Countdown to Christmas ~ Bah Humbug!

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I love Christmas…..at Christmas time.  Which for me, starts AFTER the end of November.  Not October 15th (circa retail displays) or even November 1st after Halloween.

I don’t want to acknowledge or even think about the Christmas Holidays until December 1st and even then, it takes me a good 2 weeks after that for me to get into the spirit and start grooving to The Chipmunks.  It is just all the commercialization of it that bugs me to no end.  Didn’t Charlie Brown ponder the real meaning of Christmas and not all the pomp/glitter and 50% Off of 150% Markup Sales?

To help you (ok, me too) get into the Christmas Spirit, I will be posting time-saving, stress-relieving, cash-saving, tips, tricks and ideas to inspire you to think of what Christmas means to you and your family and how to make the season a happier and less stressful one for all.  Think of it as my gift to you to save your sanity.

Don’t expect me to wish you all a Merry Christmas just yet…not until later in December…

But for now….Happy November 30th!

 

 

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Blue Suede……Jacket

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No, not the shoes of Elvis fame….but a jacket.  A bright, blue, fringed, suede jacket that has been tucked away in my closet for about as long as I have been married.  This was a present given to me by my husband, many, many moons ago when I was into my horse-fetish/riding days. 

I haven’t worn it in years though…it seems to have shrunk actually…did you know that suede is prone to shrinking?  They need to print warning labels….or perhaps it is the phenomena that is affecting hundreds of people over the age of 40….the realization that they have clothing shrinking gremlins living in their closets.

Like my elephant piggy bank, I can’t bear to part with it…cause I know I will be able to wear it again soon…..just like my bell bottom jeans from the 70′s….shhhh… I can live in my dreams can’t I?

So what is stuffed in the recesses of your closet that you can’t part with?  I can’t be the only one with outdated-soon-to-be-back-in-fashion items taking up valuable closet space….

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Christmas Shortbread Cookie Baking Bonanza Day!

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That is a mouthful of a title…but not as yummy as a mouthful of buttery, flaky, shortbread cookies!

Yesterday my daughter came over for our annual Christmas cookie baking palooza day.  This is our 3rd year of baking cookies together, prior to that, she was always baking them with her cousin.  But since her cousin moved to BC a few years ago for school, she has been painfully missed.  So I happily stand in for my niece and offer up my kitchen to the Gods of Flour Scattering.  Yup, plural, I do believe there is more than one, hence the mess of my kitchen at the end of the day.

My daughter and niece grew up learning how to make these delicious cookies from their paternal Grandma.  I never learned the secret of shortbread cookie making.  Every year from the time they each were about 6 or 7, they spent the day making Christmas cookies with Grandma.  Since she passed away some 14 years ago, they continued the tradition together until my niece moved out west. 

Now I get to have some one-on-one lessons in shortbread cookie making…which isn’t really that easy and I don’t seem to be catching on to it either.  There is an art to making shortbread cookie dough.  Too much flour = tough cookies, too little = they break and fall apart while trying to cut them out.  It isn’t so much a science as having a *feel* for the dough.   Something I clearly don’t have as the last time hubby and I tried to make them (sans daughter), it was a disaster and we swore never to make them again without her.

She is now the Shortbread Cookie Queen of the family and happily dons her tiara and apron…ok..so the tiara is missing, but she at least wears her apron,  and guides me through the process …which goes in one ear and out the other apparently. 

Black Beauty is all polished and ready for the day.  She will get quite the workout, and by the time we are done, she will not be so sleek and shiny anymore, but nothing a dishcloth and hot soapy water can’t fix.

We do three batches of cookie dough and our plan of attack is as follows:

First Batch:  Pressed cookies, mainly because the pressed cookies are a royal PITA and we prefer to get them out of the way while we are still gung ho and lively.

Second Batch:  Cutouts for Belgian Cookies (aka Empire Cookies), so they can sit and cool before assembling.

Third Batch: Cutout Cookies in various Christmas shapes, Bells, Stars, Trees, Holly Leaves and the absolute worst – Santas.  His foot is so narrow and small it is a given that there will be ‘rejects’ when the foot breaks during cutting or removal from the tray after baking.

Starting off with the press cookies, we divide the first batch of dough into 3.  One will be left plain, the others will be coloured green and red.  Let the PITA..er…FUN commence! This is where getting the ‘feel’ for the dough comes in, usually having to add additional flour until you reach the right consistency.   Not enough flour and the cookies will not release from the press so she always mix the dough withholding a half cup of flour and then adding a tbsp or so at a time so she can ‘play’ with it to get it to where she wants it.  She is a master at attaining the right consistency.   With the dough all set, she’s off and running.  While she presses, I cut up the cherries for the wreaths, decorate and load the oven with trays as she fills them.

Soon, the house is filled with the aroma of soft, buttery cookies…mmmmm….

We stopped for a quick bite for lunch of crackers and hummus (and maybe a broken cookie or two) and watch a couple hilarious You-tube videos,  then we are on to batch # 2, the dough for the Belgian Cookies.  Using the same dough recipe, we add a ½ tsp. of almond extract to enhance this heavenly, indulgent cookie.   I roll the dough out in small batches (we have assigned jobs during cookie making, she operates the cookie press and I do the rolling of the dough for the cutouts, much better for both our sanities) and cutout the 2 ½ fluted circles of dough.   Soon they are done and cooling on the racks awaiting their next stage.

Next up – Batch # 3, using the same strategy as # 1, we divide the dough into thirds and keep one plain and colour the other two.  After about 5 minutes (which seemed like an eternity), I gave up on the cutouts and handed the cutter I was using over to her, pfft – no patience for these things, I will re-roll the dough and monitor those already in the oven. 

The dining room table is soon overflowing with cookies.  With the cutouts done, it is time to assemble the Belgian’s.  Hubby comes home and immediately heads over to snatch a cookie or two, but then resumes his role of cleanup dude and starts washing the mountains of utensils and dishes accumulated throughout the day (he is great for cleanup duty).

The best part about making the Belgian cookies is that you get to sit down while putting them together, as by this time, 6 hours of standing meant for tired and sore legs and feet.  Amazing how you spent what seemed like an eternity cutting out circles for these cookies but end up with half the amount of finished cookie…not fair indeed.  But they sure do look good! 

Of course, we had to make a much larger one for her hubby as Belgian’s are one of his very favourite cookies and we stuffed so much jam in the middle it was oozing out the side and the icing was running off the top.   I bet that cookie doesn’t last the night.

With the fruits of our labour done, we divided the home-made loot and packed her cookie tins full.  She then headed home with her hubby and another successful day can be added to the annual baking palooza tradition.   

I can’t wait for next year and do it all over again to keep the tradition going, it’s a great way to spend the day with my daughter and I wouldn’t miss it for the world… and maybe someday I will actually be able to make these things without her….naw…I will leave her with the crown and title of Shortbread Cookie Baking Queen.

Thanks sweetie!

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How To Make Granola

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I love Granola.  Granola on yogurt.  Granola in a smoothie.  Granola sprinkled on ice cream.  Granola by itself even.  Makes a great snack anytime you get the munchies.

It is very yummy stuff…. but very expensive to buy and the commercial stuff is loaded with more sugar than necessary.

So make your own instead.

DSC08561Ingredients

½ Cup Un-sweetened Apple Sauce
¼ Cup Canola Oil
½ Cup Lite Maple Syrup
2 Tbsp. Honey
1 Tbsp. Vanilla Extract
8 Cups Whole Rolled Oats
1 Cup Raw Sunflower Seeds (unsalted)
1 Cup Slivered Almonds (raw, unsalted)
¾ Cup Wheat Bran (or Cracked Wheat)
¾ Cup Ground Flax Seeds
1 tsp Cinnamon
¼ Cup Whole Flax Seeds (or Pepitas)
2 Cups Dried Cranberries (or raisins, dried blueberries or cherries)

Directions

In a large bowl, combine oats, sunflower seeds, almonds, wheat bran, ground flax and cinnamon; mix well.

DSC08545In a saucepan; bring to a boil the apple sauce, canola oil, maple syrup, honey and vanilla extract.  Boil for approx. 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

Pour mixture over dry ingredients and mix thoroughly so that all ingredients are coated.  Spread out onto parchment lined cookie sheets (you will need 2 large cookie sheets).

DSC08554Bake at 250°F for 1 hour, rotating pans from top to bottom shelf so that bottoms do not burn.  Remove from oven.  Let cool for about 30 minutes.  Return to large bowl and mix in whole flax seeds and dried cranberries.

DSC08556Let cool completely and store in air tight containers.  Makes about 12 cups.

This recipe is completely adaptable to whatever suits your individual tastes.  Try walnuts, pecans or peanuts if you don’t like almonds.  Any kind of dried fruit can go in as well, just chop them up if they are large pieces like dried apricots and remember to add them after the granola comes out of the oven.  Enjoy!

DSC00321

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Getting Old Sucks

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Especially when waking up is like starting a car on a -30C day…you just can’t get yourself cranked up and running like you can when it’s warm, or in my case, when I was younger.

I used to literally bounce out of bed in the mornings, head downstairs to the stairclimber and spend 30 minutes bopping to tunes and stepping away.  Those days are seemingly over.  I would bounce out of bed now if someone dropped a bowling ball onto the other side and launched me.

Stair climbing now is heading down to the kitchen, putting the kettle on for tea and climbing the stairs back up to the office.

So waking up this morning was just like any other day in the past few years, cranky and grumbly and peeved I couldn’t sleep in longer. Why is it you can’t sleep when you get older??? 

As I walked into the living room, hubby was all smiles and blurted out a big HAPPY BIRTHDAY!  I think I am beginning to dislike cheery people in the morning.  But I love my hubby and therefore he is lucky.

Tea, get the tea going and keep it coming. An hour later, I was finally feeling ‘awake’, breakfast was over and it was time to let the lounging commence!  I love birthdays for one thing, the right to do absolutely nothing if you don’t want to without any repercussions. I had a lot of nothing planned to fill the day.

But for some reason, nothing has a way of turning into something.

It was shaping up to be a beautiful day at the Homestead for mid-November.  We headed out for our daily walk (we aim for at least 2 if not 3 days out of the weekend) under clear, sunny skies and the temp was nudging up to 7 or 8C.  Almost unheard of being this far north.  As we turned out onto the road from the driveway, we walked over to the big, wooden box that is filled with sand.  Being that our road is a private road, we need to supply our own sand for icy/snowy days.  On our walk the day before, hubby took a peek inside the box to see how much sand was in it….we got a surprise when we looked inside….

 

3 Deer mice decided it would make a great place to live.  In the center, on top of the sand was a rounded mound of feathers, fur and whatever else and out popped 3 mice that started frantically running all around the inside.  I didn’t have my camera yesterday, so we were back today to get a shot of the little critters. 

After harassing the mice, we continued on our way.  Out past Oddball’s pasture (whose name we finally found out is Shiloh – a perfectly suited name for a brown/white Paint mare) to the end of Bear Creek Road and then turned to head back.  I marveled at the clear, blue skies, and the stark contrast of bare woods on either side of the road…and the silence, complete silence, so quiet it was deafening.  Best part of the Great White North is the silence.  We did not see any deer today, sometimes one bolts across the road on our walks.  Hopefully they were still in hiding, as the hunters have been out in full force the last couple weeks breaking the silence with the sound of rifle shots.

An hour later we arrived back at the Homestead.  Hot chocolate time, I love a hot, steaming cup of cocoa after a brisk walk.  Being that today was my birthday, a splash of Bailey’s went into the mug in place of the milk – mmmmm.  I settled down on the couch and picked up my knitting, yes, still with the knitting fetish as I have lots of projects planned for the coming Christmas holidays.  My blackberry was still buzzing, family members sending their Happy Birthday wishes electronically.  Another good thing about birthdays, you can choose how and where you want to spend the day.  By yourself or surrounded by family at home.

We had a bite to eat for lunch and were all prepared to lounge away the afternoon when a thought popped into my head…Fire! We are supposed to have a campfire this afternoon!  We talked about it the night before and that we were going to roast weenies on the fire for lunch….dang, missed the weenies for lunch, but the camp fire idea was still a go.

I tossed the knitting aside and grabbed my pullover, camera and sunglasses.  Hubby headed out to get the fire going and bring out the lawn chairs.  Even with the sun being so low in the sky, it was plenty warm enough.  Almost no breeze too.  I love the smell of a campfire.  Watching the smoke curl upwards and watching the flames is mesmerizing.

Beverage….would you like a beverage sweetie? Dang right I would, can’t have a campfire without the requisite cold, frosty beer, even in November – so typically Canadian.

We spent the afternoon watching the waves ripple in the slight breeze and enjoying each other’s company.  Talking about anything and everything and just being downright goofy at times. Aside from the occasional crackle of wood in the fire, and the incessant ‘chick-a-dee-dee-dees’ of the Chickadees on the feeder, the silence was ever present. In summertime, the lake is filled with boat traffic and the sounds of people in/on them, but all the boats and water toys are put away for the winter and the only sounds from the lake are the ripples and splashes of wildlife.  There is a pair of muskrats that have been hanging around lately and the merganser ducks are still diving in their hunt for minnows.  The mallards seemed to have disappeared, flying south to warmer climes and the mergansers should be leaving soon too.  As we sat, we heard the call of a loon down in the bay….first one I had heard in weeks as I thought they had already left.   

The sun started sinking below the tree line of the island offshore, casting long shadows and bringing with it a sharp chill.  Wow, amazing the temp difference between sun and shade.  I headed in to start prepping for dinner and hubby extinguished the fire and put the chairs away.  Who knows if we will get another opportunity to have another, but it was great to spend the afternoon outdoors today.

For my birthday dinner, steak was on the menu.  I love a nice, big, tender slab of beef cooked on the BBQ, it just screams summer.  I for one cannot bring myself to ever cook a steak in the house, it just wouldn’t be the same without that BBQ flavour.  Roasted mini red potatoes slathered in garlic butter along with roasted carrots, and don’t forget the mushrooms, what is a steak without sautéed mushrooms?!

Dessert was leftover banana bread, I had made one at home before we left to come up and with it, a glass of Bailey’s on the rocks.  This stuff is so creamy and yummy, and definitely not good for the waistline, so I limit having this luscious liqueur for special occasions; otherwise I would be as big as a house.

All in all, a stellar day, and I want to thank my hubby for taking the day off and spending it with me, it would have been very boring otherwise as he makes life fun.

I am now another year older and apparently crankier in the mornings, so I thought perhaps I should make it my New Year’s Resolution to be more cheerful???  Heck no, what would be the fun in that?  The best part about getting older is having the right to do and say anything you please, cranky old folks do it all the time… definitely something to aspire to…

Happy Birthday to me.

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Need A Quick Christmas Gift?

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I love Chunky yarn.  Chunky yarn makes for fast knitting for those instant gratification type folks (like me).  The pattern is so easy, even the most timid knitter can make this in no time.

If you can spare one day, then you can knit this cowl that will be sure to delight that special friend or neighbour that is on your Christmas List.  Giving a handmade gift truly is a delight…both for the Gift-ee and the Gift-or!

The yarn is available in a multitude of striped or solid patterns and is sold at Michael’s Stores everywhere. 

To access the pattern, click here.

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8 Random Things About Me

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Why 7?  ‘Cause if I told you everything about me, then I would have nothing else to write about in the future….

*ok…so I messed up the numbering and fixed it…which now gives 8 Random Things About Me….oh well!  Thanks Trishie for pointing out my goof….funny how you can look at something and NOT see a typo???

1.  Favourite Sport – NASCAR

2.  Favourite Colour - Blue (at the moment, it changes seasonally)

3.  Favourite Musical Group – Led Zeppelin

4.  Favourite Food – Pizza, followed closely by Pierogies

5.  Favourite Outdoor Activity – Fishing

6.  Favourite Indoor Activity – Cooking

7.  Best Christmas Present Ever – My horse, complete with bow around her neck             (thanks sweetie!)

8.  I am totally OCD about house cleaning. 

I hope that satisfies anyone that was even remotely curious about me…. :D

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It’s Healthy Food Time

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Sometimes you need to step away from the butter laden, ooey-gooey, rich, decadent, make-you-swoon recipes and stabilize your blood sugar or before you know it, you will be living in sweatpants and over sized t-shirts hauling around an oxygen bottle for the rest of your life.

Not to get all preachy….ok, maybe a ‘little’ preachy…but the average person should aim to get 25 – 30% of their daily calories from fat, of that amount, approx. 7% should come from saturated fat (meats/dairy).  Less than 1% should come from trans fat and the rest should come from mono and poly unsaturated fats (liquid vegetable oils).

Now it tends to be relatively difficult to calculate exactly what percent of calories you’re getting from each of these types of fats. So the general recommendation is to minimize your intake of fats from animal origin and partially hydrogenated fat, and to use in its place fats that come from vegetables, such as liquid vegetable oil.

To help you in your effort to eating better and having a healthier you, I have created a new section, called the ‘Health Conscious Recipe Options‘ Page off of the HomeStead Kitchen Page that will feature yummy, healthy, good-for-your-waistline recipes.  These recipes will help you ditch those unwanted pounds that have mysteriously attached themselves to your backside, prompting the ‘Wide Load’ sign to suddenly appear when viewed from behind.

I already have some fantastic recipes over on the Vegetarian page that qualify as healthier options.  They do double duty for low-fat and Vegetarians alike.  Even if you are not a Vegetarian and prefer some moos, cluck-clucks or oinkers in your diet, you will find some great recipes that include meat but in healthier ways.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be adding more recipes to this section, so check back often to see what new and exciting menus can soon grace your dinner table and make your clothes seem like they are expanding (as you shrink!).

For those that need help deciding exactly what foods you should be consuming every day for a healthy, balanced diet, Canada’s Food Guide is a great resource so bookmark their site and visit it often to help you plan your families meals.

Broiled Salmon with Spinach & Raspberry Salad

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How To Make Your Own Croutons

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Making your own croutons takes about as much time to make a pot of coffee…and just as easy.  Trust me, once you make your own croutons, you will never go back to store bought again.  With the use of heart healthy Olive Oil, they are much better for you than the butter/transfat laden commercial variety too.  These are made from day or two old fresh bread.  Not the packaged, preservative laden stuff either, because no matter how long you leave it out, it just doesn’t get stale enough to be used as croutons. 

Grab a fresh baguette (preferably whole wheat or multi-grain variety) and let it sit in a plastic bag on the counter for a couple days.  You will know when it is ready when the bread is no longer soft, but firm and crumbles easily when slicing.  The perfect consistency has now been achieved for making croutons!

Be forewarned though…you best make a double batch, because once they come out of the oven, you will be snacking on them as they are totally addictive.

 

Garlic Parmesan Croutons

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cubed, stale bread
  • 3 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • 2 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese

 Directions

In a large bowl, toss bread cubes with olive oil, parmesan and garlic powder until well coated.  Spread out on a cookie sheet lined with foil.  Bake in a 350°F oven for about 15 minutes until browned and crispy, stirring frequently to avoid burning.

Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

*Alternatives – experiment with different herbs, Italian Seasoning, Basil, Oregano, Thyme and Sage.  Adjust to suit the overall flavour profile of your meal.  They also make a great base for Turkey Stuffing!

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