Archive | December 2012

Christmas is Whenever!

When our girls were 5 and 3, hubby became a firefighter. His shift at that time was 24 hours on duty, 24 hours off duty. Period. Schedules now changed very quickly, and we couldn’t always celebrate those special times, i.e. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, birthdays, on the day it actually fell on the calendar. But we adjusted, and the our two sons never have known anything different. We celebrated–whenever!!

Then, for many years, we had not one, but three firefighter schedules to work around, when both our boys followed in their daddy’s footsteps. Now shifts have changed to 24 hours on duty, 48 hours off duty. But there are traditionally three shifts to a department, A, B, C. Put the math to that!! For most of the time, at least two were on the same rotation so that helped.

Now hubby is retired, the two boys are still firefighters, at different stations, in different towns, on different shift rotations. But–we have learned, for the most part, that what makes the ‘special’ days special, is when we do finally manage to find a time that works. And we try very hard.

Late this afternoon we will gather at our youngest son’s big old farm house–all of us–have soup (oldest son always makes chili, DIL will make another kind) homemade rolls, a salad,(I bake the bread and this year made the salad) and whatever goodies we all bring (Granddaughter #1 is bringing pumpkin rolls, and her mom, the other DIL, is bringing at least three different kinds of goodies)—lots of laughs and squeals from the cousins, and long into-the-night conversations with us ‘big people’. In the morning we will have what is probably our most constant tradition–our “Christmas” breakfast (no matter that it falls on December 30 this year). Breakfast is ALWAYS–fruit slush, waffles, scrambled eggs and a special sausage . I attempted to change this menu once, several years ago, seeing all the cute ‘breakfast casserole’ menus in the magazines–and was informed by our grown sons that ‘mom it wasn’t broke…you didn’t need to fix it’. Hmm!! I guess that what makes a tradition, the sameness no matter what anyone else is doing, or when they are doing it.

After breakfast we will open gifts (unless the kids beg hard enough for us to give in and let them do it tonight) Then the rest of the day we eat on the leftovers (we always bring enough to insure we will have plenty). And no one is every ready for the day to end.

Susie was right when she stated in her post that traditions change. It does sound like an oxymoron–but I think it is more a declaration of reality. But the constant? The REASON!!
The WHO! The WHY!

Keep that constant…and Christmas can be—whenever!!
road 2 we like!

Our Top Ten Traditions

I love the feelings and memories that come with traditions. There have been a few that I realize weren’t the smartest to start. What seemed like ‘just a little work’ for one son magnified with three. Unfortunately, those are the ones my boys seem to love the most! Homemade decorated cookies-on-a-stick for Valentine’s Day? A scavenger hunt complete with five rhyming clues (multiply that times three) to find Easter baskets? Those weren’t very well thought out!

Here’s a list of our family’s top ten Christmas traditions that we all enjoy:

1. Wrap 25 Christmas picture-story books. Open one and read each night before Christmas.

2 Advent readings each night.

3. Real tree bought at Lowes on the first Sunday evening in December. Supper afterwards at favorite restaurant.

4. Each boy picks out his own wrapping paper for his gifts to be wrapped in.

5. Christmas Eve brunch with Meisinger family.

6. Christmas Eve service at church, complete with treat bags filled with peanuts, one orange and some candy.

7. New PJ’s for each boy opened after getting home from church on Christmas Eve

8. Box of sugar cereal with each boy’s stocking for him to enjoy during Christmas break.

9. Christmas Day at my parents home with my brothers and their families.

10. Taking the tree down before Dec. 28th birthdays.

Each year the 365 days go by quicker and the traditions become more precious as the boys grow older. It’s always my hope that at least one of these traditions will be continued in their own homes someday.

I hope you’ve had a wonderful Christmas and I wish for you blessings in the coming year.

Sara

What are your Christmas traditions?

Traditions change over the years. I know that almost sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?

Growing up, you have the traditions of your parents.  Then when you move out on your own, they change some.  When I got married, they changed again, because my husband and I started our own traditions. Then when we had our daughter, they changed again.  We all have our Christmas traditions…even if you always do something different every year. If there’s consistency in that, then well, I guess that’d be a tradition too.

We open gifts on Christmas morning.  My daughter really loves tradition. And I mean really. So once when I suggested that we might open our gifts on Christmas Eve and just do stockings on Christmas morning, she looked at me like I’d lost my mind. My husband joined her. I was informed by both of them, “It’s tradition to open gifts on Christmas morning.”  That was the end of it.  I was outvoted 2 to 1. =)

We don’t do Santa, but we still stuff stockings and we have a lot of fun finding little things to tuck into them.  I shared in an earlier post of how it’s tradition for my hubby and daughter to pick out a Hallmark ornament to give to me. That’s been a very sweet and precious tradition in our family.  It always makes me feel special.

We have a lot of fun putting up the tree, driving around looking at Christmas lights, shopping for gifts, and stuffing stockings.  But we never lose sight that Jesus is the reason for the season–the greatest gift and true celebration of Christmas.

I’ve tucked away three very special advent story books that we’ve used with our daughter over the years.  I plan on giving them to her someday when she has a family.  There are those special ornaments as well.  There’s even one silken-haired angel that was passed down to me from my mom (there was enough for each of my siblings to have one). I remember looking at it with awe as we gently unpacked them to hang on our tree as I was growing up.  Now I have one to hang on our tree.  My daughter will get that ornament someday to hang on her own family tree.

Traditions. Precious and meaningful. They’re different for everyone, but I think the uniqueness and memories are what make them so special.  So whatever your traditions are, may they bring you much joy this Christmas season.   I’d love to hear what some of your Christmas traditions are.

I hope your Christmas was merry and bright! Best wishes for a prosperous and happy new year!

Susan Hollaway

Christmas trees are like snowflakes

How are Christmas trees like snowflakes? No two are like.

I’ve seen some lovely trees this season, but have to admit, the one in my living room is the most beautiful of them all. I could spend hours just watching it. In fact, I do!

The only one like it in the world.

The only one like it in the world.

We’re sharing Christmas traditions this week and for me, decorating and enjoying the tree is tops.

Many people who live alone choose not to put up a tree, which is perfectly understandable. For me, though, my unique, story-telling tree is one of the favorite parts of the holiday. When the artificial evergreen is first set up, it looks impossibly bare. About midway through decorating, though, the tree begins to sparkle. Soon, it’s hard to find an empty branch to place another gold ball or crocheted snowflake.

Sipping a cup of tea, my eye travels the branches, taking in familiar decorations that are new all over this year. A few date back to my childhood days. Some are from the tiny tree my roommate and I had in our college dorm. Gifts from coworkers and friends remind me of times past and send me wishes of their love. Some from family members who are gone are priceless treasures I wouldn’t give up for the world.

New in 2012

New in 2012

Each year, I try to add one new ornament to the tree. It may be something special purchased on a trip or maybe just a trip to the discount mart. I found this year’s cookie theme ornament at the hardware store.

Even though I don’t have children, some precious handmade pieces grace my tree, made by kids in my Sunday school classes. Last week, my toddler class made decorations to take home. One boy glued his picture on sideways. I left it that way, knowing his sideways grin would be peaking out of the family Christmas tree for years to come, taking Mom and Dad back to these days.

I look at the tiny balls that I admired on our tree at the office. Nelda, our secretary, took them off the tree and gave them to me. These ornaments are a reminder that the spirit of Christmas is generosity – that we share with each other, that our Heavenly Father gave us in His son.

Our family celebration will be on Saturday, so I’m still enjoying my truly original tree all week.

We are so grateful for our readers here on the blog and hope you are each still enjoying the blessings of this season.

Susie-3994-EditPS 72Merry Christmas,

~Susan

What’s a special ornament on your tree?

Merry Christmas

Merry ChristmasFrom all of us at Pages From Stages, we wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas! Thank you for your encouragement over this past year. We love when others join the discussions and add new thoughts and ideas.

This has always been a busy time of year for my family as our oldest celebrates his birthday on the 22nd. He wasn’t expected to live beyond a few hours and now he is 12 years old. I’m overwhelmed at the gift of years we have been given with him. More on this, perhaps, on a different post.

I am more in awe, though, at the celebration of our Saviour’s birth and the gift it was to all mankind. Despite the busyness of meals, presents and visiting, our family starts the festivities by reading the Biblical account of the events leading to Jesus’ birth. We don’t want our children or ourselves to ever lose focus on the meaning of this blessed day.

I hope your day was filled with joy and wonder!

Blessings,

Cherie GagnonCherie

 

 

 

Peppernuts

If you were to ask twelve women, with a German/Mennonite background, for their recipe for peppernuts, you would get at least thirteen different variations. Peppernuts are as individual as families. A good peppernut is labor intensive, spicy, some include nuts and fruit, others are quite plain. Some are hard and crunchy, others soft and chewy. Some are large, others tiny. See!! Just like a family.

But the one constant in all of this is–anise! Anise can be purchased in oil, seed or powdered form (although the powdered form is the hardest to find). It is the delightful licorice flavor in the cookie. And this is the one thing that can, and is, adjusted to unique family taste.

If you’re unfamiliar with this delightful little cookie, chances are you will try the recipe once. Only the strong and dedicated make them a Christmas tradition!! Nearly thirty years ago I sold them…for $4.50 a pound even way back then. A friend now gets $9.00 a pound and she knows some are getting as much as $15-16 a pound. After you make them you will appreciate why some are willing to pay…and not play!!

Recipe:
1 1/2 cups butter
2 cups sugar
1 cup dark syrup
1 cup cream (I use heavy whipping cream)
1 teaspoon of the following: soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger.
1 tablespoon of the following: baking powder, powdered anise

Cream butter and sugar, add syrup, cream and spices (I stir my baking powder into the flour before adding)…then add flour.

The result will be a soft dough. Much like this:

100_1953

At this stage you will want to chill the dough a bit to make it easier to handle. The next step is to roll the dough into ‘snakes”. If the dough is chilled enough you should be able to do this without adding a lot of flour to the rolling surface. I rarely need to use flour, but do often put the dough back into the fridge for a bit as the warmth of your hands will soften it to the point of being too sticky. You don’t need a lot of dough to make your ‘snake’

100_1956
100_1957

I roll the entire batch of dough at one time, fitting the rolls into a cake pan with wax paper separating the layers. I don’t like for the snakes to touch!! Because after I get them all rolled, I then stick the pan into the freezer. It makes the next step much easier if the snakes are frozen.

100_1958

The freezing step doesn’t take as long as you might think. They don’t need to be rock hard–just set enough you can handle them without them sticking to your hands. Also, it will make a cleaner ‘slice’ when you do the next step. I remove the snakes, one at a time, from the freeze, and cut into slices. If you use the part of the knife closest to the handle, and not the tip, you will be able to cut the entire snake without the slices separating. Even though they might not cut clear through, it is easy to pick up the entire roll, even after being cut, and put them on your pans.
100_1959

How you place them on the pan is also individual. I just put them wherever I can fit them, but you will want the flat side down. Others prefer to make nice clean rows. They bake just the same.

100_1960

Baking time will depend on your oven. Temp is 350 and time is anywhere from 7-11 minutes. You will notice, in the next picture of the finished product, that some are darker. That’s because I always tend to forget from year to year and overbake the first pan. They aren’t burned, just a bit browner. You want to take them out while still a bit soft, and they will not be a golden brown, but because there are so many, and you just ‘dump’ them into a pile, they continue to ‘cook’ a bit.

100_1961

The finished pile is the result of three pans, and it probably takes 3-4 rolls to fill a pan if you do it like I do. HINT: If you are doing these alone…..fill as many pans as you have before you start baking. Cutting and putting them on the pan takes time..however, it is a fun project to do with kids if you don’t mind them being a bit ‘smushed”. Mom do the cutting, though!!

This batch didn’t quite fill a one-quart ziploc bag. A one quart bag, filled tight, is pretty much one pound, though to sell them you’d want to be accurate.

Also–if you really get tired messing with these little cookies….the dough can be kept for a Looonnnnggg time if frozen and it will only enhance the flavor. And….even the little cookie itself never gets stale–I think it’s all the spices. But BEWARE—they can be as addicting as popcorn….or peanuts! A handful just calls for another handful.

Thus ends our week of recipe sharing. To each of you who faithfully ‘tune’ into us each week..Thank you and may your Christmas be as full of blessings as these little cookies are of spices. Next week we will be sharing a ‘Christmas Tradition”

God bless you, each and every one!!

Caramels

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Merry Christmas! It’s finally starting to feel and look like Christmas. We had a snowstorm Wednesday night, but after a snowless winter last year and two very dry summers, the moisture and beauty are very appreciated. Now it feels like December 21!

When I was young my mom would make food-type gifts for us to give to our teachers. In an earlier post I shared the cinnamon bread she would bake. The other thing she would make is caramels. Delicious, soft caramels. As excited as I was to have her make them I knew it meant I’d have to help wrap each little candy square in wax paper. Wrapping seemed to take hours. The only good thing was the method I used–wrap one, eat one, wrap one, eat one.

In 1998 I bought the annual recipe book from Taste of Home Magazine. On page 137 was the recipe for Soft ‘n’ Chewy Caramels. Since then I’ve made batches of them each Christmas. The recipe is simple and only requires a few ingredients. They may not be very nutritious, but they certainly make people smile!

Soft ‘n’ Chewy Caramels568

2 cups sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

2 cups half-and-half cream, divided

1 cup butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Line a 13-in x 9-in x 2-in pan with foil; butter the foil. Set aside. Combine sugar, corn syrup and 1 cup cream in a 5-qt saucepan or Dutch oven; bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Slowly stir in remaining cream. Cook over medium heat until a  thermometer reads 250 degrees (hard-ball stage), stirring frequently. Remove from the heat; stir in butter and vanilla until well mixed, about 5 minutes.

Pour into prepared pan. Cool. Remove foil from pan; cut candy into 1-in squares. Wrap individually in waxed paper; twist ends. YEILD: 9-10 dozen (2 lbs).

It seems to take forever once it starts boiling to reach 250, but keep waiting and stirring. That part takes a while, but other than the wrapping they are so simple to make. When you do start wrapping, remember my method–wrap one, eat one, wrap one, eat one. ENJOY!

Have a wonderful Christmas as we celebrate the birth of our Savior!

Sara

Holiday Bars…A Special Treat!

I remember making Holiday Bars at Christmas time. They’re very rich, so that’s about the only time we made them. Back in the day when I made a gazillion Christmas trays to deliver around the community, these were a regular on them. I actually haven’t made them in years. Maybe I need to rethink that. =)

I’m sorry I don’t have a picture for you, but here’s the recipe. They’re also called Magic Cookie Bars, but the amounts of ingredients and the order in which you layer them are slightly different than this recipe. This is the way I was taught to make them. I’m sure they’d still be good if you choose to alter it a bit.

HOLIDAY BARS

This is a layer bar recipe and it’s “uber” simple.
Layer 1: Melt 1 1/2 sticks butter*, add 1 1/2 cups crush graham crackers, push into bottom of pan.
Layer 2: 1 1/2 cups coconut
Layer 3: 12 oz chocolate chips
Layer 4: 2 cups chopped pecans
Layer 5: Pour 1 can Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk over the top, let it set for 5 minutes.

Bake 30 minutes at 325 degrees. Loosen around the edges. Cool completely (overnight).
Cut and enjoy! * The original recipe called for margarine. I no longer use margarine and substitute butter instead.

May the sweet spirit and memories of Christmas — old and new — be even sweeter than the holiday recipes you share this Christmas.

Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday, Jesus!
Susan Hollaway
DSCN6048

Christmas cookies spell J-O-Y

Oh, the waiting!

The excruciating agony of waiting. Through long months of summer and fall for that one time of year when sugar cookies are made.

Cookies in the making

Cookies in the making.

Then, when it was December, Mom would let us get out the cookie cutters – tin bells, stars and trees. She’d mix up the dough and then… waiting for the dough to chill. Then, finally, the dough was rolled out and we went to work stamping out shapes.

More waiting. For the cookies to bake. Waiting for them to cool enough to decorate with red hots and sprinkles. Then finally…..the perfect sugar cookie.

All that waiting was worth it.

And still is. Cutting out sugar cookies is just like making bite-sized packages of Christmas joy, as far as I’m concerned. Something about those angels and reindeer lining the kitchen counter makes my heart smile.

Besides childhood memories of home, I remember  happy afternoons spent with friends from work. We’d each bring some dough, bake and decorate cookies together. Then we’d divide them up, sharing the plates of goodies at the office and with our families.

I always brought this sugar cookie dough. Sugar cookies can be a little tricky – not enough flour and you can’t get them out of the cookie cutters. Too much and they bake up hard enough to chip a tooth.

But these babies come out soft and perfect every time. Well… almost every time. Except for when my friend Meredith made them. We still laugh about that. Here’s my recipe:

Rarely Fail Sugar Cookies

1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 c. butter (softened)
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar

Combine powdered sugar and butter. Stir in egg and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Chill dough 2 to 3 hours or until easy to handle. Roll out on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4 inch thick. Cut with a cookie cutter and place on cookie sheet. Bake at 375 for 7 to 8 minutes or until lightly browned on the edges. Cool on wire racks.

The dough is kind of “sticky” so use plenty of flour when you roll them out. Put down a sheet of wax paper or a plastic mat and dump a bunch of flour on it. Then put a tablespoon or two on top before you roll it out with a rolling pin. If the rolling pin gets sticky or the cookies won’t lift off the paper, use more flour.

Susie-3994-EditPS 72

Merry Christmas cookie baking!

~ Susan

Bûche de Noёl Recipe

In high school, my friend Shannon and I collaborated on a project about Christmas traditions in Quebec for French class. We thought bringing baked goods might enhance the presentation (and perhaps earn a few bonus marks). So we learned how to make a traditional French dessert – Bûche de Noёl, or Yule Log. This cake symbolized the Yule Log that once burned in European hearths during the Christmas season.

There are a variety of ways to garnish and fill this cake. Since those high school days, I’ve continued to make this recipe at Christmas. It’s a fun tradition to keep, especially since I’ve married into a family with French heritage.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pkg angel food cake mix
  • 1 tbsp grated orange peel
  • ¼ tsp yellow food colour
  • Confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 pkg vanilla pudding/pie-filling mix (or use recipe below)
  • 1 tbsp instant coffee
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • Chocolate frosting

INSTRUCTIONS:

  • Early in the Day: Preheat oven to 375 F. Line bottom of two jelly-roll pans (approx. 15.5” x 10. 5”) with waxed paper.
  • Prepare cake mix as label directs but add orange peel and food colour with flour mixture and divide batter in half, spread evenly in jelly-roll pans. Bake 10-12 minutes or until top springs back when lightly touched.
  • Meanwhile, dust two towels with confectioners’ sugar. Invert cakes into towels as soon as they are baked; carefully and quickly peel off waxed paper; cut crisp edges from cakes. From narrow end of each cake, gently roll cake and towel together; rest seam-side down on rack to cool.
  • Pudding Mix: In medium saucepan over medium heat, heat pudding mix, milk and instant coffee to boiling, stirring constantly. Cool, stirring occasionally.
  • Alternative Pudding: Instead of using pudding mix above, do the following – Combine 2 tbsp sugar, 1 tbsp cornstarch, 1/8 tsp salt, 1 tbsp instant coffee in a saucepan. Gradually stir in 1 Cup of 2% milk. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Reduce heat; cook and stir 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat. Stir a small amount of hot filling into 1 slightly beaten egg yolk. Return all to the pan, stirring constantly. Bring to a gently boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in 1½ tsp of butter and ½ tsp of vanilla. Cool, stirring occasionally.
  • In medium bowl, whip cream and sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold pudding into whipped cream. Unroll jelly rolls and spread mixture over surface; reroll. Frost with chocolate icing (homemade or prepared) and garnish.
  • Keep Refrigerated. Makes 16 servings.

Bon Appétit!

Cherie Gagnon– Cherie

Do you have any favorite recipes that are linked to your family’s country of origin?