Christmas Finnish Coffee Bread

This moist and flavorful bread has been served in our home on Christmas morning for many years, and our grown sons consider “Christmas bread” one of our important family traditions. The origins of this particular recipe are obscure – it is hand written in the back of a cook book published by, oddly enough, Vincent Price in 1965 and is on the next page after my grandmother’s recipe for fruit cake.

I’ve seen similar Scandinavian recipes over the years, all of which include cardamom seeds. It is made only at Christmas in our home, but certainly would be a welcome at any breakfast. This recipe is for six loaves. The baked loaves freeze well and when wrapped in foil and heated in a 325 degree oven are almost as good as when freshly baked. We enjoy giving the extras to neighbours on Christmas morning, but the recipe can easily be halved.

9 cups all purpose flour
2 cups warm milk (not low fat)
2 packages dry yeast
¼ cup warm water (90 – 110 degrees)
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 ½ cups sugar, plus extra for sprinkling loaves before baking
2 teaspoons salt
¾ cup softened butter
Seeds from 20 cardamom pods, crushed
1 cup sliced almonds
Egg wash (1 egg white whisked with ½ teaspoon water)

Dissolve yeast in the water and cover with a dish towel until bubbles appear. Mix sugar, eggs, salt, milk, butter, cardamom seeds and approximately 1 cup of flour and beat until soft. Add yeast and the remainder of the flour and knead until firm and smooth (Joanne uses the dough hook on her mixer, but certainly it can be done by hand).

In a bowl covered with a towel, let dough rise until doubled in size. Turning your oven on for a minute or two will warm it slightly and the dough will rise well in the oven. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth.

To shape, divide dough in half and divide each half into thirds, providing dough for six loaves. Divide each loaf’s dough into thirds, and roll each third on the work surface into “ropes” of equal length (they will be about 12 inches long). Place the three ropes together and braid into a single loaf. Place each loaf onto a buttered baking sheet, cover and let rise until doubled. The bread can be baked at this time or the dough can be covered with towels, refrigerated overnight and baked the next day.

To bake, pre heat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush each loaf with the egg wash and sprinkle with the sugar and almond slices. Bake 25 – 35 minutes until they are nicely colored. The bread tastes best warm and can be reheated in foil. Although several steps are required in this recipe, it is not difficult. Sharing the rolling out of the dough and the braiding of the loaves with children is fun and may start a new holiday tradition in your family.

About the author:
An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice president of the New Hampshire Farmer’s Market Association (www.nhfma.org). His column & recipes appear weekly in The Heart of New England’s newsletter… get a free subscription by visiting www.TheHeartofNewEngland.com

Ginger Cookie Recipes

One of my favorite cookie flavors – ginger. When we think of ginger cookies we usually think of the traditional dark gingersnaps. Here’s some other great ginger cookies you can try:

Soft Ginger Cookies

1/4 cup shortening
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup molasses
2 1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup hot water

Blend shortening, brown sugar and egg. Beat. Stir in molasses. Sift together flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, & cinnamon in a separate bowl. Add dry ingredients to shortening mixture alternately with hot water. Chill thoroughly. Drop by teaspoonful on greased cookie sheets. Bake for 8 – 9 minutes at 400F.

Gingerbread Cookies

Not as dark or hard as the traditional gingersnaps
1 1/4 cups margarine
2 eggs
2 cups sugar
4 cups flour
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ginger
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cloves
1/2 cups molasses

Cream margarine, eggs, molasses and sugar. Sift dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Add dry ingredients to liquid ingredients. Roll into balls and dip in sugar or roll and cut out desired shapes with cookie cutters. Bake 10 minutes for round balls and 8 minutes for rolled cookies at 350F. Let stand before taking out of pan. Cookies will be soft but will harden as they cool.

Ginger Crinkles

1 cup butter or hard margarine, softened
1½ cups sugar
1 large egg
2 tbsp. dark corn syrup
½ cup mild molasses
3 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp salt
¼ cup granulated sugar, for coating

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Put the first 5 ingredients into the bowl. Beat with blender until smooth. Add the next 6 ingredients. Stir with a spoon until moistened. Roll into 1½” balls. Roll the balls in sugar. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for 12 – 14 minutes. Makes 3 ½ dozen.

 

Writing the Perfect Christmas Letter

I don’t know about you, but I always look forward to receiving Christmas letters from family and friends during the holiday season. Often it is the only news you receive from some of them throughout the year.

I started sending out our family Christmas letter the year after I got married. Some adult children are content to share their family news in a letter from their parents, but I wanted to start our own family tradition with our own annual Christmas letter.

Sitting down to write a letter can be an intimidating task. It’s easy to put off until the last minute if you’re overwhelmed with the idea of trying to figure out what to say. There are several things to take into consideration when writing your own family Christmas letter.

Some people get very creative with their Christmas letters. There are a variety of formats to choose from. You can buy holiday printer paper at any office supply store. Just print out your letter on the decorated paper, and you’re all set to go. If you’re printing out a lot of letters and don’t want to spend as much on the paper, you can also just choose colored paper with no design… red or green paper look festive all on their own with your letter printed on them. You can also copy your letter on to the paper with a copy machine instead of printing each one on your printer. If you are into rubber stamping, you could also hand-decorate your letters after you print them.

Or, you can go paper-less! You can email your letter to family and friends if they have Internet access. This would allow you to insert pictures into your letter and not worry about having to print them. Some families have web sites set up to post family pictures and happenings. This would also be a great place to post your Christmas letter for all to see.

So what should you write in your letter? Keeping things short and to the point is definitely a fine art. I try to keep my letters to a page, if possible, a page and a half at the most. It also depends on how large your family is. The point is not to lose the reader’s interest with too many pages to read.

I start my letters out with a greeting, and then a paragraph or two of major family happenings, like births, deaths, weddings, etc. This is also a good place to briefly describe any favorite family vacations for the year. I then write a short paragraph about each family member to get everyone up to date about who just got their driver’s license, braces on or off, started their first job, etc. I just try to hit on the major milestones that people would be interested in knowing about.

You’ll find that once you sit down to start your letter that the words will just start flowing and you’ll be done with it in no time. Who knows better what happened in your family this year than you? It’s also a good idea to let someone else read it before you send it out to make sure you got your facts straight. Especially about your kids! That could definitely come back to haunt you later.

Try to send your letters and cards out during the first week of December. I love getting letters and cards at the beginning of the season. Hearing from family and friends is a great way to get into the holiday spirit, and once you have those letters out the door your time is freed up for other important tasks.

Make sure you keep a copy of your Christmas letter for yourself. I place a copy of mine in a binder I keep of all the holiday letters I receive. Someday this will be a wonderful keepsake for my children and grandchildren.

Rachel Paxton is a freelance writer and mom who is the author of What’s for Dinner?, an e-cookbook containing more than 250 quick easy dinner ideas. For more recipes, organizing tips, home decorating, crafts, holiday hints, and more, visit Creative Homemaking at http://www.creativehomemaking.com.

What to Do When You Are Alone for the Holidays

Being alone for the holidays is a major challenge for many people. Holidays often conjure images of family, of warmth and the sharing of special time. Loneliness can be overwhelming when you have no one with whom to share holiday time.

Many people, however, miss the point of what holidays are really about and what makes them special. Holidays are not about what you GET – they are about what you GIVE. Many people are under the misconception that the joy of holidays is about what you receive rather than about what you share.

Our hearts get filled with love when we give and share love, rather than from getting love.
This may seem like a paradox. Many people spend their time with others attempting to get love, attention and approval, thinking that this is what makes them feel happy and worthy. But getting attention from others to fill ourselves is like eating chocolate when you are lonely – it works for the moment but then you need more and more of it. Eventually it becomes an addiction.

What really fills the emptiness is the giving of love. If you are alone over the holidays, the question becomes, “How can I give love in ways that will bring me joy?”

Below are some suggestions for sharing your love and caring over the holidays:

* Gather toys from friends and store donations and bring them to children who would not otherwise have toys. You can find these children through schools, churches and various other organisations.

* Find a battered women’s shelter in your area and help to create the holiday there – preparing food, decorating the tree, and just spending time with them. Last year a friend of mine organized a number of her local markets to donate food over Christmas to the local shelter that housed mothers and their children who had left abusive husbands. She got to know the mothers and children and received great fulfilment in providing them with an abundant Christmas.

* Spend time with old people in nursing homes, especially those who have no family. Spending time caring about another lonely person will go a long way toward taking away your loneliness!

* Volunteer to help with serving food to the needy over Thanksgiving and Christmas. Many churches and other charitable organisations welcome volunteers to help in food lines over the holidays.

* Locate a retreat center near you that has a special event over the holidays and share your time with other people who are also alone for the holidays. Last year a friend of mine, who had just left her husband and was alone for the first time with no family around her, went to a beautiful retreat center on the East Coast. Twenty people gathered there to share Thanksgiving together. There was a wonderful ceremony of gratitude that she said filled her heart, and she enjoyed sharing time with new people.

* Find a church, temple or 12-step group in your area that has special events for singles over the holidays. Go to these events with the intention of sharing your caring with others, which you can do just by being interested in listening to another person. We all love being listened to and understood, and all of us have the capacity to give this to another.

One of my all-time favorite movies is “A Christmas Carol,” – the one starring Alistair Sim. I just love the scene on Christmas morning when Scrooge realizes that no time has passed and he has the opportunity to give. He feels such joy at the prospect of giving, that he can hardly stand it! He dances around and stands on his head and laughs and laughs with the joy of giving! In one night he went from being a miserable old man concerned only with getting, to a man now focused only on giving, and he became a joyful person.

While you might not have money to give, we all have caring to give. You have no idea how much you might enrich your own life as well as another person’s life just by giving your time, your attention, your interest, your smile, your understanding. Whatever your life circumstances, you always have the opportunity to give your caring. You will discover that giving your caring to others, especially over the holidays, is a profound way of caring about yourself.
Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is the best-selling author and co-author of eight books, including “Do I Have To Give Up Me To Be Loved By You?” She is the co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding healing process. Learn Inner Bonding now! Visit her web site for a FREE Inner Bonding course: http://www.innerbonding.com or mailto:margaret@innerbonding.com. Phone sessions available.

Easy Shortbread Cookies

1 cup soft butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups sifted flour

Preheat oven to 300F. Thoroughly mix butter and sugar. Stir in sifted flour (set 1/2 cup aside & add if needed). Mix thoroughly with hands. Roll into two logs, cover with wax paper and chill for 2 hours. Cut into slices and place on cookie sheets. You can also roll out and cut with cookie cutters (before chilling), place on cookie sheets, cover and chill for 2 hours. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 20 – 25 minutes. Yields 2 dozen.

How to Make More Money

Could you use a little more cold, hard cash? Who couldn’t? Generate (or free up) some quick bucks with these savvy tactics.

Hold a garage sale. Make sure you do it right. Get the word out through signs, flyers and ads to ensure plenty of traffic. Fill a cooler with cheap sodas and charge fifty cents a can. You can even scour others’ garage sales the week before yours for the ‘deals’ you’ll be re-selling!

Go over your budget. Are you cringing? Don’t be. By simply keeping track of where your money goes for a month or so, you’ll quickly see a few easy places to free up cash. When you know that it’s temporary, it’s very easy to do. No pizza for just this week; instead have a picnic with leftovers while watching a video. Combine errands for a couple of weeks and deposit the gas savings into your ‘extra cash’ account. Reward yourself in a non-monetary way for the ‘sacrifice’ you’re making and you’ll find this can be a lot of fun!

Give lessons. You don’t need to be a pro to share your knowledge with others. Keep your prices low so people will respond favorably and remember, it’s more than you were making otherwise. Sewing, gardening, cooking, musical lessons, you name it. You may find you really enjoy teaching others!

Create a summer job. You don’t have to be a teenager to mow lawns or baby-sit. Many people do handyman-type work in the summer such as painting, mowing, or general fix-it work. Deliver newspapers. Offer to cook a meal a week for a busy family. If you’re going to be working on someone else’s property, be sure you get the proper insurance first to protect yourself as well as check on the necessary licensing in your area.

Start a business. Everyone knows that most businesses are not profitable right away, but there are exceptions. Join a party-plan or direct sales company and you could be making money very quickly. Just make sure you have a plan of action first, since these types of jobs require significant personal motivation to work.

Barter. Maybe what you really need is not cash, but a particular project done. If you can do top-notch work yourself in a different area of expertise, offer to trade services/products with someone in the field you need. The key is to keep the retail value of the traded work or product equal so that everyone comes out a winner. Be creative! For a little investment of time and energy, you could have the extra cash you need!

Colleen Langenfeld delivers deals, tips and creative resources to working moms who want the most out of their homes, families and careers at http://www.paintedgold.com . Sign up for our free newsletter and get an online Creativity Toolkit as our gift to you!

Leftover Turkey Casserole

Turkey Casserole is a delicious way to use those turkey leftovers!

2 cups uncooked rice
3 ½ cups water
¼ cup chopped celery
¼ cup chopped onion
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
½ tsp sage
2 cups chopped turkey
2 cups turkey gravy

Cook rice with water, celery, onion, salt, pepper & sage. Add turkey & gravy. Put in an open casserole & bake for ½ hour at 375F until top is browned. You can add cooked vegetables if you like to make it a complete meal.

121 Fun Sayings For Simple Gifts

All of the following are cute little sayings I have compiled, that go with a particular gift item. Do just one item for a simple gift, OR consider putting together a basket of several items and attach their saying to each item.

  1. Any sweet treat: “Wishing you a season filled with sweetness!”
  2. A plate of cookies: “Wishing you a wonderful Christmas, from your “crummy” neighbors.
  3. Barq’s Root Beer: “Have a wonderful Christmas, it shows you’re “Barqing” up the right tree!”
  4. Any soda: “We’re “soda-lighted” to wish you a Merry Christmas!”
  5. Popcorn: “We just “popped” in to wish you a Merry Christmas!”
  6. Loaf of bread: “For being there when you were “kneaded”, for “rising” to the occasion, large or small. For never “loafing” on the job, for helping others “heel” with TLC. No matter how you “slice” it, you do a terrific job loving others.”
  7. Bananas: “If we could choose our friends, and we searched the whole world through, we’d go “bananas” trying to find a better “bunch” than you!”
  8. Bear Shaped Honey: “Hoping our “honey” of a friend has a “beary” Merry Christmas”.
  9. Microwave Popcorn and 2-liter of soda: “Pop, pop, fizz, fizz, oh what a good friend you is!”
  10. Mug with Hot Chocolate Mix: “To our special friends so dear, wishing you a cup of cheer.”
  11. Eggnog: “Have an “udderly moovalous” holiday!”
  12. Ice Cream: “Have a cool yule!”
  13. Hershey’s Kisses in a Wire Wisk: “We “whisk” you a merry “kiss” mas.
  14. Paper Towels: “Blot out your troubles, “absorb” the Christmas spirit!”
  15. Candle: “Hope your Christmas is full of light”
  16. Pencil and notepad: “Hope your Christmas is something to write home about!”
  17. Matches: “To our matchless friends”
  18. Bubble Gum or Bubble Bath: “May your holidays “bubble” over with fun!”
  19. 7Up: “7 Up ideas for a wonderful holiday season” (include 7 uplifting thoughts/ideas)
  20. Sprite: “May your Christmas be Merry and “Sprite”!”
  21. Rootbeer: “We’re “rooting” for you to have a Happy Holiday Season!”
  22. Any Pop: “We’re “soda-lighted” to have you as our friends!”
  23. Popcorn: “We’re “popping” by with a holiday HI!”
  24. Chocolate Covered Cherries: “Wishing you a very “cherry” Christmas”
  25. Mints: “We “mint” to wish you a Merry Christmas”
  26. Snickers Candy Bar: “Don’t “snicker” – just be glad you got something!”
  27. Cookie Dough – “Here’s a little extra “dough” for Christmas”
  28. Jar of Jam: “Hoping your Christmas is “jam” packed with cheer”
  29. Veggies & Dip: “Dip into the holidays and a healthy New Year!”
  30. Pasta: Have a “pasta-tively” happy holiday!”
  31. Muffins or Muffin Mix: “You’re gettin’ “muffin” for Christmas!”
  32. Grater & Cheese: “To a “grate” neighbor”
  33. Seasoning Mix: “Seasoned with love – Happy Holidays!”
  34. Any Sweet Treat: “Wishing you a season full of sweetness!”
  35. Whisk Broom: “Take a break, From a Busy Day, and Sweep All Your Cares Away!”
  36. Basket of Bath Items: “When you feel like a basket case, take a break…and slow your pace”
  37. Basket of Rolls and Honey Bear: “Have a honey of a Christmas”
  38. Hershey’s Kisses: “Merry “Kiss”mas”
  39. Bath oils, bubbles, salts: “The holidays can be a strain on our body and brain, so when you feel stressed, a hot bath is best, it truly will help keep you sane!”
  40. Soup mix: You’re “souper” – Merry Christmas”
  41. Wooden spoon w/ favorite drink or baking mix: “Not a creature was “stirring”…”
  42. Oven Mitt filled w/ treats: “We have to ad-“mitt” you’re a great neighbor!”
  43. Frozen cookie dough w/ cookie cutters: “Bake up some Christmas cheer!”
  44. Apple Cider w/wassail mix: “Spice Up Your Christmas!”
  45. Bag/Box of Whoppers: “Hope you have a “whopper” of a Christmas”
  46. M&M’s: Have a Merry and Most Wonderful Holiday Season!”
  47. Frozen or Ready-To-Bake Pizza: “Warm up to a wonderful holiday season “topped” with Christmas cheer!”
  48. Apples and Hershey’s Hugs: A teacher can’t live by apples alone…she needs hugs too!”
  49. Popcorn Balls: “Hoping you have a “ball” this Christmas season”
  50. Jolly Ranchers: “Have a holly “jolly” Christmas”
  51. Chex Party Mix: “Remember Santa “chex” his list twice to see who’s been naughty or nice…so be good for goodness sake!!!
  52. Box of Hostess Ho-Ho’s:” Hope a merry “Ho-Ho-Ho” fills your heart the whole year through!”
  53. Jar of Jelly: “Jelly is like love — you can’t spread it around without getting some on yourself!”
  54. Christmas Tray: “We “tray”sure your friendship!”
  55. Bell: “With each chime of this festive bell, may a Christmas wish come true, and bring you peace and happiness to last the whole year through!”
  56. Yule Log: “We send you warm greetings this Christmas seasoning”
  57. Potpourri: “May this weet scent bring back thoughts of warm Christmasses long ago!”
  58. Cleaners: “You add sparkle and make our life brighter!”
  59. Nuts: “We’re nuts about you!”
  60. Lifesavers: “You’ve been a life saver!”
  61. Juice pitcher filled with candy canes: “We pitcher you raising a little “cane” during the holidays”
  62. Broom or Feather Duster: “You’re “dust” the finest neighbors we know!”
  63. Measuring Cup or Spoons: “Wishing you a joy beyond “measure”!”
  64. Star ornament: “Remember the reason for the season!”
  65. Chocolate Mousse Mix: “Merry Christmousse to our “deer” friends!”
  66. Wooden Spoon: “Whether stirring up cakes, cookies, soups or souffles; You’ll find this sppon useful in so many ways. But whatever it’s use, it says, “Merry Christmas from us to you!”
  67. Flower: “If friends were flowers, we’d pick you!”
  68. Heart Ornament: “May the joy and love you give away, come back to you on Christmas Day”
  69. Cinnamon Sugar for toast: “May your Christmas be sprinkled with laughter and love!”
  70. Christmas music: “May the sweet song of Christmas make your heart rejoice!”
  71. Filled Basket: “Wishing you a basket full of Christmas blessings”
  72. Salsa: “Add a little spice to your holidays”
  73. Stocking or Filled Jar: “Have a fun filled Christmas this year!”
  74. Candle: “May your days be happy, your heart be light, your Christmas merry and the New Year bright!!!”
  75. Calendar: “Keep Christmas in your heart the whole year through!”
  76. Sugar Cookies: “Rolling out a batch of Christmas cheer, for someone we think is very dear!”
  77. Cherry 7-Up: “Just a little Christmas cheer from Happy Hearts this time of year!”
  78. Sparkling Cider: “Wising you a sparkling hoilday season!”
  79. Warm casserole or bread: “Bundled up with warm wishes”
  80. Eggbeater: “Have an “eggstra” special holiday!”
  81. Pie: “Wishing you a scrupmtuous Christmas”
  82. Oranges: ” Orange” you glad we’re Friends!?” Merry Christmas!!
  83. Chocolate Orange: “Orange” you glad it’s Christmas? Hope your Christmas is a Sweet one!
  84. Ice Cream Snowballs and Hot Fudge: “Here’s some packaged”snowball” treats – Just Drizzle Hot Fudge and its ready to eat!…Enjoy!!”
  85. Box of Light Bulbs: “Have a bright and radiant Christmas”
  86. Anything Santa: “Ho – Ho – Hoping your Christmas is Heavenly!”
  87. Anything Angel: “Hoping you have a Heavenly Christmas!!”
  88. Gingerbread House: “Nibble, Nibble like a mouse, We hope you’ll nibble at this house!” Merry Christmas!!
  89. Mugs with Hot Chocolate Mix: “To our special friends who are so Dear, We wish you all a cup of Cheer!”
  90. Cocoa Mix: “Wishing you a warm and wonderful Christmas!”
  91. Gum: “By Gum, You’re a great Neighbor!! “Have a Merry Christmas”
  92. Christmas Shaped pasta: “Have a Pasta-tively Happy Holiday!”
  93. Jar of Jam: “Hoping you have a Holiday “Jammed” packed with fun!!” “Have a “Berry” nice holiday season!!” Or “Hoping your Christmas is “Jam-packed” with Christmas Cheer!!”
  94. Homemade Frozen Rolls – “Here’s a little holiday treat. Rise and bake, it can’t be beat! Warm fresh rolls just for you. Top with butter that’s all you do! Warm Holiday Greetings to you”
  95. Brownie Mix (or other mix): “Whip up this mix for a wonderful holiday fix! Wishing you a “rich” Holiday Season!!” (Attatch the recipe!)
  96. Homemade carmels: Hoping you have a “Rich” and “wonderful” Holiday!!”
  97. Pie: “Just a “Holiday Hi” and a tasty Pie!! Happy Holidays!!”
  98. Divinity: “May your Christmas be “Devine” and your Holidays so Fine! Sweet Christmas Wishes!”
  99. Rice Krispie Treats: “Snap, Crackle, Pop” We think You’re really Tops!”
  100. Toffee or Brittle: “Any way you break it, We think you’re the greatest!”
  101. Fudge: “Fudge” a little on the calories and enjoy the Holiday Season!”
  102. Cheese Ball and Crackers: “We don’t mean to sound “Cheesey”, we just hope you have a “Ball” this Holiday Season! Or “Spread a little Christmas Cheer this Holiday Season!”
  103. Apple Anything (pie, cobbler, crisp, muffins etc.): “Sending you a “Bushel” of love this holiday Season!!” Or ” You are the apple of my eye, Teacher!”
  104. Banana Bread: “Banana Bread just for you, because you have so much to do… We also love you a whole “Bunch” too! Merry Christmas!”
  105. Cinnamon Rolls: “Here’s a sweet treat “Rolled” up with warm Holiday Wishes! Merry Christmas!”
  106. Homemade Chocolates: “You’re so sweet…having you as neighbors is really a treat! Have a Heavenly Holiday Season!”
  107. Cake or Cupcakes: “You take the “Cake” neighbor, We think you’re first rate! Happy Holidays to you!!”
  108. Cornbread or Mix: “We’re not trying to be “Corny” we just want you to have Merry Christmas!”
  109. Carrot Cake: ” I Really “Carrot” alot about you!! Merry Christmas”
  110. Spiced Drink Mixes: “Hoping your Holidays are “Spiced” Just right!”
  111. Recipe: “Just like you friend…it’s tried and true, just for you! Happy Holiday Baking or Merry Christmas Cooking!”
  112. Pizza – “Hope your Holiday has a touch of “Pizza – z!!” Merry Christmas!!”
  113. Crayons and Coloring Book: Hope your Holidays are Colorful!
  114. Plant: “The kindness you showmakes our friendship grow and grow! Hope you have a Happy Holiday!!”
  115. Stuffed animal: “Pawsing” to wish you a Merry Christmas!”
  116. Donuts: “Donut” you know we love you??? Have a happy Holiday!!”
  117. Tree shaped pasta, tree shaped container or a small Christmas tree: “Hope your Christmas is “tree-mendous”!”
  118. Payday candy bar: “It’s the “nutty” time of the year again, so please don’t lose your cool! Relax, and much this little treat and have a happy yule!”
  119. Squeeze-It Juice drink & a Hershey’s Kiss: “Here’s a “squeeze and a “kiss”, to remind you you’re loved all through the year!”
  120. Salsa & Tortilla Chips: “Have a hot and spicy Christmas!”
  121. Scouring pad/sponge: “I scoured the earth for a friend like you!”

This collections was compiled by Brandie Valenzuela. If you like this article, then be sure to check out Brandie’s FREE ezines dedicated to the family: The Family First Newsletter and the Daily Holiday Recipe at: http://members.aol.com/BMValen/index.html

Thinking outside the Christmas Gift Box

Making a list… Checking it twice…?

This is the time of year when we find ourselves chewing on the pencil, because some people are “just so hard to buy for!” Sometimes buying a gift is not the answer, either because the loved one is materially blessed and does not need any more “dust catchers”, or their needs in time and thoughtfulness are much greater!

Here are some ideas that can fill those gaps:

For the professional couple with little time for themselves: Make a batch of Hot-Buttered-Rum* mixture and give together with a small bottle of good quality, dark Rum. The mixture takes about 15 minutes to make and this will give the couple a delicious treat in front of the fireplace on cold winter nights.

For elderly relatives and friends: Elderly people often cannot drive after dark and miss out on such things as concerts, stage performances, etc. A nice gift would be tickets & transportation to the event.

For teenagers: Teenagers love a hang-out. Give teenagers and their buddies gift certificates to the same fast-food place, so they can meet, have a burger and “hang out”.
Don’t just think “winter” when puzzling what gifts to give. A gift certificate to the garden center, pool supply, etc. will be very much appreciated. Most gardeners find much more than they can afford.

For the young, working couple with children: Gift certificates for free baby-sitting is always appreciated for these families. Young couples need time to themselves, and most of the time cannot afford the expense of a night out and babysitter fees.

This article provided courtesy of http://www.pondmarket.com The site for lots of Pond and Water Garden Information! FREE Newsletter for fun and helpful water garden information. Sign-up at http://www.pondmarket.com/sign-up.htm

Winter Time Fun with Kids!

Winter is the time of year when many of us, due to inclement weather, are forced to stay inside. If you have kids underfoot during this time of year, you are all likely to suffer a bout of cabin fever. If the winter season has left you feeling a bit down, here are a few activities to brighten your mood, and lift your spirits!

Let’s go skating!

Your little ones may be too young to ice skate, but they can enjoy an afternoon of skating right in your own home. Just slip some socks onto your child’s feet and find a non-carpeted floor. Turn on some holiday music and “skate” around the floor together. (Someone has also suggested tying coloring books to the child’s feet and “skate” on the carpeting, but I would stick to the non-carpeted method! Also, this could be a unique way to clean the floor, too!)

Match the pictures!

Find some holiday stickers. Place two identical stickers on the left and right sides of an index card and then cut the card in half, in a jig-jag form. Use a highlighter to highlight the edges. Do this with a variety of stickers. Have your child match the stickers and line up the two halves of the index cards.

Play in the snow!

If you live in an area where you get snow and you are feeling adventurous, bundle up your child and head outdoors for some snow building! You don’t have to build the traditional snowman — be creative! Try to build an animal or a house! Let your child decide what to build and then jump right in and get to work! Be sure to have a camera on hand for the finished product! Who knows? This might be a fantastic time to get that perfect holiday picture for those holiday cards you send.

Make your own cards!

You don’t have to rush out to your nearest card shop for the best holiday cards in town. Gather up some art materials, such as wrapping paper, construction paper, ribbons, bows, glitter, crayons, stickers, and more, and let your child create a personal holiday card. Help them prepare it, for mailing to that special relative or friend.

Make a holiday video!

Videotape your child while asking him or her a variety of questions. “What is your favorite holiday song?” “What is your favorite holiday food?” “What would be the best present you would like to get this year?” “How do you make holiday cookies?” You can come up with your own assortment of questions. You will be surprised and tickled by the response. This videotape would make a great gift for that out-of-town relative who does not often get the chance to see your child! What a precious keepsake, too. Imagine looking at the tape again in ten or twenty years!

Build a snowman….inside!

Grab some cotton balls and some construction paper and glue and let your child make a snowman on paper. Older children can add beads for the nose, eyes, mouth, and buttons.

Have an indoor picnic!

If you traditionally decorate your home for the holidays, spend an evening in the family room and spread out a blanket on the floor. Pack a picnic basket and enjoy the holiday spirit.

Get up and move!

I am not telling you to pack your bags! I am only telling you to re-energize yourself and get some of that excess energy out of your kids by turning on some holiday music and dancing to the beat. My three boys love to do stretching exercises with me to music. We will also do jumping jacks, run in place, and play Follow the Leader, to the beat of the music.

Wrap it up!

Too many presents to wrap and not enough time? Have your child help you wrap the gifts! (Just be sure none of the gifts you are wrapping are for your child!) My boys love to place bows on the packages and attach the gift cards. They even enjoy putting stickers on the packages. For more fun, buy plain paper and let your child decorate the paper with crayons, markers, stickers, etc., and see the joy on his or her face as you wrap gifts in the paper your child has designed!

It’s cookie time!

While making that holiday assortment of cookies, cakes, and pies, let your child sit close-by and make his or her own “treats” with Play-Doh. Your child can imitate what you are making and come up with some pretty fascinating treats, too! (Just make sure they do not eat the treats they made!)

Wintertime can be a fun time! Just look around you. There are plenty of things to do. Sometimes, you might get lucky enough and find the temperature rising to a place where you and your child can comfortably dash outside. But, once those cold winter winds come around again, just enjoy the precious time you and your child will have together. These days come around only once. Be creative. Let your child have some input as to what he or she wants to do. Sometimes, they can be much more creative than we can!

Have a beautiful and blessed holiday season!

Ann E Butenas is a stay-at-home mom of three preschool-age boys. She has an undergraduate degree in Communications, a post-bachelor paralegal certificate, and a Master’s in Business Management. She earned the latter during her first two pregnancies while running an at-home business at the same time. She has been professionally published as a writer since the age of 12. Ann currently owns and operates ANZ Publications, a publications business specializing in family-riented projects. Her most recent project includes a very unique medical and dental records binder….a great way to keep track of a child’s complete medical history from birth through adolescence. Visit the site at http://www.anzpublications.com. ANZ is an acronym, by the way, for her son’s Alec, Noah, and Zach. It is pronounced as “Ann’s,” for her first name, but spelled as such to include the boys! Her website showcases her new book.

Potted Christmas Trees – Are They Worth It?

Each holiday season, I think about getting a live, potted Christmas tree. I keep thinking that it would sure save a lot of money because we should be able to use it as a Christmas tree for a few years — as long as I can keep it alive. Then, when it grows too big to be a Christmas tree, we could either plant it in the yard, in the community or in the forest. But could I keep it alive?

This year, I did some research to help me make the decision of whether or not to purchase one. Here are three important factors that I based my decision upon:

~ Most potted Christmas trees have only a 50-50 chance of surviving the move from indoors to the landscape, even with proper care.

~ Larger trees are more prone to go into transplant shock than smaller ones, so if you do purchase one, go for a smaller tree.

~ The tree should not be in the house any longer than 7-10 days.

With the price of live, potted Christmas trees being so high, I am thinking twice after knowing this information. For one thing, I’m used to being able to take the Christmas tree down at my leisure, with no time constraints. There is enough to do at Christmas time, without adding another time demanding task. But, if you decide you still want to give it a try, here’s some information about growing them.

To Plant or Not to Plant

If you decide to keep your tree in its’ container, you will need to water it religiously. This is extremely important. Keeping it in its’ container will give you time to think about where you want to plant it in the spring. You may even want to try and keep growing it in the container for next Christmas. Remember that it can not stay in the house longer than 7-10 days. You’ll need to place the potted tree out in your yard. At planting time, plant the tree the same depth at which it was growing. Water well, and mulch to help protect from hard freezes. If you live where the ground freezes, dig your hole before it`s frozen, set the tree in the hole and surround the roots with mulch until spring, when you can properly plant it after the ground thaws. Stake the tree to prevent wind damage.

Where to Plant

Because of the pyramid shape of pine trees, the best place to plant one in your yard is in a corner. Here it will take up less space of your yard. Of course, you can plant it anywhere you want, but remember that most of these trees can grow huge in 20 or 30 years. Look around, before you plant, for power lines or rooftops that the tree may come in contact with after it grows very tall. Garden centers usually offer dwarf varieties also; be sure to check the label for size, zones and growing requirements.

I hope this article gives you enough information for making the decision of whether or not to purchase a live potted Christmas tree.

Monica Resinger is editor/founder of Creative Gardening newsletter, a FREE and fun interactive ezine. Each Monday you’ll be able read, answer or ask gardening questions! Also included in the ezine is a gardening article and a seed swap. To subscribe, send a blank e-mail to: CreativeGardening-subscribe@egroups.com To find out about Monica’s other ezines, Creative Home and Creative Home Money, please go to: http://www.geocities.com/plantldy.geo

The Care & Feeding of Christmas Trees

The Christmas tree is often the focal point of holiday decorating, and can be the source of many a happy holiday tradition, such as decorating parties or ornament collecting. But every tree trimmer’s nightmare is the tree that immediately loses all its needles and becomes drier than the Nevada desert in a mere matter of days.

Don’t let this happen to your tree. We’ve got tips for selecting and maintaining a beautiful tree throughout the holiday season.

Selecting the Perfect Christmas Tree
It’s not hard to select a good tree. It’s like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree – once you adorn them with lights and ornaments, nearly all trees look beautiful. But just in case you want a tree that’s more perfect than any of the others, here are a few tips to keep in mind

* Before you leave to choose a tree, check the height of the ceiling in the room where it will be displayed. Things have a way of looking smaller outdoors. Select a tree that is at least one foot shorter than your ceiling height.

* Shake or bounce the tree to check that the needles are firmly attached. Few needles will fall off a fresh tree. The older the tree, the more needle loss you will have. Don’t be fanatical about this, there will always be some needles that fall out. Think of it as the difference between normal hair loss versus going bald.

* If you run your fingers over the branch along the needles, they should adhere to the branch, and bend but not break.

* Check that the bottom of the tree has a trunk at least 6-8 inches long for proper placement in a tree stand.

* Make sure the trunk is straight, so the tree can properly stand.

* Inspect along the trunk, and between the branches for insects.

Caring for the Tree at Home

* If you don’t plan on decorating the tree right away, cut about an inch off the base and stand the tree in a bucket of water, in a shady outdoor spot.

* When you bring the tree indoors, cut 1/2 to one inch off of the base of the trunk, and place in a tree stand that holds at least one gallon of water.

* Never place the tree near a fireplace, heater vents or other sources of heat.

* Always keep the tree supplied with water. Christmas Trees can be thirsty, even going through a quart or more of water a day. Check the water level in the tree stand at least twice a day. Take care to never let the water level fall below the base of the tree as it can seal over and prevent the tree from being able to absorb water later. If this happens, you can take the tree down and cut about an inch off the bottom, which will once again allow for water uptake.

Fire Safety

* A fresh tree supplied with water presents little fire hazard. As long as the tree takes up water, it will be relatively fire resistant. Do not allow the water level in the tree stand to fall below the base of the tree (see tips above).

* Fire Marshall-approved treatments can be sprayed on trees to reduce flammability. These contain borax or other flame-retardants. Check with the salesperson when you purchase your tree, or with the fire department or County Agent for specific fire-retardant treatments.

* Use only UL-approved lights and nonflammable decorations.

* Turn off lights when leaving the house or going to bed.

Bugs in the System

* Be aware of insects that can enter the home on the Christmas tree and emerge in the warm house.

* Inspect the tree before bringing it inside. Shake and bounce the to dislodge insects that may be hiding.

* If you find insects, you can spray the tree with an indoor-outdoor aerosol insecticide containing pyrethrins before bringing the tree inside. These are common insecticides available at grocery stores. This same spray can be used if you discover insects after the tree is in the house. It is important to observe all directions, restrictions and precautions on pesticide labels, and to keep pesticides out of reach of children and animals.

Cranberry Chutney

1- 16 oz. can whole-berry cranberry sauce
1 – 8.25 oz. can crushed pineapple, unsweetened, drained
1 – 5 oz. bottle prepared horseradish

Yield: approximately 2-1/2 cups

Combine ingredients in medium bowl. Transfer to serving bowl, serve immediately, or cover and chill until serving time. Serve chutney alongside ham.

More Cranberry Sauce Recipes

Classic Cranberry Sauce
Molded Cranberry Sauce
Tangerine Apricot Cranberry Sauce
Dried Cherry Cranberry Sauce
Jalapeno Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry Raisin Sauce
Cranberry Chutney
Cheri Sicard is the editor of FabulousFoods.com where you’ll find recipes, an online cooking school, celebrity chef interviews, holiday and entertaining ideas, free cooking newsletters and more. http://www.fabulousfoods.com

Cranberry Raisin Sauce

Note from Cheri: Here’s a spicy cranberry sauce that goes equally well with ham and pork roasts, as it does with turkey.

1 C orange juice
1/2 C fresh cranberries
1 T cornstarch
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 C raisins

Makes about 1 Cup

Combine the juice and cranberries in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat just until the berries “pop.” Add the remaining ingredients and cook until the mixture is thick. Serve hot over ham, pork roasts, or turkey.

More Cranberry Sauce Recipes

Classic Cranberry Sauce
Molded Cranberry Sauce
Tangerine Apricot Cranberry Sauce
Dried Cherry Cranberry Sauce
Jalapeno Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry Raisin Sauce
Cranberry Chutney
Cheri Sicard is the editor of FabulousFoods.com where you’ll find recipes, an online cooking school, celebrity chef interviews, holiday and entertaining ideas, free cooking newsletters and more. http://www.fabulousfoods.com

Jalapeño Cranberry Sauce

Note from Cheri: Tart cranberries and sweet orange pair beautifully with a little bit of jalapeno heat, in this unique cranberry sauce recipe.

This recipe can be prepared up to 4 days ahead of time. Refrigerate until use.

12 oz fresh cranberries
zest of 1 orange, finely grated
juice of 2 oranges
2 T tequila
1/2 C sugar
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped

Makes about 1 1/2 Cups

Add enough water to the orange juice to make one cup of liquid. Combine cranberries, orange zest, juice and water, tequila, and sugar in a large pot. Bring to a slow boil, stirring occasionally. When the cranberries begin to pop, add the chopped jalapeño cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. If the sauce seems a little thick, add a bit more water. Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl and chill.

More Cranberry Sauce Recipes

Classic Cranberry Sauce
Molded Cranberry Sauce
Tangerine Apricot Cranberry Sauce
Dried Cherry Cranberry Sauce
Jalapeno Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry Raisin Sauce
Cranberry Chutney
Cheri Sicard is the editor of FabulousFoods.com where you’ll find recipes, an online cooking school, celebrity chef interviews, holiday and entertaining ideas, free cooking newsletters and more. http://www.fabulousfoods.com

Dried Cherry Cranberry Sauce

Note from Cheri: Dried cherries and fresh cranberries pair beautifully. Cloves are a festive touch and some spice for a complex cranberry sauce that will have your Thanksgiving dinner guests talking.

This recipe can be prepared up to 4 days ahead of time. Refrigerate until use.

2 1/2 C cranberry juice cocktail
2 C tart dried cherries
1 C sugar
1 package, 12 oz., fresh cranberries
1/4 tsp. ground cloves

Makes about 4 cups

Bring cranberry juice to a simmer in heavy, large saucepan. Remove from heat. Add dried cherries and let stand 10 minutes. Mix in sugar, cranberries and cloves. Cook over medium-high heat until cranberries pop – about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Chill until cold. Sauce will thicken as it cools.

More Cranberry Sauce Recipes

Classic Cranberry Sauce
Molded Cranberry Sauce
Tangerine Apricot Cranberry Sauce
Dried Cherry Cranberry Sauce
Jalapeno Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry Raisin Sauce
Cranberry Chutney
Cheri Sicard is the editor of FabulousFoods.com where you’ll find recipes, an online cooking school, celebrity chef interviews, holiday and entertaining ideas, free cooking newsletters and more. http://www.fabulousfoods.com

Tangerine Apricot Cranberry Sauce

Note from Cheri: I love the taste of tangerines – all the goodness of oranges with an extra special “bite”. Combine them with sweet dried apricots and cranberries, and you’ve got a fabulous flavor medley.

1 12 oz. package cranberries (about 3 cups)
1 cup chopped dried apricots
1 1/2 T tangerine zest
1 2/3 cups tangerine juice
1 3/4 cups sugar 1 tsp. dried ginger

Makes about 3 cups

Stir all ingredients together in a saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Cover pan and increase the heat. Boil until the cranberries “pop” (about 10 minutes), stirring occasionally. The mixture will thicken as it cools. Keep refrigerated. Can be made up to 4 days ahead of time.

More Cranberry Sauce Recipes

Classic Cranberry Sauce
Molded Cranberry Sauce
Tangerine Apricot Cranberry Sauce
Dried Cherry Cranberry Sauce
Jalapeno Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry Raisin Sauce
Cranberry Chutney

Cheri Sicard is the editor of FabulousFoods.com where you’ll find recipes, an online cooking school, celebrity chef interviews, holiday and entertaining ideas, free cooking newsletters and more. http://www.fabulousfoods.com

Molded Cranberry Sauce

Note from Cheri: Here’s a serving idea for cranberry sauce — make it in a decorative mold. This recipe combines the best of jelled and whole cranberry sauce in a beautiful way.

3 C fresh cranberries
3 1/2 C cranberry juice cocktail (you can also use blends like cran-apple or cran-raspberry juice)
4 (1/2 oz.) envelopes unflavored gelatin
2 1/3 C sugar
2 T lemon juice

Serves 12 – 14

Pour 1 cup cranberry juice in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let stand until gelatin softens, about 15 minutes. Combine cranberries and sugar in a food processor. Process with short pulses until the cranberry are finely chopped.

In a large saucepan, combine berry/sugar mixture with remaining cranberry juice and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered and stirring frequently, until cranberry bits are tender, about 8 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in gelatin mixture until gelatin dissolves. Cool slightly and pour into an 8 or 9 cup mold. Cover and refrigerate until firm — at least 8 hours. Can be made up to 2 days ahead of time.

To unmold, turn mold over onto a plate. Soak a kitchen towel in hot water and wrap it around the inverted mold. Let stand for a few minutes, them remove towel. Holding plate and mold together, gently shake until cranberry sauce falls from mold onto plate. If your mold is being stubborn, repeat the process with another hot towel.

More Cranberry Sauce Recipes

Classic Cranberry Sauce
Molded Cranberry Sauce
Tangerine Apricot Cranberry Sauce
Dried Cherry Cranberry Sauce
Jalapeno Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry Raisin Sauce
Cranberry Chutney

Cheri Sicard is the editor of FabulousFoods.com where you’ll find recipes, an online cooking school, celebrity chef interviews, holiday and entertaining ideas, free cooking newsletters and more. http://www.fabulousfoods.com

Classic Cranberry Sauce

Note from Cheri: Here’s a classic cranberry sauce recipe that would be at home at any Christmas dinner.

This recipe can be prepared up to 4 days ahead of time. Refrigerate until use.

3/4 C water
1/2 C sugar
2 1/2 C fresh cranberries
1 T brandy
1 T orange juice, 1 tsp. orange zest

Makes about 4 cups

Put the water and sugar in a saucepan and stir in sugar until dissolved, then add the cranberries and bring to the boil. Cook for 5-10 minutes or until the berries begin to pop. Remove from heat and stir in the brandy. Chill until serving time.
More Cranberry Sauce Recipes

Classic Cranberry Sauce
Molded Cranberry Sauce
Tangerine Apricot Cranberry Sauce
Dried Cherry Cranberry Sauce
Jalapeno Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry Raisin Sauce
Cranberry Chutney
Cheri Sicard is the editor of FabulousFoods.com where you’ll find recipes, an online cooking school, celebrity chef interviews, holiday and entertaining ideas, free cooking newsletters and more. http://www.fabulousfoods.com

Crazy for Cranberries

Long before the Pilgrims arrived in America in 1620, native Americans were mixing mashed cranberries with deer meat to make pemmican — a convenience food that kept for long periods of time. Cranberries were also used for medicinal purposes and their juice was a natural dye for rugs, blankets and clothing.

The cranberry is one of only a handful of fruits native to North America – the Concord grape and blueberry being the others. As documented by the Pilgrims, cranberries were found in abundance in Massachusetts in 1620, and rumor has it that they may have been served at the first Thanksgiving dinner, although we have no way of knowing for sure. Written recipes using cranberries date back to the 1700s, and the first recorded cranberry crop in history dates back to 1816 in Dennis, Massachusetts on Cape Cod. Cranberries soon cemented their place in New England life by serving as a vital source of vitamin C for whalers, and a valuable natural resource to residents.

While the Pilgrims may have been the first westerners to use the berry, it was Dutch and German settlers who gave it its name; calling the tart fruit “crane berries” because of the resemblance of the blooming cranberry flowers to the head and bill of a crane.

The hearty cranberry vine thrives in conditions that would not support most other crops: acidic soil, few nutrients and low temperatures, even in summer. Contrary to popular belief, cranberries do not grow in water, but in sandy bogs or marshes. Because berries float, some bogs are flooded when the fruit is ready for harvesting, giving the illusion that the fruit grows in water. Growers then use water-reel harvesting machines to loosen the cranberries from their vine. They are then corralled onto conveyer belts, and into waiting trucks, which take them to receiving stations and eventually processing plants.

About 10 percent of the cranberries grown in Massachusetts are dry harvested and sold as fresh fruit. To dry harvest, growers use mechanical pickers with comb-shaped conveyer belts that pick the berries and carry them to attached burlap bags. These bags are emptied into bins and delivered to fresh fruit receiving stations where they are graded and screened, based on color and the ability to bounce — soft berries do not bounce.

Cranberries are primarily grown in five states — Massachusetts, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington. Another 5,500 acres are cultivated in Chile, Quebec, and British Columbia. There are nearly 1,000 cranberry growers in America. Normally, growers do not have to replant since an undamaged cranberry vine will survive indefinitely. In fact, some vines on Cape Cod are more than 150 years old!

Cranberry Tips

Look for bright, plump cranberries, avoid soft, crushed, or shriveled berries.
Peak season is September through December.
Fresh cranberries will keep in the refrigerator for 4-8 weeks.
You can freeze fresh cranberries for longer storage.
You can substitute frozen cranberries in most recipes calling for fresh.
Do not wash cranberries until ready for use, as moisture will cause quicker spoilage.
When a recipe says “cook until the cranberries pop,” don’t expect popcorn. This simply mean the berry’s outer skin will expand until it bursts.

Cranberry Sauce Recipes

Classic Cranberry Sauce
Molded Cranberry Sauce
Tangerine Apricot Cranberry Sauce
Dried Cherry Cranberry Sauce
Jalapeno Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry Raisin Sauce
Cranberry Chutney

Cheri Sicard is the editor of FabulousFoods.com where you’ll find recipes, an online cooking school, celebrity chef interviews, holiday and entertaining ideas, free cooking newsletters and more. http://www.fabulousfoods.com

How to Roast a Perfect Turkey

Turkey Time & Temperature Requirements

Since so many folks are intimidated by the prospect of cooking a turkey, we went to the experts for the lowdown.

Sherrie Rosenblatt of the National Turkey Federation says the Open Pan dry heat method of roasting a turkey is the easiest and most reliable way to insure turkey success. This method results in a juicy, tender, flavorful, golden brown turkey.

The National Turkey Federation also offers these safety recommendations:

1. Do not roast the turkey in a oven temperature lower than 325° F. Poultry should be roasted at 325° F. or higher to avoid potential food safety problems.

2. Do not roast the turkey in a brown paper grocery bag. Present day grocery bags may be made of recycled materials and are not considered safe for food preparation.

3. Do use a meat thermometer (available at most grocery stores and kitchen shops) to determine the correct degree of doneness. Turkey is done when meat in the thigh reaches 180°F or (meat in the breast is finished at 170°F).

That said, here is an approximate turkey roasting timetable.

 

Unstuffed Turkey Stuffed Turkey
8 to 12 pounds — 2 3/4 to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds — 3 to 3 3/4 hours
14 to 18 pounds — 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours
18 to 20 pounds — 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
20 to 24 pounds — 4 1/2 to 5 hours
8 to 12 pounds — 3 to 3 1/2 hours
12 to 14 pounds — 3 1/2 to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds — 4 to 4 1/4 hours
18 to 20 pounds — 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours
20 to 24 pounds — 4 3/4 to 5 1/4 hours
  Heat Method Oven Temperature Appearance Flavor Results Suitable For Stuffing?
Oven Pan
Conventional Oven
Dry Heat Meathod 325° F. results in minimum bird shrinkage and oven clean-up. Golden brown color; crisp skin; juicy Full roasted flavor; pan drippings are most concentrated to produce a great gravy; tender Yes
Wrapped in foil, high temperature Moist heat method with turkey encased in foil 450° F. May have bare bones on drumsticks; split skin; uneven browning; foil must be opened to produce a golden brown color May have a stewed or steamed flavor; a dry texture is possible No
Oven cooking bag Moist heat method with turkey enclosed in a cooking bag 350° F. May have bare bones on drumsticks; split skin; uneven color and browning; skin may be torn if it sticks to the bag May have a stewed or steamed flavor; a dry texture is possible Yes
Covered charcoal grill Dry heat method Try to maintain temperature between 325-350° F. Varies with outside temperature, humidity and briquettes; extra briquettes must be added each hour. Red-brown skin color; crisp skin; the charcoal combustion may result in a rosy band of meat just under the skin and slightly pink meat. Mild to moderate smoky flavor; tender No

Cheri Sicard is the editor of FabulousFoods.com where you’ll find recipes, an online cooking school, celebrity chef interviews, holiday and entertaining ideas, free cooking newsletters and more. http://www.fabulousfoods.com

The Art of Gravy Making

The art of gravy making can be a challenge to those who only prepare the robust sauce on special holiday occasions, but in fact, making great gravy isn’t difficult.

To make the gravy, remove the cooked turkey and roasting rack from the roasting pan. Pour the poultry drippings through a sieve into a container or cup. Add 1 cup stock to the roasting pan and stir until crusty brown bits are loosened: pour the deglazed liquid/stock into the container with the pan drippings. Let the mixture stand a few minutes until the fat rises to the top.

Skim and discard any fat that remains on top of the poultry drippings, reserving 3-4 tablespoons.

Over medium heat, spoon the reserved fat into a 2 quart or larger saucepan. Whisk an equal amount of flour into heated fat, and continue to cook and stir until the flour turns golden. To produce a full flavored gravy, it is critical to cook the flour in about an equal portion of fat until the flour has lost its raw taste. A rather common problem is the temptation to use too much flour, which decreases the flavor.

Gradually whisk in warm poultry drippings/stock mixture. Cook and stir, until gravy boils and is slightly thick. Remember the gravy will continue to thicken after it has been removed from the heat. A good rule is to use between 1 and 2 tablespoons of flour for each cup of liquid and then give the mixture time to thicken.

If a shortage of turkey gravy is a common problem at your house, use a little melted butter and extra warmed poultry stock to increase the volume of the pan drippings.

The following chart lists several common gravy problems, and ways to eliminate them, so the grand feast will be complete.

Optional Ingredients:
You can dress up your gravy by adding optional ingredients. Try some fresh or dried herbs (use whatever you used to make your turkey). A little wine ( 3/4 cup or less) or brandy (a few tablespoons) will add a complex flavor. For an extra rich gravy, try adding a little cream (1/4 – 1/2 cup). You can also add vegetables like cooked onion or mushrooms for variety. Use your imagination!

GRAVY PROBLEMS GRAVY SOLUTIONS
Gravy is lumpy. With a whisk rotary beater, beat the gravy until smooth. If all other attempts fail, use a food processor, strainer or blender. Reheat, stirring constantly. Serve.
Gravy is too salty. If the over salting is slight:

  • Add several raw potato slices and cook until the potato slices are translucent. Remove and discard the potato prior to serving.
  • Add a few pinches of light brown sugar. DON’T ADD TOO MUCH or your gravy will turn sweet.

If the over salting is severe, the gravy must be repaired by increasing the quantity. Prepare another batch of gravy, omitting all salt. Blend the two batches together.

Gravy is too light in color. Add 1/2 teaspoon of instant coffee.
Gravy is not thick. If time permits, allow the gravy to continue to simmer on the stovetop. If time does not allow, mix the following thickening agents as indicated:

  • Cornstarch – Blend 1 teaspoon per cup of liquid in cold water. Stir until dissolved then mix into gravy. Continue to cook and stir to eliminate the cornstarch flavor.
  • Make a thin paste of flour and cold water, stir into gravy and continue to cook to eliminate the raw flour flavor.
  • Arrowroot – Blend 1 tablespoon per cup liquid in cold water. Stir until dissolved, then mix into gravy. Can be served as soon as the gravy thickens due to arrowroot’s lack of taste.

NOTE: Mixing starch with cold water before adding it to a hot mixture prevents lumping.

Gravy is too thick. Slowly whisk in more broth, until the desired thickness is achieved.
Gravy is greasy/fatty. For an immediate fix, the fat can be skimmed off the top or soaked up with a fresh bread slice. If more time allows, chill the gravy, skim off the fat and reheat the gravy until it bubbles.

Cheri Sicard is the editor of FabulousFoods.com where you’ll find recipes, an online cooking school, celebrity chef interviews, holiday and entertaining ideas, free cooking newsletters and more. http://www.fabulousfoods.com

Grilling a Turkey

Grilling a turkey makes good sense for busy cooks, especially if you’re dealing with a small space kitchen. With the turkey cooking merrily away on the grill, the oven is free for other chores, such as cooking large pans of dressing, side dishes or even home baked pies. And, as always, grilling cuts down on clean-up time, so you’ll have more time to relax and enjoy the day.

Whether you have a gas or a charcoal grill, you can use it to prepare a moist, delicious turkey, if you keep a few tips in mind.

After removing the plastic wrapping, prepare the turkey by freeing the legs from tucked position and removing the neck and giblets from neck and body cavities. Rinse the turkey, and drain well. Turn wings back to hold neck skin in place. Return legs to tucked position. It’s not necessary to truss a turkey for the grill.
You can marinate the turkey by using a fork to make random holes over the entire bird. Place the turkey in a large, plastic cooking bag or clean plastic trash bag and pour in the marinade. Close the bag securely and let it marinate overnight in the refrigerator. Before cooking, scrape off excess marinade and discard. Do not re-use marinade to baste the turkey.
Do not stuff a turkey that’s to be grilled as it can take too long for the temperature of the stuffing to reach the required temperature of 165 F degrees.

Grilling

Use indirect heat to grill the turkey. Prepare the grill by removing top grill rack and opening all vents. Mound 50 to 60 briquettes in center of the lower grill rack or the bottom of grill and ignite briquettes. When coals become ash-gray — about 20 to 40 minutes — divide them into two equal parts, positioned on the outside edges of lower grill rack or bottom of grill.

Place a foil drip , or a double thickness of heavy-duty aluminum foil, between the two piles of coals.

Lightly grease the top grill rack before repositioning it on the hot coals. Place the prepared turkey in the middle of the grill rack, directly over drip pan, and replace the lid on the grill.

You can figure roughly 12 minutes cooking time per pound of turkey. Be sure to check turkey’s doneness by using a meat thermometer. Breast meat is ready at 170 F degrees, thigh meat at 180 F degrees. Maintain grill heat during cooking by adding 5 to 8 briquettes to both sides of hot coals every hour or as needed. Keep the lid on the grill closed as much as possible to prevent heat loss.

Cheri Sicard is the editor of FabulousFoods.com where you’ll find recipes, an online cooking school, celebrity chef interviews, holiday and entertaining ideas, free cooking newsletters and more. http://www.fabulousfoods.com

How to Grow Christmas & Thanksgiving Cactuses

by Monica Resinger

I love Christmas and Thanksgiving cactuses. These plants are so easy to take care of. The flowers are gorgeous, come in an array of colors, and come right when we need them — usually when it’s cold and flowerless outdoors. A houseplant that flowers and doesn’t take much to take care of is a big plus in my book! They can be grown in hanging baskets or regular pots.

Care
My Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus bloom every year now. They didn’t always before. The main difference has been that my plants have become root bound. The other difference is temperature — they like it cool so I moved mine to a cooler area of the house. If they get too warm, the buds will fall off. I’d say 68* or under is what they prefer. A south-facing window with filtered light also helps, and only an occasional feeding when they are actively growing. I think where people go wrong with these is giving them too much attention. Too much water will cause them to die. Let the plant dry between waterings to the point where the leaves start to shrivel. This is all I do to my cactuses, and they bloom reliably every year. Sometimes they even give me a second show!

These plants can last you a lifetime! My grandma has a plant that has been in the family for over 60 years! Two of my three plants are plants made from taking cuttings from hers. Let me tell you how to do that.

Propagation
It’s very easy to propagate Christmas and Thanksgiving Cactuses. All you need is a small pot of moist potting soil, a Christmas or Thanksgiving cactus to take a cutting from and rooting hormone is helpful, but not necessary. Simply clip off a four-segment piece; dip the cut end into rooting hormone if desired, then push the cut end into the soil about an inch or so. From there, the only thing you have to do is be sure the soil stays moist. It will stay moist longer if you prop a see through plastic bag over it. To do this, you can insert a popsicle stick into the soil, then drape the plastic over that. Rooted and growing cuttings of these make wonderful gifts to friends and family. Put them in a pretty pot and attach a bow and card then they’re ready to give!

Descriptions
There’s a difference between Thanksgiving Cactus and Christmas Cactus. Christmas cactus segments are scalloped and Thanksgiving cactus segments are toothed. Well, that is what I know about growing Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus. I hope it will help you in growing yours!

Copyright ©, 2000, Monica Resinger
Monica Resinger is editor/founder of Creative Gardening newsletter, a FREE and fun interactive ezine. Each Monday you’ll be able read, answer or ask gardening questions! Also included in the ezine is a gardening article and a seed swap. To subscribe, send a blank e-mail to: CreativeGardening-subscribe@onelist.com To find out about Monica’s other free ezines, go here: http://www.geocities.com/plantldy.geo

Toddler Toys for Christmas

It’s that wonderful time of the year, the holiday season. Children are excited with visions of Santa, and presents under the tree. You have made your list, and are ready to explore the stores. But what exactly do you get a toddler for Christmas? “This shouldn’t be that hard,” you think to yourself. You have no trouble picking out their new clothes and shoes, because these should be made to help, not hinder, the child’s active little body. The same should be said for the toys that you buy. You have the chance to purchase just the right toys to help them on their way to learning and having fun.

PLAY

One of the most important things that a child does is play. Play is the essential joy of childhood, and is also the way children learn about themselves, their environment and the people around them. As they play, children learn to solve problems, get along with other people and control their bodies as they enrich their creativity. When children play with a wide variety of toys, the experiences help them develop their fullest potential.

TODDLERS

One to Three Years

A busy toddler needs toys for active physical play — especially things to ride and climb on, such as a low tricycle or a wagon to ride in and pull. Outdoor toys, such as large balls, inflatable toys, a wading pool and a sandbox with digging tools are all good choices.

Toddlers begin to enjoy make-believe play just before their second birthdays. To imitate the adult world around them, they use play food, appliances and utensils, child size play furniture, simple dress-up clothes, and dolls. Children in this age group are particularly interested in sorting and fitting toys, all kinds of blocks and simple puzzles. Toddlers also enjoy musical instruments such as tambourines, toy pianos, horns and drums, as well as listening to tapes. I know you say, “Drums and toy pianos? What is she asking of me?” But, they really do help the toddler to develop their hand-to-eye coordination. Who knows? You might have another Beethoven in the making.

Remember a toddler moves busily within his or her environment, walking, climbing, pushing, and riding, a list of the toys below will be a great start to a wonderful future.

TOY SUGGESTIONS

Push and Pull Toys
Small tricycle (ones without the pedals)
Wagon
Balls over 1.75 inches in diameter
Simple puzzles
Blocks
Pegboards
Crayons or Washable Markers
Modeling Clay
Picture Books
Tape Player

A Mother’s Guide to a Stress-Free Holiday Season

by Susie Michelle Cortright

Two years ago, I was so calm and relaxed, you’d never have guessed it was Christmas. I had a brand new baby, and we had just moved into a new house, but I was grounded with an overwhelming sense of peace. Now that another holiday season is bearing down on us, I think back to the reasons that time was so magical.

That year, we simply went into our backyard and picked out a crooked little tree that just screamed “Baby’s First Christmas”. I tied on some bows, and we invited our closest friends and relatives to share some Friendship Tea, sugar cookies, and prime rib (which my mother-in-law brought and prepared). We opened gifts that I had ordered online, weeks before (they arrived gift- wrapped.) It was a low-cost Christmas spent in our unfurnished living room, but you would have been hard-pressed to find a merrier place that year.

When we renew our focus on the holiday spirit, the stress of the season begins to erode. This year, let us pledge to align our personal goals to reflect the goal of the holiday season as it has existed for centuries: to center on our spiritual awareness and connectedness in this spiritual time.

SIMPLIFY
When professional organizers urge us to simplify, they ask us to eliminate our time-wasters. This year, let us *find* some time-wasters. Particularly during the busy holiday season, we moms too often feel that if we aren’t busy doing something, we aren’t being of value. In the upcoming months, consider the value of just lounging on the couch with your kids, of playing a board game with your son, of reading the Christmas Box or The Story of Hanukkah aloud in the evening; or of simply sitting around for awhile thinking about how lucky you are for the family and friends that are yours.

Meanwhile, take a close look at your self-made holiday to-do’s. Is it necessary to bake enough goodies for the neighborhood, or are you okay with just whipping up the occasional batch of Rice Krispie Treats? Do you want to travel to a distant relative’s house on Christmas Day or ask that they come to you? Keep in mind that the mere fact that you’ve always done something isn’t always a good argument for continuing to do it.

Christmas cards
This year, narrow your Christmas card list. Make it more personal. Follow the lead of Mitten Strings for God author Katrina Kenison and make your annual Christmas letter less about the accomplishments of your family members and more about the ways you have all connected with one another over the past year.

Meanwhile, reframe the way you perceive the task. Think of it not as a tedious chore that involves long hours of licking envelopes and signing your name, but as a way to illustrate your love for your family and friends, and to reconnect with the people whom you may have contact with only once each year.

One last note: start early. That way, it’s a relaxed process that only requires you to jot a note or two in the evening as you sit with your family. Also consider enlisting the help of your husband and the kids. Little ones love to help moisten envelopes or draw pictures for relatives. If you run out of time – or the motivation – to send cards, pick up the phone instead.

Christmas Gifts
Once again, the best way to circumvent stress is to start early. Consider buying online. Many premier online retailers can save you time, energy, and cash, and many of them offer a gift-matching service and gift-wrapping at no extra charge.

Holiday Entertaining
Parties can be as laid-back or as lavish as you like. Don’t underestimate the power of a potluck dinner. Guests love to feel like they’re contributing to a meal. No time to deep clean? Speed clean and dim the lights. Keep a stash of food items on hand for latecomers or unannounced guests.

VOLUNTEER
Helping someone in need can relieve holiday stress ,and help you ward off the holiday blues that sometimes seep in this time of year.

Particularly during the holidays, opportunities abound. Just look in your local paper. On the Internet, Volunteermatch (http://www.volunteermatch.org ) can set you up with an opportunity or idea with your specific skills in mind.

BE GOOD TO YOURSELF
If you don’t sit back and enjoy all of the fa-la-las, they’ll be over before you know it. Savor the season, and remember that you set the tone for your family. If you’re frenzied and frantic, your family will be too, and your children will grow up thinking that’s what the holidays are all about.

If you are feeling anxious during this time of year, release your feelings into a journal. Start or maintain an exercise program to release those energy-boosting endorphins, and make sure you’re eating right.

Don’t forget to spend some time on yourself. Invite your friends or your daughter’s friends (or both) for an indulgent Spa Evening. Prepare some homemade facial scrubs and masks and let the stress of the season melt away.

In the end, it’s important to decide what the Christmas season means to you. I know my favorite time of the season isn’t opening gifts or filling goodie baskets or attending office parties. It’s that three minutes it takes on Christmas Eve to sing “Silent Night” by candlelight. It’s looking around to see all of my family and friends with their faces lit up just enough that I can see their eyes glisten. To me, that’s Christmas. What is it to you?

Susie Michelle Cortright is the founder and publisher of Momscape, an online magazine devoted to nurturing the nurturers. Visit her at http://www.momscape.com to escape in inspiring articles and essays, subscribe to Momscape’s free email newsletters, and register to win free pampering packages.

Christmas Presents to Last a Lifetime

by Christine Nicholls

Do you know what you are giving to the children on your Christmas list? Will it be Harry Potter books, the latest computer games, or some new clothes?

Over the summer, I spent some time thinking about the Christmas days from my childhood. What made them special, and what it was that I remembered most. From these thoughts came an idea for a new page on our website, to let visitors share the most loved gift from their childhood.

I had expected lots of stories about the wonders of a specific toy (the Barbie with the sparkles on her dress, or the remote control car that won every race). Isn’t that the sort of gift hyped by commercials at this time of the year? The kids themselves join the craze, insisting on getting the one toy that is in short supply. Can you remember trying to find a Cabbage Patch doll or a Furby the year they were hot? Do you think that gift is the one your child will remember most 30 or 40 years from now? The visitors who have sent in stories about their own ‘most loved gifts’ wouldn’t agree. The gift that is remembered is the message of love from the adult who found the time to create a special memory for their child. Each of the stories include a ‘thing’, but what is important is ‘where did my mom find time to make all the doll clothes?’, ‘I loved horseback riding with my Dad.’, or ‘how did my mom smile and let us open the rest of our presents at 4am’.

The gift that counts is time. The kids know time is what is important. That’s why they want you to spend weeks trying to find the most difficult to buy toy this year. You will be spending your time on something they want. It’s amazing that we have time to search all over the city for a toy, but so often are too busy to spend the same number of hours doing something your child wants to do. Why not turn it around this year? Spend the time with your child, instead of driving to 5 different toy stores.

Tips for finding the perfect present for a child.

1. Think about the good times you’ve spent with your child. When did you both have the most fun? Was it making a cake for his mother’s birthday, or the time you took her to the fair? Has your child ever mentioned a favorite day you spent together? What does he or she really like to do?

2. What can you do build on that time? You could get some cartoon character cake pans, cake mixes and a promise to make a cake on the first Saturday of each month. How about getting a book of tickets to a movie theater, and agree to let your child pick the movie (even if you hate going to scary movies, and your child loves them)? Give a birding book to a nature lover, and then take your child out bird spotting. What about lunch for two in a fancy restaurant for a little girl who likes to dress-up? A sports enthusiast would love tickets to go with you to see his or her favorite team play.

3. Don’t fall into the trap of giving items off a list. Children will often be momentarily thrilled with the latest and greatest toy. If the gift involves more of your money than your time, it will probably be forgotten in the same amount of time you spent to buy it!

Yes, it will take time to think of the right gift, and it will take more time to actually follow through, and enjoy the gift together. Take a moment, and really think about what else you could be doing with that time. How many answers are really more important than making the time to show a child you love them.

By the way, these tips work great for your best friend, favorite aunt, or anyone else on your gift giving list.

 

Christine Nicholls (MBA) loves being mommy to Katherine (5y) and Duncan (2y). Her company, Creative Kids at Home, encourages kids to have fun while being creative, and best of all, they get the excitement of getting personally addressed packages in the mail.