This past week I've been teaching a holiday gifts class at The Pantry, a cooking school here in Seattle. We've been spending each evening making butterscotch pudding, pâtes de fruit, fig and almond crackers and chocolate ginger cookies -- and while I've loved getting back in front of students again, I think my favorite part has been the very beginning where we introduce ourselves and share one holiday treat we like to make or eat: the room buzzes with talk of spiced pfeffernüsse, buttery cashew toffee and boozy rum balls. Growing up, my mom made Baked Alaska for dessert every Christmas Eve and I grew so accustomed to it that I was surprised when I went away to college and learned that no one had really heard of it. In fact, when my new boyfriend (now husband) Sam joined us a handful of years ago, he seemed utterly baffled by the meringue-topped boob of an ice cream dessert that we'd pour cognac over and light on fire. But it was always my mom’s thing (and until tonight, when I asked her about why she began making it, I hadn't realized that it was also my grandma Marge's thing). Zeke, my mom's former handyman (he passed away a few years back), would always bring over a cookie plate filled with truly awful cookies, but he decorated them himself with colorful sprinkles and included a few dog bones, and the gesture felt quite grand for a man in his 80's. Sam's mom makes these fragrant buttery cookies called Nutmeg Logs that we've started to bake as well, and our friend Molly often brings by a tin she and her mom make each year that includes peppermint bark and a jammy sandwich cookie. Maybe your family’s thing was something you really loved, and maybe it wasn't -- it seems that part isn't as important as the fact that it happened. And continued to happen. There's such a comfort in that repetition, and today those things that help ground us feel more important than ever.
I had every intention of starting a new tradition this year and hosting a cookie swap with some of our local friends, but somehow the season really got the best of me and it just hasn't happened. But! That hasn't stopped me from getting a head start on holiday baking; I posted a photo on Instagram the other day of some of my very favorite holiday cookbooks, and asked if there was a way we could all just take the whole week off to bake instead of work. Judging from the responses, it seems I'm not the only one who thinks this would be a really great idea. But back here in reality, cookie baking is relegated to later evenings or, I hope, this weekend we'll find some time to eek in a few batches (the recipe for Sam's mom's Nutmeg Logs is up next, and I'm set on making gingerbread men to take with us down to the Bay Area). Right now on our countertop, we've got a batch of these crumbly, chocolatey, whole grain shortbread that have proven to be a big hit. The ingredient list is small and simple, the technique foolproof, and I think they're a real standout in a sea of holiday cookies.
This, my friends, was the view from my car window on the drive down from Seattle to the Bay Area. Remember when I promised photos from the coast road and a recipe for Christmas morning? Well that was quickly absorbed by a very different kind of trip than we'd originally expected. A snowier trip and a much less scenic one (as we had to take an alternate route), although one filled with ample memories and cups of gas station hot chocolate. I didn't expect for the blog to be silent during the holiday week, but sometimes you can't control these things. So I sincerely hope that you had a wonderful, restful time with family and friends and are slowly getting back into the swing of things. This year, we spent a lot of time at home with family instead of rushing around to visit various new spots around San Francisco. We did a little cookie baking, visited Sam's favorite record store in the Haight and saw many old friends. We drank martinis, endured a period of holiday rain of the likes I haven't seen in years, and snuck out when the rain finally let up to run or walk the neighborhood. We had a lazy pajama-cloaked Christmas morning complete with numerous cups of coffee and a team-effort eggs benedict on toasty bagels smeared with avocado. I'm reluctant to head back but also love the feeling of a new year and looking ahead towards all that it may bring. Maybe on our drive back, I'll actually get to snap a few coast photos. Cross your fingers! In the meantime, I wanted to share just a handful of favorite recipes from 2012 on the chance you've got time and are inspired to cook this week. I'll see you back here very soon, feeling newly inspired and refreshed after such a nice break from our often busy day-to-day life back in Seattle.
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.
Hello from the other side! I realize we haven't been back here for a few weeks, and I'm sorry for dropping into a little black hole. My cookbook deadline was Monday, so I've been a writing and editing machine, stepping away from the computer to occasionally clean the house like a crazy person or throw together a most random lunch or dinner. But somehow it all came together although there was something strangely anti-climactic about sending it off: In the days when you'd print out your manuscript and have to walk to the post office and seal it up carefully to send to the publisher, I imagine it would feel much more ceremonial and important --you could stroll out of the building and do a cartwheel. Or high-five a fellow customer on your way out. Instead, I was sitting in our dining room on an incredibly rainy, dark Monday afternoon unable to hit "send." My sister Zoe told me to just close my eyes and do it. Sam gave me the thumbs up. So around 3 p.m. that's what I did. With the click of a button, just like that: it was finished.
The week between Christmas and New Years is kind of magical, isn't it? A lot of people take it off from work, others put in half-days, and there's a palpable slow down to the hustle and bustle. There are loads of laundry, long walks, lounging with new books, and wishing complete strangers a Happy New Year. Just because. It's always seemed to me that there's this collective hush or sigh -- a kind of release and a relishing in the quiet.
I have a very full, spirited life. But sometimes when it comes down to the Christmas spirit it can be a little different. I can be a little tardy in this department. I always make it to the dance, but I can be fashionably late. Getting excited about Christmas can be funny when you're 32-- an in between time when, in my case, you're no longer a child but don't yet have children of your own. The magic doesn't descend upon you any longer. You have to keep your eyes peeled for it. You may even have to go and seek it out.
Most of the recipes I feature on the site are things I've bookmarked and planned out -- I don't often just whip something up on a whim, take a photo, and blog about it. Until this week. Don't get me wrong. I had a recipe planned for you (and it'll appear next week instead. And it's quite wonderful). But this week has brought about some bumps in the road and unexpected surprises. If you could call them that.
Gosh. How is it that this will be the last post of December? The last post of the year? And what better way to celebrate than to raise a glass to the amazing gals at The Kitchn for hosting me as a guest writer today. I've been a big fan of the site for some time, but even cooler is the fact that some of my favorite bloggers like her and her and him were featured as guest writers this holiday and I'm honored to be in their company. So head on over to check out the post there. And I thought I'd re-post it for you here. Cheers to a full, dynamic, and inspiring 2010 with many new recipes, friends, stories, and travels. And in other A Sweet Spoonful news, the site redesign is almost done and should be up soon, soon, soon. I'm so excited to share it with you. Happy, happy New Year! See you in 2010. Well folks, it’s over. The hustle is no longer hustling and the stockings are waiting to be packed up for the next go ‘around. An ungodly amount of See’s Candy has been consumed, and we’re slowly making our way through leftovers and the last dregs of eggnog. Now if you’re anything like me (read: efficient first child), you’ve broken down boxes, recycled wrapping paper, and put your new gifts away. Heck, maybe you’ve even got your thank you notes ready to roll.