At the first hint of chill in the air, my thoughts turn to Christmas. My mind and heart begin to fill with visions of sugar plums indeed. My weekly menu turns decidedly toward comfort food and I begin rummaging in my brain for homemade Christmas gift ideas for my loved ones. I begin hauling out first the autumn decorations and later the Christmas, decking my halls and every other available surface. I take delight in the season, the magic, wonder and glory of it all. This blog was born from that delight. Here you will find dinner ideas, crafts, decor, stories, memories, and music. Some ideas will be entirely mine, but I will also include anything cute I come across that I think you might like to see, credit given to the creator or source. Please leave me your ideas in the comments and any other feedback you'd like to give.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Moms Chocolates- Photos

As promised I'm posting pictures from candy making day. This post features Mom's Chocolates. As I mentioned when I posted the recipe, this can be a little time consuming. I decided to experiment this year. I spread the chocolate coating in a pan, popped it into the freezer for a couple minutes to harden quickly, pulled it out and pressed in the flavored filling, spread more coating on top, popped it into the freezer for another couple minutes, and then cut them. It worked pretty well actually and was MUCH quicker than dipping.

The mixture is very dry and stiff. It takes some time to knead it to a point where it is smooth and creamy.

It works best if you knead it in small sections, then just flavor each individually.

Shape small bits of the mixture.

Dip, set on wax paper to dry.

Or layer in a pan and cut.

This makes A LOT. I still have a lump of filling to coat. I'll probably do it in a pan again. Happy candy making!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Cinnamon Rolls

I tried a new cinnamon roll recipe a couple days ago. My old recipe seemed to turn out rather dry cinnamon rolls more often than I liked. It seemed the stars had to be aligned just right for the rolls to be soft and moist. So I decided it was time to find a new recipe. Just about at that time I happened to be perusing the fabulous recipes at Prudence Pennywise. Lo and behold, there was a recipe for gooey cinnamon rolls. So I tried it out and my family loved them. In fact, both the kids and my husband asked me if they were completely homemade (whatever that means!) because they have more of a Pillsbury consistency. So if you're into that, give these a try. I won't copy the recipe, I'm just going to send you right on over to Prudence Pennywise because you should really check out her blog. It's fantastic.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Two More Book Suggestions

Wednesday I hosted a book club in my home. We had decided that for December we would get together for a cookie exchange and to share our favorite children's Christmas book. We had a lovely time and I added a couple books to my Must Purchase Immediately list.

The first is one I had already put on my list for this year.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski. This is the tale of how love and the miracle of Christ's birth (was that redundant?) transform the life of a lonely and bitter woodcarver as he completes a commissioned nativity set. This is a beautiful and touching story that shows how the love of Christ changes lives, why His birth was essential to us all. Look for it at bookstores or order it here.

The second is one I just found out about. Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost with illustrations by Susan Jeffers.
I've always loved this poem by Robert Frost and Susan Jeffers has illustrated it beautifully, throwing in a Christmas twist by making the narrator a Santa looking fellow. Look for it at bookstores or order it here.

Now, go grab a Christmas book and some hot cocoa and settle in for a good read!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Crinkle Cookies

About a month or so ago, we had lunch at a little restaurant here in town called Blue Sky Cafe. The kids meals came with their choice of a cookie. We were on our way out when we remembered the cookies so I picked one for them. I chose a delightful looking Chocolate Crinkle cookie. It was exquisite. (Yes, I also ate it.) I told Lincoln I wanted to go back to the restaurant and ask for the recipe. To my surprise and delight, in my next issue of Cooking Light magazine, they had a recipe for Chocolate Crinkle cookies. I made them exactly according to the recipe and they were fantastic. The one from the restaurant was thicker, so next time I'm going to experiment with larger cookies and baking time, but here is the basic recipe for you. You can decide if you want to play with it or not.

Chocolate Crinkles

Lightly coat your hands with flour to make rolling the dough into balls easier. The dough freezes well. Freeze the dough after step 1, thaw in the refrigerator, then proceed with step 2.

4.5 oz all-purpose flour (about 1 cup)
1 1/4 C powdered sugar, divided
1/4 C unsweetened cocoa
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
5 1/4 teaspoons canola oil
1 1/2 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3/4 C packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons light-colored corn syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large egg whites

1) Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups. Level with a knife. Combine flour, 3/4 C powdered sugar, cocoa, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; stir with a whisk. Combine oil and chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat; cook until chocolate melts, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Pour chocolate mixture into a large bowl; cool 5 minutes. Stir in brown sugar, syrup, and vanilla. Add egg whites, stirring with a whisk. Add flour mixture to egg mixture, stirring gently just until combined. Cover; chill at least 2 hours or overnight.

2) preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3) Roll dough into one inch balls. Dredge in remaining 1/2 cup of powdered sugar; place balls 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, or until tops are cracked and almost set. Cool cookies on pan 2 minutes or until set; remove from pan. Cool cookies on a wire rack.

Yield: 2 dozen

Happy baking!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hanging Nativity

If you're like me, you run out of empty spaces to set Christmas decorations. Luckily, you can get this simple hanging Nativity. I love it. Buy it here.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Great Source

Are you one of those cool folks who is into digital scrapbooking? I'm not. I TOTALLY wish that I was, but I've always been a little intimidated by it. But see that button over to the right there? That will take you to a great online sight, Simply Scrapping. You'll be able to get design ideas, watch a tutorial (great for newbies like me), and order prints. This is a great idea for your ever so cute Christmas newsletter. Get on it quick! Time is slipping away!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Mom's Chocolates

These candies are as much a part of Christmas for me as candy canes (or gingerbread, for that matter!) My mother has made these for years to give away as gifts and to keep in a candy dish on the cardboard mantle. The centers are a powdered sugar and condensed milk mixture flavored however you like. Mom would do green wintergreen flavor, pink cherry flavor, white peppermint flavor, and orange colored flavored like lemon. I'm kidding, they were orange flavored, of course. Sometimes she would have two colored the same and would simply shape them differently. I've not been very good about making these regularly, but I'm trying to be better, for tradition's sake. If you do these in candy molds they can be rather time consuming, you see. But perhaps I will simply shape them into balls and and dip them this year. I'll post pictures after I make them, assuming I remember to TAKE pictures.

Mom's Cream Chocolates

1 Can condensed milk
3 lbs powdered sugar
2 T corn syrup
8 T (1 stick) melted butter

Mix together, knead until smooth and creamy. (This takes a while, it's pretty dense.) Divide into sections, color and flavor as desired, to taste. Shape, put on a cookie sheet, cover with wax paper, freeze for a few minutes. Dip in chocolate. Place on wax paper to dry. (Or put in candy molds. The best way to do this is to buy a new paintbrush and paint the chocolate into the empty molds. Put it in the freezer to harden. Once hardened remove from freezer and press candy mixture into mold and cover with more chocolate. Freeze it to harden again, then pop them out of the molds. Store in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to give away or serve.)

Happy candy making!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Christmas Tag...

My friend Stephanie at Diapers and Divinity just did this Christmas tag and I thought it would be fitting to do it here on my Christmas blog. So here goes:

Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate?

Hot chocolate for sure. With peppermint patties melted in it. And whipped cream on top. And a candy cane for a swizzle stick.

Does Santa wrap presents or set them under the tree?

Santa sets the gifts unwrapped under the tree.

Colored lights on tree or white?

Our tree has colored lights- I'm attached to that tradition from my youth. We have had 2 Christmas trees in the past, one family tree with colored lights and one formal tree with white lights and my fancy decorations.

When do you put your decorations up?

Day after Thanksgiving. Now that I live in the frosty north again the outdoor decorations go up right after Halloween while it's still warm, (if i remember to do it). We don't turn the lights on 'til after Thanksgiving though (unless the kids are outside playing and plug them in).

What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?

Ham. When I was a kid I always asked for ham for my birthday dinner. LOVE the ham.

Favorite Holiday memory as a child:

We would do The Twelve Days Of Christmas each year for someone elderly or alone at the holidays. Sneaking up and leaving a gift at their door was exciting and it filled me with the Christmas spirit. Secretly serving is wonderful for that.

Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?

Some years we do the PJs on Christmas Eve thing, but we're not consistent.

How do you decorate your Christmas tree?

It's definitely an eclectic family tree. Homemade decorations, purchased ornaments, colored lights, ornaments from my childhood, school project ornaments, it's all there. I think it's very cozy and homey.

Snow! Love it or Dread it?

Honestly, I love it. Ask me about frigid below zero too cold to snow weather. Not a fan.

Can you ice skate?

Yes. I'm not great at it, but I spent a lot of time as a child ice skating on the frozen pond on the neighbor's farm. I also remember skating up and down the brook behind our house. That was bumpy and you had to watch for rocks jutting above the surface of the ice, but it was fun and convenient.

Do you remember your favorite gift?

Hmmmmm. My brother Bryan got me a white teddy bear one year. It really meant so much to me. I still have it.

What's the most important thing about the Holidays for you?

Being with family. My absolute favorite part of Christmas is Christmas Eve when we read the scriptural account of Christ's birth and sing Christmas hymns together.

What is your favorite Holiday Dessert?

Oh boy, do I really have to pick just one? Mom's chocolate pie. That's Christmas in a pastry crust.

What is your favorite tradition?

Christmas Eve. (see above) We also eat crackers and cheese and drink wassail on Christmas Eve. I love the wonder of the Christmas story, the magic and anticipation of Christmas morning.

Which do you prefer, Giving or Receiving?

I love giving, it's definitely the most rewarding. But I will admit that I get so touched when someone gives me a thoughtful gift. You know, something you know they put a lot of love and thought into.

What is your favorite Christmas Song?

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. I think. I love Christmas music.

Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum?

Yum. Especially if they are a little stale so they are hard but chewy. Do you know what I'm talking about?

Ever recycled a Christmas present?

I think so. I think we recycled something Lincoln got from a coworker one year.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I'm Back

I've just returned from a fairly lengthy Thanksgiving vacation. I was able to travel to my parents' home in NY for 10 days. It was lovely to be with family, eating good food and playing games. Of course, now here we are plunged right into the Christmas season. I promise to get on the ball and have some savory nuggets here for you!
Enjoy the holiday and make each moment count!

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Season Is Upon Us!

Now that things are really heating up I can't seem to find time to blog! Never fear, I still have a few treasures for you. Today I want to share a few pictures of a gingerbread garland I made. This is one of my very favorite crafts to do for the holidays. The beads for the garland are made from the recipe I posted here. For the round(ish) beads,

roll the dough into 1 inch tall egg shapes. Bake at 350 for about 8 minutes. I have found that turning the oven off and leaving them in there for a while longer helps them to harden nicely. (Don't burn them, let your oven cool a bit if they continue to darken.) They will have flattened out into rounded discs. Once they are hard and cool, take two discs and stick the flattened sides together with a little bit of icing. Let it harden. Then you can decorate them however you like. I have found it is easiest to then simply drill a hole through the bead for stringing it on the fishing line. For the oblong beads,

roll out an 8 inch snake of dough, wrap it tightly in tin foil, bake at 350, also for 8 minutes. When the dough has cooled a bit but is still soft, cut it into 1 1/2 inch lengths. At this point I find it helps to put them back in a very slow (185 degree) oven until they harden. Decorate and drill as you did the round beads. For the stars,

roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness, cut out star shapes, bake as you did the other beads. Drill. String the beads along with nuts, cranberries, dried orange slices, and whatever else you think might look great.

This garland has a warm spicy scent, especially when displayed with a string of lights that warms it up just a bit. The lights will also create a glow through the dried oranges.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Sugar Cookies and Cocoa...

...does it get any better than that? In our family, sugar cookie creating has always been a big event in the weeks leading up to Christmas. An evening is set aside to mix, roll, cut, and decorate Christmas cookie masterpieces. The third Christmas after we were married, my husband and I spent an evening doing just that. We had only one small child, to young to want to be involved in the decorating, so we were able to spend lots of time making our cookies spectacular. After we had made and decorated dozens of cookies, we left them on the table to harden while we went to do a little shopping. When we returned we discovered that the dog had eaten or knocked to the floor almost every one of them! We had never had a problem with the dog eating food off tables or counters so we never even saw it coming! Live and learn. Now it's the five kids we have to worry about! That same Christmas a friend brought us the best sugar cookies I had ever had. They were soft, perfectly sweet, and pretty light. I asked her for the recipe and she refused to give it to me! After that I was on a quest to find the perfect sugar cookie recipe. Luckily, several years later I became friends with someone willing to share their recipe. A big shout out to my friend Michelle in NC for giving me this fantastic recipe!

Michelle's Sugar Cookies
(This recipe makes a million. If you're making to share that's great. If you want plenty for your family and a few friends, halve the recipe.)

1 C shortening
1 C butter
4 C sugar
Cream together, add 4 eggs
Sift: 12 C flour
1 tsp salt
12 tsp baking powder
Add: 2 C milk
2 tsp. vanilla

Use lots of flour to roll out 1/8" thick. Bake at 375 degrees for about 5 1/2 minutes. (You can roll them a little thicker and bake a minute longer. They should be set but not browning.)

(Frosts half of the cookie recipe)
3 C powdered sugar
1/3 C butter
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 T milk

Beat until smooth

What good is a fresh batch of sugar cookies without some yummy hot cocoa?

Hot Mint Malt
(From my friend Carrie in NC)
6 York Peppermint Patties
5 C milk
1/2 C chocolate malted milk powder
1 tsp vanilla
whipped cream

Combine everything but the whipped cream in a crockpot. Heat on low for 2 hours. Beat with a rotary beater until frothy. Pour into cups; top with whipped cream and garnish with festive sprinkles or chocolate shavings. Be creative! Makes 6 servings. ( If you can't find the malted milk powder, use any hot chocolate mix.)

This is great to throw together before a caroling party so you can come home to hot minty cocoa.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Peanuts Holiday Specials

I just read an article online about these wonderful holiday classics. The Peanuts Holiday Specials are so much a party of the holiday season for me that I thought it was not only appropriate but necessary to include a post about them here. Read the article first because Ms. Stevens puts it better than I could ever hope to.
I remember my parents planning holiday cookie baking around a primetime holiday special airing. We got very little television, so whatever special might be airing on one of our two channels was a major event. We didn't have cable, we didn't even have a VCR for most of my youth, so catching one of these events was incredibly memorable. As parents, my husband and I added the Peanuts Holiday Specials to our collection very early on, when our first child was still a baby. We've had mixed feelings over the years about how often they should be viewed. Should it be a once a season event like it was for us? Will that make it more special in their memories? Or do we watch it repeatedly throughout the season, making it a an integral part of that month? So far this season we have watched It's The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown about three times. We are into November and have not yet watched the Thanksgiving Special. I guess it doesn't really matter. Either way, these movies will hold a place in the hearts of our children just as they have in the hearts of children for nearly 45 years now. I love their simplicity, their honesty, their humor. Share them with your children, cringe when they call each other stupid, eat a sugar cookie, and love them for what they are- nostalgic classics.
(Purchase these most anywhere movies are sold.)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Cute Stuff From Pottery Barn

Am I the only one who thinks these plates are super cute and quirky? And this mega advent calendar is so fun. I'm planning on trying to copy it and make it myself this year. It is of very basic construction and I'm sure could be completed for much less than $70. Buy them here and here.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I Love this team!

Are you familiar with the dynamic husband/wife writer/illustrator team of Wende and Harry Devlin? Together they wrote and illustrated some of my very favorite children's book. I always turn to them this time of year as I gravitate toward tradition and nostalgia. When I was a child our family owned Cranberry Thanksgiving, How Fletcher Was Hatched, Old Witch and the Polka-Dot Ribbon. I've begun my own collection of these delightful books and recently added Cranberry Christmas to the shelf. These homey books are worth the purchase, but go ahead and start out by going to the library and checking out as many Devlin titles as you can get your hands on. Believe me, once you get started you'll want to keep going. The Cranberry holiday stories come with a recipe from the book. It's a great way for kids to participate in the holiday. Have them read Cranberry Christmas aloud at your gathering and then let them serve Maggie's Favorite Cranberry Cookies that they have made ahead of time. It's fun, educational, and makes for great memories. In fact, I would also recommend taking some photos of them in the process so you can assemble a holiday memory book for them.
If you're ready to take the plunge, you can buy them here.

Monday, October 27, 2008

An Advent Calendar

It will soon be that time. Time to put out an Advent Calendar in anticipation of the The Big Event. If you're feeling extravagant, check out this one from FAO Schwarz. I didn't put in a direct link because they seem to be out of stock- despite the $1,125 price tag. This is a beautiful, handmade, wooden advent calendar from Germany. Gorgeous, right?


This past Friday we had a Halloween Party in our home. I made this big ol' pile of doughnuts to feed to the masses. These doughnuts are the ones my Mom always made, and my grandmother and perhaps her mother before her. Not sure how far back it goes, but it is a delightful old-fashioned mashed potato doughnut recipe. Now, admittedly, this is more of a fall recipe in my memory. Mom would often make doughnuts for us to dunk in cider as we carved jack-o-lanterns the week of Halloween. However, these are equally at home dunked in wassail on Christmas Eve, or served with jam alongside perfect pancakes on Christmas morning. Nothing beats these fresh from the grease while the outer shell is still crisp and the center soft and warm. Just like any doughnut, they are best fresh, though for jams and dunking it doesn't really matter. The nutmeg and hint of ginger add to the robust down-home flavor of these sentimental favorites. Try them out and let me know what you think!

Mashed Potato Doughnuts

1 C white sugar
2 eggs
1 C sour milk (can use buttermilk or 1 C milk with 1 T vinegar)
4 T oil
1 T vinegar
1 C mashed potatoes
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp nutmeg (or to liking)
pinch of salt
pinch of ginger (to keep from soaking grease)
Flour to make a soft dough (This can be the tricky part. Add enough flour that the dough is no longer sticky, but still soft and very pliable. Err on the side of too soft. You can add more flour as you roll them out if they are still too sticky to roll.)

Roll thick (about 1/2 inch) and cut. Fry in deep, hot grease (about 400 degrees) and turn. Set out on paper towels to soak up any grease. My aunt Mary says she chills the dough for several hours to help with rolling out. And my Mom says if you remove them from the grease and immediately plunge them quickly in boiling water it helps repel grease. I think the ginger sufficiently does the trick, but if you find they are still too greasy for your liking, give that a try.

***Edited to add: The boiling water trick works quite well. I've done it a couple times now and it really makes a difference. However, the doughnuts don't turn out quite as crisp.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Gingerbread- Finally!

Considering the title of this blog, I figured it was high time I gave you my favorite Gingerbread Ornament recipe. Gingerbread ornaments are kind of my thing. I LOVE making things with gingerbread. I like how they look, how they smell, and how they make me feel. Several years ago I went on a quest, an Internet quest, searching for the perfect recipe. One that gave the ornaments the right smell and texture for my preferences. After all that searching the answer came to me in the mail. Of course, you may have different preferences, but give this recipe a try and see if you like it. Some recipes I found were very difficult to work with, but this one works up easily and holds up well after it is done. So here it is folks, straight from Better Homes and Gardens. I found this in the December 2003 issue of their magazine.

Gingerbread Dough for Decorations
3 1/2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/2 C butter or margarine, softened
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C light molasses
1/2 C water

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in molasses. Stir in water. Stir in flour mixture. If dough gets too stiff, use your hands. Separate dough into four balls. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 2 to 3 hours. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface. For best results, roll dough and cut shapes directly on a baking tray. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Cool completely or overnight on a flat cooling rack, so cookies are very hard.

Royal Icing (For decorating only)
In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 pound confectioner's sugar with 3 egg whites and 1/2 tsp cream of tartar. Beat until the mixture is stiff and forms peaks. Keep the icing in a bowl, covered with a damp paper towel and a layer of plastic wrap. Store icing in the refrigerator when not in use.

You can use this recipe to make gingerbread men, angels, stars,etc, or you can make gingerbread beads and string them with cranberries, dried orange slices (1/4 inch slices in a 185 degree oven for 6-8 hours), and nuts. Use your imagination!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Family Traditions

I grew up in a family that loves traditions, especially at Christmas time. For example, we did NOT listen to Christmas music until midnight Thanksgiving night. But at the stroke of midnight, we loaded up the old record player with a pile of our holiday favorites and then spent most of the rest of the night playing games with Christmas music in the background. To this day it feels like heresy if I sneak a listen before then. (Luckily this blog gives me an excuse!) And, along those same lines, I have a really hard time accepting versions of Christmas songs sung by contemporary artists (read Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston). If it's not Bing Crosby it's just not the real thing. Another long-standing tradition is breakfast on Christmas morning. My Mom has always made her perfect pancakes on this magical morn. She has a huge cast iron griddle that she heats on the stove and then stands red-cheeked over it as she pours and flips her way to a giant pile of warm, fragrant pancakes. Of course, she's also cooking sausage and bacon and maybe even eggs at the same time, the aroma sizzling and warm and steamy on a frosty winter morning. When I was a child, we had to wait for Dad to do the chores and breakfast to be eaten before we could open any gifts or even see what Santa had brought. So unlike other children that popped out of bed before dawn on Christmas morning, we slept as long as we possibly could. (Thoughtful, I know. Sleeping as Mom cooked and Dad did the chores!) I can remember the hot griddle setting off the smoke alarm, serving as our wake up call. I remember my eyes popping open at the sound and the memory of the occasion setting in. What excitement and anticipation followed as I would leap out of my bed into the frigid upstairs air. Cold air upstairs made for a rapid descent down the stairs to the warm kitchen where all the delicious aromas were mingling and teasing. There's nothing like a jolly Christmas morning- and gifts waiting to be opened- to get kids in the mood to help things along. But despite our best efforts it always seemed like it took Dad forever in the barn and we would have to wait for him. I don't remember ever considering going out to the barn to help. Too bad I didn't read Christmas Day In The Morning sooner! Finally he would come and we would sit down to the tantalizing breakfast Mom had prepared. Now I make Mom's pancakes on Christmas morning, and just like when I was a kid, it doesn't matter what else is served. Pancakes are the main attraction. Perfect, soft, golden brown pancakes hot off the griddle, swimming in Mom's homemade pure maple syrup.

Mom's Perfect Pancakes
2 C flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 T sugar
1 egg
1 tsp melted shortening or oil
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 C milk (or add to desired consistency. This is where the artistry comes in. In order to have them turn out like Mom's you have to add nearly 2xs that amount of milk. But you have to eye it, get it just runny enough without being too runny. It may take some practice.)

RECIPE NOTE: These should be eaten with REAL maple syrup. Don't even get me started on those plasticky imitations. Oh- and if it didn't come from a maple tree in the form of sap originally, it is NOT real maple syrup.

Good luck!

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Unique Gift!

OK, Family History buffs, children of family history buffs, spouses, siblings, grandchildren, grandparents, friends, parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews of Family History buffs, this one's for you. This is a very cool opportunity to give a gift that shows off all the hard work your favorite Family History buff has put into gathering names for genealogy records. Check out this new approach to the traditional family tree, truly a work of art worthy of prominent display in your family room. You'll find other great Family History gifts here as well.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Get Creative!

Last year I decided I wanted to make my own gift tags/cards for teacher and neighbor gifts. I'm not a scrapbooker, so I didn't have lots of cute little gadgets and papers to work with. Instead, I went to the crafty scrapbooky section at Walmart and picked up a one pound scrap package of cardstock, choosing a pack that looked to have the colors I wanted. I went home and gathered useful items I had in my craft closet- twine, felt, ric-rac, glue, fabric scraps, yarn, scissors- and then I got creative. Anyone can do this, I promise. You don't have to come up with lots of different ideas. If you come up with one end product you like, save your template and make a whole bunch more like it. Here's what I came up with.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Love This Story!

Despite some technical difficulties yesterday and today, I'm back with a great recommendation. Have you read this one with your kids? This is a beautiful story by Pearl S. Buck, author of The Good Earth. If you've never read it, check it out from your local library, then buy it here, because you're going to want to have it in your home. This is possibly my favorite Christmas story ever, I cry every time! (I'm such a sap!)

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Fun Project

So you like to make handmade stuff, but have a hard time coming up with ideas yourself. That is my struggle as well. Last year I found this cute sill sitter block and made a bunch to give as teacher gifts. They are perfect for that as well as hostess and neighbor gifts. Don't forget to make one for you! These are easy and fun, just photocopy the template and you're off!

Easy step by step instructions and template.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Dinner Fare

My sister is preparing to host Thanksgiving dinner for the family of her beloved. There's never any pressure in that, right? She is looking for yummy suitable dishes to serve up to the crew. All she requested was "yummy", but I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume she also would like no fuss, traditional, and tried and true. So I'm including recipes that I have used myself and been very pleased with. These are dishes that use harvest vegetables and put them in their best light. So fire up the printer or go grab your recipe cards because these are truly worth trying.

My favorite cookbook I own is the White Dog Cafe Cookbook. The White Dog Cafe itself is in Philadelphia, PA. Author credit goes to Judy Wicks and Kevin Von Klause. Buy it here.

Caraway-roasted Vegetables
1 Large white onion, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 lb red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
4 T olive oil
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp rubbed sage
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
6 oz button mushrooms, cleaned
8 oz Brussels sprouts
2 T chopped fresh sage leaves
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 450 deg.
2. In a medium bowl, toss together the onion, potatoes, 2 T of the olive oil, 1 tsp each of the garlic and caraway seeds, and 1/2 tsp of the rubbed sage. Spread the vegetables in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and cooked through, about 25 minutes. Keep warm.
3. Meanwhile, using the same bowl, toss together the carrots, mushrooms, the remaining 2 T of the olive oil, the remaining 1 tsp each minced garlic and caraway seeds, and the remaining 1/2 tsp of rubbed sage. Spread the veggies in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast, stirring occasionally, until slightly golden and just tender, about 15 minutes. Keep warm.
4. While the veggies roast, bring 2 quarts of salted water to a boil. Trim the end off each Brussels sprout with a paring knife. Make two shallow incisions at the base of each, forming an X. Blanch the sprouts until just cooked through, about 4 minutes. To test the Brussels sprouts for doneness, remove 1 from the pot and cut it in half. If cooked through to the center, it's done. Drain and reserve.
5. Toss together the warm roasted vegetables and Brussels sprouts in a large bowl. Season with the chopped fresh sage, salt, and pepper. This dish tastes and looks best when served immediately. However, if necessary, let cool to room temp, cover, and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Reheat in a warm oven before serving.

I'm telling you, this cookbook is plum full of savory delights. If you don't want to get it for yourself, buy it as a Christmas gift for your favorite cook. I got it as a wedding gift and it has seen a lot of use these 10 years.

The next one is from Cooking Light, also a great recipe source online or in publication.

Honey-Roasted Acorn Squash Rings
2 acorn squash (about 3 lbs)
2 T honey
4 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
Cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
2. Cut 1/4 inch from stem and bottom of each squash and discard. Cut each squash in half crosswise. Discard the seeds and membrane. Cut each squash half crosswise into 2 (1-inch-thick) slices. Combine 2 T honey, 4 tsp olive oil, black pepper, and salt in a large bowl. Add squash and toss to coat. Place squash on a jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes or until tender. Serves 4.

I can't seem to find the recipe for the next one, but have no fear, you can do it without it. When making mashed potatoes, try mashing in some cooked cauliflower. It gives you an extra veggie, but also adds a wonderful earthy flavor to the spuds. I love this as a sneaky way to get cauliflower into my kids.

Here's a slightly less traditional spin on mushrooms that has become a Thanksgiving Dinner staple in our home. This is from the good ol' Better Homes and Gardens Prize-Winning Recipes.

Spicy Teriyaki Mushrooms
2 T sugar
2 T soy sauce
1 T white wine vinegar
1 T cooking oil
1/4-1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4-1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/8-1/4 tsp garlic powder
24 small mushroom (about 8 oz), halved
2 T sliced green onion

In a medium saucepan combine sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, oil, crushed red pepper, ginger, and garlic powder. Add mushrooms and green onion. Cook and stir over medium heat until heated through. Makes 4 servings.

Watch out, that one can get pretty spicy!

This last one I clipped from Parents Magazine some years ago.

Creamy Pumpkin Soup
4 T butter
1 large onion, finely chopped (though for my taste I prefer to back off a bit on the onion)
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 cans (14 1/2 oz each) reduced sodium chicken broth
1 C water
1 can (29 oz) solid-pack pumpkin
1 Golden Delicious apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 tsp gr. ginger
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp gr. nutmeg
1 C heavy cream

1. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and carrots; cook five minutes, until softened. Add broth, water, pumpkin, apple, ginger, salt, and nutmeg. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to med-low and simmer about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly.
2. Using a handheld blender, puree soup in pot, or puree in batches in a standing blender. ( Soup may be prepared up to 2 days ahead to this point.) Whisk in cream. Reheat gently. Ladle into a soup tureen.

To make a pumpkin tureen, heat oven to 375. Cut top off a 5 to 6 pound pumpkin. Scrape out the seeds and some pulp. Rinse inside with cold water; sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Replace top and roast 45 minutes, until pumpkin is slightly softened .

Hopefully that will get you started- let me know if you want other ideas. I'm actually in the process of organizing my recipes. What a task! As I come across others that fit the bill I'll include them here.

Happy cooking!

Is This So Gorgeous, Or What?

Find it here.
A bit pricey, but we can dream, right?

Is This So Cute, Or What?

Find it here.

Here We Come A-Wassailing!

Does anything say "Christmas Eve" better than hot wassail? OK, maybe not to everyone, but for me it certainly is the essence of Christmas Eve. My mother always made a big pot of this spicy, sweet, tangy, hot drink to be consumed Christmas Eve along with lots of delightful goodies. We drank it out of punch glasses, the swirling eddies of spices visible through the glass. The aroma alone is enough to cheer and warm the soul, but tasting and feeling it slide down truly warms from the inside out. I've had wassail made by other people, and they are all good, but none compares to the perfect combination of spicy, sweet, and tangy that my mother's recipe achieves. This is the recipe she has always made on Christmas Eve and the one I use now. Try it out. Make up a big batch for a sledding party, a caroling party, or, of course, a quiet Christmas Eve.

Mom's Wassail
1 Gallon apple cider
1 C light or dark brown sugar
1 6oz can lemonade concentrate
1 6 oz can orange juice
1 T whole cloves
1 T whole allspice
1 tsp ground nutmeg

Mix together with cloves and allspice tied in cheesecloth. Simmer covered for 20 minutes. Scoop out spices, serve with cinnamon sticks.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Family Tradition

On Christmas Eve my extended family likes to sit together and test our memories in an attempt at reciting the Clement C. Moore classic, A Visit From Saint Nicholas. You may be more familiar with the more common title, 'Twas The Night Before Christmas. Last year, my eight year old daughter and I memorized it together, reading and practicing in the evenings leading up to Christmas. It was fantastic one on one time and a great brain builder at the same time, not to mention loads of fun. I highly recommend it! In case you'd like to do this yourself, here's a copy of the poem. Depending on your memorization skills and the age of your children, you may want to start early. It's pretty easy to find online, I found this at kaboose dot com.

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On Cupid! On, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes -- how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"


At the first hint of chill in the air, my thoughts turn to Christmas. My mind and heart begin to fill with visions of sugar plums indeed. My weekly menu turns decidedly toward comfort food and I begin rummaging in my brain for homemade Christmas gift ideas for my loved ones. I begin hauling out first the autumn decorations and later the Christmas, decking my halls and every other available surface. I take delight in the season, the magic, wonder and glory of it all. This blog was born from that delight. Here you will find dinner ideas, crafts, decor, stories, memories, and music. Some ideas will be entirely mine, but I will also include anything cute I come across that I think you might like to see, credit given to the creator or source. Please leave me your ideas in the comments and any other feedback you'd like to give.