...Growing, Building, Cooking, Preserving, Crafting...

2006 began our urban homestead when I broke ground on a garden, which now includes perennial fruits, flowers, & many vegetable varieties. We dream of solar panels, keeping bees and hens. Until then we'll continue growing and preserving our own fruits and vegetables, building what we can for our home, cooking from scratch, and crafting most days.


Baking up Memories

Lucille's Cooky Bible
There have been some busy bakers in our kitchen over the last two weeks.  Somehow it's taken me over 10 Christmases to fully delve into my grandmother's cookie books and dedicate some of our holiday baking to her.  She was a cook for a living and a baker in her spare time.  And she would make what seemed like pallets full of homemade treats around the holidays to complement the bowls of store-bought fairy food and red, white, and green gumdrops and other candies on display at every end table (it's a wonder how in the world great dental health runs on that side of the family.)  As a grade schooler, teen, college student, young adult it was a sugary wonderland.  As I've stepped back several years, I now understand why my sister and I felt compelled to perform high-intensity dance routines (including full-on toe touches) in the living room.  Yikes!  Sugar rush!

As I've gradually gone through my Gram's boxes of recipes in the last decade since her death I've been delighted to see that she saved recipes, made notes, and added dates just like I do.  (Must be the German gene for careful record keeping about which I've heard so much.)  She also added housekeeping and moneysaving clippings.  This was all clearly from an era when people had more time on their hands--or at least fewer of the distractions we have these days. The moment I cracked the cover of her Betty Crocker Cooky Book (the publishing date is not to be found because the inside cover and other pages with possible indicators are plastered with clipped recipe, but circa 1960 is a good guess) there was a rush of memories.  My grandmother's handwriting, the dates she made these cookies, and the washed out vintage photos of things I'd eaten growing up all sent me into nostalgia mode.  Wow!  The last thing to do is prepare some of these goodies and taste the memories as well.
Recipe clippings plaster the inside cover.  
My Gram's handwriting
Handwritten on the inside back cover.
My Great Grandma's Sugar Cookie Recipe, which I
successfully converted to gluten-free this year.
My Great Aunt Irene's attempts.  She's still around to tell.
Jim Dandies--definitely making this blast from the past.
V went through these books with me (including the annual Wisconsin Electric holiday cookie book w/ energy-saving tips) and picked out what she thought "looked" good.  We came up with a diverse list of cookies, bars, and candies to prepare this season, though we may be entirely too ambitious.  But I thought I'd try to uphold the tradition of making way more than we could possibly consume before the next sweet holiday in mid-February.

Vintage packaging ideas
Vintage ads from the Milwaukee Sentinel, 1965
V's at the perfect age to start grasping baking, the physical work anyway--I'll teach her more about theory later.  Last year she helped stir chocolate over a double boiler and pound peppermint sticks for the ever-addictive peppermint bark, but this year's she's really embraced the detail work of batch baking.  Her patience and skills in helping mix the dough have improved greatly from last year and--maybe it's a Montessori thing--she loves the repetition required for preparing cookies to go in the oven.  She's able to focus fairly well on the intricacies of putting tiny thumbprints and dollops of jam in the center of mounds of sticky dough.  Cutting out shapes is her specialty.  And eating dough, licking the beaters is her favorite.  We still have some decorating to do this week, but I'm confident that no matter what amount of frosting and sprinkles gets caked onto these cookies, they're going to look beautiful.  They may not be as precise and consistent as Lucille's, but the taste memory will be present.  It seems we're establishing a new tradition so we can work on perfecting recipes and techniques over the next decade plus.
My list 2013, her list 1999--note that she admits to
supplementing w/ some from a church cookie sale.
The next generation of bakers at the helm 
Detail work
She stuck in her thumb...
Using our homegrown/homemade gooseberry jam
A little taste for the baker--note the mess around her mouth in every pic.
Gluten-Free Chai Spice Cutouts
My Great Gram's Sugar Cookies
It would pain her that I made them gluten-free, but I
was happy w/ how they turned out
…Lay them straight
More photos to come as we pound out the last few batches this week.  Of course, we're not going to eat all of these ourselves.  We'll put some out when company comes this season, but we also intend to contribute some to the pool of cookies for bus drivers and crossing guards to be put together at school today.  Next week we're hoping to make our way around the block delivering to certain neighbors.  Better to share, especially when it's sweet treats.


Holiday Focus

The holidays are upon us; the season really took us by surprise this year.  It's been 5 months since we got rid of our television so without all holiday commercials beginning right after Halloween we almost missed the fact that holidays had arrived.  Which is sad because it just shows how much influence advertising has on all of us--even those who are trying not to pay attention to it.

Our holiday glow
Once again we are offering our daughter a taste of what various cultures and faiths are celebrating this time of year.  All the legwork I did last year to dig up information, books, and events paid off and I have the basic curriculum in place.  The Multi-cultural Interfaith holidays we celebrated last year were a lot of fun and a great learning experience.

Between all the activities and events we have on the December calendar this year we are hoping to find peace and calm.  Every year I feel more and more disappointed at how commercialized the Christmas holiday has become.  Whether you celebrate Christmas as a Christian or enjoy the spirit of the season in other ways, this time of year is an opportunity to slow down, reflect, give, be thankful.  It pains me to think about all the time people waste at the malls, all the money that's wasted on cheap stuff that breaks or gets tossed to the donation pile just months later, and all the debt people take on to give "happiness" to their kids.  There's got to be more to the season than that.  I am certainly planning to give gifts to family and loved ones, but we're focusing even more this year on non-material gifts.  I'm not even going to extra mile to make gifts or buy local handmade because I just don't feel like any of us need more "things" in our lives.  (Can you tell I'm currently in another mode of paring down, giving away, making the outflow more than the inflow?)

A little sparkle--vintage paper stars from the thrift store

This holiday will be special because we're not traveling at all.  We'll have a couple days to host my parents then a small break before a couple days of hosting my husband's family.  It will be my first time preparing a big Christmas dinner.  After our first Thanksgiving without either of our extended families we realize how important family is to our holiday celebrations so we'll savor every moment we have with them.

This season we're also working on our "Gratitude Tree."  We started it at our Thanksgiving table and decided we'd keep it going throughout the month of December at least.  But I wouldn't mind having some sort of gratitude jar throughout the year.  I used a bunch of paint swatches I had squirreled away to make tags then rummaged through my box of scrap twine, yarn, and ribbon to find hangers for them. I'm keeping a jar of tags and a pen near the tree so that whenever anyone feels grateful they can write down their name and thanks, and hang it on the tree.  Oh how full this tree will be by New Year's Eve!  It's been really amazing to hear what thanks our 4-year-old has.  She wanted to hang 10 tags on the tree on Thanksgiving alone and whenever she told me she'd thought of something else I expected it to be her favorite toy or clothes, but she came up with "Mommy and Daddy," "turkey," "my house," "my yard," "friends," "lights in our house," and "rainbows."  I expect this attitude could change for better or worse as she gets older, but we'll savor what we've got right now.

Our Gratitude Tree
We still have a long way to go in terms of teaching gratitude though.  There are plenty of days when this preschooler seems like an ungrateful brat, but I have hope that she's on the right track.  I've also been trying to find some volunteer opportunities for us during the holidays--which are hard to come by for the littlest ones because of liability.  But I've found that even the smallest ways we can find for her to help out are having a big impact.  We've "adopted" a couple kids and an elderly person via our neighborhood community center and are buying them gifts, which they may not receive from any other source.  We also attended a 25 Days of Grinchmas launch party last week at a local bookstore and are eagerly filling in our chart of good deeds (now to maintain that throughout the year…)  Of course, Random House may be ultimately trying to sell copies of their book (one of my favorite holiday stories, by the way), but it's creating awareness for young people so I'm okay with it.

I wish you all the happiest, healthiest, and most peaceful holiday seasons.  May you find joy and satisfaction in what you already have and enjoy spending time with the people you love most.  Peace!

My great-grandma's glass ornaments.  One of my
favorite holiday traditions.