When four girls converged on Whitewater Village, we had recipes for cookies - and fun!
What do you think happens when four women, who haven't let their hair down in a long time, get together for a weekend retreat with no men allowed? There's a wee bit of wine, a heaping serving of gossip, and a whole lotta food! Add in a gorgeous cottage in the pristine setting of the Ottawa Valley and you have a recipe for adventure and fun (and hopefully not too much mischief)! I was eager to add my own kind of recipe into this mix - of the gooey, indulgent, Christmas cooking kind - and was keen to share some festive treats with my girlfriends.
But before I could whip up a recipe for mischief or cookies, the cottage beckoned us to relax. This was no ordinary property. The cottage is part of the Whitewater Village, a cottage co-ownership community just outside of Ottawa.
The cottages and the community are designed to cater to the needs of owners who want their own slice of the cottage ownership dream but without the year round commitment (and all the maintenance). Given the way the four of us flocked to the fireplace and sunk into the living room couches, I can attest that to the fact that these cottages are absolutely irresistible!
The fireplace, which burns compressed pellets of recycled wood shavings, is a great example of Whitewater's green commitment. These are luxury properties that don't compromise on protecting the environment. And the fireplace was an extra special treat for me, as I grew up with a wood stove and there's just something about being next to the flickering flames and glowing light that makes me feel completely relaxed.
As luck would have it, my kindly roommates offered up the master bedroom to me and, being on the ground floor, I was just steps away from the fireplace and my evenings (and morning baths!) were warm and snug, even though it was the end of November. You would never know winter was approaching and the combination of the fireplace and the geothermal heating kept us perfectly comfortable.
I have to confess I didn't get to my culinary plans right away - there was just too much chattering to accomplish! I may spend a lot of time traveling but its so rare for me to get away just with the girls and the fact that I was with other bloggers was just the icing on the cake. It was so fun and relaxing to catch up on news and be among colleagues who could help solve so many of my pressing web questions. I'm sure some people would consider sitting around the fireplace with a laptop to be a silly use of time at such a lovely property but for me it was such an unexpected delight - like finding yourself in the middle of a writing retreat. The beautiful views of the lake were the perfect muse for chatting about photography, blogging, and life.
But I kept eyeing that kitchen....
It's a rare treat to be in a property that has fully functioning appliances - considering some of the experiences I've had with hostel kitchens around the world. The kitchen was outfitted with spices, dishes, bowls, just about everything I could have needed - except cookie sheets and baking pans. Uh-oh! Time for plan B! We were able to find a disposable aluminum pan so I could make my Christmas cranberry squares, but the cookies would have to wait for another time. So a lesson learned for my next girls' escape: always inquire about exactly what the kitchen includes.
The recipe for my Christmas cranberry squares is a fairly easy one, but it never fails to impress. I first came upon it in my final year of university when I was plagued by an abundance of leftover cranberries and a shortage of funds which dictated that nothing was wasted. I tore it out of a magazine and it's been following me around the world ever since.
The first layer is fairly straightforward: A mix of butter, flour, sugar comes together in fine crumbs and is patted in the pan and baked into a shortbread base. Combine 2 cups of all purpose flower, 1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, and 2/3 cup of cold butter, cut into cubes. Using two knives, cut the butter into the mixture until it is well mixed and crumbly. Pat into a 9x13 inch (3 liter) baking pan and bake at 325F (160C) for 20 minutes.
While the base layer is in the oven, recruit your helpers to clean up the first round of dishes while you prepare the next layer. Whisk together 4 eggs, 2 cups of granulated (white) sugar, and 1/2 cup of lemon juice. Gradually add in 1/4 cup of all purpose flour and 1 tsp of baking powder and, when well mixed, set aside.
I have a rather unfortunate reputation for being someone who doesn't exactly follow recipes to the letter of the law and that is indeed the case here. The recipe calls for 2 cups of whole cranberries and 2 cups of shredded, sweetened coconut. But I've played a bit fast and loose with those ratios with no ill consequences. You can use leftover cranberry sauce as long as it's not too watery. And you can use dried Craisins as well, like I did at the cottage. If I were to do it again, I would add a bit of extra liquid to the Craisins (maybe orange juice or melted butter) so the resulting squares will be extra moist.
With your precooked base now out of the oven, sprinkle the cranberries and coconut on top of the base, and then pour your liquid egg, lemon, sugar mixture over everything. The liquid will spread to cover everything as it cooks - never fear! The completed dish bakes at 325F for 55 to 60 minutes. Get ready to attract a crowd - it smells fantastic as it bakes!
The final result - deliciousness! The lemon and cranberry keep things from being too sweet and, combined with a shortbread style base, you really have all the classic flavors of the holidays. The squares made a sweet ending (in more ways than one!) to a fantastic weekend.
I went to Whitewater Village expecting to enjoy some pretty views and a pretty cottage but I got so much more. I was surrounded by such inspiring friends and the cottage was filled with such fantastic conversation that it didn't matter one bit that we were visiting at the beginning of winter when all the usual outdoors activities had wound down for the season. The cottage made for the perfect writing and culinary retreat and we left feeling recharged, reinvigorated - and wearing some stretchy pants!
With a full stomach and a happy heart, I enjoyed one more view of the lake and vowed to be back soon. My visit at Whitewater was the perfect retreat and, while I can't wait to visit again and experience all the outdoors activities in the summer, I'll always be glad I got to cozy up to the fireplace, chatting up a storm and cooking up some fond memories.