There are not enough words for me to say how much I love the holidays. Every part of it, from the cards to the decorating to the parties to the cooking to the gifting, makes me incredibly happy. One of my absolute favorite things, however, is getting a tree. It’s a tradition I fell in love with in childhood, and the love has only grown stronger over the years.
When I was little the process of getting the tree was an all-day affair. We’d bundle up and head out, hot chocolate and cookies in hand, in search of the best tree (this alone could take a while…#mymomisaperfectionist). Then, after getting it home, trimmed and in its stand, it was time to decorate. My Mom would pull out all kinds of appetizers and fun drinks (Bubbly apple cider for me and my sister!) and more Christmas cookies and we’d set to work, feasting and trimming the tree well into the evening.
I couldn’t help but carry on this beloved tradition with me as I got older. While it’s a bit harder cutting down your own tree here in NYC (for obvious reasons), luckily there are a few tree farms within reasonable driving distance. So, just like when I was little, we tend to make a day of it, packing up hot chocolate and snacks and hitting the road to get our Christmas tree.
This year I made a spiced hot chocolate (kind of like a happy chai-meets-hot-chocolate mix, minus any tea) and the most incredible cranberry olive oil muffins for us. Not to brag or anything, but these may legit be the best muffins I’ve ever made! They are incredibly moist and the flavors all work so well together without being overpowering. I typically give leftover baked goods to Mr.RC to take to work but these were so good, I hoarded all the leftovers at home (if that gives any indication as to just how yummy they were)! They were a perfect snack for our tree cutting day and paired so well with the hot chocolate, but I’m definitely planning to make them for Christmas morning breakfast, as they’d also be delicious with a side of scrambled eggs and bacon. (You can find the hot chocolate and muffin recipes at the bottom of this post.)
Now if you know me at all, then you know I’m all about the complete package, not just the activity or the food and drinks. So, naturally, when it comes to the tree cutting process, you know I have to coordinate my outfit. I knew as soon as I saw this sweater from J.McLaughlin that it was the sweater for this year. It just screams cozying up for winter activities like no other sweater does and it’s so incredibly warm. I layered it with their Arlette turtleneck (which you might recognize from this post) and wore these pants (so comfortable and they fit like a glove). The best part of layering up for the winter is, of course, the accessories. These gorgeous leather gloves and fur headband (which would make great gifts, fyi) and my thermos of hot chocolate were perfect for completing my Christmas tree cutting look. Ok, let’s be real, it’s more like my “finding the perfect tree for Mr.RC to cut” look, but believe me, finding the tree alone, still requires the proper fuel and the perfect outfit!
Do you guys have any Christmas tree cutting or tree trimming traditions?
SPICED HOT CHOCOLATE
- ¼ cup cocoa powder
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ¼ teaspoon each all-spice, ground cloves and salt
- Dash of nutmeg
- 3 cups milk
- Marshmallows or whipped cream, for garnish (if desired)
Add all ingredients to a saucepan and whisk together until everything is smooth and no cocoa powder lumps remain. Cook over medium heat for 7-10 minutes, or until hot. Pour into a thermos (to take for later) or mugs (to enjoy now). When you’re ready to serve it, garnish with marshmallows or whipped cream, if desired.
CRANBERRY OLIVE OIL MUFFINS WITH WALNUT CRUMB TOPPING
yields 6 large muffins or 12 regular muffins
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 4 eggs
- Zest of 1 large orange
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- ¾ cup olive oil
- 1 ¾ cup flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ¼ cup fresh cranberries
- 2 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¼ cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
- ½ cup flour
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- A pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease (or line) your muffin tins and set aside.
Start by making the topping. Melt the butter in a small, microwave-safe bowl. Add in the walnuts, flour, brown sugar and salt and stir to form a crumbly mixture. Set aside.
Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer, add the granulated sugar, eggs orange zest and rosemary. Beat, on medium speed, until creamy and well-mixed, about 2-3 minutes. Add in the milk and balsamic, mix for 30 seconds, then add in the olive oil and continue mixing. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt and begin incorporating it into the batter on low speed. When the dry ingredients are about half way mixed in, add the cranberries and finish stirring everything together by hand.
Spoon the mixture evenly into the muffin tins. Finish with a sprinkling of topping mixture, then bake for 35-40 minutes (for large muffins) or 25-30 minutes (for regular muffins), or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.
Allow the muffins to cool slightly before serving. Store leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
PHOTOS BY DAVID LEVINE
Thank you to J.McLaughlin for sponsoring today’s post.