Category Archives: Christmas

A time to celebrate the birth of our savior. To slow down, reconnect and bless friends and family with handmade gifts from the kitchen or the heart. A blessed and favored time of year for me.

Catching Up

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Nathan’s 2014 Calendar – I love these calendars the kids make at school and will be so sad when the year comes that they are all too big to make them anymore.

I’d say it’s about time we do a little catching up.

No, I have not given up blogging.

No, I was not kidnapped by Aliens.

No, I did not move to the south of France to hide away from the world. Although some days, that is still on the table.

We have had a pretty challenging couple of months with some big losses in our family and my heart has been processing it all. Throw in a couple big holidays and a birthday and this unprepared lady just had no time to write or visit my favorite blogs.

I’ve missed you guys.

In early November, we received a call that my father-in-law, who had been battling cancer for last 10 years, was being moved to Hospice care with only a few days to a week before it would be his time. My husband immediately hopped on a plane to be by his dad’s side. Proving that he is absolutely the toughest guy I know, dad fought to live for another three weeks. I am so thankful my husband was able to spend most of that time by his dad’s side. After dad’s passing, our whole family flew out to say goodbye to grandpa. Well, goodbye for now anyway. We know he’s saving us a place at the best fishing hole around.

We stayed with our family in Indiana for a bittersweet but very blessed Thanksgiving.

While in Indiana, we were also able to squeeze in a trip to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis…

Sara was off with her cousins so I only have boy pictures and boy did they have a great time! True to their nature, David loved the history and “fact” finding opportunities and Nathan was all hands on energy. We only lost him once. He knew where we were and was evading. Nearly every gray hair I have is his doing. Nearly. They aren’t all his fault but I’m still sending him the cumulative salon bill someday anyway.

It was hard to leave grandma Judy and the family, the big blue Victorian house, the crisp fall air, the falling leaves, the warm fire and the quiet time.

We love you grandpa and we will miss you everyday. Until we meet again.

After getting home from Indiana, there was not a moment to waste getting ready for Christmas. Christmas cards and letters, decorating, shopping, baking, teacher, neighbor and co-worker gifts, brunch, parties and even a Women’s Ministry event thrown in for good measure! Thankfully, my trusty staff was on hand to help – see picture below., way below.

Oh, and a Birthday to celebrate too!

Happy Birthday, Sara!! One year from now,  we’ll have a teenager. Actually, less than a year from NOW.  Gulp.

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We try very hard to keep her birthday separate from Christmas and just celebrate her. With all that had gone on and all of the “Christmas catch-up” I had to do, Sara was very gracious about having a simple, low-key celebration this year. Low-key was officially supposed to come next year as the last of the “big” parties is sixth grade; says the parental management team. With the exception of Sweet 16 of course.

Instead of a big party, we decided it would be just as much fun to take her and as many friends as I could safely fit in the van to Jump Street where they could trampoline themselves to their hearts content.

Fun. Did I say fun? Oh my will I have to tell you all about it some time. For now, I will just let you imagine a half an hour in a car with six 11-12 year old girls, too many cell phones, too much perfume, lip-gloss and nail polish (all of which were opened, sprayed, dripped and gooped in my car at least once) and far too many pre-teen hormones. They are fun in groups of three or less. Anymore than that and a pack mentality seems to set in. A half an hour EACH WAY. Did I mention that.

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We do have a special birthday tradition just for her that we never miss. Every year, on her birthday, we take her out to dinner at the Cheesecake Factory and give her all of her gifts from the family. It is always a special evening and she loves it.  This year’s coveted birthday items – crazy knee socks, floral combat boots and anything with a moustache print on it.

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Nope, I wasn’t kidding. Don’t ask me?? If it is safe, appropriate and makes her happy, I don’t question.

One day soon, I will do a series of posts on some of the kids’ past parties. We’ve had some fun ones! For now you can check out the two I have posted; David’s Duck Dynasty Bash and Nathan’s Despicable Me Party.

In other news, Noodles the Elf on the Shelf was back for the Christmas Season so there was much Elf Management to be done …

The Elf Management team wasn’t quite as creative as last year but we got the job done. Mostly. When you have a six year old who misses nothing and wakes up instantly hyper-focused on a mission to find the elf, it can be complicated if the elf has not in fact been moved because management was dragging into bed at 1am and … gasp … forgot. “Oh, no someone must have touched the elf” came in handy more than once.

And then, all too soon, it was Christmas …

I love Christmas. Everything about it. Next year, my goal is to have posts ready ahead of time so I don’t miss sharing this wonderful season with my blogging friends. Unless you are prepared in advance, It is just too hard to write and keep up with all of the “busy” while desperately trying maintain focus on what truly matters. Lesson learned.

Desperately busy. Which leads me to December 26th and hibernation. I am an extrovert who becomes an introvert for about two weeks a year; December 26th until the day the kids go back to school.  I’m done. Finished. Spent. Turtle in her introverted shell. I may stay in my PJs all day. I may watch movies with the kids all day. In my PJs. ALL DAY. For many days.

Needless to say, I am not a New Year’s party girl. Well, I’m not really a party girl at all (anymore – for any of my college friends who might be reading) unless it is a dinner party or a birthday party or there’s cake. You know what I mean.

New Year’s Day consisted of bike riding and a picnic out back oh, and we did share the week with one very special and adorable house guest “Buster” or “Sassy McNoodle” as we like to call him.

And New Year’s Eve?

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Well this is about as exciting as it gets around here folks! H.I.B.E.R.N.A.T.I.O.N. Only one kid made it to midnight. I’ll give you one guess. Yup. The youngest. Party animal – just look at that face.

JanuaryAnd so, here it is the middle of January and sadly, 2014 has not had an easy start. We just returned from Oklahoma after saying goodbye to Gary’s incredible cousin Mike who passed away just after the New Year. I will tell you about Mike sometime as I will tell you about dad. For now, I will just share this from a card that was sent to us by Gary’s uncle Chuck after dad’s passing …

My prayer for you is a little light in the midst of this darkness. “We will never be the same as we were before this loss, but are ever so much better for having had something so great to lose.” – Leigh

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Indeed we are. And we are grateful to the God who loves and sustains us and we praise Him in all things. We trust in Him an look to Him for comfort even when we can’t find understanding.

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This one’s for you cousin Mike – Boomer Sooner!

Yes, it has been a difficult and busy few months for our family but we are moving forward and I am so glad you and I are finally catching up. Thank you for hanging in there with me and for your readership and friendship. A special welcome to the new visitors who have stopped by and the readers who have so graciously followed Welcome Company. I have a long list of recipes, ideas, plans for the Hacienda, stories to share and adventures to come.

I am looking forward to all that 2014 will bring.

I hope each and everyone of you had a wonderful holiday and got some time of your own to “hibernate” with those you love most. May 2014 be a year of blessing, adventure, friendship, family and fun. And may we be thankful to the God who loves us in all that may come.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13

Blessings my friends!

 

Haddon Hall Gingerbread

Today, I am excited to share something very special with you, just in time for Thanksgiving; Haddon Hall Gingerbread.

Haddon Hall Gingerbread is a delightful, dark and distinctive cakelike gingerbread with deep notes of rich molasses and warm spices. It is another of the treasures from my Grandmother Ibby’s recipe box and is a favorite of my mom’s. Not just a favorite fall treat but a favorite childhood memory.  Crisp fall days spent playing outside or afternoons walking home from school, cold nose, tingling fingers. Opening the front door of the big old Victorian house, a deep breath and a spreading smile as she is greeted by the scent of her favorite gingerbread baking in the oven.

I can just picture her standing there in her cotton dress, knit sweater, saddle shoes, dropping her books and inhaling deeply, happy to be home and anticipating that warm gingerbread dolloped with fresh whipped cream.

What a picture of home and comfort. Perfect for this time of year when we nestle in and regain our focus on what is most important. Home. Family. Tradition.

While in our family, this will always be my grandmother’s gingerbread, Haddon Hall Gingerbread does have some pretty interesting roots. And apparently a very interesting effect on men.

Yes, this post started out as a simple and sweet remembrance from my mother’s childhood. A favorite recipe to share for the upcoming holiday season. But as is so often the case, there is more to this story.

The research I have done has yielded some intriguing and even amusing results and several different variations on the recipe; none quite the same as my grandmother’s. From what I’ve read, Haddon Hall Gingerbread originally gained the attention of American housewives in 1933 with a Gold Medal flour ad on the back cover of the November issue of Better Homes and Gardens magazine.

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Photo Credit

And after reading this advertisement, I must say, how could it not?

The ad encourages the lady of the house to buy Gold Medal flour for the “Kitchen Tested, simplest, surest, easiest way to baking success.” And if that wasn’t reason enough to purchase Gold Medal flour, the recipe set included in each bag was certainly an irresistible offer.

“Rich man… poor man… Every man goes for Haddon Hall Gingerbread. An old favorite marvelously transformed by adding cream cheese and lemon sauce. The recipe … with 19 others … is given free inside every size sack of Gold Medal ‘kitchen-tested’ flour.”

Intriguing? Perhaps. But irresistible?

“Amazing Collection brings the never before published secrets of world famous chefs for foods that enchant men including the one for Haddon Hall Gingerbread shown here – The creation of William J. Holmes, Pastry Chef, Chalfonte-Haddon Hall, Atlantic City.”

Hmmmm, man enchanting recipes.

Still not convinced?

“What your husband has to say about this Haddon Hall gingerbread will bring the roses to your cheeks. And you’ll find baking this way a thrilling adventure.”

Rosey blushing cheeks? A thrilling adventure without putting your shoes on and leaving the kitchen? What self respecting gal could resist that promise.

“Get Gold Medal ‘Kitchen Tested’ flour at any grocery store. Each sack contains the recipe for Haddon Hall Gingerbread and 19 other ‘foods that enchant men.’ Try them.”

Now, before you set aside 80 years of progress and attempt to manipulate the man in your life with baked goods, keep in mind the Gold Medal flour sacks no longer contain these bewitching recipes.

Do not dismay! Fortunately for you, I have one of them right here. I’m not sure any of us could handle all 19 anyway but a little bit of a rosey cheeked thrill shouldn’t be too dangerous.

Haddon Hall Gingerbread

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Ingredients

  • 1/2 Cup Butter
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Cup Molasses
  • 2 1/4 Cups flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ginger
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 Cup boiling water

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.

Cream together the butter and sugar. Blend in the eggs and the molasses.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger and cinnamon.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients alternately with the boiling water, beginning and ending with the dry.

Pour into a greased and floured 8×8 pan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes.

My mom remembers my grandmother always serving this with whipped cream but I think a sprinkling of powder sugar is pretty nice too. She also never served it with the cream cheese layer or the lemon sauce and frankly, I can’t imagine it needing either.

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Just before Halloween, I made a batch and packaged some up for friends in a festive treat box. That was before I had done some research and discovered the true power of this recipe. I’m expecting a thank you note any day now.

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So, now we know that this is no ordinary gingerbread but where does the name “Haddon Hall” come from? It could be named for the Chalfonte-Haddon Hall Hotel in Atlantic City where Chef William J. Holmes worked but I imagine it goes back further than that. The Gold Medal flour ad says that with the addition of a cream cheese layer and lemon sauce, Chef Holmes’ creation was an updated version of an “old favorite”.

According to Uncle Phaedrus, Finder of Lost Recipes, “Haddon Hall is a famous old medieval mansion in Derbyshire, England. It’s not too distant from a Derbyshire town named Ashbourne, which is famous for it’s gingerbread. According to Derbyshire tradition, Ashbourne gingerbread was first created by a French prisoner of war, who decided to remain in the town after the Napoleonic wars. His special gingerbread recipe was then handed down through generations of  his descendants.

Gingerbread is a tradition in the area. Gingerbread men were made and sold in country towns at Easter Fairs and Autumn Wakes Weeks. Fashioned in molds, they were decorated with colored hats and scarlet or white sugar buttons. They can still be found for sale today in Ashbourne and the surrounding area.

So, I’m speculating that the Betty Crocker ‘Haddon Hall’ (there is a version of the recipe in the 1965 Betty Crocker cookbook) gingerbread recipe  was likely an Americanized version of the below Ashbourne gingerbread recipe.”

More about Haddon Hall.

Perhaps that “old favorite” does have its roots in the accounting above and in Ashbourne Gingerbread and the Haddon Hall of Derbyshire; I’d like to think so. But I could find nothing to confirm the origin with certainty so, it remains a food mystery. Which kind of makes this recipe all the more intriguing.

Regardless of the origin and the mystery, the romantic Madison Avenue promises of 1933, or if this is an exact duplicate of the recipe from that magical little booklet in the flour sack or was again altered by my grandmother, this recipe is special.

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So break out the mixer, pans and measuring cups (if you dare) and be ready for your kitchen to be filled with the scent of fall and family and home.

Anything else is your business.

Enjoy!

If you are looking for some great recipes for your Thanksgiving Dinner, here are a few of my favorite sides and Thanksgiving Traditions, originally posted last fall.

This Thanksgiving,  I hope you have a beautiful day filled with the people you love and a grateful heart brimming with joy for all that makes you thankful. As for me, I am so thankful for the incredible friends, readers and blogging community that stick with me and make writing Welcome Company such a joy!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Family Dinner Favorites: Barefoot Contessa’s Lemon Chicken

Family dinner favorite #4 comes from Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa. I love her. She’s my favorite! I also love this recipe so much that I made it for Christmas dinner two years ago when my husband deployed on Christmas Day and it was just the kids and I for dinner.

I was tired and not up for the big production that Christmas dinner usually is. I had baked dozens and dozens of cookies and multiple loaves of pumpkin bread for my husband to take with him on his trip. I wanted to send a little bit of Christmas from home to the injured troops he and his crew would be flying out of harms way and the medical staff that would accompany them. With all of that baking and preparation to get him ready to leave, I just needed something simple but delicious and a little bit special for dinner for the kids and I; it was still Christmas after all. This lemon chicken dish was perfect.

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So easy! And delicious. Thanks Ina!

I’ve made this dish many times since then and it still brings back memories of a simple Christmas nestled on the couch with the kids watching a movie. I love how food can do that. A reminder of the surprising contentment and peace I felt, even while knowing we were sending daddy off and would miss him terribly. Truly, we had nothing to feel sad or complain about as he was going to help the men and women who were injured fighting for us and were so far away from their own families. That was a special Christmas as it was such a great lesson for our kids to see that we are often called to willingly and graciously make sacrifices in order to do what is right; to help however and wherever we can, and to put the needs of others before our own. It is an honor to serve and military families serve too. I am thankful still for that Christmas Day.

The good news for you is that you don’t have to wait until Christmas to enjoy this wonderful dish. With a little bit of preparation, it is a great weeknight meal or a perfect Sunday dinner; just click the link below to find the recipe and get ready to chop some garlic.

Barefoot Contessa’s Lemon Chicken Breasts

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Lemon, thyme and garlic. What’s not to love?

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Nine, yes nine, cloves of garlic …

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which become part of an incredibly flavorful sauce when heated with olive oil, thyme and lemon.

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The recipe calls for bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts but I use boneless, skinless if I don’t have them. Just decrease the cooking time a bit.

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Be sure to finish the chicken under the broiler for a few minutes to give it nice color and crisp up the skin if you are using skin-on breasts.

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I serve it with Ina’s Easy Parmesan “Risotto” which is a must have side dish that I use all the time and will share with you tomorrow – so be sure and stop back by.

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I am usually a Cabernet kind of girl but I really love this with a nice buttery Chardonnay.

But then maybe that’s just because it’s part of the memory.

Enjoy! And as you do, maybe say a little prayer for the men and women who remain in harms way, answering the call so far from their own dinner tables and the ones they love.

Fidget Pie

Fidget-Pie-11I found this recipe in Victoria Magazine in 1993 and have made it many, many, many times since then. I made it for my parents and family and then for my husband. I made it for our first Christmas Eve meal as a married couple and every year after. It is now a happy tradition in our home.

My first married Christmas, that was one of the very best Christmases I can remember. My husband and I were newly married and had just moved to Altus, Oklahoma with the Air Force. We hadn’t yet sold our house in Washington State and were still paying for it along with our new place in Altus and by new I mean the 1925 Four Square with the sagging front porch and sloping floors that was the first true indulgence of a practical husband to his bride with big ideas and the need for a project. He would have much preferred base housing and nothing to fix, remodel or worry about but he knew I wanted that crazy little house so, there we settled. Paying for two houses left little in the budget for Christmas gifts so we decided to cut out the spending of money we didn’t have and focus on what really mattered; being together, celebrating our savior and eating. It was one of the most wonderful, peaceful, happy Christmases I have ever enjoyed. A fire, a loving husband, twinkling lights on the tree and a plate of steaming Fidget Pie – I didn’t need anything more.

See, this is why my posts are always too long – tangents. I can’t seem to help myself. Thank you for your patience. Back to the pie.

Fidget Pie is an English dish and is rumored to have been a favorite of Charles Dickens as he was quoted as saying ” it was no sooner brought into my room … than I fainted away … it prevents my writing  at any length, as my faculties are absorbed in crust.” When you smell this pie baking, you can’t help but imagine an earlier time and be enchanted by the thought of all who have enjoyed such a dish. This is what I love about good food; about making good food. It brings us together, connects us, reminds us of a simpler time and satisfies us in a way that mindless consuming for the sake of convenience never could. Slow down. Sit down. Enjoy.

Fidget Pie from Victoria Magazine, Jan. 1993

Ingredients

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  • 1 pound potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced (about 3 and I use Yukon Gold)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 chopped fresh sage leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 cups diced cooked ham (12 ounces)
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 pound cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced (about 3)
  • 1 1/4 cups chicken broth or stock
  • Pastry for single crust 9-inch pie

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Butter a deep, 2 quart casserole. Layer potato slices in the bottom of the casserole. Season with salt, pepper, sage, and nutmeg. Continue layering and seasoning …

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first ham,

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then onion,

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finally apples.

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Pour broth over all. Roll out pastry on floured board until 1/4″ thick.

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Fit pastry over pie, sealing and fluting it to the edge of the casserole. Cut a decorative hole in the center with a small cookie cutter so steam can escape – I cut and “F” for Fidget Pie because that is how my mom always vented her pies; “C” for cherry, “A” for apple – you get the picture.

The original recipe doesn’t call for it, but I brush the crust with an egg wash

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and then sprinkle with sea salt.

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Place on a sheet tray and bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake for 40-45 minutes until pastry is crisp and golden and potatoes are tender. (Note: unlike a typical American pot pie, pan juices will be thin.) Yield: 4 servings. This pie will serve my family of 5 but there are NO leftovers.

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I have made this pie many times and here are a few things I have discovered that really make it amazing:

Fresh sage and six leaves instead of four.

Freshly grated nutmeg. I don’t measure it, I just grate a fine layer over the potatoes and then another fine layer over the apples.

Homemade Stock – it really does make a difference. I always make stock out of my Thanksgiving turkey carcass and freeze it so I have some on hand as it is great for soups and … Fidget Pie.

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It is a filling, hearty but not heavy, lovely dish that is perfect for winter. I hope you will try it, sit around the table or by the fire with someone you love and slow down and enjoy. As always, let me know what you think, I’d love to hear from you.

Final tangent …

Do you remember how I told you that I have made this dish every Christmas Eve since I was first married? Well that is every one except for this year, I ran out of time – 3 children and piling too much on your plate will do that to you. So, because I had all of the ingredients on hand I decided to do a quicker – deconstructed version (isn’t that all the rage now anyway) and thought I would share.

Fried Potatoes and Onions

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Sliced Ham

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and Apple Sauce for authenticity.

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.A little sad, I know, but delicious, we ate at 7pm and not at midnight and I made the Fidget Pie a few days later so the tradition lives on.

Noodles’ Christmas 2012 Final Report

This is Noodles the Scout Elf reporting in from the North Pole where I am enjoying a little R & R after a very busy Christmas at the Brewer house. I had so much fun with my family this year and I miss them so much since my departure on Christmas Eve. There was so much to do, so much to explore and so many fun things to play with – I can hardly wait until next year! But for now, here is my final report for 2012 and a few highlights from some of my most memorable moments and favorite adventures.

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Advent is a wonderful tradition, I loved hearing the “Christmas Story” and getting to enjoy a piece of candy from behind the little red door each night. My kids like it too!

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Candy is by far my favorite elven food group!

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One of my favorite and most daring adventures was defending the castle and the princess from the fire-breathing dragon. Yes, you heard right the FIRE BREATHING DRAGON.

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There he is … The FIRE BREATHING DRAGON! And you thought I wasn’t serious. Later, I was even knighted by the queen (she’s the one there in the purple and yellow gown) for my bravery. So I guess that officially makes me “Sir Noodles”. Santa was so proud!

Decorating

I did a little decorating. Elves are known for their tree trimming skills.

Boy, I was having so much fun and then, on Friday, December 14th, something really terrible happened and a lot of little kids and their teachers died. And my heart was broken.

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And all I could think about was how much my kids mean to me and how I needed to let them know I love them and am watching out for them. My family prayed a lot for those families in Connecticut and I don’t know if they know it but I was praying too.

The next night was hard too. My family was gone for a Christmas Party and sleep overs. I missed them so much but did a little tidying up to keep myself busy. I tell you, that sweet “little one” must have re-arranged the “Merry Christmas” blocks a thousand times. Fixing-Blocks

But I put things back in order, and he left me a little piece of his cookie as he rushed by to play the Wii. Funny, after I fixed them, he never touched the blocks again. I sure do love him.

The next night, I was eager to make a new friend so I paid a visit to this really cool house I saw while I was busy defending the castle from the FIRE BREATHING DRAGON – remember that? I did tell you about the FIRE-BREATHING DRAGON, didn’t I?

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Anyway, about the really cool house, turns out there’s this girl who lives there, her name is Barbie. She said I could drive her car so we could go look at Christmas lights but the elevator in her house was broken so she couldn’t get down. Luckily, the “Rescue Heroes” were near by and were happy to give us a hand. And then we were off …

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to enjoy the Christmas lights and share a candy cane.

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And then I returned her home, safe and sound. She let me keep the car a little longer.

Marshmallow-Bath

Did you know Barbie’s Dream House has the best bath tub EVER! Barbie was kind enough to let me borrow it. We elves love to take marshmallow baths you know. You really should try it sometime, Marshmallow baths are the best!

The next night was Sara’s 11th Birthday.

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Elves LOVE birthdays, after all Christmas is Jesus’ Birthday and He is the reason we celebrate. I gave Sara a beautiful scarf that I brough back from the North Pole. She LOVED it and wore it out to her birthday dinner at the Cheesecake Factory that night. Here’s the best part, my family came home with leftover cheesecake (those pieces are huge) and one of them was Peppermint Bark – MY FAVORITE! How did they know?

Helicopter

I told you a was going to take that helicopter for a spin. It was soooo much fun!! That chicken on top of the ledge in the kitchen was pretty interesting too, he has some good ideas on solar energy and clean fuel.

Village-Visit

I did a lot of visiting this Christmas and stopped by this quaint little village to chat with the very tiny but oh, so friendly people who live there. I still can’t figure out how Santa does the whole chimney thing though.

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One night, I watched my favorite move of ALL TIME! I love popcorn!

Oh, I can’t forget! Remember that FIRE-BREATHING DRAGON, I think I might have mentioned him …

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well, I trained him and am now a certified Dragon Rider. Here we are with our friend Griffin just hangin’ out on the chandelier.

Before I knew it, it was Christmas Eve and time for me to say goodbye.

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My kids aren’t perfect but they sure do try hard and are so funny and I love them so much. I want to be sure they remember me, a year is a long time after all, so I left each of them a little something special.

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Well, until next year, this is Noodles the Elf, or Sir Noodles the Dragon Rider – whichever you prefer, signing off!

May you have a blessed and wonderful 2013.

And Keep Believing!

“Simply Having A Wonderful Christmastime”

My blog has officially been neglected. I can’t believe it has been ten days since I last posted but as usual, Christmas has gotten away from me. My efforts at planning, preparation and time management were just not enough to accomplish all that I piled on my plate. This is not unusual. I am a work in progress. The good news is despite one visit from Monica (read about her here)  and a few sleepless nights, I truly had a wonderful and blessed Christmas. Now, after a couple of days to regroup and renew, which included a much-needed “Castle” marathon on TNT, I am back and am excited to share some of the highlights of our Christmas.

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For us, Christmas starts immediately after Thanksgiving when the trees, garland and lights go up. I love decking the halls and tend to over do it (shocking, I know) but it is always festive – not always finished, but festive none the less. Christmas-Decorating-3

The Christmas Tree(s). My husband likes colored lights and I like white lights so we compromised long ago and decided to do two trees. Is that truly a compromise? A fancy tree with white lights in the main living area and a fun and festive tree with colored lights in the family room. Truth be told, I love them both.

Decorating the family room tree or “kid tree” as we now call it, is a big family tradition complete with hot cocoa and Christmas songs on the radio. Just as my mom did when I was a kid, I put up the garland and the lights and then daddy and the kids hang the ornaments (and then I move the ornaments to more suitable locations after they go to bed) …

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Nathan has the honor of putting the star on top of the tree, with a little help from daddy of course.

Along with decorating, there is always a lot of baking to be done this time of year. A LOT! This year, I baked for friends, for charity, for parties and for family and neighbors. The good new is when you bake so many cookies, after a while, the last thing you want to do is eat one. I wish the same could be said of french fries.Cookies

We also enjoyed lots of celebrations and parties including a couple of birthday parties right smack in the middle of all the hustle and bustle – but that is for another post.

We enjoyed giving to others.

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You are never to young to experience the joy of giving.

And we remembered what had been lost …

Remembering

Two of the little boys killed in the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut were Tiger Cubs in the local Cub Scout Pack, one of the first responders was their den leader, one of the lost teachers had been a Venture Scout and three other scouts lost siblings that day. We remembered them at our Cub Scout Christmas Party by taking donations and cards and letters of sympathy and well-wishes.

As we remember what has been given …

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We also celebrated ongoing traditions and started new ones, like our first year with Noodles, the elf on the shelf.Bob-the-Elf-Rock-Climbing

This is Bob, the imposter elf, rock climbing on the fireplace. You can read about Noodles and Bob here.

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A gift from Noodles when he departed Christmas Eve. Watch for his final Christmas Post for 2012 as he will share the last of his antics and adventures while visiting with us.

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Dressed up and heading out for Christmas Eve services.

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Comfy and cozy in Christmas Eve pajamas and new slippers.

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Opening gifts Christmas Morning.

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Santa even left a little something for Gracie.

So much to be thankful for and so many things I want to remember about this Christmas.

Nathan’s first eggnog and the pure delight that washed over his face as he smelled and then tasted, exclaiming “mmmmm, it is sooooo good! Like bubble gum milk!”

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Funny guy.

The generous hearts of my kids as they showed immediate willingness when asked to give up Christmas gifts and instead spend the money to help others. How they were still filled with joy and understanding as we talked about that decision Christmas morning and remembered why there were only a few presents to be opened.

Christmas Eve services when it was announced that our church met our goal of digging 8 deep water wells and feeding ALL of the vulnerable children and orphans in one of the poorest and most ravaged regions of Malawi Africa. And when it was revealed that at last count we were actually tens of thousands of dollars over the goal, my son said “WOW! Now maybe some of those children can even have seconds!” He knows that to them, life is one cup of porridge each day and his heart was hoping some might get to have another. It truly is better to give than to receive.

The beautiful Christmas stockings my sister Dana made for my kids that were just like the ones our grandmother had made for us. Look for this story in a future post.

Nathan talking to my mom on the phone and asking her why she hadn’t come home for Christmas because he thinks her home is or at least should be with us.

My deconstructed Christmas Eve dinner because I just couldn’t do it ALL. Another future post.

The hugs and thanks of elderly neighbors for the gift of a simple plate of cookies and of being remembered. I need to remember to visit them more often.

There are also a few things I have learned this Christmas …

We gave up a lot and we didn’t miss any of it, kids included. We can give more.

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If you don’t open the damper on the fireplace, merry and bright become stinky and hazy.

No one notices or has less of a Merry Christmas because you were never able to finish the outside lighting and finally gave up and boxed it all back up and put it in the garage. Let it go.

When you have two little boys, two scooters are better than one – luckily, David was easily convinced that it would be a good idea to spend his Christmas money from grandparents on a scooter of his own.

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Yes, we ride scooters in flip-flops and Wellies.

Burgundy mushrooms are definitely worth getting up at 6am to start so they can simmer in butter and wine for nine hours. Pioneer Woman’s Burgundy Mushrooms.

The answer is five. Five years old is the age when you finally work up the courage to ask Santa for the scooter and monster truck you are hoping for instead of bursting into tears and burying your face in your mom or dad’s shoulder while clinging to them for dear life when he asks you what you want.

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At five years old, you are a big boy.

If I can’t get my family to eat brussels sprouts that are baked in a creamy cheesy gratin then I am NEVER going to get my family to eat brussels sprouts. Brussels Sprouts Gratin with Carmellized Shallots.

Hot cocoa is best with a little bit of fresh nutmeg grated over the whipped cream.

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I know this as well, next year I may or may not improve my time management skills. I will probably be exhausted again and over do it and despite my best efforts, Martha may try to take over and Monica might even show up a time or two. I also know that despite all of that, I will continue to seek the true meaning of the season and will be ever grateful for the Savior who came and died that I might have everlasting life. I am imperfect. He is not.

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Merry Christmas.

May you find peace and contentment in these last few days of the season. God Bless.

White Chocolate Dipped Gingersnaps

ready-to-serveThese are my favorite “go to” Christmas Cookies. Versatile, delicious, easy and one batch makes a lot of cookies. I found this recipe several years ago in one of those little “Best Christmas Cookies Ever” type mini-magazine cookbooks that you pick up on impulse at the checkout stand. You know just in case you didn’t already have the “Best Christmas Cookie Ever Recipe” amongst the hundreds of recipes you already have and actually might just find it in this particular little magazine so you buy it because you can’t take the chance you’ll miss out on the best thing that has ever happened to you. As it turns out, this little magazine did actually have the recipe for the “Best Christmas Cookie Ever”.

Over the years, I have happily shared this recipe with countless friends and now I am going to share it with you too!

White Chocolate Dipped Gingersnaps

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Granulated Sugar
  • 1 1/2 Cup Vegetable Oil
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1/2 Cup Molasses – I use “Full Flavor” Molasses
  • 4 Cups Flour
  • 4 teaspoons Baking Soda
  • 1 Tablespoon Ground Ginger
  • 2 teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • Additional sugar to roll cookies.

White Chocolate Dip:

  • 2 – 12 ounce Packages Vanilla Baking Chips
  • 1/4 Cup Shortening (Crisco)

Directions

In a mixing blow, combine sugar and oil; mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Sugar-and-OilAdd molasses and mix well.

MolassesHere is a little trick that may or may not be life changing for you …Measuring-Molasseswhen you add the molasses use the same measuring cup that you used for the oil and the molasses with slip right out without sticking to the sides. Yes, I do watch entirely too much Food Network.BatterGorgeous!

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and gradually add to creamed mixture, mixing well after each addition.Adding-MolassesKeep going, you’re almost there.DoughPerfect, such a beautiful dough.

Now, shape the dough into 3/4 inch balls using a small scoop for uniform size.scoopAnd then roll the cookie balls in sugar.A-roll-in-the-sugarAhhhhh, there’s my sweet boy.Nathan-helping-2You didn’t think I could post a recipe without pictures of my helper did you? The sugar rolling step is perfect for little helpers. Here we are experimenting with a roll in Turbinado Sugar which turned out to be a little much. We recommend sticking with the plain old granulated stuff.Nathan-helpingNext, place the sugar rolled balls 2 inches apart on a baking sheet (mine is lined with a Silpat mat to prevent sticking but parchment paper works just fine too).Ready-for-the-ovenBake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until cookie springs backward when touched lightly. A little less time will give you softer, chewier cookies and a little more crispy and crunchy.bakedFresh from the oven and smelling fantastic. Remove to wire racks and cool.

What to do next? These cookies are so beautiful and delicious just as they are (go ahead, try one) which brings up the question to dip or not to dip? This is entirely up to you but you really must try the white chocolate dip at least once. The white chocolate dresses them up and puts them over the top but the gingersnap really is wonderful on its own too. ready-to-dip

If you decide to dip (which really is a good decision), melt the chips with shortening in a microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring after each until not quite melted as to not scorch the chocolate. Keep stirring until the heat of the mixture fully melts the chocolate.

Melting-chocolateYes, my picture shows the chips in a pan that clearly can not go in the microwave and is obviously on its way to the stove top. This is the way the original recipe says to melt the chips. I did it this way. I should not have. I know better. Melt them in the microwave, unless you can properly care for your melting chocolate and are not likely to be distracted by a five-year-old, a dog, the phone or the doorbell or all at the same time. Trust me, unless you use a double boiler, this can go wrong quickly and will only end in heartbreak. Use the microwave.ready-to-dip-2Okay, now that your chocolate is perfectly melted, dip the cookies halfway and shake off the excess. Place on waxed paper or parchment paper to harden for about an hour. dipped-and-dryingIf you want to get festive, right after dipping (before the chocolate hardens) decorate with colored sugar or sprinkles.sprinkledNow, here is where it get’s interesting. If you are a ginger lover and can take a pretty big flavor punch, sprinkle your cookies with a little bit of chopped crystallized ginger.Crystallized-GingerHeavenly!ginger-toppedThese are the cookies that we leave out for Santa. I hope you love them too and that they become a part of your Christmas traditions! Thanks for reading, I’d love to know if you try them and what you think!