Holidays, Events & Parties

by Margaret Cabaniss

What to Serve at Your Super Bowl Party
Are you watching the Super Bowl this weekend? I don’t really have a dog in this fight, but as I’ll be helping to host a party with my sister and brother-in-law — a Seattle native and diehard Seahawks fan — my allegiances have been decided for me. (And Richard Sherman really is growing on me…)

For me, the best part of any Super Bowl party is the food: It’s the closest thing we have to a food-based midwinter holiday, and I’ll take it. I got a little carried away thinking up possible dishes we could serve, and the result is the following list that I think would make a pretty spectacular Super Bowl spread. There is nothing remotely healthy about any of this, mind — this is definitely where New Year’s resolutions go to die — but you just can’t beat home-cooked, cold-weather comfort food like this. Bring on the game!

What to Serve at Your Super Bowl Party
Three-Bite Pulled Pork Biscuit Sliders
 (Style Me Pretty)

Barbecued pork is never a bad idea — unless, of course, your smoker or grill is currently buried under a mountain of snow. Fortunately, Cooks Illustrated has a great recipe for indoor pulled pork, which largely cooks itself — and it’s easier than you think to whip up some biscuits from scratch.

What to Serve at Your Super Bowl Party
PBR Beer Cheese Soup
(Garden and Gun)

It’s homey because you make it yourself; it’s classy because of the PBR. Serve it with a loaf of crusty bread for dipping.

What to Serve at Your Super Bowl Party
Homemade Pizzas (Smitten Kitchen)

This is what you make if you care less about the game than the food. It can be a little slow-going to try to feed a crowd with these, but it makes a fun activity for those who would prefer to be in the kitchen anyway.

What to Serve at Your Super Bowl Party
Frito Pie
(Pioneer Woman)

I was shocked to learn that there’s nothing in Fritos but corn and salt — a veritable health food compared to most chips — which makes me happy, because chili and corn chips were made for each other. I made the Pioneer Woman’s Frito pie for last year’s Super Bowl, when my home-team Ravens won it all; I’m not saying it was because of the Frito pie, but I’m not saying it wasn’t, either. (It’s only weird if it doesn’t work.)

What to Serve at Your Super Bowl
Potato Bar
(Real Simple)

This is a genius idea — kind of like heartier nachos — but again, start with homemade potato wedges to really make it stand out.

What to Serve at Your Super Bowl Party
Old Bay Ranch Dip
(For the Love of…)

Gotta have dip at a Super Bowl party, and for some reason I just love the idea of serving a Gwyneth Paltrow recipe at one.

What to Serve at Your Super Bowl Party
Mini Pretzel Dogs
(Joy the Baker)

Granted, these look a little involved if you’re trying to put together an entire menu yourself; better to bring them to someone else’s party, where you can walk away with the prize for best appetizer ever.

What to Serve at Your Super Bowl Party
Chocolate Chip Cookies (Blue Ridge Baker)

I still get raves every time I make these cookies. No party should be without them.

What to Serve at Your Super Bowl Party
Beer (image)

I was going to look for a fun cocktail recipe to try here, but let’s not kid ourselves.

What are you making for the big game?

Lead image: Super Bowl printable coasters from Design*Sponge


Pull Up a Chair

January 3, 2014

Twin Gifts

Before Christmas, I was talking to S and H about the meaning of the season and the importance of giving. Afterwards, they both decided they wanted to buy gifts for me and B and each other (and their Nana, who was with us for Christmas).

H immediately knew what she wanted: Ethiopian coffee for B and pretty earrings for me. S, who is not as much of a planner, needed some prompting when it came to a gift for B, but when we visited our favorite aromatherapy shop, she knew what she wanted for me: handmade soap. (A hint that mommy really needs to shower more than once a week?)

We took S and H to a local store to let them choose something for each other. B and I were helping each girl, and out of all the things in the store, they picked the same thing: a decorate-your-own jewelry box craft kit. The funny part was that each wanted to keep the gift for herself (so much for our discussion about the spirit of giving). Luckily, B and I were each able to talk them into it, and there were some happy twin sisters on Christmas day.

Even though I’m trying to keep the spirit of Christmas alive here until the official end of the season, life marches on and our regular school schedule begins again on Monday. I’m trying to psych myself up for it, so I think the only appropriate drink for today’s Friday chat is a Bloody caesar. (I’ve sung its praises here before.) A very common drink in Canada, it’s hard to find south of the border: Basically a bloody Mary on steroids, it’s vodka mixed with clamato juice in a celery salt-rimmed glass. I throw in a lot of horseradish, too, because that’s the kind of girl I am. It’s a hearty, robust cocktail when you want something with some substance.

Here’s my high and low of the week:

Low: B’s going back to work. Can’t someone just pay us all to stay home and hang out as a family all the time? Sheesh.

High: A fun New Year’s Day lunch: We discovered a Chinese restaurant with an authentic menu, which is so hard to find outside a vibrant Chinatown. B loves good Chinese food, so on the advice of a restaurant owner we know, we drove the 25 minutes to a scary looking storefront and weren’t disappointed. Our girls are the coolest: They chowed down on everything, including the super spicy stuff, and ate it all with chopsticks.

Bonus question: Have you made any new year’s resolutions? If so, what’s at the top of your list for 2014? I’m still thinking my goals through, but one of them is to start working on my body. I haven’t exercised in any real way since my daughters came home, and I feel sore and stiff all the time. I’m feeling drawn to do something a little different this time: gymnastics, acrobatics, a form of dance I’ve never tried, a little yoga again, or maybe some crazy combination. I’ll keep you posted!

Grab a bloody caesar, if you dare, and tell me about your New Year’s week. I hope you’ll squeeze every last drop out of your holiday time and enjoy the weekend. I’ll see you back here on Monday!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul


Happy New Year!

January 1, 2014

2014 Banner from Etsy

Somehow it seems a little crazy to me that it can be 2014, but here we are! I always feel  excitement about a new year — so full of possibility.

I wish you and your loved ones a healthy, peaceful, joyful new year, with dreams come true and happy surprises along the way. Enjoy your day, friends!

Image: scraphappydesigns etsy shop




Pull Up a Chair

December 27, 2013

Creche Angel

How has your week been?

Our Christmas day was more civilized than any home with two boisterous five-year-olds deserves to be — in part because it was simple (just five of us — B’s mom included — and nowhere else to go), and also because our daughters have no expectations about how Christmas day should proceed. Last year, they didn’t even know presents were supposed to be opened — they stacked them like blocks and made a big freight train with them.

This year they knew better, but they were happy to wait until we declared it gift-opening time, and that meant we were able to attend a lovely Christmas Mass and come home to a leisurely brunch before the unwrapping began. Even then, they were willing to (mostly) wait their turns to open gifts. We spread things out, which seems to help them appreciate everything a bit more.

For a Christmas toast, I want to pass around the peach and basil mimosas I served for Christmas brunch. I made up my own recipe, since I’d been wanting to use some frozen peach nectar in the freezer. I placed about 3 cups of it (mostly thawed) in the VitaMix with 1/2 cup of orange juice, a couple tablespoons of honey, and 5-6 fresh basil leaves. Then I poured the blended mixture into large wine glasses and topped it with cava (Spanish sparkling wine). For the kids, I used sparkling water to create the same bubbling effect. They are delicious, but any fruit nectar would do the trick.

My high and low this week are pretty straight-forward: Christmas here was a blast, thanks to the two sweetest girls on the planet. If there was a low, it’s missing the rest of my family at this time of year, which was slightly mitigated by numerous Skype and FaceTime calls the past few days.

If you’re stopping by SlowMama for a little downtime today, grab a peach and basil mimosa and tell me about your week! I hope you enjoy your weekend, and I’ll see you back here on Monday.

Image: B


Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2013

S and H on Christmas

Merry Christmas and happiest of holidays, friends!

It will be quiet around here over the next couple of days as my contributors and I relax and spend time with our families. If you are celebrating Christmas, I hope it’s a joyful, peaceful time with loved ones (and lots of good food)!

This time of year can also be hard for many people and if this is true for you, I pray the spirit of the season brings hope and light, wherever you find yourself today.

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul


Gingerbread on Christmas Eve

December 24, 2013

Gingerbread Cake

I love all things ginger, and one of my favorite recipes of all time is my grandmother’s gingerbread cake served with lemon sauce. It’s not overly sweet and is a perfect treat to serve when company shows up for the holidays. (Unless they are gluten-intolerant or never eat sugar or hate ginger. In that case, this will not be a hit.)

On this Christmas eve, consider this family favorite my Christmas gift to you…

Grandma R’s Gingerbread with Lemon Sauce

2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 egg
1 cup molasses
1 cup hot water

In a large mixing bowl, whisk all the dry ingredients together. In a separate large bowl, cream the butter and sugar and add the beaten egg, then the molasses. Gradually add dry ingredients to the wet, slowly mixing them together. Add the hot water (I suggest you do this by hand — in a mixer, it often sloshes out of the bowl). Beat mixture until smooth and soft. Pour into a square or rectangular baking pan and bake at 325 for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out dry. (To be a little fancier, you can use a round pan for this recipe, or a mold bundt pan and slice it like cake.)

For the lemon sauce:

Combine in a saucepan:
1/2 cup sugar
3 Tbsp flour
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1/4 tsp salt

Gradually add 1 1/4 cups boiling water, stirring or whisking for 5-7 minutes on medium heat until thickened. Take off the heat and blend in 3 Tbsp of lemon juice and 2 Tbsp of butter.

This recipe for lemon sauce yields 1 1/2 cups, but I often double it because I like to go a little crazy with this sauce.

To serve: Place a square of the gingerbread in a shallow bowl and pour warm lemon sauce over it. To be extra decadent, scoop a dollop of cold whipped cream or vanilla ice cream on top. (Sprinkling the cake with a little icing sugar makes for a very pretty presentation, especially if you bake it in a cake or bundt pan.)

Enjoy. And happy Christmas Eve, friends!

Image: Julie Marie Craigb from Always With Butter

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Pull Up a Chair

December 20, 2013

S in Reindeer Antlers

Ack, five more days! I was speaking with a shopkeeper I know the other day and we were laughing about how busy it can be just trying to keep your Christmas holiday simple.

Actually, earlier this week I took a page from a friend’s Advent resolution to not stress about what isn’t done — and I’ve managed to stay cheery and relatively relaxed ever since. Our tree is mostly decorated; some presents are purchased; a few cards are in the mail. The house is mostly presentable before my mother-in-law arrives tomorrow. I made homemade granola and planned some of next week’s meals. Things could be in better shape, but they could also be worse. So, I’m going to remind myself of the latter and keep on trucking!

My girls are asking for hot cocoa every day right now, so this pumpkin spice hot cocoa from 100 Days of Real Food seemed perfect for our Friday happy hour chat today. I usually make hot cocoa with with almond milk now, since H and S are a little sensitive to cow’s milk, and it always turns out yummy. Here’s my high and low of the week:

High: I decided to make a change with how I structure our intentional homeschooling time, and things are going a little better. I’m hoping that with small tweaks and the williness to constantly adapt, I’ll find my way in the land of homeschooling.

Low: Does something from last weekend count? B and I had a date night planned to celebrate my birthday on Saturday night, but the friends who were going to watch our girls came down with a stomach virus. While I felt really bad that my friends had illness running through their household, I didn’t realize how much I was looking forward to a night out with my husband until it went up in smoke.

Bonus question: Do you prefer gloves or mittens? I like and wear both. I prefer leather gloves in the winter for driving or going out, and cozy warm mittens for playing outside.

How has your week been? Grab a pumpkin spice hot cocoa and tell me about it! I won’t wish you a slow weekend, since I doubt that’s possible for most of us the weekend before Christmas, but I do wish you a happy and productive one! See you back here on Monday.

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul 


Holiday Lights: DIY Luminaries

December 19, 2013

by Margaret Cabaniss

Holiday Lights: DIY Luminaries

I grew up (and my parents still live) in a fairly nondescript neighborhood in a nondescript suburb of Raleigh — but every Christmas, the residents get together to do something pretty spectacular: On Christmas Eve, every last homeowner (and I mean every. one.) sets out luminaries along their property’s street front, lighting up the entire neighborhood in an unbroken chain of lights.

If you’ve never heard of luminaries before (sometimes called luminarias), they’re essentially just paper lanterns with a candle set inside. They’re a traditional Mexican Christmas decoration — the lights were meant to guide the Christ child to your home — but the displays are still popular in the Southwest and in other enclaves around the country.

Holiday Lights: DIY Luminaries

In our neighborhood, a planning committee distributes paper bags, small votive candles, and a bag of sand to fill the appropriate number of luminaries for each resident, and every Christmas Eve day finds the neighbors setting out their lanterns. We light them all at dusk (just before Santa drives through the streets on a fire truck to give candy canes to the kids — another great neighborhood tradition), and they burn through the night. It’s pretty magical.

The impact-to-effort ratio here is pretty high, too — and even if you can’t get your neighbors to join in, there’s nothing stopping you from lining your own driveway, sidewalk, or whatever little plot of land you like in lovely glowing lanterns.

Holiday Lights: DIY Luminaries

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • white paper lunch bags (I found mine at Target)
  • 2-3 inch pillar candles or tea lights (though the former will last longer, obviously)
  • sand (grab some from the kids’ sandbox, or pick up a bag at your local hardware or garden store)

Open the paper bag and fold over the top to make a one-inch cuff, then fold it over again; this will keep your bag open and sturdy so it doesn’t collapse in the wind.

Holiday Lights: DIY Luminaries

Add a couple of inches of sand to the bottom — enough just to hold your candle upright and keep the bag from tipping over — then drop your candle in the center. Space them out along a clean, hard surface (e.g., the driveway, not the grass), and light them up. (Long matches or lighters are helpful here.)

Holiday Lights: DIY Luminaries

As far as the safety factor goes: We’ve never had a problem leaving our luminaries unattended, even after we go to bed. They eventually burn themselves out overnight, and even if a bag happens to catch fire (a rare occurrence), as long as they’re on the street or driveway (and away from dead leaves), the bag just burns itself out. But, as with anything fire-related, proceed with caution — and keep an eye on those kiddos. If it’s particularly windy where you are, put your candle in a mason jar inside the bag to protect the flame (which will also protect the bag).

Holiday Lights: DIY Luminaries

Aside from just looking lovely, I love holiday traditions like this that bring the community together. Any fun group activities happening in your own neighborhood or community this time of year?

Images: Margaret Cabaniss


O Christmas Tree

December 18, 2013

Christmas Tree Hunting n Mt. Hood

Christmas just wouldn’t feel like Christmas to me without a tree. Growing up, we not only had a big one in our living room, we kids were allowed a tiny tree in our shared bedroom. We couldn’t use any “real” ornaments for it; we had to make our own. We strung popcorn and cranberry garlands and made plenty of ornaments out of paper. That little green shrub was magic.

Over the years, I’ve decorated Christmas trees in various ways. When I was single and nomadic, my housemates and I seemed to always come up with decorations to make a tree proud. One year, I remember my roommate wanted to do the entire thing in blues, silvers, whites, and bright greens — no reds, no gold, no Santas or candy canes. I was skeptical but went along with it — and was amazed at how gorgeous it turned out. My fallback still tends to be a slightly old-fashioned tree with white lights, but I learned that it can really be fun to change things up.

Although I’ve given up on tinsel over the years, I like garland. I used to take the time to make long strands of popcorn and cranberries — I suppose to relive my childhood — but a few years ago I found some vintage-looking silver garlands that I liked at a local shop and have been using them ever since.

Heart Ornament

I’ve also amassed a lovely collection of ornaments over the years and enjoy pulling them out, one by one, reminiscing about where each came from…different people and phases of life, places I’ve lived and traveled. Ornaments are so great to receive and to give. In fact, years ago, I started sending my godchildren an ornament every Christmas so that, when they leave the nest, they’ll have a special collection for their own trees.

Last year, for the first time in a long time, B and I strung colored lights. Since our girls prefer them to white, we’re using them this year, too. One thing I’ve still never found, though, is a tree topper that I love. S and H want to make a star with gold glitter for this year’s tree, so that’s what we’ll do — but one of these days I’d like to find just the right topper that can take its place among our annual accoutrements.

If you put up a tree, how do you decorate it? If you could do something a little different with it, what would that be?

And if you are looking to change it up this year, check out these creative Christmas tree ideas from Design*Sponge. If I were living in a small city apartment, that book page tree or the tabletop tree would be perfect!

Images: 1, Pinterest; 2, Zoe Saint-Paul


by Ann Waterman

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I love O. Henry’s beautiful story of marital self-sacrifice in the The Gift of the Magi, but my more pragmatic side wonders if Jim and Della could have averted their gift-giving tragedy with a little more communication beforehand — maybe with something like, say, an Amazon wish list?

Of course, that’s just me. My husband and I acknowledged early on in our marriage that neither of us relishes the hunt for the perfect gift, which typically results in debilitating indecision and paralysis about what to buy. It’s not that we don’t like giving gifts; we just want to be sure we’re giving the right gift. We don’t have many wants (coupled with a dislike for clutter) and agree that targeted gift-giving with the aid of a wish list makes for a happier, stress-free holiday for both of us. Of course, we sometimes go off the reservation, but it’s nice knowing there’s a little help figuring out the other’s wants if we need it. If it’s OK for kids to give a wish list to Santa, why not adults?

We agree on a gift budget beforehand and usually stick to it pretty closely. Since we do most of our shopping online, it can be hard to hide those incoming packages from one another, but we only open those addressed to us and set aside those that aren’t. And as the bookkeeper and bill-payer of the house, I avert my eyes from the credit card statement the week before Christmas (the time my husband inevitably waits to make his purchases) so there’s at least a little surprise Christmas morning.

I’m always interested to hear how couples handle Christmas gift-giving. I have some friends who love to be surprised, and a wish list for them would be a real killjoy; others truly enjoy the process of researching and finding the right gift. And, of course, there are the more practical matters: Is there a set spending limit? And in an age where almost every transaction can be tracked electronically, how do you keep gifts a secret?

So, tell me about your gift-giving traditions for your special loved ones… I’d love to hear how you do it!

Image: Ann Waterman