Coffee Chat: Cusp of Christmas

Come in, come in and have a seat.  I'll have a cup of coffee in your hand in a moment.  It's plenty damp and cool here!  Not so cold as up north perhaps but it's cool enough to make a wool coat feel good.

I've just finished watching the nicest short film, 'Winter Thaw'.  I found it on the BYU channel and it is the story of a cobbler who is estranged from his son.  He is told by his wife in a dream that He will visit him and all he must do is ask him in.    It is well worth seeing for those of you who access to the channel or who might find it on Netflix.  I wept at parts of this short film.  The scene which most made me sob was where the Cobbler is preparing for his coming visitor and is cleaning up his home and preparing a meal and setting the table.  I wept at the idea of welcoming The Lord into my home by making such preparations.  I wept because I often feel, on a Friday as I am cleaning the house for Shabat and preparing foods for the Sabbath day, a sense of anticipation as though truly God himself were coming to sit with us through those Shabat hours.  The film is not Jewish but it is truly worth seeing!

John and I were lamenting the lack of Christmas programming to watch.  It seems none of our most favorite films have been offered up.  I think we shall have to try and build a Christmas film library of our own.  I've only two, perhaps three, that I'm aware of.  There are some movies I really like that John cares for not at all ("It's A Wonderful Life" for instance, and I don't know why he doesn't!) and some he likes that I care not at all whether I see them ever again (A Christmas Story...ugh!).  But there are plenty we do love: Holiday Inn, The Bishop's Wife, An Affair to Remember (it ends with that lovely Christmas scene, remember?).  There are so many lovely movies with wonderful rich Christmas scenes, like "Meet Me In St. Louis" and "Little Women" that I think deserve to be watched at this time of year as well. sigh...I am sentimental just thinking of them all!

I thought I'd spend today doing a wee bit of Christmas baking but I am not.  Instead I spent my morning in the kitchen preparing John's work lunch, clearing up the breakfast dishes, prepping our midday dinner and clearing up behind that.  It took most all the morning, not at all odd when you consider we were lazy bones today who leisurely got up around 8:30.  We were up until midnight last night watching back to back episodes of a program.  Then we read until 1am.  I don't know what on earth was wrong with us, I really don't.  John typically has fallen asleep about 9:30 and I am more than ready for bed by 10pm myself, but last night we were out of character and night owls. 

So a very leisurely start to the day. I even put off my morning Bible study until after I'd done all that meal prep!  I did my morning readings and prayer while John was outdoors working and dinner was in the oven.

Our dinner menu today was the Cheesy Chicken Tortilla Bake.  It is a recipe I found buried in a January 2005 Penny Ann Poundwise newsletter.  I noted that I'd made it for our family and Sam and John both raved over it.  To my knowledge I never made it again!  Well it was simple enough and not too expensive (I found it apparently in one of Laine's "In My Home" letters) and I had all the ingredients on hand.  I did note then that it was a little soupy and so this time in making it I used half as much milk.  It was still soupy but not too much so.  I also didn't have the Pepper Jack cheese on hand and so I used only the Cheddar the recipe called for and I didn't increase it.  I cooked chicken especially for this dish but leftover cooked chicken would work wonderfully well.  My regret is that I didn't season my chicken and frankly it needed that little extra oomph of salt and pepper.  A dash of garlic wouldn't have hurt much either.

The casserole doesn't seem like it would serve many but we've another meal to have off it, so I would say four easily could eat this dish and possibly six if you increase the number of side dishes to serve along with.  I served ours with corn and a salad topped with pico de gallo and sour cream.

Cheesy Chicken Tortilla Bake
3 tortillas
3 cups chopped cooked chicken
1 jalapeno, seeded, deveined and finely diced
2 cups chopped green onions (I used half a package from Aldi and it seemed the right amount to me, though not 2 cups)
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup
1/2 can milk
1 8 ounce bar cheddar cheese shredded
1 cup shredded Pepper Jack cheese

In a 2 quart casserole, place half the chicken, half the jalapeno, and half the green onion.  Top with half the soup mixed with milk  and one third of the cheese, then top with a tortilla and repeat layers.  You'll end with a tortilla and the last of the cheese.  Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

I am reading Papa's Wife by Thyra Ferre Bjorn.  I read this series years ago and I have this one and one other on my bookshelves.  It's one of those books that reminds me how much I long to have all of the books by certain authors.  Miss Read, for instance, and Elizabeth Goudge and yes Thyra Ferre Bjorn.  I have a review book to read...and I am having a hard time reading it.  I read it years ago when it first came out and this is an 'anniversary issue'.  It's a book that was made into a movie which had little resemblance to the book in the end.  I've even read the follow-up book.  The one thing I'd forgotten was how much I loathe the author's style of writing...sigh.  So I'm not exactly plowing through the book and yet I must read it and review it. 

After watching the Meghan Fellowes Anne of Green Gables series, I determined that I simply MUST read all the books this coming  year.  And being the reader that I am, I immediately thought of other books I simply must read all of: the Miss Read books (at least all I own) and the Little House books and The Harry Potter books and....Well the truth is I probably won't read all of any series of books.  I'll read a few books here and there and perhaps I'll get in several by the same authors over the year, but I won't ever clear off that shelf of unread books if I spend all my time with only those I know and love well.  And I do want to clear that shelf, so that I can justify buying MORE books, lol!

The baking I planned to do, will be done tomorrow.  I am undecided what to do about a dessert for Christmas day.  I am longing for a carrot cake.  I would love to make a Williamsburg Orange cake which is spicy and delicious.  I've contemplated a cheesecake.  I must make cookies for Channukah evening.  I like to do sugar cookies cut out with a Star of David and sprinkled with blue glitter sugar.
Likely I'll opt for the carrot cake as truly it's the most wanted cake for me this year and I can easily freeze the second layer already frosted without any problems, thereby cutting down on how much cake we have on hand

I also want to work out and execute some fun things to do during Channukah.  John's mentioned wanting a pack of cards and I think to get a fresh pack and play a few games of some sort would be a nice way to spend time.  I'd like to find my Dreidel and play with that one evening.  I thought perhaps I'd try to find a CD or two that we might enjoy among our collection and of course, one evening I'll make Latkes as a treat.  And we have our gelt coins.  I am hoping to find again a copy of a Channukah Bingo game I'd seen Pinterest to print out as well.  And if I can't find it perhaps I'll be able to make one.  So it shall be simple pleasures for Channukah and a little fun, but nothing too elaborate since it is only the two of us.

Gracious, it's hard to believe that Christmas is very nearly here!  We'll be going to church Christmas morning, but it's an early service and a shorter one than usual, too.  We'll be home in plenty of time to make our Christmas meal.   John requested steaks this year.  I'll make Hashbrown Casserole (aka Funeral Potatoes) and a salad and we've rolls.  And yes, I'll have my cake made by then as well.

I've been finding it mighty helpful to sit down along about Thursday and plan meals a second time during the week.  I read this hint in a 1925 Better Homes and Gardens magazine an it's stood the test of time!  The point is that we seldom know how a week may turn out with leftovers and sudden guests or sudden cancellations etc.  I find that what I might plan on Saturday (typically when I plan my week's menu) that things have indeed changed by Thursday.  And this way I am assured of using up, or at least putting away in the freezer,  leftovers we might have on hand.  For instance, I hadn't planned to have leftovers of the Cheesy Chicken Tortilla Bake.  I'd thought we might eat it all.  We haven't.  So that might be a meal for Saturday, served this time perhaps with some black beans and yellow rice.   I'd taken out a pint of spaghetti meat sauce to thaw and that will do nicely for Friday.  Sunday we'll have our special meal.  John is working Thursday and I'll eat the last bit of leftovers from another meal as my dinner tomorrow.  And just like that I've replanned our menu and determined how to use up extras we have on hand.

Ugh.  Speaking of Tortillas, the package I used was expired but quite untainted with mold and not at all sour.  I'd mentioned our use of nothing but bakery bought bread at Publix and someone commented that she'd also stopped purchasing the mass produced loaves because it never seemed to mold.  So true!  I'd noticed it was sour smelling and damper than usual but not drying out and never seemed to mold.  Well, the tortillas I used weren't far past date but they were beyond the sell by/use by date.  No problem.  However, I'd a full packet also on hand and decided I might ought to check the date on those.  They went out in November and had never been opened...and showed no signs of age either.  Still those got tossed.  And I suddenly made up my mind that one thing I mean to attempt this coming year on a weekly basis is to try and make some form of the breads we typically purchase and see how they compare to what we buy.  English muffins, tortillas, bagels....who knows?  We may just end up liking the homemade far better than the purchased products.  

It does not hurt my feelings to add to my homemade lists.  We seldom buy purchased cookies (except the spekulaas) and never purchase a store bought cake.  I prefer to make my own pies and biscuits, but my husband is fond of canned biscuits and cinnamon rolls.  I still prefer my own.  I love the homemade pie crusts I've finally managed to perfect and am over the moon that I can now make a proper jelly with the help of packaged pectin and carefully following the instructions.  I mean to keep on with that now I've figured it out.  I prefer a homemade spaghetti sauce and Sam's pizza sauce is too good as is Rhonda's Red Enchilada sauce.  I hope in future to get a pressure canner and can those items.  And homemade BBQ sauce tastes so much better to me than store bought which has a bitterness I can't quite get away from.   I might not make 100% homemade things but I'm certainly working my way towards making a great many homemade items.  The quality in taste difference alone is worthwhile.

Several of you asked how I made the jelly with the peels and cores.  I have a tendency when I do peel an apple and slice it to toss these into a bag in the freezer.   It is best to scrub the apple well to remove any waxes that might have been used on the skins before you pare.  I discovered somewhere (can't tell you where) a note that 4 pounds of peels and apples were needed.  I realized that my own freezer bag had finally reached the point where it about weighed in at that and so I put them in a big pot and covered with water.  I should have measured the water per the pectin box instruction sheet.   I recommend that if you want your jelly to come out right to follow those instructions first.  Read and read and read them and be sure you are reading the instructions for canned jelly and not freezer jelly which is completely different! 

My recipe said it would make 7 pints, so I set up 8 jars.  I'd learned in the past that there is always a bit left over and there was this time as well.  I sterilized the jars in boiling water for 10 minutes.  I put the rings in with the jars to boil.  The lids were covered with boiling water, but were not boiled.  I put the jars upside down on a clean towel to drain well.  When they were free of water inside, I turned them upright. 

I measured out the amount of juice the recipe called for (7 cups I think) and the sugar (9 cups) which is about the equivalent of a 4 pound bag.  The instruction said to stir the packet of pectin into the juice and then bring to a rolling boil.  This took a little time and it is necessary to stir pretty much continually which prolongs the time it takes to come to a rolling boil.  When the juice is boiling, the pectin should be thoroughly dissolved.  Now you add the sugar and start again with the stirring and waiting for the boiling stage.  Boil hard for 1 minute, then turn off the heat and remove the pan from the burner ( I use gas and so I didn't have to remove from the burner but electric stove burners will stay hot even after turning off).  Then you fill your jars, wiping the rims and edges thoroughly. 

Now top with your hot lids and screw the bands on tightly.  Place jars in a water bath canner and cover with 1 or 2 inches of water and bring to a boil.  After the water comes up to boil, let them boil for 10 minutes.  Use the special canning tongs to remove the jars from the water and set on a towel to cool.  They will need to sit for 24 hours and you should hear pops as they cool. 

As I said I didn't have enough proper canning jars on hand, which is recommended and one jar I used didn't even have a proper canning lid but just the lid that came on it when purchased.  Nor did I have a water bath canner...I just settled mine into the deepest pot I had.  This did not allow me to cover the jars, but the jelly all sealed, every single jar.  I'll be purchasing some canning jars over the next few months though to enable me to move into this area of homemaking.

I've thought long and hard about 2017.  I've been over on Pinterest looking each day and planning and I haven't narrowed it down to a whole lot.  But I have determined that some things are simply not necessary any longer.  I've about made up my mind who I am and where I belong and I am happy.  No need of wasting time reading about how to find myself, or how to self-care.  I've learned those things in the years when it was desperately needed and now I feel I've moved beyond that place in my life.  Just as I've grown beyond the need to read endless reminders of how to save money by not eating out or buying endless cups of coffees.  At some point, one must be aware of gained maturity and move on, agreed? 

I have organized and decluttered until it's now a fine art thing.  YES I do have a few minor spaces that could use some work but I don't have to focus any longer on the whole of the house, just those few small areas.  Not to say I won't be vigilant where the decluttering is concerned because there is something in the Flylady's way of culling things weekly or monthly in order to maintain what has been gained in the massive work that went before.  I heard just today that 90% of hoarders return to their hoarding ways...that's a scary figure!  I wasn't a hoarder, but I am by no means a minimalist.  Yes, vigilance is wanted.

Some of my plans for 2017 are: more baking, more canning.  I am trying to expand, or re-introduce old, skills into my homemaking days.  I plan to read more than I have in the past and to make time for it each day.  I have a few experiments to play with where my budget is concerned.  I want to stretch myself a little harder in several areas.  I realize that now I am capable and able and there's only good that can come of doing these things now.  I also mean to share some of the things I use in my home on a daily basis that I consider worth the cost of purchase.  Not always expensive items but things you might have never considered or seen, or perhaps have seen but thought it a waste of time to purchase.  I'd like to be more intentional in my approach to life in a homemaking sense and not merely settle to cooking, cleaning and repeat endlessly.  My focus will be mostly on home, in all the aspects in which it affects us: provision, shelter, pleasure, leisure, work, saving, earning, spending...I hope to present a balanced approach to life in our homes overall.

Well, I've chattered away and it's time to move on to another task.  I have set myself to cull the magazines accumulated in my basket next to my chair.  There are at least two months worth to go through.  I do like to spend a good length of time doing this and I find it makes me think.  For instance this morning, I saw where they were offering in bon appetite magazine a metal griddle.  It is not cast iron but it is some form of steel.  Well they suggest not only can it be used over burners as a griddle but to chill it and use under bowls of fruit at a brunch as a cold plate...Never thought of that one! 

Off I go to cull more ideas...Chat with you all again post holiday!


Kathy said...

Wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas!
The casserole sounds good; I should have some leftover chicken tomorrow so hope I can make it soon.
Thanks for the info about the apple jelly. I remember Mom making jelly by putting wax over the top instead of water bath jelly, and we survived. :D Maybe I will try making jelly next year, but I think I will use the water bath method. Let us know how the pressure canning goes; for some reason that scares me and as my garden doesn't produce a lot, I haven't attempted it yet, but I have been reading about canning meat which would be good in case of power outages.
We are behing in our Christmas movie watching, so far we have watched A Christmas Carol (my favorite with George C Scott) and a Muppet Christmas Carol which my teens like. We usually watch a Christmas Story every year too.

Lana said...

Over the years hubby has collected many Christmas movies and animated cartoons and has them all in a DVD keeper sort of like a book. He brings those down from his office Thanksgiving evening and we take turns choosing. That way we both get to see what we like and I have found that his favorites have grown on me over the years. I check PBS regularly for music programming and last night we watched the Boston Pops Holiday Special which was wonderful. Last week we watched the Raleigh Ringers, handbells, and we love that every year. Just some thoughts.

I am looking at 16 here for the weekend and am already so tired. Hubby said I am not to cook dinner all week. We are going out and I am to just decide where each day. What a relief. I am blessed. We do have a stack of gift cards so those will be used a good bit.

Please post how if you make good English muffins. They just do not turn out well for me. By the time I get them done through the middles they are too brown on the outsides ad still taste doughy. Everything else is easily doable for me with the machine to make the dough.

Lana said...

Kathy, canning meat is so easy. I just cut it in cubes and fill the jars and cap them and into the pressure canner they go. I mostly do pork as it is the easiest and it is delicious. The first few times you use the canner it is scary but you gain confidence. I stick around the kitchen the entire time it is at pressure though since it scares me to walk away. I really feel like I accomplished something when my jars are lined up on the counter cooling on a towel.

Mable Hastings said...

I, too, love Miss Read and was sorry to hear that she had died a few years ago because it meant no new stories. Rebecca Shaw, who started publishing when she was in her 60s, is another author I enjoyed and grieved when she died. Her stories are set in the present England but have the flavor of Miss Read, so you may want to try her. She had two series.

Did you know that the latest recommendation from Ball is that if you are processing your food for 10 minutes or more, you do not need to sterilize the jars before you fill them? Obviously they still need to be clean but it saves the step of fumbling around with hot empty jars.

I hope you have a terrific holiday, even though you have already celebrated much of it with family.

Anonymous said...

Any pot that is high enough so that there is at least 1" of water at all times is over the canning lids when cooking is ok to use for a water bath canner. You do need a towel or something on the bottom as jars should not sit right on the bottom. Also watch they do not clink together when processing if just using a towel on the bottom and they are not sitting on a rack like in a water bath canner. I know you now do have a canner.
TMC is showing many of the older holiday movies this year if you check their sight for times. Last year they left out most of the holiday shows. :( Over the years I have gotten many of the older movies and I am glad as now you only find them on line to buy.
We make a lot of the no-knead type breads. You can add things to the recipes and change it out so many ways and it is so easy. Now we are making many more types of breads. The New York Times No knead bread recipe is one of the first that makes a loaf at a time and it is also on U-tube. That one is our favorite.
I am looking forward to the new year and going forward with life. :-) Have a blessed Christmas Terri. Sarah

Anonymous said...

Oh Terri, I really like Miss Read too! But I have never met anyone who has read her. I found about her from my all time favorite author Jan Karon. She wrote the Mitford series and I love these books.
Jennifer from Ohio

Debby in KS said...

Teri, I had a little giggle when I read that your husband didn't like It's a Wonderful Life. I've been irritated by that movie for decades! Why? Because it should've been called It's a Wonderful Life if You're Harry Bailey! That guy dumped on George and got everything easily while George stayed behind, always doing the right thing. Harry was a stinker!

Karla Neese said...

What a nice, thought-filled posts. I love the inspiration!

It sounds like our book tastes are very similar. One thing I do regret culling is my collection of Nancy Drew, Little House and Miss Read books. What was I thinking? Oh well.

I, too, have started making bread homemade more often. I was given a bread machine last year and tend to use that for bread, cinnamon roll dough and other things. My biggest struggle is the slicing of the bread! Any tips on getting nice, even slices?!

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