Christmas Wrap Up

Does it feel like Christmas came and left way too soon this year? Or is it just me? I am sitting in my living room surrounded by kids and Christmas decorations (and gifts), and I just can’t believe that a short week ago, we were frantically trying to get it all done in anticipation of the big day. Now, we’re looking at just a little more than a day left in the entire year.

As quickly as it sped by, Christmas was a blessed day–or several days–this year. We did get it all done. Everyone was ready for the festivities. We enjoyed ourselves in the process and the opportunity to spend the time with family and friends (and UK even beat Louisville this year!). Our family continued our tradition of attending the candlelight service at church, but this year we added a new twist: about halfway through the service, the fire alarm began to sound. Not knowing if it was real or a mistake, all the attendees had to file outside in the 12 degree weather and wait anxiously for the firemen to respond. Thankfully, it was a water issue and not a real fire, but after standing outside for a while and shaking in the frigid temps, it was tough to go back into the service and feel warm and fuzzy by the candle lighting portion of the candlelight service. Somehow we managed, though!

After church, we had dinner with Todd’s mom and dad at their house and visited with them until we could visit no more. Excited though they were, the kids all dutifully dressed for bed and tried to fall asleep although the anticipation had to make it tough. Todd and I were only up until around 1 am getting our last minute details in order and finished.

The next morning began early as we committed to take a hot breakfast to the men of the fire station. No one complained at the wakeup, but as I walked past the boys’ bedroom and called, “Time to wake up! It’s time to begin Christmas!” I heard Brendan mumble from under his pile of blankets, “Can we start Christmas in five more minutes??” 🙂

As we made our way to the fire station, we noticed a lot of water on the roadway and it eventually became clear that a water main had broken overnight. There were about four guys working in the crushingly cold (for Kentucky…you know, it’s all relative, but 10 degrees IS cold!) temps on Christmas morning. The men at the fire station confirmed that the main had broken around 1 in the morning and the men had been there since shortly after that. After chatting with the firemen for a few minutes, we left them with their breakfast and a thank you, and ran out to the van. As we buckled up, Todd exclaimed, “Let’s go get those men some coffee!” We drove over to the Speedway and purchased several hot coffees for the poor fellows who had been called out of their beds and away from their families on Christmas to clean up a huge mess in the road. They were appreciative of the small gesture, to be sure.

The rest of the day included a lovely time of eating, opening presents, children who were happy with the boxes and bags they got to open and the treats they discovered inside, a lazy morning and just hanging out, and then an evening with Todd’s family doing more gifting and eating.

My parents were also able to make a trip down to visit us for a couple days and just left this morning. We are so blessed to have them healthy enough (and willing enough!) to make the trip down I-75 so many times to visit us. It is a huge gift! We played new and old games, took walks in the afternoon, and my poor dad was forced to watch the University of Kentucky Wildcats win in his presence. (I don’t feel badly at all about that!)

As we reflect on the week of Christmas that we just experienced, I am so thankful that it was as full of activity and blessing as it was. We are extremely fortunate!

Here are just a few pictures of the kids and us decked out in their Sunday best to prove that we all actually clean up when necessary…

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Spinach + Cheese + Crescent rolls = An Appetizer to Write Home About

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Last night our two oldest kids had a formal dinner to attend as part of their high school curriculum affectionately referred to as protocol. Being reminded that manners are not for sissies, yet proper behavior is not necessarily intuitive, the students are instructed how to act graciously and properly at formal functions. In an era where respect for anyone or anything seems to be less and less important, I’m thankful yet again that we found Classical Conversations and can share these social graces with our kids. (For more information about our kickin’ homeschool group, click here.)

Actually, last night’s dinner was a practice session for the Spring Protocol, where the group will dine at a fancy restaurant and attend some sort of performance. One of the CC moms graciously opened her home to host the night, and along with other Challenge tutors, prepared, served, and cleaned up the meal. From what I heard, it was quite a delicious spread!

Truth be told, however, one of our children was less than thrilled with the prospect of dressing up and suffering through an evening of formalities. (Until he or she actually went, that is. The entire ride home, the two were a-flurry with happy details from the night.)

I volunteered to make the appetizers for the evening, both because I knew it would be a huge undertaking for the hostess to get her home set up AND prepare all the food necessary for such a large dinner party, and because I like to make food. It took me until two days before, however, to make a final decision as to what I was going to make. Thankfully, my email inbox was seemingly inundated each morning with new holiday recipes. On Wednesday, the perfect appetizer recipe came to my inbox, and I knew it was the one. With spinach, cheese, and a warm crescent roll encasement, what could go wrong? Put with my tried-and-true veggie tortilla pinwheels and my sister-in-law’s famous sausage balls, I had a plan. Finally.

I know better to prepare a recipe for the first time when I have to make it for a function, but I still did it anyway. Next time, I think I’ll make some changes, but on the whole, this recipe is a keeper.

Start with a short list of ingredients, none too complicated:

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The first step is to completely thaw the spinach and drain it well. Then mix the spinach, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, onion-flavored cream cheese, and egg yolk until all are completely incorporated. I used a fork to make sure everything was mixed into the spinach. *Here’s where I would have made a change: I definitely would have added some minced garlic and salt and pepper to the mixture.

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Next comes the geometry problem, and admittedly, geometry was very close to my least favorite subject in any level of my education. The recipe says to cut each crescent roll triangle in half, but with the shapes of crescent rolls being what they are, they don’t easily lend themselves to being cut in…how you say…half. Nevertheless, I pressed on and cut them as close to half as I could figure out. Judge for yourselves….

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After placing a bit of the spinach mixture in the middle of each crescent roll “half,” just draw up the corners and seal the seams. Easy peasy. Especially while chatting with two children who happen to wander through the kitchen. And listening to Christmas music.

Once they’re all assembled, I brushed the tops with egg white and sprinkled a bit more Parmesan cheese.

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They baked for about the same time that a plain old boring crescent roll would, and smelled wonderful during and afterwards. A beautiful golden brown top on each also added to their appeal, so much so that Todd and I had to try one before I packed them up to go with the kids.

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All in all, I love this recipe and will happily add it to my list of go-to appetizers. In addition to the changes I mentioned above, I might also be tempted to stir in a bit more of the onion and chives cream cheese than the recipe originally called for. While it wasn’t exactly dry, I felt that it was missing *something* that would catapult it from good to great. I suppose I should just keep making it until I find the perfect combination.

It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it. Right?

Cheesy Spinach Bundles

1 pkg. (10 oz.) frozen chopped spinach, thawed, well-drained
1/2 cup Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1/3 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
1/4 cup Chive & Onion Cream Cheese Spread
1 egg, separated
1 can (8 oz.) refrigerated crescent dinner rolls
make it
HEAT oven to 375ºF.

MIX first 4 ingredients and egg yolk until blended.

SEPARATE crescent dough into 8 triangles. Cut each triangle diagonally in half. Spoon 1 Tbsp. spinach mixture onto center of each triangle. Bring corners of dough to center over filling, overlapping ends; pinch ends together to seal. Place on baking sheets. Beat egg white lightly; brush onto bundles.

BAKE 12 to 15 min. or until golden brown.

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(taken with love and respect from http://www.kraftfoods.com)

One of our favorite Christmas traditions

A few years ago, while reading through one of my social media newsfeeds, I saw that a friend of ours had taken breakfast to the men on duty at the fire station near her house on Christmas Day. For some reason, that really struck a chord with me as soon as I read it. What a fantastic idea! I have never had to be away from my family on Christmas Day: my parents were teachers and had the same vacation time we had for holidays, and Todd always has been able to be with us on every major celebration. Even though I couldn’t relate to missing family members on Christmas morning, I could certainly imagine how sad it would be to have to postpone celebrations while one of them was performing his or her job.

I mentioned it to Todd and we purposed to begin our own family tradition the following Christmas. At first, the kids had a lot of questions, but it didn’t take long for them to get on board with the idea of blessing someone else before even beginning our own celebrations. That first year, we brought our prepared breakfast and traipsed through the firehouse to deliver to the guys on duty that morning. The second year, however, everyone was even more enthusiastic and we even had the chance to take pictures with the crew we had the pleasure of blessing.

 

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We’ve been trying to establish family traditions throughout the years–both at Christmas and other holidays–and so early in December, when we began decorating the house for the season, I asked the kids what they were hoping to repeat this year as in years before.  Imagine the look on my face when it wasn’t “We need to eat this!” or “We want to get stuff!” but the first thing they suggested was “We want to take breakfast to the firemen again!”  I was so incredibly blessed to hear that and to realize that they remembered from the previous years.   Of course we plan to make and deliver breakfast for the crew on duty on the day when many, many people have the ability to take off work and stay home with their families.

So perhaps you too would like to bless people in your community this Christmas Day.  There are plenty of Fire Stations in every city, and although Fire Station #20 is covered in Lexington, there are many more who would surely feel loved (and full) if you could plan to serve them a delicious meal!  And it doesn’t have to be limited to just the firemen:  perhaps your heart is to bless a hospital staff or a police station, or a group that I haven’t even mentioned here.  It would not be difficult to find the contact information of the local fire station or other business; a simple Google search will point you in the right direction. Give them a call to set up delivery times so they know you’ll be coming, and that’s all there is to it!

Maybe this Christmas, before the gifts and celebration in your own home, start the morning out by extending your circle of celebration to those outside your sphere who will be working hard to keep others safe and protected on this most blessed of days.  You will be blessed in return, I promise!

Merry Christmas to all who serve and protect in all capacities.

Is it wrong to want to eat the entire pan myself?

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This is Christmas party extravaganza week in our lives, much like it may be in many, many other people’s lives, and with parties comes the opportunity to create something delicious to bring along to the gatherings. Of course, there are always the usual treats (i.e., Christmas Crack, which seems to be my go-to December dish), but every so often I like to dig down deep for goodies I have either never made before…or have somehow fallen out of my rotation.

This recipe falls into the latter category. I first discovered it over a decade ago in our newspaper, and probably made it so often that I decided–no, needed–to take a break from it. The clipping that I had kept a close eye on for so long (and gotten grease marks on from overuse) had somehow been lost, but thankfully, with the advent of the internets (thank you, Al Gore!), I was able to find it again. I’m actually a bit disappointed in myself that I don’t have it memorized.

In any case, it’s the perfect combination in my mind of the finest flavors imaginable: chocolate, raspberry, and shortbread. These are rich, no doubt, but are easy to make and even easier to put away. I have to employ every ounce of self control not to just stand over the finished product and absolutely inhale. (Do you understand just how much I love these?!)

Like I said, however, they are straightforward to make and look fabulous on any Christmas treat platter. I’m taking them tonight to our CC mom’s Christmas party. I hope with other moms around that I’ll be able to just walk. away.

Start with softened butter. After beating it until it’s creamy, add flour, light brown sugar, and a wee bit o’ salt.

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Mix it up until it’s crumbly, like this:

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Measure out 1 3/4 ish cups (if you’re like me and like to eyeball rather than carefully measure) and press it into a greased 9×13 pan.

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The base gets baked for about ten minutes, and after that, microwave some sweetened condensed milk and chocolate chips until they easily combine into a chocolately velvetness. (Hey, if you re-read, you will see that I make no inference of healthiness. I claim December as my reason!)

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After all these years, I wised up and did this step in a two-cup measuring cup so it was much less messy to pour over the base. Finally. With age comes wisdom, about something…even if it is just about pouring chocolate.

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Once that is all evenly spread over the cookie base, take the remaining shortbread dough and crumble it over the chocolate.

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Next, drop teaspoons of raspberry jam throughout the pan. I microwaved the jar for just a bit to make it easier to spoon out. Also, I didn’t bother to measure out 1/3 cup. Eyeball, I say. Eyeball. After the jam, sprinkle the leftover chocolate chips over the about-to-be-yummy goodness.

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It is now ready to go back in the oven to bake for an additional 25-30 minutes, or until is displays a lovely golden brown color.

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After allowing your creation plenty of time to cool completely, the only job left is to cut it into small squares for your tasting pleasure. Watch out for little helpers whose “Mom’s cutting the cookies!!” radar will invariably start to sound at this point, but for me, it was helpful because I had them clean off the knife…because they seem to wear it so much better than me. The initial reviews from the family were encouraging. Perhaps we shall all have to walk away from these together….

Chocolate Raspberry Bars

1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups (12-ounce package) semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam
Directions:

PREHEAT oven to 350° F. Grease 13 x 9-inch baking pan.

BEAT butter in large mixer bowl until creamy. Beat in flour, sugar and salt until crumbly. With floured fingers, press 1 3/4 cups crumb mixture onto bottom of prepared baking pan; reserve remaining mixture.

BAKE for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are golden brown.

MICROWAVE 1 cup chips and sweetened condensed milk in medium, uncovered, microwave-safe bowl on HIGH (100%) power for 1 minute; STIR. Morsels may retain some of their original shape. If necessary, microwave at additional 10- to 15-second intervals, stirring just until morsels are melted. Spread over hot crust.

STIR nuts into reserved crumb mixture; sprinkle over chocolate filling. Drop teaspoonfuls of raspberry jam over crumb mixture. Sprinkle with remaining chips.

BAKE for 25 to 30 minutes or until center is set. Cool completely in pan on wire rack.

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(taken with love and gratitude from http://www.meals.com)

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