Monday, December 29, 2014

Prettig Kerstfeest!

(Dutch for "Merry Christmas")  :-)

My mom and I have a lovely tradition of assembling Dutch letters during the Christmas season!

Dutch letters are pastry tubes made with an almond filling.  Traditionally they are shaped like a letter S, and this is usually how you will find them at a Dutch bakery.  Since the pastry dough is kind of fragile and thin, my mom and I have had the most success making lowercase Ls :-)

According to the Jaarsma Bakery's website (Jaarsma is in Pella where my sister lives), Dutch letters have been a favorite treat in the Netherlands since the 1800s, and when the children celebrated Sinterklaas on December 6 they would leave the pastries for him.

Mom put the dough and filling together ahead of time for our baking extravaganza.  If I can find the recipe, I'll post it -- it may be on my computer somewhere.  In the meantime, here are some pictures of the assembly process:

Roll out a 2-oz piece of chilled dough...

...until it is 14" long and 4" wide, approximately.  You have to use a ton of flour to keep these babies from sticking to your countertop.  

Grab some of the almond paste mixture (Mom pre-measured it with a cookie scoop)...

...and form it into a snake.

Fold the dough over the top...

...then seal the other side with a bit of water to create the letter. 

Poke the letters with a fork so the steam can escape...

...and brush the tops with beaten egg white.

Lastly, sprinkle a bunch of coarse sugar on the top!  Be generous--the sugar makes a lovely crunchy top.  I use raw sugar from Hy Vee.

They're all ready to bake at this point, at 350 degrees for 20-ish minutes or until golden brown.  Or, put the cookie sheets into the deep freeze, and when the letters are frozen, bundle them up in foil or plastic wrap and they'll keep for several months.  I like to freeze a few dozen and keep them on hand for special gifts.  

My chalkboard.  Translation?  Delicious!  

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday with family and friends.  Tom, Jude and I got to travel to his hometown for Christmas Day, and then to Pella to join up with the Neerhof side.  We are glad to be at home now and soaking up the rest of the week off.  This time of year we are always so happy to have our break from school.  From my perspective: concerts are done and I am DONE singing Jingle Bells until next December.  From his perspective: basketball season is crazy, so this is precious time to spend with family and to catch up on sleep.

The rest of the winter will fly right by!  Betty and the Gents will play some fun shows (Valentine's Day at MC Brewing, for one) and we will keep busy with everything else we do.

I always make a Summer Bucket List when March or April rolls around and we get the first glimpse of spring.  Maybe it's time for a Winter Bucket List...

I'm thinking as I type, so these are in no particular order.

- Eat dinner at 1910 Grille.  This time, no pregnancy nausea!

- GO SKIING.  Yes.  I want to SKI for heavens sake.  I haven't been skiing since.... gosh, it must have been 2006 or 07.  That is pathetic.  My family traveled to Colorado every few years when we were growing up and skiing was a huge part of our lives.  Why have I let it slip away?  I don't need a trip to Colorado...don't have the funds...but a weekend in Minnesota would be splendid.  (By the way, Tom doesn't ski and he doesn't want to learn.  Can you please help me convince him that it's the most fun thing in the world?)

- Go to a movie.  I haven't seen one in a theatre since before Jude was born.  It's time.

- Go sledding.  Because it's fun and I like to pretend I'm ten years old again.

- Go ice skating.  Did you know I used to be a figure skater?  True story.

- Make a snow angel.  Because why not?

- Eat more sushi.  Tom and I went to the Mall of America on the first Monday of break and we ate at Crave, which is one of our favorite places in the mall.  I ordered a beautiful sushi platter and it was so good I wanted to roll around in it.  (Weird?  Yeah....sorry)  There is this place in Des Moines I would like to visit, and we can't wait to return to our go-to date night spot in Minneapolis, Seven.

- Decorate my house.  I got some gift cards for Christmas to all of my favorite places, so I can find unique and beautiful decor for our house!  I can't wait to rally my mom and sister sometime, and hit up these stores so I can make this place look like a home.

- Spend more time with family.  Enough said.  Isn't family worth every struggle, every disagreement, every moment of stress and worry?  In the end, it's those people who will love you the most and be there for you.  We need more time together.

- Start lifting again.  Sometimes I feel like finding the time to go for a run or walk is impossible...and lifting weights again is only in my dreams.  I miss it.  It will happen again.  Hopefully soon.  Would it be weird to bring the pack-and-play and set it up in the weight room so Jude could come along?

- Write on my blog.  Ha.  We'll see if this happens past this week :-)

Enjoy the last remaining days of the Christmas season (it's not over yet!) and have a wonderful New Year!

Love, Betsy

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

the good stuff.

It feels good.

It feels good to have a clean house, thanks to my hero, whom I also call Mom.  I would fall apart if it weren't for her.

It feels good to have had a Friday night last week without a basketball game, so Tom and I could attend a fabulous Christmas party and just relax for the evening.

It feels good to have sore abs and an aching face from laughing so hard at said Christmas party.

It feels good to know that my happy little boy was taken care of while we were away, and not having a single worry about him.  Again--I love my mother.

It feels good to have another grad class done and checked off the list...I will now be endorsed to teach TAG.  How crazy is that?  "Here is our music teacher, and oh yeah--she also can teach TAG if we need her to."  It's laughable, right?  But it is also totally me.  I'm thrilled to carry this "ability" and add it to my credentials.  Gifted learning is so, so often overlooked which is a huge problem.  I am passionate about these talented learners who are, in my opinion, just as entitled to extra time, effort and funding as our special needs kiddos.  They are the ones who have the skills and capabilities to do amazing things in the why are districts shoving TAG programs to the side and focusing so hard on at-risk learners that the gifted ones get forgotten altogether?

Geez...sorry.  Sometimes I create soapboxes without trying sometimes.  And, I realize that I might be controversial.  Moving on.

It feels good to have hosted our first formal dinner party last night with some wonderful people.  We had Italian Night, complete with ingredients that made the trip from Italy with John and Donna (pasta, wine, even olive oil!), gourmet cheese, an AMAZING tiramisu, Prosecco, bruschetta, opera music, and gelato.  Our next dinners will be German (YAY!), then fondue, then Greek (COLOR ME EXCITED!  OH MY GOSH!  I ADORE GREEK FOOD!).  Food, friends, and laughter are my favorite things.  The world needs more relaxed, strung-out meals where guests stay for hours and just enjoy the food and each other.  If you're ever stressed out, please call me and say "let's make dinner."  :)

It feels good to know that we have 8 days of school left before a two-week break.  You know me -- I love my job.  But if it weren't for our guaranteed breaks, I'd be a crazy person.

It feels good to have my house decorated for Christmas.  The past two years in our shoebox house, we didn't have room to decorate, so we didn't.  No tree, no garlands, nothing.  Tom hung exterior lights but that was all.  This year we've got the tree.  We've got garlands.  We've got wreaths.  We've got sparkly things.  I love it!  I'm realizing quickly how expensive decorating I'm taking it one room at a time.  How fun will it be to pack it away, knowing next year I'll be able to drag it all out again?!  I'm feeling very, very blessed with this gorgeous space.

It feels good to have the Gents back in the rehearsal room upstairs, gear out and tunes flying.  We have a gig on the 20th and it feels like it's still so far away, but it'll be here before we know it.  I sent them a text a few days ago that said "let's practice soon, because I miss my sanity."  :)  There is a part of me that can only be calmed down with music-making.

See?  This is serenity.  Even my arm hair is glowing because I'm so happy.

*Gig is at Mason City Brewing, from 8-11 pm.*

Lastly:  it feels good to sit here and write.  In my perfect world, the day would have more hours so I could do this more.

Goodnight, my dears!