Saturday 21 December 2013

Merry Christmas

While I'm slugging it out at the mall, trying to get ready for the main event in just a few days, here is last year's Christmas post recycled.  A quick Q & A about our Christmas traditions which, as traditions go, will be the same this year.  

What makes Christmas such a special holiday for you and your family?

It's all about time with family.  All year long we're hard pressed to make time to see grandparents, cousins, aunts & uncles.  During the Christmas holiday we make time to spend with our families.  Oh, and the food... can't forget about all the great food!

Were you told the truth about Santa by your parents or did you find out another way?  And... do you plan on lying to your kids when the time comes?

I don't remember when I had my ah-ha moment.  I know it was a gradual thing, first being suspicious, then searching for hidden presents (and finding them) and finally knowing the truth.  And, yes, we have lied to our kids for years!  The older kids know what's up but our youngest is still a believer, and the second youngest is on the fence... he's suspicious but afraid to stop believing for fear that it may mean the end of the present train.

Source: Etsy
I'm grateful to our older kids for not spoiling the Santa illusion for their younger siblings as they each came to realize the truth, and helping us preserve the magic a little longer.

Real tree or fake?

Real, always real!  Although after the problem of this year's leaning tree, I'm tempted to pick up a fake tree during an after Christmas sale.  Getting the tree is one of our favourite traditions and usually involves a family outing to Drysdale's Tree Farm. I love, love, love this place and we've made an event of getting our tree there almost every year since we've lived here.  It's magical.  Horse drawn wagons, hot chocolate and bonfires, Mr. & Mrs. Santa Claus, sled dogs, a Town Crier, Christmas carols, and the most beautiful shop for decorations and ornaments.  Not to mention the best selection of Christmas trees I've every seen.

It's such a festive place, so much to do and see... and they have a beautiful store where each of the kids chooses a new tree ornament every year.

We didn't get there this year but did find a smaller, local farm where we chose a beautiful tree. 

Do you open presents on Christmas Eve, Christmas morning, or both?

 The tradition on my side of the family has always been to open presents on Christmas Eve.  After dinner, which is always a whole filet mignon, we head out to admire Christmas lights and return to find that Santa came while we were out!

When we return home after spending Christmas with my parents, the kids get to open the presents that Santa left under our tree while we were away!

Christmas with my in-laws usually takes place on Boxing Day.  Nothing like stretching Christmas out over three days!

What's your favourite Christmas movie to watch?  Or favourite Christmas song?

Christmas movies that I love.... The Polar Express and Elf.  I grew up watching traditional Christmas television specials and they all hold a special, nostalgic place in my heart, but these two movies are our current favourites!

Favourite Christmas songs right now are both by the Trans Siberian Orchestra, Christmas Eve/Sarajevo and Christmas Canon:

Wishing you all the merriest of Christmases.  

Friday 13 December 2013

Eleven Days, and the Miracle of Spaghetti Squash

The countdown to the big day is on.  Less than two weeks until Christmas.  Despite the inevitable stress that comes with this time of year, there have also been some fa-la-la moments.  Christmas concerts, pot-lucks, and parties.   And the fetching of the tree.  I suspect this one may be Italian.  It leans, Pisa style.  No matter how we adjust it in the tree stand, it won't stand straight.  

I managed to get through the rest of the photos I took during our weekend in Chicago.

As we've added seasonal merrymaking to our already full schedules, meal times have become even more rushed than usual.  I have a few quick meals in my arsenal, including this one that showcases the miracle of spaghetti squash.  

The idea of living on peppermint and gingerbread for the next few weeks is tempting, but I feel compelled to make sure we're eating some real food along the way.
It amazes me how this:

...can become this.  Miraculous.

Some steaming, shredding, seasoning, and a few add-ins... and dinner is ready.

Funny how one spaghetti squash can yield so much, yet an entire bag of spinach amounts to so little after a quick stir around a hot pan.

How to Prepare Spaghetti Squash

Cut spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds.  Place cut side down on a microwave safe plate with a small amount of water.  Microwave on high for 6-8 minutes.  The squash is ready when the shell can be pierced with a fork.  Let it sit for a few minutes.  When it's cool enough to handle, shred the flesh with a fork, working lengthwise from one end to the other.  At this point you can eat it just the way it is, with some butter, salt & pepper... or get a little more creative with add-ins.  I wilted spinach with some olive oil and garlic and combined it with the spaghetti squash, along with some leftover peppers and onions from fajitas the night before, and some cooked seasoned chicken.

Spaghetti squash is low in calories, high in nutrients, and really tasty.  An added bonus: the seeds can be roasted just as you would roast pumpkin seeds!


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Tuesday 3 December 2013

Twenty One Days - Photos and a Few Links to Share

Hello December.  Only three weeks until Christmas - twenty one days.  So much to do, so little time.  We spent the weekend in Chicago, traveling from one hockey arena to the next, admiring Christmas lights and watching cars drive by with Christmas trees on their roofs.  I need to make a list.  Many lists.  But first I need to finish unpacking, do some laundry, and sort through a few hundred photos from our weekend away.

I found a couple of new recipes I want to try this holiday season.  A beautiful Stollen at Magnolia Days.  My Mom buys Stollen every Christmas at her local European delicatessen and I'm going to try making one this year.  Also, this Bananas Foster Breakfast Strata at Prevention RD.  It's sort of like my Oven Baked French Toast , but with boozy bananas :)

I came across some words that struck a chord with me.  

"....find the reason to be happy for the ordinary. Let tedious be extraordinary"

Pinterest is overflowing with ideas for the most beautiful, delicious, and crafty Christmas ever.  Realistically, I'd like to make time to get one craft done with the kids and these Sock Snowmen are on my list.  

And I am now officially in love with The Cheesecake Factory.  I may or may not have pinched a menu while lunching there.  And I may or may not be planning to copy half of their menu items.  So good.

Twenty one days.  Better get cracking.

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Oven Baked French Toast

I teased you with some beautiful French Toast a few weeks ago.  As promised, here is the recipe.

This French Toast is baked in the oven and can be prepared ahead of time, easily put together the night before for an effortless breakfast the next morning.

Breakfast is my favourite meal, and we take time to put together big breakfasts on the weekend.  Pancakes, bacon and eggs, waffles, French toast.  Usually with home made hash brown potatoes on the side.  And fruity smoothies to drink.  All this is in stark contrast to the rushed and disconnected breakfasts that happen through the week.  A quick bowl of cereal, find a missing textbook. Yogurt and a piece of fruit, pack lunches.  A slice of toast, sign a form. A granola bar, feed the dogs.  It's all rush, rush, rush.  Ten minutes left... did you brush your teeth?  What's going on with your hair? And where's the form I just signed?? 

I've made this French toast weekends and weekdays.  It's a Pampered Chef recipe, from their Stoneware Sensations cookbook, which has a few of my other favourite recipes in it.  It doesn't take long to put together.  Pop it in the fridge overnight and you'll only need half an hour in the oven the next morning.  Enough time to set the table and brew some fresh coffee.

The sliced strawberries are optional, but oh-so-good.  As is the icing sugar.  The maple syrup is a must.  French toast and maple syrup go together like, well, French toast and maple syrup.  Start with a loaf of French bread.  Preferably not a fresh one.  I love a fresh crusty loaf as much as the next person, but this is easier to work with if it's a day old.  If you're using a skinnier baguette, slice diagonally for larger slices.

Gather your ingredients.   The recipe calls for milk, but I had a some leftover cream so I used half cream and half milk.  I have a great shaker which I like to use to mix up the ingredients, but it works just as well whisked up in a bowl.  And yes, that's the a bag.  Does anyone outside of Canada buy their milk in bags?

Arrange your bread slices in a single layer and pour all that goodness over them.   I sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar before I put it in the oven.

It puffs up nicely in the oven.  Light and fluffy, with a slightly dense, almost custard like centre.  Just the way French toast should be.

Oven Baked French Toast

1 loaf (8 ounces) French bread
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt

Cinnamon and sliced strawberries optional.

Grease a 9 x 13 baking pan.  Cut bread into 1 inch thick slices and arrange closely in a single layer in the prepared pan.  You may have to manipulate them to fit.  Whisk together eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Pour over bread.  Cover and refrigerate at least one hour or overnight.

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Sprinkle bread with cinnamon, if desired.  Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until golden brown.  Serve with toppings of your choosing.

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