Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Good Sally Ann

Christmas is coming,
The geese are getting fat,
Please put a penny
In the old man's hat.
If you haven't got a penny,
A ha'penny will do,
If you haven't got a ha'penny,
Then God bless you.
Lyrics by Edith Nesbit Bland

Among the most moving experiences I have during the Christmas season is dropping coins into the Salvation Army's kettles. It feels so good that I put $2 in every kettle that I see. A favourite memory is a 'Sally Ann' brass quartet playing carols outside a Paris department store as the snow fell on a cold winter evening. I am blessed.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Frosty Morn

Like fragile ice, anger passes away in time.

We woke up to a heavy frost. The air was clear and crisp as I took my camera out to the backyard. Soon the temperatures warmed and the ice crystals melted into trickles.

It's looking a lot like December - I guess because these icy red berries remind me of holly. Soon I'll be able hear the ethereal voices from Clare College sing "The Holly and the Ivy". Must wait until December 1st to sing carols; to trim the tree; to watch the Grinch and Frosty. Waiting. Waiting.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wrapped Up (Pt 2)

We began another day of good wine and good food with the Great One's unoaked Chardonnay and Harvest Squash Bisque. This tasty wine sells for under $20 and all proceeds go to the Wayne Gretzky Foundation to help kids. Impressive.

Our travels along the rural roads of Twenty Valley took us to the Tawse Winery, which has earned several gold medals and was named 2010 Winery of the Year. I certainly gave a thumbs-up rating to their "Sketches of Niagara Riesling" and the Honey Roasted Pear and Mustard 'Strudel' with soft herb creme and black walnut and rosemary praline from deLuca's Wine Country Restaurant. After this bite, I'm planning a trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake just to enjoy more scrumptious mouthfuls and to buy deLuca's cookbook. Stay tuned for yet another culinery adventure.

We enjoyed the Pinot Meunier at the beautiful Vineland Estates Winery, but what really caught our fancy was Bob at the cheese bar who offered "I-can't-sell-you" Citrus Fetish cheese and some exquisite terrine. He did let me buy two wonderful cheddars from P.E.I., one made from cow's milk and the other from goat's milk. I see there is an open house event at the winery next weekend, offering all kinds of good things, so I'll have an excuse to visit Bob again. ;-)

The most intimate experience of the Wrapped Up event had us tasting Sue-Ann's "Robert's Block Riesling" in her century-old dining room. She is the fifth generation to live in the house and produce wine. This wine commemorates her grandfather. For our visit, she polished the silver and made an incredible Chicken Marsala tasty bite with Reisling instead of Marsala.

We all agreed that Flat Rock Cellars' "Twisted" would be perfect for a summer's day. It is a combination of Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Chardonnay. I thought their 'get dirty' event would intrigue those who enjoy the outdoors (and hard work).

Over two days we sampled 17 wines in a small section of the Niagara peninsula. We were impressed with all but one. That's a pretty good score, so top marks to the Twenty Valley wineries!

And we scored a box of truffles for our dedication to new discoveries. So now, in the comfort of our own homes, we can sample the area's wines covered with chocolate. Does it get any better than this?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Wrapped Up (Pt 1)

This weekend's "Wrapped up in the Valley" event gave my brother, sister-in-law, and I an opportunity to explore several wineries in Niagara's Twenty Valley. The blustery weather only enhanced the scenery of the vineyards and the white-capped lake beyond.

We had a chance to enjoy some very good wine which was paired with some very good food. The chef from a local restaurant, August, served a delicious smoked duck sausage on a bun with carmelized onion and citrus marmalade with Malivoire's tasty red.

Chef Ross Midgley from the Kitchen House restaurant paired lamb terrine with blueberry mint aioli with this Syrah. We all wished we could sit beside a fire, quaff the Syrah, and feast on these crostini all afternoon.

The event provides a little spark for holiday entertaining ideas. I'm thinking that these wild mushroom tarts will be a hit at the upcoming family gathering.

The good people at Fielding Estate Winery provided the recipe for this mini Ginger Pumpkin Cheesecake. We each came home with a bottle of their Gewurztraminer and plans to recreate this mouth-watering combination. When I find the piece of paper, I'll be sure to share the recipe!

Update: I found the recipe in my coat pocket. It's so easy, and sooooo good.

Mini Pumpkin Ginger Cheesecake
Yield: 24 mini or 60 bite-size delectables

24 ginger snaps
24 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup pumpkin puree
3 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
maple syrup
24 baking cups or 60 miniature cups

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar and vanilla. Mix until smooth. Next, add pumpkin puree, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Mix thoroughly.
3. Line muffin tin with individual baking cups and drop one ginger snap at the bottom of each cup. Or, if making bite-sized delectables, crush ginger snaps and sprinkle cookies crumbs in the bottom of tiny baking cups.
4. Pour filling into each mold to the top. Bake for 15-18 minutes (for muffin-size) or until toothpick comes out clean when inserted into cheesecake. Cool to room temperature and lightly brush the tops with maple syrup. Refrigerate overnight. Serve with candied walnuts and whipped topping.

Source: Fielding Estate Winery

Friday, November 26, 2010

Jours Frais

This morning's temperatures dropped below freezing and the first snow flurries flew. Dad and I ventured out for a heartening service at the long-term care home where he and mom volunteer. On the way, I grabbed a warming drink from the homeland's ubiquitous purveyor of caffeine. With a little editing, "Always Fresh" becomes "Cool Days". Very apropos. It feels like it won't be long before we'll be lacing up the skates. I wonder if I can still stand up in them? hmmmm.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

O Tannenbaum!

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Much pleasure dost thou bring me!
For ev’ry year the Christmas tree,
Brings to us all both joy and glee.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Much pleasure dost thou bring me!

The family Christmas tree captures the enchantment of Christmas and familial love. It is the centrepriece around which we all gather. In the darkness of the living room with only the multi-coloured tree lights for illumination, I can endlessly gaze at all the decorations and be filled with contentment. So there is some excitement when the signs first appear in parking lots around town. The trees are coming!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Driving for a Bargain

The Tank drove Dad and I for an hour and a half North on old Hwy #6 to Mount Forest to upgrade software. It was a good deal and a beautiful drive. Snow was strikingly present just an hour away. I was corrected that it was just a 'skiff'; that it did not constitute 'snow'. Looked like snow to me.

A red snow fence, long shadows at noon, and a sprinkling of white over furrowed fields seemed particularly Canadian.

Update: Dad found an interesting history of the area. It was surveyed into 50-acre lots in 1841-42 and was available to adult male subjects of the Queen who could clear the land. The township's clerk, George Cushing, highlights the difficulty: “Imagine a settler from the ‘Old Land’ without any knowledge of clearing land, unskilled in the use of the axe, no keen lance-toothed saws to be had, like we have at present, commencing to clear a fifty or a hundred acre lot of this dense and mighty forest. Many stories of hardships endured in the old log shanties without proper doors and wolves howling in the forest; no flour in the house for six weeks, and potatoes the only bill of fare; the carrying on the back of sacks of flour all the way from Fergus; men shouldering their heavy grain cradles and walking thirty miles and more to Guelph, in a day for the harvest.”

And I can add the snowmobile crossing sign to my "Only in Canada" collection. The series of these signs along the highway shows the popularity of risking life and limb to speed across hard, frozen tundra on a noisy machine with poor suspension against an icy wind that bites the cheeks and burns the eyes. Brrrrr. Bring on the hot chocolate . . . and the heating pad.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Feline Appeal

I believe cats to be spirits come to earth. A cat, I am sure, could walk on a cloud without coming through.
Jules Verne

As I had another day with my feet up, I wondered why marketers don't employ felines more often in their advertising. I think Cat's sexy leg could easily entice shoppers to buy posturepedic beds.

And surely a sleek feline curled up on a sofa would lure as many (or more!) buyers to a furniture shop as the 'Photoshoped' human in the newspaper ads. Marketers need to wise up to feline sex appeal!

Monday, November 22, 2010


Cats are connoisseurs of comfort.
James Herriot

Cat and I spent much of the day sleeping. Life imitating Cat is most agreeable!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Blue Moon

When I admire the wonders of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in the worship of the creator.

Four full moons will rise this Fall, hence the special status of tonight's rising. But all faces of Selene are magical . . . no matter how much she is poked and prodded in a vain attempt to understand her divine nature. Good night fair one.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Busy Elves

There was a quiet moment early this morning before the doors opened on the Mistletoe Bazaar.

Thereafter, none of the cookie elves had a chance to sit. Crowds of people filled their boxes with all things sweet. Proceeds have not been tallied but we all had an active, good time. This elf napped for an hour when she got home.

Friday, November 19, 2010


I have always thought of Christmas as a good time; a kind, forgiving, generous, pleasant time; a time when men and women seem to open their hearts freely, and so I say, God bless Christmas!
Charles Dickens

The church auditorium buzzed with activity this morning in preparation for tomorrow's Mistletoe Bazaar. All the wreaths and bows, and shawls and mittens, and wood trains and tasty goodies delighted the eye. It was great fun to be amidst all this good work. And it felt homey.

After helping set up the Cookie Walk table, I looked up and saw gingerbread of another sort in downtown Dundas. Delectable.

No cookie-cutter architecture here. Each section is unique. Thank goodness these visual treats still exist!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Healthy Cheer

Sometimes our fate resembles a fruit tree in winter. Who would think that those branches would turn green again and blossom, but we hope it, we know it.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Many good people have sent Dad their wishes for a speedy recovery after his shoulder surgery, but today a cheery, edible wish was delivered from his sister. What a great idea! It's beautiful and healthy, cheerful and tasty, and there is a useful keepsake after all the fruit is consumed.
P.S. Dad shared his chocolate-covered strawberries.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sugar Flurry

Cookies are made of butter and love.
Norwegian Proverb

An early telephone call gave us our first order for Christmas cookies. What an ego boost! The order came from my sweet aunt, who asked us to set aside a few snowflakes and a couple of camels so that they didn't sell out before she arrives at Saturday's bazaar. A need for more snowflakes became immediately apparent.

So, this afternoon, I baked up a batch and then Mom and I sat down this evening to decorate them.

When Dad heard us accept a pre-bazaar order, he handed over his money and asked for 8 angels and 2 moose. So we've made the church a few dollars days even before the big event. Hopefully, the angel cookies will be popular because we made a batch of them too. :-)

Each is bagged and ready to entice.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Undampened Spirits

Buckets of rain drenched my hometown this evening, but not before neighbours got outside and decorated their pine tree with Christmas balls and lights. Their effort brings joy, even when looking out the car's rear window through a river of rain.

Inside, I completed today's assignment: a Christmas apron. Festive spirits are rising. Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Little Spice, A Little Love

Had I but one penny in the world, thou should’st have it to buy gingerbread.
William Shakespeare, Love’s Labours Lost

We completed the fun task of decorating the gingerbread cookies today. Their fragrant spices filled the room. Olfactory hedonism.

We now have a herd of moose.

A caravan of camels and an army of smiling men. 111 cookies in total are now wrapped in Christmas bags ready for the bazaar. I've enjoyed this project in uncharted territory.

Here's the recipe for the tasty gingerbread and for the royal icing used to give them their individual characters:

Gingerbread Cookies
Yield: about 26 cookies

3/4 cup (175 mL) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup (175 mL) packed brown sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup (175 mL) cooking molasses
4 1/2 cups (1.125 L) all-purpose flour
2 tsp (10 mL) ground ginger
1 tsp (5 mL) cinnamon
3/4 tsp (4 mL) baking soda
1/2 tsp (2 mL) ground cloves
1/4 tsp (1 mL) baking powder
pinch salt

1. In large bowl, beat butter with brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg and molasses.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soad, cloves, baking powder and salt. Stir dry ingredients into molasses mixture in 3 additions, blending with hands and kneading to combine.
3. Divide into thirds and shaped into flat rectangles. Wrap each (not in wax paper!) and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.
4. Preheat oven to 325F (160 C).
5. Between layers of parchment paper, roll out each rectangle to 1/4-inch (5 mm) thickness. Cut out cookies. Arrange, 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart, on parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
6. Bake until firm to the touch and light golden on edges, about 15 minutes. (Only 12 minutes in Mom's oven, so keep an eye on them.) Transfer to racks and let cool completely.

Royal Icing
Yield: 1 1/4 cups (300 mL)

1/4 cup (60 mL) water
2 tbsp (30 mL) meringue powder
2 1/4 cups (550 mL) icing sugar

1. In a bowl, beat water with meringue powder until foamy; about 2 minutes.
2. Beat in icing sugar until stiff; 3-5 minutes. Add up to 2 tbsp (30 mL) more water if necessary to make smooth icing for piping. (But you do want the icing to be stiff.)
3. Cover with damp cloth to prevent drying.

Source for both recipes: Canadian Living's "More Than 101 Holiday Cookies", Fall 2010.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sugar and Spice

Only the pure of heart can make good soup.

Today's dark, rainy countenance encouraged indoor culinary pursuits. I began by making a batch of food for Cat. She approved. Then, using a recipe that appeared in the local newspaper, I made a pot of mushroom soup for the 'other' residents of the house. Fungi porcini were not available in the neighbourhood 'no frills' store so its 'wild' flavour was a bit tame. Nevertheless, it was quite delicious. I liked the addition of walnuts.

Wild Mushroom Soup
Yield: 6 servings

2 tbsp (30 mL) butter
1 1/2 lb (675 g) wild and white mushrooms
2 oz (60 g) dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted
1 cup (250 mL) ground walnuts
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup (60 mL) flour
6 cups (1.5 L) hot chicken or vegetable broth
1/3 cup (80 mL) dry sherry
2 tbsp (30 mL) fresh thyme
1 cup (250 mL) whipping cream
salt and pepper, to taste
sauteed mushrooms and/or crumbled blue cheese, for garnish

1. In a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot on high heat, melt butter. Add mushrooms, walnuts, onion, garlic, celery and bay leaves and saute until lightly browned (5 to 10 minutes).
2. Reduce heat to medium, stir in flour and cook for another 2 minutes. Stirring constantly, slowly add hot broth and sherry and bring to a boil.
3. Let simmer for 20 minutes and remove bay leaves.
4. Remove from heat and, using an immersion blender, pulse until mushrooms are nearly pureed or until desired consistency.
5. Return to heat, bring to a boil and add thyme and cream. Stir to combine. Garnish with sauteed wild mushrooms and/or crumbled blue cheese, if desired, and serve.

Recipe Source: California Walnut Commission

After lunch Mom and I pulled out the coloured sugars and sparkles and began decorating the cookies for next weekend's church bazaar.

I was quite pleased with the results. But I don't think we're ready to go commercial. ;-)

As of this evening, we have 46 vanilla cookies and untold numbers of gingerbread . . . there remains a big box of the latter that need to be decorated over the next few days. Sweet (and cinnamony) dreams. May visions of sugar cookies dance through your head.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

4 in 1

If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else.
Yogi Berra

I went on a quest to find Chedoke Falls. Sometimes you don't find what you're looking for, but you find a gem.

My quest for Chedoke Falls was thwarted by No Parking signs but I did find a unique double waterfalls. You'll need a bit of imagination to see two waterfalls in my photo: Lower Cliffview Falls drips in from the left, while Lower Westcliffe Falls trickles in from the right. I found them at the bottom of 199 steps. To paraphrase a famous quotation, "What goes down, must come UP." Huffing and puffing at the top, I could also see Cliffview Falls and Westcliffe Falls from over a fence and in the distance. No good photo-ops, but I can check-off four waterfalls from the list. A successful day. And Chedoke Falls remains for another day.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Road Warrior

Dad is recovering well from his shoulder surgery. Ilhumdulila! His rotator cuff will be rotating in no time. To help with errands I got up the courage to drive his car, which Mom and I call "The Tank". Thankfully I did not leave a trail of destruction behind me; but it remains a tank.

For his first real meal, Mom made really tasty salmon fillets for dinner from a new recipe found on Food.com. It uses simple ingredients, is easy to make, and delicious too. What more could we ask for?

Ultimate Salmon Fillets

1 lb salmon fillets
1/3 cup sour cream or 1/3 cup yogurt (we used yogurt)
2 teaspoons prepared mustard
2 teaspoons onions, finely minced
2 teaspoons dried dill weed
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated (optional, we didn’t use)

1. Preheat oven to 450 F degrees.
2. If frozen, partially thaw fillets and cut into serving size pieces.
3. Place in a greased baking dish.
4. Combine sour cream or yogurt, mustard, onion, dill, and mayonnaise. Season with salt and pepper. Spread mixture over fish.
5. Bake 20 minutes per inch of thickness of fish if frozen or 10-12 minutes if thawed.
6. When just done, sprinkle with the cheeses and a dash of paprika. Broil 1 minute or until the cheese is bubbly and flecked with brown.
7. Serve with lemon wedges.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lest We Forget

It takes courage to behave honourably.

Just before 11am, children from a nearby grade school lined up on the sidewalk beside the busy road. They held large paper poppies and waved Canadian flags. Somewhere in the background a piper played. Their small presentation brought tears to my eyes because there stood the future that was only possible because of sacrifices made in the past.

Quite possibly every family has been touched by wars. My connections include Great Uncle Arthur, left, who I never met because he died at Vimy Ridge when he was only 16 years old. On the right is my beloved grandfather, who modelled for me the values of family, honour, and doing your best. Like many soldiers, he never talked much about his experiences. His silence spoke volumes. There are so many who served and are remembered, now and always.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Happy Birthday Dad!

We gathered tonight to celebrate Dad's birthday with much laughter over splitting the bill (literally).

Even Dad's nemesis stopped by today to wish him a Happy Birthday! That looks like a smile on his face, Dad.

And I want to share another great recipe that I copied from Katy's Food for a Hungry Soul blog: Pumpkin Cranberry muffins.

Actually, Katy's recipe (which she found on Coleen's Recipes blog) is for bread but muffins work best for breakfast and coffee breaks in the ancestral home. I reduced the sugar slightly because we're all 'sweet enough' already. ;-)

Pumpkin - Cranberry Bread
Yield: 2 loafs or 32 muffins

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 cups granulated sugar (I reduced to 2 cups)
(1) 15 ounce can pure pumpkin
4 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup orange juice
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries (I used dried)

Grease and flour two 9" x 5" loaf pans and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a large bowl, measure flour, spices, baking soda and salt. Whisk together until well blended.

In a second bowl, mix sugar, pumpkin, eggs, oil and juice until well incorporated.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix with spoon until just moistened. Gently stir in cranberries.

Pour batter into prepared loaf pans and bake 60 - 65 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. For muffins, bake 25 minutes.

Cool in the pan for about ten minutes then release from the pans and turn them out. Wrap the hot bread immediately in plastic wrap, covering tightly, allowing the bread to cool completely in the wrap. This is the secret to making this bread super moist!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Night Light Magic

Deep within the winter forest among the snowdrift wide
You can find a magic place where all the fairies hide.
Author Unknown

In the cool of the night I stood in "Smokey Hollow". The stars shone bright and the forest's magic glowed as Great Falls was illuminated.

A community group that promotes the area's waterfalls achieved a spectacular effect with 26 pink and blue lamps. I look forward to future illuminations.