Good News, Great Joy, All People

Firstly… Happy Christmas!  Today is Christmas Day… and I hope that where ever you are that you know that you are loved and that today what we celebrate is for you… it’s Good News, Great Joy and it’s for All People!

It has been a number of years since I have written a blog about Christmas… in fact, if my quick dig through the blog is correct, I have only written about it once on this blog… I did a whole series way back in 2011… but since, there has only been a few references to Christmas time and the occasional picture, but this week as we have been traveling through New Zealand, I have been thinking a lot about Christmas and all that we do to celebrate.  

Before leaving Melbourne Christmas was obvious and everywhere, there were songs, and gifts, food, lights and events and it all seemed to be everywhere all the time… It was quite overwhelming to be honest.  Since arriving in New Zealand I have discovered that over here, this appears to not be the case.  Christmas is much less obvious… perhaps this is because we have been doing touristy things and driving and not really frequenting shopping centres, but it seems to be much less constant here… and not just in one part… everywhere… Sure there are TV ads about Christmas and sales and the occasional Santa… but there is much less caroling, less lights, and generally less Christmas.  And while at first I found this wonderful and much less stressful, as Christmas Day has come closer and closer I have found myself longing for it… for the tinsel and lights, for the carols and community events, for a church to have something on for us to go to… 

Perhaps in New Zealand Christmas is just much more relaxed and they actually have it right, much less about the show and much more about the important stuff, taking a minute to stop and spend time with family? Or maybe being the end of December we’ve just missed it? I am not really sure… but I have found myself longing for the strangest things… homesick in a weird way for my ‘normal’ Christmas… which, in reality, is just as hectic and overwhelming as the weeks I described before we left.  

I have been trying to work out what exactly I am missing… and to be honest, I think it’s a few things… the familiarity of my Christmas Tree and decorations… the twinkle of the lights… and the communal carol singing… because Christmas is a story of good news and great joy… and the songs that we sing declare this over and over again, in beautiful harmonies with the occasional outrageous descant.  

A number of years ago our church’s Christmas series was on the theme ‘Good News, Great Joy, All People’ and it’s a phrase that has been stuck in my head ever since… but I think is mostly because it is true… and it’s adaptable to lots of mundane tasks you might like to declare at home.. for example… Good News, Great Joy, All People… Dinner is ready… or Good News, Great Joy, All People… I’ve finished the washing… see works for everything.  Anyway, at Christmas there is an opportunity to have shared joy with all people over the gift of Christ, the hope of the world, the comfort in his birth and the miracle it was (in fact the older I get and the further into Motherhood I journey, the more of a miracle I think it is).  

This year more than any other I have felt the weight of the world as it groans under poor human stewardship and been prompted over and over and over again to care for the land I live in and the people I live among… That in this difficult world full of pain, suffering, and problems that so often seem too big and difficult to comprehend… Where people seem to shun and judge first and listen second… Where my homeland burns and the land I am in has more rain and cold weather than a summer should or would normally contain… I know of a hope and light and joy that is for all people without a catch… and I have missed declaring this for weeks on end.  I suppose the challenge for me has been how do I celebrate and bring this hope to others without my pre-provided platform… or prompts?  And once again I think I have found my answer within the lyrics of a Christmas Carol… one I have blogged about before here way back in 2011… O Holy Night, but this time it has been the third verse that has caught me each time… it says…   

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is Peace
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother
And in His name, all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we
Let all within us Praise His Holy name
Christ is the Lord; O praise His name forever!
His power and glory evermore proclaim
His power and glory evermore proclaim

So that’s what I will try to do today (and every day) to share this light… When Isaac wakes up to his makeshift paper Christmas tree, when we sing with Dave’s Grandparents’ at church, when we break bread with our family on a rare Christmas where we only have one destination to be… I will love, I will be a bringer of peace, and with my actions, I will be a bringer of Good News, Great Joy for all people.  

Our Curious Life: Week 49

Far out… how is the year almost done, and how the heck am I still so behind on these blogs… these were supposed to be an easier way to keep the blog up to date… but it would appear that more often than not other things have taken my time. Anyway, somehow here we are at week 49… what have we done?

Well despite this week only starting on the 2nd of December Christmas is in full swing at the George house. This week Isaac and I attended the annual Ladies night out, Isaac was our special guest, due to the fact that he is not a lady and I sung with the Grammarian Singers Christmas Concert. This is the first year in many that I have been caroling, so to speak, and while it looks different to the caroling that I used to do it has made this December feel a lot more like Christmas.

We’ve also had some non Christmas fun, we started the week with brunch to celebrate Meg’s birthday and a stroll through the botanical gardens. We celebrated Ann’s birthday on Saturday and right in the middle of the week we had out finally Thrive group for the year. We love our thrive group and they have been such an important part of our village. We also had a follow up sleep study for Isaac and you will be please to know that this time I remembered my pillow.

Oh and in a desperate attempt to finish this years list Isaac and I went to a mums and bubs session at the movies… which was not super successful… turns out Isaac does not care to watch a big TV… he would rather just crawl around on the floor. Ideally we would have done this earlier in the year, but it has actually has been very difficult to find a cinema that shows movies that aren’t super adult at their mums and bubs sessions. If we wanted to see action flicks or 50 shades of grey we would have been set, but I just couldn’t bring myself to take a baby with me. So, if any people that run the scheduling for cinemas… maybe stick with PG movies… or chick flics… leave the others for date night.

No Photos this week… too much to do, not enough time…

The Gingerbread House

Ok, so this blog is being written because even though this year I made my third gingerbread house (not this year… overall), every year it feels like I am starting again from the very beginning.  This year before I started baking I spent all morning looking through the internet and my cookbooks trying to remember which recipes I had tried and liked and despite my efforts, I just couldn’t remember… so now that it is done, I have decided that this year, instead of just posting a picture of the gingerbread house I am posting everything, the recipe, the template and the things that worked and the things that didn’t, so that next year I might save myself some time, stress and probably money.

Each year I like to make something slightly different from those I have tried before… except in 2014… where it appears I didn’t make one.  Anyway, so far my gingerbread creations have been a basic house, a few little houses and a village:

gingerbread-houses

This year I made a mixture… I returned to some of the houses from 2013 and added in a few new elements… a Christmas tree and a sleigh.  After all the searching beforehand I ended up returning to my trusty Donna Hay back catalogue where I pulled out the recipes for basic gingerbread cookie dough… which I used for my sleigh and tree and the recipe for the houses as well as the template from Donna’s website.

The Houses:

Ok, so lets start with the houses… because lets face it… they are the most important… Donna Hay’s Recipe comes from Issue 72 (Dec/Jan 2014 page 139) and the recipe is as follows:

Ingredients:

Gingerbread:
1.2kg plain (all-purpose) flour
2 tsps bicarb soda
1 1/2 cups (265g) brown sugar
1 tbsp ground ginger
380g unsalted butter, melted
1 2/3 cups (580g) golden syrup
icing sugar to decorate
Icing
4 cups (640g) icing sugar
3 eggwhites
1/4 tsp cream of tarter
1 tbsp lemon juice

 

 

 

 

 

Method:

1.  Preheat oven to 180°C.  Place half the flour, bicarb, brown sugar and ginger in a large food processor and pulse until combined.  Add half the butter and golden syrup and process until the dough comes together.  Transfer to a large bowl.
2.  Repeat with the remaining dry and wet ingredients.  Add the two batches of dough together and knead until smooth and combined.
3.  Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces.  Using your fingers, press each piece into a 37cm x 25cm Swiss roll tin. Smooth the top with the back of a metal spoon.
4.  Bake in 2 batches for 12-15minutes or until golden.
5.  Transfer gingerbread sheet onto a large chopping board and start cutting out the shapes while it is still hot using a metal ruler and a sharp knife.  Don’t forget to print out the template found here.
Donna Hay suggests the following order:

Sheet 2 & 4:
• Large house walls
• Front of small house
• Back of small house
• Small house roof
• Small house walls
• Chimney
Sheet 1 & 3:
• Large house roof
• Front of large house
• Back of large house

 

 

 

 

6.  To make the icing; place the sugar, egg-whites and cream of tartar in an electric mixer and beat for 4-5 minutes or until light and fluffy.
7.  Add the lemon juice and beat for a further 2 minutes or until well combined.
8.  Use a piping bag to use decorate the house with the icing and glue the houses together.  I used the icing recipe as my glue and for my own free style decoration rather than the prefect and very beautiful lattice design intend… as my decorating skills just aren’t that good.

Notes:
Initially I was worried that the pieces for each house were quite hard and tended to snap rather than break of nicely when cooled.  However, once assembled and no longer trapped in an air tight container, the gingerbread softened enough to break and eat, but not enough to collapse… which turned out perfectly, despite my initial concerns of broken teeth.

I only have a small oven, so I needed to cook the sheets of gingerbread all separately, and because I took a little longer preparing my dough, my oven was well and truly at temperature before starting.  I had to keep a close eye on the sheets and the more I cooked, the less time they required as my oven is also not as good at keeping temperature without going over as I would like.  So make sure you keep watch as you need all of the sheets to get all of the parts so some burnt sections can make it tricky to fit all of the template in… plus they taste and look pretty average.

The glue is also very good, it sets quickly and holds well, but once set is still able to be broken with ease for consumption while remaining strong enough to hold the untouched parts still in place.

The Sleigh and the Tree:

Okay… so once the house was done I started on the sleigh and tree.  For both of these is used Donna Hay‘s ‘basic gingerbread cookie dough’ recipe which can be found online here, or if you are bit lazy like me… I have done the non-lazy thing and typed it out, just in case I lose my copy of  Issue 78 (Dec/Jan 2015 page 156) or the website changes.  Anyway the recipe is as follows:

Ingredients:

•  125g unsalted butter, chopped and softened
•  ½ cup (90g) brown sugar
•  ⅔ cup (230g) golden syrup
•  2½ cups (375g) plain (all-purpose) flour, sifted
•  1 teaspoon bicarbonate of (baking) soda, sifted
•  2 teaspoons ground ginger
•  1 teaspoon mixed spice

Method (Emma’s modified version):

gingerbread61.  Preheat the oven to 180°C.
2.Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat for 6−8 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until pale and creamy.
3.  Add the golden syrup, flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and mixed spice and beat until a smooth dough forms.
4.  Roll the dough out between 2 sheets of non-stick baking paper to 5mm thick and then use the sleigh template (see below) and star cookie cutters (see tree assembly below) to make the pieces required.   If there is some left over use a gingerbread man cookie cutter to cut out men from the dough, re-rolling the dough as necessary.
5.  Bake on trays lined with non-stick baking paper for ~8mins or until golden (Donna’s recipe was for a gingerbread man wreath, so this is where the instructions get a little messy, but I left my oven hot from the gingerbread house and cooked for shorter time, but they turned out perfect, you just have to watch them).
6. Allow to cool for a few minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.

Sleigh Assembly:

The sleigh template I used can be found here, it is one that I found thanks to Pinterest and I used the template to cut out the shapes before baking them.  I used the left over house ‘glue’ (icing) to put the sleigh together, using large candy canes as the sleigh’s runners as suggested by the blog.  The sleigh requires some holding while the glue sets as my pieces warped a little in the over, and the candy canes will only support the whole thing once it is just that… one piece.

Tree Assembly:

For this one I googled a couple of things to get the idea but didn’t follow anyone’s instructions so to speak.  I made the tree using different sized star cookie cutters.  I got a set of 5 sizes from my trusty k-mart and made ~4 of each size, so that I would have at least 3 good ones for my tree (I also made some extra ones for eating with the left over dough). Once the cookies were cooked, I used glue which I used green food dye to turn green to layer the stars on top of each other in height order. At the very top of the tree I used a small star cookie standing up to make a tree topper (with Davo’s encouragement I dyed some icing yellow just for a better star effect).  This actually worked out much better than I thought it would, and was the most popular component on movie marathon day.

Once all the bits were together and decorated, this is how it turned out…

gingerbread3

Pretty good if you ask me!  Well at least not bad for an amateur.  Hopefully I will remember that I wrote this blog and save myself some time next year… Oh and this also crossed no. 21 ‘Make some kind of festive seasonal dish’ off the list.

Ok so there you have it… I am going to go and eat some of the left overs.