"Always on Christmas night there was music. An uncle played the fiddle, a cousin sang "Cherry Ripe," and another uncle sang "Drake's Drum." It was very warm in the little house. Auntie Hannah, who had got on to the parsnip wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and Death, and then another in which she said her heart was like a Bird's Nest; and then everybody laughed again; and then I went to bed.
Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept." - Dylan Thomas, A Child's Christmas is Wales
There's comfort for me in the phrase "Always on Christmas night..." After a ridiculous number of courses (plus some scotch or whiskey, wine and cognac), my Italian and Uncles would indeed start singing around the "adult" table while my cousins and I (at the cousins table) watched in horror. I am so glad for those days.
My husband had oyster stew ever Christmas Eve in honor of his father who was born on Christmas Eve. When my father-in-law's first grandchildren appeared, he was Santa for over a quarter of the century every Christmas Eve. Every grandchild sat on his knee. Even when the knee was giving way. I'm grateful for those days, also.
My son waited for Santa by the door and would fly into his arms. I'm very grateful for those days. And grateful that the uncles have kept the tradition for my grand-nieces and nephews (two new grand-nieces arrived this year). Grateful.
This year, I have found comfort and strength in looking back to go forward. My baking is a combination of traditional American cookies and the old Italian ones. I have shared the Italian ones before but I am revisiting them for memory brings comfort. Christmas Past, Present and Future coexist is my kitchen. Funny what a cookie can do.
Citrus Cookies (my son-in-law's favorite)
And ricotta cookies (my favorite and judging by the fact I need to make them a few times during the holiday season - it's a favorite of others).
Citrus Cookies (makes about 24)
3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter - softened and cut into pieces
1/2 cup sugar
zest of 1/2 orange
juice of 1/2 orange
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 baking pans. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar and mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the zest and juice and briefly mix. Add the flour in 3 additions and mix well. If dough is too sticky, refrigerate for an hour.
Pinch off a two-inch piece of dough. Form into a ball and then a log - about 8 inches long and form into a lose knot or simply cross the ends. Space them about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes (just until the edges look like they are browning). Can cool in pan. But I cool on a wire rack after a few minutes.
Ricotta Cookies (makes about 30)
Ricotta Cookie Ingredients - about 30 cookies
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/2 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2-4 teaspoons milk
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Set aside baking sheets. No greasing required.
- In a medium bowl combine flour, baking soda and salt.
- In a large bowl or stand mixer, combine the zest and sugar. I add the zest for a brighter flavor - the cookies will not be lemony.
- Add the butter in chunks and the ricotta cheese and beat till smooth. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat till combined. Slowly add the flour mixture. Beat until all is combined. Dough will be soft and a bit sticky.
- Form into 1-inch balls and place on baking sheet.
- Bake for fifteen minutes - until bottoms are browned but cookies are not. If desired, glaze immediately while warm and cover with sprinkles (immediately - the glaze dries quickly) or just use the glaze. Cool and serve.
Combine powdered sugar, vanilla and milk in saucepan. Stir over medium heat till the mixtures turns liquidy and into a glaze. Brush tops of ricotta cookies as soon as they come out of the oven and cover with sprinkles.
These are not an overly sweet cookies, so if you like your cookies sweet, the glaze is a good idea. If you like a not-so-sugary cookie, simply cool.
Quedlinburg: Where we visited Matthew in September and this week - Matthew comes home for Christmas. Grateful.
We visited the castle and he visited the Christmas Markets. There's at least one more trip to that medieval city in my future. Grateful.
Pino (mostly) stays under the tree these days. The bottom third of the tree remains undecorated.
And he still rings the bell every day. Many angels have gotten their wings.
Wishing you bell ringers and cookies in 2017. Say some words to the close and holy darkness before the New Year. Wish the world well.