childhood christmas memories

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Thanksgiving is now behind us and this is the weekend where for many Christmas shopping and decorating begins in earnest. It also begins the memory season for a lot of people.

I am not a big Black Friday shopper, but yesterday I did spend some time in one of my favorite places, Chester County Book Company. I had a terrific gift certificate waiting for me there having won the County Lines Magazine “Capturing Chester County” photo contest.

I love book stores, and always have. As a child I also loved my school’s annual Christmas Book Fair.

I went to St. Peter’s School in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia at 4th and Pine. It was a wonderful school to be a child in, and Society Hill at the time was being reborn, so while some will allude any child who spent any time growing up there was sniffing rarified air in a snotty sort of way, well sadly for them, they just don’t get it. Yes the air was rarified in a sense, but the sense was that of a very cool and historic place.

Anyway, after Thanksgiving as a child always meant in addition to annual things and pilgrimages like the light show and lunch in the Crystal Tea Room at John Wanamaker’s, the enchanted colonial village at Lit Brothers, the other Christmas displays at Gimbel’s and Strawbridge’s, and picking out a Christmas tree on sometimes snowy visits to what I think were rail yards with my father, it meant the Christmas Book Fair at St. Peter’s.

One nice thing about being a child growing up through the 1960s and 1970s is it was not politically incorrect to call things “Christmas Book Fair” or “Christmas Pageant” or “Christmas Festival”. And the Christmas Book Fair at St. Peter’s was as festive as it sounded. The school was festooned with decorations and greenery….it literally smelled like Christmas in every corner of the school. It was wonderful and everyone no matter what religion, loved it.

It was at the Christmas Book Fair as a little girl that I met a Philadelphia author my mother loved. As a matter of fact when I asked my mother about this today, she laughed and asked me if I remembered her bursting into tears when she met this children’s book author as an adult. I didn’t. But I do remember meeting an older magical woman with white hair who for a few years autographed one of her books to me annually.

The author’s name was Marguerite de Angeli. She was born in Michigan at the end of the 19th century, but moved with her family at the turn of the 20th century to Philadelphia. Her mother, Ruby, was best friends with the mother of my headmistress, Caroline Seamans.

Because of this lucky connection, as students then, we not only were able to become exposed to the wonderful writing and illustrating of Marguerite de Angeli, but to meet and spend little bits of time with her.

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I don’t know if any of you have books from your childhood, but I have some. Among the ones I kept were the books of Marguerite de Angeli. Thee, Hannah. Henner’s Lydia. Elin’s Amerika. Skippack School. Bright April. A Door in The Wall. I have loved and cherished these books, and read and re-read them. To me these books meant Christmas.

These books written by Marguerite de Angeli are still magical and timeless. I think every child should read them, and you can still find them on eBay and Amazon. I found copies of the books hidden among my step son’s book shelves a few years ago. They had been the copies that my sweet man’s own mother had read when she was a child, passed to him as a child, and he had passed them along to his son. I have always found that very cool.

These books remain as cherished books in our library. (Probably more cherished by me the closet sentimentalist.) Today, I took my copies off the shelf to dust them and I stopped to read the inscriptions Marguerite de Angeli left for me. Almost instantly I was a little girl again at the book fair waiting for my book to be signed. What a wonderful memory to be revisited by.

Thanks for stopping by today.

pumpkin pecan pie

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Pre-heat oven to 425°

This is sort of a complicated pie, so if you want to buy premade rolled piecrust sheets, have at it! I have never really written this down, but I think my proportions will work fine.

Line TWO 8 or 9 inch REGULAR not deep dish pie plates with plain pie crusts , crimp your crust edges and toss in the refrigerator to chill.

Next is the pumpkin filling….

You basically follow the pumpkin pie filling recipe on the back of the pumpkin cans (except I add an extra egg):

One 15 ounce can of pure pumpkin (unsweetened packed pumpkin)
3/4 of a cup of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 large eggs
1 12 ounce can of Carnation evaporated milk (use the whole evaporated milk)

Mix sugar, salt, spices in a bowl. Add eggs and pumpkin and beat with a handmixer. Gradually add in the milk and beat together until sort of frothy. Cover bowl and put in refrigerator to chill until you’re ready.

Next is the pecan pie part of the pie filling….it will go on top of pumpkin mixture.

2 1/2 cups of pecans. I prefer chopped pecans for this particular recipe.
1 cup of shredded coconut – sweetened
1/2 cup of dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons of flour
4 tablespoons of butter melted
1/2 cup of black strap molasses

First mix the butter, molasses, sugar, salt, flour, spices. Add the coconut and pecans. The mixture will be sort of crumbly mushy and just come together. Set bowl aside.

Remove your pie crusts in their plates from the refrigerator. Take the pie filling out of the refrigerator as well. Give the pumpkin filling a little whip with a hand whisk and divide evenly between the pies. Cover your crust edges with either those pie rings you can buy in a cooking supply store or lightly with tinfoil so it doesn’t burn. The pie plates should be side-by-side and your other not on different shelves. If you can’t bake the pies side-by-side, bake them one at a time.

Bake pies with JUST the pumpkin filling in the crusts for 15 minutes at 425°. Reduce the heat to 350° and bake another 30 minutes longer.

Take the pies out of the oven and evenly distribute the pecan topping on both pies. Do not smush down too tightly. Just sort of layer it on evenly covering the entire pumpkin surface. Bake pies another 18 to 20 minutes at 350°. They should be cooked perfectly at this point.

Remove from oven, cool, and serve. Unused portions should be covered and kept in the refrigerator.

pumpkin bread 2.0

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INGREDIENTS:

1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 cup canola oil
2/3 cup apple cider
2 cups white sugar
Scant 1/3 cup blackstrap molasses
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup mixed raisins light and dark
1/2 cup candied minced orange peel
1/2 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
One cup chopped pecans or black walnuts (today I used walnuts because I used my pecans on hand in my pecan pumpkin pies)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350°

Grease and flour three loaf pans. The ones I used I think are 8″x 4″ (I should measure them but I haven’t)

In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, molasses, eggs, oil, cider, and sugar until well blended. Add the spices. Add baking soda, salt, baking powder. Stir the flour into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Fold in the raisins, coconut, nuts, candied orange peel.

Pour into the prepared pans. Make sure you split the batter evenly. Dust the top of the batter in each pan with a couple tablespoons of table sugar. It just gives a sort of sparkly crust when the loaves come out of the oven

Bake for about 50 minutes in the preheated oven.

Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Let the pumpkin bread cool in the pan for at least 20 minutes to half an hour before removing from pans. Then leave loaves on a baking rack to completely cool before wrapping up until ready to serve. I make these a day ahead of serving.

thanksgiving snow!

It’s snowing in Chester County! And it IS pretty!! Great day to bake and sew and get ready for Thanksgiving!

I will tell you I am glad the days of working in New York City are behind me because Amtrak the night before Thanksgiving becomes Cramtrak, and if you add snow it becomes a travel horror show.

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grocery store insanity

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No matter how well you plan for holiday meals and gatherings, the dreaded few-days-before-grocery-store-run seems to be unavoidable and inevitable. And if we are comparing the holidays, I think the pre-Thanksgiving grocery store runs are the worst.

So yes, today I made my pre-Thanksgiving pilgrimage to Giant. Getting through the parking lot safely was a challenge in and of itself, but I think complimentary sedatives should be offered at the door before you enter the madness.

When you enter a grocery store Thanksgiving week you definitely start with a prayer for survival and a deep breath. Today was no different.

As the doors opened and I entered the grocery store, it was a sea of people. As I was at the Giant next to Hershey’s Mill, the store was not only a sea of people, but a sea of people half of whom were in slow motion.

The aisles were also full of “sight seeing” shoppers. You know, the people who rest their elbows on the cart and steer aimlessly often into people and aisle displays? (And speaking of aisle displays, why do the marketing teams of grocery stores let the aisles get so crowded with displays that literally block the grocery items we are shopping for?)

Having experienced the people who run into the rear of your ankles, today I wore boots. I still got run into twice. The thing that irritates me about that is I feel compelled to apologize although I was the one who got my calves and shins run into. And have you ever noticed how irritated looking some of the people who run into other people with their carts can be? It’s fascinating. It’s like they are not so much sorry they ran into you with the cart, but are irritated that you are in their way.

But it wasn’t all bad. The craziness of the Thanksgiving week shopping trips also breed a certain camaraderie among strangers. I did share a couple of giggles with strangers.

One of the giggles stemmed from overhearing a woman comment about this other woman under her breath. It was like she was reading my mind. You see the shopper she was commenting about was the trifecta of poor grocery store etiquette. Oh yes, that bad.

Trifecta Lady was this woman who was on her speaker phone of her cell phone having reality show high volume conversations. If that wasn’t bad enough she was also an aimless sight seeing shopper who blocked aisles…..because she was so into her cell phone conversation she should have been having someplace private and not on speaker phone….in the middle of an insanely crowded and crazy pre-Thanksgiving grocery store. And no one needed to hear that conversation.

Shouldn’t there be some sort of “Dummies Guide to Grocery Store Etiquette”? Not just on pre-holiday shopping weeks but all the time? I guess I just don’t get and never will get those who have the compulsion to have what should be very private conversations in public, on their cell phones. I don’t need to hear the conversation and neither does anyone else.

I survived my grocery store run. But I admit today is even worse because we are expecting snow tomorrow. So you not only have the pre-Thanksgiving shopping craziness, but the oh-my-it-might-snow milk and bread run.

My final comment on the pre-Thanksgiving grocery store craziness is how nice the people who work in the Giant were today. It made the in store craziness easier to deal with.

The holidays are hard on people, but sometimes I think people make it harder on themselves. I have seen the good in people this Thanksgiving season, but I have also seen the worst.

There are people with no sense of personal accountability who blame all around them for their shortcomings. It’s sad. It’s also so sad how angry some people become during the holidays, starting with Thanksgiving. But they are the people who feel they are “owed”. These are the sad people who can never see the good in anything….unless it benefits them. Hopefully some day they will get what it is all about .

Thanks for stopping by today. Practice safe shopping, hear?

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