Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Chocolate Nutella Cookies

Thank you so much for your support.  Please check Today Food in the coming days for the official announcement~ I will be posting it for sure.  I am so excited.
Who Knew that after 20 years of making this cookie, it would get some recognition?  Good things come to those who wait!  Had so much fun!  Happy New Year Everyone~ Buon Anno!  So much more coming soon in 2012.  ~ Auguri!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Chocolate Nutella Cookies

I received an email from my contact at Today Food.  If you are having trouble and getting an error message while voting and sharing,  it could be your browser.  Only one vote per day. Voting is open to everyone around the world!   Please Vote through December 26.  Barbara Giacometti's, Chocolate Nutella cookies.  Thank you and Happy Holidays to all~Buon Natale!  Merry Christmas!

Very Exciting news! I am overwhelmed with the outpouring of support by all of my friends at Sunday at the Giacometti's.  So sweet of each and every one of you. http://www.facebook.com/todayfood?sk=app_203215029715450  My recipe has been chosen as a contender on Today Food, Home chef challenge.  Please Vote for me, Barbara Giacometti!  Happy Holidays everyone!  You can vote and share everyday.  Voting closes December 26~ Thank you!  Buon Appetito.

Nutella cookies~
I can't believe how much excitement these cookies have stirred up. They are so good.  I bet there is not a jar of Nutella in the supermarkets for miles.  I hope this recipe brings you as much joy as it has brought us.  Buon Appetito.

1 Cup plus 1/2 cup unbleached flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter unsalted (one stick)
1/2 cup regular sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon hazelnut extract (If you can not find Hazelnut extract, increase your vanilla by only 1/2 teaspoon)
1/3 milk
1/3 Nutella
1/4 cup of flour spread in a plate, for coating  hands  so your mixture won't stick to your hands.  (Lightly pat your hands in the flour and dust away before  handling your cookie dough).

Into your bowl sift together all your dry ingredients.  Set aside. 
Into another bowl of an electric mixer cream together you butter and sugar, add your extract.  Add your dry ingredients a little at a time. Add about half way, add your milk.  Continue with the rest of your dry ingredients.  Add your Nutella last.   It will come together like a thick paste.  Cover with your plastic wrap. Place in your refrigerator for 15-20 minutes.
Remove your bowl from the refrigerator. Preheat your oven at 325- bake.   Place some flour into your plate. Coat your hands with flour.  Shape your cookies.  Spoon some of your mixture (About 2 inches)  into your hand and shape into a ball. Place on parchment lined baking sheet 2 inches apart.  

Using a bottom of a drinking glass, dip the bottom into the flour and dust off the access. Flatten your cookie dough on your baking sheet.  Your cookies should not stick to the bottom of your glass.  If it does, gently peel it away and place back on your pan.   You can dust away the access flour, or simply turn your cookie over on the baking sheet to the darker side.
Bake in oven for 10-12 minutes.  I took them out right at 10 minutes.  Place on wire rack to cool.. Buon  Appetito.
P.S.  Wait till you see my Nutella Ice cream Sandwiches!~ Enjoy and Buon Appetito.


If you are finding the cookie dough to dry and its not coming together when rolling in your hands, add a few drops of plain sparkling water and... mix. It should look thick and feel that way due to the addition of brown sugar. The brown sugar gives it that nice crackling effect across the top of the cookie. The sparlkling water gives the cookie that added lift while baking. I often times will add sparkling water instead of regular water to my cakes~ Hope this is helpful. Enjoy~

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Balsamic and Onion Pot roast

Balsamic Pot Roast

Whenever we get a beef we go through the meat in a certain order, steaks are gone first, followed by the burger and stew meat, and lastly we always have roasts.  It isn't that we don't like a good roast, but rather that I don't have a lot of experience producing a roast that is moist and juicy and flavorful.  I don't want to waste a good cut of meat on experimenting, so I usually wait until there are no other choices left and then make the roasts.

When this happened recently, I turned to Pinterest for inspiration.  If you have not checked this site out I am urging you to do so very soon.  It is a plethora of ideas of ALL kinds, but my favorite are the food boards.  I found this recipe that someone pinned from Kalyn's Kitchen.  It is a slow cooker roast recipe that is moist, tender, and full of flavor.  I LOVE the depth of flavors created by the balsamic vinegar and beef broth along with the sweet roasted onions.  We served it with creamy mashed potatoes and green salad.  ENJOY!
Balsamic Pot Roast

Balsamic and Onion Pot Roast
Recipe Source: modified slightly from Kalyn's Kitchen

3-4 pound boneless chuck roast
Seasoning Salt
Onion Powder
Garlic Powder
black pepper to taste
1-2 T olive oil (depends on your pan)
1/4 cup water to deglaze pan
2-3 large onions, peeled and thickly sliced
1 cup beef stock, reduced to 1/2 cup (can use a can of beef broth, but be sure to reduce it)
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup tomato sauce

Rub meat well with seasoning salt, onion powder, garlic powder and black pepper. Heat heavy pan with small amount of olive oil and brown roast well on both sides. This will take a few minutes; don't rush the browning step.

While roast browns put 1 cup beef stock in saucepan, bring to a boil and cook until reduced to 1/2 cup, then let cool slightly and mix in balsamic vinegar and tomato sauce. Peel onions and cut into thick slices.  

When the meat is brown on all sides, remove the meat and then deglaze pan with 1/4 cup water. Add the pan drippings to sauce mixture.

Place onions in bottom of slow cooker. Put meat on top of onions and pour beef stock mixture over. Cook on low for 6-8 hours, until beef is tender. The meat might be partly submerged in liquid after this much time.

Remove meat from slow cooker and cover with foil to keep warm. Drain liquid from Crockpot and remove as much of the fat as you can with fat separator or skimmer. Cook down liquid by about 1/3, and serve sauce with meat and onions.

The leftovers make GREAT sandwiches!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Holidays

Quote of the Day:  I wonder as I wander out under the sky, how Jesus the savior did come for to die. For poor orn'ry people like you and like I. I wonder as I wander...
(I plan to sing this song on Christmas Eve during the prelude at my church's service. The tune and the words set me to pondering.)

Happy Holidays from me and the boys!

The song, I Wonder as I Wander, has an interesting story. You can read about it in a beautiful picture book by Gwenyth Swain and illustrated by Ronald Himler. John Jacob Niles, who is credited for this song, was a wanderer himself, traveling about collecting folksongs. This one was sung to him by a young girl in Murphy, North Carolina. In the story that Swain describes, the girl and her father are traveling from place to place, telling their story, singing their songs, gathering just enough from the locals to be able to move on. I think they're trying to keep ahead of their pain because the mama in the story has passed, and they're grieving.

We all wander, don't we? And, I wonder...how can we make this a more beautiful stop on the Earth for each other? Here we are celebrating Christmas and other holidays, buying, baking, wrapping, sending. But, are we pausing? Are we living in the moment and cherishing our relationships? It's not all cheer and eggnog just because it's the holidays. Many people feel melancholy from recent changes in their lives. Someone might be missing who usually joins them around the table. And, while we cling to traditions, they can be cause for not being able to move on and make new memories.

We put up an artificial tree this year, for the first time. Bobby commented on it. I said I didn't think I'd ever go fake, but now that I have, I don't plan to go back. I said, "I am kind of a traditionalist." He said, "I wouldn't say that." That gave me pause. Maybe I am someone who can embrace change and do something a new way. (Embrace was my word for the year.)

"Christmas is a state of mind." I believe that quote comes from Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street, one of the many holiday movies I've watched while baking and wrapping and preparing my home for the holidays. 

When the tree goes dark, the wrapping tossed, and the meal cleaned up, what lingers are the words shared, the love felt, and the senses filled with the sights, sounds, smells, and memories of time together with friends and family.

I'll see you back here in the New Year!

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  What do you wonder as you wander?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake Cheesecake

This cake, THIS CAKE, is unlike any other cake I have ever made.  It is a cake, within a cake, that has surprises throughout...good surprises like caramel, peanut butter cups, and peanuts...oh yes, it crazy rich, but soooo delicious!

Usually I am all for easy, fast, economical, or all of the above.  This cake is not any of those things; however, for the holidays I am willing to splurge for a dessert that makes the entire family drool in anticipation.  I served this for a dessert party that my sister-in-law hosted after Thanksgiving and it was a hit for everyone who tried it.  At one point three of us were standing around what was left eating bites with our forks and visiting.

I found this recipe by complete accident when I stumbled upon the blog Sprinkle Bakes.  If you have not seen this blog, go there right now and check out the many, many, many, tasty and beautiful recipes.  I made a few changes to the original recipe but nothing that changed it too much.  A few pointers:

1. You need time to make this cake so plan accordingly
2. Read the recipe a few times before starting it!
3. Use good quality chocolate to make the ganache and chocolate curls (check out this video for a how to on making the curls
4. Take the cake out of the freezer about 15 minutes before slicing, and use a hot butcher knife to cut through the multiple layers.
5. Last but not least, ENJOY!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake Cheesecake
Recipe Source: modified slightly from Sprinkle Bakes

**Cook's note...store this cake in the freezer.  The multiple layers will start to collapse if it gets too soft**

Crustless Cheesecake portion:
30 mini peanut butter cups, each one quartered
2 sticks (16 tbsp) softened butter
1 cup granulated sugar
4- 8 oz packages cream cheese, softened
1- 3 oz. package cook and serve vanilla pudding
4 eggs
2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease two 9" pans with shortening, line the pans with parchment and then grease the parchment. Lightly flour the pans and tap out excess over the sink. Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Add cream cheese a little at a time until smooth. Scrape bowl down and beat again on medium speed, adding eggs one at a time. Add remaining ingredients except peanut butter cups. Mix again until smooth.

With a rubber spatula, fold in quartered peanut butter cups. Divide batter evenly between pans. You should have 8 cups of batter, so 4 cups in each pan. Smooth batter with offset spatula (Fig.1) and bake for 55 minutes to 1 hour. Cheesecake will puff up during baking, then deflate when taken out.

Do not turn out cheesecakes when they are finished baking. Put them directly in the freezer, and leave until frozen solid.

Turn out frozen cheesecake layers and peel parchment from the bottoms. Line the pan they were in with enough parchment or wax paper to hang over the sides of the pan (Fig. 3). Place the cheesecakes back in the pans. This makes removal FAR more easy after caramel layer has been added. Place cheesecakes back into the freezer while you make the caramel layer.

Caramel for cake layers:
 2-14 oz cans of sweetened condensed milk
10 tbsp. butter
80 caramels
Scant cup of salted peanut halves

Important note: This recipe is made in two batches (one batch for the cheesecakes and one batch for the chocolate cakes), so all of the ingredients are divided.

In a large microwaveable bowl, place 1- 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk, 5 tbsp. butter, and 40 caramels. Heat at 1 minute intervals until smooth. My household microwave at full power took about 4 minutes.

Pour caramel evenly over frozen layers of cheesecakes. Be careful to not let much of the caramel drip over the sides. Sprinkle each layer with 3-4 tbsp. of salted peanut halves. Return cheesecake layers to freezer.

Chocolate cake portion:
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups cocoa powder, unsweetened
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup canola oil (or other vegetable oil)
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup of coffee - must be hot!

Grease 2- 9" pans with butter and line with parchment. Grease parchment and lightly flour pan, tapping out excess. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift all the dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. In a 4 cup glass measure, mix all the wet ingredients except hot coffee!

Turn mixer on low speed and gradually add wet ingredients to dry. Stop and scrape down the bowl. Return mixer to low speed and beat in hot coffee. The mixture will be very thin but don't worry!

Divide batter evenly between the two pans, and bake for 35-40 minutes (check at 35). Cake is ready when toothpick tester comes out clean. Cool slightly in pans. Run knife around the edge of cakes and turn them out. Let them rest on a cooling rack.

When cool, level cakes. . Line cake pans with parchment or wax paper, enough to hang over the edges (just like previously with the cheesecake layers). Return cake layers to parchment lined pans.

Make 2nd batch of caramel as directed for the cheesecake layer. Pour caramel evenly over both chocolate cake layers.  Place caramel covered cakes in freezer until caramel has hardened a bit (about 15 minutes).

Remove all cake layers from freezer. Remove all cake layers from pans using the parchment overhang to pull them out. Stack layers beginning with 1 layer of chocolate cake as the bottom, then cheesecake layer, then chocolate layer, and last cheesecake layer will be on top. Wrap layers in plastic wrap and freeze overnight. You'll frost your cake the next day.

Chocolate ganache frosting:

13 oz. or 1 2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 tbsp. corn syrup
8 oz cream cheese softened

Note: Remove cheesecake layers from freezer and unwrap. Choose your serving plate and line it with wax paper strips. Place cake over strips. Now you're ready to frost.

Put chocolate chips in a medium bowl or 4 cup measure. Heat cream in a saucepan over medium high heat until very hot but not boiling. Pour hot cream over chips and stir until smooth. Remove 2/3 cup chocolate mixture and pour into a small bowl. Add 1/2 tbsp. corn syrup and stir. When combined, immediately pour over top of cake, creating a shiny dark topping and taking care that most remains on top of the cake and doesn't spill down the edges. Return cake, uncovered this time, to freezer.

Fit stand mixer with whisk attachment. Beat the softened cream cheese until light and airy then pour remaining chocolate ganache into the stand mixer bowl and whip on the highest speed for 5-10 minutes (I set my timer for 7 minutes) until icing is light and fluffy. Icing is ready when it is thick and can be pulled into a stiff peak.

Remove cake layers from freezer and frost sides with chocolate ganache using an offset spatula. The whipped frosting should grab on to the frozen cakes well. Use all the ganache frosting, evening the cake's surface as you work. Return to freezer

Chocolate curls:
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips -semisweet


11x14 cookie sheet

Small brownie spatula with a sharp edge - like this one

Melt chocolate chips at 30 second intervals in the microwave; stir until smooth. Pour onto cookie sheet and spread evenly with an offset spatula. Place in refrigerator for 5-7 minutes, or until the chocolate is firm and has a matte appearance.

Remove from refrigerator and let stand for a few minutes (3-5ish) at room temperature. With a small, sharp spatula, begin scraping chocolate at one edge in a thin strip. If chocolate breaks into pieces it is too cold, so allow it to stand a few minutes more at room temp. Chocolate should curl easily as you run your spatula under the chocolate and down the length of the cookie sheet. Place curls in a small bowl and store in refrigerator until ready for use.

To garnish cake top with the chocolate curls.  If you want curls on the side of the cake, allow it to soften a few minutes then gently place on the sides of the cake.

Cranberry Cream Cheese Coffeecake with Streusel Topping . . .

Well, the tree's finally up and twinkling away, as are the Christmas lights outside. I baked what felt like twelve thousand cookies last week, and still have tons of dough leftover in case more(!) are needed. So, yes, progress is evident around here. But I haven't yet wrapped a single gift, nor have I sent out a single card; they're on the agenda over the next couple of days. In the midst of all this bustle, I somehow decided to experiment on Saturday afternoon with a coffeecake recipe, and the results were pretty yummy (or, if you prefer, "scrummy"--sort of short for scrumptious--as my Ireland-based baking-friend, June, would say). I was particularly pleased at this cake's staying power; even this morning, it was still very moist and good.

When you're trying to figure out what to serve on Christmas morning for breakfast or brunch, a homemade coffeecake that can be produced ahead of time, and that can be counted on not to dry out before it's served, is like money in the bank. I tried a little slice this morning to see how it was holding up, and I actually think it's improved with age. Don't you love it when something you've made does that?

About this recipe . . .

My version of this recipe has three key parts: the cakey base, the cranberry filling, and a cheese-cake-like creamy filling that you drizzle beneath and atop the cranberry layer. I took many liberties in adapting it from this lovely raspberry ripple tea cake that I found in A Bloggable Life.

I offer one caveat with this recipe. Were I to make this cake again (and I definitely would) I'd absolutely use a 9" or  10" springform pan with 2" sides, versus a 10" tart pan with 1" sides. Despite the pretty scalloped edge, it wasn't big enough. I had to trim off the outer edge of my cake when it came out of the oven because it rose over the sides (I neglected to take pictures of that little episode).

Cranberry Cream Cheese Coffeecake with Streusel Topping
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour, or coat with baking spray, a 9" or 10" springform pan (not a 10" tart pan; see my note in the blog post above regarding the need for a springform pan of this size).

Ingredients for the cranberry filling:

2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
Scant 1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1 Tbsp. corn starch
1 and 1/2 Tbsp. orange juice

Ingredients for the cream cheese filling:

6 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Ingredients for the cake base and streusel:

2 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I used unbleached.)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt (I used coarse kosher.)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup buttermilk, or 3/4 cup plain yogurt that's been thinned with a tablespoon or two of milk

To make the cranberry filling:

In a medium-size heavy saucepan, heat the cranberries, sugar, orange juice, and spices on medium heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture starts to bubble. Turn the heat down and let it simmer until it starts to thicken. In a very small bowl, mix the corn starch with the 1 and 1/2 Tbsp. of cold orange juice; stir until it looks completely smooth. Pour it slowly into the hot cranberries, stirring constantly. Raise the heat a little and keep stirring slowly until the mixture noticeably thickens up. Cook another minute or two. Take the pot off the heat and set it aside to cool.

To make the cream cheese filling:

Beat the softened cream cheese for a couple of minutes, on low speed, until smooth. Add in the lightly beaten egg. Gradually pour in the sugar, still on low speed; beat for a couple more minutes until completely smooth. Set aside.

To make the cake batter and streusel, and to assemble the cake:

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and sugar. Using a hand held pastry blender, cut in the cold butter until the biggest lumps are no larger than peas. Scoop out 1/2 cup of this mixture and set aside; this will be used for your streusel topping.

Into the large bowl add the baking powder, baking soda, and salt, stirring to distribute evenly. Hollow out a well in the middle of the bowl. In another small bowl, whisk together lightly the egg, and the buttermilk or thinned yogurt, whichever you're using. Pour this into the dry ingredients, stirring only to moisten and combine. The batter will seem pretty thick.

Spread 2/3 of the batter into the prepared pan, nudging the batter up the sides just a bit to create a rimmed effect (easiest if you use a small offset spatula, or the back of a spoon). Drizzle half of the cream cheese filling over this.

Spread all of the cranberry filling carefully over that, being careful to keep it away from the sides of the pan. Drizzle the remaining cream cheese filling over the cranberries, again avoiding the sides of the pan.

Now, gently spread the remaining batter over the top, all the way to the sides, then sprinkle on all of the streusel.

With the pan placed on a cookie sheet, bake the cake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or more, until the top looks lightly golden.

Let the cake cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes before attempting to remove the sides of the pan. Let it finish cooling while still on the springform pan's base, placed on a rack.

Stays nice and moist for two days or more if well-covered.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below!)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Love is the Gift of Christmas

Quote of the Day:  First verse of Love Has Come to the tune of Bring a Torch, Jeannete, Isabella
Love has come - a light in the darkness!
Love shines forth in the Bethlehem skies.
See, all heaven has come to proclaim it;
Hear how their song of joy arises;
Love! Love! Born unto you, a Savior!
Love! Love! Glory to God on high!
(final line)
Love is the gift of Christmas,
Love! Love! Praise to you, God on high.

Mary Aalgaard, Andy Miller, Krista Rolfzen Soukup

I am all aglow with feelings of love this holiday season. (Don't get all excited. I'm not referring to romantic love. I'm still happily single.) I am basking in the warmth of friendship, the gift of local talents, and offers of generosity.

Andy's brother Nick manages Prairie Bay the best local restaurant in the Brainerd lakes area, where Krista and I had dinner on Saturday night. Andy stopped in for a quick bite of bruscetta (their specialty), and said hello to us before scooting back to warm up for the From Age to Age concert. The music was pure bliss. Andy's dad, George Miller, was a guest conductor for one of the songs. He turned to the audience and said that he was so proud of both his sons, one who feeds the body, the other who feeds the soul. After the song, Andy said that was one of the top three special moments of his life, to be conducted by his dad.

This professional choir invited the local 9th grade and high school kids to sing one song with them. What a beautiful sound and image they created together. From Age to Age currently has three sopranos, three altos, four tenors, and four bases, including the conductor and artistic director Andy Miller. Those 14 voices sound like a whole host of angels. The rafters were simply bursting. Patricia Lundeen was a guest accompanist for the songs that weren't done acapella. Their pitchman gives them one note, and they all come in perfect harmony. It is breath-taking. They sang many classics, including parts of  Handel's Messiah, but the song that moved me to tears was a new choral version of O Holy Night by Andy's friend and composer Karissa Dennis. It was her gift to From Age to Age to perform it, and their gift back to her to hear it in all its glory. This is the kind of encouragement and support in and for each other in the arts that I love to see, and hear.

Andy and I chatted afterwards. We thanked each other for our gifts, him for his talents and music, me for my articles and support of their group. He said that my words reminded him why they do what they do because artists can get bogged down in the daily grind, too. We rehearse and rework, and schedule, and meet with delays and frustrations, and wonder "Is it worth it?" I shared with him the best words I've heard from a musician/teacher, Kay Hoffland. She has been performing and accompanying musicians for years. She helped my sister and me with a show. After rehearsal she said, "You've worked hard. You've made it the best you can, now, enjoy." I saw the enjoyment in the eyes of the performers at this show. Andy was most definitely in his bliss.

Ah, and enjoy we did on Saturday night, the food, the company, the music, the Love of Christmas.  And, today, as I was rehearsing our "Little Drummer Boy" number with my boys and a couple others from church, I felt the joy. We got our tree up, not a real one, we sort of missed the deadline on that, but an artificial tree that my ex-husband dropped off because he felt badly about not getting a real one here, yet. See, he still helps us make the holidays bright. Before the boys went shopping with him, they gave me hugs and kisses and said to wait to decorate until they got home.

Like I said, I am all aglow with Christmas Love.

Peace to you as you prepare for time with family and friends. Let love be your theme as well.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  What surprises have happend already in your holiday prep? What are you most looking forward to with the holidays and new year?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Time to Wrap it Up and Relax

Quote of the Day:  Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat. Please leave a penny in the old man's hat. from the Nursery rhyme and Christmas Carol.

I start to sing that about this time in December. (I do like the Muppets with John Denver version.) I got my packages off in the mail today. I did a bit more shopping, and have just a few more things to purchase, then it's wrapping day for me. It is my own personal tradition to watch It's a Wonderful Life while wrapping gifts. I've been doing this ever since I was in high school.

Other favorites of the season:

Children's books:
Christmas Trolls by Jan Brett - favorite line, "Well, you can't  just take Christmas...if you want Christmas, you must be generous with each other."

Kids' movies:
Dr. Seuss's HowThe Grinch Stole Christmas the 1966 animated version narrated by Boris Karloff. LOVE the songs!

The kids like Unaccompanied Minors. They'll watch that any time of the year.

We all love Elf.

That's too hard. I'll name a few.
Christmas Carols sung in church - What Child is This? and Go Tell it on the Mountain. My favorite to play is Angels we have Heard on High. Love all those glorias in excelsis deos! 

Pop culture holiday songs:
Hey, Baby it's cold outside. (But, it has been overdone lately.)
Let it Snow! (Our theme song for Minnesota. I'm dreaming of a white Christmas!)

Choir song:
Ding Dong Merrily on High
Blow, Blow thou Winter Wind
And, anything by my favorite choir From Age to Age, directed by my favorite choir director Andy Miller.

promo photo of From Age to Age, used by permission

I will be pausing in the midst of holiday preparations to relax and enjoy their concert on Saturday night. If you're in the Brainerd area, here is their schedule:
Friday, St. Francis Catholic Church in Little Falls, 7:30.
Saturday, Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Brainerd, 7:30, with the 9th grade and high school choirs.
Sunday, 1:00, Union Congregational Church in Hackensack.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  What are some of your personal holiday traditions or favorites?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Pilgrims Trail

Quote of the Day:  We are all pilgrims on the same journey...but some pilgrims have better road maps. - Nelson De Mille, American Writer

I'm always thinking about the journey. I am a journey girl. One of my students once described me that way. We are pilgrims, setting off on our own adventures, finding the path that is right for us, hitting snags and washed out roadways, needing to find new direction when the place we thought we were heading doesn't exist anymore. I believe that some of us are spiritually connected to another time. Some people have visions of the future. They are the scientists and science fiction writers. What some have dreamed, others have invented or discovered.

Some people are connected to a time in history. They can't get enough of the stories, pictures, images, and culture. For me, that's the 1940's, the stories of World War II, not the battles, but the people trying to survive on the homefront here in America, and the people who were driven out of their homes, especially the Jewish people. I have written a couple of stories, had strong images of characters from that time, and had dreams of being a held prisoner and fearing for my life. Another character came to me this past weekend. Her name is Zelda Christine Blum Anderson. She wants me to tell her story.

Candace Simar seems to be filled with spirits of the settlers and native people in Minnesota and the Dakota territories of the 1800's. She has three books in her Abercrombie Trail Series, and told me she had dreams and visions of what will be a fourth installment. Candace has lived in this time through her research, writing, and speaking. She makes this time come alive through characters who are as real as any of your own neighbors.  Candace has a way of using all those details of pioneer life, the Sioux uprising, and survival in the early years of settlement in this area, and yet, her books never read like a history text. The details are natural, the dialogue realistic, and the characters are lively and interesting.

Candace is a local author. I bought her books are our local, independent bookstore, Turtle Town Books in Nisswa. I chatted with the owners. I picked up some items that a friend had called in and had set aside. I felt a sense of community. My mission this holiday season has been to support the arts and shop local and independent as much as possible. The interactions I've had with the owners and artists have been part of the spirit of giving.

Go. Create. Inspire!
And, support the arts and shop local and independent!

Journaling Prompt:  Do you feel a connection to another time and place? What is it? When is it? If it's the here and now, what is it that makes you glad to be alive in this particular moment in time?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Holiday Cheer

Quote of the Day:  from We Need a Little Christmas
Haul out the holly;
Put up the tree before my spirit falls again.
Fill up the stocking,
I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now.
For we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute,
Candles in the window,
Carols at the spinet.
Yes, we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute.
It hasn't snowed a single flurry,
But Santa, dear, we're in a hurry;
So climb down the chimney;

For we need a little music,
Need a little laughter,
Need a little singing
Ringing through the rafter,
And we need a little snappy
"Happy ever after,"
Need a little Christmas now.

My students and I brought some comfort and joy to the folks at an assisted living center in town. We're here in the memory care unit bringing back some childhood memories. All these students played a few numbers, then we sang a few favorites. What a way to lift holiday spirits.

That's all you need to do, folks. The perfect gift doesn't exist. The best made travel plans can be grounded by a snowstorm or unexpected emergency.  The impossible moment will never be achieved. All you really need to do is show up. Be present. Share your gifts and talents. Pay attention to those around you who need you. Then, you'll have Christmas in your heart all year.

From A Christmas Carol at The Guthrie to our small gift of music today, I know where the true spirit of Christmas lies. Next weekend, I'll be sitting back and enjoying the gorgeous music of my favorite regional choir, From Age to Age.

Go. Create. Inpsire!
And, don't get caught up in the crazy.

Journaling Prompt:  What does the true sense of giving mean to you?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Relax. Don't Worry. Have a Christmas Cookie.

The Christmas-cookie baking marathon that so many of us home bakers annually embark upon has its charms but, for me at least, those charms always seem to be counterbalanced by the problem of narrowing down all the potential cookie choices. How do we please everyone when each family member has his or her own list of favorites? How do we incorporate a few new recipes year after year without retiring our cherished regulars? And, how do we prioritize our time in the kitchen as the big day approaches and the tinsel starts to fly?

In a poignant/pathetic attempt to gain clarity, I have to sit myself down each December and ask vital questions like the following:
  • Will you consider yourself a yuletide failure if you don't, yet again, make your mom's ancient but enduring thumbprint recipe? 
  • Which kind of cookie production gives you the most bang for your physical and emotional buck anyway? Fast and furious (think drop cookies, bar cookies, cookies with few ingredients, etc.)? Or slow and meticulous (think rolled, cut, and decorated sugar cookies)?
  • Will your kids pout and whine if you neglect to make tons of chocolate crinkles? 
  • Will your spouse's co-workers gaze at him despondently if you fail to produce a hefty platter of rugelach, etc., for his office party? 
  • Will you end up paralyzed with fatigue if you battle through and manage to make a dozen (or fifteen, or twenty--what's the difference?) unique cookie varieties all by yourself in one day?
We're going to have fun if it kills us . . . 

Bottom line? Don't sacrifice your sanity on an altar of old cookie tins. Sacrifice anything else, but not that. Just do what brings you some joy. But don't go off the rails. Five or six cookie varieties? Let that be fine with you. One favorite cookie choice per immediate family member? Perfect. Years ago, my husband became interested in home brewing and home brewers had a mantra, which he would occasionally spout. They'd say, "Relax. Don't worry. Have a home brew." I suggest we edit that to read, "Relax. Don't worry. Have a Christmas cookie."

Here's a little round up of some favorite cookies from past posts. I want to try a few new recipes this season, but I'm going to keep it all under control. If it kills me.

Merry Mocha Streusel Bars
Hard to resist. Not too sweet, and just a little cheese-cakey. Maybe the best bar cookie around.

Chocolate Walnut Rugelach and Raspberry Rugelach
What's not to like about cream cheese pastry filled with yummy stuff like chocolate, cinnamon, nuts, and/or raspberry jam? Nothing!

Cranberry Snowdrift Bars
These babies are just darn incredible. I love them. A cookie-like base, sweet and tart cranberry filling, topped with a tender/crisp baked meringue. Pretty to look at, and really good.

Cinnamon Cranberry Shortbread
The variations you can eek out of a simple shortbread recipe are endless. Here's a great example!

Scotch Oat Sandwich Crunchies with Raspberry-Key Lime Filling
So good. And crunchy. Really, really crunchy.

Kahlua and Cream Shortbread Sandwich Cookies
If you love Kahlua and you love cookies, hop on board this train. You won't regret it.

Chocolate-Filled Coconut Macaroon Sandwich Cookies
Oh man, were these good. American-style macaroons at their very best. Tender, chewy. Yum's the word.

Orange Almond Butter Buttons
The kind of cookie that longs to accompany a nice, hot cup of tea. Crispy and delicately flavored.

Robust Molasses Cookies
A classic molasses cookie that will not disappoint purists. Chewy and nice. Every cookie platter needs these!

Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies
This is chocolate taken to the nth degree. It's where chocolate ends because it can't get any more chocolatey than this.

With a Name Like Love, book review

Quote of the Day:  Courting new patrons is like licking honey off a thorn - you have to go real slow and be extra gentle. Tess Hilmo, author of With a Name Like Love, published by Margaret Ferguson Books, an imprint of Farrar Straus Giroux, August 2011. (It's still warm off the presses.)

I won my copy of With a Name Like Love by reading and commenting on Tess Hilmo's blog. I connected with her early on when I started blogging. She left an interesting comment on another blog, I clicked over to her, saw that we both love A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly, and the rest is history. Shortly after I joined her blog, she announced that her book had been accepted for publication - her first middle grade novel, and a historical mystery at that. I knew it was one that I'd want to read.

From the opening lines, I was emotionally involved with Olivene (Ollie) Love and her traveling family. I knew her longings. I felt the anguish of the small town they had just pulled into. Her father, the Reverend Everlasting Love, comes from a long line of tent preachers whose mission it is to bring the love of God to rural communities throughout the south.  It doesn't hurt that the good reverend has been blessed with a deep and soulful singing voice that melts even the iciest of hearts.  The story takes place in 1957, post World War II, yet, a sense of the lingering Depression. Times are hard. People are damaged and hurt. Families are in distress.

Ollie has made her first friend, a boy who is in a world of hurt. His father is dead and his mama in in jail. The mystery behind his death is tearing the community apart. What's a 13-year-old girl and her family of traveling ministers supposed to do?

Reading this book evoked similar feelings and images from when I read Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, and a lovely picture book, I Wonder as I Wander, by Minnesota author Gwenyth Swain. Tears of tenderness sprang to my eyes during a scene about birthdays and cake, and I felt fear and anxiety wondering what would happen to Jimmy.

I've already recommended this book to a mother-daughter reading group. I'd give it to any preteen girl who likes history and mystery, and I hope my traveling friends, The Anderson's, at Hair in the Air blog, will get a copy. They will definitely relate to the life on the road and the longing for friendship.

The best place to order the books is either at your local bookstore, or go to Tess Hilmo's blog, watch her amazing book trailer, and order it from her independent bookstore for an autographed copy.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Do you have longings to sell all your possessions and hit the road? What would it take to unburden yourself and be adventurous?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Behind the Scenes at The Guthrie

Quote of the Day: I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being. - Oscar Wilde 

The window you are looking at with the blue light and the beautiful woman is in the main floor lobby of The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. My friend Denise and I had a backstage tour before we watched Charley's Aunt on Sunday evening. Carrie Monroe, who works in the Wardrobe Department, offered to show us where she works. Carrie and I met during the A-Z blog challenge last April. We have been cyber friends, enjoying each other's blogs, and met in person on Sunday.

Today, in the blogosphere, Alex J. Cavanaugh is hosting his monthly Insecure Writer's Support Group. I am part of that group and I am participating, but I'll have to admit that my insecurities are starting to fade.  I wrote about that overwhelming feeling I get when I'm in a large bookstore and think my book, if I ever publish one, will be lost in these rows and rows of books. You can read Friday's post, How Books Stack up against Kids. It probably fits better with the insecure theme.

Still, I'll have to admit that never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I'd be invited to the Guthrie Theater to watch and review plays, that people would want to read my reviews and respect my opinion and be drawn into my descriptions. My friend and publicist, Krista Rolfzen Soukup at Blue Cottage Agency, tells me, "You are a great blogger. People want you to write reviews for them. People love reading your writing." And, I start to believe it. I start to see how my writing is expanding, that this is what I was born to do. That it is connecting people and drawing them in and encouraging them to live out their dreams, too.

Which is how I got behind the closed doors of The Guthrie for a private tour. (The Guthrie offers guided tours at specified times. Check their website for details.)

We peeked into the remarkably clean workroom where they build the sets. The walls open up into huge doors so they can transport whole sets down the hall and onto the stages.

We saw the costume shop where they build costumes.

This board of costume sketches fascinated me. Carrie told us that the artist who designed the costumes for A Christmas Carol draws in the faces of the actual actors, making them so realistic.

Here's the one from A Christmas Carol that looked like one of the Whos down in Whoville.

The sketches for Charley's Aunt.

Here's Carrie showing us the sort of rough draft version of a costume. It starts out as a muslin mock-up, measured and fitted, before they ever cut into the fabric.

Denise asked where the fabric came from (she's a great question-asker and knows a few things about sewing). Carrie said they come from all over, some in the twin cities. This designer is from New York, so the fabric came from stores in New York City.

We saw hats and wigs and rows of neatly labeled fabric and costume pieces.
(Denise was particularly impressed with the organization.)

Head gear from previous shows.

Forms of heads!

Here's where Denise drooled.

Thanks, Carrie, for the great tour! We learned so much and had a great time. Denise also asked where all the shoes were. Carrie said that whatever is being worn for the shows are in the dressing rooms. Otherwise, they are stored off-site along with costumes and props that can be rented out, which is particularly helpful to schools and kids doing reports who need costumes.

Meet Carrie over at Kiwi's Life. Dare to do something new. Believe that you are capable and worthy of success in your art. You never know what doors will open for you.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Have you ever done something that felt so right, yet, never thought possible?