Wednesday, 18 December 2013

In Case You Think Your Christmas Isn't Perfect

We are all heading into that final week before Christmas arrives.  All of the things that I did in late November/early December to avoid that last minute Christmas rush don't seem to matter when there are STILL things on my to-do list, but I'm glad that I got as much done as I did back then or I'd be wearing a straight jacket right about now.
 
I told Andrew that I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Christmas.
 
I.  Must.  Learn.  How.  To.  Do.  Christmas.  Easier.
 
Please grant me some grace - I avoided making homemade things (except the baking) like the plague this year, I struck things off my to-do list that just aren't going to get done and I haven't shed a tear over one single strike.
 
But when you're in charge of music at church at Christmas......well, it's demanding.  So is work.  Home.  More work.  School programs. 
 
Ben and I went shopping last night for the gifts he wishes to give.  Last year went a little smoother than this year.  We nattered at each other crossly for most of the outing.  We finally sat down over fries and gravy and could hardly look at each other.  He was the grown up when he shrugged his shoulders and said "I'm SOOOO tired".  I was too.  We confessed and left the crankiness behind us. 
 
And all is well.
 
So I was thinking about the merciless to-do lists and the inspiring-but-ever-so-discouraging-Pinterest posts that make one think that every corner of the house has to be picture perfect in order for Christmas to arrive properly.
 
And...........I think I'm brave enough to do this......
 
.........I thought I'd let you peek into Christmas 1992 in Maureen's world.
 
Ahem.  It wasn't picture perfect.

 
Back in 1992, Dean and I were friends and nothing more.  We both hung out with a group of 10-12 other young adults - they were all married and in spite of our singleness, we somehow fit in in our own independent ways. We all had music to tie us together.  These friends - we made some sweet music, let me tell you!  So many good memories.  We were family, we were friends, we loved, we squabbled now and then, but at the end of the day we had friendship of the nicest sort.
 
(I haven't asked any of these friends for permission to post their picture.  I may be sued.)
 
Anyway, one December night in 1992, Janelle told me that her husband, Byron, was going to the bush to cut down a Christmas tree.  Oh!!!  How I'd love a tree!  This was long before I ever had money to buy an artificial one and I had grown up on a farm where trees were plenty but I didn't have time to go to the farm to get one either so wouldn't it be nice if Byron could bring one home for me too?!! 
 
So, I asked Byron if he would mind bringing one home for me, too, and he graciously replied that he'd be happy to do that.
 
It was a Saturday.  I waited all day for them to get back to the city.  Couldn't wait for the arrival of this tree!!!!
 
Finally, they pulled into the parking lot of my apartment building.
 
Oh boy!!!
 
They walked up the sidewalk with big Christmas smiles!
 
I can't wait!!!  A real tree of my own, delivered to my doorstep!!!
 
And then they produced THE TREE.
 
I smiled.
 
Sort of.
 
Then I gave a little giggle....."is this it?"  I remember wondering.
 
Actually, I remember thinking that it must be a practical joke.
 
But Byron kept smiling that million dollar smile of his as he joyfully handed over THE TREE.
 
And I graciously accepted it.
 
Yes.......graciously......reluctantly, er, graciously, indeed.
 
I'm thinking that that evening, these friends came over to help me decorate THE TREE after a banquet that they had to sing at.  I don't remember that part ...... but pictures don't lie.
 
Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you (TA-DA) THE TREE of 1992.
 
 
"THE TREE"
See how we had to tie it to the wall to get it to, um, stand up, uh, straight?
It was, er, firmly planted in probably the only available plant pot that I had.  High tech, I tell you.
But look at Byron's million dollar smile - who could refuse a tree from this long haired hippy musician gem of a gentleman!


Again, the pictures don't lie - they must have stayed to help me decorate the whole blessed tree.  How's that for good friends?  Love of the best kind!

I'm giggling - look how pathetic the tinsel looks.  Trying to fill in the gaps.  TRYING!!!
And the garland, bravely trying to pull the whole thing together.
Five red satin balls.  FIVE!!  I remember how proud I was of those satin balls - they were high fashion for Christmas trees....in 1992.
 

What does one do when one has a tree like THE TREE at Christmas?  Why invite more friends over, that's what!

I remember Elisa trying to hold back a giggle when she entered the living room.

A couple of other noteworthy things about this photo - this was my very own apartment that I lived in by myself.  Six years of my life were lived there and I was always proud that I had lived alone because you learn a lot of things about yourself when you are the only company you have.  Dean and I eventually courted here.  I made friends with my neighbor and we loved each other dearly.  I had a dog (hi Fluffy!) and the TV on the left was my very first COLOR TV that I bought BRAND NEW at Zellers.  It wouldn't fit into my little car and some nice Hutterites offered to deliver it to my home for $10.00.  I refused, we persisted and the tv eventually fit.

Anyway, my tree wasn't perfect but it was given to me with great affection and made THE BEST memories that year.  Perhaps the lesson to learn is that perfection is over-rated and bland? 

Quick recipe to share tonight - a new and very easy favorite that I will repeat.

Creamy Salmon Penne

3 cups penne pasta, uncooked
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
450 gram package of salmon fillets cut into bite sized chunks
3 green onions, thinly sliced
3/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup milk
1 250 gram tub of Dill Philadelphia Cream Cheese

Cook the pasta in salted water.

Meanwhile, sauté garlic in olive oil until soft.  Add salmon chunks and stir fry until lightened in color (desired doneness).  Stir in the tub of cream cheese, chicken broth and milk and stir together/melt until well combined.  Drain the pasta and add to the fish/sauce pan.  Stir to combine and serve!

Make some happy memories this Christmas!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Christmas Baking 2013

Yesterday was my big baking day for 2013!  I got up early(ish) for a Saturday and had myself rolling by 9:30.  No breaks for this gal, although my energy did start to lag right around supper time....and I did beg for help around eight o'clock when it was time to put these treasures in the freezer.  Around that time, I turned to Dean and said "we're not going to have room for these in the freezer, are we?"  I thought I'd get that out there in the open .... before he told me the same fact. 
 
Aaaand, having said that, I'm not going to elaborate on WHERE I STORED THE BAKING. 
 
Ahem.
 
Let's just say it's safe.  And frozen.
 
 
See! 
Pardon the browning bananas, two random apples, PS2 controller, mini speaker set, cell phone, and too many cd's.  Aren't islands a good thing?


Anyway.

Now that the baking is done and the shopping is pretty much done, I should be pretty close to ready for Christmas 2013.  I can't say that I have been completely successful with "Operation:  Avoid Becoming Captain Grumpy-Pants".  There have been some moments where it seems like everything I did in advance to ease the stress didn't do a blessed thing to prevent the inevitable stress but I think I'm still ahead in the long run.

I had some moments of inspiration the other night on what to do to decorate the living room.  Keep in mind that I live in a house with two teenaged boys - when asked "remember my snowman collection?  Should I put it up again?" - they are most likely to yawn and reply "don't bother".  Harumph. 

But I decorated anyway.

However, we have a little problem with the nativity.


The members of the cast are having a hard time keeping themselves in line for their performance.

It's a beautiful hand carved set that I think is from somewhere far away.  Of course, that is supposition on my part at this point.  I thought that I scored pretty big when I saw this on a second hand table a few years ago for $10.00

However....


There are four animals.  Maybe the two in the back are sheep. 
But these two guys at the front?  I'm guessing that they are donkeys? 
.....but I think he looks more like a rhino....
.....and I don't think there were any rhinos in the stable in Bethlehem....
 
 But we have another issue...


I think these guys are sleepy.
Or maybe imbibed on too many fermented grapes on the trip in.
They can't seem to find their feet.



These two are taking their role very seriously.
But the guy in the back has fallen and he can't get up.
I don't think the other two fellas are very pleased with him.
They look angry.


Come to think of it....

I'm having a little bit of a hard time deciphering who's who.
We always assumed that there were 3 wise men, and I realize that is open for debate and probably scripturally inaccurate.
But was it really necessary to send 5 wise men?

And is this Joseph?  Mary?  Or a shepherd?
Or are some of the above wise men actually shepherds with really important looking hats?
It's rather hard to tell if there's a Mary to be found....after all, they're all in a skirt...of sorts.



And please, I mean no disrespect, but I thought Mary wrapped the Babe in swaddling clothes.  This poor baby appears to be, um, unclothed and unswaddled.
In fact, if I had to venture a guess I'd say he's making snow angels.
Snow angels in the stable....now that's a new thought.

The camels, however, have got it together.
My, they are mighty fine looking camels.



So I've just decided that regardless of who's who, they all need to be in the stable around the Babe. 
They can sort it all out between them.
"I want to be a wise man."
"Shh, you're a shepherd, for crying out loud.  We've rehearsed this a million times."
"Where's Mary?"
"She's IN THE BATHROOM!"

She's probably trying to find a quiet place to get away from all of these men, having just given birth and all.

All in all, I'm pretty pleased with my little nativity.

....and we have another jumper.....
...and the tree fell down....again.


I think I'll just leave them alone for now.  I'm sure they've got this nativity gig under control.


Wanna know what I baked?
1 batch of butter tarts
1 pan of Nanaimo bars
1 batch of gingerbread cookies, decorated by the fabulous Ben and mama
1 batch of tourtiere hand pies*
1 pan of those seven layer bars that start with graham wafer crumbs and end with sweetened condensed milk and have a variety of layers in between.  Love this year's recipe which included mini marshmallows
1 batch of whipped shortbread cookies (have to confess, not my best batch but they'll do)
1 batch of hazelnut Lintzer cookies*
1 batch of Candy Cane Kiss Shortbread bars*
1 batch of Lemon Sugar Cookie tarts*
1 loaf of Caramel pull apart bread*

The titles with a star* are new recipes that I tried this year.  A couple of them were easy to cut and paste so I'll share the recipes for the Candy Cane Kiss Shortbread bars and the Lemon Sugar Cookie tarts.


Candy Cane Kiss Shortbread Bars - THESE ARE A HUGE HIT!

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/8 salt

1/2 cup macadamia nuts, chopped

2 (10-oz) bags Hershey's Candy Cane Kisses

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 F. In an electric mixer, combine the flour, sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt. Press the mixture into the bottom of a greased 13 x 9 pan. Spread the chopped nuts evenly over the crust.

Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven.

Place the unwrapped candy cane kisses in a blender or food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. Spread the candy pieces evenly over the hot crust/nuts layer. Allow to sit until the heat from the crust has melted the candy. You may need to use a spoon to evenly spread the melted candy. It doesn't need to be smooth, just make sure all of the crust is covered.

 Allow to cool in the refrigerator until the candy has hardened and set back up. Cut into bars. Eat and enjoy!

 Recipe Notes:

The recipe creator says that she experimented with several ways to spread the candy on the crust. Spreading the blended pieces was the best way to keep the pretty swirly effect of the candy cane kisses, while getting even coverage. Melting the candy beforehand then pouring over the crust will result in a solid pink candy layer, rather than the swirled effect. Also, when cutting the bars, make sure your knife goes all the way to the pan and your cuts are clean. Otherwise the candy layer will separate when trying to remove the bars.



Lemon Sugar Cookie Tarts

Ingredients

For the crust:

8 Tablespoons (115g) unsalted butter, softened

½ cup (100g) granulated sugar

1 egg

1 and ½ cup (190g) all-purpose flour

scant ¼ teaspoon baking powder

pinch salt

For the lemon filling:

2 eggs

3 egg yolks

¼ cup whipping cream

juice from 1 large lemon

¼ cup granulated sugar

For topping

4 Tablespoons powdered sugar, divided

½ cup whipping cream

Instructions

To make the sugar cookie crust, in a standing mixer (or by hand) beat the butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes oh high. Add the egg and mix on medium until fully incorporated. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt all at once and mix on medium just until no spots of flour remain, about 20 seconds (do not overmix). Wrap the dough in parchment paper and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a mini muffin tin with butter or cooking spray.

While the oven is preheating, make the lemon filling by whisking together the eggs, egg yolks, whipping cream, lemon juice, and granulated sugar until smooth.

Remove the cookie dough from the refrigerator. Divide the dough into quarters and divide each quarter into six even balls of dough. Press each ball of dough it into a space in the muffin tin. Using your thumbs, press the dough into the tin so that it is evenly distributed along the sides and bottom. (Don’t worry if it is a bit thinner in some places than others.) Pour the lemon filling into the center of each sugar cookie cup, stopping just below the top of the crust.

Bake until the filling is set and the crust begins to turn golden, 10-12 minutes. (Do not over bake – pull the tarts out just when you see any golden color on the crusts.) Allow these to cool completely at room temperature. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Before serving, dust the tops of the tarts with 2 Tablespoons of powdered sugar. Beat the whipping cream with the remaining 2 Tablespoons of sugar until stiff peaks form. Pipe or spoon the whipping cream on top of each tart. Serve chilled.
 
Mine are frozen and I'm hoping that they will keep their nice texture when thawed.
 
....I'll probably eat them regardless.....
 
 
I know that Christmas baking isn't for everyone and none of us need the extra sweets in our diet.  However, for me, it's tradition and it's the day that I look forward to the most, out of all of the Christmas activities that I put on my list.  I think that's probably because being in the kitchen is therapeutic for me and giving myself a day to spend puttering in the kitchen is, in reality, giving myself a day of self care with some sweet treats as the end result.
 
Happy 17 Days Till Christmas!