grown ups are like that....

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mexican Wedding Cakes ( AKA Russian Tea Cakes)

This year I made over 300 Mexican Wedding cakes. They are really quite easy for such a tasty little cookie. This recipe omits nuts, but finely chopped pecans or walnuts are delicious additions.

I highly recommend rolling the cookies in powdered sugar twice--once right out of the oven and again after they are cooled. You can also roll the cookies in cinnamon sugar. If you chose to coat the cookies this way roll them in the cinnamon sugar before you put them in the oven and then do it again right out of the oven.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

food for thought

Cooking soothes me.

The measuring, the stirring, the planning--they all serve to ease my mind, calm my nerves, control my breathing. So during the hustle and bustle of Christmas parties and shopping, holiday cards and stocking hanging I turn to baking and cooking to ground me when the chaos of the season threatens to overwhelm.

Unlike many people I don't see holiday food preparation as a chore. I eagerly scrawl lists and peruse cookbooks, magazines, and the internet for recipes and ideas. I spend countless hours in front of open cupboard doors just thinking, scheming, calculating. I lay in bed and literally dream of food that I plan to prepare for the ones I love.

For if the gifts are a flop or the weather is bad, if colds have invaded or unexpected news arrives everyone still has to eat. Through tears or joy we absolutely must eat, and I believe very sincerely that my job, my absolute duty is to feed you.

Over the next couple of weeks I will be posting some of my holiday recipes here. Most are cookies, but a few other goodies will also be thrown in just for fun.

Santa Fe Trail Mix

2 cups corn chips, Frito style (you can replace this with cereal if you like)
2 cups unsalted peanuts
2 cups pretzel sticks (we use small, bite sized ABC pretzels)
1 1/2 cups crispy corn cereal squares (we also add some cheerios)
1 cup pumpkin seeds (I've uses sunflower seeds in a pinch)
1/3 cup corn oil (canola also works fine)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder or to taste
1 teaspoon garlic salt or celery salt or to taste

Mix your dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl whisk together spices and wet ingredients. Pour the wet mixture over dry ingredients and stir well to coat. Pour mix into a large crockpot and cook on low for about 3 hours. Stir occasionally. Spread cooked mixture on baking sheets to cool. Store in an airtight container.

This is a big favorite in our house. You can easily substitute different cereals and nuts depending on your preferences and what you have on hand.

adapted from Robin Robertson's Fresh From The Vegetarian Slow Cooker

Monday, December 15, 2008

making a list....

Every year holiday gift giving becomes a little harder. Not for my children, of course, their lists are miles long with easily obtainable toys and books and games. But the adults in our lives, myself included, are voicing that there is very little they really need or even want any more in terms of gifts. More often than not teachers are sending home letters asking parents not to buy them gifts but instead to buy a book for the class or donate money to a local charity.

These sentiments, I believe, are not scrooge-y in nature, but rather just a realization that rushing around the mall and stressing over shopping is yet one more hassle in an already hectic season of celebrating. Instead of getting Uncle John another jelly of the month subscription or grandma Betty another Christmas themed lapel pin, maybe it is time to think outside of the box, as they say. Get creative with your gifts and make your buying (or non-buying) a little more creative.

Here are a few ideas that, I hope, do not sound preachy or Oprah-esque. These are just some simple, different ways to give gifts that benefit not only the receiver but others in the community and world.

1) Regift. I'm not just talking about giving the hideous scarf you got for your birthday to someone else to save a dime. I mean really look at the things you have and think about whether or not you know someone who could use something that you no longer have a need for. Could your young cousin in college use those old but sturdy dishes gathering dust in the back of the closet? Sometimes regifting can be all about the sentiment attached to a certain item you own. The sweet lavender sachet my mother pulled from her drawer and pressed into my hand after one tearful Christmas good-bye means more to me than any other gift that she had given me that holiday.

Regifting can also help those in need in the wider community. My local MOMS® Club chapter (see link on right) recently sponsored a free toy "Giftaway". Our members and friends in the community gathered used but good conditioned toys and offered them to families in need. This event gave my children the opportunity to give to others by donating their old toys while also being an excellent example of recycling. Wouldn't you rather see that old toy farm delight another child rather than end up in a landfill?

2) Home made gifts. If you crochet, sew, sculpt, etc. this is the time to put your skills to action! It may sound cliché but I honestly believe a gift made with one's own two hands is so much more meaningful than a store bought item. Gifts made by children are great for grandparents, of course. An internet search for "homemade gifts" will lead you to various sites with craft idea, but baked goods, jams, trail mix, and the like are always favorites.

3) Charity donations. Obviously this isn't a new concept. People have been giving donations to charities during the holidays for years. But charity gift giving can seem out of reach for many of us saving money or living on a limited income. Search for charities that are appreciative of small monetary gifts. Heifer, Intl., for example, offers shares of a bee hive for only about $10. You can also shop at sites such as this Unicef site. The money for your purchase will go towards a good cause and you will have an interesting gift to give. Consider, too, exchanging charity donations instead of actual material gifts. Aunt Sue might love the idea that the local food bank was given a donation in her name more than she'll love another pair of slippers.

4) Gifts of time. Perhaps giving monetary donations of any kind to a charity is not an option. Try, instead, to donate your time. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or at the local nursing home. Spend some time helping your child's teacher out in the classroom during a special project. Shovel your neighbor's sidewalk just because. Homemade gift certificates for babysitting, housework, gardening, etc. are also popular no cost gifts that only require a bit of time on your part and the desire to help a friend or family member.

I hope that some of these ideas inspire you this gift giving season. For more wonderful ideas about charitable gift giving visit Aliki's post here.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Yes Chrissy, there is a Santa Claus

Dear Chrissy,

I heard from a friend about your purse being stolen. It's terrible to think that someone would do that, especially during the holiday season. We can only pray that their need was greater than ours.

I can't replace your personal things, but I hope the enclosed will replenish your Christmas shopping money. (And maybe your faith in others) If you have a chance maybe you can do the same for someone else.

You gave me the chance to play Santa,

God bless you & Merry Christmas,

A friend,

PS I have enclosed cash, I hope it reaches you ok.

I was seventeen years old when my purse was stolen from the cafeteria at my high school. I had worked, like many teenagers, at the mall to earn money for Christmas. I scrimped and saved my paychecks and my allowance until I had the great sum of $80 set aside to buy presents for my family and a few friends. With great excitement I brought my money to school with me so that I could hit the mall after classes. But I was careless and foolishly left my purse behind after lunch. I never saw it again. I was still young enough to be stunned that someone, one of my fellow students no less, had stolen my purse just a couple of weeks before Christmas. There was no time to earn more money, and I would not be able to buy presents this year.

A few days later I received the above letter in the mail. The letter was typed with no signature or return address. Enclosed were 5, crisp, new $20 bills. My Christmas cash was more than replenished, and I would be able to buy presents after all.

To this day I have no idea who sent this special gift my way, though I do suspect it was one of the teachers from my high school.

I keep this letter, neatly folded, in my Christmas stocking, and every year I pull it out and read it again and every year I cry, just a little, to know that someone would do such a kindly thing with no need for thanks or recognition. Since my children have been born, it has become a sort of tradition to carefully unfold the letter and read it aloud to the family as we decorate for the season. I tell the children that Santa does indeed exist and this letter is proof of his gentle, giving spirit.

Yes, Chrissy, there is a Santa Claus.