Side Dishes – Potatoes Au Gratin



On the Second Day of Christmas

Yuki watched TV!


I got an animal DVD from the Library, and while I walked on the treadmill, Yuki took in America’s Greatest Animals for at least 10 minutes. 🙂

Potatoes Au Gratin

This was a perfect accompaniment to our Christmas dinner. In past years, I’ve made Christmas Goose, an interesting if labor-intensive dish.

I’ve decided that turkey and ham are the easiest large meats to serve. Not only are they budget-friendly, but also feed a lot of people. When I make a turkey, I have meat for the meal as well as leftovers for at least a couple more.

Not so with goose. Goose is roughly a similar size to a turkey, but the meat from it feeds maybe 4 people in one meal. The end.

This year I compromised. I made duck and sea scallops. I don’t think I’d ever made scallops before, but I love them and order them often when we’re out. So I didn’t have a good recipe to start from. I found a chili-encrusted lime scallop recipe which I thought sounded good, but came out only meh.

And the duck? Sorta of meh too. It’s a lot of work trying to get the meat off the bird, though it’s easy to roast.

The au gratin potatoes (p. 31), though, worked out perfectly as a side dish. I used plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, and had lightened up versions of the cream of celery and cheese.

IMG_6542Jacob really liked this dish. It’s tasty!


Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of the final product. But trust me it comes out really nice in the end because you put cheese over the top and the potatoes brown up nicely.

Give it a try!





Breakfast Main Dishes – Blueberry Pancakes

It seems as though Christmas memories are at least in part associated with stories, movies, and shows that we’ve learned to love over the years. Some of my favorites:

1. The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. I remember seeing a play based on this classic story years ago. It’s a beautiful example of giving and irony.

2. Martin Luther’s Christmas Book. This little volume is a collection of Martin Luther’s sermons or talks on the Christmas texts from Luke 2 and Matthew 1. It’s a treasure!

3. A Christmas Story. It’s a goofy Christmas tradition. Here’s a link to the real Christmas Story house.

4. It’s a Wonderful Life. The classic Frank Capra movie I can’t seem to enjoy Christmas without!


5. The Bishop’s Wife. Although this classic with David Niven from 1947 is not too much about Christmas, I love it.

6. Home Alone. Love this funny Christmas movie and how the kid outsmarts the crooks.

What are your faves?

Blueberry Pancakes

The Murphys made this recipe (p. 35) in the cookbook for me. Thank you, Murphs! The recipe makes quite a few.

Here they laid out the ingredients:


And the mixture:


On the griddle:


And the final product:

Breads and Rolls – Cheese Biscuits Deluxe

Cats and Their Toys
I find it interesting that our kitties each have their own preferences as they play. It’s remarkable, isn’t it, that God made these little critters with their own likes and dislikes.

Kenji, for example, loves straws. He is playful, good-natured, and innocent, and loves to play with string. But he also loves straws. And have you ever noticed that the straws from McDonalds are just a tad bit wider than a straw you can buy at the store? Kenji likes those most of all.

Dewey loves jingle balls and little cloth balls he can kick around. Jacob brought home a winter hat with a pom pom on the top at Thanksgiving, and by the end of the weekend, Dewey had taken it off the hat. It’s been his favorite toy ever since. He kicks it around and chases it throws it up the air.

Yuki, well, he’s a bit lazy. He likes to watch the games mostly. He’ll chase a string or rope if I walk around the house with it. Otherwise, he’s perfectly happy dilly dallying, watching the others as they play.

I don’t know if we’ll see cats or dogs in heaven, as was commented on heavily in the last week, but I do know this: God made these little creatures unique with their little personalities. And I’m sure glad He did!

Cheese Biscuits Deluxe

This was another fabulous offering (p. 67) that Nancy O. made for book club. This one, from Cheryl D. uses refrigerated biscuits as the base, and then adds blue cheese and herbs. Delish! And Nancy said it was also quite simple to make.

Here it is laid out on the cookie sheet:




Desserts – Pineapple Parfaits

My Next Project
A few of you have asked me what my next project will be once I finish the cookbook (which has only 15 recipes to go). The answer: I don’t know yet. But I must say I’ve liked this way of blogging quite a bit. I’ve had a blog for eons, but rarely update it because I never know who I’m writing for: teachers? readers of my books? other writers? Because I’m confused, my readership most certainly is.

This project has had much more clear definition, and it’s helped me to stay on track.

This week I received an unexpected package in the mail from one of our parishioners at our former church in Pittsburgh. What could it be? You’ll never guess! Their 90th anniversary cookbook! Cosmic irony? A sign that I should cook through yet another Lutheran cookbook? The funniest part is that I had no idea it was coming, and the sender had no idea I’ve been blogging about Redeemer’s cookbook.

I’m not sure my family nor my figure (such as it is) can manage to make it through another church cookbook. But you never know…I may sneak some of the best-looking recipes from that cookbook in once this project is at an end.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I? This project is still a ways from being done and I only have 15 days to finish. We’ll sure get close, though. I may have to start begging a few more people for help.

Pineapple Parfaits

These treats (p. 85) are something that Lois A. enjoys with her family at Christmastime. They are tasty–very creamy with ice cream and whipped topping along with the pineapple flavor. Yum!


Nancy went all out at book club, and served not only these but also a chocolate tart with cherries.

Desserts – Eclair Bubble Ring

What’s making me happy this week

On NPR’s Pop Culture hour, they do a roundtable at the end of each podcast called “What’s Making Me Happy.” So in honor of their feature, I’ll do my own version:


1. Dannon’s Greek Light & Fit Toasted Coconut Vanilla yogurt. For a price of 80 calories, you’ll feel ready to swim in a vat of the stuff.

2. A finished manuscript. I successfully prepared Draft #2 of my novel in verse and sent it off to my agent this week. I call it a “draft” because I know it’s just that–one step in a long writing process. But it’s a creative work of fiction that topped 13,000 words, a stunning achievement for this writer. My “Cheep Cheep” book numbered only 7 words. Perhaps I’m developing. 🙂

3. Handmade cards and gift tags. One of the many things I love about working at the library is the celebration of creativity in that environment. We’re adopting a “makerspace” culture, in which patrons come to the library to do their own creating. As part of that, I’ve had the pleasure of being involved in programs that allow me to play, create, and make something to give away.

4. Lark Rise to Candleford. If you’re sick of hearing about my obsession with British TV, you can tune out now. My mom got me onto Doc Martin and Lark Rise to Candleford, the latter of which is based on a book about a hamlet in Oxfordshire around the 1880s.

5. Swedish hymns. I love the lilting, happy melodies of Swedish hymns, much more than the heavy plodding Germanic ones. I love my German Lutheran roots, but these Swedish hymns like “Children of the Heavenly Father,” are making me happy this week.

Eclair Bubble Ring

This is an interesting recipe (p.100)–from the name to the giant-ness of it all! My supervisor at work Cher put together this multi-step recipe to help me with the cookbook project. Thank you, Cher!


She made the pastry, which is not really sweet. It’s sort of bread-y.


Then she sliced the dough lengthwise for a custard filling.


Finally, a chocolate topping was added to the top.


Voila! Giant donut!

Thank you, Cher, for helping me with this project!

Cookies – Pecan Sandies

Pecan Sandies

Ann and Fran H. kindly agreed to bake these cookies for the Cake Walk at Redeemer (p. 100). I’ve always liked pecan sandies, but I was only familiar with the Keebler version. My mom used to buy them when I was growing up. I always loved their rich, buttery flavor. If you’re interested in making a “copy” of the Keebler version, here’s an interesting-looking recipe.

This reminds me of years ago when people started passing around the Neiman-Marcus cookie recipe. Does anyone remember this? It was pre-internet days when the idea of getting a secret recipe was quite shocking. Now there are loads of these:

Red Lobster’s amazing cheddar biscuits

Orange Julius’ orange julius 

Wendy’s Frosties

Cinnabon’s Cinnamon Rolls

Whatever your favorite restaurant foods, you can probably search and find some copy of it online.

Pecan Sandies
Anyhow, here is the final product of the pecan sandies. Ann suggests making teaspoonful-size cookies on the cookie sheet so they don’t come out too large.

Thank you, Ann, for baking these cookies, and to Donna H. for submitting the recipe!

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

St. Nicholas

About 15 years ago, when our son was about 5 years old, we had to make a decision. What would we teach him about Santa Claus? We knew the legends of the true St. Nicholas, and wanted him to appreciate the true story of this historical figure. Christians have a wonderful opportunity to share the story of St. Nicholas and show the true source of our generosity at Christmastime.

The true Nicholas lived in modern-day Turkey, was a bishop of the church who defended the teaching of Jesus’ deity, and spread his inherited wealth with the poor and needy. What more could we ask for in a model of faith!?


So I started putting my ideas on paper. While there aren’t a huge number of Nicholas books, most of the ones I found focused not on what is known from history about the man, but rather on the legends and miracles. So I set out to research and write a book that would tell the story of his generous heart, and show how his generosity came from faith in Christ. My book focuses on the story of Nicholas giving a poor man with three daughters enough gold so that the girls would not have to be sold into slavery or end up in a life of prostitution. No names or other historical details have survived the years, so I made up family names, added a little brother, and tried to honor the story of this true Christian bishop.

What didn’t make it into the book is his presence at the Council of Nicea. Constantine called the first church council in 325 A.D. It is from this first church convention that the Nicene Creed was created, which the Church has confessed ever since. Arius, a bishop from Egypt, doubted Christ’s equality with the Father–thus showing the complexity of the theological teaching of the Trinity. Nicholas got so irritated by Arius’ heresy that he got up and slapped him across the face. I mean: go Nicholas! Perhaps we should have a little more of this spunk! An excellent little article by Gene Veith describes the scene in more detail.

Anyhow, Nicholas’ story is one to pass down to our kids and grandkids because it shows us that Christ’s love overflows into our lives and to the people around us. What a wonderful idea to share!

Chili-Taco Dip

This recipe(p. 3), from Joan H., would make an excellent game day dip! It’s super easy–just a can of no-bean chili, shredded cheese, and some cream cheese. Melt it all together and you get a great dip!

Cookies – Meltaways

Random questions I wonder about while watching football

Are referees really small people, or are the football players just that huge in comparison?

How hard is it, really, to make a field goal? I mean, those goal posts are pretty far apart.

How do coaches and players put up with the cameras in their faces? HD TV doesn’t leave much to the imagination.

Is it embarrassing for these men to wear shiny leggings?

How do quarterbacks get so good at making caveman-like sounds before each play? Do they train for this? What are they really saying? Is this English we’re hearing?


While we ponder these deep thoughts about football, let’s talk about Meltaways (p. 98). Even though we successfully made these cookies, I’m still not sure I understand what they’re supposed to look like. I found this recipe for peppermint meltaways (which sound amazing), and they are little round coin-shaped cookies with a dollop of what appears to be peppermint-flavored icing, so it appears we were on the right track anyway.


Anyhow, it’s a butter cookie, and then chocolate is melted on the top once the cookies are baked. It can never hurt to add chocolate to your basic butter cookie, right?

Here’s the final product. They are the little tiny ones!


Cookies – Russian Teacakes

Julie here –

Phil’s Friends

At our youth event on Sunday night, we had a great service project and an all-around fun gathering. 25 kids and several adults gathered to learn more about what cancer patients experience, and how better to show compassion and care for everyone going through difficult times. Our own member Kim L. was generous enough to agree to speak to the kids about her experiences and help us all get a better view of how to help those who are ill.

Two things that stuck with me that she said was that when you have a friend or family member who is ill, remember that their disease does not define them. They are who they are with all of their individual talents, dreams, and hopes. This is how they want to be known to other people, to be cherished for who they are, not for the disease they have to bear.

The other thing Kim said that stuck with me is that Jesus is more powerful and has more love for us than any disease, any hurt, or any difficulty we might be facing. We sometimes can’t see the way out of a situation, but by being grounded in faith, we can cling to Him in the face of adversity. She also commented about cancer teaching patience. When she first found out she was ill, it was agony for her to wait to get a clear diagnosis so they could properly treat the cancer. The only thing she had to rely on was prayer, and that had to be enough. What wise words!

phil's friends

After she finished speaking, we all decorated cards and boxes for an organization called Phil’s Friends, which brings hope to those who are in cancer treatment. Their motto is “We bring hope,” and what a great message that we all need to hear. They provide cards and care packages to those going through treatment, to remind them that people are praying for them and caring for them. So thank you to everyone who donated time and effort to help us with this great evening.

Russian Teacakes
Well, this fabulous recipe (p. 101) comes from Sally M. These are a staple of every Christmas cookie exchange, but as with many recipes in this cookbook, I’ve never known the ins and outs about how to make them. These are quite delicious! Karen O. helped me yet again by baking these fabulous cookies.

Here are the ingredients–very simple!


Butter, sugar, eggs…


Rolled out onto the cookie sheet.


And the finished product:


Salads – Spinach Salad

Graduation, Orientation, and More

Now that we’re somewhat recovered from all the hoopla surrounding graduation, it’s time to move onto orientation. Ohio University, where Jacob has settled on for his college choice, hosts orientation weekends throughout the summer. What worked best for our schedule was to go first thing, so we’ll be hitting up their first weekend. It’ll be a good opportunity to check out his new digs, especially since he now has his dorm assignment.

Jacob learned that the area surrounding Ohio U is one of the most haunted college campuses in the U.S. Yay. Apparently, there is a closed insane asylum not far away. Also, the Mothman was spotted only about 45 minutes away from Athens. So something weird is in the water. I’m not too sure what to make about all of that, but we’ll check it all out soon!

Whenever we watch a scary movie together, and I get the heebie jeebies, I have to look at pictures of puppies afterward to get the disturbing images out of my head. Hopefully that won’t have to happen after we visit OU!

But just for good measure, here’s a photo of Yuki and Kenji, twinning, as they so often do. They are like bookends, these two littermates. They’re the same size, have similar coloring, and sometimes sit right next to each other, like twins.


Spinach Salad

Well, my husband will be happy about this recipe. Not because of the spinach, but because of the horseradish. He adores it. The recipe (p. 14) calls for 2 T horseradish to be added to the dressing, along with sour cream, vinegar, dry mustard, and salt.

Nancy O., the contributor of this recipe, recommends putting together the dressing the day before, so I’ve done that already, and will serve it over the weekend. I lightened up the dressing by using 1/4 c. fat-free sour cream, and 1/4 c. fat-free Greek yogurt. I also substituted Splenda for the sugar called for in the recipe.

Here’s the creamy part of the dressing:


And how it turned out:


Wow! This is much different than I expected. The typical spinach salad has a sweet, vinegary dressing. This is tangy, with a little heat from the horseradish. I loved it! The cottage cheese also gave it nice texture, along with the water chestnuts.

Cool recipe, Nancy, thank you!