Getting excited about Christmas

I love the month of December here in New York — I think it’s even my favourite time of the year, even better than beautiful spring-time April. It’s cold, but everyone seems to be in good spirits (as opposed to grumpy January!), there are beautiful decorations everywhere (I’ll have to get you some photographic evidence!), buskers sing “Feliz Navidad” on the subway, you get things like peppermint hot chocolates and hot apple cider, and random people on the street say “Merry Christmas”.

But maybe I feel especially fond of New York City in December because I love Christmas! I love everything about it: the music, the wonderful smells, the baking, the decorations, the festivities, the gifts…, and all these ‘little’ things undergirded with a robust and joyful deep thankfulness that God gave the most extravagant Christmas gift ever to set us free from our bondage to sin. If that is not reason to get excited and celebrate, then nothing is.

So we embrace the little traditions; we celebrate Advent, we decorate, we bake, we give gifts, we sing and make music.

I thought I’d share some little ways in which I’ve made our home more Christmassy — have I mentioned that we love Christmas around here?

We listen to Christmas music. And sometimes we even dance to them. Everything from traditional carols to Frank Sinatra crooning “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” (Marica is certainly dreaming of one. She can’t wait for the snow!). I’ve also been asked to be part of a Christmas Choir, and we’ll be giving a concert next weekend. I signed up because I thought, oh that will be easy — I’ve done Christmas music all my life! Uh… it turns out my Christmas music exposure has been pretty small. We’re singing all sorts of German and Latin and even American songs I’d never heard before. It turns out they’re actually quite difficult and I have to <gasp> practice at home! I think it’s going to be totally worth it though, the music is really beautiful.

I make the house smell nice. Sometimes that’s from baking, but I’ve also developed a love with scented candles (NEVER thought I’d say that!). At the moment I’ve got a Creme Brulee one that I wish I could eat. When that one’s gone I’m going to get a peppermint one!

I’ve also decorated an orange with cloves (such a fun and easy and cheap craft! Though I recommend using a thimble if you are going to make one) and it smells really good. I might throw it into some gluhwein at the end of the season.

We bake! This year is pretty busy, but I’m definitely still baking! Grandma Tschetter’s peppernut dough is already ripening in the fridge. Also on the menu are gingerbread men, Christmas biscotti (with pistachios and dried strawberries), Jo Seagar’s Port and Prune truffles, apricot truffles and ‘Christmas snow’ which is like rice crispy candy with extra bits and pieces thrown in to make it look Christmassy.

We read Christmas-themed books. I got a whole bunch of nice ones from the library, and we also own Duck & Goose — It’s Time for Christmas, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, Room for a Little One, Hettie’s Christmas Gift, an Advent Storybook, The Nutcracker (in Afrikaans), A Christmas Carol (not really for the kids) and the kids are getting The Carpenter’s Gift and How the Grinch Stole Christmas for Advent gifts. I buy a couple every year and slowly the collection grows.

The kids have a special plate and cup. They got these for Advent gifts last year, and they want to eat out of them all the time. We make meal-times an extra bit fun with Christmas cookie cutter sandwiches, and we’ve even had Christmas shaped poached eggs!

(Mum gets the crusts.)

We decorate. We’ve made some decorations, and bought some. I’ve been amazed at how dirt cheap some decorations are here, and they’re nice, not tacky! A little bit of inspiration goes a long way.

Add a little something to your usual shelf, and suddenly it looks like Christmas!

Some pine cones I picked up some months back in a red bowl.

We don’t have a Christmas tree, so I decorate in other ways. Hey, guess what my friend Jennifer turned up with last night?! The kids can’t stop staring at it, turning out the lights of the room so just the Christmas tree lights are giving light. They’re over the moon, thanks, Jen!

We made these cool Christmas decorations recently at Jen’s house. I’ll show you some pictures of that soon!

A pretty metal star I picked up from Target for $2.50.

Marica painted this angel (with a little bit of help) at the same craft afternoon I made the ball decoration I showed you earlier. The kiwi on the left was a gift from my friend Miriam, and the apple decoration I bought as a souvenir to take home.

Even the chairs get a bit of sprucing up.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to make Christmas a bit more special, and all these little things add up to make the whole month more festive. I’d also like to think we’re making some happy memories.

Thanksgiving yumminess

Well, Thanksgiving came and went, and we had a lovely day. It was great to have a bonus day where Ben had the day off, and we enjoyed getting to know a friend from church a bit better.

One of the highlights of a day filled with thankfulness was of course the food! I enjoyed spending two days creating a feast. I love cooking! I love cooking good food! I love cooking good food for people to enjoy around my table, even if my table can’t be as festive or pretty as I might like in our current setting.

I don’t know if it’s because I had one glass of wine (ha!), or if my camera settings were just all wrong, but it was The Day of the Worst Photos Ever. Which is why there are not detailed photos of every single dish. (Thank goodness, I hear you say?) Oh well! Here’s what we had.

Roast TurkeyTurkey Gravy, Cranberry sauce, Strawberry and Spinach SaladStuffing, (yep, the stuff from the box. Though I did dress it up with onions, celery, carrots and mushrooms.), Challah rolls, Pommes DauphinoiseCurried Sweet Potato SaladWhiskey Glazed Carrots, and Green Bean Casserole with bacon.

Our table doesn’t have the room for salad plates, so our plates were wonderfully full!

And for dessert we had Pumpkin Pie and cream.

as well as an amazing Raspberry and Chocolate Mousse cake that our friend Eddie brought.

Brining the turkey was quite an adventure –something I had never done before. I cooked up some brine on Tuesday and let it cool. It looked cool and smelled pretty potent.

On Wednesday evening, it was time to get this turkey into the brine.

There was a little problem, though. I don’t have a container big enough to fit a turkey. Even my biggest pot here would hold about half the turkey. It’s times like that I try not to get frustrated with the fact that I have a fully functional kitchen sitting in storage in my garage back home. But I digress. I looked around at what I had. Option one was the cleaning bucket, but I couldn’t get myself to put food in there. Then I looked at my plastic drawer set… hmmm, this could work! So the contents of the drawer came out

the drawer set looked bereaved

but the turkey fit!

The only problem was that I didn’t have enough brine, so I made some more. Good.

Oh dear, now it was too heavy for the fridge shelf. Rethink this whole thing. Almost give up on the whole silly brining idea. Oh, a bag! Of course! (I didn’t have the foresight to buy a special brining bag). It worked, sort of!

And she turned out pretty good in the end, even if I say so myself.

Later that evening we had some fun with dressing Esther up in her old (too small) monkey costume and there were giggles all around! And look, how strange!– a photo of me! (Honestly, it’s better that way.)

A garden grows in Brooklyn

We  are among the few privileged New Yorkers who have our own private backyard. Private as in access (no one else uses our backyard), not private in the sense that nobody can see us, because we certainly have plenty of window eyes all around!

Last year we moved into our place in July and I was so busy with getting the house settled that by the time I had time to think about the garden it was pretty much fall. So when this spring rolled around, I was determined to make our backyard pretty.

Down here you can see the space I’m working with, and in that picture things were just starting to grow.

And this is the other side. All up it’s probably about 45 square meters of backyard and thankfully that’s not all garden. :-)

I love the ivy that grows over the fences and back wall — it just adds such a nice amount of green to it all.

So now I’ve got some flowers planted,

some tomatoes doing their thing,

the few veggies are starting to look like a garden,

I have glorious amounts of basil and parsley in my garden,

And I have pretty zinnias in pots.

What more can a city girl ask for?!