Sunday, January 9, 2011

What I Did On My Winter Vacation

It has been quite some time since my last post, so I figured I'd summarize the past few weeks. So here's a synopsis of "What I Did On My Winter Vacation."

I spent about three full weeks at home in Pennsylvania. And generally speaking, it was definitely time well spent with family and friends. My first two days at home were spent immersed in the final stages of gingerbread production. You may recall from my last post that I was making gingerbread houses for my friends Kristen and Abbie to decorate with their daughters Hannah and Ellie, respectively. On Wednesday, December 15, I enlisted my dad's help to assemble the gingerbread into the actual houses. It really is amazing what royal icing can do, which is simply egg whites, confectioner's sugar, and cream of tartar. After assembling, the structures looked like this:

The pattern for this houses was to mimic a country cottage. On Thursday, December 16, I loaded up a bag full of icing and other decorative pieces and headed to Kristen's house for the festivities. Hannah and Ellie were more interested in eating peppermint sticks and playing with toys than really getting into the gingerbread house production, but Kristen and Abbie had great fun testing their creativity. I just generally enjoyed the whole experience.

Over the next two days, my friend Tricia and I put in two nights of drinking with the locals. On Friday, we went to see a friend's band play, and on Saturday, we went to a friend's holiday party. We had a lot of fun, and on Sunday, I was convinced I was too old for heavy drinking because I was experiencing what I thought to be a hangover that I couldn't shake. Needless to say, it wasn't a hangover, but some nasty 24-hour flu. I decided in that moment that I prefer a hangover to the flu. And unfortunately, I couldn't completely shake it, and I spent a few days in bed, trying to gain proper rest.

The remainder of my first week at home was spent helping my mom with our family's traditional Christmas cookies. I mustered the energy to make pecan tassies and peanut butter blossoms with the Hershey kisses on Wednesday, December 22. On Thursday, my cousin Jen was so kind to assist with anise oil cookies and black bottoms. It's just not a proper Christmas in our house without these cookies, and a few others, so we were able to get them all baked off in time for Christmas.

I spent Christmas Eve in traditional fashion. My dad and I made two batches of biscotti - ones with walnuts and ones with anise oil/anise seeds. My brother and I then fried off "bubbles" which are little dough balls that we put into wedding soup. My grandmother joined us for dinner and then we went to Mass at 9pm. After Mass, we did our usual gift exchange. My mom surprised me with some cute kitchen gadgets - a Hershey's cookbook and dumpling/pierogi presses.

On Christmas, my mom's family came over for a casual day. We had a large spread of porkette and mashed potatoes, and hung out playing a trivia game "Know It or Blow It" in men vs. women fashion. We celebrated our traditional Christmas on the 26th which included a ravioli dinner, gift exchange, and more trivia games.

I spent the last full week of my vacation catching up with friends, honoring old traditions, and enjoying new experiences. For example, my friend Laraine and I always go out to lunch followed by some Dunkin Donuts. And I get together usually for breakfast with Joe, one of my professors from Bucknell. In new fashion, I also got to meet my friend Kelly's son for the first time. And my brother hosted a party that was really a lot of fun and would make for a great new holiday tradition.

I spent New Year's Eve with family and friends at my favorite restaurant at home, Mattucci's, and I spent New Year's Day with family and friends one last time. Overall, my time at home was really an excellent end to an exciting year, and I feel pretty blessed to be able to go home and spend such quality time with so many people. It's really, really amazing.

On January 2nd, I drove to Raleigh to spend time with my friends Brian and Brittany. We ate at The Pit, which is an amazing bar-b-que restaurant. We dined on pumpkin cornbread with maple butter, wings, and half-racks of ribs with fries, potato salad, and baked beans. And as if that wasn't enough Southern cuisine, Brian and I had lunch the next day at the Q-Shack, where we had pulled pork sandwiches and my all-time favorite hush puppies. Feeling full and fat, I then got in my car to finish my drive back to Charleston.

I've been back in town for a week now, getting re-settled in my independent living and taking advantage of some down-time before school starts up again. My friend Mandy and I purchased "Be A Tourist in Your Town" tickets for the month of January. This $20 pass is good at 28 local attractions during the month so it's a great way to see some new sites cheaply. On Thursday, we went to the Birds of Prey exhibit where we learned about bald eagles, vultures, and owls.

We then had lunch a 17 North Roadside Kitchen, which may have the world's greatest french fries. And we then ventured off to Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island to learn about military coastal defense. We had the chance to see dolphins swimming really close to the shoreline as an added bonus near the Fort. On Friday, we visited the Edmonston-Alston House, which is located on The Battery. We then went to the Old Slave Mart Museum and learned a new perspective on the domestic slave trade which was prevalent in Charleston back in the day. We had sandwiches for lunch at Fast & French on Broad St. before taking a peak into the Powder Magazine (a building where gun powder was stored during the revolutionary and civil wars) and The Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon (which was a customs house and jail during the wars). In two days, we saw six different sites so we were well on our way to really getting our money's worth on these passes.

My first few days back in Charleston have been excellent, not only for the sight-seeing and slow transition back into my independent life, but also because I've had the chance to catch up with friends like Mandy, Gilly, and Anna before we begin another semester of baking and pastry chaos. The year 2010 ended well, and it looks like 2011 is already off to a great start.

If you made it through this entire novel of a post, thanks for coming back to the blog in the new year! I'm excited to share my upcoming adventures with you!

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