Happy New Liver!

Ah New Year’s Eve — a time for reflection, a time for resolution, a time for…inebriation.

Double Cider Bourbon Punch

Some of you may be going out, partying your faces off in some sticky-floored bar, hoping to smush faces with a special someone (or just a someone) when the clock strikes 12. If you’re like Scout, you will avoid the bars on New Year’s Eve and opt for a friend’s apartment-based party so as to stay safely ensconced in an outer borough (everyone please pray for Zelda, who has to work, in Times Square, until 11:30 p.m.).

No matter if you’re throwing a party of your own or going to a friend’s, you’re going to need a cocktail. Friends, readers, allow us to introduce you to Double Cider Bourbon Punch.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

This little wonder comes to us courtesy of Buzzfeed and their epic Friends-themed Friendsgiving Feast. We like it because it combines our tried and true Kentucky bourbon with the wintry goodness of apple cider, with just a hint of the bubbles meant to ring in the New Year.

Scout and her roommates attempted to make it for Thanksgiving. And though a combination of tragic events pushed their cocktail hour to a couple days after the actual holiday, the cocktail, when it finally hit their palettes, did not disappoint. Yummy but not too sweet, and with our favorite spirit front and center, this drink will warm you up from epic games of Cards Against Humanity toTaylor Swift dance parties as you ring in the New Year.

The original recipe calls for a punch bowl. However, if like us you live in a cramped New York apartment, chances are you don’t in fact own a punch bowl, so we’ve modified the recipe slightly to make smaller batches (Serves 6 – 10).

You Will Need:

2 cups apple cider

2 12-oz bottles hard apple cider

1 12-oz bottles ginger beer

1 cup seltzer

1.5 cups bourbon

Cinnamon sticks, for garnish

Ice, to serve

DCBP

Combine both ciders, ginger beer, seltzer, and bourbon in whatever vessel you can find that’s large enough to hold this party potion. We chose a mixing bowl with a pouring spout, because you work with what you have. Zelda is all for the ultimate Brooklyn accessory: the Mason jar. Pour into generous glasses (or Mason jars, if you prefer), and add cinnamon sticks to garnish. If you’re feeling super fancy, you can also core and slice some apples and perch a slice on the rim of your glass for a touch of je ne sais quoi.

Drink up and enjoy!

Top 14 of 2014

The year is coming to an end, so instead of our usual monthly round-up we thought we’d give you a little list of our favorite things from the past year. From the serious to the silly, these are a few of the things that made our 2014!

wrold-cup, usa, tannen-maury, new-york-daily-news

TANNEN MAURY/EPA, Via New York Daily News

GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL: First things first: we are sports fans. You can’t grow up in Louisville, KY, and not enjoy a bit of sporting competition (and by a bit we mean bitter rivalries that rip families, and blogging partners, apart). So of course we were not immune to FIFA World Cup fever. Everyone loves a little patriotism now and then, and even if soccer will never be as big here in the USA as it is everywhere else, for a few glorious weeks we did our best to learn our offsides from our onsides and our corner kicks from our PKs. The month of football left us with pride in our sporting hearts, a longing for the 2016 Olympics, and a renewed love for the beautiful game.

nothing-much-to-do, hypable

© Lane Francis Worrall, Via Hypable

FLAMANGOES UNITE: We love web series. We are millennials, after all, so most of our entertainment is consumed via the Internet. Some of our favorites this year include PBS Digital’s The Art Assignment and Shipwrecked Comedy’s Kissing in the Rain (Dear Internet, Please put Mary Kate Wiles in all of the things. K thanks bye.), and of course we are suckers for the newly minted “Vlog Adaptations of Classics” genre that combines two of our favorite forms of media. The highlight of this past year was Kiwi gem Nothing Much to Do, a vlogseries adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. In it creators the Candle Wasters give both Beatrice and Benedick vlogs through which to vent their mutual hatred/confusion/ohshitisthislove, and hilarity ensues. Have you burned through it already? Not to worry: The team already has a sequel in the works for next year, this time tackling Love’s Labour’s Lost!

STARBUCKS LOVERS: 2014 was a great year for music. From the Secret Sisters and Lake Street Dive to Ingrid Michaelson and Watsky, oodles of our favorites released new albums this year that had us jamming, grooving, and dancing around in our underwear. But hands down the number one album that provided the soundtrack to our year is the one named for the year of our birth: Taylor Swift’s “1989.” We are lifelong fans of T. Sweezy, and we were hesitant about her foray away from her country roots into the pop landscape (not normally Z&S’s favorite milieu). But as soon as the first drum beats of “Shake It Off” hit our ear drums, we were hooked. Our motto has always been that there are very few ills in this world that can’t be cured with a good kitchen dance party, and “Style,” “Blank Space,” and more have helped us shake off all of the past year’s cover letters, romantic frustrations, and shrinking bank balances. Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate y’all. We’re just gonna shake.

veronica-mars, movie, kristen-bell

© Warner Brothers

MARSHMALLOW POWER: Once in a blue moon, a miracle happens. A loved one who left your life far too soon, ripped from your grasp before your story was complete, comes back to you, no worse for wear, full of nostalgia and inside jokes and bursting with new adventures. And so it came to pass, on March 14, that Veronica Mars returned to our lives. Fandoms are powerful stuff, y’all, and through the power of Kickstarter we the fans of Veronica, Logan, Wallace, Mac, and the gang brought back our favorite tiny blonde one in all her sassy glory. Since then, there have been books, there have been spin-offs, and we can’t wait to see what other gems of genius Rob Thomas (writer, not musician) has in store. Honorable Mentions: Camp Takota (#trinity) and The Fault in Our Stars, for taking a beautiful and heart-breaking book and not ruining it with Hollywood.

beautiful, broadway

© Joan Marcus

SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL: Though it technically opened in 2013, Beautiful, the amazing show chronicling the life and songwriting career of Carole King, has been the soundtrack to our days and our inspiration in tough times throughout 2014. Carole, despite her personal hardships, used her awesome lady talents to make her mark on the music industry forever. She gets us through any and all situations by reminding us to “get up every morning with a smile on your face, and show the world all the love in your heart.”  Honorable Mentions: Violet (Because Sutton Foster on a Southern road trip singing the infectious score of Jeanine Tesori? Yes please.) / Assassins at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London (Scout’s favorite musical plus Scout’s favorite leading man, with bonus Catherine Tate. OUR SOULS FOR A CAST ALBUM!) / Fly By Night at Playwrights Horizons (The sweetest, most beautiful show Zelda has seen in a while, which despite its tragic ending made the world seem a little brighter. Again, where is our cast recording?!)

there-gose-the-neighborhood, against-the-grain, craft-beer

© Robby Davis, via Dribble

CILANTRO AND PROMISES: Allow us to introduce There Gose The Neighborhood: A collaboration beer by Louisville brewery Against the Grain and Chicago-based Aviary and Fountainhead that we tried on a whim one afternoon at our local craft bar. With notes of red pepper and lime, it tastes of cilantro and promises, and would pair excellently with tacos from our favorite Brooklyn joint and a summer breeze.

serial, podcast, new-yorker

Via the New Yorker

MAIL…KIMP: On January 13, 1999, Hae Min Lee, a senior at Baltimore’s Woodlawn High School, disappeared. A month later, her body was discovered in a city park. She had been strangled. Her 17-year-old ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was arrested for the crime, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. Fifteen years later, “This American Life”’s Sarah Koenig decided to tell their story, week by week, investigating and reporting along the way. And Zelda (along with scores of other people) became obsessed. Our only complaint about Serial? Twelve episodes was not enough. Honorable Mention: The kooky British duo Men In Blazers were Scout’s go-to comedic commentators during the aforementioned World Cup, and they continue to share their love of “Sockah!,” Guinness, and America (fuck yeah!) on their weekly podcast.

nerdist, youtube, trinity, grace-helbig, hannah-hart, mamrie-hart

Via Nerdist

#NOFILTER: We the writers of Zelda & Scout believe in a Holy Trinity, forged in the pixels of YouTube, and responsible for so much of our happiness. This year, Hannah Hart, Grace Helbig, and Mamrie Hart did us one better, translating the brilliance of their YouTube channels onto the written page. My Drunk Kitchen, Hannah’s cookbook slash general life guide, and Grace’s Guide, the never-judgy road map to pretending to be a grown-up that we didn’t know we needed, quickly shot straight to the top of our wish lists. And we cannot wait for the cocktails and confessionals to come in Mamrie’s You Deserve A Drink (out in 147 days, but who’s counting). Honorable Mention: Yes Please, because Amy Poehler. We need no other reason.

twin-peaks, laura-palmer, 25-years

Via the Verge

DAMN FINE NEWS: A couple of years ago, Scout’s friend Camden pulled her into the deep Lynchian hole that is “Twin Peaks.” To say that Scout loves “Twin Peaks” would not be accurate: It is not a show that you love, but that somehow becomes a part of who you are, so much so that you will sit through “Fire Walk With Me,” for fun. Thanks to Showtime and original show creators Mark Frost and David Lynch, the show will return for a nine-episode arc in 2016, honoring the series finale lines: “I’ll see you again in 25 years.

OY WITH THE POODLES ALREADY: The world gave us a great gift this year. “Gilmore Girls,” our favorite show in the history of ever, joined the ranks of Netflix. Even though we already own all 7 seasons on DVD, and have it ripped onto our computers, the ability to watch Lorelai and Rory full-size on our TV screens made everything better. As an added bonus, the resurgence of attention on this under-appreciated series suddenly made new fans out of so many of our friends, allowing us to yell “No, it’s National Baptism Day. Tie your tubes, idiot!” or proclaim “I’m attracted to pie. That doesn’t mean I feel the need to date pie,” and not be met with blank stares. And with “Friends” joining the streaming world come January 1st, we’ll basically have no reason to leave our couches ever again.

malala-yousafzai, antonio-olmos

© Antonio Olmos, Via Parade

GIRL POWER: There was a lot to be unhappy about this year. It seemed like every day brought more stories of shootings and plane crashes, epidemics and beheadings (and being in the newspaper biz, Zelda was intimately acquainted with them all). But then there was Malala Yousafzai, whose passion and bravery inspires awe in all of us (and leaves Jon Stewart speechless). She is the definition of girl power, and her Nobel Peace Prize is well-deserved, making her the only accomplished 17-year old who doesn’t make us resentful and insecure about our own lives.

brooklyn-museum, swoon, submerged-motherlands

Via Brooklyn Museum

A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN (MUSEUM): Maybe Scout is a bit biased, as she is employed by the venue that hosted street artist Swoon’s climate change-inspired installation “Submerged Motherlands,” but even after having spent four days a week answering visitor questions about the show, this immersive environment built around a sixty-foot textile tree never ceased to amaze her. Zelda, who is completely unbiased in the matter, was also in awe of the jaw-dropping scale and intimate detail of this portrait of a ravaged, fantastical city and its people, so we think we can officially qualify this one as a win.

the-100

© The CW

WHATEVER THE HELL WE WANT: We watch a lot of television here at Z&S — our mutual love of “Gilmore Girls” is one of the cornerstones of our friendship — but every year we discover a few things that stand out more than others. We binge-watched the second season of “Orange is the New Blackwith the best of them, and Scout fell hard for the gritty and cinematic “Peaky Blinders.” We wept when the adorable “A to Z,” and with it Cristin Millioti and Ben Feldman, threatened to be booted from our small screens. But our top choice for TV this year came to Scout on a whim of a Netflix recommendation, and now she’s obsessed (and recently sucked Zelda in with her). Mentioned in our November round up, “The 100 is a sci-fi show set ninety-seven years after a nuclear apocalypse which forced the human race to relocate to space. Unable to live much longer in their rapidly deteriorating space station, the leaders send 100 juvenile delinquents to the ground to find out if the earth is habitable. The fast-paced show is filled with complex, morally grey characters and explores some intense themes. It’s addictive and it must be saved (Vanity Fair agrees). Everyone go watch it now.

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YOU’RE THE TOP: This year has been a wild, topsy-turvy adventure, and one of the brightest spots in the whole mess has been all of y’all. This blog started as a conversation between two friends over bourbon and barbecue, and the way it has grown and changed since then has been a delight. We’ve had so much fun along the way, and we hope you have too. Here’s to many more adventures — Southern, New York, and otherwise — in 2015!

Another Hundred People

Another hundred people just got off of the train…The thing about New York is that there are always people. Everywhere you turn, people. People on the street, people at the grocery, people all up in your business on public transit. Sure, the “city that never sleeps” may sound exhilarating, but for an introvert like me, all those people can get pretty overwhelming. I’m one of those weird talkative and somewhat over-friendly introverts. (They exist, I promise. I think it stems from my Southern upbringing. Chattin’ up strangers is just how we do.) I’m good with people and, most of the time, I genuinely like them. But in order to be the functional human being you see (or rather, read) before you, sometimes I need to not be around them for a while. I need some me time to recharge.

New York (1911) George Bellows

New York (1911) George Bellows

It wasn’t hard when I was growing up. I’m an only child and a former latchkey kid, so I spent plenty of time alone. In the moments when I didn’t have the house to myself, there was still a whole floor between me and my mom or dad and carefully cultivated trust that meant respect for my privacy. Not that I spent all my time locked up in my room: I went to sleep-away camp as a kid, but even when I was sharing a small cabin with nine other people, I was able to find moments for myself. There was a big rock in the woods between the lake and the cabins, and I would go there after dinner most nights to sit and take a breather from all the human interaction. I miss that sitting, the non-urgency of being fourteen. As I got older, my car became my “rock in the woods,” the drives to and from various activities a moment of solace. Things got harder in college. One of the only things I couldn’t deal with about my freshman roommate was that she was nearly always in the room, making my much-necessary alone time almost impossible to come by. We hit our stride eventually, and I found roommates in the subsequent years that complimented me better, but still I would count down the days until I could go home and veg undisturbed.

I got really lucky with my current roommates. We like each other and enjoy hanging out, but we also understand the need to not be around each other all the time. We can all come home from work and go to our separate corners, and nobody’s feelings get hurt (honestly, most days we all work such weird schedules that we might not even see each other at all). But even with awesome roomies, because I live in New York, I’m never truly alone. There’s always the hum of things going on: the people calling out on the street, the tapping of your neighbors hanging things at two in the morning, the rumble of the train as it rolls past your window. Sometimes, I need more than my little corner of the cacophony. I need the freedom to lie in the bathtub for a good hour without anyone else needing the bathroom. (However, since I’m a considerate person, I have to settle for the floor of my room.)

Pool in the Woods (1892) George Inness

Pool in the Woods (1892) George Inness

 Lately I’ve found myself craving quiet, a deep Thoreau-esque aloneness — the kind you can only get by leaving the city lights behind and surrounding yourself with nature. I miss the solitude of that camp rock, a bubble of reflection where I could just take a second, alone but never lonely. Come to think of it, I think I’ve just been missing nature lately: my hiking boots sitting on my closet floor, half-made plans for day trips outside the city kicking around my head, trips I probably don’t have the time or the money to go on.

My need for alone time is exacerbated by the fact that I spend most of my working life surrounded by people, New Yorkers and tourists alike. I’m in the service industry, which may not seem like a natural fit for an introvert, but most days it’s fine. Good, even. (But if I’m working one of those 13-day weeks that sometimes occur, don’t expect me to meet up with you for drinks after my shift. I love you, but, people.) Making people happy whether with food and beer or art and history is nice, and being around people you like is even nicer. The downside though is that you don’t get “normal” holidays; come Christmas and Thanksgiving, people want to eat, drink, and be merry, and it’s my job to serve them. This year I spent my Christmas Eve working a mostly dead shift at the restaurant and then going home to my empty apartment, and I thought it would make me sad. I thought a holiday without family and friends would be thoroughly depressing, and that the 24th would find me curled up with the Muppets and a box of tissues, weeping into a bowl of Reese’s cups and getting nostalgic for Christmas parties gone by.

Morning Sun (1952) Edward Hopper

Morning Sun (1952) Edward Hopper

Then this week rolled in. And yes, I was sad. I missed my traditions, the usual guideposts of my holiday season. But I live in a very small apartment with three other girls, wonderful though they may be, and for a glorious 72 hours I had it all to myself. So instead of moping around feeling sorry for myself, I decided to celebrate. After setting aside a moment to briefly wallow in self pity (I am only human, and it was Christmas after all), I relished the alone time, seizing the opportunity to recharge. Carpe Netflix! Carpe Tumblr! Carpe This Playlist and My Couch!

And you know what? It was great. I felt better, more myself than I had in a while. I hadn’t realized how much I needed it. It’s damn near impossible to be an introvert in this city. Turning inwards means surrendering for a bit and being passive, and New Yorkers don’t do that. This city is all about the hustle: Everyone’s here for something, for someone, to go somewhere and be somebody. We “find each other in the crowded streets and the guarded parks,” and we meet people every day and sometimes we lose ourselves for a little bit, and then we dive right back into the bedlam. Everyone’s always moving here — trying to get their break, to land their dream job, to find their soulmate, or just to pay their damn rent. It’s a city of tirelessly moving cogs, an endlessly whirring machine. And this Christmas, as my gift to myself, I chose, for a glorious moment, to sit still.

Have Yourself a Merry Cherry Christmas

The holidays are a time for being with one’s loved ones, for giving gifts and giving thanks, and for feasting on seasonal favorites. I’m a compulsive baker all year round, but I get particularly antsy for something sugary and flour dusted come December, spending each weekend searching for a project in the festive vein. And for me (and many Southerners), festive means one thing: pie.

Just your typical Tuesday night

Just your typical Tuesday night

Many moons ago, one of my best friends from high school and I spent a summer evening watching a little movie that had just come out called “Waitress.” If you’re not familiar with the film, it’s the darkly comedic tale of a small-town girl who works in a diner, hates her husband, loves her gal pals, and has an affair with her obstetrician (while pregnant, with her husband’s baby). And through it all, the ups and downs of her story are punctuated by pies, each one tuned to the moment and given a creative name. We left the theatre with visions of Marshmallow Mermaids and Naughty Pumpkins dancing in our heads — and my personal favorite, “’I Can’t Have No Affair Because It’s Wrong and I Don’t Want Earl to Kill Me” Pie (hold the banana) — and with a hankering to make some pies of our own.

Since then, we have set out on a quest to master the art of pie making. Whenever we both find ourselves in Kentucky (and occasionally in Tennessee or New York), we bake. We’ve made Derby pies and fruit pies, chocolate chess and meringue, frozen ice cream pies and warm bubbling berries. Together we’ve peeled apples, pitted cherries, candied pecans, and snacked on extra bits of crust. Our current record is 6 pies in one sitting, spanning four different flavors and a whole lot of Thanksgiving cheer. And with each pie we make, we give it a name, in the spirit of Jenna, our original inspiration.

Extreme Adventures in Pie Baking

Extreme Adventures in Pie Baking

This recipe is one of our holiday favorites, our Merry Cherry Christmas Pie — red as holly berries and Santa’s nose. You should use fresh cherries if you can come by them (and if you do, I highly recommend investing in a pitter, in order to save yourself a lot of painstaking work and stained hands straight out of a horror movie). However, since fresh berries can be hard to come by in the winter months, you can also use frozen; just make sure you thaw them completely, and you may want to increase the amount of tapioca/cornstarch slightly, since frozen fruit tends to hold more water.

Happy baking, and a very happy holidays from myself and Scout!

Latticed, brushed, and ready for the oven.

Latticed, brushed, and ready for the oven.

Merry Cherry Christmas Pie

Ingredients

2 pie crusts, one for the base and one for the lattice (you can make your own if you’re feeling industrious, or Pillsbury does the trick quite nicely)

⅔ cup granulated sugar

3 tbsp quick-cooking tapioca or cornstarch

Zest and juice of 1 lemon (Important note: In our experience, a whole lemon tends to make the pie way too tart, so I suggest starting with half and tasting before you add more.)

4 cups pitted sweet cherries, fresh or frozen

Optional: one egg, cane sugar

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 400° F.

Mix the sugar, tapioca/cornstarch, and lemon zest and juice together.

Pour the mixture over the cherries in a medium bowl and toss gently to coat evenly.

Line your pie dish with one of your crusts. Fill with the cherries.

Roll out your second pie crust and, using a sharp knife (or a pastry wheel if you’re fancy), cut into strips, about 1-in. wide. Use these strips to create a lattice top over your pie. If you haven’t made a lattice before, this video is super easy to follow!

Optional: Beat one egg in a small bowl. Brush over your crust, covering thoroughly, and sprinkle evenly with cane sugar. This gives the crust a nice shiny look when it’s baked.

Place the pie on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Check the crust; if it has already started to brown, you can cover the edges with aluminum foil to prevent overbrowning. Continue baking for another 30-40 minutes, until the cherry filling bubbles and the crust is golden brown all over.

Remove from oven and chill for one hour (it’s tempting to dig in straight away, we know, but the filling needs time to cool and set, otherwise you end up with a crust bowl full of cherry soup).

Enjoy!

Adapted from “500 Pies and Tarts” by Rebecca Baugniet, the best little pie book around.

Oh Tannenbaum

Decorating my family’s Christmas tree is hands down my favorite holiday tradition. When I was in high school, we would all make the trek on some blustery Saturday in mid-December to a local high school, where men in a field sold big fat conifers. After the traditional twenty minutes of arguing over one person’s pick or another — debating holes, height, and density of needles (the one year we all picked the same tree we were so shocked we spent twenty minutes arguing over whether it was jinxed) — we strap the winner to the roof of the car and drive it home. The tree is carefully maneuvered through the front door to a corner of the den, where it is secured not just in its base but also, via a series of wires and twine, to the bookcase and adjacent wall, a recent addition after the Great Christmas Tree Fall of 2011 resulted in the tragic demise of dozens of ornaments, a loss from which we have not yet fully recovered (my roommate, who happened to be in the room when I received the bad news via phone call from my mother, still mocks me for all of my “Oh no!”’s, which led her to believe a human member of the family had died).

RIP Russian Doll, 2008-2011

RIP Russian Doll, 2008-2011

Putting the lights on the tree is strictly a man’s job chez Harlan, so while my dad and brother untangle strings of twinklers (both white and colored, much to Scout’s chagrin), my mom, sister, and I embark on the arduous task of unpacking the two giant Rubbermaid boxes of ornaments, unwrapping childhood hand prints, porcelain nutcrackers, bearded Santas, and a glass pickle from their paper towel shrouds. I’ve never understood those people who have a theme or color scheme for their tree, all done up in plain glass balls (We only allow one plain ball on the tree. It is green and is titled, creatively, the Green Ball. It Survived GCTF2K11, in what was quickly classified a Genuine Christmas Miracle.). Santa brings each of us an ornament, or three, for Christmas every year, hanging them on the brass hooks with the stockings my grandmother knit for each of us when we were born (or married into the family, as the case may be). Each stocking is individualized, with curly Santa beards (my dad) or twinkling red holly beads (mine). As children, it was a great source of contention that my grandma did not stay consistent over the years when it came to size, so my sister’s and my stockings pale in comparison to my brother’s 27.5 inch monstrosity, while my poor dad’s looks positively puny (as the oldest child, he got the “first pancake” of the stocking world).

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Slowly making our way through the spread

Once the tree is all lit up, the ornaments are unwrapped, and the mulled cider is brewing on the stove, it’s time to begin. Christmas comes with a specific soundtrack in my house: Nat King Cole, followed by Bing Crosby, then a mix of Judy Collins (my dad’s favorite), Barbra Streisand (a nice Jewish girl, and therefore my mom’s favorite), and Peter, Paul, and Mary, whose rambunctious rendition of “Children Go Where I Send Thee” prompts lusty singalongs by my siblings and me). The first strings of “The Christmas Song” swell out of my grandpa’s old speakers, everyone selects their first ornament, and then the free for all begins.

Now, there might be some who would say my family is a bit, well, territorial with our ornaments. I prefer to think of us as passionate, a little on the sentimental side, but whichever way you spin it, it is a strict no-no to put somebody else’s ornament on the tree. In the unpacking process, certain ornaments made by or bestowed upon each family member are relegated to a corner of the dining room table, off limits to any but the owner. As the oldest child, I had a four year head start when it came to ornament accumulation, so my pile tends to outnumber my sister’s (although she got a “cast gift” boost from her many years dancing in “The Nutcracker”) and totally dwarfs my brother’s dump trucks and karate kids. My poor mother has the smallest cache, with a sprinkling of wooden pots and one sequined star of David, but as an adult adopter of the Christmas spirit, she doesn’t seem to mind.

My sister, gettin' her tree game on

My sister, gettin’ her tree game on

By the time the CD changer runs out of carols, the tree is fully decked, and despite my dad’s grumblings we always manage to fit all the ornaments on there somehow, and have yet to be forced to purchase an extension tree for the overflow. When I was little, I used to hide behind the tree, holed up in the corner staring up at the lights and smelling pine. Nowadays I opt for a horizontal approach, lying on the floor with my head on the patchwork tree skirt and staring up into the branches, “Grey’s Anatomy” style.

In a few short hours, I’ll be on plane, heading from Newark back to my old Kentucky home. Now I’m not expecting snow, and we’ve never been big on mistletoe. But I am expecting a big pile of ornaments lying on a packing blanket, waiting for me. And that’s when Christmas really begins.

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Merry Christmas, y’all!

A Very Merry Holiday Marathon

December is a big month in my house. For starters, my mom is Jewish and my dad is Christian, so we get the double whammy of both Chanukah and Christmas. But the fun doesn’t stop there. My sister’s birthday is on the 13th, mine is on the 27th, and then it all wraps up with New Year’s Eve (in my house, an hors d’oeuvres feast the likes of which the world has never seen). You’d be hard-pressed to find a more festive family between Thanksgiving and January 1st. Especially on the years when Chanukah is neatly nestled mid-month, December in the Harlan house is a non-stop marathon of holiday cheer.

Growing up, my parents were holiday purists. Despite our crazy mishmosh of festivities, they did their best to give each occasion its due and to maintain some semblance of separation between them, even if it was just a matter of putting the menorahs in the dining room while the Christmas tree twinkled two feet away in the den. Birthday presents were never combined with holidays. You had to take your Santa hat off before eating your latkes. And we developed many, many, traditions that put their own definitive spin on each festive occasion.

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Decked out in my holiday finest for my sister’s first Chanukah, ages 6 days and (almost) 4 years

“A long, long time ago, before baseball and Cheerios, the Jews they lived in a land of peace; their leader was Mr. Mattathias…” As Chanukah celebrations go, ours is pretty traditional (aside from the odd rap). We light the menorahs, one per family member, so by night six or seven my father feels compelled to break out the fire extinguisher, lest our house be engulfed in a blessed inferno. Each family member has their own personal chanukiah. My mom has the classic, the one my grandparents gave her and my dad when they were first married (pictured above). As the papa, my dad takes the “Fiddler on the Roof” music box, which has long since lost its music (and one of Tevye’s arms). My brother and sister’s are handcrafted, painted and hot glued together in some long ago Sunday School class out of a piece of wood or, in a pun appreciated best by the Hillel set, a hammer. For years I lit a traditional brass number given to me for my bat mitzvah, until one year my mother excitedly presented me with a box from the Temple gift shop. Inside was the most beautiful menorah I had ever seen, all crafted out of shoes. My shamas rests on a slingback, the ankle straps and stilettos glow in the candlelight, and after a hearty chorus of “Rock of Ages” we adjourn to the kitchen for latkes and applesauce (sour cream is for suckers).

Merry Christmas from the whole cousin clan

Merry Christmas from the whole cousin clan

We have a strict rule in my house: Christmas does not begin until after Thanksgiving. Nary a carol shall pass our lips until the fourth Friday in November. But as soon as the turkey gumbo has been slurped up, a family trek is made to the basement, bringing up boxes of decorations, CDs, Santa hats, homemade (personalized) songbooks, and, of course, ornaments. We moved a lot when I was a child, and so the boxes, designated “Christmas” by scraps of wrapping paper taped haphazardly to one side, are a sort of “Zelda, This Is Your Life” retrospective of all our past homes, with cardboard numbers from California, Kansas, and Tennessee being repurposed to hold porcelain carolers and antler headbands. Once the boxes are upstairs, we can begin decking out the halls (and the tree, but that’s its own story). The jingle bell wreaths go on the back and garage doors, the snowman piñata my dad picked up at a day after Christmas sale (much to my mother’s chagrin) goes on a speaker in the den, and the CD changer gets steadily filled up with holiday tunes.

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Merry and Bright

Now Christmas Eve in my house requires four things: stockings, storytime, carrots, and ham. Allow me to explain. As is traditional, the stockings are hung by the chimney with care, in descending order of age. Dinner is a delicious feast of honey-baked goodness, usually followed by something chocolate (although Christmas Eve dinner is really a preamble to the main event on Christmas Day, when my mom pulls out all the stops: dill rolls, standing rib roast, and my personal favorite — individual raspberry souffles). Before he leaves to sing at services, my dad reads “Twas the Night Before Christmas” (unless my grandma is in town or it’s one of the years when we spend Christmas in New Hampshire with the whole extended clan, in which she does the honors with an ancient copy lovingly preserved from her own childhood). And finally we set out cookies and Lactaid for Santa (in our house, he’s lactose intolerant), and we always add a few carrots, because reindeer need snacks, too.

Erev Christmas may also include a viewing of our favorite holiday flick, “White Christmas,” during which we all sing along and my parents reminisce about how cute my sister and I were when we used to reenact the famous “Sisters” number as tiny tots. This may be followed by the Grinch or the timelesss classic, Disney’s Very Merry Christmas Songs. Santa has a bedtime, so by 9 or 10 the kids are banished to the upstairs, where these days we usually end up on my bed watching a Christmas episode of “Gilmore Girls” or “Friends.” And before we go to sleep there is the traditional heated debate on when we will rise the next morning, which thankfully has transitioned from the 7 a.m. of our childhood to a much more civilized 9 or 10.

Christmas through the years

Christmas through the years

Finally, the day arrives. We rise at the predetermined hour, rubbing sleep from eyes and yelling at my mom when she insists on brushing her teeth before making the trek downstairs. Even though the Santa myth went out the window many moons ago, there’s still something magic about creeping down the stairs and peering through the sliding den doors to see plump stockings all in a row. Santa does not wrap his gifts, merely affixes gift tags, and so those get fussed over first, followed by the stockings. Only once each member of the family has completely emptied his or her stocking, down the orange in the toe, can the present opening commence. My parents sit regally in their armchairs by the fireplace while my siblings and I alternate between fetching them gifts and ripping open our own. And finally, once every bag is emptied and the floor is strewn with shiny paper, we decamp to the kitchen for my mom’s make-ahead breakfast casserole and a lazy day of new toys and no real pants. Because that, kids, is what Christmas is really about: 24-hour pajamas.

This year is going to be a little different. For the first time ever, I will spend Christmas day on two very early planes and then at the office, where, sadly, I will be required to put on pants. We tried telling the news to take the day off, just give everyone a day of peace on earth, but unfortunately they did not oblige. So while Monday will see me flying home for one last night of Chanukah, an early Christmas, and an even earlier birthday, the actual day will be spent in airports with strangers and copy editing with my co-workers. I could complain (and believe me, I have). I could mope and cry (again, been there, done that, sometimes on the subway, you can ask Scout). But instead, I’m trying to be grateful. I’m grateful that I’ll get 48 hours with my family, even if I want longer. I’m grateful for the lovely humans who work at the airports and fly the planes on Christmas Day, and that I could afford tickets for such a brief visit. And I’m grateful for my surrogate family, for my roommate and my college bestie and Scout and her mom, all of whom have offered to adopt me for the lonely hours when I find myself in Brooklyn instead of happily ensconced on my couch. I know Thanksgiving is traditionally the day of giving, well, thanks, but Christmas is a day of giving, too. And even if I only get to spend five hours of it with the ones I love most, five hours is more than a lot of people get.

December Playlist: Merry & Bright

‘Tis the season of tidings and traditions and holiday playlists. The only month that comes with its own genre, December is just made for custom soundtracks. Everybody has that one song that defines the holiday season for them. For some it’s classical, for some it’s decidedly not, but they’re all twinkly-lit with cozy memories and the smell of pine trees. We had a really hard time paring this list down to just an hour, but here it goes. From our iPods to yours, to make your commutes, dinner prep, showers, etc. merry and bright.

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The Christmas Song: Nat King Cole – This song, more than anything else, is what kicks off the Christmas season for Zelda. Her family has a lot of traditions, but her favorite is the decoration of the tree. Once the ornaments are all lovingly unwrapped and laid out on the dining room table, her dad puts on Nat. And as the first strings swell into the living room, everyone takes an ornament, places it on the tree, and the holidays have officially begun.

Christmas Time’s A Comin’: Emmylou Harris – Emmylou’s entire Christmas album, Light of the Stable, was the soundtrack to most of Scout’s childhood Christmases. As soon as November rolled into December, this disc went in the car’s CD player and didn’t leave until the New Year. This first track is filled with memories of Scout and her mother’s light-dappled drives through chilly December nights en route one Christmas party or another.

Santa Baby: Eartha Kitt – When Zelda was in high school, she and the other senior girls performed this song at the annual Madrigal Dinner Holiday Concert. She had the verse about the checks. Thankfully, this happened before phones could take video and thus her awkward choreography will never see the light of the internet. We leave it to your imagination.

Sleigh Ride: Ella Fitzgerald – Another choir flashback for Zelda (she was a freshman, she played the jingle bells, it’s all Laura’s fault), but when sung by our favorite jazzy dame, it’s a whole other beast entirely. Makes us want to throw on our red lipstick and take a ride in a horse-drawn sleigh, even if it is for tourists.

Jump (For My Love): The Pointer Sisters – This song comes to our holiday playlist courtesy of Hugh Grant’s swiveling hips. Play at loud volume and dance around your apartment as if it’s 10 Downing Street. (Sidebar: It’s one week til Christmas Eve. Have you watched “Love Actually” yet? If no, what are you doing with your life?)

Christmas Time Is Here: Vince Guaraldi Trio – As poor millennial Brooklynites, we have a particular appreciation for Charlie Brown and his transformation of the sad, apartment-sized Christmas tree into a thing of beauty. Nothing helps us recapture the innocent magic of childhood Christmases like putting this soundtrack on and lying under the tree.

Jingle Bells: Frank Sinatra – This song will forever make Zelda think of her French four-year olds, who proudly mumbled their way through this Christmas classic, even if they had no idea what any of it meant. When you’re that tiny and adorable, all is forgiven, even if your classroom behavior should land you on the naughty list (I’m lookin’ at you, Kevin.)

Frosty the Snowman: Fiona Apple – If we had our druthers, we would include the entire Hotel Café holiday album on this list, but we’ve limited ourselves to this and “Winter Song.” A sweet, warbly turn on a classic, which does have a tendency to get stuck in your head, especially if your name is Scout. You have been warned.

Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home): Death Cab for Cutie – For the cool kid who doesn’t quite want to admit he/she loves Christmas carols. And to them we say, “Embrace your inner Seth Cohen. Let your Chrismukkah enthusiasm shine through. You’ll thank us later.”

The Chanukah Song: Adam Sandler – We could not rightfully call ourselves nice Southern (half) Jewish girls if we didn’t include some Chanukah songs on this list. Now when it comes to carols, Christmas kicks Chanukah’s puny Yiddish ass, but we’re big fans of this fun one from Mr. Sandler. (Fun fact: Zelda’s college a cappella group sang their own re-written version of this tune, which is how she ended up serenading Emma Watson about Daniel Radcliffe’s supposed half-Jewishness.)

Jingle Bell Rock: Bobby Helms – Now we all know this classic, even it is just from Mean Girls (we feel you), but for Scout it has a more personal significance. This is the song her family sang around the Chanukah table every year. That’s right, Chanukah. See many moons ago, Scout’s paternal (Jewish) grandmother was on “Jeopardy!” (watching the show itself is something of a family tradition as well, but that’s a story for another time). She was riding high and clicking fast until she lost it all on an audio daily double. The song responsible for her downfall? “Jingle Bell Rock.” What sort of family wouldn’t mock her for that for the rest of her existence?

December: Norah Jones – Not technically Christmas-specific, but full of wintery magic. Norah’s voice makes everything better, whether you’re working on the holidays or slushing through a blackened snowbank.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas: Judy Garland – A melancholy reminder that Christmas can be found wherever you are. Even if you find yourself working (like Zelda) or far from home (like Scout), there’s still cheer to be had if you’re surrounded by those you love (who may or may not share your gene pool). And if you’re really feeling down, ask your self WWJD (What Would Judy Do) and add a little Bailey’s to that hot chocolate.

All That I Want: The Weepies – This song might not have Christmas in the title, but from those first gentle sleigh bells you know it’s decidedly yuletide-y. A contemporary spin on “I Saw Three Ships,” this lovely little ballad is all that we want for Christmas. Makes a perfect soundtrack for decorating cookies on a snowy day.

Count Your Blessings: Bing Crosby & Rosemary Clooney – Another of Zelda’s favorite festive family traditions (try saying that five times fast) is the watching of “White Christmas” — the undisputed best Christmas movie ever (she’ll go to the mattresses on that one). This song isn’t explicitly holiday-y, but to her it sounds like setting out Lactaid (in our house, Santa is lactose intolerant), cookies, and carrots (for the reindeer, obviously).

Rock of Ages: Ben Kweller – Chanukah never sounded so cool! I mean really, if you think about it, the Jews have always been the indie kids of the religion world. Ben Kweller was just the first one to give us an appropriate sound. Bonus points if you can sing it in Hebrew.

Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer: Hank Green – As Scout wrote in her holiday traditions post last week, Hank Green is one of the awesomest awesome human beings on the internet (or, you know, in the world), for projects including the Project For Awesome. During last year’s Project, Hank released an album of holiday songs as a perk, which Zelda and Scout quickly snapped up. And while this song gives Zelda tap class flashbacks, we can’t help loving the kitschy tune, sung with Hank’s typical frenetic enthusiasm.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside: She & Him – We have some issues with this song. On the one hand, it’s sexist and not so great in the consent department. On the other hand, it’s super damn catchy. Which is why we love this gender swapped version from Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, which allows us to sing along without our inner liberal arts feminists squirming.

River: Joni Mitchell – For your emotional education. The holidays can be merry and bright, but all that nostalgia and family time (or lack thereof) can bring up a lot of feelings. And when the feels start to get you down, Joni is there to pick you back up. Also, this song makes us want to watch “You’ve Got Mail.” Don’t cry, Shopgirl.

Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth: Bing Crosby & David Bowie – This is one of Scout’s favorite Christmas song’s. It is also Zelda’s mom’s least favorite (at least the “Little Drummer Boy” part). So of course, whenever it comes on the radio, she and her siblings crank the volume way up and belt out those parum-pah-pum-pum’s with as much gusto as they can muster.

Winter Song: Sara Bareilles & Ingrid Michaelson – This lovely little number is one of our all-time favorite holiday tracks. From two of the prettiest voices around, it soothes our souls and has the power to bring peace on earth, or at least in our apartments. Zelda and Scout were lucky enough to see Ingrid perform the song live this fall (sadly, solo), and it was positively magical.

All I Want For Christmas Is You: Mariah Carey – The ultimate modern Christmas anthem. We also love the “Love Actually” version (duh), even if (then) 11-year old Olivia Olson’s incredible pipes do make us feel old and inadequate. Grab that hairbrush and belt it out, girl. Let that Christmas spirit move you. We won’t judge.

As always, you can listen along here, or we’re on YouTube and Spotify.