Saturday, December 31, 2016

Last of the Christmas decorating

I hope no one finds this post too boring, since Christmas is over already.  I find that it helps me when I post about seasonal decorating, because otherwise I tend to forget what I do from year to year.  This year, I actually did not put out a lot of the decorations I ordinarily do.  Several decorative signs and at least one garland stayed in the attic; I didn't bother with stockings or decorating the chandelier as I usually do.

This lighted garland above the picture window stays in place year round.  Sometimes I change the decor on it seasonally; other times it looks fine with just the pinecones and berries that are woven into it.  Always, at Christmas time, I deck it with sparkly snowflakes and icicles that can stay in place right through January.  This year, I didn't do that.  I put on one snowflake.  Then I added some fun items that I knew I would enjoy seeing and remembering during the Christmas season.  At the top of the post (and just below these words) you see an adorable chalet from my friend LJ and a sort of little basket (made from a Christmas card, I think) from my friend Ann in New Zealand.  The mitten at the lower end of the garland was one I won several years ago in a giveaway from Linda at Prairie Flower Farm.
 A closer look at the chalet (it came un-assembled, so putting it together was lots of fun!)
 And a closer look at the mitten with its snowflake.
 Here's the opposite corner of the garland.  You see the one snowflake here.

The photo ornament was new, from our daughter this Christmas.
Below is a sweet card from my friend Susan.  I must say I got the clothespin idea from my friend Vee.
 And this amazing apron card, made by Edna, was one I received in a card swap.  Isn't it adorable?

Hope you've enjoyed this look at my simple garland decor.  I'm enjoying it immensely.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Our Christmas 2016

There are two of these very New England-y arrangements (made in sap buckets, set atop birch logs) at the front entrance of the nursing home.  So pretty!
Almost no photos here, alas, but simply a report on our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 2016. 

On Christmas Eve, our son and his two teenage daughters joined us for supper: our traditional Christmas Eve Soup, which is just a simple potato soup garnished with bacon and shredded Cheddar.  I also served Iron Skillet Biscuits, plus sourdough rye bread from our neighbor.  Something for everyone.  Alongside, we also had a nice assortment of raw vegetables and a homemade ranch dressing dip.

After the main meal, we took a break to open gifts before returning to the table for dessert: a cookie and fudge tray, plus ice cream.
Christmas Day was very different.  I've already blogged about our breakfast.  After getting a slow cooker going with chicken for our supper, we headed out the door to church.  Our church was having one service, at 10 a.m.  It was a lovely service with special music and a good message.

Then, from church, we headed right to the nursing home where my dad is.  We had arranged to get two extra lunch trays with the thought of eating Christmas lunch with him in his room.  Now, this is exactly what happened, but we were so surprised when we got there.  We had expected to be eating off trays in our laps, but the staff had other ideas.  They had set up a card table in the room and made it so festive!  There was a tablecloth, pretty Christmas paper placemats and napkins, and even a little centerpiece!

When the meals came, we ate at our festive table and enjoyed every bite.  Roast beef, mashed sweet potatoes, asparagus, green bean casserole and rolls were so good.  And there was a choice of desserts -- lemon meringue pie and several types of cheesecake.  Mr. T and my dad chose lemon meringue pie and I had a two layer cheesecake with a fudge layer.  In addition we enjoyed eggnog (locally made and so delicious) and coffee.

After we had finished eating, my aunt and uncle also stopped by for a visit, which was so nice.  We enjoyed reminiscing with them and looking through the calendar I had made for my dad.

In the midafternoon we headed home and managed to accomplish a few things (gift wrapping on my part and a bit of carpentry work on my hubby's part) there before heading out to eat supper and exchange gifts with this good-looking group (and their parents)
at our daughter's home.  My daughter had made a roast and mashed potatoes and rolls.  I brought our slow-cooked chicken dish (which I hope to blog about next week -- it was fantastic! -- and Merry Berry Salad. This is a marvelous salad recipe from an older Quick Cooking magazine. The homemade cranberry vinaigrette is just wonderful, and such a gorgeous red color!
Photo from Taste of Home
And I also brought along -- yes, you guessed it -- a cookie and fudge tray for dessert!

We opened gifts in between and a good time was had by all.  Mr. T and I headed home around 8:30 or so, since  he had to work on Monday.  All in all, a different, but very nice Christmas!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Improvised egg bake for Christmas breakfast

I'm sure I've mentioned that I always love to prepare an egg bake for Christmas breakfast, and I plan on doing so the night before == so that all I do in the morning is put the baking dish in the oven.  I like to make muffins or a coffeecake ahead too, so that Christmas breakfast is nearly effortless.  I planned on doing those things this year, but somehow it just didn't work out that way.  I was so tired by the end of preparing Christmas Eve supper that I didn't have the energy to put an egg casserole together.

As for the coffeecake, I'd planned on making a cranberry one for Christmas breakfast, but that didn't happen either.  Mr. T and I decided that between the wonderful rye bread our neighbor had brought over, and the bran muffins I had baked to use for a kitchen gift, we could forego the coffeecake, delicious and festive though it would be.  We decided to just concoct some sort of simple egg bake in the morning. 

By the time I got downstairs on Christmas morning,  I had figured out what to do.  I love it when God gives me an idea.  The improvised egg bake turned out so well I thought I would share the recipe.  (And, by posting it here, I can come back and find it again!)

1-pound package of any frozen stir-fry vegetable blend, thawed
8 ounces Neufchatel cheese, cut in smallish cubes
1 to 1 1/2 cups of shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
12 eggs
1/2 cup (or so) of half=and-half cream
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. or more instant minced onion
1/4 tsp. pepper

Spray a 13x9-inch baking dish with cooking spray.  Heat the oven to 350º.

Place the thawed vegetables in a bowl or casserole dish and chop them.  (Mr. T used a  simple handheld metal chopper; I would suppose this could also be done using a food processor.)  Spread the chopped vegetables in the prepared baking dish.

Scatter the cream cheese cubes over the vegetables and sprinkle the shredded Cheddar on top.

Beat the eggs with all of the remaining ingredients until very well blended.  Pour the egg mixture over the cheese and vegetables in the baking dish. 

Bake the casserole at 350º for 50 to 60 minutes.  Remove from oven and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

When we were up north last September on our little getaway, our friend Charlotte invited us to her cabin for breakfast.  She made omelets with cheese and what I immediately recognized as frozen (cooked) stir-fry vegetables.  I thought that was such a great idea and I have since used them in frittatas a couple of different times.  I knew we had a package in the freezer, and thought they would be good in an egg bake.  They were!

Some may wonder why we would make a 13x9-inch pan just for two people.  The answer to that is simple: leftovers.  With roasted sweet potatoes, this made a perfect supper on Monday night!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The (Friday) night before Christmas

One thing that Mr. T and I like to do at Christmas time is to take a little shopping trip to a nearby town where there's a quaint marketplace housed in an old mill.  One of our favorite bookstores is located here also.  This marketplace is a fun place to shop because it's got so much atmosphere, especially at Christmas if the snow happens to be falling.  We don't always get to shop here during the Christmas season, but we like to if we can.  This year we did manage to go,  but it was the Friday night before Christmas when we were able to carve out the time.

We love to eat supper at a favorite diner first if that works out, and this year it did!  The diner was already crowded when we got there a little after 5 pm, but in just a very few minutes we were enjoying fried haddock, baked potatoes, and squash.  A comfort food meal for a cool winter evening!  We had a corner table and were just able to relax and enjoy our meal.  Even though this is a busy restaurant and it's relatively small, the noise level is managed well, and we just had a quiet relaxing supper.  No room for dessert!  This was an "all you can eat" haddock meal, and Mr. T had seconds!

Then it was on to the marketplace and several of our favorite shops.  Little white lights glow all around the courtyard and buildings, and the waterfall is illuminated.  Brick walkways lead here and there.  Oh, the ambiance is wonderful!  We always have to walk over to the waterfall.  The top two pictures below are from a previous year.  The bottom picture of the falls, where the lights look blue and our camera was doing something funny, is from this year.

A slightly different angle.
This year they are using LED lights to illuminate the waterfall, which is a bit more frozen than in the above pics from a previous year.  I really don't care for the bluish look.
The bookstore is filled with many delights -- books, toys, and puzzles for all ages -- and after some browsing we found just what we were looking for.  The tree below is outside the bookstore and was lit with the large, vintage-looking colored lights.  So pretty!

Just a wonderful time at the "most wonderful time of the year"!  So thankful for the opportunity.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas!

Image from The Graphics Fairy
I'm taking just a moment from wrapping a few final gifts to wish all of my readers a very merry Christmas!  May you have a blessed day wherever this Christmas may find you.  And may you take a few moments throughout the day to ponder the "good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people" (Luke 2:10).

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve in the neighborhood

As I've mentioned,  a few years back I made a Christmas memory book for my family members.  Here is a wonderful memory of Christmas Eve:


As Christmas approached, my mother enlisted the help of us kids in baking dozens of festive cookies. There were white-frosted brownies decorated with candied-cherry poinsettias, gingery molasses crinkles sparkling with red and green sugar, crunchy oatmeal cookies filled with dates and walnuts and topped off with cherries. I clearly remember cutting up dates for these -- I don't suppose there were ready-chopped dates available in those days, and they would have been expensive if available.   I remember turning the handle of a nut chopper to chop the walnuts, and pressing the cookies down with a floury glass before topping them with half of a candied cherry. 

Sometimes we made mincemeat squares, with the mincemeat filling sandwiched between two layers of a brown-sugary crust. Our beloved "chocolate spritz" cookies were not made with a cookie press, but formed into small round balls and dipped in multicolored candy sprinkles before baking. We always made, in addition, cut-out cookies of nutmeg-flavored dough rolled thin, cut in various shapes and trimmed with raisins, silver dragees, and colored sprinkles. Mom would often make the cookie doughs ahead and store them in the cold front entry. It wouldn't be considered safe or healthy today, but we loved tasting the dough. The chilled dough for the chocolate spritz tasted exactly like chocolate ice cream.

My mother also baked loaves of cinnamon-swirled white bread and dressed them up with a drizzle of white frosting and decorations of candied cherries and sliced almonds. They looked beautiful and smelled even better.

On Christmas Eve or a few nights before, Santa and his sleigh had nothing on my dad, us kids, and the family station wagon. We were out making holiday deliveries of our own. All of us would beg for the privilege of accompanying Dad on his appointed rounds. We would drive around the neighborhood, delivering cookies and visiting for a while at each house. I remember that during the day a tray of treats would be delivered to our family doctor. But in the evening Dad would go out
with the goodies for the neighbors and nearby relatives.

One of my favorite stops was at the Geisslers'. They were a German family who lived in the neighborhood. They owned a local business, but they also had hens, and Mr. Geissler had an egg route. We were among his customers. It was my first inkling of a couple of things -- one, that
there were people actually living in our town who did not have a traditional New England background like ours; and two, that everyone has a different dimension to them that the average person might not be aware of. Until I visited the Geisslers' home with Dad, I saw Mr. Geissler as sort of a peddler -- "the egg man", as we called him. Imagine my surprise that their home was very nice -- nicer than ours. When we went there with the goodies on Christmas Eve, they would invite us in and bring out eggnog for Dad and glasses of icy ginger ale for us kids. I remember being wide-eyed at their tree and noticing shopping bags full of gifts from fancy New York City stores. I'm not sure if they were gifts from faraway relatives, or gifts from the family to one another. Even the bags and boxes were impressive, however! I would try and make the ginger ale last as long as possible so I could keep looking around at everything.

Mrs. Geissler would always send Christmas cookies to our house, too, usually dropped off along with the eggs. My mother kept them in a certain cupboard, and that cupboard always retained a festive, spicy aroma for as long as the cookies lasted. I remember one kind of cookie in particular -- looking back on it now, I think it must have been pfefferneuse. They were perfectly round, dark-colored cookies which were liberally coated in confectioners' sugar. They smelled and looked absolutely wonderful. Unfortunately, anise is a flavor I still haven't acquired a taste for! But having those truly German cookies in our very American kitchen sure broadened our horizons.

When I was a child, this sharing of holiday treats was one of the most meaningful parts of our Christmas. It made a big impression on me that at this busy time of the year, my parents took the time and went to the effort to do something special for their neighbors.

And of course, it gave me incentive to do the same kind of thing for my own neighbors once I had a home and family of my own.  

Through the years we have often exchanged kitchen gifts with our neighbors.  Just today, our neighbor walked through falling snow to deliver a little tin of cookies and a wonderful loaf of sourdough rye bread.  And Mr. T headed out on rounds to deliver goodies, just as my dad used to do.  It's Christmas Eve in the neighborhood!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Busy in the Christmas kitchen

The past day or two have been busy ones in my kitchen.  (And the above photo is not from my kitchen, but rather is outdoors right next to the garage.  A tiny lighted fir tree with the lights glowing through snow.  I just had to share it.)

Yesterday in the kitchen I filled and glazed Sacher Torte Cookies,

Sacher Torte Cookies contain either raspberry or apricot jam under the chocolate glaze.
plus baked a double batch of Coconut Gingeroons and a second batch of Whipped Shortbread.

A little of everything; the tins to the left contain white chocolate snack mix

Today I made a double batch of Cinnamon Pretzels (for kitchen gifts) and a huge slow cooker full of Hearty Butternut Squash Soup.  This soup will sustain us for days, I think, which will be very helpful.  Oh, and I also cut up apricots and covered them with a simple syrup to use in Golden Apricot Cakes tomorrow.  There were many other things I had hoped to do, like make a batch of Heavenly Delight and a double batch of chocolate-dipped orange slices, and frost the already-baked Eggnog Logs.  But we had a funeral to attend this afternoon (an hour away) and so the time slipped away from me. We may possibly try and make the fudge tonight.  But likely not.  It's already 7 pm, and 4:30 a.m. comes very quickly!

Monday, December 19, 2016

The year a third-grader saved our Christmas tradition

A number of  years ago, I spent quite a bit of time thinking back on my memories of Christmas past. I did something that those of you with grown children or with grandchildren might like to consider doing, if you haven't already. I wrote down every Christmas memory I could think of from my own childhood and my kids' growing-up years, and typed them up. Then I made copies of family Christmas photos and other memorabilia, and gathered up all of the recipes I use at Christmas, along with recipes my mother and grandmother used. What I ended up with was a wonderful Christmas memory book to give to each of our children and their families.

In fact, when I lent my copy to my parents for them to look through, they were so taken with this book that the next year, I made them one of their own. Then two of my aunts saw the book and enjoyed it so much that I ended up making each of them a copy, too.

Back cover of the memory book
It was interesting -- when I really started to think about Christmas memories, so many things came back to me that I thought I had forgotten. The memory I'm about to share with you, however, has stayed sharp and clear.

First,  a little background. Christmas cookie baking was a BIG tradition for us. I had grown up in a home where lots of baking went on, especially at holiday time. My mother would be in the kitchen for days before Christmas -- not making just cookies, but yeast breads and fudge and other treats -- and she would make up goodie trays for all of our neighbors and friends. So when I had a home of my own, I very naturally carried that on.

My mother's fudge recipe

I had always seen my parents' holiday gifts of baked goods to friends and neighbors as a very important part of Christmas. So early on, I began doing the same sort of thing by baking dozens and dozens of cookies and then freezing them for later use on cookie trays to give away and also for our own enjoyment. I started by baking the ones I was familiar with from my own childhood, like Russian Teacakes, Molasses Crinkles, Date-Oatmeal Cookies and Chocolate Spritz. Then, gradually, I
began branching out and trying different recipes. I made a point each year of trying at least one or two different cookies. Many of these recipes would become favorites and go into the file of "must-make" cookies for each year.

When the kids were young, we always, always set aside a day to bake cut-out cookies. We didn't go the route of icing the baked cookies, but did things the easier, possibly less messy way by sprinkling on colored sugars, nonpareils, silver dragees, and the like before baking. I had these marvelously detailed red plastic cutters that produced wonderful designs. I was also fortunate to inherit some of my grandmother's aluminum cookie cutters with the faded green metal handles. For a couple of years our elderly friends Sue and Margaret would join us to make cutout cookies. I think they may have had more fun than the kids! I will never forget how Sue invariably perched on a creaky old wooden youth chair that we had. I held my breath every time, but it never gave way.

image from Gooseberry Patch
So that gives you a little background into how much of a tradition cookie-baking was at our house. You really need to get that, to  appreciate the memory I'm about to share with you.

In my book, I've titled it:

(The cookie tradition part of it, anyway.)

It was a busy year. Our kids had changed schools. Our son was away at boarding school for his first year; our daughters were at a small local Christian school. And so was I.  I was working at the school as a teachers' aide. I enjoyed the work and it was great being able to be with the kids all day. But oh, it was a long day and often meant not getting home until nearly 5 p.m. I was doing well to get a meal prepared each evening -- and sometimes I would start that the minute I came in the door, still wearing hat, coat, and boots. (I did take my mittens off.)

It really looked as if no cookie baking would take place at our house that Christmas. There were going to be two disappointed little girls who had grown to love the cookie tradition. I don't know who came up with the solution in the end, but it was decided that Carrie could make all the dough and we could bake the cookies in the evenings. She was in 3rd grade and could easily read and follow a recipe. Being in an ACE curriculum, she was able to finish her schoolwork each day and seldom had homework. She could do this! So we looked over the recipes and decided which ones we simply had to make. Carrie made up a batch or two of dough each evening and we would bake as many cookies as we had time to before bedtime. I have never forgotten and never will forget the sacrifice of time and effort on this little girl's part. The tradition went on!

As I thought again about this memory, and how a little girl gave up hours of after-school play time to make sure a family tradition could go on, it reminded me of the attitude that God wants each of us to have toward one another in His family.

In this, as in all things, Jesus is our example. At this wondrous season, when we consider how Jesus left His home in glory and came to earth to be born as a Baby in a manger, we are again reminded of why He came. As the Ron Hamilton song so clearly puts it, He was "Born to Die" --  to pay for the sins of each of us. Listen to Jesus' own words in Mark 10:45 -- "For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many."

When we accept Jesus as our personal Savior from sin, then we become part of His family and are expected to live accordingly. There are many verses in God's Word that remind us we are not to live our lives selfishly, but to be willing to sacrifice our time and talents to serve God and minister to others.

Proverbs 3:27 says, "Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it."

Romans 15:1 reads: "We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves." This is so contrary to the world's thinking! But as Christians, we are not to live to please ourselves. We are here to serve God and others.

Galatians 6:10 instructs us: "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith." John Wesley had a saying: "Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can."

2 Corinthians 12:15a shows us the heart of the apostle Paul toward his fellow believers in Corinth. He wrote: "And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you..." . Paul was not only willing but glad to give of himself in tireless service and sacrifice for these believers in order to help them grow and prosper spiritually. Paul's attitude can and should be our attitude as well -- not just in a burst of good will at Christmas time, but all the time!

I hope this precious memory and these related thoughts will be a blessing to someone today. 
Carrie has kept the tradition going with her own children!  This is Julia a few years back.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Making every day merry in little ways

As regular readers might have guessed, I just love December and the Christmas season.  This beautiful and oh-so-meaningful season passes so quickly.  One thing I like to do, to make the season last longer,  is to give every day during December a little bit of a festive feel.  This is especially helpful if, like me, you happen to be an empty-nester, or if you are single -- or even if you are a mom in a busy household.  If you don't make things festive for yourself, no one else is likely to.  So here are some of the things I do.

* Use festively flavored coffee as your everyday coffee during this month.  What we do is to buy Christmas coffee at the after-Christmas sales.  Places like Marshalls and TJ Maxx often have it for 75% off a day or two after Christmas.  (They often have regular coffee in Christmas packaging on clearance, too.  We snap it up.  Coffee is coffee!)

* Or use regular coffee and a festive flavored creamer.  Sometimes I use fat-free half & half along with just a splash of the flavored creamer.  Still gives the jolly flavor with less calories.

* If you enjoy tea, stock up on the holiday teas as you have opportunity and sip a mug daily.  Sometimes these are reduced after Christmas and sometimes not.  Some of my favorites are Christmas Tea by Twining's, Candy Cane Lane by Celestial Seasonings, and White Christmas by Stash.

a tea wallet I made as a gift
* If you frequently use lotion or cream on your hands, feet, etc., switch to a holiday scented one for the season.  My daughter found me some Candy Cane Lane lotion (with green tea actually in it) by Jason.  I have also used a sugar cookie scented cream and a cranberry one.  I use it on my feet, and when I take off my boots there is this lovely cheering scent.

* Some people use their Christmas dishes all through the month of December, and I think this is a great idea.  I've actually moved my Christmas dishes to a more easily accessible cabinet to facilitate this.  Setting the table with Christmasy colored placemats is a nice idea too, and do add a simple Christmasy centerpiece. (Mine at the moment is a red, white, and green striped bowl filled with cookie cutters.  And little tea lights in shiny tart molds -- in the Yankee Candle Gingerbread Maple scent.  You can't imagine how nice they smell!)

  At the very least, using Christmas mugs or teacups for your coffee or tea is fun.  These also may be acquired for very little money after Christmas.  The vintagey-looking ones below were 75¢ after Christmas at Walmart one year.

* Listen to Christmas music as you go about your daily work.

*  Do an Advent Bible study for your devotions.  I'm a bit late suggesting this, but it does help keep one focused on the true meaning of Christmas.  If you jumped into one now, it probably wouldn't be too late; you could double up on a day or two here and there.  Another thought is to do a Christmas Scripture writing challenge.  Or, refresh your memory on some verses from Luke 2 or Scripture passages where the Savior's birth is predicted or described.  I like to review Luke 2:1-20 every Christmas season.

* Take time to do some fun things like attend a Christmas concert, watch a Christmas DVD, bake some goodies or craft some simple ornaments.  Set up an Advent calendar or a Christmas countdown.   Yes, even if it's just for you!  A friend sent me an online Advent calendar with activities for every day.  So much fun!

* Decorate with fresh greens or festively scented candles for an energizing scent.

*  In fact, put something small and Christmasy in every room of your house, like this little soft blue tree on my bathroom counter one year.  (Both bathroom and counter look completely different now!)  Little touches like this will make you smile every time you see them.

There are a few ideas!  I'm sure you will think of more.  We have so much to celebrate -- the coming of our Savior to earth, to be born as a Baby in a humble stable, to grow up and die, then rise again, so we would have a way of salvation.  No, Jesus was almost certainly not born on December 25, but this is one time of year when the focus is on Him.  Let's go about each day with a merry heart, ready to share His love with others at this festive time!

(This is adapted from a post on my Christmas blog in 2014.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Cracker Barrel Christmas treats

I promised awhile back to share a bit more about our unexpected and most enjoyable visit to Cracker Barrel.  Remember, my hubby had a work-related errand in another part of our state which just happened to take us within ten minutes of our state's only Cracker Barrel!

We always love the opportunity to go there, but don't get to very often.  We especially enjoy visiting around the Christmas season when everything is decorated so festively and the country store is filled with beautiful gift ideas.
There's nothing more welcoming on a cold day than a fire in the big fireplace at Cracker Barrel
Detail of the fireplace decorating
A basket of cones and vine spheres
This time of year, the snowflake lamps are on the tables.
My hubby enjoyed one of their festive seasonal breakfasts, the white chocolate and fresh berry French toast.  He said it was delicious!

And then after the meal we had plenty of browsing time before returning to pick up the cylinders Mr. T had brought to Cat for rebuilding.  We had actually had more than enough time and arrived back a bit early.  I would like to go back after Christmas and see if any of that pretty brown transferware is on clearance.

This lovely Advent calendar has a birch look in keeping with the woodland theme.
Just a glimpse of one of the lovely decorated trees.
Love these houses!  This is not a tiny house but is relatively large compared to most putz houses.
Not sure if this was a tiered server or one footed plate atop another.  I love the pretty cardinals with the brown transferware.
I'm not a huge fan of foxes, but this teapot is pretty!
And the view from Cracker Barrel on that gorgeous December day!
All in all, just a lovely visit to one of our very favorite places.