Monday, November 30, 2009

Christmas Reading Challenge: The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans

Christmas Box
Christmas is so over-commercialized that a part of me, just a small part, dreads it's arrival every October. Yes, October.  I'm a bit weary of the Christmas ads that overfill my newspaper, the articles about the must-have toy of the season (It's the Zhu Zhu Pet this year.), people who put up their lights before Halloween, the Christmas commercials, the nonsense of camping out in front of some store to get the best deals, and what seemed outrageous this year...The Merry Madagascar special that aired before Thanksgiving.  

My children are especially greedy this time of year. My five-year old wants every large LEGO set available.  This child informed me that Santa doesn't have to worry about how expensive something is.  He'll make it happen. Santa will make it happen.  (cringe)

But this is sounding a bit down on Christmas, which is not my intention.  The child in me still gets excited about picking out the tree, holiday baking, and singing Christmas songs. The adult, however, finds it increasingly harder to experience the wonder of Christmas.  

The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans helped me to recapture that feeling of Christmas wonder this year.  It is not an elaborate story, but a remarkably simple one.  A young couple and their small daughter go to live with a lonely widow in her large estate.  In exchange for their room and board, the family does nominal work for the widow, such as preparing meals. This arrangement has deeper emotional consequences for both the family and the widow.  The father discovers an old Christmas Box in the attic, which intrigues him.  Tear stained Bible pages, dreams of stone angels, and unidentified music help to unravel the mystery of the Box. Through this mystery, Evans reveals the first gift of Christmas.  

I am a person who is very sensitive to cheesiness.  If I find it cheesy, I won't be able to take it seriously.  This novel definitely passes the cheesiness test.  I think it's because the emotion is not contrived, but is honest. Evans originally wrote the novella for his children.  It was definitely a welcomed reprieve from all the holiday madness.  I highly recommend this book.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sophie McKay's Chocolate Fruitcake (Sort of)

For the Christmas Reading Challenge, I chose Debbie Macomber's Glad Tidings as one of my selections.  There are two stories in this book, and I'm still on the first, so this is not my official review.  It's just that there are fruitcake recipes in this book, and one is for chocolate fruitcake! I'm not especially a fruitcake fan, but this recipe intrigued me.  I wanted to try it.  Although it is still in the oven as I write these words, I decided to go ahead and post.  If you want to make this cake, get on it in the next week because it takes 3-4 weeks in the fridge before it is ready.  

This recipe calls for soaking the cake in creme de cacao, which is a chocolate liquor.  I love Kahlua, so I am using it instead.  

Sophie McKay's Chocolate Fruitcake (Sort of)

Make 3-4 weeks in advance.  Store in a refrigerator.

Place into a large bowl:
2 c maraschino cherries (cut in half)
2 c chopped dates
2 c pineapple tidbits, well drained
1 c coconut
2 c pecan halves
2 c walnuts (I actually substituted 2 cups chopped pecans)
2 12 oz packages semisweet chocolate chips

Beat the following ingredients on low for 30 seconds, then on high for three minutes.  (I put my stand mixer on medium because the bowl was extremely full.):

3 c flour
1 1/2 c sugar
1 TBSP baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 c shortening
3/4 c butter
2/3 c creme de cacao (or Kahlua)
1/2 c cocoa powder
9 eggs

**Now at this point, I had my extra large mixing bowl full of this:

My stand mixer full of this (After I mixed, it expanded to the top of the bowl):  

And I was getting nervous about mixing the two together, so I was feeling like this:

Fortunately it all fit.

Pour batter over fruit and nut mixture. (Pour is a very poor word choice. Unless you can hold a 10 lb bowl of batter steady with one arm while using the other to scrape the bowl.  I could not, so I spooned it. It was 10 lbs btw, I weighed it.) Pour into two well-greased loaf pans.  (I used a flute pan and a mini loaf pan...and then ate the leftover.)  Bake at 275 for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.  After two hours, check with a toothpick every fifteen minutes. 

When cool, set each loaf on a large piece of plastic wrap and pour a jigger (This is the word she used) of creme de cacao (or Kahlua) over them.  Wrap tightly and place inside a Ziploc bag and keep refrigerated for 3-4 weeks.

I have no idea what this will be like.  The batter was delicious, and that is usually a good indicator.  Stay tuned for Fruitcake Part Deux.

Gingerbread Boys

Every Thanksgiving I enjoy making gingerbread cookies.  My recipe is a slight variation of one that appeared in Country Living Magazine ten or so years ago. Thinking that the dough was too dry, I cut down on the flour.  What I really love about this recipe is the strong spice flavor and slightly less strong molasses flavor.  

Gingerbread Boys
Country Living Magazine
(Makes 2 to 2 1/2 dozen cookies depending on cutter sizes)

2 3/4 c flour
1 TBSP ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon 
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
6 TBSP butter, softened
1/4 c brown sugar (packed)
1 large egg
1/4 c molasses
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 c molasses

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Combine flour, spices, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
3. In another bowl, beat butter and sugar at medium speed. Beat in egg, molasses, and vanilla.
4. Gradually add flour mixture.  Form into a ball and wrap in plastic.  Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.
5. Roll, cut, and bake for 7-9 minutes on lightly greased sheet or Exopat Mat.

I always frost mine.  You can make your own icing using powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk. Just keep adjusting until you get the consistency you want. Cake icing in the tub is also good.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Christmas Album: Snow Angels by Over the Rhine

'Tis the Holiday Season! Time to find your holiday playlist and add a new album.  This year I highly (yes, HIGHLY) recommend Snow Angels by Over the Rhine.  Please (PLEASE) follow the link to amazon and listen to the music samples.  

It's hard to pick a favorite song on this album.  "Snowed in With You" is a nice romantic holiday song and is perfect for slow dancing after dinner..."when the lights are gleaming I'll be leaning into you." "North Pole Man" is a bluesy song about getting your man warm..."it takes good friction to make good heat."  Uh huh...uh huh. "Snow Angels" is a sentimental piece about love lost in war.  The last words of the soldier to his true love are..."Snow Angel, Snow Angel I'll meet you in the sky."  There's also a nice Peanuts tribute song and a new take on the classic carol, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem. The music is original and truly beautiful. One amazon reviewer described it as "beautifully haunting."  I couldn't agree more!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Last Piece of Birthday Cake

Another birthday come and gone. All that is left is this last piece of cake with one bite missing. It was a good one, and I enjoyed it all week. (Thank you, Mom!)  Luckily, I have the recipe book in which this cake appears, so I can share it with you even if I didn't actually bake it myself.  

Amaretto Cake
(I highly recommend this book.  The recipes include cake mixes that you "doctor up" to create fancier cakes.  One of my favorites is the Macadamia Fudge Torte!)

Vegetable Spray for misting pan
Flour for dusting the pan
1 pkg yellow cake mix
1 pkg (5.1 oz) vanilla instant pudding
3/4 c  amaretto
1/2 c water
1/2 c vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1/4 tsp pure almond extract

Glaze and Garnish
1 c powdered sugar, sifted (I'd be too lazy to sift.)
3 1/2 TBSP Amaretto
1/3 c slivered almonds, toasted

1.   Preheat oven to 350. Mist 10 in. tube pan with spray and dust with flour.
2.  Blend all cake ingredients on low for 1 min.  Scrape sides of bowl and beat on medium for 2 more minutes.
3.  Pour batter into the pan with a rubber spatula.  
4.  Bake 48-52 minutes until golden brown.
5.  Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes.  Run a sharp knife around the edge and invert onto rack, then again onto serving plate.
6.  Mix powdered sugar and Amaretto.  Drizzle over warm cake.  Scatter toasted almonds over the top.  Allow to cake to cool before slicing.

If you don't feel like making this cake, you could always just buy some Amaretto.  My Dad assures me that it's quite tasty all on it's own.

Here are some other Birthday highlights:

cute new shoes...

a comfy sweater...

And a new cookbook!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Christmas Reading Challenge

I've been checking out book blogs lately and came across The True Book Addict: Christmas Reading Challenge.  Since I've already purchased several holiday books, I decided to sign up for fun.  It starts on Thanksgiving and runs until New Year's.  You only have to read 1-3 books.  Join us! 

Here are my picks:
The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Glad Tidings by Debbie Macomber
Tidings of Great Joy by Sandra Brown

By the way, this is last year's tree.  I don't believe in putting up the tree until after Thanksgiving, but I do know people who have already put theirs know who you are!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Window Washing: Eliminating Nose Prints, Handprints, and Misc. Goo

Windows do not stay clean at my house.  They are always smudged.   I yell.  I plead.  I shake my finger.  I am ignored.

Here are The Culprits:

After a few years of buying window cleaner at the store, I finally learned a better way...a cheaper way...a less chemical way.  It doesn't leave streaks.  It doesn't leave paper towel lint.  It is the way professional window cleaners do it.  (My Father-In Law asked one.) 

Here's what you need:
A bucket
Liquid dish soap
Window Scrubber (Found in the car washing area at Wal-mart)
An old bath towel

Here is what you do:
1. Fill your bucket with soap and water.
2. Dip your scrubber in and scrub the window all over.
3. Dip your fingertips in water and rub along the blade of the squeegee.  This will make the squeegee glide smoothly down the window.
4. Start at the top on one side and in one stroke and with moderate pressure, drag the squeegee down the window.
5. Wipe the excess water off the blade of the squeegee with one swipe of the towel.
6. Squeegee the other side.
7. Clean-up any excess dripping water with a swipe of the towel along the edges of the window. 
8. Repeat, repeat, repeat.....