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THANK YOU!

A Slice of Southern Illinois is extremely honored and grateful to have been voted Runner Up in The Southern Illinoisan’s Reader’s Choice Awards Best Local Website Category for 2018.

We appreciate the support of our local readers as well as those throughout the world. It is exciting and humbling to know that people in 24 different countries were reading the blog last calendar year.

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Last Minute Dip

Are you searching for a tasty dip or appetizer for last minute company or a get together? This dip is only three ingredients and literally can be made in seconds. All you need is a softened brock of cream cheese or Neufchâtel cheese, a packet of Sazón, and some basil pesto.

Ingredients:

1 block of cream cheese or Neufchâtel cheese

1 packet of Sazón (found in the Latin foods isle)

1/4 cup of basil pesto

Directions:

Mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl. Adjust to taste by using more or less pesto. Serve with crackers or veggies.

Ropa Vieja: The Tonti Tica Version

Ingredients:

1 can diced tomatoes with chiles

1.lb or more marinated thin sliced breakfast steak (canola oil, worchestshire, salt, pepper)–add the marinade

A diced red pepper

An onion, halved and thinly sliced

2 minced garlic cloves

Cadlo de pollo (or powdered chicken boullion) approx 1 tablespoon or a cube

1 Sazón packet

1 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon Cumin

1 teaspoon Paprika

1/4 teaspoon Chipotle powder

Enough water to cover all but an inch or two of the contents.

Directions:

Load all ingredients into a slow cooker. Cook on low 6-8 hours or high 3-4 hours. Once done, break the meat apart into pieces with a fork. Serve over rice or potatoes.

Corn & Salad Dressing

One of the go-to condiments in our house is a really quick corn dressing–mayo, Southern Illinois honey, and Sazón– to spread on corn of the cob. Sometimes I also sprinkle either parmesan or a cheese like feta or cotija onto it once it is on the cob.

When I couldn’t decide what to put on my chef salad for lunch one day, it hit me. I could easily use the corn dressing on my salad. I added the juice of a lime to thin it a bit, and that was it.

I love it when I can have homeade things all set to go that pull double duty. I’ve been using the homeade salsa fresca in my salad for other meals as well. My lettuce was already washed, chopped, and ready to go in a bowl in the fridge. The longest it took me to do anything was tear some thinly slice ham and turkey into pieces. That’s only because I’m still dealing with the chemo-induced neuropathy. Otherwise, it was a pretty quick and tasty chef salad.

Here is the basic recipe:

Ingredients:

1 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup honey

1 packet of Sazón

Directions:

Mix all ingredients together. Adjust the thickness by adding more mayonnaise or honey.

Optional:

Add the juice or zest of a lime for variation.

My Mom’s Christmas Tray

I have a confession to make. As a child I never understood why so many people hated fruitcake, or even why it was called “cake.” You see, my Mom’s fruitcake was more like candy. She got the recipe from a fancy restaurant somewhere, and it was pretty much pecans and candied fruit.

Every year, growing up in Tonti, our family Christmas tradition was that my parents would make the fruitcake and chocolate fudge. We had to make sure to save grocery bags (they were paper…) as the recipe specified that the fruitcake be baked on brown paper bags. My mom had a golden tray for serving the fruitcake as well as homemade fudge, and eventually, my dad’s snickerdoodles. She kept a supply of these treats in the freezer to pull out for company through the Christmas season. My mom also made wonderful Swedish tea rings.

I recently found my Mom’s golden tray again, and I can’t explain how happy I was to be reunited with it. This tray triggered lots of warm, family memories.

After Thanksgiving, my family would decorate for Christmas. My mom had decorations for the entire two-story house. I tried to hang onto ones with sentimental meaning. Unfortunately, the historical May 8th Derecho of Southern Illinois destroyed some. She used to make a oragami-style poinsettia and a geometric figure ornaments that were amazing. Some house decorations were framed greeting cards–others things people had made. We had a Holiday Closet. The guest bedroom had a big, old-fashioned closet (our home had been a boarding house in the 1800’s) where seasonal decorations and home-canned goods were stored.

Christmas Cards that our family received went into a painted wooden card holder that was the same kind my parents had bought for people as Christmas gifts the first year they were married. Believe it or not, their Anniversary was Christmas Eve. At the time, both were teaching, and that was when they could be off work. My brother and I had Christmas stockings that my Mom’s cousin made for us. Since we did not have a fireplace, and the wood burning stove would not have been a safe spot for them, they always hung on the handles of the pie safe in the dining room.

My dad took care of the outdoor decorations, and I loved to help. We would wrap red plastic ribbon around the white porch posts to resemble peppermint sticks–something I still prefer to do… The old school mutli-color large bulb stands of lights went on the porch and around the living room picture window. A plastic textured Rudolph, purchased from 4-H club fundraiser, was hung on the porch.

Eventually, we added the lighted nativity scene. My mom and I somehow managed to get this home from a trip to Olney. We hadn’t thought about it not fitting in the Granada. So, we had to take everything out of the box to squeeze the plastic figures into the car… I was able to hang onto it and use it several years. Things went downhill when Baby Jesus and Mary wouldn’t light up anymore. I was afraid people would think I was being disrespectful or protesting if only Joseph was illuminated…

Not only did we have a few lights, our family loved to visit light displays. Pretty much every year, we went to Ingraham’s display near Olney and Candy Cane Lane in West Frankfort. We often visited the light display in the Olney Park as well. When I was 7, I had Chicken Pox on Christmas. That was the year I remember visiting Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville.

Candy Cane Lane, West Frankfort

Shopping malls used to be a destination as much to see the Christmas decor as to shop. Every year, there used to be sparkly Christmas trees on the roof of the Centralia strip mall. Carbondale, Effingham, and Fairview Heights all had malls that were nicely decorated. My brother and I sometimes saw Santa Claus at a store, but we also used to go to Xenia when he came to town.

We visited lots of family at Christmastime. I think probably every Christmas Eve I can remember was at my aunt and uncle’s home in Goreville and eventually Marion. We usually visited with my Salem family on Christmas sometime after we had done the Christmas morning thing at home. I have many fond memories of these times. We ate wonderful food and often played board games or just joked around with cousins, aunts, and uncles. It may not have been on Christmas Day, but we also made the rounds to see family in Centralia, Cisne, and Kinmundy.

My kids have been fortunate to spend some Christmases playing with cousins when they were younger. Unfortunately, as people grow older and busier, we tend to lose some of that connection. I pray that you and your family are able to create and hold onto fond Christmas memories too.

Sparkling Lights, Comforting Food, and Lots of Joy: It’s Christmastime in Southern Illinois

Have you ever wanted to step into one of those made for tv Christmas movies? You know, the ones with perfect snow, charming little towns, and cheerful Christmas decor? Perhaps the hero or heroine has a scene or two driving through a small blizzard with the perfect, handpicked Christmas tree, tied to the top of a vintage truck.

While there is no guarantee that any of the cafés will have a snowglobe with a track record of granting Christmas wishes, many of the things in those tv movies can be found right here in Southern Illinois. Hometown Christmas celebrations, parades, lighted Christmas displays and more are celebrated by many from I-70 by Effingham down to the Kentucky state line. Whether it snows or not (our weather can range from below zero to near 70 degrees in December–sometimes all in one week,) it’s a beautiful season.

One of the earliest kick offs to the season happened this year when “The Great Christmas Light Fight” visited Candy Cane Lane in West Frankfort to tape for airing in 2019. People have visited Candy Cane Lane for decades to see the brightly decorated neighborhood in West Frankfort. I can remember driving through with my family as a child when we were en route home to Salem from Christmas Eve dinner with family in Marion.

Many communities still have Christmas Tree Lighting ceremonies. Murphysboro will have theirs on November 30. Others also have community Christmas celebrations, such as Christmas in Carterville on December 7.

Besides Christmas Light displays, Southern Illinois also hosts beautiful Christmas parades. I was actually fortunate to be in the first Lights Fantastic Parade in Carbondale as part of the SIU Marching Salukis Color Guard. It was very cold, but a lot of fun. There turned out to be a learning curve to lighted parades. Some of the floats caught on fire that year. Meanwhile, we had adorned our flag poles with battery-operated light sets. They looked awesome. However, when we did slams, the lights did not fair so well… I love that the parade is now a community tradition. This year, the parade will be on December 1. There is also a Cookie Walk and Java Fest earlier the same day.

Some of the Christmas celebrations are listed by town with links to additional information under Events on the website and ASOSI app. You can also check out locally-owned food, lodging, and shopping opportunities to make it a Christmas vacation.

https://asliceofsouthernillinois.com/events/