Happy New Year’s Eve!

©Leonard Freed, 1969, Grand Central at New Years Eve, NYC

Should old acquaintance (and hangovers) be forgot, and never brought to mind?… 

have a holly, jolly (Lincoln) Christmas!

2011 has been the year of my first grown-up Christmas. The first year I got my own Christmas tree in my own apartment with my very own golden pinecone star! Sexy Sallie (the name we bestowed on our tree) is the first real pine tree I’ve ever had and I have to say, the smell of a real pine tree is unmatched. Look at Sallie in all her glory…

Another first for me this Christmas was my first holiday work party. And lucky for me, I had not just one holiday party but two! The first was a lovely lunch last Friday hosted for the entire staff and volunteers of the museum. It was a wonderful affair held at the Temple of Dendur with entertainment provided by staff members (!!!).  Now, the second party was a smaller, less formal affair for our department planned by the PPC (Party Planning Committee) of which yours truly is a member. Here is the invitation we sent out for our holiday party:

Now I know what you’re probably thinking… ‘Umm, are they having a Lincoln-themed holiday party?’ I can feel your jealousy burning and let me explain.

(1) It’s actually a Civil War-themed holiday party, thank you very much
(2) Our Vice President of External Affairs is a pre-eminent Abraham Lincoln scholar and we were all hoping the theme would inspire a certain holiday bonus (still waiting on that btw)
(3) think Little Women. The soundtrack alone sold me.

Most of the staff outside of the PPC were still skeptical about the theme but once party time arrived, everyone got into the 1864 holiday spirit!

Our (Gingerbread) House Divided

wonderful members of the PPC (minus Christopher Gorman)

As a representative of the South, I thought it would be fitting to bring something with true southern roots. So I made these delicious red velvet bars. Exactly the same as red velvet cake but more portable and party-friendly sized. So yummy, just like anything slathered in cream cheese frosting.

Red Velvet Bars

  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder 
  • 1 ounce red food coloring (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoons salt
  • Cream Cheese Frosting, recipe follows

(1)  Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Butter and flour an 8″x8″ baking pan.
(2)  In a small bowl, slowly stir together the cocoa powder, food coloring, and vanilla into a thick paste until no lumps of cocoa remain. Set aside.
(3)  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
(4)  Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
(5)  With the mixer off, add in the cocoa mixture, then turn the mixer to medium and beat the two mixtures together until they are one uniform color. (Be careful not to get ‘red-handed’!)
(6)  Slowly add in the flour and salt and mix on medium-low speed, just until combined.  Do not overmix.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir up the batter with a rubber spatula once or twice just to ensure all of the flour has incorporated from the sides of the bowl and there isn’t anything stuck on the bottom of the bowl.  You’ll want one uniformly colored red batter.
(7)  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the brownies.  Allow brownies to completely cool in the pan on a baking rack, about 45-60 minutes.

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • ¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

(1)  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and cream cheese until soft and fluffy.
(2)  With the mixer on low speed, slowly add in powdered sugar ½ cup at a time; allow the sugar to mix in before adding the next ½ cup.
(3)  Once all of the sugar has been added, add the vanilla and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
(4) Frost brownies in the pan, cut into 12 bars, and serve, or remove the entire batch from the pan to a cutting board, cut into 12 bars, frost, and serve.

Oh how I love the holidays! And tomorrow evening I will be heading to the best place to spent one’s holiday season… HOME!!! I am just so excited. Because as much as I love my grown-up Christmas, there’s nothing like being a kid on Christmas morning!

xo Margaret

to health and happy waistlines!

quinoa: /kEEn-wah/

I probably avoided eating, cooking, or ordering quinoa due to the sheer fact that I had no idea how to pronounce it. But I’m proud to say that now I can pronounce it with confidence, and I can’t get enough of it! If you’ve never had quinoa, it’s very similar to couscous but with a firmer texture and slightly nuttier flavor. Quinoa is also packed with protein and hence super-filling– ideal for vegetarians!

Another favorite food of mine is sweet potatoes (Mmm sweet potato fries). This Mark Bittman recipe combines the best of both my quinoa and sweet potato worlds. Plus it’s super healthy… which I need these days after watching many, many episodes of Gossip Girl and realizing how beautiful the clothes are! *curse you Trader Joe Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s*

Lunch on the steps of the Met!

This recipe is very adaptable in that you can pretty much add whatever suits your palette. My favorite additions usually include chickpeas and feta (which I kept out this time to keep it vegan and healthier… remember, the clothes, people!) Feel free to add whatever other goodies, i.e. arugula, crumbled goat cheese, pomegranate seeds, etc. suit your taste (and figure).

Sweet Potato and Quinoa Salad
adapted from Mark Bittman

  • 2 ½ cups cooked quinoa  (1 cup uncooked)
  • 1 large or 2 medium (about 1 pound) sweet potatoes
  • 1 roasted red bell pepper, diced
  • ¾ cup chickpeas (about ½ can)
  • ¼ cup minced red onion or shallot, finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

(1)  Cook the quinoa according to the directions on the package. Once cooked, let cool completely.
(2)  While the quinoa is cooking, peel the sweet potatoes and dice into ½-inch cubes. Cook in boiling salted water until fork tender, about 15 minutes; once done, wash in cold water to stop further cooking and drain well.
(3)  In a large bowl, toss together the quinoa, sweet potatoes, roasted bell pepper and onion. Add the oil and vinegar, and sprinkle with cayenne pepper, salt and pepper.
(4)  Using kitchen sheers, snip in the fresh parsley then toss the salad. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking. Let the salad sit for at least an hour to allow for all the flavors to blend together.

Makes 4 servings

Christmas crafting!

It all started with this picture my sister Christine found on Pinterest…

Over Thanksgiving, we were not only busy with Pie-fest (evidence found here and here) but we also decided to take on Black Friday shopping and a Christmas craft project. One of the three had a serious consequence on my bank account (I’m that sucker that equates 50% off to mean ‘I can buy twice as much!’). Most good people see Black Friday as a chance to swipe deals on Christmas gifts for others… I am a heathen.

After our early morning shopping, we decided the best thing to do would be to change into our sweats and commence the Christmas decorating/crafting! This project is a Martha Stewart creation so of course, I immediately loved it. We adapted the instructions a bit, though, because my parents prefer not to have too many holes nailed into their front door. Here’s the step-by-step process of our Christmas crafting… with the final beautiful result at the end!

Door Wreath Trio (all supplies bought at Michael’s)

  • 3 18-inch wreaths
  • 5 ½ yards (3 inches-wide) ribbon (2 yards reserved for bow)
  • U-pins
  • 3 medium Command Strips
  • scissors 
  • clear packing tape
  • measuring tape
  • felt tipped marker
  • stapler

(1)  Attach a 6-7 foot (depends on height of your door) ribbon length at top of door with a strip of tape. Fold the bottom end of ribbon in half lengthwise, and snip at an angle to create a notch.

(2)  Hold wreaths up to ribbon to determine desired positions. Mark positions on ribbon with marker. Attach each Command Strip at each mark, behind the ribbon. Gently cut a cross-shaped slit at the marks made on the ribbon so that each hook can poke through.

(3)  Cut three 1-foot ribbon lengths to wrap around the top of each wreaths.

(4)  Fasten at back with U pins. Cut a horizontal slit on the back of each ribbon.

(5)  Take 2 yards of ribbon and make a bow for the top wreath. Sadly, Martha does not give very good directions for this. I just kinda folded the the ribbon back-and-forth and stapled the center. I then took another 6-inch piece of ribbon, wrapped it around the center and stapled it twice in the back. Once the bow is made, attach to a wreath, securing with a U pin.

(6)  Hang onto the hooks through the slit cut on the back of each wreath. Look back and admire your instant Christmas cheer!


Fashion Flashback

I have recently become completely obsessed with the show Felicity. You see, I missed the wave of Dawson’s Creek and My So-Called Life that swept the 90’s (too busy still playing with Barbies I guess). But thanks to Netflix, I have now zipped through Season 1 of Felicity in a couple weeks.

Although it’s a show very representative of the 90’s (it has Amy Jo Johnson, the Pink Power Ranger, for goodness sake!), I feel it really resonates with my current life. Felicity is a smart, yet rather meek high school graduate who ditches her Stanford plans to follow a crush she barely knows to New York City. Not exactly what I’ve done… but I can definitely relate with the confusion and humor that comes with struggling to find yourself in such a big city.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that all the characters wear flannel, like A LOT of flannel. Sometimes the screen is filled with so much checkered pattern, I wonder if it has a hypnotic effect on me. It’s put me in a flannel-inspired bend, and it appears I’m not the only person who wants to bring back the flannel craze…

J.Crew, $49.95 (on sale)

I really like this J.Crew shirt because it’s a very subtle, elegant pattern. Flannel often screams ‘lumberjack!’ but the neutral gray of the shirt makes it incredibly stylish and versatile.

H&M, $29.95

This is a modern version of the classic flannel shirt. I love the colors and most of all, the elbow patches! It’s bold but can easily be dressed down with jeans or dressed up paired with skinny black pants or belted over a dress.

Madewell, $69.50

I love this shirt. And not just because the pattern is called Dorthy Blackberry Julip (how delicious does that sound?!). The colors add a bit of a feminine flair to this garment, if you nix the bowtie.

J.Crew, $88 (on sale)

Flannel doesn’t have to be designated only to shirts. I really adore this red checkered flannel dress. Simple, yet fun.

Long live the 90’s!