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Archive for the ‘REAL Holidays’ Category

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you out there celebrating today.

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I (Sincerely, Emily) have a lot to be thankful for this year. I am thankful to be here to see one more day. Some days it has been very hard to be thankful for anything, but those moments have passed fairly quickly and I am So happy to be alive and doing so well. I find that I am thankful every day for so many thing. When I begin to get edgy or frustrated I just put myself back into place when I look at what surrounds me: fantastic husband, beautiful gardens, furry cats, a roof over my head, and the ability to be up and about and able to do things. cabbage Dec 2012

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Here are a few of our past Thanksgiving posts for you to enjoy:

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When I was in my 20s, I managed a nonprofit art gallery.

Aside from just being a really amazing job, one of the perks was that galleries are on really great P.R. lists, meaning we would get the most beautiful posters in the mail.

Some of them ended up on the walls, but far more of them received a more, shall we say, ephemeral and, ahem creative, use.

Wrapping paper.

Sounds a bit horrifying, I know. Full color, quality paper, beautifully designed museum and gallery posters, torn to shreds on Christmas morning. But we would get dozens of these things a month. It was always a good day when I got to the mail first, because I learned this trick from the gallery director, and we would try to beat each other to the best ones. Granted, some of them we kept– I framed a gorgeous Agnes Martin “poster”; it’s actually a full color offset lith on rice paper. I gave others to friends.

But most of them ended up under the Christmas tree. To give you some perspective, I worked there from 1981 to 1986. I still have several posters from this period, rolled up and waiting to be used.

The point, of course, is that most of these, even the very beautiful ones, were bound to end up in the trash. The thing with “creative re-use” is that you can’t be afraid to creatively reuse things, just because they seem so, well, useful.

What do you “creatively re-use” for the holidays?

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During the Hannuka festival I like to drive slowly through my heavily Jewish neighborhood and look for the menorahs.

It’s one of the more charming traditions of Hannukah (which is a tradition with much charm), that the menorah is placed in the window, so everyone knows “we celebrate this here.” Judaism has many public expressions of private faith; it’s a religion of bravura and courage, which I suppose it has needed to be.

While my parents were raised as Christians, I was raised to mistrust religion, so I’ve been somewhat on the other side of the windows for all of the winter traditions. I see the candles and the lights and the stained glass from the wrong side. No question, it’s beautiful from either perspective, but I’ve always imagined the interior of worship places to be a warm and mysterious communion where everyone knows the same thing; something I don’t, and can’t know.

Religion is a foreign language to me.

When my kids were born, I vowed that they would at least understand what was going on on the other side of the window, and we marked all the Judeo-Christian holidays with outward accoutrements: food and stories and decorations. We read the Hannukah story and lit the candles. We had a tree and presents and read Dylan Thomas and St. Luke. Easter and Passover, Hallowe’en and Purim. If I had it to do over, I’d add Ramadan and Diwali, as well as Solstice and Equinox celebrations. Oh well, I’ll have grandchildren someday.

Strangely, my husband, also not a Christian, has worked most of his adult life as a worship musician, in both the church and the synagogue. He knows the rituals inside out. He’s good at it, too.

Even though the kids are gone, and there’s really no reason to do it, I still light the Menorah and say the prayer. Yesterday I made challah. There are Christmas lights in my window and my yard.

Because the thing about the holy is that there is no “outside.”

Hannukah 1

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You have an official pass to eat goodies– it’s Christmastime! But in January, you have to be good. Here are some of the yummies, we’re making:

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I (Xan) really just starting baking a few years ago. Baking is one of those things that one does with one’s mother, and since mine died right at the brink of my adulthood, I didn’t really feel confident in doing it. Plus, it made me sad. But when I changed my food buying habits and diet a few years ago, I had to learn to bake, or no bread. And I really did kinda figure it out. I’m slowly figuring out bread, am something of an expert now, or at least fairly fearless, at scones, and last year I taught myself to make pies (including the crust). Here is one them, and it fits in with last Tuesday’s post about baking with my mother.Pineapple apricot pie

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Well, I (Sincerely, Emily) had wonderful intentions of making some cookies over the past few days….   ahhhh, that just didn’t happen.

Pecan Pie Bars 2

So, the only sweet treat you are going to see from me is in the post I did yesterday about the Pecan Pie Bars that I made. Oh, and there is the batch after batch of zucchini muffins and bread that I have been making over the past few montsh (and stashing in the freezer – and other people’s freezers too).

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What sweet treats have you been baking? Comment and add a link if you posted about them.

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I have been looking around for a different cookie recipe to take to a cookie exchange that I am going to next week. In the process I came across a recipe for Pecan Pie Bars. My husband is a big fan of pumpkin pie and pecan pie, and my neighbor usually makes the pecan pie and I usually make an apple cranberry thingy. Well, this year, for Thanksgiving, I completely dropped the ball on desert and Wednesday night by husband asked if we were having pumpkin pie…. ahhh, no.

I did get him to agree to help me with the pecan pie bars and boy, they were great!

Pecan Pie Bars

Crust
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter

Preheat your oven to 350F/180C. crust: combine flour, powdered sugar and salt. Cut in 1/2 cup butter until your mixture is course crumbs. Pat the crumb mixture into an ungreased 11×7 baking dish. Bake the crust for 20 minutes, or until it is a golden brown.

“Pie” filling
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup agave syrup
1T cornstarch
2 T butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla

While you crust is baking, mix together eggs, pecans, brown sugar, agave syrup, 2 T melted butter and vanilla. Spread this mixture over your baked crust.
Bake for 20 minutes (350F/180C). Cool before cutting.

We cut our bars rather large (15 bars). I know I will be making these bars a few more times through December and will cut them much smaller (24 bars).

When I found this recipe, I didn’t have light corn syrup on hand, so I turned to our resident baker here at NDIN (Emily at Tanglewood Farm) about using a substitute and she recommended trying agave syrup. After I mixed the “filling” it seemed a bit thin and runny so I decided to add 1T of cornstarch to the mix. I have NO idea if this helped or not. All I can tell you is the “filling” was firm and came out fine.

When I decided to try this recipe I was looking forward to using my Vitamix to make the powdered sugar. Before I got started, I looked up in the cupboard, waaaaay in the back, just to make sure there wasn’t any store-bought powdered sugar still lurking up there. OH, MY! I found A LOT of powdered sugar up there. I can’t tell you when the last time was that I used any powered sugar, but I can also tell you that even though I gave away a ton of food before we moved to Texas (4+ years ago), somehow this powdered sugar came with us. Crazy! I can also tell you that this stuff in OLD. I probably would have bought this when I was taking cake decorating classes when we lived in Palm Springs. That was about 10 years ago. YIKES!

If any of you are from California, you will also laugh, because one of the packages is from Lucky (grocery store) and another box I found is from Stater Brothers. Lucky closed many years ago, but Stater brothers is still around out there.

What kind of treats are you baking this time of year?

Sincerely, Emily

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When I was a little girl, and well into high school, my mother and I would make gingerbread people every year for Christmas. And not just any gingerbread people. We would make a list of everyone we knew, and make portraits of them in gingerbread. I carry in my head a memory of every surface in our kitchen covered with gingerbread people.

Every year we would open up the cookbooks and search for the really good gingerbread recipe since we could never remember which one it was. Finally, in a moment of facepalming, I remember my mother writing “this is the one!” on the proper recipe.

After my mother died, I can’t remember if I kept this up, although I have a vague memory of trying to revive it with my own children. However, for whatever reason, “kids these days” or my ambivalence about baking, or a sense that people didn’t really appreciate the gesture, the tradition fell off.  I revived it a couple of years ago, making some for Wei’s church ladies, and my office mates.

When you lose someone you love, you hold tight to little things like notes and their personal belongings. My mother’s cookbooks are among my most treasured belongings, and her notes, in her precious hand, make me feel like she’s still here. I want to restart this tradition, maybe with my borrowed grandchild Tete, maybe with my daughter (or both of them).

So I started writing this and I pulled out the book with the gingerbread recipe, but…

No note.

No “this is the one.”

In my mind’s eye I can see the writing on that page. I have all my mother’s cookbooks, and yet it isn’t there.

So the tradition, in its entirety will continue. My daughter and I will see if we can identify the “good” recipe, just as my mother and I searched for it every year. I can see where this will become a family story, of the search for the best gingerbread recipe. It’s one of those things that makes holidays real.

Do you have a recipe for gingerbread men? Link it in the comments! Maybe I’ll use yours!

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Are you inspired by all the great handmade gifts our writers have been making? We like to cook things for the ones we love as well! Here’s some handmade recipes for holiday giving!

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Of course, sweets are the mainstay of homemade holidays, but this year I decided to go savory. Every year I grow tomatillos, make pints and pints of salsa verde, and then it sits on the shelf because no one eats it. Naturally, this year I decided I’ll make it in half-pint sizes, and then use it for gifts. I made 20 half-pints. When I went to check for this photo, I was down to 11; I think my husband has been eating it because of the nice small sizes. I used Rick Bayless’ wonderful recipe, and grew everything myself except the limes. By the way, this stuff is great on pizza!Salsa

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Well, Xan has me drooling over her salsa verde.

With the successful zucchini growing season this fall, I (Sincerely, Emily) knew exactly what some people were going to be getting this year for gifts! Zucchini Relish!  I started making this recipe back in the fall of 2009 with a few zucchini from my garden (before the nasty borer got to it!) and more from the farmers market. Now I am thrilled I can use all of my own, homegrown zucchini for the recipe. I have not harvested my horseradish yet, or I would have used that too!) I found the recipe over at Homesteading in Maine and I also have the zucchini relish recipe posted (with permission) over at my blog too.

Zucchini Relish 2We love this relish on sandwiches in place of mayo.

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On Thursday, we’ll indulge in the great American celebration of excess that is Thanksgiving. It’s a strange week to be thinking about thrift and frugality.

On the other hand, we’re already well into the annual assault on our senses that is the holiday advertising season, when we learn how desperately we need a lot of shit that we don’t need, not to mention how buying it is the only way to prove to your family and friends that you love them. It’s particularly grating in my family, as my husband is a choral musician, and there’s nothing like a holiday ad for mangling great works of choral literature.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Although it celebrates consumption and indulgence, a big part of that indulgence is the immersion in family, in thankfulness, in tradition, in things made, and not just things consumed.

So many of the best family memories focus on Thanksgiving. My friend Terry’s amazement that I whipped my potatoes by hand. It never occurred to me to use a beater, and I still don’t like to. I think it makes the potatoes gluey. Watching the kids slowly turn their focus from childish to adult, as one by one, they stopped leaving the adult conversation after the meal. My annual fight with everyone else in the family over canned cranberry sauce which we never ever ever (ever) had until about 4 years ago, and which everyone now insists is a “tradition.” Did I mention that we NEVER had this before? Ever. I must have been having Thanksgiving in some alternate universe, because I’m pretty sure I was making this cranberry sauce every damn year for decades.

World’s Best Cranberry Chutney (From the old Sphere magazine)
1 lb cranberries (these used to come in 16 oz bags, now they’ve reduced bag size to 12 oz, so just deal)
1 cup white sugar*
1/2 c. packed brown sugar*
1/2 c. golden raisins
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground clove
1/4 tsp allspice
1 cup water
1 c. chopped onion
1 c. chopped apple (Granny Smiths)
1/2 c. chopped celery

Simmer cranberries, sugar, raisins and spices in 1 cup water, uncovered, in a saucepan over medium heat, just until the cranberries release their juice (about 15 minutes). Keep heat low, and stir in remaining ingredients. Simmer until it thickens, about 15 minutes. Can be served warm or cold. I think it’s best when made the day before and stored in the fridge, then served at room temperature for the actual meal.

* if you don’t want to use sugar, substitute 1 cup honey and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda. You’ll need to simmer it a little longer due to the excess liquid.

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Indulgence can be a profane act of excess for the sake of excess, or it can be a sacred meal, shared with the ones you love most. You can consume for consumption’s sake, or in celebration of life’s sweetness.  Consumption can be extraction, leaving you sick and unhappy, or creation, which transports you.

How will you balance the profane and the holy this week?

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And the holiday season begins. It hardly seems fair that we just get done with all the awful political ads, and they start right in on all the awful holiday ads, but oh well. Here at NDiN, I think we’ll turn off the tv and spend the week cooking.

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Here’s the turkey, which I (Xan) will actually be making for the December holidays rather than Thanksgiving this year. My sister-in-law will make Thanksgiving.

Turkey with apple-raisin stuffing
from Sphere magazine, circa 1975
1 c. chopped onion
1/2 c. butter
1 quart chopped apples (I use Granny Smiths)
1 c. chopped celery
1/2 c. golden raisins
1/4 c. fresh parsley
1 egg
1/4 c. apple cider
1 1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Saute onion in butter over medium heat until transparent (about 5 minutes); stir in apples and celery, simmer uncovered over medium heat sitrring occasionally (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat, lightly beat egg and stir in, stir in remaining ingredients. Stuff bird. Oops. Find a recipe/instructions for roasting a stuffed turkey. Do that. (Actually Alton Brown says make the stuffing separately, cook the bird unstuffed and spatchcocked- you heard me- and then stuff it on the sly when no ones looking, during the “resting” period after you take it out of the oven.)

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Ahhh, where does that time go. I (Sincerely, Emily) am involved in a lot of things this year that are taking me away from home during the day and I find that I seem to be scrambling to get anything done right now. In terms of our Thanksgiving dinner, so far, the only two things I have thought about are the turkey and the stuffing. The local man I was getting a turkey from let me know that the turkeys did not put on weight, therefore, he has no turkey for me. I scrambled to find an organic turkey this past week. Yesterday I started making bread for my stuffing.

I use my normal no-knead bread recipe.  Then I add seasonings.

No-Knead Bread

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp yeast (original recipe is 1/8 tsp, but I never got much of a rise so I added more!)
  • salt
  • 1 1/2 cup water (adjusted for your flour

Before I add the water I add the following herbs and spices

  • 2 T dried oregano  or minced fresh oregano
  • 2 T dried minced onions (or fresh)
  • 2 T dried ground sage or minced fresh

Mix dry ingredients together then start adding your water a little at a time.  I tend to never add the full water, I prefer my dough on the dry side. I then cover my bowl with plastic and let it sit over night or all day or until I remember to get back to it. I then knead the dough (yes, I knead the no-knead dough!) just a bit to pull it all together.) I then place it in an oiled bowl and let it rise about an hour or until it has doubled in size. I pre-heat the oven and the crock pot insert to 500F. I bake the bread, covered, for 30 minutes at 500F, then 15 minutes at 450F uncovered.  (see my above link for photo of crockpot insert)  (you can use dutch oven.) I allow the bread to completely cook before cutting it into cubes to dry for stuffing. The bread has all the wonderful herbs and spices already in it, but I do tend to add more when I make the stuff.

Ok, now I am in the mood for the holidays… or at least the food part!

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What are you making for Thanksgiving?

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