photo credit: Jon Sullivan
I'm not quite normal.  (My teenagers are sure to agree.)  We do New Year's Eve a little differently, and it changes a bit from year to year.  It seems that most people love to watch the ball drop on Times Square, or stay up late at parties.  Me?  Not so much.  My idea of starting a new year out well does not involve waking up to a headache and a messy house.
We still celebrate; another year completed is cause to be grateful- and the celebrations always involve food, family, and games with my children.  But my idea of starting a year on the right foot is waking up to a spotless kitchen.  

Yep.  That's how exciting I am. I deep-clean my kitchen- the heart of my home- after the games and food are done.  Anyone who wants to stay up until midnight (if they're not at our church youth dance) is welcome to, if they want to scrub the grooves on cabinet doors with a toothbrush, wipe stray splashes from the ceiling, or dump crumbs out of a drawer.

Think about it, though:  how else better to celebrate than to wrap things up and start the year with a clean slate?  New day, new year, fresh start.  It does wonders for the psyche.

For New Year's Eve food, we eat things that we usually don't buy:  cheese spread in those cute little glass jars (awesome size for juice glasses afterwards, BTW), the 'good' crackers (anything more expensive than saltines), a cheese ball, the bottles of sparkling apple cider the neighbors gave as Christmas presents, Little Smokies, summer sausage, sometimes kiwi fruit or clementines.  We all start eating our gingerbread houses.  And a vegetable tray 'cause we'll be sick if we don't.

Anyway, this Christmas a friend gave us a cheese ball and crackers as a gift.  It was made with green chilies, and was hands-down the best cheese ball EVER.  She shared the recipe; may I recommend it for your New Year's Eve feast?

Recipe is below.

Juliette's Green Chili Cheese Ball

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1-2 teaspoons beef bouillon granules (or 1-2 bouillon cubes, crushed)*
1-2 Tbsp. water
7 oz. can chopped green chilies (or two 4-oz cans)
16 oz. medium or mild Cheddar, shredded (4 c.)
1 c. chopped pecans or walnuts for coating- or use 1/2 c. chopped parsley or cilantro

Mix cream cheese until smooth. Combine beef broth seasoning and water, then mix this into the cream cheese.  Stir in chilies, then Cheddar.  Shape into one huge ball or 3-4 medium ones.  Roll in chopped nuts.  Wrap well and refrigerate to firm it up.

*The beef bouillon is really important in this.  If you don't have any, you can enhance the flavor instead by adding 1/2 tsp. salt and 1 Tbsp. soy sauce or Worchestershire.
This Christmas time, are we taking time to slow down, think of the reason for the season?  If Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Christ, how can we- how can I- best show my gratitude for this greatest gift?

Do you want something simple to give to friends and neighbors?  Here are some quickies; if you have more time you might like Candy Cane Bread, shaped and decorated like a candy cane.  
Recipes for the fudge and the gingerbread syrup are below.

For the jars to pour syrup in, I save jars through the year: spaghetti sauce jars, pickle jars, jelly jars,baby food jars, peanut butter containers (don't use those for anyone with peanut allergies!)...
After Christmas, anything that didn't get used gets put in the recycle bin, and I have cupboard space once again!
Cherry-Almond Fudge

2 c. sugar
1/2 c. milk
7 oz. marshmallow creme (may use 7 oz. marshmallows instead)
12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
1 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. cherry flavor  (I used wild cherry, and it was amazing!)
1/4 c. dried cherries or cranberries, finely chopped
1/2 c. almonds, chopped

Line an 8x8 pan with parchment or foil; butter well if using foil.  Set aside.  Combine the sugar and milk in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil, stirring often, then boil for 3 minutes.  Pull off the heat, then add marshmallow creme, chocolate chips, almond and cherry extracts, and dried cherries.  Stir until smooth.  Pour into prepared pan, and sprinkle with chopped nuts.  
Refrigerate 1 hour or until firm, then cut into squares.  Store airtight at room temperature.

Makes just over 2 pounds.

Gingerbread Syrup 
(notice this recipe is basically the same as above, only without the marshmallow, and with extra milk to make it pourable)  If you don't have cinnamon chips, use white chocolate chips or butterscotch chips, then add 1-2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon, to taste.

2 c. sugar (can use brown sugar for deeper flavor, or add 1 Tbsp. molasses)
1 c. plus 2 Tbsp. milk
12 oz. cinnamon chips (I used Hershey's brand)
1 tsp. ground ginger OR 1 drop ginger essential oil
1/2 tsp. ground cloves OR 1 toothpick of clove oil
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 c. pecans, toasted and finely chopped

In a medium saucepan, bring the sugar and milk to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat.  Stir in cinnamon chips, ginger, cloves, salt, and stir until smooth.  Stir in pecans, then pour syrup into jars.  Store in the refrigerator.  Warm before serving.  (If too thick, microwave briefly.)

Makes about 3 1/2 cups.

This is a fun thing to put in kids' lunches.  Peanut butter dip has all the familiar flavor, but is smooth and creamy, like good frosting.  Just not as sweet.  It's great with carrots or bananas.  It takes just two ingredients if you use regular (sweetened) peanut butter: equal amount of peanut butter and water.  Yep.  That's it.

Just so you know- creamy peanut butter is a little easier to mix with the water, but you can use either.  Depends on if you like little crunchy bursts of peanut.
Do you ever use Pedialyte or sports drinks for sick children?  Below are some homemade, very inexpensive, and fully functional substitutes.

 We've had an impressive virus at our house lately; my 7-year-old ran a fever for an entire week (with an ear infection on top of it), and now the 4-year-old has the fever-causing virus.  Younger children get dehydrated so easily, so mine get a water bottle to keep with them at all times while sick- but it's "lemonade" water.  It really is lemonade, a little on the weak side and with salt.  I add a couple things to their water bottle, and it helps replenish the minerals and salts they lose while fevering. It tastes better to them than plain water, which helps, too.

I prefer the lemon- if you have fresh it's fantastic-, and lemon seems a little easier on upset tummies than the orange juice.  Lemon is also supposed to help alkalinize your body and cleanse the liver, both of which may help you recover faster.  The salt really is important*.  If you use unrefined coarse or sea salt, you'll also be adding critical trace minerals. (If you only have refined salt, I understand, it's OK, just not as good for our purposes here.)    For the sweetener, I use raw honey because that's what I have in my pantry.  Don't use honey if you're making this for a child under 1 year old because of possibility for botulism.  Sugar can be substituted, but doesn't have the trace minerals that honey does.  If your child likes the flavor of molasses, that's even more nutritious than honey.  My next batch will use blackstrap molasses- the amount of minerals in there are amazing!  And, after all, nutrition is the name of the game when someone's sick! This drink can also be frozen to make ice cubs or popsicles.
Note:  blackstrap molasses is not very sweet at all, and is somewhat of an acquired taste.  If I make some for myself, I tolerate the flavor, but for my children, I use no more than 1 Tbsp. blackstrap and 1 Tbsp. honey.  Using regular molasses is much more palatable to children, and even then I recommend using half molasses and half honey.

Lemon Electrolytes

16-oz  bottle of  water
3 Tbsp lemon juice or juice from 1 lemon (grapefruit juice works too)
1/8 tsp. unrefined salt
2 Tbsp. honey and/or molasses 

Pour about 1/2 cup of water out of the bottle (you're drinking it, not dumping it, right? :)  Add the lemon juice, salt, and honey or molasses. Put the lid on and shake hard.

If you want to mix up a bigger batch to keep in the fridge, use 1 quart of water, 1/2 c. lemon juice, 1/4- 12 tsp. unrefined salt, and 1-6 Tbsp. honey or molasses.  Makes a little more than a quart.

Orange Electrolytes

One 16-oz water bottle, half  full
1/8 tsp. unrefined salt
1 tsp to 1 Tbsp. honey or molasses
about 1 cup orange juice

Add salt and honey/molasses to the bottle, put the lid on and shake hard until mixed well.  Fill the bottle up the rest of the way with orange juice.

Bigger batch: 2 c. water, 2 c. orange juice, ¼- ½ tsp. unrefined salt, 1 Tbsp. honey or molasses.

*The recommended salt amount varies from 1/4 per quart to 1 tsp. per quart. Since I'm feeding this to children, I use the lower amount.  Recipe sources I looked at include the University of Connecticut Health Center, The Rehydration Project, Southern Utah University, LiveStrong.com, and http://www.cheekybumsblog.com/2012/04/living-naturally-homemade-electrolyte-drink-move-over-pedialyte/

Nutrition facts:
lemon juicehttp://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/1939/2 
orange juicehttp://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/1973/2
blackstrap molasseshttp://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?dbid=118&tname=foodspice

Tonight I stood in the kitchen with my 10-year-old daughter; I kneaded bread rhythmically on the counter while she prepared pumpkin for the first time, scooping out seeds, cutting carefully into cubes to be steamed.  We had music playing in the corner, Handel's masterpiece "Messiah" emanating from a  pink Barbie CD player.   Nevermind that my daughter was in charge of the pumpkin because she'd poked holes in it with a pencil (a smiley face, but now it wouldn't store through the winter) or that it was 11pm and both of us would have liked to been asleep.  Some days the schedule just goes out the window.  But as I showed her what to do - and not do!- then watched while she eagerly and carefully cut the pumpkin- I had the feeling I think every mother gets every now and again.  The feeling that this  is what life is about.  Joy in learning.  Joy in being with family.  Joy in seeing abilities and confidence bloom in someone you love.  Joy in working together, in passing skills on to the next generation, and in helping them see the results of honest effort.  Joy in beautiful music and gratitude for those who created such uplifting works.  Joy in my Savior, his life and example.    
Joy to the world!  -for all these joys are available to everyone to some degree.
If you'd like to hear the whole Messiah- which is the best way to hear and understand its message- here you go.
Notice the music above is over two hours long... it's the entire work.  Handel wrote this in only 24 days- hundreds of pages of music for choir and instruments. It was written to help the listeners understand more about Jesus Christ, the Messiah.  The lyrics are taken directly from the Old and New Testament, and go through His life, from before his birth, clear through his sufferings, Atonement, resurrection, and glory.  A good, short video giving some of the background can be found here, or see a fantastic blog post here.  I love to feel the power of the music and the message.    At one point while this music was being composed, a friend came to visit and found Handel sobbing with emotion after writing the Hallelujah chorus. Handel is quoted as saying "I did think I did see all heaven before me and the great God himself."   It is customary to stand while that chorus is sung... but did you know the chorus is referring to Christ's Second Coming?  The scriptures this chorus comes from are Revelations 19:6, 16, and 11:15.  It, like the "Christmas" song Joy To the World (which Handel wrote the music for), are really a celebration of the future day when Christ rules as the righteous King of kings. (You can read more about the background of the custom of standing here.)
  He signed the work "S.D.G":  Soli Deo gloria, or "glory to God alone".

Most people claim the best-known bit, the "Hallelujah Chorus", as their favorite, but the two below are my favorites.
Between helping a sick 7-year-old catch up on homework, driving the carpool today, running kids to appointments, and half of them needing to be at their church youth activities an hour later, I needed an easy and quick dinner tonight.  I had a batch of bread dough rising, so I heated the oven to 450 F, took a loaf's worth of dough, rolled it out to fit a greased cookie sheet, and baked it for ten minutes.  While it cooked, I pulled out shredded cheese, opened a can of olives and one of pineapple, and stirred together some red sauce: 1/3 c. tomato powder, 2/3 c. hot water, and 1/4 tsp. salt (or use one 8-oz can of tomato sauce), then spices to taste: a few good shakes of oregano, basil, black pepper, onion powder, a pinch of fennel... whatever you have and smells good with it. 
Spread the sauce on the hot pizza crust, sprinkle on the toppings, then put under the broiler for two minutes, until bubbling.  If you want a few more mixing/cooking details, see this other post.

Since I'd only used part of the can of pineapple and also had some coconut milk in the fridge, I made Pina Colada:   

1 (20 oz.) can of pineapple (or almost a can, in this case)
1/2 cup coconut milk (or use 2-3 Tbsp. shredded coconut and 1/3 c. water)
Half a tray of ice cubes or one handful
1 Tbsp. mild molasses
1 drop lime essential oil or 1/4 tsp. lime zest (optional but adds just the right touch)

Combine in a blender; turn on high until smooth.  Add a little sugar or honey if it's not sweet enough.

I didn't use any more sugar; the lime boosted the flavor enough that the drink didn't really need anything else.

To the pizza and drink, add a salad or other vegetable, and there's supper!

Ever since I tried a Mango-Orange-Banana smoothie at a little ice cream joint in Logan, mango with orange has been a favorite combination.  We make our own version of that original smoothie, which our kids call "Dad's Famous Mango-Orange Smoothie"- because he's the one who makes it the most often.  Maybe I'll post that recipe sometime.  (Meanwhile, it's in The Chameleon Cook- you could always buy one from me!)

Anyhow, waffles or pancakes are the standard Saturday morning breakfast around here, and the typical American pancake syrup is way too sweet for our liking- or at least too sweet for the mom in me.   As a result, we have all kinds of things to go on our pancakes- Apple Cider Syrup, homemade Elderberry jelly thinned with some water, a can of peaches drained and pureed then spiked with a bit of cinnamon or nutmeg, Golden Delicious apples sauteed in a bit of butter and stirred with a little brown sugar, ... and this, today.  

I was more than a little surprised to find frozen mango chunks at our local dollar store.  It sure saves time peeling then cutting the fruit away from a large pit.  The 10-ounce bag I bought from Dollar Tree is enough for two batches of this.

Mango-Orange Sauce
Makes about 1 3/4 cups

1 cup mango chunks
1 1/2 c. orange juice
2 Tbsp. instant clear jel* or Ultra Gel
1-2 Tbsp. honey or sugar
a couple drops orange essential oil, optional

Put everything in a blender or food processor, and turn on high until smooth.
If your mango is frozen, this mixture will be pretty thick at first.

Top with lightly sweetened whipped cream or sour cream, or a dollop of vanilla yogurt.**The Instant Clear Jel thickens the sauce. If you can't find it, substitute 1 Tbsp. cornstarch OR 2 Tbsp. flour, then bring the sauce to a boil to thicken it.  

To make the waffles, use the Basic Quickbread Formula with 2 c. liquid, 1/2 c. oil, 2 T. sugar, and whip the egg whites.  This ends up looking like this:

Makes 6-8 waffles

2 cups buttermilk, OR kefir, OR milk mixed with 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 eggs, separated
1/4-1/2 c. oil OR melted butter or coconut oil
2 cups flour (I use whole wheat)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. sugar

Preheat your waffle iron/s.  Beat the egg yolks with buttermilk and oil.  Add the flour, baking soda, salt, and sugar, and stir until just a few lumps remain.  Batter will be a little bit thin. With clean beaters in a clean grease-free bowl, beat the egg whites until medium-stiff peaks form.  Fold them into the batter.  Cook in waffle irons, using about 1/2 cup batter apiece- depending on how big the waffle iron is!    If waffles aren't being eaten as fast as they come out, put them on a cooling rack so they don't get soggy as quickly.