It’s Beginning To Look A lot Like Commerce

Christmas Presents

 

 

 

 

On Tuesday, November 11, after I stood quietly, respectfully, for two minutes, I stopped at a Dollar Store, and picked up a box of biscuits for the dog.  With my receipt, the clerk handed me a postcard sized form.  If I filled it in and dropped it off soon enough at a downtown office, I might earn a seat in the reviewing stand for the local Santa Claus parade – being held tomorrow, Saturday, Nov. 15th.

I returned home to hear the son announce that he’d picked up his ticket for his firm’s gala Christmas Party – being held next Saturday, Nov. 22.  Dear Ebenezer Scrooge, it’s not even the American Thanksgiving yet, and we’re already hip deep in Christmas.  Welcome to the Festival of Conspicuous Consumption.  The decorations have been out, and the ‘Christmas Sales’ have been on since Halloween.  Even today’s crossword had 3-down – gift-bearing trio = Magi, and – guide for 3-down = star, although, admittedly, those are a little more Spiritual than the rest.

Canada is a bit ahead of The States.  We held our Thanksgiving last month, well before the behemoth that is the Holiday Season was on its tracks and starting to move.  We’ll still be ahead of them in a few years when the commercial season begins about the 4th of July, and we celebrate our independence on July 1.

Be sure to give the ‘Good Christians’ lots of room to ignore Ramadan, Rosh Hashanah, Diwali, Kwanzaa and secular atheism, and insist that their single day in the next two months of celebrations, is the only valid reason for The Season.

Allow the more militant among them a little extra swing room for when they U-turn, and insist that no-one should be allowed to have fun, or give presents, or engage in spiritual introspection, without their permission and participation.  Their cold, exclusionary Grinch’s hearts are well attuned to this icy time of year.

Armed with my CDs, I’m ready for the day, just over two weeks away, when the radio begins delivering nothing but all-Christmas songs, all the time.  I got a new keg of Bah Humbug on E-Bay, and will be downing the occasional shot to keep me topped up, as I help the wife assemble and bake Christmas Holiday cake and Christmas Holiday cookies.

Xmas Cookies (Memories of Christmas Past)

Good morning Peter.  This post is for you, and any others interested in food in general, and our Christmas cookies in particular.  You can’t pull them off the screen, so get your own breakfast before we begin.

I apologise for blurry photos.  This post is a learning experience in publishing pictures.  It runs down a long way.  I wanted large pictures for detail, but there’s not much text.

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Cookie Nests 2These are cookie nests – chocolate drops pushed into balls of dough.  Our chiropractor and his family prefer milk chocolate, while we like the darker.  I took the picture below first, before I realized we had one light one left.  We also made a batch with mint chocolate drops, but apparently the last of them followed the daughter home.

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Cookie NestsMore dark chocolate cookie nests.  Even with a fast digital camera, I manage to get fuzzy photos.

3Maple Sugar Shortbreads

These are the Maple Sugar flavored shortbreads.  The wife found a correctly-sized maple leaf cookie cutter, and I used a small steel cookie spatula to lightly carve in fake veining.

 

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Meringues

These are some of the hard meringues, two of each flavor.  Grated dark chocolate and hazelnut ones on the bottom left, almonds and Skor Bits at the top, and chopped cherry and coconut at bottom right.

 

 

5Oat Delights

These are the Oat Delights.  No-bake cookies, they’re easy to make and yummy.  Put grated chocolate in a glass bowl in a pot with a bit of boiling water in the bottom, to melt the chocolate.  Mix in the other ingredients, dollop out in spoonfuls on waxed paper, and let set.  These, and the meringues above, are the no-flour cookies the grandson can have without allergy problems.

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ShortbreadsTrue Scottish shortbreads, just like Grandma used to make.  After much practice, Granma Ladybug makes them just as good.  Five different basic shapes – winter mitt, holly leaf, Christmas tree, star and plain circle.  The pictures don’t show as much detail as I’d hoped.  Again, I used the cookie spatula to cut in a cuff line on the mitts, a center vein on the holly, a Chrysler star out to the vertices of the star, and just an X on the discs.  It makes them easy to break into four mouth-sized pieces.  I used the end of a chop-stick to indent small holes in the Christmas trees, to simulate decorative balls.

 

7Spritz

These are some of the spritz cookie shapes I pushed out of the cookie press.  You may notice that some of them were from the first batch, and got a little too brown.  They’re not burnt, but are not cosmetically acceptable as gifts, so we get to keep and enjoy them.  As you can see, different sized and colored decorative balls (dragees), mini M&M candy, as well as slivers of red and green glazed cherries are used to brighten them up.

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Sugar Cookies 1

A few of the shapes of iced and decorated sugar cookies we made.  Making and baking is quick and easy.  The icing and decorating takes far longer, but we use the time for some family togetherness, silliness and stress relief.  Note the results my steady hands produce on the candy canes.  The wife sprinkled a little of the Maple Sugar on the reindeer to produce a fur effect.

9Sugar Cookies 2

Some more of the iced sugar cookie shapes.  I can slather red, green or white on wreaths or snowflakes.  The son helps his mom dress up the wreaths, bells and Christmas trees after she’s done with reindeer.  She puts names on all the stockings.  The dressing of the boy- and girl-cookies falls mostly to LadyRyl.  These are just the extra ones we bake in case one of the ones intended for gifts might break, so these are the plain ones.  If I’m still around next Christmas, perhaps I could slip a couple of pictures of the more ornate ones in with a post about motorcycles or sewage disposal.

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Thumbprints

These are called thumbprint cookies, glazed cherry halves pushed down into walnut coated dough balls.  Of all the cookies we make, by a narrow margin, these are my favorite.  I could, but don’t, eat these by the dozen.  There is absolutely no taste difference between red and green cherries, and my mouth can’t see….but I like the red ones. Granma Ladybug is partial to the green ones.

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Yule Logs

Last, but not least, we have what we call Yule Logs.  The dough is similar to the spritz, cookie nests and thumbprint.  (They are all shortbread types.) Form small cylinders and bake, next day, someone with a steadier hand than mine (see The Wife, above) dips them in more melted chocolate, and puts them aside to cool and set.

 

Granma Ladybug said that my contribution to this industry is my ability to put the cookies in the oven, take them out to cool and then pack them into the containers.  Wife says without this assistance, she would be very hard pressed to do this.

We feel we can do this for at least one more year, and hopefully beyond.  Friends and family enjoy these, but our caring Chiropractor and his family receive the single largest donation.  They are overly generous in return.  Half a fruitcake goes along to ride shotgun.  No photos were available because it’s shy and wishes to remain anonymous.

Lazy And Incompetent

Perhaps my title should have been, Busy and Incompetent.  I heard, years ago, that as technology evolved, we would all have more free time, to pursue hobbies and studies and things like that.  It seems though, that as we acquire more and more technology, we have less and less time for ourselves.  I know that, as I spend more time, with more blogs, my reading has decreased.  One of the parts of life to take the greatest hit from busy-ness, seems to be cooking and food preparation.  People have not been taught, or don’t remember, or simply don’t care to, take the time and effort to prepare food from scratch.

My son was amazed in a store the other day, to encounter, pre-cooked bacon, hence, the title of this blog.  How lazy and incompetent have people become, that they can’t even fry bacon?  There’s more than that to the equation.  Folks don’t want to get grease-spatter burns, or messy stoves, or indelible marks on their clothes.  There’s even the question of what to do with the rendered fat when you’re done.  Personally, I keep a clean soup can in the fridge and pour the grease into that, and let it cool.  Then we use some for things like frying French toast or, as we did tonight, create a roux, and add a can of beef broth to make “stone” gravy for perogies.  That can of broth is short-cut cooking for us.  I can almost hear the younger crowd.  “Create a roux?  What the Hell’s a roux?  Make gravy?  Screw that, open a can.”  We “used to” make perogies from scratch, but it’s a four-hour process.  We’re becoming like others, now we buy them ready-made in boxes.

For many people, everything, including food, has to be fast and easy.  Hamburger Helper has a series of ads where they urge you to cut up and add veggies and spices to “personalize” the basic pot of slop.  A lot of folks don’t even know how to cut stuff up, or what spices are, although HH assists them by showing a bottle of Tabasco Sauce.  Studies show that one out of every three meals in America is consumed outside the home, and that doesn’t include delivered stuff, like pizza or Chinese.  Think of that folks, breakfast, lunch and dinner, an average of one of those meals every day, for every person, is purchased.  You guys are dining out way too much.

One of the females in my blog-circle was in awe of her neighbor, who made fresh cookies.  “Even if I had the time, I wouldn’t know how.”  One of the reasons I’m overweight, is that, all three of the adults in this house, know how to cook.  My mother taught me, and my wife taught the son.  We all have our specialties.  I make stuff like homemade pizza, pasta and chili.  I also serve as a great prep-chef and bus-boy.  I will peel and grate and chop and get out spices and milk, etc.  Then the wife comes over and assembles something and leaves a mess, and I clean it all up, just in time to enjoy Black Forest Cake, or a stew from Kenya.  I get a little OCD about cleaning up.  Sometimes I put stuff away, that hasn’t been used yet.

When she was raising our kids, and babysitting for the busy working mothers of the neighborhood, the wife watched TV shows like The Galloping Gourmet, Julia Child or Wok with Yan.  We have almost 20 cookbooks, including a three-ring binder with computer printed pages of preparation and cooking instructions, and recipes from around the world.  That’s why I said that the neighbor probably enjoyed, what to us, was a simple meal.

We continue to purchase things like mustard, relish, ketchup and HP Sauce by the gallon, at Costco.  I wash out the empty squeeze bottle from the fridge and fill it again and again, from the big container.  I can purchase the big container for the cost of two or three of those handy-dandy little ones and get 10 or 12 refills.  All it takes is some time, energy and patience, things many people in today’s busy world don’t have.  It even cuts down on garbage and recycling.  Then we take the money we saved and drive north to the Mennonite farmers market and buy top-grade fresh produce, to make some more yummy waist-stretchers.

Come Christmas-time, we make about a hundred dozen bite-size cookies of about ten varieties, and one or two soft, moist, yummy Christmas cakes.  We give away the lion’s share to our chiropractor, his wife and kids, and now a couple of new husbands.  They have been exceptionally nice to us over thirty years.  They have established a Christmas-morning ritual breakfast of tea and our cookies and cake, as they open presents.  They still respond by giving us far more as gifts than we feel is justified.  This past Christmas they bought us our membership to Costco.  My ever-anchored son pointed out to my wife that, if they went to the Mennonite market and purchased the amount we give them, the cost would be well over $200, and the quality would be nowhere as good.

The highlight of the presentation, especially for the now-adult children, is individually hand decorated/iced sugar cookies.  Bells and wreaths and stars, hand-painted with different colored icing, with various-shaped decorations added.  Then the artistic wife, and especially daughter, use the colored icing to “paint” sugar-cookie men and women to resemble each of them.  They put in suits, jogging outfits, and for each of the girls and their new husband, a wedding gown and tux.  All of them get their name added in dark icing.

When we deliver the largesse, it’s like watching It’s A Wonderful Life, in real life.  These “kids” are now all into their twenties, but the eyes sparkle and the smiles glow.  They are just SO glad to receive their hand-made, personalized gift.  It’s a Hell of a lot better than that “personalized” Hamburger Helper.  It’s such a shame that so much of the good, old ways has been left behind by so many of today’s busy, stressed citizens.