Our Family Christmas Present

Not long after Scott and I got married, his family decided that the grown-ups would start exchanging homemade Christmas gifts.  The girls would make gifts for each other, and the guys would as well.  No shopping, no pressure, no stress.

Sounds like a great idea, right?  Except that my crafting skills peaked at the age of eight, making spray-painted Christmas trees out of old Readers' Digests in Vacation Bible School (Remember these? Well, my mom thought mine was pretty).

Oh, and my mother-in-law is one of the most creative, craftsy people on the planet; my sister-in-law Holly writes the DIY blog McCall Manor and can turn furniture roadkill into works of art; and my sister-in-law Karen turns out holiday ornaments and other creative projects for which I wouldn't even know where to begin.

Me?  I can make cookies, so that was to be my fallback - and would certainly make me popular with our nieces and nephews. 

Thanksgiving approached and I still didn't have any brilliant ideas.  But scrolling through Facebook one afternoon, I realized I couldn't make ornaments or decorative pillows - but I could make a photo book! So, I scoured our family's Facebook pages, tossed together a photo book on Shutterfly - and dubbed it the "Sewell Family Yearbook."

Voila!  Everyone loved it - although I did still bake dozens of Christmas cookies and carry them with us to Tennessee…just in case.

The first book was a small softcover book with 70 photos.  The project has since taken on a life of its own, evolving into an 8 x 11 hardcover book the following year and growing in size and scope each year.  The book now regularly tops 100 pages with 300 to 400 photos.

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I actually start working on each year's book right after Christmas, and then gather photos from family throughout the year.  If they don’t send them, I scour Facebook and Instagram for photos that other people post of them.  Shutterfly makes it easy to create the book; while I prefer to design my own, they also have easy templates to follow (and an easy-to-use mobile app).  Once we have the photos together, we finalize the book, order six copies - and our holiday shopping is done!

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The best part of this process?  Sitting around the table at Christmas, paging through the books and sharing memories of the last year…all while nibbling on those cookies that I still bake and carry home with us every Christmas.

It's a Dog's Life

Scott and I love dogs.  During our frequent walks to Carl Schurz Park just down the street from our Upper East Side apartment, we always stop by the "small dog" run to watch the Boston terriers, French bulldogs, Yorkies, pugs, and chihuahuas, and other small breeds play.

Since we both travel so much for work, we haven't adopted any dogs yet.  But when the day finally comes that we can do so, we already know we will be those obsessive pet owners who spoil their dogs.

Of course, I fully anticipate that means I will be on the constant hunt for cool toys and, yes, clothes for our fur babies.  If we had dogs this year, this UGG dog bed I am showing for Bed Bath & Beyond on holiday TV segments would be at the top of my list.  You can even pick up their cozy dog sweaters - perfect for holiday photos!

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Sadly, my adorable TV "models" aren't real.  But you can find these stuffed toys from Melissa & Doug at Buy Buy Baby.

What are you getting your pets for the holiday?

Thanksgiving Countdown: Cornbread Stuffing with Ham

This year, Scott and I are hosting two Thanksgiving dinners.  The first is actually next weekend, when a whole bunch of Sewell's are coming to New York.  Then, on the holiday itself, we will host friends who have joined us for Thanksgiving dinner the last five or six years.

I love cooking Thanksgiving dinner, so I am super-excited about getting to do two menus!  Over the next two weeks, I'm sharing a few holiday prep ideas I'm chatting about on TV shows this month.  Last week, I posted my mother-in-law's breakfast casserole recipe that is the staple of our family gatherings.  Today, I am sharing a yummy recipe for Cornbread Stuffing with Ham - or, if you're from my neck of the woods, Cornbread Dressing. 

I shared this recipe for Smithfield on a TV segment this week in Nashville.  Whatever you call it, it's savory, yummy, and has that perfect crispy crunchy top.  

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The only thing I'd add to this recipe?  A note to make an extra pan if you're hosting a crowd.  After all, it's not Thanksgiving unless you have leftovers, and stuffing/dressing is at the top of my list to enjoy the next day.

What are your favorite Thanksgiving leftovers?

Holiday Traditions: Sausage Breakfast Casserole

After Christmas last year, while we were driving to Nashville to catch a flight back to New York, I commented to Scott that we had been in Tennessee so long, I was starting to think of biscuits as a vegetable.

That is because when the Sewell's get together, breakfast is definitely the main meal of the day!  Each morning, we all gather around the table about 9 or 9:30.  After we eat, we stay around that table, talking and laughing until well after noon.  That conversation is only interrupted by kids going outside to play, or someone periodically heading back to the kitchen to pour another cup of coffee.

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The standard menu consists of "breakfast casserole," sliced fruits, biscuits, and coffee.  And it is perfect.

Breakfast casserole is a gooey, bubbly pan of sausage, eggs, and Velveeta - with crispy bread crumbs or croutons on top.  Basically, all of your major food groups.  With 14 people in the family, including four hungry nephews, my lovely mother-in-law seems to magically pull pan after pan of these casseroles out of the oven like clowns piling out of a clown car. 

Laurel and Holly

Because of these memorable breakfasts, I was super-excited to partner with Smithfield this holiday season to showcase their fresh breakfast sausages and spiral-sliced hams.  Enjoy them on their own, or cook them into a recipe like this cornbread stuffing with ham, or Laurel Sewell's breakfast sausage casserole!

Ingredients

Casserole:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 & 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup Velveeta cheese, grated (bonus culinary points if you, like my mother-in-law, can actually grate Velveeta.  I have to cut it into chunks).
  • 1 pound roll sausage
  • 1 dozen eggs

Topping:

  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 2 & 1/4 cups bread crumbs

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Melt two tablespoons butter over low heat.  Blend in flour and cook for one minute, stirring constantly.
  3. Gradually add milk.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly.
  4. Add salt, pepper, and cheese, stirring until smooth.  Set cheese sauce aside.
  5. Cook sausage and drain well.  Set aside.
  6. Scramble eggs over low heat until softly set. 
  7. Combine cheese sauce, cooked eggs, and cooked sausage, and place in greased 9 x 13 baking dish.
  8. Combine melted butter and bread crumbs.  Top casserole with crumb mixture and sprinkle with paprika.
  9. Bake uncovered for 25 minutes.

Of course, leftover ham or sausage from any meal also tastes great on a biscuit.

What are your favorite holiday meal traditions?

On-the-Air: Denver

One of the reasons I love my job so much is that I get to do segments with super-nice, super-fun people like Kathie Jay at Colorado's "Everyday" show!

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One look at our recent segment on Halloween treats, and you'll see why!  She has such amazing energy - and even makes a great save when that pumpkin bouquet almost took a flying leap off the table.

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Check out the full segment here!

You can check out this post for more details on the items from the companies that sponsored this segment.