Lovely, stunning, magnificent, enchanting, charming, beautiful.....Next time I'm out for a walk I need to bring my thesaurus.
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
On Christmas Day I was a little melancholy. I don't think that I am alone in that feeling. There was a wistful nostalgia for Christmas past, a feeling that I could never really get traction on the holiday spirit this year, and well, we are just exhausted from the past few months.
After trekking across Eastern Europe for the past week, yesterday we just stayed put. We relaxed, caught up on reading, napped, and watched a few Christmas movies. We checked in with family far away and snuggled up to the ones nearby. And then after dinner we laughed great rumbling belly laughs which is the best medicine!
We traveled to Prague with friends and Julie has been feeding us well this week. Yesterday she made a variation of some short ribs that she had made for her husbands birthday a while back. Instead of the ribs we picked out a pork shoulder and it was excellent. We also ate potatoes mashed with celery root and Emmenthaler, green beans and roasted radicchio. Those were separate dishes by the way, that would be some sort of funky mashed potatoes if you included the beans and the radicchio. It was as always a lovely meal. To finish, I made a chocolate mousse. I wanted something crunchy to offset the mousse and while Julie and I were closing out Marks and Spencer I found some Dark Chocolate and Ginger Florentines. They were perfect, the almonds paired well with the Amaretto liqueur in the mousse and I just think that ginger and chocolate play nicely together.
I followed the recipe from Jamie Oliver's website but didn't serve the mousse with the cherries and sesame cookies. Other than an unfortunate, but not disastrous, mishap with what I thought was whipping cream (It was half and half which does not whip, and the grocery was closed. In my defense I don't read Czech) the mousse came together easily and with out a lot of fuss.
Life changing? Well I think that may be asking a lot of the mousse, but it was really, really, very scrumptious. Now if you are game to make your own Florentines I'd give this recipe from The Curious Baker a whirl. In fact, I'm planning on it.
We went to Auschwitz and Birkenau, the infamous Nazi concentration/extermination camps. I have been before but still find myself caught off guard and startled by the barbarity and anguish of the place.
We were the first visitors of the day. Snow had fallen the night before. It was cold, a cold that takes your breath away and moves quickly to your bones. Polish winters are unforgiving. The morning's fog had not lifted making the camp feel ghostlike and invisible. The atmosphere was eerie, frightening, despairing. In the distance we could hear dogs barking and gun shots from hunters.
I asked my friend how a place like this could ever be redeemed. It can't she said. It is to be forever a place of wailing and lament.
And so, in the Christmas Markets of Europe, strolling arm and arm with my husband, breaking bread and sharing a glass of wine with friends I found my Christmas Spirit. I have friends for the journey, a family that fills my heart with immense comfort and affection, and a God who is audacious in His love for me."God came to us because he wanted to join us on the road, to listen to our story, and to help us realize that we are not walking in circles but moving towards the house of peace and joy. This is the great mystery of Christmas that continues to give us comfort and consolation: we are not alone on our journey. The God of love who gave us life sent his only Son to be with us at all times and in all places, so that we never have to feel lost but always can trust that he walks with us.Christmas is the renewed invitation not to be afraid and to let him-whose love is greater than our own hearts and minds can comprehend-be our companion"- Henri Nouwen, Gracias
I'm heading out with my family in the morning. We are in search of a white Christmas! After lots of Christmases spent in the tropics, on beaches, and swatting mosquitoes, we are headed north to colder weather and with our fingers (and toes) crossed that we'll see a little snow.
We are flying in to Vienna tomorrow morning then we are planning to catch up with friends in Prague and Strasbourg. We will see the sights and of course sample some great food. We will be searching out the best pierogis, sausages, hot chocolate and mulled wine that can be found. To round it all out of course will be some pastries, those multi layered, sinfully creamy confections that you mean to share with someone, but really you end up eating the whole thing yourself.
Thank goodness there will be lots of walking involved.
This morning I made some muffins for the girls and their friends. I planned to snap a few photos but they were all eaten before I could get my camera. I believe that to be a resounding endorsement! The LA Times posted their best recipes from the past 26 years, this little gem was among them.
When we made the decision to leave Singapore and move to Tunisia we left a lot of friends behind. I'm so grateful that we live in the day and age of Skype, and email. I'm also grateful that my friends are adventurous and like to travel. That means, I could leave with the assurance that there will be visitors.
We also left Singapore knowing that friends would be headed to Tunisia with us, and that we had dear friends waiting for us there. You feel much more confident having someones hand to hold whether that is a husband, a parent or a friend. The world isn't quite so big and scary with a friend by your side.
Tonight we are gathering with friends to celebrate a birthday, to congratulate each other on a job well done, to mark the beginning of a Merry and Bright Holiday. There will be new friends, old friends, friends who fit your hand like a worn glove, friends who we are just beginning to fold into our lives.
Like the song says.....You know you got to have friends.
For Lauren, Happy Birthday Friend!
2 sticks unsalted butter
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ cup water
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
2 tablespoons vanilla
1 teaspoon coffee extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
4 ounces chopped dark chocolate with chilies such as Lindt Au Piment Rouge
½ stick unsalted butter
½ cup half-and-half
¾ cup confectioners sugar
5 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350°F and place oven rack in middle of oven. Grease and flour a 12 cup Bundt pan.
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium low heat. Once melted whisk in cocoa and then add the water and whisk until smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the sugar, eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, coffee and almond extracts.
In a medium size bowl sift or whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt, then add to the cocoa mixture and whisk until just combined (there may be a few lumps). Stir in the chopped chocolate.
Pour batter into prepared cake pan and bake until a wooden pick or skewer comes out with a few crumbs clinging to the skewer, 35-45 minutes.
Cool cake in pan on a rack 20 minutes, then loosen edges with a thin knife and invert onto a plate.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat, stir in half-and-half and confectioners sugar. Add chocolate and cook, stirring constantly, until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in salt. Cool glaze until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.
Spoon glaze over top and sides of cooled cake and spread with a small offset spatula or knife to cover completely.
During a typical holiday season I will make dozens of Christmas cookies. But this isn't a typical holiday season and we are having a difficult time summoning up some Holiday Cheer. I chalk it up to just moving and we've yet to find our groove. Maybe it's in one of those boxes we haven't unpacked. So... I am trying to do the things I usually do with the thought "if the body is moving the heart will follow". My friend Julie starting baking yesterday as a way to fill the time as she anxiously waited for her boys to arrive from the States, so I thought I would bake along with her. And so today, since the house is decorated, the candles are burning, and theres a nip in the air, I baked cookies to conjure up the spirit of Christmas past.
In the late 90's I purchased Rose's Christmas Cookies. It has become my Christmas Cookie Bible. I have literally made every single cookie in that book, cover to cover. I did stop myself though at the over the top excess that is a gingerbread replica of the Notre Dame Cathedral. You have to have boundaries people.
I am a huge fan of cookbooks by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Her recipes are PRECISE, foolproof, and utterly delicious. They run the gamut from traditional favorites to cookies that require special equipment and skill. Her cookbooks are like taking a masterclass on baking, you'll learn a lot but you'll also have fun along the way.
This year I only made one from her cookbook, the rest were cookies that I had bookmarked while browsing around the internet.
Chocolate Chip Cherry Drops, because I have been told that chocolate and cherry should play together more often. This is my absolute favorite recipe for Chocolate Chip cookies and I just added 1/2 cup of chopped dried Montmorency cherries.
The next cookie was a gamble, but I am pleased with how it turned out. I have a friend who loves Halva, a sesame paste candy, and I had wanted to make a cookie that featured either Halva or the deep sesame taste of Halva. My attempts were epic fails and then I found this recipe. Halva Flapjacks, they are really rich, with a fudge like texture from the Tahini paste. Flapjacks are oat based bar cookies popular in the UK. You will need a scale, and might need to do some math, but don't be afraid, these will be worth your efforts.