I remember one Christmas, my brother and I bought about 25 mini nerf footballs. We gave them to my 80-year-old grandmother for Christmas, only to then have her pelt us with them as she laughed uncontrollably. The rest of us attempted to continue opening our presents, being sure to look out for the occasional football flying through the middle of the family room.
Another year, my family was struggling financially, and we had a “re-gifting Christmas." No one bought anything, but we wrapped up items we already owned to give to each other. We laughed at the white-elephant type gifts, and reminisced about hand-me-down items that showed up under the tree. I was around six years old, I think, and I got everyone’s old stuffed animals. With five older siblings, it was almost like I'd inherited an entire zoo. It was honestly one of the most memorable Christmases ever.
Not too long ago, we decided to do a similar gift-giving theme. You had to either make or re-gift your gifts. My oldest brother, who had access to a giant printer, made a gargantuan poster of himself to give to my other brothers. That poster was proudly hung over the upstairs balcony for all the extended family to see when they walked in the door for our Christmas dinner later that day. I think that poster is still kicking around somewhere, probably waiting to make an appearance at just the right moment.
I spent one Christmas while I was in college with my middle brother and his wife who were teachers in Japan. As we opened up presents, my sister-in-law received a beautiful table runner from my other sister in Illinois. As they talked on the phone that day, my sister in Illinois realized that table runner was supposed to have been in the “to go to the dry-cleaners” pile and somehow got mixed up in the “to go to the post-office pile” and ended up getting shipped to Japan! Upon closer inspection, we did indeed realize that the table runner was in need of a good dry-cleaning.
As I look back, I know I have much to be thankful for. I'm thankful for the childhood memories, the family that raised me, and the family in my life now. I'm thankful for the many years filled with laughter. I'm even thankful for what God's done in the years filled with tears - for a family that still ate together, laughed together, and cried together. The older I get, the more rare I realize that is.
It's a gift I don't take for granted, a gift I hope and pray I can give my children throughout the years to come.
Cranberry + Goat Cheese Baked French Toast
Yields 8-10 Servings
8 large eggs
2 cups whole milk
¼ cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 pound loaf of day-old, sliced bread, preferably brioche (about 12 slices)*
12 ounces fresh cranberries
1 Tablespoon orange zest
4 ounces crumbled goat cheese
Maple syrup for serving
Grease a 9x13 (or similar sized) baking dish and set aside. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs. Whisk in the milk, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt.
Dip the slices of bread in the batter, then lay them overlapping in the prepared baking dish. Scatter the fresh cranberries over the bread, tucking some in between the slices. Pour the remaining batter evenly on the top. Sprinkle on the orange zest.
Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cover the French toast with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Uncover, and continue baking for an additional 25-30 minutes, or until the batter has set and the top is slightly browned. Sprinkle on the goat cheese, and return to the oven for about 2-3 minutes, just until the goat cheese becomes soft and gooey.
Serve with maple syrup and enjoy!
*Day-old, slightly stale bread is best for this. Using fresh bread can leave the finished dish too soggy.