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Country Cousin

Christmas...



Hi Folks!

Well, folks, Winter isn’t quite here yet, but there sure has been one memorable dress rehearsal! Old Man Winter is set to arrive on Saturday, Dec. 21, so maybe we’d best brace ourselves.

By this time next week, Christmas will have come and gone, and the New Year will be upon us. Wherever does the time go?

LONGER DAYS ARE COMING

Starting on Dec. 21, days will begin getting longer instead of shorter. Ancient cultures celebrated that fact, and in some of them, witch doctors took advantage of their superior knowledge to trick their fellow tribesmen into believing that they could control the sun.

They would time ceremonies carefully, with information most likely passed along from father to son, so that on the longest night of the year they held a ceremony to keep daylight hours from getting shorter until they disappeared altogether.

Sure enough, right after that ceremony the sun began hanging around just a little longer each day. The prayers had been answered. Man had succeeded in controlling the sun!

COINCIDENCE...

Or Divine plan? How is it that Christmas, which celebrates the birth of the Son, is observed at nearly the same time as the Winter Solstice, which marks the rebirth of the sun?

It is true that early Christians established holidays at times to allow them to replace pagan festivals, but the play on words here couldn’t have entered into the decision. The English language was not developed until centuries after the date of Christmas was established.

An old, old Ukrainian carol called Schedryk is said to have the same melody as The Carol of the Bells, but different words. The word Schedryk means Generous One, which old legends say refers to the ancient Ukrainian god of generosity, called the Dazh Boh or the Giver God, which is the sun.

The Romans called Midwinter’s Day Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, which translates, Birthday of the Unconquered Sun. (Or should that be, the unconquered son?)

For a time the Egyptians also worshiped the Sun as the one true god.

Again, is this coincidence or divine plan?

Doesn’t it all seem to fit somehow?

Doesn’t it seem like maybe God enjoys a good play on words too?

CHRISTMAS LIGHTS

Christmas is almost here and most of us celebrate the festival of lights in our own way, by decorating our homes and businesses with lovely Christmas lights. Sadly, some folks will be taking their Christmas decorations down before New Year’s Day.

Please, for those of us who love looking at the lights and the decorations, at least leave your outdoor lights up for a while after Christmas, hopefully a long while.

Remember when we didn’t decorate until about the week before Christmas? Then we left the tree and everything else up until at least Little Christmas, the feast of Epiphany, which comes on Jan. 6, twelve days after Christmas. Epiphany, incidentally, commemorates the visit of the Three Wise Men to the Christ Child in Bethlehem, so it seems particularly appropriate to leave the tree and manger scene displays up until then.

Lack of light is a problem during winter here in the north, where darkness starts setting in about 4 p.m. The Christmas lights and trees sparkling through living room windows do so much to brighten the evenings, to make the drive home after work so much more cheerful.

Little sister thinks taking down the decorations later , at least well into January, would make the days until Spring seem at least a tiny bit shorter, and she’s quite right!

Once Christmas is done and the decorations are taken down, we’re left to face a long, dark, dreary spell with no excuse to decorate until Valentine’s Day.

Being a procrastinator, my decorations always stay up long into January, but I for one like to enjoy lights in other windows a bit longer as well.

Actually, once was still vacuuming up Christmas tree needles at Easter, but we won’t talk about that!

THANKS, DOROTHY

We’re blessed with a wonderful neighbor who decorates her whole yard beautifully for every holiday season. Those of us who live back in the woods don’t bother much with outdoor decorations, but we enjoy hers every time we drive in and out of our driveway. Other neighbors have said they too enjoy the fruits of her labor, and we all want her to know it.

Merry Christmas, Dorothy, and give our love to Joe!

SNAKE EYES

Just read that eyelashes help keep dirt out of our eyes and eyebrows were put there to keep perspiration from running into our eyes.

Strange!

Always thought we needed those trimmings to make our faces look better!

Incidentally, snakes don’t even have eyelids, poor things. They can’t close their eyes even when they’re asleep. They do have a protective layer of clear scales over their eyes though, so their eyes are protected, just not invisible.

ON THE SOAP BOX

DECORATING, MADISON STYLE


Kudos to Governor Scott Walker! He’s done it again! Am not speaking from personal knowledge, but have it from reliable sources that, in accord with his orders, there’s a manger scene set up near the Christmas Tree in the State Capitol in Madison, and no one is demonstrating against it.

Along with that manger scene are displayed Hanukkah candles, some other religious symbols, including a highly irreverent manger scene put there by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and a Festivus For the Restive Us pole for others unfortunate enough to believe in nothing.

Each of us who has faith gets to rejoice in the symbols of our faith, and those who believe in nothing get to make fun of us. Now, how could anyone demonstrate against that?

COOKIE TIPS

Those who are still baking cookies for this year, like we are, may appreciate these tips for better cookies:

1. Use real butter, unsalted, at room temperature. If you need to bring the butter to room temperature quickly, cut the prescribed amount into chunks and let it sit for half an hour while you assemble everything else.

2. Eggs should also be at room temperature. If they aren’t, put them into warm, not hot, water for about 15 minutes. You don’t want them cooked, just warmed up.

3. Take plenty of time beating together the butter and sugar and then the eggs, at least 10 minutes for the whole process.

4. Be stingy with the flour. Instead of dipping the cup into the flour bin, use a spoon to fill the cup lightly, then level it off with a knife. (There were a couple of reasons old recipes required sifting the flour and one of them was to make it light and fluffy. We’ll let you figure out the other ones, but remember that often flour was purchased from the miller only once or twice a year, and kept in cloth bags or even wooden barrels.) Add the flour carefully, and stop when the mixture feels right, even if you’ve used a tablespoon or so less than the recipe calls for.

5. After mixing the cookie dough, let it rest a few hours in the refrigerator, or better yet overnight. (For some reason, cookie dough handles better and and makes tastier cookies when it isn’t tired.)

6. Invest in an insulated cookie sheet so the cookies bake evenly.

7. If making cut out cookies, flour the work surface and rolling pin generously, and also flour the cookie cutters before using. Some folks recommend mixing flour and powdered sugar, and that works too.

8. Oven temperatures aren’t always accurate. Watch cookies closely and if they are browning too fast, cut back the setting by 25 degrees.

9. Sprinkle a few grains of sea salt on each cookie before baking or after frosting, especially on those with chocolate frosting. You won’t believe the zing!

10. And finally. Don’t forget to add the love! That makes everything taste better.

COOKIN’ TIME

Christmas is nearly here, and some of some of us are just now getting down to the serious cooking and baking. Other, more provident souls, have treats stored in the freezer and in cookie tins, ready to be taken out and enjoyed. Advice to those who never quite manage to achieve everything they set out to do (Yours Truly included): If you don’t mention it, no one else will ever know how much you didn’t get done. But they will notice and appreciate everything you did do. Relax, enjoy the holidays, and don’t be too hard on yourself!

SAVORY CHRISTMAS BEANS

Makes a pretty red and green cooked vegetable dish for the Christmas table.

2 1/4 pounds fresh green beans or two 16-ounce package

frozen whole, cut or French style green beans

3 slices bacon, diced

1 sweet red bell pepper, diced

1 medium onion, diced (1-1/4 cups)

3 cloves garlic, minced

4 teaspoons brown mustard

3/4 teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning or 1/2 teaspoon fresh

ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

Wash and trim fresh beans, if using. Cook, covered, in very large saucepan with a small amount of boiling water for 20 to 25 minutes or until crisp-tender. (Cook frozen beans according to package directions.) Drain beans; rinse with cold water and set aside. Meanwhile, cook bacon in skillet until crisp. Add pepper, onion and garlic and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes or until tender. Stir in mustard, and other seasonings, except salt. Cook about 30 seconds more, then add the beans and let simmer a bit. Taste to see if the salt is needed. (I sometimes like teaspoon or so of sugar.) Recipe makes 12 side-dish servings. Very nice to make ahead because these beans are good either hot or at room temperature.

CANDY CANE BRITTLE

1 pound bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped

1 cup crushed candy canes, divided

1/2 cup chocolate wafer cookies, lightly crushed

1 ounce white chocolate, melted

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside. Melt the bittersweet chocolate in a double boiler and stir in half of the crushed candy canes and the wafer cookies. Spread the chocolate mixture on the lined baking sheet until it is mostly even. Sprinkle the rest of the candy canes on top and drizzle with the melted white chocolate. Slide the bark into the refrigerator and chill for one hour. Remove and break into pieces!

MOCHA LIQUEUR TRUFFLES

Extra easy, and extra good! For a non-alcoholic version, use 5 tablespoons hot water and 3 teaspoons instant coffee crystals instead of the liqueur.

1 package chocolate wafer cookies, 12 ounces, finely

crushed to make about 3 cups of crumbs

4 tablespoons coffee flavored liqueur (or brandy)

1 tablespoon very hot water

2 teaspoons instant coffee crystals

1 package chocolate chips (11 1/2 ounces)

1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 ounces)

Finely chopped nuts or chocolate sprinkles

In medium bowl combine crumbs and bourbon. In a large heavy saucepan over low heat melt the chips. Remove from heat and stir in the condensed milk. Gradually add the crumb mixture. Mix well. Let stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes or chill for an hour. Shape into 1 balls. Roll in nuts or chocolate sprinkles. These also improve after 24 hours. They can be made ahead of time and stored in the freezer. Recipe makes about 5 1/2 dozen.

EGG NOG

Some years ago health experts began warning us about the dangers of consuming raw eggs. Then I met a woman who had Guillian Barre Syndrome by doing just that, and I was convinced. No more raw eggs unless they came from our own chickens. So, ever since our own chickens went to the big soup kettle in the sky, have been afraid to serve homemade eggnog, no matter how much we love it. Then this recipe for cooked eggnog turned up. Delicious! And, there are all kinds of uses for it in addition to drinking, including homemade custard ice cream and the famous cranberry banana Christmas dessert. (Cut back on sugar and use the egg nog instead of raw eggs.) But here’s the recipe for egg nog as a drink:

3 1/2 cups milk

5 large egg yolks

3/4 cup sugar

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup dark rum

Grated nutmeg

Prepare an ice-water bath. In a medium saucepan, scald 2 cups milk. Meanwhile, with an electric mixer on medium-high, whisk 5 large egg yolks and 3/4 cup sugar until very thick and pale yellow, 3 to 5 minutes. Add half the scalded milk to the yolk mixture, and whisk until blended. Stir into remaining milk, and cook, stirring constantly, over low heat until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat, and immediately stir in 1 cup heavy cream. Pass the mixture through a sieve into a medium mixing bowl set in the ice-water bath. Let stand, stirring from time to time, until chilled. Stir in another 1 1/2 cups milk and 1 cup dark rum. Transfer eggnog to a punch bowl or to individual glasses. Whip 1 cup heavy cream to soft peaks. Top each serving of eggnog with a dollop of whipped cream, and sprinkle with grated nutmeg. Or just sprinkle the nutmeg on top of the egg nog and serve without the added whipped cream.

CHRISTMAS CRANBERRY DESSERT

Very pretty, and totally delicious. This was Mom’s famous Christmas dessert. Even family members who wouldn’t touch cranberries loved this. We stopped making it because of the raw eggs, but substituting 1/2 cup of the cooked egg nog custard before adding the rum or extra milk works very nicely, so now we can enjoy it again. Chop the cranberries in food processor. Dice the banana into small chunks but don’t process. You want some texture.

2 c. chopped cranberries

1 large banana

2/3 cup sugar

2 cups vanilla wafer or graham cracker crumbs

1/2 cup butter

1 cup powdered sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup nuts (pecans or pistachios are best)

1 cup sweetened whipped cream (with vanilla) or frozen

whipped topping

Mix berries, bananas and sugar and set aside. Place half of the crumbs in a 9x9 pan. Cream butter and powdered sugar together and add eggs and beat well. Spread this mixture evenly over the crumbs. Top with the cranberry mixture and sprinkle with nuts. Spread the whipped cream on top and sprinkle with remaining crumbs. Cover dish with plastic wrap and chill overnight.

Thought For The Week: May you and yours enjoy a Blessed and Merry Christmas. May our hearts be warmed with love for one another, and for the Babe born on that marvelous night 2013 years ago to bring us into the salvation His Father wants for all of us. Love conquers all, and the Love born on that first Christmas night was a gift to earth forever. To share in that gift, we need only to open our hearts and let Him in. God bless us one and all!

COUNTRY COUSIN


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