Saturday, December 24, 2011

The day before.....

This year we are having three separate celebrations for Christmas. Tonight, Christmas Eve, we have our daughter Jessica and her fiance Darcy for dinner. They are spending Christmas Day with his family so we are reviving a tradition that my paternal Aunt enjoyed: the Christmas Eve feast.

Our celebration tonight will include a beautiful prime rib roast with roasted potatoes and root vegetables, but mostly it will be a celebration of a new commitment that was made right before my birthday. Not that this was a surprise, but it made me stop and think about life when Jess told me that they were engaged. I really don't think I am old enough to have a daughter her age, but DNA doesn't lie.

James is home from the big city and off visiting his old friends in the neighbourhood. He is spending the Eve and the Day in Victoria with family there so will be with us again on Boxing Day. I think the tradition of gorgeous leftovers will rule the day so not much planning to be done and lots of time for visiting.

So Christmas Day will be Gerry and I. First time ever we have been alone. But really, we won't be alone. We share that day with so many memories and so many loved ones that are no longer here that the house will be full.

The hustle of Christmas's past where little children waited breathlessly to see what Santa would bring are gone now until a crop of grandchildren arrive (and it should be a while really!) But in the meantime, I try to continue the traditions I grew up with. The turkey was taken out of the freezer yesterday to thaw slowly in the very cold garage. Turnips, carrots, and parsnips all wait their turn in the roaster. The dressing was long ago learned and will accompany the turkey. Cranberry sauce was made at Thanksgiving so it had time to age gracefully in its glass jars.

We will take some time to talk together, to plan our upcoming year. We are goal setters, so those will be mulled along with cider, both making the house an optimistic and comforting place. All in all, it will be the kind of celebration that seems so rooted in the short days and long evenings of our Canadian winter.

But mostly we will be grateful. Grateful for wonderful children, for great family, and lots and lots of amazing friends. We wish you all the very best of the Holiday and for 2012. Take time to reflect and to ponder and to just be glad that you are where you are.

Best wishes


Saturday, December 10, 2011

My husband loves a Tart!

Well our dirty little secret is out. My husband loves a tart. Butter tart that is. Today signals the first day in several that I will devote to carrying on the baking traditions that my mother taught me. Starting with butter tarts, I will also do her shortbread cookies, her carmels, and retrieve from the freezer the light fruit cake that she taught me. It will get a luxurious bath in some amaretto before being served. My personal favourite, it pairs with a cup of tea better than just about anything out there.

But it is butter tarts that really figure prominently in my memories of important women in my life. My grandmother and mother passed down their butter tart recipe to me and now to my daughter (and hopefully my son!). Even my Auntie Doreen, who wasn't really noted for her baking, made my mom's tarts for her Christmas celebrations.

Our very, very good family friend, Joyce Roggema, had a secret butter tart recipe that was coveted by all who tasted it. Her passing this November left a void in our lives that is only made a little less bittersweet by the tasting of the tarts that were her special gift.Shortly after my mom died, Joyce sat me down and said "You have a mom sized hole in your heart right now, and I have a daughter sized one....maybe we could help each other out." It brought so strongly home to me that it is the people in our lives that make it worthwhile. I miss her and her daughter Janet hugely...and now that they are both gone, butter tarts are what we celebrate their memory with. (Although I can never eat Mac n Cheese without thinking about dear Jannie).

It is that tradition, the raisins floating in their pool of butter, sugar and syrup, that connects us still. So today I made the first batch of our tarts. Gerry could hardly wait til they were cool to test and both Darcy and Jess have been eating them as well. I am off to the store to get more pastry and corn syrup. I think there is at least one more batch of tarts in our future. Will have to be if I am to keep some ready for James when he comes home from school.

And just because I don't want to keep the secret all to is the recipe:

1c raisins (soaked 5 minutes in boiling water then drained)
1/2 c butter
1 c brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup corn syrup
2 eggs (whisked in a bowl)
2 tsp vanilla

Mix butter, sugar, syrup, eggs, salt and vanilla in a pot. Heat enough to melt the butter and to incorporate all the ingredients. Distribute the drained raisins into 24 tart shells then pour syrup mix over top. Bake in the oven at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Often I cook them for 5 extra minutes just cause they seem to need it.