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.

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!)