December 24, 2011

Holiday Guest Blogger: Christmas in Dixie

Hi Megan’s preppy followers!!!  I am Liz from  I haven’t been blogging lately because I have been so busy with work and just got married in November.  I grew up in Lafayette, Indiana (right next to Purdue University).  I know Megan and her BF from my Purdue days.  My husband and Megan’s BF are really great friends from the fraternity and we were honored to have him in our wedding as a groomsman.  I am so excited to share some of my family’s Holiday Traditions with ya’ll! 

I was so blessed to have grown up in a family where most of my cousins, aunts, and uncles lived so close.  Because of my family all being so close to each other, especially my mom’s side, we always spent Christmas Eve with them.  My family and my mother’s side of the family are Catholic, so of course the reason for the season was more than just the gifts.  In preparation for Christmas, like most Catholics we would prepare for the Lord’s coming with Advent, which starts the 4th Sunday before Christmas.  We always had an advent wreath on the dinning room table which had four candles to represent the four Sundays before Christmas.  My mom and I would usually volunteer at the church for families in need so they can have a Christmas, and we would make food for the homeless shelter.  I always loved the season.  We would go sledding in the snow, drive 2 1/2 hours to Chicago to see the store fronts, and drive around town and see all the lights on the houses.  There was even a family that did a huge display of lights out in the country and when I was very young I opened the door to our van and lost my shoe!  My dad still reminds me of that today, “I went to look at the lights where you lost your shoe...”

Christmas Eve in our home was always a blast.  Every other year we would have Christmas Eve at our house or at my aunt’s house.  My mom and her two sisters were always cooking and baking, especially on the holidays.  For our main course we would always boil a ton of shrimp and serve with butter and cocktail sauce.  Aside from the traditional pies and casseroles, My Aunt Judy always gave the boys of the family homemade beef jerky and I was always so jealous... she would even put it in the White Elephant gift exchange which was always a hit.

Homemade Beef Jerky
This recipe was given to my aunt by my great uncle.  They drying method in the recipe reduces the moisture content to around 18% which means the jerky will store at room temperature as long as there is any to be eaten :)  Any cut of lean beef can be used.  It is very important to select a lean muscle cut and then remove all outside fat.  Fat will turn rancid.  The easiest cut to use is flank steak.
1 beef flank steak                                         1/4 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 cup soy sauce                                        1/4 tsp. lemon pepper

Trim all visible fat from beef.  Cut lengthwise with grain into long thin strips, no more than 1/4” thick.  Combine soy sauce and seasonings.  Pour over beef strips and toss until well coated.  Place a wire rack on a baking sheet.  Arrange strips on rack to touch, but do not overlap.  Bake in a very slow oven (150º-175º) overnight, 10-12 hours.  Store finished jerky at room temperature.
*  Note beef jerky should not be crisp, if it is, oven is too hot.

Another great hit at all of our holidays are my Aunt Ann’s homemade Caramels.  This recipe has been around for 25 years, and they have been made for all the family weddings, even mine!

2 1/4 cups brown sugar                      1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
1 cup butter                                        1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup light Karo corn syrup                
Pinch of salt

In a large saucepan, combine the first 4 ingredients.  Cook over medium heat until all the sugar is dissolved.  Gradually add milk; mix well.  Continue cooking and stirring until candy thermometer reads 240º.  Remove from heat.  Stir in vanilla until blended.  Pour into a 9x13” buttered pan.  When cool enough, cover with plastic wrap so not to form a skin on the caramels.  You can use parchment paper to line pan.  When cool, cut into small pieces and wrap in wax paper.
Our favorite part of the night, besides all the food and games of euchre is the White Elephant gift exchange. Each family member brings a wrapped gift.  We then draw numbers to determine in what order we take turns choosing gifts. The first person opens a wrapped gift, then the second person chooses whether to open a wrapped gift or "steal" the previously opened gift. If a person has their gift stolen, they also have the option of choosing a wrapped gift or stealing an unwrapped one.  And so on... Our family has the rule that a gift can only be stolen three times.  There are usually re-gifted items, funny gifts, and sometimes one of the parents will put in something good (case of import beer, family heirloom, beef jerky mentioned earlier, etc).  It is more to entertain than get something really good.  Some entertaining gifts in the past have been:  A box of travel shampoos and conditioners, a beer bong, an ugly shower curtain, or even snuggies.

Now living in Atlanta I am sure I will start some fun traditions with the husband and our dog Stout!  I will be spending my first Christmas away from my family and with the in-loves (I like that better than in-laws) for the first time.  I will miss my family tons, but I am not going to miss the snow this year!


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