Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas Highlights

Christmas is about family and being together. For almost 30 years, we have spent a weekend just before Christmas enjoying the festivities and decorations at a mountain resort. We all live in different states now. This was a wonderful place to meet. Here are a few highlights from our 27th visit.

Little Sister got to sing with the pianist in the Great Hall.

And Little Sister and her Aunt Jessica took a turn 
on the dance floor one evening.

Unusually warm weather let us sit out on the porch one night
and watch visitors come and go.

This fireplace is big enough to walk in to.

The proud and happy grandparents.

After the weekend, we all headed home to enjoy Christmas together at the farm. Santa Claus visited Little Sister and Big Sister here this year. It's amazing that he always knows where the children are.

Little Sister was excited to get just what she had asked Santa for.

Yes—all she had asked Santa for was "cornbread and cracked walnuts in a blue box."
Santa listened and delivered.

Aunt Jessica had a little shadow most of the week. She helped Jessica cook.

She sat right beside her and "knitted."

The temperatures got colder but not enough to keep everyone indoors.

Little Sister liked checking on the cows, even if they were smelly.

We had such fun having this bright face here for a few days. 
We enjoyed the rest of the family, too.

A tradition that started last year—baking cinnamon rolls on Christmas Eve.
One corner had extra cinnamon!

A longer tradition has been the cooking a rib roast on Christmas evening. Jessica and Daddy-O cook and let me sit down. They had tried a different recipe every year—until last year. They found the one they liked.


1 (8 to 9 pound) beef rib roast
2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup molasses
2 tablespoons course ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dried thyme, crushed
1/4 cup all-pourpose flour

Preheat oven to 325. Sprinkle meat with salt and place in a roasting pan. Insert an oven-going meat thermometer into the center of the roast. The thermometer should not touch the bone. Roast, uncovered, for 2 hours or until desired temperature.

In a small bowl, combine the molasses, pepper and thyme. Brush roast with some glaze. Add 2 cups of water to the pan and return to the oven. Roast for an additional 20 to 30 minutes or until meat thermometer registers 135 for medium rare. Brush roast once with remaining glaze and transfer roast to a carving board. Cover roast with foil; let stand for at least 15 minutes. Temperature of meat should be 145.

Meanwhile, pour pan drippings into a large measuring cup. Skim and reserve the fat from the drippings. Pour 1/4 cup of the fat into a medium saucepan (discard remaining fat). Stir in flour. Add enough water to the remaining drippings in the measuring cup to equal 2 cups. Add drippings all at once to the flour mixture in the saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir 1 minute more. Season to taste with salt. Slice meat and serve with gravy. 

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Need One More Gift?

Yes, I am sticking to my plan and doing "doing less." (But, it's Christmas—I have to do something!) In fact, I'm taking a break right now to rest for a few minutes this morning. Posting a short blog entry doesn't require much energy, though. I thought you might like to have this easy, easy recipe if you need just one more thing to give, to take to a party, to have for your family to nibble on.

We had enjoyed a pumpkin dip at a couple of baby showers in recent years. I found this recipe on around Thanksgiving and I saved it for Christmas.  The ingredients are things I usually have on hand--except for the cookies. It took five minutes to mix together and put into containers. One recipe filled four half-pint jars. I added a little treat bag with bought gingerbread man cookies.

And this really does taste like pumpkin pie. So if you know your folks won't go near a pumpkin pie, find something else for them!


8-oz. cream cheese, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
15-oz. can pumpkin
1-1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Mix cream cheese and powdered sugar until creamy. (I used my hand mixer.) Add pumpkin, cinnamon and ginger and beat until well blended. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Serve with ginger cookies, graham cracker sticks, or apple slices.

Jessica arrives tomorrow. We will see the rest of the family on Saturday. Yeah! 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Less Doing

These are words I am taking to heart this year. The days left until Christmas are limited. My energy is limited after a round of bronchitis. But the spirit IS here. Our family starts arriving this weekend. I am trying to think of easy recipes for the few meals when we will all be together. 

How about you? Are you a big decorator? Do you love shopping and wrapping gifts? Do you bake elaborate recipes? If so, go for it. But I'm aiming for simple and low-key this year.

With lots of extra people here for a few days, here are a few easy recipes that I might (or might not) make. We will see how it goes the next few days go. 


Ham Delights - Delicious little ham & cheese or turkey & cheese sandwiches for a party or for supper. Put them in the freezer and you'll only have to pop them in the oven when you need them. (These are already done!)

Damn Good Chili - I usually make a double batch, sometimes triple and put it in the freezer in quart containers. Only takes minutes to thaw and serve.


Old-Fashioned Potato Soup - Not the thick, loaded kind you get at restaurants. Just a simple delicious soup that my folks love.

Baked Bowties w/ Tomato & Mozzarella - One of our favorite pasta dishes. Creamy and flavorful. You can make it early in the day and have it ready to bake at dinner time. I have also frozen this after I've baked it. Just thaw in the refrigerator before heating.  

Pasta Bake - It's not unusual to have "no red meat" eaters or vegetarians in the family nowadays. This is good enough to feed the meat eaters and non-meat eaters alike. One dish feeds them all. Make it early in the day. Bake it later.


Blushing Apple Juleps - Delicious and it's so pretty.

Hot Cocoa - Perfect for sipping while you watch the Christmas tree lights twinkle.


Sweet Potato Biscuits - Make them ahead and freeze them. Just bake when you're ready.

Corny Cornbread - Goes well with the chili or the potato soup.


Homemake Pancakes - If you measure you dry ingredients the night before, it doesn't take long to mix the batter. You might need to double or triple the recipe if you are feeding a big family.

Apple-Cinnamon Baked Oatmeal - Mix this the night before and refrigerate. All that's left to do the next morning is to bake it. This is so very good. 

By Thursday, I'll have a meal plan and a grocery list. That doesn't mean that I will stick to it exactly, but the better prepared I am, the more I can relax and enjoy the company.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas Count Down

Father Christmas has obviously planned ahead. I caught him making an early delivery today when I peeked around the corner! On the other hand, I have been down for the count with my annual bout with bronchitis and I'm a little behind. But thankfully, a trip to the doctor and antibiotics are helping. Too much to do with just 11 days left before Christmas!

I truly have spent the last few days under a blanket. I have read and I have ordered a couple of gifts online and I am so over Christmas movies. This coming week I will get back up to speed, I hope. Handbells tomorrow at church and one ukulele concert next Friday and my music "job" is done for the season.

I need to finish knitting the foot of the second sock to tuck into a Christmas stocking. Poor son-in-law will not get a cap for Christmas although I bought the yarn months ago. I was happy to hear that Big Sister has been working on knitting gifts last week while she was out of school because of snow. By the time she is my age, her knitting should far surpass mine!

Cows don't observe a Christmas schedule as far as we know. But with our colder weather, they are happy to see Daddy-O every day when he arrives with hay. Thankfully, they just eat the same ol' thing every day and it's okay.

What do you do for meals when you are under the weather? I usually look to things in my freezer first--that's another reason to keep a few prepared meals at the ready. And then I turn to easy recipes that I know will be good. This is not a time to experiment.  (Okay, so I did make Chicken Bog on Monday and we ate it for days. I knew it couldn't be bad, but was delighted that it was SO good.) Tonight, a 3-Packet Pot Roast is in the slow cooker and that should feed us for a couple of meals with more to put in the freezer for another time.

How are you coming with your Christmas preparations? Years back I learned that just like Dr. Seuss wrote years ago, Christmas will come whether we finish our list or not. So bring it on! We will welcome it, regardless of how much I get (or don't get) done.

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

Thank you, Dr. Seuss.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Barreling Toward Christmas

As we prepare for Christmas, we are still remembering the fun we had with the whole family home for Thanksgiving. One of our best memories was the evening we sat at the kitchen table for about an hour after supper, pushing a Fisher-Price tractor around and around our long table. We all pushed it from one person to the next, making tractor noises, as Little Sister squealed in delight as we helped the plastic farmer do his job.

After a while, someone suggested that the farmer probably should go check on the cows. On our real farm, checking the cows involves riding out to see them, to count them, to make sure that no cows are in distress. But when Little Sister drove her little tractor over to the line of plastic farm animals at the end of the table, she hopped the plastic farmer out of the tractor. Then she turned him toward the animals and shouted, "Hey guys! How ya doing?" She may need a little more farm time with Daddy-O.

I have sneezed and sniffed for the entire rainy gloomy weekend and Monday was no better. We needed an easy supper. I happened to read that a nearby restaurant was having chicken bog for their special this evening. I have not had chicken bog in many years—not since my first job right out of college landed me in the South Carolina low country, where chicken bog is a staple. It was served at restaurants, school cafeterias and fund raisers. It sounded just right for this rainy night. Comfort food to the max.


Since I had cooked chicken in the freezer and House Seasoning on hand, this was a quick meal. I only made a half of the original recipe because that's all the rice I had. It was more than enough for the two of us. We will be eating it again for a couple of meals. If you want to make the full recipe, check out Paula Deen's recipe link. The recipe I've written down here is what I made tonight.

   — adapted from Paula Deen

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (the ones I used were large ones)
1/2 lb. turkey smoked sausage
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon Lawry's seasoning salt
1 teaspoon House Seasoning**
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper (or to taste--we surely didn't want more!)
1-1/2 bay leaves
4 cups chicken broth or water (and more, as needed)
1-1/2 cups uncooked rice

Slice the turkey smoked sausage into rounds. In a stockpot, combine chicken, sausage, onion, butter, seasonings and bay leaves. Add the chicken broth, cover and bring to a boil. Lower heat and cook for about 30-35 minutes, until chicken is tender. Remove chicken from pot and let cool slightly. Using two forks, shred chicken and set aside. Add rice to the pot and bring to a boil, stirring well. Boil 10 minutes, then reduce heat, cover the pot and simmer for 10 minutes, or until rice is done. (Add more broth if needed.) Remove the bay leaves. Stir the shredded chicken back into pot.

Serves 4

I always keep House Seasoning on my shelf.   **House Seasoning:  Mix 1/4 cup salt, 1 tbsp. black pepper & 1 tbsp. garlic powder. Store in an air-tight container, such as an empty spice bottle.

On Saturday, before this cold got the best of me, I helped at our church bake sale. I took eight loaves of my sour dough bread.

And I made a few loaves of a new recipe, Cinnamon Swirl Quick Bread. Since I had never made this one before, we had to taste the first one to make sure it was bake-sale-worthy. It was very good. We decided it was even better a couple of days later. Makes it even easier to factor into your gift giving since you can make it ahead.

          —adapted from Plain Chicken

2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/4 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup confectioners (powdered) sugar
2 teaspoons water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a small bowl, mix 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon.

Lightly spray a 9x5-inch loaf pan with PAM. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper or wax paper, and spray paper lightly with PAM. 

Combine flour, 1 cup of sugar, baking soda and salt. Whisk to mix dry ingredients. Add buttermilk, egg, vanilla and oil. Stir just until moistened. Pour half of batter into loaf pan; sprinkle with half of cinnamon sugar. Spread with remaining batter and sprinkle with remaining sugar. Cut through batter with a knife to swirl.

Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out to cool completely.

Combine confectioners' sugar and enough water to reach desired consistency; drizzle over loaf.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Holidays Begin

Busy times around here for the last couple of weeks as Thanksgiving came and went. Getting ready for everyone to come home for the holiday was fun. There was even snow the day before Thanksgiving. What a way to start the holiday! We had a full house, with someone sleeping in every room. Little Sister was excited to have a "big girl bed" (also known as an air mattress) to sleep on this time. It felt like our house had a revolving door for a few days as everyone hurried here and there trying to visit with other family.

But some of our best times were the "in between" times when we had a few minutes to enjoy each other. Little Sister and Daddy-O had the best impromptu jam session, with Little Sister fully in charge.

Thanksgiving Day was spent with extended family. We loved sampling all the good dishes that everyone brought. The only downside of this kind of celebration is that we don't have turkey leftovers to nibble on for the next week. This year I remedied that by putting a turkey breast in the slow cooker as we left for the family dinner. When we got home, we had turkey for sandwiches like everyone else! I have cooked turkey breasts in the crockpot before, but this recipe was a little different. I liked it this way.


4-6 lb. turkey breast
2 cups white wine (or apple juice or chicken broth)
1 onion, peeled & quartered
1/4 cup butter
1-2 celery stalks, halved
handful of parsley (optional)
salt & pepper, to taste

Wash the turkey breast and pat dry. Sprinkle well with salt and pepper. Place it breast-side down in 6-qt. crockpot. Add onion, celery, parsley, and butter into the cavity. Pour wine over the top of turkey breast. Cook on HIHG for 4-6 hours or LOW for 7-9 hours. (Internal temperature should read 170 degrees on a meat thermometer.)

When I was growing up, one of my favorite things was when my mother cooked a hen (or turkey) and made a hen mulligan with the last of the leftovers. I liked it better than the turkey dinner in the beginning. This is the kind of recipe that should be considered a "guideline" rather than one requiring exact measurement. These are the amounts my mother wrote down for me, but I'm sure she never measured anything. 


2-3 cups cooked hen or turkey, chopped
2 medium onions, chopped fine
3 medium potatoes, peeled & diced
3-4 cups water or broth (if using canned broth, use a mix of broth & water)
3 tablespoons butter
1 (15-oz) can cream-style corn (I used an 8-oz can this time)

Mix all ingredients, except corn, in a large pot. Cook until potatoes and onions are done. Stir in corn and heat thoroughly.   

We took time to give thanks for everyone being together for a few days and then getting back home safely. Now, to start Christmas preparations. We hope we have everyone back here in a few weeks. Maybe Santa will make a stop at the farm!