As the holiday chaos hits full swing I am receiving almost daily packages of ordered Christmas presents. I’m sure the post person, UPS and FedEx drivers are getting tired of my long driveway, gated yards, and over-protective “guard-dog”.
Anywhere you go you see advertisements for everything you could possible want for Christmas. Before half of December has finished, you can easily be up to your ears in Cheery Christmas deals. No matter how hard you resist, you feel yourself pulled in by sales and stretching that holiday budget.
The advertisements this year are all about how to make my baby’s Christmas “magical”. In order for that to happen I need to buy the newest educational toys. I need to pay for photos of my child in a Santa hat in front of a Christmas tree. And I need to take my son to see Santa. Oh and I need to buy him holiday PJ’s and . . .the list continues. The pressure is: they only have a first Christmas once.
As I open one of many brown boxes, I see the excitement in both my son and dog’s eyes.
But it’s not for the gift inside.
Our dog loves the plastic air insulators. With supervision, she enjoys popping them with her teeth and throwing them up in the air. (When the air is gone we throw them away).
And my son? He has discovered the joy of a cardboard box. It is great to sit in, play peek-a-boo with, push or throw around the floor, it makes a great drum and if big enough (with mom or dad’s help) it can be a nice car or space ship.
A cardboard box and packaging: my family’s favorite things.
It’s a refreshing reminder this holiday season that we do not really need all that much.
I saw posted on Facebook this week “Buy Presents Be Present”.
It’s easy for me to get so preoccupied by preparing for tomorrow that I miss out on the festivities today.
This ‘Baby’s First Christmas’ needs to be more about the memories we make than the tree, outings, outfits, or presents.
Being present in the holiday moment right in front of me; it is the best gift I can offer my family this holiday,
Every Christmas I embark on a epic cookie baking session. This year is no exception. Actually, because I am closer to family the cookie tins have increased this year. In spite of working with a new oven with less counter space nothing seems to keep me from the joy of holiday baking.
So what’s on the list for this year?
White Chocolate Peppermint :
This year I am going to try a new method for making these minty favorites. In the past I have struggled with the cookies flattening. My current theory is that they are weighed down by the andes peppermint chunks in them. To try to prevent this, I am going to melt the peppermint with the white chocolate and only sprinkle a few morsels on top afterward. We will see if that makes a difference.
White chocolate dipped Ginger:
These are my new favorites. I made them for the first time last year and they went over so well I’m making a larger batch this time. They are a bit more time consuming as they require cooling before dipping or decorating but they are so yummy and they catch everyone’s eye. For more see:
A basic for chocolate lovers. I have done several variations on this over the years including adding chili to make them more like Mexican Coco and of course also peppermint. But classics are still great. I’ll try to get a recipe out for those to you soon.
Holiday M and M:
Speaking of classics. This is a basic as it gets, well at least for me. The secret I find to these salty and sweet upscale chocolate chips is the use of a little bit of oat flour and vanilla pudding mix to keep them moist on the inside and crunchy on the outside.
Holiday Red Velvet :
In the past I’ve made these with holiday velvet cake mixes, cookies come in both red and green. The green ones don’t seem to go over as well even though they taste the same. So instead of making it extra colorful we are skipping the grinch coloring this year.
Organic Gluten Free No White Sugar Oatmeal Cookies
This is my new experiment this year. I took a basic oatmeal cookie recipe and did some work substituting ingredients. I was able to come up with an alternative to meet the needs of a few family members with food allergies, something I completely understand. (for more on this put the words “tree nuts” and “barley” into my search box on this blog). If this goes well and I get thumbs up from those who will enjoy them then a recipe may be down the road for this as well.
In addition to these wonderful cookies I am making a few candies and snacks including peanut brittle, butterscotch haystacks, and spicy cajun peanuts to name a few.
Are any of these your favorites? If not what is your favorite holiday treat?
Well after more than a week with Luke’s parents we were ready for a weekend in. (More on that week to come soon.) We spent most of the weekend working on the house, working on some of those projects that take only a few hours but are hard to fit in. We also got some quiet time to just regroup together, and on our own.
On the 4th we celebrated with burgers, local hard cider, and dessert. For the 4th this year I decided to make a new cookie (always looking for excuses to experiment). After research online I decided to make lemon thyme shortbread cookies (recipe to come). To make them festive I used a star cookie cutter.
To complete our dessert I made a berry salad adding fresh mint from our garden, then made some whipped cream with a little vanilla and agave. It was a refreshing and light festive dessert. Maybe a new tradition? For more on this see:
Christmas week is over and it was full of fun and festive events with my family. Most of which is to come in future posts. But for now, on Christmas Eve we prepared holiday dishes. When making our traditional meat pie for Christmas Eve dinner Luke wanted to cook up 2pound of meat but I was concerned it would not fit in our small pie tins, Next thing I know out comes an early Christmas gift labeled “kitchen Santa”. So we had a new large deep dish fiesta-ware pie tin to put our Christmas Eve dinner in.
That night went to service at our church where Luke and I sang in the choir. It was a wonderful celebration with plenty of singing and of course a candle lighting. We enjoyed cookies and punch downstairs then came back and enjoyed our meat pie.
Later that evening we opened our one Christmas Eve present then enjoyed a local favorite: concord grape pie from Monica’s with homemade whip cream.
On Christmas day the tree was full with presents around one of our other gifts a homemade quilted Christmas Tree Skirt. Below’s picture was before it was full so I could see the skirt.
We started the morning with coffee and opened Kira’s stocking which my mother brought. She found treats and new toys to keep her busy as we opened our own stockings.
We then had our traditional breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage, and blue/blackberry buckle. After this we read our Christmas story for the year, a children’s book my grandmother gives us each year focusing on the Christmas story. Then opened presents.
We cleaned up some of our Christmas morning mess and spent the rest of the day playing board games and skyping other family members in our PJ’s. We had prime rib with au jus, and family dipping sauce called ‘ham sauce’, parmesan green beans and rosemary/thyme potatoes for dinner.
Then we enjoyed more pie from Monica’s and watched a movie we got for Christmas. It was a fun holiday.
Sorry it has taken so long to finish my Christmas update. It’s been so cold here in the last week that we were without internet for a few days.
Back to December: We arrived at my parent’s new home in Florence after a rainy drive to the coast on Saturday night. We stayed up late getting a tour of their 1960’s home, hearing about their plans for changes, and catching up with Matt and Stina, my brother and his wife, and their travels.
Next day was our “Christmas Eve” so we did some Christmas baking for the next morning’s traditional Halvorson Christmas breakfast. We also opened one gift early: ticket to ride a board game for the group to play while we were there and enjoyed a couples-team game.
Later in the evening we went downtown Florence to walk around the shops but everything was closed because of the rain and holiday hours. Luke and I took everyone out to dinner at the waterfront Depot then we came back and talked until we decided it was time for Santa to come fill stockings.
The next morning we followed Halvorson Christmas patterns. We opened stockings and then Stina read out-loud an illustrated children’s Christmas story. We then had our sour cream coffee cake and blueberry buckle with scrambled eggs, smoky links, and bacon. Last of all we opened presents.
After enjoying our “Christmas” Morning we decided to take turns joining my parents in their canoe on the Woahink Lake. It was a cool morning but clear and we enjoyed the quiet ride. We decided to then get some coffee at Dutch Bros and walk around the downtown shops that were closed the day before. Later we returned downtown to have our Christmas dinner at Bridgewater Fish House.
We came back to the house after a nice dinner out and watched one of our stocking gifts: Guardians of the Galaxy on a laptop while enjoying ice cream.
Next morning we packed up and went out to lunch before we all hit the road again: my parents and Matt and Stina headed to California and Luke and I back to the Greene house.
Last Monday was Cinco de Mayo which isn’t a huge holiday here in New York but is pretty well celebrated in my home state of California. I usually do not celebrate it myself other than choosing to eat Mexican food for dinner that night. So I was somewhat surprised we were invited to a Cinco de Mayo party here in Corning. I say somewhat because the couple hosting the party moved here from San Diego (yes there are fellow native Californians here but not many). They decided they were craving some carne and pollo asada and had bags of it marinating flown in to our East Coast town to cook-up and serve with tortillas and fresh guacamole.
I thought through what I could contribute to this rare East Coast/West Coast clash event and since avocados aren’t cheap I thought I’d try making Pan Dulce (aka in Spanish sweet bread) also called Mexican Morning/Breakfast Bread or Conchas. I grew up seeing these little bread rolls being sold in the windows of many of the taquerias in my hometown. Round and yellowish on the inside the top of each roll is colorfully decorated with a flour/sugar coating in a decorative shape such as a seashell or corn. These come in different flavors: chocolate, cinnamon, strawberry, or vanilla each easily distinguished by the color of the sweet sugar on top.
I found a recipe for Pan Dulce in my trusty Bread Bible and made a few adjustments based on making this a dessert bread and not a morning breakfast bread (although some were eaten for breakfasts). I ended up making a double batch from what I’m listing below which made about 32 buns/rolls. We took at least 25 of those 32 to the park with us for the party and all of them were gone by the time we left.
I started by combining 2/3 C milk, 5 eggs, vanilla, 1 C sugar, salt, and 2 C of flour mixing them in my wonderful blue Kitchen Aid mixer. Then I added the yeast when proofed. Once the mixture was smooth I added in the cut up butter pieces about 3/4ths of a stick.
Next I slowly added in the remaining flour about 4 more cups give or take a cup or so at a time while mixing it all together on a low speed on my mixer.
Once it formed into dough it had a slightly yellow color (from all the eggs) and was a little soft but springy. I took the dough out of the mixing bowl and hand kneaded it a little on a floured surface.
Then I placed the dough in two greased deep containers ( I split my double batch in half) then covered it with plastic wrap and let it rise for an hour and a half at room temp..
While waiting on the dough I made the sugar topping. Of the whole process this was what I found most difficult. The recipe called for making the powdered sugar, flour, butter, vanilla, and egg into a crumbly mixture. It found it to be a little tougher than they probably wanted and decided to add more butter to make a more malleable texture. I split the mixture in two and added 2 TBS of cocoa powder to one and 1 TBS cinnamon to the other.
Once the dough rose I formed half of it into 3 inch balls/rolls then taking egg white I had beaten and put aside I glazed the top of the roll with the egg yolk then using a tablespoon I scooped out 1TBS of the cocoa sugar topping onto the roll and pressed it on and in. I did the same with the other half of the dough using the cinnamon sugar. Then I left the rolls to rise for 20 minutes once again covered with plastic wrap.
After this I cut (as much as I could) a design into the top sugar coating using a sharp knife then re-brushed each roll with egg yolk again before sticking the rolls in the oven. The rolls expanded quite a bit in the oven so the small cracks I made in the sugar topping created deep cracks in the coating once baked.
They turned out tasting great, even if the top sugar coating designs did not seem as appealing as the ones I grew up with. No matter what they tasted great and were well received as the only “authentic” dessert option. And the few that we kept at home were gone in less than a week.
So I left off Why I am tree-nut free: Part 1 with saying that my experiences with my tree-nut allergy are different as an adult then as child. As I have traveled to other countries and discovered more foods and languages, I have come across new and different challenges.
During college I had the privilege of traveling out of the country several times. On my first trip out of the states (beyond a brief bit in Canada) I didn’t have too many problems with my allergies. But my choir trip to Italy on the other hand was a whole different story. If you know anything about Italian dessert and baked goods then you’ll know they enjoy their pistachios, hazelnuts, and walnuts.
My first encounter was a gelato stand in Venice in which they did not use separate scoopers for each flavor. I got pistachio and hazelnut oil in my nut-free gleato. From then on if we wanted a frozen treat I was cautious to only go to vendors with separate scoopers for each flavor. Since tree-nuts are such a large portion of desserts there is no one easily translated generic name for them as in English. Each tree-but has a different unqiue name. Although English was widely spoken in Italy some places we visited I was not able to clearly ask about the more traditional baked goods many of which were coated, rolled, covered, or filled with tree-nuts. One night after celebrating with a local Italian choir I found what I thought was a safe chocolate wafer cookie. It didn’t take long for me to realize it was nutella rather than chocolate. My mouth broke out into welts/sores. Of course I had benadryl with me but it was still not a fun experience.
Like Italy, on my semester-abroad I discovered tree-nuts were common in many foods in the Middle East. In fact we went often to a store-front around the corner from our flat in Cairo to get candied, salted, or chocolate covered nuts ( of course I got peanuts). But these types of store-fronts are found all over the Middle East alongside bulk spices and candies in bazaars or souks.
When we visited Syria we went to what is supposedly the oldest ice cream stand in old Damascus. Here you order ice cream then it is carried down an assembly line being las of all dipped in fresh chopped nuts. I wanted the ice cream but was unsure how to communicate I didn’t want the tree-nuts. I knew some arabic but was limited. I knew that generally “mish” was meant “without” so I tried to communicated “mish” while shaking my hands and head. The man laughed but some how got my gestures and I got nut-free ice cream. At the same time I also laughed because I remembered that “mish-mish” actually means “apricot”. I am glad he was able to determine by context I wasn’t asking for apricots.
For some people allergies go away with adulthood or start up like my allergy to Barley (for more see Why I am barley-free Part One ). What I have found with my tree-nut allergy is that I can now detect how my body reacts differently to each type of tree-nut. In a very limited amount (such as heath bar/toffee, or oil) I can ingest almond or coconut with little to no reaction. But hazelnuts, as I mentioned earlier, will give me welts on the inside of my mount. Walnuts will make my stomach cramp and if I eat too many can give me hives. Whereas cashews are the one tree-nut my body is unwilling to digest-once it hits my stomach it forces itself right up again.
I found this out the hard way several times. Most recently was at an Indian restaurant when visiting Corning NY a year ago. We were looking for a place to live and decided to eat at a Indian restaurant in town, our meals were good but I took a sample of one of Luke’s dishes only to find out, not long after, it had cashews in it.
So what does that look like for me now? I am cautious, read labels, ask questions, and I am more than use to refusing delicious looking food. It doesn’t bother me usually as much as it bothers the one who made the food. As we approach the holidays I will probably have to turn down desserts, stuffing or other sides dishes, some salads, and possibly green beans if they are topped with almond slivers. My solution ,when I am not eating with family, is to volunteer to bring a dish I know normally would have tree-nuts in so I get to eat it.
Do you have any allergies, food restrictions, or strong food preferences?
How do you get around not eating what you can’t/don’t want to during the holidays?
How do you handle your allergies or food restrictions when traveling especially out of the country?