Jeff and I have been starving ourselves for the past few days. Well, not actually starving. We did have our morning coffee. Oh, and I sneaked in a couple of double chocolate pomegranate cookies yesterday. But those don't count. I was recipe testing.
Why are we starving ourselves? Because on Christmas Eve night, we will be enjoying a traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes. That means fried calamari, fried smelts, and crab cakes. Snail salad, bacala (a dried, salted fish), and shrimp cocktail. (Those are just the starters.) Then comes the pasta. Two types of pasta, actually -- one with mixed seafood including shrimp, scallops, and lobster; the other with olive oil, clam sauce, and parsley. Then we'll finish with jumbo stuffed shrimp and garlicky broccoli rabe.
Jeff figures if he can lose enough enough weight to tighten his belt by one notch, then that'll leave him a whole notch-worth of eating on Christmas Eve. Genius.
You might think that we wouldn't eat on Christmas Day. We do. Christmas breakfast or brunch always upstages Christmas dinner because who feels like eating turkey and vegetables after all that seafood? Fruit salad, pancakes, and frittatas are much more appealing. Chances are good that even if you don't celebrate Christmas Eve, you'll have a special Christmas Day breakfast or brunch. So if you're looking for Christmas Day breakfast and brunch ideas, here is one of my favorite recipes.
No wonder I rarely got a tree. It’s just too much work. Going out to buy it. Schlepping it home. Carting it inside. Pine needles everywhere. Finding the box with the decorations in storage. Untangling the lights. Discovering that only some are still working. I’m not that together. I have zero organizational skills. Hey, if magical elves appeared in my home to set up the tree, and I didn’t have to go to the lot or do anything, I would reconsider.
And then, of course, there is the religion factor. To get a tree or not to get a tree. Since half of me is Jewish and the other half vague, it’s easier to just call myself a Jew. A tree never seemed to bother other Jewish families when I was growing up in Beverly Hills. This time of year, everyone became his or her own Hollywood set decorator. Each family outdid the next. Talk about keeping up with the Joneses --only in this case the Jimmy Stewarts.
Lets’ face it a Christmas tree is an indicator of taste. Pink-flocked ones seem a bit “Liberace” to me. But I kind of dig a pink tree. A very close friend growing up lived in a home with wall-to-wall white shag carpeting and lots of gaudy gold-trimmed fixtures. Her prematurely blue-haired mother always matched their blue-flocked Christmas tree. Each year I thought wow, everyone’s trees are getting bigger and bigger. Like bigger is better. They seemed to reach the ceiling in some homes and I would think, okay, we can see you have a big penis.
I was the youngest of five boys, most of them out on their own by the time I have any real Christmas memories. Being the baby of the family, and 8-years-younger than my closest brother, I had a different relationship with my dad than they did. He was an old-fashioned father and my arrival had been quite a surprise (they were hoping for a girl.) My mother passed away when I was five-years-old and my dad was forced to raise my brother Paul and me by himself for a few years before he remarried.
Our lives as a blended family weren't always easy, but Christmas was a time for tradition and like many people we had old ones and new ones. The week after Thanksgiving my dad and I would head out to the local tree lot. We always had a real tree and it had to be a Noble Fir, which has the best branches and spacing for decorations. If Dad was going to pay good money for a tree he wanted as many options as possible and the earlier you went the better the selection. Once we found our perfect tree, up it went onto the roof of our Buick Estate Wagon for the long journey home.
Since we had to wait for everyone to be home to decorate the tree - another immovable tradition - it sat outside in our backyard in a bucket of water so it would stay fresh until the "big night." Sometimes it was Christmas Eve, some years the weekend before. I always wished it was up longer, but the rules were the rules. To set the mood my dad would put on the Firestone Christmas album he got from his local tire dealer every year and then bring down the boxes of ornaments and lights the family had collected.
Baking season is in full swing and it seems that everywhere you turn there are cookies. Everyone loves biting into a sugary Christmas cookie. But I think the best part about cookies is making them yourself, and getting kids and even the adults involved. Baking batches of all different types of cookies is my specialty at Christmas. I bring them to parties at the office and share them with neighbors and friends. I always have some on hand for when people stop by to visit, which can happen quite often during the holidays.
There are so many ways to get involved in the holiday baking fun. Hosting a cookie-baking party is a great way to bring people together. Everyone can decorate their own cookies to eat and take home. Cookie swap parties also have recently become very popular. They offer the opportunity to show off your personal creations and share them with friends. The best part is guests get to go home with a variety of cookies all ready for them to share with their families.
I've never been able to understand why Christmas fruitcake is hated so much. What makes it such a dreaded gift, one that gets passed about or relegated to the back of the fridge? I must say I'm not the biggest fan of the cake, some are rather good, but others are just too dense and way too boozey. But this year for Christmas, I was willing to make a better fruitcake. So when a friend suggested I try making the cake from a recipe she loved just to see if I could possibly love it, I decided to give it a wholehearted try. I usually love other cakes that contain dried fruit, so what could be so bad about fruitcakes? And if they turned out better than expected, I'd have something more traditional to hand out as gifts to my fiends and neighbors.
First, I set myself some ground rules: I would under no circumstances use bright technicolor candied fruit, but instead use naturally dried fruits. And I would not soak the cake in booze and age it for days as most recipes suggest; I would only soak the fruit in booze. I simply don't like a soggy cake and I don't intend to preserve it for years to come, which in the medieval past was the reason why these cakes were so laden with alcohol. I wanted a lighter cake that had the likeness of a good nut bread but with a holiday flair. And I believe I was able to achieve that and more.
I was surprised by the results. The cake was dense but had a nice texture. The dried fruit was very flavorful from my combination of rum, a traditional ingredient, and vermouth, a fortified wine flavored with herbs and spices. The many ground spices also contributed to a fragrance and flavor reminiscent of pumpkin pie. For a beautiful cross-sampling of colors, I used dried papaya, cranberries, pineapple, golden raisins, dark raisins, and dates. A bit of crystallized ginger added hot spiciness.
If you’re a mom or dad, you know how hectic it can get around the holidays. You wish there were more hours in a day, your mood is less than jovial and your toddler can feel it. But you don’t want him to get lost in the shuffle; he just wants to be a part of the planning, baking and all the wonderful festivities. Make time for the two of you. Not only is it fun, but a great way to calm down and enjoy the moment.
Here are some fun and easy holiday activities and recipes for you and your toddler to do together:
- Before the holiday begins, go to the library and pick up a few age appropriate holiday books and spend time reading with your child.
- Play holiday music in your home or car. The tunes are catchy and toddlers love to sing along.
- Buy him a holiday activity book. Put on holiday music and ask him to make some special pictures. Then decorate your home with his beautiful pictures!
There is something very special about visiting London during the holidays. The streets and stores are beautifully decorated and an overall "spirit" of the season is evident throughout the city. No matter where you stroll, there's "Christmas in the air" - whether it's the rows of fresh wreaths hung in Edwardian doorways, the gold holly and red berry garland that decorates Regent Street, the twinkle lights illuminating the posh shopping on Jermyn Street, the musical decorations inspired by the Rolling Stones on Carnaby Street, the Santa Land and Christmas Market in Hyde Park, the enormous fully decorated tree in Trafalgar Square, or the giant red ornaments at Covent Garden.
Of course Victorian London has had a strong role in how we celebrate Christmas today. A visit to the recently renovated The Charles Dickens Museum will remind anyone of the British influence on this festive holiday. As most of us know, Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, which was published on December 19, 1843 and is often considered responsible for the revival of Christmas celebrations.
It may surprise some to know that Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. Christmas wasn't declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870. Apart from adding to the language of Christmas, with "scrooge","bah, humbug!" and all the rest of it, Dickens' book essentially renewed the Christmas tenets of family, good cheer, feasting, gift-giving and charity as well as popularizing the phrase "Merry Christmas!"
From the Huffington Post
When you think of Christmas dinner, what's on the table? Maybe a standing rib roast? A turkey with all the trimmings? Maybe a ham? For us, and for lots of excitable eaters across the Southwest, we also think of tamales. This traditional Mexican comfort food, eaten for breakfast or dinner (or anything in between really), is a cornmeal dumpling, stuffed with other goodies and steamed in a corn husk.
The most traditional tamales are stuffed with pork simmered for hours in a red chile sauce, green chiles and cheese or chicken with salsa verde. But we've also enjoyed sweet dessert tamales filled with raisins and pineapple on occasion. We want to warn you: you'd be hard-pressed to find a tamales recipe that isn't a bit of a project. Simmering pork requires time.
Blending the masa harina with the -- ahem -- lard (or whichever fat you decide to use) takes patience. Filling the corn husks with the right amount of filling takes practice and a willingness to mess up a few times.
But the result is completely worth it. Tamales are some of the heartiest, most comforting winter fare we can think of. Whether they're brand new to your family and friends, or a long-lost tradition, we really think 2012 is the tamale's year. Happy holidays and don't overfill your corn husks!
It’s the holiday season and along with sipping cocoa by the fire, it’s the perfect time to cozy up with a good book. We thought we’d take the time to share some classic titles for your twelve days of Christmas. Maybe we’ll introduce you to a new title or two.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – Probably the epitome of “Christmas Classic,” this story has been parodied countless times and always drives home an important moral lesson.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss – Dr. Seuss makes us feel like we can spread the joy of the holidays to the grumpiest of people and reminded us that even if all the presents disappeared, we can still celebrate!
The Elf on the Shelf by Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell – If you’re a parent of tiny children, you probably have embraced this new Christmas tradition of inviting one of Santa’s elves to help keep an eye on what’s going on around the house.
“…Among the leaves so green… love and joy come to you,
and to you your wassail too,
and God bless you and send you a happy new year,
and God send you a happy new year.”
Though I’ve never actually gone wassailing per say, I have though, made a batch of wassail to fill my home with the scents of the season and share with friends and family. This Farmer’s wassail incorporates the garden and seasonal produce that will pack your home with fragrance for days to come. I actually make two versions of this wassail… the base basically the same for both, but one is much better for ingesting than the other, mainly because of the presence of sugar.
Wassailing is actually an act of celebrating somewhat noisily while drinking a concoction, wassail, of warm beer or wine seasoned with spices and fruit. An English tradition that was brought to the colonies, wassailing and making wassail became a source of delight, warmth, season’s greetings, and entertainment for merry folk; and rightly so! Making and sharing wassail is merry and bright!
Most always, I find nature as my inspiration for arrangements and décor, thus green becomes my “MO” for all things fresh, natural, and beautiful. Green is nature’s neutral – found in different hues and shades in every wood, vale, forest and dale! Here are a few tips on “thinking green” for the Holidays and year round decorating as well!
I always like to have a green base to build from when making an arrangement, tablescapes, or even holiday décor. Choose your greenery wisely – it will be your support and skeleton, your contrasting tone, and your “roux” that brings the arrangement together.
Use what is in season…for the Holidays, I like the traditional greens like holly, boxwood, cypress, cedar, and magnolia. Add some pizzazz by contrasting shades of green like the dark of the holly and magnolia (use those velvety brown backs as well), lighter green from cypress and blue greens from cedar or junipers.
My Hungarian grandma came to the United States when she was just a teenager. Her husband came before her to find a place for them to settle. She left her family behind to travel to a land of opportunity where she and her young husband believed they could create a better life for their family. Young Rose arrived with their first-born, a son, who was still a baby. I’ve often wondered what it was like for my grandma to be in a strange country, a place where she could barely communicate with the people around her and where she had no family or friends, just her Hungarian husband.
Over the years, Rose’s family grew as she and her husband ran their own boarding house and restaurant in Chicago. One day, when their four sons and one daughter were still very young, Rose’s husband decided to leave. He wanted to go back to “the old country.” Eventually, the strong and very hard-working single mother married again. She and her second husband, Paul, had one more son and one more daughter. They moved to a farm in Indiana to raise their seven children. Their daughter, Rosemary, the baby of the family, became my mom.
The five sons and two daughters grew into adults and moved away from their Indiana home, but I do not remember even one Christmas when they were not all together at the farm to celebrate together, coming back each year with spouses and children of their own.