St. Francis of Assisi Day of the Creche

– johanna | November 30th, 2010


St. Francis by Debra A Hitchcock Courtesy of: Fine Art America

Saint Francis of Assisi, Italy (1182-1226) was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant. Francis was not a studious boy. During his youth he was most riotous and witty delighting in the pleasures of drinking, women and showy attire.

In the year 1202 when Francis was about twenty years old, a conflict broke out between the Assisians and the neighboring rival city of Perugain. Francis eagerly volunteered to fight as a cavalryman, however; the Assisians were quickly defeated. Francis, a prisoner of war, was forced to spend a year in captivity.

Francis returned to Assisi, but he was not the same free-spirited kid he as before the war. While he was still the life of the party his attentions were turned to caring for society’s cast offs. After experiencing several vivid dreams and various visions he turned away from all the worldly pleasures of his youth to accept a life as a Good Samaritan, including tending to the lepers. Francis sold all his property, gave his clothing to the poor and his money to the church for much needed repairs.

His father greatly disapproved of his son’s new occupation. Consequently he was disowned and his inheritance forfeited. Francis went on to devote his life to serving God. He worked to rebuild tattered church buildings. He cared for the sick and went about preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Francis vowed to live a life of poverty even going without shoes and trading his finery for a coarse woolen tunic. His lifestyle caught the attention of other young men and they too chose to leave all their riches behind to follow Francis in serving the poor. Eventually a separate order was formed for women known as the Franciscan Nuns and a second order called Poor Clares, named after a sixteen year old girl who left her home to join Francis’ cause. Thus Francis of Assisi is known as the founder of the Franciscan Order.

It was known that Francis had a special fondness for animals; he especially liked birds. Some say that wild animals did not fear him for they knew of his kindness and would bravely approach him seeking safety. It was his love for the animals that prompted him to ask the king to decree that “all men should provide and care for the birds and animals as well as the poor”.

During the Christmastide (the liturgical Christmas season beginning December 24th lasting 12 days to the eve of January 6th, the Day of Epiphany) in the year 1223, St. Francis of Assisi conceived the idea to honor the birth of the Savoir with a live “Nativity”. He wanted all to experience the lack of luxuries of the Christ child. On Christmas Eve Francis reproduced the manger scene in a cave near the small town of Greccio. He called the scene “The Praesepio, the crib, of Bethlehem”. According to the writings of St. Bonaventure, St. Francis’ friend and colleague, the people were brought to the cave through the woods, up and down hills bearing torches while singing hymns of praise.

Today community churches throughout the world celebrate the Christmas season with a live nativity scene or by hosting a nativity festival showcasing nativity sets from around the world. Families of Christian faith might display the nativity by first putting out the crèche. Then each night leading up to Christmas Eve they fill the manger with straw and place one character in the scene. On Christmas Eve the Christ child is placed in the manger filled with straw. The wise men are not brought out until January 5th the eve of Epiphany. This represents their journey to the stable January 6th being the 12th day of Christmas or Three Kings Day.

In out home we dedicated December 4th as nativity day. Taking cues from the original “The Praesepio, the crib, of Bethlehem” as portrayed by St. Francis we sing hymns and have a short devotional. During the devotional we discuss ways that we can help others in honor of the selfless sacrifices rendered by St. Francis as directed by God who said to love one another. This day is not an official Saint’s day. This is just a fun tradition we have as we like to celebrate traditions from many cultures and faiths around the world.

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Turkey Tetrazzini

– johanna | November 26th, 2010

Filed under: RECIPES - Main Dish

Every year it is the same dilemma, “what to do with the left over turkey!” We always have turkey soup on Sunday. Then there is cranberry stuffed turkey rolls with left over stuffing and turkey pot pie. Turkey Tetrazzini is another comfort food favorite. I like to use left over mashed potatoes, if there are any, in place of the noodles.

Source: Rosy Little Things
1 lb. button or crimini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
4 cup milk
10 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 cup flour
1 cup turkey gravy (or however much you have left over, if less than that)
1 to 2 cups leftover turkey meat, shredded into bite-sized chunks
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 lb. spaghetti
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large saute pan and saute mushrooms until soft and slightly browned. Set aside.

Make bechamel sauce: Over medium heat, melt remaining butter in large saucepan, add flour, and whisk over medium heat for several minutes. Whisk milk into butter/flour mixture gradually until all milk is incorporated. Simmer sauce until it is thickened slightly and very velvety. Add turkey gravy and mushrooms and mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, cook spaghetti in boiling water until a minute or two before al dente. Drain and return to pot. Mix in half of sauce and stir to coat. Pour spaghetti into 9″ x 13″ pan and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake for 30 minutes until top is bubbling and delicious-looking. Add turkey pieces to sauce and serve over slices of spaghetti casserole. Enjoy thoroughly.

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Family Togetherness: Friday Night Family Slumber Party

– johanna | November 23rd, 2010


Art: The Children Were Nestled by Pat White

I remember as a girl when my dad went out of town for work related conferences my mom would let us sleep with her in her room. We wished we could have slumber parties all the time. I shared a room with my sisters so it was not that we were afraid of being alone. There was something comforting about being with mom.

My young kids share my own enthusiasm for slumber parties. We often find one of the kids lying on the floor in the hall by our room or at the bottom of the stairs waiting for us to go to bed. When dad is out of town the kids and I camp out in the family room or in my bed. We tell stories, sing but mostly they giggle. I know it is going to be a late night because they are so excited it is hard to calm them down. That is why slumber parties are usually reserved for Friday nights when there is no school the next day. We do not have them every week. The kids have to earn them by going to bed when asked every night. Friday night is also movie night so it makes for a fun filled evening of family togetherness. We watch a movie, serve up popcorn and the kids get to eat a small treat.

Camping is a fun option for a family slumber party if you have older children. Roast marshmallows over the fire. Tell scary ghost stories. Camping is fun both in the summer as well as in the winter. You can even set the tent up inside or out in the back yard. Some families have a family slumber party once a year on Christmas Eve. Everyone sleeps in the family room around the Christmas tree. Tell spirited Christmas stories while sipping on a warm cup of hot chocolate.

Family slumber parties are great fun and a budget friendly way of getting the team together for family time.

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Pumpkin Crunch Cake

– johanna | November 19th, 2010

Filed under: RECIPES - Treats

My sister-n-law Jennifer suggested this recipe for Pumpkin Crunch Cake. If you liked the Texas Dump Cake recipe then you will enjoy this one. It is the same concept using pumpkin rather than fruit.

1 (29oz) can pumpkin
3 eggs
1 can Evaporated Milk
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 yellow cake mix
1 stick butter, melted

Mix the all the ingredients together. Pour into a greased 9X13 inch baking dish.

Sprinkle cake mix over the mixture. Drizzle with the melted butter. Bake 1 hour in a 350 degree oven. Serve warm or chilled.

— Sprinkle 1 cup chopped pecans over cake mix then drizzle with the butter.
— For a Gluten free version try Betty Crocker’s gluten free cake mix.
— For dairy (milk) free version use vanilla rice milk about a third less than what’s called for.
— Make your own cake mix: combine 2 cups flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt and 1 cup sugar. Cut in 1/2 cup butter.

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Recycled Trash Into Treasures

– johanna | November 16th, 2010


If you are still not sure what to gift this upcoming holiday season take a look at all the things you can make from recycling items you may already have at home. and is home to some really great quick last minutes gift giving ideas.

Plastic Bottle Fairy Houses

Cardboard Doll House

Foam Board Dollhouse

Fabric Dollhouse

Tube Bracelets

Pillowcase Tote Bag

Baby Sock Advent Calendar

Towel Kittens

Fabric Garland

Recycled Can Ornaments

Necktie Purse

Cardboard Coasters

22 Uses for CDs: CD Lamp

Paper Bag Art Journal

Placemat Scrapbook

Plastic bottle Wire

Magnet Bottlecaps

Vertical Hanging Herb Garden

Bowl Lampshades

Cardboard Butterfly Observatory

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Fall Spiced Apricot Cider

– johanna | November 12th, 2010

Filed under: RECIPES - Beverage

The weather here has been playing hide-n-seek. One day it is cool the next day back to warm weather. We have so longed for a change from the drastic heat that prevails here in the valley but now that my toes are chilled I wish for warmer weather. All is well though. I have my toasty woolen socks and my favorite fall cider to keep me comfortable. I remember growing up my mom would steal my dad’s warm socks to keep her feet warm. Now she has slippers but the charade was a fun jest to usher in the winter.

Source: Connie Cummings
2 cans apricot nectar
2 cups water
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
2 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks

In a slow cooker, combine all ingredients; mix well. Cover and cook on low for 2 hours or until cider reaches desired temperature. Remove cloves and cinnamon sticks before serving.

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November Resolution Expressing Gratitude

– johanna | November 9th, 2010


Background Pumpkin Photo: By Allison Boham

Gratitude, is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others. (Cicero)

I have much to be thankful for this season. Sure my life is not perfect by any means nor is it how I envisioned it would be; yet, I am happily content. It took a recent email from my sister to allow me pause to contemplate my happiness. She was emotional upon waking up from a vivid dream about me. You know the kind when you are confused all morning because you are not sure it was real or not? She so desperately needed to know I was well and happy. I guess I had been so busy I never took the time to assess my happiness. The single instant that my brain processed the words I was afforded a glimpse inward. Smiling, I concluded that yes I was indeed content.

This past year I spent each month working on a new goal. Through these monthly resolutions I have learned to laugh more, have fun, love more, create and give. What I discovered is that these traits ultimately lead to the one necessary tool needed to resolve our emotional inner battles and those of the individuals we care for. Gratitude. Gratitude above all else is being appreciative of what we have no matter how dull or small. Gratitude is not dwelling on what we do not have.

One night many long years ago I was flying home after a long absence. The sky was a light with lightening. I felt so much joy in that menial experience because watching the lightening over the ocean water back home was one of my favorite past times. Seeing the lightening in the sky in the dark hours of the early morning gave me comfort on my journey home. An anonymous person once said to always keep your eyes open because you do not want to miss anything. His quote was directed at up and coming fashion editors but I think it goes quite well with the ancient proverb that reminds us to “take time to stop and smell the roses.”

Lawrence J. Cohen author of Playful Parenting writes that “Play is one of the best ways to engage with children, pulling them out of emotional shutdown or misbehavior, to a place of connection and confidence.” He goes on to say that, “When we feel exhausted or when we are at the end of our rope, we tend to think that play will be just more of an energy drain. But when we engage playfully with our children, we find that suddenly we do have energy, both for fun and for finding creative solutions to thorny problems.”
Cohen affirms that yes indeed it is difficult for some of us to remember how to play. Sitting on the floor playing Barbies or watching clouds or playing games with our teens might seem boring. Yet, it is necessary for us as parents to explore that world with them not only for their benefit but for ours as well. Play gives us the opportunity to let go of our problems for a spell. Play strengthens relationships and restores harmony. We learn to laugh over spilled milk. Moreover, we come to recognize the simple pleasures of life.

Gratitude is also cultivated through thoughtful acts of service. In serving and allowing others to succor our needs we foster a love for our family and neighbors. We learn to be sensitive of their interests and in so doing we desire to forgo our wants in favor of their happiness. Suddenly, as Mr. Cohen stressed, we find the answers to problems. We feel we can breathe again. We are more forgiving of ourselves and those around us. We can accept the challenging experiences we had to go through even to the point of forgiving those who have offended us in the process. Walks with a friend are not only invigorating to the body but also can be a conduit for healing the mind. This time out clears our minds allowing us to see that we have more to be grateful for than we realized. Even though life is difficult there is still so much to be grateful for if we tune our minds to find it.

To truly develop gratitude we must learn to appreciate the negative aspects of life. Learning to triumph over adversity no matter how awful is one of the most difficult tasks we can undertake. We can accomplish this only through the quality of gratitude. Gratitude is the ability to see hope in our darkest hour. Finding gratitude when we feel we are trapped or lost in a thickening fog of turmoil is by far the most challenging. Moreover, if we can begin to recognize the good that is around us no matter how small or trivial we will have a tangible life preserver to carry us through the tumultuous waters.

In the story “Pollyanna” written by Louise Alcott, Pollyanna taught an entire town that for every misfortune there is always something to be glad about. Individuals whom had completely given up on life were renewed after attempting to play Pollyanna’s “Glad Game.” The game is not an easy one to play especially when grave tragedy strikes. Even little Miss Pollyanna was unable to think of a solitary thing to be glad about after learning she might never walk again. Ironically it was the very people in the community whom she inspired with small acts of kindness that lead her through her darkest hours. Placing blame on another will not erase our pain nor will it bring us happiness. Emotional healing is a necessity required by all human beings. It is a natural instinct to retreat or lash out at others when we feel scared, overwhelmed or abandoned. This recklessness or isolation is the direct result of an emotional shutdown. The only way to ease the loss of a loved one, or find strength when diagnosed with a serious medical condition, or recover from a series of bad choices, and misfortunes is to reach out to others in service.

This lesson is best illustrated in the book “Messenger” the third book in the Giver trilogy by Lois Lowry. There is a small village inhabited by those whom were cast out from their homes because they were lame and no longer of any use. Here they found peace and kindness until one day a man came to join them who could grant wishes. Many of the villagers became greedy and selfish. They were willing to do anything to look more handsome or get a material item. The woods that for so long gave them nourishment now turned on them sucking in the negative energy that energized the community. They were no longer grateful for what they had. They wanted more and would hurt anyone who got in their way. Gratitude gives us permission to let go, to laugh more freely and play harder. In cultivating gratitude we come to understand that material objects or pride have no place in our hearts. We are free to love others more deeply.

Thanksgiving is soon at hand. It is a time to reflect over the past year. I confess that under the duress of the challenges I have encountered this year I have whined just a smidgen. There are two people in my life whom I owe a debt of gratitude. This year I came to better understand my oldest son. The road we had to take to get here was filled with many pot holes. At the same time we have been fortunate to meet numerous families with similar plights such as our own. We have felt enormous support as we’ve banned together to help our children grow to succeed rather than adapt to coping through life. Their friendship coupled with the joy I see within my own son brings me immeasurable elation. I am thankful for the long road we had to travel. My contentment is a direct result from the relationships we have developed.

This month’s resolution is to express gratitude.

— Send thank you notes to the people who made the biggest impact on your life during the year.

— Remember to say thank you.

— Express your affections by saying I love you, I am proud of you, great job. “Feeling Gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” Annonymous

— Offer anonymous acts of service.

— Forgive and make amends.

— Keep a gratitude jar. Write down all the things you are thankful for on strips of paper. Place them in a jar to share on Thanksgiving or at dinner.

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Honey Stir-fry Chicken with Peanuts

– johanna | November 5th, 2010

Filed under: BUDGET MEALS, RECIPES - Main Dish

The history of American stir-fry begins in the mid-1800’s when when Chinese immigrants began settling in California. In the 1920’s Asian cuisines piqued the interest of a growing group of modern socialites because it was considered exotic. It wasn’t until after World War II that Asian cuisines filtered down to mainstream America. Problem was much of what was labeled as authentic Chinese food was far from it. General Tao with broccoli, Won ton soup, chop suey, egg rolls, barbecued spareribs, sweet-and-sour pork amoung others (including this recipe for Chicken Honey Peanut Stir-Fry) were concocted purposely for the palettes of American diners. The reason being most of the ingredients that go into authentic Chinese dishes was not and still is not available here in the states. Another reason was that the average American found the spices often used in Asian cuisine too pungent. They do use sauces but they are far from the sweetened brown sauces we see here. Back home they used what they had on hand mostly spices, pastes, freshly picked vegetables and little meat.

Today Chinese restaurants still cater to the American’s love of egg rolls and fried garlic chicken yet there are more establishments available offering dishes that closely resemble the real deal. You just have to ask. The Wok however is genuine. It is said to have been around for about two thousand years. The wok is considered to be the most important piece of cooking equipment in South East Asia and China. The rounded bottom of the wok enables the chef to stir-fry, steam, and boil all in one pan.

Source: Robin Webb
2 tsp peanut oil
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diagonally sliced
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast halves – cut into strips
1 tbsp cornstarch
3/4 cup orange juice
3 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp minced fresh ginger root
1/4 cup cashews
1/4 cup minced green onions

Heat 1 teaspoon of the oil in a wok over high heat. Add the carrots and celery and stir fry for 3 minutes. Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil, then add the chicken and stir fry for 5 more minutes.

In a small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch into the orange juice. Mix in the soy sauce, honey and ginger. Add this sauce to the wok and cook over medium heat until thickened. Top with the cashews and green onions.

Serve over noodles, rice or a bed of steamed cabbage.

– Add a colorful array of your favorite vegetables such as: cabbage, bok choy, spinach, Chinese broccoli, Chinese green beans, mushrooms, red chili pepper.
– Can sub turkey, pork, tofu or mushrooms for the chicken.

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November Website Review: Living in the Woods and Making Stuff

– johanna | November 2nd, 2010


Photo: The Cabin in the Fall, Property of Living in the Woods and Making Stuff

Living in the Woods is one of my favorite websites because every time I read a post I feel like I am right there in the woods with Torrey cooking okra or roasting chestnuts. I admire most her simple down to earth rustic style. A small cabin in the woods. A fruitful harvest to make lovely scrumptious meals from. I especially enjoy the recipes she puts together using ingredients I would not readily know what to do with. It is similar to my other favorite website the Good Mood Food Blog that uses all fresh seasonal vegetables. Time seems to slow down when I am in the kitchen with Torrey. It is like reading a good book and getting lost in the adventure. Curl up in a snugly warm blanket and enjoy the flavors of Fall on Living in the Woods and Making Stuff.

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