Gingerbread Feed

Tea @ Dawn's ~ All Creation Waits, Welcome Winter & Gingerfolk!


Hello my friends and Happy Sunday! Thanks so much for stopping by for Tea today.  :-)

With Christmas just around the corner, this is the last of my Late Autumn Teas - but I would like to continue in the new year with a follow-up series of "Deep Winter Teas." I haven't an official schedule or a list of tea themes in place yet, but will let you all know my plan just as soon as I can ... most likely I'll have information to share in my very next Tea which I'll host on January 3rd.

Well, we're really down to the wire now aren't we?! So how are you all doing? If you celebrate, are you ready for Christmas? Or do you (like me) feel like you could use just a little more time? And I mean this both practically and spiritually speaking. As much as I try to absorb the beauty of Advent, and to make the season meaningful for my family - it always seems like the weeks fly by ...

And then there's me, torn between trying to slow down and trying to keep up. I do love to be organized and efficient - but I don't want any of us to feel overwhelmed or over-spent. I think that's perhaps one of the best arguments for keeping a planner and using it consistently - not necessarily to get MORE done, but to make room in our days for MORE of what's meaningful to us ...

A calm and peaceful home environment is very important to me - especially as the mom of an autistic child who struggles with anxiety and overstimulation. This is why I come up with these detailed plans for keeping Advent in such a way that our time is spent on slow-lane activities - like making homemade gifts, baking goodies, watching holiday specials, and getting out in nature. Inevitably however, reality intrudes upon my "quiet little Advent plan" and then there's a last minute flurry of activity thrusting me out into the world for things like forgotten gifts, tip monies, feast day ingredients - batteries! - etc.

For the most part however, these past couple of weeks have been quite lovely - and now this mama bear has all her cubs around her in the ol' family den! Bookworm (24) is taking his last final as I type up this post and Crackerjack (20) came home from college a few days ago ... Earlybird (18) finished school on Friday and Little Bear (6) and I are on a little break from (formal) homeschooling. The younger two will be back to school/homeschool after New Year's and the older two will be back at classes later in January.

Speaking of all my kids - here is our Christmas card this year!





(With thanks to my cousin, Kristen, for taking our family photo on Thanksgiving Day! The photos of the younger boys on the back are their "class pictures" this year.)

Now, let's get on with our Tea, shall we? As you see in my top photo, it's a rather basic tea for me this week - a favorite seasonal blend served in one of my sturdiest holiday mugs. I've had this set of mugs (and a matching pitcher) before I was even married! I like to serve the boys cocoa or wassail in these mugs (and eggnog in the pitcher), but they do a bang-up job holding a generous amount of tea, too. I snapped this pic as I worked in my bullet journal the other night, sitting beside our tree. I didn't even have a snack with me at the time, though I do have some lovely ginger "folk" cookies in my oven right now and oh my GOODNESS do they smell good!


Cookie making is a holiday activity I've unfortunately let slip the past few years, and everyone misses it. Especially my husband who fondly remembers Christmases when his mom was busy baking in the kitchen and he and his siblings were gobbling up his grandmother's snappy and spicy gingerbread men. So Little Bear and I made up a batch of dough this week to keep in the fridge so we could bake cookies whenever the mood struck.

Here's my little kitchen helper ...



So earnest ...

So as I've mentioned in previous posts, our Advent journey is nature-based, celebrating the wonders of God's beautiful creation. The first week was all about the HOPE of heaven and earth (stars, stones, shells) and the second week focused on the PEACE of the plant kingdom while in this third week of Advent we are finding JOY in the animal realm - in particular those that live in our local habitat but most especially those that live in our own home!

Here's a peek at my planning for this week in which "all creation waits" ...






And here is my journal spread open and set on our sunny work table ...


I love our wooden animal collection but perhaps never more so than during Advent!

Here are some of the books we read this week ...


... and this is the verse I read aloud:


(The lovely poem comes from this book, a favorite resource among Waldorf homeschoolers. I use each seasonal volume ALL THE TIME in our seasonal homeschooling!)

Speaking of books, do you have favorite holiday stories you return to year after year? 

The page spread below is from one of my favorite Christmas books - Baby's Christmas by Eloise Wilkin. It's a very simple little story depicting sweet and precious Advent activities in a home with a few small children and every page is just like this one here ...


This picture just says Advent to me - that sky, that snow, the birds at the feeder and the natural decorations in the window. Not to mention the little ones bundled up singing carols! I read this book with Little Bear this week and we really looked this page all over. I pointed out the birds and how beautifully they blended in with the celebration - perhaps the birds were listening to the children's voices, maybe they were singing along themselves? We noticed how the sunset sky looked just like the one outside our own windows - Advent colors, in fact! I thought this whole scene complemented our theme this week nicely ...

We also spent a lot our "school mornings" making crafts this month. I love to craft, but try to be mindful of making things with a purpose and using materials responsibly. Here's what we've been up to ...


Exploring seasonal spices on St. Lucia's Day ...


I placed whole cloves, cinnamon sticks and star anise in a small bowl and then let Little Bear go at them with a pestle ...


Boy did he enjoy grinding those spices! A satisfying activity and wonderfully fragrant as well!

We next filled a little muslin sachet bag with our "holiday spice" blend...


... and then hung it in the tree!


(I made the little tag using a snowflake craft punch and some natural brown card stock.)

This is the book we read on St. Lucia's Day ...


... and this is the cinnamon-maple biscuit bread ring we made for tea!


("Tea" being a child-friendly, gently spiced juice blend - but we called it "Glogg.")

Also last week, we expanded our little Advent Garden ...

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The beeswax candle (supervised closely and nestled in pebbles for safety) represents a gift of the bees.

Meanwhile, Oliver stood guard ...


Let me tell you, it's been quite a challenge, keeping the cats away from this little shell-, stone- and moss-filled garden ... but look how prettily it it sits on our table, echoing the late-setting sun in the distance:


(Not to worry - I blew the candle out as soon as we were done taking pictures!)

Another craft we had much fun making last week was a merry mini mitten made from sheep's wool and felt ...



We began by cutting out mitten shapes from the red felt, and a snowflake shape from the white. (This was mama's job and I used that craft punch again to make a snowflake stencil, then traced the shape onto the felt with a marker.)

We placed a bit of sheep's wool in the center of one mitten half, and sprinkled it with a wee bit of catnip ... that was all Little Bear. ;-)


I could have sewn the edges together and honestly that might have been the better plan, but instead, we used glue to seal the mitten and attach the little snowflake embellishment.


This is a project that might be too fiddly for little hands alone, but with a big person's help it should turn out ok!

Although ...

We hadn't taken into account just how NUTS our cats become when there is catnip in the house!


I'm not sure about other cats, but catnip does not make my fellas all dreamy and happy and relaxed. Oh no ...

MY cats go absolutely feral ... beserk, even! So we quickly realized the pretty mitten with its bits and bobs would be torn apart in a heartbeat (and most likely ingested) so instead we decided to hang the mitten high up on our tree.


(I just glued on a little ribbon edging and made a loop for hanging.)

A wonderful story to go with this craft - and for wintertime in general:


The Mitten by Jan Brett.

We are BIG Jan Brett fans and have nearly all her books in our collection. I have a very happy memory of taking two (or maybe three) of my kids to a small bookshop in Cambridge many years ago, to wait in line for an author signing. The wait was long and I remember my kids were a little cranky but Ms. Brett was quite lovely!

Returning to the present though ... because if you get me waxing nostalgic this post will become very long indeed!

On another day we stumbled upon a wooden shape I had in my craft stash, and when Little Bear declared it "the perfect stable," we decided to fancy it up a bit to represent each layer of creation ...



We first gathered some stones and sticks from the yard ...


... and brought the lot of it inside.

(As  usual, Archie considered himself project supervisor ... ahem!)


Stones were applied to the foundation of the creche, and trimmed branches were fitted along the framework ...


Our last step was to glue bits of (craft) moss and lichen to the rooftop:


A very simple but very satisfying craft!


I asked Little Bear what should happen inside our stable as we move closer to Christmas - and he's mulling that one over, considering our vast animal collection and some wooden peg dolls his mama has set aside for a nativity scene ...

But in the meantime, we talked about another big event approaching - the changing of seasons this weekend! So as the week drew to a close and the first day of Winter loomed near, we made up little treats to honor the many types of wildlife that visit our backyard ...



Oranges are such a lovely wintertime treat - healthy and delicious, their shape and color reminds us of the sun which is now growing stronger every day. I sliced some oranges for Little Bear's critter treats but set some aside for drying in my oven (200° F for 2-3 hours). I love using dried oranges in festive winter garlands.

Little Bear meanwhile, set to work ...


Crunchy peanut butter smeared on pinecones and tp rolls, rolled in black oil seed ... orange and apple slices, too!


All ready to go!

We like to choose a tree (or bush) for an outdoor "Solstice Tree" each year, and this is where is where we hung our treats!


We also remembered to honor our chickens with a few treats on this cold snowy day ...


Our hens just love black oil seed and (not shown) a tray of sweet corn kernals is always a hit.

But we were not yet done with our Solstice gifts!


We made a sun shape from seed on the patio - how fun!

And as we watched the last sunset of autumn slip behind our western woods, we spied squirrels enjoying our simple offering ...




Goodbye until next year, dear Autumn ... and welcome back, Sun!

Now before I go I want to remind you all that there is just one more day left to enter my "Winter Comfort & Joy Box" Giveaway!

Thank you to all who have left comments and/or shared my posts here and elsewhere online. You may leave comments again here on this post if you'd like and tomorrow evening (Monday, December 23rd) I will go through all the names and then ...

I will be announcing a winner!

So please stay tuned and as always, I thank you for joining me for Tea! I hope you all enjoy your Sunday ...

I'll see  you here again late tomorrow!

Advent Tea, Week 4: Happy Hearts at Home


Hello my friends and Happy Friday ~ Merry Christmas Eve! As I feared might happen this week, things just got too busy, and I didn't have time to finalize my post yesterday. But I'm here today - on this rainy and mild Christmas eve - to share with you one last cup of Advent Tea. For tonight we begin a most beautiful and blessed new season ...

"Blessed is the season that engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love." ~ Hamilton Wright Mabie

In our final week of Advent my family continued our celebration of God's amazing creation. We had previously explored the wonder of earth and sky, the peacefulness of plants, the joys of wild (and not so wild) creatures and now, we aim closer to home. This week it's all about God's greatest creation - humankind - and the love He has for us - that we have for each other! So this week we relished our family being together and rejoiced in our beloved home ... while remembering the holiest family, their humble first home, and the noble journey that started it all ...

Let's start with a look at our Advent Garden. This was a really fun project and I am sure we will do this again next year ... remember how it started?


In week one (earth & sky) we added pebbles (and later soil) and surrounded our garden (a shallow glass terrarium) with beeswax tealights. Well here is how it looks now as Advent comes to a close ...


Soil was topped with moss from which frosted tiny trees soon sprouted ... then a pretty spotted deer appeared. And this week, up rose a cozy little neighborhood. 

(Note: I bought the trees, deer and houses at my local Michael's craft store. They were fairly inexpensive. The houses were plain but I spread the rooftops with a little white paint and added a few shakes of white glitter. The moss and pebbles came from our yard and the earth was found in a bag of potting soil parked in the garage. The candles I ordered through Amazon.)

Today I moved the Garden off the kitchen table (which will soon be set up for a Christmas buffet!) and into a small nearby alcove ...


Above it I hung a pretty wooden ornament also embellished this week ...


This was a very inexpensive wooden craft, one of several I've picked up this season ...


I actually really love the look of unfinished wood, but the addition of a little white paint and glitter lends a soft and simple touch ...

A few more nativity scenes around the house ...

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This is a new lawn decoration this year! Bill and the boys "gave" me this as a gift last Christmas - but it took me till this fall to find one I really liked. We have this nestled beneath - appropriately enough - our family room windows. :)

Let's pop on out to the library and take a peek at the tree for a moment ... 


Isn't this ornament gorgeous? You'll probably tire of hearing me say this but this is another treasure I found at Michael's. This was discovered in one of the boys' Advent pockets this past week.

And how about this one? :)


I found this picture frame ornament up by the registers for a couple of dollars. So very pretty and perfect for a small family photo. I think I'd like to make this a tradition - add a new family picture ornament each year.

Speaking of ornaments, one of our crafts this past week celebrated our family members and what Mama loves most about each of them.  


I started with a plain plastic ornament ball ... wrote our family names on small heart stickers and placed them all over the ball's surface ... and then filled the ball with colorful strips of construction paper. Each slip of paper was curled up tight, with a hidden message inside.


I think this might also become a new family tradition ... :)

One more peek at the tree, a few new ornaments were added this week ...


I found these pretty red glass initial ornaments at Target, and bought one for each of my boys. (The "H" is actually made out of cardboard or some such material.)

And since we're talking about my boys, here's a peek at our Christmas card this year!


It's the first time we've done a collage and I rather like it! It was such fun to look back over all the photos from last year ... though it proved a shocking reminder just how quickly time has flown. We even added a couple of photos to the back - one of the chickens and one of the cats!

I absolutely adore Christmas cards, don't you? We display ours here on this door leading into the library ...


Bill sets up the ribbons and then I attach the cards with tiny clothespins. I love to see this doorframe fill up! Visually, it's a wonderfully decorative spot - but also a lovely reminder of the friends and family we have been blessed with over the years.

And though we've been doing "photo cards" for years, I still love traditional Christmas cards. We always bought ours from a company called LANG, and when I spied some boxes of Lang cards at Joann's Arts & Crafts recently (marked down 60%!) I just could not help myself. I bought a few varieties for next year ...




Switching gears now - because we haven't even talked about tea yet! Now, if you scroll way back up to the top of this post I showed you my teatime spread this week ... or, here it is again ... :)

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As you can see, I was in my glories at Tea this week, surrounded by all my boys. They were supposed to be helping me with neatening the tree - I bribed them with cookies! - while I sat down to look over my holiday notes. In my "Blessed" mug (a new favorite) I had a large serving of my preferred black tea with a lot of milk and a bit of sugar. The cookies are store bought, but were still gobbled up quickly! I had hoped to make Bill's grandmother's much-loved gingerbread recipe this week but that just did not pan out. (I'm going to try again at Epiphany.) So a box of "Gingerbread Family" cookies had to do. Thank you, Pepperidge Farms!

Yes, it is wonderful having our Bookworm home! I never sleep as well as I do when all my sons are home. The older boys do love to sleep in though if they are allowed ... but this morning we needed to get an early start so I made up a platter of cinnamon-sugar toast in hopes that the fond and familiar aroma would get them out of bed!


Cinnamon-sugar is without a doubt, one of the best things in my kitchen. (Along with my fresh coffee beans and a large bottle of vanilla.) I grew up eating cinnamon-sugar toast made by my mum or grandma and its scent still says "cozy, home, comfort" to me. :)

It's little things like this that make a home feel warm and welcoming. Because a home is so much more than just walls and windows and a (hopefully) sturdy roof. Home is where our loves live ... it's where we come together to share our journey, our thoughts and our memories. We are nurtured and encouraged and accepted here. We are allowed to crave comforts and seek solace ... it's the place we can relax and rejuvenate and gather our strength when we once again face the world outside that front door ...


Jane Austen had it right. Home is where it's at ... and that's that. :)


Oh, and how could I forget? Here's another "Giveaway" sneak peek! January is a perfect month for letter writing - in fact, 1/23 is National Handwriting Day! So here are some pretty notecards to help you catch up on all those holiday thank-yous. :) And once the busy-ness of Christmas has past, time frees up again (in theory!) for leisurely pastimes like reading for pleasure ... how about a nice issue of Mary Jane's Farm? Both of these things will be tucked into that Winter Comforts Basket! :)

I am having such fun putting together this basket, and although only one reader will win it, I really wish I could send a little wintertime "comfort and joy" to each and every one of you. I am so grateful for you all - for all your support and kindness and encouragement over the years. I know most of us have never actually "met" in "real life" but I count each of you as my friends. I always look forward to hearing from you and I keep every one of you in my prayers. My wish for you on this beautiful Christmas eve morning is that your coming days are filled with the blessings of family and home, that you know friendship and love, good health and happiness, and that your new year will be an AMAZING one. I look forward to sharing 2017 with you all!

Now, before I go - I am still accepting teacup (mug) submissions! And I have several more friend posts stockpiled to share next week ... if you'd like to join the Giveaway contest, please send me a picture of your favorite mug - whatever you most enjoy drinking your tea (or coffee, cocoa, cider, etc.) from ... and you are entered. I will announce a winner on New Year's Eve - a week from today!

You can reach me at: drhanigan AT gmail DOT com.

Next Friday I'll have a Christmas Tea of my own, but in the meantime, I wish you all a wonderful weekend. Take care of yourselves and your loved ones and see you all here again very soon ...


Winter Weekend: Warmth & Wonder

Winter weekend 1

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Now, you may have heard about the gigantic blizzard that is hitting certain parts of our country - parts that aren't used to this kind of thing! I do hope everyone who is in the storm's path is staying safe and warm. We're only getting a couple of inches overnight here in New England, though the winds will be high. Remember, stay home and "weather the weather" as best you can! It's the safest way ... and enjoy all that snow! :)

So I'm just popping in quickly this morning to share a few photos and say "hi." Above you see my cheerful mug which is holding a gallon or so of hot tea - sitting on top of two things that came in the mail yesterday which made me so very happy: my Isabella catalog and Green Parent magazine. I have a lot on my "to-do" list this weekend, but I will be making time for perusing these two publications at some point! (Over a giant cup of tea, of course.)

And how about a slice of this, too ... ?

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Dark and spicy gingerbread - a result of our Friday baking. A Trader Joes mix, easy-peasy to make with the kids, and it made the house smell amazing! (Even better with a dollop of freshly whipped cream ...)

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And this sweet little book is one of Little Bear's favorites right now. We pulled it from our Winter Book Basket and have been reading it over and over through the week ... as you can see below, we have a lot of animal tracks in our yard at the moment!

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Before the snow hits this afternoon, I plan to take the boys out so we can figure out just WHO ALL has been traipsing through our yard! I have lots of books on my nature shelf for doing just that - filled with great illustrations of the various prints. And while we're out there, we'll refill all the bird feeders so our feathered and furred friends will be well fed through the storm. If they don't have to search so hard for sustenance, they can conserve a little of their precious energy!

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Also on my weekend agenda - if I can eke out a little spare time - is to work in my big seasonal planning binder. I aim to finish up the Deep Winter section (cover page shown above), so I can turn my eager thoughts to Early Spring. Why am I doing this now? Well, it is the second to last weekend of the month and that is when I do a little forward planning: calendar updating (in this case, February) as well as seasonal planning (in this case, early spring). One of those planning "tasks" that really need a spot in the schedule to call their own ... otherwise they never "fit" in!

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And finally, another peek into a favorite vintage book of mine, Round the Year with Enid Blyton ... this one was a gift from my dear friend, Kimberly ... and I just treasure it. Especially as I plan out nature activities for the upcoming seasons. This is a page from the Winter section, all about "Foot-Writing in the Snow." How lovely!

Well my friends, I will be off now, but I hope you are all doing well and that your weekend will be a good one for you - with some rest and refreshment perhaps, and a little "recharge" of the batteries. What's on your plate this weekend? Are you in the path of some "weather"? Are you hunkering down or heading out? If you have a moment, please leave me a comment and let me know how you are doing ... I would love to hear from you!

But for now, I will leave you all with my fondest farewell and a hope to see you here again sometime soon!

The Spices of the Season

This morning's Advent note read: 

"Today we'll explore the spices of the season!" 

Our exploration actually began yesterday afternoon, as Earlybird and I made a rich, dense cookie dough - fragrant with several kinds of holiday spices. We worked together in our warm kitchen as the daylight grew weak, and the tree lights began to glow ... 

Once the dough was nice and stiff, I rolled it into a log shape and wrapped it in plastic wrap. It sat in the fridge overnight, and this morning - just before lunchtime - I preheated the oven and we took the cold, hard dough out of its wrapping.


You can just see all those spices!

I based my recipe on the one found here, but I only had cake flour on hand so I finagled the measurements, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best! I really like the high amount of brown sugar in these - the rustic sweetness balances the spiciness out nicely. (By the way, dough like this is great for keeping in the fridge ~ just slice and bake what you need, and save the rest for later.)

And here's how our first batch of spice cookies came out ...


I just mixed a little cream with confectioner's sugar for the icing ~ thick enough to look like snow drifts ~ and the snowflake candies (in honor of our first snowfall this week!) are EB-friendly. The cookies were wonderful ~ a bit crisp around the edges, but chewy inside, and ohhh ... the flavor! 

So we continued our spice fun later in the day ...


(I don't normally keep my spices on the windowsill, natch - but I tucked them in close to the tree for Earlybird to find this morning.) 

I set up a space on the counter and we smelled and touched and tested the various kinds of sweet spices I had on hand. We grated the whole nutmeg and cinnamon stick, and compared it with the ground variety. We split a vanilla bean, scraped out its seeds, and nestled all of it into a tub of sugar. (Note: though in the picture below it looks like EB is reaching for the large knife I promise you, he's not! I had used it on the vanilla bean and took this picture before I cleaned it and stored it away.) 


When we were done, we made up a little spice sampler for the nature shelf.


So this was a very fun day ~ and now I sit here on the family room couch with Bill who's eating the two cookies I saved just for him. He's declared them to be a success. ;) And the best part is - we still have a giant log of dough to use up in the fridge!

Well, I hope your week's going well so far ~ see you again in a day or two ... :)

Gingerbread Goodness!


A busy morning of lessons and therapy (and all that ice gazing), left us with big appetites at yesterday's lunchtime. I insisted the boys eat up well because - according to our December 11th Advent Tag - we had an afternoon of gingerbread goodness ahead of us!

Normally, with Earlybird's dietary restrictions, I need to make things from scratch. But I spied these lovely gingerbread men at Whole Foods last week and, after checking the ingredients label, I decided they would be OK. (More than OK, they were soft and delicious and best of all, easy!) As much as I love making gingerbread (nothing smells more like Christmas, I think) some days there just isn't time. Yesterday was one of those days, so I was glad for these cookies in the cupboard!

For the record, the decorations - while hardly sugar-free - are all-natural and Feingold-approved. They had to be, for Eb's sake! From left to right: Sunspire Chocolate Baking Drops, Ghirardelli White Chocolate Baking Chips, homemade buttercream frosting, India Tree Snowflake Sprinkles and Sparkling White Sugar, Candied Ginger Babies, and a mixture of Sunspire Semi-Sweet Chocolate and Peanut Butter Baking Chips.

Well, you can just bet Earlybird was first to the table, and if you notice, he claimed the candy-coated chocolates for himself ...


I asked Bookworm to read aloud Gingerbread Baby while I kept EB from eating too many candies assisted Earlybird with his cookie. This beloved story is special to my Crackerjack - he LOVES Jan Brett anyway, but this particular book was a gift to him on his very first Christmas! (We always read the note inscribed inside before starting the story.)


Here's a parade of cookies for you ...







*If you squint, you can see mine is actually a gingerbread mama, complete with a ginger baby in each arm. ;)

(Note ~ Bookworm ate his too quickly for a photo, lol, but I can tell you he preferred the pb-and-chocolate chips.)

After we cleaned up the cookie concoctions, I set out a simple craft for Earlybird, who was eager to do something "with goo and 'parkles." I just cut out gingerbread men from brown construction paper and laid them out for him to embellish ...


... because nothing says "craft" to Eb like glitter and glue.


When they were all done, we set them out to "cool" ...


... and then strung them up in our window, alongside his minty watercolor hearts ...


Late in the afternoon as the sun started to fade and the boys had dispersed to various pursuits, I popped in Little Bear's Gingerbread Cookies to watch with Earlybird. You know, as children's programming goes, Little Bear has to be one of the best. We've loved LB since Bookworm was little!

These homey Advent Afternoons are rushing by so quickly! How many days are left now? Can it really be less than two weeks? And, just so you know, as of today, our cards are not in the mail, the tree is still half decorated, and I've yet to wrap a single package ... but somehow it will all get done. Right? Lol, maybe I should have made up Advent Tags for myself - with to-do's rather than treats!

Well, thanks, as always, for sharing our day with us ... and I hope you have a wonderful Wednesday!

Coffee & Gingerbread for Mum's Birthday


Yes, it tasted as good as it looks!

My mother's birthday is tomorrow, but since tomorrow is a very busy day for all of us, we decided to celebrate her birthday this morning after church. I've also been waiting for just the right occasion to make that delicious gingerbread I had at my friend Kim's house earlier this month. What can be better on a cold November's day than a warm and sticky old-fashioned gingerbread, slathered with homemade whipped cream? Not much, I tell you.

So let me share the recipe with you straight away (since I promised it a loong time ago) and then I'll have a few pictures from our day. :)

Hot-water Chocolate Gingerbread (from The Boston Globe, circa 2002)

Makes 1 large cake or enough to serve 12*

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups molasses
  • 2 cups canola oil
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons hot tap water
  • 2 cups boiling water
  1. Set oven rack in the center position. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Butter a 9x13 inch baking pan. Line the bottom with parchment or waxed paper, butter the paper and flour the pan, dusting out the excess.
  2. In a bowl, sift the flour, cocoa, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and salt.
  3. In an electric mixer, beat the sugar, molasses, and oil on medium-high speed for 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 20 seconds after each addition.
  5. Stir together the baking soda and hot water. Quickly beat it into the batter.
  6. With the mixer set on low, add the dry ingredients 1 cup at a time.
  7. Remove the beaters from the bowl. With a rubber spatula, stir in the boiling water until thoroughly combined.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake the cake for 60-65 minutes, rotating the pan from back to front after 30 minutes. The cake is done when it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and the center springs back quickly after pressing lightly with your fingertip.
  9. Set the cake on a wire rack to cool. Cut a sheet of parchment or waxed paper larger than the cake. Turn the cake out onto it and carefully peel off the paper from the bottom of the baked cake. Use a large sharp knife to trim the edges on all four sides to expose moist crumb, then cut the cake into 3 1/2x3 inch pieces. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

*Kim's notes ~

  • Expect too much batter for your pan. Fill your pan only 3/4 of the way full. Toss remaining batter or use for cupcakes.
  • I think the cake would be dry if you waited for the top to spring up. The center can take too long to cook and the edges would dry out. When the cake starts to pull away from the sides and a toothpick comes out clean (more or less), it's done.
  • I don't trim the edges; that's a waste of perfectly good cake.

And now on with our day ...

... which began - can you ever guess? - bright and early! (I know you're wondering, does her day ever not start bright and early, lol? And the answer to that would be yes; sometimes it's very dark.) This early rising has its advantages, however. For one thing, on Sundays, you have all kinds of time to eat (and digest) before infringing upon the hour's fast before Communion. For another, you have plenty of time to whip up a multi-step gingerbread cake before heading out to first Mass. Well, almost. I was just able to get the cake into the oven, slap-dash myself together and then leave Bill with (two sick kids and) detailed instructions re when to turn and when to test.

And an hour later we returned home with Nana and Papa, as we do every Sunday, but today the house smelled of more than just freshly brewed coffee. Today the air was thick and warm with dark, rich gingerbread!

Now all we had to do was wait for Uncle Matt to join us. The two younger boys set up vigil in the doorway:


In the meantime I got the cake all ready. It came out of the pan like a dream, and as Kim advised I didn't bother trimming any edges. I even waited on the whipped cream till we were serving. I just added these lollipop candles that the boys had picked out (though they might have been balloons ~ there was quite a dicussion over this).


And the concensus? Very, very yummy - but very, very rich. I couldn't even finish my piece (though I did have seconds on the whipped cream). I think I'll make this at least once or twice during the Christmas season. What a fabulous way to use up all those unopened jars of molasses in my pantry!

Naturally, Nana got some help blowing out her candles, and then we sat back with our coffees and visited for a while. Mum and I synchronized our calendars (babysitting requests) while Bill, Dad and Matt talked up the Pats ... meanwhile the boys kept themselves busy, poring over toy ads and coughing every two minutes (into their elbows when reminded).


Happy Birthday, Mum ~ We love you so much!

Well, I hope you all had a great weekend. It went by so fast, didn't it? And now the boys are in their pj's (some of them never got out!) and kick-off is near, so I will sign off till tomorrow ... Good night!

A Pretty Paper Package ...

... all tied up with string ...


How lovely is this handmade envelope? On its own, a present to treasure:


This is what my friend Kim (last night's hostess) handed me just before our meeting adjourned - which was much later than intended, but we were having such fun - as a thank you for bringing my file system to the gathering last night. Well, you can just imagine my reaction to such a pretty paper package, one fastened with silver alphabet brads and tiny tinkling bells ...

Oh, my.

And the goodies inside were equally thrilling:


The brand new Living Crafts magazine!!! (For which I've searched high and low the past two weeks to no avail.) And the sweetest little squirrel stickers, too! Such a thoughtful treat, inside and out. :)

(By the way I've grilled asked Kim for the instructions to the envelope, and I hope to try this handcraft sometime myself. And when I do, you can bet I'll post about it here - though I doubt my results will be nearly as pretty!)

Oh, yes, about the meeting! Well, before we even got started on our topic (organization, if you remember), we tucked into slabs of freshly baked gingerbread with dollops of homemade whipped cream. (Recipe forthcoming!)

Then we got gabbing about all kinds of things - food, health, curriculum, travel - but eventually we did come around to the topic of the night, and there were lots of organizational tips shared. I was able to explain the file crate in what I think (or hope) was a somewhat clear manner (though I'm considering writing up a little brochure to keep it all straight, lol). And best of all, I came home with a fresh eye for my clipboard, an element of the file system I've sort of ignored until now:


No, it's not quite so pretty as practical - but what it holds are the papers and notes for the day at hand (pulled from the week's folder), along with a small sheet of paper for jotting down timely tasks. At the end of the day, I re-file (or perhaps toss) the papers and pull out the next day's materials. I also start a new list of to-do's. My goal is to prepare my clipboard (and therefore preview tomorrow) each night before bed.

Oh, there's more to say, but the late night is catching up with me, so I'm off! I hope you all have a great night, and as always, thanks for stopping by. :)

Gingerbread & Cider: A Back-to-School Tea

Yesterday afternoon the boys and I had a little teatime in celebration of our first week back to "school." After our summer-send off last week, I wanted to serve something that just said fall - in spite of the soaring temperatures outside, lol - so first on the menu, in place of hot tea, was fresh-pressed apple cider. (It's back in the markets again - have you seen?!) I offered to warm it up but it was unanimously decided that cold crisp cider was just the ticket for such a warm September day.

Now for the snack ... I was thinking of an alphabet theme, especially for Earlybird who's beginning kindergarten at home this year. He just loves letters! Well, paging through one of my old journals the other day, I came across a clipping I'd saved from Family Fun magazine. According to the article, in Colonial America, when children learned the alphabet, their families celebrated by making gingerbread letters.

Well that sounded good to me! Any excuse to make gingerbread, right? :) And to use these lovely cookie cutters I've had for years and hardly used at all:


I bought our set at Williams-Sonoma years ago. They now come in a smaller tin which you can see here. These are great for cookies, obviously, as well as play dough (though I have a separate plastic set for playtime). A nice idea at the holidays is to give a beautifully wrapped box of iced cookies, spelling out a warm greeting such as PEACE or NOEL. (That is a Martha tip, as you probably know.)   


All the boys helped with the dough, which I made from a recipe that came with the tin. (I wasn't all that pleased with it, to be honest. No eggs and no molasses, rather stiff ... but it was ok for today!)

Above you see Bookworm helping with the rolling out of the dough. He really loves to cook and asked me if this year "cooking" could be one of his subjects. Hmmm, I thought, that fits in nicely with our chemistry study! (And then I envisioned biographies of famous chefs, a field trip to a bakery ... oh, the rabbit trail I could make out of this!)

Initially, our idea is to compile a binder for Bookworm filled with kid-friendly recipes that he can learn to make on his own through the year. In a future post I'll be soliciting such recipes from you all! ;)


The younger two got in on the action too, of course. Actually this was taken near the end of baking when the scraps were left to be played with.

Earlybird enjoyed shaping letters himself and then finding those cookies in the baked batch! His favorites were E, H and Z. :)


This is the smile of a boy who is thrilled it's apple cider season again, a culinary delight second only to the appearance of eggnog in late October.


I shooed the boys off to play and set up the table - the platter is a wooden pineapple tray that belonged to my grandmother years ago. The pineapple was a traditional symbol of welcome in Colonial America.

The cookies looked (and smelled) good, but it was the brightly wrapped package that caught the boys' attention first.


What could it be?


A back-to-school gift from mum and dad: The Dangerous Book for Boys! The boys were intrigued by the title ...

"Dangerous? What's so dangerous about a book?" asked Crackerjack.


They dug right in to find out. ;)

And so our new year was officially kicked off, and as if on cue, the mail arrived just as we finished up tea - bringing with it our approval letter from the town. What great timing!

That letter will be stored securely in our files, but the memories of today will be filed away too - slipped inside the yearbook of our hearts, a book I hope will grow fat with experiences all year long.

It is my job to envision and prepare for such experiences - to lay the groundwork and then to step back and watch. I am, after all, headmistress of a rather dandy (and not too dangerous) school for young boys ...

I seriously doubt I will ever lack for material. :)

Gingerbread Cookies!

Thanks to Katherine, I had four dozen gingerbread cookies to fill goodie bags for the bake sale today! (Actually, two dozen made it to the sale, the other half stayed home!) Please see Katherine's post here for all the recipe details.

Last night I mixed up the dough, and placed it in the refrigerator to chill overnight. Very early this morning I took it out and set the ovens to 350. Working with the dough was very easy - it's a nice, forgiving dough, fragrant with spices and a dark rich brown in color. In fact, Crackerjack and Earlybird were convinced I was making some sort of chocolate confections when they saw me rolling out the dough, but the smell that filled the kitchen told Bookworm all he needed to know. He is a huge gingerbread fan. :)

Since these cookies were for a bake sale, I decided to have some fun. I really liked the effect I achieved with the Autumn Star cookies the other day - placing a small cutout on top of a larger one and baking them together. I only have two sets of mini cutters so far - Harvest and Noah's ark - so I went with the latter. I was baking these for a church toy drive, so I thought the theme was appropriate and cute for the kiddoes, especially.

Here's how they looked going into the oven. (Don't you just love those Silpat sheets?)


And here are a few baked up fresh, served here on a festive plate.


These are sizeable cookies, (thick and soft too), so I packaged three to a bag (I didn't have cellophane on hand, so I used these natural wax paper bags instead). I sealed up the bags with little hand-written labels identifying them as "Noah's Ark German Gingerbread."

Of course I couldn't help myself from going a little "Martha" with this project. The bags fit into this basket nicely (eight in all) and a couple of gingham check ribbons finished off the presentation:


If you're hosting a party for any holiday or event, this would make a nice favor display. You could go with any theme, and choose colors and ribbons to complement it. Next time I do this I will spend a little more time with the labels. These are a bit slapped together - just office supply labels marked with ball-point and adorned with a small star sticker.

Speaking of next time! Beck sent me another wonderful gingerbread recipe today and I can't wait to try it! In fact, I will do so very soon and then post how the cookies came out (along with Beck's recipe which is very different from Katherine's and straight from Martha herself).

Plans for the rest of the day? Well, Bill has the tree up and later he will hang the wreaths and outdoor lights (The boys have been bemoaning the fact that we are the very last ones on the street to "light it up," so to speak, lol.)

And here is what awaits me once I finish this post ...


Coffee, gingerbread and Martha - how better to spend a cold windy weekend at home?

p.s. If you have a favorite gingerbread recipe, please do send it my way (drhanigan AT verizon DOT net). I would love to collect (and hopefully try) as many as I can this holiday season. And if I get a few, I'll put together that gingerbread carnival I mentioned. :)