Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Our First Grandson

We are back from Colorado where we met our baby grandson for the first time. I think he is one of the most adorable babies I've ever seen!

It was such a thrill to hold him for the first time.................

.................and give him a million kisses.

Proud Grand Dad couldn't take his eyes off of his grandson either! What a thrill to hold the son of your son in your arms.

It was a wonderful first Christmas for Leo, spent together with his very happy parents, and his proud grandparents and aunt.

He's two and a half weeks old and growing fast! We already miss him so much, and I have a feeling we will be collecting lots of frequent flyer miles going back to Colorado for visits as often as we are able.


I hope everyone had a joyful Christmas and I hope 2009 will bring good health, good fortune and many wonderful blessings to all!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Christmas!




Merry Christmas to all!





"And the angel said unto them"Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.'" Luke; 2:10, 11



We will be celebrating with our very special new little bundle of joy, our granson, and I'll be taking a short blogging break.

Many good wishes to all for a wonderful holiday season filled with the love of family and friends!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Some Favorite Christmas Cookies

I love to bake, especially at Christmas. For many years it was my tradition to bake and decorate many trays of cookies before Christmas and then to make up trays of cookie assortments to give to family and friends to enjoy.

I don't bake quite as many cookies as I did in the past because now daughters and nieces, are now adults, and daughter's-in-law have been added to the extended family. They all contribute their own wonderful selection of cookies to holiday gatherings, but I still make a few of our favorites each season.

One recipe that a few people have asked me for recently is for an Italian Fig cookie which you can see in the middle left of my photo above. These are my husband's favorite!


Sicilian Fig Cookies

Dough:
4 cups flour
1 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup solid vegetable shortening
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla

Filling:
2 cups dried figs, stems cut off
2 cups dried dates, pitted
1 1/2 cups raisins
1/2 cup honey
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup orange marmalade
1 1/4 cup (10 oz) walnuts coarsely chopped

Topping:

1 egg white beaten with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash, colored nonpareil sprinkles.

Procedure:

1) Stir flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Add sugar and mix. Cut in shortening with a fork and work until it looks like oatmeal.

2) In a bowl beat the egg, milk, and vanilla together. Add to the flour mixture and work the ingredients with your hands until a rough dough forms. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead 5 minutes until smooth. Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces, wrap each in plastic wrap and chill 45 minutes in the refrigerator.

3) Meanwhile preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease 2 cookie sheets. Grind figs, dates and raisins in food processor or grinder until coarse. Place in a bowl and add remaining ingredient's and mix well.

4) On a floured surface roll out one piece of the dough at a time into 12 inch squares. Cut the dough in 4x3 rectangles. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the filling down the center of each rectangle. Carefully fold the dough large side over, pinch the seam, and turn cookies seam side down and seal short ends by folding under, and shape cookie into a crescent. Repeat until all dough and filling is used.

5) Make 2-3 slits in crescent with sharp knife or clean scissor. Brush egg white mixture and shake on sprinkles. Bake 25 minutes until golden. Cool on a rack. Should make around 4 dozen cookies.

My mother-in-law usually made her cookies in more of a star shape, which I duplicate by cutting the dough in a large circle with a cutter, placing the filling in the center, and then pinching up the four corners. I've also seen these cookies also made into rolls, and in many other fanciful shapes.



Another family favorite that you can see in the photo above, in the front upper left, is the Neapolitan ribbon cookies. The recipe has many steps and takes two days to make, but it is easier than it sounds and they are absolutely bakery quality delicious!

When I make this recipe I double all the ingredients, as we like the cookies to be very thick. I use the same size pans but increase the cooking times.

These are my daughter and daughter-in-law's favorite cookies!

Neapolitan Cookies

Makes 6 dozen

Ingredients:

2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 ( 7-8 oz) tube or can of almond paste
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
10 drops red food coloring
6 drops green food coloring
6 drops yellow food coloring
1/4 cup seedless red raspberry jam
1/4 cup apricot jam
1 6 oz semi sweet chocolate chips, melted

Procedure:

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray 3, 3x13 inch baking pans with nonstick spray. Line the pans with parchment paper (or wax paper) and lightly spray the paper with non stick spray also.

2) Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a medium size bowl, set aside.

3) With electric mixer on high speed beat almond paste, softened butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and almond extract.

4) With electric mixer on low speed stir in the flour mixture until blended. Divide the dough ( it will be very soft) into thirds ( about 1 1/2 cups each) and transfer to 3 medium bowls. Tint one batch of dough red, one green, and one yellow with the food coloring. Add as much coloring until you get the shade of color you like.

5) Scrape the yellow dough into the prepared baking pan, the red dough into another. and the green into a third --spreading the dough until smooth and until it completely covers the pan bottom evenly. Bake until edges begin to turn golden, about 12 minutes. Cool completely in the pans on racks.

6) invert the layers onto a work surface and remove the parchment paper. Spread the raspberry jam over the green layer, then add the green layer on top evenly, spread apricot jam over the yellow layer, then add red layer on top. Wrap plastic over and place a heavy cutting board ( or two) on top to weigh it all down. Refrigerate overnight.

7) the next day remove the plastic wrap. Spread melted chocolate over the top layer and let cool and set slightly. With a large sharp knife trim edges, then cut lengthwise into strips ad then across to make individual squares.



The next photo will show you how long I've used my gingerbread cookie recipe! My son was in kindergarten and I baked gingerbread men for his entire class! It became a tradition which I did for both him and and my daughter all through their elementary school grades, for almost every holiday. We made pumpkin dough cookies shaped as pumpkins for Halloween, sugar cookie turkeys for Thanksgiving, sugar cookie bunnies for Easter, etc.

When they were old enough my children use to help roll the dough. cut out the shapes and decorate.

Yes, this little boy on the right is now grown, and a just became a Daddy himself recently!


Gingerbread Cookies

Makes two dozen 5 inch cookies

3 cups sifted all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 egg

Procedure:

1)Sift flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and ginger into a medium bowl.

2) cream butter and brown sugar in large bowl until fluffy and light. Beat in molasses and egg until well mixed.

3) Stir in flour mixture, a part at a time, until well blended and dough is stiff. Wrap tightly and chill at least an hour until firm enough to roll.

4) Preheat oven to 350 degree F. Roll out dough using lightly floured rolling pin to prevent sticking, one quarter at a time, about 1/8 inch thick on a lightly floured pastry cloth or board.

5) using floured cookie cutters cut into gingerbread shapes and place on lightly greased cookie sheets about 1 inch apart. Bake about 8 minutes until edges firm and remove immediately from the pans and cool on wire racks.

6)Decorate as desired with your favorite confectioners sugar icing piped with a pastry bag.

This past weekend I baked with my daughter and her friend. The little three year old in the photo above is now a busy professional, and I'm not quite the young mother I was back then, yet we still like to make, and eat Christmas cookies!

It wouldn't feel like Christmas without these traditions like these, and I'm glad we are still able to enjoy doing them each year.

I wonder if Vee of A Haven For Vee recognizes her handmade apron that I won in her give away some time ago? I'm wearing it in these photos while my daughter and I were making butter Spritz Cookies. I love it Vee, and wear it all the time! Thanks again!

ETA: I linked to Darlene's cookie exchange going on at her blog today -- please check out "Our Creative Life" for her delicious cookie recipe and links to many more cookie recipes on her Mr. Linky. Thank you, Melissa, for telling me about the exchange!

A photo of my Christmas tree from a few years ago. I don't have much room in my long and narrow house, so it gets squeezed into a corner between my dining room and living room, but that is nice because we can see it from almost every room on the ground level.

Can you see my cat sitting amongst the gifts? He likes to chew on the bows!

I hope everyone is enjoying the last few days of preparations for Christmas --

One last weekend to go!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sacred Music in a Sacred Space: Saint Ignatius Loyola Church, Upper East Side, Mahattan

This past weekend we went with friends to the Upper East Side of Manhattan to The Church of Saint Ignatius Loyola, located at 980 Park Avenue at 84 Street, to attend one of its highly acclaimed "Sacred Music in a Sacred Space" concerts, now in its 20th year.

The Christmastime concerts in the concert schedule are very popular, and usually become sell outs very quickly as they are this year, but there are other events still available for later winter and spring of 2009.

The Church of Saint Ignatius Loyola has been ministering to residents of Manhattan since 1851. The church was designed in 1898 by the prominent architectural firm of Schickel and Ditmars, and was declared a Landmark of the City of New York in 1969. Entrusted in 1866 to the administration of the Society of Jesus, St. Ignatius Loyola Parish today continues to be staffed by Jesuit priests and lay men and women.

The Sacred Music in a Sacred Space director is Kent Tritle, one of America’s leading choral conductors and organists. The program we attended was called "Fantasia on Christmas Carols."

Information from the web site:

"A New York City holiday tradition! This year we celebrate the Christmas Carol with Vaughan Williams’ holiday classics Fantasia on “Greensleeves” and Fantasia on Christmas Carols and James Bassi’s Carol Symphony, a joyful setting of Ukrainian, Irish and English carols.
All this, plus carol favorites, for all to sing – these concerts are a joyous way to revel in the Christmas season!"

A biography about Saint Ignatius Loyola can be read on the church's website.

The church is absolutely stunning in design and architecture and is renowned for its acoustics.

It comfortably seats 1,200, but has been known to accommodate more for its very special events and concerts.

The church is composed in Baroque fashion, of polished pink granite columns, marble pilasters, supporting the arches of the side aisles, and European and African marbles. The mosaics are made with both Tiffany Glass' famous delicate opalescent Favrile glass, and bold Venetian glass.

The marble mosaic Stations of the Cross form the panels which comprise the majority of the wall space in the church. These murals were designed by Professor Paoletti for Salviati & Company of Venice.

A close up of one station mosaics (all photos can be clicked on to enlarge):

An extensive description of the church's history and beautiful architecture can be read on its website.

The church's Mander Pipe Organ is world renown. The new organ’s debut was on April 27, 1993, and it is 45 feet tall, weighs 30 tons, and consists of 5,000 pipes. It can be heard on a dozen CD recordings that feature world renowned ensembles. As the largest tracker-action pipe organ in the New York Metropolitan area, it holds special appeal for organists and lovers of organ music.
The organist of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Olivier Latry, personally chose the organ and church as the American site for his acclaimed cycles of Messian’s complete organ works in 2000, along with Notre Dame and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

More information about the the magnificent organ can be read here.



Photos above and below: the orchestra and choir gathered on the altar to begin the concert. It was wonderful evening of both listening to, and joining in the singing, of many familiar traditional carols and unique and modern carols.

After the concert our group went to Vicino Firenze, an Italian restaurant at
1586 2nd Ave, known for its great food, gracious staff, soft lighting and fresh flowers.


Dinner was relaxed and delicious. Instead of the usual butter or olive oil they offer a trio of authentic Parmesan cheese, oil cured olives, and homemade sun dried tomato butter with the bread basket, and everyone was very please with the entrees they ordered. You can read the restaurant's dinner menu here.
Many of us had a slice of this scrumptious "President's Cake" for dessert!

A close up of some of the tablescape's pretty dishes, which had different hand painted scenes of Florence, Italy on them.



The restaurant was beautifully decorated for Christmas with a live tree and potted poinsettia plants, and live orchid plants were on every table.

It was a wonderful place to dine and I highly recommend it, or its companion restaurant called "Firenze," a few doors away.

It's getting close to Christmas and I have been busy baking. Next blog I'll share some of my favorite cookie recipes!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Thank You!


This past weekend was filled with many phone calls to pass along our good news, and to receive congratulations from family and friends on the birth of our first grandchild!
This is our son holding his precious son moments after his birth. I know he'll be a great Daddy, just as his Dad has always been for him.

Here are the happy new parents at home snuggling with their new baby and their pet dog, Mauri. So far Mauri seems to think his role is to be protector and guardian of the baby, so all is well.

Do you remember all the past photos I showed of baby shower gifts I gave to the baby? The profusion of outfits with lions on them? This is my favorite.


Our little grandson is the first grandchild to carry forth my husband's last name, as my son was the only grandson of my in-laws, so his birth was an extra exciting event for us because of that!
I will always associate my grandson with lions, and strength, and I pray for a long and happy life for him.


I want to thank you all for your congratulations and best wishes on his birth ! It was so wonderful to share our excitement with you all!
I am slowly trying to answer each and every comment as quickly as I can, and I've been enjoying all the wonderful Christmas festivities going on at every blog!
I have received some wonderful awards the past few days that I'd like to acknowledge.


Tracy and Jojo gave awarded me with the "Proximidade Award"

The Proximidade Award focuses on the development of friendship and camaraderie through the blogging community. "Bloggers who receive this award are exceedingly charming, say its authors. They aren't interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement but to propagate friendships."


Melissa gave me the "Christmas Spirit" award

This award's rules are:
You must be a true Christmas lover to receive this award. The person to whom you give the award must also be in love with Christmas. You must link back to the person who gave you the award. You must list 5 things that you love about Christmas. If you can't limit it to 5 things, then keep going till you run out of space! Pass the award along to as many people as you like. That can be 1 or 50. It's up to you! But, you must pass it on to at least one person in order to keep the Christmas cheer going! Let your recipients know that you have tagged them by leaving them a comment.


I could list a million things I love about Christmas, but my five favorites are:
1) Celebrating the holiday with family and being together in joy.
2) Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve where we welcome Jesus with song and worship.
3) "The feast of the Seven Fishes" on Christmas Eve, which is an Italian tradition that I have embraced to carry on in my family after my mother-in-law became too ill to do it anymore. Sometimes we have even more than seven fish dishes, as everyone has their favorite, and I hate to disappoint, so I make them all.
4) Christmas cookies! I love to bake, so I usually bake the family favorites and each year try one new recipe. I'll share the new one I tried this year very soon.
5) Our Christmas tree! We have been getting a real tree for many years and each and every ornament I put on it has a memory attached to it, so it is a recording of all our Christmases together.
I will be adding a special few for Leo this year but I will be doing that at my son and daughter-in-law's home, as we will be celebrating with them this year.

I am passing both these wonderful awards on to all of you in friendship and in the spirit of Christmas!
Enjoy!

Friday, December 12, 2008

He's Here!


Our sweet grandson was born today! Meet my grandson!


December 12, 2008
10:39 AM Mountain Time
7 pounds 15 ounces
19 3/4 inches long



Mother, Dad and baby are all doing fine!


The four Grandparents are estatic, and very relieved our long wait is over with a healthy happy outcome. The maternal grandparents will be visiting in Denver this week, and we will be visiting for Christmas.


The two first time Aunts are joyful for a little nephew to love and proud that their siblings became parents today.


Baby is very healthy, alert and calm. He will be much loved and is the very best Christmas gift for us all!


Thank you so much for all your prayers and well wishes!

Saint Patrick's Cathedral, New York City

Saint Patrick Cathedral is located on Fifth Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets in New York City. The Cathedral is the largest Gothic-style Catholic Cathedral in the United States. There is some outside structure maintenance going on, so a construction scaffold is around the building at this time.

The Cathedral initial construction was begun in 1858 by Archbishop John Hughes to replace the original St. Patrick's Cathedral, which is used today as a parish church in New York. The cornerstone was laid in August of that year, and, after a suspension of work during the years of Civil War, John Cardinal McCloskey, the first American Cardinal, resumed work in 1865, and the doors were opened for worship in May, 1879.

It is a wonderful place to visit, no matter what your religion, to see its beautiful architecture, stained glass, works of statuary art, and as a place for quiet meditation and reflection in a busy city.

Some interesting acts from the cathedral's website:

"The Cathedral seats about 2,200 people.
The exterior length is about 405 feet; the width is 274 feet.
The spires rise 330 feet from street level.
The architect was James Renwick, an American. The Lady Chapel was designed by another American, Charles Mathews.
The St. Michael and St. Louis altar was designed by Tiffany and Company. The St. Elizabeth altar was designed by Paolo Medici of Rome.
The Archbishops of New York are buried in a crypt under the high altar. Their honorary hats, called galeros, hang from the ceiling over their tombs.
The Stations of the Cross are works of art which won first prize at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893.
The Cathedral has three organs.
The baldachin over the main altar is solid bronze.
Each year over 3 million people visit St. Patrick's Cathedral
"


Its poignant Pieta statue of the deceased Christ being held by his mother Mary is three times larger than the Pieta in St. Peter's, Rome.


Besides daily Masses and devotions the Cathedral has many concerts, and choir and organ music programs held throughout the year, and most of them have general seating which is free. Check the music link to find the schedule of events.

At Christmas the beautiful, almost life size, Nativity Creche brings a feeling of peace and devotion. The crib remains empty until Christmas midnight Mass.
At that time the cathedral is also bedecked with hundreds of red poinsettia plants and wreaths of evergreen in beautiful homage to the celebration of birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

To see hundreds of fabulous detailed photos of the cathedral's interior and exterior check this Webshots link, and also this Flickr link.


In this busy season may we remember the true meaning of Christmas -- the miracle of Jesus' humble birth and His gift of our salvation.


"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace." Iasiah 9:6

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas in New York

I think the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is one image everyone thinks of when they think of Christmas in New York.

This is the 2008 tree!

There is an interesting story behind this year's tree. It was located on the grounds of the Tree King nursery in Hamilton, New Jersey, owned by the Varanyak family. Bill Varanyak told New York's WNBC-TV the 77-year-old tree was planted after his parent's used it as their first Christmas tree in 1931.
He says they call it "the miracle tree" because his late mother always said it would one day be on display at Rockefeller Center.

If you'd like, you can watch a video of the last few seconds of tree lighting ceremony that took place on December3, from a link here.


This year a beautiful big Swarovski Crystal star that weighs 550 pounds and is almost 10 feet in diameter, was placed on top of the tree!

A close up:

There was a replica of the star for view on the ground level plaza near the tree:


Underneath Rockefeller Center there is an underground concourse which is an interconnected series of pedestrian passages that stretch from 47th Street to 51st Street, and from 5th Avenue to 7th Avenue. It contains stores, coffee shops, restaurants and the entrance to the subway.
The pretty live poinsettia tree formations in the photo below were located in an area there.


This was the view of the ice skating rink that is located at the base of the tree in Rockefeller Center. The line to pay for ice skating was not too long on a Monday afternoon this early in December, but on weekends, and closer to Christmas, be prepared to wait a long time on a long line if you wish to ice skate! It is a memorable treat and fun day or night!

Here is a close up iconic statue of Prometheus that floats above the skating pond.
You can read an interesting story about the man who posed for this statue in 1933 in this New York Times article.

Another view of the ice skate rink:

A view of the tree from the sidewalk entrance off 5 Th Avenue in the photo below. There are professional photographers waiting to take your portrait standing at different angles near the tree if you wish, for a fee . There are also many interesting little stores located on the ground level on either side of this concourse.

A view of the tree and the Rockefeller Center building from the other side of 5 Ave, in front of the Saks Fifth Avenue Department store. I couldn't really get both the "Top Of The Rock" as the top of the building is called, and the tree in the photo!
The "Top Of The Rock" is a wonderful place to visit (for a fee) to get a high, panoramic view of New York City, and it's lines are sometimes less crowded than The Empire State Building and some feel the view is better too!


The Saks Fifth Avenue Department store ( photo below) is worth a visit to see both the decorated windows outside and the decorations inside. They also use the most wonderful gift boxes and shopping bags during the Christmas season.
For a treat go to the Charbonnel Chocolate Cafe on the 8 floor of Saks for some hot chocolate, coffee or tea and a chocolate dessert! Check the link to see a photo of the revolving dessert counter!

Many of the store and business buildings along 6th Avenue have holiday decorations outside too!






Radio City Music Hall is another attraction that is associated with New York City especially at Christmas, as the Christmas Spectacular show stars the world famous Radio City Rockettes. Click on the link to see some short videos of the show including the beautiful living Nativity scene, the dancing Santas and the high kicking Rockettes!


The Radio City Christmas Spectacular celebrates its 76 year in 2008!


Aren't these giant red ornaments wonderful? They are located outside a building across the street from Radio City Music Hall.



New York City is such a special place at Christmas time!
It is full of the hustle and bustle of shoppers and tourists, and also the quiet reverence of the celebration of Christ's birth in Nativity scenes inside most of its churches. I'll show the beautiful one in St. Patrick's Cathedral next blog post.

And you never know ..................................................
................................you just might run into.................


.................................... Santa Claus walking down the street!
Ho! Ho! Ho!
* Grandbaby update: We are still awaiting our little grandson. My daughter-in-law is feeling well and her doctor said everything is normal, so it will happen soon!
I'll certainly post the news as soon as I can. Thanks for all your continued support and prayers.