Thursday, November 24, 2016

2016 Christmas Cookie Bake is ON...

So, we did our Thanksgiving celebration last Sunday. Hubby and I did the turkey + turkey breast, the cranberry relish and the brandied sweet potatoes. Kid #2 did the mashed potatoes.

The rest of dinner was parceled out among the family. It was great. Food was good; election discussion was minimal. I christened our youngest family member "Tigger" after explaining about Tigger and his bouncy-bouncy-bouncing. He loves it. 

The nephews decided that THEY were taking over Christmas dinner. This could get interesting...At first, they wanted to do a Mexican theme. I have no problems with that - I love Mexican food. But - there are a number of folks with dietary this or that, so we're doing a "northern" Southern thing. I say we, because my brother begged me to do my pulled pork. Oh well. I knew I wouldn't get a holiday free from cooking. And I'm ok with that. 

So, that being said, we took advantage of having Thanksgiving Day free. I have one yoga class to teach Friday morning, another one Saturday morning, and then another one Sunday night. But otherwise, aside from meeting friends for lunch on Saturday, I'm polishing off the 2016 Christmas Baking, if I can. 

Chocolate No-Bake Cookies

This is what has happened since last night:

Chocolate No-Bake Cookies
Spiced Shortbread Stars
Tollhouse cookies
Fruitcake cookies
Honey cookies (a dairy-free Jewish recipe, actually)

Don't forget, we have potica and the "walnut tarts" I made up out of thin air, already in the freezer... My cookie lists are fluid - depending on what we find on the internet, what I pull out of the old recipe boxes and how much time we have, the initial list can change at least once during a baking session -- often at least twice. 
Walnut tarts

I have some pics - but I was so busy baking and Hubby was so busy trying to finish off the deck that I didn't get as many as I wanted to. 

Spiced Shortbread Stars
So, the changes to the list? Instead of the "Santa's Whiskers," I added the Fruitcake Cookies. I also added the Honey Cookies - I've been looking for alternatives to the richer, more chocolate-laden stuff. We have so much heavy bakery, and in many respects, I like a little sass to my cookies. So the shortbread, which was supposed to be lemon, turned out to be pumpkin-pie-spiced stars. I did those while talking to Kid #1...we had a lovely conversation, and I do miss him, in spite of my blatherings about how you raise your kids to fly on their own... And there may still be a lemon cookie or lemon bar on the list at some point - I'm not done yet!

Fruitcake Cookies
I baked from about 9 a.m. till just about 3:30 p.m. Straight through. Batch after batch. Hubby was in and out with the deck. It's freezing cold here - so much so that one of the glass birdbaths broke with the temperature change. The weather turned really quickly - tomorrow, they're calling for rain-mixed-with-snow! 

I had a decision to make: I was going to make my sister's favorite, M & M Cookies. But I also wanted something straight-up traditional and simple. For example, the Fruitcake Cookies are someone's granny's recipe - and the recipe actually called for seven pounds - SEVEN pounds of mixed nuts! I tossed in a bag of walnut halves and about 2/3 c. of sunflower seeds, and called it even. I've got raisins and cranberries on the list for tomorrow, if we go anywhere. I may venture out while I'm on the road for yoga, but otherwise, I'm back to the baking tomorrow as well (which is when my sister's cookies will get done). 

My initial dilemma was which "plain" cookie was to be baked this time? I guess that it may seem strange that Tollhouse Cookies are "plain" - but they really are, compared to some of the others I make. And I didn't add anything to this. I added no nuts. I added no spices (and I hate to not add spices...). I added no extra chocolate. 

Big or little?
I have learned, over the years, that there's a trick to reasonably "fluffy" Tollhouse cookies. When I first started using that recipe, they came out flat and hard. The chocolate morsels were like bumps on a hunk of dough which looked like it had been run through my pasta maker a couple of times... My friend Jess can make a stunningly beautiful, fluffy, soft Tollhouse, and I can't quite replicate his recipe. But - this time, I don't soften the butter in the initial creaming of the butter and sugar. And then I kept the dough cold in between the batches. They're not terribly big or fluffy, but they're not looking like manhole covers either! 

Then my next dilemma was in regard to the size of the Tollhouse cookies. Which size of scoop for the cookies? Smaller or larger? I did one of each, baked the batch and then decide, what the heck -- it's CHRISTMAS - so I did the larger one. And they came out just fine - I have slightly more than 5 dozen. I love the cookie scoops. I rebelled against them for a long time, but I find them much more efficient, and the results are more uniform. As you can see, for the Fruitcake cookies, I used the larger one, too. 

The No-Bakes get shaped with 2 spoons. That's a rule. And it's not my recipe. It's from my revered MIL and I'm not messing with it. Just like I don't want anyone messing with my granny's recipes, I will not futz with a tradition from anyone's family - or more particularly, anyone's family that I know personally! I have been known to take a random "my granny's recipe" that I find online and mess with it; I can't help it. But if someone hands me a recipe or an old family cookbook, I will - to the best of my abilities - keep with the tradition established in the recipe. It's my way of honoring the bakers who came before me - carrying on their tradition and passing it on to my kids so that they can do the same. 

The Latest List... 
My own tradition of the Christmas Baking has been something I've been doing since around 1979 or so - and at first, it was to give things for Christmas because I couldn't afford to buy them. But later, after I found that I really enjoyed the cookie-baking and researching for recipes, it came to be something I enjoyed. I'm kind of diverse when it comes to cookies. I'll often stick with the same basic list, but I'll look at new recipes or take something and fiddle with it. When the kids were at home, they had veto power over any recipe I tried...and there were a few that were definitely "don't bother with THAT again" -- in spite of the fact that they were "contest winning" cookies. The kids have very specific requirements for cookies, and they made their desires known. It was a blast to collaborate, actually. 

The Santa's Whiskers was a good example. I did those for 2 years running, and this year, I looked for something else to do (mainly because I couldn't find the recipe...) and came across that Fruitcake Cookie thing. 

Honey Cookies
And then I found the Honey Cookies. For those folks that are dairy free, this one is from a Jewish blogger. I recall that the concept of "kosher" has something to do with how you can't mix certain foods. So there's no butter in there; it uses vegetable oil instead. (If anyone knows specifically, please comment!)

I've looked for a decent honey cookie recipe for a while. Most of them don't have "enough" honey in them. You can't taste it. It's just a sweet, bland cookie. 

Well.... Not this one. Seriously delicious, and I could make a huge dent in the batch. It uses Turbinado sugar for the sparkles. I ran out (that rarely happens in my house, truthfully), and so I used regular dusting sugar in yellow so as to not obscure the beautiful deep gold of the cookies. I don't like the regular dusting sugar - not enough oomph, and besides, Turbinado has that slightly smokey taste to it - molasses, you know? It gives the cookies a nice contrast with the strong honey flavor. Turbinado sugar is also on my list, in case you're wondering. This recipe is amazing; only takes about 10 minutes to put the whole thing together, you roll the balls of dough, roll in sugar and bake for exactly 10 minutes. Truly, bang-on specific to the recipe and no fiddling needed. You can taste the honey, a nice clean burst of flavor, and it's not cloyingly sweet - which you might think it would be because of the extra sugar on top. I will try these with other honeys - like a robust buckwheat honey or something with more floral overtones in it. This recipe is a keeper. 


The baby jacket is moving along. Needless to say, nothing much got done today till I was done baking! I've cast off the final sleeve and am working on the last bit of the front. Sixty rows in total, but there are only about 25 stitches in a row, so once I get cranking (and there's a Mystery Marathon on PBS)...I'm golden. I'm actually on Row 25 now, so maybe this weekend, I'll be seaming and sewing on the buttons. Lots of yarn left, so booties and a hat are coming into play now as well. 

No picture yet. But maybe next time, and it'll be the finished thing. Right now, it's a pile of orange stuff. 

Prayer Shawl
Oh, oh.... I did a teeny, tiny "cheat." At church, we have a lovely Prayer Shawl Ministry. And when I walked in, I found a small triangular shawl made out of just about the exact shade of pumpkin, just sitting on the stack!! It'll be just perfect for Little Mama if she needs it for nursing or even just because it'll match our Little Pumpkin ensemble. I'm going to have the whole shebang blessed before I wrap it up. I think she'll like that.

I'm also alternating baby knitting with the Shape-It Scarf, so that I have it available to wear sooner rather than later. But those wings...Boy, are they taking a long time! Because it's lace-weight on needles about 5 times larger than they should be, and because alpaca can be slippery, I can't just whip along without checking in on my knitting every so often. 

I'm kind of itching to start something new, but I want to plow through this so that it's done and I'm not in a time-crunch at the last moment. Especially since babies can be totally unreliable. 

The Deck...

Ta-da!! Here it is, 90% completed. I say 90% because of a few things. As you can see, the skirting on the bottom isn't quite done yet (it needs to be behind the stairs as well). And in the spring, those pavers alongside the deck will be completed and graveled in, so that we can bring the trash cans around to the front for pick-up. We'll also have some sort of barrier to keep the pea gravel contained. 

And then there's the city... When I went outside to look at it with Hubby, I noticed a pink sticker. Pink isn't the color you want... Seems the deck hasn't passed its last inspection. 

See those rails there, closer to the right? Well, Hubby told the inspector that he'd be installing "cappers" - those fatter boards on top of the balusters, so that when you climb the steps, that's where your hand naturally goes to hold onto the rail. And the inspector agreed. He even complimented Hubby on the solid construction and the design of the structure. 

Well, apparently, we need a "grab-able handrail" on the inside of those railings. Hubby is annoyed. We have to special-order the one rail he will concede to put up. I'm still not certain why we have to have it. The sidewalk has sunk a bit, but that will be fixed when the weather is warmer - the guy who built our house wasn't exactly persnickety in his construction methods. Let's just say that "rebar" was never on the parts list when he poured the sidewalks... 

It's a great deck; it'll be lovely to have the added space (the steps are wider and easier to maneuver with three dogs), and it's nice to have something pretty to look at. I think he's tossing around the idea of doing this same railing on our porch, which will need some TLC soon. 

Random Picture...

Hearts are everywhere. This morning, in the Chicago Tribune, the front-page story was about a couple, Roger and Joe, who finalized the adoption of a brother and sister who've been in their custody since babyhood. 

Heart on a Bread Tab
We need these stories. We need them to balance out the ugly, hateful stuff we see. We're in a very weird stage of our development as a nation. Kid #1 and I had that discussion while I was kneading the shortbread. 

My concern is that we're all in our little "social media bubble." We hang around with friends. We listen to opinions that reinforce our own. There may be people who read this blog who, when I mention the couple, Roger and Joe, they might be offended. 

Am I always comfortable? No, not really. Am I aware that the world is sorely in need of peace and love? Yes. Am I aware that we're a speck in the eye of God, and that we're in a place right now where hate seems to have a slight upper hand? Sadly, yes. Families like Roger and Joe? They've adopted 2 kids. They've put their money where their mouths are, so to speak. Walked the walk. Talked the talk. Whatever cliche you want to use, go for it. They've brought these two kids into their family and into their hearts, and will raise them to be wonderful adults - and maybe I'm sugar-coating it, and there are elements of butterflies and moonbeams, but I always smile when I see an adoption; because I know that for so many other kids, adoption isn't an option. These guys are giving these kids a family. 

These faux-Christians always in the news who "say" that they're pro-life? Don't see them adopting - and if they're protesting abortion clinics and harassing women who go to Planned Parenthood, I'm thinking they're not fostering kids or seeking other solutions. They have one issue in mind and that's the end of their discussion. I'm quoting Sr. Joan Chittester, a Benedictine nun for whom I have much respect:

“I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

These words have generated a lot of controversy. But in their essence, they are saying something: We need, as humans, to look beyond a one-issue platform. We need to see that, if we don't do those things which we are commanded to do regardless of the faith we espouse -- and really, The Golden Rule is central to most of the mainstream faiths -- if we don't feed the hungry, if we don't make sure that the children are truly educated (as in - to THINK, not just pass tests), and if we don't make sure that people are adequately housed? 

How can we say we believe in anything remotely "Christian" if we narrow our focus to one issue? How can we abide by that most basic tenet: "Treat each person the same as you wish to be treated" - if we don't look at the essential human-ness of that person?

Look for the hearts. They're there. If you have eyes to see. 

No comments: