HER Magazine – Holiday Memories and Magic

The following originally appeared in “The Courier-Times” and / or “The Shelbyville News”. Check their websites for further information and dates.

Holiday Memories and Magic

By: Blaise Doubman

Out of all the memories I have, my Holiday memories may be the ones that I hold nearest and dearest to my heart. They seem to be the happiest, warmest and most cherished of all other memories and I am for sure that it has every bit to do with the aspect of how, no matter the circumstances, my family would always find a way to get together and make memories. Despite what we all had going on, despite what the weather would be that year or even what kinds of personal drama unfolded from the previous months, we would always somehow find a way to get together and celebrate some of the most joyous times of the year. Thanksgiving and Christmas gives me some of my post personal and joyful memories but looking back, it was also Easter, July 4th and even Halloween. My Holiday memories are not limited to just traditional Holidays either but also Anniversary and Birthday celebrations! I have always been a huge “birthday party person” in terms of making sure everyone gets acknowledged and celebrated on their special day. There is nothing more that makes a person feel loved and special than receiving love on their Birthdays and in most cases, love in the form of gifts and a cake! I mean, what is wrong with that? One time, a few years back, my March birthday fell on Easter Sunday, so it was a double celebration! I loved it! I even had a Birthday cake in the shape of a bunny!

After the challenging months that we have all faced during 2020 and 2021 with the ongoing pandemic situation, there is no better excuse to celebrate each and every Holiday you can with your loved ones. Things can change so quick and if March 2020 did not show us that, nothing will! I still remember life being somewhat normal one day and completely changing the next. Often times, during the pandemic, I found myself thinking back and reliving some of my favorite memories of when my family and I would get together and most times, those memories that I searched out for, took place around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Like most families, my family has had their share of loss over the years. My Great Grandpa Willie Davis, Great Grandma Viola Davis, Great Grandpa James Junior, Great Grandma Flora had all passed away by the time I was a teenager. I have fond memories of all of them though, especially my Great Grandma Flora and her pie making skills and my Great Grandpa Willie Davis showing me his rhubarb and strawberry gardens in the back of his house. Like most of my memories, I have found that some of my joyous ones revolve around food of some kind. Ha! Often times I wonder what my Great Grandparents would think about the World we live in today. I am positive they would not recognize it and I am also positive it would more than likely scare them to see the differences from when they passed until today. Mind boggling really.

Holiday traditions continue though after a loved one passes and what makes it a bittersweet moment is the fact that we know, deep down, that they would want it that way. Before my Grandma Barbra passed away, she told me she wanted things to continue as normal with Thanksgiving and Christmas. She loved Christmas and planned for it for months leading up to the big event. As time passed and everyone’s family grew larger and larger, she would divide Christmas up into two or three days. Each day filled with all types of food and tons of gifts. She loved the true meaning of Christmas and would make sure and tell everyone that the day was not just about food or gifts, but about our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It was a celebration!

Thanksgiving was a celebration of different sorts with my family. Now, that Holiday was a celebration of food and lots of it! Ha! My Aunt Susie would have to bring her sweet potato casserole every year, there would also have to be oyster dressing and my Grandma Deloris famous dumplings. The table would be filled with fruit and vegetable trays, side dishes of all kinds and even desserts and snacks, but the things that disappeared the fastest were those that were known as “family staples” that it would not be the Holiday season without.

Football, card games, board games, town gossip and recipe sharing were also all popular Holiday staples that the Holiday season would be empty without. I love thinking back to the times when my Aunt Myra and I would share the “wishbone” together from the Thanksgiving turkey, or when we would all laugh because my Grandpa Max would burn the ham again. Things like that are so comforting to look back on and to treasure, especially in darker times or times when I am struggling with current life situations, or past situations like grief.

Looking back, and in terms of dealing with loss and grief around the Holidays, there is still something magical about the past times that you shared together. There is also something special in the present times because you know the person is not really gone but there with you, in your heart, as you continue to celebrate your love with your family. I think the real “magic” of the Holiday season is celebrating with those you love and feeling it all around. I wish each and every one of you nothing but love and magic this Holiday season and beyond.

HOLIDAY TIPS – People often feel overwhelmed, frantic and stressed out leading up to Thanksgiving and have no idea how or where to start with their Holiday meal prep work. Let me give you some tips! Write down everything that you want to make for your Holiday meal and then cross out half. There is always too much food prepared and you do not have to stress yourself out by making too many dishes that only a bite or two will be taken from. Second, start your planning backwards, starting at taking the turkey or ham from the oven, and work backwards. This will give you a better idea of when you need to start different dishes and give you a better frame of mind, time wise. Thirdly, make ahead what you can! Casseroles, macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole, deviled eggs and most desserts can simply be made ahead then warmed and then served. Remember, most of all, to relax, enjoy and have fun.  

Aunt Susie’s Sweet Potato Casserole

Some recipes are meant to be followed to the exact letter, especially family recipes that bring about a certain memory from days gone by, but feel free to experiment with this casserole and top it with your favorite cereal or nuts. Frosted flakes would be a modern twist for the topping, mixed with some sliced almonds. If you are not a fan of coconut, simply leave it off and replace with extra cornflakes and nuts. This recipe is very versatile and can be made ahead and then warmed up right before serving. This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.

For the casserole…
1 40 oz. can sweet potatoes, drained
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, soft
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup white granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch

For the topping…
1 stick (4 oz.) unsalted butter
1 cup crushed corn flakes
1 cup flaked coconut
½ cup chopped pecans

Start by preheating your oven to 400 degrees F and by spraying a 9×13-inch baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.

In a large bowl mash together the drained sweet potatoes with the soft unsalted butter. Add and beat in the large beaten eggs, white granulated sugar and ground cinnamon.

In a glass measuring cup combine the milk with the cornstarch. Add to the mixture and combine well. Pour into the prepared baking pan and place in preheated oven. Bake for 15 minutes.

While the casserole is starting to bake, make the topping by combining the unsalted butter, crushed corn flakes, flaked coconut and chopped pecans in a medium sized skillet over medium low heat. Stir often until everything is combined and warmed. The coconut will be lightly toasted, the butter completely melted and the corn flakes slightly brown and crisp.

Once the casserole is out of the oven, top the casserole evenly with the topping. Some of the topping may sink down, that is desirable, just be sure to spread evenly across the top. Turn the oven down to 325 degrees and place the casserole back in to bake for another 30 minutes.

Remove the casserole, allow to cool slightly before enjoying. Leftovers may be wrapped in plastic wrap and kept in the refrigerator. To heat up leftovers, place in oven safe container, uncovered, and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees F.

Grandma Barbra’s Secret Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

My favorite way of enjoying this recipe is by sandwiching the meat between two thick hamburger buns. However, you can also serve the meat by itself and alongside your favorite side dishes or alongside streamed rice.

1 pork roast (between 2-3 pounds)
1 bottle Italian salad dressing
½ cup water
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper

In a shallow baking dish combine the pork roast with the bottle of Italian salad dressing. Cover with aluminum foil and place into the refrigerator to chill overnight, but no longer.

When ready to start the cooking process, spray the inside of your slow cooker with non-stick cooking spray. I wouldn’t recommend using a plastic slow cooker liner because later, when shredding the pork, there is a chance of ripping the plastic and having it enter your food.

Place pork roast inside carefully along with water. Drizzle on the honey and sprinkle evenly with the salt and black pepper.

Cover and cook on high for four hours. Turn down and cook on low for four additional hours. At the end of the cooking time, remove the lid and carefully shred the pork with two forks.

Holiday Cut-Out Sugar Cookies

Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature before starting this recipe. There are a variety of ways to top these (if desired) but my favorite ways are by using royal icing, or a tinted buttercream frosting. Experiment and have fun! To make royal icing, beat 4 large egg whites until foamy. Gradually add in 4 cups powdered sugar and the juice from one lemon. Beat until thick and glossy. To make tinted buttercream frosting, beat 2 sticks of unsalted butter together with 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract. Next add 3 ½ cups powdered sugar and beat well. Finish by adding ¼ teaspoon salt and heavy cream until you reach your desired consistency. You will need around 3 tablespoons of heavy cream.

5 cups white all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter
2 cups white granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a large bowl, using a wire whisk, stir together 4 cups of the white all-purpose flour with the baking powder and salt until everything is combined. This is an easier and quicker way of “sifting” together the ingredients. Set aside the other 1 cup of white all-purpose flour for sprinkling when ready to roll out the dough later.

In a separate large bowl, beat together the unsalted butter and white granulated sugar until light in color and fluffy in texture.

Next, add the 2 large eggs, pure almond extract and pure vanilla extract to the beaten butter and sugar mixture and combine until fully incorporated.

Gradually, add the dry ingredients into the wet, mixing a little at a time until a soft dough forms around your wooden spoon.

Turn the dough out onto the counter and divide into two equal parts. Using the palms of your hands, flatten each out into a disk shape and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

When ready to roll out and cut your cookies, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F, and prepare your baking sheets with parchment paper.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow them to stand at room temperature for about 10-15 minutes before rolling with your rolling pin.

When ready to roll out, lightly sprinkle a flat work surface and rolling pin with the reserved white all-purpose flour. Working with one disc of dough at a time, roll out the dough until about ¼-inch thick.

Cut out the cookies, using your desired cookie cutters, and transfer the cookies onto the parchment paper lined baking sheets. Repeat this process once with the leftover dough and discard the scraps. Repeat with the 2nd disc of dough.

When ready to bake off the cookies, place in preheated oven for 15 minutes until set and lightly golden brown in color.

Allow the cookies to cool on their baking sheets, before removing.

Decorate the cookies in any way that you desire before serving and eating.

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