Memories of Christmas Past Add to the Joy of Christmas Present


Who can forget the excitement of Christmas morning as a child? I remember waking up before the sun rose to sneak out and see if Santa did indeed come, while my parents were still sleeping soundly in their beds. Oh, the joy of seeing presents piled under the tree! There was nothing like it.

However, when I think back to those times, it’s not the presents I remember, but the people who shared the day with us. Some of them aren’t here in person anymore, but they are alive and well in my memories. One of my grandmothers didn’t have a lot of money to buy us expensive gifts, but her cookies, pies and homemade presents were just as meaningful as anything she could have bought. My other grandmother brought us gifts galore from a variety of stories and catalogs. My brother and sister and I could not wait for her to arrive at our house with her bags and bags of presents, somewhat like Santa himself. However, both grandmothers were equally special because we knew they loved us. Whenever I think of Christmas I can still recall the happiness they brought with their presence.

Even though we have lost some people, our family continues to grow and there are new faces to be found around the tree. Fortunately, I still have both of my parents, and thanks to my brother and sister, I have nieces and nephews and their children to share the day with. I also have, thanks to my husband and his daughter, a wonderful grandson and granddaughter to add to our Christmas celebrations.

My family is my favorite and most meaningful gift all year round. Who needs presents when you’re surrounded by people who love and appreciate you? When everyone is stuffed with the food I prepared and wrapping paper litters the floor, it’s the smiles on their faces that make me joyful. I know someday when they all look back, it will be the conversation and laughter that will be remembered, not just the clothes and toys, although of course they are nice too.

Here is a cookie recipe that I make every Christmas. They look like little piles of snow when they’re done, and taste oh so delicious. Enjoy!

Forgotten Cookies
From the kitchen of Susan Baldani

2 egg whites*
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup semi sweet or milk chocolate morsels
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. With electric mixer, beat egg whites and cream of tartar to foamy soft peaks. Gradually add sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Fold in vanilla and chocolate morsels. Drop by spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets. Place in oven, turn oven off and forget cookies overnight (or at least one hour).
*Tip: egg whites whip better and fuller when they have been out of the refrigerator for about a half-hour or so.

Handmade Gifts are Treasures Filled with Love


Throughout the years, I have received many gifts for all sorts of occasions. However, the ones I remember the most and still have today are the ones made by family and friends. After all, anyone can buy a gift from a store or order something over the internet, but it takes a dedicated and loving person to create something just for you.

I never had a talent for making things by hand. Luckily for me, people around me were blessed with this skill. My grandmother knitted, crocheted and sewed beautiful blankets, sweaters, tissue box covers, slippers, clothes and much more. My sister did needlepoint and other fancy crafts of which I was the grateful recipient. I watch friends of mine knit and crochet the loveliest things to give as gifts.

Not only are these items made with love, they are also useful and add beauty and comfort to everyday life. The quality of most handmade treasures is remarkable. There are many things around my house and other family members’ homes that were made over 30 years ago. On my dining room table sits a napkin holder that my grandmother Helen made when I got my first apartment at the age of 20. I’m 49 today, and it’s still used regularly and looks as good as new. In my cedar chest are crocheted blankets that are over 40 years old and still keep me warm on frigid winter nights.

When someone gives me a gift they made themselves, I really treasure it because I know it is one of a kind. I also recognize the time and expense that went into making it.Also, whenever I use a particular item, I always think about the person who made it, and it makes me smile.

The Country Register is filled with many shops selling yarn, fabrics and other materials to make your own beautiful birthday, holiday, graduation, baby or just-because gifts. When I look through an issue, it makes me want to take lessons so I too can create something wonderful for my loved ones. I just might have to sign up for some soon. Fortunately, the Register lists those too!

Written for The Country Register distributed across the U.S.

Spotlight on Forest Lodge Catering and The Sherwood Chalet

Forest Lodge, located on 50 pristine rustic acres in Warren Township, is celebrating their 88th year in the community. What started out as a summer family and friends retreat in the 1930s has evolved into one of New Jersey’s largest and most creative event venues.

Linda Taylor, vice president of the facility for over 30 years, is involved in all aspects of the event planning and considers it her specialty. “The most important thing we can do is listen and get to know each one of our clients so their ideas are executed to perfection,” she said.

Owners Charlie and Maria Alberto of Watchung, along with Linda and their new general manager Brian Howard, have successfully made Forest Lodge one of NJ and NY’s most sought-after venues. Every event is tailored to their clients’ needs, including custom menus and themes. Do you want to feel like you’re in New Orleans at Mardi Gras? If so, you and your guests can enjoy steaming hot Jambalaya and Shrimp Creole while the jester, jazz band and full size float turn Forest Lodge into Bourbon Street!! Is Vegas more your style? Then you will find yourself surrounded by casino games and hourly shows featuring magicians, dancers, ventriloquists and other performers. Or how about a country and western theme with a petting zoo, pony rides, hay rides, and a pumpkin patch? One of their most popular themes is the Jersey boardwalk, with carnival games, rides, inflatables, and a zeppole trailer full of funnel cake, fried Oreos, and fresh-squeezed lemonade.

In addition to theme parties, Forest Lodge is famous for corporate events such as company picnics, team building, seminars and meetings, as well as corporate social responsibility programs which assist employees with giving back to their communities.

Helping clients plan their special occasions is something Linda takes pride in. Since the outdoor venue can accommodate up to 5000 people, every detail has to be carefully thought out and executed.

In addition to all the outdoor events, The newly renovated Sherwood Chalet hosts elegant indoor events such as weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, and holiday parties and can hold up to 200 people. Scott Dubin, in the role of banquet manager, has added a youthful perspective while making use of his years of experience in the hospitality industry.

Whether you prefer an elegant, formal sit-down dinner or a sumptuous buffet, they can fulfill your wish. One of the most popular client choices is their interactive live stations package, offering foods from all over the world including Asian Stir Fry, good old American Mac and Cheese and Indian cuisine.

If you can’t decide between an indoor or outdoor event, The Sherwood Chalet with its outdoor deck and patio can offer a combination of the two. Towards the end of the night at one wedding, they had food trucks with pizza, tacos, and ice cream parked right outside the doors. Also, at a bar mitzvah, the host was able to entertain their young guests with inflatables, rides and an exciting roller coaster!

The Sherwood Chalet hosts only one event at a time so you can be sure that their professional staff is interested in you and only you. It’s a unique place to have a party or event and ideas are only limited by imaginations. For instance, Linda recalled how one wedding had a horse for a ring bearer; another had a “Dog of Honor,” and a bar mitzvah had a live “mermaid” behind the seafood bar.

Forest Lodge is open year-round and all catering is done on the premises. The venue is a first job for many of the local kids since they hire 125 to 150 part-time employees for the summer months. Many of these teens work there through college.

Due to the popularity of their venue, Linda recommends scheduling parties one year in advance, if possible.

Forest Lodge is located at 11 Reinman Road in Warren, NJ. To find out more, go to or call 908-754-7300.

Written for The Showcase Magazine