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The heart of Christmas is priceless
RebekahFaulkNEWwebcolor
Rebekah Faulk - photo by Special

Featured Recipe: Holiday Cheese Ball
   
    The cheese ball. What a great concept: a ball of cheese. Who wouldn’t want to eat that?
    It’s one of those appetizers that’s always present at family gatherings in the South, especially around the holidays. I’ve seen savory cheese balls and sweet cheese balls. There’s a variety of different recipes out there, but this one comes from Mama with a few of my own touches. I contributed this cheese ball to my office Christmas party and it was a hit! It has pops of red and green color for the holidays, and it’s versatile. You can add or take away whatever flavors you like. Spreadable and creamy, this cheese ball has crunch and sweet heat. It’s cold and satisfying.
    The cheese ball comes together quickly and is edible right away, but has a more firm texture when chilled. I recommend making it a day ahead and letting it set up in the fridge overnight. If you’re short on time, 30 minutes to an hour will do.

Ingredients
• 1 8-oz block of cream cheese, softened
• 1 cup of sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
• 1 cup of pepper jack cheese, shredded
• A few jarred jalapeno peppers, chopped
• A tablespoon of jarred jalapeno pepper juice
• A handful of maraschino cherries, stems removed and chopped
• 1/2 of a green bell pepper, chopped
• 1/4 cup of chopped onion (I used purple for the color, but a sweet Vidalia onion would be great too)
• Dash of Worcestershire Sauce
• 1 tablespoon of Braswell’s Green Pepper Jelly
• 1/4 cup of pepitas (Pumpkin seeds)
• Seasoned salt
• Pepper
• 1/2–3/4 cup Georgia pecans, toasted and chopped

Directions
    Dry roast pecans in a saute pan over medium heat, flipping occasionally until fragrant and golden (5–10 minutes). Set aside. Using a hand mixer, blend the cheeses together until incorporated. Add in remaining ingredients, reserving the pecans for the outside, and season with seasoned salt and pepper. Blend on low-speed until everything is incorporated. Turn the mixture out onto plastic wrap and form it into a ball. Remove the plastic wrap and roll the ball in the chopped pecans until covered. Let chill. Serve with buttery crackers, toasted bread or even Scoops tortilla chips.
    Note: If you’re using a food processor to chop your onion and bell pepper, be sure to drain any natural water from the vegetables before adding them to the mixture. Additional water will make your cheese ball runny, and you wouldn’t want that. 

Presentation
    Serve the cheese ball on a round dish if you have one! It enhances the natural shape of the appetizer and is fun to surround with crackers. Presentation is everything! I served the cheese ball with snowflake-shaped crackers for a little Christmas cheer, but this recipe is wonderful year round with whatever kind of crackers you like. Enjoy!

    When I was about eight years old, I took great pride in decorating my bedroom for Christmas. We lived in a two-story home in the quaint community of Blythe, Georgia — population 708 — and my room was upstairs to the right and down the hallway. It had two windows that looked out onto the street, a small closet, a little white ceiling fan and pink carpet. I had a radio and cassette player that sat on my window seat. The seat was crafted by my late Great Uncle J.E., who was a cabinet maker. In early December, I would clean my room from top to bottom to the tune of the 1987 Reba McEntire audio cassette tape “Merry Christmas to You.” Reba was my idol and I wanted to be just like her. I knew every word of the 10-song album, and it was our time together.
    As I sat Indian-style on the floor with my scissors, construction paper and Scotch tape, I would sing “Away in a Manger” and “Happy Birthday Jesus” at the top of my lungs in true Reba fashion. I would spell out the letters M-E-R-R-Y C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S, then cut the letters out and hang them from the slanted walls. I had one of those miniature pre-lit Christmas trees too, and I thought it was something else. I sequestered myself in my bedroom until I had decked the halls of every square inch of my little space.
    Once I was satisfied with my handiwork, I would invite my mom, dad and brother into my room to see what I had created. Though my little Winter Wonderland may not have won any awards with "Better Homes and Gardens," it was something I was proud of and it was good. When I look back on those times or hear a song from the tape, I’m instantly connected to my childhood imagination, to the spirit of Christmas, the hope and wonder of the season. Today that same cassette tape goes for $2.50 on eBay, but for me, it will always be priceless.
    The holidays have a way of making us nostalgic; nostalgic for those loved ones that we’ve lost or for friends and family who may be deployed far away. My boyfriend, Kurt, and I visited TMT Farms Christmas Lights Display (a wonderful family activity located on Old River Road in Statesboro) earlier this week. On his way to pick me up, Kurt stopped by the grocery store to purchase some canned goods to donate, as there is no admission fee but a Food Drop-Off for families in need. I imagined he would pick up five or six cans, but to my surprise he showed up with three brown paper sacks filled to the brim with sweet potatoes, green beans, black-eyed peas and cream corn. As we drove through the farm admiring the lights, he remembered his beloved grandmother, who sat in the same seat every Sunday at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church. He couldn’t help but recall how she would buy fresh turkeys during Christmas and donate them to orphanages and to the priests in her hometown of Savannah, Georgia. For him, giving those cans honored her memory, and he was thankful to have the ability to help.
    We started a new series at our church recently called “God Gave.” A message from our pastor this month reminded us of the hope in Christ and how he came to save us and love us unconditionally. The true meaning of Christmas is about the things money can’t buy, counting the blessings we’ve been given and sharing that love with others.
    This season, finding those moments of solitude and reflection have been my saving grace in the midst of my 7-foot Christmas tree toppling over in my living room, trying to mail cards on time, fretting over my shopping list and when I’ll have time to bake. As you countdown to Christmas while wrapping those last minute presents, finalizing your holiday menu, sitting in traffic or standing in long lines, I hope you’ll take a moment to pause and remember, to give and love others.
    In the words of Tiny Tim Cratchit, a fictional character from Charles Dickens’ novel "A Christmas Carol," “God bless us, every one.” 
   
    Rebekah Faulk is a Georgia food writer and Statesboro-based TV personality. A Season 2 contestant on ABC's “The Taste,” she blogs at somekindagood.org, a Southern, coastal food blog highlighting East Coast restaurant reviews and Lowcountry-inspired recipes. Follow her on Twitter at @SKGFoodBlog or search Facebook for Some Kinda Good.