Sunday, November 18, 2018


Hi everyone.  I'm posting my December column that I wrote for one of the papers I write for.  I'm incredibly busy; Milo is not doing well, and I just have to take a few things off my plate.  I've been so aware that I'm slacking on blogging and it bothers me.  I truly want to continue with all my heart, so I have to give myself a little wiggle room without guilt.  

So here is the article I was writing until midnight Friday.  I hope you enjoy it and I wish all of you a very Happy Thanksgiving!


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!! Ho Ho, Neighbors!  I really love writing this year end column, and nooooooo, not because I have a little break!  It's that I truly love to do my spin on an event, party, or holiday.  It's time for experimentation and self expression.  I really love to make something out of nothing, put time in making people feel special, or in a crunch, make it look like it took a lot of time.

Seriously, just as the women's movement going back over fifty years sought equal opportunities and wages for women in the working world, we now have a whole new tribe of women who stay at home raising their little ones.  They are not satisfied with just scrubbing floors and having the whitest laundry, and are saying, "Take a look at what I can do!"  

As a young mother raising four kiddos, I found myself somewhat lonely and lacking a sense of purpose and direction for myself.  But soon the simple activities I gravitated toward became the base for many of the interests I have that I now love to share on my blog, in my columns, and with anyone who might want to listen.  I learned to cook because it was absolute boredom to make Mac 'n Cheese from a box, boiled spaghetti with jarred sauce.  Biscuits from a can (you know--the ones that you bang on the counter and have a near heart attack when they pop open).  I picked up magazines and clipped out the recipes, bought my first couple of cookbooks, and made a huge mess in the kitchen.

I can say the same for gardening and my love of nature.  If I had to sit on the front porch watching my children play, I might as well pull weeds, cut the lawn, or even plant flowers.  Again, I read what I could my hands on and asked a lot of questions. 

So where am I going with this?  I think we can choose our direction.  And if your legacy is having your recipes passed down to generations or having them printed in a newspaper, it's all good.  When you create, you are giving back to the world.  And you have a valid reason for patting yourself on the back.

That said, I'm a huge proponent of getting great things done without killing myself or breaking the bank.  Since I'm very lazy and usually broke, I have excelled at this.  I hope in this column I can take some of the pressure off by inspiring you to make or improvise some of your own personal gifts, holiday decorations, and maybe just tossing flour around the kitchen to get that pie just right.

I have had this old, wood carved goose forever.  I think I found it at a gift shop in Paw Paw, MI.  Somehow it made it back to the city, as if we see geese here all the time.  One December it was sitting   on a shelf looking totally out of place and I mindlessly tied a green velvet ribbon around the neck.  Voila! It is now a favorite Christmas decoration that comes out in December, and only in December.  You know what you can take from this?  Get some pretty ribbon from a craft store or your stash, and jazz up some of the everyday objects you have in your rooms.  Tie a pretty red ribbon around the top of your cookie jar for the kiddos to see.  Wind a wider festive ribbon or piece of fabric around a pot holding a plant to dress it up.  Twist a wired piece and make a garland as a window valance of sorts.  I like to wrap thick ribbon around a bundle of logs to place on the hearth.  I stack the bundles up and we just toss them in when we want to start a fire.  Inspired?

I have so many blog friends all over the world who do handiwork such as knitting, crochet, quilting, sewing, crafting---the list goes on.  I'm in awe, as I can't do any of these things but I will tell you, many of us, especially myself, wish we could gift our loved ones with treasures we create.  So if you are one of those talented ladies, please know you can give a gift that is above and beyond anything store bought.  

We tend to get together with family and friends a lot during December.  We might have office parties or a girlfriends night.  Be ready for these celebrations as well as people who drop in uninvited...I mean  casually.  I know there are magazine articles that have you freezing little puff pastry cheese sticks and mini handmade pizza puffs, but keep it really simple.  Have some chips and crackers in your cupboard, assorted nuts, bread sticks and jarred olives.  I love store-made dips, like spinach and artichoke, onion, dill...such a great variety and so flavorful.  Keep that in your fridge.  No need to slave over it when you don't know if anyone is going to come around and you'll find yourself eating it  in the forgiving light of the fridge at 1:00 a.m. 

Now, the people you don't like...I mean didn't really expect, are here.  Dash off to the kitchen and make an arrangement on a tray, or in my case, a piece of chalkboard on which you can write what sort of cheese or what have you on it.  A cute little trick I found was to take a few slices of cheese and make a cutout.  Just a few as it wastes a perfectly good slice of cheese, just to make everything look very Martha Stewart-ish.  Use a variety of ways to serve your little tidbits (or snickie snackies as my late mother in law called them), In this picture you will see that I placed the bread sticks in a glass candle jar, and the creamy veggie dip from the grocery store is in a bright red pottery bowl.  Please don't serve it in the plastic container it came in.  It's tacky and clearly, you can't claim it as your own. If you want a garnish and don't have any fresh parsley (or edible flowers) available, use the leaves at the end of a celery stalk.  A sprinkle of dried basil looks pretty.  Be creative.  Have fun.  

I'm not much of a baker.  I'm actually really bad.  I don't like to measure things and there is nothing more aggravating to me than cleaning up flour off the counters.  I would use a wet dishcloth and turn it to glue, forget to sweep the floor and have footprints tracked through the house, and my little black dog looked like she was left out in the snow.  Naw, I'm bad.  So---when I bake, I try to make something reaaaaaaaly fancy.  Yep. Here's why:  1). I never bake so when I serve an intricate dessert or insanely gorgeous cake, people think I save my talents just for them.  2). I love a challenge because sometimes  I get bored with simply jazzing up meatloaf topped with crumbled bacon instead of ketchup.  3). It's still a tasty sort of success even if it fails in appearance. 

But I regress.  For years I've been making little gift boxes for friends, neighbors, and the little boys who knock on your door offering to shovel for $1 and you don't want to admit you pay $25 to a guy with a plow on his pickup.  Give the little dudes a box of cookies. 

 So my hack on giving food gifts is to make no more than two types of baked sweets, like cookies, fudge, brownies, gingerbread.  Don't do a lot of decorating on top because it's just going to fall off.  Use food coloring or sprinkles to lend color and some differentiation.  Make some simple candy like almond bark topped with peppermint, chocolate pieces, crushed pretzels--the sky is the limit. Dip pretzels in melted almond bark, tie them in bundles with ribbons.  

Now you need to get crafty.  Get a large bag of mixed nuts and bundle them up in a piece of netting with a gold twist tie.  Get some Hershey Kisses and toss them in.  Tasty Pepperidge Farms cookies or even better, some fancy European candy or confections.  

I found these boxes (pictured) at Michael's and know you can get them at any craft store.  I have gone   larger in past few years because I like to add some tissue paper to line the box and fold over.  This is so simple and fun because you are having more fun assembling the box than you would slaving in front of an oven.  

A couple of years in a row I made granola.  A lot of people like this sort of thing but some don't.  And it's usually a BIG love or BIG hate.  I loved jazzing up simple Ball jars with a piece of muslin and a gold lettered top.  So festive.  If you are going to go through the trouble of making something with so many ingredients, although very quick to toss together and bake, you need to double, even triple the recipe.  This was a hit, and several friends and coworkers of my daughters wanted to buy a few jars to give as their own gifts.

So here is the recipe...

Simple Granola with Fruit and Nuts (Blondie's Version)


3 cups oats
3/4 c slivered almonds
3/4 c raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t salt
1/4 c canola oil
1/2 c maple syrup
2 t vanilla extract
1 c dried cranberries
1 c dried apricots (chopped)
(you may substitute any dried fruit you like chopped uniformly)
2 T honey

Preheat oven to 325 degrees
In a large bowl mix the first 5 dry ingredients.  In a small bowl stir together the oil, syrup and vanilla.  Drizzle the syrup mixture over the dry and mix thoroughly.  Spread on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 50 minutes, stirring every once in a while to brown evenly.  Remove and toss with dried fruit.  Drizzle with honey and let cool.  Store in an airtight container.

Jane's Sugar Cookies

These cookies should not even be called "Sugar Cookies".  They are crispy and golden on the outside, soft and buttery on the inside, almost like a shortbread cookie.  The delicious crunchy part is that you roll each ball of dough in sugar and that gives it a sweet, sparkling bite.  You will love these!

3 c sifted flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 t salt
2 sticks softened butter (1 1/2 c)
1 1/2 c sugar + extra for rolling
2 large eggs
1 t vanilla

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line 2 baking pans with parchment paper.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  
Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, don't skimp here!
Add eggs and vanilla and continue beating until well blended.  
Slowly add the flour mixture in and beat on low to mixed well.  
Add about  1/2 cup granulated sugar to a small bowl.  Shape the dough into small balls, try not to handle too much-it's delicate.  Roll the balls in sugar and place 2 inches apart on your pan.  Bake 9-11 minutes until softly golden.  Let cool on pan.  I added some simple sprinkles just in the center.  Makes approximately 3 dozen.

I shared a recipe for Turkey Pot Pie last month--I mean we can only eat so many turkey sandwiches, right?  This month I have a recipe for Turkey Chili which is simple and warming with a nice twist. I did not share a photo of it as it was awfully disgusting looking.  Or maybe it's my photography skills!   Enjoy!!

Leftover Turkey Chili

2 T vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1/2 poblano pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 packets of McCormick Chili Seasoning***
4 cups dark turkey meat, roughly chopped and/or shredded 
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth
1 15 oz. can black beans
S & P to taste
Sour cream and chopped scallions for garnish

Saute the onion and peppers over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and continue to stir an additional minute.  Sprinkle in both packets of seasonings and stir to combine with the veggies.  Add the turkey, tomatoes and broth, scraping up the bits off the bottom of the pot.  Simmer over low heat, covered for approximately 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the undrained can of beans during the last ten minutes and heat through.  Adjust seasonings if necessary and serve in shallow bowls with a dollop of sour cream and a bit if sliced scallions.  Serves 6

***I like individual seasoning packets made by McCormick, Lawry's and the like.  They have all of the components you need if your spice cabinet is lacking something.  These mixes also contain a little bit of flour which thickens the chili slightly.  There are no preservatives and there is not a lot of sodium, in fact, I added about 2 teaspoons of salt.  Want to use your own spices?  You will need 1/4 cup chili powder, 2 tablespoons ground cumin, 1 tablespoon dried oregano, 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes.  Simmer uncovered so that you can let some of the liquid evaporate for a thicker chili.

This winds up my December Christmas column.  I'm hoping by now you are almost finished shopping, are sitting by a your lit tree with a nice blanket, mug of cider, and a dog or two at your feet.  
As always, its such a pleasure writing for Neighbors, and I hope I give you a little something to think about each month, maybe an idea or two.  

From myself, The Husband, Milo & Layla


Lidy at FrenchGardenHouse said...

Jane, I enjoyed this post very much, I always love reading what you are up to! I wish you a beautiful Thanksgiving with all the special people you love (especially your littlest people!) xoxo Lidy

It's me said...

Always Nice Reading your post....filled with amazing i am hungry....time for the kitchen and making diner for us two....lovely week...and Yes Christmas is from me Ria x ❤️💚

Melanie said...

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, Jane. I know what you are going through right now with the stress of taking care of your sick fur baby, as I just recently went through that with my beloved Zippo. (May he now RIP.) My heart goes out to you.

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

You have so many wonderful ideas, Jane. I have always been creative and enjoy jazzing thingsup. I know I have a wooden goose somewhere in my basement. I am going to go find his and tie a beautiful ribbon (I have lots of that) around his neck.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Lynne said...

Wonderful December article and a perfect post too . . .
I agree with the mini creations we can come up with that
are so appreciated . . . often more so than an extra 25 . . .
Granola . . . I had fun making/giving that as well.
Ache for you and Milo not doing well . . .
I hope he rallies . . .
Happy Thanksgiving . . .
Enjoy family, hug, squeeze those littles . . .
Love, Love.

Jeanie said...

Hi Jane, sending get well wishes for sweet Milo and hope he's doing better as you read this.

I love this piece and since it's new to me, so glad you shared it here. I agree that sometimes we have to simplify it but we still want it to be nice and to be special. You've rocked it with these ideas. And thanks for the granola recipe. I was looking for a new one that sounded good and this does!

Kim said...

Jane, I love reading your columns. Happy Thanksgiving to you and hugs for Milo!!

susie @ persimmon moon cottage said...

I enjoyed reading your article. I hope that your little Milo will start feeling better very soon.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

handmade by amalia said...

I enjoyed your column from start to finish, Jane! Such a fun, friendly piece and great recipes that I'm definitely going to try. Already putting the ingredients I don't have for the granola on my shopping list. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, my friend.

Kit said...

Happy Thanksgiving! Have a wonderful time with your family! Love, Kit

Judy at GoldCountryCottage said...

Hi Jane. I hope Milo is feeling better and I enjoyed your column. You have quite a talent. I was doing some make ahead things for tomorrow and read about your artichoke dip and remembered I forgot to start mine so off to it. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family..xxoJudy

Rita C at Panoply said...

Happy Thanksgiving, Jane. We are hardest on ourselves, it seems. Give yourself some slack, enjoy Milo's company while you can, and enjoy your family. IT's good to hear from you.

Blondie's Journal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary said...

Dear Jane, hope so much your Thanksgiving was fun. We are in Arizona and spent the holiday with Bob's older brother and his large family which was a great time. In Tucson now, will make our way home on Tuesday and then start on Christmas! Phew!

Loved reading your column here - you are such a lot of fun and your neighbors must love that you share so many kitchen and decorating tips.

Hope all is well with you, A and the family - also pray Milo is doing better.
Much love from Raleigh XX

Jill said...

I have to tell you that I put some of the cinnamon spice mixture you wrote about last year in some oven stew I made the other night, superb! I need to find the recipe again as I just had a bottle of it mixed up in my cupboard and didn't write it down. Thanks again for these recipes. I may try the granola.

Linda said...

You are amazing!

Sparq Space said...

your work is good

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