Rethinking Christmas

Hello Blog-Friends:  If you’re like me, you might have a whole lot of expectations (I prefer to call them “hopes”– it sounds kinder) about Christmas ahead–what the best Christmas should look like to you.  It’s all about lists.  Making them & checking them twice.

But this year we’ve had a shift.  Last Monday, our son called from Ojai.  They were pulling out from home, evacuating because of the wildfires closing in on their small community.  The family finally made their way down to our house, and we spent some days watching blazes on t.v. news and checking Facebook posts detailing damages.

The school where Micah teaches lost the science building (his physics lab & robotics program) and the girls’s dorm burned to the ground.  Their home had some damage, but much was saved by fire fighters.  So thankful.

So our hopes have changed some.  Christmas will look a little different.  The to do lists are shorter.  And things that matter– being together, remembering God’s gift of his son to the world shine brighter.

I’ve been reading a daily Christmas email from my favorite blogger, Shannan Martin.  She writes it so well:

“There in the wonderful, terrible thick of December, the furniture of my heart was shifting. Things that had lurked in the shadows were snapping into focus. As Christmas drew nearer, the new rhythms of my soul were bumping against my old ideas about how to celebrate, why we celebrate, and what a new way of living the “thrill of hope” might look like practically.

Basically, I cleaned out my Christmas closet. I did that thing where you hold up each old shirt and decide if it still fits, and whether or not it’s worth the space it occupies.”

So my Christmas hopes for you (and me) are that we’re able to see that “thrill of hope” and rest in God’s love for us in the middle of all the Christmas storm of activity.  Merry Christmas Blessings to you, dear friends.

P.S. To find Shannan’s blog and the link to her “12 Ways of Christmas Emails” click here.  I think you’ll love her as much as I do.

Favorite Christmas Books

Hi friends–  When we drag out the Christmas decorations around here, I also climb up onto a chair reach the top bookshelf where we keep a beloved collection of Christmas books.  I pull down all the favorites and plop them on the corner of the coffee table, ready to read with grand-girls when they come in to stay.  It’s one of the best parts of Christmas!  Here are a few of our favorites.

B Is For Bethlehem — by Isabel Wilner, illustrated by Elisa Kleven.  This lively rhythmic telling of the Christmas story uses an ABC format and couldn’t be more beautiful.  The illustrations are a combination of collage and small paint details–exquisite.  And the message is glorious– honoring God and his gift to us at Christmas.

Christmas in Noisy Village — by Astrid Lindgren, illlustrated by Elon Wikland.  A band of village Swedish neighbor children spend their Christmas baking, gathering a tree from the forest, visiting a grandfather and feasting together at a Christmas party.  Couldn’t be more charming.

The Story of the Three Wise Kings — by Tomie DePaola.  Classic DePaola telling of the journey of the three wise men in search of the baby Jesus at the first Christmas.  He uses a slightly more formal take on his signature illustration and there is a interesting preface about the history of the telling the story of the wisemen.  A  wonderful addition to any Christmas book collection.

Santa’s Favorite Story — by Hisako Aoki, illustrated by Ivan Gantschev.  When the forest animals find Santa napping just before Christmas, they worry that Christmas won’t be ready! But Santa assures them that the real Christmas is more about the coming of a babe in a manger.  Lovely water color illustration and gentle text, make this a beautiful telling of Christmas.

Hope your Christmas is full of cozy reading and sweet times with family young and old.  Merry Christmas!

P.S. top illustration thanks to Holly Hobbie.

Cranberry Almond Baked Oatmeal

Good morning!!  Baking up a pan of oatmeal is a favorite when kids are in the house.  This was our Thanksgiving morning breakfast.  Bake it up.  Set it out with a basket of  berries, brown sugar, bananas and cream and as people wander in one by one breakfast is ready when they are.  Hearty, easy and delish!

CRANBERRY ALMOND BAKED OATMEAL
2 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup  almonds, toasted, chopped*
1/3 cup dried cranberries, minced
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1  3/4 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
serve with cream or milk

In a large mixing bowl stir all the ingredients together.  Spoon the mixture into a 2 quart baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray and pop it all into a 350 degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes, until the center is firm.

Serve with milk or cream and berries or bananas (or if grand-girls are in the house– chocolate sprinkles).

*Sliced, toasted almonds in bags ready to use at Trader Joe’s.

Scalloped Potatoes

Hello all–  Who doesn’t love potatoes??  Add a creamy sauce and a couple kinds of cheese, even better–hot and bubbly from the oven.   We served up these potatoes with peppery grilled tri-tip and a bright salad to a table full of friends Saturday night. Delish!

SCALLOPED POTATOES
3 tab. butter
2 small yellow onion, chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup flour
1  1/2 cup chicken broth
2 cups milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
2 tsp. thyme leaves, divided
4 pounds yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled, sliced thin
2 cups cheddar, grated
1/2 cup parmesan romano

In a large skillet melt the butter and throw in the chopped onion, cook until the onion is tender, not yet browned.  Add in the garlic and cook a minute more.

Stir in the flour, until a thick paste forms.  Then pour in the chicken broth, stirring as you go until they mixture is smooth.  Keep simmering.  Stir in the milk, salt & pepper and 1 tsp. of the thyme leaves.  Keep stirring as the mixture simmers until it is a thick smooth sauce (about 3 or 4 minutes).  Turn off the heat.

Slice the potatoes thinly and layer half of them in a 9″x13″ pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray.  Over the first half of the potatoes, drizzle half of the sauce.  Then sprinkle on 1 cup of the cheddar cheese and all of the parmesan.  Add the rest of the potatoes and top with the remaining sauce and cheese.

Cover the top with foil, tenting it so that it doesn’t touch the sauce and cheese on top the potatoes.  Pop it covered into a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Then remove the foil and cook 20 to 25 minutes more until the potatoes are tender when you poke them with a fork.

Serve them hot, garnished with the remaining teaspoon of thyme leaves sprinkled on top.  Delish!!

 

What I’ve Been Reading

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Hi Reading Friends–  It’s that time of year for our Book Club– We all send in recommendations from the books we’ve read and then weed through the list and narrow down to our next 6 books to read together Jan. to June!  Here’s the 4 books I recommended.  I think you might like them too.

And– what are your book recommendations??  I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading so I can take notes for my next trip to the library!!

When the Vicar in the small town of Chilbury disbands the church choir, after the men have all left with the advent of WWII, the women band together and revive the choir.  Written through the journals, diaries and letters of the various women, from an older nurse to a unscrupulous midwife, a young girl and her vivacious sister.  There is deception, romance, bravery and family ties stretched to the limits.  Sort of of a British Mitford-esque tale of colorful characters.

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter is yet another in the current crop of WWII books.  In this story the Jewish Kurc family of Radom, Poland finds themselves scattered during the course of the war– between Paris, ports in Africa, a labor camp in Siberia, the front in Italy, Rio De Janeiro and Warsaw.  The narrative follows their amazing stories of hardship, bravery and near escapes.  At the end of the book, the epilogue explains that the stories told were of an actual family, collected and written by a grand daughter, Addy Kurc.  Heartwarming and incredible.

I love the way Lisa See connects a riveting story with big doses of Chinese culture and custom.  In The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Li-yan lives and works picking tea in a tradition bound village in southern China.  When she has a baby while unmarried, she takes her daughter to an orphanage where the baby is adopted by an American family.  Li-yan goes on the an education and builds a tea empire, always hoping to find the daughter she gave away.  A fascinating look at the prescribed life of a hill country young girl.

In Pachinko, Min Jim Lee weaves the story of a family over several decades, beginning in the early 1900’s when Sunja, a young Korean woman, pregnant and abandoned, marries a virtuous Korean pastor and immigrates with him to Japan.  The story continues with the lives of their children and the persecution of the Korean minority in Japan during WWII and beyond.  A poignant story of a family torn by circumstance, with characters that you really care about.  National Book Award Finalist.

P.S. Thanks for the reading graphic– illustrator Nicole Wong

Orange Cranberry Pecan Butter Cookies

Hey friends– I know the name for these cookies is way too long!  But I wanted you to know up front all the goodies they have tucked inside.

And– the best part of these cookies is that you make the dough ahead, put it in the fridge and then slice and bake as many as you need when you’re ready to eat them.   I made the dough this morning, will slice and bake a few for friends coming in tonight and save the rest of the dough for next week when the kids are arrive!

ORANGE CRANBERRY PECAN BUTTER COOKIES
1 large orange
1  1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup dried cranberries, minced
1/2 cup pecans, chopped fine
garnish:  powdered sugar for dusting

Start by grating all the rind off of the orange.  Set it aside.  The cut the orange in half and juice it.  Set the juice aside for a minute.

Use a mixer to beat together the butter, sugar, powdered sugar, vanilla and orange juice– until it’s smooth and well blended.  Then add in the flour baking powder, salt, cranberries, pecans and orange peel.  Beat with the mixer until it all forms a big sticky ball of dough.

On a lightly floured counter take out half of the dough and roll it into a log bout 2″ thick.  Wrap it in plastic wrap and set it in the fridge.  Do the same with the remaining dough.  Chill it all in the fridge for an hour or more (up to several days…)

When you’re ready to bake– Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Slice the logs of dough into 1/4″ slices and set them on a baking sheet that has been sprayed with cooking spray.  Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until they are lightly browned around the edges.  Be sure to eat at least one warm from the oven (the best!).

When they cool you can dust them lightly with powdered sugar shaken through a sieve. Makes about 3 dozen.

Pumpkin Bran Muffins

Hello all–   I promise– this is the last pumpkin recipe until next fall!  But I was thinking maybe you have a half a can of pumpkin lurking in your fridge still!  Use it here.

These were breakfast one morning last week when the kids were here for a few days of Thanksgiving.  Hearty and warm– perfect with a slash of butter and a little marmalade.  Breakfast!

PUMPKIN BRAN MUFFINS
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup flour
1 cup wheat bran
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup walnuts (or pecans), chopped

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the pumpkin, oil, brown sugar and egg.  Then mix in the flour, bran, baking powder, salt and nuts.

Spoon the batter into a muffin pans lined with muffin papers (makes 10).  Bake them in a 375 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes.  They’re done when a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Happy eating!