Archives for December 2015

Merry Christmas … wherever you are

This holiday is a bit out of the ordinary for us. There’s no snow; it’s green and balmy, and the scent of the ocean occasionally floats in on the breeze.

We’re in Halifax, which has to be one of the nicest cities in the country, celebrating Christmas with my sister. I’m writing this from the family room near the NICU where my little preemie nephew is camped out. He won’t make it home for the holidays, but home is really where there is love and he is surrounded by it here. We’re bringing Christmas to the hospital, and we’ll be together.

I don’t have many words today, but I wanted to pop in to say Merry Christmas…wherever you are.

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Cinnamon Shortbread Bars with Chocolate Ganache

It was a last-minute decision, but I cancelled my highly anticipated annual cookie swap to make a trip out East last week.

Instead of an afternoon of conversation over coffee and literally hundreds of cookies, I stood rooted to the ground in front of an incubator in the NICU of a Halifax hospital, transfixed by a wee wonder that was my new nephew.

I had traveled back to support my sister, who delivered a darling little premature boy of just over 3lbs. The days and nights we spent together were a complete blur, yet some moments replay in my thoughts as clearly as HD video clips, both the highs and the lows.

My dear friends were ever so understanding about the cancelled cookie swap. Suffice it to say, all the cookies in Canada couldn’t have enticed me away from that sweet baby. Some choices in life are easily made.

However, even though my plans to bake and exchange dozens of cookies went awry, Christmas is yet a week away and there is still enough time to break out the mixing bowls and bake a batch of these beloved shortbread bars, to share or to keep.

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My Favourite Canadian Cookbooks of 2015

Here and there around the web, folks are sharing gift guides of their favourite things from the year gone by. I love these lists, especially those geared toward foodies or travel lovers; it’s always interesting to see which books, kitchen tools or trinkets others are currently crushing on.

For example, popular home preserving site Punk Domestics shared their picks for the Best DIY Books of 2015, Tsh over at The Art of Simple wrote a thoughtful gift guide, and friends over at Eat North listed their 10 Best Canadian Cookbooks. There is plenty of inspiration to be found for the book-lovers on your list.

I’m here to add my suggestions to the mix! I’ve already shared my favourite international cookbooks of the year and promised I’d be back with the Canadian edition. It’s been a fantastic year for cookbooks from coast to coast so let’s get right to the 2015 line-up.

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Christmas Stollen Madeleines with Preserved Lemon

Here’s a buttery, soft-spiced cake, studded with currants, slivers of almonds and a hint of candied orange peel, that makes a perfectly elegant holiday treat for breakfast, afternoon tea or dessert. Chopped preserved lemon adds a wonderfully tart touch to these stollen-inspired madeleines.

For me, Christmas preparations begin in the aisles of a gourmet bulk foods store with a wire basket slung over my arm studying arrays of tantalizing baking supplies.

I might be shopping for rolled oats and walnut halves so that we can make granola to gift to the school teachers. Other times my basket could hold a colourful assortment of candy for our after-school gingerbread project. There are always dried apricots and hazelnuts for my essential holiday fruit and nut crisps and loads of whole cloves so we can spend a snowy afternoon making orange pomander balls.

This year, I found myself stopping in front of a bin of beautiful candied orange peel that was sandwiched between the slightly more garish fruitcake mixed peel and the much-too-sweet candied pineapple chunks. My thoughts traveled back to a December afternoon long ago when Danny and I had worked side-by-side to produce a dozen stollen loaves straight out of the Joy of Cooking. We coated those beauties in powdered sugar, wrapped them in cellophane, and delivered them on Christmas Eve to loved ones. The German fruitcake makes a delicious breakfast, sliced and lightly toasted, with coffee, of course.

On an impulse, I scooped out a small bag of the perfectly cubed orange peel and added it my basket. I sought out dried currants and slivered almonds, too. Perhaps this would be the year I’d revisit a once-beloved holiday loaf.

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