Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Our Christmas Tree

I've been holding off on putting up our Christmas tree because of the unseasonably mild, snow-free days we've been having lately.  Every year, I wait for the blanket of snow to arrive before I think of putting up the tree.  But this year, I could wait no longer.  Snow, or no snow, Sunday, I decided would be the day.  The girls were so anxious, as was I, to get our tree up and decorated.
I've used artificial and natural trees in the past.  I have to say, there are advantages to both, but truly, there is nothing like a real tree.  I love that it's alive and breathing, and the scent of pine in the house...mmm!   So why did I have an artificial tree?  Well, a few years ago, I saw a new kind of Christmas tree, selling in stores, with lights already hung.  It was all the rage, and I too, got sucked into the buying frenzy.  

After breakfast, on Sunday morning, Nuno and I went to our basement to lug the big box containing our tree, up the stairs.  We opened it up and put the tree together, pretty quickly.  But, when it came time to plug in the lights, well, that wasn't so easy.  Half of them were lit, half were not.  Nuno spent some time trying to figure out why this was happening.  Meanwhile, I was secretly hoping the lights wouldn't work, so we could have an excuse to buy a real tree again. 

And so it was, the Christmas tree went back into the box, and is now sitting in the garage, waiting to be donated to someone or someplace willing to play around with the lights.  A couple hours later, we took a drive to Drysdale's.  It is a 400 acre tree farm; approximately fifteen minutes from our home.

The sign at the entrance of the tree farm

One of the first things we saw when we entered the farm, was this marshmallow stand,
complete with marshmallows and long wooden sticks, for roasting them!

Nuno and the girls around the big fire, roasting marshmallows.

As you can see from the photos, it was raining, but we didn't let a little rain stop us from having fun.

Me, holding a perfectly roasted marshmallow Nuno made for me.

Adorable wooden reindeer for sale

Some of the beautiful ornaments for sale inside the Evergreen Store

Anita and I oohing and ahhing over the ornaments

A selection of saws to pick from, to cut down the perfect tree!

This is the tractor-drawn wagon arriving to take us out to the plantation.
You can see people getting off with their fresh cut trees!

After some searching, we found the perfect tree for us - a six foot blue spruce.
Anita and Annabel are taking turns helping Daddy cut the tree.  It happened so fast.  I was
expecting it to take some time, but it probably took an entire two minutes!

Thank you, honey, for always taking us on these wonderful adventures!

Here's a little video...

Baled tree on top of our car, ready to come home with us.

But before we left, we saw hot apple dumplings for sale at the snack bar.  I'd never tried an apple dumpling before, so I bought one for us to try.  Boy, oh boy, was it ever good!!

When we got home, we put the tree in water, decorated it with lights, garland and special ornaments.  And this year, we have a new star!

Here are some photos...

Now, all it needs is a tree skirt and more presents under the tree.  I'm working on that! 

By the way, we still don't have any snow on the ground.  I'm okay with that, but come December, I'd like a little snow.  I'm not asking for a lot, just a little white stuff. 

This weekend, I'll be baking cookies for the annual cookie exchange at my friend, Sandy's house.  I'm really looking forward to it.  I hope you are all feeling Christmasy and cosy.  I love Christmas and I can't wait for the holidays!!  Enjoy the rest of the week, everyone!  xo

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Sublime November Morning!

Welcome!  Do come in, won't you?  I am so happy to see you here again! 

I don't usually do a blog post on two consecutive days, but I felt an incredible urge to share these photos I took this morning.  I couldn't wait till tomorrow.  I wanted you to see them now!

Last night, while I was in bed, I could hear the freezing rain bashing against the window panes in my room.  The forecast called for freezing rain and strong winds for most of the night.  When I woke up, I peeked outside the front door and it looked as if our car had been dipped in ice!  I had to warm it up for a good, long while before I could drive the girls to school. 

BUT now the rain had stopped, the sky was blue, and the sun was shining!

Can you see the tiny icicles that formed underneath the window? 
And the deep blue sky peeking from above?
The icicles are gone now; the sun has melted them away.

This is our crab apple tree in the backyard.  I love how the crab apples look with the ice melting in the sun's warmth.  Drip-drip-drip

One of our backyard bird houses

Lastly, I'd like to share with you a photo of our dinner table last evening...

On the table, you can see the crispy chicken I made last night.  I roasted it the same way I did in my previous post.  You can also see a dish of mashed sweet potatoes.  They turned out so delicious, that I just had to share my recipe with you.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes

4  medium sweet potatoes (washed, and ends removed)

2 tablespoons of butter

2 tablespoons of pure maple syrup

pinch of salt

sprinkle of cinnamon

Wash and pat dry sweet potatoes.  Cut off ends, instead of piercing with a fork.  It's just easier that way.  Wrap each sweet potato in aluminum foil and place on a cookie sheet.  I roasted mine in a preheated 350 degree F oven (while roasting the chicken) for 1 hour.  Remove the potatoes when you can easily pierce them with a fork and they are nice and soft. 

Unwrap the foil and carefully peel the skins off.  Put the potatoes in a large bowl and mash them with a potato masher.  Add butter and maple syrup.  Stir to incorporate.  Add a pinch of salt and a sprinkle of cinnamon (to taste).  I like mine with just a touch of cinnamon.  Stir with a large wooden spoon.  Place the mashed potatoes in an oven safe dish.  Cover with aluminum foil and keep warm until you are ready to serve them.  

I hope you enjoyed reading this post.  I wish you all a wonderful Wednesday!   And to my American friends celebrating tomorrow - Happy Thanksgiving!!  Love you all! xoxo 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Barrie Santa Claus Parade 2011

On Saturday, November 19th, the City of Barrie celebrated its 16th annual Santa Claus Parade.  I've been to watch the parade in previous years, but this year, I was priveleged to be a part of it! 

When I was a child, I used to watch the Toronto Santa Claus Parade on TV and I remember wishing I could sit on one of those floats, wearing a costume, face painted, waving hello, shouting, "Merry Christmas!".  This year, my wish came true, only instead of taking part in the Toronto parade, I took part in the Barrie Santa Claus parade, in the small city where I 've been living for the past four years. 

My husband, Nuno, is a member of the Barrie Bass Masters fishing club.  He is responsible for media and promotion  This year, he had the great idea of entering the club in the Santa Claus Parade.  It was a great way to connect with the citizens of Barrie, to create awareness, and possibly attract some new members, as well.

I was hoping the previous day's snow fall could have stuck around for the festivities, but due to the sunshine and milder temperatures, all traces of snow melted before the parade began.  Saturday morning was sunny, mild, and beautiful.  Nuno, the girls and I went to a couple of Christmas bazaars at two of our local churches after our breakfast.

I found this adorable Mrs. Claus holding a tray of chocolate chip cookies.
Can you guess what she's made of?  It's a brick, painted and decorated
to look like Mrs. Claus.  She's now standing just outside our door on the porch.
I've never seen anything like it.  I couldn't resist!

When we got home, we decorated Nuno's bass boat (our float) with Christmas lights, garland, bows and ornaments.  It was a team effort and everyone helped.  Lucky for us, the weather couldn't have been more perfect for doing that sort of thing.


I roasted some chestnuts in the oven.  Here they are - peeled, still warm and ready to eat!

 On the boat, on our way to the parade route

Here are two junior bass masters - Paul Spenceley and Cole Vardy.
In the middle is Dave Norgrove, dressed as mascot for the parade.

Here we all are, behind the other floats, waiting for the parade to begin. 

View of Kempenfelt Bay from where we waited. 

Before I go on, I must tell you, showers were forecast to begin around 5 pm that evening - the exact time the parade was to begin.  Sure enough, true to the weather station's word, it started to rain, as you can probably tell from the above photo.  We were lucky, though, the rain showers were light and would come and go quickly.  I was too thrilled...I barely noticed!

Here is Santa's float, right behind us!  Ours was the second last float in line. 


And off we went...


Look at all the people!

Nuno and Annabel

This is the truck that pulled our float.  Brad Hudson, a bass member, and his wife
 drove us along the route.

These fancy horses were walking between us and the Santa float.  Aren't they beautiful?

Once Santa arrived at his final stop, we were treated to a beautiful fireworks
 display over Kempenfelt Bay.

All of us on the float, including junior bass masters:
Paul, Mark, and Cole

I truly enjoyed being a part of this special day.  I will never forget the sheer joy I felt when I saw the crowds, all along the parade route, adults and children, waiting to see the floats and of course, Santa Claus. 

 Certain scenes just "stuck out" at me, like these three little girls sitting on a blanket under a huge umbrella and parents and grandparents holding tiny babies, already sharing with them, the magic of the season.  I wish I had been able to capture those moments on camera for you.  But, with all my waving and greetings, it was nearly impossible. 
I would pick out certain people in the crowds and say "Merry Christmas!".  Some were children, some were adults, and you could see how happy they were to return the greeting.  It was as if they were waiting for me to say it all along. 

 Christmas is a magical holiday.  We can't find magic in a present, at the mall, on the street corner, or anywhere else, for that matter.  The real magic can only be found in our hearts!   The spirit of Christmas lives inside our hearts, and in the hearts of those who believe!

I have a short video from the Santa Claus Parade to share with you, but unfortunately I'm having trouble getting it to upload.  If I can figure it out, I will post it later.

"He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree."  Roy L. Smith


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How to Roast Perfect Crispy Chicken

Good morning!  I've missed you!  It's been two weeks since my last post.  Sorry, I've been so absent.  I've had a lot of other things going on, but I'm back.  I hope everyone has been enjoying the last few weeks of Fall.  I know I've been.  A lot has happened since my last post...we even got our first snow fall!

Just outside my front door, last Friday.

But don't worry, the snow has all melted since then.  We've been enjoying some pretty mild days, actually.   Unusually mild weather we've been having this November.  I'm not complaining; I'm enjoying every minute of this extended Fall. 

Today, I'd like to share with you my steps for a no-fail crispy chicken!  After roasting countless chickens over the years, and trying different things here and there, I've finally mastered this simple, yet delicious way to prepare a delicious, crispy chicken, everyone at the table will swoon over. 

I start with a fresh 3 pound whole chicken.  Remove it from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature.  Rinse the chicken in cold water and pat dry. 

Next, quarter an onion or shallots, a couple of lemon wedges, and peel garlic cloves.  I picked some rosemary from my herb garden (still thriving, even after the snow!).  You can buy fresh rosemary if you don't have any in your garden.  DON'T use dry, it will not produce the same, aromatic smell and taste.

Sprinkle the chicken's cavity with some course salt and fresh ground pepper.  Stuff the cavity to its fullest with onion, lemon, garlic and rosemary. 

Now, get out your roasting pan with floating rack.  If you don't have a roasting pan with a floating rack, you should get one.  Believe me, this is what keeps your chicken crispy ALL OVER.  My pan is from Kitchen Aid.  I bought it on sale last year at Canadian Tire.  I think it was 50 percent off during the holidays.  It ended up being very inexpensive, after the sale.  

Next, take some room temperature butter and spread it all over your chicken, making sure to get it in all the nooks and crannies.   This is going to give you the crispy skin you so desire.  Sprinkle the chicken (all over) with a generous amount of course salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Insert the pan in the middle rack of your oven and allow it to roast for 2 hours.  I have a convection oven, which cooks faster than a regular electric oven, so you may have to adjust the cooking time depending on your oven.  Test with an oven thermometer or until juices run clear.  The result will be this...

Crispy, golden, aromatic, juicy chicken!

Once you remove the roasting pan from the oven, be sure to tent the chicken with foil and allow it to set for 20 minutes.  Now your chicken is ready to eat.  You can remove the stuffing in the cavity before you serve it, if you desire.   Roasted potatoes, rice and/or your favourite veggies are all great accompaniments.

Hmm...what else has been going on since my last post?  Well, I went with a friend of mine to the annual Barrie Christmas Craft Show.  As usual, it was a lot of fun looking at all the hand made, one-of-a-kind items, browsing at all the booths, and talking to some of the vendors. 

I bought this rusty star garland at the show and Nuno hung it for me on my kitchen hutch.  The little birdie on the bottom shelf was bought at last year's show.  Aren't they cute?

Some photos of a few other things that have been cooking in my kitchen...

Roasted butternut squash, with a tiny pool of melted butter and sprinkled with brown sugar.  My idea of a perfect lunch!  Roast in preheated oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour until soft and mushy.  Add a spoon and enjoy!

Portuguese pork and bean stew (feijoada) served with rice on the side

I made this yummy appetizer last night.  These are boiled quail eggs, sliced chorizo, and black olives, stir-fried  in 1 tablespoon of XV olive oil and chopped cilantro.  I aquired this pretty scalloped dish on Sunday. It was a bomboniere gift at my little cousin's baptism!

And last but not least, I'd like to share with this with you:

I received this card from my friend, Sherry, in the mail yesterday.  I love the little poem on the front.  I am blessed to have so many wonderful friends in my life.  After all, the best recipes in life are not those for food and drinks, but those for family and friends.  Don't you think?

Thank you for stopping by my kitchen.  I appreciate your comments.  If you aren't a follower yet, I invite you to join me.  I hope you enjoyed your stay.  Wishing you a wonder-fall day!  xo