Lighting the Solstice

I have to admit: I kind of love the winter solstice. Not because it’s the shortest day, or even because it means the days will begin to grow longer. I love it because I see so many of my friends rejoicing it. So many of us lighting candles and trying themselves to be a light in the dark. It’s also a day that’s been recognized and celebrated for a millennia; it’s kind of profound to feel that sort of connection with so many of those that have come before us.

We missed the summer solstice at Stonehenge by a matter of weeks, and though it’s become a bit of a carnival atmosphere, it’s something I truly wish to do one year.

Last night we lit all of our candles, turned the tree lights on, and ate cookies to celebrate. Now that I think of it, I should have had some bourbon and egg nog. (Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon and Homestead Creamery natural eggnog is a killer combo!)

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All of my favorite things at this time of year are those that sparkle and glow.

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Now THESE. These you have to make. Meringue cookies that melt in your mouth and are dead easy to make.  I made the espresso ones and cocoa ones (I added red food color because I was planning on adding peppermint with the cocoa and then forgot. Tonight I’ll make another batch and won’t forget – though I’ll make them green).

The recipe is simple and straightforward. Last year I just used a spoon and plopped small rounds onto baking sheets. This year I used a pastry bag and star tip. I do like to make them a bit small so they are bite-sized.

There’s just a few days left until Christmas. I haven’t quite finished my baking, but I got all of my boxes that I am sending out packed today (they’ll likely be late, but……better than never, right?).

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Baking Christmas

Every year I draw up an ambitious list of cookies I plan to bake, and every year I begin to falter a few days before the holiday, having worn myself out in the process of producing so many goodies.

This year I have an ace up my sleeve: Neve.

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She’s been a great help with prep work and with getting everything into and out of the oven and onto cooling racks.  She’s also made up several batches of Peanut Butter Blossoms on her own.

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As always, we also made a large batch of Hamantaschen.

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Once again I also attempted Springerle. In the past, these cookies have consistently defeated me. This year I tried a new recipe, using King Arthur Flour’s Speculaas dough. There was a lot of chilling, rolling, chilling, molding, chilling, chilling, and more chilling. The results? Not too terrible. Not perfect, though, and I had a hard time with them. Still, I consider it progress!

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We have many, many more to go, but the doughs for our butter cookies and gingerbread cookies are already chilling and ready to be cut and baked.  I am going to try and get the Meringue cookies whipped up tonight to set in the oven overnight.

I also felt overly ambitious (or stressed?) and decided to make the gingerbread for our gingerbread houses this year. I used the recipe from the America’s Test kitchen cookbook and simply measured out shapes for the houses by hand. Neve wasn’t thrilled with how thick it was (and not perfectly straight-edged), but Oona was ecstatic that she had a house she could actually eat this year.

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Emily and I have been stuffing ourselves with all the extra gumdrops. I am going to need a major sugar-detox after this Christmas!

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Tomorrow I’ll work on getting the cookies ready for the kids to decorate, as well as trying some new recipes. That is, if I have the time. Paul is taking them out to see the new Star Wars movie so I can wrap gifts (and drink gluhwein, of course). For a few glorious hours I’ll have a Christmasy house all the myself (and the kitties).

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With The Sweet, The Bitter

I’ve been absent again, I know. I’ve been hesitating to post about my uncle’s terminal cancer because I wasn’t sure I had the proper words; even now I am at a loss for what to say.

This morning he left us, peacefully, and now we remain here facing down a holly jolly holiday, trying to enjoy life as he would certainly have wanted. He did, in the end, leave Maddie and I the most beautiful gift: his two dearest friends-become-family, and that is going to keep us moving forward.

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Here he is flanked by two of the most wonderful human beings you or I will ever meet – in a picture I completely stole (sorry Heather!)

So now we will focus on joy, and on doing small kindnesses for ourselves and others wherever and whenever we can. I keep thinking about how this year was the first year he expressed interest in having a Christmas tree up in many, many years; his way of telling sickness and grief that it would not win, I guess. We are going to take that baton and enjoy the crap out of this Christmas.

Tomorrow begins our push to get in the holiday spirit – whatever it takes – so get yourself some good bourbon and eggnog and let’s find some Christmas cheer together!

 

 

Getting Festive Up In Here

Happy Hanukkah!

We like to celebrate with food every opportunity we can.  So even though we are not Jewish, this time of year there are plenty of latkes and blintzes to be had. If I had other culturally Jewish food in my repertoire, there’d be that as well (I mean, aside from all the cookies and breads and cakes, natch).

Tonight was our blintz night.  We LOVE blintzes. One of the kids usually asks for them for their birthday as well.  Honestly, though there’s a lot of steps, they’re super easy. I whip up some crepes, and fill them with a cream cheese/ricotta/powdered sugar/vanilla mixture, roll them up burrito-style and pan-fry them until they’re browned and hot.

Then I top them with some pre-fab blueberry pie filling and whipped cream. Done! Happy family.

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Then we eat them by candlelight. It’s really the only way to properly enjoy them. 😉

The weather has been working against our holiday spirit – it’s been so warm that we have been sweating while trying to do our schoolwork. In the evening, once it has cooled down again, we’ve been trying to keep the holiday ambience going as much as we can.

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The kitties enjoy it as well; if by “it” we mean chewing on the branches and swatting the candy canes off the tree.

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“Who, us???”

We have had morning frosts, which is a reassuring sign that it really IS winter, even if it doesn’t feel so much like it.

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It would be nice if the cooler weather would hang out long enough for us to wear our nice winter sweaters, though. It’s hard to stay motivated to knit with wool right now and create even more sweaters that will sit unhappy and unused all through the festive season each year.  Not that my Chimney Fire sweater is growing that fast or anything.

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During the week it’s usually evening before I have a chance to pick it up, and I’m pretty tired by then. As for the weekends, well…it IS gluhwein season, and you know wine and cablework don’t mix.

This weekend we’ll be hitting the holiday baking pretty hard; I’m feeling the usual ambition for lots of cookie variety and quantity. Now to figure out how to distill some of Oona’s energy for myself!

 

 

Wallowing

Sorry for being absent. We’ve been wallowing, both in the terrible, miserable, excessively rainy weather, and in what feels like the beginning of a terrible cold virus.

We did manage to get our Christmas tree up the day after Thanksgiving; we bought a lovely fat one from the local nursery, and promptly had to buy several more sets of lights for it.  It’s far bigger than what we usually get.

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I love having my little straw goat back out! Which reminds me, have you been keeping an eye on the Gavlebocken?

The kittens, of course, have been ecstatic for such a fantastic new toy! Thank heavens our friend Kim had a cat tree for us to keep them (somewhat) out of trouble.

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Dilly is happy to be on the top, where she can see the birds from just inches away. Poppet and Widget like to hang out below, occasionally taking swipes at the long orange tail hanging down from above them.

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Today they’re all happy to see the sun again, and have warm spots to stretch out.  It’s been pretty dark and nasty the last several days, adding to the overall malaise that I seem to be afflicted with. Even my knitting is growing at a snail’s pace.

The dogs have been tracking in an epic amount of mud (and poop, let’s be honest here), and everything just has felt damp and gross. We’ve all been parking ourselves close to the Christmas tree for some relief from the yuck that has been this week.

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Against my better judgment, I’ve even left the front gate open so the goats could stay on the front porch (they just don’t want to use the calf hutches we have for them) and to keep myself out of the rain when I let the dogs out. They’ve broken several posts on the railings, and I don’t think I need to tell you what it looks like out there now.

But I will show you:

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That’s right outside the front door. It keeps getting wetter and more ground in by the day. Fancy!

So imagine, now, the dogs walking through this to get in the house……and tracking it in with them.  On the plus side (if you can call it that) the kittens enjoy batting around the little round goat poops.

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This is the reality of farm life.  We like to capture and share beautiful, idealized, sanitized pictures of life on the farm, but the reality is so much dirtier, smellier, poopier.

Still, I wouldn’t trade it.

What I WOULD trade, is this headache and sore throat.  There’s too much to enjoy about December for me to feel this way!