When it comes to the holiday season, I think the hardest people to shop for are the men in our lives. Husbands, boyfriends, dads, brothers- it can be so so impossible to decide what to buy, and tempting to take the easy way out and throw video games and gift cards in their direction. Wanting to branch out just a little, I’ve done some browsing and online shopping, and these are some of my favorite guy gifts this season.
I’ve obviously gotten great joy out of living this unicorn life, and since the holidays are truly the season of giving, I’m sharing some of the glittery goodness with y’all this Black Friday. I’m kicking off a series of 5 holiday gift guides today with all things shimmery, metallic, sparkly, unicorn…
I’d always been intimidated by homemade marshmallows, until I discovered that they’re astonishingly easy with the help of a candy thermometer and stand mixer. I first made these marshmallows last holiday season, and they may have ruined me for commercially-made ones forever. They’re irresistible by the handful, super soft and flavorful, and they quickly go molten and so delicious when roasted or topping a hot drink.
The name’s a bit punny. For serious flavor, I use homemade bourbon vanilla, along with scraping in a whole vanilla bean and adding a touch of almond for the NOLA nectar homage. I cut them into cubes mostly for speed and ease, and I find being generous with the starch-and-sugar mixture super helpful- I even fill a shaker with it.
I’m all about the edible treats as holiday gifts… I make and share small batches of goodies all season long. So I filled sweet little holly-print boxes with marshmallows and curled shiny red ribbon for festive treats to be given to friends.
These marshmallows melt so incredibly, they elevate simple hot cocoa to a fantastical treat. I behave like a five year old and just keep piling marshmallows into my cup. Despite sticky-fingered snacking and the distraction of Elf, we even managed to get a few presents wrapped, so I’ll call it a winter evening success.
Vanilla Squared Marshmallows
(adapted from Alton Brown’s homemade marshmallows)
- 3 packages unflavored gelatin
- 1 cup ice cold water, divided
- 12 ounces granulated sugar, about 1 1/2 cups
- 1 cup light corn syrup
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 whole vanilla bean
- 1 1/2 tablespoon bourbon vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- nonstick cooking spray
- Empty gelatin and 1/2 cup of the water into bowl of stand mixer with whisk attachment. In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and powdered sugar. Spray a 13 by 9-inch metal baking pan with cooking spray. Add some of the sugar-cornstarch mixture and shake about to completely coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Return excess to the bowl, set aside.
- In a small saucepan, combine remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium high heat, cover and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, attach candy thermometer to the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F, about 7 minutes. Watch carefully and immediately remove from heat.
- Start the mixer on low. While running, slowly pour the hot sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture- be careful! Once all of the syrup is added, increase speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes- it will be steamy at first. Add the vanilla and almond extracts during the last minute of whipping.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using an oiled spatula if needed to spread evenly. Dust the top with enough of the sugar-starch mixture to lightly cover, saving the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
- Once set, turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board or counter dusted with sugar-starch. Cut into strips and then squares using a pizza wheel. Lightly dust all sides of each cut marshmallow with the remaining mixture. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.
The cocoa I serve is adapted from this one– I add cinnamon and a sprinkle each of cardamom and cayenne. It makes a rich semisweet cocoa that is perfect with the melting marshmallows. Feel free to thin with more milk or sweeten further, but homemade cocoa is so easy and delicious the packets simply don’t compare.
As much as I love latkes, I can’t eat them for 8 nights straight if I want to fit into my clothes. So I make a point of experimenting with and serving other foods with Jewish and Israeli foods as we celebrate Hannukah.
Having made several variations of chocolate babka in the past, Smitten Kitchen’s simplification of Yotam Ottolenghi’s krantz cakes are hands down the best. I decided to up the ante a notch by raiding/catching up on my Valrhona x Trader Joe’s chocolate calendar and including several different dark varieties, and it was a scrumptious life choice.
The cutting and twisting stage can be a little iffy, but refrigerating the dough to stiffen the butter makes all the difference. And as long as you get it into the pan in some fashion, it will rise up just dandy. And yes, I have to use a mug of water to humidify my microwave as a rising drawer- even in sunny SoCal, our house is an icebox.
I lose all self-control around this yumminess- that little pan of ends was history before I’d even finished glazing the loaves. With Hanukkah falling early this year, we’re celebrating the miracle of light as we prepare and decorate for our annual holiday open house, which we’re hosting this weekend.
The babka made for some scrumptious Hanukkah bush decorating fuel. The moist and tender brioche was swirled generously with melted chocolate, and warm slices paired perfectly with glasses of icy cold milk.
We don’t go too overboard with holiday decor. As much as I love the way it looks, I have limited patience for the untangling and wrangling, putting up and taking down, organizing and storing, and David even less so. My mom is a holiday superdecorator and I’m nowhere near her level, so I’m just grateful that she gifted us the majority of those gorgeous vintage glass ornaments.
But I loooooooveee the smell of a live tree in the house, so every year we wind up at the tree lot. It’s the same story, different year- I try and talk David into a 9 footer or the like, he laughs in my face. Then we inspect no less than a dozen (more reasonably sized) trees until I find the perfect one. And once we get it home, I’m hanging onto the mantle or teetering on the arm of the couch to perch the sparkly fleur de lis on the top.
There’s a lot of love on this little table. The chanukiah was a wedding present, and my mother in law crocheted the tablecloth as a gift for me. We collected the pinecones hiking in Big Bear during our 2nd wedding anniversary getaway, then cleaned and glittered them. I can’t help but smile when I see it all- it’s simple but special.
David got me a new MacBook Air last month, and his new camera body arrived a few weeks ago. Since we’re already using and loving our big gifts this year, we’re exchanging smaller treats each night. Some are useful, like the previous night’s Restoration Hardware foot duvets (graphite for David, grey for me), some are indulgent, like these gorgeous rose gold and brown abalone Kendra Scott earrings, and some are silly, like the box of practical jokes and disguises David proceeded to open.
With all the travel I’ve clocked this year (24 round trips in 2015) it’s been really amazing to have put up the suitcases for the year. To just spend some time around the house, making it fun and festive, just gives me all the warm and fuzzy feelings.
I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. –Thoreau
Like most typical American households, my alarm rang obnoxiously early this Thanksgiving morning, and I was up long before the sun. Most times, us early risers are cooks, waking to tend to a turkey or its accompaniments. Instead, I turned on bright lights and various hot irons, because by noon I had styled and loved on dozens of sweet, talented, beautiful (inside and out) young ladies. As a full-service pageant consultant, Thanksgiving nationals makes for one of the busiest weeks of our entire year. We move into a suite of rooms at the host hotel near Disneyland for ten days to support our girls and their families as they compete, and workdays often run into the eighteen-hour vicinity. It is madness in the best, sparkliest way, and my Thanksgivings have always been that way! In true #tbt spirit….
First as a longtime contestant and queen, now as a consultant, pageantry is my most longstanding Thanksgiving tradition. There are only a handful of years across my lifetime where I didn’t start the holiday season in or around lots of crowns.
Though it doesn’t behoove a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, we’re used to it. We get our turkey fix in a few weeks when I do the whole spread and then some, for our annual Chrismakkuh party. The pageant hosts a lovely formal black-and-white Thanksgiving, and we’ve attended in the past, like when I was competing or royalty, most recently about 7 years ago when our kid sister gave pageantry a (brief yet successful) swing.
We’ve occasionally had one of our mommies organize lovely pageant family Thanksgiving dinners. We invite all of our clients and their families, take over part of a nearby restaurant, and make quite the raucous bunch… one year there were fifty-odd of us having a dance party in the private room at Ruth Chris between courses!
And over the years, we’ve developed our Coe thanksgiving tradition… All-you-can-eat Korean bbq. Sometimes it’s just us two, other times we bring a few, or many, clients with us. We are beyond casual about it- I’m generally barefaced and in leggings, so we head into Garden Grove, where you never need a reservation at Cham Sut Gol.
We eat banchan and grill pounds of delicious meats and seafood, until we are full and slightly smoky. We always discuss what we’re thankful for, and the evening is full of toasts and jokes- very festive, but low key comparatively, and a nice escape from the formality of pageant land. And then we head to the self-serve freezer, to dip ice cream cones for dessert! The flavor selection varies, but it’s always several yummy options… It’s amazing how I manage to make room for a double cone after gorging myself on bulgogi.
I make a conscious effort to live my life with gratitude, but in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to share some things (beyond K-bbq) that I’m especially thankful for this week, from the pageant trenches.
L’Oreal Elnett. I’m on can number 3 for the pageant thus far, and I’m appreciative of its pageant-proof hold, brushability, and mostly inoffensive scent, since I’m sometimes in a cloud of it for hours. I’ve been using it since it needed to be imported, and I love that you can get it anywhere nowadays.
Fashion tape, e6000, and good old fashioned needle-and-thread. Between these three go-to’s, Mrs Ravayna can make most anything work! On that note, I’m especially grateful for zippers cooperating on evening gowns today, which is not always the case, and that I haven’t had wardrobe issues drastic enough to use the sewing machine I always bring.
David, who’s generally a beast, but really steps his game up this week. We run in lockstep, except for when he shoulders a burden completely (like building the master schedule, or steaming dozens of gowns) to ease my workload. He helps our girls express the most amazing charisma and heart, and when I see the relationships he has with our sweethearts, my heart is warm and fuzzy to know what a fabulous dad he will be someday.
Our girls and their families. As they are in and out of our suite all week, I’m sometimes awed by how lucky we are to be entrusted to help these girls grow and dream, then be able to watch them succeed. Our girls are classy on and off the stage and though the goals we pursue are of personal grace, not perfection, they never cease to blow me away. Many of our clients are not in attendance this week, and we are missing them terribly! I’m so thankful to have clients, who became friends and grew into our family.
And for pageants on the whole. Despite the media brouhaha, a lifetime of pageantry has been so, so good to me. It honed my communication and stage skills, instilled a work ethic and servant’s heart, and taught me to both win and lose with grace and class. Winnings paid for a large portion of my college education, and we’re now employed in the industry. Pageants created and strengthened some of my longest, most trusted and most treasured friendships- the girls in those ancient pictures are my ride-or-dies still, so many years later. I learned to be confident in my authentic self, to be brave even when I didn’t feel that way, and to tease hair to the heavens. Crowns may dull, but being a firecracker lasts a lifetime, and I’m so appreciative of all this and so much more.
Wishing you warm hearts and full bellies this thanksgiving!