Nana’s Christmas Fruitcake: the continuation of an old family tradition

Happy Boxing Day everyone!  Since the stores in Sudbury are closed on boxing day (thanks to a rather archaic bylaw which I quite adore), I took the good graces to extend my annual Christmas “sit around the house and do nothing but read and eat” festival into the depths of December 26.  Still being in a disgustingly full state, I decided to settle in and do the only activity you can do while in a food coma: food blog!

Here is the old Duff family tradition around which this post is based:

Every Christmas for the past 25 years, my dad has been the recipient of one of my Nana’s famous homemade fruitcakes.  The tradition started when my dad, who moved to Canada 31 years ago, stopped returning home to Ireland for Christmas after he met my mom.  Since my Nana passed away almost two years ago, this family tradition has risked extinction.  Last Christmas, my dad was eating fruitcake from the year before that had been hidden away in the depths of our freezer, making this Christmas the very first where he would be without his traditional holiday fare.

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Christmas Cake Pops: my first encounter with Bakerella’s one bite wonders

Everyone – my life has been changed!!!  How you ask?  Well, quite simply put, it is through the purchase of this fantastic new cookbook:

I saw this book yesterday while I was in Chapters with my family.  Bakerella has been a favourite blogger of mine for sometime now, and I often peruse her site endlessly in my delusional dessert daydreams.  Bakerella is famous for these special little cake pops/bites.  She is so famous for these heavenly morsels that she even has a BOOK TOUR.  Cool, right?  Basically, these cake pops are cake crumbs mixed with icing and covered in a candy coating.  Not for the light of heart, hyper five-year-old or cavity fearer, but perfect for those suffering from low blood sugar!  Once I saw this book, I knew I had to have it.  I had resisted purchasing it once (as a partial Christmas gift for best friend Britt), but I could resist no longer.  Nope, I was 100 per cent committed to making seasonal cake pops.

And make them I did.  My favourite part of Bakerella’s cake pop recipe is that it calls for boxed cake mix and icing from the can.  Endless hours of baking from scratch were saved!

Also, the funniest thing happened to me when I was at the grocery store shopping for supplies.  Here I was in an unfamiliar baking aisle, frantically flipping through my glossy new cookbook to decide what to buy.  I must have been looking completely disoriented and confused when a woman came up to me and said something along the lines of “hey, I made cake pops last week!”  This introductory statement led to a 15 minute conversation about cake pops and how much we love Bakerella.  Turns out she had made reindeer, turkey and snowmen cake pops earlier in the year, a task which I have yet to conquer.  Want to hear something even more weird?  The woman, whose name is actually Karina, turned out to be a teacher at a high school in Ottawa where I had gone to write a journalism story last year.  SMALL WORLD, right?  Anyways, she gave me some great tips for making these (only use 3/4 of the frosting, melt shortening in with the chocolate to keep it from hardening), and it was a neat little conversation that sparked only out of me holding my new Cake Pops cookbook in the store.

After the grocery store I trekked off to the Bulk Barn where  I spent a small fortune on chocolate candy coating (those cool little coloured disks of moulding chocolate that don’t look like food), lollipop sticks and sprinkles.  My meagre student budget is going to start suffering thanks to the purchase of this book… Also, I partially over-purchased on the chocolate for this one, so I’m going to need to think of something creative to do with 2 pounds of coloured chocolate over the next week… I’m open to suggestions…

SO MUCH extra chocolate!!!

The thing with Bakerella’s cake pops recipes is that it’s kind of complicated to let the chocolate set on the cake.  Since I decided to make these kind of at the last minute, I didn’t have time to find the styrofoam block that Bakerella requires.  This is normally the thing that you stab all your lollipop sticks into so that your cake pops stand up straight.  With a little ingenuity and a lengthy trip to the Dollar Store, I created a cake pop standing device out of foam cups and masking tape.  Baking challenges, bring it on!

Since it is CHRISTMAS EVE (can you believe it?!) I spent my entire day…I mean HOURS, coating and hand decorating a dozen and a half little Christmas trees.  The end result was totally worth it – I mean, come on, you need to admit that they’re cute!   If you plan on making any of these, make sure you follow Bakerella’s recipe to the tee, since she has everything perfected.  On top of the Christmas trees, I made little tuxedo (as my mom calls them) cake bites, with half white chocolate and half semi-sweet chocolate.  A little less extravagant than the trees, but fun and tasty nonetheless.  Pour yourself a big glass of milk to go along with these and you’re all set!

To end off this post, I am happy to announce that we delivered some cake pops to our neighbours across the street, and in return they gave us a freshly baked apple pie!  What a trade off!

Merry Christmas!!
Love, Hilary

Family Christmas Party aka Holiday Potluck II

Since it’s been awhile since I posted about my last potluck, I figured a new cheerful holiday post was in order.  Just as an update on my life for anyone who teensy bit cares: classes have now officially ended and I am half terrified, half excited that my second last year of university is halfway over.  Seriously!  My actual life starts so soon, I can’t wait.  Also, my first exam isn’t until the 17th, so I have spent the last couple of days doing the following: drinking beer, eating chicken wings, playing Mario Kart, eating (inhaling) sushi, and watching Mean Girls.  As you can see, my life involved quite a bit of eating and not much studying.  As of tomorrow morning at 7:30 a.m. that will most certainly change.  Exams, you are going down.

The charming Christmas ornament my mom sent us last year. The blacked out section is our address, which I feel should not be mentioned over the realms of the Internet.

Okay, so ever since we moved into our house, it has become a tradition to have a “Christmas family potluck.”  And by tradition, I mean we had a dinner last year and decided that we needed another excuse to decorate the house for the 2010 festivities.  Since there are six of us in the house plus two boyfriends and a boyfriend roommate, we ended up with quite a bit of food.  There was chicken, ham, potatoes (sweet and normal ones!), stuffing, brussel sprouts (which I wasn’t brave enough to try, I blame my dad for not liking them!) and MORE (if you can believe it).  Finally, there was dessert, which I was obviously responsible for making.  On the menu this year was a double-layered chocolate cake with peppermint white chocolate buttercream icing.  I seriously ate so much for dinner that by the time people came over for our actual party, I just wanted to go down to my room and put on my stretchy pants.  Thank god I resisted.

Regretfully, I did not get a nice picture of my cake since I didn’t finish icing it until well into the depths of 6 p.m. light.  The picture you see below was taken under the lamp Ariel bought at a yard sale.  ‘Nuff said.  I’ll tell you this, however…  It was yummy!  I finally managed to use some of the ridiculous amount of white chocolate that I have and used the rest of my homemade Christmas tree chocolates to decorate the sides.  IT WAS Christmas in a cake.

Christmas dinner as seen from my iPhone

This year’s family get-together also involved a “fancy” holiday party afterwards, at which time we proceeded to drink spiked egg nog and revel in the glow of our sparkling Christmas tree.

We also had our Secret Santa gift exchange.  There are six of us in our house and this year we PROMISED not to try and sneakily match the gift givers with their recipients.  This, however, failed greatly, and after two revealing bus conversations with Ariel and Amanda, I had the entire web of gifting deciphered.  Amanda was my Secret Santa and she got me…wait for it…A COOKIE PRESS!  That’s right, I can now make spritz cookies and pipe icing to my heart’s content.  Best. gift. ever.  I was Ariel’s Secret Santa, and got her the cute polar bear sweater you see below, Christmas tea and a cookie like the one we had from Le Moulin de Provence in first year.  Cute, right?

ALSO, one more thing.  I wore this wicked dress I bought at the Ottawa Vintage Sale a few weeks ago and was DEVASTATED when I got some sort of water stain on the front of it.  Seriously, you can’t take me anywhere!  Hillary’s Cleaners will be having a visit from me very shortly…

The pictures below are just a few more images from my fun night…






My wonderful Secret Santa







Family picture where we all look a little bit crazy (especially Britt)...
Mass chaos in the kitchen
New favourite channel: The Fireplace Network
Our Christmas tree as seen from my Hipstamatic iPhone app
Family picture 2010



Radio Potluck Party aka Christmas Baking Part ONE

It is currently 12:23 a.m. and I am sitting at the kitchen table waiting for a chocolate cake to bake.  This cake is for the family potluck (i.e. my six roommates and close friends) are having tomorrow eve.  While I listen to Glee music (which is WAY too peppy for my current mood), I figured I might as well type out a new blog post.  Please excuse me if my sleepiness is greatly apparent within this post.  Grammatical skills depart as the evening goes on.

So today was our last radio class of third year (sob).  Through newsroom days and the rest of the semester our class has gotten pretty close, and I’m hoping that most people will be in Thursday TV next semester so we can have more delicious potlucks.

PAUSE: One of my cake layers just finished baking!!  This is very good news, the other half has now entered the oven and sleep time crawls more and more near by the minute.  Hoorah.

ANYWAYS, back to radio.  Since I baked something for two out of three newsroom days, I figured it was only appropriate to end off the semester with a Christmas-themed potluck.  Also, I actually look for ANY excuse to hold a potluck and was extremely eager to once again display my baking skills to an audience other than my roommates.  At one point in the afternoon, Mary (our professor) actually said: “this is the reason why I don’t believe journalism students are too busy,” or something along those lines… Not true.  I just have ZERO life and spend any time that would normally be consumed by a university student’s social life baking.  It’s an addiction.

Okay, but seriously.  This potluck dealt me the perfect opportunity to begin my Christmas baking.  And so, I spent approximately 10 hours this past Sunday baking to my heart’s content.  Although some people dread it, I LOVE doing this sort of thing and the unfortunate “woman slaving over a hot stove” thing totally applies to me here.  Did I just set feminism back decades?  Apologies.  Let me explain: I’m actually the LEAST domestic person in the universe.  Sure, I love cooking, but I’m not a domestic diva or anything.  Yes, I occasionally answer to the name “Martha Stewart,” but I really want nothing more than independence, adventure, and zero children (until I’m old and have lived my life).  There, perhaps feminism has been restored to its 2010 level.

Okay, so here’s what I made:

1. Peppermint brownie bites
2. Ricotta cookies
3. Chocolate-dipped orange shortbread rounds (don’t these cookies look like little Spock heads?)
4. Gingerbread cupcakes with a cinnamon cream cheese frosting – SO amazing.  The recipe came from the blog Sweet Girl Confections and they were just wonderful.  Thank you so much!

Now, for any Canadian Living fans out there, I can tell you that the top three recipes came from the magazine’s special “Holiday Cooking” edition.  All three were marvelous, but I especially appreciated (a) their freezing ability from Sunday-Thursday, and (b) the fact that CHEESE can be put in cookies.  Fantastic, right?

Also, I made hand-moulded chocolate Christmas trees.  It was fun.

Alright, better check on the other half of my cake.  Later days!

AND the preparation/chaotic packing mess…

Christmas tree farm?

One more thing… In anticipation of tomorrow night’s cake and the blog post to follow it, please just take a look at what my baking looked like last year at this time.  I hope to improve on this times a badgillion.  Yes, the icing did melt off the cake, laugh away.  I’m so ashamed.  On that note, I’ve come a long way, n’est ce pas?