coke power of suggestionMy husband is a marketer’s dream come true. He sees tacos on the side of a truck on his way to work and comes home hungry for tacos. He sees a tv commerical for chocolate mint ice cream, and he can be found in the frozen food aisle instead of the couch.

It’s true that marketers are paid to conjure up desires and needs, all with the power of suggestion so that the unassuming succumb to their salesmanship. It’s a lot more prevalent than we might think, and I know my husband is not alone. I mean, are you thirsty for a soft drink right now? ;)

In Japan, the power of suggestion has been so successful that it pretty much dictates what people eat for Christmas Eve dinner. It doesn’t involve rice or stir fry or any kind of sushi.

kfc

Nothing traditionally Japanese, and even though it would never be considered fine dining, a reservation must be made in order to ensure this dish will be on the Christmas Eve table.

You will be as surprised as I was to know that it’s none other than a US fast food, made by the Colonel himself. Yep, the Japanese eat Kentucky Fried Chicken for Christmas Eve dinner.

That ad campaign in Japan back in 1974 was a smashing success!

 

Photo credit:  Coke, KFC

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food fightI raised three boys. Three rambunctious, creative, genius boys that all loved food. Food was the top thing on their minds most of the time, and the time not spent thinking about, playing with or eating it was a whirlwind of little boy action. The played hard, slept hard and ate a lot! I’m sure anyone who has raised little boys can relate.

We, of course, taught manners at the table, and as is often the case sometimes these manners were better exemplified at someone else’s house or in the junior high cafeteria. I once got a phone call from the junior high telling me what a pleasure it was having my two sons in the cafeteria line. As she told me the story, evidently my two little angels were the only ones to say thank you. Juxtapose that against our own dinner table that would rival any college cafeteria when all manner of food was flung up, down and anywhere else it would fly and hopefully stick.

loksaSo, what does this have to do with Christmas traditions in Slovakia? I’m glad you asked. Apparently a well loved, rather quirky tradition that still lingers today involves the throwing of food! It’s true. The legend states that loksa, a mixture of sweetened poppyseed, bread and water, would be served for Christmas Eve.  At the beginning of Christmas Eve dinner, the head of the family would take a spoon of loksa and throw it up at the ceiling.  Apparently, the more mixture that stuck to the ceiling, the better his crops did the following year.

Actually food throwing is a custom popular in many areas of Slovakia and the Ukraine, and it is a well-loved tradition by everyone (especially little boys?!) . . . except for the women who have to clean it up. Hahahaaaa!!  Why am I not surprised?

 

Photo credit:  food fight, laksa

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czech mapToday is our second post in our series about Christmas traditions around the world, and I’m going to tell you about some pretty interesting things that the Czech’s do. I’ve been reading up on different customs around the world, and there are some countries whose customs are fairly similar to ours here in the US. However, as we’ll see today, some are also very different!

A friend of mine got to travel to The Czech Republic recently because her husband was going on business. She was ecstatic to tag along, and no doubt had a real cultural shock as so many do when visiting other places in the world. Sometimes we get stuck in our own little world and think that everyone does things just exactly the way we do, but that simply is not true.

The Czech Republic is one of those places. The Czech people are very superstitious so many of the Christmas customs are also. Mostly revolving around foretelling some aspect of the future or the magical powers of certain foods, Czechs are very serious about it all. It’s not a lot different than the people who believe in horoscopes to help them prepare or plan for their future, really.  Or people who go to fortune tellers. But, the Czech Christmas tradition has a bit of a twist on that concept. Of course it has a twist. I like twists. :)

czech bootsI don’t know a single, never-married woman alive who at some point wonders if she will marry and if so, when. We may dream about who he’ll be and what our life will be like, too. Well, evidently Christmas is the time in the Czech Republic where single women can discover something about their romantic future. And they do it with a very logical object, really, when you think about it. Especially for women. They use their shoes!

The custom says that a single woman will take off her shoes, and stand with her back to the door. She then throws one shoe over her shoulder toward the door, and if the shoe lands with the toe pointing toward the door, it’s time to go shopping for the wedding dress! But, that is not all.

elder treeIf she wants to know where her future beau will come from, there is yet another custom for that. It’s true. She has to first find an elder tree. (It would behoove any father who wishes his daughters to marry to plant these types of trees in the yard when the girl is born, no?) Once she has found an elder tree, she simply shakes the branches. If, while she is shaking the branches, a dog barks, she will marry a man from the same direction that the bark came from. Lots of things could be said about this, but evidently in the Czech Republic, this brings hope to the young maiden, and perhaps a clue as to where she should be spending more time in the coming hear.

Photo credit:  Map, Boots, Tree

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I am sitting at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, waiting to board a flight to Las Vegas, the city that never sleeps, the city of lights. I’ve been to Vegas a time or two before, every time for something related to work and this time is no different. But, I will never forget the first time I walked down the strip, eyes wide like a kid at Christmas. Everything was just SO big! The hotels are like cities in themselves, the signs for restaurants are as if giants were visiting the land and statues rival Lady Liberty in stature. If you’ve never been, it is quite an experience!

This got me thinking about how Christmas might be celebrated, not only in Vegas but in other parts of the world. We’ve all got stories to tell about interesting or even odd family or cultural traditions, no? Well, stay tuned for the next several posts as we explore traditions that will have you thanking your lucky stars for your own! Or maybe they’ll inspire you to go outside the box and create some new and lasting memories!

First up is Ireland. Christmas there tends to be more of a religious holiday than here in the states. Christmas celebrations last from the 25th of December until January 6 (Epiphany). St. Stephen’s Day is on December 26th, a day set aside to commemorate the life of St. Stephen, a Christian martyr. Many people stay at home spending quiet time with famiy. However, if you are planning on visiting Ireland during the holiday seasons, you’ll want to be prepared for Wren’s Boy Procession. Children go from door to door singing, much in a carolling sort of way, and performing traditional dances.

That is not so out of the ordinary, but it there is something more.  The children carry a stick that has a holly bush and a wren on the end of it! In times past a real wren was killed and fastened to the stick, but the tradition now allows for a fake one. The children sing and ask for money for the “starving wren”. Interesting!

And as you may have guessed, the money is collected for community, school projects or a favorite charity. This really does make me want to visit Ireland around the holidays!

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gift wrappingWhen I was little I remember my mom teaching me, painstakingly so, how to wrap presents. She would clear off our huge dining room table, get her sharpest knife out of the drawer and have that grin on her face like she was about to create something magical.

She was patient and taught me simple ways to measure how much paper I needed so there’d be no bulky look. She used no scissors, but instead would crease the paper with her fingernail, then slide the sharp knife in between the paper and swish, swish, swish, the piece was cut.

I thought, wow, this could be called art! She showed me how to fold the corners and to use minimal tape but at the most strategic places so as not to detract from the package. And, then came the bow.

It was all a pretty lengthy process, and once when I asked her why we take so much time to wrap, she said that the wrapping is part of the gift, it is a sacrifice of time and a thing of beauty. I never ever forgot that.

cranberry centerpieceNow, we aren’t wrapping any presents today or learning how to do it (altho that’s a great idea for a future post), but rather emphasizing that some things that may seem unnecessary or that border on obsession really make a difference. Whether it’s wrapping gifts, hanging just the right curtains or choosing a striking centerpiece, it all matters. ENTER: a cranberry centerpiece!

To make something elegant or jaw dropping beautiful or unique does not necessarily require great expense. If you have time (your most precious commodity), you have it all save a few simple craft tools: foam balls, hot glue and cranberries!

I think you know what to do. Have fun. :)

 

Photo credit

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cranberry heart ornamentI’ve been browsing the internet, searching for more ways of using cranberries that don’t involve adding a ton of sugar. There are literally dozens, maybe even hundreds of great recipes using cranberries that do add sugar, but there are just so many ways to use these precious little round and red nutrient gems that defaulting to sugar isn’t even necessary. What do you think about these adorable ornaments?

Using just a few simple craft items, you can make these homespun creations yourself. All it takes is some thin wire, jute string and your imagination. Oh, and of course cranberries. You can either dry the cranberries first (as shown) or use fresh. You can see the ones in the picture are a bit wrinkly and shrunken, but the ornaments are just so earthy and sweet and would look so cute hanging on your tree.

The process is a simple one. Just thread your cranberries with some thin wire, twist close the loop and shape into bells, Christmas trees, stars or hearts. Or anything else your heart desires! Tie a piece of jute string to the top, and that’s it. This is definitely a  project that the kids could help with, too.

And, whose to say these have to be just for Christmas? They would also work for Valentine’s Day, for Memorial Day, for the 4th of July and Thanksgiving just to name a few. We certainly don’t need a holiday either! I think this heart shaped decoration is charming at absolutely any time of year.

This whole series around alternate uses for cranberries began when I popped a couple of dried cranberries in my mouth only to be surprised at how tart and almost bitter they were. Since then I’ve been on a mission to find ways to use up the cranberries in my house since I won’t be popping them in this mouth again anytime soon. Stay tuned for more ideas in the days to come.

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margaritaIt’s Friday right before a holiday weekend. You might be going out of town, but if you aren’t you are a little irritated that I just reminded you, lol. Like me, you are likely trying to stay focused on getting that last little bit of work done so you can truly relax on Monday. I know that’s what I’m up to today!

When you get home from work, won’t you join me by throwing on some comfy clothes as we sit outside with a glass of this?! Ohh la la!! Technically called a Christmas Cranberry Margarita Cupcaketini, it is refreshing just looking at it, isn’t it?! Definitely not just for Christmas! I think it’s pretty near perfect for a day like today.

I like traditional things that have a bit of a twist, and this cupcaketini meets the criteria. Instead of salt on the rim of your glass, this recipe says to use sugar. It’s also great if you want to stick to the salt, I think it will be equally good, just different. And you will be defending the honor of margarita tradition and that’s a good thing. :) You can find the recipe here.

If you don’t imbibe, there is a great alternative too.  Simply replace the alcohol components with sparkling water and regular orange juice! Just make sure you put it in a glass capable of holding sugar or salt on the rim.

Happy sipping now and at Christmas dinner!

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cranberry feta

After my post yesterday about the tartness of an unsweetened cranberry, I began looking around for some other ideas of what to do with these beautiful little red nutrient bombs. There had to be a way to use them in cooking that didn’t involve adding a bunch of sugar, I reasoned. And, I reasoned accurately. :)

Unbelievable how many ways there are to use unsweetened cranberries. How has this escaped me all these years? They say that need is the mother of invention, and that when the student is ready the teacher appears…..loosely applied, I guess I just wasn’t ready to find all these cranberry treasures until now! But, now that I have, I have to share.

First up are these adorable cranberry pinwheels. Oh la la! What if to our sour, pucker-face cranberries we add a bit of green onion, a bit of cream cheese and some feta, mix it all up together and spread it over a tortilla? Talk about a nutrient bomb, these are also a flavor bomb!

You can find the recipe and instructions here. No more puckering with cranberries, but prepare yourself for a barrage of inquiries as to how on earth you made such a heavenly treat.

Bon apetit!

 

Photo credit

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cranberriesLast week my husband and I were at Trader Joe’s getting some groceries, stocking up for a new brand of smoothies that we found. In an effort to eat less packaged food and sugar, and increase our intake of veggies, fruits and healthy fats, we found we were sorely lacking the necessary ingredients. One of the recipes I found called for frozen cranberries, and thoughts of Thanksgiving began to roll around in my head. Trader Joe’s tends to just carry more seasonal items, but we did find dried cranberries and decided they would work.

When we got home, I excitedly opened the package and popped a couple of those babies into my mouth. Wow. Sour. Almost bitter. I didn’t expect that. Truth is, cranberries are VERY low in sugar content. When I make cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving, I usually add both orange juice and sugar, so I should’ve been more aware. We tried the cranberries in our smoothie recipe, and honestly, we didn’t really care for it. So, I think we’ll be finding some creative uses for these dried cranberries soon!

cranberries and candlesHere’s an idea….apparently cranberries float. Who knew? Simple enough to put together, and it has that rustic charm about it that I really love. No worries about the leaves going bad or getting soggy…it is likely this would be a table decoration for a dinner party, or perhaps just a nice low light for the family room. At any rate, because the candle inside is small, it’s one of those beautiful, temporary things.

So, if you, like me, aren’t too wild about eating unsweetened cranberries, try this out.

 

Photo credit: Cranberries, Floating candle decoration

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frangoI may have mentioned a time or two that I am a big fan of chocolate mint meltaways. Marshall Fields used to sell what they called Frango Mints, a much beloved confection in Chicago around the holidays. Also, anyone who filled out a credit card application would receive a free box! Stories were told about people filling out fake applications in order to get more free boxes of Frango Mints! They stopped making them in 1999 and 6 years later Marshall Fields was acquired by Macy’s (and some have never gotten over their bitterness!).

Macy’s has tried to mimic the well loved chocolates, but how can you even come close to a candy that is hand made on the 13th floor of its originator? I have had the Macy’s version, and it’s not half bad, but Frango Mints will always be remembered as the folkloric taste of Chicago.

magic mint choc barkPerhaps second best to the long lost 13th floor creation is something we can make in our own kitchens. I don’t think there are many ingredients that, when combined with chocolate, top mint. Am I right? Caramel comes close. Peanut butter a close third. But, mint remains clearly at the top. We can recover some of the magic of those scrumptious, melt in your mouth, chocolates with today’s recipe for Magic Mint Chocolate Bark. Okay, we can at least try. :)

So, in honor National Chocolate Chip day, you can find the recipe for this tasty treat here. Happy May 15th to you!

Photo credit:  Frango, Bark

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