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Said Nobody Ever

“Christmas is a great time to relax and de-stress with your family,” said nobody ever from the birth of the baby Jesus to the present.

Family gatherings are complicated, you guys.  You can put your matching Christmas vests on and sing as many carols as you want, but chances of a collective meltdown are still 100%.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m really excited to see my peeps in a few weeks.  But we’ve been having nutty Christmases since 1989, when my brother and I smuggled the family guinea pig onto a flight to California.

Here’s what we learned from that experience:

You cannot put a guinea pig through an x-ray machine and then fly it across the country in a shoe box with holes in it.  You just can’t.  Half-way through the flight it will stop pooping and eating lettuce, and by the time you reach Los Angeles it will have shed its mortal coil into a pile of cedar chips.

Am I being clear here?  Christmas is stressful.  One minute everything’s fine, and the next minute you’re arguing about whether it’s against FAA regulations to leave a former pet in the bathroom trashcan of a Boeing 757.

red pepper soup small

So before you do any holiday visiting, let me suggest that you relax for a minute with a bowl of red pepper soup.

I cut the cream in this recipe from 2 cups to 1/4 cup, and it’s still delicious.  It’s just the right balance of tangy and creamy in my book.

And if you’re still looking for a holiday cookie, try these lemon-glazed snowflake sugar cookies.  The dough doesn’t have to chill, so this is a good recipe if you’re strapped for time.

thunder and cookies

Roasted Red Pepper Soup {Download & Print Recipe}

Adapted slightly from a recipe by Mark Abernathy via Rachael Ray, and told in my own words

Ingredients:  (Serves 4-6)

8 red bell peppers

2 Tbsp.  butter

1/2 of a large white or yellow onion, chopped (about 1 c.)

2 large cloves garlic, diced

6 c.  chicken broth or chicken stock (preferably unsalted but regular is fine)

1/4 c.  tomato paste

1/4 c.  cream (optional)

1 Tbsp.  cornstarch (may substitute 1 Tbsp. flour mushed up with a little butter)

salt & pepper to taste


Preheat the oven to broil.

Cut each pepper lengthwise and remove the stem, ribs and seeds.  Broil the peppers skin-side up until their skins are black and blistered nearly all over.  You want to get a good char going so the soup is full of flavor.  Depending on the heat of your broiler and the size of your peppers, this could take 20-35 minutes.

When the peppers are blackened, divide them between 2-4 small brown bags.  Fold the tops of the bags in tightly to seal in the heat.  Let them sit for 10 minutes.  [If you don’t have paper bags, put them in a tupperware container with a lid.]  The steam will make the skins easy to peel off.

Using just your hands, remove the skins of the peppers and pick off any stray pieces of ash.  Chop the peppers roughly.

In a large skillet or pot, melt the butter over medium-to-low heat.  Add the onion, stir, and cook until the onion is soft.  Add the garlic and cook two more minutes, being careful not to brown the garlic or onion.  Add the chopped peppers, chicken broth or stock, and tomato paste.  Stir well.  Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer.  Simmer for at least 10 minutes and as much as 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the cream and the cornstarch.  [If you like cream, you can add up to 2 c.]  Taste the soup and add salt as desired: if you used unsalted broth, you’ll probably wind up adding salt, but if you used regular chicken broth as I did, you might not need to add any.

Simmer for 5 more minutes.  Remove the soup from the heat and let it cool a little; then purée it in batches in a food processor or with an immersion blender.  Serve the soup warm or at room temperature.  We like it warm with a sprinkle of goat cheese on top.


Lemon-Glazed Snowflake Cookies {Download & Print Recipe}

Adapted  from a recipe in The Best of Betty Crocker (2009) and told in my own words


For the cookies

3/4 c. unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks) at room temperature

3/4 c. + 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar

2 tsp. grated lemon peel (from 2-3 lemons)

1 egg (preferably at room temperature)

1 tsp. vanilla

2 1/4 c. flour

1/2 tsp. salt

For the glaze

2 c. powdered sugar

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

2 Tbsp. water

blue food coloring (optional)


In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and granulated sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add the lemon peel, egg and vanilla and beat until combined.  Reduce the mixer to low speed and add the flour and salt, beating until combined.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Gather the dough into a ball and turn it out onto a floured work surface.  Roll it out to a 1/4″ thickness (or thinner, if you prefer).  Dip a snowflake-shaped (or other) cookie cutter in flour and cut out shapes, dipping the cookie cutter back into some flour as needed to keep it from sticking.

Place the cookies 1″ apart (they don’t spread much during baking) on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake for 8-10 minutes just until the bottoms of the cookies begin to turn golden.  Remove the cookies to a rack and let them cool completely.

Make the glaze.  In a small bowl, mix the powdered sugar, lemon juice and water with a spoon until you have a glaze that’s completely smooth.  You can add a little more powdered sugar to make it thicker if you like.

If you want to add food coloring to the icing, here’s what I suggest: divide the icing into 3 bowls and add 1 drop of blue icing to one bowl.  Then take some of that blue icing and mix a little bit into one of the bowls and a little more into the other, so that you have three shades of blue.  One of mine was a little blue, one a very, very light blue, and the other was almost white.  I used one glaze on each cookie so I had an assorted look.

Place wax paper or paper towels under the cooling rack to catch any glaze that might drip off your cookies.  Then, using a small metal spatula or the back of a spoon (i.e. a regular piece of metal cutlery), spread glaze on top of a cookie and place it back on the rack to dry.  Repeat with the other cookies.  Let the glaze dry completely and then store them in a Tupperware container.

thunder christmas smallThunder is resting up so that she has maximum energy for the 11 hour drive to Virginia.  Chances are good that she and Seymour have already worked out which dog gets to eat which door handle, cushion, cup holder. . . .

29 Comments Post a comment
  1. I added the picture of “Thunder cracking herself up” to the zazzle store, you guys! Thanks to those who suggested it. Here’s the link:

    December 12, 2012
  2. So you actually killed your pet guinea pig?? I think that story deserves its own follow-up post…

    December 12, 2012
    • And how did you get it through security?

      December 12, 2012
      • I wish I was making this up, but yes. The guinea pig expired. This was 1989. Security was a little looser then and they let us take it on. (Plus, even today you can take on dogs and stuff as long as they’re under 20 lbs.) Anyway, it got through security–I just think the stress killed it. Or the x-ray machine? Sigh. His name was Charlie.

        December 12, 2012
        • Awww that is so sad. 😦 Hope he went straight to guinea pig heaven.

          December 13, 2012
  3. Thunder looks almost exactly like Winston Churchill in the cookie photo.

    I am in the minority of people who do not have collective family meltdowns but there are close moments over the Trivial Pursuits board, or when the frozen sprouts won’t heat up, I’ll admit it…

    And the guinea pig? I don’t know whether to applaud you or just shake my head sadly. I think both?

    December 12, 2012
  4. Both of these recipes look terrific, and let’s face it, so does Thunder. What a handsome little thing she is! My condolences on the loss of your beloved guinea pig. Here’s hoping your Christmas is not haunted by the ghosts of guinea pigs passed…

    December 12, 2012
  5. stephbo93 #

    Both of these recipes sound delicious!!! My MiL is recovering from cancer, and I’ve been cooking large batches of soup for her so she doesn’t have to cook. She’s gonna love this!!! And I totally get the stressful holiday bit. My friends and I started a tradition decades ago where we get together Christmas night to compare Christmas with the family horror stories. So far, the all-time winner was my friend’s SiL pulling a gun on their step-brother in the middle of a fight. Now that’s class.

    December 12, 2012
  6. Sad story about the guinea pig…just so your readers know…the cedar chips thing was a bit of embellishment, cedar is fatal to guinea pigs! We have an awesome little guinea pig that my son named Connie Chung. And to answer your next question, there is no Maury Policy in this Connie Chung’s future.

    December 12, 2012
    • What? They are fatal?! I could swear that’s what we kept in his cage the whole time we had him! I remember because they smelled sooo good (until he peed on them :)).

      Actually, maybe this explains a lot. . .

      December 12, 2012
  7. Your dog is awesome.. and I am grateful that you are driving now and not trying to smuggle HiM through security dressed as a baby with a bonnet.. c

    December 12, 2012
  8. I’m going to try the pepper soup, I tried one once but I made the mistake of oiling my peppers before broiling and set off the smoke alarm.
    If you guys ever have kids, I don’t know how they’re going to live up to the impossibly high cuteness threshold that Thunder and Seymour have set for them!

    December 12, 2012
  9. Thunder looks DEVOTED to those cookies up there. DEVOTED. I can’t blame her; it’s how i would look if you set those in front of me. I was just thinking earlier that i really hadn’t made much citrus this winter, so i’m candying orange peels as we speak. My house smells like a tangerine.
    I miss the days when TSA was so incredibly lax they couldn’t even find a live guinea pig in a kid’s suitcase. I just got a wee bit nostalgic.

    December 12, 2012
  10. That soup sounds awesome! And your dog is too cute!!!

    December 12, 2012
  11. MrsH #

    The picture of Thunder with the cookies slays me! She appears to be WILLING them to FALL. OFF. THE PLATE!! So, question about the guinea pig: when you say you “smuggled” the guinea pig – did your parents not notice the box with holes in it as you were departing? Poor Charlie.
    Also, as terrible as it may be to say, I’m sort of glad that I’m not the only one with dogs who eat the car… there are teeth marks all over the locks, the handles and the headliner in our car. So, here’s hoping that yours don’t destroy too much of the vehicle. Merry Christmas!

    December 12, 2012
  12. I am going to have a super easy Christmas. I am going to love everyone even if I don’t love them right now. I’m going to let go of old resentments and judgements. Really. That’s the plan. And I’m going to drink a bottle of wine with that red pepper soup…

    December 12, 2012
  13. Elizabeth #

    Seriously… have to make this stuff up! The soup sounds wonderful! I hope I actually get around to trying to make it……Ha!

    December 12, 2012
  14. Oh, the stories I could tell about Christmases past … but I’m eating chocolate right now and feeling charitable, so let me just say: give poor Thunder a cookie! The soup and the cookies both look great, but you can probably guess which I have my eye on right now.

    December 12, 2012
  15. Cam #

    So what exactly was Thunder’s tithe for this photoshoot cuz it looks to me that that that plate of cookies is not long for this world? 😀

    December 13, 2012
  16. First of all, I *love* getting your pins from Pinterest. So many great vegetarian recipes that I will never try but say I will. Second, Damn! I just ordered my Thunder cards. I’ll just have to wait until you put a new batch out. It’s too bad you can’t add captions. The photo of her above would be a great Merry Christmas card. Just sayin’. Third, please don’t put Seymore or Thunder in a box with holes on your trip to Virginia.

    December 13, 2012
  17. I’m sure you recall your first christmas post-graduation, when you had two un-sympathetic families that live 300 miles apart to pack into 24-hours and a filing deadline on the 28th. I might eat an entire batch of these cookies!

    December 13, 2012
  18. Snoring Dog Studio #

    Thunder is gorgeous! Looking at your beautiful French bulldog helped get me over the loss of the poor guinea pig. Ouch. That was rough. Have a safe drive!

    December 13, 2012
  19. 1258miles #

    Ah brilliant! I’ about to have the first Christmas together with the whole family this year. I’m equally excited and terrified.

    December 13, 2012
  20. srushton1 #

    Thunder is the essence of planner. Between her awesome allotment skills vis-à-vis car parts, and Seymour’s excellent execution of said plan, quite simply said, “It’s gonna be a long trip.” With lots of destruction. Despite all that, have a Merry Christmas!

    December 13, 2012
  21. Ahhh.. we once had a guinea pig.. there’s always a story around their demise, isn’t there? Great recipes!!

    December 13, 2012
  22. The cookie recipe looks awesome. Hope Thunder enjoys the drive!

    December 13, 2012
  23. Many, many Christmases ago, my sister barfed on my brother’s head. I wish I were making this up. Also, there was the year that my sister and I both woke up on Christmas morning with chicken pox. And, there is the annual fight over who owns the green stocking and who owns the red… Maybe your recipes will soothe the Beaucoup Beasts?

    December 14, 2012
  24. jennifer #

    Yum! I made this soup over the weekend and my bf said it was the best soup ever. I tried to artfully drop small crumbles of fresh creamy goat cheese on top but they plummeted straight to the bottom of the bowl. Still, a nice surprise to find on your spoon, and definitely did enhance the flavor! Finishing the leftovers today at lunch 🙂

    December 19, 2012

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