18 December 11 • MAV

I’m writing this dispatch from the inside of my parents cozy home. It’s nice to be back in the Midwest for these early holiday days. It has been my new tradition in these last few years to come to see my family here for the days *before* Christmas. That way I get the best of both worlds … I really love this new way of doing things.

One thing I’ve been noticing is that our worlds/homes are not all that different. My new traditions are extensions of the ones I learned from my family over the years. I love my Mom’s small snow globe collection some of which play music and some do not. The one above is like a blizzard. It’s amazing! I have a few snow globes of my own as well and have been thinking it might be a nice collection to grow a little as these years go on.

Recognize this Santa above? My parents have one on their tree! Mine is from my Grandma A’s ornament collection. I am remembering, I think, that I gave one to Grandma A. and one to my parents years and years ago. I love knowing that we both have this jolly fellow in our homes for the holidays.

My mom has quite a Santa collection. Just before I left to come here my sister-in-law said to me that she would fancy starting her own Santa collection. Shhhh … don’t tell … I’m going to help her get that tradition going this coming Christmas Eve.

I’ve been doing a lot of cooking and baking while I’ve been visiting (above I’m working on Boeuf Bourguignon; it was delicious). Food is huge tradition in my family. We used to come back from our Christmas Eve celebration, get out all of the leftovers and sit around Grandma & Grandpa A.’s kitchen table talking the night to death. Who said what. Who wore what. What were our favorite dishes. What didn’t we like at all. We laughed and laughed. All the while eating, eating, eating. At Grandma & Grandpa V.’s on Christmas Day we always started with a shrimp cocktail alongside a very simple display of cheese (the soft orange cheese ball with nuts on the outside) and crackers and by the end of the evening the men gathered in the kitchen sitting around eating Lupini and drinking bits of this or that. I remember from a young age not liking that I wasn’t invited into the kitchen so when I got older I just busted right in there. Some traditions are made to be broken!

There were always a lot of different varieties of cookies on Grandma A.’s sweet table. Some were homemade and others bought from Italian bakeries around Detroit. I’ve been working on finding my own favorites. Of course there are the regulars which will never go away — My Mom’s Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies + Aunt Polly’s Italian Chocolate Cookies + Grandma V.’s Pizelles. These are recipes I will make every single year and in fact they will grace my own sweet table this coming Christmas Day. But I want a few recipes of my own … ones I can pass on to family and friends as “MAV’s Blah Blah Cookie”.

I tested these two cookies at Thanksgiving this year and they were big hits! I am still working on the recipes and the techniques but I’m fairly sure at this point that I am going to bring these into my holiday rotation. Let me know what you think!

Soft Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies
adapted from Martha Stewart
makes 2-1/2 dozen

1-1/2 C flour
1-1/2 t ginger
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t cloves
1/4 t nutmeg
1-1/2 T unsweetened cocoa
1/4 lb butter, room temp
1/2 C dark brown sugar
1/2 C unsulfured molasses
1 t baking soda
1-1/2 t boiling water
9 ounces good chocolate, chopped into 1/4-inch chunks
(or you can use chocolate chips)

Sift together flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cocoa; set aside. Beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add molasses and beat until combined. In a small bowl dissolve baking soda in boiling water. Beat half flour mixture into butter mixture. Beat baking soda mixture in and then the remaining flour mixture. Mix in chocolate with wooden spoon. Tun dough out onto plastic wrap and wrap up tight. Refrigerate for a minimum of 4 hours but overnight is best. When ready preheat oven to 325ºF/170ºC and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Take dough out of plastic wrap and pull chunks off making round 1-inch balls with your hands. Place them on the baking sheet 3 in a row (so you’ll get about 12 on one baking sheet). Put baking sheets back in fridge for at least 20 minutes. Remove one sheet and use your palm or the bottom of a glass (with water on it) to flatten out the dough balls so they are about 1/2 inch thick. Bake for 12–15 minutes rotating the sheet half-way through. Remove, let cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet and then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Repeat baking with second baking sheet. Store cookies in airtight container.

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Jam Boats
adapted from Martha Stewart
makes 2 dozen

1/4 lb butter, room temp
1/2 C natural sugar
1 egg yolk
2 t pure vanilla extract
1-1/4 C flour
1/4 t salt
3/4 C whole raw almonds coursely chopped
1 egg white, lightly beaten
your favorite jam

Preheat oven to 325º/170ºC. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk and vanilla, beat well. Whisk together flour and salt and add to butter mixture, beating on low until well-combined. Use your hands to bring dough together if need be; it should be soft and moist but come together in a nice big ball. Pull pieces of the dough off to form tight 1-inch balls in your hands. Roll those balls in the egg white and then the almonds (gently press almonds into dough if need be) placing them on the baking sheet spacing them about 12 to one sheet. Using your thumb, make a small indention into the center of the ball. You might use your other hand/fingers to sort of hold the dough ball together around the edges. Bake for 10 minutes, remove from oven and press down the centers with your thumb again (be careful because they are hot!). Rotate sheets and bake for another 10–12 minutes or until slightly golden brown. Remove from oven, let cool on wire rack slightly, and then add jam into the centers. Repeat the same with your other baking sheet. Store cookies in an airtight container.

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I’m off now to enjoy these last days with my family here before heading home. I am not letting it pass me by how lucky I am to be here celebrating the season with the people I love. I truly am a lucky girl. And I am wishing you a lot of holiday love and cheer in your own traditions in the coming weeks. Isn’t this such a magical season? Let’s enjoy it.