Vintage Books and Glasses

When I visited my sister recently, I had forgotten that she has been the guardian of some of the old family treasures from long ago. It was a pleasant surprise to see the items being kept safe behind the glass doors of a china cabinet.

The small blue liqueur glasses and decanter were perhaps bought in our first few years in Canada, more than half a century ago. The small wine or martini glass with the yellow swirls and the spiral stem is from a set that came to Canada with my parents back in 1953. This one is probably all that is left of the set.

When I saw it, I thought of my tongue. Odd, you might think, but memories that involve the senses can be very strong and long lasting.

My parents used to bring out these special yellow swirly glasses at Christmastime and pour a little egg liqueur from a bottle of Bols advocaat. We children were too young to be allowed alcohol, but once in a while, and because it was a festive season, we were allowed to lick out the last bit of advocaat from the yellow swirly glasses. Kind of gross, in hindsight, but as kids, we were thrilled.

So you can see that the yellow swirly glass holds special memories for me — not only the taste of the advocaat, but the smell of Christmas baking, the beautiful Christmas music, the coziness of the house and the love given to us by our parents.

Some might say these glasses are just inanimate objects, but they hold the key to a gold mine of memories.

Under the shelf with the glasses, two books leaned against the back of the cabinet. The old copy of Forever Amber, which I read when I was 16 (and that wasn’t yesterday), and another of my favourite stories, Little Black Sambo. The bigwigs now say that this book is racist, and have banned it, but I loved reading it and never once felt anything negative towards people of another race from that experience. My family and I simply loved that story.

Thanks to Luanne Castle https://writersite.org/2017/11/02/magical-bowls/

for the nudge to trot out old memories.

You’ll Love “Yule Logs”

These delicious cookies are supposed to look like logs, but when you have help to make cookies you don’t criticize a little aberration in the shape of the “logs.”

Also, I think it’s encouraging  to others when you hear that, even though the “log” shapes turned out a bit unorthodox, the taste of the cookies is “more-ish” (as my father-in-law used to say, when a food made you want more).

The incredibly easy recipe is below the photo.

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The Admiral’s Yule Logs

2 Tbsp. butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup chopped dates

1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans, or hazelnuts, or….)

shredded coconut

Mix butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, flour, dates, and nuts in the usual way, and in the order listed. Have some shredded coconut in a shallow bowl or plate. Drop a teaspoonful of the dough into the coconut and roll it around to coat the lump of dough. Then, using the coconut to keep it from sticking to your fingers, roll the dough into the shape of a tiny log, about the size of your little finger. When the logs are shaped and coated in coconut, place them on a buttered cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until brown. (325 if oven is too hot.)

Gingerbread Man

At Christmastime, I bake gingersnaps. The Captain’s mother, the Admiral, always made gingersnaps for Christmas. It was my job to take up the flag, as it were, and carry on the tradition. I’m getting better, but they’re never as good as the Admiral’s. One thing she always did was to make a gingerbread man from the last bit of leftover dough.  As I made the gingersnaps today, the last bit of dough looked to me like the shape of a deer’s head, so I cut out the rest of its shape. Then I still had enough to make a gingerbread man. This year my man has a broken leg so I gave the gingerbread man an aircast boot and two crutches. He looks a bit ghoulish but I’m sure he felt that way in his first days of hobbling around, so maybe it’s appropriate.dscn7600

If you’re feeling inspired to make gingersnaps (and why wouldn’t you feel inspired after seeing these? – If I can do it, anyone can) the recipe follows:

Gingersnaps

Put in pot and let come to boil:

1 c. butter

1 c. molasses (I like fancy molasses but the other kinds work too.)

½ c. brown sugar

I let it boil for about a minute, stirring all the time. Remove from heat. Put in bowl. Be careful. The boiled syrup is VERY hot.

Add:

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. ground ginger

3 – 3 ½ c. flour

*Candied ginger pieces can be added to the dough.  Also grated fresh ginger root may be added.

Cool in fridge for a few hours or overnight. I divide the dough into four pieces and then cool it. Otherwise it becomes a challenge to roll out as one big piece. The dough will be quite hard but don’t give up when you roll it out. Slice or cut with cookie cutter.

No need to butter the cookie sheet as the dough is buttery enough.

Bake at 350* for 8 minutes.

The cookies freeze well so it’s easy to haul out a few when friends drop in.

Beware of Hot Chestnuts

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In the autumn, trees provide us with all sorts of fruit and nuts. Just in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas, the edible chestnuts are ripe. In some countries people are lucky enough to be able to go picking chestnuts for their own consumption; the rest of us have to buy them in our grocery stores. Chestnuts are a savoury addition to the turkey stuffing, but I find them even more appealing when they’ve been roasted in an open fire, just as the song suggests.

In my twenties, and newly wed, I was visiting at the home of my in-laws. We sat on the carpet by the fireplace watching as a batch of chestnuts, enclosed in a wrapper of tinfoil, roasted in the fire.

“I’ve never tasted chestnuts before,” I said. “This will be a first for me.”

“You’re in for a treat,” everyone agreed. The room was cozy with the warm glow of the fire, lights turned low, soft music, and loving people—a perfect evening.

My father-in-law fished the hot tinfoil packet out of the embers. “I think they’re done.”

I watched to see how the chestnuts were eaten. The tough pellicle had to be taken off first, and I learned that teeth worked just fine for opening an edge of the chestnut skin. Inside was the rich meat of the chestnut, hot and fluffy like a baked potato, so delicious with its mild nutty flavour.

“These are so good,” I said, reaching for another one. More confident now, I bit into the skin of the next one. A loud pop inside my head sounded like a gun had gone off, and the steaming hot chestnut meat shot towards the back of my throat and filled my mouth.

I wanted to spit out the starchy mass that was burning my cheeks, tongue and gums, but I was a guest—a shy one—in this lovely home. I couldn’t just spit out the exploded chestnut onto the wool carpet. I leapt up, ran to the bathroom, and spat into the sink.

The family came running and hovered around me. “Are you okay? Let’s see.”

“Oh my! Quick! Have a glass of cold water.”

My husband rubbed my shoulder. “Does it hurt?”

“You should have spat it out on the floor right away.”

That night my throat swelled up so much I could hardly breathe. I thought a small child would never survive this without medical intervention.

At the clinic the next day I got some gel to take the pain away. I worried at first that I might lose teeth if my gums were too badly burned. When my cheeks healed I could feel ropy ridges of scar tissue, but at least I had my teeth.

Since then I have learned that the skin of the chestnuts should be cut before roasting to allow the steam to escape.

 

I still love chestnuts, but I’m very careful when I eat them now. I’m guessing my thoughts are different from those of most people when I hear the song, “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.”

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Edible Chestnuts

About 36 years ago, on a snowy winter evening in the city of Courtenay, BC, the Captain and I walked through the downtown area. It must have been a Friday night because the stores were open late. Nearly Christmas, they had Christmas carols pouring out of the speakers on some of the street corners. It was all very festive and the best part was that someone had a 45-gallon drum set up with a charcoal barbecue, roasting chestnuts. He had a bit of an accent that lent some old-time culture to the scene.

“Get your hot a-rrroasted a-chestnuts. Hot a-rrroasted a-chestnuts,” he called.

I was so cold, and when the Captain presented me with a newspaper cone of these hot a-rrroasted a-chestnuts, they warmed me right from my stomach to my heart. They were the best chestnuts I’d ever eaten.

I decided to plant two Italian chestnut trees – the edible kind. They had little chestnuts – too tiny to eat that first year – and each year they got bigger. But the trees have wide-spreading branches, and between the windstorms and the heavy snowfalls we had once or twice, the branches broke and the trees were beyond saving.

I love this photo I took in the early days. It reminds me of those few chestnuts those trees provided in the fall, and of that fine winter day with the hot a-rrroasted a-chestnuts.

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Walking Off Calories

After the usual overindulgence at Christmas, a walk was in order. Not too far from my house is a great place to stretch your legs. There’s a spit of land that reaches out into the part of the ocean that is between the mainland of BC and Vancouver Island. If you look towards the inland side of the spit, you’ll see the wharf at the Town of Comox.001

Looking back from the spit you can see where it is connected to the main part of the island. The left side of the photo below shows the mainland of British Columbia in the distance and the more open water that has washed countless logs and tree roots up onto the sandy spit. A breakwater of sorts has been built with short logs to make a fence, in the hope of keeping high surf from washing debris across the road that goes along the spit (beside the hydro poles). No surf today though.

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Looking towards Comox again, the chill of the newly fallen snow brings a breeze that stings reddened ears. The sleeping prince and princess of the Comox Glacier are on this photo, but hidden behind a swath of clouds.

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Doesn’t that water look chilly? That’s because it IS.

Carols and Calories

Something happened when the Christmas carols were turned on this morning. The cookbook came out and in a short time the kitchen looked like a bomb fell into it. I managed to get through it and clear away the disaster part of baking. Then it was time for my reward.

 You can see that the reward part is missing from the Striezel. 001

My mother used to make the best Striezel and I miss her baking,  but without her I have to do the best I can from memory. I know she used nuts and raisins and I know now that the dough was firmer. Mine kind of spread more than it rose, but that little piece that is missing from the end of the smaller loaf sure was good just the same.002

The gingersnaps are more traditional on the Captain’s side of the family, and the oatmeal raisin cookies were an afterthought only because they are our all-year-round standby.

Now please, help yourself. Would you like tea or coffee with that?