5 Quick Holiday Hostess Tips

I love hosting get-togethers at Christmas time! My house looks bright and festive, peppermint is everywhere, and the feeling of goodwill and hope can be felt throughout. December is probably my favorite month to host dinners and parties. Today I am sharing 5 quick tips to make your holiday hosting smooth and effective.

1.) Have a Playlist Ready.

Don’t wait until the last minute to search through your music library to find something suitable for entertaining. Have a holiday playlist ready to go and have it playing softly before guests arrive. Check out my top 25 favorite Christmas songs for hosting.

Keep the music soft so it does not interfere with conversation. I recommend getting a home smart system and placing small speakers throughout your home to keep music consistent in otherwise quiet rooms. I have small google nest speakers in places like my guest room, bathrooms, and study. This allows the same music to play throughout and provides a little noise to otherwise boring rooms.

If you don’t want, or feel comfortable with, a home smart system you can purchase small inexpensive Bluetooth speakers and play music the same way using your phone as a base for the music.

I also have a list of favorite Christmas artists if you prefer to add full albums:

  • Michael Bublé
  • Pentatonix
  • Francesca Battistelli
  • Chris Young
  • Point of Grace
  • Brett Eldridge
  • Lauren Daigle
  • Idina Menzel
  • Andrea Bocelli
  • Straight, No Chaser

2.) Utilize Candles.

There is something very cozy and inviting about candles burning in your home. You also get the added benefit of the delightful aroma.

My favorite scents for hosting are vanilla, cream, candy cane, fig, cotton, lavender, lemon, birch, or fresh snow. Be careful not to choose scents that are overpowering or heavily musky. Also, consider if your guest has allergies or is expecting. Certain scents can cause sneezing or vomiting that you don’t want you guests to have to deal with (and neither do you).

To add an extra special touch to your dinner table bring out that pair of candlesticks, or those special tea lights. Just be sure any candles on the dinner table are unscented as you don’t want anything to unpleasantly mix with your food.

3.) Make Coffee.

Even if you don’t drink it, your guests may welcome a cup. If not, then the smell itself is very warm and inviting. Be sure to have basic cream and sugar for guests who do want to drink a cup. If you want to make it extra special keep a few syrups or flavored creamers on hand to dress up plain coffee.

If I will be serving coffee I like to make up a tray with a French press, cream, sugar, and use coffee cups with saucers.

I recommend having an electric kettle for quick heating of water to make your own French pressed coffee. It’s an elegant presentation and it makes guests feel extra special. Besides that, it’s fun and tastes so much better!

4.) Set an Appetizer Out.

If dinner will take a few extra minutes of prep work, be sure to have an appetizer set out to keep guests satisfied. It doesn’t have to be big or elaborate, you can choose something simple or complex. It’s entirely up to you and what time you have.

My go-to appetizer for snacking before dinner is usually a light cheese, a thin cracker, and thin cut deli meat such as salami or pepperoni. Be sure to communicate with guests how long dinner will be so they can snack accordingly.

If you have a little more time and want to step it up, Ritz crackers with an herbed cream cheese and smoked salmon is a beautiful hor d’oeuvres to serve as long as there are no seafood allergies or aversions. Other quick options include berries, veggies, cocktail shrimp, or nuts.

5.) Know Your Guests.

You may not know everyone as well as you’d like; after all getting to know them may be why you’ve invited them into your home. However, make an effort to know something about them and their life for conversation starters. Look on their social media page or ask a mutual friend.

Things to know would be: Do they have kids? What do they do for a job? Are they religious? These points can give you enough information to start a conversation and dive deeper.

Hopefully these quick 5 tips will help you during this holiday season of hosting. My ultimate goal is to make you more confident with every meal you cook, every party you throw, and every person you bring in to your life.

As always, if there are any particular subjects you’d like to read about or learn more about, please contact me via the Contact Us page! I would love to know more about what YOU need!

Paige

3 Ways to Host Friendsgiving

A few years ago I was first introduced to the term “Friendsgiving”. I fell in love with the idea. Our friends are often as close as family and should be celebrated. For those of you who are not familiar with the idea of Friendsgiving, allow me to explain. The concept was introduced in the early 2000’s and has been slowly growing since. Traditionally, Thanksgiving is a time spent with family, but people had started to realize that they also wanted to spend this beautiful holiday with their friends. Friendships are so sweet and they give us much to be thankful for. Thus began a tradition of Friendsgiving. A Thanksgiving inspired meal with friends.

Proverbs 27:9b (MSG) says …”A sweet friendship refreshes the soul”

Friendsgiving does not have to be any one set way. Last year I decided that I wanted to celebrate in the style of an afternoon tea. I invited some dear ladies to gather around and catch up over a cup of tea. It was such a sweet time of fellowship and fun and will be an annual event. There are so many fun ways to celebrate with friends, but sometimes it’s nice to have choices narrowed down. Below we’ll look at 3 ideas for celebrating Friendsgiving.

1.) A Friendsgiving Tea

This is how I choose to celebrate Friendsgiving. It’s super fun and allows everyone to slow down before the rush of the holidays. Instead of a formal sit-down tea party, I plan a cozy autumn tea with open seating and buffet style food arrangements. The menu is usually simple, but it is a delicious Fall inspired spread. This was the 2019 Friendsgiving Tea menu. This menu will be sufficient for a party of 10-15. If you have more guests, add another type of sandwich and dessert. (TIP: If you have guests with a known gluten allergy, it would be kind to offer some sandwiches on gluten-free bread.)

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To create a buffet style tea, you’ll need two or three tables. I used three. One for food, one for tea, and a third for cold drinks such as punch (recipe below), ice water, and sparkling cider. Purchase a few fall colored (or neutral) table cloths and a roll of tape (trust me).

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To set the food table, use platters and serving tiers with varying height . Arrange taller platters in the back and plate platters in the front. Place plates and napkins at the far right end of the table and have guests start there. Unlike a traditional tea party, it doesn’t matter in which order you place the food. For this style it is not important. To decorate a food table, I use simple thin milk glass vases with 3-4 flowers and a sprig of green. (TIP: Purchase an autumn bouquet from your local grocer and split it up between 3-5 vases depended on bouquet size) I also used small ceramic pumpkins in neutral colors and fresh pears as part of the decoration. (TIP: Dollar tree and Hobby Lobby are the best place to get awesome Fall decorations without breaking the bank. If you can splurge a little more, T J Maxx and Target have beautiful selections that are impossible to resist.)

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To set a tea table you will need:
*Tea pot(s)
*Assorted tea cups and saucers
*Tea spoons
*Tea bag rest (if offering tea bags)
*Sugar (cubes preferably)
*Honey
*Milk
*Lemon, sliced or wedged (optional)

*Spice Pear Punch Recipe*

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6 cups Pear Nectar
4 cups Ginger Beer
Juice from 2 Lemons
~Garnish~
1 cup Fresh cranberries
4 Sprigs Fresh rosemary
3 Cinnamon sticks

2.) A Formal Friendsgiving Dinner

A formal dinner party is always a fun option if you have the time and the budget. For this you will want to send invitations 2-3 weeks in advance. You can send paper invitations through the mail, e-vites through online services, or even create a Facebook event. My favorite for formal dinners in traditional paper invitations through the mail. These invitations add a special touch of elegance to your event.

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The Menu can be tailored to fit any needs. This is often the most fun, and most stressful, part of planning a formal dinner. With a formal dinner you’ll want to plan everything well in advance. Sit down and write (or type) out your menu and the grocery list. You’ll also want to think about you decoration and color scheme. Keep in mind that less is more. Don’t overfill your table with elaborate floral displays or a full golden pumpkin patch. Keep it elegant, but simple. To save yourself some time the day of, I recommend setting the tables and dishes the evening before your dinner. Be sure that all linens are cleaned and pressed in advance. Try to steer clear of china with pinks and reds.

To set a formal dinner place setting you will need the following pieces: Charger, dinner plate, salad plate, soup bowl, bread plate, salad fork, dinner fork, soup spoon, meat knife, butter knife, water glass, wine glass, and napkin. You will place the charger an inch away from the table’s edge. The dinner plate is to be set next, followed by the salad plate, and finally by the soup bowl. The bread plate is to go at the upper left corner of the charger with the butter knife. The drinking glasses at the upper right corner of the charger.

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Example Formal Table Setting (With dessert fork and tea spoon) Add a charger and pumpkin for a beautiful formal Friendsgiving table setting.

The dinner fork belongs directly left of the charger with the salad fork resting to its left. The meat knife rests directly to the right of the charger with the soup spoon directly on its right. The napkin can be folded, shaped, or draped and placed either to the right, or on the dinner plate under the salad plate.

To serve the dinner you will start by seating guests and pouring drinks. (TIP: Consider hiring a professional wait staff or eager teenagers from your local church to help serve the meal.) The soup course is served first followed by the salad. Keep portions smaller as these are not your main course. After the salad is finished and cleared, the main course is to be served. There are 2 ways to do this. Scenario one: Have wait staff serve meat. The sides can be brought in and placed on the table for guests to pass around and serve themselves. Scenario two: You can have the dinner plates taken to the kitchen when the salad plates are cleared and have dinner served already plated. (TIP: Food is always served from the left and cleared from the right of the guest.)

Dessert can either be served at the table after dinner plates are cleared, or in the living room around a low table. Be sure to offer your guests coffee or tea with their desserts.

cranberrysauce.jpegPaige’s Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Ingredients
1 cup sugar
½ cup water
½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tsp grated orange zest
12 oz fresh cranberries rinsed
Dash sea salt
*Cinnamon stick (optional)

Instructions
1) Combine the sugar, water, and orange juice in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally until sugar is dissolved, and bring to a boil.
Add cranberries and return to a boil, then reduce heat and cook 10-15 minutes until berries have popped and have slightly reduced.
2) Reduce heat to simmer and add orange zest and salt. Stir and cook for 5-10 minutes longer. The longer you cook your cranberries the thicker your sauce will be. (TIP: Your sauce will also thicken up after cooling) *If you would like a little extra holiday flavor, throw a cinnamon stick into the pot with the orange zest and let cook for 5-10 minutes. Remove the stick before serving and garnish with orange peel and a fresh cinnamon stick.
3) Transfer mixture to a bowl and allow it to cool for at least 20 minutes at room temperature. (Can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator until ready to be served)

3.) A Potluck Friendsgiving Dinner

The third style of Friendsgiving that we’ll look at is a potluck style dinner. This is the simplest way to host with a large crowd. Invitations don’t have to be formal, but can still be sent via mail if you’d like. I’ve found that for events with everyone bringing food, I like to use Facebook Events. It allows guests to post and see what others are bringing.

With a potluck style dinner, the host/hostess usually provides the meat and dessert. You could do a traditional turkey and a beef brisket, or you could go rogue and do ribs and salmon. The choice is yours. Below are some delicious side dish options for guests to bring. You can create a sign up list where everyone chooses from a side and signs up to brings it, or you could get brave and tell your guests to bring whatever they want. This will depend on the style of dinner you want.

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The easiest way to set up for a potluck is to keep everything super simple. Check places like T J Maxx, Hobby Lobby, and Target for fun themed disposable plates, cutlery, and cups. Set up 6ft folding table(s) and cover with a cute tablecloth. Go easy with the decorations, don’t choose anything that will take too much space, or be in the way of guests reaching for food. If you want candles, go for LED tea lights or battery operated candles. They pose a much lower risk for accidental fires.

Think about where you want the line to start and place the plates at that end of the table. Cutlery can be placed in caddies and set near the plates. Napkins can be placed next to the cutlery caddies. Always have a separate table for drinks because pouring beverages can slow the line down and cause potential messes. The food line up should be hot foods, cold foods, room temperature foods, salads, and finally breads and rolls. Be sure to put condiments near the type of food they pair with such as salad dressings with the salad, and cranberry sauce near the turkey. To help with temperature control, you can use chafing dishes to keep foods hot, or ice platters to keep food cold.

Paula Dean’s Green Bean Casserole

1/3 stick butter
1/2 cup diced onions
1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
2 cups sliced green beans
3 cups chicken broth
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can cream of mushroom soup
1 (2.8-ounce) can French-fried onion rings
Pinch All purpose Seasoning (or dash salt, pepper, and garlic)
1 cup grated Cheddar cheese

1.) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2.) Melt the butter in a large skillet. Sauté the onions and mushrooms in the butter. Boil green beans in chicken broth for 10 minutes and drain. Add the green beans, mushroom soup, onion rings, and House Seasoning, to taste, to the onion mixture. Stir well. Pour into a greased 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes, then top the casserole with the Cheddar and bake for 10 minutes longer, or until the casserole is hot and cheese is melted.

These are only three of many ways you could host Friendsgiving. The most important part of the event, any way you choose to celebrate, are the friends that will join you to celebrate this beautiful holiday. Take a moment during the evening to look around and reflect on each amazing friendship in your life. Join together to say a blessing over each other, and praise God for the people he placed in your life.

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“Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.”
– Muhammad Ali

Happy Friendsgiving!

Paige Baldwin

Invite, Welcome, Love

And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

Matthew 10:42

I am often asked why hospitality is such a big deal to me. Why is it that I enjoy having people come to my home? There are several answers I can give. First, I like to feed people. I think for me, this is the biggest reason. I like cooking for people. It’s my love language. Food offers so much more than physical satiety. Food can be a comfort to some,  fun for others, and sometimes it can literally be necessity for someone going through a hard time. Second, not only do I like to feed people, but I like to make them comfortable. Sometimes people just need a refuge away from their own busy chaotic life, or to see something beyond their four walls (especially true during this global health crisis). If my home can be that refuge, then I will swing my front door wide open and welcome you in faster than you can ring the doorbell. Third, sometimes you just need to feel invited. That YOU specifically matter enough to be invited into someone else’s sanctuary. Even when I have a packed full schedule and life is spinning out of control, I still smile when I receive an invitation. I may not be able to accept that invitation, but it makes me feel so loved just that I was thought of.

If we are to lead others to a loving relationship with Jesus Christ, it will be through His attributes displayed in us and extended to them. How do we do that? It’s quite simple when we go to God’s Word. We follow Christ’s model that He laid out for us throughout the Holy Scriptures. Throughout Scripture we see a rhythm of three steps used by Christ. He invites us to come, He welcomes us in, and He loves us sincerely. We too can use this model as we cultivate relationships with one another and with strangers around us.

3 John 1:8  “We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth.”

Invite

Isaiah 55:1 “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. 

Matthew 11:28  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Throughout Scripture we see a rhythm of invitation from God extended to His people. We see God inviting us to rest in Him when we are weary. He invites us to drink from the Living Waters and never thirst again. He invites us to walk with Him in peace and harmony. The final invitation is to Salvation and a place at His table for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Over and over again we are invited to “come” and take part in something He’s provided for us.

We should be following Christ’s example and inviting others to “come”. We can, like Christ, invite others to rest, to participate, and to dine. For those of you who face anxiety about opening your home, take heart. This doesn’t always mean inviting into your home. If that’s not something you’re comfortable with, then pray about it. Ask God for clarity, wisdom, or a change in heart. In the meantime, there are so many other ways to invite others. You could invite a friend out to coffee or to a movie. Invite a friend or co-worker to a picnic in the park. Invite the new couple at church to dinner out and maybe catch a concert after. Invite your mom or mother-in-law to join you for a spa day. Plan a trip to the zoo or botanical gardens with your small group or mom’s club. The opportunities for invitation are endless, but they are meaningful if done in the spirit of hospitality.

Keep in mind that not all invitations will be accepted. Today more than ever schedules are packed full of commitments, and others take a while to open up to new relationships. Don’t get discouraged by these obstacles. Keep showing Christ-like hospitality and extending those invitations. God will honor your hospitable spirit.

Welcome.

Luke 9:11 …He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing. 

Romans 15:7 “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”

Webster’s dictionary defines the word welcome as “received gladly into one’s presence or companionship”. God is once again our example as many times throughout scripture he welcomes us into fellowship with Him. God has gladly received us as believers into His family and will welcome us into His presence one day in Glory. In the scriptures, Jesus welcomed the crowds as He traveled and taught the Kingdom of God. Even when He went to be alone and the crowds would follow Him, we see Jesus welcoming those in need over and over throughout the His Earthly ministry.

What does this look like for us? While we’re no longer in middle school welcoming other girls into our club, we as women still have social clubs whether we think we do or not. How about welcoming the new woman in your small group by making a effort to include her in conversation. Not only include her, but engage her in the conversation by asking open ended questions. Show her that you are interested in her, and not in what she thinks of you. Welcome the new mom into a play group by placing a hand on her shoulder and telling her you’re glad she’s there. Send her a follow up text message after play date letting her know how good it was to see her. Welcome a visitor at church by allowing them to share your row. Welcome one another with a smile, a hug, a fist bump (or elbow bump if you’re still doing that). Make a decision that you are going to make someone feel welcome wherever you may be.

The biggest way to make someone feel welcome is to simply include them in the activities and conversation. Pray and ask God to place someone on your heart who needs to feel welcome, then follow His leading in obedience.

(HOSTESS TIP: If you’re having a large event, try to greet everyone as they arrive. However, enlist the help of a trusted friend or two to help engage all of the new attendees or guests. If you have an event with 30+ women, chances are that you’re not going to be able to sit down and engage in meaningful conversation with everyone. This is where you ask for help so no one feels left

Love.

I John 4:19 “We love because he first loved us.”

John 15:9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.”

Kindness is the best way to show love to one another. Kindness not just in words, but also in our actions. Kindness can take many forms, and can be so simple once we take the time to stop and recognize the situation. Walking in the park, you might not think about all of the opportunities for simple kindness. But if you purposefully go into to the situation asking how you can show kindness, then opportunities will leap out at you. Are you walking with a child? Be patient and let them stop to pick that dandelion for the tenth time (I was that child). Are you about to pass another person on the path? Offer a smile and a hello. Is there a dog someone didn’t clean up after? Yes that’s right, get a baggie and clean it up yourself.

Kindness can be paying for coffee for the person behind you, inviting family to dinner, offering to pick up groceries for your elderly neighbor, a “thinking about you” card sent to a friend, an offer to babysit for new parents who desperately need a date night, and so much more. You can find a kind word or action in any situation. There can be so many opportunities is we are willing to recognize that we have the power to make someone else’s day better.

Here’s the thing though friends, we’re not taught to just love strangers and non-believers. No, we’re told to love one another. This seems like the hardest concept for some Believers to grasp and it’s sad. In John 13:35 we’re told “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” We can show love to strangers as much as we want, but if they don’t see us showing that same love to one another, it will all be in vain. We cannot fight and bicker among ourselves as Believers and expect the world to want anything to do with the Savior we claim as ours. Love starts in the heart, floods into the home, spills over into the church, and then cannot be contained in our community.

Friends, with Christ as our example, let us continue the rhythms of inviting one another into a relationship Let us welcome one another with open arms, and then love one another as Christ loves. The difference we can make to a dark and lost world is limitless if we follow the example laid out in Scripture.

~Paige

Hospitality Amid Social Distancing

COVID-19 is the current buzz word. We are in the midst of a global pandemic that has so may people paralyzed by fear. Quarantines are in place, basic groceries are hard to find, businesses and schools are shutting down, and the worst part seems to be the social distancing requirements. Social distancing is keeping us from activities such as outings, concerts, eating out, and even church. This one hit me hard y’all.

During this time I want to share a few ways to keep yourself protected and healthy, encouragement from God’s Word, and some practical ways to continue our mission of hospitality while we’re in this crisis.

Ways to Stay Protected:

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1.) Wash your hands. Don’t forget the moisturizer after you wash. Your hands may be clean, but if they’re so dry that they’re cracking, they will pick up even more bacteria/virus.

2.) Wipe down surfaces often, especially if you’re still working outside of your home.

3.) Do not use a public bathroom if you can help it.

4.) Stay home unless absolutely necessary, especially if you don’t feel well. It might be “just a cold” but a weakened immune system is more susceptible to another virus. Be smart, and listen to the professionals when it comes to quarantine. This is not a hoax and you are not above the rules/risks.

5.) Do NOT go to the emergency department unless you have a life or limb threatening illness/injury. The chances of you walking out of there with something worse that you came in with are very high right now. This is not the time to go the the ED for your hemorrhoids, earache, or sinus infections. Most hospital systems are set up to do virtual visits to deal with that stuff.

6.) Do NOT touch your face. And for the love of all humanity, don’t eat without washing your hands. (see #1)

Encouragement from God’s Word:

Over and over again in God’s Word we see that we not only encouraged, but commanded, to not fear. Some of my favorite verses to read, and meditate on, during uncertain times are these:

1.) Psalms 56:3 “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”

God is our eternal source of stability and comfort. When I feel afraid, I have a conversation with my Holy Father. I tell Him that I’m afraid and why I’m afraid, and then I leave it with Him. Make this a daily practice in your life and see if your heart can be calmed.

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2.) Deuteronomy 31:6 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

We are not alone. Our Savior is with us during this crisis, and He is not affected by social distancing. Talk to Him often and listen for His response telling you to be of good cheer, for He will overcome.

3.) Psalms 23:4 “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

We may be walking through uncertain and dark times, but we have this hope that He is with us. We must remain calm during this time and be a light, shining brighter now than ever before.

As I walk this great unknown
Questions come and questions go
Was there purpose for the pain?
Did I cry these tears in vain?
I don’t want to live in fear
I want to trust that You are near
Trust Your grace can be seen
In both triumph and tragedy
I have this hope
In the depth of my soul
In the flood or the fire
You’re with me and You won’t let go
So, whatever happens I will not be afraid
Cause You are closer than this breath that I take
You calm the storm when I hear You call my name
I still believe that one day I’ll see Your face

Staying Hospitable:

There’s no question about it, we can’t practice hospitality like we’ve been doing. Gatherings and large dinners have been put on hold and people are anxious about going to someone’s home at this time. Even so, we can still be hospitable and open to others. Now more than ever, people are in desperate need of encouragement, wellness checks, and kindness. Below are a few ways to practice hospitality while also practicing social distancing:

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1.) Virtual Gatherings. I host a small group at my home on Tuesday evenings. A group that has had to cease meeting for the time being due to the quarantine . This is something that my heart needs so I’m going to be setting up Zoom virtual meetings instead. Try something like this for family and friends who have the technology access. Consider a fun game night or hang-out via Marco Polo, Zoom, Facebook Live, or Face time.

2.) Elderly and Unemployed. Please check in on your grandparents, or the elderly in your community that have no family. They are likely terrified right now. If you are 100% healthy, venture to the grocery store and put together care packs to drop off on their porch. Pick up the phone and call them. They can’t get out, and it’s too risky for visitors, so they need to know that they are not forgotten.

Consider the thousands of people that have been laid off due to COVID closures. If there is some way to help them please do it. If you are one of those people, please reach out to someone you trust for help.

Items to consider for a care pack:
-Dried pasta and rice
-Jarred pasta sauce
-Canned goods
-Packaged cookies and crackers
-Dried fruit
-Oatmeal
-Dried milk
-Instant potatoes
-Baby formula
-Personal care products
-A multivitamin

3.) Family and Friends. Just because they’re not elderly doesn’t mean they’re not suffering from loneliness. Check in on your friends and family. Send a text message, pick up your phone and call them, video chat, or email. Loneliness is something we are either are suffering friend, or have suffered from at some point. Chances are, someone you’re close to desperately needs some attention and love. This is a critical time to show them that love by letting them know they haven’t been forgotten. Use your extra time at home to write a letter (yes…hand-write a letter) or make a crafty card to send them. I guarantee it will mean the world to them.

One last thing I want to share: This is not mine, but I’m not sure who originally created it.

“When this is over, may we never again take for granted
A handshake with a stranger
Full shelves at the store
Conversations with neighbors
A crowded theater
Friday night out
The taste of communion
A routine check-up
The school rush each morning
Coffee with a friend
The stadium roaring
Each deep breath
A boring Tuesday
Life itself.
When this ends, may we find that we have become more like the people
We wanted to be,
We were called to be,
We hoped to be.
And may we stay that way, better for each other because of the worst.”

I’m praying for all of my readers during this time of crisis and darkness. May you all experience the love of our Savior in ways you’ve never felt it before. May you and your families stay healthy and safe. And may you never forget to show kindness to another, for we are all in this together.

With Love,
Paige

Cookies for Christmas

Is there anything better than a plate full of freshly baked Christmas cookies? Any other bake-bakery-baking-candy-264779time of the year cookies are, at best, good. But Christmas cookies? You can’t beat those if you tried. If you don’t like Christmas cookies, then I’m sorry my friend, but there’s little hope for you. One of my favorite memories is gathering around the table, blasting Christmas music, and decorating my mother’s melt-in-your-mouth sugar cookies. They may have not looked pretty when I was done decorating, but they were still the tastiest cookie you’d ever try.

Now that I’m grown and married, with a home of my own, I’ve started thinking about Christmas traditions and events that I’d like to start. I can’t imagine anything better than a house full of people baking and decorating cookies. I started thinking through ideas for those cookies. What if we used cookies to be a blessing to others? What if we used simple Christmas cookies to show God’s love and practice the hospitality we were commanded to practice? What if hospitality isn’t necessarily about opening my home, but taking love to those who cannot come to my home?

I’m going to share with you 3 ways to turn your Christmas cookie bake-off into a beautiful hospitality opportunity to show a bit of Christ’s love to others during the busy holiday season. I will also be sharing 3 recipes below; a holiday cookie recipe, a no-bake treat recipe, and a holiday bread recipe.

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1.) Bake Christmas cookies for your neighbors.

What better way to get to know your neighbors, and show them some holiday love, than taking them a basket of fresh Christmas cookies that they didn’t have to purchase or bake. Consider a variety box with cookies like sugar, chocolate chip, mint chip, rice crispy treats, thumbprint cookies, and no bake treats. There are so many varieties that can be chosen from and combined. I would recommend a half dozen per person living in the home. If you don’t know for sure, then 2 dozen would be a good guess. You can find cute Holiday tins at Hobby Lobby or Target to package them.

2.) Bake Christmas cookies for shut-ins.cookiedough

Talk to a pastor in your church and see if you can get a list of shut-ins. Those who can’t make it out of their homes for the Holidays would feel so loved knowing that there were people thinking about them. If they’re shut in due to illness, they likely don’t feel well enough to bake for themselves. You can bake and deliver baskets or tins of Christmas goodies and a Christmas card, or get a group together and deliver multiple Christmas cards. Maybe sing a Carol or two while delivering your sweets and bring a smile to their face. The holiday season can be so lonely for those unable to get out to see family and friends. If there is something we can do to brighten their Christmas, then we should. This shows just how important taking hospitality outside your home can be.

3.) Bake Christmas cookies for those who have to work on Christmas.

cookiesSome of us take for granted the fact that we have Christmas off. But there are those who must work on Christmas to keep you and your families taken care of. Think about the police officers, fire departments, EMS team, hospital staff, fuel station attendants, military personnel, and so many others who are working and away from their families so you can be with yours. We can’t possibly reach them all, but wouldn’t it be nice to gather with friends and take a section around where you live. (*Check with your local police station and military bases regarding what is allowed to be brought in) Bake some tins, or baskets, full of cookies, breads, and other sweets and drop by on Christmas Day with a carol, or just a smile and thank them for working. It will mean the world to them. As a nurse who has worked Holidays, I know how encouraging it is for someone to acknowledge you and wish you a Merry Christmas.

choccookies

You may be trying to talk yourself out of this right now using the excuse that you can’t bake good cookies. Guess what. Me neither. I can cook fairly well and I love to bake, but my cookies are nothing to write home about. However, I do make good breads and scones. And anyone can put together a no-bake treat. If you find yourself unable to produce any edible treats, check out some local bakeries for Christmas specials. Remember, it’s not about impressing someone with your skills. It’s about blessing them with your heart. The treats don’t matter as much as the heart behind delivering them. Don’t be ashamed if you have to use boxed mixes, frozen dough, or even ready-baked goods. When you deliver those goodies, you don’t need to apologize for the fact that they’re not homemade. Don’t lie about it either, but there’s no need to make a fuss and stumble over an explanation as to why they’re not homemade from scratch with every bit of Taste of Home lover you could muster.

Below are the three recipes I promised in the beginning of this post. There is one for cookies, one for bread, and one for a no bake truffle treat. I hope you enjoy them and that you are able to get together for a bake-off this holiday season.

Happy Baking!

Paige Baldwin

Cranberry Bliss Bread

Bread
1 cup flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, unsalted
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Vanilla Icing Ingredients
2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 Tablespoons milk

Toppings
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup white chocolate chips, melted

Instructions
*Preheat oven to 350°F and prepare a 9″ loaf pan with butter.
*Sift together dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl.
*Using a standing mixer, cream together the butter and sugar.
*Add eggs one at a time, mixing until combined
*Alternate adding dry ingredients and buttermilk to your bowl with butter mixture.
*Stir dried cranberries and white chocolate chips into your batter.
*Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for 1 hour.
*Allow to cool completely before removing bread from pan then transfer loaf to a wire rack, placing a cookie sheet underneath it to catch icing drippings.

To Make the Vanilla Icing:
*In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, vanilla and milk until well combined.
*Pour icing over the cranberry bliss bread and allow to dry for at least 30 minutes, then top with chopped cranberries and white chocolate drizzle.
*Allow all toppings to set before slicing.

Chocolate Cherry Cookies
 

Ingredients
1 cup granulated sugar
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) butter, softened at room temperature
1 egg
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 (12 oz.) bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (10 oz.) jar Maraschino cherries (drained and chopped into pieces)

Instructions
*Preheat oven to 350°.
*Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
*In a large mixing bowl, add the sugar, butter, egg, and almond extract. With an electric mixer, cream until light and fluffy.
*Add the flour and salt and mix until just combined.
*Add the chocolate chips and stir until well distributed. Gently fold in the chopped cherries.
*Chill cookie dough for 30 minutes.
*Roll dough into 2 inch balls (the cookies will not expand much in the oven) and place on parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake 12-14 minutes or until light brown.
*Cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

No Bake Oreo Peppermint Truffles

Ingredients
1/2 cup finely chopped peppermint candy canes, divided
1 pkg. (8 oz.) Cream Cheese, softened
36 Oreo Cookies, finely crushed (any flavor, but original work best)
4 pkg. (4 oz. each) Semi-Sweet Chocolate, broken into pieces, melted
½ teaspoon coconut oil (for melting chocolate)

Instructions
*Reserve 1 Tbsp. chopped candy.
*Mix remaining candy with cream cheese and cookie crumbs until blended.
*Shape into 48 (1-inch) balls.
*Freeze 10 min.
*Dip balls in melted chocolate; place on waxed paper-covered rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with reserved candy.
*Refrigerate 1 hour or until firm.

Lessons From a Messy Kitchen

There have been many times that I’ve stood in the middle of my kitchen after an event thinking why do I do this to myself? My sink is full. There’s not enough room for another dish on my counter top. There is food and empty packaging everywhere. My stove is disgusting. My floors are a mess. This is the state of things every. single. time. I host an afternoon tea or a party. So why do I continue to do it? Because I’ve learned that the heart of hospitality is not showing off how organized or tidy  I can be while hosting. The heart of hospitality is how my guests feel when they walk out my door. Do they feel that this was time well spent? Are they satisfied and full? Do they feel welcomed and loved. If the answer to any of these questions is no, then I failed. It doesn’t matter how clean my house is or how tidy I kept my kitchen during preparations.

Here are 3 lessons that I’ve learned from my messy kitchen:

20191105_193745_00001.) Every dirty tea cup is a testimony to a friendship.

As I wash each teacup, I can’t help but think of the sweet friend who held it that day. I thank God for her friendship and influence in my life. I am reminded that the Bible says in Proverbs 27:9b “A sweet friendship refreshes the soul” I thank God that He has blessed me with a home to open and tea cups to use. I am reminded that James 1:17a says “every good and perfect gift is from above.” I pray that God used me to be a blessing and draw that women closer to His heart. I remember that Matthew 5:16 says “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” I pray that whoever held that tea cup left my home feeling loved and cherished as a daughter of God, or that she would feel Jesus calling her to Himself. I remember that  John 15:12 says My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

 

2.) Every empty package laying on my counter is a fed 20191120_092634_0000and satisfied stomach.

Have you ever been emotionally unavailable or just plain grumpy…because you were hungry? Sometimes, people just need food. There’s a reason they say the quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. It’s not just men y’all. Women need food too! It’s hard to think straight, or focus energy on relationships, when you’re hungry. Sometimes, people just need a hot meal that they didn’t have to cook. Food has a way of bringing people together and making memories. J. R. R. Tolkien said “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” If we would spend more time around a table with a friend, or stranger, I think our culture would cease to be so self-involved and start opening their hearts.

“Cooking is love made visible “

20191105_193832_00003.) Every minute I spend cleaning reflects a priceless moment of fellowship.

People would much rather have your attention than your perfection. We see this reflected in the book of Luke chapter 10, verses 38-40.  “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made…” If I’m spending my time in the kitchen fussing over dirty dishes, and my guests are sitting alone in my living room, what was the point of inviting them into my home? They’re probably sitting in there feeling awkward and bored to tears. The dishes can wait. My priority is making sure the people under my roof feel cherished and most of all, feel God’s love through me. Take time to spend with your guests when you host an event. Don’t spend your time running around making sure your home is perfect. Don’t busy yourself with clean up and forget the people in your home.

I love having a home full of people. I like filling bellies and putting smiles of faces through food. I like making people feel loved and cared for. So whenever I survey my kitchen littered with empty spice containers, meat wrappings, butter crocks, and food scraps, it fills my heart with joy and I will always look forward to the next time.

 

Paige Baldwin