Exciting Children’s Books and Christmas Gifts

As a new grandma, it is increasingly hard to not see a book I want to give to our new little grandson who will be celebrating his first Christmas this year!  He has been read to his whole young life, and is now a little less interested in chewing the books and looking at and touching the books more. He already has a good little library that his family has explored with him and he loves them!

Last Book Gift - for One Week before Christmas!

Last Book Gift – for One Week before Christmas!

Since his grandpa and I spend a lot of our time in book stores anyway, we have been gathering a small library of books to give to him sometime!  On pinterest and other great idea sites, there have been great ideas shared about ways to explore an advent calendar. There have been pop-up windows advent calendars around since I was a child, and there are lots of cute ideas using different themes and crafts.

As our pile of books grew, I remembered some ideas about using books for counting down the days of advent to Christmas.  Since we do not see our little one every single day, and alas, we did not have 25 books, I realized we had enough to start counting down the last 6 weeks till Christmas!

Countdown to Christmas Books – Weekly

1 – We started by gathering all the books we planned to give to our little grandson.  We laid them out with general topic books first, some texture books and animal books. Then we planned to give him a Babies Bible Story Book and Babies First Christmas storybook closer to Christmas.

4 Weeks til Crhistmas - Countdown Book Gift

4 Weeks til Christmas – Countdown Book Gift

2 – We thought he might want to practice some fine motor skills and how to open presents!  I wrapped very loosely each of the books with white, green and red tissue paper. Tissue makes a great crinkling noise and I made sure it was wrapped loosely enough that he could get a fingerhold on the paper.

3 – On the top of each package I printed out a Christmas Santa picture card with the weeks before Christmas.  Example:  “6 Weeks til Christmas”. I taped that loosely on top so he could rip that off easily.

3 Weeks til Christmas - Countdown gift

3 Weeks til Christmas – Countdown gift

4 – Starting 6 Weeks before Christmas, we gave him his first book gift when he came to visit that week. His mom had to help of course, but he loved the book right away!  He immediately tasted the book first to see if it was a good one, then he looked as the “story” was read to him, and he is even helping to turn the pages!

I think he will be ready for Christmas morning packages, but more importantly, he will know that he is loved, books are great, being read to is amazing, and his parents and grandparents love to hold him and read to him from books!  And one day, when he is ready, he will pick up those books and read them all by himself!

 2 Weeks til Christmas - Countdown Gift

2 Weeks til Christmas – Countdown Gift

Make this Christmas or Hannukah or Kwanzaa or Three Kings Day or New Years or any other celebration around the world more special for even the youngest ones by giving them the gift of love, peace and literacy!

 

 

Family Recipe – Sausage or Bacon Overnight Casserole

Time for the holidays!  And no time to spare!  Whether it is Christmas morning, a morning when you have guests to feed, or just a morning you want to relax and eat well, this is a great way to do the prep work the night before.

Throw a few items in a bowl, and let it sit overnight to absorb the milk and flavors, then pop in the oven the next morning.  Job done!  These are two versions of the overnight sausage casserole that has spread like wildfire over the last few years and is so simple to create and make yours!

I was first introduced to this sausage casserole when we travelled to visit good friends for the weekend. My best friend and I were talking for hours, and she browned the sausage and mixed the dish while we had a chance to visit.  The next morning, all she had to do was put it in the oven and we had more time to chat and catch up.

Baked until golden brown. Ready to serve!

Sausage Casserole.  Ready to serve!

For many years, my sister has spent part of her Christmas Eve preparing two versions of the casserole and brings them to bake at my parent’s home when we all gather Christmas morning. She doesn’t have to cook on Christmas morning, but she provides a wonderful feast for the whole family! And it’s pretty big family now!

These are our 2 different versions of the same dish, and it is easy to adapt to your own preferences and tastes.

Sausage Overnight Casserole  (serves up to 4 or 5)

5-6 slices of bread (white or wheat)diced into cubes

1 lb. ground sausage (I like sage flavored)

5-6 eggs

1 cup milk or cream (your preference)

1 Tbl. mustard

1-2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese

Salt and pepper to your taste (I usually add a sprinkle of pepper, but no salt)

Spray bottom of baking dish (9 x 13 or approximate) with cooking spray. Brown sausage and drain grease. In a bowl, mix eggs, milk, mustard, pepper.  Add cheese and bread cubes and stir gently to combine. Add slightly cooled sausage slowly and stir to mix. Pour into baking dish and cover with foil. Place in the fridge until the next morning.

Bowl with eggs, milk, mustard, bread and cheese

Bowl with eggs, milk, mustard, bread and cheese

Brown and drain sausage

Brown and drain sausage

Stir in sausage.

Stir in sausage and cover until the morning.

 

Before baking, let sit for about 15 to 20 minutes to bring to room temperature. Bake covered for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees.  Then uncover and bake another 10-15 minutes until top is nicely golden brown. Ready to serve!

Baked until golden brown. Ready to serve!

Baked until golden brown. Ready to serve!

This version is the one my sister makes with sausage or bacon! The bacon version is amazing!

Sausage (or Bacon) Casserole  (my sister’s recipe)

6-8 slices of bread (crusts removed)

2 lbs. sausage (or bacon)

6-7 eggs

salt and pepper

1 pint half/half

1 1/2 – 2 cups shredded cheese (cheddar or Mexican style flavor)

Spray bottom of 9 x 13 pan with cooking spray. Layer slices of bread in bottom of pan.  Brown and drain sausage and layer on top of the bread.  Mix eggs and half and half, with salt and pepper to taste, and pour over sausage and bread.  Sprinkle shredded cheese on top and place in refrigerator overnight.  Before baking the next morning, let sit for 15 minutes bringing to room temperature. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Tips:  For either version, adjust baking times depending on different amounts or ingredients. I sometimes only use 1/2 lb. of sausage or add extra cheese.

 

 

Hot Apple Cider

During family get togethers, one of the hardest things to do is make time to visit with family, and not be totally consumed with cooking and making sure the table is ready, food is ready on time, and everyone has something to drink.

I like to make sure everyone has something they like, so I found that most of our family loves hot apple cider.  Our son was born in the winter (on my birthday!), and our daughter was born a week before Christmas!  Two wonderful blessings!  Every year, for birthday parties or Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings, I pulled out my crock pot, and had a great hot cider ready to serve and making the house smell amazing!

This hot cider recipe can be put on 2-3 hours before you have guests coming, or let it simmer all day!  There are other combinations out there, but this has been a staple for us to serve, and it is so relaxing on a cold winter’s day!

Hot Apple Cider

1 gallon apple cider

1 red apple

10-20 whole cloves

3 cinnamon sticks

Set the crock pot on high, and simmer the following ingredients for 2-3 hours, then on low for the rest of the day while serving guests.  Pour cider into crock pot, leaving enough room to place the apple. Place whole cloves in the apple, and add to the cider.  Place cinnamon sticks into the cider and heat.

Crock Pot Hot Apple Cider

Crock Pot Hot Apple Cider

After cooling completely, save any leftover cider in the fridge and you can heat a cup at a time for yourself the next day.

 

Family Recipe – Mama’s Hot Russian Tea

 

Our Mama was a nurse back in the day, met our Daddy when she was in nursing school, and then raised her two girls. This recipe was shared with her over 40 years ago, and it has become a go-to drink for our family. Rose was a fellow nurse and good friend for many years, and she shared this basic simple recipe for a hot delicious Russian tea.

I’m not sure where the name came from, and I think there are now many versions out there for an orange flavored spiced tea.  Most of the versions I have tried are all very good (I love most tea!), but this is the original one that started our family drinking and serving Russian Tea. It mixes 4 simple ingredients quickly without a lot of preparation.

Mama’s Hot Russian Tea

1 small jar of Original Orange Flavored Tang

1 small jar of powdered instant tea (with or without lemon flavor)

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ground cloves

(2 cups of sugar if instant tea is not sweetened)

Mix all 4 ingredients.  Use 3 tsp. of mix with a cup of hot water.

Mama's Hot Russian Tea - Orange and Spice flavors

Mama’s Hot Russian Tea – Orange and Spice flavors

Tips: 

1 – Use alternate sweetener if you prefer (they weren’t available 40 years ago!)

2 – Equal amounts of Tang and Tea are used, so doubling the recipe is easy!

3 – We use each of the empty containers for tea and drink mix to store the Russian Tea mix, just dividing have the mix into each jar.

4 – My mama now also adds some lemon or orange flavored jello powder for extra flavor.

5 – Some recipes use fresh fruit when making a large quantity in a pot on the stove, for example, if you are having a party or get-together and need large amount of a hot beverage. Throw in some sliced lemons, oranges, or even pineapple for additional fresh flavor.  Great for a warm treat after trick-or-treating or a night of Christmas caroling!