Tuesday, November 30, 2010

christmas albums: christmas with nana mouskouri

Christmas with Nana Mouskouri immediately transports me back to my earliest Christmas memories.  I'd be hard pressed to find an album that's more representative of Christmas in the 1970s than this 1972 gem.  Behold, if you will the album cover alone:  candlelight,  ornate frame and wine goblets, fake holly - it's all there.   The minute I hear Nana's voice I remember Christmas trees we chopped ourselves dripping with metallic icicles, red plastic bells hanging in the kitchen windows, the nativity figures that used to be printed on the Karnes bread bags that you could stick on the window and the big red Noel sign that Dad built to hang on the sliding barn doors.   By the end of the holiday season you can bet my parents were pretty happy not to hear "Old Toy Trains" for another year...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

12 films of christmas: little women

Little Women is not, strictly speaking, a Christmas film.  The story of the March sisters unfolds over several years and through several seasons.  But it is Christmas when the film opens and the spirit of coziness, family, hope in the face of war and joy in the face of poverty carry on throughout the film. 

There are a few versions of the film (1933 with Kate Hepburn is dated but fun, 1949 with every starlet of the day is best avoided) but my favourite by far is Gillian Armstrong's 1994 version for capturing the warmth and domestic details of Louisa May Alcott's own Orchard House.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

i love a parade... sort of.

Every second year, the parade route for the annual Santa Claus parade passes half a block from my house. So I decided to invite folks over.  We had every intention of going to the parade but late in the afternoon the snow started falling...

Faced with the prospect of trudging in a blizzard, staying in a cozy house with warm cider, hot chocolate and cookies won out even for Little A, age 5.

 My uncle John was able to come by.

There's a really good chance that Julie and Jennifer are swapping photos of their dogs here.
Little A starts to feel the effects of many, many sugar cookies...

It was a lovely night and a great way to kick off the holiday season.

christmas albums: charlie brown christmas

Vince Guaraldi's score for Charlie Brown's Christmas is always an album I haul out early during the holidays.  The simple arrangements for jazz trio are both whimsical and sophisticated.  And unlike some of the jollier albums, you're less likely to tire of it by December 25th. "Christmas Time is Here" may be one of my favourite Christmas songs of all with it's happy-sad wistfulness.

Charlie Brown Christmas by Heather Allaby on Grooveshark

Thursday, November 25, 2010

12 films of christmas: miracle on 34th street

Someday you're going to find that your way of facing this realistic world just doesn't work.
And when you do, don't overlook those lovely intangibles.
You'll discover those are the only things that are worthwhile.

I was 11 years old when we got cable television.  In addition to much cooler (in my opinion) ads and more scandalous news, the addition of American television to my life meant a greater awareness of American Thanksgiving as the kick-off of the holiday season.  And that meant the annual broadcast of Miracle on 34th Street.  

It's a holiday movie that holds up well.
In lesser hands, the story of a department store Santa who convinces the world he's the real deal and transforms a family in the process, could melt into a gooey mess.  (And I think the 1994 version veers towards this)  But the 1947 film benefits from nuanced performances from it's three stars:  Maureen O'Hara is guarded and world-wise without being brittle, Edmund Gwynn delivers a Santa who's more gentle than jolly and Natalie Wood is precocious while never being cloying. 

And let's face it, in 2010 we still need to believe that in the fact of cynicism and commercialism,  faith, kindness and friendship will win out.

Fun fact:  In the untranslated dialogue with the Dutch girl, Santa Claus asks the child what she wants for Christmas the girl says she wants nothing, telling Santa she got her gift by being adopted by her new mother.

Monday, November 22, 2010

warm hands with hot cheese

image: hotcheese

So last night I clued in that Sarah, one of our Sunday evening knitting stalwarts, also designs really, really cute knits which are available at her blog hot cheese or on ravelry

Just picked up her pattern for these envy-checked mitts. Checks, stripes and a pretty braided cuff make for a stylish and warm mitt that makes me want to throw snowballs. They look sharp in black and white - our knitting pal Ann just finished a pair. I like the high contrast but you could also go with more muted, less contrasting combinations.  I could picture them in a cool pale blue and white too...

Also loving these classic red and white houndstooth mitts:

image: hotcheese

Sunday, November 21, 2010

a well-dressed hottie

Living in a 110-year-old house, I tend to keep the thermostat turned down to 'brisk.'  And there are so many better ways to keep warm - cozy sweaters and handknit socks, wool throws and hot water bottles (or hotties as some call them).  I hate sleeping in a too-warm room but I also want to have toasty feet.  So I went old school and plunked down five bucks for a good old-fashioned red rubber hot water bottle.  It's quickly become one of my favourite things.   Of course like most things, hotties look more attractive in knitwear.  More and more hot water cozies are showing up around our knitting circle lately.  This pattern has become particularly popular (scroll down for the cable instructions).  I just finished mine tonight.  The cable and icy blue are so wint'ry and pretty... I can't wait to settle down for a long winter's nap.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

cuddle up

Ever since I saw this DIY post over at Design*Sponge a few weeks ago, I've been wanting to make a wool throw. This may be the easiest project I've ever done but I love it. There are so many gorgeous wool patterns available. I'm still tempted to go back and get the red and white houndstooth - a chic way to add a little seasonal cheer to a room.  But I've been on a bit of a plaid kick lately so this forest green and grey plaid won out.   And the little felt 'snowballs' are perfect for our first true snowy day of the season...

Can't wait to cozy up under it and knit up some presents for other people...

(Henry was a good model once he learned that those were not small white kibbles)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

cranberry - orange caramel corn

Three reasons I love making caramel corn:
* It's an excuse to make popcorn the old school way: pot, oil, corn. You're drenching it in caramel; leave the air popper in the cupboard.
*The moment I add the vanilla and soda to the hot sugar syrup and it foams up kind of makes me feel like I'm performing magic.
*It is delicious.

This is a great fall caramel corn recipe that adds dried cranberries (so delicious), almonds and orange flavour to the caramel.  I can't take the credit.  The recipe is from this month's Better Homes & Gardens (for simple straightforward recipes, I can't recommend BHG highly enough) and more specifically from reader Ann Donnay.

12 cups popped popcorn (about 1/2 cup kernels)
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup whole almonds
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup light-colored corn syrup
2 Tbsp. orange juice
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. baking soda

Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. In a very large bowl combine the popped popcorn, cranberries, and almonds; set aside.

In a 2-quart saucepan cook and stir the butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup over medium heat until butter is melted. Stir in orange juice. Bring to boiling over medium heat. Boil at a moderate, steady rate for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and baking soda (mixture will foam up).

Pour the syrup mixture over the popcorn mixture in bowl; stir to coat well. Transfer to a 15x10x1-inch baking pan or a shallow roasting pan. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring twice. Transfer caramel corn to a large sheet of greased heavy foil; cool. Makes 20 (1/2 cup) servings.

jimmy, johnny & a dog named beau

Sunday, November 7, 2010

the cranberries

This weekend I got rid of the mini-pumpkins and waxed autumn leaves. November is here.  We've set the clocks back. But as the evenings get longer and the days greyer, I need some sort of decorative pick-me-up. And if it's simple and frugal, even better!

I really love the garnet colour of cranberries and they give a nice seasonal touch when it's too early to plunge headlong into Christmas decorating (and, yes, it is still too early). Make sure they're dry and got rid of any soft or bruised ones - the firm ones should stay fresh for little while but keep an eye on them.  It's tradition in my family that from late fall on we have a candle at suppertime so I added an inexpensive dollar store pillar candle.  I like the way the candlelight makes the berries gleam.

If your style is more contemporary, they'd look great in a row of tall glass cylinders or square vases.  A centrepiece in under five minutes for under $5! As Martha would say: it's a good thing.

mystery masterpiece

This fall I discovered - and, you know, I honestly can't recall how - Canadian mystery authour Louise Penny.  With her series, she's taken the traditional village mystery and brought it into the 21st century in Quebec's Eastern Townships.  There's so much to love about her books:  the cozy (yet disproportionately murderous) hamlet of Three Pines, her carefully drawn characters - each one lovable yet flawed so that you can imagine any one of them could be the murderer but are devastated to find out which ones are, her clever plots, her descriptions of food and the little nods to Canadian culture (from Tim Horton's double-doubles to the delicate Quebecois-Anglo dance in la Belle Province).

But above all other winning qualities of her books is her protagonist Inspector Gamache who readers not only seem to admire but fall in love with.  Turns out that's no accident.  Louise Penny explains why...