O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen. Collect for the Nativity of our Lord, The Book of Common Prayer, 1979.
Our family has been enjoying a smaller, slower paced Christmas season since adopting the church calendar. Instead of a monthly run-up to Christmas, we have the waiting and preparing season of Advent.
All our baking, shopping, and cooking are done during the weeks of Advent. This year we did sugar cookies for neighbors and the post office/UPS drivers during week 2. Biscotti and brownies for us during week 3. Chili, turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing were all prepared on the 23rd.
Our plan for Christmas is: on Christmas Eve day, we clean the house and finish putting up the decorations. We don’t put up much, but it seems just right to us. Chili is prepared and put in the crockpot to be eaten after Christmas Eve service at church. When we return home, we eat our chili and open gifts. Christmas Day is usually very slow, very quiet, and everybody just does their own quiet thing. Breakfast is waffles and turkey sausage, lunch and dinner are leftovers. We usually watch a movie.
Another of our traditions is to put 12 candy canes on the tree for each person. Each day of Christmas a candy cane is taken off — sometimes eaten, sometimes just saved for a later day. I think this might be Michael’s favorite part of our traditions.
Hannah’s work means that every other year she works on Christmas. This year her schedule had her working a 12 hour shift on Christmas Eve so we opened gifts on the evening of the 23rd and had our chili for Christmas lunch. Unfortunately that also meant we missed Christmas Eve service.
During the 12 Days of Christmas we will light the white Christ candle during Vespers, eat foods a bit richer than normal, and prepare for Epiphany (which is also Kelly’s birthday).
Some of our favorite recipes —
- 5 pounds ground beef or ground turkey, browned
- 5 cans chili beans, mild
- 3 green peppers, diced and sautéed
- 3 onions, diced and sautéed
- 2 – 28 oz diced tomatoes
- Place all ingredients in crock pot, on high for 4 hours, then low for 4 hours.
- We put the chili powder in each bowl (to account for some of us liking it super spicy and others preferring a milder bowl).
- We serve this with Fritos, crackers, rolls, cheese . . .
Katharine Hepburn Brownies
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
- 1 stick butter
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup broken up walnut or pecan pieces (for better flavor, toast the nuts at 350 F for about 5 minutes)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch salt
- Bake 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 eggs
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 tablespoon almond extract
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
- In a medium bowl, beat together the oil, eggs, sugar and anise flavoring until well blended. Combine the flour and baking powder, stir into the egg mixture to form a heavy dough. Divide dough into two pieces. Form each piece into a roll as long as your cookie sheet. Place roll onto the prepared cookie sheet, and press down to 1/2 inch thickness.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden brown. Remove from the baking sheet to cool on a wire rack. When The cookies are cool enough to handle, slice each one crosswise into 1/2 inch slices. Place the slices cut side up back onto the baking sheet. Bake for an additional 6 to 10 minutes on each side. Slices should be lightly toasted
1 1/4 sticks (5 oz; 140 g) salted European butter
Slightly rounded 1/2 cup (125 g) sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 cups (280 g) all-purpose flour
1. Put the butter in the work bowl of a food processor* fitted with the metal blade and process, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until the butter is smooth. Add the sugar and process and scrape until thoroughly blended into the butter. Add the egg and continue to process, scraping the bowl as needed, until the mixture is smooth and satiny. Add the flour all at once, then pulse 10 to 15 times, until the dough forms clumps and curds and looks like streusel.
2. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and gather it into a ball. Divide the ball in half, shape each half into a disk, and wrap the disks in plastic. If you have the time, chill the disks until they are firm, about 4 hours. If you’re in a hurry, you can roll the dough out immediately; it will be a little stickier, but fine. (The dough can be wrapped airtight and refrigerated for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 1 month.)
3. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
4. Working with one disk at a time, roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface until it is between 1/8 and 1/4 inch (4 and 7 mm) thick. Using a 1 1/2-inch (4-cm) round cookie cutter, cut out as many cookies as you can and place them on the lined sheets, leaving about 1 inch (2.5 cm) space between them. (You can gather the scraps into a disk and chill them, then roll, cut, and bake them later.)
5. Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they are set but pale. (If some of the cookies are thinner than the others, the thin ones may brown around the edges. M. Poilâne would approve. He’d tell you the spots of color here and there show they are made by hand.) Transfer the cookies to cooling racks to cool to room temperature.
Do ahead: The cookies can be kept in a tin at room temperature for about 5 days or wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 1 month.
You can skip softening your butter. Whether you make cookie dough in a stand mixer, with a hand-mixer or (my favorite) in a food processor, you can save time by cutting your cold butter into chunks and letting the machine bang it together with the sugar until soft. It will be bumpy at first and you’ll need to scrape a few times to make sure no nubby cold bits remain but within a minute or two, the butter just right for the rest of the ingredients. It doesn’t just save time, it makes for a cooler, firmer dough that’s going to take less time to chill.
You can skip the refrigerator chill. And…
You can skip flouring your counter. As soon as my cookie dough is made, I roll it out between two large sheets of parchment paper to the desired thickness and it’s a total breeze. No flouring (which can toughen the dough). No pre-chilling (which takes so much more time). No fighting the cold dough flat (which makes us grumpy). Then, I slide this onto a baking sheet and pop it in the freezer for 15 minutes (or a day, or a week, or months until needed), until firm and cut the cookies in clean, sharp shapes from this. I then use these parchment sheets to line my baking sheets. (No waste!) Extra dough scraps can be easily rerolled and re-chilled the same way, with no erosion in dough quality because it doesn’t absorb extra flour. Bonus: No floury mess to clean up.
A couple extra tips: As you roll your dough between parchment sheets, some creases will form; pull the sheet loose so they don’t etch into the dough. When you remove your “board” of dough from the freezer, gently loosen/peel the sheet that will be the underside of the dough before placing the dough back on it. This bit of air ensures that your cookies, once cut, will come right off with no “peeling” needed. (Although even if peeling is needed, it too is a cinch with cold dough on parchment.)