December 1, 2016

Stocking Stuffers from A to Z

'Twas a few weeks before Christmas, and all through the house, 
all the creatures were stirring (except, please God, not a louse). 
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, 
in hopes that the mom would stick something clever down there.

Which brings us to this alphabetical assortment.


On my list of "top moments in blogging and in life in general," the day I met Lisa the Syncopated Mama is easily in the top 5. I found Lisa via a link party, and the minute I landed on her page and saw her tag line--"living a life that's just a little offbeat"--I was hooked. Because, among other reasons, I'm a little "offbeat" myself. 

Lisa is funny and friendly and fascinating and frugal. She's the kind of blogger who can write about making her own cheese and teach you about making your own cheese and make you think you should be making your own cheese while in no way making you think she thinks you're a rotten person if you don't, in fact, make your own cheese. 


How to make your own cheese, by the Syncopated Mama.
(Who will not judge you if you don't.)

Lisa and I began stalking each other's blogs and social media channels and eventually took things to the next level: emails. We started, formally, with a cyber version of "The Alphabet Game," and, since it 'twas the season back then, too, we settled on "stocking stuffers" as our theme. We weren't too far in before both of us figured out our accumulating list would make a great blog post. And now here you are, looking at the very thing.

Lisa and I went back and forth on our original list, so you'll "hear" both our voices and see pieces of both our stories in alternating fashion here. And since one of the approximately 5,172 things we have in common is our wordiness, we're not only giving you an item for each letter of the alphabet, but also our "icing" for every item. 


I can't actually imagine a house during the Christmas season when the mom is not only "stirring" but is, in actuality, running around in a festive and frantic frenzy. But at least with this guide, you'll be able to cross one item off your list. Which you've no doubt checked a lot more than twice.




A is for aftershave. Notice I said “aftershave” and not cologne? That’s because for every year of my existence, this is one item I have got to give to my dad and he cannot stand cologne! This gift is also pretty much my only chance to give my dad something “wild,” because his Christmas list consists of: brown socks, black socks, brown belt, black belt and those little plastic wallet inserts that hold your credit cards. Every. Single. Year.

B is for bobby pins. Although I have purchased
approximately 10,000 of these necessities of long hair and ballet buns for my girls, on any given school morning at 6:13 a.m., how many do we still actually have in our possession (including the ones under the couch cushions)? Three. We have three. If we're having a "good" morning.

C is for chocolate. Now, I'm not saying this means there can't be other chocolaty food items on the list later, but I just think chocolate deserves its own mention. I mean, I'm writing this post with The Guilty Chocoholic Mama, for goodness’ sake, so this is just a given, right? But this chocolate refers to just plain chocolate and not some nut/creme/caramel-filled concoction--usually some fancy-schmancy bar from deep in the the mountains of Switzerland or something. Deliciousness like that deserves its own category, dontcha think?
D is for deodorant. It's not only adolescent boys who smell, er, "pungent." Dancing daughters do, too. As well, my mom was a firm believer in and practitioner of practicality in stocking stuffing. As adult children, my siblings and I still get family stockings, and my favorite item is the roll of heavy-duty blue paper towels my dad throws in, which I ration all year. Will my current roll last until this Christmas? Must conserve.
E is for Etch-a-Sketch. The one I got in my stocking was keychain-sized, but I'm pretty sure they have versions that are a bit larger than that, but still small enough to fit in a stocking. Your crew might not be into etching a sketch themselves, but at the time, I thought it was a fun trinket to get and would often fiddle with it while waiting for something, since I kept it in my purse.

Etch A Sketch...stocking-sized.
F is for flossers or floss-ups or whatever you call those preloaded dental floss picks. A package of these is definitely going in my husband's stocking, because in the category "you know you've been married a long time when..." he puts one out for me every night when he gets one for himself. I guess you could say dental hygiene is one of our love languages.
G is for gum. Which, nowadays, I don't really like to chew. But it was always a big thrill to find it in my stocking back in the day. And it always had to be Carefree (sugarless) pink gum. Yes, pink was the flavor, which was technically labeled as "bubble gum," but let's be honest and just tell it like it really is--that the very specific taste of this flavor can only be described as Carefree pink!

H is for Hershey's kisses. The milk chocolate version. I don't care that these are common-folk chocolates and not some fair trade certified, chili-infused, quinoa-enriched imported deal. I still love them. I think the kiss shape makes them taste better or something.
I is for ice skating stuff. Anything ice skating (and small, obviously, because it has to fit into the stocking) goes here. In years past, this has included ornaments (lots and LOTS of ornaments--have I mentioned we have a skating tree?), jewelry, keychains or anything else random that happens to have something skating on it (these things are hard to find down here in FL, let me tell you!), new laces, gloves, tights...you get the idea. (I'm afraid this idea is not going to be very helpful for most households out there in the world, but it is an extremely important one around here!)

J is for Jello cups. You know those individual evil plastic cups filled nothing more than red dye #5, cherry "flavor," and artificial sweetener? Yes, my middle-schooler loves these wicked things, and I am That Kind of Mom who buys them for her for after-dance late-night snacks.
K is for Kit-Kats. This so easy for me, because one of my must-have stocking items is a whole bunch of Kit-Kats!!! Mmmm, I love those things...
L is for lip balm. A staple item along with water and toilet paper in this house. My girls and I are pretty addicted to the fabulous flavors and fun shape of Eos, but I'm also good with the 2-for-$1 grocery store regular version, which is a little bit vanilla-y.
M is for music CD. And if it's MY stocking, then I know it will be the latest WOW hits CD; I think I have them all since the beginning of time. They're pretty much the best bang for the buck, in my book.
N is for Nutella & Go cups. My girls discovered these for their dance studio gift exchanges last year, and I know my Anna would love one in her stocking this year. Lydia loves the idea of them but is not a Nutella fan. Oh well...she might get one anyway, 'cause they're the perfect stocking-stuffer size. And then I can eat hers. Genius.

O is for orange. Because although I've never really taken part in that particular St. Nicholas tradition, we do usually happen to have a bag of clementines sitting on the kitchen counter due to their rock-bottom prices this time of year. Shopping for stocking stuffers from stuff we already have around the house? Yes, please! That makes my hermit heart very happy!
P is for pens. Along with mechanical pencils, these are one of the currencies of middle- and high-school life. And we always have a zillion around here...except when someone actually needs one. At which time we have none.
Write in style. (Sorry. Couldn't resist the bad
pun. Of course, I didn't try very hard.)
Q is for Quiet Books. The first thing I thought of for this letter was Q-tips--not just a plain pack, but one of those fancy make-up packs that have one flat side and one pointed side. But then I remembered all the cute Quiet Books that I've seen floating around the interwebs and I'm choosing that, instead.


R is for razors. Sorry to be boring and possibly horrify young mamas with the thought that their littles might actually have to shave someday, but razors are a hot commodity around here.
S is for Socks. Who doesn’t like getting fun socks in their stocking? I actually have 9 pairs to jam into Gv's stocking this year, because they're great fillers and also because her feet just exploded in the last few weeks and are already creeping dangerously close to her mother's clown-length hooves...

T  is for toothpaste/toothbrush. To complete the dental hygiene package I started with “F.”
U is for Underwear. I always secretly longed for some Underoos in my stocking, but I never got them. Just had to imagine myself decked out in Wonder Woman undies in my mind…

So, Christmas stocking underwear isn't just your everyday white variety--it is most likely purchased all on its own and not in the package of 6 or 8 that everyday underwear is (at least in my house) and does not have any type of fruit on the label...

V is for Vandoren V12 clarinet reeds. Here, I am admittedly going with something that will only help a very small percentage of the world’s stocking-stuffer population. But I am a clarinet mom, so this is my "v" choice. In the clarinet world, reeds are the Holy Grail of all supplies. Clarinetists are always looking for The One that will do everything they want it to do, every time. It is well known that in a box of 20 reeds, 2 might be "good." When you find a "good" one, you put it on your list of "stuff to save from the house if it ever catches on fire." After much trial and error (and weeping and gnashing of teeth), my high-school clarinetist has settled on this make and model of reed. All of which is just to say that she would be very pleased to find these in her stocking.

W is for water bottle. We're always on the hunt for good ones around here, so finding one that is not only stainless steel, but has openings that are easy to clean is quite an accomplishment. I found a 3 pack last year of these great skinny bottles that just fit perfectly in each of our stockings. I've kept my eyes peeled for new ones for this year, but alas, I feel our dented beauties will need to last another 12 months.
X is for xantham gum. This powdery substance that looks nothing like gum is used to mimic the chew-enhancing powers of gluten in gluten-free baking. A small stash would be a great stocking stuffer for anyone who does very much GF baking. But my main reason for including it on this list is to avoid copping out with “x is for extra” anything.
Y for yo-yo. Even though Gv isn't anywhere close to being ready for this toy, I have been ready to stick this one in her stocking since her first Christmas a few years ago.  It, along with a harmonica, were two of my favorite stocking stuffers to get, ever.

Z for zipper pull. Ours cannot be the only house in which pulls come off zippers on a maddeningly regular basis. Coats, backpacks, hoodies, etc….all frequent victims of zipper-pull malfunctions. Without questions, somebody whose life I oversee needs one of these in their stocking.
If you happen to have a ballerina on your list of people whose stockings needs stuffing, here’s an adorable option.
(On the other hand, if all the zipper pulls in your house are behaving, go with a Zero candy bar.)

Okay, mamas and friends, what's missing from this list? 
Add it on in a comment here, over on Lisa's blog, or on Facebook
And then, may a joyous, hope-filled Christmas
--and a long winter's nap--be yours soon.


**This post may be been shared at some of these link parties.**

November 19, 2016

Five Football-Free Thanksgiving Traditions


I love Thanksgiving.

I love the season it's in. (Fall is my favorite.)

I love the homey nature of it. 

I love that commercialism has never managed to take it over.

I love that it focuses on food and gratitude.

For the record, I'm not opposed to football. I'm a lifelong Mitten State girl. I think we have some football team that plays every year on Thanksgiving Day. If other people in my house want to make the game part of the festivities, that's fine with me. I'll be in the kitchen with the pies.

I mentioned in my last post that when I was growing up, my mom had specific expectations about what constituted a "proper" Sunday dinner. 

For me, these five traditions are what make a "proper" Thanksgiving...no pigskin required.

1. Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember, by Barbara Rainey. This is our family's go-to Thanksgiving book, and we read it every year over the course of the season. Filled with rich details about the voyage to the new world (condensed version: this was no Carnival cruise), life for the Pilgrims (condensed version: this was no "woo hoo, we got away from jolly old England" vacation), and the history of Thanksgiving as a national holiday (condensed version: Sarah Josepha Hale was one determined woman), this instant heirloom also offers President Lincoln's entire 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation and journal pages for recording your family's personal thanksgivings. 


2. George Winston's "Thanksgiving" from December. Always the musical backdrop for our Thanksgiving dinner. Winston's Autumn album is a nice long-play option, too. Soothing, somehow autumnal music, and no lyrics to compete with conversation.



3."Turkey Terrific" sandwiches. I love Thanksgiving dinner, and I love Thanksgiving dinner leftovers. And the best delivery system I know of for those leftovers is a sandwich that puts them all together. Food Network featured the "Turkey Terrific" sandwich from Provisions restaurant in Nantucket one year on "The Best Thing I Ever Ate: That I'm Thankful For," and the 3/4 of my family that will have anything to do with turkey got hooked immediately. (My younger daughter would be a vegetarian except that she's not all that crazy about vegetables.) 

Just pile leftover turkey and dressing in between a couple slices of sturdy bread you've spread with cranberry sauce (or, as I do, with cranberry "butter" I make by cooking cranberries and a little sugar together and then putting the whole mixture through the food mill). Yes, I know it sounds weird. But so do lots of things before you find out how wonderful they are.

4. A Charlie Brown Thankgsgiving and The Mayflower Voyagers. Leave it to the Peanuts gang to tell the Thanksgiving story in their own fun-but-factual inimitable fashion. Even my teenagers love to watch this double feature. For one thing, it makes them thankful they weren't Pilgrims.


5. Talk around the table. It's hard to beat the classic "go around and tell something you're thankful for" standby. I love to hear what people come up with on the spur-of-the-moment (unless they anticipate the exercise and prepare their remarks ahead of time). But last year, I changed things up and incorporated Thanksgiving Scriptures with our table name cards. Each card had (appropriately enough) the guest's name on it, along with a Bible verse that related to the day. Each verse contained a word that started with one letter of the word "thanks." It helped that we had six guests to go with the six letters; I'm not creative enough to know what I would have done if we'd had more or fewer than six. Anyway. We started with whoever had "T" and ended with whoever had "S," and it was all very pleasant, if possibly a little Martha Stewart-meets-Sunday School teacher-ish. One of my new year's goals as a blogger is to figure out how to make those free printables every other blogger in the world offers, but in the meantime, here's a glimpse of the Scriptures I used...





Got a non-negotiable Thanksgiving tradition of your own to share? I'd love to hear about it in a comment or on Facebook...or, better yet, over on Syncopated Mama, at my friend Lisa's 5 After 5 party that's all about Thanksgiving traditions.



Have a blessed Thanksgiving! 
(And if football is part of it for you, here's hoping your team wins.)




**This post may have been shared at some of these lovely link parties.**

November 10, 2016

Brownie-Batter Stuffed Crescent Rolls


I've already mentioned here in my bloggy ramblings that food traditions were very important in my family when I was growing up.

A brief recap:

1. Saturday breakfast was always pancakes, waffles, or French toast. Cereal need not apply. (I'm not making a moral judgement against cereal. I'm only saying my mom didn't serve it for breakfast on Saturday mornings.)

2. Saturday supper was often sandwiches.

3. Sunday breakfast was always some sort of coffee cake or muffins. Sorry, cereal, you're out here, too.

4. Sunday dinner came with its own set of rules:
  • the gelatin salad category must be represented.
  • "international foods" are not permitted, save for Swiss steak on account of Swiss neutrality on all things political and gastronomical.
  • Sunday dinner must be eaten as soon as possible after church IN the formal dining room ON the "good" dishes.

These days, as a mom myself, I do make pancakes (or, less often, waffles or French toast) on Saturday mornings. We do sometimes have sandwiches for Saturday supper, mostly because then I can call it Sammie Saturday. Where Sunday dinner is concerned...well, I've gone on the record about my deviation from those rules. (Sorry, mom.)


As for Sunday breakfast: I call that the throw-away meal of the week, because I do not even try to make anything "healthy." We have chocolate chip bagels and doughnuts and other forms of white-flour sinfulness. 

But my family's favorite are these Brownie-Batter Stuffed Crescent Rolls.

In the "olden days"--before I was a full-on band mom who spends all her time feeding marching musicians--I made these with a homemade sour-cream crescent roll dough like this one from Food.com

Fast-forward to the present, though, and I make them with crescent roll dough from the refrigerated section of the grocery store. 

Yes. 

Now you know. Please forgive me.

If you're still with me, here's the deal on these: I stuff them with a chocolate filling straight out of Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich. This filling is like brownie batter (hence, the name of this recipe) and works so much better in this application than straight-up chocolate chips or even melted chocolate. NOT that I am opposed to chocolate in any form, mind you.

I freely admit that Sunday mornings at our house are generally the time when the members of my family like each other the least. (For more gory details on this weekly phenomenon, check out item #2 on this post.) But in my experience, these rolls have a 100% success rate of increasing our tolerance of each other by at least 1%. Whether you've got a Sunday-morning food tradition to honor or want to start one yourself, bake up a batch of these yourself, and watch the love flow.


Brownie-Batter Stuffed Crescent Rolls {print}

1 recipe Brownie Batter Filling (life will be easier if you do this the night before or up to a couple weeks ahead)
1-2 tubes refrigerated crescent roll dough (I used reduced-fat...I know: the irony)
1 egg white, beaten
granulated sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Line (a) baking sheet(s) (one for one tube, two for two) with parchment paper or with foil you have oiled or buttered or cooking-sprayed VERY well. Unroll your crescent dough and separate into triangles. Press or roll each one out slightly to flatten and "enlarge" (more room for the filling). Pampered Chef's pastry roller is perfect for this task, but you could also use a rolling pin.

Plop about 1 1/2 teaspoons of your Brownie Batter Filling in the center of the wide end of each triangle. Roll up, starting with the wide end, pressing the sides of the dough around the filling to encase it.

Brush each roll with beaten egg white and sprinkle with sugar. 

Bake at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes until golden. Cool on the sheet pan on a cooling rack for a few minutes before serving warm. These are best eaten pretty much straight-away after they're baked, which in my opinion is one of their best features.

Brownie Batter Filling 

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped (I am IN LOVE with these unsweetened chocolate discs from King Arthur Flour...worth the splurge)
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, cold
2 tablespoons flour

Melt the butter and chocolate together...I love the microwave for this. Stir frequently until the mixture is melted and smooth. Remove from heat and beat in sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring until completely incorporated. Beat in the flour until the mixture is smooth and glossy and comes away from the sides of the bowl or pan. Scrape into a small bowl, cover, and refrigerate until needed.

You won't use all this filling in the rolls, but it will keep for several weeks at least. It's not bad eaten right out of the container with a spoon while you're standing at the kitchen counter...which, in my opinion, is one of its best features.

**This post may have been shared at some of these lovely link parties.**