Sunday, November 8, 2009

Setting the Tone for the Holidays With Your Senses

It's Week 2 of Heartfelt and Handmade Holidays with the girls of Roots & Wings Co.

This week is about creating a holiday atmosphere that stimulates all of our senses. For me, this is one of my favorite parts of the holidays.

First let's think about Fall and Thanksgiving. For me, this is all about the scents of pumpkin and cinnamon. During this time of year, my taste buds crave pumpkin muffins and apple cider. I love autumn images of pumpkin patches and sunflowers (I'm a bit of a sunflower freak!). While I'm looking forward to the the Christmas Holidays, I want to ensure that I also appreciate the season of Fall and not let it pass by two quickly in a rush for Christmas!

The scents of Christmas are big for me. When I was growing up, my mom was always burning candles. On Christmas morning we had freshly baked muffins (otherwise my mom wasn't much of a baker - sorry mom, but true!). During the holidays I love to burn candles. They create a warm glow that's visual appealing but also fill the house with incredible smells. The first few years that my husband I were married, we had a real tree so our house smelled like pine. Now that we have an artificial tree, I burn a candle from Gold Canyon Candle, Co. (Love Them!), called Holiday Wreath. It fills the house with that incredible scent of a real Christmas Tree (and no need to vacuum up pine needles!).

My first "taste" of the holidays comes with a Starbucks Peppermint White Mocha on Thanksgiving weekend. I recently learned that Starbucks has peppermint syrup all year round, but I refuse to drink it any time other than December and January. I think that keeps it as a special treat! When I think of the other tastes of the holidays, I think of my mom's Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins (maybe I'll post that recipe for you?), my mom's Simple Squares which are a decadent mixture of graham cracker crumbs, chocolate chips, coconut and sweetened condensed milk. I have never made these, although I have the recipe. I always bake treats that are safe for my daughter and I don't have a safe sub for sweetened condensed milk (she's allergic to dairy and soy). But, I've been mean to try coconut milk with her, so I can make Simple Squares.

Of course the holidays are not complete (for me) without the turkey dinner with all the fixin's . The stuffing has to be homemade or Stove Top. That's how it was when I was a kid. Now that I'm in the kitchen, I add fresh diced apple, celery and onion as well as dried cranberries to the Stove Top Stuffing. When we have holiday meals in our home, my father-in-law cooks the turkey (because I don't know how ~blushing~), I make the gravy (Our first holiday together, my father-in-law brought over canned gravy! Canned Gravy! Please, Please, Please people, gravy is soooo easy to make ~I'll post a recipe~, treat yourself and your guests and make gravy on the stovetop while you're waiting for the juices of your Turkey to set before carving. DO NOT open a can of gravy. OK?). Mashed potatoes and steamed veggies, cranberry sauce (I love Harry & David Cranberry Relish), and warmed rolls complete the meal. Growing up, dessert was always pumpkin pie or lemon meringue pie. This is a tradition that I continue in our home at the holidays, too.

I have to add that a critical part of my menu planning and holiday baking includes recipes from Kids With Food Allergies (KFA). If you've followed me for very long, you know how much I love KFA. I don't think I could stay sane during the holidays without the recipes and support of the people at KFA. Food is such an integral part of holiday celebrations and it's essential for me to be able to provide safe, yummy food for my daughter at this time of year and all year round. There are over 1,000 recipes in the database at KFA. Many of these recipes are free of the top 8 most common allergens. Some of the recipes are free to anyone, but ALL are free with a small membership fee of $25/yr. The membership fee gives you unlimited access to all that KFA has to offer for one year (discussion forums on anything and everything you can imagine related to food allergies, printable articles and resources backed by a medical advisory board and current news and research, to list a few). During the holidays, I spend a lot of time talking online with the people who actually created the recipes in the database, so if I need to sub an ingredient or need some extra hand holding as I buy ingredients, and make the recipe, the folks at KFA always come through for me. These people literally taught me how to bake. Need recommendations on bakeware? Want to find out if that Kitchen Aid Stand mixer you've been eyeing is really worth the money (trust me it is!), looking for food-free ways to celebrate the holidays? Ask the parents at KFA and you'll get all the answers.

I love the sights and sounds of the holidays, too. In the evenings I love to dim the overhead lighting and turn on the Christmas Tree lights (love all white lights) and lamps. As I mentioned I light candles for an added glow. As a kid we had a wood burning stove in our basement and I really miss that. It rarely gets cold enough in the Southern California Desert to warrant lighting a fire, and we don't have a fireplace in our current house. We've always had a fireplace in all the other houses we've lived in, but they were gas. I still love the warm glow of a fire during the holidays.

I love Christmas Trees covered in white lights and simple glittery decorations. When I was growing up, we had a staircase in our house and I was in charge of decorating the banister with the evergreen garland, cranberries and big velvet bows. I also love tables set up with holiday houses and other vignettes. When I was a young teenager, I babysat for a family that had a miniature ceramic village in their living room during the holidays. I always loved that village, and a couple of years ago my mom bought me my own ceramic village. (Hit the after Christmas sales and get GREAT deals on these!). I also love the simple touches of the holidays like peppermint candies, pine cones, and fresh cranberries in glass vases.

When I remember our Christmas music, I first think of Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. I absolutely LOVE this album. I'm not huge into Country and I don't remember listening to much Country music growing up, but who doesn't like Dolly and Kenny? This album was always on in our house during the holidays and my mom bought me my own copy the first Christmas I was married. I also remember listening to Alvin and The Chipmunks Christmas Album on my record player as a kid and a Cabbage Patch Kids Christmas Album. I wish I still had a record player and record albums. I need to look through my daughter's CD collection and see what holiday albums she has or needs. Any recommendations?

I love the warm textures of the holidays, too. I have cozy red blankets that I only bring out during the holidays, fuzzy socks, warm scarves, flannel jammies, velvety table runners, holiday kitchen towels and hand towels in the bathroom, these are other simple ways to add to the special atmosphere that is created only once a year!


RootsAndWingsCo said...

Yay! So many great things here. Where to start...I am a member of KFA but sadly we have 5 *safe foods* and three more we are trying. It is so hard to make anything yummy for my 3 year old with his list of ingredients. I am waiting for a whole bunch of good recipes using only watermelon, sweetpotatoes, celery, apples, grapes and now turkey, rice and white potatoes. It gets really old.

You always say the meaning of the posts better than we do;)

The most important thing you mentioned was that you drink MY drink. I drink it all year long. But sadly, that is only about 6 or 8 times a year. That stuff is expensive. I need to find a way to make it at home and without my allergens. But since coffee is one of them, I don't think that will happen;) I love my Venti Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha, hot with whipped cream. Oh my! Do you get it with whipped cream on top? That is the BEST!!

I forgot how great it is to dim the lights and enjoy the tree lights. I do this every evening once the tree is up!

Thanks for playing along!!


RootsAndWingsCo said...

I just had the Peppermint white chocolate mocha for the first time on Friday night!!! Holey Moley it was yummy!

For holiday feasts I tend to make something for every one. I make cranberry sauce and a dessert that is sugar free for my diabetic father-in-law. I make the mashed potatoes, and other items all gluten and dairy free (mainly because my boys can't have the dairy or gluten but now it is because most of the folks in the family are probably allergic too). This year, I plan to have the Thanksgiving buffet with items sans toppings. I will make plain mashed potatoes and have the additions on the side so that every one can add what they like. Because my nephew can't eat much I am only putting celery,sweet potatos and apples inside the turkey and a tiny bit of olive oil on top. I plan to try adding more flavor to the gravy so that we can "season" our turkey more with it. Basically I think of everybody and what they can or can't have and try to make most of everything ok for everybody. Who wants to go someplace where they can't have most of what is served?

I had so much fun reading your post! Thanks for joining in.


Crafty Mom said...

Anjeanette, Of Course, I get my peppermint mocha with whipped cream on top! Absolutely delish! If you figure out a way to make them at home, do share!

There's a recipe in the KFA database for Toddler Meatballs. I can't give the details of the recipe here because the recipes are copyrighted, but I can tell you it should be safe for you with some minor tweaking. If your son can do ground turkey, you can make meatballs out of ground turkey with grated sweet potato and then use applesauce as your binder. You may already know that, but just in case you didn't ;).

Thank you both so much for hosting the Heartfelt and Handmade Holidays. It's a great way to really think about the holidays and make them even more meaningful than they already are.