What are you baking for the holidays?

Holiday baking treats

Do you have visions of shortbread? Are you, like me, one of the few people who honestly likes fruitcake?

Now that we are officially in the holiday season—with a month to go before Christmas, it’s time to preheat that oven.

This week I’m going to share a few of my favourite traditional recipes. I’m hoping if you have a favourite, you are willing to share it on my Happy Gourmand Facebook page (comments aren’t available here). It will be like a virtual cookie exchange.

I know sugar cookies are often a favourite for those who like to decorate their cookies but in my house, growing up, we had shortbread to decorate and that took all our creative juices (and patience).

There was plenty of mess with sprinkles and glacé cherries and chocolate chips. I think my mom just never mentioned icing as an option for her own sanity.

Her recipe for shortbread is a bit unique, so if you’re up for a change, here it is. They are made with golden sugar.

Our other family tradition came from my dad’s side of the family – the Icelandic side. Their version of a Christmas cake is a torte made of cookie-like layers that hold a cardamom-infused prune filling. Vinertarta, as it’s called, is still one of my cherished holiday treats. It is much less cloying than the English fruitcake, and quicker to make, too.

A treat that I took on as a standard years ago is great to have at a party – Spiced Praline Nuts. I first did it at our Rabbit Hollow Dessert Party, our yearly neighbourhood event that offered a groaning table of various treats that Hubbie and I would make to share. (It’s a great way to get to know your neighbours, and also to spread the calories around.) The party is back on this year after the pandemic hiatus, so I dug out my recipe:

2-1/2 cups nuts (walnuts, pecans, or your choice)
1 cup sugar
¾ tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp each ground ginger, nutmeg and cloves
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1 tbsp water (or rum for an adult crowd, if you wish)
½ tsp vanilla extract

Toast nuts at 375 F in the oven or toaster oven. Prepare baking sheet with silicone mat for finished mixture. In a heavy saucepan, combine sugar, spices and evaporated milk. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly until mixture boils and sugar dissolves. Cook until mixture reaches 234 F on digital thermometer or candy thermometer (soft ball stage if you know candy). Remove from heat and add water and vanilla. Stir well.

Toss in nuts and stir to coat, moving quickly (it will start to get stiffer). Be careful, this stuff is sticky and hot. Spread onto baking sheet in a single layer and let cool. Break into bite-size pieces and serve in a fancy dish or package as gifts.

Maybe in next week’s column, I should offer some diet-friendly recipes after this indulgence.

Wait, what am I thinking? You come here for gourmandise, don’t you? I’ll leave it to you to do your own balancing of treats and veggie sticks.

See you in the grocery store baking aisle.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Bring more people to the table this holiday season

Holiday socializing

Can you believe it? We are entering the holiday season.

I don’t know where the time goes. It’s like socks in the dryer. I wonder, does it seem to go faster when we are older or younger? I have almost always wanted to pack more into a day. As I get older, I have learned to pause and enjoy the moments as they come instead of rushing to be ready for the next one.

Since the holiday season generally means there are more opportunities to gather, I thought a good theme this week might be to get the most out of those opportunities. So, here are my humble suggestions, and a bit of research to back you up if anyone wants to argue with your idea of trying them out.

The concept of longevity is a hot topic these days as living longer becomes more common. Everyone also wants to be happier and more fulfilled for their long lives. If you have heard of the Blue Zones research (the study of those places on Earth where people have made it a habit to live this way) then you know about eating healthy and being active by moving and being social. (If you’re curious to know more, just ask Google about Blue Zones.)

The latest aspect I learned of in this realm is what they call “The Grandmother Effect.” It is the benefit that comes from families who are able to live together with multiple generations all helping to run the household. With the knowledge and connection that is shared amongst family members, everyone has a much better chance to be happier, more fulfilled and less stressed.

This same principle could be applied to a chosen family as well. Your inner circle of people can help support you and keep you accountable, and your shared experiences help everyone avoid feeling isolated or out of touch.

Meal time is a fantastic opportunity, not just for making healthy eating choices but it can also contribute to healthy conversation and connection, which has shown to help young people form healthy living habits that they carry through life. (Yes, I did just give you one more reason to sit down at the dinner table together.)

If you are afraid you won’t be able to start a conversation, try adding something to get things started, like everyone sharing a funny moment, something they learned or you could print out the conversation dice that the Blue Zones team created. I love these prompts as an icebreaker. You could easily substitute other ideas, too. (link: https://www.bluezones.com/blue-zones-conversation-cubes/ )

If you’re really feeling adventurous, go around the table and have different people cook different meals. Or you could work the potluck idea – everyone contributes a dish. In some households, that might require some creative scheduling in the kitchen (batch cooking helps), but it could also allow even little kids a chance to participate by helping with “accessories” like condiments, salad dressing, etc.

It seems everything can be summed up in a meme in today’s world. Often, we employ sarcasm to showcase our dissatisfaction with the status quo, and we joke about being obsessed with junk foods.

This holiday season why not focus on the company first and then enjoy the meals and the treats, each for their own merits? It really can be a time of “the more, the merrier”.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Remembering sacrifice of others shouldn't be limited to one day a year

Keep the home fires burning

With Remembrance Day this weekend it seemed appropriate to write something about keeping the home fires burning.

It occurred to me this translates into today’s world too, and not just for those with loved ones in a war zone. It is important to remember those who fought for our freedom and way of life, but I think we can also use this time to remember we should all enjoy those liberties every day and not just on special occasions.

Soldiers away from home know how precious the everyday mundane tidbits of life are to our livelihoods. That’s why many of them serve in the military.

People who live in war zones often remind us we can be grateful even for the smallest advantage that makes a day brighter. Those people who know their time or resources for living are limited, tend to make the most of it and live life to the fullest.

The rest of us should take note and think of their example. The phrase “keep the home fires burning” refers to those who were at home, not to those away at war. The power of knowing that families back home were keeping things normal and ready for their return was a great strength for the troops in the field. The same is true for loved ones of someone who is ill. Positive energy goes a long way in warming the heart and soul.

When I was little, my Gramps had a saying he liked and one year, I wrote it out for him and framed it as a gift. When he passed away years ago, my mom gave it to me as a keepsake. I have put it in a prominent spot as a reminder.

The Clock of Life is wound but once
And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop,
At late or early hour.
Live, love, toil with a will
But place no faith in Tomorrow,
For the clock may then be still.

In doing research for this column, I found out that the poem was written by Robert H. Smith. The version my grandfather knew (printed above) was the adapted one that became famous as the note in the pocket of Edward J. O’Hare’s coat when they found him gunned down on Nov. 8, 1939.

O’Hare was famous as the lawyer who helped federal prosecutors put Al Capone in jail for tax evasion, but he had a full life, too. O’Hare made a fortune representing the fellow who invented the mechanical rabbit for greyhound racing, and he knew Charles Lindbergh, even hitching a plane ride with him once.

He was involved with Capone for years but then turned on him by approaching the IRS, and was instrumental in producing many parts of the case against Capone. He was gunned down one week before Al Capone was to be released from prison.

Was this a note he kept as his own reminder, or was it put there by those who stopped the clock for him? Does it really matter?

I hope you will forgive me for being a bit sentimental this week, but with the state of world affairs, it seemed appropriate. Having lost my mom this year, and with her being my last family link to the past, I suppose I value the future even more now.

In closing, here is Robert H. Smith original poem, which does an even nicer job of making the point, I think.

The Clock of Life

The clock of life is wound but once,
And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop
At late or early hour.

To lose one's wealth is sad indeed,
To lose one's health is more,
To lose one's soul is such a loss
That no man can restore.

The present only is our own,
So live, love, toil with a will,
Place no faith in "Tomorrow,"
For the Clock may then be still.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Ready for winter in the kitchen

Falling into winter

It looks like winter is upon us.

There is some melancholy in closing gardens and decks, but cozy moments are coming. The days are shorter and darker and, with Halloween now past, everything shifts. This week I offer not only my commentary, but a cozy recipe to help you embrace a new season.

There is a certain beauty to this transitional time of year. Although the early freeze robbed us of some of the colour, there was still a beautiful display in many places. My morning walk through the orchard has had an ethereal glow these past few weeks. The last few fruits hanging from the trees were like Christmas ornaments, shining in the morning sun.

The golden light along with the leaves in shades of yellow and orange transforms the field into a magical landscape where I am sure winter fairies and Christmas elves will be born in the coming months. The stillness I feel on a late autumn morning has a tranquility that is most calming. It is coupled with the expectation of winter’s magic soon to come.

Perhaps Mother Nature offers all these signs to ready us for the colder, darker season of winter. Don’t you feel that autumn is the signal to slow down and snuggle up for winter?

We put up preserves and stock up the wood for the fireplace, we cover up the plants and bring out the blankets to prepare for the cold winds. While Hallowe’en is a celebration of the creatures from the darkest part of night, Christmas and its fellow winter holidays like Hanukkah are celebrations of light.

Although in many ways we are at the end of a season, we look forward to positive things for the winter and we continue to celebrate life. I believe that to be an excellent survival mechanism, and certainly the best attitude to have.

I am making my preparations to switch gears:

1. I made a big pot of apple and pear compote to last through the winter because local fruits will soon be gone.

2. I dried my mint, lavender and other herbs for tea and cozy stews we will enjoy.

3. I pulled out my most colourful scarf and mittens so I can herald in the colder season with a smile, embracing the season with all my heart.

In case you’re stuck on how to embrace the tradition, here’s one of my favourite recipes to warm the cockles of your heart. It’s the perfect end to a hearty meal like stew or roast.

Lemon Souffle Pudding

This dish miraculously turns into a soufflé-type cake, floating on top of a lemon pudding.

2 cups sugar
6 tbsp flour
¼ tsp salt
4 tbsp melted butter
Grated rind of 1 lemon
2/3 cup lemon juice
6 eggs, separated (TIP: egg whites will have more volume when beaten if they are at room temperature)
3 cups milk

Blend sugar, flour, salt, butter, lemon juice and rind in a medium bowl.

Beat yolks well, add milk and mix. Add flour mixture gradually, stirring well.

Beat egg whites till stiffly beaten.

Fold in egg whites. Pour mixture into greased baking dish (a bowl shape works well, or custard cups can be used). Place dish in shallow pan of warm water.

Bake in oven at 350 F for 45 minutes.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More Happy Gourmand articles

About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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