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

Holiday Recipe Round Up

After a busy wedding season and crazy year of adjusting to life with a little one, Jamie and I opted for a simplified Christmas this year and decided not to do any new recipes on the blog.  Over the years we have shared a variety of recipes, and so we thought we would just do a round up of some of our favorites.  Below you will find links to our sea salt caramels, marshmallows, gingerbread cookies, and red velvet cake. It’s always so fun to see people trying these recipes and sharing their photos with us by tagging us on instagram, so let us know how these recipes turn out for you!

Sea Salt Caramels 

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Gingerbread Cookies 

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Red Velvet Cake

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Photos:  Matthew Land Studios 

Red Velvet Cake

I think Valentine’s Day was my favorite holiday as a kid, mostly because of the homemade treats my mother baked to make the day special. She would make dozens and dozens of huge, heart shaped sugar cookies and then carefully ice each one with bright pink frosting. She would then finish each cookie by personalizing it for every kid in my class by writing their name on it. I was proud to hand those homemade treats out to my friends. Although most of the kids would carefully wrap their cookie up so they could take it home, I quickly ate mine because I knew that when I got home there would be a Valentine’s cake.

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Every year my mother would make the same cake… it was a white cake baked in a heart shaped pan and filled with cherries. She would ice it in the fluffiest white icing and then top it off with even more cherries forming the perfect red heart. Although it has been years since she has made this confection, I can still taste the slightly almond flavored treat like it was just yesterday.

Baking Valentine’s treats was my mother’s way to tangibly show us how much she loved us. That is why Valentine’s Day and baking go hand in hand for me.

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Something else that goes hand in hand with Valentine’s Day is red velvet cake; it seems like it has become a quintessential part of this holiday for our generation. The recipe I have included below bakes one of the best red velvets I have ever had. I’ve included a few tips and pointers that I learned along the way to hopefully help you achieve baking success.

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You will want to sift all of the dry ingredients together. I made the mistake of only sifting the flour. I thought the chocolate and baking powder would be a fine enough powder to not warrant any sifting. Wrong. My batter in the end was a bit lumpier than I would have liked as the clumps of chocolate were not breaking apart. I had to over-beat the batter to eliminate the chunks. Over-beating usually means a dry cake which nobody appreciates. Luckily for me my end results were not dry, but I could have avoided that risk all together if I had simply just sifted all of the dry ingredients.

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The recipe calls for a bit of coffee. Don’t skip this step thinking you won’t need it or don’t like the taste of coffee. I promise you that you won’t even taste it in the end. The coffee will make your cake very moist and is an important ingredient to this cake.

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The rich redness of a red velvet cake is more of a modern interpretation of this cake. Years ago, before cocoa powder was processed like it is today, there was more of a red quality that was naturally found in the chocolate. There was a chemical reaction between the white vinegar and the buttermilk that would draw out the red qualities in the chocolate when it was all combined. Our grandparents’ version of red velvet cake was merely just a chocolate cake, similar to devil’s food, that had hints of red running through it. People started adding red food coloring to the batter so that the appearance of the cake would measure up to its title.

It may disturb you to know the amount of color that is going into your cake, but it took four full bottles to achieve the rich iconic red velvet coloring that makes this cake famous.

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Be aware that the batter is very thin, and splashes very easily. Wear an apron or a shirt you do not care about because the colored batter will unfortunately ruin your clothes. Also, use a very large mixing bowl. I had to transfer bowls half way through making this cake, because my original bowl choice was not big enough.

When you incorporate the dry ingredients, you want to make sure you do this very intentionally. With the mixer turned off, add 1/3 of the flour mixture. Turn the mixture to low and mix just until incorporated. Turn the mixer back off, repeat the process. Once the last 1/3 of flour has been mixed on low, scrape the bowl and then turn the mixer to medium high and mix the cake for just a minute to make sure everything is well incorporated. Remember that over-mixing your batter will make a very dry cake.

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A well greased and floured pan is essential so that the cake can be easily released from the pan after it has baked. Greasing and flouring your pan can be tricky. I was pretty lucky to learn techniques from my mom who was a master at baking cakes. She taught me to use a bit of shortening on a paper towel, and generously yet smoothly make sure the entire inside of the pan is coated. You don’t want any Crisco lumps nor do you want any areas of the pan that are not completely coated with the shortening. Once coated, use about 2 TBS of flour to dust over all of the flour. Firmly tap the pan onto your counter to loosen all of the extra flour. Pour all excess flour out of the pan.

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Fill the pan 2/3 full of cake batter. It will take a full hour or more to bake, but you will end with a nice tall cake ready to be spilt  and filled.

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Let your cakes cool completely before leveling, filling and icing. Don’t be impatient or you will have a very big mess as the heat will cause your cake to split and your icing will melt.

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To fill and stack a cake, use the following method: Pipe a ring of icing around the perimeter edge of the cake. This ring will act as a dam so the filling will not squish out over the side. Fill the middle of the tier with with icing, and use an angled spatula to smooth and level, leaving the original outer ring in place. Repeat this process until your cake is fully stacked.

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I ice cakes quickly with a large smooth edged decorating tip that forms wide bands of icing around the side and entire top of cake. Once this is completed, I use my angled spatula to evenly spread the icing and make large peaks or swirls.

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Download and print our recipe cards for Red Velvet Cake and Cream Cheese Icing

photo credit:  Matthew Land Studios

recipe card design and layout: la Happy