Friday, December 5, 2014

Christmas Countdown to an Organized Christmas - Day 41 - Focus on Traditions

Article and Photo Courtesy of Organized Christmas

Christmas. For many of us, our picture of this holiday is a static one: we've "always" done this or we "always" do that.

Indeed, that idea of tradition and stability and connection is one of the deepest and most meaningful themes of the holiday!

I make Aunt Bill's Brown Candy or Mim's Texas Pralines because my mother did, my grandmother did, my great-grandmother did.

Celebrating that connection is wonderful, but don't let it blind you to the very real fact that Christmas also changes.

If I compare our current Christmas celebrations to my childhood holidays, I find that today's rejoicing is longer, faster, more intense and more expensive. Not better or worse, but different.

This is, I humbly submit, as it should be. Children grow. Families change. On growing older, many of us explore new spiritual depths, finding meaning in different places.

And, yes, it means that while I treasure my copy of a candy recipe that is written in my great-grandmother's hand, I also know that modern cooks needed the transliteration I provided a few years ago.

Where Granny Hawk measured sugar in pounds, I measure in cups. Where grandmother Mim cooked her pralines over the stove, mine get made in the microwave.

Times change, and so do holidays. Be of good cheer! Christmas has room for both tradition and novelty, and no one need feel constrained from Christmas innovation.

But I really have to wonder whether my grandchildren will treasure my old 5 1/4-inch floppy disk, containing updated recipes for grandmothers' favorites ...

To Do Today

Print the 2 forms:

Prepare household traditions

What's tradition in your household? Today's the day to prepare.

Bring out the family's favorite holiday books, music and movies. Display holiday collections, and prepare to track new acquisitions with a Holiday Collections inventory form.

Does your family give each child an annual ornament? Use an Ornament Journal inventory page to list each year's special ornaments.

Looking for a new tradition? Try the You've Been Elfed game to bring seasonal fun to neighbors or co-workers.

Learn about other traditions

The holiday season isn't just Christmas, hard as that can be to realize in our go-go consumer economy. Other nations, races and ethnic groups have fruitful and fascinating holiday traditions that also enrich this season of the year. This holiday season, learn more about Hanukkah, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, and holiday celebrations of other countries.

Open the doors, and bring new dimensions of the holiday season to your family. The world is wide and large and full of goodness to share. What better time to rejoice with the whole world?

To Read Today

Holiday traditions don't have to be expensive! Try these no-cost, low-cost ways to celebrate with children:

Low-Cost, No-Cost Ways to Celebrate with Children

Cutting costs at Christmas doesn't mean celebrating like Scrooge. It's not about what you buy--it's about what you do!

Putting "celebration" at the center of the season--and taking the focus off of gifts and giving--can be the key to happy holidays that don't break the bank.

Better, when it comes to kids and Christmas, cheap is good! Simple, inexpensive family activities can be as meaningful as pricey Nutcracker tickets--and no need for scratchy dresses or dress-up suits.

Try these no-cost, low-cost ways to celebrate the holiday season with kids:

  • Christmas Camp-Out: One evening, roll out sleeping bags in the living room, and hold a family camp-out underneath the Christmas tree. Don’t forget the hot chocolate and carols around the fireplace!
  • Lights Night: Put younger children to bed as usual, but wake them an hour later. Tumble the family into the car pajamas and all, and drive out to see the Christmas lights. Pack hot drinks and popcorn for a surprise treat.
  • Shopping Date: To encourage children to give, make a one-on-one shopping date with each child. Together with a parent, help the child shop for gifts for other family members. Be sure to stop for a sweet treat. Make memories!
  • Pet Patrol: Visit the local humane society or animal shelter, and volunteer to walk homeless pets during the season. Fresh air and family time are a bonus!
  • Candle-Lit Dinner: Make an everyday dinner special by dining by candlelight. Share stories around the table as you enjoy the glow.
  • Glowing Toes: Share a mother-daughter moment: a girls-only pedicure party, complete with Rudolph-red nail polish!
  • Library Lane: Visit the local library and check out books about Christmas. Read one book each night in December as a special holiday countdown.
  • Cracker Crafts: Save enough toilet-tissue tubes to supply the family. Create Christmas crackers by stuffing tubes with tiny candies, toys and treats. Wrap crackers, and use them as place cards for holiday dinners.

Today’s Recipe

Aunt Bill’s Brown Candy

Aunt Bill's Brown Candy Recipe
Ready for a unique seasonal taste treat? It's Aunt Bill's Brown Candy!

With unforgettable caramel flavor and bursting with plump pecans, this old-fashioned cooked candy is a Sooner tradition in the state of Oklahoma--and it's been a family favorite in the Ewer household for five generations!

Not for the inexperienced candy-maker, but for those with a good knowledge of candy-cooking, it's a heavenly holiday treat.

6 cupssugar, divided
2 cupslight cream or half-n-half
1⁄4 teaspoonbaking soda
1 cupbutter, unsalted
1 teaspoonvanilla extract
2 poundspecans, shelled (about 8 cups)
Combine 4 cups of sugar and the milk or half-n-half in a large, heavy saucepan. (Rub the sides of the saucepan with butter, to help prevent graininess.) Stir and set aside.

Put the remaining 2 cups of sugar in a large iron skillet over medium heat. Stir constantly until the sugar starts to melt. At that time, place the sugar-milk mixture over low heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves.

At the same time, continue melting the sugar in the skillet, stirring, until all is melted and it is the color of light brown sugar. Melting sugar scorches VERY easily, so watch carefully. The entire process may take almost 30 minutes; at the end, you want one pan of light-brown melted sugar AND the milk-sugar mixture at a very light simmer.

The next step requires family teamwork. Pour the melted sugar into the simmering milk-sugar mixture in a stream "no bigger than a knitting needle". Stir constantly! This step may take five minutes, and works best if someone strong pours the melted sugar v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y.

Continue cooking the combined mixture to the firm ball stage (246 degrees; higher at high altitudes), do not stir, other than to scrape the sides of the pan occasionally.

Remove from the heat at once. Stir in the baking soda--the candy will foam vigorously, so call the children to watch this step. Plop the butter into the foaming mixture, and let everything stand without stirring for 30 minutes.

Add vanilla and beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture stiffens and loses its gloss. This process may take 10 to 15 minutes, so beat in turns with your helper . Add the pecans, stir to mix, and turn the candy out into a buttered 13-by-9-inch rectangular pan.

Let the candy cool until barely warm; cut in smallish pieces--it's rich.

This candy is a wonderful keeper if each piece is wrapped in aluminum foil, and the wrapped pieces stored in an airtight container.

Aunt Bill's Brown Candy is traditionally sent by the women in our family to family members serving in the military. It's sturdy, keeps well and won't be damaged in transit--and brings an unforgettable taste of home to our family members in service.

Mim’s Texas Pralines

Creamy and delicious. this Texas treat dates from the days when Christmas memories had to be made with little more than some nuts from the backyard trees.

Traditionally sent to our family by my grandmother, Mim Miller, these pecan patties spell "Christmas" to me!

Includes both conventional and microwave directions.

1 cupbrown sugar, packed
1 cupsugar, granulated
1⁄2 cupmilk
2 teaspoonsvanilla extract
2 tablespoonsbutter, unsalted
1 cuppecan halves
Conventional directions: Combine milk and sugars in a large saucepan. Boil to the thread stage.

Add butter, vanilla and pecans, and cook over medium heat to the soft ball stage.

Remove pan from heat. Beat candy immediately until it thickens. Quickly drop by tablespoonfuls onto waxed paper.

Microwave directions: Combine milk and sugars in a 2-quart batter bowl; microwave on High for 7:00 minutes, until mixture begins to bubble. Add butter, vanilla and pecans.

Microwave on High six to seven minutes, until mixture reaches 232-degrees to 240-degrees--the soft ball stage.

Remove from microwave, and beat candy immediately until it thickens. Quickly drop by tablespoonfuls onto waxed paper.

To use microwave thermometer to test temperature, crumple a 15" piece of Stretch-Tite or plastic wrap into a long ribbon.

Center the ribbon over the batter bowl, pressing both ends on the outside of the bowl. Stick the microwave thermometer through the center of the plastic wrap strip--it will stand straight up in the center of the candy.

Check the thermometer every 45 seconds to 1 minute.

NOTES : For a quick holiday treat, try making pralines in the microwave--Cynthia's update to this classic recipe. Both conventional and microwave directions are included.


You’ve Been Elfed!

Have you been Elf-ed? Join the fun with this Christmas version of the Halloween BOO game.

Sometimes called "You've Been Jingled", "You've Been Elf-ed!" is easy to play.

Sometime before Christmas, one neighbor starts the game, secretly leaving a basket of treats together with an Elf sign and Elf poem explaining how to play the game.

Ring the doorbell and run! It's the best part of You've Been Elf-ed!

In turn, each recipient is asked to post the sign to alert would-be Elves that they've been Elf-ed, and to pass the game along to two more friends or neighbors.

As the days pass, Elf signs pop up all over. Who's been Elf-ed? It's all part of the fun to see holiday cheer spread from door to door.

To start the game, we've made it easy with free printable Elf-ed poems and Elf signs.

Will you join the Christmas fun? Look out ... You've Been Elf-ed!

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