Traditional holidays.

In the past few years our family has changed in many ways: all for the good.  But as someone who fights to keep every tradition alive, it’s meant some compromise as we all learn to create new holiday traditions.  This year was the perfect example of how our new holiday favorites made a wonderful appearance.

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Our beautiful, if slightly striped Christmas tree.  Every year my mom is a fanatic about testing the lights to make sure they don’t flicker out after the tree is decked.  The light checker this year was me – needless to say, I wont have the job again next year.  Ahem.

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Pearls for the Christmas Eve church service.  Laura was a very fancy lady!

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Christmas morning quiche.  My mom and I made both a traditional cheesy sausage pie and one with bacon specially for the younger brother.  While everyone had their favorite version, I think we were ALL surprised to learn how few eggs there actually are in a quiche! 

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One Christmas our granddad brought out a puzzle and we spent hours hunched over the kitchen table in a vain attempt to finish.  This year Laura made an impromptu decision to pick up a new puzzle to continue the tradition for Christmas completion and sadly, it still looked pretty much like this when we left to journey back to the city. 

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One tradition that I refuse to let go of is Christmas eve soup.  Every year my momma makes a delicious crock pot chicken soup and this year was no exception.  The smell always reminds me of the holidays…

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These nutcrackers have survived multiple household moves and somehow always make their happy return at Christmas.  I’m not sure where they originally came from but I can always trust on their square-jawed presence to make me smile.

The musical fruit

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I love beans.  I’ll just put it out there.  Despite their being the “musical fruit” I love them for their earthy goodness and simple flexibility.  While I’m not afraid to admit that I eat black bean soup for dinner more often than I should (we’re talking 3+ a week here) I figured a little variety wouldn’t kill me.  So at the store I picked up a bag of N.K. Hurst’s “HamBeens” brand15 bean soup.  One sniff of the prepackaged spice mix and I decided to give the soup my own blend – granulated smoke flavoring just isn’t for me.  I tossed the recipe on the bag, added a can of tomato sauce and was very pleased with the result!

On top of being delicious and versatile, legumes are widely praised for their wholesome goodness.  Seriously, they rank up there with…well, other things that are really good for you.  It’s late, cut me a break.  Aside from being packed with dietary fiber and protein, beans are low in fat and calories and if you avoid the canned version, typically low in sodium as well.  As if that wasn’t an impressive enough performance, beans are completely void of cholesterol.

In case you’ve been living under a rock and aren’t familiar with why your body is as obsessed with protein and fiber as tweens are with the Justin Bieber haircut, I’ll fill you in.  According to Georgetown and their super informative dining hall website, protein makes up about 45% of your body and is essential to the production of enzymes, hormones and other good stuff that allows the body to build and repair body tissue.  Protein helps us resist diseases and regulate the every day body processes that allow for the balancing of water, nutrient transport and muscle contraction.  Fiber on the other hand is more like nature’s helpful digestive draino.  Theatrics aside, dietary fiber usually refers to the part of the plant that can’t be digested by the body and therefore needs to be expelled, dragging with it anything else that might not be invited for a long term stay in your system.  In short, beans are the perfect little helper to keeping our bodies healthy and clean.

True, I really had no idea what half of the beans in the bag of 15 varities were, but it was interesting enough trying to figure it out.  And since when is a split pea a bean?  I think old HamBeens might have been stretching a bit on that one….

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Football Sunday

No one in our family has ever been super-sporty and that remains true to this day. I’ve staunchly remained a completely ignorant on anything sports related while Ali’s 2 years at Ohio State gave her a crash course in Extreme Team Fandom 101. While neither of us are involved in any kind of fantasy league (“now there’s FAKE football?”) or trash talking other teams at work, we DO appreciate the atmosphere of a good football Sunday. Especially when this involves a bloody mary bar and fun girlfriends.

So Ali and I bundled up and hopped on the red line to head over to Rockit in River North.

How pretty is my sister?

Part of the reason we chose Rockit was the famed $5 bloody mary bar… and it totally lived up to the hype. They’re served in mason jars which is a big win as this makes them both cute and awesomely huge. Perfectly spicy with TABLES of fun add-ins like meat and cheese skewers, pickles, peppers, and hot sauces.

Rockit's Bloody Mary's... prior to us stuffing them with olives.

With our friend Anna.

Watching football with girls is so much better because no one thinks you’re weird when you Google “who is Tim Tebow” at the table to figure out why everyone keeps talking about him. We ordered a bunch of food to share, but my absolute favorite were the truffled tater tots – ridiculously good and a “game-day special” for only $5.

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Rockit Truffle Tots

The highlight of the day was winning this bottle of wine in a raffle… I feel like I always enter raffles but have never won a thing! It was for charity, so happy to help a good cause… but as they started raffling off football coffee table books and jerseys it occured to me that anything we won would basically be of no interest. Until they announced they were giving away a signed bottle of Mike Ditka’s wine – and we won. Destiny, obviously!

Our signed bottle of Mike Ditka's wine.

Such a great day. I told everyone I was excited to do it again in January, upon which even my sister looked at me in disbelief and informed me that the regular season ends in December. So until next year, football. Its been great.

Winter welcome

Some nights turn out so well that there really aren’t words that can summarize well.  This past Friday I made a night of the traditional German Christkindlemarket in downtown Chicago (Bratwust and sauerkraut!) followed by a trip to the Millenium Park skating rink.  Between Christmas carols at the Cloud Gate and a 20 minute zambonie break in our skating attempts, we were overdue for some warmth.  After an on-the-fly but off-the-menu butterfish creation from the chef, lobster potstickers, the feeling returning to my toes and a perfectly mixed martini, there wasn’t a complaint to be heard.  It almost seemed too good to be true when there was a snowfall in the morning – snowglobe style flakes and all.  Only one more week until Laura and I get to celebrate with the family and I’m certainly looking forward to it!

Happy early holidays…

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Winter Mix-Up

Laura and I were at brunch the other day, and we saw this beautiful woman there with her husband.  What caught me the most was how her simple outfit was so perfectly jazzed up by her layered bracelets.  She matched a watch with bangles with a leather cuff and I just loved it!  I found myself eyeing the items in my closet a bit differently – what seemingly unfit combo might actually be a fun and fashionable look?  I mixed leather shorts with opaque black tights and a sheer high-necked white Victorian blouse.  I stacked a rose gold watch with silver, gold and fabric bracelets.  I layered a large hounds tooth checker with a soft pink sweater.  Did it all work?  I’m guessing years down the road only the holiday party photos will tell the truth!

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Productive Monday

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After a weekend of holiday parties, dates with the boyfriend and a Sunday afternoon football game with the ladies, Monday needed to be productive.  After a great workout to an upbeat playlist I found myself without excuses to further avoid my laundry.  Fortunately a night spent running back and forth to the laundry room gives a good excuse for an easy, casual meal.  Not the lightest meal, but fresh and delicious and certainly made my night!

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The weekend in pictures

Holiday parties everywhere - eggnog and rum balls to wrap up my Friday? Why not.

 

"Peace" candles on my parent's table - one of my favorite holiday decorations.

 

Up at sunrise at my parent's house to stock up on baking supplies at Costco.

 

Back in the city for Saturday brunch at Bistro Zinc - mushroom and chevre quiche. Amazing.

I feel like December weekends always fly by and this one was no exception. Saturday evening was a great dinner and friend’s holiday party and Sunday was Girls Football Sunday – that one needs a post of its own :) Such a great few days, but I need a weekend from my weekend. Happy Monday!

New York, New York

I’m a lucky girl when it comes to travel this year and I just got back from a long weekend in NYC.  We walked so much, saw so much, ate so much and had so much fun. I would have had a major case of post-vacation blues if my route home from the airport hadn’t afforded me a glimpse of the skyline and a reminder that the city I’m in every DAY is pretty awesome itself – and that much better all decked out in Christmas lights!

Here are some of my favorite pictures from the trip.

The most beautiful afternoon light in Central Park

The new site of the WTC

The Christmas tree in the lobby of the Hilton Times Square

My favorite over-sized Christmas decoration in NYC

View from 30 Rock to the south

Central Park to the north

Brunch at Schiller’s

New York Times building at night

A fountain filled with plants for the season

Peppermint Bark

There are few combinations I love more than peppermint and chocolate. And while its obviously a winning combo all year, I definitely associate it with the holidays. I think it started when we were little – our mom always bought us this special holiday ice cream that had chunks of candy cane and chocolate shards swirled in. I haven’t seen that ice cream at the grocery store in years, but now Ali and I celebrate the start of the holiday season (aka Black Friday) fueled by our first Starbucks non-fat peppermint mochas of the year.

I was invited to a basketball game by a friend from work and she’s a seriously amazing baker. I wanted to thank her for a great night with some holiday goodies but anything baked was obviously out… I like baking, but I bake so rarely I never feel as confident in how the end product will turn out and especially not as a gift for a master baker! And while I wish I could pack her up some Five Spice Garlic Chicken, that would be weird. So, when I came across this recipe for Peppermint Bark, I knew I had a winner. I added crushed mint M&M’s to mine but otherwise followed her recipe to the letter and it was a big hit. I’ll definitely be experimenting with other versions of “bark” this holiday season – such a great gift, super easy and SO good!