A Minnesota Christmas- A Ghost from Christmas Past (growing up in the 70’s)

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A Christmas Essay by Kim VanderWerf for goodfoodgreatdesign ™ (previously posted on my blog Feast 12/12/15)

I grew up in the 1970’s in a little valley about thirteen miles from the nearest town and belonged to a family of five. There were my Dad and Mom, my younger sister and a little brother. We lived in a hundred-year-old farmhouse next to our grandparents’ on the family farm.  From our home, we could see our grandparents’ next door, our neighbors across the main gravel road in front of our house and distant neighbors by their barn light (known as a security light now) and the wisps of smoke from their wood stoves.  Occasionally we would hear the bark of that distant neighbor’s coon hounds if the wind blew just right. As the year wound down and the holidays grew near, a certain mood took over in our household.  Christmas time was a special time in our home; a time when it seemed my parents’ moods brightened and even they had a child-like state of mind. You know the one I’m talking about. The happy, peaceful and hopeful feelings that every child has at Christmas time. My siblings and I didn’t have to be reminded to behave, nor do I ever remember being threatened that Santa would not come. Though no doubt we were anxious, and probably at times slightly giddy, we knew that Christmas was about more than just presents.  You see our parents’ weren’t like some of the parents’ of the time, they did not compete at Christmas time with the Jones’.

First and foremost in our home at Christmas time it was all about Christ. Christ was brought into our lives by way of the church we belonged to and its annual Christmas program. It was there that we learned the story of the baby Jesus as each year one of us took a turn participating in the play. Though I loved going to church and enjoyed watching the Christmas play, I really looked forward to the box of candy we were given as we exited the nave.  The play was held at night time so all the way home all you would hear from Mom was “no candy before bed”. To which of course meant I had very little time to ever so quietly sneak out the biggest piece of peanut brittle I could find.

Christmas time meant a lot of time spent with the elder members of our family. I grew up with four great aunts all in their 70’s and one great uncle. There was also a reverend in our family along with a church choir director. So one could say I was brought up surrounded by Christian influence. Often my father would include bible verses in simple conversation, even though he himself was a lapsed Lutheran. Whether it was the ever-present Christian influence or the spirit of the season, Mom made sure that giving to others remained an important part of our Christmas festivities. She was ever busy trying to find just the right gift for the elders, wrapping them just right and making arrangements from one to the other on when we’d come over to visit. Even at their ages each great aunt had their home warmly decorated for Christmas and all had made the customary goodies from their native country of Norway. Once the meal was ready we would enjoy Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, carrots, corn, and gravy. Desserts were varied but usually were cranberry salads, glorified rice and of course- lefse, rosettes, and sandbakkels.

After the meal we three kids would sit quietly amongst the adults as they visited. Then eventually we’d be handed our gift. From the elders, our gifts were usually homemade. Over the years my sister and I received handmade knit Barbie clothes, stocking caps, mittens and homemade Christmas tree ornaments. Never did we look down upon these gifts even though we knew our friends were receiving the store bought kind from their aunts and uncles.

Because of the different groups my Mom belonged to there was always the Secret Santa gifts to look forward to buying and receiving. It was fun to watch her get someone’s name and then have to go out and try to find the gift requested. It was, even more, fun to see her expression when someone who wasn’t shopper savvy would draw her name and ultimately give her a gift she hadn’t requested. But of course Mom would make good use of it and the rest of us, well, we’d sure get a good laugh out of it.  My sister and I belonged to 4-H so we would also have a Christmas party and exchange gifts. I always asked for a Lifesaver’s Storybook for my gift and sometimes I would actually get one. For me, that was the ultimate gift and one I still asked for up to a few years ago. As a family, I think we enjoyed the giving of gifts way more than ever receiving them.

Christmas Eve was always spent at our grandparents’ home watching Doug Henning, the magician, on t.v. while grandma prepared her Oyster Stew. Neither of my siblings nor I or Mom would eat the Oyster Stew so grandma would prepare a casserole for us to eat.Of course,  it goes without saying my eyes were constantly perusing the candy dishes because grandpa would usually have quite an assortment of hard candy at this time of the year.  After the evening meal, we would present grandpa and grandma with their gifts. Grandpa was easy to buy for like me he had a major sweet tooth. So he usually got a flannel shirt, some mixed nuts, and hard candy. Grandma liked the prettier things in life so her gifts were pretty knick-knacks, gloves or her favorite– a gift set of Chantilly dusting powder. Before the end of the night, grandma would open a box of chocolates and each of us would be able to pick one. I always wanted the vanilla cream one but usually ended up with a caramel nougat. Then back to our home we would go where we would shortly be sent up to bed. After a few reminders that “Santa won’t come if you’re still awake”, we would settle down and go off to sleep.

Come Christmas morning we would wait for two (sometimes more) hours for Dad to finish chores. Mom would be in the kitchen making a special breakfast which was usually sausages and eggs while each of us picked up our gifts trying to guess what was in each one.  Once Dad was in the house we could open our bigger present; as we each got one big present. I usually asked for LP records, while my sister asked for games or clothing.  Our little brother always wanted whatever new John Deere tractor or piece of machinery was popular that year from the local farm implement.  Smaller gifts were Christmas nighties or slippers, new denim jeans or socks. After our presents were opened it was Dad’s turn and I think all of us were most excited for his reaction. Each year he got the same things, yet, he was always thankful and happy to get new ones-socks, long underwear, and that ever-present winter staple in the Midwest, a flannel shirt.  And what about Mom you ask? Well, she purchased her own Christmas gifts because she was ever so particular as to what she would want. Usually, she wanted a flannel nightgown, soft socks or slippers and sometimes a soft sweater or housecoat. She bought the gifts I wrapped them and come Christmas morning they were a complete surprise to her.

Christmas decorations in our home were simple; our tree was always decorated with handmade ornaments. The traditions were abundant from the meal we ate on Christmas Eve with our grandparents’ to the oranges in our stockings Christmas morn. Christmas vacation was a time for sledding parties and ice-skating and one year even going for a horse-drawn sleigh ride. Mom would spend two weeks every year making her famous homemade fudge and special Christmas Sugar cookies. Which of course meant that between all the Christmas break activities I was forever sneaking into the pantry eating fudge and sugar cookies. Christmas dinner was usually Mom’s famous baked BBQ ribs but sometimes it was a ham with her delicious scalloped potatoes and creamed corn. I loved, loved, loved Christmas growing up. It set in stone how I’ve spent each Christmas since I’ve left home. Steeped in tradition with its common theme in giving, Christ is still the reason for the season in our home.

Each year at this time I look back, and the ghost of Christmas past is very present. It’s a great experience, I’m very thankful for the memories I have. As I grew into an adult I passed some of my family’s Christmas traditions onto others, and I am certain that if they’ve remembered the giving part rather than focusing on the receiving part their Christmases have always been memorable. When I first met my husband he was very stressed at Christmas time. His family celebrated, throughout his childhood in the states, Christmas on December 5th. That is the date that people from the Netherlands celebrate Sinterklaas Day. I’ve written about this day on my blog a few times. In short, it is a day dedicated to the children in the Netherlands where St. Nick arrives by boat and gives gifts and candies to all. As adults, my husband’s family drew names and then got together on December 5th to exchange the gifts.

When we got married I was expected to change my day of celebration to December 5th.  But I would not do that. Instead, I compromised and did both because there was no way I was going to give up the way I celebrated Christmas. Their celebration did not involve Sinterklaas arriving in their home giving gifts to kids but instead was each adult drawing names and then buying the gifts from that person’s list. Christmas dinner was the same meal served at family get-togethers throughout the year. And although we enjoyed getting together with family on Christmas day what inevitably happened between family members and gift giving made it a very stressful day for us. Let’s just suffice it to say what usually happened would definitely rival some of the Christmas movies made today where the entire family is having a meltdown.

By our second year of marriage, I had taken my husband home so that he could see how my family celebrated this special time. I wanted him to experience how warm, and friendly and giving centered my family made the special day. After that experience, he was sold on celebrating Christmas the way my family enjoyed celebrating it. By the third year of our marriage, we were celebrating in our home with some of the traditions I had grown up with and some new ones of our own.  Now twenty-one Christmases later Christ and the gift of giving is still the main focus of our Christmas time.

As your family gets ready to enjoy whatever celebration you have in the month of December don’t let how others choose to celebrate the day affect how you enjoy yours. Comparison really is the thief of all joy. Enjoy your traditions and make new ones. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Good Cheer!

 

A Christmas Essay Disclaimer: As I grew up and moved away from home I became very aware of the fact that there are many other celebrations, throughout the month of December, by many non-Christian religions that are just as important as the one I celebrate with my family.  There are also many organizations in the world, non-Christian religion based, that are very giving.  I’m also keenly aware that the way I grew up in the 1970’s is not the way everyone did.

Here are a few more Christmas decor pictures. Notice half-way through our little ham needed to get in on the action. He kept posing in front of the camera each place I stopped to take a snap. Finally, once I got the hint, I took his picture.  Our Christmas tree is decorated in Blue, White, and Red as a remembrance of those who lost their lives and the families of those whose life was lost in Paris. You may also notice if you click on the photo that there are spaceships. Yes, spaceships. For nearly twenty-one years my husband has been collecting Star Trek ships (Hallmark Ornaments) and this year I promised him they could go on the tree. So they are there amongst the blue, white and red and if I may so I think they look just grand!

Joyeux Noel
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Until next time always remember to eat good food!

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A Very Cranberry Christmas

Cranberries are definitely not just for Thanksgiving. Cranberries work perfectly paired with ham, duck, and turkey at Christmas time too.

Last Christmas I made an Orange Cranberry Bread w/ Honey from a recipe here that was a hit.  It worked great to serve it Christmas morning, and by Christmas dinner, it was ALL gone.

Every year I watch two Christmas movies from the show Little House on the Prairie–A Merry Ingalls Christmas and then the past three years I’ve made one homemade ornament or decoration inspired by these heartwarming shows. The first year we made a silver star out of aluminum foil like the one Carrie buys for a penny at the mercantile. The second year my husband made this paper garland–

this year we are making a cranberry garland like this one over at Ocean Spray only we’re skipping the popcorn.

At Thanksgiving time I don’t make cranberry sauce, I make a cranberry relish instead. I use a recipe by Tyler Florence that works great and goes well with turkey, ham, or duck. I also use it to spread like butter over bread with leftover ham or turkey for sandwiches.

So, that’s my story about my love for cranberries at Christmas time. Making homemade ornaments for Christmas is a way to incorporate something simple, yet cherished, into your holiday making. Cranberries though traditionally served at Thanksgiving look marvelous and taste great when added to bread, relish, even salsa.

I’ll be sharing my post with Marty over at A Stroll Thru Life— come on over and join the party!

Christmas movies and other traditions

We can’t go through the holiday season without watching:

The Grinch Stole Christmas- this movie though entertaining also teaches one to feel with their whole heart.

Christmas Vacation- great movie for the soul, for sure a 90-minute laugh fest.

The Nativity Story- tells the story of Mary, Joseph,  Elizabeth, and Jesus.

Christmas Carol- reminds me to make the best of every day and be generous with my time, heart, and love.

Santa Clause 1, 2,3- magic with a side of humor.

One Special Night- romance and family–starting again later in life.

Love Actually- love, all about love.

Food traditions we have- making fudge, rosettes, and spritz. On December 5th we celebrate Sinterklaas Day and we have always loved driving through neighboring towns and looking at Christmas lights. This year I am reading Christmas stories about the Nisse-Norwegian trolls. Very interesting.

What are some of yours?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Story of Nisse-Norwegian Trolls

http://www.trollshop.net/trolls/nissen/

 

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser- a review

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser is a comprehensive look into Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life. I’ve been a lifelong reader about the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I could not pass up the opportunity to read this one. I felt this book answered so many of the questions I’ve had about Laura’s life after she married Almanzo Wilder in De Smet, SD. I often wondered why her father and mother moved around so much in the early years. I was also very curious to know more about Laura’s relationship with her daughter Rose. Prairie Fires answers these questions and so much more. I started reading the Little House books in the 1970’s as a teen. Now nearly forty years later I can say I’ve come full circle. Prairie Fires provides a very comprehensive and historical account of one of the most interesting pioneer/settlers of all time.

This book is a must-read for anyone who has ever picked up a book written about Laura Ingalls Wilder. It contains the full breadth of knowledge about her early pioneer days. I read this book at quite a clip but found myself going back and re-reading the rich information found in it.  Readers will find it is hard to put down. I highly recommend Prairie Fires to all Laura Ingalls Wilder fans, historians, those interested in the early pioneer history, and homesteaders.

I requested this book from NetGalley to review due to its subject matter, and rave reviews.

Professional Reader

Thanksgiving Menu–adding a couple of new dishes to the menu

I’ve been making Thanksgiving dinner since I was 18 years old. For my husband I’ve been making the same Thanksgiving meal almost 23 years. Several years back I decided not to try new dishes for the first time during holiday meal making, because if they don’t turn out then my stress level goes through the roof. Nothing worse than a dish that flopped and there are a minimum of10 hungry people at the table. Every year though I say to myself– “self, I should try something new this year”, but I never do. Until this year when I began prepping our Thanksgiving meal a few weeks in advance with a trial run of mashed cauliflower and a new dessert- pumpkin bundt cake with cream cheese frosting.

The recipes I chose worked great and both the cauliflower and pumpkin bundt cake turned out terrific.

I followed a recipe from Eating Well for Creamy Mashed Cauliflower.

Now, I don’t like garlic. Well, I used to, but I haven’t been able to tolerate it or onions for about five years now. No clue why?

Once my cauliflower was cooked, mashed and creamy I added butter, buttermilk, and nutmeg. Try Nutmeg– I promise you this will become your go to seasoning. It works well on cauliflower that has been steamed or boiled (just sprinkle a little over the top once done) and works great with green beans and brussel sprouts. Just make sure to have a bit of butter worked into the veggies and then lightly sprinkle with nutmeg. In place of butter, if you like, you can use any oil you would normally drizzle on veggies. I would find a good priced quality extra virgin olive oil if you are opposed to adding butter.

My menu looks something like this—

Roasted 16# Turkey
Mashed Potatoes
Mashed Cauliflower
Roasted Brussel Sprouts
Baked Squash drizzled with Maple Syrup
Gluten Free Stuffing
Homemade Parker House Rolls
Pumpkin Bundt Cake
Pecan Pie  

(I love King Arthur Flour recipes– their pecan pie recipe is a big hit everytime I make it)

Until next time Happy Thanksgiving!!!

My love affair with heirloom tomatoes

To be truly honest with you when I was growing up I’m not sure what kind of tomato we were growing. I suppose they could have been heirloom? Maybe they were started from seeds grandma saved? There was no Walmart’s or Home Depot’s back in those days, so our only source besides seed saving was purchasing plants from local greenhouses.

I’ve loved tomatoes since I was eight years old and never throughout the last forty-five years has my appetite for them waned. Up until a few years ago, I’d never had a home garden. Which meant any tomatoes I would be eating would either come from a grocery store or a Farmer’s Market. I never enjoyed grocery store tomatoes, but I ate them nonetheless. Because (ahem) I love tomatoes.

In the last three years, I started seeing Heirloom tomatoes pop up at the farm stand and a time or two at the Dane County Farmer’s Market. When I say pop up I mean scarce and rare, but it happened. I remember buying one for $4.00 about three years ago and thinking “boy that was worth every penny I spent.” But that’s a lot of money. The last two years I’ve waited patiently for the farm stand we visit every week to have them. Usually, right at the end of the season, they’ll have a half dozen heirlooms sitting at check out waiting just for me. I pay about a $1.00 a pound for these. This year the farmer saved just one big red one–the nicest one he could find just for me. I’ll take them bruised, soft, and overripe. It doesn’t matter to me. While eating the heirloom this year I vowed never to eat another tomato for the rest of my life unless it was homegrown and an heirloom tomato. No more store bought ever again.

Until you’ve tasted an heirloom tomato you have no idea what you are missing. Their taste is more than just sun-kissed, or warm and fleshy. Heirloom’s taste like the very best homemade pasta sauce you’ve ever tasted –authentic and flavorful. Nothing sold in grocery stores for the last thirty years can compare.  There are also taste differences between the different colors of heirloom tomatoes. I prefer the red ones which are quite acidic, whereas the yellow ones are very mild.

For tomatoes to qualify as Heirloom tomatoes there seed must be at least 50 years old.  I found out a lot of information here about heirloom tomatoes.

I’ve found a place online that I am going to order heirloom plants and seeds from and I am going to try to grow my own. If successful I will be delighted, and if not well–I’ll wait for the farm stand to save me a few precious tomatoes at the end of their growing season. It’s a small price to pay to be able to eat a real tomato.

Here’s an almost current picture of my container garden all wrapped up for winter!

We bungee strapped a couple more blankets around the middle of each tree hoping to keep the roots from getting cold. I read that keeping the roots from freezing is the secret to over-wintering container shrubs and trees. Fingers crossed. I brought both the rosemary bush and the last geranium inside to overwinter because both plants performed better than any flowers or herbs I’ve grown yet and I’d like them to have another chance next spring.

I’ll be sharing this post over at the lovely blog A Stroll Thru Life for Marty’s 398th Inspire Me Tuesday!

Homesteader Goal #5 & 6

Buy a cast iron skillet- check

I bought a Lodge at Walmart for $15.00. Right away I went to YouTube to watch videos on seasoning cast irons. There are a million videos out there. The first time it worked fine, but the video I watched suggested to season it a second time before use. This time it came out sticky even though I used a very very tiny bit of oil. I scrubbed it good with a brush and fried bacon in it and it seems to be doing just fine. No more stickiness.  I’ve hesitated for years buying another one after a disastrous seasoning experience in 2000.

For my birthday this past weekend, my husband bought us a Berkey Travel Water Filtration System. I’ve researched this system for over a year and we finally reached the point, tired of buying water, to purchase one. The taste of the water is incredible–absolutely incredible. We’ve been drinking Evian for years and both love it. However, the water we are getting from our Berkey is even better than that. Cleanest, clearest tasting water in the world. No more city water straight from the tap for us. The reason we didn’t buy the Big Berkey is this travel size is recommended for two people and it works just fine for us. It holds 1.5 gallons of water at a time, filters fairly quickly, and my husband has gone completely crazy over it. I’ve never ever seen him drink so much water.

Twenty-four years ago I couldn’t pay him to drink water. Then five years into our marriage he would drink flavored water. Fifteen years in still at flavored water until he started drinking Evian. Then he would drink a bottle here and there and he the last five or so years he’s up to a couple of big bottles a day. But drinking Evian is expensive, very expensive.

My goal for over a year has been to buy a water filtration system so–now we own one!

Goals 1-4 of this Urban Homesteader:

  1. learning to grow garden plants from seed
  2. learning to grow vegetables and fruits from both seed starters and plants
  3. producing food
  4. preserving food

I’m feeling pretty good. Hope you all are too! Until next time, be well.

Soulful Baker by Julie Jones–a review

Soulful Baker by Julie Jones is a loving tribute to baking made beautiful by Julie Jones. I’ve followed Julie Jones and her soulful excursions making pies, tarts, cakes, and bakes for some time. Beautifully decorated desserts made with natural ingredients, and the pastry recipes perfectly extraordinaire.

There is simply nothing more beautiful than the story behind both her Instagram account and this beautiful cookery book. Both feature fabulous creations by Julie and her mum captured in beautiful photography and loving stories shared throughout.  From the apple roses to the salted caramel, and the chocolate tart– this book is filled with inspiration. This is your chance to learn how to bake like a pro. All you need is your imagination and Soulful Baker by Julie Jones.

I requested Soulful Baker from NetGalley to review because of its loving tribute to the author’s mum. I simply fell in love with the recipes, photos, and stories included with each recipe. I highly recommend this cookery book to everyone!

Professional Reader