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Get ready for holiday season with sweets

December! What a wonderful month! While we really love nearly everything about this month, it is one that requires us to take our vitamins just to keep up with what we have planned. The parades last weekend were great – the large ones in Parkersburg and Marietta and the small ones in local villages — the floats, the lights, the bands — all make for joyful expectations of Christmas. Make happy plans, and then do what you need to do to turn those plans into reality.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent in the Christian calendar. The four Sundays before Christmas are for the preparation for Christmas itself. As we prepare ourselves in the religious way for this celebration, we should prepare ourselves for the family and secular celebration of the holiday. Are your decorations up and do you have the Christmas music playing in your home? It is a shame when we allow ourselves to get “too busy” or too stressed out to enjoy very day of this wonderful time of year.

When I lived in Germany, it was so nice to visit the Christkindmarkt in each town. Everything you could need or want for the Holidays was at those street markets – food, toys, decorations – and music was everywhere. There was no way to keep one from the magic of the season. I wonder if they are still as magical as they used to be with all the immigrants that have entered that country.

The Christmas parades there were different from ours. They used a lot of white lights that really looked beautiful against the snow that we always had at that time of year. Instead of Santa, Father Christmas rode in the main float. He was in a white and gold Bishop’s outfit. The Switchman had the colorful float. He wore a monk’s brown robe and there were bags of coal and switches that he waved at the children. His float had colorful lights so the American children liked him the best because he had the colorful float like they were used to seeing in a parade!

Another tradition there was the celebration of St. Nicholas Day, December 6th. The children would leave their shoes outside their doors and the good little girls and boys would get fruit, usually an orange, and candy. Sometimes, a toy might be left. The bad ones would get a switch or a lump of coal. That gave the bad ones a chance to shape up before Christmas! Advent calendars helped the children count down the days until Christmas, too.

Since there was always snow, the white lights of Christmas would cause the snow to always sparkle and made driving through the area a beautiful experience. Somehow, the warmer weather we are having, although it is nice on the heating bills, doesn’t do much to beautify our landscape and say “Christmas”! We seem to need that to be ready for the coming Christmas season.

Sometimes stress can cause the best laid plans to become not as nice as we hope. While most folks are happy, there are those who seem to want to ruin all the pleasure for others. If you should run into one of those (Scrooge!), don’t let those bad vibes get to you. Remember, one can’t change someone else, but one can control one’s reaction to that person! Think happy thoughts, smile, and connect with someone who is content with life. One grump can cause lots of unhappiness if one allows that grump to be the powerful energy. Remember, those you love the most can be the ones who hurt you the most, so the best thing for you is to keep a safe distance if you sense hostility starting. Maybe, they just got up on the wrong side of the bed the day they are grumpy, or didn’t get enough sleep, so ignore them! Stay happy, no matter what comes your way, even if you do shed a tear or two.

One way to keep the little ones smiling is to set up a Christmas Cookie Decorating Party. Bake the cut-out cookies ahead of time and have frostings, small candies, colored sugar, and decorating icings made up, along with decorating tubes, ready for the fun part. Whether it is a Gingerbread House, Gingerbread people for the tree, or decorated cookies gifts or home, for it will be fun. Don’t worry about the mess that might be made with too many “helping hands”, just let the kids have a happy time “playing” in the kitchen. Have the Hot Chocolate pitcher and damp washcloths ready and join the fun. They will always remember this special day in Grandma’s or Mama’s kitchen. The decorated cookies will be welcome gifts for aunts, uncles, teachers, and neighbors. Add a “candy making day” for the teens.

As we enter this season, we should count our blessings, and keep in prayer for those who protect us and our traditions. Keep the tea kettle on and the rocking chair by the fireplace so we can keep stress under control. Remember the reason we celebrate this season and enjoy each precious day. God Bless!

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SPRITZ COOKIES

1 cup butter

3/4 cup sugar

1 egg, unbeaten

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

Cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg. Add almond extract. Sift together dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture. Form cookies with a cookie press. Bake in preheated 400-degrees oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Decorate with colored sugar, candies, candied fruit, nuts, etc. These are especially nice made with a rosette forming plate and with a half of a candied cherry pressed into the middle, cut side down. Color some of the dough with green food coloring to make trees and wreaths. Add red food coloring to the basic dough to make pretty pink cookies.

I make 3 batches of this dough, leaving 1 white and coloring 1 green and 1 pink. This and 1 batch of Chocolate Spritz can take care of all the Christmas cookie needs if you don’t have time to make any other kind. These are quick!

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CHOCOLATE SPRITZ COOKIES

Make as for above Spritz Cookies, substituting vanilla for almond extract, adding 6 tablespoons cocoa and reducing flour to 2 ™ cups. Sift cocoa with flour mixture.

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MILLION DOLLAR FUDGE

(An old, but “never fail” recipe.)

5 cups sugar

1 can (12-oz.) evaporated milk

1 jar marshmallow cream

3 packages (6 oz. each) chocolate chips

2 teaspoons vanilla

Boil sugar and milk together for 4 1/2 minutes, stirring constantly. Combine marshmallow cream and chocolate chips in a bowl or pan. Pour milk-sugar mixture over marshmallow cream-chocolate chips mixture. Stir until creamy. Stir in vanilla. Pour into foil lined pan.

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HOLIDAY FUDGE

2/3 cup evaporated milk

1 1/3 cups sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup butter

1/4 pound (16 large) marshmallows or 1 jar (5 to 10 oz.) marshmallow cream

1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate pieces or chips

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup nuts

Mix first 5 ingredients; bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add chocolate and stir until melted. Stir in vanilla and nuts. Spread in foil lined 8-inch square pan. Cool until firm.

Either of these recipes can be varied by using different flavored chips. Both are easy.

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PENUCHE

2 tablespoons butter

2 cups brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

1 cup cream

1/8 teaspoon soda

Melt butter, add sugars and mix. Add soda and cook to soft ball stage, 237-degrees on a candy thermometer. After boiling starts, wipe any crystals off side of pan with a wet pastry brush or a dampened cloth wrapped around the tines of a fork. Don’t let this touch boiling liquid. When candy reaches the soft ball stage, remove from heat and place pan in a larger pan of cold water, making sure no water gets into candy. When fairly cool, beat until stiff. Pour into buttered 8-inch square pan, and cut into squares when firm.

(Line pan with foil that extends an inch above edge of pan before pouring the candy into it and you can lift the entire batch of candy out when it is cool. It’s easier to cut this way.) Nuts can be added after beating the candy, or you can place nut halves on top of candy before it set so that each piece has a piece of nut on it when cut. This fudge can be molded and dipped in chocolate for bonbons or candy bars.

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PEANUT BUTTER FUDGE

3 cups white sugar

1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

1 can (12-oz.) evaporated milk

1/2 cup butter or margarine – (1 stick)

1 (12-oz.) jar peanut butter

1 (7-10-oz) jar marshmallow crËme

1 teaspoon vanilla

Pinch salt

Combine sugar, milk, butter, and pinch of salt in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue boiling (about 5 minutes) until it reaches soft ball stage (225- to 240-degrees on a candy thermometer), stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add peanut butter and marshmallow crËme. Beat until blended. Pour into a butter 9 x 13-inch pan. Cool and cut into pieces.

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BUCKEYES

4 sticks butter, room temperature

1 jar (16-oz.) creamy peanut butter

2 lb. confectioners’ sugar, sifted

2 teaspoons vanilla

Small pinch salt

Dipping chocolate

Cream butter and peanut butter until completely mixed. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and salt. Form into balls and refrigerate 1 hour. Melt the dipping chocolate, just until melted. You may need to let it cool just a bit before dipping the balls. Using a toothpick to hold each ball, dip each ball in the chocolate (one at a time!) to cover just § of the ball. Place on waxed paper covered cookie sheet to dry. Dip again if you want lots of chocolate on the Buckeye – just don’t cover the “eye”! I use both dark chocolate and milk chocolate dipping wafers (but not together!).

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PUDDING FUDGE

1 box chocolate pudding mix

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup butter or margarine

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 3/4 cup powdered sugar (sifted)

Nutmeats – optional

Blend pudding mix, butter and milk in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil 1 minute. Stir in powdered sugar, vanilla and nutmeats. Pour in butter dish. Cool. Cut into squares.

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Patty Christopher is a longtime columnist for the Parkersburg News and Sentinel.

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