Archive for November, 2011

Putting Christ back in Christmas

November 30, 2011

As a young child, before I was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I always looked forward to Christmas.  Not because of the big guy in the red suit and white beard who brings all the toys, but because it was a time to rejoice in the celebration of our savior’s birth.  Even as a young child, I knew that this is what Christmas was all about.  In fact, although I relished in the fantasy of Santa, I secretly knew in my heart that he was not real.  The true spirit of Christmas was in my heart, it was all about our celebration of Christ’s birth.

As I watch my daughter grow up in the church, I am keenly aware of the secular side of the Christmas holiday season – the commercialism, the political atmosphere that tries to stifle us from saying or labeling anything “Christmas” and demanding and pressuring our society into “holiday” events instead of Christmas events.

Let’s put Christ back into Christmas this year.  Share and read with your children and family the story of Christ’s birth.  Create traditions during the Christmas season that center around our savior instead of gifts around a Christmas tree from a white bearded jolly old fellow named “Clause”.

The next time someone greets you with “Have a nice Holiday”.  Wish them a Merry Christmas.

…”God now gave His gift to the world—that of His Only Begotten Son.   And this divine Son by His very birth on earth gave Himself as the greatest Gift of all time.

He would provide the plan for our salvation. He would give His life that wemight rise from the grave and have a happy life in the eternities, forever.  Who could give more?

What a gift this was! Think what it means to us! We can learn patience,devotion, and faithfulness such as Mary had. And like her Son we canfollow the true gospel principles, being in the world but not of the world…..”

“His Gift to the World”, Elder Mark E. Petersen (1900-84), first published Dec 1983, New Era

How to Make a Hidden Watering System for your Christmas Tree

November 29, 2011

I got so tired of trying to dig through presents, poking my eyes with the balsam branches, and breaking ornaments on my Christmas tree every time I tried to water it.  Reflecting on an old elementary school science project when I studied hydroponics, I thought that there must be a way with gravity and siphoning water that I could find a way of creating a water reservoir that would feed into the the tree stand and automatically water the tree.  I was thinking that I could find a way to disguise my contraption by placing a “fake” wrapped present over it.  All I would have to do for the entire season is periodically check the bucket of reserved water and replenish it as needed.  I shared my idea with my husband and lo and behold after researching the internet, some crafty little bugger beat me to it!  We visited the hardware store and picked up a large plastic bucket, two couplings, tubing and found a good size box to decorate as our decoy present to cover the contraption.  Here is the link with instructions on how to build it.  It is easy and fun ( a great boy scout project)!

Another helpful hint: as soon as you bring the tree home (if not purchased as a fresh cut), make sure to saw off an inch or two from the bottom and place the tree into a bucket of water immediately.  This fresh cut will stay open and allow the tree to drink water throughout the holiday season.


Holiday Squash Souffle

November 28, 2011

This a delicious souffle/casserole that has been a tradition in our family holiday menu.  It is so delicious and easy to make with basic ingredients.  We served it over Thanksgiving and will make it again for Christmas dinner.

Squash Souffle  – Pre-heat oven 400 deg. and grease a 1 1/2 quart casserole/souffle dish with butter.


1 1/2 cups cooked and mashed butternut squash

1 stick butter (melted)

1/2 c sugar

1/2 c flour

Dash of salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

3 eggs

2 cups milk

Add the melted butter to the mashed squash and blend well with electric mixer.  Add sugar, flour, salt, and spices and blend well until smooth.  In a separate bowl beat eggs well.  Stir in milk.  Add squash mixture to the blended eggs and milk a little at a time until completely combined and smooth.  Pour into 1  1/2 qt. greased casserole dish.  Bake 50-60 mins at 400 deg.  until toothpick or knife comes out clean.  Do not worry if it does not puff up.  It will probably fall as it cools but it is delicious with a holiday meal, i.e. turkey, roast beef, etc..

Tuesday Tips: Easy Cheating pie crust and a couple requested recipes

November 22, 2011

Our RS president would kill me for this and I am sure she would never stoop to it for her family. But I think it’s an excellent tip to save time, MESS, and doesn’t involve shortening. And it’s actually pretty darn flakey. And you can still say it’s homemade.

Ok but this only works for the bottom crust. So it’s perfect for pumpkin and cream pies.

Pie Pan Crust Recipe- I named it this because you mix, press and bake all in one. For some reason the lady who gave me this recipe told me it’s Bob Hope’s Favorite. Not sure how she knows that but here it is.

1 1/2 cup flour  1 tsp. sugar  1/2 tsp. salt

Mix these three together with a fork in the pie pan. Then add

1/2 cup oil and 3 Tbsp. milk.

Toss with fork and mix just until it is combined. Then press out to form a crust.

Bake at 375 for 15 minutes or more.

Try it and see what you think. Just don’t say anything and see if your family can tell.

And here are the recipes that Donna requested. The first one was already one here. I found it back in one of my spinach posts. But here it is again.

Poppy Seed Dressing

1/3 cup sugar, 1 tsp. dried mustard, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. onion flakes, 1 Tbsp. poppy seeds, 1/2 cup oil, 2 – 3 Tbsp. mayo, 1/4 cup raspberry or red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup rice vinegar. Mix in blender and store in fridge.

Cranberry Sauce

  • 12 ounces cranberries
  • 1/2 c. white sugar, 1/2 c. brown  sugar
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • Directions:
  • In a medium sized saucepan over medium heat, dissolve the sugar in the orange juice. Stir in the cranberries and cook until the cranberries start to pop (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat and place sauce in a bowl. Cranberry sauce will thicken as it cools.

Monday Menus: Our Traditional Thanksgiving

November 20, 2011

When it comes to thanksgiving my family is spoiled, picky, or just plain traditional. I am not sure which. But we are very stringent in our thanksgiving meals musts.  Any other meal, food is food. But don’t mess with their turkey day or I’ll hear about it for years.

I still haven’t heard the end of the complaints about the year I accepted a dinner invitation to a friends. The food went around and there was something missing. No gravy for those mashed potatoes. My children were all rushing into the kitchen searching high and low for drippings. . anything that might look gravyish. It was all I could do to keep the four of them shushed and polite and back in their seats eating very dry potatoes without crying.

And then after the meal another catastrophe hit when the dessert was offered. I had coached the kids on the way there to be polite. I mentioned, “If there aren’t any pies that you like just say- I’ll just have ice cream, thanks”. Little did we know . . . they didn’t believe in gravy with mashed potatoes or ice cream with pie.  My kids were devastated to find WHIP CREAM only. It didn’t matter that there were 6 kind of pies if there was no ice cream in the house.

Thanksgiving is all about tradition. I read magazine articles about mixing it up like throwing cranberries and apples in the stuffing etc. I would totally do it but I know that my family would kill me for ruining their highly anticipated stuffing.  It always has to taste the same. And I am willing to bet your family is the same way.

First there has to be a party favor/place card. Last year we took sugar cones and steamed the end to bend it like a cornucopia. Then we threw in some pretty candy, covered with saran wrap and tied a ribbon with their name. The only reason I somehow always go to this extra effort is for  . . . tradition. That’s what my family did. We always ate at my Aunt Shannon’s and she always had something different and exciting every year. Decorated turkey sugar cookies with your name written on them, pretty tied bags of candy, personal stuffed cornucopias. . always something to ruin a 3 year old’s appetite before the meal even arrives. I carry it on for Aunt Shannon though I still haven’t been ambitious enough to add rolling out sugar cookies and frosting them with names yet.

And Here’s the traditional Casper Spread. It actually is exactly the way it always was growing up. Besides the fact that there was always at least five salads and a hundred pies to go along with it. We do just one salad and way less pies.

This is the one tradition I started.  I don’t see the point of all the salads on Thanksgiving. . . when it’s just me making them.

Poppy Seed Salad -the kids get to top their own salad plate of romaine with their choice of sliced apples, pomegranats, feta cheese, mandarin oranges, homemade candied almonds, and my most favorite dressing ever that I make. We put these on the table next to our place card and eat them first before passing around the feast.

Then comes:

Candied Yams- only 2 of us eat it but it is a must. I am one of the two. I rotate between the marshmellow ones my family served and the praline topping ones that Brent’s family likes.

Cauliflower and Cheese -homemade white sauce poured over partially cooked cauliflower and topped with grated cheddar cheese and baked till bubbly.

Homemade cranberry sauce- I started making my own a couple years ago and now love it so much I make it year round just to put on pancakes. I am the only one who eats this dish. 🙂 Maybe I am the spoiled one, huh.

Stuffing- only once a year I make it from scratch and don’t use stovetop. I stuff half of it and bake the other half. Then I toss them together so it isn’t too dry or mushy. . . just right. I came up with that combo and I am pretty proud of it.

Homemade WHITE rolls -It’s tradition that Mom leave out the wheat for once.

Mashed Potatoes and GRAVY. Plenty of it.

Turkey- roasted in an open pan with butter and herbs stuffed under the skin.

I count the salad for the green vegetable. I just don’t think any other thing could fit on the plate so that’s why you don’t see any green beans on the list.

We also splurge for sparkling apple cider or at least some kind of juice/ soda mix.

What a production!

Then dessert. We have cut back a ton on this one now that we are on the east coast holding our own feast most of the time. I feel so guilty but I usually wimp out with three pies only.. Aunt Shannons’s Homemade Banana Cream for me. Pumpkin for Brent and Kennon. And Chocolate pie for Savannah. The rest just care about the ICE CREAM.

It there are any readers who are more adventurous than my clan and want any of these recipes for your family’s feast let me know and I will be glad to post a recipe.

I am getting hungry. Aren’t you?


Friday Favorites

November 18, 2011

One of my favorite past times is reading, and I certainly have had more time than usual lately to do this.   As a result, I have been able to read books that I have wanted to read for a long time but have never been able to get to.   One of those books is a series of books called the Mitford series.  A few years ago our book group decided to read a book called At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon.   I had bought the book with the intention of reading it, but life was too busy, (I was probably directing a play at the time.) and I had never read it until a few weeks ago.   It is now one of my favorite books, and what is even more fun is that this is just one of a series by the same author.   I liked this book so much that I have bought the second book in the series called A Light in the Window, and the third book called These High, Green Hills.  I am half way through A Light in the Window and love it just as much as the first one.  So you are probably wondering why I like these books so much.

The main character of the series is Father Timothy Kavanagh, a 60 year old priest for the Episcopal church in a little Southern town named Mitford.  Tim is a kind, loving pastor who loves God and serves His children.  He is a humble bachelor who spends so much time serving others that he forgets to serve himself, failing to take care of his health, his recreation and his love life.  But all of those things change when he discovers he has diabetes, adopts a large, black dog who obeys every time he hears scripture quoted, takes in a 10 year old boy who has  has been abandoned by his mother, and  falls for  a lovely new neighbor who writes and illustrates children’s books about her cat Violet. And while Father Tim is dealing with these new experiences in his life, he continues to serve the people of Mitford.

Mitford is filled with very human characters such as Miss Sadie who never married yet still loves the lost love from so many years ago;  Homeless Holmes who although he is missing one leg,  feeds his  poverty stricken neighbors once  a week with large pots of soup;  Miss Rose,  who suffers from mental illness, and her loving husband Uncle Billy who selflessly takes care of her, even though she is abusive to him most days; Puny, Father Tim’s house keeper who chastises and advises him to take better care of himself while she desires for love in her life.  All of these characters and many more are so real that  you feel like they could live in your own community.   They are human with all of the foibles so characteristic of humans.

I think what I like most about this series of books is the positive feeling I get when I am reading the book. I can honestly say that sometimes I feel the spirit.  Father Tim is such a good man, although certainly not perfect. He is always trying to do what he thinks the Lord will do, and as a result, he serves his neighbors, even if he doesn’t like them or if it is hard to do.

These books are great books to give as gifts and great to read during the holidays.   Pick up a copy of At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon and enjoy!




Thursday Thoughts

November 17, 2011

Since our RS lesson this past week was on the Second Coming, I thought this quote from Daughters in My Kingdom by Julie B. Beck was appropriate for all of us to consider.  As times become harder, we will need to qualify for and receive the Spirit more than ever.

“The ability to qualify for , receive, and act on personal revelation is the simple most important skill that can be acquired in this life. . . .It requires a conscious effort to diminish distractions, but having the spirit of revelation makes it possible to prevail over opposition and persist in faith through difficult days and essential routine tasks. . . .When we have done our very best, we may till experience disappointments, but we will not be disappointed in ourselves.  We can feel certain that the Lord is pleased when we feel the Spirit working through us.”  (from the April 2010 General Conference)

Wednesday Words

November 16, 2011

Our lesson on Sunday was taught by Patsy Smith and was on the Second Coming.   In that lesson, Patsy referred to a General Conference talk from May 2011 by Elder Neil L. Anderson. Below are some quotes from that talk.   Although we did talk about the actual events of the Second Coming in the lesson, this talk focuses on what we need to do to prepare the world for The Second Coming.


“Have you ever thought about why you were sent to earth at this specific time? You were not born during the time of Adam and Eve or while pharaohs ruled Egypt or during the Ming dynasty. You have come to earth at this time, 20 centuries after the first coming of Christ. The priesthood of God has been restored to the earth, and the Lord has set His hand to prepare the world for His glorious return. These are days of great opportunity and important responsibilities. These are your days.

With your baptism, you declared your faith in Jesus Christ. With your ordination to the priesthood, your talents and spiritual capacities have been increased. One of your important responsibilities is to help prepare the world for the Second Coming of the Savior.”


“Your mission will be a sacred opportunity to bring others to Christ and help prepare for the Second Coming of the Savior.

The Lord has long spoken of the necessary preparations for His Second Coming. To Enoch, He declared, “Righteousness will I send down out of heaven; and truth will I send forth out of the earth, … and righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out mine elect from the four quarters of the earth.”11 The prophet Daniel prophesied that in the latter days the gospel would roll forth unto the ends of the earth as a “stone [that is] cut out of [a] mountain without hands.”12 Nephi spoke of the latter-day Church as being few in number but spread upon all the face of the earth.13 The Lord declared in this dispensation, “Ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect.”14 My young brethren, your mission is a great opportunity and responsibility, important to this promised gathering and linked to your eternal destiny.”



Tuesday Tips

November 15, 2011

Have you ever started making cookies or a cake only to find out half way into the process that you don’t have enough eggs or none at all?  You panic and wonder if you know your neighbor well enough to borrow some.   Do you have time to go to the store?   Well, if that has happened to you, as I am sure it has, then I have a tip that will help you avoid such events in the future, and it is something that you can put away into your food storage, too.

I learned a few years ago that Knox gelatin is a great egg substitute.   So when I found out, I bought a box and kept it in my cupboard.  There it sat for probably three or four years, untested, until  one day about four weeks ago, when I was craving my favorite molasses cookie recipe, and I begged Wade to make them for me.  Typical of a teenage boy, he did not look first to make sure that we had all of the ingredients, and he was horrified to find out half way through making the cookies that we were completely out of eggs.   Not to worry, I told him.  Use the Knox gelatin.   He was skeptical, but I told him to Google it to see how much to use.  About 30 minutes later, he brought to me two warm, delicious molasses cookies.   He told me he has used the Knox gelatin.

Here is what he did:  For the equivalence of one egg he used 1 teaspoon of the gelatin and dissolved it in 2 tablespoons of hot water.  He added to that 3 tablespoons of cold water and then  added the total amount to the creamed mixture.  He continued with the rest of the recipe.  I could not tell that he had not used eggs. The cookies had the same consistency as  when they are made with eggs, and they tasted the same.   They were wonderful!

What is nice about the Knox gelatin is that it has a long shelf life. It is perfect to put away in a food storage.   It is great in a pinch, too, as we found out.


Monday Menus

November 14, 2011

It is hard to believe, but Thanksgiving is next week, and for every New Englander, that means a wide variety of pies for that special day.  At my house we always have apple and chocolate cream pie, but when we arrive at my brother’s house, other family members have brought their favorites like pumpkin, squash, custard, and even pecan pie.   When I first spent a Thanksgiving in Utah, I was shocked that the only pie offered for dessert was pumpkin. How boring.  When I was little, my grandmother always made a big bowl of  Tapioca pudding in addition to  the pies.   It has always been a tradition in New England to have as many different desserts as possible.

My mother was never much of a cook, so my father would order special pies from Marelli’s in downtown Newmarket.  We always bought the  Table Talk pies which arrived in metal pie tins.   After we ate the pies, we would return the pie tins to the store and get five cents refund on each tin we returned.  Sometimes we kept the pie tins because they cooked the best pies, and once in a while, my mom would cook a pie.  Even though the Table Talk pies were almost as good as home made, I liked homemade better, so I started making my own pies.   The problem was the pie crust, though. Whenever my mother or I would make the crusts, they would crack as we rolled them out.   I guess that is why my parents always ordered the Table Talk.  But while I was working as a cook in a local restaurant, one of the waitresses shared with me and the other cooks  a fool proof recipe, and I have used it every since.   I have used it so often that I have it memorized.   Whenever I get lazy and buy a store bought shell, my kids complain.  So I decided that I would share my pie crust recipe and my apple pie recipe with you.

I shared this pie crust recipe during the springtime at a RS meeting, but there are so many new sisters in our ward, that I thought it would be appropriate to share it again.  This will be just about the best tasting pie crust you will ever make.

For two 2-crust  9″ pies

4 cups of white flour

2 t of salt

1 1/2 cups of Crisco butter flavored shortening (Don’t use any other brand than Crisco.  It makes a big difference.)

1 cup of cold water

Measure the flour and the salt into a large mixing bowl and mix together.   Combine the shortening, which should be at room temperature, with the flour and salt mixture.  When the shortening is completely mixed into the flour mixture, it should  look like pea sized crumbs.  Quickly add the cold water to the mixture and stir together until all of the mixture combines into a soft dough.  It might be a bit moist, but that is okay.   You can add a wee bit of flour to it when you get ready to roll it out.  Form the dough into a ball and cut into quarters.   Sprinkle your rolling surface with flour.  Take one of the quarters of dough and form into a ball.  Place it onto the floured surface and roll out with a rolling pin.  Roll from the center out at all times, rolling it out to the desired thickness and  to enough to fit into your pie pan and hang out about an inch over the edges. Be gentle with your dough.  If you are rough on it it will be tough when it cooks.  Fill your pie crust filled pan with your pie filling and then repeat the directions for rolling out the top crust.  Place the top crust over the pie filling, making sure that the crust hangs over about an inch from the edge of the pie pan, just as you did with the bottom crust.  Turn under both the top and bottom crusts so that the dough seals in the pie filling.  Flute the edges in a creative way, make slits in the crust to let steam escape, then bake in a 375 degree oven for about 50 minutes or how ever long your recipe requires.  This is a very flaky and tender, yummy crust.

Apple Pie from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book

1 recipe pastry for double crust pie ( see above)

6 cups thinly sliced, peeled cooking apples (I use Cortland.)

1 T lemon juice

3/4 cup sugar

2 T flour

1/2 t cinnamon

1/8 t nutmeg

1 t butter or margarine

1/8 cup of milk

Roll out your pie crust and prepare as above with the bottom crust.  Peel and slice the apples and place in a large bowl.  Add the lemon juice and toss to coat evenly. Mix the sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg together. Add the sugar mixture and toss  until coated evenly.  Pour apples into the pie plate.  Dot in the middle with the butter or margarine and top with the top crust.  Finish off as described above and then brush milk over the crust.  This will allow it to turn a nice golden brown.  Cover the outside edge of the crust with aluminum foil.  To make this cover, cut a sheet of aluminum foil equal to the size of the pie pan. Fold it in fours.  With scissors, cut out the center part of the fold. When you open up the foil, you should have a square piece with the center missing.  Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes and then remove the foil and bake for another 25-30 minutes or until the fruit is tender and the pie is bubbling.  Be sure to put another pan underneath the pie tin so that the drips can be caught by the pan and not the bottom of your oven.  Cool and enjoy.

Now, Thanksgiving is not complete at our house unless we take the leftover crust (sometimes I make extra just for this.) and make our “cinnamon rolls”.   Roll out the remaining or leftover crust into a thin rectangular layer.  Brush with water and then sprinkle with a cinnamon and sugar mixture.  Cut the crust into smaller rectangular strips and then roll up like a jelly roll.  Place in a well greased cake pan or a cookie sheet.  Cook at 375 for about 20- 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove immediately from the pan and cool on a plate.  These are so delicious that they won’t last long enough to cool, perhaps.

So this is what we Belangers look forward to when Thanksgiving rolls around.