Gingerbread for the tree

You know how I said I was ok about not having a Martha Stewart Christmas? Well, I was, and then I pulled out the tattered and torn copy of Martha Stewart Kids magazine that a friend had given me as a joke (we agreed at the time that such mags were to make working mothers feel even more guilty and inadequate) – and it fell open at the gingerbread men page. I’ve always wanted to make edible Christmas tree decorations and with so many other projects now fallen by the wayside, this seemed the most achieveable.

You’ve got to hand it to Martha, this is a great recipe. Easy and quick to make in a freestanding mixer, a dream to roll out (especially if you roll the dough out between two sheets of cling film) and tasty to boot. The biscuits aren’t rock hard and get softer while they hang on the tree – but at this late stage I don’t think that’s a problem. Next year the Small Girl might be big enough to help, but this year her contribution has been limited to consuming them. “Mmmmm, cracker, nice,” she said, reaching a pyjama-clad arm up to grab a star off a branch. You can’t get much better endorsement than that.

225g soft butter
1 cup firmly packed dark-brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup molasses
2 1/4tsp ground cinnamon
2tsp ground ginger
1tsp ground allspice
1tsp baking soda
1/4tsp salt
4 cups plain flour
In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about five minutes. Add egg; mix well. Beat in molasses, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, baking soda, and salt. On low speed, add flour a cup at a time, mixing until incorporated.
Divide dough into quarters; shape into disks, and wrap into plastic. Refrigerate until firm, but not rock-hard.
Preheat oven to 180C. Roll the dough out between two sheets of clingfilm until about 3mm thick. Cut out cookies, rolling out any scraps as needed. Transfer to baking paper-lined trays, leaving a little space between them for spreading, then put them in the fridge for 20 minutes before baking.
Bake for about 10 minutes, until firm when touched. Let cool slightly, then transfer to wire racks and let cool completely. Decorate as desired (I recommend the ‘writing icing’ tubes you can buy at the supermarket – makes artistic flourishes really easy!).

Sweet sweet Friday: Honeycrunch Breakfast Bars

Christmas may be a-comin’ but that doesn’t mean real life is on hold. Oh no. This week, for example, while I was trying to remember where the Christmas box got stashed when we unpacked and patting myself on the back for making our traditional Christmas cake, the Small Girl needed a late-night doctor’s visit and the Boy Wonder ran out of muesli bars.

Despite what you might think, the former is less serious than the latter. The Small Girl was fine after lots of cuddles and a splash of paracetamol, but the Boy Wonder without food is another matter. We even have a word for it in our house – hangry – which describes the acute sensation of being so hungry that you lose all perspective and rationality. I’m particularly prone to this condition too, which is why I end up in the kitchen so much.

The Boy Wonder often eats breakfast at work (homemade muesli, yoghurt, berries) but lately he’s been so busy that he needs something he can scoff one-handed. I’ve been trialling various recipes to avoid buying those noxious packets of muesli bars, with mixed results. The first lot was very worthy – no butter or oil, no sugar, no nuts, no eggs – but also rather depressing to eat (and they grew furry mould within days, which was even worse). But this recipe, even though it has negligible nutritional value, is a winner. These bars are sweet, sticky and just the thing for a busy superhero, as long as he doesn’t eat too many of them in one sitting. Lycra is very unforgiving…

Honeycrunch Breakfast Bars

The rice bubbles give these sticky bars their brilliant light, crunchy texture – and you get to hear them go snap, crackle, pop when you’re mixing them. Add nuts, seeds and dried fruit as your pantry supplies allow.

125g butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups toasted muesli
2 1/2 cups rice bubbles
1/2 cup desiccated coconut
1/2 cup chopped nuts/seeds
1/2 cup dried fruit

Put the butter, peanut butter, honey and sugar in a small saucepan and melt gently together. Reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes, without stirring.
Put all remaining ingredients into a large bowl, then add the hot liquid. Mix well, then press into a slice tin lined with foil. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then put in the fridge to set. Slice into bars and store in an airtight container in the fridge. Makes about 18 hearty bars.

Early bird breakfasts

There’s a poem by Wellington poet Jenny Bornholdt called ‘Instructions for how to get ahead of yourself while the light still shines’. I think of it often in the mornings when I’m trying to do the same thing, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not.

Porridge is my breakfast of choice most of the year, but it’s getting too hot to toil over a steaming stove, much less eat a scalding bowl of the stuff. This then is my warm weather porridge subsitute, a kind of homage to bircher muesli and Jenny Bornholdt. Do it the night before and you’ll bask in a happy glow all day.

For two servings (or two consecutive mornings):
Put 1 cup of rolled oats in a large bowl. Add a grated apple, the juice of two oranges (or about 3/4 cup of orange juice), a scattering of sesame and/or linseeds and about 3/4 cup of natural yoghurt. Stir well and add a bit more juice or water until it’s pleasingly sloppy (remember that the oats will absorb moisture overnight). Cover and put in the fridge overnight. At breakfast time, divide the mixture between two bowls (or save some for the next morning). Add extras – more yoghurt, berries, mashed banana, seeds – to taste. Bon appetit!

Oh – and here’s the poem, which has nothing to do with breakfast whatsoever, except that it will set you up for a long day ahead.
Instructions for how to get ahead of yourself while the light still shines

If you have a bike, get on it at night
and go to the top of the Brooklyn Hill.
When you reach the top
start smiling – this is Happy Valley Road.
Pedal at first, then let the road take you down
into the dark as black as underground
broken by circles of yellow lowered by the street lights.
As you come to each light
you will notice a figure
racing up behind.
Don’t be scared
this is you creeping up on yourself.
As you pass under the light
you will sail past yourself into the night.

Jenny Bornholdt , Miss New Zealand: selected poems
(Wellington: Victoria University Press, 1997)