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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

No, not toppings for your toast. Tops for your toaster. And therein lies a story . . .

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One day Julie Condy saw her husband spraying down the kitchen counter with cleaner. He must have gotten a little carried away with the spraying part because the toaster was sitting on the counter and some of the spray went down inside the toaster slots. “Right after that,” Julie says, “I was getting ready to make some toast and thought that’s really gross.” (And, when you think about it, it is.)

 So Julie started looking for some kind of topper for her toaster. She didn’t want one of those granny fabric cozies; she was hoping for something a little more modern. But there didn’t seem to be anything out there . . . so Julie decided to make her own. She applied for a patent, found a manufacturer, and started making Toaster Tops.

Don’t you love that kind of attitude? How often have you had a great idea but let it die on the vine? I spoke to Julie the other day about her Toaster Top adventure and asked about her biggest challenge getting her concept off the ground. “The hardest thing at first was to find the right manufacturer for the plates,” she told me. “Because it was a new idea and obviously I wasn’t going to buy a lot to start with it was hard to get anybody to even return the phone call.” But she persevered and “now I have one I’m really happy with; they’re actually here in Garland.” Garland, Texas, that is, home to the Toaster Tops empire, which is currently taking over Julie’s house. “The whole dining room has been converted. We have a sign that says ‘Toaster Top Studio’ because it has tables all around with shelves and the garage and now the office…”

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Not only are Toaster Tops functional, they’re adorable. Here’s the fun thing: the top itself is a metal plate that comes in various sizes so you can find one that fits your toaster. That part isn’t so adorable, but the knobs…they’re cute as all get out. They’re interchangeable, too, so you buy one plate then you can change out the knobs according to season, occasion, or mood. You get kitchen décor that doesn’t take up any extra space on your counter. Christmas shopping, anyone?

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Now, I think the product is great but even more than that, I love hearing stories about people who saw a need and decided to fill it. Especially when they’re practically neighbors.

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“It’s sort of a family affair,” Julie said. “My husband and I have a 10-year-old and a 12-year-old; they have been living and breathing this the whole time with us. Now my daughter is coming up with a whole line of clothing and starting her own business. It’s been great to see them getting so involved and learning so much from it.”  The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Texas!

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 Quick Q&A w/Julie

How many toasters do you own? Nine.

Do you eat a lot of toast? I just went gluten-free so I’m trying to find gluten-free toast.

What’s next? We’re planning to open up a retail store then also sell toasters and wine stoppers—fun gift ideas.

Any plans to branch out into other appliances? We have so much we can do with the toasters right now.  We’re going to keep trying to make that work really well, then we’ll look at different areas. Maybe more decorative knobs, maybe get into wine stoppers. There are so many exciting things!

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You can see the whole line and order a Toaster Top or two at http://www.shop.toastertops.com/main.sc

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Keeping it legal: this is not a sponsored post, but after we spoke, Julie did send me a sample Toaster Top. The little cat knob looks just like my Henry, right down to the slightly worried expression. Love. Guess I’ll have to break down and replace my dead toaster now.

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Christmas Dinner
For years my friends Lance & Vikki hosted a Christmas dinner for all and sundry. Lance is no longer with us, but Vikki has kept up the tradition. This year, she decided it would be fun to serve Beef Wellington to the 15 or so who had RSVP’d and asked me to help. Neither of us had ever made it before, but what the heck? We are nothing if not adventurous in the kitchen.

So on Christmas Eve, armed with some magazine detailing the necessary steps, Julia Child’s cookbook, and Gordon Ramsey on telly, we commenced to cooking.

We needed beef tenderloin:

tenderloin

Trim it yourself and save $$

Mushroom duxelle (I was making Julia’s Cream of Mushroom Soup at this point, so I can’t be more specific other than that it’s Portobellos).
mushrooms in pan

Pate

pate

Yes, of course it's homemade

And crepes, which I had never made before…
making crepes

…but mastered fairly quickly. (Oh, the dining possibilities THAT opens up!)
finished crepes

So then you sear the tenderloin, set off the smoke alarm, open all the doors and windows…well, maybe YOU can skip those last two steps, but we found them unavoidable. Then mix the pate and mushrooms together, spread it onto a quilt of crepes, add the tenderloin, and roll the whole thing up into a log.
spreading mixture on crepes
meat in crepes
meat roll

This is then surrounded in puff pastry (not homemade, not this time) and swaddled in plastic wrap until needed.
wrapped & rolled

Meanwhile, we made a Madeira sauce which had to be reduced to about 2 cups of liquid. This led to getting out the calculator to determine if there would be enough to go around, which led to suggestion that each guest be given a voucher to turn in for their sauce allotment…but in the end, there was plenty.

Christmas Day came, our bundles of goodness went into the oven to the tune of “Rule Brittania” (we were under the mistaken impression Wellington had been a naval man; actually he was the army guy who defeated Napoleon). It came out looking like this:
Baked Wellington Note the slashes in the crust, which Chef Ramsey assured us was “not a chef-y thing” but an important step for some reason I’ve since forgotten.

William, one of the guests, offered to carve. Or maybe he was commandeered, I don’t recall.
Carving in process

And a room full of happy diners soon tucked in.
Dinner guests

It was, if I may say so, fabulous. I don’t have the recipe to share, but it shouldn’t be hard to find. Next time you want to cook something special and have several hours to spare, give it a whirl!

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I’m a big fan of Christmas and Christmas decorations. Every year I go with a group of friends to a Christmas home tour in Waxahachie, TX to gawk at beautiful homes and over-the-top décor.

Waxahachie home

NOT my house


Every year I haul out my own collection of Christmas items and spend hours (often days) decorating my house.

Every room gets at least a little something . . . even my kitchen has its own tree.
Kitchen tree
The outside of my place? Well, that’s another matter. I have an angel on the door, a wreath on the window, and a darling wooden Santa stuck in the flower bed.
Santa

He lost the tassel on his hat...I'll have to go buy another mop


It’s OK during the day. But at night? Looks like Ebenezer Scrooge lives here.

Why?

Part of it is lack of time to get out there and fuss with it. Part of it is indecision: I need new outdoor lights, I want LED lights, but which kind/color/shape? Part of it is fear of heights. Then there’s the whole “I’m not home in the evenings in December so I need a timer but where/how/which one…” Then I bought a timer which worked fine last year but inexplicably won’t work this time so…

At this point I generally go bake something and try to forget the whole thing.

I did try to be festive. I found these cute lights at Big Lots and thought I could put them around my front door. At least there could be one little bright spot, right?
lights
Turns out when I get them around the door they’re so big they get caught in the door and I ran out of staples and my brad nails keep bending and . . . and . . . bah, humbug.

(My friend Vikki had a genius idea to fix that problem, but I’m keeping that for another post. And possibly a small seasonal business.)

The other day I thought I’d try again. No more concerts for me this year, so I could go out and plug in my Santa spotlight every night. Extension cord, spotlight, plug it in, what could be easier?

Nothing! Only problem was when I plugged it in, nothing happened. I took it back inside and tried. Yep, everything works fine. Outside, not so much. Apparently the outdoor plugs have decided not to work.

Scrooges, all of them.

(It’s not the breaker, I checked. But thanks for asking. I think this will require an electrician.)

So on my little corner of the hood this Christmas the inside is all is merry and bright while the outside is pretty grim. That reminds me of the many times Terry Price, who directed the Symphony Chorus this Christmas, told us to smile and look happy, for pete’s sake. It’s not that we weren’t (generally) having a good time. (It’s an all-volunteer chorus, we don’t have to be there at all if we don’t want to.) It’s just that we were concentrating so much on what we were doing we often forgot to show how much we enjoyed doing it.

Which leads me to this question: How do you feel about this season? Does your outside show it?

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As previously mentioned, this year I’m involved in 14 Christmas concerts. Now, you may not have had the pleasure of doing the same concert over and over and over, sometimes twice in one day, so you may have wondered, “What do those people think about while they’re sitting up there?”

Actually, that question probably never crossed your mind, but I’m going to tell you anyway. Consider it a public service.

The first few concerts take some pretty serious concentration, but as the days turn into weeks, one’s mind has a tendency to occasionally wander. This is not such a good thing from a musical perspective, but more often than not the wandering occurs when someone else is performing, so it’s not as bad as it might be. Usually.

Anyway, here’s a little peek into the mind of a singer (not just mine, I polled a couple of people) during the umpteenth performance:

Oh look at those wee little boys in top hats and tuxes, aren’t they adorable?

Yikes, I’m not on the same pitch as the woman next to me. Am I wrong or is she?

I wonder if the bald percussionist polishes his head? He’s much shinier than the other bald guys in the orchestra.

“Follow me in merry measure…” What exactly constitutes a “merry” measure, I wonder?

Oh good, she’s a soprano, we’re not supposed to be on the same note.

Ava [our soloist] has such lovely, floaty top notes. Nice dress, too. If I were a soloist at a Christmas concert, wonder what I’d wear? Are there stores that specialize in soloist wear?

I love it when the organ makes my ribs vibrate.

“I would my true love would so chance to see the legend of my play…” Honey, if that’s the way you talk to your true love it’s no wonder the poor guy doesn’t have a clue. That probably explains why you got a partridge in a pear tree for Christmas.

Intermission! Time to go get my candy cane from Santa.

The children’s chorus has been sweating like little pigs in those same wool sweaters for weeks now. Glad I’m out of smell range. Bless their little hearts. Wonder if any of them will faceplant tonight? (We’ve had a couple drop in their tracks but no serious injuries, thank God.)

How many times do we shout “Yes!” in this song? Wonder how many different ways can I shout “Yes!” this time?

The kids do that “Mr. Santa” song so well, and the choreography is cute, too. Wonder what it looks like from the front?

Seriously? Is that woman breastfeeding her baby during the concert in her seat in the audience? SERIOUSLY?

Awww, there are wee little girls in red dresses with white capes. Maybe we can get them together with the little tux & top hat boys for a picture.

I DO appreciate Ava’s rendition of Luke 2; it’s so nice to hear someone tell the Christmas story like a story and not like they’re reciting a grocery list.

Oh, that’s a merry measure! (“Songs in the Air” measure 114)

I wonder if my toes are still down there? I can’t feel them anymore but surely they’re still attached…

HOW many more of these are we doing?

The second violinist’s bow has blinking Christmas lights! That’s awesome.

What a great audience! Thanks for the applause and all the smiling faces. See you next year!

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Sorry to be conspicuous by my absence lately, but I’ve been spending all my free time here:

Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center

Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center

It’s the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, home of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Dallas Symphony Chorus. We’re deep into this:

 

Christmas Celebration
Actually, this is my third Christmas concert event this season. I began with the Christmas Pops concerts (also at the Meyerson), conducted by Marvin Hamlisch. There’s a certain sense of irony—at least I hope that’s what it is, I understand most people use “irony” incorrectly . . .

Where was I? Oh yes, a certain sense of irony about a Christmas concert conducted by a Jewish guy, but as he pointed out, “White Christmas” was written by a Jew. And so, I realized at concert event number two (Stonebriar Community Church), was “O Holy Night.”

Why do you suppose Jewish guys write such great Christmas songs?

Anyway, once this last round of concerts is over, I’ll be back online. Until then, you can find me here:

Inside the Meyerson

Sadly, no chorus in this pic.

I’m generally on the back row under the organ pipes, center section, left side. If you’re in the Dallas area and could use some musical holiday cheer, please join us. No less than MSNBC.com touted our concerts as one of the “Top 10 Holiday Concerts in America!”

 

And if you do show up, come say hi. I can generally be found hanging around the upper level of the lobby during intermission, waiting for Santa to come by with his basket of candy canes. If he asks, don’t tell him you’ve been naughty or he’ll break your candy cane. Don’t ask me how I know.

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