Posts Tagged ‘tradition’

Traditions and travels

April 2, 2018

The house is quiet again as Kevin and Michael left this morning via plane and car after being home for the past few days.

As is my tradition, I baked the lamb cake, using the metal mold bought by my Mom more than 60 years ago in Boston’s North End.

I tweaked the recipe a bit – adding the zest of one lemon to the batter, which is similar to pound cake so the cake can “stand up.”

After morning Mass, we brunched at home, and I finished the cake while the boyos cleaned up.

Since it was a beautiful spring day and we had a couple of hours before we were due at my brother’s house for dinner, we headed to our favorite quick, local hike.

Recent snow melt made the trail mucky in parts, but we didn’t care a bit. As always, tossing a football along the trail was mandatory.

The tower at the summit was open again after being closed for repairs when we were there for the family Thanksgiving Day hike. Beautiful views of Downtown Boston and the harbor.

Easter dinner at Luke and Mary’s was delicious and the conversation lively. As usual, the lamb cake platter was graced with eggs decorated with colored paper, including photocopies of photos and tissue paper. Most were made by my late in-laws and some are nearly 20 years old.

After second helpings and another sliver of cake, we headed home to close out the evening — and the boys’ visit — with a friendly yet competitive game of pinochle.

The sock and I observed.

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Christmas Presence Redux

December 23, 2016

Can it really be six years since I wrote my Christmas Presence post?! So much has changed since then, but the essence remains.

Michael, now 18, commented last week that he hasn’t really felt in the Christmas spirit this year. Perhaps it’s because he’s been focusing on college applications, senior year schoolwork, getting to know his “Little Brother” in his new role as Big Brother. Perhaps it’s the lingering anxiety over the election results and near daily nominations of fervently anti-government people to lead major parts of our government. I feel it, too.

But I’ve been carving out moments to observe Advent, lighting the purple and pink candles and singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” before dinner, lighting the window candles each evening afternoon (let’s be honest, sunset is at 4:15), baking St. Nicholas cookies and Hungarian Christmas bread with its nutty, sweet, spicy filling.

Kevin, Michael, and I partially decorated the tree on Tuesday. Hannah arrives home this afternoon for nearly a week. The next days will be filled with cooking, music, wrapping, the inevitable last-minute shopping, and a fair bit of laughter, story-telling, and sharing. I expect there may be time for some knitting, too.

Rereading that post from 2010, I realize that my current creative juices can’t compete. So here it is again. Thank you for reading and for joining me on this journey. Sending wishes of light and hope to you and yours.

Christmas Presence

When Michael recently told me his favorite part of Christmas, I thought he said “presents,” but he continued, explaining that he really likes the “presence” — the smell, sounds, sights, anticipation, tastes, and as he put it, “the feeling you get from all of that and all the love.” Out of the mouths of babes (OK, he’s 12 but you know what I mean!).

Preparing mantel for Christmas nativity sceneSometimes traditions can feel stifling, but most of the time, I find them comforting and reassuring.  They’re like blazes on a trail, marking the way, letting you know where you are.  Even if you’re not sure where “here” is, even if you’re tired or grumpy, you pause and say “here I am. This is the place. Take note.”

Lights in the windows on the first Sunday of Advent, shining in the afternoon darkness. The next weekend, the “building” of the creche on the mantel.  It’s become a bit of a hodge-podge with figures added over the years — a toy giraffe, a cartwheeling angel, a Caribbean drummer. Note the knitted stocking, made by my mom nearly 50 years ago — with my name knit into the edge even.  She’s good!

Mantel with nativity crecheMy family has what my late cousin Sarah called “the food gene.” We like to cook, eat, think about cooking, gather for meals, read recipes, cookbooks, and cooking magazines. The Advent and Christmas seasons have lots of food traditions, of course.

spices for St. Nicholas cookies: clove, cinnamon, cardamon, cinnamon, aniseEvery December 6, the feast of St. Nicholas, my mom (also a wonderful baker and cook) would make St. Nicholas cookies.  Delightfully spicy and cut into little “bookmarks,” they are perfect for dunking — or just munching. We’re not Dutch and don’t celebrate St. Nicholas Day in any other way (no candy & toys in boots at the foot of the bed).

StNickCookiesRolledI’m sure my mom found the recipe in a cookbook or magazine sometime in the 1950s or 60s and, knowing a good recipe when she sees one, she made a batch…every year!  This year when I emailed my youngest brother to say that I’d made these yummy treats, he replied that his first batch wasn’t so great and that he planned to make a second batch that evening.  It’s not just me.  Try them yourself.

recipe for St. Nicholas cookiesWith my high schoolers having mid-term exams this week, I’m staying up late, being present, and knitting.  The wrap is off the needles, blocked, and awaiting buttons.  More on that later. I leave you with Hannah and her sister-friend Charlotte preparing the tree, another tradition.

H&CTreePeace.

Pardon the Interruption

December 6, 2013

We (that’s the royal “we”) interrupt the usual knitting stuff for a brief baking interlude.

I’ve written before about the pre-Christmas traditions in my home — the Advent wreath on the table, lights in the windows, the creche above the fireplace, the Advent calendars (usually two) that hang in the kitchen, and baking St. Nicholas cookies for December 6, the Feast of Saint Nicholas.

I won’t repeat myself on all those details, but I will provide the recipe and some tips for making this yummy cookies. They have a somewhat adult flavor — sort of spicy and not-too-sweet. Flavors are cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, anise, and ginger.

CookieSpices

Young children tend not to enjoy them, which is just fine as far as I’m concerned because it means there are more for me!

My recipe card, copied from my Mom’s recipe, has a few splatters, as any well-loved recipe should.

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Sift together:
3 c flour
4 t baking powder
1 T cinnamon
1 t EACH ground cloves and nutmeg
1/2 t EACH ground ginger, salt, and ground anise seed (I use a coffee grinder or mortar & pestle. You could skip the anise and they’d likely be delicious, just not quite the same)

Beat 1 c butter, 1 1/2 c brown sugar together until fluffy.
Stir in 3 T milk, dark rum or brandy.
Add flour & spice mixture, mix well, and form into ball. Don’t worry if the dough looks a bit dry here. When you pick it up and form a ball, it’ll come together nicely.

Grab a big handful of dough and knead it between your hands briefly until it forms a ball (but not so long that the warmth of your hands makes it sticky).

Roll out onto floured counter until approx. 1/4″ thick. I don’t measure but estimate that my rolled dough is a bit less than 1/4″ thick. Don’t worry about making a particular shape with the dough — a quasi-rectangle is just fine since you’ll cut the rough edges.

RolledDough

Cut the rolled dough into strips that are approximately 1/2″ – 1″ wide. Then cut each strip into a length that’s somewhere between 2″ and 5″. You needn’t be precise — it’s not a beauty contest and there are no cookie police. Save the scraps that you’ve cut from the rough edges and use those in the next ball that you roll out.

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Place onto lightly greased/non-stick cookie sheet (or use parchment paper).
Brush with lightly beaten egg white. (I’ve been known to skip/forget this step, which results in an ever-so-slightly more dry cookie).

Bake in 375 degree oven for 9-12 minutes. Since the cooking time depends on how thin you’ve rolled the dough, I recommend checking at 9 minutes and then every minute or so after. Take them out when they’re more-than-golden but not yet dark brown.

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Cool on a rack and enjoy. I love them dipped into a mug of tea or a glass of cold milk.

If you make them, let me know how they turned out.

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