Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Eve

Some of you have already rung in the new year, some of you still have a ways to go. We've got several hours to kill and will be celebrating with guests tonight, something different for a change. More on that tomorrow.

You won't believe where I came up with the idea for part of our dessert tonight. Well, the other day I was walking by our local optician's and saw a very cool window display, what looked like a huge masquerade mask made of gingerbread, and I though, "Hey! I can do that!" And I did.

And then I found an appropriate quote to go with it. Want to know what's in store for you in the coming year?

You do not need to leave your room.
Remain sitting at your table and listen.
Do not even listen, simply wait.
Do not even wait,
Be quite still and solitary.
The world will freely offer itself to you
And be unmasked, it has no choice.
It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
Franz Kafka

2006 was very good to me - I made wonderful new friends and deepened my friendships with people I had met previously. I'm very thankful for those relationships. They're what keep me going when the going gets tough.

Each friend represents a world in us,
a world possibly not born until they arrive,
and it is only by this meeting
that a new world is born.
Anais Nin

We cannot tell the precise moment
when friendship is formed.
As in filling a vessel drop by drop,
there is a last drop which makes it run over;
so in a series of kindnesses there is a last one
which makes the heart run over.
John Boswell

This is one of my favourite pictures of my chubby little monkeys experiencing their first Christmas and New Year's together. Boy10 was 9 1/2 months, Boy13 would turn 4 at the end of February 1997. Don't they look happy?

A wish from our house to yours for 2007: peace, hope, joy and most of all love.

Lots and lots of love.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

laughing (almost) all the way

Well, Christmas came and went, just like every year.

As I mentioned, we spent the afternoon of the 24th with the in-laws. Mr M's mother made rabbit, which turned out very nicely. If you've never tried rabbit, you should. Even Boy10 will eat it, calling it "perfect chicken". Mother-in-law is not a great cook by any means, but what she does cook for us, she cooks with love, and that's what counts. Father-in-law was his usual difficult self, still not quite getting the "do unto others" thing even at 77 years old, and these visits have become increasingly trying over time. That's why we have had to reduce the Christmas Family Togetherness from two days to one. That way our little family of four can create its own stress-free traditions in peace.

Speaking of traditions, I like to think back to the Christmas Eves I spent as a child. My Oma and Opa, my dad's parents, lived in Austria and every year they would send us a Christmas parcel. The contents rarely varied: for each of us three kids there would be a beautiful handknit sweater, an enormous bar of Milka milk chocolate and some cold, hard cash in Canadian dollars. For the adults there was a large block of Emmenthaler cheese (yes, my grandparents sent cheese through the mail!), several tubes of Lustenauer Senf (a special type of mustard made in Lustenau, a town in the Austrian state of Vorarlberg where my dad grew up) and sometimes even a salami or two. As you can imagine, things started getting a bit whiffy after several weeks in transit.

In the days leading up to Christmas we'd wait and wait for this large, stinky parcel to arrive so we could open it up on Christmas Eve in honour of my dad's Austrian heritage.

This Christmas Eve there was chocolate but no handmade sweaters. We also managed to rustle up a few open-faced sandwiches for dinner that evening.

Mr. M found an intriguing salad recipe in one of those free magazines the supermarkets give out. The ingredients were mixed greens, smoked eel, apples and walnuts in a balsamic vinegar and honey dressing. Smoked eel doesn't agree with me, so I didn't try any, but both Mr. M and Boy13 agreed that the combination was "interesting". Boy10 says he refuses to eat anything that looks like a snake.

On Christmas Day I talked to my youngest brother (the new dad), my nephew (the new big brother) and my parents. My brother was busy being amazed that his little girl was actually sleeping between feedings (big brother screamed non-stop for the first 6 months of his life), my nephew was busy eating all the candy he could get his hands on while nobody was looking, and my mother was busy preparing a Christmas dinner for 12. Well, 11, really, since one of the guests would be dining exclusively on mother's milk.

My mum made duck breasts instead of turkey which got me thinking that I might just try something different next year as well. Turkey is nice, but I found myself wanting something more exciting. We'll see. Anyway, we did do the turkey thing this time, along with cheese and bacon mashed potatoes, garlic and lemon green beans, red cabbage and a bit of stuffing. Every year the stuffing uninitiated try a spoonful and say "I'm sorry, I can't eat that." All the more for me!

For dessert we always have something that, for lack of a better name, we call "tutti frutti" - it's a trifle-like concoction of pound cake, mandarin oranges, vanilla pudding and lots of whipped cream. The other dish is chocolate and vanilla pound cake with chocolate pudding on top. That's Boy10's favourite although he did sample the orange version this year for the first time and enjoyed it. Oh yes, just a warning: if you send your husband out to shop for dessert ingredients without specifying the amounts, he'll come home with a 1.5 kg can of oranges and a litre of whipping cream. Anyone want to come over and help finish it off?

December 26th is known as Boxing Day in Canada and people often have a breakfast or brunch on that day as well. We had a nice leisurely meal - cranberry muffins, popovers, crusty rolls, bacon, orange juice and hot chocolate.

All that kept us satisfied until Tuesday evening when we had...what else...turkey sandwiches.

Can you believe that I didn't gain a single pound through all of this? Neither can I.

We caved in to conspicuous consumerism and got the boys a Wii game console. It was the only thing they really wanted, and it's tons of fun for the whole family.

Mr. M and I bought ourselves a nice joint present this year.

It's a rocking chair for those lazy days out on the deck. It's made of eucalyptus wood so hopefully it'll last until we're old(er) and (even more) crotchety. When the weather gets warmer I'm sure there are going to be a few arguments about who gets to sit in it and when because it's awfully comfortable.

So yes, all in all it was a pleasant Christmas. I get kind of melancholy at this time of year, missing my Vancouver family so much, but I also feel very thankful to have people who love me right here within hugging distance.

And this little guy, my favourite snowman cookie jar, never fails to put a smile on my face.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve

Germans traditionally exchange gifts on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. Since my father-in-law is now unable to travel even short distances, we all went over the in-laws' apartment for lunch today to celebrate a bit. We kept the gift-giving to a minimum this year - Mr M and I bought something for the house as our gift to each other, and the boys requested just one big item which they will share. Or at least try to share. Can you say Nintendo?

This evening we'll enjoy a light meal by ourselves and tomorrow we'll unwrap a couple more gifts and I'll make a turkey dinner with the works, including stuffing this time, because I've been craving stuffing even if no one else likes it.

We have two trees every year. One inside

and one outside (soon to be) decorated with snacks for the birds

Christmas is very special this year because a new member of the family came into the world on Thursday night in Vancouver. I hear she's very beautiful, with dark hair, blue eyes and a dimple in her chin just like the one her dad (my youngest brother) has. My parents are now opening their hearts (and let's face it, their wallets too!) to six grandchildren, three boys, three girls. They are, of course, pleased as punch. The oldest granddaughter, my other brother's girl, is now fourteen, and it's been five and a half years since our new baby girl's big brother M arrived on the scene so everyone is thrilled to have another little one to spoil. Our dear old Dad, who avoids large crowds where he can, is probably sitting there wondering how he ended up in the middle of all this. I'll just say one thing: you started it, Dad!

Merry Christmas!

Here, have some fruitcake

What's that? You don't care for fruitcake? I can understand that. You either love the stuff or you hate it. I've never been partial to the brick-like variety with the brandy, nuts, green cherries and all that nasty, nasty candied citron peel. That's why I make a fruitcake that looks like this.

The recipe was submitted to the Friendly Freezer mailing list about five years ago by a Swedish woman called Bella. The recipe had been in her family for generations, probably with several modifications, and I've modified it even further to suit our taste. The nuts originally called for were the first thing to go, and I varied the dried fruit to give it a prettier, almost stained-glass look. You'll notice that there's no baking powder called for in the recipe and that's not an oversight on my part. The Way the Swedes Do It, I guess, is to beat the eggs and sugar together for several minutes to act as a leavening agent. It works.

I'm leaving the amounts here in metric form for you to figure out by yourselves.

Bella's Family Fruitcake (makes one loaf)

250 g soft butter
3 medium eggs
250 g sugar
2 Tbsp rum (or orange juice and 1 tsp rum extract)
300 g flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups mixed dried fruit - equal parts raisins, currants, chopped red candied cherries and chopped dried apricots

Preheat oven to 150°C (325°F) and grease and flour a loaf pan.

In small bowl, cream butter. In another larger bowl beat eggs and sugar at high speed with an electric mixer for 4 - 5 minutes until thick and pale yellow. Stir in butter and rum. Mix flour and dried fruit and blend into butter mixture. Batter will be very stiff. Transfer batter to loaf pan and smooth top. Bake for about 1 hr 20 minutes. Let cake cool in the pan and wait until the next day to cut.

As you can tell by the picture, I use a mini-loaf pan (6 cakes in total) to make my fruitcakes because I like to give them as presents and prefer not to dump a giant cake on someone who is probably already swimming in Christmas goodies. The miniature fruitcakes look very cute wrapped up in a little cellophane bag tied with a festive ribbon.

Here's another fruitcake recipe that's been circulating on the internet for years. I haven't tried it yet, but at times I've been very tempted.

Easiest Fruitcake Ever

You'll need the following: a cup of water, a cup of sugar, four large brown eggs, two cups of dried fruit, a teaspoon of salt, a cup of brown sugar, lemon juice, nuts, and a bottle of whiskey.

1.Sample the whiskey to check for quality.

2.Take a large bowl. Check the whiskey again. To be sure it's the highest quality, pour one level cup and drink. Repeat. Turn on the electric mixer, beat one cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl. Add one teaspoon of sugar and beat again.

3.Make sure the whiskey is still okay. Cry another tup.

4.Turn off the mixer. Beat two leggs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of dried fruit. Mix on the tuner. If the fired druit gets stuck in the beaterers, pry it loose with a drewscriver.

5.Sample the whiskey to check for tonsisticity.

6.Next, sift two cups of salt. Or something. Who cares? Check the whiskey. Now sift the lemon juice and strain your nuts. Add one table. Spoon. Of sugar or something. Whatever you can find.

7.Grease the oven. Turn the cake tin to 350 degrees. Don't forget to beat off the turner. Throw the bowl out the window.

8.Check the whiskey again and go to bed.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

on pins and (pine) needles

First it was the flooding with contaminated water, then a freak snow storm appeared out of nowhere a couple of weeks ago. Now hurricane force winds are buffeting the Pacific Northwest from Oregon right up to British Columbia. Vancouver's beautiful Stanley Park has has been hit hard with between 1,000 and 3,000 trees down.

If you have some time, take a look at these news reports to view the extent of the damage.

I heard from my family this past weekend and they were all fine, but one of my brothers was without power for 4 days. Ordinarily I wouldn't be too worried, BUT more storms are expected this week and my sister-in-law A was scheduled to have her baby girl by c-section yesterday.

No one has contacted me yet and I'm getting antsy.

Update Friday December 22: I tried phoning all afternoon with no success but my dad finally gave us a call this evening to say that everything was fine and that the baby had been born on Thursday night. More tomorrow...

Monday, December 18, 2006

more Christmas market madness

All four of us braved the crowds on Saturday and went to Hannover for some shopping and a visit to the Christmas market. Apparently there were something like 400,000 people in the city at the same time all out to spend as much money as possible. After what seemed like hours choosing just the right jeans for a teenager and his pre-teen but only slightly less picky and opinionated brother, we finally made it out to the market. And guess what? It was pouring rain. And I do mean pouring. And did I mention that it starts getting dark at 4 p.m. now? Oh well. I managed to get a few pictures anyway from under my umbrella.

pyramid in the city centre

lots of lights

handicrafts and treats for sale

At the Finnish Christmas market we saw, but did not eat (too pricey for a quick snack in the rain!) this gorgeous cedar-planked salmon. As equal opportunity carnivores, however, we did sample the reindeer sausage, just like every year. It's, um...different.

Santa didn't mind the rain at all

Friday, December 15, 2006

in search of nutrition

As much as some of us would like to try to live on cookies and cookies alone, it's just not a good idea in the long run. Face it, you eat 15 cookies and an hour later you're hungry again. That can't be right. You need something that sticks to your ribs.

That's why today instead of cookies, I rustled up some Real Food.

Egyptian lentil soup and roasted eggplant dip with free-form flatbread crackers.

Now that's more like it. I feel so virtuous.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I've been making Christmas cookies. You should see my kitchen.

Last week the teacher in charge of the library volunteers invited all of us hard-working mothers to her home for afternoon cake and coffee, asking that we each bring something sweet to share.

I brought along Cranberry Shortbread (first attempt making this - very nice, but next time I'd add some finely chopped candied ginger as well) and Toffee Bars (thank you, Maribeth, these were wonderful!)

After the initial suspicion had passed (you know how some Germans can be about trying new things), these cookies were well-received and disappeared quickly.

Today I concentrated on some family favourites: iced sugar cookies, checkerboards, gingerbread reindeer and vanilla cresents.

The sugar cookies are a recipe I've been making since I was about 6 years old. It's from one of those charity cookbooks from the 50's where everyone submits recipes so I have no idea where it originally came from except that someone called Ruth claimed it as her own. The use of the cream of tartar harks back to the days when baking powder wasn't readily available. I still use the cream of tartar/baking soda combination because I think it gives the cookies a unique taste and texture. If you're looking for cream of tartar in Germany, you'll have to visit the pharmacy and ask for Weinsteinpulver.

Ruth's Sugar Cookies

1 cup white sugar
1 cup butter
2 well-beaten eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cream of tartar
dash nutmeg (optional)

Cream butter and sugar. Add beaten eggs and sifted dry ingredients. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for several hours before rolling thin on a lightly floured surface and cutting into desired shapes. Bake in 350°F (180°C) oven until light golden. Let cool and decorate as desired.

Mr. M loooves Checkerboard Cookies. Me? Not so much. I call them You Do the Math Cookies because instructions like "divide dough in half, shape each half into a 7-inch square and cut each square into 9 3/4-inch strips" uses up a week's worth of brain cells, not to mention the 20-minute search for the elusive ruler with inches on it. No wonder I only make these once a year.

You can use any ol' gingerbread cookie recipe for the reindeer. I tried a new recipe this year and was not all that impressed so I won't write it down here. Gingerbread is a very personal thing, anyway. Some like it soft and puffy, others hard and chewy. And there's an art to getting just the right combination of spices, so get out there and experiment.

The vanilla crescents have been in my repertoire since 1986 when I found the recipe in a Christmas magazine and fell in love. I believe the ingredients are slightly different than the traditional Austrian Vanillekipferl, which can also be made with ground hazelnuts or walnuts and usually adds an egg to the dough.

These cookies are very easy to make and freeze wonderfully, but it's best to apply the chocolate decoration after they are thawed since it tends to fall off in the freezer and make a bit of a mess.

Vanilla Crescents (Family Circle Magazine, December 1986)

1 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup unsifted icing sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup ground blanched almonds
2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
Icing sugar and melted semi-sweet chocolate for garnish

Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C). Beat together butter, sugar and vanilla in medium-sized bowl until well-mixed. Beat in ground almonds. Stir in flour until well-blended. Shape dough into ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 2 - 3 hours.

Using level measuring tablespoon for each cookie, roll dough between palms to form a horseshoe shape about 3 in. long. Place on greased cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes. When cool roll in icing sugar and decorate with melted chocolate. Makes about 4 dozen.

Hope I've inspired you to get baking!

Must go. My messy kitchen awaits...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

now you know

Lynn has tagged me for the "5 things you didn't know about me" meme.

1. When it comes to keeping my house clean and tidy, you'll find me right down at the bottom of the German Hausfrau barrel. BUT all the teaspoons in my cutlery drawer MUST be facing in the same direction or I swear I will go insane.

2. The only thing I remember from high school math classes is how to count to 10 in Chinese (Thank you, Mrs. Yeung!). I am still waiting for this to come in handy.

3. I cannot stand fresh mangoes. To me they taste like potting soil. I will, however, rip that jar of mango chutney right out of your little hands. Give me a spoon and make it snappy!

4. After dinner I like to relax with a nice steaming cup of hot...water.

5. When I die I want to be cremated and have my ashes scattered over the Pacific Ocean. Is that too much to ask?

(for more excitement also see: 15 things about me that I wrote back in 2005)

I won't tag anyone with this one. Do it at your own peril.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

mausi talks funny

Don't you just love finding out what your fellow bloggers sound like? A couple of days ago I listened delightedly to Ms Mac's lovely Scottish accent when she did Lesley's Accent Meme. I decided to participate as well so you could all hear MY lovely (or not) voice.

powered by ODEO

Not bad for a Canuck, eh?

P.S. If you'd like to try this and have a microphone, you can go to the Odeo Studio and sign up for a free account. They let you make a recording and then embed it into your blog with one of their players. If I could figure it out, then so can you! Mail me if you need more details.

Friday, December 08, 2006

it was too good to be true

THIS is making smoke come out of my ears.

I may never leave the house again.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Dasher? Dancer? Prancer? Vixen?

Nope. Apparently I'm Cupid.

You Are Cupid

A total romantic, you're always crushing on a new reindeer.

Why You're Naughty: You've caused so much drama, all the reindeers aren't speaking to each other.

Why You're Nice: You have a knack for playing matchmaker. You even hooked Rudolph up!

Heh. Who makes these things up anyway?

Which of Santa's Reindeer Are YOU?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

the stockings were hung by the chimney with care... hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

Well, it's Nikolaustag - St. Nicholas Day, and just like every year, he arrived right on schedule with lots of treats for everyone.

When I saw this little figure, I had to get it for Mr. M because he and St. Nick bear a striking resemblance to each other. Well, maybe not the red suit, but the rest of it for sure.

I feel so lucky - how many women have a husband who looks like a 4th century bishop?

So does all this gift-giving mean that Christmas is over? Not by a long shot! This was just the preliminary round. Der Weihnachtsmann - same red suit, different guy, appears on Dec. 24 bearing yet more presents.

If you're confused by all this Christmas madness, you can go back and read last year's Nikolaus posts for some information on the different personalities that make up a German Christmas. It's all very complicated.

So Happy St. Nicholas Day! If you need me, I'll be in the living room eating all the chocolate I can get my hands on.

Monday, December 04, 2006

christmas market monday

J suggested that those of us who had the chance should visit a Christmas market on the weekend and post some pictures. I just happened to attend two different markets, one on Saturday, the other on Sunday. More on that in a minute.

Friday afternoon (Mr. M only works until 1 p.m. on Fridays, lucky guy) would have been more of a success if that obnoxious and very persistant door-to-door storm window salesman hadn't rudely interrupted the "little nap" we were enjoying after lunch. Being German, Mr. M somehow feels obligated to answer the doorbell or the phone no matter what he's in the middle of. Oh well. It was good for a laugh.

Friday evening turned out much better. We went to a friend's house for a delicious traditional fall/winter meal of Bregenwurst mit Grühkohl (bregenwurst with kale), and boiled potatoes. Although I'm usually quite happy to eat what's set in front of me, I find the last sentence of the Wikipedia entry on bregenwurst to be strangely comforting.

Saturday I bussed it to Hannover to do some shopping and took my camera with me. I didn't go to the large Christmas market in the older part of town, however there was a smaller one set up in front of the main train station that was quite nice.

Sorry the pictures aren't really up to par. It was a grey day and I had other things on my mind, but I think you can get the idea. Glühwein, bratwurst, gingerbread hearts, arts and crafts, rides for the kids. You know the drill.

My dear friend Ginnie is going to be in town for the next couple of weeks starting today so we may just tackle the much bigger Hannover market together some time soon.

Sunday morning found me five tiny towns over visiting my English friend F and her little boy R who will be turning four at the end of January. Christmas came early for R this year. His eyes lit up when I lifted a well-used but still perfectly servicable scooter and pedal go-cart out of the trunk of my car. Our kids are too big for them now so we thought we'd do everyone a favour and recycle. More vehicular fun for R and less junk in our garage. What a deal!

On Sunday afternoon we strolled on down to Dullsville's very own annual Christmas market. It was, well, dull. Duller than it's ever been before, unfortunately. Something was definitely missing this year and I have the feeling there may have been some boycotting of certain groups going on. We are not (nor do we care to be) party to all the social politics and intrigue that goes on in this little village so I suppose we'll never know. Again, the pictures are not great because there was barely anything to take pictures of. Maybe next year.

We made the best of it, though, enjoyed the Christmas cheer and bought a few raffle tickets. And guess what? Lucky Boy13 won a gift certificate for €7.50 worth of goodies from a local bakery. He was well pleased.

One of the highlights of the Christmas market was finally getting to see the inside of the newly-restored Michaeliskirche, the beautiful Lutheran church in the centre of town. Thanks to many donations from the community, experts had been working on the church's interior since September, painting, polishing and repairing until the lovely sculptures and ornaments had their old glow back. It's an impressive sight.

Yesterday also marked the first Advent Sunday in Germany. That means that the holiday season is officially in full swing. I'm a little behind this year - haven't even made my Advent wreath yet, but I'm not worrying. Christmas is going to happen just the same.

Advent, Advent, ein Lichtlein brennt.
Erst eins, dann zwei, dann drei, dann vier,
dann steht das Christkind vor der Tür

(Advent, Advent, a little light is burning.
First one, then two, then three, then four,
Then the Christ Child stands outside the door.)

Friday, December 01, 2006

I've got a cookie gun and I'm not afraid to use it!

Huh? Is it the beginning of December already? Time to upgrade to holiday baking mode! But not all at once, please. We want to move slowly for the first couple of days to avoid sugar shock.

That's where my secret weapon comes in. It likes to hide behind all my other myriad kitchen gadgets and only comes out to play in December.

what the heck is that thing?

It's a cookie gun, also known as a cookie press or a cookie shooter, and it practically makes your cookies for you. You do, however, still have employ a teensy bit of elbow grease and mix up the dough. A recipe that works well in my cookie press is Whipped Shortbread. I usually make half a batch at a time because I find it easier to work with. And because if I made a whole batch I would eat a whole batch. Not a good thing.

Make sure to whip the dough thoroughly to ensure melt-in-your-mouth cookies.

Who wants to lick the beaters?

Once the dough is made, all you do is fill it into the cookie gun and squeeze the trigger. A cold, ungreased baking sheet is the key to making the cookies release from the press and stick where they're supposed to. Something to do with chemistry. Or maybe physics. Oh, I don't know. Does it really matter?

I chose a flower shape this time, but the machine also comes with a bunch of other designs on the little discs you insert into the front where the dough gets pressed through.

A small piece of candied cherry (it's never too early in the season to start ingesting preservatives and artificial colouring!) in the middle adds the finishing touch and these babies are ready to go into the oven.

These cookies need to be watched carefully because they can go from pale golden to charred in seconds. I baked mine for a little less time than called for in the recipe and they came out lookin' like this:

armed (with tons of butter and sugar) and dangerous (but only to your waistline)

UPDATE: OK, guys, bifocals ON. There's already a link to the recipe in my post but I'll make it easy for you. Click -->HERE<--

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