A Merry Grinchmas Celebration

Grinchmas Feast Christmas Party - TheCreativeLifeinBetween.comA Merry Grinchmas Celebration.

As I sit by the fire late Christmas evening – basking in the warmth and glow of a wonderful Christmas holiday spent over the past week or so with many of those I love most, I feel so grateful.  The house is quiet, except for the dishwasher running, the fire crackling, and a holiday movie playing in the background.

I’m feeling peaceful and content.

There is nothing like the excitement leading up to Christmas, and I loved hosting three dinner parties three days in a row (and that’s not counting one the weekend before).  But there is also something very special too about the days that follow Christmas….

The calm afterglow…  The snuggling in…  The nesting…  Looking at pictures… Smiling at the memories.

Movies, books, leftovers, jammies…

Today, I want to share a fun party we had this past Saturday, the eve of Christmas eve, with our McHendy family.

My bestie, Jill and I decided we wanted to surprise our families with a theme, so we created a McHendy Grinchmas Celebration.

Grinchmas Feast Christmas Party - TheCreativeLifeinBetween.comA Happy Whoville feast –

complete with Roast Beast (Beef Tenderloin),

Grinchmas Feast Christmas Party - TheCreativeLifeinBetween.comWho Mash (Mashed Potatoes),

Grinchmas Feast Christmas Party - TheCreativeLifeinBetween.comGrinch Greens (Sauteed Fresh Green Beans with garlic),

Grinchmas Feast Christmas Party - TheCreativeLifeinBetween.comand Cindy Lou Who Salad (Crisp Greens, Tart Pomegranate Seeds, Crunchy Pecans, and Creamy Goat Cheese).

Grinchmas Feast Christmas Party - TheCreativeLifeinBetween.comThis feast was preceded by some fun appetizers earlier in the day, including Grinchy Green Deviled Eggs,

Grinchmas Feast Christmas Party - TheCreativeLifeinBetween.comGrinch Santa Hats,

Grinchmas Feast Christmas Party - TheCreativeLifeinBetween.comand a Tortilla Wrap Christmas Tree.

Grinchmas Feast Christmas Party - TheCreativeLifeinBetween.comAnd it was followed by a tiered tray of Grinchmas Cookies,

Grinchmas Feast Christmas Party - TheCreativeLifeinBetween.comand plenty of other sweet treats.

Grinchmas Feast Christmas Party - TheCreativeLifeinBetween.comEach guest received a little favor bucket that included a green ornament with a tiny red heart and lime green and red candies,

Grinchmas Feast Christmas Party - TheCreativeLifeinBetween.comas well as a Grinch beanie hat (which we all wore for a fun family photo – with the exception of hubby who wore a full furry Grinch onesie!)

Grinchmas Feast Christmas Party - TheCreativeLifeinBetween.comThe games planned took a different twist than intended, but ended up being just as fun!

Grinchmas Feast Christmas Party - TheCreativeLifeinBetween.comThere were sleigh rides and races,

Grinchmas Feast Christmas Party - TheCreativeLifeinBetween.comI Spy the Who Hash,

Grinchmas Feast Christmas Party - TheCreativeLifeinBetween.comand boxed games around the cleared dinner table.


Grinchmas Feast Christmas Party - TheCreativeLifeinBetween.comGuests of honor

adorned the powder room and office doors.

Grinchmas Feast Christmas Party - TheCreativeLifeinBetween.comAnd as we ate and played and talked and laughed and cried, we celebrated being family in every true, authentic sense of the word.  And we reminded ourselves that “Merry Christmas doesn’t come from the store.  Maybe Christmas perhaps is a little bit more.”

Grinchmas Feast Christmas Party - TheCreativeLifeinBetween.comCheers & Hugs,
Jodi

Charlie’s Night Before Christmas

This week leading up to Christmas, I am sharing a few of my favorite posts from the past.  Charlie wanted in on the action too, so here is his Night Before Christmas post from last year:

Charlie’s Night Before Christmas

charlie-christmas-2016

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
not a creature was stirring, except a brown dog.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
and Charlie couldn’t reach them – he didn’t even dare.

Mom and Dad were nestled all snug in their bed,
while visions of head cold relief danced in their heads.
But Charlie was anxious, he just couldn’t sleep.
He wondered if Santa would bring him a treat.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
Charlie ran to his door to see what was the matter.
He flew out onto the porch and skidded across
Woofing and sniffing even every piece of  moss.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
made it a bit easier for Charlie to see all below.
When what to his wondering eyes should appear,
but a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.

“It was SANTA – Oh Santa!  You’re coming to my house.
I knew you would remember – I’ve been a good boy!”
Charlie ran back inside and jumped into bed,
he climbed under the blankets to cover his head.

He quietly waited and listened intently,
but he waited so long, he fell back asleep.
The next thing he knew, Dad was getting out of bed.
Mom gave him a pat, and said “Okay – Go Ahead!”

His stocking was full!  Santa really was here!
A new donut, a new donkey, and a tasty new bone.
Another Christmas miracle
for an adopted brown dog.

Merry Christmas Eve!

Woofs & Wags,
Charlie

Charlie is an adopted dog with brown eyes and a white-tipped tail who brings joy and laughter to his family and friends.  Charlie is a gifted writer, raving food critic, cat, chipmunk, and donut lover, and exceptionally photogenic model.  Some of his best friends are Mike the UPS Man, Cliff the Mailman, and ANYONE who delivers pizza to the house.   If you would like to read more guest posts by Charlie, simply type “Charlie” into the Search box at the top right hand corner of this link: thecreativelifeinbetween.com.   If you would enjoy a companion like Charlie, please consider pet adoption.

Apricot Kolaches

This week leading up to Christmas, I am sharing a few of my favorite posts from the past.  It just wouldn’t be Christmas without baking Grandma’s Apricot Kolaches.  This year, I made them for our annual cookie exchange party.  Do you have classic cookie recipes you must make every year?

Apricot Kolaches & Christmas Cookie Baking

I finally got around to some Christmas cookie baking this weekend, and the highlight for my gang is the Apricot Kolaches.

apricot kolaches

Mine are not quite as perfect and beautiful as Grandma used to make, but they are getting thumbs ups around here.  Apricot Kolaches are a traditional Polish tender cream cheese pastry cookie with a sweet-tart apricot filling.  Grandma was 100% Polish, and her cooking and baking were like none other!

apricot kolaches 3

I remember Grandma painstakingly measuring each 2 inch by 2 inch square so that every singly one looked exactly the same.  I don’t have nearly the patience, but I smile remembering those days in the kitchen with her.  I can also now relate to the aching back and feet she had at the end of the day after rolling, cutting, filling, folding, baking, cooling, packing up…  And I wish I had a young Jodi to rub my feet and massage my legs with Jergen’s cherry almond lotion like I did for Grandma in the evening after an all-day baking session.

apricot kolaches 2

But the joy on Marty’s and Nick’s faces and the “Mmmmm’s” that escape their lips between bites make it all worth it!

(and then I have to hurry up and freeze some or they would be gone quicker than it takes me to clean up the dishes!)

I also made some of my Jodi’s Almost Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies – a perennial favorite around here…

chocolate chip christmas cookies

…as well as some with dried blueberries and white chocolate chips using the same recipe (another of Marty’s faves).

And it wouldn’t be Christmas without some Peanut Butter Blossoms…

peanut butter cup cookies

And gotta have some Pittsburgh Thumbprint cookies too.  I made a batch with chocolate fudge and another with colorful sprinkles and green icing centers.

chocolate pittsburgh thumbprints

Here is the recipe I use for the Apricot Kolaches.

(The Chocolate Chips and Pittsburgh Thumbprints can be found by following the links to previous posts.)

apricot kolache making

APRICOT KOLACHES

2 8-oz blocks of cream cheese, softened
2 cups (4 sticks) butter, softened
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups apricot preserves or apricot filling (I use Baker’s)
1 Egg, beaten
Confectioner’s (Powdered) Sugar, for dusting

Beat cream cheese and butter on medium-high speed of stand mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Turn mixer on low, and gradually mix in the flour until a smooth dough forms.

Knead dough on lightly floured work surface, and gently form a ball.  Divide dough into fourths, flatten, and wrap each in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate at least 4 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Line cookie sheet or baking stone with parchment paper.  Working with one piece of dough at a time (after bringing back to room temperature from refrigeration), roll out to approximately 1/8 inch thick rectangle.  Trim edges and cut dough into 2 inch squares.

Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon of apricot filling into the center of each square.

Fold one corner into the center, dab with the beaten egg, then bring the opposite corner into the center and press firmly to seal.

Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet, and bake for approximately 10 minutes.

Dust with confectioner’s sugar and cool on wire rack.

These cookies freeze well, and thaw quickly.

This recipe makes about a million ….  or at least feels like it when you are making them!  🙂
I hope you and your family will try these and enjoy them as much as we do.

Cheers & Sweet Hugs,
Jodi

My Revised Holiday To Do List

This week leading up to Christmas, I am going to share a few of my favorite posts from the past starting with this one I have shared every December since 2014 when I started this blog.  It’s a classic list that I need to remind myself about this time of year.  Maybe you do too, so here it is:

My Revised Holiday To Do List

What are you up to this weekend?  Do you have a crazy, long, exhausting “To Do” list for getting ready for the holidays?

I recently saw a great revised list on Instagram… and it really made me think.   So I got to working on re-setting some of my own priorities.

Christmas to do list 2014

#1:  Do you have a lot of presents left to buy?  I do!  But I’m not going to worry about it.  If it gets down to the wire, I’ll just give gift cards or money.  I think my kids like that best anyway.

And when I receive a text from my cousin’s six-year old daughter like I did earlier this week that says:

I have a concert on Saturday December 13.  Can you be there?  I don’t know what time

Well – you can bet I’ll be there.  Those kind of invites are too precious to pass up!

#2:  Do you still have wrapping to do?  Remember there are always gift bags.  Instead, make sure you wrap everyone you love with lots of warm hugs.  And my little twist is to always try to be the last to let go….  You never know when you might get the chance again or how much that person needs it at that moment.

#3:  I still haven’t sent my cards out.  And you know I’m a card making fool!  Much more fun creating them than addressing and stuffing and licking envelopes, so whatever ones I do get out, I do – and it will be sent with all the love and time I put into it.  But if I don’t get them out, or even mail them after the holidays – that’s ok – right?!  No crime!  I want to make sure I’m sending love, not just a card for a card’s sake.

#4:  I’ve got lots of food shopping to do – and no worries – the stores are open 24 hours, so I will eventually get there.  What I do want to make sure we do is donate food to those in need.

#5:  I love to make cookies – and it is a rare occasion that we don’t have a homemade cookie in the house to munch on or offer a guest – but guess what?  No Christmas cookies baked yet.  I’ll get to some I’m sure.  What is more important is making time for people – like the little cutie we’re going to go listen to sing on Saturday or the chocolate-making class I went to last night with my daughter-in-law.  Sure – I could be baking, but I first want to make time for those I love.

#6:  I adore seeing all the Christmas lights, and Marty and I sure had fun at Kennywood’s Festival of Lights, but what is more important is that I make time to BE that light.

#7:  And Parties….. I kinda live for hosting parties.  We are hosting four in a row from Christmas Eve until Saturday 12/27, and then again on New Year’s Eve.  YIPPEE!  Am I stressing over it?!  NOPE!  Will I fuss?  Probably not so much.  Or maybe a little – if I have time.  But if I don’t — – not gonna worry!  As long as the people show up, we have something to eat and drink, and there is lots of love and laughing – then the party is a success!  Right?

Christmas to do list revised 2014

So check your list.  Does it need a little tweaking?  A couple of revisions?  Make sure you are cherishing each moment along the way.

Cheers and Hugs,
Jodi

Dark Chocolate M&M Chocolate Dipped Cookies

Dark Chocolate M&M Chocolate Dipped Cookies.

So the thing about Christmas cookies is that it’s fun to make them fancy.

Well – sometimes fancy might mean taking a usual cookie (like my “Jodi’s Best Ever  Chocolate Chip Cookies,” and using Dark Chocolate M&Ms instead of chocolate chips (DARK Chocolate M&Ms is the key here! They are insanely delicious!), and then dunking them in some more dark chocolate….

…. but only half way….

to be fancy!

They are sure to be a crowd pleaser.

You can make these by simply following my tried and true recipe here and substituting Dark Chocolate M&Ms or your favorite Maybe you want to use chopped up Butterfingers or Snickers or Milky Way candies or maybe even peppermint sticks.

Go wild.  Get fancy!

Cheers & Hugs,
Jodi

Christmas Light Reflections after Braving the Wilderness

Conneaut Lake, PA Christmas Light Tour on the Barbara J

Conneaut Lake, PA Christmas Light Tour on the Barbara J

Christmas Light Reflections after Braving the Wilderness.

This past weekend was a gathering of The Best Book Club Ever, where we talked about one of my newest favorite books, “Braving the Wilderness” by Brene Brown.

So I already told you how much I love this book.  Remember?  

I couldn’t wait for our book club discussion about it, and it did not disappoint.  In fact, it empowered.  It really connected me with a special group of family and friends in a meaningful way.

There is so much I could say about it…

About how I connected right from the start when Brene talked about “not belonging” to her own family.

This paragraph sucked me in:

“Even in the context of suffering—poverty, violence, human rights violations—not belonging in our families is still one of the most dangerous hurts. That’s because it has the power to break our heart, our spirit, and our sense of self-worth. It broke all three for me. And when those things break, there are only three outcomes, something I’ve borne witness to in my life and in my work: 1. You live in constant pain and seek relief by numbing it and/or inflicting it on others; 2. You deny your pain, and your denial ensures that you pass it on to those around you and down to your children; or 3. You find the courage to own the pain and develop a level of empathy and compassion for yourself and others that allows you to spot hurt in the world in a unique way. I certainly tried the first two. Only through sheer grace did I make my way to the third.” 

But there is so much more…

About authenticity, vulnerability…
and dehumanization.

About the paradox of things like love, the NRA, politics and religion (just to name a few).

And though there was and always will be great differences in opinion among the group on these important issues and values, everyone respectfully listened to each other share, and we grew closer for it.

So after three or four hours of powerfully connecting conversation and breakthroughs in belonging, our gang bundled up in parkas, knit hats and woolen mittens and boarded the infamous Barbara J Paddle Wheel Boat on Conneaut Lake to set sail at 10pm and spend an hour touring the lake and the homes surrounding it lit up with Christmas trees and colorful lights.

25 degrees. Snow flurries. Dark night. Bright lights. Even brighter spirits.

These are my Christmas light reflections after Braving the Wilderness.

Cheers & Hugs,

Jodi

Cozy Cabin Winter Wonderland

Cozy Cabin Winter Wonderland Watercolor 11x14 140lb cold press

Cozy Cabin Winter Wonderland Watercolor 11×14 140lb cold press

Cozy Cabin Winter Wonderland.

I stole away early Saturday morning before the day got too busy and allowed myself some time to paint.

Everything seems to get so busy and stressful this time of year.  Work schedule… holiday shopping and preparations…   All wonderful things, but busy nonetheless.

And it seems my painting is one of the things that takes a back seat in times like this.  Understandably so – but still something I miss.

So I’m trying to allow myself at least once a week to stow away in my art room for an hour to relax and do what I enjoy so much – watercolor painting – something – anything – as long as I can put some paint and water to paper.

This week, I painted this cozy little cabin in the wintry woods…  maybe wishing for the coziness and relaxation that it evokes.

When finished, I thought it would make a lovely Christmas or Holiday Card or even thank you note for holiday gifts, so I’ve added this painting and prints and cards to our McKinneyX2Designs Etsy shop.

We were away this past weekend and awoke Sunday morning to a beautiful blanket of snow.  When we returned home, however…. no snow.

So I’ll just pretend, for a while, that I’m snuggled under a fleece blanket by a fire in this cozy cabin while the snow is falling outside, and then I’ll go about my busy work and holiday schedule – feeling thankful for it all!

Cheers & Hugs,
Jodi

 

Turtle Thumbprint Cookies

Turtle Thumbprint Cookies.

I decided this past weekend to start my holiday Christmas cookie baking.

Every year, I make several of my same, tried and true faves, but I also like to try one or two new recipes, so I couldn’t resist the visions dancing in my head when I came across  these Turtle Thumbprint Cookies I discovered through a Pinterest search.

And – oh boy – they did not disappoint!

If you love the flavor combo of chocolate, caramel and pecan that makes the classic “turtle,” you are going to go nuts over these!

Hope you will give them a try.

Turtle Thumbprint Cookies

  • Servings: approx. 6 doz.
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. (4 sticks) salted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2 2/3 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs (divided – yolk for cookies, white for topping)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract (please only use pure – not imitation)
  • 1 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/3 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. salt

Topping:

  • 2 – 2 1/2 cups chopped pecans
  • Egg whites (from divided eggs above)
  • 1 jar caramel sauce (your fave – I used Smuckers)

Directions:

Beat butter and sugar in mixer on medium-high speed until well blended – about 3 minutes.  Add egg yolks, vanilla, and almond extract, while continuing to beat.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, and salt.

Reduce mixer speed to low-medium, and add half of the flour mixture.  Beat until incorporated, then add half of milk, followed by other half of flour mixture, and finally other half of milk.  Beat until all ingredients are incorporated, but do not overbeat.

Place dough in Ziploc plastic bag or cover bowl tightly, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Whisk egg whites until fluffy.

Roll dough into 1 inch balls.  Coat each ball with egg white, then roll in chopped pecans.  Place on baking stone (the only thing I bake cookies on) or cookie sheet.  Using a small spoon (I used a baby spoon) or your finger, indent each cookie ball in the center until a circle is formed.

Bake for 12-13 minutes.  Cookies will still be soft when you remove from oven.  Allow to cool on baking stone/cookie sheet.

Once cooled, remove to cooling rack, and spoon in caramel sauce.

Enjoy right away or pack in single layers in Ziploc freezer bags and freeze until ready to serve.

Cheers & Hugs,
Jodi