Holiday Recipe Roundup, and what the holidays look like from here

Despite not being together as a family this Christmas season, I’ve decided to make the best of the holiday spirit.  This will be the kiddo’s first Christmas where she really understands what’s going on.  Before having kids I actually wondered if I would want to do the Santa thing.  Well, it seems the season is a bit undeniable, and my little girl had been well apprised of the ins and outs of the whole affair long before I had a chance to weigh in.  But it doesn’t matter:  also undeniable were the squeals of excitement at the lights!  Santa!  reindeer!  (more lights!) sparkles!  Christmas trees!  (ligggghhhhhttts!)

And then, when I was grumbling my way through Toys R’ Us a few weeks ago (“grrr….commercialization….grrr….no gender neutral toy options….grrrr…..$100 for a tricycle…..a whole freakin’ section of electronics for toddlers….argggghh”), I found the Cabbage Patch doll section, and was hit by a double whammy of nostalgia and the anticipation of my wee one’s thrilled little face upon receiving her first “real” baby for Christmas.  

(make that a triple whammy, when I realized that my little girl’s nature is to nurture, and that after three years of buying mostly blocks, play-dough, books, and art supplies, buying her a doll didn’t necessarily have to be about pandering to cultural norms, but rather allowing her to build on skills and strengths that she had already begun to show on her own.  The kid snuggles dish cloths and puts them to bed.  It was time….)

So here we are, preparing for a perfect imperfect Christmas, brimming with excitement, and at least, while A is mostly just excited about sparkles and the possibility of a new pair of underwear (as opposed to, like, a pony), gratefully indulging in what the season should really be about.

Speaking of indulging…I’ve pulled a few recipes out of the archives that you might find useful this season – for entertaining, gifting, or just hunkering down at home.  Enjoy!

First up, the recently published Icebox Cookies.  Though these are traditionally a holiday-time treat in our home, it’s always handy to have some in the freezer, ready at a moment’s notice.  They make a great gift too!

Dad's Icebox Cookies | www.purplehousecafe.com

If you’re looking for a super simple hostess gift, or a Secret Santa surprise, why not infuse some maple syrup with some fun flavours (here I used vanilla bean and star anise)?  Seriously, this could not be easier, and it’s a really special treat.

Vanilla and Star Anise Infused Maple Syrup | www.purplehousecafe.com

Holiday entertaining made simple:  meatballs, chili sauce and grape jelly.  It will have people hovering around your slow-cooker at your next gathering.

Grape Jelly Meatballs | www.purplehousecafe.com

Every Christmas morning for well over a decade, I’ve eaten a breakfast strata.  In the good old days, growing up, it was made with simple ham and cheese.  As I grew up, started a family of my own and became more knowledgeable about food and flavour, our strata morphed into this prosciutto, onion and spinach version.

Christmas Breakfast Strata | www.purplehousecafe.com

Last but not least, you just have to make homemade egg nog.  Seriously:  once you have this, the grocery store variety will not hold the same appeal.  It’s the one thing I’m truly missing this year – apparently, when you’re pregnant, you’re supposed to avoid things like raw eggs and brandy.  It just means that I’m going to be drinking eggnog in April, once this wee one has arrived, to make up for lost time.

Homemade Egg Nog | www.purplehousecafe.com

 

Enjoy the holiday season, everyone! 

Rick’s Coconut Oatmeal and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Rick's Cookies | www.purplehousecafe.com

These past few months, I’ve struck up somewhat of a relationship with a man I’ve never met, whose life bears a somewhat uncanny resemblance to mine, in ways, at times.

It’s not often that reading a book inspires me to seek out the contact information of the author and send him an email, but after reading Rick Taylor’s book “House Inside the Waves,” I couldn’t help but reach out.

I first heard of Rick when I read an article in one of my favourite magazines about his adventures swimming the Waikiki Rough Water swim.  Fellow long distance open water swimmers – the people who are, like me, crazy enough to jump in lakes just after the ice melts to paddle out kilometer after kilometer; the only people, perhaps, other than astronauts, who know what it feels like to adjust to gravity after having been without its’ influence for hours at a time – are rare.  Then, I found out that Rick and his family had spent a year living (writing, swimming, and surfing – three of my favourite pasttimes) in a little town that I too called home for a while, when I was working there as a divemaster.  Rick wrote about this experience in his book “House Inside the Waves,” which also shares a candid peek into the life of a stay-at-home dad, and what’s it’s like to parent small humans.  It’s a beautiful, introspective, philosophical and adventuresome book that I couldn’t put down.

Rick's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies | www.purplehousecafe.com

Throughout the book, Rick references these oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and like any good writer, describes them in a way that make them sound irresistable, in that gotta-get-one-in-my-gob-right-now kind of way.  I was highly motivated to reach out to him for the recipe to these when, in fact, I turned the page of the book where he had kindly shared with his readers how to create the friendship-building, child-assuaging, magical sweets.  

So I made the cookies immediately – and yes, they are all that, and emailed Rick anyway, to say hey, loved your book, loved your cookies, and isn’t it cool we share a few hobbies and a deep love for a little Australian town that captivated us both.

To my surprise, Rick wrote back, sharing some articles that he had written or was featured in, chatting about his family, and his time living in Byron Bay.  He emailed me when his grandson was born in August, and shared some musings on writing, swimming, and life.  I wrote to him about the pause I’ve taken in my writing to attend to family and home, and about my dreams of one day publishing a book.  

 It’s an unlikely friendship, in ways made less “virtual” and more genuine with the help of warm, gooey cookies.

Rick's Coconut Oatmeal and Chocolate Chip Cookies
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Ingredients
  1. 1/2 cup butter
  2. 1/2 cup white sugar
  3. 1/2 cup brown sugar
  4. 1 egg
  5. 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  6. 1 cup all-purpose flour
  7. 1 1/4 cups oatmeal
  8. 1/4 teaspoon salt
  9. 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  10. 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  11. 3/4 cup sweetened grated coconut
  12. 1 cup milk chocolate chips
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper or grease.
  2. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars. Add in the egg and vanilla, and mix until incorporated.
  3. Whisk together the flour, oatmeal, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a separate bowl.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, hand-mixing until well incorporated. Stir in the coconut and chocolate chips.
  5. Drop cookies onto baking sheet, and bake 8-10 minutes or until they begin to brown on the bottom.
Purple House Café http://www.purplehousecafe.com/

Branching Out

Branching Out | www.purplehousecafe.com

Okay, this really has very little to with branches, but rather me, and my writing, and a new home I am delighted to have found for my words, of which, as you know, I have many.

When I started Purple House Cafe almost two years ago (!), I started it just as much as a well-defined project for self-improvement as a way to share my love of food.  I had long had the goals of learning how to cook better, experimenting more in the kitchen, learning how to take good photos, and, I think primarily, finding a way and a reason and the motivation to write more.  This site has certainly done all of that for me, but I am most pleased about how it has helped my writing.  Instead of staring at an uninspiring blank page, at least, here, there was food to write about, if nothing else.  If I couldn’t muster profound insights or feelings, at the very least, I could describe a really delicious cookie.  What surprised me were the opportunities writing here every week afforded me to write for others.  Now, two years in, I’m quite pleased with my portfolio of publications, including a year and a half worth of blogging for Taste of Nova Scotia, a couple articles in International Doula magazine, a gig as a regular contributor to The Creative Mama, and another gig as contributing food writer to Local Connections Halifax magazine.  

Those who know me well, or who have been reading Purple House Cafe for a while, know that food is just one thing in my life, which is also full of parenting, birth support, breastfeeding support, health promotion, hiking, biking, stand-up paddle boarding, yoga, travel and other adventures.

Not all at once; I have a three year old, people.  But I try.

I’ve increasingly held the desire to write more about all of these things.  Of course, you know, I do quite a bit of that here, but, fundamentally, this is still a food blog.  All of this to say, I’m really happy to have been invited to become a regular contributor to the Adventure Moms column at Women’s Adventure magazine.  I’ll be joining a team of really cool and inspiring outdoorsy mamas that make hauling my 6-foot pop-up trailer, kid and dog around the province look like child’s play, to write a monthly column.  The first one we collaborated on is a holiday gift guide for adventure parents.  I would really love it if you’d head on over to the site and check it out – there are some really cool ideas, including one I’ll be reviewing here on Purple House Cafe in the very near future.

Thanks for reading, all this time.

 

The Creative Mama Post – Dad’s Easy Icebox Cookies

Dad's Icebox Cookies | www.purplehousecafe.com

 

Though I should have posted this a while ago, please do check out the post I did a few weeks ago for The Creative Mama.  It was my way of beginning to crawl out of the funk I was in, a safe place to say hi in the world of the internet after ignoring it for so long.  The cookies are an old family favourite, which came to mind a month or two ago in what could likely be described as a pregnancy craving.

Let me tell you, in case you couldn’t already fathom it, that having a roll of dough in the freezer that one could just slice a disc or two off of, to bake into golden brown sticky soft warm comfort, is exactly what every pregnant lady needs.  Scratch that – it’s what everyone needs, from time to time.  They’re a holiday favourite, originally, but they never hurt to have around.

Toast with Peach Butter and Cinnamon Sugar

Toast with Peach Butter and Cinnamon Sugar | www.purplehousecafe.com

You know when you have something really important to say to someone, and then the gravity of your own as-yet-unspoken words catches in your throat, and pretty soon it’s been weeks and you’re still living with thoughts in your brain and feelings in your heart that you somehow haven’t managed to express?  And the more time that passes, the more weight your words carry as you begin to think too much about how to say them, and where to begin.

That’s how I’ve felt, for the past few weeks, about returning here.

Do I just come back, smiling, with a recipe to share, and hope that you’re still out there?

Or do I tell you that I got quite dramatically knocked off my game for what appears to be nearly three months now, and I’m only just now clawing my way up to the surface of a really challenging time in my life?

As I had shared earlier in the summer, my hubby was deployed overseas this year, and has been gone since July.  I thought I was prepared for the challenges of raising our two-year-old on my own for eight months; I thought I had a game plan.  And then, just two weeks after he left, we found out that we were expecting a baby.  

Toast with Peach Butter and Cinnamon Sugar | www.purplehousecafe.com

It’s easy for me now, resplendently exploding into my maternity clothes and the second half of my pregnancy, to speak plainly about the exhaustion and revulsion that kept me out of the kitchen for months (and, let’s face it, still does, many days of the week).  About my seemingly uncontrollable emotions, and worse, the way they played out as I tried to parent my girl during the most frustrating moments of toddlerhood.  Most disconcertingly, there were many days and nights that I had less than no energy; I was apathetic and flat after tears had run their course and exhaustion had left my body wrought, and all I wanted to do was to close my eyes against the world.  

Though I am thrilled to be pregnant, solo parenting while pregnant has been lonely and sad, exhausting and frustrating.  And, those heavy emotions aside, someone who eats takeout burritos for lunch and Cheerios for supper (the two of us, perched on the couch; me, hoping I can wolf down my O’s fast enough to sneak a snooze in before the latest episode of Dora finishes) makes a piss-poor food blogger.

And so it is.  Having to give up just about everything but the most essential commitments so that I can get through my days has afforded me the perspective to know the difference between what’s necessary and what’s important, what’s frivolous and what’s meaningful in my life.  It released me to pay more attention to what I need to stay okay; I’ve spent more hours reading and knitting than in the glow of my computer screen lately.

For the record, things are going better now than they were.  I’m finding some space to cook simple and nourishing food, ways to exercise my body, patience and tactics to parent in a way that aligns with my values, at least most of the time.  The end of this deployment is firmly in sight, just in time for me to better hone my ability to say “I don’t have this.  I need help.”

Toast with Peach Butter and Cinnamon Sugar | www.purplehousecafe.com

I’ve come back gently, with something that’s not really a recipe at all, but more of an idea.  An idea, I should add, that shows its age:  I conceived and photographed this in the summer when peaches were in season and when a local toastery had just opened up, demonstrating that the little city I live in may just catch on to a food trend early every so often.  Nevertheless, here it is, no less tasty and perhaps somewhat seasonal, with the warmth of cinnamon sugar, or adjustable, with the addition of clementine or cranberries.  Just cut butter into small cubes and throw in a bowl, adding your choice of fruit or flavour.  Use your hands to kind of smoosh the ingredients together, and turn out onto a piece of parchment paper.  Use the edges of the parchment to shape the butter into a log.  Chill to set, and serve on toast sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.