Holiday Favourites

Christmas has the ability to extrude every last ounce of sentimentality out of my veins. And let me tell you – that’s a whole lot of sentiment. I’m a nostalgic at heart and nothing elicits warm fuzzies like reminiscing about Christmas past. The best part – I get to relive certain aspects of the holiday season each and every year in the form of tried and true favourites.

Here’s a quick run-down of things that set my sentimental heart aflutter – without fail!

Film:

How could I not start with the epitome of classic holiday viewing pleasure: How the Grinch Stole Christmas

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I look forward to watching this every year. The pitiful dog, the adorable Cindy Lou, and the ornery old grinch and that eventual, wonderful, miraculous conversion from miserable to generous.  Don’t get me started on the movie version though, I’m passionately opposed.

My next favourite: White Christmas

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I can’t get enough of this 1954 classic. I love everything about the movie. Awkward 50’s acting (check), great music (check), wonderful costuming (check), Bing Crosby (check), feel-good ending (check, check, mate). I may (or may not) have watched this movie three times last Christmas. It’s that good.

Music:

I grew up immersed in music; my mother loved to play the piano and we all sang regularly as a family (minus Dad, who can’t hold a tune to save his life). It’s not surprising, then, that at Christmas time our music-loving genes kicked in to overdrive. Aside from one particular Christmas smell (I’ll write about this later; smell is the sense believed to trigger the most vivid memories, and it’s definitely the case at Christmas for me), music is what brings back childhood Christmases most clearly.

First off: The Sounds of Christmas by Julie Andrews. Some of the songs are unconventional, and I likely wouldn’t enjoy this album if I hadn’t heard it every year at Christmas (on repeat) in my house growing up, but this signals “Christmas is here” whenever I listen to it for the first time each year.

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Another family favourite: The Living Strings and Living Voices White Christmas (link to full album on YouTube). My favourite song from this album is Buon Natale (Merry Christmas to You) – I’ve never heard it anywhere else.

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As a quick aside – my new favourite album (much to my husband’s chagrin): Michael Buble Christmas (link to full album on YouTube)

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The White Christmas duet with Shania Twain – I cannot get this out of my head.

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And just have to throw this one in to the mix too (also a “newer” favourite): Sarah McLachlan Wintersong

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Food:

And finally, what Christmas celebration is complete without “eat, drink, and be merry?” So many dishes stand out as classic family recipes (I’ll write about a few food traditions another day), but two it-just-wouldn’t-be-Christmas-without-them:

Homemade Nuts and Bolts

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My recipe:

2 cups Cheerios

2 cups Life

2 cups Shreddies

1 cup peanuts

1 cup pretzels

1/3 cup margarine or butter (melted)

2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce

1 teaspoon seasoning salt

3 teaspoons garlic powder

Mix (melted) margarine with W. Sauce and powdered ingredients. Pour over cereal, nuts, and pretzels and stir until coated. Bake at 300 degrees for about 20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes. Be careful it doesn’t burn. I usually add some extra seasoning because I love garlic.

This freezes really well, and actually tastes better after it’s had a chance to sit for a while.

Cinnamon Coffee Cake

We have this every Christmas morning for breakfast. So. good. In our house, it’s called Cinnamon Coffee Cake, but I think most people recognize this as monkey bread. Whatever you call it…if you haven’t tried this before…what are you still doing reading this. Make it!

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My recipe:

Biscuit dough:

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup shortening

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 egg

3/4 cup milk

Mix shortening with dry ingredients using a pastry cutter. Whisk an egg in a measuring cup, and fill with milk to the 1 cup mark (so about 3/4 cup milk). Add wet ingredients to dry and mix until moist.

Coating:

3 teaspoons cinnamon

1 cup white sugar

Take tablespoon-sized globs of biscuit dough and roll in sugar. Drop into a greased bundt pan (don’t pack these in tightly; just drop in so they’re spaced relatively evenly).

This can be refrigerated overnight.

Melt:

1/2 cup margarine  or butter

1 cup brown sugar

Over medium-high heat melt margarine and sugar. When bubbling and sugar is fully dissolved, pour over the biscuits in bundt pan.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. This is best served fresh!

What are your “Christmas-is-here” triggers? Any favourite holiday movies, albums, or deletable treats?

Gratitude

Technically, the season of Thanksgiving has already come and gone up North. For any American readers currently in the throes of turkey dinners, football games and pumpkin pie, we Canadians dare to be different and celebrate Thanksgiving in October. Cuz’ we’re rebels like that (in the best possible way).

But the season of gratitude – well that’s something that should be perpetuated the whole year. Cliche, I know, and easier said than done, but I’ve thought about this principle more in the last few months after reading One Thousand Gifts – a challenge to recognize each and every experience as a gift from the Lord. If the first sin was a result of ingratitude, then the first joy must have been gratitude. Our model, then, is Christ Himself who in the remaining (agonizing) hours before His death, chose to give thanks (Luke 22:19).

It’s easy to give thanks for the (seemingly) large things in life – the spouse, the child, the family, the home, the country. Those all, of course, warrant praise and thanksgiving. We forget about those large things, take them for granted; so too with the “smaller” blessings, seemingly menial in some grand scheme, that are so easily brushed aside in the monotony and chaos of laundry and ballet practice and root canals? Harder still, to give thanks in the harsh, ugly times – when tendrils of cancer and divorce and death seem to squeeze out every last ounce of joy and thanksgiving.

I think the only way one can prepare for these latter moments – the hardest in which to find thanks in our hearts – is to strive for thanksgiving continually. I’ll get off my soap box now and stand ashamed in the corner. See, aside from being a pessimist (Exhibit A: blog title) which is bad enough, I also tend to be am a hard-core complainer. Ask my friends or worse yet, ask my long-suffering husband. Contentment is not one of my strong suits.

But in this “season” of thanksgiving, I thought I’d jot down some of my joy moments lately:

1. Cozy socks and crisp air – warmth and refreshing and glorious open Maritime skies all melded into one

2. New books – the freedom and opportunity to read and the blessing of literacy

3. Husband-laughs – his humor that permeates my every day…and how he’ll do anything for just one chuckle

4. Seeing home in the distance – the relief of comfort and security just ahead

5. Toddler hands – manipulating tiny books (praise for opposable thumbs), covered in food (she is nourished), clutching mine (she needs security, I need to love)

6. Unexpected (snail OR e-mail) correspondence – connection with friends and family

7. The sound of silence – peace in my country and baby must be sleeping

8. Art work – beauty for the eyes and the talent bestowed to men

9. Date nights – connection with my best friend and how we always end up talking about sweet Abby, because she is such joy

10. Homemade sushi – eclectic flavours (I can taste!) and teamwork (it’s labour intensive)

11. Warm laundry – we have clothes that need cleaning and machines and water and detergent

12. Beating a deadline – time to do extra

13. Polka dots and rain boots – the little things that make me smile…and puddles for jumping (extra points for me, because my rain boots have polka dots)

14. My wedding band – for what it represents…and how I still get giddy just looking at it over three years later

15. Warm tea – the sipping and sitting and comfort (and my beloved mug)

16. Phone chats with Mom – how she listens to everything…and remember all those “small” details

17. A full schedule – work and friends and health to do it all

18. Discovering shadows – the simple pleasures of life and the wonder of a child learning and developing in front of your eyes. Miraculous.

19. Crunchy leaves – the shift of seasons, a time of recharge for the world; dark nights and cozy evenings ahead; Abby loves the noise

20. This breath – because without it, I could not give thanks for anything.

What are you thankful for today? Big or small?

Trick or Treat: 2012

I wasn’t over optimistic about Halloween this year: the forecast was less than favourable, we had some tight scheduling to work around, and Abby is only 19 months. But, for being extremely low-key, it was really quite enjoyable!

Last fall I snagged a frog costume from a thrift shop bin; I think it rang in at about $2. Not bad, especially since it has lots of wiggle room and she can likely use it for dress up in the years to come. That was the extent of my expenditure for her costume – we used the green fleece that goes with her snow-suit and some brown pants to complete the costume.  I couldn’t really justify buying green pants that she’d likely never wear again, although John tells me frog legs are more yellow…ditto on yellow pants, so brown it was! She didn’t seem to distraught over her less-than-accurate portrayal of an amphibian.  She also toted around a cute little bucket from Dollarama…she was so proud carrying around her little treat-holding receptacle. She’d even hold it out when we approached a door, eager to bear the weight of some more chocolate treats.

We went to about 8 places – all folks we knew and thought might be interested in seeing Abby. We also made a detour to our local Farmer’s Market and picked up a few delicacies for Mommy and Daddy (although Abby was quite smitten with the free brownie sample; after she finished her bite she said “I want more” – can’t argue with that honesty).

Without further ado. A few pictures of our sweet little froggie.

Hippo came along for the first few minutes, but once the clink of chocolate-against-metal rang through her ears, hippo was discarded for more edible companionship.

Our little hoarder.

She insisted on carrying around our bowl of candy (this was before we ended up handing out most of our stash…we had high hopes of eating Butterfingers for weeks, but between trick-or-treaters, and our own lack of willpower, they’re pretty much all gone), eventually taking it into her room while we prepared for bed…

…she even clutched a few candies all the way to her change table…I did draw the limit at taking any in to bed!