OOTD: … And a Happy New Year!

Good Morning, everyone! I’m getting ready to pop by my job to send some last-minute e-mails and participate in what will be day 3 of “Office-Holiday-Hijinks” (today is cookie swap and cocoa day!) before I break for a long, extended Christmas weekend to spend time with my family and friends while delivering the last of the gifts I’ve put together, drinking almond milk eggnog, and preparing to watch “A Christmas Story” over and over in a nice, cozy pair of flannel pajamas.

This coming weekend also marks both my mother and my older brother’s birthdays- so there’s going to be a lot of cake and Chinese food involved in the next couple of days too, I’m sure.

For most of this week I’ve been dressing festive- including but not limited to Rudolph leggings, snowball-inspired sweaters and Santa socks- but one of my favorite ensembles I’ve gotten to wear at a recent Holiday party was my ‘Home Alone’ knitted sweater (which I’ve had for a few years now) with a comfortable pair of black jeggings- and this light-up Christmas light necklace I picked up at a local dollar store. It has a couple of different settings that make it blink at various speeds, too!

While I was sporting this outfit in Back Bay, I actually had people coming up to me to ask where I had purchased parts of it. The sweater is easy enough to find at most online shops- and comes in a ton of different colors, too!

And of course, I couldn’t resist posing for some photos in front of the beautiful display that was set up in the front corridor of the Prudential Center while I had this on. That wreath hanging from the ceiling was gorgeous!

Also, if you don’t think the lights on the necklace look bright enough- may I present Exhibit A?

There I am outside- getting ready to go find my car. That necklace pretty much lit my way the entire walk! Not bad for a buck!

Alright- I’ve got to wrap things up at work before I head out to kick-start my holiday. For everyone who celebrates it- I hope you all have a wonderful, beautiful, warm and cozy Christmas surrounded by good food, good friends, and family. I hope you all stay safe if you’re traveling- and stress-free if you’re keeping your celebration local this year. I hope any gifts you’re giving are loved, and cherished by whoever is receiving them- and I hope you all get something that surprises and delights you, too!

I also hope none of you get coal or a fruit cake or anything like that.

I’ll be back to blogging next week- where I’ll be wrapping up 2017 to the best of my abilities before we usher in 2018. I’m so excited to look back on these past 12 months!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

xx

Ashley

Christmas in The Country…

Good Morning! The blogging schedule is going to be a bit off this week, what with the upcoming Christmas (long) weekend. My time over the next few days is going to be divided up between work, holiday parties, visiting with family and delivering gifts to friends across all corners of Massachusetts- so I won’t be able to be online much until it’s time to wrap things up and bid adieu to 2017 in a series of year-end celebration/reflection posts throughout next week leading up to New Year’s Eve!

Some people might think that holiday travel can be daunting- and I’m sure for those who have to fly to multiple destinations- it can be, but I typically drive everywhere- and I love it! I especially enjoy heading out to Western Massachusetts where the scenery is much more rural, old-fashioned, or “rustic”. The old houses, farms, mom & pop shops, bed and breakfasts- and chic little places to stop and eat or hang your hat for a few hours. It’s a breath of fresh air (literally) from the busy, crowded and noisy way of life that comes with city living.

And of course, such a beautiful part of New England never fails to deliver spectacular views when it comes to decorating for the holidays. The photo above was taken in the small town square outside of New Salem, Mass while I was en route (on the back roads, of course!)– heading towards Deerfield this past weekend. It had just snowed a bit, and the lights looked especially beautiful- but beyond the square were rows of barns, churches, and businesses that were all lit up with traditional white lights, tinsel, garland, candles and bows.

If it hadn’t been so cold out- I probably could have walked the streets for hours!

Of course, the city has one thing the country doesn’t- and that’s gigantic Christmas ornaments on the sidewalks- like the one I posed next to on Sunday night after a quick stop at the Prudential Center where I met up with friends for dinner and some shopping!

I’ve got to head into work and prepare for an office lunch with some of my co-workers a little later on this afternoon (and we’re having another party tomorrow!)– but I’ve got another post planned for Thursday morning before I officially break for Christmas.

See you all soon!

xx

– Ashley –

Festive Foodie: Cheesecake Thumbprint Cookies

When I was a kid, my mother used to have a handful of recipes she’d fall back on around the holidays to serve guests or bring with us when we attended family Christmas parties. One of those recipes were thumbprint cookies. My mom would typically make a couple dozen of them at a time and then proceed to fill in the center indentation with melted chocolate or lemon custard. They were always popular and were always one of the first snacks/desserts to disappear once our actual dinner was finished.

And now, years later- I’ve found an updated version of the recipe that incorporates two popular desserts into one bite-sized treat: sugar cookies and cheesecake. With 30 minutes of prep/cook time total- this recipe makes 24 cookies in all- which means you’ll have plenty of them to feed everybody and not have to worry about spending all day in your kitchen!

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

  • 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup light brown sugar
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (from about 20 crackers)
  • 1¾ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt

FILLING:

  • 5 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup jam

READY? HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. MAKE THE COOKIES: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the brown sugar and sugar until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the egg and mix to combine, 1 to 2 minutes more.
  3. In a medium bowl, stir the flour with the graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and salt to combine. Add to the mixer and mix just until fully incorporated, 1 to 2 minutes.
  4. Scoop 2 tablespoons of dough and roll it into a ball; repeat with the remaining dough. Transfer the balls to the prepared baking sheets. Flatten each one slightly, then use your thumb to make a deepimpression in the center of each cookie.
  5. MAKE THE FILLING: In a medium bowl, whisk the cream cheese with the sugar, egg white and vanilla extract to combine.
  6. Spoon 1 tablespoon of filling into the center of each cookie. Top each cookie with 1 teaspoon jam and then use the tip of a knife or a toothpick to swirl the jam into the cream cheese filling.
  7. Bake until the cookies are lightly golden brown at the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool completely before serving.
  8. Enjoy!

Not only were these cookies really pretty when they were done, but they tasted incredible, too- and definitely took me back to my childhood while I was eating them. I’m really looking forward to surprising my mother with a batch of these for her birthday this coming Christmas Eve. I know she’ll appreciate the tradition being passed down!

Enjoy your Friday and your weekend, everyone!

xx

– Ashley –

Sleigh Bells Ring…

While I have many favorite Holiday traditions I like to participate in year after year with my friends and family- two of them, without fail- always happen earlier in the month when I’m still coming off the fringes of Thanksgiving weekend. I’m talking about visiting the local tree lots and nurseries outside the city- particularly when they’ve only just started putting out their seasonal items and decorations.

To me, it’s the first real taste of Christmas- and the smell of pine needles, mint and spices always puts me in a festive mood and gets me ready to hang up my lights, grab some eggnog, and start wrapping presents. Although I’ve had an artificial tree for as long as I can remember- I’m hoping someday I’ll be able to commit to a real one. I would have done it this year, but I had heard there was a shortage of trees as a result of the recession a few years ago- so spending an insane amount of money on one was out of the question. Maybe next year!

Regardless, I still stopped by Russell’s Garden Center this past weekend to check out their selection (and marvel at their impressive nutcracker collection!)

My other favorite tradition, and the trick is to timing it just right so you can avoid all the pedestrian traffic- is going to see the HUGE Christmas tree in Faneuil Hall and catch one of it’s timed light displays every half hour. Sean and I headed down right before the last display of the evening this past Saturday night- and although there were quite a few people milling around near some of the bars in the area- we were still able to get nice and close to the tree to snap a few uninterrupted photos and videos.

And of course, as is tradition- we met up with our friend Chris and proceeded to start the long walk to and through Boston Common and down the illuminated Commonwealth Avenue. The city always does such an amazing job with the lights- and I know it’s going to look even more beautiful if and when we get the first legitimate snowfall of the season!

I’m looking forward to sharing photos of my own Christmas display after I’ve finished decorating my tree and my windows this coming weekend. They are nowhere near as elaborate as the ones around Boston- but they’re still nice!

But I’ve just got to make it through the rest of this week, first. Halfway there already!

Enjoy your Wednesdays, everyone!

xx

– Ashley –

Festive Foodie: Slow Cooker Hot Chocolate

Well hello! It’s another early Monday morning and after a busy few days packed with overtime at my office last week- I’m ready to slow things down a little and get to work at a steadier, calmer pace. The holidays can be crazy enough- what with trying to get holiday shopping done, balancing party plans, and making sure I don’t indulge in too many Christmas-inspired sweets- so I’m trying to keep any work-related stress to a minimum if it’s possible.

So when I stumbled across this “set it and forget it” style crock-pot recipe for cocoa late last week- I knew it was something I wanted to try during my downtime over the weekend. Anything that is advertised as a “drinkable brownie” is right up my alley!

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

  • 6 cups whole milk
  • 1½ cups heavy cream
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
  • A dash of vanilla extract

READY? HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:

  1. Pour all of your ingredients into your slow cooker/crock pot. Lightly stir.
  2. Cook the ingredients on low for 2 hours.
  3. Whisk everything really, really well.
  4. Add marshmallows, whipped cream (or both!), sit back in your footie pajamas by the Christmas tree- sip and enjoy!

Creamy, super-chocolatey and indulgent- this cocoa hit the spot after a long afternoon out in the cold with my friends on Saturday. I think the next time I prepare this, I might use mint-chocolate to give it a more seasonally-appropriate taste- but this is definitely going to be my go-to recipe when we start having some serious blizzards here in New England, because I couldn’t think of anything better to enjoy while I’m bundled in blankets and warming up after shoveling the snow!

xx

– Ashley –