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I try to do something special for New Year’s Eve. Some years we have take out, some years I’ll make a special candy, cookie, or pastry. This year I wanted to make a special meal. Something to linger over and fill the house with delicious scents as we wave goodbye to the past and usher in the coming year.

In preparation, I took a good look in my pantry and freezer. While I wanted to make a nice meal, I didn’t want to break the bank to do so. Deep in the bottom of the freezer we found a leg of lamb that I had gotten on clearance during my last meat shopping binge a couple months ago. An idea was born–wouldn’t it be great to learn to cook something new using a new food item to celebrate the new year?

I have never in my life cooked lamb. I don’t even eat meat all that often. To say I was intimidated would be an understatement. Still, lamb is one of Da Man’s favorite foods and a celebration is the perfect time to serve up a favorite food.

Luckily for me, the blogosphere is full of many talented cooks who are willing to share their recipes and tips with the world. Off on a search I went. After sifting through and discarding a variety of recipes for lamb, I found Farmgirl Fare. Specifically I found this recipe for slow roasted lamb.

I chose her recipe over others because it uses items I keep on hand and it created a one-pot meal. Since Da Man does the clean-up, I wanted to keep the mess to a minimum. I did make some changes to reflect our personal tastes.  I made several small slits in the lamb and slid in pieces of sliced garlic. Rosemary was used in addition to the oregano in both the lamb and potatoes. While I did use her idea for adding the chopped lemons to the potatoes, I forgot to drizzle the potatoes with olive oil. Still, this was one of the best celebratory meals I have ever cooked.

The meat was increadibly tender and flavorful (as judged by the soulful moan escaping from Da Man when he took a test taste) and the lemons added some extra zing to the roasted potatoes. I served this with my homemade crockpot applesauce, some fresh tzatziki sauce, simple steamed veggies, and some fresh bread from a grocery.

Later this evening we’ll toast in the New Year with some  Blueberry Wine from Leelanau Wine Cellars. Add in a midnight snack of cheese, olives, and bread and we have a perfect celebration!

I’m off this weekend and half of next week due to the holidays. Here are some things I may do on my time off:

1) Brew up a nice pot of my favorite tea. It’s perfect for a solo afternoon snack or for sharing with someone special.

2) Sit down with the above tea and a book…or three.

3) Add some fresh scones,rolls, or biscuits.

4) Take a nice, long soak in the tub with lots of bubbles.

5) Follow that bath with a lovely warmed oil rub.

6) Time for some pajamas fresh from the dryer.

7) Pop in a movie, grab a snack, a drink, and my blanket, and take over the couch.

8) Take an afternoon nap.

Sometimes the best thing to do is really nothing at all. Enjoy your downtime, I know I will.

‘Tis the holiday season around here. It’s time for the annual treat-a-thon where I mange to somehow produce a ton of delicious goodies for friends and family to gorge themselves on. This has become one of the ways in which I cope during the winter. I start planning in October–looking at the prices of supplies, finalizing the menus, picking up things that can be frozen in advance or saved until now. In November, people start asking about their favorites and whether they’ll make the annual “cut” and by December I’ll have my last-minute lists ready to go and my plan of attack completed.

I tend to stack things—I can easily make something melted while the cookies are baking, and cookies tend to bake better after the oven is nice and heated; like after the baklava is baked. Some things can be made with little effort: marzipan. Other things need a little more care: caramels.

Treatmaking day means the entire family gets with the program–kids can stir and spread and mix up cookie dough. They can roll out and cut marzipan shapes and sugar cookies. They can choose the coating for the truffles and the flavors for the fudge. Their favorite task (at least in my house) is smashing the cookies. There’s one special holiday cookie that we make every year–no matter what and my kids just love smashing the cookies flat on the pan.

At the end of the evening, there is always a special little treat for the candy makers. After all, we have to make sure that those goodies are good enough to share. 🙂

Some of my favorite holiday treats: items marked * are made every year, others are made on my whim.

Marzipan*

Fudge

Baklava*

Aggression Cookies*

Caramels–both chocolate topped and plain

Sugar plums

Kifles

Sugar Cookies

Apricot-Coconut Balls

Truffles

What are some of your favorite holiday treats?

My family has been incredibly blessed these past few years. No matter how tight things were, we always managed to have food on the table, a roof over our heads, and reasonably good health. We worked very hard for what we had but we also received quite a bit of help along the way.

Now, we seem to be past most of the hardest times and I am working a job that pays a living wage. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to work in a field doing something meaningful and keep my family from completely drowning while I’m at it. The downside is that my job can be very difficult spiritually and emotionally from time to time, especially around the holidays. There is just so much need in my community and resources are less than they have been in the past.

One of the things that lifts my spirits and makes me happy is to give back to my community. It’s the ultimate “feel good” for me. Even when we had no material resources to spare I always found some way to give back. When I didn’t give financially, I gave of my time. When someone needed a shoulder, I lent mine. If someone needed to vent, I gave them an ear. None of those cost me anything more than a little bit of time. The feelings I get from seeing a smile where there wasn’t one, or looking around at piles of gifts for boys and girls who didn’t have any, or a box of food that helps a family have a special meal–that is priceless.

It’s cold, wet, and dreary in my area right now. Still, I know that this week at least one more family will have a little something to celebrate the holiday. Next week I know that my family and I will spend 2-3 days packing boxes and loading toys–taking care to choose gifts we think the family will enjoy as part of our annual holiday tradition. More than the presents or food baskets, we are trying to lift spirits and give a little hope. We do this with a smile, a kind word, or meeting someone’s eyes. We do this with no expectation of anything in return, simply for the joy it brings. We look forward to this the entire year—it’s the one thing we really do together without fail.

No matter how busy my life gets, how chaotic my environment is, I know that I can always reconnect with myself and the world around me when I am generous with myself, my time, or my spirit. This is the single most important lesson I could ever hope to teach my children: giving simply for the joy of it.

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