Thursday, December 23, 2010

Recipe: Peanut Brittle (heirloom recipe)

2 cups brown sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1 cup water
2 c. salted peanuts
2 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. baking soda

Mix sugar, water, corn syrup in a heavy 2 quart saucepan.  Bring to a boil and boil till mixture reaches 275F.  Add salt and peanuts.  Bring mixture to 290F (hard crack stage) stirring often.  Remove from heat.  Add butter and baking soda and stir in.  Pour onto greased baking sheet and spread to desired thickness.  Allow to cook.  Break into Brittle when cool, and store in a covered container.

Makes 2 1/2  lbs. of peanut brittle, ready for Christmas gift giving or holiday enjoyment.  Do not double recipe.  For larger batches just make more.

Recipe: Almond Toffee (Almond Roca)

Preparation time: 30 min.
Cooling time: 2 hours.

1 lb. butter
2 c. brown sugar
2 tbsp. corn syrup
1/3rd c. water
1 c. almond slivers
1 1/2 c. dark chocolate chips

Prepare a baking sheet by greasing liberally with butter, set aside.  In a heavy 2 quart sauce pan, melt butter, remove from heat.  Add syrup, water and brown sugar.  Cook on medium heat to 290F (hard crack stage).  Being careful not to burn or scorch mixture.  Stir in almonds and immediately pour on prepared baking sheet and spread thinly.

Spread chocolate chips over top of hot toffee.  Allow to melt from the heat of the candy.  Spread with a knife.  Sprinkle with extra almonds, if desired.  While still warm score toffee with a knife into 1 inch squares.  Allow to cool completely. Break apart along score lines.  Store in covered container in a cool spot.

Without the almonds and chocolate this is butterscotch toffee at its finest.

Makes 2 1/2 lbs. of candy.  Enough for 7 tins of gift giving scrumptiousness.

Christmas Conspiracy (warning --long and chatty)

I haven't check in much this month.  We've been busy with Christmas custom orders right up until last week and then we entered fully into our own personal Christmas Conspiracy. 

This year we, Dalziels at Joybilee Farm, joined the Advent Conspiracy.  We aimed to Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More and Love All.  This isn't really a change from previous years but this year we are more intentional in our observance of Advent.

Advent is the season before Christmas -- beginning 4 Sundays before Christmas Eve and ending on Christmas Eve.  During Advent, Christians look forward to the birth of Christ, the son of God, sent to redeem mankind from the curse of sin, and restore fellowship with the God who created them and loves them.  The story is found in the Bible (Luke 2, Matthew 1 and 2).  Each night of Advent we gather at the end of dinner, light the advent candles (adding one candle each Sunday, until all are lit on Christmas Eve), sing a Christmas Carol together, read a meditation about the Christ Child -- this year our readings are from the book "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus" edited by Nancy Guthrie-- and then pray together. We made our own candles from natural beeswax to put in our pottery advent wreath on the table -- this is a joyous sharing time as the house fills with the sweet smell of honey wax.
Handdipped beeswax candles -- a year's supply

This observance has added a great deal of joy and intention to our Christmas Season.  We avoided the mall completely, and saved ourselves a full day of stress, plus a credit card bill later with its anxiety.  We planned gift giving that would give of our time, honour the person receiving the gift and be about -- giving presence (ourselves, our time, our talents and our love).  We looked for people in need -- those who are lonely, those who are low on cash or ill -- and looked for ways to bless these people with what we have.  Often the call at this time of year is to give cash, more cash, and even more cash.  But cash is something in scarce supply at this time of year for us.  But we can still give and we intentionally looked for ways to do that this year, rather than just dismiss the call because we don't have money.

I wanted to share some of the creative ways that we gave of ourselves this advent, as I thought that you might be inspired to see ways to give that don't cost a lot.  Because we made the gifts our selves, together as a family, it increased our joy and anticipation and made the advent season the best we've ever had.

There was a special offering taken at church for a family in need, the wife was seriously ill and the husband had to take time from his work to take her out of town for doctor's appointments and treatments.  We couldn't participate in the offering without cash, but we wanted to help.  There was something in our studio store that the wife wanted, the husband had arranged to buy it for her Christmas gift, and knowing they couldn't afford it, we arranged to deliver the gift to the husband's work and wrote "paid in full" on the receipt.  We felt so blessed to be able to give from the abundance that we possessed.

Felted scarves laid out.
The three of us work parttime to help with expenses at this time of year.  We clean our church for 10 hours a week (that's just 3 1/2 hours each, over 2 afternoons, so its not too hard).  We work with a ministry staff that is pretty strung out and stressed this time of year -- with pulling together over 300 Christmas Hampers for the community, hosting a community Christmas Dinner, an outreach Christmas Banquet, and 3 services in the next weekend -- and we wanted to give something to them of our time, talents and love.  Being low on cash and rich in wool, we designed felted scarves for each of the ladies in their best colours, and a needle felted teddy bear for the Pastor's desk, holding a book that reads "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (I Cor. 13).  (I forgot to take a picture!) 

Felted scarf after felting
We've been making candy this week to bless our neighbors, too.  Peanut Brittle, Almond Roca, and home made chocolates look great in a small tin (Recipes coming in the next 2 posts).  Sarah and I had a wonderful time making the candy and Robin delivered the tins with our love and a Christmas card, this afternoon.

Tins of peanut brittle, almond roca, and handmade chocolates ready to take to the neighbors.  Our homemade advent candles are burning in the background.
Packing the tins for Christmas giving.
For our own family we purposed to create gifts from what we have rather than buy expensive gifts for each other.  We often save up necessary purchases and give them for Christmas (socks and underwear?) but this year we didn't.  Instead we bought only the portions of a gift that were necessary to fill out the full meaning of the gift -- (can't give too much away here or I'll spoil the surprise).  I did buy new copies of some of my favorite books to share with my family.  We got out the sewing machine and used up some vintage fabric from the stash -- using patterns purchased over 25 years ago -- made some alterations and style updates.

And we increased the music in our home.  We purchased 3 Christmas CDs with Celtic Christmas music, harp Christmas music, and instrumentals -- online.  We played them as we drove in the car, as we worked in the kitchen and as we felted the scarves.  We are learning some, new to us, traditional Christmas songs from the Celtic culture -- "The Holly Bears A Berry", "The Bagpipers Carol", "Wexford Carol", to name a few  We found the sheet music for the tunes on the internet (free) and made our own arrangements for harp, guitar, and mandolin.  Making music together has been a wonderful experience for our family.  We gave the gift of music to our church for their Christmas banquet, too, a tremendously nerve wracking experience for me on harp, but Sarah (mandolin, voice and keyboard) and Robin (acoustic guitar and voice) really shone.

And we've been reading a few read aloud stories -- we downloaded the free Kindle for PC program from Amazon and then found some free or inexpensive books to download and read aloud.  Reading aloud from the PC screen is a new one for me, but we've been gathering around for the story anyway.  Some options are Charles Dickens The Christmas Carol, The Story of the Other Wiseman by Henry Van Dyke, The Holy Bible, ESV Edition, 25 days and 26 ways to make this the best Christmas Ever by Ace Collins, and Stories Behind the Best Loved Songs of Christmas by Ace Collins. These are just a few of the thousands of free or inexpensive classics available at the Kindle store on Amazon.

Sarah really enjoys reading historical fiction by G A Henty.  Since  G A Henty was writing over 100 years ago most of his books are in the public domain and are available as free kindle downloads.  This would make a great gift for a nephew, grandson or son -- with a coupon for reading aloud (give presence).  I don't have any boys of that age in my family now, but I'm tucking it away for future reference.  Other books available as free or inexpensive Kindle downloads -- "Little Women" by Louisa May Alcott, "The Secret Garden" -- have a look for yourself.  You are bound to find an old favorite to share with the children in your life.

We have a new grand child -- Celia born on July 4th.  Sadly, we have not seen her since September or had any pictures, but we have plans to bless her with handmade gifts from her grandparents.  Robin has been out at his lathe creating an heirloom rattle -- he's on his second one, as the first one's rattle sound wasn't very satisfying.  His second attempt is a work of art that will last through a baseball team of grand children.  Cost to us:  just time.  Value: Priceless.

Our eldest son is coming home for Christmas and we've planned a wonderful turkey dinner.  I got the turkey free with my grocery store points (in fact, I got two) and all the other fixings will come from our food storage (preserved in the peak of the growing season).  In fact, I was so blessed I was given a third turkey by the church, which we were able to pass on to a friend who was turkeyless this Christmas, but expecting company.  How awesome God is to allow us the blessing of blessing someone else with a turkey this Christmas!

Robin is making a hope chest for Sarah.  Its been on her wishlist for 5 years and she has been spinning and weaving that long, to fill it.  Our neighbor is alone this Christmas, with his wife in UK visiting grand children, and he graciously offered to help Robin with the project in his heated shop.  Robin is having a wonderful time working with Gavin and the joy for both of them has increased as they make this special present for Sarah.  Ok, it wasn't low cost, but it will last a lifetime, made from quality materials.

Last night was our annual Christmas Carolling evening at church and we invited our friend, who loves to sing, to join us.  Somehow it was more meaningful to sing out the story of the messiah's birth this year -- not just songs but reality -- "♪Now rest beside the weary road, ♫and hear the angels sing.♪♪"

The very best part though was receiving a Christmas card from our friends Carol and Daniel.  Carol told us about a documentary that she saw "The Star of Bethlehem" and she gave us the link.  We had a look and were in awe of our great God who came as a baby into our world to redeem us.  Have a look and be filled with awe and worship, too.  The video is available on you tube as a 9 part download. 
Here's part one:: 

Merry Christmas, friends.