Advent Activities 2015: December 8th, Christmas Cookies

I’m going to be up front here. It’s 4:00pm, and I’m sitting here while my kids watch Sesame Street, waiting for my feet to stop feeling like someone drove railroad spars up my heels. If every day was like this, I’d have quit Advent activities long ago!

But anyhow. In preparation for having some friends over to decorate cookies tomorrow, we made two batches of cookies to decorate. I’ll include the recipes below (I made half-recipes of each kind.) Scout Kid and I made the dough while Feral Kid napped BECAUSE I’M NOT INSANE, and then when he woke we rolled them out and used our gingerbread people, heart, star, and Christmas tree cookie cutters to cut out shapes. Feral Kid attempted to bite the head off all the gingerbread people as he was transporting them to the cookie sheet, but otherwise a good, if somewhat chaotic, time.

The first type we made are a crunchy cinnamon cookie fondly known as Moose Cookies in our family. (Long story, don’t question it.)

Moose Cookies
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 3/4 cup flour
1/3 cup cinnamon

1. Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs and beat well until incorporated.
2. Stir in flour and cinnamon. Dough will be on the crumbly side.
3. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.
4. Preheat oven to 350F. Roll out dough to 1/4 in. on lightly floured surface. Cut shapes with cookie cutters and place on parchment-paper-covered baking sheet.
5. Bake for 15 minutes. Cool 5 minutes on baking sheet before transferring carefully to cooling rack (cookies are brittle.)

The second type is Eggnog Sugar Cookies. The original recipe called for rum extract, but I used almond extract because, well, that’s what I had.

Eggnog Sugar Cookies
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs

1 tablespoon almond extract

1. Combine all dry ingredients except sugar in a medium bowl.
2. Cream together butter and sugar in a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium-high until fluffy (about 3 minutes). Beat in eggs and almond extract.
3. Gradually beat in dry ingredients until just combined.
4. Gather dough into a ball, divide in half, and form into two flattened discs. Wrap separately with plastic wrap and chill until firm, 1-1.5 hours.
5. Preheat oven to 375F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface until 1/8″ thick. Cut out shapes with a cookie cutter and arrange 2″ apart on baking sheets.
6. Bake until cookies just start to brown around the edges, 7-8 minutes. Set sheet on cooling rack for 5 minutes, then remove cookies to rack to cool completely.

Advent Activities 2015: December 6th, Sinterklaas & Trimming the Tree

 

 

Such a lovely, frosty morning, with the sun clean and bright, and little funny boys so excited to find that Sinterklaas had indeed left “weets!” in their boots this morning. Scout Kid was legitimately not sure if it was pretend after all– the carrot was gone, and goodies were there, and that’s not usually how a pretend game works! (Apparently he forgot all about going with me to the Dutch store to buy said goodies last week…)

After a nice family breakfast, we put on some Christmas music, pulled out the box of ornaments, and had at the tree. This was fun, in a kind of crazy way. The boys loved it, and I don’t mind that 60% of the ornaments are concentrated in the one spot where there was a chair for them. Still, not exactly as peaceful and idyllic as the photos make it look, and Scout Kid was bouncing off the walls in excitement for an hour afterwards!

Now it remains to be seen if they can manage to keep the ornaments on the tree for the next 18 days.

Advent Activities 2015: December 5th, Picking Up A Tree (+ Sinterklaas!)

If you’re thinking this photo looks better than usual, that’s because my husband took it. Yet another reason to love the weekend…

Anyhow. Today, we did the first half of two activities, and tomorrow we’ll do the second half of each. First, we drove ’round the corner to the farmer’s market to pick out a “ditmuss dee”, as Feral Kid calls them. The boys loved running around offering tree suggestions, and we brought home a sweet little tree that we’ll decorate tomorrow once the branches settle.

Then, tonight, the boys will put out their little shoes with a carrot in them for Sinterklaas’s horse and in the morning they’ll find them filled with pepernoten, dropjes, and candy hearts. We don’t do Santa Claus at all (we all have stockings hung at my parents’ place that we use as an extra gift repository to open on Christmas morning, and Santa doesn’t really come into it), so this will be the closest they get, and they will always know it’s just a game, but I don’t think that will make it any less magical. Scout Kid is already so excited to put his shoe out, and Feral Kid has been singing “‘Poentje, ‘poentje, ‘poentje…” all around the house.

I’d love to get a book on the historical Saint Nicholas to read for future Christmases, so if anyone has any suggestions, let me know!

Advent Activities 2015: December 4th, Snowman Pancakes

Today’s activity was kind of spontaneous. It wasn’t on the list, but I woke up this morning and felt like pancakes, so I figured if I was going to spend the energy making them, I might as well make it the day’s activity. So, voila, snowman pancakes!

In other news, I am the best at pancakes (this is not bragging, it is just fact) and so can you be if you follow my recipe. I added apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves to these, and then made the snowman faces with raisins and dried cranberries and drifted powdered sugar over top as snow, but usually I make them with blueberries and they’re also amazing.

Food and Wine’s Buttermilk Pancakes
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (can substitute buckwheat flour for 1/2 cup)
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups buttermilk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 large eggs

1. Place a large frying pan on the burner and preheat to medium-low (I set mine specifically 3/4 of the way between medium and low.) In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda and salt. If you are adding fruit, stir it into the dry ingredients.
2. Measure 2 cups of buttermilk in a 4-cup graduated measuring cup, then whisk in the eggs, vanilla, and melted butter.
3. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until flour is just moistened.
4. Generously butter the pan (this is key, do not skip it) and pour in pancakes using a 1/4 cup measure. When bubbles show through the middle of the pancakes, flip and cook 1-2 minutes on the other side. Best served right off the griddle with butter and maple syrup.

In Search Of An Accurate Nativity

I’ve been on the hunt for a while for a more Biblically/culturally/ethnically accurate nativity scene. I love the tradition, the idea of making the story concrete especially for little ones, but the typical traditional nativity scene mixes up Bible stories (wise men with the shepherds), uses a stable, and almost universally features a white family, sometimes even a blonde Mary. What’s up with that? Seriously.

So, I’ve been on the hunt, both for more accurate historical information, and for an actual accurate nativity scene. Here’s some links if you’re interested in the same subject.

First up: Inn and Stable, or Guest Room and Family Room? “Surely a more authentic cultural understanding enhances the meaning of the story, rather than diminishing it. Jesus was rejected at His birth by Herod, but the Bethlehem shepherds welcomed Him with great joy, as did the common people in later years. The city of David was true to its own, and the village community provided for Him. He was born among them, in the natural setting of the birth of any village boy, surrounded by helping hands and encouraging women’s voices. For centuries Palestinian peasants have been born on the raised terraces of the one-room family homes. The birth of Jesus was no different. His incarnation was authentic. His birth most likely took place in the natural place for a peasant to be born—in a peasant home.”

Second: Forensic archaeology’s depiction of what typical Jewish men of Jesus’s day would’ve looked like. Plot twist: they weren’t white!

Finally, the only place I’ve been able to find non-white nativity scenes: Etsy! Here’s my favourite. Once I’ve saved up my pennies, I plan to ask for a custom scene with shepherds and wise men, and follow some of these ideas for making your scene reflect the Biblical story more accurately. Now the last thing to figure out: how to depict a one-room village home instead of a stable?

Also in the market for non-white Nativity storybooks for the boys. The Jesus Storybook Bible has darker-skinned characters but I’d love to find some specifically on Christmas.

Advent Activites 2015: December 3rd, Christmas Playdough

We kept things simple yesterday because Scout Kid was sick and laying on the couch all day yesterday. We read a Christmas book, but he didn’t even really have the energy for that; curled up pitifully and closed his eyes as I read. Thankfully, he’s back to his usual spunky self today, so we’re back at it.

Today, after dropping off a load of packed Christmas goody boxes for Christmas in King, we pulled out the red and green playdough, along with all my Christmas cooky cutters. Feral Kid, especially, was thrilled– he had never played playdough before, and mostly used his newfound cutting skills to reduce his playdough to tiny shreds. Scout kid went more on-theme and decorated some gingerbread people and Christmas trees before settling down to cutting playdough into fishing bait. All in all, a good time was had by all, including Mama who did dishes in peace while listening to Sufjan Stevens’ Songs for Christmas and occasionally helping out with the rolling pin.

 

Advent Activities 2015: December 1st, Paper Snowflakes

Along with the Lego Advent calendar my mum got the boys, and the Jesus Storybook Bible Advent reading plan, I’ve planned a special Christmas activity to do with the boys (or sometimes just Scout Kid) every day until Christmas Day. I’m looking forward to making this time special for them, and also really hoping I don’t fall off the hat, like, a week in!

Today’s activity was paper snowflakes, which a) is about the upper limit of my tolerance for crafts, and b) makes for the loveliest winter windows. I wasn’t sure how this would go over; last year Scout Kid got really frustrated at his inability to make snowflakes as good as mine, and as for Feral Kid, his only experience with scissors thus far has been the rare occasions when he’s managed to get his hands on a pair and then instantly had them snatched back by whatever parent was handy.

But they loved it! Scout Kid has the motor control now to approximate the shapes he’s going for, and Feral Kid was just in love with using scissors. As I handed him his paper and he began making his first clumsy cuts, he kept exclaiming in glee, “I’m doing it! I’m doing it!”

Day One, success!