Christmas Cobbler

Can we start with this: On Christmas Eve, it snowed on our hill. Look at my babies. They have no idea what to do.

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On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a dessert hack.

Our new home town is also home to Harry and David, gourmet grocers, famous for their Moose Munch and gift baskets. Their flagship store also has fresh groceries. Last week they had cherries for $2/lb. So I bought a bunch, thinking I would make some jam.

Then the kids started eating them.

A few days ago I put them away in an effort to save enough to make a cherry cobbler for Christmas dinner. I need to work on my hiding places, because yesterday morning there were twenty sad cherries in the bottom of the bowl.

What I did have in abundance was cranberries and tangerines. So I made up a citrus cranberry cherry cobbler, using the cobbler topping from my trusty BHG New Cookbook (the 1989 version, thank you very much). Super easy and delicious!

Ingredients:

Filling:

1 bag fresh cranberries

½ cup water

½ cup fresh squeezed tangerine juice (orange would work, too)

¾ cup sugar

Whatever cherries (or any other berries, fresh or frozen) you got, sister! Pit them, of course.

Topping:

1 cup flour

¼ cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon cinnamon

3 tablespoons butter

1 egg

3 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 400 F degrees.

Pop the cranberries, sugar, water and juice into a pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook until cranberries pop and break down into sauce, stirring occasionally, about ten minutes. Add cherries, and cook for a few more minutes, until the cherries begin to soften.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and cinnamon. Cut in the butter fork or pastry knife. Whisk milk and egg separately, then add to mixture, stirring just to combine

Pour hot fruit mix into an 8x8x2 baking dish. Crumble topping over mixture. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes, until crumble browns.

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I would normally serve this with homemade whopped cream, but since my Kitchenaid DIED on December 23 and the nearest service center is Portland–no, I can’t talk about it, hurts too much.

Ice cream would work too.

Dana and I hope you enjoy this Christmas season. We’ll see you again on Epiphany. In the meantime, happy New Year to you and yours. Be warm, be safe, be happy!

 

A Season of Hope ~ Guest Post by Amy

Amy is how we all got to know Meg. We prayed for her health and then we prayed her through the door of this life into the next. Meg left behind a husband and two young girls, one only an infant. This is their first Christmas without their mama.

No doubt, Meg’s husband Sam will struggle as he learns to walk without his partner, juggling his grief with the responsibilities of his girls and the season. How hard it must be for him to find the light right now.

But Amy wants to share with us a story of how we don’t always have to find the light on our own.

Meg was an AVID coordinator in the Ontario Montclair school district. AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is a national educational support program, designed for students who will be the first in their families to attend college. As coordinator, Meg was directly involved with the teachers and students, promoting a college education for all.

A few weeks ago, I attended a regional AVID training. Memories came crashing back: Last year when I was here we had just found out that Meg was diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant with her second child.

Meg took off work to fight the disease with a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. She lost her hair so Sam shaved his off as well, in support.  By early summer, the doctors felt Meg was on the road to recovery. In July we celebrated the news that her PET scan was clean, showing no lesions.

Somehow, just six weeks later, she was sick again. She had lesions on her liver, which was swollen and losing function. The cancer was aggressive and untreatable.

By October, she was gone. Her daughters were four and six months old.

At the AVID training this year, her school site team, including Sam, wore pink shirts in honor of Meg. Every year, the region raffles gift baskets to raise AVID scholarship money. One of the baskets had a pink breast cancer theme, but all the money donated for this basket would go directly to Sam and his girls. Without hesitation, I dumped all my tickets in this basket.

The next morning, another coordinator stood at breakfast and announced a challenge: that every person in the room donate $1 for Sam and his girls. Sam was stunned. In tears, I made my way to his table and wrapped my arms around him. Together we watched.

In five minutes, people donated $1500.

Sam cried. I cried. Everyone in the place, 400 people, cried.

Miracles are real. This was a miracle. It wasn’t the miracle we had prayed for months earlier, to heal Meg and keep her here. Instead, the healing was for Sam, to show him that all is not lost. Meg had a hand in it, I know she did. She used all those people to give her husband a hug and remind him that people are good, the village is good. And there is light in the world for us when we need it.

Thank you to all those people who donated that day. It was about so much more than money. Thank you to Sam’s school, who love him and hold him up. Thank you to everyone who prayed for Meg. Thank you for reaching out in love and faith to strangers. I want you to know that it’s working. God’s hands are healing this family with love.

We have to remember that we are God’s work in this world. Happy weekend.

Meg and Sam

Meg and Sam

The Thing About Cranberries

She insisted on having an uncooked cranberry. Actually, she wanted a whole bowl of them.

I warned her that they were yucky. But she was determined and since I’m a Live and Learn Mom (a LALM, can we coin that? As in “Be a LALM and Carry On”???), I shrugged and said “Ok, but let me get my phone.”

This has happened with all three of my children, plus Shea, Teresa and Lesley. It’s my own personal psych experiment: If I tell you something tastes yucky, will that over-ride the voice in your head screaming “IT’S A SMALL RED AND SHINY BERRY!!! EAT IT, EAT IT, EAT IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Turns out the answer is no.

Every. Single. Time.

A little late for Thanksgiving, but just in time for Advent dinners, office parties, neighborhood potlucks and Christmas, here are our favorite cranberry recipes.

Not Your Mama’s Sauce (apricot cranberry sauce and cranberry mustard)

 

 

The Least of These

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I watched a woman be rude to a Macy’s employee yesterday. Not in a way that I could have stopped. But she communicated clearly that she thought the Macy’s employee was personally responsible for the fact that the clothes she had purchased didn’t fit and wasn’t smart enough to make it right.

When she left, the Macy’s lady was so upset that her hands were shaking. I tried to compensate. “It’s the holidays! People should be brimming with good cheer!”

“They aren’t, though,” she sighed. “This is the time of year when people are the most rude.”

After Macy’s, I wandered into the Christian book store next door.

Guess who was working behind the counter, next to the Keep Christ in Christmas bumper stickers? “God bless you”, she told me pleasantly as I left.

I’m not taking an easy shot at Christians here. I know folks are folks and moments are moments. But I also know the difference between someone having a bad day and someone who is intrinsically not a nice person.

The Gospel reading on Sunday was Matthew 25: 31-46. Maybe it’s because our religious leaders know we need to hear these things as the holidays kick off. All of us are familiar with the command to feed, clothe, visit, heal. Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for Me. Our churches and communities will put lots of opportunities to do these things in front of us for the next few weeks.

It’s the second half of the Gospel we have to think about. When Jesus tells the ones on the left that they are damned, they protest: Lord, when did we not serve You? And He says When you did not serve them, you did not serve Me.

We can feed all the homeless kids we want in the next five weeks. We can take our kids shopping for the Giving Tree and feel good that we are teaching them compassion for others. We can serve turkey dinners to veterans, sing for the old and infirm in nursing homes, pay for the groceries of the young mom in front of us in line. But let’s be honest with ourselves: those things are a slam dunk. We know that Jesus will be there.

But He’s standing behind that counter at Macy’s too, with tired feet and an aching back.

He’s loading those kids into the car as fast as He can in the crowded parking lot.

He’s working his fourth overtime in a row because His company insists on “Holiday Hours”.

He’s trying to solve our complaint call with His limited resources.

It’s harder to see Him there, so it’s harder to serve Him there. But in the Gospel, when the damned protest that they just didn’t know, Jesus doesn’t let them off the hook. He tells them that walking His Walk is an all-the-time thing, not a when-we-feel-like-it thing.

If they’ll know we are Christians by our love, it won’t be the love we show when it’s easy. It’ll be when the parking lot is crowded, the lines are long, the packages are late and the children are screaming.

And that’s how we keep Christ in Christmas, by remembering to serve Christ in everyone, all the time.

 

 

A Time of Sacred Leisure ~ Jen

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Did you know that the four weeks of Advent were originally known as the “little Lent”? And that the season was marked in the same ways: prayer, fasting and preparation? It was a joyful time, but quietly joyful. No parties, no feasts, no overindulgence. The Christmas tree wasn’t even decorated until December 24.

And let me introduce you to this little gem: Sacred Leisure—“According to an ancient (and practical) tradition, by Christmas Eve the house is to be thoroughly cleaned, all tasks finished or removed from sight, all borrowed items returned, and no task allowed to be begun that cannot be finished by nightfall” (www.holytrinitygerman.org)

Friends, Sacred Leisure is God sanctioned quiet time.

Why did we ever give that up for what we have now? A holiday season that starts October 1 and marches on through the New Year, fueled by cleverly manufactured stress and anxiety. Here’s what I have already noticed this year: if you ain’t got Elf on the shelf, you ain’t got Christmas.  At $24 a pop, that’s pretty brilliant marketing.

It aims right at the desire of lots of moms to “make” perfect Christmas memories for their kids. So we don’t go to Lowe’s and buy a tree. We drive everyone an hour down the highway to cut one down. We don’t take pictures with the Santa at the neighborhood party. We dress everyone up in matching sweaters and pay way too much money for the same picture at the mall. We haul our kids to every single Christmas parade in a 20 mile radius, book into every single Santa breakfast and accept invitations to an endless number of cocktail parties, gift exchanges, cookie parties and Secret Santa extravaganzas. And we Facebook and Pin it all to keep up with our other mom friends who are furiously Facebooking and Pinning their own made-up perfect Christmas memories.

What in the world are we doing?

Christmas has gotten loud. Bright. Expensive.  But it’s not holy. I know I am not the only Christian mama who wants to turn the children’s faces away from the man in the red suit and towards the humble manger. And I know I am not the only mama who’s ready to throw in the towel on the Christmas mompetition.

A few years ago, Shea and I decided to make a change. We need our kids to understand what this season is really about. I’m sharing how we do it, not to increase the mompetition or make anyone feel like they are doing it “wrong”. But sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to get off the merry-go-round. So take it or leave it, for what it’s worth.

First, we under-schedule December, which means we don’t commit to much. If we wake up and decide we want to spend the day at Disneyland or ice skating in Old Town, then off we go. But we aren’t obligated to be many places.

Then I finish shopping before Advent begins. This year I finished before the Thanksgiving week sale juggernaut. I still got everything on sale. Shopping is fairly easy for us. The kids pick two presents from us and one from Santa. Only the grandkids and the grandparents get gifts, so the list is fairly small and has a dollar amount attached to it. Mostly. Sometimes grandmothers and great aunties are hard to control.

We have an Advent calendar. A real one, not those Santa countdowns they sell in the stores that have nothing to do with Advent. We have a wreath that lives on the dining room table for the season. Every Sunday we sit down to a small but formal meal with a group of friends and the Advent candles. We have a scripture reading, say a blessing and sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”.

As we get closer to Christmas, we focus on the giving. We shop together for our Giving Tree family.  I take the older ones out alone so they can purchase gifts for their siblings with their allowance money. And the week before Christmas, we clean out our stuff, making three piles: trash, recycle, donate.

In between these things, we bake and make home-made gifts for our friends and listen to Christmas music and drink hot chocolate. We get our tree from Lowe’s. We do a Santa picture, but on a whim, and in casual clothes. We already did it this year, for free at Disneyland.

This will be our fourth year of really focusing on Advent and these years have been some of the most calm, reflective, loving celebrations in our home. I’ll be honest, the first year I felt like maybe I was missing something as I watched our neighbors and friends Facebook about performances and cocktail parties and parades and Santa breakfasts. That’s because we’ve been programmed to believe that we have to go-go-go from Halloween to January 1.

But we don’t. The only thing we have to do is prepare our hearts and gather round the candles to wait for God to send the Light into the world.

Prayerful quiet. Joyful anticipation. Sacred Leisure.

Advent resources:

About Adventhttp://www.holytrinitygerman.org/adventcustoms.html

Manger Advent Calendar: http://www.holydepot.com/kurt-adler-wooden-nativity-advent-calendar-with-24-magnetic-figures/

Advent wreathshttp://www.catholiccompany.com/traditional-holly-berry-wreath-12-p3001243/

Advent prayershttp://www.churchyear.net/adventwreath.html

Holiday Preview

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Dana and I have had a heck of a last few weeks. Rough waters. We love the holidays, but this time of year comes with its own set of rules.

Dana may check out for the next six weeks. Or she may not. It’s her first year without her dad and as far as grieving well goes, I’d say she’s doing a bang up job. But that’s a relative statement. Grieving well means that she wakes up waist deep in memories and sadness on a daily basis. So we decided together to change her status from “Active” to “Write as Needed”. Which means that she may show up here once a week, like normal, or she may take a break. She may post on a Sunday, instead of a Friday.  She may just put up pictures of things that make her smile. As needed. If you don’t mind, please keep her family in your thoughts. This first year will be the hardest.

I’ll still be running my mouth, though, because that’s how we do. If you would like to join us, if you have a guest blogger desire in your heart, let us know!

Here’s a taste of what’s coming down the pipeline:

Thanksgiving recipes! Dana and I have some doozies. No canned cranberries, pumpkin pie filling or cream of mushroom soup necessary.

Advent Ideas! Such an important time of year, and we do it BIG.

Our favorite things! We’ve each made a list of things and places that we love and are so excited to share. Alas, not Oprah style, but there’s a dream for the future.

Healthy Home Giveaway! Dana and I are putting together homemade gift baskets this year, with detergent, dryer balls and deodorant. Of course, we’re going to give one away! Maybe more than one, but I have wound so many balls in the last few days that I might coin a new medical term: dryer ball elbow.

And of course, Christmas time favorites: my great Aunt Honora’s sugar cookies with sour cream that sound strange but are so stinking good, and Dana’s Austrian Vanilla Kipferl.

Don’t forget to see Tuesday’s post for a crazy good discount on a wonderful photographer, and have a peaceful weekend!

Fall Canning ~ Jen

In Southern California, one of the harbingers of Fall is the Santa Ana winds.

These winds blow strong and unbelievably dry for days at a time, sometimes cold, but mostly hot, hot, hot.  If you are not from So Cal, you may have heard this term related to some huge, catastrophic brush fire that occurred near Los Angeles. Every Southern Californian knows to scan the horizon often on days that the Santa Anas blow.

But these winds also signal a change in the weather. Summer is over, no matter how warm the temps during the day. The nights are cooler and backyard pools no longer hold the heat. The rest of the nation is digging out their jeans and sweatshirts—and it has snowed in the Rocky Mountains—and we’re still wearing shorts. But it’s Fall for sure when those Santa Ana winds blow. And when they do, I am pulled to my kitchen by thoughts of cinnamon, apples and pumpkins.

The other day, I pulled Dana with me. Over the weekend, my family made a quick jaunt to our local apple tree mecca, Oak Glen and picked 30 lbs of apples. Oak Glen is this special place, like someone carved a piece out of Colonial Massachusetts and plopped it down in the low mountains of San Bernardino.

Braeburns at Riley's Apple Farm in Oak Glen

Braeburns at Riley’s Apple Farm in Oak Glen

Miss Annie picking her first apples!

Miss Annie picking her first apples!

In a few weeks, these trees will be a gorgeous shade of yellow

In a few weeks, these trees will be a gorgeous shade of yellow

Mr. Scarecrow guarding the pumpkin patch

I called Dana and invited her to come over and make apple butter and apple pie filling. She’s never canned before and we both thought this would be a good time for her to see what it’s all about.

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We peeled and cored and sliced. Then we did it some more. Sixty apples are a LOT of apples to face down. But we did it.

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A natural hazard of cooking with organic apples: stowaways.

A natural hazard of cooking with organic apples: stowaways.

And since we were on such a roll, I roasted a pumpkin and made some pumpkin butter.

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Pumpkin Butter

Pumpkin Butter

Six hours of cooking and canning got us six half pints of apple butter, four half pints of pumpkin butter, three half pints of applesauce, three quarts of apple pie filling and enough pumpkin puree to make muffins or bread. Whew!*

All my canning recipes were from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.

Apple Butter:

4 lbs apples

4 cups sugar (I used 2 for a lower sugar option)

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cloves

I also added 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Wash apples; peel, core and quarter. Combine apples and two cups of water in a pot; simmer until apples are soft. Using a food mill or food processor, process apples until they are pureed.

Combine the pureed apples, sugar and spices in pot. Cook on low until mixtures darkens and thickens (usually two hours or more). Stir about every 15 minutes to prevent burning on the bottom.

Apple Sauce:

2 1/2-3 1/2 lbs apples

Water

Sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon cloves, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)

Wash, peel, core and quarter apples; simmer in pot with just enough water to prevent sticking; mash apples in pot; add sugar and spices (optional); bring applesauce to a boil.

Apples for Baking:

10 to 12 lbs of apples

Ball Fresh Fruit Protector

1 cup sugar

2 cups water

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Wash, core and peel apples; cut them lengthwise into 1/2 inch slices; treat with Fresh Fruit to prevent darkening (see directions on package).

Meanwhile, combine sugar, water and lemon juice in a large pot, stirring to dissolve sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat. Drain apples and add to mixture. Simmer for five minutes before water processing.

Roasted Pumpkin

Take a pumpkin, any pumpkin (most recipes suggest sugar pumpkins for baking, but I have used the ones they sell for jack o’ lanterns with no problems). Cut off the stem, then cut the pumpkin in half. Clean the pulp and seeds, set aside. Place the two halves face down on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.

Remove from oven and scrap flesh from inside. Puree in a food processor.

This is exactly what comes out of the can when you buy pumpkin in a store. Proceed to your favorite pumpkin recipe!

Pumpkin Butter (courtesy of www.eatingbirdfood.com)

  • 5 cups fresh pumpkin puree (or 1 29 ounce + 1 15 ounce can of pumpkin puree)
  • 1 cup brown sugar (or sucanat)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • Pinch of sea salt

Preparation:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a crock pot/slow cooker and stir to mix well.
  2. Set on low heat and cover loosely, leaving a little space for the steam to escape so the mixture can reduce and thicken.
  3. Cook for about 6 hours. The pumpkin butter should have cooked down and thickened. If it’s not as thick as you would like it, just take the lid completely off and let it cook for another 30-45 minutes.
  4. Let cool, remove from crock pot and put pumpkin butter into jars or airtight containers.The pumpkin butter will last a week or so in the fridge, but you can also freezer preserve it by storing it freezer safe containers (or jars).

* I am not a canning expert. If you are interested in canning, please visit www.freshpreservingstore.com for products and guides, or www.foodinjars.com for recipes and how-to. Also, turns out it’s not safe to water process pumpkin butter at home, because of the chemistry.