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Christmas is: Opening the Recipe Box

Christmas cookies coffee decorations vintageGloria Wilson’s Hamburger Casserole, Barb & Dwight’s Slitherdown, Great-Great-Granny’s Chili Sauce, Janny Pinksen’s Christmas Fruitcake….

This is how the majority of my recipes in my recipe box are organized. Yes, I still have a recipe box. No, I don’t still have a rotary phone.

When I grew up every respected mom in the village where I grew up, had a recipe box that was well-loved and packed full of their family recipes. Quite often those recipes were closely guarded, not given out, and used as a bartering tool for status at community pot-lucks.  Let’s face it, in a town of 500, you had to use whatever you could for leverage. Often it was a pickle recipe, or some sort of exotic flavoured square. Pineapple for instance was a rarity, and often a favourite. Flaked coconut was an extravagance.

It’s these very recipes that I try to recreate today. It’s my heritage, and I celebrate it. If you have an old recipe box packed with recipes handed down to you by loving friends and relatives, you know what I mean. If you don’t, this is your chance to get in on some  5th & 6th generation Canadian Christmas baking.

Some of our family favourites include;

Butterscotch Marshmallow Squares

Whipped Shortbread with Toblerone

Great-Granny’s Coconut Cherry Balls

recipe box

It’s that time of year when a fun tray of cookies and squares can spark a happy memory for many of us.  Despite a number of years where grief was heavy in my heart during the holidays, being able to recreate recipes from my childhood kept a little spark of Christmas magic alive while I healed.

Now that I have my own home and family, I take my job as Mrs. Claus very seriously, and I hope that every time my kiddo walks through the door from now until the end of December, he still feels some of the magic of the season, even if it comes in small bites from his favourite shortbread.

I can only hope that you feel a little bit of joy serving up some of the recipes that I’m going to share with you this Christmas season.

 

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Christmas is: Sharing

I have a few closely guarded secret recipes that are standards at our house. The, “It wouldn’t be Christmas without these mom”, kind-of-recipes.

Cookies are my thing, and I make a lot of them at Christmas time. I love the way that fancy sugar cookies look added to a tray of down-home-country-girl sweets. The little maraschino cherry balls that my granny used to make melt in our mouths, but by far our favourite cookie recipe is this;

WHIPPED SHORTBREAD WITH TOBLERONE

1 lb butter at room temperature

1 cup icing sugar

1/2 cup corn starch

3 cups flour

1 tsp vanilla

Large Toblerone bar.

Cream butter on high until light and fluffy. If using a stand mixer, use the whipping attachment for this. 

While butter is being whipped, divide Toblerone into triangles and then divide those triangles into thirds. 

Combine all other ingredients and slowly add to whipped butter, using regular attachment. Be patient when mixing as this dough gets quite crumbly before coming together into a smooth dough. 

Place 1″ spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Press a piece of divided Toblerone into each mound of cookie dough, and top with same amount of dough. Feel free to be generous with the chocolate…just sayin’

Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes. Do no overcook. Let cookies cool on tray before moving them to a cooling rack as they are very delicate and crumble before they cool. 

 

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Christmas Is: Sweet

I bake too much at Christmas, and then I eat too much sugar, and then I look as jolly as I feel. By the time Valentine’s Day rolls around feeling sexy is very tied to how much bubbly I need to drink to feel lithe underneath my post-Christmas layer of fluff.

But I digress. It’s the holidays, and what better way to kick it off than to dig into the retro recipes that we all remember our favourite aunt decking her sweet trays with?

At my house, the tackiest of tacky goodies were always the butterscotch marshmallow squares. Heaven forbid you pack these little gems in a container with anything else, or everything in there would smell the same.

I always used to think that if you ate these, you’d eat anything, but as I’ve gotten older, I realize that the sense of taste can be pleasantly nostalgic.

Exactly one month out from the big day, I present to you my family recipe.

BUTTERSCOTCH MARSHMALLOW SQUARES

1/4 cup butter

1 cup butterscotch chips

1 cup peanut butter

1 bag coloured marshmallows

Grease a 9 x13″ baking dish and set aside.

Melt butter, and butterscotch chips in a pan over medium heat. Remove once thoroughly combined and remove from heat. Immediately add peanut butter. Mix until well blended and cooled slightly. Add coloured marshmallows and mix until butterscotch and peanut butter mixture coats the marshmallows.

Scrape mixture into greased baking dish and pat down to fill the pan. I often used a buttered spatul to press the squares down before placing them in the refrigerator to cool. Once cooled, cut into squares and place in an airtight container. DO NOT place with other baked good. These little tacky tidbits freeze well.

If retro recipes are up your jingle-belled alley, try my great-granny’s recipe for Coconut Cherry Balls.

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Christmas is: Connection

Christmas VacationSugar Cookies, homemade quilts and everyone snuggled in by the fireplace, including a sleepy cat or two.

(skip to the bottom for recipe)

This is how Christmas should be. And it is. At my house.

My love of all things Christmas did not come from being raised with a sister who was five years older than me, and willing to carefully  unwrap every single gift under the tree. Before Christmas morning. While our parents were at those 1980’s parties that required big hair and a LOT of booze.  I had to fake surprise long before I should have had to. Gifts skirted the tree often in a wide, three or four foot swath of colourful wrapping paper, and my mother made sure that every gift purchased was “expensive-looking-enough’.  I learned early that gifts weren’t the reason for the season. Gifts caused a lot of grief.

What made me fall in love with Christmas was the food and the company. Oh. My. Goodness. The food. I grew up in a teeny-tiny village. We had a grocery store that stocked tangerines, nuts and pre-bagged bulk candy only during the Christmas season, and it was fucking magical.  The smell of a tangerine still makes me wax nostalgic. My aunts would bring platters of sweets and savouries that we ONLY got during the Christmas season. They also brought my cousins. Growing up in a village of 500, your cousins were your playmates and best friends. Food and cousins. Christmas rocked.

Today, my kiddo is grown, and I miss the Christmas wonderful-wonder that children radiate throughout the holidays. I find myself surrounded by adults who bitch about the burden of Christmas, primarily the financial burden. I get it. I feel the pressure too, or rather, I observe it.

I’ve never really been about the show. It doesn’t turn me on. I do love giving gifts that I know people will use and love, but the best gifts were alway the ones that were handmade. Or the visits with friends and family that alway seemed to get put off until the holidays. Christmas is about connection.

When I sit down at my sewing machine, or spend the day in the kitchen preparing for Christmas, I feel connected to the best parts of my family.

CherryGems-bake2Despite a very painful estranged relationship with my late mother, in the kitchen I remember the good parts. I make the same too-much-sage stuffing recipe with white bread, the same gravy, and tacky ambrosia salad. I try to make things that make my kiddo, and my sweety’s kiddo’s feel special.

I tend to bake the same old-fashioned squares that my Grandmother produced, and think of her when I pull out my sewing machine and blow the dust off that settled in from the Christmas before.

Christmas is all about connection for me. When I give a homemade piece of needlework, a quilt or homemade sweet treats, I’m not only giving you the gift, but I’m giving you my time. You were on my mind when I sewed, baked, iced, stitched or preserved it.

Every minute spent into the wee hours getting things ready for the people I admire and love is time spent in connection with my values. This is what Christmas is about. Connection.

If you are reading this and you are my friend, know that I only crave time with you. Latte at a crowded cafe? Yes please! Yoga pants and cheap plonk in your living room while the kids go wild? Yes please! Dual sewing machines going in my Christmas Craft space in the basement? Absolutely!

Connect. That’s what the season is about.

GREAT GRANNY’S CHRISTMAS COCONUT CHERRY BALLS

1/3 cup margarine

1 1/2  cups icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 cups coconut

1 tbsp milk

maraschino cherries

graham wafer crumbs

Mix margarine, icing sugar, vanilla coconut and milk together. Chill until mixture is firm enough to roll into 2″ balls. Roll balls in wager crumbs. Make an indent in each ball with your thumb, and top each ball with 1/2 cherry.   Seal in airtight container and refrigerate until ready to serve.

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In the Kitchen With Granny

Today I woke up and took a good look in the mirror; Fingers padding lightly across my skin, as I lean in to really see myself. I look into my tired blue eyes and know that I look like both of my grandmothers.  I have the round, kind face of my Granny Dorothy, and the body of my Granny Eileen. It’ll just have to do.

The two of them were as different as night and day. Granny Dorothy was an educated woman who married late in life to a sour, strict, everyone’s-going-to-burn-in-hell-baptist.  Her wits and grit kept the bills paid, and her sense of humour kept her alive. Had she been born today, she likely never would have married. She would have worked her way around the world. Alas, the 1930’s had other plans for her.

Granny Eileen on the other hand, was on husband number three when I came along. She’d raised six kids on her own. She was a resourceful woman with a heart of gold who didn’t take a lick of shit from anyone, especially her husband.

Both of these women taught me to make something from nothing.  Whether it was in the kitchen, or out in the world at large. They taught me how a woman could be both strong and kind.

Every year, I keep them close as I plant my garden, and every harvest season, as I take to the kitchen. These rituals keep me close to them. I’m a sentimental traditionalist when it comes to my kitchen. During the summer, I find myself preserving the same things with the same recipes that they did all those years ago.  I throw in a few more odds and ends, just because I find comfort in the routine of being in the kitchen during harvest season.

This morning I slipped on a jersey knit dress that put me in mind of Granny Dorothy. She knew what she was doing with those old house dresses. Simple, tidy, and most importantly when you’re preserving; cool. I listened to interviews with authors as I sterilized jars, peeled and chopped fruit, remembering how my Granny Eileen’s gnarled up hands seemed to be able to create anything.

During the summer months, I yearn for the slow, simple days of childhood summers. I recall the flavour of each stage of the harvest; radish, carrots, and beans snapped straight from the plant and tossed directly into our mouths.  No garden was immune to kids raiding it for a snack. We sucked on sour rhubarb stalks, and cringed at the bitterness of currents. We raided the ditches and gullies, picking raspberries and blackberries when we were lucky enough to find them. Each ripening carried back to the kitchens of our grannies where it was made into something wonderful.

 

Except pastry. I learned how not to make pastry from both of my Grandmothers. Kind of like how not to choose a mate. As it turns out, Granny Eileen  insisted that if I followed the recipe on the box of Tenderflake, my pastry would be just fine. She also lied. Years later my aunt laughted at me so hard tears streamed down her face; Granny used pre-made pastry and was full of shit. Granny Dorothy on the other hand was honest with me but produced pastry with a texture so fearsome that the dog wouldn’t even eat it.  From this I learned that sometimes we don’t always get what we need from family. Sometimes we have to reach out to become wiser and better.

 

The quiet stretches in my kitchen necessary for the process of preserving and canning gives me time to commune with the spirit of these two women. They are with me here in the steam and heat, and smell of cooked fruit. They are with me when I take a jar of something I preserved from the pantry and serve it to my family and friends. My grannies are always with me at my table.

 

 

 

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My Culinary Relationship with Mother Earth – We Be Jammin’

rearviewmirroI remember the year the apple blossoms froze on the trees. It was 2012. We didn’t have fresh Ontario apples that year, and the prices sky-rocketed.

That was also the year I stopped making apple juice.

So what?

Well darlings, I’m a country girl at heart, and a big part of enjoying the seasons is enjoying whatever our harvest yields. A big part of showing love and coming together as friends and family is sharing a meal together.

The lack of apples impacted a generations long tradition of baking apple crisp, apple pie, applesauce and apple juice.While I live within the rushed pace of the city for now, I stay connected to the seasons and to what matters most by enjoying the tradition of preserving. Apples are the end of the summer fruits, and it was a strange feeling knowing that something as stable as our seasons and harvest were being affected by the impact of consumerism (aka global warming). Our harvest seasons are part of the essence of who we are and the organic rhythm of life.

flat of berriesStrawberry season signals for me the start of true summer. Rhubarb is spring. Of course you can’t forget asparagus and radishes. With the appearance of little white blossoms and bright, juicy, red fruit, I know that the strawberries cometh and that it’s time to enjoy in abundance what the earth provides, and squirrel away the rest for winter.

Yesterday I took a beautiful drive out into the country, got a flat of strawberries, and came home to make my first batch of jam. Next will be raspberries, and this year there will be beets, peaches, pears, tomatoes, and salsa.

 

 

pouring jamEvery year, I think of my grandmothers and my mother, who carried the tradition and taught me how to do these things.  I remember standing on a stool to stir the jam as it cooked, and when we used to use wax to seal the jars.

I remember hot jam slathered on homemade bread. The smell of granny’s kitchen when she made her chili sauce with the cheesecloth sachet of spices simmering in the pot, and being told countless times to go get another jar of this or that for whatever was on the stove. We used to count the number of jars of jam, tomatoes, beets, etcetera in order to ration them until the summer came again. It was never because we couldn’t afford to go to the store to buy more, it was because we subscribed to the rationale; who the hell would eat a can of fruit or vegetables plied with preservatives and chemicals that tasted second rate at best, when you could eat something that tasted good and wasn’t laden with other goop? It just didn’t make sense. And it still doesn’t to me.

There are few people my age who know how to do these things anymore, and I wonder what they must be missing out on, counting summer by work-weeks instead of by the season; strawberry season, raspberry season, plums, pears, apples, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers…

This might even be the year that I get back to making apple juice. Just the thought of hot cider by the fireplace makes me want to cuddle with someone. During the winter months, there’s nothing like opening a jar of peach jam to remind you that soon, summer will be upon us again. Or maybe it’s a jar of tomatoes for a rich, hearty stew.

jam 1Living in the city for the past 16 years, you’d think I’d prefer the convenience of buying something off the shelf, but I don’t.

I love the slow process of gathering, preparing and preserving my own food, knowing that it’s fresh and wholesome. Knowing that what I’m eating and what I’m sharing with the people I love is the best that I can give them.

Wishing you a bountiful summer, and an extra pair of hands in the kitchen.

 

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Waving Good-Bye to Summer & How to Like What Comes Next

sunto
Every summer has it’s own story…

It’s hard to believe, that today is the last ‘official’ day of summer, what with being in the middle of another heat alert.

It’s a bittersweet season of not wanting the long, sunny days to end and looking forward to the delights of autumn.

I must make a confession, although I’m loathe to see another summer pass by, I have to confess that I love the fall.

Growing up a wild-haired blonde-beach-bum, summer was a season of freedom and self-discovery. Fall was the beginning of nesting, wrapping up our sun-soaked bodies and snuggling in for the winter.

Each year as summer draws to a close, I reminisce about what the summer brought; new love, broken hearts, shenanigans and road-trips. I also look forward to all the pleasures of autumn;

…clear, crisp air, and the beauty of watching green turn to shades of gold, rust and deep ruby reds…

autumnlandscape

…a fireplace on a wet November day…

fireplacewine

…weather cold enough to have an excuse to stay inside and write…

williegreeneye

…baking all kinds of yummy Thanksgiving treats…

autumn food

…sumptuous, comfort food shared with friends…

thanksgiving al fresco

…pumpkin spice lattes of course…

Pumpkin spice latte recipe

…rainy November days perfect for sleeping in, reading or movie-watching…

catwindowI hope that you’ve had a delightful summer, that your skin is smiling from the sun, and your wanderlust is somewhat sated.

Here’s to autumn my darlings, and all of the comforting beauty that it brings.