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Spice of life: Minimize prep to maximize family time

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Sausage balls can be made ahead of time and frozen before serving Christmas morning.
Sausage balls can be made ahead of time and frozen before serving Christmas morning. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Once you get the kids in bed, you can make an egg casserole the night before you plan to serve it.
Once you get the kids in bed, you can make an egg casserole the night before you plan to serve it. SUBMITTED PHOTO

With a couple quick tips, a fruit salad can be put together in minutes.
With a couple quick tips, a fruit salad can be put together in minutes. SUBMITTED PHOTO

I didn’t hear about what happened on Dec. 14 until I was on my way home from work. Thankfully we were shielded from that information; and because I do not sit behind a computer all day, I didn’t see it come across the Internet.

I am fortunate in that my kids saw a movie after school with their father and they also do not have access to the Internet without going through me.

They were blissfully unaware of the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School all weekend until my husband and I told them together on Sunday. I felt that was the way it should be. We wanted to make sure this was something they heard from us, to give them a measure of security. Well, as much as you can as a parent, I guess.

We told them what happened in as much detail as they needed to know, answered their questions and explained to them that they are safe. We didn’t want them to leave the house the next day holding their breath and waiting for something to occur around the corner.

We reassured them that as parents we cannot be with them all of the time but what we can do is make sure that they are in the safest environments possible at all times. We couldn’t control the actions of others, but we could control where they are and whom they are with, for the most part.

I told them that if I had worries about their safety, which I don’t, I would say something. I would become involved. As parents, we are our children’s best and most important advocate.

We ended our talk by reminding them of two things: There were so many people who stepped in to help these children that day, and our boys know so many people who would do that when we were not there to take care of them.

Lastly, I wanted them to know that every day we have together is worth something. Every experience, every laugh, school event, every meal and every bedtime story. These are the events that weave the tapestry of their lives.

I don’t want them to live in fear of the unknown. Rather, I want them to understand that it can happen anywhere and at any time. We just had to trust that it won’t and continue to live our lives.

They were both so sad for the lives lost; and like many children, they are at a loss as to what they can do. I told them to remember. Remember that these people did count and use that to make each day they spend just a bit more meaningful because it is a gift.

I am not sure if this is the right thing. As a parent there is certainly no handbook for these kinds of things. But what I can do is make every day count, make our seemingly insignificant experiences matter.

I was asked to share three of my favorite make-ahead or quick Christmas morning bites this week. I prepared my traditional egg casserole, my mother-in-law’s sausage ball recipe I revamped and my grandmother’s holiday fruit salad. Each recipe means something to me for different reasons.

This year, though, I see the need to minimize kitchen prep to maximize family time more than ever. I do not want to miss a minute of the holidays with my

children because I am in the kitchen. You can assemble the egg casserole the night before, make the sausage balls ahead of time and reheat the morning of, and the fruit salad comes together in minutes thanks to my grandmother’s tip about using pie filling.

I wish you all a happy holiday spent with family, friends or doing something you love. Thank you all for reading this year. I wish you all the best.

Sausage and Apple Balls


2 16-ounce packages of sausage of your choice. I used a mild, but you can use what you like.

2 scant cups of biscuit baking mix such as Bisquick

4 cups of freshly shredded sharp cheddar. Use 3½ if it seems to be too much.

¾ cup of finely diced unpeeled red apple

2 teaspoons of black pepper

Pinch of kosher salt

2 teaspoons of onion powder

2 teaspoons of minced garlic (optional)


Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and combine with your hands. Roll into 1-inch balls and place on a parchment lined rimmed baking sheet. It may seem to dry, but by squeezing and rolling into balls it rolls just fine. Bake for 18-20 minutes at 375 degrees.

You can make these ahead of time and freeze once cooled. Thaw when you need them and heat them until just warm in the oven set at 250 degrees.

Festive Fruit Salad with Coconut


1 11-ounce can of Mandarin oranges, drained and juices reserved

1 20-ounce can of pineapple chunks, drained and juices reserved

2 medium apples, chopped

2 bananas, sliced thick

1 pint of strawberries, sliced in half (Red grapes work really well here, too.)

1 21-ounce can of peach pie filling

¼ cup of coconut flakes, toasting optional


In a small bowl add the apples, banana, and pineapple and Mandarin juice. Allow to sit until the rest of the salad is assembled, drain and add to the salad bowl.

In a large decorative bowl add the pineapple, Mandarin oranges, strawberries and peach pie filling. Fold in the apples and bananas. Top with the coconut.

Make Ahead Egg Casserole


4 cups of frozen shredded hash browns, thawed

1 cup of small cubed ham or 1 cup of diced cooked bacon

1 4-ounce can of diced green chilies

½ cup of Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

½ cup of cheddar cheese, shredded

6 eggs

1 12-ounce can of evaporated milk or 12 ounces of half and half

Salt and pepper

Salsa and sour cream for garnish


In a greased 8x8 baking dish, layer the hash browns, ham, chilies and cheese. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and salt/pepper. Pour over the casserole. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until a knife stuck in the center comes out clean. Let stand for a moment before serving. Garnish with salsa and sour cream, optional.

Heather Tallman lives in the Center Grove area and writes the cooking blog Basilmomma.

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