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What Christmas Means to Me

25 Dec

I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. – Charles Dickens

For me, Christmas is always a time spent with family. Because most of my relatives live in Ohio, I often wake to a winter wonderland on Christmas day (lucky girl, huh?). If there is enough snow, we bundle up to go sledding (dogs included) and then head back to enjoy my aunt’s wonderful cooking, open gifts and watch Christmas movies. Our holiday staples are Babes in Toyland, Miracle on 34th Street (both versions), It’s a Wonderful Life (Mom’s favorite) and Four Christmases (my favorite part of watching this movie is hearing how loudly Dad laughs). Throughout the day, we inevitably munch on too many Christmas cookies. As nighttime rolls around, the cocktails start flowing – I can never get enough egg nog and consider this holiday as my only excuse to overindulge.

“If you can't believe, if you can't accept anything on faith, then you're doomed for a life dominated by doubt.” – Miracle on 34th Street

Colin's little smile just makes me melt!

Because of our travel schedule, Santa Claus rarely delivered our presents on Christmas morning. Not surprisingly, he always knew when we’d get home and never failed to have our gifts waiting. On the night that Santa stopped at the Baker household (whatever night that it may be), my brother and I would head to bed early. Daddy would stay up until 3 a.m., playing elf for Santa, and then Colin and I would be ready to celebrate just a few hours later. We’d wait patiently at the top of our stairs until Dad was ready with the video camera, and then we’d hurriedly race down to see what goodies waited for us beneath our tree.

Every so often (like this year), we spend the holidays at home and make the trek to Ohio a bit belatedly.  We listen to Christmas music for days on end, attend holiday parties with friends and finish up any last-minute gift-wrapping. And every once in a while, we’re blessed with a snowy Christmas in Georgia. Fingers crossed that the weatherman’s predictions are correct today!

our very own winter wonderland

So yes, this holiday is about family and friends, movies and music, parties and presents.  Mostly, though, Christmas is about faith. Wherever we are during the holidays, we always attend the Christmas Eve church service. Singing “Silent Night” with only votive candles lighting the sanctuary never fails to remind me of the reason for the season.  So many years ago, Mary and Joseph spent that first Christmas day with a baby who was sent to save the world. I’m thankful that we’ve gotten to spend Christmas with Him every year since.

Merry Christmas to all!

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‘Tis the Season…to Bake

21 Dec

C is for cookie. That’s good enough for me. – Cookie Monster, Sesame Street

Always a curious child, I would often pull my stool into the kitchen to see what my mama was doing. After years of watching her cook a healthy dinner (one that inevitably included chicken – my brother and I didn’t know that meals without chicken even existed until we were much older) or bake a delicious dessert, I developed an affinity for the kitchen. That’s not to say that I’m necessarily good at cooking or baking, but I certainly enjoy it.

always wanted to be just like my mama

Of the two activities, baking is unequivocally my favorite. I blame my insatiable sweet teeth for this strong liking. Around the holidays, it seems to be particularly unquenchable, and I often end up consuming sweets as one of my meals (for instance, peanut butter fudge was my lunch on Sunday).

Thus, my contribution to our Christmas meal is usually the dessert. This year, I found a scrumptious-looking recipe for Brownie Cheesecake Peppermint Bars. Rather than struggle with the choice of cookies or brownies, cheesecake or peppermint, this sweet treat covers it all. I altered the recipe a bit and tried to lighten up the damage done to one’s diet (I am my mother’s daughter, after all). All the details are below – the original recipe (also found here) as well as my substitutions. Here’s to hoping my family enjoys this gooey goodness!

Ingredients

1 tube of refrigerated cookie dough

1 box of brownie mix

2 (8 oz.) packages of cream cheese (substitute: fat free cream cheese)

2.5 cups of white chocolate chips (note that this amount requires two bags of chips)

2 teaspoons of pure peppermint extract, divided

4 candy canes, crushed

Directions

  1. Make the brownie batter according to package directions (substitute: original apple sauce for the vegetable oil, egg whites for the eggs). Add 1 teaspoon of peppermint extract. Bake accordingly, and set aside to cool.
  2. Spray a 9” by 13” rectangular pan with non-stick cooking spray, and spread cookie dough along the bottom in an even layer (I found it easiest to use my fingers rather than a knife or rolling pin). Bake accordingly (until edges are golden brown), and set aside to cool.
  3. Once the brownies have cooled, remove and discard any hard edges. Scrape the rest of the brownies into a large bowl, and combine with the cream cheese to create a thick mixture. Stir together until it is generally uniform in color. Scoop this mixture onto the baked cookie dough, and smooth into an even layer.
  4. Melt the white chocolate chips on the stove. Add in 1 teaspoon of peppermint extract. Spread the melted chocolate over the cookie-brownie mixture.
  5. While the chocolate is still hot, crush up your candy canes, and sprinkle over your dessert. Once the chocolate has hardened, cut into the bars, and ENJOY!

all the yummy parts

voila! the finished product

Happy holidays!

Counting My Blessings

15 Dec

It’s so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the world. You lose track of what it’s like to just be still and be thankful and count your blessings. – Kellie Pickler

The holiday season has been an immense (but wonderful) distraction to my blog-writing habits. But let’s not dwell on my hiatus. Rather, I’ll jump right in with a (very) belated Thanksgiving post.

I always have high expectations for this holiday (it is my favorite time of the year), and it never disappoints. My family spends the week at our home away from home: St. George Island, a little piece of heaven on Earth. I used to think that, because I have a small family, we didn’t have any true traditions. However, over the years, our Thanksgiving has become filled with them. Each day begins with a walk on the beach and ends with a glass of wine – two of my favorite things. My dad and brother bond on the fishing boat, while my mom and I spend time by the pool with our lovable and lazy dogs. We buy our Thanksgiving feast at the Piggly Wiggly and fill in the gaps with green bean casserole (for me) and corn casserole (for my brother). We end the meal with my family’s favorite sweet treat: apple pie. (If you’re looking for a new recipe to try, I highly recommend this one!)

 

the best way to start the day...

...and the best way to end the day.

And of course, there’s my favorite tradition of all: remembering the pieces of life that make me smile, make me “me,” and make me thankful for each and every day. A few (more) of my favorite things…

my loving family

my sweet dogs

my friends & all of our fun!

...last but certainly not least, my man

Scaredy Cat

30 Oct

Halloween is the day when parents encourage little boys to dress like little girls and little girls to dress like whores and go door-to-door brow-beating hard working Americans into giving them free food. – Coach Sue, Glee

To be honest, I think Halloween is a super creepy holiday. As someone who jumps at the slightest noise and only enjoys the darkness when I’m sleeping, I find myself scared of everything as Halloween approaches. I’ve been to one haunted house in my life (it was my freshmen year of college – I’m a late bloomer), and that was one too many.  I’ve never liked scary movies, so I’m certainly not a fan of a holiday that celebrates their very existence. And I’m happy to eat candy any day of the year – I don’t need Halloween to convince me to indulge my sweet tooth.

The holiday’s history is also super creepy, supporting my somewhat-dramatic opinion. It is linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain (or Samuin), which celebrates the end of the “lighter half” of the year (seasonally, it means the end of summer) and the beginning of the “darker half” (in Halloween terms, it means ghosts and ghouls and goblins, oh my!).  Ancient Celts believed that the border between our own world and the other world became thin during this festival, allowing spirits (both nice and evil) to move back and forth. In order to ward off the harmful ones, people began wearing costumes and masks, disguising themselves as someone evil in order to avoid harm. And thus, our modern day celebration of Halloween (derived from “all hallows evening”) was born.

Begrudgingly setting aside the scary factor, I will argue that Halloween has one particular perk: you can be anyone or anything – you don’t have to know who you are or even have a sense of who you want to be. When you’re little, you can dress up as your favorite movie character (Dorothy Parker, complete with a little brother playing Toto) or your favorite animal (in the case of my sixth-grade self, a cow, complete with a pink bow and bell around my neck).

As you grow up, Halloween is an excuse to dress outside the box and push social boundaries a bit more. As Mean Girls taught us so many years ago (before LiLo’s first meltdown…and her second and third), it’s the one day each year when “a girl can dress like a total slut, and no other girls can say anything about it.” If you’re dating someone, you may choose to go the route of couple costumes. Or if your boyfriend has any say in the decision, you may very well forego that option.  Either way, the holiday is more about tricking than treating: pumpkin ale and parties, haunted houses and horror flicks.

In fact, my roommate and I are throwing a Halloween party tonight. I woke up this morning with spider webs creeping down the banister and a witch flying into our backdoor (which means one less scary creature roaming around). We’ve been so focused on party planning that our homemade costumes have yet to be completed. Plenty of time left, right?

Regardless of your age (and again setting aside that scary factor), the holiday is about embracing the beginning of fall (the “darker half” of the year), exploring the pumpkin patch before carving the perfect jack-o-lantern, and eating candy until your belly aches. Happy Halloween!

the plastics do halloween oh-so-well - Mean Girls (2004)

can you guess what we're going to be tonight?