Holiday Baking: Caramel Apple Fantans

So, here’s the thing.  I like Fall.  But, I don’t love Fall.  I love Spring.  I just feel like I needed to throw that out there.  I enjoy the cooler weather and all, but let’s face it… it’s just not that much cooler in southwest Florida.  It was like 87 degrees the day I made these fantans.  In November.  Of course, since I’m saying that, the low tomorrow is supposed to be 40 and the high on Thanksgiving is like 65.  It will be the coldest Thanksgiving we’ve had in maybe 10 years.  Don’t worry, we’ll still go to the beach and play bocce ball.  Because that’s just what we do in Florida on holidays.

The one thing I actually do love about Fall is the seasonal baking.  In all reality, you can bake with apples and pumpkin (albeit canned, but who purees their own fresh pumpkin for pumpkin pie these days?) all year.  I’m assuming that up north, where the seasons actually change, warm apples and pumpkin deliciousness make everybody feel a little warmer.  Here, it’s partly an excuse to make it feel like the season has changed… and mostly to get us more in the mood for something completely awesome: Thanksgiving and Christmas!  Which, to me, means time with awesome family!  Bah!  All of a sudden SO excited for Thanksgiving!

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Okay, to the task at hand.  My contribution for Turkey Day is always these Pumpkin Whoopie Pies, which are dessert for the Thanksgiving Eve festivities (yes, we have those at our house and they usually involve deep frying anything we can get our hands on, including whoopie pies) and then usually breakfast for T-Day morning.  This year, I’m adding these amaze-balls Caramel Apple Fantans.  They take a while to make, but each step in the process is relatively easy, and the end result is worth.it.  Promise.  They are pull apart, sticky, sugary, apply delicious.  If you don’t have time for Thanksgiving, they would be great for Christmas, too!  And, AND, you can make them ahead of time (sans caramel).  They freeze really well… just make the caramel right before you serve ’em.  Please excuse the lighting in the photos… I made these at night, because that’s when I have time to bake with a newborn.

Here’s what you need: (Adapted from Southern Living)
Makes 12 – allow yourself a total of 3 hours, an hour of which is hands on

For the dough:

  • 1 (1/4-oz.) envelope active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water (105° to 115°)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

For the filling:

  • 9 tablespoons butter, softened and divided
  • 3 cups peeled and diced baking apples… I used Envy, but you can use Braeburn, Gala, Honeycrisp, etc.  Envys are huge, so I only used 2 apples
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup chopped toasted pecans (optional… I didn’t use nuts)

For the caramel glaze:

  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

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To prepare your dough, combine yeast, water and the teaspoon of sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and let sit for about 5 minutes.  Using the paddle attachment, stir in egg, the 1/4 cup sugar, butter, salt and 1 1/2 cups bread flour.  Beat on medium for about a minute or so.  Gradually add in the whole wheat flour and enough of the remaining bread flour to make a soft dough.  Turn the dough out on a bread-floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic… somewhere between 5-10 minutes… sprinkling with bread flour as needed.    Put dough ball into a lightly grease bowl and turn once to grease all sides.  Cover loosely with plastic and let rise in a warm place for 45-55 minutes, until doubled in size.

While the dough is rising, prepare the filling.  In a large skillet on medium-high, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter.  Add apples, raisins and brown sugar.  Saute about 5 minutes, until the apples are tender but still slightly crisp.  Remove from heat and let cool completely… at least 30 minutes.

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Punch your dough down and turn back out onto floured surface.  Roll to a 20″ x 12″ rectangle.  Spread remaining 8 tablespoons of butter evenly onto surface.  Mix together 3/4 cup sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle/spread over butter.  Spread apple mixture onto surface.

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Pay attention here:  Cut dough into 5 (12″ x 4″) strips and stack, replacing any apple mixture back onto the dough.  Then, cut into 6 (4″ x 2″) rectangles.  THEN, cut those rectangles in half so that you have 12 (2″ x 2″) squares.

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Stuff each set of squares sideways into cups of a greased muffin pan (cut sides up).  Cover loosely with plastic and let rise about 45 minutes – 1 hour, until dough has risen 3/4″ above pan.  Preheat oven to 375 and bake 18-20 minutes, until deep golden brown.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack.  You’re supposed to remove the fantans after 5 minutes and let cool completely on a wire rack, but mine started falling apart, so I let them completely cool on a plate.

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For the glaze, bring butter and brown sugar to boil in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly.  Boil for 1 minute, remove from heat and drizzle over rolls.  As I said before, the pre-glazed rolls freeze well.  The post-glazed rolls refrigerate well, also!  Enjoy!

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Holiday Cookie Series: Palmiers

One of my all time favorite cookies to make (and eat!) are these Lemon Rosemary Palmiers.  I blogged about them several years ago, so I’m going to repeat the instructions here today.  Seriously, they are delicious.  Well worth a spot in the Holiday Cookie Series.

Palmiers are fun because you can really fill them with just about anything.  Here is a recipe/how-to for Chocolate Orange Palmiers as well.

Puff pastry embedded with sugar and delicious flavors?  Yes, please!  They come out crispy and flaky and sometimes just a little bit chewy when you get to a good cooked sugar-filled pocket.

They are also incredibly easy to make.  The perfect oh-crap-I-need-to-make-cookies-and-I-don’t-have-time cookies.  For a long time, I kept puff pastry dough in my freezer just in case I needed to make a quick batch.

Coming up next… Almond Lace Cookies!

Holiday Cookie Series: Chocolate Pepper Sable

My hometown newspaper is doing this Cookie Swap thing this year, which is actually kind of cool.  You submit your holiday cookie recipes to their website, which they will publish online.  They’ll pick their favorites and publish them in the Food & Wine section of the paper.  And then, readers can vote for their favorites, with the winners receiving cookbooks or something like that.  Anywho, the kickoff of this swap started in this week’s edition of Food & Wine with some really different holiday cookie ideas.

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I saw these Chocolate Pepper Sables and immediately wanted to try them.  I love cookies that have unexpected ingredients… my favorite chocolate chip cookie has sesame seeds and soy sauce.  Hubby thinks I’m crazy (he’s not a fan).  He was a little more than unsure about the outcome of a cookie with black pepper in it, but in the end he decided that they were “really good!”  At least, that’s what he texted me.  And he’s also sitting next to me at this very moment eating one.  Or two.  If you didn’t know there was pepper, you might not be able to discern what that tingling is on your tongue.  However, if you do know about the pepper, you can taste it.  There is an undeniable kick and peppery aftertaste that really compliments the sweetness and the chocolate.

This recipe kicks off a little Holiday Cookie Series that I’m going to do over the next couple of weeks.  Though this cookie is new to me, the rest of the series will focus on my the cookies that I make every holiday season.  Enjoy!

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Here’s what you need: (adapted from a recipe I found in the paper that doesn’t credit anybody)

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 cup finely chopped chocolate or mini-chocolate chips (I used some leftover bittersweet discs)

Ignore that there isn’t granulated sugar in that picture up there… I remembered I needed it just in the nick of time.

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Heat your oven to 350 and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  Combine flour, cocoa powder, pepper, and baking soda… whisk together.  Side note: I only had about 1/3 cup cocoa powder (eek!), so I threw a couple of squares of unsweetened baker’s chocolate (finely chopped first) into the food processor.  It took quite awhile to get enough ground down fine enough (I used a sifter), but I think the last minute substitute worked pretty well.  Later, I looked at the baker’s chocolate box and noticed it said that 1 square = 3 tablespoons cocoa powder + 1 tablespoon oil.  Score.

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In a mixing bowl, put butter, both sugars, vanilla and salt.  Beat on medium until light & fluffy.  Gradually add flour mixture and continue to beat just until a dough forms, scraping down sides with a spatula as needed.

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Mix in the chocolate pieces or chocolate chips.

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Form dough into 1 inch balls with your hands (about 36 balls) and place about 2 inches apart on baking sheets.  The recipe says to use a flat-bottomed glass to flatten each cookie, but that didn’t work for me.  The glass kept sticking.  I even tried oil spray, but no worky.  In the end, I used my hands to flatten each cookie.  Much better.

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Bake on 350 for 12-15 minutes, or until no longer wet looking.  Cool on the pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.

Halloween 2012: The Recap

Halloween this year was beyond awesome.  Bugger totally got into it and it was so much fun to watch him enjoy himself that much.  He’s usually a pretty social kid (and by pretty social I mean he says “HI!” to everybody), and he was totally in his element all day long!  We started out the day at his preschool’s little Halloween parade, which was super cute.  Walking into the building he told every single person that we walked by, “I’nna fireman!!!”  He had this huge smile the whole parade.  I dub that a major step, considering that last year we had a hard time getting him to wear his costume for more than 5 minutes.

It turns out that our next door neighbor (Zach) and one of Eli’s favorite buddies from our neighborhood mom’s group (Isaac) were also fire fighters for Halloween!  So, we got all three boys together for a picture… along with Trax & Xena the fire dogs and, of course, Hubby as fire.  Isaac diligently tried to put the Hubby fire out, while Bug was really more worried about the dogs than anything.  Funny guys.

We had lots of friends come to our annual Halloween party.  It was so cute to see all the little ones in their costumes… and awesome to see the few adults who dressed up as well!  I think next year we might make it a requirement for everyone to come in costume!  I think my favorite costumers were our buddy Grady as a miniature Mr. 2-Bits (it’s a Gator thing) and Madison’s little brother Christoper as a turkey.  If you knew baby Christopher, you’d understand why it is the perfect costume for that turkey of a child.  Our neighborhood was so crazy that the line to get in the gate took anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour to get through.  Holy cow, trick-or-treaters!

We took the kids down our street trick-or-treating.  Bug kept saying, “Candy, peese!” instead, but at least he said thank you without prompting!  At the end of the night, we hung out the house and played until all of the little ones went home.  Bug got to wear Namaw’s (my mom) princess crown, which has now become one of his favorite dress up items.

All-in-all, I’d say it was a successful Halloween!

DIY Firefighter Costume

First off, before we talk about the costume, let’s have a little chat about Halloween.  You see, we live in what you could call a retirement community.  By that, I mean that the median age in our city is upwards of 65.  That being said, we live in one of the only neighborhoods in our area that is comprised largely of young families with children.  In addition to that fact, our neighborhood also has street lights and nice, wide sidewalks on both sides of every street.  I think that every child in the city of Venice comes to our neighborhood to trick-or-treat.  Hundreds of children.  And that is no exaggeration.  Last year, we handed out fifteen large bags of candy.  FIFTEEN.  We would have handed out more, but we ran out.

Because everyone comes to our neighborhood anyways, Hubby & I have a Halloween party every year.  We invite all of our friends with children (and friends without children!) to come over, eat pizza, drink beer and take the kiddos trick-or-treating.  (If you are my friend in real life and you have children and I forgot to invite you, it is merely because I am a space cadet.  Please feel free to come!)  We just ask that our friends bring a bag of candy to the party, because otherwise we would go broke in order to appease the children of Venice.

Ok, so now on to the costume.  Bug asked to be a fireman for “how-ween” (too cute) this year.  I looked for a firefighter costume for him, but couldn’t find any in his size.  I don’t really like ordering costumes online because I’m worried about size & materials.  It is usually hot as crap for Halloween, so I didn’t want to order a crappy plastic firefighter costume for $30 and have him be burning up inside of it… or it end up being way too big.  So, I decided to be Super Mom and make it.  I have to say, it turned out pretty darn cute.  Also, he’s two, so he doesn’t really care if it doesn’t look EXACTLY like a real firefighter’s uniform.

Here’s what you need:

  • Red jacket or zip-up sweatshirt.  I found one for $8 at Target… it’s a hoodie, but that’s ok.
  • Red pants.  I found red athletic pants for $5 at Target.
  • Black duct tape
  • Silver duct tape (you could silver & yellow or black & yellow, too, but I couldn’t find yellow)
  • Firefighter hat (free from your local fire station!)
  • Fire Department “patch.”  I Googled “firefighter patch” on Google images and printed one out on cardstock.
  • Black rain boots (I couldn’t find any in his size, so we are forgoing the boots… his pants cover his feet anyways)

All in all, with the tape, I spent $20 on Eli’s costume.

With the black duct tape, make a strip down the side of each pant leg.  I used two pieces of tape, the second halfway overlapping the first, so that it would be wider than the silver that goes on top.  Make a single strip of silver tape over the top of the black.  Do the same thing around the cuff of each pant leg, the bottom hem of the jacket, the middle of the jacket, and around each jacket sleeve.

Cut out the fire department patch.  I taped duct tape to the back of the patch before I cut it out just so it wouldn’t rip once on the costume.  Then, make a piece of double sided duct tape and tape it onto the jacket.  Super easy, and I think it turned out pretty cute!  And, Bug is super excited about it!  He keeps wanting to try it on, and then take it off after like 2 minutes because he doesn’t want it to “get dwoty” (dirty) before “How-ween.”

What are your kids going to be for Halloween?

Bug’s 2nd Birthday

Holy crap, people.  Bug is TWO.  There are moments when I can’t believe that he’s been in our lives for two whole years already.  Then, there are moments when I feel like he’s always been with us.  There are moments when he still looks like a baby.  Then, there are (increasingly more) moments when he looks like such a big kid.  Those last four sentences couldn’t have been more cliche.  Sorry.

I think that Bug had a pretty darn good birthday.  Lucky for him, his birthday fell on a Saturday.  Actually, he could really care less at this age what day his birthday falls on.  We started the day by letting him open gifts from family.  His big gifts were a T-Ball Set and a Basketball Hoop.  Bug is a big fan of both.

For his party, we threw his two main loves into one… a sports themed pool party.  (I almost wrote poo party.  Ha.)  I was super excited to make football, basketball and baseball cupcakes for my little man.  Bug was also a big fan of these puppies.  **Side note: buttercream frosting is TOUGH in hot, humid Florida.  That’s why it looks so darn shiny.  Argh.**

We had a few of Buggy’s little friends over to our community pool, where we grilled out, swam and played in the fountain area.  Hubby set up a little area with the basketball hoop, golf clubs & t-ball, plus every ball that we own.

Bug boy had so much fun showing off his swimming skills and hanging out with everybody that he loves.  Oh, and he got to eat 2 cupcakes.  That was pretty much the highlight of his day.

We had a football pinata, which was awesome at first.  Bug totally got that you took hits at the football with a bat.  However, Bug totally did NOT get that the football was going to bust open.  That was very upsetting to him.  I don’t have a picture of him crying when the football got destroyed, but trust that he was in tears.  Poor thing.  That was not the highlight of his day.  He did enjoy the m&ms that came out, though.

We ended the day with a good, long nap, followed by more gift opening, playing in the sweet airplane tent from Scary Uncle Adam, dinner & the Lion King.  I’m tellin’ ya… pretty much the best 2-year old birthday ever.

Memorial Day

K, so I’m working today while a good majority of the country has the day off.  I have no complaints about that.  Sure, today is a good day for grilling and boating and sunshine and friends.  But, most importantly, today is a day to remember our soldiers.  The men & women who have given their lives so that ours could and can continue to be free.  The men & women who are still willing to give their lives so that we can grill and boat and enjoy sunshine and friends.  So, I don’t mind that I have to work today, because it gives me a chance to remember that I am allowed the opportunity to work a job that I love.

Also, I get off at 5 (early for me!) and get to grill out on the beach with family & friends.  Woot!  Happy Memorial Day!

The Obligatory Easter Post 2012

Easter pretty much dominated our weekend… as it should have, because, well, Easter is pretty darn important.  Jesus rose from the dead, people… kind of a big deal.  I don’t really talk about my faith on this here blog, and I’m not going to get into it now either.  Just know that I love Jesus and do my best to have a heart for Him.

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Onto our weekend of festivities.  I managed to forget my real camera all weekend, so all of these kind of fuzzy pictures are from my phone.  Saturday, we went to Buggy’s school, which also happens to be our church, for an Easter egg hunt.  They lots of crafts set up for the kids, which was very fun.  Bug’s favorite was the sugar cookie that he got to decorate.  And eat.  Hence the chocolate frosting all over his face.  He was sweet enough to share bites with Momma & Daddy.

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They also had a bounce house set up, which was awesome, obvi.  This was Bug’s 2nd time in a bounce house (3rd if you count the first time, where he freaked and immediately got out) and after a couple moments of trepidation, he was all about it.  That sweet little thing in pink next to him is one of his buddies from preschool.  There were a bunch of kids from his class there, which Bug loved.  It is so cute to when these little guys see each other outside of their classroom setting.  They all get SO EXCITED.

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They had egg hunts set up for different age groups, which was great, because Bug is not the fastest egg collector.  Each egg he picked up, he opened to make sure there was a treat inside, then he’d close it back up and put it in his basket.  It took us 10 minutes to get 10 eggs.  One of his classmates starting bringing him eggs from her basket, because she had so many it was overflowing.

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Sunday morning, we dressed Bug in the cutest, sweetest, most preppy outfit ever and headed to church.  We (including my parents) then spent the afternoon at my in-laws, complete with Honey Baked Ham for lunch.  The Easter bunny didn’t come to our house… he went to Nana & Pop’s house instead.  Here’s what was in Bug’s Easter basket (which was a compilation from Easter bunny Nana, Easter bunny Grandma & Easter bunny Momma):

  • Cars
  • Easter Cookies
  • Squirt gun noodles
  • And M&M fan
  • Bubbles
  • Curious George Coloring Book
  • Curious George Easter Book
  • Mercer Mayer Easter Book
  • Jelly Bean filled Elmo eggs
  • Golf Clubs
  • Sports Elmo (not pictured)

Dude. Made. Out.  We tried to keep it low on the sugary stuff, which was a good plan, except for Bug spent the rest of the day sticking his little hand into OUR baskets for jelly beans!

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The M&M fan blew his mind.  Ha.  Pun not intended.  Until I realized that I made a pun… so I guess it remains intended.

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Bug’s a big Elmo fan and also a big sports fan, so this is a perfect first Elmo doll for him.  It has shapes and colors on the shirt and sings a little song about them.  We only had to play the song 27 times today.

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The big Easter basket hit was the golf clubs, which the Easter bunny might have picked up at Walmart for SIX DOLLARS.  Not even on sale!  Only thing is, Bug insists on calling it baseball.  We’re working on it.

The only thing we didn’t do was dye Easter eggs.  I bought the stuff to do it, but we never got a chance this past week.  Whoopsies.

What did you do for Easter?

The Obligatory Christmas Post – 2011 Version

So, rather than just go on and on about how fantastic our Christmas was and dump loads of random (though adorable) photos of my toddler opening gifts, I thought I’d focus this year’s Obligatory Christmas Post on our Christmas traditions.  And then, I realized that I’d rather just go through our our festivities and dump loads of photos anyways.  Cool?  Cool.

Our Christmas festivities always begin several days before Christmas with the annual Inappropriate Cookie Party.  This occurs on whatever night I have off the week before Christmas and involves me, Hubby, Scary Uncle Adam, Auntie Annie and whoever else cares to join us baking and decorating a large number of delicious cookies.  This year, G.G. (Great Grandma) helped out… her cookies are the pretty ones.  I should probably warn you that though a large number of the cookies are socially acceptable, some are definitely not for the faint of heart.  My favorites from this year were the gay Christmas tree (not pictured) and horse wiener (look hard enough… you’ll find him).

The next tradition is the Friends Party.  All of Hubby’s parent’s buddies from back in the day get together at a different house every year to drink and eat and drink and do the whole White Elephant gift exchange thing.  A good number of these folks have known each other since high school, and Hubby and grown up with all of their kids.  It’s always a really fun time, but nowadays it’s even more awesome because their are babies around.  A whole new generation of kiddos!  Scary Uncle Adam loves this because he never really surpassed being 7 years old.  The kids rode him around until his arms gave out… and then an all-out Nerf war ensued.

I was lucky enough to have Christmas Eve off this year… which pretty much just means that I’ll be working next year.  We spent the day at my parent’s house relaxing and opening gifts with my grandmother.  Then, we headed to the evening service at church, where we had the opportunity to light the advent candles.  This was great, except for the fact that Bug thought he should be able to remain on the altar for the remainder of the service.  Oy.  Somehow, the above is the only picture I could find of Bug dressed up for church… thanks, Aunt Annie!

After dinner, we dressed Bug in his Christmas jammies.  Aunt Annie helped him set out cookies and milk for Santa and then we sent his little embroidered bottom off to bed at Nana & Pop’s house.  The adults watched Elf (per annual tradition) and then we took Buggy home so that he could wake up to Santa at our house.

Something awesome that Santa does at our house… he rearranges our furniture!  See, our Christmas tree lives in this perfect little alcoved area of our dining room, but with the dining room table in the way, there’s just no room to sit to open gifts.  Santa, being the jolly man that he is, realized the dilemma and flops our house for us!  He puts the couches by the tree (and the Lightning McQueen chair, obvi) and moves the table into the living room.  He even set my table for me.  What a guy!

Bug was super excited to see the house rearranged on Christmas morning.  He was even more excited to see his big gift sitting out, with just a bow on it.  Santa brought him a big set of Melissa & Doug building blocks, which he absolutely loves.  We played with them for quite a while before he was ready to delve into his stocking.  Santa sure knows Eli, because he filled his stocking with a whole bunch of musical instruments.  A recorder, bells, clappers, egg shakers, a kazoo, a triangle… we now have family band jams daily.

Just as we were finishing stockings, the whole family showed up.  Nana, Pops, Annie, Adam, Grandma & Papa (my parents).  We opened gifts, hung out and ate a big Christmas breakfast.  My favorite Christmas blessing is that we live in the same city as both sets of parents and that everybody gets along.  It is so special that Bug (and us!) gets to spend holidays with the entire family.

After naptime, we headed over to Nana & Pop’s house, where Great Nana was waiting for us.  She drove down from Gainesville to spend a few days… yay!  We opened more gifts, played, ate, played some more, ate some more.  You know the drill.  Out of all the gifts that Bug received, his new sunglasses are among his favorite.  He pretty much wears this face anytime he has them on.  Too funny.  I wonder how long until he breaks them?

After gifts and playtime, we all went out to walk around this awesome park on the island called Blalock Park.  It houses a bunch of native trees and plants that have been donated by different families and businesses.  This year, Venice Area Beautification, Inc invited area clubs, families and businesses to decorate the different trees in the park.  It was really fun to walk around and see what the different clubs did to make their tree pretty & festive.  Bug was obsessed with Christmas lights (“ligh? ligh? ligh?”) this year and he probably would have spent all night in the park if we’d let him!  Please notice that we are all wearing shorts.  On Christmas.  At night.  Yup.  I heart Florida winters.

We had a wonderful Christmas, made all the more special by this sweet child in our lives.  I hope you had a wonderful holiday season, as well.  Now… on to making 2012 pretty much the best year ever.