A witch had moved into this town and after a few missteps was accepted and loved by the people of the town. She lived at the edge of the town in a fantastically turreted and towered house of many colours and a garden where bluebells were really blue bells and roses had sweet faces. She went by the name of Miss Fay. The Mayor of the town had re-named her after he had found out she hated her name because it wasn’t a properly witchy name, her given name was Penelope Faery Rainbow. That just wasn’t a proper witch name and even he had agreed it was pretty awful to be a witch with a name like that so now she was Miss Fay.
One day Miss Fay decided she needed to do something nice for the Mayor. He had done so many nice things for her to help her to fit in in Heart Town. She thought of how much he liked her chocolate pistachio brownies but that wasn’t special enough. She thought she might give him a surprise party but she wasn’t sure it would stay a surprise so she dropped that idea. She contemplated this idea for days and then she had it. Everyone in this town had lovely neat little gardens but none had the special flowers that the Heart Town Witch grew. Their pansies didn’t have sweet little monkey faces and their marigolds weren’t merry and real gold and she knew Milly, the Mayor’s wife admired her garden a lot so she decided to help them with their garden.
The Heart Town Witch snuck over to the Mayor’s pretty little house and planted a garden in the middle of the night. She planted sunflowers and moonflowers and coral bells. She planted morning glories and Jack in the Pulpits. She planted hens and chickens and gazanias and tulips and a lot of other pretty flowers that grew in her garden but she had forgotten something. The flowers in her gardens behaved because they knew her and loved her and because she was a very magical person. She had forgotten that they might not behave for ordinary people, as ordinary as you could be and still be made of crystal.
She went off to her house and her bed happy and pleased with the wonderful gift she had given the Mayor and his family. Who wouldn’t want a lovely garden filled with amazing and magical plants.
The Mayor’s family woke up this next morning with a start. The whole house was lit up with a very bright light the minute the sun had come over the mountains that surrounded the town. The Mayor jumped out of bed and went running around the house looking for the source of the light and then the noises started. There was laughing coming from the garden outside and bell ringing? The smallest of the Mayor’s children yelled at him to look out the window and the whole family went running out onto their wide porch and quite a sight met their eyes.
The sunflowers were shining like the sun. So bright that the Mayor sent everyone back into the house for dark glasses. When they went outside again they were truly amazed and the neighbors had come and were staring over the garden gate.
The gazanias were laughing loudly, the blue bells and coral bells were singing and ringing. The tulips kissed anyone who got near them. The gay feather plants were tickling everyone with big purple ostrich feathers. The gladiolas were talking like they were friends of Pollyanna. The only one that wasn’t making a ruckus was the moonflower who appeared to be asleep and the Mayor had a feeling that come night fall the yard might be almost as bright as the sunflower was making the yard now.
The Mayor gave a great sigh and looked at his family most of whom were standing with their hands over their ears looking at the garden with their mouths hanging open. The Mayor gave another great sigh. He knew who had done this and she had done it again. She tried her hardest to do something nice and it had gone a bit wrong. How was he going to tell her to take her gift that had obviously taken a lot of thought and work back?
His wife looked at him smiled and pointed in the direction of the Witch’s house. He gave a third sigh and went in to get dressed. He headed over to the Witch’s house with no clear idea of what to say.
He knocked on the door with a heavy heart. He really didn’t want to hurt her feelings. The Witch threw the door open with a bang. “Do you like it? Isn’t it beautiful? I tried my best to make it nice.”
The Mayor looked at the Witch. “Would you like to see it on the daytime?” he asked.
My family really appreciates the hard work you went to last night but you really must see it in the sun.” He couldn’t think of a nicer way to put it.
“Oh, yes!” the Witch cried and grabbed her favourite shawl from the back of the nearest chair and she hurried out the door. They hadn’t gotten very far when she could hear singing and bells ringing. Then she heard the laughing and she began to get worried, she had a very bad feeling something had gone wrong. They turned the corner and she was almost blinded and she snapped her fingers for her sunglasses and she knew she was in trouble. The crowd was now 3 deep at the Mayor’s garden fence and they were laughing and pointing at all the flowers in the garden.
“Oh, they got out of control didn’t they?” The Witch was getting upset. She tried to do something nice and she’d failed again. She guessed that the flowers behaved in her garden because she was the Witch and they knew they had to but here they were free to misbehave and they did.
The Mayor’s family gave a cheer when they saw the Witch. They knew she had been doing something nice even if it had unintended consequences and the children now that they were more used to it were playing jump rope with the Johnny Jump Ups and laughing just as hard as the gazanias.
The Mayor’s wife, Milly came and kissed the Witch on the cheek and said, “This is a lovely gift but could you make them behave a bit?” The Witch looked at the Mayor and his wife.
“You aren’t mad?”
“No, it was a bit startling earlier but we know you were trying to do something nice for us. Now how can we help make it better?”
The Witch thought for a moment. She was going to have to take some of the rowdier members of the garden home. They just wouldn’t behave here. “How about I leave the ones who will behave here and take the rest home, would that fix it?”
The Mayor nodded and rolled his sleeves up and told the children to bring the wheel barrow from the garden shed.
So the Witch got her trowel out and bundled the gazanias and the coral bells and blue bells into the wheel barrow. She took the sunflowers and violas who were playing a Bach viola piece. She took the tulips who were being awfully fresh and the daffodils who were just plain silly and sent them home with the Mayor’s children.
“Is it all right if I leave some other quieter ones? She asked a bit hesitantly. The Mayor and his wife nodded and the crowd cheered because since it wasn’t their yard they had quite enjoyed it.
The Witch set to work. She rearranged the roses and their shiny faces and the pansies of all colours with their monkey faces. She magicked over from her yard the candytuft and the phlox were content to huddle in a corner and be quiet. She got the gay feather smaller feathers. She asked the cannas to be encouraging but much more softly and put the gladiolas near them to make a cheery spot and the garden slowly transformed to a much quieter place but just as lovely.
She stood back and looked at her work. She hadn’t realized what some of her plants would do but she meant well.
The Mayor and his family came up and hugged her from all directions. It almost made her ribbons pop.
The Mayor thanked her and asked her if she could plant some gladiolas and cannas near the school. He thought that might be just the place for them.
The Heart Town Witch headed for home happy. She was so glad to have friends and she really had meant well and she had tried her best. The Mayor pointed out to her that was all anyone could ever ask of anyone and it had worked out in the end, hadn’t it? She trundled the last wheelbarrow home with the crab apples and the Black-eyed Susans. Those really had been a mistake she giggled to herself as she went.
One of the things I learned growing up as part of my training was how to bake and how to add that special “Something” that makes it magical. I was trained by my grandmother as part of my magical training as she had been trained by her grandparent. My mom rejected the training from her grandfather who just happened to be a professional baker. More fool her. She didn’t want anything to do with anything “weird”.
As far as my grandmother was concerned, there was no difference between learning how to talk to animals and plants or how to make magical clothing and sachets or learning our family’s Scottish history and teaching me how to bake.
Grandma would learn new tool for cooking that came along but when it came to special recipes like my great grandfather’s shortbread recipe it had to be done by hand. No mixer just using your hands and intending all good things for the people that would eat it. I still can’t make it unless I clear my mind and just concentrate on the dough.
Grandpa Alex’s Shortbread recipe
1 LB of flour (I use unbleached) 1 LB = 4 cups
1 LB butter
1/4 LB of Brown sugar
Cream with your hands together until you get one large dough ball. Works best with cold butter cut into chunks. If the butter is warm it sticks to your hands.
Have a piece of brown paper cut from one side of a grocery bag.
Pat out until 1/2 thick. Mark with a fork on lines for breaking. DO not use a cookie sheet.
Bake at 350 degrees until a light tan.
Break apart when cool. DO NOT cut with knife. This will change the chemical constitution of the cookie. It’s very fragile anyway.
My main baking tips, don’t follow at your peril
1. If it says use butter, for heaven’s sake use butter. No substitutions!
2. Unless it says you can substitute something, don’t!
Try it first as written. Then if you have to substitute, do it. I can remember one time Mom substituted butterscotch chips for chocolate chips in her chocolate Nuggets and ended up with butterscotch lace instead. It tasted good but it wasn’t what she wanted.
3. Baking is chemistry. Follow the recipe exactly.
4. Have fun!
5. I have fun memories of my indentured servitude even though grinding umteen cups of pecans, walnuts, pistachios, peanuts, almonds and Brazil nuts will never be my favourite activity.
6. It was fun to pick cookie cutters, or roll dough balls or play in powdered sugar.
7. Read the recipe a few times through. Some are advanced and some are really easy.
The story of my baking education, willing and unwilling
It’s funny looking at all these recipes and realizing that whether I liked it at the time or not, the culinary education I received in baking people pay a lot to learn now. The three of us were not so willing sous chefs to my mom’s cookie juggernaut.
I found some notes of hers in the recipe file about making all the cookies. Her personal best was the year she made 34 varieties of cookies. I remember that year because it was the only year she made some things. I remember a sandwich cookie that I loved that she decided it was too much trouble to make again but it was really good. I guess at some point some one asked her for one favourite recipe of the family and she said she couldn’t because everyone had a different favourite cookie or two or three.
I remember feeling like an…
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Ye children all of Mother Earth ( It came upon a midnight clear)
Ye children all of Mother Earth Join hands and circle around.
To celebrate the Solstice night When our lost Sun is found.
Rejoice! The year has begun again. The Sun blesses skies above.
So share the season together now In everlasting love.
These are my all time favourites and they really aren’t a cookie. They are a confection because they have no flour. So all you gluten free people, this is for you. 🙂
3 oz of bitter chocolate
1 lb powdered sugar
2 or 3 unbeaten egg whites
1 teaspoon of vanilla
Melt 3 oz of chocolate
Add 1lb of powdered sugar
And mix thoroughly
Work to a stiff yet pliable paste with the unbeaten egg whites
Add 1 tsp of vanilla
Roll ¼ inch thick and cut with cookie cutter
Sprinkle the board with powdered sugar instead of flour
Place on oiled or foiled pan
And bake until firm at 325 degrees
Remove from pan after standing a minute to cool