Today was a day for finishing handmade presents and prepping for Christmas. We will be hosting the party and the dinner at our house this year. It has been a lot of work, but I am pleased with how it has all pulled together.
Every Christmas eve early evening is spent at my mother's house where she hosts an annual party. When I was little it was the meeting spot for the neighborhood, and what a bustling place it was. Walt and Audra, an adorable old couple, lived nearby. They would waddle, hand in hand, from their house to ours. They would have gussied themselves up,both of them wearing a little too much of Audra's perfume. But we did not mind. It was fun just to watch them take note of everything, like they had not seen it before. They would savor every bit of the food they were served. They would beckon us over, one by one, and ask us about our year, what we had enjoyed, what we hoped for in the new year. They would pat us on the head or shoulder, lean in for a quick hug and press two quarters into the palm of our hands. One of them died and the other followed quickly. We missed them, a whole where their glow had been, each year at the party. I imagine that I carved out some distance as I became a teen-ager. One of the constants was going to the candle light service with my mother. I knew all of the songs by heart, every verse they had us embrace. I knew the story by heart, but listened to it each year, as if it were new to me. My favorite part was when the lights would be dimmed and we would light our small candles. We would softly sing "Silent Night" as the candles twinkled. When the kids were smaller we went to church, alternating from year to year, which grandparent we would accompany. Some years I would miss the service, being too drawn up in the frenzy of Christmas day preparations to take time to attend the special service. This year, though there was still much to do at home, I went to church with my mother and my sister's boys. We have had a big snow storm of late, so the older crowd did not make it in. They simply could not make it through the snow. The gathering was small, but sincere. Nelson, a man who had introduced me to many adventures when I was in the youth club at church, sang several songs beautifully. As he sang, I could not help but think of my first camping trip and ski trip he helped make possible. I watched as an elderly mother leaned into her elderly son, his arms around his family, as they sang "Silent Night"with all of their hearts, swaying to the tune. Near the end of the song he raised up his candle in honor and praise of the event. I was thankful to witness it. Going to church with my mother was the very thing I needed. We held hand through most of the service, my heart thankful that she is my mother.
Back on the home front the rest of my little family put up a few more decorations, set three separate tables for dinner and helped me feel more ready for the holiday. Ellie had taken several things from my craft room table and hung them up. It was a good way to usher in the actual holiday. I spent a bit more time making a few last items for our party tomorrow.
SARAH'S BEST HOMEMADE HOT CHOCOLATE
1 tbsp. cocoa powder
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. water
1 c. milk
a bit of vanilla, if desired
Combine cocoa, sugar, and water in a small saucepan. Heat it on low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent the paste from sticking to the pan. After about 1 to 2 minutes, add milk and vanilla. Mix it all together until it reaches your preferred temperature.
Ellie tops this lovely hot chocolate with a pile of whipped cream, a few colorful sprinkles and a few chocolate shavings.
Russian Tea Cookies (Also known as Mexican Wedding Cookies)
via Shared Sugar.com
makes about 4 dozen cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened to room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
2-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup finely chopped/coarsely ground pecans
Toast pecans in oven at 400 degrees for 5-7 minutes. Or, if lazy (like me) or always in a hurry (like me), take the easy route and toast them in the toaster oven for 2-3 minutes. Using an electric mixer, beat butter on medium speed in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and vanilla; beat until well blended. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, cinnamon and salt. Slowly add dry mixture to wet mixture, beating until well blended. Mix in pecans with a wooden spoon.
Divide dough in half; form each half into ball. Wrap separately in plastic; chill until cold, about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Working with half of chilled dough, roll dough with palms into 1-inch balls. Arrange balls on large baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake cookies until light golden brown on bottom and just pale golden on top, about 16-18 minutes. Check cookies throughout baking to be sure not to over bake. If baked too long, bottoms will burn and cookies will be very dry.
Pour 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar in pie dish. Cool cookies 5 minutes on baking sheet. Gently toss warm cookies in powdered sugar to coat completely. Transfer coated cookies to rack and cool completely. Roll cookies in powdered sugar again once cooled. Repeat procedure with remaining half of dough, or reserve remaining powdered sugar and freeze dough for later use. Cookies can be prepared 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature. For extra powdered sugar on your cookies, save leftover powdered sugar and sift over cookies just before serving.
Nantucket Cranberry Pie
(inspired by the recipe found on The Pioneer Woman)
2 TBL Butter
12 oz. (about 21/2 cups) Fresh Cranberries
1 cup Pecans (or Walnuts)Chopped
2/3 cups Sugar
1 cup Flour (Whole Wheat Flour works nicely)
2/3 cup Sugar
1 stick Butter, melted
2 whole Eggs, Lightly Beaten
1 teaspoon Pure Almond Extract
1 Tablespoon Sugar For Sprinkling
*Adapted from a recipe by Laurie Colwin*
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Generously butter a cake pan or pie pan. Add cranberries to the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle on chopped pecans, then sprinkle on 2/3 cup sugar. Mix this around to combine nicely.
In a mixing bowl, combine flour, 1 cup sugar, melted butter, eggs, almond extract, and salt. Stir gently to combine. It will be very thick.
Place the batter over the top of the cranberry mixture. Spread gently if necessary.
Bake for 45 to 50 minutes. Five minutes before removing from oven, sprinkle surface with 1 tablespoon sugar for a little extra crunch.
Magic Spinach Ring
1 box frozen Spinach, thawed and drained
Seasonings to taste = salt, pepper, garlic, dried onion, cayenne pepper, basil, etc.
1 pound Swiss Cheese, grated
2 packages Pilsbury Crescent Rolls (I think the Garlic ones are best)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Mix the spinach with the egg and season to your liking. Add the grated cheese.Unwrap the crescent rolls, using them to form a star on your baking sheet. Mold the center of the star to hold the spinach mix. Scoop the spinach mixture to form a circle, twist up the crescent roll dough into the center and press into place. Bake for 45 minutes. Let it rest for 15 minutes before serving and enjoy!