gingerbread houseIs there anything more fun for kids of any age than constructing a gingerbread house around the holidays?! I don’t know how many people actually eat their creation, but even if you are staying away from the sugar these creative little things are so much fun to make and look adorable. They are really conversation starters, too!

This particular gingerbread house is one of the easiest for the kids, and if you don’t want to buy the gingerbread house kits from the store, graham crackers will even work for this A-frame. Copy the candy used in the photo, or get creative and come up with some of your own ideas. I’m sort of partial to snowcaps for the roof, those round chocolate candies that have the white sprinkles on them.

While the “kids” are making the gingerbread house, they may need your assistance to get started, but once the decoration is in full swing they may want you to back off, lol. And, the perfect thing to do if you really want to stay nearby is to make some fudge.

fudgeThere are as many fudge recipes are there are grandmothers I think…everyone seems to have their favorite. I happen to love the peanut butter/chocolate combo (who doesn’t?), so this recipe is one of my all-time favorites. Package small pieces of this up as pictured for gifts OR put small pieces in a festive candy dish when guests are coming over.

Pretty old fashioned, aren’t they both? I am always surprised how a childhood gingerbread house has the uncanny ability to light up the eyes of even the aristocrat! It just speaks fun and whimsy. And, fudge? No explanation required there. Both are a labor of love and such a welcome part of the Christmas holiday.

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The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads…

sugarplums

Most of us could probably quote the poem “Twas the Nite Before Christmas”, but if we were to do that and one of our most curious children were to pipe up out of bed and interrupt, asking,  ”Mommy, what’s a sugar plum?”, what would you say?

While it would have been common in the “olden days” to offer a piece of fruit as a sweet, a sugar plum really has nothing to do with fruit. In fact, sugar plums were one of the most difficult and tedious confections to make, requiring special equipment and real expertise. Just a single batch of sugar plums could literally take days. So, if they aren’t actually plums, what are they?

A sugar plum could best be compared to what we call Jordan almonds, an almond with a hard candy coating over it. Also, think peanut M & M’s.  Sounds simple enough these days, but not just anyone could have made these candies, and as such, they were usually only found among royalty or the very wealthy. These were, indeed, quite special treats.

So when our modern day children lie in bed the night before Christmas, filled with excitement and wonder and can hardly contain it all in their little bodies, what they might be imagining is “sugar plums”….their favorite and rarely enjoyed sweet….or perhaps it’s more of a metaphor for the overwhelming sweetness of Christmas mornings past, filled with love and family and all of their favorite things. And, of course, presents. Or maybe it’s merely Peanut M & M’s. :)

So if you’re up for the task, go ahead and make some sugar plums.  Many of the recipes will include dried fruit for the center, and that will be equally wonderful and sweet. Alton Brown has a great one that you can find here. As you make these treats, you can have a sweet little history lesson also. :)

Photo courtesy

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The humble sugar cookie, surprisingly, has quite an impressive history. Called the “Nazareth Sugar Cookie”, historical records date it clear back to the 1700′s, and it somehow wiggled it’s way all the way to the legislature in House Bill 1982. There it was decided that it’d become the official cookie of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Am I the only one giggling about this?!

sugar cookiesI’m not much one for politics, but I find it impressive that this baked confection has endured for centuries and still occupies quite the distinguished place in the United States. You might think that it contains some special ingredient, but really, it’s just a sugar cookie….sugar, flour, butter and eggs baked and finished only with your lovely and ever creative touch.

This little confection has long been recognized as, really, the epitome of tradition at Christmas. Even if you don’t eat these, baking them is still something you must not skip. And, gathering the kids, the grandkids and friends turns this tradition into quite the family affair. It’s definitely old fashioned.

egg nogHow about making the whole adventure a bit more fun {as if that were necessary or even possible} by adding in a tried and true recipe for Egg Nog? Whether or not you choose to spike it or leave it el naturel, there is just something about that nutmeg-y yummy-ness  that’ll warm your heart. I happen to love both the taste and texture of a slightly warm cup of eggnog. I think it just begs to be accompanied by your favorite shaped Christmas sugar cookie.

I know, I’ve got the warm fuzzies now too, even in April.

 

Photo courtesy:  Cookies, Egg Nog

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Is there anything in the world like the rich tradition of an old fashioned Christmas? Every generation makes its contribution to history, and it’s kinda weird to think that one day the things we see and do today will be viewed as old fashioned too! Still, I just love the feeling of comfort and familiarity that oozes from old fashioned themes of days gone by.

So, I started a series of posts in April around an old fashioned Christmas. This week we’ve been talking about simple and time honored ways of spending more time together with the ones we love the most. We learned how to come a-wassailing and what that has meant in the past, and we decided to get a little crazy around the Christmas tree yesterday. Do you see a common thread here? Besides being together, we really are having loads of fun!

christmas lights

An old fashioned Christmas long ago probably would not have included the extravagant light displays that we are privileged to witness today. You’d be more likely to see a single strand of those big, fat colored bulbs neatly lining the edge of the roof. You always could tell which families had tons of fun with this because there would be lights around the windows, and maybe even some sort of creative lawn display. They’d be the hit of the neighborhood. Today there are entire companies that thrive just on decorating the outside of people’s homes with light displays for Christmas!

So, I say we go look at their handiwork. Load the kids and the grandkids up in the mini van, bring cups of hot cocoa along, and just enjoy the creativity and beauty that light up the winter Christmas sky. You’ll be building memories that last a lifetime! I still remember driving the neighborhood when I was a little girl.

Photo courtesy

 

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silly picturesIt has been aptly said that it isn’t what’s under the Christmas tree that counts, it’s who’s around it.  Today we are continuing with our old fashioned  Christmas theme, and focusing this week on the old fashioned priority of spending more time together during the holidays. This old world tradition is still with is in many ways, but usually we’ve cluttered it all up with so much activity that stress is at an all time high by the time we gather.

Let’s take a break from all the hustle and bustle, and gather ’round the tree for some photo sessions. And, not just your ordinary photo sessions mind you. Instead of the typical serious or posed and formal looking shots, this is a great opportunity to have some fun and just get goofy.  Save the shining faces and perfect dimpled grins for some other time, and jump on board with photos that will make you, your family and anyone who sees them giggle. Yes, giggle!

silly pictures 2Nothing like combining an old fashioned tradition with technology too. With digital cameras, now you don’t have to spend so much money developing pictures you aren’t sure anyone will want or, in this case, giggle over. Now you can take dozens and dozens of shots, view them all on your computer and decide which ones you want to print. Getting serious or goofy and even being extreme makes it all the more fun.

Make the most of the pictures that come from this kind of fun, and create your Christmas card for either this or next year. I don’t know about you but I love getting those kind of cards in the mail. They really do make me smile and giggle and feel good all day.

 

Photo courtesy

 

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We’re continuing this week with our theme of an old fashioned Christmas, and I can’t believe how much fun it’s been to write and plan out the stuff I’m sharing with you! I’m all for chic and modern decor and even incorporating that into Christmas, but there is something so comforting and familiar about simplifying our Christmas celebrations down to how it’d been done years ago.

awassailingToday we’re talking about a-wassailing. What the heck is that, you ask? Good question! We get our practice today of going house to house singing Christmas carols from this old world tradition. But it was much more than dressing warmly and going out singing.

It was well known that around the Christmas season, the wealthy were significantly more generous. So, often scores of beggars and orphans would dance through the streets of England, and offer to sing songs and tell of future blessings if the householder would give him a drink of wassail . . . hot ale or beer with apples and spices.

wassail

It was just alcoholic enough to warm fingers and toes from the cold! Of course, you don’t need the alcohol to create the perfect hot beverage for a cold winter evening.

There are dozens of recipes for wassail, or hot spiced or mulled cider, and most grocery stores will carry a single serving packet of the spices to make it easy. This is one very simple holiday tradition that is just so worth incorporating …. that of putting a kettle of mulled cider on the stove and allowing the aroma to fill the entire house. When folks come to your door, whether they come a-wassailing or bringing a plate of Christmas cookies, invite them in for a hot cup of wassail. It is just so welcoming and special!

And, if you’d like to sing along with the song “Here We Come A-Wassailing”, you can find the video here!

 

Photo courtesy:  carolers, wassail

 

 

 

 

 

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I’ve started a series this month all about creating an old fashioned Christmas. This week we’ve already covered lovely glass vintage bulbs, and, just yesterday, we used the unsuspecting pine cone and walnut to contribute to our theme. Our featured old fashioned item today, everyone must admit, is a popular and well loved practice ~ that of stringing popcorn for the tree. I’ve got a little twist for you, tho. Of course I do. :)

popcorn garland

As you can see from the picture, by including cranberries to your stringed popcorn there is color and texture differences! But that is not the twist, heehee.  This is a great activity for the family while you’re all sitting together on the couch watching Christmas specials. And, if you leave off the butter (recommended), there will be less temptation to eat the popcorn instead of string it!

popcorn treeNow, this really is lovely to hang on the tree, especially as an old fashioned Christmas accent. It sends the message that Christmas really is a family affair, and includes everyone in the family. Little and big, these very long strings of natural garland are going to produce bright eyes and big smiles and very proud little ones for having added their own touch.

Garland for the BirdsAs great as these are for the tree inside, how about we take some outside too and feed our feathered friends? It’s a great idea! For the birds you could add in sunflower seeds to your string. Use a heavier string, and these will work so well. The weather is colder and the earth is barren of food. What a wonderful Christmas gift idea for nature.

Next week I’ll continue with our old fashioned Christmas theme and will bring you some idea for spending more time together. Until then, Merry Old Fashioned Christmas!

 

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If you’ve been around our blog for any length of time, you know that we are all about creative and simple ways to make the Christmas holiday not only a thing of beauty but a work of art also. Keeping with that objective, today we’re taking a couple of unsuspecting items you can find anywhere, and transforming them for old fashioned Christmas ornaments.

The lowly pine cone completely renewed! Aren’t they a beautiful thing? And, you can do a number of things with them . . . use as a centerpiece, pile ‘em in a metal bucket and lay some white lights in there for the porch. Adorn your Christmas tree branches, or fill a vintage bowl with them and place in any room of the house. So versatile, so inexpensive and so simple. Yes!

painted pine cones
Here’s another idea for pine cones. They are the perfect shape for this, and you can get really creative, making it look like a miniature tree!  Using a mini clay pot and a bit of moss, you can have a handmade touch of Christmas in every room. This would make a fun craft for the kids when they are out of school for the holiday, and they fit perfectly into our old fashioned Christmas theme.

pine cone christmas tree 2

Another common item most people will have around for the holidays are walnuts. Besides being yummy and very healthy brain food, they can also double as a variety of decorations at Christmas. Take, for example, this gold painted ornament with a red bow. Simple and old fashioned, isn’t it? Hang them on the tree, use as a package decoration, or leave off the loop cord, paint them gold, silver and red and gather in a bowl. Lovely.

walnuts

Or, how about this wreath made from walnuts? Very earthy and natural. Just grab a grape vine wreath at the craft store, get your glue gun out and voila! For color interest you could add some red berries, even some colored lights!

 

walnut wreath

This proves once again that we don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a beautifully decorated home for Christmas. Going old fashioned style almost demands that, doesn’t it? Personally, I love it.

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vintage ornamentsThere is something classic about the old vintage glass bulbs that your grandmother probably still has stashed away, carefully packaged in those flimsy boxes with the cardboard separators. Remember those?

I remember Christmas after Christmas my dad pulling all the decorations down from the attic and opening those thin thin boxes, and I was always amazed that none of the ornaments inside were broken.

Some of the ornaments on our family tree were from the early days of my parent’s marriage and others were made by our little hands at school. Precious memories. In our home now, we’ve gone through several different styles of Christmas tree themes,vintage ornaments 2 but I think this year we’re going to return to the old fashioned style of decorations and perhaps add a bit of a modern touch.

Then there are the beaded and sequined ornaments. It is incredible the number of interesting things that can be made from these tiny, seemingly insignificant craft pieces! I just love these. So classic, so vintage. And, if you don’t have any of these that have been passed down, they are likely so inexpensive at your local thrift store.

vintage hot padsAnother type of old fashioned Christmas decoration is the fabulous crocheted hot pad. I remember my sisters and I weaving hot pads on a loom and going around to our neighbors and selling them. They were fantasticly colorful and practical and I’m sure that’s why we sold out every time….or maybe it was because we were so cute. ;) At any rate, at Christmas time we were cute and smart and used these very colors. And, yep, sold out every time. We were little entrepreneurs even back then.

The good news on all of these classic decorations is that they are readily available at your local thrift or second hand stores. And, while shopping for them there means they’re not handed down from within your own family, they likely come from someone elses Grandmothers estate sale. This is fun stuff. Like a piece of history.

I don’t know about you, but we’ll be getting our vintage on this year.

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This is going to be the last post in the series I’ve been doing over the last couple of weeks about lots of great ideas for a Vegetarian Christmas Meal.  We’ve covered appetizers and soups and salads and of course, the main course. All vegetarian. All interesting. All delicious. Yesterday we brought you a yummy Kahlua Chocolate Fondue, and to wrap everything up I’ve got one more dessert idea. Not only is it a ubiquitous dessert, this recipe includes a special, secret ingredient that makes it healthy and gluten free.

black bean browniesChristmas cookies are pretty much a given if you’re hosting a group of people for Christmas. So are certain kinds of pies. And, usually you’ll have a favorite family dessert recipe that, let’s be honest, Christmas would just not be Christmas without it. But, today I bring you brownies. Not your ordinary brownie if there is such a thing. These are simply amazing, both in taste and in concept. You will probably not want to tell your guests what the secret ingredient is in this recipe until after they’ve tried it and start raving. Then, and only then, can you tell them that these are Cocoa Black Bean Brownies!

Stay with me. I know black beans are not really considered a dessert ingredient, but I promise you that you’ll be simply amazed at how tasty they are.

You can get the recipe and directions here. I serve these with a dollop of whip cream on top too. Mmmm. Is it Christmas yet?

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