Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday Happenings

Have I mentioned my holiday baking this week? Oh....just every day. Yesterday was no different, except in that it didn't go quite as smooth as the other forays into holiday cookery. The day before the first grade Holiday Party (we can't call it a Christmas Party anymore these days) was the day to bake my designated "sweet treat". Yea, the kids these days get one "sweet treat" per "holiday party" in addition to a "healthy treat" and a treat bag sans snacks. Treat bags may only contain Happy Meal-esque toys, pencils, stickers et al. Forgive me, I digress.

So Wednesday was the appointed "sweet treat" baking day. I had selected one of Food Network's 12 Days of Cookies to prepare for our angelic partyers. I chose The Neely's Candy Cane Cookies for their festive color and seemingly simple recipe. I need 18 candy canes for my 18 party-goers. I mix up a batch of dough and proceed to divide it in half and color one half green and the other red. Let's just say that you can get a full 30-minute workout adding 3 drops of food coloring to a sugar cookie dough.

With cookie dough festive in green and red, I rolled it out and cut it into even strips to co-mingle them into delectable and attractive canes. Ummmmmm......the strips won't come up off the counter where I rolled them out. In the warmth of my post-snow day kitchen (including a pre-warmed oven) and my handling of the dough it simply is like butter . . . .1 whole stick of room-temperature butter to be exact. Okay so I quick think what can I do and decide every sugar cookie recipe calls for refrigerating the dough before rolling it out. I pop each color into a wax paper cocoon and place it in the fridge. I go about cleaning up and prepare a double batch of my great-grandmother's Date Nut Swirls (see recipe below).

Having been cooled for 40 some odd minutes I deem the dough cold enough to re-roll and, if I work quickly enough, ready to twist into festive canes worthy of any first grade "holiday party". Round Two. Ahhh, yes, this is much better. It rolls out much stiffer and the first few canes are a breeze to assemble. However, the situation quickly deteriorates and the strips start coming apart as I twist. I am determined, however, to bake these damn candy canes! I proceed at a furious pace and twist and twirl and patch together the 10 canes as best I can. ??? TEN canes? Did I get TEN candy canes? A quick check of the recipe does indeed confirm what I distinctly remember from my original read of the makes a mere ten candy cane cookies. I have to go through this ordeal a second time? ::headsmack:: I don't have the patience to do it all over again immediately and decide to prepare the second batch after I pick the girls up at school.

All in all, the second time around went better than the first, mostly from having the experience of the first batch. They turned out pretty good albeit a little puffy (which the recipe does say will happen).

And for the patient reader, that delicious recipe for Date Nut Swirls from great-grandma. A holiday tradition every year at my home.

Cream together:
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 beaten egg
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

Date Filling:
1/2 lb. chopped dates
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup chopped nuts (I use pecans)

Combine dates, sugar and water for date filling in a saucepan and cook for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in nuts and salt. Cool.

Roll dough 1/4" thick. Spread with date filling, roll up and chill overnite in wax paper. Slice and place on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350° until light brown.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Snow Day

Today we woke to snow falling heavily, but alas the kids had school. The snow fell all day and I was forced to head to the store for supplies (we were scraping the cupboards last night for dinner). I decided to 2-cart the store trip and really stocked up. 2 gallons of milk, 6 lbs of hamburger, a gallon of OJ, eggs, bacon and sausage. . . . I loaded up. Don't want to get caught without food in cold weather again.

Here's the result of our cookie decorating session last night. These are the ones that I saved for us. The prettiest ones are headed to Shawn and Kate in their care packages. Don't they look yummy? Every year while I'm in the midst of decorating and all the mess I tell myself "not next year", but seeing (and tasting) the end product always makes me recant.

Last night I got a couple of packages delivered by UPS. Both were from Harry & David; one sent by Patrick's Mom & Dad and the other from his brother Nick and his wife Carolyn. Lots of sweet treats and yummy pears inside. We really enjoy the pears so much.

Last but not least is another beautiful amaryllis that bloomed today. This is 'Lemon Star'. I can't decide if this or 'Amalfi' is my favorite so far this year. Actually they have all been wonderful, but I did look forward to this one opening. If my count is accurate this is my seventh amaryllis to bloom this year. I have a total of 23 so there's many more to come yet. I tried 4 of the 8 paperwhites, but they have petered out and the sprouts have died. I'm thinking it was lack of heat as I had them in the basement under the lights. My best bet I've found is to place the forced bulbs on a closed heat register in front of a brightly lit window. I'll try the last 4 after Christmas and hopefully have better luck.

Patrick called a couple of times today. His flight out of Chicago was delayed by an hour and so by the time they landed in Hong Kong they had missed the last ferry over to the mainland. He ended up having to take a ferry to Macao and his Chinese contacts met him there and drove them to Shenzen an hour and half away. He made it to the hotel about 1am local time. He called me back two hours later. . . .sleepless in China despite having taken an Ambien. It's the same story every trip you'd think he'd come to expect it. . . I do. I had expected to hear from him by this time this evening (his morning) so I'm guessing he finally got to sleep and the Ambien is ensuring he gets a full 8 hours of sleep which it's designed to do. I'm sure he'll call in an hour or so.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Go away Jack Frost!

What a horribly cold, cold day. My weather station says we made it up to 12° today. Can't wait for the forecasted 20's later this week. As I write the wind chill reading is 3.6°. Bleh! It was so cold I couldn't bring myself to go get groceries today. Not that the rest of the week is going to be much better. I just really don't do well with bitter cold with my asthma and didn't want to risk it with Patrick out of town in China as of this morning.

The girls (more Leah than Sarah) helped me decorate the sugar cookies after school. It took about 2-1/2 hours as interest was really waning in the last hour. But we got it done, so that's another check mark on my To Do List of holiday baking. I also have to make some cookies for Leah's holiday party at school. That will be on Wednesday's to do list. Tomorrow will be a couple of things possibly. I had thought doing a little each day this week would be a good thing, now I find I'm dreading what each day's tasks are. (Hello?? Is that bi-polar depression knocking at my door? Every little incidence of unmotivation worries me these days.)

Snow is forecast all day tomorrow with some sleet thrown in for good measure. Gas is getting low in my car so I'll definitely need to go out tomorrow and fill up and get groceries. I should stockpile for the coming week. I've got my list of food to make for Christmas Day so I can pick up some of those things as well.

Patrick left for China this morning for 7 days. I wasn't very happy about him leaving this time of year. as he will miss Christmas at my mom's, but it was either that or miss his own birthday. I picked the former. Lord, knows I have enough to keep me busy with the baking, the party, and still a few presents to wrap; but I always miss him so much. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and I believe it!

I spent a good part of today working on my online gardening journal at Folia. I have 8 gardens left to enter old data going back to 2005 when we moved into this house. Once that monumental task is complete I will start entering all my 2008 gardening activities from my handwritten notes. After that huge task I still want to go through all of my 2008 pictures and add them to my web album and to the journal. And if I still have energy (and it's not Spring) by then, I need to enter all my purchases for 2009 I've made already.

Today I won 3 auctions for daylilies. I'm very excited about one of them....Femme de Joie. She's a really beauty. For now the amaryllis I have blooming are keeping my gardening appetite whetted. Here's a photo of 'Orange Sovereign' a huge, intense orange.

Leah 'Groucho' Marx

Just had to share this one with my dear readers. Leah has been digging around in a bag of Halloween costume stuff that Sarah bought this year and has been quite entertaining the last few days. At Matt's birthday party yesterday she donned this one to share with our guests. We all got a good chuckle at this one.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

My Baby Turned 19!

Today my oldest baby celebrated his 19th birthday. Hard to believe he is that old now. I don't want to even think about how old I am. The party included my sister and my aunts and mother. It was a quiet celebration (which is what a 19 yr old guy wants when family is involved).

After the party ended we feasted on a delectable smoked turkey breast that my step-dad smoked for me. It was the moistest turkey I've ever eaten in my life and I'm not sure if I can eat turkey any other way now. Matt really enjoyed it.

After I rested a bit (my feet were killin' me by this time), Leah and I proceeded to pull our sugar cookie dough out of the fridge and rolled out and cut-out our Christmas cookies. We got them all baked. . . .about 40 cookies total. . . . and we'll decorate them Monday after school.

Today started off at 59°, but by late morning we had a 20° drop to 38°!!! It was a crazy weather day and not conducive to smoking a turkey I understand.
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Definitely livin' in Oz

Today we had wind warnings all day long. It's no wonder they made Dorothy from Kansas in the Wizard of Oz. Check out my local weather station data on WeatherUnderground. Temps warmed up to a balmy 56°. Warm enough to have gotten the last of my tulips planted if it weren't for the wind from hell blowing out there. So I put ideas of gardening in December aside and set my sights on other more base pursuits. Food!

I started my holiday baking today, but first on the agenda was to get Matt's (my oldest) birthday cake baked for tomorrow's traditional family get-together. I made him the requested chocolate-peanut butter cake. It's a delectable recipe I found online. We'll see if it becomes a family favorite or a one-hit dud.

Next up was mixing up a batch of sugar cookie dough so Leah, my youngest, and I can do cutouts and decorate them up in our annual ritual. I also started making the white-chocolate covered pretzels and whipped up a quick batch of Puppy Chow.

I decided that since my sister, brother and I will not be exchanging gifts this year (at my brother's request) that I would prepare a little sweets package for them. They can't object to a homemade gift now could they? So I set aside some of the chocolate pretzels and Puppy Chow for their gift and saved the rest for us to nibble on over the next couple of weeks.

The pretzels are such a tedious concoction to make at home, that I wish I didn't love these little treats so much. I got one sheet pan made of them and split that for Shawn and Kate. I still have lots o' chocolate and lots o' pretzels to make more for us.

People Puppy Chow

1 (12 oz.) box Crispix cereal
1 stick butter
1 c. peanut butter
12 oz. pkg. chocolate chips
2 to 3 c. powdered sugar

Microwave on HIGH the butter, peanut butter and chocolate chips for 2 to 3 minutes. Pour the melted mixture over the cereal and stir until the cereal is thoroughly covered. Pour the coated cereal in a paper sack with the powdered sugar and shake until it is covered with the sugar. Pour this onto wax paper to cool and dry. Seal in plastic containers and may be stored in the refrigerator until time to serve.

Serves size: 1/2 cup.

Makes 16 cups