Christmas Morning Agenda, Circa 1969

Men:

Wake at 8:00 a.m.

Shave

Put on pants

Eat a few sugar cookies

Go to a movie

Home to drink too much eggnog and watch the kids fight over gifts

Sleep it off

______

Women:

Wake at 5:30 a.m.

Take rollers out of hair

Style hair

Apply makeup

Squeeze into holiday pantsuit and heels

Make stuffing

Put turkey in oven

Peel potatoes

Get kids out of bed

Get kids dressed

Give kids sugar cookies and plop them in front of Rudolph rerun

Make green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, creamed onion casserole

Bake pies

Mash potatoes

Set the table

Clean up broken ornaments and scold kids

Go to movie

Home to secret stash of vodka

Watch kids fight over gifts

Quick dust and vacuum before 20 guests arrive

sallyron

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Nondenominational Gingerbread Cookies

Someone recently tried to convince me that Christmas is about the baby Jesus, and that there are over a billion people on earth who feel that way*. In my experience it’s about eating and bickering, and giving a nod to all those other holidays that conveniently land in late December.

Despite my general heathenish ways, during bicker season I operate under the assumption that spices probably weren’t something Joseph and Mary could afford (on account of all the times they had to move). I set aside my resistance, and I selflessly make Jesus some festively spiced birthday treats known as gingerbread cookies.

Gather ye your ingredients:

1 cup vegetable shortening

1 cup white sugar

1 cup molasses

1 egg

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

5 cups flour (plus extra for rolling out dough)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2-3 tablespoons ground ginger (I use 3)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon allspice (if you can afford it)

1/8 teaspoon very finely ground black or white pepper (optional)

Have at a’hand:

measuring devices

rolling pin (for chasing your spouse out of the kitchen)

cookie sheets

cookie cutters

flat spatula

circus strong man with a pastry cutter, fork and wooden spoon, and/or a stand mixer

Using either a stand mixer with beater attachment or a pastry cutter, add the shortening and sugar in bowl, stir or cut up at first, then beat it into a fluffy dither.

Crack egg into a separate bowl and whisk it a little to break up the yolk. Check for pieces of shell or a funky smell, and if it passes those tests you can add it to the sugar and shortening. Also add the molasses and vinegar. Beat for about a minute.

Measure five cups of flour into another bowl and lightly stir it with the soda, salt and spices. I don’t bother to sift, but I make sure my cups of flour aren’t packed too tightly. A separate bowl allows you to recount your cups in case you lose track, which never happens to me**.

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients a cup at a time, stirring between additions and scraping down the sides of the bowl to catch all the stray stuff. When everything is combined, turn the mixer up just a little and give it a 30 second fast stir. The dough with start to form a mass and will climb up the beater. If you are using the ‘circus strong man’ method, have him put a little elbow grease into it.

Pack the dough into a thick disk (sort of) and wrap it in plastic or put it in an air tight container. Let it chill for at least an hour.

This is a big recipe, so only roll out half the dough at a time using plenty of flour on your chosen surface. I roll it on the counter atop my dish washer so I can scrape the floury mess into the washer when I’m all done. (Make sure it isn’t full of clean dishes before doing this.)

I eyeball the thickness of my dough at about 3/16 inch, but some people like it 1/8 inch and some 1/4. If you have trouble visualizing these measurements, buy a ruler. No, really. I’m not a grade school math teacher, okay?

Cut out cookies using cutters that are sharp, aren’t too large, and don’t have a lot of very thin shapes because that sort of thing will break during the icing process. Plus those itty bitty stems of dough usually cook too fast. My fave cutter is actually an oak leaf, but it looks enough like a holly leaf, it can be iced in many festive ways and it doesn’t scream “CHRISTMAS!” at everyone on my Kwanzaa gift list.

Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet. Sometimes I use parchment paper underneath the cookies for easy removal after baking. Also, a very flat spatula is required for transport so you don’t smoosh your shapes. (If you want smooshed shapes, wear a tighter girdle.)

The cookies should be about an inch apart on the sheet. When you get your first sheet filled, pop it into the fridge for around 10 minutes (this prevents spreading); during which time you can preheat your oven to 375 degrees and get a head start on your next sheet.

Bake the cookies for 6-7 minutes. Do NOT bake them longer than that. You’ll be gathering up the excess dough from the first rolling and rolling it out at least once more to get more cookies to cut. These subsequent rollings can make for some proverbially ‘tough cookies’ if over baked.

Let the cookies cool for 10 minutes on the pan. Remove from pan and place in airtight container until you are ready to decorate, where they can live–unadorned–for up to two weeks, or freeze them for up to a month. Makes five dozen 2″x3″ cookies.

I’ll do an OCD, A-type personality bit about cookie decorating later in the season. Now go get your Xanax refilled before the Christmas rush.

________

*Sources close to home have revealed that they attend midnight mass, but as yet they haven’t provided any concrete evidence.

**Actually, it happens to me constantly. It’s a real problem and I should probably get it checked out.

Fuggly Boots and a Bottle o’ Rum

Quick questions: Anyone still bothering to watch football? I’m so discouraged with this season, I’ve cancelled my Seattle Seahawks Jockstrap Flip-Up Advent Calendar order. I’ll just have to wallow in curiosity, and smooth my ruffled hawk feathers by walking my dog in my new Ugg boots*. What’s the point of having children if we can’t humiliate them with bad fashion trends, right? (Limit your answers to “Yes,” or “No, and what is wrong with you?”)

Now for the real reason we’re here: fruitcake. Dark fruitcake, to be exact. It’s notoriously hard to photograph, but I think I may have done it some justice by adding an empty bottle of rum and being ripped on Ambien when I set up the shots. I purchased said bottle o’ five years ago**, and will have to–ulp–brave the local methy liquor store before I can make my Great Aunt Mary’s*** famous rum balls. Life is a constant struggle.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to read recipes, I follow the dictates of page 75 of the 1968 edition of Better Homes & Gardens “New” Cook Book; adding prunes or dates instead of raisins and swapping out the canned OJ for some seedless jam, fresh juice or a dry gin martini, and pretending I’m in the spectacularly modern feature kitchen.


___________

*Yes, Sam-dog will be wearing the Ugg boots.

**The rum, not the Ambien. Apparently I’m a bit too ambiguous since being dropped on my head at the tender age of 43.

***The one on my mom’s side, not my dad’s side. If you’d been paying attention to this blog AT ALL, you’d know I had two.

Here Come the Holiday Baking Posts: This Is the Only Warning You’ll Get

I’m such a slob, lately. Seriously. Ever since finding out my beloved cat Spenser has The Cancers* (said in that cute way so I don’t get all bummed and wander off, again) I haven’t done much of anything. Some people say, “Stay busy and active, okay? I don’t want you to miss out on anything life has to offer.” My cat says, “Stop everything and pay attention to my every move. If I can’t have a life, neither can you.” Cats are selfish bastards.

At any rate, I’d made up my mind to do all kinds of holiday baking this year, and as that is something I can do while being Spenser’s home hospice care nurse, doctor of force feeding and orderly of pill cramming, that is what I shall do.

Every year, whether I bake or not, I research recipes. I’m a good cook and an even better baker, so I don’t really need full recipes that are all neat and tidy and exact. I do, however, enjoy some of the tips and tricks, interesting additions… and bad photos.

Blogs weren’t popular when I first started internet recipe hunting six or seven years ago. If there were photos attached, the photos were beautiful, professional and appealing, with no extra browning on the edges of cookies or dry looking cakes. Now that any home cook can whip out a camera phone and take a candid shot, I’m seeing images that are, well, hilariously bad**.

I’m going to fix that, my loyal subjects, and document my holiday baking foolery for you. All of it. From mincemeat pie to fruitcake, and also the stuff people actually eat. My photos may not be all that wonderful, either, but you’ll never know thanks to the awesome power of Photoshop. See how selfless I am, even though I’m busily pre-mourning my fuzzy little boy’s demise?

For now, you seriously have to see these homemade offerings:

This right here is why people hate fruitcake. If the first fruitcake I saw looked like this, I’d have run the other way, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

French baking mat: $20. Professional 1/2 baking sheet: $16. Six shy, nervous cookies: priceless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a love for the ages. It was a love born of hardship. And when they could hear the soldiers at their door, they walked into the fire as one.

 

 

 

 

 

__________

*Not for nothing, I always thought The Betes (diabetes) would get him because he used to be super fat.

**I have a good friend who does a recipe photo blog, and her photos will make you want to leap into your computers and do unspeakable things to the chef and the food and you can tell her I said that. http://poeticfood.blogspot.com/