Holiday Goodies

diet_plans.jpgJanuary is the traditional month for new diets. I get kind of amused reading this week's Time magazine which chose 3 of the new diet books to review. The first one disallows wine, salt, sugar and artificial sweetener. The second forbids carbonated drinks, coffee, gassy foods including cabbage. The third forbids dairy, white rice, and processed foods. And the last one forbids volume. Eat anything you want but just choose small portions.

Are you beginning to see a pattern here? Why does every new diet start off by telling you what you cannot eat?

People have had problems with excess weight ever since mankind began to grow food. The hunters and gatherers weren't fat. They spent a lot of time just searching for food and were grateful for what they could find. And the game and berries they found also spent time searching for nourishment and water and didn't store fat either.

But that was then. This is now. We are besotted with food, drink, choices, and chance. What on earth can we do?

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scotishshortbreadAnother classic Christmas cookie - Shortbread is a traditional Scottish dessert that consists of three basic ingredients: flour, sugar, and butter. According to Wikpedia, this cookie resulted from medieval biscuit bread, which was a twice baked, enriched bread roll dusted with sugar and spices and hardened into a soft and sweetened biscuit called a Rusk.

Eventually, yeast from the original Rusk recipe was replaced by butter, which was becoming more of a staple in the British Isles. Despite the fact that shortbread was prepared during much of the 12th century, the refinement of shortbread was actually accredited to Mary, Queen of Scots, in the 16th century.

The name of one of the most famous and most traditional forms of shortbread, petticoat tails, were named by Queen Mary. This type of shortbread was baked, cut into triangular wedges as they are in this recipe from Cook’s Illustrated.

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holiday_cookies_005.jpgIt just wouldn't be Christmas at my house without Thumbprint Cookies. This old recipe that my Czechoslovakian/ Bohemian grandmother used to make created cookies that were my dad's favorite at holiday time. My grandma passed the recipe to my mom. They'd always have centerstage on the plates of cookies my mom would assemble and give to friends during the holidays.

I remember getting home from schoool and helping my mom roll all the dough into little balls. Under her watchful eye I would try to get the balls all the same size, resulting in dainty little cookies. Now I use a #100 portion scooper to insure uniform size.

The Thumbprint Cookies continue to live on. My daughter-in-law and I quadruple this recipe on our cookie-baking day so that we each have enough to include on our own cookie plates that are delivered to friends. This year my two young granddaughters helped make the cookies, each with a portion scooper in hand. They worked intently, rolling each ball of dough in an egg-white wash and then in finely shredded coconut. I always like to roll a few of the cookies in coarsely-ground nuts rather than the coconut.

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luckymoneysoupAs with any Southern celebration, the table will be donned and decked with the literal pieces of our family’s legacy. A great aunt’s china, grandmother’s silver, or mama’s linens. We Southerners know our people and know their worth–a worth laden with sentiment, honor, and legacy if not anything monetarily per say. The memories of those who celebrated this meal are held dear as we utilize their treasures as we shepherd our lives into this New Year.

The garden shall provide our centerpieces. It is wintertime after all, and time to put the garden to bed for a long winter’s nap. Cedar, cypress, boxwood, holly, and magnolia will be clipped and set into a coiffure bouquet only the garden can provide. Pine boughs and cones, bowls of pecans in silver dishes, blue juniper berries and deep aubergine privet berries will augment the serenity of the season and a dose of color to our homage of garden greens. Touches of white from early Paperwhites, silvery artemisia, and popcorn tree will truly sparkle against the deep evergreens’ foliage, looking ever so dapper in any cachepot, tureen, pot, or pail.

We shall eat for progression, luck, health and wealth, and a myriad of good things, and will end the dining festivities with sweet morsels of Southern goodness. Our gardens and land shall be ever present as our décor–a gentle reminder of where our provisions were grown and raised. The food may be spiced with meaning, tradition, and superstition, but the lore has become a part of our culture. For a few hundred years, we had to eat what we had, what we grew. Though times have changed, eating that food, eating “poor,” is still cherished and revered so we may truly eat “rich.” We shall have rice for riches and peas for peace and be no worse for the wear. From this Farmer’s table to yours, Happy New Year!

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springerle-baking-day-2010-02I’ve seen wooden molds with delicate designs carved into them many times as I’ve browsed through antique shops and rummaged my way through flea markets. I never really knew what they were supposed to be used for. A neighbor once gave me the light colored rolling pin you can see in the photo above. She’d had it for years and wasn’t exactly sure if she’d ever used it, but she thought it would be a nice addition to the collection of old rolling pins I kept in an old wicker bike basket hanging on the wall in my kitchen. That was years ago. I’ve never used that carved rolling pin. Until last Sunday.

I was invited to join the Oja family in their spacious kitchen for their annual springerle-making day. Snowflakes were falling as another friend and I pulled into the long driveway leading to their house tucked into the countryside outside of Bemidji, Minnesota.

As I stepped into the warm and cozy home, I was immediately hit with the aroma of mulling spices and cardamom. Beth Oja, our hostess, had prepared Finnish Pulla and mulled cider made from apples the family had picked from their trees and pressed themselves. I thought I might be in heaven. And, I knew this was going to be a great day.

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