Keeping family traditions alive during the holiday season


My family home at Christmas time.

My family home at Christmas time.

The holiday season is a very special time of year. Not only do we all have the opportunity to spend quality time with family and friends, it’s also a time when we reflect upon years gone by and cherished memories.

I miss my parents and great-grandparents. They were a very special part of the holidays.

I have so many fond memories of Christmas with my family such as opening up one gift on Christmas Eve and having a huge breakfast Christmas morning with my great-grandparents.

The tradition of opening up a gift on Christmas Eve started when my mom had to spend Christmas at the hospital one year when I was around 10 years old. I was not able to visit her in the hospital so she called me on the phone on Christmas Eve to talk to me and told me I could open up one present while I was on the phone with her. I still remember that day very well. I opened the Ballerina Barbie that I really wanted for Christmas that year.

My own family has traditions too. Every Christmas Eve we go out to a fancy restaurant for dinner. We used to spend Christmas Eve with family but they have passed on. After dinner we drive around town looking at all the holiday decorations and critiquing them and giving out imaginary awards for “Most Beautiful”, “Most Tacky” and “Most Original” holiday displays.

Me (in gray), my cousins and my great-grandfather.

Me (in gray), my cousins and my great-grandfather.


The day after Thanksgiving we put up the Christmas Tree. Then we all all decorate the tree with our ornaments. As we are putting up the ornaments we reflect upon when we received the ornament and why its so special to us. My husband and I have ornaments we hang on our tree from our youth. We love sharing stories about the ornaments with our children, even though they have heard the stories again and again over the years.

My mom started the tradition of buying me a new ornament every year for Christmas. That way when I was grown up and on my own I had plenty of ornaments to decorate my own tree. I still have all those ornaments. We did the same with our children. Each year we buy them a new ornament. It’s fun to see how their tastes have changed over the years. They even have ornaments from their great-grandparents that were given to them when they were babies.

We love giving gifts. When I was young I used to make gifts (as did my kids when they were little). I even have the very first gift I ever gave to anyone – an inexpensive ceramic elf that I bought for my mom when I was about 7 or 8 years old. My sister lent me the money (actually, she gave me the money, I didn’t have money to pay her back at that age). When my mom passed away I took the elf to come and live with me and my family. Every Christmas I put it on my desk so I can look at it and remember how excited I was to give it to my mom.

My dad was not easy to buy for. There was only so much cologne I could buy him.

One holiday tradition was to buy him and all the men in our family a box of Whoppers. I don’t know how that started. Dad loved Whoppers so I bought him a box when I was younger and it sort of became a tradition to give him and the rest of the men a box of Whoppers. How weird is that?

Hickory Farms Melt Away Mints

It was also a tradition to buy my great-grandfather Melt Away Mints from Hickory Farms. My great-grandfather LOVED them. Because of that everyone in our family would buy him a bag or two from the pop up Hickory Farms kiosks that would show up during the holiday season. Every single year we would buy them for him. He looked forward to them because Christmas time was the only time he would have his beloved Melt Away Mints.

Even though my great-grandfather passed away in the mid-80’s I still pick up Melt Away Mints whenever I come across a Hickory Farms kiosk at the mall. They bring back such fond memories of Christmas and my great-grandfather.

Hickory Farms has been around for over sixty years and have become a holiday tradition with many families. Many families have fond memories of Hickory Farms during the holiday season and Hickory Farms is proud to be a part of those special memories.

Hickory Farms embraces passing down traditions through generations of families as well as creating new traditions with family and friends.

Hickory Farms has plenty of great gifts that you can give to those special people in your life from gourmet cheeses and sausages to delicious sweet treats and of course my great-grandfather’s beloved Melt Away Mints.

There are nearly 600 Hickory Farms Holiday Market stores and kiosks across the country (North America). You can also find Hickory Farms products at select retailers. Of course you can also purchase Hickory Farms products online.

Hickory Farms Traditions

I received a special gift from Hickory Farms – Cheddar Flight with Salami. It’s from their Hickory Farms Reserve Collection.

The gift set I received contained;

  • 7 oz. Dry Salami
  • 5 oz. Smoked Garlic Cheddar
  • (2) 5 oz. 3 Year Aged Cheddar
  • 5 oz. Apple Smoked Cheddar with Paprika

I couldn’t resist trying the 3 year aged Cheddar right away. I LOVE cheese – especially Cheddar.

The cheese had a wax like coating on it that was unlike anything I have had before. I have never had cheese that was coated with something. I wasn’t sure how to remove it.

The cheese was aged to perfection. It had a nice sharpness to it. It was unlike the kind of Cheddar that I buy at the grocery store. This Cheddar was more like something you’d get at a fancy gourmet restaurant.

I also tried the Apple Smoked Cheddar with Paprika. MMMM!!!!!! This is GREAT cheese! I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it but I LOVED it (notice I said “loved”? I finished it a long time ago). I orginally cut up some pieces to put on top of crackers, but I enjoyed it so much I just age the slices on their own (no crackers). To quote a slang expression, this cheese is “Da Bomb”. (LOL!).


I haven’t had the Salami or Smoked Garlic Cheddar yet. I am saving those for Thanksgiving, as well as the second chunk of aged Cheddar.

If you  know someone who loves cheeses and meats like Salami, this would make a great gift. You could also pick up a gift set for yourself to serve to holiday guests (or simply enjoy it yourself).

If you would like to check out what Hickory Farms has to offer visit them online at HickoryFarms.com. Also look for one of their many holiday markets and kiosks.

You can also check out the brand on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest. Links to their social media sites are found on their website (bottom of the home page).

Do you have a special holiday tradition in your family? Did you have traditions growing up?

Has Hickory Farm become a part of your family’s holiday traditions?

Feel free to share your stories. I love to hear from my readers.



*I received a free product sample in order to do this review. Compensation and products for review were provided by Hickory Farms via MomTrends.  The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and are not indicative of the opinions of Hickory Farms. 

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Your Guide to Thanksgiving from Whole Foods Market


Thanksgiving Turkey

Thanksgiving is almost here. I’m sure most people have their holiday plans all set and ready to go.

It’s always only me and my family for Thanksgiving (me, my husband and our two teenagers). My father goes to Indiana with my stepmother to have Thanksgiving with my stepsister’s family. The rest of the family (cousins) all have other plans or live out of state. I miss the days of big family get togethers for the holiday.

My kids are not big fans of Thanksgiving turkey. They rather eat the side dishes and dessert.

I know this sounds like a strange idea but we normally buy our Thanksgiving dinner pre-cooked. Our local grocery store offers a package that includes a full size, fully cooked turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, gravy and creamed spinach (we never eat the spinach). We buy that package and make a few extra side dishes and rolls, plus a dessert. It’s worked well for us for many years.

This year we received a really nice turkey from JENNI-O so we’re going to make our own dinner this year. It’s been about 17 years since I made a turkey for Thanksgiving, so it’s going to be interesting.

I know many people won’t have it any other way. They truly enjoy the entire process of preparing the food for their family to enjoy on Thanksgiving.

Our friends at Whole Foods Market has some great tips they wanted to share with readers to help you with your holiday meal.

Picking Your Poultry:

  • Start early: reserve your turkey ahead of time to make sure you get your pick of the flock.
  • Weigh your options and try to get fresh: Go for turkeys that allow at least one to one-and-a-half pounds per person. At Whole Foods Market, fresh turkeys are raised to reach the perfect size just before the holiday season, then processed and stored so you get the juiciest, most flavorful meat possible.
  • Consult your butcher: When it doubt, your butcher is your best friend. From organic to heritage turkeys, there are a lot of options to choose from. Your butcher can help you pick the perfect bird for your gathering.


  • Factor in defrosting time: For the best results, your turkey should be as close to room temperature as possible before roasting. Frozen turkeys take about 24 hours per five pounds of meat to thaw in the fridge. Extra tip — you can save on time with a fresh turkey!
  • Brining is the way to go: Brining makes for a tender, juicy bird. Whole Foods Market’s 365 Everyday Value brine kit and adaptable basic brine recipe are two great picks for first-timers.


  • Instructions: They are your friend – each bird tends to cook differently, so follow instructions carefully.
  • Check for doneness: Use a meat thermometer to test the thickest part of the thigh, not touching bone. When it registers 165 °F, the turkey’s ready. If you stuff your turkey, plan for an extra 5 top 7 minutes cooking time per pound.


  • Rest: A key thing to remember when your turkey is done is to let it sit for 30 minutes before carving so the juices can redistribute. This locks in moisture and makes for smooth slicing.

These are some really great tips.

I would love to hear from readers too. Since I am making dinner this year for my family (first time in almost two decades!) I can use some great tips and tricks to help make sure our meal is a success.

Feel free to share any additional tips, tricks or advice you might have. Thank you!

Thanksgiving Table


*I was not compensated for this post. I posted this for the enjoyment of my site readers. The opinions expressed are not necessarily my own. 

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“Wonderfully Complicated” chocolate bars from Scharffen Berger


Wonderfully Complicated

I love chocolate. I REALLY love chocolate. It’s my favorite indulgence.

Almost all chocolate is great, however I tend to prefer gourmet chocolates over the kind you find at the grocer’s check out.

Plain, dark chocolate is probably my favorite however I do enjoy chocolate enhanced with little extras like fruits and nuts (especially nuts).

Have you ever heard of the chocolatier called Scharffen Berger? They make artisanal chocolates. I have not heard of them until now.

Scharffen Berger has introduced four new chocolate bars that they have dubbed “Wonderfully Complicated” as part of a delicious new campaign.

Crafted from the world’s finest cacao, Scharffen Berger Chocolate includes incredible taste complexities and varietals from different parts of the globe.  The “Wonderfully Complicated” campaign illustrates that, just like the people who enjoy it, fine artisanal chocolate is anything but simple – and neither can be described with just one word.  They are both rich, multi-layered and complex.

We’re all a little “Wonderfully Complicated”. Just like chocolate people can also be “dark, spicy and mysterious” or “sweet, salty and a little nutty.” Scharffen Berger artisanal chocolates pay homage to both the taste profile of the bars and also the people who eat them.

Scharffen Berger recently added four new, rich and distinctive chocolate bars to their line of products, creating some “Wonderfully Complicated” flavors with on-trend exotic ingredients.


The new bars are…

When it comes to chocolate the higher the percentage of cocoa, the more bitter the taste. Personally I like high percentage cocoa. I also prefer dark chocolate over milk chocolate.

Scharffen Berger’s 72% Signature Dark Chocolate bar was heavenly (notice I said “was” – it’s long gone). It’s a dark chocolate lovers perfect bar. Rick, full bodied and oh-so-good!

I would never think to pair pistachios with sea salt. It’s also not common to find pistachios in chocolate. The flavor combination between the nuts, sea salt and rick dark chocolate works beautifully together. I thoroughly enjoyed this chocolate bar.

I like milk chocolate but I opted to share the 33% milk chocolate with my hubby and my kids (my kids don’t like dark chocolate). I did try a piece. These bars are big enough for sharing. This chocolate melted in my mouth. It’s so smooth and creamy. Just heavenly!

I’m the only one in my home who likes coconut. Oh darn. That means I have the Milk Chocolate with Toasted Coconut and Macadamia bar all to myself. I have tried a few chunks here and there. Once again it’s a fabulous flavor combination.

These are truly gourmet bars. These are not the kind you find a the grocery store shelf. These chocolate bars are good enough to be served as dessert after a fancy dinner.

These chocolate bars would also make a great holiday gift or stocking stuffer. I would give these to adults (an adult stocking) more so then a child. Adults would appreciate them more. These chocolates are made to be eaten slowly and enjoyed –  not gobbled up within minutes like most kids would do. LOL!

If you would like to try out all four new bars you can buy them bundled together (complete with a ribbon) for $17.99 on the Scharffen Berger website. You can also find other delicious gourmet chocolate bars on their site too.

For more information, visit www.ScharffenBerger.com. You can also check out the brand on Facebook or Instagram.

Do you like chocolate? What is your favorite type of chocolate? What do you think of these new Scharffen Berger chocolate bar flavors?

Scharffen Berger Logo


*I received free product samples in order to do this review. There was no compensation. The opinions expressed are my own and not influenced in any way. 

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Look what just “popped up” in grocery stores near you



When you think of yummy snack foods what comes to mind? Chips? Cookies? Cake? Candy? While these are all good (and yummy) there is one snack food that doesn’t get as much attention as it should – popcorn!

I love popcorn. Why whole family does. We probably eat popcorn at least once a week.

Popcorn is a great, healthier for you snap option. Plain popped popcorn has few calories. A cup of air popped popcorn with no toppings (salt, butter…) is less than 50 calories. If you look at a cup of popcorn is a nice serving size.

I try and air pop popcorn whenever possible and use seasonings from our pantry (or just eat plain).

Sometimes we crave flavored popcorn. That is when we turn to popcorn we find in the grocery store.

I tend to stay away from microwave popcorn.

One of our favorite brands of microwave popcorn is now available pre-popped!

Pop Secret now sells pre-popped popcorn. Now you can enjoy their flavorful popcorn without the need of a microwave.

Pop Secret pre-popped popcorn is available in four yummy flavors – White Cheddar, Salted, Homestyle and Kettle Corn.

You can feel good about eating Pop Secret’s pre-popped popcorn because the popcorn has zero grams of trans-fat per serving, is gluten-free, made with non-GMO popcorn and oil, and is 100% whole grain. Not to mention its very tasty too!

Now you can enjoy Pop Secret popcorn on the go whether it’s over the river and through the woods to grandma’s house (LOL), a tailgating party or “just because” on a chilly night curled up with a snugly blanket.

Pop Secret

Pop Secret sent my family all four flavors. My kids went crazy for them. In fact the gobbled through them in no time. Thankfully I was able to sample some before my kids ate them all up.

The popcorn was very tasty. It tasted like it was freshly popped too. Unlike other store bought pre-popped popcorns that have a bland, artificial or stale taste to them, the Pop Secret pre-popped popcorn tasted like I had just popped it in the microwave minutes earlier.

I like the fact that you can take out as much as you want. Instead of popping a whole bag of popcorn when you only feel like a handful or two, you can take out just as much as you want. For me that was a handful or two that I would put in a bowl. Then I would just use a “chip clip” to close up the bag until the next time I wanted some.

My kids put a handful or two in reusable sandwich bags and took them to school with them to snack on.

If you love popcorn you’ll want to try out the new Pop Secret pre-popped popcorn available on a grocer’s shelf near you (suggested retail price is $3.49 per bag).

Currently you’ll see the bags featuring the popular characters from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Have you tried Pop Secrets pre-popped popcorn yet? What is your favorite popcorn flavor?

For more information visit www.PopSecret.com. You can also find the brand on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The social media links are found on their website.

Pop Secret Logo


*I received free product samples in order to do this review. There was no compensation. The opinions expressed are my own and not influenced in any way. 

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UV Chocolate Cake – An interesting spin to flavored vodka


Chocolate Cake

I’m not a hard liquor drinker. I tend to stick with the “lightweight” stuff or wine. Once in a “blue moon” I’ll indulge in something with a bit more of a “bite” to it.

Hard liquor is a hit or miss with me. Sometimes it’s OK, other times it’s just way too powerful and I really can’t enjoy it.

Vodka is OK from time to time. I usually enjoy it mixed with other ingredients, not on it’s own.

These days there are a lot of flavored vodkas on the market. They are great on their own or can be used to create interesting drink recipes.

A vodka company called UV has some of the most unique flavors I have seen including Salty Caramel Apple, Sugar Crush, Sriracha, Salty Watermelon, Grape, Espresso, Candy Bar and Coconut flavored vodkas. Sriracha must be super hot.

Recently UV sent me a bottle of another one of their flavored vodkas – UV Chocolate Cake. Yes… you read that correctly – CHOCOLATE CAKE!

Mmm… I love cake. I love chocolate.

Keep in mind this is vodka, so it’s not going to taste like a real piece of chocolate cake however it does taste chocolaty.

As soon as I opened the bottle and took a whiff I could smell chocolate. I don’t know if it reminded me of cake per say. Its more so like a Tootsie Roll, which is fine with me (I love Tootsie Rolls).

UV Chocolate Cake

I’m not one to drink vodka on it’s own so I followed one of the recipes found on the bottle with one part UV Chocolate Cake and three parts cola. I don’t normally keep soda in our home so I made cola with our Soda Stream.

I have to say, it is interesting. I DOES taste like chocolate (not so much cake). Even after you swallow it the after taste is a bit chocolaty too. It’s hard to explain.

Don’t expect it to taste like chocolate syrup or chocolate milk, but it does have a chocolate-ness to it and I really enjoyed it.

I would also never think to pair it with cola. It’s a yummy combination. I want to try it again with something like Root Beer or Dr. Pepper. I bet those combinations would be awesome.

To be honest I’m tempted to try this with a bit of milk or even drizzled over vanilla ice cream. I have drizzled Crème de Menthe over vanilla ice cream in the past (it’s amazing!!!!). So I am thinking it would be OK to drizzle this over vanilla ice cream. I haven’t tried it yet but I am very tempted to do so.

I have been pleasantly surprised by this flavored vodka. It’s pretty good and yes, it does have a chocolate taste which is even more impressive. I really didn’t think it would or it would have a weird, artificial, “fake” chocolate taste to it (it doesn’t).

I can see this flavored vodka being a hit at a holiday party or any other friendly get together. Maybe even a grown up birthday party. Its a more festive drink then just plain vodka.

Group Photo

Here are a few recipes to inspire you, compliments of UV Vodka.

Hardcore Candy Bar

1 part UV Candy Bar

1 part UV 103 Vodka

1 part Triple Sec

1 part Trader Vic’s Amaretto Liquer

1 splash of cola

Serve over ice. 

Ginger Cake

1 part UV Cake

2 parts ginger ale 

Serve over ice. 

Chocolate Cake ‘n Cola

1 part UV Chocolate Cake

3 parts cola

You can find more recipes here – www.UVVodka.com/Recipes.

Please be sure to keep this away from children. With an name like Chocolate Cake children might think this is OK for them to drink. Also, PLEASE DRINK RESPONSIBLY and NEVER, EVER DRINK AND DRIVE!

What do you think about this flavored vodka? Is it something you would be interested in trying? How would you drink this? Would you enjoy it “as is” or would you incorporate it into a cocktail recipe?

For more information about this and other UV Vodka’s visit UVVodka.com. You can also find the brand on Facebook and Twitter.

UV Logo


*I received a free product sample in order to do this review. There was no compensation. The opinions expressed are my own and not influenced in any way. 

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PACt™ Cranberry Extract Water coming to a store shelf near you



Do you like cranberries? Cranberries are one of those foods that you either like or don’t like. The tart little fruits that are normally found in your Thanksgiving table in the form of sauce (jelly) or a homemade cranberry dressing.

Cranberries are available year round. You can also enjoy them year round too. I always keep cranberry sauce in my pantry. It’s great with chicken, turkey and pork.

I made my own cranberry sauce and it was D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S!!!! You can find the recipe here – Brandied Cranberry Sauce. I made it with brandy (the alcohol burns off when you cook it) but you could certainly omit that ingredient.

Here is the final product. Mmm… I need to make it again.


I enjoy drinking cranberry juice too. I love the taste.

I look for cranberry juice that is mostly juice (not loaded down with sugars and artificial stuff). I find the drink very refreshing and it tastes great too.

Cranberries are very good for you. They have a lot of health benefits.

According to WebMD…

Cranberries have vitamin C and fiber, and are only 45 calories per cup. In disease-fighting antioxidants, cranberries outrank nearly every fruit and vegetable–including strawberries, spinach, broccoli, red grapes, apples, raspberries, and cherries.

Cranberries have been shown to help with Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) and some evidence suggests that cranberries can help prevent gum disease, cardiovascular disease and aid in the prevention of certain cancers.

Cranberries contain something called Proanthocyanidins – unique, powerful elements found deep inside cranberries, to help cleanse and purify your body.

Ocean Spray is a brand I always associate with cranberries. They make cranberry sauce, cranberry juice and even packages of whole cranberries. Now they have a new product to add to their product line – PACt™ Cranberry Extract Water.


PACt™ is a new cranberry extract water from Ocean Spray that contains PACs, or Proanthocyanidins – unique, powerful elements found deep inside cranberries, to help cleanse and purify your body better than water alone. Not only that, PACt™ also helps you to hydrate your body.

Unlike most extracts which remove and utilize the flavoring component alone (i.e. vanilla extracts), the cranberry experts at Ocean Spray found a way to extract and preserve the unique health-promoting elements inside the cranberry called PACs (proanthocyanidins). PACt™ extract offers more than flavor, it offers the unique cleanse and purifying health benefits of the cranberry.

Since I love cranberries I was happy to review some samples that Ocean Spray sent me.

Currently PACt™ is available in four varieties – Cranberry Pomegranate, Cranberry Raspberry, Cranberry Blood Orange and Cranberry Mango-Passion Fruit.

The one thing I noticed is that PACt™ doesn’t have the bitter taste normally associated with cranberries. The water does taste like cranberries – just minus the tartness.

I’m on the fence as to how PACt™ tastes to me. It’s light, like flavored water, but also sweet and fruity like a juice. I’m leaning more towards a flavored water.

The bottles are a generous size at 16 ounces. I’m especially impressed that they are only 10 calories for the whole bottle. They contain only 2 grams of sugar too.


I enjoyed all of the flavors, although the Mango flavored was my least favorite (I’m not a fan of Mango).

PACt™ cranberry extract water contains 7 natural ingredients that you can see in the nutrition facts posted above.

· Purified water
· 80 mgs of PACs
· Natural sweeteners (Stevia, monk fruit extract, agave nectar)
· Natural fruit flavors
· Sea Salt

Recently PACt™ was unvieled in New York City. The event was hosted by entertainment host Maria Menounos. I was invited to the event but was unable to make it. It looks like a fun event.

Maria Menounos

Maria also shared some tips on staying healthy.

Maria’s Small Steps to an Even Better Life

Small Step #1: Walk this way! Parking the farthest away from your destination sneaks extra steps into your day.

Small Step #2: Extreme workouts out of the gate might discourage you. Take small steps you know you can achieve
when starting out!

Small Step #3: Life is a marathon, not a sprint! Slow and steady changes in diet and fitness are the smartest way
to achieve your goals.

Small Step #4: Portion Control: Instead of eating an entire egg and cheese bagel, take a quarter of the top half of
the bagel off. You still get the sandwich and taste but fewer calories. When that’s easy, try taking the top half off!

Small Step #5: Freeze your fruit! It takes longer to eat and feels more like a treat.

Small Step #6: Hydrate in a Healthy Way! Experts suggest 8-10 glasses a day to keep your body hydrated and
in good health. Make your hydration work even harder with PACt™ cranberry extract water, which cleanses and
purifies the body better than water alone.

Small Step #7: Team up. Working out with friends is a great way to catch up, and it helps keep you motivated.
Teaming up works: You don’t want to let your partner down by not showing up for your run, training session or
Saturday hike.

Small Step #8: Do what you can, when you can. Whether it’s a 10-minute stretch session, a walk around the block,
or some pushups at your desk, if your busy schedule prevents you from having a set workout plan, then just do what
you can when you can.

Small Step #9: Take 15 minutes to relax and focus on the sensation of breathing—clear your mind of everything but
the present. You may end up finding a better solution to a problem or you may just finish the day less stressed.

Small Step #10: If you have a pantry full of chips, you’re going to eat those chips. If they’re not there, you won’t eat
them. Try to keep your fridge, cabinets and desk drawers stocked with snacks that are healthy and nutritious.

These are some great tips.

PACt™ is currently available at select grocery stores, mass merchants (California & Nevada) and online. The product will roll out nationwide in 2015, so keep an eye out for it.

For more information about Ocean Spray products, recipes and more visit OceanSpray.com. You can also find the brand on social media.

Are you a fan of cranberries? What is your favorite way to enjoy this amazing little fruit?

Ocean Spray Logo


*I received free product samples in order to do this review. There was no compensation. The opinions expressed are my own and not influenced n any way. 

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