Thursday, December 28, 2006

What a smart parrot!!!!

You gotta read this BBC story about a parrot named N'kisi that has a vocabulary of 950 words!! He can even invent new phrases when confronted with novel ideas, just like people! He has a sense of humor, to boot! Seems they're a lot smarter than we've been giving them credit for!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas Holiday Menu Time!

Dave and I celebrate with our big feast and present exchange on Christmas Eve (leaving me free to have dinner with my parents on Christmas Day), so tomorrow is the big food work day for me. I'm very excited!

It's always important to plan ahead regarding the big dinner, whenever you serve it. You want things to go smoothly, of course, and so it is really useful to write out your whole menu (including things like dinner rolls and salad, etc.). Then write down the approximate cooking times for all of these dishes, so that on the big day, you can note what time you have to start each dish in order for everything to be done at dinnertime. Some people seem to have an innate ability to time everything perfectly, but I am not one of them. It's helped me a lot to write out the times, and best of all, if you make a complete list of all the dishes, you won't end up forgetting to serve anything! (We've forgotten dinner rolls, salad, cranberries & more over the years, that we've only found in the refrigerator AFTER dinner's over!)

This year, we're having:

• Sage, Rosemary & Thyme Turkey
• Mushrooms in beef gravy
• Green Bean and Chestnut casserole
• Mashed potatoes
• Turkey gravy

More on each dish below:

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We got a nice looking turkey this year, and I'll be using home-grown sage in the seasoning this year. As to my choice of spices, just keep in mind Scarborough Fair: "parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme". I usually omit the parsley, but the rest of the spices are just perfect for turkey or chicken (and full of medieval symbolic meaning). :) Need help with your turkey? Call the great people at Butterball Turkey if you have a turkey problem or question (phone help available to US and Canadian customers) - there's also lots of great info on the website, including video showing how to dress a turkey, etc. Very useful, I've used their info for many years, and it helped me get through my very first turkey several years ago. :)

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The last couple of years I've added Ukrainian-style mushrooms in gravy to my Christmas dinner menu - they're really tasty, with a wine infused beef gravy (get the recipe here). I found several variations of this classic recipe on the web, but I put together the parts I liked best from each variation to come up with my own unique version.

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I first made this recipe in '98, and have made it almost every year since then - Sugared Onions. If you like onions, you will LOVE this recipe. A great one from the Company's Coming recipe book series by Jean Pare (an iconic series of books that are hugely popular here in Canada - I think every household in the country has at least one in the series - I myself have several! They're full of easy to make recipes, delicious but using easy to find ingredients.)

Start by placing 4 large onions (prepared as described below) in large frying pan.

Peel your onions.

Cut the top off the onion (the part that the green tops grow from, the opposite end from the "hairy" rooty one)

VERY CAREFULLY, trim off the "hairy" root bits, still leaving the end intact. This will be the part that holds the onions together.

Cut the onion in half carefully, and then in half again. The root part of the onion will help hold the onion together when it's boiling. If they separate a bit though, it's okay, it's not the end of the world. :)

Add salted water, enough to cover bottom of the pan, about 1/4 inch deep. Cover. Simmer 20 minutes. Monitor the amount of water, if it gets low, add more.

Next, combine the following ingredients together in a bowl:

• 1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
• 1/4 cup vinegar
• 2 tbsp cooking oil
• 1/2 tsp prepared mustard
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 1/8 tsp pepper

Pour over onions in the pan. Continue to cook covered. Baste often. Cook until liquid is almost gone. Transfer to serving platter. Spoon any remaining sauce over top. Serves 8.

If your onions are really strong, soak in lots of cold water for about 1/2 hour to an hour before cooking.

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I'll also be having Stove Top dressing/stuffing. It's really tasty, and most important on a busy day, really quick and easy to prepare.

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Mashed Potatoes, always a classic.

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A wonderful side dish that was a hit last year, I'll be making again this year, is the Green Bean Chestnut Bake, again from Company's Coming.

10 oz. can of condensed cream of mushroom soup
5 oz water chestnuts, sliced
4 x 1 oz processed cheese slices, broken up (or 1 cup (250 ml) grated Cheddar cheese)
1/4 tsp hot pepper sauce, or to taste

French cut green beans, drained (2 x 14 oz)

3 oz Canned French fried onion rings for topping (I used dry chow mein noodles, it's the sort of casserole topper I grew up with and prefer - but if you like the onions, by all means use them!)

Heat first 4 ingredients in saucepan.

Stir in beans. Scoop out into 2 L (2 qt) casserole dish. Bake uncovered in 350 deg F oven until hot, about 20 - 30 minutes.

Cover with onion rings, or chow mein noodles, bake additional 5 minutes. Serves 6 - 8.
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I'm so excited about tomorrow!

Merry Christmas everyone!!!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas Earrings

Thought I'd share my small but ever growing collection of Christmas-themed earrings. I wear them all season long, I just love them! :) My most favorite are the sparkling Santa ho-ho-ho earrings, I wear them the most!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

New Look at the Gift Shop

I've updated the look of Ann's Ukrainian Gifts - check it out! There's some intermittent connection difficulties on CafePress's side right now, but they should be cleared up soon!

Baby Boy and the Christmas Trees

As I mentioned earlier, we get our Christmas tree for free - this year, they brought us two trees to choose from, so we took them both - one's upstairs, and one's downstairs. The main tree is the upstairs one, but I love having a tree downstairs too, where my computer is - keeps up my holiday spirit! :D

Baby Boy has decided to treat the trees equally, as you can see below. He will not rest until any and all ornaments within his reach are batted at with this paws, and, he hopes, knocked down. Of course, I put the breakable ones away from places he can get to. :)

What a goofball...

Christmas Present Regifting...

Saw an interesting article on the CBC this morning, regarding regifting (giving a present that doesn't really suit you to someone you know who would love it). Apparently, a LOT of people do it! Will you do it this year? If you're considering it - and face it, you may not think you will now, but come December 26th, you might have changed your mind - there are some good general rules to keep in mind. is a great little site where people share their horror stories regarding regifting (things to avoid doing!) and features a good checklist of dos and don'ts. So check it out, and avoid potentially embarrassing mistakes. Remember, it's about giving someone a present you KNOW they would love! That's the true spirit of giving! :)

If you want to read the original CBC article, it's here.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Santa Claus Around the World photo gallery

A fun Christmas photo spread put together by CBC, showing images of Santa Claus from around the world. Very cool, check it out!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Christmas at Aunt Dot's, and Cherry Walnut Cookies

This was one of the longest unbroken holiday traditions in my family: up until her death about 5 years ago, we would go to visit my aunt (actually my great-aunt) Dottie (short for Dorothy - her middle name was Clarissa, isn't that a pretty name?) in her old farmhouse on the outskirts of Sackville, Nova Scotia every Boxing Day (the day after Christmas). Aunt Dottie always greeted us with big smile, a "hello dear!", a hug and a kiss. She was very short, even shorter than me, so that by the time I reached full adult height, I was always stooping over her to hug her. She was the sweetest old lady, truly out of a storybook.

I loved her farmhouse too--it was over 100 years old, and had tons of character. It used to actually be a farm, but that was long before I was born, when Aunt Dottie was a young wife and mother.

The farmhouse was always chilly, so she had a space heater in the living room, but what you'd be struck by first when you entered the house from the cold closed-in porch, through to the kitchen (as most old houses in Nova Scotia do - the kitchen was the heart of the home, for meeting, greeting, and often entertaining) was the wonderful heat coming from the old wood stove that was used to both help heat the house, and to keep the perpetual tea kettle warm (another Nova Scotia tradition: you always have a tea kettle on in case company comes over). :)

There would always be a lot of snow outside, covering the nearby fields--really picturesque. This visit was our family's time to catch up on a branch of the family that we (not on purpose) just didn't get to see very much. She would tell us all the news of relatives we hadn't seen in years, and she would get news about us to transmit to the rest of the family. When I was small, I would bring coloring books and stuff to keep me occupied, but as I got older, I found the family talk more interesting, and paid more attention to it. :) Aunt Dottie's daughter and her husband, who lived next door, would come over after a few hours, and we'd get to talk to them, too. :)

To go with the aforementioned tea, she always had a huge array of snacks and sweets to serve company. Cheese and crackers, chips with dip (which was a rare treat for me), and cookies (more on that below), and chocolates! Tons and tons! When she was younger (in her 70s!) she'd make an elaborate beef roast dinner for us as well, and serve it on this gorgeous set of Apple Blossom china dishes she had. But when she was in her 80s, we felt bad about her going through all that effort, so we wouldn't announce we were coming until the morning of our trip, so she couldn't have time to prepare. :) The sweet old bird lived to her early 90s.

For a Christmas present, she always gave me a box of After Eights, because I enjoyed them best from the collection of chocolates she'd offer guests. As a kid, to get a whole box of chocolates, just for me, was incredible!

We'd stay the whole day, and leave once it got dark. As we drove back to the city, we could see all the pretty Christmas lights on the houses, and the beautiful lights of the city in the distance. A very quiet, peaceful way to spend a day. :)

As I mentioned above, Christmas cookies were a big part of the spread that Aunt Dottie laid out for us. It's always fun to go to other people's houses, and see what different kinds of cookies they have, compared to your own home. Even a standard like shortbreads can be made several different ways, and they all taste a little bit different. :) My favorite cookie that Aunt Dottie used to make was a shortbread type cookie, with cherries and nuts in it. I had forgotten about them, until I saw a recipe that was almost identical to them in the December 2005 issue of Canadian Living Magazine (recipe by Chef Anna Olsen). I was so happy to find it! I baked them last year, and really enjoyed them - I think I'll make them every year to honour Aunt Dottie's memory.

Cherry Walnut Cookies Recipe

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup icing sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups candied red cherries, cut in half or thirds
1 cup walnuts, chopped

In bowl, beat butter with sugar until fluffy; beat in egg and vanilla. (Or use a food processor - spin the butter around, then add sugar and mix at medium setting until fluffy. You may have to scrape down the sides a couple of times. Then add egg and vanilla, mix again, and scrape down sides. Scoop out contents into bowl, and continue). Add flour and salt; stir until blended. Stir in cherries and walnuts. Divide into thirds; shape each into 10" (25 cm) long log. Wrap and chill until firm, at least 3 hours. You can use a glass on it's side to hold the cookies in, this will help keep their rounded shape, instead of getting squashed flat on one side.

Cut logs into 1/8th" or 3 mm thick rounds (I cut them about 1/4"), and place about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart, on parchment lined baking sheets. Bake in top and bottom thirds of 325 deg F oven, rotating and switching pans halfway through, just until edges begin to colour, 8-10 minutes. Or you can do one sheet at a time, on a rack in the top third of the oven. These cookies brown even faster than shortbreads, so keep a close eye on them! I start checking early, and they're usually done around the 8 minute mark. You can see a proper amount of browning in my photo above, on the overturned cookie.

Let cool on pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack and let cool completely (you have to let them completely cool before storing them, otherwise they'll get soggy). Store layered with waxed paper in airtight container for up to 2 weeks, or freeze for up to one month. Makes about 12 dozen cookies (less, of course, if you cut them a little thicker). :)

These are really delicious cookies, well worth the time it takes to make them!

Love you, Aunt Dottie!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Bringing in the Christmas tree

Dave's mom & her man-friend cut down the tree for the local church every year, and cut one down for our home at the same time. Since these are straight from a forest, and not from a tree farm (Note: tree farms have space between the trees, so that the trees are equally bushy on all sides, unlike a forest, where trees tend to grow in groups or clumps, and you'll end up with a tree that has bushy growth on one side, but thin growth on the side that was pressed up against the other trees in the group), we usually end up with a kinda Charlie Brown sort of tree. But you can't beat the price! And it's still green, and smells wonderfully like the forest.

I read somewhere that it's a good idea to put your tree out a couple of days before you decorate it, so that your pets can get used to it being there, and hopefully by the time you decorate it, they will be ignoring it. Now, I haven't found that to be exactly true, but putting it out early does prevent scenes like the one below:

Not in the house for 5 minutes, and already we have Baby Boy batting at the tree (you can also see from this shot that the tree is kinda lopsided, and has a curve in the trunk. The ornaments will take care of that - once decorated, it won't really be noticable.) :D

A week till Christmas eve - woo hoo!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Christmas Cookies, Round 2

Today was round two of seasonal cooking baking - I tried a new recipe for sugar cookies this time - they taste "okay", but not great. Sugar cookies are more appropriate for cutting out shapes, because they hold together better than shortbreads (but I think shortbreads taste better). Of course, we could use a batch of cookies that aren't super tasty - the shortbreads only lasted 3 days!

Cutting out the cookies - remember, add some flour to your rolling pin and rolling surface, but not too much, or else you'll end up with a tougher dough.

This is a decent level of browning for a sugar cookie, they get much browner than shortbreads do.

I bought a very inexpensive cake decorating tip set, that comes with several metal tips, and the little plastic contraption that you put in a pastry bag that allows you to screw the tips on. I highly recommend picking one of these up, they make decorating SO much easier! And they last for years and years, so it's a good investment (I think mine cost about $12 CDN). You can skip buying expensive pastry bags, and use Ziplock style (tougher plastic) throw-away bags - cut a small corner off the bag, insert the contraption as you would in a normal pastry bag, and you have an inexpensive alternative that you can throw away after you're done. :)

This year I made some Nova-Scotian and Canadian themed Christmas cookies, just for fun. Check out these lobster (we're famous for our lobster around these parts) and maple leaves. Very fun! :)

Here's some fun designs I did of trees, with lots of different colors of Royal Icing. You can really let your creativity go wild with decorating, be sure to have fun with it! :D

Only a couple of weeks 'till Christmas! I can't wait!!!!!

[EDIT: See closeups of some of the tree cookie decorations here.]

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Christmas tree safety

A good article for this time of year from the CBC - it has a Canadian slant, of course (CSA approved products aren't available outside of Canada, for example) but they're generally good safety tips for everyone putting up a Christmas tree and lights this year!

Read it here.

Have a safe Christmas! :D

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Is there anything cuter than a little chickadee out in the snow? I don't know that there is... :D

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Photo Journal: After the Storm

Here's the results of our big storm last night - they say as far as the traffic was concerned, it was the worst case of gridlock Halifax has ever seen, lasting almost the whole evening...unbelievable! Sounds like a lot of people didn't have their snow tires on yet... We were all lucky here we didn't get caught in it, and could just sit back and enjoy it!

Apparently it rained a little overnight, but there was still plenty of gorgeous scenery out there!

Casey came out with me, and had fun tromping through the snow carrying her stick.

Dave created these from the giant ice and rock blocks that the street plough dug up and left in our driveway...I'm not sure if he was going for an innukshuk or a snowman sort of look here, but they're still cool, nonetheless. :D

And then it was off to the forest...gorgeous blue skies, and new fallen snow...enjoy the pics! :D

Monday, December 04, 2006

More snow!

We weren't even expecting snow today, just lots of rain, so this really caught a lot of people off guard - I feel bad for all those stuck in traffic, but from my view, I'm thrilled! We usually get our first storm in November, so it's really long overdue, and it just totally looks like Christmas now! :D Of course, it's supposed to be gone by the end of the week, but I'll really enjoy it while it's here! Casey, Lila & I just came in from brushing the snow off Dave's mom's car, and playing throw-the-snowball--we all had a great time out in the snow! :D This pic is from the backyard--you can see the thick, heavy wet snow on our backyard birdfeeder and patio!

But Casey still needs to play

No matter how bad the weather is, she has to get her play in! Here, devoted dad Dave plays "toss the frisbee/stick"...and she's loving it!

Finally, real snow!!

It's been cloudy and/or raining for weeks now, and finally we have some real December weather--snow! It was raining all morning, so I'm not sure how long this will last, but it really puts you in mind of Christmas! :D Yay!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Christmas Daddies, and Cookie Recipe

If the Parade of Lights doesn't get us in the Christmas Spirit every year, then Christmas Daddies is guaranteed to! It's a charity telethon drive, started up by two men back in the '60s, moved by a small child begging for money in a bar to buy milk & bread for his family.

It is truly a Maritime institution, with extremely generous donations, even through tough economic times here, to make Christmas bright for a child. The money that's donated goes back to the community it was donated from, and buys presents for children whose families just can't afford gifts. The telethon is full of local talent, ranging from professional bands to little kids that like to sing. There's auctions of items like a plunger on a pedestal, that has people bidding high for the honour of having it for a year. :D (Really!) And auctions of lots of other things, like wonderful woodworking pieces, quilts, etc., that you get to keep for good. Signed hockey player jerseys, Celine Dion materials (she always generously donates autographed cds, posters, and such, every year), and more.

Bar owners, and other business owners also have events throughout the year that fund raise for the event, and then come on TV to hand over their cheques. As I say, really a Maritime Institution - Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without it! (Even Maritimers who have moved to other provinces, etc. can now watch it via satellite, and they phone in donations!)

I always bake my first batch of Christmas cookies while watching the telethon (this year, it's Sunday, December 3rd), it really puts me in the Christmas spirit! :D

And my first cookies are always (drum roll please!)....


I use the recipe on the back of the Canada Brand Corn Starch (the one with the rooster on the box) box.

Called "Grandma's Shortbread", it's the recipe my family's been using for decades. REALLY easy, and really delicious! Makes about 24 cookies.

1/2 cup corn starch
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup butter, softened

Sift together corn starch, icing sugar and flour. With wooden spoon, blend in softened butter until soft, smooth dough forms.

Alternately, sift the dry ingredients into a food processor. Cut up the softened butter into cubes, pop into the processor, and pulse, occasionally scraping down the sides, until it looks well blended - like a small, lumpy grain. When you take it out and put it on a hard surface, squeeze it together and you'll see its just the same as described above, a "smooth dough". The processor makes it way easier!

If dough is too soft to handle, cover it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for 30-60 minutes.

Shape the dough into 1" (2.5 cm) balls, place on ungreased cookie sheet about 1 1/2" (4 cm) apart, and flatten with lightly floured fork. Or, roll dough to 1/4" (6mm), and cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Decorate with candied cherries (my favorite), colored sprinkles or nuts if desired.

Bake in 300 deg. F oven 15-20 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. I find I get the best results if I bake them on parchment paper - you don't want your shortbreads very browned at all, they should be just "kissed" with brown underneath. Cool cookies on a wire rack. Once they're cooled, you can decorate with frosting, if you didn't decorate with sprinkles, cherries, etc.

So yummy! Enjoy your Christmas baking, I know I will! :D