This is the time of year we pause to count our blessings, but fostering a spirit of gratitude year-round is a goal I strive to achieve. Did you know that people who make a regular effort to be thankful, live richer lives? Counting blessings and expressing gratitude for what we already have instead of focusing on what we don’t makes us happier.
Psychological studies have shown that a grateful attitude increases self-esteem, reduces depression, and makes us more resilient when hard times come our way. It improves our relationships with others, makes us more optimistic, and makes us more likely to be generous givers. On the physical side, studies have shown that fostering a thankful spirit reduces blood pressure, promotes relaxation and improved sleep, and can even shorten recovery time from illness.
I can’t help but think of the iconic cowboy. Humble, grateful for the little things in life, unbothered by the big things that reside outside his control. He’ll let God tackle those. He counts himself fortunate if he has a horse that don’t limp, a roof that don’t leak, and a wide open sky to gaze upon. He’s content.
I know that’s a romanticized ideal, but I like it. It helps me put things into perspective. But then again, maybe it’s not quite so romanticized. As I was searching the internet for ideas for this post, I ran across this story that ran on the CBS evening news back in September of last year. Not only did this story make me laugh, but it made me want to stand up and cheer for the humble cowboy who made a choice to do what was right and asked for nothing in return.
I know we’re all busy with holiday preparations, so I’m going to keep today’s post short and sweet. And the sweet is quite literal. In honor of the best eating holiday around, I thought I’d share my mother’s recipe for my favorite Thanksgiving dish – Candied Yams. Mmmmmm. They are so good. I never quite get mine to taste as good as hers, but they’re close enough to thoroughly enjoy.
Wrap 5 large Red Garnet Yams in foil (poke a few vent holes with a short knife in each) and bake in a 400 degree oven until soft (about 1 to 1 1/2 hours). Let cool.
(Red Garnet Yams are much better than sweet potatoes, but if you can’t find them, sweet potatoes will work, too.)
Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of my mom’s yams, but this one came the closest. They won’t be syrupy, though. Just buttery and candied around the edges.
Unwrap yams, remove skin, and slice lengthwise into thin, oblong strips about 1/4 inch thick. Lay flat in a shallow baking dish (jelly roll pans work great), fitting them close together so almost no pan is visible. You will probably need at least 2 pans. Sprinkle generously with brown sugar. Drizzle (or spoon) melted butter over the yams until all the sugar is moistened. Bake in a 400 degree oven again until yams get dark (sticky and candied) around edges (usually 45-60 minutes).
Use a metal spatula to remove yams. Serve in a shallow dish.
Old-fashioned. Simple. And delicious!
Click Cover to Order
The other sweet I’m offering today is a free book. WooHoo!!! Who doesn’t love a great Christmas story to curl up with around the holidays?
I had the honor of meeting author Jolene Navarro at a library event in the small Texas town of Llano. I snatched up a copy of her latest release, A Texas Christmas Wish, knowing all of my Petticoats & Pistols friends would love the chance to win a signed copy.
So, to enter for a chance to win, simply leave a comment about your favorite Thanksgiving dish.
Have a blessed day tomorrow with family and friends. May your hearts be filled with gratitude and your bellies be filled with delicious food.
In Texas, pecans are a Big Deal. The trees are native to the state, and according the archaeological record, they’ve been here since long before humans arrived. When people did arrive, they glommed onto the nuts right away as an excellent source of essential vitamins (19 of them, in fact), fats, and proteins. Comanches and other American Indians considered the nuts a dietary staple, combining pecans with fruits and other nuts to make a sort of “trail mix.” They also used pecan milk to make an energy drink and thickened stews and soups with the ground meat. Most Indians carried stores of the nuts with them when they traveled long distances, because pecans would sustain them when no other food sources were available.
An individual Texas pecan tree may live for more than 1,000 years. Some grow to more than 100 feet tall.
Pecans have been an important agricultural product in Texas since the mid-1800s. In 1850, 1,525 bushels left the Port of Galveston; just four years later, the number of bushels exceeded 13,000. In 1866, the ports at Galveston, Indianola, and Port Lavaca combined shipped more than 20,000 barrels of pecans.
Nevertheless, as the state’s population exploded, pecan groves dwindled. Trees were cut to clear fields for cotton. Pecan wood was used to make wagon parts and farm implements. One of Texas’s great natural resources was depleted so quickly that in 1904, the legislature considered passing laws to prevent the complete disappearance of the pecan.
Left alone to regenerate for a couple of decades, Texas pecan groves came back bigger than ever. Until 1945, Texas trees produced more 30 percent of the U.S. pecan crop. In 1910, pecan production in the state reached nearly 6 million pounds, and the trees grew in all but eight counties. During the 1920s, Texas exported 500 railcar loads per year, and that was only 75 percent of the state’s crop. The average annual production between 1936 and 1946 was just shy of 27 million pounds; in 1948, a banner year for pecan production, the crop zoomed to 43 million pounds produced by 3,212,633 trees. In 1972, the harvest reached a whopping 75 million pounds.
Texas pecan orchard
During the Great Depression, the pecan industry provided jobs for many Texans. The nuts had to be harvested and shelled. Shelling employed 12,000 to 15,000 people in San Antonio alone.
The Texas legislature designated the pecan the official state tree in 1919. Between then and now, pecan nuts became Texas’s official state health food (Texas has an official health food?), and pecan pie became the state’s official pie (and my official favorite pie). Pecan wood is used to make baseball bats, hammer handles, furniture, wall paneling, flooring, carvings, and firewood.
Yep. Pecans have always been, and continue to be, a Big Deal in Texas—especially during the holidays. I’d be surprised if any native Texans don’t bake at least one pecan pie for either Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner or both.
Texas pecan pie. Do you see how dark and luscious that is? Milk-custard, my hind leg.
The first known appearance of a pecan pie recipe in print can be found on page 95 in the February 6, 1886, issue of Harper’s Bazaar. I’ll bet Texans were baking the pies long before that, though—and I’ll bet even back then Texas pecan pies weren’t the wimpy little milk-custard-based, meringue-covered things Harper’s recommended. In Texas, we make our pecan pies with brown sugar, molasses or corn syrup, butter, eggs, a whole bunch of pecans, and sometimes bourbon.
Another thing Texans have been making with pecans for a long, long time is cinnamon-pecan cake—another treat lots of folks enjoy around the holidays. My family doesn’t put bourbon in this dessert. Instead, we pour a delicious whiskey sauce over each slice. (It occurs to me that for a passel of Baptists, my family sure cooks with a lot of liquor. See the old family recipe for muscadine wine here.)
On to the cake recipe!
Cinnamon Pecan Cake
1 cup butter, softened
2 ½ cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1 cup chopped pecans
Additional chopped pecans or pecan halves for topping, if desired
Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and lightly flour two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans.
In large bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt.
In another large bowl, beat butter and sugar at medium speed 3 to 4 minutes or until light and fluffy. Beating at low speed, add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.
At low speed, alternately add milk and flour mixture into sugar mixture, beating just until blended. Fold in pecans. Spread in pans. Sprinkle chopped pecans or arrange pecan halves on top, if desired.
Bake 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes; remove to wire rack and cool completely.
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
½ Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. water
3 Tbsp. sugar
¼ cup bourbon
In small saucepan over medium heat, bring cream to a boil.
Whisk cornstarch and water together and add to cream while whisking constantly.
Bring to a boil, whisk and simmer until thickened (taking care not to scorch the mixture on the bottom). Remove from heat.
Stir in sugar and bourbon. Taste. Add sugar and whiskey to adjust sweetness and flavor, if desired.
Folks in Fort Worth in the 1880s would’ve eaten this cake—or something very similar—during the holidays. That’s exactly when and where “A Long Way from St. Louis,” my contribution to Prairie Rose Publications’s Christmas anthology A Mail-Order Christmas Bride, takes place. The book—with stories by fellow fillies Cheryl Pierson and Tanya Hanson—bows November 27, but it’s available for pre-order now at Amazon.
Here’s a little about “A Long Way from St. Louis”:
Cast out by St. Louis society when her husband leaves her for another, Elizabeth Adair goes west to marry a wealthy Texas rancher. Burning with anger over the deceit of a groom who is neither wealthy nor Texan, she refuses to wed and ends up on the backstreets of Fort Worth.
Ten years after Elizabeth’s father ran him out of St. Louis, Brendan Sheppard’s memory still sizzles with the rich man’s contempt. Riffraff. Alley trash. Son of an Irish drunkard. Yet, desire for a beautiful, unattainable girl continues to blaze in his heart.
When the debutante and the ne’er-do-well collide a long way from St. Louis, they’ll either douse an old flame…or forge a new love.
So, readers… What dish—dessert, main course, side, or appetizer—absolutely must be part of your holidays? I’ll give an ebook version of A Mail-Order Christmas Bride to one of today’s commenters who answers that question. (All Petticoats and Pistols sweepstakes rules apply to this giveaway.)
Hi everyone. Our Thanksgiving holiday here in the USA is tomorrow. For the last several years, I have not “cooked” a big Thanksgiving dinner. With my daughter going to LA every year at that time and my son opting for McDonald’s so much of the time in the past, there just wasn’t a need to make a big dinner. Yes, my husband did complain. Every year. But he never offered to help with anything, either. In desperation, we tried different traditions—the “Festive Fajita Party Pack” from our nearest Mexican restaurant, which is wonderful, by the way; the “Smoked Turkey Dinner and Fixin’s” from a fantabulous barbecue place we love…but of course, it wasn’t the same.
This year, my daughter will be home with us, and she wants “the dinner.” I haven’t bought my turkey—or anything else. It’s Tuesday. I’m not stressed, though. Let me tell you why.
I have the money in the bank to buy those groceries. So many people don’t. If I want to make sweet potato pie, I don’t have to skimp on the marshmallows. If I want to make turkey, I don’t have to worry about one brand being ten cents cheaper than the brand I really want. And best of all, I can buy both kinds of cranberry sauce, since I’m the only one in my family who really loves the whole berry kind. So I’m very thankful for the fact that I don’t have to worry about being able to provide the menu I want to make for this holiday dinner.
I have learned to cook pretty darn well. It wasn’t always this way, believe me. My mother was a wonderful cook, but being a child of the 60’s I couldn’t have cared less about learning from her. I was happy with a hamburger (which I did learn how to make for myself) and chips. I learned how to cook only after I got married—and there were quite a few trial and error “errors” that had to be tossed. They were unsalvageable. So I’m glad that now I have learned through the years and am able to do the job right at this point.
I have the physical ability to cook. This may seem like a little thing. We gripe and complain sometimes about having to fix a meal, but I promise you, one short walk through a nursing home will make you thankful for so many things. Seeing the older people there who would give anything to be able to prepare a meal once more, or go work in their gardens, makes me realize how much I have to be thankful for—even the simple preparation of a holiday meal takes on new meaning.
I have a wonderful family. And this year they are all going to be home for Thanksgiving! So many military men and women are far away from everything familiar in dangerous situations. Families separate as children grow up and move away. It’s not always possible to get home for the holidays. And many homeless men and women have no families to go to.
I have fantastic memories of growing up, all of us gathered around my grandmother’s table, or wherever we could manage to find a place to perch with our plates. We spilled out onto the porch, into the living room, eating in shifts. Of course, the men ate first. It was a huge gathering—my grandmother had eleven children. I have thirty-three cousins on my mother’s side of the family. When we were done there, we’d go to my dad’s side and visit. There were only eight cousins there, but two of them were boys and loved to play cowboys and Indians. What could be better? Another blessing to be thankful for—boy cousins who were just my age.
A good time was always had by all, and that was the holiday that brought everyone home to granny’s house, even if they couldn’t come at Christmas. I had a cousin, Julie, who was a few months older than I. She was my “partner in crime”. One Thanksgiving, we spotted a package of six Milky Way candy bars in the refrigerator—our favorite. With everything going on, we managed to sneak the package out, and she hid it in her jacket. We made it out the door and into the nearby woods. This was quite a trick since she had three younger siblings at the time. We ate those candy bars, three each. I can tell you, I was feeling sick when I ate that last bite. But we were so proud of ourselves for managing to get them out undetected and to actually be alone to commit the rest of the crime. When we got back to the house, our Aunt Joyce was beside herself. It turned out, she had bought those candy bars for a specific purpose—to make her “Mississippi Mud Slide Cake” that two of her brothers-in-law had requested. Of course, as eleven-year-old children, we’d never even thought that the candy bars might be needed for a recipe. We laugh about it now, but at the time, it was serious stuff.
These are only a few of the “everyday” things that I’m so thankful for. This is really just the tip of the iceberg. When we think of everything we have in this beautiful world, it’s impossible to make a list of things to be thankful for, isn’t it?
What are you thankful for this holiday? Do you have a favorite memory to share? Come on, we’d love to hear it!