Let’s gear back

by Don Bingham

It’s great to know that we have our Christmas traditions to enjoy; it’s one of those “timeless” delights that has not been taken away!

When time is passing so quickly in this busy age, Thanksgiving and Christmas still present to us a few valuable moments of family time, friendship renewal, good food and fellowship! Our traditions have been varied – from as early as decorating in October to Christmas gift purchasing during the summer months – all in preparation for the coming holidays!

This year, we have once again said, “Let’s gear back!” We’ll see . . . but our goal is to clean out the Christmas decorations we have garnered over the years, be happy with two or three decorated trees rather than seven or eight and decide where the focal points and higher traffic areas are in our home and decorate those.

It really isn’t necessary to get in a stressful frenzy if each toilet paper dispenser is not fully adorned for the holidays! I’m sure if I really searched in the garage or closets, I would be able to find amazing artifacts of “Christmas wonderment” that never got put away from last year! My wife did finally get weary of all the glitter and silk greenery and has organized one of the largest closets into sections of the treasures.

I have been known to be obsessive compulsive with Christmas; my goal used to be everywhere your vision would land upon entering the front door was to have some highly elegant trinket of the season! If one holly mug or candy dish was nice – 10 would be even better! And, of course, I always felt compelled to make all “end of year” wonderment sales.

I still am planning a garage sale in the near future – and if anyone is interested in 40 paper mache lanterns, or 18 topiaries, or strands and strands of faux candy – stop by! I may even serve frozen desserts “from the freezer of Christmas past!”

My honest desire was always to have these things to pass on to the five children and their families. Little did I know at the time, they were never going to want it. It certainly is not contemporary, modern or in the trendy shades of this year’s knock-off colors! These decorations would not work in an environment of stainless steel appliances, granite counter tops or warmth-less walls.

I stopped by one year to visit two of my cherished friends, Georg and Annabelle Andersen. I wanted to see their house decorated for Christmas. Georg is, by far, a renowned expert in interior design and has been the pace setter for many years in national and international design. Annabelle is one of the few who can out-do me with the larger than life arrangements. She used to cover the archway inside her house with foliage dripping wildly in cascades of holiday cheer and vines – I fully believe it took an indoor gardener to keep it all together.

Back to my point – in the Andersen family room I saw two wonderful lap blankets – throws for relaxation times – and they were done in 1950 retro colors of plaid in red, yellow and green. Well, I couldn’t rest until I found out where Georg got them. This driving passion to appoint every chair in our home with the holiday throws of yesteryear consumed many of my waking moments! I was on a mission!

After I learned that they really were not Neiman Marcus or Harrods of London, but rather from the stylish Arkansas decorator department of Walmart, I made it my goal to hit every store in the state until I found enough throws to adorn our home and enough to make sure the children all had adequate retro appointments for their humble abodes. In trips to North Arkansas, I would get off the main highway long enough to run in Walmart to see if they still had that style available. I had my kids (those who were willing, anyhow) to check in their cities. I think I quit counting when I had amassed around 32. This year, I am going to “gear back!”

I also recall the year Nancy and I took our four oldest grandsons to Garvan Gardens in Hot Springs to see the Christmas lights. They were, indeed, amazing! The wheels of creativity began turning, and I was content to re-create a west Conway backyard version of this fantasy land for our home for the holidays! My hope was for suspended candy canes from the large gumball tree in the backyard, lighted poinsettias with moving petals and six-foot sugar plums swaying along the pea gravel pathways behind our house. I did not have the budget or a “Jennings Osborne Starter Kit,” but I was sure, with a little effort, I could make this a neighborhood spectacular. My wife was not as enthusiastic about it as I was, and the thought fizzled rather quickly. We did, in fact, “gear back” on that project.

This year we will, again, put out the three fence posts that look like snowmen with noses that light up – they were made by Larry Raines, another dear friend. It reminds me of what might have been. If food cost does not escalate much more, we’ll still cook! Yes, we’ll “gear back” on the fats, creams, sugars, candies, liquors, etc., but one thing we will not sacrifice is the joy of celebrating the true meaning of the season. Starting with “alone and solitude time” and moving on to the loud clamor of the children and grandchildren, it’s “the most wonderful time of the year!”

Here are some of our holiday favorites – feel free to gear them back as much as you need. Each is guaranteed to invoke the spirit of thanksgiving and the happiest of holiday dining!

Heavenly Cranberry Sauce

2 pounds cranberries

2 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped

3 cups granulated sugar

juice and grated rind of 2 lemons

2 cups orange marmalade

Wash and drain cranberries. Place in shallow baking dish and cover with chopped walnuts, sugar, lemon juice, grated lemon rinds and orange marmalade. Cover tightly and bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Makes 2 quarts.

Orange Butter Rolls

1 package dry yeast

1/4 cup warm water

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1/2 cup sour cream

6 tablespoons butter

2 3/4-3 cups all-purpose flour


3/4 cup granulated sugar

grated rind of 1 orange

1 cup coconut

Soften yeast in warm water; stir in 1/4 cup sugar, salt, eggs, sour cream and butter; add enough flour to form a stiff dough. Beat well; cover, let rise until doubled, about 2 hours.

Combine and set aside 3/4 cup sugar, grated orange rind and coconut.

Knead dough about 15 times; roll out half of dough into a 12-inch circle; brush with melted butter (1/2 stick); sprinkle with half of sugar mixture. Cut into 12 wedges and roll, starting with the wide end and roll to a point; repeat with remaining dough and sugar mixture; place rolls point-side down in 2 rows in a greased 9-by-13 pan; cover, let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Leave in pan and pour glaze (which you have prepared while rolls were rising) over hot rolls. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup coconut.


3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons orange juice or the juice of 1 orange

1/4 cup butter

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Boil 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

New Orleans BBQ Shrimp

1 pound large shrimp, unpeeled

4 oz bottled Italian dressing

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 teaspoons black pepper

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1 stick of butter OR 1/2 stick butter and 1/4 cup olive oil

Wash shrimp and drain well. Melt butter in 1-quart casserole dish, add all ingredients except shrimp and stir. Add shrimp, stirring gently. Cover and bake in preheated 350-degree oven, stirring occasionally for 25-30 minutes or until shrimp are bright pink. Serve shrimp and sauce in large soup bowls with French bread for dunking. Serves 2.

Coffee Punch

1 cup instant coffee granules

1/4 cup cocoa

1 1/4 cup granulated sugar

3 cups cold water

1/2 cup boiling water

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 quarts milk

1 pint whipping cream

1/2 gallon ice cream

Dissolve coffee, cocoa and sugar in 1/2 cup boiling water; stir in cold water, vanilla and milk. Fold in creams just before serving. Serves 40.

Chocolate Sugarplum Cheese Ball

2 packages (8 oz each) cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/3 cup cocoa

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1/2 cup finely chopped dried figs

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup finely chopped dried apricots

2 tablespoons almond extract

1 package (8 oz) pecans, finely chopped

Garnish: chopped dried apricots

Gingersnaps and/or chocolate graham crackers to serve

Beat cream cheese, butter, sugar, cocoa and corn syrup with an electric mixer until creamy and smooth. Add figs, raisins, apricots and almond extract; mix thoroughly. Shape into a ball and coat with finely chopped pecans. Garnish, if desired. Serve with gingersnaps and/or chocolate graham crackers. Yield: one 7-inch ball.

Cranberry-Apple Tart with Pecan Streusel


2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

pinch of salt

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) well chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

4-5 tablespoons ice water


1 1/4 cups unsweetened apple cider or apple juice

1 1/3 cups granulated sugar

4 medium tart apples (such as Granny Smith) peeled, cored and cut into 1/2 inch chunks

12 ounces cranberries


1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

whipped cream

FOR CRUST: Combine flour and salt in large bowl. Cut in butter and shortening until coarse meal forms. Mix in enough water to form ball. Turn dough out on lightly floured surface. With heel of hand, smear dough a little at a time across surface. Gather into ball, then flatten into disc. Wrap dough and refrigerate at least 1 hour. (Can be prepared three days ahead.)

FOR FILLING: Heat cider and sugar in heavy, large saucepan over low heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until cranberries burst and apples are tender, stirring frequently, 8-10 minutes. Transfer to bowl and cool. Wrap tightly and refrigerate overnight. (Can be prepared three days ahead.)

Bring filling to room temperature.

Roll dough out on highly floured surface to 1/8-inch-thick round. Transfer to 10-inch tart pan with removable fluted sides. Trim and finish edges. Refrigerate 30 minutes.

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Pierce crust lightly with fork. Line with foil or parchment paper and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake 15 minutes. Remove beans and foil. Continue baking until crust is light brown, about 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature on rack. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.

FOR STREUSEL: Mix all ingredients in large bowl until blended and crumbly. Place baking sheet in oven on center rack and heat 5 minutes. Spoon filling into crust. Sprinkle streusel evenly over filling. Place tart on hot baking sheet and cook until top is brown and filling bubbles, 30-35 minutes. Cool on rack. Serve with whipped cream. Serves 10.

NOTE: Make the filling at least one day before baking the colorful tart. This tart also works well with the 1-2-3 Dough.