Christmas

blizzard.jpgOn December 24th, 1963, Philadelphia was hit with a rip-roaring blizzard.  I’ll never forget it.  By evening, the drifts were well past knee-high.  Snowflakes swirled in the halos of streetlights.  Driving anywhere was out of the question.  Wrapped up in coats, boots, gloves, hats and scarves, and loaded down with bags of presents, my girlfriend Bonnie, my mother and I set out on foot for Aunt Tilda’s house.  What would have been a 7-minute drive turned into an hour trek.   I remember laughing so hard we could hardly walk.  We knew we were crazy to be slogging through such a storm, but we were determined to reach our destination.  It was Christmas Eve, and Aunt Tilda had prepared the traditional Italian Feast of Seven Fishes.

Tilda’s house was decorated to the rafters.  Twinkling lights outlined every window.  Tiny red and green Christmas balls hung from each curtain ruffle.  Swags of tinsel garland draped the mirrors.  The huge tree was covered with hundreds of ornaments she had been collecting for decades.  At its top perched a gossamer angel.  And beneath its bedecked branches, nestled the white and gold 30-piece Nativity set that Tilda had stayed up into the wee hours painting on many a sweltering summer night.

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I went to storage and found my mother's recipe for Holiday Fruit Cake. A lot of people think of fruitcake as something to use for a doorstop, but this is not your average fruitcake. It's really delicious.

My mother would make it for the holidays for a handful of people, including Leonard, who loved it and looked forward to it every year.

Here's a scan of it written out in her handwriting as a 2-page pdf (which you can download here). She used a check mark instead of a quotation mark for "same as above", and medium dry cherry should be 'sherry'.)

She usually baked it in round bundt cake type pans with a hole in the middle.  Leftover mix would be baked in a normal loaf pan.

Happy Holidays!

fruitcakepic

 

Sharon Robinson is a singer, music producer and Grammy winning songwriter, as well as author of "On Tour with Leonard Cohen, photographs by Sharon Robinson" (powerHouse).  Sharon’s mother, Mildred Robinson, was a well-known caterer and restauranteur in Beverly Hills during the ‘60s and ‘70s.  Sharon's new Album, Caffeine, will be released in early 2015.

http://www.sharonrobinsonmusic.com
https://www.facebook.com/sharonrobinsonmusic

I've always wanted to make a yule log or Bûche de Noël for Christmas. This year I vowed I would. Here is my updated version of the traditional holiday cake. Instead of the more common génoise made with eggs and sugar beaten over a bain marie, flour, and melted butter, I decided to make a flourless cake. Simply made with sugar, eggs, and ground walnuts, this recipe results in a light and nutty sponge cake. The filling of chestnut purée and a little bit of rum is my favorite kind. And the frosting is a traditional chocolate buttercream.

Hungarian in nature, this recipe is loosely inspired by the logs my great aunt used to make whenever we visited her in Hungary. I think you will find this cake to be highly irresistible. One thing to note: Since the cake is flourless, it does shrink after baking.

buchedunoel.jpgWalnut Yule Log with Chestnut Filling and Chocolate Buttercream

6 large eggs, separated
6 tablespoons confectioners sugar, sifted
1-1/4 cups ground walnuts
1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a rimmed baking sheet, line with parchment paper, and butter again.

In a small bowl, beat egg yolks by hand. In another small bowl, stir together dry ingredients: ground walnuts and baking powder.

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites, adding sugar a little at a time, until soft peaks form. On low speed, drizzle in egg yolks. Fold in dry ingredients by hand until just combined.

Spread mixture evenly into prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes or until edges are lightly golden. Immediately turn cake out of baking sheet onto a linen towel. Remove parchment paper and flip cake so that bottom is in contact with towel, and roll cake with towel. Set aside for at least 20 minutes, so that cake takes on rolled shape.

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hanukkah.jpgIt’s not easy being Jewish during the Christmas season, especially if you’re a kid. Chanukah is great, don’t get me wrong. Presents for eight nights in a row. Lighting the candles and watching them flicker in the menorah until they gradually fade away. And I’m a big fan of the latke. But compared to Christmas? Really?

Imagine, then, what my son Luke had to contend with, growing up Jewish and having an older brother who got to celebrate Chanukah and Christmas while he celebrated only the Festival of Lights. And it was all my fault. I married a non-Jew, had a son with him and got divorced. Then I met my true love (Luke’s father) and created our modern nuclear family. Three Jews and a mixed-breed (sorry, Craig), who marched in a Christmas pageant at his father’s church wearing the robe of a king – the same year he was deep in preparation for his bar mitzvah. Holiday time in our household was always a bit fraught.

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Christmas-Tree-DecorNo 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.  

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