Christmas Desserts and Family Traditions

The QuipperyThe Fruitcake

Have you ever thought what it must be like to be a Fruit Cake? Made weeks or months in advance of Christmas Dinner, it is left to steep in whatever secret ingredient is used to give it that special flavour (I prefer rum). It is briefly admired as it is paraded down the catwalk of the dessert tray – then ignored by a bunch of carnivores who have just devoured half of a gigantic turkey.

I’ve always liked Fruit Cake. Back in the days when I’d do lots of Christmas baking, I’d serve it with Rum Hard Sauce. It is a simple recipe. Beat 3-4 tablespoons of butter (though my recipe says margarine because back then it was much cheaper than butter.) Add 1 cup of icing sugar, 1/4 cup rum, and 1/8 cup milk. Beat and chill before serving.

In a 1983 New York Times column titled “Fruitcake Is Forever,” Russell Baker claimed to be in possession of a fruitcake that a long-dead relative had baked in 1794 as a Christmas gift for President George Washington. Washington allegedly sent it back with a note explaining that it was “unseemly for Presidents to accept gifts weighing more than 80 pounds, even though they were only eight inches in diameter.
– Mental Floss –

The Sugar Cookie

The Fruit Cake’s nemesis is the Sugar Cookie sitting next to it on the platter. The Sugar Cookie, made just that morning, is unaware that it will be the hands down favourite. It may or may not have been tarted up with icing and silver sprinkles – but it will be devoured. Every last crumb will be gone by the time the last guest has headed  home with a tupperware container full of turkey and mashed potatoes. The Fruit Cake will sit untouched and forlorn on the platter – much to the delight of the hostess who created it (and loves any dessert that contains booze or chocolate or fruit or all three.) It is just a matter of time, however, before the last of the Fruit Cake is also devoured (as is the eggnog) and the hostess – well, she has gained five pounds in weight. (I speak from experience.)

Gingerbread

Baking and decorating Gingerbread is a tradition in our family. I’ve written about this in the past (Line up the Usual Suspects and How to Plan a Gingerbread Party.)

Rum Balls

Rum Ball making has become one of my son-in-law’s traditions. Each year he tries to increase the amount of rum, yet maintain the consistency of the dough such that it can be rolled into balls. Needless to say, Rum Balls are for adults only. Rum Ball rolling is time consuming and is usually done in front of the TV set while watching a movie. In years gone by, the traditional movie for the job was Amadeas. Don’t ask me why it has to be that movie – it is just the right movie for the job.

My eldest daughter decided to introduce Rum Ball making to her family this year. Her post began

Turns out, twenty-two years is enough time to forget a recipe. Although, as I stood in the grocery store calling my younger sister (wife of the rum ball making son-in-law) to find out what almond paste was, it occurred to me that I might not have actually made this recipe before. I did participate in the ritual of drinking wine, watching a movie and rolling. I’m just not sure I ever assembled the ingredients and then mixed them up in such a huge bowl.

Carrot Cake

Huh? Carrot Cake doesn’t seem like a traditional Christmas dessert – but it is just about my favourite treat other than something made with dark chocolate. We have done extensive testing of store bought carrot cake and the Fountain Hills AZ Safeway store makes a carrot cake to die for! Since it is just going to be two of us for Christmas dinner this year, quick and simple Safeway carrot cake is the way to go!

What are your traditional Christmas Desserts?

Lest We Forget

Calgary’s Field of Crosses

Each year, from November 1 to 11, over 3400 Memorial Crosses are placed in a park along Calgary’s Memorial Drive. Each cross represents a soldier from Southern Alberta who died in active duty during Conflicts and Peacekeeping Missions from 1899 to the Present.

Calgary Alberta
Field of Crosses, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Calgary Alberta

Vine, Henry W

The Car Guy and I walked the length of the park to reach our destination at the east end of the Field – the marker of Henry William Vine, my grandfather’s brother.

World War One

Henry William signed his Attestation Papers for the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force in September 1915. He was 17 years and 1 month old, and likely lied about his age in order to enlist. The family story is that a woman handed him the white feather of cowardice, and that is what compelled him to join.

Henry’s unit, the 49th Bn, arrived in France on March 26, 1916. Henry reported to base slightly wounded in June, 1916 but remained at duty. He was wounded again on September 15, 1916, apparently a gun shot wound to the right elbow. His third encounter with the enemy was his last. He was reported missing after action at The Somme, and presumed dead on October 4, 1916. His body was never found, making him one of just over 11,000 Canadian soldiers with no known grave.

The Battles of the Somme were launched by the British. On July 1, 1916, in daylight, 100,000 inexperienced, over burdened, inadequately supported men climbed out of their trenches and advanced shoulder to shoulder, one behind the other, across the cratered waste of “No Man’s Land”. 57,470 British soldiers were killed, wounded or reported missing on that first day.

In late August 1916, the Canadians moved to the Somme where they took over a section of the front directly in front of the village of Courcelette. By autumn, rains had turned the battlefield into a bog and the offensive came to a halt. The line had moved forward only 10 kilometers.

A completely accurate table of World War One losses may never be compiled, but it is estimated that 8,500,000 soldiers died as a result of wounds and/or disease. It has also been estimated that 13 million civilian deaths were attributable to the war.

IN FLANDERS FIELDS
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McRae, December 8, 1915
Doctor serving with the Canadian Artillery

Not a Sweet Tooth – a Chocolate Tooth

quip cardI started my Not Fueled by Chocolate Diet and Exercise program in April of this year. Six months into the project – I’ve come to the realization that it is going to take a lot longer than six months to achieve my goal! That means I still can’t have a stash of dark chocolate in the house.

Why?  I am  1/3 a Chocoholic. That is to say, on the few occasions I have had access to a dark chocolate bar,  I am Chocoholic Signal 1 – not particularly good at limiting my intake to, lets say, a square a day. Fortunately,  I am not Chocoholic Signal 2 – having intense cravings and Chocoholic Signal 3 – eating it despite the consequences!

No, I am not inclined to nibble a mere 70 calorie chunk and be content. It takes a full 200 chocolate calories (or more) to satisfy my palate.  I’d have to add another 3 miles of walking a day to make that calorie neutral. That isn’t going to happen, which brings me back to where I started – I can’t have chocolate in the house.

But I’m down 6 to 8 pounds on average (can someone tell me how a woman’s weight can fluctuate by several pounds from one day to the next!) and some of my clothes are visibly too big – that’s the progress that keeps me going. There is no grand secret to my success. It comes down to changing a few habits.

I kickstarted my Not Fueled by Chocolate program by reading the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. It is an excellent book to read if you want to change something in your life, but you don’t seem to have the willpower to make the change ‘stick‘!

Rather, to change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine… This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future: THE HABIT LOOP… This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be.
― Charles Duhigg, The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business

What habit have you changed or what habit would you like to change?

Where is Your Codex Vitae?

Is Codex Vitae a technical term for a part of your body or does it sound like a disease?  To answer that, I’m going to start you with Twitter, drag you through YouTube, and deposit you in a Book.

Twitter – What do you Seek?

Twitter receives a lot of criticism, but like everything else on the internet, the value is there if you take the time to look around. Think of Twitter as an almost endless series of doors. You open one door and if you don’t find anything of value, you can close it – but you might find another door there that is of more value to you.   It is through this exploration of doors that I have found a growing movement of people who don’t identify with ‘tribes’. They are open to listening to others they may not agree with. They have discussions and share ideas. Many of these people can be found at the Intellectual Dark Web Site.

It’s the great agony and the ecstasy of the Internet today. I think we have more great stuff to read than we ever have before, but of course the downside of that is we have more great stuff to read than we’ve ever had before.
– Robin Sloan –

What do You Want to Seek?

The QuipperyThe Intellectual Dark Web is populated by a number of individuals who have been vilified by those who identify with a ‘different tribe’. One of the more controversial figures in recent years is the Canadian author, clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto – Dr. Jordan Peterson. A lengthy but extremely interesting summary of his thoughts is presented in this video: Dr. Oz interviews Dr. Jordan Peterson.

Dr. Peterson has written several books, does podcasts, and lectures about the value of having an aim in life. He has become the self-help guru for many young people who find they are unprepared for the realities of an adult world. What is ironic, to me, is that this same sense of ‘aimlessness’ sometimes happens to older people when they retire. Free time isn’t so free feeling if you’ve got a lot of it, and you don’t know what to do with it.

OK, now write for 20 minutes. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling. This isn’t a composition exercise. You get to have what you want three to five years down the road. What does your life look like, hypothetically? Write it out. That’s the first part. The second part of the exercise — now you’ve got your thing to aim at. You think, “well, now I’m motivated, because I got my thing to aim at.” It’s like, “you’re not as motivated as you could be, because you don’t yet have your thing to run away from. If you really want to be motivated, you want to be going somewhere, and you want to be NOT going somewhere else.”
– Jordan Peterson in a discussion with Lewis Howes

Once You Have Found It

Last stop is a book. I just finished Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. This book is, to me, the ultimate intersection of old-world handwork, Old Knowledge, books, digital technology, fantasy and a Codex Vitae (which is the capture of all you’ve learned throughout your life – Jordan Peterson’s ‘what does your life look like’.)

In the book, and in real life, a Codex is a printed book. ‘Mr. Penumbra’s’  fictional character, Griffo Gerritszoon, was the real life Francesco Griffo who was born in 1450. The book’s character Aldus Manutius  was a real life printer and publisher. Aldus commissioned Griffo to cut the first slanted italic type. Aldus also invented pocket editions of books with soft covers and normalized the use of punctuation. The books fictional fifteenth-century font called Gerritszoon is perhaps the font we call Garamond – Claude Garamond worked with Aldus Manutius and Francesco Griffo.

By the end of Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore I had the answer to why, or what, ties me to blogging. This is my Codex Vitae – and I can only keep writing new chapters if  I am learning from all people, not just the ones that share my bias. I can only keep writing if I keep aiming for better and moving away from the person I don’t want to become.

How have you preserved a record of your life? Scrapbook? Calendars? Photo Album? Blog? Journal?

Indoor Cold Storage – Project Accomplished!

New fridge

The new fridge finally arrived. Twice actually. The first time, the delivery truck couldn’t negotiate the deep snow in our drive way and had to abort the mission. With little hope that the snow would melt before spring, The Car Guy abandoned his plan to mow the grass one more time this fall. He removed the mower from the tractor and installed the snow blade. I helped him. We had some brief discussions about either buying a new tractor with easier implement changing, or moving to the city…

Two days later the fridge was delivered. If you have been following the Fridge in the Middle Story, you will note that the fridge just fit into the cabinet and all is right in the kitchen again. Now, and here is the ‘cool’ part, we have a water and ice dispenser – and not just cubed ice – crushed ice too!

Think of the summer drink possibilities – except now it is fall.

Fridge with a graphic filter

Or, it should be fall except  winter arrived first. The two seasons have been exchanging blows – snow, some melting, more snow, some more melting. Today we are back into snow.

I tried to dig the potatoes during one of the melting spells, but the garden was one large mud patch. It just wasn’t worth the effort for a bucket full of potatoes. It really is too bad, because the hills I did dig yielded very few potatoes, but they weren’t scabby. First time ever. The weather forecast says we return to normal fall weather next week. Maybe I’ll get the spuds out of the ground yet.

Spuds, taters – is there another word for potatoes in your part of the world?

I bought a big bag of potatoes and it’s growing eyes like crazy. Other foods rot. Potatoes want to see.
– Bill Callahan, Letters to Emma Bowlcut –

Another snow day

Canadian Thanksgiving

Fall grass with a molten gold filter

Canadian Thanksgiving is today (the second Monday in October).  It is a celebration of thanks for a good harvest – and it occurs earlier in the fall than American Thanksgiving because Canada’s climate is colder and our harvests end earlier. At least, our farmers hope they end earlier, but the early snow we’ve had here in Alberta has delayed harvest somewhat.

Fall grass with a cartoon filter

We’ve had our family Thanksgiving feasts already. On Saturday we hosted a Thanksgiving lunch. The featured ‘guest’ was a fairly large ham. Though we bagged up a lot of ham and sent it home with the family, we still have a lot of ham left over.

Eternity is a ham and two people.
– Dorothy Parker –

Grass with a scratchy line drawing filter

Yesterday (Sunday) we went to the daughter’s house for a Turkey Dinner. Son-in-law got a little carried away in the selection of the size of the turkey. This caused them to own a bird that just barely fit into the appliance that cooked it. There was also lots of mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry jelly, several salads, three kinds of desserts. Delicious. They bagged up a lot of turkey and sent it home with the family. They still have a lot of turkey left over. Another kind of eternity.

May your stuffing be tasty
May your turkey plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
Have nary a lump.
May your yams be delicious
And your pies take the prize,
And may your Thanksgiving dinner
Stay off your thighs!
– Author Unknown –

Tonight The Car Guy and I will dine on left-over ham and turkey. Tomorrow – maybe a casserole with ham or turkey. The next day, maybe split pea soup made from the ham bone. The next day – anything that doesn’t involve a bird or a pig.

Happy Thanksgiving, Canadians! Happy Columbus Day (or Indigenous People’s Day), Americans!

Dark Days

It comes with no warning. Days of being sad. Energy tank on empty.

Dark, dreary, heavy days.

Overwhelmed. Too much, too many.

I’ve been down this road many times before. It always passes. It is seasonal or hormonal or just being sad.

It isn’t depression, but it is a gift that helps me to understand those who battle real depression.

If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.
– Stephen Fry –

I wanted to write down exactly what I felt but somehow the paper stayed empty and I could not have described it any better.
– WTM –

Fridge in the Middle

The Car Guy and I decided to replace our refrigerator. It is over 20 years old and well past its ‘best before’ date.

This is a haiku
Haiku’s don’t have to make sense
Refrigerator
– Author Unknown –

The appliance store had so many fridges to choose from – at least, that is what we thought when we first walked in the door! But, as our sales associate, Todd, walked us through the choices, it became clear that our new fridge would be ‘one of a kind’. Yes, if we wanted a fridge with an ice maker/water dispenser, with two upper doors and a lower freezer, that would fit in the space we had, in the colour white (to match the appliances we weren’t replacing) – our selection was one fridge.

So we ordered the fridge. It was supposed to be delivered in a week – two weeks tops! That was almost two months ago.

On a very local scale, a refrigerator is the center of the universe. On the inside is food essential to life, and on the outside of the door is a summary of the life events of the household.
– Robert Fulghum –

In the meantime, my old fridge is in a ‘not so convenient’ place in the kitchen. The Car Guy had to pull it out so that he could add the plumbing for the ice maker/water dispenser. He also had to raise the cabinet above the fridge by one inch.

He didn’t move the fridge back into the fridge ‘home’ because the fridge is heavy, awkward to move and only fits into the space if you give it a mighty shove… and the new fridge might arrive any day now!

Figuring out why people who choose not to do something don’t in fact do it is like attempting to interview the elves who live inside your refrigerator but come out only when the light is off.
– Eileen Pollack –

A fridge in the middle of the room seemed like a huge inconvenience initially. Now it is merely a mild annoyance. We can still use the fridge, even if the doors don’t open all the way. We can still get to the coffee maker and we can squeeze by the fridge to get from one room to another!

My theory on housework is, if the item doesn’t multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator door, let it be. No one else cares. Why should you?
– Erma Bombeck –

In the grand scheme of  Red House Renos, the ‘fridge in the middle’ is way down the list of projects that seemed to take forever to finish!

Open your refrigerator door, and you summon forth more light than the total amount enjoyed by most households in the 18th century. The world at night, for much of history, was a very dark place indeed.
– Bill Bryson –

What is the oldest appliance in your house? Which one would you love to replace?

How many times have you been watching an episode of ‘South Park’ and thought, ‘I’d like to be able to watch this on my television while hooked into my mobile device, which is being controlled by my tablet device which is hooked into my oven, all while sitting in the refrigerator?’
– Trey Parker –

Ghost – Looking for Puppy Faces

Puppy Faces Today – our Daughter and her Husband got a dog!

A puppy face – the Grand-dog – right after a bath: “Where is the treat you promised me if I went along with the foolishness of a bath?”
The grand-dog – finally dry and back outside: “My price for not digging in the garden again is… double treats!”

Puppy Faces Before the Dog Came Along:

Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.
– Winnie the Pooh (by A.A. Milne) –

Six years ago I wrote a post called A Perfect Storm – The Motorcycle Accident. It was the story of the day (Friday, July 13!) that The Car Guy and the Harley abruptly parted company – both landing in a farmer’s field, both with considerable damage.

I reread that post yesterday. I also reread all the comments left on posts then and after the event – words of encouragement, concern and prayers for a speedy recovery! Thanks again, from the bottom of my Canadian heart, to all these kind bloggers who reached out to me during those dark days:

The Cvillean
Peg-o-Leg’s Ramblings
Virginia Views
Before Morning Breaks
Joys of Creating
The Other Side of 55
Mark Armstrong Illustration
Coming East
composerinthegarden
Year-Struck
From the Drawing Board
Fear No Weebles
Bless Your Hippie Heart
k8edid
The Sandwich Lady
I Need a Play Date
Philosopher Mouse of the Hedge
Caryn Caldwell

Some of these writers are still blogging! Some have ‘ceased blogging operations’ and moved on.  The ‘ceased’ bloggers – some left a farewell message; some just packed up (I envision it as happening on a dark and stormy night) and disappeared, leaving us all to wonder what they moved on to, or if they are actually ‘deceased’!

Now, for the update on The Car Guy.  There were certainly some interesting and amusing moments during his recovery from a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). For  the first few months,  he was unable to retain memories, but more spectacularly – sometimes he saw people that the rest of us couldn’t see!

One afternoon he woke up after a nap in the Guest Room at the Cabin and announced there were puppy faces on the ceiling over the bed. This was a new hallucination. He insisted I come and look. We stretched out on the bed and looked up at the wood paneled ceiling.

“See – there.” He pointed at the wood grain knots and swirls. “Two eyes and a nose. And over there. Two eyes, a nose and ears. And another one over there!”

Relief – yes, I could see puppy faces in the knots and swirls too! Then – I thought about all the people who had slept in that bed, but had never mentioned seeing puppy faces! It takes a certain freedom of thought, I guess, to see things like that.

I think of those puppy faces when I read the news.  Much of Mainstream Media (MMM) has the single goal of telling you what you should think. Often their message is biased and designed to create fear. They want you to only see what they see in their knots and swirls.

Fortunately, there are many  Not Really Mainstream Media (NRMMM) sources of positive messages that encourage the grand diversity of human thought. They encourage you to look beyond the knots and swirls for the other messages.

I try to start my day with positive sites like these: Thoughts of Dog,  Human Progress, Mike Rowe and Regie’s Blog.

Where do you go to get a balanced spin on the news?

Upside to Absent-mindedness

For some reason there is a malfunction, some disconnect, between my imaginary hello and, well, my actual hello… Just know this: if you have ever passed me in the hall and I appeared to ignore you, it actually wasn’t like that at all…
– Stuart McLean, The Vinyl Cafe Notebooks –

An imaginary hello. Yes, that describes the greeting I sometimes don’t give.

It’s caused (they say) by a condition called absent-mindedness (also spelled  absentmindedness or absent mindedness.) Often, I don’t even know that I’m being absent-minded. On other occasions, it is quite apparent: I search for my glasses and find them on the top of my head or I walk into a room but forget what I came there to do.

I don’t think it is something to be stressed about. On the whole, my memory usually runs fairly smoothly and  I’m fairly adept at focusing when I need to. I see the shift into absent-mindedness as something that sets me free to think in abstract or creative ways – (that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.)

What was your most interesting absent-minded experience?