Enjoy the tastes of the holiday season

Less than two weeks until Turkey Day! The menu usually stays pretty much the same for a traditional dinner so your family will remember your traditions, but it is always nice to add one or two new items, and often they will become Thanksgiving traditions, too. This is a day to be thankful for family and the blessings you have. With all the violence in the world, and even in our own country, we need to count our blessings for what we have and say prayers for those who are suffering. Too often, we tend to fuss at those who are closest to us and don’t really appreciate what we should be thankful for.

I really thought that decorating for the coming holidays would be easier this year since I have the tree up all year. Was I ever wrong! Too many light strings have been sampled by the “fur friends” for any safety in even checking which ones are okay, so it is back to square one on the decorating scene. But that is okay — it is time to get new items and ideas, anyway.

It seemed easier when I lived in France and Germany. It would be winter and snow, so you could realize the holidays were on the way. The Christmas markets helped one get in a holiday mood, too. They were so festive with all the lights and crisp aromas of Christmas mingling with the chilly air, and, of course, snow everywhere. That was where one did almost all of the Christmas shopping, for food, decorating and gifts. During the years that I lived there, a lot of evergreens and candles were the main decorating items, with Advent candles being very prominent, but red ones. I wonder if any of those things now are like I remember them.

Back then, all mailing of packages went by “boat mail,” so everything sent to families back in the States had to leave by the middle of October. After those were sent, there was lots of time to enjoy the lights, sounds and traditions of the country. It was great. One year, some of the first class mail was sent by airmail and friends and family got their Christmas cards by Halloween. I really got accused of “rushing the season” by family stateside.

In both France and Germany, Christmas was more of a religious holiday. The homes would be beautifully, but more sparsely decorated, and the gift-giving much more limited, even to the children of the family. In Germany especially, the Church bells would all be tolling at midnight on Christmas Eve. It reminded one of the reason for celebrating. The outdoor caroling was another important and lovely tradition. After a caroling trip through the neighborhood on a snowy, chilly evening, a cup of hot Glug Wien was very welcome. Great memories!

Recently, our winters here have been more like Florida. With all that beautiful sunshine and warm temperatures, it would be about four in the afternoon of Christmas Eve when the realization of Christmas being here was upon us. By then, it would be too late to do much preparation for the holiday (like wrapping gifts and making candy and cookies.) Talk about rushing to get things done! Somehow, we always managed to do it, but being prepared would have been so much easier.

I am hoping this year, to get what I hope to do, done, in a timely manner. Wish me luck. There will be holiday recipes from now on — many are repeats, but if you are a little like me, it is easier to see it when you want it then having to look for it (and trying to remember where you filed it).

Keep your teapot on and the rocking chair by the fireplace — and do take time to use both and relax during this beautiful season of the year. And do keep a “Thankful List” and fill it with your blessings. Thank those who are our protectors, and pray for peace and all those who are suffering.

God Bless.

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HOT SPICED CIDER

1 gallon apple cider

2 cups orange juice

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/2 cup brown sugar

4 cinnamon sticks

2 teaspoons whole cloves

1 teaspoon whole allspice

In a Dutch oven, combine all ingredients except the spices. Place spices (cinnamon sticks, whole cloves and whole allspice) on a square of cheesecloth; bring the corners up and tie with kitchen string, making a spice bag. Add to the pan. Cook, uncovered, over medium heat, for 10 to 15 minutes or until the sugar is dissolved and the flavors are blended and the mixture is almost to a simmer. Do not boil. Remove spice bag and discard. Serve warm, in mugs. A jigger of rum can be added for adults if wanted.

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HOT COCOA MIX

1 1/3 cup sugar

1 cup instant, non-fat, dry milk powder

1 cup non-dairy coffee creamer powder

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Mix first three ingredients. Sift in cocoa powder and mix well. Store in tightly covered jar. To serve, place four heaping teaspoonfuls in an eight-oz. mug. Add boiling water and stir. Use a cinnamon stick or a candy cane for a stirrer for an added touch.

A jar of this with directions to make, a Santa mug, and several candy canes is a neat gift for the kids in your friends’ family. Adult help with the boiling water.

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GINGERBREAD BOYS

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

3/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces

3/4 cup unsulfured molasses

1/2 cup honey

1 egg

Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Using food processor, combine brown sugar and butter. Process until mixture is smooth and creamy, about one minute. Add molasses, honey, and egg and whirl until blended. Add flour mixture and pulse just until dough clumps together. Scrape dough onto plastic wrap and press together to form a fairly flat disk. Wrap dough and chill for at least two hours. Roll out on floured surface to one-fourth inch thickness. Cut out with desired cookie cutters. If they are to be hung on tree, make a small hole near the top with a drinking straw. Place on lightly greased (or parchment paper covered) cookie sheets and bake in preheated 350-degrees oven for twelve to fourteen minutes. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes before placing on wire racks to cool completely. Decorate with Royal Icing.

NOTE: These cookies can be decorated by grandkids at a “decorating party” at Grandma’s house and they will always remember it. Make them early (like now) and freeze them to add to that Christmas cookie decorating party with the grandkids.

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ROYAL ICING

3 tablespoons meringue powder

4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

6 tablespoons warm water

Combine ingredients and beat with electric mixer for seven to ten minutes, or until icing is stiff. Add food coloring as desired. Raisins or red cinnamon candies can be “glued” onto cookies with this icing for eyes, mouth, etc.

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BASIC SUGAR COOKIES

1 cup butter

1 cup sugar

1 egg, slightly beaten

1/4 cup sour cream

3 cups sifted flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream butter and add sugar gradually, beating until fluffy. Add egg and sour cream and mix well. Sift together dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture. Add vanilla. Mix well. Chill at least 2 hours. Roll out on floured surface, ™-inch thick. Cut out with desired shape cookie cutters. Place on greased (or parchment paper lined) cookie sheet. Bake in preheated 350-degrees oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or just until VERY LIGHTLY browned. Cool completely on wire rack. Ice with Royal Icing.

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