Monday, January 31, 2022

January muffin recipe: Cranberry Poppy Seed


As I mentioned yesterday, I'm implementing a plan to try a new muffin recipe each month of 2022 to find a replacement for the bran muffins I give my mother-in-law each year.  I started with bran years ago, because I gave her the muffin batter in a container to bake as needed.  She liked bran muffins a lot.  The first year I also gave her silicone muffin "tins".  As time has gone by, she no longer bakes for herself (she's 95) and I've become increasingly disappointed with my bran muffin recipe.

So here is the first installment in my muffin quest.  It also happens to be free of refined sugar, since my hubby and I are currently on a sugar fast.


1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 Tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large egg
6 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 1/4 cups milk
1/4 cup melted butter
2 Tablespoons poppy seeds
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
Crumb topping: Mix together 4 Tblsp. flour, 4 Tblsp. pure maple sugar, 2 Tblsp. coconut sugar, 3 Tblsp. old-fashioned oats, and 4 Tblsp. softened butter

Preheat the oven to 400ยบ and line 12 muffin cups with foil liners or parchment liners.  Sift the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and cinnamon into a large bowl (or leave them in the sifter and sift directly into the wet ingredients).  In a second bowl, whisk together the egg, maple syrup, milk, and melted butter until well blended.  Whisk in the poppy seeds.  Add the sifted dry ingredients to the bowl and whisk until just blended.  Stir in the cranberries.  

Divide the batter among the lined muffin cups and top each one with an even amount of the Crumb Topping.  Bake for 22 minutes.  Cool the muffins in the pan on a rack for a few minutes before removing the muffins to the rack to cool completely.

The muffin recipe is adapted from one by Ken Haedrich in his cookbook Country Breakfasts.  The topping recipe is adapted from one by Chocolate-Covered Katie.

All in all, I was quite pleased with these muffins.  I brought them along to our Christmas Club meeting and they were enjoyed!

Sunday, January 30, 2022

The actual kitchen gift list


 Here goes with the actual kitchen gift list from 2021.    Let's do a little comparison of it with my tentative list:

So as you see,  I made the first 5 items on the list, then for "other cookies" I did Chocolate Mint Crisps and for "other candy" I did Heavenly Delight fudge.  

Instead of bran muffins, I made Oatmeal Jam Muffins.  More about that in a moment.

I made two Apricot Cakes with the intent of gifting one and freezing one as a birthday gift for my walking friend who loves this cake and has a February birthday.

I didn't get around to making hot chocolate mix or Christmas Jam this year.  

For years, I have baked bran muffins for my mother-in-law and added a bag of clementines and homemade hot cocoa mix to her gift.  It's been a consumable gift that she has really enjoyed.  However, over the past few years I have become increasingly disenchanted with my bran muffin recipe.  I thought I would try different recipes throughout 2021 and see if I could find a muffin recipe that might be better.  Of course, I didn't get around to doing so.  (I have made a plan, though, to do just that in 2022.)  So I ended up using an old recipe of mine for Oatmeal Jam Muffins.  If you should be interested in the recipe, you'll find it in this post: Champions of Breakfast.  My hubby baked the muffins and they were just okay.  The jam leaked and burned in some of them, but we picked the best looking ones to take to his mom.  

Hence, my plan to try a new muffin recipe most months of 2022 and see which is the winner.   The first recipe should be up tomorrow.

And there's the actual kitchen gift list for 2021.  It really does pay to keep these lists, from my perspective.

Friday, January 28, 2022

After-Christmas debriefing for 2021


 Every year after Christmas, I try to note down my thoughts about that year's season using the  Organized Christmas  After-Christmas debriefing form to help me evaluate how things went, what worked, what didn't, and what we might do differently in the coming year. This has been very helpful to me. 

Here are my thoughts concerning Christmas 2021:

1.  What worked this holiday season?  What changes did you make to create simpler, less stressful holidays?

Again this year, there were a number of decorative items that I didn't even get out of the attic.  A few years ago I simplified Christmas decorating by putting favorite decorative items, including the tree skirt into one large plastic box and keeping it accessible through the year.  That means I can still make things look festive even if I don't have time right then to get to the attic.

I did decorate quite a bit less this year due to an attack of sciatica that began on December 7 and continued well into the new year.

We had four of our local grandchildren over for breakfast, candy making and a bit of crafting early in December.  We had put the tree up the night before; the boys added the lights that day and we all helped with decorating.  It was an enjoyable way of getting the tree decorated -- and, as I did a lot of wrapping ahead of time this year, I then placed the wrapped gifts under the tree as I went.

Again this year, we shipped to Nevada using Click'n'Ship, and got them out in plenty of time.   We also had Amazon gifts shipped directly to Nevada where our daughter wrapped and tagged them.  Everything arrived in time!

My hubby baked nearly every Christmas cookie that came out of our kitchen this year.   I made just one variety.  That was amazing and we felt prepared for every festive event or last-minute gift!

2.  What was the worst aspect of preparing for the holidays this year?  How can you avoid the problem in the future?

I think the most difficult aspect of preparing for the holidays this year was being  hindered by a lack of mobility.  I couldn't move as quickly or easily as I liked.  Not sure, really, how I could avoid that next year, but if it happens I'll go to the chiropractor and start the exercises right away.

3.  Were you satisfied with your level of giving and/or spiritual observances?  How could next year's holiday better reflect your family's values?

We'll probably need to be more economical with our gifts in the future, but I was very pleased with the gifts that we gave.  A fun thing that we did, which we won't necessarily repeat every year, was that when we took the grandkids to a favorite candy and Christmas shop for ice cream, we still needed gifts for three of them.  We paid attention to what they liked, then at a later time we went back secretly and bought those gifts.

From a spiritual standpoint, all was good.  It was a huge blessing to be meeting with another church (which we are planning to merge with in the spring).  We enjoyed a simple but beautiful Christmas program the Sunday before Christmas, and then a most meaningful Christmas communion the Sunday after Christmas.

4.  How well did your household function this year?  Were you calm and cozy, or stressed and strung out?  What improvements could be made next year?

In general, I felt calm and cozy.  My household functioned as well as it could, although I was prevented from doing much housework.  I could do laundry if someone else carried the baskets up and downstairs, and I could cook as long as I mostly stood in one spot.  I wrapped presents standing at a desk.  I didn't really stress about what I couldn't do (although my hubby would tell you I had some moments of feeling pretty useless), because there was really nothing I could do about it.

As far as what improvements could be made next year -- one thought is to maybe plan ahead to do one of those holiday plans that help you get your house ready for Christmas.

 5.  Honesty time!  How did your holidays go?  Did you experience the expectancy, the magic, the sparkle of the season?  If not, what changes could you make to recapture the joy?

In general, we had a joyous season.  We enjoyed some lovely events and family times.  In spite of feeling lame and sore, having to use a cane much of the time, I felt that things went really well.  I was even able to share Christmas joy with others by preparing granola, frozen lasagnas, and my hubby's Christmas cookie trays for a family with a houseful of holiday guests.  That was one of the biggest blessings of our season.

And it was a sort of Christmas miracle to be able to post every day in December in both of my blogs.  I hadn't done many pre-scheduled posts, so I was doing much of it on a day-to-day basis.  It was a challenge to do this while finding stairs difficult to manage, but God gave energy and ideas and it all worked out.

So there you have it -- all in all, a blessed Christmas season!

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

January 2022 Christmas Club meeting


So yesterday, we had our first Christmas Club meeting for 2022!  Susan, Carrie and I met at Carrie's home in her beautiful new space.  It was a low-key meeting but very encouraging and productive.  We talked about our Christmases, and Susan even has pictures from hers arranged in scrapbook layouts.  It looked like such a wonderful time!  I would not have thought of documenting this, but Susan even had a photo of her home that she and Jim took when they arrived home on Christmas night.  It had been snowing, and the lights of their lovely home just showed up so beautifully.  It was a great photo to end with.

Carrie and I had both noticed that Christmas felt very relaxed this year.  What a blessing that was!  

We discussed Christmas cards.  Susan wants to do a photo card for 2022 and Carrie was able to share some tips about when she starts working on their family's photo card.  I have already purchased Christmas cards for 2022.  I was using up odds and ends of cards from previous years in 2021 and actually used almost all of my stash.  So I found some nice ones from at an after-Christmas sale.  Below is just one of the designs I purchased:

We enjoyed beverages and some refined sugar-free muffins I had made -- Cranberry Poppy Seed, with a crumble topping.  They turned out pretty well.  I'll post more about this later, but I'm thinking of trying a new muffin recipe every month in 2022 with the thought of finding a good one for Christmas kitchen gifts this year.

At the meeting I also took a few minutes to share the after-Christmas debriefing that I try to do every year. 

As I looked through my Christmas notebook, I found that apparently I never did do this debriefing exercise for 2020.  But no matter -- I've now done it for 2021!  I'll plan to write a separate post about this.  

In preparation for the Christmas Club meeting, I also took some time to update my Christmas notebook in the way I describe in this post.  It feels great to have that task accomplished.

2021 was an interesting and different Christmas season for me, due to being nearly immobilized with sciatica for most of it.  I am so thankful that God gave energy and even adaptive ways of doing things to be able to accomplish all that was necessary to do.

And that was pretty much our club meeting yesterday.  So fun that we could actually meet on Rudolph Day!

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The actual 2021 cookie-baking list


Interestingly, this was one of those unusual Christmas seasons when my actual cookie baking list lined up with the tentative list I made early in December.  Very surprising!

Mr. T baked every cookie on this list except for the very last variety -- the Christmas No-Bakes.  He left those to me, and I made two batches of them.

Of the other varieties, he baked at least a double batch of each one.  Sometimes he ended up making two double batches of each.  For the Eggnog Logs, he baked a triple batch because they are such favorites with so many people and quite time-consuming to make.

I think maybe the only one on this list that I wouldn't bother with next year would be the Gingerbread Brownies.  They are unusual and very tasty but I think next year I might make my mother's Poinsettia Brownies instead.

This year I had hoped to make Gingerbread Men and/or Peppermint Meltaway Cookies for the cookie trays.  It just didn't happen, mostly due to being somewhat sidelined by sciatica throughout the holidays.  So thankful that my hubby loves to bake and that he tackled the cookie list so successfully!

Friday, January 07, 2022

The actual 2021 candy list


Every year I publish a tentative list for cookies, one for kitchen gifts, and one for candy making.  If I think of it, I usually go back in January and do a reality check, noting how close I came to that tentative list.  Sometimes I end up making nearly everything on the list.  Other times, what we actually make varies wildly from the original list.  That's what happened with this year's candy list.

Of the candies on this list, we actually made only three varieties this year: Heavenly Delight, Holiday Special Fudge and the Chocolate Dipped Orange Slice candy.  Mr. T made at least 6 batches of Heavenly Delight!

Then we made some candies that weren't on the list: Salted Caramel Fudge -- aka Tasty Disaster Fudge (2 batches), -- Rocky Road Fudge, Creamsicle Fudge, and Candy Cane Fudge.  

I had placed Salted Caramel Fudge on a mental list, 

and Mr. T had Creamsicle Fudge on his mental list.

So as you see, our actual candy list for 2021 did indeed vary quite a bit from my original tentative list.  


This important info will now go into the Christmas notebook for next year!

Thursday, January 06, 2022

Book review: The Farm Chicks Christmas


 I was putting away some of my Christmas books today (not all -- I am still going through some of them) and it occurred to me that I might share a review of one of my favorites, The Farm Chicks Christmas.  This is a Country Living book and the author is Serena Thompson.  This was not even a book that I was aware of until I won a hardcover copy in a giveaway.  After I received the book and paged through it, I knew that this was a book both of my daughters would enjoy -- so I went to Thriftbooks and found a copy for each of them.  So now I'd like to share this fun book with all of you.

In all honesty, I don't think I have ever heard of The Farm Chicks prior to winning this book.  You can learn more about them here: The Farm Chicks.  And you can learn the fascinating life story of author Serena Thompson here: About Serena.  This is a gorgeous book full of decorating ideas, traditions, recipes, and much more.  And all incredibly photographed!

Honestly, I wish that I could share each and every photo with you, but of course I can't.  I will content myself with simply going through the table of contents and sharing the highlights of the book with you.  I'll add in a few vintage-y images of my own, because the photography and design of this book are just glorious and I won't even try to scan the pages to show you.

The book is divided into two parts: The Spirit of the Season with 2 chapters; and At Home for the Holidays with 7 chapters.

In The Spirit of the Season, the first chapter is called 'Tis lovely to give.  It is filled with ideas and traditions from Serena's childhood and from her life now with her husband Colin and their children.

The second chapter is called A Visit to the Tree Farm and tells about the Thompson family's annual Christmas tree hunting tradition with friends.  The last 2 pages in this chapter contain many warm beverage recipes, titled "Ways to Ward Off the Chill".  There's spiced cider, hot mocha, chai latte and more.

A vintage milk bottle cap!
In the section At Home for the Holidays, the first chapter is Holiday Welcome.  It includes dozens of ideas for front porches and other outdoor decorating and how to make every corner bright.    There are even patterns -- for example, one for a holiday scalloped bunting made out of assorted fabrics in Christmas colors.

The next chapter is The Decorated Tree.  This includes photos of four different decorated Christmas trees, a lovely story about a tinfoil star, and directions for making sweet tree trims like snowball pompom ornaments and silhouette ornaments.  It also has a page of fun ways of displaying vintage Christmas light bulbs and balls.  If I remember, I'll do a jar of vintage light bulbs for next year!

This chapter also has a section called The Gift of Giving, which includes many ideas for gift wrap, gift card holders, and festive shipping ideas.  

The next chapter is called Wreaths and Garlands.  It includes many fun ideas, and pages of glorious photos.  There are instructions for making a sweet paper garland  and a wreath made from balls of yarn.  The section Make Every Corner Bright gives many ideas for decorating with greenery and other natural accents.

 The chapter Cupboards and Corners is next.     It includes page after page of beautifully inspiring photos, and also fun crafts like colorful cone trees and a wrapping paper village.  There's a feature on Christmas collections, too.  There is SO much inspiration in this chapter that no description of mine can ever do it justice.

Kitchens and Pantries is the next chapter, and it is even more fun than the one before it.  A full 20 pages of glorious, inspiring photography and fun, fun ideas for decorating kitchens and pantries and for packaging food gifts and more.  There are ideas for displaying kitchen treasures and directions for making a "Merry" banner.

Next comes a chapter titled Happy Memories.  Again, no descriptive words of mine can describe the delight of this chapter.  All manner of vintage items are pictured, from a sequined felt stocking to a metal toy barn decorated for Christmas to toy trucks and a plaid thermos with a sprig of greenery -- oh, just beautiful!  There are also directions for making a gumdrop wreath, felt stemware coasters, and paper serving cones for snack mixes.

The last chapter is called Holiday Recipes and it is filled with ideas for beverages, cakes, nut recipes, cookies and tarts (lots of cookie recipes!), and even a page of Cookie Tips.  

 Lastly in the book are several pages of recipe cards and stickers to use in giving your country kitchen gifts to others.  Just one last touch of vintage sweetness!

I'm sure you can tell that I'm enchanted by this book.  Highly recommend it to all of you!