A very DC Christmas!

Although Christmas has come and gone, I thought I’d give a recap of two very Christmasy tours Ken and I took! First and foremost, the White House Tour!

White House Christmas Tour

I had requested White House Christmas tour tickets from our Congressman’s office back in July. Two weeks before the tour, we were notified that we had received tickets (sent via email), and there was a long list of instructions for the tour. (No bags of any kind, including purses. No cameras with lenses longer than 3 inches, no cameras with detachable lenses, etc.)

The tour was for a Friday at 8:30AM (we didn’t get to pick the time!), so we decided to take the day off from work and do some other Christmas activities in the city for the day.

Even though our tour “start” time was at 8:30, that was really just the time that the entrance process started. There were multiple lines and security checkpoints after the 8:30 entrance.

Standing in Line for White House Tour Entrance

Standing in the first line for the White House Tour. These were all the 8:30AM entrance ticket holders.

Standing in Line for White House Tour Entrance

Standing in the second line for the White House Tour.

I glanced at my watch, and we didn’t actually enter the White House and start the tour until 9:17. Just something to keep in mind if you’re also doing a White House tour and trying to keep a schedule for your day.

Ken at the entrance to the White House!

Ken at the entrance to the White House

Upon entrance, we were given some brochures – one was a generic White House brochure for the White House, the other was a Christmas 2015-specific booklet.

Booklet about Christmas at the White House

Booklet about Christmas at the White House

 

White House Brochure from the National Park Service

White House Brochure from the National Park Service

Tours are self-guided, but there are secret service all around that are available to answer questions.

At entrance to tour

It was a little crowded at the beginning of the tour, but it definitely thinned out as people started viewing exhibits at their own pace.

Start of White House Tour

One of the first rooms contained a large Christmas Tree and some iPads and a podium for writing, so if you wanted to send messages to troops serving in the U.S. military.

White House Christmas Tour White House Christmas Tour White House Christmas Tour White House Christmas Tour

Through the windows, you could see dozens of cute snowmen set up on the White House lawn.

Snowmen Display on White House Lawn Snowmen Display on White House Lawn

Snowmen Display on White House Lawn

Snowmen on White House Lawn. Note the Washington Monument in the distance!

 

There were a lot of Christmas-themed photos and other framed displays hanging on the walls, such as these photos of presidents and their wives in front of the Christmas trees, as well as the White House Christmas Cards from the past several administrations.

Christmas photos from White House White House Christmas Card displays

Walking down a long hallway, snowflakes hung from the ceiling.

Snowflakes from ceiling on White House Christmas Tour

On closer inspection, the snowflakes contained state names and state seals!

Maryland and Maine State Snowflakes Virginia state snowflake

And of course, there was a display dedicated to the White House Dogs! Complete with Christmas Trees made of tennis balls!

White House Christmas display for dogs

There were rooms to peek in (they were roped off to foot traffic), each with their own unique Christmas displays:

White House Christmas Tour White House Christmas Tour White House Christmas Tour

Then, you walked up a flight of steps to view the even grander rooms!

Steps on White House Tour White House Christmas Tour White House Christmas Tour White House Christmas Tour

All the rooms had their own names, and placards explained to the visitors what the room is used for or how it came about.

t t t t t

The Christmas trees in each room were just SO grand and amazing. It’s hard to believe that all this work goes into making the East Wing of the White House so Christmasy EVERY YEAR!

Christmas trees on White House Tour Christmas trees on White House Tour White House Christmas Tour White House Christmas Tour

There was even a choir performing Christmas carols while we were there! I’m not sure if this is a regular occurrence, but it added even more to the Christmas charm of the tour!

Choir during White House Christmas Tour Choir during White House Christmas Tour Ken and I at White House for Christmas Tour

 

We took a few obligatory photos of the White House from the outside after our tour was over, and we were done! We were probably inside for about 1.5 hours enjoying all the sites.

Outside the White House after Tour Outside the White House after Tour

U.S. Botanic Garden Christmas Train Display

Since we had already taken the entire day off from work, Ken suggested that we find other Christmasy things to do in DC for the day. We quickly decided on the Christmas Train Display at the U.S. Botanic Garden.

Ken and I had been to the Botanic Garden before, which is stunning, but we had never seen the train display before!

Sign for the U.S. Botanic Garden

The theme of the train display was “Pollination Station,” which was very focused on bees!

Pollination Station Sign

The train displays were so cute!

Christmas Train Display at U.S. Botanic Gardens Christmas Train Display at U.S. Botanic Gardens Christmas Train Display at U.S. Botanic Gardens Christmas Train Display at U.S. Botanic Gardens Christmas Train Display at U.S. Botanic Gardens Christmas Train Display at U.S. Botanic Gardens

The conservatory part of the Botanic Garden was home to miniature DC buildings and monuments! I’m not sure if this was a special exhibit, but it definitely was not there the last time Ken and I went to the Botanic Gardens several years ago.

Miniature Capitol Building at U.S. Botanic Garden Mini Supreme Court at U.S. Botanic Garden Mini Lincoln Memorial at U.S. Botanic Garden Miniature Library of Congress at U.S. Botanic Garden Miniature Washington Monument at U.S. Botanic Garden

It was great!

We also took a quick walk through their poinsettia exhibit.

Poinsettias at U.S. Botanc Gardens Poinsettias at U.S. Botanc Gardens Poinsettias at U.S. Botanc Gardens

Poinsettias were everywhere in the gardens, and a different room had a separate train display, and the trains went around a large Christmas tree that was surrounded by tons of Poinsettias!

Poinsettias at U.S. Botanc Gardens Poinsettias at U.S. Botanc Gardens

This day was a huge win for us. The White House tour and the exhibits at the U.S. Botanic Gardens were so fantastic! Definitely add them to your Holidays in DC bucket list if you haven’t experienced them yet!

Thanksgiving Week Action Plan

thanksgiving-week-planning-tips

Thanksgiving is just a little over a week away!  Since this will be my first year hosting Thanksgiving, I want to make sure things go as smoothly as they can.  So I am doing what I have done for other major events like this in my life … creating an Action Plan!

thanksgiving-week-planning-tips

One week before Thanksgiving: Finalize grocery shopping list for Thanksgiving Day meals, and schedule the order with the local grocery delivery service called Peapod. I try to avoid the supermarket during crazy times of the year (like Thanksgiving or Christmas weeks!). I’ll probably just have to make one trip to Trader Joe’s that week, since they have much more reasonable prices on things like cheeses. I’ll schedule the order to be delivered on the Monday before Thanksgiving.

Sunday before Thanksgiving: Clean out fridge.  Monday is the last “garbage man day” beforeThanksgiving, so I want to make sure that we purge any old food items from the fridge to make sure we have enough space!

Monday:

  • Peapod grocery order that I placed the previous Thursday will be delivered.
  • Ensure that all recipes are printed, put into protective sleeves, and readily accessible for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday prep.
  • Prepare french baguette dough and biscuit doughs. Refrigerate dough.

Tuesday:

  • Pick up “Thanksgiving Survival Kit” from local produce store. A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from our nearby produce store called Nall’s, that they are offering a “Thanksgiving Survival Kit,” which includes items like rolls, celery, carrots, cranberries, fresh herbs, and all sorts of other yummy things for $40 per kit. I jumped right on that offer!
  • Bake one serving of baguette dough prepared the day before, and and bake some cornbread. Allow to air dry for the next few days for stuffing. Will use the remaining baguette dough on Thanksgiving
  • Create prepared “recipe bags.” I’m still debating whether this one will be worth the time, but I’m considering creating pre-packaged “bags” of ingredients for each meal I will make on Thanksgiving Day. For instance, pre-chop the celery, onions, and herbs, and grab a stick of butter, etc., them put them into individual plastic baggies. Then I would place each individual plastic baggie into one larger baggie, and label it as “stuffing.” That way, when it’s time to make the stuffing, I can just grab the bag and toss. While the amount of time will probably be equal, it might make Thanksgiving Day prep and cleanup go a lot faster
  • Set up folding tables and chairs, set tables to the extent possible (tablecloths, vases for centerpieces, charger plates, etc.)

Wednesday:

  • Pick up turkey order from butcher.  We ordered our turkeys fresh from an amazing local butcher that we use all the time.
  • Purchase flowers from local produce store for simple centerpieces.  Similarly, if Trader Joe’s doesn’t look too ridiculously crowded, I may buy the flowers there, since they are located right by the butcher where I’ll be picking up the turkeys.
  • Begin turkey brining process.  Let turkeys sit in brine until Thanksgiving Day.
  • Commence Baking? Depending on how I’m feeling about food preparation progress, I may bake a few goodies, like some banana bread, chocolate cake, or and/or cookies. We’re ordering pies from a local pie shop, so we’re all set on dessert, but I’d like to add a few homemade goodies to the dessert table if possible. However, if things are feeling rushed or overwhelming on Wednesday, I’m going to skip the baking.  I’ve done these marathon baking sessions before around Christmas time, and they really only take about 2 hours, including cleanup.
  • Finish setting table
  • Set up “beverage area” to the extent possible, putting out glassware, beverage tub, etc.
  • Do a quick cleanup of house

Thursday (AKA Turkey Day!):

  • Put Turkey #1 in oven for roasting
  • Put apple cider in our coffee urn (which we purchased to have warm beverages at our wedding) for slow warmup. Make sure to add some cinnamon sticks in the urn, and place coffee mugs nearby.
  • Make stuffing, set aside (do not bake yet)
  • Make cranberry sauce, set aside
  • Ensure ingredients are set aside to make gravy when turkey eventually comes out of the oven
  • Ken departs home to pick up pies from local pie shop and buy a bag of ice from 7-11.
  • When guests give notification that they are on their way (approximately 1 hour drive):
    • Put baguette dough in oven to bake
    • Make mashed potatoes, put in oven to stay warm
    • Set out other appetizers (veggie tray, shrimp ring, cubed cheeses, crackers, baguette slices when ready)
    • Put soda two liter bottles, bottles of beer, and white wine in beverage tub filled with ice. (Ken’s family doesn’t really drink, so let’s be honest here, the beer and white wine will be for me)
  • At some point after guests arrive, begin deep frying Turkey #2 in electric turkey deep fryer.  Deep fried turkeys cook much faster, and since the cooking method seems to be quite the novelty, I’m assuming folks may want to watch the turkey as it begins to fry.
  • Put stuffing in oven as turkey begins to fry

 

So, there you have it!  As with every plan, I’m sure there will be some tweaking as things progress, but I think this covers pretty much everything!  I actually feel a lot better having this all down in writing.  Although that’s a lot of bullet points, many of them won’t even take more than a few minutes, so I think it’s definitely doable.

Hosting Thanksgiving Day Dinner!

thanksgiving-dinner

For the first time ever this year, we’re hosting Thanksgiving!  We’ve lived in our house for nearly five years, but our kitchen was always so depressing.  Last December, we wrapped up our huge kitchen renovation, so now we are ready and raring to put it to good use.

thanksgiving-dinner

In my excitement, I’ve already started menu planning for the day!  Well, actually I’ve been planning meals for the entire weekend since my family will most likely be staying with us as well.  Ken’s family only lives an hour away, so my family would be our only houseguests.

I only have one issue with cooking on Thanksgiving.  I’m grappling with how to deal with it as a now Thanksgiving Day host.  Brace yourselves.

I don’t like turkey.

Any time this happens to come up, folks shake their heads in shock and then the words that come out of their mouth are typically something like, “Well that just means you’ve never had GOOD turkey.”  I’ve sampled lots of turkey over the years.  My family never had a strict Thanksgiving Day tradition, so I had many opportunities to try different Thanksgiving turkey.  My mom’s turkey, my brother-in-law’s turkey, my mom’s cousin’s turkey, my mother-in-law’s turkey, restaurant turkey when we’ve been on vacation, cruise ship turkey when we’ve been on a cruise during Thanksgiving …

I don’t HATE turkey in the sense that it makes me gag (I’m looking at you grape soda), so I’m always open minded enough to sample a few bites, but I’m always just so disappointed at its lack of flavor that I stop eating it.  Or, when I was younger, I would coat my turkey slices in ketchup to eat it.  Apparently many folks at the dinner table found this offensive and sacrilege, so I stopped eating more than a few tasting bites.  After all, there’s always so many different types of food to try on Thanksgiving day, so why waste calories getting full on something you don’t even really like.

My family has always been very accommodating of this food aversion, so we usually have many main dishes, including a smaller turkey, on Thanksgiving Day when my mom or sister would host it.  And I always loved that unique aspect of our Thanksgivings.  So, I’m hoping to carry on this tradition.  Yes, I’ll make a turkey even though I don’t really like it, but I’ll make at least one or two other main dishes too.  I may even experiment with a few turkey recipes between now and Thanksgiving, to make sure I have some practice on cooking it for the big day.  Wait, do stores even sell whole turkeys outside of the holiday season?

I’m going to experiment with this brined turkey recipe and, since I absolutely love to grill, I’ll also try a Turkey on our Weber charcoal grill.   Yummm.  Maybe that is what turkey has been missing all these years — a beautiful charcoal grilled flavor.  Besides the turkey, this is what else is on our list:

 

Other main course:

  • Beef Tenderloin – grilled or oven

Appetizers:

  • Cheeses, including fondue

  • Breads and crackers

  • Veggie Tray (store bought)

  • Pizza Dip (A family favorite)

  • Spinach Dip (another family favorite)

  • Shrimp ring (store bought)

With all these appetizers, I’m debating whether we need salads or anything, so I can re-visit that later.

Side Dishes:

  • Mashed Potatoes

  • Green Bean Casserole (Ken’s mom can bring)

  • Purple pickled cabbage (A favorite german dish of my husband’s family.  I like it too now!)

  • And a few others, TBD.  I’ve been scouring my saved Pinterest recipes recently.  Seriously, does anyone else think that their Pinterest boards just become bottomless pits of ideas, never to be revisited again?  As I looked through my Food and Recipes board, I was like, “Whoa!  There’s some tasty ideas on here!”

 

Desserts

  • Pies (ordered from local amazing pie shop)

  • Homemade Banana Bread

  • Trays of various homemade cookies

  • Fruit and Fruit dip

  • One or two 8-inch round cakes, something simple that I’ve made before.

 

There you go.  I’m stuffed already just thinking about it.  But, at a minimum, we’ll have 14 people.  That number could jump to 21 if a few other relatives decide to come too.  And I figure, these were mostly all recipes we’d cook for Thanksgiving even in our very small family.  It doesn’t take any more work to scale up a recipe if you’re going to be making it anyway!  Except the need for fridge space.

What are your Thanksgiving Day favorites?