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Archive for December, 2011

The Christmas tree glimmers with joy and cheer,
and colorful stockings hang by very near.

The pantry’s filled with an indulgent load,
’cause the kids are home and in a snacking mode.

Snippets of red ribbon cover the floor,
but the greatest gifts given are those to the poor.

Now is the time to give thanks and reflect,
and be grateful for those you love and respect.

So spread peace and joy of which angels sing,
celebrate the meaning that true Christmas gifts bring!

Linnell Chang

#1 – It’s Not Too Late!
If you haven’t had time to mail off holiday greetings, it’s not too late. E-greetings don’t take a lot of time and have many benefits: they do not create landfill waste; they normally cost next-to-nothing; their delivery is almost instantaneous; they do not require postage; and as an added perk – you often receive a quick reply from your friends and loved ones! Just write your sentiments in a word document and press send – that’s all. If you include photos in your document, which can make the file too large for some emails, just convert it to a PDF before you send it. Words from the heart need no fancy trappings!

#2 – ‘Tis the Season to Be Careful With Fido and Kitty
Don’t let holiday gifts or treats send the four-legged members of your family to the emergency veterinary hospital. Chocolate, alcohol, macadamia nuts, and raisins are common ingredients found in holiday treats, but they are toxic to dogs and cats. Refresh your memory on potential food dangers to your pets by rereading my post, What Not to Feed Your Pet and make sure not to leave any of these items lying around!

#3 – Food Safety
After reviewing food safety for your pets, don’t neglect commonsense food safety tips for you and your family. When in doubt or for a quick seasonal review, go to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service Fact Sheets.

#4 – Winter Wonderland
Winter creates a wonderland of beauty. As soon as I saw these photographs of snowflakes, I knew I had to share them. The natural beauty and incredible intricacy of these crystalline formations highlight the amazing artistry of Mother Nature.

#5 – Peace
If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.
Lao Tzu

May your holidays be filled with peace and joy!

Note: Inspirational photo made by using one of my own photos and iPiccy.

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Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without Christmas cookies. After all, how would Santa maintain his energy during his night-long trip, if no one left out a plate of cookies for him? When my daughter and her friends were looking for something to do the other day, I suggested they bake Christmas cookies. Narrowing down which Christmas cookie to bake was easy for my daughter. The recipe for Yugoslavian Christmas Cookies, a holiday family favorite of ours, is one of the first recipes I received from my mother-in-law after I first got married. No, her family did not originate from Yugoslavia and no, I don’t know the history behind this beloved recipe. I do know, however, that the combination of the buttery cake/cookie crust, slathered with red currant jelly, and topped with a delicate lemony-nutty-meringue is worth savoring. Some recipes were meant to be kept in the family, but others, like this one, beg to be shared! Happy Holidays!

Yugoslavian Christmas Cookies
Adapted from a family recipe

Bottom Layer Ingredients:
1/2 pound butter (2 sticks), room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon salt
2½ cup flour, sifted

Middle Layer Ingredient:
1 cup blackberry or currant jelly, stirred

Top layer Ingredients:
4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup ground walnuts
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Cream butter and 1/2 cup sugar thoroughly. Add egg yolk and salt.
3. Sift flour and stir into butter mixture. Pat dough into a 9-inch by 13-inch pan.
4. Beat egg whites until stiff. Gradually add 1 cup sugar. Continue beating until egg whites are a meringue consistency.
5. Fold in ground walnuts and lemon extract. Set aside.
6. Spread slightly whipped jelly on dough crust and swirl meringue over the jelly layer.
7. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts.
8. Bake for 40 minutes.

Makes 3 dozen squares.

Linnell’s Notes:
1. Please note there are two ingredient entries each for sugar and for nuts. I have italicized the measurements in the recipe text to avoid any confusion.

2. After baking, these cookies must be allowed to completely cool in the pan. They are much easier to cut once cooled, since the jelly will not be as “oozy.”

3. When cutting these cookies, remember that the meringue layer is fragile. The meringue will crack, but that’s okay. It’s part of the charm of these cookies!

4. Since they are a little messy to serve and eat, I always serve these cookies in muffin/cupcake papers. See photo.

Enjoy!

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The holidays are right around the corner: Hanukkah begins on the 21st, Christmas, of course, is on the 25th, and Kwanzaa is on the 26th. There’s still so much to do, so many people to see and so many ways to help others. Check out the links on today’s Friday’s Fresh Five! – help and inspiration is just a click away!

#1 – Charities
Giving to others during this holiday season is a kind and generous action, but be sure to check out the charities before you donate. If you want to check the legitimacy of a charity, go to the Better Business Bureau’s charity page or go to the nonprofit American Institute of Philanthropy. Although it puts a damper on the spirit of giving, it’s wise to do your homework before you give.

#2 – Life Is a Gift
Feeling like you need to refocus or regain perspective on your life? Here’s a brief video that will give you a boost.

#3 – WHOLE FOODS to the Rescue!
WHOLE FOODS has a page on its website that is devoted to gifts from the kitchen. You’ll find recipes for Apple Almond Gingerbread, Hot Chocolate Buttons, Sweet and Smokey Popcorn and Nut Mix, Sweet Potato Apple Dog Treats, and a WHOLE lot more. Another nice touch is that WHOLE FOODS also provides a link to a printable gift tag for each recipe!

#4 – Oh, Christmas Tree
Is “creativity the mother of invention” or is “necessity the mother of invention”? I think either saying fits the bill in this story about a frugal town in Lithuania. City officials asked an artist to help them with their holiday decorating. Appreciating the shortage of city funds, the artist created a huge 13-meter tall Christmas tree constructed from some 40,000 recycled bottles and zip ties! Lit from inside at night, it is a beautiful sight to behold and a wonderful testament to the creative spirit.

#5 – My Wish for You
“This is my wish for you: peace of mind, prosperity through the year, happiness that multiplies, health for you and yours, fun around every corner, energy to chase your dreams, joy to fill your holidays!”
– D.M. Dellinger

Have a wonderful weekend!

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Call it decorating on the cheap or call it creative decorating, but I call it using your imagination! Holiday decorating doesn’t need to be expensive, if you shop in the right stores and think outside of the box. Two years ago I wrote “Tablecloths Masquerading as Tree Skirts” where I described how to make inexpensive Christmas tree skirts from round table cloths. This year, I’m sharing how to decorate chandeliers with falling snowflakes. Being fortunate to have a double-high entryway and a chandelier with “arms,” like the one in this photograph, I create a little bit of sparkling winter wonder in my home every holiday season.

To create this effect, you will need: monofilament or fishing line, thin wire ornament hooks, plastic “crystal” ornaments, and a pair of scissors. Look for sets of plastic snowflake ornaments at stores like Marshalls, Ross, T.J. Maxx, HomeGoods, etc. The number of snowflakes you buy will depend on how many “arms” your chandelier has and the type of look you want to achieve.

Cut the monofilament into varying lengths. Bend the bottoms of the ornament hooks to form loops. Tie one end of a strand of monofilament to the small loop with a secure knot. Tie the other end of the monolfilament to the loop on the snowflake ornament. Cut off any excess filament extending beyond the knots.

I am lucky because I can reach my chandelier from my staircase, but depending on the height and location of your chandelier, you may need a ladder to hang your snowflakes. Hook the large ends of the ornament hooks over the “arms” of your chandelier, alternating the lengths of filament to achieve a cascading affect.

If you don’t have the vertical height, you can still accomplish the effect of falling snowflakes on a smaller scale, by decorating an “armed” dining room chandelier. After purchasing Swarovski crystal snowflake pendants online (pre-drilled with holes) and cutting varying lengths of monofilament, I securely tied one end of a strand of filament through the hole in each of the pendants. Because the monofilament would be seen up-close, I strung each filament with clear glass beads. I then tied each strung filament to a small silver jump ring. At this point a short piece of clear, elastic, beading thread (found in craft stores or bead shops) was threaded through the jump ring and knotted to create a small loop. A short piece of monofilament would work, too, but would be slightly more difficult to slip over the chandelier ends and would be less forgiving if the loop was not the correct size. I’ve found that the elastic loops slip very easily over the outer scrolls on the chandelier. For the interior arms of the chandelier, I threaded short lengths of monofilament through the jump rings and then tied them to the “arms.” The process sounds very complicated, but is plainly depicted in the photos.

The effect of falling snowflakes is difficult to photograph, but in person they are lovely to look at!

You are only limited by your imagination. Dangling snowflakes in window frames create a dazzling look, too. Again cut varying lengths of monofilament and tie one end of the filament to a snowflake. This time you will tie the other end of the filament to a clear push-pin or white thumbtack. Then push or tack all the strands into the top of a wood-framed window and let them sparkle in the sunlight!

Have fun in your newly-created winter wonderland!

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Rush, rush, hurry, hurry. Got to get here, got to get there. Life can be frenetically-crazy at times, but every now and then, some little “thing” reminds us to slow down and enjoy life. Driving on the freeway the other day, I felt hurried and stressed. It didn’t help that a handful of crazies were out there with me and my husband. Darting to and fro, changing lanes, and speeding seemed to be the order of the day. Then a trio of hot air balloons calmly floated into view. Watching them slowly and gracefully maneuver across the sky, I thought to myself, “Look at how blue and clear the sky is today.” And as the balloons floated out of view, so did my stress.

#1 – Emotional Tools
My dad is always a little sad during this time of the year. He left his home and mother in China when he was just a little boy. Even though he loves this country and the life he’s made here, the holiday season, with its celebrations of family and home, invariably reopens a hole in his heart. Good or bad, the holidays bring to surface emotions for many people. If you need a little emotional boost, read 10 Instant Emotional Fitness Tools. These tips are not going to fill that hole in your heart, but it may put some pep back in your step.

#2 – What Are We Eating?
The holiday season brings with it many delights and indulgences. With that in mind, check out this graph from Visual Economics that depicts what the average American consumes in a year. Did you eat your 192.3 pounds of flour and cereals or your 110 pounds of red meat this year? This may make you reconsider having seconds on anything!

#3 – Creative Architecture
This topic may sound boring to some of you, but wait to cast judgment until you look at this series of images titled, 50 Most Strange and Unusual Buildings Around the World. Even though not all of the titles are correct, you’ll still appreciate the design and architecture of these uniquely-shaped buildings. After viewing them, I wanted to get out my passport and travel around the world!

#4 – DIY Decorating with Epsom Salt
Who would have thought that Epsom salt could be used for holiday decorating? Here are two cute ideas from The Inspired Room. Check out the site for photos of these projects.

1. For a fresh “snow” effect, fill mason jars with about one to two inches of Epsom salt and place votive candles in the center. For the prettiest effect, cluster several jars together or line them up along a railing or on a table.

2. To make “crystallized” candles, paint your candle with Mod Podge and roll them in Epsom salt. I can’t wait to try this DIY decorating tip!

#5 – Going Out, Going In
“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
John Muir

Have a great weekend!

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Got kids? Need appetizers? Want football munchies other than Doritos? Whether you need to bring an appetizer to a holiday affair or you’re having a crowd over for football bowl games or you’ve just got lots of kids hanging around the house, you’ll want to whip up batches of these popular, bite-sized, Pepperoni Pizza Puffs and serve them with a flavorful, homemade, pizza sauce. Stir, bake, dip and eat – this make-ahead dish makes entertaining so deliciously easy!

Pepperoni Pizza Puffs
Adapted from a recipe by Rachael Ray

Ingredients:
3/4 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup whole milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 ounces (about 1 cup) mozzarella cheese, shredded
4 ounces pepperoni (about 1 cup), cut into small cubes
2 tablespoons finely slivered fresh basil
1/2 cup store-bought or homemade pizza sauce (recipe below)

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 24-cup mini-muffin pan. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder; whisk in the milk and egg. Stir in the mozzarella and pepperoni; let stand for 10 minutes.

2. Stir the batter and divide among the mini-muffin cups. Bake until puffed and golden, 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven.

3. Sprinkle the puffs with 1 tablespoon of basil.

4. Microwave the pizza sauce (recipe below) until warmed through, pour into a serving bowl, sprinkle remaining basil on top for garnish, and serve with the puffs.

5. Do ahead note: Freeze the baked puffs in a single layer on a baking sheet, then transfer to a freezer bag. To reheat, bake the frozen puffs on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes.

Serves 4.

Exquisite Pizza Sauce
Adapted from a recipe by Angie Gorkoff

Ingredients:
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
6 fluid ounces of warm water
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon anchovy paste (optional)
3/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
Salt to taste

Directions:
1. In a small bowl, combine the tomato paste, water, Parmesan cheese, garlic, honey, anchovy paste, onion powder, oregano, marjoram, basil, ground black pepper, cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes and mix together, breaking up any clumps of Parmesan cheese. Add salt as needed.*

2. Sauce should sit for 30 minutes to blend flavors. At this point you would normally spread the sauce on pizza dough, but to use it as a dip for the Pepperoni Pizza Puffs, just pour some of the sauce in a serving bowl.

Serves 4 (pizzas), but serves more when used as a dip.

Linnell’s Notes:
1. I purchased sliced pepperoni and stacked them into short stacks. I sliced each stack into strips and then turned the stacks around to slice the strips into 1/4- to 1/2-inch squares.

2. A word about the anchovy paste: I didn’t have anchovy paste, but I did have a can of anchovies. I threw four to five fillets into my mini-food processor and gave them a whirl until a paste formed. Even if you don’t care for anchovies, don’t leave them out of this recipe! You don’t taste them in the sauce, but they do lend some depth to the flavor.

3. *The sauce should sit for a while to allow the flavors to meld before you decide to add additional salt. Not much salt needs to be added because of the saltiness of the anchovies.

4. The pizza puff recipe can easily be adapted. If you would like to substitute your favorite pizza ingredients for the pepperoni, try to keep the total quantity of add-ins to 3/4 cup, so that the batter-to-ingredient-ratio stays the same as in the original recipe. Next time I make pizza puffs, I’m going to add cooked Italian turkey sausage and some sliced olives.

5. Tastes much better hot, but that’s probably not an issue since they disappear so quickly!

Enjoy!

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Are you so busy making lists and checking them twice that you can’t fully enjoy the holidays? With so much to do and so little time, it’s very easy to turn into a holiday robot. Let’s all try to make more time to get out and be with the people we care about and not let time-hoggers, such as shopping and decorating, get in our way. Let’s make it the season where less is more!

#1 – Holiday Shopping Made Easier
With the help of your smartphone and some great apps, you can make your holiday shopping easier and have more time to spend with your friends. Check out this Yahoo! News review of apps and see which ones will make your life easier. Some of them are even free!

#2 – Words That Rhyme
“Twas the night before Christmas and all through our house, not a person was snoring, not even my spouse . . . .”  Whether you’re penning your own words to a classic Christmas jingle for your holiday newsletter or writing a love poem for Valentine’s Day, you’ll be pleased to know that there’s a site that can help you rhyme your words. Just type your text into the box, option-click on a specific word, and Write Rhymes will provide you with a list of rhyming words. How easy-peasey is that?!

#3 – Free Holiday Printables
Another year, another link to free holiday printables. With these downloadable printables, anything goes! Save time and shopping trips by printing up gift tags, cards, decorative paper, gift boxes, place cards, jar labels, wish lists, etc., all from the comfort of your home.

Check out these sites:
Sprik Space
Two Twenty One
Living Locurto
Mint Printables
Crafty Carnival
All Things Christmas
Noella Designs

#4 – Words to Live By
The holiday season provides many opportunities to eat sweet and delicious foods, but take time to ingest some food for thought, too. Watch this one-minute video of the Holstee Manifesto:

#5 – Sense of Self
“Figure out who you are separate from your family, and the man or woman you’re in a relationship with. Find who you are in this world and what you need to feel good alone. I think that’s the most important thing in life. Find a sense of self because with that, you can do anything else.” Angelina Jolie

Enjoy your weekend!

Note: Inspirational photo was made by using one of my own photos and iPiccy.

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