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Christmas

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Since arriving in Toronto from Montréal, my holiday has so far consisted of a major ice storm, power outages, and sloppy but frigid weather. Thankfully my family was lucky and celebrated Christmas in a lighted and heated home, and today we dropped by Baldwin Village in Chinatown for dinner. Baldwin Village is a family favourite enclave off of Chinatown that houses some of our favourite long-running restaurants in Toronto, and is just a very pleasant street to walk about between the clutter of downtown. Tonight the streets were sleek and slushy, but the Christmas lights illuminated beautifully on the pavement. Is it weird that I miss the weather being below 0 °C? I can’t wait to be back in the land of real snow in Montréal next week. Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas everyone.

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Every December when I have finally peeled myself away from my books, and gathered lots of flour and butter, I start baking. I put aside one to two days (some times three) to put my mixer and oven to good use and churn out a few different Christmas cookies. My favourites are Sugar Cookies (festive) and Cranberry Pecan Shortbread (very easy), then I rotate between a couple of different cookie recipes that I have collected over the years. This year, in addition to the two standard recipes, I also baked Chocolate Peppermint Sandwich Cookies, Triple Ginger Cookies, and Orange Pistachio Crescents (which in the end actually became a sandwich linzer-cookie-type concoction). Hyperlinks for the cookie recipes are the same recipes that I used, with the exception of the Sugar Cookies, Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies, and Triple Ginger Cookies, which are linked to similar recipes.

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Orange Pistachio Crescents, which ended up as sandwich cookies.

Cookie baking requires quite a bit of elbow grease, but if you have time, patience, and love being crafty, this makes a fun activity where in the end you have treats to share. I do not do a gift exchange with anyone outside of my immediate family, but for friends I like to give personally baked cookies for the holiday. Giving cookies can also be a more cost efficient endeavour than buying individual gifts for everyone on your list, though it does require quite a bit of an upfront investment. After the first purchases, the annual replenishment of perishable ingredients (butter, eggs, etc.) and the replacements of such items such as candy sprinkles and cookie containers, are required.

When I first started baking Christmas cookies, I was an apprentice to the baking world. I love cooking, but baking barely has any room for improvising allowed in cooking; baking requires exact ingredient measurements and faithfulness to the temperature requirements of the recipe (more on butter temperature is below). It has now been a few years of cookie gifting, so I gathered some tips for Christmas baking neophytes.

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Triple Ginger Cookies

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I was stomping around a good portion of the island today, and Montréal had beautiful weather. After a day of snow then freezing rain, today was bright, sunny, crisp and cool but with sun flooding the city. So I took a few photos of the different neighbourhoods I was meandering through before darkness fell, which at this time of year is around 4 pm.

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The photo above is of the Outremont/Mile End area along Laurier street. This area is lined with shops that are a bit more upscale, as well as some great restaurants including a failed venture with British chef Gordon Ramsay. That restaurant is the first building on the left of the photo, and was a long-standing but faltering establishment called Rotisserie BBQ. Gordon Ramsay came in all Hell’s Kitchen-style, revamping the place and renaming it Rotisserie Gordon Ramsay before abruptly pulling out of the business relationship four months later. The restaurant is still up and running but is now named Rotisserie Laurier.

This neighbourhood is still a great place for shopping and eating. Juliette et Chocolat is a great dessert café, and Gourmet Laurier stocks all the hard to find ingredients for cooking and baking. I was so grateful they had meringue powder so that I can whip up so Christmas desserts tonight.

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Now that American Thanksgiving is behind us, it’s officially acceptable to get into the Christmas spirit.  I recently made a trip back to Montreal, and was excited to see the city dressed up for the holiday season. I have always particularly enjoyed the Christmas lights on McGill College Street — the view from downtown, up to McGill’s Roddick Gates  and to Mount Royal makes for  stunning scene. This year’s lights are hot pink, which is, to my recollection, a first. I think they look absolutely fabulous, and are a refreshing change from the traditional white lights.