Friends, it’s happening! Winter is here.
While my intolerance for the cold is well-documented, neither it nor the icy, miserable conditions outdoors can dampen my enthusiasm for the holidays, which are, as they say, just around the corner.
Like the rest of you, I am occupied with a long list of happy-making tasks.
While I huddle indoors, shopping on-line and wrapping and baking and getting a hand cramp from the last-minute addressing of Christmas cards (which, yes, should have gone out long before now), I hope you will amble over to the Marion House Book.
I was lucky enough to write a guest post for Emma, luckier still to have Kristin Sjaarda come to photograph the quirky Christmas mantel I styled for our place, and I am thrilled to stake a small claim in the bounty of aesthetic goodness that happens over there.
Please have a look, and then I’ll meet you back here, sooner than soon, ok?
I have attempted several times to write about our holidays thus far, and each time it’s been a struggle to express the balance of joy and relief and heart-filling happiness and exhaustion – and also the sense that memories are being made every second, and the need to document them while still being fully present in the moment – that is Christmas time with young children.
It’s been wonderful, and zany, and at points overwhelmingly emotional.
We have missed family, and shed tears for lost loved ones. We have ached for friends who are enveloped in grief.
We have celebrated our good health and our good life and our great good fortune, to have all that we do.
And today – blessed first of January! – we cracked into a brand new year.
I got out first thing, before it started to rain, and when I got home we drank the last of the bubbly and said a fond farewell to our Christmas tree.
And we ate an enormous breakfast, which we all enjoyed…
And then there was dancing.
Giant Baked Blueberry Pancake for Auspicious Beginnings
3/4c whole milk
3/4c light spelt (or all purpose) flour
1 tbsp plus 1/4c granulated sugar
1/4c (packed) dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4c soft unsalted butter
scant 3/4c frozen blueberries
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs and milk together, then add flour and 1 tbsp granulated sugar. Whisk to combine (batter will be slightly lumpy). In a small bowl, stir together remaining granulated sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Set aside.
Heat 2 tbsp butter in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Pour batter into pan and scatter blueberries over top.
Bake 8-10 minutes, until edges of pancake are puffed and golden but centre is still slightly runny. Remove from oven, and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon mixture.
Dot with remaining 2 tbsp butter, and carefully turn the pancake over in the pan. Return pan to oven and cook a further 3-5 minutes, until pancake is risen and golden and sugar has turned to syrup.
Remove from oven and invert pancake onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.
We’ve been friends for years and we remain close, despite that fact that she is still single and fabulous and I am married with children, and that colouring my hair is the only (tenuous) thread that remains to connect me to my former glamourous self.
She is a massage therapist, an excellent bartender, and a world traveler. She used to live in the Caribbean, and she is planning an ambitious solo adventure to celebrate her 40th birthday next year.
She also flew in to town to spend the weekend with me not long ago, at a time when I very much needed the support.
So that should tell you everything you need to know about this friend of mine: she is brave, kind, and awesome.
She didn’t even grimace with distaste (which would have been appropriate) when I tried to serve her the spiced rum I bought because I liked its name (Sailor Jerry) and its label (vintage tattoos) but neglected to check its provenance (umm…New Jersey?).
Instead, she whipped up some champagne cocktails to get us through our afternoon.
And Sailor Jerry is destined for this Christmas cake, which I plan to make later today.
Christmas Cake, Version 1
You’ll have to start making this as soon as you finish reading the recipe, pretty much, in order for it to be well-aged in time for Christmas – I will be posting a more procrastinator-friendly version soon. But if you like fruitcake, this is a classic. The recipe comes from the Laura Secord Canadian Cookbook, via my mom.
For Fruit Mixture:
(Note that you can vary the amounts here as much as you wish, as long as your total volume comes up roughly equivalent. You should also not hesitate to substitute ingredients you like for the ones you don’t, eg. chopped dried pears for currants, etc.)
250g slivered almonds
1 kg candied cherries
450g chopped mixed peel
1c chopped pitted dates
1/2c spiced rum
2 1/2c flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2c lightly packed brown sugar
3/4c apple juice
I would get started on the fruit mixture the night before you are planning to bake your cake. All you have to do is combine all of the ingredients in a large pyrex mixing bowl, stir well, and cover lightly with plastic wrap.
The next morning, add 1/2c flour to the fruit mixture and stir well. Set aside.
For the cake:
Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Grease, line with parchment, and then grease again an approximately 8″x8″x3″ loaf pan.
Sift together remaining 2c flour, baking soda, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, and salt in a large mixing bowl.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter. Gradually add sugar, then eggs one at a time, beating well between additions.
Combine molasses and apple juice in a glass measuring jug, whisking to mix.
Reduce mixer speed to medium-low, and add sifted dry ingredients alternately with molasses mixture, mixing lightly after each addition, and finishing with the flour mixture.
Fold in fruit mixture, and turn out into prepared pan.
Bake 3 to 3 1/2 hopurs, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove from pan and remove parchment. Cool cake completely on a rack.
When cake has cooled, feed with a little rum (2-3 tbsp) then wrap in a layer of parchment, then a layer of foil. Continue to feed the cake with rum every few days, rewrapping well each time. The cake should age a minimum of around 2 weeks, so if you’re motivated, there is still time!