One last Christmas-related post

Ok. It’s January 3rd. 2012 has officially begun. And I have one more thing to say about Christmas.

Sooooo. You might have noticed my absence the last few weeks, Dear Internet, which was due to my overwhelming schedule. Especially my overwhelming baking schedule. So Imma gonna talk at you about my heaps o cookies!!!

I decided to take the bulk of the week before x-mas off in order to do all that x-mas baking. Cause I wasn’t going to not do my massive x-mas bake-a-thon. No sirree!!

The three days before Christmas I baked 10 kinds of baked good. Ten batches of sweets. !!!!!!!! Cause I’m nuts. I was even planning on down-sizing my baking this year. Apparently not. Also, though I have no photographic evidence currently, I made Christmas cakes with my mom this year. But, like, weeks before Christmas. So for some reason I keep forgetting about them. . .

Let’s get to the crazy then, shall we?

In no particular order:

1) Gingerbread!

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A traditional and perennial favourite!

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2) Traditional shortbread

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With a twist, of course. I used dark brown sugar in this one. Cause it tastes even more awesome. And I used the shortbread mold my dad picked up (sooooooo much easier than rolling out and cutting cookies). Though next time I won’t make such huge bricks of shortbread

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3) Nutmeg Maple Butter cookies (from, where else?, Smitten Kitchen – a new favourite)

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Like, a week before I start my baking I have to come across this post on my most favouritest of blogs. AND I HAD TO HAVE IT!! The Christmas cookie fever was officially upon me. And damn, but these are stupidly tasty cookies. I know everyone hearts the pants off the apple pie cookies from the same (AWESOME) blog, but these are my absolute favourites!!

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4) Toblerone shortbread

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Do I need to justify this for you, Dear Internet? Or can we all just agree that this is necessary?

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Awwwwwww yiiiiiiissssssssssss.

5) Ginger shortbread

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Cause I lurve the ginger. Also, it’s a stupidly simple recipe (from this book) from Donna Hay, the Australian answer to Martha. Definitely recommend this one. And you can flavour it whichever way you like best.

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6) Apple pie cookies

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These were such a hit from my fearless leader’s birthday party, that they had to make a near-immediate reprise. Super-fiddly to make, but oh so worth it!!

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7) Honey Lavender shortbread

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I don’t remember exactly where I got the idea for honey shortbread, but I just had to have some for x-mas! And let me tell you, substituting honey for sugar makes shortbread mighty fine. And lavender? Why not?? It’s floral fragrance works very well with honey. Definitely adding this to the repertoire!

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8) Spitzbuben

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These are straight from my childhood. My mom used to make them, before I stopped letting her do the baking. . . And they’re from her childhood in Germany. It means, from what I understand, “naughty boys”, and they’re delicious sandwich cookies made with lemony shortbready dough and raspberry jam. And you poke out three holes on top to make a screaming face-looking arrangement. Like only the Germans would come up with. Though, what do you expect from a culture that came up with “schadenfreude”?? More awesomeness, that’s what!!

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<eeeeeeeeekkkkkk!!!!!!> and soooooo tasty!

9) Rugalach

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These are from Bonnie Stern‘s Cuisinart cookbook, sadly out of print (or maybe her second Cuisinart cookbook? I forget which. Are there even two of them???). If you’re not Canadian, you probably don’t know who she is, but she was pretty big in the Toronto food scene at least. These have a flaky cream cheese-based dough, tart jam, and a cinnamon/hazelnut/cocoa/brown sugar filling that literally makes the best cinnamon toast EVAR. Cause there are always leftovers. . . And only partly because I make too much in the first place in order to ensure leftovers. Only partly.

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And last, but not least,
10) Mincemeat Tarts

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I make my own mincemeat (of course), from a recipe handed down through my paternal grandmother’s family (I think. It’s definitely from the English side of my family tree), full of raisins, and currents (which technically are just a different kind of raisin. Weird), apple, spices, and, well, beef suet. Not my favourite, but it gets the job done. I make a pâte brisée for the dough (with butter, of course), which is easy to make and work with. And they is tasty. I ran out of mincemeat this Christmas, so next time around I have to make a new batch :D. Some of which I’ve promised to a friend of mine. Can’t wait! I love using the meat grinder!!

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Aside from the massive amount of tasty treats, it was a lovely lovely Christmas this year (despite some minor issues I won’t discuss here) full of family and friends and goodwill towards my fellow man, some of which was contributed to a last-minute getaway to a cottage nicely north of the city. And I hope you had a lovely time too, Dear Internet. Happy New Year!!

Let’s see what 2012 has to dump on our heads. . .

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Knitpocalypse

Sooooooooo. . . First off, don’t blame me for the lateness of this blog post, as I did warn you! I’m so busy right now that 6 hours of sleep at a time is an amazing luxury . . . And I still have 8 knitting projects and one embroidery project for Christmas presents, as well as the boatloads of cookies I’m going to be baking next week. And the decorating, and the parties, and the singing, and the sing-along messiah, a crazy-packed weekend coming up, and the fact that I’m going to be at work until next Wednesday. AND ANOTHER DOCTOR WHO MARATHON!!!!!!! Not that I’m excited or anything. . . Though, I finished and packed all my presents bound for Calgary (for the boyfriend’s family) yesterday – just in time to ship them off on the last day that Canada Post will guarantee arrival by Christmas. And I didn’t even have to wait in line! It was surreal.

I just had a full day of software training at work today (so. bored.), and I’m running off to see my fearless leader for our present exchange dinner (at Elle M’a Dit – Alsatian cuisine!!). And I also have a treat to make for the post-service wine and cheese tomorrow. That I’d forgotten about until yesterday. Oops. . . I’m soooooo busy!!

So I can’t go swimming until Thursday, mope. Since a bout with the flu a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been pretty terrible about regular workouts. Though, that’s offset by the roughly 5 pounds I lost because of the flu. Which I somehow haven’t gained right back. . .

In the YAY column of life – my concert this past weekend went amazingly well!! Though, coming off the major adrenalin surge I got from that isn’t fun. Headaches and exhaustion and lethargy, oh my! Also awesome are
The sunrises recently – they’ve been so spectacular I haven’t been able to resent being up early enough to see them. Wish I had photos to share, but I was so awestruck I missed my photo opportunity window two days running. . . I do have a couple photos of the spectacular moon the last couple of days though:

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Maybe it’s the excess X-mas spirit I’ve gotten from singing a concert of Christmas carols (and Britten’s Ceremony of Carols!!!), maybe it’s hormones, maybe it’s finding someone whose awesome nerdiness rivals even my own, but damn but have I been feeling chipper. Exhausted and chipper, weird combination. Maybe it’s the fact that for the first time in two years I’ve been able to be genuinely happy without stress or excessive pressure on my shoulders. Maybe this is what real happiness feels like. Though, it’d be sad if I can’t recognize pure, unadulterated happiness, wouldn’t it?

Screw it, no introspection for me today. Life is good! It probably won’t stay that way for long, but dammit I’ll enjoy it while it lasts!

And seriously – I’m ridiculously excited about my upcoming Doctor Who-a-thon this Friday: awesome show, awesome awesome people to hang out with, awesome Whovian crafts (can’t wait!!), awesome Whovian snacks!!!! This week is going by soooooooooo slowly. . . If only I had a better TARDIS than this one:

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(made by me!)

It would definitely come in handy right about now. . .

And now, back to some knitting. How busy are you this month, Dear Internet?

(and, reading this back to myself, I’m noticing that sleeplessness really doesn’t help in elocution. Sorry about the jumping from topic to topic. . . Maybe I’ll be more lucid after the craziness of Christmas has passed? Not that I was very lucid to begin with. . .)

A Year (ish) in Baking

The last several months have been filled with baking firsts for me, and I figure that the easiest way to get through it all would be an abridged over-view of the things I happened to take photos of in the last 8 months I mean. . . the accomplishments of the last (almost) year. There will be a similar post in the near future chronicling my exploits in yarn. And I guess I should talk about music at some point too.

Maybe this blog should have been called My Life in Food and Yarn (and Music)

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I’ll go chronologically, since that’s pretty much the easiest way to go.

First, and most spectacularly, is my first attempt at a decorated fondant cake. A friend of mine is a huge fan of Invader Zim (see Wikipedia on Invader Zim if you don’t already know what that is. . .). And another friend of mine saw this cake on the lovely Internets:

And so I just had to make it. . . Which resulted in:
 Finished product!
Piggy!
Partially eaten cake (revealing the crazy innards of GIR’s ‘brain’)
And I also, of course had to elaborate on the original idea. As you can see above, I baked candy (and nuts and bolts, that had been properly sterilized first of course) into the cake of GIR’s head, to simulate the junk used to create him originally (my lovely boyfriend’s idea). Not only did this make the cake a sugar shock special, it was also an asshole to bake (which I will expand upon when I do a post solely devoted to this cake). And GIR’s body was made in red velvet cake, because, why not make something that’s really complicated even more complicated?
Other firsts in the last year include:
  • My first sweet potato pie. Okay, pies. I don’t do things by halves.

  • My first pecan pie. The recipe for which is actually my boyfriend’s mom’s (who happens to have been a chef and restauranteur at various points in her career). I’m not a fan of pecans myself, but it’s one of the boyfriend’s favourites. . .

  • My first totally made up recipe! I generally use other people’s, thinking that if they’ve gone to all the trouble of testing things out, why should I repeat that (very) hard work?? I generally always fiddle with recipes to make them more to my liking. But these apple pies mark the first time I’ve ever said to myself “How hard could this be?” And guess what – it wasn’t all that hard. And they were damn tasty pies, if I do say so myself. I of course forgot to write anything down. But if it wasn’t so hard the last time, how hard could subsequent attempts really be?

  • In all the years I’ve been baking, I have never encountered a double yolk egg. Imagine my surprise when, making a regular batch of chocolate chip cookies, I break one egg to find a double yolker – holy crap! – and then I break the second egg and find that it too is a double?? That was an interesting day. And I have the heightened cholesterol scores to prove it.
In addition to the good days of successful first tries and the attendant adrenalin rush, there are also days where nothing goes right, I feel really crappy, my friends and family have crazy shit going on in their lives, or I feel like a chicken running around with its head cut off. And on those days, I cook and bake the blues away (and share the bounty with those near enough to partake in it). Baking is essentially a comfort food for me. I don’t need to eat what I make, thought it does help a lot to share the spoils. I just need the act of baking, and the worst times just fade to the background.
This particular day, I felt pretty sick and woozy – I have some allergies, one of which is to perfume, and the day before I had gone to the bathroom at work to find that someone before me had decided to reapply her perfume. Using the whole bottle. When the vent fans weren’t working. And didn’t even bother to try and prop open the door.
It was not good. 
So I made some chicken noodle soup, and Toblerone shortbread cookies (which should not be allowed since they are basically crack). I don’t remember much of that day, but I remember the soup was awesome.
Sometimes things don’t always work out too well. . .

I was house-sitting for a friend, and they have a convection oven (!!!). But this was not the most successful batch of chocolate chip cookies. They were still perfectly tasty, but the regular way of making this recipe did not work in the new context. But I have ideas for the next time I might get to use that oven. . .

There are Christmas cookies and all that seasonal baking. From mid-November to late-December, I am a baking fiend. Every night I go to bed with stiff stiff legs from standing all day baking, and running to the grocery store for some last minute/forgotten item. And on top of the baking I do for my own family, I still find time to help others with their holiday baking.

Tourtieres, that I make for a friend of the family
 
Traditional English Christmas cake (my grandmother’s recipe)

I also bake a stupid number of Christmas cookies. You’ll have to wait, Dear Internet, until the next holiday season for pictures, unfortunately. But I usually bake gingerbread, two or three kinds of shortbread (ginger shortbread, as well as traditional at the very least), rugalach, spitzbuben, huzar’s love, mincemeat tarts, (with my own mincemeat recipe), and loz (an almond sweet meat that is a perfect pain in the ass to make, but is very tasty), among others. I also occasionally make truffles. And I’m hopefully going to have time to make rum balls this year (I’ve been researching different recipes for a couple of years now).

I also like to play up my friends’ food preferences. One such person has a love of Toblerone. So I made Toblerone ganache tarts. Who wouldn’t?:

And there’s always leftovers. . . How tragic
I also like playing with gum paste to see what can (and can’t. . .) be done with it. For my boyfriend’s last birthday, a bunch of us devised a Futurama theme (you can go look it up yourself if you seriously don’t know what that is) for the party. And I made little figurines to go with the cake that one of his best friends made.
The gang. There were going to be more. . . but I gave up. This was much harder than I thought it would be. Leela especially was a complete disaster
 
I’m pretty impressed with how Zoidberg turned out though
On my bi-monthly perusal of ThinkGeek, I found these cookie cutters:
Science!

Which I just had to get for Father’s Day (my dad’s an enormous nerd – in fact, he started out his career as a rocket scientist). And so, I made these cookies this passed Saturday:
I bake. . . with SCIENCE
Science is awesome from every angle!

And the damn piping machine (that belonged to my grandmother) was totally impossible to use. So some lines are more artistically squiggly than I would prefer. But I have to give credit where credit is due – the sugar cookie recipe that comes with these cutters turned out to be quite good. And surprisingly, not too sweet (??) either. I don’t generally like sugar cookie dough – it can be a total bastard – but this one was nicer to work with than usual. 

So there are my exploits from the last bunch of months. At least, the ones I recorded for posterity. . .
I think that’s more than enough to be getting on with, don’t you? But how could I forget?? There are lemon tartlets and rosemary-parmesan mini madeleines coming up this week! And a birthday treat for a friend. Though I still have to decide what that will actually be. . . I have time. Ish. 
And on one final note, raspberries are the best food. Even these mutant monsters from California still evoke for me the tart sweetness of fresh local berries, and remind me of the heart of summer for me.
even if they have more size and uniformity than flavour. . .
Happy Summer, Dear Internet!