An American Girl Christmas Greeting

American Girl Holiday Card 2013

It has become something of a tradition for me to post an American Girl holiday photo on Christmas Day.  If you're not into AG dolls, it might seem like a weird tradition, but as you know, I'm all about the non-traditional traditions.  This year, I enjoyed creating the photo so much that I ended up with two versions.  Feel free to send either of these cards to the American Girl doll lover in your life!

Merry Christmas to one and all, including (and especially) all you American Girls!

American Girl Holiday Card 2013

Pin It

How to Cure Affluenza

Family Giving Tree

There's no denying the difficulties of raising a child in a privileged environment without giving him a, well, sense of privilege. Money can buy many things, including knowledge and confidence and a sense that everything will work out for you, because it almost always does.

How to decorate an American Girl Holiday room

 <div class="separator" style="clear: both; text-align: center;"> <a href="" imageanchor="1" style="margin-left: 1em; margin-right: 1em;"><img border="0" height="320" src="" width="224" /></a></div>

You know you're an American Girl fan when your family Christmas tree isn't up yet, it's mid-December, and yet you still prefer to spend hours decorating your American Girl Christmas tree!  And you know you're a Superfan when you do it all without the help of your daughter.  Guess which kind I am....

The good thing is, I can always justify the effort I spend by saying that an American Girl holiday scene is actually a great way to decorate a corner shelf, side table or end table.  Hey, people like to set up entire holiday villages, why not a room?  Here's how I put together this year's American Girl holiday scene:

Lessons I learned after decorating cookies for a bake sale

royal icing sugar cookies

My rolling pin has been working overtime lately; we always seem to do a lot of cookie decorating over the holidays, what with all the holiday parties and classmate presents (and of course, cookies for Santa).  Today The Pea's school band had a winter concert with a bake sale table, so of course I volunteered to bake cookies.  I already had a couple of batches of cookie dough in the freezer, and I was itching to try a new cookie icing technique that I had discovered on the web.  I found cookie cutters shaped like a guitar, treble clef and eighth note, and got to work.

royal icing sugar cookies

After five hours of painstaking labor, spread out over two days, I had four dozen beautifully decorated sugar cookies -- and more than a few lessons learned about making cookies for a bake sale.  Here's what I learned:

Royal icing keeps for up to a month!  To keep it from drying out, cover your icing bowl with a damp kitchen towel and put a plate on top of it.  If you have icing left over in piping bags, stick them in a ziploc plastic bag.

Toothpicks are your friend.  They are perfect for transferring gel food coloring to icing and for unclogging icing tips, so keeps lots of them handy.

Air bubbles are your enemy.  If you're piping icing from a bag, make sure you've pushed out all excess air before you start to pipe.

Save a few cookies for your kids -- they'll be so busy decorating their own cookies to "help" you decorate yours (unless you want fanged demon snowmen).

Practice truly does make perfect.  Warm up by piping your design on parchment paper, and expect to get better as you go along (you'll probably perfect your technique just as you're decorating your very last cookie).

Kids love it when you (or they) make mistakes, because they get to eat the rejects.

Leave your cookies to dry overnight before packing them into plastic bags.

Don't plan on factoring labor costs when pricing your cookies.  Even at $20 per hour, I'd have to charge $2 per cookie to break even!  When you factor in production costs -- especially pricey ingredients like butter, powdered sugar, meringue powder and gel food coloring -- you realize you're much better off buying cookies at the supermarket.

And finally...

Be prepared to have your kids ask you to buy your cookies at the bake sale -- even though you've already kept a few extra cookies at home.
royal icing sugar cookies

royal icing sugar cookies

Pin It

Cooking for picky eaters with Campbell's

Campbell's broccoli cheese casserole
I am blessed to have kids with adventurous palates, but occasionally one of them will revert to a toddler-like pickiness that can be really frustrating.  For example, broccoli was Jammy's favorite vegetable for the longest time.  Then he decided he was broccoli's worst enemy.  Nowadays, he'll tolerate it as long as it's smothered in soy sauce or cheese.  That's okay.  I'm happy to help him and my other kids out by preparing foods they don't like in ways that they do like.  For example, my kids love creamy casseroles (anything that reminds them of macaroni and cheese!), so why not serve a broccoli with cheese sauce baked into a casserole?

To guarantee clean plates after dinner, I've taken inspiration from the classic Campbell's Green Bean Casserole, which my kids love.  Instead of green beans, I use frozen broccoli.  Instead of Campbell's Condensed Cream of Mushroom soup, I use Campbell's Condensed Broccoli Cheese soup.  It gives my broccoli casserole exactly the right flavor and creaminess!

Broccoli Cheese Casserole 

1 can Campbell's Condensed Broccoli Cheese soup
1 package (16 oz.) frozen chooped broccoli
1/2 cup reduced fat (2%) milk
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon melted butter
Campbell's broccoli cheese casserole

1) Empty 1 can of Campbell's Broccoli Cheese soup into a medium sized casserole.
2) Pour in 1/2 cup reduced fat milk and whisk together with the soup until well blended.
3) Add a 16-oz. package of frozen chopped broccoli, and stir until the broccoli is well coated in the mixture. 4) Bake the casserole for 30 minutes in a 350-degree (F) oven.
5) After 30 minutes, remove the casserole from the oven and sprinkle 1/4 cup breadcrumbs over the top.  Drizzle with 1 tablespoon melted butter, then return the casserole to the oven and broil for 5 minutes, or until the top is browned.

Campbell's broccoli cheese casserole
Just a few notes: First, I doubled the recipe because it turned out so delicious, I wanted to have leftovers (it turned out so delicious, we ended up with far fewer leftovers than I thought!).  Since it was a double recipe, I increased the breadcrumbs slightly to 1/3 cup.  Second, if you want to be a bit naughtier, you can mix in a bit of grated parmesan cheese with the breadcrumbs.  It will make the crust cheesier -- but if you decide not to go that route, don't worry.  It's still going to be great.

Campbell's has a similar recipe for a Broccoli Cheese casserole on their website, which adds grated cheese and mustard, as well as other recipes that picky kids love.  They all use Campbell's cooking soups, so what's not to love?  Check out their fun, quick, kid-friendly meal ideas at!

A White Christmas or a Tropical One? How Our Family Blends Cultures During the Holidays

Growing up on opposite sides of the world, Alfie and I have very different ideas of what a traditional holiday celebration looks like. We both celebrate Christmas in the Western tradition. We both grew up with Santa Claus, Christmas trees and stockings. But that's where the similarities end. From the weather (white Christmas versus a tropical one) to the decorations (holiday cards versus Nativity scenes), our holiday traditions are literally worlds apart!

When we first got married, we alternated Christmases between his parents in England, and mine in the Philippines, so we each got to experience the holidays in our partner's culture. Later on, we began spending the holidays in the US, taking the traditions we loved best and adding a few of our own. Here are some of the ways we celebrate the holidays:

Our house is decorated like many other houses in the neighborhood: a Christmas tree in the living room, stocking by the chimney, a wreath on the door, white lights outlining the roof, garish plastic candy canes on the lawn, holiday cards on the mantelpiece. Unlike most houses, holiday cards are a big part of our holiday decor. Giving, receiving, and displaying holiday cards is a big deal in England, and we've continued that tradition in our home. Cards are displayed the traditional English way, hung on walls, doorways and windows with a plain white string. Last year I even made my own ribbon card holder to showcase our most special cards.

Also, unlike most houses, ours also has Filipino parols, or star-shaped lanterns, hanging from our porch. Symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem, these parols consist of a bamboo frame covered with tissue paper, with two hanging tissue paper tassels. I bought the frames in the Philippines, and decorating the parols is a fun holiday tradition the kids look forward to every year.

In England, as in most Western countries, Santa Claus is The Man, and Alfie received a big present from Santa every year. Santa Claus also left presents for me and my siblings, but they weren't the ones we looked forward to. Santa usually limited his presents to a few bars of candy or some other inexpensive stocking stuffer. Actually, we didn't even have Christmas stockings. Or a fireplace.  Hey, it's the tropics!

No, the big present givers in our house were the Three Kings, Melchor, Gaspar and Balthazar, the wise men who followed the star to the stable in Bethlehem and gave gifts of gold, frankinsense and myrhh for Baby Jesus. On the night of January 5, we filled our shoes with grass so that the camels would lead the Three Kings to our house and have something to munch on while the Three Kings left presents. We weren't hoping for frankincense or myrhh, but we did get the special toys that we had been wishing for all year. Nowadays, Santa and the Three Kings stop by our house to leave cool presents -- boy, are our kids lucky!

We have fun decorating a gingerbread house with the kids every year. Also, Alfie's parents send the kids a chocolate Advent calendar from England, a special reminder of his childhood.

I don't think we've ever had a roast turkey for Christmas dinner. The kids are more accustomed to feasting on lechon (Filipino roast suckling pig), ensaymada (Filipino brioche), and fresh mangoes! Food items that grace our table from the other side of the world include glazed ham, mince pies and flaming Christmas pudding.  Santa Claus, however, always gets an American treat: cookies and milk.

Growing up, Christmas Eve was just as important as Christmas Day itself. My family always went to midnight mass, then trooped to my Grandmother's house for a midnight feast, or Media Noche, as they call it in the Philippines. Alfie, on the other hand, grew up in a country where the celebrations spill over into Boxing Day, December 26. Whereas Christmas Day is all about family, Boxing Day is all about friends: watching soccer on TV, hitting the after-Christmas shopping sales with girlfriends, drinking at the pub with the mates. We both love our respective pre and post Christmas celebrations, so we do both. The kids certainly love it -- Christmas ends up being a three-day party, with gift opening starting on the 24th and good food lasting till the 26th -- but by the end of it, Alfie and I are wrecked. Happy, but wrecked.

Our holiday celebrations may not look like everyone else's, but we love everything about it.  In fact, our holidays have become just like our family:  a blend of East and West, with some good old-fashioned American traditions thrown into the mix.  Our holidays are unique, special, and totally our own.

Disclosure: This post is part of the Favorite Holiday Traditions series, sponsored by Betty Crocker Cookies.

Pin It