Favorites For The Holidays

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Delights Of The Season

I love to bake for the holidays, from American, English, Scandinavian and European classics to anything new that sounds like it might be terrific. My family enthusiastically supports this hobby, bringing new recipes to my attention and asking for old favorites as well. Since I usually bake far more than we can (or should) eat ourselves, it has become a tradition to share the extras at our church coffee hour on the Sunday nearest to Christmas and/or New Year’s Day.

Stoveless In (or Near) Seattle

Sadly, this was kind of a rough week. Several family members are ill, our water main control valve broke, and worst of all, my stove died a noisy and protracted death (it would not stop beeping when plugged in, even after being unplugged overnight–yikes!!!). I am discovering that I simply can’t face the idea of spending a holiday without an oven, let alone the stovetop. Yes, were the power to fail yet again, we would cope with the good old Coleman stoves (I have several, just in case), but despite having water and power (for which I am grateful), to have NO STOVE at Christmas is just wrong.

Fortunately, neighbors and friends have stoves aplenty, but borrowing is not like being at home, listening to holiday music while baking, wrapping presents, and making fragrant herbal wreaths for gifting. Anyway, if I HAD a functional stove, here are some things I would be making:

Five Favorite Holiday Treats

Almond Crescent Cookies
Krengla (custard-filled pastry pretzel)
Dark Chocolate Nuts
Candied Orange Peel
Satsumas by the bagful

Satsumas In Salads

Fortunately, satsumas need no cooking. They are marvelous just as they are, though I also love them tossed in salads. Here’s a beautiful and utterly delicious version I made a few days ago. The beet turns the satsumas and the dressing a pretty red and the ingredients have a lovely balance of earthy-sweet-salty-crunchy…yum.

Solstice Salad With Beets and Satsumas

2 cups Napa cabbage, sliced in thin ribbons
2 cups Savoy cabbage, sliced in thin ribbons
2 cups spinach
1 tablespoon plain rice vinegar
2 satsumas, sectioned, peeled and chopped
1 cooked, peeled beet, grated or sliced in thin ribbons
1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons lemon-infused olive oil (or your favorite)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
few grinds of pepper

Combine cabbages, spinach, vinegar, and satsumas, toss gently and let stand for 15-20 minutes (this sort of “cooks” the cabbage). Add remaining ingredients, toss and serve. Serves 4-6.

Holiday Reading

Part of the enchantment of the season is in quiet evenings by the fireplace, reading aloud to each other. Over the years, we have amassed a basket full of holiday books that we only bring out the week before Christmas. This keeps them fresh, and even now that my kids are well into their 20‘s, they still happily explore the book basket. There are quite a few adult books in there, but somehow the fast favorites are beautifully illustrated children’s books that capture the magical feeling of deep winter.

Five Favorite Read-Aloud Christmas Books

Babar and Father Christmas       Jean De Brunhoff
The Cat On The Dovrefell            George Dasent/Tomie De Paola
Christmas In Noisy Village          Astrid Lindgren/Ilon Wikland
Little Grey Rabbit’s Christmas    Alison Uttley/Margaret Tempest
The Tomten                                     Astrid Lindgren/Harald Wiberg

Simple Gifts

We keep our holiday gifting very simple these days. I love to give presents and have had a hard time weaning myself off the lifelong habit of making and buying things for family and friends all year long, then going totally overboard at Christmas.

This year, we decided as a family that we would give each person one gift, which could be something to read, listen to, wear, eat or use practically (as in tools or crafting supplies). Just now, it feels deeply satisfying to re-invent this holiday of excess as one of powerful simplicity.

Five Simple Gifts

Homemade spiced nuts
Herb kitchen wreaths
A fat candle in a bowl with cut greens
A hat knitted with handspun alpaca
A yule log decorated with holly and ivy
(burning is a great way to use those noxious and toxic weeds!).

Seasonal Music Is A Must

After losing my husband Bud so recently, I am finding the music of advent, of the solstice, and of Christmastide especially comforting and beautiful. Over the weekend, I sang with a group of Waldorf teachers who gave a concert of seasonal songs in our local fabulous yarn shop, Churchmouse Yarns and Teas. The program included a marvelous variety of old and less familiar tunes such as The Elk Herd, There Comes A Galley Laden, and Lullay Lully Thou Little Tiny Child–all with lovely harmonies.

On Sunday, I sang holiday songs at church with Time and Tide, a small vocal group specializing in tight harmonies and intriguing arrangements. We did a couple of sing-alongs (Children Go Where I Send Thee and the Amen song from Lilies Of the Field) as well as a bluesy Odetta ballad (Somebody’s Talkin’ ‘Bout Jesus) and a really pretty version of the Cherry Tree Carol.  Coming up, a community sing-long of selections from Handel’s Messiah–always a treat!

My family also loves to sing and listen to holiday music, of which we have an extensive and eclectic assortment. My kids often find wonderful albums to enrich our collection, ranging from traditional to reggae, calypso, latino, jazz and salsa/samba. I get to be keeper of the archives, which now take up most of a wide shelf. We are always looking for lovely, fun, and/or unusual new music, so let me know your favorites!

Five Favorite Christmas Albums

The Bells of Dublin             The Chieftains
The New Possibility            John Fahey
Yulestride                             Butch Thompson
Christmas Carols                Randolph Singers
Silently The Snow Falls     Tilsen-Finger-Austen

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