Counting Down to Christmas

I’ve always loved Christmas.  But since meeting the Husband and having our family, Christmas has become even more special for me.  In contrast to the Christmases I remember growing up where things were different every year, I’ve tried to make Christmas for our family a time of tradition and consistency in our house.  More than anything, I want my kids to remember this time of year as a time of happiness, and love, and family; and I hope they get this through our Christmas rituals.

This year, we started the Christmas season off early . . . at Disney.  We may have been there over the second week of November, but Christmas was in full swing there.  We saw the taping of the Disney Christmas parade.  We went to Mickey’s Christmas Party.  And we saw a Santa Claus parade.  I even had my first Starbucks gingerbread late of the season while walking down a completely decorated Main Street with my son and my daughter watched Cinderella decorate her tree in her castle.

But in the weeks that have followed, while the kids excitement for Christmas has slowly been building, I just haven’t been able to find the excitement that I normally have for the holiday season.

That is . . .until today.

As I sat down this morning to plan out the week ahead, menu plan and otherwise get organized in the kitchen, I clued into the fact that December 1st is THIS TUESDAY!!!!  That means decorations go up, Elf on the Shelf makes his annual return (this is the one tradition I wish I could kill off . . .literally), and advent calendars come out.

Which brings me to my point.  Advent calendars.  The one tradition I remember as a kid is having a small chocolate advent calendar.  So without question, each of my kids gets one of those every year.  They also each get a lego advent calendar.  And then there’s the wooden advent calendar that I fill myself each night with a note for the following day outlining what special Christmas activity we’ll be doing that day.

So, once all the food planning and weekly organization was taken care of, I sat down to try and plan out what special things I’ll do with the kids this December.  And as I started to map out the things we will do – decorate, bake, make holiday crafts, spend time with family, and spend time as just the four of us – I found the weight of all that is going on right now start to lift, and some of the joy and wonder of this season seep in.

I can’t control what’s going to happen to me over the next few weeks (yes, the weight of waiting for my blood work results does get me down), nor can I control what’s going on in the world (while I normally love nothing more than a strong cup of coffee and the New York Times first thing on a Sunday morning, today’s paper was downright depressing).

But I can control what goes on in our house.  And for the next 27 days, our house is going to be filled with happiness.

It’s also going to be filled with a lot more sugar than normal!  While I try to make sure the kids (and the grownups) don’t have sugar during the week, they are allowed treats on the weekend.  And yesterday, we made one of my favourite weekend treats – Peppermint Chocolate Bark.

This is a really tricky recipe (hah!). . . grease a cookie sheet with coconut oil.  In 1 double boiler (or in a glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water) melt 3 bags of enjoy life chocolate chips.  In a 2nd double boiler (or glass bowl set over a pan of simmer water), melt an equivalent amount of white chocolate (for this I use Green & Blacks organic vanilla white chocolate bars – about 4 of them).

Once the chocolate chips have melted, stir in 1tsp of peppermint exact.  Then pour it into the prepared cookie sheet.  Using a knife, spread the chocolate out evenly in the pan.  Repeat the process with the white chocolate.  You can use a fork or a skewer to swirl the two chocolates together.  Or just leave it as is.  Put the cookie sheet in the fridge or the freezer until the chocolate has hardened.  Then use a knife or whatever other implement you’d like to cut it into appropriate sized pieces.

Enjoy!!!

And my best wishes for the happiest of holiday seasons!

xoxo

Some Traditions are Definitely Worth Keeping

It was pretty much a cuteness overload when all 6 cousins changed into their matching jammies on Sunday night.  And it was even cuter when the 5 of them that are old enough to walk ran outside to see how their jammies glow in the dark.  And it’s crazy to think that this was the scene just a mere 6 years ago . . . Like I said, it’s going to be a sad day when the kids get too old for this . . .

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But, the holiday is over now, the leftovers are starting to get stale, and it’s time to do something about the two enormous chicken carcasses that are taking up space in my fridge.  Well, really, there’s only one carcass left – I got to work with the first one last night.  Specifically, I’m making bone broth.  I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, and it’s pretty much a staple in our house.  In the past, I have roasted a chicken every Monday night for dinner and then got the broth going right after dinner’s cleaned up.  This year, the little one’s dance schedule doesn’t give me enough time to get home to roast a chicken, so I’ve been making it more on an ad-hoc basis.  Regardless, I always have lots at the ready.  Why do I use it for???  I make lots of soups.  I’ve posted the recipe for the sweet potato one, I’ll post a cauliflower/apple one soon . . . I make quinoa with it every week (I add qinoa to the salad I eat for lunch every day).  And the Husband and I will also just drink it straight.

My first attempt at chicken stock was using the Smitten Kitchen recipe.  I am pretty much obsessed with her recipes and if I need something non-paleo to make, I usually turn to her site. Her cookbook is pretty awesome too.  But I digress.  This stock is amazing.  However, as I started making stock/broth/soup on a far more regular basis, the idea of constantly going to the butcher for chicken wings became less appealing, and frankly it seemed much more economical to just roast a chicken and use the bones from that.  So that’s what I do now.  After we’re done dinner, I take most of the chicken off the bones, use my hands to break up the backbone or other larger bones, throw it all in the crockpot, cover the bones with cold water, add in a tablespoon or 2 of cider vinegar, and then let it sit on low for a good 24hours.

Once the stock is done, let it cool, then strain it into a bowl – through a large sampling of trial and error, I have found the BEST way to do this is to place your bowl with the strainer in it in the sink.  That way, any soup that spills goes straight down the drain and you don’t end up cleaning it off the counter, cupboards, kitchen floor (like I said, lots of trial and error).  You can also use tongs to get all the larger bones out of the broth before you run it through the strainer.

I usually then store it in 2cup quantities (you can use mason jars – just make sure there’s lots of room left at the top for expansion if you’re going to put the jars in the freezer – or tupperware containers – I LOVE the new ziplock containers – they are all square and stack really well – BUT, I am NOT a fan of putting anything remotely hot into a plastic container, nor do I heat anything in a plastic container.  So, I make sure the broth has come to room temperature before I put it into containers).  I find this is the perfect quantity for storage purposes – you need 2 cups if you’re going to make a box of quinoa . . . but also, it’s an easy amount to scale up if you need broth for a soup.

If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can absolutely do this on the stove – you can just simmer it on the stove for 4-5 hours.

I know this seems like a bit of a process just to get broth (’cause hey, you can get broth at the grocery store.  In convenient tetra paks.  And you can even get organic broth now).  BUT, if you really want to be convinced of the benefits of this magical broth, just google “health benefits bone broth”.  And I’m sure you’ll be making it at some point this week too!

For the Love of Traditions & My Non-Traditional Cranberry Sauce

I will freely admit that I absolutely adore good old long-standing traditions.  There’s nothing better for me than carrying on one of our family’s (too) many traditions.  Perhaps it’s my inner control freak exerting it’s will . . . or just the fact that I love the comfort that repetition brings, or the fact that as a kid, it seemed like we had very few family traditions (things always seemed to change from year to year) . . . it doesn’t really matter; I just love to repeat certain things over and over and over again.

Since the Husband and I host Thanksgiving every year, I can indulge freely in my love of traditions.  While little things have changed (we now have a “kids” table, and we smoke the chicken instead of roasting it, and I no longer create elaborate hand-made place cards), the menu and the cadence of the day have pretty much stayed the same over the last 10 years!

Ironically, it was my quest to make handmade place cards ten years ago that led me into a scrapbooking store that led to a whole lot of magic in my life including some pretty amazing friends.

But I digress.  After we eat our traditional meal, the kids will all change into skeleton jammies and we’ll take a picture of them all together on our living room sofa. This tradition started when I just had the Older one . . . I expanded it when I had the Little one (I LOVE when the kids wear matching jammies), and then just kept expanding it as more kids entered the family.  This year, though, I had a REALLY hard time finding skeleton jammies in a size that would fit the Older one.  A sign that he really is growing up.  And an indication to me that I’m not going to be able to keep ALL of my traditions alive as the kids get older.

Oh well, for today, anyway, I’m going to enjoy all the traditions that I can squeeze into this one too-short day.  And tomorrow, as we indulge in our annual post-thanksgiving leftover sandwiches, I can start in on organizing my Christmas season traditions (I may have already purchased the chocolate advent calendars for the kids along with a few sets of matching Christmas jammies).

Maybe after Christmas I can work on letting go of some of my crazy obsessions with traditions…

Now for the Cranberry Sauce part of this post.  The ONE item on our Thanksgiving menu that has never stayed the same from year to year is the cranberry sauce.  Some years we are able to pick the cranberries from the cottage.  And some years, we can’t.  Some years, I make a recipe that calls for a bag of cranberries to be dumped into a pot along with a jar of red currant jelly – you melt it all together until the cranberries burst and then cool it down and serve (sounds kinda gross, but it’s good and it does work).  And other years, I have tried different recipes.  Last year, and this year, I made the following recipe.  There are many versions of this floating around the internet.  Personally, I like cranberries, so I don’t like much else in the sauce, other than cranberries – i.e., i don’t add in spices, zest or anything else.  If that’s what you like, go nuts and add away!!!

Cranberry Sauce

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

1 12oz bag of cranberries

3/4 cup orange juice

1/2 cup raw honey

Directions

  1. Dump the cranberries into a colander and pick through them; discard any little twigs or shrivelled cranberries.
  2. Place the picked-over cranberries into a small saucepan along with the orange juice and honey.
  3. Heat the mixture on medium heat for about 25minutes.  The longer you cook it, the thicker the sauce will get.  By this point, all the cranberries should have popped and the  mixture will look a nice deep “cranberry” colour.
  4. Cool, and serve.

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