Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Nuts And Bolts Of It

Friend Missy (who is now a Mimi herself) shared her Mimi's recipe for Nuts & Bolts with me weeks ago. There are so many versions of Chex party mix online—some make smaller amounts, some cook faster, and most have more seasonings. But I wanted to try this family favorite, just like Missy has made it for years.

Mommy mixed it up for me one day while she was here at the farm wrapping gifts and we were out running those last errands. This isn't a hard recipe, but it takes hours in the oven. I did get one text from Mommy when she poured the butter mixture over the cereals, asking if she should make more of the butter mix. She thought maybe the cereal wasn't coated enough. I trusted Missy's recipe to be perfect just like she wrote it. It was. The butter mix and cereal amounts are just right.

This makes an enormous amount. Perfect at the holiday season because we've had plenty to eat, we've given several jars as gifts, and there is enough to get us through all the bowl games on TV this coming weekend. I used jars for giving, just because I had them. Those fun tins you can get just before Christmas would work, too. Plastic bags are fine, but might not keep the mix fresh as long as storage in glass—not a problem, though, if you are eating it up pretty quickly.

Here is the old family recipe, complete with Missy's notes. She also told me that she adds more Worcestershire and Tabasco because they like it spicy. We stuck to the original recipe this time and have loved it that way. I did follow her suggestions for less pretzels and using pecan halves.

NUTS & BOLTS (Missy's Mimi's recipe)

1 box Wheat Chex
1 box Rice Chex
1 box Cheerios (large)
1 (16-oz) bag pretzel sticks (I think 8 oz. is plenty)
1-1/2 lb mixed nuts (I use 1 lb mixed nuts and 1/2 lb pecan halves)
1-1/4 lb. butter (5 sticks)
3 tablespoons Tabasco
4 tablespoons Worcestershire

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Mix first five ingredients together in a VERY large bowl. Bring butter, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce to a boil. Pour over the dry ingredients and stir gently to coat everything.

Pour into two large roasting pans (I use the disposable ones) and put on middle racks in ovens if you have a double oven, or put both in one oven and alternate positions a few times while cooking. Cook for 4-1/2 to 5 hours, stirring gently every 45 minutes.

Let cool and seal in airtight containers. (Each batch makes twelve 8-oz bags.) If sealed well, this Chex mix stays crunchy for a long time.

Christmas has come and gone. But our little people are still with us for several more days. That means there is not much time to write at the moment. I am still in baby chasing/meal cooking/toy picking up/story reading/un-decorating mode. I'll catch up with you in 2016!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas To You!

Way back in the 1950s, my mother was friends with the editor of our small town newspaper. For reasons I don't know, he decided to make a photo of me and my sister with Santa just before the Christmas parade started. I was five. My sister was three and not a fan of Santa at all at that point. She wanted no part of this photo shoot. So it was just me and Santa.

I don't know if there was a plan when the photo was made, or if the idea came later. But the newspaper editor made a huge print of that photo and used it for a Christmas decoration in the window of the newspaper office. After a year or two, he gave that giant photo to my mother. And of course, it passed on to me later.

Years ago, to tease me, Daddy-O put it out as part of our decoration. It's a tradition now. A few days before Christmas, he hauls Santa and me up from the basement and puts us on an easel.

So when we see this photograph, we know Christmas is almost here. The tree has been decorated. That gifts are wrapped. The family is all tucked in here at the farm. The music has been rehearsed. (Mommy and Big Sister are singing at the Christmas Eve service, with me accompanying them.) Little Sister just put her list for Santa on the hearth. ("So he will see it first thing when he comes down the chimney.") All the crazy preparation is over. All the work is done. And now we wait.

It is time to close the lid on this computer and focus on the faces in front of me for the next few days. I hope your celebration, whether big or small, brings you joy.

Merry Christmas 
from all of us at the farm
to you!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Last Minute Recipe


I'm sitting here this morning, enjoying the fire—our last morning cool enough to have one—and another Christmas movie, while I'm working on menus for this week and the grocery list. One chick is back home in the nest already. More arrive today, and the last ones tomorrow.

We are planning to have appetizers on Christmas Eve after we get home from church. And I wanted to make the hot chicken dip we enjoyed a couple of years ago. I went to the recipe index here on the blog to find the recipe. And it WASN'T THERE! I have never posted this easy recipe. I'm fixing that right now.

My cousin Lynn shared this recipe with me and told me that whole family loves it. It was a hit with our folks, too. It's one of those stir-it-up-and-leave-it kind of recipes. I'm putting it here, without a photo (because I won't make it until Christmas Eve.) Now I'll be able to find it easily next time.


2 (8-oz) blocks of cream cheese
2 (12.5-oz) cans chicken, drained (mine were 10-oz)
1 cup Ranch dressing
1/2 medium bottle Texas Pete, or to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a crockpot. Serve with Scoops or Fritos.

The gentleman who gave Lynn the recipe told her that he melts the cream cheese in the crockpot, then adds the other ingredients.

Keep this recipe in mind in you need a quick easy recipe for your holiday feasting. Thanks, Lynn!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

What Makes Christmas "Christmas?"

I went to visit the grandchildren last weekend. I got to watch Little Sister cheer at a basketball game. ("You know, that game where you try to throw a ball through the hoola hoop.") I heard the magnificent Christmas concert at church where Big Sister sings in the choir. I saw the Night of Lights in their neighborhood. And I stayed an extra night so that I could watch the preschool Christmas program. Little Sister was Mary in the play. Her line was, "It was a long journey. I didn't think we'd EVER get here!"

I got home late yesterday. It's pretty obvious at this point, that everything on my list is not going to get done. The ingredients for the party mix are sitting on the kitchen table where they have been waiting on me for days. Most of the gifts are wrapped, but not all of them. There are two stocking that are completely empty as of this minute.

So? Does it matter? Some of it does. (You know I can't have two people with empty stockings on Christmas morning.) Most of it won't matter at all, except to me.

Last year our Christmas took a turn of its own. Like so many people who find that there is no "jolly" in their "holly," ours was a little on the bleak side. Baby Girl was spending her first Christmas in the hospital in the midwest where they lived. Big Sister and Little Sister were here at the farm with us and Little Sister was crying for her mommy. Mommy was far away from the rest of her family at Christmas.

But we found that Christmas came anyway. So many people helped Mommy and Baby Girl have a special Christmas at the hospital. Strangers came with gifts. One family had experienced a similar Christmas years ago and made it their mission each year to bring a little cheer to sick children spending the holiday attached to tubes and monitors in the hospital. Nurses brought handmade gifts for each tiny patient—blankets, caps, pillows. The church family made sure that Mommy had a Christmas dinner. Meanwhile at the farm, Aunt Jessica made things fun for the older sisters, keeping them busy in the kitchen and wrapping gifts and playing games. 

Mommy and J-Daddy, even before the hospital stay, had decided to skip a tree last year since they were all coming home for Christmas. They didn't want to leave a live tree to dry out for two weeks. So sweet Little Sister (who was 4 last Christmas) made a tree for her family. She found the little Charlie Brown tree whose single ornament had broken the year before. She decorated it with the baby's teething ring, one of her hair bows and wrapped a doll blanket around the base and put it in the corner where the tree usually sat.

Now, when I looked at the photo of this sad tree this week, I saw a reminder of last Christmas when things were not going so well. But Little Sister was hanging on my shoulder looking with me. When she saw this, she exclaimed, "Oh! That was a pretty tree. I remember that." I should take lessons from her.

Yes, Christmas did come last year. In its own way. In a way that was probably closer to the original Christmas. And it will come again this year for all of us, just like it has for two thousand years. In this last week as things seem to speed up, let us try to keep our focus on what's important. And remind ourselves that it's not about the decorations. It's not about the gifts. It's not about the food. It's about caring. And kindness. And friends. And family. And love.

As we celebrate the birth of Christ, let us be the hands and feet of Christ to others. Just like those special people who brought Christmas to a hospital room last year. Just like a tiny child who found a way for her family to have a Christmas tree. Let us shine Christmas love on someone who needs it this year.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas Cookie Party

I think I lived an entire year's worth of life last week. I'm not even telling what the whole week held because listing it would make me tired all over again. Let's just say I've come out here on the other side still upright. Last week's crazy/busy was mostly good things, but just too much crammed in together. 

Last night's cookie party that Mommy hosted was a nice end to the week and I only had to help—light duties compared to the other full days. Their neighborhood has an annual "Night Of Lights" and everyone in a three-county radius must know to drive through and look at the decorated houses. One house even had a live nativity scene in their yard, complete with a camel and donkeys and chickens. There was a major traffic backup on the highway to get into this neighborhood.

Mommy had invited a few friends to drop by for cookies, hot cider and cocoa when they came to see the lights. Turns out it was really hard to get here in all the traffic (this is Mommy's first Christmas here and they had no clue what a big deal this night was) but persistence paid off and before it was over, little people filled the house with laughter and shrieking and lots of running about. Then they ate cookies. God bless the mamas of these sugar-filled kiddos today.

Mommy baked and baked and baked to get ready for the party. This new recipe was a big hit with everyone. I want to make these at home soon. Or, maybe after Christmas. I'm kind of full of cookies right now.


2 ounces baking chocolate (semi-sweet or unsweetened or bittersweet)
2 sticks softened butter
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2-1/4 all-purpose flour
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2  teaspoon salt
powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave, stir, and let it cool.

Cream the butter and sugar together until totally combined. With the mixer on low, slowly drizzle in the cooled chocolate. Scrape the bowl and mix again. Mix in the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla. Scrape the bowl once more and mix.

Combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Stir it together, then add it in large spoonfuls to the mixing bowl, with the mixer running on low. Scrape the bowl again and mix again until all combined.

Scoop generous tablespoons onto a baking sheet lined with parchment, then bake for 11 minutes until puffed and set. Remove them from the oven and let them sit on the pan for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove them to a baking rack to cool completely. Once cool, sprinkle generously with powdered sugar.

This recipe came from one of Mommy's good college friends. It's wonderful how these recipes remind us of friends from years ago.


4 cups water
2 cups sugar
Bring to a boil in a big pot, them simmer for 15 minutes. Take off heat.

3 cinnamon sticks
8 whole allspice balls
10 whole cloves
Let sit for 1 hour. Remove cinnamon sticks, allspice and cloves.

1/2 gallon apple cider
4 cups orange juice
1 (7.5 oz) bottle Minute Maid lemon juice (in frozen juice section)

Stir and heat slowly. Serve hot. Refrigerate leftovers. You can put this in a large crockpot to keep it warm for serving at a party.

I have given beverages as gifts. Your friends and neighbors  might a welcome change from a plate of cookies. Pour cider into a pretty bottle. Use one saved when you empty a bottle of juice or purchase an inexpensive carafe at the grocery store. Add a festive label with heating directions and tie on a bow. What a treat to have homemade hot cider on a cold day!

To help you find the frozen lemon juice, this is the bottle Mommy used. The bottle was packaged in a box in the freezer section. The bottle says it is equal to the juice of 7 lemons. You could certainly use fresh if you've got the time and energy.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

So Simple So Good

Several weeks ago I was zooming down I-85 (that's the only way people drive on I-85—it's scary) and my phone whistled at me. That's my alert sound for a text message. Now I do not text and drive. But I was really close to the halfway point in my drive. That exit has a Starbucks. So I stopped to get coffee and check my message.

It was from my sister. She was asking me about a recipe she got from me years ago. I called her to see what she needed. She said she had made it many times, but her aging brain didn't remember the cooking time.

Well, I guess we know who is the oldest, because my ancient brain didn't even remember this recipe at all! She told me what she was doing and how good it was and I did know the basic cooking time for a pork tenderloin, which answered her question. But I still have no recollection of ever making this. I do remember making a recipe that is first cousin to this one—Pepperoncini Beef. We liked that one. This pork recipe is similar but milder and tamer.

I trusted her that "my" recipe was a good one and made it for our supper last night. Two ingredients in a slow cooker. Can't get much easier than that. I needed easy because I had of other things to do as I try to get ready for the family to get here in less than two weeks. 


2 pork tenderloins (that's how mine are always packaged)
1 (16-oz) jar of mild banana pepper rings

Place pork tenderloins the the slow cooker. Pour banana peppers and the juice over the pork. Cook on LOW for 6-8 hours. Remove meat and shred with two forks. Serve with (or without) the banana peppers.

I checked the pork after about 6-1/2 hours. It wasn't quite tender enough (these were large tenderloins) so I cooked it another hour. Just be sure not to overcook the tenderloins. Pork tenderloins to do not need to cook a really long time, like some beef recipes that I might cook for 10 hours or longer. I found this out the hard way with another recipe. Cook it too long and the texture of the pork isn't good. Years ago I thought you should never take the lid off a crockpot during the cooking. But this quick check (about 30 seconds) was okay.

The pork was tender and flavorful. We liked eating the pork with the banana peppers. It's easy to skip them if you don't. This is good for sandwiches or you can serve it over rice. I put some in the freezer for later. I will happily take credit for this recipe.

This may be the shortest recipe I've posted here. It balances out the complicated bread recipe I put on the blog earlier this week. I am glad my sister's younger brain remembered this recipe. I'm posting it here so I won't forget it again.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Christmas Bread

Jessica came home last weekend and she and I stayed in the kitchen for a good part of her time here. She wanted to learn how to make these yeast-raised coffee cakes that I have been baking for years. Her lucky co-workers are getting these today for a Christmas treat.

This recipe is based on one I found in a booklet I ordered from Fleischmann's in 1984. That little booklet is wonderful. The pages in mine are brittle and crumbling. I really should scan each page while I can. All of the recipes are great. It is an education in different ways to mix yeast breads. Brown 'n serve, dough for the freezer, rapid mix, cool rise. Who knew there were so many ways to mix a dough?

This is most likely the longest recipe I'll ever post here. But it's a good one. And a couple of folks have asked for the recipe. I only make it at Christmas. It typically is part of our Christmas breakfast. Over the years, we have taken it to junior high teachers, to security guards, to friends, to pastors, and to our choir director. I even made it for bake sales.

I love it because it's delicious. I love it because it is beautiful. And I love it because it is "brown 'n serve." That means you can make it up to a week ahead of serving it or gifting it. You pop in into the oven for a few minutes to finish browning it at the last minute.

It really isn't that hard to make, but it does take time. I often use Rapid Rise yeast and that shortens the process by about an hour. (*Directions for using Rapid Rise yeast is at the bottom of the recipe.) The recipe makes two coffee cakes. But I have also divided the dough into thirds before shaping and made three smaller "cakes" when I needed to give more than two.

When you get to the shaping part, you can do it any way you like. The braid is the most labor intense, but it's lovely. You can also use other fillings instead of cinnamon-sugar and nuts. The original recipe called for toasted coconut and brown sugar.

If you use PAM to grease your bowl for rising, spray the top of the dough with PAM also. If you use oil to grease the bowl, just turn the dough over in the bowl to grease the top.  This is to keep the dough from drying out while it rises.

To test to see if the dough has risen enough, lightly press your fingertip into the dough. If it springs back, it needs to rise a little longer. If the dent stays in, it's ready for the next step.


4 to 5 cups unsifted bread flour
1/2 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
2 packages Fleischmann's Active Dry Yeast
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup butter (that's 1/2 stick)
2 eggs, at room temp
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
chopped nuts (I just stir some in--the mix is mostly sugar/cinnamon)
melted butter, for brushing the strips
powdered sugar (about 1 cup) for the glaze

In a large bowl, thoroughly mix 1-1/4 cups of the flour, 1/2 cup sugar, salt and undissolved dry yeast.
Combine milk, water, and 1/4 cup butter in a saucepan. Heat over low heat, until liquids are very warm (120-130 degrees F.) Butter does not need to melt. Gradually add to dry ingredients and beat 2 minutes at medium speed of electric mixer, scraping bowl occasionally. Add eggs and 1/4 cup flour. Beat at high speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally.

Stir in enough additional flour to make a stiff dough. Turn out onto lightly floured board; knead until smooth and elastic, about 8-10 minutes. Place in greased bowl, turning dough to grease top. Cover; let rise in warm place, free from draft, until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Mix filling and set aside:  Combine 3/4 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon and chopped nuts.

Punch dough down; divide in half. (Cover the dough that is "waiting" with a towel so that it doesn't dry out.) Divide first half into three equal pieces of dough. Roll each ball of dough between hands to make a “rope.” Roll each rope-shape with a rolling pin to flatten into a strip.

Brush strip generously with melted margarine, leaving edges dry, then spoon the cinnamon-nut mixture down the center of each strip. Pull dough up over cinnamon-nut mixture and pinch dough together to seal. (You are making a "cinnamon sugar-filled rope.") On your work surface, put ends of all three filled strips together, seam-side down. Loosely braid the strips. Tuck under each end of braided loaf and pinch to seal. Carefully place braided loaf on a greased baking sheet. Cover with a towel. Repeat with other half of dough. 

Let rise in warm place, free from draft, until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Bake at 250 degrees for 40 minutes. Remove from baking sheets and cool on wire racks. Wrap well in plastic wrap. Store in refrigerator up to 7 days.

When ready to serve, place on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 375 degrees about 12 minutes, or until browned. Remove from baking sheets and cool on wire racks. 

While bread is cooling, mix glaze: Mix together about 1 cup powdered sugar, adding water a spoonful at a time, until you reach desired consistency. Drizzle over top of each cooled loaf.  Remember, this has no preservatives like most bought breads, so eat it quickly!

*You can use Rapid Rise yeast to eliminate the first rising.  Mix according to recipe up through the kneading. Instead of putting dough in a greased bowl to rise, leave the dough on the work surface, cover with a towel and let it "rest" for 10 minutes. Proceed to the shaping step and continue with the recipe as written.

For Christmas giving, I like to decorate with candied red and green cherries. Cut a green cherry into four pieces and place 2 or 3 pieces around the red cherries, like leaves. Before Christmas, you can find candied cherries at the supermarket with the fruit cake ingredients. 
After reading all of this, I know your eyes are glazed over. Later, I will give you instructions—maybe even diagrams—for some other ways to shape this dough. I think all of the other ways I know to shape this are faster than the braid. All the shapes taste the same, of course, but I love this braid at Christmas time. Maybe I should learn to love one of the faster shapes. 


Saturday, December 5, 2015

Getting Ready

Pattern: A Good Plain Sock by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee
Yarn: ONline Supersocke 100
Needle Size:  1.5

It's early on Saturday morning. Cold and frosty outside. A good day for slipping on the warm socks that I finished a few days ago. Now I started them months ago. Not sure why it took so long to get to the end. But I am glad to be wearing them today.

Jessica is home for the weekend and we are about to start a marathon day of Christmas preparation—decorating, baking, wrapping. I won't have her again to help until a few days before Christmas. So I plan to take advantage today of having extra hands.

I am always on the lookout for EASY holiday ideas. Saw this felt tree somewhere online. Perfect for the little people in the family. No sewing. No pattern. Just cutting. I folded a yard of green felt in half and drew a freehand outline of a Christmas tree and cut it out.

We used a soup can, a hand lotion bottle and a soft drink cap to trace circles onto more felt. I cut a few "vintage shaped" ornaments free hand by folding squares of felt in half before cutting. That makes sure the two sides match.

Mommy posted this photo yesterday. She had taped the tree to a wall and added some felt packages under the tree. Looks like my "vintage" ornaments may have been lost already! That tells me that the little granddaughters have been decorating and un-decorating and decorating this tree again.

Yesterday I stopped by to visit some dear friends who are home bound now. Pulled a few applesauce muffins and a small loaf of my banana bread from the freezer. The only small tray I had here still needed one more thing to fill it up. Tea bags! It was just a small gift, but one that was much appreciated. Remember, you don't have to take a whole batch of muffins, or the large loaf of a quick bread as a gift.

Like everyone else, I don't have enough time to do all I would like to do. So, I baked banana bread a couple of times last week, making each recipe into three or four 5-inch loaves. The applesauce muffin recipe makes two dozen. Divide those things into smaller packages and you've quickly got several Christmas trays to give. You know it's really more about taking the time to visit a few minutes than it is about a gift.

Now. Time to get cracking, or it won't all get done!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Finding Christmas

Forgive me if you are tired of reading this story. I have posted it a couple of times before. But it is part of our family Christmas lore. And Jessica is coming home today to celebrate Daddy-O's birthday this weekend. This is such a good reminder of the true Christmas spirit.

Be sure in these busy weeks to watch out for those around you who might need a kind word, or a smile or good deed. Give a little extra to someone who needs it. Not everyone finds this "the most wonderful time of the year" and maybe you can brighten their season. If you are the one who is struggling to find the Christmas spirit, doing those very things can help you as much as the one on the other end of that kindness.

...originally posted in 2011...

I was rummaging through a drawer last week looking for something and I found this little stocking at the bottom of the drawer. It's a reminder of what wonderful children I have.

Many Christmases ago, just as we were leaving for the Christmas Eve service at church, Jessica asked us to wait just a minute. She wasn't quite finished. I knew she was making something but we were busy and I didn't exactly know what she was doing. In a couple of minutes she was ready and had this little stocking in her hand. You can see that the tag says "To Needing." 

When we went up for communion that night, she placed this little stocking on the altar rail. I didn't know what was in it but thought that it was nice that she wanted to leave something. The adults often left a dollar or two there. That money was used for people who came to the church needing help with things like paying the heating bill, or getting their car repaired. The money was always collected after the service and given to the pastor. That little stocking was gathered up along with the dollar bills and that's the last we saw of it.

Weeks later I got a phone call from the pastor telling me that the that little stocking been laying on his office desk since Christmas. The top was stapled together (with lots of staples.) It was stuffed full and it had the tag written in a small child's writing. One day his wife was in the office and picked the stocking up. She asked what it was. He told her that Jessica had left it on the altar Christmas Eve, that it was probably filled with candy and she could throw it away. She weighed it in her hand and said she thought it was awfully heavy for candy. She undid the staples and poured out lots of coins and some rolled up bills. The pastor was astounded. They counted the money and said it held just over $17. 

Jessica had emptied her bank and given it all to the "needing." He was moved by her generosity.  He said he had learned a lesson, too. He had learned not to judge what was on the inside by how the outside looked. When you make up your mind before looking further, it's easy to miss something special. The other bills left on the altar that night were all ones and fives. This little second grader had given more than anyone. She gave all she had. And he had almost thrown the stocking away.

This little stocking is one of my Christmas treasures.