Christmas

fudge.jpgStill looking for the perfect Christmas gift that is easy, inexpensive, and loved by all?

Your problem is solved: give the gift of fudge! That's right. Mix up a few batches, pop them in some festive foil baking cups, and nestle them in decorative tissue paper and tins. Then kick back with a hot chocolate and enjoy your favorite Christmas movies while everybody else kills themselves looking for a parking space at the mall.

No baking is required. None. Zip. It can be made ahead and refrigerated, so it saves you time. Plus, each batch costs only a few dollars and can be made in less than 10 minutes.

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My Mother Vina
My Mother Vina circa 1957

Instead of turkey, mashed potatoes, etc., stuffed grape leaves (along with shish-kabob and pilaf) is the traditional centerpiece of our Christmas dinner.

Disclaimer:  Every script I’ve ever written is overly descriptive and too long, so no doubt this recipe will be, too.  Apologies in advance. 

 

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tvm2162_072707_coconutcake_l.jpgWhen I was growing up, my favorite grown-up restaurant was SCANDIA in Hollywood.  Run by Ken Hanson, this award-winning Scandinavian eatery was the place my family flocked to for holidays, not just birthday dinners and Sweet 16 luncheons, but also un-Hallmark events—like when I cut my head and all I wanted was Scandia’s Swedish meatballs so my dad got them on his way home from the set of “The Untouchables” episode he wrote. 

At the time, there wasn’t a big L.A. take-out scene, but Scandia accommodated because it was elegant enough to be casual.  Scandia was the treat I always chose when my mom and I collectively took the day off from life (for me, high school; for her, writing/editing and house stuff) to hang out together.  And a few years after my mom died, I chose Scandia to go to the night a movie I wrote opened.

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From the L.A. Times

xmascookies.jpgBy Thanksgiving weekend, the prep work was well underway. All year long she'd been saving the boxes from stationery and from her nylon stockings, stashed with the Christmas ornaments. She'd made lists in her perfectly inscrutable handwriting. In our basement refrigerator, she had squirreled away some of the raspberry jam she made during the summer.

So every fall, when my mom told us that she'd grown tired of the whole idea of Christmas cookies and was giving them up, she didn't mean it. We were never sure, though. And we'd whine on cue, begging her to please at least make the kind we just couldn't live without -- for me, the Russian tea cakes, for my brother, the spice cookies called pepparkakor.

But most of her work went on in secret, while we were at school or after we'd gone to bed.

And by Christmas Eve, we'd have maybe 100 dozen cookies, as many as 20 varieties of exquisite, painstakingly formed cookies, stored in our freezer.

As a small child, bringing out box after box of cookies that morning was kind of a miracle. Not quite as wonderful as Santa, who would get a plate of them that night, but part of the blur of a holiday full of magic and surprise.

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holly-and-mistletoe.jpgMistletoe

Along with holly, laurel, rosemary, yews and the Christmas tree, mistletoe is an evergreen displayed during the holiday season and symbolic of the eventual rebirth of vegetation that will occur in spring. But perhaps more than any other of the Christmas evergreens, it is a plant of which we are conscious only during the holidays. One day we're kissing under the mistletoe, and next day we've forgotten all about it.

The Druids considered the mistletoe to be a sacred plant and believed it had miraculous properties which could cure illnesses, serve as an antidote against poisons, ensure fertility and protect against the ill effects of witchcraft. Moreover, whenever enemies met under the mistletoe in the forest, they had to lay down their arms and observe a truce until the next day. From this has seemingly come the ancient custom of hanging a ball of mistletoe from the ceiling and exchanging kisses under it as a sign of friendship and goodwill.

Another version, however, says that this custom, which was widespread among the Anglo-Saxons, was connected to the legend of Freya, goddess of love, beauty and fertility. According to legend, a man had to kiss any young girl who, without realizing it, found herself accidentally under a sprig of mistletoe hanging from the ceiling. Even if the pagan significance has been long forgotten, the custom of exchanging a kiss under the mistletoe can still be found in many European countries as well as North America. It was once believed that if a couple in love exchanged a kiss under the mistletoe, it was a promise to marry, as well as a prediction of happiness and long life. So, be careful who you choose to smooch this holiday season!