We had a wonderful holiday season, complete with many of our old traditions and many new ones, too!
The Sunday before Christmas, Dec. 22, I took my daughters and granddaughters to see “The Nutcracker” at the beautiful Ohio Theatre across from the Statehouse. All of us were so impressed by the dancers. We took a backstage tour afterwards to meet many of them. I was amazed by how many children participated in the show, and my little girls could hardly believe the ballet shoes were made of cardboard and soft fabric—and how the ballerinas actually danced on their toes!
Dec. 23 was a busy day with everyone arriving, wrapping, and cooking. I prepared our traditional country ham. The tradition started when Mike’s father’s partner in the seed business sent us one from Tennessee every Christmas. It’s salt-cured and attic-aged so it must be soaked and scrubbed, simmered several hours, and then cooled in its liquid overnight. I trimmed most of the fat and covered the ham with a glaze of brown sugar and mustard and baked it in the oven, then chilled it in the refrigerator overnight. I also peeled potatoes and soaked them in cold water overnight on the back porch. I already had my rolls made days before and froze them. The little kids helped me make some more gingerbread cookies from dough we had set aside.
In the late afternoon, we hosted a Lighting of the Menorah event for the second night of Hanukkah at the Residence with many rabbis and Jewish friends.
We spent the remainder of the evening picking rooms for the kids to sleep in on Christmas Eve. Four of our children and their families planned to spend the night so we added a couple of extra blow-up beds so everyone had a place. We set the tables and rearranged furniture in the living room so everyone could gather around the tree. With all of our preparations done, we were ready for Christmas Eve!
It was wonderful to have all our kids and grandkids together on Christmas Eve, the day Mike’s family traditionally celebrated together. We gathered about noon and, as usual, everyone was in the kitchen. I shaved off paper-thin slices of country ham and pulled the hot short biscuits out of the oven—which were eaten as fast as they could cool.
As the standing rib roast cooked in the oven, we gathered around the tree to open our “animal” gifts, one at a time. Each child received a plastic or plush animal or insect to represent the animals we are giving to families in need through Heifer International or Save the Children, or an animal we are helping save through World Wildlife Fund. Some of the kids took theirs home, and others added them to the Nativity crèche my dad made for me. This year, we included cards for donations beyond animals—like “educating a girl,” seeds and tools, and fruit trees.
Before dinner, I mashed the potatoes, baked the rolls and everyone else added their side dishes and desserts. After a fun and chaotic present time, we went to a beautiful service at St. Dominic’s. The night ended with everyone matching in black and red plaid flannel, and setting out a plate of gingerbread cookies for Santa.
One of my granddaughters called it a “magical” Christmas morning. After everyone opened their stockings, we headed to our farm in Cedarville, where my mother, brothers and sisters joined us for a “white elephant” gift exchange. I made a giant pot of turkey and noodles and we finished up everyone’s leftovers. No one had more fun than my mother!
Now that the new year is here, I’m thinking about healthier food. I still have to make an apple pie for Mike’s birthday this weekend, but I’m getting out my Nutribullet for smoothies and thinking more greens, too!
This recipe for strawberry-spinach salad can be used with other fruits. Tonight I’m making it with some lovely pear slices. I like the dressing because it is light and tasty. Adding cooked chicken or turkey makes it a full meal. You can sprinkle it with pecans if you’d like. Happy New Year!
Strawberry- Spinach Salad
1 quart small spinach leaves, washed, stemmed and torn
2 green onions, sliced
1 quart garden lettuce, torn
1 pint strawberries, sliced
1 cup broccoli flowerettes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons orange juice
Ohio First Lady Fran DeWine is a Cedarville resident, Yellow Springs native and guest columnist.