Books to Celebrate

by MK Martin

Have you ever read the Nutcracker? It’s a stunning book, illustrated by Toller Cranston who, if you’ve never been into figure skating, was a prominent athlete in the sport. Do yourself a favor and search for him on Youtube. Preferably in his canary suit.


There’s also a lovely version illustrated by Maurice Sendak I love very much. But the reason I love these stories is the same: Godfather Drosselmeier. This resplendent, but somewhat homely be-caped uncle, shows up at an otherwise ordinary Georgian/Victorian Christmas (depending on the version) and brings with him the most fantastic mechanical inventions, of his own design.25358410_10155332707358737_3923440631684682061_o.jpg

There are children in this story, but this guy, this is who I wanted to be. He wowed the crowd without witticisms, he stunned the savvy without good tailoring. He was far more interesting than Santa, and he didn’t outsource. Though his creations were all wondrous, it was one in the back that over a young lady’s heart. A carved Nutcracker who, though his proportions were mishap and his grin a little wide, his purpose was clear and his mission unfailing. When night comes, and the dread Rat King comes to terrorize the world of magic, it is the Nutcracker who saves the day. The illustrations are beautiful, captivating, and somehow, Sendak manages to convey Marie’s expressions in just a few lines, and terrify with the enormous Sweet Tooth, who could represent any frightening authority figure of any era.25398240_10155332707408737_2490535478702731558_o.jpgBabar, Jean de Brunhof’s epic tale of his title character’s search for Father Christmas, comes up in our reading rotation even if it isn’t Christmas. Any story where the characters are all animals, walking around our human world in suits and silks, and ruling their own kingdoms is instantly a favorite. I love that Babar is a champion for his subjects, that he adopts orphaned members of his family, and others, and that his wife, Celeste is always the quiet (well, elephant quiet) voice of reason. One of his adopted kids, Zephyr, discovers Father Christmas brings toys to children all over the world, and he wonders if it wouldn’t be a good idea for them to write and see if he will come to Elephant Country too?


Since it’s too long to wait for mail of any kind, Babar decides to go on a quest for his kids, to make sure their letter gets there alright. He’s lead a merry chase through interesting places, aided by some and thwarted as well. The ending is happy, and Father Christmas has a very cool airship.


My very favorite holiday story, though, is The Secret Staircase, by Jill Barklem. The illustrations in her works are breathtaking journeys, a story to be told in each one. It was this story that first introduced me to Midwinter: the ‘pagan’ observance of the darkest day, the Death of the Year. It is a fleeting moment in the calendar, because, the next day is already longer than the last. It is like witnessing the Universe being born all over again; from the darkness, light, and then everything begins.25394764_10155332707413737_3003422095016284018_o.jpg

Ms. Barklem must also find this to be magical, because she takes us with her little mouse heroes up, up into the palace hewn and carved from a massive tree, to rooms and cupboards not seen in any remembered age.

Every turn shows them beauty, majesty and hidden secrets of a world since forgotten. If there’s a history buff lurking in your kid, this story will draw them out. The purpose of their search, is to find something a little bit more stunning for the Midwinter recital and log burning. A popular, but well worn poem has been chosen, and they are looking for a little glamour. Where else should you find those things, but in your great-great-great-great-great grandparents’ closet? The greatest illustration is of the denouement, and I read the poem out loud, with gusto every year.

When the days are the shortest, the nights are the coldest,
The frost is the sharpest, the year is the oldest,
The sun is the weakest, the wind is the hardest,
The snow is the deepest, the skies are the darkest,
Then polish your whiskers and tidy your nest,
And dress in your richest and finest and best ..

For winter has brought you the worst it can bring,
And now it will give you
The promise of SPRING!!25440301_10155332707378737_9020581678556255886_o.jpg

To me, it’s the kids’ books that are the classics, of any age. Grown up stories tend to drag along with them the social trappings of the age, while a child’s story is to the point. I hope you get a chance to read these, some day.

Have Fun and Get Weird with Your Holiday Present Wrapping

By Angelina Williams

We have a tradition in our house of not using conventional wrapping paper. It may have started during a particularly broke period in our lives but it’s persisted because it’s way more fun to come up with creative (often weird) ways of wrapping presents. It also uses things I have on hand so I don’t have to go buy holiday wrapping paper that I find boring or depressing. I’m going to be really up-front with you all, I happen to have a lot of crafty things on hand which is useful. But today I want to show you some of the wrapping ideas I came up with this week that don’t require particularly exotic or numerous supplies to make.

Basic materials I use here are: double sided tape, regular clear tape, staples, scissors, grocery store mailers, used bubble wrap, grocery bags, cracker boxes, magazine pages, and black felt pens. Slightly less basic materials: hot glue gun, glitter glue, kraft paper, dot pattern drafting paper, vintage magazine pages, buttons, and cut up old dictionary pages.

In previous years I’ve never used the bubble wrap I always save so I’ve used it in two different ways this year.


In the above wrapping I made an exotic bubble wrap flower by cutting out petal shapes to alternate with long thin strips of plain kraft paper and stapling them together. Then I curled the strips of kraft paper with scissors and glued an old button to the center. I used a heavy duty double sided tape to adhere the decoration to the package.


For this rolled up magazine package (you can apply this wrapping to a rolled up t-shirt, a paperboard tube, or a rolled up piece of artwork) I used the bubble wrap as the main wrapping and then created a little extra coverage by taping part of a page of a vintage magazine I have around the bubble wrap. My vintage magazine was already falling apart so no sacrilege to beautiful old printings was committed. Then I decorated using a simpler version of the bubble wrap flower I already showed you.
I have a large number of old buttons on hand and know I will never use them all for clothing or other craft projects so I wanted to use them for wrapping this year. Here’s what I came up with:


I started with a slightly different idea involving gold thread but it didn’t work very well. It doesn’t bother me when my ideas don’t work out as I planned because I always end up with something interesting in the process. I used a scrap of dot drafting paper for this package because I often have pieces of this left over from drafting clothing patterns that are too small to use for other drafting projects. I picked a selection of buttons I liked the look of together and without too much planning glued them all around the box in a band. I don’t like things to look over-wrought, I like a little bit of randomness when doing projects like this. When the gold thread idea failed I decided to use black felt marker to visually connect the buttons so they look more bold.


If you like this idea but don’t have a ready stash of buttons like I do, see if you can find extra buttons on the inside of button-up shirts in your closet. Most button-ups come with some extra buttons in case you lose some. Or maybe a friend has more buttons than they can use and will share. I got a lot of my buttons in bag lots from thrift stores so you might try that. The point is that none of these were expensive to begin with and are fun to use for wrapping presents.


This decoration I made is kind of weird. I admit it. From some angles it almost looks obscene. Even so, I’m sharing it because it was easy and fun to make and I’m pretty sure no one in my family, and probably yours too, has seen anything quite like it. I wrapped the book in grocery mailers, something I’ve been doing for many years. Then I constructed this odd decoration using strips of kraft paper and cut up strips of an old dictionary.


Before you go crying out against cutting dictionaries up, let me assure you I didn’t do it! My husband is an artist and he was collecting shredded up old dictionaries for a long time and finally decided to use one of the ones in really bad shape for a project. Later he gave the rest of the strip to me. I love dictionaries (to actually look things up in) but I have no problem cutting one up if its cover is in tatters and the spine is wrecked and you will have no trouble locating such a sad specimen in a thrift store or on a hoarder’s shelf just waiting to be loved in a new way.

The last idea I came up with this year is probably the cheapest and easiest to do:


I wrapped the box in a used paper grocery bag. Then I took apart a cracker box. I cut out several five-petaled flower shapes in two different sizes. I applied glitter glue to the edges and once dry I used double stick tape to attach the smaller flower shapes on top of the larger ones. You can leave it like that. It looked cool. But my husband wanted something more and I already had my buttons out so I hot glued buttons for the middles. If you don’t have buttons you could cut flower middles out of the grocery bag.

There was a time when wrapping presents was tedious to me but for the last decade I just let myself have fun and be weird with the wrapping and my family has come to look forward to seeing what strangeness I put under the tree every year. My husband loves to illustrate and so he’s taken to making drawings on the wrapping which we also love. And my mom, also an artist, has been applying her love of fiber arts to present wrapping doing interesting package ties with different kinds of yarns and knots.

If you don’t already have fun with your present wrapping, now’s a great time to start. It will take one more potentially tedious task and turn it into a fun activity to look forward to.

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

Book Gifts for Plant Lovers

By Catherine Winter

The holidays are approaching quickly, and it’s more than likely that you have a few green-thumbed loved ones to buy for this year. Whether they’re into permaculture gardening techniques, foraging/wildcrafting, herbal medicine, or just the basics on how to keep a single tomato or basil plant alive, we’ve got you covered. Below is a list of favourite books, recommended by our contributors, friends, neighbours, family members, and community gardeners/farmers. Happy growing!

Backyard Farming, Permaculture, & Homesteading

As more people take to growing their own produce, backyards (and even front yards) are being transformed into lush food forests. Novices and seasoned gardeners alike love to learn new growing methods, and these gorgeous books are packed with knowledge that can help feed families for generations to come.


Paradise Lot, by Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates (Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City)


The Backyard Homestead, by Carleen Madigan

Permaculture by Bill Mollison

Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch

Grow Your Own Fruits

Grow Your Own Fruits and Vegetables, by Ian Cooke


All About Raising Chickens and Ducks

Few things are as glorious as fresh eggs, especially when you gather them from your own coop. If the people you’re buying for are thinking about raising chickens and/or ducks, these books can help.

Chicken Whisperers

The Chicken Whisperer’s Guide to Keeping Chickens, by Andy Schneider and Brigid McCrea

Fresh Eggs Daily

Fresh Eggs Daily: Raising Happy, Healthy Chickens…Naturally, by Lisa Steele

Raising Ducks

Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks: Breeds, Care, and Health, by David Holderread

Herbal Medicine

Herbalism and Natural Healing

Herbal medicine has always been a mainstay of natural health and wellbeing, and as more people turn back towards more holistic healing methods, resources such as the books below are becoming mainstays in many homes. These are some of our favourite herbalism books: hopefully they’ll become yours as well.

Gladstar Medicinal Herbs

Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide: 33 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use

Earthwise Herbal

The Earthwise Herbal, volumes 1 (Old World Medicinal Plants) and 2 (New World Plants), by Matthew Wood

Plant Healer's Path

The Plant Healer’s Path: A Grassroots Guide For the Folk Herbal Tribe, by Jesse Wolf and Kiva Rose Hardin


The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual, by James Green

Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer

The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer, by Jeff and Melanie Carpenter

Yoga of Herbs

The Yoga of Herbs by Dr David Frawley and Dr Vasant Lad (Ayurvedic)


For Foragers and Lovers of Wild Edibles

When it comes to foraging and wildcrafting, it’s really best to get books for the recipient’s bioregion. Few things are as devastating as finding spectacular wild edible and medicinal plants in a beautiful book, and then discovering that they live on the opposite side of the country from where you are.

Edible & Medicinal Plants of Canada

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada by Lone Pine Publishing


Northeast Foraging, by Leda Meredith


Midwest Foraging by Lisa Rose


The Deerholme Foraging Book: Wild Foods and Recipes from the Pacific Northwest, by Bill Jones


Preserving the Harvest

Once a person has gone through all the work of growing their own food, it’s time to preserve all that glorious abundance for the colder months. Canning, pickling, fermenting, dehydrating, and freezing are just a few methods that can be used to put food by, and these techniques are both important to learn, and a lot of fun! Besides, who doesn’t love to open a can of summer-ripe peaches or tomatoes in February?

Ball Canning Book

The All New Ball Book Of Canning And Preserving: Over 350 of the Best Canned, Jammed, Pickled, and Preserved Recipes

Food in Jars

Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round, by Marisa McClellan

Canning New Generation

Canning for a New Generation: Updated and Expanded Edition: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry, by Liana Krissoff



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.

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.


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

Trifle with Love

By Catherine Winter

There are few desserts as simple, and yet as satisfying as a trifle. It can be whipped together in just a few minutes, but is a perfectly elegant centrepiece for any holiday dessert table. Best of all, you can adapt it to any dietary restriction or preference, whether it’s gluten-free, vegan, dairy-free, or wholly raw.

When it comes to putting together a trifle, the sky is the limit. The classic arrangement is layers of alcohol-laced pound cake or ladyfinger biscuits alternating with layers of vanilla pudding, mixed berries or sliced fruit, and topped with whipped cream, but honestly? Make it your own!

Chocolate Trifle

Whip up some vegan coconut cream and alternate that with layers of peach slices and ginger cookies, or alternate layers of wafers with chocolate pudding, nuts, and malted chocolate balls.

‘Tis the season to be creative with delicious foods, right? What will you trifle with this season? Let us know in the comments section!

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.


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


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

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


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

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)


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 ^^


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.)


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.