The gifts are wrapped - some delivered - the cards are all sent out; “it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas" at the Thompson house! With meetings, parties and dinners to host and attend, I love this special time of the year. The house isn't spotless and the ornaments on the tree aren't perfect, but the older grandkids decorated it and each ornament stays where they put it, until time to take it all down.I like to resurrect some old family tried and true recipes this time of year. I think it's the traditions that are repeated and passed down in a family that continue our gifts of love. Children, grandchildren and spouses look forward to certain meals and dishes we've come to count on and enjoy through many years.Yours truly begins a vacation for the next two weeks - don't worry, I'll be back with this column in 2014 [and the paper will be running a best-of while I’m gone]. This will be a wonderful time for all of us to savor the holiday moments and get a little energized for the new year.Mikester's Favorite Potato SoupWhat's better than a cup of hearty soup? We like this soup because it warms and comforts.• 4 cups potatoes, peeled and cubed (We buy organic.)• 1 cup celery-sliced about 3/4 inch thick• 1 cup onion, chopped (I like white or sweet onion.)• 2 cups filtered or bottled water• 2 teaspoons salt• 1 cup whole milk• 1 cup whipping cream (I never said this is "Low-cal"!)• 3 Tablespoons butter• 1 Tablespoon parsley flakes• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper• 2 pieces bacon-fried, drained and crumbled 1. Combine potatoes, celery, onion, water, and salt in large Dutch oven. 2. Simmer, covered, about 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender. 3. Mash mixture once or twice with a potato masher, leaving some vegetable pieces whole. 4. Stir in remaining ingredients; return to heat and cook , stirring constantly, until soup is thoroughly heated. This recipe makes about 7 cups; if you have any left, refrigerate and re-heat as leftovers a few days later. Our Favorite CocoaI like this one-it's not too time consuming and everyone likes it. It's special, topped with miniature marshmallows.• 1/2 cup white sugar• 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa• Dash of salt• 1/2 cup bottled water• 3 1/2 cups whole milk 1. In a saucepan, stir together sugar, cocoa and salt. 2. Stir in water. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. 3. Cook one minute longer. Stir in milk. 4. Heat JUST to boiling point. Do NOT boil. Remove from heat. Beat until frothy; serve in cups or holiday mugs. Add some marshmallows on top if desired. This makes FOUR (8 ounce) cups.Dee Dee's Oatmeal MuffinsTry these with the cocoa, or as a great brunch or breakfast addition.• 1 cup quick cooking oatmeal• 1 cup whole milk• 1 cup sifted flour• 1/3 cup white sugar• 1 Tablespoon baking powder• 1/2 teaspoon salt• 1 egg, well beaten.• 1/4 cup favorite cooking oil (I like grape seed.) 1. Combine oats and milk. Let stand 15 minutes. 2. Sift flour (previously sifted), sugar, baking powder, and salt. 3. Add eggs, oil, and oatmeal mixture. 4. Add, all at once to dry ingredients stirring just to moisten. 5. Put batter in greased muffin tins and bake at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes. These are great served warm.Let's Take a Dip!And I don't mean go swimming. If you are looking for an easy dip to make or take to a party, you'll love this. I also take my favorite chips along, like blue corn chips. Make this in the morning or the night before.• 4-5 medium tomatoes, chopped• 2 cans chopped green chilies• 1 1/2 Tablespoons vinegar-like red wine vinegar• 5 green onions, chopped• 1-2 cloves garlic-pressed or chopped fine• 1 can chopped black olives (regular sized can) 1. Mix all chopped ingredients. Salt and pepper to taste. 2. Add vinegar and toss. Let sit covered, in refrigerator 4-5 hours. Serve with chips. 3. Be sure and taste before serving if you need to adjust pepper or salt. This looks nice served in a festive bowl. I have an old green Frankoma (made in Oklahoma) pottery bowl that looks nice with this dip. Reminders:Time to check the dates on baking powder, yeast, soda, cocoa, nuts, flour, cornmeal and any other ingredients you may be counting on for the holiday cooking experience. Tip:When I serve any Mexican chip, I place in a pan and put in cold oven. Then I turn the oven to 325 degrees. When the oven reaches that temperature, I turn oven off and remove chips. This makes them crisper, warm and taste more fresh.• The Mikester and I wish each of you and yours a very happy, healthy and safe holiday with a great New Year in 2014. See you back here soon.