Winter Sunset

Winter Sunset

Friday, December 30, 2011

Snacking Your Way To Midnight

The clock is tick-tick-ticking toward the New Year and thoughts of sugarplums are replaced with diet resolutions.

If you're looking to start your quest for health before the clock strikes midnight on December 31, here's a snack mix alternative to try for your New Year's Eve party.

Jill got the recipe at work and then made a batch herself. It's a lower-calorie version of a snack mix, but it's still sweet and crunchy. (Note that the serving size is 1/2 cup. Serving size always gets us into trouble, doesn't it?)

Enjoy your New Year's Eve celebration! We'll see if I make it to midnight. I wouldn't bet on it.

Banana Cinnamon Snack Mix
Makes about 14 (1/2 cup servings)
2 cups Banana Nut Cheerios Cereal
1 cup Cinnamon Chex Cereal
1 cup fat-free small pretzel twists
1/2 cup sunflower seeds or nuts
1 egg white
1 tbsp. orange juice concentrate
1/3 cup Splenda or sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
4 cups popped popcorn
1 cup crispy apple chips, broken into pieces
1 cup craisins

Heat oven to 300 degrees. Spray a large roasting pan with cooking spray. In a large bowl, mix cereal, pretzels and seeds or nuts. Set aside. In medium bowl, beat egg white, orange juice concentrate, sweetener and cinnamon with wire whisk until well blended. Pour over cereal mixture, stirring until evenly coated. Stir in popcorn. Spread in pan.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until light brown and crisp. Remove from oven. Stir in apple chips and craisins. Cool completely. Store in airtight container.

(Jill used banana chips rather than apple chips because that's what she found.)

***

But ... if you want to get one more dose of butter and sugar before committing to the new diet regime, try this Toffee Snack Mix for your New Year's snack table.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Stumped!

I'm stumped. And I think I may need professional help.

Well, at least my yard might need some help from the experts.

Randy and Jake took out some a tree and overgrown bushes from the side yard this week. Last fall, Randy campaigned to plant some new trees. I told him I thought we should clean up what we had first.

The problem? Neither of us really knows what we're doing in this department. (That will come as no surprise to anyone who has visited us.)

We had to say goodbye to several 125-year-old pine trees at our farmstead last year because of pine wilt. We need to replace them, but should we choose blue spruce (like the one Jill & Randy planted in 1987 seen in the background)? Or should we choose deciduous trees?

With this latest dismantling project, the old hackberry tree was growing into electrical lines and the evergreen bushes surrounding it hadn't been trimmed in years.

Unfortunately, the mess seems worse than when we started. The stumps are still there until we can borrow a front loader with more "umph." The ground has pockmarks left from the tractor tires and branch removal.

The good news? Randy didn't fall from the bucket loader or cut off any of his own appendages with the chainsaw while removing tree limbs. The electric line stayed up, so my power stayed on.

I'm not sure whether I was out there to watch the proceedings or to be right there to call 9-1-1 if he toppled from the bucket. Thankfully, nothing but the ground was harmed in this winter maintenance project. So I guess it's a success after all ... even if it doesn't look like it at the moment.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Rose By Any Other Name ...


Am I a Grammy?

Granny?

Grandma?

My kids called my father-in-law "Poppo" (long 'o') when they were little. I'm not sure how it started, but I know it stuck until they decided they'd outgrown it.

I've never held this important title before. So what does a modern grandmother do? She Googles it, of course. Google has an answer for everything.

And wouldn't you know it: I found a quiz to tell me what kind of Grandma I will likely be. Will I be an Oma or a Nana? Will I be Gram? A Gigi?

Drum roll please. And the test results reveal ...
You're a Grandmother!

You are a traditional, old-fashioned grandmother. You love cooking for your grandchildren and creating traditions with them. Your grandchildren will always feel warm and welcomed. You possess a lot of skills that may soon be forgotten, unless you share them with your grandchildren! Names such as Grandmother, Grandma, Grannie, Grammy and Nanny are good choices for you.

I'm sure my children are super surprised that I'm old-fashioned. (Wink. Wink.)

So ... what do your children call their grandparents? Or, if you have already reached Grandparent Land, what do your grandchildren call you? Did you choose the name? Or did they choose it for you?

I think I'll go by whatever name Smalls chooses. At this point, I'll probably respond even if she just grunts in my general direction.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Tapestry of Family

Blake & Braden

The twinkle in their eyes rivals the glow of the tree lights. They see wonder and delight in the smallest things.

It makes us look at things differently, too. A strawberry Jell-O stain on the carpet wasn't nearly as big a catastrophe as we watched Braden "help" his Grandma clean the carpet.

"More, more, more," he'd giggle.

"More, more, more" we adults thought, as the music of little children's giggles and chatter colored the room more abundantly than any lighted tree.

This was Braden's second Christmas, but with an August birthday, he wasn't all that interested last year. It was Neelly's first Christmas. (Both are my sister Lisa's grandchildren.)

Neelly, 8 months, sat in a high chair that had first brought her Great-Grandma Moore to the table to share meals at the family table 76 years before. The rabbit-themed high chair is one of those threads that hold the tapestry of family together from one generation to the next. Neelly is the fourth generation to use it, and it came from the side of the family for whom she is named.

Along with new little ones came new traditions. Instead of waiting until after supper for opening packages, we opened gifts mid-afternoon. Post naptime made for good moods all around.

But even with a growing family, there were empty spaces at the table this year. Jill & Eric decided to stick close to home, since their baby girl is due January 12.

For the first time since Madison was a baby back in 1994, one of my folks' seven grandchildren wasn't there to help blow out the candles and celebrate my Mom's Christmas Eve birthday.

Little people mean more challenges for the annual photo tradition. Did anyone get a shot with everyone looking the same way? Probably not.

Not having Jill and Eric there felt a little like putting together a jigsaw puzzle and then discovering that a couple of essential pieces were missing.

But life evolves. And we'll see Christmas through the eyes of yet another child next year. The tapestry of family will add another interwoven piece, another thread that will strengthen the fabric of family.

And that is a very good thing.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Leftovers

There is beauty in leftovers. The cook is tired. But there's still stuff in the fridge to make a good meal.

Well, this cook is tired. Anybody else? Even as a child, I remember feeling that letdown when the Christmas presents were unwrapped and the grandmas and grandpas went home. It doesn't have a thing to do with what was or wasn't under the Christmas tree.

Even though we still have one more Christmas celebration in our future, the gifts are wrapped. The holiday treats are finished. And the go-go-go chant in my head and heart have quieted a bit.

So I think I'll "chill" today (or chill as much as this Type A "do-er" can chill). Thankfully, I have a few appropriate "leftovers" from last week's winter storm.

See? There is beauty in leftovers.

December 21, 2011

Looking for a way to use your holiday leftovers today? Try this Pepperidge Farm Chicken (or turkey) Casserole.

And Brent has requested Plantation Turkey & Ham Casserole sometime while he is home for the holidays. It's another favorite and it uses up two different holiday leftover meats.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Come In & Sit a Spell

Santa Claus is a lucky guy. He gets an invitation to peek into living rooms all over the world. And he doesn't even have to knock.

(I brought this Santa home when we cleaned out my Grandma Leonard's house.
We had the same one at home, too.)

'Tis the season to glimpse holiday cheer through picture window frames. Christmas trees are lit. Ornaments dangle from branches like fancy earrings. Stockings are hung by the chimney with care.

On excursions to look at Christmas lights, we see little glimpses of family celebrations through curtains flung open and lights twinkling a welcome through the darkness. But wouldn't it be fun to see more than just the little tidbit captured in the picture window?

So, come on into my living room.

No, our stockings don't match. I made Randy & my stockings. The kids and their Grandma Marie made theirs, the ones with red and white stripes and Christmas trees. Eric has the snowman and this is the debut for Smalls' Santa stocking. It has a sonogram photo in the frame. Next year, it will be a real photo!

I like sitting in the living room with only the Christmas lights shining. If I take off my glasses, I get the starburst affect without any fancy photo manipulations. It's about the only time that poor vision is pretty.

Some people are white light kind of people. I'm a multi-colored girl myself. It goes with the eclectic mix of ornaments and decorations, things collected over a lifetime.

I know I wouldn't win any decorating awards. But the smattering of memories truly does "make the season bright" as The Christmas Song says.

My mother-in-law Marie stitched this little sampler that sits on my piano during the holidays. It's a good reminder when I get a little caught up in the quest for holiday perfection. Hmmm ... maybe that's not the most important thing, especially when it leads to frazzled nerves and aching back.

Marie was Mrs. Claus. Almost every year, she came up with a new Santa to share. Looking around the living room is like having a visit with her, even though it's been 15 years since she died.

Jill had her version of this old-fashioned Santa by the front door of her house. (Marie made the one by the fireplace in the stocking photo, too.) She didn't make the one below, though I got it at a Fritzemeier Christmas grab bag exchange long ago.

The Christmas tree ornaments are a mishmash, too. My folks gave each of the grandkids a new ornament each year from birth through high school. Jill's now hang on her own tree. Brent's are still scattered among the branches of our tree. Some of my ornaments tell the tell of trips we've taken, including new ones this year from Idaho, Yellowstone, South Carolina and Georgia.

My house doesn't look like the ones on HGTV. And that's OK. I'd rather have the memories than perfectly matched holiday finery.

There's a mix of the secular and the sacred.

Is it perfect? Nope. But it's ours.

So welcome to the celebration. And may your homes be filled with joy, laughter and peace this Christmas season and always! Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Hanging On By a Thread

As the sun rose to welcome the winter solstice yesterday, it looked as though it was decorating for Christmas.

Ornament ball carefully dangling from wire hanger. Check.
Icicles. Check.

Who needs a Christmas tree? (OK, I like my Christmas tree, but nature provided some lovely decorations without a day of unloading plastic tubs of holiday bling.)


If you want to see the sunshine, you have to weather the storm.
Frank Lane

We are thankful for the nearly 2 inches of moisture we received with Monday and Tuesday's winter storm. Most of ours came in the form of rain and sleet. The electricity stayed on. You can't beat the scenery. And it gave the 2012 wheat crop another boost.

Just before sunrise, the western sky was colored pink.

And then the sun on the eastern horizon added Christmas sparkle to everything. Ho, ho, ho!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The First Christmas

Mary's been on my mind this year. As our daughter entered the final month of her pregnancy during this Christmas season, I suppose the Christmas story has come alive for me in a new way.

Jill is in that clunky, can't-quite-get-comfortable-in-your-own-skin place of pregnancy. She's a little short of breath as the Little Miss pushes against her diaphragm, and a winter cold adds to the discomfort. It's almost as if the body that she's known all her life is no longer her own as it nurtures another life.

But think of Mary. This simple teenager from Nazareth likely had to face a community of naysayers. Human nature can't have been all that different back in Bible times. Even without lightning-fast reactions to Facebook or texts or tweets, don't you suppose she was the talk of Nazareth?

"Sure, you were visited by an angel."
"That's a likely story. That's what all little unwed mothers would like us to believe."
"Uh huh, right ... You, little Mary from Nazareth, will give birth to the Messiah."

Mary didn't live in a nice suburban home. She didn't have the best in prenatal care. She didn't have a baby shower or two to fill a beautifully-appointed nursery with the latest and greatest devices to ease her into the role of motherhood.

She rode a donkey on the way to give birth. She placed the King of the world in a manger.

Surely she was like other mothers, pondering her little one's future. This grandmother-to-be wonders if our little one will have her mother's beautiful blue eyes and her Daddy's easy-going disposition. Will she be a girly-girl or a tomboy? Who will she be? What will her future hold?

Did Mary truly understand what motherhood would bring? Do any of us? But, regardless of the cost, when the angel came to her, she said yes.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Luke 1:38 - New International Version

During this Christmas season, help me to listen. And then help me to say yes.

***

And speaking of the "first Christmas" ... Yes, I know it's a stretch! We had our first celebration of 2011 over the weekend. We gathered at Jill and Eric's home in Topeka, since our daughter isn't traveling very far away from that aforementioned, well-appointed hospital!

Randy's sister, Kathy, and her husband, Dave, came to spend Sunday afternoon.

Amanda and Emily patiently waited through our "grazing" session of appetizers before opening presents. (And Brent successfully avoided the camera.) We had an afternoon filled with memories and laughter.

The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree:
the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.

- Burton Hillis

***

This song has long been one of my favorites for Christmas. It tells Mary's story, and, in a way, the story of every young mother who awaits the birth of a special child.

I'm linked today to Tuesdays Unwrapped at Chatting at the Sky.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chocolate Coffee Toffee Snack Mix


I'm a cereal box reader from way back. Since my parents wouldn't let me bring my book to the breakfast table, I poured over the available reading material.

I still read the back of cereal boxes. And this time of year, I'm always looking to see what new recipes Chex has come up with in the General Mills test kitchens.

Other than having to stand all day, working in a test kitchen might be fun. OK, the backache I'd have at the end of the day would not be fun. But I would definitely volunteer to try the finished products, especially on days when coffee, toffee and chocolate were involved.

I made this mix and sold it at the UMW Bazaar last month. I may just have to make it again for Christmas.

I still make the traditional Chex Party Mix in the oven. But I do love the speedy microwave preparations those test kitchen wizards have come up with these days.

Enjoy!

Chocolate Coffee Toffee Chex Mix
4 cups Chocolate Chex cereal
2 cups Cinnamon Chex cereal
1 cup bite-sized pretzel twists
1 cup pecan halves
1/2 cup toffee bits
1 tbsp. instant coffee granules or crystals
1 tsp. hot water
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup butter
1 cup powdered sugar

In large bowl, mix cereals, pretzels and pecans. Sprinkle toffee bits on top of the cereal mixture.

In small microwavable bowl, stir coffee granules and water until coffee is dissolved. Add chocolate chips and butter. Microwave, uncovered, on High 1 1/2 minutes, stirring after 1 minute, until mixture is smooth. Pour over cereal mixture; stir gently until evenly coated. Pour into 2-gallon resalable food-storage plastic bag.

Add powdered sugar. Seal bag; shake gently until well coated. Spread on waxed paper or foil to cool. Store in airtight container.

***
I'm linked to the Farm Chick's kitchen today.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Shine Through Me

Stafford (KS) First United Methodist Church

Our church sanctuary has a stained glass ceiling. If you walk into the dark sanctuary, you might notice it. But it's not until the lights are on that you truly see the beauty.

I think people are like that, too. Until we have the Light, we can't truly shine.

Scott City United Methodist Church

Today, head on over to the Lovely Branches Ministries blog page and check out my December Food for Thought post. And, while you're there, check out my friend Theresa's story about a modern-day Christmas miracle, as well as read the other bloggers' offerings on the theme, "Shine."

St. Teresa's Catholic Church, Hutchinson, KS

Remember the Reason for the season.

We read those words on church signs. We pass them along on Facebook. But do we live it? On this Monday before Christmas, when the list is still long and the calendar days grow short, let them be more than words.

At Jill & Eric's church yesterday, a soloist sang this James Taylor song, "Some Children See Him." It was a beautiful reminder ...

Friday, December 16, 2011

You've Been Chopped ... (Creamed, Blended & Baked)

"You've been Chopped."

No, I'm not a Karate Kid fan. But I do like the food competition shows on the Food Network. Supposedly, the Food Network hopes to attract male viewers with shows based on competition.

But this female's favorite food shows also center around competition. I'll watch them battle on Cupcake Wars. Have a favorite dish? Let's see how it stacks up with a Bobby Flay Throwdown. Let the battle begin on Iron Chef. Who will keep their cool and avoid being Chopped?

I have my own version of Chopped, I suppose. If a recipe doesn't stack up, it gets Chopped. I tried some Cake Batter Blondies I found on another blog, but they won't be making another appearance on the County Line, though the marshmallow buttercream icing that went on them just might bear repeating.

But these Caramel Swirled Pretzel M & M Blondies made the cut (and made it onto some holiday cookie trays, too.)

If you - like me - are chopping, blending, creaming and mixing to get ready for Christmas celebrations, here's the recipe to try. Enjoy!

Caramel Swirled Pretzel M & M Blondies
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 1/2 cups flour
2 cups Pretzel M & Ms
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 package caramel bits
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9- by 13-inch pan with cooking spray. Set aside.

Cream butter and sugars together in mixing bowl. Add vanilla and eggs; mix well. Combine dry ingredients; on low, add to creamed mixture. Fold in pretzel M & Ms and chocolate chips.

In the prepared pan, press 2/3 of the batter into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 8-10 minutes until just beginning to set, but not golden brown. While the bottom is baking, put the caramel bits into a microwave-safe bowl, along with the milk. Microwave for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring every minute until melted.

Pour the melted caramels over the partially baked layer. Drop the remaining batter by spoonfuls over the caramel and spread as well as possible. Continue baking for 15 minutes or until golden brown and the caramel is bubbling.

Let cool completely before cutting into squares.

Note: The original recipe called for one 14-ounce bag of caramels, unwrapped. I like the convenience of the caramel bits, but if you can't find them, feel free to unwrap. It also called for coarse sea salt. I didn't have coarse sea salt. And I'm not a big believer in supposed "fancy" ingredients like that. Salt is salt is salt. Maybe the bigger granules make a difference, but by the time you mix it all up, I can't see that it would make a bit of difference. If you have coarse sea salt in your cabinet, go for it!

Modified from Cookies and Cups blog.

***

Need some other recipes to round out your cookie trays? These are tried and true from my kitchen to yours!

For Chewy Pumpkin Caramel Bars and Date Nut Balls, click here.


Or try Thumbprint Cookies.

Maybe Chocolate Toffee Delights will fill the baking bill.

Chocolate and coffee combine in these bars.


For more ideas, type "cookies" or "bar cookies" into the search engine at the top lefthand corner of Kim's County Line. Happy baking!