Author Archives: E H Whitesides

Mixed Citrus and Beet Salad (Ensalada Navidad)

I love citrus season so much.  We scarf down big bags of grapefruits, Cara Cara and Heirloom Navel oranges (yay Trader Joes!) and I definitely break into my happy dance right in the produce aisle (can’t stop won’t stop!) when I spy the first Meyer Lemons of the season.  Swoon!  I also love me some beets, so I have always been attracted to the gorgeous Mexican Christmas salad, Ensalada Navidad.

There are numerous versions of this salad with all kinds of different formats and add ins, but a great many feature mixed citrus fruits and beets.  I needed to bring something to small group and I had everything I needed on hand, so I whipped up a platter of healthy, gorgeous, seasonal goodness to share.

Here’s what you need:

  • 5 oranges – all one kind or a mix of Heirloom Navel, Cara Cara, Blood, etc.
  • 1 lb of cooked beets (I used the kind you get in the produce aisle that are already cooked and vacuum packed. You can roast your own if you like, but that is 1000% more work than I think it’s worth here, but you do you)
  • 1 Meyer Lemon
  • 1/2 cup toasted, shelled pumpkin seeds (Pepitas)
  • 2-3 Tbsp honey, to taste
  • juice and zest of 1 lime
  • 1/2 cup neutral vegetable oil such as grapeseed
  • kosher salt to taste

Here’s what to do:

Zest one of the oranges and put the zest in a small mixing bowl where you will build the dressing.  Carefully cut the rinds off all the oranges.  You do NOT need to cut the rind off the Meyer Lemon.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist another angle – is there anything more beautiful and cheery than citrus fruit??? Nope!

Okay, now don’t toss those rinds into the compost heap just yet.  You are going to give each one a quick squeeze over your dressing bowl to catch all that juice for your dressing. Hopefully you will end up somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 Tbsp of orange juice.

Slice the oranges and beets into 1/4″ thick slices, and the Meyer Lemon into paper thin slices.  The oranges & beets will be slicker than wet soap, so make sure your knife is super-sharp and you take your time!

Again, just so gorgeous, no?  It’s moments like this that I am once again grateful that God gives us such an amazing variety of foods to enjoy! If you noticed the beets didn’t make it to the photo shoot, I had them segregated in a small bowl so they wouldn’t bleed all over the other fruits or me!

Arrange the beets and citrus in rows on your platter – be creative and do it how it looks best to you.  I thought a blue platter would look nice with the orange & red fruits, but yeah, not so much!  I guess that’s why I mostly use white serving pieces…

Yep, a neutral serving platter was the way to go, but I was not about to embark on a do-over.  Why that didn’t occur to me on row 1 is I believe what psychologists call “Cognitive Tunneling”. ; )

You should already have the zest of one orange and about 3 Tbsp (give or take) orange juice in your dressing bowl.  To that add the lime juice and zest, the honey, oil and about 1/4 tsp kosher salt.  Whisk together and taste.

Add more honey or salt if you like, or if you feel like the dressing should be a bit more tart, add a splash of white wine or rice vinegar (something with a neutral taste).

Drizzle the dressing all over the salad (you don’t have to use it all – see below for what to do with any extra) and top with the pepitas.  Once you dress the salad, eat it fairly soon.

To make it ahead, you can arrange the fruits and chill them for a few hours at most.  If you store it too long the fruit will just start losing juice and wilt on you.  A decidedly un-Feliz Navidad.

Any leftover dressing is amazing tossed with crisp salad greens such as Iceberg or Romaine, supremed orange sections and diced avocado.  That was my glorious lunch the next day!



Snowscapes and Fun with Waterlogue App

We got a rare proper snowfall today (six inches!) and it was magical.

The man and I went for a couple of walks to bask in the beauty and that wonderful silence when all you can hear is the snow falling.  And our neighbor’s adorable toddler squealing with delight.  That was pretty wonderful too.

Of course I couldn’t resist bringing my camera and firing up Waterlogue.  Teaser: I will be doing a post later to show some fun things you can do with your Waterlogue creations!


The towering Magnolia in our front yard


Our neighbor’s Pines and Maples.  This is my favorite of the Waterlogues


Now these are some flocked trees.  I gotta get one of those for Christmas next year… And if that’s tacky, I don’t want to know!


Our beautiful old Dogwood.  The Waterlogue reminds me of a Jackson Pollack I saw in NYC



This pretty lady let me get quite a few snaps


Here are 3 Waterlogues of this pic to demonstrate the variety of looks you can achieve with this app.  I LOVE it!


Our neighbor has the most gorgeous Crepe Myrtles.  I try not to envy…

Our street.  I think we have a Christmas card or craft here. I don’t know where all those faint purples came from, but they are everything!


The Villa

Our front yard


This is a holly we call Cousin It.  For years only his lower branches grew and grew along the ground, and if we didn’t prune him constantly, he looked like Cousin It.  This Waterlogue is another one that needs to be turned into a Christmas card.


I got the first 3″ off in the afternoon, he got the last 3.  My shoulders are not amused.


Why You Should Never Shop Online Without Honey

A few weeks ago one of my fave home decor bloggers posted a video about how she uses the shopping app/browser extension, Honey.  I do a huge % of my shopping online so quick like a bunny I signed up (free) and added the extension to my Chrome browser.  Cha-ching!  This thing rocks!

What does Honey do?

Basically as you are shopping online, you can click on the Honey button on your browser and Honey will search for any coupon codes, deals, better values, etc.  On Amazon, Honey is integrated into the product page so the info it generates is right there for you to see.

For example, if you are on Amazon, it will tell you if you are looking at the best deal for that item.  It will also show you if and how the price has fluctuated in the last 60 days or so.  If you don’t need something right away, you can “Droplist” the item, set a target price and Honey will e-mail you if your item hits that price. You guys know that Amazon is like the stock market, with the prices zinging up and down daily, right?

If you are shopping online at a store like Target, you can click on the Honey extension button and it will search for Target online coupon codes for you and display them in a sidebar.  I’m sure you’ve tried online coupon code search sites before (I sure have) and found them to be useless.  The codes RARELY work, and it’s just a huge waste of time. Well, I’ve had amazing luck with the codes I’ve found using Honey, and it takes you zero time for any codes to helpfully pop right up – you don’t need to go to another site, do a search, blah blah blah.

Of course, you can sign up to be inundated with “sales of the day” spams from every vendor you shop with so you can research and keep track of all the coupon codes & sales yourself.  If you have that much time on your hands, you need to rethink how you spend your days.  I have also tried other services that let you know when prices on items drop, but they were so slow – by the time they emailed me, that price was days old and long gone, and they were so complicated to set up!  Honey is quick and easy to use.  Gaah, I love it!

Here’s how I’ve used Honey in the past week and my results:

  • Droplist Feature: Last week I was looking to buy a cast iron pan on Amazon.  It was selling for $25, but Honey showed me that the price frequently dipped to $19 for one day flash sales.  Rather than me having to remember to check Amazon every day for the price of the pan, I Droplisted it.  Honey e-mailed me Saturday that the price had dropped, and boom – pan ordered for $19.
  • Best Deal Feature:  A few days before that I was looking to buy some reusable silicone quart freezer bags.  I did my usual Amazon search and picked what came up as the best price (sorting price from lowest to highest).  Now, I’m sure you know that when you look at an item on Amazon you can click the link that shows you all the sellers of that item, both new and used, so you can find the best price.  The seller I was at showed the best price.  I checked Honey, and it found me another seller on Amazon, with Prime shipping, that sold the same bags for $3 less, which was an 18% savings.  Go figure.
  • Coupon Code Feature:  Today I sat down to renew all my magazine subscriptions, which I try to get through (they always have great deals – you just have to remember to turn off auto-renew and manually renew your subscriptions each year to keep getting those super low rates).  Okay, so I was ordering 5 magazines, and Honey found me online coupon codes that gave me 50% off each one of them, for a savings of $22.50! [Yeah, you read that right – I got a year of Martha Stewart Living, Allrecipes, Good Housekeeping, Cook’s Country and Cook’s Illustrated for $22.50 total – plus a bonus year of Rachael Ray Everyday for $3! 6 mags for $25.50 – that’s why I love that site!!!]

So this week alone this app has saved me $31.50 on stuff I would have happily paid full price for because I had no way to know there were coupon codes/flash sales out there.

  1. $6 on cast iron pan
  2. $3 on silicone bags
  3. $22.50 on magazine subscriptions (actually I saved $37.50 because Cooks Illustrated had sent me a renewal bill for $40 for the year, but I paid $25 thru Magazine store, minus the 50% off from using Honey)

Honey probably does other things that you can find out about if you check out their site, which I highly recommend you do!

Blessings, E <><

***I did not receive any compensation for recommending these products or services***


Christmas Cake Cookie Bon Bons

Whoa, I know that title is a mouthful, but these yummy Christmas confections are a magical blend of part fruit cake (don’t think the gross kind full of soggy nuts and chemical laden frankenfruits), part cookie and part candy-like bon bon.  They are chock full of real dried fruits and citrus rinds, crunchy walnuts, and oh yeah, Bourbon and dry Sherry!  They are definitely for the grown-ups, and utterly perfect with a cup of hot tea, a glass of sherry or if you’re really OG Christmas, Russian Tea.

Here is what you need and how to make them:

For the Cookies –

  • 3 cups total of chopped, mixed, dried fruits such as raisins, craisins, sultanas, dates, dried pineapple, dried cherries, candied orange & lemon rinds, etc.
  • 4 tablespoons Bourbon*
  • 4 tablespoons dry Sherry*
  • *(you can substitute Amaretto for the Sherry or apple cider for all the liquor)
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup all purpose flour, divided
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 4 Tbsp. butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2″ paper candy cups (about 48 to 54 of them)

For the Glaze & Decoration

  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • ½ tsp Nielsen Massey vanilla bean paste (or regular vanilla extract)
  • 4 teaspoons Bourbon
  • pinch of salt
  • thinly sliced candied orange or lemon peel

In a medium glass bowl, toss mixed fruits and peels with the Bourbon and Sherry.

I used equal parts raisins, sultanas, craisins, dried cherries, dried pineapple, candied orange rinds and candied lemon rinds.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow to “marinate” until almost all of the liquor is absorbed, stirring every couple of hours. This should take about 8 hours or you can do this overnite. When the fruit is ready, you will have a lovely plump, glossy mix that looks like this (I had already folded in the walnuts before I snapped the pic):

Speaking of candied citrus peels-

you want good quality ones that are just citrus rinds and sugar – not the dyed, preservative-filled stuff that is sold for “fruitcakes”.  I get mine at a Middle Eastern market, but many high quality grocers carry them.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Arrange 48 to 54 1.5” paper candy cups on a rimmed baking sheet.

Stir walnuts into fruit mixture. Sprinkle ½ cup of the flour into fruit mixture, and stir to coat evenly.

To make the cookie/cake batter:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar. Add egg and beat to incorporate thoroughly. Add remaining ½ cup flour, baking powder, salt, and spices and mix on low till combined. Add fruit mixture and beat on low till combined – stopping to scrape bowl to be sure batter is evenly distributed around the fruit, nuts and peels (there will be more fruit mixture than batter so this is important).

Using a #100 disher or a teaspoon, portion a level scoop of dough into baking cups.

Press disher into cup so dough touches paper before squeezing to release the dough ball.

The dough won’t spread, so you can place the cups right next to each other in the pan.

Bake cookies, rotating sheets at halfway point, until just lightly brown, about 23 minutes. Cool.

Dice a few strips of candied orange or lemon peel to garnish the cookies

Whisk glaze ingredients together to make a thick glaze (too thick to drizzle, but thin enough to spread a bit).

Spoon glaze onto cookies; garnish with peel.

These cookies keep well, so they can be made ahead and kept at room temp in an airtight container.  In fact, they just get yummier as they “ripen”.  Enjoy!

Easy, Festive Dessert for a Crowd

Hey, y’all, since it’s Christmas time and you may be looking for an easy, festive, make-ahead dessert to feed a crowd, I thought I’d share an updated version of the most popular recipe on my blog –

Chocolate Cream Trifle.

This simple Trifle recipe has been viewed over 750 times! It’s elegant enough to be the only dessert you serve, but simple enough to make for a buffet.

Click through to the post for the recipe and all the deets…

PS – If you’re not feeding a crowd, you can easily halve the recipe and make it in a smaller dish!


-Elizabeth <><

Spritz Cookies 101 – Fast, Easy, Gift-Worthy and Delicious

Are you looking for a Christmas cookie that looks festive, tastes great, ships well, stays fresh and yummy for ages and oh, yeah, is quick and inexpensive to make a LOT of?  Would you like to crank out 10-12 dozen gift-worthy treats in less time than it takes to do a load of laundry? They say you can’t have it all, but with Spritz Cookies, you really can.

Spritz are my #1 favorite Christmas cookie, the only one I make every year.  If you avoid making Spritz because you think they are time consuming, fussy, and require an expensive gadget or hard-to-master techniques, let me tell ya, nope, nope, nope and more nope!  You can do this!  If you have failed at these in the past, I’m here to tell you all you need to make delicious, adorable Spritz cookies is a great recipe, the right (inexpensive) tool and a few tips and tricks.  And some fun practice.  I’ll walk you through everything you need to know to crank these out like a pro.

First, a great recipe.

I have been making Spritz as long as I can remember, and I’ve tried and tinkered with a LOT of recipes (my man is a very willing Spritz Cookie test subject).  This recipe is our favorite.  The dough comes together in minutes, doesn’t need to be chilled, is easy to work with and makes cookies with nice, distinct edges (Spritz cookies that puff or spread = Spritz Cookie Fail). Oh, and they are sooo buttery ‘licious you may need to make two batches just to have any left to give away (no comment). This recipe makes 10-12 dozen.

  • 2 cups (4 sticks) butter, room temp (don’t use unsalted)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp almond extract (totally optional)*
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch (the magic ingredient for crisp Spritz)
  • 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour

In a large mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla (and almond extract if using) and beat until thoroughly combined.  Scrape down bowl sides to make sure everything is incorporated.  On low, beat in the cornstarch.  When the cornstarch is completely incorporated, add the flour and mix on low till just combined – do not overmix.  Scrape down the bowl to make sure you don’t have any dry pockets.

The dough should be fairly stiff (stiffer than chocolate chip cookie dough, but not as dry as pie crust) and look like this:

You’re now ready to press, and that took 10 minutes tops.  Totally easy, yes or yes?

A word about tinting.  If you want to divide the dough and tint it, knock yourself out.  I find that fussy and I don’t like the way it looks with a lightly browned edge.  Just my personal preference, so you do you.

Second, you need the right tool.

Here’s where the wheels can really come off.  If you have a cookie press that looks like this, RUN!

This type of press (which a plunger you push by hand) is great for piping whipped cream or frosting, or filling manicotti.  It is a NIGHTMARE for trying to make cookies.

What you need is a gadget that looks like this:

The “right” type of cookie press has a trigger mechanism. See the little “teeth” on the metal plunger bar up top?  Each time you squeeze the trigger, those little teeth engage and plunge out exactly one perfect spritz cookie’s worth of dough.  Most presses will come with several die for different shapes, and bonus points if yours also comes with a set of nozzles for filling canapes and deviled eggs – hey this ain’t no “unitasker”!  Don’t spend a lot here.  Mine cost $15 and I believe I’ve had it longer than I’ve been married, which will be 27 years this Christmas!

Third, you need some tried and true tips and tricks to speed things along

Preheat your oven to 350 and line several heavy gauge cookie sheets with silpats or parchment paper (silpats are easier to work with – the edges don’t curl up on you).

The press might not come with instructions, so here is how to use one:

Take it apart and release the plunger all the way back

Place your chosen die inside the cap and screw onto the barrel

Grab a blob of dough roughly the same size as the barrel of your cookie press and roll it on the counter into a log a bit smaller in diameter.

Plop the dough in the barrel.  Tap it down on the counter and smush out (so technical) any air pockets with your fingers.  Be sure to leave about 1″ of space at the top to insert the plunger

Insert the plunger and screw the press shut.  Yes, a bunch of dough is going to squish out the end.  If it doesn’t, squeeze the trigger till some does.  Is this taking anyone back to their Play Doh days?

Scrape off the squished out dough, toss it back in the bowl, and you are good to go.  Your loaded weapon should look like this:

Place the press right into the corner of your pan, and squeeze the trigger two times – do this for the first, and ONLY the first, cookie.  This primes the pump.  *Note: you need to do this priming step each time your refill your press*

You’ll get a jumbo cookie which you can either scrape off and toss back in the bowl or leave as a treat for the cook (my vote).

For each subsequent cookie, place the press as close to the last cookie as you can, always making sure the entire circumference of the press is resting on the cookie sheet.  Squeeze the trigger once and quickly lift off.  The cookies will not spread, so the more you can get on a sheet, the fewer batches you will have to bake off.

If you are right handed, it’s easiest to begin in the top left corner and work your way down and then across the sheet to the right, and vice versa if you are a leftie.  Once you get the hang of it, you can zip out a tray in about a minute.  That takes a bit of practice, so be patient with yourself and enjoy the zen of learning!

If you have trouble getting your cookies to “stick”  (a) your dough may be a bit too warm (if your kitchen is warm and humid) so chill it for 20 mins max (you don’t want it hard or you won’t be able to get it thru the press). Or (b) you may have a bit of butter, etc. on your silpats from your last batch of cookies.  They have to be meticulously clean or your Spritz will NOT stick and you will go nuts trying.

Don’t worry about those little “peaks” of dough on each cookie.  They help contain the sugar sprinkles, and you will pat them out a bit after decorating.

You can top the Spritz with any number of things: colored sugars, sprinkles, chocolate jimmies, nonpareils, edible glitter, etc.  Or you can leave them plain and drizzle or dip in chocolate.

After you put on your sugar, sprinkles, etc., verrrrry lightly pat each cookie to get the sugar to adhere and flatten those peaks a tiny bit.  Do NOT flatten the cookies!  This year I bought some edible glitter and I am loving the look (center row)

Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes, or until cookies are ever so slightly browned on the edges.  You can go to lightly browned edges if you like ’em extra crispy.

Okay, get those babies off the sheets right away.  

Here’s the only fussy step – you will have to wash the silpats very well between batches (or use a new sheet of parchment) so that your cookies will stick to the sheets and you won’t have color contamination from the last batch.  I also run cold water over the pans to cool them.

You can change die between batches or mid batch if you want to try a lot of shapes.  Be aware that the more complicated the die pattern, the harder it is to press it nicely.  In the top pic of my set, the 8-petaled flower is a pain in the patuckus, so I rarely use it.

At the end, you will be left with one blob of dough. I always shape it into a monster Spritz topped with peppermint crunch for myself. 

I also do a dozen or so regular spritz topped with peppermint crunch (smashed candy canes you can buy in a jar). 

The peppermint Spritz are just for us, because while DELICIOUS, the peppermints melt and look terrible!

I am, however, calling the edible glitter a big success because it looks great and doesn’t taste like anything but sugar (I was a little worried it would taste weird).

A word about storage: Store these cookies in an airtight container all by themselves. Because they contain so much butter, they easily pick up off flavors. They freeze beautifully but again you need to wrap them up tightly to protect them from picking up freezer flavors.

I hope I have encouraged you to give Spritz a try this Christmas!  Let me know how they come out!

10 Ways to Make (and Keep) the Holidays Happy

A little Christmas Cheer in the kitchen

The Holidays (and by that I mean Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years) really are “the most wonderful time of the year”.  But more often than not they are a festival of stress, anxiety, debt, busyness and self-inflicted drama.

I understand why the Holidays can be lonely times, or sad when someone close has passed away or there has been some kind of family division.  There’s no quick fix for family drama or shortcuts to work through grief.  But the rest of that stuff is firmly in your control regardless of your circumstances.

Would you love to experience the holidays as a time of kindness, gratitude, reflecting on your spiritual blessings, expressing love and appreciation to the people you are blessed to have in your life, and of course the enjoying the FOOD, the fun decor and the tunes?  The holidays used to bring on so dang much stress and sometimes even anger for me.  But I’ve set some boundaries and created habits and traditions that help me genuinely enjoy this time of year.  And you can too!

Here are ten tips for adding peace, joy and fun to your Holidays while keeping the Grinches, Scrooges and Abominable Snow Bumbles at bay….

One – Crank the tunes early and often

I love love love Christmas music of all kinds and have a huge collection of CDs.  Last year I discovered the wonderland that is Pandora Christmas themed stations!  I have the best Christmas dance parties in my kitchen salsa-ing to all the stations that start with “Navidad”.  I’m not a fan of Country music, but the Classic Country Christmas channel is a HOOT!  Chill Holiday, Christmas Choral Classics, Christmas Traditional, Classical Christmas, Holiday Instrumentals, Jazz Holidays and Peaceful Holidays are all great.  Major bonus points if you sing along!

And as much as I love the fun secular Christmas music (is that an oxymoron?) I do have several playlists of Christian, or “traditional Choral” Christmas music to keep in mind that this is a joyous, miraculous, wonderful time because God came as baby in a manger and gave Himself to us!

Two – Bake Something “Traditional”

Foods – smells and tastes – are very powerful memory triggers.  When my mum died, one of the things I chose to keep were her handwritten recipe cards for our family’s traditional Christmas cookies.  I actually don’t do a super lot of baking for Christmas anymore so the old recipes don’t get made every year.  But when I do spend a day making my Grammy’s cut out butter cookies, the smell just says CHRISTMAS and makes my heart happy!  And that first delicious nibble reminds me of sneaking into the cookie tin and looking for (a) a Christmas tree shaped one (duh, they were the biggest!) and (b) an extra thick one!  I’m sure you have one old recipe you haven’t made in years that would bring back happy memories.  And lucky you if you have an older person in your life who would love to make it with you or show you how to make your family’s special treat that you never learned to make.

Three – Do Something Kind for a Stranger

One of the highlights of the Holidays for me is putting together my Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.  Every year I do boxes for 10-14 year old boys.  A few years ago a friend who volunteers with Samaritan’s Purse told me that the older boys are underserved.  They often get handed a box intended for a little boy (or even girl) because most people like to buy for the littles and there just aren’t enough boxes for the older kids.  I encourage you to not only participate in this amazing outreach, but do a box for the older kids!  If that’s not your cuppa, there are lots of opportunities to give to others this time of year, and doing something kind is a major joy booster and perspective changer.

Four – Start a New Tradition

Holiday traditions are wonderful until they’re not.  Things change – the kids grow up, you move, your financial circumstances change, you aren’t so mobile anymore.  It’s hard when a beloved Christmas tradition ends.  But hey, that just means there’s now space in your life for something new!  A couple years ago the man and I started a new Thanksgiving tradition that we could not enjoy more.  Instead of participating in the scary drama of Black Friday, we take a relaxing drive up north of Winston Salem where we stop at a Christmas shop and pick out our new Old World Christmas ornaments for the year.  Then we head to Pilot Mtn State Park for a picnic lunch and a couple hours of hiking, after which we plunk ourselves on the edge of the mtn and share a big slab of Chocolate Bourbon Pecan pie.  On the way home we hit a local BBQ joint or brew pub.  Best. day. ever. and it starts the whole Christmas season off on a wonderfully relaxed, connected-to-each-other vibe.  There is nothing on sale anywhere that I want more than savoring this view while sharing a slab of pie with my sweet man!

Five – Say “No” to Something You Don’t Really Want to Do

Wake up your inner toddler and just say NO!  Hate traveling over the holidays?  Don’t!  Dread your spouse’s holiday office bash more than a root canal?  Pass it up.  Tired of participating in a budget busting “I have to spend $100 each on 20 relatives” gift grab?  Float the idea of scaling it back – I’ll bet you aren’t alone!  It’ll be weird at first, but that weird feeling is a little something called peace.  Now, I’m not talking about digging your heels into your comfort zone and never doing anything “hard” or sucking it up when you genuinely have to (see that office holiday bash).  I’m talking about something that is casting a pall of dread over your life and your enjoyment of the holidays that really could be eliminated by having one big boy or girl conversation and letting it go.

Bonus tip:  Have you been invited to something you don’t want to attend but you don’t have a good “excuse”?  News flash – the fact you don’t want to attend is all the “excuse” you need.  Simply rsvp el pronto with a sweet “Thank you so much for including us on the invite list!  (hey, it IS nice to be invited!) Unfortunately we won’t be able to attend.  Thanks again for thinking of us and I hope your (blank) is a great success!”

Six – Take a Drive to See Some Lights

At least once a season I fill a few travel mugs with peppermint hot cocoa and the man and I hit the road for some Christmas cheer. For 2 servings of the yummiest cocoa ever: heat 2 cups whole milk to simmering; add Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate chips to taste (about 1/3 cup) a teeny-tiny pinch of salt (yes, to balance the sweet) & whisk till the chips melt.  Whisk in ONE drop of peppermint oil (2 if you have a cold and need to blast your sinuses out).  Jump in your car, put on some Christmas tunes and drive around your area.  After a few years we’ve learned which neighborhoods and specific homes always do a bang up job.  So fun and FREE!  Bonus points if you pack a few friends in the car to sing carols and ooh-and-ah together.  Repeat as needed.

Seven – Cut Yourself (and Everyone Else) Some Slack

Have a seat, because Auntie Elizabeth is gonna tell you some “truth in love”.  Your unreasonable expectations need to go on a Christmas vacation and never come back.  Seriously.  If you are trying to force your home and family into living out a Hallmark Christmas movie, you are in for some inevitable disappointment.  Your home & decorations don’t look like the ones in Martha Stewart Living or your favorite decor blogs?  Well, neither does anyone else’s, so get over it!  Make a list of 10 cookies you want to bake, then bake THREE.  Pick out 10 activities/parties you’d like to attend, and go to FIVE.  Just scale “it” back and really savor the few things you choose – and your free time.  You get the idea.

Eight – Break out the Christmas movies, shows & books

Christmas would not be Christmas for us without Charlie Brown, Frosty, Rudolph, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Tis the Season to be Smurfy, T’was the Night Before Christmas, The Year Without a Santa Claus (Snow Miser!), Elf & The Grinch (both hilarious!), Holiday Inn, Christmas Carol (the one with George C Scott – I cry EVERY time at the end), Polar Express (okay I’ll give you that the hobo is scary-creepy) and my numero uno, I’ve-watched-it-every-Christmas-Eve-of-my-life (!) favorite:  White Christmas (and every year I yell at the tv, “for *@#&^ sake Betty, just tell Bob why you’re mad at him!!!”).

This year I bought a bunch of children’s Christmas books (and even a Hannukah story!) to keep on the coffee table.  I’ve really enjoyed reading and savoring the illustrations to Charlie Brown, the Grinch, etc.

One Warning:  last year I overheard two ladies talking about how much they liked “Nestor the Christmas Donkey”.  I’d never seen it but I had it in one of my Christmas Special DVD collections.  Well, DO NOT WATCH THIS SHOW!  Unless of course you like being punched in the gut with soul crushing sadness by a Christmas show!  Gahhhh!

Nine – Go to a Local Christmas Parade, Pageant, Musical, etc.

It’s the sweet, simple things enjoyed with friends and loved ones that make the Holidays special.  Last year we were in Florida for part of Dec and got to see the Christmas Golf Cart Parade my sister’s neighborhood puts on.  People deck out their golf carts with Christmas decor and tour around the development.  Unfortunately many of them are also hucking hard candies at you, so you gotta be ready to duck. But we LOVED it!  I am so bummed we won’t be there for that this year! Our church does a service of Bible readings and carols where people in our church form a “once a year” orchestra.  Is it the Philharmonic? No.  Is it GREAT?  Yes!  Go to a Christmas play or concert, or a Church Cantata.  Everything now is so bloody “extra” we’ve forgotten how to enjoy the simple pleasure of our friends and neighbors sharing their gifts and talents with us.

Ten – Have Friends and Neighbors Over for an Impromptu Cocktail or Dessert “Potluck”

Do you want to have some peeps over but faint at the idea of orchestrating a full on dinner or cocktail party at this time of year?  Here’s a great way to do it easy-peasy that works all year.  We are blessed to currently live in a neighborhood where we enjoy getting together for a few drinks and a chat.  When the mood hits I send out an e-mail inviting everyone over either that day or the next (remember, this is supposed to be low-key and impromptu, so no planning ahead!).  I make an app or two and provide a batch of cocktails or some wine.  Everyone else brings more appetizers and the guys are always good for a cooler of beers.  In the summer we sit out on the porch and when it’s cooler we’ve sat around the fire table sipping hot cider spiked with Bourbon.  Your house is never going to look prettier than it does decked out for Christmas, so what a great time to invite a few folks over for a super low-key soiree.  Since most people do lots of baking (or at least a lot of buying!) for the holidays you could easily put together a quick appetizer and Christmas sweets potluck and enjoy a relaxed evening with people you want to fellowship with.

Eleven – Bonus Tip: Don’t Even Think About Going Into Debt for Christmas.

Do not do this!  The Bible is not kidding when it says “better a little with fear of the LORD than a great fortune with anxiety” Prov 15:6.  Make peace with and be thankful for what you and your family can afford (see #7 above) and give your loved ones the precious gift of honesty, peace of mind and a good life lesson in financial stewardship.  There are a million and one things to do and give for Christmas that cost nothing or very little.  Will your 12 yr old melt down when she doesn’t get the iPhone X?  Well she needs to have a seat and get woke.  Going into debt over Christmas is a bullet train to Miserytown, population: you.

I hope I’ve given you a few ideas to help keep this season a time of “great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:11)  Please feel free to share in the comments ways you keep things joyful in your home!

Holiday Decorating Tips

I REALLY love decorating my home for the seasons and holidays.  Over the years I’ve developed a system that makes it easy and fun and hopefully keeps things looking fresh and festive.  Here are some tips to get your holiday decorating going:

Keep Your Stuff Organized

If you don’t know where stuff is or it’s hard to get to, the whole process is just frustrating and “unfun”.  Have separate, labeled, clear plastic bins for each holiday or season.  Using clear bins is essential so you can quickly see what is in each bin without having to open or rifle through it.  Keep your eye out for sales – Walmart and Target often have storage bins on deep discount.

Bonus tip:  if your closet space is tight and you find a magical arrangement that gets the most stuff in there – take pictures!  When you start taking boxes out to use them, you will never remember how they go back in!  Don’t ask how I know that…

Clear Bins are key – you can see what is inside without having to open or empty the bins

In each bin keep a list of its contents – putting things away goes so much faster when you know what fits in each box!

Store your collections together.  I am obsessed with trees and I keep them all in one big bin.  This way, when I put out my arrangements I don’t waste time looking for a specific tree and I’m never surprised by a random tree that I now need to rework a vignette to include.

My trusty work table with the “Trees” bin unpacked and the rest of the bins ready to be unpacked. I DID say I’m obsessed with trees, didn’t I?

Clear the Decks and Create Space to Work

One of the best things I’ve done to make seasonal decorating easier is buy an adjustable, folding table from Costco (see above).  It easily slips in the closet when not in use, but it gives me a great place to plop stuff as I unpack without worrying about scratching my dining or coffee tables.  And it adjusts to a comfortable height to work from (bending over a coffee table to pick out tree ornaments is no bueno on a middle aged back).

When decorating a space completely clear off the area you are working on (you can see above my mantle is ready for its Christmas gussying).  This is a great chance to take a damp cloth to all your everyday tchochkes and give your shelves, etc. a good wipedown.  It also gives your eye space to imagine a new arrangement.  If you leave a big picture or object in place you will be “working around” it and you might not get to the best arrangement.

bonus tip:  I no longer hang anything on the wall over my mantle.  I place large objects like pictures and mirrors on the mantle and lean them into the wall.  This way, I can take everything off and I don’t have some clashing painting looming over my holiday mantle, or a hole in the wall I need to disguise when I take it down!

Shake Things Up

It’s easy to fall into a rut of “tree goes here, baby Jesus goes here, advent calendar goes here” but fight that urge!  Your old favorites can seem new and fresh if you use them differently each year.  I always do a slim tree in the kitchen decorated simply with food themed Old World Christmas ornaments.  Last year I swapped in a new white tree and wow!  My ornament collection popped right out and the whole thing looked so much better in my white kitchen!

Do you have a “village” collection that always gets plopped out in the same location in the same layout?  C’mon!  That thing is a giant Fisher Price playset begging to be played with! I have a large collection of Snow Village and I move it all over the house.  Last year I didn’t use the houses at all – I created mini vignettes with my people, cars, trees, etc. on silver serving platters and placed them around the house.  That was so FUN!

Here are a few snaps to show how things have moved around our house the past few Christmases –

Dining room buffet 2014


Dining Room Buffet 2015 – as you can see a fabulous mirror from Ikea joined our family in 2015


Several years saw parts of the Snow Village on the mantle or the hearth.  Wow – that ugly brick really needs to be painted… : (



Items from previous year’s dining room decor sparkle on the 2015 mantle


2016 Mantle – I swapped out the Merry Christmas sign and the creches and this display worked through January


A few Easter and Halloween looks –

Easter tree in the Kitchen – which had just done duty for Christmas in the front hall with little glass Cardinals clipped to its branches


Easter Mantle – I found those “chocolate rabbits” last year and went to heaven!


Easter Mantel


Easter Dining Buffet


Halloween mantle 2015.  See? the permanent art on the wall is CLASHY!


Halloween Mantle 2016


Halloween Dining Buffet 2017


Hall Bench 2017 – I put up the leaves in Sept and the Happy Halloween blocks in Oct


Halloween Mantle 2017

Spread the Love

Put little pops of joy everywhere, especially places that are “just for you”.  Sure you hope friends and visitors enjoy your decor, but at the heart, your holiday and seasonal decor is for you and your family to enjoy.  A Christmas tree in your bedroom seems luxurious, but can be had on the cheap.  Walmart, Target, Michael’s and Hobby Lobby all ofter a few inexpensive prelit trees – you just have to jump on it early in the season.  I also collect mini creches and I always keep a few over my kitchen sink – a bit of cheer while doing the dishes!

Swap out your kitchen linens, coffee mugs, hand soaps, salt & peppers, etc. for seasonal ones.  These little touches make “everyday life” more fun.  I have a large collection of holiday coffee mugs that I love, love, love, and I swear coffee tastes better in a mug that tickles my soul.  HomeGoods and TJMaxx are your friends if you want to score some great holiday mugs, bowls and serving pieces dirt cheap.

Two of my fave Easter mugs. Those cotton tails slay me every year!

You don’t have to gut your home of all your “everyday” decor to make it look festive or seasonal.  Adding a bit of Christmas greenery to your existing displays or a few fairy lights here and there makes a world of difference.  Swapping out one little thing makes everything else look fresh and seasonal…

I swapped in a bunny catchall on my nightstand for Spring/Easter


a shelf gets a bit of Easter cheer by popping in a painted egg that matches the items that normally live there


Edit, Edit, Edit!

Don’t be afraid to say goodbye to things that don’t bring you joy.  Some things are classics you use forever, but many things wear out or just start looking dated and sad.  That’s okay – give it a mental hug, thank it for making your home festive in the past and pass it on to someone else (or toss it if it’s just gotten tatty).  Nothing sucks the joy out of your holiday decorating like a few things you feel “obligated” to put out but just don’t like.  Why do that to yourself???  And this goes triple-double for stuff people have given you.  If you don’t like it or it doesn’t “go” with your stuff, give it away!!!

I do a “gut check” every year as I unpack everything and again as I put stuff away.  If I’m not excited about putting something up, it goes in the giveaway bin.  And after the season if I feel something has “run its course” it goes in the giveaway bin, not back in storage!!!

Bonus tip:  Don’t give people decor gifts.  Just don’t.  The chance of your picking out something they will love and that will work for them is nil.  Most people will feel obligated to use your gift, so you’ve just given someone the gift of guilt and unhappiness.  Probably not what you meant to do.

Keep tweaking till it sings.  Don’t knock yourself out trying to get it all perfect in one pass.  If something looks off with a display and I can’t figure out why, I walk away from it.  I let it sit for awhile and look at it from different angles and in different light.  I keep moving things around, adding (and probably more helpful) subtracting things until I love it.  Don’t get frustrated – decorating is a creative way to celebrate the seasons and holidays.  It’s not a competition and you shouldn’t be doing it to impress others.

Build your collection of decor items slowly and thoughtfully.  Don’t buy something just because it’s cheap or it “goes”.  Empty space is far better than space filled with “meh” stuff you don’t really love.  A house full of “meh” is sad and you will feel that.  If you are not palpably excited to bring something home, leave it in the store and your $ in your wallet.

So how about you?  What’s one thing you can display differently this year?  What needs to be bid a fond adieu from your collection?  I hope I’ve given you some tips you can put into practice this Christmas and throughout the coming year!

Stollen Muffins

Merry Christmas in muffin form!

Finally!  It’s officially (past) time to start crankin’ the Christmas tunes, bustin’ out the holiday decorations and baking, baking, baking!  I’m one of those weirdos whose favorite season is winter, because faux fur throws, snow and CHRISTMAS!  Christmas is my happy place, and I hit it hard.  Today I whipped up a batch of my all-time favorite muffins – Stollen Muffins.

I’m not a massive fan of Stollen per se (too dry) but these muffins pack many of my favorite Christmas flavors into one moist, chewy and thankfully not-too-sweet package.  These babies are chock full of spices, nuts, fruits and candied rinds but only 1/3 cup of sugar!  If you don’t have or don’t like one of the ingredients, leave it out or swap something else in.  These taste so much like “Christmas” to me that I make them throughout the year when I need a dose of Christmas spirit.  I also individually wrap them in plastic wrap and freeze them for when a cheer emergency hits.  These freeze perfectly and are just the thing with a cuppa on your afternoon break.  Enjoy!

Preheat your oven to 400 and place a rack in the center of the oven.  In a large mixing bowl combine:

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cardamom
  • 3/4 tsp. ground coriander seed
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice

Add, and toss to thoroughly coat & combine:

  • 1/3 cup dried cherries, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup dried pineapple, chopped into small bits
  • 1/3 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1/4 cup candied lemon peel, chopped
  • 1/4 cup candied orange peel, chopped

In a 2 cup glass measure whisk together:

  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 6 Tbsp melted butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 10 drops Fiori di Sicillia – or – 1/2 tsp each lemon extract and orange extract (or equivalent of lemon and orange food grade oil)

Add to dry ingredients and stir gently just to combine.  Here’s where your trusty dough whisk comes in handy.  This dough is pretty stiff and full of goodies, so don’t panic if you think it’s not “wet” enough.

The batter will be fairly stiff and chock full of yummy bits. A dough whisk is a great tool for mixing muffins and other quick batters.

Generously grease a standard muffin pan and scoop the batter into the wells – an extra large #16 disher makes quick work of this!

Dishers make portioning cookie and muffin batters soooo easy!

Bake 18-20 minutes, rotating pan halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out moist but clean.  The muffins will be browned on the sides but not the tops.  DO NOT cook them till browned on top or you will have Stollen Hockey Pucks.

Bake till muffin tests done, the sides are browned but the top is not

Let the muffins cool in the pan 5 minutes and then remove them to a cooling rack.  A plastic knife is your friend here – easy to slide under the muffins without scratching your pan.

See?  Nicely browned on the sides – I love my USA Pans!  Use a plastic knife to avoid scratching your beloved pan.

When muffins are completely cooled, brush the tops with melted butter and dip the them in powdered sugar.

Any day I get to use my baby silicone basting brush is a good one!

I used King Arthur’s Non Melting Powdered Sugar – it’s a special type of powdered sugar that won’t melt into your moist baked goods like regular powdered sugar does.  It tastes and feels like the powdered sugar on a boxed powdered sugar donut (admittedly not fab, but hey, I gotta use it up!).  As you likely don’t have this stuff on hand, I would advise waiting to butter & sugar the muffins until right before you eat them.  Or – you can dip them warm from the oven in powdered sugar (which will melt) and then dip them again after they are completely cool (don’t use the butter).

These muffins will feel “firm” and dense in your hand, but the insides are moist, chewy and perfectly delicious!

Mmmm – moist, chewy and soooo flavorful!

Homemade Remineralizing Mouthwash

I am a bit of a stickler for oral hygiene.  Hand to God – I floss religiously! My dentist loves me!  But there is one thing he would like me to do that I just can’t get down with – swishing with some iteration of Listerine every day.  That stuff is excruciating!!! I dunno, pain is our bodies’ way of saying “yeah, not so much” so I’m just not keen on lighting my mouth on fire twice a day in the name of oral heath.

Due to a steady childhood diet of antibiotics to treat chronic ear infections, my husband’s adult teeth have especially vulnerable enamel.  He is the king of good oral hygiene and still faces a lot of challenges with his teeth.  Lately we have been thinking that all of this brushing, flossing, water piking, prescription pastes and rinses, etc. might be helping to stave off decay (though not very well!), but they aren’t really doing anything to promote health.  There is a big difference between eradicating or warding off disease and actually promoting health, right?

So I decided to look into more holistic approaches to having healthy teeth and gums. One of the first things I noticed was tons of people going on about homemade remineralizing mouth rinses.  Pretty much all of them contain calcium carbonate, trace minerals and purified water.  The variations come in how you sweeten it (if at all) and the essential oils you use for flavor and for their antibacterial/antifungal properties.

What the heck is a remineralizing mouthwash, and why should you use one?  Simple. We eat and drink a lot of acidic, sugary things that are no bueno for our teeth.  They create a plaque promoting environment in our mouths, and we end up with fur coated teeth by the end of the day.  A remineralizing rinse is a safe, all-natural liquid that bathes your teeth in a gentle, good-for-them, mineral-rich, neutralizing and quite tasty solution.

Can I say how much I LOVE this stuff???  It’s good for your teeth and gums, tastes amazing, leaves your mouth fresh and clean and doesn’t in the least bit hurt (unless you overdo it with the cinnamon oil – yikes!).  My husband and I both like how fresh it leaves our mouths feeling and tasting, and we’ve both noticed that our teeth are less “fuzzy” at the end of the day.  Plus, everything in it is natural, inexpensive, easy to find and can be used for other things around the house and kitchen.  You could actually swallow the stuff and it won’t make you sick – try that with Listerine.  Uh, don’t swallow it tho, because gross – you’re using it to flush the yuckies from your mouth!

Here are the ingredients you’ll need:

  • Calcium carbonate powder – this is just the powder form of calcium many of us take in our daily supplements.  Apparently you can also use it to make your own chalk paint!  You can find this online or in a vitamin store, and it’s very inexpensive.
  • ConcenTrace Trace Mineral Drops – this actually is a daily mineral supplement, made from water in the Great Salt Lake.  You can add it to juice or your smoothie, and some people add it to RO water to improve the taste.  I got mine on Amazon.
  • Xylitol – this is a natural sugar alcohol.  It is used in toothpaste, sugar free gum, etc. and it’s actually good for your teeth because it starves the bacteria in your mouth.  You can also use it to sweeten food or drinks, but I have read that you need to limit you daily intake to under 9 tsp. or it can have a laxative effect.  It tastes like “less sweet” sugar with no chemical or other off taste.  I like it in my iced tea!
  • Food-Grade Essential Oils – this is important – you need to use oils that are meant to flavor FOOD not make candles or perfume!  Lorann Peppermint and Cinnamon oils are fabulous (and extremely potent), and I’m a huge fan Boyajian citrus oils.  They can all be found at King Arthur, Sur la Table or Amazon.  At a minimum you need to have some peppermint or cinnamon oil in there for their antibacterial/antifungal properties.  Citrus oils are a flavor bonus.
  • Purified water – I use water from my Zero Water pitcher, but you can use RO or bottled as well.

Here’s how to make a batch:

In a clean, small jar with a tight fitting lid, combine

  1. 1 cup purified water
  2. 1 tsp. calcium carbonate powder
  3. 1 tsp xylitol (more or less to taste), optional but beneficial
  4. 8 drops ConcenTrace trace mineral drops
  5. Essential oils – my fave combos are: Cinnamint – 5 drops peppermint + 3 drops cinnamon; Cinnamon-Orange – 3 drops cinnamon + 5 drops orange;  and Lemon-Mint – 5 drops peppermint + 5 drops lemon.  *Tip:  cinnamon oil is POWERFUL, so go easy on that one unless you’re a big fan of fireballs!

Shake well every time you use it to distribute the oils and the calcium which will settle to the bottom, and swish a Tbsp in your mouth after you brush your teeth.  I also like to swish a bit after drinking coffee or tea.  Enjoy!

Not gonna lie – I get a kick out of repurposing this wee little vodka bottle for my mouthwash. It looks so cheeky sitting on my bathroom counter!

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