Cinnamon-frosted Applesauce Cranberry Cookies and a Squirrel Garland

Whenever Christmas threatens to overwhelm me with its busyness and too-much-ness, I sit down with my copy of “The Pioneer Lady’s Country Christmas,” by Jane Watson Hopping. It’s her memories of long past christmases when her family had little, but made a lot out of what they had. Homemade gifts, simple cookie recipes, and sentimental poetry–it may not totally translate to nowadays, but the message of simplicity and family love comes through loud and clear.

At any rate, when I laid the book down, I immediately thought: applesauce cranberry cookies! Then, cinnamon-frosted applesauce cranberry cookies! Maybe not your first thought for a Christmas cookie, but very much in the spirit of long ago days. The recipe comes from “Big, Soft, Chewy Cookies,” by Jill Van Cleave. I changed it up a bit by adding the cinnamon glaze. The cookies are moist and cake-like, with the tart chewiness of the dried cranberries. Then the cinnamon icing goes “pow!” So fun when frosting does that!

Cinnamon-frosted Applesauce Cranberry Cookies

1 cup dried cranberries
2-1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (one stick) butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup natural applesauce (no sugar added)

Soak cranberries in warm water for 15 minutes to soften. Drain well, and set aside. Combine flour, spices, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add applesauce and blend. (The batter will look a bit curdled.) Stir in flour mixture and cranberries. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.

Heat oven to 375 degrees, and line baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a large ice cream scoop (1/4 cup size), scoop out dough onto prepared baking sheet, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake for about 15 minutes. The cookies will puff up, and the surfaces will no longer look moist. Allow to cool.

Frost with the following:  Mix until smooth 2 cups powdered sugar, one teaspoon vanilla, one teaspoon cinnamon and 2-1/2 to 3 tablespoons of milk, cream or water. The 3 tablespoons will make a thin glaze. Sprinkle with some chopped dried cranberries, if desired.

Baking notes: This is a big cookie–almost like a small cake. The cinnamon frosting is pretty intense, but it contrasts well with the moist cookie. You can use one teaspoon of allspice instead of the spices indicated. This is a simple cookie, easy to make, easy to eat!

Pictured below: ingredients, soaking the dried cranberries, draining them, the dough, scooping the dough, and the baked cookies.

 

Squirrel Christmas Garland

It’s no secret that I love squirrels (there are so many worse things to be known for), and I decided to make a squirrel christmas garland. I googled “images for squirrel silhouettes,” printed one off, and used it as a template.* I accordion- folded some thin paper, making the folds wide enough for the template and traced around the template. Then I cut it out and unfolded. The paper could be wrapping paper, newspaper, or any other thin paper.

* I would like to share the silhouette I used, but it turns out the pattern can’t be shown on another website. But there are plenty of patterns to choose from–just keep it simple.

kissing squirrels
squirrels shaking hands

Out and About in the Garden: Mr. Fluffy

In the kitchen yesterday, I heard the cries of alarmed sparrows in the garden, and rushed to the window. A hawk was in the garden! I ran out with my camera, and immediately christened the hawk Mr. Fluffy. What a noble creature! He is beautiful, but the sparrows thought otherwise. One look at his talons shows why.

Lastly, I looked up at the waning moon the other evening, and took this picture. It always makes me appreciate the Earth! Peace to you. Fran

 

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Spiced Crackle Cookies and a Tartanware Box

Perhaps my bar for excitement in life is low–maybe pathetically so–but I always get a kick out of cookies that crackle as they bake. These Spiced Crackle Cookies go into the oven as pretty boring lumps of dough, and emerge all crackly and snowy with powdered sugar. And taste-wise, they are A+–crisp, buttery, melt-in the mouth with chewy little spangles of chopped candied ginger. They are so perfect for the holidays. They also have a secret ingredient–no one will guess, they will only know that the cookie goes “zing,” when they eat it. More about this later!

Spiced Crackle Cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg
2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon white or black pepper
1 tablespoon crystallized ginger, chopped
3/4 cup powdered sugar

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together. Then add the molasses and egg, and beat thoroughly. Sift together the dry ingredients. Add to the butter mixture–mix thoroughly, and then knead lightly to finish. Cover, and refrigerate for one hour.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Place powdered sugar into a small bowl. Roll pieces of dough into one-inch balls. Then roll in the powdered sugar to completely coat. Place on baking sheet spacing at least 2 inches apart. Bake for 12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes to firm up. Transfer to baking racks to finish cooling. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to one week.

Baking tips: Be sure your oven is thoroughly pre-heated before baking. The cookies are only baked for 12 minutes, so your oven needs to be ready to go. If the temperature is too low, the dough will start to melt before it bakes. Also, the original recipe called for ground white pepper, which is a bit finicky. Ground black pepper works fine. The pepper reads as a bit of a “bite,”–and you may want to experiment with more! Also, when rolling the dough into balls, form the balls, roll in the powdered sugar, then flatten the balls a little. Then sprinkle with more powdered sugar. You want to be generous with the powdered sugar.

I found this pretty metal box at a resale shop–perfect for holding cookies.

Pictured below: Chopped crystallized ginger, the dough ready to be chilled, the  cookies ready to be baked, dough ball heavily coated with powdered sugar, and the finished cookies.

The cookies become a bit chewier the next day. Their spicy fragrance is wonderful!

Tartanware Box

In Victorian times, so-called Tartanware was very popular. Women had little containers for thread, needles and other sewing ephemera, all covered in a tartan pattern. I had some tartan wrapping paper, and then ran across a little wooden box at a craft store, and decided to make my own piece of tartanware.

At left above, examples of tartan sewing implements.
I had some new rolls of tartan wrapping paper, and some recycled pieces from past Christmases. Tartan wrapping paper is widely available–I found my rolls at the local supermarket!
Supplies: simple wooden box, Mod Podge, small brush, tartan paper, scissors, cat measuring tape
Measure your box–and cut out paper to fit.

Take time to measure the box carefully, and to cut out the pieces as accurately as possible. Then apply the glue with the brush, making sure it’s applied smoothly and evenly. Then, apply the paper, smoothing down and making sure there are no air bubbles. Allow to dry (only takes 20 minutes or so). Then apply a thin layer of the Mod Podge to seal the surface.

I will be using my box to hold thread. Really, the biggest challenge of this craft is to find a simple box. It can be round, square or rectangular, wooden or paper mâché, but the fewer bits of hardware or hinges, the better.

Birds

A beautiful little house finch. Peace to you. Fran

 

 

Butter Mint Cookies

ast Saturday I went out to retrieve our mail, such as it is (usually just ads). Fortunately, I reached all the way to the bottom of the mailbox, because it was there that I found a very small envelope. It had a tiny stamp, and was addressed to me in an elvish script. I opened the envelope with tweezers and within found a tiny, rather grubby, piece of paper. It was a recipe for Butter Mint Cookies!

The elves are annoyed that they have to deliver their mail themselves, even though they use a stamp.

I was surprised, but immediately knew who had sent it: peppermint elves! I had long suspected that they were in my garden, and were behind spreading a peppermint plant throughout the perennial bed. Proof lay in a tiny boot that lay beneath the mailbox; it had probably taken several dozen elves, standing on each other’s shoulders to drop the letter into the box.

I immediately went to my kitchen, retrieved supplies from my cupboard and refrigerator, turned on the oven and made the cookies. (I didn’t want the elves to think I didn’t appreciate their recipe, because while they are pretty nice, if ignored, they will make your tongue burn and your nose tingle. So I made the recipe).

Original letter in elvish–I translated.

By the way, just in case you doubt my word that there are peppermint elves in my garden, here is a picture (see below). Also, sparrows, as innocent as they may seem, are in cahoots with the elves. They pull up pieces of the peppermint plant, and then drop them in the garden. Then they tread them into the soil with their claws.

The elves wear trousers spun with sparrow down, and the tunic is woven from lily leaves. They are not happy about having to wear the mint candy hat.

As it turns out, the cookies are wonderful. (Did you hear that, elves?) They melt in the mouth, and have a crunchy, sugary crust. There is a delicious buttery shortbread flavor, with just a touch of peppermint. These are so easy, and would be perfect for any holiday cookie tray.

Butter Mint Cookies

1 cup butter (softened)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons peppermint extract
1-3/4 cups flour

1/2 cup granulated sugar (for dipping)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a mixing bowl, cream butter, sugar and extract. Gradually add the flour; mix well. Roll tablespoonfuls of dough into balls. Dip the dough balls into the sugar. Place on prepared baking sheet, and flatten with the flat bottom of a mug. Bake for about 13 to 14 minutes. Bottoms will be a light gold. Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Baking notes: I added a few drops of green food coloring to the granulated sugar, and stirred it thoroughly, for dipping. These cookies would also be wonderful dipped in crushed candy canes. Or, topped with white chocolate and shards of dried cranberries. Or, sandwiched together with melted chocolate.

Below: Ingredients, size of dough balls, how they look flattened, and the golden underside of a baked cookie.

 

 

Sparrows may look sweet and innocent, but I know better! Peace to you. Fran

IMG_7691.jpg

 

 

 

 

Cinnamon Sugar Gingerbirds

While out antiquing with my sisters last Friday (the most fun thing in the world–we shop till we drop), I found three little primitive bird cookie cutters to add to my collection. How could I resist! Old cookie cutters are fashioned of tin, and the cutting portion and the backing are soldered together.

I immediately thought of making gingerbirds with them, and got out the “Fannie Farmer Baking Book,” which has the best gingerbread cookie recipe I know of. Then it occurred to me that dipping the gingerbirds into cinnamon sugar would make them taste even better! And then, that adding a little bit of crystallized ginger for their eyes would also be good!

As it turns out, the light, crunchy cinnamon sweetness of the sugar topping is the perfect foil for the heavier spices and molasses of the cookies themselves. Also, the cookie is buttery and soft. So good! Here is the recipe:

Cinnamon Gingerbird Cookies

8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) softened butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 egg
2-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon powdered ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg

Cinnamon sugar: Mix 1/2 cup of sugar with 2 teaspoons cinnamon.

Cream the butter and sugar together; then beat in the molasses and egg. Stir together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger cinnamon and nutmeg. Add the dry ingredients to the first mixture and beat until the dough is thoroughly combined. Cover and chill for about an hour until firm.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to about 1/4″ thick. Cut out the rolled dough with a bird cutter, or any shape you wish. Brush the cookie with lightly beaten egg, dip face down in the cinnamon sugar, and add an eye made from crystallized ginger, a clove, or a chocolate mini-chip. Place on prepared sheet about one inch apart. Bake for about 7 minutes.

Baking Notes: The original recipe also called for 1/2 teaspoon allspice, but I have a quirk as a baker: I don’t really like clove-y flavors. So I just used the ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. But feel free to add the allspice. Also, be sure to only bake 7 minutes. Seven minutes can go by in a flash, so if you have a kitchen timer, it would be useful. The cookie will puff up and turn slightly golden on the bottom. Snatch it from the oven. Bake much longer, and you have a hard cookie.

Pictured below: The three primitive cookie cutters, my cookie cutter collection (finally organized), rolling and cutting out the dough, dipping the cookie into the cinnamon sugar, and the baked cookies.

 

These cinnamon sugar gingerbirds seem to come straight from a fairy tale, so I have made up a story to go with the cookie. It’s called “The Gingerbird and the Gingertiger.”

Once upon a time, a gingerbird perched in a cinnamon tree. She sang and fluffed her wings, which sparkled with cinnamon sugar.

A gingertiger prowled beneath the cinnamon tree, his stripes made of chocolate, his fur also sparkling with cinnamon sugar.

He growled:
Gingerbird, gingerbird,
come down from your tree,
for you are just like me.

The gingerbird peered down at the tiger, and said,
You may be made of gingerbread,
but where are your feathers and beak?

The gingertiger only growled again:
Gingerbird, gingerbird,
come down from your tree,
for you are just like me.

The gingerbird was curious, and with a light hop,
flew down to the tiger, who immediately bit off
one of her delicious cinnamon sugar feathers.
But she was wise and  hadn’t come too close,
and she was able to fly back to her perch, shivering with fright.

She warbled to the tiger:
You may be made of gingerbread,
but you are not like me.

For ever after, birds have been afraid of cats, and tell each other the story of the gingertiger as a cautionary tale: Cats may be made of gingerbread, but they are not like we. The end.

The gingerbird minus a feather.

I even found some real live gingerbirds in my photo archive! Peace to you. Fran

 

Llama Cookies and Ribbon Stars

It was just the other evening when I was wishing I had a llama cookie cutter. Llamas are having a moment–they are cute, and their propensity to spit in your face has apparently been way overstated. I googled “llama cookie cutter,” and not surprisingly, some sources came up on Etsy. The next morning, though, I drove to World Market, walked through the door, and there they were: llama cookie cutters. Small, but they were llamas. Plus, little furry toy llamas and alpacas were for sale. (Llamas are larger than alpacas and have banana-shaped ears.)

I soon found myself at the cashier handing over $15 for a cookie cutter and an adorable stuffed llama, and went home to find a good sugar cookie recipe. There are a lot, but I wanted a small batch of crispy cookies. I found a likely recipe at http://www.foodnetwork.com (from Alton Brown), made a few changes, and soon had llama cookies.

On the cute-o-meter, these score high, and the cookie itself is deliciously buttery and crisp. And the fact that the ears and paws of the llamas browned before the rest of the cookie save you and me from having to do any cookie decorating. Of course, this recipe is fine for any cookie cutter–it works well for cutters with fine detail.

Llama Sugar Cookies

3 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla
powdered sugar

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. Place butter and sugar in a large bowl and mix until light. Add egg and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. With electric mixer on low, gradually add flour. Finish up by lightly kneading the dough by hand. Divide in half, wrap in waxed paper and chill in refrigerator for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Sprinkle your counter with the powdered sugar and roll the dough out to 1/4″ thickness. Cut out cookies with your cutter and place on prepared baking sheet. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until bottoms are golden brown. Cool briefly on baking sheet before removing. Makes about 3-1/2 dozen llamas. (Dough scraps may be re-rolled once and more cookies cut.

Baking notes: The original recipe didn’t call for vanilla at all–it called for one tablespoon milk. I didn’t have the milk so I used one tablespoon vanilla. Worked perfectly. The chilled dough will seem almost too firm to roll at first, but persevere– it will roll out nicely.

Below: Cookie cutter, dough being cut out, baked cookies.

 

You can even make llama paper chains. Accordian fold a piece of white copy paper, and trace the cutter on the paper. Cut out, and you have a llama chain!

Ribbon Stars

I somehow had accumulated a large stash of fancy ribbons, and when I ran across instructions for making an eight-point folded ribbon star, decided to give it a try. These could be hung on a tree, used as a tree topper, or taped to a package. They have a pretty three-dimensional effect, and can be made with wired or non-wired ribbon.

How to make: The large stars are made with 1-1/2″ wide ribbon and the small with 3/4″. Instructions for this 8-pointed woven star can be found here. There’s another tutorial here. Note that because you are using ribbon, it doesn’t have to be initially folded in half lengthwise.

Here’s a clear image of how to start folding:

I recommend reading the instructions, and running them off on your printer. Wide ribbons seem to come in 12 to 15 feet per spool. I unrolled the ribbon and cut into four lengths. This does waste some ribbon, but not much, and you are ensured not running out. For the 3/4″ width ribbon, use 6 feet of ribbon, and cut into four 18″ lengths.

I made these at my ironing board, pressing as I went. Be sure to test your iron on a waste piece of ribbon, so the iron isn’t too hot. You might want to do a test star with some of the narrower ribbon before trying a big star.

The wired wide ribbon worked well, with the points staying in place. For the wide ribbon without wire, I sewed around the edges to give it a more finished look.

And, lastly, a beautiful female cardinal. Peace to you. Fran

 

Wallpaper Christmas Ornaments and a Sparrow

A favorite memory of mine from early childhood is that of Sunday school. We arrived Sunday morning at the St. Paul Congregational Church, in Chicago, and my parents dropped me off in the basement before heading up to the sanctuary. I faced long, low tables covered with paper, paste, tempera paints and crayons. A teacher told a Bible story, and we plunged into drawing, painting and coloring our version of the story, whether it was of Noah or Daniel in the lion’s den, to take home. Heaven! I still remember those stories.

I still love cutting and pasting, and with that in mind, tried a project for making paper ornaments cut from wallpaper scraps. You may have already seen these ornaments made with recycled holiday cards, but I thought I would try them with wallpaper. So I went to a local paint and wallpaper store, and asked if they had any outdated books of wallpaper. They gave me three, including one of shimmering “palazzo damasks,” from Schumacher. I set to work. Here is how to make a wallpaper ornament, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I have. I was only going to make one, but made eight! They are fun.

A sheet of wallpaper. Avoid thick, textured wallpapers. I decided to go with a pale, silvery blue color theme.

There were many patterns to choose from. You usually don’t have any choice as to was wallpaper is available–work with what you have.

Use a round object to draw around. The largest ornament was based on a 3-1/2″ circle (its triangle has 3″ sides).

Draw twenty circles on the reverse side of the wallpaper.

Cut out the circles. The circle shown is about 1-1/2″.

Next, draw one more circle, and then draw an equilateral (equal-sided) triangle with the circle, points touching the circumference. You can “eye-ball” this, but to me, it’s actually simpler to use a bit of geometry. (Geometry was the only math I understood in school.) I googled “drawing an equilateral triangle within a circle, and came up with the how-to’s here. It was actually fun! I used a compass and a sharp pencil. Then I cut out the triangle.

Then, using a sharp pencil, I drew the triangle on each circle.

Then I folded each circle along the three lines. Smooth the folds down with a bone folder.

Time to glue the triangles together. Use a clear craft glue. I used UHU Creativ glue, and it worked perfectly. I think white craft glue is too moist for this.

Separate the 20 triangles into three group: 2 groups  of 5, and 1 group of 10. Line up the group of 10 as shown. This is important, because it could be confusing which tabs to glue together without organizing them.

As you glue, check the inside lines to see that you are matching up triangles accurately.


The three sections have been glued: top, bottom, and middle.

To glue a top or bottom to the middle, put a drop of glue on each tab of the middle, quickly spread evenly over the tab, and top with the other section. Adjust each tab to fit evenly. Check inside the ornament to see if all the edges are lined up. Repeat with the other section.

Voila! You have a globe!

You can hang them from a Christmas tree . . .

just have fun looking at them . . .


or create a Christmas tableau.

Tips: Cut, fold and glue carefully. Use the clear craft glue. Did you know you just made a 20-sided polygon, also known as an icosagon? Like I say, I only meant to make one–these can become a mania. To hang, you can punch a small hole through a tab, and pull a thread or string through. I used perle cotton. You can also pull a string through a top, where three sides join, before the top is glued down.

Not to forget the birds: This little fellow stopped for a moment, then off he went! Peace to you. Fran


 

Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies and some Sparrows

One thing leads to another, and last Friday I found myself at the library used book sale, one of my favorite things ever. For a dollar, I picked up a copy of “A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking” by Marcy Goldman. This is the type of cookbook that makes you want to try all the recipes, but I decided to start with her Oatmeal Cranberry Raisin Walnut Cookies. Loaded with butter, oatmeal and brown sugar, they had the intriguing addition of both fresh and dried cranberries. Had to try!

First of all, these are scrumptious–a word I don’t use lightly. They are tender, buttery, crunchy and chewy all at the same time. Was it worth it to add both fresh and dried cranberries? As it turns out, the fresh cranberries are genius, because as you munch the buttery cookie, chewy with raisins and dried cranberries, and crunchy with the walnuts, you get the occasional pop of tart cranberry, and it’s so good. These cookies are perfect for the holidays.

1 cup butter, softened
1-1/4 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon honey
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2-1/2 cups oatmeal
1-1/2 cups golden raisins
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 – 3/4 cup chopped fresh cranberries
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup coarsely chopped semi-sweet chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt, and set aside. In a big bowl, cream the butter with the brown sugar, granulated sugar and the honey. I advise using an electric mixer for this. Then beat in the vanilla extract, milk, and eggs and blend well. Fold in the flour mixture and then the oatmeal, raisins, dried and fresh cranberries, nuts and chocolate. Stir well. Scoop batter into balls and place on prepared cookie sheet. I used a Wilton small cookie scoop that measures a bit more than a tablespoon.

(Note: I had a horrible moment with this recipe, because there was a typo, and the ingredient list specified “1/2 fresh cranberries.” I settled on 1/2 cup chopped fresh cranberries, and it worked out fine, though you could use 3/4 cup, and it would be even better.)

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. The cookies should be brown on the edges. If you want them crisper, go with the 14 to 15 minutes. They will have puffed up, and then will settle as they cool. Allow to sit for a few minutes before removing them from the cookie sheet–they will need to firm up a bit.

Baking hints: The key to this cookie is thorough mixing. Cream the butter and sugar thoroughly, and sift the dry ingredients together. When you mix in the raisins, etc. take time to scoop any dry ingredients from the bottom of the bowl with a big spoon. Then mix the dough with your impeccably clean hands. Even so, because of the irregularity in size of ingredients, the cookies will not all be exactly the same size. Also, I used golden raisins, simply because I like the lighter flavor, but you can use regular raisins, if you wish. (Look for “baking” raisins–they are plumper.)

This recipes makes more than five dozen cookies. They can be made smaller–just be sure to adjust the baking time.

Pictures below: Ingredients, butter and sugar mixture, before mixing in raisins, etc., forming the dough, cookies after baking.

Just Sparrows

If ever there was a bird that is ignored and taken for granted, it’s the sparrow. But a close look reveals them to be as interesting, beautiful (and funny) as any other!

Lastly, the beauty of a blue jay. Peace to you. Fran