Bless my heart, I'm always sad when Christmas is over and my family scatters to their respective homes. The actual day sneaks up on me too quickly and then the last week is SO busy with traveling and merriment and last-minute additions to my To-Do List that I just want more time to revel quietly in it. Sitting by the tree in the evenings, drinking coffee from my new Keurig coffee maker (Yea for Jeremy! He did so well picking out my presents!), finishing up my Christmas book that I barely started while Jeremy watches MythBusters right beside me on the couch. =) Plus, I've had a terrible cold for the past week, so I'm in need of some downtime.
As you may have guessed, I'm not ever one of those who can pack it all up on December 26th. I like to say goodbye to Christmas gradually. Maybe wash and put away the Christmas dish towels...but keep out the pretty teapot and teacup a little longer. Today I'm cleaning up the chaos - folding up boxes and gift bags, recycling tissue paper (great for wrapping ornaments in), putting away presents, washing Jeremy's new clothes, deciding what to do with my rosemary tree because I think it may be a goner...but the stockings are still hung by the chimney with care and I'm not touching that tree for another week.
If I'm lucky and can get the DVD player to work right, I may pop in a movie to listen to in the background. I'm thinking Little Women because it's one of those that partly takes place at Christmas but is not touted as a Christmas movie. I'll just make sure that I'm in another room when (SPOILER ALERT) Amy dies. =( Other favorites in that class would be Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail, Serendipity, and While You Were Sleeping. They're all just perfect to watch this time of year. Love 'em all. I think I harbor a secret desire to write a screenplay such as these one day...
What about you? Are you one of those who wants everything back like it was, pre-Christmas, ASAP? Ready to move on to the New Year? If you are, we can still be friends...I guess. ;) Eventually I'll get over the Christmas bug and be ready for new things, like birthdays and Valentine's. After all, I'm a sucker for both of those, too!
Moist poppyseed bread, along with a side of sausage balls, will always remind me of Christmas morning breakfast. For years my mother has made this recipe given to us by our friend Rosemary and we think it is exceptional. If you need a Christmas breakfast idea that you can prepare ahead of time - or a last-minute gift for some friends, this is the way to go!
This time I didn't have quite enough poppyseeds, but since they don't provide a taste of their own, really, it all turned just fine. =)
3 eggs 2 ½ c. sugar 1 ½ c. milk (I did half skim milk; half heavy cream) 1 ¼ c. canola oil 1 Tbsp. poppyseeds 1 ½ tsp. baking powder 1 ½ tsp. salt 1 ½ tsp. vanilla (or vanilla bean paste) 1 ½ tsp. almond flavoring 3 c. all-purpose flour Glaze: ¾ c. sugar ¼ c. orange juice ½ tsp. vanilla (or vanilla bean paste) ½ tsp. almond flavoring 2 Tbsp. butter Cream eggs and sugar. Add milk and remaining ingredients for bread. The batter will be somewhat thin. Grease and flour loaf pans. Bake at 325 degrees for about 1 hour 10 minutes for 2 large loaves; 50 minutes for 4 medium loaves; or 35 minutes for 6 small loaves. Watch closely, though – don’t let the outside edges get too brown. Administer the toothpick test to check doneness. Better to err on the side of "almost done." Glaze: Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Make LOTS of holes with toothpick while bread is still warm. You want to give the glaze plenty of places to seep in. Pour warm glaze over warm bread. Cool completely before storing.
P.S. Before I go, I have a few more songs to make your Christmas merry! I just love Mindy Smith's Christmas album, but these are probably my three favorites. I'm pretty sure that all three are original to her - and I'm crossing my fingers that she releases another Christmas album sometime. She's just GOOD at it.
You know all that extra time you have on your hands this time of year? That's right...the week of Christmas? Hours and hours of downtime? Because, obviously, you have all your shopping done, each present beautifully wrapped, cards sent, menus settled, groceries purchased, house cleaned. Oh, wait, that's not just me who doesn't have everything ready to go? Hmmm...
WELL. If you DO happen to have any extra time on your hands and you DO happen to find some shatterproof ornaments still in the stores (and hopefully on sale!) here's what you should do. Make a great Christmas wreath for your mantel or your door or your wall. If not, it's still totally allowable to make a wreath AFTER the Christmas holiday is over. You know, for next year and all.
This project is totally fun and would be great for a wreath-making party sometime. I had a little trouble getting started because somehow I thought I could make this work without using a hot glue gun. I know, I know...what was I thinking??! Wiring stuff together just didn't cut it. You are definitely going to want a hot glue gun unless you want to spend approximately 2 zillion (frustrating) hours making this thing. Also, you are going to want to use a LOW-TEMP glue gun on this project...unless you want third-degree burns resulting from your fun little project. I cannot stress this enough. I always use my low-temp glue gun...one time in high school I was using my mom's high temp one to make a pinata for Spanish class...there were definitely several moments where I thought about giving up craftiness altogether in favor of a less hurtful hobby. A low temp glue gun may make you say, "Well, hmmm, ouch" a few times, but it won't leave you screaming "OW! OOOOOOUUUUUUCCCCCCHHHHHHHH!" I can deal with a tiny ouch here and there, but oh, dear. Why put up with the other? I know, childbirth would not be kind to me.
The Recipe for an Ornament Wreath:
*a small or large wire wreath form (Hobby Lobby's got them)
*LOTS of shatterproof ornaments (more than you'll think you'll ever need - you can return unused ones)
*low-temp hot glue gun
*plenty of glue sticks
*one package of tinsel, in a coordinating color (you'll use about 1/2 pkg. for a small; whole pkg. for a large)
*a wreath-easel (at least that's what I call it)
*about one hour for a small-medium wreath OR 2+ hours for a large one
*an area in your house that you don't mind completely destroying with glitter and tinsel-remnants =)
Spread out some newpaper on your kitchen counter - or wherever you're choosing to do this...heat up your hot glue gun...and spend a little time designing your wreath. Play a little before you start with the glue. A good assortment of various shapes and coordinating colors is awesome for creating visual interest. I used a lot a glittery ones, too. I like a lot of sparkle.
This wreath is a small one - it can be hung OR it can be used as a centerpiece for a small table. It would be pretty to encircle a candle.
I find this easier to start on a flat surface. Keep adding layers. You may to have plan out each step ahead before glueing them. It takes a little time, but you can get it fairly symmetrical. Once you start adding the second layer, you need to glue both (or three) sides of the ornaments together - whatever will be touching.
This will provide stability, which is very important.
After your ornaments are in place, hold the wreath up - preferably in the space where you will be hanging it.
Look for any holes that need to be filled in. Then, fill 'em in. Now hang it on your "wreath easel" to finish it up.
Start cutting lengths of tinsel and placing them in their desired locations. I would do about a third of the wreath and then go back and glue all of it, so I wouldn't have to cut and then lay down the scissors - then pick up the glue gun, put down the glue gun, etc.
You don't want any of the wreaths mechanics to show through. No wire wreath form should be seen at the end of this project. You also don't want to see the glue between the ornaments, so put small pieces of tinsel to cover them up.
Keep turning the wreath, so that it looks good from every angle.
Keep adding tinsel where needed.
To finish up, gently turn the wreath over onto the counter. This last step has a two-fold purpose. You are going to reinforce the first layer (which is touching the wreath form) with extra glue - and then you'll be adding the tinsel in one long piece to cover the backing. It won't completely cover the backing but it'll be good enough. It's the BACK.
I would be extremely remiss if I never mentioned anything here about the song "White Christmas" during this festive holiday season. The reason is that it was always my grandmother's favorite song...and although I think of her often throughout the year, I think of her even more during this time of year, when this song is sung and played and hummed, in all of its varieties.
My mother's mother was an excellent Christian woman, a warm, soft-spoken, and very kind lady...a true First Lady of Freed-Hardeman University for many years. One could not dare to dream up a better grandmother - she, along with my Grandaddy, always took great care of our family, buying gifts we would each truly enjoy, cooking things specifically for a certain set of tastebuds. She always made sure to have macaroni and cheese on hand for Bennett, our picky eater. She always baked apricot turnovers (a recipe that's certainly an act of love) for my cousin Nick when he was here - and she always sent the requisite pigs-in-a-blanket back home with these Arkansas grandkids. I'm pretty sure they never lasted even halfway back to Hot Springs.
My grandmother was an incredible hostess - so organized, so busy. She was forever ready for visitors and excited for a party. Especially at Christmas. I remember the embroidered red Christmas placemats and the tabletop ceramic Christmas trees. I remember the bustle of her kitchen, now our kitchen, because we now live in my grandparents' house. Last year when Jeremy wrapped our white porch columns with red ribbon, it made me feel so at home to remember my grandparents' house looking just so this time every year.
Just a dusting of snow...
A new wreath on the side door!
With a definite fondness, I can stand in any room in our home and "see" memories playing out. Our kitchen doorway, which now houses a newly made wreath, reminds me of a Santa face that my grandparents used to hang there when the youngest grandchildren still "believed" in him. It had a big red nose that Madi, who is now close to graduating high school, joyfully pressed over and over again to hear "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."
Downstairs we often cuddled up together on couches, snacking on Aunt Claudia's Chex mix and my mother's fudge, and watched our favorite Christmas movies - "White Christmas" and "Christmas in Connecticut" and "Ernest Saves Christmas" being at the top of the list. I know, we're nothing if not eclectic. There were the usual arguments over who got what blanket and "please-sit-up-so-more-people-can-fit-on-the-couch" pleas. My grandmother always fell asleep before the end of the movie, though. We all teased her then and now many of us are just like her. =)
Our little Tennessee town didn't see much snow during my growing up years. In fact, I got a sled for my 12th birthday and then never got to use it. During the last few years, though, our area has had more snow than I've ever seen in person! It's been so beautiful...and my grandmother would have LOVED it. Her love of Bing's version of "White Christmas" was always a grand wish for a white blanket of snow to magically appear over our hometown.
Nowadays things are different - but still the same - for our family during Christmas. Our beloved mother and grandmother has been gone for nine years now, but we still carry on the traditions that she held dear. We are always together at Grandaddy's new house at Christmastime, eating and playing cards and watching Christmas movies, and we have at least one meal at our house, their old house, while everyone is in town.
Grandaddy "getting the dread off his mind." =)
My mom and Aunt Pat getting ready for Christmas lunch
at Larry and Becky's
My cousin Adam, last year's present-giver-outer
Aunt Claudia, the bringer of the hats, and Grandaddy
The grandkids with Grandaddy: Nick, me, Beth,
Adam, Madi, and Bennett
You have no idea what an funny ordeal this picture was!
We think of my grandmother often...and remember her hospitality and her meals and her laugh and her general joyous demeanor. We miss her, but in our own ways, I think we each strive to be like her. I'm definitely lacking in her superb organizational skills, but I am proud to say that I was able to inherit her love of entertaining and cooking. I want to be just like her when I grow up. =) As do we all.
Merry Christmas to each of you! And here's hoping for a White One!
When I first happened upon this recipe, I was alternately afraid of the bizarre-sounding coupling and also very intrigued. Curiosity won out, though, as I really couldn't get the recipe out of my mind. And, as luck would have it, I had recently popped a pomegranate into my grocery basket in hopes of finding just the right way to use it.
Jeremy was very, very concerned about the inclusion of pomegranate seeds (called "arils" - and I like that so much better, don't you?) INTO a COOKIE. He knew for a fact that I was about to ruin that chocolately cookie dough by adding in something so...strange. But I knew for a fact (or O.K., I very, very strongly suspected) that this would be one of those recipes that would make a believer out of him.
And it DID. Our friends Jen, Sasha, and Jared all loved them, too. The little pop of tartness every so often kept us entertained. It will make a believer out of you, too. But you've gotta get past your fear of the unknown...
First of all, don't be scared of pomegranates. Yes, they can be messy and yes, it might take a while to release the arils from their pithy prison...BUT. Here's an easy (and less messy!) way to do it. After washing the fruit, slice off the pomegranate's "crown." (I'm not going to lie - I got some satisfaction out of noting that it does, indeed, resemble a crown.) Next you realize that you might need to put an apron on and move some things out of the way that might get splashed with the ruby red spurts of juice. Gently cut the fruit into quarters and then drop them into a bowl of water. I would recommend lukewarm water so that your fingers won't get too cold during the next step. Again, gently (which is the key word here) start separating the arils from the inside casing. This will take a few minutes, but really, is quite relaxing if you're not in a hurry. This is also a good time to ponder God's creativity in designing such an interesting fruit. =)
Now it's time for the actual cookie recipe. I found it on How Sweet It Is, another favorite food blog that I completely enjoy. She absolutely cracks me up. Hilarious! And I've tried quite a few of her recipes, all ending up being filed under "Would Definitely Make Again."
1 c. butter, room temperature
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. pomegranate juice (or pomegranate/blueberry juice, which was all I could find. Delicious, but EXPENSIVE)
1 c. milk chocolate chips
1/2 c. pomegranate arils
Cream butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla until fluffy. Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt - combine dry mixture and wet mixture. Add pomegranate juice and mix once more. Fold in chocolate chips; fold in pomegranate arils last. Refrigerate dough for at least 2 hours - but the longer, the better.
When dough is ready to be baked, gently scoop dough out and onto a greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet. Some arils will burst in the process, but it all ends up O.K. =) Bake cookies at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Cool a bit before eating.
These cookies are best eaten right after baking. After about a day, the pomegranate arils start to shrink and aren't juicy anymore.
Of course I love the traditional Christmas songs, but I also totally enjoy hunting down some newer, completely original stuff to add to my stash. There's a lot of junk out there, it seems, and I am pretty picky. I mean, it has to actually be GOOD. This song is one I found on iTunes a few days ago. So cute and upbeat and fresh and still incredibly Christmasy.
P.S. If you're good (and, you know, Santa IS watching) I might just tell you about the recipe for Pomegranate Fudge cookies, pictured above. They were pretty marvelous.
This afternoon I'll be a vendor at something called Holiday House. No, I don't usually sell things throughout the year, but I've always toyed with the idea of different projects here and there, so here's what I came up with for today's event. After much trial and error (and changing the whole way I did the first one) I finally loved how they turned out!
A mini wreath, which would be great for a small centerpiece also.
I had to fuss with the coloring on this one - this is as close
as I could get it to the true color.
It's very, very PINK. Completely girly and so cute!
I got the notion to make these from Melissa Lester's blog A Little Loveliness. She spoke at our Henderson Ladies' Day a year or so ago and I've followed her blog ever since. It's so beautiful, it's like reading a magazine. Gorgeous stuff! She has the cutest children and she throws the best birthday parties for them. This adorable slumber party one is my favorite, but every one of them is SO creative. I'm glad she has four children so that we don't have to wait so long for her new birthday ideas. ;) Melissa also loves tea parties, which are near and dear to my heart. I've also tried a few of her recipes and they've been sub-par. No, just kidding! Wanted to see if you were paying attention. Her recipes have been great - I make her chicken salad found in this post quite often. =)
Back to the wreaths...I have extra materials if anyone wants to order a silver wreath or a green one or another gold/brown/aqua one. I'm also planning to make a larger red and green wreath. If no one buys them, which would be kinda sad, I might secretly be happy that they might make their home right here, in my house. ;)
So, that's the "pretty" portion of the merchandise. "Sweet" will be there, too, in the forms of cranberry pecan pies (with homemade crust, mind you!) and cream scones. Maybe some other stuff if I can get it made! I had great reviews on these from last year, so I thought I'd include them again. And if people want to order a pie later, I'm going to give them an option to do so. Both the pies and the scones are great fresh, but also perfect to have on standby in the freezer during this holiday season.
"Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind.
To cherish peace and goodwill,
to be plenteous in mercy is to have
the real spirit of Christmas."
- Calvin Coolidge
I've been ruminating on this quote lately. Besides the many small pleasures of this season we're currently in (such as drinking hot cocoa in a festive cup) it also brings us numerous large opportunities to spread goodwill and extend mercy. Buying toys for children who are victims of child abuse, sending goodies to our missionary friends in faraway places, creating fruit baskets for the church shut-ins, hosting holiday parties, sending Christmas cards...the list is truly endless. If you think about the quote, though, the Christmas feeling should not be contained to just this holiday season. If one only cherishes peace and goodwill and is plenteous with his mercy simply because "'Tis the Season," he misses out on a wonderful state of mind to live in year-round.
Maybe my New Year's resolution should be to have the spirit of Christmas throughout 2011, not just towards the end. I think that's one I can get past February with! I like to think that I try my best to do this already, because Coolidge's definition of the Christmas spirit surely overlaps with the Bible's definition of the Christian spirit. Yes, I like to think that, but I know I still have a long way to go...
"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father,
is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction,
and to keep oneself unspotted from the world."
- James 1:27 (English Standard Version)
"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith
but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking
in daily food, and one of you says to them,
'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,'
without giving them the things needed for the body,
what good is that?
So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."
- James 2:14-17 (English Standard Version, emphasis mine)
What about you? What are your favorite ways to promote peace, goodwill, and mercy specifically during the holiday season? And please share if you have ideas for keeping the Christmas (and Christian) spirit alive throughout the rest of the year. =)
This Christmas tree makes me giddy. I think it's beautiful, but not just because of the colors or the sparkles, though those are enough to induce giddiness themselves. The memories that each ornament sparks make trimming our tree an entirely pleasant occasion.
But first...the tree itself. Growing up, my parents always, always bought a live tree, a Fraser fir, every December. The shape was attractive and the scent was heavenly. But my mother likes an enormous amount of little lights on her tree...I mean, each branch was wrapped. Each. Branch. Was. Wrapped. It took a looong time and luckily, I was always excused because she thought it might "get my allergies going." I am still thankful for that! But all I wanted was to get in there and put the ornaments on and what in the world was taking so long???
Somewhere along the way, when I was almost grown, she finally gave in to the siren call of the pre-lit tree...and has never looked back. And although I always said that I would have live trees when I had my own house, well, a trip to Target four-ish years ago changed all that. Due to a mislabeling incident, I lucked out with paying only $50.00 for the tree. This big, tall, realistic-looking tree! That would have been at least $300.00! I couldn't believe it. So, obviously, it was meant to go home with me and be my tree. It did and we have been very happy together. We're even happier because I get to burn my Yankee Candle What's My Pine soy candle (purchased much cheaper at TJMaxx) to get that delightful fresh-tree scent.
The ornaments that are pulled out, carefully unwrapped, and placed on this tree are the next layer of sweetness. My mother had the great foresight to start my collection of ornaments from each of our travels through the years. I am highly trained in this endeavor and I am very picky. There will be no vague ornaments, such as a pair of flip flips sporting a tiny plaque reading "Charleston, SC." Oh, no. Yes, I admit - the beachy themes are cute, but they can be found at any beach. I need a little more creativity. I ask a lot of my travel ornaments.
A thistle from Scotland
A scottie dog, also from, well, Scotland
Niagara on the Lake
Charleston in the foreground, Venice in the background
My mother was in an ornament swap for many years. Both my dad and I have also, unofficially, been a part of the swap because we, too, have spent hours in planning, consultation, and construction of the ornaments each year. We are all partly sad but partly relieved that my mother gave up the swap a few years ago. It takes a great deal of time, but we do have an enormous amount of beautiful and unique handmade ornaments to show for our trouble.
I have quite a few of these on our tree - not only one each of the ones we constructed but also because I worked for the husband of another lady in the swap. Ms. Hope has always made extra ornaments to give away as gifts and I have often been one of the lucky recipients. One year I saw a very familiar homemade ornament at my dentist's office. I kid you not. Right then and there I knew that Ms. Hope also went to this same dentist - and I also knew she was Superwoman. Well, I had already known that, but this confirmed it. =)
There are quite a lot of ornaments that were part of my life before Jeremy entered the picture, but now we are collecting them together. I don't know if he's as excited about it as I am, but deep down, I think he approves. Deep, deep down.
My friend and former roommate Rachelle gave me these as a present a couple of years ago. Or last year? It all runs together. Anyway, Jeremy hung these this year and I thought it was so cute that he hung them this close together. I mean, I would have hung them "together," but more along the lines of being five inches apart. You know the rules. Hanging them so close to each other was surprising and sweet. =)
Now for our recipe. If you live in Tennessee, you need to know about Demo's. It's our very favorite restaurant, but there's not even one near us. But when we travel, we scheme up ways to make a stop there, usually in downtown Nashville - but sometimes Murfreesboro. There's also one in Lebanon, where his brother lives. (Come to think of it, we need to visit them more often.) And I believe there's one in Florence, AL. We haven't tried that one yet, but we need to add it to the list.
Demo's is an family-owned Italian steakhouse. But it's just more than that. You can even get chicken salad served in a pineapple half. And everything I've ever had there is incredibly delicious and plenteous. And not expensive! It's so, so good. The restaurants are pretty large, which is good because there is always a crowd. It's got brickwork inside and pretty gas lanterns, both of which I am a huge sucker for.
Jeremy almost always gets the chicken alfredo. I usually alternate between the garlic brown butter spaghetti (the menu notes it's "why Doris married Jim" - and I think it's totally a legitimate reason to marry someone) or the chicken salad. Whatever you get, you have the option for soup or salad. I always, always get the baked chicken soup. Because it's awesomely delicious. With the primary insights from my friend Heather (who is a lucky girl to live near a Demo's in Lebanon) I came up with the following recipe, which tastes almost exactly like the real thing. The lemon juice is the key. It was such an exciting discovery! Especially since the recipe is incredibly simple. Merry Christmas to me!
5-6 cups chicken broth (or more, if desired)
3 Tbsp. butter
1 1/2 cups Minute white rice
2 Tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in cold water
2 cups cooked chicken (more chicken than theirs has - already had it cooked/frozen. Also, mine was chopped in chunks; theirs is sliced)
juice of one large fresh lemon, or to taste
Italian spices, to taste (I used garlic powder, dried basil, thyme, oregano, poultry seasoning, and cumin)
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup - 3/4 cup milk or half & half
Heat up chicken broth in stockpot. Dissolve butter, once broth is warm enough. Add rice (must be minute rice to cook quickly) - cover pot to bring to a boil. Keep boiling for another minute or two and then uncover and reduce heat to medium to add cornstarch (already dissolved in cold water), cooked chicken, and fresh lemon juice, starting with juice from just one half. You want to taste the brightness from the lemon without it becoming a "lemon soup." I played with the spices also...if you are doing the separate spices, as I did, give a generous sprinkling of each and adjust after tasting the soup. Add the salt and pepper, also testing to make sure the rice is done. You may simmer the soup for a bit and then add the milk or half & half to heat through just before serving. A green salad and cheesy bread (just like at Demo's) would be a wonderful way to round out this meal.
This is naturally a thin, brothy soup. I found that the soup thickened up considerably once cooled - since the rice soaked up more of the liquid. In reheating the next day, I added more chicken broth and a little more spices and lemon juice to thin it again.
And last of all...I promised you a song. All month I plan to be sharing my most favorite Christmas songs and this is one of those. I have fallen in love with it just this year. Brand new stuff from Dave Barnes...it may take a few seconds but it'll load. =)
My life is a work in progress, which is how I think God intended it to be. I love spending time with my husband Jeremy and am trying every day to be a good Christian wife. I am totally intrigued with cooking (especially baking) and enjoy feeding family and friends. I appreciate symmetry and design; correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation; and lovely harmonies in music. I feel more than kindly toward helpful people and strive to be one also. I adore laughing. I'm terribly glad I'm not colorblind. I like to be positive.