December 19, 2016

Cookies, Piggie, and other Sweet Things 🍬

I LOVE to bake Christmas cookies, but this year presented a new to make our favorites gluten-free.  The cookies pictured here are a new version of peanut blossoms, which are my all time, forever and ever, favorite Christmas cookie.  It would be fun to try and figure out how many dozen of these I have actually baked over the years! This version uses almond butter instead of peanut butter, and they are made using Teff "flour", which is actually not a grain and therefore gluten-free.  I blogged about this flour here.   I was pretty satisfied with this version, but have to admit that the incredible peanut butter and chocolate smell is still lingering in my memory. I guess I just have to get over it. 😅
Pictured here are GF shortbread cookies, made with almond meal.  I made smaller ones in the shape of mini Christmas trees to decorate the top of a pumpkin dessert, and those were much crisper and more like shortbread.  However, we'll suffer through the larger ones in the spirit of Christmas cheer - ha! The round cookies are a GF version of another long-standing cookie tradition, either called Russian tea cakes, or Mexican wedding cakes, or snowball cookies - now go figure out that disparity. 😏  These were made with a white sweet potato as the base and adding arrowroot starch as well.  I didn't roll them in arrowroot per the instructions, because that was just too weird, so there is traditional powdered sugar coating them.  Live dangerously right?!  The hazelnut fudge is excellent and uses coconut milk and just a little honey for sweetening. All of these cookies used unrefined sweeteners as well as being GF. If you want any of these recipes, leave a comment below and I'll post them on the recipe page of the blog. 🎅
This GF version of gingerbread was very successful and used almond and tapioca flour.  I wish I'd followed my instincts and upped the spices a little, but they are really tasty.  I felt inspired to make the traditional gingerbread men and then the adorable owls. Since the dough was so easy to work with, I think I'll do even more designs next year.  My take-aways for baking GF cookies are: 1. I'm not sure they really do well if you make them far in advance, as they get much softer after sitting for a while, 2. I thoroughly chilled the cut-out cookies before baking, and that proved to be most helpful, 3. I have a lot more to learn from people who've been doing this for a while! Still one more cookie to make once our daughter gets here for Christmas, which is a GF fig roll. Can't you smell that baking?!
THIS gingerbread was not GF, but instead part of an annual charitable gingerbread house display at the Sheraton Hotel in Seattle.  This year's theme was Harry Potter, which, if you're a fan, I'm sure you picked up right away.  Each display represented a different book and I couldn't make out any of it personally, but it was nonetheless very delightful and festive!  There were absolute throngs of people there, so our pictures came out a bit blurry as they were taken from outside the winding line of people waiting to file past each one up close.  There were countless amounts and types of candy making up the fine details of each one, and most had moving parts - amazing!
I'll put the pics of our piggie stash in the middle of this blog about sweet things, because filling our freezer full of delicious pork is just another sweet thing that happened in December! 🐷  I blogged about the slaughtering of our pig here.  We picked up our order recently and were barely able to fit it all in.  There is still some beef and fish in there as well, but most of the vegetables and fruit we processed this summer had to be moved into our kitchen freezer.  Our piggie turned out to be 242lbs. hanging weight.  So much pork, and soooo much bacon!🍴 And the best part is that it's tender and has a wonderful flavor - nice piggie!🐖

More sweets! These are spiced pecans, which were packaged up in gift bags for neighbors and a church gift exchange.  I learned in this humid Northwest climate that I need to let these go a while longer in the oven so that they really crisp up.  This batch turned out great - she said humbly!
We also included in our gift exchange boxes, small jars of our apple butter, and Malcolm's homemade spice blends.  Our church members are almost all foodies, so that's what dominates the secret gifts. Fun to make. :)
And speaking of fun to make - these chocolate mice made from maraschino cherries and Hershey kisses are always appreciated at parties.  They just have that cuteness factor that delights people.  I've been making these ever since I saw them at a friend's open house 15 years ago.  Since we move around so much, I get the fun of serving them to new groups of people over and over. 🐭  I should say since we've moved so much - past tense!!!

Hope you have the very sweetest Christmas ever! 💗💚💗
How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds
In a believer's ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.
John Newton 

December 9, 2016

All Decked Out 🎄

Inside and out, our home is decked out for the holidays!  This is a large holly tree that's at the end of our driveway.  It's perfectly shaped and looks very cheerful with big bulbs.  My hubby patiently put the lights on again this year - thanks for indulging me honey. 💗

Our winter blooming rhododendron is still very showy.  We didn't remember it blooming last year so it was an unexpected site.  We also had lots of berries on our holly trees, unlike last year, so we were able to deck the halls in proper style. ✻  Holly is not the most loved plant in the state of Washington, much like wild blackberries, both of which are invasive here.  There are numerous regulations on the books for holly.  For example, the city of Kirkland, WA includes English holly on its list of plants that are prohibited from being planted on private property - no holly love here!

We cut our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving at Pacific Winds Tree Farm. 🌲  They are just a few miles from our house and have a gorgeous view overlooking Crescent Harbor.  That's the body of water we are privileged to enjoy each time we travel to or from our house.  This farm is owned by a wonderful family that has been working hard at good forestry practices in order to make their business thrive. You can see the baby trees in the second picture above. The owner gave us a very interesting lesson last year, and this year he told us about the trees that were growing in a particular section that were started from seeds unearthed from the ash of the major Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980.  Of course we had to get one of those!
On our way home with two trees, the tiny one for Em's apartment.  She and her roommate added a lot of fun to our adventure!

Malcolm is also the lights guy for the inside tree.  This year we opted for a toy theme and placed our big collection of Hallmark toy ornaments on the tree, with old fashioned bulbs and tinsel. We had enough toys to stretch a run of them down the middle of the dining table as well.  An interactive centerpiece! 🎅

Our accidental rooster is looking pretty decked out these days too - yes I'm pushing the limits of this theme so that I can show a picture of this handsome dude. 😄  We thought we had all hens, but we had a surprise with him!  The elaborate tail feathers and the collar of long feathers around his neck should have given us a clue sooner than it did, but we're still novices.  We named all the chickens in pairs, using female comedy duets as the inspiration, so this guy, who was originally part of the Laverne and Shirley pair, is now Lavern without the "e".  That's the male spelling of the name.  Making that little change means I don't have to lose my theme - see, slave to the theme!  So far he's still a cute teenage rooster, complete with a cracking-voice kind of crowing in the morning, but if he gets too "roostery" in the future, he may go the way of the freezer.  He asks for your prayers. 🙏 

And for the last silly tie-in to the decked out theme, here's our deck during our first snowfall of the year!  Some fluffy flakes made a brief, festive show last night. We don't get much snow, but we love it when it happens! ❅❄❆
I plan on blogging about pork and Christmas cookies next - makes sense, right?