Saturday, December 26, 2009

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Christmas was wonderful! We had Christmas at our house on Christmas Eve, blending some traditions, creating new ones. We have a "new" Christmas tree this year. Instead of hunting for a "real" tree, we were blessed to find a beautiful artificial tree. You couldn’t tell that it's artificial unless you really looked closely at the needles. You'll laugh when I tell you that I found it at our nearby dumpster back in September, packed neatly in it's own immaculate and original box! It came from Wal-Mart in 1989 and at that time cost $139!!  I love it because now I don’t have to be in a hurry to take it down!

Christmas Eve, all of the kids came (adult children and grandchildren) and we had cookies and eggnog and watched the little ones open presents. Each child had 3 presents, one of which was a new pair of heavy mittens (handmade by Grandma!), a bag of their favorite cookies to take home and a handmade ornament for their tree at home.

We did not buy presents for the adult children, but we did give them food gifts. Everyone brought something for the little ones. We all had cookies & eggnog before presents…

Notice the little hand making it's way toward the Peanut Butter Blossoms! That is my grandson Robbie, who loves peanut butter and chocolate combinations of any kind.

At the end of the evening, when people started going home, we gave the adults their presents to take home. Each package had a jar of homemade chili, banana bread in a jar, a bottle of homemade eggnog, a tin of homemade cookies & 1 other present – red zinger tea for dauhter Laura, saffron rice pilaf for Becca, hand lotions & soaps for Meredith and hens and chickens for Will to plant by the walk at his new house.


On Christmas Day, Cliff & I had a wonderful breakfast together of scrambled eggs (from our hens - look for an entry on home-grown eggs in the next day or so), bacon, toasted homemade bread & some of our homemade eggnog. Our own children were having Christmas in their homes with their kids and other family members, so we attended the large extended Hall Family Christmas Dinner at Cliff's Mom's house. It is nothing to see 30-50 people come to Mom's for Christmas. We all opened presents and Cliff gave several jars of apple butter away for Christmas presents, which reminded me that I had LEFT all the banana bread in jars at home! Fortunately, we see everyone regularly, so we'll just deliver them as late, but well-intentioned gifts!

I keep a journal of each Christmas, with photos and recipes, detailing what went well, how we decorated, what was happening then and what we could do to improve things. This year, I was actually knitting the finishing touches on Sarah's mittens when she was HERE, waiting for the rest of the family to arrive. So, I would certainly say that I need to get started earlier and finish a little earlier! My goal this year is to have everything done and WRAPPED by Oct 31st! If I start right now, I can do that and make sweaters instead of mittens!

I was in such a rush, having not yet recovered from nursing Cliff through shingles and everyone and everything else through 2 feet of snow and 3 solid days of plowing (18-20 hr days), that I forgot a lot of pretty basic things. I left out 6 of the 18 eggs for the eggnog, forgot to make labels for the banana bread in jars and then even forgot to take the banana bread in jars to the big family Christmas dinner to give them out! But we all had fun, no one noticed my faux pas and we'll do better next year!!!

If you like eggnog, here is the recipe for ours (with the RIGHT amount of eggs!) - you can still have it for New Year's Eve! Enjoy and hope you all had a very blessed & Merry Christmas!

Kristen's Eggnog Recipe
 3 quarts whole milk
1 c heavy cream
18 fresh eggs (homegrown if possible)
1½ c sugar
1 tbsp vanilla
1 tsp nutmeg

Beat eggs, vanilla & nutmeg in food processor. Pour sugar through dry funnel into gallon milk jug. Add eggs & milk & shake well. This makes about 1 gallon.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Kristen's Whole Wheat Bread Mix

To me, one of the best aroma’s in the world is fresh baked bread. And I can’t think of anything better to eat than fresh, hot bread, just sliced, slathered with real butter.

Everyone regards fresh bread as a big treat, but really, it is not hard to make fresh bread everyday if you want to. I’ll tell you my secret – I have all the dry ingredients pre-measured into gallon-size zip closure bags. Each bag has a large label with the remainig necessary ingredients and directions on how to make the bread.

I also make a smaller label with the date. Usually, I make 6 bags at a time, since that exactly uses up one 5 lb bag of whole wheat flour.

Using this system, I can make 2 loaves of fresh bread in about 15 minutes, not counting the rise time, but which does include proofing the yeast. And, since everything is pre-measured, there will be less dishes to wash. The cost may vary depending on where you live and the cost of ingredients, but each loaf costs me about 65¢ to make.

This recipe is my basic whole wheat bread recipe. I have made this for years, and this is the bread my daughters learned to bake when they were first starting. It is a good, hardy everyday bread with a nice grain, but you can also doll it up with raisins, sunflower seeds – whatever you’d like to make a multi-grain kind of bread. Cut the dough in half, roll it out flat, spread melted butter, sprinkle with cinnamon & sugar & raisins, roll it back up (like a pinwheel) and you’ll have an excellent cinnamon raisin bread. Shape it into rolls, make a soft pizza crust - the variations are endless.

This bread is has a nice crust, so if you like a crunchy crust, you can brush it with egg white or melted butter, or do nothing. I like a softer crust, so when they come out of the oven, I brush each loaf with melted butter and cover lightly with plastic wrap and a dishtowel and let it sit for a few minutes. This makes a nice, soft crust but doesn’t turn the bread soggy.

Give this recipe a try and tell me what you think!

Kristen’s Whole Wheat Bread Mix

In a 1 gallon ziplock bag, add the following:

4 c white flour
2 ½ c whole wheat flour
¼ c. brown sugar
1 tsp salt
¼ c gluten (optional)
Seal & label.

One 5 lb bag of whole wheat flour is enough for 6 batches (equivalent to 12 loaves).

Be sure to label these with directions, especially since they have the rest of the ingredients listed! Not only are the mixes convenient, they make great gifts. I like to print the labels are printed on Avery 8160 size shipping labels so they look like this:

Whole Wheat Bread Mix

1. 3 c warm water, 1 Tbsp yeast, 1 Tbsp sugar in bowl, 1/3 c olive oil in large mixer bowl. Proof yeast by waiting 15 min to see if the yeast begins to bubble.

2. Add bread mix. Use dough hook to mix or mix & knead by hand. Let rise in bowl.

3. Remove from bowl, divide into 2 loaves. Shape, put in lightly greased pan & let rise. Preheat over to 350°. Let dough rise until nearly double.

4. Bake 30 min.

Makes 2 loaves

The Big Snowstorm of December 2009

Yes, Virginia, we are going to have a white Christmas! At least, we are having one here in Virginia! Our home is in Rockbridge County, which yesterday received the dubious distinction of getting the most snow of anywhere in the snowfall area – that included West Virginia, Kentucky, Delaware, anywhere else in Virginia and so far, all the states to the north of us currently getting heavy snow.

Cliff has been plowing since 8 am yesterday, finally getting home at 4 am this morning. After a couple of hours of sleep, he was out digging out the livestock, re-fuelling and preparing to go out again. We expect he will be plowing until Monday afternoon, at least. We understand that another, smaller, snow storm is due on Christmas day, so we are especially anxious to get everyone cleared out as much as possible before the next snow.

While Cliff is plowing, I do what I always do - tend the hearth and keep the fires burning – literally. The woodstove is keeping our home very cozy and nice, with or without electricity.

I did make a shocking discovery yesterday, however, and I want to share this to stress a point to you ladies out there who are preparing for storms of whatever fashion. If you get a generator, and I am sure you should if you don’t have one already, be sure to spend the money and get one with an electric start. Our is a gasoline powered generator, and we have had it and used it for many years with great success. However, it has always been my husband who ran it. When he left yesterday to plow, he set up the generator for me, showed me how to start it, refill it, etc. But one thing neither of us bargained for was that I am not strong enough to pull the cord hard enough to get the engine to start. Thankfully, we have a neighbor who cam e and pulled the cord for me, since otherwise, I would have had to have gone without. Imagine – an accessible generator, more than enough fuel…and can’t get it to start because the operator doesn’t have the strength to pull the cord hard enough!

Ladies, if you have a generator like this, go out and start it BEFORE you need to! Be sure you can start the thing! If you can’t, you may as well not have it at all!

(For more snowstorm photos, visit our Facebook page at