Ready, Set, Celebrate!

Now that Halloween has passed we’ve all inevitably started talking about the holiday season. (Here in Canada we celebrate Thanksgiving a little earlier, so there’s really nothing else to look forward to during the month of November.)

This is the time of year when everyone’s schedules start filling up with celebrations and social events. Unfortunately, each of those events come with its own set of tasks that make people start feeling frantic instead of festive. There’s just so much to do. A friend of mine put it very eloquently: “I love Christmas, but there’s just so much s@&! to do!”

Planning is kind of my thing, so I often share how I organize my holidays on the blog: here’s how I get a head start on Christmas cards, how I plan my gift shopping and my Boxing Day strategy. If you really have the drive to plan far ahead, you may find this post on cleaning up after the holidays useful.

For the past couple of years I’ve carried out the Swedish tradition of baking seven different cookies at Christmas time. Here’s what’s been in my arsenal so far: Traditional Swedish Gingersnaps, Maple Butter Cookies, Jam Slices, Vanilla Horns, Rugulahs, Orange Crunch Cookies, Chocolate Crinkle Cookies, Midnight Mints, Butterscotch Confetti, Date Pecan Bars, Chocolate Roll, Pineapple Log, Marshmallow Roll, Butterscotch Bars etc. (Stay tuned- in the month of December I’ve got seven brand new cookie recipes for you I think you’re going to love.)

I love writing about the holidays and all the kindness it brings out in people, but I realize for some there can be a dark side of the season. A couple of years back I had a very difficult Christmas so I channeled that energy into writing a blog post about being alone during the holidays– and how you’re really not alone if you feel that way. (You may also want to check out this post if you’re feeling down.)

And if that isn’t enough holiday goodies for y’all then you’re in for a treat- for the next six weeks or so I’ll be sharing more of my favourite holiday recipes, some fantastic Christmas gift ideas and some of my secrets for staying sane during this busy time of year.

Don’t worry if even reading this post is giving you the shakes; this holiday season, we’re all in this together!

Holiday celebrations can be fun, but only if you can ensure that things go smoothly. While there are never any guarantees when it comes to social gatherings, there are still plenty of ways to get your holiday game on. Click here to read more of them, or click here or here to read about some of the other best practices I’ve been trying to put into my place in my life.

Do you have any tips on how to survive the holidays? Save us by commenting below or email your suggestions to keepingbusyb@gmail.com

Come Fika with Me (Again!)

I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since we last had fika together.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, it’s a Swedish concept not unlike high tea in England. Instead of tea though, we usually serve strong coffee, along with a bite to eat. This could include anything from simple bread and butter, to open-faced sandwiches but traditionally is something sweet. More than just your typical 3 p.m. coffee break, it’s a time to press pause and chat with friends, or to just contemplate the events of the day.

As a baker with a semi-Swedish background, I’ve incorporated fika as much as possible into my regular routine. It’s better for you than you think! Taking the time to sit, relax and focus on your sensory experiences is restorative for your mind and also for your digestive system- having a little bit of food with your coffee can counteract the acidic, sometimes inflammatory, effects that coffee has on your stomach. Plus, I’m kind of a stress baker, so I have to some way of getting rid of all those extra sweets in my cupboard!

Ever since I started writing about my baking back in 2014, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to share some of my favorite classic recipes with you, as well as new ones that I’ve been longing to try. Last year’s fika was a chance to feature some of my favorites from the blog, and it’s amazing how many more recipes I’ve added to my collection since then.

I even got together with some other bloggers (twice!) to round-up even more recipe inspiration, first focusing on cakes, and then sharing our most-loved cookies.

Last year’s fika also featured a listing of some the cookbooks that grace my shelves. You’d better believe my collection of titles has expanded since then!

If you find the concept of fika as appealing as I do, I hope you’ll join me this year for my second annual fika party. Today’s post is just the first of many goodies this week- I’ll also be sharing a little more about where I get my inspiration, how I develop and test my recipes for the blog, and some of the adventures I’ve had in baking along the way.

For now, though, your only task is to decide what you’re going to have for fika. Here are some of my suggestions from the past year:

These Cranberry-Almond Biscotti are perfect for dunking in your coffee, and they’re gluten-free which makes them good for you. (Kind of?)

Looking to fika but still stuck with the kids? These Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes, or these Rocky Road Sour Cream Brownies are certain to pleasure sweet-tooths of all ages. Just mind any nut allergies, please.

I originally made these Date Pecan Bars for Christmas, but they pair perfectly with any hot drink any time of year, plus they’re super easy to make.

Impress your friends with this minty version of a Nanaimo bar that eliminates your need to bake, although there is some assembly required. (For more no-bake wonders, try these Butterscotch Bars, this Chocolate Roll, this Marshmallow Roll, this Pineapple Log, this Butterscotch Confetti or these S’mores Squares.)

For those of you looking for something a little less sweet, search no further than this surprisingly delicious Zucchini Bread. (You’ll have most people fooled into thinking it’s carrot cake!)

You won’t ever have to choose between sweet and salty flavors again with these addictive Pretzel Shortbread Bars.

The baking on this blog doesn’t stop there. I like to try out a new recipe out every two weeks or so, and you can find all my work archived into the following categories: cakes and pies, cookies, muffins and cupcakes, squares and loaves, and “other” (think lots of fruity surprises, and yummy candy).

And if you’re planning on throwing a festive fika for a crowd, I’ve got tips on how I bake for the masses here.

Even if you’re not a baker and you just enjoy baking, I hope you’ll join me for fika this week. We may not know each other but we’ve bonded already over our love of food, and it’s always a good excuse to kick back, relax, and enjoy some great company. Thanks for joining me!

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Do you fika, or have you incorporated a particular aspect of it into your everyday life? Email me at keepingbusyb@gmail.com and tell me everything- including how you like your coffee.

Or maybe you want to join in on the party too so leave your comments below along with a link to your favorite recipe, or one of the best featured on your blog! The more the merrier!

Baking with B: 7 Days of Christmas Treats: Midnight Mints

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Someone just told me that Nanaimo Bars are a Canadian thing (supposedly they were originally named for the place where they were invented- Nanaimo, B.C.). Am I a bad baker for not knowing this? Or a bad Canadian? Is this actually true? (Someone on the Internets please confirm. I’m dying to know.)

I’ve also read that Nanaimo Bars may also be called Millionaire Bars in the U.K. Is this also true? Are they the same thing?

No matter. I’ve always loved nanaimo bars and I love this minty version even more, especially because it was the one my mom used to make for the holidays when I was younger. Chocolate and mint is definitely a winning combination, which is why these bars win the award for baked goods that flew out of my house the fastest. (Thank goodness for hungry neighbors! They were gone in less than an hour.)

It sparked an interesting conversation among a few of us in the building on which families grew up eating the minty kind, and which families veered towards the more traditional recipe. I think both taste great, but you be the judge. Obviously, in this case, I’m very biased.

Midnight Mints (makes 36)

Bottom Layer

1/2 c. butter or margarine

1/4 c. granulated sugar

5 tbsp cocoa

1 egg, beaten

1 3/4 c. graham cracker crumbs

1/2 c. chopped walnuts

3/4 c. fine coconut

 

Middle Layer

1/3 c. butter or margarine

3 tbsp milk

1 tsp peppermint flavoring

2 c icing sugar

green food coloring

 

Top Layer

2/3 c. semisweet chocolate chips

2 tbsp. butter or margarine

 

To make the bottom layer, combine butter, sugar and cocoa in saucepan. Bring slowly to a boil. Stir in egg to thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, nuts and coconut. Pack very firmly into greased 9×9-inch pan.

To make the middle layer, combine butter, milk, flavoring and icing sugar in bowl. Beat together well. Tint a pretty green. Spread over first layer.

To make the top layer, melt chocolate chips and butter in saucepan over low heat or hot water. Spread over second layer. Chill and store covered in refrigerator. This will keep well and will also freeze well. Cut into squares.

B’s Tip: These bars keep up to a week in the fridge but are probably best eaten within 2-3 days (if there’s any leftover!)

Happy baking!

B

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Last year I counted down to Christmas by baking seven different types of Christmas cookies as per my favorite Swedish holiday tradition. This year I’m making it a thing, and sharing seven more delicious recipes with you. For more inspiration, you can check out more of my baking here. For even more recipe inspiration check out my Pinterest full of food eye candy that will have you licking your computer. Promise.