Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Another Baking Mix...

Oh dear. After the success of my Funfetti Cake, I now find myself in supermarkets lingering around the 'packet cake' section of the baking aisle. In the past I'd walk quickly past this area, heading for the 'real' baking section where I would lovingly fill my basket with ingredients - packets of nuts, Chipits chocolate chips, etc - for my genuinely home-made cakes and cookies. Now however the evil Pillsbury boy and wicked Betty Crocker have weaseled their way into my consciousness and I find myself being increasingly tempted by what they're offering up.

I knew it would happen sometime, but last week I actually succumbed in true Oscar "I can resist everything except temptation" Wilde style when my eye alighted on this thing of beauty:

For those of you not in the know, Nanaimo Bars are a wonderful Canadian invention, purportedly hailing from the town on Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. They are a layered traybake consisting of a coconutty, chocolatey, biscuity base, topped with a sinfully creamy layer of, er, creamy stuff, and a final topping of chocolate. They are most definitely the kind of thing that a gastro-snob would shun, but despite my inate snobbery about cake-mixes, I wouldn't call myself one of those. I have often pondered making my own Nanaimo Bars, but somehow the idea of creating 3 layers was just too much mental baggage for me to carry and my plan has never made it to fruition. However, the words 'No Bake Treat' on the side of this gorgeously packaged box made it too much for me to resist.

Upon reading the instructions I was delilghted by the ease of the preparation (the box contains 3 packets, one for each layer) but also slightly taken aback by the sheer volume of butter required to make the finished product... Packet A - add half a cup of butter; Packet B - add butter; Packet C - add... guess what... more butter. Oh well I thought, something that tastes this good was never going to be a health food now was it?!
This photo was thoughtfully composed for my bilingual blog-readers!
And so it was made. For the amount of pure fat mixed into this creation, it fills a frighteningly small tray. The instructions suggest that you cut the finished traybake into 40 - yes, FORTY - pieces, and a 'serving' of 2 tiny pieces contains a mere 240 calories and 38% of your daily allowance of saturated fat. The message is clear: don't read the nutritional information on these boxes.

Looking again at this photo, I see that the closeness of the shot makes it deceiving... each piece is about 2cm x 4cm. Teeny.
Terrified that I would scoff the entire tray and induce an instant heart-attack, I took it to a Pot-Luck supper last night, where they were very popular. Fortunately there were just a few left at the end of the evening...

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Bright Copper Kettles and Warm Woollen Mittens...

So enchanted have I been with Mara's fabulous idea of sharing our kitchen favourites, I thought I'd start a new one... show us you CHRISTMAS favourites!

We put our decorations up last weekend and I was delighted anew by some of the lovely things we have for the Christmas tree. After 11 months hidden in the attic it was great to rediscover these baubles. (That's the decorations in the attic, not me...).

So, here we are...

As you can see we aim for the 'jumble-sale' effect with our tree. Yes, it's a little crowded; no, it's in no way co-ordinated, but nonetheless it brings a smile to my face every time I see it. Christmas is no time for good taste and elegance now is it?

These teeny sweaters must surely rank among the 'best Christmas tree decorations EVER'. I find them adorable. We bought some in the UK over the last few years (from Accessorize) but were highly excited to find some in Canada too... and even more excited that we found them after Christmas so they were 75% off.
Another favourite decoration is this cute knitted monkey. My friend Vicky sent him to me last year, bought on her travels in Africa. I have a group of brilliant University friends and the 5 of us have a long-running amusement with monkeys (loooooong story!). The sheer variety of monkey-themed gifts that have passed between us in the 10 years since we graduated never ceases to amaze me.
I think it's nice that the tree is a reflection of the things that we love... so of course here's my cookie-baking ornament. This was a present from my fellow-foodie-friend Sarah this year, given to me a few weeks early so we could enjoy it before Christmas.

Something Rob and I both enjoy - the snow, and snowshoeing. We had a fabulous snowshoe walk last Winter, using snowshoes borrowed for a weekend from Base supply, and hope to do the same again this year. We bought these mini snowshoes in the LL Bean flagship store in Freeport, Maine, whilst on our Fall road-trip. I love to pick up Christmas tree decorations from around the world, so each one brings back memories. Mind you, I give thanks to the great LL Bean every time I put on my fantastic down-jacket that I bought there on the same trip. It's been incredibly warm over the last few weeks when Winter arrived here with a vengeance. You can see a mini-cardigan in the shot too.

My fondness for Emma Bridgewater is well documented, and how fortunate that I have friends with the same taste! This is another gift from Sarah - it a gorgeous scented candle, which smells wonderful. It's great when you find a friend who loves the same things as you do, and Sarah definitely falls into this category. Gifts this year from her have ranged from the delightfully tasteful Emma Bridgewater to the delightfully kitch Elvis rubber duck and the Jim'll Fix It soap on a rope. Comedy gold!
And so we move to the fireplace. In an ideal world this would be a real fire, but we're in an Army Quarter so don't get much choice about this kind of thing. However, we wouldn't be able to put fairy lights on the hearth if it was real, so I guess you could say we're making the best of it. The fairy-light ball on the table next to the fire is a favourite of mine, though not strictly a Christmas favourite, as it's there all year. I shamelessly stole the idea from my sister-in-law (or possibly it was my niece?) and made it as a present for Rob last Christmas. The three stockings that hang from the mantelpiece were bought here in Canada last year in the marvellous 'Michaels' art and craft superstore. I have to ration my visits there, otherwise I could bankrupt us.

As you can see from the mantelpiece, we like to have lots of real greenery in the house, and had an expedition out on the cross-country skis last weekend to gather some. Most is over the fireplace, but lots of our pictures are adorned with a good sprig of it too. Or an entire branch... I don't go for subtlety here.

And what am I listening to whilst decorating the house for the festive season?! Pure Christmas kitch of course. My favourite ever Christmas CD is the one on the left, bought in Bath and Body Works in Las Vegas last December. It's a charity double CD, a compilation of old and new, containing such delights as 'It's a Marshmallow World' by Bing Crosby, and 'Green Christmas' by the Barenaked Ladies. I love it. A recent acquisition is the Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers album, a treasure unearthed in Walmart recently. 'Hard Candy Christmas' is my favourite song. And of course Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without John Rutter. Perhaps you won't have heard of him, but anyone who has ever sung in a choir will be familiar with his gloriously harmonised carols. It became trendy in the singing world to dismiss his work as slightly 'naff', but that's all part of its charm. It's fabulous to sing, and really accessible to listen to.

I'll finish with another new purchase - this wonderful Santa's washing line, bought recently in Canadian Tire. It's hanging across the kitchen window and actually brought a spontaneous smile to my face this morning as I staggered down the stairs, half asleep, in search of my morning cup of tea. And after all, that's what Christmas should be all about - bringing a smile to your face in whatever way works for you.

Happy Christmas to one and all.