12 Days of Holiday Stuff for 2016

‘Tis the season for holiday shopping, when our friendly retailers try to convince us that every surface is fair game for Christmas decorations.

Back by popular demand, we present our annual “non-shopping guide” to help you resist the retail call and enjoy the gift of a simple, peaceful Christmas season.

Here are this year’s picks for 12 holiday things we probably don’t really need:

1. Holiday refrigerator handle covers.

 

Christmas fridge handle covers

 

2. A poinsettia sofa cover.

 

holiday sofa cover

 

3. A snowman family decal for your garage door.

 

holiday garage door

 

4. A pair of green Christmas tree tongs.

 

Christmas tree tongs

 

5. An inflatable holiday wreath that counts down the number of days remaining until Christmas.

 

holiday countdown wreath

 

6. A set of Santa hat chair covers:

 

santa hat holiday chair covers

 

7. A Santa toilet tissue holder.

 

holiday toilet tissue holder

 

8. A festive solar lighted mailbox gift box cover:

 

festive holiday mail box cover

 

9. Sports-themed nutcrackers:

 

sports nutcrackers

 

10. The Santa hat condiment set.

 

santa hat condiment set

 

11. Holiday curtains.

 

Christmas drapes

 

And finally…

12. A Christmas Tree toilet plunger.

 

Christmas tree toilet plunger

 

How about you? Have you discovered any unique holiday items that should have been included in this collection?

Whether you’re decorating to the nines this year or keeping things simple, here’s to a joyful advent season and more time for the things that matter.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. The Happy Simple Holidays Pinterest board has ideas for simple, natural decorations, plus easy recipes and more.

15 Terrific Leftover Turkey Recipes

Club sandwich

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. If you ended up with extra turkey and are looking for creative ways to use it, here are some of my favorite recipe ideas:

  1. Make turkey stock. Freeze it and you’ll have a rich, flavorful broth for winter soups all ready to go.
  2. Use your homemade stock to make Turkey Tortilla Soup.
  3. Or easy Turkey Noodle Soup, which you can make in less than an hour.
  4. Emeril’s Turkey and White Bean Chili is hearty on a chilly night.
  5. My family’s favorite turkey leftover recipe is this creamy Turkey Tetrazzini.
  6. Turkey Rice Casserole is the perfect comfort dish.
  7. Dark meat turkey is especially good in this easy recipe for Turkey Hash.
  8. Flaky crust tops a filling of peas, carrots and creamy sauce in this savory Turkey Pot Pie.
  9. Turkey, hard-boiled eggs, blue cheese, avocados, tomatoes and crispy lettuce star in this Cobb Salad recipe.
  10. Turkey Enchiladas are spicy and satisfying.
  11. Homemade barbecue sauce and crispy cole slaw enliven these Barbecue Pulled Turkey Sandwiches.
  12. Turkey Wraps pair sliced turkey with sliced avocado and crumbled bacon.
  13. Or try a melty Turkey Pesto Panini.
  14. Turkey is topped with crispy bacon and cheese sauce in the open-face Kentucky Hot Brown sandwich.
  15. Finally, it’s hard to go wrong with a classic Triple Decker Club Sandwich.

Enjoy!

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. Thanks to Wally Gobetz for generously shooting and sharing his mouth-watering turkey club sandwich photo. 

A Roundup of Thanksgiving Recipes and Tips

Crispy-Roast-Turkey

Dear friends,

Happy Thanksgiving countdown! Here are some of the articles and recipes I’ve been enjoying this week, plus a few posts from the archives:

We’ve all heard the story of the pilgrims arriving at Plymouth Rock, but have you seen the actual rock? View the (somewhat underwhelming) rock here, read a factual account of the journey, and hear Jeffrey Lewis’s song about the Mayflower.

Make a pretty toilet paper tube decoration for your wall. I’m not kidding! This fun craft project is one of Happy Simple Living’s most-pinned pages.

 

decoration toilet paper tubes

 

Have you ever massaged your turkey? It might sound a little kinky, but this roast turkey recipe (shown at the top of this post) makes a bird that’s golden and crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. Includes a brine recipe, too.

These wonderful conversation starting questions from the Six Sisters might help you foster a dinnertime dialogue that doesn’t center on politics.

Oh, how I love the Pioneer Woman…let me count the ways. I love Ree’s recipe for luscious, creamy mashed potatoes, which can be completely prepared ahead of time.

How about adding a little bacon to your green bean casserole?

Bacon elevates Brussels Sprouts, too.

 

carving turkey

 

It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without our Pop announcing that he is going to “disassemble the turkey.” Here’s how to carve a turkey just right.

Make your own easy cranberry sauce.

One of my dream assignments last month was developing this Chocolate Praline Pumpkin Pie for Honduras Chocolate Company.

 

chocolate pumpkin pie

 

For a cool change, how about a Pumpkin and Butter Pecan Ice Cream Pie?

Whether your Thanksgiving celebration is large or small, classic or nontraditional, I wish you a peaceful day with love and laughter around your table.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross
P.S. Be sure to wrap up and refrigerate your turkey bones and scraps. On Friday, I’ll share a delicious homemade turkey soup recipe plus 14 other ways to use leftover turkey.

 

9 Ways to Enjoy a Happy Simple Holiday Season

Peaceful church

Photo: ForestWander.com

Two weeks ago, I wrote about enjoying more peace during the holidays. Many of you have shared your stories about simplifying, which I love hearing:

“Last year, I decided not to put out the 85-piece snow village,” writes Lauren F. “Instead, I arranged some candles and fresh pine boughs on the credenza. My family hardly noticed!”

“Money’s tight, so I bought everyone on my gift list a used book last Christmas,” Mindy A writes. “I stayed within my budget, and everyone was excited to have a new book to read.”

“My best friend and I decided to stop exchanging Christmas presents and do something together instead,” writes Ellen M. “Last year we took our daughters to see the Nutcracker Ballet, and it was such a festive, memorable evening.”

Here are some ideas for ways to truly enjoy this special season:

1.  Do a little less. Commit to fewer holiday parties, events and obligations. Cut back a few tasks here and there. Block out some unstructured time for YOU, when you can simply relax.

 

"Do we have to go to the Ugly Sweater party?"

“Do we have to go to the Christmas Sweater party?”

 

2. Make a commitment not to incur any holiday debt. Make a budget, and explore creative ways to enjoy the season without spending too much.

3.  Rethink and retool traditions, especially those that add stress to your life or involve a lot of work. This year, my cookie exchange group is having a “cookie-less exchange” because one of our members is on a special diet. We’re each giving away our favorite book from 2016 instead. It might be my imagination, but the girls seem positively giddy at the prospect of taking a break from baking and wrapping all of those cookies.

 

Photo: Susanne Nilsson

Photo: Susanne Nilsson

 

4.  Don’t put out every decoration. Perhaps this year you could honor your most special pieces in simple arrangements. If you don’t miss certain decorations, this might be the year to give some holiday stuff away.

5.  Make a holiday To Do list, and save it on your computer for future reference. Tackle as many tasks and errands as possible in November. Whittle that list down a little bit every year.

6.  Agree with friends and families to give fewer gifts. Have fun together instead.

7.  Celebrate the spiritual side of the holiday season. Perhaps you’d like to read a special scripture or story together as a family. (My mom and I are reading The Greatest Gift during Advent.) Or set aside a little quiet time so that you can think and pray and meditate. Perhaps your heart is to help those who might need a little extra this season.

 

winter sunset

Photo: Bert Kaufmann

 

8.  Spend time outside. Enjoy the beauty of winter’s quiet rest. When I am outdoors, I notice how much easier it is to forget about troubles and feel grateful for simple things like the Canadian geese flying overhead or a pair of squirrels scrambling up a tree.

9.  Allow for down time. Watch a family holiday movie in your pajamas. Play a board game. Sit by the fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate. Enjoy a leisurely walk.

What do you think of these ideas?

Here’s to a peaceful, joyous holiday season filled with love, laughter, and the things that really matter.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. If you need ideas, I have a “Happy Simple Holidays” Pinterest board with natural decorations, easy recipes and homemade gift ideas. I welcome your suggestions for this board.

Mini BLT Cups – An Easy Appetizer Recipe for Holiday Gatherings

easy BLT cups

Could you use a home-kitchen-tested recipe for a simple, festive hors d’oeuvre? These little appetizers contain all the flavors of your favorite BLT in one small bite. A crispy toast shell holds a delicious filling of chopped tomatoes, Romaine lettuce, smoky bacon and creamy mayonnaise. A variation of this recipe originally appeared in my cookbook, 101 Things To Do With Bacon.

You can prepare the tiny shells in advance and do most of the prep work for the filling early. I love appetizers that can be made ahead of time, because then you can enjoy your own party instead of fussing in the kitchen.

The crispy shells look special, but they couldn’t be easier. The secret? They’re made with soft sliced bread. You can fill them with other fillings, too — finely chopped salads of chicken, shrimp, or crab are all delicious.

To begin, roll the bread slices firmly with a rolling pin to flatten.

 

Making mini BLT cups

 

Then, cut out little circles with a 2-inch round cutter. I used a fluted cutter, but you can use a biscuit cutter or cookie cutter.

 

BLT appetizer shell

 

Use your fingers to gently press the rounds into a mini muffin tin:

 

appetizer toast cups

 

Bake at 450 degrees F until the toast cups are just starting to brown around the edges, about 6 minutes. Remove from the oven, cool in the pan for a minute, and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

 

appetizer bread cups

 

The shells can be prepared ahead of time and stored in a tightly sealed container for 1 to 2 days.

You can also fry up the crispy bacon bits for the filling a day or two ahead of time, drain and refrigerate.

 

frying chopped bacon

 

On the day of the party, all that’s left to do is combine the bacon, chopped Romaine lettuce, chopped tomatoes, mayonnaise and salt and pepper. Just before the party, fill the little toast cups with the filling. Arrange on a platter and serve.

 

Mini BLT appetizer

 

Here’s the recipe:

Mini BLT Cups

6 slices soft white or wheat bread
6 slices finely chopped bacon, cooked and drained
1 cup shredded Romaine lettuce
1 pound ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded and finely chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and lightly grease a mini-muffin pan. Flatten each slice of bread with a rolling pin, and cut 4 rounds from each slice with a 2-inch cookie cutter. Press the rounds into the mini-muffin pans to form shallow cups and bake until lightly browned, about 6 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Combine the bacon, lettuce, and chopped tomato in a large bowl. Stir in mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Fill each bread cup with a generous portion of the BLT mixture and serve immediately. Makes 24 mini BLT cups.

Enjoy!

The signature for Eliza Cross

Remembering America’s True Heart

United States and Hearts of America

 

It’s Election Day here in the United States, and the culmination of one of the most difficult political cycles ever.

But today I’m not thinking about red or blue, Trump or Clinton, Democrat or Republican.

Today I’m remembering the days that followed September 11, 2001.

 

Ground zero

Photo by Loco Steve

 

Do you recall that extraordinary time?

We Americans were engulfed in our collective grief and shock after the terrorist attacks, but we also put our arms around each other in LOVE. We set aside our differences and came together as a country, like never before.

Remember?

We flew our flags as proud, determined, united citizens.

 

God-bless-you

Photo: Jim the Photographer

 

Main street Littleton Colorado

 

American flag on a barn

Photo: Woodley Wonderworks

 

Fire truck 9/11

Photo: Loco Steve

 

God bless America | Happy Simple Living blog

Photo: Luke Nadeau

 

We dropped the labels, and put aside the things that divided us. We were simply drawn together by our collective humanity.

So much GOOD emerged from such a terrible loss. I remember thinking that I didn’t want that feeling to end.

And here’s the thing:  that same unity of spirit and hope that ignited so instinctively on September 11 is still right here in each one of us, no matter who wins this difficult election.

 

World Trade Center beams of hope

 

I believe that we all have a longing to be more united and less divided.  It’s how we’re wired. It’s how we were created.

It’s why we Americans donated a record-breaking $2.8 billion to help the victims of 9/11.

It’s why we smashed that record and went on to donate a record $5.3 billion to assist people after Hurricane Katrina.

It’s the same collective energy and spirit that brought together 5 million people to joyfully celebrate the glorious, long-awaited victory of the Chicago Cubs.

 

Chicago Cubs parade

 

My friend Debra Benton writes that we are all more alike than we realize. We all want to keep our families safe. We all want to have opportunities to build good lives. We all want to be loved and accepted.

I hung our flag today, because I am not going to let this election diminish my hope for our country. It feels good to honor and remember the many people who sacrificed so that we can freely participate in this imperfect, messy, democratic process.

 

American flag

Photo: Randy Heinitz

 

It’s easy to feel disillusioned after such a painful season, but let’s trade our dissatisfaction for action.

If we want future elections to be cleaner, let’s work to get Dark Money out of our political system.

Let’s reach across partisan lines and seek common ground.

Let’s figure out how to shape better parties, and platforms that reflect our values.

Let’s raise up good leaders.

 

Patriotic baby

Photo: Aaron Brinker

 

Let’s remember—no matter how this election ends—that the spirit to come together in unity is in our very DNA.

Let’s remember how naturally we supported and helped each other as a country after September 11th.

Let’s not forget how good and right it felt to come together.

We are, after all, citizens of the United States of America.

So let’s roll.

The signature for Eliza Cross

Flags at the 9/11 memorial

Photo: Maxim Pierre