Making Do at Christmas Part 1 and 2

This Christmas is probably the hardest we have had it in this country since the great depression for a portion of our society. For some, the unemployment that was stopped at the end of November was a major hardship. How do you have Christmas without money? This is a worry for many who have never had to do it without spending lots. You make the Merry part of Christmas the most important part. Here are some tips.

If you have young children, go to the public library and check out some books to read to the kids every night. I am reading Little Women this year. It takes about 45 min. to read each chapter out loud. I think classic books from the 19th century was written to read out loud a chapter at a time. It is fun to get baths early and everyone wrap up snuggly for a nightly read before bed. You can do this when you have not been able to keep cable on.

Have the family help make a paper chain out of mail fliers. I don’t buy the newspaper anymore because things like that are a luxury, besides the political news is depressing. The colorful fliers from the stores make the prettiest chain. Just remember when you are shopping to grab extras at the store, Old magazines are also great for this. You can drape paper chains all over the house. Look around the house for craft ideas from stuff you throw away. You can always look in the library for a book of kids crafts.

Make a point to visit someone that is alone. Take the kids and have them sing carols outside for a few minutes. They love that sort of thing. Then give a gift of homemade cookies to that person. It just makes you feel good. Heaven only knows you need some good feelings with all the worry.

Speaking of Cookies…Here are some recipes, when you are out of ideas, out of time and out of money.

Pudding Cookies

This is a fun cookie made with Bisquick and instant pudding mix. General Mills introduced Bisquick in the early 1930’s and became a staple in the kitchen . Jello introduced chocolate instant pudding in 1936 and by 1950 instant pudding came in many flavors. A wonderful cook thought this up either in the Betty Crocker test kitchen or at home. Today you can find store brand biscuit mix that can be used that is cheaper. Make sure you use instant pudding mix. Cooked pudding and pie filling mix will not turn out.

Preheat oven 375 degrees

1 cup of biscuit mix
1 regular package of any flavor of instant pudding mix
¼ cup of vegetable oil
1 egg

Mix ingredients in a mixing bowl. Drop by spoonful on a greased baking sheet and flatten slightly. Sprinkle with sugar and bake for 8 minutes. Makes 12 soft cookies.

Sugar Cookies

Now that you have gone out a bought a box of biscuit mix, you will want to try this cookie too. It taste like a soft bakery sugar cookie and as easy as pudding cookies. This basic recipe was from the 1930’s. If you have some raisins lying around add them to the recipe.

Preheat oven 375 degrees

½ cup of shorting or margarine
1 cup of sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup of milk
1 teaspoon of almond or vanilla flavoring
2 cups of biscuit mix

In a mixing bowl, cream shortening and sugar, then add eggs and flavoring. Add biscuit mix and milk, half at a time. Mix until smooth dough forms. Chilling makes cookies easier to handle. Drop by spoonful on a greased cookie sheet and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 12 to 15 min.

Cake Mix Cookies

During the holidays, stores put cake mixes on sale and cookies can be made from cake mixes. Cake mixes was introduced after WWII. Creative cooks have been using them as the basis for many wonderful desserts ever since. This basic recipe can be jazzed up with chocolate chips, nuts, and dried fruits. I like to make chocolate cookies and use a small jar marshmallow cream to sandwich the cookies with.

Preheat oven 350 degrees

1 box of any flavor of 2 layer cake mix
2 eggs
½ cup vegetable oil

Mix in a mixing bowl. Drop by spoonful on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 8 minutes

Cut-out Cookies

You can’t have Christmas without traditional cookies in shapes of stars , bells and trees. This is a simple recipe that was given to me years ago for a shortbread roll out cookies. To decorate them you just need a can of white icing and some sprinkles. Butter tastes the best but a good baking margarine like Blue Bonnet works well when in a pinch. These cookies cook in a slower oven because of the butter has a lower smoke point then vegetable oil. You will loves these and there is only 3 ingredients.

Preheat oven 300 degrees.

½ cup of sugar
1 cup of butter soften
2 ½ cups of all purpose flour

Cream sugar and butter. Add flour a little at a time until mixed. Divide dough into 2 parts and wrap in plastic wrap and chill for a hour. Roll out one half while leaving the other half in the refrigerator. This dough needs to be cold to puff while cooking. Cut out with cookie cutters that have been dipped in flour or sprayed with non stick cooking spray. Place cookies on a greased cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until lightly brown. I bake one sheet at a time and keep the next sheet in the refrigerator with cookies ready to bake. It keeps the dough cold. Makes about 24 cookies depending on size.

Hillary Clinton’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

I just had to give you my favorite chocolate chip cookies. Family Circle Magazine published this in their July 21, 1992 issue. They had a bake off between Clinton and Bush during the campaign. Clinton’s recipe won. I clipped out both recipes and tried them. Hilary’s had a wonderful “wow “ factor to them. I have been making them ever since. Her recipe is and adaptation to the old fashion oatmeal raisin cookie.
Preheat oven 350 degrees

1 ½ cups of sifted flour
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 cup of shortening
1 cup of firmly packed brown sugar
¼ cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups of old fashion rolled oats
1 package of chocolate chips (12 oz.)

Cream sugars and shortening in a mixing bowl. Add eggs one at a time and vanilla. Sift flour, salt and baking soda together. Slowly add flour to creamed mixture. Stir in oatmeal first then chips. Drop by the spoonful on a greased cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes.

Mamie Eisenhower Fudge

You just can’t have Christmas without making some candy treats. My mother, who on a good day was lucky not to burn supper, made this fudge at Christmas. It is made from marshmallow cream and chocolate chips. I still have the original newspaper clipping from the December 11,1955 published by Grit with this recipe in it. The first Lady had revealed that she could only cook this fudge and make mayonnaise when Ike was courting her. He loved it and named it the “Million-Dollar Fudge.” In this interview, Mrs. Eisenhower admits that the President is the cook in their family.

I am not giving you the original recipe because the size of the packages and containers have changed. The food industry has downsized their packaging. I have no idea what a “tall can of evaporated milk” was in ounces and measuring out a pint of marshmallow cream would be a nightmare. Here is the modern recipe adapted to today’s products in the stores.

Butter a 9 x 9 inch pan

2 ½ cups of sugar
¼ cup of butter or margarine
1 small can of evaporated milk (5 oz.)
1 jar of marshmallow cream (7 ½ oz.)
¾ teaspoon of salt
¾ teaspoon of vanilla
12 oz. package of chocolate chips ( milk chocolate or semi sweet)
Nuts optional

Combine the first 5 ingredients and stir over low heat until blended. Bring to a boil on moderate heat and keep stirring slowly until soft ball stage. This takes 5 minutes if you don’t have a candy thermometer and make sure the bubbles are not just air from stirring when you first start your timing. Remove from heat and stir in chips and vanilla until blended. Pour in pan and spread to corners with a knife. Don’t over stir when blending chocolate because it starts to set up fast. Cool in refrigerator and cut in pieces.

Popcorn Balls

This was another candy treat my kitchen challenged mother could make. The recipe came off of a bottle of clear corn syrup. As kids we would help with making the balls. We would tear off the sheets of waxed paper and have them stacked up in a pile to use when forming balls. It was hot work so we would put our gloves on. Mom would scoop out some candy popcorn and dump it on the wax paper . Then we would roll it inside the paper tube style and squeeze it into a tight ball. Ending with the paper being twisted on each end. These are really good and not expensive to make.

In a large bowl or pan put 3 to 4 quarts of popcorn , popped and ready to go.

In a large sauce pan
1 cup of sugar
¼ cup of butter or margarine
1/3 cup of white corn syrup
1/3 cup of water
¾ teaspoon of vanilla

Boil all ingredients except vanilla over low heat until it spins a long thread off of a spoon (230 or 234 degrees on a candy thermometer.) Remove from heat and add vanilla. Mix with popcorn and form balls.

Candy Covered Pretzels

This is a fun and easy treat to make. It just takes a bag of small pretzel twists or large pretzel sticks and some candy melts. You can use almond bark or chocolate bark that you find at the grocery backing section. I like the bags of candy melts that you can find in the Wilton display at hobby stores and box stores. Candy melts come in colors. You can find the candy on sale during the holidays. I buy mine after a holiday when it is marked down. It keeps well to use later in the year.

You melt your candy coatings over a double boiler and dip pretzels. I lay mine on a cookie rack with a cookie sheet under it, but you can use wax paper. Use a fork for the twists and just dip the sticks halfway down into the melted candy. Remember all the sprinkles that you bought to make cookies with, have the kids sprinkle the covered pretzels as you lay them on the cookie sheet. Chill in the freezer until the candy is set. Remove and store in a container.

Baking and candy making is expensive when you are short of money and these recipes keeps it simple and less expensive when your pantry is bear. I do all my cookie baking on parchment paper so I don’t have to grease cookie sheets and the clean up is easy. Please add your recipes and tips in the comments and reviews of the recipes that you have tried and things that you have done for “Christmas on a shoestring. “


Christmas Soups to Warm Santa’s Heart

Part Two: Making Do for Christmas
Christmas will be here soon and Santa only has $49 to her name and $16 on a food stamp card, that her son receives every month . So Santa still has to put together special meals for Christmas Eve and Christmas day. The trip to the local food bank did not include anything for a holiday dinner, just an assortment of donated canned foods and package foods with a lovely Christmas card. This was the first time Santa has ever been to a food bank and found it embarrassing because she asked if they had a Christmas meal for her family. No they didn’t because they had more families than resources. On the way home she reflected on all the years during holidays that she bought a $20 grocery bag for the needy at her local market to donate, that included a can ham or small turkey. Well, Santa knows there are families far worse off then hers because of all the foreclosures and 99ers. With determination not to dwell on the experience, she musters up some imagination and creativity because she was out of time, out of ideas and out of money.
Great American home cooking started with the recipes and skills that our immigrant grandmothers brought with them. We can still taste their influence in our foods today. Soups was a mainstay in their daily diet and special soups were made for special occasions. The wonderful thing about most soups are very inexpensive to make and a pot full can feed a lot of hungry mouths. They are great when the weather is cold and added to a simple meal of bread, salad and fruit. Soup will make a wonderful meal for Christmas Eve.

German Milk Soup

  • Servings: 8 servings
  • Difficulty: intermediate
  • Print
This is a Pennsylvania Dutch treat that Germans brought with them from the old country. The soup got its name from the milk that is in it. There are many adaptations of this soup and is served still today in Lancaster County by the Amish. It is a hearty soup made of potatoes, carrots, dried beef and milk. The dried beef was a staple in early homes because of no refrigeration. Also dried beef is easy to find in the deli meat section at the grocery. It is not expensive and only a small jar or package is needed. Some dried beef is very salty depending on the way it was cured and you will need to rinse it to remove the salt. I like to add a little parsley just before serving to add a little color to go with the carrots and beef. Makes is more Christmassy. This soup also freezes well if there is any left because it is so yummy.
  • 1 cup of chopped onion or 2 tablespoons of dried chopped onion
  • 2 stalks of celery chopped
  • ¼ cup of butter or margarine
  • 4 ½ cup of peeled diced potatoes (about ¼ inch cube)
  • 3 cups of carrots sliced. or package of frozen crinkle cut carrots
  • 1 teaspoon of salt more can be added later to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon of black pepper
  • 3 cups of water
  • 3 cups of milk (more can be added if needed)
  • 4 oz. of dried beef (rinsed and chopped)

Sauté onion, celery and butter in a 6 quart kettle. Do not let them brown just until they are tender. Add potatoes, carrots, salt, pepper and water. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer and cover the pot with a lid. Cook until tender about 30 minutes. Rinse dried beef to remove excess salt and chop. Add beef and milk and heat over low hear but do not boil. The soup should be a little thick you may need to add more mild to thin it or to make it richer. Serves 6.

Pickled Beet Eggs

  • Servings: 6-8 servings
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Traditionally the Amish always serves seven sweets and seven sours at the main meal from canned relishes. Santa doesn’t have all that but a nice tray of sliced picked eggs and beets will make the meal with corn bread and applesauce. Pickled beet eggs are a German tradition mostly at Easter. Once you try these you will be making them often.
I use a big quart jar with lid to make my pickled eggs. I boil the eggs the night before and refrigerate over night the pickled eggs.

6 to 8 eggs hard boiled and peeled.

1 jar of pickled beets (can be found at the can goods section at the store)


Place eggs in jar and add pickled beets with juice. Then add enough water to cover eggs because there isn’t enough juice to cover the eggs. Tighten lid and give a gentle shake to mix water in. Refrigerate overnight. Arrange eggs and beets on a plate to serve. I like to cut a couple in half.

Main Corn Chowder Soup
This recipe is a tradition in Aroostook County in Main. It is a very hardy soup and inexpensive to make. The Oneida Indians taught the settlers how to make corn soup and the settlers added the bacon for more flavor. Later potatoes were included to make a chowder. It is wonderful with crackers and tuna salad sandwich . This is an updated version of this soup recipe that welcomed families so long ago to a warm meal in the winter.
  • 5 or 6 slices bacon
  • 2 medium onions. Sliced
  • 3 cups of peels diced potatoes
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon of pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of dried parsley
  • 2 cans of creamed corn
  • 2 cups of milk

Cook bacon until crisp in a Dutch oven until crisp. Remove bacon to drain and crumble. Set aside. Sauté onion in bacon grease until soft. Add water potatoes, spices and salt. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat cook until tender about 15 to 20 minutes. Add corn and milk and heat. Garnish with bacon and serve.

Green Bean and Potato Soup
This is a soup I grew up with and it is easy to make and fast. You can use bacon or a small piece of pork or ham that you found on sale. The soup has it roots in Northern Germany.
  • ½ pound of bacon chopped ½ inch pieces before cooking
  • 2 stalks of celery chopped
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 2 cans of white navy beans
  • 2 cans of green beans
  • 4 cups of peeled diced potatoes
  • 2 cans of carrots or frozen sliced carrots.
  • 2 quarts of water
  • 2 bay leaves (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon
  • 1 tablespoon of parsley

Add all ingredients into a large soup pot and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer until potatoes is tender, about 25 minutes. Serve with corn bread and pickled eggs or deviled eggs.

There are many other soups that Santa can make from dried beans and peas. They are very cheap and the recipes usually is on the bag of dried beans. She feels better now because she found most of what she needed in her pantry for the soup she picked to serve on Christmas Eve. She plans to make corn bread from a box mix because it is easy and in her tiny budget. To make it just a little bit special meal she is mixing a bottle of lemon soda with fruit juice to make a punch for the kids. Oh hell …might as well serve it on the good china and polish the silver. That might make it real special. Maybe Christmas Eve won’t be so bad with soup to warm Santa’s heart.

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