2017 Harvest

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

"Šape" - traditional Christmas cookies

Every country has their own traditional Christmas cookies.
In parts of  Northern and Eastern Croatia there is nothing more traditional than baking "šape" for Christmas.
Šape (paws), little cookies that every house could make were one of the favourite Christmas sweets.
They got their name from the shape of the tin molds they were made. Once they were baked cookies looked like little bear paws.

With time paw molds were extremely difficult to find so people started using different shapes. The only thing that was important was that they were tin ones since cookies needed to achieve high temperatures. This cookies contain ingredients every house had but they were special enough to be made just for big holidays and weddings. They don't require any type of cooling so they were great many years ago when people didn't have refrigerators at home and they can be made weeks before Christmas, the only thing that will happen with them is that they will get more delicious.

I thought it would be nice to share this great recipe with everyone that is searching for something new. I'll leave the traditional recipe and also write few modifications that can be made.

Paws are made with a system we call "koliko-toliko" meaning that you don't need any type of scale. All you use is a cup, size of the cup is up to you. The only important thing is to add the exact number of cups written on the recipe. If you're using a yogurt cup then use the same cup to measure every ingredient. I use 200gr (7 oz) milk cup. This size of cup makes around 1.3kg of cookies which is enough for a big family.


- 3 cups of all-purpose flour
- 1 cup of sugar (less sugar can be added depending on desired sweetness) 
- 2 cups of minced walnuts (instead of walnuts you can use hazels or sunflower seeds)
- 1 cup of lard(pork fat) or 1 cup of butter 
- 1 egg
- 3 soup spoons of honey
- 1 bag of baking powder or baking soda (15gr / 0.5oz)
- 1 cup of superfine sugar or powdered sugar

The traditional recipe uses lard to make cookies because in the old times people didn't have much butter and they saved it for cakes. I still use lard because cookies have a different taste with lard, but butter can be used instead. If using butter cookies can be eaten right away while the ones with lard have to stay at least 2-3 days or they are very dry.
Also the traditional recipe uses walnuts but I make my cookies with minced sunflower seeds. They taste the same but sunflower seeds are much easier on the stomach than the walnuts.
Superfine sugar of powdered sugar is used for finishing dipping and it depends on the taste of the person who makes them. I prefer superfine sugar because the powdered one makes me sneeze.

How to make paws:

In one bowl mix all the dry ingredients, first adding flour and baking soda and then sugar and minced walnuts.

After mixing all dry ingredients make a hole in the middle and add 1 cup of lard, honey and egg. There is no need to heat lard (or butter) just leave them on room temperature 20 minutes before making.
The amount of eggs depends on the size of the eggs. If the eggs are small like mine add two.

Make your dough.

You will notice that the dough is a bit crumbly( not too crumbly). It is good if you can take a small piece of it and form a little ball.
Place the dough in plastic foil or bag and place in the refrigerator for an hour.

In the mean time prepare your molds.

 If you're using tin ones like I am(mine were my grandmas and are very old) heat the butter and using a brush cover them with butter and spray with some flour or your cookies will glue to the molds. If you are using silicone ones just be careful not to be too rough while taking the cookies out. They are very delicate and crumble while they are hot.

When the dough is ready take it from the refrigerator and start filling your molds. There is no need to roll or do anything with the dough, just take small pieces right from the plastic bag. Fill the 2/3 of the size of the mold. Don't overfill them or the cookies will grow too big.

Bake your cookies for 20 minutes in preheated oven. Temperature of the oven depends of the type of the oven. If you have a normal one 180°C (356F) should be enough. Fan ovens need the temperature of 220°C (428F).
Cookies are done when they start getting brown colour(honey makes them brown).

Take your cookies out of the oven and leave them for a minute or two so the molds can cool down a bit.
Don't leave them too long because cookies need to still be warm in order to take them out and roll in sugar.

If the molds were buttered enough cookies should slide right out with just a gentle tap on the tin. If not use a small knife to take them out.
After rolling them in sugar place them in a plastic or tin box. Cover the bottom of the box with paper towels because with time they will let some grease out and if they don't have a towel under the bottom cookies will drink all the grease and will me too wet.

Cookies can be eaten weeks after baking. Although mine never last that long. Usually they are gone before New year.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Recycled bird feeder

Living in woods brings you closer to all the animals that surround you. Without even noticing you start leaving food for deer, rabbits, hedgehogs and birds. Winters are especially hard for the birds that stay here and don't move to warmer places so we try to help them as much as we can.

For years now we have been feeding birds on our balcony. It first started with a simple dry breadcrumbs placed on the flower board and later we added a feeding box for them to feed during the blizzards. Many birds noticed that there is always food on our balcony and right now we have around 10 different birds feeding here.

The problem started when sparrows started coming to our feeding place. Usually sparrows were in our front yard and tits, robins and woodpeckers were in our back yard. Now sparrows started coming to our back yard to feed and they chase away other birds. This meant that I had to make another feeder in my front yard so that all the birds would be happy and fed.

There are lots of different ways to make a bird feeder but I decided to make a "gardeners feeder".
We always have old gardening material, old pots and plates so I thought to use some of my damaged pots to make 2 feeders.
I didn't want to complicate much so I decided to make it as simple as possible.

All I used for two feeders was one plate, two containers, some natural string and one flat washer.

The first one I made was meant to hold dry breadcrumbs. I wanted something similar to a chicken feeder.. To make it cut the container in 3 places and made holes for the bread, then place a string inside and place a plate on the string.
The only tricky part of this feeder is that once the plate is on the string it has to be tied up really close to the plate otherwise it would separate and all the crumbs would fall out. To secure it even more use flat washer to hold the string really close.

 Once it is done all that is left is to fill the feeder with food and hang it. I've left lots of crumbs outside so my birds would notice there is new food feeder hanged, but there's no need to leave it outside, you can fill ti up and birds will get the crumbs our by themselves.

My other feeder was meant to hold "wet" food. I wanted to make a feeder that would hold a mixture of crumbs, seeds and fat. Birds love animal fat and it is excellent for them during the winter. To make a feeder all you need is a container and string.

Place the string inside the container and make enough knots for the birds to be able to stand and eat.
Once the feeder is done make the bird food. Mix crumbs and seeds together and then add some fat inside. I have used pork fat. Mix it until you get a mixture that looks like dough, don't make it too dry or too wet otherwise it will fall out of the container.

Fill the container leaving the string hanging from the middle and press it firmly so it would stick to the container. Hang your new feeder.

I'm hoping this will stop my birds from fighting over food and that next year I'll have new pretty nests all around my house.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Christmas decorating without spending money

Christmas is the time of the year when we strive to achieve a warm, colourful and welcoming feeling in our homes. Weather is starting to get colder and nature starts losing it's colour so it's always nice to see the colourful display of lights and ornaments in our yards and houses.

I've always been the type of person that likes to bring a lot of green to my Christmas atmosphere.
For years I've used pine branches to bring that Christmasy feeling. The smell of  pine tree filling the room while listening to the fire dancing in the fireplace always brought peace to our home.
Lately I had to abandon this tradition. Not because there is anything wrong with pine branches, but simply because I don't have any enough pine trees around me to use them for decorations. Pine trees are not native in this area of Croatia. There are no pine forests here, only pines we have are the ones that people plant. So making a full pine branch decoration like wreath or centrepeace is very hard. Of course we still buy our Christmas tree to decorate it on Christmas Eve but other than that I can't use it to decorate the house anymore.
Luckily I have a very nice neighbour that always says "take what you need" so I gather pine cones that fall from her trees and cut a branch or two for my yard decoration, but the lack of the necessary amount is forcing me to use other materials.
Sure I could buy my decorations, nothing wrong with that. But I like to make my decorations different than the rest. Special and more like me...a green mess. 😄

This year I wasn't really planning to do a front yard display without spending money, I planned to buy more lights, few ornaments and couple of plants to make my yard look good. But due to some unexpected problems +  my galloping forgetfulness I was left with not having any new decorations 2 days before Advent. The only thing I bought were candles (I guess my title should be Christmas decorating with only 3$) and I had to get by with what I had at home.

So I started gathering all the extra decorations I had, few plants I found  in the woods, few dried plants I managed to gather during the summer and when I finished I had this.

It probably lacks that elegant touch and glamour some would want from Christmas, but I live in the woods, surrounded by trees and animals...do I really need a glamorous display?
I guess I would call my display a functional one.

So lets start from the beginning. I had lots of restrictions in my decorating because as many of you know, living in the village with moody winters requires having at least one extra amount of firewood close to the house in case of the blizzard. Also I couldn't move the small bench I have in front of the door cause we need it all the time and also I couldn't move my metal stairs cause they are too heavy for me to move them around.
So I had to do something with those things in mind.
First I decorated the metal stairs. I had some old lights that stopped working but my dad was kind enough to replace the plug and burnt parts of the wires and I could use them again. I used them to bring the lights to my display. I added a few green plants I had, my Grinch I made when I was 15 and my stairs were almost finished.

All my stairs needed was a touch of green (like that Grinch wasn't enough). 😝
 I like to fill my decorations with simple green arrangements I make out of evergreen plants I find in the wild. Few pine branches I got from my neighbour, ivy, mistletoe and a touch of Rose hip just to bring some colour and my stairs are done.

My mum made another arrangement similar to mine

It was supposed to stand next to our door but I had to move it because in my moment of inspiration I made a flower basket.

Ivy, green Hydrangeas, few pines and apples and I got a pretty green stand.

Remember my big wooden crate I used for my flowers?

Now it's clean and full of woods.

 It holds another small decoration on top with a glowing pine jar. Nothing too fancy, just a few lights in a jar.

When it comes to my door wreath I didn't show any effort. I used the one I made last year and saved cause I though it was cute enough to use it again.

 And as for the candles I mentioned earlier. I used them for my advent wreath. Only it's not a wreath. 😊

So I guess with a little effort you can make a nice Christmas decoration without spending a lot of money. Who knows maybe next year I'll even do my own candles 💖

Friday, December 9, 2016

Winter is here

Although in Croatia winter usually starts few days before Christmas(21st December) this year it came almost a month earlier. First we had an episode of snow in early November and later since the beginning of December cold stable weather with very low temperatures. It's not unusual but in past few years we didn't have morning temperatures below -5°C. Luckily I finished deep digging on time, so I can enjoy the winter weather from a safe distance.
There is something magical in frozen frog.