family · Food · Intentional Living


With an early Thanksgiving we gained an extra week to get ready for Christmas.  I don’t know about you but I feel a little calmer and more prepared for Christmas than in years prior.  As I start to plan for our family get together I find myself reflecting a bit more on our family traditions and also reevaluating them.  Are they necessary or important? If I didn’t do something would anyone even miss it? Would I?

I started by asking my husband about his Christmas traditions growing up in rural Minnesota in a big family of ten.  

 The ones that stood out in his mind, were the opening of gifts on Christmas Eve, a big breakfast at their house after Midnight Mass with friends and family and the town priest often attending. His mom always made a duck and ham.

They would get homemade flannel pajamas from his grandma when he was younger, and of course a “taste” of Mogen David wine for all the kids.  They felt pretty special.

My traditions also centered around family gatherings.  We would go to bed early on Christmas Eve and then wake up to get ready to go to Midnight Mass.

We always opened gifts in the morning and then would pile in the car, all eight of us, and drive to my grandparents house about an hour away to spend the day with my aunts, uncles and lots of cousins.   We would have a big turkey “dinner” around noon complete with apple and pumpkin pie.   After my sisters and I did the mounds of dishes by hand, my grandpa would usually set up his reel-to-reel to show home movies. 

Grandma would pass out little glasses of ice cold apple cider and homemade caramel popcorn.  After, the kids would either play games, go outside to play in the snow or sit around and chat with each other. We then had the great Minnesota  potluck hamburger hot dish “supper” with potato chips, beans, homemade buns, ham, Jell-O and pickles.

I then asked my kids what traditions were important to them.  I was curious if my value on traditions had translated to them.  I found it pretty interesting.  Some things that I thought were definite musts weren’t even mentioned. Those that made the list were spritz cookies, chocolate covered cherries, going to a movie on Christmas day, new pajamas on Christmas Eve and handing out gifts with the Santa hat.  Why is it we do traditions anyway?

Traditions bring a sense of comfort and connection to the past.  For me it is a way to pay homage in a way to my upbringing in a large family where the value wasn’t on gift giving but rather on family and spending time together.  It was/is a way to remember my mom and dad.  We only had one TV with three channels, board games, cards and the great outdoors with lots of snow. 1966 normal year of snow in MinnesotaThere was no internet, no cell phones, no computers or distractions.   Simpler times.  The traditions were often developed and evolved over the things we did to pass the time and out of necessity.  They stuck and became tradition as a way to celebrate our heritage, our faith, our family. 

Traditions help us to “go back” and regroup or recharge.  They are an already planned event or food where  you don’t have to think about what to do, it is just something you do.  It helps us to pause and try to put the brakes on our hurried lives.

They evoke emotions.   Ask “Alexa” to put on Celine Dion’s “These are Special Times” or the Carpenter’s Christmas CD and I am instantly in the holiday mood and ready to bake or decorate.  Traditions can be songs we listen to, movies we watch, games we play, places we visit, or things we do.  My annual Christmas letter and photo has become a tradition I personally love, though some would argue against them.  It has taken different formats over the years as we moved into the computer and digital age (yes, I used to handwrite them back in the dark ages) but I find it a wonderful way to document the year that was, the good and the bad.   A journal of sorts.  This year I want to put them all in a book with our annual Christmas photos.

Is it a lot of work?  Sometimes.  Is it worth it?  That depends.  Does it bring you joy?  Does it bring others joy? If the answer to these is no, than probably not.   I think it is important to re-evaluate from time to time the traditions you have because they sometimes just aren’t practical at some point. Of course times are different.  When we were younger all of our families were close geographically.  Now we live in three states, thankfully on the same coast and still within a short days drive. But once the kids get married, have the in-laws to consider and then grandkids come along, things can get complicated.

The traditions that were once near and dear to our heart become obsolete and impossible to hold on to…just a memory.  One tradition we incorporated for several years as our kids became teenagers and young adults was to go to a movie on Christmas Day.

Though we would still love to do this, with four very young grandkids, it would be a bit challenging.  Kids grow, families grow and change and grandkids come along all giving the opportunity for a tradition adjustment.

This year will be our first Christmas Eve alone in 33 years.  I’m not sure I want to make a tradition out of that so for now I think I will do what makes me happy but in moderation.   I will make the spritz cookies for my daughters, caramel rolls (ode to mom), Italian food for our family gathering,  maybe show some of my home movies I recently converted to DVD’s or at least as much as the kids will tolerate (ode to grandpa).

I will have apple cider and caramel popcorn on hand (ode to grandma), play the game TROUBLE with my granddaughter (a game I played endlessly when younger).  Someone will wear the Santa hat to pass out the gifts.

We will still open one gift at a time to anticipate and appreciate. Traditions come and go and evolve, is what I have decided, but the important thing is that family is together to celebrate, no matter what the day. It is then that we repeat favorite foods and activities that in time will become new traditions for a new generation.

                                                             Merry Christmas!  signature.jpg

Decorating · family · Food

A few of my favorite things…

We’ve shopped, baked, decorated, wrapped, cleaned, attended office parties, listened to holiday music, watched every Hallmark Christmas movie ever made, watched other favorites on Netflix, and pulled out old classics on DVD all to get into the holiday spirit.   One of my favorite, get-you-in-the-mood movies, is “The Sound of Music”.   It was on TV the other night and I watched most of it (until I fell asleep…. probably because of the list of things I mentioned above), with my youngest who is home from college.  Well, here are a few of my favorite things this holiday season.


 I want to take a moment to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from my family to yours.






Homemade Tomato Soup

Nothing quite transports me back in time to the farm as a young girl in northern Minnesota as the canning season.  I remember well the crates of peaches, plums, cherries, and pears that mom would bring home in hopes of canning jars of sauce.    Between my five sisters and me though, there often wasn’t a crates worth of fruit left by the time she started the process.  Tomatoes, on the other hand,  was one of those vegetables (or is it a fruit?) that we had an ample and ongoing supply from our own garden.  Mom would pick the bounty to can stewed tomatoes and tomato soup. A few years back my sister, Janelle, made copies of some of the recipes in mom’s recipe box, “Mom’s Homemade Tomato Soup” was one of them.


Feeling nostalgic, I decided to try my hand at canning and I have been making this soup ever since.  I pretty much stayed with her recipe but did look up other recipes online to compare and came up with my own variation.  I found out that this family recipe was actually quite popular and probably came from a Betty Crocker book.  Oh well, I like to think of it as our family recipe, or maybe it’s the memories it invokes that make it so special.  That and the fact that it tastes so good! I have had several family members ask about the soup recipe and have decided to document through this blog and lots of pictures my method and variation of making this family “heirloom” tomato soup.

What the heck is a peck?  I think of a muscle in your body, and of course there is the song  (I had to look this up but I am pretty sure mom must have known this song as I remember the phrase, “a bushel and a peck”).  Here is a snippet of this goofy love song by Doris Day. It makes about as much sense as some of the songs today.

“I love you a bushel and a peck,  A bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck,  A hug around    the neck and a barrel and a heap,  A barrel and a heap and I’m talkin’ in my sleep”

Ok, back to the recipe.   According to her notes a peck is “a roaster full or so”.  Don’t you just love the “pinch of this, and a dash of that” recipes? So, thanks to the internet, I discovered that a peck of tomatoes is 8 quarts.  Again, how many tomatoes makes 8 quarts?  Clearly after much thought,  I decided to start with 10 large tomatoes for my recipe which is about half a batch of my mom’s original recipe and will make a good 8 pints (9 if you are lucky) thanks to the added tomato juice.

First, get your tomatoes.  If you are lucky enough to have a garden with plenty of tomatoes, you are set.  If not, farmer’s markets and roadside stands offer plenty of opportunity this time of year to pick some fresh out of the fields and gardens.  Nothing smells or tastes so good as a homegrown tomato ripe for picking.


1 large sweet onion diced (approx. 2 cups)

1/2 bunch celery diced (approx. 1 cup)

10 large tomatoes

64 oz. container tomato juice (all natural)

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter

3 Tablespoons salt

3/4 cup flour

Gather your supplies and make sure they are in good shape.  You will need a canner, metal jar rack, jar tongs, blender, jars, lids, seals and funnel.


Preparation is key in this recipe. I found it is easier and less stressful to prepare the different parts before you start so you don’t forget something.  One year I forgot to add the sugar.  It still turned out good so you probably could leave it out if you like, but I love the slightly sweet and savory flavor it adds to the recipe. So, chop your onions and celery, measure out your salt, sugar and flour, set up your blender, straining area, put your lids in a small kettle of water, fill your canner with hot water.

One more note: several recipes, including mom’s, calls for you to strain your tomatoes through a Victorio strainer (or similar).   I do this just to get the juice. But after a few years, I decided it was such a waste to throw out the lovely onions and celery and tomato chucks.   So, I decided to try and puree them with some tomato juice and add it back into the strained juice.  It gives it a bit more texture, though still smooth and awesome flavor. If you are stuck on a ultimate creamy soup, then by all means throw out the remnants once you strain all the lovely juice out, every last drop.

Ok, now I’m ready to start. Inspect your pint jars and discard any that may have chips on the rims.   Wash with soap and water, rinse well and fill with very hot water until ready to fill.IMG_5664

In a large stock pot, add the chopped celery, onion and about a ¼ cup of water. Sauté a few minutes.IMG_5640

Submerge tomatoes in a pot of boiling water for a couple of minutes.  Remove and place into a cold bath.   The peelings should slide right off.  This step is essential if you plan to incorporate the strained tomatoes back into the soup.  Cut out the stem area of the tomato and roughly cut up the tomatoes.  I like to squish them with my hand when I am done with peeling and dicing all the tomatoes to get the juicing started.  But that’s just me. Canning can be very therapeutic.

Fill your canner with water. There should be enough water to cover the jars when  submerged. I found the first “lip” from the top is about right.

Add the chopped tomatoes to the onion mixture in the stock pot along with ½ of the tomato juice.  Cook for 30 minutes so the tomatoes are falling apart and tender.

While the tomatoes are cooking, get your thickening ready.  Soften the unsalted butter in the microwave.  Mix in the flour and salt and stir until very smooth. Add some cold tomato juice and whisk until you have a fairly loose roux.  You don’t want it to be too thick so that it clumps up when you add it later to the tomato mixture.

Strain the tomato mixture in small batches through a sieve to retrieve most of the juice.  Add the juice back to the stock pot.In small batches take the leftover strained contents of onion, celery and tomato to a blender.  Add a small amount of tomato juice and puree. Pour into stock pot. Continue this process until all the contents are done.Return the stockpot and add the sugar.  Heat through.

Slowly add the tomato butter roux, whisking as you go to achieve a smooth soup texture.

Cook until hot but do not boil. Boil the lids in a small kettle briefly to prepare them for the  for the jars.  I like to replace the water in the jars one last time with hot water just to be sure the jars are kept hot. Pour the soup mixture into the empty prepared jars to within ½ inch from the top of the jar.  Tap the jar gently to remove any air bubbles.  Wipe off the rims of the jars with a wet paper towel to remove any remnants.  Place a prepared lid on top and tighten gently. When the water in the canner is ready to boil, place the jars in the canner, lower, and cover.  Let it come to a gentle boil for about 25 minutes.

Remove the jars using the jar tongs and place on a towel on the counter, allowing them to cool for about 12 hours.  If the jars have sealed properly, they will “pop”.

Can I tell you there is nothing more gratifying that hearing that “pop” of the lid sealing the deal.  On the flip side, there is nothing more terrifying if you don’t hear it.  Sometimes it quick and they pop within minutes of being removed from the water, sometimes it could take several hours.

Finally, be sure to label your newly canned soup.  Soup should be used within a year and should be stored in a cool dark pantry or cupboard.  I like to mark the date of canning and what it is.

I tend to give quite a bit of this away as gifts, so this year I did something extra special to dress up someone’s pantry.

To serve, simply mix the contents of the jar with equal amount of milk and ½ teaspoon of baking soda per pint which helps to prevent curdling of the milk due to the natural acidity of the tomatoes.  It can foam up a bit at first but will settle down and be creamy and yummy.  I’m sure my mom served this with cooked macaroni to make it stretch further, after all, feeding 6 girls can be a stretch.   In any case, it is fabulous and a wonderful treat. I personally like to sprinkle a bit of crushed red pepper for a bit of a bite.

I hope in some way I have inspired you to try canning or to try an old family recipe. Do you have a favorite family recipe that you have revisited and recreated?

Until next time,


Do something creative today!