Friday, December 28, 2007

It was a merry Christmas

Matthew 2:1-6
 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."
 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 

"In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: 
'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, 

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; 

for out of you will come a ruler 

who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'"

"When the solution is simple, God is answering." Albert Einstein

As usual it was a Christmas when I thought I could not possibly get everything done. I'm never prepared ahead of time. You'd think I'd try to change my ways by now, but I haven't. Actually there was a year once, I think it was 1987, when I got most of the presents wrapped ahead of time. The girls were all in school and I wasn't yet in grad school. But this year I had the added problem of making the yule log on Sunday so I could serve it on Monday - Christmas eve. But in the end everything came together. At church on Sunday the pastor prayed that we would all have a stress free Christmas and I thought "Yes!", and I had this feeling that everything would be okay. And it was.

Because I had to get the cake done by Sunday I was not making it on Monday. This was good. First thing in the morning of Christmas eve I started the bread. I decided that I would just keep punching it down until I was ready to have it in the pans for the final rising. This worked just fine. My eldest daughter and her boyfriend had eagerly urged me to make a meatball lasagna, so I did. I began by making 135 tiny meat balls. They were each 1 tablespoon in size. After getting them all rolled up (out?) I put them in the freezer while I made the sauce. I began to fear that my large Italian brazer was not going to hold it all, but decided that I'd think about that problem if and when I came across it. Did I mention that I had Christian and Emily to take care of. But Riley was also home. I think he took the kids to the store with him while I made those tiny meatballs. Once the sauce was ready I began cooking up the little meatballs and off-loading them into the sauce. When all was done they just fit. I let it all simmer just a while on the back burner with the lowest heat.

Christmas Eve Meatball Lasagna

1 Tbl olive oil
4 ounces onion, minced
2 fat cloves garlic, crushed
1 tps dried Italian herbs or oregano

1 pound Italian sausage
3/4 pounds ground veal
3/4 pound ground beef
1 egg, beaten
50 gr fresh white bread crumbs
salt and pepper as desired

1 tablespoons olive oil (for frying meatballs)

tomato sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 pound onion, chopped
2 or 3 fat cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon chili powder (more if not spicy)
1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and crushed
6 ounces tomato paste
4 pounds of canned tomatoes, chopped (you could use fresh tomatoes, peeled)
1 1/2 cup red wine
1/3 cup brown sugar, more if desired after tasting
basil, fresh or dried, I used about 1/4 cup dried.

tiny meatballs:
Sauté the onion in the olive oil until soft. 
Add the garlic and dried herbs and cook for a minute. 
Set aside to cool a bit.
When cool, mix in the remaining meatball ingredients, seasoning well with salt and pepper. (Fry a tiny bit to check the taste.)
Form into 1 tablespoon sized meat balls (makes about 135 meatballs). 
Chill in the freezer for about 15-30 minutes to help them keep their shape while cooking.
Make the sauce while waiting on the meatballs.
Fry the meatball in olive oil in batches. Add more oil as necessary. Remove done meatballs to the sauce.  Let simmer for a while.

Tomato Sauce:

Every year I add a secret ingredient and this year it was 1/4 pound of pancetta, chopped up.  I cooked it in the olive oil before adding the onions.  Next year it will be something else.
Heat the olive oil in a big frying pan and cook the onions until soft but not colored. Add the garlic, the chili and cumin and cook for a further minute. Add the tomato puree and 
tomatoes, sugar and wine and simmer for about 30 minutes, until slightly thickened.

Also needed for the lasagna

1 pound ricotta cheese
1 egg
1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 pounds thinly sliced mozarella 
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1 3/4 pounds fresh  uncut pasta - 7 sheets.

Combine the ricotta, egg, Italian herbs, salt, and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese.

Assembly - this baffles me every year

Using a large roasting pan start with a thin layer of the sauce, no meatballs on this layer.
Next goes a layer of pasta, cut to fit.
Next maybe a layer using all of the ricotta mixture
Next a layer of pasta
Next a layer of the sauce with half of the meatballs.
Next sprinkle with some of the parmesan.
Next a layer of pasta
Next us half of the mozarella
Next a sprinkling of parmesan.
Next a layer of pasta
Next a layer using the rest of the meat balls, but not all of the sauce
Next a bit more parmesan
Next a layer of pasta
Next the last of the sauce
Next the last of the mozzarella 
Lastly the last of the parmesan

Once assembled the lasagna can be kept for at least a day or so before cooking.
1 1/2 hour before you want to serve the lasagna preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Bake for about an hour, you be the judge.  It must be bubbling a bit to be really done.
Let rest for about 20 minutes or so before eating.  What we do is sit down to salad and bread while we wait for the lasagna to cool a bit.

Marilyn arrived at three-ish, which was great because she can be ever to helpful, especially at washing-up and setting the table. I had the table ready to be set, with a fresh tablecloth. I used the blackwatch on this year. I did have a "moment" with the living room, but I attacked it and it was soon under control. Riley had disappeared to "get ready". He takes much longer to get ready for things than I ever get to and this does "irk me" a bit. But I expressed how I felt about this and after the lasagna was all ready and the table set and the salad dressing made and the bread was out of the oven and the living room tidied I was urged to go upstairs and get dressed. Because of my recent loss of weight because of being so sick I was able to get into an old Laura Ashley dress that I have worn many times on Christmas eve, but in recent times had found to be too tight. This definitely picked up my mood.

I had thought to make a second dessert, one that was familiar to the family, but I changed my mind. I would just serve the yule log and my chocolate fruit cake instead of the usual plum pudding (they are in fact similar). I also decided that I was not going to worry about the fact that I had no presents wrapped. But I really hope that next year I will have them all wrapped before Christmas Eve.  I put the lasagna in at six and we all sat down in the living room to play Scattergories.  This was an excellent choice of activity for my family.  I could easily get up and check on things between rounds.  I think that we eventually sat down to a lovely formal Christmas Eve dinner at about seven-thirty.  Riley brought out wine and to the great delight of many of us the white wine was absolutely awesome.  This set us all in a very good mood.  It was a Muscat from the Eugene area.  Unfortunately Riley thinks he threw out the bottle.  He is so absolutely robotic when it comes to throwing things out, no thinking involved.  But he assures me he can remember it when he sees it again.  I hope so!!  [late breaking news - He found the bottle!]  After the salad we all pulled open our snappers (crackers?) and read out our jokes and examined out little toys and put on our crowns, which are to remind us of God's promise to us: 1 Peter 5:4 "And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away."

After dinner we all went to the living room to play more Scategories and to open a few presents.  We all enjoyed ourselves until 11 o'clock, at which point Marilyn looked like she would fall asleep sitting up.  Our guests left and we tidied up and then Corey and I got into our pajamas (actually I got into my lovely pink Dior nightgown) and we started making the sweet breads for Christmas morning.  Because of the late hour I decided that we would make up the dough, assemble the breads and leave them to rise out on the kitchen table.  No pre-rising.  As it turned out we didn't even get up until after nine on Christmas morning, and the breads had risen perfectly and they couldn't have been better!

Sweet Dough

1 tablespoon yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 pound of flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 stick of butter
1 egg
1 cup warm milk


1 batch sweet dough
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 stick butter, melted

Take the sweet dough and divide it into twelve pieces.  Then take each piece of dough and form them into very round balls of dough.  This is done by forming a closed circle with you thumb and first finger and from the bottom up force the piece of dough through the fingers into a ball, closing up at the bottom as the dough passes through the fingers.  Then take a ball of dough and flatten it out into a circle.  Spread a bit of butter onto the circle, then sprinkle some cinnamon/sugar all over the butter.  Roll up the dough and take a sharp pointy knife and cut down the middle of the dough to about one inch from the end.  Open out the cut sections and then braid the ends and flip into a ball.  Place all the twisted balls into a 15 x 20 baking sheet and let rise for about 8 hours (overnight).  Bake at 350 for about 12 minutes.

I am going to add pictures for the bolotchki later because I don't think you can get it otherwise.  One time we had a youth group from Mexico staying at our house and one of the chaperones was someone I think of as Gramma Mary.  She was an absolutely adorable little grandmother. It was about 11 pm and  I was going to make bolotchki for breakfast the next morning.  She saw me starting to make them and she went right upstairs and woke up the girls and told them to come down stairs and learn how to make bolotchki.  We all had a great time and I imagine that bolotchkis are spreading all over northern Mexico.  It's definitely a pastry the Mexicans would like.  Actually, everyone likes them.  I learned how to make them in San Diego in the middle of the night from some Russian friends.  Now that's a big story for some other time.  

Almond Tea Ring

1 batch of sweet dough (above)
soft butter, about 1/2 stick
1 can of almond filling (maybe called Solo or something)

Roll out the dough to a big rectangle, maybe 24 by 18
Spread on the butter and then the almond filling.
Roll up along the long edge.
Get a baking sheet and put a piece of baking parchment on it.
Place the roll of dough on in a circle.
Cover lightly with a piece of plastic wrap and then a tea towel.
Leave overnight to rise.
Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes.
Check on it because everyones oven is different.

Note: if you make your own almond spread it can be fabulous.  I use the canned filling because my children like it.  I personally have no big attachment to it.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Ta Dah! Daring Baker event #3 is done, a yule log ready for dinner tomorrow evening

Luke 2:1-7 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.
 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Well if I'm not late then I have successfully completed my third daring baker's event. The second one was late, but it was a total accident, so I will count it. This one was not as hard as I had thought it might be, but I was able to focus undisturbed and that counts for a lot.

I started at 2 and had the cake assembled and awaiting the mushrooms by 3:25. As I laid out the ingredients for the 'mis en place' phase, I was surprised to see that the genoise had no butter. That was a relief. The butter can be so tricky in genoise - either your cake is fabulous or it sinks in the middle. The cake came together like a dream, if you don't count the phone call the interrupted me.

As soon as it was in the oven I turned over the pages for that phase and proceeded to the next - butter cream. I think that the last time I made butter cream was thirty years ago. Boy does that make me sound old! Or maybe it was Italian icing. Well, anyway, the really big unknown was how I was going to turn the butter cream into chocolate butter cream. The recipe said to dissolve the coffee crystals in the brandy, so instead I tried that with cocoa powder. It didn't dissolve, it solidified. Well I ignored that and continued on with making butter cream. When it was at the final stage and looking lovely I tossed in a small morsel of the cocoa and brandy mix. Almost immediately it began to curdle. I very quickly turned off the mixer and pondered my problem. Something needed to be done! I surmised that the reason it curdled was the Dutch cocoa. I maybe should have used Hershey's regular American cocoa. But what was done was done. I decided to toss in about 1/3 cup icing sugar and turn back on the mixer. That worked!  The butter cream stopped curdling and went back to looking lovely. At that I decided to toss in all of the cocoa and brandy mixture. It didn't curdle, but turned into nice looking butter cream. I forgot to mention - I only made 2/3 of the butter cream. I had decided to put whipped cream in the middle of the cake.

Before the butter cream was done the cake was out of the oven. As soon as I could I lifted it from its pan and set it on the rack. I paused temporarily on the butter cream because I suspected that the cake would need to be rolled as soon as possible, so I needed to get it filled with the whipped cream. I melted 4 ounces chocolate chips with 4 teaspoons of brandy in the microwave for 45 seconds, gave it a really good stir and spread it on the cake. The cream whipped was ready to go, and realizing that the melted chocolate had already cooled  I spread on the cream and rolled up the cake, using a tea towel. It rolled up ever so nicely.   Leaving the cake in the tea towel, I finished the butter cream.

At this point I needed to find a large enough plate for one long log, as I had no intention of making one of those funny sticking out bits on my log. Logs in Oregon don't come with sticking out bits, they're just for people who can't find a plate the log will fit onto. The plate pictured here belonged to my grand-daughter's great-great-grand-mother. I only had to shave less than an inch off the cake to make it fit perfectly. Since it fit I was definitely under no obligation to make a cut in the cake.

I then finished the butter cream, applied it to the cake, and decided that it was authentic looking without the fork marks.  Now all I needed was the mushrooms. I could see that given how long it was going to take to produce those little mushrooms the cake was going to have to be in the refrigerator. I found two thin  wooden skewers, broke them in half and stuck them in the cake to lay the plastic wrap over.

The mushrooms were going to prove the more difficult part of the event. It wasn't so so difficult, but they did take practice. I had wondered why the recipe was for 48 mushrooms, but I soon figured out that it was because you needed to practice. Why were we to use such a small tip to make fat little mushrooms. I finally figured out that you hold the tip in one place and just keep squeezing on the bag and a mushroom top grows right before you very eyes. I finally got a lot of tops and stems all squeezed out, put them in the oven, and in a panic realized that I hadn't gone to the store yet for the lasagna ingredients. I turned the oven temperatures down to 200 and we headed out.

When we got back quite a bit later everything was okay, and I immediately proceeded to make mushrooms. As soon as it seemed to me I'd made enough mushrooms for one cake I put them in the oven to set up, I put the rest of the mushroom parts in a bowl for people to eat. Riley thinks it would be very funny to hand the bowl to Annie tomorrow and ask her to slice them for the salad. It could be funny, but I'm not going there. It was nice that Riley thought they looked so real.

Evaluation of the Yule Log

First I will say that it wasn't as hard to make as I thought it would be. The butterless genoise was very easy, but in the end I thought it was too dry.  I think I would soak it with a syrup if I made it again.  The butter cream was a bit trickier, but turned out just like at the best bakeries.  I would like to try other flavors, I imagine there are a lot of possibilities.   The meringues were a lot of fun, and I feel a bit guilty for not trying to make the marzipan ones.  One of my daughters gave me some marzipan in my stocking for Christmas, so I've got some material to work with.  I don't feel at all guilty about not making the stump on the log, and my family was glad I didn't.  But the final verdict on this cake is the reaction of the eaters.  I served it at our Christmas Eve dinner.  As everyone started eating it felt like a scene from All Creatures Great and Small in which Sigfried and James are out at a farm before Christmas and it's obvious that the only real reason for being there was to taste the Christmas cake.  The wife is known for her wonderful Christmas cake, but she has substituted her sister's cake, just to see what Sigfried will say.  He is very slow and careful in tasting it, and in the end tells her that though it is a very good cake, it just isn't up to her standard.  So in the end my family agreed that they prefer my usual buche de Noel.

Yule Log - Buche de Noel


3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
pinch of salt
¾ cup of sugar
2 oz cake flour
1 oz cornflour

one (1) 10 x 15 inch jelly-roll pan that has been buttered and lined with parchment paper and then buttered again

1.Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.

2.Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.

3.Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100 degrees if you have a thermometer (or test with your finger - it should be warm to the touch).

4.Attach the bowl to the mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. The egg foam will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back onto the bowl of whipped eggs when the whisk is lifted.

5.While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornflour.

6.Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber scraper to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scoop all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder.

7.Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

8.Bake the genoise for about 10 minutes. Make sure the cake doesn’t overbake and become too dry or it will not roll properly.

9.While the cake is baking, begin making the buttercream.
10.Once the cake is done, remove it from the oven and let it cool on a rack.

Chocolate Brandy Buttercream:

3 large egg whites
2/3 cup sugar
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons cocoa
2 tablespoons brandy

1.Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot.

2.Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter by tossing in the butter one tablespoon at a time. Continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Combine the cocoa and the brandy and add gradually into the butter cream. This is an iffy process. Check for cocoa lumps.

Meringue Mushrooms:

3 large egg whites, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup (3-1/2 ounces/105 g.) granulated sugar
Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

1.Preheat the oven to 220 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Have ready a pastry bag fitted with a small (no. 6 or 8) plain tip. In a bowl, using a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the egg whites and cream of tartar until very foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar while beating. Increase the speed to high and beat until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. Continue until the whites hold stiff, shiny peaks.

2.Scoop the mixture into the bag. On one baking sheet, pipe a lot of stems, each ½ inch (12 mm.) wide at the base and tapering off to a point at the top, ¾ inch (2 cm.) tall, and spaced about ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. On the other sheet, pipe a lot of mounds for the tops, each about 1-1/4 inches (3 cm.) wide and ¾ inch (2 cm.) high, also spaced ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. With a damp fingertip, gently smooth any pointy tips. Dust with cocoa. Reserve the remaining meringue.

3.Bake until dry and firm enough to lift off the paper,
50-55 minutes. Set the pans on the counter and turn the mounds flat side up. With the tip of a knife, carefully make a small hole in the flat side of each mound. Pipe small dabs of the remaining meringue into the holes and insert the stems tip first. Return to the oven until completely dry, about 15 minutes longer. Let cool completely on the sheets.

Assembling the Yule Log:

1. Lift the genoise, paper and all, out onto a rack to cool a bit.
2. Sprinkle with a light dusting of granulated sugar, the lay a tea towel over the cake.
3. Flip the cake over and carefully peel off the paper.
4. Melt
4 ounces of chocolate chips with 4 teaspoons of brandy in the microwave for 45 seconds. Stir well to blend.
5. Spread melted chocolate evenly over the cake.
6. Whip
1 cup of heavy cream with 2 tablespoons of sugar and a small splash of vanilla. Spread over the cake.
7.Using the tea towel to help, roll the cake into a tight cylinder. Trim the ends ever so slightly if you like.
8. Transfer the log to an appropriate sized plate.
9.Cover the log with the buttercream, making sure the butter cream looks like the bark on a log.
10. Decorate with the mushrooms.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The continuing saga of the Christmas that's not quite happening

Philippians 2:9-11 "For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

So Riley got sick in the middle of the night last night. Luckily he wasn't quite as sick as I was, or at least he fared better, but non-the-less he's quite sick. So he called his office and cancelled the big Christmas party that was scheduled to be at our house on Thursday. I feel really bad about it, but I understand. We simply do not have the energy to put that on. About 40 to 50 people were fixed to come, and we already have the turkey Riley was going to barbecue. It'll keep.

This has truly been a very peculiar Christmas. The business establishments aren't permitted to say or write the word Christmas. But oddly enough they can write the word Hanukkah. I was at a very liberal grocery store the other day and they had a list of upcoming events, which included "Holiday" events and "Hanukkah" events and "Winter Solstice" events. The stores aren't even decorated the way the used to be. I was standing in Fred Meyer's the other day waiting for my family. As I looked around me I could see nothing that would indicated that it was Christmas. And often, if there are decorations, they are in strange colors that don't really evoke the idea of Christmas. Now I realize that store decorations are all about making money and not really about Christmas, but in the past the store clerks used to say "Merry Christmas" and they seemed to mean it.

But on the brighter side of all this - it seems that Christmas might be on it's was back to just being a Christian event. Portland is a city where only just over 20 percent of the people ever attend church. What does Christmas really mean to the other almost 80 percent? Really! It must seem quite confusing to them. Why all this fuss and bother? Why do we have to give presents to everyone? They would never understand about Jesus being God's incredible gift to us, and at best they might think of the magi bringing presents to Jesus, but then Jesus is only a myth to them anyway. It's business that keep the "holiday" really going. They want our money. Now don't get me wrong, I like giving and getting presents. Who doesn't? But I see no need to make those people who don't even have a clue what Christmas is all about join in in the festivities. As a Christian I am glad that we can have really festive events to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I'm glad to carry on old Christmas traditions. But perhaps I should actually examine some of them to see if they should continue. For example "Christmas stockings" - what is that all about? I can understand decking the halls with boughs of holly and all that, it's part of the festivities. And the tree seems to me to represent the night sky where the angels sang to the shepherds. And having many good things to eat is a very proper thing to do when celebrating a great event. And wreaths are the symbol used by Christians to let others know that this is a house of Christians. Now the lights all over the house are just a modern fun way to be in a very festive mood. I love seeing all the lights, and I know that Jesus is the Light of the world.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Life Must Go On

Luke 4:22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. "Isn't this Joseph's son?" they asked.

So not long before I got sick - and I'm still sick - I had started to make Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Fruit Cake. The ingredients are assembled and the pans are prepared. So I will now post the recipe in great hopes that I will finish this project. Instead of making one 8 inch cake, I have prepared 3 5 inch (13 cm) cake pans. They will take less time to cook, and I can give them to more people.  She has called for some elaborate decorations on the cake which I'm sure I cannot come up with so I have simply eliminated them.  But if you want to check them out you can find them here. I've changed things a bit, so this is not her exact recipe.

Chocolate Brandy Christmas Fruitcake

300 grams dried soft prunes, chopped
150 grams golden raisins
100 gr dried currants
60 grams dried cranberries
100 gr dried apricots
50 gr dried cherries
175g/6¼oz butter, softened
175g/6¼oz dark brown sugar
175ml/6¼ fl oz honey
125ml/4½fl oz brandy
2 oranges, juice and zest only
1 tsp mixed spice
2 tbsp good quality dark cocoa
3 eggs, beaten
100 g rams chopped Brazil nuts
150g/5¼oz flour
75g/2½oz ground almonds
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

1. Preheat the oven to 300F

2. Line the sides and bottom of 4 5 in x 2½in deep, round loose-bottomed or springform cake pans with a layer of baking parchment. When lining the pans with a parchment strip, cut the material into strips that are  higher than the pan itself; the height of the strips protects the cake from catching on the outside of the cake pan.

3. Place the fruit, butter, sugar, honey, coffee liqueur, orange juice and zest, mixed spice and cocoa into a large wide saucepan. Heat the mixture until it reaches a gentle boil, stirring the mixture as the butter melts. Let the mixture simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and leave to stand for 30 minutes.

4. After 30 minutes, the mixture will have cooled a little. Add the eggs, flour, ground almonds, baking powder and bicarbonate soda, and mix well with a wooden spoon or spatula until the ingredients have combined.

5. Carefully pour the fruitcake mixture into the lined cake pans. It will be around 1 pound batter per pan.  Transfer the cake pans to the oven and bake for 65 minutes, or until the top of the cakes are firm but will has a shiny and sticky look. At this point, if you insert a sharp knife into the middle of the cake, the cake should still be a little uncooked in the middle.

6. Place the cakes on a cooling rack. Once the cakes have cooled, remove it from the pans.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Today we got the trees, a big one and a little one

Isaiah 55:12 
You will go out in joy 

and be led forth in peace; 
the mountains and hills 
 will burst into song before you, 

and all the trees of the field 
will clap their hands.

We all went to church, and afterwards we had coffee and pastries at the Fleur de Lis, next door to church. While in having coffee it began to snow just the tiniest bit. The temperature was 32-33 degrees and the sky was cloudy, which often means it could snow. But unfortunately that was it for the day. I tried to get a picture of the snow coming down, but it was too tiny to register.

The restaurant refused to give me a bread roll, saying they needed them for sandwiches. That's the second time they did that. I think that it is high time they make more on Sunday morning. I absolutely LOVE their rolls with butter and jam. But I had a raisin roll and Riley got a cinnamon roll and sugar donut, which Emily loved.

After coffee Riley and I headed out all by ourselves to get the trees. This was our first time to cut down trees all by ourselves. I felt certain that this would be a successful adventure. But we did have the usual bit of wondering about. Riley was just a bit confused as to how to get to Swede's tree farm. We always go to Swede's because he does not trim his trees. This is a very rare farmer indeed. I have absolutely no idea why the majority of people want trees that look like gum drops. I want a tree that looks like a tree. We used to go to Jack's. He had the most beautiful untrimmed trees in the world, and he was always grinning from ear to ear with pleasure at seeing happy people going home with his trees, which he sold for only $10. Most unfortunately he became very ill and was forced to sell his farm to a housing developer. :( But eventually we found Swede. His trees are not as consistent as Jack's, but we're so thankful for untrimmed trees, so there's no problem. He only charges $15 for a Douglas fir so we're happy with that.

Swede's wife had a stroke this year and is somewhat paralyzed on her left side, which is most unfortunate. She is only 71 years old. But Swede seems determined to stay right where he is and he said he'd be there next year. I met his wife last year and I liked her a lot. This year I met his grandson, a boy of about 13, and he was very pleasant to chat with. The tree farm is not big, so it didn't take long to look at all of the trees. Of course we settled on the first one we had liked, right back in the beginning. Riley had it cut down in no time and we hauled it off to the car. By the time he had it on the car I realized we probably need a small tree also. Swede said that small ones cost the same as big ones. That seemed fair to me, because a small tree has the potential to be a big tree. So when the tree was tied on (and the carpet of the car was all muddy) we headed back to get a small one. That took more negotiating, as Riley's idea of small was smaller than mine. Eventually I won, and I have to say that the tree is perfect. Riley hauled it back by himself, as it was in fact small, and stuffed it into the back of the car. We then headed back to town, planning on stopping at Costco, though I can't remember why. As I hadn't eaten lunch, I filled up on samples, which pretty much did the trick. It was dark by the time we got home, so we just unloaded the trees and put them on the front porch. It had been a very calm Sunday in the country, with little bits of snow and quite a bit of fog, and really no traffic to speak of.

Later in the week:

So I sort of hit a rough spot this week. I went to the dentist to get a broken tooth repaired, and the dentist did something while giving me the shot to numb my teeth that caused a "hematoma". In other words, he nicked a blood vessel. When the pain killer wore off I was in absolute agony. If I wasn't just a grandmother baby-sitting her grandchildren, but a person at a paid job, I would have called in sick. Fortunately Christian was an absolute dear. He seemed to really understand that I was in great pain, and he helped out. I took three aspirin, and later, when everyone was gone but Riley and I, Riley gave me a stiff drink. This did calm me down quite a bit. But all week long I have had intermittent pain of various degrees. And it is soooooo embarrassing to have a big bruise on your chin! But to make a long story short, it is Saturday now, and I still have a terrible bruise on the left part of my chin, and last night I didn't take any pain pill so again I had trouble sleeping. Sometime very early this morning my dear dear husband went down stairs and made me two pieces of toast and a cup of coffee and brought me three aspirin, and that made me feel much much better. So now I'm feeling pretty good, but a little slow, due to lack of sleep. But life doesn't stop just because you don't feel well - wouldn't it be nice if you could put life on pause from time to time. Even if let's say you could have 6 time-outs a year, lasting 5 days.

Have you ever noticed that when you think things can't get any worse, they do!!! Yesterday (Saturday) afternoon Riley and I went to County Cork Pub for a late lunch of mushroom soup and fish and chips. Instead of giving us tartar sauce with the fish they gave us blue cheese dressing. That might be the last time I ever eat that. Part way through eating I didn't not feel so good, but I didn't say anything. When we got home I immediately laid down on the couch and Riley very nicely covered me with a blanket. But I still didn't feel very good. To avoid the details I will just say that I came down with a severe case of something terrible, lost 5 pounds in four hours, and it is now 8 o'clock Sunday morning and I am barely functional. But I can't actually lay in bed for more that 12 hours straight, so I am sitting in a chair on the third floor really wishing that Riley would come up. His computer is up here, so I can't e-mail him. Wishing doesn't seem to work. Have I hit bottom yet?

Well now my daughter Heidi has this. So who is going to watch Emily tomorrow. Luckily my dear sweet husband is stay home from work tomorrow. It is now 6 o'clock Sunday evening and I still feel crummy crummy crummy. Looking at food is not good. I just really hope that Emily does not come down with this. Actually I really hope Riley doesn't get it. We have that really big partly on Thursday, so having Riley sick like this would be really really bad. "Dear Lord, please keep both Emily and Riley well."

Riley has gotten the lights up on all of the trees. They look beautiful just that way. I think that I won't try and do any further decorating unless I actually feel well. It's all about the stars in the sky anyway.

The Shepherds and the Angels
Luke 2:8-20

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ[a] the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Friday, December 7, 2007

When the ginger creams are made the Christmas season begins

Luke 1:41-43 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"

Around our house it doesn't really feel like we are in the Christmas season until a batch of ginger creams has been made, preferably a double batch. They are usually eaten way before Christmas day, but no matter. I'm sure it is often hoped that I will make another batch by then, but that is usually when things are getting too busy. My husband's mother always made these. Unfortunately she had died before I met him, so I do not know what the originals were like, but I suspect I come very close. She also made springerle cookies which I have yet to successfully make, but Riley is always hopeful that I will get them made some day. Maybe this year.

On Friday last Sarah came over to spend the day because Zac was having a wrestling meet in Beaverton and would be gone until late in the evening. She and I decided that we would make Christmas cookies in the evening. Not long after we were starting Annie and Tia and Corey all showed up and were eager to join in on the cookie making. It was decided that we should watch something Christmassy but there was some trouble in agreeing on what to watch. The tv has no VHS or DVD player because Annie took it. Now I am really hoping that she will return it, but until then we had to rely on what had been recorded on the DVR. We decided to watch a sappy Christmas movie that I had recorded called The Christmas List. I almost NEVER watch sappy movies, I had probably assumed it was a comedy. But we were soon all into it, including Riley.

We got the double batch of ginger creams ready and in the refrigerator to chill. The dough is rather cake like, and therefore it must be chilled to form cookies. And it was decided that it would be good to make rolled cookies also. With a little bit of searching I decided on a recipe in a Martha Stewart book, modifying it some. That dough was then divided into three lumps and wrapped in plastic wrap as disc to chill.

Ginger Creams

1/3 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup water

2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Cream the butter, sugar, egg, molasses, and water.
Combine all the dry ingredients and stir them together.
Add dry ingredients to the creamed mixture, mix well.
Chill the dough for at least a half hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Spoon out the dough onto cookie sheets using a small scoop if possible, else just by the heaping spoonful. The scoop gives a more well rounded looking cookie. Bake for about 8 minutes. Let the cookies cool completely before frosting.

Icing for the ginger creams:

about 2 cups of icing sugar
about 3 tbls of soft butter
about 2 to 3 tbls cream
1 tps vanilla

Mix the sugar and butter until the butter looks nice and yellow. The adding one tablespoon at a time, mix in the cream. You want enough cream to make the icing spreadable, but not runny in any way. Lastly, add the vanilla.

When putting the icing on the cookies immediately after a cookie has been frosted sprinkle on some colorful sprinkles. If you wait too long the sprinkles won't stick.

Gingerbread Cookies

1 pound flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 rounded tsp cinnamon
1 rounded tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cloves

1/2 pound of butter
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup dark-brown sugar
1 tablespoon of minced candied ginger
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses

Combine the dry ingredients. Cream the butter, sugars, egg, candied ginger, and molasses Mix in the dry ingredients. Divide the dough into three lumps and wrap each in plastic wrap and chill.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roll out the dough to about 1/8 inch thick and cut with cutters.  I like to make each tray of all the same cutter, so the cook evenly.  Bake for about 8 minutes, but you be the judge. These are very yummy just as they are, but decorating them with royal icing could be nice.  If you want to hang the cookies on the Christmas tree make a small hole in the top of the cookie before baking.  I like to use a chopstick.