T’is The Night Before Christmas

I take Christmas shopping very seriously. I put a great deal of planning into my holiday shopping and I try very hard to find gifts that I hope are unique, thoughtful and useful. While wandering through the stores this season I was reflecting on presents I have received in the past. I appreciate all of the gifts people have given me over the years but a few really special ones stood out in my mind.

One of the most memorable was a gift from my grandparents during the peak of the Cabbage Patch Doll craze. My present that year was a box full doll clothes, made by my grandma. If I remember correctly, she made them for some of my cousins as well. I loved the clothes back then, but now that I’m a sewer myself, I have even more appreciation for how much work went into those gifts for us girls.

Another great gift that comes to mind was a basket of remedies my parents gave me when I was in college. It was a little picnic type basket, painted to match my apartment, filled with common remedies and teas. It contained various over-the-counter medications for upset stomaches, headaches and colds. It even came with a mug (that I still use it when I’m sick) and the old egg poacher we used when I was little. I usually found poached eggs gross, but when I was sick as a child, along with toast, it was my comfort food.

If you have ever lived alone and found yourself under the weather you can appreciate having these things on hand. As well, they can get expensive on a student budget.

Also, in my early twenties my parents surprised me with tools for Christmas. I really had to muster enthusiasm that morning as I unwrapped wrenches, pliers and wow, a hammer. I was still at an age where I was looking forward to more frivolous gifts under the tree, like clothes and perfume.

You know what though? I’m still using that hammer. In fact, I still have most of the tools I got that year and over the years I added more stuff to the red metal tool box that I also opened that morning. Sometimes it takes a while to truly appreciate a gift.

The worst gift I’ve ever been given: Jam.

Don’t get me wrong, in the right circumstance, with the right presentation, jam can be a great gift. In fact, I received a lovely jar of peach cantaloupe marmalade just today.

The awful jam was received in a secret Santa gift exchange at the office (although not the one where I currently work) The spending limit was $20. My Santa gave me a little crusty mason jar of homemade mystery jam. That’s it. No label, no fancy wrapping or bow, just a jar of red goo, wrapped in generic christmas paper.

It really looked like the individual who drew my name had been cleaning out his (or her) cupboard and came across the jar of jam Aunt Mable had given them years before. The food bank rejected it, as they don’t accept mystery food. Stuck with their unwanted jam, they decided to unload it at the office gift exchange. I never did open it (for fear of botulism) nor did I ever find out who my Santa was. I didn’t want to know which one of my office mates was that inconsiderate. I know it’s supposed to be the thought that counts, but that gift really sucked.

I am happy to report, my office secret Santas since then have been much more thoughtful.

Have a safe and happy holiday!

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Holiday Baking Ideas – Cheddar and Cranberry Shortbread

Not everyone likes sweet treats and that is all there ever seems to be around Christmas. Last year while googling shortbread recipes I found this one. I made a few batches and it was a bit hit. I am looking forward to making some more this weekend.

It’s a refreshing change from all of the chocolate and sugar during the holiday season:

Cheddar and Cranberry Shortbread

(1/2 cup) butter
(1 1/2 cups) grated cheddar (the older the better)
(1 1/2 cups) white flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans
1/3 cup finely chopped dried cranberries
Dash of tobasco sauce

Preheat oven to 375F

Cream the butter and cheese together on high speed. In another bowl sift flour, salt and baking powder. Stilll on high speed, add the dry ingerdients to the butter and cheese mixture. Fold in nuts and cranberries.

Place dough on a large piece of waxed paper. Roll the dough into the shape of a log, roll the paper around it and fold the ends shut. Refrigerate for 45 minutes or more.

Unwrap dough and slice the log into thin (1/4 inch) rounds . Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the bottoms of the cookies are golden brown. Cool and serve.

Makes two dozen.

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Last Minute Holiday Treats – Peanut Butter and Marshmallow Squares

During the holiday season I think it it’s always a good idea to have a few quick, foolproof recipes in your kitchen repertoire, just in case you are called upon to bring treats to a social event.

I used to use this recipe back in my early 20s, in the days when I only used my oven for storage. It’s really simple and great for whipping up if you burnt your sugar cookies the night before a cookie exchange or don’t just don’t like to bake. Aside from the cooling process, this recipe takes only a few minutes to prepare and the ingredients are basic – I am sure in a pinch you could even pick up everything at a convenience store.

Peanut Butter and Marshmallow Squares

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
12 oz butterscotch chips or chocolate chips
3 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows

Mix butter, peanut butter, and chips in a double boiler until melted (if you’re careful you could probably melt your ingredients in the microwave, but be careful, you can over melt the chips), then remove from heat. Place 3 cups miniature marshmallows in a foil lined or buttered pan and pour on warm mixture. Spread the mixture evenly and let cool. Cut into squares.

That’s all there is to it.

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