As 2012 wraps up today, I'm leaving you guys with one last update for this year. These are a few photos and projects from the past 2 weeks.
I'll start off with some of the party prep & decorations. For those of you who don't know me that well, I have a strong love of food. Both the simple act of eating, and just the wonderful flavours and combinations of foods you can experience. I used to be quite overweight, too (I have photos to prove it) and I just love eating in general, especially when I'm bored, sitting in front of the PC, or while watching a movie. It's been a struggle to keep myself from gaining too much weight while I've been off work, but I've somehow managed. The only trick I've found is to keep myself busy/distracted, or to snack on other things. However, I'm not here to talk about my diet. Back to food. As a result of my love for food, I also love to cook and bake. I have come a long way from my earlier years of making ramen noodles and Kraft Dinner (which I still make on occasion), and these days, I don't shy away from making very exotic and elaborate meals (time permitting). That said, what would seem to be just a normal "chicken noodle soup" for my party, was actually made entirely from scratch. Nothing but the best when I'm entertaining for my friends!
The broth simmered and concentrated, on low, for around 10-12 hours (overnight) for maximum flavour. I used chicken "backs" (an inexpensive pack for 2$) as well as 2 full chicken breasts (that's 4 individual chicken breasts still on the rib cages) for the stock, and I reserved and cut-up the 4 breasts for the meat in the finished soup. I have no photo of the finished soup, unfortunately, but it consisted of a mirepoix (celery, carrots, and onion) softened in butter, added to the soup stock, along with the reserved chicken, and cooked miniature bowties.
The main chili dish was also made entirely from scratch, and it was my near-imitation of the one served at Tim Horton's (a popular coffee & doughnut restaurant chain here in Canada). This chili features a deep, flavourful mix of spices.
I was, however, very surprised and very happy to get rave reviews on my simple Caesar salad. It was simply chopped Romaine hearts, a bit of shredded mozzarella, croutons (store bought ones *gasp*), and home made bacon bits. The only secret ingredient was the Renee's Mighty Caesar dressing (which is absolutely amazing).
The final table setting (after buying wine glasses, additional flowers, and washing everything) looked like this:
Since I'm currently unemployed, Christmas this year was very tight, so my main gifts were home baked sugar cookies, and this party. I also had a nice sized treat bag filled with Christmas candies & chocolates for each guest (no photo).
On the day of the party, I was running behind schedule so much that the cookies (enough for 8 boxes) were all baked and ready only minutes before the guests were due to arrive! This was maddening and very stressful for me. I will *not* let this happen again.
I ended up needing to do a last minute grocery run that morning, and this put me a bit behind. I had planned to have several hours to prepare the cookies, and it didn't work out that way. I was ready to start baking at around 1:45 - 2:00pm (the party was scheduled for around 4:00pm).
It was at this point that I realized I DID NOT HAVE ENOUGH FLOUR!
*cue freak out*
I wanted to make a triple batch, but I only had enough flour for two batches. I had checked that I had enough icing sugar, vanilla, etc,but somehow I neglected to check the flour. Thankfully, I have nice neighbours (the ones in the attached building) and I was able to get the other 2 cups of flour I needed!
So, keeping in mind that the dough for sugar cookies (or any other butter-based cookies) is SUPPOSED to chill for 1 hour in the fridge, it was a miracle that I was able to bake somewhere in the region of 90 cookies in just 2 hours... but I totally cheated! I tossed the dough in the freezer to speed things up. I had to! But it worked just as well.
These were most of the cookies before I boxed them. I had something like 9 cookies per box (x8) and about a dozen slightly burnt ones (the first sheet ALWAYS gets fubar'd), and there were also a handful that got broken/bent/squished/eaten.
So yeah, hectic, stressful, insane. All these words are applicable. I got the cookies baked, cooled, and gift boxed just in time before my first friend showed up right around 4pm. Once that was all over, things like the soup, and reheating the chili (prepared the previous day), were easy, and I could relax.
And as a funny side note: I totally threw all the dirty cookie sheets and bowls into the oven, but shhhh! don't tell anyone. LOL.
Here are a few of my decorations. I really love nutcrackers, probably ever since I first saw the Care Bears version as a kid. Those wishing to go down a trip on memory lane can find it on YouTube :D
My Mom bought me the smaller teal one many years ago (second photo below). The other two were bought in the past few years, and I may grow the collection after seeing Alex & Wendy's collection. They make a really beautiful display as a group. Here's a photo of their wonderful collection:
And these are mine. I especially liked the unusual striped hat on the larger drummer:
This red drummer was bought this year. He was only 12$. I've mentioned before that I'm a bit picky about details, and you can see how nicely painted he is. His hat has a real brass chain, and he also has a few fake gems (hat and boots). I never expect these to be perfect, since they're mass produced, but it's always nice when they look like time and effort went into them, which is something I really appreciate. He's also the same size/company as the other drummer above (which I bought a few years back at the same store).
Another fun holiday item is this vintage tin "angel chimes". This was something I found either at Value Village, or I may have picked it up at a yard sale. It was still in the original box, and it had never been opened (the plastic baggies inside were still sealed). I didn't light it, since I'm not sure if I could find new candles that would fit.
Next is my miniature tree. I had not found a good artificial tree at this point yet, (I'm really excited for next year!) and this small tree was a gift from a former coworker from several years back. I had used it only a few times, back when I was at the apartment. It's filled with many of my old/childhood ornaments.
You will see many of the ornaments in it are hand made, and most of them were made by my mother (who used to do tons of crafts). Many are done in plastic canvas (which was huge back in the 90s), others are felt & pom-poms, like the cute kitten in a slipper near the top. Others are store bought.
I'm also a huge fan of apples and oranges* as part of the decorations. Unfortunately, the oranges are very hard to find, and I'll probably have to scour eBay or make some myself. You can see just one or two (since these are all I have). We used to have a whole box of them, but I think they're still with the other decorations at Dad's house (who never puts up the tree anymore). Apples seem to be extremely easy to find, and I have several boxes in different sizes.
* For the simple fact that decades ago, it used to be a real treat for people to get apples or oranges at this time of year, simply because back then, they were a luxury due to transport costs, etc. It makes you appreciate how lucky and spoiled we are today.
Opposite the tree (in the living room), I added my pine cone wreath to the large antique mirror, and hung my stocking on one of the doors of the bookcase. This is the stocking I've had since I was a kid, and it's also one that was entirely hand made by my Mom. All 4 of us had one (Mom, Dad, my brother and myself), and each was slightly different. I know that mine and my brother's had bears in the pocket, and Dad's was an elf with a pointy/curved hat, but I'm not sure what Mom's was. It may have also been a bear. Or maybe my bothers' was also an elf? It's been too long.
Each year, they would get stuffed full of candies and small toys. One of the things I remember getting in these was Terry's Chocolate Oranges.
Side note: You can see the stocking a bit better in this old photo from 2006:
The last little project I did on the house before the party, was to install the hinges on the vanity. I did not want to run the risk that someone might hook them, or try to open them (not realizing they were just propped-up for looks), and I also didn't want to leave them off the vanity (because it would have looked tacky). I had a bit of trouble with two screws breaking in the wood (Remember folks, hard maple is hard like a rock. You can bash it with a hammer and it will barely leave a mark!), so I increased the size of drill bit that I was using, and I was able to fix everything without too much trouble.
To make things easy, I used the same method as the other doors I hung in the house. Attach the hinges to the doors, then to the cabinet, using shims as both spacers, and to keep the doors in place. Punch mark the centres, pre-drill, and affix the screws.
Also, since I have no bathroom door, I hung a temporary curtain with a dowel rod tensioned into place in the jamb.
The party went well, and everyone had a good time.
Alright, this post is getting insanely long, so I'm cutting it into two parts. Part 2 will be the more random stuff.