An Owl and Penguin Christmas

Luke and I spent a quiet Christmas at home this year. We’d both been working long hours with little rest or relaxation, so a four-day weekend cozied up in our pajamas came at exactly the right time.

Friday afternoon, we walked to the markets to gather supplies for our holiday feast. Eggs, cinnamon, ginger and apricots would soon start turning our apartment into a bakery of delights!

Up first, gingerbread cookies in the shapes of our three favorite things – Owls, Penguins, and Wisconsin!

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Stamping out Wisconsin cookies
Photo credit: Luke

Saturday morning, we started our annual holiday puzzle. The theme for this year was Penguins in Space. Holiday music and/or romantic comedies played in the background — When Harry Met Sally, While You Were Sleeping, Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters — but we did stop puzzling long enough to give our full attention to our favorite, It’s a Wonderful Life.

Putting penguins together while watching movies

Putting penguins together while watching movies

We opened our presents under the tree with a bottle of Prosecco on Monday night, and woke up early Tuesday morning to check our stockings. Our very own version of Hoyle’s Rules of Games meant it was time to learn something new – starting with 7 Up.

Happy face! New Sauté Pan!

Over the course of the weekend, we took full advantage of our (small) kitchen. Our yummy meals included:

Mushroom Stroganoff with Salad

Roast Chicken with Sage Cornbread Stuffing

Porterhouse steak with Potato-Leek Gratin

Poached Eggs in Spicy Tomato Sauce

and Pozole (a delicious spicy Mexican soup with a hominy base).

Luke also baked up a storm, including: Chai Cinnamon Rolls, Coconut Cupcakes (a mini version of my grandmother’s famous cake), a Roasted Butternut Squash Pie, and Julekage (which is the most delicious bread filled with apricots and cranberries soaked in brandy).

While Luke was in the kitchen, I was nearby to serve as sous chef, bartender, dj, and cleaning assistant. I tried my hand at a few new dishes and also made my go-to all-time favorite Caramelized Onion Dip to spread on everything. I do love dips!

Adding toasted coconut to the tops of our cupcakes

Adding toasted coconut to the tops of our cupcakes
Photo credit: Luke

Another indulgence – reading for fun! After a long conversation about books we love, I decided to revisit a few of my old favorites, including A Moveable Feast (liked it even MORE this time), Murder on the Orient Express (still great), and The Housekeeper and the Professor (nice, but not as satisfying as I remember the first read being).

On Christmas afternoon, we bundled up for a walk in the fresh air. We ventured over to the Schuylkill River and walked north to the boathouses, passing the famous Waterworks along the way.

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Photo credit: Luke

The dam, with the boathouses in the background

The dam, with the boathouses in the background
Photo credit: Luke

The weekend was a great time to reflect on the year, and to dream about possibilities for our future. Happy holidays, everyone!

Sunday afternoon in the kitchen

A crisp fall morning and a trip to the market inspired an afternoon in the kitchen. We started with a walk down to the Vietnamese shopping district at 5th and Washington, it is fascinatingly like our old Chicago neighborhood, right down to a Ba Le bakery – I wonder how directly they are connected. The supermarket there will be a regular stop in the future, from rice and seafood to sandalwood soap. The return trek home brings us through the Italian Market and the produce stands there, still full of fall vegetables. Hot peppers, tomatoes, potatoes…

My kitchen list for the day actually started much earlier in the week, with a new whole wheat sourdough starter. I had a great run this year before the move keeping a starter active and a loaf of bread a part of my regular schedule, but with the move and the heat of summer I let it go. It’s a pretty reliable 5 day process to go from flour and water (and a little cumin, following my trusted Joe Ortiz recipe, thanks to a book from my Aunt Jane years ago) through a handful of refreshments to a sour active starter, and by Saturday morning it was ready to turn into a dough (reserving a small container in the fridge to start next week’s loaf).

The apartment has been just a little cool for bread over the last few days though, so a typically 16 hour rise stretched to 21, with it going into a loaf pan at 6am this morning and slowly rising again in the warmed oven.

In the meantime, let’s make some granola. Still using my mom’s old bowl that we used for granola and breadmaking growing up (she sent it to me when I started making bread in college). Toast the oats in the cast-iron skillet. Toast the nuts (hazelnuts today). Toast the coconut. Toss it all together in the bowl with dried fruit (apricot today) and drizzle maple syrup (still working through last year’s Marquette Michigan syrup today) until it starts to stick and maybe clump a little bit.

Dough has finally doubled in the pan. Especially with wild yeast you just have to wait until it’s ready and be patient. But if you wait (and get the temperature hospitable), it will get there and hold together. Into the oven for 55 minutes at 400.


I’m inspired this week by two tigress in a pickle posts, so let’s make some fermented sriracha. This is a first for me, but I like fermenting things, and I like hot hot things, so a mix of hot red thai peppers and red jalapeños go in a bowl with garlic and salt to develop some more of that wild yeast flavor this week.

The other post was for homemade tomato paste and sold me with the simple idea of using icecube trays to save the paste in tablespoon-sized quantities instead of the cans that always end up in my fridge half-full. We’re always looking for ways to bring the late summer taste of tomatoes with us through the winter, but no time for a big canning project in our tiny apartment this year, this seems (and smells like) a perfect compromise, turning nearly a gallon of tomato puree into a concentrated cup of paste to wait in our freezer.

The bread is out and cooling.