19 December, 2008

Christmas Morning

Certain traditions cannot be shelved in the name of vacation. Sadly, we didn't chop down a tree this year. Hands down, tree chopping is my favourite part of the year. Coming in a very close second is the Christmas Tree Bun.

Originating in Hubby's family (thanks Susan) the Christmas Tree Bun is a sweet bread dough, formed into this cute tree. Drizzled with icing and rainbow sprinkles it serves as a carrier for the all important honey butter. Mimosas, sausage, and bacon on the side.

On the now rare occasions where the A clan gets together for Christmas morning, er... noon hour, we have to sit through the gift-opening to get to the Tree Bun. After the kids have torn through their gifts and we adults opened our present from Susan we have to wait for Susan to finish opening all the presents her friends and family send her. We aren't very patient with her, to be honest, as she stops her opening to chat and watch the kids. Yes, they are cute and the excitement is contagious, but we need her to finish in order to eat. And eat is what we want to do.

When Hubby and I spent our first Christmas alone in the new city - five years ago! - the only thing he asked for was Christmas Tree Bun. We sat in our dining room, devouring bread with honey butter and downing mimosas. I think people got a few tipsy phone calls that morning. Ah, the days before kids. The tradition carries on, minus all the champagne.

I would share the recipe, but I don't think I am allowed - until my daughters are married off and then, only to their partners. But pick your favourite soft or sweet bread recipe and form it into buns to rise. Bake together and enjoy.

This year we are off to Mexico for two weeks, with my family. While I can make no promises regarding rainbow sprinkles I do intend to bake on Christmas morning, 30 degree C weather be damned!

Have a Merry Christmas to all who celebrate. We'll see you in a few weeks.

16 December, 2008

Christmas Baking Done and Delivered

We made a few things in our house the past few weeks. Nothing fancy, but some homemade treats to share with neighbours, the daycare, and some friends. I wanted to make more, but The Monster was sick and baking wasn't high on our list of things to do.

That still left us with some very yummy results. There was my peppermint bark, cherry vanilla biscotti, sugar cookies dusted with vanilla sugar, and my all-time favourite cookie for Christmas - chewy chocolate gingerbread. I think The Monster agrees with me already.
There are few recipes in all the magazines I read that capture me as much as this one. Good ol' Martha. I've been making them for 10 years now. And it's no wonder that she chose them for the cover of the Cookies cookbook, where the recipe is repeated. I've done nothing to change the recipe, so I won't repeat it here (check out the link above). But I encourage you to go out and make them - right now.

We are currently a nut free household, so my childhood faves are still off-limits. Rugelah and something called Christmas Jewels were the treats that graced our table for dessert on Christmas Eve, along with shortbread and so much more. I'm hoping that our nut allergy potential is proven wrong in time and I can introduce these to the girls.
For now, I am phenomenally happy with the sugar cookies. I tried Martha's recipe and this year it just did not work. Maybe I was overtired when I mixed them up and missed some flour. I'm not sure, but I ended up throwing out the entire batch, what I baked and the rest of the dough after I gave up - an entire pound of butter all said and done. I remembered Julie posting about them after her adventures in Jasper and tried her recipe. Oh. My. Gawd. Fantastic. Nearly as good as these ones, but homemade.
I changed Julie's recipe only in delivery. Rather than roll them into balls and press them down I pressed the dough into a rectangle, sprinkled them with vanilla sugar, and cut out squares. The dough is quite soft, so I thought this would work better. Besides, I already had round cookies and wanted variety.
It was back to Julie for the biscotti as well. I used her basic recipe and added my own flavourings. There were dried cherries in the house so I chopped them up, used vanilla sugar, and doubled the vanilla extract. It would have been preferable to use a vanilla bean, but there were none in the house. As a final touch, I drizzled some melted bittersweet chocolate on top.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to deliver our treats to daycare as The Monster was in no condition for play and company. That means another round of baking in the New Year. I'm sure the girls there will be in no mood for baking in January, but I have a lot of butter and flour to get through. Truth be told, we never need a reason to bake in this house. But I am sure glad we have people we can share with.

12 December, 2008

It Must be the Ukrainian in Her

There are a million lists that circulate through inboxes that start with, "You know you are X when..." I must admit that I can identify with the ones that refer to children of the 80s, Ukrainians, and quilters. But nowhere on the list about Ukrainians does it mention wanting pickles for breakfast.

Mornings in our house are lazy affairs, what with me on mat leave and Hubby self-employed and not a morning person. The Monster wakes up, steals a few snuggles, aggravates her sister and sits down with a handful of raisins and Zaboomafoo while I nurse Little Miss Sunshine. Once the little one is fed I make myself some tea and try to convince the Monster to eat some breakfast. Like her Dad, she isn't much for eating early in the day.

Well, one day last week she made the particularly unique request for pickles for breakfast.

We had a jar sitting on the counter, waiting for Hubby to open. When my parents make pickles and my dad does up the jars with his beefy construction worker hands a special gravity is enabled, one that holds the lids on with particular force. Of course, old lids don't help and being the frugal Ukrainian that he is, he won't replace the jars. Opening his jars is a two person, hot water, wooden spoon, and damp cloth job.

So that morning Hubby and I tried struggled. We rinsed, we banged, we grunted, we braced ourselves and turned. Nothing was working. Hubby finally felt some movement so tried that extra bit harder. I could hear the crack in the other room. The lid came off - with the top of the jar. Definitely time to replace the jars, Dad.

After the Monster got over the shock of the noise and the short-lived drama of thinking she wasn't going to get any pickles, we opened one of the jars that my mom and I made while our playhouse was being built. The Monster got her breakfast of three little pickles, and a bit of cheese too. Off to daycare a happy little Ukrainian. Well, half Ukrainian with garlic breath.

09 December, 2008

The Games We Play And the Songs We Sing

For all you with thirty-something suburban white rap fans as partners, this one is for you. Hubby grew up on De La Soul, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, Eric B. and Rakim, and Methodman. For all these folks there is actually a kids show for you. We are addicted to it in this house. Please welcome DJ Lance and Yo Gabba Gabba into your house.

Sure, it is pretty much as irritating as any other show geared towards toddlers, at least when you are forced to watch it as much as they are allowed to watch TV or DVDs. It is not nearly as painful, however, as purple dinosaurs or creepy costumed grown men with fake hair. But it is quite catchy and oddly entertaining, what with the beatboxing with Biz Markie, celebrity guests who dance, and funky monsters with weird names like Fufa.

Hubby and I were never ones for pretending that airplanes or choo-choos were making their way to the baby's mouth when she ate. Open up or don't eat. You don't want to eat? No worries. But as The Monster asserts some independence and, at the same time, is getting a bit lazy about eating, we've glommed on to one thing to help us through dinner.

Normal dinnertime in our house generally involves Hubby and I trying to have a conversation over The Monster's singing, or rousing bouts of all of us roaring like lions or comparing owies and eye colour. The Monster hasn't been eating much lately so we resorted to a bit of a guilt trip a la Yo Gabba Gabba. Did you know there is a party in your tummy? And the beans want to be there, so do the pierogies, and the roast beef. Seriously, all we have to do is remind her about the party and she eats more. And when she is done she repeats all the attendees to her party. Heck, days later she is still telling us who came.

She had a bit of a gastro problem the past few days and yesterday she asked why she was sick. I told her it was because a funny bug went to the party in her tummy and made her sick. A perfect explanation. And then she asked to peel a banana and send it to the party, complete with the action of lifting-up her shirt and pointing at her belly button. Let the Party begin.

Check out the official version of the song here.

05 December, 2008

If You Can't Buy Shoes...

Stay-at-home moms don't get Christmas parties. Especially stay-at-home moms married to a self-employed men. There is no reason to go shopping and buy a fancy dress and wickedly sexy shoes. There is no babysitter to find and pay a small ransom. There is no mediocre prime rib dinner and boring dance. There are no door prizes, cheezy centerpieces, and someone embarrassing themselves.

Okay, it isn't all bad. But a night off is nice. My girlfriend Tanya to the rescue (she is so good at that)! She invited a few of us over for treats, gossip, and Grey's Anatomy. We all brought more treats too. That way none of us was really cooking and all our little girls stayed home with Daddy (or were already asleep).

We had a fantastic time. What a treat to talk without interferences from little girls demanding our attention. We ate way too much sugar and talked about everything from Barbies, pajamas, colo-rectal surgery, vacations, bilingualism, waxing, and politics. There was no need to watch what we said, and no reason to watch how much sugar we ate. Oranges gave us some semblance of feeling healthy.

My contribution to the night was peppermint bark. Williams and Sonoma be damned, make it yourself. I am by no means a chocolate making expert, so anyone can do this. If you know how to temper chocolate (to make it solid again at room temperature and a little but shiny), great. I don't, but I try. Either way, it is ridiculously easy and highly addictive. Just keep it in the fridge and no one will know the difference.

Peppermint Bark

4 candy canes
16 ounces semi-sweet or dark chocolate
10 drops peppermint extract
16 ounces white chocolate

1. Prepare a rimmed cookie sheet by lining it with parchment paper.
2. With candy canes still their wrapper bash them lightly with the handle of a knife or a wooden spoon. Don't bash too hard or you will have candy cane dust everywhere. Unwrap them over a bowl.
3. Chop semi/dark chocolate coarsely. In a bowl set over a pot of simmering water melt chocolate slowly. Pull off the heat just before it is fully melted. Stir to finish melting. Let sit, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes, until it is still warm, but not hot. Stir in the peppermint extract. Pour and spread around prepared pan.
4. While the semi/dark chocolate is resting, coarsely chop the white chocolate and melt in a bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Pull off the heat just before it is fully melted. Stir to finish melting. Let sit, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes, until it is still warm, but not hot. Pour directly over the semi/dark chocolate.
5. Sprinkle the candy cane bits over it all.
6. Cool in the fridge until hard. Break into bite size pieces.

01 December, 2008


It was a sad day in the kitchen a few weeks ago. With an accidental bump of my wrist while turning on the oven I also turned on a burner on the stove. To maximum. Dinner was cooking away in the oven, and I may have had rice on another burner. We could smell the burning, we opened a window (one day we'll have a hood fan), and we checked inside the oven for crusty bits maybe burning on the dirty floor. Did we drop something on a burner? After about twenty minutes I finally noticed the smoke rising up from the cookie sheet.

Dammit. Dammit. Dammit.

This was the cookie sheet and Silpat Hubby bought me to avoid buying me a new oven. I was sick of burning cookies on my old cookie sheets and I blamed the oven. So he bought me these instead. I have to say that it really helped. I still wish I had a new oven, but I settled for buying two new cookie sheets and Silpats last week. Just in time for christmas baking.