Reflections on Christmases past

Holidays mean different things to different people.

You may be a part of the camp that cannot wait to have every relative you know (and a few you never knew you had) under your roof to take part in food and conversation for days on end. Your home is decorated from top to bottom before December starts and you may have eggnog pulsing through your veins.

You may be in the camp that these festive times cause you great stress and feelings of inadequacy because you aren’t decorated like Martha Stewart and goodness knows your family situation is nothing Norman Rockwellesque at all and you would prefer to just be left alone until December 26th, pleaseandthankyouverymuch.

Is either one right? Is either one wrong? Can you belong to both camps?

Growing up, I recall putting our tree up on Christmas Eve while listening to either Nana Mouskouri or Elvis Presley. We would watch Alastair Sim in A Christmas Carol and head to bed not long after that movie ended. As the old handmade ornaments came out of storage and found a spot on the tree, the stories filled the room. I always wondered why my parents never threw away the styrofoam ball covered in green glitter and stabbed  mercilessly with toothpicks. It resembled a crude sputnik.

My grandmother would be in baking mode for weeks, maybe even months, before Christmas, making sausage rolls, meat pies, nuts n bolts snack mixes, rum balls and so on. All these baked goods were off limits until all the relatives were under our roof. Truthfully, I was not a fan of the meat pies or the sausage rolls, but because they were a limited run, they were somehow more desirable and I would stuff them in like they were providing me with life itself.

My parents gave us a beautiful tree the year we were married. It was 7′ tall and so full, I could not wrap my arms around it’s circumference. I used to decorate our tree in different styles every year when my kids were young. One year, it was wrapped in wide ribbons. One year, it was done up with only lights. There was probably close to 1500 lights on it. Yes, it gave off warmth because this was pre-LED bulb days. One year, I made chocolate chip cookies and hung them on the tree. As guests came over, they were to remove a cooky on their way home, thus helping me undecorate. No lights were turned on that year, as they melted the chocolate chips (lesson learned the hard way).

Many cats later, my tree has seen better days. No, they did not pee on it or the skirt, but they did find themselves up inside the tree, bending the support branches. My majestic 7′ tree, which used to fill a room, now resembles a Dr. Suess tree, as almost all the branches are in a downward sweep with visible bald spots.

As the ornaments get hauled out, we too share the memories of the toddler fashioned decorations. The first year we had a child-made decoration for our tree, I got it. I understood why my folks did not chuck out the green glittered sputnik or any of the other things my brother and I had made. These signified milestones in our lives. Looking at the toilet roll Christmas cracker that is covered in scrap pieces of foiled paper and fruit-smelly markers, I recall the teacher they had and the friends that were a part of our lives that year. These associations are not unlike the ones an archeologist makes when unearthing  traces of civilizations. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t have at least one glitter macaroni ornament or a paper Santa on their tree.

In my gluten-filled days, I baked like a fiend. I was often up until the wee hours of the morning, washing dishes, making dough, decorating snowmen and all kinds of other stuff. It was common for me to make 10-12 different types of cookies and gift them to friends, everyone getting a variety of each type. I made sugar cookies, gingerbread dudes, candy cane twists, fudge, pfeffernuise, rum balls, snowballs, lumps of coal and on and on. I would buy New Year’s Eve party hats, line them with parchment paper and fill them, cone-style, with treats for the kids who lived on our street. Each kid got their own cone of cookies, so no one had to share their goodies with their mom or dad.

I would spend hours and days shopping at the malls finding lots of things for everyone on my list. I was there on Boxing Day, getting a jumpstart on the next year’s shopping requirements. I never dared tally my spending as I knew it was ridiculous. Wrapping the presents took me days. Each wrapped gift was a work of art. I didn’t like to use the same paper on any two gifts. Everything was wrapped in a box. Sometimes, a box within a box. I used to made custom bows for each package, a lesson from one of my many awesome aunts. I was supporting our economy almost single-handedly.

My gifts have shifted to ways to share time and memories instead of something from a store. My baking template has also changed. I no longer do these things in excess because it is expected of me. I’d rather spend that time reminiscing with family over a coffee, wine or kombucha. Wrappings are trappings and we are better off without them.

Perhaps that ol’ Grinch knew something after all.

 

 

 

 

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Thoughts about the Grinch and cranberry lime gummies

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I love the Grinch.

There, I said it. It’s out in the open. One of my most treasured books is How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Suess. I used to have a copy of the movie on VHS tape (wow-age drop!) and would watch it, rewind and watch it again and again while baking cookies and wrapping gifts and generally prepping for Christmas. Then one year, the VCR ate my tape and I was left with feet of memories spewing from the mouth of that hateful machine. I think I actually cried a few tears watching the shiny black ribbon pool onto the floor.

Thankfully, technology caught up and Santa brought me a DVD version and I have been watching happily ever since. As a child, it was so hard waiting for it to air on tv and hopefully be able to take command of the family boob-tube for that half-hour. One also had to time bathroom breaks to not to miss a single moment of Boris Karloff’s rich voice. The pairing of the visual of the Grinch and that voice is pure magic.

My personal feelings on the Jim Carrey live version of the Grinch isn’t carved in stone. First time I saw it, I was horrified and offended by it. This wasn’t the Grinch I knew and loved. Then, I decided I needed to see it for it’s own creative version. It’s starting to grow on me. I think I’ll need to watch it again a few more times. I do like Jim Carrey. He is one of those guys you either love him or hate him. I fall into the former camp. From early days on In Living Color to a few more serious and somber roles, his expressiveness has always made me feel along with his character.

I used to read The Grinch to the kids when they were little and it is a funny tradition we keep. I still read it to them on Christmas Eve. As teenagers, their favourite lines include (I’m paraphrasing) “he whizzed with his load” and “top of Mt. Crumpit to dump it.” By the end of the book, we are all laughing so hard, my eyes are filled with tears. It’s a good thing I have the words almost committed to memory, because it’s hard to read through those tears of laughter.

Right, back to cranberries.

In one of my most recent Spud boxes, I got some fresh cranberries. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of pairing them with turkey. I know, I know, everyone loves the two together. Not me. I figured I’d use up some limes that were starting to look a little tired to pair with the cranberries and, well, who doesn’t like a chewy gummy-style treat? Gelatin helps heal the gut and as a person who had horrific eczema from a Leaky Gut, I try to consume healthy gelatin when I can. These were not super sweet and had a nice tanginess to them.

Cranberry-lime gummies:

  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • juice of 4 small limes
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon full fat coconut cream (helps offset the tartness)
  • enough water to make a total of 2 cups fruit puree before adding the gelatin powder
  • 4 tablespoons gelatin (I use Vital Proteins)

I pureed the cranberries with the lime juice, honey and coconut milk and approximately 1/2 cup water in the blender until it was a nice mash. I strained this mixture to get all the skin pieces out for a prettier looking finished product. You can totally skip the straining step if you don’t mind bits of cranberry skin in the treats.

Measure the fruit puree and add enough water to make a total of 2 cups of liquid. Heat in a medium sized pot for several minutes. You want this quite warm to help the gelatin dissolve without clumping. You can either whisk the gelatin in by hand on the stove or pour the warm fruit mixture back into the blender and add the gelatin there. Choice is yours. The blender was already dirty from earlier, so I went that route. Don’t cover the vent holes on the blender lid when processing warm or hot things, you’ll end up with  a hugs mess and a possible burn or two. . . just sayin’.

Once the gelatin is completely dissolved and well mixed, pour into small silicone molds or a glass baking dish. Into the fridge it goes to cool and set completely. If you use a glass baking dish, the bigger the dish, the thinner your gummies will be. You can use small cookie cutters to make fancy-schmancy shapes if you felt so inclined. I usually just cut them into squares and grab 3 or 4 and throw them into my lunch.

Ok, my vegan friends, you can switch out the honey for maple syrup and swap agar 1-1 for the gelatin.

Holiday gift giving ideas

It’s that time of year again isn’t it? That time where we feel pressured to overspend what we don’t have and under appreciate what we do have. Who decided certain times of year dictate we give a gift? Or to spend way beyond our means? It doesn’t have to be that way. Gifts, if you feel compelled to dole them out, can be affordable and thoughtful.

Here are a few of my favourite things. No kitten whiskers or itchy mittens in the lot. These are all kitchen/food related items that will always be welcome and won’t break the bank.

smallcookiescoopCookie scoops. All kinds of sizes are available. Small ones make cute little cookies, dainty meatballs and larger ones make life easy scooping muffin batter or making big-ass cookies. Write out a well-loved cookie recipe to go along with the scoop and you have a fantastic, thoughtful gift. Offer to help bake the cookies and you now have added the element of time and what is better than being with those you love? (umm, eating the cookies of course)

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Silicone spatulas and scrapers are so handy. Different sizes and shapes are perfect for getting the last of the almond butter from the bottom of the jar or scrambling your eggs.

 

images-1.jpegSpice things up a bit. Exotic salts and spices can be a welcome addition and something the recipient would never buy for themselves. Seek out smoked salt and paprika. If you can find a local artisan, then so much the better as you are supporting your local community too. Spices can include infused oils and vinegars.

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Hey hot stuff! No one likes burning their fingers and hands getting things out of the oven or handling a cast-iron pan. Hello Ove-Glove. Manual dexterity and heat protection. I’ve tried long silicone mitts, but I love the grippiness of these. Grab two, one for each hand.

 

Good, straightforward cookbooks are always welcome. Simple recipes with real food ingredients. These books also provide inspiration to customize to your own individual tastes. Win-win, plus you may get invited for dinner. Offer to help clean up and you will definitely be invited back.

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Gift giving that won’t break the bank. Practical gifts that will always fit, won’t need software upgrading or batteries and can be used every day. What more could you ask for?