Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Family Fun

Year's end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us. ~Hal Borland

Today I have some last minute fun to involve the kids in New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

Party Hats: Roll poster board or any thicker paper into a cone shape and tape securely. Gather up leftover ribbon, bits of fabric, stickers,confetti, glitter---all the things you may have used for Christmas crafts. Glue items all around the cone hat in a collage style.

Time Collage: Using a piece of cardboard or poster board as the base, find as many pictures of clocks and watches as possible. Glue them onto the piece of paper or cardboard and in the middle of the collage attach a piece of paper that says "Welcome in the New Year---2009!"

Easy Time Centerpiece: On a tray place 3-5 clocks of different heights in a grouping. Scatter pieces of silver and gold tinsel, ribbon or confetti on the tray around the clock bases.

Fun Snack/Favor: Check the warehouse type stores or restaurant supply stores for bags of fortune cookies. They are inexpensive. Place them in a large basket or bowl for the guests when they arrive. For an extra touch, have each person's name and a square of paper on a large bulletin board at the door and tape or glue the fortune they pick to the square for everyone to see.

Resolution Game: Have everyone write one New Year's Resolution on a piece of paper and have them include their name-- they should list the biggest, best resolution they can think of that would change their life. Have one person read them aloud and have everyone guess who wrote the one being read aloud. Include the kids on this one too!

If you have a lot of younger children in the family or older folks who don't like staying up late, plan on making this is Noon Celebration instead, either on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day---there may not be the big ball dropping in Times
Square, but everyone will have a great time!

Serve this yummy non-alcoholic drink:

Crock pot Spiced Hot Chocolate

8 ounces Semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 cups Half & Half
2 cups milk
1 cup strong coffee
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch salt
Frozen whipped topping

Add the chocolate chips, half & half, milk, coffee, brown sugar, vanilla, spices and salt to the crockpot. Stir and cover. Cook on the high setting, stirring every 15 minutes, until the chocolate has melted, about 1 hour. Serve immediately, or turn crock to low (or warm if yours has that setting). Serve with the thawed whipped topping.

Mary Emma shares the orgins of New Years on OFL:

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Years Recipes From Around the World

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. ~Eleanor Roosevelt

We've covered black-eyed peas as a Southern tradition in the U.S., but Catherine, The Herb Lady dropped me a line to suggest that if you don't want to use a ham hock you can used a smoked turkey wing or leg instead to flavor the peas. You can also use a piece of ham from a boneless ham. The ends are great to freeze and save for this. Actually, any "smoked" meat will add flavor. Vegetarians can leave out the meat all-together and add some extra herbs for flavor.

There are many neat traditions around the world for New Years. One, that is observed in Cuba, Spain, and many other countries is the practice of eating one grape each time the clock chimes at midnight. 12 grapes for the 12 chimes---

I have a non-pork version of a black-eyed pea dish, that is also a healthy side dish! Greens are also considered a good luck dish!

Black-Eyed Peas and Kale

1 1/2 kale or other greens
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves minced fresh garlic
Pinch of dried red pepper or ground black if preferred
2 cups canned, rinsed black-eyed peas
1 Tbsp. wine or herb vinegar

Remove the tough stems from the greens. Chop the leaves into one-inch pieces. Place about two inches of water in a large pot and heat to boiling. Add the kale, cover and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain. In a large skillet, combine the oil and garlic. Cook the garlic over low heat, stirring, about two minutes. Add the peas and pepper, stirring, about three minutes. Add the kale and stir -then add the vinegar. Serve hot or at room temperature. Serves 6.

In many Italian homes, lentils are eaten just after midnight on New Year's Eve. This custom is suppose to bring money to the person throughout the rest of the year.

Italian Lentils

1 lb. dry lentils
2 carrots, peeled, divided
2 stalks celery, divided
1 large sweet onion, chopped, divided
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
2-3 leaves fresh sage or 1/4 tsp. dried
1/4 cup tomato sauce (or spaghetti sauce)
salt to taste

Wash the lentils and sort. I don't soak them overnight but some people do. I place them on the stove with water to cover, and bring to a boil, then allow them to sit for one hour. Rinse and drain. Put the lentils in a large pan and add a whole carrot, one celery stalk, 1/3 of the onion and salt to taste. Add water to cover all. Bring to a boil and the reduce to a low heat; cover and allow them simmer for about 2 - 3 hours. Check occasionally to see if they are done. Add more water if they start to look dry at any point. About a 30 minutes before they are done, heat a pan with the butter and oil. Add remaining carrot, celery and onion, finely chopped. Sauté the vegetables for about 5 minutes; then add the tomato sauce and two fresh sage leaves. Simmer for about ten minutes. Add them to the lentils and cook together for 10 minutes stirring frequently.

We have a large Dutch population here in Michigan, so I had heard of Olie Bollen after living here for 20 years. They are small round doughnuts or "fat balls" that vary with the cook. Sometimes raisins, currents or other dried fruit are added. These are served on New Year's Eve.

Olie Bollen

1 package active dry yeast
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
3/4 cup water
3 eggs, beaten
2 cups milk, warmed
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 pound raisins, soaked overnight
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt

Dissolve yeast and sugar in the water and allow to stand in warm place for 30 minutes. Combine eggs, milk, corn syrup, raisins and yeast mixture in large bowl. Sift flour and salt into mixture and mix well for a few minutes. It should be firm enough to fall from the spoon in a ball shape. Either add more water or flour depending on dough. Let the dough rise in a warm place for 2 hours. Drop by tablespoonful into hot, preheated grease. (Same temp. as for French Fries)Fry until browned.

More New Year's traditions from around the world on OFL:

Monday, December 29, 2008

Black-Eyed Peas for New Years

Old times never come back and I suppose it's just as well. What comes back is a new morning every day in the year, and that's better. ~George E. Woodberry

Plan on cooking a black-eyed pea dish on New Year's Day for a little added luck and healthy fiber!

Black-eyed Peas, Ham and Sausage

1/4 pound bacon, diced
1 lb. Italian or other sausage, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1/2 lb. cooked ham, diced
1 cup sweet onion, chopped
1/2 cup green bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
1-15 oz. can black-eyed peas
salt and pepper to taste

In a heavy saucepan, cook the bacon till it's starting to crisp. Add the sausage and ham and saute until browned. Add the onion, bell pepper and jalapeno, cook until the pepper begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add the can of black-eyed peas and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes. Serve over rice or eat with cornbread.

Black-eyed Pea Salsa

1 (16-ounce) can black-eyed peas, drained
6 green onions, thinly sliced -white and green
One 14 to 16-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
3/4 cup chopped green pepper
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 to 2 tablespoons finely snipped fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt, cayenne pepper, and black pepper to taste

Rinse black-eyed peas under cod water and drain. Set aside. In a medium bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Stir in drained black-eyed peas. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Serve with tortilla chips.

Black-Eyed Pea Soup

1 pound dried black-eyed peas, sorted and rinsed
8 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
6 thick slices bacon
2 large sweet onions, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 whole bay leaves
1 dried thyme, crumbled
5 cups chicken broth
3 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce

Place peas in a 5-quart Dutch oven or large pan, add cold water so it covers, and bring to a boil over high heat; cook for 2 minutes.Remove peas from the heat and let stand, covered, for 1 hour. Drain peas and rinse; return to pan, add water and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Drain peas into a bowl, reserving 1 cup liquid. Purée 1 cup peas,adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of the reserved liquid, if necessary. Cut the bacon into 1/2-inch strips, add to the pan the peas were cooked in, and cook till crisp. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper toweling to drain. In bacon drippings, sauté onions, carrots, garlic, bay leaves, and thyme over medium heat, until vegetables soften, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add reserved cooking liquid, broth, peas,and pea purée and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to moderately low and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. Mix in lemon juice, red pepper sauce, and reserved bacon. Heat til warmed through. Discard bay leaves and serve. Makes 8 servings.

Why are black-eyed peas a New Year's favorite? On OFL:

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas full of special memories. ~Brenda

(I'll be back on Monday!)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Last Minute Christmas Recipes

Gifts of time and love are surely the basic
ingredients of a truly merry Christmas.
~Peg Bracken.

jdsmom shared this recipe with us previously and I made them last year. I used the square grid pretzels I found at Sam's Club instead of twists and topped it with the M&M. They were a HUGE hit. We also made a "pretzel sandwich" with 2 white chocolate chips and 2 semi-sweet chocolate chips on each pretzel. I put them in the oven for 2-3 minutes as in the recipe below and then topped them with a second pretzel, which I pressed on and it smashed the melted chips down. I then sprinkled red/green sugar on the top.

Candy-Kissed Twists

1 bag small pretzels (twisted)
1 (13 ounce) bag Hershey's Kisses Milk Chocolates
1 (10 ounce) bag of Hershey's Holiday Bits

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Unwrap the chocolates kisses. Place 1 unwrapped chocolate on top of each pretzel. Bake 2-3 minutes or until the chocolate is soft, but not melting. Take the pan out of the oven and gently press Holiday Bits on the top of the soft chocolate. Cool and serve. *Instead of the Hershey's Holiday Bits, I pressed in an M&M candy on the top.

Simplycindy's note: A lady I work with brought some treats to work. It was the same idea you have here. She put a Rollo candy on top of the pretzel, put in a 250 degree F. oven for 4 minutes or so and then topped with a pecan, they were so good!

Denirae shared her Buckeye recipe!

Peanut Butter Balls (sometimes called Buckeye Balls)

1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups sifted powdered sugar
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons shortening

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper; set aside. In a medium bowl, mix peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and powdered sugar with hands to form a smooth stiff dough. Shape into balls using 2 teaspoons of dough for each ball. Place on a prepared pan, and refrigerate. Melt shortening and chocolate together in a metal bowl over a pan of lightly simmering water. Stir occasionally until smooth, and remove from heat. Remove balls from refrigerator. Insert a wooden toothpick into a ball, and dip into melted chocolate. Return to wax paper, chocolate side down, and remove toothpick. Repeat with remaining balls. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to set. Enjoy!

We love these cookies and they're soooooooooo easy!

Almond Cookies

Makes 4 dozen

2 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup lard/Crisco
1 egg
1 teaspoon almond extract
96 almonds

Sift flour, sugar, baking soda and salt together into a bowl. Cut in the lard until mixture resembles cornmeal. Add egg and almond extract. Mix well. Roll dough into 1 inch balls. Set them 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Place an almond on top of each cookie and press down to flatten slightly. Bake in a pre-heated 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) oven for 15-18 minutes. Cool on rack.

jdsmom also shared this yummy recipe!

1 (18.25 ounce) box French Vanilla cake mix
2 eggs
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, melted
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 (16 ounce) box confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 cups shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13x9 inch baking pan with Pam. Combine the first 3 ingredients. Press into bottom about 1 inch up the sides of prepared baking pan. Mix together the next 6 ingredients and pour over crust. Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Let cool completely to set and cut into small squares.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cooking With Herbs for the Holidays

It is the personal thoughtfulness, the warm human awareness, the reaching out of the self to one's fellow man that makes giving worthy of the Christmas spirit. ~Isabel Currier

Today I have some elegant, but easy recipes using fresh and dried herbs for the holidays.

Lemon Basil Cookies

1/4 cup butter
3 ounces cream cheese
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons dried basil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon peel
1 package lemon cake mix
1/2 cup crushed walnuts or pecans

Mix together the butter, cheese, yolk and juice. Add the cake mix, and blend well. Stir in the nuts, peel and basil.Chill for 1/2 hour or more. Roll into small 1/2 inch balls and place on greased cookie sheet. Parchment paper works well. Flatten with a fork dipped in sugar. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes. Place in a pretty tin with parchment paper in between layers of cookies. A lovely gift on it's own or given in a gift basket with tea, a pretty mug and an herb recipe book.

Caramelized Onion Dip

1/3 cup herb or wine vinegar
3 tablespoons honey
1 large clove garlic, or two small, minced
2 cups sweet onions, diced
1 tsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 cup plain yogurt, low fat or nonfat
1/3 cup mayonnaise, regular or light
1/3 cup sour cream, light or regular

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and garlic. Cover and cook on low for about 8 minutes or until soft. Watch so the garlic does not scorch. Add the vinegar, honey and pepper-stir well. Bring to a boil over medium heat, and cook for 10 minutes without the cover or until the onion is caramelized and turns a golden brown. Stir occasionally. Combine the onion mixture with remaining ingredients in a bowl. Cover and chill to develop flavors.

Marinated Mushrooms

1 pound button mushrooms
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tsp. red wine vinegar
1/4 cup scallions
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
3 tsp. minced fresh parsley

Pack the mushrooms into a sterile glass jar. Combine the remaining ingredients with a
whisk. Pour over mushrooms and seal the jar. Chill for several hours or overnight shaking occasionally.

Parsley Butter Balls

1/2 cup butter
1 tablespoon fresh minced parsley
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. chopped fresh basil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 cup minced parsley

Cream butter until light. Blend in all ingredients except for 1/2 cup parsley. Chill until firm. Shape into small balls and roll in parsley. Place these on a pretty plate covered with cellophane or plastic wrap that has been twisted at the top and tied with raffia. Give along with a baguette or French rolls and a set of holiday or herb themed spreaders.

Can you have too many fudge recipes? Look here:

Friday, December 19, 2008

Decorating the Christmas Table

A Christmas candle is a lovely thing; It makes no noise at all, But softly gives itself away; While quite unselfish, it grows small. ~Eva K. Logue

Today I have some easy and pretty ideas for the Christmas table and kitchen.

Cranberry Centerpiece

You'll need:
Two tray--one larger than the other by 3 inches or so
Fresh greens
Fresh cranberries
4 holiday colored/scented tea candles
Small colored glass ornaments

Place smaller tray on top of the larger tray. Spread the fresh cranberries (you can freeze them first if you wish for a shiny look) on the smaller tray. Place a tea light in each corner-nestled in the cranberries. In the middle you can place a grouping of ornaments, or a holiday figurine of some sort-even a pillar candle. On the larger tray, using the part that is around the first tray-arrange fresh greens, and a few more cranberries. This is best done right before using, and keep the greens misted and make sure they aren't touching or near the tea lights.

Inexpensive Floral Centerpiece

You'll need:
Wicker basket
Fresh greenery from your yard--boxwood, holly, pine etc.
one inexpensive holiday bouquet
doily or lace cloth of some type

Lay the doily or piece of cloth in the basket so that a nice bit of it hangs over the front of the basket. On the bottom of the basket place a piece of plastic or paper to protect the cloth from sap, etc. Cover this with the greens you collected. Take your bouquet and cut the flowers down under running water and stick in with the greens making a nice arrangement. Notes: I get these bouquets for as little as $3.99 from floral departments fresh, but you can also use silk flowers. This doesn't last long, so make it before your dinner and mist it. You can soak some floral foam and place the greens and flowers on top of that to give it some moisture.

More Simple Ideas:
Buy a bag of natural raffia and use it to tie up the napkins inserting a sprig of rosemary, lavender, sage or a fresh bay leaf. Do the same on several large pillar candles. Make place cards out of simple card stock, writing the guests name on with a gold gel pen. If you have decorative edged scissors you can cut the paper with those. Think simply...but when you are done it will look elegant.

Using raffia again, you can combine it with gold for a very elegant look. Gold apple ornaments, floral picks with gold accents, gold ball ornaments...Target has a great selection of gold accents and ornaments, and most are only $2 or so.

Decorate wreaths, candles, fill baskets with greens and gold,use gold bows on the back of chairs....use your imagination!

You can use fresh fruit to decorate platters,tables and mantles. Here are some suggestions:

-Pomegranates and kale or other leafy vegetables surrounding your main meat platter.

-Use a gold pen to write your guests names on pomegranates or dark green leaves such as magnolia greens.

-For a whimsical look try using red and green chili peppers,along with corn husks and greens in baskets, on wreaths or swags.

Try this easy simmering potpourri to scent your house during a dinner or open house:

Simmering Potpourri

Mix together:
2 broken Cinnamon sticks
4 tbsp. whole cardamom seeds
2 tbsp. whole cloves
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground ginger

Place two tablespoons of potpourri in two or more cups of water, allow to simmer or steep slowly.Be sure the water doesn't evaporate while heating. Add more if necessary.

On OFL we have tips for using fresh greens to decorate this season:


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday Open House Favorites

Christmas is for children. But it is for grownups too. Even if it is a headache, a chore, and nightmare, it is a period of necessary defrosting of chill and hide- bound hearts.
~Lenora Mattingly Weber

I don't know about you, but I always have gatherings to bring dishes to during the holidays-- open houses,potlucks, family dinners etc. The recipes below can all be used if you are having an open house or any one of them are great potluck dishes as well.

Cinnamon Praline Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 1/2 tablespoons butter, chilled
1 extra large egg, beaten
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 cup pecans, finely chopped or crushed
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and prepare baking sheet with parchment paper. Chop the chilled butter into small pieces. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt and 2 tablespoons sugar. Using a pastry blender or your finger, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles crumbs. In a small bowl, combine the egg and cream and add to the flour mixture. Mix until just blended. Turn out the batter onto a lightly floured board and knead for 1 minute. Roll dough into a rectangle approximately 8 x 12 inches. Brush the dough with the melted butter. Combine filling ingredients and spread on the dough. Roll up, jelly-roll fashion, and seal the long seam by pinching it together lightly with your fingers. Cut the roll into twelve 1-inch thick slices. Lay slices on the baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden.

Hot Cranberry Franks

2 pounds cocktail franks
1 can whole cranberry sauce (15 1/2 oz.)
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. dry mustard

Combine cranberry and soy sauce, ginger and mustard in a 2 quart saucepan. Bring to a boil; turn heat down to medium. Add franks and let simmer 20 to 25 minutes. Serve with toothpicks. This can also be transferred to a slow cooker after the boiling step. This can also be made with smoked kielbasa that is cut into round slices about 1/2 inch thick.

Cream Cheese Tarts

Tart Crust:
48 graham crackers crushed
1 1/3 sticks butter, melted
6 tbsp. sugar

Tart Filling:
2 pounds cream cheese
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Optional toppings:
Fruit pie fillings
Drizzled chocolate, white and milk chocolate
Fresh fruit
Crushed chocolate graham cracker or Oreo crumbs

For crust: Blend all ingredients together well. Press about 1 tsp. mixture into mini muffin tins, lined with muffin papers.

For filling: Blend all ingredients together well. Place about 1 tablespoon filling over crust. Bake 10 minutes at 375 degrees. Cool and refrigerate. Before open house remove all of the tarts from the refrigerator to add toppings.

Suggested toppings:
Cherry, blueberry or lemon pie fillings-sprinkle very lightly
with confectioners' sugar after adding a small spoonful of
filling over the top of the tart.

Crushed Cookie Crumbs: Oreos, gingersnaps, vanilla wafers
or cinnamon graham crackers.

Drizzled Toppings: Melt milk or white chocolate, caramel or almond bark gently over a double boiler and drizzle with a tsp. onto each tart.

Crockpot Hot Apple Cider

1 gallon apple cider or juice
12 whole cloves
3 sticks cinnamon
2 whole nutmegs
2 large pieces crystallized ginger

Place all ingredients in crockpot. Heat on high for 2 hours,and on low to keep warm until ready to serve. This makes about 20 servings. Keep another batch ready to go in the kitchen in a second crockpot or in a large pan on the stove simmering at the lowest temperature.

On OFL we have cookie exchange tips and recipes:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Frugal Gift Wrapping Ideas

May the star that shone in Bethlehem brighten our path each day. ~Theresa Mary Grass

Wrapping gifts each year is always a challenge for me because I just can't bring myself to spend a lot of money on fancy wrapping paper that gets torn and thrown away. I'm always looking for creative alternatives. Try these fun and easy felt bags this year:

Easy Felt Gift Bags

You'll need:
green and red felt
green or red yarn
large needle

Cut two 6x7 pieces out of green or red felt or another color if you wish. Sew the sides and bottom of the pieces together to create a bag. Turn the pouch right side out. Thread the large needle with yarn in a different color than the felt and weaving the yarn in and out the felt about 2 1/2" from the top of the bag. Cut the yarn leaving enough length to tie a bow. At this point you can decorate the bag with fabric paint or cut-outs made from the felt, or my favorite--old buttons! You can glue on ric-rac, sequins or other decorative items. Use the bags to put gifts in, or line it with a plastic bag and fill it with cookies.

You can make the bags smaller or larger depending on your needs. If you don't have a sewing machine you can easily hand stitch the sides and bottom and still make the bags. I did this one year by stitching on the outside of the bag with a contrasting thread and kept the stitches a little longer and even. It made it look decorative! You can also use other material and ribbon instead of yarn to create fancier bags.

Some other creative gift wrap ideas:

-Photocopy a collage of family photos on paper and wrap smaller gifts with the copy.

-Use last years Christmas cards for your gift tags. Cut out rectangles from the cards, fold in half, punch a hole and attach a piece of raffia or a skinny silk ribbon to tie it to a gift bag or tape it to a package!

-Wrap kitchen, tea, coffee or cooking related gifts in pretty tea towels, or if you are giving kitchen gadgets place them in an oven mitt and tie a gift tag to it!

-Garden themed gifts can be placed in a pretty planter, then wrapped with colored plastic wrap, fabric or tulle---gather at the top and tie with a matching ribbon. You can also place a small amount of rubber cement on the back of seed packets, allow it to dry and then stick the packet to a gift bag or card for a neat gift.

On OFL we have tips for creating a memory album:


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Homemade Gift Mixes Part II

May you have the gladness of Christmas
which is hope; the spirit of Christmas which is peace; the heart of Christmas which is love. ~Ada V. Hendricks

Below are two more great gift mixes, plus the link below has many more. They are all perfect for teachers, mailmen (and ladies), the paper kids. Keep a couple of spare mixes made up for unexpected guests!

This was shared by jdsmom on our forum:

Cookie Mix:
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
mix with 1 tsp. baking powder and 1/2 tsp. baking soda
8 large Reese's Peanut Butter Cups cut into 1/2" pieces

Mix the flour, baking powder and baking soda before you
layer ingredients. Wrap the candy in plastic. Layer the
ingredients in the jar in order given. Press each layer
firmly in place before adding next ingredient.

Recipe to attach to jar:
Remove candies from jar and set aside. Empty cookie mix
in large mixing bowl; stir to combine. Add 3/4 cup softened
butter, 2 eggs slightly beaten and 1 tsp. vanilla; mix until
completely blended. Stir in candies. Roll the dough into
walnut-sized balls. Place balls 2" apart on lightly greased
cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 12 to 14 minutes or
until edges are lightly browned. Cool 5 minutes on baking
sheet. Remove to wire racks to cool completely. 2 1/2 dozen.

Lina shared this yummy brownie mix to give.

White Chocolate Brownie Mix

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup cocoa
2/14 cup white sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Layering Dry Mix:
Combine flour, baking powder and salt.Place mixture into
quart jar.Layer remaining ingredients into jar in order listed,
packing firmly after each addition. Tip: Use a tart tamper or
the bulb end of a baster to pack layers. Adjust cap. Makes
one quart jar.

To Prepare Brownies, Add: 3/4 cup butter, softened and 4
eggs slightly beaten. Preheat over to 350 Place contents of
jar in a large mixing bowl and combine. Add butter and eggs.
Mix until completely blended. Spread into a lightly greased 9
by 9 inch pan. Bake at 350 for 35 minutes or until brownies
just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool and
cut into squares. Makes about 16 brownies.

Be sure to add a recipe card complete with ingredients to
be added and baking instructions. Decorate the jar with fabric
rounds, raffia and a gift tag...

I have had this recipe for about 10 years and make it often,
I got it from the Ball/Kerr company

More Gift Mixes on OFL:

Monday, December 15, 2008

Homemade Gift Mixes Part I

It is the personal thoughtfulness, the warm human awareness, the reaching out of the self to one's fellow man that makes giving worthy of the Christmas spirit. ~Isabel Currier

Today I have some more easy mix recipes to give. These are not only simple to make but frugal as well! Tomorrow I will have part two.

Here is a recipe for Country Cappuccino Mix in a Jar.This recipe makes one quart jar of mix. ~Lina

2/3 cup instant chocolate drink mix (we used Nesquik)
2 1/2 cups dry milk
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup instant coffee granules
1/2 cup French Vanilla flavored non-dairy cream

Mix together in a large bowl and then put into jar.

Directions: Mix 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup mix to 6 or 8 ounces hot water and stir well.

I loved making these last year and folks liked them too...enough for these folks to ask for more...I made a Mexican Theme basket and put this into it. ~donnag

Tortilla soup mix in a jar

Ingredients for the jar:
1 cup converted long grain rice
2 to 2-1/2 cups crushed tortilla chips
1 (5 oz.) can chicken

Mix the following and place in a zipper sandwich bag.
2 T. chicken bouillon granules
2 t. lemonade powder with sugar
1 t. lemon pepper
1 t. dried cilantro leaves
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. salt
1/4 cup dried minced onions

Size of jar: Quart

Place ingredients in jar in this order:
Place rice in jar first. Seasoning packet into jar next. (Gently flatten bag so it is visible from all sides of jar.) Fill jar with tortilla chips. Put lid on the jar. Attach can of chicken to top of jar. Decorate jar and attach the following recipe.

Tortilla Soup Directions:
Carefully empty tortilla chips from jar into a dish. Set aside. Remove seasoning packet. Set aside. Place the rice in a large pan. Add 10 cups water, 1 (10 oz.) can of diced tomatoes and green chilies and seasonings from packet. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and
simmer 20 minutes. Add the tortilla chips. Cover and simmer 5 more minutes. Serve immediately. Makes 12 cups soup.

I am going to make these up, put them in the pantry (I do this with many of the different mixes) so I just have to pull out and add the additional ingredients. ~Lina

Oat Pecan Cookie Mix

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 cup crisp rice cereal

Additional Ingredients:
1/2 cup butter softened
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda and
powder. In a 1-quart glass container, layer the flour
mixture, brown sugar, oats, pecans and rice cereal,
packing well between each layer. Cover and store in
a cool dry place up to 6 months. Yield: 1 batch about
4 cups total)If you give this as a gift remember to add the instructions...

To prepare cookies: In a mixing bowl, cream the butter.
Beat in egg and vanilla. Add the cookie mix and mix well.
Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart on greased
baking sheets. Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes or until golden
brown. Cool for a few minutes before removing from pans
to wire racks...Yields about 3 dozen.

From Country woman Issue Nov/Dec 2003

Friday, December 12, 2008

Holiday Recipes for Everyone

To me, every hour of the light and dark is a miracle, every cubic inch of space is a miracle. ~Walt Whitman

Sorry for the lateness of today's post. I was out shopping for my daughter's third grade class. I'm in charge of the Christmas party! So far we are going to make homemade Christmas cards, frost cookies, make "reindeer poop", and craft a homemade ornament. I will be sure to take pictures next week during the party.

Today I have holiday recipes from Laura at Eggland’s Best eggs, who was kind enough to send me the recipes and pictures.

Hanukkah begins this year at sundown on December 21 and to celebrate the The Festival of Lights, make these scrumptious latkes to share with your loved ones!

Sweet Apple Latkes

2 Eggland’s Best eggs
1-1/2 cups yogurt, nonfat
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup sugar substitute
Dash of salt
3 medium apples, peeled and grated
Vegetable oil for frying
Confectioner's sugar (optional)

In a bowl, mix eggs with nonfat yogurt, beat well. In a separate bowl combine the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture along with the grated apples. Coat skillet with a thin layer of oil and heat. Drop in 1 tablespoon of batter per latke into the oil. Cook latkes approx. 2 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Drain excess oil on paper towels, and sprinkle with confectioners' sugar.


When your family and friends gather ‘round the tree to open presents this December 25, pass around mugs of this yummy (and nutritious) eggnog to bring the Christmas spirit to your home!

Holiday Eggnog

6 large Eggland's Best eggs
1/2 cup sugar substitute
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 quart skim milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup whipped topping (optional)
Garnishes or stir-ins (optional - chocolate curls, cinnamon, extracts or flavorings, ground nutmeg or peppermint sticks)

In a large saucepan, beat together Eggland's Best eggs, sugar, and salt. Stir in 2 cups of the milk. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until mixture begins to boil and is thick enough to coat a metal spoon. Remove from heat. Stir in remaining 2 cups of milk and the vanilla. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.
Just before serving, pour into a bowl or pitcher. Fold in whipped topping and garnish or add stir-ins, as desired. Serve immediately.


When you are prepping for your New Year’s Eve party, make up a batch of the delicious casserole for the New Year’s Day fiesta the next morning! Salsa and chiles, plus Eggland’s Best eggs, add just the right kick (and nutrition) to start 2009 with a bang!

New Year’s Fiesta Breakfast Bake

4 large Eggland’s Best eggs, beaten
12 slices whole wheat or grain bread
1 can (11-15 ounces) corn
1 can (4 ounces) green chiles, chopped and undrained
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded low-fat Monterrey jack cheese or Mexican-blend cheeses
2 cups nonfat milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup salsa


Remove crust from bread. Place 6 slices in a lightly greased 12x8x2inch baking dish. Spoon half of the corn and half of the chiles over the bread. Sprinkle with half of the cheese. Layer the remaining bread, corn, chiles and cheese. Whisk together eggs, milk and salt. Pour over top layers. Cover and refrigerate casserole overnight to blend the flavors and soak the bread. In the morning, remove from refrigerator and let stand 30 minutes.

Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes until warm and bubbly. Top each serving with 1 tablespoon of salsa.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Simple Christmas Crafts

Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas. ~Peg Bracken

Today I have more easy crafts to make for the holidays!

I made these ornaments years ago in my Kindergarten class and it was so successful. They make beautiful gingerbread men. ~Nani

You'll need:
2 cups flour
1 cups salt
1 cup water

Mix dry ingredients. Add the water a little at a time and knead until the dough is smooth. Roll out as you would any cookie on a floured surface. Cut out in your favorite shapes or mold like Play-Doh. Make a hole before baking if you plan to hang the ornament. Bake at 325 degrees F. for an hour to hour and one-half. Paint with acrylic paints and decorate. When they are very dry varnish to preserve and keep any dampness out.

A friend substituted coffee for the water in this recipe for her Gingerbread men and I intend to try it this year. I've wanted to do a very natural color and glue on buttons for trim. They would look darling on a wreath or just piled in a pretty basket on a table with greenery. You can add cinnamon and other spices for the aroma of Christmas.

Note from MaddeesMom: I made the gingerbread men ornaments with the recipe listed above, and I tried it with the coffee ... they turned out okay the first time, except they were kind of puffy in some places. So the next time I made them I laid parchment paper over them and put another cookie sheet on top with a heavy casserole dish on top of that ... they turned out really cute! The coffee
made a difference too. I liked the color!

Lina shared this two natural decorations:

Sugared-Cranberry Garland
To make sugared cranberries, roll fresh cranberries in lightly beaten egg whites and then in superfine granulated sugar. Place cranberries on waxed paper to dry. To make garland, thread a large needle, such as a darning needle,with cotton string or dental floss, (I use dental floss). Loop and knot end for hanger loop. String the cranberries until the garland is desired length; then loop and knot end for hanger loop...use on tree with birdseed ornaments.

Dried-fruit Wreaths
Thread a large needle, like a darning needle, with cotton string or dental floss. Make a knot 4 to 6" from 1 end. String dried fruit (I use apricots, papaya,raisins and cranberries) until you have enough to form a small wreath; know string together to secure circle. If desired, place paper twist or raffia bow on top and know string to secure. For hanger tie some kind string through wreath around bow if you have one, tie string next to bow
to secure and then tie a know of two strings on top...hang on tree with birdseed ornaments and sugared-cranberry garland.

On OFL: Give these easy to make coffee mixes for gifts!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas Activity Tips and Ideas

Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days, recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the traveler back to his own fireside and quiet home! ~Charles Dickens

We'd all love it if all children were magically perfect with long attention spams during the holidays, but all moms know this just isn't so. The key to having fun with kids during Christmas, or other holidays, is to keep them busy with fun, quick activities. My daughter and I decorated today and I realized how much better she was doing this year at eight years old then she had in the past. With age they can do more, and it's important not to have expectations they can't meet. Just like most of us aren't Martha Stewart, neither are our kids!

Bearwoman, one of our creative community members,shared these great tips for keeping the kids busy and helping them have a great time.

-Give each child their own miniature tree to can get these at the dollar store, along with cheap ornies and everything you'll need. Let them pick a few things out too!

-Use construction paper to cut out giant stars and candy canes to hang on the full sized Christmas tree. You can also glitter them and place the child's picture in the center for a family heirloom. We still have ours from our dear daughter's kindergarten and she is now 20!

-Have the kids use cut out construction paper to make cards for their friends at school,or church. Use markers, stickers, and old cut up Christmas cards. You don't need envelopes. They can just hand them out. Add a curling ribbon and small candy cane too.

-Have story time with library Christmas books. Let them pick the ones they want...and enjoy a cup of cocoa and popcorn while reading these together. Great for families and don't forget to invite the little friends over.

I have to add that we sing and read each night, and during Christmas change our selections to Christmas carols and books. This is always so much fun, and makes the season extra special.

On OFL Mary Emma shares about her cookie traditions:


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Wrapping Your Christmas Gifts

From home to home, and heart to heart, from one place to another. The warmth and joy of Christmas, brings us closer to each other. ~Emily Matthews

Lizzy, one of our community moderators, gave us these great suggestions on wrapping gifts. I know from being on the receiving end of her gifts, that she knows her stuff!

I know it's easy to buy a roll of wrapping paper but if you have a little time and collect a few things during the year,you can make some imaginative and creative gift wraps for not much money. ~Lizzy

Brown paper - this looks great stenciled with gold stars,red Santa's or green Christmas trees. Or just wrap your gift and glue spray painted gold dried leaves on it. Don't forget some raffia, ribbon, string or rope.

Brown bags - again these can be stenciled as above or with the receivers name on them. If they are lunch bag style, fold the top over hole punch 2 holes in the fold. Thread raffia, string or ribbon through and tie in a bow.

White butchers paper - the kids will love to help with this. Just some stamps and paint and stamp it all over with whatever takes your fancy. It looks good with primary bright paints and matching ribbon.

Organza bags - these little beauties can be found in all the discount shops. They come in plain colours, prints and painted swirls etc and they look great filled with a gift. If you want some stand by gifts for anyone who might drop by in the holiday season you can't go wrong if you fill some of these bags with home baked cookies, candy, wrapped chocolates, assorted teabags etc.

Recycled containers, tins and boxes-keep an eye open during the year and collect any boxes or containers that you can recycle and renovate for gift giving. Often all you need is some glue, paper, paint, ribbon etc to make a beautiful container to hold that special gift. Plain plastic boxes make great containers for homemade rum balls, truffles, candy, or cookies. Line the box with tissue or cellophane and place the items in. Finish up with a big organza bow. Wash out those Pringles containers, dry and air. Paint the outside, stamp or use holiday stickers to decorate. These are the perfect size for round cookies. Add a spray of mistletoe glue to the top of the lid -presto.

Gift tags - my favorite gift tags are the ones I make like old style luggage tags - a rectangular piece of cardboard (use coloured cardboard or even cut up boxes) with the one end cut into a point. Hole punch the pointy end so you can add a ribbon, string or raffia to tie to the gift. Decorate the edges of the tag by gluing on a row of buttons or beads or maybe some seeds or berries. Alternatively you can buy those little painted wooden cut outs of stars etc - glue one of those on, easy. Write the name of the recipient and you're done. Another easy gift tag is a dried leaf-just write the recipients name in a thick gold pen on the leaf and glue it to the parcel.

I have one male cat who is always wondering what I am doing in the kitchen. I hope that you cat lovers out there will give this a try for your furry feline. ~ScrappinNut


7 oz. mashed up sardines in oil
1/4 c. dry powdered milk
1/2 c. wheat germ

Mix all ingredients well. Roll into small bite sized balls. Place
on greased cookie sheet. Flatten with a fork. Bake at 350
degrees F. for 8-10 minutes.

On OFL: Elegant Bow Tips for Decorating & More:

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sharing Christmas Traditions

Whatever else be lost among the years, Let us keep Christmas still a shining thing: Whatever doubts assail us, or what fears, Let us hold close one day, remembering its poignant meaning for the hearts of men. Let us get back our childlike faith again. ~Grace Noll Crowell

Today I have some more neat traditions from our readers. I love hearing about how others celebrate the season!

A Wish List Tradition
Every Christmas as our boys, now 23 and 19, were growing up they would write out their "wish list" for Santa. Once the list was finalized we would pick an evening about a week before Christmas, have a fire in the fireplace, and each boy would get to burn their list. You see, as the list burns it goes up in smoke to the North Pole, so they could be certain Santa would get their requests in plenty of time before December 24th! We live about a half hour from San Francisco. Another family favorite is to make our holiday visit to the city. We usually ride rapid transit or the ferry, window shop, and when they were younger visit Santa at Macy's, then have lunch. The hustle and the bustle of the city all decked out makes for a special day. ~Vanessa

Nadine's Special Traditions
The kids in my family are all too old for this (until the next
generation!) But one year on Christmas Eve after all were tucked in, I took my honey's old work boots and patted them in the fireplace ashes and then made boot tracks from the fireplace to the Christmas Tree. The next day when the kids woke up I said,"Would you just look at that- I told that Santa to wipe his boots before coming in - Now just look at this mess I have to clean up." the kids love it and it "proves" Santa is real and that I know him! I've also put a piece of nice leather with bells and printed "Prancer" on the underside and left it in the yard for the kids to find Christmas day. I tell them I'll give it back to Santa next time I see him.

Oooh and just one more - very carefully open walnuts, take out the meat and replace with a folded dollar bill. Glue the nut back together and wrap with a length of ribbon leaving enough to hang from a tree branch. Each kid who comes to visit gets to pick one as an extra surprise! I LOVE Christmas! ~Nadine

On OFL: "Shop" in your backyard for holiday trimmings!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Holiday Food and Decorating

Every year at just this time, In cold and dark December, families around the world all gather to remember, with presents and with parties, with feasting and with fun, customs and traditions for people old and young. ~Helen H. Moore

I make these candy candles, but I don't put ribbon around them, and at the bottom I don't use a bow...I use lids and I spray paint them gold or silver. I have even added snow at times. I use very small greenery from the craft store and make a wreath to go around and decorate with tiny bulbs etc... ~Lina

Candy Candles

York Peppermint Patty
Hershey Kiss
Bows or other decorations
Other candies and ribbon for decorating
Cellophane tape

Instructions: For the base, take the peppermint patty and wrap it in foil or fold the corners under and tape. Glue a bow to the top of the peppermint patty. Cut out the center loop of the bow. Take the outer wrapping off the Lifesavers roll. Don't remove the foil wrap. Tape a Hershey Kiss to the end of the Lifesaver roll. This will create a candle. You can use other types of rolled candy such as Mentos, Rolos, Spree etc. Tape the bottom of the candle into the bow where the center loop was removed. You can decorate the candle with ribbon or stickers. ~Lina

In a large glass bowl place colored Christmas ball ornaments in different colors and shapes. Also add strands of silver or gold garland that goes on trees...add these around the glass balls... place a few sprigs of greenery around too. If desired you can also add battery operated clear lights to this.

Lay fresh pine greens flat on table then tie around middle with a big velvet red or green ribbon and bow. This makes a nice evergreen arrangement for over the door. Simple and elegant,plus it smells so good when you enter the house. Do this about 2 weeks before Christmas.unless you're in a very cold area where it will last longer. ~Bearwoman

I made these especially smashing latkes that went faster than the Christmas cookies, so I thought I'd pass it on to you, with Hanukkah beginning on the 15th:

Liz's Light and Lacy Latkes (yield: approx 2 doz.)

3 cups thawed loose-shredded potatoes
(save your knuckles, don't bother shredding whole potatoes!)
1/2 to 1 cup fresh or thawed, finely chopped onion
1 tbsp.. lemon juice
2 eggs (I use extra large Eggland's Best), whipped thoroughly
2 tbsp.. olive oil
2 tbsp.. plain flour
Kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper to taste

In a large bowl, blend all gently and thoroughly. In a heavy skillet, heat up your oil of choice. I used a combo of olive oil and plain vegetable oil. Have about a 1/2" in your pan. When it sizzles, drop potato mixture by small teaspoon-fulls & fry on both sides until golden brown. Flip them over gently and don't try to form perfect rounds; they're better and lighter when they are small and slightly free-form. Remove carefully to several layers of paper towels. Keep hot on a platter in the oven until ready to serve. Cold latkes aren't very good,so keep them hot! Serve with apple sauce and sour cream for garnish. Enjoy! ~Liz

MORE: Try more wonderful recipes for Jewish celebrations!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas Tips to Save Time & Money

Christmas! The very word brings joy to our hearts. No matter how we may dread the rush, the long Christmas lists for gifts and cards to be bought and given--when Christmas Day comes there is still the same warm feeling we had as children,the same warmth that enfolds our hearts and our homes. ~Joan Winmill Brown

I hope everyone is having a lovely holiday season. I strive every year to keep the chaos to a minimum and so far we've been managing fairly well. Today I have some more great tips for the holidays!

Year before last, I began last year's Christmas shopping the day after Christmas. I didn't do all the shopping at once, but I did find a lot of sale items that were on a tremendous price reduction. I keep a tiny corner of the shelf in my husband's closet just for gift stashing. When I find a gift throughout the rest of the year that I think someone will like, I label it for that person (I'm bad to forget), and place it up in the box on the shelf. All thru the year, I add to this stash, so by the time December gets here, there are very few loose ends to tie up. That way, I can concentrate on stuff like decorating and cooking, the fun stuff!

Also, on my computer in my Word documents, I have a running list of who we give gifts or cards to. These lists date back to 2000. Each year, I paste the list of names to a new page, delete what I got for them the year before, and color code where I am with that person's gift. Such as red for "need to get", blue or "purchased", green for "wrapped" and pink for "mailed off". It only takes a few seconds to update the list, then I can print it out and keep it in my purse. This way, I can look over the years and see what I've gotten for someone, I don't duplicate, and can always see in a second what my status is. With a family as large and diverse as ours, I have found this a life saver! ~Liz

It seems a shame to throw out all the beautiful Christmas cards we get every year, so I decided on a fun way to use them again. I stick them in a box with our holiday decorations,then when the next year comes around we use them to make tags for our presents. I let my son cut out the pictures into tag size pieces ,then we may add a squiggle border with a paint pen or marker, punch hole with a hole puncher and add a piece of ribbon! This is a great to teach kids to reuse things and it is a lot of fun too! ~Melodie

About 40 years ago we decided that there would be no gift exchange. There were no small children and what we bought for everyone was the wrong color, didn't fit or was just plain not liked. Therefore, Christmas in my family is getting together. The "Halls are all decked". We have a big Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day Dinner. We celebrate each other!! We therefore make a HUGE deal out of everyone's birthday as it rolls around. There is not hustle and bustle and fighting the crowds. ~Sharon

On OFL: Fun gift wrap to make yourself with the kids help!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Ideas for Your Holiday Table

Christmas is not in tinsel and lights and outward show. The secret lies in an inner glow. It's lighting a fire inside the heart. Good will and joy a vital part. It's higher thought and a greater plan. It's glorious dream in the soul of man. ~Wilfred A. Peterson

Today I have tips for your holiday table from some of our visitors.

I put my glass punch bowl on my glass cake stand and then I fill the bowl with blue and silver glass bulbs and around the base I put greenery with tiny silver and blue bulbs. I light the blue candles that I have placed in clear glass candle sticks on four sides. It sparkles wonderfully. For the kids table I glued different size and colored bulbs together to make a tree. Then I circled the bottom with greenery. ~Lisa A.

Each year we try something new with decorating the tables for Christmas lunch. The kids' table is my favorite to decorate. They get so excited when they see what awaits them each year.

There will be 8 kids and I am doing a gingerbread theme for their table. The tablecloth is red, with a white overcloth and will be sprinkled with Christmas glitter. The centrepiece is a gingerbread house we are making and 2 lolly (lollipop)trees. I have some gingerbread dolls that will grace the table and there will be a gingerbread boy or girl cookie with the child's name piped on it in icing. The cookies will sit on the white plates at each place setting. I bought some Christmas crackers that have a red and white swirly pattern on them for each place setting.

The adults table will have a white cloth with a gold and silver overcloth. The centrepiece is a silver and gold Christmas tree and beside it is two silver candle holders with white candles (they have little silver and gold stars on them). Our china is white and we'll use the crystal wine glasses (with gold bows tied on the stems) and the good silver cutlery. Each place setting will have a gold bauble with a place card attached to it. ~Lizzy

I laid a green tablecloth on the table; and in the center placed a small white tablecloth that has Christmas plaid border. I have a centerpiece of Santa's workshop. Around the workshop are goblets with a snow scene. I filled the goblets half full of rock salt and placed a votive candle in each one. The 4 goblets are placed around the workshop. The centerpiece is round so I put red garland around the base. The place settings are my Christmas dishes and I placed the napkins with gold napkin rings in the Christmas cup on top of the saucer which sets on the dinner plate.

My dining room buffet has a lot of candles, a nativity scene placed on a round mirror piece; angels, and Christmas tea cups. My buffet area I set up in my kitchen; I use the counters, butcher block table and breakfast bar; I set candles, whimsical Christmas pieces as decorations and of course my Snowman Soup Station for everyone to enjoy. I have a small Christmas tree with nativity scene ornaments on the Breakfast bar.
~Ms. Jodi

On OFL, Mary Emma shares on capturing holiday memories:

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Christmas Tips and Recipes

Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love. ~Hamilton Wright Mabie

Today I have a neat tip on making homemade gift tags and a couple of recipes for holiday goodies.

I wanted to make gift tags that were special and homemade. So I went to the fabric store and bought pieces of country Christmas fabric. The print on the fabric is in blocks with angels,santas and stockings. I put fusible webbing on the back . then ironed them on index cards and cut them out. Punched a small hole in the corner added a ribbon. I can write on the back of them and the are so cute and easy. ~Lisa

Make these for a special gift or just a very rich treat to accompany coffee tea after Christmas dinner. ~Lizzy

Christmas Truffles

7 oz. dark chocolate (good quality)
1/3 cup thickened cream
1 tablespoon of orange liqueur (or try rum)
3 oz. unsalted macadamia nuts (or almonds or hazelnuts)
Coatings: dark cocoa / shredded coconut / chocolate sprinkles

Put the chocolate and cream in a heatproof bowl (or double sauce pan) and place over a saucepan of simmering water (make sure bowl does not touch the water). Stir until the chocolate melts. Remove the bowl and stir in the liqueur and nuts. Cover and place in the fridge for a couple of hours or until firm enough to roll into balls. Line a tray with non stick paper, roll teaspoons of mixture into balls and place on tray. Put in freezer for about 30 minutes then roll the balls quickly to smooth the surface and roll in desired coating. Makes 36.They will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for a week.

Alabama Chocolate-Pecan Jumbo Christmas Fudge Pie
Christmas With Southern Living 2003

1 1/4 cups chocolate wafer crumbs
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 (12-ounce) package semisweet
chocolate morsels, melted
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans
Garnishes: vanilla ice cream, fudge topping

Combine chocolate crumbs and 1/3 cup melted butter, mixing well. Press into bottom and up sides of ungreased 9" pie plate. Bake at 350° F. for 6 to 8 minutes. Beat 1/2 cup butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add brown sugar, beating well. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in the melted chocolate and next 4 ingredients. Pour the filling into prepared crust. Bake at 375° for 25 minutes; cool
completely on a wire rack. Garnish, if desired. Yield: 1 (9") pie.

Make this adorable light bulb Santa this year!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Christmas Tips for Big Families

Christmas is a bridge. We need bridges as the river of time flows past. Today's Christmas should mean creating happy hours for tomorrow and reliving those of yesterday. ~Gladys Tabor

Thanksgiving is past, we survived Black Friday and now it's on to the Christmas and holiday tips!

Long time reader, Patty, sent in these wonderful holiday tips:

I have a pretty big family and we have never had a lot of money, so Christmas was a tough time for us for a while. We tried doing gifts for the kids only, but that didn't work because someone always found "something perfect" for someone else and had to give it, making others feel left out or the recipient feel uncomfortable. We tried drawing names, and that didn't work for the same reason. So about 22 years ago we came up with this idea, and it has served us well ever since.

We give to everyone, but we have a "handmade or less than $5" rule per person. If giving to a couple, you can do up to $10 together. At first we thought we couldn't do it, but took it as a challenge, and have had so much fun with it ever since. You have to get pretty creative sometimes to do the right gift for less than $5. We have found some fabulous kitchen gadgets for cooks, make food mixes and treats for the guys and teen boys, costume jewelry or journals and a fun pen for the teen girls, puzzles, games, and so on for the kids. We have given babysitting or yard work certificates, coupons for Christmas light take down, seeds from a special flower, homemade treats galore, and ornaments that have become treasured. You get the idea. Not only do we get to have the fun of planning the perfect gift for everyone, we get to have the opening fun, too, and nobody ever feels left out.

The children have grown up with this rule, so they don't expect big-ticket items, and they enjoy planning what they will make for the family too. I have to admit, there have been a few (very few) times when someone has cheated for the "absolutely perfect" gift, but it involved spending $6 on that special someone, never spending $10. Amazingly enough, even with inflation, it has gotten easier to spend so little, rather than harder, probably because we have so much fun with it and we are all committed to the game.

When my husband and I got married, and his large family had a similar problem, they came up with a different plan. The children do a name draw about a month before, and for adults they do a "pirate exchange", where each adult attending brings a gift of $20 or so, suitable for man or woman. We sit in a circle and draw numbers out of a bowl. Then the person with number 1 chooses a gift, unwraps it, and places it on their lap. Number 2 can steal that gift or open a new one. If the gift is stolen, the original owner cannot immediately steal it back, but must take a different gift. Then number 3 takes his turn, and so on. A gift can have three owners, then the third owner places it under their chair, making it untouchable. When all gifts have been opened and the game is over, there is usually some further trading that goes on. This way, everyone gets something good, nobody spends more than $20, and it is a fun way to spend some time together. This is actually so much fun that we have used it for kids Christmas parties too.

As far as the Christmas dinners go, we have a traditional dinner on Christmas day. But with so many people getting together, we also do a soup dinner on Christmas Eve. Since I am always off that day, I make a couple huge pots of soup, and my family brings breads or appetizers to go with it. Needless to say, there is usually some sort of dessert, too. We attend church service at 4:30, then go to see a hot air balloon "glow" that we have nearby or drive around looking at Christmas lights, then home for the soup and gifts. All in all, it's a very satisfying way to be together, with very little pressure and lots of fun.

Hope this helps someone out there. It certainly saves us time and money, two things we could all use a bit more of, especially at the holidays. ~Patty

On OFL, Mary Emma shares tips on decorating the holiday table:

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Ah! on Thanksgiving day....
When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,
And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before.
What moistens the lips and what brightens the eye?
What calls back the past, like the rich pumpkin pie?

~John Greenleaf Whittier

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Teaching Love & Charity

Thanksgiving Day comes, by statute, once a year; to the honest man it comes as frequently as the heart of gratitude will allow. ~Edward Sandford Martin

During these weeks before Christmas adults and children are bombarded with advertising on television, radio, the internet and in print. It's everywhere and it can become overwhelming. How can we combat all the emphasis on spending money and materialism to bring a true sense of the holidays to our homes? I have a few simple ideas to help you teach love and charity during this special time of year.

A kindness jar: Have each family member write down four acts of kindness that can be done for someone during the month of December. Place all the papers in a jar. On each Sunday during the month have family members pick a slip out of the jar. They will need to complete their act privately, without bragging or asking for help. You'll want to make sure everyone has fairly simple ideas. On Christmas Eve have everyone bring their slips to one room and together discuss what they did, what they learned and how they feel about the experiences.

Help Baby Jesus: Take pieces of straw (or cut up raffia if you don't have straw) and place them in a container. Using a ceramic baby Jesus, or your own homemade version, and a "manger" set up a little "station" where you can place the manger and a bowl or container with the straw. Set aside the baby Jesus until Christmas Eve. The object of this activity is to place a piece of straw in the manger every time someone does or says something nice for someone during December. Parents should stress that the more the kids do that is helpful and kind, the more bedding the baby will have on Christmas Eve to make his bed soft and comfortable. On Christmas Eve gather together and place the baby in the manger and discuss if it was hard or easy to remember to do nice things. This is a neat way to make kids think about how often they are polite, nice or helpful.

Helping Others: Sit down as a family and plan what you can do for those around you in need. It may include helping an elderly person in your neighborhood, donating food, toys or clothing to a mission, sponsoring a family or child through the Salvation Army Angel Tree or other similar projects, or making holiday cards for the local nursing home. Doing a few of these things doesn't cost much and really does make a difference to a family or a person in need. It's important to involve that kids as much as possible. Ask them what they would like to do, have them sort through their own toys, and let them see you doing the same thing. Each year try to do different things.

It is always better to teach our children by example and by our actions. What better way to take the focus off material wealth and the superficial commercialism of the holidays then to give to others.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hodge Podge Day

Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action. ~W.J. Cameron

Today I have readers tips and a question that was sent in recently. Perfect for the holiday week!

The pistachio quick bread sounds wonderful, but I'm wondering if the pudding is the cooking type or the instant. Thank-you.
Linda E.

Sorry I left that out Linda, it's instant pudding. You can use brand name or store brand. I noticed there are some cool new Jell-o flavors I'm going to have to try this year with the breads:)

Wanita shares two neat ornament ideas and a bread tip!

Crush a large shredded wheat biscuit. Add 1/4 cup white glue and coat the shredded wheat. Color with food coloring as desired and shape ornaments on plastic to dry. Paper clips may be inserted while wet for hangers. Let air dry, peel off plastic and decorate as desired. A small plastic lid from a margarine tub is great for wreath. The food coloring can stain hands so one might want to use gloves.

One year we had a "sweet" Christmas tree. I purchased miniature ice cream cones from McDonald's (like they use for their kiddie sample cones) and little satin ball ornaments. I hot glued the balls on the cones. After they were dry, I sprayed them with clear acrylic spray paint. We used candy canes, bows and gingerbread people with them. The ice cream cones lasted several years!

Adding some chopped marchino cherries to the pistachio bread makes it very Christmas-y and festive. ~Wanita

A reader also sent in this dishwasher tip:
I also have a front loading washer... The idea of running vinegar and bleach (on different cycles) is great, but she might also want to pick up a product in the dishwashing isle called Limi Shine..(this is also great for using in your dish washer for build up). I have had a problem in the past with smells on not only towels~used some Limi Shine (I used the delayed wash cycle) and it cleared right up...

Thanks everyone! ~Brenda

Monday, November 24, 2008

Holiday Beverage Tips

I have always looked at life as a voyage, mostly wonderful, sometimes rightening. In my family and friends I have discovered treasure more valuable than gold. ~Jimmy Buffet

Tammy, one of our visitors sent me this punch recipe to share. I made it for one of my daughter's birthday parties but it would also work for any party or open house.

When I give a party or shower everyone loves the punch I serve. Most of my friends request that I make this. ~Tammy

1 - can of strawberry soda
1 - 2 liter bottle 7-Up
1 - 2 liter bottle gingerale
1 large tub of pineapple sherbet

Put the entire tub of sherbet in a punch bowl, adding the bottle of 7-Up, about 1/2 of the gingerale, and 1 can of strawberry soda. You need to prepare this about 1/2 hour before serving to give the sherbet time to start melting into the punch. The punch should end up a light pink color you can add more 7-Up or gingerale to suit your taste.

Denirae, one of our community moderators shared this:
I have a great party punch too! Start with 1 bottle of white grape juice and 1 bottle of gingerale. Cut up fruit in tiny pieces, leaving the peel on. Use oranges, limes, apples (red & green), strawberries, blueberries, and grapes. Make a pretty ice ring ahead of time. Pour the grape juice and gingerale into the punch bowl add ice ring and then fruit. This is a very pretty and refreshing punch. I get a lot of requests for the recipe.

MSJODI shared this tip for serving beverages:
To keep beverages from being watered down by ice cubes: fill a small Ziploc bag with ice cubes, drop it in the pitcher to cool down the beverage. Remove when necessary or replace ice cubes in the bag when they melt and return to the pitcher.

We have more festive drink recipes for the holidays on OFL:

Friday, November 21, 2008

Old Fashioned Cookie Recipes

Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us,and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds. ~Theodore Roosevelt

One can never have too many cookie recipes! Today I have some good ones to try this holiday season.

White Chocolate Cranberry Macadamia Cookies

1 pkg. (8 squares) BAKER'S Semi-Sweet Baking Chocolate
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or margarine, softened
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp. CALUMET Baking Powder
1 pkg. (6 squares) BAKER'S White Baking Chocolate, chopped
or 1 cup BAKER'S White Chocolate Chunks
2 cups chopped PLANTERS Macadamias or Slivered Almonds
1 cup dried cranberries

MICROWAVE semi-sweet chocolate in large microwavable bowl on HIGH 2 minutes. Stir until chocolate is melted and smooth. Stir in sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla with wooden spoon until well blended. Stir in flour and baking powder. Stir in white chocolate, cranberries and nuts. Drop by scant 1/4 cupfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. BAKE at 350 degrees F. for 13 to 14 minutes or until cookies are puffed and feel set to the touch. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets. Cool completely on wire racks. Note: If omitting the nuts, increase flour to 3/4 cup to prevent spreading. Makes about 15 large cookies.

White Pfeffernuesse Cookies
From: McCall's Holiday Baking and Entertaining

4 cups sifted all-purpose flour (sift before
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeat
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
4 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup chopped candied citron
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
Confectioner's sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease several cookie sheets. Sift flour with baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeat and cloves. Set aside. In a large bowl, with electric mixer at high speed, beat eggs and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add citron and lemon peel, beat with wooden spoon until well blended. Add flour mixture, beating with wooden spoon until smooth. Refrigerate several hours or overnight. Shape cookies; form dough into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheets. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until set but not brown. Remove and cool completely on racks. Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar. Makes 4 dozen.

Mcgill, one of our long time forum members, found this recipe years ago in the newspaper:

Almond Crescents

3/4 cup icing sugar (confectioners')
1 cup margarine or butter
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup ground almonds
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
granulated sugar

Sift the icing sugar and cream gradually with the margarine. Add vanilla, cinnamon and almonds. Sift the flour and knead by hand into the creamed mixture. Chill the dough, them roll it to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Cut or form into crescent shapes and bake for about 25 minutes in a preheated oven (350 F). Makes 5 dozen. When they come out of the oven, sprinkle lightly with white sugar.

This recipe was the hit of our holiday season last year.

Soft Molasses Ginger Cookies

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses
2 eggs
Extra sugar

Combine all dry ingredients. Cream the butter and 1 cup sugar; add the eggs and molasses and blend well. Add dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and blend well. Shape into 1-inch balls and roll in sugar. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes at 350 degrees.

MORE spicy cookie recipes for the cookie jar on OFL:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Easy Christmas Crafts for Kids

We can only be said to be alive in those
moments when our hearts are conscious
of our treasures. ~Thornton Wilder

Today I have more ornament and easy craft ideas for family fun this Christmas season.

This is the easiest thing. My 7 year old made a ton of these last year for gifts for her friends and to decorate the tree in her bedroom. ~MaddeesMom

Ice Cream Ornaments: Take a plain white glass ball ornament (we just used the generic ones from Wal-Mart) and glue it (with the hanger straight up) into an ice cream cone. Paint the top of the ornament with glue (we just used Elmer's School Glue) and then sprinkle the top with tiny beads to look like sprinkles! They look really cute on a tree and they are an easy fast thing to do for Girl Scout meetings or for church bazaars.

I was just thinking back to different crafts I've done with the kids at Christmas and remembered some edible ones that were great fun. ~Lizzy, OFL Community Moderator

Edible Baubles: You'll need a foam ball, some ribbon or cord to make a hanger, toothpicks, soft sugar coated jellies/jubes (little ones are cute like Jelly Tots). Start by making a loop with the cord or ribbon knotting it. Use half a toothpick to secure it in the top of the foam ball. Break the toothpicks in half and push the broken end into a jelly then push the sharp end into the ball. Continue doing this until you've completely covered the foam ball. Hang on the Christmas tree (if it lasts that long).

Gingerbread puzzles: Make your favorite sugar cookie or gingerbread mix. Roll into a large rectangle then cut into rectangles about 4 x 6 inches big. Use a small Christmas cookie cutter to score a shape in the centre (stars work well). Score the rest of the cookie to look like a puzzle. Bake and once it's cooked remove from the oven and while it's still warm rescore right through. Leave to cool then decorate with piped icing and silver cachous. Place your cookie puzzle onto a piece of cardboard and wrap in clear cellophane. This is a cute gift for kids.

Cookie Houses: You need a pack of 100's and 1000's cookies (they are square shaped cookies covered in pink icing and 100's & 1000's sprinkles). If you can't get them any plain square shaped cookies will do. You'll also need some liquorice all sorts (cut in half diagonally so they are triangular shaped) and M&M's (or Smarties)and white royal icing.

Use 8 cookies per house- glue 6 cookies together with icing to form a box (the icing on outside if using 100's & 1000's cookies). Then glue (with icing) 2 together for the roof (use the liquorice at either end to help hold up the roof). Glue some M&M's to the roof. You can wrap these in clear cellophane to gift when they are set.

Cookie Pops: You'll need one paddle pop stick and 2 plain round cookies per pop, white royal icing, small candies to decorate. Sandwich the cookies together with a paddle pop stick between using the royal icing. Cover the outside of the cookies completely with icing. Decorate with coloured icing and little pieces of candy. We stuck red and green M&M's around the edges of the cookie pop. Leave cookie pops to set then package them in clear cellophane with a ribbon bow.

On OFL we have some great Advent crafts:


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Family Christmas Ornaments to Craft

Today I have some neat family Christmas ornaments from two of our visitors.

You can make beautiful ornaments using pipe cleaners and Borax for just about any holiday. These make great gifts, tree ornaments, kitchen magnets, or package decorations! ~Jeanie

You will need:
20 Mule Team Borax Laundry Booster
Chenille (pipe cleaners)
A wide mouth container
String or yarn and a pencil

Shape the pipe cleaners any way you want. you can make any shape you want... angels, stars, flowers, etc. In a wide mouth container (wide enough to hang your ornament in so it doesn't touch the bottom or sides), pour boiling water. Add about a cup of borax, less or more depending on the size of your container and the amount of water. A thick glass container works well, because you can see the Borax dissolving. Add enough Borax so the water is quite cloudy.

Suspend the Christmas ornament in the solution: tie a piece of string or yarn to it, tie the other end of the string to a pencil, and then lay the pencil across the top of your container. Make sure the pipe cleaner is completely immersed in the solution and isn't touching the sides or bottom of the container. As the solution cools, the crystals will begin to form on your pipe cleaner. Leave overnight. Remove from the solution and allow to dry.

Note: Overnight soaking will give you very thickly crystallized ornaments. If you want some of the color of the pipe cleaner to show through, leave in the solution for less time. If you want, you can spray your finished ornament with acrylic sealer or clear spray paint to keep the crystals from falling off too quickly.

Some ideas on using these ornaments:
-Tie several together to make a crystal mobile
-Hang on your Christmas tree
-Attach to gift packages
-Glue to cardboard backing to make a photo frame.
-Attach a strong magnet to the back.

These are just a few ideas. Use your imagination!

Birdseed Ornaments and Wreaths
I have done this every winter for the past 15 years. ~Lina

Mix together 3/4 cup flour, 1/2 cup water, and 3 tablespoons corn syrup. Add 4 cups birdseed and mix well.

Cover a try with waxed paper and make stars,(and other ornaments), place cookie cutters on tray and spoon bird seed mixture into cookie cutters. To make wreaths, shape birdseed mixture into wreaths and place on tray: (I make a circle pat to size I want and make sure there is a small hole in middle, should look like a small wreath) if desired, decorate wreaths with holly berries, cranberries, or raisins. Let dry for 4 to 6 hours, Remove ornaments from cookie cutters. Turn ornaments and wreaths over to dry for another 4 to 6 hours. wrap string of raffia around each wreath, and
also around ornaments...I just put a hole in before drying the ornaments. I use red and green raffia for the holidays. Then I hang on trees outside.

Birdseed Bell

For edible glue, mix together 3/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup water, and 3 tablespoons corn syrup. Using an old paintbrush,coat 2 1/4" diameter peat pots with edible glue; then roll pots in birdseed to cover. Place bells on waxed paper and let dry for 4 to 6 hours. ( I put them over something so the seed also stays on bottom of bell) To make clappers for each bell, use a needle and thread a string with 4 to 5 cranberries, go from inside bell and tie off on top (bow of raffia will hide it). Fold a piece of raffia in half (the length you want) Tie knot on end that is not cut then put the two pieces through drainage hole and tie in knot so it stays in place, add bow of raffia on top between the two strands and tie with string of some kind to keep bow in place, tie top of two strands in knot, hang on tree.

On OFL we have instructions to make these adorable clay pot snowmen!