Saturday, December 19, 2015

How to Have an Unforgettable Christmas

Vintage Christmas fun.

 It helps if your child discovers a picture of a toy in a catalog that you never could have anticipated said child would desire in a million years. Bonus points if it has to do with a character or theme he has never encountered before, and a jackpot bonus if he doesn't fully understand how the toy functions. Spend a lot of time questioning why he would want such a thing and what he would do with it. This will keep the focus on the device and make it even more desirable to him. 

  We need a little Christmas right this very minute. Hauling your child to the local church that does a live nativity will make all those family devotions about the birth of Jesus you've been reading aloud seem so much more vivid. The real camel more than compensates for the yawning Mary standing by the faux donkey. You point out all of the similarities between the carefully planned nativity and what life was like that night in Bethlehem. It is all going great, and then...SANTA! WHAT? There is a live Santa at the end of the Nativity. He waves. Did he come as part of the live animal package? You hope your child doesn't ask too many questions about that and he obliges, because he is in shock, too. 

  He is still talking about that toy. It never goes away and comes up at least once a day. It is the only thing he really wants, and you could buy him the moon but he wouldn't care. You missed all the best deals on it already and so install yourself in a part time position of tracking the ever changing availability and price of this crazy thing. 

My lovely Acorn Angel.
  The church caroling list is a little thin this year and they are looking for a few more recipients of Christmas cheer. You feel bad about the old man who lives alone across the field. You still feel a twinge of guilt about the cookies you fully intended to bake and bring him last year, but never did. Ignoring the half dozen "no trespassing" signs that line his driveway, you knock and discover that no, he doesn't want your songs or fruit basket. He is a Jehovah's Witness. He seems relieved that you immediately understand and he doesn't have to explain it all to you. You have somehow managed to pull off a reverse JW visit where you knock on their door instead of them coming to you. Surely there is a name for this. Congratulate yourself and get back in the car.

  Each year you try to bless someone in an unexpected and often anonymous way. You have your eye on a widow who has come to your rescue more than once, and would like to slip her an unexpected gift. Things are tight, and you need to kind of raise the money to do this. Out of context, the verse about giving someone your cloak comes to mind. It doesn't apply, and yet it does. The gently used winter coat you have been trying to sell on the local yard sale page has languished for months. If you dropped the price to just the amount you need, maybe it will sell. Maybe God will move it. You do, and He does. Within a couple days, you have your money to bless your secret sister, and instantly the gift you want to give another was a gift also meant for you. In that instant, it feels like Christmas.  

I don't do a lot of spectacular baking for the holidays, although I do a lot of baking. I have my routine of standards that my family looks forward to every year. Near  the top of my list are my soft and chewy gingerbread cookies. I've been told more than once that these thick cookies are a winner, and have been asked for the recipe many times. Best of all, the Little Mister asked to decorate them again this year, and I loved that he remembered. 

Recipe makes 16 Gingerbread men

3/4 cup unsulphured molasses
3/4 cup butter (1 and 1/2 sticks)
3 and 2/3 cup all purpose sifted flour
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 cup dark brown sugar  

Warm molasses in a saucepan or microwave, but do not boil. Remove from heat and stir in butter until melted. Let cool.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, and brown sugar. Add molasses mixture and egg. Mix well. Divide dough into two equal portions and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least one hour, or until dough is stiff enough to roll with rolling pin. 
Preheat oven to 350. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Place one half of dough between plastic wrap and roll out to 1/4" thickness. Refrigerate one half of dough while rolling out the other half so the dough is kept cold. Cut with cookie cutter and place on prepared cookie sheets. Bake 12-15 minutes and cool completely on racks before decorating.   
Gingerbread shown here with other classic cookies; Snickerdoodles, Thumbprints, and Oatmeal Chocolate Chip.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Reporting Live, From the Workshop

Are you busy in your workshop? Are there dishes in the sink? Does that crooked picture on the wall and the calendar on the wrong month have you weary? Toys on the floor? Dirty shoe pile by the door? I have good news. Business is booming.

 The washing machine humming its soapy song while the phone rings (again!) betrays a lively existence. It is a home alive with love. The needy, the hungry, the tired, and exuberant are leaving a thumbprint on the walls (again!) and your memories.
  Someone complained "I can never clear the stuff from my dining room table." I told her she needs to take my free seminar entitled "How to Move Stuff from the Table to the Kitchen Counter." In this ground breaking class, I discuss how it can languish there until you discover said stuff is expired or irrelevant. At least your table will be clean. Did you know it is popular among some home design experts to keep your kitchen counters completely clear of any objects? They even make appliance cabinets so you can hide away eye sores like your coffee maker and mixer. What? 

  Why would I want to hide all my human fueling station and mighty food stirrer? They're trying to dis-empower us. My mixer is always mixing. It's probably running right now with something I forgot about. Hold on while I check. 

 I'm always re-learning to see my home as a workshop where priceless things are built. A sense of comfort and security, a place to laugh and share. I'm not advocating for having a dirty house  or a cluttered house. I like a clean workshop with lots of space, filled with well worn tools that can take a nick or scratch because they are meant to be used. I often need to put aside dreams of a pristine and delicately decorated home, a home meant for another time and place. Not this time and place.

  As our lives take on the joyful tasks to celebrate the season; family gatherings, special baking, church fellowship, and fixing that one Christmas decoration that won't stay put, let's make a deal to remember our workshops. A home full of tools we use while building a foundation on solid rock. For us, our families, and those who enjoy our hospitality. A place where the rain and the floods will never diminish our true, eternal Christmas.

 Years ago, on another blog, I posted this time honored recipe for Ginger Sweet Potato Muffins. I've heard many time how delicious these versatile muffins are, even among the youngest family members. I like that they can accompany just about any meal, or even stand in as a dessert. How many recipes can do that?

1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup mashed, baked sweet potato
1/2 cup milk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Optional: 1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger (You can add this for an elegant touch. Crystallized ginger can be found in many bulk food sections with the dried fruit.)

 Preheat oven to 375. Use a 12 cup muffin pan and muffin/cupcake liners. If you don't have the liners, lightly coat the pan with shortening or oil. 

In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ground ginger. In another bowl, stir together  sweet potato, milk, eggs, oil, and vanilla until blended. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the milk mixture. Stir just to combine. If you are adding the crystallized ginger, add that now. 

Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups and bake for 15-20 minutes.  
We ate them with soup! And then again for breakfast...snack...


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