Sunday, December 28

Christmas Toys!

Late Friday evening after one more celebration my Granny Dot's house, we made our way to the beach...thanks to our new GiGi the Garmin for getting us here!

Saturday was a beautiful spring like day at the beach and Ben started the morning off putting together his bike. By noon, we all headed out for a bike ride and rode for over 30 minutes. It was a little scary getting back on a bike. I doubt either of us had been on one in at least 10 years! But it was fun and we're looking forward to using them more.

We built up an appetite on our bike ride and returned home for cranberry turkey sandwiches. My mom, Amanda and I all received a Williams-Sonoma Professional Chopper for Christmas. We weren't sure if it'd slice tomatoes, but evidently it does not! The tomato squished every where and half way across the dining room to the living room!

Our afternoon was spent doing shopping round #1. We got some great deals on Christmas decor at World Market for 75% off and then went to Target. We found light garland, wrapping paper, tissue paper for next year, and a few more bike accesories and a running shirt for Ben. We stopped by Green's Beverage on the way back for a beer run and I finally bought a bottle of Firefly Iced Tea Vodka that so many people have been raving about. We enjoyed a glass of this with lemonade prior to stuff could be dangerous. I'm glad I limited myself to just one! It'll make a perfect summertime drink.

Christmas Celebrations

Beginning Christmas Eve, Ben and I started our celebrations with family. Over the past few years, we've started a tradition and get to spend special times with all of our families. On Christmas Eve we headed to Sanford for gifts, Candlelight Service at Church, and our special dinner. We received so many great gifts from my parents and sisters and can't wait to "play" with them all!

Ben and I woke up early Christmas morning! I'm pretty sure when we have kids, we'll be just as excited as they will be. Ben did a fabulous job of gift giving this year...he really set the bar for future gifts! We gave each other bikes for Christmas, but in addition to that he filled my stocking with Godiva truffles, Itunes & Starbucks gift cards, 2 bottles of rare beer, a silver monogrammed book mark and a beautiful pearl and diamond pendant necklace. He also gave me new pj's, books, and accessories for my bike.

From me, Ben got a few new dress shirts, lounge clothes, accessories for his bike, Godiva truffles, Breckenridge Christmas Ale, a few gift cards, boxers, and tons of candy. We love shopping for each other and all the surprises. Even Freddie got a few surprises too...a new Chew-Proof bed from Orvis and some treats!

Our second celebration was held at our house, Brunch, with my mom and brothers. I made the usual Creme Brulee French Toast, fruit with dip, bacon, sausage, and my mom and Amanda brought an egg casserole and sweet danishes. We also enjoyed Christmas mimosas! I love tradtions and hosting everyone at my house really puts us in the Christmas mood.

After another round of gift giving, we headed to Ben's family Christmas Swap. With so many people in his family we do a Secret Santa and it's always fun to see who has each other. We enjoyed more food and great company with them. Hopefully, we'll see them at the beach this week too!

All in all, we've had a wonderful Christmas. We're so appreciative of all the gifts we've recieved and love them all. We love giving gifts and shopping for each person too! We're headed to the beach for much needed relaxing after a crazy few weeks of the normal holiday stress.

Wednesday, December 24

Merry Christmas Eve...

Merry Christmas...we're getting ready to start our festivities beginning with appetizers, drink and gifts at my dad's. Then, church and our traditional Christmas Eve meal. Tomorrow morning we'll wake up early to see what Santa brought us and host brunch for my mom and brother's. And finally we'll make our way to my in-law's for the afternoon.

Ben and I hope you have a blessed Christmas filled with peace, love and joy!

Tuesday, December 23

In Your Face....Banana Cake!

Ben and I are obsessed with that phrase and I'm not sure which one of us started it, but it inspired us to have a Banana Cake at our wedding and I've found a recipe that is pretty close to it! Our wedding cake had chocolate buttercream icing, you could subsitute it on this cake, but the plain cream cheese icing was delicious as is. And the best part is it's semi-homemade taking advantage of a boxed cake mix.

We made this for my Mom's Family Christmas this past Saturday. I wish I hadn't eaten so many appetizers of sausage balls, cream cheese ball and crackers, haystacks and chips with texas cavair. Then, followed by Lexington BBQ sandwiches, hushpuppies and fries. I guess I'll have to make this cake again so I can fully savor every bite without forcing the bites in! It got great reviews and I accidentally left out the oil. I'll probably omit the oil next time as well to save a few calories. I think using the banana and sour cream provided enough moisture. Oh and I used pecans instead of walnuts since my mom is allergic to them. Delicious!

Banana-Sour Cream Cake (Kraft Food & Family)

1 pkg. (2-layer size) yellow cake mix
3 eggs
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 3 bananas)
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup oil
1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 pkg. (16 oz.) powdered sugar (about 4 cups)
1 cup walnut pieces, finely chopped

Heat oven to 350°F. Beat cake mix, eggs, bananas, sour cream and oil with mixer on low until moistened, scraping bottom of bowl often. Beat on medium 2 min. Pour into greased and floured 13x9-inch pan.

Bake 35 min. or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cake completely in pan on wire rack.

Beat cream cheese and butter with mixer on medium until blended. Gradually add sugar, beating well after each addition.

Remove cake from pan. Carefully cut cake crosswise in half using serrated knife. Place 1 cake half, top-side down, on plate; spread top with frosting. Top with remaining cake half, top side up. Frost top and sides. Press nuts onto sides. Refrigerate leftovers.

Monday, December 22

Oh Happy Day!

Today was one fantastic day...and I'm pretty sure it's all because of my run. I haven't really felt myself for about 2 weeks now. I guess with no excercise, horrible eating and holiday stress it's expected. Today I took a vacation day and it was just what I needed. After suffering a headache for 4 days and spending all Sunday evening on the couch popping Excedrins and Advil, I was happy I had built in an Emergency-Finish-Everything-Up-Before-Christmas Day! (Many thanks to my awesome hubby, who made me a steaming hot bath, brought me water and excedrin and cold compresses all evening! I think I finally nipped this one in the bud!)

I normally like to run first thing in the morning, but it was 22 degrees at 8am this morning. So I snuggled in bed for an extra 30 minutes before bundling up to come downstairs and power on the laptop and do one thing for work. After I finished with a big cup of coffee, I cleaned the kitchen and began wrapping all the presents.

I still had a few last minute gifts, mostly stocking stuffers, to buy. So I around 1230pm, I headed out to Target and to get a haircut. One home we set out on our run. As soon as I found my running clothes and shoes my mood lifted! At 3pm, it was still chilly outside and my muscles knew it'd been a while since I used them, but overall it was a good run! My calves cramped up a lot after and I'll be sore tomorrow, but I finally feel good again!

Ben and I usually go to dinner one night before Christmas and we've been wanting to see Four Christmases, so we had a little date tonight. It wasn't much, but just perfect and what we wanted....Cobb Salads at TGI Fridays followed by a movie. The movie was great other than the irritating, immature middle schoolers sitting behind us who clearly weren't there to see a movie.

We're off to finish our evening watching The Polar Express and wrapping the last 2 gifts I bought today. Enjoy the last few days before Christmas!

Thursday, December 18

Running Funk!

I never thought I really LOVED running and I still just like it a lot because of the way it makes me feel. But, I've been in a funk for for a few weeks and have really noticed it the last few days and I'm pretty sure it's because I haven't been on a run since Thanksgiving Day! I might not LOVE running, but I MISS it!

I was planning on the training to help keep those pesky 5 lbs I always gain during the holidays at bay. I'd been doing a great job so far of eating almost anything I wanted and maintaining my weight. After the Holiday parties this past week I just feel icky!

With our trip to Asheville, Holiday parties, Christmas Shopping and squeezing in time for friends thre is no time left on the weekends for a good run. I had originally planned on running the Myrtle Beach Half Marathon on Feb 14. and knew it'd be a stretch to find the time during the winter and holiday season to train. When we realized we were under a tight deadline to sign up for the race, the $60 entrance fee was a little steep at Christmas. I ultimately decided to not run this race, BUT I promised myself I WILL run a half marathon in early 2009. I felt a huge weight lifted off of me.

I'm really looking forward to my time off at Christmas and our really long weekend at the beach to get in some good runs. I can't wait to step onto the beach on a crisp winter beach morning for a run along the surf. Ok...I'm feeling even better just thinking about it!

Sunday, December 14

The 3rd Annual Stafford Cookie Swap!

The 2008 Holiday season has officially begun with our 3rd Annual Cookie Swap. Ben and I were so excited to be hosting it again this year since we've moved into our new house. Not only did we have a ton of space for everyone, but we got to decorate even more with our fireplace, the outside decor and of course or ginormous tree! It's great that we are "forced" to get the house almost entirely ready for Christmas. It's a ton of work, but we get to enjoy the next few weeks with a spotlessly clean house that's completely decorated for the season.

It was a chilly afternoon, but inside where it was warm, we enjoyed a spread of Herb Ranch Cheeseball, Veggies with Spinach Dip, Fruit Salsa and Cinnamon Sugar Chips, Peppermint Cheesecake Brownies, Fig & Goat Cheese Bruschetta, Christmas Punch and Hot Apple Cider.

After snacking and chatting the swap got underway. This year Ben and I found actual Christmas baskets for the cookies.

I'm pretty sure this was the best year yet with the cookies we took home! Since this post is a little late and all of cookies are down to the last few bites, let me see if I can remember each cookie.

~Chocolate Almond Biscotti
~Chocolate Chip Cookies
~Christmas Cookies
~Sophie Kisses
~White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies
~Oatmeal Creme Pies
~Sugar Cookies with Sprinkles
~Gingerbread with Vanilla Icing
~Oreo Truffles
~Almond Crescents
~Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

I also made some Doggie cookies, Snickerpoodles since so many of us have pups at home that would enjoy a treat! They were a big hit by all the Pup parents as well as Freddie...he was my taste tester.

All in all, it was another successful swap and we're aleady looking forward to next year's party. In fact I overheard people at the swap talking about ideas for their cookie next year!

Sunday, December 7

The rest of Asheville...and Western NC!

I wish we had at least one more day in Asheville. There is so much to do, nevermind relaxing in the cabin's hot tub and making delicious meals by the fire.

Saturday morning we woke up freezing in the cabin. We didn't realize the A/C unit was also the heat too and neither of us felt comfortable sleeping all night with gas logs on. We quickly warmed up with some hot coffee and I made Eggnog French Toast with mimosas. Ben loved this!!!

By 11am we were on our way into town. We did some shopping, walked around downtown and had lunch at Jack of the Wood with some Green Man beers. After lunch, we found a great little shop with some neat Christmas gifts for our family, then headed to the Chocolate Fetish I've heard so much about for truffles.

Since we did come to Asheville for the beer we stopped in Barley's for some good local brews. This was the best place for local stuff! While there we enjoyed:
~Catawba Valley King Don's Pumpkin Ale (tastes just like Pumpkin Pie)
~Catawba Valley Blackwater Uber Pale Ale (Excellent and very unexpected)
~Catawba Valley Hyper Monkey Java Stout ( pure coffee)
~Pisgah Brewing Co Red Devil (Belgium fermented with a ton of cherries and raspberries)
~Highland Cold Mountain (a warm holiday spice brew)

This trip would not be complete with a huge shopping trip to Bruisin' Ales...the 2nd top rate beer store in the country! Ben was like a little kid in a candy store. After almost an hour of pondering and checking off the list Ben made of beers to look for, we checked out and took our case of special beers to the car!

We then headed to Thristy Monk's, which has a bar downstairs that serves only Belgian beer and one upstairs...we had a flight of 3 beers downstairs and shared a couple half pours upstairs with delicious peanuts on the side before heading back to the cabin.

Once back the cabin, I made a mushroom risotto and lemon scented asparagus while Ben grilled steaks. We decided to open a beer we've been saving for almost a year...Foothills Sexual Chocolate. It's one of the top rated beers in the country and world. Last February, Foothills made a limited release of 500 bottles. Our bottle was number 174...this was so the very last drop. Hopefully they'll make this again and we can be lucky enough to get at least one bottle. If you love'll love this.

Sunday morning we woke up to dense fog and a chill in the air. Ben requested more Eggnog Frenchtoast for breakfas instead of the omlettes I'd been planning on making. After being lazy, we got packed, loaded up the cars and set out for Boone to get our Christmas tree.

It was literally a drive over the river and through the woods. I doubt there really isn't a great road to take across several mountains. Combine sharp winding roads with fog and was a little stressful and took us almost an extra hour to get to Boone. But we finally made it in 3 hours and had a delicious lunch at Macado's. It was such a treat, and just for a second, I thought I was in Blacksburg. I had my usual Johnny Dee (Grilled Chicken, Pepperoni, Provalone cheese, Lettuce, Tomato on a bagel with ranch dressing on the side).

The Christmas Tree farm was only 10 minutes away from downtown Boone, once there, it took us over an hour to find the perfect tree. There were so many choices and we kept losing track of our favorites, but we found it. It's an obscenly ginormous tree that's 9 ft tall! The guys on the top of the hill cut it down for us, bayled it and tied it down on top of the jeep. We set out for another 3 hours driving in the rain, but it didn't matter since we had just enjoyed one of the most relaxing weekends with each other and we had our perfect Christmas tree!