“The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by Ace Collins

Ace Collins

For Christians worldwide, the month of December is filled with joy and wonder as we anticipate the celebration of Christ’s birth. There is no other time of the year that can compare to the Christmas season for both the young and young at heart.

From December to New Year’s Eve, reawaken the wonder, joy, and magic that is Christmas with daily scripture and inspirational readings of stories behind popular Christmas traditions, carols, and movies. Enjoy a wealth of fun activities to help make the most of the season, including heartwarming holiday recipes and homemade gift ideas.

With this soon-to-be-cherished holiday devotional, best-selling author Ace Collins will capture your imagination and help to make each day of December more memorable and meaningful to you, and those you love, by shining a light on the real spirit of the season.
 
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is the perfect devotional for our family for this Advent season!  Each year we choose a plan for working our way through Advent.  One year we made our own Jesse tree and studied references to Jesus in his Old Testament family tree.  Another year we divided up the New Testament story and journaled it with words and drawings.
 
This year, though, we’ll be working our way through with Ace Collins’ new book, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.  I love the format of this book:  each day concludes a devotional reading with scripture, song lyrics and their backstory, and something to do, usually a recipe or crafty idea.  I love how a theme is woven through each day’s story, making a strong point and forcing the reader to consider some aspect of this Christmas season in a new way.  Collins makes a strong case for joy and for remembering the reason for the season – but he goes deeper than that.
 
I love the way that Collins explains the story behind so many of our favorite traditions.  By bringing to the forefront the reason why we sing certain songs, decorate with red and green, and so much more, it refreshes the spirit and makes the seasonal work lighter.  Honestly, over the past few years I’ve come to dread certain aspects of my former-favorite traditions, only because they create so much work in such a short period of time; but knowing the reason behind so many of them makes me look forward to them again.  Many things I’ve heard before, of course, but somehow Collins puts a unique spin on them that makes the ideas seem fresh and new. 
 
While The Most Wonderful Time of the Year isn’t specifically marketed for kids or for families, I think it will be perfect for mine.  The combination of history, scripture, and activity will be a great way for us to start our day during the Advent season.  I know that we won’t be making all of the cookies that he shares, but the specialty recipes will be fun to read nonetheless, and it might inspire us to try some new ones, too.  With our kids now ages nine and eleven, they’re old enough to understand the historical context and the scripture and to participate in the projects, too; in fact, they could do most of them independently.
 
If you, too, like to change up your devotional reading during Advent or just want to know more about the historical traditions connected with our faith, be sure to check out The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.
 
 
I received a free copy of this book from LitFuse Publicity.  All opinions are my own.

Book Clubbing on the Orphan Train: “A Family Apart”

Disclosure Pic

This month’s girls’ book club selection was one I’ve had for years:  about twenty years, in fact.  We read A Family Apart by Joan Lowry Nixon, the first in the Orphan Train Adventure series.

The story opens in New York City with an Irish family whose father has died.  Ma is trying hard to keep everyone fed and clothed, but when one of the boys makes a poor choice, she gives them all to Reverend Brace-Loring, who sends them west on the Orphan Train for new homes and better lives.  A Family Apart is about the adventures of Frances, the oldest sister in the family, as she struggles to adjust to life on a Midwestern farm.

Book Club

Frances encounters an abundance of food not found in her New York tenement, and so we baked one of those dishes:  an apple pie.  We used Grandma’s recipe and made it just as she taught me – which is how her grandma taught her.  Counting back all those years, that puts this recipe originating at about the same time as when Frances enjoyed it!

None of the girls had ever peeled an apple before, so that was our first adventure.  It took some practice to get it right, but they soon conquered the piles of apples we needed.

After mixing up the crust, they took turns rolling it out and assembling the pies.

Book Club

Doesn’t it look yummy?

Book Club

Next we went outside to write letters to Frances’ Ma.  Throughout the book, Frances is angry with her mother for ending her west, and the theme of sacrifice is discussed from many angles.  The girls pretended to be Frances at the end of the story, when she has gained some understanding of this difficult concept, and wrote to Ma to explain.

Book Club

Frances had a lot going on in the story, though, and missing her mother didn’t top the list.  She had to learn how to live on the frontier, and for a city girl, that was difficult.  One of her new chores was to milk the family cow. 

Book Club

The girls practiced on these gloves.  They raced to see who could milk their ‘gloves’ fastest.

Book Club

Then, since one of the early chores was to then carry the milk, the girls grabbed the handles of their ‘pails’ and ran it around the yard, trying not to spill any of their milk.

Book Club

We also talked about the Pony Express and how it worked.  To simulate that, the girls donned messenger bags, straddled bamboo poles, and formed teams to compete in a relay race, Pony Express style.

Book Club

By the time they had done all of that, the pies were out of the oven and ready to eat. 

Book Club

It didn’t last long, though – the girls devoured that pie!

Book Club

We had lots of fun celebrating A Family Apart.  There are many more threads to tug if you choose to read this book.  I’d love to hear what you choose to do!

Baking with Mary Todd Lincoln

Disclosure Pic

We’ve been studying the Civil War, and no study would be complete without learning about the Lincolns.  We found that Mrs. Lincoln held parties with elaborate food, and that she served a certain cake to Abraham when they were courting.

Of course, my dessert-loving Big Helper decided to make that cake. She chose to use this recipe to recreate a vanilla-almond pound cake with a simple glaze.

Baking with Mary Todd Lincoln

This history lesson was fun but not easy.  It took my Big Helper two full hours to mix it up, and she’s not new to baking.  There were several techniques that were new to her, and she took her time, determined to get it all right.

By the time the cake was complete, she had learned how to separate eggs, how to whip egg whites and fold them into a batter, how to make a glaze, how to butter and glaze a baking dish, and about the proper proportions for a cake.

Mary Todd Lincoln

The finished cake is delicious, but it’s not just cake to the one who made it.  To her, it’s the realization that baking is harder than she thought.  It’s knowing that Abraham Lincoln ate a cake that tasted just like the one that she herself has eaten.  It’s putting her hand into history and blending it with the present.

We’ll definitely be combining more home ec with history.

How do you bring history alive for your kids?

Check out these resources for more information:

 

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Triple-Chocolate Brownie Pie

Chocolate Brownie

Last week I suddenly realized that it was Pi Day and I had made no plans for pie.  Not a catastrophe, I know, but it’s fun to celebrate those light-hearted holidays with the kids.  They make fun opportunities to learn on the fly, and I decided to challenge the kids to create some sort of chocolate brownie pie.

And then we headed down a rabbit hole during school, as we often do, and time got away from us.  I ended up playing around, and this is what I created.

It’s a simple, quick pie to make that’s chock-full of chocolate.  With an Oreo-crumb crust and chocolate chips in the brownie batter, there’s a lot of molten chocolate in this pie – and that’s before you add the ganache topping.

It’s good cold but way better warm, when the chocolate oozes out and the gooey richness melts onto your tongue.

Serve it with some whipped cream and a big glass of milk and you’ll have happy customers.

Forget creating a new pie – this is what we’ll be making next year on Pi Day.

Triple-Chocolate Brownie Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. whole-wheat flour
  • 1/3 c. cocoa powder
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1/3 c. chocolate chips + 1 handful more
  • scant 1/3 c. whipping cream
  • 15 Oreos, cream scraped out and crushed

Instructions

  1. Press Oreo crumbs into a pie pan.
  2. Mix sugar, flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder, eggs, butter, vanilla, and the handful of chocolate chips well.
  3. Smooth into pan over the crumbs.
  4. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees.
  5. Cool.
  6. Meanwhile, heat cream until just shy of bubbling.
  7. Pour hot cream over chocolate chips.
  8. Whisk until chocolate is melted and smooth.
  9. Let ganache cool until thick, at least 20 minutes.
  10. Pour ganache over the top of the pie.
  11. Serve warm.
  12. Store in refrigerator.
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Nutty Oatmeal Chip Cookies

Oatmeal Cookies

I’ve got a thing for cookies.  Especially oatmeal cookies.

I think it’s because they seem healthy.  I mean, all those oats are just chock-full of fiber, and that’s a good thing, right?

The great thing about these particular cookies is that they really are pretty good for you.  Full of nut butters, nuts, and oats – with a fairly low amount of sugar – they make a rather decadent healthy treat.

These Nutty Oatmeal Chip cookies just might be my new go-to cookies for traveling and field trips and the like.  I love how soft and chewy they are – and yet the nuts provide just the right amount of crunch.

The only problem with these cookies is trying to keep some in the house.  Somehow they ‘magically’ disappear from the kitchen whenever I make them.

Maybe you’ll have better luck at hanging onto them than I do.

Then again, if your family is anything like mine – you probably won’t.

Nutty Oatmeal Chip Cookies

Ingredients

  • 2/3 c. peanut butter
  • 2/3 c. chopped almonds
  • 1 1/2 c. white wheat flour
  • 2 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 c. packed brown sugar
  • 1 c. softened butter
  • 2 t. vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 c. oats
  • 1/2 c. chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Cream butter and sugar.
  2. Stir in peanut butter and nuts.
  3. Add eggs and vanilla; mix well.
  4. Stir dry ingredients together.
  5. Add dry mixture to wet mixture.
  6. Mix well.
  7. Add chocolate chips.
  8. Chill for 1 hour.
  9. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  10. Drop dough by spoonfuls onto tray.
  11. Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes.
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Double Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake

Cheesecake

My husband took me out for Valentine’s Day about bought the most amazing piece of cheesecake for our dessert.  I’ve never had anything like it – it was the perfect chocolate food.  Smooth, silky, and rich, it was absolutely wonderful.

So color me thrilled when he decided later that he’d try to make one for me himself.

This is what he came up with.

The texture is a bit different than the restaurant version, but it’s no less amazing.  It’s chocolate-y and rich and completely decadent. 

I think that he needs to make these on a very regular, frequent basis – right??

If you like cheesecake or chocolate or dessert, grab your supplies and get baking.  You won’t be sorry.  (The extra-good news, besides the it’s-delicious part?  This cheesecake is easy.  No water baths, no foil bibs for the pans, no myriads of ingredients necessary.  All told, for a cheesecake, it’s pretty simple – which means you get to enjoy it sooner.)

Oh – and be prepared to hide the results.  You won’t want to share.

Double Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake

Ingredients

  • 18 crushed chocolate sandwich cookies with the icing removed
  • 2 T. melted butter
  • 3 8-oz packages of cream cheese
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 3/4 c. hazelnut liqueur
  • 8 oz. semi-sweet Baker's chocolate, melted and cooled slightly
  • 3 eggs

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Mix cookie crumbs and butter.
  3. Press crumb mixture into the bottom of a 9" springform pan.
  4. Bake crumb crust for 10 minutes.
  5. Beat cream cheese, sugar, liqueur, and vanilla with mixer until blended.
  6. Add melted chocolate and mix well.
  7. Mix in eggs individually.
  8. Pour cream cheese mixture over crust.
  9. Bake for 50 minutes.
  10. Chill for 4 hours before removing from pan.
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Are you a cheesecake fan?  Try this amazing Black Magic Cake, which has a cheesecake center, or these Party Perfect Cheesecakes.  Yum!

 

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Tell It to Me Tuesdays

Soft and Chewy Oatmeal-Chip Cookies

Soft & Chewy Oatmeal-Chip Cookies @ A Nest in the Rocks

I know a recipe’s good when someone asks me to make it again.

Or when it disappears really, really fast.

That’s what happened with these cookies.  They were gone overnight – literally (we did share a few with some kiddie friends) and then everyone started clamoring for more.

These cookies are just that good.  While they have the usual amounts of cookie-sugar, though, they’re also have lots of fiber, making them decently healthy cookies.  At least, cookies that you can feel good about feeding your family.

Your family won’t care, though.  They’ll be too busy eating them.

Soft and Chewy Oatmeal-Chip Cookies
Yields 2
An incredibly soft and chewy chocolate chip oatmeal cookie
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
17 min
Total Time
1 hr
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
17 min
Total Time
1 hr
2960 calories
373 g
449 g
139 g
61 g
78 g
678 g
1681 g
151 g
4 g
49 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
678g
Yields
2
Amount Per Serving
Calories 2960
Calories from Fat 1218
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 139g
213%
Saturated Fat 78g
392%
Trans Fat 4g
Polyunsaturated Fat 12g
Monounsaturated Fat 37g
Cholesterol 449mg
150%
Sodium 1681mg
70%
Total Carbohydrates 373g
124%
Dietary Fiber 30g
119%
Sugars 151g
Protein 61g
Vitamin A
65%
Vitamin C
0%
Calcium
44%
Iron
87%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Ingredients
  1. 1 c. softened butter
  2. 1 c. brown sugar
  3. 2 eggs
  4. 2 t vanilla extract
  5. 1/2 t baking soda
  6. 1 t salt
  7. 1 1/4 c white-wheat flour
  8. 3 c oats
  9. 1 c chocolate chips
Instructions
  1. Cream butter and sugar together.
  2. Add eggs and vanilla.
  3. Mix well.
  4. Add baking soda, salt,, flour, and oats, mixing after each one until just combined.
  5. Stir in chocolate chips.
  6. Drop on baking sheet by the tablespoon.
  7. Bake at 325 degrees for 12 minutes.
  8. Cool on tray for 5 minutes.
  9. Remove from tray.
Adapted from Panthera
beta
calories
2960
fat
139g
protein
61g
carbs
373g
more
Adapted from Panthera
A Nest in the Rocks http://anestintherocks.com/
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{Soft and Chewy} Chocolate Chip Cookies

{Soft and Chewy} Chocolate Chip Cookies @ A Nest in the Rocks

In college my friends and I used to get together to bake on vacations.  There was never time for that during the school terms, but we all enjoyed making things, and the creative outlet was great during our time off.

This recipe came from one of those friends.  I think of her every time I make these, and that’s fairly often during the winter months.  This dough comes together quickly, makes enough to share, and bakes up super light and fluffy.  I’ve never had these cookies get hard or crispy, although I did have trouble trying to get good pictures for this post because when I went to take the picture, this. was. the. only. cookie. left.

Did I mention I tried to take the picture a few hours after I baked them?

Yes.  Ahem.

They’re good.

{Soft and Chewy} Chocolate Chip Cookies
A soft and fluffy old-fashioned chocolate chip cookie
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5002 calories
507 g
899 g
315 g
59 g
160 g
1040 g
2343 g
388 g
7 g
133 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
1040g
Amount Per Serving
Calories 5002
Calories from Fat 2752
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 315g
485%
Saturated Fat 160g
802%
Trans Fat 7g
Polyunsaturated Fat 26g
Monounsaturated Fat 107g
Cholesterol 899mg
300%
Sodium 2343mg
98%
Total Carbohydrates 507g
169%
Dietary Fiber 21g
82%
Sugars 388g
Protein 59g
Vitamin A
131%
Vitamin C
1%
Calcium
68%
Iron
72%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Ingredients
  1. 2 1/4 flour (white or white-wheat)
  2. 1 t. baking soda
  3. 1 c. butter
  4. 1/4 c. sugar
  5. 3/4 c. brown sugar
  6. 1 t. vanilla
  7. 1 4-oz package of instant vanilla pudding mix
  8. 2 eggs
  9. 1 c. chocolate chips
  10. 1 c. chopped nuts (opt)
Instructions
  1. Mix flour with baking soda.
  2. Combine butter, sugars, vanilla, and pudding mix in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Beat until smooth and creamy.
  4. Beat in eggs.
  5. Gradually add flour mixture, then stir in chocolate chips.
  6. Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.
  7. Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes.
Adapted from Amy Bradsher
beta
calories
5002
fat
315g
protein
59g
carbs
507g
more
Adapted from Amy Bradsher
A Nest in the Rocks http://anestintherocks.com/

{Fresh and Cool} Banana Bars

Some people think of bananas in the spring or summertime, but we eat bananas all the time.  They’re hearty and delicious, and so this recipe works even in the shorter, beautiful fall days.

I love to bake. It doesn’t matter if it’s cookies, muffins, for ourselves or someone else, it’s just fun to take a few simple ingredients and turn them into something that will be both nourishing and tasty.

This recipe comes from my mom. She’s a great baker, and people were always happy to see these bars coming. The bar has a fresh banana taste. It’s not overly sweet, but it’s definitely a fun treat – and the creamy icing is the perfect complement to the muffin-like bar. They’re great for a fun picnic or brunch event, and they’re easy to make, too!

Here’s how to make {Fresh & Cool} Banana Bars:

{Fresh and Cool} Banana Bars

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c. softened butter
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 2 c. white-wheat flour
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 c. softened butter
  • 8 oz. softened cream cheese
  • 4 c. 10x sugar
  • 2 t. vanilla

Instructions

  1. Cream 1/2 c. butter and granulated sugar.
  2. Beat in eggs, bananas, and 1 t. vanilla.
  3. Combine flour, baking soda, & salt in a separate bowl.
  4. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture and beat well.
  5. Pour into a greased 15″ x 10″ x 1″ baking pan.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until done.
  7. Cool.
  8. Mix icing
  9. Cream butter & cream cheese.
  10. Gradually add 10x sugar & 2 t. vanilla.
  11. Beat well.
  12. Spread over bars.
  13. Chill.
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How do you like to eat your bananas? 

 

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I’m a cookie fanatic.  Really.  There’s something wonderful about a small, snackable dessert – and even more so about this one.  With whole wheat flour and healthy(er) oils, I feel better about making these for my family on a regular basis.  These cookies are rich and decadent in spite of that, though, and you’ll never miss all that processed stuff!

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yields 3
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Cook Time
12 min
Cook Time
12 min
1496 calories
186 g
218 g
73 g
29 g
34 g
341 g
1140 g
104 g
1 g
32 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
341g
Yields
3
Amount Per Serving
Calories 1496
Calories from Fat 635
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 73g
112%
Saturated Fat 34g
171%
Trans Fat 1g
Polyunsaturated Fat 9g
Monounsaturated Fat 23g
Cholesterol 218mg
73%
Sodium 1140mg
47%
Total Carbohydrates 186g
62%
Dietary Fiber 8g
32%
Sugars 104g
Protein 29g
Vitamin A
25%
Vitamin C
0%
Calcium
23%
Iron
24%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Ingredients
  1. 1/2 c. butter
  2. 1/2 c. peanut butter
  3. 1 c. brown sugar
  4. 1/2 t. salt
  5. 1 t. baking soda
  6. 1 t. vanilla
  7. 2 eggs
  8. 2 1/4 c. whole wheat flour
  9. 1 c. chocolate chips or dark chocolate M&Ms
Instructions
  1. Cream the peanut butter, butter, and brown sugar.
  2. Stir in salt, baking soda, and vanilla.
  3. Add eggs and beat until shiny.
  4. Stir in flour.
  5. Stir in chocolate.
  6. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.
  7. Bake for about 12 minutes at 350.
Notes
  1. I usually double this recipe. One batch just isn't enough to have and to share!
beta
calories
1496
fat
73g
protein
29g
carbs
186g
more
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Are you a white or wheat flour person?