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The Christmas Shuffle


The Saturday before my manuscript was due, Sam and I went out to get our first Christmas tree together. I was exhausted, it was raining, and I wasn’t feeling supremely festive but it was the day that fit in with both of our schedules. Once I got to the lot, things changed. There were all kinds of choices – Douglas Firs, Silver Tips, Scotch Pines. We discovered that we have the same taste in trees (full and maybe a touch squatty), bought some garland, had one of the  Boy Scouts snap our photo, and stopped for chowder at Ivar’s on the way home. It was about 4:30 p.m. and we were the youngest ones at the restaurant by a good forty years. Amidst the electric train chugging around by the check-out counter, flashing holiday lights, and repetitive music, we shared greasy french fries and chowder and declared that we should do the same the following year. A few days later, we found ourselves at The Sorrento Hotel sipping spiked cider and hot buttered rum while writing holiday cards. There were families dressed up in holiday garb, live music and a roaring fire, and I told Sam we should come back next year. He smiled and nodded, apparently thinking the same thing.

While we celebrated Christmas together last year, this year feels different. Bigger, somehow, mainly because we live in the same city — in the same house. Last year I still lived in California and Sam came to visit me there. I had my own apartment, my own Christmas tree, baked my own cookies and had my own holiday parties to attend. This year, we’re still feeling each other out, testing the waters to see what color lights we want to string, what cookies we want to bake, how stout we liked our tree. So over the past few weeks, we’ve been nailing in tiny stakes, claiming little moves that we want to be ours for the years to come. Chowder after trees, cozy hotel lobbies for Christmas cards, snowflake-making in the living room.

In the midst of all of the Christmas shuffling, I’ve been spending more time than usual at home. I found turning in the manuscript to be such a high and then the week that followed was a strange energy bomb: what to do with all of that drive and low-grade stress I’d been hosting for six months? Sure, holiday orders for Marge have kept me more than busy, but that’s always been a much more manual kind of work. When that’s over, I don’t have much creative/”head” work as I did before and it left me feeling pretty drained, to be honest. I found myself reading a lot on the couch, catching up on Six Feet Under, and managed to bake these simple holiday cookies mid-week.

 

These are simple, buttery shortbread cookies with boozy dried fruits folded in at the very end. I chose to cut them into long bars, but you could certainly use a cookie cutter and create any shapes you like, or roll the dough into a log, chill until firm and slice into circles. I originally discovered the idea for fruitcake shortbread in the most recent issue of Martha Stewart and made a few tweaks, using whole-wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose flour, which lends a crumbliness that is perfectly suited for a shortbread cookie. I amped up the citrus zest and added a handful of dried cherries, too. If you want, you could leave out the fruits altogether and mix in cacao nibs or shredded coconut, chopped herbs, or white chocolate bits. 

This coming week, we’re driving down the coast road to the Bay Area with a few friends. I’ll take some photos to share with you, and have a Christmas morning-worthy recipe for you soon, too. Until then, here are a few things that have kept me occupied this week. I hope you like them, too.

Online:
The Art of Being Still
The Culture in Kitchens
Guess Who Isn’t Coming to Dinner? (What do you think? Are dinner parties dead?)
9 Signs That You Might be an Introvert
Untitled by The Yellow House (if you read one food blog entry this week…)

In Print:
New Saveur (love the mention of Little House on the Prairie)
Uncertainty by Jonathan Fields (a good read for all of you creative, work-for-yourselfers)
Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert  (good stuff on the history of marriage)

Fruitcake Shortbread Bars
This recipe calls for candied citron. I buy mine from King Arthur and find myself sprinkling them in cookies, muffins, quick breads or even my morning oats. Do note that the citrus and dried fruits must macerate in brandy for at least two hours, so plan accordingly. If you’d prefer to use other dried fruits, go right ahead: chopped apricots would be nice, currants and raisins would be wonderful, too. Next time I make these, I think I’ll fold in some candied ginger as well. 

Makes: About 18 bars

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup confectioners sugar
2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt*
1/4 cup dried cranberries, chopped
1/4 cup dried cherries, chopped
1/4 cup candied citron
1/2 cup whiskey or brandy
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

Combine the dried fruits and whiskey in a small bowl and allow to sit for 2-8 hours. Drain.

Preheat the oven to 300 F. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or by hand), beat butter on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and add sugar gradually, beating until mixture is fully incorporated and pale in color, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add the flour and sprinkle in the salt. Beat until just incorporated.

Mix in the lemon zest and drained fruit mixture. Press dough evenly into a 9×13 baking sheet with the bars about 1/4-inch thick ((my dough didn’t reach the whole length of the baking sheet so I left a little corner empty). Refrigerate until firm about 30 minutes and then slice into 2×4 inch bars (or any shape you’d like, really).

Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet until golden around the edges, about 35 minutes. Let cool. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

*kosher salt has larger granules, so if you’re using a finer-grain table or sea salt, decrease the amount of salt in this recipe to 3/4 teaspoon. 

 

 

  1. Mary
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Beautiful! XO to you + Sam.

  2. Posted December 16, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    beautiful looking cookies, would go perfectly wish a hot toddy! great tree – happy holidays to you and yours!

  3. Posted December 16, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Lovely post, as always :) Happy holidays to you both!

  4. momgordon
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    Like that you gave Elizabeth Gilbert a second chance :) Counting the days until you pull into the driveway! Treat cabinet is ready!!

  5. Aunt V
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    I like the hotel tradition you and Sam have established of card writing by the fire.
    Looking forward to reading about your drive down the coast.
    A Merry Christmas to you and Sam.
    Love,
    Aunt V

  6. Posted December 17, 2012 at 5:58 am

    Really enjoyed this read this morning, Megan. Thanks.

  7. Eileen
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 7:23 am

    Oh my, the introvert article made me laugh out loud, I see myself so clearly in those behaviors. Sneaking away to the bathroom – I can’t count the number of times I’ve done that!

  8. Posted December 17, 2012 at 11:47 am

    Drive safe, you two. It can get a little crazy out there over the holidays. xo

  9. Posted December 17, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    My husband and I love the Sorrento! Chowder after picking up the tree sounds wonderful, and the fruitcake shortbread bars look delicious. After 5 years married, the husband and I are still creating new traditions together. Cheers!

  10. Posted December 17, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    what a glorious festive scene!
    i sure miss the pre children trips out, stopping for a nibble here or there and soaking up parts of other people’s lives!
    now i do it through blogs…. sad!
    not really!
    with humour and good wishes
    great lookin food
    Roselinde

  11. Posted December 17, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    my daughter insists i say
    nice christmas tree!..
    r

  12. Laura@Potpourri
    Posted December 18, 2012 at 7:11 am

    Cute story about the tree. And the shortbread pics are lovely. Thanks.

  13. Posted December 18, 2012 at 7:23 am

    Oh I love your tree. We did not get a chance to really do the holiday thing this year as life decided to take over our lives. Hoping next year – we can do the first Christmas is our not so new house any longer!

    Have a wonderful drive down the coast – enjoy the boozy cookies, I know we would!!!

  14. Posted December 19, 2012 at 11:51 am

    Isn´t it nice making new traditions together? Have a great road trip Megan!

  15. Posted January 5, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    woww I love the look of these, and they just sound so comforting and delicious! I’m definitely pinning this and will keep it in mind for the future :D

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