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The second tree

Story and photos by Angie Sutton


It happened overnight. The political ads went away and suddenly the aisles at every discount store were cheerily lined up with Christmas trees of various sizes and colors adorned with twinkling lights. People were pushing carts like mesmerized zombies as they attempted to select some decorative theme they would lift up for the holidays. “Do we go all silver?” a lady asked her friend. In the next aisle a little girl pulled on her mom’s arm and begged for the decorations that looked like giant pieces of candy. I quickly selected my harvest-theme wreath for my front door and headed for the check-out counter.

It occurred to me that the commercialism of the holiday season brings with it the tendency to focus on what we don’t have and what we want rather than a true emphasis on all we already possess. I know full well what I have in my possession. I just moved it all. Moving is a great awakening to the overabundance of materials things we have.

Now, I don’t mean to apply a negative overtone when I use “material” as a descriptor of our possessions. Many of my possessions have great value to me. The kind of value that is not necessarily monetary but essentially irreplaceable. Mementos of my kids’ childhood ventures, scrapbooks and hat pins from my great-grandma Anna and storage tubs of quilts hand-sewn by various matriarchs in my family lineage are valuable to me.

Okay, so I admit, I too fall under the spell of consumer marketing when it comes to picking a theme for my Christmas tree. I’m not sure when this happened. I have a tub marked “turquoise and black theme” and another marked “K-State theme.” And perhaps there are a couple more tubs. My kids really prefer the haphazard, mish-mash of ornaments in the last couple of tubs. Hence the “second tree” was born. This was “my tree.” I would do this second tree with a theme selected by none other than myself. I was one of those ladies in the aisle asking my friend, “Would it be too weird to have peacock feathers on my Christmas tree?”

The weekend after Thanksgiving the kids will begin dragging out the Christmas decorations. We’ll put the artificial tree together and reminisce as we pull tissue-wrapped ornaments of various sizes out of their tub and place them on the tree. These ornaments have no theme. They are an indiscriminate collection of balls, souvenir knickknacks, handmade embellishments by the kids and curiosities picked up from who knows where. We’ll play Christmas music, eat soup and laugh a lot in the process.

I don’t think I’ll do a second tree this year. Something about the concept is just not quite right. I pick the theme… a new one each year of course. I put it together by myself because surely nobody else can manage to make it look like the one on the pin website. There’s no laughter or memories being made. And honestly, nobody else will enjoy the vintage Santa-themed pencil tree but me anyway.

As I’m leaving the big box store with my harvest wreath, I make a vow to myself. This season I will be purposeful in my consideration of things that are important. As my pastor always reminds us, look at things as an “I get to” versus an “I have to.” This season I get to decorate a themed Christmas tree. The theme is, “precious memories.” It will have crazy lights and off-balanced placement of decorations. Stuff will get broken and possibly a few things eaten by small children or the dog. It won’t be the type of tree that appears in the feature section of some magazine, but it will be our tree.

Here are recipes of things we’ll be enjoying during our mass decorating weekend.

Tammie’s Chicken Tetrazzini Recipe

Source: Debbie Sutton via friend Tammie

1 (16 oz.) box spaghetti noodles, broken into 2” pieces, uncooked
1 can chicken broth
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/4 tsp. celery salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
3 c. cubed cooked chicken
1 small onion, chopped
2 small jars diced pimientos
4 c. shredded cheddar and mozzarella cheese, divided

Cook spaghetti according to package directions, drain and set aside. Meanwhile, combine chicken broth, cream of mushroom soup, cream of chicken soup, celery salt, pepper, chicken, onion and pimientos together in a medium sauce pan. Heat over medium heat until warm. Stir the spaghetti and 2 cups of the cheese mixture into the soup mixture. Spread into a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Top with remaining cheese. Bake, uncovered, at 350 F oven for 40 minutes, or until heated through.

Fudge-Striped Cookie Salad

2 (3.4 oz) packages instant coconut cream pudding

1 1/2 c. half and half
1 pkg. fudge-striped cookies
1 (11 oz.) can mandarin oranges, drained
1 (8 oz.) can pineapple tidbits, drained
1 (10 oz.) contained whipped topping, thawed

Beat the pudding with the half and half. Fold whipped topping into the pudding mixture. Add the fruit and fold in. Break the cookies into small pieces and stir gently into the mixture, reserving 5 whole cookies. Dump into serving bowl. Break the remaining 5 cookies into larger pieces and arrange on top. Chill overnight.

Mother Jewel Taylor’s Gingerbread

Source: Handwritten by my husband’s grandma Helen from her mom

2 3/4 c. flour
3 eggs
1 c. dark molasses
1 c. sugar
1 c. vegetable oil
1 c. hot water
2 Tbsp. vinegar
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon

Beat eggs well. Mix molasses, sugar and vegetable oil together with eggs. Sift dry ingredients and stir into molasses mixture. Stir in the hot water. Prepare loaf pan or 9-inch-square cake pan with nonstick spray. Bake in a 350 F oven until done (Mine takes about 40 minutes.)

Mozzarella Meat Swirl

Source: Gayla Swisher

1 lb. ground beef
1 egg
3/4 c. dried bread crumbs
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 Tbsp. chopped onion
1 (8 oz.) package shredded mozzarella cheese
3/4 c. ketchup
3/4 c. water
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. brown sugar

Mix together ground beef, egg, dried bread crumbs, salt, black pepper and chopped onion; then pat out meat mixture on waxed paper to a rectangle of approximately 10- by 14-inches. Sprinkle evenly with mozzarella cheese. Roll from end to end; seal off sides. Discard waxed paper. Place meat roll in baking dish. In a small bowl, mix ketchup, water, Worchestershire sauce and brown sugar. Pour over meat roll. Bake at 350 F for 1 hour.

Double Chocolate Coca-Cola Cake

Source: Debbie Sutton

1 c. Coca-Cola
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 stick butter
3 Tbsp. cocoa
2 c. granulated sugar
2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1/2 c. buttermilk
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla


1 stick butter
3 Tbsp. cocoa
6 Tbsp. heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla
3 3/4 c. confectioner’s sugar

For cake: In a saucepan, mix Coke, oil, butter and cocoa. Bring to a boil. In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar, flour and salt. Pour boiling Coke mixture over flour mixture and beat well. Add eggs, buttermilk, soda and vanilla and beat well. Pour mixture into prepared 9- by 13-inch pan. Bake at 350 F for 25 minutes. Cool on wire rack 10 minutes before frosting.

For frosting: In a saucepan, combine butter, cocoa and cream. Heat until butter melts. Mix in remaining ingredients and spread on cake while still warm.

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