I love Christmas. The baking, the smells, the sounds, and that warm nostalgic feeling that always creeps in. On a cold a snowy Edmonton day, while listening to the musical styling of Bing’s “White Christmas”, we decorated the tree. A fresh and lovely smelling pine, little white lights, peacock feathers, the little 1950’s flower rings on the lights that were once on my Dad’s Christmas tree as a child, and all the ornaments that I have been collecting since my very first Christmas. My sweet mother always had an ornament for each of us to mark each year. My favourite remains the little wiry doll with matted auburn hair in a blue gingham dress from my first Christmas in 1974 . She goes on the tree first every year. The little tulle fairies circa 1910 that were once on my Grandmother’s tree run a close second, and hanging them on the tree this year I was reminded that this will be our first Christmas without her.


Lovely Irene was a fiercely independent, joyful, strong, and talented woman who lived a full 99 years of spitfire life. An outdoors woman with a love for a nature, a nice glass of rye at happy hour, and a dirty joke or two, she was a light in our lives. Irene was a meticulous cook with many gifts in the kitchen and a panache for entertaining. As we said farewell to her this year, we carried on a tradition that ended many a tipsy gathering at her house where the neighbours would roll down the alleyway still singing “Goodnight Irene” after a night of delicious food, drink, and company. It was bittersweet.

So this year, it is with extra gratitude that I pull out her little hand written recipe cards to prepare the things that taste like Christmas to me…things that were always made with love by her hands. The first is her Traditional Christmas Carrot Pudding with Vanilla Sauce. This rich, sweet, spiced, steamed carrot cake is so tender and delicious. It warms the air in the house with smell of all things Christmas. My second essential is Butter Tarts…made with currants and NEVER raisins, loads of butter, and a touch of cream. They are sweet and delicious and magically disappear. This year as I grate the carrots, and whip the butter, I know her spirit is near.

Christmas Carrot Pudding with Vanilla Sauce

For the Pudding:

1 cup grated raw carrot

1 cup grated raw potato

1 cup flour, plus 1 tbsp

1 cup sugar

3/4 cup raisins

1/2 cup currants

1/2 cup dried cherries

1/2 cup butter

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp baking soda

2 large cleaned and buttered tin cans ( I use large tomato cans)

Cream the butter and sugar to a smooth paste. Add the grated carrot, half of the grated potato, and mix well. In a separate bowl, mix dried fruits and the tablespoon of flour to lightly coat the fruit, and add it to the first mixture. Sift the one cup of flour together with the spices and add to the mixture blending lightly. Dissolved the baking soda in the remaining half cup of grated potato and add it to the mixture last, lightly combining all the ingredients.


Fill buttered cans with batter leaving an inch and a half at the top. Cover with parchment and tie tightly with string. In a large pot ( I use a pasta pot) boil water so that the cans are just submerged at the bottom, cover tightly, and steam for 3 hours or more.



For the Vanilla Sauce:

2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp Flour

1 1/4 cups hot milk

dash of salt

3 tbsp Sugar

3/4 tsp vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, melt butter and whisk in flour over medium heat. Do not brown the butter or flour but cook gently for a minute. Add hot milk and gradually stir over direct heat until mixture thickens. Add sugar and salt. Cover tightly and cook on top of a double boiler for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla.


To serve:

Spoon warm cake out of tins into bowls and top with the warm vanilla sauce!


Butter Tarts

1/3 cup butter

1 cup brown sugar

2 tbsp cream

1/2 cup currants

1 egg, beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract

24 tart shells


Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Mix butter and brown sugar together. Add cream, currants, egg, and vanilla and combine. Spoon into pastry about 3/4 full. Bake at 450 degrees for 8 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake until pastry is golden brown. Cool and serve.


“Irene good night, Irene good night,
Good night Irene, good night Irene,
I’ll see you in my dreams.”