Monday, December 24, 2018

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas Eve! We're enjoying a quiet holiday at home together. Everyone is getting over bad colds which started at the tail end of last week (we pretty much dragged ourselves to the finish line to wrap up school and other activities before the break; it was sort of pitiful). But we're mostly on the mend now and looking forward to time off from school and work, some fun plans, good things to eat and drink, and much togetherness.

I just finished icing and decorating my Christmas cake; my first attempt at working with fondant went reasonably well. They probably won't ask me to appear on Nailed It!, anyway. I'll show it to you soon. We're going to slice into it tonight after dinner. I'm making chipotle/green chile/vegetable enchiladas tonight, and crab cakes for Christmas dinner, as well as a challah French toast casserole for Christmas breakfast. We also have snacks and appetizers; I'm particularly looking forward to shrimp, nuts, and all the cheese.

There is a possibility of snow later this week - two separate snowstorms may come through here and that's just the most exciting thing we've heard in a long time. Some of us are losing our minds with anticipation; others are merely looking forward to having a reason to stay close to home. Whatever happens, we're happy to be here together.

I wish you and your loved ones are very happy holiday!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Cookie caboodle

Hello! Thank you for your comments on my post about My Christmas Treasury! I'm so happy to know that you enjoyed seeing some of it, and that some of you even have your own memories of this book!

Well, I've spent the past four days in a veritable baking frenzy! I started on Friday afternoon when we came home from school and I finished mid-afternoon Monday. I used 12 cups of flour, 9 sticks of butter and so much sugar I stopped keeping track. I enjoyed every bit of my bakeapalooza, though. I always bake a massive amount of cookies on the last weekend before school ends for the holiday break; we have our annual art show at school on the last Wednesday every year (that's tomorrow), which also includes a bake sale. We're asked to donate cookies to the cause. I always give them a lot of cookies, usually most of what I bake. I also send a fair amount to work with the Bear, to share with his coworkers. He took some in today and I'll give him more on Thursday. This will leave us with plenty to eat at home, rest assured, but not so many that we're pigging out on cookies day and night.

This year's cookies are a mixture of some old favorite recipes and a few new twists, but nothing really exotic. I've tried that in the past, and while I love to experiment with baking, I find that when you need to make tons of cookies fairly quickly, it really pays to stick with simple, prolific recipes. With that in mind, I chose recipes that I've made before, mostly sticking to plan, but I made a couple of tweaks just for variety. Looking at my cookie plate above, going clockwise from the top, these are my recipes:

Nestle Tollhouse Mint Chocolate Delights
Land O' Lakes Mexican Wedding Cakes
Betty Crocker Chocolate Chip Cookies (I substituted white chocolate chips and added dried cranberries for a more festive look)
Land O' Lakes Spritz Cookies (I divided my dough in half and dyed it red and green; 8 drops of liquid food color for each half, and decorated the trees with nonpareil sprinkles and the hearts with red sparkle sugar)
Betty Crocker Peanut Butter Blossoms

I'm happy with all of my cookies. I think the spritz cookies came out really cute and I'm just as in love with that cookie press as I was last year (I have this cookie press, by Kuhn Rikon). I used the heart disc for the first time and was a bit surprised to find that it took a bit more skill to get nice shapes than it does for some of the other shapes, but I got the hang of it. I think next time, I'll try smoothing down the extrusion ridges with a wet fingertip. I just love using my press, though. I should have gotten one a long time ago.

Guess what else we made this weekend? TAMALES! Yay. I guess 250-plus cookies just wasn't enough kitchen labor for us. Ha. We love to make corn tamales just before Christmas every year. We enjoyed our tamales for dinner on Sunday night with some homemade red chile sauce, a real New Mexican meal.

Friday, December 14, 2018

My Christmas Treasury

When I was three or four years old, I was given a copy of this book, My Christmas Treasury. It was one of my favorite books when I was little, and I read it all year long, not just at Christmas. I still remember it being around the house for my youngest sibling to read years later (I was eight and a half when he was born), but sometime after that it disappeared. I guess it may have been donated or given away, or possibly irreparably damaged after four children had enjoyed it over more than a decade.

I have a number of my other Little Golden Books from when I was very young, and always wished I could have a copy of this one for my collection because I had loved it so much. I decided to see if I could find a copy, and it took a bit of searching, but I finally found one on Etsy and ordered it for myself right away. I think I paid about four dollars for it (five or six if you include shipping), which is a lot more than the 49 cents marked on the cover (and it probably cost even less than that when my parents bought it, since my other Golden Books from the same era have 49 or 59 cents on the cover but also have price stickers from stores such as Kmart saying 39 cents; maybe I really am getting old). Honestly, the mark-up was worth it, even after accounting for inflation. Having a copy of this book again has been a delight, especially now that the holidays are here.

The book was published in 1976; I would have gotten my copy about 1981 or 1982. It's a collection of Christmas-related stories, poems, facts and riddles with cheerful, brightly-colored illustrations. I just love Golden Books. I have shared all of my old ones with my children and am glad to have this one to show them now, though they are getting a bit grown-up for Golden Books. The GB still likes them, though, especially when she's sick or in need of comforting. Actually, that's when I like them best myself.

In looking at this book as an adult, I see that it's fairly heavy on admonishment. I don't remember snooping around looking for presents in my house, and even now, I'm not really sure where they would have been hidden. I think maybe they would keep them in the attic. Anyway, I remember being a little mystified at the idea of presents being hidden somewhere. Not enough to go looking, however.

Several of the pieces in the book were written by an author named Kathryn Jackson, whom Google tells me was a prolific writer of Golden Books, including The Saggy, Baggy Elephant. I like the above story specifically for its description of a Christmas dinner that rabbits would enjoy: "A big roast carrot basted in sugar, mashed turnips with butter, and cranberries red and shining. And for dessert, a round pudding all lighted up, with holly on top."

And then in the middle of fanciful stories like that one, there are more sacred-themed pieces like the poem "What Can I Give Him?" by the Pre-Raphaelite poet Christina Rossetti. Later in life, when I sang in my college choir's Lessons and Carols programs, which included her beautiful carol "Love Came Down at Christmas," I had a sudden memory of her poems in this book. As a child, I had no idea how important she was to our celebration of Christmas and to literature in general, as I also learned as an English major.

What Christmas treasury would be complete without discussion of holiday traditions in other parts of the world? This is one of the best parts of the book. About 10 countries are discussed, but these are some of my favorites. I've always been intrigued by how people do things in other places and cultures, from a very young age. One thing I've always wondered about the Yule log, as discussed above; how do you save a piece from the year before? Is it a burnt piece? Where do you keep it until Christmas? These are serious questions. I could look it up, but if you do this, can you share?

Some Christmas riddles for you to ponder (click on the photo to enlarge it). The answers spell out a festive word!

This is a somewhat convoluted story wherein a polar bear cub is entrusted by Santa Claus to carry a rainbow around and drops it, whereupon it shatters into small pieces. Cub is sad, Santa cheers him up by helping him hang bits of broken rainbow on the Christmas tree. I liked this picture very much, even if the story seemed a bit weird even to preschool me.

This is the last page of the book, and looking at it now, I see that it may be one reason I love blogs so much as an adult, along with the international holiday section. The poem on this page is by Phillips Brooks, who also penned the lyrics to the carol "O Little Town of Bethlehem", clearly another literary figure with Christmas influence. I'll reproduce the poem for you here:

Christmas Everywhere
by Phillips Brooks

Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight!
Christmas in lands of the fir tree and pine,
Christmas in lands of the palm tree and vine,
Christmas where snow peaks stand solemn and white,
Christmas where cornfields lie sunny and bright!

For the Christ Child who comes is the Master of all;
No palace too great and no cottage too small.

I hope you've enjoyed this look at one of my childhood books which I am only too happy to have in my life again. Have a lovely weekend, from your friend in the high desert, where the land is brown and the sky is blue, and the mountain's peak is faintly dusted in white.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018


During this cold and sunny (just right!) month of December, here are some of the things I'm doing...

Awaiting...the first slice of my Christmas cake, which I made from a different recipe this year, with my own customization. I've been feeding it every two weeks but I'll stop now so it can dry out before I ice it. first attempt at decorating with fondant. I bought a small package of green fondant to use on my Christmas cake. I'm going to ice it very simply with white sugar icing, then cut out some holly leave from the green fondant and put some glace cherry halves with them to look like holly berries. I'm a little nervous...stay tuned.

Sleeping...much better since I put the heavier comforter on the bed a couple of weeks ago. We'd been using our lightweight quilted cover, with the addition of my big hexagon afghan since October, but we were not staying warm enough. I'm so glad to have our warmest blanket back on the bed again. new little alarm clock. I bought this clock about a week ago to replace a big, clunky old clock radio that I couldn't stand anymore. There were too many knobs and controls and it was all I could do to remember how to set the alarm. The radio reception was very poor. I just wanted a simple, basic clock, nothing fancy. I found this one at Target for seven bucks. You can hit the top for a snooze or to turn on the light for 10 seconds. That's it for features. Perfect. new kitchen tablecloth. It's just an inexpensive vinyl one, which I bought from an Amazon store called Deb's Buried Treasure. I'd wanted a durable, easily-cleaned Christmas tablecloth for the kitchen for a long time, ever since my old one finally gave up the ghost a few years ago. I just kept regular cloths on through the holidays, but I missed having something more festive in the kitchen. I'm enjoying it very much.

Assembling...a jigsaw puzzle under the Christmas tree, a longtime family tradition. Everyone wants to be near the Christmas tree, and this is definitely the warmest, sunniest room in the house in winter, so we all flock here to play games, work on crafts and, lately, put together puzzles. December magazines. I've cycled through some of my subscriptions lately, and right now I'm getting Real Simple, Family Circle and Sunset. I love to sit with my tea and flip through them a few pages at a time, trying to savor them over a few days. an old childhood thrill with the Christmas ornaments. I loved to put glass or other see-through ornaments in front of the lights to make them glow, and I still do it every year. Does anyone else do this? Most of our ornaments are opaque painted glass, but there are a few, like this blown-glass angel playing the flute, that I always try to light up. It's kind of a weird obsession.

How is your holiday planning coming along? Are you having a calm time, or a crazy one? It's surprisingly calm here, more than usual. I'm planning to bake lots of cookies this weekend, starting Friday afternoon. I'll give most of them away, as I always do, but we'll keep some too. I can't wait to get started! I think we'll make tamales this weekend too. I still want to make marmalade, especially since I currently have more oranges than I know what to do with, but that may have to wait until next week. Meanwhile, I still have all the gifts to wrap, but I like to do that in the evenings while I watch TV. I find gift-wrapping quite relaxing, as long as I don't leave it so long that I have to wrap them all on one night...a lesson it only took me once to learn. Hope you're having a good week, friends!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018


December came in with a storm! A few flurries had begun to fall before we went to bed on Saturday night, and we woke up to about an inch of snow outside. It was just wonderful. We were especially excited because we'd already planned to put up our Christmas tree on Sunday, and now it was a day with snow outside. How festive is that?

It wasn't very much snow, and it was already starting to melt on the paved patios when we woke up at 7 am, but it was still very pretty and we were all very happy to have some snow outside. We had just filled out bird feeders the day before, so there were many interesting birds in the yard, including goldfinches on our thistle feeder.

After lunch, we hauled out the Christmas tree and all of the indoor decorations. The kids put on the lights mostly by themselves, a first this year. I mean, the LB is taller than I am now. Everyone pitched in to hang ornaments and then I vacuumed up the loose fake pine needles on the carpet and put the skirt on the floor under the tree. Our decorating is pretty simple; we like having the tree and a few other items up for a month or so, but I'm sure we'd like it less if we had more stuff out.

I bought a new tree-topper this year. It's from the Hearth and Hand Magnolia line at Target (by the ubiquitous Chip and Joanna). I was looking for something to replace an old country-style angel made from burlap and paper with grapevine wings, which I liked very much when I was first married and that was more of the style at the time. But it was looking very old and tired, and not really my taste anymore, so I decided to find something new. I saw this one and really liked the spareness and simplicity of it; it's all metal and has a simple plastic clip to hold it on the tree. I like this because I can move it lower on the tree to avoid touching the ceiling.

After the tree was up, I planted some paperwhite bulbs and put the pot on my little plant table next to the tree. I bought the paperwhite kit on Saturday when I went grocery shopping. I plant amaryllis most years, but I felt like having paperwhites for a change. I was lucky to get them; the store had about twenty amaryllis kits and only one paperwhite kit. I grabbed it!

I'm so glad to have the tree up. I love being at home with it during the day, just knowing it's sitting in the living room, glowing away. I go in and out all day, sitting in a chair to read, crochet or just look at the tree. I wish I could invite you in for a cup of tea and a little chat.
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