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Christmas traditions, new & old.

I've always left cookies out for Santa!

I’ve always left cookies out for Santa!

A few months ago, my boss requested the entire office figure out their holiday schedule so we could make sure all of our clients had coverage (#AgencyLife). I was sitting at a table in our office lounge with a few of my coworkers, when one of them asked me if I was traveling home (to Indiana) for the holidays.

Umm, no, I told her.

She gave me a semi-disgusted look, followed by a sharp tone: “So, do you just never see your family?”

My coworker is from Chicago, and recently moved to Austin with her husband. For every single holiday, they use precious PTO days (and weeks) to travel home to see both sets of parents.

While I respect the closeness of their family, it made me wonder why her and her husband didn’t have a desire to start their own traditions. Especially when we live in such a cool city!

I haven’t lived in Indiana for 13 years. For the first few years, I traveled home for Thanksgiving and for Christmas, and it was always fun, but it was also expensive and very tiring. Once I started staying in Louisiana, and now Texas, I found I can start my own traditions with my friends here – or even hosting my friends and family here.

Sure, as a kid, my family celebrated the holidays with traditions we’d formed over the years – some things as small as making sure each stocking had an orange and nuts in it – and some as big as traveling to certain states. And while old traditions are really fun, I think it’s pretty cool to start new ones.

All of this got me thinking a lot about traditions – everyone has their own and they all help them celebrate the holidays in different ways. So, I reached out to my friends on Facebook to see how they celebrated the holidays. Here’s what they said:

  • We watch “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” every Thanksgiving 
  • Every New Year’s, we watch the complete Star Wars series and eat junk food. We have done it since I was born, but we have to start at 10 am
  • Every New Year’s Eve, we take our Christmas tree to the center of the backyard, load it with fireworks and light it on fire! We’ve been doing this for at least 20 years. 
  • As you know, my dad is a hunter. Since we own land, our Thanksgiving dinner would often consist of what my dad killed that morning. 
  • On Christmas morning, we always have homemade cinnamon rolls and mimosas. My mom makes the cinnamon rolls from scratch and I make the mimosas!
  • Growing up, we would always eat fondue on New Year’s Eve. 
  • My sister and I always open our gifts to each other on Christmas Eve, and open all other family gifts on Christmas day. 
  • When i was younger all of the women used to have a cookie exchange. Everybody would make a different kind of cookie, put them in individual bags for everyone to take home leaving enough to eat at the little party, and we would all spend the evening eating cookies and drinking coffee and milk it was an amazing tradition!
  • We have a Swedish Tea Ring for breakfast, made the day before from the recipe in the circa 1950 edition of the Betty Crocker cookbook. We’ve made this thing for like 40 years or something, collectively. I’ve been making it since I was a kid. Still, no one has memorized or rewritten the recipe and we have to pull out that old crumbly book every year.
  • My mom still has boxes from gifts me and my sisters got upwards of 20 years ago, and she reuses them for gifts every single year. She still has the box my 8th grade 5-cd-changer stereo came in. It’s kind of a running joke when we open a classic box, such as the box for the “digital” alarm clock I got in 5th grade. That box is so janky, but it keeps coming back.
  • On Thanksgiving we open our house up for the military members that didn’t get to go home for the holiday. On Christmas Eve I round up my minions to bake cookies to put in their stockings. 
    …How cool, right? I’d love to hear what some of your traditions are, whether they’re ones that have always been with your family, or ones you’re hoping to start!
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My Thanksgiving menu.

A perfect Thanksgiving spread from Saveur.

A perfect Thanksgiving spread from Saveur.

Thanksgiving is one week away! I know everyone is saying it – but it’s come up so fast, and before you know it, Christmas will be here! But, let’s not skip Thanksgiving, as it’s pretty much the most important meal of the year, and it’s truly a holiday to be savored.

I really do love Thanksgiving. Think about it, it’s a meal that embraces the flavors of fall, and we get two days off of work to celebrate it! Then there’s the Macy’s parade (complete with terrible lip syncing), the drinking… really, nothing beats it. 1014001_hm_holiday_hosting_associate_300x250

Today at work, we’re having our potluck Thanksgiving lunch. I’m not a fan of potlucks, but it is the company tradition that the CEO provides the turkey, so you can at least count on that. Last year, for my first Thanksgiving in Texas, I discovered that even on Turkey Day, Texans eat BBQ-style – the turkey was sliced and served with thick, white toast, BBQ sauce, and crinkle-cut pickles. Because why not?

I am hosting a low-key Thanksgiving meal this year, and wanted to share my menu with you, in hopes that you’ll find some new ideas for your table, even if it’s not for this meal in particular. Out of all the great recipes I’ve got in my stash for Turkey Day, it was really hard to choose a few for my menu, but here’s what I’m cooking up:

Starters: New Orleans Baked Brie

Baked Brie from The Mediterranean Dish.

Baked Brie from The Mediterranean Dish.

On Thanksgiving Day, I’m a really huge fan of having the large meal later in the afternoon, and serving up yummy, filling snacks and appetizers until then.

I am obsessive over homemade meat and cheese trays, serving various textures and ages of cheese with meats, mustard, olives, fruit, jam, and chocolate. It’s a perfect excuse to sip on wine while watching the parade and checking on the turkey.

If you want step-by-step help with building the perfect cheese tray, hop on over to What’s Gaby Cooking – she is always whipping up complex snack platters.

One thing I wanted to make this year was baked brie – it’s easy, delicious, and it’s really impressive.

I’m making a “New Orleans” baked brie, named because of my topping choice of pecans and Worcestershire sauce for a lil kick. Should be delicious.

For the baked brie, you’ll need a wheel of brie (any size will do), 1/4 cup of brown sugar, 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 teaspoon of mustard, and 1 cup of chopped pecans. If you want to wrap your brie in pastry, you will need to add a frozen sheet of puff pastry to your list, along with one egg, and a little bit of all-purpose flour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, wrap brie in foil, top with the mixed toppings, and bake for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese gets soft (you don’t want it to melt).

If you’re baking it inside the pastry, you need to thaw the pastry, then wrap the brie with it, sealing the edges with the single beaten egg and brushing the top for browning. Bake in a 425 degree oven until golden brown.

Serve warm with sliced pears and apples, along with crackers, and pepper jelly if you really want to stick to that Southern theme.

Entree: Turkey & Cranberry Sandwich

Can't be a Thanksgiving sammy.

Can’t be a Thanksgiving sammy.

I found the recipe for this sandwich in the latest issue of Better Homes & Garden, which listed it as a way to spruce up your Thanksgiving Day leftovers. However, it seemed like the perfect entree for my low-key Turkey Day, as I was trying to find something that wouldn’t require me to bake a huge turkey and a ton of side dishes.

This sandwich captures nearly all the flavors of Thanksgiving – stuffing, cranberry, and turkey, all in one bite. I say, serve it up with some sweet potato fries and you’re good to go!

For the sandwich, you’ll need 1 cup of halved and sliced red onion, 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, 1 cup of cranberry sauce, 1/4 cup BBQ sauce, 2 tablespoons of finely chopped chipotle chile pepper in adobo sauce, 3 cups shredded cooked turkey, pretzel buns or other sturdy bread, bibb lettuce, sliced mozzarella cheese, and sliced jalapenos, if desired (YES),

Cook and stir the onion in the oil over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes, or until tender. Stir in the cranberry sauce, bbq sauce, and the chipotle. Add turkey, toss to coat, and heat throughout.

Add lettuce to the bottom half of the buns, and top with the turkey-cranberry mixture along with the sliced cheese. Add bun tops and serve with additional cranberry sauce and jalapenos. Yum!

Sides: Chopped Green Bean Salad

Green bean salad.

Green bean salad.

I love a green bean casserole, and this “salad” from Better Homes & Garden is a great twist on a classic that I’m really excited to try.

For this green bean salad, you will need 1 1/4 pounds of green beans cut into 1-inch pieces, 1/3 cup red wine vinegar, 1/3 cup minced shallots, pinch of salt and pepper, 4 ounces of shredded manchego or parmesan, 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 cups of cooked farro, 3/4 cups toasted almonds, 3/4 cup golden raisins, and 2 ounces of chopped manchego or parmesan.

Cook the beans in a large pot of boiling salted water for 4 minutes before transferring to ice water. In a blender, combine the vinegar, shallots, salt and pepper, along with the 4 ounces of cheese and olive oil. Blend until smooth and then add to the beans (after you’ve taken them out of the ice bath).

Finally, add the farro, almonds, golden raisins, and 2 ounces of cheese. Finished!

Dessert: Sweet Potato Pie

Sweet Potato Pie from the New York Times.

Sweet Potato Pie from the New York Times.

I am a sucker for pumpkin pie. Seriously, I love the stuff. But, I heard that a sweet potato pie is actually sweeter and more flavorful than pumpkin, so I want to give it a try. It better be good, or else I’l be running to the nearest open store Thanksgiving night to get my fix of pie!

Remember last year when everyone lost their shit over Patti LaBelle’s sweet potato pie at Wal-Mart? Truthfully, no one cared much about the desserts until a YouTube-r made a video of himself tasting the orange pie and broke out into song because it was so delish. See the video here – it’s worth it.

The video got more than 5 million views and Wal-Mart was selling out of Patti’s pies left and right, and Ms. LaBelle even expanded her dessert business to include other options, including apple cobbler and pecan cake.

So, I’m making my own sweet ‘tater pie and I hope it’s as good as Patti’s (even though I’ve never tried hers, or anyone’s). For this pie, you will need a piecrust, 1 1/4 pound of sweet potatoes, 1 cup of whipping cream, 3/4 cup of packed brown sugar, 1/2 cup of whole milk, 2 eggs, and 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon.

Prepare the piecrust as directed (I will probably get a frozen one) – although don’t let it get brown. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and prick the sweet potatoes all over with a fork. Wrap each tinfoil, and roast for about 70 minutes or until tender. Reduce oven heat to 375.

Let sweet potatoes cool before peeling and placing in a bowl and mashing with a potato masher. Combine the mashed potatoes with the cream, brown sugar, milk, eggs, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. You can use a food processor or a blender if necessary.

Pour the filling into the pie crust. Cover the crust edges with foil, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 30-40 minutes until evenly puffed. Let cool before serving.

And there’s my menu (aside from the wine, wine, and wine). What are you guys cooking for the big day?