Meal Planning and the Holidays

Recently my husband indulged my whim and replaced 24 cabinet pulls and drawer handles in the kitchen. All I asked was how to clean them. His solution was to replace them. After almost 30 years of marriage, you think he might have known what he was walking into there, but he did it anyway. Love that man!

So my kitchen got a little facelift. And with that, the drawers got a proper cleaning. Amidst the nonsense in the ‘junk drawer’ I found a few treasures … old recipes. The charm of the recipes is this: they are from the source. One is my mother’s recipe for her homemade chocolate chip cookies. It is written on an index card by mom and edited for doubling by me. The other is a type-written copy of my Aunt Adelaide’s 1-2-3-4 pound cake. She always said her handwriting was hard to read, though I thought it was lovely, so when I asked her for the recipe, she typed it out for me to be certain that I could read it.

These two treasures delighted me. Finding recipes scratched out by those who are gone is sweet enough. The fact that these are memorable treats for me is even sweeter. In a time when food was sustenance and flavor eluded me, these were treats that live on in my memory and I now have the recipes; in fact, I have the originals. This got me thinking about the holidays.

Holidays have different meanings to everyone. They are a time of faithful reflection, gift exchange, and abundant food and libation. For me the religion was staunch, the gifts were sparse, but those occasions brought out the flavor in the food. My grandmother made a sauerbraten I dream about and have not dared to attempt. She also made a crumb cake that was heavenly and I only ate the crumbs. Aunt Adelaide made her delicious 1-2-3-4 cake. Mom baked cookies.

For years, Barry and I went home for the holidays. When our first child was born, however, our feelings about the holidays took an abrupt turn. We decided it was time for new traditions and holidays of our own. From the very first Christmas Tammy was with us, the holidays have been spent at our home and have been warm and wonderful.

Christmas dinner went from food oasis to food folly. The buffet got out of control. Really, I would just put out plate after plate of food without much thought. The abundance was my goal at the start I suppose, but then something else happened in my life; I was excessed from my job. Not wanting to get hooked on watching television, I turned on the Food Network for ‘company.’ I knew that the voices would dull the overwhelming silence but without a story I wouldn’t get hooked and spend hours in front of the television.

I discovered that there was more to each show than recipes. There were tips and tricks that aren’t written down. I watched for knife skills, what ingredients to buy and how to buy them, the many ways to approach cutting fruits and vegetables, and so much more. It took the rest of the mystery and most of the intimidation out of trying more new recipes and new foods.

I started to cook a lot. I even baked. My husband was the beneficiary of these delights and at first gobbled all of it with grateful groans of enjoyment. A funny thing happened and he became a critic. Now this was a good thing because it said to me that he was paying attention to the new foods and flavors. He commented on those flavors, seasonings, and combinations. Even as a man who loves salt, I realized he prefers I cook with very little. Though he always says he can add some, he seldom does. And I know when a recipe has the seal of approval in just one word; he calls it a keeper.

One of the most important lessons learned was planning. Food is always a far more planned and deliberate event. I think ahead to what I will make and then form a shopping list from the menu. I also plan for leftovers and how to make them into a second round recipe (Thank you Sandra Lee), not just heat them up. Last week, when Barry asked for steak, we grilled them day one. Day two I took the leftovers, which I had sliced, and made steak fajitas. Meals have become more interesting for just the two of us this way.

Last Christmas I planned ahead, which I had never done before. Limited resources required creativity so that Christmas could keep its glory. I planned the gifts, the food, and the libations well in advance. The holiday was a success, especially the main event, Christmas dinner. There were delicious options, no wild excess, but all were satisfied.

This year’s holiday planning begins now. A document called “Christmas Fuds” has already been created. It will be sketched and tweaked as I know who will be home when. Christmas itself is a buffet because we have some “adopted’ children who join us, Liza, Lori and Lizzie, as well as our dear friends, Gary and Jannetta.

This Christmas I will add mom’s chocolate chip cookies and Aunt Adelaide’s 1-2-3-4 cake to the list. I am sharing them with you. Go ahead and put them on your menu too!


Aunt Adelaide’s 1-2-3-4 Cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1 cup butter

2 cups sugar

3 cups flour, sifted

4 eggs

1 cup milk

3 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

2 tsp. vanilla or almond extract or 1/4 cup orange juice and rind

Cream butter, add sugar and cream well. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition. Sift the dry ingredients twice, and add alternately with the milk. beat well, add the vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn into greased tube pan and bake in a preheated {moderate oven} (350) for about an hour.
The additional note says you can add mini chocolate chips, but regular chips and raisins are too heavy. Try currants, they are lighter.


Mom’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

Sift together on a piece of paper {parchment paper or cut open a brown paper grocery bag}

1-1/2 cup flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

Mix until fluffy:

1/2 cup shortening or butter

1-1/4 cup brown sugar

Add and beat:

1 well beaten egg

1/2 tsp. vanilla

Stir in about 1/2 of flour mixture. Then add 1/4 cup evaporated milk. Stir in rest of flour mixture.

Add 1 cup choc. chips (6 oz.) — 1/2 cup nuts if desired

Bake 10 minutes at 375 Degrees

I double this {apparently I had trouble doing that in my head years ago}

*** Time to start dinner! Tonight is chicken noodle soup. We will talk about soups soon … I promise! 😉


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