Friday, December 31, 2010

Little lessons learned in 2010

2010 was the year of distractions. That much was evident from the response to my Christmas letter this year: "I can't believe everything you did despite things..."

2010 was the year of setbacks. Camping trips were put off after my husband's shoulder and knee injuries. Great plans put off due to financial hiccups. Little plans set aside due to the ups and downs of parenting.


So 2010 was not a year of great revelations. It was instead a year of little lessons learned, most at the hands of my children.


We watched as Hermie, and more Hermies, and still more Hermies (apparently caterpillars love my carrot leaves), found new life as a butterflies.

We went on hiking trips, played in ponds and destroyed mom's garden more than once.

We learned that generosity doesn't take a certain dollar figure, and sometimes love takes the form of cards to hospitalized kids or outgrown shoes sent abroad.


I learned that despite my summer gardening failures, there's always another season, and basked in a bowlful of fall carrots after my first real attempt at fall gardening.


What happens in the coming year I have no idea. I'm already viewing my year in pieces: the part before our big project that peaks in March, and the life after.

Maybe next year I should just stick with what my children told me: Just eat more dessert.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Note to self for next Christmas

Reminder to self for next Christmas:

If Kid 1 brings home "Reindeer food," make sure you have all applicable ingredients before you promise to make some for Kid 2.

Smoked paprika is not an acceptable substitute for red and green sprinkles. Even if you tell the child some reindeer like theirs spicy, when said reindeer go to "eat" it, the end result looks like a big blood stain in the snow...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Chestnuts roasting and other Christmas classics

The children are nestled snug in their beds, and it's nearly 7 a.m. That in itself is my Christmas Eve miracle.

We're looking forward to four days as a family, a rare treat.

I know a lot of people seemed surprised when we'd tell them we were spending the days just the four of us, but we have never had a quiet Christmas just as a little family. Not in 14 years of marriage. Not even the year I came home after a c-section on Christmas Eve. (Though I didn't mind sharing my son, that Christmas was exhausting.) And while I'm happy to host or travel to see the grandparents, as my husband's aunt put it, "little ones should be in their own homes for the holidays and in their own beds to wait for Santa. That's where the best memories are made for them!"

This year, we want to make some memories for them. And yes, we've done Christmas activities at school, at church and with others, but now it's time for us. We've watched classics like The Christmas Carol (not the best thing for a 5 year old with an active imagination before bedtime, in retrospect). Baked cookies. Meeting the rush of shoppers at the store before this afternoon's winter snow. Slipping back into our old pasttime of noshing our way through Christmas Eve day, rather than sitting through a meal. Avoiding the hurriedness and excitement of traveling and sitting through Christmas Eve service in favor of a much more settled-down version tomorrow morning.

I've got chestnuts, found at an apple orchard, which we'll try roasting for a recipe. (One less thing to explain - "What are chestnuts?") I've got a gingerbread train, given to my son for his birthday, that we may assemble once the excitement settles down. I've got carrots for our snowmen we'll likely make (when the kids aren't hurling snowballs at mom).

But mostly, I've got time.

In the end, I don't care what we fix for Christmas dinner, what's opened from under our tree or what we end up doing. The important part is we reconnect as a family. And that, as my 5 year old continues to tell me, is what Christmas is about. Family.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Grandma Johnson’s XMAS Cookies

Grandma Johnson’s XMAS Cookies
2 cups sugar
2 cups shortening
4 eggs
2/3 cups milk
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking Soda
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons salt
6 cups flour or a little more


Mix altogether. Roll out on a floured board. Cut with cookie cutter and bake in 375 degree oven until light brown. Frost when cool, or sprinkle with sugar before baking.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Apple streudel: From Grandma's Kitchen

I intended to only do 20 days' worth of recipes, but this one is a must-have. In honor of my brother, grandma's apple streudel recipe:





Grandma Johnson's Apple Streudel

Dough:

4 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 cup lard or shortening (we use butter or margarine)

2 beaten eggs

1 cup warm water



Filling:

2 quarts peeled and sliced apples(or more)

2 cups sugar

2 handfuls of Corn Flakes

1/2 cup raisins

Cinnamon



Mix flour, salt and shortening. Add the eggs and enough warm water to make a soft dough. Knead on floured board until smooth and elastic (the longer you knead the better it pulls later). Cover with a bowl and let rest about 2 hours.Cover table with a large cloth. Sprinkle cloth all over with flour. Roll dough long and narrow to get it started. Then put hand under the dough and keep stretching dough gently until it is very thin, trying not to tear it.When dough is stretched very thin, scatter the sliced, cut up apples all over the dough. Sprinkle with the sugar, cinnamon, raisins and the crushed Corn Flake crumbs (or you may use 1 cup fried bread crumbs).Roll up into a long roll. You may do this by raising one side of the cloth and the strudle will roll up by itself. Cut the roll in half. Place streudel rolled with open side up, on two greased cookie sheets with four sides. Pinch ends shut. Grease top with melted butter or margarine.Put in 400 degrees oven for 15 min. Then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake about 45 min. more until brown. Remove from oven. Cut into 3-inch pieces. Remove from pan while hot using a pancake turner. Is best when warm.Note: The dough pulls easier in a warm room rather than in a cold one.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Grandma Johnson’s Giblet Dressing: From Grandma's Kitchen

I admit we get our stuffing from a red box, but I know some families are different...



Grandma Johnson’s Giblet Dressing
For an 18-pound turkey:
9 cups bread cubes
1 3/8 cups chopped onion
2 1/4 cups celery
1/2 cup butter or margarine (1 stick)
1 1/2 teaspoons sage
1 1/2 teaspoons poultry seasoning


Cut bread into cubes and let dry out partially, either by standing out for a day or by putting in oven at 300-350 degrees. Cook giblets until tender in slightly salted water, about a half hour for the liver, about an hour for the gizzard, heart and neck. Save the broth. Chop meat finely or put through a meat grinder.


Saute 3/4 cup chopped onion and 1 1/2 cup cut up celery in 1/3 cup butter or margarine until tender or onions are clear.Add 6 cups bread cubes to the onion and celery mixture and stir to absorb butter. Add sage and poultry seasoning to taste (about 1 teaspoon each), and salt and pepper to taste.


Pour hot broth over bread cube mixture and mix lightly.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Favorite Overnight Rolls: From Grandma's Kitchen

My Favorite Overnight Rolls
2 packages dry yeast
2 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees)
3/4 cup soft shortening
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs beaten
8 to 8 1/2 cups flour
3 teaspoons salt


Soften yeast in warm water – then add to the flour and other ingredients.


Knead on floured board until smooth. Put in large bowl or kettle with tight cover. Place in refrigerator or where it is cool overnight or until needed. It will keep for 2 days. Shape into rolls, dip into melted butter or margarine and put into greased pans. Let rise in warm place (not hot)
until double in size 1 hour or more. Bake in hot oven 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. Turn out on rack or board to cool.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Crusty Rolls: From Grandma's Kitchen

Crusty Rolls
1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
1 cake yeast or 1 package dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon soft lard
1 tablespoon sugar
3 1/2 cups flour


Let raise and punch down. Let rise again. Roll out and cut. Place on greased cookie sheet sprinkled with cornmeal.

Brush with cornstarch glaze. Let rise about 1 1/2 hours. Brush again with cornstarch glaze (see below). Sprinkle with salt and caraway seeds. Bake about 20 minutes at 350 degrees or until brown.


For Cornstarch Glaze


Mix 1 teaspoon cornstarch with 1 teaspoon cold water. Add about 1/3 cup
boiling water. Cook until smooth. Let cool before using. Caraway seeds
or poppy seeds are optional.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Pecan Dreams: From Grandma's Kitchen

So not good for you. So worth it...


Pecan Dreams
1 cup butter or margarine
2 cups flour
4 heaping tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla
2 cups finely chopped pecans
Sprinkle of salt


Cream butter and sugar; add vanilla, flour and chopped pecans. Roll into little balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Place in 300 degree oven for 30 to 45 min. Remove from oven and roll in powdered sugar. Let cool and roll in powdered sugar again.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

No-Cook Fudge: From Grandma's Kitchen

No-Cook Fudge
3 squares unsweetened chocolate
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup mashed potatoes
1 pound sifted confectioner’s sugar

Melt chocolate with butter over low heat. Add mashed potatoes, salt and vanilla. Mix well. Add sugar. Knead until smooth. Press into buttered 8-inch square pan. Cool and cut into squares.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sweet way to introduce science - for less than $5

Science gifts for kids. Easy. There are scores of them on the internet, at children's museums and educational stores.

Ones under $5 that's not simply a piece of plastic junk? That's a different story.

Last week, we had the challenge of picking a school-age kid for the daycare gift exchange. We had a $5 limit, per our sitter's decision. And because of the way our schedule falls, I'd never met this child in my life.

She was eight and liked science. And that's all I had to go on.

I figured it'd be easy to find something science-oriented with a quick internet search and a jaunt to store, right? Wrong. The cheapest thing I could find was in the $15-20 range, and even from the web photo, it looked like it would break.

My solution? Hit the science fair project circuit.

After a quick search, I stumbled on a great website - education.com. There I found a project perfect for a wintery afternoon: Using chemistry concepts to create marshmallows. I printed the directions and packed the dry ingredients in a decorated shoebox. Ready to go, in less than 10 minutes and fewer than five dollars.

Yes, science is sweet. I just hope her parents can forgive me for the mess!

Waiting for snow

Silent night. The kids are in bed. The husband asleep. And the countdown begins.

Yep, we're waiting on another winter storm tonight.

After nearly nine years in Indiana, I still haven't gotten used to Old Man Winter. Particularly when he comes before his time.

I've decided I'm fine with snow. When it's still white, fluffy, and only covering the yard. I'm fine with cold temps, as long as it doesn't broach the teens or come with it a hefty wind chill.

I am not, however, fine with sleet. Or ice. Or more than a few inches of snow.

And so the anxiety begins.

I pray for the safety of those who, like my husband, have to venture on the roads before daylight and the salt trucks have struck.

I worry about getting my kids to school and day care, safely, the curse of a working mom and primary provider.

And I pray for those who are trapped out in this cold, wet night.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fudge Nut Bars: From Grandma's Kitchen

Fudge Nut Bars

Bars:

1 cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups quick oatmeal


Filling:
12 ounces chocolate chips
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped nuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoonsvanilla

Cream together butter & sugar, mix in eggs and vanilla. Sift together flour, soda, salt and stir in oats. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture.

Set aside and make filling.

For filling: In a double boiler saucepan, mix chocolate chips, condensed milk, butter and salt. Stir until smooth. Stir in nuts and vanilla.

Spread about 2/3 of oatmeal mixture in bottom of greased jelly roll pan.
Cover with chocolate mixture. Dot with remainder of oatmeal mixture and swirl it over chocolate filling. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, until lightly browned. Cut into squares while still warm.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Chocolate Fudge: From Grandma's Kitchen

Chocolate Fudge
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2/3 cups syrup
1 1/3 cups milk and a sprinkle of salt

Boil together until a soft ball can be formed when a few drops are dropped into a cup of cold water. Remove from heat. Add 1/2 cup butter and cool a while. Then beat with spoon until mixture starts to lose its shine. Chopped nuts may be added. Pour into buttered 9 x 13 inch pan.
Cut in pieces when cool.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Keeping Advent Real

Advent is a time of preparation. But sometimes we're so busy preparing that we forget why we're even doing the work.

For too many years, Christmastime was packet with a to-do list. Christmas shopping. Christmas cards. Parties. Shows to watch at a specified time. Routine, routine, routine, crammed around work.

And then I had kids. Granted the first few Christmases were a blur in their own right, but as my children have aged I have realized I've wanted something more with the season.

Not more gifts. More meaning.

At the end of the day, my kids don't lose sleep over whether they got a certain toy their friends didn't. They just want to enjoy life.

So this Christmas season, I've tried a little harder to keep Advent real for them. We've largely kept off the TV and the commercials and stayed out of stores. Instead, we've been doing what we can to inject a little spirit into the season as we can.

These last two weeks, we've been busy in our little house. We made our own Nativity scene. Wrapped some needed items for children who need our love this season. Started baking cookies for my son's daycare party. Made a few Christmas cards and gifts for people we love.

We also experimented with a little more of the reason for the season. On Monday, we enjoyed a visit from St. Nicholas (not his watered-down, portly alter ego). In their slippers, the kids found a small piece of (admittedly leftover Halloween) candy and an encouraging note. A week later, my daughter was still telling her friends how St. Nicholas had written on a piece of paper from her Tinkerbell notebook because he didn't bring any.

On Wednesday, my husband and I quietly slipped away for a noontime service. It's amazing the difference no wiggling, giggling children make in your ability to relax and appreciate the words of your faith.

On Friday, we celebrated a service for Our Lady of Guadalupe, an amazing celebration that brought 35 brightly dressed children in traditional Mexican clothing together to relive their faith and a small bit of our heritage.

And yes, I realize this week and next brings the flurry of activities. The kids' Christmas programs. (Oh, and the angel costume I need to crank out beforehand...) The rest of the holiday baking. Not one but two weekends' worth of guests. And our "birthdayChristmas" as my son refers to his special day.

Even with the holiday hubub, a few short hours of refocusing on the real Christmas season was worth the investment. I hope you take the opportunity to do the same, and enjoy Christmas for all it's worth!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

We all have gifts to bear

The Christmas season can bring out the best in us, but many of us want to do more, but simply can't.

I know finances can be a strain, and it's tough to see sometimes that there are people out there who have it worse than we do. It can be even tougher to see that our little ways can make a difference.

If you're torn this holiday season about whether you can truly make a difference with what little you have, I ask you to take a few minutes and read this story. Living it really opened my eyes.

Wishing you a happy holiday season,
Robbie @ Going Green Mama

Christmas cards a blast from the past?

Christmas cards have a bit of nostalgia, but I think they're truly a way of connecting in a world reduced to 140 characters. In today's Green Phone Booth, I'm urging you to make a connection this Christmas (or New Year's, or Valentine's Day) and send an old-fashioned card and letter.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Cherry Winks: From Grandma's Kitchen

Cherry Winks
2 cups flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 tablespoons milk
2 cups corn flakes, crushed
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup dates, chopped
1 cup pecans, chopped
Maraschino cherries


Sift together flour, baking powder, soda and salt. Combine shortening and sugar, mix well. Blend in eggs. Add milk and vanilla. Blend in dry ingredients, mix well. Add pecans and dates; mix well. Roll dough, one level tablespoon per cookie, in crushed cornflakes.


Place on greased baking sheet. Top each cookie with 1/2 cherry. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Caramels: From Grandma's Kitchen

Caramels
1 cup white sugar
1 cup syrup
2 tablespoon butter
pinch of salt
1 cup cream or evaporated milk


Boil to soft ball stage. Add another cup of cream or evaporated milk. Boil
until it makes a firm, pliable ball in cold water. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and some walnuts. Pour into a buttered 9-inch pan. Let stand 12 hours before cutting. Wrap in wax paper.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

California Christmas Cookies: From Grandma's Kitchen

California Christmas Cookies
Beat 3 eggs, add 1 cup brown sugar and 1 cup orange marmalade. Sift
together 3 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon soda, 1/2 teaspoon
cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon allspice and 1/4 teaspoon cloves.


Add to first mixture. Spread about 1/2 -inch thick in greased shallow pan.


Bake 20 minutes at 375 degrees. Frost while hot with icing made of powdered sugar and cream.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Amish Sugar Cookies: From Grandma's Kitchen

Amish Sugar Cookies
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup margarine
1 cup cooking oil
2 eggs
4 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla


Combine sugars, oil, and margarine; beat well. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Make small balls of dough and put on cookie sheet. Flatten with a fork. Bake 10-12 minutes in 350 degree oven, or until golden brown.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sea Foam: From Grandma's Kitchen

Sea Foam is a favorite of my sister's. She always has good results with it.

Sea Foam
2 2/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup corn syrup, light
2/3 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 egg whites, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup walnuts

Cook together sugar, white syrup, water and salt to hard ball stage or 265 degrees. Pour slowly over 2 beaten egg whites. Beat until thick. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 cup walnuts. Pour into buttered 9 x 13-inch pan.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Scotch Shortbread: From Grandma's Kitchen

Scotch Shortbread
1 cup butter
10 tablespoons sugar or 5/8 cup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour


Mix and roll 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut in moon shapes with a glass dipped in flour. Bake at 315 degrees until light brown. Double the recipe.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Chocolate No-Bakes: From Grandma's Kitchen

Chocolate No-Bakes

1 cup semisweet chocolate pieces
1/3 cup butter or margarine
16 large marshmallows
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups quick or old fashioned oatmeal, uncooked
1 cup any combination of raisins, diced, dried fruit, coconut, miniature
marshmallows or nuts.

In large pan over low heat, melt chocolate, butter and marshmallows,
stirring until smooth. Remove from heat, cool slightly. Stir in remaining
ingredients. Roll into balls and put on waxed paper. Store tightly covered
in refrigerator.

Snow!

What is it about snow?


The allure that ensures that, even with a dusting, the kids have to stop and rub their hands in it on their way out the door to school.


That makes them actually stop for five minutes to watch it fall from the sky.


That makes them declare, just minutes after complaining that one's stomach hurts, that she is not that sick and trounces back out of her bedroom, snowpants on, talking about a snowball fight. Before 7 a.m.


Yes, this morning, we woke up with our first real snow of the season. At last check, we're expecting to get about 4 inches of the fluffy white stuff. So, barring any health disasters today, we'll be bundling up, dusting off some items to decorate our snowmen, and, if my daughter has her way, making snow candy a la Laura Ingalls Wilder.


Thankfully, we don't have much for holiday plans today, so we can keep things simple and enjoy the season!

Scramble to shop

What is it about mandatory gift giving? Somehow, the "must buy" has to take the spirit out of the holiday spirit and defeats the purpose and joy of gift giving. Not to mention adding to our clutter and our debt.

Today at the Green Phone Booth, I'm chatting about obligatory gifts and whether people are finally waking up to the fact that they don't have to buy equal for everyone.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Fruitcake: From Grandma's Kitchen

Fruitcake. You know it was going to show up at some point. Thought I'd get it over with.



Fruitcake

1 1/2 cups butter
3 cups sugar
3 cups sweetened applesauce
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg (if desired)
6 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking soda
1 pound mixed candied fruit
1 pound candied cherries
4 cups raisins
3 cups walnuts (if desired)



Sprinkle flour over the fruit and nuts. Mix together. Grease and line pans with brown paper. Grease again. Bake 1 1/2 hours at 325 degrees or until brown. Makes 4 or 5 cakes.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Poopaki: From Grandma's Kitchen

Poopaki I believe is a Czechoslavakian bread dish, but one my brother couldn't get enough of as a child. Even to this day, when I ask what he wants for Christmas, he says apple streudel and poopaki.

Poopaki
Bread dough
Ground poppy seed
Honey

Take bread dough already mixed. Cut in small pieces and place on greased cookie sheet. Leave room between each. Cover with a towel and let raise until the size of walnuts. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.*

Before serving, pour boiling water over them just long enough to moisten. Pour off the water. Sprinkle with ground poppy seed and sweeten with honey.

You can buy poppy seed that is already ground and canned.


* Linda’s note: Oven temperatures may vary from 350 to 400 degrees.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas Stollen: From Grandma's Kitchen

Family packed around the old farm table that had seen generations of Christmases gone by. Frigid temperatures and 100-below wind chills. Cousins I hadn't seen in a year.


When I think back to Christmases as a child, the ones I'm most fond of are the ones spent at our grandparents' homes in Wisconsin. And my grandmother was known for her hospitality (and the five pounds you'd gain on your visit.)


This Christmas, I thought I'd treat you to some family recipes from my grandmother's cookbook. Enjoy!




Christmas Stollen
1 package yeast
1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup milk
2 cups flour
1 cup butter or margarine
3 beaten egg yolks (or 1-2 whole eggs)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
1/4 teaspoon lemon rind (optional)
2 to 2 1/2 cups flour
1 pound dates or raisins
1/2 cup or more nuts
1 cup maraschino or candied cherries, cut up
1 slice candied pineapple, cut in pieces
1/2 cup choppen citron or mixed fruit (optional)



Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water; add 1 teaspoon sugar. Scald milk and cool to lukewarm. Add flour and beat well. Cream butter or margarine and 1/2 cup sugar, eggs and salt. (You may use nutmeg or lemon rind if you wish.)

Add to above mixture with flour, enough to make a soft, smooth dough.

Knead until elastic. Place in greased bowl and cover. Let rise until double, about 3 hours.

Divide dough into 3 pieces. Roll out to 1/2 inch thick. Brush with melted butter. Cover with dates or raisins, nuts, cherries, candied pineapple, citron or mixed fruit.

This amount is for the 3 stollen. Roll dough like a jelly roll. Place on greased cookie sheet. Let rise until light and doubled in size.

Bake at 375 degrees about 40 minutes or until browned. Ice with powdered sugar icing and decorate with nuts and fruit.

White chocolate blueberry bark

Need a holiday treat in a flash? Here's a fast surprise that I stumbled across last year. I adapated a recipe I found online that called for dried cranberries. And it was a success - my sister-in-law hurried it into her room on Christmas Eve, hiding it for snacking throughout the day.

White chocolate blueberry bark
1 12-oz. package white chocolate chips
1 cup dried bluberries

Melt white chocolate chips in microwave, stirring every 15 seconds. Mix in dried blueberries. Pour over cookie sheet lined with waxed paper. Cool, then break into pieces.