IT’S NOT JAM! IT’S GOOD MORNING SEVILLE ORANGE MARMALADE

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I will never forget the first time I tasted home made marmalade.   I was visiting relatives in Scotland.  They lived on a sweet farm just outside Dumfries.        A behemoth, ancient  Aga stove  dominated their kitchen.  Several large pots simmered away and filled the air with the perfume of oranges.   Knives flashed and turned the knobbly peel of Seville oranges into fine, slender  slices.   Batches of the most perfect of preserves, homemade marmalade, cooled in small jars.

The season for these sour oranges is short.  Just a few weeks in late January and February.    Sometimes you can still find them in stores as late as March.  Our divine Ladner food store, JARRY’S MARKET,  made it possible to make marmalade this late in the year. Every marmalade aficionado know the best marmalade uses Seville oranges.  Their thick, bitter peel holds the secret to this most heavenly concoction.   It is this peel and pits that supply the necessary  pectin.    One can buy marmalade but it never tastes quite as delicious or gives us the same satisfaction of making it ourselves .

Making Seville orange marmalade is a two day process.   However, it is not difficult.   You juice the oranges and thinly slice or finely chop the rind the first day and have it  sit quietly over night.  The next day you add the sugar and cook the marmalade.  You do need a good size pot and a candy thermometer.   Absolutely no pectin is added.

One does not refer to marmalade as jam.  Jam is made with fruit and even vegetables, but marmalade is always and only made with citrus fruits.  The name is Portuguese in origin and refers to a preserve made with quince.

The recipe for SEVILLE ORANGE MARMALADE awaits you in MRS.BUTTERFINGERS kitchen.  Bon Appetit dear friends.

 

 

 

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CANADIAN BAKED BEANS . . . remembrances of things past.

 

January was always  the cruelest month when one grew up in Northern Saskatchewan. The excitement of Christmas still a warm memory, but  January was a biting,  bitter, angry cold that left you weeping.  Freezing eye lashes together.  Turning feet into numbing blocks of ice.    A January  cold that groaned and complained.  A cold that split the ice on our outdoor rink  into  large cracks   catching the blades of our skates and sending us tumbling into snowbanks.  We loved it.

Night come early in the Far North.   Darkness by four o’clock.  Snow crunched with   every step.  The evening sky dazzled with a light show  of a million  stars.   Scarf wrapped, double layers of hand knit mittens and socks,  we waited.  The  Northern Lights  lite up the sky with breath taking brilliant colours. They flashed, soared, danced filling our world with a  show we never took for granted.    Mittens were discarded.  Hands clapped.  We were absolutely certain we had the ability to make  The  Northern Lights dance to our applause.   Then chilled to the bone hunger drove us home for supper.

Remembrances of things past.    The crackle and smell of a wood burning wood stove.  The small, warm kitchen filled with  the comforting aroma of baked beans.  Crusty bread lavished with butter.   A childhood recollection of home.    Marcel Proust wrote of the joys of madelines.  For me it will always be  baked beans.     Fragrant beans simmering all day  until the pork dissolved into a rich sauce and beans become  tender bursts of flavour.  This is the baked beans of my childhood.   The remembrances of things past.  This is not an exotic recipe.  The ingredients are those of more than seventy years ago.  Most important is –  what is not in this  Northern Saskatchewan recipe.    No molasses.   Ginger gives the beans a  counter balance to the sweetness of the sugar.

Quoting Proust  wrote “Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy;  they are the charming gardeners who make our souls bloom.”   May you be happy with this simple recipe.  May your January skies be filled with Northern Lights, and may you enjoy  the simple pleasure of skating on an outdoor rink in the mysterious darkness of the night.

MRSBUTTERFINGERS  has the recipe.  Bon Appetit dear friends.

 

 

THE PROCRASTINATORS FRUITCAKE LOAF . . . make it, bake it and enjoy it the same day.

Procrastinating fruitcake lovers  do not despair.  All is not lost if you didn’t have time for the ritual baking of Christmas cakes back in October.   This quick FRUITCAKE LOAF can be whipped up in the morning and enjoyed with afternoon coffee the same day.    It’s wonderful, spicy fragrance fills your home with an aroma that is pure Christmas.   It slices beautifully and the beguiling perfume of allspice, cloves and nutmeg is perfection itself.

The ingredients are simply guidelines.  The recipe calls for candied mixed peel and dried fruit.  Your pantry has dried figs and lemon and orange peel.  Use what you have.  Pecans, slivered almonds and chopped pistachios replace chopped walnuts.   It will all taste like Christmas.  The brandy decanter is empty then substitute sherry or perhaps an exotic liqueur.  The recipe is so forgiving.

There is so much frantic pressure surrounding the Christmas season.   We need to be calm and take a step back.  Enjoy our family.  Glory in the season.  This fruitcake loaf is more than the sum total of its parts.  Its very simplicity gives one a chance to take a breath and enjoy the simple act of preparing food for those we love.

The recipe for QUICK FRUITCAKE LOAF awaits you in MRSBUTTERFINGERS kitchen.

Merry Christmas dear friends.   XXX Virginia

 

 

 

HOW I MET OSWALD GENTLEMAN RABBIT

This is the time of year when we believe in magic.    We sing about a  snowman who dances  and a reindeer whose red nose  saves Christmas.    We read fairy tales to our children and watch “once upon a time” movies.

I write about a gentleman rabbit called Oswald.    I came upon him quite unexpectedly in my garden.   He was enjoying sun and taking pleasure in the day.  I apologized for disturbing his peaceful moment and turned to walk away.    He raised a paw to stay me.  Introduced himself and told me this story.

Rabbits have the stewardship of all growing things .  This is an enormous responsibility for the rabbits.  It was made especially difficult  for many refused to believe our planet was in grave danger.    And that is how the tales  of Oswald began.    The story of Oswald’s celebration of the winter solstice has been told before, but like all good fairy takes it is lovely to revisit.

 

HOW OSWALD, GENTLEMAN RABBIT CELEBRATES THE WINTER SOLSTICE AND TRIES TO SAVE THE WORLD ONE TREE AT A TIME. A fairy tale for adults who care.

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There are tales told over and over again.  Repeated from one generation to the next.    Every year on December 21st, the shortest day of the year,  the tale of Oswald gentleman rabbit, is recounted to young rabbits.  Their noses quiver and their ears wiggle in anticipation.  It is the story of Oswald the rabbit, who wore a magic coat.  A coat that allowed him to travel anywhere in the blink of an eye.  A coat with bottomless pockets he could fill with the universe.   A coat that  allowed him to become a human for a day.

And so the tale begins.

Oswald, gentleman rabbit, stamped the snow off his rather generous feet.  Brushed the ice crystals from his whiskers.   Shook the snow off his magic coat.   Everything was in place for the grand party.  Rabbits the world over would soon arrive at his burrow to celebrate the winter solstice.

Oswald’s ancient burrow was immense.  Deep, deep beneath the earth  the rooms in the burrow were so large one alone could hold more that a thousand rabbits.  Massive,  thick, gnarled  tree roots formed the ceilings.  Fireflies became living chandeliers  chasing away the darkness.

Oswald  reached deep into the pocket of his magic coat and began to pull out evergreen trees. Hundreds and hundreds of trees.   The fragrant smell of cedar and fir, spruce and pine enveloped the room.  The tree roots were wrapped in burlap tied round with holly and ivy vines.  Every year he filled the largest room in the burrow with the trees of Christmas.  Trees of every size circled the room.  Touched the ceiling.  Sparkling and glittering with diamonds of snow.  An indoor forest to celebrate the winter solstice.

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Oswald was very particular about the menu for his Winter Solstice Dinner.    He shopped for the finest delicacies in London.  In the rush of Christmas no one noticed the gentleman with  rather large ears wearing an elaborate red coat. filling basket after basket with Christmas delicacies.  Back  in the enormous kitchen of the burrow,  Oswald reached into the pockets of his magic coat  and drew out hamper after hamper marked F & M – Fortnum and Mason.

Tonight the rabbit guests would dine on magnificent vegetable patés,  Terrines of leeks and spinach,  Carrot and ginger puddings and salads of delicate butter lettuce and dandelion greens.   There would be bottles and bottles of ginger beer, elderberry wine and raspberry cordial to celebrate this the longest night of the year.  Rabbits are fond of nibbling on tasty bits of this and that.  Scattered through the dining hall were generous platters of ruby-red radishes and emerald-green asparagus, golden persimmons and scarlet pomegranates.

It is a little know fact that rabbits have a very sweet tooth.  Oswald planned on ending  the Solstice feast  with the very finest,  sweetest treasures from his favorite shop in Paris.   He walked along the Champ-Elysées  every inch the flâneur in his imposing red coat.   Ladurée, in all its elegance of  marble display  counters,  enveloped him in sweetness.   From pale green boxes he would fill crystal bowls with sublime treats.    Chocolate truffles and tiny lemon tarts,  raspberry macarons and St-Honoré cakes.    It would be a delicious ending to the shortest day of the year.

Later, much later.  When the hundreds and hundreds of  plates were empty. When the last little crumb of pastry was nibbled away,  silence filled the room.   The  well fed rabbits settled back on their golden chairs in anticipation of what was to follow.

From the top most branch of the tallest tree in the cavernous room came a glorious sound.   A single bird singing.     A lark ascending.  The tiny bird sang of peace,  compassion and understanding.   One by one from  surrounding trees birds joined in song.  Louder and louder.    A song  swooping, soaring, climbing higher and higher until the very earth around the burrow vibrated with its magnificence.

Midnight.  The fireflies folded their lighted wings and disappeared into the winter night.   Oswald donned  his magic coat.   He gathered into its bottomless pockets the forest of trees that had decorated the dining hall.  He left the burrow to travel through the dark, cold night.  He would plant these trees on struggling  clear-cut   hills.  On burnt, scorched  unyielding ground. On barren boulevards where anything green and growing struggled to survive  the killing breath of city pollution.

The Solstice night was ending when he  returned to his burrow.  Oswald’s  gift to the world was so simple, so unassuming when dawn broke  those who lived above the burrow passed by the newly planted trees.  Unaware.   Blind to their presence.  Thinking  they had always been there.  Taking for granted these trees so necessary for their living, breathing planet.

Rabbits have the stewardship of all growing things.  An enormous responsibility  in a world where many  deny  and disbelieve what is  happening to our changing planet.  Perhaps you don’t believe in fairy tales.  Than tell me this.    How do you know  that group of  young people planting trees on that clear cut hill  are not rabbits wearing magic coats?

 

THE MANNEQUIN’S CHRISTMAS PARTY . . . a fairy tale for all sewers and unorthadox fashion mavens

  • Fairy tales are wonderful to tell and retell, especially at this time of year.  It seems now more than ever the world needs to believe in magic.   I have a mannequin I call Muriel.  She has been my alto ego for over fifty years.  We are very close.  I whisper secrets to her.  I regale her with stories as I  sew  my way through life.  And so the story begins:

The heavy cream parchment envelope was addressed  to  Muriel the Mannequin.

It hung from a scarlet  silk ribbon tied to the atelier  room door.

“You appear to have mail, Muriel.”  I said with great excitement.

” Would you like me to open it for you?”  I asked my mannequin.    Muriel really didn’t receive much mail.

Muriel has been my close companion as I have threaded needles and  welded my flashing silver scissors cutting out classic suits, little black dresses, evening gowns and once a wedding dress.   She has stood  uncomplainingly  as I have pinned fabric,  draped ruffles and adjusted collars and hems on her patient form.

“It’s your invitation to the annual mannequin’s holiday party. ”  I read when I opened the envelope.

“Miss Virginia, this year I must be  outrageously gorgeous.    May I carry the sparkling purse The Tin Man sent from The Emerald city?”

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“Of course, darling Muriel.  I am sure Tinny would want you to look outrageously beautiful.”

“And your feather boa.  I ‘ll fling it over my shoulders and it will drift around me when I dance?”

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“Dear Muriel the feather boa is absolutely you.” I exclaimed.  ” It’s very flirty and more than a touch romantic.”

“I want to sparkle like the stars in the winter sky.  Do you think  your crystal necklace  would light up my night?”

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“The crystals will shimmer and shine and light up the night.” I replied.

“Last week when you were visiting your little house in Paris you brought me back a  red silk rose.  I would like to wear that too.”

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From deep within my closet of happy memories I took out a scarlet silk tunic I had worn  to a Diwali party and buttoned  it on her.  Again I reached into my closet for a sapphire silk jacket.  You can never have too much silk or two many jewel like colours when you dress outrageously beautiful.  I draped the jacket over her shoulders.  Adjusted the feather boa and pinned the single rose to my sweet Muriel.

“You are ready for your party, Muriel.”

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Muriel twirled and danced around the room.  The feather boa floated.  The crystal necklace sparkled.  The Tin Man’s purse glittered.  She was outrageously beautiful.

“Miss Virginia, do you this is all too much?”

“No my wondrous Muriel.  You look perfect!”

 

 

 

STORY TELLING CHRISTMAS GIFT TAGS

THE BEAUTIFUL EYE

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When I wrap my Christmas gifts I l make the tags truly personal.  Sometimes it is a hint regarding the contents.  Or suggestions for clever uses for the gift.   The best ones require the recipient to guess the contents with the clues you’ve written on the tag.    Commercial gifts barely give you room to write “to and from plus names”.  Where is the fun in that?

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My solution is shipping tags.  You can buy small bundles at craft stores or a lovely big container of them from an office supply store.

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Now the fun begins.  Leave them plain or give them a vintage look with a damp tea bag.  I have a lovely big stamp that looked like a letter written in French.   I used it for the background.   You could use snowflakes, floral or leaf designs or simply leave them plain.  Add cut-outs from old Christmas cards or magazines.  Spread a little white glue in appropriate places and sprinkle it with sparkle powder.  Now write away to your little heart’s content.

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Every year I enjoy having a different gift wrapping theme.   I’ve draped the base of the tree with rich dark green velvet.  The gifts are wrapped with simple brown wrapping paper (very brown paper packages wrapped up with string), then tied with green velvet ribbon.  It’s all very simple and very “home made”.  For me it is all about taking some of the commercial aspect out of the season and making your gifts very, very personal.

Unlike many gift wrapping paper (tissue paper, metallic paper) is completely recyclable.   I even recycle the velvet ribbon .  Rolled around cardboard tubes it’s tucked away to use throughout the year.  I grew up with mantra “waste not want not”.  The word recycle did not exist, but one simply didn’t just throw out something that could be put to  use.

Now I’m off to nibble on short-bread cookies and sip some smoky Earl Gray tea.   Enjoy!