Wednesday, December 31, 2008

auld lang syne

Less than two hours to go until midnight. Yawn. I hope I make it.

Last year we had friends over, which was fun. This year we're celebrating en famille. Watching Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii (1973) has been the highlight so far.

We like to do a fondue on New Year's Eve. It's easy to put together and there's something for everyone. Several years ago we switched from using oil in the fondue pot to cooking various bits of meat and fish in broth. Works just as well and is much less fatty and messy. I always start with a well seasoned homemade vegetable broth featuring onions, leeks, carrots, celery root, parsley, thyme, a bay leaf and a peppercorn or two.

Of course the chocolate mousse we're having for dessert will cancel out all that vitamin-y goodness, but who cares, it's New Year's Eve, right?

As anyone living in Germany knows, Germany are crazy for fireworks and my big German and two smaller ones are no exception. I swear this is only a third of the booty and they're just itching to set everything off come 12 a.m.

I'm a bit worried about them ripping into this package of scary looking firecrackers. If you wake up tomorrow in an alternate universe, you'll know who to blame.

I stay inside during all the mayhem, happy with quieter things like wimpy party crackers (which for some reason appear here at New Year's instead of at Christmas) and Bleigießen - a form of fortune telling where little lead figures are melted in a spoon over a candle and then plunged into cold water to see what symbols come up.

And oh, just as an aside - no matter what I do, I WILL NOT watch Dinner for One this year, and you can't make me. No you can't.

There'll be a "my 2008 in a nutshell" coming up tomorrow but for now I'll wish you all a

Happy New Year and all the best for 2009!

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I don't know how much longer I can stand it

bubble rubble bath, anyone?

This is slow, slow going. Little bits and pieces after work and on weekends with a precious few days off thrown in over the holidays.

Dig the ghastly 1960's tile while you can 'cause it's history, man.

Next scheduled bath: Easter


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Just got a call from Vancouver and THIS is what the weather's doing way over there. Amazing.

We had a lovely turkey dinner this evening with trifle and gingerbread men for dessert. We're all Now it's off to bed (guess who caught yet another cold and will by lying low for the next few days).

Merry Christmas from our house to yours!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

up to my elbows in icing sugar

They say the best way for a woman to attract a man is to dab a little vanilla behind her ears. I don't know if that's true, I just know that the men in my house can't stay away from the Christmas cookies this year.

I decided to go all German-y this Christmas and bake a few traditional cookies with my own twist.

First off are the vanilla cresents I've been making for the past 22 years.

These are called Vanillekipferl in German and actually originated in Austria. You can be as creative as you like with these. I used ground blanched almonds for the middle row and rolled them in vanilla sugar while they were still warm. The two outer rows were made with ground almonds with the skins left on. I think the brown speckles go nicely with the dark chocolate decorations.

Shaping these takes a bit of time, but you can get them done pretty quickly if you do them assembly line style and use a level measuring tablespoon as your guide. Here, I dug the recipe out of my archives so you don't have to.

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

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.

Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C) Using level measuring tablespoon for each cookie, roll dough between palms to about 3 in. long and bend to form a horseshoe shape. Place on greased cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes. When cool roll in icing sugar and decorate with melted chocolate if desired. Makes about 3 dozen.

Next up we have Lebkuchen or Honigkuchen, a kind of soft gingerbread cookie. I made these on a baking sheet and cut them into squares. Half of them were iced with a lemon juice and icing sugar glaze and the other half with dark chocolate sprinkled with chopped pistachios. Very festive, no?

Most recipes of this type call for Hirschhornsalz (Ammonium Carbonate or Baker's ammonia) and Pottasche (Pottassium Carbonate), leavening agents which were used before baking powder was widely available. When using either of these chemicals, the dough needs to be mixed very carefully and left to rest for a couple of days before baking. The resulting cookies have a unique flavour and a long shelf life.

The Lebkuchen-Gewürz you see above is a special mixture of spices usually sold only at this time of year. This one is made up of cinnamon, orange rind, ground coriander, lemon rind, star anis, fennel, mace, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom. Whew! I found it to be an aquired taste and next time I'd probably tweak it a bit or make up my own mix.

Although I've used Hirshhornsalz and Pottasche in recipes before and bought both again this year, I happened upon a much faster and easier recipe calling for baking powder and decided to try that instead. The cookies came out fine are are improving with age as the flavours blend. The recipe is here in German.

Spitzbuben are cutout cookies with a jam centre, usually red currant or apricot. Any firm sugar cookie recipe will do for these. I made stars and angels this year.

And finally we have some no-bake craftiness that anyone can do. Anyone with the right cookies, that is.

These little 'candles' are immensely popular at grade school Christmas craft afternoons. All you need is a star shaped chocolate covered gingerbread cookie, a rolled wafer cookie and a blanched almond. Icing sugar and water 'glue' holds everything together and there you go - edible art!

We're having a very laid back Christmas this year. I may do some more baking, I may not. Stay tuned...

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Monday, December 08, 2008

the wonders of chocolate

We´ll, the old guy came through with the chocolate and I'm feeling sooo much better.

Here's our dear St. Nick courtesy of Boy12 and lots of scotch tape

This is part of a classic poem for St. Nicholas Day, or Nikolaustag as it's called in German. It's recited by Knecht Ruprecht who carries the sack of gifts for Nicholas.

Von draußen, vom Walde komm ich her;
ich muß euch sagen, es weihnachtet sehr!
Überall auf den Tannenspitzen
sah ich goldene Lichtlein blitzen,
und droben aus dem Himmelstor
sah mit großen Augen das Christkind hervor

(I come from out there, from the forest
And I have to tell you
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
I saw tiny golden lights
Twinkling on the tips of the fir branches,
And over at heaven's gate
the Christ Child peered out with huge eyes.)

The rest is here, if you'd like to read it.

We dutifully hung up our stockings, quite an eclectic mix of colours and patterns. We don't do matchy-matchy around here.

Mine is on the top left. My mother made it for me when I was about 13, I think. I whipped up Mr. M's during our first Christmas holiday in Canada pre kids. Boy15's on the lower right was also made by my mother when he was a baby and I created Boy12's when he was just a little guy with a thing for trucks.

The kids got lots of goodies and a present or two and Mr. M will be enjoying his favourites, chocolates filled with Eierlikör.

As far as we're concerned, he can have those all to himself! Scary stuff.

Check out my loot

Milk chocolate with raspberries and coconut, bittersweet with ginger and bittersweet with slivered almonds and sea salt. I'm actually a plain chocolate girl at heart, but I'll try anything once and I'm sure these won't last long.

The boys also picked out a Christmasy plant to brighten the place up

And what's Nikolaustag without cookies?

We left a few out for Nikolaus on Friday night in case he got hungry on his journey and the rest were devoured the next day.

This isn't my usual sugar cookie recipe, but I love how it tastes like eggnog when there is no eggnog to be had (don't want to risk making my own with the dodgy German eggs!). The combination of rum extract, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla is lovely and I suppose you could use any cookie recipe you wanted and substitute those flavourings.

Eggnog Sugar Cookies (Canadian Living Magazine, December 1999)

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp rum extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp each baking powder and ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt

1. Beat butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, vanilla and rum extract. Combine flour, baking powder, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt; with wooden spoon stir into butter mixture in 3 additions. Divide dough in half; flatten each half lightly. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour or until chilled (Make ahead: refrigerate for up to one day.)

2. On lightly floured surface, roll out each half of dough to 1/4 in. (5mm thickness. Cut into desired shapes. Place 1 inch apart on parchment paper-lined or greased rimless baking sheets.

3. Bake in top and bottom thirds of 375°F (190°C) oven rotating and switching pans half way through, for about 10 minutes or until golden on bottom and edges. Let cool for one minute on sheet. Transfer to racks and let cool completely. Decorate with icing as desired. Makes about 30 cookies.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

putting the vent in Advent

The Christmas season is upon us. Last Sunday we lit the first candle on our Advent wreath.

and I bought a new Lichterbogen for the living room.

That was the fun part. Here's the vent.

I'm good and sick. A week and a half ago I got struck down by the worst head cold I've had in years. I think I caught it from Boy12. He sailed right through his whereas I'm still coughing up a storm. Bleh. Just a little sinusitis and bronchitis, no strep throat or pneumonia this time. That would have been lovely. Mr. M has banished himself for the duration.

The cold is also being aggravated by the tons of dust pouring out of the upstairs bathroom while my better half is hard at work chiseling the old tiles off the walls. There's no getting away from that stuff and guess who has a dust allergy? It makes me itch all over, it makes me cough, it makes me break out into a rash. Can you imagine how cranky I am right now?

And also? I think I have plantar fasciitis in both feet. They've been killing me lately but it comes and goes and seems to switch sides a lot. Some days it's fine, some days it's awfully painful to walk. The internet told me to do calf stretches and that seems to help quite a bit. I'm keeping an eye on it.

So if you see someone hobbling along sniffling into a kleenex and hacking up a lung, that will be me. Waaah waaah waaah.

Oh well, Saturday is St. Nicholas Day. Hopefully all the chocolate I'll find in my stocking will make me feel better.

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