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A Quiet Christmas

As I noted last month with our 40th Thanksgiving, this is also the 40th time we have celebrated Christmas together. Now, retired, and free of the shopping angst of the season, we are enjoying the peace this year. No big commitments. Just a few cookies baked. A completely different approach in decorating. We are spending today at home, after a Christmas Eve dinner with some of our longtime friends.

This year, I did the massive grouping of poinsettias again. I also decided to pull out my favorite decorations from my mom and my MIL. They grace the stairs in the foyer, along with a ribbon wrap, a wreath and tiny white lights. Flowers in the kitchen and dining room. A few candles. That’s it. No tree. No outdoor lights. I have embraced the concept of minimalizing. No stress.

I had a good time a few weeks back, when I answered a request from an old friend to help them decorate their new place. I was happy to see some of my old decorations getting a new lease on life and get used, instead of being stored away. Large wreaths. Folksy hanging items. Ribbons. Wrappings. All those things that we no longer use.

Soon, I will head off to pan fry a couple flat iron steaks. Roast some root veggies. Try out my latest fermentation goodies. I pickled beets last week, and spicy rutabaga relish. Using the last CSA veggies.

Doesn’t everyone have spicy, Korean style pickled vegetables with Christmas dinner?

I am in the process of making a list of things I want to do in 2019, including writing more than I did this year. I may actually get another one or two posts written this month.

In the meantime  —

Eight

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Eight years retired. This weekend. Time does fly when you are having fun.

What have I learned? Have I made mistakes? Do I regret it?

I have learned much about myself. Made just a few errors, nothing big, though. Don’t regret it a minute.

Retiring can be immensely rewarding, or a real let down. I know many people who went back to work, because they were bored and retirement wasn’t what they thought it would be. So, here’s my top five things that make it work for me, and for us – when I include my husband’s retirement a few months after mine.

One — have a passion for something other than work. Without that passion, things get boring very quickly. My passion. Gardening and cooking. My husband’s? Amateur radio.

We have so many things going on with these hobbies. Groups. Social activities. Trips. Immersion into the processes. Maintenance. You get the picture. It’s a time sump. Keeps us busy enough, and provides structure to our days.

Two — social networking. Find new friends. The work ones will disappear. Trust me on this one. You lose the connection quite quickly. We have many new networks. Blogging friends. Garden people. Radio people. Wine lovers. Locavores. Volunteers.

Three — projects. We try and keep up with the house, the grounds, the decluttering. We do it in small batches. We tackle something every year. It may be maintenance. It may be renovation. It keeps us focused, and maintains those project management skills from our work years.

Four — travel. We don’t travel far these days. We did that for so many years. Touched five continents. Cruised 160 days. Now, we like our simple weekends and day trips. Exploring our local world. Getting very deep into it. Weekends in Virginia. Overnights in PA and DE. Festivals. Concerts.

Five — challenges. Mine is cooking. The cookbook club. Learning to bake. Learning to cook ethnic foods, like India, or next month, Thai. Exiting my comfort zone.

We don’t feel old. We still love the challenges. The new experiences. The new friends. Retirement has been awesome, to say the least.

My advice, though. Before you decide to retire, find your passion. Without it, you may not be satisfied, or you may not find enough to do to fill your hours.

Us, we go crazy. Not enough hours some weeks. But, it is great. Doing what we want, day in and day out.

Can’t wait for the azaleas to bloom. Picnic at the reservoir.

A December to Remember

And not always in a good way.  Maybe turning 65 tomorrow is a good thing. Time will tell. Hopefully the dozens of phone calls trying to sell me Medigap policies will cease.

As for why I wasn’t enamored with this month? So many things failed, or had to be replaced. I felt the checkbook and credit cards were always out.

The one that hurt the most? Having to take down a beautiful spruce tree.

I loved that tree. Standing as tall as our house. Weathering storms.

It survived snowmageddon, and ice storms. But needlecast did it in. We couldn’t save it, and last week it was felled. A hole in my yard and my heart.

It was just one of those things this month. Add to it a failed heat pump. Struts and shocks on the SUV. And, today! A dead washing machine. Anyone know where the nearest Laundromat is?

I shouldn’t complain. We are lucky that we have small local vendors who take good care of things for us. Landers’ Appliances will come to assess the 13 year old washer to see if it is salvageable. If it isn’t, Bray and Scarff will be replacing it.

BA Auto Care (formerly known as British American) did an awesome job as usual on our 14 year old car.

Advance Arboriculture surgically removed the tree, leaving nothing but mulch in our front yard.

Environmental Systems Associates (ESA) replaced our failing heat pump with a new energy efficient unit.

What did you get for Christmas? I got a bunch of invoices for all this work.

As for tomorrow, we aren’t going anywhere for my birthday. It’s just too cold and miserable out, so we will hunker down, pan sear a few filets, and open a bottle of old red wine. I should send my hubby up to Dandelion Bistro to pick up a nice chocolate dessert to savor with the leftover wine, after dinner.

I must be getting old. I prefer an evening by the fireplace, watching old movies, instead of going out to celebrate.

Baking

German Baking. Classic German Baking.

Most of my family is of German descent. I grew up with German influenced cooking and baking on both sides of the family. For me, the discovery of Luisa Weiss’s book, Classic German Baking, was a special treat for the holidays.

I opted to download the eBook when I found a great deal for it. I am glad I did it. I have already made two cookies for the holidays, and have dozens of treats bookmarked for the future.

Luissa’s Pfeffernüsse is far beyond those dry things you buy in the store.

I had to hide the container that I want to use for my Christmas gifts so my husband wouldn’t eat them all. I have to make more of these. I love them. Not really sweet, but just right. The secret to good German baking is finding ingredients. Like Baker’s Ammonia.

Thanks to Amazon Prime and “OliveNation” I had what I needed to make these cookies. For those of us really old, this is smelling salts. Seriously. But, it works to make the cookies vastly different from other non-traditional recipes.

I also made Vanillakipferl. The authentic version of almond crescents.

I went with the use of almond meal, and I also made my own vanilla sugar, by blitzing a vanilla bean, pod and all, in the sugar, and letting it mellow for a few days before using.

Fragile. Fresh from baking, and dredged in confectioner’s sugar mixed with vanilla sugar, these melt-in-our-mouth morsels are a memory of cookies my mom used to make. My paternal grandmother was born in Austria. These cookies are something special to me, as I pay tribute to my heritage.

Next year? I will work in advance to try Lebkuchen, which need time in advance to “age”, and who knows. Maybe I will spring for those Springerle molds.

I also have my eye on a cookie that reminds me of Berger’s cookies. That would be really bad for my waistline.

Gobble Gobble

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Here in the #hocomd world, Maple Lawn farm’s turkeys are nearing the end of their solar panel shielded sun bathing.

We are so lucky to be able to get fresh turkeys, for a fraction of the cost of some of the options out there. Many places have heritage birds for 5-9 dollars a pound. Here, we can get fresh turkey for $2.29 a pound, $2.30 to pick it up right at the farm. With its own reusable bag.

You have many options around here to get their turkeys. Boarmans. Roots. David’s. MOM’s. Whole Foods. And, I hear, maybe at Harris Teeter, but that isn’t confirmed. For the full experience, at least once, you should pick up at the farm. For the craziest experience, do it on Tuesday or Wednesday. Lines out the door, but it does move fast. I go on Monday, so I can let the turkey stay in the fridge one day, then brine it for 24 hours. This year, I may try something different for cooking it. There will be a follow up if this method works.

This weekend I also picked up my favorite other seasonal items, like the pumpkin ice cream from Baugher’s.

I can’t emphasize how amazing this farm is. They have a bakery, if you want pies for the holidays. They make their own ice cream. They make apple butter, peach butter, all sort of jellies and jams. You can pick your own fruit in summer and fall, and their fruit market is open year round. Worth the trip to Westminster. I go every month after picking up my meat CSA at Evermore Farm. Yesterday I got pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin cookies and a peck of gala apples. On Small Business Saturday, you could knock off quite a bit of your Christmas shopping there, and have lunch at the restaurant. Order the tuna melt, and the CMP sundae. And, a side of apple fritters. Heaven.

So, now you have the turkey. You can get the pie and the ice cream, and maybe some cider, at Baugher’s. Next post, in a few days, the wines and the special items.

Those pumpkin cookies are calling my name. They won’t last until Thanksgiving.

Sure Signs of Spring

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When spring is truly here, in Central Maryland, there are those annual rituals in which I participate. You know the ones I mean. The annual visit to Brighton Dam to assess the azalea gardens.

The search for those first wild asparagus to forage. Or the first fat bundles at the newly opening farmer’s markets. Or, in my case these days, the first asparagus from my garden plot.

The dogwoods blooming everywhere you look. The progression of springtime blossoms here goes pretty much in this order. The forsythia, the daffodils, the tulips and the cherry blossoms, the azaleas, the dogwoods and the rhododendron. Mixed into these, it’s somewhat random that the other bushes and trees flower and then leaf out.

We are only a month away from the first strawberry picking.

Jenny’s Market should be opening next week. Then, I won’t have to drive far to get some fruit, particularly citrus which I always need for cooking.

Grilling season is about to commence in earnest. Not just the occasional good day to uncover the grill, but the long stretches of time when every night is perfect to eat al fresco. Not yet buggy season, or high humidity to interfere with the enjoyment of the outdoors.

I noticed this year. My asparagus came in three weeks earlier than last year. The azaleas are already peaking out at Brighton Dam. Weeks before they normally do.

The weeds are early, too. And prolific, due to our relatively mild winter. No long hard freezes that would kill them off. I will be battling the bittersweet much earlier, as it threatens to invade my flower beds.

Next week, my spring/summer CSA starts. The farmer’s markets aren’t far behind it. Can’t wait to visit the new one in Clarksville Commons or my favorite one down at the Wine Bin in Old Town EC.

This coming weekend is supposed to be lovely. Check out the azaleas if you get a chance.

A Betty Crocker Christmas

Remember these?

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My first recipes. Back in 1975 when I moved to Columbia. I found the box up in the attic inside a moving carton, along with my husband’s recipe cards. His were McCall’s and bought when he first moved to Columbia in 1977 (he learned to cook from them, in his new townhouse before I met him).

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That budget casserole up in my cards? Made an appearance many nights for my two roommates and me. Just 1/2 pound of ground beef and one egg. Really cheap eats. Back when we couldn’t afford anything fancier.

I decided to pull out the cookie cards and make some of them for Christmas. Along with an old favorite. This one.

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Which was on the menu tonight.

As for the cookies, check these out.

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Shortbread. Crescents. Caramel-nut bars.

I still have spice cookies and toffee to make tomorrow, but this is a trip back in time. And, no, I didn’t succumb and use Crisco, even when the recipes called for it.

Any old memories being resurrected for your holiday?

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I may be tempted to make that fudge too.