Simply Noel: December 13 – Let There Be Light

Simply Noel:

December 13 – Let There Be Light

Have you noticed that Christmas has become a hodgepodge of traditions? When I set out to start this devotional, one of my goals was to learn the “why” behind some of the practices. Christmas comes along, and we break out the Advent calendars, the gingerbread houses, the decorations, the wreaths, the lights, the holly, the mistletoe… We bake cookies, special breads, and yule logs… We cook certain meats and seafoods… We sing specific songs and visit Santa at the mall… Those are just some of the traditions we carry on, because our culture has adopted them. I’m sure there are even more, especially when we add in the modern ones…

It can be overwhelming, can’t it? And while I have participated and incorporated many Christmas traditions into our lives here, I refuse to be bound to rituals, especially when I don’t understand them to begin with and it’s become a matter of going through the motions. Are you going through the motions, too?

One of the stories I stumbled upon is related to this day, December 13th – Saint Lucia (St. Lucy) Day, was about a young and devout Christian woman, who was martyred for her unwavering faith in Christ. I’m sure I’ll get part of her story’s details wrong (because I am neither Catholic, Lutheran, or Swedish), but basically, according to legend, in 304 A.D. she “brought food and aid to Christians hiding in the catacombs using a candle-lit wreath [worn on her head] to light her way and leave her hands free,” so on this day, St. Lucia (meaning light) is remembered/honored in certain ways, both in places of worship and also in private homes.

One of the practices I read about, in regards to this day, was the eating of a breakfast meal by candlelight. I started imagining how serene and lovely it would be – to serve my family some eggs and Lucia Buns by candlelight one winter morning. There’s something so wonderful about candlelight – so peaceful. Have you ever enjoyed a candle-lit meal on a date, perhaps, or at a wedding? I love the way the light only reaches so far and then fades into darkness. The soft, warm glow that touches each object in front of you… The way it flickers and causes the surroundings to dance… The warmth that it gives off… I simply love candlelight. It’s interesting to me how intimate it makes even the most mundane activity feel. I almost think it brings things into focus, because you have no choice but to only focus on the small area that you can actually see – the face of a loved one sitting next to you, the other end of a table, the page of a book…

I started to think about our candlelight service on Christmas Eve. We could easily flip the switch and illuminate the entire room. Let there be light! Ta-da! But, no, that’s not what happens, right? We start with a real, not artificial, single flame, and person by person, we watch it grow into a sea of the most warm and peaceful light. Furthermore, you and the light are one. It goes where you go, turns where you turn…

There is so much said about light in the Bible. Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden… He also tells us that while He is in the world, He is the Light of the world.

“The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

– John 12:35-36

Sons of light… light of the world… carriers of light…

“…for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

‘Awake, O sleeper,
    and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.'”

– Ephesians 5:8-15

Christ is the Light of the world, He shined His light on us, and now we are carriers of that light, making us the light of the world…

So, while we can honor and respect the selfless and sacrificial lives of those men and women, like St. Lucia, who have laid down their lives for the sake of the Gospel and for the love of others, we mustn’t get caught up in rituals that might distract from the reality that we are the light. We don’t necessarily need a feast to welcome the light to the darkness… We don’t need a ceremony… We need a breakthrough moment, a revelation, in which Christ cracks us wide open, and His light bursts from us like the sun. And then, as we are going about our daily lives, we embody the Holy Spirit’s flame, and we ignite the spirit of each person with whom we come in contact. It may look like the striking of a match, or it may be the gentle and steady transfer of Heaven’s light, but either way, we are to light the world one heart at a time.




Klover House Christmas:

While we don’t celebrate St. Lucia Day, I do love baking festive breads. If you caught my recent post, What You Do Well, then you’ll remember that I’m not the best baker, but breads, I can handle. I really enjoy the process of bread-making. I found this post for St. Lucia Buns, and they sound tasty. I’ve always wondered what saffron tastes like, so this might be a great excuse to make something with it. Let me know if you try this out, or if St. Lucia Buns are a “thing” at your house, I’d love to hear from you!

Recipe for St. Lucia Buns – click here.

Cream Cheese Pumpkin Bread

Last night, as I burned the late-night oil watching Cake Wars on Food Network, I caught the #BakeItForward challenge presented at the close of the show.  I am a huge fan of the #PayItForward lifestyle, so this seemed like a lot of fun coupled with a wonderful cause – fighting child hunger. Food Network is donating $1 for each original post on social media using the hashtag #BakeItForward.

As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and sipping my morning cup of coffee, I came across the video below, featuring banana bread with a cream cheese filling.  I was all out of bananas, but I remembered that I had a can of Organic Pumpkin Puree from Trader Joe’s, so I immediately decided that a swap was in order, since I had everything else I needed to make the bread.


Cream Cheese-Filled Banana BreadPIN IT FOR LATER:

Posted by Tasty on Sunday, November 8, 2015


I followed the recipe shown in the video:

  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 c. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • pinch of salt

I used the following additions:

  • 1 tsp. Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie spice
  • 1 tsp. Cinnamon
  • HALF of a 15oz. can of TJ’s Organic Pumpkin Puree

and the following variations:

  • 1/4 c. Coconut oil (in place of butter)
  • 1/2 c. half n half (in place of sour cream)

I followed the Cream Cheese Filling recipe as given:

  • 4 oz. softened cream cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 3 TBSP flour

Bake at 350 for 50 minutes.

So that was it!  It turned out well (I think, anyway), but I kept having to remind myself with each bite, “This is NOT a Pumpkin Roll…this is NOT a Pumpkin Roll.” LOL  Because it isn’t nearly as sweet, although it resembles one!  It DID however, make me feel a whole lot better about having three slices!  🙂  Enjoy and please jump on the #BakeItForward train!  It is such a great cause!  We are all baking during the holidays at one point or another, and the challenge is running until December 31st, so as you bake and gift your goodies to others, tag your photos with the #BakeItForward #NoKidHungry hashtags and keep the goodness going!  Tag me too, on Twitter and Instagram, if you heard about it here, because I would be so thrilled to see what you are baking and to see that the love is spreading!

Happy Baking and Giving, Friends! xoxo


Strawberry French Toast

Sweet, delicious, and unbelievably simple Strawberry French Toast!

Nothing says summer like strawberries, and nothing says breakfast like French Toast! (In my humble opinion anyway!) Put them together and you’ve got a pretty satisfying start to your day!

My entire family looooves French Toast, so I am always trying to adjust and perfect it so that it is closer to restaurant-quality and delicious. I think you’ll be pleased with this latest version. It’s golden and crispy on the outside…it’s warm and soft on the inside…and it’s sweet and flavorful. Plus, it’s SIMPLE! And we all love simple, right?!

Start out with a good quality bread, like a rustic Italian loft from Trader Joe’s. (Note: I have also made this with regular store-bought sliced wheat bread, and it’s just as yummy, but you do not have to let the bread soak in the egg mixture as long.)

In a shallow dish (I use my glass pie plate), combine the following with a fork or whisk:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 c. strawberry-flavored Kefir (see photo)
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. raw honey
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract (optional)

Slice half of the loaf into 1/4 in. pieces.  This recipe will coat 10-12 slices, depending upon thickness.

Allow each slice to soak in the egg mixture on each side.

Pre-heat your oven to 400* and prep a stovetop griddle on medium heat (if you have it, use coconut oil on your pan in place of butter…it will be divine!)

Place 3-4 sliced at a time on the oiled/buttered griddle, flipping once, and removing once lightly browned on each side.

Line the toast on a wire rack over a baking sheet (so the toast is raised above the pan).  Bake for 3 minutes, flip and bake for an additional 3 minutes.  

Remove and serve!  Garnish with fresh berries and/or a light dusting of powdered sugar.  Voila!

(Because Kefir comes in a variety of flavors, you could easily make new and interesting versions of this recipe!  Kefir is a fermented milk beverage.  My kids refer to it as “yogurt milk”, and it is lower in lactose, for those of you with lactose intolerance.  Here’s the wiki link for more info…  I also like to use it in the muffin recipe found in this post.  Enjoy your Kefir creations!)

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Merry Christmas (and a tradition/recipe roundup)

Merry Christmas, friends!

I can’t even count the number of posts that I’ve written to you in my head this month, but, wow, did December just fly, or what?! Crazy to think that tomorrow is Christmas Day. New Year’s is right around the corner, and before we know it, it’ll be Valentine’s and this new baby will be here. Where does blogging even fit in?!

Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about that and I miss writing, so 2015 will come with a few changes…

Anyway, each year in the past, I’ve been able to share with you our favorite Christmas recipes and traditions. I’m sorry that I didn’t get to that again this year, but here’s a little summary of each, and hopefully next year, I will have the chance to create more in-depth posts. (I am especially looking forward to next year’s Advent calendar/activities.)

Our family’s Christmas traditions include:

  • Christmas Tree decorating
  • Trip to see Christmas lights in neighboring WV (complete with pjs worn by all and a carload of Christmas cookies.)  If you follow us on FB and Instagram, you know that this year’s trip was a major flop.
  • Cousin Cookie Baking Day – The girls had SO much fun and are STILL talking about this one.  What’s cuter than little three and five year old cousins baking?  Not much!
  • Gingerbread House making – Also a great time, and I already have some new ideas for next year’s houses!
  • Visiting Santa
  • Christmas Eve services
  • Christmas Eve dinner at Pap-pap’s and Nana’s
  • Christmas pj and books to be opened on Christmas Eve
  • Christmas breakfast with my in-laws (at our home)
  • Visiting family Christmas afternoon/evening
Traditions that I hope to improve on and add next year:
  • Delivering cookies to our neighbors (b/c I’m not brave enough to carol!)
  • Visiting the local conservatory (I hear it’s spectacular!)
  • Breakfast with Santa event  (A lot of our friends go to this each year, and it seems like a wonderful little tradition!)
  • Family movie nights (More of them, since this year we only had one.)
  • Trip into Pittsburgh to see something…anything!  (lol  That one is for the hubs.)
  • Advent Calendar (Going to improve on this year’s.  The Mom Diggity has majorly inspired me.)
  • Hosting a cookie exchange / friends’ night (We kind of did one this year, but it was actually a surprise “Sprinkle” for a dear friend.  I’d like to start hosting a real exchange in the years to come.)
Our Christmas morning menu:
Merry Christmas, everyone!  Our prayer for you is that the Prince of Peace reigns in your hearts and the favor of God rests on your lives in the coming year.  May God bless you with health, faith, and hope today and always.


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chocolate muffins in disguise…

Well, it happened…my baby turned 5! 

Nooo! Where is the time going?! I look back at pictures…her chubby cheeks…her bubbly smile…her pudgy little toes…

Now, she’s got ballerina feet, long, blonde locks that touch her tush in the bath, and a chiseled little chin (she has her daddy’s great bone structure).

One thing hasn’t changed in five years though… She still makes my heart flutter. The very sight of her sweet face takes me back to the first day of her life and how completely wrapped up in her I am. I try to do everything I can to show her I care, and when she kindly requests cupcakes for her special school birthday snack…this kind-of-crunchy mama cringes (haha), but the wheels started turning, and I attempted to think of a way to give her what she’s asked for without feeding 4 and 5 year olds a pile of sugar at 10AM.

Enter: a favorite (easy) treat of ours: 
Aldi’s Double Chocolate Chip Muffins
I make them with 1/4 c. of coconut oil, 3/4 c. of water and 2 eggs, and I bake them in the tart pan for 10-11 minutes.  Simple. Better than many alternatives. Done, and my kids love them.

I wanted to find a ‘healthier’ frosting for these muffins in disguise, so I did some searching on Pinterest and found this recipe from ‘Gimme Some Oven’:

I adapted it a bit, so here is our version:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 c. butter, softened
1/3 c. honey
1 tsp. vanilla
Enough powdered sugar to reach desired sweetness/consistency – I used about 1 1/2 c. The original recipe called for 3-4 cups, but I think that would be a little too sweet for this girl (and twentysomething little ones before noon). Even my version tastes super sweet. For some reason, I have developed a sensitive palate when it comes to sweets. I’d like to think it’s from recent years of trying to cut back on sugar altogether. However, put me in a room with a chocolate bar, and it’s sayonara willpower!


I hope my princess likes her special treat this morning, and I pray that she feels so loved and special at school day. Enjoy your Wednesday, friends. We and our babies will be another day older before we know what hit us. xo

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around the world in pancakes!

you know we love pancakes around here.  well, ava and i love french toast more, but we’ll both eat a good pancake anyday!  we probably have pancakes at least twice a week.

a friend recently posted on her facebook page that she was making ‘swedish pancakes’ for breakfast.  that intrigued me, so the girls and i made them too that morning using emeril lagasse’s recipe (i add a little vanilla), and then we made them the next morning…and the next morning…and the next morning…and the morning after that!  my kids LOVED them!  

i will warn you though – if you’ve never had a ‘swedish pancake’ before, it feels like a store-bought egg noodle on your tongue and it’s sweet like a donut.  very odd.  my kids aren’t into jellies and jams, so instead of using those (as the recipe suggested), i made a mixture of powdered sugar and cinnamon and let the girls go to town, sprinkling yumminess all over like a heavy snow.  it was messy, but my goodness, it was delicious.  we rolled them up like little taquitos and they ate about 8-10 each!  eden included, of course.  i only got to eat an average of three, b/c my girls devoured them!  hubby piled them sky-high like a tower of crepes and complained that they weren’t filling enough, but by the end…i think he was full.  😉

my tips:  if your family likes them as much as mine do, invest in one of those swedish pancake pans (like the one shown below).  the batter is extremely runny.  i use a large non-stick skillet and a rubber spatula to help shape them into circles.  

i call this eden’s ‘please, sir, can i have some more?’ face.  🙂

next up…one we tried this morning for the first time:

‘mini german pancakes’
i used this recipe from chef-in-training.  

the kids also enjoyed these.  honestly, i was feeling too lazy to make the blueberry sauce, so we just smothered them in syrup.  they were delicious.  again, like the ‘swedish pancakes’, their texture is not what you would think of when you hear the word ‘pancake’.  they were also pretty egg-y.  i would compare the texture to that of a dry omelet.  they were good, though.  not sweet (you’ll notice the recipe doesn’t call for any sugar/sweetener), so that’s where your sauce or syrup will come into play.  i think, b/c of it’s strong egg flavor, that a sweet vanilla custard sauce, like this one from two peas and their pod, would be totally awesome.

last on my non-traditional pancake tour:

our own “pan-cakes” with a homemade blueberry sauce:
my typical pancake recipe:

1 mashed banana
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp cinnamon
1 beaten egg
1 c. milk (reg., soy, coconut, almond)
2 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp oil (coconut or other)

1 c. flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

in addition for this recipe:

1/2 c. quick oats
1 snack container of applesauce (i used tj’s mixed berry applesauce)
1/2 c. additional flour (added slowly to reach desired, thick consistency)

basically, i put incorporated all of my wet ingredients in my kitchenaid mixer, and then i added the dry mixture, reserving the last 1/2 c. of flour to be added in slowly to reach the desired consistency.  if the batter is too runny, your pancakes will be flatter.  we like our pancakes on the thicker side, and these puppies were literally little cakes on the plate!

simple homemade blueberry sauce:

1 pint blueberries
2-3 tbsp sugar
drizzle of water
hearty drizzle of honey

simmer on low heat, stirring frequently and mashing blueberries gently as you go until you have a smooth sauce.

ava and isla loved this breakfast, and the mister ate it happily without a single drop of maple syrup!  (he has a intense love for maple syrup and his breakfast usually swims in it!)

we will definitely be making these breakfast treats often!