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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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Christmas Survival Guide for the Lost Woman: Delegate

opinions

My friends have let me down. I’ve let them down too.

At some point women give up their own selves for the selfless, and mostly unrecognized emotional work of maintaining a home (creating the atmosphere, remembering birthdays, preparing for holidays, and bearing the greater responsibility of relationship nurturing).

Don’t be her. Don’t be the woman we all become at one point or another; a frumpy feeling, sad, uninspired woman who feels like the dishrag that society treats her like.

This Christmas I’m challenging you to connect with your pals, and I’m also challenging myself. In order to make more time for me, and to enjoy the preparations for the holidays, I’ve come up with a few strategies.

 

  1. The word of the year this Christmas is; Delegate.

Make lists….and then give them away. I mean, you single-handedly make the magic happen, at least save some time not shopping and not running errands.

shopping list

 

2) Clear out the clutter.

No, not stuff, people. If you need the whole house so you can spread out the holiday decor,  but your lovey insists on being sprawled on the couch watching the boob tube and basically being useless, ask them to leave. Unless they’re helping, they’re hindering. Vamoos!

joy

 

3) Bake ahead, and if you don’t like baking, don’t.

This year I’m googling ‘christmas cookies that freeze well’, and I’m going to use it. I’m also stocking the freezer with some frozen cheater meals so that I can enjoy my time off throughout the holidays, without cringing when I’m asked, “Have you thought about dinner”. Also, it’s so I don’t tell them that prison dinner might be worth it since I wouldn’t have to cook or do the damn dishes. My eggnot loaf is currently cooling on the counter so it can be frozen.

eggnog loaf

 

4) Be the one who puts a stop to gift exchanges. Other than a few things under the tree on Christmas morning that my loved ones need, will have sentimental value, or are a true ‘Santa’ surprise gift, gift giving falls a long-distance second to just spending time together.

get together

 

5) Make some gal-destinations a priority. Whether it’s a spa date for candy-cane mani’s, or a local church craft sale…make an excuse to get out, wander through all of the delights of the season, and make it a date with someone you’ve been meaning to get together with but haven’t.

one of a kind

 

 

Whatever you do this Christmas season,  make sure you make time to slow down and take in some of what brings you joy.

 

 

 

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Christmas Burnout; Adapt don’t Change

bull-dog-christmas-lightsThis  year I gave up.

I gave up a lot of Christmas traditions that have become burdensome, and not joyful. Quite often when people expect you to do things it becomes less about enjoying it, and more about feeling pressured to do it.

So I gave up making my Christmas cake, I gave up buying gifts for friends, and I gave up my annual Christmas party (way too much preparation).  All of these things stress the clock and the wallet, and frankly, all of that stress over a long period of time can wear on a gal’s fabulousness. And I’m nothing if not a shining beacon of wonder.

What-the-hell and a giggle have been my signature move for years.

Not giving a crap has never been my modus oparandi, but appears to be the most freeing way to be in the world. I’m learning that from the people around me who are kings and queens of, ” I could care less about how you feel”.

I thought about faking that shitty attitude until I make it. But I can’t do that, because it’s just not who I am. I care. I’ll always care, and I’m proud of it. The rest of the apathetic world can just choose which side of my butt to kiss first and carry on. I will hang with goddesses of ethic and compassion.

Rather than giving up doing things that bring me close to my family and friends, and letting the burnout I’ve been feeling creep even closer to my bones, I decided to change.

Change? Yes – it’s as scary a word as morninghair (yes, it’s a word).woman-silly

Ok, so change is a big word. Perhaps I should say I’ve chosen to adapt rather than change.

I will continue to bake, but not necessarily what everyone else wants. Sure, I have a soft spot for my kiddo’s favourites, but I also have a hankering for some new mocha eclairs and candy cane fudge.  I’ve asked for a little more help with Christmas dinner, and instead of cooking myself into a coma, I’m doing my Christmas party way more casually. I’ve opted for an open house with chili and beer.

For those of you who care, but need a break too, consider adapting instead of changing the traditions that you hold dear. Leave enough time to lean in to your own sense of personal flair, and enough room to allow your giggle to bubble up and over into the mood of every day.

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Eggnog Lattelessness

eggnogAvoid Starbucks if you’re looking for a Christmasy Egg-Nog Latte. Go straight to Second Cup. This, from a die-hard Starbucks customer.

What I got as my ‘Birthday Reward’ from Starbucks was not an eggnog latte. Not the sweet, foamy cup of christmasy-feel-good-caffeine that I’ve become accustomed to, and look forward to every winter.

This afternoon I knew that  the young gentleman barista behind the counter was thinking that I was just another mouth-breathing-too-much-money-and-not-enough-sense customer.

In my mind’s eye, I could see my smartly-suited self staring, open-mouthed at the festive white and red menu that was missing the option of the annually, much-anticipated egg-nog-latte. Even as the words came out of my mouth, I knew I sounded like an irritating twit but I just couldn’t stop myself, ” Is there any egg-nog-latte this year? I don’t see it on the board.”

The very polite barista explained that it was his understanding that the eggnog latte is only available in the west this year, and last year, it was our year in ‘the east’.  It sounded like a load of bologna, and I want you to promise me that you’ll tell me if you find a Starbuck’s Egg-Nog Latte in the GTA, so I ended up settling for the new chestnut praline latte. I was promised that it was delicious, but it was, in fact, just meh. 

I shall be actively seeking another noggy caffeine replacement at the Second Cup and other fine coffee establishments that remain faithful to the crack-like caffeine-nog addiction Starbucks has caused me to have.

And so my holiday began, my sweet little sugarplums, with an annoyingly first-world problem – eggnoglattelessness. Thank you Starbucks for making me feel like an annoying, privileged moron. Bah-Humbug!