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Monday, January 4, 2016

Some cooking and gifting highlights from my blogging break

Preparing a feast, bringing a gift, or just plain planning ahead, there was much rushing about in my kitchen this last month. I could be heard muttering, "I need another hostess gift", repeatedly, for a couple of weeks. Like a child, standing in front of the open refrigerator,  and claiming "there is nothing to eat", I, myself, stood in front of my pantry shelves, unsure if I could find yet another gift, for another impromptu invitation, or a made-from-scratch holiday treat for our celebrations.

Fortunately, pantry shelves hide many treasures, waiting for inspiration and festive packaging, yet with minimal fuss.

I did get that Buche de Noel done. I baked, filled and rolled up the cake and kept it frozen until Christmas Eve day. On the 24th, I took it out of the freezer and iced it. Then shortly before serving, I added some leaves (baby kale), and "berries" (red skittles), plus a dusting of snow (confectioner's sugar). I didn't make a side branch on my yule log, as I sometimes think those make the log look too stumpy. Plus my serving tray is long and narrow. I'm not sure a side branch would have fit very well.

I needed a last-minute hostess gift for a family we know. They are vegan and eat very little sugar. So, this was a challenge for me. I came up with a jar of trail mix, combining dried cranberries, pecan halves, roasted sunflower seeds, roasted almonds and pretzels. All of these were pantry items for us. And the jar was one of those nice square jars that I salvaged from the recycle bin at our church. I tied the neck of the jar with some raffia and red and white twine.

I found half-pints of heavy whipping cream marked down to 25 cents each.  I bought 4 half-pints. At least half of it I used to make some rich chocolate ice cream, to save for my daughters's birthday this March. It's in the freezer right now, packed in a 1-qt container, with a sheet of plastic wrap between the top of the ice cream and the plastic lid. That should keep frost to a minimum.

I needed a small gift bag for another hostess gift to some friends. I turned to printed out sheet music and some reused red satin ribbon to make my own.

A couple of gifts for girlfriends came from my home canning, a jar of spiced fig jam and a jar of sweet cherry preserves. Simple presentation of jars tied with raffia, red and white twine and a sprig of rosemary.


  1. Happy 2016, Lili!

    It was a very eventful Christmas break for us. We had some ice, snow, rain, sleet storms During the night of Dec. 23 resulting in a power outage at 1 am. We waited all through the day on the 24th moving around to various family's homes and still no power. We crawled into our cold beds that night again and on Christmas morning still had no power. I was going to have my parents over for dinner but since I made NO preparations in the day and and half prior, I ended up bringing everything from my refrigerator to their house at 7:45 am on Christmas morning. The ham and chicken was cold still from being in my fridge but things were needing the be used for refrigerated better. On my way, hubby called my parents to say the power came back on 30 seconds after I left. Feeling very emotional by this time, Dad pushed me into a chair and shoved a hot cup of coffee in my hand and made me sit until I gathered my bearings. Then I took all my stuff home, got the ham in the oven, helped clean dirty toilets and dishes and then went to church (no showers since hot water heater was still warming up). We came home and made a more simple dinner than what was originally planned for and parents came an hour later than planned. That surely puts a person in their place!

    We had a couple more storms with power outages during the last week of December but nothing as long lasting as the previous one.

    We did not shop for any extras for the celebrations and we didn't have presents so we just glided through the season. We have found plenty of things in the freezer to make some creative yet delicious meals and everyone seems to be fairly content. We are thankful for that.


    1. Hi Alice,
      Wow! I'm exhausted just reading about your Christmas (and the days up to it)! I hope that you took the days right after Christmas to just rest.

      When we've had very lean Christmases, I remind myself that Christmases past were always celebrated that way, for most folks. If you read the Little House books, her mother put together Christmas after Christmas with what they had. This idea to go out and buy special "Christmas foods" is a new one, relatively speaking. It should be enough for us to realize that everyone is well-fed and loved. And it sounds like that is how you did Christmas. Good job!

  2. The cake is beautiful! I think you must like doing that kind of detailed work--I find that I like to make things that taste good but my efforts fall a little flat at making them pretty. :)

    We were given bacon jam this year as a gift. We had never tried it before (or even heard of it!)--it was good on crackers--sort of a sweet and tangy food item.

    I think I'm tired of the excess of Christmas--it's fun, but sometimes it feels like too much food, too much decoration ... I'm working on putting away some Christmas items today and I think I'll enjoy having the house feel less cluttery.

    1. Hi Kris,
      bacon jam -- we saw jars of it in a store in the mall and wondered what it was like.

      I'm with you on wanting everything to look simple and tidy, now. We take our decorations down after the 5th, so a couple more days to go. I'd like to get it all put away Friday, then Saturday's housecleaning could clean up the residual bits and dust.

      More than the house looking less cluttered, I want life to feel less cluttered. Too much doing for too long of a stretch. Enjoy the putting away!

  3. Happy New Year, Lili!
    Your cake is so pretty. I haven't ever made a cake roll before, but I'd like to try it sometime. The gifts and bag you put together were clever and special.
    We had a good holiday season, doing less than we've probably ever done with decorating, baking and gifts, but enjoying a lot of time together. I'm going to try to keep it more that way in the future. It seems to work well for my family.

    1. Hi Mary,
      Happy New Year!
      It sounds like you had a wonderful Christmas season with your family. Time together is really more important than all of the fuss.

      Have a great day!

  4. Hi Lili,
    Your Christmas looks lovely.Beautiful gifts, I love pulling gifts out of my cupboards and pantry.It is a fun game I like to challenge my self to come up with nice gifts for friends from my own cupboards. Your cake was perfect. I am not so great with rolling cakes. They seem to crack.I might give it another try. I was looking in a bakery window and the Buche de Noel was almost 60 dollars!! We had a quiet Christmas at home my daughter made a roast with carrots,Potatoes and onions. It was wonderful and we got so many meals from it. We froze the rest for meals another time. Hope you had a blessed Christmas and New Year.

    1. Hi Patti,
      Thank you!
      With cakes rolls, sometimes mine do crack. With a frosted one, this doesn't matter, as it's covered up. With non-frosted ones, I just make sure that I serve myself the cracked slice. But usually the crack is not so noticeable, especially if I add a sprinkle of powdered sugar. I suspect that mine crack because I am too impatient with waiting for it to cool (while rolled in a towel).

      Oh my goodness! $60!! No cake is really worth that much, IMO!

      Your Christmas sounds very lovely. A nice meal with family, and quiet. Just the sort that I love.

      Happy New Year, Patti!

  5. Very clever and tasteful, as usual. Did you reinforce the sheet music that you made the gift bag from?

    1. Hi live and learn,
      The gift bag was for a very lightweight gift (an ornament), so it din't need reinforcing. But good idea for something heavier.
      Happy New Year!

  6. You are so great at coming up with creative gifts in a short amount of time!

  7. Your handmade gifts look so warm and tasteful, and wrapped with holiday cheer. Just the perfect hostess gifts. It is not even about the money spent or saved, your gifts are worth gold by alchemy and must have brought smiles.


    1. Hi YHF,
      Thank you!
      I love the word alchemy, transforming something common into something special. Homespun holidays and celebrations are much like that, where we take ordinary ingredients in our kitchens and transform them into feasts.


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