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Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

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Festive containers for festive cookies

Last Sunday I was lucky enough to be able to share some holiday love with some girl friends. We had a holiday bake-off. The idea was that rather than getting together for some gossip and goodies we would spend an afternoon together, baking, gossiping, and eating. I know it sounds like almost the same thing, but it was really nice to work together.

sandwiches

Cres-sandwiches, the perfect light lunch

We’re bakers of all shapes and varieties: my friend W, who wasn’t able to make it, is an excellent creator of traditional treats. My friend A  is an excellent creator of vegan treats. I’m more of a free-form baker, and I am often disappointed that creations don’t work out. Then we also had a couple of girls who don’t bake at all.

Lemon scone with strawberry jam and coconut whipped cream

Lemon scone with strawberry jam and coconut whipped cream

I remember the character of Marilla Cuthbert telling Anne Shirley that she and Rachel Lind could live together, provided they didn’t have to share a kitchen. While I agree that sharing a kitchen day in and day out is too great a trial for even the best and most adaptable cook or baker, I see the value in sharing a day in the kitchen. You get to see how other people manage their time while their baking, how they complete different tasks, and how they manage to keep their counter-tops clean so that they can keep working. We shared kitchen wisdom, recipes, tips and tricks, as well as new products.

Butter tarts with tons of taste, and no butter

Butter tarts with tons of taste, and no butter

We had all of this knowledge sharing, a nice visit, and some of the most delicious treats. We started our afternoon with cres-sandwhiches, vegan chocolate cupcakes, and vegan butter tarts—no Christmas would  be complete without butter tarts. We ate this while my free-form peanut butter cups cooled in the fridge.

Candy cane cupcakes--yum!

Candy cane cupcakes–yum!

After lunch we helped J make one of Martha Stewart’s recipes: Lime Melt-aways. These ultimately became the hit of the party. J isn’t much for baking, but she’s a good sport, and she’s a hoot so it was fun to watch her bake. So with a little help from A she was able to get the dough prepared, and into the fridge to chill, before finally slicing the rolls and putting them in the oven.

Lime Melt-aways, I'll bet you can't eat just one...

Lime Melt-aways, I’ll bet you can’t eat just one…

While we were waiting to move on to the oven stage of J’s cookies Penelope, J and I started assembling the empire cookies. She had pre-baked the sugar cookies, so that all we had to do on the day of was combine two together with jam in the middle, and top with icing and a chocolate square.

Can you resist the Empire (cookies)

Can you resist the Empire (cookies)

We all had a great day, and we each walked away with a tin full of delicious, vegan, holiday treats. Now I just need to learn how to stagger out these goodies.

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17/365: Julie & Julia Child, Food Temptress

Image by kalebdf via Flickr

Julie & Julia was on tv this last weekend. I just love that movie. I know so many people feel motivated to blog after watching it. Not me; I mean, I like blogging, but I don’t need a movie to motivate me to do this. Where I do need motivation is in the kitchen. Yes, that’s right, Julie & Julia makes me want to cook.

If I had a big, beautiful kitchen like Julia Child’s I might be more interested in spending more time there. But then again, I doubt I would have the motivation to keep that kind of space clean. But I digress, that movie, with its gorgeous food photography, makes me realize that I am wasting my life eating canned soup. I also feel that way when I watch Laura Calder’s French Food at Home. So maybe I’m in love with French food. But that’s a post for another day.

The point, chickens, is that I’m in the mood to cook, to create, and this upcoming weekend is Thanksgiving weekend, so I can think of no better time to cook. And since my holiday plans don’t include a lovely home-cooked meal, I absolutely MUST cook.

Cooking, as you know, starts with a trip to the grocery store, and a well-thought out list. But first I need a plan. I need to decide what I will spend my time cooking. I’ve always wanted to try the Boeuf Burgeon. But then I saw some lovely pictures of beef vindaloo, there is also the appeal of trying to make bi bim bap. And of course, I will need something sweet. I read a recipe for pumpkin chai cupcakes, or I could try’s Bene’s trifle recipe.

I guess I need some help deciding, and since today is election day (honestly, it’s a big week up here) I am looking to make this decision democratically. So what’s your vote?

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My favourite treat is a Greek dish called Spanakopita; essentially, Spanakopita is a feta and spinach pie. I completed my post-graduate program in Toronto’s Greektown, where I treated myself frequently. At my last job, where the cafeteria was run by a nice Greek family, we had a delicious spanakopita treat at least once a month. So this is the first time in my adult life when I haven’t had easy access to this meal.

I have made this dish once before, but the recipe was complicated and I only tried it once. Then, during the course of my normal surfing, I found this website, with a much easier recipe. http://www.eco-natural.com/recipes/spanakopita.html

Ingredients

2 lbs. fresh spinach leaves

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

1/2 cup chopped fresh dill

2 cups finely chopped green onions

1 1/2 tsp. sea salt

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 cups chopped onions

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1/2 lb. feta cheese, crumbled (can substitute any goat milk cheese)

14 phyllo pastry leaves

3/4 cup clarified butter (ghee), melted

Directions:

First, clean the spinach. This is the longest part of the prep work, but be patient, it’ll be worth it, especially if you can clean the spinach in front of the television, with some company/help. 😉

Next prep your fresh parsley, and add it to the bowl with your freshly cleaned spinach.

Next prep and add your dill. Be sure to buy good, fresh dill. As you can see, I was not that careful while I was shopping, and 80% of my dill had rotted overnight. This was not the only blunder I had; we’ll talk about “cloaking” strategies later on.

Then cut your green onions, and add them to the spinach, parsley and dill mix. As you can see, I did not have enough green onions either.

Add the sea salt, mix it all together and let the whole thing sit for at least 15 minutes. At the end of those 15 minutes, be sure to drain any remaining liquid and set it aside. I decided to use a colendar instead of a bowl, and I think that helped prevent liquid from getting trapped in the mixture.

Next saute the onions in the olive oil. The recipe didn’t specify which kind of onion, and since I had a red onion on hand, I decided to use that. I think it helped add more flavour.

Add the spinach mixture a little at a time, and continue stirring it until all of the leaves are nicely wilted.

While the spinach is sauteing,  prep the feta cheese. The recipe called for only 1/2 a lb. but I misread it, so I added the full lb. This is one of those “cloaking” devices I was referring to. The result of my error is that it covered my earlier errors, and the dish was quite tasty and rich (but note, that as I was opening the feta I spilt the liquid all over the floor). Anyhow, you want to make sure that the cheese is nice and crumbly , so that it will mix well with the spinach.

Mix it all together, until it’s gooey and delicious. Turn down the heat, and let it sit on stove top for a few minutes longer while you prep the phyllo pastry.

Be sure to grease the pan. I always grease the dish’s lip as well; I’ve found this really helps when it comes time to wash up.

Put the butter on to melt it. I don’t have a microwave, so I needed another pot.

Lay your pastry out. I used 3 levels of pastry in this dish; this is more than the recipe called for, but I like a little flakiness to break up the rich taste of the feta and spinach, especially when you’ve doubled the amount of feta–the richest ingredient.

Add some butter to each layer. This is another “cloaking” technique, and will also help the pastry to taste buttery and flakey.

Add the filling, then add another layer of phyllo leaves, butter and filling, then top with more phyllo, and coat in butter.

It’s best to use a brush, but, I have lost mine, so I used a soft spatula. Spread the butter carefully, so as not to tear the delicate phyllo leaves. Then pop it in the oven and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.

In spite of my many mistakes it turned out perfectly. Firstly, the pastry is a gorgeous golden brown, and it’s light and flakey, exactly as phyllo leaves should be. Secondly, the taste was perfect, gooey and rich, and this was the perfect meal to eat while bidding adieu to 2010 and ringing in 2011. I wish I knew some real Greek , but I don’t; I know French so I will finish with a great French culinary expression. Magnifique!

Opa!

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Wishing you all the best for 2011. May all of your Christmas dreams come true.

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A couple of years ago I was helping my mum move all of her decorations from her tattered cardboard boxes to some of the nicer Tupperware kinds. As I’ve hinted, Christmas is a big deal in my home, and the work was exhausting. As we approached the bottom of the second box, and we could see the untouched third box sitting in the corner of the room, I looked down and saw that there were just a few scarps of paper sitting. I sighed and put the box down. Then, and I have no idea why, I picked the box up again, and took a good look at the paper. It was mostly receipts so old and worn that they were illegible, but mixed in with them was a tiny newspaper clipping. It was my first letter to Santa Clause, and at the risk of great embarrassment, I am sharing it with you today.

 

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Dear Santa,

Do you have enough candy canes and gingermans made for all the kids? I would like to have a gingerman, oranges; grapes, starfish and a big, big new dolly. I want the biggest candy cane in the whole world.

How are the reindeer and Mrs. Santa. Can you bring a little Bert and Ernie doll for my little brother Matthew. He’s too little to write a letter. I want everything big. Give him everything little. I can’t wait to see you Santa at our party with all the kids. My Mommy helped me write this letter.

Love and kisses
Circe, age 4.

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This has been the most depressing Christmas week I’ve had in a long time. No one seems to be aware that Christmas is coming on Saturday. But then, maybe that’s the problem; maybe if Christmas was coming on Sunday or Monday it might be a little different. Everywhere I look I see people busily working away on their day-to-day stuff, many people don’t even mention Christmas. My office doesn’t have a single cookie or festive sweet.

Then at lunch time, as I ventured out with my friends and co-workers for a slice of holiday pizza, I heard the theme music (Christmas Time is Here) from the Peanuts Christmas special. I stopped and looked up, smiling because I intend to surprise my mother with a CD/DVD copy of her favourite Christmas special; as I was standing there I saw a group of people skating on an outdoor rink. That’s right, I stepped into the Peanuts Christmas special. I stopped and gave myself a moment to enjoy this one perfect moment where pop culture and Christmas collide in the parking lot of a business park and outdoor shopping centre. The song soon ended and I came back to reality

It was the perfect way to push me out of my funk. It was a brilliantly sunny, (reasonably) warm day. There’s no reason to feel depressed, in fact, I should be elated. I decided that this week could still be magical, and from there I took matters into my own hands, and created my own Christmas magic.

I decided to take the dog for a big walk, so that we could enjoy this glorious weather. When we got home I made a big batch of mincemeat tarts. Yummy, and super festive. The only problem is that I put too much filling in each pastry, so I didn’t enough to make all 24 tarts.

Oh well, I guess that means that I’ll have to make more for New Year’s Eve…I may also need to do some skating to burn them off.

Merry Christmas Charlie Brown, and to all of you too!

 

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This is the best time of year to try to lose weight. I know, it seems like the worst, but, in reality, there are tons of opportunities out there, and best of all you aren’t on your own, half the world is trying to lose weight following the holidays. So I am starting to lay the ground work for January, when I can take it up like 4 notches, and know that I’m not suffering alone.

I won’t get back to the gym until Thursday this week, and I am starting to feel really blobulous, but I’m also still feeling a little under the weather, so it’s best to stay out of the gym I think.

So, I’ll be amping the workouts back up, and I think I’ll be adding a weekend class to my routine. The biggest hurdle for me will be getting my eating under control. I eat when I’m happy, when I’m sad, and just because (which is the best reason of all). So come January 1 I’m back to the food diary. It’s useful and helpful for denial eaters like me (come on, I don’t eat that much) plus it’s super cute–see you can even colour in each water bottle as you tick them off–plus this means that I still have a little over a week to psych myself up for it.

In other news, Cadie was a nightmare last night; she was jittery, walked like a sled dog, and wouldn’t settle down. I was beside myself. I couldn’t figure out what had gotten into her. Now as I sit at my desk, watching the big, round moon slide behind the horizon, I realize that it was a double whammy: the full moon and the incredibly rare Winter Solstice lunar eclipse. I can’t believe that I missed the first Winter Solstice lunar eclipse in 300 years. And we won’t see another one for 80 years. This is made worse by the fact that I was having trouble sleeping, and chose to watch Conan instead of taking a step outside. Oh well, it happens.

Happy first day of winter (Winter Solstice)–may the knowledge that day will be longer and night will be shorter tomorrow bring you comfort and warmth tonight.

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I don’t know what happened to me this weekend, but I came home from work on Friday night ready to create. I had no idea what I was going to create, but I knew that my hands needed to be busy doing something, so I looked around and found something to create.

I can’t tell you what I was working on; I think I need another week or so to get them ready and distributed (wink, wink). So I don’t want to spoil the surprise, instead I’m going to focus on the drive that drove me to reach for my needle and thread.

I’ve always been a bit crafty, in a good way. When I was in university I found that I needed a change. I wanted something to do with my hands to take my mind off my school work. I needed it to be easy, so that it could also be a bit of a mental break. I tried cross stitch–too complicated. It requires a lot of counting, especially in the beginning, and without someone to show me what I was doing, I quickly became discouraged.

I thought about knitting, but…knitting can be expensive, and without anyone to show me how to do it, I was worried that I wouldn’t understand the instructions, and would waste a lot of money…so I never even tried.

Then, one day, while I was trolling Lewiscraft…yes, I was probably the one frosh in the province who trolled Lewiscraft and Mary Maxim instead of the bars; the only explanation I can offer is that my super geekiness knows no bounds. As I was saying, one day I came across something that seemed to fit the bill perfectly–rug hooking, and I have been hooked ever since (I’m so funny! :D)

This last fall I made myself some napkins and a table-cloth, so, as you can see, I have a number of irons in the fire. I am currently working on a couple of stuffed animals, and some more napkins. I worked on a number of things this weekend, alternating between sewing and writing and singing…I have yet to do any cleaning.

Oh well, I like crafts. I guess in some ways I ‘m hotwired to do crafts, to keep my hands busy, and my mind from wandering. I also like that in keeping my hands busy, my legs are too busy to be walking to the kitchen all evening, and my arms and hands are working toward a goal, so they aren’t interested in anything that might be found in the kitchen. Crafting is a good way to keep me on track, especially when I can’t get to the gym, and it’s kind of fun. Though I may need to sew under my desk and while I’m sleeping if I’m going to have everything ready by the weekend.

How do you avoid temptation and stay on track?

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Yesterday was a bad day. I mean it was a good day, I got a lot done, but it was a bad day in terms of nerves. It seems that I had completely forgotten that it’s Christmas, a time for celebration. Since today is Friday–also a time for celebration–I am going to take it down a notch, focus on festivities and try not to stress.

You may recall that my mother decorates the front of her house with a giant blow-up Homer Simpson. I live in an apartment, which doesn’t have a yard, so my homage to the Simpson’s (probably the most commercial family tradition I’ve ever heard of) is a small decoration on my tree. You might notice that I’m also so lazy that I haven’t even hung this ornament properly. That’s because perching him on the branches, I believe, allows him to stroll through the tree at his leisure.

I was so eager for Christmas this year that I broke all of my rules and started decorating the second last weekend in November. Sadly though my apartment is so warm that I haven’t really had the lights on. Still I’m going to focus on the things that make me happy before I plunge into my work.

 I can’t really tell you what was going through my mind when I decided that I should put up a tree dedicated to gingerbread. Sometimes–most times–I seem to forget that I should be watching what I eat. Funnily enough most of these ornaments have a story. There’s one there from my trip to Quebec City in 2004; that’s a nice memory, Quebec City is beautiful and it was a fun trip. There are also a couple of ornaments given to me by the kids I used to babysit when I was in high school. That’s also a nice memory, they were the best kids, and that was the easiest babysitting gig ever.

If you look hard you can also see gold and silver apples. They’re from the dollar store. It’s not much of a story, but I will tell you I was humming that “Silver and Gold” song from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer while I was buying them–that’s like half a story right? One quarter of a story?

I bought this tree my first year away from home;  it was the perfect size for a residence room, and it was the perfect size for my bachelor, but now I am beginning to feel that I’d like a much bigger tree. I mean I do have 2 trees and 2 boughs already, but it’s not the same as having a nice tall Christmas tree right?

Happy Friday

 

Alright–deep breaths–I think I’m ready. I think I’ve had a good dose of Christmas spirit and I’m ready to take on the day. If I need any other encouragement I can remember Friday’s traditions too.

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Christmas carol singing in Jèrriais

Image via Wikipedia

Would you like to come for dinner?

Yes!

Are you free to meet for coffee?

Yes!

We’re going to see a play would you like to join us?

Yes!

Yes. Yes. Yes. There’s something about December that pushes me out of my shell every year. I go shopping at the mall during peak hours, even though I hate being in crowds, and I enjoy it. I get in my car and drive all over the province to visit with people who I otherwise don’t get to see. I make plans to go out on weekday evenings, which is not my cup of tea…in short I accept every invitation that I can. I have to say that with a little more than 2 weeks to go until Christmas I am starting to double and triple book myself, and I am running out of fuel.

Take for example last Sunday. I won’t bore you with all the toings and froings of my plans, but I was supposed to go to Church, then head out of the city for an afternoon visit with a friend. After service I went to use the washroom, and when I came out, a woman I’ve never seen before came up to me and very excitedly invited me to stay for a cup of coffee and a cookie. Since I never turn down an invite in December I accepted. I met a ton of people, and before I knew it I was being invited to join the choir…and I never turn down an invitation in December, so I accepted (which ps, I’m very excited about, but also very nervous about as I haven’t sung in a choir since high school.) More importantly this has big implications for this Sunday, as this is now my schedule:

6:30 Walk dog
8:00 Prep for day
9:00 Brunch with the girls
10:30 Service
11:00 drop dog at the groomers
12:00 choir practice
4:00 pick dog up from groomers
5:00 return home from walk, make dinner 
6:00 I have no idea yet, but probably something

I think this is a little too much for a Sunday, so I think I will have to edit. I have no idea how yet, and it makes me sad to edit; I hate saying no to anything because sooner or later January will hit, and there will be no more invitations, just interminable hours of winter sloth. But since January is a month of no, I’m going to make the most of December by making it a month of yes!

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