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Category: For fun

A dawn smile

Last night I went out for dinner and to play cards with friends — only the second time in over a year, because we’ve been under various levels of Lockdown for most of the year.  Anyway  it was a “wee small hours” finish, but I had to get up early for a 7am zoom meeting with the Word Wenches — my blog group.  

Fitting in with US (east and west coast times) as well as UK and Australian times is tricky. So I got up at 6.30am to be ready  (I’m generally an early riser, but not after a 2am + finish the night before.) I made a large mug of industrial strength morning coffee and gave my dog Millie her morning bone. She raced outside with it and immediately started barking furiously. So, aware of my neighbors who live close and were probably still asleep, I raced outside to shut her up, and lo! She was defending me from these gently hissing floating monsters.

It was not only a beautiful dawn, but it’s the first time the balloons have flown in over a year — since CoVid happened. They used to be quite frequent — they take off from a field near my house, and I always saw them because my dog goes bananas — so this was a really cheering and hopeful sight.

I stood there like a loon, waving at the tiny figures in the baskets, which I don’t normally do but seeing them floating overhead once more felt a bit like a good omen.

And then I went inside and chatted on Zoom with my Word Wench friends. 

What a lovely start to the day.

Sweet Treats for Christmas

In my last blog I promised you a few Christmas sweet-treat recipes, so here they are. I make these every year to give to people as small gifts. I don’t dare keep them in the house too long or else I’d eat them myself! 

1. Christmas Crack

This recipe was given to me years ago by my friend Violeta, who is a superlative cook, and I make it every year. And if I don’t, I get reminded!! I parcel it up in cellophane bags as a small gift. Warning: it’s called Christmas Crack for a reason — a salty-sweet-crunchy-toffee-chocolatey-nutty delight, it’s deliciously addictive. 

Ingredients
1)  4 ounces salada biscuits (saltine crackers or plain non-sweet salted dry biscuits — enough to line your baking tin (or biscuit sheet or jelly roll pan). Mine is approx 9.5 x 14 inches (24 cm x 35 cm, but the size of the tin doesn’t matter much — as long as you can line it completely with the crackers. Depending on the tin size, the resulting toffee mix will be slightly thicker or thinner.)
2)   250 g butter  (1 cup or 1 stick)
3)   250 g brown sugar (1 cup) (but white sugar is okay or a mix of both)
4)   2 cups chocolate chips or a slab of good cooking chocolate broken up.
5)  3/4 cup chopped nuts — I use lightly toasted flaked (sliced) or slivered almonds, but any nuts will do, or use sprinkles if you’re allergic to nuts.

Directions
1  Preheat oven to 205 degrees Celsius (400 degrees Fahrenheit)
2  Line baking tin with foil, then line it with salada/saltine crackers in single layer.
3  In a saucepan combine the sugar and the butter. Bring to a boil then boil without stirring for 4 minutes. Immediately pour over saltine crackers and spread to cover crackers completely.
4  Bake for about 6 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle chocolate chips over the top. Let sit for 5 minutes while the chocolate melts. (see pic)  Spread melted chocolate and top with chopped nuts. Cool completely and break into pieces.

People generally eat it as a sweet treat, but you can also use the crumbs (or crumble it lightly) as sprinkles to top ice-cream. You can google other recipes for this. There are dozens. Here’s one.

Easy “cheats” nougat

No candy thermometer needed for this one, it was passed on by my friend Anne L. and uses marshmallows from the supermarket.

I use a square lamington tin (approx 9inches or 24 cms square) but it’s a very forgiving recipe and a variety of tins can be used. I’ve also tried to make the quantities useful for a range of countries, but they are also slightly flexible, so don’t worry too much about getting them ultra-exact. And once you’ve made one batch, you’ll want to experiment, I’m sure.

Ingredients:
1)  several of sheets of rice paper  (enough to line the tin top and bottom)
2)  80 gms (5.5 tabsp or 1/3 cup) butter
3)  500 gms (approx 1 lb) white marshmallows (from the supermarket)
4)  375 gms (approx 13 ozs or 1.5 cups) white chocolate melts (buttons)
5)  4 cups toasted almonds, (I often add dried cranberries and pistachios for some Christmas color.) 

Directions
1) Line the tray with baking paper then with rice paper.
2) Toast almonds (on foil under griller or in oven) until golden
3) Melt butter gently and add marshmallows. Allow to melt, then add white chocolate melts, stir to combine.
4) Take off heat and add roast nuts and berries. Mix well.
5) Pour mix into lined tray, spread evenly, cover with rice paper and baking paper again and smooth with bread board (to make flat and firm.)
6) Refrigerate for 4 hours.
7) Slice as fancy as you like. They look pretty cut into bars and wrapped in clear cellophane. Or cling-wrap.

They can also be made with dark chocolate (see pic above). One year I couldn’t find packets of white marshmallows anywhere, only white and pink marshmallows packed together. So I bought double quantities and made my usual white nougat. I didn’t want to waste the pink ones but I don’t eat marshmallows, so I decided to try the recipe using milk/dark chocolate. It turned out beautifully and was very yummy.

Mendiants 

I often make mendiants as a gift and present them in a small, pretty box.  They are quick and simple to make, yet yummy, so they also make an excellent make-at-the-last-minute gift. 

On a sheet of foil, I place small blobs of melted chocolate (half a dozen blobs at a time) and working quickly before the chocolate sets, I arrange on each a collection of nuts and dried fruit.

For toppings I use spiced cocoa almonds, macadamia nuts, pistachios, candied ginger and dried figs, and the chocolate I generally use is Lindt dark chocolate. But you can use whatever you like. I usually print off this label to go with them because a traditional French confection with monkish connections sounds so much better than a blob of chocolate with nuts and dried fruit on it, doesn’t it?

Mendiants are traditional French confections composed of  chocolate disks studded with nuts and died fruits. Traditionally, the nuts and dried fruits used refer to the color of monastic robes — raisins for the Dominicans, hazelnut for the Augustins, dried fig for Franciscans and almond for Carmelites. Now a Christmas tradition,  recipes for this confection have embraced other combinations of toppings.

If you try these recipes, let me know how you go. They really are quite yummy and straightforward, and my friends are always very happy to receive them.

Making Ornaments

At this time of year I get very distractible, and trawl through the web finding Christmas ornaments to make. I have no shortage of ornaments — I just like making stuff — and I save patterns and possibilities on my computer, so I thought I’d share some here, starting with paper ornaments.

All the ornaments in this photo are made of paper, except the holly wreath, which is polyclay. I’m not terribly patient so most of these are very easy, even though they don’t immediately look it. Three of them are “german bells” — the red and white pointy one, the green one and the small red and gold one) and they can look really beautiful, especially if you use gorgeous paper. (I love the red and white paper which was wrapping paper I got in a shop.)  If you want to make some yourself, here’s a link. You can also hang them the other way up and they look lovely that way as well.

Years ago my Vietnamese students showed me how to make fat little stars out of the strips you used to pull off the sides of computer paper. (That’s how long ago it was *g* ) We made heaps and strung them on a line all over the classroom and staffroom.  I spray painted some gold and some silver and left most of them white, and they looked so pretty.

And one year I made a heap of these kirigami stars  —kirigami is like origami except you cut the paper as well as fold it. These are made out of the inside of envelopes. I was recycling, but also I kept finding more patterns inside envelopes and so kept making more stars. Until then I never realized that there even were patterns inside envelopes. There are made from 8 small rectangles. You can glue them together at the end, but I didn’t and they stayed together remarkably well.

I really liked the ones here made from old music sheets, but I didn’t have any music sheets, and if I did I probably wouldn’t have wanted to cut them up anyway. This site shows you how to make them. Believe me, they’re very simple — a bit fiddly the first time, but after that — well, I made heaps while watching TV.

And there’s a slightly harder version here that looks very spiffy. You can see how the choice of paper makes such a difference. Her stars are olive green and silver and look so lovely.

This is one of the easiest of all — a pinecone, from a Canadian site.  It’s just a matter of cutting out the pattern and threading the pieces with a bead between them to keep them separate. I don’t know how much like a pinecone they are, but they do look lovely and graceful once hung up, when they catch the slightest breeze. 

And this one is even easier — it’s just strips of paper glued or stapled together. Really easy but quite elegant, and would look lovely in silver or gold paper. I love the way paper ornaments twirl and move in even the faintest breeze.

I have lots more, but I don’t want to bore you so that’ll do for today. Do you like to decorate your home for the festive season? Do you make any ornaments yourself?