Category Archives: Thanksgiving and Christmas

Sweet Potatoes for Thanksgiving: Soup, Sinfully Rich, Healthy Sides and Dessert

Today was such a busy day of errands that we didn’t even take time for lunch. At 3:00, we stopped at Jason’s Deli and ordered take-out of the soup of the day, along with one of my favorite sandwiches. I wasn’t sure the sweet potato and pork soup would be good, but I knew the sandwich of multigrain bread, roast turkey, philadelphia cream cheese, cranberry relish, onions and field greens would be great. We took our carry-out lunch home to relax and eat.

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I added some of my raspberry mustard to the sandwich and sampled the soup. To my surprise, it was delicious… I mean Big D delicious. I imagined this tasty soup could be a good evening meal with leftovers, using sweet potatoes, blended with vegetable stock, left over shredded pork roast, spinach and onions. I would have to experiment with the spices to try to recreate it.

When I was growing up, Mom prepared sweet potatoes often. She usually prepared some version of candied sweet potatoes, so my repertoire for using sweet potatoes was limited.

WHEN I BEGAN COOKING in my own home, I made the candied version too, but less often, and in recent years, frequently serve baked sweet potatoes with a little butter and salt. I also roast them in the oven with other vegetables with some olive oil, salt and pepper … or cook them in the crock pot with pork chops, orange juice, onions, ginger, honey.

WE COULD EXPECT TO SEE on Mother’s Thanksgiving and Christmas table, her sweet potato recipe that she called her “sinfully rich sweet potatoes” – and it was too. I don’t know where this recipe came from, but it has been a staple in the family for many years. Sure it had its share of calories, but it was the dish that some family ate for dessert, or even breakfast, if any was left over.

Ina’s Sinfully Rich Sweet Potatoes

3 cups sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup butter (or margarine)
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup pecans

In mixer, beat sweet potatoes, white sugar, eggs, evaporated milk, butter and vanilla. Pour into greased 2 quart casserole. Mix brown sugar, butter, pecans and coconut till crumbled and sprinkle over potatoes. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. (I have lightened the calories in the recipe by substituting half and half for some of the butter, and Splenda and Splenda brown sugar for some of the sugars.)

I CHECKED MY FAMILY’s OLDER COOKBOOKS published from 1907 to the 1940’s and found no recipes for sweet potato soups. When I searched on the internet, I found dozens of recipes for sweet potato soups, with a wide diversity of ingredients. . They seemed to be grouped into savory soups with garlic, onions, celery, chicken stock using leafy tops of celery and other spices, milk… or with lentils and spinach… or curry and carrot. There are also slightly sweet soups with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, maple syrup, brown sugar. My daughter says she recently had sweet potato soup with coconut milk.

AS I CONTINUED TO EXPLORE other recipes on line and in contemporary cookbooks, I began to realize just how versatile this tuberous vegetable really is. There is sweet potato risotto, sweet potato pie, sweet potato cookies, sweet potato pancakes. Sweet potato fries are showing up on a number of restaurant menus now. And the list goes on. Health.com lists 25 healthy recipes using sweet potatoes, like quesadillas,

THE VERSATILE SWEET POTATO is one of the oldest vegetables known to humans and is a major staple in many parts of the world. It was often quoted that Christopher Columbus introduced the sweet potato to America. DNA testing has produced other information, says Michaeleen Doucleff (www.npr.org/…How the Sweet Potato Crossed the Pacific Way Before the Europeans). There is compelling evidence that sweet potatoes originated in the western coast of South America.

SWEET POTATOES ARE LOADED – and I mean really loaded with nutrients and vitamins – vitamin A and C, some calcium and iron, lots of fiber and low calories. The versatile sweet potato will surely find a place on my holiday tables… in various forms.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE sweet potato recipe?

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Writing Holiday Poems by the Fire- 1, 2,3: Just for Fun

I have been playing around today writing short 1-2-3 poems about the holidays – just for fun. Please join me by adding yours to be enjoyed by others during this holiday season. Anyone can do it… It’s only three lines – one word, two words and then three, to express a thought about the holiday season.

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The
blessings of
Thanksgiving are now.

Hugs
mend hearts
and enrich lives.

Family
reminds us
we aren’t alone.

Shopping
makes me
a hungry debtor.

Gratitude
for life
warms my heart.

How
many friends
are you bringing!

Just
one roaring
fire fuels romance.

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So
many Santas
in this town!

We
always receive
a new nightgown!

My
Christmas wish
has come true.

I
wanted laughter
spilling from you.

Christmas
is coming
ready or not.

Reward
is in
the gifts given.

Wanting
peace on
earth is universal.

Is
creating peace
on earth impossible?

Sun
on snow
makes crystalline stars.

Pumpkin
pie tastes
like grandma’s house.

Family
life can
sometimes be chaotic.

Belonging
is the
best Christmas gift.

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Faith
brings something
bigger than me.

A
family that
sings together rocks.

Christmas
trees carry
glitter and memories.

A
child’s giggle
peals joy and mirth.

Thank
you for
my life’s blessings.

Silent
Night, Holy
Night…quiet night.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

PLEASE ADD YOUR OWN 1-2-3 POEMS FOR OTHERS TO ENJOY.

A Message for Christmas: The Gift of Happiness

ARE YOU A CLIPPER TOO? I occasionally clip an article or note, from a news source or research article, that I want to read again, or share with someone else. Three years ago, I clipped an article from the “Charlotte Observer” (Dec 18, 2010), that delivered a positive and powerful message – especially for the Christmas season. I shared it with a friend that I thought might find it particularly meaningful. This holiday season, the message merits repeating, as we engage in a whirlwind of activities in the build-up to Christmas. The author is Lynne Hinton, minister and author. She has graciously given permission to re-print her message as a post on the blog, Womenlivinglifeafter50.com. Thank you Lynne.

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THERE IS A LINE FROM A MOVIE that I can’t get out of my head. One character, a light-hearted woman, is trying to encourage her friend, a more melancholy character. They are on vacation together. After a few days, she tells her solemn friend to be joyful, because good things are coming her way. Her friend replies, “That’s easy for you to say; you have the gift of happiness.”

BEFORE SEEING THE FILM, I never really thought of some people having a gift of happiness, while others do not. I see now the truth of it. There are some folks who just seem to have the gift of joy and lightness of being, while it appears that the rest of us have to work to be happy. I know this, because I am more of a “glass half-empty” kind of person. I don’t come by my joy easily. It takes work – spiritual and emotional discipline – for me to be happy.

AS THE HOLIDAYS APPROACH, I have been thinking about the gifts I will give and receive that I hope will bring pleasure to my friends and family. We always want our presents to be enjoyed by our loved ones. Aren’t we looking for that present of happiness so we can buy it, wrap it up, tie a big red ribbon around it, and hide it under the tree?

PERHAPS THERE IS ANOTHER WAY TO LOOK AT GIFT-GIVING this year. Perhaps the best gift we can give to those we love, is to do the work, so we can become people of joy. If you think about it, happy people are much more fun to be around then miserable people.

I’M NOT SUGGESTING selfishness. I’m not promoting spending the money we were going to spend on others on ourselves. I am suggesting that we make the effort to be the people that others want to be around. I am suggesting that the best gift we might give away, is finding and fostering our own emotional health.

WHEN WE ARE HEALTHY AND WHOLE, hopeful and joyful, we give happiness away. And when that happens, others often make the same kind of decisions for themselves.

WHEN WE SEE HAPPY PEOPLE, we want to be happy people.

BE A PERSON OF JOY. Give yourself, and those who love you, the gift that will matter most. BE HAPPY.

The Family Storyteller: Before It’s Too Late

WE ARE EXPERIENCING A TEMPORARY cold front in the South, prompting memories of the magical snowy days of my youth in Indiana and West Virginia (although we are not expecting snow in Charlotte NC).
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AS THE HOLIDAYS DRAW NEARER, my thoughts drift to family members who are no longer with us for gatherings of the clan as in past Thanksgivings and Christmases. When I was a young adult, I gave little thought to the temporal aspect of life, as if we would all be here together for years to come – holidays at grandmother’s house – then mother’s house – and then – the gathering was at my house. As we come together, we celebrate, eat and share family stories – usually funny or touching ones -and we laugh and bond as a family.

I WAS FORTUNATE that Mom was a born storyteller with an exceptional memory. She shared much of her growing up and my siblings and I learned about not only our family roots, but the townspeople and the issues of life in the generations before us. What a treasure!

NOW, AS AN OLDER ADULT, my interest in family history is piqued even more, likely because I am a little closer to the end of my journey (not for many years yet, I hope) – and maybe too because I value the importance of connecting the generations. There are lessons to be learned, even from unproductive decisions made by someone in the past. In Mom’s last years, I made a greater effort to ask questions and write notes on history she shared. Although – now that she is no longer here, there are so many things that I wish I had asked her.

AS THANKSGIVING APPROACHES, and we become engaged in the hustle and bustle of holiday activities, it may be prudent to take time-out to invite…. to question… and to listen to the older adults of our families, to learn where we came from, and our ancestors journeys along the way.

WHEN I TAUGHT A UNIVERSITY GRADUATE COURSE in life span development, I frequently gave an assignment for the students to complete over the holidays. They were asked to interview the oldest member of their family, or the oldest family storyteller (not all folks have the gift of remembrance). To prepare for this interview, they were to prepare a timeline. They wrote the years of the family member’s life and beside the years, wrote major events that were occurring (war, disease epidemics, new inventions, politics, etc)… Then they could begin at the earliest memories and ask how these events influenced the family (e.g., you were 14 when the polio epidemic was at its worst. What do you remember about it?).

THANKSGIVING AND CHRISTMAS are family holidays, and various things stimulate recall of holidays past. I remember with deep affection, family and close friends that are no longer here to share this holiday season with us. I am grateful we traveled together for a time. My life is richer for knowing them. As I reflected recently on the blessings of our family (and a few close friends), I wrote two poems to try to capture a few of my thoughts.

Someone Left the Window Open

Someone left the window open and they are slipping through,
One by one – and two by two.
Drum majors of a parade,
loving grandparents marched on
leaving us behind
to find a way to make our lives rewind.

Uncle Don, who drove me everywhere
looking for little pink pigs –
like ones in my storybook;

Betty Davis, a dear childhood friend,
named for a movie star,
who survived polio to be felled
by its re-awakening in later years;

Uncle William who lived a formal life
as a Presbyterian pastor,
till he retired in Asheville
and put away his suits for denims and blue grass;

Aunt Erm, Dietition for Cumberland College,
who oved the game Sorry and
made memories with her fruitcakes and jam cakes;

Aunt Verna, who loved books and learning,
and cared for her community in New Bern
as county public health physician;

Aunt Maggie, who liked brandy alexanders’s,
managed her own business in Charleston and
parachuted from a plane in her 80’s;

Aunt Shirley, who enjoyed taking care of her home
and sang country songs
while she washed the dishes;

Aunt Fanella, twin sister of my father,
who kept the family connected
and her faith strong;

Dottie, my 6 foot tall college roommate,
who had a big heart, a hearty laugh,
and was a wonderful nurse;

Sweet Alice, my university officemate,
loyal to her friends,
who found love in late life;

Mother-in-law Nora, loving mother and grandmother,
and beloved teacher
who taught first grade for 52 years.

Brother-in-law Don,
who went at life in a run,
and took good care of my sister;

Dad, a talented man
who loved big band music, dancing-
and all competitive games;

Mom, who loved her family
and her home in Madison –
lived to 91 – still interested
in politics and new experiences.

Someone left the window open,
and we keep slipping through.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

The Family Storyteller

Our family storyteller knows.
Stories – old and true:
hardships overcome,
milestones reached,
loves that endured,
passions unrequited,
adventures undertaken,
family secrets held,
laugh-out-loud episodes,
family builders, dreamers
and schemers known,
lessons learned,
worth of our land revealed,
challenges met,
history witnessed,
heritage passed on.
We thought
there was time.
To listen.
Too late.
Our legacy lost.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

AS WE GATHER FOR THE COMING HOLIDAYS, may we have the foresight to engage our own FAMILY STORYTELLERS to enlighten our lives.

Christmas Morning Bread

BAKING THIS SWEET BREAD with Fruit and nuts for Christmas morning breakfast has been a holiday tradition in our family for several years. I make several batches weeks ahead and freeze – pulling from the freezer on Christmas Eve to thaw, and re-heating for a few minutes in the oven. NaBloPoMo Day 11.

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I BAKE THE LOAVES IN MINI LOAF PANS, as that gives flexibility to pull out just the amount I need from the freezer. Christmas Morning Bread is delicious served with a dish of fresh fruit in a beautiful glass bowl, yogurt, juice and coffee. This is a satisfying and quick early morning repast until after Christmas gifts are opened. Then it’s time to prepare a BIG Christmas brunch.

THE CHRISTMAS MORNING BREAD is also a delicious way to share one of our family traditions with neighbors and friends. I wrap the loaf in saran wrap with a colorful bow, and deliver it a day or two before Christmas in a small basket or tin. I attach a note wishing them Happy Holidays, mentioning that we serve this sweet bread on Christmas morning.

ALSO – I HAVE USED THIS RECIPE TO MAKE CUPCAKES and frost with a cream cheese icing to create small gifts to give during the holidays. For example, a hot cupcake and a cup of cocoa to the mailman on a cold December day when he arrives with our mail in his mail truck. I have been asked for this recipe many times. So, here it is – one of our family traditions for you to experiment with and improve with your own ideas.

Christmas Morning Bread

2 boxes nut bread or cranberry quick bread mix (I use Pillsbury)
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup water
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, chopped in small pieces
zest of 1/2 of an orange
orange peel from 1 orange (cut in long narrow strips – cut away the white part)
3/4 cup mixture of any 3 of these fruits: fresh or frozen blueberries, raspberries, drained crushed pineapple, drained and chopped mandarin oranges, blackberries. Select for a variety in color and taste.
1 cup walnuts or pecans
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or cardamom

Coat fruit and nuts with small amount of dry nut bread mix, so they will not tend to float to the top in baking. Combine gently but well, using large spoon the bread mixes, beaten eggs, yogurt, water, orange juice and spice. Fold in fruit, nuts and zest. Don’t beat.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes in loaf pans. Reduce time if made as mini loaf pans or cupcakes. Test for done with tester.

While breads are baking, simmer orange peel strips in saucepan with 1 round Tablespoon sugar till orange est is transparent and tender. Cool on wax paper.

Mix powdered sugar, orange juice and butter. When fruit breads are partially cool, drizzle icing on loaves, sprinkle with chopped pecans. When serving, arrange candied orange peel on top to decorate.

WHAT IS YOUR FOOD TRADITION on Christmas morning?
Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

Six Ways to Reduce Stress During the Holidays

On NaBloPoMo Day 10, activities for the approaching holidays are fast gearing up – advertising in the media is intensive now and expectations are growing. I thought about some of the actions that I try to adhere to, in order to keep body and soul together, and to enjoy the holidays with family and friends – as well as remember what it is really about. It is no fun if I feel overwhelmed, committed to attend activities that do not interest me, or worried about financial obligations we are taking on. I’ve found some of the following to be helpful in preparing for the holidays and in enjoying the season.

1. ORGANIZE – ORGANIZE – ORGANIZE. Setting clear goals and a plan of action to achieve these goals puts us in charge of events, rather than waiting for events to unfold -tossing us here and there. This is essential to surviving the holidays well. (see November 5th blog: The Holidays Are Coming and It’s Time to Get Organized)

2. TAKE A TIME-OUT EVERY DAY. The old adage seems so true that a woman’s work is never done. Whether you are still mothering children or teens at home, caring for grandchildren, balancing home and work, or caring for an ill or disabled family member, the demands are many. We set out to be superwomen and in a sense it is amazing what we accomplish. But, having said that, we are human – we need food, sleep, meaningful activity and yes – we need time out – an adult recess to play, re-charge.

Building a time-out “me time” into our schedule can stop the crazy merry-go-round and may help to clear heads and sharpen our focus – remind us of our priorities. Alone time can be 30 minutes in the morning before others get up if you are an early riser, or in the evening when the house is quiet – or an afternoon or even a full time-out day to do just what you want to do that brings you joy – lunch with a friend, going to the bookstore, shopping alone, or reading a book.

Don’t underestimate the value of short time-outs for your own well being – even 15 minutes. Women take care of everyone else… We should do no less for ourselves… We deserve it. Find your own retreat (November 3rd blog: Finding Your Own Personal Retreat.

3. DESIGN A PLAN TO SHOP FOR GIFTS THAT FITS YOUR BUDGET, YOUR PERSONAL WISHES AND YOUR TIME. Set a plan for the gifts you choose to purchase. If you have suggestions for gift giving this year with extended family or friends, make them known early – and share your thoughts and decisions for this year. It is a terrible idea to go into January burdened with debt from Christmas. Set a realistic budget and stick to it. Make a list before you go shopping and shop for specific items on your list. Then stop buying when you complete your list. If it is an especially tight year financially, find ways to celebrate without breaking your budget (e.g.,homemade gifts or one family gift.)

The first year I was married, I was shopping in downtown Louisville, KY, on Christmas Eve, with my new mother-in-law and sister-in-law. We locked the car trunk with all our purchases to shop for one more item we wanted to buy. A thief broke into the car, removed the back seat and stole our Christmas – all of it! We didn’t have the money to buy again, as several of us were in graduate school. So we all cut out pictures from magazines of what we had bought for each other and wrapped it up in Christmas paper. I remember I received a picture of a beautiful slip as one gift. We laughed as each was opened and we had a wonderful Christmas (played hearts and charades I think). I remember this Christmas with joy and warm feelings.

4. MAKE PLANS TO CARRY FORWARD AT LEAST A FEW FAMILY TRADITIONS from year to year, related to specific food for Christmas dinner (e.g., granny’s pumpkin pie), decorations, entertaining, or family rituals (e.g.,attending candlelight service, caroling, reading the Christmas story, re-telling the Night Before Christmas, hanging grandmother’s ornaments). If there are few traditions that you wish to carry forward – create new ones. These become part of the family’s identify, give comfort and meaning to the holiday season, joy in each other, and build memories. As a former family therapist, I saw how important family traditions and rituals are to family cohesiveness. I will share a few of our family traditions and rituals in November and December blogs. I welcome your sharing of some of the holiday traditions in your family.

5. SET A PLAN FOR ENTERTAINING based on your own wishes and the interests of your family. Politely decline invitations to social events you do not want to attend. JUST SAY NO. Set a budget for attendance at holiday events that require major funds, if finances are an issue. A few well planned events or smaller events in your home may be more rewarding, than an overload of social commitments and guests.

6. GIVE SOMETHING BACK. This could take many forms, as in financial gifts or in bigger gifts of your time to help with gift wrapping for needy children, helping to serve homeless on holidays, or taking baked goods to Hospice House for the families who will be spending the holidays there with their loved ones. It seems to me that a more generous spirit is loose in the land during the holiday season. There is plenty of mischief and ill meaning folks about, but there are also numerous stories of charity and good will. Small things can be passed forward that can make a real difference in someone’s life – such as taking a cup of hot cocoa and warm cookies to the mailman, smiling at clerks, greeting neighbors, paying anonymously for the meal order of a veteran. There are so many ways we can open our hearts and let our children see we belong to the community of a diverse group of humans. I know this sounds terribly sentimental and I try not to go there in my writing… but you know what… Christmas brings it out in me…!

My husband took a time-out with me and we walked our two miles on the greenway and back home. The trees are glorious, as more leaves fall each day – and the blue Carolina sky is a sharp contrast to the lively colors of the trees.
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Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

Oatmeal Cookies with Cognac Infused Cranraisins

NaBloPoMo Day 9. TODAY, THE UPS DELIVERED A BIG BOX of pecans, fresh from the pecan orchard harvest in Georgia (sunnylandfarms.com). I buy pecans (and walnuts) in bulk, when they are harvested in October and early November, and at their peak of freshness. The nuts keep their freshness best in the refrigerator or freezer. The small bags of nuts in the grocery grow stale in their little bags – and there is no comparison to the taste of those nuts and freshly harvested nuts. I freeze the pecans in small bags, so I can remove just the amount I need.
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THE PECANS ARE HERE, so I decide to put on my baking apron. I typically plan several baking days in November to make cookies, muffins, fruit pies and cake layers (to be assembled later), to add to the freezer – so I have a lot of different sweet treats for the holidays – ready to go.

MY THOUGHTS DRIFT TO my Aunt Shirley and her oatmeal cookies. Aunt Shirley was married to my mother’s brother Steve. When I think of her during the years I was growing up, I think about her in the kitchen with a smile and a song. When she came to visit, it wouldn’t be long before she was in our kitchen cooking up something. She loved her home and her kitchen – and was the only person I ever knew who truly enjoyed washing dishes. “I just love to see them shine and my kitchen put back in order”, she would say. She would wash dishes and sing along with the radio. She also was the only person I knew who loved country music- (we had big band and popular music on at our house most of the time).

I HAVE VARIED the oatmeal cookie recipe many times, such as adding peanut butter or butterscotch chips. I like to make them, as it goes so fast, dropping them from a spoon to the baking pan – no rolling or cutting. I decided to create something different today. I view cooking as a creative process and more enjoyable if I have fun with it.

I PULL OUT THE OLD RECIPE for oatmeal cookies that my dear Aunt Shirley made so many times. This recipe comes from her cookbook, The Modern Family Cookbook by Meta Given, J.Perguwson and Associates, 1942. Her cookbook easily falls open to page 412 with the oatmeal cookie recipe. I decide to punch up the recipe with a little cognac, brown sugar and cranraisons.

Oatmeal Drop Cookies with Cognac Infused Cranraisins

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
3/4 cups rolled oats
3 Tablespoons milk
1/4 cup chopped nuts
1/4 cup cranraisons
Cognac to cover cranraisins

PLACE CRANRAISONS in a glass cup, add cognac to cover, microwave for 1 minute – then set aside. Cranraisins will be plump and juicy with cognac flavor.

SIFT FLOUR, measure and sift again with salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Cream butter with sugar. Add slightly beaten egg. Mix well until smooth and light. Add oats. Add milk and flour gradually, stirring after each addition. Add nuts and now plump cognac cranraisins and mix well.

DROP COOKIE DOUGH from a teaspoon onto a buttered baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, or until just starting to brown.
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THANK YOU AUNT SHIRLEY for your cookies, the memories and your love for the children of our family.
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WHAT IS ONE OF YOUR FAVORITE COOKIE MEMORIES?

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013