Seeing as it’s my favorite time of year, and I’m one of those people who secretly listens to Christmas carols starting in September, it’s probably time to share a few of my favorite things from this season.
Here’s my top 10 list of traditions that connect me and my family to the season.
Please share any of your favorite holiday things with me. I’m always thrilled to discover new and wonderful treasures.
German Pickle Ornaments: Growing up, we always had the pickle ornament. Admittedly, we didn’t follow the German tradition that holds that whoever finds the pickle gets an extra present. Trust me, I would have won every year. I still love it when I open that little box every year and unwrap the pickle from its tissue slumber. You just have to love a glass pickle ornament. There are no two ways about it.
Giving little gifties to the neighbors: For the last few years, I’ve made cookies for each of the neighbors. It seemed to be a great idea in the beginning–as I began looking through my cookbooks and Sunset magazines for the best and most wonderful cookie concoctions this side of the Mississippi. And when I began making the cookies and the house smelled wonderful and I felt homey and domestic, it was just all fantastic. And then, hours later, when I was covered in flour and the spritz cookies looked like lumps of playdough and I still had nine dozen cookies left to make, well, let’s just say the holiday spirit seemed to wane. So last year, I cheated big time and opted for M&Ms and candy cane Hershey’s Kisses in cute little boxes. Cheating never tasted so good!
Jackie Gleason’s Christmas Album: What many people don’t know about this particular Honeymooner is that he was a renowned band leader and composer. This album is, for me, the sound of Christmas. It is the album my parents would put on as we opened presents every year. It’s soulful, jazzy, retro and perfect for a little nip of brandy by the fire.
Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas: They used to show this on TV every year, and it’s just the sweetest thing in the world. Honestly, who could resist a show that has a song with these lyrics:
So, get the frown off your face
We’re gonna replace it with a grin and a dream come true
With a perty girl dancin’ to jug-band music
And a mess of mama’s barbecue.
They sell this on DVD and VHS at Target sometimes, so please look for it. It’s one of those rare treasures.
Handmade presents from your little ones: So far, my sons have given me tree ornaments made out of:
–A wooden spoon, the little kind that used to come with the containers of ice cream you’d get at elementary school parties in the ’70s;
–A white clay snowman that looked beautiful and was then “deconstructed” by my abstract modernist 5-year-old;
–A pine cone sculpture that puts Rodin to shame;
–A glittery snowflake tree topper.
But my favorite must be the handprint wreath wall-hanging. I mean, really? How cute could this possibly be?
Barefoot Contessa French Chocolate Bark: I’m a bit of a sucker for Ina Garten, so when I saw this holiday recipe, I couldn’t resist trying it. It’s unbelievably amazing and makes a beautiful treat to share with friends and neighbors.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 2 hours
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Serves: 24 pieces
9 1/2 ounces very good semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
8 ounces very good bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup whole roasted, salted cashews
1 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup dried cranberries
Directions: Melt the two chocolates in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water.
Meanwhile, line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Using a ruler and a pencil, draw a 9-by-10-inch rectangle on the paper. Turn the paper facedown on the baking sheet.
Pour the melted chocolate over the paper and spread to form a rectangle, using the outline. Sprinkle the cashews, apricots and cranberries over the chocolate. Set aside for two hours until firm. Cut the bark in 1-by-3-inch pieces and serve at room temperature. 2007, Ina Garten, All rights reserved.
German Pyramids: My mama has a beautiful collection of authentic German figurines, music boxes and pyramids. My favorite of all time is a large wooden Advent pyramid. You light the candles and the heat from the flame makes the propeller blades turn, which then makes the little figures around the bottom spin in a procession. It has four little doors that you open each Sunday of Advent. On my mama’s dining room table, I thought it was the most magical thing in the world. Still do.
Tom & Jerry’s: My grandma Deedles had a beautiful white Tom & Jerry bowl with little mugs to match. I prefer Tom & Jerry’s to eggnog any day of the week. The drink is sweet and warm and totally yummy. This recipe does call for uncooked eggs, which, for some of you, might be a deal-breaker. I totally understand. But for those willing to give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.
Here’s Deedles’ recipe:
2 eggs (I know, I know, but just bear with me)
1/3 cup sugar (superfine is best)
3 drops vanilla extract
Pinch of baking soda
2 tablespoons of your favorite whiskey or 1/2 rum and 1/2 brandy–for each serving
Nutmeg (freshly ground if possible)
Directions: Beat the whites and yolks of the two eggs separately until very light. Add 1/3 cup sugar to egg whites, continuing to beat until fluffy. Add the beaten egg yolks to whites of eggs. Add three drops of vanilla and a pinch of baking soda, continuing to beat well. Put desired liquor into each mug and fill with scalded milk. Stir and sprinkle with nutmeg. Serves 8.
Dropping gift hints: Do you remember when they used to give away prizes in which you went to a store and grabbed as much stuff as you could in like five minutes? Picture desperate ladies zooming down the aisles and throwing things into their shopping cart willy-nilly. If someone would like to give me that for Anthropologie, I’d be forever grateful. Just saying.
Last, but certainly not least, See’s Scotchmallow candies: Although I’m hard-pressed to discover a See’s candy I’m not in love with, I must say, over the years–and over many, many taste tests–Scotchmallow has my vote. Honey marshmallow, caramel and chocolate. My Grandma Deedles loved them–as well as Bordeaux and apricot bon bons–and I love them, too. Have a box for me. Or send me one. I’ve been very good this year
Originally published December 2010 Walnut Creek Patch