Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

Holiday Baking: Sweets for the Sweet (and my family!)

January 31, 2012

Okay, so I am way behind on my blogging.  Since I last posted, I’ve tried 5 new recipes, not to mention all the batches of old favorites I’ve cranked out (Sour Cream Cookies and Margarita Cookies were back by popular demand).  I found two of my experiments (Brown Sugar Drops from the Betty Crocker book & Buttery Fork Cookies from the 1001 book) disappointing, so I won’t waste time posting them.  However, three of my holiday dessert projects are well worth the making, so here we go!

The first recipe I want to share is one I made with my dear friend in The Kelly Kitchen just before Christmas, in between giving bottles to her darling twin boys!  She’d clipped this recipe from a magazine and bought all the ingredients, but hadn’t had the time to make it what with becoming a mom a bit quicker than expected, so when I came to visit the new arrivals, we carved out a bit of time for baking while Daddy minded the boys.  I’m not sure which periodical published this one, but it was submitted by Carol Stuber, and it was yummy:  a perfect fall treat!

Caramel Apple Bars

Crust:
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup shortening
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup chopped pecans, optional
Filling:
4 1/2 cups coarsely chopped peeled baking apples (see my previous post for tips on good baking apples)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 package (14 ounces) caramels
3 tablespoons butter or margarine

In a mixing bowl, cream butter, shortening and brown sugar until fluffy.  Add flour, oats, salt and baking soda; mix well.  Stir in pecans if desired.  Set aside 2 cups.  Press remaining oat mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking pan.  For filling, toss apples with flour; spoon over the crust.  In a saucepan, melt the caramels and butter over low heat; drizzle over apples.  Top with the reserved oat mixture.  Bake at 400° for 25/30 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool before cutting into bars.  We were impatient and didn’t follow that last bit of instruction, and they fell apart into a crumbly mess.  They were still delicious though.

Caramel Apple Bars

This next recipe is one I had done previously, but never posted.  We buy fresh oranges from H & S Citrus every winter.  It is by far the best citrus I’ve ever eaten, and with such good fruit on hand, I decided to try the recipe for Orange Drop Cookies from Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book when my sister gave it to me last Christmas.  They were delicious, so I made them again this year.  It may become a Christmas tradition, but only if I get faster at it.  Once I promised cookies to my niece and nephew, I couldn’t disappoint, but apparently it was an excruciatingly long wait, if the number of times I was asked “Are they done yet?” is any indication.

The cookies have a cake-like texture, and the refreshing orange flavor really comes through.  I recommend using fresh orange juice for both the cookie and icing.  I know it’s a bit more work, but it’s worth it, and you need real oranges to get the rind anyway, so just do it.  🙂

Orange Drop Cookies

2/3 cup shortening
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tbsp. grated orange rind
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt
Orange Butter Icing (recipe follows)

Heat oven to 400°.  Mix shortening, sugar and egg thoroughly.  Stir in orange juice and rind.  Stir dry ingredients together; blend in.  Drop rounded teaspoonfuls of dough about 2″ apart on an ungreased baking sheet.  Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until delicately browned on edges.  Mine always seem to brown quicker.  Watch them closely.  Frost with Orange Butter Icing.

Orange Butter Icing

2 1/2 tbsp. soft butter
1 1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. orange juice
2 tsp. grated orange rind

Blend butter and sugar together.  Stir in juice and rind until smooth.

Orange Drop Cookies

The last recipe I want to recommend is one I came across on Facebook.  It has already been blogged far more thoroughly than I could do it, so instead of reinventing the wheel, I’ll just link to it with this recommendation:  make these!  They are the perfect treat for those of you who eat so much cookie dough that you wind up baking very few cookies.  My darling nephew declared them “one of the best chocolate things I ever ate.”

And on that note, I’ll leave you to your kitchens.  I acquired three new dessert cookbooks recently (Chocolate, The New York Times Dessert Cookbook and Miette), so be on the lookout for new experiments to come!  Next on the docket is Chocolate Hazelnut Drops, from the 1001 book.  Wish me luck!

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Working hard, or hardly working?

November 4, 2011

Today was a good day at work.  And let’s face it:  we all need one of those now and then, don’t we?  For starters I got paid today, which is always a plus.  But the highlight of my afternoon was one of my tiny customers, as is often the case.  Two young women came in, each with a little girl in tow.  One of the girls was a one-year-old named Patience, and the other was a little girl named Morgan who looked to be four or so.  I asked the mothers if they needed a shopping bag to hold their products, and one of them jokingly said “No, but do you have a stroller?”  I replied “No, but I’ve got auntie arms.  I’ll hold her while you shop, if you’d like.”  Fortunately we weren’t busy at the time.

I came around the counter and held my hands out to the baby, and she leaned into my arms without hesitation.  The mother said she’d take her back if I wanted, but I told her I was perfectly happy to hold her if she didn’t mind, and she said that if I was sure, she’d be glad of the break.  So I settled the baby on my hip and started swaying, as all women seem to instinctively do when they’re holding a baby.  She stared at me for a moment, then started playing with my name tag.  After a while, she started squirming to get down, so I set her on her feet and offered her my hand.  She grabbed my index finger in a tight grip, and took off like a shot through the store.  I let her tug me around until she took a tumble, then I scooped her back up and danced with her a little bit, singing along with the Christmas music that was playing in the store.  She stared at me fixedly for a few moments when I was singing, then Morgan, who I think might have been her cousin, started dancing too, and when the baby caught sight of her, she let out the most adorable series of excited squeaks and giggles.  Eventually the mothers finished their shopping and left, taking the girls with them.  But they sure brightened my day.  That’s the kind of customer service I best love to do.

And the icing on the cake was an older woman I waited on just before I left.  She had some questions about different fragrances.  She was trying to find a substitute for a favorite of hers that had been discontinued.  I showed her some other options, and let her know of another outlet store where she could try to find her old favorite, and we got to talking about various things:  our favorite scents, the different notes in them, how much we disliked change, etc.  When I had to break away to answer another customer’s question, she thanked me, and said I’d been very helpful.  She said it was a relief to talk to someone who actually wanted to help, and wasn’t just trying to get her to spend more money.

It was equally nice for me to wait on someone who actually recognized what I was trying to do.  When you’re in sales, customers tend to make assumptions about your motives, but my goal is to help people find what they actually want, and to get them the best deal I possibly can.  I know the coupons and the sales, and I know how to combine them so you get more for less.  It’s always a pleasure to help someone who is genuinely grateful for that.  I need more days like this.

Fröhliche Weihnachten!

December 26, 2009

Merry Christmas, everyone!  The sentiment’s a bit late due to my sporadic internet access, but it’s sincere.  I hope you all had a wonderful holiday.  I did.

At first my week was rather lonely and boring.  For once in my life, I genuinely, wholeheartedly missed being in school.  I always had such a good time conversing with my teacher and classmates, and with everyone I knew flying off in every direction to spend Christmas with friends and family, I felt rather deserted.  But I did what I always do:  I kept walking through my days (just like mom always told me to), completed whatever tasks were necessary, then cuddled up under my duvet with a movie or book.  And I looked forward to Christmas.

I was invited to spend Christmas Day with a family from the church I’ve attended a few times.  It’s a non-denominational Protestant church with an English service (thank goodness) called MICC (Munich International Community Church).  They paired you up with a volunteer family if you were away from home and didn’t want to be alone for Christmas.  You can always count on church folks to feed you, literally and spiritually!  But in all seriousness, I was very grateful.  They were so kind and hospitable to me, and the food was delicious.  So I had a merry and blessed Christmas, and I hope you can all say they same!

A Fortnight and a Half of Miscellanea

December 13, 2009

Sorry for being MIA so long; it’s been a stressful week on several fronts, but I’m ready to get caught up now.  Over the years, I’ve gotten in the obsessively frequent habit of writing long notes and lists for myself to remind me of things I don’t wish to forget.  This can be a blessing and a curse.  I’ve been keeping a detailed list of things to blog, and it’s starting to get long, so now I’m going to plunge in and purge it all at once.  Here goes.

A Concert

A little over three weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a classical concert.  The music was by Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Bartók, and was performed by Die Münchner Philharmoniker, with piano solos by Alice Sara Ott.  It was unbelievable.  I’d had a rough day, and was feeling down on myself because I wasn’t picking up German as fast as I would’ve liked.  All things school-related have always come relatively easy to me with minimum effort, and learning German has proved to be something of an educational ego bruiser at times (which is probably a good thing).  At any rate, I felt much better after the concert.  The music was so powerful and uplifting, and the piano soloist was unbelievable.  She was only 21, and she played everything from memory with perfect precision.  There wasn’t a single key on that piano that she didn’t use.  She extracted every note, every sound possible from the instrument.  It was incredible.

A Castle, A Tangle, and a Pastry

The following weekend, I visited Schloss Neuschwanstein with a group from school.  I’d already seen it once in 2007 and, having forgotten how strenuous the walk up to the castle is, I decided to go back.  I was under the weather that day, having just come down with a sinus condition of some sort, and the mountain climbing required to reach the castle just about did me in.  I decided early on that my second tour of Neuschwanstein would very likely be my last.  But that aside, it is quite amazing once you get there, and I do recommend seeing it if you’re ever in Deutschland.  The train trip was two hours each way, but we had plenty to keep us occupied.  One of the students from Finland often knits socks during our train trips.  She had acquired a giant pink ball of discount yarn somewhere, and it had quickly morphed itself into one big knot.  I offered to help her with it, and three of us spent the entire trip down and back untangling it and rolling it into balls for her.  I told her afterward that she owed us all a pair of socks.  🙂  I don’t know why yarn and thread skeins are always like that, but whenever I do needlework, I seem to spend as much time untangling as I do stitching.  I was interested to learn that needlework is often taught in European schools.  Perhaps if I’d studied here, I wouldn’t have been considered such a nerd.  Oh well.  Speaking of balls, I also tried a new sweet that day, a specialty from Rothenburg ob der Tauber called a Schneeball (snowball).  It was basically a wad of pie crust about the size of a baseball with various flavored glazes.  I chose coconut.  It was interesting.  It tasted good, but as desserts go, it was a little on the dry side.  And messy.  I left a Hänsel-type trail of crumbs through Füssen.

Boys…

…will be boys.  Case in point, a recent outing in Augsburg, where the men of BWS enjoyed the latest marketing strategy from Vodafone.

A Random Act of Kindness

Late one evening I was standing in front of a ticket machine in the subway station, trying to figure out which ticket I needed to get me home.  You can purchase multiple types of public transportation tickets for various time frames and areas.  Normally I buy a weekly ticket for central Munich, and then I’m covered, but that week I hadn’t for some reason.  Anyway, a woman who was leaving the station asked me if I needed a ticket, and then gave me hers.  She’d bought one that morning which was good for a whole day of travel within Munich and outlying areas, and was apparently finished with it, so I got to ride home for free that night.  It was such a thoughtful thing to do.  I really appreciated her kindness.

Random Acts of Unkindness

With the notable exception of the waiters in Hofbräuhaus (who I think have spent too much time with drunk tourists; they all need vacations from the service industry), most everyone I’ve met in Germany has been infinitely congenial and good-natured.  Whether they be teachers, retail personnel, or random people on the street they are, as a rule, friendly, cordial and helpful.  Of course, there are exceptions.  The Monday after I arrived, my first day of school, I was standing in Sendlinger-Tor-Platz with my sheaf of Google directions, trying in vain to locate Hauptfeuerwache.  A young blonde twerp dressed “punk” style, perhaps 13 or so, walked by with another boy.  He ran his fingertips over my elbow and said “dicke,” and he and his friend walked away laughing.  Mind you, I didn’t understand much German at that point, but I knew what “dicke” meant.  Fat.  Not cool.  I was reminded of that incident on the night of the great gelatin debate.  As we were walking to the grocery store, we met two large, boisterous Italian men who were playing with a dog.  One stepped sideways to allow us to pass, then yelled something after us in Italian (which, as I later learned, begins with “b” and ends with “itches” when translated to English).  Fabiana threw some irate-sounding Italian back over her shoulder at him, then explained what had happened.  I have no idea what we did to irritate the man, but seeing as he’d just exited a pub, I imagine he was three sheets to the wind.  Or maybe he was just a jerk.  It happens.  But looking on the positive side, I’ve been in a foreign country for 7 weeks now and had only two unpleasant encounters, which are more than balanced out by dozens of pleasant ones.  Mercifully, the scales tip heavily to the favorable side.  I love it here.

Yet Another Grocery Rumination

I’m sure you’re all getting tired of reading about the novelty of grocery shopping in a foreign country (what is this, the fifth time?).  If so, feel free to skip this section, because I’ve found this subject to be a deep well of curiosities, wonderment and cultural contrast.  The typical American supermarket is a massive complex with infinite variety.  The choices for every product are endless (perhaps sometimes excessive).  Most of our grocery stores cannot be called “minimalist” in any sense of the word.  Even the biggest, most diverse grocery stores here carry only a fraction of the choices the average American could expect to find as a matter of course.  Products that have entire aisles all to themselves in the states (breakfast cereals, chips and baking products, for example) have only a moderate rack or a few shelves dedicated to them here.  Instead of fifty choices, you’ll have five or ten.  Or one or two.  But in contrast, there are also areas here which offer much more variety (and sometimes more quality).  Meats and cheeses, for example.  At home, we combine the two with a few inedible noodle salads and prepared foods and call it “the deli.”  In larger supermarkets here, meats and cheeses have separate counters, and they are massive.  Instead of two kinds of salami, there are a dozen or so.  My favorite example of quality and variety here is the chocolate.  Galeria Kaufhof has a section the size of Rhode Island dedicated to chocolate.  I reveled in this the Monday before last when I went shopping for an advent calendar.  There were dozens to choose from, and they weren’t the cheap, flimsy affairs with small lumps of milk chocolate one finds in the states.  Well, some were, but most weren’t.  Most were gourmet chocolates from well-known candy makers such as Lindt.  One calendar could cost up to 30 Euros.  I went with a middling one for 15.  Perhaps it was a little steep for what is, essentially, a glorified 24-piece box of chocolates, but I haven’t been disappointed.  Every new day reveals a little piece of sweet, chocolaty bliss.  Merry Christmas to me!  I may be “dicke,” but at least I’m jolly!

St. Nikolaus Cometh

Speaking of jolly, we must have been good students, because St. Nikolaus and his… umm… “unique” angelic assistant paid BWS a visit last Friday, and we all got some goodies.

 

FYI

December 2, 2009

For those of you who don’t already know, I’ve decided to extend my stay in Munich.  I won’t be home until the end of January, and I’ll be remaining here over Christmas break.  When I began my course, I realized very quickly that two months would not be nearly enough time to learn as much as I’d like.  Three months probably won’t be either (one requires 30 years according to Mark Twain), but I’m going to run out of money eventually.  The more I learn, the more I realize how much there still is to learn, and I want to make the most of my time here.  I’ll miss being with my loved ones for Christmas more than I can say, but learning a second language is important to me, and this trip is such a wonderful opportunity.  So, when you’re carving your roast beast this year, remember me, and know I’ll be thinking of you.

All-American: Thanksgiving and Peanut Butter

November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  I am so thankful to have all of you in my life, and I wish we could be together today, but I’m also very thankful for the opportunity to learn German, and I’m deeply grateful to everyone who played a part in making this trip possible, especially my family.

Last night I did a little baking in the school kitchen (I don’t have an oven in my apartment, unfortunately).  I made peanut butter cookies and lemon bars to share with my class, and today we talked a little bit about the origins and traditions associated with Thanksgiving while we ate them.  We always have fun talking together.  I couldn’t have hand-picked a better group or teacher for myself; that’s such a huge blessing.

Shopping for my baking project was a little stressful.  Everything I needed was in the store; the problem was recognizing it.  I’ve always taken for granted how very easy it is to shop for groceries when I’m home.  I don’t have to stare at each item for ages, reading every word (sometimes consulting a dictionary), and wishing the manufacturer had thought to put pictures of the contents on the package.  I recognize what I want immediately, usually by the logo of whatever my preferred brand happens to be (the marketers got me, Dr. R!), and I just grab it and go.  In and out.  Not so Tuesday night.  I spent about an hour and a half shopping for 15-20 items.

The only product I had no trouble  identifying was the peanut butter.  I’ve bought peanut butter twice now (in Germany, that is), and I find it endlessly amusing that the German marketers/manufacturers go to so much trouble to make the packaging scream “American!”  It’s as though they want to be absolutely certain everyone knows they bear no responsibility for the creation of such a product.  The labels are invariably some combination of red, white and blue, and sport a U.S. map, or flag, or both.  One jar had the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline on it.  As far as I know, New York has no more to do with peanut butter than any other city  (George Washington Carver certainly wasn’t from anywhere near there, and while he didn’t actually “invent” peanut butter, he is certainly responsible for improving the recipe and popularizing it), but for some reason Europeans seem to associate all things American with New York.  Whenever I tell someone I’m from the U.S., they’ll say, “Ah; New York!” and ask me how far away I live, and whether I’ve been there.  Fabiana is dying to go.  New York was a nice place to visit, I grant, but there are many other places I would visit before I’d go back.  I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.  Certainly not the peanut butter.