tableofcolors

Simple pleasures

Tag: christmas preparations

The joy of Christmas

by tableofcolors

Not long before Christmas we had two storms and rain. The landscape was not white like it often is during this time of year. When we went on a little walk down to the beach, many of the large trees that sway in the wind during our summer excursions had fallen. This was the landscape on Christmas.

winter storm CollageInside there was a contagious excitement only children know how to spread. The sparkling eyes and smiling faces shined, as soon joulupukki or Santa Claus would be arriving.

christmas elfchristmas treeBut before he arrives, there is Christmas dinner and for some reason the appetites are not always the best on Christmas. The night before the salted ham was put in the wood fired oven after the fire had died down and the coals pushed aside. The 7 kilo/15.5 pound ham was in the oven for about eight hours. It is allowed to cool and it is served cold with the Christmas casseroles.

wood ovenchristmas hamLast year I shared recipes for the rutabaga and carrot casserole. The casserole or laatikko tradition is a little different in each family but one thing that is similar is that most are made from root vegetables. Carrots, potato and rutabaga are probably the most common but many families also serve a beetroot casserole and some even make their liver casserole. While these casseroles are traditionally Christmas food in Finland they can be frozen unbaked and served later during the cold winter months as a side.

beetroot laatikko

Beetroot casserole

three beetroots, boil peeled beetroots until tender so a fork can be inserted.

3 onion minced very fine
2 dl/1 cup cream
100 g/3.5 oz blue cheese, crumbled
1 dl/ 1/2 c Greek or Turkish yoghurt
salt
black pepper
beetroot with onion and blue cheeseGrate the cooked beetroot and mix in a bowl with minced onion and crumbled blue cheese. Add all of the rest of the ingredients and mix until combined. Spoon into one large casserole dish or several small ones and bake at 200 C/390 F for a half hour or bake at 160 C/320 F for one hour. I made three small casseroles with this amount.

Christmas Collage

Six nights until Christmas Eve

by tableofcolors

There is not too many days left in the countdown. The mornings are dark and I find that an extra hour of sleep would feel nice but the children get up easily when they know that it is their turn to peek into the advent calendar. Of course the older children do not believe in Santa Claus and elves anymore and the middle kids waver in between. They would like to believe but yet at the same time they have picked up on the fact that magical creatures live in the world of storybooks. Our four almost five year-old who told me that “Elves are magical creatures” also told me once that, “they are just normal people dressed up as elves” when I said the elves might be watching. I had been quite exasperated with him that day. Take that, Mom!

advent calendarBut no hard feelings. He is also the kid that will come give me a hug or rub my shoulders if he thinks I am tired.

2013-12-17 11.17.46-2Little by little the holiday preparations are done. Some of them are done together like baking gingerbread and some are done by the elves late at night. The household is full of little mysteries and even the littlest ones wrap toys into blankets and bring me gifts. With bright shining eyes they wait for you to open their gifts of love and your exclamation of delight.

The date cake is perfect for the days of waiting. You may eat it on its own with a morning cup of coffee, or if surprise guests walk in the door, it can be easily dressed up with a dollop of equal parts of whipped cream and Greek yoghurt and a drizzle of caramel. My mother would make date cake when I was still living at home and it is a favorite. This recipe is slightly altered from the one found in the book, Hyvää Ruokahalua, kotikokin parhaat leivontaohjeet, edited by Anna-Maija Tanttu. It is the kind of recipe that needs no special equipment: a bowl, a pot, a wooden spoon and a bundt pan.

date cake

Date Cake

250 g/8.8 oz chopped and pitted dates

3 dl/1.3 c water
200 g/7 oz soft butter
2 dl/1 c sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
4 dl/1.7 c flour

Place the chopped dates and water into a medium sized saucepan or pot and allow to boil for about 4-5 minutes so that it thickens just a bit. Take off from the heat and stir in the soft butter. Add the sugar and vanilla next. Then add in the eggs mixing them in well with a wooden spoon. In a separate bowl mix the flour, baking soda and baking powder. Pour the warm date mixture into the bowl and combine with the flour. Pour into a greased and floured (I like to use wheat germ or wheat bran for the flouring) bundt pan and bake in the oven at 175 C/350 F for about 40 minutes or so that a test skewer comes clean when inserted in the middle. Allow to cool for about 15 minutes before flipping the cake over onto a plate. The flavor of the cake improves with time, if it lasts that long and freezes wonderfully.

mixing the batter

For the cream dollop, mix equal parts of whipped cream and Greek or Turkish yoghurt and sugar to taste. Drizzle with caramel sauce.

laila wuollet uljasphotograph by Noah Photography

Hoping your holiday season is a peaceful and festive one.

Christmas 2013

After dinner Pavlovas

by tableofcolors

Today has been a baking day since the rainy, wet weather did not entice me to go outside. Our road and driveway had turned into a literal skating rink and the kids did go boot-skating and came in very wet. Yesterday when I went on a little stroll for fresh air I had to be extra careful to not fall. The three kilometer little loop went fine but just as I was taking the shortcut to the door across the yard, I stepped on a patch of ice hidden under the snow. Down I went. No broken bones, perhaps a little bruise on my knee. Nothing serious. The picture of the branches below is from a week ago. So quickly the landscape changes.

2013-12-08 14.13.37-2And since the weather was dreary, we baked. We baked gingerbread, and made gingerbread trees, caramel sauce and made these dainty little pavlovas. Holiday dinners are usually so filling. The traditional Finnish dinner that we have on Christmas Eve is no different. It includes a salted ham that is baked on the hearth overnight and casseroles made from root vegetables. I had been flipping through a Pirkka magazine the previous week and found this recipe that served as my inspiration. The servings are intended to just give a little sweet flavor to end the meal since Christmas coffee with its abundance of treats is served later in the evening.

mini pavlovaMeringues

makes about 18  (6 cm/2.5 inch meringues)

4 egg whites

2 dl/0.8 c sugar

Beat your egg whites until a light foam and start adding the sugar in little by little. Continue beating until it is firm enough that it will not fall out of the bowl if you turn it upside down. By the time all of the sugar is added, it will be quite glossy.

2013-12-16 12.17.08

Scoop the meringue into a pastry bag and and make little nests by starting in the center and working your way around creating a round shape. Finish by adding one extra layer on the outer edge to create the nest.

2013-12-16 12.23.50Bake in a preheated oven at 125 C/250 F for about one hour. Allow to cool. If not using immediately, store in an airtight container. Sprinkle the bottom of the container with cornstarch to absorb any moisture.

Filling

Equal parts of whipped cream and marscapone cheese, quark or Greek yoghurt (about 2 dl/1 c of each will probably be sufficient)

Sugar

Red currants, cranberries or lingonberries

First whip the cream. Add in the the desired choice or marscapone cheese, quark or yoghurt. The slight sourness of the cheese, yoghurt or quark gives a nice contrast to the otherwise very sweet dessert. I used a quark flavored with rum and added lingonberries to the filling as well as a garnish. Add sugar to taste and spoon about two heaping tablespoons of filling in each nest. Garnish with a salted caramel sauce. Serve immediately.

little toesNow these little toes are all tucked in for the night, I might just start elfing around a bit. And as our four almost five year-old told me today, “Elves are magical creatures”. I would like to think so too.

2013-12-15 11.29.11-2

My kitchen is filled with anticipation

by tableofcolors

December and snow has arrived. That means that there is a sense of waiting and electricity in the air. The little people are waiting for the right moment to bake gingerbread, to sew their teachers’ little gifts, hang up the stockings, make pinwheel prune tarts, and open their advent calendars each morning. This past Sunday we lit the first advent candle. Christmas is coming.
2013-12-01 11.01.09-2
Along with the first advent, the kitchen is filled with Christmas music. “Hoosianna” is traditionally sung during the first advent in Finland in both churches and schools. Below is a recording from the Tampere State Church.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcglATPatgU
I’m not so keen on the shopping frenzy that starts in December and so we did ours in November before the crowds arrived. Now there are only little things to find and those excursions can be quite relaxing since there is no long list in hand and perhaps there might be a minute to stop in a coffee shop. There is a silence outside as so many of the birds have flown south and ones that remained will start their concert again in the spring. This peace I would like to achieve in the kitchen as well; one of everyday tasks sprinkled with little special projects such as these gingerbread trees.
gingerbread trees2
In my kitchen is the cutest mushroom made by my daughter and it brings a little holiday color.
fly agaric 2
Now that winter has arrived it is time to start using all of those berries that we picked last summer. One evening we had french toast with a strawberry sauce. The key to the strawberry sauce is to make the sauce first using a good quality berry juice and potato starch (cornstarch may be used as well) and right when the sauce has been removed from the heat the slightly thawed or frozen berries are added. They will slowly thaw out in the hot sauce while keeping their shape and vitamins.
french toast 3
French Toast

French toast is a great way to use up day old bread. We happened to have some slightly dried out bread on hand and a freezer full of berries which became in turn the inspiration for supper of French toast and berry sauce.

half loaf of sliced light bread (a whole grain variety may be used)
5 dl/2 c milk
2 eggs
1 generous tbsp brown sugar
dash of salt
cinnamon
butter or oil for frying

Whisk the milk, eggs, sugar, salt and cinnamon together. Heat the frying pan or griddle and use a little oil or butter according to your preference. Dip the slices of bread in the milk mixture and allow to soak for a bit. Fry on the hot pan so that both sides are a nice brown color.

Berry sauce

This recipe works with any berries that you may have on hand. If using a more tart berry just increase the amount of sugar.

1 liter/4 c good quality berry juice
sugar to taste
5 dl/2 c frozen or fresh berries
4 tbsp potato starch
1.5 dl/generous 1/2 c water

Bring the juice to boil, adding sugar if needed. Dissolve the potato starch (or corn starch, follow amounts on package) into the water. Whisking constantly, add the potato starch water mixture to the boiling juice. Bring the sauce to a boil and remove from the heat as soon as it bubbles once. Add the berries and set aside for a few minutes allowing the berries to thaw out. A sprinkle of sugar will prevent a “skin” from forming on the surface.

Serve with the French toast or just on its own.

This snowman is not in my kitchen but I could not resist, so cute it is.
2013-12-01 11.43.15-2This post is part of Celia’s In My Kitchen Series from Fig Jam Lime Cordial.

Holiday preparation and Waldorf salad

by tableofcolors

The thing that I love about Christmas is the opportunity it gives to stop the everyday rush and enjoy time as a family. It’s nice to have a little time in a stage in life that is so scheduled that does not include specific bedtimes or the beep of the alarm clock in the morning. It is fairly dark in the mornings and the perfect way to start the day is by lighting the candles before making breakfast.

The thing that sometimes stresses me out is the month before Christmas. There are many Christmas parties or “pikkujoulu” functions to attend, shopping to do, gifts to wrap, holiday cards and Christmas cleaning. And yes I fall into the pithole of “trying to be a Super-Mom that makes everything from scratch”. I have realized though that this isn’t quite necessary. If I just give my husband the chance he is really much more efficient at some things than I am. For example, he pretty much takes care of our whole Christmas card project. I just take care of the photo and order the cards and he takes care of the rest. But it has taken me quite a few years to learn how to let loose on some things.

This year we did decide to prioritize. We didn’t try to be at two places at once, but rather enjoy the moment we are in to the fullest. Priotization can be done with Christmas cleaning as well. We will clean the house before Christmas but if the Tupperware drawer is not organized or the top shelf is not dusted by the time Santa comes, I’ll just dim the lights and light the candles. No one will know if I don’t tell them. And there is life after Christmas as well. A whole new year to clean my Tupperware drawer.

Candles

Our family of seven has celebrated Christmas on our own for the past couple of years. We have been including sometimes traditions from both families. As the years pass I’m sure that there are some traditions that are to stay and some that may change. It quite interesting to follow the development of our family holiday and watch as our children truly enjoy carrying out the traditions that come from the Finnish and American culture.

On Christmas Eve we will have a traditional Finnish Christmas dinner that includes a salted ham baked on the stone hearth of the wood oven, carrot and rutabega casserole. This year I was thinking to make a casserole out of beetroot and blue cheese. But not everything is traditionally Finnish on Christmas Eve. Amongst a few other things we will have Waldorf Salad, which is from my childhood and belonged to Christmas day. It compliments the Finnish Christmas ham well.

fruits
Waldorf Salad
1.5 kg/3.3 lb apples
225 g/8 oz dates
3 stalks of celery
100 g/3.5 oz walnuts
175 g/6 oz mayonnaise
2 tbsp lemon juice

Peel and chop the apples (If preferred you may leave the peels on) and place in a large bowl. Next chop the celery, dates and walnuts. Add the lemon juice and mayonnaise and stir. Waldorf Salad is best served on the same day.

waldorf salad

christmas star

amaryllis 1

And remember if everything does not get done, just light the candles and dim the lights and relax. No one will notice.