Tuesday 30 December 2014

When to deconstruct Christmas?

Christmas is one of those big events that takes a lot of planning and preparation leading up to the big day. Then the big day happens in a flurry, but you are too busy to genuinely be part of things and really relax and enjoy it. In a short time, the day is over and you are left sitting, tired, and wondering what happened.

Christmas was very nice here. Christmas day was spent quietly with just the four of us and a ham. The next day, Boxing Day, was spent with 16 people mostly in the kitchen (good thing it's big enough) eating WAY too much food ahead of time and then not actually able to cram around our table even though we had two extentions on either end. (I really thought we would all fit!). The meal turned out well and I had lot of help tidying up.

But now, on December 30th, I am tempted to pack it all up. The kids are older, so it isn't like the "magic" of Christmas is the same. We are not having anyone over for New Year's Eve, so it's not like I should have decorations up for company. The giant rubbermaid bins are still upstairs, waiting to be repacked and put away for another year. Yes, it is a royal pain taking everything down, apart, packing, padding, re-labelling because they don't end up in the same boxes as last year...

How long do most people keep their Christmas decor out? I suppose it depends on how long it has already been on display. But for me, it's like the rush and exhilaration is over and now it is time to move on. It may sound a bit "grinchy", but even though we are still picking away at turkey leftovers and ham leftovers and lord knows, chocolate and cookie leftovers, I'm so done with Christmas! Anyone else feel that way?

Tuesday 23 December 2014

Christmas Baking

I've spent some time doing my usual Christmas baking. One of my family's favourites starts being baked in the fall and continues throughout the winter as well. They are formally called Molasses Sugar Cookies.
Here they are laid out on baking racks to cool. The recipe that I will include makes this amount (a little less than 2 dozen depending on the size).
They are never-fail, easy to make cookies which are nice and crinkly on top and moist on the inside. I take them to the staff room for special occasions and have brought them to family Thanksgivings.

Here is the recipe:
1 cup white sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
additional sugar for rolling the cookie balls in

In a large mixing bowl, mix the oil, sugar, and molasses together. Add the egg and mix well. I do not bother to pre-mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Add the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, cloves and ginger and mix well. Use a teaspoon or scant tablespoon as a scooping guide, roll small ball of cookie dough in your hands, then roll in a small bowl of white sugar. Place on cookie sheet (I use parchment paper as well) in ball form. They do not need pressing down. Bake at 375 for aprx. 7-9 minutes.

In addition, I also made:

Sugar cookies which got decorated later...

These are peanut butter rice crispie squares. Enough corn syrup and peanut butter to choke a horse!

I also made the chocolate clusters made from chocolate chips, peanuts, butterscotch chips, and chowmein noodles.

Good thing not everyone is stressed over holiday baking!

Oops, he's a bit blurry! (and furry)

Saturday 20 December 2014

Danger Zone

I am entering the danger zone. (cue Kenny Loggins). This is the time where I am now off work for a bit, and I am questioning the shopping I have already done. Who doesn't have enough? What about the stockings? Are they equal? Do I need to get a bit more for this one? What about mine? Do I buy something else and just say, "Oh, just get me this." And what about the perennially impossible-to-buy-for husband????  Drives me nuts. This is when I forget what is already crammed in bags in  my closet behind the clothes hamper (not yet wrapped). This is when I enter stores and, in an act of  desperation, start buying little things, just in case it doesn't seem fair.

What also makes it tough is that teenage son has a very early January birthday. So you end up buying more for him and keep some of it back for the birthday. ( I know people whose birthdays are December 24th and December 25th and I think it must have really sucked when they were kids, feeling cheated out of a "real" birthday).

Can anyone else relate to the last minute scramble?

Oh, and I also begin my baking frenzy. I will, however, post about my favourite Molasses Spice cookies! Crackled on the top, chewy, moist and heavenly in the middle.

Sunday 14 December 2014

Setting Up For Christmas

Many years I go on a mad marathon frenzy of setting up the whole house for Christmas all at once. (Apart from the tree which depends upon when we buy it and when my husband gets it ready in the tree stand). I keep all of our decorations in large Rubber Maid boxes and bins whose labels have been scratched out and re-written over the years, some saying "1/3 village", or "snowman collection", or "tree ornaments".

The boxes are kept in a small room or large closet, depending on your frame of reference which I have deemed, "The Rubbermaid Room". It is part of the addition built onto our house and has shelving that fits three levels up and can hold two boxes deep, depending on the box. This room also holds other boxed things that are to be kept, not gotten rid of, such as children's toys, our own momentos, an album collection (??? why?), Hallowe'en collections, and work-related items. But the largest stash is definitely Christmas.

This year I did not go on a frenzied marathon, instead I did a little here, a little there. Today I will focus on the village. This is something started by my husband. He always wanted a village display and it began humbly with a couple of buildings and a few little stand alone items. When we first started the village, there were various kinds of village displays from which to choose and we had to decide on the size we wanted. Some had quite small buildings, others larger. My husband had a "go big or go home" attitude about it, so we started in on the larger size. It was a lovely tradition, where one or two more buildings would be purchased each Christmas to add to the village. We would always find a large selection at Zellers, a department store in Canda, which has now unfortunately closed shop.

Because our village started small, it first was displayed on a simple dresser that we used as a piece of furniture in the corner of our big old country kitchen. Single layer, very simple. Our daughter was wee little at the time and we have a video of her telling about the different buildings. One is a rustic log pub which shows people sitting at tables through the front window. She announced, "And this is where people drink..." It still makes us laugh when we watch it.

As the village grew, it required more space, so it then moved to being displayed on top of a sideboard that we bought early in our marriage at an auction. We paid $75.00 for the sideboard and it has stayed in our home in different rooms playing various roles ever since. At that point I started using the original cardboard boxes that the buildings came in (always stored them in those with the Styrofoam to keep them from breaking), draped them in quilt batting (snow), so I could create different layers. We had more 'upscale' homes, so those were uptown. A downtown core was also created with the different stores we purchased.

Then, after a trip to Prince Edward Island, my husband built me a hutch very similar to one we saw in our travels, so the sideboard got moved. That Christmas, the village also moved to the top of a huge t.v. unit in the den. It was no longer at eye-level, but it was lovely to look at from a distance and the little lights inside each building created a nice, warm glow in the evenings. I still elevated some of the homes. It was quite a snaky confusing mess of wires and power bars hidden behind and below the 'snow'. At some point, the kids also helped to set up the village. We each would perch on top of wooden stools from the kitchen and help to hold things, move things, plug things in.

One year my husband set it up because he thought it would look nice on the hutch he built, but I could not see how it could be done by having wires and power bars showing at the fronts of the shelves due to where everything could be plugged in, so I said, "Go for it!" and let him figure it out.
Last year, we sold our huge t.v. unit and replaced it with a gorgeous Craftsman style piece which cannot possibly hold our village, so the village now occupies the hutch again. However, this year, my husband, my son, and myself put it together. Our daughter is off at university writing her exams, and so she was unable to help. (We did promise her we would not decorate the tree until she was able to come home). It looks wonderful. I still have a shelf above the village that is currently empty. I am not certain what I will put there. I want something simple because I don't want anything to "compete" with the details of the village.
This was the first year the village was set up on the hutch that my husband built.

If you were to visit our village, you would see: 3 rather grand homes, 3 simpler houses, a school, a museum, a mill, the country pub (where people drink), a book shop with a small coffee shop attached to it, shoe store, Christmas shop, and a bakery.  All of these were chosen for specific, personal reasons. As well, there is a tree house (in honour of the tree house my husband built for the kids which is no longer in existence due to a nasty wind storm), a bridge, a duck pond, a gazebo, and many trees, stone walls, fences, people, and Santa Claus.
This is the village this year. It now occupies three levels.

The stone mill beside the treehouse and duck pond (because a mill needs to be close to a water source!).

One of the larger homes with an older couple drinking tea inside and carolers outside.

Here you can see the bakery with children building a snowman by the town square's gazebo. Santa is available today at the gazebo.

We would probably add to our village even more, but as stated earlier, Zellers does not exist anymore. We have not found any other villages in stores like ours. (Keep in mind, we are pretty rural here and don't get to 'the big city' very often, where likely we would be able to find something that would work with our village). So for now, there is no expansion in the works. But every year that we unpack the village from its three large bins, there are still comments like, "Oh ya, I forgot about this one." or "I've always liked the people in this window." or "We should put the pub beside the mill so they can go for a drink after work."
Do any of you have a village as part of your Christmas decorations?