December Flashback: Christmas Traditions and Pigging Out on New Year’s Eve

2014.

I don’t even know where to start. We are already over one week into the New Year and life is moving fast. The holidays came and went so quickly I didn’t have the time or will to blog.  I’ll do a quick recap here.

We spent the first part of December getting ready to get ready. Right after Thanksgiving Juan went into the attic and brought down our 12 crates of holiday decorations and the artificial tree we purchased last year.  I thought it would be a great idea to have an artificial tree so we could put it up early and enjoy it all month long.

The tree stood in the living room, and the boxes lined the hallway untouched for two full weeks. I kept wishing the tree would decorate itself and trying to find the motivation to hang a few decorations. My advent wreath was set out on the dining room table and the first two candles stayed unlit. Then Olivia came home from her first semester at college, Diego continued to ask about the decorations and I got tired of running into boxes in the hallway. Finally, mid-December we decorated and started our Christmas shopping. Bam! It was Christmas in my house!

The weekend before Christmas my family got together to make tamales. I grew up eating tamales at Christmas and for many years I would get together with my mom and grandma to make them.  Since my grandmother died two years ago we have not made tamales.  This year it was time to start our tradition again.  Olivia wanted to participate so we went to my mom’s house and learned the craft of tamale making while the men “helped” by drinking Coronas, watching football and taste testing. I guess some traditions die hard.

Spreading the masa.

My sister-in-law and I spread the masa.

Olivia earns her stripes with her first tamale making experience.

Olivia earns her stripes with her first tamale making experience.

Tamale Tasters? Traditions?

Tamale Tasters? Traditions?

Another one of our Christmas traditions involve debating how we will spend Christmas. Juan and I have celebrated a dozen Christmases together and I can safely say that we have probably spent three of them in our own house, waking up in our own bed.  That’s because every year when the kids were younger, we would have to share Christmas morning with the other parents and divide our family time between my extended family and Juan’s extended family.  That usually meant Christmas Eve dinner with my parents followed by a sleep-over at my sister-in-law’s house for Christmas morning and then driving back to our side of town for the custody exchange, mid-day. It was hectic but that became our routine. Now that the kids are older and there is more flexibility with the custody exchange we have been able to cut down on some of the Christmas day driving.

Every year I try to eliminate the Christmas Eve sleepover, and this year was no different. Juan and I wanted a nice, relaxing Christmas morning in our own house, but we were completely out-voted. The kids protested, arguing that part of the fun and “tradition” was staying up late and sleeping over to celebrate Christmas with their cousins. So, that’s what we did.  In our annual tradition, we went to an early Christmas Eve service and then returned home to hurriedly load our van with presents for both our families, and our kids, overnight clothes and sleeping bags and then drove to Orange County to celebrate Colombian style with my in-laws. The celebration involved a late night meal, dancing and a hilarious gift exchange where my mother-in-law was the big winner! The kids were right. It was really fun! I guess part of our tradition is that every year I have to complain about our “tradition.” At least this year I didn’t have to rush through Christmas Eve dinner with my parents since everyone in my family was willing to have that part of the celebration on Christmas day. Maybe that’s a new tradition.

Juan and I take a selfie in church while we wait for the Christmas Eve service to start.

Juan and I take a selfie in church while we wait for the Christmas Eve service to start.

Cousins at the annual Christmas sleepover.

Cousins at the annual Christmas sleepover.

Silliness and laughs for the White Elephant gift exchange.

Silliness and laughs for the White Elephant gift exchange.

My mother-in-law was the big winner with the knit cap and gloves. She added the pan-flute!

My mother-in-law was the big winner with the knit cap and gloves. She added the pan-flute!

Part of our Christmas eve is waiting until all the partying ends and the kids finally fall asleep so we can play Santa. Here, it's 3:30 a.m.

Part of our Christmas eve is waiting until all the partying ends and the kids finally fall asleep so we can play Santa. We’re still waiting and it’s 3:30 a.m!

Christmas day on the patio at my parent's house and relaxing family celebration.

Christmas day on the patio at my parent’s house and relaxing family celebration. Thank goodness.

New Year’s Eve was also the start of something different.  For a couple of years now I have spent New Year’s Day hosting an open house and serving black-eyed peas and posole. The black eyed peas are for good luck and the posole is because I like it.  This year we decided we wanted to host a party and switched it up for New Year’s Eve. We got together with another local family who are Colombian and combined forces. They brought over a 65 pound female pig to roast and 30 of their closest friends.

Part of our new tradition? A 65 pound pig to roast.

Part of our new tradition? A 65 pound pig to roast.

We supplied the house, the black beans, rice, platanos, along with a few other appetizers, a whole lot of left over alcohol from my 50th birthday party, and about 20 friends.  We danced, lit fireworks, and finally ate at 1:00 a.m! It was a good time for all!  So good that the party turned into a sleep-over and carried over the next day as we all sat around in my kitchen eating leftover tamales and the posole I made for New Year’s Day.

New Year's Rockin' Eve in my family room!

New Year’s Rockin’ Eve in my family room!

My mother-in-law and nephew getting ready to limbo. Who knew she was such a party animal?

My mother-in-law and nephew getting ready to limbo. Who knew she was such a party animal?

Several hours later and the pig is done. We ate at 1:30 a.m!

Several hours later and the pig is done. We ate at 1:30 a.m!

It may not be known for its curative effects for a hangover but it was still good!

Posole  may not be known for its curative effects for a hangover but it was still good!

I guess looking back at how busy we were for the the holidays, I can understand why I didn’t blog much. Remembering how wiped out I was after my New Year’s party, I can also forgive myself for waiting over a week into the New Year for my first blog post.  I have some intentions for this New Year which I hope to share with you in posts ahead.

In the meantime, I have some black-eyed peas I need to eat. Happy New Year!

A traditional New Year's food.

Our other traditional New Year’s food. 

Number 22: Travel to Italy (Part 1)

If you have been around my blog before, you know that this has been a pretty eventful year for me. In May, I celebrated a milestone birthday.  In preparation for my half-century anniversary of life, I made a list of 50 Things to Do Before my 50th Birthday.  Number 22 on that list was Travel to Italy.   I didn’t get to finish everything on my list, but in April of this year I managed to complete Number 22.  I tried to keep a record of my trip as I traveled,  but time was short so I never finished writing about my trip,  until now.  Thanks to NaBloPoMo, I have the motivation to get it done. Here’s the first leg of my trip:

LAX to ROME 

We arrived in Rome in spite of ourselves.  After making our travel preparations, which, by the way did not include actually planning our sight-seeing itinerary, we nearly missed our flight.  We arrived at the airport early and found a seat near the gate.  We began to wonder why it was taking so long to board our flight.   I was on the phone with Diego, who had called us for the 5th time since we left home, when all of sudden, just minutes before our flight departed, I heard the announcement, “Last Call for Mejia.” I then realized the airline changed the gate number.  I abruptly ended the phone call and raced to catch our flight!

Whew! We made it to the plane. Barely.

Whew! We made it to the plane. Barely.

Once we boarded the plane, we settled in for the long flight to Toronto and then onto Rome. I managed to sleep a bit while Juan stayed wide awake almost the entire 15 hour flight. When we arrived in Rome we found our rental car and tried to get our bearings.  Juan, my techie husband, did all kinds of research in how to use our smart phones for international travel.  He figured that he would use our unlocked iPhones and buy a SIM card for data usage.  This would allow us to use our phones as GPS devices.  It sounded too techie for me to be concerned about, but had I known how much we would need our smart phones as a GPS from the moment we drove out the airport, I might have given it more thought.

The ride from the airport to our hotel was enough to make me start drinking and made Juan start biting his fingernails again.  We were completely turned around, and had no idea where we were going.  We were tired,  hungry and we had to use the bathroom.  Juan drove and we kept circling the same roundabout looking for our hotel.  We finally gave up and decided we needed to eat lunch.  That was the best move we made.  We found a wonderful trattoria with delicious food, and oddly enough, no women in the restaurant. We ordered wine with our meal and began to relax and get into vacation mode.  Hey, who needed a GPS? We were on an adventure. In Italy!

Our first meal in Italy.

Our first meal in Italy.

By the time we finished our wine and our meal we were so relaxed all we could think of was getting to our hotel so we could nap.  We left the trattoria and got turned around walking to our car.  Without a GPS we were in trouble. Still, we tried to stay positive and paused long enough to take in our first views of Italy.

A vista from somewhere in Italy. If we had a GPS we would have known where we were.

A vista from somewhere in Italy. If we had a GPS we would have known where we were.

Back in the car we tried again to find our hotel.  Another three times around the same roundabout and we wanted to cry, or get a divorce. Juan wanted to stop at a phone store and buy the SIM cards so we could use a GPS, but we could not find a phone store that took credit cards. We drove around looking for an ATM.   At last, we found cash, bought the SIM card and were able to use our phones as a GPS.  Several hours after we landed in Rome, we made it to our hotel.  Our hotel was located about 25 minutes by train outside of Rome,  in Frascati.

Enjoying a rest near our hotel in Frascati

Enjoying a rest near our hotel in Frascati

 

Frascati, Italy

Frascati, Italy

We checked into our hotel,  fell into bed and slept.  We woke up two hours later. By the time we were ready to start exploring it was already 9:30 at night. Even with a GPS, after all we had been through navigating from the airport,  we knew we did not want to drive into Rome at night for a meal. Besides, we were hungry and when I am hungry, I am cranky.  Frascati is a quaint town with many restaurants that close early.  We walked and walked looking for an open restaurant.

Frascati, Italy. Near the main plaza in town.

Frascati, Italy. Near the main plaza in town.

Thankfully,  we found a local pizzeria and enjoyed our first pizza of the trip. I think the pizza was really good, but I was so cranky hungry by that time, I can’t say for sure.  At least the service was wonderful.  Our waiter Alessandro was charming and friendly.  Fed, and nearly rested, we returned to our hotel where I watched The Walking Dead and Juan slept.  The next day Juan and I would start our tour of the Eternal City.

The first of many pizzas on our trip to Italy.

The first of many pizzas on our trip.

 

 

 

Date Night

I don’t have time for a long post tonight because Juan and I are having a date night. Today just happens to be one of those times what the planets align and we don’t have any kids at home. My teens are with their other parents and Diego is at his first official slumber party. This means Juan and I get the night off!

You know what that means don’t you? Yes that’s right. Dinner and a movie. We get to go home to an empty house. I’m looking forward to a nice evening and a good night’s sleep. See you tomorrow.

Happy Friday!

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What’s in my Fridge? Food as a Writing Prompt

I am 12 days into National Blog Posting Month, where I write a blog post every day in November.  So far, even though I have had long, busy days,  I have been able to post daily without stretching too much for ideas.  Unless you call yesterday’s post a stretch.  Until today.  Today, I got nothing.  I turned to the writing prompts provided at the NaBloPoMo site for some inspiration.  Today’s prompt:

Write about 5 things in your refrigerator and how you feel about them.

Huh?

Well, I guess it’s a good thing that I have a pretty well-stocked refrigerator.  That would ironic if the writing prompt asked me to write about what’s in my refrigerator and there wasn’t anything in it.  Here it goes:

  1. Overripe bananas:  I frequently buy bananas even though only Juan and Erica eat them.  They want the bananas to be perfect, without a single blemish and they prefer them to be slightly green.  Once the bananas start to ripen Erica and Juan will not touch them.  That means they are left for me to eat since Diego doesn’t really like then and Nico would rather walk over a bed of hot coals than go near a banana, or any fruit for that matter.  I will eat slightly ripe bananas but once they become too ripe the only useful purpose they serve is to become banana bread. Wouldn’t you know it that everyone around here will eat the banana bread, as long as I make it.  Except,  of course, Nico.
  2. Fresh cut pineapple:  One of my many responsibilities,  in addition to making banana bread from overripe bananas, is to cut pineapple.  Unlike bananas, nearly everyone in our house likes fresh pineapple.  Except of course, Nico.  It is a fruit, after all. Even though everyone likes fresh cut pineapple, it seems no one around here likes to cut it. Once I cut the pineapple, I put it into a container and it is eaten within hours of it being placed in the refrigerator. After several years of complaining that no one else cut the pineapple I finally got Juan to cut it, once.  He told me he didn’t want to outsource my job so he would not be making a habit of cutting the pineapple. I guess I’m okay with being the sole pineapple cutter in the house, as long as someone else learns to make banana bread.
  3. Yogurt: I buy the yogurt with the best of intentions to eat it.  Occasionally the kids will eat it as long as it is a flavor they like.  I buy it for myself because I need the calcium and since I can no longer drink milk, I figure yogurt is s good substitute.  The truth is though, I don’t really like yogurt.  It took me  a long time to learn to tolerate it. I think it’s the texture of yogurt that I find so distasteful. I used to feel like I would gag when I ate it.  When I see how Nico curls his nose whenever he gets too close to a banana, I am reminded how I used to feel whenever I tried to choke down a cup of yogurt.  Now, I can eat it without gagging but I can’t say I really like it.
  4. Cheese: What can I say? I love cheese. I think it’s the perfect food. Plus, I am fascinated by the mystery of how cheese is made. Unlike yogurt, which has its own mystery behind making it, I think the end result in making this fermented food is delicious.  I have all kinds of cheese in my refrigerator right now. Aged cheddar, fresh mozzarella, havarti, goat cheese, blue cheese, and parmesan. Once my son asked why I had so many different cheeses in the refrigerator. I told him that cheese to me was like ice cream to him.  There are so many “flavors” that you can’t have just one.
  5. Wine: I almost always have an opened bottle in the refrigerator. As much as I enjoy a good glass of wine, I can only drink one glass, unless it’s the weekend.  The opened bottle with the rest of the wine goes into the refrigerator. Hopefully, it doesn’t stay there too long. Sometimes, instead of dinner on a weekend evening, I will make up a cheese platter (see above) and pour myself some wine.  Enough said.
What's in your fridge?

What’s in your fridge?

Foodie Friday: ALTAeats

I live in a city with a lot of  very good restaurants, but my own neighborhood really doesn’t have any good places to eat. So, I was happy to hear about ALTAeats, a new restaurant within walking distance to my house, with a highly regarded chef. In fact, there was quite a buzz on our neighborhood Yahoo group even before the place opened.

I heard about ALTAeats before I even saw it, and once I learned where it was located I wasn’t even sure I found the right place. It is small and quite anonymous, so anonymous there isn’t even a sign out front. At first I thought he place was so new, the signage must be in the works. However, now that it has been open for about 8 months, I know that there is no intention for signage. It seems the owner wants the restaurant to survive on word of mouth and on-line marketing. It’s working.

I purchased a Living Social deal several months ago, and tried to redeem immediately it but the place was booked. Recently I decided to try again and was able to make a reservation for me and my husband Juan and another couple. Our neighborhood friends were glad to join us and commented that they didn’t even know the restaurant existed. I told them to bring a bottle of wine since ALTAeats did not have a liquor license or a corkage fee. Between us, we brought along three bottles.

It was so hot that evening that we opted to drive instead of walk to the restaurant. When we pulled up in front of the black awning we all hesitated. Was it even open? There weren’t any operating hours posted on the darkly tinted windows. We opened the door and were greeted with a very minimalist, modern and comfortable atmosphere. There were several booths and tables along the walls and a big communal table in the middle of the room. The smells of the open kitchen to the rear of the restaurant welcomed us in, even though the poor functioning air conditioning made the temperature inside nearly as stifling as outside. We felt like we had just been let in on a well-kept secret.

We were promptly seated and greeted by a very friendly and knowledgeable server. She brought us complimentary gazpacho in shot glasses and a plate full of warm bread. The Living Social deal I’d purchased allowed us to share two small plates, a shared entrée and a shared dessert for $36.00. Our friends decided to order their own small plate and each of us ordered our own entrees.

The shared plate my friends ordered was a beautifully presented arugula salad with grilled peaches and pork belly. It sounded weird but it was delicious. At least I think it was delicious. “Shared plates” imply that they are meant to be shared, right? I really only tasted their salad since my friends need to work on their sharing technique. We also ordered a shared plate of mussels which I decided were so good I kept them to myself. Maybe I need to practice my technique as well?

The shared plate that wasn't shared.

The shared plate that wasn’t shared.

I’m glad the entrees weren’t meant to be shared, because I didn’t intend to let anyone near my salmon. I think we all felt the same way about our entrees. They were all so good none of us offered each other more than a taste.

Hangar steak for the meat and potatoes guy.

Hangar steak for the meat and potatoes guy.

 

Duck breast for the breast guy.

Duck breast for the breast guy.

The salmon I didn't want to share.

 

My friend ordered the lamb chops. I don't blame her for not sharing.

My friend ordered the lamb chops. I don’t blame her for not sharing.

We didn’t think we’d want dessert but since it was included in my Living Social deal how could we refuse? If it wasn’t for the uncomfortable temperature inside the restaurant we might have lingered over dessert. Instead we devoured it and decided to go back to my house and finish off the evening with a nightcap.

I’m so glad we stumbled upon this secret hiding place of a restaurant. When the temperature drops I will definitely be back. And I won’t be sharing my food.