Make Your Own Homemade Cranberry Sauce and Other Favorite Thanksgiving Recipes

homemade cranberry sauce

Dear friends,

Happy Thanksgiving week! Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and as we count down to the big day I wanted to share a few of our favorite dishes with you.

Berries cookbookThe first is an easy-to-make cranberry sauce. You can use organic ingredients and spice it up however you like. This recipe originally appeared in my Berries: Sweet and Savory Recipes cookbook (Gibbs Smith, 2017), and the lovely photo above is by Stacey Cramp; used with permission.

Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce

  • 1 cup cranberry juice
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 12-ounce package fresh or frozen cranberries, rinsed and drained

Combine cranberry juice, sugar, honey, lemon zest, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add cranberries and return to boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, cover and cool to room temperature. Serve or store in refrigerator, covered, for up to 3 days. Makes about 2 1/4 cups.

Here are some of our other favorite recipes:

  • These Pumpkin Maple Donut Holes are splendid on Thanksgiving morning with coffee.
  • In my family, we always have these crunchy roasted almonds as a pre-dinner snack. Our mom’s are the best, and she serves them in a pretty sterling silver dish. My grandmother always made a batch, and I suspect her mother and grandmother made them, too.
  • If you’re looking for complete directions to roast the juiciest turkey you’ve ever eaten, check out this post for Golden Crispy Juicy Roast Turkey. After brining the turkey, the bird is patted dry and coated with a mixture of flour and butter that seals the juices inside. The skin comes out divinely golden and crispy, too.
  • The Denver Post‘s Bill St. John shares his recipe and tips for perfect mashed potatoes, including several variations.
  • Here’s my favorite Bacon Green Bean Casserole recipe.
  • Finally, this is a recipe I developed for Honduras Chocolate Company for a divine layered Chocolate Praline Pumpkin Pie.

I hope you and your loved ones enjoy a very, very happy Thanksgiving.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

 

12 Ways to Have a Simpler, Happier Christmas

Christmas cat | Happy Simple Living blog

 

Dear friends,

What if this year, our holidays were a little easier?

What if we did fewer things, and enjoyed the season more?

What if we spent less, and didn’t take on even one dollar of debt?

What if we felt rested and content, instead of tired and stressed?

These are some thoughts and ideas to enjoy a more mellow Christmas. See what you think:

1. Practice the art of less

One of the most popular posts on this blog is “One Family’s Real Simple Christmas,” about my friends who decided to try a radically simple holiday. You might discover, like the McDonalds did, that letting go and simplifying will actually make your Christmas a whole lot better.

 

Peaceful church

 

2. Focus on what you truly love.

Grab a pen and paper, and spend a few minutes thinking about the traditions that are truly important to you and your family. Focus on those, and modify or let go of the rest.

I used to festoon every inch of this house for the holidays. My move toward minimizing began one year when I didn’t feel like putting out the special red Christmas towels. Guess what? Nobody cared or noticed. After that I started giving away decorations, and today we treasure our edited-down collection.

Would anyone really care if you left some things in the garage or basement this Christmas? One of my friends decided not to put out her 78-piece Snow Village last year, and she was downright giddy from all the time and effort she saved.

You might enjoy “Simplify the Holidays by Managing Expectations.”

3. Do small daily tasks.

For the next two weeks I’ll try to tackle a few holiday tasks each day, so that most of the decorating and shopping is done by the first of December.

Every little thing you do in November is a Christmas gift to yourself, so you have more time to enjoy the holiday season next month. Perhaps you’d like to address a few Christmas cards each day, or hang the outdoor lights now, or make and freeze a batch of Cinnamon Crispies for your Christmas morning brunch.

 

Beautiful deer in snowy field | Happy Simple Living

 

4. Freeze your credit cards.

I mean this literally. Take your credit cards, put them in a plastic container, fill almost to the top, and freeze solid. Put the block of ice in the furthest depths of your freezer. Then, explore ways to save and simplify without spending a lot of money.

You might enjoy “7 Debt Free Holiday Gifts to Give This Year.”

5. Cut back on gift giving.

Most people already have plenty of stuff. If you’re part of a group that traditionally exchanges gifts, why not suggest doing something fun instead? You may find that others share your desire to cut back.

Don’t get caught in the last-minute rush to buy stocking stuffers. You’ll find some good ideas in this article, “15 Inexpensive, Last Minute Stocking Stuffers.”

 

Christmas dogs at Happy Simple Living blog

 

6. Schedule fewer events.

Don’t over-commit and try to make every party. Put some fun family nights into your calendar, and block out some unstructured relaxing time, too.

7. Plan make-ahead foods.

Prepare foods in advance for things like Christmas morning brunch, dinner, parties, and gifts. You’ll find lots of ideas in this article, “Make a Holiday Food Plan.”

 

 

8. Give something away.

As we all know, it’s the giving that makes Christmas truly joyful. Even as we’re trying to be mindful about money during the holidays, we can look for opportunities to give to others… our time, our caring, our listening, and even a smile.

9. Explore sustainable choices.

Christmas tends to generate a lot of trash. For some frugal, green wrapping ideas you might enjoy the Happy Simple Holidays Pinterest board.

10. Reconnect and reflect.

During this Advent season, perhaps you might like to set aside a little extra time for prayer and meditation. Last year my mom and I both read a book called The Greatest Gift during December, and it helped me focus on the spiritual side of the Christmas season.

You might enjoy reading “7 Ways to Slow Down and Savor These Precious Days.

 

Snow and weeds

 

11. Embrace nature.

Take a walk on a frosty morning. Breathe the cold air. Collect pine cones. Put out bird seed. Look for ways to enjoy and appreciate winter’s quiet season of rest.

12. Practice Dolce Far Niente – the “sweet act of doing nothing.”

Make time to do nothing. Sit in front of the fire and watch the flames dance. Enjoy the sparkling lights of the Christmas tree. During the busy days of the holidays, make a special effort to give your soul and spirit a rest.

 

Dolce far niente

How About You?

How have you simplified the holidays? What are your hopes for this Christmas season? Have you cut back on gift-giving in favor of experiences? What are some of your favorite traditions? I always love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Grateful thanks to Michael Cote, Forest Wander, TRF Mr. Hyde, Lottie, Alosh Bennett, and Phil Roeder for the use of photos.

Our Short, Happy Simple Vacation

Dana Point harbor

Dana Point Marina

 

Dear friends,

Last month my son and I enjoyed a three-day getaway to Dana Point, California. Even though it was quick, we packed in a lot of fun and returned feeling rested and rejuvenated.

Some of my goals when we travel are to stretch our money, stay somewhere nice, maximize relaxation, and be as eco-friendly as possible. Here are 13 ways we made the most of our mini vacation:

Before the Trip

1. Plan (and Pay) Ahead of Time for Big Savings

I purchased our tickets on Southwest five months in advance. We enjoyed convenient travel times and the lowest “Wanna Get Away” fares of just $70 each way from Denver to Orange County, along with Southwest’s free checked bags. I also booked a rental car at the same time. Surprisingly, Hertz had the best deal — providing I was willing to prepay the full fee in advance. Our total was $80, including tax, for a Hyundai Sonata with unlimited mileage for three days.

2. Read the Fine Print

I’m a fan of non-chain hotels with local character, so we stayed at the Dana Point Marina Inn. It’s a mid-range hotel in a five-star location.  Standard rooms not facing the water were $129.95 a night, but we wanted to see the ocean so we splurged on a deluxe room with two queen beds for $199.95 a night.

I appreciate that the room rate for this property includes free parking, Wi-Fi and breakfast. In today’s price-driven market, many hotels publish a basic room rate and then tack on extra charges. It pays to check the fine print on the property’s website, read TripAdvisor reviews, and call the hotel to inquire about fees so you don’t have any surprises.

Watch out for the dreaded hidden “resort fee,” which was $25 a day at one hotel I looked at for use of the pool, business center and fitness room. Sheesh! I once stayed at a property that automatically tacked on a 20% “service charge” of the entire bill for employee gratuities. If only I’d known that before I tipped everyone in cash all week.

With accommodation services like AirBnb, watch out for credit card surcharges, cleaning fees, service fees, VAT fees, and damage deposits.

If you’re staying at a chain hotel, it might be worthwhile to join the company’s free loyalty program. These programs sometimes give members discounted rates, complimentary Wi-Fi and room upgrades.

 

Eucalyptus trees in Dana Point

The pretty view from the non-water side of the hotel

 

3. It Doesn’t Hurt to Ask…

I’d read on TripAdvisor that some rooms in our hotel had better views than others, so I e-mailed the hotel manager a few days before our stay and told him we were excited to stay at the property for the first time. I mentioned that we were from land-locked Colorado and would love a quieter room with a direct view of the water. He kindly accommodated us, and we loved our room and patio overlooking the harbor.

4. Create a Master Packing List

If we remember to pack everything we need, we won’t have to run to the store for something like forgotten sunscreen. Packing right and bringing only what we need helps us pack lighter, too.

I keep a list on my mobile phone’s Notes app, but you could also use Evernote, Google Docs or any file sharing program — or even a good old analog notebook. If you realize you forgot something on your trip, add it right then to your list.

5. Check Out the Local Water

No need to buy bottled water if the local water is good, right? If you visit the Environmental Working Group’s website, you can input the zip code of the town you’re visiting to check out its tap water ratings. We brought a couple of lightweight water bottles for excursions.

 

Doheny Beach in Dana Point

 

6. Bring Your Own Staples and Cutlery

For this trip I packed a small bag of my favorite fresh-ground organic Guatemalan coffee, round coffee filters (can be cut to size to fit the hotel coffeemaker), organic coconut sugar, granola, almonds to snack on, a folding knife, a small pair of scissors, and a couple of forks and spoons.

7. Bring Your Own Pillow

A substandard mattress will be less miserable if you have your own comfy pillow. It helps to put a bright colored pillowcase on the pillow so you don’t accidentally leave it behind.

8. Pack a Pair of Good Earplugs

No matter how carefully we plan, we sometimes end up in a room by the ice machine or elevators. I like Hearos ear plugs because they are soft and expandable. They’re inexpensive and do a really good job of muffling noise.

 

Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea blooming on the foot path in Dana Point

During the Trip

9. Make Time for Dolce Far Niente

Dolce Far Niente is an Italian expression that means “sweet doing nothing.” If you’re a doer like me, you may have to consciously will yourself to set aside time to really unwind.

During this trip, I took a walk early one morning and settled on a bench overlooking the harbor. I breathed in the glorious sea air, and watched the seagulls. A breeze stirred the boats, and the gentle clanking of the metal masts sounded like wind chimes. The sun came out and warmed my back. A man and a beagle stopped and greeted me. I walked down the pier, and a barnacle-encrusted baby whale rose up out of the water just thirty feet from me. That precious hour was one of my favorite moments during the trip.

10. Be on the Lookout for Eco-Friendly Features

Our hotel didn’t have many sustainable attributes, unfortunately. In our room, we discovered a special trash can with a recycling section under the sink that we brought out and used. The hotel had a sign in the room with instructions to re-hang towels that didn’t need refreshing, which we did.

On the negative side, the breakfast area used disposable Styrofoam plates — an all-too-common practice in the hospitality industry. When you consider that Styrofoam is a petroleum-based material that can take up to 4oo years to decompose, and think of the sheer number of plates and cups thrown away by hotels, the effect is staggering.

 

11. Stock Up on Good Drinks and Snacks

Our hotel room had an in-room refrigerator, so I bought organic milk, juice, Greek yogurt, string cheese, crudites, crackers, Honeycrisp apples and fresh raspberries. We also used the refrigerator to store leftover Chinese food from our dinner Friday night. Needless to say, we were never hungry.

If your room doesn’t have a refrigerator, you can pack a soft insulated bag to fill with ice and keep snacks cold.

If you’re staying at an upscale hotel with a stocked minibar, tempting in-room snacks or bottled water, instruct your fellow travelers not to even touch the offerings or you might incur a charge.

 

Dana Point harbor

Kayaker in Dana Point Harbor

 

12. Join the Local Grocery Store’s Loyalty Program

It just takes a few minutes, and you’ll enjoy reduced prices on groceries. In a pinch, I politely ask the cashier if they have a card they might be willing to scan for the discount.

 

After the Trip

13. Provide Feedback

Because TripAdvisor’s reviews helped me plan this trip, I left a review of our experience at the hotel.  I wrote the manager a short note a few days after the trip and thanked him for our nice room. I also mentioned that we’d love to see the property use a more environmentally conscious alternative to Styrofoam plates in the breakfast room, and shared some examples including a biogradeable disposable plate made from plants and wood fibers and a compostable product made from palm leaves.

 

Eliza Cross at Dan Point

A birthday selfie!

How About You?

How do you make the most of a short vacation? Do you have any travel tips to add to my list? I always love hearing your thoughts and ideas.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

The October of my Soul

autumn leaves maple trees

The maple trees, from our kitchen window.

“I loved autumn, the one season of the year that God seemed to have put there just for the beauty of it.”- Lee Maynard

 

Oh, my friends.

October started so hard.

On October 1st, during what should have been an evening of fun and music, a gunman shot and killed 59 people and injured more than 500 others at a concert.

I was sad and sick, and worried for my friends and family in Las Vegas. Perhaps, like me, you felt the collective pain of a billion hearts breaking, and so many minds trying to process the loss of innocent souls, and the horror of a news story that made no sense.

I couldn’t mesh the dark violence and grief with the insistent, shimmering October beauty all around me.

 

red autumn leaves

 

October 5th brought the news of sexual abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein. Soon, millions of women and men were sharing their own heartbreaking #MeToo experiences. The stories kept coming, along with the sad, eye-opening truth that far too many of us have experienced sexual harassment or abuse.

Then the butterflies arrived in Colorado.

 

Painted Lady butterfly

 

The Painted Ladies fluttered and lingered in our yards and gardens, so many migrating through Denver that a 70-mile swath appeared on the National Weather Service map in glorious color.

 

Map of painted lady butterflies

 

In typical Colorado fashion, we had record high temperatures as well as snow and a hard frost mid-month.

Then the trees began releasing their leaves in earnest. We do not lack for leaves in our yard. I try to focus on the beauty, and not the leaf-raking tasks that still lie ahead.

 

autumn leaves yard

 

On the third weekend of October my son and I left the autumn leaves behind and took a short trip to the West Coast, where we stayed in a hotel with weak, intermittent Wi-Fi. At first I was annoyed by that.

 

No wifi

 

But later? I began to feel grateful for the technology break. Early each morning while my son caught up on his sleep, I walked down by the Dana Point Harbor marina. I followed a well-worn footpath among the eucalyptus trees to the quiet beach, and put my toes in the water.

 

Doheny Beach

Doheny Beach in Dana Point, California

 

And then my birthday came, with love and gifts and cards and greetings….and a family party and my favorite chocolate pecan birthday cake, made by my dear mama.

Now October is winding down, and the #MeToo stories keep pouring in. Numerous news outlets report that many of the Las Vegas shooting victims can’t pay for their enormous medical bills. I have so many deep concerns about the state of our world right now. I never want to become complacent about violence or hatred or harming our earth.

And at the same time, as I reflect on the month I feel deeply grateful for all the goodness and blessings and love. I feel darned glad for another birthday.

There is so much beauty all around us, and at the same time things occur every day in our modern world that are unbearable. How do we begin to reconcile the extremes?

 

Eucalyptus trees

Eucalyptus trees at Doheny Beach

 

On her 61st birthday, author Anne Lamott wrote this:

“All truth is a paradox. Life is a precious unfathomably beautiful gift, and it is impossible here. It is so hard and weird that we wonder if we are being punked. And it is filled with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, floods and babies, and acne and Mozart, all swirled together.”

 

autumn maple leaves

 

As this month of darkness and light draws to a close, may we not lose heart.

We each have missions and causes that stir our hearts. We are each equipped with different gifts and talents. In our own individual ways, each of us can be courageous and create positive change.

I’ve gotten to know many of you through this blog, and I know in my bones that in a world of both breathtaking wonders and heartbreaking evil, we will continue to send out beauty and light and love.

Hugs and gratitude,

The signature for Eliza Cross

May I Offer You Pumpkin Spice Pancakes?

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

Dear friends,

Has autumn arrived yet in your area? We had a big cool-off here in Colorado this weekend, and I pulled out my favorite flannel shirt and cooked a batch of pumpkin spice pancakes.

Pumpkin It Up! cookbook by Eliza CrossThese flapjacks are rich with pumpkin-y goodness, and have the comforting, homespun flavor and aroma of pumpkin spice. This recipe appears in my cookbook Pumpkin It Up!, and I won’t blame you if you feel somewhat alarmed by one of the ingredients. Who puts white vinegar in pancakes?! But don’t worry. The vinegar has a chemical reaction with the baking powder and baking soda, adding air to the batter. The pancakes come out light and fluffy, even though the recipe calls for a full cup of pumpkin puree. I promise you won’t taste even a hint of the vinegar.

 

pumpkin pancakes on the griddle

 

I serve these pancakes with butter, maple syrup, and a sprinkle of powdered sugar, but you can serve them plain, too. Or you can add another tablespoon of brown sugar to the batter for a slightly sweeter result.

 

pumpkin spice pancake recipe

 

Here’s the easy recipe. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cup canned or cooked pumpkin puree
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • maple syrup

In a large bowl, mix together the milk, pumpkin, egg, oil, and vinegar. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, pie spice, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture and stir just until combined.

Heat a lightly greased griddle or frying pan over medium-high heat. Pour 1/4 cup batter on the griddle and spread out slightly using a spatula or spoon. Brown on both sides and serve hot with maple syrup. Makes about 12 pancakes.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. If you’re a pumpkin spice lover, you might also enjoy these recipes for Pumpkin Caramel Cinnamon Rolls and Pumpkin Maple Donut Holes.

Win a Natural Pest Control Kit

Kitty Moth Patrol

Dear friends,

What comes to mind when you think of mothballs?

My grandma Eliza Seely at 97

For me, the scent always reminds me of my sweet grandmother’s closet. Not that she was a stereotypical mothball-type grandma. Eliza Seely was a lovely, active, funny, sociable grandma who lived to be 99 and was always beautifully dressed.

But if you wanted to keep your wool clothes nice back in her day, you basically had two choices: mothballs or a cedar chest. She stored her woolens in the guest room closet with mothballs, and the aroma lingered in the air.

I don’t have a cedar chest and I’ve resisted mothballs because of the smell, but the result is a band of little unwelcome flying visitors in the closet who leave tiny holes in my cashmere sweaters.

I read that you can get rid of the moths’ eggs <shudder> by freezing your sweaters, but this would require having much more freezer room than the approximately 2 square inches of free space in ours.

Just when I had resigned myself to a life of cohabitating with moths and wearing holey sweaters, I received a most intriguing e-mail. I receive daily requests for Happy Simple Living to do product reviews, but since we’re all about simplifying and enjoying less stuff there’s rarely a good fit. However, when EarthKind contacted me to see if I’d be interested in trying their all-natural pest control products, I agreed to a test drive of Stay Away Moths.

 

EarthKind Stay Away Moths

 

I thought the company’s packaging was charming, and the Stay Away pouches contain a blend of natural, nontoxic plant cellulose fiber from corn cobs and essential oils.

The Pouch Pod holder looks like it’s made from some kind of funky organic Boulder plastic, and it’s actually produced from a biodegradable mixture of flax, beets and sunflower hulls grown on North Dakota farms. It’s reusable for up to three years, and then it will naturally start to decompose. How cool is that?

 

EarthKind Pouch Pod

 

The product set-up is very simple. You just slide one of the pouches inside the Pouch Pod holder and place it wherever you need coverage.

 

EarthKind pouch pod

 

In my case, I hung the Stay Away Moths pouch in my closet.

 

EarthKind moth deterrent

 

The scent is a pleasant blend of geranium and cedar, not at all like mothballs my grandma had to use. Best of all, two days later the tiny winged visitors skedaddled and I haven’t seen a moth since. One pouch will protect a small closet or storage container, and the natural repellent lasts for 30 to 60 days. The products are available at stores like Ace Hardware and Lowe’s.

EarthKind has graciously provided a set of Stay Away Ants, Spiders, Moths, AND their new Stay Away Mice for one lucky Happy Simple Living reader. The set includes the new mice repellent plus all of the items shown here, including the pouch holder:

 

EarthKind natural pest repellents

 

To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment at the bottom of this page and reply to this question:

What’s something you’re looking forward to this autumn?

(My answer? Here in Colorado the temperatures are predicted to finally cool off this weekend, and I’m excited to start baking some fall pumpkin treats like Pumpkin Butter Cake and Pumpkin Caramel Cinnamon Rolls.)

The giveaway is open to anyone with a U.S. shipping address, and will run through Friday, Sept. 22, 2017 at midnight MST. I’ll e-mail you if you’re the lucky winner.

BIG thanks to EarthKind for providing their products for this giveaway, and good luck to all of you!

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. Thanks to Copper Cat Studios for use of the cat image above, and to the queen of cat memes Eco Cat Lady for the inspiration.

The Simple Joy of Puttering

Garden flower arrangement

 

Dear friends,

This morning I woke up grateful for the slower pace of a three-day weekend, and the sweet luxury of down time to do some small things around the house and garden.

Do you feel that way about unstructured time, too?

I love puttering — and isn’t it the most perfect, descriptive word? September is here, and although the days are still hot in Colorado I notice the changing morning light and the cooler evenings. Some of the leaves are starting to turn, and I no longer feel like the garden needs constant, daily tending.

I took a pleasant stroll around the yard to see what was blooming, and cut a few flowers and leaves and berries.

 

garden bouquet

 

They’re now in a little pitcher in the kitchen, shown above. Our artistic mom inspired my love of casual garden arrangements. Her dining table always has a pretty little bouquet or a flowering plant, even in winter.

My next project was a fun experiment. I love making home improvements with materials we already have on hand. The outdoor cushions on the patio chairs had faded in the sunshine, but they’re still in good shape so I decided to try and revive them.

 

Faded chair cushion

Homely patio chair cushion: BEFORE

 

I found some green acrylic paint in our paint collection, thinned it with a little water, and brushed it on in stripes freehand.

 

painting a chair cushion

 

The paint stripes perked those old cushions right up, and while time will tell whether the paint holds up it’s a good, free solution for now.

 

chair cushions

 

And then, because I’m feeling autumn-y, I baked a batch of chewy Molasses Ginger Cookies and updated the photos from the original blog post I wrote back in 2007.

 

Chewy molasses ginger cookies

 

After all that puttering, it was a treat to sit outside and enjoy the pretty sunset.

 

Colorado sunset

 

The evening sky was beautiful and sad at the same time. The setting sun is orange because of the hazy smoke that has drifted here, and my heart aches for our friends in Montana and California who live in areas battling wildfires. Praying for rain and cooler temperatures.

How About You?

How did you spend your Labor Day weekend? Have you been puttering? I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to.

Here’s to making a little time to enjoy these precious days as fall approaches.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Free Giveaway – Small Bites Cookbook

Small Bites cookbook by Eliza Cross

 

Today is Launch Day for my newest cookbook, Small Bites!

This book was a joy to develop and write, because appetizers are my favorite. I especially love hors d’oeuvres that feature great flavors and fresh ingredients in just a bite or two.

The 75 easy recipes in this book include skewers, sliders and bite-sized snacks. They all have elements that can be prepared in advance so that you can have fun with your guests during the party, instead of being stuck fussing in the kitchen.

More and more, I find myself preparing a selection of appetizers for gatherings instead of dinner. The hors do’oeuvres in Small Bites are as good to look at as they are to eat, and your guests will know that you made an extra effort to prepare something special.

I can’t wait to share Small Bites with you! Thanks to my wonderful publisher Gibbs Smith, I have a special signed copy to give to one lucky reader.

But first let’s take a peek at some of the pages, which were so beautifully photographed by Jessica Nicosia-Nadler.

 

These are bite-sized Baby Eggplant Parmigiana:

 

Baby Eggplant Parmigiana

 

Crispy, cheesy Artichoke Cheese Wontons:

 

Artichoke Cheese Wontons

 

Prosciutto, Pear, Fig and Brie Toasts:

 

Prosciutto, Pear, Fig and Brie Toasts

 

Smoked Salmon Cucumber Rounds with Lemon Dill Cream:

 

Smoked Salmon Cucumber Rounds

 

Mini New Orleans-style Muffuletta Sandwiches:

 

Mini Muffuletta Sandwiches

 

Deconstructed Bacon Jalapeno Poppers:

 

Bacon Jalapeno Poppers

 

Mini Kobe Beef Sliders – plus a recipe so you can make your own fresh slider rolls!

 

Mini Kobe Beef Sliders

 

Baby Mexican Tostadas:

 

Baby Mexican Tostadas

 

Mini Crab Cakes with Mango Chile Salsa:

 

Mini Crab Cakes

 

Small Bites: Skewers, Sliders, and Other Party Eats is a 128-page hardback book that retails for $14.99, and you could win your very own signed copy. Simply answer this question in the Comments section at the bottom of the page on this post:

 

What happy occasion would you like to celebrate?

Perhaps you have a loved one’s birthday or holiday coming up, or maybe you’d love to throw an impromptu weekday gathering with your best friends. Anything goes!

Be sure to include your e-mail address on the form when you post your comment (it won’t show to anyone but me). The giveaway is open to anyone with a shipping address in the U.S. and Canada, and you can enter between now and midnight MST on Friday, August 25.

UPDATE:  This giveaway has closed. Congratulations to Alicia, who won a new copy of Small Bites!

Hugs,

 

Finding What I Lost in the Classified Ads

Me, my mom and sister at Chautauqua Park in Boulder, After.

 

I can divide my adolescence in two parts—Before and After.

The break happened when I was thirteen, on what began as a normal day. I was at a girlfriend’s house when my mom called and asked me to come home. Opening the front door I discovered Dad on the couch crying, a suitcase at his feet.

He explained that he was going to go live at a friend’s cabin for a while. He and Mom were having a tough time, and they had decided it would be best if he moved out. My baby sister was napping, and as he went in her room to kiss her goodbye I tried to absorb the shocking news. Crying openly, Dad pulled Mom and me into a long hug and then he was gone.

I realize now that I was probably experiencing depression in the months that followed. I tried to be good and responsible and help my mom, but I cried every night and wondered if I would ever stop feeling so sad.

A turning point came when the Johnny Nash song “I Can See Clearly Now” started playing on the radio. “Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind…”  Oh, how I longed for that feeling. I prayed for a rainbow, I really did. And soon a day went by without tears, and then two days, and eventually the ache started to lessen.

 

sun behind the clouds

 

Years later, a good counselor and a caring pastor would help me work through my angsty “After” years of high school when my main focus was hanging out with friends, partying, just getting by in school, and looking for love in all the wrong places. Once I got married and experienced my own troubles, I was able to better understand and empathize with my parents’ separation and divorce.

For all the time I spent sorting out what happened during the years After, though, I hadn’t really thought much about the girl I was Before.

Until now.

Last month, a classified ad on NextDoor.com caught my eye. A neighbor was selling a used clarinet—the instrument I had played in junior high, but quit in the months After. One phone call and twenty dollars later, the pretty clarinet in a black velvet-lined case was mine.

 

clarinet

 

That night I assembled the clarinet, lifted it to my lips and tried the easiest note—an open G. I wish I could tell you that the tone was clear and true. But the truth is that the first sound I made on my new clarinet was a piercing squeak that awakened our dog Boo with a confused growl.

 

What the?

 

Unlike getting back on a bicycle, I had to relearn all the keys and retrain my mouth to form the proper embouchure. Our junior high band teacher John A. Whitehurst was right:  playing the clarinet properly requires hours and hours of practice.

Something else surprising happened in the taking up of this new-old instrument. Returning to the clarinet brought back a flood of memories about the curious, unselfconscious girl I was Before.

I’d forgotten that in the years Before, my friends and I formed a musical group and performed in a local talent show.

 

Stars of Tomorrow Boulder 1970

 

Before, I marched in a parade downtown as I played my clarinet. I was in a folk dancing group, and twirled onstage to polka songs.

Before, I bought a ten-speed bike with my babysitting money and rode it all over Boulder. I sewed my own peasant blouses, crafted chokers from grosgrain ribbon and lace, and embroidered flowers on my jeans.

Before, I stood up and sang for the residents of a nursing home. I entered speech competitions, voluntarily!

Before, I tried out for the lead in the school play and was cast instead as the grandma, which required me to draw wrinkles on my face and whiten my hair with talcum powder.

 

Gray hair

 

In the After days, all I wanted to do was fit in. I didn’t venture on a single stage during high school.

Looking back, I marvel at how fearless I was Before. I also realize that those long-dormant interests are still part of who I am, four decades later. And the courage? It must still be there somewhere, too.

So recently I joined Toastmasters, where I stand up and give speeches and enjoy the thrill of doing something that scares the heck out of me.

And every night after dinner, I take out my clarinet.

 

Eliza Cross playing the clarinet

 

The notes come slow.

The squeaks come sometimes, too.

The dog howls.

But I play, and honor the girl I was Before.

I play, and offer melodies for the girl I was After.

I play and send up an old song about a bright, bright, sun-shiny day, so grateful for the loves and losses and mistakes and mercy and dark clouds and sunny days and hills and valleys and every breathtaking moment of grace, Before and After, that shaped my life and brought me here to Right Now.

And straight ahead?

There’s nothing but blue skies, my friends.

How About You?

Was there a time in your youth when you tried something that now seems fearless? Did you enjoy an activity years ago that you would like to try again? Have you recently returned to a former hobby or sport?

Is there a song, literal or figurative, that you long to play?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and memories.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross and her Dad

Dancing with my Dad, Before. If you look closely, you can see my shoes on top of his.