Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas!

Praises sing to the Newborn King. We celebrate His birth...
               and the hope and peace He offers to all.

Have a meaningful and restful Christmas.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Christmas Eve...And Seven Fish Dishes

     A long time ago, when the girlies were both little, we began having seven fish dishes on Christmas Eve. (The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian Catholic tradition, to celebrate the seven sacraments. No, we're not Catholic. Or Italian.) I was experimenting with featuring a country during the Christmas season, so our daughters would get to know other cultures and tradition. What I didn't know was that this particular meal would become our tradition for decades!

The Christmas Goodies blog includes several years' worth of these. Here's one year  to check out. Previous years have longer lists and more recipes than this one. (Life was zany that year. So sue me.)

This year will be different. For one, it's still on Christmas Eve. (We were going to switch it to Christmas Day, to give ourselves a better crack at things. But Daughter #1, for the first time, will be spending the day with Boyfriend at his family's house on Christmas. I am trying not to think about how hard that will be, not to have her here.) 
    For another, Daughter #1's boyfriend, D, is an accomplished cook who runs the kitchen at Interstate, the Denver cafe he owns with his brother. I've tasted his food, and it's outstanding. What's he going to think about my home-cooking-and-general-fooling-around methods?

    He is a nice guy, and probably will be fine with it. Still, I wonder. 

I only have four dishes to do this time around. D has offered to make two, and Daughter #1 wants to contribute one, as well. Also, the girlies asked for their old favorites (#4 and #6), which keeps my experimenting down to a minimum. So here's the current menu:


1. Lobster bisque  (D's contribution)

2. Smoked whitefish  (ditto)

3. Sushi of some kind (Daughter #1's offering)

4. Angels and devils on horseback  (oysters and chicken livers wrapped in bacon. recipe's here)

5. Feeding the Fishes 'concrete'  
        (caviar mixed with sour cream, yogurt and spices: the caviar, plus peppercorns, gives it a gravel pit look. This one's served with crackers -- maybe blini, if I have the time and energy.)
    You get the joke on this, right? Guys that have displeased the Mob, pushed overboard with 'concrete galoshes.' When asked where they are, they're 'feeding the fishes'... 
    Well, I thought it was funny. The dip really DOES look like speckled concrete.

'Ummm...I don't get it.'

6. Shrimp Scampi  (tender shrimp, sauteed in butter and garlic. recipe's here)

7. Teriyaki Salmon fillets   
         (baked with lemon juice and a judicious coating of jarred wasabi teriyaki sauce. Or use this.)

A bottle of wine. Sparkling water, mixed with fruit juice.  Maybe some of the mead, leftover from Thanksgiving.

   Plus some side dishes: rice, green beans (simply cooked with lemon juice and a sprinkle of bacon), clementines, a basic green salad...and frozen strawberries, whizzed in the blender with honey for a slushie effect. You need some accents as 'refreshers,' or all that seafood gets a little cloying.

For dessert:  Hot coffee, Sachertorte (another Brick favorite), a variety of cookies...and some chocolates. (Maybe some of the Mozartkugeln I snagged at Tuesday Morning. These guys are amazing.)
                         Product Details
     To be eaten slowly and savored, as we celebrate another wonderful year. 

This post also ran on the Brickworks blog...

Friday, December 22, 2017

Cookies... Mmmmmmmmmm

 Work is done at Tuesday Morning this week. (Thursday night was long and difficult, and finished with relief. To my friends who got scheduled to work this weekend -- I'm sorry.) Only one more day, then my stint as a holiday temp is done. The bum knee, no thanks to Charley the dog, is doing better.

Life, appraisal and teaching-wise, is quiet. No one wants to worry about this during the holidays...except for the person who's gifting a special piece, and wants to make sure it's protected before it's sent off. I've even done a last-minute appraisal on Christmas eve afternoon! 

Our oven has been acting up for weeks  -- and the Brick, after tearing it apart this afternoon, announced it needed a new circuit board. (Yes, that translates out as 'expensive.' I am getting used to its quirks, though -- like the need to set temps 25 degrees higher than I normally use. (Son #1 figured this one out.) I can make do. In fact, I made the Brick promise that he could easily put the stove back together now, so I have it for the Fish Dishes!

We still have a bunch of work to do before tomorrow night (and the Seven Fish Dishes), not to mention singing for three services in the morning. Stuff is Everywhere. However, most of the presents are wrapped, plans are reasonably complete...and I feel pretty serene about it all.

How can you help but think about cookies this time of the month? The Mama's wonderful sugar cookies are a pleasant memory. I don't have time to roll out more cookie shapes, but I will bake up two delicious quickies, instead.

First up is Hogmany Shortbread, a crispy, rich cookie that literally takes minutes to push into a pan. Other names for this buttery cookie include 'parliaments' (or 'parlies') and 'petticoat tails.' It's traditional for New Year's, as well as Christmas.


3 1/2 cups flour
1 cup powdered (confectioners) sugar
1 cup regular sugar
2 cups butter

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Soften or melt the butter, then mix in flour and sugars to make a soft dough. (For even better results, chill dough for at least 30 min., up to several hours.) Pat out onto ungreased pan in a circle, or spread out into a 9" x 9" or 9" x 13" pan or sheet. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake 20-30 min., until barely brown. Let cool, then cut into squares or fingers. Store in a covered container; makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Shortbread fingers, from Wikipedia

Next up is one of my favorites -- a cookie that looks like a snowball, and is just as easy to form. This recipe comes from Reader's Digest, but is almost word for word like the Mama's version. I've also heard it called Mexican wedding cakes, or its crystalline namesake.


1 cup butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar  (plus about 1 cup more for frosting)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans taste best)

Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Soften or melt the butter, then mix in the other ingredients. (Add additional flour if the dough seems too mushy or soft.) Form balls, using your hands. (Tip: wet them, or rub lightly with butter, to keep things from sticking.) Bake on an ungreased pan for 10 minutes, until firm and lightly touched with brown. While the balls are still warm, roll in powdered sugar. Makes approx. 4 dozen.

These cookies are both particularly good with hot drinks, an interesting book...and a snowy afternoon spent cozily by the glowing lights of the Christmas tree. 

If you'd like to try more cookies:

Moneysaving Mom's Angel Face Cookies are a tasty cross between a sugar cookie and a snickerdoodle.

Hundred Dollars A Month has 25 different cookie recipes to try.

Betty Crocker's site has 24 days' worth of cookie recipes.

Oh my.

(This post also ran on the general Brickworks blog. Look for this year's version of the Seven Fish Dishes this weekend!)

Monday, January 16, 2017

So Long...For A While

Christmas is a fond memory... but it will be back again. 

And so will we.

Meanwhile, we'll continue to add recipes and ideas to the Holiday Goodies blog -- many are frugal delights that help you stretch your money even further!

Stop by in the fall for more holiday treats. Have a great year.

A Final Look At the Seven Fish Dishes

I've been meaning to tell you how the Seven Fish Dishes went.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian Catholic tradition: seven seafood dishes to commemorate the Seven Sacraments.

(No, we're not Italian. Not Catholic, either.)

But we are Christians -- and this is a wonderful way to celebrate the birthday of our King. After the Christmas Eve service, we set the table nicely, using antique china inherited from my (Great) Grandma Pearl, with silverware my Grandma Cumings used for her tribe. We light the candles, pull British Christmas crackers, and wear goofy paper hats while we read the jokes to each other. (Which are usually awful -- but the presents inside the crackers are cool!)

Then, we pop the cork on the wine and enjoy -- dish after dish, carefully counted to at least seven. (This year, the total came up at nine.) We take out time, and everyone invariably waddles out, hours later.

This past Christmas Eve, the Brick played for every one of the three church services. Fortunately, I did not, which made setting up the Fish Dishes much easier.


Here's what we ended up having:

Lobster Bisque   (canned condensed soup -- ironically, from the Dollar Store!)
Angels on Horseback   (oysters wrapped with bacon)
Spaghetti with Clam Sauce
Shrimp Scampi
Tuna Casserole
Grilled Salmon fillets with lemon-garlic sauce
Grilled fresh sardines
Grilled sliced octopus

Lessons learned:

*The soup was very, very good -- especially with an extra can of crabmeat stirred in.

*I'd always bought fresh oysters for the Angels before. Canned oysters were a heck of a lot cheaper -- and just as tasty.

*I used to make Devils on Horseback, too -- chicken livers wrapped bacon. I thought no one liked them -- turns out Daughter #1 did! So next year, I'll restore those to the list.

*The Shrimp Scampi is terrific -- but only if you saute it at a bare minimum. Barely cook it, until the shrimp turns pink, and it's amazing -- cook it longer, and you've got 'boingy' shrimp.

*Ditto for the octopus. I messed up on this one -- it was like gnawing on a rubber band.

*The tuna casserole: winner!  A can of tuna, mixed with canned mushroom sauce, fresh mushrooms, a chopped onion, a sprinkle of Parmesan and fresh-cooked noodles -- then baked until hot. Yum.

*The spaghetti with clam sauce: failure. (sigh) Even with extra clams and a shot of wine, the dish was boring. The chickens got nearly all of it.

*Grilled foods are wonderful -- but not when you're in a hurry, and it's freezing outside. The sardines, done Greek-style with garlic and olive oil, tasted good -- but had lots of bones.
     The salmon fillets, on the other hand, were outstanding.

All that seafood would have been cloying without some 'refreshers:' blueberry/strawberry smoothies, fresh rolls with butter and jam, green salad and relishes. And dessert was a lot simpler than originally planned: Christmas cookies, chocolates and a dip from the fruit bowl on the table.

Hot, strong coffee and spumoni (chocolate/strawberry/vanilla ice cream, Italian-style) finished the meal.
     A good time was had by all.

For more fishy ideas, try my earlier post on the subject. Or check out some of the earlier years' Seven Fish Dishes for more ideas.

(This also ran on the Brickworks blog.)