Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Pepparkakor Cookies...

I wish I could give credit where credit is due, with this recipe. I found it among some children's books about holidays in other countries and copied the recipe to try, but failed to note the source on my copy. There are lots of variations on this recipe on line, but this is a nice simple version with which to start.

  • 3 cups sifted flour (I replace 1 cup with whole wheat flour)

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of ground ginger, ground cloves and cinnamon

  • 1 cup butter or (non-transfat) margarine

  • 1 cup dark brown sugar

  • 2 egg whites
  1. Sift together flour, spices and soda.
  2. Cream butter and sugar until very fluffy then beat in egg whites. Slowly work in dry ingredients.
  3. Wrap and chill for 12 hours.
  4. Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
  5. Roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness on lightly floured board. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters.
  6. Bake on ungreased baking sheet for 10-12 minutes until light brown on edges. Cool on wire racks.
  7. Serve plain, dusted with powdered sugar, or frosted and decorated. Or, pierce with needle after baking before cookie hardens to thread with ribbon and hang on tree.

Photo by Aisling, Cookie Cutters, November 2006

Sunday, November 26, 2006


The world has become a much smaller place since my childhood. When I was a four year old girl, I probably barely knew there was a Sweden. Not so my ever-so-curious first born child. When Senryu was 5, I read some of the American Girl books aloud to her. When we read about the character Kirsten, a Swedish Immigrant to America, Senryu became fascinated with the custom of the young girl in the household dressing as Santa Lucia. Not being of Swedish descent, this was a tradition I was only vaguely familiar with myself, so off to the library we trekked. That many years ago, the internet was not at my fingertips, so we researched things the old fashioned way.

We were able to find a few resources about Swedish holiday traditions and Senryu was eager to try everything. That year, we rolled out thin Swedish GingerSnaps, called Pepparkakor (recipe to follow in another post this week) and dressed an inexpensive craft store doll as Santa Lucia. Our girl is not carrying the traditional tray of goodies for her family, but she does wear a wreath of candles atop her head. I understand that modern girls general enact this custom with pretty battery operated candles, but our girl has a trio of white birthday candles in her grape-vine crown.

I love this description of the Santa Lucia custom which I read in Sage Cottage Herb Garden Cookbook, by Dorry Baird Norris:

Saint Lucy's Day - December 13

"In Sweden, at dawn on Saint Lucy's Day, the youngest daughter of the household, wearing a crown of bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) alight with candles, wakes her family with coffee and pastries as bright as her crown. A visit to the barn, with goodies for the farmhands and extra rations for the farm animals, is followed by a trip to church. There homage is paid to Saint Lucy, who brought sight to the blind and food to the hungry. Like her, the Lucibrud (Lucy Bride), wearing her glowing crown, brings light to the congregation, reminding them of the summer to come, of green growing things, and of plentiful food for all."

As a teen, I had a bevy of penpals across the globe, from England, France, Isreal, Italy, and even Sweden. I still have some of the letters that a curly-haired blond girl named Ulrika sent to me, with a list of words in Swedish for me to learn. I can still count to ten in Swedish, though I've never had an opportunity to learn whether my pronunciation is correct. I don't think she and I ever got around to discussing Christmas traditions, but I was glad to learn more about her culture all those years later, spurred on by my daughter's interest in the world outside of our cozy little house in the woods.

photos by Aisling, November 2006

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Christmas Dolls...

In 1995, my daughters and I began what was to become an annual Christmas tradition, though we didn't know it at the time. Nor did we know that ultimately, the tradition would transcend the Christmas season, and become a special part of our lives throughout the year. Most especially, we did not see how this tradition would open the door to the world... for all of us, but for Senryu most of all.

The dolls in the photo below each represent a country that we have read about; whose cuisine we have tasted, whose arts we have admired, whose history we have considered, whose countryside we have wandered - if only in imagination. We began in 1995, just delving a bit deeper into the holiday traditions of Sweden, and almost 12 years later, an amazing new facet has been added to our study of other cultures, as Senryu spends a year in Taiwan on student exchange.

Over the next weeks, I will highlight each of our dolls and the country she represents in the order we experienced them, sharing some of the activities we engaged in as we studied them. Each nation has been interesting to me for it's own unique reasons. Each is colorful and fascinating for an armchair traveller. More important than that, this exploration of the great wide world has inspired my oldest child to be more than a traveller in imagination, but a traveller in action.

I hope you enjoy sharing a little whirlwind tour of our wondrous Earth! Check back soon!

photos by Haiku, November 2006

Sunday, November 19, 2006

In the Patchwork Forest….

Just a mile from our home is a forest that in the autumn looks like a patchwork quilt. It is bittersweet when the leaves fall, because we know that the trees will stand bare and bleak on the rise of the hill until Spring. The positive side of this seasonal change is that the nest of the pair of Bald Eagles at the edge of the woods becomes quite visible without it’s leafy green camouflage.

Now, with the leaves curled and brown and littering the forest floor, an interesting thing has become apparent. The eagles are building a new nest just a few feet away from the old one. The farmer on whose land the eagles nest believes they are taking this action because the tree in which the old nests sits is dying. How could the eagles know that?

I never thought much about watching eagles fly before we moved to this rural northern location, over 10 years ago. I never knew how the sight of an eagle moving across the blue sky over the lake would cause me to drop whatever task was at hand. Though I respected them as a national symbol and as a protected species, I wasn’t familiar with the breath-held-in-wonder, eyes-riveted-to-the-path-of-flight sensation that would stop me in my tracks. Now, amazingly, I’ve seen eagles hunt in the fields across from our house. I’ve looked on as a young eagle flew in it’s parent’s updraft. I have watched an eagle alight from it’s nest, and lift with elegant strength into the air.

This afternoon the sight of those nests, high on the trunk of two old hardwood trees, reminded me of all of the blessings of living just a little off the beaten track. In all seasons, nature has wisdom to pass on to us... if we’re listening, and if we’re looking closely enough. I forget that sometimes and move along a little too quickly. Glimpses of simple things, like eagles nests and brittle leaves fallen to the forest floor, remind me to slow down and listen to the lessons of nature.

“Come forth into the light of things. Let nature be your teacher.” William Wordsworth

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Quiet Country Kitchen: Homemade Granola

At a friend's request, I am posting my recipe for Granola. This is originally from the frugal sourcebook, the Tightwad Gazette. This lends itself well to creativity, allowing you to add favorite ingredients to vary the recipe.

Homemade Granola

  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 5 cups oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup raisins (add this optional ingredient after cooking)
  • 1/2 cup dry milk(optional)
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch of salt


Mix brown sugar, oil, and honey in a saucepan. Heat until the sugar isdissolved. Combine dry ingredients in a large cake pan. Pour sugar mixture overdry mixture and mix well. Bake at 375 degrees F for 10 minutes. Let cool inpan. Store in an airtight container.

Optional: Add nuts, wheat germ, coconut, dates, etc.

Aislings's Notes: I add vanilla & almond extract to the sugar mixture after Itake it off the burner, but before mixing with the dry ingredients. I have made it many times without the dry milk if I didn't have it on hand. Also, I bake it for 5 or 10 minutes, stir it a bit, and put back in the oven for a few minutes. When the oats look just slightly golden, I consider it done.

My favorite version is Vanilla Nut, which I make with vanilla and almondextracts, some coconut flakes and finely chopped nuts (almonds, or pecans, orwalnuts) and without raisins. (One of my kiddos is not fond of raisins.) This is really good with a fresh banana chopped into it.

This morning I ate mine with sunflower seed kernels, raisins and vanilla soy milk.

photo by Aisling, 2006

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sunday Baking…

I snuck away from the rest of the gang for a little while this afternoon to begin my Christmas shopping. I didn’t buy much, but enjoyed the atmosphere of “the season” that prevailed in my local discount emporium. By the time I got home, the boys were ready to head outside to sled for the third or fourth time today.

I threw a vegetarian spinach lasagna together quickly. While it baked, I made a double batch of granola on the stove top, which went in the oven to crisp up when the lasagna came out. Apparently, the urge to bake which seems to arrive with the gales of November was upon me. After dinner, I made apple cake muffins to have on hand for school and work lunches this week.

The boys went out to slide down the hill on their roll-up sleds a few more times. The snow was thawing slightly, giving the boys a fast, slick surface to race on. When they came in to warm up and eat apple cake muffins, we draped wet snow gear all over the house to dry. We snuggled up together and read a chapter in our current read-aloud, and Tanka fell asleep in the crook of my arm.

photo by Haiku, November 12, 2006

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Thunder Snow…

It has been a quiet weekend here in our little house on the hill. Friday, a lovely sunny day, included the usual weekday busy-ness. The weather report predicted heavy snowfall, so in the late afternoon I decided to tackle a job I’d put off all week; bringing in and stacking a load of firewood. Three hundred logs later, the fresh cool air had turned icy cold and the wind had become frantic.

I made a warm supper of spicy pumpkin soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. As we finished dinner and peeked out the front door, Haiku noticed that a cold rain was falling. Limerick and I went outside to tuck in a few loose edges, and the rain turned to wet, heavy snow. Hurrying inside, we closed the door on the wintry blast and threw another log on the fire in the woodstove.

As on most Friday evenings, the kids and I piled onto the big queen-sized bed to watch an episode of Ghost Whisperer. The lights were off, the program was a bit spooky, and every once in a while, distant lightening tinted the curtains at the big double window in the master bedroom. All of a sudden, we felt thunder rock the house. The sound and tremor lingered for a long drawn-out moment while our eyes grew wide in wonder.

Thunder snow happens so rarely. It is one of those gifts of nature that cannot be held in one’s hand. One can only wonder at it… and then let it go.

Inside our home, we were warm and cozy under the big green crazy quilt my grandmother stitched from polyester remnants many years ago. Outdoors, the earth was tucked into a whole-cloth quilt, which remained pure white and pristine until morning. Before breakfast was even made, that new-fallen snow wore the tracery of little feet making trails, and the tracks of large snow balls being rolled. With red cheeks and bright eyes, Sijo and Tanka came in for apple cinnamon waffles, fresh from the waffle-iron. I sipped my coffee while they ate, looking out the window at the snow shrouding my garden, and I was thankful for a weekend with nothing to do but sit at home with my family.
photos by Haiku, November 11, 2006

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

On Doing Nothing...

There is a Spanish proverb that speaks to my soul. I’m not Spanish. Rather, I am “English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and Native American/Cherokee." In other words, I am a garden-variety American. Despite that, I am seduced by this very Spanish sentiment: "How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then rest afterward." Ah, the lure of the hammock in the golden afternoon! Oh, for a life that includes a daily siesta!

When my life gets especially busy, running from one activity to the next, I think of that proverb, and yearn wistfully for the idyllic lifestyle many of us imagine Europeans to live. Surely their children play soccer, or more accurately, football. Surely there are ballet lessons, martial arts, or music instruction. But one imagines a long leisurely lunch, quiet conversation with a loved-one, or blissful solitude. One daydreams of pristine linens and silky duvets, a Mediterranean breeze through an open window, and the sweet escape of an afternoon nap.

This longing for long hours of “nothing to do” is a strange sentiment coming from one who has yet to master the art of the Sunday afternoon nap. I seem to wake groggy and impatient, and ready for my other 5 or 6 hours of sleep. Or worse, I lie awake the entire time, unable to doze at all, thinking of all the many things around here that are half-done, if not completely undone by the hands of a little mischief-maker. Perhaps, what I am really yearning for is the ability to relax and to accept that I will never keep everything in our home spotless and perfect.

Perhaps I am wishing I really was the type to embody that Spanish proverb. In the meantime, my cats have got it all figured out. If I live with them long enough, maybe a little bit of their langour and grace will rub off on me.

photos by Aisling, Autumn 2006

Friday, November 03, 2006

Looking around in Awareness…

If I were an ancient Celt, this would be the dawn of a new year. Well, I’m not, though some of my ancestors were. I’m not sure I understand the logic of beginning the year as so many things in nature die or fall into a long, deep slumber. I do understand the longing for a long, deep slumber… but that’s another a blog-entry for another day!

For some time now, I’ve thought of the start of each month as a “Mini New Year.” It is so hard to keep a resolution all through the year, but taking something on for just one month is not nearly as intimidating. I have to be honest, aside from thinking that phrase “Mini New Year’ on the first of each month, I have not done much with that concept.

Now that I think about it, in our modern society there are a few good reasons to make November the start of a new year. This is the month of Thanksgiving. An outlook of appreciate and gratitude is certainly a good approach to living at any time of the year. This is also the onset of a season filled with gatherings of family and friends, traditions and storytelling, and bountiful feasts. Those are all things I want my life to be filled with every day.

Note to self:
Begin a new year, right now. My resolution: Live every moment instead of rushing through, hurrying from one thing on the to-do list to the next. Remember this quote from James Thurber: "Let us not look not back in anger, or forward with fear, but around in awareness."

Photo by Haiku, October 2006