Christmas is not my favorite time of year. Don’t worry. I’m not going to launch into a tirade about how commercially motivated our society has become, or goad anyone into a theology debate. No, I made a promise to myself that I would leave my cynicism at the door. I vowed to make an extra effort to avoid allowing my negativity to overshadow the holidays or bleed into my blog entries.
Not an easy promise to keep, especially after dipping my toes into the pool of Christmas shoppers down at the mall. I barely escaped with my life. I will refrain from recounting the whole grim tale. Doing so would only set me down a path of no return and then I will have broken my vow to be, if not cheery, at least, civil.
Finding Christmas related activities or events that don’t leave me wanting to chug the nearest carton of laced eggnog is a pretty tall order, but not an impossibility. After all, I have discovered that I like Christmas music. Granted, the playlist is minimal, but I’m a firm believer that all good things should be moderated.
There is another thing that I like about Christmas. It’s the perfect excuse to bake an exuberant amount of goodies. Of course, I don’t want them in the house because sweets are counterproductive in the whole healthy living lifestyle thing I’ve got going on, but I’ve come up with a solution. I’ve devised a way to make them essentially guilt-free. I bake them, pack them in cute bags adorned with curly ribbon and a festive candy cane, and give them to all my friends, family, and coworkers. They seem to like the gesture and it always leaves me with the warm, gooey satisfaction of having put a smile on their faces. If I were a humane person, I might feel a twinge of remorse for having sabotaged their holiday diet plan, but I’m not, and I don’t.
I usually try to make a variety of treats including some old favorites, such as chocolate chip and peanut butter. I also try to incorporate cookies with a little spice. Some of my favorite cookies aren’t sweet at all. This is the fault of my little Italian grandmother who used to let me help her make batch after batch of pizzelle cookies. For those who have never experienced these anise-flavored Italian cookies, I’m truly sorry for they are wonderfully yummy. My grandmother made the best – my mother runs a close second – and she used to let me lick the bowl until my tongue went numb. My mother never let me do that. You know, that whole Salmonella thing and all. I miss my grandma.
This year, I have brought back my chocolate ginger spice cookies that are rolled in raw sugar, giving them a nice crunchy texture on the outside which contrasts nicely to the soft, moist middle. To complement this offering, I have added a Chai flavor inspired cookie. This one is definitely one to be enjoyed with a tall glass of milk, and while the dense cookie itself is more spicy than sweet, the white chocolate coating drizzled with melted milk chocolate gives it a nice balance. They are considerably more work than just the basic chocolate chip, but I think they are worth it. If for no other reason than they are a nice change of pace.
While I am a pretty decent baker, a confectioner I am not. Over the years, I have tried my hand at a lot of different candies: peanut brittle, almond bark, peppermint almond bark. None of them resulted in anything edible. In spite of this, I do try to add a bit of fudge to every bag. Of course, fudge can be as frustrating to make as peanut brittle, especially when one has no idea the difference between those very technical candy making terms: hard-crack stage and soft-crack stage. However, I’ve found a no fuss recipe that takes all of 20 minutes from the second the sugar hits the sauce pan until I pop the finished product into the fridge to set up. Everyone seems to like it, and I wouldn’t dream of leaving it out.
The past two years, due to circumstances beyond my control, life has made this task overwhelming. I just didn’t have the time to bake enough goodies for everyone on my list. This year is different. My school semester is finished, there are no obligatory family functions looming that require an ounce of my attention, and I have a couple of days off a week until mid-January. More importantly, because there are no outside pressures, I feel that I am going to enjoy this year’s baking marathon much more than I have in a good long while. That makes me happy. Perhaps even instills a smidgen of holiday cheer into my Scrooge-filled heart. Anything is possible, right? I mean, I voluntarily put up the Christmas tree on the 10th of the month. Much sooner than usual, and with minimal grumbling. Perhaps Christmas miracles do happen.