Monday, November 30, 2009

Chocolate Pinwheels

Along with all of the Christmas cookies that have become a family tradition, I like to try a few new recipes each year and see how they turn out. This recipe for Chocolate Pinwheel cookies comes from Taste of Home Magazine. The cookies have a nice buttery flavor, and the chocolate swirl is a nice touch. One of the things that I liked the best about these cookies is that you can make them in stages (very Mama friendly!) I actually made these ones in 3 different steps over 3 different days. First to prepare and flatten out the dough, second to spread on the chocolate and roll them up jelly-roll style, and the third to cut and bake them.

Chocolate Pinwheel Cookies
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
2 tbsp butter
1/4 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

In a bowl cream together the butter and sugars. Add egg and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy. Combine dry ingredients and beat into the creamed mixture. Divide the dough in half, and place each half between 2 pieces of waxed or parchment paper. Roll out each piece to approx. 12 inch x 10 inch rectangle. Chill until almost firm, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan melt the chocolate chips with the butter. Remove from heat and stir in salt and vanilla. Spread over the dough, and carefully roll each rectangle jelly-roll style. (I didn't end up using all of the chocolate - in this case, less is more. Too much chocolate overpowers the taste and makes it really hard to roll). Wrap in waxed or parchment paper and chill for 2 hours or until firm.

Cut the dough into 1/8 inch slices and place on lightly greased cookie stone or tray. Bake at 350 degrees for 7 - 10 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Santa Clause Parade

Our small town hosted its annual Santa Clause Parade this afternoon. Although William is starting to throw around comments like "I know that it can't be the real Santa in the parade...", he seems to be holding onto his belief for another year. There are so few widely accepted bits of magic in our society, I want my kids to hold onto this one for as long as possible. As always, a great time to catch up with neighbours, snack on candy canes, and enjoy the show. It always amazes me that there are actually any kids watching the parade - so many of the town's kids are in it!! William enjoyed watching his fellow Beavers go by on their float, but did not want to be on it himself. After all, you can't see the parade if you are riding in it!

And last but not least...

Friday, November 27, 2009

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

When we woke up this morning, we saw this outside of the living room window.....

which prompted a whole lot of this....

changing the nature table from fall to winter. I know, it is not technically winter yet, but what the heck. The white stuff was lovely, even though it didn't stick around.

Charlie really loved playing with the new fairy house that we bought from a good friend at our homeschool group's craft sale last night - such talented Mamas!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

To put a little smile on your face....

I just had to share this - The Muppets do Queen. Something to put a little smile on your face on this gray and rainy November day.....Animal was always my favourite!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Classic Shortbread

For a while now, the boys and I have been getting into the Christmas spirit. The decorations are mostly up (although it is still too early for the tree), our crafting and gifting is on schedule, and now the best part -the holiday baking!! I really don't have much of a taste for store-bought goodies. I can sit with a bag of Oreos in the house indefinitely and not touch a one, but when it comes to home made treats, I cannot resist.

These lovelies are a traditional, and very simple, shortbread recipe that I bake in a stone mold. They are divine!! If you don`t happen to have a mold, they bake up wonderfully in an 8 inch cake or spring form pan.

Classic Shortbread
Cream 0.5 cup of butter until light and fluffy. Cream in 0.33 cup powdered sugar and 0.25 tsp vanilla (sorry about the decimals - my keyboard has turned french on me tonight!!). Knead in 1 cup of flour on an un-floured surface until smooth. Press into a lightly greased mold (or into a 8 inch round cake pan would also work nicely) and bake at 325 degrees for 30 - 35 minutes until lightly golden brown. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, and then turn out onto a wooden cutting board. Cut into wedges while still warm, and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Happy Holiday Baking!!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Window Stars

One of our Christmas projects on the go this year is to experiment with making window stars. I have seen many of them around in past years at friends homes, and have been dying to try them. William helped out with folding the larger stars, but the smaller one was a little too finicky for his six-year-old fingers. These ones are on the kitchen window right above the sink, and I love the way they look in the morning sun. Believe it or not, they actually make washing the dishes somewhat enjoyable!

We were able to get the kite paper at our local Waldorf school, and got the tutorials off of the Internet. These ones are really about as simple as you can get, but there are patterns out there for more complex and even more beautiful stars.

Here are a few links to get you started:

This one is a great place to start

And this one

Monday, November 23, 2009

Beavers Swim Up

Tonight was William's swim-up ceremony at Beavers. He is so proud to have graduated up to being a Blue Tail, and was telling me as he was getting ready for bed that this means now he is responsible for helping the younger Brown Tails. He is having such a great time with this group, and he can't wait until Cub Scouts where he can start to earn badges. I know that others have had mixed experiences with Beavers, but I have to say that our local group is fabulous. The leaders are wonderful, the kids have a great time, and they are exceptionally connected to our little community. Charlie is chomping at the bit to start next year, and I am looking forward to an hour to myself every Monday evening - talk about a win-win!
Good-night Beavers - busy building tomorrow...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Snakes and Lakes!!

We went over today to a local conservation area to learn a little more about snakes. I have to admit that they are not my favorite creatures (something I attribute to a run-in with a water snake as a child....) and I have been trying intentionally for the past few years to get over my fear. After all, I am the mother of two boys!! Our neighbour Ben came along, which is always added fun, and everyone had a great time.

After visiting with Julius Squeazer and his friend, we went down to the lake shore to explore. This was an extra-special walk for my boys, and long awaited. This is a man-made lake, and the part that we were visiting is partially drained during the winter months. We drive by it regularly, and for most of the year love looking out over the sparkling blue water. When it is drained, it takes on a whole new appeal - they boys have been eager to walk on the 'floor' of the lake for some time, and this was the perfect afternoon to do it. They found some lovely rocks and interesting fossils, a few animal tracks in the mud, and even a great little boat made out of bark and bulrushes that some other adventurous spirit had launched. I was thrilled, I must say, that it turned out to be a boat and not the dead and decomposing something that it first appeared when we first spotted it drifting towards the shore.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Fair November

"A few days ago I walked along the edge of the lake and was treated to the crunch and rustle of leaves with each step I made. The acoustics of this season are different and all sounds, no matter how hushed, are as crisp as autumn air."
- Eric Sloane

Jim, the boys and I, and Pop, along with the respective family dogs, went down to Lake Ontario today, to visit with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law. Even in November, the lake has such a steely beauty. It was a little overcast, and the whole scene was filled with shades of grey, brown, and black. I wonder if, under other circumstances, it might have felt too cold, lonely, subdued, and apprehensive of the cold winter that is on our doorstep. But today, surrounded by our family as we gathered to take an annual family photo, it felt beautiful. The boys climbed over the rocks (as I remember doing as a kid at the very same park) and the 3 dogs chased each other and played tug of war. We all managed a snuggle with Griffin, my 7 month old nephew, and the adults chatted about our plans for the holidays. what a lovely way to spend a cold November afternoon.

"The stripped and shapely
Maple grieves
The ghosts of her
Departed leaves.
The ground is hard,
As hard as stone.
The year is old,
The birds are flown.
And yet the world,
In its distress,
Displays a certain
- John Updike, A Child's Calendar

Friday, November 20, 2009

Ginger Bread Houses

Today, in an effort to ward off the grumpies caused by a cancelled trip mini-golfing, we decided to make Ginger Bread Houses. This is a family tradition that we all love. In fact, the idea and recipe comes from the mother of a wonderful girlfriend of mine - we began making these every year starting when my friend and I were in Grade 7 or 8 (many many moons ago!!) If you haven't adopted this tradition yet, I hope that you do. Although the sugar high that comes to little people from too much tasting and not enough decorating is inevitable, it is one of the things that we all look forward to the most each holiday season. It is even more fun, by the way, with friends. William and Charlie invited their good friends Ben and Maddie over to share in the festivities.

Mrs. Teplicky's Ginger Bread Recipe
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp all spice
1 egg
1 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup molasses
1/2 cup shortening, melted

Icing Recipe (make just before assembling the houses)
2 1/2 cups icing sugar
2 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Melt shortening over low heat in a large sauce pan. Stir in molasses and sugar. Beat in egg. Beat in dry ingredients. Wrap dough in wax paper and chill for 1-2 hour, or until easy to handle.

Roll out the chilled dough on a lightly floured surface until about 1 cm thick. I generally like my gingerbread thicker and a bit chewy, but for making houses crisp is better. Cut out the needed pieces, and bake for 8 - 10 minutes at 375 degrees.

This recipe is enough dough and icing for a good sized ginger bread house, and a few men to decorate and eat while you are 'working'.

Here are the templates that I use to make the houses - it makes a nice size house, definitely enough for a family to share. Recipe cards are handy for cutting out your templates, because they are about the right size to begin with, and sturdy. You will need 2 of each piece, and whatever 'extras' that you like - the pieces for a chimney are the ones in the top right of the photo. If you would like to have doors or windows in your house, I would suggest cutting them before you bake the dough, and then re-cutting and actually taking out the parts that you don't need (the inside of the windows) as soon as the ginger bread comes out of the oven.

As a little hint, muffin tins are a great way of keeping the different candies separate and close at hand. This, by the way, is a great way to use up any leftover Halloween candy that is still lingering in your kitchen....

Next, beat together the ingredients for the icing and spoon into a strong plastic bag. Milk bags work great, or large Ziploc bags. Twist the top of the bag closed, and squeeze the icing into one corner. Snip off a small corner of the bag to pipe the icing through. This icing is tasty and works really well for the houses. It dries fairly quickly, although if you have little ones I would still suggest assembling the houses a few hours (or even the day before) you plan to decorate so that they are good and strong before the candies go on. Soup cans are a great way of propping up the walls of the house while the icing dries, and make sure that the walls are fairly dry before you attach the roof. If your house seems a little wobbly, run a thick bead of icing around all of the seams and the base of the house for extra strength.

Then, fill them up with fruits and veggies as best you can, and let them have at it!!!
The final result....

Makes you teeth hurt just to look at it, doesn't it?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Nature Treasure Box

This is certainly not a new endeavour, but it is one of my favourite long-term projects with the kids. We try to spend as much time as we can in the woods, but the boys growth, education and fun, and for my peace of mind. And of course, we always come home with pockets (usually mine!) full of treasures. About 2 years ago, I found a memory box (like a picture frame but with fabric backing and a 2 inch case) on sale and brought it home to start our collection. We have really enjoyed adding to the collection - pine cones, leaves, bones, snail shells, porcupine quills, snake skins, birch bark, seed pods, wasp nests.....It sits proudly on the mantel above our wood stove, for everyone to admire. The display box not only protects that sometimes fragile treasures inside, it is a constant reminder of what beautiful pieces of art those little bits of nature really are.

There was a child went forth every day,
And the first object that he looked upon, that object he became,
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day,
Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

The early lilacs became part of this child,
And the grass and white and red morning glories, and white and red clover,
and the song of the phoebe-bird,
And the Third-month lambs and the sow's pink-faint litter,
and the mare's foal and the cow's calf....

-Walt Whitman

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of leave the world a better know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Town Christmas Party

Last night, the boys and I headed into town for the annual tree lighting. This is one of my favourite parts of living in a small town. That party is put on by the local business association (and there is certainly a focus on the local business and buy, buy, buying!!) but somehow everyone manages to make the evening a little more balanced. The town Christmas tree is put up in the little park on Main street, and blazes to light after a countdown by everyone there. The local businesses and service clubs offer free hot chocolate, cider, cookies, and hot dogs. There are candy canes galore, horse and buggy rides through town, carollers, a live Nativity scene complete with goats, and beautifully decorated windows - the candy store and bakery were favourites, of course! Most of all, you cannot take 10 steps along the street without meeting friends or neighbours. It is a lovely chance to chat, to say hello to people that you don't see every day, and to feel part of something - what a wonderful community we belong to. We stayed up way past bedtime, ate far too many sweets, and had a lovely time. The Holiday Season has officially begun!!!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Wet Felting

We were invited today to spend the afternoon with some of the other homeschooling families in our group to try our hands at fiber arts. Unfortunately, we missed the last day because of illness, when everyone dyed wool roving using walnuts and Kool Aid (not together!). Today, the kids (and adults!!) did some wet felting - first of little balls that will be made into Christmas tree ornaments, and then some mats that have found a new home on our nature table. I am always amazed at how talented the parents in this homeschool group are, and how generous to share their knowledge and their homes with other people. It takes a special person to open up their home to a bunch of little kids, and an even more special person to then add a second day of crafting when there is too much interest to fit everyone in at one time. The results of the afternoon were beautiful. William, who was a little skeptical at first, is extremely proud of his felted mat especially, and is really looking forward to getting together with this little group again.