German Chocolate Tart

IMG_3362Hello there– It’s been a festive week– How many Christmas dinners can you consume before you explode?  I wonder.  And tonight we were sitting around the table with friends from school– food, fun and friends– It’s a good thing to work with people like them.  My contribution to the meal was this little tart– chocolatey and studded with nuts and coconut. Sweet end to the meal together.

1 pie crust*
1/2 cup butter
1  1/4 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans)**
1 cup shredded coconut

IMG_3351Spread the pie crust into a tart pan.

In the microwave melt the butter and then pour in the chocolate chips and microwave it for 15 seconds more.  Stir it all til it’s blended.  Set it aside.

In another bowl, mix together the flour, and 2 sugars.  Stir in the chocolate mixture.  Then fold in the 2 beaten eggs and the vanilla.  Finally stir in the nuts and coconut.

Spoon the chocolate batter into the pie crust and bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes.  (do not over bake please!)

Serve it nice and warm (or room temp) with with piles of whipped cream on a pretty plate.

*I used a Pillsbury pre made pie crust because I was in a rush.  But you can make your own  to make it even better.
** You can use pecans or walnuts– the recipe I worked from called for pecans, a bit sweeter, but I like walnuts, because the tart is plenty sweet and walnuts have more texture to them for a little crunch.   They’d both work just fine.


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Christmas Books for Kids (& people who read to them!)

Illustration by Eva Erickson

Hi Book Buddies–  One of my favorite parts of Christmas is the big stack of books I lug off to school December 1st.  In room #2 we read a Christmas book every morning to kick off our study day.  Everything from The Nativity to The Grinch.

– And now with the Grand-girls coming for Christmas this year, I’m collecting a stack of my favorites on the coffee table for a little pre-bedtime reading with the girls, cozy on the couch under a blanket.  It’s a very readable time of year.  So here are just a few of our favorites:


Christmas in the Barn is one of those cozy books that make perfect bedtime reading.  The lilting words and the gentle pictures are like a sweet lullaby.  It’s a different telling of the nativity by Margaret Wise Brown (who wrote Goodnight Moon)– simple and perfect for small children.


If you’ve ever been involved in a church Christmas pageant, you’ll love this rollicking story of the year the Herdman’s, the most notoriously mean kids in town, who stride into Sunday School and take over the Christmas program.  The rag tag siblings put a whole new spin on Mary, Joseph and the 3 wise men.  And the result is surprisingly touching.  It’s a short chapter book– just read it aloud to my 4th graders.  We loved it.



This is a book about Christmas wishes– a small girl wishing for a family.  A doll wishing for a girl to claim her.  And the Joneses wishing for a daughter to share their Christmas.  There are twists and turns in a snowy English village as all their wishes converge into one suitably happy ending.  I think I love this book because years back I read it every Christmas with my two girls. –A sweet and satisfying Christmas tale.



If you’ve only seen the Grinch movie, I’m asking you– oh please do read the book,  How the Grinch stole Christmas  –soon.  (it’s so much better!). That old Grinch mischievously tries to ruin Christmas, only to find it can go on without presents or trees or roast-beast.   It’s Dr. Seuss at his very best, with his inventive rhymes, quirky illustrations, thoroughly likable characters, and crazy story line all wrapped up with a heart-warming ending.

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Chicken & Noodle Meatball Soup

IMG_3291Hello friends– I like this bowl of polka dot soup– rolly little meatballs, round slices of carrot and circular little pasta bits.  It’s just cute– as well as warming, savory and delicious.  Just a nice light meal to slip in to the middle of all your holiday eating…

8 oz. ground chicken*
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese -plus more for garnish
1 egg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
2 tab. olive oil
1 leek, sliced into rounds
4 cloves garlic, minced**
4 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup ditalini (or other small pasta)
2 carrots, peeled and sliced thin into rounds
1 cup baby spinach, cut to shreds
green onion, chopped and grated parmesan for garnish

In a mixing bowl thoroughly combine the ground chicken, breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup parmesan, egg, salt and pepper.  Form the mixture into tiny 1/2″ meatballs (makes about 30), rolling them with your hands.  And set them on a baking sheet that has been sprayed with cooking spray.  Pop them into the oven at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until they are browned and cooked through.

Meanwhile as the meatballs are cooking.  heat the olive oil in a soup pot.  Drop in the slices of leek and cook them about 3 minutes.  Add in the garlic and cook a minute more.  Then pour in the chicken broth –plus 3 cups of water.  Bring it all to a boil.

When the both is boiling, add in the carrots and pasta and cook 7 or 8 minutes until the pasta is al dente.  Then drop in the meatballs and the spinach and cook 3 minutes more until the spinach is wilted.

Spoon it hot, hot into bowls and top with grated parmesan and sliced green onion.  And serve it up with a chunk of sturdy bread.

*This week at the market, ground turkey was on sale– so I made it with turkey instead of chicken.  Either would be just fine.
**The recipe I worked from asked from 2 cloves of garlic, but I used 4– because, well, I just love garlic!  You might like less.


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Simple Christmas

IMG_6375Hi there– A friend asked me to give a little seminar a couple weeks ago.  My topic– Simplifying Christmas.  So, first thing, I googled just that.  And you’d be astonished how many people have written on Simple Christmas!!  So I gathered up ideas from here and there and here’s a just a few I found to make Christmas a little simpler and most of all, more meaningful:

#1.  It starts with a budget.  I read that 2/3 of American families have no idea exactly how much they spend on Christmas.  Decide how much you want to spend on each area of Christmas (gifts, decorations, entertaining, meals, cards, donations travel…) and keep totals as you go.  Then stick to it (the hard part)!

#2. And budget your time as well.  Open your calendar early on and budget how you really want to spend those precious December days. I read about one family who finished shopping, baking decorating… by December 13th and then went on to spend  the “12 days of Christmas” enjoying a simpler quieter Christmas time together…

#3.  Take a pre-Christmas family survey.  Around the table, or by email, ask your family, “What 3 things make it a good Christmas for you? What could we skip and not miss? What should we change?”  Last Christmas I realized I did not actually have to bake 12 kinds of Christmas cookies, so I emailed my kids and asked which they’d like to see in the kitchen when they came home– and just baked up their favorites. Better!

#4. Can you be the brave one in the family to suggest drawing names or just buying gift for children?  Saves time, shopping anxiety and money!

#5.  Give events as gifts, not things in boxes– for example:  craft pamphlet for a January “Girl’s Day” out with your mom and sisters, or plan an individual date with a grandchild.  How about a January scrapbook date with kids to chronicle 2014?  Or tickets to the zoo, a museum, bowling, the movies…  Last year for Christmas we invited our kids to a February dinner at Bar Jules and a night at the SF symphony– great fun! (and no gift shopping or wrapping involved!)

#6. With our extended family–we pass a basket and  in lieu of gifts everyone can slip in some cash to send to World Vision to buy a donkey for a family in need in another country, to buy mosquito nets, a flock of ducks or vaccinations for children–or to send $35 it takes for a child in a third world country to go to school…

#7.  While you wrap up gifts for friends and family, take a minute to pray for that person as you tape up the package and tie the bow…

#8.  I love Elizabeth Elliot’s idea to save the gifts until Epiphany (King’s Day) –January 6th and keep the focus on the real meaning of the day on Christmas.

#9.  Keep wrapping supplies tucked in a shopping bag. Pull it out and wrap as you bring gifts home.  Don’t save them all for a Christmas Eve wrap-a-thon!

#10. To decorate the house– don’t shop!  Use what you have.  And if you just need  fresh Christmas things, invite friends to coffee along with their used Christmas items and have a decoration exchange!

#11. Cut greenery from your yard (it doesn’t have to be pine, any green is pretty)– and spread it around to decorate.  I planted a holly bush a few years back so I could trim it and bring those shiny leaves and red berries into the house in December.

#12.  Decorate your coffee table with a stack of colorful children’s Christmas books– Don’t buy them– hit the library!  ( This comes in handy for cozy times with kids in the house)

#13.  Limit the space you allow for Christmas storage (like my smallish upper hall cupboard)– so if you get something new– you have to throw something away to make it all fit.

#14.  Instead of the time and expense of Christmas cards to 100 people– send 5 handwritten notes to the ones you love the most.  Or just send a photo-laden Christmas email out.  Or opt for Thanksgiving cards,  a New Year’s letter or Valentines!!!– to stay in touch with people you care for.

#15.  Feeding people is one of my favorite parts of Christmas!! But sometimes the simplest meals are the best.  A friend went through a difficult divorce one Christmas time.  All she had on hand for Christmas Eve supper for her and the kids was cans of Clam Chowder.  But the next year, remembering that dear time together, they decided to do the same– and now it’s become their tradition.  My family lived in Spain for 12 years, so Christmas night after all the hub-bub is past, the girls and I set out simple tapas on the coffee table by the fire place.  It’s my favorite Christmas time meal.

#16. If you must throw a big Christmas party– make it pot luck!!  Let everyone chip in.  Or save the party time with friends for New Year’s Eve or a Super Bowl soup-fest when life isn’t so busy.

#17.  Allow your self to gain 2 pounds over the holidays so you don’t anguish over every bite you take.  January’s privations are around the corner!

#18.  Christmas carols– play them at home, in the car, at work… They are free and simple and set your heart to the joy of Christmas!

#19.  Set out the nativity scene together as the first part of your Christmas– I read of one family that wrapped all the nativity figures in Christmas paper and set them at the dinner table.  Then each person unwrapped their figure, explained who/what it was and placed it in the stable.

#20. Celebrate Advent with your family– each Sunday until Christmas– or, if you’re not altogether until the week of Christmas, read and sing and light the candles all in one day.  Here’s a link to an advent idea:  Christmas Advent

#21. Simple tradition– Have Grandfather or perhaps the oldest grandchild read the Christmas story from Luke 2 before you open your gifts.

#21.  As your gift to Jesus this Christmas, memorize a bit of scripture– Luke 2:8-14 (the Angels announcing to the shepherds) or Isaiah 9:6 & 7 (For unto us a child is born…) or sections of Psalm 86 (my favorite Psalm of devotion)

#23.  With your extended family have a Christmas Night Talent Show!– our line up in the past included– 5 red nosed family members whistling Rudolph!  Silly Christmas poems, the arrival of the world’s skinniest Santa, “What Child is This?” solo on the flute by a 9 year old, the 12 Days of Christmas rewritten to poke fun at family members, and the Nativity Tableau of little cousins all dressed in bathrobes and sheets (great for photos!).

#24. Just sit and watch your family.  That’s who you are doing this all for– Skip basting the turkey again, leave the dishes in the sink.  Just sit. And watch the kids explore a new Christmas toy, study the curve of their cheek, watch your older kids sit and talk over cups of coffee, your mom cut into the chocolate pie, your husband carry in a load of fire wood.  Be present with the people that you love.

#25.  Read through the book of Luke as your own personal Advent.  There are 24 chapters, one for each day leading up to Christmas.  Jesus the newborn babe, the child, the man, the Savior…

As you make your Christmas plans– ask yourself– Does this make Christmas more meaningful for my family?  Does it add joy, not stress to the holiday?  Does it honor the Lord we are celebrating?

Hoping you and your family have a warm and wonderful Christmas time together– simple and beautiful– with lots of hugs, chuckles and good food!

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Chicken & Mushrooms with Dijon Onion Sauce

IMG_2855Hello there–  In my mind, you can’t have too many delicious saucy chicken dinners up your sleeve– something you can pull together for a weeknight dinner or serve up to friends for a Sunday supper.  And this one is savory and delicious with a scoop of rice or a pile of roasted potatoes.

2 large chicken breasts (boneless, skinless)
2 tab. olive oil
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
6 oz. brown mushrooms, cut in quarters
1/2 cup red onion, cut in slices
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tab. rosemary, chopped fine
1 tab. seedy mustard
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup half & half (or cream)
2 tab. butter.
1 tab. cornstarch

Slice the chicken breasts horizontally to produce four flat chicken filets.  Mix the flour, salt and pepper together in a bowl.  Heat the olive oil in a skillet and then dredge the chicken in the flour mixture and drop it into the hot pan.  Cook it 2 to 3 minutes on each side until it is browned.  Remove the chicken to a plate and set aside.

Then add the red onion to the pan (you may need a splash more olive oil) and after a minute throw in the mushrooms and garlic.  Cook 5 minutes more.

Stir in the rosemary, mustard, white wine, chicken stock, half & half and butter.  Bring to a low simmer, blending it well.  Put the chicken back into the pan and let it simmer away for 10 to 12 minutes until the chicken is tender and cooked through.

To thicken the sauce, put your chicken on a pretty plate and cover it with another plate to keep it warm.  Then, in a container with a tight lid, shake together the cornstarch with 1/4 cup water until it’s thoroughly blended.  Stir it into the simmering sauce and stir until it thickens, just a minute or two.  Spoon the thickened sauce over the chicken.  That’s it.  So pretty and delicious!



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Chocolate Pecan Bars & a Hike

IMG_3269 His there–  Here is a batch of chocolate pecan bars that we took down to my brother’s house for an after-the-fact Thanksgiving on Sunday.  We hiked down together into Wood Canyon, with views across the hills and through stands of old California Oaks.  After the hike we headed back home for that traditional Thanksgiving fare– tacos!  And pecan bars.  It was a grand day together.


1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 1/3 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt

With a mixer, combine the butter and brown sugar until creamy.  Then beat in the flour and salt until it’s crumbly.  Press the dough into an 8″x8″ pan sprayed with cooking spray.  Bake it at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

1/4 stick butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
6 tab. honey
1 tab. cream or half & half
1 rounded cup of chopped pecans
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Meanwhile, as the crust is cooking, drop the butter, brown sugar, honey and cream into a heavy pan.  Cook over medium heat until the mixture simmers for just one minute (no more!).  Take it off the heat and stir in the pecans.  Spread the the pecan mixture over the half cooked crust and sprinkle the mini chocolate chips over the top. Return it to the oven for 20 more minutes.  Cool them as long as you can stand to wait, before cutting them into neat little squares.  Delish!


10522776_10101010230536914_2832452927385008147_n     IMG_3255
Hikers ready to take to the trails…  Thanks for the great day Mark and Joanne!!

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Joy To The World

1645c45b75dcc1d0c9817ea4daba4cdeHi all– When I was growing up, each Christmas my Dad would rent a flat bed truck.  We’d throw the Sunday School benches and an old pump organ onto the back– and all the young church families would pile in, bundled against the not so cold California winter night.

We’d drive from house to house of the older people in the church, stopping to carol to them and wish them  Merry Christmas! It’s one of my fondest memories.

So tonight we gathered with dear friends, singing those same timeless carols.  It was pure joy, adding harmonies to the voices of people we’ve known and loved for 30 or 40 years.  And the words of the songs touch deep into my heart — “Joy to the World, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King.”  Those old true songs draw me deep into the center of Christmas and the marvel of Jesus come to earth.  So thankful.

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