Thursday, December 30, 2010

Today in NOTL:  Warming today to a high of 37F/3C under partly cloudy skies.  Continuing warmer through New Year's Day.

In the church year, Christmas lasts till January 6, when Epiphany begins.  To me, that has always meant to keep the tree up and to keep celebrating till the season ends.  I hate to see a darkened Christmas tree, and since we spend so much time preparing for the holiday, I like the idea of keeping the joy going.

Spiritually, too, though, the seasons make sense for us.  Christmas is when the Light is born - in the world, and hopefully, in us, too.  Christmas time, the days after the holiday, is a good time to welcome Love more deeply into our lives.  It's a good time, too, to reflect and consider how we hold and spread the light of Love.  Even on a secular basis, it's the time to consider preparing for the New Year and therefore a time of reflection and resolution.

Epiphany celebrates the Wise Men finding the Baby and offering their gifts.  This season lasts all the way till Ash Wednesday.  It's a time liturgically to examine the Gospels and find how God is revealed in Jesus.  Spiritually, it's a time for us to take action to follow our path, to shine the light of Love more brightly in our hearts, in our words, in our actions.  It's the time that we keep the resolutions we set for the New Year.

The big resolution, for me, is to act on my beliefs.  It's so easy to lose sight of the spiritual and fall back into a human way of thinking and feeling.  That's how we get locked into fear and anger, and while it's perfectly natural to do so, it's human nature we're trying to see beyond.

I'm reminded of Mrs. Pepper scolding Joel when he complained about wanting to study but yielding to temptation and invitations to play instead.  'I'd be master of myself, at least!' his mother returned, with some scorn, as I recall. She wasn't being ugly, despite the way it sounds to our ears.  Back in the day when Margaret Sidney wrote (she died in the early 1920s, I believe), people placed great store on personal discipline.

It was an era in which children grew up on No rather than Yes.  The children of that era were members of a generation marked by  productivity and economic growth as well as a permissiveness toward their own children, who grew up with significantly more Yes than No.  And that generation said No even less to their own children, in turn.

The result?  Well, you can look around and judge for yourself.  For myself, I'm going to give greater voice to my inner Mamsy and try harder listen to her guidance.

Art today is my attempt to follow the guidance of an artist with whom I've just completed a trade.  

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

OY!

Today in NOTL:  Cold and freezing, with our temps right at 32F/0C.  A bit breezy, as well.

So, are you cookied out?  I don't think it's possible, personally, but all good things must come to an end and so no more cookies for a while, I think.  Maybe it's time for 24 days of diet tips!  NOT.

As we move into a new year, I am thinking about resolutions.  I don't usually make them, in fact I pretty much never do.  Change can be scary enough without creating more, huh?  And yet...this year I'm really feeling a need to take the reins of my life in a more focused way, to run my life instead of it running me.  I'm not sure what that means for my 2011, but I'll be working on it.

Yesterday was the first anniversary of my father's death.  I spent time thinking about him, remembering, talking to him in spirit.  I know that on the other side, they look upon their lives with us in understanding and compassion; it's harder for us, I think.

As a teen, I butt heads with my dad a lot.  Both of us stubborn, both with strong opinions, both bright enough to offer a good debate...Dad always laughed and called it mental exercise or discussion, but being an emotional teenager, I would get angry.  I always walked a tightrope in that he frustrated the daylights out of me...and even as I groaned, I respected his integrity and intelligence and shared his sense of humour.

As a young woman, I was lucky enough to travel with Dad twice, once to Mexico City and once to Miami Beach.  Both times, I took advantage of a free ticket to his company's convention - Mama had gone with him many years via train, bu when the company decided members must fly, she balked, being terrified of flying.

Despite our history of head-butting, though, both trips were utterly delightful.  Dad was a fun and courteous companion.  Both us being interested in the history of the cities we visited, there were no disagreements over which sights to see or locations to visit.  We talked and talked and it was good.

(OMG, as I'm typing the tv is on.  An ad for some Michael Jackson cd just aired, with the voice-over intoning, 'The greatest music of all time.'  Really??  Michael Jackson??  of ALL time?  I wouldn't even consider his work the greatest music of OUR time, although it'd certainly rank up in the top echelon of pop, I would think.  But of ALL time?  Sheesh.)

Anyway, it was nice to think of those trips and how lovely it was that we had the time together.  I love you, Dad.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day 24: Cookie Finale - Pecan and Praline and Anise, oh my

Today in NOTL:  Cold with a high of only 26F/-3C and a dusting of snow expected over the afternoon.  It's looking like Christmas!

Well, today is the last of the 24 Days of Cookies.  As promised, here is a fitting end to this series:  a roundup of last-minute cookies and treats you can make in a flash!

A few cookie tips:
-Ovens bake differently.  When using a new recipe, always watch the first batch carefully, testing a few minutes before the shorter baking time given.  Don't be afraid to bake them as long as need be to achieve the result you want, but do remember that they will continue baking a bit after being removed from the oven. 
-Never store soft and crisp cookies together.
-Cookies which may stick should be stored in layers with waxed paper between each layer.
-Plain cookies may be 'dressed up' with drizzles of melted chocolate chips (or other flavoured candy coating), coconut, nuts, confectioners' sugar, cocoa powder, crushed candy canes, etc. 
-Home-baked cookies are a wonderful gift!  Package them in holiday cello bags, pop a batch onto an inexpensive holiday paper plate or disposable tray with saran covering, or present them in a nice serving dish.  Keep a few holiday cello bags and glitzy bows in the kitchen, and you'll be prepared for unexpected gifts through the season!

Anise Cookies
3/4 cup sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp anise extract

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Glaze (recipe follows)
Sprinkles

Glaze Whisk 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, 4 to 5 tsp milk and 1 tsp anise extract in a small bowl until smooth.

Oven:  325*  Sheets:  Nonstick cooking spray

1.  In large bowl of mixer, blend  first five ingredients.
2.  Using low speed, add the next three till blended well.
3.  Drop spoonfuls of dough onto cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart.
4.  Bake 8-10 minutes, till bottoms are golden.  Cool completely on wire rack.
5.  Dip cooled cookies in glaze and sprinkle with nonpareils.
When glaze is completely set, store in tightly covered tin.
Cookie dough (or baked cookies) may be frozen.

NOTE:  These are sturdy cookies, they last well, and they travel well.

Pecan Balls
1 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 cups pecans, broken into small pieces

1.  Mix butter, sugar, and vanilla, blending well.
2.  Add flour and salt, in several portions, mixing to form a smooth dough.
3.  Shape dough into one-inch rounds and bake 8-10 minutes till golden brown.
4.  Immediately roll baked cookies in confectioner's sugar(icing sugar) to coat.

Praline Cookies

1/2 cup margarine
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
pinch of salt

1.  Mix margarine, sugar, egg, and vanilla until creamy.
2.  Add remaining ingredients, mixing well, then place in fridge to chill an hour or so.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375*F.
3.  Roll dough into 1-inch balls, placing on cookie sheet 3 inches apart.
4.  Bake 8-10 minutes or till browned.


Happy Holidays, everyone!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cookie Day 23....Oh, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Cherry Shortbread

Today in NOTL: Cold, with highs today of 26F/-3C under partly cloudy skies. Not much chance of snow today; maybe tomorrow though.

The 24 Days of Cookies has been a real challenge for me.  I've had to pick and choose from hundreds of recipes in my collection, a collection begun when I was a first-year teacher planning my first New Year's Day brunch for family and friends.  I scoured cookbooks for recipes, but being a Cancerian, I didn't want cookbook cookies: I wanted secret family recipes that had been handed down for years and years.

I hounded the teachers in my school.  I begged recipes from the women in my women's group.  The ladies at church were reminded week after week of recipes they'd promised.  It became a treasure hunt.

At garage sales, I asked for old cookbooks and handwritten recipes.  Once, I got especially lucky.  I was at an estate sale and the organizers obviously were not cooks, as they'd gathered together the deceased owner's recipe file, her clippings, her small recipe booklets, and a binder filled with recipe-treasure into a box they sold for a dollar - to me!!!

Ah, what a pleasure to browse through her recipes, carefully clipped from newspapers and magazines.  That she had been a lady of means became obvious from the many recipes written on stationery from chi-chi hotels.  Some were full recipes, with notes about the person who'd given it.  Others were personal speculation, lists of ingredients she tasted in dishes for which the recipes were not forthcoming.

Another time, a good friend who doesn't cook gifted me with her mother's cookbooks and notebooks filled with recipe after recipe after recipe, all in her mom's hand.  Over the years, I've found homes for many of these, but some I have kept, remembering Mrs. M and her scotch shortbreads as I browse the old books.

Visiting with friends' mothers always ended up with my begging recipes.  Usually I'd get a couple; sometimes I got a treasure trove, like the cinnamon bun and butter tart recipes I got from one friend's mom with the caution that I did NOT have permission to share them (and I never have).  I've shared plenty of the baked goodies, though, and they are indeed the treasures Mrs. R promised me they were.  The cuccidati, Italian fig cookies, come from the mom of my oldest friend, who as a child comforted a tearful little Jean sitting beside her in our kindergarten classroom.

Each year, our cookie platter is like a visit with absent loved ones, some far away and some on the other side.  There are Gram's shortbreads and my mom's teacakes mingling with Mrs. M's shortbread and Mrs. R's butter tarts. The mystery traveler's sugar cookies and Mrs. B's snickerdoodles and Ms. S's oatmeal lace cookies sit beside a batch of vintage-recipe cuccidati from Miss Jenny.  I bake their cookies, praying for them as I do, and inviting the spirits of those on the other side to visit with us for one more Christmas.

Tomorrow is the last day of cookies....but I will make it a cookie-lalapalooza, I promise.  (And if you have any family recipes hanging around looking to be treasured by new eyes....you can send it to me at Box 1856, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON  L0S 1J0 Canada or email it to me at atcjean[at]gmail.com.) 

Today's cookie is a variation on shortbread, and they are both delicious and quick to make.  No mixer needed for these!

Cherry Shortbreads

1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons almond extract
2 egg yolks
2 cups flour
1/2 cup icing sugar
maraschino cherries - 1 jar

1.  Dry the cherries on paper towels - as dry as you can get them.
2.  Mix ingredients, reserving cherries for later.  If the dough gets soft, place in fridge to firm up.
3.  Take a spoonful of dough, flatten, and wrap around a cherry rolling to make a ball.
4.  Place cookies on sheets sprayed lightly with baking coating.
5.  Bake 15 minutes at 350 or till golden.

If you want to finish these off nicely, try this:
Cherry Glaze
In a small bowl, whisk together
2/3 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons juice from marachino cherries
1 teaspoon finely minced cherries (optional)
Dip cookies into glaze and add sprinkles, minced nuts, coconut, etc.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Cookie Day 22 - Butter Cookies with variations

Today in NOTL:  Cold with a high of 29F/-1C under grey skies with some snow.  It will clear a bit as the day goes on, though.

The Big Day is looming....are you feeling pressed for time?  If you are hoping to have a home-baked cookie tray, don't despair.  Make it easy by spending an hour or so just making batches of your chosen cookie doughs.  Pop them into zipper bags, being careful to label each with name of cookie, oven temp, baking time and any special baking instructions.  Store the bags in the fridge and make batches as desired over the coming days.  Today's cookie is the perfect place to start.

These cookies are easy to make, and they allow you to get two different cookies from one recipe. 

Butter Cookie with variations
2 1/2 cups sifted flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla


For cherry cookies:
1/2 cup chopped candied cherries

For chocolate nut cookies:
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 square (1 oz) unsweetened chocolate, melted


Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
Cream butter; add sugar a small amount at a time and cream well after each addition.
Add egg and vanilla; beat until fluffy.
Blend in dry ingredients.

Divide dough into two equal portions.
To one half of dough mix in cherries; to the second half add pecans and chocolate.
Chill dough until each portion can be shaped into 2 rolls, 12 inches long.
Wrap in waxed paper. Chill until firm.

To bake, cut into 1/4 inch slices.  Place cookies on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake at 375* for 10 minutes or till lightly brown.
Makes about 8 dozen.

Art today is for a swap, a sunset silhouette.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Cookies, Day 21 - Snickerdoodle

Today in NOTL:  Cold, with noonish temps a chilly 27F/-2C.  It isn't snowing though...

Did the blogtalkradio show alone today as Deb is in Toronto making arrangements to trade in the van for a newer used vehicle.  Here's hoping she gets a wonderful, reliable car that will be a joy for many years.

Doing the radio show alone is always terrifying.  I am not a microphone kinda gal.  But...we say we're doing a show, so it has to be something pretty major like illness before I can cancel the show with a good heart.  I'd rather do the show than disappoint people.

Today's show was on the message of the Angels at Christmas.  Actually, the last three shows focused on elements of the Angels' message.  Today was the conclusion:  Peace on Earth to men of goodwill.  The old song says, though, 'good will to men,' which is a big difference....peace and goodwill to men vs. peace to men of goodwill.  Research time!

I did a fair bit of reading in my search for the most accurate translation. One translation was coming out on top, and I found a Christian site offering an explanation of the translation.  I'll post one paragraph of their explanation here:
Along with the glory that the angels of heaven give to God, there is to be peace on earth. But to whom? The Greek phrase is only three words, and is literally translated, “among men of goodwill.” The truth being communicated is there is peace from God to people with whom He has goodwill. Modern versions try to express this idea, with, in my opinion, varying degrees of success, but the point is that God’s peace is not to everyone; it is for those who have turned their hearts to Him. This fits perfectly with the Old Testament prophecies and predictions of the coming Messiah, who was foretold to be a warrior for God, delivering His people while destroying His enemies.
(from http://www.truthortradition.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=890_

I had to laugh.  This paragraph is such a perfect representation of what is wrong with religion.  First, they get the angels' message:  Peace on earth 'among men of goodwill'.  Seems clear enough, but no:  'men of goodwill' becomes people with whom God has goodwill - as though there are people with whom God does not have goodwill, this God who made and loves everyone??  Oh, no.  By twisting the very words they hold as authentic, they end up with a message that effectively excludes everybody but the Christian folks who have turned their hearts to Creator/Him in the way that the writers of this site deem worthy - who are, I suppose in this site's worldview, God's enemies who will be destroyed.  Good grief. 

And there's the difference between God and people.  I don't think some folks can tolerate the idea of God loving folks they don't.  LOL  Control, eh?  Anyway, that was my morning adventure, and I think my brain needs a good long rest!

I'll be working on Christmas crafting today...as soon as I get a good cookie recipe up for you.  And today's cookie is a five-star winner:  Snickerdoodles!  How could anyone not love a cookie called a snickerdoodle?

This is an old recipe, about 60 years or so as far as I can determine.  There are tons of recipes for snickerdoodles with all kinds of flourishes and so on, but this one remains our favourite.

Snickerdoodles

                                  1 cup shortening
                                  1 1/2 cups white sugar
                                  2 eggs
                                  2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
                                  1 teaspoon baking soda
                                  2 teaspoons cream of tartar
                                  1/2 teaspoon salt
                                  2 tablespoons white sugar
                                  2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Directions
1   Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
2   In a medium bowl, cream together the shortening and 1 1/2 cups sugar. Stir in the eggs. Sift together the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt; stir into the creamed mixture until well blended. In a small bowl, stir together the 2 tablespoons of sugar, and the cinnamon. Roll dough into walnut sized balls, then roll the balls in the cinnamon-sugar. Place them onto an  unprepared cookie sheet, two inches apart.
3   Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Edges should be slightly brown. Remove from sheets to cool on wire racks.

Yup, you can vary the daylights out of this cookie, but why would you want to?  Once you taste its lusciousness, you will fall in cookie-love.  Enjoy!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cookies....Day 20 - Rugelach

Today in NOTL:  Cold with noon temps at 26F/-3C under cloudy skies with light breezes.  Brrr!

I've been busy making Christmas gifts for friends, simple things I think they'll like.  We've got the tree up, and it is really looking Christmas-y here.  Soon it will be smelling like the holidays, once we start baking up goodies to share and enjoy.

When I make holiday cookie platters, I like to steer away from the usual chocolate chip cookies and gingerbread men.  I've accumulated a file of cookies from around the world and old family recipes from friends and acquaintances whose treats I've enjoyed at parties and whom I begged for the recipes!

Rugelach is a wonderful cookie, a traditional Jewish treat.  It lends itself well to variety, since the fillings are what give it flavour.  While the topping given is a sprinkle of sugar, consider skipping that step and, instead, drizzling chocolate over the tops.  You can also just sprinkle a little cocoa or confectioner's/icing sugar over the tops of the cookies before you serve the cookies. 

When people eat these delicious cookies, they assume you have spent hours slaving in the kitchen creating them.  As much as I like cookies, I especially like any cookie that looks and tastes as thought they were major culinary efforts when they were really easy and quick.  These cookies fit that bill completely! 

Rugelach
Dough:
16 oz Cream cheese
1 lb Butter, unsalted softened
8 cup Flour

Traditional filling:
Stir together
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. seedless raisins
1 t. cinnamon
1 c. finely chopped walnuts

Topping:

1 egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons milk
granulated sugar (or cinnamon sugar mix)

Filling variations:
- fruit flavoured jam
-sugar/cinnamon mix (4 tablespoons melted butter to 1/2 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons cinnamon, mixed)
-grated chocolate and minced nuts

Oven: 400F.  Cookies sheets prepared with parchment, waxed, or kraft paper liners.

1. In large bowl, beat cream cheese and butter until creamy and smooth.
2.  Add 5 cups of flour, mixing to combine. Add remaining flour in small batches stopping when
dough no longer sticks to sides of bowl (not all flour may be needed). If dough remains sticky
after all the flour is used, add a little extra flour.
3. Remove dough from mixing bowl; divide into four equal pieces and wrap tightly in plastic
wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or overnight.

To finish cookies:
4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough, one piece at a time, to
rectangles of 1/8" thickness. With a sharp paring knife, score dough into small about 3 inches.
5.  Place a dab (about a teaspoon) of chosen filling in center of square.
5. Roll up each square from corner to corner, bending it into a crescent shape. Brush with egg wash.
6. Combine sugar and cinnamon, or use sugar only, sprinkling about a teaspoon over each crescent.
7. Bake on paper-lined baking sheets for 15 minutes, or until tops are golden brown. Cool on
baking racks.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Day 18 and Day 19 Cookies - Cinnamon,cookies and Sugar Cookies

Today in NOTL:  Cold, with noon temps at 22F/ -5C. Breezy but not bad!  Cloudy skies with snowsqualls possible overnight.

Here is a recipe the school cafeteria lady gave me for sugar cookies.  It makes a lot of cookies, so you know that that means!  VARIATIONS!  
Sugar Cookies
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups shortening
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk (we used whole milk)
6 teaspoons vanilla
6 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
9 cups flour

Cream sugar, shortening, eggs and vanilla together.

In separate bowl, sift together flour, salt and baking powder. Add to cream mixture, alternating
with the milk (you may have to add a little more flour for stiffness). Refrigerate 3 to 4 hours or
overnight.

Take small amount of dough from refrigerator and roll in flour, then roll to desired thickness -- cut
with cookie cutter (Taylor likes her sugar cookies thick, rolling the dough out to about 1/4 inch, so
we did the same).

Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. Bottoms of cookies should be lightly brown. Makes
about 6 to 7 dozen, depending on size of cookie cutters.

Icing

1 cup shortening
2 teaspoons almond flavoring
4 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk

Cream shortening and milk together. Add powdered sugar and beat till smooth. Add almond
flavoring. Ice and decorate as desired.

Vary the cookies by using different frosting some, drizzling with chocolate on others, dipping, adding sprinkles or nuts or coconut, etc.  Also, try different add-ins in portions of dough - adding cherries and cherry juice to one batch, chocolate to another, orange or lemon zest with extract to a third, etc.  There's enough dough here to have a cookie factory on your kitchen table!

Here's another cookie, since yesterday I was down with a cold:

Cinnabites

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup walnuts -- chopped
1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350*
1.  Cream butter and sugar, add egg.
2.  Mix in dry ingredients, stir in nuts and raisins.
3.  Drop by spoonfuls on cookie sheet sprayed with coating.
4.  Bake 10-12 minutes till golden brown.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Day 17 of Cookies: Oatmeal

Today in NOTL:  Cold...with nearly noonish temps right at 13F/-10C and snow falling.  It may warm up but only a degree or two.

We just finished the blogtalkradio show; we have done parts 1 and 2 and will finish up on Friday.  Then...we'll see what the angels have next to say!

I think next year I will not dedicate 24 days to cookies.  Spending hours browsing the hundreds and hundreds of cookie recipes I have to pick out only 24 is NOT wise when one is trying to decrease the amount of sugar one ingests!  Not that I'm diving into cookies, but I sure am WANTING to dive into cookies...lol.

With that in mind, then, today's cookie is far healthier than most others.  It has sugar, of course, and is delicious, so you don't want to clear a platter of 'em....but it does have fiber and healthy ingredients, so it isn't ALL bad...

Guiltless Wonders (Oatmeal Cookies)

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup regular flour (all purpose)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed firmly
1 egg (I use large or jumbo eggs)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup oats (not the instant or quick oats)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup walnuts (pecans or other nuts work as well)

Oven at 350F.  Cookie sheets sprayed with nonstick coating or lined with waxed/parchment or
silicone sheets

1.  In large bowl, beat with fork: oil, sugar, egg, and vanilla.
2.  Add flour in portions, stirring to combine.
3.  Add oats, raisins, and nuts, stirring to mix well into the dough.
4.  Drop cookies onto sheets, about 2 inches apart.
5.  Bake till browned, about 8-10 minutes for small cookies.
6.  Cool on cookie sheet one or two minutes to set edges, then place on rack until completely
cooled.

Store in tightly covered container.

These cookies blend both white and whole wheat flour; you can use all whole wheat if you like.  Now, despite being labeled healthy, these cookies are first and foremost DELICIOUS!  Plus, the nuts and raisins give them that lumpy bumpy look that is so very appealing in a cookie.  YUM. 

Today we're busy implementing changes to the website/newsletter.  If you haven't subscribed to the newsletter, now's the time!

Art today is a card I did for a Christmas swap; the sparkly silver tinsel doesn't show, nor the shine on the ornaments.  I had been challenged to do a Christmas tree and protested that I couldn't do it justice.  Said my friend, you did Christmas trees when you were a kid...so do a kiddie version of a Christmas tree!  I did and while part of me groans to see it, part of me likes the little-kid energy of it.  Christmas trees bring out the little kid in us - if they're the right kind of Christmas tree, that is!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Cookies Day 16 - Sugar Cookies

Today in NOTL:  Cloudy and cool, with temps rising to a high of 36F/2C this afternoon and perhaps a bit of snow later.

We received a gift of books yesterday - two boxes of books ranging from pop culture and entertainment to various approaches to spirituality.  What fun! Some were old and yellowed, and others were in perfect, mint condition.  This prompted us to take a look at our own bookshelves and put a few titles out on the sale shelves in the showroom. 

Of course, some books have just outlived their usefulness.  I have several books in such terrible condition - broken spines, pages loose or missing, that kind of thing - that their greatest value is no longer in the story they tell but in the materials of their composition.  Time to recycle!

 You may have noticed the pear card I put up yesterday - scroll down to see it if not - which was painted on an old, early 1900s page of Kipling.  Using the pages as supports for painting, drawing, etc., is perhaps my favourite use for no-longer-readable books.

Of course, I can't paint on ALL those scrumptious pages, so I'll be going through my craft items and putting some destash packages onto Etsy in the coming days and weeks.  Look for them in my shop, absolutejeanius.etsy.com

And speaking of scrumptious, here is a really nice sugar cookie recipe.  Sugar cookies are fabulous for hurried bakers because they are simple to make and endlessly variable.  Here is a basic sugar cookie recipe with variations following.


SUGAR COOKIES

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
3 cups sifted flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/3 cup milk
Oven 350F.

1.  Cream butter. Add sugar in portions, mixing till smooth.
2.  Add egg yolks and vanilla, mixing well.
3.  Add dry ingredients, blending well.
4.  Chill 1 hour.
5.  Roll to 1/8 inch on well-floured surface with floured rolling pin.
6.  Cut cookies with glass or cutters and place on cookie sheets prepared with paper, silicone, or nonstick spray.
7.  Bake 8 to 10 minutes at 350F.
8.  Cool on racks, decorating when completely cooled.
Makes about 5 dozen.  Store in tightly covered container.

Variations:
Almond cookies:  Use almond extract instead of vanilla.  Add 1-2 cups finely diced ground nuts to dough.
Pecan cookies:   Use brown sugar instead of granulated.  Add 1-2 cups finely diced ground nuts to dough.
Lemon cookies:  Use lemon extract instead of vanilla.  Add 1-2 teaspoons grated lemon peel to dough. (If you have no lemon extract, you can use 2 or 3 teaspoons of lemon juice instead)
Peppermint cookies:  Use peppermint extract instead of vanilla.  Add crushed candy canes to dough.
Coconut cookies:  Add 1 cup flaked coconut to dough.
Chocolate cookies:  Add 3 tablespoons more milk plus 3 squares of melted chocolate before adding dry ingredients.
Cherry cookies:  Add 2 tbsp. juice from a jar of maraschino cherries to wet mixture and minced cherries to mixture.

You can also vary the cookies by varying the decorations.  Frost some, leave some plain.  Add different kinds of purchased sprinkles to the cookies.  Use nuts instead of sprinkles on some.  Press a pecan half into the frosting for some cookies. 

Melt some chocolate chips. Drizzle melted chocolate over some of the cookies; dip others halfway into the chocolate.  Sprinkle crushed candy cane, chopped nuts, coconut, etc. over the chocolate before it hardens.

You can see how this one recipe can provide an entire cookie party's worth of cookies!

Art today is another blue pear.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cookies Day 15 - Pecan Yummies

Today in NOTL:  Cold with a high of 24F/-4C under sunny skies. 

Hectic isn't the word for this week.  Deb has been looking for a qualified repairman to get the van ready for provincial certification, now that she owns it.  Or maybe getting a different used van.  Or not.  It's been a scary week of juggling options and costs and pros and cons and we'll be glad when it's all said and done, whatever *it* is.

I got a call from a friend who has been battling serious illness for two years.  She got her doctors to send her home but she is so exhausted from fighting so long.  Hard not to worry about her, though she keeps saying everything is ok.  Prayers and angels her way.

And in the midst of it all, getting ready for Christmas, making packages to send to family, goodies to offer for sale this weekend, when we'll be open 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Pecan Yummies
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup margarine, softened
3 eggs
3 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup chopped pecans

Oven 375F.

1.  In large mixing bowl, cream sugars, shortening, and eggs; set aside.
2.  In second bowl, sift or stir dry ingredients together
3.  Add to creamed sugar mixture about 1/3 buttermilk then 1/3 flour mixture, combining till smooth.  Repeat with remaining milk and flour.
4.  Stir nuts into mixture.
5.  Drop onto cookie sheet prepared with paper or non-stick spray.
6.  Bake at 375F for 8-10 minutes.

Variations:
Use any type nuts desired, or susbstitute dried fruits, cherries, coconut, chips etc.
Frost if desired. 

Art for today is a blue pear on vintage paper, a page from Kipling.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cookies Day 14 - Cream Cheese Cookies

Today in NOTL:  Cold at noon, with temps right at 24F/-4C under partly cloudy skies.  No wind today, and no snow predicted, though the lawns are still mostly white.

Busy day today, but here are cookies for you to try...

Cream Cheese Cookies

1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 small pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Oven at 350*

1.  Blend butter and cream cheese.
2.  Mix flour, sugar and nuts.
3.  Mix together.
4.  Drop by teaspoonfulls onto ungreased cookie sheet.
5.  Bake 10-12 minutes.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cookies Day 13 - Coconut BonBons

Today in NOTL:  Cold outside, with highs of 27F/-2C and occasional flurries.

I love Niagara.  It snowed here yesterday; today the lawns and rooftops are white with snow but the roads are clear and dry.  Now this is the way it oughtta be!  Soon, if we don't get more snow, what's here will disappear and we'll have the pleasure of another 'first' snowfall when another front moves through.  In Newmarket, the snow was amazing - but it piled up and never left.  This is much nicer - and less dangerous!

I just realized that I can label the posts with the names of the cookies to make it easier for folks to find the recipe they want.  DUH!  Honestly, I am so behind the times, lol.  I will work on that today and then get back to gift-making.


Today I'm feeling like a nut - a coconut, to be precise.  I love coconut, and so this easy-peasy bon-bon recipe is perfect for Day 13 - lucky you!

Coconut BonBons
1/2 c butter
2 c confectioners' sugar
3 c coconut
1 tablespoon milk
2 oz semi-sweet chocolate, melted 

1. Melt butter in microwave or on stove.  Remove from heat and add sugar, coconut and milk. Mix well.
2.  Shape mixture into balls, about 1 teaspoon makes a nice size.  Push your thumb into the center to make a little well.  Set onto waxed paper on cookie sheet.
3.  Melt chocolate, and put a small amount into the depression on each bonbon.

4.  Place in fridge to harden.  Store in fridge in container with tight lid.

NOTES:
- These freeze well.
- Instead of coconut, try chow mein noodles, nuts, etc.  
- Other sweet mixtures can be used in place of chocolate - frosting, jam, cream cheese, Nutella, etc.
- Wrapping the coconut 'dough' around chocolate chips, nuts, etc., works well, too.
-  Drizzling chocolate over the top adds an elegant finish. 

This is a fun recipe to use with younger family members.  They can get creative with sprinkles and chocolate candies.  Lots of folks don't bake because of the mess, but kids love to help in the kitchen at this time of year. This is a perfect recipe for family fun at the kitchen table or counter because there is no huge cleanup involved - just the pan or bowl and a few spoons.  If you have younger ones at home, give this one a try.  Together you can make a memory to warm your hearts all year long.

Art today is a snowman mini 2 inches square.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Cookies Day 12 -Carrot Cookies

Today in NOTL:  Cold, with 11:30ish temps at 26F/-3C, and snowing.  It's a winter wonderland!

It will be a busy day today; I've been making holiday gifts and am not exactly finished yet.  Not to mention wanting to make a few things for this weekend's holiday sale!  We have to make room for Christmas, so we'll be having sale prices on rosaries, bracelets, angels, and art pendants.  If you're looking to drive out to enjoy Niagara at the holidays, be sure to stop in this weekend!  I think Deb said the hours were from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Today's recipe uses a cake mix base. The nice thing about using cake mixes is that you don't have to start measuring flour and soda, etc. - just crack in those eggs, pour the oil and you're ready to drop cookies onto the sheet.

If you are going to make cookies from mix, start with a good cake mix.  Dollar store cheap mixes tend not to be as tasty as Betty's or Duncan's.  You can boost the cookie flavour even more by using extracts and spices.
Use add-ins to vary the cookies to your tastes.

There are lots of kinds of cake mix out there, and you probably tend to purchase only yellow or chocolate.  Take another look at the array, next time you're out shopping, and think COOKIES!  

If you love carrot cake, you'll love today's cookies.  Don't forget the cream cheese frosting!

Carrot Cookies (from cake mix)
1 pkg carrot cake mix (18.25 oz)
1/2 cup oil
2 large eggs

Optional add-ins:
1 cup raisins
1 cup grated carrot (peeled first)
1 cup pecans
1/2 cup coconut
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or just add cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice to taste)


Oven 350*F
Cookie sheets prepared with waxed or parchment paper or sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.

1.  Using the large bowl of your mixer, beat together 1/2 the cake mix with oil, eggs, and any spices on medium speed 1-2 minutes.  Remove from mixer.
2.  Add remaining cake mix and any desired add-ins, stirring till combined to make dough.
3.  Drop by teaspoonfuls onto sheets, 2 inches apart.
4.  Bake 10-14 minutes, till edges are set but centers soft.
5.  Cool on sheet 2 minutes before transferring to rack to cool completely.
6.  Frost with cream cheese frosting, if desired.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Day 11 of Cookies...M and M Cookies

Today in NOTL:  was cold!  Snow expected.

Spent the day making Christmas gifts, which took longer than I expected but they came out really well.  One is an order which will be a gift, the other is a gift I'm giving.

Today's recipe is for that school bake-sale classic:  M&M Cookies.  I got the recipe when I was taking a summer school course as a teacher.  The local university was mainly a commuter school, and in the summer the student union was closed down.

We teachers were in class for several hours each afternoon, since we were cramming a full semester into a two weeks, I think it was.  With no cafeteria or concessions available, the instructor got a church youth group to sell snacks and drinks for our convenience.  One day they brought these cookies and they were so good I badgered the kids to get me the recipe.  It worked, and here it is.  I've been told that this is the M&M recipe from the company, but I never checked.

M&Ms Cookies

1 cup Crisco (vegetable shortening)
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon water
2 eggs
2 cups + 4 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups M&M plain candies

Blend Crisco and sugars.
Beat in vanilla, water, and eggs.
Sift remaining dry ingredients together and add to the sugar and egg mixture. Mix well.
Stir in M&Ms. Drop from teaspoon onto ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake at 375 degrees F for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.
For additional color, press extra M&Ms into cookies before baking.
Makes 6 dozen 2 1/2 inch cookies.


I'll upload some art tomorrow. I had joined a still life swap and everything came out nasty.  A friend suggested I just do more pears, so I tried that and it was much better.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Cookies Day 10 - Anise Meringue Cookies

Today in NOTL:  Cold, sunny.  A high of just around freezing, 32F/0C.

Brrr.  It sure will be nice to get that furnace fixed - I'm COLD!

Today's cookie is a yummy one:  Anise.  It's a meringue, so very light but oh so delicious.  Here's the recipe:

Anise Meringue Cookies
3 Egg whites
1/8 t Cream of tartar
1/2 c Sugar
1 1/2 ts Ground anise seeds (I use a teaspoon of anise extract instead; add to taste)

Oven at 275F

Sheets of parchment paper, brown wrapping paper, or even computer paper to line cookie sheets
1.  In mixer bowl, beat egg whites to a froth. 
2.  Add cream of tartar, beat until soft peaks form. Add extract here, if using.
3.  Add sugar in portions, beating until mixture is stiff and shiny.  Add seed here, if using.
4.  Drop spoonfuls onto paper-lined baking sheets.  If you want to get fancy, use your pastry bag and a fance tip to pipe your cookies.
5.  Bake 30 minutes at 275 F.
Note:  Meringues come in chewy and crispy.  If you like the crisp, drier meringues, turn off the oven and let the cookies remain in the hot oven (with the door closed) for an hour or so to get crispy.
Makes about 4 dozen, depending on size.

Art today: trees in winter for a swap.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cookie Day 9! Bailey Bits

Today in NOTL:  Yeah, well, it was cold. LOL

Furnace woes today.  Brr!  It was chilly inside too. 

Today is Cookie Day 9; Deb told me the Toronto Star began a 24 Days of Cookies feature, so check online for even more recipes (though *I* started early!).

In line with those rumballs from yesterday, I thought about making other kinds of not-rum balls.  Let's face it: you can use any kind of cookie for the base, any kind of liquor for flavouring.  So here's an adapted rumball recipe to mimic my winter favourite - hot cocoa with Bailey's, yum!

Bailey Bits
1 8 1/2 oz package of chocolate wafers,crushed
1 c pecans, chopped
1 c confectioner’s sugar
1/4 c light corn syrup
1/4 c  Bailey's Irish Cream

Combine all ingredients, mixing well.
Shape into balls.
When finished, roll balls into extra confectioner's sugar or cocoa powder.
Store in tightly-covered tin.

What a nice gift several graduated tins filled with various types of not-rum balls would be!  For kiddies, leave out the liquor and use extract to flavour, I imagine, with a bit more corn syrup to compensate for the decreased liquid.

Art for today is a pear currently available in my etsy shop.  It's a bit different for me, with other media and techniques in addition to the watercolour.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cookies, Cookies... Rum Balls

Today in NOTL:  A grey and chilly day, with temps at 34F/1C at nearly-noon, and light snow throughout the day.

I've been waiting for the snow, and it finally came.  We've had a few snow-teases in which the weather folk issued dire predictions which failed to come to pass, but today we're seeing fluffy wet flakes and it sure is pretty outside.  It hasn't begun to collect on the ground yet (I think it's still too warm for that), but the rooftop across the street is nicely white.

All right: I'll say it.  I miss the fireplace from the house on Gate St.  As fireplaces go, it wasn't much of one.  The fan made quite a lot of noise and the ceramic logs looked pretty fake.  Being a gas fireplace, it didn't offer the wonderful popping and play of flames that make wood fires so beautiful.  Still, it was lovely to see and I'll miss it this winter.

Here in the new place, instead of a fireplace, we have a wall of bookcases and cupboards - extremely convenient and attractive as well...but it can't touch a fireplace for adding that cozy feeling to a room.  I'm toying with the idea of a nice ceramic dish filled with candles of varying heights, pillars and votives.  Next best thing?  *sigh*

Today's cookie is one reminiscent of my early childhood:  rum balls!  I believe it was a cousin who used to make them every Christmas for the grownups rolled in cocoa and a rum-less variety for us kids, rolled in confectioner's sugar.  It's a nice one, pretty basic.  I added the spice to the mix on the recommendation of a friend and it is a nice addition, though I never had any trouble getting folks to eat 'em without, lol.

This makes a tasty rumball, but don't be afraid to experiment.  Try chips instead of nuts, maybe.  Vary the liquor.  Use almonds and amaretto; omit the cocoa and try anisette or creme de menthe for holiday confections - just keep track of what you add and how much so you'll be able to repeat your successes!


Rum Balls
1 cup confectioner's/icing sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice, optional
1/2 cup dark rum
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 1/2 cups vanilla wafers, crushed to crumbs
1 cup finely chopped, toasted pecans
Coating:  confectioner's or icing sugar, cocoa powder, coconut, sprinkles, etc.

1.  Sift or stir together sugar, cocoa, and spice.

2.  Add rum and syrup, stirring well.
3.  Add nuts and wafer crumbs, mixing thoroughly.
4.  Place mixture in refrigerator to rest for a half-hour or more.

5.  Roll mixture into small balls, then roll each in sugar or other coating.
Store in tin with tight cover.  Yield varies depending on size of cookies.

Art for today is a little snow-covered tree I did last year.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cookies Day 7 - NoBake Peanut Butter Balls

Today in NOTL:  A beautiful day, with a high of 52F/12C and rainy.  Lovely!

Here in Canada, happiness is in the news, as on Friday the Canadian Centre for the Study of Living Standards released their findings regarding, among other things, the happiness level of Canadians.  They discussed the various factors determining happiness and decided that one town had more happy people than another, ranking them according to their scale.

We regard happiness as elusive, hard to find and hard to keep.  I don't believe that.  I know that I am a happy person nearly all the time; others, with some frequency, indicate their surprise that I am or regard it as extraordinary that I am happy despite challenges that include restricted mobility and pain as a constant companion.

In the news, too, has been the story of Rachel Friedman who has responded with courage and optimism to a life challenge that would have me raining curses on life, others and probably God as well.

Happiness is easy.  All you have to do is look at the love in your life.  What is it you love?  Focus on it - whether it is another person, a beloved pet, a good book, a treasured collection, a favourite hobby, whatever. When we focus on the people, things, and activities that fill us with love, happiness follows.  It is that simple.

Art for today is a happy little bird that made me very happy when it came out as well as it did.  I hope the recipes that follow will make you happy: they need no mixer, no flour, and no baking!  Even better, they are truly delicious and make great gifts, packaged in decorative tins or jars.

NoBake Peanut Butter Balls
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup powdered milk
Add ins:
 1/3 cup coconut, nuts, raisins, chips, etc.

Optional:
Roll balls in cocoanut, icing/confectioner's sugar, cocoa powder, sprinkles, etc.  You can take a tip from the recipe below, you can also dip 'em in melted chocolate!

Stir together well.  Form into balls.  Store in covered tin.
Recipe can be doubled.

If you don't like honey, you can try this recipe instead:
Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Balls
1 16-oz. jar peanut butter
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 1-lb. box powdered sugar
1 to 2 bags chocolate chips  (Tip: these candies, dipped in melted peanut butter flavoured chips, are to-die-for!)


1.  Prepare a cookie sheet by lining it with parchment, waxed paper, or foil. 
2.  In large bowl, combine peanut butter, butter, and powdered sugar together in a large bowl.
3.  Roll into small balls.
4.  Melt chocolate chips.
5.  Dip candy balls into chocolate and place on prepared cookie sheet.  Place in fridge or cool spot to harden.
Yield:  5 dozen or more, depending on size of candies.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cookies Day 6 - Oatmeal Lace Cookies

Today in NOTL:  Chilly, with today's high looking to hit 45F7C under sunny skies with a cloud or two.

Yesterday Deb was installed as Archbishop of the Community Catholic Church.  It was a lovely ceremony, very small, as the church is quite small.  Lots of fellowship, lots of laughter, lots of love in the room!  I have very confidence that Deborah will do a wonderful job leading the church.  Go, Deb!

For Day 6 of the Cookie fest, I thought I'd share one of my own recipes, a favourite b/c it's so bloomin' easy!  I suppose this one belongs in the family of lace cookies, as they spread a LOT and have that lacy edge.  Even better, they don't call for any special ingredients, so you won't have to make a trip to the store for buttermilk or macadamia nuts or sanding sugar.

Now, these cookies are extremely delicious, so they don't last long.  IF there are any leftovers, they must be stored in a tin with a very tight lid, layered on waxed paper.  They are not kidding when they say 'store i a cool, dry place' as humidity makes the cookies stick together, so you might want to set that tin in the dining room instead of the warm kitchen.  If the cookies begin to stick, though, just separate them onto a cookie sheet and pop into the oven for a minute or two to recrisp.


Then again, having any left over to store is an iffy proposition!  And since these are soo easy to make - no mixer necessary, no bowls, no sifting and combining wets and drys and yadda yadda - you'll be able to get a batch from urge to splurge in a flash!  Trust me on this:  one taste and you will be a believer.

P.S.  No flour, so a great cookie for those with wheat sensitivities!

Oatmeal Lace Cookies

½ c. butter
1 ½ quick-cooking oats
1 c. packed light brown sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten well.

1.  Preheat oven 350*F.  Grease and flour cookie sheet.
2.  Melt butter in pan.
3.  Stir in other ingredients till blended.
4.  Remove from heat.
5.  Drop by teaspoonfuls 3 inches apart (these babies spread!)
6.  Bake 8 min or till well-browned at edges.
7.  Cool slightly, loosen, and remove.

Keeps 3 weeks in airtight container; separate layers by wax paper.
Humidity will result in sticky cookies.  Separate and rebake one or two minutes to recrisp..

When you remove them from the cookies sheet or parchment, you may find the edges crumble slightly.  Those crumbs are yummy on top of ice cream, yogurt, pudding, hot oatmeal, etc.  Or just toss the crumbs out for the birds!

Card of the day is a snow-covered evergreen, a little Christmas-y, but I got my first Christmas gift yesterday so I will call Christmastime officially begun...YES!  (And, yes, it is hand drawn and watercoloured.)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cookie Day 5 - Plain Tea Cookies

Today in NOTL:  Cold, with 11:30 temps not tooo bad at37F/3C - but with winds at 24mph/39kph it feels more like 27F/-3C out there.  Hefty gusts, howling round the house and blowing the snow just about sideways at times.  No snow to speak of expected, just flurries.

Brr!  A cold day like today has me thinking of my Grandma's kitchen.  It was just a postage stamp of a room, just large enough for her tiny sink and a few cupboards, the eeeny fridge and stove, a  wee dinette set, and a rocking chair beside the stove.  That rocker was the best seat in her tiny house!

I remember visiting on chilly, grey days like today (minus the snow, of course!).  Her kitchen would be so warm and cozy and golden, lit by the one shaded light overhead.  Dad would say, 'How about some coffee, Mom?' and Grandma would say, 'Well, of course, cher!'

She'd put a pan of water on to boil and take her red and white French coffeepot and put a few teaspoonsful of coffee into the holder.  Then she'd set the coffeepot on the stove with a small ladle beside it and begin to rock.  As the adults spoke and the water sizzled in the pan, every now and then she'd ladle a tablespoon or two into the coffeepot and it would begin to drip ever so slowly through the ground coffee. Finally, when the coffee was done, she'd pour it out.

On cold days, I remember her kitchen and recall the smell of that strong coffee.  Art today is a cold-looking card from last year, appropriate b/c I'm feeling chilly as I listen to the wind and watch the flakes blow past my window.

This is a recipe for tea cookies, which went so nicely with the coffee.  They aren't terribly sweet, but they adapt to changes well.  Variations below.

Plain Tea Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups plain flour (All-Purpose)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt


Oven 400F.

1.  In large bowl, cream softened butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla.
2.  In second bowl, stir together dry ingredients.
3.  Add dry mixture to creamed mixture in portions.
4.  Note: dough is best refrigerated for 30 minutes or so.
5.  Roll dough on floured surface to about 1/4 inch and cut cookies with small glass.
6.  Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake 10- 12 minutes or till golden brown.

Variations:
Orange or lemon cookies:  Add 1 tablespoon orange zest and 1/4 tsp orange extract to mixture.
Cherry cookies:  Add 1/2 cup diced marachino cherries, juice included to mixture.
Chocolate Pecan cookies:  Add 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans to mixture; drizzle with melted chocolate.
You can also frost these cookies and add sprinkles, coconut, etc.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Day 4 of Cookies - and what a cookie I have for you, dahling! Date Filled Cookies

Today in NOTL:  Cold!  Temps at noon are right around 32F/0C, with winds of 17mph/28kph making it feel a lot colder.  Sun and cloud mix, but thoroughly gorgeous outside!  In the forecast:  Snow!  They're calling for 25cm of snow tonight...which would be 9 inches, I suspect, doing a linear conversion.  That's a lotta snow!

Well, today is slated as a newsletter day, so I'll be busy writing.  If you haven't subscribed to the newsletter, I urge you to do so, as we're expanding it starting with the next issue.  You'll still get the angel messages which are exclusive to newsletter subscribers ONLY and not uploaded to the website, but you'll also have access to more articles, more information, and more helpful news you can use.  Subscribing is as easy as a click right here!  We never share emails with others and you can unsubscribe at any time, naturally.

Today's cookie is a filled date cookie.  Filled cookies can be time consuming - rolling the dough, dropping the filling, then pinching the cookie shut.  These are quickies, though.  Instead of all that rolling, these are drop cookies.  You simply put a dab of cookie dough onto the sheet, put the filling in the center, then add a bit more dough on top of the filling.  As the cookie bakes, the dough spreads and covers the filling.  And where the filling peeps out, it gets all nice and crispy!  What a yum!

This recipe calls for a cooked date filling, but don't let that scare you off.  Save time by using a quality fruit preserve you buy from your local grocer or gourmet shop!  Or, if you prefer, pick up some pie filling instead;  pop it into the blender or use a hand chopper to break up too-large pieces of fruit.  Mini-pies without the fuss!

This cookie has tons of possibilities.  Vary the filling, of course (chocolate bits and nuts!  mmm!), but consider topping the cookies with nuts, cocoa, icing/confectioner's sugar, drizzled choclate or streusel-like crumb coatings.  This one recipe can yield platters of different cookies, and it's so much easier than those super-mix recipes that start from a common base.  Enjoy!

Filled Cookies

FILLING:
2 cups dates, finely cut or ground
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup chopped nuts

COOKIE DOUGH:
1 cup shortening
2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla
3 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Oven at 400.  Ungreased cookie sheets.

FILLING:
Cook ingredients for filling slowly, stirring constantly until thickened. Set aside.

DOUGH:
1.  Mix shortening, brown sugar and eggs well. Add buttermilk and vanilla, stirring to combine.
2.  Sift flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon, and add to shortening mixture in portions.
3.  Drop dough onto sheet, about 2 inches apart, and drop 1/2 tsp filling on each, covering the filling ith 1/2 teaspoon dough.
4.  Bake 400 degrees 10-12 minutes or till lightly browned.
Yield:  4-5 dozen cookies, depending on size.

Today's art is a card I did last year for a swap.  I'm thinking this might be what we awaken to see tomorrow morning, if the weathercasters are right!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Cookies Day 3 - Choco-Cherry Bites

Today in NOTL:  Cold out there, with 2 p.m. temps of 37F/3C under cloudy skies with rain off and on today.  A gorgeous day!

At the end of this post will be the 3rd cookie recipe...yummy chococherry bites!

Today I am working on uploading some pear ACEOs to the Etsy shop, or trying to, lol.  It ought to be easy, but it is time-consuming and I keep making silly mistakes and having to start over.  Argh!

Still on my pear kick - I tend to get into ruts.  I do a card on beaches, and then here come a bunch of beach cards.  Or sunsets or poodles or whatever.  I try not to, but I pick up the brush and the next thing you know, I'm back into a rut.

Today's card is one I did a year ago.  I kept it for myself, actually, just because.  I thought the snow looked pretty good.

It's Thanksgiving in the US, and I watched the Macy's parade this morning.  It's so ingrained in my experience of Thanksgiving that as soon as I saw the first band, I could feel my holiday spirit perking up.  Hope you're getting ready for a great holiday.  Here is the cookie recipe I promised you, a lovely chocolate and cherry flavoured cookie that is great with the frosting but still yummy without.

Choco-Cherry Bites

2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. almond extract
1/2 cup chopped maraschino cherries, drained
1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Frosting:
2 cups powdered sugar
3 tbsp. butter, softened
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 to 4 tbsp. half and half

Oven at 350 degrees.
1.  Mix together all cookie ingredients EXCEPT the cherries and nuts, mixing well.
2.  Add in cherries and nuts, stirring to blend.
3.  Roll into small balls (my round tablespoon measure works great for making equal sized balls).
4.  Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
5.  Bake 10-15 minutes or till golden brown.

TO PREPARE THE FROSTING:
Combine all frosting ingredients until smooth.

Generously frost cooled cookies.  Yield: about 4 dozen.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

24 Days of Cookies: Day 2 - Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies

You thought I forgot, didn't you!  I didn't; I just wasn't on the computer with the cookie recipes on it!  So, for Day 2, an eeeeeasy one bowl, no mixing version of a favourite cookie:

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon baking soda

Basic Directions:
1.  Mix together.
2.  Drop by teaspoonfuls (or whatever spoon you use for cookie dropping) onto cookie sheet sprayed with nonstick coating (or covered with baking parchment).
3. Bake about 10 minutes, till golden brown on edges.


Notes: 
- Peanut butter varies.  I find cheap peanut butter works really well in this recipe, but that's me.
- You may want to press with a fork and sprinkle sugar on the top of these, a la Mama's pb cookies of old.  Or you may just roll 'em in plain old sugar and press with a fork.  Or you can leave 'em lumpy.  Your call.
- Using all plain granulated sugar makes a nice cookie, but a mix of brown and white granulated sugars is also nice.  I like 50-50, others like a quarter-cup brown to three-quarters cup white. Again, your call.
- You can use chunky peanut butter for this recipe.  Yum!
- Or you can add chocolate chips, a la the pb cup we all love.
- I find it easier to make this recipe if you first stir up the peanut butter (I like stiff peanut butter for this recipe, remember) to loosen it up, then add the egg and sugar.  You want to mix it well, but even if you just throw it all together and mix at once, it comes out well.  Just takes a bit longer, is all.

These cookies are delicious and very peanutty, as you might expect.  If you want to make them for gifts, try rolling teaspoon or larger balls to a uniform size, press down with a fork or your fingers, and sprinkle sugar on them.  When they are cool, drizzle with melted chocolate and take a bow!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New New New - White Chocolate Pear Cookies

Today in NOTL:  Cold front coming!  Temp is dropping, and at 3:30sih we've passed our high with temps at 48F/9C and dropping.  Great Thanksgiving weather!

Big things brewing...Deb becomes an Archbishop this Sunday, presiding bishop of the Community Catholic Church here in Ontario, actually.  A great responsibility for her, and your prayers and support are appreciated. We're also planning changes to the newsletter, which will give us more scope for articles without making the emails so very loooong.  And...surprise!  I'm starting my 24 Days of Cookies EARLY!  This will give you time to try a couple out before the Christmas season is upon us.

Cookie of the Day:  White Chocolate Pear Cookies!!!!
I must confess to you:  I did not have a pear cookie in my recipe collection and I wanted to use a pear recipe since I have pear artwork to upload, lolol.  So I did a yahoo search and found this recipe on about.com.  You can find it here on the About.com network.

For convenience sake, though, I'm including it here:
They say it takes under a half hour to prepare.  You'll need to preheat the oven to 375*F and get out your cookie sheets, leaving them ungreased.
1-1/2 cups peeled, finely chopped fresh pears
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1-1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 cups granola
1 cup vanilla milk chips OR white chocolate chips

1. Cream butter, shortening, and sugar until light, using large bowl of mixer. 
2.  Add egg and vanilla, mixing till smooth. Add pears and stir to combine.
3.  Stir together flour, soda, salt, and cinnamon in a separate bowl.  Add in portions to creamed mixture, beating until mixture is smooth. 
4.  Stir in granola and 1/2 cup chips. 
5.  Drop mixture onto ungreased cookie sheets using a teaspoon.
6.  Bake 10-12 minutes till brown.  Cool 2-3 minutes, then place cookies onto racks to finish cooling.
7.  Using microwave or small pan and low heat, melt the other 1/2 cup chips and drizzle over the cookies when they are conmpletely cool.
Yield: about 36 cookies

I think regular chocolate chips would be nice, too, or perhaps a butterscotch chip? 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Today in NOTL:  Cold, with noonish temps at 39F/4C.

As the holiday season begins, I am having the happy task of sorting through my cookie recipes for a project I have been wanting to begin for some time: Twenty-Four Days of Cookies!!!!  That is, twenty-four days of cookie recipes...

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a long history in the kitchen.  Back in the long-ago days of my childhood, children were expected to begin helping out around the house at a far earlier age than today.  As a result, I began helping Mama with cooking when I was around four.  Simple tasks, to begin - handing her a spoon, stirring something, getting the flour or salt for her. 

By the time I was in school, I knew how to measure ingredients; by age ten, I was mixing recipes with Mama supervising me while she completed other tasks.  I enjoyed our time working in the kitchen, but it was at holiday times that I proved my worth as budding cook, helping Mama put on our Christmas Eve spread.

Together we would pore over Mama's big green Encyclopedia of Cookery, choosing the recipes we'd make and serve.  Mama would purchase the ingredients, then I'd make the cookies, stuffed celery, and sometimes the hot miniature meatballs.  She would make the Date Roll herself, as it was a bit trickier than cookies.  Each year, I'd hear her telling my aunt which items I'd made.  "I'd never be able to do it without Jean," she'd say often.  With a busy household of seven, there was more than enough work to keep Mama working every minute even without the holiday preparations, so she appreciated my interest and willingness to help put on Christmas.

 I'll be sharing many of my favourite Christmas cookie recipes in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!  Art is a 2-inch watercolour.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Today:  Cloudy with light rain off and on and a high of 41F/5C.  Lovely!

Boy, it's November weather today....I mentioned some time ago a poem about the autumn weather on the blogtalk show and have been meaning to post it.  I love both the poem and the time of year it describes. 

Anyway, today I'll post it along with a couple of cards from a Christmas themed swap I did.  I'm busily trying to complete a few swaps I signed up for so that I can begin doing pear cards, which I love to do.  I have a few trades pending, so I want to get them done as soon as I can.               

I hope you enjoy the poem!                                     
      
                                               
 November - by Thomas Hood
No sun--no moon!
No morn--no noon!
No dawn--no dusk--no proper time of day--
No sky--no earthly view--
No distance looking blue--

No road--no street--
No "t'other side the way"--
No end to any Row--
No indications where the Crescents go--

No top to any steeple--
No recognitions of familiar people--
No courtesies for showing 'em--
No knowing 'em!

No mail--no post--
No news from any foreign coast--
No park--no ring--no afternoon gentility--
No company--no nobility--

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member--
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
November!

Monday, November 15, 2010

It's MONDAY??

Today in NOTL:  Lovely day, with a high of around 52F/11C...gorgeous!

In this morning's blogtalk radio show, I a)thought it was FRIDAY (what a letdown!! lol) and b)alluded to a little story I told some time ago about my attempt to bring a little Martha Stewart into my life.  I'll post it again, for those who weren't around when I posted it the first time....

Martha Stewart, You Done Me Wrong!
So I'm watching Martha. She has, as always, something stunning to show us and it's so EASY to do at home....I am mesmerized: she is working with glitter and I'm instantly attracted to anything that sparkles so there I sit with tongue out.

"Just apply the glue," she says, showing how to put glue onto the bird. Well, I've had my glue problems in the past...but I am an optimistic kinda gal, so ok. "And cover the bird with this beyoooooTTTTTyful glitter...I'm using this lovely blue..." (here she dips an ice scoop into a Rubbermaid Tough Tote filled with about 25 pounds of glitter) "which is the exact shade of blue I saw in the baldacchino in a lovely old Italian church..." (She's scooping that glitter for all she's worth, which is to say: LOTS.) "It was actually the highlight in one of the flower petals and I remember saying to myself that we'd have to use that particular shade in something....and just shake off the glitter... Mine is called Baldacchino Italiano Petal Blue Glitter and is available at craft stores and Martha Stewart Online of course.... And there is our beyooooTTTTTyful bird, all ready for the tree. How simple but how very elegant..." The camera pans over a row of birds, from chickadees to fantasy birds with their various markings in different colours of glitter, all looking quite fabulous. Ok, I can glue, I can pour, and I can shake so I figure I'm in business.

I get out my ziplock bag of glitter. I have a bunch of glitters, all in small bottles, no two bottles filled with the same shade. Never having been to Italy, I choose a bottle of gold glitter which is the precise shade of gold that is used for glitter and sometimes those chenille stems. Martha and I obviously move in different circles, but fine. Not having enough to warrant using a mondo plastic container, I use a paper plate to contain the glitter.

Not having a 'dimensional bird' (translation: one of those bird picks you see at the craft store), I quickly glue some pieces of watercolour paper together and draw a few stylized birdies onto them. Noting that it is indeed a small bottle of glitter, I quickly paint the birds yellowish orange in case my coverage is not as full and thick as Marty's. Once they dry, quite nice and flat, I note with some pride, I am ready to roll.

I smear glue over one side of one bird and set it aside while I glue one side of a second bird. I open the bottle of glitter and the cap drops glitter all over my table as I set it aside. No matter, I reassure myself. I can shake the glitter off all the papers under my paper plate. I gently pour the glitter over the first bird and tap gently to shake off the excess. Most of the glitter drops onto the plate.

Uh-oh, I think. The glue has begun to dry! I grab the second bird and shake glitter, hoping that I am in time. Not exactly, though a large spot of glue has held a mound of glitter, making the bird look as though it has a goiter on its poor wing. "Medic!" I think merrily and try to flatten the bump.

Ah, the glue under the mound was wet and so my finger now has a glittergoiter on its tip. I carefully set the bird down on the plate and try to rub off the litter with a tissue. Hmm, that Aleene sure knows how to make glue, I think to myself, observing that my glittergoiter seems to have a rather large tissue flag attached to it. I rub it off with my free hand which has somehow gotten fairly sparkly itself. No matter. I press on.

I apply glue to the back side of bird one and glitter, emptying the bottle. Tap and set aside, I murmur gently but alas, having tapped with too-great enthusiasm, the glitter has drifted to my sweater and skirt. I lean over the plate and shake the fabric and a sparkling cascade of glitter and a few cat hairs settle onto the plate.

I take the second bird and quickly apply a bit of glue to the back and glitter it. By now I have emptied the bottle so I take a small piece of paper to scoop glitter from the plate. Ok, scoop is too generous a term; I'm scraping.

Returning to the first bird, and now a little concerned by the small amount of glitter left, I examine the first side of it which got such thin coverage. I'll put glue in the thinnest spots, I tell myself, and look for the paper onto which I've squirted the glue. I find it, eventually, stuck to the outer side of my hand. By now I'm getting a little worried but I do my best. Finally the birds are glittered ... not exactly to my satisfaction, but they sparkle.

I hand them to Deb for placement on the tree. She crosses the room to hang them onto the tree and the glitter catches the glowing lights on the tree. My birds sparkle gorgeously! I am thrilled and wait expectantly for Deb's reaction as she returns.

"You know," she muses, as she admires the tree, "maybe next time you could do stars or hearts instead of fish."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Teeny tiny itty bitty eeeeeny weeeeny ART!

Today in NOTL:  Blue skies, sunshine, and warmer temps today, with a high of 56F/11C and hardly a breeze outside.  Gorgeous!

Well, after my groaning attempts to get back into acrylics yesterday, I am in need of artsy self-esteem building, so today I will be back at miniature watercolours.  Gosh I love doing watercolour minis!  This time I'm making teeny pendants to wear or use for holiday ornaments.  We have lots of small Christmas trees, so we'll have them all on display for Saturday's official opening of the showroom space.  If you have a shop or are considering a party or just want to do some shopping for fabulous holiday gifts at bargain prices, stop in from 11a.m. - 6 p.m. and say hello!

We are getting feedback from the ladies who purchased items at the conference Deb did last weekend and it is such an affirmation.  We know the pieces are unique and one of a kind originals; the ladies who wrote said the same thing.  One woman reported the admiring comments she received as she wore her bracelet; the other said the friend for whom she'd purchased a gift was blown away by its beauty and artistry.

That's what makes craft shows and artisan shops so popular, I think.  People want to give gifts that are something other than whatever is on the shelf in every store across the country.  They want to give something that speaks to the relationship they share with the person who receives the gift.  They want to give something the person will not only receive with thanks but will delight them again and again, something the person will remember.

So many times we end up giving gifts that get forgotten.  'What did Veronica give you for Christmas last year?' someone may ask, and our eyes widen as we realize we have no idea. Or we'll look at something we own and say, "I think I got that for Christmas...from....from..." and we can't recall.

What we want to give is something unforgettable.  We want the person to think, when they put on the bracelet or pendant or angel or whatever, "Veronica's gift."  We want the person to wear it with pride and to say, "Oh, thank you!  My friend Veronica found this - isn't it beautiful!" when people admire it.  We want our gift to be a continual source of pleasure for our friends, because their friendship is a continual delight for us.

And that's what Deb's fabulous bracelets are - not only stunning, but unique and delightful eye-catching beauties.  The same is true of her angels and crosses and everything we offer, I hope, because each piece is made with joy and filled with the happy energies of appreciation and blessing.

Anyway, we're going to have light refreshments - yummies! - as well as good company and I'll be on hand to do mini-readings, which are always fun.  We hope to see a lot of new and old friends.  If you're in the area - or just like the idea of a day trip to shop and chat - come by!  We'll be delighted to see you!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Busy Critters

Today in NOTL:  Chilly, with a hight today of 55F/13C under sunny7 skies with a light breeze. 

I suppose autumn is well and truly upon us. The squirrels are moving quickly, and the sparrows are scolding each other as they vie for seedy tidbits.  I want to tell them not to worry, that we'll feed them through the winter, but I don't think they understand English, lol.  No worries - the excitement probably keeps them warmer as the days grow cooler. 

Outside my window, a few people stride along.  They're bundled against the cold and I see that almost all of them are wearing earpieces, listening to music or the radio, I imagine. I've been enjoying its absence lately. 

It isn't that I dislike music; I love it.  Still, it's nice to hear the birds outside, along with the occasional bark of a client visiting the veterinary clinic across the way.  It's music of a sort, too, accompanied by the hum of cars passing by and the rhythmic swish of the dishwasher in the kitchen. 

I can't hear a single voice, only quiet sounds.  That is peaceful, too, a lovely background to the yellow leaves drifting past that add to the show as I sip my hot coffee. 

It will be a busy day, I know.  Deb has a party this weekend - hooray!  Here's hoping for lots more! - so we'll be getting things ready for it.  I'll finish the red rosary today and hopefully get it uploaded.  Time to get moving...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday, Monday....

Today in NOTL:   A chilly day, with a high of only 54F/12C and a light breeze under mainly cloudy skies.  A beautiful day!

Yesterday I spent the day working on rosaries.  While I imagine a professional rosary maker could get lots of rosaries made in the five hours I spent on the task, I only completed two.

For me, rosary-making is a time of prayer.  How can I string the beads and spacers without praying the Hail Mary's and Our Father's as I go?  Of course I can string without praying, perhaps stringing while watching television or listening to the radio, but I don't want to make them that way.

I remember a friend, Shanida, our teacher for ceramics class when we all arrived for class at the same time one evening.  As we students began spreading our supplies on the table, one woman took Shanida's handbag and set it on the floor so she could lay out her materials.  Shanida dashed over and grabbed her purse, setting it carefully on a shelf.

"No, no, my purse cannot sit on the floor," she scolded.  "I have my rosary in it!"  Well, replied most of the group, so have we our rosaries in our handbags as well, and Shanida was horrified. "You PRAY with your rosary," she told us.  "Have you no respect for it?"  We appeased her, setting our handbags on the counter in her shop, but I know I was not the only one who reverted to the floor for my handbag in other settings.

Nevertheless, her words had an impact.  Rosaries and other tools that link us to Creator deserve our respect for the holy function they serve, so when I make rosaries, it seems appropriate to me to create a holy space in which to do so.

And so I assemble my materials, quieting my mind and turning my heart to Creator.  I begin to pray as I lay out the beads, the familiar Creed and Our Father's and Hail Mary's of the rosary descender, the words as soothing and comfortable as a warm blanket on a cold night.

I pray for myself, for my own healing, longing to be out and about doing the work of Love.  I pray for the ones in my life who have asked for prayer and the ones who have not.  I think of my dear Cousin Mickey, asking his help as I do the work he did so many many times.  I dedicate the time to divine Love, sending loving prayers and blessings to all the world.

Especially, I think of the one who will purchase the rosary and the one who will pray it.  I ask abiding blessings for them, the sweet consolation of spiritual union with the Divine, a life filled with joyful service to Creator.

Often, as I work, I feel the presence of my angels draw near. I feel the shift in energies as spirit fills the room.  The air gets that feeling of heavy peacefulness that one often finds in ancient cathedrals and in the midst of dense forests.  Even Mr. Murphy knows spirit is present, as he flops beside me and heaves a heavy sigh, then settles, watching me and the ceiling before drooping into sleep.

As the beads are strung, one after the other, Hail Mary's and Glory Be's in succession, insights come.  Everything leads us back to love, I realize.  Everything is holy.

A wayward space fights me, skipping away from the beading wire.  I recognize my own stubborn nature in that of the bead.  As I patiently, finally get it in place, I am reminded of God's own patience with the stubborn children that we are, running from the one reliable source of comfort we could ever find.

Working with the tiny delicas, I see that I have miscounted the spacers between two beads and slide the decade from the wire.  After restringing, I discover that now there are too few spacers between two different Hail Mary beads.  Puzzled, I remove the decade again and restring.  And then do so again.  I cannot figure the puzzle; I am being so careful - how could I continue making the mistake?  I am not angry or irritated, only wondering at the mystery.

As I remove the decade yet again, a tiny delica falls from within a Hail Mary bead.  Ah, the mystery is now solved.  The delica had nestled so close to the larger bead that it slipped within it.  I replace the delicas in their tube; I cannot make a rosary that will have its user doubting her sensibilties!  Another delica falls from the center of another Hail Mary bead, and I realize that like the delica, I too am surrounded by the love of Creator.  It is the safe place the scripture writer speaks of, the secret place of the Most High.

But the Hail Mary beads have a lesson for me, too.  They are crystal, but an odd colour, a beige-y brown that could be rather unappealing.  The transparent aurora coating, though, highlights the reflective nature of each crystal, and they glow with fire.  Truly, despite their drab colour, they are stunningly beautiful.  Much like prayer, the beads are more than what they seem.  To the uninitiated, the rosary or mediation or other prayer tradition may seem dry and sterile.  Ah, how wrong they are.  They will only learn the truth, however, when they set forth on the path that seems so uninviting.  Only then can they discover the richness and joy of spirituality.

Little by little, the rosary is made and the afternoon is half gone.  I debate momentarily whether I will stop and read my book or string another rosary.  It's no contest; I am reluctant to leave the place of deep peace in which I work.  It is what I wish for other pray-ers as the prayer beads slip between their fingers: that they, too, my find themselves dwelling in the peace and security found in the presence of the Most High.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Thinking Red'n'Green!

Today in NOTL:  A gorgeous day - sunny, breezy and cool with a high of 57F/14C.

Today is rosary-making day.  I got some lovely centerpieces from a nearby retreat center that will no longer be selling them, so was able to get really nice centerpieces at a bargain price (which is about the only price I can afford, lol).  It's a good thing, as Martha would say.  So today I'll be busy in that gentle, prayerful, peaceful way of rosary-making.

When I work on rosaries, I think of my dear Cousin Mickey.  He was my father's first cousin, and since my dad was an only child, very much like a brother to him and an uncle to us.  His wife was my mom's very good friend; I recall a Mardi Gras photo from the 30s or 40s of my mom, Cousin Clara, and one of their friends, three smiling clowns posing merrily for the camera.

Cousin Mickey and Clara had six children do my parents' five, a mix of girls and boys as opposed to our all-girl brood. When I was young, Mama and Dad would take us to visit and it was such fun. The older boy cousins would tease us, and we'd battle them alongside our girl cousins who were conveniently aged to befriend my elder sister and me.

The adults would play cards or cook or just chat - whatever they did was accompanied by the gales of laughter you hear when good friends get together.  We kids' bedtimes were forgotten, and we'd get to watch the late Saturday night horror movie.  I remember being terrified by The Blob, as my older cousins teased me mercilessly.

As much of a tease as my dad was - and he loved nothing better than teasing us - Cousin Mickey was his match.  I remember when my youngest cousin fell asleep on the sofa, rather than simply waking him, Cousin Mickey took a broomstraw and began tickling his upper lip.  We all smothered our laughs until Mom and Cousin Clara took pity on my cousin and made Cousin Mickey quit.

Devout Catholics, they sent their children, as did my parents, to the local Catholic school and were fixtures at Sunday masses and devotions.  Making rosaries was both a way for Cousin Mickey to share his faith and to create beauty.  I once saw his beads spread on the table, gorgeous sparkly crystals of many colors.  How they took my breath away!  He made my First Communion rosary, which I cherish even more today than I did as a first communicant.

As I string the beads, Cousin Micky comes to mind.  I remember his smiling teases and laughter and even as my eyes mist over I smile.  I hope he helps me now, as I make my rosaries.  It would be so like him to do so.