Our Family Christmas

It’s no secret… We love celebrating big, and the holidays are no exception to that! I know it’s popular these days to slow down and simplify everything so you don’t lose sight of what Christmas is all about, but we have loved filling our days with holiday activities, creating new traditions and watching our kids truly enjoy the magic of the season. We thought it would be fun to give you a peek into our holiday home and share some of the traditions, old and new, that are special to our little family.

Part 1: Trimming the Tree

I’ve always loved decorating for Christmas. Even as a college student I chose to spend my money on Christmas decorations rather than buying required text books for classes; a decision I still fully stand behind! With every tree we set up and every garland we hang, the joy of the season seems to fill our home even more.

One of our traditions is to hand-make the garland on our tree. Over the years we have done everything from paper chains to even making a garland out of paper clips and fancy tape! This year we chose to make a classic popcorn garland. While slightly tedious, we found it relaxing and enjoyable, especially with a holiday movie playing in the background. If you want to give this garland a try here are a few tips we learned along the way: Pop your popcorn the day before you want to make the garland, so it can become stale and more styrofoam like. This makes the popcorn more firm and less likely to crumble. Use a sharp needle threaded with fishing line, and only work with four to five foot sections at a time. Also, make sure to leave enough fishing line at the end of each garland section so you can tie the ends together as you place it on the tree. It takes a little bit of patience, but it really was fun to see it all come together.

Part 2: A Tree of Their Own

I love having multiple trees throughout our home. When Jamie and I lived in a 632 square foot apartment, I somehow managed to squeeze eight Christmas trees into that tiny space. Out of control? Maybe a little, but the more the merrier right? With that mindset, we added a new tradition this year of decorating small trees for each of our kids in their own room. Grey has decorated, undecorated and redecorated his tree more times than I can count, and I just love watching his creativity blossom. He picked out his own ornaments and has clear opinions about where each one should be placed. I think we have a budding wedding designer on our hands!

London’s tree is filled with everything pink and girly to match her room. Each time we turn on the tree lights when she wakes up, she’ll wave and point to her tree and say “wow”. So until she has a voice and an opinion to tell us otherwise, we are really enjoying all the pink that has entered our home since she was born!

Part 3: All Decked Out 

In the same way that we deck the halls for the holiday and make our home a little fancy, we also love to get a little dressed up throughout the season. While I fear some might think this is pretentious, that is really not our heart behind it. Dressing up is not something that happens on a normal day, so getting all decked out feels special and makes this time of year feel even more extraordinary.

We started yet another new tradition this year. Every year we are going to get dressed up and head to downtown Seattle for a family date. This year we went to an interactive concert for little kids at the Seattle Symphony and then we stayed at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel where we visited the Teddy Bear Suite, enjoyed a classic holiday tea in the Georgian Room and then visited Santa. It was such a special day for our family and the start of a beautiful tradition I am excited to see unfold each year. I think my favorite part was when Grey discovered that his personal tea sandwich tower also had macarons on it, he declared at the top of his lungs (for all to hear!) “It’s a macaron Da-Da!”  Meanwhile my 10 month old baby quietly sat next to me delighted to be eating her own scone.

We also continued our annual tradition of hosting a dress up holiday party. I started doing this in college for all of my friends. Instead of studying for my finals, I would spend the week baking and preparing for my big Christmas party at the end of the week. I loved spoiling them with abundant food, desserts and drinks. It was my gift to my friends, and a way to cultivate a deeper sense of community by using my talents and passions to serve the people I love and care about. Eighteen years later, our holiday party looks a little different, but the heart and purpose behind it has not changed and it remains one of my favorite holiday traditions that I look forward to each year.

In keeping with the tradition I mentioned earlier in this post, we also made our lunaria garlands. I’ve been a bit obsessed with lunaria as of late; I love how natural it is while still feeling ethereal and whimsical. I had a pile of it left over from a wedding, so I decided to put it to good use in our home for the holidays. We created the garlands by cutting down the lunaria bundles into smaller bundles, and then taping them together with classic masking tape. We then taped those little lunaria bundles to a long piece of wire, overlapping one bundle on top of the next until we reached the length we needed. This was also a bit tedious and time consuming, but worth the results. We didn’t put many ornaments on our tree this year as we loved the statement of simplicity that the lunaria made.

Part 4: Let Them Eat Cake… and cookies and every other treat! (in moderation of course)

We love to bake. It’s almost therapeutic to me… well until I see all of the dishes I need to wash! During the holidays, we make marshmallows, caramels, pies, cakes in addition to rolling out countless sugar cookies and gingerbread men. Another yearly tradition for us is to host our friends for a cookie making party. It might take months to clean up the last of the sprinkles that fall to the floor, but it is totally worth it for the joy that comes from what we create together!

This year we are sharing our soft gingerbread cookie recipe. It is absolutely the best! You can control how crisp your cookies become by adjusting how long you bake them, so make sure to experiment with your first round! You also need to think ahead. This recipe is best when you let the dough rest in the fridge overnight before rolling them out. I have found this to be the perfect recipe for the holidays and we hope you enjoy it too!

Whatever your traditions may be and no matter what holidays you choose to celebrate, our family wishes you a season filled with joy, love, laughter and perhaps a few gingerbread cookies.

photos: Alanna Maria Photography

calligraphy and recipe design: LaHappy

download and print our gingerbread cookie recipe

Sea Salt Caramels

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After posting these sea salt caramels to my instagram feed, I received countless e-mails asking where to find the recipe on the blog!  Thank you for your enthusiasm (and your patience) while we worked on putting this post together.  These sea salt caramels are the perfect little treat to gift to friends during the holiday season.  The best part about this recipe, beyond how good they taste, is how simple they are to make.  There are very few ingredients used and just a few key steps to follow in order to successfully make these little pieces of candy.  Below are a few tips to help you along the way.

Sinclair & Moore sea salt caramel  2Sinclair & Moore sea salt caramel  4Before you begin measuring any ingredients, it is important to prepare your pan.  I line my pan with natural parchment paper so that I can lift the caramels right out of the pan once they have cooled.  This makes cutting the caramels much easier than attempting to cut them in the pan.

To line the pan with parchment paper, first butter the actual pan lightly so that the parchment will be able to stick to the pan itself without slipping around.

Cut down the parchment paper to size, but make sure that you leave a couple inches on each of the long sides of the pan.  This extra length will be what you use to lift the batch of caramel out of the pan.

Once the pan is lined with the parchment paper make sure to generously coat everything with butter so that the paper will not stick to the caramel mixture.

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Before melting your butter, it is a good idea to measure out the sugar, corn syrup, condensed milk and the salt into a separate bowl so that it will be ready to pour into the pan once the butter has melted.

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Turn on the Christmas tunes and settle in.  Cooking caramels takes a bit of time…. this is not a ten minute project.  Depending on your stove, you could be stirring for about 30-45 minutes.  You will want to make sure you are stirring the entire time… if you let this just sit on the stove the sugar and milk mixture can quickly and easily burn.

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You will know your mixture is boiling when it starts to bubble. This is when you want to reduce the heat and add a candy thermometer.

Don’t try to speed up the process by continuing to cook at a higher temperature.  Cooking it slow allows the caramel flavor to develop to a richer taste.

Make sure to use a candy thermometer.  A few years back I thought I would avoid purchasing a candy thermometer and so I used a meat thermometer instead.  Big mistake.  Totally not the same thing at all.  My caramel turned into a brick and it had to be thrown out. It was a sad day in my kitchen!

The candy thermometer will help you regulate the temperature of your mixture so you do not cook your caramel for too long.  The higher the temperature you cook your caramel to, the harder your caramel will become.  I like to cook mine to a “firm ball” stage.  This means that the mixture is cooked to about 245 degrees F.  This will give you a taffy like caramel that is easy to eat. The good thing about a candy thermometer is that all you do is set it to “firm ball” stage, and it will beep at you when it is set.

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Once your caramel has reached the desired temperature remove from the heat immediately and set your pan on an unheated burner on the stove.  Have your vanilla and measuring spoon next to the stove ready to go so you can quickly pour in this final ingredient.  Work fast so you can incorporate the vanilla before the mixture begins to cool down.

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Just pour  the caramel mixture into your prepared pan and it will naturally spread evenly throughout the pan.   Then it just becomes a waiting game as you allow your caramel to cool and firm up.  I like to allow mine to cool at least three to four hours.

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Once the caramel has cooled, gently lift it out of the pan using the paper flaps you created when you prepared the pan.  Set the caramel on a flat surface and using a sharp knife, make firm cuts and slice your caramels into small rectangular or square pieces. It is important that your cuts are firm and direct. Clean cut caramels are easier to wrap.

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I like to use natural, unbleached waxed paper to wrap up my caramels.  There is something  that feels nostalgic about the look of this paper, and it enhances the natural color of the caramel.  You can find this at natural grocery stores like Whole Foods or you can purchase it here.

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This is the perfect inexpensive and easy gift to give to friends, especially when packaged up in little linen bags or craft paper boxes. You can download our sea salt caramel recipe or just use the recipe card below!  We hope you enjoy these as much as we do!

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sinclair & Moore sea salt caramel

A Simple Christmas

I love decorating our home for the holidays. I always have.  Sometimes I even start planning what I want to do months in advance.  This year has been different though. As Christmas approached quickly this year, Jamie and I debated if we should make our house a little festive or just skip it altogether this year.

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It’s not that we weren’t into the holiday spirit, it just felt like too much on our plate. We have been pretty busy the past few weeks as we have been getting our client details to a good place so Jamie can take a maternity leave.   We have also been in nesting mode at our house the past few weeks preparing for our baby to arrive. With Jamie’s due date actually on Christmas day, the idea of finding all of the ornament boxes, unpacking everything and then taking time to decorate felt like a lot, not to mention the hassle of decor clean up while simultaneously learning how to take care of a newborn baby also felt overwhelming.

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And… I think we were also both a bit scarred from our Christmas tree last year that we carried up to our fourth floor apartment only to find that it wouldn’t fit in the stand… not to mention it fell over multiple times throughout the season, and we were still somehow cleaning up the pine needles nine months after we had already thrown it out. We didn’t want a repeat of that headache.

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We went back and forth, but in the end we eventually decided to put up a Christmas tree and went out and purchased an artificial one.  I learned that I should have measured how tall our ceilings were before shopping for a tree. It was too tall. I was so irritated at myself. The frustration of re-packaging the tree and trekking it back to Target made me once again want to cancel Christmas decorating altogether. The holidays shouldn’t feel difficult. It defeats the purpose of why we are even celebrating in the first place.

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Luckily Jamie spotted these little Charlie Brown-ish trees that were already pre-lit and wrapped in burlap. All we had to do was set them out and plug them in. That I could handle. We added about twenty ornaments and some ribbon and yarn we already had on hand. We then hung a simple, premade garland over the entrance to our dining room. Done. It felt easy. It felt quick. It felt simple. It felt right.

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I’ve decided that simple is good. It may not always be the most beautiful, award-wining look, but that is ok. I think in our image driven, social media saturated world, it is so easy for people to feel pressured to always create something innovative, big and beautiful that stands out from everyone else. It can be draining and life depleting at times. Making the decision to be simple was completely liberating. As we enter into this new phase of life, and embark on this steep learning curve they call parenthood, I am releasing myself from anything that feels too complicated and choosing simplicity as often as I can. What a freeing, life- giving decision this has been.

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I had originally planned on doing several blog posts for the holidays, wanting to share a few complicated recipes. I released myself from that as well, and decided to just do something simple in the kitchen. We decided to make sea-salted caramels; they only take a few ingredients and are pretty easy to create. We wrapped them up in natural wax paper and then boxed them up for simple gifts. We’ll be sharing the recipe in the next day or two, so make sure to check back if you are looking for something home-made to gift this year

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And for those of you who saw this grey velvet ribbon on our instagram account, and e-mailed me for a source, here is where I typically get all of my velvet ribbon from: MJ Trimming .  If you are ever in NYC, this is definitely a place you want to check out!

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photography:  Matthew Land Studios