Christmas Playlist

By popular demand, and just in time for some winter weather, I bring you my ginormous Christmas playlist. Full of new favorites like “Twinkle” by J.D. McPherson and “A Christmas Song” by Shawn Phillips and old standbys like Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Elvis, Harry Connick, Jr., Natalie Cole, Rosemary Clooney, and Andy Williams. It also features some of my guilty pleasure holiday pop songs by Hanson (don’t judge), Mariah Carey, Wham!, and The Waitresses.

Oh! And “Dominick the Donkey” and “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” ūüôā

It’s sure to please everyone. From me to you, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

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Christmas Eve Pajamas

I’ve written previously about the traditions¬†my family had during the Holidays and also about the unfortunate turn of events that has surrounded some of them, like the fiery Advent wreath.¬†So it wouldn’t be Christmas without yet another story to add to the family history, right?

Every Christmas Eve, my family has a routine. We play games or work a ¬†puzzle (or both if you’re really lucky) and fill up on Christmas goodies like Hairy Eyeballs, Cookies, Buckeyes, and any other sweet you could imagine. Then, we gather in the living room around the Christmas tree and open one gift each.

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Every year we expect this and we don’t pack this because we know it will be supplied to us shortly.

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We open Christmas Pajamas on Christmas Eve.

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And this year, I even bought a similar present for the pups of the family, my sister’s dog Lilah and our faithful pup, Senna.

Well, we usually do.

This year my mom asked my dad to keep the gifts separate from the others so they would be easier to find on Christmas Eve and he kept them so separate that he forgot where he put them. So instead of opening a pre-determined gift on Christmas Eve, we got to pick one gift from under the tree to open and if we got lucky they’d be pajamas. None of us chose correctly, so instead of this awesome picture I had in my mind of my sister and me in our pajamas with our dogs, we got this:

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Taylor's Twinkies!

A post shared by Megan Taylor (@megtay) on

This picture is equally awesome because my sister and I had on our matching¬†Canadian¬†tuxedos, but it’s not the same as all of us in pajamas.

On Christmas morning, after all the gifts were unwrapped and none of us ever opened up pajamas, my dad went on a house search for the missing packages. They were found in an upstairs hall closet on the top shelf and had “Christmas Eve” written on each box.

Guess we’ll have 2 pajama pictures to take next year!

Our First Cookie Exchange

Santa Senna

Santa Senna helped us get ready

I’ve always wanted to host a holiday party, one that might become a tradition, and since we bought a house now’s as good a time as any to give it a go, right?

We brainstormed and decided since Adam and I both have a sweet tooth, we’d host a cookie exchange and that’s where this story begins.

About 3 weeks earlier, we sent out Paperless Post invites and started planning. I researched exchanges and swaps online and defined our “guidelines” based on what I read.

Several blogs I read recommended having each guest/family bring 7 – 11 DOZEN cookies each. We thought that was a bit extreme and went with an even 4 dozen per couple/family/friend. As guests arrived we had them grab a number off the table to label their cookies. These numbers would be used in the competition later – yes, we competed. Isn’t that what life’s about?

Guests ate, drank, and were exceedingly merry before we busted into the cookie sampling.

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B is for…

We had sugar cookies, chocolate chip varieties, bars, brownies, and more to sample before judging our favorites. The most festive and best tasting cookies were given prizes and bragging rights until next year.

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Most Festive

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Best Tasting

After everyone got their cookie induced sugar coma on, we had them fill boxes with their favorite cookies to take home and enjoy throughout the holiday season!

It was a wonderfully festive evening but since it was our first exchange we’ve made note of a few things we’d change for next year:

  • 4 dozen cookies per family/guest is waay too many, our house looked like Cookie Monster threw up in it, not that that’s a bad thing. (I can’t even begin to imagine the leftovers if everyone brought 10 dozen each) Next year we’ll have guests bring 2 dozen each.
  • Full size cookies were a bit too much for guests to sample everything everyone brought. Next year we’ll ask guests to bring bite size cookies or provide utensils for them to cut cookies into smaller pieces.

See? Cookie Monster.

Ultimately, our first cookie exchange was a success – we had a blast hosting it and learned that our house is PERFECT for entertaining. Which is great because we hope to host many more parties in the future.

A Holiday Survey!

I came across this survey over on PB Fingers and thought I’d share my responses with you.

Enjoy and feel free to play along in the comments or post to your own blog!

  1. Eggnog or hot chocolate? Hot chocolate. With peppermint.
  2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? We always have at least one Santa gift wrapped under the tree, but most were unwrapped and sitting around the tree.
  3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? White is preferred, though I also have an appreciation for the vintage colored bulb strands.
  4. Do you hang mistletoe? Growing up, my parents always hung mistletoe in the hall of their home.
  5. When do you hang your decorations up? Typically, we decorate our home the weekend of Thanksgiving.
  6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)? Christmas morning my mom makes a breakfast casserole and an amazing bread dish she calls “Tutti Bread” – it’s smothered in a poppy seed mustard mixture, cheese and topped with bacon. Deeeelish!
  7. Favorite holiday memory as a child? My family gathering at my grandmother’s house on Christmas night and singing Christmas carols. A family favorite was “Twelve Days of Christmas” and we’d break into groups for each “day”. My uncle had the 5 golden rings part down! A close second would be The Advent Wreath mishap.
  8. What is on your Christmas wish list? Anything from my holiday gift guide!
  9. Do you open a gifts on Christmas Eve? Yep! We get to open one pre-designated gift on Christmas Eve and it’s almost always a new pair of PJs.
  10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree? With random ornaments that have either been given to us or bought by us over the years. I much prefer a mismatch of ornaments that have meaning!
  11. Snow? Love it or dread it? Love it!! Too bad we were more likely to get ice than snow at Christmas in Arkansas.
  12. Real tree or fake tree? Real!
  13. Do you remember your favorite gift? Probably the Playmobil Victorian Dollhouse. My sister and I spent countless hours playing with it growing up. I loved making up stories for the dolls and tucking them in to their beds. I think it’s still stored in my parents’ attic and I¬†occasionally¬†dream about playing with it as an adult. It was seriously a gorgeous dollhouse.
  14. What’s the most important thing about Christmas for you? The memories made with family.
  15. What is your favorite holiday dessert? I am always up for a large serving of my mom’s dishpan cookies.
  16. What is your favorite tradition? I love going to the 11 o’clock Christmas Eve Candlelight service with my family. It’s a wonderful and peaceful service that reminds me every year what the season is truly about.
  17. What tops your tree? An angel always topped my parents’ tree, but this year Adam and I have a star topping our tree.
  18. Do you prefer giving or receiving? I love giving gifts, but I also equally love snooping to find out my gifts.
  19. What is your favorite Christmas song? O Holy Night
  20. Candy canes, yuck or yum? YUM!!!!
  21. Favorite Christmas movie? Elf!
  22. What do you leave for Santa? Dishpan cookies and milk.
  23. Do you have a Christmas morning tradition? My sister and I always had to wait and come down the stairs together before we could open our presents. We always wear our new Christmas PJs.
  24. Do you prefer to shop on-line or at the mall? Lately, I’ve enjoyed shopping online, but there are some gifts that are just easier to find in-person at the mall or local shops around town.
  25. Christmas letter or Christmas card? Christmas card.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

I’ve always loved cooking, but leftovers? Not so much. I mean, I can enjoy them for lunch the next day, maybe dinner too, but typically after one additional meal I’m totally over it and want something different.

Now that we’re married, and basking in newlywed bliss, it’s been wonderful to fix a recipe and know that it won’t go bad before I tire of eating it – because there’s 2 people to eat the leftovers!

Last week, as we began to decorate our little abode for Christmas I decided to get in the kitchen and cook a meal. It had started getting chilly outside and I wasn’t really in the mood for soup or chili. Thankfully, Pinterest came to the rescue with Lemon Roasted Chicken and Hasselback Potatoes.

The chicken was phenomenal. Both Adam and I devoured it. Adam even requested that it be a regular meal in my arsenal – I’m good with that!

We both thought the recipe could easily be adapted for chicken breasts, though I cooked it as directed using chicken thighs. In fact, we’ll probably try it with chicken breasts next time. Mmm…next time, my mouth is already watering just thinking about it.

Added bonus: the chicken was just as delicious reheated the next night for dinner!

Now, I’m not gonna lie and tell you the potatoes tasted as good as they looked coming out of the oven. I mean, they were good, but the flavors didn’t blend throughout and sometimes you were stuck eating plain roasted potatoes with no seasoning.Plus, they were a pain to slice and season thoroughly ¬†– which probably explains why the flavors didn’t blend.

Next time, I think I’ll use the same seasonings but toss them with potato wedges or slices instead of the fanned whole potatoes.

Lemon Chicken

from Annie’s Eats

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp. lemon zest
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tsp. fresh rosemary leaves, finely minced
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 lbs. of bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs or drumsticks
  • 2 tbsp. melted butter
  • Thinly sliced lemons, for garnished

Directions:

  1. Combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper in a large zipper-lock plastic bag.  Seal the bag and shake well to blend.
  2. Place the chicken pieces in the bag with the marinade, pressing out excess air and sealing once more.  Refrigerate and let marinate for 2 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 425ňö F.
  4. Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade and transfer to a baking dish, skin-side up, reserving the leftover marinade.
  5. Brush the top of each piece of chicken with melted butter.
  6. Bake for 50-55 minutes, until the skins are crispy and well-browned.
  7. Halfway through baking, pour the remaining marinade over the chicken pieces in the baking dish.
  8. Once fully baked, cover loosely with foil and let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Baked Hasselback Potatoes

from¬†Chicho’s Kitchen

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 4 medium potatoes, scrubbed (leave skin on)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp of olive oil
  • salt
  • pinch of smoked paprika
  • 2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • chopped chives for garnish
Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 425ňöF (220¬ļC).
  2. Slice each potato crosswise at 1/8-inch intervals, cutting to within 1/4 inch of the bottom. Be careful not to slice all the way through. The potato will fan out a bit as it bakes.
  3. Combine olive oil, garlic, salt, smoked paprika and parmesan cheese in a small bowl.
  4. Lay the potatoes on a baking sheet.
  5. Carefully insert pinches of this mixture in between the slits of the potatoes.
  6. Rub the outsides of the potatoes with residual oil.
  7. Bake for about 40-45 minutes. The inside should be cooked through and the outside of the potato should be a bit crispy.
  8. Garnish with additional parmesan and chives!

Holiday Gift Guide

It’s time again for my annual¬†Holiday Gift Guide!¬†In an effort to minimize confusion for anyone buying me gifts, here’s just a few hints of what I’d love to receive under my Christmas tree this year.

These are a few of my favorite things for 2011…


1.¬†Ceramic Pig Speaker¬†from West Elm¬†($49), 2. Orysia shoe in Natural Fabric¬†from Nine West ($89), 3. Design Sponge at Home¬†by Grace Bonney¬†from Amazon¬†($23.10), 4. ¬†Small Square¬†Farmer’s Market Basket¬†from Anthropologie ($14), 5. Vintage Station Wagon and Christmas Tree Flour Sack Tea Towel from Etsy ($8), 6. Blu Bijoux Silver Pyramid Stud Earrings from Max&Chloe ($28), 7. Women’s SmartWool Frilly Knee Highs from Sahalie ($23.95)

Noses are Deceiving

Now that [almost] all of the boxes are unpacked and I’m slowly able to start accessorizing rooms, I’m feeling more settled. Adam’s old “grandma chic” bachelor pad apartment is starting to feel like the home in which we’ll start our life together.

Every day this week I’ve made a concerted effort to make a visible dent in a random room as far as organization goes. I’ve stored books and papers from my old cubicle in my old dresser we refinished, hung pictures, replaced lamp shades, put away our china, and pulled out my Scentsy.

Y’all have one of these, right? I’m obsessed with mine. I love letting the scents permeate my apartment and now that I’m working from home all day you better believe I have it on all day every day.

Back in September, on a rare trip to Wal-Mart, I bought some wax cubes by Better Homes & Garden. I wanted to have seasonal fragrances like Apple Strudel, Pumpkin Pie, Blueberry Muffin, and Gingerbread. Tuesday, was my first day to use my Scentsy warmer since moving and I chose to put in a Gingerbread cube. I put it in mid-morning and had forgotten about it until Adam came home from work that evening.

He walks straight to the kitchen looking for a freshly baked batch of cookies. I felt horrible that the Scentsy led him astray so that night, we worked late cleaning the counters and putting away the remaining wedding gifts and serving pieces I already owned. Essentially, we made the kitchen usable.

And yesterday? Because I wanted an excuse to use my KitchenAid Stand Mixer, Adam got his cookies. Dark Brown Sugar Chocolate Chip.

This time, the scent he smelled as he walked through the door is edible! Given the fact that he ate almost an entire dozen by himself in one hour, I’d say he thought they were scrumptious!

Dark Brown Sugar Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 and 1/4¬† cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate morsels

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Beat butter and sugars at medium speed until creamy.
  3. Add eggs and vanilla until all ingredients are blended.
  4. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
  5. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating well as you go.
  6. Stir in chocolate.
  7. Drop by tablespoon onto ungreased cookie sheets.
  8. Bake for approximately 12 minutes.

Yield: 5 dozen

Music Therapy

This weekend was an odd one in my neck of the woods – weather-wise. I was happily traipsing around wearing a sleeveless shirt on Saturday, but by Sunday evening I was back to wearing a jacket. With the onset of what many are calling the Storm of the Century across one-third of the US I thought I’d share with you my source of escape from the winter blahs, because even a scarf-loving girl like myself can suffer from them.

Music is my escape – its ability to change my mood is incredible. Just last week, I mentioned that Jazzercise nurtures my soul; however, there are times when my schedule doesn’t allow me to attend Jazzercise. When that happens, I turn to one of two places: My iTunes library or Songza. When I’m at work, nine times out of ten you can find me with headphones in, listening to Songza and bopping my head. When I’m at home, you’ll typically find me listening to iTunes while catching up on my iPad,¬†occasionally¬†taking solo dance breaks to my awesome tunes. Today I thought I’d share a few of my random musical escape routes with you. Enjoy!

Playlists via Songza

Oscar Winning Songs

90s One Hit Wonders

80s One Hit Wonders

Love Actually

Florence and the Machine Inspired

Wintertainment

See what I did there?¬†Winter + Entertainment = Wintertainment. I’m a genius. Or bored.

Either way, the cold of winter is officially here and with it comes stretches of gray days, snow and/or ice and temperatures that are dangerously close to sub-zero. Yes, it gives me an excuse to wear scarves from my huge collection with my favorite pea coat, but it also causes me to start my days cursing as I open the door and head to work every morning.

Being a southerner, we take snow much more ¬†cautiously than most – meaning schools cancel as soon as the first flake falls from the sky, drivers go no faster than 5 mph on clear roads, and 2 days prior to the frightful forecasted snow grocery stores are sold out of milk, eggs, and bread. You’d think we were preparing for the end of the world. Or something.

These snow days leave many paralyzed in their homes playing games with their family – until that gets old after a couple of hours – then catching up on DVRed shows or watching movies while snacking on popcorn (and cheese dip). Because of the snow days we’ve experienced in my neck of the woods over the last 2 weeks I thought it would be helpful to give you a list of movies that cure my stir crazy winter blues.

 

1. The Sound of Music – If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know this movie holds a special place in my heart, but it’s also the most perfect movie ever made – in my opinion – and one that I never tire of watching. Oh, who am I kidding? I quote and sing-a-long with it alone in my apartment. ūüôā

2. Tortilla Soup – My favorite movie you’ve probably never heard of. Like Mexican food? Like romantic comedies? Like romantic comedies revolving around Mexican Food starring Hector Elizondo and also featuring Raquel Welch? Then you must ¬†run out and find this movie. Just don’t watch it on an empty stomach, because you will watch it, you will get hungry, and you will wish you had smell-a-vision.

3. The Social Network – Yes, it JUST was released on DVD, but it’s easily become one of favorite all-time movies. Not only does it tell the incredible story of Facebook’s origins, but it also has an impeccable score. Plus, Jesse Eisenberg reminds me of Adam during the coding scenes throughout the movie. And, upon seeing in the theater, Adam jumped up and clicked his heels in glee walking back to the car.

He’s also going to kill me for posting that.

4. Father of the Bride – Perhaps it’s the fact that right now? My life currently mimics this movie. But if I’m being honest, I’ve always seen parts of Adam and me in the movie throughout our relationship and now it’s just magnified because I’m actually planning a wedding, making the guest list, finding a caterer, finding locations, and finding my Frank.

5.¬†Chocolat – If you haven’t seen this before we can’t be friends. No, seriously. We can’t. That said, this is my go to movie when I’m tired of everything else in my collection. It’s like you take a vacation to France without leaving your couch. Must be the chocolate…or maybe the Johnny Depp factor ūüėČ

What movies are your go-to favorites for curing the winter blues?