Saint Nicholas Day Stocking Tradition

– johanna | December 6th, 2011


Photo: Klompen – A Family of Wooden Shoes

property of be_khe’s –

Today commemorates the death of St. Nicholas of Myra. St. Nicholas was born into a wealthy family from the small village of Patara, located on the southern coast of modern day Turkey. Though Patara was under Greek rule at the time, St. Nicholas’ parents raised him to be a devout Christian.

Nicholas grew to develop a generous love for mankind. He lived his life ministering to the less fortunate and children. His reputation for secret gift giving is reflected in a Dutch tradition on the eve of December 5th. That night before bed children line up their clogs out on the porch or in the entryway in hopes that St. Nicholas will stop by to leave a treat. On the morning of December 6th children wake to find candy, coins and/or a small present in their clogs.

Here in the Western world we have a similar tradition. Stockings are hung the night of Christmas Eve to collect little treats from Santa Clause. Some families choose to reserve the stocking tradition as part of the St. Nicholas day celebration rather than on Christmas. We do both.

December is a wonderful time to create this amazing magical world filled with surprise and wonderment. Recognizing traditions from other countries or faiths can add to the Christmas season building roots of tradition that remain with our children forever. Adopting the St. Nicholas feast day into our winter wonderland traditions is something our children look forward to all year.

On the eve of St. Nicholas day we unpack the stockings to hang up. You could also use shoes instead of stockings. The next morning the kids might discover an orange or a small bag with hot chocolate mix to have with breakfast. There could be a treasure map to have a scavenger hunt or a special stationary set to write letters to Santa with. This year there will be tickets to a local Nutcracker ballet show.

St. Nicholas stockings, or clogs, could also serve as a fun daily advent calendar. Use pencils, a small piece of candy or puzzle pieces to put together on Christmas Eve.

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Swedish Meatballs

– johanna | December 2nd, 2011


One of the biggest celebrations in Sweden around Christmas time is St. Lucia Day on December 13th. The day was named after a young woman who was martyred for her faith in a Christian religion. The story tells of a young woman who helped to nurture the needy hiding in the catacombs in Rome by bringing them food despite the growing sentiment against those who believed in a Christian God.

In Sweden on St. Lucia Day girls and boys dress in white. One older girl is chosen to bear the candle wreath upon her head and leads the company of children in a parade. The St. Lucia tradition has grown in popularity throughout the world.

Each family chooses to celebrate this day in a different way. In my sister-n-law’s, Natalie, home the oldest girl dresses in white, dones a wreath, and serves everyone baked goods in their beds. We like to choose a service project to help someone in need. We also make sweet rolls for breakfast and Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes for dinner.

Source: Simple Recipes
Serves 10-12 (about 40-50 meatballs)
4 tbsp butter, divided
1 large yellow onion, finely diced (or grated on a cheese grater)
1 cup milk
2 1/2 to 3 cups bread crumbs (or 4-5 slices of bread processed in a food processor)
1 1/4 pound ground pork
2 pounds ground beef (buy the package that says market fresh or fresh)
2 eggs
1 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons salt

6 Tbsp butter
1/3 cup flour
1 quart beef stock

In a large skillet, sauté onion in 2 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat until soften and translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let cool.

Pour milk into the mixing bowl of an electric mixer. Add bread crumbs and let sit; about 2 to 5 minutes or until the milk is completely soaked up.

Add the ground pork, ground beef, cooled onions (reserving the pan to cook in), eggs, nutmeg, cardamom, salt and pepper. until the ingredients are well combined.

Use a cookie scoop to measure out tablespoon sized balls. Using your hands roll into meatballs. Set meatballs on a baking sheet.

In the same pan used to cook the onions, heat remaining 2 tablespoons of butter over medium to medium high heat. When the butter has melted add the meatballs in batches, careful not to overcrowd the pan. Brown meatballs on all sides about 40 seconds to 1 minute each side until nice and browned. Scoop out and place on a baking rack placed in a baking sheet. (This helps to drain the excess fat)

In the same pan over medium heat, add 6 tablespoons of butter for the sauce. When the butter has melted slowly add the flour, mixing continuously with a wire whisk until smooth. Cook about 1 minute longer to brown. Continue to whisk while adding the broth in a steady stream. Whisk sauce until it is completely smooth and void of any lumps. Bring to a boil then turn the heat to low; simmer about 5 minutes more to thicken.

Add the meatballs to the sauce and turn the heat down to low. Cover the pot and cook on low heat for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

To serve, remove the meatballs from the sauce and place in a serving bowl. If desired add the sour cream mixing well. Serve with Lingonberry Jelly, boiled potatoes and steamed green beans.

— Mix a couple tablespoons lingonberry, cranberry, red currant or raspberry jelly, into the sauce before serving.
–Mix 1/2 to 3/4 cup sour cream with the meatballs in the serving bowl.

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Fall Spice Banana Nut Chocolate Chip Cookies

– johanna | November 25th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Snacks, RECIPES - Treats

Last month I was trying to think of a kid friendly snack to make for our pumpkin decorating party. I also had an entire bunch of bananas sitting untouched in the fruit basket. Not a normal phenomenon in this house. Fortunately for me I was able to produce two loaves of banana nut bread and our favorite fall banana cookies. I love this recipe because it is packed with chocolate and nuts and just the perfect hint of fall spices.

Source: adapted from Martha Stewart Banana Cookie

1/2 cup of unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Stir the baking soda into the mashed bananas and let sit for 2 minutes.

Combine the flour, salt, spices, pecans and chocolate chips.

Cream the butter and sugars (on medium speed) until pale and fluffy. Add the egg and continue to beat until well combined. Fold in the mashed banana banana in 2 additions, alternating with flour mixture, ending with the flour, folding until just combined.

Drop by tablespoonfuls onto a baking sheet. Bake until edges are golden, about 12 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

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Creamy Au Gratin Potatoes

– johanna | November 18th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Sides

Au Gratin potatoes makes a lovely comforting side dish perfect for the holiday table. Slicing the potatoes and onions into thin ring is a lot of work compared to a boxed version, but it is so worth it in the end.

A few things I have learned with each failure to make the perfect creamy, flavorful and tender casserole are:

Covering the top with the foil is MUY importante! It does a number of things — it protects the top from the direct heat so it does not dry out. This system traps in the steam creating a moist environment, resulting in a creamy saucy dish. Use this technique when making macaroni and cheese and roasted homefries. You can uncover the potatoes for the last ten minutes to brown the top or keep them covered.

So many times I have made Au Gratin potatoes by pouring the milk over the potatoes and then topping the whole thing with cheese. The sauce was always runny and curdled. Mixing the cheese with the milk mixture solved the curdled cheese problem. To avoid lumps in your sauce, add the milk just a little at a time into the flour mixture. Keep whisking until the sauce is smooth.

I like to sprinkle a bit more cheese on top. Sometimes I use cheddar, other times I use a mixture of cheddar and monterey jack.

Source: Allrecipes
4 russet potatoes, sliced into 1/4 inch slices or thinner
1 onion, sliced into thin rings
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Butter a 2-quart casserole dish.

Layer 1/2 of the potatoes into bottom of the prepared casserole dish. Top with the onion slices, and add the remaining potatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a medium-size saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Mix in the flour and salt, and stir constantly with a whisk for one minute until smooth. Gradually stir in milk a little at a time, constantly mixing, until sauce is smooth. Cook until mixture has thickened slightly, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in cheese all at once. Remove pan from heat. Continue stirring until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth and creamy, about 30 to 60 seconds.

Pour cheese sauce over the potatoes, lifting the potatoes with a fork in certain spots to help the sauce reach the bottom. Top with a sprinkle of more cheese, about 1/2 cup. Cover the dish with aluminum foil.

Bake 1 1/2 hours in the preheated oven. Uncover the last 10 minutes for a brown crisp top.

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Dressing up the Thanksgiving Table

– johanna | November 15th, 2011


When planning a holiday meal, setting the stage is just as important as the meal itself. From elegant china to simple paper plates, table decor is the backdrop that sets a special dinner apart from the everyday. A festive table and decore need not be fussy or expensive. A simple scattering of leaves and votives can add just the right touch of flare to a harvest Thanksgiving table.

Incorporating decorations should not feel like an added stress. There is enough stress just worrying about the food and guests. Below are some fun ideas for table decore from the simple and inexpensive to formal and more time consuming. Feel free to illicit help from children and/or relatives.

Kids/Family Style Table:
I love the idea of using little boats for place cards and vintage maps as placemats or a table covering. Children can design their own turkey placemat using feathers or construction paper. Have them write what they are most thankful for on each turkey feather (if using paper). A boat can be made using paper, felt, paper mache, or a toy. Fill with nuts, dried fruit, toys, or a small game.

Place Settings:
A paper placemat or a ribbon around a napkin is a gorgeous way to add flare to a table. Use fabric squares as napkins or placemats. A burlap placemat pared with a rust colored suede ribbon would look picture perfect. Maybe add a row of votives down the center of the table, instant pizzaz. Fruit, pinecones, grains, a few leaves are inexpensive but can transform a table like magic. Cans make greats vases. And you will have plenty of them if you are making pumpkin pie. Leave the wrapper on or peel it off and wrap with paper or a ribbon.

Color Themes:
When deciding how and what to place on the table, begin with the color scheme. For a more modern eclectic style, fabric, patterns, and dishware do not have to match so long as the colors are in harmony with each other. For a fun fall table bring the outside, indoors. Stick with fall wood tones of whites and browns, incorporating natural elements such as rocks, leaves, branches, moss, vegetables and fruits.

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Southern Green Beans with Bacon and Brown Sugar

– johanna | November 11th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Sides

Green beans are a true staple of the Americas. They may be eaten raw, steamed, blanched, baked, or sautéed. The peak season for growing green beans is in the Spring and Fall, but they do well most of the year, depending on the area.

There are a variety of terms used for green beans but technically they are all the same.
– Pole beans require a support structure. The early Americans utilized the corn stalk by planting green beans along rows of corn. Allowing the bean vine to climb the stalk.
– Bush beans are identical to pole beans except that they grow on a bush.
– The snap bean refers to the snapping sound the beans make when broken.
– Earlier varieties of beans had a rough string of fiber along the side that had to be removed during preparation for cooking. Thus the name string bean.

Green beans grow in a variety of colors including yellow, purple and green. Combine the three for a beautiful presentation. Serve with baked pork chops or grilled salmon .

Source: Adapted from a recipe by Heather Murphy
1 1/2 pounds fresh green beans, washed and trimmed
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoon brown sugar
4 slices bacon, cut into ½ in pieces
1/4 of a large red onion, thinly sliced

Blanch the green beans, by placing them in salted boiling water for about 3 minutes. They should remain crisp but not tough. Remove the beans from the water. Immediately set them in a bowl of ice water to cool. Drain and set aside.

Cook bacon in a large saute pan on medium heat until done. Drain grease. Add onion and sauté until tender. Add the butter and sugar. Melt the butter. Saute the butter and brown sugar until it begins to thicken slightly. Add the green beans tossing to coat, warm through. Salt to taste.

– use maple syrup instead of the brown sugar.
– 1 (16 ounce) bag of frozen green beans
– Add 1/4 cup broken walnut pieces. Saute with onions.

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How To Quick Soak Beans

– johanna | November 8th, 2011


Photo: Source Unavailable

There are two ways to buy beans; in the can or dried. The can is great because first of all the natural chemical in the bean’s coating, that is known to give us gas, is lessened during processing. Secondly, canned is a straight shot into the pot or salad.

The benefit of using dried beans is you control what goes into them. The downside to cooking with dried beans is the need to soak them. Soaking rehydrates the bean. Hydration is necessary to cut down on cooking time while preserving all the rich nutrients. Otherwise the beans will cook unevenly, the skins will slip off and you will have a giant soupy, mushy mess on your hands. Soaking is also used to clean the beans of pesticides, bug larva, and any other contaminates attached to the beans.

Soaking Overnight: (the best way to soak beans)
1. Clean the beans under cool tap water, removing damaged beans, debris and rocks.
2. Place beans in a non-reactive bowl, preferably glass.
3. Cover beans with three times the amount of water. (About 3-4 inches above layer of beans)
4. Cover and let sit for at least 4 hours or overnight. In warm weather refrigerate beans to prevent sprouting.
5. Drain the water. Rinse well.
6. Cover with water by 2 inches. Cook 30 minutes to 1 hour, until tender.
7. Proceed with recipe. Drain.

Quick Soak:
1. Clean the beans under cool tap water, removing damaged beans, debris and rocks.
2. Place beans in a stock pot.
3. Fill with three times water, about 3-4 inches above the layer of beans. (about 5 cups water per 1 cup beans.)
4. Bring to a boil. Boil beans in water for 3 minutes.
5. Remove from heat. Cover and set aside for 2 to 4 hours.
6. Drain water. Rinse beans and pot well.
7. Add fresh water. Cook until tender 30 minutes to 1 hour. Drain.
8. Proceed with recipe.

Pressure Soak: (for more easily digestible beans)
1. Clean the beans under cool tap water, removing damaged beans, debris and rocks.
2. Place beans in a pressure cooker.
4. Cover beans by 3 inches of water. Bring to pressure. Process 5 minutes.
5. Remove from heat; let pressure drop naturally.
6. Drain water. Rinse well.
7. Cover with water by 2 inches. Cook 30 minutes to 1 hour, until tender.
8. Proceed with recipe.

Favorite beans recipes:
White Bean Soup
Black Bean Soup
Black Bean Chicken Salad with Cilantro Vinaigrette

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Naan- Indian Flat Bread

– johanna | November 4th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Breads

Photo: Property of Mels Kitchen Cafe and my source for this recipe

Naan is a type of yeasted flat bread common in Northern India and the southern regions of Asia. For best results when making naan, use a low protein flour such as Pillsbury all-purpose flour. A higher protein flour will result in a dense bread that tastes ok and is a bit chewy.

In India, naan is made in a clay tandoori oven. I have had the best success using my panini press or a pizza stone in the oven. If using a panini press remove the naan from the press then brush on the butter. If baking in the oven brush with garlic butter before placing on a hot pizza stone in the oven.

Stand mixers are great for kneading doughs like naan and tortillas because it eliminates the mistake of adding too much flour. This dough should feel soft and smooth when kneaded.

Serve with grilled salmon or pork. Also goes great with a Moroccan stew.

Source: adapted from Andrea’s Recipes
2 3/4 cups flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 egg
1/2 cup plain lowfat yogurt
1/2 cup milk

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl by hand), stir together the flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, and yeast. In a small bowl, mix together the egg, yogurt, and milk. Pour the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and stir for about 1 minute, until the dry ingredients are completely incorporated into the wet ingredients.

Increase machine speed to 2 (or by hand) and knead the dough until it is smooth and shiny. Remove the bowl from the mixer and cover with a towel. Leave in a warm place to rise until the dough doubles in size, about an hour.

Put a baking stone or heavy baking sheet on the lowest rack of your oven. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees for at least 30 minutes prior to baking.

Divide the dough into eight pieces and form into teardrop shapes with your hands, about 6 to 8 inches across.

Cook two or three pieces at a time. Drop the dough onto the hot stone and shut the oven door, watching until they are just starting to turn brown in places, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Remove the naan and brush with garlic butter. Serve warm.

Garlic Butter:
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1 garlic clove, minced

Combine garlic and butter until creamy and smooth.

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November Website Review: I Am An Organizing Junkie

– johanna | November 1st, 2011

Filed under: THE BOOKSHELF

Comic: Maxine, by J Wagner

About every several months I get the itch to overhaul the house. I go through every nitch and cranny organizing and purging clutter. With the onset of fall I like to get things in order before the holiday chaos begins. I have not been happy with my system of organization upstairs, or should I say the lack thereof. The kids space has been a free for all since we moved in last year. I have a few regular sites I peruse when I need an extra boost to keep me organized. But this time I had to go in search of something fresh.

Laura is my kind of gal. We share a crazy innate addiction to organization. Laura is passionate about what she does and it shows. Her site is filled with helpful information for clutter rehab, storage solutions, time management, and there is even a 52 week challenge, a step by step guide to a more productive life. Everything you need to know about the basics of organization is there. From menu plans to what type of products to buy. There are also free lists and templates available to print.

When life at home is flowing smoothly we have less stress and more time to enjoy our family. Finding routines and systems that compliment this goal takes planning and above all a commitment. Laura’s Household Mission Statement for the importance of home organization lists the rewards we can obtain if we stick to the plan. The Mission Statement says, “…to provide an inviting and peaceful household environment, for my family and all that enter, that is conducive to living simply, loving deeply and laughing abundantly.”

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Peach Crisp

– johanna | October 21st, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Treats

Upon their arrival, early American settlers had to make do with what they had. Common ingredients used back in England were in short supply or non existant in the new world. The colonists learned to use variations of fruits and meats available to them in traditional English recipes such as crisps, cobblers, Betty, grunts, and the like.

Crisps and cobblers were thought of as common food. They were reserved for the family. One would never serve a crisp to company. Pioneers traveling across the country ate cobblers for both breakfast and dinner. They were easier to make given the limited resources on the trail.

Crisps are just as popular today as they were in Medieval Europe. They are available at many restaurants and back yard barbecues. Crisps are often served with a dollop of ice cream or whipped cream.

5 large ripe peaches, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
Zest and juice from 1 lemon
3 tablespoons flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt

1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
8 Tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 chopped pecans
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To peel the peaches bring a stock pot filled with water to a boil. Cut a small X on the bottom of each peach. Add peaches to the boiling water and simmer for 30-60 seconds. Remove peaches from the pot and place in a bowl of ice water. Allow peaches to cool slightly. The skins should slip right off.

Toss peaches with lemon juice and zest. Stir in flour, sugar, vanilla and salt. Divide evenly among ramekins or place in a 8X8 pan.

Combine all the topping ingredients in a food processor. Pulse about 30 seconds until combined. Or mix with fingers until the mixture is clumpy and crumbly. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time if needed.

Top each ramekin or 8X8 inch pan with topping. Don’t pack too tightly. Bake for 20-25 minutes until filling is bubbly and topping is golden brown.

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