Archive for December, 2009

The impending New Year has me thinking about masks again. (not that I don’t think about them regularly, but I can get distracted!) Halloween may be

Venetian mask, Bijoux

the time most people think about wearing them, but the wearing of masks has very long ties to the Christmas/New Year season. The ancient Romans celebrated Dies Natalis Invicti, or the unconquered Sun as well as Saturnalia all around the end of December. Masks were commonly worn to hide their faces so you could not tell master from servant and all men would be equal. I grew up in Newfoundland and, in some of the out-ports, people still practice Mummering, where they will dress up in disguises and visit. You are expected to be a good host since you never know who it is that has come to see you and they could be spirits, after all. In the middle ages the Lord of Misrule, a masked figure, would preside over the holiday celebrations for the twelve days of Christmas. These kinds of traditions go far back in history to the pagan celebrations that were followed in Europe before Christianity spread. It’s just something to think about if you are going to a masked New Years Ball, you’ll be upholding a long line of history.

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Marzipan truffles

I realized that I never put up a picture of the last of our holiday goodies. I love marzipan and wanted to do something with it this year and stumbled

marzipan truffles

upon a recipe for a reverse truffle, while surfing the web, at Figs with Bri. They looked good and I really liked the concept of using the marzipan on the outside, instead of going the typical route of using it as a filling. I didn’t follow her ganache recipe but used bars of an 82% cocoa chocolate and winged it a little. The melted chocolate was mixed with some heavy cream, a bit of icing sugar for a smoother texture and then I went with two different flavorings. For one set I used a bit of rum, (Cabot Tower, a Newfoundland brand that isn’t legal in the rest of the country since it’s 100 old English proof!) and it worked well since it was strong enough to almost be an extract. The other group got a bit of almond flavoring. I tried using a circular cut on the marzipan, but found that using square pieces was easier. I would pleat the edges together and pinch off the excess. Our marzipan was a bit more yellow, (I think part of that may be that it isn’t a very sweet one, more almond, less sugar) so the finished truffles have a more golden, than white cast to them and the high cocoa content on the filling means that they were not very sweet overall. The lack of sweetness and great flavor made them pretty popular so they may make the “to do” list for next year!

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The Globe and Mail has people following the torch and the article from yesterday talks about Shakespeare. Here’s the link!

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The torch passes…

The big thing today was that the Olympic Torch relay came through town. They had already passed through Stratford and Tavistock today

Olympic torch passes the store

and will also hit New Hamburg and end in Kitchener-Waterloo tonight. (the route is not even remotely close to anything resembling a direct line, but it does let lots of places take part) I’m not all that into the whole Olympic thing but, when the torch is going to pass right in front of your place, you have to go out and see it! It was cold and grey with a light snow falling, but that didn’t seem to keep people away. There was a small pavilion set up, by the main intersection, with drinks and hotdogs and it felt like almost all of the Hamlet came out to watch it go by. An escort of float/trucks by the sponsors went by first, to reve up the crowd and then the torch itself came along. There was a swap of carriers about four buildings before it got to the store and the one that passed us was moving at a good pace. I was pleased to grab this picture, as he ran in front of the store. Who knows when we’ll see the next one go by?

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mini banana loaves

I’ve finally been able to get into the actual baking part of the holiday preparations. I can get inspired by a number of different things and,

banana loaf and pan

while I did make a rough plan for what we would do this year, it’s stayed open to modification. We scored some extra ripe bananas and I just had to make my banana loaf. It’s one of those recipes that always works, and I also love that it’s one that you can do in one big bowl. Mother had acquired a pair of mini loaf pans a few years ago and, once I knew banana loaf was being made, I just had to give them a try! They are commercial grade so are a heavy steel with a great no-stick coating. Each pan makes 12 min-loaves and they turned out perfectly. (and took under half the time to cook that the full-sized ones do) I made my “virtuous” version, so I use fat-free yogurt, instead of most of the oil and about a third of the flour is whole-wheat. I made up for that by adding chocolate chips. They’re iced in a rum-vanilla butter-cream. The only drawback to using the yogurt instead of oil is that they have a shorter shelf life, so they were done just prior to being given.

We are going to close for both Christmas and Boxing day, but will be open the 27th, since that is the day the Olympic Torch will pass through town. We hope everyone has a great holidays!

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This is the last of the three artificial base wreaths I did this year. I thought I would break down the processes I used to make it a bit. Cutlery and feather wreath Silver and gold are the main metallic colours and I had been thinking about using some of the beautiful antique silver pieces we have to decorate at least one of the wreaths. The ones I ended up using are a group of over-sized serving pieces. I wanted to be able to have them appear to “float” on the wreath and still control where and how they sat without visible wire.

fork with wire attachment

To achieve this, I glued florists wire along the backs. (you can see the back of the fork in the photo) Due to their size, I ran a fairly long stretch along the back of each piece and left long pieces of wire on the ends for attaching to the wreath base. It worked perfectly. I was able to get them to sit in the exact positions I wanted and the wires are totally invisible. The feather accents were simple to make, they are just a small group of feathers that were again wrapped in a bit of florists wire. The sheer silver ribbon garland dresses up the wreath without making it too busy or adding another colour. The last piece, which ties it all together,

wreath detail

is the little mercury glass bird (with white feather tail) that sits in the cup of the almost-ladle spoon. It’s the most whimsical and different of my wreaths this year, but I have to admit that it’s also my favorite.

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Tangerine/lime penuche

I hate to let anything go to waste and this still applies when dealing with food as well. When we candied the citrus peels there was a batch of wonderfully

citrus penuche

scented sugar that was a by-product of the process. (I also had a bit of the plain, undipped candied peel, mostly small pieces, left over) I decided to try using them both in a making a batch of the penuche. The citrus sugar replaced most of the brown that the recipe calls for. I still used the same amounts of butter and milk and added a touch of lemon liqueur as well as the vanilla extract. All of the left-over peel bits were added at the end. It produced a rough surfaced penuche but the flavor is incredible and nothing like anything I’ve had before. It has a light caramel flavor with a cast of tangy tangerine/lime and you get little bursts of the fruity flavor with each chunk of peel. We had to bag it up as soon as it cooled or we would have eaten it all ourselves! I’m so happy with it I think I’m likely to make more of the peel just so we can have another batch of the citrus fudge.

Classic penuche recipe from Edna Staebler’s “More Food that Really Schmecks”: (she offers it as an icing option!)

2 ¾ cup brown sugar

2/3 cup butter

2/3 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)

Heat it all, except the vanilla, in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. She says heat to 220 on a candy thermometer but I’ll usually cook it a bit longer. Add the vanilla and then stir vigorously while it cools a bit then pour onto a parchment paper covered jelly roll pan. Let set and cut.

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This the second style of angel that Mother makes for Christmas decoration. Each one has a different patterned dress and trims, but they are all

fabric angel decoration

holiday themed. They all hold a little bouquet, be it mini pine cones or red berries. Their pillowy wings have a clear filament loop at the top so they can hang. The skirt is open so they can be put on the top of a tree as well, but won’t sit stiffly, unless you put a paper support in. (and that is easily done, if you want it as tree-topper, but I like the softer look without the cone) They look great on a tree, but I’ve also used them as a doorknob accent. All of the ones we have are blond but they can be done with other hair colours. They’re a sweet, more casual style that looks great in a country or traditional style holiday decor. I also think they are well suited for a childs tree, especially if they are going to be helping with putting on the decorations since they are so cute and soft. You don’t have to worry if they drop her while trying to hang her on the tree!

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White chocolate bark

I’ve been calling it “holiday baking” but, so far, it’s mostly been holiday candy making! A couple of weeks ago Mother visited her sisters and they

cran-raisin and pistachio bark

were also on track for getting the Christmas goodies made. She got drafted to help out and was able to find out how make this treat. The white chocolate bark is something my aunt has been making every year and it’s always popular. Mother decided to do a batch for us to give as well. It’s very simple: you melt white chocolate and mix it with cran-raisins and toasted pistachios. The whole thing is then spread on parchment paper to harden and then broken into pieces. We went with a very high proportion of nuts and fruit to chocolate, (almost even amounts of each) but you can use less stuff and more chocolate and end up with a thinner bark. She also went with the regular cran-raisins, but they do come in other flavors now. I think it could be fun to try a few other variations, but I don’t think we’ll get to it this year. It’s highly addictive as well as being pretty. (I’m having a little too much fun with taking the photos. We just have such a lovely assortment of glassware and china in the store I can’t resist using some of it when shooting the food porn!;)

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I can’t resist working with paper so I made a few simple ornaments this year in addition to the mask ones. This one of them. It’s a pretty basic

paper ornament

paper ornament style but I dressed them up a bit. It’s glued, not stapled together and I used strips cut the pages of a vintage Shakespeare play. The outer pieces have been stamped with “Hope” and a pretty silver and gold dangle hangs from the bottom. I also made some using sheet music and a few have miniature apples hanging from them making them a perfect gift for a teacher. I even stamped a few with “Bel Canto” (Italian for “beautiful voice”) so they are especially suited to a voice coach or choir leader. I think teachers tend to end up always getting the same sorts of gifts so it was fun to make something different, just for them! The ornaments have a wonderfully old-fashioned feel to them, which shouldn’t be surprising because this is the sort of thing that people have been making ever since holiday trees came into fashion.

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