On nativity sets and bread pudding with bourbon sauce

For those of you who landed here in the hope of finding a recipe for bread pudding with bourbon sauce, let not your heart be troubled. For indeed, there is one.

And since I know how irritating it is to have to scroll through an entire blog post when all you want is the freakin’ recipe–seriously, do we need a picture for every time they crack an egg?–I made you a jump link straight to it: Click to jump to recipe

(Gosh, it’s been so long since I did a jump link, sure hope I did it right. If not, I wonder where they all went to?)

Oh well. On my nativity set. Here’s a picture of it:

Nativity set

The set is from the Willow Creek collection and is ridiculously popular, but for the record, I bought it when it first came out. Before it was popular. Just so you know.

It’s the first nativity set I ever bought and the only reason I did so is that Mary is holding the baby.

Nativity set with mary holding baby

Most sets have her praying, like she wishes he’d go to sleep already…

Nativity with praying mary

Other times she looks surprised there’s a baby at all, which I guess is reasonable given the circumstances…

Nativity with surprised mary

Once I saw a set where Mary was holding up a cloth. I told Husband, “Look! She’s got a diaper!” He thought it was the swaddling cloth. Sadly, I never saw the set again.

Anyway, the reason I’m musing on nativity sets, other than it being Christmas and all, is that it recently came to my attention it was St. Francis who came up with the idea.

(For those of you who follow this blog and don’t just come here hoping to snag a recipe, you’ll know I recently started working at a Franciscan convent. Hence, my recently acquired knowledge of nativity sets.)

It was St Francis who created the first living nativity. He set it up in a cave in central Italy and it was so popular that for several years after it was reenacted throughout Italy. Eventually they created small replicas for people to keep in their homes.

His intent, St. Francis’ that is, was to have a scene where people could reflect on the event; no one cared if it was historically accurate or not.

Nativity and st francis

Even so, for a lot of us, it became gospel truth. The stable, the wooden manger filled with straw, the shepherds and wise men jockeying for space, the stingy innkeeper, the whole shtick.

Several years ago I saw a video of a theologian talking about the nativity story. It was quite entertaining, mostly because he talked with so much enthusiasm.

According to this theologian — his name was Dr. Bailey — it’s far more likely Jesus was born in a home, not a stable. The homes of that time and region consisted of one big room, a portion of which was lower and that’s where the animals were kept at night. Mainly to protect them from thieves, but also because they added warmth to the house.

As for the manger, it was probably a concave spot cut into the main floor for feeding the animals on the lower level. When the angels told the shepherds, “You will find the babe wrapped in bands of cloth, lying in a manger,” they would have pictured a home just like one they grew up in. The message was clear: “He’s one of us!”

There’s a lot more Dr. Bailey said, including specifics as to why they’d be in a house. If you’d like to read an article he wrote, you can do so here.

What I love about this rendition is that it becomes a tale of hospitality and family. A new baby lain not on scratchy straw but in a cozy nook, a young couple assisted by relatives they probably never met before, the nervous new mother comforted by wise and knowing women. And however poor the family, they would have shared their food as well.

It could be that this is where our present day Christmas gets it right. Families and friends getting together, sharing food and conversation, a extra room if needed.

And here’s where we segue into the bread pudding with bourbon sauce, because if you’re going to be hospitable toward your family, a little bourbon can’t hurt.

And if my jump-link worked, we’re now joined with our recipe hunters too.

Oh, hey there! Nice to see you again!

Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce

  • Difficulty: easier than you think
  • Print

This is a tasty, grown-up version of bread pudding, with cranberries because I’m not fond of raisins. But feel free to use whatever dried fruit you’d like. Also, if you’d rather not have bourbon in it, use apple cider instead. 

bread pudding

Ingredients:

  • 4 or 5 cups dry bread cubes
  • 2 cups half-n-half (can use milk or almond milk instead)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries, soaked a couple hours in  1/2 cup bourbon or apple cider
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 Tablespoons butter, melted

Bourbon Sauce:

  • 4 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup bourbon whiskey (reserved from soaking fruit)

First off, put the dried cranberries (or dried fruit of choice) in a bowl and soak in bourbon (or liquid of choice). Let soak for a good 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour half-n-half (or milk) in a mixing bowl and add the bread cubes. Stir gently until all the liquid is absorbed. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla and spices. Strain the dried cranberries, reserving 1/4 cup liquid for the sauce. Pour the egg mixture over the bread cubes and add the cranberries, stir gently until combined.

Grease an 8×8-inch pan with the melted butter. Pour the bread and egg mixture into the baking pan; bake at 350°F for 35 minutes or until the liquid has set.

To make bourbon sauce: Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat; stir in sugar and egg and whisk until smooth. Slowly cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens a little. Remove from heat and stir in bourbon. (Note: the alcohol does not cook out.)

Pour the bourbon sauce over the bread pudding to serve. Enjoy!

I Never Got What I Wanted for Christmas

If that sounds like a whine, I don’t mean it as such. It’s true that as a child I never received anything I wanted for Christmas, despite the fact that I noted page numbers in catalogs, circled items, made note of color preferences and quantity, and any other helpful information my mother might need.

Nevertheless, it’s true. I never got a single thing I requested.

If you remember, a few weeks ago I also told you how Santa Claus never visited my house. That’s true too, but I’m not asking for your pity. In fact, if there was ever a child less deserving of pity than myself from days past, I’d like to meet them. For not only did I have a family who loved me, I had parents who knew what was best for me. And what was best for me was rarely what I wanted.

This is a picture of my brothers and me on Christmas Eve, before the evening’s festivities began.

Brothers and me

My two older sisters are missing, the oldest one married with a little girl of her own, the other sister… well, I’m not sure where she is. Maybe she was still getting dressed.

The sparkly dress I’m wearing was my “movie star dress.”  I wanted to wear it all the time.

“Mom, mom, can I wear my movie star dress? Pretty please? Pleeeease?”
“No dear, that’s too fancy. That’s for fancy events.”

Christmas Eve was our fancy event.

The entire family gathered for dinner, relatives came from out-of-town, everyone dressed in their Sunday best. It was a sit-down meal with Mom’s finest plates (Corelle®) and her only set of matching silverware. We may have used fabric napkins, I don’t remember.

After the meal, everyone helped clear the table and the adults washed the dishes. By hand. We had to wait until every dish was clean, dried, and put away.

Finally, after the last piece of silverware was put in the box (not used again until Easter), Mom wiped her hands, removed her apron, and announced it was time. Everyone took a seat by the tree, we children sat on the floor.

One gift at a time, that’s how it was done. Usually Mom, but sometimes Dad, would select a gift, hand it to the person it was intended for, and we’d watch as they unwrapped it.

If this sounds ponderously slow, I should point out that children received three gifts each and the adults, as I remember, received one. If that. Even so, when you’re six years old and the last of five kids…

This particular year, the year of the photo, I wanted a doll. But not just any doll. I wanted Dancerina Ballerina.

Dancerina Ballerina ad

Push a button on top of Dancerina’s head, her leg kicks out and… get this… she twirls! Just like a real ballerina!

I told my mom: That’s it. That’s all I want for Christmas. Dancerina Ballerina

My mom, I have to give her credit, she looked into it. She must have for a few days later she broke the news: It exceeded her price limit for dolls.

You see, my mom was a great believer in budgets and rules. She had many rules, most of them her own creation. Two of her long standing rules involved dolls.

Mom’s Doll Rule #1: Every little girl should have a doll at Christmas
Mom’s Doll Rule #2: No doll should cost more than $20.00

Dancerina Ballerina cost slightly more than $20.00.

It wasn’t a lot, maybe a dollar or two at the most. But it was a dollar or two over $20, and that broke Mom’s rule. Other parents would have thought, “Oh, it’s not that much. We can swing it.” But those parents weren’t my mom. Mom was a rule follower. 

Plus, Mom was German. Dancerina Ballerina didn’t have a chance.

Even so, I had hope. When Mom handed me the wrapped, doll-sized box that year, presented it with a comment along the lines of, “This is Christi’s special gift,” I was certain it was Dancerina.

But of course it wasn’t. If it was, I would have titled this post something other than, “I Never Got What I Wanted for Christmas.”

Here I am with the doll I did get, along with my two other gifts:

Giggles and me
The larger doll, the one with the shiny golden hair, that’s Giggles. When you held her hands and moved her arms, she giggled. As I recall she sounded a bit like a dolphin, but that was okay by me. I loved her.

The next morning, Christmas Day, my brothers and I headed outside to show off our new toys to friends, who were all outside for the same reason. It would be several years before I realized they probably opened their gifts that morning. At the time, I thought everyone celebrated on Christmas Eve. I had no reason to think otherwise.

That morning’s “look-what-I-got” exchange is an especially memorable one for me. Of all the girls my age who received dolls, I was the only one without a Dancerina Ballerina.

I realize how that sounds. You probably think I’m exaggerating for effect, but please believe me, I am not. I truly was the only one without a Dancerina.

Again, don’t pity me. For there’s a funny thing that happens when children see the same toy over and over, then finally see something different. The different toy becomes the most popular.

Giggles was the life of the party.

And why wouldn’t she be? Everything made her happy, nothing ever got her down. She was the friend who cheered you up, the playmate who laughed at all your jokes. She was a perfect delight.

As for me, I remember holding another girl’s Dancerina and feeling her stiff, awkward limbs, seeing the odd button on top of her head. Without a word, I handed her back to the girl and gave quiet thanks for my mom’s rules. She really did know best.

Many parents worry over whether their children will be disappointed on Christmas Day if they don’t get exactly what they want. Personally? I think it’s a needless worry.

Children are resilient. They can handle much more than we give them credit for, even a few strange rules and a strict budget. And the way I see it, no one would be more deserving of pity than a child who always got what they wanted and never heard the word ‘No’.

In the end, all that truly matters is whether or not they were loved.

reindeer

Merry Christmas, friends. I hope the day brings you every good thing, many happy memories, and lots and lots of love. ❤️

Party Planning for Friendly Anti-Socialites

Note: What follows is something I published two years ago. I’m rerunning it because a) We really did have a party this last weekend so it totally fits, and b) because of said party, the story I intended to publish isn’t ready. So until it is, I hope you enjoy this:

We had our annual holiday get-together last weekend, where something like 25 to 200 people stopped by our house to partake in food, drink, and stimulating conversation.

Diners in a restaurant, talking

Twenty-five is the more likely number, but it’s all a matter of perspective. A very social, extroverted person might have looked at our gathering and thought, “My, what a charming little party this is.” While a more private, introverted person might have thought, “GAHHH!!!”

Regular readers of this blog know I lean more toward the latter than the former, and are no doubt wondering why I agree to these parties. Truth be told, in the days leading up to these events, I wonder it myself. But the fact is, I enjoy them.

I especially enjoy them when they’re over.

Also, I think we introverts owe it to society to show how parties should be done. Because from the parties I’ve thrown and the parties I’ve attended, I’ve come to one inescapable conclusion: Introverts throw better parties.

That is because – as with all things – we overthink them.

How an Extrovert Throws a Party:
  • Sets up event on social media, tells friends to invite anyone they left out
  • Gets on with life until day of party
  • Buys food and drinks on day of party
  • Welcomes guests at door
  • Enjoys party
How an Introvert Throws a Party:
  • Carefully reviews calendar and selects a day with least amount of personal conflicts, in which the moon and stars have aligned to give the best chance of success for a social event
  • Looks over guest list; crosses out names, adds names, mostly crosses out names
  • Researches several sites for recipes and decorating ideas
  • Checks out party planning books at library, as well as several cookbooks
  • Creates a menu, revises menu daily until hour before party
  • Walks through home, imagines party in real time, considers main areas of gathering, best flow from one area to another; moves furniture several times until right balance is achieved
  • Plans music for evening, selects song list with care
  • Night before party wakes up several times thinking, “Did I remember to–” but of course they remembered to. They remembered all things
  • Drinks glass of wine before guests arrive, or other calming beverage of choice
  • During party, remains in kitchen for majority of evening, replenishing dishes that don’t need replenishing, providing safe haven for fellow introverts requiring no small talk
  • After party, collapses on sofa and reviews evening, replays every moment, wonders how it could have gone better; pledges not to repeat event for a very long time
  • Makes notes and plan of improvement for next event

I know other introverted party planners include pets at their soirees and I certainly appreciate them at any party I attend. But the sad fact is, phobias do exist and not everyone enjoys a cold nose at their crotch. Therefore I keep my furry friends safely hidden away.

That being said, I came up with a brilliant idea that I’m anxious to set up for any future parties: the Introvert’s Party Room for Rest and Recuperation.

Back when vinyls were all that, there was a huge record store in downtown Phoenix that had a separate room for classical music fans. It was great. When you walked in, all other sound was blocked out and you only heard classical. If memory serves right, there was always an aroma of leather and pipe tobacco. I was 15 years old and had no interest in classical music, but I seriously loved that room.

What I want is a similar room for overwhelmed party guests. The room must be easily accessible from the main area so they can slip in or out without detection. There will be comfy chairs, plenty of books and writing materials, a couple laptops with free wi-fi, and a dog.

White dog next to person with laptop

Once the introvert was fully recovered, they could return to the party in progress.

Or not. No pressure.

Doesn’t that sound great? I’m going to get to work on that real soon. It may involve buying a new house, but dang it I’m determined.

If only because I’m the one in dire need of it. 😉

At this point my original article segued seamlessly into a recipe. In my early posts I did this quite a bit, as it was my shtick. I’m not sure why I quit the shtick. I was probably distracted by something shiny. In any case, I’ve got a recipe for you today.

Two for One Cookies

  • Servings: 4 to 5 dozen cookies
  • Difficulty: no sweat
  • Print

This is a recipe I came across in an old tattered cookbook with no cover, so I'm afraid I can't credit it properly. It's great for a party as it allows you to offer a variety of cookies without baking all day.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter (softened)
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten well
  • 2¾ cups flour
  • 2 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Add-ins (see below)

Directions

Mix together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt together. Set aside. Cream together sugar and butter. Add eggs and blend well. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix well.

At this point, shape the dough into a ball and divide in half. For each half, choose one of the following options:

  1. Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, roll into balls and dip in a cinnamon/sugar mixture to make Snickerdoodles
  2. Add 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, roll into balls, flatten slightly and press an almond in the center to make Chinese Almond cookies
  3. Add one teaspoon either lemon or orange zest, can also add 1/2 cup dried fruit and/or nuts, roll into balls and flatten slightly, sprinkle with sugar
  4. Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 cup chocolate chips, 1/2 cup coconut and 1/3 cup chopped nuts, drop by rounded teaspoon onto cookie sheet
  5. Create your own option!

Place dough 2 inches apart on cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees until lightly golden brown. Let stand a minute before removing from cookie sheet.

The Story of a Young Girl’s Faith in Santa, Her Ensuing Disgrace, and Her Rescue From Certain Despair

The year was 1970. I was in the first grade, and I was being punished for believing in Santa.

Rather, to be more clear, I was punished for defending Santa.

srikanta-h-u-51975

You see, an unbeliever in the ranks – a heathen – was casting doubt on his existence. Pointing out irregularities in the Santa Claus canon. Casting aspersions on his good name.

Several of my classmates were listening and their faith was shaken. You could see it in their eyes.

I’d had enough. I proclaimed in a voice for all to hear:

There is so a Santa Claus! He’s been to MY HOUSE!

Gasp!

Unfortunately we were in class at the time and our teacher was not fond of loud proclamations. Even those in defense of Santa.

It was the time-out table for me.

I must pause here, for I need you to understand the overall makeup of our teacher’s time-out table. Only then can you grasp the true horror of what was before me.

Miss September — okay, my teacher’s name wasn’t really Miss September. It was something similar to Miss September. Something like Miss Sembler… or maybe it was Stremble. Honestly, I don’t know.

The fact is, I was never very good with names, even as a child. For those I didn’t recognize or couldn’t pronounce, I’d come up with a close approximation and stick with it. No doubt Miss September corrected me plenty of times before giving up, figuring there were worse things to be called than the name of a centerfold.

In any case, it wasn’t enough for Miss September that a noisy child sat at the time-out table. The point had to be driven home, which was why there was a stack of index cards on the table. Whoever sat at the table had to do so while keeping an index card in their mouth. The entire time.

I had never, in the entire history of my academic career (now spanning kindergarten and a few months of first grade), been punished for speaking out of turn.

I can still hear Miss September’s voice, “Who said that?!” Adding, in disbelief, “Christi? Was that you?!”

Was there a moment of hesitation? A possibility of reprieve given my incredible track record? Was consideration given for the fact my outburst was a necessary one? The foundation of our faith was being challenged! A defender had to rise up!

I was that defender.

But no. Consistency in punishment, that was Miss September’s way. She pointed to the back table without saying a word. I made my way, my head cast low.

The truly frustrating thing was that I had no reason to stand up for Santa.

Santa had never brought me a present. There was no chimney in our house for him to come down, no stockings to fill. My parents never threatened us with “Santa won’t come if you don’t behave,” because we were always to behave. Santa had nothing to do with it. And Santa never came on Christmas morning, presumably, because we celebrated on Christmas Eve. It was our family’s tradition from ages past.

Clearly, Santa and my family had denominational differences.

But being the broadminded people they were, my parents were not Santa-deniers. They never spoke out in favor of him, nor against him. They simply never brought him up.

What I learned, you might say, I picked up on the streets.

My faith was a pure one. Not born out of fear or greed, but out of sincere philosophical musing and sound theology.

Plus, as I said, he’d been to my house.

Santa and me 2

Many years later, as my mom was showing family pictures to my husband, I asked her who the man was who showed up at our house one December day so long ago, dressed as Santa.

She laughed. It wasn’t a man. (Gasp!) It was the neighbor lady from across the street. The people who bred Boston terriers and decorated their house with blue Christmas lights. It was her.

Honestly, I had no idea.

Back to Miss September’s class: I approached the time-out table, sat down heavily, put the card in my mouth. The tears… oh my friends, the tears! Never has a child suffered so much, nor felt it so deeply as I. Shame and misery were mine.

But the story doesn’t end here, for there was another student at the time-out table. She was a frequent visitor, a regular felon in our classroom. In truth, she was our class clown, and though we weren’t close friends, she gave me a gift that day.

I’m very sorry I don’t remember her name. A better writer would make one up for you. Just name her Angie or Susan or Debbie. Invent a name and run with it. But just as it is with Miss September and my Santa lady with blue Christmas lights, I cannot lie. Her name is lost.

I have failed you. Mea culpa.

All I can remember are two things: her hand sliding across the table until she got my attention, and then, when I looked up… do you know what I saw? This little comic genius had taken the index card, folded it in half, put it in her mouth and was now impersonating a duck!

Soon my tears of sadness were tears of joy and I could hardly stay in my seat due to giggling. My misery forgotten, my day instantly brightened.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, what impact we can have on others? Whether we dress up as Santa (remember ladies, it’s an equal opportunity position), or we cheer up a tearful child with a goofy face. It’s the little moments of kindness that matter.

So as we make our way through this holiday season — indeed, as we approach a new year — let’s look at the ways we leave our mark on others. The memories we give them, the words we leave them.

Let’s make them count, yes?

brigitte-tohm-162814

And please, put in a good word for Santa. There are enough doubters in the world as it is.

First picture: srikanta H. U on Unsplash
Second picture: Author’s own, and ain’t I a cute one?
Third picture: Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

TBT: Truly Bad Theology

wp_20170104_14_18_20_proThere’s something I haven’t been entirely up front about on this blog. I haven’t hidden it, exactly, but I haven’t proclaimed it from the mountaintop either.

What is it, you ask? Well, if you must know, it’s that I belong to a church, buy into the whole faith thing, and got the t-shirt. (Really. Our church has t-shirts.)

Now, don’t worry, I’m not turning this blog into a religious venue. But I thought I should mention where my allegiance lies before I go much further. Continue reading “TBT: Truly Bad Theology”

Do You Keep Christmas Well?

charles_dickens-a_christmas_carol-cloth-first_edition_1843I reread A Christmas Carol recently, because it’s a thing I do every year and it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t.

(Not to be pushy, but if you’ve never read it, DO SO NOW! Here’s an online version if you don’t own a copy. I recommend you read it slowly, to get all of that great Dickens’ humor.)

Anyway, yesterday as I was listening to the radio, I heard the DJ call his brother a Scrooge because he was complaining about the nonstop Christmas music. The DJ was wrong on two counts: Continue reading “Do You Keep Christmas Well?”

Santa’s Camping Trip

Okay gang, I have one more house to show you for our holiday decoration tour.

This beauty was found close to my sister’s house over in Glendale – down a quiet little street with hardly had any traffic. I had to take two photos of their display, so you’d see it in all its amazing glory: Continue reading “Santa’s Camping Trip”

Holiday Traditions

“Let’s do our Family Shopping Trip this weekend,” Son says.
“But no one needs to buy anything,” I point out. “We do everything online.”
“But it’s Tradition!”

You gotta watch out for the ol’ Tradition trap. It’ll get ya every time. Continue reading “Holiday Traditions”