Shiny Brite ornaments were the most popular Christmas tree ornaments made in the 1940′s and 1950′s in the United States. I have an original box set that my grandma gave to me when I had my first apartment, and Christmas tree, of my own. Those ornaments hark back to the time when she and her sisters were the age that I am today. I always keep an eye out for them in antique stores, and it makes me wonder what will evoke memories of Christmases past when I am in my eighties.
It is easy to feel homesick around the holidays, because it’s often a mile marker for realizing that things are never going to be the same. For others, the times seem more joyous and precious than ever, and I need to keep that in mind. I am just missing people right now, but on New Year’s Eve, I’ll raise my cup to the shiny nostalgic memories and hopes for unexpectedly brite futures.
One of my dad’s hobbies is making paper models of historic homes. He gave a few of his prototypes to my niece to color over Thanksgiving, and here is one brilliantly surfaced product that she gave to me. I thought it would be nice to live there and be snowed in (a chimney implies a fireplace!). And if we were snowed in we might not so feel guilty watching college basketball and Christmas movies on TV for a day (a few of my dad’s other hobbies that I happen to enjoy). No snow here, yet.
It was never so easy to follow a diet. The day began with my sister’s eggnog pancakes covered in maple syrup. After breakfast, my niece and I unwrapped candy and candy canes to decorate a gingerbread house. And when we went to find Santa at an outdoor mall (unseasonably warm for December in Indiana this weekend), we found another jolly man making fresh kettle corn on the sidewalk (kettle corn will sub for candy corn here)! I have to tell you that I have never enjoyed kettle corn so much in life, then I realized that this was the first time I had ever had kettle corn when it wasn’t hot outside. With just the right amount of sweet and savory, popped to warm perfection, it reminded me of the hot chestnuts I ate on the street in Florence one chilly early January afternoon. The day of sticking to the four main elf food groups was also a day I will never forget — thank you Manges Family! Don’t worry, I am eating my fair share of broccoli today.
My niece and I warmed up a traditional sugar cookie dough recipe with pumpkin pie spice over the weekend. Inspired by the pumpkin pie fragrance, we decided to cut out little slices of dough in the shape of pocket-sized pie slices. Once the cookies were baked, we melted some butterscotch chips to spread on the cookies to look like pumpkin pie filling. Lastly, I made a fluffy meringue icing to pipe on for a whipped cream look on top. “Little pumpkin pies for my dollies,” my niece exclaimed! “Spicy butterscotch cookies are surprisingly tasty,” I thought.
Pumpkin Pie Spice Cut-Out Cookies
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup shortening
(In a separate bowl) beat together:
1 tablespoon buttermilk
1 tablespoon vanilla
Add wet ingredients to the rest of the mix until combined. Roll out dough with flour. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 6 minutes. Cool on baking rack.
Melt 1/2 cup butterscotch chips with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil or peanut butter. Stir until combined and glossy, then spread over the tops of the cookies.
Fluffy White Frosting from allrecipes.com
In a saucepan, stir together 1 cup white sugar, 1/3 cup water, and 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar. Cook over medium-high heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is bubbly.
In a medium bowl, whip 2 egg whites and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract to soft peaks. Gradually add the sugar mixture while whipping constantly until stiff peaks form, about 7 to 10 minutes.
My niece is four years old now, and after her brother gets on the big yellow bus, she wants to have school, too. This morning I was at her house and she asked me if we could make a pumpkin craft. She loves practicing her scissor skills and cuts out all sorts of shapes and colors that inevitably look like confetti! While she made orange construction paper pumpkins, I curled up some green spiral vines. Next, we glued everything down on grid paper. She named each of the little pumpkin pieces as she pasted them down and called it her family picture. Once all of the family was glued down, she said, “let’s play princess castle and read cookbooks together, Aunt Amy.” Twist my arm.
For the party we had for my folks last week, we wanted to send our guests home with something cozy and fallish. What says that more than a pouch of fragrant mulling spices nestled inside of a fabric apple? My sister sewed the apples while my niece and I measured out spices into cheesecloth pouches (the apple template came from a Gooseberry Patch Christmas book). We finished them off by tucking in a recipe for spiced cider and a cinnamon stick for the stem. After the spices are used, the apple pouch can be stuffed with anything and tied up for decoration. I don’t know about you, but I could smell some mulled cider or wine everyday for the next four months.
Happy September (deemed “apple month” by my sister)! Many students and teachers are returning back to school after the Labor Day holiday if they haven’t already: bless ‘em all. And though I didn’t make this folksy apple piñata for back-to-school, I like the idea of having something stress relieving to smash (that explodes with candy) after saying goodbye to summer vacation and hello to classroom assignments. Rather, a few special milestones in my family have passed: my parents both retired from public school teaching this summer, and they also celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary last week. It called for a celebration (involving peaches and apples…), and we are looking forward to a festive cookout with our family this weekend! The piñata was made by covering a punching balloon using a basic papier-mâché method of dipping newspaper strips in a paste mix made of warm water, rice flour, and liquid glue. Once everything dried, the vessel was filled with little sweets, sealed up, and spray painted red.