Holiday Sweets

It seems like I have spent most of the last few days either cooking or driving around town to deliver Christmas presents, with a bit of housecleaning and last-minute decorating mixed in. On one of those gift deliveries, I received my very first gift of the season!

That’s three types of homemade fudge, all cooked up by my friend and her daughter, and then wrapped prettily. Thing 1 and Thing 2 keep asking me to share, but I have selfishly been hoarding it all for myself. (They’ve been on the receiving end of many other treats, so I don’t feel too bad.) I have a weakness for fudge.

One of Thing 2’s Sparks leaders has organized gifts to bring to one of the local retirement homes. Parent volunteers baked cookies and squares, which the leader will package into gift bags. One of the baked goods that I contributed was mini lemon cupcakes, which is actually just IKEA Muffinsmix Citron baked into tiny IKEA Snodriva paper liners (now discontinued). Is it a bad thing that I don’t always make things from scratch?

I did bake these Fudgy Pumpkin Coffee Brownies (page 222, Purely Pumpkin by Allison Day (2016)) completely from scratch, though. These also went to the retirement home gift bags. I used some of the Halloween pumpkin that I’d roasted, too! I really liked how moist these brownies ended up, courtesy of the pumpkin puree inside. I successfully substituted equal amounts of whole wheat flour for einkorn wheat, which I couldn’t find around here (and honestly had never heard of until I read this recipe). I did use a dairy-free chocolate chip, but I think I may go for a standard kind next time — I hear that they’re even making a dark chocolate chip now that’s available in most grocery stores.

Christmas Prep

We’re right smack dab in the middle of Christmas prep around here, dashing from hither to yon to prep for school spirit days, family events, and hosting over the holidays. Of necessity, suppers have been quick and easy; I think tomorrow I will be breaking out the slow cooker just to make dinner that much easier.

Last night, though, I rummaged through the freezer and turned up with some rather nice basa fillets. I dredged them in flour, sprinkled them with a bit of garlic powder and salt, and lightly fried them in a glug of olive oil in a non-stick pan. (As an aside, when making this kind of dish, does anyone else think about that lightly fried fish fillets meme?) I topped the fried fish with crumbled bacon and served it alongside boiled baby potatoes and steamed carrots.

I still wasn’t feeling spectacularly well last night, so I didn’t get as much prep work done as I wanted to, but the hectic pace around the holidays is one of the reasons I start canning way back in the summer. As planned, I plunged into my shelves of homemade preserves to get gifts together for my kids’ teachers.

As with Guiders, I consider teachers to be especially important to my children and, as such, they are deserving of some nice things around Christmas to show my appreciation. Teachers put in long hours in a job that I, to be completely frank, am vastly temperamentally unsuited to do. Before my children were born, I seriously considered home-schooling, but as time went on I realized that teaching is definitely not one of my gifts. I have the utmost appreciation for those people who can do so, especially while both funding and support are slowly withdrawn from the public school system over the years.

This year, my kids’ teachers are getting amaretto cherries, spiced pear jam with pineapple, handmade cloths, and a box of Girl Guide cookies. (I considered giving the cookies to the Guiders too, but I thought they could probably use a break from this fundraiser by this point.) I hope that the teachers will be able to enjoy these foods over the winter break — or any time after, really, as they’ll last about a year unopened.

Not-So-Silent Night

Last night was one of those nights where it seemed like all I did was run from pillar to post and back again. It started as soon as the kids got home from school. There was snacks, then showers, then finding all of the parts of their Guiding uniforms (or, in Thing 1’s case, a matching set of PJ’s for her unit’s holiday pajama party), then the kids making their lunches while I whipped up dinner…

Dinner was what I think might very charitably be called deconstructed shepherd’s pie. I had taken the meat out earlier in the day to thaw, but by the time dinner prep time came around I knew I’d never have time to bake it as a casserole. So I prepped the meat as I would for my usual shepherd’s pie (with a few extra mushrooms thrown in because that’s what I had in the fridge), boiled up some baby potatoes, and microwaved some corn. Instead of layering it into a casserole, I just served it as is. The kids ate all of theirs without complaint, and I found it almost as tasty (if not as creamy) as the real thing, so it worked out okay.

Then I had to wrap Christmas thank-you gifts for my girls’ Guiders. Guide leaders are volunteers, and I think it’s important that they know how much my children and I appreciate all of their hard work. Without Guiders, there would be no Girl Guides. I couldn’t do what they do (despite having two children that I adore, my patience levels with children is not great), which is why I try to support them in other ways.

Although the bags look slightly different, that’s mostly because I ran out of white tissue paper near the end. They’re all identical inside, containing Amaretto Cherries and Cinnamon-Scented Parsnip Pear Jam. I am very quick at gift wrapping, having worked the wrapping station in a number of retail jobs over the years, which comes in handy when I have ten gift bags that I’ve forgotten to put together until the last minute. I could have sworn Thing 1 and Thing 2 had one more meeting before the holiday break, but obviously I was mistaken.

Then I had to rush out the door to drive the kids through a snowstorm to their respective Guiding activities for the evening — Thing 1 to her pajama party and Thing 2 to sing Christmas carols at a retirement home. Of course, I got stuck spinning my tires on a patch of ice as I left my driveway, and luckily my husband arrived home just in time to help push the car. Then it was a very slow, cautious drive to the girls’ activities, then another slow and cautious drive to my parents’ place to help them put up their Christmas tree, then back to pick up the girls and get them home and in bed for the night, despite the huge amounts of sugar they had consumed.

When all that was over, I had to relax a bit. I poured myself a lovely glass of rum and eggnog (okay, Earth’s Own Almond SoFresh Almond Nogg, which isn’t a half-bad substitute for the lactose intolerant). I had a real tree twinkling with lights in the living room. And, at least for a few hours, I tried to ignore the fact that I had less than two weeks to go to get everything done before Christmas.

Weekend Craft Fairs

I’ve spent a good portion of my last few weekends at craft fairs and flea markets, searching for those elusive perfect gifts for friends and family. Last weekend I visited the 2017 Christmas Craft Market at Watson’s Mill in Manotick, the Russel Flea Market, and the Holiday Miracles Handmade Fair. This weekend I attended the Fisher Park Christmas Craft Sale (always a good one, held the first Saturday of December every year at 250 Holland Avenue), the Christmas Bazaar at the Parkdale United Church (also a lovely yearly event, at 429 Parkdale Avenue), and my favourite of them all, 613Christmas at the 613Flea Market.

The 613Christmas flea market filled up the entire field house at Carleton University, which is a 58m x 49m indoor turf field. Not only was it a huge space packed to the brim with vendors and customers, but the artificial turf was much more comfortable underfoot than most places’ concrete and tile (or occasionally hardwood).

There were stalls with a plethora of interesting finds. I took quick pics of the ones that were the most interesting to me, but there was a lot more variety than that.

The booths with vintage kitchenware were my favourites. I drool over Thoroughly Modern Vintage‘s stuff every time I see her at an event.

Although I do have a soft spot for stuffies like the ones from Truly Charlotte.

Of course, there were all kinds of vintage Christmas finds at a market this close to the holidays (although I’m not sure I’d trust the old lights not to overheat or have broken-down wiring).

I have a special soft spot in my heart for all of the super-sparkly and super-fragile glass bulbs that are just like the ones my mother and grandmother hung on their trees. I especially favour the ones with a concave indent to catch the light, like the one that you can just see in the top left of this photo.

The highlight of my day was meeting Charles de Lint at 613Flea. This local author was there promoting his latest novels and signing autographs. I’ve been reading his novels since I was a kid and I especially like the urban fantasies set in the Ottawa area. I loved Greenmantle, Memory and Dream, and Jack, the Giant Killer, just off of the top of my head, although I have read so many more. (Although could I remember the titles when I was chatting with him, oh heavens no, I just stood there um-ing and aw-ing as if I didn’t have two brain cells to rub together.) We even studied one of his books in high school, and despite my teacher’s best efforts to study it to death, I still came out of that class enjoying his work — which is more than I can say for other authors I studied. To contrast, I would rather stab myself with a knitting needle before I read Shoeless Joe, Heart of Darkness and Lord of the Flies again.

So I bought a copy of the beautifully-illustrated The Cats of Tanglewood Forest (2013) and asked Mr. de Lint to personalize it for Thing 1. I really hope that she will grow up to be as big of a fan as I am.