Friday, November 30, 2007

christmas angels...

This is it...the last day of November. How time flies! One of my 'Christmas projects' was to make three angels for the garden. They need a few finishing touches, but they have found a place out in the yard. My sister made some for her garden a few years ago; so, using the picture of Kathy's angels (and with a little help from my dear hubby...well, a lot of help actually) here's what I came up with.

We picked up the birch logs beside the road near Clearwater on Thanksgiving weekend. We cut three two-inch pieces to use as the heads, and then cut three different lengths for the bodies. The arms are birch branches and the wings are birch twiggies...with a few leaves and pods still attached. Add a barbed wire halo...and that's all there's to it. Now they need a little decor...that's where I'm stumped. Kathy said they should be holding a bird house or wreathe...I haven't found anything suitable as yet. Elmer figured they should be holding songbooks. Those wouldn't last too many hours in our B.C. rain. Do they make songbooks out of plastic? I'm open to suggestions.

Angels are messengers of good news. As we enter the advent season, let's also be 'Christmas angels'...let's glorify God and be a blessing to those around us this Christmas season.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

peppernuts

Christmas baking brings back memories of cookies I enjoyed as a child...recipes which had been in the family for generations. My mom always baked peppermint cookies (which used baking ammonia)and jam-jams....and all kinds of other goodies that my dad liked. Grandma Isaak made a dark spice cookie, which was coated with a white glaze after baking. Grandma Baerg made soft, spicy cookies called peppernuts...they all baked together in the pan and we broke them apart to eat them. They were 'melt in your mouth' yummy, but totally different then the peppernuts I now make. Peppernuts (also known as pfeffernusse) are a traditional Mennonite Christmas cookie.

Yesterday was my day for baking heritage cookies! Here's the recipe for this spicy little morsel...



Peppernuts
  • 1 cup margarine
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup syrup
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground star anise (or ground anise seeds)
  • 6 cups flour (approximately)
  1. Cream margarine and brown sugar; add eggs and mix well. 
  2. Add syrup and buttermilk to which the baking soda has been added. (* Roger's Golden syrup is my syrup of choice, but I think it's a Canadian syrup.) 
  3. Measure 4 cups flour and mix with all the spices, before adding to butter mixture. 
  4. Continue adding flour until a soft dough is formed. 
  5. Refrigerate dough. 
  6. When cold, roll dough into 1/2 inch ropes. Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet and freeze until ready to bake. 
  7. With a sharp knife, cut rope into 1/4 inch slices and place on cookie sheets.
  8. Bake at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes. 




A convection oven comes in rather handy when baking cookies!


It looks like enough to feed an army, but they won't last for too long!



Some got delivered next door for the grandkids, and we eat them like 'peanuts'...a handful at a time.


So there you have it. My original recipe had no amount given for flour...so I estimated what I use. The Mennonite recipes seem to leave a lot to chance...they cooked by heart! Peppernuts were often made by rolling out the dough, and cutting out the circles with thimbles. Now that would be time consuming!


Here's what I found interesting...Martha Stewart has a peppernut recipe! It's much like the one above, but she rolls the peppernuts in icing sugar while warm. They look nicer, but wouldn't be quite as conducive to putting in the pocket!
While I was baking peppernuts, I had to think of my mother-in-law who used to come for a baking blitz every December. We baked up a storm...I was always ready to 'call it a day' long before she was done. She was the best and I wish she was here to join me in the kitchen again!
There's my little walk down memory lane. Does anyone else in this day and age still bake peppernuts?


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

tried and true

I was at my favorite garden shop the other day and what did my blue eyes see? An entire display of blue poinsettias. I don't know what you think, but somehow that just seems wrong!

Blues and greens look lovely on trees, decked out to match the decor. But poinsettias?


And look up...there's another upside down Christmas tree.


Apparently they are the hottest trend and selling as fast as the stores bring them in. I originally thought they were just a way for merchants to display their trees without taking up floor space. But they have many practical benefits, so people are snapping them up...they save space, and they are safe from kids and pets. And they look quite pretty hanging as a chandelier...the ornaments don't get caught up in the branches but hang straight down. And (this is the best one) there is so much more room to pile the presents under the tree!


Most of my decorating still needs to happen, and I'm ready for something new. But upside trees and blue poinsettias won't be found here. I'm sticking to the tried and true!





Enjoy the season!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

snowflakes & saguaros


What a surprise when the snow began to fall yesterday afternoon. It came down in big, wet B.C. snowflakes, and before long God had cleaned everything up. Isn't it amazing how clean everything looks when it is blanketed in snow? It' s a good day for in-door projects.

But let's leave the snow and Christmas decorations for now, and take one last look at Arizona...the land of sunshine and saguaro cacti. We always see those towering cacti on photos, but I had never seen one from close up. They are the Arizona state flower (what?), and grow mostly in the Arizona dessert and in Mexico.

What I never realized is how big these cacti are. Many of them are over 25 feet tall (that means it's been around for more than one-hundred years)...with some towering as high as 50 feet and weighing 8 ton. We visited the dessert museum near Tucson, where we could learn about everything dessert...such as, there are over fifty varieties of cactus growing in Arizona. However, we enjoyed our dessert experience so much more when we got right down and touched it.


We rode horseback through the trails of Catalina State Park...which was a wonderful experience. We wandered around the raw dessert near a rest stop and took some pic's of the mighty saguaro. That was a dangerous place...those cacti have a way of attaching themselves to you. We later spent a lot of time pulling cactus thorns out of our sandals with tweezers.

Jim & Kathy flew down from Manitoba and spent a week with us in the Phoenix and Tucson area. We spent four relaxing days at a Wyndham resort near Tucson, and then took a trip out to the wild, wild west.

Welcome to Tombstone!

After taking in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, we walked down the boardwalk to Big Nose Kate's Saloon. Kate (as we commonly call Kathy) was a little reluctant to pose under the sign...not sure why? Jim came out of that place with some great 'Kate' souvenirs. I don't think the bumper sticker will be appropriate for anything other than his tractor though.

We had a wonderful lunch at 'Big Nose Kate's', and enjoyed some great music while we dined...all in the company of some most interesting characters. The local sheriff ordered his meal but was called away before he had a chance to touch it. One splashy gal came and joined us outside for some pic's. It was rather fun to re-live those 'wild-west' days...which weren't all that long ago. In Tombstone all the original buildings are still standing.

We spent a few days in the Phoenix area before Jim and Kathy left for home. We visited dairy farms and factory outlets. And for our last hurrah...


we visited the U.S. Airways centre in downtown Phoenix.

Yup...that's Steve Nash on the lower left. Never mind that New York has the ball at the moment...the Phoenix Suns played a great game and came out on top!

It was a fun experience to be part of such an enthusiastic fan club, and a great way to end our Arizona vacation.

The following morning found Jim and Kathy packing to fly home. It looks like we'll be needing to make one more stop at a mall for another carry-on bag. That's what happens when the Canadian dollar is so valuable!

So that's it for Arizona...and saguaro cacti! We won't forget our experience anytime soon.

And now, back to the things at hand. Should I shovel those 'snowflakes' off the sidewalk or let nature take it's course?

Enjoy your day!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Christmas at Hycroft Mansion...

While half of Canada watched the Grey Cup game yesterday afternoon, a group of us headed to downtown Vancouver for the annual Christmas open-house at Hycroft Mansion.

Hycroft is a magnificent Edwardian mansion, originally built for Alexander McCrae who was a leading businessman and politician in the beginning of the twentieth century. Construction began in 1909 and the home took two years to complete and quickly became the hub of social life in Vancouver. In 1942 the McCrae's gave the home to the Canadian government and it became a hospital for war veterans until 1960. At that time it was purchased by the University of British Columbia Women's Club and has been restored and maintained by them. It is used for for receptions and private parties throughout the year, but only open to the public for the annual Christmas open-house. What a great old house!
Let me give you a peak...

I just love all the ornate detail & fancy moldings!

The dining room was all ready for us...

I think the cooks were watching the Grey Cup game though!

Every room had it's own tree...

...and most also had their own fireplace.

No, it wasn't snowing in Vancouver, but I had to throw in one picture from last year...it does sometimes snow out here in November.

What a lovely place to visit...and get inspired! I came home with a few ideas, an advent calender and a wonderful Christmas book for the grandkids.

the mighty sycamore tree

Growing along the stream banks in the desserts of Arizona were majestic white-barked trees that I had never seen before. I discovered they were called Arizona sycamore trees. Many of them had trunks that were more than four feet around...and they sent their gnarled limbs towering up in all directions. So how is it that this tree can survive and flourish in the Arizona dessert?


I'm thinking there's a reason these trees grow only along the stream beds. They've got massive roots and have a constant supply of water, no matter what kind of a drought they are facing.

Which brings to mind these words in Jeremiah 17:7-8...

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.

Aren't those great roots?

It's a great tree that can withstand the harsh drought and heat of the dessert. May this strong and mighty sycamore remind me to trust God in every circumstance of life...and stay rooted in Him.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

bumbleberry crisp ala mode

Snow capped peaks and clear sunny skies...sounds like the perfect kind of day for stringing outdoor lights. And it would have been, were it not for the 30 kilometer winds blowing from the northeast and chilling us to the bone. All week we had planned to do the lights on Friday, but did we want to battle chilly winds? The long range forecast shows mostly rain for next week...so we decided we'd 'just do it'! Two people, three ladders, twenty-some strands of lights, and three or four hours later...it is finished! I had a pot of coffee ready, so we could warm up in between, but there was no time for a break...evening was coming. Yey...it's done and now I can get on with 'decking the halls'.

Our supper was less than gourmet and went down real quick. I had company coming and needed to make a dessert. So what's a warm and comforting dessert on a chilly winter night? It had to be something quick...and preferably warm since I was still chilled through and through. How about bumbleberry crisp? I have lots of bumbleberries in the freezer and usually a bag or two of crumbs for the topping, so it's a quickie dessert.


Bumbleberry Crisp


5-6 cups fruit
1/2 cup sugar mixed with 1 T. flour
(whatever you have on hand...I used apples, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries)


Spray casserole dish with Pam. Mix together your choice of fruits and place in baking dish. (I omitted the sugar/flour last night, since we really don't need the sugar and I like my fruit tart with all that ice-cream!)



Crumb Topping:
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup quick oats
3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Mix together to form crumbs and sprinkle over fruit mixture. (I double or triple the recipe & freeze the extra crumb topping for next time.)


Pop into the 375 degree oven and bake for 45-50 minutes...or until fruit is soft and bubbling. Serve with a scoop of premium vanilla ice-cream.


So we had a great time catching up with friends we hadn't seen in ages. They have been to Dawson City, New York, and Germany (and surrounding countries) since we last chatted...and are off to Hawaii next week. After Christmas they are heading south and were wondering what places in Arizona we would recommend...we gave them an earful. Gallivanting around the globe...such fun, but so hard to get caught up when you get back home.

It was midnight by the time they left for home. We put out the lights and headed for bed. Well, we left on the Christmas lights since they were on a timer and would turn themselves off...or so I thought. I woke up at night hearing lovely music...oops, I forgot to turn off the stereo before I turned in. And why were the Christmas lights still lighting up the night at 3 am? I guess a timer only works if it is set correctly.
So I was up bright and early today...and plan to accomplish much. We'll see how the day unfolds.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Revisiting Red Rock Country...


I'm taking you back on the road again. I just have to share a few pic's of 'red rock country'.

After leaving the Grand Canyon, we had a leisurely drive to Sedona. It's not that great a distance, but we took the scenic route from Flagstaff so it took us more than a few minutes! It's a wonderful, curvy road through mountains and valleys, and passes through Oak Canyon. We spent a few days exploring the Sedona area. What a fabulous place!

We camped among the Arziona sycamores which grow along Oak Creek...

explored Sedona...


had a wee salad at a great place with a view...

and hiked along the river in Red Rock State Park.
If only I were an artist, I would have set up my easel right at this spot. My camera tells a better story than my paint brush would, I'm afraid!

We took a hummer tour up the mountain tracks (where no sane person would drive!), and learned all about the 'flora & fauna'.
The sun was setting as we descended from the hills & it was a breathtakingly beautiful sight! If you're ever in Arizona, be sure to take in Red Rock Country.