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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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Ghost Whisperer; Listening to Our Angels

waiting for a signI woke up at 6:23 this morning, assessed the snuggling situation with my big, duvet covered bed, and made the executive decision to roll over and relax just a little bit more.

Four hours later I made my bleary-eyed debut in front of the coffee maker, pressed the magic button, and stumbled around opening blinds and welcoming in the day. I would say I welcomed the sun, but alas, it is overcast. It’s the perfect, grey, fall, day to snuggle in and nest.

These are the fall days I’m most fond of. The ones where you can throw on a pair of jeans, sneakers and a sweater and take a stroll without being scorched by the sun, or blown away by a blizzard.

Grey days though, at the beginning of fall (not the nasty bleakness of late November) are the best for baking and cooking.

As a little girl, I was attached at the hip to my maternal grandmother. She taught me to roll pastry dough, to iron, and best of all, during days like today, she would sneak me to the top of the stairs, and read poetry with me.

My paternal grandmother was a woman who lived her life without apology; strong, independent, and fiercely protective of her family. She could also cook and bake like nobody’s business.

I gave her a journal for Christmas one year, and she faithfully wrote in it every day. She gave me the journal when she got sick, and I read it. Her September 13 entry reads,

Babysitting again. Scott slept until noon. Paula got home about 4 o’clock. Nancy came to watch our show. Jake was here. Patricia called. Called Carol later.

(names have been changed to protect the multiple identities of my wacky relatives)

I read her every-day notes, and know that life is just a series of weaving these days together; good and bad, full and lonely, happy and sad. A life is made up of  a series of seemingly insignificant moments that, when stitched together make a beautiful tapestry.

This morning as I stumbled in my half-awake-stupor, back to my writing desk, I had a sudden grief wash over me. I had a deep desire to pick up the phone and talk with her. I missed her with the same intensity I did when she died 15 years ago. More than anything I wanted to connect, to hear her voice, seek her advice, and most of all, do what we so often did when we were together; laugh. My phone rang….

bake a cakeI do believe this to be her way of answering a question I’ve had in my heart for some time. Yah, it may just be coincidence, but since it was an atypical call, I’m going to go with, “Thanks granny you old wise woman you, I really needed that.

Most of the messages I tend to notice are likely just my conscience calming down my anxious nature. Others are; Stay the course. Be patient, screw this and get the hell outta there.

So this morning, I felt lonely, that hollow pit of grief that always remains regardless of time or space when you lose someone you love, and I was given a conversation with someone I love very much to help soothe the ache.

Life is a continuous season of change; friendship, career, life and death.

Although our loved ones die, they remain with us as part of our conscience, whispering to our selves. They remind us of our dreams, reassure us when we are fearful, and once in a while, if we’re really quiet in our minds, shine a little light in the darkness when we’re unsure of which path to take.

Baking and cooking is one of the ways I quiet my mind enough to hear those whispers from the women who loved me the most. I’m sure that both of my granny’s will be with me today in the kitchen. But first…one more coffee…

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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.

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Winterlicious 2015 – Let’s Review

first we eatEvery year for the past decade, I’ve organized a Lady’s Winter/Summerlicious dinner for the Ladies Who Lunch. There are usually between 6-12 of us who use this culinary celebration as an excuse to get together and try a new place.

Trying new restaurants gives us another card to play in our social repertoire, and when we’re impressed, we return; for birthdays, anniversaries, dates and weekend lunches that involve a bottle of wine…or two, depending on the deeds we need to dish with our dear ones.

Winterlicious was a wash with business for me. Alas, I was only able to get out to two new places. I’m sad to say that this year, everyone, including myself, my ladies and my kiddo, were underwhelmed by both the food and service.

Before the restaurant world whines about bad tippers and losing money on the endeavor, I would like to say that it’s a fair shake for diners and staff alike. If you don’t like Winterlicious don’t participate. If you don’t enjoy facilitating a happy dining experience for people, please, for the love of digestion, get a job somewhere else.

Today I spent a fair amount on lunch at  Archeo in the distillery district after braving the freezing rain and slick roads. It took an hour and a half to get there, and not once did a server ask how our meal was, nor were we offered a beverage once the meal started. Apparently coffee and tea with dessert is passé, because it wasn’t offered at all at Archeo, and only as an afterthought last week at Hush.

Both restaurants served French fries with meal options, yet neither offered condiments such as wonderful vinegars or tangy mustards for their sandwich choices.

The fish and chips at Hush were sad. The batter had the potential to be wonderful, it looked crispy, but was flavourless, and lukewarm. The accompanying bacon and apple slaw was as outstanding as the fish. The spicy edamame beans were not spicy, and the soup was bland as well. Nothing tasted hot, fresh or flavourful.

Nine of us at Hush were served barely warm meals, but the service was at least friendly.

At Archeo, the food was hot, which is really the least you should expect when dining. The bruschetta was flavorful but served on the same mass-produced bread as the chicken parmesan sandwich. Both the tiramisu crème brule and chocolate pudding were delicious. Unfortunately the service was so cold that by the time dessert came, we were chilled by the poor service.

Our meals may have been hot at Archeo, but the service was as cold as the blizzard outside. Instead of ordering wine, and lingering over coffee this afternoon, we headed back down the street and stopped at Balzac’s for a little something ‘to go’.

An impromptu stop at  Le Saint Tropez  during Winterlicious,(not a Winterlicious meal) reminded myself and my gal-pal what service was all about. We did not have a reservation, we were not there for a multi-course meal, but we were welcomed warmly and sincerely. The waitress/server knew how to have an engaging conversation. That kind of four-star service and delicious food, will guarantee we come back again and again. It’s the kind of place you can count on for a special occasion.

Our 2015 Winterlicious experience was underwhelming indeed. We will however, look forward to Summerlicious 2015, hoping that the restaurants live up to the wonderful food and extraordinary service we enjoyed at Destingo last year.

Until we see you at Summerlicious, Bon appetite!