Monday, December 29, 2008

My Son The Carnivore

Max turned 12 yesterday. And for his birthday he wanted me to make him a hamburger cake. While I love a good challenge in the cake making department, the idea of making a hamburger cake daunted me slightly, because your average hamburger involves all kinds of colours not generally found in your average cake decorator gel boxes: tan, dark brown, brilliant red, light tan, etc. After much Sturm und Drang trial and error I eventually got the damn blasted cake made, as you can see from the photograph. And there was much rejoicing in the land when Max saw it, due in no small part to the new Lego items that accompanied this cake. I should've bought stock in Lego. Is there even Lego stock?

If you want more details, or the recipes for the icing and ganache, click here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas Eve!

Okay, I've wrapped the biscotti in clear wrap, nestled tightly on Amazon boxes covered with Christmas paper. 

I've dipped almost 400 truffles. Gads. Sounds like a lot, doesn't it? But sadly most of them are going to disappear into gift boxes.

I've baked the baguettes and made the garlic butter for tonight. We're having our traditional champagne/bread/garlic butter/brie/old cheddar/paté/pickles/olives/oysters/boiled eggs/salad meal.

I've made the cranberry sauce for tomorrow night's dinner at my parents' house. (the only thing I'm allowed to bring, sigh)

The kids are out blowing off steam before they drive everyone around them nuts because they are so excited for a walk with their dad. 

Toffee is sleeping in a box FDPG made for him, which consists of a sheepie inside a box.

The cough cough - things that go into socks - cough cough - are wrapped. First time they've ever been wrapped before midnight!

I'm just about to go watch my favourite Christmas movie (well, besides The Grinch and Charlie Brown Christmas): Love, Actually. Here's a little clip for you. Now go get yourself a drink and have a lovely Christmas Eve.

Monday, December 22, 2008

More Christmas Mania

Our gingerbread houses, awaiting construction. I used my pal Martha's gingerbread recipe for these, adapted somewhat by me. If you want it, click here. It makes the best gingerbread cookies.

I'd show a picture of the houses after they were constructed but they were cruelly demolished by some hungry white teeth. Attached to some hungry little children.

Crunch crunch crunch.

While I made Peppermint Creams with the twins (recipe here), Max re-enacted scenes from Dr Who, which has ended for the season. We're all very sad. Here's a Dalek. If you visited us you'd probably hear a lot of "Exterminate!" remarks around every corner.

FDPG has been busy making Christmas gifts for her aunts. Her latest idea is the origami paper bookmark. I like this one:
Here's the little hummingbird again. Can you see him there at the top of the picture, sitting on the Christmas lights? I am finding myself obsessing slightly over these guys. This picture was taken when it was freezing but snowless around here, and now it's so snowy (we had another dump last night) you can barely see the trees for the snow. I wonder what the hummingbirds did before the advent of the liquid feeder - did they fly south with everyone else? Did they find other things to eat? So each night I bring in the feeder, perch it on the heat vent, and leave it to warm overnight. When I get up I take it back outside, where this guy is usually waiting for me, feathers bristling irritably. And no, I don't think I am anthropomorphizing him. He is a very grouchy little bird. I'm glad there aren't any thought bubbles above his head, because they'd probably be bursting with "@#$%" and "$&*%" "that #$%!& slowpoke woman!" and all kinds of charming things.

And finally, it snowed MORE last night. So much that my workaholic mate was unable to get our ancient Tercel out onto the road. It sits there, tragically atmospheric, in the snow, its wheel base completely submerged in the snow. We've seen three vehicles go down our road today. And before all you Hardy Snow People hoot and howl and point rude fingers, let me say that this is the Wet Coast: we don't do snow tires and chains and things. We go all Victorian in this weather - weak at the knees and making fluttery noises. Pitter patting hearts, even. I think our little municipality only has three snowploughs. We fall to pieces.

Oh wait, I forgot - we DO have a snow shovel.

And last but not least, some action shots of the snowy day this morning:
The BBQ, which isn't getting a lot of action this week, although if the propane man doesn't show up soon, we might have to hook the BBQ tank up to the stove...

And a lovely sunrise shot. Sort of makes you want to burst into song, doesn't it? Which reminds me, when we were watching The Grinch last night, the first shot of the Grinch, poised on his front porch with that sulky look on his face, caused Richard to remark "Oh, look, there's Christopher Hitchens!" What a card, that husband of mine.

Nice beginning of the Winter Solstice, don't you think?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Baking

We had a family Christmas lunch, as well as a Christmas party with our co-op friends, all over the last couple of days, and even though it's so snowy here it's become incredibly awkward getting out to the usual far flung shops for strange and wonderful ingredients, I did manage a little baking and candy making. So, without further ado, here's a little sugary torment for your viewing pleasure:

Biscotti. This one is Cranberry Macadamia (thank goodness for people who go to Hawaii and don't know what else to bring me back, because here on the Wet Coast macadamias don't go cheap). It's a variation of one Dorie Greenspan uses, but it seemed a little, err, goopy after the first baking (sorry Dorie). If you've never made biscotti, this is what you do: mix the ingredients, pat into a long thin log, bake 15-25 minutes, let cool, slice into 1/2" slices and re-bake. It makes a toasty sweet biscuit, perfect for dunking into a latté. Heck, I've even dunked them into brandy, but the brandy doesn't last long this way, and despite what my friends say (I think you know who you are) I'm not one for drinking large glasses of brandy. Really.

I generally like to drizzle biscotti with white and milk chocolate. Turns an otherwise unremarkeable appearing cookie into something luscious.This time, however, I wasn't planning on drizzling, but when I pulled these out of the oven after their second baking, and I'd left them in slightly longer than usual because of the, err, goopy factor, I found the side they'd rested on while re-baking looking decidedly brown. This, Gentle Reader, was not my intention. One side was perfection; the other looked (but didn't taste) overbaked. And I'm picky enough to find this extremely irritating. After dithering anxiously for, say, 3 seconds, I decided to slather melted white chocolate over the brown side and Say Nothing. And what do you know but my Clever Trick worked so well everyone scarfed them down in seconds flat. I now have no more Cranberry Macadamia Biscotti left in my biscuit tin. Drats.

I also made some Chocolate Biscotti. These I DID drizzle with melted white and milk chocolate. Sorry this close-up is so blurry but the proximity of so much sweet smelling chocolate was more than I could reasonably deal with. I made two kinds this year: one from Dorie Greenspan's Baking, which looked like a complete mess but tasted nice, and another that I've made every year since 1998. And even though I have made it every year for the past ten years I somehow manage to lose the recipe each and every year, and either resort to calling my mother, who keeps it on hand for this very event (she's never once made them as far I can tell), or, too shamed to call her yet again, I scour the internet until I can find something that looks vaguely familiar and use that. After which my mum calls me and reminds me that she was waiting for me to call her and ask for the recipe.

Then I made truffles. I use Martha's recipe, which I'll post here. It's easy. I usually divide one batch into 3 bowls, then flavour each bowl with something different.
This year I made Coffee (using copious amounts of instant espresso). These are dipped in melted bittersweet chocolate then rolled in unsweetened cocoa.

Chili (althought the first tasting was SO hot even to my tastes I had to dilute them with more melted chocolate). Sorry, don't know where the picture went for these ones.

Scotch. I added - be still my beating heart - half a cup of single malt scotch to this batch, turning these into a sort of Icy Square for adults. If you haven't got a clue what I'm on about, imagine a meltingly silky inside, one that disappears as soon as your tongue finds it, flavoured heavily with McClelland's peatiest Speyside. But wait, don't forget the crunch of the outside coating: bittersweet chocolate rolled in pure chocolate sprinkles. Good quality pure chocolate sprinkles.

Mint. Mint flavouring inside and crumbled candy canes on the outside. These are lovely and fresh but the candy canes don't last long, so make them a few at a time.

Coconut. Coconut flavouring inside, dipped in either white chocolate or bittersweet chocolate, then rolled in toasted sweetened coconut.

I love these but it's only been in the past couple of years that I've made them. The combination of crispy sweet coconut and dark chocolate is amazing.

Now, off to shovel snow.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Universe 'as Been Waitin' For Me!

Note for Canadian Dr Who fans:

If you've been watching this series with the same riveted breathless excitement I have and noticed that the season finale, Journey's End, seemed butchered shorter than any sane person would dream of inflicting on Dr Who fans it should have been, hop over to the CBC site, where you can watch the extra

22 minutes

that was cut.

And while I'm at it, where the heck is Voyage of the Damned? Hmm?

Shame on you, CBC.


I know, I know, it's not much for those of you who regularly get minus 20 (or, gulp, worse) temperatures, but here on the Wet Coast this qualifies as Almost Closing Down The Town weather. There are cars sliding everywhere, people falling their way along the sidewalks, and the wind is terrible: icy cold and constant.

Yesterday, while the kids and their dad were at a performance of Silverwing (based on the Kenneth Oppel novel), I dashed around in my mother's fake fur (no wonder everyone used to wear fur - fake or otherwise - it's warm) buying the twins some of those hats with the ear flaps on them. FDPG got a bright blue number with bog polka dots and giant plush tassels, and Dominic got a MEC standard (he won't wear tassels) with polar fleece lining. I almost bought myself a new pair of mitts, to replace my dollar store reliables ($2 and they've lasted 4 years) but balked at the $25 price tag. I'm too cheap, I guess.
One of the more, err, thought-provoking moments to come out of the snowy day was the question of What To Do With Toffee: do we get out his litter box (Richard's idea) or do we chuck him out (my idea), even if he does tend to leave his excrement in the middle of the lawn on top of the snow? Our conclusion, coming as it did last night around 11pm, when Richard couldn't be bothered going outside in the wind to get the litter box out of the carport and fill it up, was "chuck him outside and slam the door really fast." Heartless of us, I know. But you know, Toffee survived just fine. He wasn't even out there more than five minutes, anyhow. Here he is, pretending to ignore me.

And then there was the hummingbird feeder. We have hummers who live here year round, and this morning their feeder was frozen solid, even with all that sugar in it. I scraped it out, heated it up, and poured it into the feeder again. Here is the hummingbird sitting in the Macintosh apple tree, no more than 6" away from me yesterday:
He kept buzzing me the entire time I was outside. I think he was trying to tell me that his feeder needed attention. And here he is guarding his feeder from the other hummingbirds. See him up there on the Christmas lights? His feeder is that red thing at the left of the picture, beside the hanging basket (my poor ice plant, it was never meant for this weather). I want you to know that I hung outside the bathroom window to get you this shot, even though the snow kept hitting me in the face (one, two, three: awwwwww). He sits there in this new weather and divebombs every other hummer that approaches the feeder. They are distressingly jealous about their territory, considering that there are three seats at it. They are also quite noisy. They remind me of the disparity between little dogs (yappy, aggressive towards other dogs) and big dogs (not so yappy and generally less aggressive towards other dogs). The bigger birds are much better at sharing the seed and bacon fat/peanut butter feeders we have sitting elsewhere on the deck. We even had to move the hummingbird feeder off on its own, because the hummers wouldn't let anyone near any of the feeders - even the ones they don't use.

Of course, the kids were over the moon about the snow. They don't see snow much here, and it never lasts for more than a day or two, so when it comes AND stays it's a thing of wonder and delight. Here's Max, pretending to be a snow statue.

Here's Dominic, getting ready for some sledding. Before his New Hat Experience, of course.
Here's Max, crashing into the trees at the end of the yard.

Here's FDPG, crashing into the trees at the end of the yard.

Our temperatures are hovering around the minus 6 mark, plus wind chill (but I don't know what it is). And wonder of wonders but the heat pump we just had installed is still functioning, even though it wasn't supposed to work below minus 5.

Now off to make gingerbread houses...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Gifts and Things

FDPG's last Brownie meeting is tonight, and, as per usual, she informed me at the very last minute that her favourite Christmas Snowman pajamas were ripped and since she intended to wear them to this last meeting I might want to mend them. She said it very sweetly, mind you, so it didn't come out as quite the command it really was (almost, but not quite). I regarded the giant hole in her knee (how does she do that?), and then it occured to me that we should probably be giving some kind of gift to her Brown Owl and Tawny Owl, as a thanks for all the work they put into each meeting (it's an awesome Brownie troupe).

So instead of the math history reading I was going to do (Mathemeticians Are People Too, String, Straightedge and Arrow, The Secret Life of Math), I hauled out the glitter and printer paper and we made snowflakes. These are from a pattern I found in a Martha Stewart Kids magazine several years ago. They are easy to make, and they look really impressive when covered with glitter. No one ever guesses that they are made from plain old printer paper. The trick is to use superfine glitter and make your cuts really clean.
This picture doesn't really do them justice (oh sure Sheila I bet you say that about everything). Trust me, they glitter. They are about 4.5" across. Tiny and glowing. We like to hang them from the ceiling with thin thread, over the dining table, next to white lights. It's very atmospheric, with us being here on the Wet Coast and all.

Then, since we'd had so much fun filling the room with bits of paper AND since it was supposed to snow today (but so far all we've had is freezing rain) AND since I'd seen this wonderful snowman picture on a really great art blog called Art Projects For Kids (click here to see it), we hauled out the oil pastels and tried it ourselves. Working with pastels is quite different than, say, pencil crayons and watercolour, and the kids had an absorbing time figuring out their pink skies and peach snowflakes.

I really love drawing with pastels on construction paper. It's incredibly satisfying, and the pictures always look so bright and alive. When we put them up on the wall, FDPG suddenly shouted "I forgot my arms!" which completely convulsed the boys. And if you look at the snowman with the pink sky, you can see that she did indeed forget his arms. (and yes, it is a he, nothing FDPG makes is ever feminine, much to her grandmother's chagrin)

At that point, FDPG decided we needed cards for Brown Owl and Tawny Owl, so we made some. These were in an Usborne book I had out from the library.

This one. It has some excellent card ideas.

FDPG and Dominic made the Peppermint Creams while Max and I laboured away at the cut-away snowman cards. We used origami paper and Martha Stewart's superlative paper punches. They are, really and truly, superior to all other punches. They even cut origami paper fairly cleanly (no small feat when one is trying to get a snowflake cutout).

This is called the Snowman Card, I think (it's all a blur now, I'm afraid). You layer white and blue card stock and cut away the blue to how you want your snow scene (which is why you have the white paper underneath), then draw in details after you've glued it. We added some snowflakes, a star or two, and an origami paper tree.

Here's the other one. They are pretty quick, once you get the hang of cutting the origami paper and keeping the glue from removing your fingerprints (some of us have trouble with crafts, cough cough, but at least we can admit it).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Two Recipes

I posted a couple of recipes on my food blog. If you like mince pies, click here. If you like black bean soup, click here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

High School Skies

More sunset shots. I can't resist it when the light is like this. It's so incredibly beautiful. It's what I was trying so futilely to capture all those years ago in high school, with a stupid air brush that clogged up every five minutes in art class. And eventually, after the 20th unclogging, I'd give up and hang around outside with my smoker friends, watching the cigarette smoke spiral into the air and wondering why that air brush constantly jammed on me.

High school.

Now here I am, many years later, faced with the same awe-inspiring sky, but instead of wrestling with an air brush I stand outside, high on the deck with my three kids, watching while an orange sun falls off the edge of the world, away past the Garry oaks, away past the lake, and the sky above goes bluer and bluer, pebbled ever so faintly with pink, until it's finally black.


I know it's not yet winter, but as I looked out the window very early this morning my eye was caught by these snapdragons. Look at them - all pink and hale. Hearty even. No frost damage anywhere to be found. And here it is nearly halfway through December. Shouldn't they be laying in a pile of mungy brown sludge, leaves long since decayed?

But wait, there's more!

I picked a rose today. And here it is - my new Granada. Hard to see in the yellow light of the kitchen, but it's a lush yellow with orangey red tinges on the outside. And the scent is amazing - all delicate and fragrant and fruity. There's a little slug damage, but here I am, picking roses in December.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


I am always coming across notes that the twins write to each other - it's funny and bemusing seeing these little missives. FDPG in particular loves to write notes to everyone.

Here are a few I found yesterday:

"To Dominic I hope you enjoy the gift I gave you"

"To KatiE You are the Best sister. I hope you do like my picture. I hope you like it. Love Dominic"

"To Dominic Thank you for saying that I am the best sister. I hope you mean it. Love, your sister."

(found on a cup with a mosquito in it)
"Please bring this to Mummy because there is a bug that keeps biting us. Thank you. Love ?"


As with so many things, our best school days emerge as sidetracks to what was to have been The Main Event.

Funny that.

I'd intended to read the sections on Lao Tsu and Confucius in The Story of the World and A Little History of the World (a great read if you haven't yet discovered this book), as a sort of respite from what is turning out to be The Greek Unit That Won't End, but one of those internet freebies (printed out and stuck in my Ideas binder) caught my eye. It was entitled Chinese Idioms and appeared to be a brief lesson in calligraphy. Looked interesting enough.

I glanced at one of the idioms:

"Lord Ye's professed love of dragons."

Suitably obscure, I thought. We can have a certain amount of hilarity trying to figure some of these out, no doubt, since we do like oddball foreign expressions. Plus, the complex nature of a foreign idiom is something Max is beginning to find curious and challenging. And I like seeing that boy challenged.

I read. They drew, played with clay, and FDPG built a very involved 3D Cuisinaire Rod maze. Then I hauled out some brushes and black paint and yellow paper (bring on the atmosphere, you know).

I should know better than to be so surprised each time, but I guess I'm still figuring it out, because they loved this project.

The concentration was palpable, particularly for FDPG, aka The Girl Who Stops Talking Only To Breathe.

Max seemed most enthusiastic, which gladdened my heart. It's easy to thrill the twins: a little paint, a story, some cookie dough, a silly lesson in Latin, some pressed leaves, a yoga mat or two. They love it all. But Max is getting older and looking for more. So it's good to see him finding it.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Poetry Friday

Today is the eve of St Nicholas Day. My kids love St Nicholas Day; they love putting their shoes out on the front porch before they go to bed, stuffing them first with hay and carrots; they love reading the stories about St Nicholas and his oft times miraculous acts of kindness; they love perusing this site for all the art possibilities it offers; but most of all they love how St Nicholas Day heralds the beginning of the Christmas season in earnest.

Today I was poking around the internet in the hopes that someone had written a poem about St Nicolas, but all I found in those brief few minutes were some slightly sugary, vaguely sappy tributes, which I didn't want. And then I found this. This is what I wanted:

Will The Real St. Nicholas Please Stand Up?
—And Indeed He Did

by Ogden Nash

Once there was a saint called St. Nicholas of Myra,
And his reputation for veracity was better than that of
Ananias and Sapphira,
So when he recently called upon me with his complaint,
Well, I knew I was listening to a truthful saint.
He was also an angry saint, he was spoiling for a rhubarb
or a scrimmage;
He was indignant over the vulgarization of his public image.
He said he hardly dared step out of Heaven for very shame
Because some obese buffoon known as Santa Claus had
mis-appropriated his good name.
He said wherever he might go
He was confronted by this Santa Claus or one of a
thousand facsimiles bellowing Ho! Ho! Ho!
None of whom had any decency or pride
Because they wore their red flannels outside.
He said if people wanted a Santa Claus that was all right
with him,
He just didn't want them to confuse Santa Claus with St. Nicholas,
which was like confusing Walt Disney with the Brothers Grimm,
Because he believed in spare the rod and spoil the child,
and let reward be contingent on good conduct previous,
Whereas Santa Claus was of the permissive school and
showered his gifts indiscriminately, even upon
the most unregenerately mischievious.
Anybody misled by the similarity of the two names
was not a homo sapiens but a most insapiens homo,
Just as likely to confuse Lindbergh with Strindberg or
Pericles with Perry Como,
Yes, they would find a hundred ways to be vague in,
Mixing up Yankee-doodle with Der Dudelsackpfeiffer and
Eugene O'Neill with Eugene Onegin.
He said this was a humiliation he had been forced to endure
Mostly thanks to one Clement Clarke Moore.

(The rest of the poem can be found here)

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Mommy's Favourite Children's Books. Stroll on over for many many other offerings!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Travelling the Advent Path

Christmas is one of my favourite times of the year. I love the music, the food, the decorations, the dark nights lit with candles and twinkle lights, the stories of angels and kings and all those animals and mysterious stars in the night, and last but not least, I love singing carols. So, to that end, I tend to collect cookbooks, records, CDs, carol books, and ornaments throughout the year, at garage sales, second hand stores, and our local Sally Ann. I'm picky though: I don't like most kitsch and I genuinely might die if someone ever gave me a country and western Christmas CD. I like weird and old. And no, that is not kitsch; it's weird and old.

I have my mother's very old handpainted Made in Japan nativity set ("Made of paper mache composition"), that she bought at Sears in 1960, complete with the Red Rose Tea turtle and the hand-crocheted goat we added later. When I was 10, and beginning to think of such things, I thought this was wittily sacriligeous of us. Now I see it as equal opportunity. And when I was sitting in a darkened movie theatre with Richard (all those years ago in San Diego) watching Love Actually, I had a moment of delighted recognition when I heard Emma Thompson say "There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?" "Yes, Emma!" I wanted to shout, "there was also a turtle and a goat!"

But I digress.

I have my Nanna's odd little snowmen carolers and gnome-like Santa, which you can see in the picture here.

I also buy Martha's Holiday magazine every year, despite the palpitations the price gives me ($8 for a magazine?), because they contain some of the best recipe collections you'll ever see. Her 2001 Holiday: Cookies issue is still, hands down, the best cookie recipe book I own. And the other one, Holiday Handmade Gifts (2006), encouraged me to loftier heights in my Must Make More Truffles frenzy.

But with all this Christmas celebration comes the itch for new rituals, particularly as the kids get older and look for different ways of believing. We've brought in St Nicolas, on December 6th, for the Dutch side of the family. St Nicolas, or Sinterklaas, travels with his sidekick Zwarte Piet, riding his big white horse. How can you not love a character named Zwarte Piet, who goes around with a big stick, smacking naughty children? When Richard first told me about him (Black Peter) I laughed, incredulous at the bizarreness of it all. But now the kids leave their shoes on the front porch, stuffed with hay and carrots for the horse, hoping that Sinterklaas will leave some giant speckulaas or gold coins in return.

On December 13th FDPG dons a golden garland of candles and brings us sweet rolls and coffee in bed, for St Lucia.

And this year, I've found something new for our observations of Advent. I saw it in All Year Round, a very charming Waldorf book. They called it Mary's Star Path. I think they had a younger audience in mind, but I like the idea of Advent unfolding, creating a mood for Christmas, "allowing expectation to grow gently day by day," so I made one for my kids.
This is not, alas, the best of photographs, but it shows the thing in its entirety: blue felt sky, green felt backdrop, navy felt ground, little trees on either side, tiny nativity set, gold paper stars. The idea is that you have a star for each day in Advent: little ones for weekdays; big ones for the four Sundays. You arrange them on the cloth in a curving pattern, wending their way towards the stable. Mary stands on each star as that day comes up, and when the day is done and she moves on to the next, you stick that day's star on the sky behind (with a little tape, how, err Waldorfy of me). As her journey continues, you can add to the nature table aspect of this tableau, with stones, moss, twigs, shells, or crystals, acknowledging the four kingdoms of nature.
Here is a little closeup of the stable area. I used a little wooden nativity set from Michaels, clipped the strings off their heads, touched up the paint a little, then glued some pine cone bits around the roof and sides of the stable and stuck it on a bit of birch bark. And you can't see them, but we strung some coloured fairy lights up behind it for added effect.
It's all so tiny and the stars are so bright and golden, and the kids are so enchanted, that I can't help but feel glad.

And what's not to like about a little delayed gratification?