CHRISTMAS 1944 AND OUR FATHER’S MINCE TARTS

Christmas 1944   – The three sisters brave the cold .  The youngest, Heather is wearing a snow suit.  I am standing Mona’s right.  We are all wearing real fur trimmed parka style headgear

It is the childhood memories of Christmas that evoke the strongest feelings. 1944 and the rationing of almost everything meant making do, making over and often going without.  But Christmas was still bright and wonderful and our Christmas stockings were always filled with mysterious wonderful things.

In early November we  began the school day practising  songs for the annual Carol Festival.  This long anticipated event  was held in one of the cities beautiful old churches.  All the schools in the city performed.    The Carol Festival marked the beginning of the celebrations of Christmas.

It was bitterly cold the first week of December.  My Mother and my sisters bundled up for the mile walk  to the church.  There were no bus service after 6:00 p.m.  Our Dad wasn’t able to drive us in the family car.  Gas was rationed.    We dressed for the cold.

Two layers of hand-knit mittens.

Heavy hand-knit woollen scarves cross-crossed across our faces.

Our eye lashes rimmed with frost and when we spoke it was as if we were filling the air with puffs of smoke.

So much excitement, so much anticipation we never felt the cold.

We sang our way on the walk home.   The sky was clear.     Stars so  brilliant we felt we could reach up to heaven and grab them like a handful of diamonds.

Northern Lights  were flashing, glowing  and dancing across the Northern  sky..  Magnificent emerald greens, yellows, pink, magenta and occasionally sapphire  blue  sweeping back and forth.  We stopped and shouted.  We clapped our hands.  We truly believed the lights responded to the sounds we made.

Home at last.  The wood stove crackled.  The kitchen was filled with the sublime spicy aroma of mince tarts.   Our father  taking them  out of the oven.  How absolutely  glorious to walk into our warm house,  and eat the pies hot from the oven.

Dad’s  mince tarts were so delicate and  flaky they melted in your mouth.  His secret – he always used    lard to make the pastry.      We sisters still use our  Father’s recipe.  It’s pretty simple (or at least we pastry makers feel that way).  But if you follow the directions, and cheat a little (roll the pastry between wax paper, chill the flour) you can pull these beauties out of the oven and wow your family and friends.    Every home should have mince tarts baking in the oven at this time of year.

FATHER’S MINCE TARTS   …   makes around 30 morsels of delight

Pastry:

2 cups all-purpose flour chilled

2/3 tsp salt

2/3 cup chilled lard cut into small pieces

5-6 tbsp cold water

l egg yolk beaten with a little water.

Before you start making the pastry put the flour and salt mixture into the  freezer for 30 minutes or so.   Chill a cup of water at the same time. Cut the lard  into the flour mixture with a pastry blender,  or if you’re using your food processor use the pulse button to process just until it looks like large flakes of oatmeal.

Add the water gradually, a tablespoon at a time tossing the mixture lightly with a fork.  If you are using the food processor add the water and process JUST until mixed.  It should be loose in the  bowl.

Turn your pastry out onto your board and form into a ball.  Flatten the ball and wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a good 15 minutes or more.  This allows the pastry to relax.  And everyone knows pastry should be relaxed.

Divide the pastry in to two portions.

Roll out one portion 1/8 inch thick.  Cut into circles about  1 3/4 in diameter.  This will be your base.  Cut the second half into circles about 2 1/2 inches across.  These will be your tops.

Moisten the edges of your base and put a small amount   of mincemeat on each circle.  Top with the larger circles.  Press the edges to seal.   Brush with egg wash and bake around 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Enjoy!

Chefs note:

We made our own mincemeat at our restaurant  Roxy’s Bistro.  We used a traditional recipe using suet and a good dollop of brandy.   Taste your purchased mincemeat.  You will probably need to add some additional flavour.  Add a little freshly grated nutmeg, a sprinkle of powdered cloves, a good amount of cinnamon, some allspice and a little lemon or orange juice.  And if you have some brandy.

Happy tree trimming.

IT TAKES A BIRD TO MAKE A BETTER CHICKEN POT PIE

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My two sisters are as passionate about food as I am.  It’s in our DNA.    On visits to my home town of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan,  we cooked for each other and we cook together.  It is a marvellous way to spend your vacation.

My older sister,  Mona,  has what is known as “a dab hand with pastry”.  She has a special marble counter exactly the right height for rolling pastry.  She uses lard for all her pies – sweet and savoury.  Her pastry is so light so flaky it literally drifts on to your plate.  She keeps everything chilled.  Even her flour.  In her opinion using a pie bird is the secret for tender pastry for chicken pot pipe.

We were making chicken pot pie.  My sister  putting the chicken filling together and rolling out pastry..  My job  – to make the béchamel sauce.  The  sauce that binds.   To add extra flavour to the chicken pot pie I used rich chicken stock instead of milk and made it extra thick. After it was cooked I thinned it with a generous amount of cream.  You do know I have a reputation for gilding the lily.

The pie bird was positioned in the centre of the filling. On went the pasty with a slit cut for the bird.    The edges were crimped.  A little egg wash and the crust was sprinkled with coarse sea salt.    The pie bird vents excess moisture from the pie filling (whether it is chicken and vegetables or fresh fruit), and  prevents a soggy pie crust .  These ceramic birds are available in most well stocked kitchen shops.

Now you know my older sister Mona’s secret for amazing pie crust . A trick to use the next time you make a  juicy fruit or chicken pot pie.   Tell your friends “a little bird told you”!

 

AN ELEGANT CHRISTMAS WREATH GATHERED FROM THE GARDEN

Early morning and wisps of river fog creep across the fields. The brilliant summer sky pales into autumn. In the garden the hydrangeas change colour.  Vintage verdigris.   Bruised blues and purples. Faded lavenders and pinks. It is now when the hydrangea   blossoms take on the rich colours of a renaissance painting I gather them by the armful. They dry beautifully.   Tucked away from the light they wait to play the part in the familiar  rituals of Christmas decorating.

 This Christmas will be unlike any other.   This year I  planned something completely different from my  traditional  decorative wreath.  I wanted to take the beautiful days of summer and hang them on our front door.  This year these summer memories will adorn our home far into the new year.

starting the TT

These wreaths are wondrously  easy to make.   You need a vine wreath.  A vine wreath is important as the tangle of vines allows you to easily poke the hydrangea stems into place.   The stems of  the flowers cut around 6 inches.  A generous armful of flower  and a few  sprigs of cedar or fir boughs and ribbon  is all you require.  No glue or wire required to fasten the flowers.

For a lush, generous wreath tuck the blooms into the sides of the wreath and then on the top.  Intersperse them with the green cedar boughs.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  There is no right or wrong way to arrange your flowers.

You can hang the wreath plain and unadorned.  But the colours of the wire ribbon are an elegant touch.  It takes  about an hour to make a wreath.  I always make two wreaths at Christmas.  One for our door and one for my friend and neighbour.   

Stay safe dear friends – wherever you are.

Love Virginia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REMEMBRANCE DAY IN THE TIME OF THE PANDEMIC

WORLD WAR TWO ended September 2nd, 1945.   That year winter came early to my home town of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.  On November 11th with my classmates we walked in bitter cold  the two miles from school to attend the Remembrance Day ceremonies at  the Armouries.    For the first time in seventy five years I will not  attend a Remembrance Day ceremony.  We will watch the laying of wreaths on television and then my husband and I will place our poppies on the Cenotaph  in our village of Ladner, British Columbia.

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If I should die, think only this of me:

That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is forever England.  There shall be

In that rich earth a richer dust concealed:

Gave,  once,  her flowers to love, her ways to roam,

A body of England’s, breathing English air,

Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home

 

remembrance day 3 soldiers

And think, this heart,all evil shed away,

A pulse in the eternal mind, no less

Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given,

Her signs and sounds; dream happy as her day;

And laughter, learnt of friends;  and gentleness,

In hearts at peace,  under an English heaven.

 

My father-in-law  grew up in a quiet town in Southern Ontario.  He enlisted and his training as a flight sergeant took place in an equally small town in Saskatchewan.  This is where he met and married.    He returned from the war to live t he rest of his life in    Saskatchewan.  He is survived by his two sons.

 

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My uncle,  Bertram Henry Henderson grew up in my home town, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.  He and his two brothers all enlisted in the Regina Rifles.  He died in action October 27, 1944.  His last letter home was dated October 27, 1944.  It was written in the dim light of a candle in a bottle.  The letter was in his effects returned to the family.

 

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My older sister and myself with my Uncle shortly before he was shipped overseas.

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This document shows the location of his grave in Belgian.  It also identifies the family who would be responsible for the maintenance and care of his grave site.

 

 

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Our Uncle’s grave continues to be looked after by the Belgian Family entrusted in their care more than 70 years ago.  Members of that family continue to maintain contact with our family.

 

My father grew up in a small village in southern England.  He fought in the war to end all wars (World War One).  When war ended he immigrated to Canada to join his older brothers in Northern Saskatchewan.  The only time he talked about the war  was to tell us how  he had befriended some Turkish prison of war soldiers and they had taught him  to make Turkish coffee.

Today we fight a grim and different war.    There are no battlefields.  The enemy is unseen.  If we follow  the health protocol that has been given us we will win this battle.

 

 

 

(  poem  … The Soldier – Rupert Brooke)

I DIDN’T MAKE THE BED FOR YOU

 

There is nothing more wonderful then curling up in bed with a good book.  And when your bed is outside surrounded by  quiet green fields this is my idea of   paradise.     I  plundered the linen cupboard for everything French.   I wanted this to be a place where I could escape  for just a while.  A place of calmness.  A place where I could put aside for a brief time the uncertain realities of our present world.  I wasn’t expecting to find a rabbit who thought my bed was the perfect place for an afternoon nap.

We have a relationship with the rabbits.  Their burrow is under a large cedar hedge .   Through the years the hedge has grown in size and now it is very close to the patio.    It is not unusual to see  small bunnies noses pressed against the patio door looking into our home.

We love rabbit watching.  We have a rabbit who walks on his hind legs eating  the tops of high grass.  Another rabbit who eats only clover and ignores grass completely.     Then there is the rabbit  who likes to curl up in a basket beside by my outdoor bed. I have marvellous and rather esoteric conversations with him.   His name is Oswald, and he quite famous in the rabbit community.   I write about him in  A GLASS OF WINE AND CONVERSATIONS WITH A GENTLEMAN RABBIT.

This will be a summer of drifting through the days reading about exotic far away places.  There’s always pleasant work in the vegetable garden.  A place we also share with a tiny bunny.  Not by choice, but bunnies will be bunnies.      And I am hoping Oswald rabbit will join me on the patio again this summer.   A glass of wine and his take on world events would be most interesting.  Take care and be safe dear friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COOKING TUSCAN STYLE – PORK LOIN in the STYLE of PORCHETTA

 

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It’s late afternoon in a kitchen in a rambling stone farm house in Tuscany.   You’ve  gathered fennel, garlic, onions and rosemary from the garden.  There’s  a glass of crisp, cold sparkling Prosecco on the  counter.  You’re preparing dinner.  Arista  the traditional pork roast studded with garlic and rosemary and spit-roasted over hot coals.  Porchetta a nearly boneless whole suckling pig, rubbed with rosemary and stuffed with its own highly seasoned innards.

Tuscany is a wonderful dream.   How lovely to create this state of mind in your own kitchen.  This recipe for stuffed loin of pork has all the gorgeous flavours of these Tuscan dishes.   Put on your apron and you’re in MRS.BUTTERFINGERS kitchen.    Click on PORK LOIN IN THE STYLE OF PORCHETTA  for this recipe I have adapted  from Mario Batali’s book Molto Italiano.

 

LILIES AND LICORICE . . fills the heart and calms the soul.

Early  morning.  I’ve gathered armfuls of  magnificent Casa Blanca Lilies,   Star-gazer Lilies,  and whispery, licorice scented fennel.

Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem fills the room with inspiring sound.        Introit et Kyrie  . . .  Offertoire . . . glorious music that fills one heart and calms the soul.  I plunge the lilies into glittering crystal vases.  They deserve nothing less.

Gorgeous, glamours lilies.

Agnus Dei

Exultation of  lilies.

Libera me

Joyous lilies.

Sanctus

The sweet perfume of fennel.

The intoxicating fragrance of garden fresh flowers.

Pie Jesu … Libera me … In paradisi.

In this moment I put aside these troubled time and journey to a place of peace and quiet.

 

TRAVEL SAFE. VISIT BOTSWANA AND MEET THE NO. 1 LADIES’ DETECTIVE AGENCY

You don’t need a flight reservation.  You don’t need your passport.  You don’t need to pack your valise.    Make yourself a pot of tea.  A pot of red tea.  Make it properly.     Tea leaves added to a warm teapot.  Water that has just come to the boil.  Let it steep about five minutes.  Perhaps add a little honey to your cup.  Now  relax and enjoy armchair travel.

Several  years ago I read a slim book about an unusual woman who became the first lady private detective in Botswana.  I am always looking for well-written detective novels.  I collect them like pearls, for like pearls a well-written detective novel is something to treasure.  This slim book. The NO. 1 LADIES’ DETECTIVE AGENCY, by Alexander McCall Smith, and all the  delightful books that followed, are not pearls, they are Botswana Diamonds.  They are not exactly detective novels, more like mysteries that happen in life.

Then I  discovered  another Botswana Diamond.  I found in the DVD section of our Ladner Library a TV series made from the novels.  It had appeared on HBO.  Was it possible to create the magic of the books?  I dared to hope and dream.    I was not disappointed.  The series captured  all and more of  every nuance, every bit of  the charm and sensitivity, and all the understated humour of the books.

Each night The Good Husband and I traveled to Botswana, and each night reluctantly returned to the West Coast and the rain forests.  Last night was the final program.  I suggested we could watch it again from the beginning. You always miss things first time around.  “We’ll see”,  said the good husband, as he poured himself a cup of bush tea and clicked on travel information to Botswana.  In these difficult times it is nice to dream.

These are the actors who created the poetry we watched evening after evening.

I would like you to meet Mma Ramotswe, Precious Ramotswe, the first lady detective in Botswana. (Jill Scott)

The very prim and proper Mma Makutsi,  Grace Makutsi, assistant private detective. (Anika Noni Rose)

Together Precious Ramotswe and Grace Makutsi solve mysteries with style, grace and humour.

Mr. JLB Matekoni,  a mechanic magician and all around renaissance man. (Lucian Msamati)

BK, owner of the Last Chance Salon, hairdresser extraordinaire and sometime assistant to the lady detectives.(Desmond Dube)

Back to the books.  It is important you realize that The Ladies’ No. One Detective Agency is NOT simply detective fiction .  It’s a novel that takes you to Botswana, introduces you to characters you would want in your life, and a country you do not want to leave.

To my great joy Alexander McCall Smith continued to write many more books, and through the years I continued to travel to Botswana.   I’ve made many cups of bush tea  and read my way through the lives of people whom I would feel honoured to know.

Precious Ramotswe, the first lady private detective in Botswana.  Strong, intelligent, compassionate Precious.

Grace Makutsi, graduating  with a 97% average from secretarial college, refreshingly prim and proper.

Mr. JLB Matekoni, a renaissance man, a mechanic of magic abilities with motors and cars.

JB,  flamboyant hairdresser and owner of the Last Chance Salon, steadfast friend and sometimes accomplice to the lady detectives.

This as  not just a series of detective novels.  Don’t  presume it is simply “light reading”.  It is more than the sum of it’s parts.  It is about life with dignity and love.  There’s understated humour.  A great deal of wisdom.  Some unpleasant facets of life.  Most important the books contain all that is good, positive, respectful  and honourable about Botswana.

How can you not love books with titles like…

Tears of the Giraffe,

Morality for Girls

The Kalachari Typing School for Men

The Cupboard Full of Life

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies

Blue Shoes and Happiness

The Good Husband of Zebra Drive

The Miracle at Speedy Motors

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built

The Double Comfort Safari Club

I’ve just made myself a cup of bush tea and now I am reading another book in this rare and wonderfully gentle series about the first lady detective in Botswana, The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party.  I can’t wait to see if Grace Makutsi finds true love.

Oh yes, my fellow tea lovers.  You must  drink bush tea.  Find it under the name Rooibos or Red Tea in any good tea shop.

A JELLY ROLL TO THE RESCUE

 

 

If there ever was a time we needed comfort food it is today.     Something sweet to sooth the soul and have you smiling with delight.  A jelly roll to the rescue.    What a delightful idea.  Bake a cake.   Spread jam on it and roll it up.  Easy, peasy.   The ingredients  are all there in your kitchen – eggs, sugar, flour, flavouring and jam.

A classic sponge cake is not difficult to make.  Simply carefully follow the instructions. The eggs must be a room temperature, or a little warmer, and then beaten with sugar for at least ten minutes, or until thickened, tripled in bulk and full of air. It requires no leavening other than the air that is beaten into the eggs.  Carefully fold in the flour being careful not to disturb the air bubbles too much.  Then spread into the prepared pan

Don’t over bake your cake.  It will not roll easily and will crack. Depending on your oven bake for 18 to 20 minutes.  ( I hesitate to suggest the 20 minutes  but your oven may be on the cool side.)

While your cake is baking sprinkle a clean dish towel with sugar.  As soon as you take it out of the oven lay the long edge of your pan on the towel  and turn out your cake.

Lift the pan off the cake.

Trim the edges of your cake and then peel off the paper.  Trimming the cake makes it easier to roll.

While the cake is still warm starting with the short end roll the cake  and lay it with the edge seam side down.  Let it cool thoroughly before unrolling and filling.  If you are apprehensive about rolling the cake use the towel to help you.   When the cake is cool carefully unroll the cake and towel.

Use any desired filling.  Jam, jelly, lemon curd, whipped cream.  Just be sure it spreads easily.  If the jam or jelly is a little thick heat it gently before spreading it on the cake.  Using a small strainer dust the cake with lots of icing sugar.  You can also frost the cake with your favourite frosting.

This recipe calls for superfine granulated sugar and pastry or cake flour.  If you don’t have these in your pantry it is easy to make them.  For superfine sugar put at least one and a half cups of granulated sugar into your food processor and process for a few seconds.  Not too long or you’ll end up with sugar powder.   Measure your sugar after you have processed it.   You can always find a use for extra  super fine sugar.

For pastry or cake flour do this.  Take one cup of flour and remove two tablespoons of flour.  Add two tablespoons of corn starch (corn flour) to the cup. I put two cups of this mixture through a sifter five  to six times.    From this take the required amount of flour for your recipe.    Set aside the extra cake flour for future use.

The happy little jelly roll recipe awaits you in MRS.BUTTERFINGERS kitchen.

Bon Appetit dear friends.  Take care.  Stay safe.

 

 

 

 

RHUBARB UP-SIDE DOWN BROWN SUGAR CAKE . . . an easy to make spring dessert

 

This unprepossessing plant.    This new darling of avant-garde young chefs.  This wonderful rhubarb is the spectacular  upside-down topping on the most delicious of brown sugar cakes.

It is perfection on its own as a snacking cake or one could lavish it with whipped cream or crème fraíche.   Add a few very ripe strawberries and it would be a spectacular finish to a meal.

This is an easy recipe to put together.  You don’t use a stand mixer – just your favourite balloon whisk.    The cake stays moist and delectable for up to three days.  Simply keep it covered at room temperature.

This recipe calls for fresh rhubarb but you can also use frozen rhubarb.  Just be sure to allow time for your frozen rhubarb to defrost and drain (gently pressing on the stalks to help remove the moisture.

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April can be the cruellest of months but it gives us this tart-sweet vegetable that morphs into the most addictive of desserts.    It has been a wet spring this year and the rhubarb in my garden has responded with juicy red stalks and enormous umbrella sized leaves.    RHUBARB UPSIDE-DOWN BROWN SUGAR CAKE – bake it today.   The recipe awaits you in MRS.BUTTERFINGERS kitchen.    Bon Appetit dear friends.

(This recipe is from  Dorie Greenspan’s inspiring cookbook Baking Chez Moi.)