Saturday, November 28, 2020

Apple Cider Hot Toddy / Seasonal Drink Recipes / Hunting the Winnipeg Christmas Tree by Margaret Ullrich


Covid-19 is making us do strange things.
Well, okay, maybe they’re not all strange, but things we didn’t normally do.
Remember the toilet paper hoarding and the sourdough craze we went through back in the Spring?

On the news tonight they reported that people were rushing to buy real trees.
Yes, even people who normally didn’t do ‘the Christmas tree bit’ wanted a real, honest-to-goodness pine tree in the house.
All of a sudden everybody wants a real, over the top, Clark Griswold Christmas, starting with a real tree.
A tree about the size Clark had in ‘National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation’ is now the thing to have. About the folks who normally didn’t bother with a tree…
I picture rows and rows of popcorn garlands winding around that huge bit of wood.

The weather isn’t being deterred by the virus.
It’s winter, and, here in Manitoba, that means cold.
A toddy is a traditional cold remedy.
It’s perfect both for when you’re feelng chilled or a bit under the weather.

Some say the first toddies were made in 18th century Scotland, where folks added honey and spices hide the flavour of bad scotch.
Whatever… it’s become a folk remedy that, in moderate amounts, can warm you from head to toe.


Don’t have apple cider? You can use apple juice or hot water.
For a tart flavour you can add a slice of lemon, or a few drops of lemon juice.

Don’t have bourbon? You can use almost anything alcoholic in a toddy, even tequila or gin.
Want a non-alcoholic hot toddy? Fine, don’t add the bourbon. It’ll still be warming.

If you want to prepare hot toddies for the gang after you’ve been tree chopping, it’s easy to increase the ingredients in a large pot.
Just let it simmer over a low flame.
Keep the bourbon and honey handy and let your guests ladle the apple cider mixture into their mugs.

You can add a few spices to each mug for an extra touch of aroma.

                        Apple Cider Hot Toddy

For two servings

Place in each of two heat-proof mug
1 1/2 ounces bourbon
1 teaspoon honey

Place in a saucepan
1 cup apple cider
10 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 anise stars (optional)
Heat the mixture over medium-low heat.
Let  simmer about 10 minutes.
Strain the cider into the mug and stir.


For another broadcast of our CKUW radio program ‘2000 & Counting’ we planned to reminisce about when we had gone out into the woods to chop down a Christmas tree.
Yes, this was, and is, a popular Winnipeg Christmas tradition.
And, yes, in Manitoba it can get cold enough to make trees brittle!

God, it was cold.

I didn't know it could get that cold.
I didn't know I'd ever be stupid enough to be outdoors in that kind of cold.
I didn't know I'd been stupid enough to marry someone stupid enough to work with people stupid enough to be out in that kind of cold.

It was December in Winnipeg.

Paul and I had grown up in New York City. There people went to an empty parking lot where the trees had magically appeared, like the pre-wrapped ground beef at the local supermarket. No questions asked. No one wanted to get too personal with an ornament that would be out with the trash in a matter of weeks.

At the New York parking lot we'd browse, find a tree we liked and switch the price tag with the cheaper tree which no one liked. Then we'd carry the tree to the clerk, who gave us the fish eye as he noticed the fullness of such a "good find", sighed and took our money. The whole deal was done in ten minutes. Another Christmas had begun.

Apparently, that isn't good enough for Winnipeggers.
Oh, no, they have to get down and dirty with their holiday bushes.

I'll never forget how happy Paul was when he came home and told me we'd been invited to join his co-workers, a group of Winnipeggers, for a real, old-fashioned Christmas experience. If I'd had a clue I'd have realized that giving birth in a barn, unaided, would've been an easier old-fashioned Christmas experience.
We were going to chop down a real Christmas tree, just like our ancestors.

Well, my parents are from Malta, a sunny Mediterranean island. It just wasn't in my genes to know how to dress for a freezing, miserable, forced march through a blizzard-hit forest. The windchill - which I still didn't understand - was in the "exposed skin can freeze in 2 minutes" range.

That didn't sound good, so I said, "Thanks, but no thanks."

Somehow Paul convinced me that his entire future career prospects, our unborn children's college fund, our grandchildren's lives and our golden years' security and comfort would all go up in smoke if I didn't join in the mighty tree hunt.

His Jewish co-workers were going. Everybody, even that ditzy receptionist who always dressed like a showgirl wannabe with skirts up to there, was going.

So, we were going.

God, it was cold.

I thought I had dressed warmly.
That fink, the ditzy receptionist, showed up looking like the Michelin Man. She was ready to march to the North Pole for the perfect tree, if necessary. So were the three other women co-workers. The other wives - who all knew better - had begged off. One was even pregnant. Or so she said.

I was alone with four career women who were full of the 1970s "I am woman, hear me roar" career fever. While they talked shop I felt as welcome as a lump of coal in a kid’s Christmas stocking.

The Jewish co-workers - who I had hoped would keep the tree hunt frenzy within limits - had turned into lumberjacks. They were also ready to march to the North Pole for the perfect tree, if necessary.

After walking five minutes I couldn't feel my toes. We hadn't even gotten out of the parking lot. I was doomed.

I didn't know it could get that cold.
We marched. Finally, someone approved of a tree. The men chopped. The tree crashed. The branches that hit the ground broke off the tree.

I said, "The bare side could be placed against a wall."

The heat from their glares should have restored my circulation. It didn't. We marched. Someone approved of another tree. The men chopped. The tree crashed. It broke.

God, it was cold.

We were doomed to spend all day wandering like Flying Dutchmen on a quest to find the perfect unbreakable tree. The lot was littered with other broken felled trees. Some trees had landed across their comrades in a criss-cross pattern that looked like a cradle.
A cradle, something soft, something to receive and hold...

Hold it… something to catch a damn tree!

Dripping snot and tears had frozen my mouth shut. If I'd had the equipment I would've written my idea in the snow. I slapped my face trying to restore circulation to my lower jaw. Finally my lips parted. I clutched Paul's arm.

"Cradle... tree... cradle," I mumbled and criss-crossed my arms.

The women thought I was pregnant and wanted a homemade cradle. Thank God, months of marriage, misery and love had united Paul's mind to mine. Months of marriage had also taught us that Paul was no carpenter. He knew the homemade cradle idea was bunk. Paul caught on to my pantomime and told the others of my plan.

Someone approved of another tree. It could land on four broken trees. The men chopped. The tree landed on its fallen comrades. It survived.
We marched. Someone approved of another tree. It, too, survived.

Christmas was saved.

God, it was cold.

I didn't know it could get that cold.
I couldn't believe it.
Some fool was planning the next year's tree chopping expedition.


Here are a few more hot, and cold, drinks. Curl up and enjoy!

Golden Milk Lattes

Appletini and Hot Apple Pie Vodka Drink Recipes

Long Island Iced Tea

Old Fashioned Recipe

Highball Recipe

New Year Hot Toddy

Anna Sultana’s Hot Drinks: Caramel Coffee & Spiced Vanilla Coffee

Anna Sultana's Nonalcoholic Hot Chocolate

Anna Sultana’s Pumpkin Smoothie

Anna Sultana's Mulled Apple Cider

Anna Sultana's Mulled Wined

Carmela Soprano's Hot Buttered Rum

Carmela Soprano's Spiked Hot Chocolate with rum and hazelnut liqueur

Carmela Soprano's Candy Cane Martini

Carmela Soprano's Spiked Egg Nog

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Anna Sultana’s Creamy Baked Chicken for Thanksgiving

This year, thanks to Covid-19, has definitely not been anything like anyone planned.
And now we’re facing the holidays.
A time filled with traditions and customs.
A time for gathering with our nearest and dearest.

Please, not this year.

Zoom, Skype, telephone, email, conference call… do anything but put your family and friends at risk.
As they said on the introduction to ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’, a television show that was popular in the 1970s, “We have the technology.”
The best way to show your love is to follow health guidelines - no cheating.

Since this isn’t the year for gathering the family around a big turkey or roast with all the fixings, why not try something new?

Ma’s Creamy Baked Chicken is easy to make, yet something a little different.
You don’t have to do much, so you’ll be free to check if everyone can hear you on Zoom.
No cranberry sauce or gravy is needed.
Just some favourite vegetables, with rice or pasta, and a nice dessert.
It’s been a hard year. Why not relax this Thanksgiving?

The Full Moon will be its brightest at 4:30 A.M. EST on November 30.
Nice to know some things haven’t changed.


Depending on your preferences, you can use two servings each of breasts and legs or thighs, or four of the same.
The recipe is easy to expand if you have a larger household.
It’s also easy to reduce if you’re a couple or alone.
The leftovers are good for a few days, too.

Instead of Mozzarella you can use Swiss or Monterey Jack cheese.
Use whatever you prefer or have on hand.
You can also use a bit more or less, depending how creamy you like your chicken.

You can also place a slice of ham on each of the chicken portions before you add the cheese.

                        Creamy Baked Chicken

Grease an 8 inch square or 9x13 inch pan

Combine in a small bowl
4 Tablespoons mayonnaise 

4 Tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 375º F

Place in prepared pan
4 servings of chicken
Layer on top of the chicken pieces

4 slices Mozzarella cheese
Spread the mayonnaise mixture over the chicken.

Sprinkle over the chicken
4 to 8 Tablespoons grated Parmesan Cheese

Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour.
Serve over rice or noodles.

About the holidays…
Back in 2002 I wrote an essay for the CKUW radio show ‘2000 & Counting' about getting Christmas gifts.
It was a meant as a light piece, filled with hints. Many of our listeners were seniors or college students, folks known for having to stretch their dollars. It’s always something…

Okay… listen up! There are about five weeks left until Christmas. That means gifts. I know, I know, it's more blessed to give than to receive. But, unless you have ways of shopping that you'd like to keep secret, giving gifts means money.

It's a little late to start a Christmas gift account at your bank and the utility companies really lose that Ho Ho Ho spirit if you try to skip paying their bills.

If the charge cards are already maxed out - or you just want to keep your nearest and dearest on a cash and carry basis - gift getting is going to take a little effort.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. As we're all stuck with holidays - oh, lucky us - I'll tell you some of my desperate measures.

Live off your hump. You know what I mean. Things like the 18 cans of tuna you have left from the time you bought 20 cans so you could get 50 bonus airmiles. Now's the time to crack those babies open. I know the family hates tuna. That's why there are 18 little cans of fishies swimming around your pantry. Well, the family would hate a Giftless Christmas even more. Think about it. Lousy dinners happen to everybody. But the family Grinch who comes up giftless at Christmas gets blabbed about throughout the neighbourhood and the generations. You don't want to be remembered by your great great grandchildren as Granny Grinchie.

Try creative cooking. Pretend you're on the TV show Iron Chef. You've just been given a tube of ground beef, a bag of marshmallows, a jar of salsa, a bottle of raspberry vinegar, a carton of frozen spinach, a jar of maraschino cherries and a box of rice-a-roni. Think only a nut throws odd things together? How do you think raspberry vinegar was invented? If the family gets snarky, tell them you found the recipe in a magazine - Drop names. Martha is always good - and if they can't appreciate all the effort you put into making dinner interesting… Well! You know the speech. Remember, guilt, when the other person has it, is a good thing.

Go ethnic. Granny's recipes don't have to be saved for Folklorama. God bless ancestors. Go to an ethnic restaurant and get a load of the prices they charge for a plate of pasta fagioli (that's noodles and beans). Grandma would die laughing if she saw those prices. Starch and beans got millions of people through tough times. Go thou and eat likewise.

Beans aren't good enough? Go past the recognizable cuts and shop the mystery meats. Put enough spices on them and the family won't know what hit them. I once made spaghetti and meatballs using animal organs only a mother could love. Guess what? Hubby had invited a friend. Well, the buddy was getting a free meal, so I followed the Cook’s Golden Rule: Don't apologize and don't explain. The buddy said it was delicious, like the meatballs they serve at the Bay. Hmmm… I notice the Bay is still in business. There's more than one way to skin a cat.

Shop your house. No kidding. Grab a bag and stroll through your house. Look for things somebody foisted… uh… gave to you. Well, why should you be stuck with it until you're six feet under? Unless it was made by your preschooler - don't even think it, they DO remember - you're free to pass it on to someone else. Just don't give it to the person who gave it to you.

Pack your own. Ever notice the little overpriced goodies the stores stuff into baskets and bowls? One current gift item is a box of pasta, a tin of sauce, some cheese and some wooden spoons nestled within a large bowl. Are you too stupid to do the same thing? I didn’t think so. It's one way to get rid of some of those extra airmiles purchases. Let somebody else eat the tuna.

Still thinking about the folks in the flyers looking wildly happy over a toaster?
Toss the flyers. Those models were paid big bucks. Stores want you to buy. A stress free family holiday is not their goal. If they had their way you'd replace everything and pay 50% interest.

Remember how the best presents were things that showed that someone cared? Maybe somebody hunted down an out-of-print book by your favourite author.
The gadgets that looked amazing seem strange on December 26.

While you're shopping, get yourself some treats.
I have a friend who picks up a bag of pfeffernusse cookies every year. When she feels like all she's doing is giving, giving, giving, she pops a pfeffernusse and gives herself an old time Christmas. It doesn't take much.

God bless us, everyone.