A Country Christmas

There is just something special about the Christmas season!

  There is also something so busy about it!

We try and fill the 31 days of December with all things festive – baking, decorating, entertaining, shopping, concerts, school and church musicals, parties, correspondence, wrapping, connecting, and the list goes on – all in 31 days!

Add on top of all of the above – our busy work schedules – with the pressures as great in this day and age as they ever have been!  How to balance it all and still come out of this month with the joy that this time of year is meant to celebrate!

 I love this season – it is a beautiful time of year with the gorgeous lights, and greens, and the excitement of getting together and eating great food and laughing with family and friends.  I would not change it for the world!

Maybe this is why I love the country Christmas theme so much – in my mind I see Christmas as a time of year where we can slow down, and enjoy the simple things in life – like family, friends, music, good food and the beauty of nature.  I suppose so much of this is in my imagination – to create this open door, candle lit, snow covered picture requires planning, and lots of hustle and bustle and work!

How do we balance all of these expectations in 31 days?  The age old question that many people are asking I am sure.  Maybe there is no answer other than to realize that Christmas is about creating memories – and there is no simple way around that.  It requires planning and shopping, and decorating and it is tiring!

But at the end of the day – what better way to be rewarded than to see the joy on children’s faces on Christmas morning, or the laughter that spills out from the turkey laden dining table, or the comfort that family and friends feel when they nestle into a cozy living room with a twinkling tree, glowing candles, and drink hot apple cider and nibble on the home baked goods that you thought you would never get baked.

Christmas memories are forever – and there is no season that perhaps requires as much work as Christmas – but it is a magical time of year that brings great joy to so many – even if they have no idea how much work is required to create a laid back and relaxed country Christmas!

I find my joy in creating joy for others – creating memories – in seeing the beauty of the season in the faces of those who appreciate the creativity required to make these memories special!  It is worth all of the hustle and bustle and work!

After all, anything of great worth and beauty was not created without work – think of the great music and art compositions that we enjoy – or the books that are written that take our  souls to another place – all enjoyed with little effort – but  created with great effort!  Creating a Christmas celebration can be a work of art – a memory that touches the very core of who we are as families, and as communities of friends.

If you put the work into the creation you will be rewarded – the beauty of creating the memories and the traditions that touch the heart and soul of who we are is worth every effort!

I realize that as I write this post that this time of year is difficult for many people- those who have no families, those who have no home – those who are suffering in different ways emotionally, and physically.  This can be a lonely and desolate time of year – especially with so much emphasis on belonging.  I am reminded that the very one whose birthday we celebrate came in poverty – with no pomp or circumstance.  And I am reminded that we are called to care for those who are hurting, to feed those who are hungry and to give of ourselves in love.  I am reminded that we must open our hearts and our homes and give of ourselves and our resources to care for the weak and the poor.  May this work of art – this tradition that we create each year – may its beauty reach those who need it most – and may the love and joy that we have in our hearts overflow to others – not just in our families – or our communities – but those in our cities, our countries and all over the world.

This comes at the end of this post not to be a P.S. – but to be the final word  – the benediction so to speak to all of our Christmas thoughts – our Christmas plans.  May our hearts be open to sharing our wealth – our love – and our joy!

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Dill Pickles

According to the internet dill pickle’in should be done anytime from the first of August through the middle of September – and so we are right on time!  My sister Carol and I decided to make dill pickles – something we have not done in many years.

Mom used to pickle, can, freeze and preserve and all that good stuff!  That is the way she fed a family of six on a budget – and we were all the better for it – such great home made treats!

And so yesterday Carol and I got the “hankerin” (is that an actual word?) to start in.  We went out to Niagara-on-the-Lake and bought the small cucumbers and the fresh dill weed, coarse salt and vinegar and settled in to try our hand at making dill pickles.

Carol remembered so much of what mom had taught us about sterilizing the jars, and then sealing them at the end of the process by boiling the jars in hot water for 10 minutes.  Seems like a strange thing to do – but the jars seal tight – and that is so important in the pickling process.  It is really a very easy process – surprisingly so – and now we have several jars of dill pickles that will be ready in a few weeks.

If you don’t have maison jars you can use recycled jars such as tomato sauce jars from the grocery store.  They work just fine and although they don’t have that “Martha Stewart” finished look there is just something about recycling jars that makes it seems so right!

We both feel mom would be so pleased that we had taken this project on (you know you really never grow too old to want to please your mom) and we have a renewed sense of wanting to get back to “living off the land” and getting back to the “homemade’ roots of our growing up days.

You just never know – we might pull out the sewing machine soon – that would really take us back to our roots – and it would reawaken the creative spirit that has been dormant for far too long.  I think “homemade” is beginning to sound more and more attractive!

Things I Love III – Irish Comfort Food

There is nothing like Irish soda bread – hot out of the oven with melted butter, sharp cheddar cheese and and strawberry jam – ach (the way the Irish say it – ach…can you hear it?) – comfort food. I was introduced to this bread by my good friend Anne  – who bakes this bread on a regular basis.  She has the recipe from her mom Maise – and she serves it with a cup of tea or coffee – and cheese and jam.  Umm umm good!

The soda bread is a heavy bread – chewy in a way -not airy – dense I would say – and very tasty!  The crust is crunchy – so good!

You need to eat it with cheese – I like to have a nice sharp cheddar – or aged cheddar. Slather on some great strawberry jam – add a piece of cheese and a cup of tea or coffee and you have a great afternoon snack break, or an evening treat when friends drop by.  And the best jam – homemade strawberry freezer jam – and I have a great recipe.

I used to make this jam in June – during strawberry season – I would go pick the strawberries and then make several batches and put it in the freezer.  I have not done this in years – I need to get back to this – find the balance in my life – I know – tired of hearing it – me too!  My sister and I talk about doing this every spring – this is our year!  I will give you the recipe below – so easy and so tasty – and you can just put it in the freezer – or give it away as a gift!

My friend Anne – such a beautiful Irish lasse!

Irish Soda Bread

    4 cups (1 L) all purpose flour, (can substitute 1/2 the all purpose flour with whole wheat)
    1 tbsp (15 mL) granulated sugar
    1 tsp (5 mL) baking soda
    1 tsp (5 mL) salt
    2 cups (500 mL) buttermilk
In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, baking soda and salt and flour. Make a well in middle of the flour, and add buttermilk all at once.Use your hands to mix buttermilk into flour to form a soft dough.Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Lightly knead the dough a few times to make a smooth ball. 

Place loaf onto parchment-lined or greased baking sheet or put in greased loaf pan. With sharp knife, score a large ‘X’ on the top of the dough. Bake in the centre of a 425 F (220 C) oven for about 35 minutes. The loaf is done when browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Serve warmed with butter and honey or cheese and jam.

  • Spotted Dog Variation:
    Add 1 cup (250 mL) raisins or currants and 1 tsp (5 mL) caraway seeds (optional) to the flour

Strawberry Freezer Jam

  • 2 cups crushed fresh strawberries
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 (1.75 ounce) package dry pectin
  • 3/4 cup water
  1. Mix crushed strawberries with sugar, and let stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, stir the pectin into the water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and boil for 1 minute. Stir the boiling water into the strawberries. Allow to stand for 3 minutes before pouring into jars or other storage containers.
  2. Place tops on the containers, and leave for 24 hours. Place into freezer, and store frozen until ready to use.

Enjoy everyone!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!!

Green Apple Green

There is something about the colour green – especially green apple green that makes you think of Spring.  And oh how we want to think about Spring – the hope that the grass will turn green and things will come back to life again!

The grass – the colour so brilliant and fresh….and the floppy eared bunny ….Easter in around the corner!

Green apple green was a colour of choice for my niece Laura’s wedding this past summer – and we used shades of it along with whites, creams, and olive greens and it was beautiful.  The flower arrangements, which we made ourselves were a mixture of green and white hydrangea (my favourite) – we were even fortunate enough to find green apple vases at a Villeroy & Boch outlet the year before and these helped us to start the design story.

Table center pieces….

Programs and guest book at the church…..

Notice the green poke-a-dot table cloths – we made 31 of these cloths to give the room the special look that we were looking for …….

Gift bags…..including homemade items….check out the amazing shortbread that was included in the blog post entitled Sweethearts…

Name tags and table numbers attached to green apples with a straight pin with a pearl end.  How beautiful they looked all lined up on the table….

Even the bride carried hers in with her….

Green apple green – such a beautiful colour – so fresh and brings the promise of Spring.  And there will be more green apple green to come as we celebrate the coming of the new season!  I love this colour – it is just beautiful!