Friday, December 28, 2012

The Greatest Lie

Not a very positive post-Christmas post title, is it?  But the thoughts have been (again) swirling around in my head and I feel compelled to (try to) articulate them.  I think that the greatest lie that our modern culture has been sold isn't sexual freedom, or secularism, or alternate religions, or any of the common culprits.  I think the greatest lie that permeates every facet of our society is that the most important thing in life is family and friends.  I especially see it during the holiday season.  It's over and over and over again billed as the reason for the season.  I even see many Christians espousing the "family and friends" mantra.  It's the greatest lie because it's so insidious and non-threatening.  As an alternative to obscene materialism, one-upmanship, and religious power struggles (what should be on display on the city grounds - a Menorah?  a Nativity? a holiday tree? none of the above?), the imagery of the warm, happy, secure family unit gathered around the fireplace sounds downright divine.  And therein lies the great danger.  Nearly all of us know, intuitively, that crass consumerism, bickering, and keeping-up-with-the-Jones are not good.  But it's much harder to picture the center orientation of family for the holidays as something bad.  And that's why it's such a dangerous lie.  The problem is that family and friends can never satisfy you at your deepest core.  Inevitably, they will let you down.  For some, it comes sooner than others - a parent who's tuned out, a sibling who spreads malicious gossip, a husband who succumbs to infidelity, a best friend who always takes but gives little in return.  But even if you feel like you have the very best family on the earth (as I do) - they will still let you down, if not in life, in death.  When I lost my mom, I felt let down.  I felt abandoned.  Logically I know that it wasn't her choice to leave, but that doesn't keep the heart from hurting, and perhaps even being a bit angry.  This Christmas was the most difficult of my life, but through that pain I learned a most glorious lesson - that the center of our life must always and only be God and God alone.  My family is a beautiful, beautiful gift, one of the best that the Lord offers.  I will never cease to praise Him for what he has so graciously bestowed upon me.  But they are not mine and I am not theirs.  We all ultimately and exclusively belong to the King of All Creation.  We are only "on loan" to each other for what is, to God, the blink of an eye.  I thank God for his unwavering faithfulness and pledge to orient myself towards him, above all others, for all the remaining Christmases of my life. 


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

When Words Will Not Suffice

To the children of Sandy Hook who were lost, to those left behind on this Earth to mourn them, and to all of us who struggle to cope with the pain and suffering that abound in this world.

What a season of pain it has been for too many this year.  This simple song means so much to me - I chose it as one of the songs we sang at my mom's memorial service.  It takes on a special meaning when I think of those innocent little ones, so much like my own.  And also of my daughters' friend from skating, who just passed away yesterday after being involved in a horrible car accident.

“Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince;
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. ”
William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Christmas Outfit for Caroling

Last night I had the privilege of being invited to play some carols with our church chamber orchestra for a hospice home. It was such a delight, and required a festive but appropriate outfit. This is what I opted for-

White Layering Tee: purchased from Kohl's last year (about $10)
Red Glitter Cable Cardigan: Found at Saver's for $3
Black Skirt with Embroidered Lily Print: Coldwater Creek via Mom (free for me!)
Black Leggings: Cuddle Duds from Kohl's (about $15)
Christmas Kitty Scarf:  Purchased years and years ago from the mall
Black Boots: ebay ($65 - and I wear them at least three times a week)

Here's a close up so you can see the sparkle embedded in my cardigan and my sweet scarf - who loves scarves like me?  They are so great!

Cookie Exchange #6 - Chocolate Peppermint Candies

These were most definitely a hit. They taste like a peppermint pattie. Super good, if you are a fan of peppermint and chocolate together, which we definitely are in this house. And, like some of the other recipes I've shared, these also have a handmade look, which I like. They don't look like they came out of box at all, but they aren't too hard to make and they only have five ingredients, which is nice.

Chocolate Peppermint Candies
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 tsp peppermint extract
4 to 4 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
3 cups (18 oz) semisweet chocolate chips

In a bowl, combine milk and extract.  Stir in 3 1/2 to 4 cups confectioner's sugar to form a stiff dough.  Turn onto a surface sprinkled lightly with confectioner's sugar.  Knead in enough remaining sugar to form a dough that is very stiff and no longer sticky.  Shape into 1 inch balls.

Flatten into 1 1/2 inch circles (not too thin or they have a tendency to melt when you dip them, I found).  Let dry 1 hour.  Turn over and let dry 1 hour longer.  Melt chocolate chips and shortening in a double boiler; cool slightly.  Dip patties in chocolate mixture and place on waxed paper to harden

This is your adorable final product.  As you can see, I went for artistry rather than perfection.  If I'm going to hand dip chocolate, I went them to look hand-dipped.  If you'd prefer a more polished look, just take extra care and don't drizzle the remaining chocolate on top of the waxed paper.  Either way, they are totally delicious, and very filling, so one patty goes a long way.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Casual Holiday Wear & Family Pictures

Well, I'm going to have to admit, I'm going to disappoint a bit in our family pictures from Sunday morning (before the kids' Sunday School Christmas program) - they aren't really family pictures (James is behind the camera) and they so did NOT turn out.  This time it was Colin who wasn't cooperative while Ian had a gigantic smile plastered on his face the entire time.  Oh, and Elinor was so not in the mood too (hence the reason I'm in one of the pictures).  Hopefully we'll get a mulligan on a family photo next Sunday before church. 

This was seriously as good as it got when it came to a kid pic.

And there's the one with me.  Since the kids are the same, I'll describe my outfit, since it does fit in with the whole modesty thing.

Head covering: Autumn Chiffon in Rustic Roses in Vintage Pink by Garlands of Grace ($19)
Lavender Tee: Very old, plain tee from my mother (free!)
Sweater: From Kohl's on Black Friday last year (about $20)
Vintage Broach holding sweater closed, from my great-grandmother
Denim Skirt by Ralph Lauren, purchased from Savers two years ago or so (about $10)
I also have a vintage white eyelet slip/petticoat underneath from ebay ($15)
and white cotton lace-trimmed pettipants from Amazon last spring ($9)
Brown Leather Boots from ebay ($25)

Since I promised I'd add some more pictures of full-figured modesty, here's my take on nice casual wear.  I wore this on Saturday - James and I spent the morning running errands while Hero babysat her siblings and we turned it into a date with a nice adults-only lunch!  I don't have a problem with shorter dresses, although this sweater dress is about as short as I'm comfortable with, and I am wearing a full legging under it (not just tights, although it might be hard to tell).  It's super super comfortable with a empire waist and a turtleneck (I love turtlenecks, but it can be hard to find dresses with that neckline). 

Sweater Dress: Simply Vera from Kohls ($8 last year)
Cross Necklace: From my mom (free!)
Black Leggings: Old Navy ($5)
Black Leather Boots: ebay ($65)

Cookie Exchange #5 - Old Timey Butter Crunch

Usually I'm all about the cookies, but this year I keep coming back to candy. Yet again we have another candy recipe - Old Timey Butter Crunch. Anything with the name Old Timey in it has to be good, right? And this is good. My husband was the biggest fan - he told me that it was his favorite thing I made today (and, yes, the only thing LOL). It's not very difficult, it just takes time between steps. And it takes a candy thermometer. I didn't have 2 cups of almonds, so I mixed almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans and it turned out just fine.

Old Timey Butter Crunch
1 cup butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 Tbsp light corn syrup
2 Tbsp water
2 cups finely chopped toasted almonds
8 milk chocolate bars (1.55 oz each)
First, line a 13x9 pan with foil; set aside.  Next, I toasted my nut melange (in place of the 2 cups almonds) on the stove top, although you could toast them in the oven as well.  Toasting the nuts makes them a bit firmer and crunchier, which is nice in this candy.

Then, using part of the butter, grease the sides of a heavy saucepan.  Melt remaining butter over low heat; add sugar, corn syrup, and water.  Cook and stir over medium heat until a candy thermometer reads 300 degrees (hard-crack stage).  Times will vary a lot, but as an example, it took about 10 minutes for my mixture to get there.  Watch carefully once you hit about 200 degrees, though, because then the mixture starts to heat quickly, and if you let it get over 300 degrees you'll have an irredeemable mess on your hands.  Remove from heat and stir in almonds.
Quickly pour into the prepared pan, spreading to cover bottom of pan.  Cool completely.  Carefully invert pan to remove candy in one piece (I placed another length of aluminum foil over the pan and then flipped it over onto the new aluminum foil).  Remove foil from (now) top.  Melt half of the chocolate in a double boiler; spread over top of candy.  Cool completely.  Turn candy over and repeat with remaining chocolate.  Cool completely.

Break into pieces by hand and store in airtight container.  Makes about 2 pounds of old timey goodness.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Cookie Exchange #4 - Chocolate Covered Cherries

I love chocolate and cherries - I think they are a fantastic combination, but I've never tried my hand at making chocolate covered cherries. It always seemed too time-consuming. But the recipe was calling my name this year and I figured "why not?". Alas, I cannot tell you how they taste yet because they are supposed to sit for a week or two after they are made. I cannot wait to try them out just in time for our family Christmas/Boise State game get together on Saturday.  These are a labor of love, I think, because they are very (literally) hands-on.  They'd make a lovely gift - you could even put them in individual foil truffle cups to make them extra fancy. 

Chocolate Covered Cherries
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups marshmallow creme
pinch salt
1 tsp almond extract
4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 jar (16oz) maraschino cherries, well drained
2 cups (12oz) semisweet chocolate chips
2 tbsp shortening
In a mixing bowl, creme butter.  Add marshmallow creme, salt, extract and sugar.  Mix well.  Knead into a large ball and chill for 1 hour.
Roll into 1 inch balls and flatten into two inch circles.  Wrap circle around cherries, pinch edges and reshape into balls.  As you can see, I did the bulk of this on my hand - it was the least sticky place and I could work quickly.  I actually flattened the dough in one hand with the heel of my other hand.  Speed is good in this step and it's very important that your cherries by as dry as possible.  The longer the dough stays out, the harder it becomes to work with.  Place on a waxed paper-lined baking sheet.  Cover loosely; refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
Melt chocolate chips and shortening in a double boiler (or microwave, but for the time it takes, I think a double boiler is your best choice).  Dip cherries chocolate mixture.  This actually got pretty hot on my hands, so I think if I make them again I'll wear gloves for a bit of protection. 

Place on waxed paper to harden.

Refrigerate in a covered container 1-2 weeks before serving.  Yield: about 3 dozen


Sunday School Christmas Program

I'm terrible with taking videos, so I'm excited that I finally have a video to share!  This is Cecily (in the ivory and gold dress) and Elle (in the green and black dress) singing Jesus Loves Me as a part of their Sunday School Christmas program yesterday.  We sing it nearly every night as part of their bedtime routine.

And then them singing Away in a Manger.  We worked so hard on it with Elle for two months, and she stands there with her finger in her month.  Oh well, c'est la vie LOL.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Cookie Exchange #3 - Cathedral Cookies

My head is in a fog this morning due to a cold, so hopefully this post is semi-coherent. This might be a recipe that you already know. I've seen it in multiple cookbooks, so I think it's more common. The recipe is a no-bake recipe, but that's negated, for me, by the fact that you have to use the stove to melt chocolate. The recipe is not very hard, but the chocolate covered marshmallows and nuts aren't the easiest to deal with in terms of shaping. As for the verdict on the end result - my younger kids were fans, but those of us who were older (including my 13 year old) were kind of like "meh, they're just okay". The marshmallow texture can be a bit off-putting at first. With that said, they aren't yucky tasting, by any means, and I think they would make a pretty, colorful addition to a Christmas Cookie platter.
Cathedral Cookies
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 Tbsp butter
1 egg, beaten
3 cups pastel miniature marshmallows
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 cup flaked coconut

Melt chocolate chips and butter over low heat stirring occasionally.  Stir a small amount into the egg and return all to pan (you don't want to add a cold/room temperature egg directly into a hot liquid).  Cook and stir over low heat for 2 minutes.  Pour into a large bowl and let cool for 15 minutes.  Gently stir in marshmallows and nuts.  Chill for 30 minutes.  Turn onto a sheet of waxed paper and form into a roll about 1 1/2 inch in diameter.  Gently roll onto another sheet of waxed paper sprinkled with coconut and coat the entire outside of the log with coconut (I thought it was easier to work with two logs instead of one long one).  Wrap roll tightly, twisting ends to seal.

Freeze for 4 hours or overnight.  Remove waxed paper and cut into 1/4 inch slices. 
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator (these cookies don't have a long shelf-life - 2 to 3 days after slicing, tops).  Yield: about 3 dozen


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Is it a Woman's Duty?

I read a blog post that really socked me between the eyes today - it was about staying attractive for your husband and how that's an obligation for all Christian women.  It suggested that God created men to be visual in terms of attraction and that all men desire to have wives that are put-together, in shape, dress nicely and have nice hair.    What say ye, fellow Christian wives?  Do you feel spiritually obligated to dress to please your husband?  To be or stay slender?  For me, the idea is completely foreign.  Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not a slovenly person by nature.  I'm not a woman who wears pajamas all day or doesn't brush her teeth or hair.  But I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that my husband absolutely adores me and finds me as attractive now, 15 years later, as he did the day we met, when I was a fresh-faced 18 year old girl.  My husband is generous with words and affection - it's just his nature.  Probably a day hasn't gone by in our 14 year marriage where he hasn't told me that he loves me (and not in a generic way, but in a passion-filled way).  Is this abnormal?  To me it doesn't seem so, but I did grow up exposed to my grandparents' marriages and my own parents' marriage in which the whole world could see a husband absolutely devoted to his wife in body, mind and soul.  For that, I'm truly, truly grateful to God.  I think living the example of a healthy, loving marriage is one of the best gifts you can give to your children.  Now, the other part of the post that bothered me was the raising of thinness (because I think we all understand that "in shape" is PC-speak for not fat) to a biblical ideal for women.  Our culture's obsession with slimness is decidedly unbiblical.  Gluttony is a state of mind in which physical needs take precedence over spiritual needs and it's entirely possible for a thin woman to be gluttonous.  A woman's weight is, I would argue, the most determinative factor of her value in our current culture.  There's even been studies that show that, if given the choice, women would by and large choose having a thin frame over wealth, intelligence, even love!  Should Christian women really be promoting such a cultural mindset?  I don't think so.  Of course it's possible for secular cultural values to line up with biblical values, but I think that's rare, and any time we are promoting something, specifically as a Christian virtue, and it lines up with the zeitgeist of the time, we'd better cross all of our ts and dot all of our is to make absolutely sure that we aren't allowing our cultural conditioning to creep into our biblical interpretations.  But back to marriage and a wife's obligation to her spouse.  Honestly, while I'm sure that the author of the post and those who agree have good intentions, I suggest that in putting the idea of physical attraction and womanly beauty on a pedestal they are missing the far deeper, more spiritual meaning of godly marriage.  I'll wrap up with German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer's sermon on marriage - in my opinion quite possibly the best words on the subject ever written:

Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God's holy ordinance, through which he wills to perpetuate the human race till the end of time. In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to his glory, and calls into his kingdom.
In your love, you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal—it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man.
As high as God is above man, so high are the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of marriage above the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of love. It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cookie Exchange #2 - Date Swirl Cookies

Dates aren't something I work with commonly, so I automatically think of them as Christmassy and old-fashioned, which is what these slice and bake cookies promised to be. They are quite tasty, and with their pretty swirl and unique flavor, they do show that you fussed over them in the kitchen. That's the main drawback, they are fussy, for sure. I probably wouldn't go out of my way to make them unless I had a date-lover in the family. Baker be warned: I had to fiddle with the dough quite a lot in order to get it to a consistency that I could roll it into a rectangle. It was way too crumbly at first, so I flicked some water onto it, interspersed with a light dusting of flour, several times, kneading in between, until I got the dough just to the point that I could roll it out. It did not affect the taste or look of the recipe, but, if you run into the same situation, always make sure you add just tiny amounts of additional water and flour, because you can always add more if it's not enough, but you can't remove too much!

Date Swirl Cookies1 1/2 cups pitted dates, chopped
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1/3 cup water
1/4 chopped walnuts
pinch salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

In a saucepan, combine dates, 1/4 cup sugar, water, nuts, and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until thick (between 5-10 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

In a mixing bowl beat butter, brown sugar, egg, and remaining sugar. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt; gradually add to butter mixture. Chill for 30 minutes.

Roll dough on a lightly floured surface to a 1/4 inch thick rectangle (this is where I had problems with the too-crumbly texture of the dough and had to modify it a bit with extra water and flour). Spread with date mixture; roll up jelly roll style starting from the long end. Wrap with waxed paper. Chill for at least 4 hours.

Remove waxed paper, cut into 1/8 to 1/4 inch slices and place 2 inches apart on greased baking sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Yield: 35 to 40 cookies

If you try this recipe, please post and let me know what you think of it - did you have the same problems with the too crumbly dough or is it just my super dry climate?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Cookie Exchange #1 - Sesame Coconut Slice Cookies

I'm a bit of a Christmas cookie fanatic. I love making them - old standards and new recipes. I have a collection of vintage cookbooks that were passed down from my grandmother to my mom and now me (most are from the 50s and 60s, although I do have a few from the 1910s through 1930s). I thought it'd be fun to share a few of the recipes as I'm trying them. This one is a new-to-me recipe, and it was a big hit on many levels. First of all - it's a shortbread-type roll and slice cookie, which makes it easy-peasy, and secondly, it's not an overly sweet cookie which I really dig (especially during the holiday season, when you are inundated with super sweet stuff). This cookie is making it out of my "seasonal" pile and into my year-round cookie file, so I'd definitely call it a winner.

Sesame Coconut Slice Cookies
1 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup sesame seeds (I buy mine from the bulk bins, so they are considerably cheaper)
1/4 cup finely chopped almonds (again, from the bulk bins, and then I just chop them down finer at home)

First, cream the softened butter and sugar.  Add flour, mix until just combined. 

Stir in coconut, sesame seeds, and almonds.  Chill, in bowl, for 15 minutes.

Divide dough in half.  Shape each have into a 2 inch diameter roll.  Roll up in waxed paper, twisting ends to seal, so that they look like giant Tootsie Rolls.  Refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours (or overnight is fine too).  Remove waxed paper, cut into 1/4 inch slices and place on ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake for 25 minutes, or until lightly browned, in a preheated 300 degree oven.  Cool for 2 minutes on the sheet, then remove.

And there you have the finished product (each roll made approximately 2 dozen cookies, but they go fast, so you could consider doubling the recipe and keeping the logs on hand in the fridge for a quick holiday snack) - a delicious, not overly sweet cookie with a slight crunch due to the almonds and sesame seeds.

If you give the recipe a try, let me know what you think about it - I'd love to hear your feedback!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Getting Braver

Okay, I admit, I'm addicted to blogs where people post what they are wearing. So, if I want to encourage others to do that, then I probably should put some of my own posts up. I think it also might be a useful step in self-acceptance. I don't mean self-acceptance in terms of not trying to do better in being healthy (I decided to rejoin Weight Watchers before the holidays, instead of waiting til afterwards, because this is, of course, the most challenging time and I wanted the "it's brand new and I'm losing three pounds a week" inspiration to see me through the holiday eating season), but self-acceptance in terms of not determining that life will begin when I can just lost 20 pounds (or earn $20,000 more a year, right?). But anyhow, I digress (as I always do). Here's my first installment, which lines up nicely with the Modest Mondays posts I found all over the blogosphere. This is yesterday's outfit. I do try to dress nicely all week, only adding a headcovering for church on Sundays, and maybe some of my more "uncomfortable" clothes. For example, for weekday wearing, I probably would have substituted the blue poplin faux wrap top for a nice teal knit top under a black cardigan (I have a thing about poplin - it's pretty, but not my favorite material).

Headcovering: Cecily's Classic Lace in black by Garlands of Grace ($18)
Aqua Faux Wrap Blouse: Lace Bryant (free from my mom!)
Black Velvet Cami: so old the tag is long missing (I think this was passed down from someone to me years ago)
Black A-Line Skirt with Teal Embroidery: Sunny Leigh (purchased from Dillard's department store several years ago for about $20 on super clearance)
Black Leggings: Cuddle Duds from Kohl's (about $12)
Black Tall Leather Boots: Ros Hommerson from eBay for $65

The Star

After many weeks of preparation, Saturday was finally the day of the Holidays on Ice skating show.  We don't actually get much chance to watch Hero skate, because of how our schedules work out, so it was fun to get to see her.  She progressed so much in a year.  Last year she was just part of a group number, but this year she was part of two group numbers and also had a solo to the Christmas song "Man with the Bag".  They make a big deal out of the soloists, introducing them as the stars of the show, and individually announcing them.  You can't help but feel a surge of parental pride when your child is called a star.  How Hero loves skating!  She wishes she could attend a full-time skating boarding school.  Because we are not millionaires, she's stuck with us and Idaho Ice World for now, but we just keep impressing on her that her hard work will pay off, in some way, in the future.  We've ordered a DVD, and I hope I can extract the video of her solo and put it online after the DVD arrives.

Friday, December 7, 2012

How do YOU do Christmas?

Christmas morning 2010.  Before you gasp too hard, do know that I'm semi-obsessed with wrapping paper.  I will quite happily wrap a $1.00 coloring book or a $.50 candy bar, because that's how I roll.  (haha, I made a funny there)

If you do gifts on Christmas, what's your gameplan?  Do you have a certain amount of money you spend on each child?  Do you make sure they have exactly the same number of gifts?  Do you just kind of fly by the seat of your pants or are you the kind that starts Christmas shopping in July?  I'm more organized this year then I've ever been before, but I know that to some moms, I'd seem like a disaster since I still have a fair amount of shopping/crafting to do.  Because we have kids spread so far apart on the age spectrum, we tend to go for an equal number of gifts rather than an equal budget (it would be rather silly to spend $100 on a 2 year old, just because an 11 year old got an iPod, when all the 2 year old wants is doll clothes and coloring books).  This year, we are at 6 gifts a piece from Mom and Dad and then one more from a sibling (we do a name exchange - each kid picks a sibling's name out of a cup and they get to spend $25 or so dollars on them rather than spending $5 per child and adding more junk to our full house).  We all open our gifts one at a time on Christmas - people opening gifts all at the same time is one of my little pet peeves (I can't savor the reaction on each child's face when they open their gift - plus why NOT spread out the fun for longer?).  Having 7 gifts a piece, plus a gift from Grandpa, plus a Santa gift comes out to 54 gifts under our tree!  That sounds like a lot, but it's amazing how quickly it goes by.  Out of those 54, I have 18 gifts left to get.  Okay, so maybe I'm not doing as well as I thought.  But I know what those gifts are going to be - so that's gotta count for something, right?  Time to get busy this week!  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Homemade Wheat Bread

By popular demand - here's a delicious wheat bread version of an everyday type bread that is delicious and easy. Wheat bread takes more ingredients and a little more time than white bread, but I find that the dough is also a bit easier to work with because it's almost never sticky (although you will have tired arms after kneading).

First off, the end result will be a little sweeter if you have a little helper. Mine comes complete with a vintage pink organdy apron and Buster Bronco hat (hat is optional).

Ingredients: Bread Flour, Whole Wheat Flour, Yeast, Salt, Water, Milk, Honey, Butter, Egg
First - In your mixing bowl combine 2 cups bread flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour, 2 Tbsps active dry yeast, and 1 Tbsp salt.

Second - In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup water, 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup honey and 3 Tbsps butter to 120-130 degrees. 
Add water mixture to dry mixture and beat just until moistened (during this process is when the picture was taken - it's quite crumbly).  Then add 1 egg and beat until smooth.  Finally, add 2 more cups bread flour and 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour to mixture so that it forms a stiff dough.

With a large capacity mixer, your KitchenAid could do the kneading with a dough hook, but my 5.5qt is too small, so I kneaded it by hand for 8 minutes. The dough was not sticky at all, so I didn't even flour my counter. 

Grease a bowl, place kneaded dough into bowl and spray top of dough ball with more cooking spray and cover with a light towel.  To facilitate the rising of the dough, I heat my oven to its lowest temp and then crack it open and set the bowl on top of the oven. 

After it's doubled (about one hour), punch dough down and let rest for ten minutes.  Then split into three parts.

I chose to make two standard loaves, and then I split my third section into four and put them in a mini-loaf pan.  They make great Christmas gifts, or are the perfect size for a school or extracurricular activity snack for three or four kids.  Simply shape the dough into roughly log shapes (no need to be overly precise - that's the fun of home baking!) and put into your greased loaf pans, spray the tops of the dough with cooking spray and cover with towels.  Allow them to raise on top of your warm oven for 45 minutes, then close the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees.  Pop them into the oven and bake for approximately 30 to 35 minutes.  If the tops brown too quickly, you can lay aluminum foil over them while they are baking.  After they are done, immediately turn them out and let them cool.

And you have traditional homemade wheat bread that is fluffy, light, and sure to impress.

Tree #1


I probably don't need to post pictures, because my trees don't change much from year to year.  I think that's part of the charm of Christmas - the repetition of old traditions.  I do plan to start to make some changes to my holiday decor, moving towards a style that is a bit more sophisticated and grown-up.  Our artificial tree is losing "needles" faster than our real tree, so I think it only probably has two or three years left in it.  I insisted, when I picked the tree out, that I wanted multicolor lights.  I've always despised clear lights - so boring.  But now I'm thinking of going in that direction next time.  I was thinking that maybe I could also add some colored lights on top of the prelit strands and maybe I could change that from year to year.  I've always wanted to have a purple tree once, so maybe purple?  When I think of purple, I think of advent candles, and then the season of Epiphany.  Anyhow, I'm getting ahead of myself (this is a problem I have LOL).  As it stands now, our tree is a testament to a houseful of children - the ornaments are always moving.  The tree is rather bare in some spots, and then in others you've got three ornaments on one branch.  Ah well, it certainly looks "lived in".  And not just by our children, but by our two orange cats - Bart and Ginger.  They love the velvet tree skirt (so much so that I have to have it dry-cleaned after Christmas before I put it away) and you can often find them cuddled up under the tree for hours.  It's better than when they were kittens and tried to climb the tree.  If they aren't under the tree, they are enjoying our multitude of Christmas fleece and down throws.  Our sectional disappears for the season under a mound of soft fluffiness.  I love it because it's such a cozy, warm, inviting place to be at night (and we keep the thermostat set at 60 degrees, so it's a matter of practicality that if you aren't moving in our house during the winter, you'd better be covered up).