Country CousinIssue Date: December 9, 2021
Special Light in the Sky
Winter is definitely here, calendar notwithstanding! Official arrival date of course is Dec. 21/22, shortest day of the year. But when that thermometer gets down to below zero as it did Sunday night, it's winter! Daytime temperatures haven't been too bad, though, so that's some consolation.
One of our favorite Christmas traditions is driving around area communities to view the beautiful decorations that light up so many homes, churches, parks and downtowns. These displays have sometimes been criticized crass materialism, but to me it seems so appropriate to celebrate the birth of the Light of the World with the most beautiful light displays we can devise. Another example of the collective wisdom of people in tune with their Creator. Didn't God Himself announce the birth of His Holy Son by placing a special light in the sky? And he hung it right over the manger!
No brilliant official, church or otherwise, said, "Hey, let's celebrate Christmas by putting up lights." No governing body issued orders. It was just something people started doing, and we are doing it better and better each year.
Another must-do for Christmas is a visit to the living outdoor manger scenes around the area.
Christmas now really is just around the corner. If you're coming up short on cash and need gifts to delight some little ones, here are a couple of ideas. These are also great things for older kids on limited allowances to make as gifts for younger siblings.
For in the bath, or out if you don't mind a bit of mess. Buy some colored ping pong balls, an inexpensive pair of salad tongs and an inexpensive plastic dishpan. Add a bath pouf, towel, wash cloth, bubble bath, body powder, etc. if you like. Crumple up tissue paper and nest all the items artfully in the dishpan. Cover the top tightly with clear or colored plastic wrap so it looks like a purchased kit. Show the lucky youngster how to use the tongs to catch the balls, something like bobbing for apples. The dish pan filled with water will do, but it's really great fun to chase the balls in the bathtub. There they can use the dishpan like a boat to collect the balls they catch. when bath time is over everything goes back in the pan for storage.
This is for kids old enough not to put things in their mouths. You'll need colored construction paper, a large-size round oatmeal box or other deep box, metal paper clips, clear contact paper or wide roll of clear packing tape, string, a dowel or other straight stick, and a magnet of a type that can be tied to something. (The round magnets with holes in the middle that serve as drapery weights are perfect.) Cut fish of different shapes and sizes from the construction paper and decorate them as you like to make them look more fish-like. If you happen to find some colorful life-size pictures of fish, octopus, alligators, etc. in old magazines, that's even better. Add to the fun and put in a few pictures of old boots, tires, whatever. Paste the picture onto the contact paper so one side looks really good, and cut to shape. For older kids, put a number from 1 to 10 on one side of each fish.
Put a paper clip nose on each one. Seal between sheets of clear contact paper or packing tape, or better yet laminate the fish if you have access to a laminating machine. Be sure at least a bit of the paper clip sticks out. Cover both sides of the fish with tape or contact paper. Cut out the fish again, leaving a thin margin to seal the paper fish inside.
Tie one end of the string to each stick and the other to a magnet. If you like, use a paring knife to make a slight groove in the stick to keep the string from slipping off.
Decorate the oatmeal box however you wish, perhaps with gift wrap or poster paint. Put everything inside. Add a small note pad and pencil for keeping score if you like.
Young ones will enjoy "fishing" alone. For older kids, make a game of it. Take turns with the pole, and put the box high enough that the fisherman can't see inside. A pull is a pull. No fish, no points. Keep score by adding numbers on the fish they catch. This is also a sneaky way to improve their addition skills.
How long did it take Mary and Joseph to get to Bethlehem? Was the trip very hard for Mary? Donkeys aren't big on shock absorbers. Couldn't have been too easy on Joseph either. He had to walk, leading that donkey. Wonder if they had a few choice words for Caesar and his census? But they also knew the Old Testament prophecies said the Holy Birth would take place in Bethlehem and that's really why they were going there. Isn't it strange how God makes everything come out the way He planned in the first place? He does have a sense of humor. Bet Caesar would have been livid had he known he was carrying out the plans of the Jewish God he so despised!
Growing season is short at the North Pole, but Santa manages to have a garden anyway. Know what orders he gives the elves whenever they go out there to work?
(See answer at the end)
Aside from that it tastes good, here's another good reason to eat fish. We've all heard by now that consumption of fish, particularly fatty fish like salmon, helps prevent heart problems that eating too much of other types of fats can cause. But scientists recently learned that while eating an ordinary high fat diet may significantly increase the risk of blindness connected with age-related macular degeneration, the omega-3 fats found in fatty fish seem to not only protect against that problem, they help reverse it. Other foods that protect eyes are colorful fruits and vegetables like spinach, kale, collards, etc., the brighter the better. Also carrots and sweet potatoes.
An easy way to get nice brown gravy with the rich flavor that comes from browned flour is to put flour into a baking dish and roast it while the meat is roasting. By the time the meat is done the flour will be nice and brown. You might want to stir it once or twice while roasting. To make the gravy-making task easy and almost fool proof, mix the browned flour with an equal amount of cornstarch and shake to mix thoroughly. Cover tightly after it's cool. When it's gravy making time put 3 tablespoons of this mixture into another jar with a lid. Add about a half cup of water and shake until it's all mixed. Use this to thicken about pan drippings with about 3 tablespoons fat and enough water added to total 2 cups. Add salt and pepper to taste. If the pan drippings are too fatty, spoon some of the grease off the top before you thicken it. Be sure to let the gravy mixture come to a full rolling boil and simmer down to where the bubbles "pop" before you shut it off.
Cookies, sweet breads and other treats from the kitchen are gifts you can be sure won't bring about any urge to head for the Customer Courtesy returns counter. They are also absolutely necessary to have on hand for holiday hospitality at home.
SPICED PUMPKIN BUTTER
Makes 3 1/2 cups, or enough to fill 4 of those little 1-cup jelly jars. Tie on a pretty bow, wrap and give proudly. But do save at least one jar for your own family. Keeps a month in refrigerator. This is so good everyone will enjoy it, but it's a great gift for the person on a limited diet. In a 2-tablespoon serving there are 60 calories, 16 grams carbohydrate and no fat at all.
1 can (29 oz.) solid pack pumpkin puree
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
In heavy saucepan whisk together all ingredients until no streaks remain. Bring to a simmer, then cook slowly, stirring frequently, until it is thick enough to hold its shape on a spoon. Especially toward the end you have to stir often probably constantly, because it will burn easily. Spoon into sterilized jars. Cool to room temperature and then seal. Good on biscuits, pancakes, toast or any sweet bread, especially pumpkin nut bread.
This is butter, and needs to be treated just like regular butter. Good on biscuits, toast, pancakes, French toast and sweet breads.
1/2 cup softened butter
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Beat all ingredients together and pile prettily in a bowl or crock. Best served at room temperature, but refrigerate for longer term storage.
CHEERY CHERRY BARS
Dried cherries are pushing raisins for a spot in holiday treats. So are "craisins" which are sugared dried cranberries. They're good in recipes designed for them but aren't really interchangeable with raisins. These bars are made with white chocolate and cherries or craisins. You can use chocolate chips if you like. They freeze beautifully or can be stored for a week or two in airtight containers.
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 ounces white Toll House morsels
1 1/2 cups dried cherries or craisins
1 cup chopped pecans, almonds or hazel nuts (or even macadamia nuts)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 15x10x1" or 9x13x2" pan, depending on thickness desired. In large mixing bowl with electric beaters whip together softened butter or margarine and the sugars until light and fluffy. Whip in eggs and vanilla. Mix together flour, baking powder and salt and stir in the dried fruit, nuts and chips. Stir this into the butter/sugar mixture. Spread evenly in prepared pan. Bake about 15 minutes for the larger pan and 20 for the smaller one, or until light golden brown. Cool in pan. Cut in bars before removing from pan.
STRAWBERRY PRETZEL CHEESE CAKE
This pretty and delicious cross between salad and dessert makes a delightful addition to any Holiday buffet with its bright red color and incomparable flavor.
2 cups pretzels (crushed)
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup melted butter
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix pretzels, butter and sugar together. Press into a greased 9x13 pan and bake about 8 minutes. Be careful not to burn it. Let cool thoroughly.
1 package cream cheese (8 ounces), room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 container frozen whipped topping (9 ounces)
Cream cheese and sugar together, fold in the whipped topping and spread over the cooled crust.
2 packages strawberry Jello
2 cups boiling water
2 packages frozen strawberries (10 ounces each)
Dissolve Jello in the boiling water. Stir at least 1 minute. Let it cool slightly, then stir in the strawberries, which should have b been sitting out to thaw slightly. Stir several times as they finish thawing and chill the Jello mixture. Let sit about 10 to 15 minutes or until it starts to thicken slightly. Pour over the cream cheese layer. Refrigerate until it sets up, at least 2 hours. This can be made the night before.
Must apologize once again. The first version of this really delicious Jello salad/dessert (printed 2 weeks ago) did not include the amount of buttermilk to use. Crust, if you use it, is prepared exactly as in the Pretzel Cheesecake recipe above. This makes a sizable batch, but it's easy to halve everything.
1 can crushed pineapple in syrup (16 or 17 ounces)
2 packages orange Jello (6 ounce size)
4 cups buttermilk
1 carton frozen whipped topping (16 ounces)
1/2 cup chopped pecans
In large pan bring the pineapple in syrup to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in the Jello. Cool to room temperature. Stir in buttermilk. Then fold in whipped topping. Chill until it starts to thicken. Pour over the cooled crust or forget about the crust and put it into any fancy bowl that will hold it. Chill at least 4 hours before serving. To make a low calorie or diabetic version, simply omit the crust, use diet Jello, pineapple in its own juice and if you're really serious about it, "lite" whipped topping. Fixed this way it's very low calorie and almost zero fat, but still tastes sinfully rich.
RED HORSERADISH SAUCE
This super easy sauce ends up a delightful holiday color and keeps a week or more. Looks good and tastes great. Good with any roast meat or poultry and is a natural with Sulz lunch meat or boiled pork hocks. Packed in a pretty jar it would even make a nice holiday hostess gift. Must be made at least a day ahead.
1 bottle prepared horseradish (4 ounces)
1/2 cup wine vinegar
1/2 cup juice drained from canned beets
4 large canned beets, grated or finely shredded
3 tablespoons sugar
Mix everything thoroughly. Put into a pretty glass jar or serving dish, seal tightly and chill until ready to serve.
VANILLA CREAM PUFFS
Easy if you use an electric mixer. Nearly impossible if you don't. These rich indulgences can be frozen and then thawed for about an hour before serving, so they're great to have on hand for drop-in guests or a special treat on trim the tree night. These are big, like the cream puffs that made Wisconsin State Fair famous. That's fine, but I'm trying to figure out how to make the delectable little bite-size puffs we pay dearly for at the supermarket. If anyone knows how to get the filling in without cutting the top off the puff, please write and I'll pass it along. Maybe a turkey baster, or perhaps a cloth or plastic bag type cake decorator with the plain nozzle. I do plan to experiment, but it would be so much easier if that particular wheel doesn't have to be reinvented.
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter (the real thing only)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put water, butter and salt into a large saucepan and bring to a full rolling boil. Add flour all at once and stir until a smooth ball forms. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating until each one is incorporated before adding the next one. Continue beating until the dough is smooth and shiny. Drop mixture by 1/4 cupfuls onto a greased baking sheet, 3" apart. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to a wire rack. Immediately split puffs open, but leave a little hinge on one side so it can be closed after the puff is filled.
1 1/2 cups cold milk
1 package vanilla flavor instant pudding mix
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 to 1 teaspoon almond extract
In a deep bowl beat the milk, pudding mix and extract on low speed for two minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes. In a separate small, deep bowl whip the cream until fairly stiff peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the pudding mix. Fill each puff and put the lids back on.
Cinnamon Chocolate Glaze
6 tablespoons semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 teaspoons shortening
3/4 teaspoon corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
In small heavy saucepan combine all the glaze ingredients. Stir over low heat until the chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Drizzle over cream puffs. Chill for at least one hour before serving.
Thought for the Week: To help your children turn out well, spend twice as much time with them and half as much money.
Santa's Garden answer: "Hoe, hoe, hoe!" Could it be anything else?
(This column is written by Shirley Prudhomme of Crivitz. Views expressed are her own and are in no way intended to be an official statement of the opinions of Peshtigo Times editors and publishers. She may be contacted by phone at 715-291-9002 or by e-mail to email@example.com.)
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