Friday, December 24, 2010

Peace at Christmas & Snow

"Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without." ~ Buddha

I took this picture while checking my mail earlier this week. Doesn't it look beautiful?
The snow can be so peaceful especially on a day I don't have to go too far from home.
It snowed a couple of days this week and I felt lucky to have lots of baking to do from home for teacher gifts, friends and neighbors. I was happy when I had all the ingredients I needed and I didn't have to run up to the market for last minute items.
Throughout this holiday I've made pecan breads, lemon cakes, cake balls, dreamy island cookies, sugar cookies, celebration cookies, cranberry biscotti and chocolate chip cookies. I was glad I thought to save a small assortment of each for my own family so that I don't have to bake today if I don't feel like it.
The kids love to snuggle up on Christmas Eve to a fire in the living room, watch "The Polar Express" and snack on some of my baked goods. My oldest son is getting a bit old for snuggling but since it's Christmas we might even persuade him to join us.
Merry Christmas and a Happy and Peaceful New Year to you.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Holiday Parties & Morning Walk!

I feel blessed this holiday because even though I don't have a lot of extended family on Cape Cod, I've been invited to so many fun holiday parties by good friends. Last night a woman in my book club hosted a party and it was nice because I didn't know everyone there and it was good to meet a few new people.

I met a man who travels from Cape Cod to Paris four times a year, a man who makes the best gumbo I've ever tasted and his charming girlfriend who shares a similar love for good books as I do and a man who as it turned out grew up in the same neighborhood I did in Worcester, MA who had such a great sense of humor!

Not surprisingly, I was asked to bring the dessert. I brought white and dark chocolate cake balls, celebration cookies and my most recent creation; sugar cookies with melted chocolate and crushed candy canes. They definitely were a hit and I came home with two large but empty Tupperware tubs that I brought them in.
I also brought a pitcher of my Holiday Cranberry Sangria. I used my recipe that accompanied my recently published essay "Comforts of Baking". I didn't actually taste it but friends said it was really good.

As for the morning walk, I convinced my fourteen year old to go with me on a walk early this morning. It was beautiful! It's cold but the wind was calm and the sun was bright. I took the above picture as we were out walking. It was early and we saw a coyote and two foxes!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sugar Cookie Dough & Student Summaries

I brought my students a sampling of baked goods for the last day of class. I had sugar cookie dough left over from my party. I decided to create something new.

I rolled the dough into rounds, baked them then removed from my oven and painted the tops with melted milk chocolate and crushed candy canes. They are really yummy and it took a little less time than rolling them out into shapes. I also brought in a batch of double chocolate holiday cake balls drizzled with white chocolate.

Each semester I ask my students to turn in a portfolio-a compilation of the best of their work throughout the course with a one page summary that allows them to reflect on their experience in the class and their development as writers.

It's always fun for me to read them because I get to hear from them on a personal level about what they will take away from my class. I always learn something that both surprises me and that I appreciate.

It got me thinking; this concept of taking time for self reflection can be applicable in other areas of our lives too especially around the Holidays when stress is often high and we are about to close out one year and welcome a new one in.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Chopping Hazelnuts, Crushing Candy Canes & End of Semester

I spent a good part of my day last Friday chopping hazelnuts and crushing candy canes into tiny pieces. I was trying to get a head start on the party I hosted here last night called "Cookies & Cocktails"-it was a girls night only get together.

The weekend was otherwise busy and I wanted to make sure I was ready when friends arrived.

I baked a number of different kinds of cookies and served fun cocktails in those fancy martini glasses. The crushed candy canes were for the rims of the glasses. I made my own version of a 'chocolate martini'. I placed the outer edge of the martini glass into light Caro syrup then coated it with the crushed candy canes. I drizzled chocolate syrup into the bottom of the glass then poured a chilled mixture of whipped cream flavored vodka, peppermint flavored Kahlua and a splash of sierra mist. It was so decadent.

However, I was so busy greeting guests, making fancy cocktails and setting girl friends up to bake sugar cookies of their own that I never actually tried one!

I offered my friends samples of my cookies: Hazelnut Shortbread, Celebration, Dreamy Island, Chocolate Chip and Cranberry Biscotti with White Chocolate.

I sent my friends home with the cookies they baked in fancy party favor bags. I printed up labels that said, "Got Baked at Girls Night Out, Cookie's & Cocktails".

Tomorrow is the last day of the semester at my teaching job. I've had a lot of fun getting to know this particular group of students and I will be sad to see them go. They've been hinting that I might bake them something for tomorrow's class-who knows I might just surprise them and bake something for them after all.
* The image is just a quick shot from my living room right before friends arrived for the party.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Life's Challenges, Sweet & Savory Biscuits & Off-Season at Beach!

Life often has a funny way of challenging us. Of course as soon as I wrote the previous post many things happened to see if I was committed to my resolve for daily self-care.

Was I making time each day to 'take good care of myself'? It's easy to ignore my own needs while three kids and two jobs constantly seek my attention.
Good thing I have enough sense to know that I can do better at my job or raise my kids when I step back and care for me. I think it's even more important those times when others either get upset with me or judge me for doing so.

Tonight's my neighborhood Book-Club. We've decided to celebrate the holidays with a pot-luck meal and a Yankee swap gift exchange. My task is to bring the bread and I've included my recipe for one of the items I'm bringing. It's a dependable quick bread and goes well with many dishes.

As for Off-season at the beach. It's cold by the water now. But I still love to go down there (bundled up of course) to enjoy the peace it provides. The picture above is from South Cape Beach just before sunset Monday night.

Sweet & Savory Biscuits
1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 cup lowfat yogurt vanilla flavored
1 Tbsp. honey
1/2 cup minced scallions
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine the flours. Sprinkle in the baking powder and salt and stir well. In a separate bowl, combine the oil, yogurt, honey, scallions, dill and pepper. Blend the yogurt mixture into the flour mixture quickly and thoroughly to form a soft dough. On a floured countertop, pat the dough into a 3/4 inch circle and cut into eight wedges place on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes. Serve warm with butter or additional honey.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Holiday Cake Balls, Parties & Good Self-Care!

Each Holiday season I get excited about making 'Cake Balls'. They are one of the few items I only make this time of year but they're so good!

A few years ago I wrote an article for the Holiday Supplement to the Enterprise where I shared some fun ideas for making Holiday gifts which included my recipes for both making Limoncello and Holiday Cake Balls.

The holiday season seems to be getting in full swing fast and early this year as we have a party to attend both tonight and tomorrow.
I love a good party. But I also love time at home simply relaxing.

I guess that's where the good self-care comes in. In order to do all the things I like to do for others this time of year it's also important to remember to take a little time each day to do at least one thing special or relaxing or fun just for me! I invite you to do the same for you.