Friday, November 21, 2014

Digging it!

A Christmas-time tradition that we started in our family a number of years ago is giving a book to our each of our twenty-something-aged children – usually written by a Canadian author. It might be a literary prize-winning book, perhaps a biography or even a mystery. We match the book to our reader.

Lately, I've been on the lookout for some new picture books - not necessarily for our grownup children - although it might be kind of interesting to give them an illustrated children's book in their stocking for a change...hmm, what a surprise that would be. While wandering through a local bookshop last weekend, 'Sam and Dave Dig a Hole' by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen (among so many other brilliant picture book reads) seemed to be stacked everywhere. I had saved a Book Review section from the NY Times dated September 21, 2014 for a number of the reviews of children's books. 'Sam and Dave Dig a Hole' was one of the books critiqued by Maria Russo in Bookshelf/Laughs. And laughs this book delivers. I was speaking with a clerk at the store who said that one of her colleagues and her grandson just couldn't stop laughing, page after page, while reading this book together. And isn't that just what a picture book is for - snuggling up, giggling, thinking, questioning, connecting, sharing? I miss those times with my own children - those days seem so unbelievably long ago and far away now...

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole...I love the dolch-word-esque, simple, almost-early reader text; the earthy-coloured illustrations that beg you to search carefully for clues - of other things that might be happening in the story while the two boys, Sam and Dave, are so intent with their 'Big Dig'. I thought Dave was a bit bossy, though. And Dog and Cat really did steal the show - don't critters (and small children, for that matter) always do that? 

Anyways, digging a hole when you were little was pretty exciting. Digging a hole in the sand at the beach and filling it with water only to have the water vanish. Digging in a backyard garden looking for worms. Or parents helping you to plant seeds and seedlings, and then wondering what would sprout and how long it would take. And digging because you just never knew what you might find. 

All this digging amounts to hard work and can be really messy but often rewarding. Like the boys in the book, sometimes a little break is required after such an effort - especially when you haven't found your 'something spectacular' yet. And Sam and Dave were nibbling on animal cookies and sipping chocolate milk when they needed to rest. (I haven't thought about animal cookies in a dog's age...) This reminded me of a line from the John Fulghum poem 'All I ever needed to know I learned in Kindergarten':  "Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you."

So, this week it's animal cookies and chocolate milk - although maybe it should be hot cocoa instead of cold chocolate milk considering all the chilly, snowy, soppy and gray weather we've been having...

Animal Sugar Cookies
Inspiration:  a recipe from The Toronto Star dated December 9, 1992
Makes about 40 (3-inch cookies)

1 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar

1.    In a large bowl, cream butter with sugars, until fluffy.
2.    Beat in egg, then vanilla.
3.    In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and cream of tartar.
4.    Gradually add to butter mixture until well blended.
5.    Divide dough in half and form into two flat discs. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and chill for 2 – 3 hours.
6.    On lightly floured surface, roll out one disc at a time to about 1/4 inch thickness.
7.    Using your favourite animal cookie cutters, cut out shapes.
8.    Transfer to parchment-lined baking sheets about 1 1/2 “ apart.
9.    Bake in preheated 350ªF oven for approximately 8 minutes or until cookies are golden brown around edges. Cool on wire racks. Gather dough and reroll to form more cookies.
10.  When cooled, pipe icing onto cookies as desired.

Decorating Icing:

1/4 cup icing sugar
1 – 2 tsp milk

1.    Whisk together sifted icing sugar and milk to desired consistency.
2.    Decorate cookies with icing as desired.


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