CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN — DECEMBER 3

Add a little spice to your holiday celebrations with gingersnaps.  And if you really want to experience a holiday treat, order a tin of crisp, spicy gingersnaps from The Center, a private not-for-profit agency serving persons with developmental and intellectual disabilities (Houston readers can purchase these at the Eastside Farmers Market).  The sale of the gingersnaps began as a volunteer effort led by Alicia Lee, whose son and nephew were residents at The Center’s Willow River Farms.  According to the website, the request for gingersnaps came from Barbara Bush, and Ms. Lee set about testing recipes for months in her quest for a crisp, crunchy, spicy cookie.  She found that one of the secrets was to have fresh and strong spices.  A spice company in Wisconsin had just what she was looking for, and after many more test batches, they sent a sample to Barbara Bush, who loved them, and the rest is gingersnap history.  Each gold tin is decorated with a hand-pressed and gilded ornament, made by one of the Center’s clients.

If you’d like to make your own gingersnaps or ginger cookies, there are a million recipes out there.  My personal favorite recipe is this one, and I bake tons of them every year.

The Center also has a traditional fruitcake that we adore.  It is loaded with red cherries, pecans, dates, walnuts, and coconut, and is more of a confection than a cake.  They are not kidding when they say that this is “the best you have ever tasted! EVER!”  (At the suggestion of one of The Center’s volunteers, we now freeze one of these fruitcakes every year to enjoy as a special treat in the summer months.)

fruitcakesAlthough the gingersnaps are wonderful all by themselves, they are even better served with Amazing Pumpkin Dip.  We discovered this years ago at a small grocery store that had samples out of various products you could order for the holidays, including pies, cookies, and turkeys.  They called it Amazing Pumpkin Dip and had copies of the recipe printed for anyone who wanted one.  What was truly amazing was that we were not asked to leave, because my young son ate at least half of the bowl of dip while I was shopping.  (He tended to view free samples as his own personal buffet.)

If you need to bring a dish to a holiday party, or are looking for something to serve at one of your own, gingersnaps and pumpkin dip are a crowd-pleaser.  You can use any brand of pumpkin butter, but my favorite is McCutcheon’s:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

AMAZING PUMPKIN DIP
Print
Recipe type: Appetizers, Snacks, Desserts
Author:
Ingredients
  • 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 10 ounces pumpkin butter
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 8-ounce container frozen whipped topping, thawed
  • Gingersnaps, for serving
Instructions
  1. Place cream cheese in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth and creamy. Add pumpkin butter, sugar, and vanilla, and beat until well-blended. Gently fold in whipped topping. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Serve with gingersnaps for dipping.

IMG_5431

The winner of the paperwhite bulbs giveaway, selected randomly using random.org, is Angela from Seasonal and Savory.  Angela — send me your address and I will get these off to you ASAP, and hopefully, you will have beautiful, fragrant blooms by Christmas.  Thanks to all who participated — watch for more giveaways this month.

 

 

NORA’S GRANOLA

There’s a young lady I used to work with, who holds a special place in our family’s hearts.  In addition to being a friend and coworker, she also would happily house-sit our dogs (and in later years, sometimes our children), and love them almost as much as we did.  We were able to take an occasional vacation knowing that our pets and children were in good hands.  We’ve both moved on to different (and better) jobs, but still stay in touch.

She wrote to me last month to let me know that her mother, Nora, had lost her battle with colon cancer at the age of 74.  Her obituary mentioned her love of gardening and antiques, and that her entire life’s purpose was serving Christ and others.  When I saw Nora’s photo, I was struck by the resemblance my friend bore to her beloved Mom — the same big eyes and pretty smile.

Nora

What my friend didn’t know, is that I had actually had a conversation with Nora a while back.  One day, completely out of the blue, she emailed me at work.  She was worried about her daughter in that irrational way that only moms are.  She wanted to feel me out and ask me to kind of keep an eye on her daughter, since she couldn’t be there with her.  I told her how well-liked her daughter was, as evidenced by how the firm had created a position for her at a time when they were letting others go.  I told her she looked happy and healthy and that she should take great pride in what a lovely young woman she was.  We chatted online a little longer, and satisfied, she was ready to sign off.  But you didn’t really think I was going to let Nora off the hook that easily did you?  I told her in closing — “By the way, if my mother had contacted one of my coworkers, I would have KILLED her!  BUT — having now walked in parent shoes, I completely understand,” and assured her that I would keep her secret.  And I did.  I only told my friend about our conversation after Nora passed away.

I asked my friend if Nora had a recipe that she might like to share.  She responded with Nora’s recipe for Granola, a family favorite:

recipe

If only our parents knew how much those stained, hand-written 3 x 5 recipe cards would mean to us some day.  I treasure the recipes in my Mom’s hand.  I type my recipes now, but perhaps I should make an effort to annotate them by hand, so that they will reflect something of my personality and being for my children to treasure down the road.

I was intrigued by the granola recipe.  I hadn’t previously seen one calling for skim milk, wheat germ, and soy flour (I think you could probably substitute whatever kind of flour you have on hand, if you don’t have soy flour).  Well, according to the Adelle Davis Foundation, Adelle Davis “invented” granola in the 1940s, and it was popularized by the hippie movement in the 1960s.  Sure enough, the recipe for Adelle Davis’s Grandaddy of Granolas calls for powdered milk, soy flour, and wheat germ, along with the oats, honey, and oil that are also in Nora’s recipe.

My first attempt at the recipe yielded a very dry granola.  I checked with my friend, and she said Nora’s varied from batch to batch, but was usually stickier and clumpier, so I added an additional 2 tablespoons of oil and 1/4 cup of honey to the mixture and put it back in the oven for 15 minutes or so, and it came out really delicious, like can’t-stop-eating delicious.  For optional mix-ins I used 1/4 cup sunflower seeds, 1/4 cup sesame seeds, 1/2 cup chopped red walnuts, 1/2 cup chopped pecans, and 1/2 cup chopped dried apples.

In loving memory of Nora, beloved mother and friend, may she rest in peace.

NORA'S GRANOLA
Print
Recipe type: Snacks
Author:
Ingredients
  • ⅓ cup oil (I used canola oil) (plus up to 2 tablespoons, if too dry)
  • ½ cup honey (plus up to ¼ cup, if too dry)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 cups oats (I used Quaker old-fashioned oats)
  • 1 cup wheat germ
  • 1 cup coconut (I used flaked unsweetened coconut)
  • 1-2 tablespoons cinnamon (I used 1-1/2 tablespoons)
  • ¼ cup powdered nonfat milk
  • 3 tablespoons soy flour
  • Optional add-ins
  • Nuts (cashews, peanuts, almonds, pecans)
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Raisins
  • Apple bits
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. (I found 300 degrees worked better)
  2. Place oil, honey, and vanilla in a small saucepan, and heat over medium heat, stirring until combined.
  3. Place remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Pour honey mixture over and stir until combined and all ingredients are sticky. Transfer to a long shallow baking pan, and bake for 30 minutes (I baked my batch for 45 minutes), stirring every 10 minutes, until granola is toasted and fragrant. Allow to cool, then store in airtight container.

IMG_5362 Mix together dry ingredients

IMG_5363

MIx in warm honey mixture

IMG_5364

Toasted to “I-can’t-stop-eating” perfection

IMG_5369

In loving memory of Nora and in honor of her precious daughter Jenni