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Family Matters: Turkey Cookies


Over the past five years, my little family has started a new tradition of taking a vacation during the week of Thanksgiving. Every year now, we travel to a different state or town to enjoy this holiday. Most of the time we take the grandparents with us so they can spend time with the grandkids and also enjoy the location whether it’s the snow in Colorado or the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.

As we began a new tradition with my family, some old traditions can never change. My mom has to make the dressing, which is a recipe handed down from her mother. My sister-in-law has to make the potato casserole which is a recipe handed down from her mother as well. I have to bring the turkey cookies. Yes, turkey cookies. And no, it’s not a recipe handed down from my mother! Well, maybe the sugar cookie ingredients are handed down from her.

Since I was about ten years old, every year at Thanksgiving I would make turkey cookies. Which is actually sugar cookies cut out in the shape of turkeys and decorated with icing.  To this day, the family always asks if I’m bringing the turkey cookies to Thanksgiving.  Now that my daughter has turned 10, I am happily passing this tradition down to her!

Turkey Cookies

Cookies:
1 cup Crisco
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking powder
2 Tbs milk
3 cups flour

Directions:
Preheat Oven to 350° F. Combine Crisco, sugar, eggs and vanilla in a large mixing bowl and beat with a mixer until creamy. Stir in baking powder then gradually add flour and milk and stir until blended together. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least up to 3 hours.
Lightly sprinkle an inverted cookie sheet and rolling pin with flour. Roll dough out onto an inverted cookie sheet. Press cookie cutter into dough and remove excess dough around cutter. Work excess cookie dough back into a ball and repeat process. Bake cookies for 8 minutes (they should not turn brown).

Icing:
2 egg whites, beaten
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
2 Tbs lemon juice

Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites until peaks form. Gradually add in sugar and cream of tartar until mixture is thick enough to hold its shape. Spread on top of cookies and serve.

Whatever your tradition is for Thanksgiving, remember that time spent with family is by far the best tradition of all. Share Meals. Share Life. 



Family Matters: Holiday Traditions


There are certain traditions my boys expect to occur during the holidays or the earth just might spin off its axis. 

The boys love to eat white chocolate popcorn and watch “Elf,” even though they might not admit it in public. I try to act nonchalant when they ask to watch it, but inside I’m dancing because I will watch that movie every time it comes on TV. It’s like “Sleepless in Seattle” or “Sweet Home Alabama” for me; I simply can’t stop watching once it starts. 

We also have made a point to ring the Salvation Army bell together (yes, they get school volunteer hours), and it always turns out to be fun even though getting them there requires nothing short of threatening to cancel Christmas. 

Last year, my older son and I were working our shift in front of Brookshire’s when I noticed his hands weren’t moving but the bell was still ringing. Yes, Virginia, there is now an App for the Salvation Army bell, and of course, he had found it. 

One of my personal favorite Christmas traditions is setting up our nativity scene for the first time each December. The set I use now was given to me when my older son was born, and it is one of the few material things I hold dear. 

A nativity scene is a wonderful idea for a baby gift – and not one most people think about giving. It has always been a time for me to stop and think about Mary as a mother – and of course her baby son, Jesus. As a mother of boys now myself, I just don’t know how Mary did what she did. 

Christmas Popcorn
Serves 8

Ingredients:
8 cups popped popcorn with no salt or butter (air-popped works best)
2 oz high-quality white chocolate or almond bark, chopped
1 tsp unsalted butter
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
3/4 tsp salt

Directions:
Place popped popcorn in a bowl large enough to “toss” with other ingredients. Melt white chocolate or almond bark with butter in the microwave on low, stirring every 30 seconds. Drizzle over popcorn and toss well. Add berries, buts and salt. Toss again. Spread on aluminum foil or waxed paper to set. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.   

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Snack Serving (made with air-popped popcorn): 114, Total Fat: 6 g, Sodium 233 mg, Carbohydrates 15 g, Protein: 2.0 g



Family Matters: Pumpkin Butterscotch Fudge Bars


Fall has always been my favorite time of year. It has nothing to do with the fact that I was born in October. (No, really, it doesn’t, I promise) And fall is rapidly becoming my boys’ favorite time of year, too.

First of all, there’s the weather. When it got chilly last weekend, the first thing my older son asked for when he woke up was hot cocoa. Who doesn’t love a steaming mug of chocolaty goodness on a crisp fall morning?  With the cooler weather comes camping, one of our favorite family activities. There is nothing better than spending the day hiking, crunching along in the colorful leaves, then cooking over an open flame, making melty, delicious s ‘mores and going to sleep under the stars – after the ghost stories, of course.

Fall is also soccer season. My younger son plays and is pretty darn good, if I do say so myself. Saturdays at the soccer field, cheering him on, are a fun way to spend a family day too.

Fall means corn mazes, pumpkin patches, haunted houses and hayrides. Last weekend we visited four haunted houses at a local amusement park and crept through them, alternately laughing hysterically and clutching each other in anticipation of what was going to pop out from behind the next corner. We go to a nearby corn maze every year, too, and luckily for me my boys have a better sense of direction than I do, because they can sniff our way out much more quickly than I can. We pick up our pumpkins at the same place, searching the extensive field for just the right gourd to take home for our jack o’ lantern.

Fall also means baking. Lots of baking. Pumpkin bread, cinnamon rolls, spice loaf, peanut butter cookies and these pumpkin butterscotch fudge bars that combine all the delicious flavors of my favorite season.

Pumpkin Butterscotch Fudge Bars
Makes 4 dozen

Recipe Courtesy of Quaker Oats  

COOKIE BASE:
Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour 
1 cup Quaker® Oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked) 
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar 
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup flaked coconut 
3/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice 
1/2 tsp baking soda 
12 Tbs (1-1/2 sticks) butter or margarine, melted 

FUDGE: 
2 Tbs stick butter or margarine 
2/3 cup evaporated milk 
3/4 cup granulated sugar 
1/2 cup 100% Pure Pumpkin
1-1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice 
1/4 tsp salt 
2 cups (4 oz.) miniature marshmallows 
1-2/3 cups (11-oz. pkg.) butterscotch chips 
3/4 cup chopped walnuts, divided 
1 tsp vanilla   

Directions:
Heat oven to 350°F. Line 15 x 10-inch jelly-roll pan with foil. 

For cookie base, combine flour, oats, brown sugar, nuts, coconut, pumpkin pie spice and baking soda in medium bowl; mix well. Stir in butter; mix well. Press into jelly-roll pan.

Bake 13 to 15 minutes or until lightly brown. Cool in pan on wire rack.  

For fudge, combine butter, evaporated milk, sugar, pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice and salt in medium, heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, over medium heat. Boil, stirring constantly, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in marshmallows, chips, 1/2 cup nuts and vanilla extract. Stir vigorously for 1 minute or until marshmallows are melted. Pour over cookie base; sprinkle with remaining nuts. Refrigerate until firm. Cut into bars.

Nutritional Information (per bar):Calories 128;  Calories from Fat 56; Total Fat 6 g; Cholesterol 9 mg; Sodium 84 mg; Total Carbohydrates 17 g; Dietary Fiber 1 g; Sugars 12 g; Protein 2 g

 



Family Matters: Patchwork of Memories


We all go through daily routines of things “we must get done” in order to feel like our day was a success.  In reality, sometimes we find out too late that it is really time with our family that matters the most and where our time should be focused.  

My dad recently passed away and my days now are not as busy as they used to be, because some things don’t seem to matter like they did.  I constantly encourage my kids to treat each day like it may be their last – speak kind words, help others, be a good friend, give a hug, share your faith and always tell those you love how much they mean to you.  We get so busy and wrapped up in things that we fail to speak the words “I love you” to those we care for the most. Words are powerful and can make a difference in the lives of people around you.  You may not think you need to hear it, but be assured there is someone you come in contact with each day that those three simple words are exactly what they need to hear. 

I was very close to my dad and talked to him every day, and I always made sure the last thing he heard was “I love you”.  I was (and will always be) a “daddy’s girl” and my life is forever changed without him in it.  I have great memories and stories to share but I wanted something more that would give me a sense of him being with me always – unlike photos that fade and memories that grow vague over time.  I had a quilt made of my daddy’s shirts and it will be a keepsake to be passed down for years to come.  It will keep me warm, bring me comfort and will help me feel closer to him.  When others see it, it will only look like a quilt, but to me it is a patchwork of memories…each square a beautiful reminder of my dad. 

I spent the last two weeks of my dad’s life at his hospital bedside caring for him.  I did not know it at the time, but looking back I know now, that it was a precious “gift from God” and I will be forever thankful for that special time.  The last words he heard me speak were “I love you”, so I have no regrets.  My family matters and I let them know daily…what about you?  

Focus on your family and tell them what they mean to you.  Count your blessings daily and give thanks for the time you are given with them. 

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Family Matters: Cool Weather Treats are for the Birds


The house I grew up in – and the one I have lived in for the past eight years – have walls across the backs that are floor-to-ceiling windows, opening up lovely views to the backyard. In fact, my most recent house was built to “copy” the window wall of my childhood home.  

The kitchen table sits just in front of one of the windows, and of course, I have all kinds of bird feeders and bird baths to be able to enjoy the playful sounds and actions of hummingbirds, robins, sparrows and even a squirrel or two. There were many a mornings as a child that the sound of “Bob White” was my alarm clock. Now, the woodpecker alarm clock…I could have lived without. 

Bird watching may sound like it would be boring, but it’s actually quite interesting for young kids as well as adults once you get going. You might want to invest in a bird book and a decent pair of binoculars too, just to enjoy the scene in a bit more detail – or to identify a rare sighting. 

I had an indigo bunting visit one morning and wasn’t sure what it was until I could see closely through my binoculars and ask my father what it was I was seeing. The indigo bunting is now my favorite bird, I do believe. 

Offer the birds of your yard a variety of seeds, and you will have a variety of visitors – all throughout the year.  During the cooler months (and few cold days we have!), birds need extra fat to help them survive.  Try this easy peanut butter bird seed ball recipe with your kids or grandkids and you’ll enjoy your backyard all year long! 

Cool Weather Bird Treats 

Ingredients:
2 Tbs vegetable oil
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup crushed eggshells
1 cup vegetable shortening
Cornmeal as needed to hold mixture together

Directions:
Combine all ingredients except cornmeal in a bowl. Add enough cornmeal to be able to form into small balls. Place on a cookie sheet and freeze overnight. When ready to feed the birds, hang balls on a garden stake or on bird feeder. 



Family Matters: Melted Witch Parfait


This month, to celebrate Halloween, we’re making a parfait that uses pudding, crushed chocolate sandwich cookies and orange sprinkles to create a spookie and yummy colored treat.

Top it off with a handmade witch’s hat, and you have a dessert all your friends will want to try! 

WHAT YOU WILL NEED:

• Food Club Vanilla Pudding Cups
• Orange Nonpareils Or Orange Sugar Sprinkles
• Food Club Chocolate Sandwich Cookies, Crushed
• Black Construction Paper
• Scissors
• Glue
• Spoons
• Glass Parfait Dishes Or Plastic Cups 

Step 1

Spoon in pudding

Place vanilla pudding, orange sprinkles, another layer of pudding and crushed sprinkles one at a time in a parfait glass. 

Step 2

Layer with extras

Add sprinkles on the next layer against the side of the glass, another layer of pudding, then a layer of crushed Food Club Sandwich Cookies. Alternate layers until they reach the top and place a spoon in the parfait. 

Step 3

Cut, roll & glue cone

To make the top of the witch’s hat, cut 2 1/2-inch circle out of black construction paper, roll into cone shape and glue sides to adhere. 

Step 4

Glue cone to circle

For the hat’s base, cut out a 2-inch circle out of black construction paper. Cut two 1/2-inch slits in the middle of the circle. Glue cone to 2-inch circle to cover up the 1/2-inch slits. Dry and top the hat onto the spoon handles.



Dine-In: Family Movie Night


We happened to have a night free last week, and I really wanted to spend some time with the boys at home – together. I do love it when we are all under one roof, but a lot of nights, they might be doing homework or playing video games and we end up in separate rooms. Usually, the smell of something delicious simmering on the stove is enough to draw them to the table, and I use this tool unashamedly. I am all about parenting by bribe.

Somehow the table conversation drifted from the day’s events to a movie they had seen over the weekend. I don’t remember what it was now, but it was something with weapons and blood and gore. I love watching movies, and thought maybe – just maybe – I could convince them to watch a DVD that night someone had recently given me.

Living in East Texas – not too far from Carthage – I was really excited to hear about the movie, “Bernie.” If you don’t know the movie, it’s based on the story of the local mortician, Bernie, who strikes up a friendship with a wealthy widow. I can’t really tell you much more without giving it away, but it does turn out to be a dark, dark comedy – and an interesting study of people and why we do the crazy things we do.

“Bernie” is definitely not for little kids, as I think it’s Rated PG-13. But it is hysterically funny and fascinating, especially for those of us who understand this Southern culture and can relate to most all of the quirky personalities in the film. I kept thinking, “I know someone just like that!”

It was a wonderful evening. Bowls of White Chicken Chili, hot buttery cornbread and “Bernie.” The boys enjoyed it almost as much as I did, but I think some of the old-timey humor escaped them. (Spoiler Alert: There is a murder, and this is when teenage boys start paying attention.)

My favorite line of the night wasn’t from the movie, it was from my older son. Now, remember we live about an hour from where the movie took place. He said, “I am just SO glad we don’t live in a small town like that!”

I had to laugh under my breath. Small-town America – wherever it is – is just like that, for better or worse! 

White Chicken Chili
Serves 8

Ingredients:
1 Tbs olive oil
2 yellow onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (8 oz) can chopped green chiles
2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 rotisserie-style chicken, skinned and shredded or 1 ½ lbs cooked, chopped chicken breasts
3 (15-oz) cans Great Northern beans, drained
14 oz chicken broth
3 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Garnishes: Sour cream, salsa, chopped cilantro, chopped jalapeno

Directions:
Heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Sauté onions in hot oil for 10 minutes until tender. Stir in garlic, green chiles, cumin, oregano, cloves and cayenne pepper. Sauté for 2 minutes. Add beans and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. You may prepare to this point up to 1 day in advance and store, covered, in refrigerator. Bring to simmer before continuing recipe. Add chicken and 1 cup of cheese to bean mixture and mix well. Simmer until cheese melts, stirring frequently. Season to taste with salt and pepper and ladle into bowls. Garnish with remaining cheese, sour cream, salsa, cilantro and jalapeno.  



Family Matters: Baby Fever


My older son, Will, celebrated his 16th birthday recently. I was his biggest cheerleader when it came time to get his driver’s license that day – until seeing him pull away from the curb and drive away. Alone.

I was not expecting the huge wave of emotion that hit me down to my core – almost instantly. And before I knew what was happening, I was crying and reminiscing about the day Will was born, his first day of preschool, the day he learned to ride his bike, and on and on. Why I tortured myself with all of the sweet memories I have with him, I’ll never know. I acted like he had driven off into the sunset never to return.

Of course, that is almost true. It was 4 p.m. when he drove away, and several hours passed before he decided he might want to think about coming home. Needless to say, his newfound keys to freedom came and disappeared all in the same day.

While he was gone that afternoon and I wasn’t frustrated with him yet, I decided to pull out some of his old baby photos and scrapbooks and reminisce even more, as if this somehow was going to help the pain.

I found a photo of Will exactly one week old. This would be the same time I took him to our pediatrician with his first “fever.”

I was hysterical that September day. Will was flushed and sweating and overheated, and I was certain he was on the brink of death. I raced to the doctor, without any appointment of course, and rushed in the office. I don’t know how the receptionist even understood what I was saying through my post-partum crying fit.

In just a moment or two, Will and I were back in the doctor’s private office. After looking at Will wrapped in a blanket, hat, gloves, socks and head-to-toe sleeper, the doctor wisely just suggested we take off some of Will’s wintry layers and let him enjoy the September 100-degree sunshine.

Miraculously, Will’s “fever” disappeared.

Will’s Favorite Sweet Potato Apple Baby Food

Ingredients:
3 large sweet potatoes
3 organic apples

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400° F. Wash and cut apples and sweet potatoes. Place in a baking pan and cover with foil. Bake until soft, about 45 minutes. Peel apples and place in food processor. Remove sweet potato from the skin and add to food processor. Puree. You can add water if you want a thinner puree. Makes 6 baby servings. 

Nutritional Information:  Calories Per Serving: 136, Total Fat: 0.3 g, Sodium 8 mg, Carbohydrates 33.5 g, Fiber: 5.3 g, Protein: 1.4 g



Family Matters: Balance


I don’t know about you, but there are times I really struggle with balance in my life. Right now is one of those times.

The beginning of the school year is always hectic. There are new class routines for my two boys, getting back into the habit of doing homework and studying math facts, spelling and vocabulary and starting activities again. Luke plays soccer. This year Curt wanted to try karate. In the meantime, I’m short-staffed at work and have been very involved in planning and executing an awesome event that takes place this weekend – Girl Power.

In short, all balance in my life has gone right out the window.

I have to actually remind myself to stop, slow down and not get (too) stressed out.  Because when I’m stressed, my kids are stressed, and that’s not good for anyone.

Here’s a few of the things I’ve found has helped my family achieve balance during the hectic, chaotic times:

1. I use the crock pot several times a week. With karate at 6 p.m. and soccer at 6 p.m. and not leaving work until after 5 p.m., if I hold on to any hope of getting dinner on the table at a reasonable hour, it’ll be something I’d prepared in the crock pot. Plus my house smells so good when we walk in that I’m convinced the added bonus is aromatherapy.
2. When I can’t use the crock pot, I’ve decided that tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich are a perfectly acceptable dinner.
3. I read the Brookshire’s circular and the Shop the Sale blogs and make my grocery list so not only am I saving money, but saving time by only shopping once during the week.
4. I turn off the car radio during my late afternoon commute and either ride in silence, which helps me unwind, or plug my iPhone into the car’s radio auxiliary and only listen to music – no talking. (Recent favorites: Amos Lee, Mumford & Sons, Iron and Wine, the soundtrack to The Hunger Games, The Decemberists and The Civil Wars).
5. Family Reading Time! The boys are required to read AT LEAST 20 minutes a night, so we turn off all electronics and all spend time with our books. We usually all end up curling up on the couch together and it’s quiet, it’s cuddly and we can all escape into our books together. (It’s also a good way to wind down before bedtime).
6. Remembering not to sweat the small stuff. Easier said than done. But in all actuality, washing the bed sheets can wait until the weekend and not every piece of mail has to be attended to immediately.
7. Oh, and did I mention tomato soup? 



Family Matters: A Three-Dog Family


I’m not sure how it happened, but we went from being a family with one old Lab outside dog to suddenly having three dogs, one of which weighs 100 pounds and lives inside within three feet of wherever I am in the house. 

Our newest family member is a funky, feisty Jack Russell Terrier/Blue Heeler mix named Buddy. Buddy is the one who just found his way into our home in the blink of an eye, as if he were meant to be with us all along. My younger son, Smith, was avoiding doing his chores – preferring to surf the local dog shelter website. Smith has a huge, tender heart and feels certain we should adopt every single homeless dog and cat in the tri-state area. 

Somehow within the next hour, we were on our way to the dog shelter, “just to take a look around.” It didn’t matter that I told Smith we were NOT coming home with another dog. As soon as Buddy saw Smith, and Smith saw buddy, well, that was that. And I don’t have the heart to keep apart a boy and a  new puppy that obviously fell in love instantly. 

It’s been an adventure keeping up with three dogs and two teenage sons – all of whom eat so much it blows my mind and my budget! Every now and then I try to make a big batch of these Pumpkin Peanut Butter Dog Cookies. The dogs love them, kids love to help make them, and their cost is much friendlier on my monthly budget.

View this recipe to print or add items to your Shopping List. 

Pumpkin Peanut Butter Dog Treats 

Ingredients:
2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup canned pumpkin
3 Tbs peanut butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon 

Directions: 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Process all ingredients in a the bowl of a food processor until dough forms, pulsing occasionally and scraping sides. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work area and knead a few times into a ball. Using a rolling pin, roll out to about 1/4-inch thick. Cut into desired shapes. 

Place cookies close together on baking pans to bake. The cookies don’t need much space between them, as they don’t spread. Bake for 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300°F. Turn cookies over, and return to oven to bake for an additional 15 minutes, until cookies are hard.  Remove from oven and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container. Makes about 100 1-inch cookies



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The products mentioned in “Share, the Brookshire’s Blog” are sold by Brookshire Grocery Company, DBA Brookshire’s . Some products may be mentioned as part of a relationship between its manufacturer and Brookshire’s.

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