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Oh what a difference two years and a new speaker of the House make.

It was a October of 2013 when the government began a disastrous two-week shutdown after the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Democrat-controlled Senate were unable to come to a temporary spending agreement.

Make time to share some family traditions this holiday season. It’s what makes the season memorable after all. Years from now, your kids probably won’t remember the toy of the week, but they will remember that every Christmas Eve the family gets together, attends midnight Mass, sings the traditional songs and then retires to eggnog and cookies around a sizzling fireplace.  

Your traditions can be unique to your family or friends and may have been handed down for many generations or years ... or you can make up your own. A tradition simply is something that has established meaning for itself by being replayed time and again. It’s the people around you as you are participating in the tradition that give it the meaning.

The Christmas season seems to be unique among the holidays because of the emphasis we place on the past, our heritage and the traditions those things entail. I had some wonderful grandparents who used to regale my childhood with stories of the past. The Old Country was imbedded in who they were, even as they tried to erase the idea of immigrant from their persona.

Food, you see, is a very difficult custom to change. If you grew up eating one thing, you still probably are eating it. This is a habit that is especially fun to indulge in this time of year. But it also is fun to try out other tastes.

So, be tolerant and accepting of other traditions — you may come across one or two to make your own.


Christmas stollen

— My grandmother and mother made this every Christmas. Now Imake it and serve up leftovers dipped in eggnog for the best French toast you’ve ever tasted.

1/2 cup warm water, 110 F

2 pkgs. active dry yeast

2 Tbsps. sugar

1-1/2 cups butter

Additional 3/4 cup sugar

3 eggs, beaten

1 tsp. salt

1 cup warm milk

7-1/2 cups flour

Additional 1/2 cup flour

3/4 cup raisins

3/4 cup candied fruits, minced

1 cup almonds, chopped

Additional 1/4 cup butter, melted

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

Egg wash

1 egg

2 Tbsps. water

In a small bowl, whisk the water and dry yeast with the two tablespoons sugar. Let this work until it is light and foamy. Meanwhile, in a large bread bowl, cream the butter and 3/4 cup sugar. Add the eggs, salt, and warm milk. Mix together well.

Add flour and stir together until mixture forms ball of dough. Turn dough out onto a floured counter and knead to form a smooth and elastic ball of dough. Cover the dough and let rise until doubled in bulk.

Turn the dough out onto a floured counter again; flatten the dough slightly with the palms of your hands. Mix the raisins, fruits and almonds together and sprinkle the additional 1/2 cup flour over this mixture to coat. Sprinkle a bit of this raisin mixture over the dough and work in by kneading. Continue to incorporate the mixture this way until all is worked into the dough. Divide dough in half. Roll out each half to an 8-by-15-inch oval. To the melted butter, add the brown sugar and cinnamon. Brush half the butter mixture onto each oval of dough. Roll the dough up into a loaf, sealing the seam underneath. Place each loaf on a cookie sheet and let rise until almost double in bulk.

Beat the egg with the two tablespoons of water to form an egg wash. Brush the top of each loaf with the wash and bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 35 to 40 minutes.


Swedish meatballs recipe

— Lingonberry jam is the traditional ingredient, but you could substitute red currant, cranberry or raspberry jam.


2 Tbsps. butter

1 onion, diced very fine

2/3 cup milk

4 slices white bread, diced into 1/2-inch cubes

2 eggs

1 lb. ground pork

1-1/2 lbs. ground beef

2 tsps. kosher salt

1 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg

1 tsp. ground cardamom

2 tsps. black pepper


6 Tbsps. butter

1/3 cup flour

1 qt. beef stock

1/2 to 3/4 cup sour cream


4 Tbsps. lingonberry jam (or substitute raspberry)

Melt the butter in a large skillet on medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent and softened. Set aside to cool.

Place bread cubes in a large bowl and mix with the milk. Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes for the bread to absorb all of the milk.

Stir the cooled onions into the milk bread mixture. Add the eggs, ground pork and beef, salt, pepper, nutmeg and cardamom. Mix everything together until well combined.

Form 1-inch meatballs and set aside. This recipe should make about 40 meatballs.

To make the sauce: Heat six tablespoons of butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add meatballs to the pan, working in batches, brown the meatballs on all sides. Remove meatballs from pan, keeping the butter and fat in the pan.

Heat the pan butter and juices; whisk in the flour. Stir until smooth. Continue to stir, allowing the flour mixture to cook, several minutes, until the roux is lightly browned. Whisk in the stock.

Return the meatballs to the pan with the sauce and lower the heat to low. Cover and cook on low for 10 minutes. You may need to work in batches depending on the size of your pan.

Just before serving, stir in the sour cream and jelly.


Swedish Pepparkakor       (gingerbread cookies)

—This recipe makes a crisp cookie that doesn’t need frosting — unless you like them sweeter. Dust them with powdered sugar before serving or use your favorite butter cream icing recipe.

3-3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsps. baking soda

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ground cloves

1 tsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. ground cardamom

1 cup butter

1 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1 egg, beaten

2 Tbsps. dark corn syrup

Sift the flour together with the baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and cardamom in a mixing bowl.

Beat the butter together with the white and brown sugars in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Mix in the egg and corn syrup until smooth. Gradually stir in the flour mixture until evenly blended. Divide the dough into four equal portions and wrap tightly each with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least one hour, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Lightly grease baking sheets.

Using one portion at a time, work on a floured surface and roll out dough to 1/8 inch thick. Cut into shapes with cookie cutter, and place one inch apart on prepared baking sheets.

Bake in preheated oven until set, about five minutes. Cool completely. Store in covered tins.


Chesnica — traditional Serbian Christmas bread

— Use a clean silver coin like a half dollar and place it inside the bread dough before baking. Do not use plastic coins! Tradition says whoever finds the coin will have a great success in the year ahead.

2-1/4 cups milk, lukewarm

1 packet (2-1/2 tsps.) yeast

2 large eggs

Pinch of salt

7-8 cups flour

Silver or gold coin — make sure it is metal, not a plastic, fake coin

Additional egg mixed with one tablespoon water for egg wash

Dissolve yeast in a little lukewarm milk. Beat one egg and add to yeast. Add salt and stir, gradually adding the flour and pouring the remaining lukewarm milk until you get a smooth dough.

When the dough is stiff enough, start kneading it. Cover well-kneaded dough with a clean cloth and let it rise.

As soon as you notice the dough rising, place it onto kneading board and gently knead again. The dough should rise only partially.

Chesnica is shaped as a round flat bread. While shaping, place a coin inside the dough. If you do not have a silver one, you can put a coin made of some other stainless metal.

Place chesnica into a greased 9-inch round baking pan.

Traditionally, a small twig is used to make some patterns along the top surface of the loaf.

Beat one egg and one tablespoon water together for an egg wash. Brush on top of bread dough.

Bake in a 350 F oven for 20 minutes, then turn down to 300 F and bake until bread sounds hollow and is nicely browned.

Wrap bread in a clean white napkin and bring to the table while it is still warm.


Baklava (It’s Greek to me)

— This is so delicious, I try to find an excuse to make it a couple times a year. It keeps really well — if not eaten immediately.

2 lbs. phyllo dough (in the freezer section)

1 lb. sweet butter, melted

1-1/2 lbs. walnuts, chopped

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/8 tsp. cloves


2 cups sugar

1 cup honey

2 cups water

1 lemon or orange rind


Combine chopped walnuts, sugar, cinnamon and cloves. Brush baking tray (12-by-16-inch) with melted butter. Place 15 phyllo leaves at bottom, brushing each with melted butter. Spread one-third of walnut mixture on leaves. Place five to six buttered leaves on mixture and spread an additional one-third of walnut mixture.

Add another layer with five to six buttered leaves using the remaining walnut mixture. There must be 15 to 17 leaves to place on top layer. Brush top layer of leaves with remaining melted butter.

With a pointed sharp knife, score top sheets in diamond square shapes in sizes you desire. Bake in 350 F for 45 minutes to one hour or until golden brown. Let cool.

To make syrup: Bring all syrup ingredients to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and cool. Pour warm syrup evenly over baklava.

When cool, cut baklava, following the lines you scored into the pastry. Store tightly covered.

In this season of good wishes, a special variety of kindness has broken out in some of the communities we cover with our CSI Media newspapers.

I first noticed it earlier this month in a Facebook post from the Rockton Police Department. One of our papers, the Stateline News, covers the village located just over the border in Illinois.

The post showed a photo of a Starbucks gift card with the now familiar hashtag #bluelivesmatter, which began on Twitter in support of those who serve in law enforcement.

Well, the cookie baking has begun and there are so many good recipes coming my way I have to share these, sent in by friends and readers of this column. I’m going to try them all, especially the highly recommended eggnog cookies.


— This recipe starts with a cooked custard, eliminating any danger from raw eggs.

Makes 6 cups

6 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

2 cups whole milk

2 cups whipping cream or 2 cups half-and-half

1-1⁄2 tsps. vanilla extract

1⁄4 tsp. ground cinnamon

1⁄2 tsp. ground nutmeg

Use a saucepan or stockpot large enough to hold 2 quarts.

In saucepan, beat together the eggs and sugar until smooth.

Stir in 2 cups milk.

Cook over medium low heat, whisking or stirring frequently.

Cook until mixture is thick enough to coat a metal spoon and reaches 160 F on a food thermometer.

Remove from heat.

Slowly add the 2 cups whipping cream or half-and-half while whisking together until smooth.

Add vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg and combine until incorporated.

Pour into a pitcher and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled —several hours or overnight.

Serve garnished with your choice of toppings: whipped cream, chocolate curls, maraschino cherries, cinnamon sticks or peppermint sticks.

Brandy, rum, whiskey or flavored liqueur may be added before serving if desired.

Eggnog cookies

— Doris Johnson, a dairy farmer, says she makes her own eggnog using eggs from her chickens. “Sometimes I’ll use duck eggs if they’re still laying,” she explains. “But the real reason I make the eggnog is to make these cookies.”


3/4 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 egg yolks

1/2 cup eggnog

1 tsp. vanilla

2-1/4 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. salt


1/2 cup butter, softened

3 cups powdered sugar

4 to 5 Tbsps. eggnog

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease cookie sheet and set aside.

To make cookies: In a large bowl, cream butter, sugars until fluffy. Add egg yolks, eggnog and vanilla, continue beating until creamy. Add flour, baking powder, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. Mix until well combined.

Roll into 1-inch balls and place 2 inches apart on cookie sheet. Bake at 350 F for 10 to 12 minutes until lightly browned on bottom. Let cool on wire racks.

To make frosting: Cream butter until fluffy. Add powdered sugar and beat until combined. Add eggnog, nutmeg and cinnamon. Beat for three minutes until smooth. Frost cooled cookies and sprinkle nutmeg over the frosting if desired.

Chocolate rum balls

3-1/4 cups crushed vanilla wafers

3/4 cup powdered sugar

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1-1/2 cups chopped walnuts

3 Tbsps. corn syrup

1/2 cup rum

In a large bowl, stir together the crushed vanilla wafers, powdered sugar, cocoa and nuts. Blend in corn syrup and rum.

Shape into 1-inch balls and roll in additional powdered sugar. Store in an airtight container for several days to develop the flavor. Roll again in powdered sugar before serving.


— Lebkuchen or Pfefferkuchen is a traditional German Christmas treat, somewhat resembling gingerbread. There are many variations of this cookie. Some are iced with a powdered sugar glaze and some have chocolate; most are decorated with almonds. Often, these are made using cookie molds and these can be quite large.

Debbie writes, “I brought this recipe over from Germany almost 20 years ago. It has molasses, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, honey and brown sugar in it. This is one of my favorite memories of Germany at Christmastime.”

Makes 6 dozen cookies


1/2 cup honey

1/2 cup molasses

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 egg

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

1 tsp. lemon zest

2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. ground cloves

1 tsp. ground allspice

1 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/3 cup diced candied citron

1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts


1 cup white sugar

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup powdered sugar

In a medium saucepan, stir together the honey and molasses. Bring the mixture to a boil, remove from heat and stir in the brown sugar, egg, lemon juice and lemon zest. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg. Add the molasses mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in the citron and hazelnuts. Cover dough and chill overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease cookie sheets. Using a small amount of dough at a time, roll out on a lightly floured surface to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into small rectangles and place them 1 inch apart onto the prepared cookie sheet.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven, until no imprint remains when touched lightly. Brush the icing over the cookies while they are still hot and quickly remove them to wire cooling racks. Store in airtight container with an orange or apple for a few days to mellow.

To make the icing: Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Heat to 235 F or the soft ball stage. Remove from heat and stir in the powdered sugar. If icing becomes sugary while brushing cookies, reheat slightly, adding a little water.

I don’t know about you, but when the leaves fall from the trees, the birds fly south, the horse’s water bucket starts freezing over and the barn cat spends most of her time in the cat bed, it’s time to start baking for the holidays.

The cookie baking season seems earlier this year because of the weather, but I got a wake-up call when my neighbor (thanks, Barb!) dropped off an assortment of her cookie baking episode —it’s time to get a move on.

Now, I’m looking for sales on butter and confectioners’ sugar, nuts and diced fruit. I try to stock up during the year, but somehow that doesn’t always work and when the cookie baking list comes out this time of year, it can be a bit daunting.

The secret to holiday baking success, which is not such a secret anymore, because we seem to rush right through the fun holidays, like Halloween, and skip right over Thanksgiving as if it were just another Thursday, is to start your Christmas baking early.

Online reader Carol Johnson must have had this in mind because she called recently to ask for a reprinting of my rum ball recipe. This is an especially good choice to get going on as these rum balls not only taste better as they age, but they ship really well without too many precautions.

When I make these, I always reflect on the other reason for baking this time of year — in addition to baking up tasty treats, we reheat precious memories of Christmas past. The rum ball recipe comes from one of my husband’s guitar students who smelled the cookie baking one week and came back the next week with his mom’s favorite recipe. These became a favorite in my house in no time.

Gathering a friend or two or three to help with a cookie baking spree is another good way to enjoy the holidays — it’s really about the people we spend time with that makes the memories. And those memories will last a lot longer than the cookies.

Rum balls

Makes 6 dozen

4 cups vanilla wafers, crushed

2 cups pecans, finely ground

2 cups powdered sugar

4 Tbsps. cocoa powder

4 Tbsps. maple syrup or dark Karo syrup

2/3 cup dark rum

Extra 2 cups powdered sugar

In a bowl, combine crushed vanilla wafers, pecans, powdered sugar and cocoa. Stir in the maple syrup and dark rum to form a sticky mixture. Using a teaspoon, form 1-inch balls and roll them in the extra powdered sugar to coat. Store in a tightly sealed container for at least one week to develop flavor.

Ginger cookies

My granny’s favorite — she made these all year and you always could smell them before you even got your foot in the kitchen.

3/4 cup butter or margarine

3/4 cup margarine

1/2 cup molasses

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

2 large eggs

4 1/2 cups flour

4 tsps. baking soda

1 tsp. ginger

2 tsps. cinnamon

1 tsp. cloves

1 tsp. nutmeg

Additional sugar in small bowl

Cream together the butter, margarine, molasses, sugars and eggs. Sift together dry ingredients and stir in until well incorporated. Form into small balls about an inch in diameter. Roll each ball in sugar, flatten slightly and set about 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Freeze until ready to use. Bake at 350 F for about 10 minutes.

Gingerbread cutouts

— My grandmother made a version of these with molasses while my granny always used sorghum.

Makes 6 dozen

1 tsp. baking soda

1 cup molasses or sorghum

1 cup butter (two sticks), softened

1 cup sugar

2 tsps. ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 large egg

5 cups all-purpose flour

Measure molasses and stir in the baking soda. Set aside.

In large bowl, combine butter with sugar, ginger and salt until creamy. Beat in molasses mixture and egg. Gradually add flour. On lightly floured surface, knead dough until thoroughly mixed, kneading in remaining 1/4 cup flour if necessary.

On floured surface, with floured rolling pin, roll dough out to 1/4-inch thick. Use floured cookie cutters to get as many cookies as possible; reserve trimmings. Place cookies, 1/2 inch apart, on ungreased large cookie sheet. Reroll trimmings and cut out more cookies.

Bake cookies eight to 10 minutes, until edges begin to brown. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool.

When cookies are cool, frost with prepared icing. Let dry completely before storing between layers of waxed paper in a tightly closed container.

Date pinwheels

— These were always my mom’s favorite cookie and I make them every year.

Cookie batter:

1 cup butter

2 cups brown sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. baking soda

4 cups flour


1-1/2 cups dates, chopped

2/3 cup water

2/3 cup sugar

2/3 cup walnuts, finely chopped

Cream together butter, sugar and eggs. Sift dry ingredients together and add. Stir by hand until well-blended. Place dough in refrigerator to chill while you make the filling.

In a heavy stockpot, combine the dates, water and sugar and cook over low heat about 30 to 45 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in nuts. Let chill.

Remove chilled dough from refrigerator and divide into fourths. Roll out each portion to a rectangle. Spread one-fourth of the filling on each rectangle and roll up from the short size making a log.

Stick each cookie log in the freezer until firm. You can freeze these if you wrap them up air-tight; remove as needed and proceed with recipe.

Remove a cookie log from freezer and slice into 1/4-inch thick circles.

Bake on a paper-lined cookie sheet in a preheated 325 F oven for about 10 to 15 minutes or until set and lightly browned.

Lynn Greene is senior editor for CSIMedia, which publishes this paper. To share this column or read past Lynn’s Place columns, go to Contact her at 262-728-3424 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



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