exploring, preserving: past, present

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A Chinese Christmas

We are currently hosting three girls from China, all of whom are taking English classes at a nearby university. Tonight, we spent time together decorating our Christmas tree.

The lights go on first....

The lights go on first….

Conversation was so much fun, with me trying to explain the meaning behind our ornaments:
1. A guitar, to represent my father (who passed away years ago, but loved to play the guitar);
2. A Bethlehem star, to represent the Star in the East from the story of the birth of Christ;
3. A pair of mittens, to represent my husband’s hard-working uncle (who passed away two months after my father did);
4. Two little churches, to represent our faith.

This year, we have a different tree topper. We have usually had an angel at the top of the tree. This year, we have a large red and gold ribbon (in many loops), which the girls gave to us. The red and gold colours represent luck and health, they say.


The girls call it our Chinese Christmas tree. They love the red and gold ornaments. I like that they like it, and that they shared their culture with us.


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‘Twas the Night Before…

I’m almost done my first week of my 30 day blogging challenge. There will be a December giveaway – but that will only be revealed during my December posts. 🙂

Today I’m reminiscing about Christmas.

I grew up in a family that went to church. The church we went to made sure that every Christmas, there was a Program. This Program included singing from the choirs (children, youth, adult), a play of some sorts (usually the retelling of the story of the birth of Jesus), much carol singing with the congregation, and – at the very end – gifts for the children.

Nothing extravagant, mind you. But *free* nevertheless. As a little girl, I waited and waited for the moment the Program would end and children would be called up to the front of the church to receive a gift. Everyone got the same thing, but it still felt…special.

The gifts were all wrapped in brown lunch bags.

Inside the bags were an assortment of hard candies, chocolate, a small candy cane or two, a handful of peanuts in their shells, and what I was desperately waiting for – a Mandarin Orange.

Mandarin oranges were hard to come by when I was growing up. Now, as an adult, I’m noticing that mandarin oranges are available for a couple of months before Christmas as well as a month or so after Christmas. That wasn’t always the case. Mandarin oranges came “but once a year”, and they were expensive. At least, they were an expensive extra for our family. So to receive one large juicy orange for free? Wow, that was like Gold!

These days, a lot of people are caught up in big consumer frenzies like “Black Friday”. Buying more seems to be the norm. Buying thoughtfully, or not at all, seems difficult. All it takes for me to remember what it means to truly appreciate all that I have (and I know I am blessed with much), is the smell of citrus.

On this last day of November, the day before the Advent season begins, I am thankful for all that I have.

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Mom’s Baking – Whipped Shortbread

Yesterday’s post was about my dad and his favourite cookie, The Raisin Cookie, and the happy memories the spices brought back. My mother would bake at least a dozen different kinds of cookies for the holidays, and there always had to be two kinds of shortbread. Traditional shortbread recipes have brown sugar in them. The cookies are buttery, sugary, and (sometimes described as) dry. Mom made traditional shortbread for Christmas, but she also made whipped shortbread.

Whipped shortbread recipes tend to use icing sugar (or confectioners sugar) instead of the brown sugar. The butter is still there, but this recipe does what its name requires of it–whipping the sugar and butter together until fluffy. Traditional shortbreads are rolled and cut; whipped shortbreads must be either spooned carefully onto a baking sheet or created using a cookie press. I invested in a cookie press with an assortment of tips and attachments years ago, and I enjoy making whipped shortbread cookies with this. Mom always used a cookie press to make her whipped shortbread look fancy, and carefully placed pieces of green and red maraschino cherries onto them before they went into the oven to bake. My job growing up was to put the cherries on top – and occasionally I managed to sneak a piece or two as a treat all on its own. That didn’t happen often, because baking was an expensive thing to do – especially with at least twelve types of cookies on the go – so mom made sure ingredients didn’t disappear!

Whipped Shortbread

Whipped Shortbread

This recipe was always quick to make, but it took longer because of the conversation mom always wanted to have while I placed the cherry pieces onto the cookies. She’d ask what I was doing in school, what was happening with my friends, and whether I was still getting along with my twin sister (an answer that changed frequently during my growing up years!). Cookie baking was both about the process and conversation, as well as the pleasure the finished product gave to so many people during family gatherings.

Whipped Shortbread Cookies
1 cup butter, softened (I do recommend butter rather than margarine for its distinct flavour)
1 1/2 cups flour (all-purpose works very well, if you have cake flour handy this makes the cookie more fluffy!)
1/2 cup icing or confectioners sugar
diced maraschino cherries for garnish

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Combine butter, flour, and sugar in a bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until very light and fluffy (the more air incorporated, the better…usually a good 5-10 minutes of effort is needed). Use a cookie press to place individual cookies on cookie sheets. Cookies will spread to approximately double their size while baking, so leave enough room between cookies to ensure cookies do not touch and stick together during the baking process. Place one piece of maraschino cherry onto the centre of each cookie. If you get really creative, a larger red maraschino in the centre with two small narrow green pieces can look like a Christmas poinsettia. Bake for approximately 17 minutes, or until bottoms are lightly browned. Remove, let cool 5 minutes on the cookie sheet, then transfer to cooling racks. Don’t leave cookies to cool on the pan, they will stick. Placing parchment paper on the pan before baking can help reduce sticking.