Saturday, December 22, 2012

Congratulations to Cheri Swalwell. She is the winner of Gift Package #3. Your box is in the  mail, Cheri. You should receive it by Monday.

Today I'm posting a poem I wrote for our writer's group meeting several years ago. I want to share it with all of you today. I shared it on VOTW (Verse of the Week) for the ACFW loop last week. It's my Christmas gift to you.

O Worship the King

Toys, Christmas trees and candy canes
A hint of frost kissing window panes,
Santa Claus with his sleigh bells ringing,
Carolers their noels singing,
People scurrying store to store
In an effort to buy gifts galore
With a frenzied haste to get it all done.
Children are laughing, having great fun.
They know Santa is on his way
To bring them gifts and toys that day.

One star outshining them all
Comes to rest over a simple stall.
A mother's prayer, whispered low
As shepherds come and bow.
Angels sing in the sky above
Proclaiming the arrival of peace and love.
Three Kings see the star one night
And travel far to see the source of light.
Bowing down with gifts they brought,
They worship the babe as they ought.

As Christmas comes this year,
Which scene will you hold dear?
Will you see a baby small
Lying in a manger stall?
He came to heal our sorrow
And give us hope for tomorrow
Bow down and worship the King
Who gave His life so we may sing
Of a Savior willing His life to give
So all who believe may eternally live.

O worship the King, born this day!

May each of you have a blessed Christmas.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Gifts from the Kitchen

First, Congratulations to Nancy Kimball. She's the winner of Christmas Box #2. I'll be in touch, Nancy.

Welcome to Christmas Party #3. In addition to the great ideas below, I'm featuring Anita Higman's book, Merry Little Christmas. This one is warm and cozy, just right for the holiday season. Fall in love with this  story about two people from different worlds. Franny Martin is an Oklahoma farm girl who’s preparing to spend the holidays alone…again. Then Charlie Landau shows up one day, all wealth and polish, and offers to buy Franny’s farm. Franny has no money to speak of, but she is clever and spirited, and she’s more than happy to sell the farm and move to the city.

As Sinatra croons from the radio and Christmas descends upon her charming farm, Franny teaches Charlie the curious and sometimes comical ways of country life. In the process, they unearth some discoveries of the heart—that sometimes love comes when you’re least ready for it. Will the holidays bring their most impossible dreams within reach?

Today I'm featuring ideas for food to give as gifts. I love giving gifts from my kitchen for Christmas. I make mini loaves of nut bread or little bags of homemade candies for the ladies in my Sunday School class every year as well as give the same to friends. Food gifts say the giver spent time and effort to make something, and it can be eaten and out of the way instead of being put on a shelf somewhere or tucked in a drawer.
Dollar stores and craft stores have decorative plastic bags in which to put such goodies as well as tags to tie onto them. After wrapping mini-loaves in plastic wrap, they slip right into these bags and are ready to go.
Another good thing about food gifts is that you can make so many at one time. One good shopping trip for supplies will net you gifts for those you want to honor with a gift from your kitchen.
The recipes I’ve included here are traditional recipes people expect from me. Some are from my grandmother and others from friends through the years. I begin the first week of December and usually have it all done in one week. The breads and candies keep well when wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated or stored in airtight plastic containers.
One food gift item is chocolate dipped candy canes and plain spoons. Melted chocolate chips make the coating. After dipping crook part of candy cane or bowl part of spoon in the chocolate to coat it, roll the cane or spoon in colored sprinkles or tinted sugars. When fully set, wrap in red or green plastic wrap and tie with a bow. The spoons are great for stirring hot chocolate or coffee. Chocolate and peppermint make the candy canes a real treat.
Answer the following question to enter the drawing for Christmas Box #3 pictured below. This box will have a loaf of the Banana Nut Bread as well as a tin of pralines. An added bonus is a copy of Anita Higman's new Christmas book, A Merry Little Christmas. Don't forget to include your email address.

(Necessary little disclaimer) This contest void where prohibited by law and is available in the US only. Odds of winning depend on number of participants.

What is your favorite food gift to give or receive? How much baking and such do you do at Christmas?

Easy Pralines (It wouldn’t be Christmas without these)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
Dash of salt
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 ½ cups pecan halves

Combine sugars, salt and milk in saucepan. Cook over medium heat until thermometer reaches softball temp. on candy thermometer. Test by dripping a small drop from a spoon into ice water. When the mixture forms a soft ball when rolled between the fingers, it is ready. Stir in vanilla and pecans and stir briskly until mixture thickens and sugar crystals form on the edges of the saucepan. Drop quickly by spoonfuls onto waxed paper covered cookie sheet. Refrigerate immediately. If mixture becomes too thick, add a tablespoon of hot water and stir then continue make patties on the wax paper. The number of candies will depend on how large you want to make them. If the mixture doesn’t begin to set within a few minutes or by the time you drop all the mixture onto wax paper, it can be scraped off, returned to the pan and reheated for a few minutes then begin again with stirring and dropping.

Microwave Peanut Brittle (Our three sons demand this in their Christmas stockings)

1 cup sugar
½  cup White Karo syrup
2 cups raw peanuts
Dash salt

Place all ingredients into a microwave safe bowl with a handle. (I use an 8 cup Pyrex measuring bowl)  Cook on high for 3 ½ minutes. Stir with a wooden spoon then cook for another 3 ½ minutes.

Stir again and add:
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp. butter

Stir again and cook 1 minute 20 seconds on high.

Quickly stir in 1 tsp. baking soda then pour onto a buttered cookie sheet. As brittle cools, stretch it with your fingers coated in butter. When thoroughly cool, break into pieces and store. Does not need to be refrigerated.

Chocolate Pecan Clusters
1 12 oz. pkg. Hershey’s special dark chocolate chips
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups pecans lightly chopped

Melt chips over hot water or in a microwave bowl just until they can be stirred smooth. Immediately add milk and nuts. Stir well and drop by spoonfuls into mini-muffin liners. Refrigerate for several hours until firm.

Banana Nut Bread (My grandmother’s recipe)
½ cup shortening                                             1 tsp. soda
1 cup sugar                                                      3 bananas, mashed
3 eggs                                                              ½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans
2 cups sifted flour                                           1 tsp. vanilla

Add soda to flour and set aside. Cream sugar and shortening until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Beat well after each egg. Add flour 1/3 at a time and mix well after each addition. Stir in bananas, nuts, and vanilla until well mixed. Pour into mini-loaf pans sprayed with Bakers Joy or pour into one large loaf pan sprayed with Bakers Joy. Bake large pan at 325 degrees for 40 minutes, mini-loaves for 30 minutes or until pick inserted into center comes out clean.  
Cranberry Nut Bread
4 cups sifted flour                                                       2/3 cup orange juice
2 cups + 4 Tbsp. sugar                                                ½ cup water
2 ½ tsps. baking powder                                             4 Tbsp. butter
2 tsp. salt                                                                     1 ½ cups chopped nuts
2 eggs                                                                          1 bag fresh cranberries
1 tsp. soda                                                                  

Grease bottom and sides of 4 large or 12 small mini-loaf pans with oil or Baker’s Joy. Sift flour and add baking powder, soda, sugar, salt. In another bowl beat eggs and orange juice, water and melted butter. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add egg mixture. Stir with wooden spoon until blended then fold in cranberries and nuts. Do not over mix. Pour into prepared pans and bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes for large loaves, 45 minutes for small ones or until a pick inserted into middle comes out clean.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Christmas Crafts for Young and Old

Congratulations to Janet E. for winning Christmas Gift Box #1. It'll be on its way to you on Monday.

Christmas crafts are fun to make with your children or for yourself. Simple ornaments and even more detailed ones can be made in a afternoon of fun with your children or just because. You don't have to be "artsy-craftsy" to enjoy making these ornaments. The ones pictured were made by me and my three boys at various ages. We had fun doing them and I still use them on the tree because they bring back happy memories. I did the sewing and they did a lot of the gluing and some cutting as they started school. Planning an afternoon to make ornaments or other decorations can be a most rewarding time with your children or grandchildren.

Pictured from top center and clockwise:
Spool Thread Drum (made by a 6 year old.)
Felt Scrap Snowman
Christmas Fabric mini-stocking for candy or cookies
Styro-foam and felt stocking (Made by a 7 year old)
Six diamond point star
Two mini-clothespin angels
Three mini clothespin reindeer

Drum Supplies: Empty Thread spool, grosgrain ribbon, felt scraps, braid trim, gold cord and glue.
The drum is an empty thread spool wrapped with a piece of grosgrain ribbon and trimmed with a braid trim. Felt circles complete the ends and a gold cord glued to the top for hanging.

Snow Man Supplies: One large white felt square, felt scraps, sequins, seed beads and paint or embroidery thread in colors for the face.
The snowman is made from piece of white felt with two cutouts of a snowman. The scarf, hands, buttons and hat with trim are scrap pieces cut in any color you might have. The hands and buttons are sewn by hand onto one piece of felt. The face may be embroidered or painted on. The hat is cut from a scrap of black felt. A red band and a felt holly leaf or then sewn on with matching sequins and beads then sew it by hand to the head. The snowman's body is outlined with silver sequins and beds. The two pieces are then sewn together by hand with an opening left in the bottom for stuffing. After stuffing, sew the opening closed. The red scarf is a long piece of red felt decorated with red sequins and beads then sewn around the neck by hand. Cut slits in the ends to form fringe.

Stocking Supplies: Christmas fabric, solid red or green felt, gold rick rack, three inch strip of felt
Draw a 8" and a 8 1/2" stocking pattern on paper then cut out a front in the Christmas fabric using 8 1/2 pattern then cut out the felt back with the 8" one. Turn edge of Christmas fabric down 1/2 inch and sew on rick-rack trim by hand or machine. Sew the two pieces right sides together and turn. Press to make edges flat. Hand sew the strip of felt to the top of the stocking to make a hanger. The hanger can be omitted if you don't want to use it on the tree.

Mini Wreath Supplies: Mini-wreath, narrow red and green ribbon, miniature ornaments, glue gun and sticks.
Wrap the wreath with the ribbon in the two colors as shown. Glue on miniature ornaments. Glue on bow made of the ribbon then loop a piece of ribbon and glue it to back of wreath for hanger.

Styro-foam Stocking Supplies: Foam paper plate, felt, gold cord, gold braid or fringe trim, sequins and glue.
Draw a stocking outline on the foam plate then cut out. Use the foam for the pattern to cut out the felt, one piece red and and a smaller white piece for the cuff. Glue onto the foam. Glue on the trims as shown then glue on the sequins in a random pattern or a set pattern.

Six Point Diamond Star Supplies:
Christmas fabric, red or green solid fabric, iron on interfacing. thread, red or green extra narrow ribbon for hanging
Cut six diamonds from Christmas fabric. Sew bottom halves of diamonds by machine as shown. Using sewn star as a pattern, cut out the interfacing and the back. Iron interfacing onto the diamond pattern piece. Cut ribbon to desired length then sew the two stars right sides together with the ribbon sewn to one point. Leave one star point open for turning. Press star flat then hand sew the opening.

Clothespin ornaments supplies: Mini clothespins, cardboard, cotton, pom-poms, paint, gold cord, ribbon and fabric scraps.
For Angel, paint one clothes pin white for wings, then paint the other one pink or blue or any desired color. Using a magic marker draw in any detail. Paint face pink then draw in mouth and eyes with felt tip marker. Glue the two clothes pins together at the round ends leaving the prongs at either end for wings. Glue on yellow fuzz or cotton for air. Glue cord to back for hanger then glue the figure onto an oval shaped piece of white card board. Glue cotton clouds around angel.
For Reindeer glue two mini pins side by side as shown then glue third one sideways and upside down for head and antlers. Use black magic marker to color feet and antlers. Eyes may be drawn on or the small beaded eyes from a craft store may be used. Cut felt scraps into a design for the back of the reindeer and trim with gold cord. Glue gold cord in a loop to the back of the reindeer. Then glue on pom poms for nose and tail.

Leave a comment about something you and your children or grandchildren do together for Christmas and be entered for Christmas Box #2. Follow my blog for an extra entry. U.S. entries only please. Be sure to leave your email address so I can contact you if you win.

Here's Christmas Gift Package #2
Enter again for a chance at this gift.
Disclaimer: Void where prohibited by law. Chances of winning depends on number of entries.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Holiday Entertaining

Thanks for stopping by for my first Christmas party in honor of the release of my Christmas book, Christmas at Holly Hill. Today the feature is Holiday Entertaining and menu ideas. Hope you will enjoy the article and the pictures. 

So many times when asked to host a party, luncheon or other social event, we may cringe and immediately worry that our house isn’t large enough or nice enough, or we may worry that we can’t pull it all together and be a gracious hostess.  Whether it is an ice cream or dessert party, a luncheon for class or department at church or home or a fancy dinner for hundreds at church, loving hearts and hands can make the difference.
Holiday entertaining can be the most stressful because of all the other responsibilities associated with Christmas and other holidays. The main problems of a luncheon or open house at Christmas are theme, decorations, and food. Christmas makes it easy to decide on those three elements.

First determine the number you can easily accommodate in the space you have available and make up your guest list. After you have the guest list and the type of party, the menu is selected. Because so many parties are taking place, your guests may be attending more than one open house, brunch, or luncheon. This means simple foods and a simple menu will keep you from spending more time in the kitchen than you do with your guests.

Decorations may be as elaborate or simple as you want to make them. Whatever decorations you use for your own family and holiday decorating will be fine. No need to go to extra trouble to make more elaborate decorations. Here, simple but festive can be as appealing as the other. The Christmas tree, a wreath on the door, a nativity scene or two and a few candles can go a long way to dressing your home for the holiday. One hostess I know always moved out extra furniture from her living room and family room, and stored it in a bedroom. That door was then closed and decorated with a nice sign that indicated the room was for storage. She then used folding chairs to replace the seating now stored away. Dollar type stores carry a plentiful supply of Christmas decorations, ornaments, plates, napkins, and cups or you can use your own Christmas dinnerware. 
Now it is time for you schedule your time to get things done before your guests arrive. Think about everything that needs to be done and make a list. Then prioritize the list by what has to be done first and what can be saved to the end. For example, cleaning the bathrooms should be last so that they are at their freshest for the guests. Also, scheduling things far enough in advance will keep you from last minute rushing to be finished.

Even the most laid back personality will benefit from a schedule. Once you have a schedule made, you will find it much easier to do the things that must be done to be ready for your guests without spending all of your time cleaning house and cooking.

A home doesn’t have to elaborate, expensive, or professionally decorated to be warm and inviting for guests. Let the things you enjoy express the warmth of your heart. Leave family photos on display as well as your favorite accessories. Your friends will be relaxed and in good spirits in a home that expresses the personality of its owners.

Here are a few Holiday Menu Ideas along with pictures of two set tables
                                                            Menu for Holiday Open House
Fresh Fruit Platter/Dip    Banana or Cranberry Bread/Cream Cheese Spread
Vegetable Tray/Ranch Dip or Spinach Dip 
Chicken Salad/Tuna Salad Tea Sandwiches   
Cranberry Holiday Punch 

      Trim the Tree Party
Chicken Tortilla Soup
Tortilla Chips/Salsa
Tossed Vegetable Salad with light dressing
Cheesecake  Iced Tea or Coffee

Christmas Luncheon
Almond Chicken Salad
Cranberry Relish Jell-O Salad
Layered Salad with Lettuce, Peas
Marinated Carrots
Fresh Fruit Tray
Assorted Crackers     Mini-muffins
Coffee        Peach Tea

Tell me about your favorite Christmas menu or foods and be entered in a drawing for a special Christmas gift of goodies. Names will be drawn on December 7. Check back for pictures of what the gifts will contain.
This is part of the gift box for this party. If you want an extra entry, follow me on my blog.

Annoying legal disclaimer: drawings void where prohibited; open only to U.S. residents; the odds of winning depend upon the number of participants.