Gingerbread Village 2013

Mom and I spent a couple of days this week working on this year’s gingerbread village. As usual, there was a lot of laughter – especially when mom was working on what she hoped would be a cute little person but who turned into a creepy stalker guy and finally morphed into some strange version of Mr. Bill from Saturday Night Live. Seriously. This is the table near the end. Yes, wine is an essential component of gingerbread. If you look behind the water glass in the middle of the table, you will see Mr. Bill. What was she thinking?

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I hadn’t realized until I looked at the photos, but all the little houses I did ended up together (I didn’t do the snowman – that’s mom’s). The A-frame is my Broncos house for the year. Go Broncos!

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Mom did the big house and the this smaller one next to it – she did amazing wreaths on that little house! I did the tree next to the big house and I am super pleased with that.

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Here is a side view of the train – mom did the back car and I did the engine. We put the Mr. Bill stalker in the train car – he’s being hauled off to the loony bin.

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The little guy I did is the train engineer!

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And there’s this years whole village, lit from beneath. Looks good!

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(all photos are courtesy of my mother. Thanks mom!)

Smokin’

As July 4th approaches, I’m preparing to smoke pork shoulder in the Southern tradition. Not only it it a national holiday, it’s my husband’s birthday – and he’s loved pulled pork ever since my father introduced him to it. My father taught me, and then I got his old smoker when he upgraded to a new one. Smoking pork is an all-day affair with a big payoff at the end. I did it for Memorial Day weekend and the results were fantastic.

I start by lighting the fire before 6am – pork is smoked over indirect head and “low and slow” is the only way to go. Once the coals are hot, I add water-soaked hickory chips on the coals to generate the smoke.

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It’s important to have the coals up on a grate, because there will be a lot of ash created – the foil lining the bottom helps with cleanup.

Now I put on the meat – this is about 4 pounds of pork shoulder (aka “boston butt” and don’t ask me why) cut in two pieces.

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This has marinade basted on it that is very important – we use Wicker’s original and there is zero reason to look for anything else. It’s perfection. Close the lid, and now we’re smokin’!

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For the rest of the day I keep checking the smoke and the coals – every 15 minutes or so (maybe 30 at max) I need to add coals and/or wood chips. Now, there are people who will tell you that adding more wood chips after a certain time is meaningless because no more smoke will penetrate the meat. Perhaps they are right. There is no doubt a time that I add the wood chips solely to torture my neighbors with the fantastic aroma.

After an hour or so, the meat starts to tighten up and become firm and the color darkens.

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I’m continuing to baste with the Wicker’s and I turn the meat every so often to make sure the indirect head is generally distributed. Again, some people will tell you that once you close the lid you should never open it again until you are done. I say to them: my results are amazingly tasty so shut up.

After about 10-12 hours the meat has a nice bark on it and eventually it will start to feel “loose” – loose means it wants to fall apart on its own. This is what you want.

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At this point, you remove the meat and if you’ve done things right you only need a couple of forks to pull the pork apart into delicious shreds.

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The more pink you see the better – that is how far the smoke penetrated. It is juicy and delicious!

I serve this with red onion, amazing barbeque sauce, vinegar-based cole slaw, and baked beans. Many people use a bun and make a sandwich, but the bun to me is just taking up room on my plate that I could fill with pulled pork! The bark is intensely tasty and a prized treat as well.

Now I’m hungry, and I have days yet before the 4th….

Bon appetit!

You CAN eat a gingerbread house

Mom and I decided to do a real documentation of the deterioration of one of the gingerbread houses we made – and we picked the Home Depot because it was exceedingly covered in frosting so should last the longest. It was placed outside in their yard in a location where she could easily put her tripod in the same location every few days to take a photo. We had a bit of wind which had moved the Home Depot, so she was thinking she should go out and move it into its proper place. That’s when she saw this (all photos courtesy of my mother):

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He just kept snacking – apparently he really enjoyed the gingerbread!

227701_10200255386336397_1729029734_nHe then took a hard look at her and decided he was done eating gingerbread for the moment….

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Winter Flowers

Last year my aunt gave my mother a “Christmas Cactus” – nearly every one I’ve seen had red blooms, but this one has white/pink blooms. Normally giving my mother a plant is a risky proposition, but she does well with the succulents and the cactus bloomed like crazy this year. It’s a very pretty accent in their kitchen.

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My in-laws sent my husband and me paperwhite bulbs this year. I dutifully watered the container and lo and behold, up they popped. I’m sorry to know that since they were forced to bloom out of season (technically not a winter flower) this is probably it. But I’ll give it a go to see if I can keep them alive. In the meantime:

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Best wishes to all of you and yours for a happy, safe, and prosperous new year!

You cannot overdecorate the gingerbread

A few years back my mom bought a gingerbread house kit on a lark and we collaborated in decorating it. This started a tradition not unlike the pumpkin carving that is a bit out of hand. This year she got a kit that had four little houses. I got one that I thought had three little houses but it turns out it was one big house (the box was deceiving, trust me). Then my husband, being helpful, got a Home Depot gingerbread kit.

HOME. DEPOT.

Gamely, mom and I decided we were going all the way from the commercial district to the expensive house-on-the-hill.  The first step is putting together the parts. Turns out the Home Depot one was the most difficult to do. The one I got came pre-assembled.

I win.

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Putting together the houses. Mom cursed her son-in-law for buying the Home Depot kit.

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The house I bought came pre-assembled. Winning!

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Because my husband bought it, I was tasked with the Home Depot decorations. Let me tell you, that is a lot of orange frosting. And I was very skeptical that this would look like anything useful once done. Especially seeing it midway:

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Fortunately, throughout the year we end up buying extra candies and such to add to our gingerbread houses. This saved me in the completion of the Home Depot. In fact, the tiny little necco wafers (at least, that’s what they looked like to me and mom) turned out to be pretty great as lights on the building. Or perhaps I was just pleased because dad brought us each margaritas.

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In fact, I finished the Home Depot (or I was done with it, which has a slightly different connotation) while mom continued her work on the tasteful “house on the hill”. So I grabbed a small house and went to town with the tiny necco wafers. Fast and adorable.

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Mom finally finished her big house. This had to be tasteful, because people in this size of house would pay a decorator. I rolled out yellow gumdrops for her to use as the windows. If you decide to do this, use sugar on the rolling pin and board to prevent sticking (or lessen it, anyway).

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Mom is ridiculously good at the icicles. You’ll note the items I did do not have icicles.

We were tired of the process by this point so left the remaining three houses for a couple of days later. I had bought some cookie frosting so picked the house with a flat-ish roof so I could use it (very liquid, but then hardens). The tilt to the structure is on mom because she put it together. The fact that it looks like it’s staring at you is all my fault. We named it the “stalker house”.

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Meanwhile mom did this adorable little house. She would prefer it if you just admire the roof and skip looking at anything else.

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We had one left and collaborated. I picked a Denver Broncos color scheme and we went with it in a big way. It’s our favorite.

You have your reasons, we have ours.

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Finally we had to put it all together into a scene. We have mirrors to be ponds and step-stones, little strands of lights, some old bits of garland made into trees…. and marauding polar bears.

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My husband is no longer allowed to purchase a gingerbread kit unless he puts it together and decorates it himself. (this will not happen).

Merry Christmas! Stay out of the path of marauding polar bears!

Decorations Nobody Else Has

Admittedly, I have not checked every other house on the planet. I’m pretty comfortable making this assumption though. We built a planter box in our entryway. We have a bunch of small palms planted in it and it provides a nice bit of green and breaks up the open space well. In years past I have not done any holiday decorating on or in the planter, but this year I had the brilliant idea to add my large solar Christmas bulbs to the planter box. It is stupendous, if I do say so myself. And I did.

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In the back you can see General Principle peeking over the top. He was also dressed for the season. He took it stoically, as he does everything.


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Glitterwreaths

At the start of October I got out the bins full of orange things. While it may be impressive that I have two full bins (plus a bit) of orange things to decorate during Halloween and Thanksgiving, it’s nothing on what I have stored for Christmas. This isn’t even half of those bins:

A few years ago when my husband and I moved into the house we’d been building forever (or 17 years, anyway – and I was only around for the final 7 mind you… but that is a whole different story) I got to start decorating in a much larger and more open space.

A space with 7 square windows across the front of the house that cried out for wreaths during Christmas.

So I went shopping and got 10 (because there were three other windows that also wanted wreaths) artificial pre-lit green wreaths. They were a little dull, so I asked my mother to bring over her bowdabra and make bows for them all, which she did. Of course, that wasn’t going to be enough either. I also bought various picks and glitter covered things and scavenged picks that my mother and sister had put into bows in past years (this is why I don’t even try to compete on package wrapping; it’s a lost cause for me) and started decorating all the wreaths.

The bows are underneath and face out the window; the glittery sides face inside.

The question arose as to how to hang them all. We ended up with tension curtain rods in every window (none of these windows have treatments on them because I can’t bear to damage the beautiful wood). Those and fishing line around the wreath created a perfect solution.

I have outlets near each window so I own more timers and short extension cords than most people would find in a hardware store. One of the wreaths got a bit more of the decorations because it’s the one that graces the large dining room window. And this should explain why I find glitter in my home year round.

Oh, Christmas Tree!

I have had an artificial pre-lit tree for many years. Scoff if your want – tell me all about how a “real” tree is “better” because I care not. I don’t have to deal with stringing lights and I am assured a slim tree that fits in my space.

That said, I have often been angered trying to sort out how the pre-lit lights are supposed to be plugged in to make everything merry and bright… And last year I had a section of tree that refused to light. So, I bought a new tree this year. Turns out, it’s flipping brilliant! There is NO mystery about how to get things lit!

Oh, yeah! There is one plug at the bottom section and all the rest is handled by simply setting the poles together!

Seriously. You have no idea how happy this made me. I toasted engineers everywhere with the cocktail I had already poured in anticipation of the annoyances related to dealing with the plugs….

Here is our tree:

Of course it required fluffing and decorating but the fact that moments after being out of the box there was light? Damn impressive.

Because we don’t have kids it means we (okay, *I*) can have the tree done however we (*I*) like. All white lights have been the case for years. Last year for the first time I decided to go with all white/crystal ornaments. I love it. My tree has a glittery silver crystal-studded crown.

You’re jealous. If not of the tree itself, you’re jealous that there are wrapped packages already in place….

Here’s a close-up of the crystal-gorgeousness: