Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Glass is Half Full

I tried two new recipes today, with a 50% success rate. 
I'm being glass-half-full about this.

First of all, this was the kitchen I was working in. How can you not want to cook in a kitchen like this?

Recipe #1 was for Spelt Crackers from this cookbook. I was so excited about it because I actually had just picked up some spelt flour (admittedly not "white" spelt flour which may have made a difference in the final product). 

Why spelt? The thing is, my doctor has me on this new diet in an attempt to solve my continuing digestive problems. I don't want to get into details - and I assure you that you don't want me to - but the short version of the story is that this new diet eliminates a LOT of foods - mostly a broad selection of fruits, vegetables, and grains. It is hugely inconvenient and has, overnight, turned me into an extremely high maintenance eater. Eating out is virtually impossible and so frustrating. 

There is light at the end of the tunnel and I think that at some point I won't have to be quite this high maintenance and we'll have this all a bit more under control and I'll be able to eat a wider variety of things but for now I'm just trying to avoid being sick. 

Being sick is no fun.

That said, I basically ate zucchini, potatoes, and cheese for Christmas Eve dinner. At least the wine was delicious. Thank God I can still drink wine. 

The good news - the really, really great news -  is this: gluten isn't my problem! This is awesome. I kind of always knew all along that wheat might be a problem but not gluten and, indeed, my intuition was right. I still can't eat wheat. But gluten is ok. Which means that a world of ancient grains have opened up to me, my favorite of which is spelt. I love spelt, because it's like wheat, but magically doesn't make me sick.  

Spelt tortillas taste just like regular flour tortillas. It's amazing. I'm so happy. This discovery feels like a really wonderful Christmas gift.

Alright, so I've digressed a bit but now you have the backstory required to understand why I was absurdly excited to run across a recipe for Spelt Crackers this morning while I was eating breakfast. I can eat spelt crackers! I just had to make them. And so I did. The recipe (printed here) was pretty easy. 

Mix some salt and water together. 

Add the spelt flour and stir...

Until combined.

Knead the dough a little bit until it forms a lump. (Not shown.)
Overturn a sheet pan and flour it with more spelt flour.

Roll out the dough. (Put a damp kitchen towel under the pan as otherwise it will slide all over the counter when you try to roll the dough.)

Get it as thin as you can. Mine wasn't thin enough. Go off the edges, and do some trimming.

Dock the dough (i.e. poke holes in it with a fork). Spray it with water. Sprinkle on sea salt, a little coarse pepper, other seeds to your liking. (I did mine 1/3 plain sea salt, 1/3 sea salt and pepper and 1/3 sea salt, fennel, and caraway because that was what we had on hand.)

Bake it.

Break it up into pieces.


These crackers came out ok. If you are desperate for bread-like products, as I am, you might even eat them. But in truth, I didn't roll out the dough thin enough and the thicker pieces were quite a workout for the jaw. I personally feel this recipe could use some optimizing. 

Good thing recipe #2 worked out a bit better. Not least because it comprised a significant portion of my dinner. 

It helped that I had a snack of Leslee's Chicken Liver mousse, one of my favorite foods on the planet. To my knowledge, Leslee's can only be acquired at Schaefer's, locally. It doesn't look like much but it is divine. 

With a little food in my tummy, I was ready to tackle this recipe.

Tiny potatoes with creme fraiche, caviar and chives are a catering staple. They are classic hors d'oeuvres and perfect partners to champagne. I've always wanted to make them as they seem ever so sophisticated. Luckily, all the ingredients - potatoes, creme fraiche, caviar, and chives - are approved on this insane restricted eating plan. Despite the fancy finished product, these were superbly easy and if you're up for springing for a little caviar, they are a real treat. 

You barely even need a recipe.

Steam some small new potatoes, or in our case, fingerlings. About 15 minutes in the steamer basket.

 Cool the potatoes quickly in ice water, which, in Chicago this time of year means "tap water".

Then cut them into pieces and scoop out one end with a tiny measuring spoon - like the 1/4 teaspoon size.

You can see in the background that I attempted to use a melon baller at first but that failed - it was taking chunks that were too big. Racking my brain for a smaller tool, I ran across the measuring spoons. Perfect.

Fill the holes in the potatoes with creme fraiche. This couldn't be easier as you just scoop creme fraiche into a zip-top bag, cut off a tiny corner with kitchen shears, and squirt the stuff into the potato craters.

Put a tiny dollop - about 1/8 teaspoon - of caviar on top of the creme fraiche. Snip up some chives and stick a pair into each of the sour cream craters. 

And there you have it. They'd be perfect for a New Year's Eve party or even New Year's Brunch. I might have to make them again. Soon.

So fancy! So easy! My favorite kind of bite.  

I ate at least a dozen of these. 

And then we sat down for a friendly round of family Texas Hold 'Em. 

I am pretty sure champagne, caviar, and poker is precisely how the baby Jesus would have wanted us to celebrate his birthday.

Merry Christmas Eve!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

I skipped the faux bois wrapping paper this year in favor of brown paper packages tied up in...string.

Ribbon counts as "string," I think.

Sugar Cookie Bells

These are a family favorite - my mom has been making them since I can remember, and I think her mom made them before that. This year, I taught my stepmother how to make them. They are great if you're not a frosting person. I'm definitely not a frosting person.

How to make sugar cookie bells:

1. Roll out your sugar cookies like normal and use a bell-shaped cookie cutter.
2. Cut maraschino cherries (aka Sandy's childhood favorite "fruit") into quarters.
3. Place a cherry piece on the "dinger" (ringer? dinger?) of the bell.
4. Brush the whole thing with beaten egg white. 
5. Bake according to your sugar cookie dough recipe. 

Cute, no? I love their '50s feel. 


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Another Use for That Giant Crate of Clementines

You know how sometimes you can only by clementines by the box this time of year?

I love those cuties as much as anyone else, but five pounds of them?
I cannot eat five pounds of them. That's a lot of vitamin C for one girl.

I just happened upon this new trick at Apartment Therapy:

Clementine candles

How To Make a Clementine Candle from maxwell gillingham-ryan on Vimeo.

I know. I love this.

Expect to see these on our Christmas table.
I'm psyched.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tastes Remarkably Not Like Dirt

6 am conference call tomorrow notwithstanding, things are looking up. I discovered that I "misplanned" (sort of my fault, sort of our benefits provider's fault) my FSA which means Santa's bringing me new sunglasses. And new glasses. Maybe even two pairs of glasses. There's a lot of money left in that FSA and not many weeks left in the year. 

I picked out these sunglasses which look ridiculous and awesome. I love them. They are so glam and absurd. I think I partly love them because I am 100% sure that every boyfriend I've ever had would absolutely hate them. I mean, I am totally channeling my inner horsefly here, or maybe Harry Caray. Somehow, knowing that makes wearing these all the more delightful.

Leave it to me to pick out the most expensive frames in the store. The description on the website says these glasses "are for style makers with discerning taste and an appreciation for exquisite details and unmistakable beauty." All I can say is vision insurance is totally worth that $5 a month or whatever I pay.

I tried on some Warby Parkers as well and think I'm going to throw my bets in on these and these

And then I channeled my inner Polish peasant and made turnip soup.

Seems logical to me. 

As you might have surmised, the farm box presented me with about a pound and a half of white turnips, greens attached. The last time this happened, I tried to make turnip gratin. It was fine but retained way too much of that "fresh like dirt" taste turnips sometimes have. I thought it was worth trying something new.

What I learned in my recipe searching is that there are really not very many promising-sounding turnip recipes. The poor, unloved turnip.

It's really cold here in San Francisco. It's hat-gloves-scarf weather. It got down to at least 45 degrees today. I might have to turn on the radiators.

I love this climate. 

Tonight was perfect soup weather so I crossed my fingers and got to it. In the interest of full disclosure, I feel I must tell you that I hedged my bets by eating the remainder of the other night's Gruyere before I got started. You can't be too careful with your stomach and as I've been balancing on the precipice of cranky all day (see previous post), this seemed like no time to play chicken with my blood sugar. Plus, after all the glasses shopping was complete, it was quite late in the evening. 

by Deborah Madison with Edward Espé Brown
The Greens Cookbooks

Yield: Serves Four to Six


None is needed for this soup
(Why does the recipe list things you don't need? So odd.)

1 1/2 pounds small turnips (about 1 to 2 inches across), weighed without their greens
5 tablespoons butter, in all
2 to 3 leeks, white parts only (about 8 ounces), sliced
6 branches thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
(If you use fresh thyme, take it off the stalk first. Trust me.)
4 cups milk
White or black pepper
About 2 to 3 cups turnip greens
Fresh chopped thyme for garnish (optional)


Peel the turnips (thickly, if they are large and mature) and slice them into rounds about 1/4 inch thick. 

Peeling these suckers is tough. They are quite slippery. More than once, the turnip flew out of my hand while peeling. It reminded me of that escargot scene from Pretty Woman. Except I was wearing sweats instead of a fancy dress and no semi-handsome millionaire was in the vicinity.

Let's discuss once again how much I love my mandoline. 1/4 slices. Perfect.

Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil; then add 2 teaspoons salt and the turnips. Cover the pot and cook for 1 minute; then drain.

Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a soup pot with 1/2 cup water. Add the leeks, the blanched turnips, the thyme, and 1 teaspoon salt. Stew them, covered, over medium-low heat for 5 minutes, and then add the milk. 

See how I didn't remove the thyme from the branches? Don't do that! Otherwise you will be picking milky thyme stalks from your soup and trying to get the partly cooked leaves off. I should know.
Slowly heat it without bringing it to a boil, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the turnips are completely tender. (I think this took about 10 minutes.)

Beginning slow heating. This failed rapidly. It boiled. It boiled over, actually. Oops.

You can see the skin on the soup because I boiled it. More than once. It all went in the blender anyway, and I don't think the boiling made a big difference, just in case you try this and let the soup boil, too.

Cool the soup briefly; then purée it in a blender. If necessary, thin it with additional milk or water. Season to taste with salt, if needed, and freshly ground pepper.

Hot soup means taking that plug out of the blender lid and putting a dishtowel over the top, so steam can escape. Unless you want soup splattered all over your kitchen. I mean, if you're into that kind of thing...

Sort through the turnip greens and remove any that are bruised or especially tough looking, and wash them. 

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter (I only used one) in a pan, add the turnip greens, and cook them over medium heat until they are tender, about 5 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. 

I deviated a bit from the recipe here. I chiffonnaded my greens before sauteeing, kind of like how I usually treat collard greens. It was a good call.

Even though I only used one tablespoon of butter instead of the two called for, the greens were pretty greasy. I let them drain for a bit on a paper towel while I seasoned the blended soup.

Remove the cooked greens to a cutting board and chop them, roughly or fine, as you prefer (or, chop them in advance like I did); then add them to the soup and serve. Or garnish with fresh chopped thyme.

This soup was surprisingly delicious which is good because I obviously have a lot of it in my fridge right now. Definitely very milky. If you do not like milk, you will not like this soup. I might consider replacing a cup of the milk with broth next time just for a little more depth of flavor. The turnips were not bitter at all, and the greens were so delicious I ate them all (even the ones I didn't need for garnish on this bowl), with my fingers, right off the paper towel. If you are ever presented with turnip greens, you should saute them. You will not be disappointed. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

You probably think I'm talking about Christmas. 


Come on, people. Get with the program. 

I cannot believe it's taken me this long to write about this recipe since I've been making it for over 20 years, a fact which I find rather unsettling. I first found the recipe when I so desperately wanted to make a dessert, yet, being 10 years old, had to work with what Mom had on hand at home. This worked. Our crisper drawer was never without lemons & the other ingredients are pretty basic.

Over the years, I've adapted the recipe from the original in the Wilmette Community Nursery School benefit cookbook a bit, but I still love it because odds are you've got most or all of the ingredients on hand. Nothing crazy is required, although I must say, Meyer lemons really make this special. But if you only have regular lemons, those work, too. This isn't fancy.

Another good thing to keep in mind is that I successfully made this, unsupervised, at age 10. Which means you can probably make it, too, even if you suck at baking. I'm confident of this because when I was 10, I didn't understand that measuring carefully actually mattered in the baking process. I actually didn't figure that out until rather recently in my cooking history. Despite that, this recipe still came out ok, time and time again. 

Kate’s Meyer Lemon Bars
Makes an 8"x8" pan, or 32 1"x2" bars

½ cup butter, softened
1 cup flour
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar

2 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon flour
Zest of 1 Meyer lemon*
¼ cup Meyer lemon juice*


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter, flour, and confectioner’s sugar. Spread and flatten in a well-greased (or, ideally, parchment-lined) 8x8 pan. I find that fingers are the best tool for this process. Dock the crust (that means "poke holes in it with a fork") and bake for 15 to 18 minutes.
Docking in action. Please also note my total dork move of using binder clips to secure the parchment to the pan. Mock me if you want, but this works so well I now keep the clips in a drawer in my kitchen. Right next to the wine opener.

When the crust just barely begins to brown, it's time to pull it from the oven.

Meanwhile, make the filling by combining the eggs, sugar, flour, zest, and juice with a whisk until completely combined. 

Filling ingredients before the whisk.

In-process whisking.

And done.

Pour over baked (warm) crust. Bake an additional 20 to 25 minutes. 

Cool. (I strongly suggest making these the day or at least the morning before you want to serve them and chill them in the fridge. They should be refrigerator-cold when you cut them into bars. (I like to cut the bars into pieces that are about 1 inch wide by 2 inches long.)  

Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving cold or at room temperature.

No, you're not drunk. (Are you?) In my holiday party prepping frenzy I forgot to take any pictures of the finished product. This one is enlarged and cropped from another picture. Hence the blur.

*You can substitute normal lemons for the zest and juice if you can’t find Meyer lemons.

This recipe is easily doubled and baked in a 9"x13" pan, if you need dessert for a crowd.  

May you find the magic in Meyer lemons (or something...or someone...else) this holiday season.
And that is why it's the most wonderful time of the year.


Dinner for Fussbudgets

You know how my posts are usually all sunshine and roses about how much I love my life and cooking and how grateful I am for everything?

Yeah, well this one's going to be a little different because I really woke up on the wrong side of the bed today.

It's no big deal, just one of those times when it feels like the world is absolutely pigpiling on top of me. You know. It's the kind of series of events where you start to wonder if maybe you are paying some kind of karmic debt.

I'm in such a bad mood that I didn't even want to cook the recipe I'd picked out for tonight - a soup that I'll hopefully share with you sometime later this week. No. No soup for me. I'm in a bad mood. There will be no cooking tonight.

Unfortunately, there's no remedy for this mood. Ok, that's a huge lie. There probably is a remedy and I'm sure it's made by Pfizer. That said, I am pretty sure the remedy I need is that something unexpectedly good needs to happen. Like magic, I'll snap out of it. Might be a day or two, can't really say. But it'll happen. It always does.

In the meantime, I am going to share with you my dinner tonight. It's a Dinner for Fussbudgets. Fussbudget was Mom's word for us when we were babies and just could not under any circumstances be consoled. I especially remember it being applied to Miss Liz. 

Anyway, Dinner for Fussbudgets sounds about right for me tonight. Here are the rules:

1. This is no time for Two Buck Chuck. Open some good wine. 

Thank you, Kevin and Christine, for providing me with this delicious wine. You are the Jesus-at-the-Wedding to my jugs-of-water-bad-mood.

2. Cheese. Cheese is required. Splurge if you want, but you don't have to. However, if it's in your budget to get that $38.99/lb cheese I saw at Whole Foods tonight, let me know because we should really spend more time together. 

I picked a much (MUCH) more modest Gruyere. I suggest getting only a small block as you will likely eat the whole thing. Well, you will if you are me.

3. Something green. Even if pickled.

The small cup is for the olive pits. Just because you're in a bad mood doesn't mean you have to act like a heathen. See also: cloth napkin. Oh, also, this photograph is supposed to be vertical so tilt your head 90 degrees to the left because I don't feel like fixing the photo and reposting it.

4. Meats. The discerning reader will notice that one of the meats here is ham. Yeah, I hate ham with a passion reserved for few things in life. That's how bad a mood I am in. I am eating ham and I don't even care.

Not a good sign at all.

5. Carbs. Mine are in the form of these lentil crackers which are the only wheat-free cracker I've found that doesn't taste like a salt lick. They *almost* taste like normal crackers, if by "normal crackers" you mean "stale Wheat Thins". Good enough, I say. As Mom says, "beggars can't be choosers."

I don't know about "delicious" gluten-free snacking. More like "really not that bad at all" gluten-free snacking.

6. Leftovers. Whatever you have on hand that you want to eat. Tonight's special is roasted delicata squash (seen in the meat photo and below), which, as previously discussed, I am borderline obsessed with. 

And there you have it: Dinner for Fussbudgets.

In the end, it all makes me think of this t-shirt my Mom used to have:  

I just want to point out that this would be a lot easier if the turkeys would leave me the F alone. 

Also, am I an elephant in this scenario? Really? An elephant??

How rude.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Joy to the World, but Mostly to Me

Because I love Christmas
and Joy 
and Fun 
and Bite-Sized Foods, 
every year, I throw a holiday party. 

I ask guests to bring unwrapped toys, which get delivered to the San Francisco Fire Department's Annual Toy Drive post-party.

The thought of kids getting these toys simultaneously breaks and warms my heart. It feels like the least, the very least, that I can do in a season when I’m so continually reminded of how incredibly lucky I am, and how grateful I am (and should be) for everything in my life. 

Sigh. I've really got to start volunteering again. It's time. Well past, actually.

Anyway, that’s how the holiday party works. I invite friends over. I feed them and ply them with drinks. And in exchange, they bring toys. Lots and lots of toys.

I think it’s a pretty good deal.

Especially for me. It's possible that nothing makes me happier than feeding a big bunch of my favorite people. I'd be lying if I said this was a purely altruistic endeavor. 

Kate's "2011 Ploy to Meet a Firefighter" Holiday Party Menu
Nuts, Olives, Spiced Chickpeas (The chickpeas were an experiment and a fail. Oh well.)
Spicy Spinach Dip & Crudites & Crackers
Christmas Torta & Crackers (Torta = layered goat cheese, pesto, pureed sun-dried tomato)
Spicy Chicken Tortilla Cups (This empanada filling, in Tostitos Scoops, with melted pepperjack on top)

Peanut Butter & Ganache Cookies (except instead of the "fudge", I did a basic ganache)
Meyer Lemon Bars (Recipe forthcoming in another post, I promise)

Spiced Cider + Rum
Wine, Beer, Pellegrino

Of course, I didn't take pictures of any of the food. I totally forgot. Britta, thankfully, remembered and snapped a few shots of the party. 

It's a sign of a good party when I have to refresh the tray of clean wineglasses. Twice.


This party is always a great excuse to wear my grandmother's Christmas apron. Also, the pockets are super handy. 

Cocktail napkins that say funny things are sort of a family tradition. This started when my mom found some that said "I can't be overdrawn, I still have checks left." (It was the early 1980s.) Oh man, the old people laughed and laughed and laughed about those. I love these cocktail napkins but my favorite ones are actually from last year. They say "Merry Christmas to all my friends...except two." 

I need to drop the toys off at the fire station tomorrow. It will look a little sad to not have them all piled up under the tree. The big joke here is that the toy collection is merely a ploy on my part to meet a firefighter. 

Miracle on California Street?


O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, How Densely Packed Are Your Branches

I am the kind of person who intentionally travels home on the Saturday after Thanksgiving so that I can spend Sunday getting a tree and decorating for Christmas. I love Christmas. Always have.

To be honest, I’m not actually sure why.

Thinking back to Christmases when I was a kid, I remember a general sense of disappointment. I recall a lot of Christmases not living up to what I thought Christmas should deliver, namely JOY. This is not to say I had a lot of bad times at Christmas.  Some Christmases were downright hilarious, such as the year the tree fell over on top of Grandpa while we were opening presents Christmas morning. (He was fine.)

I can’t remember a single Christmas that was actively terrible. I just don't really remember having a lot of amazing times at Christmas. Christmas was always…just fine.

Perhaps this is why I like to make a bit of pomp and circumstance of it now. I’m optimistic that there can be joy in every Christmas. I refuse to settle for less.

And so, I throw a party.

But before I do that, I need a tree.

The last two years I’ve gotten a tree at Lowe’s. I know, I know. How can a CSA-subscribing, NPR-listening, garbage-composting, water-recycling girl get her Christmas tree at Lowe’s? I guess it’s a little like having a Diet Coke with your Peanut M&Ms.

But this year, I swore it would be different. This year, I swore I’d support a family-owned small-business tree farm.

I got out the tree stand and the boxes of Christmas decorations. I rearranged my furniture to accommodate putting the tree right in the bay of my living room window, so I could see it when walking home from work at night, all lit up. I love that, standing at the corner of my block while waiting for the light to change and looking up to see my tree all glowy and sparkly in the window.

If you want your house to feel like home, I highly recommend walking in the door to a dark room with a lit tree. You should really try it sometime.

Two years ago, I had a three foot tree. It was cute but insufficient. Last year, I had a tree slightly under 5 feet tall, much like myself. But this year, I had more ornaments as a result of all the new places I’ve been in 2011. I felt a larger tree was in order.  A tree taller than me.

The first tree lot I went to had a terrible shortage of trees in my desired five to six foot height range. It was so disappointing. A scotch pine would simply not do.

I moved on, to a slightly less convenient, slightly more sustainable tree lot. I found a beautiful tree, just a hair shy of six feet. I bought him. I brought him home. And here’s what happened.

His trunk was too thick to fit in my tree stand.

I’m not typing this next line, Michael Scott. You know what it is.  

Innuendo aside, after unsuccessful attempts on my part to thin the trunk with a very, very flimsy craft saw, and at one point, with a serrated bread knife, I decided there was no other option than to bring the tree back to the lot and have the trunk shaved down.

Yes, I could have just gotten a new tree stand. But I am very, very stubborn.

I carried the tree back out of my apartment, and threw it back in my car. (This is just one of the many reasons I love my car: no need to tie a tree to the top, I can just throw it in the back. Brilliant.) On the way out my front door I ran into one of my neighbors who observed that at this time of year, most people were going the other direction with their trees.


Christmas trees, you might be surprised to discover, are not a popular item for exchanges. The guys at the tree lot did not know what to do with me, but once I explained the problem, they were quite helpful. One explained to me that they couldn’t shave the sides of the trunk at the base of the tree I’d selected as “the tree drinks through the bark.”

Ok. I’m not, like, a biology major or anything, but I did take a class about the Kingdom Plantae as a freshman in college and while I did fairly poorly in that class (C? C-minus?), I am pretty sure the xylem that helps my tree carry water up itself is not anywhere near the outermost layers of the trunk. But whatever, I was the idiot returning a Christmas tree, I was hardly in a position to argue with the guy. Also, he was holding a chainsaw.

I selected a different six-foot tree with a respectable 4” trunk diameter and was off and running. Again.

My new tree was lovely with sturdy branches at the top that I just knew would be perfect for ornament display. What I didn’t realize was how dense this tree’s branches were, especially the big ones near the middle and the bottom. Much more dense than last year’s McTree.

After two trips to the store for (400) lights to supplement my existing collection, here’s what I was left with:

So that’s not ideal.

It took one more trip and a grand total of 1000 lights to illuminate this bad boy. But it was worth it. I finally got the ornaments up and got to reminisce once again about travels good and bad, recent and past.   

Here are a few of the 2011 additions:

First ever trip to Minnesota in August. I stopped by the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota but the gift shop was closed (I SO WANTED a twine ball ornament!) so I settled for this Mall of America gem.
Work travels took me to upper Wisconsin & Portland this year. Crossing the coast, I picked up this fancy little lobster when I went to Jess & Brian's wedding. The lobster seemed apropos as I think we ate some at every meal that weekend. 
This is my favorite addition to this year's tree. Does it get any better than the Pillsbury Dough Boy popping out of a cake? I think not.
I'm forever indebted to Rae and Jeff for getting married in what is now my very favorite place to ski. I really wanted an ornament with antlers on it but had to settle for this cowboy. I did bring home a full-sized antler, though. Sadly, I did not bring home a full-sized cowboy.
This flip flop from Nicaragua (Adriana & Rob's wedding in February) wins the prize for least expensive ornament of 2011. $1! But it also wins the prize for most expensive plane ticket to acquire said ornament. Nicaragua is far away!
This is Liberace the Sea Lion. He's from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It was impossible for me to pass up a blinged out sea lion. Impossible.
 My most recent acquisition, this is from the Akron airport a couple of weeks ago, right before my flight got cancelled and I had to drive myself to Detroit in a hideous thunderstorm. In the process, I got a speeding ticket. FAIL.

And then it was time for a party...