012

I'm Baa-aack! With a Tale of Many Trees!

New computer? Check!
340 fresh photos uploaded from camera? Check!
Lots of catching up to do? Check!

After a six-week blogging hiatus due to the unfortunate demise of our old laptop, it's hard to know where to begin now. I've still got some photo editing to do, and the holidays have been keeping me busy ... so let's just start with one of our recent adventures: our trip to a Christmas tree farm!

For weeks I've been talking about finding a local farm and cutting down our own tree. We started reading Max Christmas books and I tried to explain to him how we'd be selecting our very own tree and decorating it. Max is old enough to grasp these concepts this year, which has made the holidays beyond fun. I should note that the tree plan was hatched entirely by me. Ben was skeptical, with visions of Max and I sitting back and watching (or laughing?) as Ben did the hard labor of sawing down a tree and lugging it back to the car.

Lucky for him, the farm we went to, Country Cove, had a limited selection of small-ish trees available for cutting (they were in between crops and should have more next year), so we ended up selecting a pre-cut fir tree they had brought in from North Carolina. In spite of not cutting the tree ourselves, we still had a blast wandering among the lovely trees, soaking up the smell of a country bonfire, drinking hot cider, and showing Max the tractors. Max was obsessed with the young trees, most of which were just his height ("lil baby trees!" was his refrain of the day).

Our intention was to get a tree that was eight feet tall or less, but in person those just didn't look big enough for our vaulted den (famous last words), so we boldly opted for one that measured 8 1/2 feet. Well the tree we drove home with was a monster, let me tell you. We just didn't know it until we got home and carried it inside. There were a few tense moments when we snipped off the netting and that behemoth popped open. We seriously weren't sure if we could make it work, and in a wild moment of panic I even suggested trying to sell it on Craigslist and get a smaller one. But soon enough Ben and I were laughing hysterically at ourselves. We've named this our 'Christmas Vacation' tree, after my favorite Christmas movie (you know what I'm talking about!) in which the family's tree is squished up against the ceiling and bursting through the windows.

Well I love our wacky tree now, and we'll surely never forget our first real Christmas tree with Max! And who can complain when you have that fresh pine aroma filling the house? I haven't had a chance to get around to my photos of the tree in action, but I promise you'll see it before the holidays are over!

Here's me at the tree farm, 18 weeks pregnant and feeling mostly (but not entirely) over the nauseau and sleepiness of the first trimester. It will pass soon, I just know it ;)

In the meantime, we are feeling the holiday spirit around here, blasting Christmas music nonstop and adding little decorations here and there every day. 'Tis the season!