Tuesday, September 24, 2013

12 Weeks of Christmas Treats Blog Hop: Week 1 -- Well, hello Dolly

To add to my Christmas fun, I'm participating in Meal Time Magic's 12 Weeks of Christmas Treats Blog Hop.  I have so many ideas for baking and freezing goodies this year!  Some involve experimenting with new recipes.  Some involve trying new flours and milks to create treats for family members with gluten and dairy sensibilities.  For the first week, however, I came up with an adaptation of an old tried and true treat:  Hello Dollies.  I haven't made these in years, and my husband's eyes lit up when he came home and saw a pan sitting on the counter to cool.  :)

I must say that these are easy to bake, simple to freeze, delightfully sweet, deliciously rich, and not-one-whit good for you  They surely are yummy, though, and filling.  A few bites go a long way, even for moi -- the chocoholic.

There are many versions of this recipe on the Internet, and, I assume, in old cookbooks and on recipe cards traded among friends.  Below is the recipe my mother clipped from the Atlanta newspaper.  Unfortunately, the date is not on the clipping.  I have an idea that it is from the early seventies, as I seem to remember that's when we first enjoyed them.  At any rate, the early seventies, when I was a young teen and a novice cook, is when I learned how to make them.  
Even younger children can follow this recipe with close supervision.

1 stick butter
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 cup coconut
1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup chocolate chips
1 can condensed milk

Melt butter in square pan. Add other ingredients, one at a time and in the order they are in the recipe. Make sure that the mixture is evenly spread.  Do not stir.  Bake 30 minutes in oven preheated to 325 degrees.  Cut in small squares.

As you can see, I used a 9 by thirteen pan and used more graham cracker crumbs, coconut, nuts, and chocolate chips to stretch the recipe to fit.  I also used slivered almonds instead of chopped nuts. Note:  Many people use chopped pecans, but I also like walnuts or almonds). I am glad that I used almonds in this batch, but I wouldn't make such a heavy layer of them again. I cut the baked and cooled Hello Dollies into squares, placed them in one single layer in freezer bags and froze them.  (That was after my beloved Professor Doc Engineer hubby and I sampled them just to make sure that they were safe for our holiday guests.  :))

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, if only in my mind...La...La...La....

What does that photo have to do with the Christmas theme of this article?  Not much.  I just like it.  It's of my parents and me. Can you tell from the palm trees that we lived in north Florida?  My early Christmases were hardly white ones. In fact, one of my grandfathers visited from Tennessee one Christmas, and he could not get over the fact that the roses in our backyard were in full bloom.  Other than as a very young baby on a family trip to Tennessee, I did not see snow until I was ten years old.  I used to imagine that it would feel like cotton. Our "green" Christmases were very special to me, though, and I have fond memories of them.

Well, that's enough time spent on memory lane. :)  As I posted yesterday, I've started following the Holiday Grand Plan 2013.  This is a plan that helps you do fall cleaning, de-cluttering, and the like, as well as starting you on small steps toward having happy holidays. The plan focuses on all of the holidays, from Halloween to New Year's, and is adaptable to whatever holidays your family happens to celebrate.  The plan begins in September, which is why I'm already thinking forward to December.

I love all of the seasonal holidays.  I'm especially excited about Christmas this year, because this is the year that all of our family will be together in one place for Christmas. Plus, this will be the first time that my one year old granddaughter will come to our house for Christmas. (Our married children alternate between all being at home for Thanksgiving and being with their in-law for Christmas one year and vice versa the next.  We usually see our children sometime around the other holiday as well, but usually not all together at one time and in one place. Our children are especially attached to Thanksgiving and love the years when we do Thanksgiving at our house, but we all love Christmas, too.)

This week, the holiday grand plan offers questions to think about. One of them is, "What would your ideal holiday be like?" I've been giving that some pondering. Throughout my life, I've been blessed with wonderful holidays and truly merry Christmases. Even on those one or two occasions where my husband and I have not had our children home for Christmas or Thanksgiving, we've been able to have church family and other friends in to make the day cheery.

The only Christmas that came close to being off was the year that my daughter, then 18 mos. old, caught a stomach virus and had to be hospitalized a few days before the holiday.  I was nursing our son at the time, and I was not allowed to go see my daughter for the fear that I would carry germs back to our baby. My husband was allowed to go, however, and he did catch the virus and became brutally ill.  I was exhausted and only slightly ill. From us, the bug spread to many in my husband's extended family.  My parents, who lived in another state, came to celebrate with us. When they saw how sick we were, they jumped right in and nursed us.

At some point, I think the only two people in my family and my husband's who were still standing on the morning of Christmas Eve were my father and my mother-in-law. My mother-in-law was a nurse at the time, and she gave my husband a shot and some pills. My daughter was released from the hospital late on Christmas Eve, and her homecoming was the best Christmas present ever! However, though we were all over the violent part of the illness by then, we were still weak, and all my husband and I wanted to eat was grits. We finally did make it over to my mother-in-law's for a real Christmas meal, but I can't remember if it was on the 25th or later, after we all recovered.  Even that crazy time of sickness, though, has morphed into part of our family lore. It has become one small thread in the fabric that makes us "us".

Basically, my ideal Christmas revolves around the themes of "relationships" and "peace".  Some years, particularly when my children were teens, we were so busy in December that I started to feel "Scroogy" around the 20th or so. Our calender was packed with great things: service projects, children's recitals, parties, Christmas concerts, my husband's company Christmas dinners, etc.  Even too much wonderful, however, can overwhelm me, and I start singing, "It's the most stressful time of the year". Once the pre-holiday rush settles and family and friends start gathering in, I always get in the Christmas spirit and have a great time. I think that's why my ideal picture of Christmas is one of simplicity and peace. Of course, that has to start in the heart, with prayer and closeness to the Lord, and then it can work out from there.

To counter my inner Scrooge, I usually watch one of my two favorite versions of a Christmas Carol before the Christmas rush starts.  I watch it by myself, first.  Then, when it's being played over and over, I watch it with family.  My husband and I both love the story, and A Christmas Carol is our favorite holiday movie.       
My husband I both grew up in a church background that does not view December 25th as Jesus' actual day of birth and does not place much emphasis on religious holidays. It was pointed out that while the Bible describes the events surrounding Jesus' birth, it does not mention Christmas or command us to mark it with a particular holiday. We viewed Christ as someone to celebrate daily in our lives and weekly in communion, and that is still how I view Him. The spiritual intent of Christmas in our culture was acknowledged in our childhood churches, but not emphasized as much as it is in some traditions.

I do love the story of Jesus' birth, though, and Christmas is a lovely time to remember it and to share it with church, family, and friends. It's the one time of year when everyone celebrates some form of winter holiday, and that provides an opening to share Jesus with others. I love Christmas carols and hymns and Easter songs, as the lyrics remind us of our joy in the Lord.  I also like to learn about Christmas traditions from around the world. My dream is that every family gathering we have throughout the year will honor Christ and that His presence will be in us and with us.        

What about you?  Do you celebrate Christmas or not?  What are your childhood holiday memories?  What are your current traditions? What is your picture of the ideal Christmas?  Have you ever gotten an idealistic picture in your head of how the holidays should be and than have been disappointed if things didn't go exactly to plan? Have you been encouraged by joyful holidays? I'd love to hear from you. :)          



Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Counting down to the holidays!

Are you using a holiday organization plan this year?  There are lots of them on the Internet, and all look helpful.  Some are for 12 weeks; others, six; still others one month.  I'm going back to a tried and true plan: The Holiday Grand Plan.  This has been on the Internet in some form or another since the 90's.  I've done parts of it, but never have followed it all the way through.  This year, I think I will tackle it all.  I'm a week behind, though, so gotta run...