Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Dinner

This year my son-in-law, Scott, is in So. California, caring for his mother as she recovers from surgery, so my elder daughter, Peggy, and I were invited by my younger daughter to have dinner with her. It was such a nice treat. This is Polly's first flat in the US. She has had such fun decorating it and now preparing it for Christmas.
She prepared a lovely dinner for us. Her menu included roast pork with roasted potatoes and other veg, salad, 3 cheeses, and Peggy made a chocolate and peppermint cake.
We opened our gifts while dinner cooked. After dinner we dropped by some long time friends for a little visit and take presents.
Dear Santa, I can explain
Welcome

Polly hard at work in her kitchen
dinner prep
Kitchen shelves all dressed up for Chirstmas

Dinner is ready and Polly lights the candles







Boxing Day, the Feast of St. Stephen

Good King Wenceslas may be the most heartily sung and least understood of all the Christmas carols. Who was this enigmatic Wenceslas and why do we sing about him? He was not a king, but rather the Duke of Bohemia (907-935). He was a good, benevolent nobleman who gave his life to spreading the gospel and expanding Christianity in his country. His brother, Boleslaus, however, was anything but good. Tragically, he ended up killing Wenceslas and succeeding him as duke. A century after his murder, Wenceslas was canonized as the patron saint of Bohemia (part of the modern Czech Republic).
The Christmas carol by English hymn writer John Mason Neale is based on a popular legend of the life of Wenceslas. The tale concerns a king who goes out to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen, the second day of Christmas, December 26. During the journey, his servant is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather, but is enabled to continue by the heat miraculously emanating from the king’s footprints in the snow. Although the bouncy Scandinavian tune we use for the carol has been criticized for its lack of musical finesse, many love this joyful melody that supports the saga. It focuses on generosity and kindness, and giving to those less fortunate than ourselves. It is a chronicle about reaching out to the marginalized, the oppressed and the ostracized in our communities. It’s about the love of Jesus.
via Commissioner William W. Francis

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Advent 4

On this 4th Sunday in Advent, I wanted to show you my daughter's flat and her Christmas decorations.
First is this panorama shot of the whole room.
This is her chandelier that she has decorated with ornaments, glass flower containers, and crystals  

Here are her paperwhites ready to bloom for Christmas


Here are her two trees one with the lamp lit, and one with only the lights on the trees. My daughters and I will all have Christmas dinner together, at her flat this year. It is her first American apartment, and she is justifiably proud of it - as am I. It is right in the heart of the "Nob Hill/23rd Ave" section of Portland. It's small, but in an old building with hardwood floors and wonderful architectural features not found in modern buildings in the suburbs. There are great cafes and shopping down on 23rd.
She has had such fun decorating it. She admires Scandinavian decor and has kept everything simple and clean. Her basic color scheme is grey, black and white. She adds pops of color with the seasons. She had dark yellow last summer, when she first moved in. She added gold, orange, bittersweet and red for autumn. Now she has concentrated on red as the only accent color for Christmas. I hear that after Valentines, she plans to try a deep pink and lime green scheme to go with her basic greys.
Here a few more views from earlier this year:
Late Summer
Autumn

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Flowers for Christmas


11/3
 I started my Amaryllis on November 3rd. I kept them in a North facing window, bringing them out every few days to photograph.


11/10
11/23
12/1
12/3
12/1
At the same time, I planted Paperwhite bulbs. They are also a favorite at Christmas. The fragrance is so beautiful. The whole room is perfumed by them.
11/3
11/16

11/20

12/1

12/14

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Marshmallows

What happened? I used to make marshmallows for Christmas every year. It was a piece of cake, an easy confection. I used to make several batches in pink and green, or rolled them in cocoa powder, crushed candy canes, or toasted coconut. (my father and I loved these).
Polly and I decided to make some last year. It was so much work. What a mess. Was it really this hard back then? Surely not, I guess I'm just getting old. (but I knew that) This year I'm going to skip this. We're having Christmas dinner at Polly's, so I won't be making much of anything. Having diabetes has put a stop to many things I used to make.
My first set back was when I reached for the corn syrup, it wasn't there. I don't know where I moved it. So, since Polly was going to trudge down the hill to the market for some vegetables for soup, she got some corn syrup, too.
I don't have a candy thermometer any more, (I now have one, again) so I had to use the old fashioned method and put a spoonful in cold water. That worked fine. I gave away my big standing mixer, so I had to use the little had mixer. Polly poured the hot syrup onto the gelatin, why I manned the mixer. Finally it was whipped and we could put it into the prepared boxes. What a sticky mess we made. I even got it in my hair!
When it was set, I cut it with a Pizza wheel cutter and dusted all with more powdered sugar mixed with cornstarch.
We had hot chocolate and plenty of marshmallows to top it off.
Beautiful, if I do say so myself. Don't call me Martha!
Marshmallows
  • 3 packages unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup ice cold water, divided
  • 12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • Nonstick spray
Soften the gelatin in 1/2 cup of water in a large mixing bowl.
In a large saucepan combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium high heat, cover and allow to cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F, approximately 7 to 8 minutes. (or to the hard ball stage) Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from the heat.

Turn the mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping. While the mixture is whipping prepare the pans as follows.

Combine the confectioners' sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Lightly spray a 13 by 9-inch metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. I lined box lids with parchment paper before spraying. Sift the sugar and cornstarch mixture and move around to completely coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Return the remaining mixture to the bowl for later use.

When ready, pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Press into the pan. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and cut into 1-inch squares using a pizza wheel dusted with the confectioners' sugar mixture. Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Advent 3

Polly designed this lovely Advent shelf in my kitchen
As we begin the third week of Advent I have begun to decorate my home for these holidays. Today is the eve of St. Lucia, celebrated in Scandinavia by choirs, dressed in white robes, carrying candles, singing traditional songs. One girl is chosen as the "Lucia" and wears a crown with candles. A beautiful pageant.
A traditional part of this celebration is saffron buns. I'm very partial to saffron and would like to share this King Arthur Flour recipe with you.

St. Lucia Buns

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, lightly crushed
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 4 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • 1/4 cup potato flour or 1/2 cup instant potato flakes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt*
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • *Reduce the salt to 1 1/4 teaspoons if you use salted butter

Topping

  • 1 large egg white (reserved from dough) mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water
  • coarse pearl sugar, optional
  • golden raisins, optional

Directions

1) In a small saucepan set over medium heat (or in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave), heat the milk and saffron to a simmer; remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Set the mixture aside to allow the butter to melt, and for it to cool to lukewarm, 30 to 35 minutes. You can reduce the milk's cooling time by about 10 minutes by refrigerating it.
2) In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the yeast, flours, salt and sugar.
3) Separate one of the eggs, and set the white aside; you'll use it later.
4) Pour the lukewarm milk and butter mixture over the dry ingredients.
5) Add the 2 whole eggs, 1 egg yolk, and the vanilla. Mix to combine, then knead for about 7 minutes by mixer, about 10 minutes by hand, till the dough is smooth and supple.
6) Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl or large (8-cup) measuring cup, cover it, and let it rise for 1 hour, or until it's quite puffy, though not necessarily doubled in bulk.
7) Gently deflate the dough, and divide it into 12 equal pieces. A scale makes this job easy; each piece will weigh about 92g, or 3 1/4 ounces.
8) Shape the pieces of dough into rough logs, and let them rest, covered, for about 10 minutes. This gives the gluten a chance to relax.
9) Roll each log into a 15" to 18" rope. They'll shrink once you stop rolling; that's OK.
10) Shape each rope into an "S" shape. Tuck a golden raisin into the center of each of the two side-by-side coils, if desired.
11) Place the buns on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving an inch or so between them. Cover them, and let them rise for about 30 minutes, till they're noticeably puffy, but definitely not doubled. While they're rising, preheat the oven to 375°F.
12) Brush each bun with some of the egg white/water glaze. Sprinkle with coarse white Swedish pearl sugar, if desired.
13) Bake the buns until they're golden brown, about 18 to 20 minutes. If you've used raisins, tent them with foil for the final 3 minutes, to prevent the raisins from burning.
14) Remove the buns from the oven, and transfer them to a rack to cool.
Yield: 12 large buns.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Turning to Mother

It is said, "Necessity is the Mother of Invention" and I just had a necessary moment.

I caught a miserable cold early last week. It really threw me for a loop. I guess it has to do with "advancing age". My nose has been running relentlessly! I finally ran out of proper Kleenex. So what do you do when you've gone through all the boxes and you don't have any more and don't feel well enough to hike to the market down the hill? If you are me you start on the toilet paper. It seemed like a good idea to take one of the empties, and hide the roll! Here is how I did it:

First, chose a lovely designer box.
 Next use the last tissue.
 Now carefully open the box.
Place the roll inside and thread the tissue through the hole at the top.
Now tape the box back together.
As simple as that. Ready for the next sneeze.

Story with a happy ending

A few minutes ago I saw a local TV news van pull up outside. Hmmm, I wondered what was going on.











A couple of minutes later up pulled another station's van. Now I'm really getting interested!








The reporter and her cameraman got out and walked to the school bus stop. OK, what's this all about.



 I was so curious to know what was happening. They were interviewing a couple of the mothers who had just waved to their little ones as they left on the bus.
Well, I just couldn't wait until the next news broadcast, so I called the station and asked. They told me a little child had wonder off and there had been folks out looking for him. So many of these stories, these days, end in tragedy. I was glad when he told me the child had been found safe and was back home.
Happy ending!

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