Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy turkey day!  In Ottawa today it is absolutely beautiful, so I hope your day is going as well as mine is.

Centrepiece

And guess who arrived yesterday morning?

Izod's Birthday 35

This is Izod, only a week behind schedule.  Everyone is well and happy, which is another thing to be thankful for.  Enjoy your weekend!

Thirty Things I Know

Happy International Women’s Day everyone!

Twenty-eight years ago today.

Today is my birthday — specifically, it’s my thirtieth birthday, which is a milestone in every woman’s life.  As the Pie likes to point out continuously, I’m no longer a twentysomething.  I’m now a thirtysomething.  When he turns 30 in four months I will be sure to rub it in, don’t worry.

My mother tells me that women only really come into their own when they turn 30.  Thirty is when women begin to become powerful and strong.  I think it’s a good way to approach this milestone.

On the morning of my twentieth birthday, I sat on the floor of Doodle’s dorm room and I wrote myself a letter, taking my future self to task for all the things I hoped to accomplish in the next ten years.  I still have the letter, and today, once I get up the courage to do so, I’m going to read it.  I am pretty confident that I’ve succeeded in most of my tasks.  I know my past self wanted a PhD by 30, but will just have to be satisfied with a doctorate by 31 instead.

Anyway, in honour of my very important birthday, I thought I would be self-indulgent today and let you in on thirty very important things (in no particular order) that I have learned over the past thirty years.

1. It doesn’t cost anything to be polite.

2. Flossing is not just for wienies.  It saves you money on dentist bills.

3. Confidence is extremely attractive.

4. Don’t sweat the small stuff (coming from someone with OCD, this is a pretty tall order).

5. Do your best, or else don’t bother.

6. A work-life balance is important.  They won’t fire you for not working overtime.

7. Always pee before you leave.  You never know when you’ll get another opportunity.

8. Fibre is more important than you think.

9. Not everything has to be done right now.

10. Simple food made from scratch is the best.

Also, there should always be time for ice cream.

11. Your age and your weight are just numbers.  Be happy with being healthy.

12. We inevitably turn into our parents.  Just make sure to turn into the best parts.

13. Corgis are awesome dogs.  And it’s not just me and the Pie saying that.

14. You can have four best friends.  It’s okay.

15. Your partner/spouse should be one of those best friends.

Photo by Ian and Jacky Parker
See? Always time for ice cream.

16. People in the service industry have feelings, too.  Treat them with respect.

17. Stupid hobbies are only stupid to other people.  If you like doing it, keep doing it.

18. If you haven’t worn it or displayed it or used it in over a year, you’re probably not going to.  Get rid of it.

19. Never be afraid to either ask for help or to relinquish control.  It may be hard, but it won’t make you look bad.

20. When you bend over in pants, people should not be able to see either your butt or the colour of your underwear.

21. In food photography, obey the rule of thirds and use natural lighting.

22. Always wear shoes you can run in if necessary.

23. Don’t buy stuff you can’t pay for right away.

24. Try to learn something new every day so that you can teach someone else.

25. In the winter you are allowed to sacrifice fashion for warmth.

26. The Green Revolution is not a trend.  Please recycle.

27. “Water-resistant” does not mean “water-proof.”  Especially in Newfoundland.

Rain in the UK is very similar to rain in Newfoundland.

28. The internet knows a lot of things, but not everything.

29. Procrastination is fine as long as it’s productive.

30. It is the smallest details that you appreciate the most: sunlight on a wooden floor, the curve of a smile, a perfect cupcake.  A day on the beach.  Take it all in.

When we lived across from the ocean, I was on the beach every day.

And if today is also your birthday, happy birthday to you too!

Much Needed Postus Interruptus

Ali, the Pie and Gren are all off to Ottawa for a much-needed rest and visit with their families.   This year has been a real doozy and everyone is pretty tired.

Regular posts will resume in the new year.  Sorry for the inconvenience.

If you are looking for a certain recipe, just use the “Search” bar to find what you seek.  I have plenty of suggestions when it comes to festive holiday dishes.

If you are searching for DIY gift ideas, try clicking on the “Gifts” link in the category cloud.

Have a safe and happy holiday and we will see you again in January!

Mini Tree

Scottish Shortbread

The New Year was always more of a big deal to the Celtic grownups in our household than Christmas was, and to this day I still hold the door open at midnight to let out the old year and beckon in the new.  If you do this at midnight in one of the coastal cities, it is likely you’ll hear all the ships in the harbour in a chorus of horns.  It’s always been a very private moment for me, a wee superstition I have continued regardless of what is going on.

No matter what happens in our chaotic lives over the holidays, especially now that we are several families stretched out over thousands of kilometres, it’s a guarantee that at least one of us at some point will whip up our family recipe for traditional Scottish shortbread.  It makes a meaningful hostess gift when you’re wandering about over the holidays, and there are very few people who won’t be able to immediately offer a traditional shortbread recipe of their own.

This particular version is incredibly simple, with just three humble ingredients: 1 cup butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 2 cups flour.  That’s really it.  That’s what makes this recipe extremely easy and almost impossible to screw up.

Preheat your oven to 325°F.

Make sure your butter is softened, but under no circumstances should you let it melt in any way.  It absolutely has to be solid.  Cream that sucker with the sugar in a bowl.

Add in about half your flour and mix well, then add in the rest of the flour and stir until all you have is a million flour-covered butter/sugar crumbs.

Stick your hands in and knead and squish those crumbs until they’re all stuck together.

Pound and flatten that lovely buttery dough ball into a rough oval on an ungreased baking sheet.

Flute the edges by pinching it between your fingers and prick the whole thing thoroughly with a fork.  Make sure the fork goes all the way to the bottom when you’re poking around.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the dough is a lovely golden brown.  It will be darker brown on the edges.  Remove from the oven and cut it into squares while it’s still hot (this will be impossible to do when it cools as it will be much harder and you’ll end up with shattered shortbread everywhere).

Take it to all your friends as host/ess gifts, still warm in a paper bag.  Mmm!

Have a safe and happy New Year everybody!

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne ?

CHORUS:
For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp !
and surely I’ll be mine !
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

CHORUS

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine ;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.

CHORUS

We twa hae paidl’d i’ the burn,
frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin auld lang syne.

CHORUS

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
and gie’s a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.

CHORUS
Robert Burns

Christmas Fruit Cakes

My mother calls them fruit cakes.  My father calls them Christmas cakes.  Or it’s the other way around.  I can’t keep track of those two.

Nevertheless, before every holiday season, my dad makes between two and three dozen of them to give away to all their family and friends.  Being the stalwart Scots that we are, we fight over who deserves a whole cake and who gets only a slice.

You can’t be ambivalent about fruit cake.  You either love it or you hate it.  And I can promise you that this is not the leaden, dry, horribly frosted version that you hate.  This is the ooey-gooey sticky sweet and moist brick of goodness that you will LOVE.  Guaranteed.

Keep in mind that this recipe is easy to make.  Especially if you make several dozen.  However, you have to start your preparations the day before and baking time can take up to four hours for large cakes.  Not to mention that you can’t eat them right away — these cakes need a spell before they’re good to eat.  These ones here are from back in 2007.  They should be super excellent now.

Day the First:

In a large bowl, measure in 1 1/2 cups whole blanched almonds (blanched is key because the skin is bitter), 2 cups dark raisins, 2 cups light raisins, 1 cup currants, 2 1/2 cups chopped dates, and 2 1/2 cups candied citron peel.  My dad says that when making several batches it helps to bring a measuring cup to the health food or bulk store and measure what you need right into the bag so you don’t have to worry about having any leftover.

Drain a 12oz (340g) bottle of maraschino cherries, saving the juice.  The cherries should measure about 1 1/4 cups.  Add them to the mixture in the bowl.

Pour in 1/2 cup brandy (or fruit juice, if you prefer) and give it a stir.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature overnight.

In a heavy saucepan, simmer one 19oz (540mL) can crushed pineapple with 2 cups granulated sugar.  Cook, uncovered, until thickened, about 45 minutes.  Make sure to stir frequently. 

By the end, the sugary pineapple should measure 2 1/2 cups.

Let the pineapple cool, and then stir in 1/2 cup reserved cherry juice.  Stir in as well 1 cup strawberry jam (the more all-natural, the better).  This doesn’t necessarily need to be done the day before, but it has to be cool before you add it to the cake batter.

Day the Second:

Preheat your oven to 275°F.  Butter your pans (we use four regular-sized loaf pans) and line them with parchment paper.The knob on our oven is positioned badly so we take the knob off in order not to hit it accidentally.  And yes, we probably should clean our oven more often.

In a large measuring cup, whisk together 4 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda.

Add about a cup of the flour mixture to the fruit and nuts and toss until the bits are all covered.  This will prevent them from sinking to the bottom when you mix them in the batter.  Set the rest of the flour aside for now. 

In another large mixing bowl, cream together  2 1/4 cups granulated sugar with 1 pound (2 cups) butter.

Beat in 12 eggs (yes, 12!), two at a time.  This is less of a pain in the butt if you have someone crack the eggs while someone else runs the mixer.

Take your flour mixture and your pineapple mixture and, alternating them, stir them into the butter and egg mix.  Make 3 dry and 2 liquid additions and stir it all in well. 

Your batter will be a lovely pink colour once you’re all ready.

Pour over your flour-coated fruit and nuts and mix well. 

Pour into your pans and chuck them in the oven.

Place a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven to keep the cakes moist.

Bake in your oven for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, for the larger cakes.  Smaller cakes might be done in about 3 hours. If you have a fast oven you might want to lay a sheet of aluminum foil loosely over the top to prevent them from drying out in the last hour or so.

The cakes should be fairly firm to the touch in the centre and should test clean with a toothpick.  Once you’ve removed the cakes from the oven let them cool in the pans for about five minutes. 

Then remove the cakes from the pans and peel off the paper.  Let the cakes cool completely.

Now you do your wrapping.

Lay a sheet of aluminum foil on your work surface.  Overlay that with some plastic wrap.

And some cheesecloth.

Plop your cake in the centre.

Baste it generously, all over, with rum or brandy (if you don’t baste you will need to keep the cakes in the refrigerator).

Wrap the cheesecloth tightly around the cake.  Then the plastic wrap.  Then the aluminum foil.

As the cloth dries out, give your cakes a periodic dousing with rum or brandy.  Don’t freeze the cakes or the flavours won’t mellow properly.

The cakes will make good eating in about three weeks, just in time for the holidays.

Warm Brussels Sprout Salad with Goat Cheese and Pecans


The Pie doesn’t particularly like Brussels sprouts, but the rest of us adore them.  To find a compromise this past Thanksgiving I pulled inspiration from a number of different recipes, and also from a salad I’d eaten at The Black Tomato two nights before, and came up with something that we all loved.

I’m not going to give you measurements for this recipe, because to be honest I didn’t measure anything, just kind of threw it in when the inspiration struck me.  Besides, everyone has their own preferences as to amounts and proportions in a salad.  Just estimate and you’ll be fine.  This version served ten people with tons of leftovers.

First, you cut up your Brussels sprouts.  We tried them first with a mandolin, but then found it was easier just to slice them thinly with a stupid sharp knife.  Cut off the tough stem part at the bottom and discard any bruised or torn outer leaves, then carefully shave those suckers down.We ended up with a medium-sized bowl full of bits of mini-cabbage.Because this was sort of a do-at-the-last-second kind of salad, and because Thanksgiving at the last second gets a little hectic as things come out of the oven and the turkey needs to be carved, I wanted to set up a mise en place for this so everything would be ready to go when I needed it.  Accordingly, I prepared the rest of my ingredients ahead of time.

Three finely chopped green onions.

Two finely sliced shallots.

Two handfuls dried, sweetened cranberries.

A handful each finely chopped radicchio and Boston lettuce.

Goat cheese, or chèvre.

Pecans, ground in my food processor.

Pecan pieces, for garnish.

Mix together the goat cheese, cranberries, and ground pecans.

Set that aside for now.

In a large frying pan or skillet melt about a third of a cup of butter at medium heat.  Toss in your green onions and shallots and sauté for a few minutes until softened.

Chuck in your massive amounts of Brussels sprouts and stir them around until they’re thoroughly coated in butter and start to wilt.

Add in the raddichio and the Boston lettuce and stir to mix.  Drizzle gently with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a healthy dash of real maple syrup.  Toss to coat and remove from heat.

Add in your goat cheese mixture and toss it well.

Sprinkle with pecan pieces and serve warm.

Slow Cooker Glazed Carrots

Dinner parties like the feast at Thanksgiving are all about timing and having all your different dishes be ready at exactly the same time.  It’s nice to be able to make things ahead of time, or at least to be able to chuck some of those things into a slow cooker or crock pot and ignore them while you do other things.

This recipe is adapted from Phyllis Pellman Good’s post at Fabulous Foods and is really easy.

Turn your slow cooker to high and chuck in 2 pounds chopped carrots, 5 tablespoons brown sugar, 1/2 cup orange juice, 2 tablespoons butter, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Cover and cook for about three or four hours until the carrots are tender.

Put the carrots in a serving dish and keep them warm.  Take the cooking juices and bung them in a pot.  Bring it to a boil.Dissolve 2 tablespoons corn starch in 1/4 cup water and add that to the juices, boiling for another full minute until the glaze is thick.

Pour over top your carrots and serve.