This is it! The big night! The night when children of all ages and sizes have trouble sleeping in anticipation of tomorrow, THE BIG DAY! Hope you finished your wrapping, baking, meal/snack preparations and had time left over to rest up, because you’re likely to need all the energy you can muster for today and tomorrow.

At our house, we opened gifts on Christmas Eve, probably because we usually had a house full of company for Christmas day, and preparations for the feast began early and continued steadily until time to serve the dinner.

After our Christmas Eve supper, we all piled into our ’55 Pontiac and drove around town oohing and aahing at all the beautiful decorations. Our favorite place was the Basil’s house on La Crosse Street near Fourth.

They had the most incredible handmade display every year, with tons of lights, Santa’s workshop, carolers, angels — I can’t begin to recall all the displays. It was kind of a precursor to Rotary Lights. Like Rotary Lights, it got bigger every year! We always anticipated the new additions. And like Rotary Lights, cars lined up for what seemed like miles, and we patiently awaited our turn to creep past the display at about 2 miles an hour, so we could take it all in!

We must have been near the top of Santa’s delivery zones, because usually, by the time we returned home, Santa had been there (if not then, certainly by the time we returned from singing at Midnight Mass). Talk about unbridled joy and enthusiasm! If you want some idea of what it was like, watch the movie “A Christmas Story” by Jean Shepherd, which perfectly captures the “working class” Christmas of my youth.

Anyway, for those who, like me, are not quite ready for all the big doings, I have a few last-minute ideas, most of which could be used for any get-together up to and including NewYear’s Day. And beyond.

According to, today is National Egg Nog Day. Even if you eschew it, someone must be indulging. It has been around since the 14th Century, after all, and sales have quadrupled in the past 50 years or so — to about 122 million pounds in the short (10 weeks or so) period during which it is available annually. It works out to about 4 ounces per person.

If you buy it just for Uncle Mike, and he never quite finishes a carton, use the rest for egg nog quick bread, which “would be good sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar and served with Christmas breakfast.” So says Bev, who shared the recipe with

Antipasti skewers are another great idea for holiday noshing. Requiring only a few ingredients, they go together quickly. As an added bonus, they could be made a day or two ahead of time, to cut down on the last-minute frenzy. This recipe could also be used to make a super-quick and -delicious pasta salad! Simply toss the ingredients in a bowl with add-ons of your choice, such as chopped red onion, bell pepper and artichoke hearts, whole grape tomatoes, shredded carrots and/or grated parmesan cheese. Cut the salami in bite-sized pieces or use mini pepperoni.

Spinach dip is always welcome on a party buffet, so these mini spinach dip pies are a quick and easy no-brainer. You can purchase commercial spinach dip and add some of your own favorite ingredients, to speed the process along. Since they can be served warm or chilled, they are another “made in advance” option.

And of course, what would the holidays be without something sweet? The chocolate chip cheese ball is “a sweet switch from the usual cheese ball,” says Kim, who provided with the recipe. Serve it with shortbread cookies, regular or chocolate Graham crackers or chocolate wafers. Add a little rum or brandy for the oldsters.

For information about how countries around the world celebrate Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and many other festivals, go to You will be fascinated.

I can’t let this Christmas go by without mentioning my mother — Alice Katherine Carter Clark Becker, 1917 to 2005. She would have been 100 years old tomorrow. I have regaled you many times over the years with stories of the beautiful, loving and giving person she was, and there isn’t enough space anywhere to detail all of her amazing accomplishments. So I will simply say that she was our very best Christmas gift ever. She raised nine children (many plagued with health issues) in virtual poverty, but due to her resourcefulness, selflessness, tirelessness, talent and endless capacity for love, we never knew how poor (money-wise) we were until we were adults, because we were enormously wealthy where it counted — in love. Merry Christmas! Happy 100th Birthday, Mom! And thank you. I love you.

Eggnog Quick Bread

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup eggnog

2 teaspoons rum flavored extract

1 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup butter, softened

2¼ cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom only of a 9x5-inch loaf pan, or three 3x5-inch loaf pans. Blend together eggs, eggnog, rum extract, sugar, vanilla and butter. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Add to eggnog mixture; stir just enough to moisten; pour into prepared pan(s). Bake large loaf 40 to 60 minutes, or until a tester inserted in center comes out clean; small loaves 30 to 35 minutes – test with toothpick. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pan. Cool completely, wrap tightly in plastic wrap or foil, and store in refrigerator. (bev;

Mini Italian Skewers (Antipasti)

½ pound refrigerated cheese tortellini

50 salami or pepperoni slices (usually 2 small packages)

1½ pounds mozzarella cheese, cut in ¼-inch by 1-inch pieces

1 (16-ounce) bottle Italian dressing

1 (6-ounce) can or jar of medium olives, any kind or mix of green, black, kalamata, etc.


Cook tortellini according to package directions; do not overcook. They should be firm. Drain; rinse with cold water. Spread out on clean towel or paper toweling to cool. Place in ziplock bag; add Italian dressing and let marinate 2 hours (or overnight), refrigerated. On each toothpick, thread 1 tortellini, a salami-wrapped cheese cube and an olive. Arrange skewers on a platter or stand in bowl. Can be made ahead of time, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated. (

Spinach Dip Bites

10 ounces frozen spinach, thawed well-drained and re-chopped

1 (6-ounce) jar artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

½ teaspoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

¾ cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided

½ teaspoon garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste, optional

1 can seamless crescent dough

Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a bowl, combine spinach, artichoke hearts, garlic and Parmesan cheese; blend in cream cheese and half the mozzarella. Season with salt and pepper; set aside. Using a rolling pin, lay out dough on a cutting board and lightly stretch to an 8x12-inch rectangle. Cut dough into 2-inch squares, 24 squares total. Lightly grease a mini muffin tin and place a square in each slot, gently pushing down to create an indent (you don’t need to mold to the cup). Scoop one teaspoon spinach mixture on top of each square; gently push in (bites will mold to your tin while baking). Spread remaining mozzarella over tops of cups. Bake 15 to 17 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool 5 to 10 minutes before moving from tray. (

Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

½ cup butter, softened

¾ cup confectioners’ sugar

2 tablespoons brown sugar

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

¾ cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

¾ cup finely chopped pecans

In a medium bowl, beat together cream cheese and butter until smooth. Mix in confectioners’ sugar, brown sugar and vanilla. Stir in chocolate chips. Cover; chill 2 hours. Shape chilled cream cheese mixture into a ball. Wrap with plastic; chill 1 hour. Roll in finely chopped pecans before serving. (kim;

Liven up your Thursday mornings by tuning in to Coulee Region Cooks from 10 to 11 a.m. on WIZM-AM radio, 1410 on the dial. Spend an hour with Mike Hayes and a different guest(s) each week in his studio kitchen, sharing recipes and cooking tips, along with a generous serving of fun.

Send requests, recipes and/or cooking tips and techniques to Alice P. Clark at: Reader Exchange, c/o La Crosse Tribune, 401 N. Third St., La Crosse, Wis. 54601; e-mail:; or send a fax to 608.782.9723, attn: Reader Exchange.