Saturday, December 12, 2009

it's the most wonderful time of the year!

I'm writing this a lot later than I wanted to, but I have been busy moving apartments (moving + full-time jobs + baby + Thanksgiving weekend + jury duty + painting old apartment back to white = chaos; thank goodness for my mother-in-law's help!). Now that we are settled in, though, I can focus more on my favorite time of year: the winter holiday season.

Starting a family has made me and Jude start thinking more carefully about what kinds of family traditions we want to uphold in our household. We want Ruby to have a sense of her own history and have consistent things to look forward to that punctuate her years with warmth, kindness, and excitement. We've thought about our own family traditions that we celebrated growing up and some others that we want to start on our own to be special to our new little family. One great place to start getting your creative juices flowing is Cafe Traditions. Their website and blog have all sorts of fun things from crafts to ideas for traditions for different holidays and occasions.

One of my favorites that we do here is directly stolen from a Cafe Traditions reader. The year we got married, Jude and I bought a simple journal (we chose one that doesn't have pictures or designs on it so we won't get sick of it and it won't go out of style) and wrote on the first page: "giving thanks." That year, we each--separately--wrote a journal entry in it on Thanksgiving about everything we were thankful for in our lives and in the past year. Now, each year, we do the same. We have had three Thanksgivings so far in our marriage and it's so much fun already to look back and read what we wrote before. This year, of course, we added Ruby to our family, so there is a lot to be thankful for. As time goes on, Ruby will eventually write entries, too, as well as any other family members we may add in the future. Our hope is that this piece of history becomes a coveted family heirloom for generations to come.

My mother-in-law is starting a nice tradition this year. She got Ruby a special Christmas ornament at an art fair in California and said she will continue to give Ruby a new special ornament each year at Christsmas so that she has her own collection of ornaments. I love this tradition, and there are so many variations. Maybe when Ruby gets older, the two of them will do art projects and make Christmas ornaments as well. If you're looking for unique holiday decorating, I love all the handmade ornaments on Etsy.

Mothering magazine's most recent issue had a great article entitled: "Sustainable Season's Greetings" with lots of wonderful ideas for making a warm and merry holiday season with green practices for entertaining, cooking, and decorating, as well as interesting traditions borrowed from various cultures and different winter holidays. They are selling a digital reprint (immediately available for download and/or printing from your own computer) of the article, along with a collection of staff favorite holiday recipes and tips, on sale for $3.99 this month!

Jude and I try to make a unique gift each year to give to family and friends who we see during the holidays. Two years ago, Jude jarred picked shallots and an herb mustard and I made little paper baggies with the dry ingredients to make my favorite ginger cookies (see below for recipe). We use to create the stickers for packaging. Last year, Jude canned a sweet apple butter and a savory apple butter and I made all-natural holiday apple crisp layered soaps.

Jude's parents have a holiday party almost every year at their home in Los Angeles. In the past few years, my mother-in-law has begun to make some sort of craft each year for the guest to take home with them. Two years ago, she made hair clips from found objects around the house. Each guest could choose one. Last year, she used up old scrap quilt materials to make various pot holders everyone could choose from.

I also love making holiday cards. Usually I put a lot of thought into making a fun and unique card, but this year there was too much going on with work and the move to find the time. So this year we just took a family photo (with a tripod) and I'm just doing a simple photo card through Kodakgallery.

One of my many favorite things about the holidays is holiday music. I tend to sing Christmas carols year-round, which--quite simply--drives Jude totally nuts. Now that it's December I have the green light on "Silent Night" as a suitable lullaby to put Ruby to sleep. One of my favorite winter music albums is The Hotel Cafe Presents: Winter Songs with a lovely assortment of sweet songs by various artists. My favorite is "Winter Song" by Sara Bareilles. Another is This Warm December: A Brushfire Holiday, Volume 1.

And what is the holiday season without baked goods, really? My mom comes from a big family of people of who love to bake. She herself is a great baker, too, but she rarely graces us with her talents. Thanksgiving and Christmas, however, are another story. Each year growing up, I so looked forward to "helping" mom make cookies and pies and cakes and bars for the holidays. By helping, of course, I mean standing around ready to pounce on the leftover batters and doughs to lick from beaters and scrape from bowls. And, naturally, making snickerdoodles by taking the excess pie crust scraps and dousing them in cinnamon and sugar to bake into cookies.

I have turned into my mom in this respect--I can bake pretty well, but I only do it for these two favorite occasions. My all-time favorite cookies were aptly-named "Ginger Delicious Cookies" in our household growing up. My mom got the recipe from a "crazy lady" she knew when my parents lived in Beirut. Below is the recipe. Enjoy!

Ginger Delicious Cookies
½ cup oil
2 t. baking soda
1 cup sugar
¼ t. salt
¼ cup molasses
1 t. cinnamon
1 egg
1 t. cloves
2 cups flour (plus a pinch more)
1 t. ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Form small balls. Roll in sugar. Place round balls on ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 8 minutes. Pull them out before they start to brown and let them cool on baking rack. These should be moist and chewy.

Makes 3-4 dozen small cookies.

Tip: I highly recommend you use a mixer to form the dough – I can never get the texture right by hand!

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