For those of you with small kids, Gene and I used to track Santa for the nieces and nephew every year through the NORAD tracks Santa website which is sooo fun! The kids really loved it (and so did we).
And how did the fruitcake from this October post turn out? Quite well, thank you! Not only is it moist and delicious from its two months of feedings of (alternating) Michael Collins Irish Whiskey and Southern Comfort, it is now decorated prettily with a swipe of white sugar glaze and a fondant wreath, and nestled each into its only little Christmas-themed goody box waiting to go home with family members following our party on Saturday. (Yes, I did leave a few out to slice up for the party.)
For anyone who was intimidated by the 20 mini loaves this recipe made, go ahead and consider it for next year. Next year I think I will probably only get about 15 loaves because I'll fill the mini loaf containers higher with batter before baking AND I've found that having given a few away early this year and having sampled one or two along the process, I'm left with only 12 for the final count including the ones I set aside to cut/serve at the party. The batch size wasn't as overwhelming as it might have seemed at first. Trust me.
I think my favorite treat of all to make is simply snowflake cookies. I love the simplicity and creativity of them! And, ta-da!, with the snowflake cookies, I am only decorating fruitcake away from being officially finished making Christmas treats!
I never thought about "while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads" being a real candy until I read Kate of Kate in the Kitchen's blog post this afternoon about making her own. It was one of those "no way!" moments for me. After I read the recipe and realized I had everything for them in the house, I decided that I too must make sugar plums dance in my head.
I just really never thought about it. Pushed, I would have assumed sugar plums to be either a sugared dried plum (prune) or a marzipan creation since marzipan fruits were particularly popular in the Victorian era. For more history on marzipan, a centuries old Mediterranean and Arabic traditional sweet, click here: Marzipan history
The term sugar plum doesn't refer to the fruit, it's a broad term for a boiled sugar/fruit, nut or seed candy shaped as a small round ball . The confection has been around since the 1600's and the term was used commonly to mean anything that is pleasant. Also, interesting is that in Victorian times "plum" meant raisins, not the fruit we call a plum today.
Like Kate, I used the recipe but subbed a couple of things for what I had. Having no apricots, I mixed dates and prunes (after all, that is a dried plum) and instead of all almonds, I used a mix of almonds, pecans, and walnuts. And again, like Kate and funny that I hadn't read her cook's note yet, I also added another spice to the cinnamon, only I went the cardamon route instead of nutmeg. I totally agree with her, though, any combination of those three spices really are each other's best friends.
I really enjoyed these little treats and love the idea that there's nothing processed in them, although I admit that I have a feeling the teens in my family aren't going to be as happy as I was with them. I can hear them now: What? Nuts and fruit? How boring! As Sydney says: Psych! More for us, the adults! Wish I'd thought to put a little spiced rum in them...Oh wait. Then the teens would want them.
Btw, this is my little kitchen Christmas tree. I love it for the primitive look and if you look closely you can see the mini kitchen utensil ornaments: rolling pin, sieve, pancake turner, ladel, spoon, and whisk. They are all metal with green, red, or yellow wooden handles.
Every year when I make peanut brittle I sort of smile to myself. Gene will eat a couple of pieces and I taste it but that's about it. I make it for my dad and brothers and sisters. I've said before that the happiest times in our home growing up were the holidays because my mom was a fantastic cook and she loved making candy, cookies, breads, you name it, to give as gfts, take to school parties (back when you could take homemade food), and for our big family party always the first Saturday after Christmas.
As the oldest daughter I was her sargeant-at-arms in the kitchen EXCEPT when she made nut brittle. Because of the heat in candy making she banished everyone from the kitchen for the afternoon and made a half dozen batches using different nuts, and she did so every single year. It was a smorgasbord of nut brittles. While she worked, it was the one time I got to happily curl up in the window of my room with a book, thankful that I didn't have to be the dishwasher/ingredient runner. It was a win-win.
Somehow I did learn how to make it, though, and everything else in her repetoire, something the other daugher and all three boys managed to escape. You always think your mom will be around forever to make all of your favorite goodies, but for us, that didn't turn out to be the plan, so each year I try to make most of all of our favorites from childhood for the our big extended family party and we remember mom and how much work and love she put into making our holidays wonderful by using her gifts of cooking and knitting.
Christmas comes to the NICU: Santa hats, Camo Santa hats, Christmas Tree hats, and Rudolf hats. Not only that, but with the help of NICU RN Melissa Letterman and NICU Support Wall of Famer Cindy Blanchard, the babies' each get their own stocking and a rubber ducky painted as a Santa, snowman, or reindeer. As always, the hats, stockings, and duckies will be sent home with parents as souvenirs.
St. Lucia Day is celebrated throughout Scandinavia and in Italy where St. Lucia was born and died a martyr under the Roman Emporer Diocletian, circa 300 A.D. The story goes that while she was carrying food supplies into the catacombs to hiding Christians, she needed her hands free so she fashioned a wreath of candles in her hair to light her way.
That story, combined with Medieval superstions about the winter solstice being a night of evil lurking in the dark giving way to the light and goodness of morning, transcended into a celebration of St. Lucia, the girl with the lighted wreath in her hair leading the people out into the literal and philosophical light, freedom, and goodness, by having the oldest daughter of the family dress in a long white dress with a red sash and a wreath of candles in her hair serve saffron buns and coffee to her family on the morning of the holiday.
The story has always appealed to me. As the oldest daughter, I like the idea of serving my family and if part of that is cooking, then I'll be there with bells on. Or candles on. Or a mag flashlight or anything that won't burn me alive in the process of the fun.
To mark the day two years ago I made individual swirled saffron buns. They were lovely tasting but I wasn't crazy about the way the raisins looked. No big. This year, though, I went for a different presentation method and loved the results!
For me, one of the keys to the Christmas season is to be prepared as far in advance as I can so that I'm not sweating out the small stuff during the rush of parties and get togethers and folks dropping by. That's usually my theory. This year I've gotten most of the cooking done but have yet to pull a single decoration from the attic and only half the presents are bought. But hey, the Christmas cards are out!!
One of the cooking shortcuts I've been faithful to, though, is keeping refigerated cookie dough on hand to be able to bake off as needed. I've also learned to take one dough and make a couple of variety of cookies to save myself the monotony of cut out cookies in a line so endless I want to throw cookie cutters in the garbage, but the dough is a very versatile base.
I haven't even gotten to the cut outs yet but for the neighborhood Christmas party tonight I"ve worked up these two winners: