What To Give

by MK Martin

I’m going to mention the Grinch again, because it really is a story that laid the path for my life. I used to wish he would come and steal Christmas where I was, and everywhere, so we would all have to go outside and hold hands and sing. He never did, though I did go to a few midnight masses with my Mum.whos.jpg

Are there any holidays revolving around Midwinter, that do not involve gift exchange? I couldn’t find any. The hot Pagan dirt this year, is that there was a Mother Deer before a Father Christmas, but we still have to give her all our butter and hope she leaves us something in return. Because the days are dark, am I right?

Every year, after everything has been opened, after my shoulders come down from around my ears and my nails start growing again, gift giving anxiety sets in. The season means so many different things, to so many different people, and I know most of them. Many have all they could want, or need, some proclaim not to want or need anything! How can I work with these parameters?

Knowing as much as you can about your giftee is the key, of course. You could try reminding yourself that it doesn’t have to be the best gift ever, but that’s really the only reason I can think of to give such a thing. You want their experience to be a little thrill, sometimes.

With that in mind, here are my top gift ideas for three stereotypical receivers, that everyone thinks exist. We’ll call it: The Anxious Person’s Guide to Gifting.

Person: Unenthusiastic Receiver:

You could try to stun this person, but they are suffering from too much stuff. It’s all interesting, and beautiful, and designed well. What this person needs is a big hug, and maybe a box of their favorite chocolate. If you really want to up the ante, ask them how their day is going.

christmas hug.jpg

Person: I Don’t Want Anything!
This person is me. They are too anxious about receiving presents, giving presents, being present and anything in general that has to do with anything. They do like to receive, but they couldn’t possibly figure out what right now. Consider a combination of small items with personal meaning, that equate to a quiet, still moment. Or, a pat on the back to remind them they’re not as close to exploding as they think they are.

Person: Itemized Color Coded List with Alternative Shopping Locations:
This person is either your kid, or they just really know their own mind. For either, the best idea is to pool money for one not too extravagant option and make sure you soak up the excellent reaction they will give you. Another great option is a little outing for lunch, or to an interesting shopping space they’ve never been.

Person: Partner
This person wants to be surprised by you, so do that. If it’s been a rough year, observe them carefully for a few days without being weird, and see if anything is obviously missing. If it’s been a good year, write them a note about it, thank them for being around with you. If it’s just another year in the stretch you agreed to walk together, thank them for that too. Nothing’s more surprising to people, sometimes, than the appearance of true gratitude. Sure, they’re still doing that thing that’s so annoying!! But not all the time.

It might be easy to see that the theme here is: you don’t necessarily have to buy something to give a gift. Like Eeyore’s friends, who included him in every activity and always remembered his birthday, even though he was sour as pits and rarely ever grateful, our only job as fellow humans is to be there for each other. Sometimes that looks like a pair of earrings, brand new socks to last the year, or toys and sometimes, it looks like a warm smile and watching the stars from the porch with nothing whatsoever to do. You are the gift that keeps on giving, and I guess maybe I am too. Happy Holidays, friends ❤calvin.jpg

The Odds and Ends

by C.E. Young

I come from a family of makers, which isn’t surprising. I grew up poor. When you’re poor, making things is what you do. Year-round, if we couldn’t buy it we made it, but wintertime always had extra weight to it, likely because need is heightened.24740033_10211797343863729_1086014296_o.jpg

There were 6 kids in the family, all growing at different rates. New winter boots for one meant another might have to insulate with newspaper and plastic bags for a while. All of us had at least one turn at that. We didn’t like it but we did what needed to be done. Getting a new toy was a special occasion, so for all the other days a kid needed to feel special we made our own out of foil, papier mache, or bits of one old, broken toy added to another. The large head of a GI Joe crammed atop a small plastic army man was perfectly meant to form Big Head Man, a comical hero but a hero nonetheless. Big Head Man was great at camouflage because, hung in a Christmas tree—as he often was—his head became an instant ornament.

We weren’t always happy with what we made but we learned to have fun with it.

In early adulthood my sister had kids. Then a brother did. I never did. Never will. But I wound up partly raising my nieces and nephews. Neither my sister nor brother was especially good at making a stable world for their kids. Because I loved those little people, I made one.

Throughout the year there’d be field trips, constellation naming, library days, arcade days, wandering days, and movies galore. But when the weather turned chilly and thick socks on bare floors were paradise it was always Santa’s workshop time: each child and I bopped into my messy basement full of odd bits, scrap wood, and an assortment of tools from about 12 different tool sets. We would look at those odds and ends and we would ponder, What can this become?

It had to be holiday-related. If useful, even better. Most importantly, the idea had to be theirs. Uncle was there to guide and suggest but only as a servant to the possibilities they put forth.

My niece Jasmine made a Christmas stocking holder out of dowels. The idea was to make the dowels look like a spindly tree a la A Charlie Brown Christmas. I think she was 6 when we did this. The stocking tree was spectacularly pitiful. But it worked. None of us has ever had a fireplace, none of has ever had a mantle, but Jazz knew Christmas stockings needed special hanging places. We drilled, we wood-glued, we painted green and attached hooks. It was marvelous.

She’s 19 now.

I wish I’d taken a picture of it.

Nephew Justin was less inclined to make something physically as he was emotionally. He was the gift giver, the kid who wanted his uncle to help him (provide wallet for) pick out presents every year for everyone in the family at his grade school’s Gift Bazaar. He wanted the thought to count, and I wholeheartedly agreed.

I think the longest we spent at a bazaar was 90 minutes. His little legs, normally the first to tell their owner “I’m tired” during the first 5 minutes of walking that involved anything he didn’t find fascinating, zipped back and forth from table to table; in his mind he was making things; connections, magic, meanings: his dad might pay attention to him, his mom would spoil him that much more. Grandma would hoot in delight, and his aunts and uncles would remember that he cared for them very, very much.

And finally I would give him a few dollars and he would send me away with the bag of collected gifts so that he could buy something for me. I’d tell him he had free run, but of course I watched over him from the doorway of the auditorium-turned-holiday store. This normally shy kid walked as confidently as a philosopher, picked things up, put things down, questioned when necessary and purchased when satisfied. (There’s something particularly life-affirming about seeing a kid hold a wad of bills out to purchase a 75 cent bauble.)

Justin will be 21 this year. Every blue moon we’ll go shopping together. We’re usually goofy as hell. Nothing will ever top the time we did impromptu boy band moves in the middle of a department store aisle (“Girl, stop! No, come on.”)

Those Christmas bazaars though…

Anyone who’s followed me on Facebook knows there’s one particular nephew I’ve spoken of at length the past few years. Derek. Better known as Wee Nephew. Derek will be 9 in 2018. He’s fully a child of the Digital Age.

Wee Nephew, since the age of 4, has never missed a year asking me what we were going to make for Christmas. He may be fully immersed in digital wares but if you saw the light he puts out going through my ever-present knick knack bin of wood, or learning a new tool, you’d hug somebody on a daily basis.24818882_10211797341663674_738193389_o.jpg

One year we made a holiday card holder. Another year a rolling platform for a train and village scene. The last things we made were scabbards for our traditional Christmas wrapping paper tube sword fight (‘round yon virgin there can be only one).

That was last year. He hasn’t approached wondering when we’re going to do anything this year.

Next year, at 9, he’ll be the Digital Age equivalent of 19. At 10 I hope I’m not an anachronism.

I’m sure he’ll come around this year though. The making’s in his blood. He’s asked for Minecraft video games for Christmas but I noticed physical LEGOS made the list too. Making things fills a need that not a single one of us ought to deny: to experience creation much the same way a god would remember its many acts.

Making things during winter holiday time always seemed appropriate to me. The entire season is about transformation and wonder. When my siblings and I made our homestyle insulation we were amazed to find it actually worked. Mortified, certainly, but duly amazed. And, truth be told, proud of it.

Anybody can buy something. It only takes money. But how often does money not handed over by a small child in an eager fist manage to transcend itself and become a memory worthy of recalling 10 years later? How often do we get to create with those we love, and in creating create those we love? Even things we love?

Traditions come and traditions go. What I love is those kids who’ve become or will become adults will make things the length of their lives. When the wind gets cold and the hearth, be it an apartment, a dorm room, or an actual house complete with fireplace, engenders thoughts of hibernation, the urge to see what can be done with what’s on hand will grow until they feel little choice but to do something to bring joy to their world.

What a blessing that is.

Have Yourself a Hygge Little Christmas

by Pamela Capriotti Martin

Simple pleasures. Family, friends, graciousness; sharing and caring for others. The Danish word “hygge” has become part of our vocabulary recently, and this year, it was pretty much the guide I used as I bought my Christmas gifts.

It isn’t about the expense. It isn’t about technology or hype. It’s about bringing the actual ‘comfort and joy’ in the old song, ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’.IMG_0677.JPG

As a writer, we are meant to give texture to our writing with more than just dialogue and plot points, bringing together the ‘life’ details around our characters. It’s really the same for the Christmas season for me. Living in the South there are some missing elements: the scent of the pine trees, the feeling of snowflakes on your eyelashes. The scent of a first snow before it begins. The warmth of hot chocolate in your mittened hands. And so, Hygge is about honoring the five senses for me this Christmas. The sounds. The sights. The tastes. The touch. The smells. The simplicity that brings joy.IMG_0694.JPG

I’ve created a Christmas playlist on my phone. Random Christmas songs don’t bring me joy. I love the sounds of Nat King Cole, Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, and perhaps a few artists who are still with us, Michael Buble, Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney and even a little Madonna.

My top ten songs for Christmas:

White Christmas by Bing Crosby
Santa Baby by Madonna
Wonderful Christmastime by Paul McCartney
The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole
I’ll Be Home for Christmas by Michael Buble
Count Your Blessings by Rosemary Clooney
Holy Night by John McDermott
Sleigh Ride by Harry Connick Jr.
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer by Dean Martin (childhood favorite)
Silent Night by Frank Sinatra (1957)
The scents of Christmas support the feelings of warmth. I’m a candle person. My diffuser is always out of whatever is meant to bring scent to a room, but my candles this season bring warm spices of cinnamon and cloves, the fruitiness of cranberries, the piney woods, and even the sweet smell of cookies baking in the oven. (Although, there are plenty of cookies baking.)

Taste. There are so many tastes that evoke the season. The tartness of dried cranberries in granola, biscotti, and oatmeal cookies. Who needs raisins? The warmth of cider with spices and a beautiful velvety chocolaty hot chocolate. I’ve included recipes for both. My husband is Irish and Italian and so it’s not Christmas without a Christmas pudding, a large pot of spaghetti on Christmas Eve and mince pies.

While my grandmother scented the house with Norwegian Christmas traditions of lefse, warm rommegrot (a Norwegian pudding) topped with cinnamon and sugar and the not so welcome Lutekfisk, my grandfather, who was German brought out the pickled herring and sauerkraut. The best though were her homemade cookies, the sandbakkels which signaled Christmas to me. They’re baked in little tart tins and some were terribly stubborn and didn’t come out of the tin perfectly. And that meant they were to be eaten because they wouldn’t make the cookie tray. Shucks.

Warm flannel nightgowns made by my mother were part of our Christmas tradition. I remember particularly one that was a pale blue print with hearts, so soft and warm for those cold Minnesota winters. My daughters have received Christmas pajamas for most of their years, not always flannel pj pants but some in soft cotton or silky fabric that feels delightful on the skin. There have been cashmere socks or hats and scarves, mittens, and other things that envelope us in warmth. Not to mention handwarmers from LLBean in the ski boots and ski mittens.

The sights of Christmas are married with the sounds.

Films and Books I recommend:

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg – A beautifully illustrated children’s book

The Christmas Train by David Baldacci – Strangers on a train bound for Los Angeles at Christmas

Letters from Father Christmas J.R.R. Tolkien – Letters written and illustrated by Tolkien between 1920 and 1942 from Father Christmas to his children

Madeline’s Christmas Ludwig Bemelmens – My favorite childhood heroine

The Greatest Gift is a short story written by Philip Van Doren Stern in 1943 that became the basis for It’s a Wonderful Life

A Christmas Wish by Lori Evert (Author),‎ Per Breiehagen (Illustrator) – A beautiful book. Anja wants to be one of Santa’s elves. When she skis off in her quest to find Santa, a bird, horse, musk ox, polar bear, and reindeer show her the way.

Christmas Films:

Holiday Inn – Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Every single number but the 4th of July dance with the firecrackers is my favorite.

Come to the Stable – Loretta Young and Celeste Holm. I loved the tennis-playing nun the best.

Miracle on 34th Street – Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood, Edmund Gwenn. I wanted to be Susan. And I wanted her house.

Christmas in Connecticut – Barbara Stanwyk. Just a sweet retro pic.

The Santa Claus – Tim Allen. I don’t love Tim Allen but I do love the whole silly premise but mostly the relationship between Charlie and his dad. And the souped up sleigh.

Love Actually – Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson and more.

And perhaps one of my very favorites, no matter the season, Desk Set with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy – made me want to do research and learn to make floating islands. I did. If you like this one – get every single one of the Hepburn/Tracy films. They’re dynamite.IMG_0681.JPG

One of the best parts of the season are the activities that bring you together as a family. Wrapping presents together. Creating your own festive wraps by decorating plain brown wrapping paper with a stamp with silver or gold, or writing Merry Christmas or other holiday words in script with a colored marker. Putting red or green ribbons around each package and making tags from old cards or brown cardstock and tying a bit of evergreen to the bow. Making ornaments.

Playing a game. In years past we broke into teams to play Trivial Pursuit. Mapomimoes (Europe) is a new favorite geography game. Apples to Apples or Candyland (another childhood favorite) with the younger crowd. Doing a Christmas puzzle together on the floor. Baking cookies or making gifts for teachers together. Making sure you allow the young ones to add their own creative and unique suggestions ensuring the perfection in the adult in you doesn’t overpower their vision.

For the time in Vermont this year, I’m packing the games, the pajamas, the hot chocolate mix I’ve made, the books, the songs, and I’ll decorate a little tree in Vermont. We will have ourselves a Merry Hygge Christmas. I hope there’s snow. (I’m sure there is snow)!IMG_0695.JPG

Decadent Hot Chocolate Mix

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon (8 grams) cornstarch
3 ounces (85 grams) semi- or bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 cup (40 grams) cocoa powder, any kind you like
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract or the seeds from a tiny segment of fresh vanilla bean
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until powdery. Don’t have a food processor? Chop or grate the chocolate until it is as fine as you can get it, and stir it into the remaining ingredients. Mixture keeps in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 months.

To use: Heat one cup of milk (coconut, almond or others would work here too) in a saucepan over medium heat until steamy. Add 3 tablespoons hot cocoa mix. Whisk over heat for another minute or two, until it begins to simmer and mix is completely dissolved.

Homemade Mulling Spice

large orange, zested, peel and pith, minced

1 ounce jar cinnamon sticks, chipped

.75 ounce whole allspice

.75 ounce whole cloves

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees, and put a piece of parchment paper down.

Scatter the zest, peel and pith over the parchment paper and bake for about an hour until dry. Meanwhile, place the cinnamon sticks in a Ziploc and wrap it in a towel. Smash. I use a wooden meat hammer but a rolling pin would work.

Mix everything gently together and store in an airtight container.

Add 1 tablespoon to each eight ounces of cider. Warm and strain into a mug.IMG_0689.JPG

All I Want for Christmas is a Panforte

by Sally Kerr-Dineen

Panforte is cross between nougat and fruitcake, a bread and a candy. I think this is one of the Christmassiest desserts ever. For me it’s the aroma that wafts around the kitchen when it’s baking.

There’s nothing to be intimidated by, it’s not tricky to make just a bit sticky to make. The honey syrup hardens really quickly so you have to move fast from mixing to getting the batter into the pan. What’s nice is that this Italian spiced “bread” keeps for ages, easily a month or two wrapped well at room temperature.

Ingredients:
2 cups toasted almonds, coarsely chopped
2 cups candied citron mixture (like lemon, lime, orange, cherry)
Grated zest from one lemon
¾ cup flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1-cup sugar
¾ cup honey

-Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Spay paper and sides of pan with cooking spray.
-Mix the almonds, citron, zest, flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg together in a large bowl.
-Heat the sugar and honey in a small pan on low heat stirring constantly until the mixture is smooth, bubbles slightly and reads 240°F on a candy thermometer.
-Pour honey syrup into nut mixture and stir well, the batter stiffens quickly, so work fast. Scrape into prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula or your fingers when it’s cool enough to handle.
-Bake for 35-40 minutes until the center feels like soft custard and your finger comes away clean. Do not over bake. The panforte will firm up as it cools.
-Cool on a rack for 15 minutes, run a knife around the edge to loosen, remove pan and cool completely. Remove the bottom and parchment paper, sprinkle heavily with confectioner’s sugar.

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Note: I mushed two recipes together; one from David Lebovitz and the other from The Essential New York Times Cookbook.

Sugar and Spice

by Pamela Capriotti Martin

I grew up in a neighborhood with lots of young families in 25 houses with 68 kids. While my mother was the only one who had a full-time out of home job, the others served as afternoon surrogates with cookies, brownies, and treats galore. Every Christmas we would bake 24 dozen cookies and bring them to the annual cookie swap. I both dreaded the work and loved the exchange. The kids had our favorites and with no disrespect meant to the other mothers – we all loved Mrs. Jensen’s cookies the best. Mrs. Jensen was from Sweden and we thought her so worldly. Mr. Jensen was Danish, and as I found out when I interviewed him for a college Oral History project, was a leading member of the Danish Underground during World War II. He met Mrs. Jensen, a nurse, when he ferried Jewish families from Denmark to Sweden where she and others moved them to safety. The Danish Resistance managed to evacuate 7,220 of Denmark’s 7,800 Jews plus 686 non-Jewish spouses, by sea to nearby neutral Sweden. Sadly, I lost the tape of our interview, but I remember every detail very well. I remember being so awestruck that this hero was living down the street that I barely could keep my eyes on my notes and ask him questions. Thank heavens for a tape recorder. They were an amazing family right in our little neighborhood.

Mrs. Jensen was a sweet lady who made the most delicate horseshoe shaped Swedish ginger cookies. We waited ever year for the crispy brown cookies and coveted the recipe although she never parted with it. My mother made Norwegian sandbakkels (a crispy almond sugar cookie baked in a fluted tin) every year. Many of the mothers in the neighborhood had Scandinavian roots and then there was Mrs. Gallagher (Lebanese) and Mrs. Grady (Irish) and Mrs. Woodburn (German). Popular cookies with the kids were candy cane sugar cookies, a wonderful stained glass cookie, spritz with sprinkles (although we always thought they were too small), almond snowball cookies, and always some great baklava which technically isn’t a cookie but it was much appreciated.image1.jpeg

Here are three of our favorite cookie recipes – my favorite easy shortbread, my grandmother’s favorite molasses cookies and my recipe for cranberry and pistachio biscotti.

Shortbread

Ingredients:
3/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I use a heavy hand on this)
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 F

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the butter and 1 cup of sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough 1/2-inch thick and cut with a cookie cutter of your desired shape. Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Allow to cool to room temperature.

**Don’t want to roll them out – I generally don’t. Halve the dough, roll into two logs, (I always freeze one) cut them ½ inch thick and follow baking directions above. To festive them up – dip in melted chocolate of your choice.

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti

Ingredients:
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup boiling water
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
3 large eggs, plus 1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Place cranberries in a small bowl; add boiling water. Let stand until plump, about 15 minutes. Drain, and set aside. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla. Add flour mixture, and mix on low speed until combined. Mix in cranberries and pistachios.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface; divide in half. Shape each piece into a 16-by-2-inch log, and transfer to prepared baking sheet, about 3 inches apart. With the palm of your hand, flatten logs slightly. Brush beaten egg over surface of the dough logs, and sprinkle generously with sugar.

Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until logs are slightly firm to touch, about 25 minutes. Transfer logs on parchment paper to a wire rack to cool slightly, about 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Place logs on a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut logs crosswise on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place a wire rack on a large rimmed baking sheet. Arrange slices, cut sides down, on rack. Bake until firm to touch, about 30 minutes. Remove pan from oven; let biscotti cool completely on rack. Biscotti can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Great-Grandma’s Molasses Cookies

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup mild-flavored (light) or robust-flavored (dark) molasses
1/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
Coarse sanding or raw sugar (for rolling)

Directions

Place racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 375°F. Whisk flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and salt in a small bowl. Whisk egg, butter, granulated sugar, molasses, and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Mix in dry ingredients just to combine.

Place sanding sugar in a shallow bowl. Scoop out dough by the tablespoonful and roll into balls (if dough is sticky, chill 20 minutes). Roll in sugar and place on 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2″ apart.

Bake cookies, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until cookies are puffed, cracked, and just set around edges (over-baked cookies won’t be chewy), 8–10 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and let cool.

MAKE AHEAD: Cookie dough can be made and rolled into balls 2 weeks ahead. Freeze on a baking sheet; transfer to resealable plastic bags. Let sit at room temperature 30 minutes before rolling in sugar.image1 (2).jpeg

Krampus is a Comin’

by MK Martin

Have you been good? Hide all your birch switches, and say something kind to everyone you see today. In many parts of Europe, St. Nicholas Day is celebrated December 6th. On the night before, the horned devil Krampus roams the streets, seeking out the homes of naughty children. Mostly, he just swats at them, but some stories suggest very naughty children will be eaten! With that in mind, here are two sweet Icelandic recipes to try. Maybe if you leave him a little shortcake, he’ll walk on by.

Coconut Wreaths
(makes about 2 dozen)
These are pretty, and they smell great.wreath.jpg

The recipe calls for a cookie press, which is a tube gun you attach a metal thing to at the end. If you don’t want to use one, you can roll little balls and flatten on the cookie sheet, or try to loosely shape the wreaths yourself, but the dough gets a bit hard to handle! I found a free form photo above ^^

Ingredients:

200 g flour
200 g dessicated coconut
150 g sugar
200 g butter, softened
1 egg

Mix the flour, coconut and sugar. A whisk works well here.

Fold in the egg and butter, and mix until it just comes together. I know, it’s counter intuitive to most cookie directions, but it will come together.

Run the dough through the cookie press, fitted with a simple attachment, and run it through in lengths of about 6 cm, which you then shape into a wreath right on the baking sheet.

Bake at 350, for 8 minutes (but you know my rule, check after 7), until light and golden.

Icelandic Spice Cake

Here is a cake full of the flavor of the holidays, without the weight and prep time of a fruit cake. The warming spices are anti inflammatory, and anti bacterial, even if they’re being mixed with sugar. A little dark cocoa ups the ‘health’ factor.This is also a cake you mix by hand, but you might be able to get away with a stand mixer on lowest setting. (makes enough cake for two layers, but is often cut into 4. You can do a sheet pan as well.)

Ingredients

500 g flour
350 g sugar
250 g butter
2 eggs
3 tsp ground cloves
3 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
2 tbs dark cocoa
milk, as needed

*What does ‘as needed’ mean? For many European cake recipes, a kneaded dough is used, rather than a batter. This is batter style, but the recipe still calls for a ‘medium thick’ batter, such as a muffin might have. I pour out a 1/2 cup of milk and use that, usually all of it. *

Cream together sugar and butter. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, until incorporated.

Sift, or whisk, your dry ingredients together. Add to the butter mixture a few TBSP at a time, mix, then a splash of milk. This is why this part is better done by hand, as it will go faster than it sounds and not be overmixed.

Pour into greased 8 in cake tins, and bake at 350 for 40 minutes, give or take, depending on your oven. My bake time always varies, thanks to spotty heat.

Serve frosted with layers of buttercream, or our favorite: for breakfast with a little fresh whipped cream.

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Sugar Cookies for Every Day

by MK Martin

The only STEM subject I enjoyed in school was Chemistry. It’s pretty easy to make the jump from chemistry to ‘alchemy’ in the mind, and making fantasy a part of my reality was a form of anxiety quelling mechanism that, whether for better or worse has been my constant companion. The Food Network happened to be in its relative infancy while I was finishing high school, and a hibernating interest awakened.
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A lot of noted worriers love baking. It’s a mid brain exercise, calling up some of your more complicated cognitive equations to partner with the ritual zen movements of creating something to eat. Cooking is the first ritual, one we all need and one we all infuse with love whether we realize it or not. Is there anything more loving than giving someone a big tin full of cookies? Sure, we know sugar is evil now, but in between the Omegas and the kale massages, our primitive honey seeking hunter gatherer brain is asking ‘but where is the honey?’

Kids tantalized by the glory of the season can get overwhelmed, and be full of Ferrero Rochers before anyone’s the wiser. Not that I’d know. Having a little tin of cookies you can have with tea after school in festive shapes means not being asked for Ice Cream in the dead of mid winter. As Martha would say, it’s a good thing.24313163_10155299697563737_6792725580191210636_o.jpg

These cookies are not vegan, but the substitutes for vegan fat options like coconut oil are one to one, and you may use all manner of things as an alternative binder. 3 TBSP of chia seeds, soaked, or 1/2 cup of that ‘new’ aquafaba, for example. Which is literally the bean juice from a can. I recommend chick pea, for minimal odor.

I am, however, using all Canadian non GMO milled wheat, and butter made over in Alliston about 40 minutes from here. Using what’s made nearby usually means your ingredients can last a little longer, and they’ve supported someone in your community.

I don’t ice cookies anymore, preferring instead to make a million little cookie sandwiches, filled with successful or failed ganache, lemon curd, freezer jam, ice cream, etc. Maybe you have a new idea for me?

For the Cookies

3 cups leveled flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon, or more
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup sugar
1 large egg

In a separate bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.

Beat egg and vanilla together. Using a mechanical mixture, or your own bare arms and forceful intentions, cream together the butter and sugar.

If you have a stand mixture, you can fit your machine with the dough hook and slowly add the flour one cup a time, while set to low. Otherwise, add and mix by hand, do not overmix. It will begin to clump together.

This dough can be tacky, so I turn it out into a floured glass pie plate to form into two discs. Wrap individually with plastic wrap and chill at least 30 minutes. At this time, you can also freeze your dough for later.

If you have a marble rolling counter, you’re winning. Otherwise, you can use a piece of wax paper to roll your cookies out to desired thickness. Thinner cookies will take less time to bake. We usually aim for 1/2 inch thick.

Transfer to parchment lined baking sheet, or silpat, or bare if you’re feeling lucky. Bake for 7-11 minutes at 350 degrees, again, depending on thickness. To err on the side of caution, just set your time for seven minutes and check the edges have set. Allow to cool on a wire rack before icing. If you are using sprinkles, you can press a few in that have shapes ahead of baking, but jimmies tend to melt.

Creative’s Calling. Will you Answer?

by MK Martin

December: the sleepiest of months. When the sun goes down before tea time, and the garden is full of hungry little mouths, looking for what’s leftover.DSC_0049.JPG

blackest night,
coldest dawn,
sharpest wind,
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Often, this month arrives with anxiety for me. I have never been very good at celebrations, often saying the wrong thing, or feeling out of place. While I enjoy some of the ritual of Christmas, the chaos and materialism get right under my skin, where it roils around and confuses the meaning of the season.

As a small child, I watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas so many times, I broke the VCR. The reason being, I wanted to see his heart grow again and again. I found the idea fascinating, and wondered if my own heart was too small. I also spent many hours in the bathroom, pulling Grinch faces. I felt like the Grinch. He was overwhelmed by it all, and struggled to find meaning in it.

This year, in the spirit of creation and passion, I want to see how many of our dear friends, peers and inspirational humans we can get together to share their holiday styles. A little festival of what we take away, personally, from this time of year. Reading about each other, from each of our perspectives, might bring what can seem like an insurmountable maelstrom into focus, and provide a little breathing room between wrapping and planning and baking and decorating and calling and writing and, everything, in between.

Won’t you join us?DSC_0310 (1).JPG

Traditions around the Tree

by Pamela Capriotti Martin

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I have no idea how my passion for Christmas began but I can venture a guess. When we were young, my mother worked hard at making Christmas special for my two brothers and me. She sewed matching outfits or nightgowns for me and my cousins Cindy and Nancy. My grandmother was Norwegian and she made lots of lefse and taught me to press the cookie dough in the sandbakkel tins (theyre a Norwegian almond flavored sugar cookie.) I spent endless hours searching through the Sears catalogue looking at pretty dresses I would love for Christmas. And my brothers and I would sneak a peek at around 2 a.m. Christmas morning when we were certain Santa had already put all our things under the decorated tree.

But the tree was a hassle for my father and the tree stand never actually held the tree appropriately upright. It fell at least once annually. My father absolutely hated putting up the tree but I looked at it as magical with the colored lights, handmade ornaments, and tinsel, carefully placed strand by strand by me and thrown like spaghetti by my younger brother toward the angel on top.

It was fine but I thought there must be more. I found “my Christmas in the movie, Holiday Inn with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire and I was certain thats how it was meant to be. On a little 16 inch black and white television I would wait for my movie every year on Channel 11, Movies with Mel. Then, I found out there were more magical films. Miracle on 34th Street, Christmas in Connecticut, Come to the Stable, and while we didnt have color, White Christmas because now I was certain if Bing Crosby was around, it really was the beginning of Christmas. (It should be noted here that my ringtone for Christmas is Mele Kalikimaka by Bing). I wasnt a big fan of Its a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol because they werent as happy as I presumed Christmas should always be.

I spent the fall semester of my senior year of college studying in Italy and the UK, arriving home Christmas Eve to no tree! I began to cry as Id been homesick for much of my time abroad and in my mind, the tree would be up, cookies baked, and hot chocolate would be ready. None of the above. My father dutifully put me in the car and off we drove to the barren tree lot. Only one tree remained and no one was there. A note was attached to the tree If you found this tree then it is free. And so it was, and I took it home, decorated it myself after finding all the decorations in the basement, and baked myself cookies vowing I would never ever not have a tree.

I started my own traditions and mini rules in my brain. My husband has willingly played along in what I consider important to our Christmas holidays as he has his own expectations which involve mince pies, skis, and plenty of tasty Christmas cookies despite his protestations that they have carbs.

Im pretty sure I passed some of my passion along to my four daughters although they all pass on watching Holiday Inn but may watch Love Actually or a marathon of Christmas Story instead. They have begun their own traditions of making ornaments, putting ribbons on the tree, having more than one tree with a theme and decorating their homes with joy.

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The Christmas Tree trimming begins for us immediately after Thanksgiving. (USA not Canadian) It was a daddy/daughter outing with mummy getting things ready at home. The girls were always told to choose a tree no taller than the tallest girl. And I swear it was always 9-10 feet tall. And oh, so beautiful. My husband and however many of his daughters were available, one then two, then four, and then three, then two and the last two years, just one, chose the tree. This year, our first without a daughter living at home just him and me.

Many years we spent Christmas skiing as a family, and yes, there was a second tree cut down by the girls and their father at a tree farm in Vermont. I pack one small box of lights and unbreakable ornaments and our little tree reflects the warmth of the family tradition we built together over time.

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This year, the tree is as tall as me. A little more petite than Im used to, but its perfect. I have ornaments for at least three trees that size, for you see, I also bought each girl a new ornament every year with the intent they would take their own ornaments with them when they moved away and put up their own trees with the families theyve created. I probably should have marked them though. Anyone want to figure out who belongs to which ornament?

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Our Pasta Fazoo

By Pamela Capriotti Martin

In my husband’s Italian/Irish household there were very specific dinners for every night of the week with some variations. Sunday was always a roast and his mother would make a sauce for the week ahead, which may have been used on a carne pizzaiola, or just pasta. Other nights there would be Nana potatoes and pork chops, minced beef and onions with a Bisto gravy served over mashed potatoes with a side of turnip or peas, and on Fridays, if there was money – fish and chips. If money was tighter than usual it would be chips and eggs or chips and beans. If the Sunday roast was a ham then the bone would be available for a nice pasta e fagioli later in the week. Like many households in the 1950’s in Canada and the U.S, this was a family. on a tight budget. Beans and pasta made for a great week night dinner and meat was meant to be stretched to feed a family of five.

Most of my children are fans of the soup, although M2 was never enamored as a child. M3 feels quite proprietary about her soup. She would order it in every Italian restaurant we frequented and then rate it. One chef took her to the restaurant kitchen and showed her how he made his version. She didn’t like the kidney beans. She was six. I’m pretty sure she told him he was ruining the soup. Another, Chef Frank would see the girls walking in Yorkville and would make it only for them since it wasn’t even on his upscale Italian menu. It’s Italian comfort food.

The dish has simple inexpensive ingredients and began as a peasant dish. John’s mother was from Naples and so while the word for beans is ‘fagioli’ in standard Italian, it’s ‘fasule’ in Neopolitan. So in this house, this simple family favorite, is affectionately known as “fazoo.”

I was introduced to my mother-in-law Giulia’s version of the soup when we traveled to John’s parents every Saturday for lunch. While I felt it was okay – I thought it lacked something. It became a discussion for us as to how we could give the soup more depth of flavor.

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John’s mother always used only water in hers and when she taught me to make it was specific that I was to use only four tomatoes from the can. The water in the soup was changed to chicken stock and I cut mine with water in about a 60/40 ratio, and John uses only chicken stock. If you don’t have that handy ham bone, we use pancetta. I find bacon too salty and don’t like the smoky flavor here, but would use it in a pinch and pull the salt back and use low-sodium chicken stock. Vegetarian M3 won’t use chicken stock or a meat product so substitutes vegetable stock.

This is one of those recipes that depends on who is making it and what you have in your pantry and fridge. I’m certain every Italian household has their own version and certainly John and I even have our own way of making this flavorful and filling soup. Little hands can pick basil leaves or grate cheese to make this a family event. This is my recipe. So, this is a starting point and is definitely open to change with the person who stirs the pot – of soup.

1 T extra virgin olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
3 ounces pancetta (or bacon)
1 medium onion, chopped fine
4 medium cloves of garlic, minced
1 t dried basil
1 28 ounce can San Marzano tomatoes (diced works well)
1 Parmesan cheese rind
2 cans (15 ounce each) Cannellini beans (drained and rinsed)
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
8 ounces small pasta (ditalini, tubetini, conchigliette)
¼ cup fresh parsley chopped
Black pepper, salt
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes. Add pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes.
2. Add onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic, basil (not fresh), stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. 3. Add tomatoes, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pan.
4. Add cheese rind and beans; bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer to blend flavors, 10 minutes.
5. Add chicken broth, 2 cups water, and 1 teaspoon salt; increase heat to high and bring to boil.

6. Cook pasta separately and until tender, about 10 minutes. If you keep the pasta separate and put it in the bowl under the soup, then you can actually reheat the soup base the next day and just boil a new batch of pasta. If you add it to the soup, the pasta becomes flabby and honestly – ruins it.

7. Discard cheese rind. Off heat, stir in 3 tablespoons parsley; adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into individual bowls over pasta portion; drizzle each serving with olive oil and sprinkle with a portion of remaining parsley. Serve immediately, passing grated Parmesan separately.

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