Aunties M & Em

Thoughts on Faith, Family, Food, & Fun!


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Christmas Movies & Cookies

Here in the Midwest, we were hit with the first winter storm of the season…complete with freezing mist and a little snow last night.  At my house, we got about 1/2 inch of snow, with the balmy high temperature of 7 degrees.  I spent today with Hallmark Christmas Movies, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and Christmas treats.

But it didn’t start out that way…this weekend was supposed to be our family get-together with Mom’s side of the family.  We were going to drive up Friday night; I was going to start the marshmallows and make the dough for a treacle tart.  Saturday I was going to make the tart, S cookies, and cut up the marshmallows…and then spend the afternoon celebrating Christmas with my immediate family, aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandma.

Yeah.  That didn’t happen.  The freezing mist moved into the area Friday afternoon, and my normal 45 minute commute from St. Louis’s Dogtown neighborhood turned into 3 hours of sitting, rolling, and sitting again.  By the time I got home Friday night, I had just about cracked up, and even if the roads had really been safe, I was in no condition to even be a passenger – I really, really don’t like driving in icy conditions.  And my drive time was peanuts compared to some of my other coworkers and friends!  Anyway…

So the travel plans changed to Saturday, and I was going still make the S cookies at the very least.  Until the whole family looked at the weather forecast and then the current conditions.  Mother Nature cancelled Christmas!  Well, okay, that’s dramatic.  Steven and I decided to make the most of the day before more freezing rain set in, and we were able to finish our Christmas shopping yesterday instead of today – yay!  By the time we went to bed last night, our church had decided to cancel services to keep everyone safe, so I knew I had a very relaxed day ahead of me today.

I woke up early, oh, say 4:30 a.m. and started watching Hallmark movies.  Every so often, Lori Laughlin would be featured with a Countdown to Christmas moment (7 days to go, y’all).  In it, she talks about holiday baking and how there is one particular apple pie that has to make every year…even if she was stranded on the moon, she’d figure out how to make it.  Lori goes on to say that it’s her way of still connecting with her dad, even though he has since passed away.

That simple statement had me thinking.  What is the one recipe I have to make every year, no ifs, ands or buts?  For me, it’s S cookies, which are a Nelson tradition…come heck, high water, or freezing rain, I will make S cookies.  I even made a batch shortly after our wedding (our anniversary is December 23), and mixed them by hand because I didn’t have an electric mixer of any kind.

But just why do I have to make them?  I had never really thought about it before…other than it’s just not Christmas without them.  But it really resonated with me when Lori said that when she makes the pie, it still connects her to her father.  It got me thinking, and I realized it’s one way for me to connect with my Grandma Nelson, Dad’s mother.  She passed away when I was two, so I didn’t really get to know her.  But she taught my mom how to make them, and in turn, Mom has taught me.

em-grandma-nelson-circa-1979

Em & Grandma Nelson, circa 1979

 

 

I wish I’d been able to know her…I know she was a great lady, and I would have loved spending time with her in her kitchen.  But I am so grateful that the people in my life who did know her tell me and Gregory (and my cousins for that matter) stories about her and my grandfather.

Unfortunately for you, dear reader, I won’t be sharing the recipe with you.  You’d have to be part of the Nelson family, either by blood or marriage, in order to learn…Dad doesn’t even know how to make them!  Mom and I didn’t teach Jessi until she and Greg were married…and she’s doing a splendid job of keeping it in the family!  I don’t know how far back that tradition goes, but I’m not willing to monkey around with tradition!

So now I’m ending this crazy winter-weather weekend with more Hallmark Christmas movies (why does A Royal Christmas have to start at 11 p.m.??  I can’t stay up to finish!) and sharing these thoughts with you.  Lori Laughlin shared one of her favorite things about the holidays, and it’s the same as mine: baking and making Christmas cookies and treats!  I love the comforting process of mixing the dough, forming the cookies, and sampling the broken ones (all in the name of quality assurance!).  And while homemade marshmallows are a new tradition for me, I love watching the sugar syrup and gelatin transform into luxurious marshmallow crème, and knowing that I made the perfect topping for my hot chocolate.

Merry Christmas to you all…and I hope Mother Nature doesn’t interfere with anyone’s Christmas plans from here on out!

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A Little Chilly, A Little Sweet, A Little Spicy

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Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow…”six more weeks of winter it shall be”! (foxnews.com)

Happy Groundhog Day, everyone! Perhaps by now you have heard that Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this morning, thus predicting six more weeks of winter. As if spring wasn’t already scheduled to start in about 6 weeks anyway. Now, I am of the opinion that it’s February in the Midwest, and therefore, it should be cold and snowy – though, Mother Nature could keep the ice. I realize this does not make me the most popular person in the region, let alone my own house…and I’m okay with that!

Today is also Superbowl Sunday, featuring the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos. I have no real rooting interest, since my beloved Green Bay Packers were eliminated by Steven’s San Francisco 49ers in Week One of the playoffs…the 49ers were later eliminated by Seattle in a close game that came down to the last seconds…bittersweet for me, because it meant Steven was bummed out. Today, we’re both hoping for a good game, and would be okay with the Seahawks winning…so I guess we’re essentially rooting for Seattle! And, what would a Superbowl be without good commercials!

But no Superbowl is complete without some snacks, right? In years past, we’ve had homemade onion dip (Guy Fieri’s recipe is uh-may-zing, and easy, too), dry-rub Italian herbed chicken wings from a local pizza joint, buffalo chicken dip, potato soup, just to name a few. This year, we’re keepin’ it classy with White Castle sliders and fries…they had a special online deal that was too good to pass up, and they just sounded good! I know you know how that is…

I wasn’t planning on making anything for this year’s game…until I saw yesterday’s “currently crushing on” post by Jess at How Sweet It Is, her weekly roundup of interesting things she’s found…and she finds some pretty great things! The first thing that caught my attention today was Sriracha Caramel Corn at iamafoodblog.com. I love caramel corn, and grew up making it with Mom most years at Christmas. I haven’t made any for a couple of years, for no other reason than just not getting around to it. I don’t find caramel corn terribly difficult to make, and I enjoy seeing how the molten caramel ends up coating the kernels of popped corn while in the oven…okay, I just made my mouth water…

Sriracha…it’s spicy, it’s flavorful, and a little dab’ll do ya. I wasn’t sure how the sweetness of the caramel would hold up against the intense spiciness of the sriracha, but surprisingly, it turned out really well. The sriracha caramel does obtain a fairly smoky flavor as it finishes up in the oven, and the heat is pretty subtle as I taste a couple of kernels at a time. To me, the heat sneaks up on you, albeit in a rather pleasant way. Steven, however, has been enjoying it handful after handful since it finished earlier this afternoon.  He even told me it’s the best popcorn I’ve ever made…a compliment I’m more than willing to accept.

It's a slow burn...but worth it!

It’s a slow burn…but worth it!

Be sure to check out the recipe at IAmAFoodBlog.com!

So, now it’s nearly game time, and we’ll be picking up our sliders soon…I hope you all enjoy whatever festivities you have planned!

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10 Ways to Celebrate Harry Potter’s (and J.K. Rowling’s!) Birthday

One of my favorite new (to me) blogs is Three Chic Geeks. Basically, they took all my fandoms and neatly wraps them up in one geeky/nerdy fabulous package. Love it!
Anyway, today Critique Geek shared some ways to celebrate the birthdays of Harry Potter and his wonderful creator, J.K.Rowling. I especially love her tenth suggestion…check it out!

Three Chic Geeks

Happy Birthday Harry & Jo

Today marks the 33rd birthday of that messy-haired boy with the funny looking scar with whom many of us grew up. It also happens to be the birthday of Queen Rowling, the brilliant mind that brought us the HP universe and everything we love about it. In order to commemorate this special day, we’ve compiled a list of ways to celebrate Harry James Potter, Hogwarts, and the magic of friendship.

Plus there ain’t no party like a Hogwarts party cuz a Hogwarts party don’t stop!

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To All the Ladies…

Happy Mother’s Day! Moms come in all forms, too. Not all moms have had babies, but have a motherly influence on the loved ones in their lives.

So no matter if you have kids of your own or if you have people who look up to you as a mom, I hope you have a wonderful day today. Happy Mother’s Day to you!!


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PLAAAY BAAALL!

It’s that time of year again, folks.  No, not tax time…though, as a friendly reminder from me to you, next Monday is April 15th – time to get your taxes filed!

Today is the St. Louis Cardinals home opener!  Since no one has declared Opening Day a “St. Louisans-Don’t-Have-To-Work Day”, I listened to the festivities on 1120AM KMOX.  I know I’m only in my mid-thirties, but listening to games on KMOX really brings me back to being a kid…growing up in central Illinois meant you either watched games on TV or listened to KMOX.  I’ve listened to countless games, and never have I been so moved than today.

Stan “The Man” Musial passed away in January of this year.  He is synonymous with the Cardinals, and with being a St. Louisan.  I work in St. Louis, and drive by Busch Stadium each day.  I remember seeing the Stan statue completely surrounded by gifts and tributes to “The Man”, and how touched I was that his family was willing to open up their grieving process to the millions of Cardinal fans around the world.

The Opening Day ceremony started with the entrance of the Clydesdales, then a tribute to Stan.  The starting lineup was introduced, then another moment of silence in honor of all those we have lost, including the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary last December.  I started tearing up with the initial tribute to Stan…and pert near lost it at the end, especially when the National Anthem was played by the Gateway Harmonica Club…Stan was a lifelong member of the club.  The Cardinals have always been a classy organization, and it really showed today.  They are planning a bigger tribute to Stan at Friday night’s game, and man…I wish I could be there!  Does anyone have a pair of tickets they’d like to give me?  Anybody?

I actually looked forward to my drive home tonight, knowing that I would be able to look into the stadium as I passed it.  Granted, it was a tiny view, and I had to focus on the task at hand – safe driving.  But I could smell the food…I could just barely see the fans decked out in red.  Attending a home opener is definitely on my bucket list!

Even though the Cardinals lost (okay, “got their butts handed to them in the 9th inning” is more appropriate), it’s still been a great Opening Day for me.  Today is the first of many afternoons where I’ll get a peek inside Busch…a peek inside America’s pastime.  And right now, I’m watching The Sandlot, probably my second favorite baseball movie ever (A League of Their Own is my absolute favorite movie of all time), remembering when Dad used to take me and Greg to see the Cardinals play in old Busch and how we’d take our gloves, even though there was no way any ball was getting hit that far up…when we used to go to games in Springfield, IL, first Cardinals, then Sultans (the club in town now is the Springfield Sliders, and is part of the Prospect League).

You know, football may be the most popular sport in the country, but baseball will always be America’s pastime.  To me, no other sport measures up to it…the history of the game, listening to the play-by-play, the sound of a bat knocking a ball out of the park, the smell of hot dogs and beer…  Sitting close is awesome, but I think Alabama had it right when they sang, “There’s nothing like the view from the cheap seats.”

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Christmas 2012

As I sit here at the close of this year’s Christmas Day, I find myself reflecting on past Christmases.  This is by far my favorite time of year.  The air is crisp and cold, and we either have snow or are gearing up for an impending snow storm.  Families and friends are reconnecting, perhaps planning a party, or at least dinner.  For me, I’m celebrating three very different occasions: the anniversary of my hubby’s dad’s liver transplant, my wedding anniversary, and of course, Christmas.

Five years ago, Steven’s dad was diagnosed with liver failure that had no known cause.  He was placed on the waiting list that fall…which just begins a long, stressful wait.  I can’t find the words to describe what it’s like to wait for that one phone call…or two…or three.  Two false alarms, and one “good-to-go” call is what it took before we could finally settle in for a very long night in the ICU waiting room.  Three days before Christmas.  Now, I’ve been on the living donor side of transplant surgery when my dad donated over half his liver to his cousin in 2001.  But it’s a completely different feeling to be on the recipient side…especially knowing that my loved one gets a second life because another family is grieving the death of their loved one.  Because of that family’s willingness to donate their loved one’s organs, not only my family, but also several other families get more time with their loved ones.  This year, we were able to celebrate Dad’s 5th second birthday!  Thank God for medical technology that allows for the intricacies of transplant surgery!

Steven and I met when I was a sophomore in college (Go, McKendree Bearcats!).  He says that after our first date, he went home and told his mom that I was the girl he was going to marry, a story she confirms.  Aw!  In October of that year, he proposed on McKendree’s front lawn, one of my favorite places on campus.  I was so surprised, but found the ability to say yes.  I wanted to finish school first, and he was so understanding and patient…what a blessing!  We were married two years later, on December 23, 2000.  I think our relationship benefitted, though, from such a lengthy engagement.  We were able to learn about each other’s habits, our family’s habits, and really see each other at our best and worst.  Some days we can’t believe it’s been 12 years…and others…well, it feels like it’s been a lot longer.  I am so thankful every day, though, that God blessed me with Steven.  I couldn’t imagine my life with anyone else!

And now, Christmas…my very favorite holiday of the year.  The cookies and candies…the decorations…the twinkle of lights on houses and trees – I just love it all.  Each year, I make fudge for my brother and S-cookies for my dad…at minimum!  I also made animal (cutout) cookies this year, and we’ll decorate them as a family on Friday night.  We’ll get together with Mom’s family on Saturday, and just our six that night.  Steven and I spent time yesterday and today with his parents, as well as this morning with just the two of us.

We started our Christmas festivities, though, with singing in both Christmas Eve services at our church, Leclaire Christian Church.   The service, whether we attend or participate in it, always helps to get me centered on the real reason for Christmas.  Without the birth of Jesus, we wouldn’t be able to know the power of God’s redemptive love.  Without Him, my joy in celebrating Dad’s second birthday and my anniversary wouldn’t be as meaningful.  Without Him, my joy in the Christmas season wouldn’t be complete.  Thank You, God, for sending your Son for us.  Thank You for loving us so much that you give us a second chance…a chance for eternal life.

My greatest wish for each of you is that you have a blessed Christmas, and that the memories of today stretch into the New Year.

Merry Christmas!

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Turkey & Potatoes…Success & Failure

Well, Thanksgiving Day has come and gone.  I love everything about Thanksgiving…time spent with family, being grateful for what God has blessed us with, and, last but certainly not least, the food.  A couple of weeks ago, Diane at White on Rice Couple (one of my favorite blogs), posted about Thanksgiving recipes, both old favorites and new interpretations.  She got me to thinking about the most memorable dishes from throughout the years…both good and, well, not so good.

Several years ago, we decided that since we had all traditional Turkey Day dinners, we would try some twists on traditional dishes.  We were inspired by recipes we found on FoodNetwork.com, like Giada’s Turkey with Herbes de Provence and Citrus and Sweet Potato Gnocchi.  Dad followed the recipe for the turkey pretty much to the letter, except he opted to grill the turkey on his trusty Weber kettle grill.  It looked and smelled delicious!  Right on schedule, Dad pulled the turkey in the roasting pan from the grill, and set it on his grill-side table.  Now, I still don’t know how it exactly happened, but the next thing I know, the turkey and pan are on the driveway…breast side down.  A few irritated words and stunned moments later, Dad picked up the turkey, brushed off the teensy bits of gravel and brought it inside.  That was one of the tastiest birds I’ve ever had!  It earned the moniker “Driveway Turkey”, which we still use to this day when referring to any turkey Dad grills.  I’d say this is a dish that succeeded when it nearly failed!

That same year, I made the sweet potato gnocchi with maple cinnamon sage brown butter.  I had never made gnocchi before, and was pleasantly surprised at how easy they were to make.  The brown butter sauce, on the other hand, was a little trickier, and I’m still not sure I got it quite right.  We couldn’t find fresh sage at the grocery store, so we substituted basil…and boy, did it pop and sizzle when I added it the brown butter!  It kind of caught me off guard, but it was really cool.  Normally, we have leftovers of all the dishes we make, but the sweet potato gnocchi were gobbled up by everyone at dinner!  Success!  Hmmm…I think I need to make it again soon…

Before the Driveway Turkey and Sweet Potato Gnocchi, though, was the first dish we made that is not traditional for our family…the “fail” in this case.  It has become the stuff of legend…Dad’s brother, Jerry, was joining us for Thanksgiving that year…and not a year goes by that he doesn’t mention this dish in some way.  Let me turn this post over to Mom for more information…’cause I try not to think about it if I don’t have to…

Mmmmm…. Emily, we do need for you to make some more Sweet Potato Gnocchi!  It was truly one of the tastiest dishes I’ve ever had!

But now, for the stuff of legend.  Back in the 1990s…and I mean the entire decade… I worked for our local Head Start program.  I made some good friends there and learned to appreciate diversity and family cultures different from my own.

One year we were all talking about our favorite foods for the holidays.  My African-American friends said there are two soul foods that are must-haves for Thanksgiving: sweet potato pie and chitlins.

Now, I’d made sweet potato pie and it is delicious, but I didn’t even know what chitlins were.  My friends went on and on about how good they are and how it wouldn’t be the holidays without them.  So I thought maybe our family should also experience this ultimate soul food fare.

I got the recipe complete with extensive instructions about how to properly clean the chitlins before beginning the cooking process which, by the way, takes several hours. Yes, several hours of steamy goodness filling our home with chitlin anticipation.

According to Wikipedia.org, here’s what we’re talking about:  “Chitterlings (sometimes spelled as pronounced: chitlins or chittlins) are the intestines of a pig, although cattle and other animals’ intestines are similarly used, that have been prepared as food. In various countries across the world, such food is prepared and eaten either as part of a daily diet, or at special events, holidays or religious festivities.”

Let me remind you, I didn’t know what chitlins were even when I was cleaning them.  They were a little weird and slippery, but I kept thinking about how my friends’ eyes sparkled when they were talking about how good they are and so I moved on to the cooking stage.  I followed the recipe exactly with every ingredient my friends used and turned on the stove.  Soon this very, shall we say, “interesting” aroma filled the kitchen.  I thought that maybe it had to cook out of the chitlins…surely it would taste better.

Well, long story short, my brother-in-law Jerry was with us that year for Thanksgiving, we did have chitlins on the dinner table and, in the spirit of friends, family and cultural diversity, we all did take a taste.  Oh my word!  Let’s just say, we decided chitlins must be an acquired taste that we really didn’t want to acquire!

Every Thanksgiving the legendary chitlins get talked about and remembered.  I’m pretty sure they’ll be talking about them at my funeral and, who knows…maybe at the heavenly banquet table!

Even though chitlins may not be one of our cultural specialties, they are treasured and appreciated by many around the world!  I encourage you and your family to try something new for the holidays or any day.  You never know…it may become the stuff of legend!