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A few years ago I stopped making resolutions at the start of the New Year. Instead, I now pick a few skills to develop and a few projects to undertake over the next year. Last year I learned to brew beer, the year before I learned the basics of knitting, and the year before that I began to learn how to play the guitar. I also pick a few areas of my life that need work, and plan on given them some extra attention and developing good habits in those areas, such as tracking my work time more efficiently or replacing our home cleaning products with greener (and cheaper) alternatives.

This year for my new skills I have decided to master making home made pasta (Thing 1 gave me a hand cranked pasta machine for Christmas!) and also to learn to shoot billiards (Hubby and I gave the whole family a pool table for Christmas). The first one will be fairly easy, I hope, and the second will require a lot of practice and patience. The pool table was installed yesterday, and I have learned that I do not play as well as I remember myself playing in college.

My big project for the year will be to transform the basement play room into a family game room featuring, of course, the new pool table. Hubby and I have decided to decorate the room using photos from our trips to Ireland, and the traditional Irish pub will be guiding our choices in furniture (new end tables, bookcases, and tv stand are part of the plan).

Another project I wish to tackle is finishing my nanowrimo novel, which I hope to do by the end of January, and then seeing about getting it published.

Lastly, then, would be choosing the areas of my life that need attention. This year, I will be focusing on my career and my health. For my career, I plan to take some courses in LEED neighborhood design and see about getting myself LEED certified. For my health, I need to ramp up the fitness and meditation routine, clean up the eating plan, and get myself a round of physicals and annual tests (and maybe, just maybe to the dentist, thought I really despise the pain they cause me).

What plans have you made for the new year?

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Chocolate Crackles waiting to be eaten.

A few years ago my wonderful sister gave me a copy of Martha Stewart’s Holiday Cookies. This magazine special issue has since been given an honored place on my kitchen cookbook shelf. There has not been a single recipe I’ve tried that failed to thrill, nor have I found a single recipe that requires shortening (butter is so much healthier).

Today’s links are some of my favorite recipes from this magazine:

  • Chocolate Crackles. These are like a brownie shaped like a cookie. I would make these every week if I had a hummingbird’s metabolism, but as it is I have to save these for a once in a while treat.
  • Anise Drops. These have a deep licorice flavor and a surprising texture.
  • Lime Meltaways. I didn’t make these this year, but I include them every once in a while. The light lime taste is a nice counterpoint to the heavy spices of many holiday cookies.
  • Snickerdoodles. It’s not Christmas at the Homestead without snickerdoodles.
  • Black and White. These are an area specialty, with every deli in the tri-state area offering up their own interpretation of the classic black and white.
  • Earl Grey Tea Cookies. Hubby starts every day with a cup of earl grey. These cookies use that unique tea to create a distinct flavor.
  • Rum Balls. Hands down my favorite (outside of the family sugar cookie, that is).

A small sampling of this year's sugar cookie assortment.

Merry Christmas! The last two weeks have been a mad dash around the homestead. We baked a total of 14 batches of cookies, and in the hectic fray I stopped posting here. In a few days I’ll give a recap and links to some of the better recipes we used.

We also had a bit of a winter storm (about 24 inches in about 24 hours) that locked our county down for two days, delaying presents in transit (some did not arrive) and making last minute shopping even more of a hassle than usual. Even so, the snow was a refreshing break from the usual cold rain Decembers have brought this past decade. This is the first White Christmas Thing 1 and Thing 2 have ever seen!

As a special gift to you, I am posting a family heirloom recipe. My Me-Ma made these sugar cookies when she was a girl in Pennsylvania Dutch territory, and they have been a Christmas tradition in my family for nearly a hundred years. We bake them now on Christmas Eve to ensure a good stock for Santa’s cookie plate (and for dunking in Mommy and Daddy’s tea on Christmas morning). These are a much more cake-like sugar cookie than you are likely to find in any modern bakery, and they don’t last long so they should be eaten within a few days. You can color the dough and add sprinkled before baking, but our favorite way to eat them is done up with a powder sugar and milk glaze.

Me-Ma’s Sugar Cookies
makes 3 dozen, depending on what size you cut them

  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp vanilla
  • pinch of salt
  1. Heat oven to 350.
  2. Cream together sugar and shortening until well blended, then beat in egg. In another bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Add flour mixture to shortening mixture slowly, alternating with milk, until well combined. You may need to add up to 1/4 cup more flour if the dough it too wet and sticky to roll.
  3. Roll dough out on well floured surface until 1/8″ thick. Cut into desired shapes, then bake for 9 minutes, removing before they start to brown.
  4. Cool completely before glazing.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen is wrapping up. I don’t know if they accomplished much, but I hope something comes of it. The time for discussion is long past, and the window of time for meaningful action is closing.

As the start of the new year approaches, I am asking myself and my family what new things we can do in the coming year to make a difference, just like the people in this video:

What will you do?

My new toy and the first glass of soy milk it made.

A few days ago I finished reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, then I took a look at what was in some of the food products I buy regularly. My soy milk no longer passed muster–there’s too many ingredients that are chemicals rather than food. I decided to give homemade soy milk a try.

To make this easier (long time readers may remember that I am lazy!), I ordered a Joyoung Soymilk Maker from Amazon. It arrived yesterday, along with a bunch of organic soybeans from Arrowhead Mills, and this morning I made my first batch. I enjoyed it hot with a little agave nectar and vanilla extract, but as it cooled it took an a beanier taste than I am used to. My hope, though, is that we will quickly get used to the slightly different taste, and this will replace the store bought stuff we’ve been using.

Overall I am pretty pleased with how this thing worked and tickled pink by the Engrish in the instruction manual and warning labels (I was instructed to plug it into the wall tutler, which is the most unusual way to say outlet that I’ve seen to date). The machine makes rice and nut milk as well as soy milk, and I’ll be playing with those soon. It also included instructions for making tofu, which will be an adventure we’ll try after the holiday baking rush is over.

Once I’ve really gotten familiar with this thing and played around with the technique to find the best way to make the least beany soy milk, I’ll share the recipe here.

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About me

I am on a personal and professional quest to find a happier, healthier, greener and more cost effective way to live life in the suburbs.