I love Christmas. It’s always been a special, meaningful time to me. We almost always go to my parents’ or inlaws’ homes for the big day, so I usually take a side dish and a dessert. Tomorrow, I’ll be making scalloped potatoes, which have made an appearance at family gatherings for as long as I can remember. And like Sharon, in my family, it’s tricky business introducing something new, but a few years back I found this recipe on Allrecipes.com for a Roquefort Pear Salad, and it’s been a favorite ever since.
As for sweets, I love to make family favorites, but always try out new things as well. I also like to give edible gifts at the holidays. This year, I made pistachio cranberry biscotti and bourbon whiskey balls, both of which look great in cellophane bags tied with ribbon, and they taste great too.
And, as we speak, I’ve got Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies baking, and they are fan-tas-tic!
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups quick-cooking oats
1 cup raisins (I used currants)
1 cup dried cranberries
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1 (12 ounce) package vanilla chips
In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda; add to the creamed mixture. Stir in oats, raisins/currants, cranberries and orange peel. Stir in vanilla chips.
Drop by rounded tablepoonfuls 2 inches apart onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 375 degrees F for 12-14 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Cool on wire racks.
What’s your favorite (or most UNfavorite) dish that shows up on the holiday table every year?
Holiday meals have always been run by Family Tradition. Woe betide the innovator, because the turkey dinner is the turkey dinner. If a vampire came for dinner, he’d be eating the dead bird and Brussels sprouts and mashed spuds, too—or else. In a throw down between my mother in an obstinate mood and the forces of darkness, I’d put my money on the home team.
Speaking as someone who has lived largely, sometimes strictly, as a vegetarian, I have issues with this. Tradition is deaf to my pain.
My own influences have therefore crept in at the edges, waving from the gravy-soaked sidelines. I get to do Christmas Eve dinner, and this is one of my favourite offerings. This recipe is yummy, light, and perfect for that oh-no-not-more-turkey phase that hits around December 29 ….
A not-so-shepherd’s pie
Saute a large diced onion with two cloves of crushed garlic, 1 tsp each of thyme and coriander, a half pound of sliced mushrooms, and tons of black pepper. Add a half pound of crumbled tempeh and 1/3 cup of tamari (or soy) sauce (note that this takes the place of any added salt). Add 2 cups of vegetables (frozen works) and ¼ cup chopped parsley or cilantro. Cook until tempeh is slightly browned and the mushrooms are cooked. Mix two cups of vegetable broth (I use bouillon cubes) with ¼ cup flour and stir into veg mix.
Meanwhile, turn 3 pounds of potatoes into creamy mashed potatoes. Oil a 9 x 13 baking pan, and put the veg mix in the bottom. Cover with the mashed potatoes. Garnish with paprika, chopped nuts, or chopped parsley if desired. Bake at 375F for about half an hour or until the top browns. If you like a super-decadent twist, brush the top with olive oil or melted butter for an extra-golden finish.
It’s comfort food that is actually fairly good for you. Goes well with fresh salad.
I’ll be eating the big meals at my sister’s place this holiday weekend. We’re doing a potluck type event on Christmas Eve, and my sis is cooking the turkey on Christmas Day. I’ll help out, of course! The only meal I’m cooking at my place is Christmas breakfast.
I’m usually an early eater in the morning, but Christmas Day we take it easy. When my daughter was little, we’d open the presents before dawn (she’s an early riser like me), but now, we prefer to experience Christmas at a leisurely pace. We’ll open our stockings, watch the cat and dog enjoy their gifts, and stay in our pajamas. Breakfast and the gift opening won’t start until sometime after 10 a.m.
My cooking talents are minimal, so here’s what I’m planning to serve:
- Crustless bacon and cheese quiche (recipe courtesy of Kraft)
- French toast with cranberries
- Maple sausages
- Orange and pomegranate juice
I think I can manage that without poisoning anyone.
Chances are good that we’ll skip lunch to leave room for the turkey later. I always eat far more Christmas dinner than I should anyway.
I hope you enjoy a marvelous feast yourself. Happy holidays!
Currently working on: Book 5 of the Marked Souls
Christmas, New Year’s, winter solstice, lunar eclipse. There’s so much celebration in the next couple of minutes-days-weeks. And to most of it, I’m expected to bring a dessert.
I don’t mind bringing the desserts. That way, I always have something to eat. But when there are so many parties, it’s hard to find the time to make good, tasty, pretty, fun AND EASY desserts.
Which brings me to my new favorite cookie. (Not to be confused with my 8 lb. buckets o’ cookie dough, which are an eternal favorite.)
Peanut Butter Chocolate Kiss Cookies with Caramel Drizzle
My mom made these when I was a kid, but I’d never made them myself. I stumbled upon the recipe scrawled on the back of an envelope tucked in my overflowing dessert recipe notebook and thought I’d give it a whirl.
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cream the squishy ingredients (shortening, pb & sugars) then add the liquidy ingredients (egg, milk & vanilla). Then add the dry stuff (flour, baking soda & salt).
The dough comes together super quick. You don’t have to wait for butter to come to room temperature, and the pb, shortening and sugars creams quickly. I like recipes with short oven-pre-warming-to-satisfaction ratios.
Roll the dough into balls. Not too big; I liked when the cookie was just a little bigger than the chocolate. Roll the balls in sugar; I recommend Sugar in the Raw because the big coarse grains look real pretty when they sparkle.
Bake the cookie balls at 375 for 10-12 minutes. My oven runs hot, so I baked at 350 for about 9 minutes and ate the “ruined” test sheet.
After the cookies come out of the oven, press a chocolate into the middle. And this is your secret weapon:
Trader Joe’s semi-sweet chocolate callets
You can use Hershey’s Kisses (unwrapped) or Brach’s chocolate stars, but TJ’s callets are far superior. They taste better, and their wider, thinner, flatter shape means you get a perfect bite of chocolate with each bite of cookies. Yum.
And for the pièce derésistance (that’s French for “piece of chocolate”):
Caramel de Beurre – French Salted Caramel Sauce
In the picture of the finished cookie above, you can see the drizzle of caramel on top. This was my super-secret weapon. The caramel was a nice sweetness against the stronger chocolate, with just a hint of salt to round it all out. And it looked charming!
For my holiday giveaway, I have a jar of caramel sauce (similar to the jar Monster Girl is protecting in the picture here; you’ll have to provide your own cookies). Just leave a comment sometime this week for a chance to win. By the time I mail it out, you’ll be done with your holiday baking and the sauce is yours, all yours!
I actually dug out my first Christmas CD of the year in order to write this blog. I’m not in the festive mood and probably won’t be until a) I get this extremely busy work-week out of the way (I can tell everyone is piling it on in an effort to clear their desks for the holiday) and b) the copyedits of Frostbound pass from my computer back to NYC. Then it’s time to figure out what shopping I have or haven’t done. Yup, I’ll be one of those last-minute people scampering wildly through the mall on Christmas Eve. Extreme sports, jingle style.
It wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time, when I performed and even recorded Christmas music, I would start digging out Christmas tunes in the fall, rehearsing for some time before taking the show on the road. Needless to say, my neighbours hated me. However, I was in the festive spirit well in advance of December 25. All my cards were mailed on time.
I delighted in finding weird but authentic carols. Personal favourites include the Boar’s Head carol, a medieval processional lauding the donkey Mary rode (c/w chorus “hey you ass, hee-haw”), and some of the gorier verses of the Coventry Carol, but I’m perverse that way. Or maybe it was self-defense. By New Years I was ready to scream if I heard another fa-la-la.
On the whole, I had a great time. The grumpy moments of hiking my harp up flights of stairs have faded, and I remember the joy on kids’ faces. I can’t count the times the elderly would tell me they hadn’t heard such-and-such a carol since they were young. And I treasure the feeling of timelessness that comes from giving voice to songs hundreds of years old. It’s one experience we can truly share with our ancestors.
The time for those moments hasn’t passed, but it had to ebb to make way for new adventures. And, since I abandoned my wassailing ways, I’ve had to find other ways of getting my Santa on. I found this lovely tidbit on YouTube—one of my favourite Victorian carols played by Loreena McKennitt and accompanied by truly gorgeous scenery. It definitely stirs my feeling of sparkly winter wonder …
Although kindness and generosity are values we can see evidence of any time of year, the Christmas season seems to nurture them.
I see people tucking twenty dollar bills into the Salvation Army kettles, adding brand new toys to Toy Mountain, and giving generously to the Food Bank…even when their own fortunes aren’t stellar. Recently, a friend of mine and her husband gave up their Christmas gifts to each other to help out a single mom down on her luck.
This time of year is inspiring.
I got my own little shot of inspiration just last week. I wasn’t feeling well, and to bolster my sagging spirits, I pulled into a Starbucks drive-through.
I ordered a gingerbread latte and a slice of gingerbread to sweeten my mood. Maybe the corners of my mouth were dragging, or maybe it was simply spontaneous, but when I got to the cash window, the barista told me the woman in the car ahead of me had paid for my order. No, she didn’t know me—it was a random act of kindness.
And it totally made my day.
It also made me want to do the same for someone else. I’ve given to the usual drives, but I’m looking for the perfect opportunity to return the latte favor.
It probably won’t surprise you to know the inspiring song that’s currently playing in my head is Clay Walker’s Chain of Love. I tried to find a legit video of it somewhere on the ‘net, but couldn’t track one down. So, here’s a link to the lyrics.
Have you had a pay-it-forward moment that you’re especially proud of? Has someone done something unexpected for you that made your day?
Currently working on: Page proofs for Vowed in Shadows (April 2011)
We got our tree today. Every year, we go to the same farm outside town because they offer butter cookies and hot cider along with every kind of pine tree an ornament could want. Every year, we wander the rows of trees, looking for the “perfect” tree. XY prefers Charlie Brown trees so our perfect is usually spindly and asymmetrical. But once I get the lights, garland, ornaments, and tinsel on… Beauty!
And really, Christmas trees are all about the fragrance for me. Snipping up a few boughs off our Grand fir to release the oils makes the whole house festive. (Baking something with cinnamon doesn’t hurt either.)
This season is a festival for all the senses. Between the sights and smells of decorating the trees, the taste of the peppermint bark I snack on while working (thanks for the reminder last week, Annette, of how much I love peppermint bark), and the touch of velvet ribbon and cool glass ornaments, I have to have my seasonal music.
This is one of the few times of the year I commandeer the stereo from XY and blast the carols and Bing Crosby. Everybody knows the tinsel won’t hang straight without TransSiberian Orchestra’s awesome instrumentals cranked to 9. This year, my mom sent me one of my favorite musical pieces.
It made the viral video rounds, but in case you missed it, I think this flash mob perfectly embodies the spirit of the season, when it comes out of nowhere (nowhere, in this case, being the food court at a crowded mall), smacks you upside the head with a wall of beautiful sound, and reminds you what it’s all about. Enjoy!
Have you ever participated in a flash mob? The whole idea just makes me grin. I think I’d like to take part in one, just to see everybody’s expression go from bewildered to delighted.
It’s December, the time for top ten lists. Since I, like everyone else, am in a tinselly, chocolaty holiday frame of mind, here are ten things that make me smile:
10. Finding out the repair bill won’t be huge. ‘Nuff said. Got my computer back in one piece.
9. Getting home. This counts double in these leave-in-the-dark, come-home-in-the-dark times. Triple if your day involved travel. Quadruple if it was travel for work.
8. Snow. It’s just too pretty to complain about for long. (Of course, we don’t get an unreasonable amount here—just enough to be purty.) Here’s a shot I took last month. You can’t see the harbour in the background because of the fog.
7. Here’s a seasonal one: finding a really cool present. You know what I mean—the type that makes you chuckle with glee because you know they’ll love it.
5. A good Regency romance. I loved this one, but then Julia Quinn is always a treat:
4. Nice feedback about my books. Reviews. Emails. Kind words at book signings. I love to know that I gave someone a few hours of pleasure. It makes the zillion hours cursing at my computer screen worthwhile.
3. My cats, who will purr for me even if I’ve been a complete toad that day.
2. Random phone calls and visits from friends. The ones where they just want to chat because they like you. That’s when I know I count.
1. Hugs from family and friends, because it’s the people that matter when all is said and done. That was something Charles Dickens had right.
Do not adjust your set. I shall be back to my regular curmudgeonly mood anon. But not too soon.
Christmas is my favorite time of year. I love everything about it, even the feverish shopping sprees. But there are few things I put high on the Treasured Items list:
1. Attending my daughter’s Christmas concert. She plays the flute in her school band, and I love listening to her (and the rest of the band!) play. Nothing like Christmas carols rendered by an 80 piece orchestra.
2. Seeing my dog and cat cozied up together. In the summer months they rarely hang out together, but when it gets cold, they snuggle.
3. Family get-togethers and eating my brother-in-law’s deep fried turkey. I love the usual stuffed turkey with gravy, but since my BIL started deep frying the bird, I’ve become a convert. Crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside. It’s to-die-for.
4. Ghirardelli Peppermint Bark. I’ve already eaten two bags of these and it’s barely December. Part of the appeal is that it’s a limited edition chocolate available only at Christmas. Must eat before they are gone!
5. A festive house. The lights, the carols, the smell of warm gingerbread. It’s all fabulous. Naturally, I own a LOT of Christmas decorations. Boxes and boxes and boxes of them. But I sooo enjoy seeing the house decked in holiday cheer. It never fails to make me smile.
When I was growing up my mother hung glass toadstools on our tree. She got them (and numerous other hand blown glass ornaments) when our military family was posted to Germany. One year I spotted these in a store and just had to have them for MY tree.
How about you? Do you have a Christmas decoration that evokes special memories?