Monthly Archives: December 2014

Christmas Food at Karen’s

Winter Sun Cocktails We spent Christmas morning at Karen’s for a little brunch before we came home and hibernated with gifts for the rest of the day. We had to journey alllll the way across the hall, but it was totally worth it because Karen is always good company and her brunch food was delectable. I was in charge of cocktails. Since it was morning and it’s been so gloomy lately, I chose to make this Winter Sun cocktail. A nice burst of citrus was just what we needed. If you are looking for a breakfast cocktail (because who doesn’t like day-drinking?), I highly recommend this one. It’s kind of a fancy screwdriver…but a thousand times better. (Do people still drink screwdrivers? I haven’t had one since college.) Freshly-squeezed clementine juice, lemon, triple sec…and the citrusy sugared rim on the glass…we might have to make these again for New Year’s Day!  Japanese pancake bakingKaren made an egg casserole (which was delicious) but the highlight of the meal was the “Japanese Pancake”. It’s a long-standing Karen’s family tradition to eat these “Japanese pancakes” on Christmas morning. It’s not Japanese, and the closest thing I could come up with that’s similar is a Dutch Baby Pancake…but oh, is it heavenly! It’s a thin, simple batter poured into a hot cast iron skillet and baked in the oven. It puffs up as it cooks and when it’s done, it’s the perfect blend of light and airy and crispy.Japanese pancake done It already is flavored by the butter in the skillet, but you can add jam, syrup, powdered sugar, and fruit, too. I just added a dusting of powdered sugar to mine. It was perfect.Presley's gift from Karen, noisy catnip fishAfter breakfast we came back home and gave Presley her gift from Karen. It’s a catnip fish that makes water sounds when you swat it. She’s in love. More on the rest of the gifts Friday…

In the meantime, have a wonderful & safe New Year’s Eve! Thanks for spending a bit of your 2014 with me! We are heading back to Golden Steer (for the third year in a row!) with some friends and then coming back home for snacks and cocktails and the countdown to midnight. Happy New Year!

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Holiday Cards 2014

holiday cards with presley, christmas cards 2014Siiiiigh…our holiday cards are out…most made it by Christmas. Others didn’t. And that’s okay (she says, begrudgingly.) chirstmas cardsI worked on my cards over two days–one with my friend Jackie and her cats (Eskimo is shown above…she finally warmed up to me on this visit and now that she’s rested on my cards, I’m for sure we are best friends), and the other at home with Presley overseeing my progress (top picture). I took some people off of my list this year, and added some new friends, totaling forty-four cards for the season.Hasui Kawase christmas cards Hasui Kawase christmas cardsI found these Hasui Kawase cards at the Book Table in Oak Park. I love that they are peaceful and snowy. Some people may say they lack “Christmas” but with their “Season’s Greetings” message inside, they worked for a variety of people. 16 Sparrows Chicago winter card, letterpressI also had a few 16 Sparrows Chicago Snowflake cards that I sent to a few former and current Chicagoans on my list. (It’s their interpretation of the Chicago flag.) And since twenty-eight cards were not enough, I mixed in some of last year’s leftover cards and some from a Cavallini kit that I’ve had for a few years. Trader Joe's stickersNot a single piece of washi tape was used for this year’s cards, but I did put a Trader Joe’s sticker on each one. (I often ask for a few stickers when I’m checking out at the store. I like to use them on my mail and my calendar. On a recent visit, the manager gave me the whole roll. Trader Joe stickers forever!!)

So, they weren’t perfect, but I wrote a personal message in each one, so hopefully that part was appreciated, even though the envelopes were a little plain. And now…onto New Year’s cards…I only have a few but the clock -again- ticks…

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Oh Tannenbaum 8: Inge-Glas Ornaments

Old World Christmas, Inge Glas ornaments(Oops, I fell off the blogging wagon last week. It’s still okay to post about Christmas stuff, right?)Old World Christmas, Inge Glas ornamentsAfter the pickle, I chose to buy an orange slice and an apple slice for my next ornament purchases. They both really pop on the tree with their glittery edges and bright colors. The apple came with a little story card that explains how the apple is a symbol of temptation in Christianity. The orange didn’t come with a story, but it always reminds me of getting the tiny oranges in our stockings as kids. Old World Christmas, Inge Glas ornamentsAnd a cigar–its burning end is my favorite detail, black and glittery. I purchased this ornament before I met Naoto but oddly enough one of our first dates involved a cigar bar in Greektown. We were the only non-old men in the place and it was a lot of fun. Old World Christmas, Inge Glas ornaments Old World Christmas, Inge Glas ornamentsMy parents added to my collection with a teapot and a ruby slipper.  I love the delicate little teapot and the bright red glittered shoe. Old World Christmas, Inge Glas ornamentsThe last Inge-Glas ornament I received was the champagne bottle–an engagement gift from my parents. Naoto and I have a lot of “First Christmas” ornaments, but this engagement ornament is my favorite. This year it’s front and center (along with Charlie Brown) on the tree.

Naoto is already asking when we are taking down the tree…but I’m not quite ready yet. I’m still enjoying the Christmas lights…it’s been so gloomy and cloudy here that it’s nice to have a little brightness and sparkle inside for a little bit longer.

For the other Oh Tannenbaum ornament posts, go here.

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Merry Christmas

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/fe5/34713830/files/2014/12/img_0013.jpg Cheers to you & yours for a wonderful holiday!

Oh Tannenbaum 7: The Christmas Pickle

Old World Christmas, Inge Glas ornamentsDo you know about the Christmas pickle? A German tradition, a pickle ornament is the last ornament hung on the tree, disguised among the green branches and hidden by the other colorful ornaments. On Christmas morning when children wake up, they search for the pickle. The keen-eyed child who finds the pickle gets an extra gift from St. Nicholas. Isn’t that a fun tradition.

Once I learned about the pickle, I was obsessed with finding one for my own tree. Back then, they were hard to find…now I see pickle ornaments everywhere. Somehow, the search for the pickle led us to an Ace Hardware store where they sold Inge-Glas ornaments*. I walked into the store and found huge glass jars filled to the brim with these delicate ornaments–handmade blown-glass ornaments, many embellished with a dusting of glitter, all topped with a signature star. They were all so beautiful and so different than any of the ornaments I had ever seen. They were also expensive…for a college student anyway… But I had to have the pickle. So I bought it and I’ve treasured it ever since. And every year after that, I visited Ace Hardware on Black Friday to add to my collection. My parents added to my collection, too. Soon after, though, the Ace stopped selling the ornaments, so I only ended up with seven ornaments. (But I’ve recently found them on Amazon and here, so look out bank account!)

Since we got Presley, I’ve kept the ornaments off of the tree. Instead, I chose to display them in my china cabinet. But they always got forgotten. This year, I couldn’t resist…I hung all of them, except the pickle, on my tree. I have a lot of ornaments, and all of them are well-loved, but the Inge-Glas ornaments really stand out. They belong on the boughs, glittering among the lights. This week, I’ll share a bit about the others, too.

To see the other ornament stories from previous years, go here.

*When I bought my ornaments, they were known as Old World Christmas Ornaments. But Old World ornaments are now made in China. They are sold at a much lower price point, but what I found so compelling about my ornaments is the fact that they were still handmade in Germany, some using original molds from years ago. Inge-Glas ornaments are the ones to look for now, along with the star on top. (This article explains more, if you’re interested.)

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New Vintage Cocktail Glasses

Pendergast cocktail in vintage glassesLast week, I was the lucky recipient of some vintage cocktail glasses. They were Karen’s grandparents’ and she remembers seeing her grandfather mixing up a pitcher of Manhattans and drinking out of these. They are tiny…bigger than shot glasses, but not as big as typical modern day glasses. I measured and they are just a tiny bit over three ounces…yep, perfect for a Manhattan. old cocktail glassesWe hosted a Hasegawa Happy Hour this week and served up Manhattans. They were perfect, very Mad Men. I am excited to have them in my collection. (Thanks, Karen!!)

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Mail From the North Pole

north pole, alaska postmarkMy first holiday card of the year came from the North Pole!!

My pen pal Ryan must be the most organized holiday card sender ever because not only was his card the first card to arrive in my mailbox, but he sent his to North Pole, Alaska for the special North Pole postmark. As I sit with my holiday cards spread out on the floor, still stuck in the M’s of my address book, I am envious of Ryan’s accomplishment. But extremely happy to be on the receiving end of such a fun mail surprise!

How are your holiday cards coming along?

Update: Here’s an older Letter Writers Alliance blog post with all of the holiday postmark cities. If you are interested in doing this (next year? or as belated wishes this year?) I would contact the PO of interest to make sure it is something they are still doing. And…if you want to get a head start for Valentine’s Day, the LWA has another list for that.

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Cat Stevens at Chicago Theater

Cat Stevens at Chicago Theater, marquisLast Tuesday, Naoto and I went to see Cat Stevens at the Chicago Theater.

You’re probably thinking one of a few things:

A) I thought his name was Yusef now and he gave up on touring in the US over thirty years ago.

B) Who is Cat Stevens?

C) Ohmygoodness! Did he play Peace Train?!

Well, to answer your questions, this is his first US tour since 1976. This explains all you need to know about Cat Stevens. And, yes, he did play Peace Train. I cried.

When I found out he was coming to Chicago (one of six cities on his tour of the US and Canada) I couldn’t wait to buy a ticket. I know it’s not the same as growing up with his music, as most of the audience did but Cat Stevens was a big part of the early days of my relationship with Naoto. We used to listen to his Greatest Hits albums all the time on lazy Sunday mornings. In the days leading up to the concert, I was getting really excited, then it occurred to me that maybe he would only play his new stuff and refuse to play all of the songs that Naoto and I loved. Thankfully, I was able to read about his earlier concerts in Boston and Philadelphia and I was reassured…all of the old, familiar songs with some new ones sprinkled in. Whew!

The concert started a bit late because of the large amounts of security, but when Cat Stevens stepped on the stage, I knew it was going to be worth the wait. He came out to thundering cheers and a standing ovation and quietly started playing. His first song, “The Wind”, brought tears to my eyes. (Actually, I found myself tearing up for a large part of the concert while I sang along quietly with Naoto next to me.) Once the first song was over, people cheered “Where have you been?” and Cat Stevens seemed to take it all in stride. He was definitely a working man during the concert. He didn’t reminisce very much about his early days, only giving brief introductions to his songs, old and new. He reminded us that “The First Cut is the Deepest” was his song before it was covered by Rod Stewart and Sheryl Crow. And while women were screaming “I love you, Cat/Yusef!” he mostly ignored them and got back to the song at hand.

During the concert, Cat Stevens alternated between playing the guitar and the piano and his band was incredible. He played all of the old hits that I could remember at the time, except “Hard-Headed Woman” which was requested via screams from the audience a few times. He said he cleaned up “Another Saturday Night” a bit, though we couldn’t remember the lyrics well enough to figure out where. (I think maybe the part about having two women?) Oh and he switched out the lyrics in “Here Comes My Baby” to say “You’re forever texting on the phone” which got a good laugh from the audience. And his new stuff was really solid…I wish we had listened to his latest albums before the concert, but we didn’t and we still enjoyed the unfamiliar songs. But as usual with someone who has a long career, the audience really connected with him most on his old stuff.

I’m including the set list, borrowed from this Greg Kot review in the Chicago Tribune.

Set 1:

1. The Wind
2. Here Comes My Baby
3. The First Cut Is the Deepest
4. Thinking ‘Bout You
5. Sitting
6. Maybe You’re Right
7. Where Do the Children Play?
8. I Love My Dog
9. I Was Raised in Babylon
10. (Remember the Days of the) Old Schoolyard
11. People Get Ready (Impressions cover)
12. If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out

Set 2:
13. Big Boss Man (Jimmy Reed cover)
14. Trouble
15. Oh Very Young
16. Dying to Live (Edgar Winter cover)
17. Moonshadow
18. You Are My Sunshine (Jimmie Davis cover)
19. Foreigner Suite excerpt
20. Wild World
21. The Devil Came From Kansas (Procol Harum cover)
22. Take This Hammer (Leadbelly cover)
23. Another Saturday Night (Sam Cooke cover)
24. Peace Train
25. Father and Son

26. Editing Floor Blues
27. Miles From Nowhere
28. Morning Has Broken
29. All Kinds of Roses

seats at the Cat Stevens concert, Chicago TheaterAnd about our seats…we were in the very last row of the very top balcony at the Chicago Theater (Row U!!) At first, we laughed and cried that they were the worst seats in the house. We were so far up, we were practically dripping off the ceiling and we didn’t even have theater seats! They were banquet chairs! But then we realized that we could stand up and dance around as we pleased because there wasn’t a row of chairs crammed behind us. And we never had to get up to let anyone pass through because the others in our row could walk behind our chairs. And we had all the leg room in the world. Not to mention we had a direct view of the stage and no one standing up in front of us could obscure it. So, while it would have been nice to be in the front row, we were pretty happy with the situation by the end.

I feel so lucky that we got to see Cat Stevens…I want to make live music a priority in 2015–it makes my heart sing! kimberly and naoto at Cat Stevens concert, Chicago TheaterP.S. Cat Stevens did a Tiny Desk Concert for NPR recently. I love the Tiny Desk and this one is so good!

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Oh Christmas Tree 2014

Christmas Tree 2014I think this year’s tree takes the cake…I love its little shape better than the fuller trees of the past two years (2012 & 2013). I’m not a perfectionist when it comes to hanging ornaments, so I’ve found places where there are little ornament clusters and spaces that are kind of bare, but I guess that just adds to the fun. The saddest part of my tree this year is that my favorite vintage tree topper would not light up, so I had to use a colorful replacement. (It’s hard to see in the pictures, but it has multi-colored lights.)  Christmas Tree 2014I included pretty much every single ornament that I own on the tree this year. Our full trees of the past two years meant that some of the larger and heavier ornaments had to be left off, but this year, the strong Fraser Fir branches could handle them all. I also have not hung some of my most loved ornaments since having Presley. This year, I put most of them on the tree. (They will get their own ornament story post next week.) I just feel like I haven’t enjoyed them in ages and they are just too beautiful not to hang. Christmas Tree 2014Here’s hoping this little devil behaves herself. (Knocking on wood, crossing my fingers, rubbing a horseshoe…)

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Thoughts on Christmas Trees

Thoughts on a Christmas treeWhen I was growing up, we always got a real tree for Christmas. I remember always being cold and annoyed at the tree farm while my parents picked out a tree. I remember being bummed that we couldn’t get our tree right after Thanksgiving. (“It will dry out!”) I was jealous of the families who dragged their fake trees out of the basement and got to decorate for Christmas right away.

When I graduated from college, I bought a cheap fake tree at Kmart. It was fine, but it really did lack pizazz. I had it for years but once Naoto and I got married, I convinced him that we should try a real tree. (If we could turn back time, I bet he would veto that decision.) So, we bought a $9 tree stand (which still serves us very well) and found a tree at Menards. I know it’s less than picturesque to buy a Christmas tree in a home improvement store parking lot, but it works for us. Their trees always go on sale the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the price is right and, at this point in my life, I don’t need to visit a tree farm with an ax to make my Christmas complete.

Now, I can’t imagine going back to a fake tree*…even though it can be a lot of work to do the real tree thing, I love that our tree has a different personality every year. I love that fresh pine smell that fills our living room. I love tossing it off the balcony every January and not having to store it in our closet all year. (Our village collects the trees and recycles them as mulch.)

Growing up, I think we always got a Scotch pine. They are very traditional looking Christmas trees, very full, very green. Scotch pine needles are medium length and their branches are really strong, good for heavy ornaments. My issue with Scotch pines–the needles are verrrrry pokey. I guess my dad never minded getting stabbed with thousands of pine needles when he was manhandling the tree into the stand? Naoto and I always alternate between White Pines and Firs, either Balsam or Fraser.

White Pines are one of the least expensive trees ($14.95 on sale at Menards for a 6-7 foot tree, the same price as Scotch pines) and they are really full and lovely with their long, soft, deep-green needles. They also, in my experience, last a really long time, staying green and fresh past the New Year. The big downside to the White Pine is that sometimes the branches are floppy and they don’t support the weight of ornaments as well. And they are so full and the needles are so long that tiny ornaments tend to get lost in the tree. But, the trees are so pretty and traditional looking that I don’t always mind leaving some of my ornaments off for a year.

Balsam Firs and Fraser Firs are my favorites, but maybe that’s because we have a Fraser Fir this year. (Every year’s tree is my favorite.) They are more expensive ($24.95 on sale at Menards for a 6-7 foot tree) but it’s totally worth it. Both are skinnier trees with short needles. Balsams have more olive green needles and Frasers have blue-green needles. The shorter needles allow tiny ornaments to shine. Both trees’ branches are sturdier, so they can handle heavy ornaments. And the branches are more spread out, leaving room for larger ornaments to dangle. Supposedly both retain their needles well, but in my experience, they do dry out a bit faster than the pines…this could just be my luck with trees though. Both Balsam and Fraser Firs have incredible scents…our tree has been around for more than a week and it still smells divine in here.

I’ll share more pictures of our actual finished tree tomorrow. It’s all decorated and my ornaments really pop on its skinny branches. Now, I just need to keep Presley from nibbling the lower branches…

P.S. This post is not sponsored by Menards–we just like their trees. For further reading on Christmas trees, I found this interesting, educational website. I feel like someday I need to expand our tree search and try a spruce or a cypress!

*Sometimes when I’m struggling to string the lights (or swearing as I remove the tangled lights from the tree in January) I remember an old friend whose family kept their fake tree in the basement, fully assembled and decorated. Every year, they would just carry it up to the living room and plug it in. Instant Christmas! But honestly…I’d miss bringing out each ornament and remembering its history as I hung it on the tree…

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