Simplifying family traditions can make the holidays feel more meaningful. Photo: CC0 Public Domain, 2017

As I was thinking of potential topics for this month’s Diamond Certified Consumer Report, I decided it was time for something completely different. Rather than writing about how to be a savvy online shopper, giving wisely during the holiday season or the pros and cons of gift cards, I wanted to share something more personal.

Every year, I ask my family members to think about how we can simplify our celebrations. For example, how about drawing names for gifts instead of shopping for every person? I’ve introduced the idea of a “white elephant” gift exchange where we re-gift items we already have on hand. Rather than going out for a family restaurant meal before Christmas, why not have a bowl of soup at home and sing Christmas carols in the neighborhood?

I have to admit that not all of my suggestions have been embraced enthusiastically, but over time, my family has come around to my main points, which are to focus on the simple things and not get distracted from the meaning of the holidays. The gift lists are shorter, our favorite charities receive bigger donations and we’re much more conscious of the importance of simply being together.

One thing that has taken on the greatest meaning for us is our dinner on Christmas Eve. When I grew up, we always had a Scandinavian meal and the day was extra special because it was also my father’s birthday. In his honor, we always made a layered chocolate cake in the shape of a Christmas tree. I loved that festive cake. While that tradition has been retired since my father passed away, we still make the same meal my mother made when I was a child.

Fortunately, my husband, children and extended family always look forward to the menu: Swedish meatballs, lingonberries, limpa bread, noodles with sour cream and dill, red cabbage with apple and caraway seed, and baked beans.

While you probably have your own special traditions and foods for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I want to share my Swedish meatball recipe anyway as my gift to you this holiday season

Chris’ Swedish Meatballs
3/4 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground veal
1/4 pound ground pork
1 1/2 cup soft bread crumbs
1 cup half and half
1/2 cup chopped onions
1 tablespoon butter
1 egg
1/4 cup parsley
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped capers
1/4 teaspoon ginger
Dash of pepper and nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Grind meats together TWICE. Soak bread in half and half for about 5 minutes. Cook onion in butter until tender and not brown. Combine meats, bread mixture, egg, onion, parsley and seasonings. Beat for 5 minutes at medium speed on electric mixer. Form into 1 ½ inch balls. (Mixture will be soft. For easier shaping, wet hands when necessary.) Brown meatballs in a skillet and don’t try to do too many at a time. Remove meatballs from the skillet.

Gravy
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup strong coffee
3/4 cup condensed beef broth
1/4 cup cold water

Stir flour into drippings in skillet. Add broth, water and coffee. Heat and stir until gravy thickens. Return meatballs to gravy. Put meatballs and gravy in a casserole dish and cover. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until gravy is bubbly.

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