Friday, December 01, 2006

The Countdown Begins

Only 24 days until Christmas! Today we begin a new feature here on Ms. Congeniality, a little something I like to call 24 Days of My Favorite Holiday Things. That’s right, for the next 24 days or so, I plan to bore you into a stupor by listing the things about this season that make me go squee. I know, how lucky are you!?

Today we will be learning about my favorite holiday treats. These include things that I bake myself and a few that I bum off other people. They are presented in no particular order since I am a firm believer in not discriminating against goodies. Ready? Great!

-Frosted sugar cookies. I have the best recipe in the entire world for these cookies and they always turn out perfect, soft and tender. The kids generally help with these by rolling out the cookie dough and cutting it with one of the approximately three hundred cookie cutters that I own. They also love to help with the decorating of the cookies once they have cooled and, naturally, the amount of frosting that actually ends up on the cookies pales in comparison to the amount that ends up in their stomachs; that is the price that I pay for their help which actually makes them pretty cheap labor.

-Gingerbread men. Read the above paragraph, substitute gingerbread men for sugar cookies and it pretty much says it all. While I was never a huge fan of gingerbread as a child, I have developed a taste for it as I have aged and these are one of Hugh’s must-have holiday treats.

-Pumpkin and Banana breads. My mother made both so I grew up with an appreciation for them. I don’t make them any other time of the year so I guess they say “Christmas” to me. I like to eat slices of them warm, with a nice thick smear of sweet butter. My mom’s recipe calls for nuts but Hugh has a phobia about nuts in baked good so, I omit them in half of the batch to make him happy.

-Puppy Chow. Way back when I was the director of an aquatics facility, we used to have a staff Christmas party each year. One of my lifeguards made this and I was instantly addicted. Not addicted enough to make it myself but, addicted enough to search out friends who make it and to beg a supply from them. I am generally successful.

-Popcorn balls. My dad, the crazy ex-Texan, introduced my mother to popcorn balls early in their marriage and she has since perfected the recipe. Making the balls is a Christmas Eve tradition in my childhood home and we carry it out anytime my parents join us for the holiday. Unfortunately, my parents are headed to Washington this year so we will be ball-less (dirty). Making any kind of candy, including the syrup necessary for holding the balls together, is a skill that I simply do not possess.

-Pizzelles. I believe these are an Italian tradition. My childhood neighbor used to make them and would always make sure that we had a few at Christmas so, when I found a pizzelle maker on sale at a department store during my senior year of college, I knew that I had to have it. I generally make a large enough batch that I have leftovers for several months. They freeze very well and are quite good with ice cream. The Girl also loves pizzelles and will come running just as soon as she smells their familiar scent of anise in the air.

-Rocky Road and fudge. These are the only kinds of candy that I can make with any degree of success. My fudge recipe came from my younger sister and requires only the microwave as does the recipe for the Rocky Road, which I got from my mother. Thank god for microwaves is all I can say.

-Wassail. Way back in the dark ages, High School Boyfriend’s sister-in-law shared this recipe with me and I was hooked. Unfortunately, mine never tastes exactly like hers did but the scent of it simmering on the stovetop is enough to put me in the holiday spirit.

-Russian Tea Cookies. My 95 year old grandmother made these every Christmas that I can remember and, every year, my sisters and I fought over who got to chop the nuts in the old fashioned nut grinder and over whose turn it was to roll the balls of dough in the powdered sugar. When Grandma Molly went into the nursing home, my older sister inherited her recipe box and, in it, the secret to making these cookies. Luckily for me, we don’t fight as much as we did when we were children and she made a copy of it for me. Unfortunately, I am the only one in my house who actually likes to eat these cookies so I make the smallest batch possible. A Christmas without them would just not be Christmas.

Of course, Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without everything on my list which, sort of explains the 2-3 pound weight gain that inevitably rushes in with the New Year.

But, that’s what New Year’s resolutions are for after all.

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