exploring, preserving: past, present

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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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Baking is Good Therapy – 14 Dozen Chocolate Lady Fingers

Baking is definitely therapeutic for me. It’s something I’ve been doing for three decades, and there is a familiar pattern of preparing ingredients, contemplating adjustments to tried-and-true recipes, waiting and watching for baking to complete, smelling familiar smells in the house…. Smells, motions, recipes all have so many memories tied to them.

On Friday I baked 14 dozen chocolate lady fingers. This is one of those “tried and true” recipes handed down from my mother who got it from her family, but origin is long forgotten. The original recipe is one of those “bake in a moderate oven until done” oldies-but-goodies. I’ve baked it often enough that I’ve finally written down the best temperature and time for baking (provided in brackets in the recipe below). It’s also one of those “makes anywhere from 12 dozen to 20 dozen cookies” recipes (depending on the size of the cookie cutter used). Though it’s quite possible/easy to cut the recipe in half, I never have. It’s tradition, tied to memories with my mother. Baking with mom always came with wonderful conversations filled with her own childhood memories. Memories of memories.

I provide the lady finger recipe with original measurements of ingredients and instructions. You will also note that the recipe is brief in its description (no details on what to add, whether to whip eggs or not). Really, it’s also tradition just to “dump” all the ingredients into one big bowl and mix. Works well every time. The first instruction, “make a soft dough”, refers to some flexibility with the amount of flour depending on humidity. In dry, cold Canadian winters, the 6 1/2 cups of flour is the perfect amount as long as you’re sprinkling flour on your countertop during rolling. Too much flour and the cookies become tough and dry.

lady fingers

These cookies are good iced with a very simple icing (icing sugar and water), or you can mix up icing sugar, a bit of milk, and a little vanilla for flavour. I would encourage you to simply taste the cookie without any icing as the cocoa and cinnamon in this recipe are distinct in both the smell and flavour of it, enjoyable without any embellishment.

Chocolate Lady Fingers
2/3 cup honey
3 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup cocoa
1 cup cream
1 cup margarine
2/3 cup milk
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
6 1/2 cups flour

Make a soft dough. Roll out – not too thin – and cut in fingers. Bake in moderate oven (350) until done (8-10 minutes, make sure cookie is still soft to touch). Ice.


Saturday Upside…Mom’s Christmas Baking

Growing up with a mother who is an excellent baker, the weeks leading up to holidays were always busy and special. November was always a month full of preparations for Christmas, with a long list of “must be baked” favourite cookie recipes and the obligatory Christmas fruit cake (which was not dry like the rhetorical/proverbial ones many people speak of, it was so very yummy and glazed with sherry…mmm. Wait, that’s for another blog post! Back to cookies….)

Mom had a list of special requests that had to be baked every Christmas: whipped shortbread, scottish shortbread, chocolate ladyfingers, soft white iced cookies, date cookies with corn flakes coating, sherry-soaked fruit cake, mincemeat tarts, butter tarts, and that’s not even half of the list.

My mother Margret, on the right. I love this picture of her!

My mother Margret, on the right. I love this picture of her!

From my elementary-aged years on, I always wanted to help out with the baking. I learned her cookie recipes and I’ve made them many times since then.
This year, I tried a brand new cookie recipe. I think it’s a keeper, one that will be added to our ever-growing list of “we have to bake this for Christmas!” list. The recipe for these “Everything Cookies” is created by me, with the Chipits Chocolate Cookie recipe as a starter/inspiration and what was in my cupboards at the time as the many additions and adjustments! Please try it out and let me know what you think!

"Everything" Cookies cooling on the rack.

“Everything” Cookies cooling on the rack.

Everything Cookies
1 1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup oatmeal
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup craisins
1 cup toffee bits
1/2 cup whole flax seeds
2/3 cup flaked coconut

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cream butter and sugar together in a bowl. Add vanilla and eggs to this, whipping the mixture until fluffy. Gradually stir in flour, baking soda, salt, and oatmeal. Add remaining ingredients gradually (chocolate chips, craisins, toffee bits, flax seeds, coconut).

Drop by heaping teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes until lightly browned. Let cool slightly on pan, then remove to cooling racks while still warm. Do not let cookies cool on the pan or they will become hard and stick to the pan!

Recipe makes about 6 dozen cookies.