Countdown to christmas -We made it!

December 28, 2009
Am married to a New Englander who longs for snow beginning in November. Luckily, there's plenty of it here in Mammoth, California. While Husband and Son freeze on mountain and stand in lift lines, I sip my tea, savor a delicious brownie from the Looney Bean, and give thanks for indoor heating and free internet access. Have a good book, good friends, good family. What else does one need for a Merry Christmas? Can now totally slack off till January 3rd. Won't you join me?

Countdown to Christmas-3 days

December 23, 2009
Have been woefully neglectful of my Christmas Countdown and I do apologize. Would like to say that I'm so busy caroling, decorating, and joy mongering that have not had time to write and reflect - but that is patently not true. I have, however, noted some unusual behavior in my house these past few days. Husband brought home Christmas tree, unprompted, and strung it with lights. My son, back from college, joined us for dinner three nights in a row. He did mention something about horrible dorm food, but still, I was very grateful for his presence. Even more amazing, he purchased and wrapped a Christmas gift for his father without twenty reminders. As it is three days before Christmas, I must conclude there are holiday miracles after all.

Countdown to Christmas - 11 Days

December 15, 2009
These endless stories about holiday weight gain are just silly - everyone knows the only practical way to manage holiday stress is with peppermint bark and chocolate. In fact, it's entirely possible that Christmas cookies are preserving my mental health. If I wasn't indulging in vast quantities of sugar, how would I cope? I know from experience that on January 2nd I will be sick of sweets and craving a savory vegetable soup. Until then I have Marion's English Toffee bars to tide me over. As long as I loosen my jeans.

Countdown to Christmas - 14 Days

December 14, 2009
My neighbor Herb has no less than 10 Christmas teddy bears, 8 angels and 6 nutcrackers - just in his breakfast room alone! If you multiply that by five hundred you can imagine the rest of his house. Oh, and add a working Lionel train set complete with smoke. Rain or shine, recession or boom time, Herb is always jolly at this time of year. Have decided that he must have been born with a Merry Christmas gene. How else to explain this steadfast cheeriness? And how else to rationalize my lack of it?

Countdown to Christmas - 16 Days

December 11, 2009
I found a gorgeous wreath at the Hollywood Farmer's Market for my front door. It's made from eucalyptus leaves and these spindly pink and black flowers that look like sea anemones. Everyone's commented on it (OK, maybe just the UPS guy and the plumber). Wreaths have been around since the days of the Druids, who believed that holly, with its evergreen branches, was a magical plant. They're in the shape of the circle, the symbol of eternity - which sort of feel like the length of the holiday season for a lot of us, doesn't it?

Countdown to Christmas - 18 Days

December 10, 2009
Highly recommend riding your bikes through the holiday light display in Griffith Park. It's fun being there at night with the spooky tree shadows and the smell of horses and grass in the air. They've closed the road to cars so it's just us bikers and walkers this week. Everyone's smiling and waving and chatting. There are kids in strollers and dogs and lots of photo flash. Christmas carols boom out over the PA system and there are quite a few spontaneous rounds of "Frosty." My favorite display is the jets taking off at LAX...reminds me of a time when travel was speedy and glamorous. At the end of the route in the zoo parking lot there's a man selling warm churros. Feel there's a great opportunity here for a hot chocolate vendor or a cupcake truck. Are you listening Sprinkles?

Countdown to Christmas - 23 Days

December 04, 2009
Overnight the holiday fairies swooped in and decorated Los Angeles. The friendly pumpkins of November have magically disappeared and in their place are wreaths on the employee shuttle vans, banners on the streetlights and a shiny, tinseled tree in our local Thai restaurant. Bing Crosby was crooning to the apples and pears in the produce section of my market. At the movies, the courtyard was cluttered with swirling fake snow, strolling carolers and a (strangely) petite Santa Claus. Have barely digested my turkey and stuffing and am now being offered sample cups of peppermint mocha latte and bite-sized gingerbread at Peet's coffee. Everyone always says that Christmas comes too early and you know, everyone is always right.

Countdown to Christmas - 21 Days

December 04, 2009
Today's topic: Advent Calendars. Loved them as a kid. Loved them with MY kid. There's something so exciting about opening those cute, tiny doors. But I feel sort of silly doing it all alone without a child standing next to me. Not that I'm too OLD for pictures of tin drums and toy soldiers. But what about pictures especially for the grown up girl? In my advent calendar, this is what you'll find behind classic, berry-red doors: a steaming chicken pot pie on MY kitchen counter; a parking space on 3rd Street; an organized underwear drawer; a smiling teenager; a perfect hair day; great fitting pants. Advent means "arrival." And my wish for the new year is that these lovely things will arrive some time in 2010. Chances are good except for the smiling teenager. That may be too much to ask - even in a season of miracles.

Countdown to Christmas - 25 Days

December 01, 2009
Congratulations to everyone! We have completed Part I of the Holiday Season: Thanksgiving. To commemorate our courage and fortitude, please allow yourself some small meaningless gesture today. I shall be drinking an Eggnog Latte at Starbucks. And remember: we must enlist all mood elevating substances for battle against the dark days of December. Which begin tomorrow.

Countdown to Christmas - 30 Days

November 30, 2009
Do you shop on Black Friday? Simone pointed out that there are so many deals now on regular days there's no reason to wake yourself from a much-needed sleep to circle the parking lots and stand in lines. And Tina, who lives close to an outlet mall, reported that the cars begin to queue up just after midnight on Thursday. These must be the people that did not roast the turkey, peel the potatoes, vacuum the dining room and bake the pies. If they have the energy to get up at 4 am for a flat screen TV, I certainly hope they had the energy to clean their Thanksgiving host's kitchen before they left! OK, maybe I'm being a teensy bit harsh. But we've entered the season of peace, joy and question your fellow mankind, have we not?

Countdown to Christmas - 36 Days

November 23, 2009
More on Turkey. Ran into neighbor Herb this morning who was looking very gloomy. He'd just been told that his Thanksgiving host will be cooking the turkey in a bag. The skin will not crisp properly, Herb scowled, and the house won't smell like roast meat if it's trapped in that balloon! I told him quite a few friends use The Bag and they swear the meat turns out better - moist and delicious - but he would not have it. Clearly, turkey is a hot-button issue and it is difficult to reach a consensus. In my humble opinion, if someone WANTS to cook a turkey and serve it to me, they can do whatever they like to it. More important, what's a little turkey compared to The Sides?

Countdown to Christmas - 35 Days

November 23, 2009
On Thanksgiving, cooks everywhere make the same dishes year after year: turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, pie. Altering the menu in any way can open the door to hysteria. Several hostesses recalled that when they've tried to mix things up (cranberry coulis; navy bean ragout) they end up affronting someone. But there is a gift to be had when you stick with tradition. Jennifer M. said it's the one time of year she knows exactly what she is going to have for dinner without having to go through the tiresome 'what are we going to have for dinner' routine. And my dears, in the multi tasking world in which we live, that seems like an incredibly wonderful gift, doesn't it?

Countdown to Christmas - 39 Days

November 17, 2009
Day 39 and holiday arguing has officially begun. I (very) sweetly asked Husband to please grill turkey outside as have only one oven and will need that to bake pie, stuffing and sweet potatoes. Husband (very) hotly refused - insists barbequed bird not authentic enough for Thanksgiving - a ridiculous assertion considering Colonists had no self-cleaning ovens and most certainly threw their fowl on the fire. Husband has invited 20 guests with idea that more is merrier. Thought of 20 for dinner gives me swine-flu like symptoms. We have retreated to opposite corners of the ring. Seem to remember exact same scenario last year. Unfortunately, cannot recall happy ending.

Countdown to Christmas - 42 Days

November 13, 2009
From the Holiday Recipe Files: Pumpkin Pie. Lori G. ALWAYS makes pumpkin pie from a real pumpkin. She buys the smaller, sweet ones in October and leaves them on her porch, because she says she can't find real pumpkins after Halloween. I tried using fresh pumpkin one year. I too, bought the Sugar Pie variety which is grown specifically for eating (the pumpkins you get for Halloween are mealy and watery and not recommended for baking). I cooked it, pureed it, and poured it into a sweet butter crust. When the pie was done it didn't have that beautiful maple color like you get with canned pumpkin - it was an odd greenish-gray . It tasted great but no one would touch it. So now I stick with Libby's which is perfectly delicious and two hours less trouble. And for that I am truly thankful.

Countdown to Christmas - 44 Days

November 11, 2009
Sweet Potatoes Part Two: Our friend Ms. Peacock adds a dash of rodent repellent to a half cup of sweet potatoes and serves this to any Unwanted Guest, i.e., any boor who disrupts her Thanksgiving dinner with tiresome political rants. Now before we judge Ms Peacock as Off Her Rocker, I suggest that she has exposed the dark side of family get-togethers and finessed a practical solution for maintaining Peace on Earth. Unfortunately, I have no trouble imagining such a guest at my own table, and am therefore stashing this (somewhat fictional) remedy in my Holiday Recipe File to use in case of Boorish Emergency.

Countdown to Christmas - 46 Days

November 10, 2009
From the Holiday Recipe Files: Sweet Potatoes. Aside from the turkey, sweet potatoes seem to be the dish that indicates you're eating the Thanksgiving meal. Nicole G. says that she would feel lonely and bereft without sweet potatoes. One year, Roxanne H. attended a Thanksgiving dinner and the host didn't HAVE sweet potatoes - she was unable to enjoy her meal. Fran W. doesn't even LIKE sweet potatoes but wouldn't dream of not serving them. People seem to need them even if they don't eat them. You can add butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, pecans, orange juice, heavy cream....sweet potatoes seem more of a dessert, masquerading as a vegetable. Tomorrow: a slightly unconventional sweet potato recipe submitted by my dear friend Peacock.

Countdown to Christmas - 49 Days

November 09, 2009
From the Holiday Recipe Files: Several girlfriends told me that the Silver Palate holds considerable influence over their Thanksgiving menu. Christy E. said she makes the sweet potato and carrot puree from the first Silver Palate every year. Marilyn B. makes the Brussels sprouts from S.P. Good Times. I realized I always bake their Old Fashioned Apple pie. I wonder if S.P. has supplanted Joy of Cooking for women of a certain age....

Countdown to Christmas - 53 Days

November 05, 2009
It is November 2nd and Tina A. has commenced Phase I of her holiday decorating - Thanksgiving. Because she has so many autumn leaves, turkey feathers, corn stalks, gourds, scarecrows and pilgrims she consults PHOTOGRAPHS of her house from last year to remember where to place everything! I alternately praise and deride her about this craft compulsion. "If you focus on the decorating," she says airily, "then you won't have time for the family drama." Words to arrange by, my dears.

Countdown to Christmas - 51 Days

November 05, 2009
Am sticking to plan to pace myself over the holidays - nothing too much too soon. Didn't entertain Thanksgiving until all Halloween candy consumed. Battled temptation - Macy's had a gorgeous display of winter hats and gloves - but breezed past with reminder that there is never occasion for woolen neck scarf or mittens in LOS ANGELES. Anyway, as is November 4th, thought it acceptable to retrieve Thanksgiving cooking magazine from hiding place, and consider turkey (grilling? brining? basting?) and side dishes (would offspring even taste beet chutney or micro greens?). Hit by sudden wave of exhaustion so tossed magazine and phoned dearest friends to inquire about their favorite dishes. Shall secretly hope for invitation to dinner.

Countdown to Christmas - 58 Days

October 27, 2009
Am thoroughly enjoying the run-up to Halloween. The city is having a full-blown love affair with the pumpkin. There are pumpkin patches, twinkling pumpkin lights, and inflatable pumpkins bobbing happily on the front lawns. Caught up in the mania, I purchased a can of pumpkin and made pumpkin pancakes and pumpkin bread. I used a bundt pan for the bread batter and when it was done, I sifted a little powdered sugar over the top. I don't know why, but people go crazy for bundt cakes. So keep this formula at hand: bundt cake + powdered sugar = elegant dessert.

Countdown to Christmas - 63 Days

October 23, 2009
Once I tore myself away from the witches section, I asked Adele what people were wearing this Halloween. Apparently they're big on pirates, Star Wars characters and Renaissance kings and queens. Adele has been in business a long time, so I asked what look has remained popular through the years. Men consistently go for gorilla suits, she laughed, and women love to look beautiful. Hmm... I wonder if the writer of King Kong spent time in a costume shop?

Countdown to Christmas - 65 Days

October 22, 2009
The holiday season does launch with Halloween, so I set out for Adele's Costumes on Hollywood Blvd and headed straight to the witch section. Is there anything more fun than twirling around in a drapey black dress with fluttery sleeves? I completely understand why small boys want to wear Transformer suits - who doesn't want to feel more powerful? There appear to be two looks in sorcery: there's your Morticia Adams elegant witch and there's slutty hooker witch; I prefer old-fashioned spell-casting witch myself. The sort of old woman that crouches over a cauldron and boils wicked little children along with toads and eye of newt. If you're looking for some early holiday cheer, look no further than a cape and pointy hat. It's guaranteed to make you feel powerful - whatever the occasion.

Countdown to Christmas - 70 Days

October 19, 2009
Universe has conveniently banished all holiday thoughts by way of summer heat wave here in Los Angeles. Simply not possible to focus on Thanksgiving when one is throwing open the windows and cranking up the fans. Last week's longing to spend money on beautiful new dining room decor replaced with fantasy of installing A.C. (running on green energy of course). See you at the beach.

Countdown to Christmas - 74 Days

October 14, 2009
Clearly the universe is testing my resolve. As I've been visiting malls and signing my new book I've come face-to-face with the most beautiful Thanksgiving displays and I'm cracking under the pressure. You know the kind I mean: the magical dining rooms with pine farm tables and silk runners, gleaming china and pressed linens, and artful bowls of apples and chestnut pods. Contrary to everything I've said before, I'm beginning to think that my holidays would improve immeasurably with the addition of pheasant salad plates, a pumpkin-shaped soup tureen and these cute little squirrel salt and pepper shakers. Did I just say "cute little"? Must immediately go compose myself.

Countdown to Christmas - 79 Days

October 08, 2009
My favorite cooking magazine arrived in the mail last Friday and there on the cover was a beautiful, bronzed Thanksgiving turkey! Thanksgiving? I double-checked the calendar: it was only Oct 2nd. It's not us, my friends, it's the forces on the outside, making us a bit loopy. So I say take control of your holiday season! And my small act of defiance is this: I'm hiding my magazine until Nov. 1st. That's right. On Nov. 1st I'll lie on my couch with a cup of tea or a stiff drink and face the side dishes. Didn't someone once say radical change is only possible through small, meaningless acts? Then I'm well on my way.

Countdown to Christmas - 80Days

October 07, 2009
Three sisters, an absent husband, turkey, an old lover, cinnamon rolls, sex and suffering...you'll find all the holiday trimmings in my new book, "Over the Holidays." In stores today!

Countdown to Christmas - 81 Days

October 06, 2009
Friends, we seem to have entered the perfect holiday storm. Seen in competition at one box store last weekend: 4th of July paper plates and napkins; beach umbrellas and coolers; Halloween costumes and candy; Thanksgiving turkey candles; Christmas ornaments. Have we stumbled onto some kind of continuous holiday loop? And, more importantly, is there a way out?

Countdown to Christmas - 84 Days

October 05, 2009
Woke up this morning and realized it must be Autumn. The temp was down to 79 degrees and the air didn't smell like raging brushfires. My friend Patience says the scent of smoke means "October" and "Cider" and "Tailgate Party" to her. But she lives in Massachusetts - fire is never a good thing in Southern California. And while we don't have acres of brilliant fall foliage like our sisters in New England, the sycamore tree outside my window is dropping these huge crunchy brown leaves. L.A. shopkeepers have filled their store windows with bountiful piles of squash and gourds to tempt us inside. And best of all, the light is so soft you can remove your sunglasses by 4PM.

Countdown to Christmas - 87 Days

September 30, 2009
OK I KNOW I said I was going to make Halloween cards...but in the meantime, I'm thinking about chicken. Not for dinner, but for my backyard. This past weekend, I happened to visit two friends who keep chickens...not sure if this is a fringe movement, a political statement or a full blown trend, but it certainly is a lovely hobby. Am considering chickens now that my son has left for college. I have more free time and would appreciate the opportunity to nurture something that clucks but does not speak and won't be asking me for money. I was fortunate enough to receive several pale blue and creamy white eggs from these adorable fowl so must make something with them tonight. Quiche or omelet? Ooops, I meant to say savory tart or frittata, as that's what we call them now. I do love a buttery quiche crust so perhaps will hit the kitchen and get that going. Dough is a bit time consuming so must postpone Halloween craft project for now. The chicken keepers said you get more eggs than you can eat and it won't be cheaper than buying them at the market. That's OK. Chickens are beautiful and the ones I met seemed quite relaxed. Of course, nesting in spacious quarters in the Hollywood Hills, who wouldn't be agreeable? No crowded coop for these birds. And my friends live a very spiritual, healthy life. Those chickens probably get acupressure and listen to meditation tapes - like the dogs and cats do.

Countdown to Christmas - 88 Days

September 29, 2009
Tina A. dressed me down for poking fun at crafters. If I've ruffled the feathers (and glitter) of the crafting community - I do apologize. Tina A. is well into this year's project - experienced gals know that the planning and execution of their holiday handmades can take MONTHS. Tina also informed me that making things yourself reduces stress, like watching Simon Baker on The Mentalist or eating burrata cheese straight out of the package. She noted several studies that suggest crafting helps you live longer as well as lose your desire for greasy corn chips. She says she's saved a ton of money doing things herself. This Christmas, Tina created gift tags from vintage kimonos she's collected in Tokyo. Interesting that she didn't factor in the plane ticket to Japan in the cost of these gorgeous tags - perhaps that falls under Research and Development. Now that I've been chastised, the only thing to do is to fashion something out of popsicle sticks and kidney beans, spray it gold, and give it to her wrapped up in sparkly tissue.

Countdown to Christmas - 91 Days

September 28, 2009
I heard from someone who sends Halloween cards, and, coincidentally, it happens to be Vanessa's sister-in-law, Patience Polk-Channing, who creates her own designs from glitter, silk and pumpkin seeds. She sent me a sample and now I, too, feel a burning desire to make Halloween cards. Maybe I'll do that right after I get my three flu shots next week - they say you're going to need multiple doses this winter to fight all the negative energy, I mean viruses, swirling around. Isn't it interesting that the flu is so prevalent at holiday time? Patience wrote "Happy Haunting" in this beautiful script. She said a 12-week course in Calligraphy has made all the difference. Last week, she mailed these cards to her nieces with two $20 bills inside so they could buy any tiaras, scepters, crowns, tulle, etc., they might need to complete their costumes. Vanessa is so lucky to have such a thoughtful and crafty in-law. I don't think that Vanessa got the crafter gene.

Countdown to Christmas

September 25, 2009
My dears, it's official. The 2009 Christmas Holiday began, September 1th, when Christmas cards were spotted at the local Rite Aid by my dear friend, Vanessa Channing. Of course she called me immediately to report in. We have a bet going that by 2017, Christmas will begin Memorial Day weekend. Then this past Monday I spied Halloween cards displayed at my market. Halloween cards? Who sends Halloween cards? And if you do, please tell me why. I am, in fact, a huge fan of Halloween - a holiday with no gift-giving and tons of dark chocolate is the holiday for me. Plus I look great in a witch costume. But the cards make me nervous, folks. It's just a simple leap from card-sending to gift- giving. And we don't want to taint the utter perfection of a night featuring Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, glowing pumpkins and long, drapey black clothes with gift-giving!!! Please, people, let's get a hold of this before we descend into madness.

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