Christmas Dinner

Christmas dinner is traditionally hosted by my parents. It used to be served on Christmas Day, but after the gigantic breakfast that often lasts until lunch, it seemed kind of overkill. A few years ago by consensus we moved it to Boxing Day, and it has just made everything so much more relaxed.

One of the things that I love about Christmas at my parents’ house is how their brilliantly-lit tree fills up the front window. From the street outside, as you’re pulling in to the driveway, it really welcomes you in. While my parents do have lights strung up outside, the tree outshines them all. I’m told that there are 600 or more lights on there. To compare, our tree only has 200 lights, and it seems positively dim by comparison.

Mom is generally the one who is responsible for the roast turkey dinner, although Dad’s specialty is the Yorkshire pudding. They used to only serve Yorkshire pudding with roast beef dinners, but enough pestering by my brother and I (and then by my kids) over the years convinced them that they were appropriate to any meal served with gravy. Mom’s turkey dinner this year included stuffing, whipped potatoes, mashed potatoes almondine, carrots glazed in my carrot jam, squash with orange juice and walnuts, and of course lots of gravy. It was all delicious! My contribution to the meal was dessert: homemade apple and dairy-free pumpkin pies, baked in advance and reheated in the oven. It always seems a shame to me that a meal that takes all day to make can be scarfed down so quickly, but there is always lots of chatting after the meal as we all digest.

The Stockings Were Hung by the Chimney with Care

Candy Cane was found checking out the music box on top of the china cabinet in the living room this morning.

(Please ignore the fact that the elf is out of focus. I didn’t notice until after she had moved to her next location.)

More importantly, I managed to get all of the Christmas stockings done! It only took every spare minute of my time for a number of weeks. Left to right, they belong to Thing 2, Thing 1, my husband, and me. I finished the last one (mine) during my husband’s family’s Christmas Eve get-together, which meant that it was done with only a few hours to spare before it was hung in preparation for Santa’s arrival… But it was done!

Merry Christmas!

A Few Things

Thing the First:

This morning we found Candy Cane in the kitchen, sitting on the clock that usually sits under a glass dome above the cabinets.

Thing the Second:

With twenty days to go, I finally finished knitting the Vero Shawl (Rose Bower colourway) for my aunt who is always cold — and who I am pretty sure doesn’t read this blog. It will go in the mail tomorrow and will hopefully arrive on her doorstep before Christmas.

Thing the Third:

I have started on the family’s Christmas stockings. The first one, for Thing 2, is closer to the end than to the start, although there seems to be an awful lot of yarn left to go. I’m knitting this one in hand-dyed Fleece Artist Blue-Faced Leicester Aran (100% wool) in what I believe is the Red Fox colourway. I bought this yarn years ago as part of the Elmira flap hat and fingerless glove set; I knit the hat (which I still love — Ravelry pattern entry here), but I never got around to the gloves. Since this is Thing 2’s favourite colour palette, I figured the yarn would make a lovely Christmas stocking instead.

Thing the Fourth:

I made pancakes and apples for dinner yesterday. I’ve been trying to use up ingredients we already have in the pantry, and there was some pancake mix in there left over from the summer (not sure if it was from camping or the cottage). Paired with some chopped apples and with a drizzle of maple syrup on top, it made a lovely meal!

Apple Picking

One of the things that we do as a family is go to a local orchard in the late summer or fall to go apple picking. We used to go every year, but since we moved into our current abode we’ve only gone every second year because our own apple tree in the back yard fruits in alternate years. That trend may not continue because our poor tree is quite sick, much to my chagrin, and may have to be cut down next year. It has been losing leaves progressively through the tree all summer, leaving it almost half barren at the moment. If it comes back even a little next spring, we’ll see what we can do to save it. At any rate, it wouldn’t have been an at-home apple harvest this year anyway, so we went to the orchard.

The orchard that we visit specializes in McIntosh apples, which is the most traditional Canadian apple, and Lobos, which are a McIntosh offspring. These apples are good both for eating raw and for cooking. This means that the kids will be packing the smaller ones in their lunches for weeks, while I’ll be turning the larger ones into butter, pies, crumble, and possibly even caramel apple egg rolls.

The day dawned clear and cool, which is perfect for apple picking. The kids did their best work under the low-hanging branches, some of which were so laden that they permanently touch the ground in spots, or are propped up on stakes.

Thing 1 and Thing 2 had special help from Dad to reach some of the taller branches, although most of the trees were too tall to reach the very top.

Between the four of us we ended up with almost forty pounds of apples in about fifteen minutes! You can’t beat apple picking for speed, in comparison to, say, berry picking, which seems to take forever even with plants that are chock-full of fruit. The rest of the kids’ time was spent climbing over defunct tractors, running through the barn, and playing in the park.

This is my favourite picture of the day: Thing 2 running back to us after an employee told her she could pick an apple to eat straight off the tree, no charge. If only we could all still have so much joy in a single apple!

Pancake Tuesday

Mardi Gras isn’t really a thing around here, although I’d love to head down to New Orleans some day to celebrate it. However, my family does have British history, and hence strong cultural ties to the Anglican church. As such, when I was growing up we honoured Shrove Tuesday, which immediately precedes Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent) — although perhaps “honoured” is stretching things a bit. We never sought out the church in order to obtain absolution for our sins on Shrove Tuesday, and we didn’t give up certain foods for Lent. What we did do was make a point of serving pancakes on Pancake Tuesday. As you can see, the celebration for us, such as it is, was much more secular than religious. It’s kind of like how many people celebrate Christmas without ever going to church.

I’ve decided to keep the tradition alive with my children by cooking pancakes for dinner every year on this day (when I remember). It’s not like this is the only time we have pancakes, after all. This year I served it covered in a mound of freshly-prepared fruit salad that included green grapes, blueberries, honeycrisp apples, oranges, bananas, and strawberries. As winter drags on, these pops of colour and flavour are welcome additions to our diet. That being said, every single one of these items is an import (except maybe the apples, which store well), so the fruit commands a premium price.

I used my Spiced Pancake Recipe for the pancakes themselves, since they’ve become quite a hit in my household of late. There were all kinds of sweet toppings available: whipped cream and non-dairy whipped cream substitute, black currant syrup, elderberry syrup, maple syrup, caramel syrup, and icing sugar. I had mine with elderberry syrup and non-dairy whipped cream substitute. It was delicious! I made a bit extra for the kids to reheat in the morning for breakfast, too, which makes our morning that much easier — and tastier.

Toad in the Hole

I’ve been wanting to try to make toad in the hole for ages. I have vague memories of my Nan serving it, or at least something similar, although I couldn’t remember the name… I Googled “pigs in a blanket” and “bubble and squeak” before I finally figured out what the name was of the dish that I remembered. Basically, toad in the hole is sausages baked in Yorkshire pudding batter — with regional and temporal variations, of course. Although the photos I’ve found online use thick sausages for the most part, I distinctly remember the version from my childhood containing smaller breakfast sausages, so that’s what I was determined to make.

The first time I tried it, I wasn’t very happy with the results. I used the Yorkshire pudding recipe from the Joy of Cooking (page 637, 2006 edition, Rombauer & Becker), which was recommended by my father. I doubled the recipe and doubled the size of the pan, which I thought would work just fine, but the sausages were just too small to compensate for all that batter. Also, although the edges of the casserole rose and puffed up quite nicely, it didn’t cook evenly through the center, leaving it a stodgy mess. I mean, the texture was firm enough to be edible, but it wasn’t very appetizing.

I tried to learn from my mistakes the second time around. This time I whipped up only a single batch of the batter, which greatly improved the ratio of batter to meat, at least for sausages this small. I cooked it all in a pan that was half the size, which allowed it to rise more thoroughly. Also, I used a metal pan instead of a glass one, which I find in general allows for a crispier edge to baked dishes.

I was really happy with how it turned out. The pudding rose beautifully, so fluffy in the middle that in many spots it was completely hollow. The crust was nice and crisp without being hard. The sausages were perfectly done. Now, if only I’d remembered to grease the pan, since to serve it I almost had to destroy it. You’d think I’d know better by now.

I served my toad in the hole with a side Ceasar salad and some sliced avocado, which my Nan would never have done (she’d have paired it with boiled or baked veggies). But I thought we needed some fresh greens with a main dish that doesn’t contain a single vegetable. The family ate it all up and asked me to make it again soon, which tells me that it was a success.