I’m quite particular about the sugar cookies I’ll eat. Most anything that comes in a box or tin? Pass.
I like to save my sugar cookie treats for the good stuff: soft and homemade. Offer me one of those and I might fight you for it. This gem of a recipe comes from my Aunt Naomi, from a small cookbook she compiled and entitled, “Good Food That Won’t Kill You.” Is that convincing or what?
Not too sweet, these sugar cookies are delicious even without the frosting. They’re perfection.
We make them once, maybe twice a year, at Christmas and Valentine’s.
Are you on our nice list? We might deliver!
Our decorating is top-notch, don’t you agree?
Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies
4 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup shortening
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cups buttermilk
For the frosting:
Um, better Google that. I’m a Betty Crocker type of frosting girl 🙂
In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder. Add shortening with a fork (or electric mixer) until crumbly.
In a small bowl, beat together eggs, vanilla, soda, and buttermilk.
Add wet ingredients to dry and mix until combined (I like to do this right in my stand mixer, being careful not to overmix).
Chill one hour for better rolling.
Roll out to 1/4 inch thickness and cut into shapes. Yield: about 4 dozen cookies.
Bake at 350 degrees for 7-9 minutes. Take out of oven before they brown.
When cool, frost, sprinkle, dunk, devour, deliver.
Instead of long “I want” lists, the darlings carefully choose what they most want and need. Whew. It sure makes Santa’s job easier. Santa especially loves the “one thing to light up the world.” Because the world surely does need hope and light.
This year, as we try to “light up the world,” we’re going to focus on serving more locally. For instance, Mert is in the veteran’s home this year, his first Christmas without his Bertha. He sits by the elevator, waiting for someone to visit. Wouldn’t it be lovely to jump out of the elevator with kisses and cards?
And then there’s our dear Anne who visits Harry, who is also in the veteran’s home, but Harry can’t remember his beloved wife’s name. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to play secret Santa?
How about caroling Mr. Goody who lives alone in that big house?
Or how about that coat drive at the elementary school? Of the food pantry which always empties as soon as it’s full?
It’s a busy time of year, but I’m trying to slooooooow down this bus, to look around, and do something for someone else. Funny how that makes for such a magical Christmas.
A “Favorite Things” gift guide, perhaps stocking or Christmas ideas, of some ordinary, everyday items that are very loved around this house. Are you ready for the excitement? Well, let’s talk about my…vacuum! (see? I told you it was exciting!)
1. It’s called The Shark. And I love it. After months of looking and agonizing, we bought The Shark with the 7-year warranty. I’ve always had an upright, but really do l love this. My love affair with the vacuum continues…just with a different vacuum!
2. The Whirley Pop. “This looks too grimy and used to post,” I said to Brynne. “That’s because we use it so much,” she responded. Good answer. We love it. A LOT.
3. I’m obsessed with all things lemon. I bought this 3-pack at Sam’s. I think it’s supposed to be a gift…for someone else. But I LOVE it. Can’t seem to find this set on-line, would we love Mrs. Meyer’s as much?
4. Neutrogena or Target brand grapefruit acne wash. So lovely (and teens adore!)
5. Lemon again! This stuff. Oh man. A mix between a vaseline and lotion, I use it on my lips, eyes, hands. Also in lavender. It’s divine. Out of San Diego, its coming soon to a website near you…
6. I’m not a big lipstick girl, but I do adore this color. Bare Minerals Marvelous Moxie in Break Away. Look for sales b/c this is more than I’d normally spend on a lipstick!
7. Jane’s Jumbo Eyeshadow/liner. Sign up for Jane’s “daily deal” and you’ll see this deal often: a smooth-gliding jumbo liner for less than $5. I wear this almost every day and my eyes don’t look nearly so tired.
8. Cocoa butter? Oh, the smell! I adore this. The only problem is you’ll want to eat it. Find in the grocery store!
9. A splurge for The Professor. What can I say? He likes his ground pepper. This Le Creuset is beautiful and high quality.
11. Dansko’s Black Tooled Clog. I bought these a year ago, wear them almost daily, and they still look brand new. Best investment. Great quality clog for the mama who doesn’t bother to polish or wipe scuffs…does anyone do that anymore? 12. SkipHop Messenger Bag. So, uh, technically this is a diaper bag. But I bought it at a big Nordstrom sale this summer for 1/2 the price. I use it for school…minus the diapers. I adore it; It’s durable, wipeable, cute.
14. Whitney English Day Designer. I really love this daytimer. It’s a big splurge, but you can try out the free printables if you’re considering. Really great if you like a day planner with monthly, weekly, and hour-by-hour pages. This year I went back to my $15 cheapy. I’m already regretting.
15. Just sayin’. I can only find these at Christmas…and I found them…
16. It’s Holiday Streaking time again! I wish I had posted early, but if you’d like this as a word document or Google doc, I’ll send it to you!
Don’t call my crafty or anything, but this is heaven in a fairy pillow.
Thought I’d share some heaven in a pillow with you. My Brynnie-the-Pooh came over the river and through the woods, from grandmother’s house with the most darling and deliciously-clean smelling drawer pillows:
“Smell this, Mommy!” she said excitedly.
Oh, it truly was heaven in a fairy pillow!
“We made them! First you beat the tree – Grandma was making all these weird noises while she beat the tree with a broom…here I’ll demonstrate.”
So she demonstrated how one beats a tree with a broom making cavewoman-like noises, and ta-da! all the dry pine needles fall off onto the floor.
First, let’s pay homage to that beautiful christmas tree that was once cut fresh, sold on a lot, wrangled into the house, planted in a pot of water, dressed, tangled with lights, attacked by small children and pets, and glowed bright all month long.
As the weeks wore on and the pellet stove blew dry, hot air, hundreds and hundreds of pine needles fell.
By January 1, I am more than ready to say good-bye. The tree has done its duty. It’s time to have that big ol’ bonfire in the backyard!
But hark! Grandma has a story, an old tradition.
“Every Christmas, when I was a little girl, I would make pine needle pillows and send one to my grandmother.”
In my head I can see the the sock drawer being opened. Day after day, the fresh scent of pine floats through the air, reminding a grandmother of her granddaughter. It’s a Donald Hall or Tomie DePaola story book story if I’ve ever heard one (I’ll let him know.)
Oh yes, we had to do this.
So we took off the ornaments and packed them away. The lights were untangled, tangled back up, and stuffed into a bin.
And then the beating of the tree began. What great, messy fun this was for a kid!
Seeing my husband’s face? Quite priceless.
“What the heck are you doing?” he asked, as pine needles flew threw the air.
“We’re beating the tree, of course and making pine needle pillows!”
To his credit, he turned around and walked back into the kitchen. The beating unleashed a fragrant christmas tree smell that wafted throughout the house – it smelled so good!After our tree was truly Charlie Brown-worthy, I threw it out the front door with nary a trail left behind. The girls then took all the pine needles and rubbed them together between their hands so nothing was left on the sticks.
A bowl full of fragrant and soft pine needles
We ironed a bit (optional) and cut squares, turning the fabric inside out.
Sew 3 and 3/4 quarters around the square on the sewing machine, then turn the fabric right side out.
Load pine needles into the pillow, and sew up small hole by hand.
These little pillows smell so good, and the girls are so excited to give them away as teacher and family gifts. Etsy has quite a few ideas, but I’m partial to my fairies 🙂
A grandmother-mother-daughter-christmas tradition lives on.
I’ve been intrigued by the concept of meditation ever since reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s wonderful memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. I laughed at her description of trying to sit very quietly and letting go of all angst, worry, and to-do lists…because she couldn’t do it for a long time.
I can’t do it either. Fidget, fidget, and a million random thoughts.
I don’t know how to mediate. What am I supposed to think about? I pray all the time, but admittedly, I have a feeling I’m a tad more rushed, anxious, and distracted than a Zen monk.
This past summer I committed to getting up extra early and sitting on the floor in front of my bedroom window where the sun rises. For months it was glorious. Sun on my face. Sitting quietly, saying a prayer, and reading a spiritual passage.
It did make a big difference with how I felt both physically and emotionally. I felt calmer, more “centered” (that’s such a zen word, isn’t it?), and patient. Was this meditation?
However, in New Hampshire it becomes dark so quickly, that by October there was no sun streaming through my window at 6. Since sitting on a cold dark floor was too hard; I struggled to keep reading and feeling “centered.”
But the goal remained. Over the last few months I have read a bit about meditation and the great brain benefits. In addition, my Anatomy & Physiology class is finishing up a unit of the great brain; I needed to try meditation!
Meditation Benefits: Clarity, increased creativity, increased productivity, greater peace of mind
Being the Christmas season and all I’m feeling a bit stressed out. To say the least. If there was ever a time when I really wanted peace of mind, to really enjoy a wonderful time of year, it was right now. One of the biggest excuses I use not to meditate is I don’t want to take the time, but if meditation could help me be more productive AND peaceful at Christmas time, it was worth the extra minutes of effort.
So, after an early morning run this morning, in which it rained freezing ice pellets on me the entire time (Holiday Streakers! – another commitment!), I sat down on my living room floor with my wet clothes still on. I sat in front of the fire and the dog and the Christmas tree, plugged in my ear buds, and attempted to meditate like a zen monk. No excuses!
The free Holosync demo was 20 minutes. 20 minutes! Who has 20 minutes?
Be quiet. Listen.
It began with sounds of falling rain.
Oh, I like that…it’s raining outside. Wouldn’t it be faster to just listen to real rain? Sh!
Then a voice came on to tell me how wonderful meditation was and I too could buy a year’s subscription!
This sounds like internet marketing. Well, I’m not buying! We are saving money this year! Man I sound just like Luther Crank from Grisham’s SKIPPING CHRISTMAS. I’m as grouchy as he is too.
While the sales pitch goes on, it also says I’m hearing sound technology that will help my neural connections. Yeah, I could use more neural connections. It’s like African drum beats with rain. It’s nice. I try to block out the sales pitch and breathe all zen.
Is he going to stop talking soon? Can I really sit here for 20 minutes?
Remember that last time you tried to meditate sitting next to Gregor? That didn’t last more than five minutes before we burst out laughing. We’re so immature.
Focus. THIS is your problem. You need to focus. Breathe in 1-2-3-4-5 Hold for 1-2. Exhale for 1-2-3-4-5 and Hold for 1-2.
My mind wanders to the open computer where I’m plugged in.
Don’t you dare check your email! But there’s like a million messages. Dang it, there’s a new lesson from Power of Moms about organizing your life. You still haven’t cleared your inbox. You’ve got to do that today. Today! It has to be TODAY! Breathe 1-2-3-4-5 and Hold 1-2. Close your eyes.
I swear, along with the drum beats and falling rain, this pitch goes almost fifteen minutes.
I’m cold. I should have showered first. But then I’d never start meditating. Scoot closer to the fire. There. Oh, Tenny boy, you’re a good dog. Pet doggy. I should give him a shower. Is that a tick?
I really should vacuum all those Christmas tree needles up. Paige fell into the tree this morning, knocking off ornaments and needles. She also landed on Brynne’s Christmas present – a box that is now dented.
There’s hardly anything under the tree. It looks a little…sparse. Yeah, our Christmas idea was a great one…but…do we have enough gifts? Maybe I should go to the store right now and buy some more presents, more STUFF for under there! No, no, no, you cannot do that. It will completely ruin everything we’re trying to do. Buy experiences, not things. Happy, happy, happy family.
More stuff, stuff, stuff. No. Be quiet.
Five more minutes of meditating.
I’m not doing this right. Maybe I should just quit. No, there are five more minutes of neural-engaging drum beats and a rain storm. Breathe. Feel the breath. Productivity! Clarity! Creativity!
I shouldn’t have been so snappy today with husband. Maybe I should call him, offer to go to the grocery store and buy his ingredients for the holiday brunch tomorrow. The holiday brunch. Oh my gosh, the holiday brunch is tomorrow! Okay, I’m going to get the dough ready tonight and let it rise in the fridge. Then tomorrow I’ll get up super early – really – I have to do it – no sleeping in. 5:30 I’ll get up and roll out the dough. I’ll make the frosting tonight. And then I’ll read my scriptures and meditate and write. I’m so behind. It’s fine, breathe. I’ll get ready, be really patient and nice with the kids, bring the rolls in the car and meet with Karl to talk about my teaching performance…what is my teaching performance? Am I a good teacher? Those brain packets are so long…what was I thinking? Maybe I should have just given a test. Breathe in 1-2-3-4-5- and Hold 1-2. Class is from 9:10-10. All set there, right? Then I’ll stay on campus and put the rolls in Becky’s oven – don’t forget to grab the frosting tonight! Put it out so you don’t forget. Nelson’s basketball game.Sell raffle tickets, then off to the Danbury church to see Santa and see Sam and Max play.
Don’t panic. It’s okay. You’ll get it done. Oh my gosh I have so much to do. Why didn’t you just make the stupid Christmas calendars a month ago? Enter grades, write comments for all students, work ahead for January syllabus. This house needs to be cleaned so badly. Clean, clean, clean. Send gifts in the mail this weekend! or they’re not going to get there in time. Did I get Nelson that last present? Make the granola – today! It has to be today! Carpe Diem. Send the Christmas card through Mail Chimp. Fast, easy, nice.
Oh look, the neural drum beats have stopped. Meditation is done for the day.
There’s a brilliant, but aging composer, a grieving Christian scholar, a scandalous adulterer. All came together by coincidence or divine providence?
When Handel was given a biblical text by Charles Jennens, he set aside. 18 months later, desperate for composition, he picked it back up. Handel did not leave his home for 24 days; he sat composing until the great oratorio, The Messiah, was completed. It is reported that when Handel wrote the Hallelujah chorus, his assistant found him in tears saying “I did think I saw heaven open, and saw the very face of God”.
I didn’t come up with the idea, but here’s what we’re doing for Christmas this year:
I could have sworn I saw this idea on Momastery.com, but for the love of peanut butter I can’t find it idea anywhere! I suspect brain malfunction. In A&P this is exactly what we’re studying. I’m becoming suspicious of my actual sanity.
Anyway, let’s get back to Christmas!
The simple guide above has brought my stress level back to the state of a somewhat normal mother (is that even a thing?) I’m as calm as the summer sun, which is amazingly refreshing given it’s barely 30 degrees outside.
I think this list has been fun for the kids too as they carefully plot out what they really, really want instead of bringing me a ginormous Christmas list that stretches from here to Nebraska.
Also: we had to break down and buy a minivan – Merry Christmas, kids!
I adore the Candy Cane Kiss Cookies over at ourbestbites. But I confess, I can only make them once a year as I fear the amount of shortening, butter, and sugars will kill me. You see, it’s not that the recipe contains that much more shortening and butter and sugars than over cookies (well, maybe a little), but it’s that I cannot stop myself at eating just five. Or ten. and so on and etc. etc.. They are just so good. So, I only make them at Christmas and then make sugar-free vows in January. But alas, the other day I discovered Candy Cane Kisses in my freezer. The call of the cookie came.
I answered, but with a magnificent twist – a slimmer, healthier version that is still delicious! But I’m warning you now: You still won’t be able to eat just one which kind of negates the whole healthy twist, but never mind.
The original recipe called for 1/2 cup of butter-flavored shortening. Not only did I not have any in the house, but I did have my favorite butter substitute: yes, the glorious avocado! I’m sure you know where this is going.
The advantage to using avocado in desserts with cocoa powder is that the avocado does not turn the cookie green. So we creamed together just one stick of butter and a small ripe avocado.
Next was 1 Cup White Sugar and 1 Cup Brown Sugar. I once read that in England, madams often cut American recipes in half when it comes to sugar. I didn’t cut it in half, but I went to 3/4 Cup White Sugar and 3/4 Cup Brown Sugar. It turned out great.
Now, the most exciting part of this recipe was the flour. Recently, I wrote about Fudgy Black Bean Brownies, a recent and exciting cooking experiment. They were tasty, rich and fudgy and my sweetums’ were none the wiser for my stealthy substitutions. So, the original Candy Cane Kiss Cookie called for 2 1/2 Cups of White Flour. I cut the flour to 1 1/2 Cups and for the other cup of flour, I used black beans!
It’s perplexing that beans can substitute for flour, but with the brownies, it was terrific. You simply drain and rinse a can of black beans, put them in your food processor or very powerful blender with just a tad of water. Then, blend them up into a nice thick paste. That’s it! But make sure it’s blended very well so that your dessert is rich and smooth.
By using the black beans and avocado, you still have an amazing cookie, but you also have healthy fat, protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates needed for energy.
I brought these cookies to a youth activity at church, and they were a major hit. I did find it funny though, that when I couldn’t contain my excitement over avocado and black bean substitutions, some would not eat another bite – even though they had been previously gobbling! What can you do? I think it’s best to keep quiet about these things. But I hope you’ll try this and be just as smitten as I.
So, without further delay…
Fudgy Black Bean Candy Cane Kiss Cookies
1 small, very ripe avocado
1/2 c. real butter (1 stick)
3/4 c. brown sugar
3/4 c. white sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
optional: 1 tsp peppermint extract
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. flour, lightly spooned into measuring cups and leveled with a knife
1 can of black beans, rinsed, and blended very very well to prevent bits and pieces.
Cream together softened butter, avocado, brown sugar, and white sugar for 1-2 minutes on medium-high speed or until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla. Meanwhile, combine the baking powder, baking soda, salt, flour, and cocoa powder. Using a food processor or powerful blender, blend black beans into a nice, thick paste. Add flour mixture and black beans to the avocado/butter/sugar mixture and mix until combined. Mix in the chocolate chips.
To prevent cookies from flattening out, refrigerate dough for 30-60 minutes. Drop the dough by the tablespoonful onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake until just set, but centers are still soft, about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 1-2 minutes. Use a metal spatula to transfer cookies to cooling rack. Top each cookie with an unwrapped Candy Cane Kiss. Allow to cool completely, long enough for the Kiss to harden. If necessary, after the cookies have cooled, they can be placed in the refrigerator or freezer to re-solidify the Kiss.
Yield: 4 dozen cookies -Adapted from the amazing girls at ourbestbites
Perhaps these yum-yums will help you get through winter – with a little more spring in your step.
It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. So says thenester. I like that.
We get the tree the day after Thanksgiving. I wish we could say that we played lumberjack. Maybe next year?
The ornaments on our tree are all very homemade. Year after year they are carried around the house for several home tours; most of them find their way back.
Gingerbread houses are made the easy way. With crackers. And a lot of licking.
A “No-Touching” ban was instilled after Baby Jesus was dropped a few years ago. His head fell off. The little girls still like to stand on tall stacks of books to peek in the manger. There’s just something about that baby.
Christmas granola may as well be home decor.
The white lights lure those children right up to bed lickety split!
Anne, our wonderful 84-year-old German friend gave us her beloved life-size Christmas gnome. His name is Ferdi (not farty!) He was made in Germany and his lamp is lit with real oil. That little girl kissing him used to be shorter than him!
On the windowsill sit old-fashioned angels. I believe I could call them a stylish “vintage” now.
And still, the children have yet to discover my secret stash.
Thank you, Classy Cassie! Black wrapping paper and a white paint pen.
I also used brown butcher paper and burlap ribbon. When Gregor picked a white paint drop out of my hair he asked what I had been doing.
“Painting wrapping paper.”
The look on his face? Priceless.
A rare home craft
The real deal. Epic forts with an opening to twinkling Christmas lights. I had to bite my tongue, don’t you dare ruin their fun at 8 a.m.! Wait until 10!
The tree wouldn’t be complete without one of Nelson’s homemade duct tape stars.
Behold! Unto you this day is born in the city of David, a baby!
I love the decorations we put up together, but decorations alone won’t bring all the Christmas cheer. The people in the home have to bring that. Since my four children fought like little grinches the entire day yesterday, we could use some extra Christmas spirit in this house. I find that my Grinchy or Suzy-Lou-Who influence is often the biggest factor in the mix. Sigh. I try.