Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Clean Slate

New Year's Day
"You know how you're supposed to come up with a list of "resolutions" at the beginning of the year to try to make yourself a better person?
Well, the problem is, it's not easy for me to think of ways to improve myself, because I'm already pretty much one of the best people I know.
So this year my resolution is to try and help OTHER people improve. But the thing I'm finding out is that some people don't really appreciate it when you're trying to be helpful.
One thing I noticed right off the bat is that the people in my family are doing a lousy job sticking to THEIR New Year's resolutions."
taken from pages 1-2 Diary of a Wimpy Kid The Last Straw

And so begins the Wimpy Kid story by Jeff Kinney. The first few pages caught my attention since the story line in the first part of the book about resolutions is quite timely as 2009 draws to a close. Mr. Kinney has written a series of books for middle grade students. He was astute using a humorous approach written in a diary format to capture the spirit and interests of the middle school reader. The main character is in middle school and at times appears clueless how to handle social and school situations that come his way. Since this is an age group I have worked with his series appealed to me and has been an enjoyable read for me.
I recently hung a brand new 2010 calendar. Looking at it made me think of a clean slate. Soon begins a new year and new month. The January page hanging looks so clean and bare... no scribbles, scheduled appointments, events to attend, dates to remember or places to be at. A clean slate certainly is something to think about. Starting fresh has endless possibilities with chances to make some changes and new things to look forward to and just perhaps there may be some surprises awaiting each of us in 2010.
One thing to think about is tomorrow night. The appearance of the Blue Moon is a rather rare occasion. It is a full moon that appears twice in one month. Hopefully the skies will be clear to see this sight.
While you are planning for the New Year get yourself a cup of tea or coffee and grab a few cookies. Remember life is always better with a sweet treat!
Walnut Snowballs
Ingredients:
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/4 cups chopped walnuts
  • 2 sticks of butter
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 large egg yolk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
Directions:
  • Preheat oven to 350
  • Line cookie sheet with parchment paper
  • Sift first 4 ingredients in bowl and transfer 2 TB.flour mixture to food processor and add walnuts. Process till walnuts are finely chopped.
  • In another bowl beat butter until fluffy add 1-1/4 cup powdered sugar and beat well
  • Add egg yolk, vanilla and beat in flour mixture and nuts
  • chill dough in freezer for one hour
  • Shape into balls
  • Bake 10-12 minutes until brown on bottom and cracked a bit on top
  • Roll balls ( 2 at a time) in remaining powdered sugar use a bowl for this step
  • Cool on wire rack-sift more powdered sugar over the top when cooled


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Winter Getaway

Any Winter Getaway headline will command your attention this time of the year when the flurry of activity from the holiday season subsides and the temperatures take a dip. One of my favorite Christmas cards has a picture of Santa wearing a lei on the beach doing the hula with two native women. He is standing next to his sleigh that has been beached on shore. Title on back of card How Santa Unwinds. Do you not wish you could join them for a little bit of fun...warm breezes, sunshine, Margaritas on the beach??? What more can I say!
Perhaps we all need to create our own winter getaway when it is not possible to fly off to some far away place. Now I believe that sock fairies have the right idea about rewarding themselves with some much needed downtime. Since they have worked many long hours to complete a variety of sock accessories for the holiday season it is now time for the parties to commence. I have been told that between Christmas and New Years a different fairy takes a turn hosting a gathering in their home. It is up to the hostess to choose a theme for the evening. Some foods that will be served are nutshells filled to the brim with fragrant juices, piles of hazelnut seeds and bowls of crab-apple jelly. Sprinklings of fairy dust will give the room a silvery sheen. Delicate gossamer strands woven around the room with tiny twinkling white lights add to the festive mood for decorations. Bunches of lavenders tied together with twigs provide a wonderful aroma. The music will be merry and lively to lift every one's spirits. Even if the snow keeps falling it will not stop any of their merrymaking. So my advice to you if your spirits dip in the upcoming weeks use this as an excuse to plan some type of get together with friends. Let some merrymaking be your Winter Getaway.

Cornbread Crostini Appetizers
Ingredients:
  • 1 package of Marie Callender cornbread mix (found in cake mix aisle)
  • variety of toppings:shaved ham, chopped walnuts, fig or cranberry chutney, apple slices, peppers
  • container of Boursin cheese: garlic herbs, spinach artichoke

Directions:

  • Grease mini muffin pans
  • Heat oven 350
  • Put a heaping tablespoon of batter in each muffin well
  • Cook 15 minutes remove cornbread and cool on a wire rack
  • Before serving place on a cookie sheet each cornbread muffin and re bake 375 for 5 minutes to crisp
  • Cool and frost each cornbread muffing with Boursin cheese and decorate with some of these suggested toppings
  1. strips of shaved ham and snips of dill
  2. apple slices
  3. dollop of fig chutney and sprinkle chopped walnuts
  4. roasted red peppers-cilantro or chives


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Is There A Santa Claus?

In a recent blog titled Why We Should Believe I wrote about the importance of believing in magical happenings, particularly the existence of Santa and fairies, but not necessarily at the same time! Recently I read a newspaper article that reprinted that famous letter written to Virginia, by the editor of Baltimore Sun newspaper in 1897. Virginia was an eight year old girl who wrote to the paper wanting to know Is There A Santa Claus?
With Christmas Eve fast approaching, I know many children are anxiously awaiting a visit from Santa. So I thought it a perfect time to write the editor's response to her question. This is part of the letter written by Francis Pharcellus Church to Virginia O' Hanlon.
Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus
He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas, how dreary would be the world if there was no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernatural beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God he Lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now Virgina, nay ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
So readers... to me this editorial response is a fine example of editorial journalism and supports my belief in Santa and fairies.
Merry Christmas to all of you!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Last Minute Gift Idea

I made a huge discovery recently as I was doing some last minute gift shopping. I found an unusual but quite useful sock accessory...gloves. Look carefully at the picture. These chic gloves are really two for the price of one. Pull back the mitten top, secure it with button and now you have fingerless gloves. Pull mitten top back over fingers and your hands remain warm and toasty with no skin exposed.
The following are 10 top reasons why these fingerless gloves/mittens should be purchased for MN winters
10.You have just finished painting your nails they need to dry and its time to leave for a party
9. You have just filled up your car with gas and need to pay at the pump with a credit card
8. You will be able to use your laptop outside
7. Lacing skates at an outdoor rink will be easier in the cold
6. Can text and twitter your friends for longer periods while standing outside
5. You will be able to sit for extended time watching your favorite sport game
4. Purchasing these gloves/mittens provides a reason for fairies to collect socks
3. Keeps your hands warm while shoveling all the projected snow in the next few days
2. Makes a wonderful gift for that special someone
1. Gives me a reason to use my Herberger's coupon

The following is a new recipe I tried for a brunch. I discovered a new product called Nutella which is a European hazelnut and chocolate spread. It is located in the aisle where peanut butter is found.
Nutella Swirl Pound Cake
Ingredients:
4 large eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten
2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 all purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 sticks of butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 jar (13 oz.) Nutella (warm jar in a bowl of hot water)
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven 325 - grease and dust with flour a loaf pan 9x5 inches
  2. Combine eggs and vanilla and lightly beat
  3. In another bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt mix well
  4. Combine butter and sugar and cream about 3 minutes
  5. With mixer at on medium speed pour egg mixture into bowl in a slow stream
  6. Turn mixer to low add flour mixture 1/2 cup at a time
  7. After last addition mix for 30 seconds
  8. Pour half the batter in pan
  9. Spread 1/2 of the jar on top of batter and smooth over batter with spatula
  10. Pour rest of batter over Nutella
  11. Run a butter knife through batter to create marbling. Do not over mix.
  12. Bake about 1 hour and check with toothpick should come out of center clean
  13. Cool in pan 10 minutes invert and place on wire rack to cool

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Why We Should Believe

Last week in the Parade section of the Sunday newspaper there was an interesting article titled Why We Should Believe in Santa Claus subtitle: Myths Make The World A More Enchanted Place by Alexander McCall Smith. He is the well known author of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. What intrigued me was the unusual subject of to believe or not to believe in Santa from a man whose mystery stories usually are set near the land of Zimbabwe where he grew up. But what really caught my attention (which anything about fairies does) is when he talked about the moment in the play Peter Pan when the audience is invited to revive the dying fairy Tinkerbell and is told, if you believe in fairies, clap you hands. Mr. McCall Smith went on to note that perhaps there are times when we need to pretend to believe in things we know that are not true. We know that the world is a place where much suffering and hardship prevail and perhaps myths help us get by. I loved these following sentences in the article referencing myths. "The day they all die and we tell our children exactly how things are, the world will be a poorer, less enchanted place. So don't be ashamed to clap your hands at Peter Pan or act as if Santa exists. He stands for kindness and generosity, and those things are alive and will continue to be alive-as long as we believe in them."
FYI... I have always counted myself in as a believer of magical happenings whether it be fairies or Santa. How about you?
My holiday entertaining continues with a brunch tomorrow. This is the recipe for a quiche I am serving.
Ham Swiss Cheese/Asparagus Quiche
Ingredients:
1 /2 box Pappy pie crust mix thawed (2 pieces of dough)
2 cups Swiss cheese grated
6 eggs
1 cup whipping cream (liquid) and 1 cup half and half
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. parsley flakes
1 tsp. dried dill
1 cup finely chopped cooked ham
1 cup chopped cooked asparagus (first cooked al dente)
Directions:
  • Roll out 2 of the 4 pieces of pie crust mix and line a 9 in pie pan with it fluting edges
  • On top of pie crust place piece of foil and smooth into the sides
  • Bake pie shell 5 minnutes at 425
  • Remove from oven and remove foil
  • Sprinkle on bottom of pie crust grated cheese, onions, ham and asparagus chunks
  • In a blender place cream mixtures, spices and eggs blend till smooth
  • Around outside of pie pan crimp on lengths of foil all around to prevent crust from browning too much
  • carefully pour liquid ingredients over ham mixture
  • Bake at 425 15 minutes
  • Reduce temperatrure to 300 cook 40 minutes or until knife comes out clean from center
  • Remove foil from around crust and let stand 10 minutes before serving

Monday, December 14, 2009

Snowed In

This is the time of the year when children fervently pray for a sign. Now you ask what sign? It's the one that comes at the bottom of the TV screen announcing an upcoming blessed event: Snow Day! I can assure that teachers also will be included in this fervent prayer group. But I want to add another group out there that hopes for a Snow Day...sock fairies. They want to stay inside warmed by the fire and use this time to catch up on their many sock accessories knitting projects. As the holidays draw near they have many gifts to make. Hopefully, the fairies have enough socks collected in their pile so they do not have to go out and about finding more in the frigid temperatures. Several blogs back, I mentioned a hot selling item for the season: arm warmers. These chic sleeves are also called gauntlets. An average fingerless glove with a finished thumb hole is 6 inches around and 6 inches tall. It is possible if the fairy is creative, one average adult sock can be fashioned into two arm warmers for a human or perhaps a dozen or more for fairy friends. I found online free knitting instructions if you would like to make your own. Perhaps you may tire waiting for the sock fairy to magically appear with your pair.
Check out http://knitting.about.com/free_knitting_patterns
Here is an easy cookie recipe to add to your collection
Cherry Treasures

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine
  • 1-10 oz. jar maraschino cherries-well drained reserve 2 TB. liquid
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ! 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1-6 oz. package semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk not evaporated
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
Directions:
  • In a separate bowl stir together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt and set aside
  • Beat butter or margarine about 30 seconds
  • Add sugar and beat till fluffy
  • Add eggs and vanilla and beat well
  • Gradually add flour mixture and beat well
  • Chill dough mixture 30 minutes in refrigerator
  • Shape into 1 inch balls place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Press down center of ball with you thumb.
  • Drain cherries, reserving liquid and place cherry in center of cookie ball
  • Bake at 350 for 10 minutes
Frosting:
  • In small saucepan, combine chocolate and condensed milk. Cook and stir over low heat until chocolate is melted. Stir is 4 tsp reserved cherry juice. If frosting needs to be thinned use cherry juice.
  • Spoon 1 tsp. frosting over cooled cookies to cover cherry

Friday, December 11, 2009

Bright Spots

Sub-zero temperatures and a wintry landscape with only brief glimpses of the sun could send some spirits spiraling downwards this time of the year, but fear not, I have found some bright spots worth mentioning.
This past week I went to Como Park Conservatory to check out their holiday Poinsettia display. WOW, some hundreds of plants provided a dazzling array of color. It was hard not to overdo taking pictures and I am sharing a few with this blog. The tropical plants and warmth of the building provided some reflective moments thinking how nice a tropical get-away might be.
Another bright spot for me was reading on the Internet about the huge success Susan Boyle is currently having with her album which is sailing off the charts in sales. I am one of her biggest fans. What a heart-warming story her rise to fame has been! She was quoted as saying..."I am still the person I always was the wee lady from Blackburn. I still live in the same house. I still like the same things. I have never wanted to change. I have only wanted to be a professional singer and perhaps that's the way in which I think differently about myself now. I feel like a professional. "
Susan's journey has been amazing with her big dream to be recognized in the music profession. So my word of advice to you the readers, Dream big, anything is possible. FYI, I have put a request on my Santa list for her new CD. So lets hope it shows up in my stocking, which has been hung by the chimney with care. I have tried to be good!
Speaking of stockings, are any of you missing some? I have been wondering if those threads that I have seen on the floor and near the door are ones from a Christmas sock which is missing its mate. Could those mischievous fairies be busy at work? Perhaps they have been snatching up socks for the yarn to knit sock accessories for their friends as Christmas gifts?? The weather certainly is cold enought for leg and arm warmers much needed items. I have previously mentioned them in my blogs.
I am bringing this salad to a lunch today and thought it might be an easy one for you to try
Cashew-Pear Tossed Salad
Ingredients:
  • Mixed greens with baby spinach leaves
  • 2-3 ripe pears-cut in chunks with skin on
  • 1 cup salted cashews
  • 1 cup dried cherries
  • 2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
  • 1 large cucumber diced
  • Vidalia Onion Poppyseed dressing
Directions:
  • Mix greens, pears, nuts, cherries and cucumbers together
  • Grate cheese on top and add dressing just before serving

Monday, December 7, 2009

Bon Appetit Blog Envy Bake-Off

Dear Readers,
I am submitting this dessert recipe for a bake-off contest sponsored by Bon Appetit magazine. This brownie dessert was posted on my Thanksgiving blog but I am rewriting and posting it in this blog and submitting a photo as part of Bon Appetit submission process. You are encouraged to go online and vote for my recipe @ bonappetit.com/go/bakeoff
The deadline for voting is December 13th. Wish me luck.

Decadent Brownies
Ingredients:
  • 1 package (10 oz.) Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate squares (62% cacao) plus half of another 10 0z. package
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1/3 cup of butter
  • 2 TB. of coffee(liquid)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 3/4 cup flour plus 2 TB. of flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup of chopped walnuts
  • 2 TB. Kahula

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 325
  • Line a 8 inch pyrex pan with foil and grease
  • Heat in saucepan on low heat: chocolate, sugar ,butter, coffee stirring until smooth
  • Pour into a medium bowl and whisk in eggs one at a time till mixed.
  • Add vanilla, flour and salt and stir well.
  • Add chopped nuts and stir well
  • Bake 25-30 minutes until toothpick comes clean from the center
  • Cool pan on wire rack and remove cooled brownies from foil
  • Serve with whip cream or dust with powdered sugar
  • For a festive holiday touch sprinkle peppermint chips over whip cream

This recipe was adapted from one called Nestle Chocolatier Grand Chocolate Brownie Wedges found in a magazine.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Twas The Night before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas, all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas would soon be there.
A Visit from St. Nicholas 1822
written by Clement Clarke Moore
But while... those children were nestled all snug in their beds...the sock fairies, like St. Nicholas, spoke not a word..and went straight to their work. Their gossamer wings made not the slightest bit of flutter as they gathered up socks and sped through the night hoping to just stay ahead of jolly old St. Nick. As we all know, Christmas socks are colorful, come in variety of sizes but often are mismatched and generally are not hung in pairs. Fairies are quite careful at each home to leave at least a sock or two behind so St. Nicholas has something to fill. This story is shared to you, the reader, in case you hear of any unhappy children whose Christmas stocking has gone missing. Try to assure the child that the sock fairies are indeed on an important mission doing their job. They are doing their best to make sure every home that has a child snug in their bed while visions of sugar-plums dance in their heads has a stocking out for St. Nicholas to fill.
So if you should spy out on your lawn any bits of fuzzies and loose threads know that the sock fairies are out and about doing their best to make the holiday season just a little brighter for others.
Note that the feast day of St. Nicholas is December 6 and it is a custom to leave a your shoe outside your door before going to bed. Warning: I said shoe, but no socks!
This past week I have been on what I call a wisdom diet... soup. Since my jaw is still quite sore soup is easiest to handle. This recipe is quite tasty and makes a satisfying lunch/dinner.
Chicken Wild Rice Soup
Ingredients:
  • 4 cups cooked wild rice
  • optional: shredded cooked chicken or chunks of ham
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2- 1/2 cups fresh mushrooms
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup finely grated carrots
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 32 oz. container of chicken broth (Swanson low sodium)
  • 1/2 tsp. of the following spices... curry, dry mustard, paprika, marjoram, parsley flakes and 1/4 tsp.pepper
  • 4 TB sherry or white wine
  • 3/4 cup half and half

Directions:

  • Saute onion, celery, carrots and mushrooms in butter and set aside
  • In a soup pot on medium heat add chicken broth, whisk flour into broth with spices
  • Cook till slightly thick about 8 minutes
  • Add cooked wild rice, celery, onion, carrot, mushroom mixture and chicken or ham
  • Reduce temp. to low heat and stir in half and half and sherry or wine cook for about 30 minutes

Tips:

  • Do not let mixture boil and if need soup to be thicker can add 1-2 TB flour using a whisk
  • If making ahead add sherry or wine right before serving

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

GOT WISDOM?

Wisdom the ability to perceive or determine what is good, true or sound, common sense;sound judgement
Yesterday I mourned the partial loss of my wisdom which has carried me up to middle age. One of my impacted wisdom teeth was extracted and considering the discomfort I am currently experiencing the tooth fairy should leave a rather huge chunk of cash as a bit of consolement for the inconvenience.
Wisdom Tooth last molar tooth on either side of of the upper and lower jaw usually appearing between the ages of 17 and 25.
Interesting that I have been one of those rare people who at my age would still have a wisdom tooth to lose which then got me to thinking a bit more about the other meaning of wisdom and how some strive for it and others just naturally gain it during the course of life.
I found on the Internet some quotes about wisdom attributed to certain people and thought I would test your knowledge. But need to mention how disappointed I was that that out of all the questions on this one trivia test not one women was mentioned so I had to look at other sources to present a balanced sampling.
1. Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.
Alexander Bell
Gandhi
Freud
Thomas Edison
2. Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.
Frances Scott key
Ben Franklin
Thomas Jefferson
3. A picture is worth a thousand words
Napoleon
Leonardo da Vinci
Michaelangelo
4. Speak softly and carry a big stick and you will go far
Franklin Roosevelt
Woodrow Wilson
Theodore Roosevelt
5. You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do
Henry Ford
J.D. Rockefeller
W. Vanderbilt
6. Because men and women are the complement of one another we need a woman's thought in national affairs to make a safe and stable government
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Sarah Palin
Eleanor Roosevelt
7. We are pencils in the hand of God -writing love letters to the world.
Emily Dickerson
Golda Meir
Mother Teresa
8. You are unique, and if that is not fulfilled then something has been lost.
Whoppi Goldberg
Martha Graham
Amelia Earhart
9. Lasting change is a series of compromises. And compromise is all right, as long as your values don't change.
Jane Goodall
Abigail Adams
Hillary Clinton
10. Sometimes questions are more important than answers.
Maya Angelou
Margaret Thatcher
Nancy Willard
Answers: Just in case you need them
1. Thomas Edison 2. Thomas Jefferson 3, Leonardo da Vinci 4. Theodore Roosevelt
5. Henry Ford 6. Elizabeth Stanton 7. Mother Teresa 8. Martha Graham 9. Jane Goodall
10. Nancy Willard
Recipe request for using a slow cooking pot/crockpot
Three Bean Casserole
Ingredients:
  • 1 lb. ground beef cooked and drained or pork sausage can be substituted
  • 1 cup of chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cans of baked beans in tomato sauce (21 oz.)
  • 1 can (150z.) lima beans drained
  • 1 can (150z.) kidney beans drained
  • 1 TB. dry mustard
  • 2 TB. white vinegar
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1 can chunky tomatoes basil/garlic/oregano
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • about 8 pieces of bacon cooked crisp

Directions:

  • Fry bacon and set aside
  • Cook hamburger or sausage and drain
  • Mix the meat mixture with all other ingredients
  • Place in slow cooker and cook on low heat 1 1/2 hours covered
  • To serve sprinkle bacon on top