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Our First Christmas Tree - Brown Butter Blondies

Our First Christmas Tree - Brown Butter Blondies

December 2015

Our First Christmas Tree

It doesn’t feel like Christmas. Not yet, anyway. It could be because it will be 75 degrees in D.C. tomorrow, Christmas Eve, with projected thunderstorms. When are there ever thunder storms in December? Or because it’s tough to get excited when it’s uncertain if we can go up to New Hampshire for Christmas. Congress is notorious for saving major pieces of legislation for the last minute. My boss put in our Outlook calendar, “No one take off!” anticipating yet another government shutdown. Fortunately, crisis adverted, and we have Christmas off. 

But now we’re off to New Hampshire. It’s hard to comprehend this will be my fourth Christmas. At this point, they are already starting to blur. In a good way. In a way that symbolizes it feels natural, easy, a tradition. However, this year feels so much more official. It will be out first Christmas together being engaged. We started our own Christmas traditions. We bought a tree! A real one!

Walking home from Whole Foods with our first tree

Walking home from Whole Foods with our first tree

Well, in a way that is so very indicative of the area in which we live in. It’s a mini tree, about three or four feet tall. From the Whole Foods down the street. But hey, at least it’s real. Arlington, specifically the Clarendon and Court House area, is saturated by young millennials. Will and I know we won’t be in this area forever, but we also both agree it’s right for this moment. It’s where the opportunity is. So Whole Foods caters to the demographic—mini trees to the young couples in apartments. And we partake. Regardless, it is our first tree! And my first tree…ever!

Setting up our tree

Setting up our tree

And decorating

And decorating

The weekend we got the tree became the weekend that revolved around the damn tree. The lights! The tree skirt! The ornaments! It seemingly never ended. We ran errands, picking up stockings and the materials to make my annual chocolate rice krispies and treats to give out to my coworkers and neighbors.

Annual holiday treats

Annual holiday treats

It's a lot. And a novelty to me: Tending to the tree, ensuring it stays alive. We both have brown thumbs. Literally, Will says of himself. Once we picked up the tree, and the seemingly endless accessories that accompany it, we raced home to set it up.


Additionally, I deemed it imperative we have homemade cookies while we strung on the lights and hung the ornaments. The blondies are so easy, no dividing the batter into individual cookies, more of a dump and press method. The brown butter, however, adds complexity and depth. Notes of toffee. They are crumbly, but I still undercook them for a soft cookie texture. We had the blondies, decorated the tree with ornaments I had been collecting the past three years, anticipating we would one day have our own tree, our own traditions.


Per my boss’s suggestion, I bought a Capitol Christmas tree ornament each year: we now have three. So, the tree is heavily decorated with Capitol paraphernalia. But, then again, it’s emblematic of this moment in our life, in D.C. Our first Christmas together. Our first Hanukkah together! I broke out the menorah for the first time this year. Together, we are starting out with our own family traditions.


Brown Butter Blondies

Serves: 16 squares

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

  • ½ cup, plus 2 tbsp. unsalted butter

  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar

  • 1 large egg

  • 1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract

  • ½ tsp. baking powder

  • ¼ tsp. baking soda

  • Salt

  • 1 heaping cup chocolate chips


  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

  • Melt 2 tbsp. butter in an 8-inch square pan

  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda

  • In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium-high heat until melted. Continue to cook the butter, swirling the pan often, until the milk solids turn golden brown and the butter smells nutty, about 5 minutes

  • Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool for a minute or two

  • Stir in the brown sugar until smooth

  • Stir in the egg and the vanilla extract

  • Stir in the flour mixture, then the chocolate chips

  • The batter will be thick, but scoop into the prepared pan

  • Use an offset spatula to smooth the dough to an even thickness

  • Bake until the dough is just puffed and a toothpick inserted into the center come out with moist crumbs attached, 20 minutes

  • Let cool and cut into squares and serve

*Recipe adapted from Samantha Seneviratne, Love, Cake (2015)

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