Alaska: Earl Grey Cookies (two delicious versions)

earlgreycookiestackIn The Yule Log 365’s year-long quest to make one popular cookie from each of the 50 states, I drew ALASKA from the jar of the 50 possibilities.  Hallelujah!  I was excited to make Earl Grey Tea Cookies, first suggested by my dear friend, Lauren Vint.  I found a recipe on “Alaska from Scratch,” and the same recipe was published on Alaska Dispatch News.  I served the cookies with tea to my mother, my dad, and my sister.  The vote was three thumbs up.

One stumbling block was the scraped vanilla bean.  I admit that I thought a vanilla bean was like a coffee bean, and I would need to use a grater, like a coffee grinder.  After research and a YouTube video, I figured out that a coffee bean is an elongated, thin pod that must be cut and scraped. The flavor beats vanilla extract. Mel’s Kitchen Cafe posted a YouTube video with simple instructions for scraping the pod. Amazing!  (Obviously, my experience level is basic.)vanillabean

We rolled the cookies in tablespoon-sized balls dipped in Turbinado sugar.  The resulting butter cookie with a light tea flavor was amazing.  We used the same dough, refrigerated and rolled with flour to 1/4 inch think, for a lemon frosted cookie.  Both had delicious flavor, and the taste of each was distinct.  I tested them on Jeremy, Roger, Lauren, and a few random students–all agreed that eating just one or two is impossible.

We are sure to add them to our Christmas cookie plan next year.lemonfrosted

So much of life is in small things

So much of life is contained in small things.  What holds meaning for you?

Each week, The Washington Post Magazine publishes a column featuring small essays about items that are important to us.  This week’s column was a beautiful reflection on a religious medal that the author’s family carried through several generations.

photo (50)As I baked our annual candy cane cookies and packed them away in the Ward Paradise Fruit Cake tin, I realized that Christmas is all about the items of significance—the ornament, the wreath, the candle or nativity set.  It’s easy to go to the store and buy everything at once, but it’s collecting the old, small, hand-made or important over time that makes Christmas. When my parents give us “heritage” gifts, these special items beat a store-bought presents any day.

I don’t know when I became the keeper of this tin that my mom used to pack away cherry winks, snowballs, and other Christmas cookies.  I suspect I appropriated it one year in my young mother days and didn’t give it back.

This Ward Baking Co. tin was designed to hold a fruit cake, and my quick research reveals its from the 1920’s.  My mother thinks that the tin was manufactured by the Continental Can Company, where my Aunt Pauline worked for most of her life.  Pauline may have given it to my mom in some ordinary transaction, like taking home leftovers in Tupperware.  I don’t know.  Ward Baking Company, I learned,  became the largest bread distributor in the country, the baker of Wonder enriched bread products and the maker of Hostess Twinkies.

Chances are the beautiful tin with the birds of paradise on the top may have been an ordinary object for many in the mid-1900’s, but it’s bruised and scratched surface is made more beautiful now to me by years of use and Christmas memories.

Valentine Red and Red Velvet Experiments

red-velvet-madeleine-tree-lJo Boroff saved a year’s worth of Southern Living Magazines for me, so what better than to thumb through the December issue looking for Christmas ideas?  Since Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, I’m planning to experiment with Southern Living‘s red velvet cake recipes–lovers’ delights that can be tested in February and be gifts or desserts in December.

The red velvet madeline tree looks incredible.  Southern Living offers an instructional video, which took away some of the excitement for me because I imagine pinning the cakes to the styrofoam tree with toothpicks may be a lot more difficult than it appears.  The consistency of the cakes would make the difference. Here’s the recipe. Here’s the link to the video.  I’m concerned that alone on the table, the tree might not be as appealing. Red and white accessories, are a must.

In the lower left of the photo, there are red velvet peppermint brownies. The advantage of this recipe is that it uses peppermint extract–no searching for candy canes at this late date–and the resulting brownies are more portable and can be cut into smaller shapes for gifting.

I’ve been invited to a gathering next week, so I’ll be testing some of these winter recipes.  I’ll let you know the results.

Also, I am going to attempt my first use of fondant by making accent snowflakes.  What I need is a set of cookie cutters in snowflake shapes and can be used mixed and matched like the RM Snowflake cookie cutter set. Does anyone have experience with these?

P.S. Don’t forget that tomorrow the Superbowl will be old news–and purple gear will be on mega sale. On Saturday, I noticed that about 10 racks at Kohl’s had Ravens gear which will be on super sale soon.  Sale purchases in the next few days will make terrific gifts in 11 months!

Winter Solstice = Midwinter Celebration = Christmas!

SolsticeJust before dawn this morning winter officially began!  This happens on the winter solstice, where the sun is at its lowest point on the horizon.  It is also the shortest day in terms of daylight.  Here in Maryland we didn’t need to worry too much today about the daylight.  Winter arrived with gray skies, brisk temperatures, sweeping winds and snow!  Ok, it was just flurries but is was SNOW!!    It traditionally is a day full of festivals and celebrations.  One last hurrah before the long dark winter.  The mid-winter celebrations always included a feast.  In the Northern Hemisphere the midwinter feasts and festivals lined up with the celebration of the birth of Jesus, Christmas.  The Roman Winter Solstice was on December 25th using the new Julian calendar.  Feasts included night-time masses, large meals, public singing, and often lasted 12 days or more!  Sounds like Christmas today, right?  I decided to make today a celebration of my own.

Boehne CookiesNatalie and I have both been feeling a little Christmas funk as of late, and I made the decision that it ended today.  It was the last day of work before the holiday break.  It has been a crazy week, but today I decided to surprise many co-workers with little tins full of home-made candy.  What I love about giving out little surprise gifts today is that people can’t return the favor.  I like giving things without anything in return.  There was music at work today, snow in the wind, and a general glee among almost all who I spoke with today.  After work Natalie had a call from our friend Danielle at the Frederick News Post.  She was looking for some leads on local folks with great family CHristmas traditions.  Natalie immediately thought of our friend Kara and her parents.  Their family annually makes thousands of tiny, miniature Christmas cookies.  Each of these little pieces of artwork is meticulously crafted and decorated.  Everyone who has had the joy of receiving these treats anxiously awaits all year for them to come again.  Needless to say we set Danielle to the Boehne family straight away.  Kara reports that they were on the phone for 30 minutes and that her Dad talked the reporters ear off.  So look to the Frederick News Post soon for some coverage of these special little cookies.

my tree 2That wasn’t the end to my own personal mid-winter celebration.  When I got home today I decided it was time to re-decorate my Christmas tree.  That’s right, RE-decorate.  You see, the tree fell over last Friday night during a holiday gathering.  Not once, but twice it toppled to the ground.  The tree was rest, but gravity won the battle again on Monday night.  (there are many theories as to the reasons for this trees perils- all very clever, including a curse!)  It is securely up-right now and fully decorated.  This increased my Christmas mood about 200%.  Next I checked in on Facebook and was happy to see a post from a favorite former student I keep in touch with from time to time.  His band , Twin Radio, has a new holiday recording and he sent me the link- Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.  Give a listen and I think you’ll agree, they’re pretty good! I’m going to wrap-up my midwinter feast with some Christmas cookies, hot cocoa, and A Charlie Brown Christmas before bed.  Happy Winter Solstice to All and to All a Good Night!

 

Podcast #47- 8 Days to Go!

Christmas Road SignPodcast #47- Click here to listen to this week’s podcast- No Time Left!

With only one podcast left in the Yule Log year, it shouldn’t surprise you that we had WAY too much to talk about.  We dish on the happenings of the week.  There’s a fallen Christmas tree, broken tree bucket, Christmas cards, and more.  We talk about the odd feeling we both share as the big day approaches.  We wrap-up with some talk about what’s next.  Where does the Yule Log go from here?  What should next year be all about?  We must have a plan before Christmas Eve!  Any and all suggestions will be accepted and considered.  I wonder if there’s a way we can get paid to do Christmas all year round??

A family secret–cookie canes–revealed!

photo-28I received an email from Donna, my college roommate, a “blast from the past” as they say.  The last time we saw each other was 22 years ago, at the holidays, when we made cookie canes together.  Her husband asked her to find me to get the recipe.  Now that’s a powerful endorsement–better than a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

Two weeks ago, during our  podcast, Jeremy, Lauren and I were making and frosting these cookies, but our focus during the podcast was on plum pudding, fruit cake and other adventures, so I neglected to give the recipe as promised.

I asked my mother where she found this recipe, and she thinks it was a 1970’s era Good Housekeeping.  The cookies are finished with pink icing, which must be the following recipe:  In a mixer add 1/4 cup shortening, 1/2 tsp. salt, 2 tsp. vanilla, and 3 cups powdered sugar.  Add 1/4 cup of milk in small amounts as you are mixing to make the right spreading consistency. Tint with red food coloring.  This recipe goes on smooth but dries slightly hard so that the cookies can be stored.

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The photo here may not make your mouth water.  That’s OK.  I guarantee that they taste wonderful.  It’s a combination of the sour cream, powdered malted milk and walnuts, I think.  Powdered malted milk is becoming more rare in stores these days, so I set a permanent reminder on my phone to buy malted milk on November 24 in preparation for the cookie baking in early December.  This year, my mom found the malted milk at Safeway and bought several jars to share with all of her daughters.  Last year, Susan resorted to ordering it online, when we were desperately calling each other after combing the local stores.

When we were younger, we got a lot of practice rolling out the dough and frosting the cookies.  We weren’t allowed to eat them as we were working unless one broke–and breakage took place often.  This was not because we were deliberately trying to eat the cookies.  They’re difficult to frost straight from the oven.  I like to freeze them first before frosting.

This year, like last year and the year before, I tortured Lauren because she did not roll them “correctly.”  Actually, in reflection, I don’t know why she keeps coming back when she must suffer under my critical eye.  This is a recipe that takes practice–years of practice.

One of my favorite stories happened just a few Decembers ago.  My mother had the cookies on the table, and when Jim (my brother) reached for one, mom made some remark about how he couldn’t eat them unless they were the broken ones.  With a casual sweep of his arm, he knocked them to the floor.  He apologized and handed out the broken pieces to share.

Podcast #44- 27 Days to Go!

Podcast #44Click here to listen to today’s podcast- Trees, Pudding, & Fruit!

We’re back for our first podcast after the Festival of Trees!  We start off with a review of the last week and our activities.  Listen as we discuss Black Friday and all of our adventures at the Festival.  Next we welcome our special guest Lauren and get to the heart of our podcast- tasting!  We taste cookies and fruit cake.  The reactions are varied, so listen to hear more.  Stay tuned this week as the Christmas season is now in full swing.