Holiday Delights

We celebrated Christmas with Sackett Man’s family. In total we had thirteen people in our home over the weekend before Christmas (fourteen if one counts my soon-to-come baby boy), and I couldn’t have had a nicer time.

I LOVE playing the hostess. I love getting the house ready. I love putting the air fresheners in various rooms (apple cinnamon is the best scent). I love making up the beds with fresh, crisp sheets and warm blankets, setting out clean soft towels in the bathrooms, putting up the finishing touches of Christmas decoration so that the atmosphere is warm and full of the holidays. Most of all, I love to cook. Molasses cookies. Fudge. Artisan bread. Bowls of dried fruit and almonds and cashews for snacking. Scrumptious beef roast with gravy, mushrooms, and onions, roasted in garlic and rosemary and red wine. Mashed potatoes made creamy with milk, sour cream, and butter. Green beans cooked to bright green al dente and tossed with chopped, crispy bacon.

My mother-in-law brought her own delicacies. She made a ton of Christmas cookies, and brought her delicious caramel rolls. My sister-in-laws brought cranberry fluff, homemade punch, english toffee pudding, vegetable trays, ham-and-pickle roll-ups, pecan pie, pickled herring, cheese and crackers, lefse… I’m sure I’m forgetting something… Needless to say, we did not go hungry!

A huge thanks to my wonderful In-Law Family, for coming to visit us and celebrating Christmas in such a special way. 🙂

One thing I tried making this year that I’ve never, ever attempted before, was good old fashioned candy (yes, that you need a thermometer for as you carefully cook the sugar). I made Turkish Delight.

I wasn’t sure about it. I and my family love the Narnia series; our young boys really enjoy the original BBC Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe movie. There’s been curious interest regarding the sweet that was Edmund’s favorite for a while now, so I finally researched and found a recipe and tried my hand at it. Turkish Delight can be made in many, many flavors (lemon, orange, pistachio, chocolate, etc) but the most common is Rose. Yes, Rose flavored candy. I assume this is the flavor Edmund enjoyed, because in every single movie the candy is a soft pink color. To that end I ordered my rose water (Rose Flower Water by Cortas), and— because some reviews said it was a very strong brand— I sampled a teaspoon of it in a glass of water (the recommended amount is 1-2 Tablespoons in a glass of water), and I couldn’t drink it. It was so strong! The scent was like putting my nose smack dab into the middle of the strongest bouquet of roses ever. And then drinking that bouquet. So that made me concerned that the flavor of the Turkish Delight was going to be too much.

I forged ahead anyway.

I used the recipe from this lady’s blog: http://titlisbusykitchen.com/recipe/turkish-delight. Not only does she have the recipe written out, but she has a step-by-step video to go with it. It made the whole experience so much better; there’s nothing that takes the fear out of an new recipe than watching someone with a sense of humor show you how it’s done!

The ingredients are:

  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp rosewater
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • Few drops of food coloring
For the dusting
  • 1 cup powdered sugar (confectioner’s sugar)
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • Extra powdered sugar (on hand if needed)

The only modification I made to the recipe, at all, was I halved the amount of rose water. I put in 1½ tsp instead of 1 tbsp. For our American tastebuds, unused to the taste of roses, it made all the difference! It flavored the Turkish Delight delicately, without overpowering it.

My husband and I, used to the scent of roses as being connected to bouquets, soaps, or face wash, like the flavor but are still getting used to attaching it to a food. Our kids, on the other hand, have no such preconceived ideas, and love it!

January Note: One thing to keep in mind: this is an old fashioned candy, made the old fashioned way. There are no preservatives or additives to keep it in perfect form for weeks (*cough cough* months YEARS *cough cough*) on end, so it will sweat and the powdered sugar it rests in will turn into a glaze around it. For the best results, eat the candy within the first five days. If the sweating really bothers you, switch out the powdered sugar/cornstarch every 2-3 days.

Another side note: the recipe says it will keep for a week. That doesn’t mean you have to throw it out on the eve of day seven. It just means that the texture will become softer and less candy-chewy, and it will sweat more and more. I’m nearing the end of week two, beginning week three, and I’ve taken to using a fork to separate the pieces (the best I can) and eating it that way.

My prep for candy making.

My prep for candy making.

Mixing, mixing, mixing as the sugar SLOWLY rises in temperature.

Mixing, mixing, mixing as the sugar SLOWLY rises in temperature.

You can't see it here (sorry), but it has reached temp: 240˚F.  * note: turn off the heat immediately when it reaches temp!!!

You can’t see it here (sorry), but it has reached temp: 240˚F.
* note: turn off the heat immediately when it reaches temp!!!

This is the water/cornstarch mixture. Once this has cooked you add the sugar syrup and cook low and slow to a glowing gold color. KEEP THE HEAT ON LOW! AND MIX CONSTANTLY!

This is the water/cornstarch mixture. Once this has cooked you add the sugar syrup and cook low and slow to a glowing gold color. KEEP THE HEAT ON LOW! AND MIX CONSTANTLY!

After adding the three drops of red food coloring and the Rose Water, I poured (scooped) the mixture into the wax lined/oiled pan. I used this handy icing spatula to spread it out even.

After adding the three drops of red food coloring and the Rose Water, I poured (scooped) the mixture into the wax lined/oiled pan. I used this handy icing spatula to spread it out even.

This is what you will need to finish the Turkish Delight: a cutting board sprinkled generously with powdered sugar. you turn the Delight out onto the board and cut it. 1"x1" is the perfect size.

This is what you will need to finish the Turkish Delight: a cutting board sprinkled generously with powdered sugar. you turn the Delight out onto the board and cut it. 1″x1″ is the perfect size.

So sorry I don’t have a picture of the finished product, all cut and dusted. Just imagine your favorite picture of Turkish Delight from the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe… it really is just that pretty!

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It’s a Wonderful Life

We’ve had a crazy, busy, relaxed week here. I know, a study of contrasts, right? And yet it’s true. Sackett Man got the upstairs (torn apart to take care of an old bat infestation; no bats now, but evidence of their residence remained—yuck) into a state of usability. The last of the cleanup happened a while ago, and he’s been slowly putting things back together. We still need to sheetrock the upper half of the walls and put up the lights, but one thing at a time. The point is, the plywood over the door from the kitchen to the upstairs/pantry came down! The boys can now use the upstairs as ‘running space’ to burn off energy, and I have my pantry back! WHOOP!

The rest of the Christmas presents were bought. We’re all set.

I finished the comic book for my two boys. Three days of nonstop drawing/coloring/inking makes for one cramped hand, but it was worth it… it got done in time for our ‘at home’ Christmas, and that’s what matters.

We are traveling and visiting family over Christmas Eve/Christmas Day, so we decided to have an early Christmas, just us, in our new home. I made chocolate fudge (it’s seriously the best ever), snickerdoodles (the frozen kind, because I ran out of time), and finished the comic book while Sackett Man took the boys out shopping for the last few Christmas items (aka: my present). We had popcorn and watched the Veggie Tales “The Star of Christmas”. Sackett Man read some Dr. Seuss and then ‘The Night Before Christmas’ to the boys before bed. The poem was done as a gorgeously illustrated book by Christian Birmingham. Look him up; the man is a phenomenal artist!

We put out cookies and milk for Santa, and the boys scurried off to bed, Roman urging James to hurry because “Santa won’t come if we’re awake!”

And then the Christmas miracle: they let us sleep in the next morning.

IMG_4310There were stockings, and a gift for each of us from Santa, and then a gift for each person that we gave personally. You know times have changed when your kids are excited for socks in their stockings and a couple of books, your baby gets a $2 sippy cup and your husband is thrilled to get a rain gauge for the garden (when warm weather returns someday). Me? I got pajamas! Comfy soft, smooth, warm WINTER pajamas with long sleeves and fuzzy pants and… Okay, I’ll stop. But

seriously, they’re awesome.

The boys got a ride in a sled; it was pulled along behind their Daddy’s four-wheeler all over the yard and back field.

Rose hung out in the kitchen in her high chair, listening to an audio book with me and banging around her new spoon and a plastic bowl.

I roasted a turkey, made gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, green beans, and a new Christmas Pudding recipe where you BAKE the pudding instead of boiling it. It was a fantastic time saver! I love Christmas Pudding. I grew up with it, every single Christmas. There is no dessert that says definitively ‘Christmas’ like a pudding. The recipe I used this year called for figs, but I didn’t have any, so I substituted chopped dates and dried cranberries instead. Delicious!

Christmas Pudding

Christmas Pudding

It was a great day. And simple; we put out cookies for Santa. We opened presents the next day. We had a great Christmas supper.

We celebrated Christ’s birth, and it was wonderful.

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The Christmas Pudding recipe I used can be found here: http://cooking.lovetoknow.com/figgy-christmas-pudding-recipe

Christmas Fennel

Pasta with Fennel Cream Sauce

Pasta with Fennel Cream Sauce

Two nights ago I made roasted chicken legs and colcannon. One of my favorite meals. Last night I made something new: pasta and chicken with a fennel cream sauce. It was good; the fennel sauce wasn’t quite what I wanted… so I figure I’ll have to play around with the recipe a little bit. Otherwise it was quite enjoyable. James certainly thought the wheel pasta was awesome!

After supper my Sackett Man went out to his truck, and when he returned through the front door he was bearing a big, beautiful seven-foot Christmas Tree. We set it up in our living room (Sackett Man held the tree while I became flattened beneath it trying to wrestle it into submission within the stand; my son took a photo) and Roman, our eldest, helped me water it for the first time. James fell asleep on the couch, and Rosemary followed soon after. Roman, our night owl, ventured into the basement with us two adults and looked through a selection of boxes with us, trying to find the lights and garland. We found our Christmas wreath, but alas, no tree trimmings. Hopefully we’ll have better luck tomorrow, so we can decorate in the evening. 2013 Christmas Tree

In the meantime we’ll be putting up the last of the Christmas paper chains, the wreath, and unpacking the Christmas dishes.

And the house smells amazing.

You have to love pine trees.

~ Mary

Next in the Adventures Of…

I know I’ve mentioned that I’m an artist, and this week I get to fully indulge, to my great joy and excitement! (The laundry and dishes can wait, right?) I love homemade gifts, and a tradition I set with my own siblings is carrying over to my own children and nephews. Thrillsville! I love it! I make personalized superhero comic books. Each boy has a super hero created just for him, and then, either for a birthday or Christmas, they get a comic book adventure about “them”.

Comic_Book_RoughSo this year I’m making some combo comic books (since they’re for siblings), and all the great heroes will get to adventure together!

No, this photo is not the finished product. This is the Final Rough, before I do the final book.

Some Christmas adventures are in store for this year’s installment. Watch out, winter baddies!

 

Rosemary_Eating_BreadMy daughter is (somewhat) content to watch me while she gnaws on a piece of bread. As long as I have a camera for her to smile for. (What did I tell you about her blue eyes?)

So that is my plan for the week. Creating two superhero adventures. And putting up the last of the decorations before we put up the tree; I even found my Christmas dishes! (Thank you, Sackett Man, for organizing the boxes I haven’t unpacked yet into something completely neat and tidy and navigable.)

Also making some extremely yummy suppers, which means I need to dive into my recipe box today, too.

Stay tuned!

~ Mary

Clean Laundry Soup

My boys got to go outside today for the first time this week, bundled up like the little boy in ‘A Christmas Story’. My youngest boy, James, was in within five minutes, his little fingers so cold that his nails hurt, so I peeled him out of his winter wear and wrapped him in a blanket, curled him up on my lap, and put his fingers under my arm to warm them up. Within a few minutes he was better. Then Roman came in.

Those winter adventures sure didn’t last long!

Popcorn and hot chocolate and “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” is the perfect antidote for cold fingers and toes.

I put up some Christmas decorations, and folded laundry… and folded laundry… and folded laundry… I’ll get it all done, eventually. And then my kids will wear something and it will start all over again.

My favorite parts of the day? I have three. The first: making and putting up colored paper chains with Roman and James. The second: being called downstairs by my Sackett Man to be shown the amazing cleanup he did down there today. Boxes and bins from the move are arranged and organized, the floor vacuumed and bleached, much of the laundry washed… He’s amazing. Third: providing a delicious supper for my tired, hardworking family, while Rosemary sat in her highchair and indulged in a saltine cracker.

Winter Squash Soup

Squash soup. I use any winter squash I have on hand, cream cheese, minced garlic, thyme, butter, and s/p to taste. Everything gets mashed with my potato masher. Then I add enough of the liquid I cooked the squash in to make it the consistency I like, and voila!

This is great with bread and butter.

Of course, I think ANYTHING is great with bread and butter… but that could just be because I love bread. And butter.

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times…

So why did I decide to start a blog now? I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and yesterday it hit me… why not?! What am I waiting for?

So here I am.

Recovering.

Three kids down with the stomach flu, all under the age of five, is no picnic.

That was yesterday. Today was officially labeled as Recovery Day… which has consisted of Tangled, Winnie the Pooh, Superman, paper Christmas chains, scrambled eggs, toast, and ginger ale.

The plus side of yesterday: it was gorgeous. It snowed here, on my Wisconsin homestead. Large, puffy flakes floated and swirled gently; magical, white, and serene. It covered the back field and our sloping front lawn in a soft blanket, and settled on the bare branches of trees till the whole wood surrounding us was covered and sparkling.

IMG_4219

I think that’s something we tend to forget. No matter how crummy a situation we find ourselves in, we make it better or worse by deciding what to focus on. My children snuggled with me, hugged me, called for me, and told me they loved me. My baby held my face. My oldest told me thank you. My second laid against me, looked up at me, and said “Hi, Mommy.” Precious moments with them that made everything else worth it.

I looked at that. And the snow.

Not the buckets I was cleaning every 30 minutes.