Christmas Vanocka

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We haven’t had many Christmases to establish traditions yet, but having vanocka for Christmas breakfast is going to stay on the list forever.  Johnny has just enough Czech in him that he feels justified in adopting their Christmas bread, and I’m happy to oblige.  Despite the braids on top of braids on top of braids, it’s really not too difficult to put together, and the multiple rise times lends itself well to a Christmas Eve day full of wrapping gifts and last-minute errands.

There are as many vanocka recipes as their are Czech grandmothers, but I use a slightly adapted version of this one.  The biggest change is that I make a half batch of dough; last year, we were braiding massive ropes of dough for an hour.  The half-sized loaf is still large enough that we’ve been eating for breakfast all week.  Given that it makes the best toast you’ll ever taste, this is no sacrifice.  If you’re feeding a crowd, just double the amounts below and bake for 75 minutes.  I also adapted it for my stand mixer; follow the directions in the original recipe if you don’t have one.  One of these years, I may also avoid over-browning the top, but I have to say, vanocka is really forgiving and still tastes fantastic.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter, cold
  • 4 cups + 2 tablespoons flour (divided)
  • 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar (divided)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoons grated lemon rind
  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 3 tablespoons + 1/2 cup warm milk (divided)
  • 2 egg yolks (save the whites for varnishing)
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 2 tablespoons citron
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds

Directions

In bowl of mixer, cut butter into flour until the butter is in pea-sized lumps. Add 1/2 cup sugar, salt and lemon rind, and mix with paddle attachment. In smaller bowl or measuring cup, dissolve yeast in 3 tablespoons milk with 1 tablespoons sugar and two tablespoons flour. Add to flour mixture. Beat in eggs and milk. Switch to dough hook and knead until smooth, adding flour if necessary. Add fruit. Cover and let rise for two hours.

Divide dough into nine equal balls, and roll into ropes (mine were about 18″ long, and 1 1/2″ diameter).  Braid four of the strands and place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. On this wide braid, place another regular three piece braid. Finally, place a simple twist of two ropes on top of the other braids. Tuck the ends of each level underneath to make neat ends (and also to keep the thickness of the loaf consistent and avoid burnt edges).  Secure with toothpicks if it seems unsteady.  Brush cake with beaten egg white. Let it rise again for 1 1/2 hours, or until nearly doubled. Brush again with beaten egg whites and sprinkle with almonds. Bake in moderate oven (350°) for 50-60 minutes.  Check it after 40 minutes and cover loosely with foil if it seems to be browning too quickly.

Vanocka is good on its own, but best when lightly toasted and highly buttered.
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7 Quick Takes: Inappropriate Stamps, 3M Genius, and the Home Stretch

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When we were in Minnesota for Thanksgiving, I had a great baby shower with family and friends.  As soon as we got home, I picked up some thank you notes and went to the nearest post office for stamps.  It happens to be a university mail department, so while it has most everything I need on a regular basis, there are some gaps.  I asked for some Christmas stamps (preferably the Madonna and Child), and the student behind the counter came back with the only stamps he could find: Harry Potter.  I bought them anyway, and it wasn’t until I started putting them on envelopes that I realized what a bizarre fit they were for the material.  At least the colors match my envelopes:

Still haven’t decided who gets Snape.

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Let’s stay on the mail theme for a minute.  Anyone who’s mailing Christmas gifts should pay attention here; this could change everything.

I’ve been looking for creative packaging to use for my photo clients, and while I’ve been dreaming about this packaging since I found it, I don’t quite ship at a volume to justify those supply purchases.  It’s surprisingly hard to find cute, creative boxes in a size small enough for just a flash drive, so I found myself at Staples yesterday, buying the smallest shipping boxes they had.

I wandered a few aisles over, and found a display of 3M Expressions tape.  They had a huge selection of different patterns and sizes, so I picked up two roles that match my color scheme.  They really, really did  a great job of dressing up my plain white box.  In fact, I’m now looking for excuses to ship EVERYTHING.  3M, if you would like to sponsor my tape habit, you wouldn’t regret it, but I may just die and go to heaven.

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Johnny says that there are two kinds of lawyers: those whose practice of the law makes them really litigious, and those who become averse to personally suing anyone ever (the expense, the paperwork, oy).    Luckily for us, he falls into the latter camp, but I came across a story this week about a lawyer who’s…just a little litigious.  It caught my eye because it involves a wedding photographer being sued by a groom/lawyer who was dissatisfied with his photos.  Read it, be incredulous, and then enjoy the just desserts at the end.  We certainly did.

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I’ve had a really successful couple weeks of trying out new recipes.  Here are a few we’ll be making again:

Chicken and asparagus stir fry: We had this last night.  I subbed in green beans and a few mushrooms because asparagus was $5/lb.  Next time, I’d thicken the sauce with a little cornstarch, but it was good as-is.

Pork chops with mushroom gravy: Very quick and easy.  Great with brown rice and a green vegetable.

Balsamic glazed London broil: Also quick and easy (and the steak was on sale!).  We turned it into sandwiches.

Baked apple french toast: I used bread I had on hand (not whole-grain), less sugar than it called for, and added pecans to the top.  That said, it’d be really good as written.

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Adventures in the Self-Checkout Lane: The automated voice wasn’t quite on top of my citrus purchase, and instructed me to “Place your. NAVEL. on the belt.”

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Earlier this week, I started putting music into a Spotify playlist, thinking that it’s just possible I might want to take it to the hospital with me when the time comes (and if not, I’d only have wasted 20 minutes of playlist creation).  Then I actually went back and listened to what I had put together, and holy commericals, Batman!  I knew there would be some, but I hadn’t used Spotify for a while, and I didn’t remember it being so bad.  Every other song was punctuated with a double-volume, three-commercial break of hiphop advertisements.  Given that my chosen playlist was mostly convent polyphony and chant, this was jarring, to say the least.  So, now I’m deciding whether to pony up $9.99 for a month of Premium, or just buy the CDs and make a real playlist.

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Does 31 weeks count as “almost done”?  To my coworkers, it seems to.  I’ve noticed a definite uptick in encounters like the following:

Coworker comes into my office, where I’m wearing mostly non-maternity clothes and feeling like I look pretty cute today.  Coworker peers over my half-wall and says, “Wow, you’re really…out there.”

At this point, I’m ready to bake cookies for the woman who keeps telling me that I don’t even look pregnant from behind (also an exaggeration, but at least it errs on the right side).

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Happy weekend to all!  Enjoy your Gaudete Sunday!

Linking up with Kelly et al.

Home Altar – Advent 2014

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Our home altar has been a long time in the making.  By “making,” of course, I mean “procrastinating and working on veeeery slowly,” which is obvious when you consider that we’ve lived here for a year and a half and have just now finished it.  While I hope to always put some thought and care into changing it each season, I’m glad that there are so many reusable, one-time-effort pieces involved.

The first thing to settle on was the table itself.  After looking around for something that would be just right, we went to Ikea for one thing and ended up with a model that I’d overlooked on the website.  I love the half-circle shape, though it does make sewing a little tricky (more on that later).  It also has a shelf halfway down for storing pieces that have been rotated out for the season.

The next thing to accomplish was the linen for the top.  No, we’re not actually planning to have Mass said here or anything, but a simple white linen adds an appropriate, classic touch.  I haven’t decided whether or not one of the linens will get some surface embroidery, and I do plan to wash them occasionally, so I decided to do the right thing and thoroughly prepare them (using this great tutorial).  I spent most of Saturday afternoon doing this hot water/cold water/hot water waltz, and the process was as interesting as it was tedious.

Linen Prep-1

This would be one of the cold water rinses, not the boiling.

 

Tracing the half circle onto the fabric is where things got a little dicey.  We measured properly (so many times), and I sewed it with a precise hem all around, but it still managed to fit not *quite* perfectly on the top.  You can see it a little in the photo below, but it’s not really noticeable from eye level when the table is covered with stuff.

The frontal was so easy that the hardest part was finding a thread to match.  The cloth came from a local fabric warehouse (where I also scored a great green).  It’s just a rectangle with mitered corners (instructions here, and many other places).  It’s attached to the table by a strip of adhesive velcro running across the top.

 

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As for the other pieces we’re using this Advent:

  • Wreath: Trader Joe’s, sitting on a large plate
  • Candles & holders: Hobby Lobby, and blessed at Candlemas a couple years ago
  • White doily, crocheted by yours truly many years ago
  • St. Nicholas statue: a Confirmation gift (available here)
  • Crucifix: Purchased at a local Catholic book store on our trip to MN last week.  I’m having trouble finding the exact same one, but the link is very close to it.
  • Annunciation diptych: Handmade, from Mom several years ago.  The art is Fra Angelico.

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Seven Years Later

Dear Johnny,

When you suggested we take a walk (alone) down to the Grotto seven years ago today, I’m guessing you didn’t think that you’d be spending the rest of our lives together.

When you offered me your arm as we walked down an icy slope “because you saw Indiana Jones do it once,” I’m sure you had no idea how many opportunities for chivalry were lying ahead.

When we sat there in the cold night, neither of us thought that we’d be sitting next to each other on the couch every night. (Or that I’d still be cold.  Always cold.)

When we both knew what you were about to say, I don’t think either of us guessed that we’d be finishing each other’s sentences but still not be out of things to talk about.

When you told me that we try dating for a while, but you weren’t sure how long it might last, I’m sure you weren’t anticipating the day when we’d make vows to each other, or even later when you’d wake up early in the morning to feel our baby moving around.

When I asked if maybe this meant that we should get lunch or something together sometime, I didn’t think we’d be cooking dinner for each other every night.

So anyway, when I teared up just a little last night, it was only because I feel like the luckiest, most blessed girl in the world.  Thanks for asking me out.

PS – I’m glad we decided to hold hands eventually.

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The fateful bench, on a much warmer and less awkward day. (photo credit)