As today is National Cookie Day, I wanted to share some of my own adventures in cookie baking over the past two years. My own Christmas cookie adventures began in earnest when our long-time bakery shut its doors forever and left many of us in dire straits for decorated Christmas cookies. This had been a tradition for me for a number of years, and I was not ready to give it up. So, I embarked on making my own decorated cookies for the first time with some success the first year and even better success last year.
I have not worked on further honing my cookie skills since last Christmas, due to my weight loss effort. It was a necessary sacrifice and one that I was more than willing to make this year. But, it’s time to once again start baking cookies for gifts, and I am so ready to get going once again! Last year, hubby and I embarked on a cookie decorating day where he helped me “blitz” the decorated cookies mostly in one day, and we had a lot of fun together. As it turns out, he has a great artistic flare for decorating cookies, too.
I have linked to my cookie posts at the bottom of this post, as there are links to many of the recipes I used in those posts, in case you are also ready to embark on your own Christmas cookie adventures soon!
See my note below about the pretty cross cookies, please! 😉 Also, the reindeer cookies were made from my peanut butter cookie recipe.
One note – I love baking the pretty decorated cross cookies (pictured in the 2012 trays). A word of caution, though. They tend to break easily when included in a tray of other cookies, it seems, so I wrap them individually now with a cardboard backing when giving them with the gift trays. After going to all the effort to make these pretty cookies, I want the recipient to get them in one piece. I allow one cross cookie per person, and I include a handwritten note that this is a “special” cookie for them and include the verse, John 3:16, in my note. They can certainly freeze their special cookie to eat at Easter, if they prefer, as long as it is properly wrapped, but so far, I think everyone has eaten their cross cookies for Christmas.
We enjoyed a great traditional lunch with family at our home on Thanksgiving Day. While I did not get a picture of everything we had to eat, here are a few quick photos that I managed to take amid the process of getting everything served. Sadly, I did not get a picture of the new brussels sprouts recipe that I made, and it was most definitely a hit with everyone, too. It also had fresh cranberries, pecans and feta cheese in it, and it was such a pretty dish, as well as a tasty one.
Recipe for Pan-Seared Brussels Sprouts (To make it a bit more diet compliant for me, I omitted the barley and used sugar-free maple syrup. I used feta cheese crumbles since I already had it on hand. It came together in a skillet nicely right before we were ready to eat lunch, and this will likely be a regular holiday dish for us now.)
We also had mac and cheese and hot rolls, of course. I’m glad that my family was just fine to skip any kind of green bean casserole this year. It seems that we have all grown a bit tired of that particular dish, at least for now, and it’s just no fun to prepare a dish that really doesn’t even sound good.
We took off in the RV once again this year after our big Thanksgiving lunch for a nice, long weekend away, carrying most of the leftovers from lunch with us. After some brutal winter weather only a few days earlier, we had absolutely gorgeous weather for our quick trip, even though it was a little bit windy at times. A little wind seldom stops us these days, though, and we had a great outing once again this Thanksgiving weekend, instead of opting to stay home and fight the crowds in town for Black Friday weekend shopping. I am just so done with that now. I also got to see a friend from high school while we were in the Abilene area that I have not seen since 1976, and that was quite a treat for me indeed. She is as sweet as ever, too.
This was our first trip to Abilene State Park in the month of November, so it was interesting to compare this trip to past trips there in different months. The park is actually located near the tiny community of Buffalo Gap but is still only fifteen minutes from the main retail area in Abilene. I still have not written a post about this nice park yet and need to do so sometime. We have now been in each of the seasons except summer, and I honestly do not think we will try to go in those very hot months either. We are quite happy to visit there in the cooler months, even though we ran our air conditioners in the RV on two afternoons on this trip. Almost every weekend is often booked at this park in the large trailer sites, and winter is definitely the least crowded time for this park.
I also completed the NaBloPoMo blogging challenge on Sunday, having posted every day in the month of November at my new site at Animal Wonder. If you haven’t yet taken a peek there, I hope you will do so soon. It is an ongoing project and one that I really enjoyed working on in November. Many of the photos I shared over the past month are among my favorite bird photos, even though I still have many more favorites to share, too. I’m excited to continue working on even more animal posts going forward, not just limited to birds that I focused on during the past month.
And speaking of birds, there is some big news right now in birding circles (picture at that site) that is based in my area. A very rare bird, a Eurasian Common Crane, has recently been spotted among the many Sandhill Cranes at the Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge. After the news broke a few days ago, I followed their page on Facebook and have been following updates on the rare Eurasian Common Cranes that have been spotted there. These rare birds have created quite a “circus” at the refuge, according to the people posting the Facebook updates, and people are traveling from as far away as California to see these birds. So far, I think two Eurasian Cranes have been spotted. I would love to drive over there soon to see if I could see them, but I’m not sure our crazy December schedule will permit me to do so. We’ll see. How I would love to personally take a photograph of this rare bird that is most typically not even seen on this continent! Birding in our area may be better than normal this year, thanks to some nice fall rains that have left many playa lakes with some much-needed water.
Three years ago, I wrote a post about my own Thanksgiving meal preparation schedule, and it detailed how I prepared the big meal on my own with all homemade foods for six people over the course of the days just prior to Thanksgiving. On that particular Thanksgiving, I wanted to serve all homemade items for the first time, instead of opting for a just a few homemade items and others that were frozen from the grocery store or purchased elsewhere. I wanted to see if a little more organization could help simplify the task and lessen my stress level, and it absolutely worked.
The only shortcut that I used in the prep work was to buy Rhodes Frozen White Rolls, as they are honestly as good as the homemade rolls that my mother always made. The rolls still needed to rise on their own, so I figured that had to count for something in the whole “homemade” concept. I factored that prep time in the schedule as well.
For the record, I used (and still use) Alton Brown’s Good Eats Roast Turkey Recipe, as it is the best way I’ve ever found to prepare a flavorful and moist turkey. No dry turkey at our house – ever! Brining the turkey according to the directions in the recipe is an essential step.
To make the food prep process a little more fun each year during the holidays, I turn on the DVD player in the kitchen while I cook and watch some favorite movies from years past. Spending two hours in the kitchen cooking and watching Steel Magnolias once again is always a good thing, unless you pay a little too much attention to the movie and not enough to the recipe at hand. I did that a time or two, but at the very least, it always makes me feel good to see that my cooking creation surely is better than the bleedin’ armadillo cake served at Shelby’s wedding.
This prep schedule for Thanksgiving worked well for me, and I want to share a link to that detailed post again here today. Perhaps it can serve as a guide for someone else that wants or needs to prepare the big feast on their own for the first time. With just a little bit of advance planning and proper scheduling, preparing the whole feast is really not a difficult task at all. It just takes a little time each day over the course of a few days, but perhaps not as much time as you might think, depending on how you approach it for your own family. Of course, if you have someone else in your family that can help cook, that is even better! Just know that it is possible to do the whole thing on your own, perhaps a little easier than you might think. 😉
I’m almost sad that I won’t be preparing our own feast this year, due to some of our travel plans right before Thanksgiving. The turkey that we cook (according to Alton Brown’s recipe above) is so good and so much better than what we will eat at the hotel buffet. However, I will soon be back to baking and decorating cookies for Christmas gifts again, hopefully beginning the first week of December. That was so much fun, and I can’t wait to do it again this year!