Archives for category: Christmas baking
Painting of Christmas cookies on green and red tablecloth.

Christmas Eve. 8″ x 8″ watercolor pencil and white gouache. Sharyn Dimmick

My mother will turn 85 on New Year’s Day 2015. She has begun announcing that this is our last traditional Christmas celebration, complete with tree, wrapped presents, homemade festive meal, assorted guests and family members, cookie-baking marathon, cut boughs of holly, etc. It is time for a change, she says.

I had always assumed that I would step in and take over the family Christmas traditions. For many years I have increased my contributions to the Christmas labor. But, this year, I had an unexpected number of music gigs in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and a wild week where I both attended concerts and played them. I went north to sing on the radio and to visit my best friend. I went to a local party. And amidst all that I stood by to receive shipment of my new “Clueless” CD.

Clueless  CD  CoverThe CD was shipped December 10 from Oasis Disc Manufacturing via UPS with two-day shipping. The first notification I got said it would be delivered on Monday December 15 (NOT two-day shipping). Many emails and phone calls later I got a notification today on December 19 that it was on a delivery truck. Lo and behold it got here this evening and is available for purchase at long last. here this evening. In the meantime, Oasis offered to re-manufacture the CDs at no cost to me and to ship them this coming Monday. This means that I will eventually receive 600 CDs instead of 300, but it also means that I cannot get them to anyone but locals by Christmas or Chanukah: Now that the CDs  have arrived I will carry a number of them around in my guitar case and backpack. I will also offer them for sale at Down Home Music and at CD Baby where you can get my 2009 release “Paris” and hear full-length versions of most songs, plus clips of the cover songs. Soon I will begin the process of getting full versions of the songs from “Clueless” up on CD Baby as well. For now you can hear a couple of the songs for free on Reverbnation.

What I have learned from this is that Oasis comes through for its customers, even in situations where they are not at fault and UPS — well, let’s just say that my brother who worked in shipping for a number of years recommends Fed Ex for deliveries.

Anyway, as Christmas approaches, my participation has been limited to buying a few gifts (in October and November), and making ginger cookie dough (yesterday). When I feel better I will be making my famous cocoa shortbread and possibly a new cookie. Mom beat me to making pfefferneusse, Russian tea cakes, dream bars, apricot bars and sugar cookie dough, but I might make up a batch of Smitten Kitchen’s maple butter cookies anyway because my brother and I fell in love with them the first time I made them. I will put some Christmas music on as I lounge about today, awaiting the arrival of the “Clueless” CDs and hoping to put in a brief appearance at a music party this evening.

painting of pomegranates, limes and December sunrise.

December Still Life. 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

Saturday morning I have one more gig at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market, if it does not get rained out. Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning I will be assisting my friend Elaine in preparing for her annual Chanukah party. I will spend Christmas Eve Day with Johnny, eating salad and tamales from Trader Joes, after serenading the morning commuters with Christmas carols. I return home in the evening to rest before assisting Mom with the last Dimmick Christmas feast marathon the next morning. All traditions come to an end, changing in subtle ways before they become part of the ghostly past of memory. No one can remember what year I started buying Straus whipping cream or what year we stopped making homemade caramels or what year I put candied ginger in the pfefferneusse or what year I invented the shortbread.

Whatever you celebrate and wherever you are, I wish you the happiest of holidays. Happy Solstice, Yule, Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa. Happy holidays I have never heard of or can’t keep straight in my head. May you know the joy of feasting, of companionship, of bright light in a dark time, of joyful music. Best wishes to all who read The Kale Chronicles, whether you have been here from the very beginning or whether you just popped in today. May you enjoy your winter festivities and the love of all beings dear to you. Love, Sharyn

Dear Kale Chronicles’ Readers and Friends,

It has been a long time since I sent you an update, much less a painting or a recipe. As Christmas Eve turned to Christmas Day I was standing in the kitchen at my mother’s house, baking a last batch of Russian teacakes, a traditional holiday cookie for us, consisting of butter, finely chopped walnuts, powdered sugar and enough flour to hold it all together. I had bought fresh walnuts in the shell from the Berkeley Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning and shelled them earlier on Monday evening while listening to Christmas carols on public television. Unfortunately, I had not consulted the recipe for amounts and had shelled just 1/2 cup when I needed 3/4 cup: as soon as I looked at the cookbook I went back to shelling nuts and wielding my chef’s knife.

It was an all-cookie Christmas this year, supplemented only with batches of Betsy’s delicious Italian Glazed Almonds. I did not have funds available for purchasing gifts in 2012, so I made them, Cocoa Shortbread and Pfefferneusse, Smitten Kitchen’s maple butter cookies, thin Moravian ginger cookies. For several days I busked in the Berkeley BART station in the morning and baked in the afternoon and evening, preparing a silver tray of cookies for my friend Elaine’s Chanukah party, packing a waxed cardboard box with almonds for another. When I wasn’t baking I was borrowing a guitar from Fat Dog at Subway Guitars who kindly lent me a Johnson to play while my beloved Harmony went to the guitar doctor, who treated her for a couple of serious cracks, rehearsing with Johnny for a gig at Arlington Cafe in my home town or giving my annual Christmas music party for which I prepared butternut squash soup, Mexican corn soup, Swedish rye bread and Finnish cardamom bread.

I remember standing at the bread board chopping resinous walnuts, seeing the chopped nuts in the metal measuring cup, the knife blade against the wood, thinking “This is not so bad a way to spend the evening.” True, it was late and I was behind on Christmas preparations, but I focused on the pleasure that a fresh tin of powder-sugar dusted cookies would bring my mother, Johnny (they are his favorite) and my sister-in-law who threatened to kill Johnny on Christmas Day if he had eaten them all. As the knife flashed through the nut meats, as the butter and sugar whirled in the mixer, as I rolled the cookie dough into small balls in the quiet night kitchen I thought how lucky I am:

1) My mother and brother are healthy and here to celebrate Christmas with this year.

2) I have a pleasant and safe home to live in.

3) I have found someone to love who loves me back.

4) I, too, am healthy.

5) My lone guitar has been safely repaired

6) Johnny and I played a gig together in my hometown to generally favorable responses and both ended the evening in the black financially.

7) Friends came to hear us play.

8) My song about our courtship, “Clueless,” continues to be a runaway hit and fun to play.

Honestly, I can’t remember more of those midnight thoughts now. Suffice it to say that I thought of my patient readers who have put up with my long absence from the blogosphere.

Just in case anyone has not had enough cookies over the past month or has never made Russian teacakes at home, I’ll share the recipe with you, slightly modified from that presented in our Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook.

Russian Teacakes

Soften 1 cup (two sticks) of butter — I use one stick salted butter and one stick unsalted.

Shell and finely chop 3/4 cup fresh walnuts

Combine butter with 1/2 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar and 1 tsp vanilla extract in electric mixer until creamy.

Slowly add 2 and 1/4 cups sifted flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, incorporating flour completely before each addition.

Mix in chopped nuts.

Chill dough as necessary. If you work late at night in a cold kitchen you will not need this step (or want to wait for the dough to chill either). Before baking, preheat oven to 400.  Bake cookies for 10 to 12 minutes until some color shows on the bottom edges. Roll warm cookies carefully in powdered sugar — they are delicate and will develop mangy-looking spots where the butter comes through. Let cool and roll again, or sift or sprinkle more powdered sugar to cover each cookie. Store in airtight tins for up to a week or two. (Mom recommends providing other cookies for the family to eat if you want to keep Russian teacakes on hand very long).

Food notes: the fresher the walnuts, the better the cookie. ‘Nough said. If you live in the South you could try making them with local pecans. If you prefer to bake exclusively with unsalted butter you will want to add 1/4 tsp of salt to your sifted flour. I use unbleached flour in these. Mom likes all-purpose. I have never tried them with a whole-grain flour — part of their attraction is that they are snowy white and ethereal. We only eat them once a year….

Painting notes: The reign of the emperor’s new clothes is long. You’ll know I am painting again the day you see a new painting here. Also, it has been so long since I’ve taken a photo that I cannot find the charger for my camera battery. Oops.

Writing classes: I will be teaching a six-week writing practice group on Tuesday nights in the East Bay starting January 8, 2012. My teacher Natalie Goldberg developed writing practice as a way to help people get their real thoughts on paper. For more information, see my ad on craigslist.

Happy New Year to everybody! See you again in 2013. –Sharyn

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 198 other followers