Category Archives: Thanksgiving and Christmas

Witness to the Fall Symphony

FALL SPILLS FROM NATURE’S SPIGOT, and robust reds, rust, yellow, bronze and cinnamon hues tumble out, painting the landscape low to high. The transformative symphony shouts to us like a toddler seeking his mother’s attention!  Look! Watch me!

AN ONGOING EXPLOSION of  sights and sounds fires our passion and stirs memories of our youth in the embrace of our family. Now listen!  The wind whooshes and the seasonal dance accelerates, then slows and picks up tempo again. Leaves twist and turn in the wind as the trees let go of warm weather attire that hid nests and wooded retreats.  Each step through the leafy carpet adds a crunch and snap to the Fall harmony of sights and sounds. Walking here is meditative…heart rates slow and endorphins soar.

THE MARCH TO THANKSGIVING BEGINS!

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TODAY, I AM THANKFUL  I am here in this place and time to witness the ushering in of the Fall season once again.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2015

Turkey leftovers? Make Moroccan Turkey Tagine

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Photos on the table are of family from Christmases past

OUR HOME IS DECORATED for the holidays and I have finished grocery shopping. I’m thinking about the turkey we will have for our family meal on December 25th and the dish I will make with turkey leftovers this year – maybe turkey tagine?

IN OUR HOUSE, leftover turkey is enjoyed as much as the roast turkey on Christmas day. So – we make sure to get the largest turkey we can find that will fit in our oven, to be certain we will have plenty of leftovers. Like thousands of others, we look forward to a turkey sandwich on December 26th. I like mine with turkey, cream cheese, greens, cranberry sauce and dressing (stuffing). Sooo good!

OVER THE YEARS I have tried a number of different recipes, trying to create a fabulous meal starring the leftover turkey. There are several dishes that turned out to be a hit at my table – the tagine recipe is one.

THIS AROMATIC RECIPE delivers a warm, exotic dish using leftover turkey. It’s an easy, slow cooker dinner that also is an impressive dish for entertaining – and can serve a large number of family and friends, by adding more to the cooker. It is a wonderful dish to keep warm in the crock pot when you have family arriving at different times to eat.

Moroccan Turkey Tagine

3-4 cups leftover turkey
2 large onions, thinly sliced
4 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped
2 cups chicken or turkey broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons flour
2 cloves minced garlic
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon black pepper (freshly ground if possible)
1 teaspoon garam masala
Kosher salt to taste
1/4 cup medium to dry sherry (optional)

Layer turkey, onions, carrots, raisins and apricots in crock pot (slow cooker). In bowl, whisk broth and remaining ingredients (except sherry) together and pour over turkey mixture in cooker. Cook 3-4 hours to blend flavors or until vegetables are done. Cook on high for 30 minutes and then turn down to low for rest of cooking time. Add sherry last 30 minutes.

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My favorite tureen for Christmas soups and stews

SET THE MOOD by serving the tagine in a soup tureen with bright emerald, ruby and purple colors in the tablecloth, napkins and centerpiece. I served the tagine with couscous sprinkled with toasted pine nuts, tandoor naan bread for dipping and a fresh fruit salad. This recipe is adapted from one I found in Family Circle (Jan 2007).

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!

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Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

Top Ten Essentials for Holiday Entertaining at Home

ENTERTAINING DURING THE HOLIDAYS can be stressful, but it need not be so. Entertaining can be as simple, or as complicated, as you want to make it. Let’s have some lunch in my kitchen and then talk about it.

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We hang bells on the outside doors in December so we can enjoy the tinkle of bells as we go in and out. The children love it – and so do I.

THE FOCUS IN OUR HOUSE IS ON CHRISTMAS, as our family’s tradition dictates, but perhaps a few suggestions may be helpful to bloggers who are preparing other holiday celebrations.

I AM NO MARTHA S., nor do I aspire to be an entertaining diva. I have always wanted our home to be a place where family and friends felt welcome, when they visited. I’ve had a number of years for trial and error and have arrived at my own ways to make entertaining more enjoyable for me – and hopefully more memorable for my guests. (One of the many perks of getting older is all that comes with life experience.) If the host is relaxed and having a good time, our guests’ pleasure in being in our homes is multiplied tenfold.

MY TOP TEN ESSENTIALS FOR ENTERTAINING AT HOME:

1. Plan Ahead– Organize-organize-organize (See earlier post on getting organized: click on HOME posts and scroll to Nov 5th: The Holidays are Coming and Its Time to Get Organized)

2. Invite People You Enjoy
Yes, I know that is not always possible. There may be a family member or co-worker that is a challenge for you, but should be included in some traditional event – so onward. We do our best to be gracious and make guests feel welcome in our home. Aside from the have-to-have folks for obligatory events, this is a wonderful time of year to plan special events in your home with people you enjoy to share your decorations, traditions and holiday foods (e.g., lunch, dinner, coffee, tree decorating, cookie exchanges, dessert sampling, wine and cheese by the fire). This is the time for joyful celebrations – large and small.

3. Plan a Menu That Meets Your Stress Test
As a young wife and mother, when I was trying to master so many things at once in managing a home, I set such a challenge for myself for entertaining that I was often exhausted when I met our guests at the door. My sister often kids me about the dinner I fixed that used every pan and dish in the kitchen. I even made a dobosh torte with 8 different fillings. No more! Unless you enjoy many hours in the kitchen, are catering the event, are working on a cookbook, or have good helpers, you may want to plan a gracious and fabulous repast that won’t burn out the chef.

THIS IS MY RECIPE now for entertaining, especially for dinner parties – the 1-2, 3 & 3 method. This Star-Early Bird and Easy Method is based on the notion that not every dish I serve needs to be a candidate for gourmet magazine, a never before seen dish or take 2 days to prepare. Oh. What a relief! I use this method for planning the menu.

1-2 STAR DISHES Star dishes are 1 or 2 complicated show-off gourmet dishes. They can be the entrée, dessert, bread, or some of the sides. There are the stars of the meal.! The other dishes are delicious also, but are supporting players in your meal.

3 EARLY BIRD DISHES These dishes can be prepared a day ahead with minimal preparation the day of the event.

3 EASY DISHES These are prepared just like the name sounds – easy, (e.g., purchasing a unique side dish or bread from a deli or restaurant ready to bake or warm, or a dish you can prepare with few ingredients – or in little time).

4. Decorate the house in early December
WE DECORATE THE CHRISTMAS TREE the day after Thanksgiving and finish the other decorations by the first week of December. So – that is done and ready to enjoy the festive display while we move on to holiday activities. The house is always ready for entertaining, with a just a few things to do to refresh the decorations before each event.

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5. Refresh decorations with fresh flowers and holiday greens
I LOVE HAVING FRESH plants and flowers around all year long. I usually find something to cut from the yard and add to that with fresh flowers picked up at the grocery. This can be an arrangement on the serving table, in the living or family room, or even a small vase with one flower on the table. I always put a fresh flower in a bud vase in the guest room. It says welcome in a special way.

MOST CHRISTMAS TREE LOTS will give away, or charge a small fee, for armloads of pine or frazer fir branches they have cut away from the trees in shaping. I put the branches in a bucket of water and keep outside where it is cool. Weekly, I bring in fresh boughs to add to the mantle and table decorations and toss the old ones. The fresh greens add a Christmasy scent to the room.

6. Light the Candles
CANDLES CREATE a special atmosphere in the evening. I have candles in my kitchen, in the living room and on the dining tables. To simplify my life, I have given away all candle holders that hold the tapers that have to be monitored for fire and for dripping wax. I only use fat candles inside hurricanes and I also have a few battery candles that come on for 5 hours in bedrooms or places where children gather.

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Battery candles near the fireplace turn on automatically for 6 hours after dark.

7. Turn on holiday music that makes you sing
I ENJOY CHRISTMAS MUSIC while I am working on holiday projects or creating something for the holidays in my kitchen. Traditional Christmas pop songs and carols stimulate tons of memories to keep me in the spirit of the season. The memories floating into my kitchen on the strains of the music create a cozy and warm Christmasy feeling as I work. (As I mentioned previously, I’m a sucker for sentiment in December.)

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8. Make Your Kitchen Holly Friendly
I DON’T MEAN TO GO CRAZY in over-the-top decorating. No, I mean to at least put a touch of the holidays in the room you spend a lot of time in – your kitchen. It can be as simple as one Christmas candle, a wreath on the kitchen door or a small kitchen tree hung with cookie cutters. I have a favorite red apron I wear in December and I use a couple of Christmasy pot holders and dish towels.

9. Decorate Dining and Serving Tables
THINK OF IT as creating a stage to present your food as the star. Decorations can be simple, with candles, flowers, pine, or just scattered ornaments or pine cones.

10. Take Time to Rest Before Guests Arrive
WE LEARN THE LESSON early (at least many women do) that we project a more confident and relaxed manner when we wear something we feel comfortable in.. and that we think we look good wearing. So – think about what you are going to wear ahead of time, so it is ready to wear. Plan your time so you can take a leisurely bath or have plenty of time to dress before guests arrive.

Congratulate yourself on your preparations. You deserve it. Greet your guests at the door with a smile. Enjoy your guests and your own holiday party.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

How Do You Decorate Your Tree?

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WE ALWAYS HAD A FRESHLY CUT PINE TREE to decorate for Christmas when I was growing up. And since it was a real tree, we couldn’t leave it up for weeks – so we decorated the tree on Christmas Eve and left it up for a week until New Year’s Day. By that time, the needles were drying out from standing in the living room with a fireplace, and it was becoming a fire hazard.
After a few years, Mom bought a tree stand with a well at the base to hold water. I thought it was my job to check the tree stand each fay and refill with water if needed.

I DON’T HAVE A MEMORY OF GOING TO THE CHRISTMAS TREE FARM to cut our own tree, as many folks have, but Dad brought home the biggest tree from a fresh tree lot that would fit in our living room. He would get out his saw, cut two boards for a stand and nail them in the shape of a plus sign to the bottom of the tree. We would cover the boards with a cotton sheet. If the tree was too tall for the room, he would cut off the top to make it reach near the ceiling, leaving room for a plastic white and red star that was lit from within.

FAMILIES DEVELOP THEIR OWN TRADITIONS for decorating the Christmas tree. In our house, it was Dad’s job to put up the tree – then, he arranged the strings of lights, taking care to spread the lights equidistant throughout the tree – as his engineering mind dictated. Decorating the tree with lights was no simple matter in those days, as even one burned out light would prevent the entire string from lighting – and the bad bulb had to be tracked down and replaced.

ONCE THE LIGHTS WERE LIT, the children decorated the tree with the unpacked Christmas ornaments. In addition to store bought ornaments, we had school-crafted paper santas, reindeer and snowmen – and occasionally even red and green construction paper chains – that found their way onto the tree. Mom always made us feel that our art projects were beautiful and added something special.

REMEMBER THE SILVER TINSEL? Dad told us that the tree would be its most beautiful if we took great care to hang each tinsel string separately… no throwing it on the tree. It takes awhile to hang a separate piece of tinsel from each branch, with the tip end hanging on one branch and the dangling silver string reflecting the lights. We all thought the tree trimmed with silver tinsel was a wonderful sight to behold.
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Don’t you agree the tinsel tree is lovely?

GRANDMOTHER MARQUIS always had a huge tree in the big bay window in her living room.. I don’t remember a tree at Grandma Mamie’s. but I do remember the smells of apples and cinnamon in her house.

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That’s me holding tightly to my new books and my sister Nancy beside me with her new purse.

MOTHER loved Christmas. After her children were grown, she decorated her home for the holidays with a little something in every room – including a big Christmas tree in the family room, and small trees in the kitchen and in each of the bedrooms, where her children and grandchildren would be sleeping.

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Mom and Dad in their 80’s

CHRISTMAS IS A SPECIAL TIME of year, and I enjoy all the festivities associated with the holidays. We usually put our tree up the day after Thanksgiving and leave it up until January 2nd. The house seems more festive to bake, write Christmas cards, listen to holiday music, make shopping lists, wrap gifts, entertain friends and just sit by the fire enjoying the tree with family.

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WHEN JANUARY 2ND ARRIVES, I am more than ready to put away the holiday decorations and welcome the new year. The house always looks clean and refreshed somehow with the colorful decorations put away for another year.

FOR THE MONTH OF DECEMBER, HOWEVER,…OUR HOUSE IS A CHRISTMAS HOUSE with its colorful rooms, rich and savory food, family traditions, anticipation, laughter, holiday music and secrets afoot.
Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

I would love to read about some of your traditions for decorating the Christmas tree.

The Thanksgiving Table

MEMORY
My childhood’s home I see again,
And sadden with the view;
And still, as memory crowds my brain,
There’s pleasure in it, too.

(by Abraham Lincoln in 1846 when he was 37)

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IN RECENT YEARS, MEMORIES OF PAST THANKSGIVINGS come to visit at Thanksgiving time, like welcome spirits, filling the house with smells, sights, sounds and stories of long ago times with family and friends around the family dining table. – When family gathers now, we share the old stories, visit familiar traditions and renew family bonds once again.

THE THANKSGIVING TABLE

MOM IN HER APRON at 6:00am –
she and turkey greet the sunrise;
women in the house don aprons after breakfast
taking directions to prepare the feast.
Young daughters and granddaughters set the table,
check the centerpiece,light the candles,
and sometimes stir a mysterious mixture –
then run off to play with siblings and cousins.

DAD CARVES THE SUCCULENT TURKEY in the kitchen,
separating meat slices – white to dark –
arranging artfully on the turkey platter.
Mom says carving the turkey is a man’s job –
and he performs the ritual with pleasure
as head of our family.

OUR THANKSGIVING table covered end to end
with food, family and friends;
Dad at the window end of the table
by the turkey proudly starring in our feast;
Mom at the other end, near the kitchen
to fetch a forgotten spoon.

THE SAME THANKSGIVING MEAL re-appears,
no trendy new dishes here to explain;
dishes of food artfully displayed
on the white tablecloth with the best Haviland
china, silver, crystal and cloth napkins.
A bowl of flowers and lighted candles
centers with food nestled around the table:
fresh green beans, mashed potatoes served in Mom’s
mixer bowl, dressing smelling of sage, corn,
a full gravy boat with tender pieces of turkey swimming,
sinfully rich sweet potatoes with the
heavenly aroma of brown sugar, butter and pralines,
cranberry sauce in the familiar glass bowl,
salads, hot rolls wrapped in a cotton bun warmer
decorated on the edges with Mom’s white crocheted lace,
and a pitcher of ice cold ice tea (sweetened of course).

WE HEAR COFFEE PERKING on the buffet beside the desserts:
cookies for the children and pumpkin and pecan pies –
butter pecan ice cream added later.
With bowed heads and hands clasped around
the table, each of us speaks of the year’s
greatest blessing – opening hearts of gratitude –
while family bonds tighten. Dad says grace and
finishes with a toast for health in the coming year.

WOMEN adjourn to the family room
for coffee and talk – while men tackle dishes
and clean-up in kitchen and dining room –
in gratitude for their traditions and sated stomachs.
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IN MY HOME, I have continued familiar traditions, and serve many foods shared over the years at the Thanksgiving tables in my parents home. I use Mom’s green bean recipe for perfect green beans, and serve turkey, mashed potatoes, lots of cranberry sauce, hot rolls, dressing and iced tea, pumpkin and pecan pies and cookies and ice cream.

I HAVE MADE A FEW CHANGES and additions over the years: reduced the calories in the sweet potato recipe, and served additional lower calorie dishes as options, for example, wild rice with cranberries; field greens salad with raspberries and toasted walnuts and goat cheese; sliced cucumbers with onions and tomatoes drizzled with olive oil, basalmic vinegar and oregano. I also serve ham for some family members who prefer it to turkey and a wine option with the iced tea. The past 20 years, I have served my mother-in-law’s holiday pineapple salad (loved by my family) and occasionally make her delicious squash casserole dish – thus incorporating traditions and memories from my husband’s family.

THIS THANKSGIVING, we will once again gather together at the holiday table. I am thankful for traditions past – and blessed to be engaged in passing them on.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

My Top Ten Blessings This Thanksgiving

THANKSGIVING IS THE TIME OF YEAR to count our blessings, one by one – and I have many. It is our family tradition when we sit down to the Thanksgiving meal, for each of us to share at least one thing we are thankful for during the past year.

Thanksgiving at mother-in-law Nora's.  Traditional pecan pies and jam cake with caramel icing
Thanksgiving at mother-in-law Nora’s. Traditional pecan pies and jam cake with caramel icing, Italian crème cake, Hummingbird cake

AS I REFLECT ON THE PAST YEAR, I am so aware of new blessings that have come my way, since I retired from an academic career, and started freelance writing. I truly loved my work in the university and was unsure about leaving it. But, I found there are new life experiences to be savored. Oh yes! And it’s something for those who have yet to retire to look forward to.

TOP TEN NEW BLESSINGS I am thankful for this year:

1. A LEISURELY BREAKFAST with my husband and time to read two morning newspapers before starting the day’s activities.

2. SHOPPING DURING THE WEEK in uncrowded stores, when most working people are in their places of employment.

3. SCHEDULING ROUTINE APPOINTMENTS (e.g., medical and dental) in the afternoons, in case I want to sleep late or finish work at home first.

4. TAKING A TIME-OUT “Me Day” to do just want I want to do. If I want to read all day – it’s ok. I am so oriented to being productive, that it took awhile to feel comfortable taking an occasional day off.

5. SPENDING MORE QUALITY OF TIME with loved ones (e.g., enjoying family in new activities, learning more about family history, lingering at the table with friends).

The Pie That Made My Dad Propose (recipe in Aug 29, 2013 post)
The Pie That Made My Dad Propose (recipe in Aug 29, 2013 post)

6. FEELING AND LOOKING (and being) more rested. When I was working full-time, I had a demanding schedule that sometimes compromised my time to sleep. I don’t take naps, but am able to get a full 8 hours of sleep a night now. When I meet an old acquaintance who comments, “You look fantastic.” I reply, “It’s called being rested.”

7. HAVING LARGER BLOCKS OF FREE TIME available, so I can work longer on a project I have started (writing or home-based), rather than working on it in only short bursts of time. And I might add, the rewards are great when I complete a project I was eager to do.

8. SEEING A REAL OPPORTUNITY to plan and implement some of the “if only I had time” goals. When it really gets down to planning, there are some things I thought I wanted to do, that I no longer have a desire to do. But making a new “bucket list” is exciting – and working on the list introduces new adventures in my life.

9. THE SPONTANEITY to drop what I am doing and seize an emergent opportunity. The freedom to change plans midstream is an unexpected pleasure (e.g., meeting friends for coffee or a concert at the last minute).

10. THE OPPORTUNITY TO PURSUE new interests and develop new skills. Learning something new every day is my mantra!

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Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

WHAT IS ON YOUR list of blessings this year?

Sweet Potato Recipes for the Holidays: Part II

MY SEARCH CONTINUES for sweet potato recipes for the holidays to expand my culinary repertoire for using this vitamin packed and low calorie vegetable. In response to the public’s increasing interest in healthier fare beyond meat and French fries or mashed potatoes, vegetables are showing up more and more on restaurant menus and the sweet potato is one of them. Thank goodness!

WE SOMETIMES EAT OUT on Sundays after church. Today, we met our son at Long Horn Steak House for lunch. I chose a fabulous salad that would be a nice addition to a holiday lunch: spinach leaves, thinly sliced tart apples, toasted pecans, bacon crumbles, cranraisins, and sweet potato chips, drizzled with balsalmic vinegar. It was delicious – and the sweet potato chips on top added a crunchy flavor to the salad.

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I FOUND SEVERAL SOURCES for appealing sweet potato recipes that I want to share with you in this Part II post.

THE DECEMBER ISSUE of Southern Living (p. 181) has a recipe for sweet potato spoonbread that I am so anxious to try. The first time I ate spoonbread was at my mother-in-law’s house when I was first married. She was an excellent Kentucky cook who served real comfort food. I enjoy all kinds of bread – but this new spoonbread, with a crusty outside and custardy inside, smeared with butter and jam, was a new taste sensation for me. I remember she said she always used Martha White flour and white cornmeal. The sweet potato spoonbread is an old American recipe. English cooks make yorkshire pudding, and American cooks make spoonbread – a recipe dating to Native Americans, some say.

THE LOUISIANA SWEET POTATO COMMISSION has a mouth watering list of recipes of all kinds on their website to try, soups, salads, entrees.(sweetpotato.org/recipes) Many recipes sound special enough to star on the Thanksgiving table, for example, these dessert recipes sound so Big D delicious:

Brie and Sweet Potato Tart in Maple Pecan Crust
Sweet Potato Flan
Sweet Potato Souffle
Sweet Potato Bundt Cake
Old New Orleans Sweet Potato Rum Cake
Sweet Potato Cookies with Vanilla Icing
Sweet Potato Cheesecake

OK – DESSERT RECIPES HAVE A PLACE during the holidays, but what about entrée vegan recipes and healthy recipes with sweet potatoes? I found a small 35 page cookbook by Wendy Jordan, Healthy Sweet Potato Recipes (2012) that includes a few of these recipes. This cookbook is available as a book or Kindle download from Amazon for $3.99. (Amazon.com) Recipes are included for soups, sides, pastas, roasted dishes, etc. There are several healthy recipes I marked to prepare for the family taste test. Examples in her book include:

Asian Sweet Potato Soup
Grilled Caribbean Sweet Potatoes
Sweet Potato and Pasta
Mexican Stuffed Sweet Potato
Southern Sweet Potato Casserole
Crispy Sweet Potato and Pear
Sweet Potato Wedges with Thyme and Garlic
Shrimp and Sweet Potato Salad
Chicken and Sweet Potato Stew

IF YOU HAVE A SPECIAL family approved recipe you want to share, I’m interested. So.. A salute to the colorful vegetable that is so good for us.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013