Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year's Eve!

We said goodbye to Gommie and Pop after dinner and have been having our own little celebration since then.  We started by watching Despicable Me 2, which was hilarious, had a snack, and the kids are now playing MarioKart with Mama while I watch silliness on Anderson Cooper.  We're waiting til the ball drops.  Yep, we promised them they good stay up and we're having a little party.

Happy 2014, all!

Gommie and Pop: New Year's Eve Day

The kids stayed at Gommie and Pops hotel until 10 am-ish, eating a big breakfast, playing games, etc., after a night of swimming, game-playing, and Longhorn football (sadly, Pop reports that Sis asked, "what game is that?"  I hope she meant the teams, not the sport.)

I slept in and, without a car, didn't do anything.  But I did think of some of the things I should do to prep for both the holiday and the possible late-week snow.

When we all got together, we headed to the ice rink for another morning of skating.  Sis is speedy--and she does love to go fast (on her bike, scooter, and now skates; she also loves to run.)  Bud has improved his technique and didn't fall too often.  They had a wonderful time and especially enjoyed grabbing a snack (hot chocolate and a blue raspberry slushie.)

Then we stopped at the historic house for a tour and supplies drop off.  Pop hadn't been to the house before and Gommie hadn't been recently, so the kids and I gave them the tour, including the second floor and the attic.  We spread the new items around the house--a "toe toaster," a spider skillet, two paddle looms, a spindle,  a washboard, a chamber pot, and the rooker and malkin for prepping the beehive oven.

The rest of the afternoon was for games, cooking (more nuts!!), and hanging out together.

And watching weather forecasts to see if Gommie and Pop were going to get to see some snow!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Gommie and Pop: Monday, Monday

Mama went back to work, but the rest of us were in play mode today.

The highlight of the day for the kids was swimming at the pool, or more like, water sliding.  I bet they went up and down twenty-five times, loving every minute of it.  I will admit that aspects of the very tall enclosed slide (two stories?  three stories?) gave me the heebie-jeebies, but I know they've done it before and Pop and Gommie think it is safe.   I could've done without them walking back up it though.  Some things I don't need to know.

We had lunch, games, and just hung out.  Later, pizza with Mama for dinner.

And now the kids are off spending the night at Gommie and Pop's hotel room.  I imagine there will be games, perhaps more swimming, and probably some candy.  Gommie and Pop are wonderful to take them and the kids are SO EXCITED!!!!

Mama and I are enjoying a bit of holiday down time, no agenda, nothing special, just being.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Gommie and Pop: Rainy Sunday

It poured rain--Texas-like rain, well, for Connecticut--all day.  I know they wanted snow--it might snow the day they leave.

We started the day with breakfast at one of our new favorite corner restaurants--peaches and cream-stuffed French toast, African hash, crabmeat quesadillas, beef empanadas, crabcake eggs Benedict--yum!  Pop and Gommie were smitten (though, not "smitten when they were bitten by the kitten Mittens"--our wordplay of the day) and hope to go back again this trip.  We're also thinking of some Indian food later.

After some games, we went to the ice rink, where Sis tried her new skates (thanks, G&P!) and Bud tried again.  We saw a few family friends and watched everybody go round and round.  Sis definitely has skill and confidence and Bud is getting better.  And I'm always just amazed to see them tackle a new thing, pretty much all alone.

Popcorn, hot chocolate, some crocheting, and more games made up the bulk of the remainder of the day til dinner of ham, cabbage, sweet potatoes, and a batch of red beans.  Gommie and Pop retired early (our four, at least, were showing the wear of a week of late nights and activities) and the kids played a little MarioKart with Mama before heading to bed.

Bud's already asleep, with Sis on her way.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Gommie and Pop: Saturday

Gommie and Pop always squeeze in as much as possible, including, today:

  • the exchanging of Christmas presents!
  • big sausage and egg breakfast
  • playing Mah Jongg
  • going outside to ride bikes
  • eating Christmas cookies
  • Bud played piano for Pop and shared his Doctor Who drawings book
  • Sis, Gommie, and Mama went ice-skate shopping
  • Gommie and Pop took Sis and Bud swimming--lots of "slide for life!"
  • Mama and I get some alone time and watch The Hobbit
  • dinner of leftover standing rib roast, etc--I managed to eat a plain potato!
  • watch a Doctor Who episode (last year's Christmas special)
  • bedtime for all.

Gommie and Pop: A Scarf for Gommie

It's a hand-crocheted (just 4 chain stitch and then single crochet from second stitch) scarf to keep our Texan grandmother warm.

Gommie and Pop: Playing with Presents

Pop is reading the SI Civil War book we gave him, while Gommie is teaching Mama and the kiddos to play Mah Jongg.

Friday, December 27, 2013


Notes from Christmas, before I forget:

  • They're still so young, so excited about presents and Christmas morning--it's a joy to wake up to that kind of joy;
  • Regardless of how "simple" we say we are going to make Christmas, we don't;
  • I love the sprawl of toys on the floor, the boxes and piles of new things, each in his or her own corner--even two days later, it made me happy to go downstairs to see all of it about (I missed the after-glow of Christmas yesterday, staying in bed asleep the whole day), especially because I know that sooner than I'd like, there won't be toys for Christmas anymore;
  • I like that they're obsessed with Legos, AG, Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Doctor Who--let them be young a little longer--what child needs to worship at the altar of fashion and 1D and scream at twentysomething boy toys?  There's time enough for that later--and that's fine, I did it for Wham!  and Culture Club and Duran Duran--but let it wait at least until they're double digits.  If that means they're nerdy, so be it (more than that, yay!);
  • Sis got a rock tumbler and she's thrilled--I love it (see above)!
  • I can honestly say, perhaps for one of the first times, that getting gifts myself wasn't nearly as interesting as watching the kids get theirs--not that I didn't get some good ones, just that the kids were just that much more fun . . . .
  • Especially when they opened ones from each other, when they'd throw themselves at the other in a hug full of laughter.  They always choose for each other best;
  • But I did wonder at times what in fact we were celebrating with all of that stuff;
  • Though, I was thrilled to have genuinely surprised Mama with two antique cameras from the early 20th century;
  • I don't think there was any candy . . . stockings are less important that when I was a kid;
  • They didn't talk about Santa as much this year, even though he'd left notes, gotten his own glass of nog, and used his own special wrapping paper--I think they "know" but don't want to relinquish the magic;
  • I can't talk about the meal, not now, maybe not ever, which is too bad, though I will say that nuts seem to be an appetizer that can be reliably and successfully served to my in laws.

They're Here!

Gommie and Pop are here!

After a day of travel, they arrived in CT to be met by Mama and kiddos at the train station.  Then they went for dinner at the hamburger place.  And came home to find me waiting (yep, I can get downstairs!  I'm feeling oh so much better, but still tired and not really eating.  It's not permanent, but I lost 9 lbs.  I'd rather have those pounds back instead, and no doubt they'll come regardless.)

The kids talked about Doctor Who most of the time and started to show off Christmas presents, including the MarioKart track, American Girl doll furniture, Friends Legos, and Millennium Falcon Legos.  And Gommie and Pop sampled most of the different kinds of Christmas cookies, including Sis's Snickerdoodles.  The kids were ready to show them a DW episode and to do a musical instrument performance, but we'll save those for other days.

We do have five full ones, after all.


Feeling much more alive today, after sleeping for 24 hours, after being ill the 12 before that.  Ugh.  Now just exhausted.

Gommie and Pop arrived today . . . and just called to see if they should rent a car and go to Vermont!  I told them I'd let them know by the time they landed if anyone else got it!  That would not be a nice present for the grandparents.

Will write about Christmas, Doctor Who, etc., later.  But not food.  I don't ever want to eat again.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Worst Thing I've Gotten for Christmas

Stomach flu.

Please let me be the only one.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas NIght!

4:00 still cooking, though I had a mini-breakdown--too many new recipes, most not going smoothly, and everything needing the oven at different temperatures, all of it a little too overwhelming after a pretty stress-free lead up to the holiday and I didn't handle it skillfully; well, after a good cry and a hug from my MIL, things were better--and Mama made the popovers and Goo made the custard

5:30  DINNER!  Standing Prime Rib Roast, roasted potatoes, cauliflower cheese, green beans, braised cabbage, popovers, cheese and onion pie (with Branston pickle!)  Toasts to Christmas and family.

6:30 A call from Lambeth and Mrs. Lambeth in the UK, who didn't tell me the plot of the "Downton Abbey" Christmas special--and we'll be there in about 100 days.

7:00  Dessert--spotted dick with custard, mincemeat pie, Christmas plum pudding with brandy butter, tea, coffee, and Bud ate an entire box of Jammie Dodgers!

8:00 Ma and Gong head home; Goo stays to play MarioKart on DS

8:30  waiting for the Doctor Who Christmas special

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Merry Christmas Afternoon!

10:00 play with MarioKart track and new DS; Goo makes braised cabbage;
11:00 I fall asleep on couch, reading A History of English Food by Fat Lady Clarissa Dickson-Wright (not because of the book but because of the 3 hours of broken sleep)
12:00  more cooking--cheese and onion pie, prep beef and potatoes
2:00 still playing, now Friends Legos and other kid on DS

Hope your day is going as peacefully.

Merry Christmas Morning!!

1 a.m.  Moms get to bed
1:30  Sis can't sleep and comes to our bed awhile
4:30 Sis and Bud, sharing a room with Goo here, wake up and talk until . . .
7:00 Start opening presents (after making caffeine for all adults!)--lots of Doctor Who, MarioKart track, Legos, American Girl doll and furniture, cookbooks, and games, plus two antique cameras for Mama--always so generous and overwhelming and exciting, with lots of thank yous, love, and hugs
9::00 Finish opening presents (we take turns, as slowly as possible)
9:15 Making breakfast

We're all going to need a nap!!

Merry Christmas Eve!!

It was a joyous day . . . which is ending very late indeed.  But highlights include:

  • Mama heads to work (ok, not a highlight, but at least we were awake to see her off)
  • snuggling in bed watching two more Doctor Who episodes;
  • making granola, rosemary mixed nuts, "gingerbread" pecans, and pie crusts for mincemeat pie (which we made later);
  • welcoming Ma and Gong and Goo for Christmas;
  • building and decorating gingerbread houses, including one with a Christmas tree and the other that said "Merry X-mas;"
  • celebratory hibachi lunch, with strawberry Japanese soda, sushi, and  lobster tail for Bud and gyoza for Sis, who now eats edamame!
  • delivery of the last Elf gift;
  • too cold to bike ride;
  • Mama comes home!  With our antipasto for dinner! 
  • Sis talking to Cousin Hungry on the phone;
  • Sis seeing Aunt Banana's card and being surprised and getting excited that there will be a new baby for them next summer!  (We told the kids this at Thanksgiving, but I guess she didn't put "pregnant" and "new baby" together . . .sound familiar, Gommie?)
  • Muffalettas, arancini, and ricotta balls for dinner by candlelight, next to the lit tree--with all kinds of Christmas cookies for dessert;
  • piano and strings recital for us (instead of going to church);
  • SNOW!!!!!!  I love snow!!!!  I hope the kids always think of me when they see snow.  I think it's just miraculous--it puts me in touch with wonder and the divine, even when it is just a dusting like tonight;
  • traditional pajamas and picture book, which Sis had reminded Bud of;
  • Sis also gave Bud an early present of a penguin ornament;
  • feeding the reindeer and leaving cookies for Santa, who Sis says prefers milk to eggnog;
  • lots of extra wrapping and prep by Mama, Goo, and me, while drinking mulled Glogg;
  • finally, bedtime for us . . . .
Merry Christmas!!!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Not much, but I love it!!

From Our (Gingerbread) House to Yours

Advent Activities: Final Tally

Here we go, completed activities from our original list:
  1. Build gingerbread houses  Some at school, but the big build will be Christmas Eve with Ma, Gong, and Goo
  2. Host cookie party  The second annual party was a success!
  3. Make holiday wreath--well, we hung it up, but the boxwoods are covered in ice so we can't retrieve greenery
  4. Stay up late, a la Solstice Camp Out  They did it!  'til about 10:30 p.m.
  5. Make a snowman (weather permitting)  Does a snow Dalek count?
  6. Decorate--especially Fridge Snowman  Sis and I did it--and the paper scarf has fringe!
  7. Family game night  The kids especially like Clue, the original
  8. Santa Lucia celebration with saffron buns and glogg--still hoping to do this
  9. Watch "Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas"  I cried like I do every year.
  10. Make cards for teachers, babysitters, etc.
  11. Watch "Doctor Who" Christmas episodes
  12. Choose family holiday charity  Heifer and Tree House No-Kill Cat Shelter in Chicago
  13. Deliver ELF bags to friends in need of holiday cheer
  14. Compile Cookie-Time bags for food pantries 

Plus, unplanned activities:
  1. candy cane art
  2. made meringue snowflakes
  3. made paper snowflakes
  4. made paper chains
  5. decorated the outside bush
  6. performed a Christmas carol concert for Gommie and Pop
  7. baked lots of Christmas cookies
  8. drove around looking at Christmas lights
  9. made snow ice cream
  10. sent Christmas cards
It's been a very merry December!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Advent Activities: Elf Deliveries

We made some, but not all, Elf Deliveries in the rain.  Still have some granola to make....

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Advent Activities: Gifts in a Jar

Mixing up the beans for Beanbag Soup Jars

Tomorrow is one of our last days for Advent Activities, and we'll be making Elf Gifts to give to some special people who are having a difficult time now.  There will be mixes in jars for Cowgirl Cookies, Hot Chocolate, Beanbag Soup, Granola, and/or Pancake Mix (meaning each family gets one jar.)  


Cowgirl Cookies

1 1/3 cup all purpose flour, spooned into measuring cup & leveled

1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cooking oats
3/4 cup m&ms
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 – 1/2 cup chopped pecans (Nope)

Stir all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.


1 slightly beaten egg

1/2 cup butter (melted slightly in the microwave)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Use the back of a large spoon to work it all together. You may even need to use your hands to get everything incorporated.

Then roll the cookie dough into 1 1/2 inch balls, place on a parchment covered baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven. I got about 26-28 cookies out of these.


Hot Chocolate Mix

1  cup  sugar
1  cup  unsweetened cocoa powder
2  cups  nonfat dry milk powder
1 1/2  cups  semisweet chocolate pieces
1  cup  crushed peppermint sticks

1. In a 1 1/2-quart canning jar, other glass jar, or plastic canister layer ingredients in the following order: sugar, cocoa powder, milk powder, chocolate pieces, and crushed peppermint sticks.* Seal jar. Store in a cool, dry place for up to 1 month.
2. To make Decadent Hot Chocolate: In a large saucepan combine 2 cups of the hot chocolate mix and 1 2/3 cups water. Cook and stir over medium heat until chocolate pieces are melted and mixture is heated through. If desired, top each serving with marshmallows. Makes 4 servings.
from the test kitchen
*Use a funnel or a piece of waxed paper or parchment paper that has been rolled into a funnel when layering ingredients into the jar or canister.

Better Homes and Gardens

1 1/2- 2 cups mixed dried beans
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste

Soak dried beans in 6 cups lightly salted water overnight OR boil beans in 6 cups water for 2 minutes and simmer on low for an hour. DO NOT DRAIN.  In olive oil, sauté onion, celery, carrots, and garlic.  Add beans with their liquid to pot with sauteed vegetables and also bay leaf.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until beans are tender, about 1 ½-2 hours. 

Optional:  To bulk up the bean soup, you can: 
•                    add spinach or kale (or other greens), fresh or frozen, along with carrots, celery, and onions
•                    add ¾ cup dried macaroni (or orzo) when beans are almost done
•                    make the soup with ½ the beans (1 cup or so) and add a variety of vegetables like green beans, corn, and potatoes for a vegetable soup

Italian version:  Add 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning with the salt and pepper.  Later, when beans are almost done, add 1 can diced tomatoes.   

French version:  Use Herbes de Provence with salt and pepper.

Slow Cooker directions:  Place presoaked beans and soaking liquid in 6-quart slow cooker.  Sauté  onions, carrots, celery, seasonings, and garlic in olive oil.  Add these, plus bay leaf and optional vegetables except tomatoes, to slow cooker.  Cook on LOW 6-8 hours, adding tomatoes or other acids and/or pasta in last hour.

6 cups uncooked oats
1/2 cup shredded coconut (my adaptation:  use almonds or other chopped nuts instead or in addition or leave both out completely when I make it for the kids)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup coconut oil
2/3 cup maple syrup (honey works, too)
2 teaspoons vanilla
Preheat oven to 300°F
In a large bowl combine oats, coconut, flour, spices, salt, mix well. 
In a saucepan heat the coconut oil, maple syrup, and vanilla until warm. Pour this over the oat mixture and mix well.

Spread evenly on a cookie sheet.  Bake at 300°F for 40 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool in pan(s). As it cools it becomes harder, more granola like. Store in airtight glass container. 

Beauty that Moves

4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sugar

For the pancake mix:

Mix the above dry ingredients together and store in a jar.

Pancake batter:

1 egg
1 cup milk

1 tablespoon melted butter

For the pancake batter:

For each 1 cup pancake mix add 1 egg, 1 cup milk and 1 tablespoon melted butter. Do not overmix.
Heat a flat griddle or pan over medium-high heat.
Spoon drops of 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of batter onto the hot griddle and when bubbles appear on the surface of the little pancakes, flip them over to make them golden brown on both sides. A minute or so a side should do it.

The Holiday Recipes, 2013

Let the final menu selection begin!

For Christmas Eve, we're doing muffalettas again, but no remoulade or gumbo, on Christmas Eve.  "Light."

Christmas breakfast, Mama will make a meat feast for everybody (but me), including breakfast sausage, bacon, Taylor pork roll, scrapple, who knows what else, plus eggs.  I will make orange biscuits for me.

In between, we'll have some kind of nuts (two recipes below--gingerbready ones or rosemary ones), crackers, cheese, and all of our Christmas cookies for nibbles.

For our British-inspired Christmas dinner, we'll have roast beef, roasted potatoes, popovers, cauliflower cheese, braised cabbages, cheese and onion pie, maybe green beans or Brussel sprouts, mincemeat pie, and some kind of steamed pudding (plus a store-bought fruitcake.)  There will also be popping crackers!

We've done all of the shopping but the beef, so let the festivities begin!!

(Apologies to Lambeth:  no Brown Windsor Soup.)


Muffalettas/Muffuletta/Muffalatta (who knows?!)
Very similar to those at Central Grocery, which I remember eating on our trips to New Orleans.
1 jar salad olives, drained
1 jar cocktail onions, drained
4 cloves garlic, minced
celery—chopped fine
meats (cheap lunchmeats--ham, bologna,salami)
mozzarella cheese

Bake at 350°F until brown and cheese melts.

Orange Biscuits

1 can refrigerator biscuits
½ stick oleo
2/3 cup sugar
½ cup orange juice

Melt oleo and sugar; add juice and coat biscuits. Bake at 350°F til brown (15 minutes).
Gommie Hungry

Laura’s Spicy Nuts

1 lb. pecans
1 egg, beaten
3/4 c. brown suar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves

            Mix ingredients together.  Spread on large buttered pan.  Bake in slow oven (275-300°F) for 30 minutes.  Stir often, every 10 minutes so they don't burn.


Bar Nuts
For Easter 2002, we used dried rosemary, same amount—it wasn’t as strong but was good enough.

1 ¼ lb unsalted assorted nuts (peanuts, cashews, brazil, pecans, almonds)
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar (or light)
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon melted butter (double to 2 tablespoons)

            Preheat oven to 35O°F.  Toss nuts in a bowl and then spread out evenly on cookie sheet.  Toast until golden brown, about 10 minutes.  In a large bowl, combine rosemary, sugar, cayenne, salt, and butter.  Thoroughly toss nuts with spices.
            Serve warm and enjoy!


**This is the one Mama will use:
Paula Deen's Foolproof Standing Rib Roast
1 (5-pound) standing beef rib roast
1 tablespoon House Seasoning, recipe follows
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Allow roast to stand at room temperature for at least 1 hour. Rub roast all over with the House Seasoning. Place roast on a rack in a pan with the rib side down and the fatty side up. Roast for 1 hour. Turn off oven. Leave roast in the oven but do not open oven door for another 3 hours. About 1 hour before serving time, turn oven to 375 degrees F to reheat the roast.

Cook's Note: Do not remove roast or re-open the oven door from the time roast is put in until ready to serve.

House Seasoning:

1 cup salt

1/4 cup garlic powder

1/4 cup ground black pepper

Mix ingredients together and store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.

Yield: 1 1/2 cups

Paula Deen

Roast Beef
1 ½ cups flat beer
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
4 tablespoons marmalade (good with Seville orange thick cut)
2 minced cloves garlic

            Combine and marinate roast. 
            Put roast in rotisserie at 25 minutes a pound.
            Let rest for 30 minutes before slicing.

Joy of Cooking
Alternate Marinade
rice wine

            Combine Maggi and rice wine in a 2:1 ratio in ziploc bag.  Place trimmed roast in bag and leave on counter for about an hour. 
            Preheat rotisserie about 20 minutes.  Remove roast from ziploc, spritz with pam, and rub with kosher salt and black pepper.  Skewer in rotisserie, fat end up. 
            Cook for 25 minutes per pound, or until 140°F.  Rest on platter, covered in a tent of foil for warmth.

            Slice and serve.

Roasted Potatoes

Potatoes we fell in love with in England 2002, mainly at the Swan with whatever they were serving.  And so, for Super Bowl Sunday, Ginia made roast beef in a great marinade and these potatoes.  The recipe comes from Jenny Baker’s Kettle Broth to Gooseberry Fool:  A Celebration of Simple English Cooking, a book we found at the Waterstone’s on our last full day in London.  gin’s note:  The entire time is 2 hours, prep to eating. 

2 lbs potatoes
oil (something light—olive or sunflower)

            Heat the oven to 400°F.  Peel the potatoes and cut them into even-sized pieces.  Put them into a saucepan and cover with water.  Add a little salt and bring to a boil.  Simmer for five minutes and drain well.
            While simmering, pour sufficient oil into a roasting pan to cover the base generously.  Heat in the oven for 5 minutes, then add the potatoes and turn them over and over to coat evenly.  Put into the oven and roast for about 1 hour, turning once or twice during this time. 

Jenny Baker’s Kettle Broth to Gooseberry Fool: A Celebration of Simple English Cooking


1 cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 ¼ cup milk
1 tablespoon melted butter

            Preheat oven to 450°F.  Grease and flour muffin tin (or ramekins).  Whisk together flour and salt.  In another bowl, combine eggs, milk, and melted butter.  Pour this over flour mixture and fold.  Fill each muffin tin 2/3- ¾ full.  Bake 15 minutes.  Reduce to 350°F another 20 minutes.  Serve immediately.

Martha Stewart website

Cauliflower Cheese

One medium-size cauliflower
1 3/4 oz butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 pint milk
3 1/2 oz grated cheese
1/2 teaspoon mustard
a pinch of nutmeg

Set the oven at 220C.  Grease an ovenproof dish.

Cut the cauliflower into florets, and slice any remaining stalk.  Steam for 5 minutes until barely tender.  Meanwhile, melt butter in a saucepan, add the flour and cook, stirring constantly for 1 or 2 minutes.  Add the milk gradually, stirring until thickened and smooth.  Add the grated cheese, mustard and nutmeg, and stir until the cheese has melted.

Put the cauliflower into the dish, pour the sauce over  and bake in the oven until the top is brown and bubbly.

Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall, The Good Granny Cookbook: Traditional Favourites for Modern Families 

Cheese and Onion Pie

shortcrust pastry dough made with 3 cups flour and 3/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, peeled and chopped finely
2 1/2 cups good, strong Cheddar, coarsely grated
1/4 lb potatoes, peeled, steamed, and diced
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons heavy cream
a bunch of parsley, chopped
cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
beaten egg for glaze

Preheat oven to 425F  Divide the dough into two balls, keeping one a little larger than the other.  Melt the butter in a pan and gently fry the onion until softened and translucent, then let cool.  Throw the onions into a bowl with the grated cheese, potato, eggs, cream, parsley, and the seasoning, and mix everything together with your fingers.

Roll out the larger ball of pasty and line a shallow greased 9" tart pan.  Tip the cheese and onion mixture into the pie crust.  Moisten the edges of the crust and cover with the rolled out top piece, crimping the edges together carefully.  Brush beaten egg over the top and bake in the oven for 30 minutes until crisp and golden brown.  You can sweat leeks instead of onions, or add buttered apple slices instead of potato.

Tamasin Day-Lewis, Tarts with Tops On, or How to Make the Perfect Pie

Braised Cabbage with Sausage

1 small red cabbage
1 onion, chopped
1 oz butter
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/4 pint red wine
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons soft brown sugar
4 eating apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
a bay leaf and a strip of orange peel
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
salt and pepper
1 lb kieldbasa

Set oven to 160C.  Cut cabbage into quarters, discarding the white stalk, and shred the rest.  In a fire-proof casserole, soften the onion in the butter.  Add the garlic and cook for a minute.  Add the cabbage and all the other ingredients except the sausages, and stir to mix.  Cut the sausages into chunks and lay them on top of the cabbage. Cover tightly and bake for 2 hours or longer.  After an hour, check and, if all the liquid has been absorbed, add a little more wine or water.  Adjust the seasoning before serving.

Variation:  Instead of sausages, use chunks of smoky bacon.

Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall, The Good Granny Cookbook: Traditional Favourites for Modern Families 

Mincemeat Pie

pastry for 2-crust pie (we used store bought)
1-27 oz jar None Such ready to use mincemeat
1 egg yolk, optional
2 tablespoons water, optional

            Place rack in lowest position in oven; preheat oven to 425°F.  Prepare pastry.  Turn mincemeat into pastry-line 9” pie plate.  Cover with to crust; cut slits near center.  Seal and flute.  For a more golden crust, mix egg yolk and water; brush over entire surface of pie.  Bake 30 minutes or until golden.  Serve warm or cool; garnish as desired.

None Such mincemeat jar recipe

Jessie Jackson's Plum Pudding
2 cups self-raising flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 large carrot, grated
2 oz mixed peel
1 lb currants
1 lb raisins
8 oz suet
2 eggs beaten
milk or stout to mix

In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients together in the order given.  Stir in the beaten eggs and sufficient milk or stout to hold everything together.  Put into basins, cover and steam for 3 hours.

On the day, steam for 1 hour

Jenny Baker, Kettle Broth to Gooseberry Fool: A Celebration of Simple English Cooking

Steamed Syrup Sponge

½ lb. butter
½ lb. sugar
4 eggs
12 oz. plain flour (appx. 2 4/5 cups flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
125 ml to a pint of milk
3 tablespoons golden syrup

First of all, put enough water in a large pot to come up the side of the pudding basin ½ to 2/3 of the way.  Also, put a kettle on to boil.
Allow butter to reach room temperature.  Place in a large mixing bowl and add the sugar.  Cream together until smooth.
            Add eggs one at a time and mix thoroughly.  Gradually sieve flour and baking powder into the bowl, folding the ingredients together.  Add enough milk so that the mixture forms a light ribbon.  Line the bottom of a pudding basin with golden syrup (spray Pam on the measuring spoon to prevent sticking).  Pour the sponge mixture into the syrup. 
            Place the covered pudding basin inside the pot, which has reached a full boil.  There is no need to trivet the basin. Steam for approximately one hour or until the sponge springs back to the touch.  Serve with custard.

Porter’s English Restaurant

Steamed Treacle Sponge Pudding

1 tablespoon black treacle
3 tablespoons golden syrup
6 oz. (175 g) self-rising flour (appx. 1 ¼ cup flour)
1 rounded teaspoon baking powder
6 oz. (175 g) butter, softened (1 stick + 2 tablespoons)
3 large eggs
6 oz. (175 g) soft light brown sugar (appx. 1 ¼ cup sugar)

You will also need a 2-pint pudding basin with lid, well buttered (or sprayed with Pam), and a large mixing bowl. 
First of all, put enough water in a large pot to come up the side of the pudding basin ½ to 2/3 of the way.  Also, put a kettle on to boil.
Butter the basin (or spray with Pam and wipe with a paper towel), then measure 3 tablespoons of golden syrup into it (it helps to spray the measuring spoons with Pam to keep the syrup from sticking).  Then take a large mixing bowl, sift the flour and baking powder into it, add the softened butter, eggs, sugar, and black treacle.  Beat the mixture for about 2 minutes until it’s thoroughly blended.  Now spoon the mixture into the basin and level the top using the back of the tablespoon.
Place the covered pudding basin inside the pot, which has reached a full boil.  There is no need to trivet the basin.  Now steam the pudding for 2 hours, checking the water repeatedly and refilling it when necessary.
            To serve, loosen the pudding all round using a butter knife, invert it on a warmed plate, and pour an extra 3 tablespoons of syrup over the top.  Served with custard (Bird’s custard powder makes this easier), whipped cream, ice cream, or crème fraiche. 

Delia Smith

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Advent Activities: Solstice Twofer

We drove around looking at Christmas lights this evening while listening to Christmas music, bringing along eggnog and containers of homemade cookies.  We went tonight before all of the snow melts in this ludicrously warm weather and there were some houses still with yards full of snow, perfect for shiny light displays and the holiday season.  We liked a house decked out in light blue lights with lit deer in the yard, a house with natural stick deer standing in the snow, lots of colonial houses with candles in every window and wreaths on the door, plus all manner of idiosyncratic trees and bushes and "puffy plastic" figures, including one yard with several different puffy plastic snowmen.  Not as many inflatables as years before, except that one house in town that always has several and another with a dinosaur opening a present; our neighbor who usually has several doesn't have any this year.  In retrospect, tonight for lights was apropos, it being Solstice, with its focus on light in the darkness.

Now the kids are downstairs sleeping in front of the Christmas tree, having their Solstice "camp out," which entails staying up as long as they want and doing whatever they want (provided it's not screen time.)   We're not sure how long it will last--they often come back upstairs before midnight, both of them since neither will sleep downstairs alone--but they were planning reading, rainbow looming, opening their advent calendars for tomorrow at the stroke of midnight, and "shaking our presents without opening them!"

Happy Solstice, friends!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Prep Countdown

With just four days to go, we're into the final stages of our preparation for Christmas.  And we're well ahead of where we usually are, because we a.) have actually sent some Christmas cards this year either via traditional or email; b.) are starting to wrap presents tonight instead of Christmas Eve (yes, just imagine how late that means we're usually up!!); and c.) already ordered an antipasto platter for Christmas Eve dinner. However, I still have not really finalized our Christmas dinner menu and thus have not begun the shopping.  We were going with something British, in honor of our trip (in under 4 months!!!), but we'll see.

Happy wrapping, everybody!

Advent Activities: Cookie-Decorating Party!!!

Today was our second-annual cookie-decorating party.  The kids were great and it all went well, a perfect way to start winter vacation.

Some tips for myself for next year:

  • The last day of school before break, which is an early-dismissal day, is perfect--kids get all sugared up early and you send them home for dinner!  Plus, they are definitely in a happy holiday mood.
  • 6-8 kids is as much as my two tables comfortably hold.
  • Muffin tins are great for sprinkles and such--providing spoons to scoop, however, was completely unnecessary.
  • Aluminum cookie trays are great for both decorating cookies (and catching loose sprinkle) AND sending home the creations, which frosting is usually not hard enough to go into a cute cellophane bag.
  • We let them choose their shapes, decorating one cookie for each member of their family, at least (more depending on the family size, so everyone  has about the same number, usually around 6, with one for eating.)
  • Frosting in the cans needs to be pre-stirred so it is easily spreadable.  I opened too many cans today--1 for every two or three kids works just fine.  We never ask anyone to bring anything, but someone brought a can of frosting, which was helpful.  I only had white and chocolate; next year, other colors.  (I once did all of the tinting myself, but that is a big hassle so I go with the cans.  Besides, I'm not convinced anyone really eats the cookies.)
  • I had popcorn for a snack, but it was ignored almost completely today.  They were, however, quite thirsty.  And actually didn't eat much frosting or many decorations.
  • As they get older, they are more discriminating in their decorating, which took a little less than an hour; afterwards, they played upstairs.  Two hours or less is the perfect party length.

Such a success that I'm dreaming of an ice-cream sundae party on the last day of school before summer now!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Another Great Party

Balloon animals--penguin and bunny.  Hand painting--bunny, again.  Arts and crafts, including penguin ornament and bell necklace.  Decorate a huge cupcake.  And lots of food--kid food--pigs in the blankets, chicken fingers, mini-cheeseburgers, tater tots, mac and cheese, pasta primavera, veggies and dip, crackers and cheese.  And, of course, pictures with Santa.

Yes, another great children's party at the office.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

More Love and Prayers

Two weeks ago, it was her mother.  Last night, it was her father.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Mommy Goose on the death of her dad.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Advent Activities: Pictorial Evidence

Sis's school gingerbread house--note the sled!

Bud's school gingerbread house--note the wreath with the ribbon above the door.

Sis's fridge snowfriend, with fringed scarf

Advent Activities: Snow Day, Again

Yep, another Tuesday, another snow day with no school.  And it is definitely accumulating there, having gotten harder in the last hour or so, having snowed since around 7 a.m.

And we're trying to make the most of it:

  • Baking marathon:  Snickerdoodles, Joe Froggers, Benne Wafers, and (maybe later) jam thumbrpints--great names, great cookies;
  • Doctor Who:  three episodes so far and imagine we'll watch one more;
  • Computer time:  Animal Jam AND Minecraft;
  • Craft time:  crochet and maybe some fridge decorating later;
  • and, of course, actual playing-in-the-snow time.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Advent Activities: Checking In

With less than 10 days to go, I'm checking on our Advent activities list.  We're definitely not making much progress and will have to pick the last eight or so things we do.

  1. Build gingerbread houses  Some at school, but the big build will be Christmas Eve with Ma, Gong, and Goo
  2. Host cookie party--invites sent!
  3. Make holiday wreath--well, we hung it up, but the boxwoods are covered in ice so we can't retrieve greenery
  4. Stay up late, a la Solstice Camp Out (Dec. 21 or 22, for us)
  5. Fondue dinner
  6. Make a snowman (weather permitting)  Does a snow Dalek count?
  7. Decorate--especially Fridge Snowman
  8. Snowflake Bingo at school (Dec. 6)  Actually, we skipped it.
  9. Deliver gifts to vet, pediatrician, etc.--maybe Monday?
  10. Family game night
  11. Santa Lucia celebration with saffron buns and glogg (Dec. 13)--this is gonna be late
  12. Dinner by candlelight
  13. Watch "Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas"
  14. Sort through toys and books for donations
  15. Make cards for teachers, babysitters, etc.
  16. Watch "Doctor Who" Christmas episodes
  17. Backwards/reverse day
  18. Choose family holiday charity  Heifer and Tree House No-Kill Cat Shelter in Chicago
  19. Deliver ELF bags to friends in need of holiday cheer
  20. Make treats for animals (birdfeeders? local shelter?)
  21. Compile Cookie-Time bags for food pantries 
We've also made candy cane art, made meringue snowflakes, made paper snowflakes, made paper chains, decorated the outside bush, performed a Christmas carol concert for Gommie and Pop, and baked cookies for the cookie party.  So far, so good.

Sunday, December 15, 2013


Upon my opening a birthday card from Gommie which included some cash, the kids said, "The card is from Gommie, but the money is from Pop!"

And they were half right.  Gommie borrowed the money from Pop (and apparently didn't pay it back!)

Thank you for the birthday money!


Sis and Bud were talking to Sis's gymnastics buddy about Disneyworld recently.  After we dropped them off for lessons, I said I was glad that Bud had enjoyed Disneyworld so much.  "You know, Mom, when you think something is great, you should use lots of good words to describe it.  I have 50 words for how awesome it was!"


Bud's new Lego nutcracker, the Mouse King:

Advent Activities: Candy-Cane Art

**Have you noticed that many of our Advent Activities aren't actually on the list?  I keep finding these things on FB and Pinterest!

From the Artful Parent:  basically, heat any kind of candy cane for 10 minutes at 250F and then bend into shape, working really quickly; they aren't hot, but they cool quickly.  We found that you could reheat the candy canes if they stiffened but that they were pretty brittle once they cooled.  It didn't change the flavor any.  

Frozen (Not the Movie)