Friday, December 28, 2012

The Post Christmas Post

Well that sure went by in a blur! One minute I was worrying about Karsten and Diana driving over wintry roads to get here, and the next I was worrying about them driving over wintry roads to go back home. They made it here and back safely, so thankfully all that worrying was for nothing. However, it turns out my concern for our Christmas tree was justified.

Kellen and Anita found a nice tree for us, and I bought some cheap, dog-safe ornaments to put on it. The first day the tree was up I saw Fergus trotting straight to his crate. He only does this when he has something he shouldn't. I went to see what he had and, sure enough, he had nabbed one of the ornaments off the tree. I was a little bit surprised he had been able to get it since I had hung all the ornaments quite high on the tree. When I went into the living room to hang it back up the mystery was solved. He must have jumped up and grabbed it, pulling the tree over as he tugged it off.




It was hard not having Rebekah with us in person for Christmas, but we did spend some time with her via Skype. She had sent over a box filled with goodies, and she got to watch each person open up their gift. She had already opened the gifts we had sent to her. I was happy to see the Woolly Wormhead hat I knit for her fit!




Of course, it wouldn't be an authentic Hammond Christmas without at least one thing going wrong. The first thing that didn't go according to plan was the turkey. It was truly the most dried out, tasteless bird I have ever eaten. Road kill left to bake on the highway in the hot summer sun would been better than what I served my poor family. And this was a turkey that cost so much that when the cashier rang it up the man in line behind me actually gasped.

The turkey was the lead up to the Big Disaster, which happened on Boxing Day morning. Well, actually it happened on Christmas night, but David neglected to mention it to anyone.




The hot water tank broke. The only good thing I can say about this is at least it happened the day Karsten, Diana and Anton were going home rather than the day they arrived. The cost of the new hot water tank certainly put the cost of that turkey into perspective.


Top left to right: Rebekah modelling her new hat and her texting gloves; the Skype gift opening with Rebekah;
I had to beg for everyone to pose for this picture in front of the tree!; Fergus giving David a Christmas hug

In spite of the bad bird on Christmas and the cold water on Boxing Day we had a wonderful time together. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas with your family and friends!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Salted Caramels, My Christmas Epiphany

Something occurred to me last week. I realized I could make my own salted caramels. I found a recipe, bought the ingredients, and last Sunday made a batch of something. I'm not sure what name to put to it, but I wouldn't think of tarnishing salted caramel's reputation by calling it that. All I will say is if your knife bounces off the surface of something it is supposed to slide through, it's not a good sign. Jay wanted me to keep it, saying it was like toffee. I pointed out we have a lousy dental plan, and into the garbage it went.

It wasn't until the third batch that I got the result I was looking for. They are soft and chewy and sweet and salty all at once, in a way that makes you want to forgo all other food and eat nothing but salted caramels for the rest of your life. Or at least for a whole day. It was that thought that had me doing some calculations to see exactly how many calories were in a batch. It turns out one pan has 2740 calories, which is probably about how many calories I burn per day. What a dangerous thought! And one I might act on were it not for the fact that I am not the only salted caramel lover in our family.






The food is purchased, the tree is up, and the baking is complete. Tomorrow Karsten and Diana arrive, and the following day Anton gets here.




I am cautiously going to say we are ready for Christmas 2012. In case you are wondering why I feel the need for caution, here are the links to my story about a previous Hammond family Christmas.

http://journeynorthof49.blogspot.ca/2010/12/celebration-failure-part-1.html

http://journeynorthof49.blogspot.ca/2010/12/celebration-failure-part-2.html

http://journeynorthof49.blogspot.ca/2010/12/celebration-failure-part-3.html

http://journeynorthof49.blogspot.ca/2010/12/celebration-failure-part-4.html

http://journeynorthof49.blogspot.ca/2010/12/celebration-failure-part-5.html

http://journeynorthof49.blogspot.ca/2010/12/celebration-failure-complete.html


Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sharing the Shortbread

Part of me loves the Christmas season and part of me hates it. When I was searching for a birthday card for my friend last week an elderly gentleman was standing next to me looking at the huge assortment of Christmas cards. He turned to me and said, "I'll be glad when the whole thing is over with." That perfectly sums up my feeling about the Christmas holiday when it comes to being assaulted by cheesy Christmas music, cheap, tasteless decorations (remember that horrific ornament I blogged about?) and the blatant consumerism that starts a full two months before the actual holiday.

But there are also the good things - the family traditions and time spent together eating, visiting, playing games and catching up on each other's lives. There are the memories from the past, and the memories being created to cherish in the future. Food is a huge part of our Christmas, and over the years certain things have become established as part of our Hammond family tradition. The list has expanded to the point I can't make every single item on it every year. Not even our family could possibly consume that much.

This year I decided to take a different approach. I decided to ask each of my kids and Jay what one Christmas item they would like me to make. Their answers would make up this year's baking list. I started with Jay. Here's how the conversation went.

"Everyone gets to pick the thing they like best and I will make it for Christmas this year. What would you like?"

I had barely finished the question before Jay answered, "Shortbreads."

Then after asking Karsten and David what they would like and getting the same answer, I changed the question to "Your dad has already picked shortbreads. What is your second choice for your favourite Christmas cookie or treat?" I have now finished all of my Christmas baking, but honestly, part of me thinks if I had only made shortbreads everyone would have been quite happy.

The recipe I make comes from Jay's mom. It is one of my most treasured possessions. She wrote it out for me over thirty years ago, and if our house was on fire I would grab the recipe box containing it before just about anything else I own. The writing is in pencil, and has faded over the years.


The cookie press I use also comes from Jay's mom. I don't have the same fond feelings about it that I do the recipe. In fact, if the house burns down this would be the item I would probably be the happiest to see incinerated. Every year I promise myself I will buy a newer, better cookie press. And every year I end up using this old beast. Because that's where tradition can end up biting you in the rear end. You see, if I didn't use the press with just the right tip on the end the shortbreads wouldn't be quite the same.

The address in the bottom left corner gives its age away. It pre-dates both zip codes and Chinese manufacturing.
Here's the problem with using it. Amputee cookies.


It makes a huge batch, but I guarantee they will all be eaten before the holidays are over.


Here is my Christmas gift to you. Romaine's shortbread recipe. The key is the rice flour, so if you decide to make these be sure you don't leave it out.

Shortbreads

6 cups flour
4 cups butter
2 cups sugar
1 tbsp. rice flour 
1 tsp. salt

Cream butter and sugar, then work in the flour, salt and rice flour. (You will have to use your hands to work in the flour.) Bake for about 15 minutes at 300F. Watch them closely as there is a very narrow window between perfection and disaster.


Serving suggestion: Eat lots and consume with tea.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Chilly Guest Post From Rebekah


안녕하새요!
This is Rebekah, Kristie’s daughter, typing to you on an early morning in Korea. 
It was a brisk -15 degrees Celsius when I woke up and headed out the door for my 45 minute bus ride to school. Every morning I prepare for another day of staying a few degrees above hypothermia. And I thought I was leaving the cold behind in Canada.







Minus 15 is about as cold as Korea gets, but coping with it is approached differently here. Back home, one only has to endure the cold on the commute to work and to-and-from lunch break. Office buildings are kept between 20-25 degrees. Korean style: interior hallways and bathrooms are often virtually without heat while offices and rooms are heated with ondol (floor heating) or large stand-up gas/electric heaters.

At school, students bundle up in fluffy, name brand, goose down jackets, wrap little fleece blankets around themselves and keep heating pouches in their pockets. It takes me two minutes to mentally prepare myself to leave my office and head to my classroom or the bathroom. So even though outside temperatures might not be as extreme as Canada, I arrive home thoroughly chilled from a day of never quite being warm. 





Many foreign teachers laud Korea’s ondol heating and it truly is an impressive innovation – your feet are toasty and the heat rises to the ceiling. It’s common to share stories of coming home, turning on the heat and just laying on the floor, soaking up the heat. I’m trying to save money, however, and refrain from turning on my floor heat too often, so it can get quite cool. (So cool I’m tempted to buy a thermometer to see how cold.)

The result is that most of my at-home activities are operated from within the perimeter of my bed, bundled under the covers. If I have to leave, it’s done by hastily hopping out and back in again as soon as possible. 

Here’s where I have to thank my mom. Firstly, she taught me practical frugality: turn off lights, spare the heat, save money. The main area of our house was kept around 19 C (about 67 F), which meant my basement room hovered around 18 degrees. “Bundle up and sit in front of the fire,” she  replied to our constant complaints.

Secondly, my mom provided me with appreciation for good quality fibers. Every night I go to bed wearing the wool sweater and a pair of wool knee socks she knit me. 





So Korean winters might feel colder than home, but I snuggle up in my apartment clad in not only a nice reminder of home, but a gift that literally warms my soul. Thanks mom!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Snawheid

Last week was so warm that when the Vesey's 2013 seed catalog arrived I felt like I needed to hurry and place an order so I could start my garden. That was last week. This week has started out cold and snowy, the kind of weather a knitter waits all year for. Which makes me especially happy that I finished this hat over the weekend. It is Snawheid, the latest pattern by Kate Davies.




The snowflake pattern is great, but it's not the best part of this hat. Check out the crown.




I'm sure the neighbours thought I was crazy yesterday when they looked over and saw me standing on my back deck taking pictures of my head. Lots of pictures from all sorts of angles. While it was snowing. By the time I got back inside my hands were frozen (my head was nice and warm though, thanks to the hat!).

Then last night I had that vague feeling that I didn't feel quite right, and I was gradually becoming more aware of the presence of my throat than one normally should be. I went to bed trying to be optimistic, but when I woke up this morning I knew it was a lost cause. The rational part of my brain keeps telling me colds are caused by viruses, not by standing out in freezing temperatures with bare hands. The not so rational part is agreeing with the neighbours - I must have been crazy.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Julekuler

Last week I was overcome by the strangest urge. I wanted to buy an artificial Christmas tree. Given that the smell of a fresh Christmas tree is one of my favourite things in the world, this was a rather odd  feeling to have. But the appeal of having the lights already attached, no possibility of a repeat of our leaking tree episode of a few years back, and not having to clean up thousands of needles shed by a tree that wasn't quite as fresh as advertised suddenly seemed irresistible.

I floated the idea by Jay and Alexandra. Well, floated is really the wrong word since it never even got off the ground. There was no discussion. No weighing out the merits of real vs. artificial. They just looked at me like I had suddenly morphed into the Grinch Who Wanted To Steal Their Tree. Clearly this is not going to be the year of the big changeover.

Regrouping, I tried to figure out why I wanted an artificial tree. This was about the same time Fergus and Jenny were going through one of their crazy spurts, chasing each other around the house like the feral creatures they can sometimes be. Suddenly I had my answer! This was going to be our first Christmas with Fergus in the house. We did have Jenny last Christmas, but that was back in her uncorrupted pre-Fergus days. All I had to do last year was make sure I hung the decorations out of her reach. This is not a difficult task when your dog is a miniature dachshund.

Once I identified the problem I was able to come up with a plan. My plan is this. Not a single ornament of value, sentimental or otherwise, will grace this year's tree. The ornaments that do go on will all have to be located more than three feet off the floor (Fergus is a very good jumper). They will also have to be classified as "not lethal if ingested" due to the fact there are no guarantees that in a house with a cat that the ornaments we put on the tree will actually stay there.

It seems silly to spend money on a tree that is going to be left practically naked, so I phoned Kellen. He said he and Anita would love to go out and find us a tree in the bush. He warned me that it might only be four feet high and have eight branches, to which I responded, "Perfect!" That would give us a good foot that was out of Fergus's reach to work with as far as decorations, and since the number of ornaments we are going to put on it has been greatly reduced, eight branches sounded about right. Maybe even excessive.

I wish I had figured all of this out earlier. I would have made a whole tree full of the Arne and Carlos Christmas balls. As it stands right now I have knit two. One was mailed to Rebekah to help fill her apartment in Korea with some Christmas cheer. The other one is staying here, and unless I can get a couple more knit between now and December 25, this may well be the only ornament on our 2012 tree. It meets all of my qualifications. It is not breakable, it has no sentimental value, it didn't cost a fortune, and if one of the dogs manages to eat it I won't have to call poison control. (Which, as an aside, I never once had to do when my kids were little, but have had to do twice since Fergus entered our home.)

Julekule, from the book 55 Christmas Balls to Knit.




Have you switched to an artificial tree? Or are you a staunch traditionalist and still putting up a real tree? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tweaking My Heritage

I was going to throw all the names for the sock contest into Jenny's new hat and have Alexandra draw one out. What I hadn't factored in is Jenny's hat isn't a regular hat, therefor has no closed end on it. What makes this especially embarrassing is this didn't dawn on me until I actually reached for the hat to put the names in. A sheep mug had to substitute. The winner of the "hot off the sock cart, straight from Korea" socks is anonymous commenter Cindy!

One of my favourite Christmas traditions springs from my Danish roots. My Grandpa Chris was from Denmark, and so were many others from the small farming community where I grew up, so to me these were as much a part of Christmas as gingerbread men, the tree and hanging up stockings on Christmas Eve. Their Danish name is aebleskiver, but they are more commonly known here as Danish pancakes.

To make aebleskivers you need a special cast iron aebleskiver pan. These used to be very hard to find in North America, but now, thanks to the Internet and the growing popularity of these little Danish pancakes, there are lots of online sources if you decide to give them a try.



I was feeling a little sorry for myself since I had assumed going gluten-free also meant I would have to go aebleskiver-free. Then someone pointed out there are gluten-free recipes for aebelskivers. Why hadn't I thought of that? After all, there are gluten-free recipes for almost everything else! This is the one I settled on (I also add a teaspoon of cardamon), and this past weekend I did a pre-Christmas trial run.

The trick to making these is in the turning. You fill each hole about 2/3 full with batter. Let it cook until the bottom half is nicely done, then with a pointy object (I use a chopstick, but a skewer or knitting needle also works well) you carefully pry the bottom away form the pan and quickly flip it over so the top half cooks.

I'm sorry I don't have any pictures of me making them. I had enough trouble dealing with the hot pan, runny batter and the chopstick without adding photography into the mix. I fear the result would have been burned aebleskivers. Or worse, a kitchen fire. But I do have pictures of the finished product.




There are lots of aebleskiver variations. Some people fill them with things like applesauce, jam, or stewed prunes (this was a favourite where I grew up). My experimental batch were left unfilled, but next time around I want to try putting some homemade raspberry jam inside.




I don't know how authentic this is, but we always roll them in a bit of sugar. It not only adds to the flavour, I think it also makes them look very Christmassy.




Of course, there is nothing healthy about these. But sometimes food benefits more than our bodies. In this case it nourishes the memories of my childhood, and hopefully will have a place in the memories of my children. That's how tradition works.