Sweets for the Sweet, OR How Baking Taught Me to Love Christmas

Until Zach and I celebrated our first Christmas together, I used to loathe the holiday. That's not to say I didn't look forward to Christmas: I love the lights and decorated trees, music and treats, Santa and the Nativity, peace on earth and goodwill toward men. But when the day arrived, I was left feeling glum and sad and lonely. I would be dying to get outside...but everything would be closed. Except for Walgreen's. I remember buying a two-liter of Coca-Cola there one Christmas Day Eve. The place was packed.

This is not to say I never had a happy, blessed holiday before a few years ago. I have had many a season of joy with family and friends in the twenty-five Christmases I have celebrated. But Christmas Day always came as a disappointment. I suppose I felt that way because there was too much pressure leading up to the day. I know that several brides suffer a period of depression following their weddings, so I suppose the Christmas Blues is somehow akin to that effect. When you start hearing "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and seeing It's A Wonderful Life weeks (or months) before, you start to feel overwhelmed. (By the way, we're actually watching that film now. It's so sweet. ;) Just like Clark Griswold, I wanted a fun, old-fashioned, family Christmas (as pictured on a vintage postcard because I have a thing for vintage decorations). Then everything would seem to go wrong.

In reality, my Christmases were normal--full of ups and downs. One year we were iced in, and another I reveled in the snow. Four years ago I got locked in the bathroom at my aunt's house and cried while her neighbor busted the lock. In high school, I spent the day with Stephanie's family, and I climbed Pinnacle Mountain in a skirt and wedges as far as I could go, which wasn't very far because I am not athletic and somewhat afraid of heights. When I was in elementary school, I received a baby doll from Santa I still have at my mama's house.

But I would have a picture in my mind of how things were supposed to go, and it never quite met my expectations. So I wrote off Christmas.

Over the past few years, I've learned to let a lot of things go, though it is a constant struggle for me. I'm a idealistic perfectionist--or a perfectionist idealist--who always plans too much and never delegates tasks and has control issues. (I'm a joy to live with. Seriously.) For example, we are supposed to have a special meal, drink cocoa while watching all of the cartoon specials, exchange presents, build our Lego Winter Bakery, make this year's ornament, and attend a service on Christmas Eve. After we drop off some more goodies all over NWA. And we. will. do. it. I promise. Last year I remember having a minor meltdown over "Our First Christmas" ornament, but, looking at it this minute, I can say it turned out beautifully. Before Thanksgiving, I made a Christmas collage of photos from our past two Christmases together that showcases the fun and destruction we had decorating our tree, making a gingerbread house after the holidays were over, and baking bad cookies. Even though things were not perfect, I have picture-perfect memories (and some damn good photos, too).

This year, I had a meltdown over our sugar cookies. Again. For the second year in a row. I don't know if it's because the cookie cutters' nooks and crannies are just that, nooks and crannies, or that we always seem to use the wrong kind of sugar cookie...but we can never seem to get our A Christmas Story cookie cutters to work properly.

But this time, after squealing about the dough tearing and sticking to my fingers, I took a breath, laughed..and shook my flour-and-cookie-coated hands at Zach.

For your viewing pleasure:
Justify FullThis sugar cookie dough sat in the fridge overnight, and, as it was Linda Adams' recipe, I felt confident in it. Upon rolling it out, it seemed to live up to my expectations...

...and then tearing and sticking began.
This is a reenactment of me having a meltdown.

I finally had to admit the cookie cutters were not going to work. But I improvised, and rolled the dough into ornament balls. :)

Zach helps. When we cook together at Christmas, I let him wear this apron, and I wear my everyday floral one. The rest of the time I don it!

traditional cookie-baking photo

Zach helped to frost some of the backgrounds and then he went to bed.
I really need to get some red and green gel food coloring. The usual bottles in the baking aisle creates these pastel shades of Christmas, which was part of my childhood baking. But I have become a more advanced decorator. Part of my problem lied in the fact I used most of the red food coloring in my dark velvet bites. When I ran out while dying the buttercream frosting, I tried to add neon purple and neon blue to darken it, but those colors only turned the icing a violet shade. So I had to add neon pink to make it into a "dusty rose." I think it turned out pretty after all. ;)

I decided to try to incorporate the A Christmas Story cookie cutters somehow. The result: deranged icing images of the infamous leg lamp, bunny suit, turkey (or Peking duck), and the family's house. (That last one is kind of lame.)

They also included a star cookie cutter, which is also lame and the only one that comes close to working.

After baking all day, I needed a glass of wine. However, I stayed so busy decorating what I baked, I didn't drink it!

red rosebuds livened things up

The next day I packaged everything, which spelled another L-O-N-G day in the kitchen.

goodies, goodies everywhere, and only a star to eat:

(This is the sugar cookie I saved for myself. Zach got the house.)

Our microwave does not glow like that, although, by this time, I was so worn out that it probably looked as if a nuclear bomb had gone off.

My homemade peppermint marshmallows were a smash hit!

wrapping up a dark velvet bite

dark velvet bites--Zach's office loved them!

Thursday I baked, and Friday I wrapped up the goodies. And I spent a good chunk of Friday morning making tags to attach to the sweets. I even used the Frosty font I have! It's so wintry. :) As a page designer, I tweaked it until it was just so. Then I went to print it on Zach's computer. Guess who doesn't have the Frosty font? Yep. Zach (well, his computer doesn't). So I spent another good hour or so redesigning my tag. I couldn't include what we actually sent on here because it is a .doc file, not a .jpg one. So I copied the text into Photoshop and saved it as a .jpg to give you an idea. There was a little love note from Hobie, Zach, and I after the marshmallows' listing...along with a warning from Santa, or a disclaimer from me. This is also missing the candy cane border I used, but, since I printed them on green paper, I had to make the background green at least. C'est la vie.

Tonight I burned out the motor in the mixer making cookies, and we started another holiday movie we didn't finish, and Zach is only starting to wrap his presents. There is a chance for frozen precipitation tomorrow, which means we may not be able to get out after all. What-e-ver will we do?! ;)

What kind of Christmas goodies do you and your family make each year?
Did you try anything new in 2010?


Hello and welcome to my new blog! As I write this, I am sitting in the living room of our new home, watching season two of Gilmore Girls (Yes to Jess!) and drinking a cup of tea that has grown cold. From my seat on the settee, I can view our backyard through the doors opening onto the balcony. The December sky is overcast, and it must be a little windy because the half-bare trees are creaking, their branches gone bony. Our red and gold Christmas tree is lit up, and, in the back of my mind, I’m thinking about the ribbon I need to buy at Hobby Lobby today to make a tree topper. I’m also debating whether I should make spaghetti carbonara tonight, or wait until tomorrow. This is life in our new home, and life is perfect. :)

Wednesday morning: watching the sunrise outside our balcony. You probably can't read the temperature, but it was COLD!

I’ve had a Blogger blog on and off for a year and a half—give or take.

The first one I began followed our wedding plans and explored wedding traditions. I was rather snarky when it came to picking apart those so-called traditions. *lol* However, because we only had two months between our engagement and our wedding, and we were both in grad school and completing our theses and working and moving to Baridon…I quickly got off track. You win some, you lose some.

Then I started a daily photo album on facebook. I’ve actually kept this one updated for over a year. (The anniversary was November 30!) It is a lot of fun looking back over the year at everything I did and everything that happened—the good, the bad, and the crazy. About a third into the project, I decided to post it on here, too, because I could add more photos to each day directly. But I never publicized this new blog, and I continued to post the extra photos in their own facebook albums. That’s doing twice as much work for nothing.

In the past, I did XANGA, posted on Myspace, and did the notes thing a few times on facebook. Writing is integral to my life: I’ve kept a diary or a journal since third grade. It is intimidating to put your words out there for everyone to read, but I feel it is a necessary part of the process, especially within this modern age in which we live. My XANGA and Myspace were fairly well read, but they are of the past. Only when I started my Day-by-Day album did more people take notice. I know more people use facebook and use it more often than other websites, but I think part of the reason why my album has been of interest to my facebook friends is because I spend a lot of time photographing and writing about food. (“Food, glorious food!”) On more than one occasion, I’ve had a friend or acquaintance encourage me to start a cooking blog.

Now…this blog will not be ALL about food, as much as I love eating and cooking and talking about food. *haha* BUT food will be a B-I-G part. I promise. :)

Essentially I wanted to start another blog in order to remember this exciting time in our marriage when we moved away and began a new chapter in our life. Right now I’m taking pleasure in the smallest things, whether it is planning out our weekly menu or organizing our huge closets or watching Zach hang our pictures on the walls. (We have so much more space here!) I want to write about my adventures in the kitchen and decorating The Owlery, our little cottage, and searching for the right job. I want our family and friends back home to feel connected to our life here and to meet our new friends. I plan to write once or twice a week about the happenings here. For six months, our future was in the air, so it’s such a nice change of pace to have a home again. I haven’t been homesick since we moved…except when I was sick, but that was mostly the desire to be in my own bed. This is home now.

My daily photo Blogger blog was entitled “The Pharr Side,” and, because I loved the title so much (and thought it somewhat clever), I decided to title this blog the same, especially as NWA really is another state compared to central Arkansas. A professor at NWACC actually asked if I had experienced cultural shock moving here; thankfully Zach had prepared me for the move. Ha!

I thought of the subtitle “From Benton to Bentonville” before we actually found our place (in Bentonville). By the way, I’m a BRYANT girl through-and-through! My mama lives in Benton now, so that was my last home before Zach and I got married.

So, there you have it: what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Hope you stay tuned! :)