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Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

I must admit that my little alphabet list was blank when I came to H until I took the photos of the hand-painted ornaments that my Great Aunt made. Over the years, my brother and I have to receive the most beautiful hand-painted and handmade gifts from her. When my mom and I were up in Wisconsin visiting my brother we all had a great time going through all the decoration boxes as we decorated his tree. There were so many wonderful decoration filled with memories. We talked about the memories as we each pulled out another ornament. It was a lot of fun.

Hand-painted ornaments

Hand-painted ornaments

At the same time, we cleared out some things that none of use wanted anymore; old decorations that were broken and un-fixable. There was a plastic garland that had small fruit on it that mom used to attach to the railing going down the stair with velvet bows – that had to go, it was all sticky and just couldn’t be saved. 041I have some of my Aunt’s things on my tree, but it was so much fun seeing the ornaments that were going on my brothers tree. The photos I took aren’t the greatest, but they will remind me of those ornaments when I look at them.

As we talked and looked and decorated we realized that there are five generations of ornaments on my brothers tree. My Great-Grandmother, 2-Grandmothers, my mom, me/my brother, and his two girls. There is a lot of history there and a lot of great memories.

H is a lot of things; Happiness, handmade, hand-painted, holiday, history, and more

Do you have some treasured ornaments that are filled with memories?

Sincerely, Emily

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Happy Thanksgiving to those of you out there celebrating today.

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I (Sincerely, Emily) have a lot to be thankful for this year. I am thankful to be here to see one more day. Some days it has been very hard to be thankful for anything, but those moments have passed fairly quickly and I am So happy to be alive and doing so well. I find that I am thankful every day for so many thing. When I begin to get edgy or frustrated I just put myself back into place when I look at what surrounds me: fantastic husband, beautiful gardens, furry cats, a roof over my head, and the ability to be up and about and able to do things. cabbage Dec 2012

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Here are a few of our past Thanksgiving posts for you to enjoy:

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Lammas, or August 1, is the first of the harvest festivals. You’re probably picking more than you can eat all at once starting now.

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For me (Alexandra), Lammas marks the moment when the gardener is forcibly reminded that she is not actually in control. Plants go wild, as if they know (and I suppose they do), that summer is coming to an end, and they better get all their growing done!

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When ever I (Sincerely, Emily) visit my parents up in Minnesota this time of year, I am always amazed at the lush, full, green garden. In our area we are starting to plan our fall planting. I cut back my tomato plants a few weeks ago and they are growing, but I don’t seem to be harvesting much or anything. The Armenian cucumbers are still growing well and the okra is starting to produce. Just patiently waiting for some cooler temps so the pepper plants will start flowering again.

Star of David okra

Star of David okra

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What are you harvesting?

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A community of crafty DIYers? Yup, knee-deep in Christmas ornaments.

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We gave up the tree. We’d actually experimented with this a couple of times while the kids were still around, largely due to my (Xan) discomfort with the holiday, but they weren’t ready to relent. However, with the kids living on their own, we’re now on our third treeless year, and having a blast finding creative ways to use the dozens and dozens of ornaments. Being a slightly obsessive organizer, I’ve got them sorted into little box according the theme: skating ornaments, animals, ethnic, artsy, religious, santas, etc. So far this year, though, I’ve only managed to decorate the goat.Goat Xmas

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Treeless here at our house too. When we lived in Palm Springs, I (Sincerely, Emily) was still at a point where I decorated the house. As the years went on, I was working full-time and doing art shows on weekends and some evenings. Eventually, I was beading non-stop and doing arts & craft shows full -time. January was the start of a busy season of art/craft shows in my area and the tree and decorations seemed to still be up in April. There came I point that I just didn’t go all out with the decorations anymore.

I truly enjoy the decorating part, I love seeing all the ornaments and the memories as I hung them on the tree, but I really dislike the take-down part. So, even though we are in Texas now, and I am not beading up a storm and doing arts/craft shows every-other minute, I still do not put a tree up (unless my mom visits). I MAY still wander up to the attic this year and dig out some things to put around the house, and then again, I may not.

For this post, I did manage to unearth one of my favorite ornaments (I have several). I love the clear sparkle of glass or crystal on my tree with the white lights. I have many other ornaments of color, but love the mix in the glass & crystal for the sparkly factor they bring.

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I found these ornaments at a store in Bayfield, WI one January long long ago. Oh, I think I will head up to the attic now and find one of the smaller trees to bring out.

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What are your favorite Christmas decorations?

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I have been looking around for a different cookie recipe to take to a cookie exchange that I am going to next week. In the process I came across a recipe for Pecan Pie Bars. My husband is a big fan of pumpkin pie and pecan pie, and my neighbor usually makes the pecan pie and I usually make an apple cranberry thingy. Well, this year, for Thanksgiving, I completely dropped the ball on desert and Wednesday night by husband asked if we were having pumpkin pie…. ahhh, no.

I did get him to agree to help me with the pecan pie bars and boy, they were great!

Pecan Pie Bars

Crust
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter

Preheat your oven to 350F/180C. crust: combine flour, powdered sugar and salt. Cut in 1/2 cup butter until your mixture is course crumbs. Pat the crumb mixture into an ungreased 11×7 baking dish. Bake the crust for 20 minutes, or until it is a golden brown.

“Pie” filling
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup agave syrup
1T cornstarch
2 T butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla

While you crust is baking, mix together eggs, pecans, brown sugar, agave syrup, 2 T melted butter and vanilla. Spread this mixture over your baked crust.
Bake for 20 minutes (350F/180C). Cool before cutting.

We cut our bars rather large (15 bars). I know I will be making these bars a few more times through December and will cut them much smaller (24 bars).

When I found this recipe, I didn’t have light corn syrup on hand, so I turned to our resident baker here at NDIN (Emily at Tanglewood Farm) about using a substitute and she recommended trying agave syrup. After I mixed the “filling” it seemed a bit thin and runny so I decided to add 1T of cornstarch to the mix. I have NO idea if this helped or not. All I can tell you is the “filling” was firm and came out fine.

When I decided to try this recipe I was looking forward to using my Vitamix to make the powdered sugar. Before I got started, I looked up in the cupboard, waaaaay in the back, just to make sure there wasn’t any store-bought powdered sugar still lurking up there. OH, MY! I found A LOT of powdered sugar up there. I can’t tell you when the last time was that I used any powered sugar, but I can also tell you that even though I gave away a ton of food before we moved to Texas (4+ years ago), somehow this powdered sugar came with us. Crazy! I can also tell you that this stuff in OLD. I probably would have bought this when I was taking cake decorating classes when we lived in Palm Springs. That was about 10 years ago. YIKES!

If any of you are from California, you will also laugh, because one of the packages is from Lucky (grocery store) and another box I found is from Stater Brothers. Lucky closed many years ago, but Stater brothers is still around out there.

What kind of treats are you baking this time of year?

Sincerely, Emily

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While reading Xan’s post yesterday about the benefits of being frugal, I started to think about how different a lot of our Christmas decorations are compared to most other people we know.  While we have purchased a few things, a majority of our holiday decor is inherited, hand made, bought on clearance at the end of the season, or a “treasure” taken from trash that belonged to someone else!  I thought I’d share a few of my favorites with you.

It’s big, and I’ve not seen anything like it,  but it’s one of my absolute favorite Christmas decorations.  We inherited this beauty from the husband’s Nanny several years ago…

Another decoration high on my favorites list is my grandma’s nativity set.  While I would prefer a Willow Tree nativity (as far as looks go, it’s much more my style), this one holds a great deal of sentimental value.  There are definitely a  few chips and nicks on these figures, and one of the wise men is missing a hand.  We just say it adds character!

We have received many handmade gifts and decorations over the years, but one of my favorites is this set of stockings.  A very kind lady from church made these as a wedding gift for us.  What a thoughtful gift.

Now, here is the disclaimer for the rest of this post…. the husband has some decorating favorites of his own!  He is all about the cheese factor.  He has been an avid Coca Cola memorabilia collector for as long as I’ve known him.  Several of “his” decorations have literally been saved from the trash.  We have a few of these grocery store cardboard “Santa Coke” advertisements scattered throughout the house.


While I was off on maternity leave with #2 (during the holiday season), the husband picked up a job cleaning a few banks in the area.  He found this “treasure” in the trash… new and in the box!  It was several years old, but had never been taken out of the box.   So of course it came home with him.

This sign is proudly displayed next to his full size leg lamp from “A Christmas Story” every year.  I will spare you that picture!  Another image I will leave to your imagination is the massive amount of garland he has strung all over the place.  It was all bought for pennies on the dollar at after Christmas clearance sales.

While we obviously have two distinctly different styles in decorating our home for the holidays, we make it work with a little compromise here and there (I decorate part of the house, he decorates the other).  The boys love it, and will always have great memories to share as they get older.  Best of all we spent little to no $$$ on any of it (except the leg lamp)!

How do you decorate your home for the holidays?

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Here at Not Dabbling in Normal we love to celebrate diversity. After all, we’d all be normal if we weren’t different. So today we have a guest post from a friend that celebrates the holidays differently than those of us here at NDIN. Oh, did I mention she brings a recipe? Probably one of the most celebrated Hanukkah recipes ever? Please welcome Stephanie from The Winding Stitch (and then go make some delicious latkes!!)!

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We didn’t do much, Jewish observance-wise, when I was growing up, but we always had latkes for Hanukkah. In the Jewish belief system, Passover is the most important holiday, but Hanukkah has a story even a Jewish Atheist like my father can get behind: you don’t let a bunch of  Syrian-Greek invaders push you around, and tell you what you can and can’t do. Also, he likes latkes better than matzah and macaroons.

In our younger years, my sister and I would take turns grating the potatoes by hand, spelling each other when our arms got tired. Grating the onion was always my father’s job, however: he is the only person I know who can grate onions without his eyes tearing up. Once we left home, my father had to grate the potatoes too. “I told your father, you want latkes, you grate the potatoes,” my mother told me during one of our weekly phone conversations.

And grate them he does. One year, when my parents were over my place for Hanukkah, he saw me pulling out the food processor and exclaimed, “ Your grandmother never used a food processor.”

“Believe me,” I told him, “if she knew from food processors, she would have used one.”

He shook his head. “It won’t be the same.”

“So,” my mother called from the living room, “you want latkes, you grate the potatoes.”

(By the way, you can get the same texture with a food processor, or least get close enough for my liking: do the Joan Nathan thing and use the shredder disk and then pulse them with the blade.)

He now fries the latkes too, because my mother finally tired of him standing over her, making sure they would be crisp on the outside and moist (not gummy) on the inside. Texture is key with latkes.

Some years ago, my mother gave me her battered copy of Jennie Grossinger’s The Art of Jewish Cooking. There’s a crease in the spine that corresponds to the page with the recipe for potato latkes. I have a typed and laminated copy of the recipe that I use now, to spare the book. This is our family’s latke: light, crispy, not too eggy, not too dry. As my Grandma Friedman liked to say, enjoy, enjoy!

Potato Latkes

(from Jennie Grossinger, The Art of Jewish Cooking, 1958)

  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cups grated, drained potatoes
  • 4 Tbs grated onion
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbs cracker or matzoh meal
  • 1/2 cup oil
  1.  Beat the eggs and add the potatoes, onion, salt, pepper, and matzoh meal.
  2. Heat half the oil in a frying pan and drop the potato mixture into it by the tablespoon. Fry until browned on both sides.
  3. Keep pancakes hot until all are fried, adding more oil as required. Serves eight.

Friedman Family Annotations

  • Serve with sour cream, applesauce, and, if you want to be really Old Country, jam.
  • This recipe serves eight only if you’ve got lots of other food people are eating. In my family, it serves four. I always double it (or more) for our annual Hanukkah party.
  • Four or five good-sized potatoes will usually give you three cups grated, but check. One small onion will usually give you four tablespoons grated.
  • Remember, that’s grated, not shredded. You are making latkes, not hash browns.
  • Drain the potatoes over a bowl, then pour away the liquid. Scrape the potato starch out of the bottom of the bowl and add it back into the potatoes.
  • The grated potatoes will turn slightly rust-colored as they oxidize. Don’t worry, they’ll turn white again when they cook. Just don’t let them sit so long that they start to blacken; then you’ll have grayish latkes.
  • The oil needs to be very hot, so use an oil that has a high smoking point.
  • Use two pans if you can; you’ll get done faster. Yes, you’ll use more oil, but you’ll also get to eat them with everybody else, rather than having to sneak one or two while you slave over a hot stove.
  • Flip the latkes once the edges are browned and the middle looks mostly cooked (you’ll see the potatoes whiten, even if they haven’t oxidized much). If you flip them too early, the centers will be gummy. If you flip them too late, the edges might burn or get too crusty. Don’t worry. You’ll get the hang of it eventually.
  • Latkes are best right out of the pan, but you can keep them hot in a 200-250 degree oven before serving, if you can keep people from coming into the kitchen and taking them. Don’t let them sit too long, though, or they will lose their delectable crispiness.
  • Yes, your entire apartment or house will smell like cooking oil, even the next day. This is not a bad thing. It’s festive, okay?

Stephanie Friedman is program director of the Writer’s Studio program at the University of Chicago Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies. She holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and an MA in English from the University of Chicago. She blogs at windingstitch.blogspot.com.

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