Sweet Potato Pancakes

If you happen to have any sweet potatoes leftover after your Christmas company is gone, here’s a great way to use them up. One of my girlfriends was over the other day and commented on how clean my refrigerator is, claiming that hers is so stuffed with leftovers she can’t find anything. I told her that Joel (my son, who lives with us and is a great cook) and I work very hard at systematically and creatively trying to use up our leftovers (but, of course, our refrigerator gets stuffed at times too)! On the other hand, sweet potato pancakes are so simple and yummy that you don’t need any excuse to make them! In fact, they make a delicious special Christmas-season breakfast if you have a spare can of sweet potatoes sitting on your shelf. At any rate, here’s how:

Sweet Potato Pancakes
(Makes 6, which feeds about 2 adults,
so you might need to double or quadruple the recipe to feed a family!)

In a mixing bowl, add:
1 cup sweet potatoes (can have remnants of butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, etc. on them, and some jelled liquid, which just makes them taste even better). Mash them.
1 egg
1/2 cup pancake mix
1/2 cup milk

Mash and then mix everything together until it’s of a relatively smooth consistency. (It doesn’t have to be perfect; I used a hand-masher just to save time and clean up, but if you’re making a big batch, an electric mixer and mixing bowl is ideal.) Spoon them onto a hot, buttered griddle or frying pan (350°F. if it’s an electric griddle).

Fry until golden brown on one side; flip, and fry until starting to brown on the other side. Sweet potato pancakes don’t bubble like regular pancakes, although they take about the same amount of time to fry. They brown while they’re still so wet they’re almost hard to flip, but don’t let them get too solid, or they might start to burn. So, as soon as you can flip them, do so! If they’re not perfectly done, you can always flip them over again after they’ve browned on the second side. You want them crispy on the edges, but they are super moist.

Serve with butter and syrup and whatever else you might wish!

P.S.—If you have less than the proper amount of sweet potatoes for the correct ratio for the number of pancakes you want to make, you can always use less mashed sweet potato with more milk and pancake mix (equal parts), but I’d add at least one egg per cup of pancake mix at any rate. If you’re starting with a can of sweet potatoes or leftover baked sweet potatoes (no skins, though!), you might want to add about 1 tablespoon of butter, 1 teaspoon of sugar, and a dash of cinnamon per serving (of three pancakes). Obviously, my recipe is very flexible! 🙂

How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103).

Creamy Eggnog

A favorite tradition in my family since childhood was making eggnog for New Year’s Eve. We made it with raw eggs (yolks and whites), but in modern times, it’s become necessary to cook the eggs (to prevent Salmonella poisoning), so my son Aaron started searching the web for recipes that  provided excellent taste but were cooked. This recipe is inspired by his findings but adapted to my personal penchant for using egg whites too, which produces a slightly lighter, foamy custard that is delicious, nutritious, and perfect for making toasts as you celebrate the approach of the new year. However, be aware that this is a still a super rich drink—more of a dessert—so save some calories’ worth of appetite for this festive treat!

Creamy Dreamy Eggnog
(Serves 8-12)

#1. In a mixing bowl, combine:
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Beat until light and frothy.

#2. In a large saucepan, combine:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
4 cups milk
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Heart, stirring constantly until it just starts to simmer (don’t let it boil)

#3. Slowly add (one at a time) several tablespoons of the hot milk mixture to the egg and sugar mixture in the blender, beating constantly. Once most of the hot milk has been added to the eggs, and it’s well blended, return everything to the saucepan.

#4. Whisk the mixture over a medium heat until it’s thoroughly heated and thickens slightly. Turn off heat.

#5. Beat together in the mixing bowl until soft peaks form:
6 egg whites
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup sugar

#6. Slowly pour the heated milk mixture into the egg whites, until the entire mixture is hot, uniform in appearance, and somewhat thick.

#7. Chill in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve. (Best made a day ahead, and can be stored for several days if needed. Good for up to a week.)

#8. Serve by pouring into glasses and then top with whipped cream (1 cup with 2 tablespoons of sugar should make enough for everybody) and a sprinkle of cinnamon, according to your taste.

Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper
and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth”
(3 John 1:2).

Christmas Cards

A friend from my writing group wrote this a few years ago but shared it with us recently, and she has graciously allowed me to pass it on to you:

It’s snowing on this Sunday afternoon in December as my husband and I enter the double doors of the nursing home where his mother lives. I had called ahead and reserved the “family room” for the three of us so that we would have privacy and space to spread out our project – her Christmas cards. Always one to send hand-written cards with kindly and concerned notes to her long list of friends, Mom is ninety years old and long past being able to “do her cards” on her own. So I’d purchased cards with two of her goals in mind: a Christian message and a rural theme, and one goal of mine: the cards must be pretty.

In our bag as we walk down the hallway is my purchase, a Christian-messaged card celebrating the birth of Christ into the world superimposed on a red barn in the countryside. The entire front of the card is covered in sparkling glitter. Also in the bag is her address book which is now in my care, pens, stamps, and a printed letter supposedly written by her telling her friends how she is – fine – busy with family and friends and grateful for God’s love and salvation. We are ready and we have a job to do!

As we push Mom’s wheelchair down the hall to the family room, we ask her if she’s had a good lunch. “I haven’t had any lunch.”

“No lunch? Are you hungry?”

“No, I’m not hungry.” We look at each other. The entire building is filled with the aromas of Sunday dinner.

We gather around a table in the private room, Rob and his mother side-by-side and facing me. We spread out our things. I open her address book to the first person, addressing and stamping the envelope while Rob opens the first card for her to sign. He leans in close to her, his right arm around the back of her chair, his left hand pointing to where she should sign. He watches her sign, folds her letter inside the card, and seals the envelope. We have begun. Soon we are in a pleasant rhythm. Address, stamp, sign, fold, seal. Sometimes Rob prods her along with, “Now, Mother, this is your nephew, so sign ‘Aunt Eileen,’” and she complies. Sometimes unprodded she writes Love, or I love you, before her name. Working down the list, we come to her college roommate, a “W.” “Oh, yes,” she said. “She married Edwin Wierach and they live in Grand Blanc.”

“Isn’t that the way it is?” I think to myself. “She can’t remember lunch, but she remembers her college roommate and the name of the man she married.”

It takes most of the afternoon to finish her cards. I feel victorious. It’s a precious time of walking down memory lane with our beloved ninety-year-old Mom. I’ve known her for close to 45 years and we have accomplished mountains of projects. Real projects, hard work. Recently, however, our times together usually involve a delivery of some sort or a conversation of superficial pleasantries or a trip to the doctor rather than meaningful labor. But today, this afternoon, our bag is filled with finished Christmas cards ready for the Post Office. Mom’s friends and relatives will once again receive greetings and love from her.

Sitting across from me my husband smiles, glitter flashing on his eyelashes, glitter around his mouth, glitter on his hands. Mom has the happy look of a job well done, glitter in her hair, on her blouse, winking on her cheek.

She is gone in August. This is our final project.

(I am adding this verse, not my friend, but isn’t this story an inspirational account of honoring parents? 🙂 “Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth” [Ephesians 6:2-3].)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (62): Condemn Not

I was part of a panel lately on the subject of how to deal with in-laws, particularly during the holidays. Do you cringe at the thought of going home for the holidays because you’ll feel condemned as “not good enough” in some area? If you’re sponsoring holiday festivities, do you worry about “not measuring up?” Alan’s parents died forty years ago, and they were very kind to me, so I was startled by just how real and how difficult it is for most young wives to negotiate the holidays, particularly vis-à-vis their mother-in-laws. Yikes!

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to be a better mother-in-law since then, particularly in light of this week’s reminder from Jesus: “Condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned” (Luke 6:37). It occurs to me that for many (most?) people there is some ambivalence around Christmas that has to do with unmet expectations and feeling unloved, and most of the conflicts revolve around the questions of with whom and how to spend our precious vacation time.

Ouch! If you’re feeling tense, overwhelmed, and frustrated by just how frantic and unfulfilling the holiday season has become for you, may I recommend this: Continue on as planned this year, but start praying about how to improve the holidays for next time. Observe how you and your loved ones react to this year’s game plan and afterward talk through what happened with your spouse (loved ones, or yourself if you’re single). Strategize about how to make the holidays more of a win/win for you and your loved ones, and start now to lay the groundwork for a happier, healthier, more Christ-like Christmas celebration for next year.

Here’s a little imaginary look into the hearts of those of us who are working hard to make Christmas wonderful—those of us who are functional and happy! (BTW, this is based on gleanings from the panel discussion, not the inner workings of my own family, but you get the drift . . .)

From the mother-in-law’s perspective: “I just want to hold my daughter-in-law close, the way Jesus holds us as his sheep. I want to tuck her under my wing and make her a part of our family! I want to celebrate the same cherished traditions that have always made our family so happy together! If we have to share, it should at least be 50/50.” This can also devolve into: “I deserve to be loved and honored this Christmas. I’m doing all the work, so I want to do it my way. Besides, if my son really loved me, he’d be trying to take care of me. I spent the past (XX) years of my life giving everything I had to bring him up the best I could, so I deserve his attention too. His wife just isn’t fair!”

From the daughter-in-law’s perspective: “I don’t want to be absorbed into my husband’s family as if I’m just another child. Husbands are supposed to ‘leave’ their parents and ‘cleave’ to their wife. I am an adult with a new, independent family, and I want to protect that space so we can develop our own traditions.” This can also devolve into: “Besides, I like the way my family celebrates better, so if we’re going to visit, I’d rather visit my parents. If my husband really loved me, he’d defer to what I want! After all, ‘happy wife is happy life,’ so he should be trying to make me happy! My mother-in-law is so critical that I don’t feel comfortable being around her. His mom just isn’t fair!

From the son’s perspective: “I’m not sure what to do! I love my parents and want to honor them, but I also love my wife, and I want to make her happy. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but all the work and tension makes me super tired and isn’t pleasant at all! I go back to work every year more tired than when we left for our ‘vacation.’ It seems like there’s no way to win!”

Jesus: “I came to earth to bring peace and goodwill to all people. Christmas isn’t meant to be about conflict, competition, and condemnation! If you celebrate my coming to earth, please do it in my spirit: “Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:2-7).

Can you imagine how the spirit of Christmas would change if we all took Philippians 2 to heart and practiced Jesus’ command to “Condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned” (Luke 6:37)? Instead of judging and condemning one another as unfair or unloving, let’s focus on Jesus and try to follow in his footsteps, finding ways to put others first and meet their needs! Besides that, there are a world of lonely people who have no one to love OR even fight with this Christmas! 🙂 Can we reach out to some of them? Let’s make Christmas about loving God and loving others. That’s what Jesus did!

(Photo of Yongsung Kim’s picture of Jesus with the snowy lamb used by permission of Havenlight.com. As we celebrate Christmas, may we snuggle into the everlasting arms of Jesus, who will keep us warm in his love!)

Flaming Plum Pudding

Kari makes such wonderful plum pudding that it’s almost become a tradition to at least hope that she’ll make some if we get together for a Christmas dinner party.

When I asked her for the recipe, she said she’s been using the same recipe from an old Hallmark cookbook for over 40 years, but she was willing to share.

Actually, this is a complicated process, and Kari made and steamed the plum pudding at home, but she reheated it at our house, so I was able to take a few photos of her masterful finishing touches!

After resteaming the plum pudding for a half an hour, she lifted the pan out of the larger pan of simmering water and removed the foil covering.

With a sharp knife, she cut all around the edges to loosen the cake from the sides of the pan.

Next, she inverted the serving plate over the top of the cake pan and carefully turned the plum pudding and the serving platter upside right.

Ever so carefully, she slowly and gently shook the pan to help it release from the sides of the baking dish and then lifted the pan off of the cake. It worked!!

Next, she poured the warmed brandy over the cake. (This part is optional! I have friends who make it without the brandy and say it tastes just great at any rate.)

After Kari brought the cake to the table, we dimmed the lights and she lit the cake!

Blue Light Special: Flaming Plum Pudding!

It was beautiful, although we allowed the all the alcohol to burn out before serving it.

Once the last flames died away, she served it into six generous slices and topped it with a special sauce (see recipes above; you can always substitute fruit juice for alcohol in recipes; I do! Of course, non-alcoholic juices won’t flame, so you won’t have a blue light special.)

Plum Pudding with Hard Sauce

Needless to say, it is super moist, heavy, and wonderful. To tell you the truth, I’ve heard about plum pudding all my life but had never actually eaten any until a few years ago when Kari started making it for our Christmas celebrations. She says she prefers prunes to figs in the recipe, but I’m sure it would be awesome either way. If you ever make it, I’d love to hear how it turned out! Merry Christmas!

We Wish You a Merry Christmas
(West Country Traditional Christmas Song popularized by Arthur Warrell in 1935)

“We wish you a Merry Christmas
We wish you a Merry Christmas
We wish you a Merry Christmas
and a Happy New Year.
“Good tidings we bring for you and your kin,
Good tidings for Christmas and a Happy New Year.

“Oh bring us some figgy pudding (x3) and bring it right here.”
(I think this is a reference to fig/plum pudding.)
Rather demanding, don’t you think??! 🙂

Flaming Plum Pudding

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8). Traditions are lovely, but I hope all our traditions are based on what is true and wholesome, tested against the perfect teachings of Christ!

Joel’s Cottage Pie

Our family has been savoring “Shepherd’s Pies” and “Cottage Pies” ever since we first started visiting England years ago, and our son Joel has really perfected his rendition, so I’ve asked if I could share it with you today. It’s the perfect “comfort food” for a cold winter’s night!

Cottage Pie can really be a meal-in-one, although we normally serve it with some sides (such as you see here, from the last time he served it at home). Last Wednesday he made it again as his offering for a fellowship dinner with his church “life group” (prayer meeting; small group . . .) However you cut it, it’s always a hit!

Joel’s Savory Cottage Pie
(8-12 Servings)

Put a pot of salted water on to boil.
Preheat oven to 400F.

1.5 pounds of potatoes, scrubbed and cut into pieces. Boil until tender.
Brown 1 pound of ground beef in skillet.
Chop 1 onion, 1 carrot, and 4 oz mushrooms. Add to browned beef. Cook until vegetables are tender.
Add 1 cup frozen peas.
Lower heat. Add 3 tablespoons of flour to meat/vegetables, stirring until thickened.
3/4 cup beef stock (or 1 bouillon cube + 3/4 cup water)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
Pinch of allspice to the meat/vegetables. Stir until combined.
Add salt and pepper to taste.

Mash potatoes with 2–4 tablespoons butter and 1/4 cup half and half.
Put meat/vegetables in the bottom of a casserole pan. Cover completely with mashed potatoes. Use a fork to give the potatoes texture.
Bake for 30 minutes at 400°F. on top rack until the potatoes start to brown on top.

Now, the only difference between “Cottage Pie” and “Shepherds Pie” is that Shepherd’s Pie is made with ground lamb rather than ground beef. We’ve found that ground lamb is a rarer commodity in America, so we usually make cottage pie, but if you can find ground lamb and want to be more authentically English, try it with lamb too sometime for a special occasion. Both ways taste really delicious! 🙂

Individual serving of Shepherd’s Pie on a ship cruising the North Atlantic

He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:11). Have you listened to Handel’s Messiah yet this Christmas? We just attended it last weekend. The Messiah is a majestic, musical retelling of the story of Jesus, the great Shepherd who died for all of us and wants us to become part of his flock. How? Simply by asking. By praying something like this: “Dear Jesus, I believe that you are the Son of God who came to take away the sins of the world. I know that I have sinned and need a savior. I am sorry for all the ways in which I have failed in the past—and for the times I still selfishly choose evil over good. Please forgive me, save me, and become my Lord and my Savior. Thank you for being willing to save me and make me your child. Please lead me in the paths of righteousness for your name’s sake. Amen.”

Black and White Challenge

“Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?” (Job 38:22)

My daughter-in-law Carlie tagged me in a Facebook challenge to post seven black and white photos in seven days with no explanation or words. At the time, my life was spinning too fast to take her up on it, but tomorrow the holiday festivities begin with the first family arriving, and between now and the New Year, we have high hopes of seeing all twelve of our children (counting our in-law kids) and eighteen grandchildren except those who live in Belgium. Therefore, my life is going to be even busier . . . possibly too busy to write my blog! So, I’m thinking to have a series of seven black and white photos that depict what life has been like over the past few weeks (albeit interrupted over the weekend with my usual recipe post on Saturday and a scripture meditation on Sunday). Perhaps over the Christmas to New Year week I can post a series of color photos that relate to our holidays and the joy of family (from another popular challenge going around Facebook these days called “Grandma”).

Because my heart is to share the Lord, I’m allowing myself one scripture verse caption for each photo, but I won’t indulge in any other explanations or words. Hope you enjoy!


Christmas Coupon

Ready to savor a sweet, Hallmark-style Christmas romance?

If so, don your Hallmark tees and snuggle up on the couch for an evening of family-friendly entertainment that will warm your heart as well as your toes and leave you smiling.

Actually, although Christmas Coupon reminds me of a Hallmark movie, it’s even better, because it’s faith-based and Michigan homegrown! The movie was shot on location in the greater Detroit area, and several of the sites are special to me, such as Ward Presbyterian Church (where some of my friends attend) and Three Cedars Farm, where I’ve been many times with my daughter and her family for cider and donuts . . . and to enjoy their petting farm.

Also, I’ve become a fan of Daniel Knudson, who’s the director (and plays the role of the pastor in Christmas Coupon). Only thirty-two, this super talented and creative young man has directed or produced ten feature-length films, two of which landed in the top 50 movies on Amazon Prime! (As a sidebar, while discussing Christmas Coupon with Daniel in preparation for this blog, I discovered that he’s also shot some footage at NorthRidge Church, where my son-in-law directs the videography department! Small world! 🙂 )

Speaking of being a small world after all, Crystal Creek Media, the company behind this movie, is based in Whitmore Lake, where my kids started out their many years of singing as small children ministering at the Whitmore Lake Convalescent Center! What I didn’t know until researching for this post is that Crystal Creek Media “exists to create films with redemptive messages and assist others to do the same” . . . including a film camp, an on-line film course, and various workshops. So, if you or anyone you know is interested in the Christian film industry, be sure to check them out! http://www.crystalcreekmedia.com/

But, you probably want to know a little bit about the plot, too. Right? Well, it all starts when Alison Grant, a figure-skating champion, decides to teach skating lessons on a local pond and gets her nieces to help her spread the word by passing out coupons. What she doesn’t know is that her high school sweetheart has returned to their hometown for the holidays, and he has a niece who’d like skating lessons!

Like almost all good romances, there are quite a few swirls before getting to the happily-ever-after ending, but (also like most good romances) it’s more about the “how” and “when” than the “who ” or “why,” so no one is surprised—but everybody can be pleased—with the way the challenges are met and resolved, and nobody will stay awake all night frustrated by the ending!

He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he.” (Proverbs 16:20)

Choosing Joy

She had given up all hope of ever needing to make a blanket for her own baby, it had always been for a friend’s newborn. Just a few more months and she would be holding the son promised to Zachariah, her husband. The angel had appeared to him one day in the temple as he was doing his priestly duties. At first Elisabeth had almost been afraid to believe what the angel had said, yet she fervently hoped it was true.

For years she had suffered the disgrace of barrenness, which to the Jews, was always considered an indication of God’s disfavor. Despite her disappointment of not having any little one to hold in her arms, she and Zachariah had continued to faithfully serve God. Over the years, Elisabeth had learned to find her joy in her Lord, not in her circumstances.  It would have been easy to be bitter or discouraged, instead she had chosen to joyfully serve God.

Smiling again, she carefully stitching the blanket, her musings were interrupted when her cousin, Mary, greeted her as she come into the house. At the same time the baby in her womb seemed to leap for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice.

Instantly Elisabeth stood up and blessed Mary, the mother of her Lord, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”

Mary stayed with Elisabeth for three months. Elisabeth was one in whom Mary could confide.  Yes, her cousin did understand Mary’s fears. Day by day as they worked together Elisabeth shared her life of joyful service to God. Elisabeth’s long life of trusting God was reassuring to Mary. Elisabeth’s confidence and joy were infused into Mary’s much younger heart.

Elisabeth had learned that her joy was not dependent on circumstances, children, position or wealth but in serving God alone.

What is your response when life isn’t what you had dreamed it would be?  Have you become bitter and angry?  Or have you learned to love and trust God, to obey and serve Him with joy?  Are you able to find joy in Christ alone? Joy is often a choice, it does not always come naturally.

As we study His Word and live in obedience to it, we will understand His character more deeply and find joy in Him.  Then our joy will be contagious to those around us, encouraging them in their not so desirable circumstance or time of trial.

Have you experienced a disappointment and struggling to find joy and peace?  I encourage you to allow “… the God of hope fill you with all joy…”

If you have learned to choose joy, is there someone you can encourage like Elizabeth did Mary, who is struggling in her faith or facing a difficult time in her life?

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him.” Romans 15:13.

© Cynthia Wedge 2017 (Cynthia has a wonderful tea shop in Grand Rapids [englishcottagetea.com ]and is also a fellow member of our Blue Water Writers Group. Cynthia writes devotionals to share with her customers at Christmas time and has graciously agreed to share a couple with me because I enjoy them so much! Thank you, Cynthia!)