Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The True 12 Days of Christmas

.As we get ready to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas, it is a good time to reflect on what it all truly means.  Did you know that the 12 days do not actually begin until Dec. 25th?  It has been said that the song 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' was written by English Jesuits of the 16th century as a catechism song to help young Catholics learn the tenets of their faith; each of the gifts represented one of the truths of the Catholic Faith.  The numbers are simply a mnemonic to help remember some basic facts.  The Twelve Days of Christmas are actually the days from Christmas Dec. 25 until the beginning of the Epiphany  Jan. 6th.   (The Ephiphany is celebrated on a Sunday so these days may be more or less in certain years now).  The Epiphany is traditionally celebrated as the time the three Wise Men or Magi presented gifts to the young Jesus on what was to become "Three Kings Day". 

In the spirit of the season, my family started a tradition a few years ago to exchange gifts among the adults and play a "Stealing Santa" game when we are together at the start of the holidays.  This is a fun way to exchange gifts among us "older kids" and a chance to get creative with fun and yummy presents for each other (all the kids still get loads of toys and items from their wish lists too).  This year, my oldest brother Joe and his wife Robbin made a gorgeous symbolic Christmas garland that my husband fell in love with being a huge Lover and  collector of all things 'Christmas' (seriously, his middle and confirmation name is 'Santo Nicholas")  and don't get me started on his nutcracker collection ;) The unique thing about this garland is there are numbered gifts tied up in brown paper packages hanging from it representing each of the 12 Christmas days.  My husband was so excited he said he didn't think he wanted to ever open the gifts and keep itaim it's sum old state, but my sister in law Robbin insisted that this was to be part of the fun so we look forward to exploring the true 12 days of Christmas in the upcoming weeks!  This was such a clever gift idea I really wanted to share the it with you.  You simply MUST check out Robbin's etsy page here which has some beautiful items you will fall in love with!! 
My dad was the first owner of this special gift and the kids helped him pull it out of the box.  This great photo was taken by Dianne Chapman Trask - who is like a sister to me! 
Recall the lyrics of the song: “My true love” refers to God, “me” is the individual Catholic. The “twelve lords a leaping” are the twelve basic beliefs and doctrines of the Catholic Church as outlined in the Apostles Creed. The “eleven pipers piping” are the eleven Apostles who remained faithful after the treachery of Judas. The “ten ladies dancing” are the Ten Commandments. The “nine drummers drumming” are the nine choirs of angels which in those days of class distinction were thought important. The “eight maids a milking” are the Eight Beatitudes. The “seven swans a swimming” are the Seven Sacraments. The “six geese a laying” are the Six Commandments of the Church or the six days of creation. The “five golden rings” are the first five books of the Old Testament called the Torah which are generally considered the most sacred and important of all the Old Testament. The “four calling birds” or "collie birds" as  originally used, are the Four Gospels. The “three French hens” are the Trinity or the 3 virtues of faith, hope and charity or the three gifts of the Wise Men. The “two turtle doves represent the two Testaments, Old and New. The “partridge” is  Jesus himself, and the “pear tree” is the Cross.
There are some that may say the history of these lyrics is questionable.  hope it will be accepted in the spirit it was written...As an encouragement to keep your faith alive, 
especially in a day and age when outward expressions of yur faith or a belief could cause others to negate you and in some places can sadly mean someone losing their life
 -may this writing give those that need it some extra love, courage, determination and maybe a smile. 

      Merry Christmas from our home to yours.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Tinsel, toasts and touchdowns!

It's been a festive football season around here for sure!  We decided to host our annual holiday party a bit differently this time around..... My husband is a die-hard Chicago Bears fan (being from the Chicago area) and my family has been Dallas Cowboys fans my whole life, even long before I lived in Dallas for a few years.  Needless to say when our two teams play we become a house divided.  So, we choose to make a Monday night football game with our teams battling our holiday party and hosted a group of 30 friends and family to help us root on our teams and enjoy some Texas and Chicago style deliciousness! 
Check it out!!!
I filled some homemade cannoli's and I also made some football themed chocolate strawberries - these were a bit hard to keep from getting melty in our Florida heat- but they sure were good! 
The biggest hit of the night were the Ditka Dogs with all of the Chicago fixings of course including that bright neon green relish!! 
If you don't know how to make a "proper" Chicago Dog- check this out!

 I got a great idea from pinterest to use yellow knapkins as penalty flags..... I certainly threw a heck of a lot of these around that evening..... but I digress.... check out my pinterest board where I got lots of ideas for the party d├ęcor & food here. 

We also trimmed our tree with our friends and kept the holiday spirit alive!  Our friend Gerardo Luna took these great photos of me in action trimming the tree and sporting my Emmitt Smith Jersey and Cowboys Santa hat!  You can see more of Gerardo's awesome work on his website at

 We gave out quarterly prizes in a football pool - little splits of bubbly to keep things lively.  Gerardo took this great shot also -he and his wife ended up winning two of the quarters and had a blast! 

We also decorated 2 additional trees in our foyer, one for each team

I even got those little car stickers for each team family member up on some windows.

 It seemed like we had more football decorations than Christmas! 
Then there was more food...... a chili bar, pulled pork, deep dish Chicago pizza from Cappy's (which is awesome by the way), sausages, if it had anything to do with Dallas or Chicago we had it!! 
And then some.....

Cannoli Dip

 Red Velvet Cheesecake Dip - check out the recipe here!

Cowboy Fondue

 I made these adorable cupcakes with white stars on half and teddy grahams on the other half! 

It truly was a fun night.... even if the Cowboys did lose - all of our loved ones won in the end!  Our friend Gerardo took this run shot of me with my friends Susan and Melissa - who did their best to support both teams ;)
This time of the year it is truly about spending time with people you care about and who care about you.  It doesn't hurt to have some good natured competition and some fun food to share.  I think I'm just getting warmed up for the superbowl....... ;)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

An "Essential" Oil For The Holidays: Peppermint

I am grateful that the season o' pumpkins left so quickly and even more grateful that my favorite time of the year for smelling, tasting and sharing joy is finally here!  Today, I am posting some easy ways to save yourself some 'reindeer' bucks with a favorite flavor of the season and its many amazing uses that go well beyond food. 

I have found myself using peppermint oils and spearmint lotions increasingly over the years for anti-stress, anti-bug and happy-flavor options.  Each December I literally inhale this both on the dessert table and from the candles glowing throughout my home.

This summer I purchased a couple of small bottles of peppermint oil (note: the grocery store version not the essential kind) to squirt around some of my bird feeders which worked very well to keep away anything pesky thanks toa helpful tip from pinterest.  I realized I could make my own for much less and thought of when I made homemade eucalyptus mint bath salts  with my nieces using essential oils a few months ago and the fun we had.

An oil is considered "essential" when it comes from the essence of the plant which is generally extracted by distillation often by using steam in a manufacturing plant.  I found a much easier and practical way to fulfill my needs in making my own concentrated oil (and even more proudly a sustainable local way as well)! 

I bought a peppermint plant a few months ago at the farmers market and it has grown incredibly well on my patio creating a wonderfully 'green' option for my future use. 

Some of you might be surprised at the many uses for your favorite oils and how feasible it is to make your own with only a couple of ingredients and a couple of minutes!

In making my oil, I took cuts from my peppermint plant and some EEOO.   

I squished as many clippings as I could fit into a jar and covered with oil ensuring no leaves were left uncovered on the top to prevent
any potential mold.

Letting it sit for a month for maximum concentration in a cool dark place, I was delighted to find the beautiful aroma and taste of peppermint ready to be used.  I removed the mint and can use it in recipes and even dropped a few at the bottoms of my bird feeders out in the yard for extra help keeping pests away - it truly works well! 

Here are some other neat ways I have found from other bloggers to cook with or use your oil:

Here is a fun recipe for Peppermint Playdough  or some 10 minute peppermint soap here

And how about some yummy Peppermint Patties, using extract instead of oil*.  During my research, I also found the difference between extracts and oils.  Concentrated oils are stronger than extracts and it takes less oil than an extract when flavoring foods. I have read that you would use anywhere from 1/2 to 1/3 less of extract in your recipes. With baking, I say always let your taste buds be the true judge of how much to use and experiment.

Carrie Raab from Young Living also writes about many other uses for peppermint oil here:
  1. Add a drop of peppermint essential oil to herbal tea to help aid normal digestion and to relieve heartburn.
  2. Massage several drops of peppermint essential oil on the abdomen, place a drop on wrists, or inhale to soothe the minor stomach discomfort associated with travel.
  3. Rub one drop of peppermint essential oil on the temples, forehead, over the sinuses (careful to avoid contact with your eyes), and on the back of the neck to relieve head pressure/headache.
  4. Place 2 drops of peppermint essential oil on the tongue and rub another drop of oil under the nose to help improve concentration and alertness.
  5. Apply peppermint essential oil to the back of the neck and shoulders throughout the day to keep energy up.
  6. Inhale peppermint essential oil, apply topically to your temples or neck, or put a drop on your tongue or in water to jump-start your morning routine. Excellent to do prior to working out!
  7. Diffuse or inhale peppermint essential oil mid-morning to curb the desire to snack.
  8. Inhale peppermint essential oil or rub a drop on to your abdomen to soothe minor stomach discomfort.
  9. Rub 4-6 drops of Peppermint oil in the palm and rub over the stomach and around the naval to relieve indigestion, flatulence and diarrhea.
  10. Massage several drops of Peppermint oil on an area of injury or chronic inflammation.
  11. Apply Peppermint oil immediately to an injured area (not broken skin) to relieve pain. If there is a cut, apply the Peppermint oil around but not on the open wound.
  12. Rub several drops of Peppermint oil on the bottoms of the feet to reduce fever.
  13. Apply a drop of Peppermint oil topically on unbroken skin to stop itching.
  14. For poison ivy or poison oak, apply Peppermint oil on location neat or dilute with V-6 vegetable mixing oil.
  15. Inhale Peppermint oil before and during a workout to boost your mood and reduce fatigue.
  16. To stop hiccups, apply a drop of Peppermint oil on each side of the fifth cervical vertebra (up three notches from the large vertebra at the base of the neck).
  17. Diffuse Peppermint oil in the room while studying to improve concentration and accuracy. Inhale Peppermint oil
    while taking a test to improve recall.
  18. Rub 4 drops of Peppermint oil on the chest and stomach to relieve travel sickness.
  19. Place a drop of Peppermint oil on the tongue and inhale into the nose and sinuses to relieve congestion from a cold.
  20. Add Peppermint oil to food as a flavoring.  Recipe for Peppermint Chocolate Truffles
  21. To deter rodents, ants or cockroaches, place two drops of Peppermint oil on a cotton ball and place along the
    path or point of entry for these pests.
  22. Mix a 15 ml. bottle of Peppermint oil into a 5 gallon can of paint to dispel the fumes.
  23. Place a drop of Peppermint oil in a cup of coffee to create your own peppermint mocha.
  24. Add 4-5 drops of Peppermint oil to 4 oz. of water and spray plants to kill aphids.
  25. Drink a drop of Peppermint oil mixed in a glass of cold water to cool off on a hot day.
  26. Rub Peppermint oil on joints to relieve arthritis or tendonitis pain.
  27. Place a drop of Peppermint oil on the tongue to stop bad breath.
  28. Remove tick by applying a drop of Peppermint oil on a cotton swab and swabbing the tick. Wait for it to withdraw its head from the skin and remove it.
  29. Mix Peppermint oil in a foot bath to relieve sore feet.
 I truly hope you all have a wonderful Christmas season and enjoy whatever holidays you celebrate with a splash or sprig of mint and festive cheer!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Tips to Gobble Up: A Stress Free Thanksgiving


"Go to the grocery store - Publix. You have to come with me to find them. They have to keep them very cold so they stay dead. Look at the price and pick one that you have money for in your purse. Take it home. Cook it in the oven. Put on lemon - yum!! Sprinkle on a little salt - but only a little because salt has lots of fat in it. I don't even like turkey though. I like turkey fingers - you make them the same way to make chicken nuggets...
Cook it for 6 minutes and eat it!" -Selby Sniegocki
If only it were that easy, huh!  That was a quote from my little niece a couple of years ago when she was asked in school how to make a turkey for Thanksgiving.  Priceless! 

The best way to enjoy your thanksgiving is to save yourself a little work as possible on the day of the festivities.  Only having to worry about 3 things is key: timing, space and of course the bird.  Having friends and family help out with sides, drinks, setup and cleanup, etc. is a lifesaver.  I've been known to be hyper-detailed and over-organized and tried to relax a bit over the years when it comes to holiday preparation.  With a little more time on my hands I have found myself actually spending less time in the kitchen with even better results- all due to better planning.

Pre-set the table a couple days before- we have been hosting between 15-20 friends & family the last several years and I adore it.  Our long "Table" is comprised of three tables stretched across the dining room and family rooms.  We add the last table right before dining to ease up on space.  Utilizing the same table cloths with matching runners gives uniformity as well. We definitely include the kids at the main table- it adds to the warmth and gives all of us special memories to cherish and hopefully instills a sense of tradition in the young ones. 
Clean out your freezer now, make room for items you can make ahead (gravy, rolls, turkey broth, desserts, etc.) and for any leftovers not immediately consumed.
Start early. Beginning on the Sunday or Monday of Thanksgiving week, do a little prep work each day. Caramelize some onions while preparing for dinner one night, make bread crumbs while supper is in the oven, chop veggies while watching tv, you get the idea. Even getting tiny little steps, like chopping an onion, out of the way will make things run so much more smoothly on Turkey Day. 
BE CREATIVE .... got some great advice last year from the food network during their live Turkey show.... check out her response to me here with the "It Ain't Easy Being Green" Bean Casserole. 

Definitely figure out what you can make ahead of time... last year I bought a fresh pre-brined organic turkey instead of struggling with a fresh bird and a bucket of brine - well worth the extra dollars if you can swing it.  The only place I have been able to find these is at Whole Foods, a few dollars extra per pound but worth the saved aggravation. 

Slide fresh herbs, olive oil, butter. etc under the skin - not only does add amazing flavor throughout the dish but it looks beautiful if you lay those last couple of sage sprigs across the top.

 Create easy and unique place settings with an extra treat!

Ask your guests to bring sides, desserts and wines.... be sure to find out if anyone needs anything reheated so you can plan accordingly.

Add extra gravy bowls to several places on the table - makes it a lot easier for the thing people go for repetitiously.  A few weeks before the holiday buy some turkey legs and wings and make extra stock and gravy ahead of time and freeze it.  This is one sure-fire way to prevent any dropping or lumpy gravy the-day-of.   Plan ahead with lots of extra leftover rolls and sliced bread (and some extra cans of that jelled cranberry stuff that some people adore...)
Create a new tradition for giving thanks.... here is an example from one of my earlier blog posts about passing around a plate of bread each person giving some specific thanks to the person next to them based on an old Polish Christmas Wafer tradition.  Check out my earlier post here to learn a lot more about some of our most treasured family food traditions. 

Most of all...
 give thanks while you truly savor the people around you and the fortunate food before you.