Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Happy holidays from Grumpy Tumbles aka Grumbles!
I like the idea of wrapping up the year with a nice little summary and some goals for the next year, something I can look back on a year later and remember where I was, mentally, at this time, as well as see how much things changed.

The last several (2? 3? more?) new years were sort of depressing, frustrating for me. Each year I had some major things I wanted to do - mostly get a puppy, but also move (see: get a puppy), make meaningful progress in my career, and work through some recurring anxieties and frustrations in my personal life. Each year I looked back and felt like nothing had really changed, not in any meaningful sense, and I was filled with a sense of frustration, of not moving forward, of wasting years of my life, stuck. It wasn't that I'd had bad years, they just felt excruciatingly stagnant.

2014, however... 2014 felt like my year in many ways. Obviously I did finally move to a new dog-friendly home - one which felt like a downgrade in many ways at the time, but which I actually like much more than the old one - and I got Tumbles. She is certainly the highlight of my year. But beyond that, I finally began feeling competent at work, overcoming some impostor syndrome that has been giving me anxiety for years and finding things I truly feel good at and enjoy. I feel like I matured a lot, too, learning to trust myself and gracefully handle situations which have made me feel emotionally out of control for years now. In summary: life is good.

This leaves me feeling a bit weird. I had this huge list of Major Life Goals for so long, and now that they all have figurative checkmarks next to them, I'm not entirely sure how to live. I certainly had some angst around everything I wanted to achieve that seemed out of my reach, but a part of me was comforted by having that laundry list of life improvements. Since I don't anticipate many other major life changes in the next few years (knock on wood, I guess), I think 2015 will be the year for me to settle in and relearn to be comfortable with the day to day, and to focus on small changes that I haven't really had room to think about for a long time.

A few things I'd like to focus on:
  1. Cook and bake more. I remember when I started this blog, I baked a ton (at least, way more than I do now). I was so comfortable experimenting and tweaking recipes to make them my own, and I've fallen out of the habit. I miss it and want that comfort back, and I'd also like to spend more evenings cooking dinner (I'd say 2014 has also been the year of "takeout 6 nights a week", which I am less than enthused about). Side note: these corgi cookies took hours and hours, and it was a little stressful, but it was so so nice to have something new and exciting to attempt. I'm super happy with how they turned out! More of this, please!
  2. Decorate my home. I covet the pretty houses I see on blogs, filled with non-beige walls, fun art on the walls, and DIY decor. But I spend way more time looking at pictures of those houses than I do working to make mine more inviting. I keep saying "well if I owned a house..." but that's a dumb excuse, and there is a ton I can do to a rental (especially since we have permission to paint). I assume we'll live here for a little while, and it'll be worth putting some effort in to making this a place I love to be.
  3. Take a real vacation (preferably a few!) with Tim. We've had exactly one vacation together in our 5 year relationship, and he ended up having to work for part of it. Travel has been near impossible since getting Tumbles, but that should get easier and easier as she grows up, and hopefully by the end of the year we can actually leave her alone (with friends or a boarding place) for a week or so. In the meantime, I'm hoping for a couple of road trips within CA, and maybe even a drive up to the pacific northwest?
  4. Visit seasons. I miss having real fall and winter so much, and instead of moping about it, I need to put forth the effort and take little trips to places that have glorious cold weather, fall leaves, and lots of snow. Bonus, this will help out with #2 above and can be some quality time for our little family (including Tumbles, of course).
  5. Take more photos. I say this every year, pretty much, but I'm going to try again. I have a DSLR but feel like I don't have the knowledge to use it well, but I'm pretty sure practice is the best way to get there. So, I'll keep trying! If I do start taking more pictures, I may let myself invest in something like Lightroom to make it even more worth my while, but until I'm sure I'll use it, I'm not going to waste the money.

I also want to cultivate real, deep friendships, although that one is hard to force (for me at least) and of course continue to grow personally and with Tim and Tumbles. I think it'll be weird going into the year with no major changes on the horizon, but it'll be good for me if I can learn to appreciate the day to day a bit more.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Holiday cooking

I really miss cooking and baking on a regular basis - working full time + raising Tumbles + 3 ballet classes a week until recently -> no free time to cook. But time off work for the holidays has been the perfect excuse to make so much food and try some new recipes, too. Here are a few things I've made in the last couple of weeks, accompanied by mediocre phone photos when I happened to take them:

Salty-sweet peanut butter cup bars. I am seriously making my third batch this month right now. They are addictively good (better than my old family recipe for buckeyes, which I feel just a little bit bad about), and umm... we aren't good at having protein-rich snacks around, so these have been my breakfast more than once. December was made for this.

Peppermint pattie brownies. These were good, but imo they didn't quite stand up to the (totally amazing) peanut butter bars I made at the same time. I used my own brownie recipe (minus the raspberry swirl), so it's possible the given one works a bit better.

Slow Cooker Mexican Beef With Lime Crema and Pinto Beans. Ah, Serious Eats always knows where it's at. I adored the Mexican twist on a traditional slow cooker pot roast, and it lasted two of us a couple of days and reheated really well. I served it with a bit of extra cilantro and some sharp cheddar (everything is better with sharp cheddar).

My grandmother's butter cookies with royal icing (recipe at bottom). These have childhood memories for me (but with traditional American buttercream), and I was excited to try making my first ever royal icing. It worked really well, but the fancy corgi cookies I made took ages to decorate and let dry. I'll probably go just a little simpler next time, unless I have a weekend to kill.

Spicy beer braised lime chicken enchiladas. Our Christmas Eve dinner. I had been craving these since I discovered the recipe a week or two before, and they did not disappoint. I'm trying to figure out how soon is too soon to make these again. I used a Rogue hazelnut brown ale and served with some black beans sautéed with onion, garlic, tomato paste, lime, and spices, and it was perfect.

Chocolate-y Christmas cafe au lait. This is one of the few things I make every year for Christmas (going on about 5 years now). Super rich and chocolately and just a little festive tasting. I recommend tripling the orange peel for a bit more chocolate orange flavor.

Ham & cheddar popovers. I only recently made my first popovers (these wonderful cinnamon sugar ones) and I'm in love with how easy and adorable they are. I overdid the ham and cheese a little in these, but they still puffed up beautifully and tasted amazing. Way more of a meal than the cinnamon sugar ones, too!

Slow cooker pulled pork with Dr Pepper. I'm a little obsessed with my crock pot this winter. This is the third slow cooker pork recipe I've tried, and it was by far the best. You can't really taste the Dr Pepper with all the BBQ sauce, but it cooked up so perfectly, I didn't really mind. I pretty much randomly chose Stubb's BBQ sauce at the store, and it was just right (not too sweet!).

Mustard brussels sprouts. Served along with the pork and some mashed potatoes. These were a nice, vinegary change of pace in an otherwise heavy meal.

The best white chili with chicken. This took a stupid amount of time to make (even with canned beans, as per the recipe note), but it's super good - so maybe worth it? I made this to eat with bread from my new bread machine Christmas present (thanks Mom!!), and it was a pretty good combo. It also made tons of leftovers, even after stuffing ourselves sick.

Nana's butter cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 2/3 cup all purpose flour, sifted, plus more for rolling
  1. Preheat the oven to 375° F.
  2. Cream butter with a mixer on medium speed. Gradually add the sugar, creaming well.
  3. Add the egg, salt, and vanilla. Beat well.
  4. Gradually blend in flour until well combined
  5. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill.
  6. Once chilled through, roll out on a floured surface to 1/8 inch thick. (I found it easier to do this in at least 2 parts, keeping the other in the fridge until ready to use. If the dough gets too warm it's hard to move the cookies to the baking sheet.)
  7. Cut with floured cutter. Place on ungreased cookie sheets, then bake for 7-10 minutes until just barely browned around the edges.

I got my royal icing recipe from the Sprinkle Bakes cookbook - a similar one is on her blog here. I flavored it with vanilla and almond extracts and used lots of gel food coloring for bold colors. I added enough water to make soft peaks for the frosting outlines, then filled in with even-more-watered-down flood icing (details on both of those in the book).

Hope you're all eating well this holiday season! Enjoy!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Mulled Wine

I've been making mulled wine for several years now. It gets a bad rap, but it's pretty tasty IMO (and it's always a hit when I make it for a crowd). As soon as it starts getting chilly, I buy a box of wine and make this as much as possible - such a festive, cozy drink. I normally don't drink box wine, but there's enough other stuff in this that it's not worth splurging on a fancier bottle - plus the box lasts for weeks after opening it, so you can make as much or as little as you want.

This is totally a recipe that I eyeball and tweak a little every time, so take this as a rough guideline and don't be afraid to change it based on what you like or have on hand. It also scales up or down super easily - if you want a larger batch, make it in a crock pot early in the day and let it steep on low heat for 3-5 hours.

A note about spices: I keep whole spices on hand - they stay flavorful for longer than pre-ground and keep the drink from getting grainy. You can leave out any you don't have or use ground versions if you don't mind the texture. But, if you're going to make this more than once, I recommend investing in the whole versions - they'll last for ages.

  • 1 bottle of red wine, or a quarter of a box of wine
  • 1 small orange, strips of zest peeled off, then sliced
  • 2 whole cinnamon sticks
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 6-8 cardamom pods
  • 10-12 whole allspice berries
  • 10-15 whole cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated on a microplane
  • 1/4-1/2 cup white sugar
Add the wine, orange zest and slices, and spices to a pot. Add sugar - start on the lower end, and once the wine heats and sugar dissolves, taste and add more if you want it sweeter. Cover and heat over low heat, stirring occasionally, until steaming but not bubbling - about 20 minutes.

To serve, place a small mesh strainer over mugs and ladle through, dumping the spices and orange back into the pot.