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Many people dread the coming of winter, the solstice, the shortening of days. In some ways, I crave winter. It’s my time to hibernate; to stay indoors unapologetically, to go to bed early and be awakened by a tip-toeing 3-year-old.

We were at the lake for the last two weeks and I steadily worked on my nesting PhD. So much so, that when Rodney arrived several days after us, he was shocked to find out that we’d barely set foot outside. The kids were happy, I was happy. We LEGOed, puzzled, cooked and watched nightly movies. Caught up on the classics: The STAR WARS trilogy and Back to the Future; The Parent Trap and Polyanna. We prepared for Christmas – the kids’ grandparents came to visit. We continued our nesting in full force: we ate; we traveled the globe one cocktail at a time: Manhattans, white Russians, apple cider Dark ‘n stormies.

It was the rest that I needed. The rest that we all needed. Unharried and unscheduled.

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‘Tis the time of year for baking, snuggling, Christmas-cake-eating, roaring-fire-making-and-setting-off-the-fire-alarming, and general hunkering, not otherwise specified. Which means logging off the computer for as much time as I can muster…Hope everyone is likewise enjoying the holiday season!

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It was an odd Christmas this year, fun, but odd. Mostly it was the weather’s fault, which was having an existential crisis and couldn’t decide if it wanted to be summer or winter.

On Sunday when we headed up to the lake, it felt hot in the car. Like really hot, put down the windows and strip down to a T-shirt hot. I turned on my mobile and saw this:

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Hmmm….I admit that I’ve never seen that in December, let alone November, but we went with it. When we got up to the lake, we ran down to the dock, eager to dip our toes in the water. Unfortunately the lake was still frozen.

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Unperturbed, we suited up and got ready for a few of our favorite summertime activities. Emma dug out her swimsuit, while I made myself a BLT.

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We considered breaking out the Slip ‘n Slide but figured that the ground might be too muddy, so we headed back inside to do another favorite summertime activity: decorate our Christmas tree. Pardon me, a favorite wintertime activity. Now you can see how confusing this was for everyone.

Tree decorating is really Lauren’s domain. She does it so well that I’m hands off about the whole thing. We end up with a bunch of bare spots and hand-drawn ornaments but it gives our tree a certain look that I’ve grown to love. My dad’s question: “Is your tree decorated?” Answer: “Yes.”

At last, just in time for Christmas, it snowed. Hard to believe that after a 70 degree day, we snuck in a white Christmas after all.

Christmas morning was the usual chaos. Toys were unwrapped and opened, game pieces went missing, pieces were retrieved, garbage bags were stuffed, pieces again went missing and were thought to be in the garbage bags, pieces were again found, cocktails were made, toys were defended, claims were staked.

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We’ve been looking forward to this all year: our annual visit to Macy’s to see Santa Claus. I’ve been bringing my kids to Macy’s since Lauren was 11 months old, making it 6 years running. And although there are plenty of options to see Santa in New York, you can’t beat this production. It’s over the top, from the life-sized toy trains, to the Nutcracker dancing bears. So each year, we brave the crowds and head up to 34th Street to experience a little Christmas miracle of our own.

Sam was pensive before our visit.

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ME: What’s up?

SAM: Are we going to Santa’s office?

ME: Yes.

SAM: Is Santa mad at me?

ME: Why are you asking that?

SAM: Because you were mad at me yesterday.

ME: Why did I get mad at you?

SAM: Because I was sitting on Emma.

ME: Santa probably wouldn’t like that. But I don’t think he’s going to be mad at you. What are you going to ask Santa for?

SAM: Transformers.

ME: What else?

SAM: Um, uh, Flashlight Friends?

ME: Is there anything else? I think you had a list, right? Here it is. You listed Transformers, Optimus Prime, Autobot, a Helmet, Thundercracker, Flashlight Friend, and a penguin.

SAM: And chocolate.

ME: Perfect, what do you think he’s going to say?

SAM: Um, I’m mad at you?

After promising that Santa wouldn’t be mad at him, we had a quick lunch at home. Midway through lunch Sam panicked that he’d forgotten to add Pete The Cat to his list. So he found higher ground and yelled to Santa that he also wanted “Pete the Cat Saves Christmas.”

I reminded him that we were heading up to Santa’s office shortly and that he could pass on the message in person.

So we bundled up and hit the road.

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If you’ve been following my blog for some time, you’ll know that I’m not the world’s enthusiastic baker. While I can put together some decent final product, I don’t love the process – the smell of raw flour, butter, eggs and sugar; the precision; things like oven hot spots, candy thermometers, and measuring spoons. Give me a cast iron pot and a hunk of beef any day of the week and I’ll be in a much more pleasant mood.

But when December rolls around, it’s hard not to get caught up in all of the baking frenzy. So every year I put down my guard, pick up my sifter, and jump on the baking bandwagon. Here’s my problem though: after a week or two I’m winded. Too much sugar, too much measuring. I can only do so much.

That being said, my kids are starting to think that I’m a one-woman bakery who opens a pop up shop for the holidays. I set the precedent one year, and once you go big, it’s tough to go home. There were cookies for Santa, birthday cakes and cupcakes, peppermint bark; there might have even been a fruitcake.

So I had to figure out a solution to get through it all. A method to keep the volume high, but my sanity in check. And one year, in a gingerbread-making class, I stumbled on the solution.

Drumroll please…..It’s called Royal icing.

OK, not such a big surprise since you saw it in the title.

Did I disappoint you? I hope not. And if I did, it’s either because you’re frightened to death of using it, or because you’re a Royal icing black belt and were hoping for something a little more innovative. This might be a good time for me to remind you that me baking innovation. If you’re looking for that, I highly suggest you check out Joy the Baker or Naomi at Bakers Royale.

But jaded baker, I do have some fun uses for Royal icing, so you might as well stick around for this one post while you’re here. And for the rest of you who want some ideas on how to use it, read on. We’re getting down and dirty with Royal icing today, so roll up your sleeves. And by the way, it’s all kid-friendly so that you can actually get a hand with this stuff.

Royal icing always seemed a little scary to me. It was in a class of substances, along with fondant, which seemed like too much work, the domain of wedding cake designers and holiday cookie artisans.

But then I started to use it. And I realized that you can be really stuffy about how you apply Royal icing, or you can say to hell with it, and start splashing it around on just about anything. It can be died different colors, spread thick or thin, used to make delicate little lines, or giant wobbly ones.

You can use it to glue all kinds of fun candies and treats to your baked goods – always a hit with the kids: attach tiny colorful sprinkles, jelly beans, Lifesavers, even Hershey’s kisses. Nothing is too big – Royal icing is like cement when it dries. I might even use it to hang wall art.

Is it as edible as buttercream? Not even close, but here is why Royal icing is so much better to have on hand for the holidays:

You can make it in advance. As in waaaay in advance. Weeks. Probably months, although I’ve never gone that long. Just mix up a big batch of the stuff early in December, tie it off into separate piping bags, and you are all set for all kinds of adventures.

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And the great thing about Royal icing is that it’s easy for the kids to use. Buttercream can be a bit finicky and messy. They’ll have so much more control with Royal icing. They can use it straight from the piping bags if you show them how to hold and squeeze. Or you can pipe some of it into a bowl, thin it out with a little water, and use it like a glaze.

And last, but not least, your baked goods will keep at room temp, no fridge needed. They’ll be easy to transport and gift. Given how easy it is to mix a batch of this stuff (just add water), and how well it keeps, you’d be crazy to not keep it on your counter, ready to go throughout the holidays. (Just don’t put it into the fridge where it will harden into something that will cut diamond).

Want to see what we’ve been up to for the past month with our stash of Royal icing? Here are 5 fun things to do with your kids:

1. The traditional gingerbread house…

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