There’s Something About Christmas

There’s something about Christmas that brings out the grouchiness  in normally reasonable people. Over the years, I’ve figured out a few things.  Grumbling loudly while standing in a postal line-up, doesn’t make the line go faster. If my cards don’t go out on time, my friends know they will maybe get a New Year’s greeting from me–or maybe, not at all. That has happened a few times over the decades and we’re still on good speaking terms.  Baking is a foregone conclusion—bake too early and it gets eaten; bake too late and it gets eaten. I’ve given up on fruitcakes since not a lot of people eat them these days because of calories, diets, allergies and goodness knows what-all. As for presents, I collect small things for stocking stuffers throughout the year–little kids and even big kids have the most fun with this.

I found that most kids are quite brilliant with their high-tech toys, but give them something non-techie and they find it a challenge.  I like puzzles—those metal or wooden things that you have to figure out the “key” to unlocking–usually a metal ring or a bar that looks deceptively easy to slip through or unloop or whatever, but doesn’t. I was watching the mental process of little faces and eventually bigger faces, frown and pout and do their best to solve the puzzle before anyone else. This may be construed as mental cruelty, but it really makes that old brain work. I think it burns off at least 2000 calories so that extra piece of shortbread or butter tart is actually feeding the brain.

Christmas is watching the little kids line-up to see Santa at the Mall. One little girl made me smile. She wasn’t more than 3 years old, wearing her pretty blue velvet dress and shiny party shoes. Her hair had a blue-velvet bow, pinning back some of her dark curls. She stood in front of Santa, a safe distance away and though he beckoned her closer, she shook her curls and said in a very clear voice, “No, thank you,  I don’t want to sit on your lap.” Her mother stood anxiously to one side and said, “Just for a moment, Ellie.  This photo will be for Nanna who’s too far away to come visit.”  The little tot firmly shook her head.  “No, Mommy. I’ll leave Santa some carrots for his reindeers, but I don’t want to sit on Santa’s lap.” Then she turned to walk away, but Santa’s voice stopped her. “Would you like to stand beside Santa so your Nanna would still have a photo of you?” The little girl paused to think about this. The end result was a delightful photo of Ellie, leaning slightly against Santa, with one tiny hand on his  knee and smiling for her Nanna.

I think the “Spirit of Christmas” resides in most little kids. Their natural delight in decorated trees and the many decorated houses gives those around them, a bit of the Holiday feelings. Taking a group of little ones to see the display of gingerbread houses made the adults “see” it through children’s eyes. Little kids have this innocence and pure spontaneity of the simpler things. Perhaps, that’s what we adults should do at this time of the year—think like a kid, relax and enjoy.

The scent of baking at home is a joy, not a chore to be done because it’s Christmas. The gift of giving needn’t be a nightmare pf shopping–a gift of your time is the best gift of all. Love and laughter should be freely given to family and friends and those alone, throughout the year—and shouldn’t be only at this time because it’s that time of  year. The importance of being together at Christmas seems harder to manage due to severe winter conditions in many areas as well as the costs of traveling. We are a nomadic group and it seems, for me at least, many of my friends and distant family travel in the summer, to be together. to share in making new memories.

Despite the worries over dinner or the anxiety over the “right” gift, just remember that all these weeks of sleepless nights lead up to one day which is gone in a blink of a twinkling  eye. Before you know it, it begins all over again with a new year.


My thoughts to myself for the day

My wise friend, Jane Wilson, posted these thoughts. . . . .

Box o' Ducks

  1. It’s very easy to talk about people without mentioning their names. Those who know them will know exactly who you’ve referred to, and a fair number of others will be certain you’re talking about themselves. Avoid talking about others at all costs.
  2. Those who care about us often make well-meaning suggestions for ways in which we can improve our circumstances or our state of mind. Sometimes we welcome the advice, but more often we feel as though we’re being told what to do. Always thank them for their advice, even if you have no intention of following it, and remind yourself to give unsolicited instruction only in exceptional circumstances, such as when someone is about to injure themselves.
  3. Laugh to yourself whenever you can.

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Doughnuts For Kids Part II

(A group of concerned Moms decided to hold a “Doughnut Event” to raise money for much needed playground equipment. Being a mini-United Nations kind of neighbourhood, the doughnuts presented as an international event as well. . .)

The next booth represented Holland, a country I always visualized as masses of tulips, a few windmills and tasty cheeses. I now add Oliebollen.  Oliebollens are like dumplings made from enriched yeast dough and cooked in a deep-fryer. They are traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve, but can be bought at oliebollen street vendors in November and December, as well as throughout the year at fun fairs–much like the fairs where I can buy my mini-doughnuts in Victoria. Oliebollens can be made plain or have raisins, currents and apples added to the dough. Both kinds usually get dusted with some icing sugar before serving. The oliebollen I sampled was filled, after frying, with whipped cream and/or jam and had a hint of citrus flavouring. It is not a sweet dough as the sugar and various fillings provides the sweetness. I bought two more  and popped them into my bag to share with my Hubby.

The French booth evoked delicious memories of New Orleans and the enjoyment of warm beignets with cafe au lait at the famous Cafe du Monde. Considered a part of a New Orleans breakfast, these deliciously tender pieces of dough, deep-fried and dipped in powdered sugar are decadent and dangerous. I considered them dangerous because it takes significant self-control to stop at one beignet. The beignets were sold 3 on a tray. One tray plus one beignet went into my doughnut bag. . .two beignets went into my tummy. I paused for my cuppa coffee.

Pazcki, a sugared doughnut from Lebanon and Syria, is made from flatbread dough–pieces are broken off and flattened with a hole punched in the middle. These pieces are deep-fried and then dusted with sugar. In some households, these doughnuts are also called Zalabia. Most of my warm pazcki, except for a small bite, went into my bag. The bite I had tasted was wonderful. but I was beginning to feel stuffed and my doughnut bag was running out of space.

I recognized the Churros and Sopapillas at the Mexican booth. I was told that sopapillas in New Mexico was used much like tortillas–to mop up beans and gravy. The one I tasted was of a dessert variety. As the quick dough pieces were deep-fried and puffed up, it was removed and drained from the hot oil, then tossed in a cinnamon/sugar mix. Three of these “little pillows” went into my bag to be enjoyed later. Churros are basically made from a choux pastry and deep-fried. The result is a very light piece of pastry, usually elongated and rolled in a cinnamon/sugar mix. Three churros went into my bag—oops, a bite was taken from one of the warm churros and it was fabulous, but I was really getting stuffed!

The German booth sold Berliners and Fastnacht. I recognized the Berliners as the familiar jelly doughnuts called “Bismarcks” at my local bakery. I was not familiar with fastnachts, which are made of yeast-leavened dough, traditionally eaten and enjoyed on Shrove Tuesday. Still warm, it was drizzled with a honey citrus glaze. And it went into my doughnut bag for later—much later . . . .

I saw my favourite booth representing China. “Uncle” Henry, an elderly neighbour  and his two sisters were making new batches of the Chinese doughnuts called Jian Dui–of which I was beginning to feel like one! Jian dui are fried bits of dough made from glutinous rice flour, filled with a red bean paste and rolled in sesame seeds resulting in small round sesame balls. The texture is crispy outside, slightly chewy and very tender inside. Three little balls rolled into my doughnut bag. . .

This event was a tasty adventure of sampling doughnuts from around the world. I was happy indulging my craving for doughnuts, but it will be a long time before I indulge again. The bakers had done a fantastic job to raise more than enough funds for better and safer playground equipment. I had a full doughnut bag to share with Hubby. I was assured that most could be frozen and reheated later.  Well, we shall see. . . .bombolone anyone? Or how about an oliebollen or a zalabia or a beignet or. . . . .?

Doughnuts For Kids–Part I

Doughnuts–I have a passion for doughnuts. Mind you, I have a lot of passions, but doughnuts absolutely makes it almost to the top of my List. The top of that list is my Hubby and the next is dark chocolate, so I guess that makes doughnuts #3. What brought on this profound appreciation for a fried piece of dough  just before Lent last year, was a concerned group of Moms, who decided to raise money for some new playground equipment. And being a veritable mini-United Nations kind of neighbourhood, the women decided that a doughnut sale would make some money since this would be the last bit of sweet pastry for awhile.

My idea of doughnuts was mainly what I’ve eaten at the Canadian “Tim Horton’s,” with the usual jellies, sugared. cinnamon, long-johns, crescents, twisties, etc. And of course at the fairs with the famous mini-doughnuts that rolls off a conveyor belt, dropped in cinnamon-sugar and scooped into a brown paper bag–still warm from the frying process. Large supermarket chains with in-store bakeries made their own version of traditional glazed, plump jelly filled mounds and twisties with an orange filling or pecans or chocolate. Well, let me tell you–my doughnut education was sadly lacking because I discovered that like pasta, doughnuts truly are an international food.

We were all handed large paper bags when we paid our entry fee of two dollars. You only had to follow your noses to the large room for the doughnut event; a room already smelling like yeast, cinnamon, sugar and chocolate. And the smell of fresh roasted coffee, brewed to mate with a fabulous piece of fried pastry.

My eyes were drawn to the first booth that sold Italian doughnuts.  I will now remember Italy as the land of  Bombolone and Zeppole.  Never again will I merely think pasta, pizza and wine.  Bombolone are Tuscan doughnuts and unlike other Italian areas that claims bombolone, the Tuscan version has no cream filling. It is best served warm and is a mound of deliciously light dough, deep-fried and dipped in granulated sugar. It does resemble a Berliner or jelly doughnut, but without a filling.

Zeppole, according to Wikapedia, is an “Italian pastry consisting of a deep-fried ball of dough, typically about 4-inches in diameter. This doughnut or fritter is usually topped with powdered sugar and may be filled with custard, jelly, cannoli-style pastry cream or a butter and honey mixture.”  The zeppola I sampled was slightly more dense than bombolone and not as sweet. It is the fabulous fillings that makes these doughnuts decadently delicious. I did eat a whole one but another zeppola and one bomboloni went into my empty bag.

(To be continued)



A Sea of Tees

There they were–a sea of tees heaped together in a rainbow of colours. The close crew necks, no low dips or scoops or off-the-shoulder; great colour choices; roomy tees without being snug; sleeves that dropped off the shoulders and were a tad longer than normally seen. And, best of all, not a cropped-top or a shortened length, ending at the waist, but draped gracefully down to the hips and beyond. BUT, these perfect t-shirts were for men!

I had searched high and low in ladies’ wear for a tee that I could wear for my body type; my short, slightly rounded with a yen-for-comfort body.  I didn’t want fancy doo-dads or sparkles or exotic graphics on my chest. I simply wanted a plain tee-shirt in a choice of colours. Who would have thought that menswear would carry such a selection with a rainbow of colours? What exactly made it so perfect for a male and not a female? I held one up–perfect. I could get away with wearing a small and it would still be roomy. What a bonus! It felt like a nice weight for 100% cotton. It was definitely not one of those sleazy tees that was practically transparent and actually became so if you were caught in a brief rain shower. These were superior tees that filled a very strict criteria, my strict criteria. Carefully, I checked again. Nope, nothing that determined it was a guy’s tee-shirt and not a lady’s.

Oops, “Muscle-Bound” wasn’t exactly a lady’s brand, but heck, labels could be easily removed.

“They’re lovely, aren’t they?” a motherly type beamed at me.

“They’re perfect!” I replied enthusiastically.

“Are they for your boys too?” she smiled at me.

“Definitely for my boys and the grandsons too,” I smiled back.

“I do love the colours and the length. I’ve been looking for tees that don’t have those awful scooped necks or tacky off-the-shoulder look.”

“Me too!” I declared in solidarity. “Why do men have such great colours? I don’t think I’ve seen too many males wearing peach, mauve or pink!”

“I’m sure the manufacturer knows we are wearing them too!” laughs my new shopping buddy.

“I’m searching for smalls in peach, aqua, mauve and pink,” I told her.

“Well, if you see any mediums in those colours, toss them my way and I’ll do the same for you with the smalls.”

Okay, so half a dozen tees were a tidge excessive, but where else would you find such a bargain at 3/$10—tee-shirts with all the features you ever wanted in a perfect tee, heaped on a table, just begging to be taken home and worn as a night-shirt, under a winter sweater or simply as a plain ol’ tee. . . . .






Beer and Brownies

Hubby and I were enjoying our leisurely cup of morning coffee and half listening to CBC radio. The man on the air was interviewing the brew-master of one of the local micro-breweries. The expert brew-master was talking about the many species of trees used in flavoring and storing  beer. He especially mentioned the many micro-breweries he had researched up and down Vancouver Island, sampling the many different flavors of beers using oak, spruce, birch and other species of local trees. After the interview was over, Hubby looked over at me and suggested, “If he can do an interview talking about beer and trees, you can do one too.”

“But,” I replied. “What would I talk about? I don’t drink beer.”

“You can talk about brownies,” he said with a grin. “Think about all the research you can do. After all, the best research is the sampling part.”

I had to laugh, but then again, that tantalizing thought streaked across my brain cells. I had already done my terrific research on mini-doughnuts, locally crafted chocolates and outstanding Ploughman lunches at Victoria’s pubs. I discovered that 21st century pub lunches definitely included all the food groups and were deliciously healthy to boot!. Why not a search and snack of Victoria’s brownies? I would have to do extra elliptical work and a lot more walking up hills and. . . .heck yes, I was off and running to my first brownie.

My first stop was “2% Jazz,” my newest favourite coffee bar. We needed a new supply of coffee and what better place to choose a brownie to go.  There was only one kind of brownie in their showcase. It was vegan, was a decent size, looked moist and deliciously dark chocolate with a light layer of chocolate frosting. Driving home, I couldn’t resist and pinched off a small piece. My mouth was disappointed as it was a tad dry, had a crumbly texture and though it looked good, disappointed my taste buds.

A few days later, I stopped at “Bubby Rose,” a bakery with the most tantalizing smells wafting into the street. The smell of butter, chocolate, vanilla and cinnamon buns enticed innocent strollers off the sidewalk and into the bakery. I spied the perfect brownie. It was a generous size, sharable, had a crinkly chocolate top instead of any icing, was dark chocolate, moist, made with butter and decadently mouth-watering delicious. It was my favourite brownie so far. Although they weren’t brownies, I also purchased 2 mounds of dark chocolate macaroons–dense, moist and very chocolatey. The macaroons had the mouth and tummy calling for more as this was enjoyable gluttony, not part of the great brownie search, but merely the lure of dark chocolate and fine coconut.

Lunch the following week at “Moxie’s on Yates,” left hardly any room for dessert, but I managed with my choice of a “Bite of White Chocolate Brownie,” served warm and surrounded with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a smaller scoop of genuine whipped cream. Despite it being a “white” brownie with chocolate bits embedded in it, it was still tasty. And, because it was listed as a “brownie,” it was included in my research data.

A few nights later, we had a spectacular Italian dinner at “Il Covo Trattoria,” and what self-respecting brownie researcher would dare miss her chocolate fix.  Again, it wasn’t a chocolate brownie, but it was the best darn chocolate dessert ever–“Torta Al Cioccolato” which is described in the menu as “layers of chocolate cake and caramel reduction.” It came as a sinfully rich and moist, dark chocolate cake, with an artistic rendering of caramel reduction on the plate. This was generously shared with my two best “foodie” buddies, who love chocolate as much as I do.

I haven’t stopped my research yet, but I thought I’d post my preliminary findings . After all, dark chocolate brownies takes time to find and needs time to savour. At the moment, the elliptical machine, walking and line-dancing works off some of the calories, allowing the hunt for a perfect dark chocolate brownie to continue. Sigh–what we must do for “research.”