31 December 2009

the holidays are for eating

And eating, and eating, and eating.

It's a very, very, very good thing that I've kept up with my running, or I would soon be a candidate for The Biggest Loser. This year's holidays have just been entirely too delicious. And best of all, I didn't have to cook anything, and just got to kick back and enjoy the gluttony.

A sampling....

Before traveling for the holidays, my aunt Monika and uncle Jochen visited from Germany and cooked us a delicious dinner of steak with cream and wine sauce and an incredibly simple and tasty potatoes au gratin. 

Jochen and Monika at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood

First night dinner at the Bunges' home in Rockville, a gorgeous rack of lamb with Brussels sprouts made just for me (well, everyone ate some, but I was the only real sprouts lover present)

Christmas morning brunch, including homemade cinnamon rolls, breakfast potatoes, stewed apples and quiche (the quiche was devoured too quickly to make it into the photos)

Paula, crazed after doing all of that cooking (or, actually, after receiving a new knife and whetstone from us)

Nephew Jesper gets his first riding lessons from dad Henrik. Those pedals are still a bit too complicated.

At Aunt Lynette's and Uncle Roy's home in Florida, lots to snack on: divinity with nuts and Mae Mae's "trash" (a chex mix-type creation that got its name from being mixed in a big trash bag... it is irresistable)


Aunt Lynette keeps an enviably gorgeous home, and her dining table and place settings are no exception.

The family celebrated Christmas on December 28, and for the big meal, Aunt Lynette and Uncle Roy prepared a true feast -- an astonishing 12 dishes in total.... all of which were ready at the same time. (Aunt Lynette, will you please give me lessons?) The men watched the outdoor food prep, while the ladies tended to things in the kitchen.

Mae Mae watching over meal preparations inside

Uncle Roy fried one of his world famous turkeys for the main entree, on the back patio

The other men circled like vultures

Emily consulting a recipe from the Pioneer Woman cookbook

Aunt Lynette and cousins Hannah and Sarah try to stay ahead of the dishes (Hmm... I probably should have helped instead of snapping photos...)

Entree #2, Lynette's delicious brisket

Killing time, Hannah and I enjoyed her Leapfrog alphabet game

Sarah Kate in a pensive moment

Hannah shows her funny face expertise

Sarah Kate shows that she can keep up, despite her inexperience

The turkey comes out of the deep fry

A fried turkey looks a bit less modest than a roasted turkey

Carving time

Of all of the things that I have called world famous, these truly are (or should be!) -- Lynette's amazing, homemade, buttery yeast rolls

Lots of veggies and trimmings on the stove

Emily and Sarah Kate caught in the act

Cheesy green bean casserole

Delicious sweet potatoes in brown sugar vanilla sauce, green bean casserole, cheesy broccoli rice and marshmallow fruit salad (ah, memories...)

The rolls are out!

Mark is delirious with hunger

Aunt Lynette explains what all twelve (!!!) dishes are

A fully-loaded plate

"No talking. Eating."

30 December 2009

holiday party recap

December has been a busy month, and some of the best stuff is yet to come. After three trips to DC, a half marathon, our first holiday party, and separate Christmas celebrations with Mark's family and mine, we're now off to Mammoth for our first ski trip of the year. Yay!! This has become a tradition... celebrating the new year in the Eastern Sierra, usually by falling asleep over take-out and Moet around 10 p.m., and then waking up early to ski some more. It's a beautiful tradition.

In the aftermath of the half marathon, I decided to dive right in and sign up for the Green Bay Marathon in May, so we'll see if I come to regret that decision. Still, how could you not want to run a race that finishes ON LAMBEAU FIELD?! Exactly. You must run this race. Up to this point, I have kept up with my training since the half... so far, so good. (During our trip to Orlando for Xmas part II, my grandma said, "Tanja, I still just can't picture you running." She is the only one who gets it, apparently.)

But on to the holiday party....

Though it seems like so long ago, back in mid-December, we threw a fun little party. We're still struggling with the question of how to make foods look tasty in their presentation without making them look too pretty and untouchable, but we were happy overall. Some pics...

The whole table

A marzipan assortment
Lots of German Christmas cookies (thank goodness World Market now stocks Bahlsen cookies!) 

No-cook salami and hothouse cucumbers, appropriated from the Barefoot Contessa with the addition of a second type of salami (which I think made it prettier anyway)

Sweet potato Parmesan oven fries, the hit of the party

Our prettiest cheese plate to date (Admittedly, I think it's pretentious and lame to put out cheese -- it's just so typical, and makes me feel like we should also put out the New York Times and hand out Obama buttons -- but people really do like eating the cheese. You can't fight city hall.)

Well-stocked bar, not showing our two signature cocktails: Mark's world-famous holiday punch, and Tanja's candy cane cocktail (for the candy cane cocktail, we omitted the crushed candy rim, but did add a splash of simple syrup to the cocktail itself to balance things out)

Brooke wins the best dressed award

10 December 2009

the absentee hostess

I don't consider myself a party-throwing expert by any means, and am still very much evolving. That said, I have definitely learned a thing or two over the years, and our last party was a long way from my first cocktail party out of college, which involved sitting everyone in a rag-tag collection of chairs in a big circle in the living room, and feeding them bland vegetarian fare. I practically had to move to LA just to find unsuspecting new people who would be willing to come to a party I was throwing.

Despite all I have learned, though, our holiday party this weekend will be a good test of my and Mark's party-throwing abilities, since it has involved virtually no planning, and out of schedule necessities will get virtually zero prep time. With the Vegas trip, followed by Mark jetting off to Denver and Seattle for focus groups, and me jetting to DC for year-end reviews, it has been busy enough without trying to plan out a party menu. It's kind of a miracle we even got the invites out a few weeks ago.

But I got a little time in between work tasks today to lay out the menu, and here's how the rest will go down: I get home at 1 a.m. Friday night/Saturday morning, rush to bed, get up to teach 8 a.m. spinning on Saturday, and then dash to the store, dash home and start furiously prepping and cleaning for a 4 p.m. start time. I'm wondering now if it would have been smarter to start the party in the 7/8 p.m. range, but I do really like the 4 p.m. party. Lets people have dinner after and make other evening plans, and keeps our neighbors from revolting.

Here is the menu we have quickly agreed upon, with the priorities being on minimal prep, relatively low expense, and enough options for gluten-free and vegetarian eaters. Bonus: anything that looks colorful and festive. It contains far more purchased food than we would usually prefer, and far less homemade, but parties are about the people, not the food, right?

  • Mark's world-famous Christmas punch
  • Candy cane cocktail (strawberry vodka, white crème de menthe and cranberry, possibly with a mini candy cane in it)
  • Whatever other beer, wine and liquor we have in the house (embarrassingly, this is not an insubstantial amount)
Non-cooked items:
  • Peppered salami and hothouse cucumber slices
  • Cheese and fruit plate (three cheeses including the recently purchased Constant Bliss, almonds, honey, pears, grapes, crackers, etc. -- maybe also some Serrano ham, since it is sublime, if Bristol Farms has it for a reasonable price) 
  • Mixed nuts
Cooked items:
  • Parmesan-coated sweet potato wedges
  • Tomato-ricotta tartlets, made from puff pastry
Sweet things: (already purchased from the World Market on the corner)
  • Marzipan (chocolate-covered and fruit-shaped)
  • Assorted German gingerbread cookies
  • Peppermint bark
  • Moose munch (going for half price at Marshall's -- crazy!)

09 December 2009

the inaugural tannenbaum

The past year (give or take a little) has been a year of many firsts: getting married, buying our first place, living through our first survival epic, running my first race. But now we have truly arrived: we have acquired our first Christmas tree.

This is my first real Christmas tree ever, and I'm a total neophyte. I had no idea how much one would or should cost, what type of tree to get, how to get it home, how to keep it from turning quickly into a pile if tinder. But fortunately Mark knows what he's doing.

We went to the Christmas tree "store" in the vacant lot at the corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and Beverly Glen, and checked out the selection.

Douglas firs on the left, noble firs on the right, all from Oregon. 

We picked ours out, and then trusted that it and the car roof would get along.

Mark nervously preparing to drive the mile home with the tree precariously balanced on the roof.

The Christmas tree at home, having survived the trip.

All dressed up with no place to go.

A few of my favorite ornaments.


Chelsea is kind of like an ornament.

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