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Monday, October 27, 2008

Stress-Free Christmas Part 5

Christmas countdown banner

I love to bake! I love to try new recipes, and I love to make my old favorites. I love the way that baking makes my house smell and the way it makes my husband smile!

Holiday baking can become stressful and expensive if I'm not careful. So I'm planning ahead so that I can avoid the stress and spread out the expense.

I like to start by thinking about what I'll need baked goods for. Will we be hosting any get-togethers? Will we want to take plates of goodies when we go to visit friends or family? Will we be giving baked goods as gifts? Will we need baked goods for class parties? I'm sure that every person's baking list will be unique. But just starting to think through what you need to bake is the first step.

Our family likes to give a loaf of homemade bread to each of our neighbors. We usually include a jar of homemade (by someone else!) jelly and a card signed by all of us. We want our neighbors to know that we appreciate them!

We also have company before, during, and after Christmas. I usually bake something for Christmas morning's breakfast, and then we replay that breakfast at least one more time as in-laws come to visit.

In addition to baked goods, I also made old-fashioned hard-tack candy last year. My husband has to watch his cholesterol, so this sweet was a great alternative to traditional baked goods.

Once I have a list (even if it isn't complete), I start thinking of the types of things I want to bake. I make another list of the ingredients that I'm going to need. I can guarantee that I'll burn through the flour and sugar. I also need to check my supply of vanilla, baking powder, baking soda, turbinado sugar, and other items that I know are included in the baked goods I usually make.

Each week between now and Christmas I'll check the sales and buy at least one of the items that I'm going to need for baking. If I waited and bought everything at one time, it would be a huge expense. If instead I watch the sales, use my coupons, and buy a little at a time, the expense doesn't seem quite as daunting.

The last thing I do as I prepare for Christmas baking is to bake ahead. Not everything can be made ahead and still taste as yummy. I try to choose items that freeze well and make them in advance. Dessert breads are my favorite things to make ahead. They freeze well, taste just as great, and are a fabulous alternative to the hoards of Christmas cookies that seem to invade our homes.

To get you started, here is my favorite banana bread recipe. It's my mother's tried-and-true recipe, and I've made a little healthier so that my husband can enjoy it too! I regularly make multiple loaves and freeze them. So I can guarantee that this one will be perfect for baking ahead!

Banana Bread
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3 T. milk
1 cup ripe, mashed bananas
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup Egg Beaters (I use the Kroger brand.)
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix the soda with the milk, and add the bananas. Set aside.
Blend sugar and canola oil.
Add egg and the banana mixture.
Add the flour and baking powder. DO NOT BEAT. Mix to combine.

Spray a 9-1/2 x 5-1/2 x 3 loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray. Pour batter into the pan. Bake for 50-55 minutes.

** The original recipe calls for 1/2 c. walnuts to be added after the batter has been mixed. I don't like nuts, and my husband isn't supposed to eat them, so I omit them and make no other changes. **