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Column: Get the most out of that Christmas tree

Are you reading this in a fully restored home environment? Is everything, old and new, all blended and tucked into the home landscape? Do you know where everything is and you can just walk up to it and remove it and put it to its correct use? Some of you may even have the "Thank You" cards prepared and maybe even sent. The Christmas tree may be history and there will not be a real tree needle to found on your property. (It's been three years since I have had a real tree and I am still finding needles on the front porch).

Some of us will have the tree still in place and in fact the contents under the tree keep growing and growing because it is so easy to just pile any wayward thing under the tree. Let's get our money's worth out of that tree since it is taking up valuable space. Maybe you have not even figured out what some of the presents are and what they are used for. Maybe you have been gifted with four fruit cakes that slipped past your lawn sign that says, "Not a Single Fruit Cake Shall Enter This Space." (If they are good ones, I will give them a home). Maybe the glow of that new crock pot has been losing power and the recipe booklet has been misplaced. Maybe you did not buy enough batteries for everything that needed them and you did not see the "batteries not included" note in small Chinese letters. Maybe this is where you have started the pile of things that need to be returned. There might even be a pile of things that need to be returned but you have no way of figuring out who or which company will admit they sold these things. Rename this pile 2018 White Elephant Gifts. Maybe you already have the "parts missing" collection and perhaps the best idea for that would be get together a bunch of creative people and re-invent a robot or monster. Kind of a modern Steampunk.

My cookie baking kind of, sort of take place. I did mice made with kisses and cherries and truffle filled crackers dipped in chocolate for two no-bakes in one day. One day the craving for Mexican wedding cakes overcame me and I did figure out how to use my food processor to get the pecans to the right size and mix the batter. I had to call a halt to sampling after the house became almost all dusted with powdered sugar and the supply was down to half. One of my very first trips to the grocery store in two months since my deer fall yielded the supplies to make what I grew up calling Chinese chews. I made mine with one bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips, one bag of butterscotch chips, one bag of chowmein noodles and some dried cherries and pecans. I glazed them with white chocolate and sprinkles because they were looking a little plain. The big grocery shopping day with Daughter Nissa was to HyVee and that got us inspired to make another of my must haves; Kiss peanut butter blossoms.

Looking back at baking I realized that this is the year of the rum extract which went into almost everything. Last year it was almond extract that went into the cookies and peanut brittle I made for 2016. On our October trip to D.C. I did get 20 pounds of White Lily, my favorite cookie baking flour. White Lily is the only flour a large number of southern biscuit makers will use and there was a big uproar when the original milling plant no longer made the flour and some other upstart place is now said to be producing the product. White Lily is made from Soft Winter Wheat and in a recipe calling for l cup of flour, 1 cup and 2 tablespoons of White Lily is substituted. I have never found the flour in our neck of the woods so I either had to have Nissa bring it home from the east coast or order online. Nissa no longer brings it home by airplane because it gets very interesting with the luggage checks and the shipping from ordering is almost more than the flour price. Of course the shipping costs of in person pickup are hidden!

Daughter Santa Nissa got me an Instant Pot to see if it was going to make my life easier and have wonderful things available almost every day. Friend Margaret Flower has one and uses it to make a lot of things and probably would be the first thing she would look for to see if it was gone if she had a house break in. She can boil several dozen eggs at a time and says they peel wonderfully and that rice has never been as good. Two things that I would call unusual to prepare in this type of device were crème brule and lemon curd. Margaret does make first class crème brule and lemon curd in the regular time consuming manner but she is now saving lots of time and stirring time using the Instant Pot. I am going to have to make a plan to decide what I want to try for some of the first items that I want to prepare. Maybe I will have to ask Margaret to hold classes on how to use this new goodie as you do have to follow some directions and following directions does not seem to fit well in my wild blue yonder brain. Stay tuned for the Nininger Township Instant Pot Cook off!

Bea Westerberg may be contacted at treeguru@juno.com.

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