The List – One More Thing to Check Off

It’s been a long time since my last post. Life happens and I have somewhat come to accept this although I do miss blogging terribly and have hopes of someday once again making it part of my life.

Blogging was a huge benefit to me for several years while in between hobbies/interests and when Hubby was still more of an anomaly at home rather than a staple. Looking back it is funny to see how I filled the gap of him being gone so much. There were odd jobs, volunteer opportunities, activities and clubs with the kids, crafts, and most recently my blog, gardening, cooking, and canning. Although I still cook and can and still have a garden (although for some reason it doesn’t seem all that important anymore), the blogging just as all the other “fillers” that either faded into nonexistence or were put on the back burner until I can get back to them, ceased.

Honestly I can’t say I don’t have time to blog, because although Hubby is home pretty much 24/7, he does his own thing a good portion of that time. My time management priorities, however, have not yet recovered from the transition of him being so present in my every day life. That plus having moved on to other goals on my “list”…you know the one, the list that everyone has, either written or mentally filed deep in our brains, of those things we want to experience or try. Some might call it a bucket list, but for me it’s not so dramatic. My list is just a compilation of things I’d like to learn or do at some point during this life, and if not during this one, perhaps in the next. Blogging was on that list, and although that is something that could (should?) be on going, having moved on to new challenges keeps the hours in my day pretty full. So until congress finally passes the bill changing the hours in a day from 24 to say 36 or more, I think I’m doomed to just go with the flow and enjoy the ride.

So you’re probably wondering why I’m even making a post. Well, the one thing I truly miss about blogging, that I have yet to find any sort of comparable replacement, is the support I received from other bloggers and readers. I didn’t “live” for likes or comments, but when I did get them, they sure helped to justify what I was doing or sharing. Yet, even when a post would go by without a single comment or like, just having it out there and knowing others might be reading it, gave me a sense of completion. Does that sound sad? Throwing something out there on the world wide web to help cement my own purpose? I hope not. I don’t consider myself necessarily a needy person, constantly in need of affirmation for every little thing I do. I am human though and even though Hubby and the kids are extremely supportive and encouraging, sometimes I need to go beyond the security of my home and risk putting it all on the line for the world to see – on the internet.

What I wanted to share today were some photos of one of the things I’ve been working on for about 6 months now that had been on my “list” for many years – decorated sugar cookies. Nothing truly spectacular or life-changing, but something that I wanted to learn how to do and do to the best of my ability. What a ride this has been. I am having so much fun baking and decorating cookies and candies and now might even delve into the world of fondant covered cakes. There were so many techniques and tricks I had no idea were out there, and I can’t wait to try them all. My biggest problem now is finding a home for everything I make. Hubby is completely supportive of me sitting at the table working for hours on cookies, making them beautiful, but always asks “so who are those for?” Who indeed? The family can only eat so many sugar cookies before they get tired of them and I only have so many people to give them to. Yet, I keep going.

Valentine’s Day was a perfect opportunity to make cookies and surprisingly I did manage to give them all away without a single complaint from any recipients. Christmas too was no problem, as was Halloween. So what’s next? The one aspect of sugar cookies that does make sharing them with the same people over and over again possible is being able to make variations on flavors. Halloween and Christmas last year I was still just getting used to the basics, but with Valentine’s Day I moved on to a chocolate sugar cookie with strawberry flavored royal icing as well as dabbling in fondant. With the variations available in flavorings, I might just be able to pull off giving cookies away to my family and neighbors for at least a few more months. After that maybe I’ll move on to cakes.

So here are some pictures of the Halloween, Fall, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day cookies I’ve made so far. They took a long time to make, but I think the time was worth it. Perhaps I’ll get a chance to make some posts with recipes, etc. on Simple Grateful Cooking someday.

Thanks for stopping by ~ A Simply Grateful Tilly.

Halloween Cookies:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fall Cookies:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Christmas Cookies:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Valentine’s Cookies:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Advertisements

Farewell To The Holidays – The Twelfth Day of Christmas

On the twelfth day of Christmas, the last until next year,

I reflected on the season filled with hope and holiday cheer.

DSCF2947

A bit late, but still relevant — the holidays are finally over and the transformation of the house from festive and bright back to our normal comfort zone has begun. Every Christmas season is filled with ups and down, successes and failures, joy and even sometimes sorrow as we try to make each holiday better than the last. This struggle to keep up and surpass what we experience every year can be overwhelming and add more stress to an already stressful situation. That being said and knowing this to be absolutely true, doesn’t stop me from falling into the Christmas trap every November and December.

This year I nearly gave up and in to the pressures of the holidays, threatening to ruin what can be and should be the most wonderful time of year for the entire family. Sure I’d love to believe that all year we should carry the love and magic of Christmas in our hearts and demonstrate this in our actions, but it is not something I believe can be done. Some people hold the magic longer, some manage to keep it strong inside of them, but there is only one time of year when people are a little kinder, a little more giving, and full of more hope openly without inhibition. In a perfect world this could be maintained 24/7 – 365, but alas perfect the world is not. Life is demanding and that is why I think it is so important not to lose focus during the holidays, although I can’t say that I am always successful.

Still, now that the holidays are over, there is a certain air about the house that continues to be refreshing and comforting. The holidays enter with a bang filling us with expectation and anticipation and then leave us quietly as wrapping paper is discarded, presents are put away, decorations are stored, leftovers are consumed, and family and friends fall back into their “normal” routines. We spend two months preparing for and enjoying the holidays and then the next ten months recovering. This recovery period is when I like to reflect on the holidays. It is this time that gives us the opportunity to really appreciate what we have and relish in the memories of moments that will help to keep Christmas alive in us until next year.

It takes me several weeks to untransform the house from “The Christmas House,” back to our home, and some years I find myself literally throwing decorations into boxes just to get the job over with. The minute I clean an area and clear away every sign of Christmas, leaving it refreshingly bare, I am filled with a certain excitement to have every inch of the house as clean. It takes a lot to contain the excitement I feel as ornaments are wrapped, trees are disassembled, and lights are unplugged and boxed. Saying farewell to all these symbols and reminders of Christmas for another year, allows me to miss them so that next year when they are pulled out, I appreciate them and once again am filled with their magic.

The next couple weeks I will be working on putting the decorations away, catching up on cleaning that kept being put off, and dreaming of what next year’s holidays will hold. After that, it will be time to start thinking of spring, planting the garden, and summer canning, but that is still months away. Winter has firmly made its mark here in Michigan, with bitter cold temperatures, fierce wind-chills, and snow piling up on the ground and roof tops.

DSCF2945

Today is a day for snuggling under a comfy quilt, sipping a steaming hot cup of cocoa, and counting my blessings, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

The Fifth Day of Christmas

On the fifth day of Christmas I made for the first time…

Gingerbread Men!

DSCF2832

Can you believe it? I had never made gingerbread cookies before yesterday! Have I deprived my family or what?

Honestly, the reason I never tackled this cookie was because I found them to be completely intimidating. The rolling, the cutting, the baking, the decorating — it all added up to “I don’t have that kind of time — not during the holidays!”

Well, with the 12 days of Christmas carrying on beyond Christmas day, I decided this was the year to give this traditional Christmas cookie a shot. I did cheat just a bit, as I didn’t make my own Royal icing but rather opted to buy cookie decorating frosting. In my defense though, I wasn’t sure the family would even like these cookies, so why spend the time making the icing. Cookie icing could be put on next year’s to do list.

The cookie dough came together very quickly in my food processor and set up faster than I thought it would in the freezer, making this project far less time-consuming than I planned. In less than an hour I was decorating and the family was taste-testing homemade gingerbread men. You can check out the recipe and step-by-step instructions at Simply Grateful Cooking Homemade Gingerbread Men Cookies.

Hubby loved the cookies, but without any frosting; Zeb loved the cookies with tons of frosting; and Grace, well she said they tasted similar to molasses cookies and being that they are not her favorite or even close, she probably won’t be eating too many of these. Decorating the cookies though was definitely fun everyone.

I am so glad I finally bit the bullet and made gingerbread men. Next year I am looking forward to doing this again and possibly experimenting with other cookie cutter shapes and even using some of these as ornaments on the Christmas tree. How Christmasy will that look? And dare I say, try my hand at a homemade gingerbread house!

The house is filled with the spicy scent of gingerbread, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

The Fourth Day of Christmas

On the fourth day of Christmas an ice storm came to town,

Pass some steaming mugs of cocoa all around.

There is nothing better than a bubbling cup of hot cocoa on a cold, blustery winter night. Last night freezing rain pounded our house from around 3 p.m. till nearly midnight, leaving us with a slick coat of ice on the ground. It was the perfect night to stay in, wrap yourself up in a warm blanket, and sip homemade cocoa around the fire.

Hot cocoa is one of those drinks that if made right can be addicting, but if made wrong, can be terribly disappointing. For years I have sampled every hot cocoa mix I could find on the grocery store shelves and taste-tested tons from coffee houses and restaurants. Although there have been some real winners among the many cups I’ve drunk, I decided the time has come to find the perfect hot cocoa recipe to make at home.

First on my list of ones to try was the traditional Hershey hot cocoa (find the recipe at Simply Grateful Cooking Hershey’s Traditional Hot Cocoa). The results? It was good. I can’t say it was the absolute best I’ve ever had, but it was very good, something I would make again — if there weren’t a stack of recipes printed off and waiting to be tested on the kitchen counter.

For now, I’m content we were able to enjoy some homemade cocoa together and begin our journey on the road to the perfect hot cocoa, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

The First Day Of Christmas

Most people believe that the twelve days of Christmas begins on December 12th or 13th and ends on Christmas day December 25th, when in fact the first day of Christmas is December 25th and ends January 5th.

DSCF2775

In the spirit of this tradition, I have decided to take these twelve days and make the most of them. The twelve months before Christmas didn’t seem to allow for enough time to get all I wanted from the season or do what I wanted do, so these twelve days are my way to make up for what I missed.

Yesterday, the first day of Christmas (December 25th), I made the most of the day by enjoying every moment with my family. It actually began on Christmas Eve afternoon by sharing some time with my parents and lasted through Christmas Day. Hubby, the kids, and myself spent as much time as we could together, leaving cell phones and computers turned off, concentrating instead on being together.

There were presents, but that isn’t what we focused on. We ate all our meals together, watched holiday movies, listened to Christmas carols, and spent time remembering holidays past. It was wonderful and exactly what the holidays are supposed to be. We each gave of ourselves, making time for each other, and making moments to hold on to for the rest of our lives.

On the first day of Christmas, my family gave to me — Christmas day together merrily.

A Christmas Lesson

Twas just days before Christmas

And so much to do

There’s no time to make merry

This place is a zoo.

With still shopping and wrapping

Not checked off my list

I drove around searching

For presents I’d missed.

The roads were congested

The parking lots too

The store shelves near empty

My choices were few.

I rush down every aisle

And grab what I can

Not thinking about wishes

Or having a plan.

Who cares if they like” was my thought

Or want what they get.

As long as there are presents

They should be all set.”

My shopping cart brimming

With things no one needs

I push on to the checkout

To finish the deed.

The car spilling with presents

I hit the road home

Cutting off angry drivers

As I chat on the phone.

I turn into my driveway

Pop open my trunk

And wonder for a moment

What is all this junk!

Not a bag has a present

That means anything

Not to me or who gets it

No joy will it bring.

Sure these things filled my quota

I checked off my list

But there’s really no reason

Behind all these gifts.

When you buy just to buy

Your heart fills with doubt

You miss out on what Christmas

Is really about.

Yes, a gift can be special

And spread Christmas cheer

But that’s not what’s remembered

The rest of the year.

So this year no boxes

Or wrapping you’ll find

Bought because it’s expected…

No gifts of that kind!

I won’t be checking off lists

or dollars I’ve spent

I’ll reflect on the season…

The joy that I’ve sent.

This heartfelt message to you

And all those you know

Is a lesson on Christmas

And one that should grow.

Make the most of this Christmas

And each new day too

Don’t get caught-up or stressed out

If you haven’t a clue.

There’s no magic in buying

A gift for someone

When you’re heart isn’t in it

To say that you’re “DONE!”

Gifts of guilt, obligation,

or tainted with greed

Have no place in the season

Should be this year’s creed.

Giving time and attention

To family and friends

A Christmas message of love

You really should send.

It’s not presents or cookies

Ornaments or song

That help us to keep Christmas

In hearts all year long.

There’s a feeling at Christmas

That doesn’t compare

To any celebration

Or season we share.

Each day holds new blessings

So hold this thought dear,

Keep the Love that is Christmas

Throughout all the year.

Merry Christmas – Love, Tilly

Why do you buy presents?

Yesterday I got a call from my mother. She was moody, grumpy, and basically annoyed with the world. The reason for her call — to get Christmas gift ideas for the kids. She had spent the entire day before out shopping, looking for things, anything, and still hadn’t spent what she had budgeted for them. In fact, she hadn’t found anything for them other than the one gift idea I gave her for each of them nearly a month ago.

As patiently as I could, I tried telling her that one gift was more than enough and the kids would be grateful for that. She wouldn’t hear of it. She got more and more agitated as we talked and by the end of our conversation, when I had no other gift ideas for her, she was angry. I kept reiterating to her that the dollar amount she spent or how many gifts she had for them really wasn’t the point, but all she managed to scream at me was, “I know it’s not about the gifts, but I need more ideas for what to buy!”

DSCF2721

Okay, so her logic is definitely lost on me, but at the same time, I know I have taken some of her beliefs and lessons that her and my father have instilled in me about Christmas gift giving and been guilty of practicing them over the years. Even this year I found myself stressing about buying gifts for people, wondering if I’d bought enough, wondering if I should buy more, rethinking my decision not to buy presents for my parents because they neither need anything nor appreciate it. Rather than buying gifts, I chose to make them cookies, take them to a concert (not proclaiming however that it was a Christmas gift), and spending time with them. Based on my mother’s materialistic view of gifts, I know she and my father will be hurt and disappointed when they have no gifts to open this year.

After my conversation with my mother, after she flatly hung up on me when I could not supply her with any more “ideas,” I began to scour the stores for gifts for her and my father. Once again I had been sucked into the Christmas gift merry-go-round that is neither fun, nor what I want this season to reflect or be about.

When I buy a gift for someone, I want it to be because I know it is something they are going to love or at least hope they will. I don’t want to go out and arbitrarily buy gifts just so I have something to give someone in return for a gift they are buying me. I don’t want to check off a list that is handed to me and then watch as the recipient checks off their list in their head as they open gifts.

I’m not against buying someone what they want, but I am against being chained to a list. Some of the most wonderful gifts I have received are ones that I never knew I wanted. My good friend Suzanne has especially surprised me with many wonderful gifts, thoughtful gifts, gifts I know that she put a part of herself into and she has truly inspired me to try to do the same with gifts I buy or make.

This phone call from my mother, however, tainted my perspective once again and gave me reason to doubt myself and my gift giving choices. I hate that. My mother has an uncanny way of bringing the worst out in me. It’s not like this holiday season hasn’t already had enough glitches in it with me being sick at the beginning and again now, being too busy or too exhausted to do many of the things that I wanted, forgetting what is truly important during the season, not doing any entertaining, and baking only a few holiday treats to date — why not throw in a little gift-giving guilt to round out the season?!!

So, this morning I sat down and began to write. Now I used to write a lot of poetry when I was younger, but as of late, not so much. I love to write rhyming poems, but a lot of time they seem to turn out childish and don’t stay on point. Today, however, the words flowed, and with few bumps along the way, I managed to put my feelings on paper about gift giving and touch on the holidays in general. If you’re interested, I put it in a separate post titled “The Christmas Lesson.”

Remember, this is the season of compassion, so bear with my poetic attempt.

Anyway, Merry Christmas to you all and I hope your holidays are filled with love and joy and the gifts that you wanted as well as those you didn’t know you did. The holidays are upon us, today and everyday in your heart if you let them, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

A Taste Of Home – Lamb Paprikash

When Hubby and I began dating, I was not the least bit adventurous when it came to trying new foods.  Being that he was from a different ethnic background – Serbian, I learned rather quickly that I had to learn to at least be somewhat open to trying things beyond my comfort zone.  This was difficult for me, as I was a hamburger and hot dog kinda girl.  Yogurt, cottage cheese, even polish sausage were not things I would consider eating.  I’d have to say I was rather boring and unsophisticated.

Growing up my mother had around 20 different meals that she made using beef, pork roast, and chicken breasts. She never made Chinese food; of Italian dishes she only made spaghetti; Mexican she only made tacos; and the remaining dishes were either grilled or what I consider “American” food – hamburgers, meatloaf, beef stew, roast beef, pork roast, very rarely roast chicken, and ribs.  Very limited, although what she did make was good.

After a few months of dating Hubby, going out to dinner or lunch got old, so I began to experiment a bit in the kitchen.  My mother taught me very little about cooking.  I had a home economics class in junior high, but about the only thing I remember making there was zucchini muffins, which I refused to eat (zucchini, YUK! right?).  So everything I learned about cooking was a hands-on learning experience.  Some meals turned out pretty good, some were inedible, and others needed improvement.

The more I cooked, the more I wanted to try new ingredients and recipes. This has continued through the years and now, although I might not eat some of the recipes I make, I am more than willing to try making practically anything. Hubby is a more than willing guinea pig and even the kids have enjoyed some of my culinary experiments.

When Hubby and I got married I asked him what meals from his heritage he wanted me to make.  He told me flatly, “None!”  His mother was not a bad cook, but growing up in Serbia she had little opportunity to experiment with different ingredients.  Having food to eat was the objective.  Pigeon soup, biscuits with scraps of bacon fat, and smoked meat with bread were some of the highlights.

Still, whenever we went over to his parents house for dinner, his mother always put out a very nice spread showcasing many things she’d enjoyed making since arriving in America some 40+ years ago and Hubby ate it. Some of them were her take on American dishes and others were meals that she had learned to make from her mother, but had little opportunity to make because of not having the ingredients.

If there is one thing I am good at, it is observing.  This is what I have done for the past 20+ years of being with Hubby.  I have watched him eat his mother’s cooking and enjoy it.  Not everything, but there are definitely some things he truly loves, although I’m not sure he’d admit it.  One of the meals that he always enjoys when we are over there is lamb paprikash, which is a traditional Christmas meal for them.  I have never been crazy about lamb, but this is one method of preparation that I do enjoy.

Now that Hubby’s mother is no longer able to have holiday dinners, I decided this year I would give making lamb paprikash a shot.  I had no recipe, as my mother-in-law has nothing written down, no measurements for ingredients, and speaks broken English.  I decided to go on taste and memory for this one.  Basically I figured making lamb paprikash had to be similar to beef stew and took it from there.  The results were a success.  Hubby told me it was better than his mother’s.  But let’s keep that between us — his mother and I don’t get along that well already, this would certainly not help matters in that department.

Lamb Paprikash

DSCF6542

  • 1 Semi-Boneless Leg of Lamb
  • 1 Large Onion, diced
  • 2 Tbsp. Butter
  • 5 Tbsp. Bacon Grease
  • 6 Tbsp. Flour
  • Salt to taste

For me the most important characteristic of any meat that I serve is that it be tender.  To attain this in a stew, I cook it all day.

The first step was to sear the leg of lamb in the pot and brown it on all sides, salting as I turned it.  Once brown, I filled the pot with water, covering the lamb completely.  Bring the pot to a boil.  Cover and simmer anywhere from 4 to 6 hours.

When the lamb falls away from the bone, remove from the pot and cut into chunks.  Some of mine turned out to be shreds, which is fine too.

Return the lamb to the pot and bring to a slow boil.

In a small fry pan, melt butter and cook onion until tender.  Add to pot.

To thicken paprikash, melt bacon grease in fry pan, add flour and use broth from the paprikash to make a rue. Slowly mix the rue into the paprikash and cook for 45 to 60 minutes longer.

The only difference I would make in this recipe next time is to add the sautéed onion earlier so it’s flavor incorporates more into the gravy.

Giving Hubby a taste of home is important to me.  Family recipes are a treasure to pass down through generations and now I have one from Hubby’s mother for books, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Christmas Candy #5 – Creamy Peanut Butter Fudge

Back when I was a young girl, every couple of years my family would head up north to a family reunion on my father’s side.  We’d spend a weekend on the farm of one of our cousins hiking, talking, playing horseshoes, riding motorcycles, picking apples, and tubing down the Ausable River.  Most of all, though, we ate.  Everyone brought food, everyone made food, and everyone ate food.  There was absolutely no chance of anyone going hungry, because there was always something cooking.  From 5 in the morning until well after midnight, everyone fought over who was going to get the kitchen next.

When my children came along, the family reunion had all but stopped.  Thankfully, one of my cousins took it upon herself to organize one last hoorah.  I took the opportunity to spend the weekend taking pictures of the old farm, hiking along the trails for one last time with my children, and gathering recipes from my cousins.

One recipe that I am thankful I got was from my cousin Linda.  She was famous for making her peanut butter fudge every time there was a family reunion.  It was popular with the kids, of course, but the adults loved it just as much. That last time we gathered at the farm, Linda taught me how to make her fudge.  I’m not sure I would have been able to make it had she just given me the recipe.  Not being familiar with making fudge, I was terribly intimidated by it. After watching her do it however, I realized that fudge wasn’t something to be afraid of.

Linda’s Creamy Peanut Butter Fudge

I really should have gotten a bigger bowl to store this in.  I guess we'll just have to eat until we can fit the lid on.

I really should have gotten a bigger bowl to store this in. I guess we’ll just have to eat until we can fit the lid on.

  • 1 lb. Light Brown Sugar
  • 3/4 Cup Cream or Milk
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. Butter
  • 1 Cup Cream Peanut Butter

Bring sugar and milk to boil over medium heat.  Heat to soft-ball stage — 235 degrees.  Linda never used a thermometer.  She used a bowl of ice water and dropped some of the sugar and milk mixture into it after it had been boiling for a while.  I use both.  I wait until it reaches 235 and then start testing for the soft-ball stage.  It isn’t an instantaneous thing that once it reaches 235 it’s done, so be sure to test.

Once the mixture reaches the soft-ball stage, add the butter and stir until melted.

Remove from heat and add creamy peanut butter.  Pour immediately into buttered or foil lined 9×9 baking pan. Refrigerate until set.  I prefer to put my fudge in a foil lined pan because it makes it much easier to remove from the pan.

Not even a year after the reunion we lost Linda very unexpectedly.  It was a terrible shock to the entire family.  After her funeral the family gathered together and reminisced.  I brought up her peanut butter fudge and everyone agreed it was the best they’d ever tasted. Many in the family commented that they wished they had learned how to make it.

I’m not sure that mine lives up to Linda’s, but it is one of my families favorites and a recipe I hope to pass down for many generations.  It has become a Christmas tradition in our family.   I am sorry Linda is no longer with us but she will forever live on in the memories and recipes she left behind, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Mini Desserts #5 – Creamy Frozen Mini Fruit Cups

Serving frozen desserts to a crowd can be cumbersome and inconvenient.  When I found a set of square mini dessert/appetizer bowls, I knew these would definitely make serving these creamy frozen fruit cups easy.

Creamy Frozen Mini Fruit Cups

DSCF6243

  • 1 pkg. 8 oz. Cream Cheese, softened
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 10 oz. Maraschino Cherries
  • 11 oz. Can Mandarin Oranges, drained
  • 1 Pint Jar Crushed Pineapple, drained
  • 1 8 oz. Tub Frozen Whipped Topping, thawed

Combine cream cheese and sugar in mixer and beat until fluffy.  Chop maraschino cherries.  Add cherries and pineapple to cream cheese mixture.  Fold in mandarin oranges and whipped topping.

Spoon fruit mixture into cups and freeze until firm.  Remove from freezer 10 minutes before serving.

I love this recipe, especially because it was one I was able to use my home-canned Maraschino Cherries and crushed pineapple in.  Whenever I can use something from the pantry that I made during the past year, I find the dessert even more tasty, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.