Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bethlehem Supper

Our favorite family Christmas tradition is our Bethlehem Supper on Christmas Eve.  Santa waits in the wings while Jesus Christ takes center stage, where he belongs. 

We remove the glitz and glitter from the room and decorate it simply.  Usually we set a piece of plywood on the floor and cover it with a plain cloth, then line the center of the "table" with candles.  Soft simple carols of the harp, flute or guitar play softly in the background.  Each family member dons a scarf or towel, and we make our way down to the basement to Bethlehem.  Seated on cushions and lit only by candlelight, our brood is unnaturally quiet and pensive. 

Dinner is always simple.  We use an amazing cookbook, A Biblical Feast, by Kitty Morse for authentic foods from the place and time of Christ. 

We love the simple flavors of everything we've tried.  Over the past, menus have included:
  • grapes/ grape juice
  • dilled cucumbers
  • pomegranates
  • fish
  • honey
  • pita bread
  • hummus
  • olives (kalamata or black for the little ones)
  • flat bread
  • chicken and garbanzo stew
  • feta
  • goat cheese
  • stuffed dates
  • lamb
  • leeks
We eat, discussing our food, what could have been eaten that night in Bethlehem, and discussing what might have happened or how it might have felt to have been there. 

At the end of our meal, we begin our candle ceremony.  I, the mother, start.  I hold the candle and tell the children what the light represents, the light of Christ, that lights our souls, our world, and everything.  I mention the hope, faith, and joy we've discovered earlier in the month during advent.   I then share my gratitude for this special birthday, my private feelings, and my love for my family.  I pass the candle and the sharing goes on till it finally reaches the patriarch of our gathering, which this year was my sweetie.

This meal ends on such a sweet and tender note for all of us.  Then, while the Bethlehem Magic is still on us, we watch Luke II, the best, most authentic nativity we've ever seen, and all under 5 minutes.   

I'd love to share our favorite "authentic" dish from Kitty Morse  with you.

Chicken, Leek, and Garbanzo Bean Stew 

(Though it may not look appealing, usually guests ask for seconds.  It is savory, tender, and simple)
Serves 4-6
"Domesticated hens were one of the "clean" or acceptable birds for Hebrew to eat, as mandated by Mosaic law.  They were introduced from their native India around the time of Christ.  Many farmers in the Holy Land raised poultry, either in the "free range" manner or in enclosed areas.  This stew is best served with warm leavened griddle bread or over cooked millet." pp 52

2 large leeks
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken, cut into 2 inch pieces
1 1/2 cups garbanzo bean cooking liquid, water, or chicken broth
1 cup cooked garbanzo beans (I use 1 can)
1/4 tsp salt
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar (I use a little more to taste)

Trim the leeks, discarding the tough, outer leaves.  Rinse thoroughly under running water.  Cut the leeks crosswise into thin slices.

In a heavy pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the leeks and chicken, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken turns golden brown, 8-10 minutes.  Add the liquid.  Cover and cook until the chicken is tender, 30-35 minutes.  With a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a bowl, and set aside.  Decrease the heat to low, and add the garbanzo beans.  Simmer uncovered, and reduce by one-third, 15-20 minutes.  Season with salt and vinegar to taste.  Return the chicken to the pan and heat through.  Serve immediately. 

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Nutcracker Celebration

Tonight was Nutcracker Night. Everyone raided the costume closet and dressed in their finest ballet attire, complete with a dusting of sparkle powder to help feel beautiful. Sunshine wore a cape and a sword so she could be the nutcracker. Briz refused to wear tights and figured he was scary enough as is to be the Mouse King. Little Mother chose to be Clara, and Ladybug the Sugar Plum fairy.

As we watch the ballet unfold, it takes place in 2 dimensions on our screen and in our family room right in front of our eyes.

Little Mother pirouettes, Sunshine spins then stabs Briz as he gets too close to Clara.

At intermission, we decorate the Sugar Plum Tree with candy wrapped in plastic wrap.

Then we begin our nutcracker feast. In honor of its Russian origins and the Russian Trepak, we ate Solyanka (Russian Beef Soup)

Arabian Pita Bread (for the Arabian dance)

and Barbecued Chinese Lettuce Wraps (for the Chinese Dance).

Solianka tastes like pickle soup. Briz liked it. I thought it was very different and enjoyed the experience of trying something so totally different from what I am used to. The kids ate it but not enthusiastically. The Lettuce Wraps and Pitas were a hit. Are these like Chinese sandwiches? Ladybug asked.

The dancing continued until Clara went back to sleep, then so did my little ones. 

If anyone wants the Solianka Soup Recipe, just ask, but I will probably not make it again.  It was a great cultural experience, just not one I want to repeat.  

Arabian Pita Bread

1 T instant yeast
1 1/2 cups water
2 tsp sugar
3 cups flour (I usually use 2 cups wheat, 1 cup white)

1 T dry milk powder
1/2 tsp. salt
6 T oil
1 T toasted cumin

Mix yeast, water, and sugar.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, combine flour, dried milk and salt.  Pour in the oil and yeast/ water mixture and stir well.  You might need to add more flour or water depending on the absorbency of the flour.  Knead dough briefly, divide into 18 egg sized balls.  Place on a floured surface, cover and let rest for 15-20 minutes.  Roll one ball out and press cumin seeds on the top with the rolling pin.  Cook in a skillet until large "bubbles" form.  Flip pita over and cook the other side for a few more minutes.  Flatten with a spatula.  Keep bread warm (wrap in a towel or place in a ziploc bag) while cooking the rest of the bread.  Can freeze the dough or the cooked product.  

Sometimes I will brush the top with butter or olive oil and sprinkle with a bit of garlic and sea salt.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Christmas Decoration Party

The day after Thanksgiving we go Christmas crazy! I pull out all the Christmas boxes and turn decorating into a party. We dance, we jingle, we decorate, we play "remember when?" This is something we'd do anyway, I just make the food look special so everyone gets into the party atmosphere.

Essential elements include:
Santa hats for everyone
Loud Christmas music with a beat
Finger Foods to eat while decorating
Good Punch or Wassail
Food made from Thanksgiving Leftovers

Mashed Potato Soup (inspired by Leanne Ely)
It can't get any easier than this (especially when you are using Thanksgiving leftovers)

1 large pot of mashed potatoes (about 4 cups)
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup milk
grated cheddar cheese
Salt and Pepper
pinch of thyme

Optional add ins
fresh parsley
ham or bacon
frozen peas

Make mashed potatoes. Add chicken broth and milk. Bring to an almost boil. Stir it up. Serve it up. Top with a little cheddar cheese.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Romantic/GPS Picnic Idea

The Idea:

1st: Surprise husband at work with a romantic picnic. Made the food. Luckily, I called first and found that he was booked all week with business lunches.
2nd: GPS picnic: Use the geocache site to find some treasures on a river walk near our home. Add picnic items to our list of items to find hidden along the trail.
3rd: Deposit all picnic items around neighborhood using clues to find them. End up at a neighbors with a much nicer backyard for our picnic.
Reality: Severe sinus infection, high winds, rain. Don't want to waste my picnic. Simply laid the picnic out in the Family Room and watched Princess Protection Program with my babies and sweetheart.

Sometimes the best plans don't turn out. Oh well. I'll share some of my favorite picnic recipes with you all though.

Romantic Picnic Food

Strawberries Lemon Creme Blossoms Fabulous!

12 Strawberries, washed
4 oz. Cream Cheese, room temperature
2 T. Sour Cream
1 T. Lemon Juice
Lemon Zest

  1. Whip together cream cheese, sour cream, lemon juice and lemon zest.
  2. Slice off green at the top of strawberry.
  3. Cut strawberry in half almost to the base.
  4. Turn berry and cut crosswise almost to the base.
  5. With a spoon or pastry bag, pipe the creme filling into strawberry.
  6. Refrigerate till serving time.
Mellon Prosciuto Balls This is probably too grown up of a taste for little people. Mine ate it but I noticed that they didn't fill up on them.

1/2 cantelope
1/4 lb. thinly sliced prosciuto
1/8 cup lime juice
Mint Sprigs

Ball or slice mellon. I prefer larger slices to the smaller mellon balls. Pour lime juice over top and swish to coat. Wrap balls in 1/2 slice or slices in full slice of prosciuto. Secure with mint sprig.

Bruchetta on Baguettes From my friend Melanie. I eat so much of it, we call it Holly-Candy

Cream cheese or goat cheese
1 bunch basil, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
fresh ground pepper
3 tomatoes, chopped
1 small bottle capers, rinsed
1/2 tsp. olive oil
Parmesan Cheese

Brush baguettes with olive oil and a sprinkle of Parmesan. Toast in oven. Combine rest of ingredients (tomatoes, basil, capers, garlic, olive oil, and pepper) Let sit for a minute.

Spread goat or cream cheese on toast, then the bruschetta, or just serve with bruschetta on toast.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Barbarian Spagetti Dinner

The Story:

As a teenager, I hosted a barbarian dinner date for a group. A vague memory whispered we'd had a lot of fun. Of course, at sixteen, that usually has much more to do with who you're with than what you are doing. I wondered if it would still be fun, or if my kids might like it. Even more importantly, would itbe a good prequel for a manners dinner I might follow up with?

I covered the table with plastic wrap and taped it down. A dish towel was placed on the back of each chair to be tied around each diner. We ate spaghetti, green salad, and rosemary peasant bread off the table. No dishes, no utensils.

I got several squeals of glee as I plopped each serving in front of everyone. "But mom, I don't have a fork."

"Hmmmm. How can you eat it then?"

Some liked it. Some LOVED it and took full advantage of the opportunity to pig out. Sadly, Briz and I are past the time when this is true fun for us. We didn't love the feel of spaghetti slipping through our fingers or watching Little Mother's hair drip with sauce as she licked off the table.

To our credit, we kept our mouths shut and let our little ones fully enjoy the change of routine. When they were finished, we herded them giggling and skipping, straight upstairs into a bath.

Clean up was a breeze. I simply rolled up the plastic wrap and into the garbage it went. No dishes!

The Recipe:

Everyone has a favorite spaghetti recipe or likes to use Prego or Ragu. I still feel that this one is worth sharing. After years of searching and experimenting, this is the best recipe I've found. Everyone LOVES it. My husband prefers a version with meat, and I prefer it without so usually we have it with meat. Yep. I'm a sucker for my sweetie. The secret to a really great sauce is time. Great sauce is a product of time and patience. For those who work all day, the crock pot becomes valuable. For me, I put the sauce on to simmer in the early afternoon and by dinner time the flavors have melded amazingly. I really feel that this sauce is worth a try. Double it and you've got a layer for lasagna the next day.

Jo Mamma's Spaghetti Sauce- makes 2 quarts

1 lb Italian sausage, casings removed
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 can tomato paste
1 can tomato sauce
1 cup water (If you don't want to simmer it as long, add less
1 1/2 tsp. dried basil
1 Tbs. fresh basil (optional... I use when it's in my garden)
1 tsp. parsley flakes
3/4 tsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8-1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 cup red wine (if you use it for cooking. I rarely do.)

  1. In large heavy stockpot, brown sausage, breaking up as you stir.
  2. Add onions and continue to cook until onions are softened.
  3. Add garlic, tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water.
  4. Add basil, parsley, brown sugar, salt, and peppers.
  5. Stir well and barely bring to a boil.
  6. Stir in wine if you are using it.
  7. Simmer on low, stirring occasionally for at least an hour. Just be careful not to let it burn!If adding fresh basil, add it toward the end of cooking time. It keeps its fresh taste better.
  8. Cook spaghetti according to package directions.
  9. Spoon sauce over drained spaghetti noodles and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Oh The Places You'll Go! Back to School Dinner

The Evening: School is starting. To my little ones, this annual ritual is fraught with some nervousness but mostly excitement. They must have at least a few token new outfits, a new backpack, and we shop the sales for all the crayons, pencils, sharpeners, glue-sticks, and markers we will need for the year. So many musts. . . so many rushing preparations. We took an hour or two to stop, to ponder, to dream, and to mark the passing of another ritual, the upcoming first day of school. We invited some friends who were also starting school (with year round,some friends start a month later).


  • A dollar store sign greeted our guests and will stay up till after the first week of school.
  • Tables set up in the library were covered in brown paper. Problems of various skill levels were drawn all over the paper waiting to be solved by the guests of honor. Self adhesive alphabet name tape for desks ($ store) lined the edges, while crayons, colored pencils, and markers tied in smart blue ribbons marched down the center of the table.
  • A hall pass ($ store) hung by the door for bathroom runs.
  • Name tags ($ store)

  • Brown bagged lunches included all the packaged foods kids love so much, fruit kabobs, ham salad sandwiches, and zebra doodles.

  • Each child was given an Honor roll certificate ($ store) filled out by Mom to honor the accomplishments of the past year. One by one we honored them and presented their certificates with a ribboned school supply.
  • We read Oh, the Places You'll Go. Must READ. Really. The adults liked it better than the kids.
  • Each person, including the adults made a page for our "Places You'll Go this Coming Year" Book. Some drew pictures, others simply wrote their plans.
  • Played the Game Oh the Places You'll Go which is great for thinking about the future and life possibilities.
Today there is only one because who can't make a decent brown bag lunch?

Lunch Bag Zebra Doodles:

Snickerdoodles (purchased or home made)
4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
2-3 ounces Carmel topping
4 ounces chocolate chips

In small bowl, mix cream cheese with caramel topping. Frost on half the bottom of half of the snickerdoodles, cover with the other half. Microwave chocolate for 1 minute, stirring after 30 seconds. Dip sandwich cookies in melted chocolate. Place on rack to drip dry. Can place in the refrigerator to cool quickly.
Favorite Snickerdoodle Recipe
This recipe is made with butter instead of shortening. This makes it soft and chewy but with a better flavor.

1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
2 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream butter for 30 seconds. Fold in sugar, egg, and vanilla. Beat well. Add half of the flour, baking soda and cream of tartar. Beat until thoroughly combined. Fold in remaining flour mixing thoroughly. Cover and chill 1 hour. Combine sugar and cinnamon. Shape dough into balls and roll balls in cinnamon, sugar mixture. Bake at 375 degrees for 10-11 minutes.

Loved the evening. It got me thinking about new starts and my goals as well as thrilled the kids. My friends were a complete delight as usual. Great way to spend the evening!!!!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Little House/ Pioneer Dinner


I've always wanted to do a book review for dinner. We just finished The Little House in the Big Woods. Briz read the chapters just before bed. Pa came alive in Briz because he knew and understood love for the woods, for making your own way and the magic of watching deer and fawns gaze trustingly at you. My children fell in love with Laura and Mary just as I did many years ago as I lay in my pink checkered bed at dusk and listened to my mother's magical voice bring the little house alive.

In addition, we are celebrating Pioneer Day this week. July 24 is the day the pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley, so besides parades and the like, our book review dinner will be an added piece in our celebration/ search for appreciation and understanding.

If you are not hungry when you begin the Little House Books, you certainly will be when you finish. Johny Cakes sizzle on the fire, bread carries Ma's signature hand print, cheese and butter production is described in detail, as is roasting the pig tail. Though I've never thought I wanted a pig's tail, I do while I read these books. In short, it is a perfect book to review during dinner.

Little Mother sat down to put on a video. "Sweetie, I thought we'd play a little game this evening and pretend we were pioneers like Laura and Mary. Would you like to play with me? Great. Then they didn't have DVD s did they. What would they be doing right now? Helping mom with dinner? Excellent. Come over here and we'll learn together how to do new things."

We started the cheese. Then she tried the pioneer secret of holding bread in her mouth while chopping onions. While I continued with some "boring stuff", she outfitted Sunshine and herself as best she could. She set the table with pie tins, tin cups, wild flowers, and our pioneer courting candle.
The meal was surprisingly good. Everyone polished their plates. We tried buttermilk with our meal. Some liked it but most only took a couple of swallows. After dinner we made maple candy, the children did dances and performed songs for us and we played games around the table. Sunshine wants to be a pioneer because she could go on hikes all the time. Little Mother isn't quite so sure the wants to be a pioneer. Pizza is still a better option for her.

The Recipes:

"They all hurried to the kitchen for plates, and outdoors to fill the plates with snow. ..She and the other Laura, and all the other children, scooped up clean snow with their plates. Then they went back into the crowded kitchen. Grandma stood by the brass kettle and with the big wooden spoon she poured hot syrup on each plate of snow. It cooled into soft candy, and as fast as it cooled they ate it. They could eat all they wanted for maple sugar never hurt anybody."

Maple Candy


  • 2 cups pure maple syrup

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

  • saucepan (non-stick works best)

  • candy thermometer recommended


  1. Cook syrup until it begins to boil, stirring frequently.

  2. Continue boil until it reaches 233°F on the candy thermometer.

  3. Remove from heat and cool for approximately 60-70 minutes, or until the temperature on the candy thermometer reads about 110°F

  4. Add the vanilla extract and heat until smooth and fluffy.

  5. Shape this mixture into small patties, or while still warm you can pour onto pans of clean snow as Laura did. If you have no snow, you can blend ice cubes until they are crushed, then place crushed cubes into a pan before pouring the maple candy. You can also use candy molds.

  6. Maple candy must be stored in airtight containers to prevent the candy from drying out.

From Little House in the Big Woods

"What would you like best to eat?" They talked about spareribs, and turkey with dressing, and baked beans, and crackling cornbread, and other good things. But Almanzo said that what he liked most in the world was fried apples 'n 'onions. When at last, they went into dinner there on the table was a big dish of them! Mother knew what he liked best, and she had cooked it for him. Almanzo ate four large helpings of apples 'n' onions fried together." - Farmer Boy pg. 73

Apples 'N' Onions

Servings: 6


  • 1/2 lb bacon or salt pork

  • 2 lb yellow onions (about 6)

  • 2 lb tart apples, chopped (about 6)

  • 2 tbsp brown sugar


Fry bacon slices in 12-inch skillet until brown and crisp. Set aside on a warm serving platter. While meat is frying, peel onions, leaving stems to hold for slicing. To prevent your eyes from watering, hold a slice of bread in your teeth while you slice the onions as thin as possible.

Core apples and cut crosswise in circles about 1/4-inch thick. Apple skins help the slices hold their shape and add color to the dish, so don’t peel unless skins are tough or scarred.

Drain all but 1 Tbsp fat from skillet, then add onion slices. Cook over medium-high heat about 3minutes.

Cover with apple slices in an even layer. Sprinkle brown sugar over all, cover skillet, and cook until tender, a few minutes more. Stir only to prevent scorching. Remove to warm plate with bacon slices.

"When the milk was heated enough, Ma squeezed eery drop of water from the rennet in the cloth, and then she poured the water into the milk. She stirred it well and left it in a warm place by the stove. In a little while it thickened into a smooth quivery mass. ..Ma cut it into little squares and let it stand while the curd separated from the whey. Then she poured it all into a cloth and let the thin, yellowish whey drain out." - Little House in the Big Woods pg. 188

Easy White Cheese:
Great for breading and frying, stir-frying with vegetables, or by itself, this mild cheese will keep refrigerated for one week.

1 gallon milk
2 T. lemon juice
3 T. white vinegar
3 teaspoons chives

1 teaspoon dill weed

Pour milk into a large pot. Slowly bring the temperature up to 180F. This may take an hour. Stir frequently to prevent scorching, and hold the temperature at 180F for four minutes. Combine vinegar and lemon juice and add to the milk, stirring gently, until the curds separate form the whey. Line a colander with cheesecloth, and pour the contents of the pot. Tie the corners of the cheese cloth together to form a bag and let it hang to drain for three hours. The cheese will be solid when its ready. Place in bowl and salt to taste. Wrap and refrigerate. Yield: one pound. Variation: Herbed Easy White Cheese -- Add chives and dill to the curds before hanging.

Johnny Cakes were a staple of the Ingall's family as for many of that time period. The are mentioned particularly in On the Banks of Plum Creek. A Johnny cake is cornbread that could be made on a hoe. Originally called Journey Cakes for their ability to travel, the name was shortened to Johnny Cakes.

I found this recipe from 1796:

Scald 1 pint of milk and put 3 pints of Indian meal, and half pint of flower -- bake before the fire. Or scald with milk two thirds of the Indian meal, or wet two thirds with boiling water, add salt, molasses and shortening, work up with cold water pretty stiff, and bake as above.

Joseph Smith's Johnny Cakes

3 cups cornmeal

1 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons molasses

3 cups buttermilk

2 eggs – well beaten

Sift the dry ingredients, slowly stir in molasses and buttermilk and mix well. Add the eggs and beat hard for 2 minutes. Pour into shallow well greased pans and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Eat with butter and honey.