Gingerbread Houses

With a little bit of pine from the forest, and a chubby, little snow man!

I learnt how to make icing today. Before, I would make icing by mixing icing sugar with some water and a bit of vanilla, and giving it a stir. This liquidy mass would then be poured over a cake, with the creamy white mixture flowing over the cake and gently dripping down its sides.

Today, with recipe in hand; it came with the gingerbread house kit, I found that by whipping the icing sugar, water and vanilla for about ten minutes, I could create a mixture that would form soft peaks and hold together walls of gingerbread.

Perfect for building houses. Perfect for creating icicles. Perfect for constructing snowmen and attaching candy to walls. Candy walls, the likes of such not seen since the building of the cabin Hansel and Gretel stumbled upon on that fateful day they journeyed together into the forest.

Way, way, too much candy!

My daughters’ tradition of building gingerbread houses, together every Christmas, started years ago. While getting together virtually is not quite like everyone being in a same room, today was a whole lot of fun.

Coming in from three province, beautiful houses were created. My husband and son were the site supervisors and consultants. Our beautiful, little granddaughter was the chief sprinkle distributor.

While Hansel and Gretel’s encounter with that candy coated little cabin was not a pleasant ordeal, our gingerbread houses were a delight to build, and decorate, and with be even more fun to take apart!!!!!

Gingerbread houses, and the tradition continues!!!!!

Walking with a Camera

Spotting the tiny Downy Woodpecker

The benefits of walking with a camera are the endless pictures just waiting to be taken.

The draw back is that it’s much harder to get a good walk in.

Organic, homegrown bird food!
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree. How lovely are thy branches!
Casting shadows…..
Winter gardens
This is when you know the coyotes are dining elsewhere.

The wood was full of rabbit holes; and in the neatest, sandiest hole of all lived Benjamin’s aunt and his cousins Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter. The Tale of Benjamin Bunny by Beatrix Potter – This is the family’s winter getaway.

The benefits of looking up!

Chocolate Letters, a Dutch Tradition

Chocolate Letters!

I remember when, as a child, Sinterklaas would drop by every year on December 5th. In the weeks prior to this date, we would excitedly watch the windows for Peek-a-boo. Peek-a-poo, the mysterious little elf who spied on us children, deciding who was naughty and who was nice. I’m thinking that maybe our little Peek-a-boo was the precursor to today’s Elf on the Shelf.

Somewhere along the line, our December 5th tradition ended and Santa Claus began showing up at our home on Christmas Day.

Earlier this fall, my daughter found an article about another Dutch tradition; the Chocolate Letter. The Chocolate Letter, available in dark, milk, and white chocolate.

I remember Sinterklaas leaving unwrapped gifts. A small pile for each child, topped with a bowl of candies containing the name of the child. Later, the slip of paper was replaced with a Chocolate Letter.

Still Life with Letter Pastries –  Peter Binoit.

According to history, receiving letters at Christmas dates back centuries with the original letters being made of pastry. Before gift wrap, parents would cover the gifts with a sheet marking each child’s spot with a pastry in the shape of their initial.

In the beginning of the 20th century, the Dutch chocolate industry began to make letters in chocolate.

During World War 11, supply shortages meant no chocolate and for a period of time the letters were made of gingerbread.

My first attempt at making Almond Pastry Letters.
Gingerbread Letters.

I’m thinking it’s time to reintroduce some of these Dutch traditions back into ours lives. While the Chocolate Letter has always been a part of our Christmas tradition, I think that next year, on December 5th, I’ll be delivering  Almond Pastry Letters to some special people.

Chocolate Letters, in dark, milk and white chocolate.

From Woods to Wreaths

It’s beginning to look a bit like Christmas.

When you don’t want to go shopping, but you want to turn your home into a winter wonderland for when your children will all, hopefully, be home for Christmas, the best thing to do is to venture out into the forest with a pair of sharp clippers.

From petunias to Christmas greenery.

Experimenting with the art of wreath making first happened many years ago on a crispy, late fall day when a friend of mine and I thought that snipping evergreen branches, wiring these onto frames, then decorating them with various Christmas ornaments would be a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. And it was.

Christmas Wreaths are constructed of evergreen boughs to represent everlasting life brought through Jesus. The circular shape of the wreath represents God, with no beginning and no end.

Since those earliest wreath making days, I’ve built wreaths with friends at commercial garden centers, and for the past couple of years with others at a friend’s tree farm. As much as I enjoyed these outings, there is nothing quite like venturing out into your own forest, with a sharp pair of clippers.

I am being hopeful that we will all be together to celebrate Christmas this year.

If not, may my little winter wonderland bring joy to those passing by during these very strange times.

Sometimes it’s better to bring the decor to the forest.

Fermented Cabbage = Saurkraut

Saurkraut- Three for others, two for us.

Years ago, my husband and I went to visit his old Uncle Eldie. The visit must have taken place in the fall of the year as the conversation quickly turned to the production of saurkraut.

On returning home, we proceeded to slice, pound and salt some heads of fresh, green cabbage. Once arranged, we allowed the crock pot a special spot in our apartment.

In a few weeks a very, unfriendly smell permeated the rooms of our home. Upon realizing the source of the offending odour, into the garbage went the fermenting cabbage. A quick phone call went out to Uncle Eldie requesting clearer instructions for his age old recipe. The old uncle laughed quietly and shared that the ominous odour was a necessary part of the fermentation process.

Our second attempt proved successful. The crock full of cabbage became a crunchy saurkraut, with a taste that my husband loves but can’t find adequate words to discribe.

In the move, to the home in which we continue to live, our old crock pot cracked. Life got busy, and the thought of making saurkraut got lost along the way.

The jar on the left is raw saurkraut that will continue to ferment in our refrigerator. The jar on the left recieved a hot water bath, the missing half jar topped sausage on a bun, with mustard.

This fall, with a crock borrowed from a friend, we once again set out to ferment some cabbage. Having forgotten some of Eldie’s teachings, the cabbage was sliced not quite thin enough, and the pounding was neglected. Still, fermentation took place. Just a couple of extra weeks were necessary for that perfect batch of saurkraut to happen.

Not yet comfortable with my fermenting skills, most of this batch recieved a hot water bath. A Mason jar of raw saurkraut will continue to ferment in our refrigerator. If all goes well, next year at this time we my need a second fridge.

This old crock turned cabbage into saurkraut….

The Ever Gentle Cow

The ever gentle cow.

I once had this friend who delighted in sharing a story about how, on one boring Saturday night, herself, her boyfriend, and another couple  decided to go cowtipping.

She described how they drove down  dark country roads until they came upon a pasture full of cows.

They dimmed the car lights, and turned off the engine. Slowly and stealthily, they crept through long grasses to the fence. Silently, they successfully scaled the cold, metal wires. They spotted their subject, a tall, black and white holsten cow. They moved ever so slowly until they were by it’s side. Together, they placed four pairs of shaking hands onto it’s beautiful, smooth back, and with a push and a shove, and a heave and a ho, a successfully tipped cow!

They then made a very rapid escape, fearing the wrath of the herd that had surrounded the downed cow.

I didn’t believe, then, that her story was true and am still hoping that cowtipping is a figment of an over active imagination.

According to Soul Sister folklore, when a herd of cattle are lying down it is going to rain. And why do cows lay down when it is raining? So they will have something dry to eat when the rain stops. The Truth!

Having grown up on a farm with  lots of cows, I’m thankful this tale was told to me after our farming days were over. The thought of succumbing to peer pressure and attempting to tip a cow is not something I want to visualize.

As it is, my most daring cow escapade was one of finding that perfect cowpie. A fresh cowpie, with a lightly crisp crust. A cowpie, meant for squishing into with one’s barefeet. Feeling that slimy, oozing goo move between one’s toes.

My apologies to those with sensory issues, but this is truly one of my favourite childhood memories. That and the memory of our last cow. A big, black cow with a white head, I can’t remember it’s name but it loved to join our Sunday afternoon baseball games. Tall and strong in the outfield, far enough away as not to get hit by a fly ball, but close enough to be a part of the action.

Cows; gentle, strong, and standing tall.

How to Build a Cedar Bench….

From a seedling to a tree in 25 to 30 years…

If you want to build a cedar bench,

this is what you do.

You invite a Sparks leader,

and her Sparks pack too.

They will plant a row of cedar seedlings,

they’ll plant them in the sun.

Declaring that doing so, is lots and lots

of fun.

Next you wait, and wait, and wait,

for 25 to 30 years or so.

Then trim the bottom of the tree,

clearing space for the lawn mower to go.

Boughs from the bottom of the cedar tree.

Next, take the curviest of the boughs,

strip them of their branches.

Find a hammer and some nails,

and then you take some chances.

When the boughs have been secured,

some feet really need to be procured.

The walnut tree we trimmed last year,

provided the legs,

so that we can sit right here.

Our little hideaway in the forest.