Book Brief: Holiday Cookies and Other Festive Treats.

Okay – let’s talk holiday baking! Cookie exchanges, gifts from the kitchen, and treats for yourself and your family and friends and co-workers – is baking a big part of your holiday traditions? What recipes are your standbys, and which ones are you trying for the first time this year? Is there a special meaning behind your very favourite recipes? Feel free to put up any links to posts (past and present) about what you like to create in the kitchen at this time of year…I’d love to hear about it! Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

The Door is Ajar

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Holiday Cookies and Other Festive Treats – Linda Collister (2008, Ryland Peters & Small, London, New York)

If you’re planning to give cookies or other treats as gifts this holiday season (or hogging them all to yourself), this is the book for you.   The photographs are beautiful, the layout is organized and clean, and the recipes are designed for home bakers and seem very accessible.  Of course, I may not DECORATE the cookies as wonderfully as the photos show…I mean, if you get a box of cookies from me that look like they have big, strangely coloured icing blobs on them instead of delicate filigree stars or snowflakes, please don’t be offended – it’s not the fault of the author.  It’s all me.  But I’m sure they’ll still taste pretty darn good.

RECIPES I’M MAKING PRONTO:  Swedish Pepper Cookies, Gingerbread Mini-Muffins, Chocolate Brioches, and Pistachio Sables.  There’s also a recipe…

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New windows, garlic greens, and other things.

Sooooo…I’m waiting patiently (okay, maybe not so patiently – who am I kidding, really?) for the snow to melt here and in the meantime things are happening on my windowsill.

I mean, REALLY happening.  A couple of weeks ago, maintenance staff arrived with new windows for our apartment building.  It was definitely cause for celebration, as our previous windows were at least two decades old – probably more like three –  and we were having issues with ice building up between the panes (especially as one of them had a small hole in it).  The hardware wasn’t working smoothly anymore, either.  Of course, once the new windows were installed, I couldn’t bear the sight of the chipped windowsill, and we had some imperfections on the wall from when we had blinds put up a few years ago, so out came the filler and the paint.  I’m extremely pleased with the results – but now I think the whole place needs new paint!  UGH.

The African violets are certainly happy with the new windows and the sunshine.  These two bloom frequently, every 2 to 3 months or so.  I have a couple of others as well, but the one looks to be on its last legs and the other hasn’t bloomed in about a year.

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African violet - 11 March 2014

And there’s a leaf cutting I started a couple of months ago.  I wish I could say it is from the plant that is dying, but it’s not – I didn’t have the forethought to take a cutting and now the mother plant is so far gone I don’t think it would be useful to try.  It’s too bad – the pale pink flowers were so pretty and delicate, almost sugary-looking.

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African violet pink

I keep buying cacti – with my watering habits (“when I remember to, which is often nearly too late”), they seem to thrive.  I was all excited when I brought this Mammillaria spinosissima home, thinking I had a new-to-me species until my hubby reminded me I already had one. (My excuse is that the “red head” on my established one has long grown out).  I don’t know how he remembered this and I didn’t – I honestly thought he wasn’t paying attention.  Good thing I don’t buy designer shoes or handbags – he’d call me on them every time.  😉

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And I’ve been growing garlic greens!  I planted a LOT of garlic in my community garden bed last fall, both bulbils and bulbs, but I still had some bulbils left and I really wanted to use them up, so I popped them into a pot and voila!  Fresh greens in less than two weeks. It’s been so nice to use them in cooking.

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I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend!  What home and garden projects have you been working on lately?

 

Bananas for breakfast.

I’m one of these people that needs to eat breakfast pretty much the second I’m up and out of bed.  Trouble is, lately I don’t know what breakfast is.  (Although, the past few days, it seems to be Christmas cookies – oops!).

I hate cold cereal (plus, I have nut allergies and have you noticed that just about every breakfast cereal you can buy has almonds or walnuts or pecans in it?) and while I do make various types of grain-based hot cereals, I don’t want to eat them everyday.  Same with all the versions of eggs – I don’t want to eat them all the time.  (Boredom is a big deal when you’re talking about food, don’t you find?).   Smoothies are no good – it doesn’t matter how green they are or how many different types of fruit, dairy products or grains I put in them, they’re not filling enough.  By the time I hit my coffee break at work, I’m…well…an exceedingly grumpier version of myself.  Ahem.  I’ve been eating toast or bagels but I really have to get back into making my own breads again in the new year – I’m just not a fan of supermarket bread products.  A co-worker has been bringing in day-olds from a good bakery to share and those have been a delight.  I ought to frequent the place she gets them from.

So, where does that leave me?  Muffins, perhaps, as long as they’re not sweet cupcakes thinly disguised as muffins (ie: I forgot to ice them!).  Or maybe fruit or veggie-based quick breads.  Early last week, I found a recipe for banana bread on the blog My Sister’s Pantry and I figured, why not?  This is definitely a different version of banana bread than I’m used to – for one, it has molasses in it, and while it has all the beautiful moist texture you associate with banana bread (particularly given the fact that it also has applesauce as an ingredient), it really doesn’t taste significantly banana-ey.  It’s dense and delicious and not very sweet – plus, I’m actually finding that it’s pretty filling.  It goes along really nicely with a bit of yogourt and my morning cup(s) of Earl Grey.

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Please scoot on over to My Sister’s Pantry for the recipe.  (They’ve got a pile of GF, DF, vegan, vegetarian, raw, and sugar-free recipes over there as well, plus some excellent nutritional tips).  I made a couple of changes because of my allergies, swapping out the nut butter for tahini and omitting the pecans.

What are your favourite breakfast dishes?  Do you regularly change up your morning meals?  Or do you even eat breakfast at all?

Parsnip cake.

We went straight from Zucchinipalooza to Carrotextravaganza around here this fall.  While I had only a modest harvest of carrots from my community garden plot this year, the farm that provides us with our CSA share baskets had a positive bumper crop, and so for quite awhile now, we’ve been pretty much swimming in carrots.  It’s not a bad problem to have – we’ve had various carrot breads, soups (click through to see my purple carrot soup), and a cake with cream cheese filling.  My hubby, the avowed Meatatarian, will actually eat carrots, so we’ll get through the rest of them with little trouble.

The parsnips are another story.

I didn’t grow parsnips this year (nor have I ever – they’re on my list of Crops to Plant One Day in the Nebulous Future).  But our CSA baskets have been FULL of them.  According to the owner of the farm, this is only the second year they’ve grown parsnips, but their success was “amazing.”

Of course, my hubby won’t touch them with a ten foot pole.  He won’t even eat them roasted, glazed with a bit of butter and brown sugar, which is really my favourite way to prepare them.

So I took a cue from the carrot madness we have going on and baked a cake.

Parsnip Cake

3/4 cup butter

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup pure maple syrup (you could use agave syrup if you don’t have maple, but maple tastes best)

3 eggs (if you wish to substitute a flax gel* in place of 1 egg, you could)

2 cups all-purpose flour (you could sub out 1/4 cup of white flour for whole wheat, if you prefer.  I’m also thinking of experimenting with almond meal)

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp cardamom

3 cups parsnips, peeled and grated

1 apple, peeled and chopped finely

Juice of 1 orange

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease two loaf pans and line with parchment.

Melt butter and cool slightly.  Add sugar, maple syrup, and eggs, and mix thoroughly.   Add flour, baking powder, and spices and combine.  Fold in parsnips, apple, and orange juice and stir until evenly distributed throughout the batter.  Pour into prepared loaf pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

(*To “make” an egg out of flax, mix 1 tbsp. ground flaxseed in 3 tbsp. water and let sit until it gels, about 5 minutes).

Handy Conversion Calculator

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And that is how you get someone to eat their parsnips.  😉

Do you grow parsnips in your garden?  More importantly, do you EAT parsnips?  What are your favourite parsnip recipes?

Related posts – Parsnip Cake (From Sewing Room to Potting Shed)

Annual Performance Review.

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Begonia benariensis ‘Surefire™ Rose’

I planted more annuals in my flowerbeds this year than I usually do: verbena in mixed jewel-like colours, hot red and orange Tagetes marigolds, and a few delicate pink snapdragons (with the notion that they would complement the handsome dark burgundy heritage ‘Black Prince’ that has been reseeding itself for the past three summers).  Anyone who regularly follows my blog knows how the story of the verbena ended:  the bunnies ate them (well, most of them, anyway).  And the snapdragons?  Well, let’s just say the little divas didn’t like the weather.  Or the soil.  Or something.  Even the Prince, usually so reliable, forgot his lines and stalked off the stage in a huff.  In the midst of all this chaos, the marigolds have managed to put on a brave, inspired performance, but really, once again, I’m questioning my ability to select annuals that don’t end up as rabbit chow AND keep on delivering.  It’s not too much to ask for, is it?  Well, okay, maybe….

At least, as far as my containers went, there were some definite big-time superstars.  I love begonias, but up until now, I’ve only grown tuberous types – I’ve got an ooey gooey soft spot for the rose-like flowers and all those magnificent colours!  But the fibrous (wax) begonia ‘Surefire™ Rose’ (one of Proven Winners’ new selections that will be available to home gardeners in 2014) easily won me over…the bronzy-green foliage is big and bold and the coral-red flowers persisted all summer long (they’re still going strong as I write this).  One of the reasons I like begonias so much is that they’re so low maintenance – water when needed, feed a bit of diluted liquid kelp twice a month, and…well…stand back and admire.  No staking, no deadheading, no hassle – and ‘Surefire™ Rose’ fits the bill nicely.  Call me a lazy gardener, but that’s just the way I like it.   Now if only I could poll the rabbits and find out what their least favourite flower is!   😉

What annuals performed best in your garden this year?

Do you grow begonias (of any type)?  Did you make the switch from impatiens to begonias due to downy mildew concerns?

(Although Proven Winners generously provided me with a few annual plant selections from their upcoming 2014 catalogue to trial in my zone 3 garden, I was not compensated to review them.  My opinions of how they performed are my own).

Garden summary – Chervil.

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One of my favourite plants in the edible garden this year so far has been chervil.  This is my first year growing this delightful little herb and I must say, it won’t be the last.  I love its lacy foliage that looks a little like flat-leaf parsley (except daintier) and its tiny sprays of white flowers.  It grows in a tidy mound instead of an ungainly sprawl and would transfer nicely over to an ornamental garden.

The flavour, though…what is that, exactly?  I find it on the anise side, but others have described it as akin to tarragon (perhaps) or even basil, which I just don’t taste (well, maybe the purple basils, which seem to have a licorice zip to them).  The leaves can get a bit tough in the hot sun, so it’s really fortunate that I positioned my chervil plants right next to my monster mizuna greens, which lend them a bit of shade (yep, in retrospect it was all a nice bunch of pre-planning on my part, LOL!).  The chervil will have to fend for itself when I yank out the last bit of mizuna to eat.

So far, I’ve tried my chervil in egg dishes, in mixed green salads, and with baked fish…does anyone have any other favourite ways to use it?  I will probably dry some of it for later use.  I’m trying to think of a way to incorporate it into a canned product or baked good as well…the anise-ish-y flavour makes me think that it might pair well with pears or peaches, maybe even apples.  Ooooh, food for thought!   (Thoughts of food?).  😉

What “ornamental edible”  (herb, greens, fruit etc.) has made an impression in your garden and on your tastebuds this year? 

Lilac flower jelly. (Or rose or peony or fireweed or…).

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Well, the late lilacs are pretty much finished blooming here, and I’m just getting around to posting my recipe for lilac flower jelly, which I made…oh…nearly a month ago. Oops! Somehow things got away from me, and now the lilac blossoms are summer memories. There is a consolation, however: if you want to substitute another edible flower such as roses or peonies or fireweed for the lilacs, you can – the same amount of petals and preparation techniques apply. Have fun with it, and please let me know how your flower jellies turn out! 🙂

Lilac Flower Jelly

3 cups lilac flower petals

2 1/4 cups water

2 tablespoons lemon juice

3 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 package liquid pectin

Follow standard canning procedure and sterilize 4 half-pint jars, lids, and rings.

Remove lilac flower petals from stems and wash thoroughly.  Lay petals between a layer of unbleached paper towels and gently dry.  Place petals in large pot and crush with a pestle or the back of a wooden spoon.  Add water to pot and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer gently for 30 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat.  Strain the petals from the liquid using a fine mesh sieve.  The water won’t be a very attractive colour at this point – don’t panic!  Put the petals aside to compost later.  Place the liquid back into the pot and add lemon juice.  Stir, and notice that the colour of the liquid will appear much more appealing.

Add the sugar and stir.  Bring the contents of the pot to a boil.  Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Add pectin and bring to a boil again.  Boil hard another minute, and keep stirring all the while.

Remove from heat.  Using a spoon, skim off the top of the jelly to remove any bubbles and foam.  Pour the jelly into sterilized jars and cover.

Process jars in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes, adjusting for altitude.

Have you ever made or eaten edible flower jellies?  Which ones are your favourites?