Notes From Swan's Nest


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Saint Nicholas Day

Monday December 6 is St. Nicholas Day. An oft-overlooked holiday in the United States, it’s more widely celebrated in Europe. And yet the significance of this day named in honor of the benevolent protector and champion of children – Saint Nicholas – is as relevant today as it was in the third century.

In Europe, St. Nicholas Day is a day of sharing, caring, and small deeds to benefit others. Gifts are exchanged to commemorate Nicholas’ kindness to children, and pastry-wrapped fish is traditionally served in honor of his love of the sea.

I love the simplicity of this holiday during the early Christmas Season. There’s no commercialism and there are no expectations. Rather, it’s a day to surprise family, good friends and neighbors with small tokens of love and care so they know I’m thinking about them.

This year, I’m making small felt “mittens” to hang on friends’ doors, sewn together with yarn and filled with peppermint sticks, homemade gingerbread cookies and a sprig of holiday greenery from our Colorado yard. With the aid of a ruler, I draw a mitten template on a piece of cardstock, cut it out, and trace it lightly with a black pen onto pieces of red and white felt. After cutting the felt mittens, I sew them together by hand with a contrasting color of yarn. I discovered that taping one end of the 

yarn with cellophane tape and cutting it at an angle makes threading the needle much easier! Add ribbon to the top of the 

mittens to tie them to the doorknob and you’re all set. Fill the mittens with cookies, candies, assorted nuts, a tiny notepad,scented candle, or other small trinkets.

I’ve included my holiday cookie recipe for Gingerbread Men to get you started. Kids of all ages will love them!


Gingerbread Men:
5 cups flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup molasses
3 tablespoons water

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg; set it aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the shortening and sugar until they are light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the egg and molasses and beat until they are well blended. With a large spoon, gradually stir the flour mixture into the creamed mixture along with the water to form a stiff dough. Cover and chill the dough several hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Divide the dough into 4 parts and roll it ¼-inch thick on a floured pastry cloth or kitchen counter, keeping the remaining dough covered and chilled. Cut with a gingerbread cookie cutter and place the cookies on lightly greased cookie sheets. Bake 6 to 7 minutes, then remove them from the oven and cool 1 minute until the cookies are firm. Transfer them to wire racks, cool completely, and decorate with frosting.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1/8 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium bowl with an electric mixer, cream the butter and confectioners’ sugar together until the frosting is smooth. Add vanilla and beat until it is combined. Place the frosting into a decorator bag fitted with a small plain tip and decorate the cookies as desired.

Yield: 6 to 7 dozen 4-inch cookies


Thanksgiving is a warm memory of friends gathered around our table, and now I’m in that wonderfully busy time of preparation for Christmas. I’ve wrapped aspen trees in tiny white lights, hung Christmas garland and lights along the porch railing, placed electric candles in the windows, and later today I’ll hang wreaths in the windows. Our outdoor temperatures are falling – often below zero - and it’s snowing almost every-other-day. Winter has settled into the Colorado Rockies for the long haul, and I’m craving something hot and nourishing for dinner that’s going to make me feel warm and cozy inside.
That means soup. If you’re like me, there’s a turkey carcass in your freezer or the back of your fridge and perhaps a few pieces of turkey in a plastic zipper bag that someone overlooked. The crisper drawer in my refrigerator contains carrots, celery, and onions, and in my pantry I have bay leaves, whole peppercorns, whole cloves, chicken bouillon cubes, and packages of noodles. In other words, I have everything I need to make Turkey Noodle Soup.
Randy and I roasted a 23-pound turkey this year, and even with 11 guests around the table, there was still plenty of turkey left over. We saved all the turkey bones, and from such a big bird, they filled two large stock pots. So it looks like I’ll be making enough soup today for an army, with turkey stock left over for the freezer. Good thing, too. One of our neighbors had surgery last week and there’s nothing like turkey noodle soup to speed the healing process.
So grab that turkey carcass out of your fridge or freezer and let’s make some soup! Place the bones and any leftover turkey in a large stock pot and fill the pot three-quarters full with cold water. Add several carrots, peeled and chopped into1-inch lengths, celery – don’t forget the leaves! They add lots of flavor to the soup! – and a large sweet onion, peeled and chopped. Now add 4 whole peppercorns, three whole cloves, and two bay leaves. If you have fresh parley and thyme in your crisper drawer, add a couple of sprigs of each to flavor the stock.  Cover and bring the mixture to a low boil, then reduce the heat to low, and simmer 3 to 5 hours depending on how much time you have. Your home will smell absolutely divine and you’ll know at the end of the day, steaming hearty bowls of soup await you and your loved ones.
Shortly before serving, remove the soup from the heat and remove the bones and vegetables with a slotted spoon to a large platter. Remove any meat clinging to the bones, drop it into the stock pot, and discard the bones. Slice the carrots, celery, and onion into bite-size pieces and return them to the pot. Place the pot back over the heat, add 2 to 3 chicken bouillon cubes to the broth, and bring the soup to a low boil with the lid askew to allow steam to escape. In a separate pot, cook noodles according to package directions just until they are tender. Drain the noodles, add them to the turkey soup along with chopped fresh parsley, and turn off the heat. Serve the soup with a green salad and feel the warmth and comfort coursing through your body.