Sunday, November 30, 2014

Homemade Holiday Food Gifts

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910), better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist.
Bella's contribution for today's posting    

During the holidays,when budgets are tight, homemade food gifts are a heartfelt way to show you care. And don't forget the packaging. Check out Michael's and Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft stores for interesting containers, jars and boxes to pack your holiday  goodies in. 
Cranberry Hootycreeks
This link has several cookie mason jar recipes. scroll down to Dec 2, 2011 postings which include Cranberry Hootycreeks and Butterscotch Chips Cookie recipes.
This link has 25 mason jar recipes for holiday gift giving. 

Free printable labels

These ideas comes from Midwest Living 
Spiced Mixed Nuts
Give party nuts a holiday twist by roasting them with one of four flavors: Cocoa-Sugared Mix, Curry-Spiced Mix, Barbecue-Seasoned Mix and Asian Five-Spiced Mix. Find frosted-plastic boxes at crafts or scrapbooking stores to make the nuts easy to give away in single servings.
Asian Five-Spiced Mix

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • Asian Five-Spiced Mix (see recipe below)
  • 1/4 cup peanut oil or 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 4 cups pecan halves or 4 cups assorted nuts, such as pecan halves, walnut halves or pieces, whole unsalted cashews, almonds, dry-roasted unsalted peanuts and/or peeled hazelnuts
Asian Five-Spiced Mix Ingredients;
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon five-spice powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse black pepper
  • In a small bowl, combine water, brown sugar, five-spice powder, salt and pepper.
  • Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil; lightly coat with nonstick cooking spray. Set pan aside. 
  • In a small bowl, combine Asian Five Spice Mix with oil or melted butter. Place nuts in prepared pan. Drizzle butter mixture over nuts, tossing gently until well coated. Spread nuts out in an even layer on foil lined pan.
  • Bake in a 325 degree oven for 25 minutes, stirring twice. Remove from oven. Remove to a paper towel-lined baking sheet; cool. Serve at room temperature. Store any remaining nuts in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Cinnamon Praline Nuts
recipe from Taste of Home and makes 3 cups
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 cups pecan halves
  • 1 cup walnut halves
  • Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, mix the first five ingredients until blended. Add pecans and walnuts; toss to coat.
  • Transfer to a greased baking sheet. Bake 20-25 minutes or until toasted, stirring twice. Cool completely. Store in an airtight container. 
Caramel Crackers and Nuts
recipe from Taste of Home and makes about 3 quarts

  • 2 packages (6.6 ounces each) miniature cheddar cheese fish-shaped crackers
  • 1 cup dry roasted peanuts
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, cubed
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla
  • In a large greased bowl, combine crackers and peanuts; set aside. In a large heavy saucepan, combine the brown sugar, butter and corn syrup. Cook over medium heat until a candy thermometer reads 280° (soft-crack stage), stirring occasionally.
  • Remove from the heat. Stir in baking soda and vanilla. Pour over cracker mixture; quickly stir until evenly coated.
  • Transfer to two greased rimmed baking sheets. Bake at 250 degrees for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Cool; break apart. Store in airtight containers. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Louisa May Alcott and a Homemade Food Gift

Little Women is a novel by American author Louisa May Alcott (November 29, 1832–March 6, 1888), which was originally published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869. 

The novel follows the lives of four sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March—detailing their passage from childhood to womanhood, and is loosely based on the author and her three sisters. It falls into the genre of coming of age.

Little Women was an immediate commercial and critical success, and readers wanted to know more about the characters. Alcott quickly completed a second volume, entitled Good Wives. It was also successful. The two volumes were issued in 1880 as a single work entitled Little Women. Alcott also wrote two sequels to her popular work, both of which also featured the March sisters: Little Men (1871) and Jo's Boys (1886). Although Little Women was a novel for girls, it differed notably from the current writings for children, especially girls. The novel addressed three major themes: domesticity, work, and true love, all of them interdependent and each necessary to the achievement of its heroine's individual identity.

Perhaps you remember this picture of the Alcott family home I posted from my New England trip and the fact it was NOT a destination stop!! It would have been a highlight for me just to stand in the house and re-imagine life with the March family.  

Today is a celebration of the birth date of Louisa May Alcott born November 29,1832. Coincidentally she and her father Bronson Alcott share the same birth date.
For her books, Alcott was often inspired by familiar elements. The characters in Little Women are recognizably drawn from family members and friends.

However, Alcott's portrayal, even if inspired by her family, is an idealized one. For instance, Mr. March is portrayed as a hero of the American Civil War, a gainfully employed chaplain and, presumably, a source of inspiration to the women of the family. He is absent for most of the novel.
In contrast, Bronson Alcott was very present in his family's household, due in part to his inability to find steady work. While he espoused many of the educational principles touted by the March family, he was loud and dictatorial. His lack of financial independence was a source of humiliation to his wife and daughters. As was common at the time, Louisa had little formal education. She was taught mainly by her father using his unconventional ideas about education. She read from the library of neighbor Ralph Waldo Emerson and learned botany from Henry David Thoreau.
Louisa early on realized that her father's flighty educational and philosophical ventures could not adequately support the family so she sought ways to provide financial stability. She wrote short stories for magazines and published a collection of fables she'd originally written as tutor for Ellen Emerson, Ralph Waldo Emerson's daughter.

The March family is portrayed living in genteel penury, but the Alcott family, dependent on an improvident, impractical father, suffered real poverty and occasional hunger. In addition to her own childhood and that of her sisters, scholars who have come across the diaries of Louisa Alcott's mother, have surmised that Little Women was also heavily inspired by Abigail Alcott's own early life.

Of course, as a ten year old,  I was enraptured by the everyday life of the March family. I just assumed Alcott was writing her own life story. On a whim today I decided to reread the book (easy access downloading the book from the library to kindle).  I am still mesmerized by  Jo's adventurous spirit, how resilient the family members were facing poverty, their devotion to one another and the imaginative ways they were able to entertain themselves with very little. 
Banana Bread
Cook's notes: Banana bread is the first of several postings devoted to sharing homemade food gifts for the holiday. This recipe makes 2 regular size loaves or 6 mini loaves. The recipe has been adapted from Betty Crocker.
Rich buttermilk, crunchy nuts, toasted coconut and flavorful ripe bananas make this bread a gift anyone would love to receive. 
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 1-1/2 cups mashed very ripe bananas (3-4 bananas)
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2-1/2 cups all purpose flour or 1-1/4 cups white and 1-1/4 cups whole wheat 
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • optional 1/3 cup toasted coconut
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two loaf pans or 6 mini pans.
  • Mix sugars and butter in a large bowl. Beat until well combined. Stir in eggs and mix well.
  • Add mashed bananas,buttermilk and vanilla. Beat until smooth.
  • Stir in flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt mix just until moistened. Stir in nuts and coconut, divide batter among the pans. 
  • Bake bread in loaf pans for 35- 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center. 
  • Bake bread in mini pans 25-30 minutes.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Reindeer Fun and William Blake

Join in on some reindeer fun by getting a jump start on holiday planning.
Here’s what you need:
  • Baggies
  • Oats
  • Sprinkles
  • Glitter
  • …and anything else you might want to add!
printable labels.

peanut butter cookies decorated with chocolate covered pretzels
and M & M's

peanut butter and jelly reindeer sandwiches 

great link below on ideas to host a  reindeer party with making gingerbread houses
Reindeer Root Beer
or could switch the idea up for the grown-ups with an assortment of craft beers.
Last but not least there is always the pinterest site-just type in reindeer ideas 
William Blake ( November 28, 1757 – August 12, 1827) was an English painter, poet and printmaker.  Largely unrecognized during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a significant figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. He is held in high regard for his expressiveness and creativity. Reverent of the Bible but hostile to the Church of England, he was influenced by the ideals and ambitions of the French and American Revolution.

A Visit to William Blake's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers is a children's picture book written by Nancy Willard and illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen. 
The title alludes to Willard's inspiration by 'William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.'

The book was published by in 1981. In 1982 Willard won the Newberry Medal. The Provensens were one runner-up for the Caldecott Medal from the professional children's librarians the same year. William Blake's Inn remains the only Newbery-winning book that is also a "Caldecott Honor Book".

‘The Tyger’ is perhaps the most famous of all Blake’s lyric poems. First published in 1794 in the collection 'Songs of Experience', it has thrilled children and has had academics arguing for over 200 years as to its meaning. Whether the poem is simply a delightful lyric for children or a political allegory of the French Revolution remains a hotbed of discussion. Whatever the case, it remains an evocative piece by Blake at his most inspired.

I was quite taken with these two pages. The simplicity of the words evoke strong images for me.

One last word on The Grapes of Wrath.
Uproar continues...
Tonight Minnesota made the national news on the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. They featured a follow up segment over the controversial move of the New York Times food critic picking the grape salad as the most representative dish of the state. Apparently New York Times Facebook site had some 10, 000 negative comments.  Goes to show Minnesota is not embracing the grape salad as their own. I guess we are not always Minnesota Nice!

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Wishing all of you the blessings of the season
Happy Thanksgiving

"Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for."
-- Zig Ziglar
When Giving Is All We Have 
by Alberto Rios                      One river gives
                                                  Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,

But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Let's Talk Turkey

Thanksgiving is just right around the corner. And this holiday can hardly happen without Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Minnesota tops the nation in turkey production (45 million) followed by North Carolina (35 million) Arkansas (29 million) Indiana and Missouri (17 million), and Virginia (16 million).
Meanwhile Wisconsin is a national leader in growing cranberries. It will produce 538 million pounds, followed by Massachusetts at 210 million pounds.
Rich Turkey Gravy
Cooking Tip: While the turkey roasts, it releases lots of concentrated flavor into the pan. This is where the gravy takes on another dimension. So as the bird rests, roll up your sleeves and get to work. Adding cold stock to warm roux means lumpy gravy. So make sure the stock and turkey drippings are heated before you add them to roasting pan to make the gravy. For a really smooth  gravy (with no lumps), add finished gravy to blender, mix and then add gravy back into saucepan.  Keep gravy on low heat covered until serving.
  • 3-3-1/2 cups poultry stock from roasting pan
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 dry white wine, brown ale or apple cider
  • 1-2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
  • Fresh herbs such as thyme, parsley and 1 tsp. dried herbes de provence. 
  • Carefully lift the turkey roasting pan and strain juices into a large measuring cup over the sink.  Skim fat from the surface.  
  • Remove turkey from the roasting pan. There will be juices in the roasting pan. Place roasting pan over two burners set to medium high heat. 
  • Add 1/2 cup white wine or 1/2 cup apple cider to roasting pan. Scrape any brown bits and cook wine or apple cider until almost evaporated 2 minutes.
  • Reduce heat and whisk in 1/2 cup flour. Cook, whisking until roux is deep golden brown, about 5 minutes. 
  • Whisking gradually ladle stock mixture into roux until thickened. Add in 1-2 tsp. apple cider vinegar. Mix well. Stir in herbs and season with salt and pepper. 
  • Keep warm until ready to serve.
One last word on stuffing 
  • Start with stale bread. Drying it out overnight is the key to flavor absorption and a sog free stuffing.
  • You don't have to add meat to the stuffing, but it does deliver a nice savory note. Consider using chorizo (pork sausage) or Italian sausage.
  • Use this flavor building trio; sage,celery and onion
  • You'll need lots of liquid, so stock is a must. 
  • Add a little flair to your stuffing. If making cornbread stuffing add in tart dried cherries or cranberries. Salted pepitas give stuffing a nice crunch or toasted pecans.
Bon Appetit  
The World According to Bella
Check out my latest Gratitude story on 

and Mrs. S's Corncake Crostini Appetizers
Love, Bella

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The World According to Bella

Today I am thankful for the United States Postal Service because... 
1. They make me so happy. I get letters delivered with treats from my secret admirer.
I'm now getting snacks that do not crumble in the mail
 2 . They have remembered to forward my mail from the lake to the cities.
3. They delivered a box to me yesterday from with my pain meds. Inside the box were extra treats for me. 
4. They sent me an apology gift. Imagine the post office doing that!! 
The envelope was really ripped up. So the post office put the letter in a plastic bag saying they really sorry my mail was damaged. To make me feel better they even put in a gift card inside the envelope. Mrs. S wants you to know that I am NOT making this up. She had to explain to me what a Trader Joe's gift card is. She assured me we'd find a pet section and there would be something I'd like. 
So I think the postal service is just the BEST.  
What are you thankful for?
Love, Bella 
Thanksgiving Countdown
to roast 
to brine 
to deep fry 
to spatchcock
to braise
to grill
to smoke
to prop on a beer can 

to bag
to stew
to immerse in a water bath 
that is the question.
So no matter what method you choose 
I wish you luck cooking on this Thanksgiving day.

spatchcocking will change the way you think about and eat turkey?
The super crisp skin is worth the bold move. This method disposes of the backbone so the bird can be flattened and cooked skin side up. It is a game changer. Because the turkey is butterflied, there's more surface available for even browning and the high cooking temperature means crackly, crispy skin. And one of the best parts is the turkey cooks in almost half the amount of time. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Apple Roasted Pork with Cherry Balsamic Glaze

Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa or simply Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec 
(November 24,1864 –September 9, 1901) was a French painter, printmaker, draughtsman and illustrator.
Toulouse-Lautrec was drawn to Montmartre, an area of Paris famous for its bohemian lifestyle and for being the haunt of artists, writers, and philosophers. When the nearby Moulin Rouge cabaret opened its doors, Toulouse-Lautrec was commissioned to produce a series of posters. Thereafter, the cabaret reserved a seat for him, and displayed his paintings. Among the well-known works that he painted for the Moulin Rouge and other Parisian nightclubs is this poster.
Throughout his career, which spanned less than 20 years, Toulouse-Lautrec created 737 canvases, 275 watercolours, 363 prints and posters, 5,084 drawings, some ceramic and stained glass work, and an unknown number of lost works.His debt to the Impressionists in particular the more figurative painters Manet and Degas is apparent. His style was influenced by the classical Japanese wood prints which became popular in art circles in Paris.
Apple Roasted Pork with Cherry Balsamic Glaze
Cook's notes: A festive alternative meal to a turkey dinner. Serve with a mixed vegetable medley and sweet potato fries.
Recipe adapted from Taste of Home and serves 6-8
  • 1 boneless pork loin roast  (3 lbs.) 
  • 1-1/2 tsp.salt, divided
  • 3/4 tsp. pepper, divided
  • 1/4 cup olive oil  or Tuscan Herb
  • 3 medium apples, sliced
  • 1-1/2 cups unsweetened apple juice
  • 3 cups diced onions
  • 3 TB. balsamic vinegar or Dark Chocolate Balsamic
  • 1-1/2 cups frozen pitted dark sweet cherries
  • 1/2 cup cherry juice 
  • 1 TB. cornstarch
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle roast with 1 tsp.salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper. 
  • In a large ovenproof Dutch oven heat 2 TB. olive oil over medium heat. Brown roast on all sides.
  • In a skillet add remaining olive oil, onions and the rest of salt and pepper. Cook and stir for 8 minutes until softened. Add to roast. 
  • Add apple juice and apples to the pan. Roast pork with apples and 0nions 50-60 minutes or until a thermometer reads 145 degrees. Baste pork occasionally with pan juices.
  • In a saucepan add cherry juice and cornstarch. Mix well, add in balsamic vinegar and cherries. Cook on low heat until thickened. 
  • Serve cherry sauce over roast pork with softened apples and onions.  

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Scandinavian Christmas at Bachmans and a Holiday Treat

Each season, designers transform the historic Bachman’s home on Lyndale Avenue (Minneapolis, MN) by repainting, refurnishing, and redecorating the entire house with their signature mix of new items, repurposed pieces, and a touch of vintage.
Each room had its own unique theme and story, from Scandinavian roots and modern plaids to woodland escape, a bit of Christmas nostalgia and of course, glorious shades of classic red. The Holiday Idea House is open until December 14th.  
If you time it right get your amaryllis bulbs to bloom in a stunning display right at Christmas time. 
Vintage Christmas signs in the kitchen. 
Ideas for decorating chair backs in the dining room and  on
the porch using striped winter scarves.
There were lots of window treatments to consider using your imagination and a visit to a craft store/fabric store for supplies. 
Dishtowels with a casing sewn in at the top and then hung on thin line anchored with clothespins. 
If you happen to be a card player who needs drapes for your game room then this idea is for you :)
Looking for an idea on how to use a vintage suitacase hiding in your attic. How about this... create a winter scene complete with lights.
A vintage ladder used to organize kitchen utensils.
Even though this was in the game room it was my favorite kid idea. Paint an old table with chalkboard paint. Just think of the fun kids could have with it. This table would even make holiday dining more pleasurable when kids are banished from the grownup table for their meal to the kids' table. 
Perhaps you found some holiday inspiration with these ideas or create something new by repurposing stuff you already have. 
 Cook's notes: My head was brimming with ideas after I left the Holiday Idea House. A cup of coffee and one of my favorite cookies hit the spot.  This has been one of my favorite tried and true recipes from the book. You know its a keeper when food stains highlight the page! 
Peanut Butter Chocolate Kisses
recipe adapted from Betty Crocker's Cookie Book p.78
Makes 1-1/2 dozen. Recipe easily doubled to make 3 dozen.

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter softened
  • 1/4 cup margarine
  • 1/2 cup chunky Skippy Peanut Butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 1-1/4 cups flour (I used 1 cup white flour and 1/4 cup whole wheat flour) 
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 package of Hershey Kisses (unwrapped candies)  
  • Beat sugars, butter, margarine, peanut butter and egg.
  • Stir in remaining ingredients, mix well and place bowl in freezer for an hour or in refrigerator for three hours.
  • Heat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Shape dough into 1-1/2 inch balls and place on an ungreased sheet. Flatten slightly with a fork dipped in flour. 
  • Place 3 inches apart and bake 9-10 minutes 
  • Immediately remove cookies from oven and add a chocolate kiss to each one.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

Meet Minnesota Author Barbara Saefke

NAC 2020 AUTHOR VIRTUAL TOUR MEET MINNESOTA AUTHOR BARBARA SAEFKE Barbara E. Saefke author Mystery and Romance Barbara...