Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Day 23: Culinary customs

My Christmas baking repertoire has narrowed down to mostly two things:
Fruit cake, courtesy of a recipe from an old, dear friend, Norma Green. It is dense, moist, and full of buttery vanilla flavour. And, of course, lots of jeweled glace fruit and pecans.

I love the red cherries best of all.

Here's another one, just in case the first two weren't enough.

I also make a big batch of shortbread every Christmas. I like to press the dough into these molds that I got for 25c each after Christmas a few years ago.

The problem is, I can never remember, from one year to the next, which recipe I used last time. So some years the shortbread has been crispy and buttery, with the sugar almost caramelized as it slowly bakes.

Other years it is merely acceptable.

Like today's batch.

I think it is because the recipe I used tonight used powdered sugar instead of granulated, so tomorrow night I will try another recipe. I think I know which one.

Meanwhile, there is a humongous Tupperware full of small fruitcakes that will be distributed to lucky people.
But only the ones that love it.

And Jeff enjoyed a mug of homemade eggnog with a star-shaped piece of shortbread. 
He breathed in a crumb of the cookie and almost choked to death.

Would you like the recipes?
I thought so.

Norma's Fruit Cake
3 1/2 cubes of butter
2 c sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda dissolved in 1/2 c boiling water
2 oz vanilla
6 eggs
4 c flour
3 lbs dried and glace fruit and nuts of choice

Cream butter and sugar, add soda and water. Beat in vanilla and eggs. Stir in flour and lastly, the fruit mixture. Spray small baking pans with Pam and divide mixture between them. I usually make 6 small loaves with this amount. Bake at 250 degrees for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Cakes are done when the top is firm, but you can poke with a toothpick to make sure.
I usually make double this recipe.

The tubs of glace fruit are prohibitively expensive, so I keep an eye on them in the produce section of Safeway after Christmas. Every two or three years, I find them marked down 75% and stock up.

Classic Shortbread
8 oz unsalted butter
1/2 c sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/4 c flour

Cream butter and sugar. Work in flour and salt, knead lightly if necessary. Press into greased molds or 8" round pans. Prick dough with a fork. Bake at 300 degrees for about 30 minutes for small molds up to an hour for larger pans. Shortbread should be golden brown. Leave in pans until firm before tipping onto cooling rack. For larger rounds, cut into wedges while still hot in the pan.


1 c milk
1 egg yolk
A few drops of vanilla and rum essences
Sugar to taste
A sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg

Put half of the milk in a mug or small pan and whisk in egg yolk with immersion blender. Add essences and the rest of the milk. Heat slowly in microwave (or on stove top if using a pan), stirring often. Nog should thicken slightly when done. Add sugar to taste.

Today I am thankful that my fridge and freezer are stocked up with lots of butter.
Happy Christmas baking to you!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Day 22: Sew much to do

A couple of years ago, I determined to make use of the large amounts of fabric scraps that have monopolized the space in our smallest bedroom ever since it was happily vacated by some child or another for the bigger bedroom. Jeff complains once in a while, but not so much since he got his very own man-cave and started filling it with books and tools and all sorts of masculine paraphernalia.

So I started cutting out little squares and triangles of coordinating fabric. I have lots of samples from about thirty years ago, when I sewed for a friend who was in the business. I always knew they would come in handy some day! I pieced this top together and pinned it shortly after making my resolution, then ran out of courage when it came to the machine quilting part. 

I manned up this week and dug the sewing machine out of a heap of stuff.
The quilting isn't very complicated and sewed up pretty fast.

A little Google and a YouTube video got me past my fear of binding.

It is all very imperfect, just like me.

The pin-tucked white fabric in the centre of this square is from a wedding dress that I made almost thirty years ago. It had all sorts of pin-tucked sections and lace inserts and took about forty hours to complete. 

Pardon me if you've heard the story before, but this was when the Portland, Oregon LDS temple was being built and our family had been asked to contribute $200 to the building fund. It seemed like a fortune at the time, because Jeff was earning very little money and it was all we could do to pay the basic bills. I was working at a restaurant as a hostess, doing childcare, and also sewing for my friend. I couldn't think how we were going to come up with the money. Then my friend asked me to sew this wedding dress for some promotional thing she was doing. I charged her $200. Which, in retrospect, was too little money, but it was before I had gained a healthy respect for the value of my time. And it did solve the problem.

The strip of blue heart fabric is from Daisy Kingdom dresses that I made for Bethany and Annie one Easter. I still have the dresses, but apparently they are not stylish enough for today's girls.
They were considered to be very fashionable at the time, is all I'm saying.

So, the quilt is finished, just in time to be put in the mail for a very precious little boy.
And I am thankful for the sewing teachers that taught me, at the grand ago of twelve and thirteen, to use a sewing machine. And the kind lady from church who taught me, on a few Saturday mornings, some handy short-cuts and skills that have stayed with me all these years. 
It changed my life, in a good way.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Day 21: I am an Amazon fan

Try saying that five times fast.

I have become, of late, an online shopper.
Specifically, an Amazon shopper.
I can find everything I need, at a better price, and I don't have to drive around in the weather and traffic. 
Tonight, thanks to my favourite frugal website, I found this Richard Scarry game and a set of books, which was just what I needed to finish up my Christmas shopping for a couple of precious grandchildren.
Total cost: $0.00.
I paid for them with my Discover Card Cashback Bonus.
And shipping was free.

But if I hadn't spent over $25, it would have been free anyway, because of my free month of Amazon Prime that came with the Kindle Fire that I bought on a lightning deal a couple of weeks ago.

And that Kindle is already filled with free books that I found on that same frugal website.

And my house is full of smoke detectors that came in a contractor's six-pack.

And my minimalist shoes (most of which came from my favourite shoe website, 6pm.com)  are all fitted with Pedag metatarsal pads that I bought by the dozen on Amazon for much less than my podiatrist charged.

And the Lego man flashlights that we gave the grandkids for Christmas last year (bought on Amazon, of course) are replenished with lithium batteries that cost mere pennies compared to the local stores.

And Bethany and I will both be drying foods all season next year, thanks to a sale on Nesco dehydrators.

And you know those lovely Silpat baking mats that cost a fortune from Demarle? Found some Made in American ones for $5 a piece that will make some nice gifts for my Kiwi friends.

So yes, you might say that I am thankful for Amazon these days.
You can call me the Amazon Queen.
Or Queen of the Amazon.

Have you made any grand purchases on Amazon lately?
Or do you have any favourite websites that you would like to share with the rest of us?