Category Archives: Those Wonderful Special Occasions

Reflections, stories, and ideas for holidays

A Race to the Finish Line

My oldest son’s family (with four boys) are arriving one week from today for Christmas, and this is the room where they usually sleep on the pull-out couches.     What do you think? Am I ready for company? No, I don’t think so either.   😦 We’ve been trying to update our 30-year-old kitchen because our laminate counter tops were worn through and showing spots of white and the drawer hinges had been replaced so many times that the company no longer sells replacement hinges! I realize that Christmas is the wrong time to redo your kitchen, particularly when you’re expecting 24 people to visit, but when we started this project (6 months ago), they said it would take 6-10 weeks. Wrong! But you know, sometimes the only way out is to just keep trekking, so that’s what we decided to do! After all, eating out of the frig off the floor is over-rated! I can totally recommend the guy who’s doing our remodeling. The timing had nothing to do with him (had to wait on the cabinets to arrive, and then the order was incomplete, etc.). Jeff is doing an impeccable job (just for the record).  Unfortunately, he needs foot surgery, so he’s been working long hours to try to get things in shape for us so that I have a functional kitchen for the holidays. The counter tops and new sink will take another month. On top of that, he’s trying to do some extra things that somehow didn’t get into the contract. The lady at the store said, “Oh, he can put in temporary counter tops for you!” but failed to put that in the contract, and of course, I failed to realize that she failed to put that in the contract (along with various other necessary items, such as the strainers for the sink [whatever those are] and the supplies to convert our new range from propane to natural gas)…which Jeff is going to try to do for us (although he’s never done it before), because the company who is supposed to do can’t until after the holidays, and I need a stove!!     So the dust is flying and the living areas are pretty much a disaster area!                            Will Jeff be able to finish before the company arrives?  If so, will I be able to get the house put back together so we can eat at the tables?  (BTW, how in the world did I accumulate so much stuff in just 45 years?) I’m not sure the answer to any of those questions, but I’m praying it works out! Have you noticed that doing things “right” almost always seems to take a lot longer than we think? It generally costs more as well. There are hidden expenses (not just financially, but emotionally and spiritually)…all sorts of things we need that we didn’t know we’d need, not to mention human errors in communicating and planning. Still, God calls us to keep moving forward, doing the best we can and praying for help! I’m believing this is going to work out… somehow, and I hope that if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by life this holiday season, you will also keep looking up and trusting God to see you through!

“The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the Lord. (Proverbs 21:31)

 

Ending Well and Getting a Fresh Start

        Our refrigerator has been sort of the epicenter of family and friend lore. If you’ve sent me a photo of your family in the last few years, it’s probably here! It also serves as a bulletin board and place to display the grand kids’ art work,             and when the children visit, they definitely check to see what’s up! Now, I should explain that we bought this refrigerator used 25 years ago when we first moved into Tanglewood Cottage, and it was definitely in need of replacing. Therefore, it was the first thing to be changed out.However, I have a whole section on  my blog dedicated to “The Pictures on my Fridge,” and every picture means a lot to me!  So, before I let them touch my refrigerator, I lovingly peeled off all the photos and placed them into a coffee table photo album to keep the memories alive! The shiny, new refrigerator (my first “new” frig in our 44 years of marriage) has made me stop and think about the coming year. 2018 will be a shiny, new year… full of possibilities, but without any pictures hanging on it yet. What shall we do? First of all, I certainly don’t want to neglect my family and friends, and I want to finish this year well with the loved ones who are depending on me here at home. Sadly (because I’m so limited and our kitchen is an updating disaster area for the time being), that means I won’t be doing much blogging between now and mid January, although I’ll try to keep my recipes and Song of Solomon meditations going (and anything else as time allows).

One of my girlfriends suggested that I re-post some of my earlier blogs that people seemed to enjoy a lot. That didn’t feel quite right to me, although if you’ve got some free time and are interested in any particular topic, everything I’ve written for the past almost 10 years is still recorded, and if you type a subject into the “Search” bar on the top right-hand corner of this blog, it will bring up posts that touch on that subject. I have to admit, though: The fact that I won’t be able to write much frustrates me and makes me feel like a failure! Does that ever happen to you? You have more to do than you think you “should,” so you feel like a flop? Take heart! God’s priorities are different from ours. He makes things much simpler than we do. God doesn’t measure success in productivity, but in living right and loving well: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, ESV). If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well” (James 2:8).

Meanwhile, I pray that God will bless and guide each of you during this holiday season. May you find joy in anticipating the good things God has in store for you this coming year, and may you fill up your days with fruitful service and a host of happy memories from loving well and being loved!

 

 

Chocolate-covered Sea Salt Pecan Toffee (If You Love See’s…)

My oldest brother has been spoiling our family with a big box of See’s chocolates as a Christmas gift for the past 25-30 years, which is a super highlight of the seasons’ taste treats! In fact, I practically have to hide the box and wait until all Christmas comers have arrived before doling out the delectable chocolates. About seven years ago, our son Jonathan and his wife moved to Spokane, Washington, which is one of the locations where they actually make See’s chocolates, and you can go to the shop and pick out your favorite flavors. After many taste tests, Alan and I both decided that their California brittle crunch was our top choice, and so I started trying to figure out how to reproduce them at home.  I’ve come up with my own recipe, which isn’t exact (I think they use almonds, and I’ve used pecans roasted with sea salt…and mine aren’t as crunchy), but they definitely melt in your mouth and disappear from the platters fast!

Chocolate-covered Sea Salt Pecan Toffee
(makes about 5 dozen pieces of candy)

In a large cooking pot add:
1/2 cup water
2 cups granulated white sugar
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1 pound butterBring to a boil, stirring often to keep the candy from sticking. Make sure all the sugar has dissolved.  While the toffee is cooking, heavily butter a large cookie sheet and place it on a wooden cutting board. Also take this time to grind up 12 ounces of pecans into very small pieces. (This in not quite ground fine enough, but do not turn it into a totally consistent powder).  Lower the heat to a simmer and continue cooking until the “medium soft-ball” stage (about 300°F), where a drop of syrup placed in cold water forms a chewy ball. (If you take your fingers and gather the syrup out of the cold water [see below], it should form one medium soft ball.) *Note: I use a metal spatula to stir and scrape the bottom of the pan to make sure nothing sticks or burns. This will probably take about 10-15 minutes. Once the syrup has reached the medium-ball stage,turn the heat down to low and add the 12 oz. chopped, roasted, salted pecans. (Those nuts on the right are a better consistency than those on the left.)                                  Stir them until they’re completely mixed in.  Add 1 teaspoon baking soda, stirring gently until it’s thoroughly mixed. Let the mixture start to rise… then remove it from the heat and pour it directly onto the buttered cookie sheet.  The next part is a little tricky. Let the pan cool until it can be cut, but not until it’s completely cool. This takes about 25 minutes.  When the toffee can be cut without immediately losing its shape, cut it into small pieces. (I do 9 lengthwise slices by 7 wide, but do them however you want!)  Microwave  24 oz. chocolate chips and 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a bowl for 2 minutes.                                               Remove from the microwave                                               and stir until smooth.  Take a toothpick and make a tiny dot where each cut begins and ends around the entire perimeter of the pan,                                             then spread the chocolate                                              evenly over the entire pan.  Let it cool about 10 minutes, and then run your knife gently along the same tracks. The chocolate won’t be hard yet, but that’s okay. It still prepares the way for even pieces when it’s completely cooled. Depending on where you cool your candy, it may take an hour or two before the chocolate is completely cool without being so hard that it breaks into  uneven pieces. At that point, take a knife and cut along the same lines one last time. If you’ve done it right, when you remove the candies, they should come out in neat pieces. (However, bigger pieces of nuts can make things a bit uneven, as you see above.) it’s not an exact replica of See’s candies (which are entirely enveloped in chocolate, BTW), but it’s close enough to make us smile and saves mega bucks over trying to buy See’s!  I hope you and your loved ones enjoy them. They do make great Christmas gifts and are popular at Christmas parties or the office.We will rejoice in thy salvation, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners: the Lord fulfill all thy petitions” (Psalm 20:5).

Exquisite Candied Fruitcake

Fruitcakes have a terrible reputation, and if you don’t like candied fruit, then no recipe is going to make you like fruitcake, but here is a recipe that I’ve developed after many years of trying to imitate our family’s favorite, which used to be called “Texas fruitcake.”  Unlike most traditional fruitcakes, which dry out and end up being discarded after a month in the back of the fridge, this recipe is absolutely loaded with whole candied fruits and pecans, and tastes so scrumptious that I have to stash one or two or they’re gone before all the Christmas gifts are under the tree. Here it is, from my home to yours, just in time for the holidays!

Exquisite Candied Fruitcake
(makes 3 loaves)

First, collect your ingredients, because they’re not something most people keep around the house:
16 oz. candied red cherries
16 oz. candied pineapple
2 six-ounce containers of candied green cherries
12 (or 16) oz. roasted, salted pecans
1 pound butter (well, you might have this ingredient at home)Next: load the following ingredients into your mixer:
1 pound softened butter (not a second pound; just the one mentioned above)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs. Beat all these ingredients together until totally whipped. Add:
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice. Beat all these ingredients together until it looks like soft cookie dough. Next, add all the fruit and nuts, and stir carefully by hand just until it’s all mixed.                                                  The next step is crucial!  Cut out parchment paper and fit it to the bottom of each loaf pan with about 4-5 inches of paper hanging over each side. This lining is what will enable you to lift the fruitcake out of the loaf pan without crumbling after it bakes and cools. Divide the batter equally into three pans, smoothing out the mixture. Preheat the oven to 325°F. If you have an artistic flair, you can save some of the candied fruit and nuts and arrange flowers on the top, although I didn’t this time.Bake the cakes for 75 minutes at 325°F. They will still be quite soft, but they should be a deep, golden brown in color. Set them on the counter until they are entirely cool. In fact, it won’t hurt them if you let them rest overnight, although if you do that, pull the paper flaps down and cover all three pans loosely with more parchment paper to keep them from drying out too much.After they are completely cool, gently lift the cakes out of their pans by pulling on the parchment paper. If the ends don’t want to come loose, try gently separating them from the sides of the pans with a plastic knife. Once you can tell that the paper isn’t sticking, lift them out completely. These fruitcakes are super rich, so a small piece goes a long way, but it’s so good that nobody will really want a very small piece! They can be eaten fresh (although I always keep them wrapped in saran wrap). They can also be wrapped up to save for later (can last a month in the refrigerator although they also freeze just fine), or they can be gift wrapped and shared!

O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth for ever.
(Psalm 136:26)

Cranberry Sauce Shaped Like a Can…or…How About Home Made?!

If you’ve ever seen Ernest Saves Christmas (and I wouldn’t recommend it for high value, but our kids did love it when they were little and it became a bit of a cult classic around our home), you might remember the line about how Ernest loved all things Christmas, including “cranberry sauce, shaped like a can.” Actually, that’s the way I also ate it when I was little, unless my mom sliced it into round, can-shaped slices (jellied). Or, sometimes she served “whole berry” sauce (from a can) and mashed it up to look more attractive. Fifty years hence, fresh cranberries are readily available this time of year in America, and homemade cranberry sauces and relishes are both simple to make and a whole lot yummier than anything you can buy in a can! I was testing my recipe for cranberry sauce on an 80+ year-old friend who was over for dinner recently, and he teased me, “For somebody who seems to worry about your weight, you sure write about food a lot on your blog!” 🙂  (Notice how svelte he still is!)

True enough, but part of good health and weight management is learning how to use less sugar in what you do allow yourself, and my theory is that most people are going to want a little cranberry sauce with their Thanksgiving dinner in a couple of weeks. Good nutrition isn’t just what foods you eat, it’s also about avoiding unnecessary additives and preservatives, using fresh ingredients that still have their nutritive value intact, and using “less”of  those ingredients which tend to cause weight gain (sugars, starches, and fats being among the chief offenders).

Therefore, I’m bringing you my own, less-sugared versions of cranberry dishes that are among America’s favorite Thanksgiving sides. If you’ve not discovered these tart complements for your turkey dinner, why not try making your own? They’re simple to make and sure to please!

Cheery Cranberry Sauce
(serves 6±)

12 oz. cranberriesWash the cranberries to remove any unwanted stems or leaves. Add: 1/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar (most recipes call for a cup, so you might want a little more, but try it first. My taste-testers thought it was fine with only half the sugar).
1/8 teaspoon salt (can be left out if you’re trying to avoid salt)Bring to a boil, stirring often until all the sugar has melted. Reduce the heat and let the berries simmer until almost all the berries have “popped” (about 5-7 minutes)Keep warm and covered on the stove top until you’re ready to serve it. (If you don’t eat it all the first night, cranberry sauce will last a week or more stored in an air-tight container in your refrigerator.)

Cranberry-Orange Relish
(Serves 6-8)

12 oz. cranberries (wash them, as above)Chop up one entire seedless orange into about 8 large pieces (skin and all)
Add 1/2 cup sugar (or start with 1/2 and test; 1/2 cup is enough for me, but that’s pretty tart; my son likes it a touch sweeter)
1/8 teaspoon salt (can be left out if you’re salt-sensitive)
*Many people enjoy adding 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans. This is a good option, but only if you’re going to eat it all quickly, as the nuts will get soggy in a day or two. Otherwise, the relish lasts quite well for almost a week.Grind it all up in a Cuisinart (or other food processor) until it’s in “itty-bitty pieces.” (Stop before it liquifies.)Place in a serving dish and keep it chilled in the refrigerator until it’s time to eat.

I will praise the name of God with a song,
and will magnify him with thanksgiving
” (Psalm 69:30).

 

 

Happy Halloween…and Even Better—Happy Reformation Day!

I was going to try to keep on task and write about Hindu cremations today,  but it’s snowing really hard and heavy—first snow of our winter—,
and that just changes everything, doesn’t it?  I can’t quite concentrate on 102° heat and the acrid scent of burning flesh   when I see swirling snowflakes out my window
and know there are jack-o-lanterns are sitting on our front porch.   Besides, we’re going to our kids’ (Dan and Brianna’s) annual Halloween Party tonight, and I can’t help but think about how much fun it’s going to be!  Last year we missed, because we were in South Africa touring Table Mountain and watching hippos duke it out on the Umfolozi River.  I thought about dressing like a hippo,
but I wasn’t sure how to bring along a river…Two years ago Sammy was dressed up like Super Man,  and now, it’s little Elanor who’s just learning how to sit! I’m not sure how the kids are going to be dressed tonight, but you can be sure Alan and I are superman-excited to see them!

However, there’s something way more wonderful that’s being celebrated today, and that’s the 500th anniversary of Reformation Day! Three of our kids and their families have converged in Germany and are in Wittenberg right now, joining in the wonderful celebration there. It may take a few days before I get any photos, but I just want to say how thankful I am for the work and insight of Martin Luther, who understood the supreme importance of translating the Bible into the common language so that we (all people) could read God’s words for themselves and understand His message about how to be reconciled to God and go to heaven! It’s not by being good (because none of us will ever be perfectly good), but by trusting in the One who is good and died in our place, Jesus Christ. Have you read the Bible? Do you believe in the One who will save us by His precious blood, “by faith alone”?

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10). (We are created by God for good works, but we are saved by faith in the good works of Jesus, so we never have to fear being rejected by God on the basis of our falling short of His perfect standard.)

P.S.—Just like snow changes everything, so does Jesus!
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).

Autumn Joys: A Few of My Favorite Things

Today is the first day of autumn, 2017…a day that has never been and will never come again. I’ve been thinking a lot about all the tragedies occurring in America and around the world this year. Sometimes it seems almost sacrilegious to speak about the blessings during such a time of hardship, but then I remember that it’s often in the midst of suffering that we’re most acutely aware of the everyday blessings that we usually take for granted. I’m going to list a few of my favorites, and I’d love to hear you share some of yours as well!   Now that it’s autumn, it’s dark when I wake up, but among my favorite everyday blessings are hearing the birds sing and watching the sun rise while Alan and I read the Bible and pray together each morning.      I’m also extremely grateful to be living in a clean, dry, safe, snug home.  I’m thankful for food and water and electricity. Millions are without right now in the Americas and Caribbean, and billions are chronically without worldwide.   I am thankful for the spiritual bread of life and the water of life, Jesus. Beyond all this, I find myself wrapped up in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, which is better than a velvety fleece around my shoulders, and I am a child of our heavenly Father, who has his arms outstretched to whosoever will come to Him in faith. I am thankful for the privilege of prayer! God invites us to come to him like a little child and promises to care for us and answer our prayers.  I’m thankful for my husband and children and grandchildren. I’m thankful that we love our Father and we love each other. I’m thankful for family and friends, both those far away and near.  I’m thankful for the golden warmth of the sun by day and the silvery glow of the moon and stars by night. I’m thankful for the seasons…for snowflakes in winter and soft green grass in summer, flowers that bud and bloom in the spring, and leaves that flame and fall in the autumn.  God has created a world of beauty, mystery, light, and darkness, and I’m thankful for it all, knowing that God is good and is working everything “together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?

10 I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.

11 He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.

12 I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life.

13 And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.

14 I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him (Ecclesiastes 3:1-14).