Holiday recipes from Mama Steph
Christmas in North Carolina during the 1970s reigns in my mind as a time of innocence and simplicity. The weather tended to be cold by the time Christmas arrived in Charlotte, where we lived until I was nine years old. We lived on a cul-de-sac where the neighborhood kids and I rode our Big Wheels around and around in circles, having races and transporting our Barbie dolls from one area of the neighborhood to another for their next imaginary adventure.
We never had a white Christmas, as defined by Elvis’ song that mom played frequently on her giant record player console. It didn’t matter, though, because my parents made Christmas magical there even without snow. In the '70s, it wasn’t at all about getting gaming consoles, computers or smart phones, obviously. It was very traditional, with baby dolls in carriages, toy trains and Christmas cookies. There was excitement, because all we kids in the neighborhood believed in Santa, and we’d talk about what we wanted for Christmas each year, from new bikes to dolls to science experiment kits. My favorite doll Santa brought was named Baby Tender Love, and I truly cared for her. I still have her put away in a cedar chest.
There was also a sweet little pink "leatherette" jewelry box that stands out in my mind as a favorite gift in those years. Do little girls still ask for jewelry boxes? I’m not sure, but I loved mine, which was lined with satin and ready to hold whatever treasures I could find to put inside. I was so happy Santa brought that to me, and I kept it for many years. Whenever I spot a similar one, which now only happens in vintage shops or on collector sites, it sends my mind straight back in time to the 1970s, and I am grateful. Grateful to have been raised in a simpler time, an exciting time of imagination and creativity and cold Christmas mornings.
I hope your Christmas is exciting this year, especially if you have little children or grandchildren around you to enjoy it with. Make cookies with them, and talk to them about how you and your mom or grandmother made those same cookies. Pass on that simple tradition. Recall for them what your favorite toys were when you were little, who your friends were in the neighborhood, and of course, the real reason we celebrate this glorious holiday, the birth of a Savior.
Of course you’ll want to try some brand new recipes this year, too, and I have a couple to share with you that I hope you’ll enjoy as much as I do.
First, here’s a perfect holiday breakfast idea! Stick this dense cake into the oven and forget about it for 40 minutes while you visit with your family or address Christmas cards, then enjoy it with coffee or cold milk.
Cranberry-walnut breakfast cake
1 cup plain flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (pecans would also be good)
one stick of butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon each of almond and vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a skillet or a cake pan with butter or cooking spray.
In a mixing bowl, whisk eggs slightly to break them up, then add flour, sugar, butter and salt, stirring to make a creamy batter.
Stir until batter is relatively smooth and no visible lumps of flour are present.
Add nuts and cranberries, and mix into the batter.
Pour batter into the pan, and then smooth the top with a spatula. If desired, add a handful to the cranberries to the top and press in, just to make it even more vibrantly colored when it comes out of the oven.
Bake for about 40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean. This will cut better if you allow it to cool slightly first.
And if you need a dessert to share with guests, these no-bake bars are easy to make, and everyone I’ve shared them with have said they're delicious!
No-bake chocolate-peanut butter bars
2 sticks of butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups uncooked quick oatmeal
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 cup chocolate chips
1. Melt butter in a heavy-bottomed 2 or 3-quart saucepan. Add to it the brown sugar, then whisk it in until sugar dissolves. Whisk in the vanilla extract. Stir everything together until oats are completely covered by the butter mixture. Keep over very low heat while doing the next step, stirring frequently.
2. Melt together the chocolate chips and peanut butter in another saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. When melted and combined, take off heat.
3. Take 2/3 of the oat mixture, and press into a 9x9-inch or 7x11-inch baking dish that you have sprayed with cooking spray. Use the back of a spoon, spatula,etc., to press into the bottom well.
4. Pour the chocolate-peanut butter mixture over the oat crust, and smooth with a spatula across the whole crust.
5. Sprinkle the remaining 1/3 cup of oat mixture over the melted chocolate, pressing in slightly to ensure it adheres.
6. Refrigerate for several hours to overnight. When ready to serve, take out of the refrigerator and soften slightly to make cutting easier.
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is “Mama Steph”. She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home.
She is married and has three sons who are considerably taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at WhatSouthernFolksEat.com, and she’d love to hear about your own favorite recipes via email at Steph@whatsouthernfolkseat.com.