Friday, January 27, 2012

We Wish You A Merry Christmas...

Christmas this year was a little crazy... which I guess isn't all that different from the typical family Christmas, but this year, at least, it was for different reasons than the normal craziness caused by trying to fit an abnormal amount of people around a dinner table, the christmas morning chaos of flying wrapping paper and bouncing bows and the food frenzy that ensues when there are so many women in the kitchen- all of which are holiday staples.  
This year, I am happy to report, all of those events took place as expected and as usual, added to the holiday excitement everyone some how looks forward to all year.  On top of all of that, however, we had a few other exciting things that took place during our holiday.
Simon and I moved out of our apartment on the 20th.  We went straight to my parents' house and celebrated an early holiday.  We were glad we didn't have to combine moving out with a day of travel to Texas and we were blessed to get to spend some time with my parents before we headed off.  We spent about 3 days with them and they really dedicated a lot of their time to just spending time with us and that was really cool.  My dad took off work and we all went to a movie and shared meals and it was a nice way to relax after all of the packing and end-of-semester stress.  On the 22nd we celebrated an early Christmas with a present exchange since we wouldn't be there for Christmas day traditions.  We baked christmas cookies and played games and had a lot of time to catch up and chat. 
 Thanks Mom and Dad for that fun time of laughing and making memories before we jumped into the unknown.  We love you!!
While our original plan was to drive all day Friday, a change of plans led us to drive through the night  (by us I mean Simon, I just rode).
Shortly after our arrival Friday morning, family started pouring in.  This year was the first Christmas we had spent with Simon's family and I was really excited to experience their traditions since he had spend last Christmas with my family and experienced all of ours.
Things I have learned from my new family:

1. German tradition is to celebrate on Christmas eve rather than Christmas morning
This idea seemed strange at first since I couldn't visualize what differences it might present but I really enjoyed it: everyone was alert and awake, unlike the groggy bed head christmas mornings, and the whole thing felt warm and family oriented.

2. There does not have to be one Christmas meal
In my family Christmas was kind of like thanksgiving in the sense that there is one traditional meal around which the holiday is centered.  In Simon's family, so many people travel to the one location that they stay several days and therefore every meal is a celebratory meal.  It has been neat to see the different recipes that float around, the conversation sparked meal after meal and the expected and repeated cooking chaos that adds a little spice to the Christmas holidays.

3. Helping and Helpers
I was always the youngest grandchild in my family, the next youngest were the grand grand kids who didn't come along until I was kind of out of the Christmas-is-the-most-magical-time-of-year stage (although I must admit I do still love Christmas) so I never really saw just how much "helping" can mean.  Simon's little cousins-who feel more like nieces- love to help Oma and all of their Aunts with the cooking and baking.  As soon as a meal began to be prepared, in they came ready to help.   It meant so much to them and the smile on their faces when they felt like they had played a big part in something as simple as mixing the bowl was really a fun thing to watch.   Also, I have learned to really appreciate the memories that come with helping prepare meals as a family.  My Mom and Grandma really were in control of the heavy cooking in my family and we all lived so close people would just bring the side dishes or deserts already cooked.  (That was nice because there was less time spent cooking and more time spent talking, but this presents its own blessings too) Because of that I have never really been around such an exchange of ideas and methods and meals, meals, meals!  It has been fun to learn new things and also add new ideas here and there.  It hope I never get so wrapped up in making the holidays perfect that I forget how much helping can mean to the helpers.

4. Taking group pictures is never, never, ever a simple thing.
One good picture, ONE, that's all we wanted how long did it take? like 30 minutes... But I will say, there were some that I look back on and can't help but laugh.

At least we managed to get a few good ones out of it.

All of the girls minus Julia who was off being engaged (we missed you Julia)

Simon and I FINALLY taking a picture with Jessica and Grant

While everything hasn't been easy since we've gotten married and there have been crazy days and bumps in the road,  we have been so blessed.  Holidays are a nice reminder as to how special it really is to be able to experience not only the traditions I love in my family but also to step into the traditions that have been equally special to a family I have grown to love.

Better late than never...
Merry Christmas Everyone 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Movin' On

Finally I have gotten everything up to date enough that I can actually write about our life and how much it has changed in the last month.  
The FIRST big and exciting change was GRADUATION!


Even though Simon walked in May, he still officially graduated too and I didn't want his day to get over looked just because he wasn't wearing the outfit!  So the left is his graduation picture too.

I don't think it has quite hit us, or at least me, that we are truly DONE with school.  In years past, the christmas vacation has been about this long- from the time we left school until now.  So it hasn't been such a long time since being on campus that it seems real yet.  This last week I have had talked to several of my friends who are in the back to school moving-in process and it is beginning to sink in a little harder now.  Because our days are mainly filled with... whatever we want to fill them with and now serious commitments whatsoever, I am getting a little stir crazy.  I am very much an active person.  I can spend about 2 days tops sitting around and relaxing and then I am ready to jump back into the hustle and bustle of life.  Now, because we are still both jobless and have no money to really get out and do anything, hustle and bustle is about the furthers thing away from the reality of our days.  But maybe it is good for us to take a breather.  I find I put too much on my plate sometimes and forget how important it is to just stop and breath.  That is one of the many things Simon has given me through our differences: the appreciation for not planning anything and just enjoying a day of relaxation.

The SECOND big change, WE MOVED out of our apartment.
Because we were still busy with finals and spending graduation time with my family, packing couldn't be our first priority.  So when it got down to crunch time we were packing like crazy.  Our deadline to move out was tuesday at 1:00 so on sunday night, we started really packing.  My parents were coming Monday morning to help us move some of the bigger furniture pieces into a storage unit.

 Our situation is kind of unusual because even though we are moving out, we aren't really moving in anywhere else.  We are keeping the majority of our things in storage and going to live with Simon's Aunt and Uncle for awhile.  We are playing the waiting game while Simon is in his green card application process.  
Right now the next big awaited step in that process is for his working permit to arrive.  We are hoping and praying that it comes in the next couple of weeks [from post date not from graduation date] so that Simon can seriously begin job hunting.  Until he has that working permit he is not an appealing candidate for any position because hiring him would cost the company a lot of red tape to sponsor him.  Once the working permit arrives hiring him will be just as easy as hiring anyone else so that is the goal right now.
Until then, however, we don't feel like it is a good decision to get tied down in an apartment lease.  Who knows when and where we will end up having to move for a job and having to break a lease would be expensive - a cost we can't really afford right now as well as an unneeded stress.  
So, until then we are staying in Texas with his Aunt and Uncle, Toni and Bill who are so incredibly generous in their willingness to open their home to us... rather indefinitely.  But our goal is to be moved out within a few months.  Keep our situation in your prayers please!!


Monday, January 9, 2012

Peppermint Cream Cheese Cupcakes

I made these a few weeks ago for my christmas get together and then Simon asked me to make them again the next weekend for his work christmas party so I've made these twice now and still have not perfected the icing swirl but it did progressively get better! It was the first time I had made striped icing and it really was not as hard as I expected so don't be scared off by the tall, striped icing.  It is easier than you would think!!

Okay so the cupcakes are just a chocolate cupcake recipe although, the one it called for was different than than any other I had made before.
Chocolate Cupcake Ingredients:
(makes 24-27 standard sized cupcakes)
 2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa (best quality available)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (best quality available)
1 cup boiling water


-Line muffin tin with paper liners. Heat oven to 350*F.

-In a large mixing bowl, stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
-Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. Beat on medium speed for one minute.
-Stir in boiling water (the batter will be thin, don't worry, this is right).
-Fill liners 2/3 full with batter. (We found that using a ladle worked decently well but some sort of pitcher would probably work even better.  The batter is super thin!)
-Bake cupcakes for approximately 22-24 minutes.
-Cool completely on wire rack before frosting. (About an hour, other wise the icing melts right off and doesn't harden in any sort of cute form)

Okay, now for the icing part.  I know there are several different methods for making striped icing but since this was my first time trying such a thing I religiously followed the directions in the recipe rather than ride a creative wave.  It worked well but another method may be easier for others... Who knows. 

Peppermint Cream Cheese Icing Ingredients:
1/2 cup (1 stick, 8 Tablespoons) butter, at room temperature
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature (about 3/4 of a regular block of cream cheese)
4 cups powdered confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon pure peppermint extract
1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 to 3 Tablespoons heavy whipping cream or milk- (I used milk and it didn't seem to be lacking in any richness-  That works better for me because I never have whipping cream on hand.)  
red food coloring
candy canes ( crushed for topping)

-Place butter in a large mixing bowl and blend slightly. Add cream cheese and blend until combined, about 30 seconds.
-Add powdered sugar (a little at a time) and blend on low speed until combined. Increase to medium speed and beat until it begins to get fluffy.
-Add vanilla and peppermint extracts
-Slowly add the milk, a little bit at a time until desired consistency is met. (Don't add too much if you want the frosting to stay in place when piped on cupcakes.)
-Beat until fluffy, about 1 minute.
-Use at once or keep refrigerated. (This frosting will keep well in the refrigerator for several days, but you may need to re-beat it for the best texture.)

Red Stripe:
In your piping bag, with a toothpick make two lines opposite each other going from the bottom nozzle to the middle of the bag (there is no point in going all the way up with the food coloring stripes because when you twist the bag to compress the icing it will end up getting wasted).  Then add the icing. Just plop it in there one blob at a time and it turns out fine.  If other parts of the icing gave minor red on them it doesn't effect the stripes.  It is a pretty messy ordeal but it isn't very difficult.  I was only able to do about 1/3 of the icing in the bag at a time.  So you will have to do the striping process before each refill.
 I forgot to take a picture of this step but i found this picture online and this is exactly how it looked. 
After the icing is in the bag twist the bag where the icing ends at the top (like your closing a bread bag) and then let the icing squeeze back into the icing bowl until you see the red stripe (that way you don't waste your plain white icing) 

I've found the easiest way to get the tall cupcake swirl is to put one icing blob in the center of the cupcake and then use that for your  guide.  Make a slow circle around the blob and gradually swirl your way up until you completed the swirl tip.  

Okay the last step is to crush some candy cane and sprinkle it on top.  One thing to note about the peppermint, if you put it on and then leave the cupcakes out for a long time they will melt and bleed into the icing.

Here are the cupcakes without the candy canes

Here are the cupcakes with.  In my second batch i only put the candy canes on the ones where the red stripe wasn't very prominent.  

Christmas Party and Holiday Decorating

Now, I know how behind I am on posting.  It's already January after all, but I am trying to catch up!! Everyone knows the holiday's are crazy, but this year I felt like they were crazier than they have ever been.  Simon (my husband) and I both graduated which was awesome and we were really excited but that, combined with a move and making holiday plans- whew.  I was not looking forward to all of the stress that would come with those events.  I was afraid that once all of the moving excitement began I would end up leaving without getting to say the goodbyes I wanted to.  I decided, Christmas being around the corner and all, I would have a little Christmas party for my girlfriends- whoever could come- and that could be a fun way to spend time together amidst finals and packing to go home for the holidays.  

Our little apartment doesn't hold all that many people so a christmas tree was almost out of the question.  But we found a cute little fir tree at Lowe's for only $12.00 and decided we could squeeze it in somehow. 

For a make-shift tree skirt I used a big strip of burlap I had and draped it around the bottom kind of scrunching it and folding it along the way.  I wrapped some small boxes with packaging paper (dollar store)  and tied them with wire ribbon (dollar store).  This made for some cheap wrapping.  Because we weren't going to be at our apartment for christmas, we didn't wrap any real presents so our tree would have been present-less all season.  That made me sad so this is what I decided to do instead.  

Simon surprised me one day and had put  christmas lights up all around our main apartment room.  I love christmas and the lights made it feel extra christmasy.  

Now, back to the Christmas Party.  Simon got kicked out for the actual party night but he was there to witness the rather hectic and slightly... messy.. baking process.  To make the whole thing less stressful I decided to not do a meal or anything but rather just deserts and snacks.  My friend Katie came over the night before and we baked for hours.   

Our Party Menu Included:
Peppermint Cream Cheese Cupcakes
Chocolate Covered Pretzels
Sugar Cookies
Chips and Cheese-dip
Pumpkin Spice Latte

Now, the cheese dip and sugar cookies were nothing special, and I already posted about the pumpkin spice latte (crock-pot).  With the party pumpkin spice lattes I've learned to plan for 2 cups per person because it goes fast!! I am going to post about the cupcakes. That will be my next post! We loved them! they were pretty simple to make, a little time consuming with the striped icing, but worth it if you like chocolate and peppermint!

Once everyone got there the night of the party we stuffed our faces with christmas sweets and listened to christmas music all night.  We had some christmas movies to watch but we never even made it to those we all got so carried away in post-graduation plans and catching up.

 These are my favorite christmas CD's this year!
 [Disclaimer, Simon does not support these CD's as favorite choices]
Even though the whole thing took a lot of time to get ready for (mainly the baking), I'm so glad I did it because once the holidays started, I really did get wrapped up in packing and I would not have had any time to see people despite any good intentions I may have had and I know that would have forever been a regret. A couple of girls couldn't come but it still was a great time.  Most of us met freshmen year in the dorm and have stayed friends ever since.  It was wonderful to spend that time together amidst the chaos of finals week.  I think we all needed the break and it will be a great last college memory to hold on to as we all move on with life and go our separate ways. 
Miss you girls!