Friday, June 29, 2007

A favorite fruit punch

Here's my pick for an easy fruit punch to serve at a Christmas open house.


2 12-ounce cans frozen cran/raspberry juice cocktail
2 1-liter bottles chilled orange-flavored carbonated water* (the raspberry-lime flavor is great, too)

Mix together in a large punch bowl or -- for a picnic -- in a gallon-size insulated jug or a jar. Serve with ice. For a punch bowl, a fruit-filled ice ring is a nice touch. We used this punch for 2 weddings but have also used it for open house at Christmas or New Year’s. It is so easy and delicious! Of course, you may multiply the ingredients for more servings.

Yield: 20 servings.

* Note -- be sure to get the flavored club soda and not just the flavored carbonated waters which are so popular. The flavored water contains aspartame or splenda and makes the punch much too sweet.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Fabulous Eggnog Recipe


1/2 gallon cold milk, divided use
1 pkg. (3.4 ounces) French vanilla instant pudding mix (vanilla will work)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg

In a large bowl, whisk 3/4 cup milk with the pudding mix until smooth. Whisk in the sugar, vanilla, and spices. Stir in the remaining milk. Refrigerate until serving, and be sure to refrigerate any leftovers.

Yield: 2 quarts

I first tried this wonderful recipe from Taste of Home magazine at Christmas 2005. It is so easy, and there’s none of the worry or mess of using raw eggs. This is delicious! Most people tell me that if I hadn’t revealed the secret of the instant pudding mix, they would never know this wasn’t “real” eggnog!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

"Simple Joys of Christmas"

Today I thought I would share about another favorite Gooseberry Patch book of mine. This is one of their special (but, I think short-lived) "Simple Joys" series. These books -- there was at least one other, Simple Joys of Friendship -- are absolutely beautiful, keepsake-type books. I believe they are out of print, but I bet you could find one on line or at a consignment shop. I got mine for free because I have a recipe published in it.

Every page of this gorgeous book is enhanced with beautiful retro-looking watercolor illustrations. It just says "1950s" to me, with so many of the decorations and trims looking like the ones that I remember. It would be a favorite book of mine just for the illustrations alone. There are four sections to this book: Blessings, Delights, Memories, and Gatherings.

The Blessings section is subtitled "Sharing memories from the heart" and its first page is just a visual delight. Multicolored retro Christmas lights dance all over a yellow/white plaid background. A square of green & white polka-dot fabric, with pinked edges, serves as a backdrop for a cluster of colorful aluminum bells. A rectangle of the same fabric, edged with green rickrack, is the backdrop for the title.

The Blessings section is filled with heartfelt memories, but on each facing page there is a recipe. Some of the recipes are those mentioned in the memories -- others are just good Christmas recipes. Here are a few of them --Festive Cheese Ball, Fireside Dip, Best-Ever Popcorn Balls, Warm Cinnamon Twists, Heavenly Potato Soup, Pumpkin Coffee Cake. (I can vouch for that last one -- it's wonderful!)

The "Delights" section is subtitled "Cheery holiday fun..." and it is filled with wonderful memories as well. Among the recipes are Broccoli-Wild Rice soup -- I've tried that one, halved the recipe; it's great), Candy Cane Cookies, Snow Ice Cream, Cookie Jar Gingersnaps (yummy!), Grandma Ruth's Cherry Cake, Creamy Hot Cocoa, and more.

The first page of the "Memories" section (subtitled "Sweet holiday recollections") is delightful too. On a pale green background are scattered red-handled rolling pins, red & green-handled cookie cutters, and sets of measuring spoons. The red & white striped "fabric swatch" on this page serves as a backdrop for a delicious-looking cake on a jadite cake plate.

Along with sweet memories, there are more recipes here -- like Mom's Christmas Fudge, Cherry Winks, Christmas Cheese Ball Wreath, Nana's Butter Cookies,Mint Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball, and Chocolate-Pistachio Cake.

"Gatherings" is the last section, and it contains more memories of families and friends. Recipes like Angel Torte, Winter Wonderland Chili, Wassail, Cherry Crumb Pie, Almond Roca, and more are interspersed with memories and more beautiful artwork.

When these books were being "retired" by Gooseberry Patch, they were available at quite a low price. I bought one for each of my daughters and my daughter-in-law. Now they can all own the book with "our" special recipe in it!

June 25...

... was Rudolph Day for June!

I must confess I did very little to celebrate. Once I remembered that it was in fact Rudolph Day, I did do a couple of things:

* Looked over my timeline for completing Christmas crafts. (I'm several months behind, mostly owing to eldercare responsibilities, craft planning and preparation for Vacation Bible School -- which started yesterday -- and increased busyness with writing projects. But I'm beginning to think about getting back on track with my Christmas crafting and can see a ray of light at the end of the tunnel -- I hope.)

* Looked through a couple of magazines for ideas for Christmas kitchen gifts for the coming year.

* Checked in at the Organized Christmas craft forum, a place I haven't made time to visit in weeks. Found I had a message from a lady who'd stumbled across my Christmas Kitchen blog and is enjoying the posts. That made my Rudolph Day!

* Glanced through my Christmas notebook in the Rudolph Day section and discovered that the main emphasis for June's Rudy Day is on gathering up our Christmas recipes. Yay! I can say I've been working on that one...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

My Christmas Notebook, Part 5

Here's the last "official" section in my Christmas notebook:

The last section in my Christmas notebook is labeled Christmas Past. Here is where I file things from past Christmases.

I have lists of what we gave people for Christmas, going back to Christmas 2001, which is when I started trying to be more organized about the holiday. It's been a real help to me to save these lists, because I find I will often have the same gift idea for the same person and would otherwise not be able to remember whether I actually gave them that gift or not. I can look back at my lists and know for sure.

These lists also include what we gave to people whose names we drew in our Sunday School gift exchange.

I even include on these lists a notation as to what food gifts I shared with our neighbors each year, and if any of those were particular favorites with the recipients.

Also in this "Christmas Past" section are lists detailing any entertaining we did, starting with Thanksgiving dinner and going through cookie exchanges, open houses, Christmas Eve, Christmas dinner, etc. etc. It is really helpful to look back and see what we served, or, in the case of Thanksgiving, who brought what, etc. For the big occasions, I also keep a list of what serving dishes I will need.

Organized Christmas has a printable Christmas Debriefing form which is very helpful. Each year after Christmas, take a quick look back at what worked, what didn't, and how you can improve in your planning for the coming year. I keep my debriefing forms in the Christmas Past section too, very appropriately.

Technically this ends my Christmas notebook, but I have a few items stuffed into the front and back pockets of the notebook which I'll share another time.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

My Christmas Notebook, Part 4

The next part of my Christmas notebook is an idea I got from someone on the craft forum at Organized Christmas last year. I tweaked it a bit, I think, to make it work better for me; I'm not sure I completely understood what they were saying. But the way I've done this works well for me.

Basically, I took a look at the different things I wanted to craft for Christmas gifts and decorations. I then divided these up into categories based on what type of craft technique they involved. Of course these categories will vary depending on what sort of crafts you like to do.

The categories I came up with were : Sewing; Crochet; Embroidery/Cross-Stitch; Paper/Printables; and Miscellaneous.

For each category, I used one of those manila divider pages that has a pocket in it. I placed an index tab on each one with the name of the craft technique in it. Then, in the pocket of each divider, I placed the printed instructions for each craft item in that category. For example, I want to make my husband a new checkbook cover for a stocking stuffer (don't worry; he never reads my blogs), so I have the instructions for this project safely stowed in the divider for the Sewing category. (Obviously, this won't work if your instructions are part of a book or magazine, but read on.)

Also in each category, in addition to the divider, I have a number of sheets of lined paper where I've outlined just what projects I want to do in that category; how many of each; materials required, and what date I'd like to be finished by. On this lined paper I would also add the information as to where to find the instructions if they are part of a book or magazine and not conducive to placing in the divider page.

For example, in the sewing category (I'll use last year's list as an example), I have:

10 -12 foldable fabric baskets
Materials - Christmas fabric, plastic canvas, thread, ribbon

Finish by: June 25

5 fleece pillow quilts
Materials needed for each - 2 1/2 yds. fleece, pearl cotton to match

Finish by: October 25

In both cases the instructions were such that they'd fit into the divider pocket. But if they weren't, I'd add a line that says something like this:

Gooseberry Patch Christmas Book 1, page 25


Crafting Traditions magazine, Dec. 1995, page 20

or whatever your book or magazine is.

For me, this has been a great way to organize my Christmas crafting. Hope it's helpful to someone else!

Friday, June 15, 2007

My Christmas Notebook, Part 3

Here's the next installment in my Christmas notebook:

In New England, we have a chain of stores called the Christmas Tree Shoppe. They offer a lot of unique gifts (and yes, some junk too) at very reasonable prices. They tend to offer some of the same items -- maybe in different patterns -- every year. Things like glass cutting boards, ceramic loaf pans and pie plates -- things that make wonderful additions to or containers for gift baskets. They also have beautiful (imported from Italy) paper napkins for Christmas for only $1 or $2 -- I love to tuck a package of these in with a kitchen gift. Anyway, all that to say that in my Christmas notebook I have several page protectors filled with ideas I've clipped from Christmas Tree Shoppe flyers and pasted to construction paper.

Following these, I have a bunch more page protectors similarly filled with ideas I've clipped from catalogs over the years. These are ideas for Christmas gifts and decorations, most of them things I would like to make myself. If I take the time to page through these ideas, I never fail to be inspired by them. I've actually used some of the ideas!

Case in point: Rice Krispie Pops -- squares of Rice Krispies™ treats on popsicle sticks, dipped in white chocolate, decorated with an icing Christmas tree, all wrapped in a clear wrapper secured by a plaid bow. How hard is that? Not hard at all. Great stocking stuffers, small gifts for kids, or a neat little add-in to a gift basket.

Another idea was a set of wood or papier mache Shaker boxes, painted to look like a snowman wearing a top hat, with a strip of plaid flannel for a scarf and a couple of buttons adorning the bottom box. I found a tree ornament that looked just like a set of Shaker boxes and painted it the same way. An adorable, one-of-a-kind ornament!

Another idea: a basket of pine cone fire starters. I made my own that looked just like these by collecting my own pine cones (heat them in the oven to dry them out and kill any insects). I colored melted paraffin red and green with broken crayons, poured this into muffin tins about 1/4 full, and stuck a pine cone in each one. When the wax hardened, I just popped out the fire starters. A basket of these, tied with a ribbon, costs close to $20 in a catalog and is practically free when you make your own. These make a great gift for people who have a fireplace or people who like to go camping.

The idea pages go on and on. I have gotten some wonderful gift and decoration ideas this way.

That's enough for today. More later on my Christmas notebook!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

White Christmas Candy

Another easy candy recipe we've made for years is the following:

(Peppermint Bark)

1 package white chocolate confectionery coating (almond bark)
6 to 8 regular candy canes

Melt the confectionery coating in the microwave according to package directions. Meanwhile, place the candy canes in a medium ziplock bag and seal the bag. Use a hammer or a wooden meat mallet to crush the candy canes into small pieces.

When the coating is melted and smooth, add the crushed candy canes and stir to combine well. Pour the mixture out onto a foil- or wax-paper-lined baking sheet. Spread the mixture out to about 1/4-inch thickness (maybe a little more) with a spatula.

Allow the mixture to harden (in the fridge is the quickest way); then remove foil or wax paper and break candy into bite-size pieces. Store in an airtight tin.

This is a very easy recipe that makes a lot of delicious candy. The recipe can easily be doubled.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Four-Chip Fudge

As mentioned yesterday, in looking through my Christmas notebook I was reminded of a few candy recipes I need to post here. Here's another one:


3/4 cup butter, plus a little for greasing the foil
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
3 Tblsp. milk
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
11 1/2 ounces milk chocolate chips
10 ounces peanut butter chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
7 ounces marshmallow creme or fluff
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, if desired

Line a 13x9-inch pan with foil; grease foil with a little butter. Set pan aside.

In a large heavy saucepan, melt the 3/4 cup butter over low heat. Add the next five ingredients. Cook and stir constantly until smooth. Remove from heat; stir in butterscotch chips, marshmallow creme, and flavorings. Stir until very well blended. Stir in the nuts if you are using them.

Spread fudge in prepared pan. Refrigerate until set. When fudge is firmly set, lift it out of the pan using the foil. Invert on a cutting board; remove foil and cut into squares.

Yield: about 4 1/2 pounds fudge.

This amazing fudge recipe is a new favorite of mine. It came from Taste of Home, the December/January 2002 issue. I first tried this for Christmas 2005 and made it again in ‘06. It makes lots of delicious fudge which you can stash in the freezer for kitchen gifts, adding to cookie trays, serving to drop-in guests, taking to potlucks, etc. Hope others enjoy this as much as we have!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Chocolate-Covered Almond Brittle

Here's another of my favorite candies for gift-giving. It's equally delicious without the chocolate coating.


1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup coarsely chopped almonds
1 Tblsp. butter or margarine
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
12 ounces dark or milk chocolate confectionery coating (almond bark)

Butter a metal baking sheet generously and have it ready. In a 2-quart microwave-safe bowl, combine sugar, corn syrup, and salt; mix well. Microwave on High for 4 minutes. Stir in almonds; microwave on High for 4 minutes. Add the butter and vanilla; microwave on High for 1 - 1/2 minutes. Stir in baking soda. As soon as the mixture foams, quickly pour it onto the prepared baking sheet. The mixture will probably spread out on its own, but you may have to help it out a bit with a spatula to achieve an even thickness.

Cool completely, then break candy into pieces about 2 inches in size. The pieces will be irregular in size and shape.

Melt the chocolate coating in microwave. Dip one edge of each brittle piece in melted chocolate and place the pieces on wax paper until the chocolate coating is firm. Store in an airtight container -- a tin is ideal.

Makes about 1 pound candy.

I have always made this candy in a heavy glass bowl, but last Christmas I had a little misadventure with it: I combined my sugar and corn syrup and stuck the bowl in the microwave for 4 minutes, then ran upstairs to do something else until the timer went. I heard a popping sound or two but didn't think anything of it. The timer went off and I opened the microwave door... to find an amazing sight!

The sides of the bowl had separated from the bottom. So what I had was a shallow glass bowl full of molten sugar/corn syrup, and a separate glass ring that had originally been the rest of the bowl. Very interesting! More interesting still was the question of how I was going to safely remove the liquid (more-or-less)-filled "bowl" without spilling anything or seriously hurting myself. I could easily remove the ring part, so I did that and took it immediately to our glass recycling bin. I finally figured out that I could safely remove the "bowl" part, with its rapidly hardening (but still incredibly warm) contents, by pulling it out microwave tray and all. Then I set it in the sink and filled it with water.
What a mess! I eventually did get all of the molten sugar mess out of the "bowl" and got it clean enough to place in the recycle bin.

And yes, I did make another batch of the stuff. I used a 3-quart Pyrex casserole this time and watched it like a hawk. It came out just fine, thankfully.

So I offer this recipe to you with some trepidation. Try it if you like, but I recommend using a Pyrex casserole dish.

My Christmas Notebook, Part 2

Time to share a few more things from my Christmas notebook! Filed in this next area are a bunch of ideas for kitchen gifts -- some tried, some not. These include recipes from newspapers, magazines, and some I've printed off the internet. I have a few pages from gift catalogs which inspire me as to the contents and packaging of food gift items.

One important item is a list of food gifts I turn to again and again, to which I've added a short list of new items I want to try and a couple of reminders to myself. Here's the list:


Heavenly Delight

Special Holiday Fudge
Coffee Walnuts
Chocolate-Covered Almond Brittle
Orange Pecans
Chocolate Peanut Morsels
White Christmas Bark
Four-Chip Fudge

Want to try:

Cookie Dough Truffles
Maple Peanut Delights
Chocolate-Covered Fruit Jellies

* Zippy Horseradish Pickles are great!

* Fantabulous Flapjack Mix always a good idea for guys!

(Reading over this list reminds me that there are a couple of candy recipes I still need to post here!)

Here, I also have some ideas for labeling my kitchen gifts, and a few poems I've written to accompany such gifts. For example, the Snowman Soup recipe found on Organized Christmas -- I've written my own verse for that, as I personalized it to give as thank-yous to kids who worked hard on a Christmas musical. And so on.

Also in this section I have some entertaining ideas clipped together -- a favorite punch recipe, how-tos's for a cookie exchange, some special appetizer recipes, and tips for stress-free entertaining.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

My Christmas Notebook, Part 1

For awhile now, I've been wanting to share the general content of my Christmas notebook. It's a helpful tool for me, and I think others would find it so, too. For my notebook, I used one of those neat view binders. I pasted neat Christmas pictures and quotes on plain white paper and slipped them into the view pockets on front and back. This personalizes the notebook and makes it fun to use.

My Christmas notebook, like everything else in my life seems to be, is a work in progress. It's full of ideas, lists, and organizational helps. It's helpful to have most of my Christmas planning in one place.

In the front, I have a section with Rudolph Day ideas that I printed out some time ago. I don't think I have actually ever done any of these things on a Rudolph Day (25th of each month) but I really intend to -- some one of these days. Here are a couple of ideas:

* Buy stocking stuffers
* Make tags/labels for homemade gift mixes
* Work on holiday scrapbook pages
* Try out a recipe you'd like to make at Christmastime.

You can see that there are simple things, like the above, which can be done all through the year to help prepare for Christmas.

In this section, I also have the monthly Rudolph Club meetings printed out. These contain wonderful ideas to do toward Christmas, every month of the year. One neat suggestion: buy canning jars in summer, during canning season, to use for gifts in a jar at Christmas. (I'm too frugal to do this, but I do save instant coffee jars all year round to use for the same purpose!) Another thought is that summer, when the pace of life is a little slower for most people, is a good time to craft for Christmas. One year, I made cross-stitched Christmas bread cloths for special gifts and worked on them while we were camping. It actually made me feel a little bit cooler!

In the next section, I have forms from Organized Christmas and FlyLady's Holiday Control Journal. Lots of helpful stuff there. I think I've shared before about the holiday baking planner -- very helpful indeed! The forms for Gifts to Make and Gifts to Purchase are invaluable, as is the Gift Closet Inventory and the Catalog Order Tracker. These are all things I use every year.

This past year I used the Room-by-Room Decor Planner from Organized Christmas to plan my decor, and then after the decorating was all done I made notes on this form of exactly where I put each item. For example -- Christmas tree -- picture window; lighted village -- under tree; creche -- on hutch, and so on. All the years of decorating tend to blur together after awhile, and so I think it's a great idea to keep track of what you did that worked well.

Organized Christmas also offers (in the Holiday Grand Plan) some thought-provoking questions to ask yourself as you begin to plan for Christmas. These can be found in "Week Two: Question Week" of the HGP. I found them very helpful.

Organized Christmas also has a After-Christmas debriefing form to fill out after Christmas to evaluate how things went, what worked, what didn't, and what you want to do differently in the coming year. This has been helpful to me.

Well, this is about all I have time to share for now. In the next few days I can share some of the other things that reside in my Christmas notebook. I recommend that if you think you'd like to plan better for Christmas 2007, you should take a look at Organized Christmas and print off some of the forms I've mentioned here. You'll be glad you did!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Ideas for Christmas Breakfast

For Christmas breakfast when the kids were growing up, I always liked to have something easy but hearty. I knew they would be having a lot of sweets and excitement that day, not to mention a lack of sleep. So it made sense to me to be sure that breakfast included some good food, especially protein and fruit. I would plan some sort of egg dish -- usually one that could be made the night before and refrigerated, then baked in the morning. Along with this, we would have muffins or coffeecake, and either leftover ambrosia or the oranges from the stockings. Here are some of our favorite breakfast recipes that I used over the years.


2 cups seasoned croutons
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
4 eggs
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
Pepper to taste
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

Place the croutons and cheese in a lightly greased 9-inch square pan.
combine milk, salt, mustard, onion powder and pepper. Pour this over
the croutons and cheese in the pan. Sprinkle bacon on top. Cover and
refrigerate overnight. In the morning, bake at 350°, uncovered, for l
hour. Recipe may be doubled for a 13X9-inch pan.

Yield: 4 servings

This is my standby breakfast recipe when we have overnight guests. I
also served it at 2 pre-wedding brunches to the wedding party. So easy,
but delicious!

Here's another possibility for an egg dish:

1 pkg. brown-and-serve sausage links
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 Tblsp. flour
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
6 eggs
1/2 cup half-and-half cream (or milk)
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Cook sausages according to package directions. Drain off any fat and
set the sausages aside.

In ungreased 1 1/2-quart casserole dish, toss together the cheddar
cheese and flour. Evenly sprinkle with the Monterey Jack cheese.
In medium bowl, beat together the eggs, cream and Worcestershire until
well blended. Pour over cheese. Arrange sausages in spoke fashion on

Cover dish and refrigerate up to 24 hours.

About 1 1/4 hours before serving, uncover dish and let stand at room temperature 30

Preheat oven to 350°.
Bake casserole for 35 to 40 minutes or until mixture is puffed and egg mixture appears set. Cut in wedges to serve.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

This was the egg dish I would always make for any special breakfast
until I found that Egg Brunch recipe, which is much simpler.

Here's a muffin recipe you might like to try:

1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cardamom, optional
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
Melted butter and cinnamon-sugar for top

Sift together the first 7 ingredients; set aside. In a bowl, combine
the oil, egg, and milk; stir in dry ingredients just until combined.
Batter will be lumpy. Place batter in 12 greased muffin cups, filling
the cups only half full.

Bake in preheated 350° oven for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown. While muffins are still hot, remove from tins and dip the tops in melted butter, then in cinnamon-sugar. Place
on a wire rack to cool, or serve immediately. 1/4 cup margarine will be more than enough for dipping the muffins.

Yield: 12 muffins

These are probably our very favorite muffins in our family. They are
quick and easy to make.

** If you don't have cinnamon-sugar on hand, you can do this: Mix 3/4
cup sugar with 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Use what you need for this recipe;
store the remainder in a jar or tin for future use. **

Well, there are a few thoughts for Christmas breakfast. I may share a few more recipes as time goes on.

Merry Mincemeaters

 These are bar cookies that I remember my mother making. When I put this recipe in my Christmas Memory Book, I thought I copied it down accurately, but I forgot a crucial ingredient (I think it was sugar) and had to look it up again. I found this recipe on line, but then I discovered it later in an old cookie cookbook I own. I think it was originally a Pillsbury Bake-Off winner of long ago, but I'm not sure about that. Anyway, here's the recipe:

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg (reserve 1 Tblsp. egg white for later use)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups mincemeat
1/3 cup sliced almonds (optional)

Sift together flour, cinnamon and salt; set aside. Cream butter and
sugar. Blend in egg and vanilla; beat well. Stir in the sifted dry
ingredients; mix thoroughly.

Roll out half of dough on greased baking
sheet to a 10X8-inch rectangle. Spread with mincemeat. Roll out
remaining dough between sheets of wax paper to a 10X8-inch rectangle.
Remove top sheet of wax paper and invert dough over the mincemeat.
Remove remaining wax paper.

Slightly beat the reserved egg white and
brush it over the dough. Sprinkle with almonds if desired. Bake at
350° for 25 to 35 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool before
cutting into bars.

I was surprised when copying down this recipe to find that it had no brown sugar in it. I had been sure the crust had a brown sugar flavor to it. It must be the cinnamon that gives it a light brown color and great flavor.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Gooseberry Patch Christmas Book #1


Earlier I’ve mentioned Christmas books put out by Gooseberry Patch -- Welcome Home for the Holidays and Homespun Christmas -- and later I’ll share my thoughts about others of these that I own. They are hardcover, comb-bound books and are lovely.

 But there are other, numbered, G’berry Patch Christmas books, published by Leisure Arts, that are every bit as nice. They contain some of the same recipes and projects, and a good many extra ones as well. These books also contain wonderful photos of the foods and projects that are included. I’ve come by these in different ways -- mailings from Leisure Arts (most expensive way); using 40%-50% off coupons at Jo-ann Fabrics; buying the paperback version at Wal*Mart; and finding them at consignment shops (cheapest way). 

I have gotten my money’s worth out of every one of these. (I own them all, but they seem to come out with a new one each year.) 

Book #1 contains the following sections: Family Christmas; Cherished Traditions; A Sprinkle Here, a Sparkle There; Make it Merry, Wrap it Bright; Gifts from the Kitchen; and Festive Foods & Glorious Feasts

Projects I’ve made from this book include the Spiced Candles, Appliquéd Tea Towels, Twig Stars, Sweatshirt Cardigan, and handmade Gift Tags

Kitchen gifts I’ve made include Mom’s Hot Chocolate and Sunset Orchard Spiced Tea Mix. 

There are still many, more recipes and craft and decorating ideas that I want to try from this book. You might find it at a consignment shop or on eBay for a decent price.  I have bought some on Thriftbooks.  And recently I saw all sixteen of the numbered Gooseberry Patch Christmas books at a local thrift store.  They are a fabulous addition to any collection of Christmas books!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Chocolate Peppermint Trees


 Here's another neat recipe for pressed cookies. I made these a few times many years ago. They are a bit of work, but so cute. They'd make a lovely gift or a show-stopping contribution to a cookie exchange.


 3 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups butter or real margarine
1 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla
4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, melted and cooled

 Peppermint Filling:
8 ounces white confectionery coating (almond bark), cut up
2 drops green food coloring
1/4 tsp. peppermint extract   

 Sift together the flour and salt; set aside. Cream together the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, using medium speed of electric mixer. Add egg yolks and vanilla; beat well. Blend in melted chocolate. Gradually stir sifted dry ingredients into chocolate mixture, mixing well. 

Place tree plate in cookie press. Place half the dough in cookie press at one time. Press tree shapes about 1 inch apart on ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheets. 

Bake cookies in preheated 375º oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or until set but not browned. Leave cookies on baking sheets for 2 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely. 

Prepare Peppermint Filling by melting the white confectionery coating according to package directions.  When melted, stir in food coloring and extract. 

 Sandwich 2 cookies together with Peppermint Filling in between. When all of the sandwich cookies are made, dip each sandwich into remaining peppermint filling (you may need to reheat it a bit for this step) so that half the cookie is coated with the pale green white chocolate. Place on wax paper until coating sets.

Yield: About 5 dozen sandwich cookies. 

If you have one, you could actually use your own preferred recipe for chocolate pressed cookies.  That's what I did when I made these most recently.  As you see, I also didn't tint the white chocolate and I dipped only the edge of the cookie sandwiches into it.  I sprinkled on some green sugar, too.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Christmas Traditions for the Empty Nest...

Sometimes it can be really traumatic when all of the kids leave home and things are just not the same as they used to be at holiday time. It's unrealistic to expect them to stay the same, however. Even if your married children live in the same town as you do, they should be encouraged to begin their own special traditions as a new family. If they live in another state or even another country, they should not be pressured to "come home for Christmas". Maybe they want to make that a part of their own holiday tradition -- and hooray if they do! -- but we shouldn't pressure them to do so.

I have found that beginning some new traditions of our own (and tweaking some older ones) as empty-nesters has been really helpful in keeping the blues away at holiday time. Here are a few ideas:

* On the day of the first significant snowfall in our area (usually sometime in November) I bake the first Christmas cookies of the season to freeze.

* I decorate to my heart's content! Lots easier without little kids underfoot.

* I often plan special pre-Christmas gifts for my married kids and their families. Christmas books, foods, decorations and crafts to enjoy throughout the coming season.

* We always do some of our Christmas shopping at a very special group of shops (in an old mill) where we traditionally visited when the kids were younger. We like to go in the evening when the street lamps are lit, carols are playing, and a light snow is falling.

* I pack Christmas boxes to send to those family and friends who are far away. It is so much fun to plan what goodies to include. I just want the box to say "Merry Christmas!" when they open it.

* My husband and I fill Christmas stockings for each other. This is lots of fun and something special to look forward to on Christmas morning.

* We enjoy our traditional Christmas Eve Soup whether we have company or not.

* I make a special breakfast on Christmas morning -- usually including an egg bake of some sort (prepared the night before and baked fresh that morning) and a coffeecake or muffins I've baked ahead.

We plan to have "Christmas" together with all of our kids and grandkids whenever we can all be together, no matter what time of year it happens to be. The times all together are so rare we want to savor them fully.

Well, those are just a few thoughts. But above all, let's not forget that "leaving and cleaving" is biblical. Once our married kids leave home, they are a new family and we need to set them free to function as such in every way.