Gingerbread House 2011

All in the family, a great Gingerbread House!

14 years ago I was a Pampered Chef lady and I sold enough to earn a stoneware mold for a gingerbread house.  Technically is is a schoolhouse, but no one really cares.  That Christmas we made our first gingerbread house, Cheyenne was four and Savannah was two.  We had so much fun.  Cheyenne was intent on putting on the candy and Savannah was intent on eating the candy.  All the while Cheyenne worked Savannah sat back stuffing her little mouth with her chubby fingers saying “It’s bruful mommy, bruful.” She couldn’t speak clearly for all the candy in her mouth and had colored spit running down both of her sides of her chin.

Well, 14 houses later and Savannah still likes to eat candy, but then so does Cheyenne- particularly the hot tamales.  We have added 2 more children, Sierra and Jonathan.  They have grown up making the houses and last year we invited my nieces to build a house with us.  Katie and Rylie came back again this year and added to the fun.

Jonathan is by my side whenever I am in the kitchen.
That makes my heart happy!
Our Masterpiece

Chicken & Dumplins + Girls Night Out= Good Eats & Great Times

One of our family traditions at Christmas Times is to have Girls Night Out.  Girls in our bunch is defined by 13 years and older.  Now, the young ladies in our families really look forward to turning 13.  My daughter, Sierra, turns 13 on January 30th, so close but so far.  Her aunts wanted to make an exception, but her two older sisters said absolutely NOT.  The had to wait and they made her wait.

Each year the agenda varies, but there are a few things that always happen- an ornament exchange, great food, lots of laughs, and great fun.  For the past couple of years, my Aunt Sherri and her daughter, Stephanie, have hosted us at there home.  We all come together for a sleepover and movies or whatever strikes our fancy.

A favorite food of the whole family is chicken and dumplins.  No matter the size of the pots, the pot will be empty.  So, below is a recipe that is our family favorite.

1 whole chicken
1 tsp Poultry seasoning
2 tsp Fresh Sage (dried is fine if you do not have fresh, reduce to 1 tsp)
Salt and pepper to taste
Biscuit dough (recipe below)

Place chicken in a large stock pot or dutch oven.  Cover with water to about 3 inches above the bird.
Boil until chicken easily pulls of the bone- about 1hr- 1 1/2 hrs.
Remove chicken from pot and let cool.  Pull chicken from bone and discard the skin and bones.
These steps can be done in advance and let cool in the refrigerator or freeze the shredded chicken and broth in freezer until you are ready to cook.

Once the chickens is shredded return to the pot and bring to a rolling boil on high heat.  Once boiling rapidly, drop the biscuit dough in by the spoonfuls, how large of dumplins depends on your family preference.  After adding the dough, dump the contents left in the bowl of dough into the pot.  Reduce heat to low and cover.  Boil for 10 minutes, do not lift the lid and remove from heat after 10 minutes.

Serve once cool enough to handle.

Biscuit Dough:
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp of baking powder
5 tbsp of butter or Crisco
1 cup of buttermilk

Mix dry ingredients. Cut in butter until there are small pea-size bits of butter.  Stir in milk.  If you don’t have buttermilk, you can add 1 tsp of vinegar to one cup milk.
The dough will be very wet.  Now for dumplins, sprinkle a liberal amount of flour over the top- not more.  Now pinch off pieces about the size of a large marble.  The extra flour keeps the dough from sticking to your fingers and adds lose flour to the broth that will thicken it.

Simple and Beautiful Christmas Ornaments

I love sparkle, especially when it comes to Christmas Decorations.  One of the easiest and most beautiful decorations we have had were pine cones that we decorated ourselves.

Each year we make a few more.  Not only do they look good in our home, but it is a great way to make family memories.  Once the pine cones have glitter, I use them on trays or buffet tops and I hang some from the ceiling on pretty ribbons.

The first step is to collect pine cones.  This step is a great time to get outdoors and enjoy nature.  If it has been raining, the pine cones will be closed up tight, but after you bring them in the house for a couple of days they will dry out and open up.

The pine cone on top is completely dry and the one below is still wet.

The easiest way we have found to put glue on the pine cones is with a craft paint brush.  I pour the Elmer’s glue in to a bowl and the kids brush it on.

My nieces, Rylie and Katie, are brushing on the glue.

Once the glue is on, we put the pine cones into a plastic bag with the glitter and shake, rattle, and roll.  Once the shaking is done the pine cones are set on a paper plate to dry.  After they are dry you can set them out or tie ribbon to the top and hang them from the tree or ceiling.

Add some pine clippings and lights, and these pine cones make a classy display.

A hanging display of at least 5 pine cones is really pretty.  Here I only have one because I haven’t got the other out yet.  My children love to get out all the decorations and they always talk about when they make what.  These are the things that they will remember when they are grown, very few gifts are remembered for a lifetime.

Rylie Grace is 5!

My youngest niece, Rylie, turns five on December 18th and this weekend we celebrated her birthday.  Rylie has quite the personality and she was loving all the fun.  My sister and Rylie’s mom, Windy, always does a great job on the birthday parties and this was no exception.

Hot chocolate was served and that really made the outdoor party nice.  All though chilly, the weather was great.  Pizza was yummy.  After the bonfire got going, the roasted marshmallows and smores were a hit with the kiddos.  There were LOTS of Kiddos there.  Squeals and screams were heard all night.  Given that my brother-in-law, Ryan, lit the bonfire with gasoline, we are really glad the screams were only the happy kind!  Ryan is a great dad and built a really good fire.

Minnie Mouse was the theme.  Aunt Peggy made a great cake and Windy made and awesome banner!
Gift Time!
J’s favorite part was the bonfire!  Papa Dennis watches on.
Cheyenne looking pretty.
Mmmm, roasted marshmallows coming up!

Christmas Outing 2011

The Ross Family 2011

Each year we take a little excursion to do some Christmas “event”.  For several years when the older two were little we would go to Marshall, TX.  Then, we did some other events like ICE at the Gaylord Texan or the Polar Express in Grapevine.  Some were more fun than others, but all our outings have been fun.

This year we went back to Marshall.  As best I can remember without getting out the scrapbooks, we haven’t been there since Sierra was 18 months old and I was pregnant with Jonathan.  Well, Jonathan is now 10 years old!  My, My, time really can get away from you.  Sierra and Jonathan were very excited about their first ice skating experience.

I have to say, when we were hitting Marshall before it was neat, the courthouse was always a sight to see, but that was about it.  They would put up the ice skating rink and a few other odds and ends but not much more.  That was then.  Now, there is a lot of things for the kids to see.  The lights around the courthouse were set to music and that was awesome!  I really recommend taking the family to Marshall for Christmas fun.  Tonight was cold!  It really felt like Christmas ought to feel.

As for the ice skating…. We had so much fun.  We probably all looked like wounded ducks, but we laughed and laughed.  Savannah took to it pretty quick.  Of course Tony acted as if he did it all the time.  Cheyenne was going great until she busted her knees and called it a night,. I am sure the knot on her knee will heal soon!  Sierra did get it, she said she would do better in a bigger rink since she didn’t know how to turn.  As for Jonathan he stuck to it.  By the end, he had it down.  Thankfully he didn’t mind all the ice and snow stuck all over him.  I busted with grace twice, its kind of hard to have a complete wipeout when you don’t get more than 12 inches away from the wall.  All in all, we did pretty good.  Most everyone looked like we did.  It was easy to pick out those that did not grow up here.

If you get to Marshall, there is a really good Mexican place on the square.  Casa Tamasa was quite good and priced great. 

Garden Boxes Rock

For everyone who has thought of growing their own vegetables, flower gardening, or raising herbs, the garden box is a great way to go. With the garden box the soil is easy to amend, the plants are easy to care for and the beds are defined clearly.

There are several ways to build a garden box. My favorite way is to use 2X12 untreated lumber. Many publications say that if you use lumber it must be cedar or cypress. Although these two materials are extremely long-lived they are also very expensive. I simply used pine available at our local lumber yard. My first boxes were build 4 years ago and are still in great shape. I live in a very humid area with lots of insects including termites and those first boxes are showing very little decay.

Sizes of garden boxes depend much in part to the size of the area you have available. I did find that my five foot wide beds are just a little too wide to reach the middle without stepping in the beds. I really like my beds that are 2′ X 10′. These are a really great size and hold plenty of veggies. The width of the beds is the major consideration, the length is totally at your discretion simply based on your space available. The depth of 12 inches is a great depth. I grow carrots every spring and fall and those orange roots come out beautiful.

Now comes the filling. There are so many great options that your choice really depends on what is readily available in your area. I filled mine with aged horse manure that came from a friend’s stable. To this, I apply compost to the boxes every fall and spring. The results I am getting from this recipe are really great. By replenishing with compost twice a year keeps the boxes really fertile.

The ease of weeding, planting, and rotating crops have made me a total fan of the garden box. I will be using this boxes for the rest of my gardening days.

The Leading Lady

When I think of the Christmas story I am amazed at the strength of character in these simple people. Thinking about Mary- she was only around the age of 14 when God asked her to carry his son. She said “yes”. What would have happened if she had said “no”? Then I ask myself what kind of young lady was she to have said yes so readily and then see the task through to its very end- the cross. Those around her probably would have described her as spunky, maybe strong willed. (So take heart those of you who have strong-willed kids, God has a purpose for it) Think about it- a mousy, compliant person would not have had the gumption to take the leading role in God’s plan for getting Jesus to earth to save our souls. She also had amazing strength to endure the scorn and the scoffers who did not believe her claims of angels and the Holy Spirit. She was something.Then if you look at her interaction with Jesus at the wedding feast you still see spunk. The hosts of the wedding had run out of wine- a social no-no. So she tells Jesus to fix it. He replies to her “Woman, my time has not yet come.” As a child I wondered how he could be so rude with the use of “woman.” Now I understand the love and mischief with which it was said. I am sure there was a twinkle in his eye and a crooked grin on his face.

Then what did he do? He turned water into wine. I guess either he couldn’t resist her charm or he knew there was no arguing with her- probably both. She must have been loving and charming as well. Look at how secure Jesus was in his calling- you don’t get that kind of kid without loving and supporting them. One day we will meet the mother of our Saviour and will know what she was really like and I am certain we will see a woman of great strength.

The rest of us won’t get the role of leading lady in the salvation story- its already taken; however, God does have a role for us to play that no one else can play. When He asks you to take the role I pray you say “yes”. The world needs you and when you fulfill your role history will never be the same.

Mary, Did You Know?

During the Christmas season when we focus on celebrating the birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, I can’t help but think of the crucifiction as well. They are inseparable, without either one there would be no salvation and redemption.

For many years I pondered on Mary, what it must have been like for her. The joy of bringing the Son of God into this world. The bitter saddnes of bringing the Son of God into this world. Being the jewish girl that she was, she knew the prophecies, she knew what lay ahead, she knew the sacrifices she and Joseph had already made to get this baby here. This was her son, too. She loved him as any mama loves her baby. Given all of that, I always wondered why she didn’t get more credit. She gave her son as well as God.

God gave his Only son, Mary of course had more children, but did that really mean it was no big deal that she gave Jesus? Then it came to me- when all of the events of Jesus’ death began to happen and as she stood there and watched him die on the cross- as a human, she could do nothing. It was out of her control. She certainly sacrificed, felt the greif, and was probably so angry she could have spit nails, but all said and done she had no control. Jesus was a grown man and he made his choice to follow God’s path and set us all free from eternal death and restore us to our Creator.

Now God, on the other hand, He was almighty God. He could have stopped the pain with a thought. He could have said “enough” and Jesus’ suffering would have been over. As God, he was in control and he had the power. But, He did not. He gave his only son. How much must He love me and you. He could have stopped his child’s suffering, but He saw the big picture- our redemption- and He restrained himself and let Jesus die. What a sacrifice, what hurt. God felt the same pain, grief, and anger as Mary. We are made in His image, we have feelings and emotions so does He.

God gave his only son…. So Celebrate this Christmas- Our Redeemer Lives!

Gardening in December

I am not above letting the animals work for me in the composting department!

It may seem like an odd time to be gardening, but now is the time to prep the beds for next year among other things. Not to mention that there are greens to be growing that aren’t bothered much by the winter weather.

With all the leaves falling, now is the time for building the compost piles.  I have never shredded mine and have never had a problem with them breaking down.  However, if you want to speed things up, you can run over them with the lawn mower.  If you have a bag to catch the clippings, it will make things even easier.  I basically pile the leaves up along with horse manure, that we ALWAYS have plenty of,  and let that break down over the winter and early spring.  Usually by April or so, it is ready to use.  If I have an area where I plan to make a new bed or garden, I pile it up in that spot and then I don’t have to move it come spring.  I don’t even till in spring, I just dig and plant.  The earthworms will do a pretty good job of mixing it up.

If you have small livestock, you can compost even easier.  In our barn stalls, we use the deep bedding method.  I bed the stalls with at least 6 inches of wood shavings, old hay, and leaves.  The deep bedding absorbs all the urine and poop ( not large animal poop like cows or horses) and the heat generated by the bedding decomposing helps keep the animals warm.  Then in the spring when its time to clean out the stalls, all of that bedding goes straight to the garden and flower beds.  Same with the chicken house.  Load after load of leaves goes into the hen house and all winter they scratch and poop making for some very fine compost by spring.

As for what to grow, Swiss chard, kale, arugula, and turnip greens do very well.  If the greens are young and a deep freeze is coming, a simple row cover has worked for me.  Once they are up and about 8 inches tall, they haven’t even needed that cover.  Experiment some and find what works for you.  A package of seed is only a $1.00. so if you mess up, you haven’t lost much.  But, if you succeed you will have your own produce in the middle of winter!

Good Chili for Chasing Away the Chills

Daingerfield State Park

Around the Ross household, we like chili just about any time of the year, but it is certainly a favorite when the weather turns cold.  The recipe below is our favorite.  The original recipe came from Southern Living magazine, I tweaked it a bit- something I do to just about every recipe.

The first time I made this chili was on a camping trip to Daingerfield State Park.  The chili was a hit and so we call it Daingerfield chili.  If you are looking for a great place to take the family camping, I highly recommend this state park.  We had a wonderful time.  The lake is very clear and while we were canoeing along the shallows, we could see the bottom along with the waterlilies.  If you don’t have a canoe, you can rent them there.  The wooded acres has several really nice trails.

Tony & I knew each time we heard cackles and screams that Lady, the 85 lb Lab, had changed sides of the canoe

Our good friends, the Lafluers, were camping with us.  Playing cards in the light of a lantern, cooking over the fire, swimming in the lake- all these good memories come back easily when we eat our Daingerfield Chili.

Sierra’s poker face!

Daingerfield Chili:

1 lb beef chuck roast, cubed
1 lb pork loin or shoulder roast, cubed
1 lg onion chopped
1 lg green pepper chopped (you can substitute any pepper you have in your garden like banana)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
4 TB Sp olive oil
2 cans (4.5 oz) green chillies
2 cups water or red wine
1 cup salsa
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 beef bouillon cubes
1 TB Sp brown sugar
3 tbsp lemon juice

Combine the first 5 ingredients, cook half the mixture in 2 tbsp olive oil in a lg dutch oven over medium-high heat until browned.  Remove and set aside and repeat with the remaining half of mixture in the other 2 tbsp olive oil.
Combine meat mixture, tomatoes, and next 7 ingredients. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 1 hour or until meat is tender.