Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas Wrap-Up, Brought to You by Christmas Smack-Down

The Christmas Smack-Down is called walking pneumonia (or, as they like to call it these days, "atypical pneumonia" which, as my dad helpfully pointed out, is only appropriate). The good news is that I feel pretty well, as long as I don't do anything helpful or productive. Stairs, more than a few minutes of brisk walking, and a little feeble snow-sweeping have all sent me to my bed in the last few days.

The even better news is that I get enough down time to write a blog post! Oh boy! And so I'm going to commit to the immortal brain that is the internet all the things I want to remember for next year's holidays. So, Christmas Wrap-Up:

1) Singing and candlelight are a magical combination. We lit the advent wreath every Sunday evening, and sang O Come, O Come Emmanuel. The lyrics can be found here. This lovely practice has led to a certain two-year-old wandering around, mutter-singing "an' ranson cappive I-i-isra-rew" in a husky alto. Here's a sweet, if not strictly traditional, rendition by Sufjan Stevens (who is blessed among singer-songwriters for producing Christmas music that everyone in our house likes to listen to).

2) I have discovered The Easiest Recipe in the World (That Can Still Be Served to Guests). It's a delicious roasted sausage/bean/tomato concoction, and it's even easier if you use canned tomatoes, frozen chopped onions and dried garlic bits (heretical? I don't care. A good dinner in four minutes worth of work trumps that kind of heresy). The next day, if you have leftovers, chop up the sausage and dump everything in a pot with a bag of frozen chopped kale and some chicken broth, and you get a super hearty and tasty soup.

3) Silver glitter-glue on brown paper makes elegant giftwrap. It takes a while to dry, so make big sheets of it right before you go to bed so you can monopolize the whole dinner table and maybe some of the kitchen counters. Just draw swirly lines and patterns with the glue bottle, and it'll leave a lovely raised glittery line.

4) Salt dough is a great kid activity, and if you're all crafty and fairly anal, you can make some surprisingly refined ornaments to keep or give away. Here are a couple beautiful examples of what's possible. For the little kids, of course, it's all about squishing and rolling and mashing and poking and just enough tiny little licks to establish that it tastes pretty bad, just like Mama said.

5) I can't cook whole poultry to save my life. Somehow, every single time, I manage to turn out a bird that's overcooked on top and still bloody on the bottom. Between those unappealing strata, there's always a thin band of perfectly cooked meat, but it's awfully hard to carve around. So, that will be my next kitchen challenge to master. And until I've done it, I'm not cooking another whole bird on a holiday. Next year, I'll make a hearty beef stew sometime in November and stash it in the freezer. On Christmas day, I'll heat it up, add some fresh vegetables, and we'll eat it with hot rolls, extra-good butter, and a pie for dessert. Rhubarb, if we see some in the store. 

6) Kids and icing are a classic combination. If you're decorating cookies with people less than a yard tall, Cheerios are a nice option along with (or instead of) sprinkles, colored sugars, and candies. The dry, savory crunch is actually a tasty combination with all that sugar. Other dry cereal would work too, of course. We might tackle gingerbread houses next year, and I can just see a roof thatched with Corn Chex. Royal icing is my adhesive of choice, although I noticed this recipe the other day, that looks like it might be a little tastier, what with the presence of actual butter.

7) Gingerbread makes extra-pretty decorated cookies. I used a recipe from my Great-Aunt Issy, which is spicy and easy. I made a double batch, which made enough for a cookie swap, an open studio party, four Christmas packages, and a good stash left over for the household. There are still two left, and they get better with a little age on them, so it wouldn't be a bad idea to bake them in late November next year.

(from Church Recipe Book, Lennoxville, Quebec)

1 cup shortening, butter or clear bacon fat
1 cup molasses
3 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. [baking] soda
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon

Boil together molasses, brown sugar, and shortening.  Cool and add beaten egg and dry ingredients.  CHILL OVERNIGHT.  Roll out 1/4 inch thick on generously floured board.  Use small amounts of dough, keeping remainder of dough in fridge.  Cut in desired shapes, place on ungreased pan and bake in moderate oven (325-350) for 10 minutes. 

[I learned that when "chill overnight" is in all caps, it means that it looks like cake batter when you first make it, and you'll be sure you've screwed it up. Fear not. As long as it's cold, it's nice and easy to handle, and is very hard to overwork since there's so little liquid in the dough to toughen the gluten (thanks to Joe Pastry for that geeky tip), so it's another good parent/kid project.]

8) Don't worry about finding a parking place for church on Christmas Eve. The church is packed, but the rest of downtown is deserted. Do remember quarters for the meter and some care packages with sandwiches and warm socks, because the only people still downtown are Parking Enforcement and the homeless.

9) I have a wonderful family and delightful friends. Cheers, all. Merry Christmas.

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