Gratitude

To show their gratitude for our providing them with decorated Christmas cookies and fruitcake for their family Christmas breakfast, our Chiropractor and his family send us home with an over-abundance of lovely gifts.  One we’ve appreciated for several years is a gift certificate for a local Chinese buffet restaurant, simply named “Kings.”  There is another chain restaurant named “Mandarin”, but the range of choices and quality of food is about the same, only the price is 50% higher.

Husband, son, daughter, grandson – the birthdays all crash down like that Russian meteor, Sept. 21, Oct. 1, Oct. 3, Oct. 6.  We barely catch our breath from blowing out one set of candles, when it starts all over again.  The wife’s birthday is on Feb. 19.  It gives us time to save up our pennies, the ones that are now officially out of circulation.  The four adults do the work on the cookies, so we use the gift certificate to pay ourselves back.  The grandson and his fiancée are old enough to develop their own plans, so the rest of us have an evening out.

Ontario has established a new statutory holiday.  The third Monday in February is now, Family Day.  This year it fell on the 18th.  If we were to go out on a Saturday or Sunday, the prices for the same food are 25% higher, and the crowds are thick.  Had we gone out on the Monday, the prices are better, but the place would still be packed.  We waited till the wife’s birthday on Tuesday.

We don’t tell anyone at the restaurant that it is.  If you’re foolish enough to do that, you get – Clap, Clap – It’s your – Clap, Clap – Birthday – Clap, Clap – You’re real – Clap, Clap – Centered out – Clap, Clap.  You get a chocolate muffin with a candle, they stick a cardboard tiara on your head that makes the one from Burger King look real, and they take a Polaroid for future blackmail.  We did it last year when the son turned 40.  The wife says she’ll admit to it next year, when she turns 65.

Waiting to use the gift certificate till the middle of February serves several purposes.  The hustle-bustle and over-eating of the Christmas/New Year’s season is over.  The son is the only one with a job, but we all need a middle-of-the-winter holiday.  The weight-watch dieting has been back in force long enough to justify a “just-one-time” exemption.  It is the wife’s birthday, and she deserves one night where she doesn’t have to plan/cook a meal, and the daughter doesn’t get left, eating leftovers all alone, while the kids invade their favorite Starbucks for the evening.  It’s another evening like the ones we spent making cookies.  We enjoy a communal meal, laugh, talk, tell lies and jokes and catch up on each other’s lives.

While only able to afford to do this once or twice a year, we’ve developed a bit of a relationship with one white male server.  Even if we’re not seated in his section, he stops over to see us when we pop in.  The son was startled when he showed up at his shop one night, working through the temp agency.  Son was worried that he’d lost his job, but, while stressful, the reason was more prosaic.

Several of his friends had decided to go on a trip to Europe, or Nicaragua, or Newfoundland.  He wished to accompany them but didn’t have the funds for the fare, or the time off, so he signed up for a second job.  He got off work at ten at the restaurant, and went to the son’s shop for an 11 to 7 shift.  He did this for six weeks, to earn enough money….and the other guys couldn’t agree on where or when, and the trip fell apart.  Wisely, he invested it in a restaurant management course.

Our chiropractor has found out about my blogging, and has become a regular follower.  He goes down to his den in the basement, and gets on his computer before clients begin to arrive.  This post will be up early Tuesday morning, when wife, daughter and I have an 11 AM appointment.  I’m using it as another way of expressing the family’s gratitude for facilitating a most enjoyable evening out.  Good morning, Peter.  Let’s talk about comments.

How ‘bout the rest of you?  I’d show gratitude for some comments.

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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.

Statistics Status Stasis

I’ve seen other bloggers gleefully, boastfully, posting about their year-end WordPress stats.  Much against my own advice and better judgement, I’ve decided to serve up a little tale of my own results.

I don’t remember WordPress presenting stats, last year.  Even if they did, I only managed to get out two posts in late November, and another two in December, before the *Flu To End All Flus* almost ended me, and F….ouled up my vision.  I could barely run the keyboard, much less the WordPress platform.

Over the past year, I’ve improved and increased my output, but still didn’t set the world on fire.  The fireworks on my report consisted of a picture of the kid next door, with a birthday candle in a cupcake.  In my report’s reference to Mount Everest, apparently the cargo plane hasn’t even landed at the airport in Nepal.  If my output were compared to Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill, he’d still only be halfway up, the first time.

Actually, not setting the world on fire with my prose is not a disappointment.  It was neither an expectation nor a desire, when I started.  Veni, Vidi, Vocab.  You came, you read, and you commented, and for that, I am greatly gratified.  I continue to read, and be read by, some interesting and impressive people.

Actually, a couple of things about the daily report, interest and confuse me more than anything in the big year-end wrap-up.  Along with other bloggers, I am surprised by the themes of posts which seem to attract the most views.  Post something about Native poverty, or religious intolerance, and get the usual crowd slouching through, kicking the tires.  Put up a little fluff piece, and have to step back into a corner, to keep from having my toes stepped on.

My most visited piece this past year, was a (hopefully) humorous acceptance speech for a blog award which had been flung at me.  For three or four months, my most-visited day was 71 viewers.  Near the beginning of December, suddenly that same day was only worth 69 views.  Wha’ happun??  Did two of my readers die?!

I offer that possibility flippantly, but, one of my followers is a cancer sufferer, and another is a hopefully recovering drug/alcohol addict who was missing for about three months, because she had a car crash.  Neither has posted in months.  I am concerned!  Can any of you techies out there explain why my reported viewership is shrinking?  I believe I remember Edward Hotspur mentioning that the same thing had happened to him.

The other thing which baffles me, is the new, “so many actual visitors/so many different page-views” daily report.  During one day, when I checked, the report showed 5 visitors, and 6 separate views….yet I had 10 *likes*!  Somewhat later in the day, when my ego drove me to check again, it still showed only 5 visitors….but now 7 different views, even though all views were of the most recent post, and I now had 11 *likes*.

Again, if one of you who understand WordPress workings wishes to explain its arcane actuarial tables, I’m interested, but not concerned.  When I reached my one-hundredth post, I expressed concern about coming up with more blog-themes.  It may have been like driving past a traffic accident, but apparently I entertain a few folks, and was urged to continue posting my digital diarrhea.  I’m now near 140 posts, and occasional ideas continue to pop up.  You’ll not get rid of me easily.  I’m goin’ out typing and tapping….

……Gerry Seinfeld just called.  He said, Enough of the Yada-Yada, Nothin’ already, put this puppy to bed before all my readers doze off.  I just threw this post together because I wanted something time-sensitive.  I’ll be here all week, ladies and gentlemen.   I’ll be back soon with a Christmas-cookie photo spread, and some more serious fare.  A Happy New Year to all, and to all – good blogging.

Something’s Cooking

Baking, actually.  It’s a good thing I have a few posts ahead in the drafts file, or I wouldn’t even have been able to put out the desperate few I did, the last week or so.  We’ve been making Christmas cookies.  We two fruitcakes also made two fruitcakes.  I can’t figure out how to Email the second one to KayJai, so I guess we’ll be forced to eat it ourselves.

In the last couple of weeks, the wife and I, with some help from both daughter and son, have made up 80 to 90 dozen cookies.  First we laid in supplies, a flat of 2 ½ dozen fresh eggs, ten pounds of butter, two 10 lb. bags of flour, plus nuts, flavoring, decorations, chocolate, and stuff even I don’t know about.

We made up 11 different types – two different versions of Scottish shortbreads, three flavors of hard meringues, thumbprints, Yule logs, oat delights, several shapes of cookie-pressed spritz, some decorated sugar cookies, and a batch of ginger snaps.  I know ginger snaps don’t seem like a Christmas cookie, but I’ll try to explain later.  Each different batch yielded 6 to 8 dozen little bite-sized gems.

It all started because my wife is the youngest of nine children in a Bad Good Catholic family.   Well into her late twenties and early thirties, she was treated as if she couldn’t cook, despite her next oldest brother, a trained Chef, admitting that she cooked better than him.  For the summer family picnic, she was told to “Just bring chips and dip.”  For the Christmas celebration, it was, “We’ve got the main courses.  You just bring cookies.”  So she learned how to make homemade cookies.

My good Scottish mother taught her how to make real Scottish shortbreads.  The secret is working the dough by hand, so that the skin warmth causes the butter to meld with the flour and sugar, to produce a literal melt-in-your-mouth Ambrosia.  This year, instead of using white sugar, she produced a second batch with Canadian Maple Sugar.  If the Americans ever invade Canada, it will be to get those cookies.

The grandson is allergic to wheat flour, so she found cookies with no flour, not just for him, but he loves them.  Hard meringues are just lots of egg whites and sugar, whipped till they’re stiff.  Three different batches, all with different stuff mixed in, one got shredded dark chocolate and hazelnuts, one had slivered almonds and Skor bits, and the last received finely chopped glazed cherries and coconut.  Dollop on a sheet of parchment and bake low and slow, till firm.

Oat delights are melted chocolate, shortening, rolled oats and coconut, mixed together.  No need for baking.  Form into small globs on a cookie sheet.  When the chocolate solidifies, they’re ready to eat.

Yule logs, thumbprints and spritz cookies all have a shortbread-like base.  Yule logs are rolled to finger-like size and shape, and baked.  The next day they have the tops dipped by hand into chocolate and set aside to harden.  Thumbprints are rolled into ping-pong balls, dipped in egg-white, rolled in chopped walnuts and half a glazed cherry pressed into the tops, then baked.

Spritz cookies are dispensed by a cookie-press, so that they, but not me, are fresh-pressed.  Variously sized and shaped bottom dies give crosses, Christmas trees, and lobed discs.  These have colored sugar balls and other shapes pressed in by hand before baking.

While making cookies for the family gathering years ago, the wife threw out her back.  We had just received a flyer from a new chiropractor, working from the basement of his home, a half a mile away.  I called and he said to bring her over.  It’s 9:30 at night!  You mean, in the morning, right?  No!  No!  Bring her now.  We went over.  He cured the problem, we took along a card-box of cookies as a thank-you, and a tradition was born.

When the wife was forced to give up her family, because they were toxic, en masse, we needed somewhere to put all these cookies.  Each year the number of cookies given to the doctor and his family grew, as his family increased.  Sugar cookies were added to the mix, specifically for the kids, and the Christmas cake recipe was developed for the adults’ more refined tastes.

Sugar cookies, rolled out flat and baked, are bland and uninteresting.  As with so many things worth doing, the wife decided to improve on them.  We began icing them, not just with a sugar glaze, but with a colored, flavored glaze.  Bells are coated with a gold, maple flavor, stars, snowflakes and snowmen get white, almond.  I slather green, mint on holly wreaths.  Stockings get red, cherry, except for a white cuff.  I stripe candy-canes red and white.

The wife makes sure bears and reindeer look natural in brown, gravy?  No. Peanut butter? No!  Sugar beads, bells and bows, along with other shapes, and coarse, colored sugar, are all added to dress them up.  Their stockings all have their names in burnt-sugar coloring on the cuffs.  We cut out boy-shapes and girl-shapes.  The daughter, with the best eye, the steadiest hand, and the most artistic flair, turns these into representations of the kids.  Kids?  Hah!  They were when we started, 25 years ago.  The cookies have grown with them.

Two of the girls are married.  She made one girl-cookie into a young school-marm, with a book on the front of her pretty frock.  Another married daughter is also a teacher, but more of a free-spirit, so her cookie looked more like a hippie in a flow-y skirt.  The third was dressed in a ball-gown, with a string of pearls.  The son, the youngest, and studying to be a pharmacist, got his cookie with a pharmacist’s jacket, and his studious glasses.  One new husband is a painter.  His boy-cookie came with a paint spattered sweatshirt and blue jeans.  The other is a bit of a gamer, so his showed a controller on the tummy.

The kids have loved these personalized presents for years.  Even now, *grown-up*, they and their spouses still want the fun, and the recognition.  Pictures are taken and stories are told to friends and co-workers.  The family has built a Christmas tradition.  First they exchange and open presents, then they all sit down to pots of tea, and our cookies for a family brunch.  While making this mass can be a bit (lot?) of work, it’s also fun, and what we do to release tension.  The joy and appreciation make it all worthwhile….and there’s leftovers till February.

Oops, almost forgot.  We found that the chiropractor’s favorite cookies are Ginger snaps, so we include a canful, for him.  He claims he takes them downstairs to the office, and the rest of the family doesn’t even know about them.