The following recipe is similar to the Frugal Gourmet's recipe, but only half the amount, and without any meat or suet. It might seem labor intensive, but these are really fast, fun, and yummy!
5 or 6 apples, core them but leave the skin on & chop up in food processor (into little bitty squares)
2 1/4 cups (3/4 lb) dark raisins
1 1/2 cups (1/2 lb) currants or golden raisins
3/4 cup (1/4 lb) mixed, candied peel
1 1/2 - 2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup distilled vinegar
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup apple juice
3/4 teaspoon each: allspice, cinnamon, ground cloves, nutmeg
MIX ALL TOGETHER, SIMMER ONE HOUR, COOL, and SPIKE with a bit of brandy or whiskey, as desired.
Cover and leave at room temperature overnight. Make pies the next day, or store the mincemeat for weeks in the refrigerator and use as needed. Makes about 8 dozen small pies or 2 regular-sized pies.
EASY MINIATURE PIE CRUSTS
This recipe makes 24 crusts; the food processor can easily handle a doubled batch if you want to make 48 at one time.
Cream all together in the food processor, just until a big dough ball starts to form:
1 stick of butter
3 oz cream cheese
1 cup flour
Divide big dough ball into 24 little balls, and place them into a miniature muffin pan. I have two pans that make 24 each, so I usually make a batch of 48. You do not need to grease each opening. The dough is buttery enough that the finished pies will slip out easily.
With your finger tips or thumb, or with a round - shaped teaspoon dipped in flour each time, make an indentation in each ball and press the dough to fit the muffin cup in the shape of a little pie crust. No fancy edging is required, and don't spread the dough out too thin -- keep the bottom & the sides a bit thick for easier removal and handling!
Then with a small spoon, fill each indentation with mincemeat, and bake at 350 degrees for 20 - 30 minutes.
It's hard not to fill the crusts to overflowing, but this is the only thing that makes the finished pies hard to remove -- if the juice has bubbled out and cooked around the edges. If this happens, loosen the syrupy, crusty overflow with a little plastic knife; let the pies cool a bit and then remove with a rounded butter knife. They should slip right out and be nice and sturdy enough to eat by hand.
For Ben, Sam, and Gerry, a typical serving is 5 or 6 pies at once; so even 4 dozen can disappear quickly! Gerry likes to douse his with room temperature whiskey or sherry. I like to have mine one or two at time with a cup of tea. Then an hour or so later, one or two more with another cup of tea, and so on and so forth throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas! Enjoy!
STEAMED CHRISTMAS PUDDING 1 egg ¾ cup of eggnog or Half & Half 3 slices of white bread, torn into pieces
2/3 cup packed brown sugar ½ cup margarine or butter, cut up 2 Tbsp rum or brandy ½ cup chopped walnuts 2 cups of regular or golden raisins (or a mixture of both; can also include part figs or dates)
¾ cup all-purpose flour ¾ tsp baking soda ½ tsp ground nutmeg
Beat the egg, add eggnog; then add bread and let stand until softened (about 3 minutes). Stir in sugar, margarine, and rum; then raisins and nuts. Finally, sift in the dry ingredients and stir until combined.
Lightly grease a 6-cup mold or heat-safe mixing bowl and pour in the pudding mixture. Cover with foil, pressing tightly against the rim of the mold or bowl to create a firm, leak-proof seal. Place the pudding, foil side up, on a rack inside a deep soup kettle or spaghetti pot. Add boiling water, up to 1 inch from the top of the pudding. Cover the kettle and bring the water to a gentle boil. Continue to steam the pudding for 2 ½ hours or until a toothpick comes out clean. Add more boiling water occasionally during steaming.
After cooking, cool the pudding on a wire rack for 10 minutes; then invert the pudding and remove the mold. You might want to stick a sprig a holly on the top, but this festive touch makes the pudding difficult to ignite!
If you want a flaming pudding, heat 3 tablespoons of rum or brandy until hot, pour it over the pudding, and quickly ignite. Then, command your entire family to sing "Oh, bring us some figgy pudding, and bring it right here!" while you carry your flaming creation to the table! We usually like to ignite ours several times to get the full effect! When the applause dies down, serve the pudding with rum butter.
RUM BUTTER 1 cup sifted powdered sugar ¼ cup margarine or butter, softened 1 Tbsp rum or brandy
Beat sugar and butter together in the food processor for 3 minutes; then add the rum and beat for another minute. Spoon the butter into a small serving bowl; cover and chill for 3 hours before serving.
In England at Christmas time, there is a Christmas cake in every house and one in every bakery window, and they all have the most wonderful snow scenes on top. Many of the little figures that Gerry's mom puts on her Christmas cake are things that she has saved from her childhood (little children riding on tiny sleds, a miniature cottage, some little plastic deer). The cake itself is really no different than a conventional American fruitcake, sweetened up by the layer of marzipan, then covered entirely by snowy Royal icing.
Gerry and Sam made ours this year, creating a Santa's Wonderland on top, with little deer, snowy trees, and a set of miniature Santas, each playing a different musical instrument -- they were the charms out of our Christmas crackers one year.
If you're too full for a piece of cake on Christmas Day -- as is often the case after the Figgy Pudding and the Mince Pies -- you can save it 'til the next day, and it will make a pefect Boxing Day dessert. This year, we're saving ours for New Year's Eve. It will also keep until the 6th of January, when it becomes known as Twelfth Night Cake. Or wait for Mardi Gras and call it King's Cake!
TRADITIONAL BRITISH CHRISTMAS CAKE
1 cup butter (8 oz)
1 cup soft brown sugar (8 oz)
2 tsp Allspice
grated rind of a lemon
grated rind of an orange
2 Tbsp sherry
3½ cups all purpose white or whole meal flour
¾ tsp salt
5¼ tsp baking powder
½ cup glace cherries (4 oz)
1 cup chopped pecans or English walnuts (4 oz)
2 cups regular raisins (3/4 lb)
2 cups golden raisins (3/4 lb)
Beat the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl (8-cup size or larger) until pale and creamy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a tablespoon of the flour with each egg. Beat in the allspice, orange and lemon rinds. Fold in the remaining flour (plus salt and baking powder) along with the cherries, nuts, and raisins, and stir in the sherry to give a smooth dropping consistency.
Spoon the mixture into a greased and lined 8-inch round cake tin or medium sized spring-form pan with 2½ inch sides, lined with brown paper and rubbed with butter. Level the top of the cake with a smooth spatula. Bake for 2 - 3 hours at 300 F until golden brown and firm to touch. Leave to cool in the tin before turning out. Ice with Royal Icing.
Another option is to make the cake a week or two in advance, soak it with sherry or whiskey, store in an air - tight container, checking every few days to re-saturate. Making the icing and decorating the top can be a fun family activity for Christmas Eve Day, Christmas Day, or New Year's Eve.
First, spread a thin layer of any brand of apricot jam on the top and around the sides of the fruit cake. Second, roll out some ready made marzipan (approx. two 7 oz. Tubes) into a circle the size of the top of the cake and into a strip the height of the cake (I have to do this part in two or three sections). Third, stick the marzipan onto the cake, using the apricot jam as "glue."
In the food processor, beat 6 cups powdered sugar (1 1/2 lbs)
3 egg whites
3/4 tsp lemon juice
2 drop of glycerine or mineral oil.
Now, spread the frosting on top of the marzipan, using a smooth, rounded butter knife to create the effect of snow drifts, paths, etc. Finally, when the frosting is nearly set (not too long -- maybe 30 minutes), decorate with your favorite Christmas miniatures to create a snow scene of your own design. It’s also nice to stick a row of plastic holly or little red poinsettias around the sides. This cake keeps very well without being covered, so you can admire your work for several days! Then, slowly but surely cut around the decorations until nothing is left but a few crumbs!
Most Mentioned! Of all the pictures I've posted on facebook, this one has received by far the most comments; so for those of you who might have missed it on facebook, here it is again:I just had to go out yesterday and decorate this lone old fence post from days of yore, still standing by itself along our property line. Let's have an old-fashioned Christmas this year!
At the Biopond: An Iris Blooming on the Winter Solstice, 1998
English Romantic Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 - 1834) wrote that "Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve, / And Hope without an object cannot live," while a hundred years earlier, English poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744) declared that "Hope springs eternal in the human breast."
When we lived in Philadelphia, one of our favorite places to go was the Biopond at the University of Pennsylvania, five hidden acres, right in the middle of a busy campus, surrounded by dorms, medical buildings, and major streets. You might never guess it existed, but walk a few blocks off the beaten path, and there it was -- an urban oasis extraordinaire!
One year, out for a brisk walk on the first day of Christmas Vacation, we stopped by the Biopond, and what to our wondering eyes should appear but a purple iris in full bloom . . . in December . . . in Philadelphia!
I've heard the legend of the Christmas rose, which blossomed from the tears of Madelon the Shepherd Girl, and of little Pepita the Mexican girl whose humble bouquet of weeds, in similar fashion, was transformed on Christmas Eve into a brilliant poinsettia. But that day, we witnessed our own seasonal miracle, something I had never heard of or seen before -- a Solstice Iris -- blooming on the First Day of Winter!
P.S. 19 November 2013 My friend Ann de Forest writes from Italy:
Do irises in Rome usually bloom in November
or is this as freakish as I think it is?
"Nearly all the best and most precious things in the universe you can get for a halfpenny. I make an exception, of course, of the sun, the moon, the earth, people, stars, thunderstorms, and such trifles. You can get them for nothing. Also I make an exception of another thing: The Spirit of Christmas!"
from "The Shop of Ghosts" (1909)
a Christmas story by G. K. Chesterton (1874 - 1936),
one of the most influential English writers of the 20th century
Lots of Beautiful Pastel Decorations from MARIETTA
As my friend Marv once said in one of the best odes to Christmas that I've ever read anywhere:
"Still, as always, I look forward to anything 'Christmas,' be it sacred or profane.
"Quite frankly, I love it all: commercial or spiritual, mall or church, crass or sublime, jaded or sentimental, slow or frantic, sad or comic, regretful or nostalgic, adult or childish, wrapping up or ripping open, giving or spartan, on-line or in line, pine or palm, white or tropical green, it just does not matter; it's all moving and wonderful, magical and grand (and I wish it lasted all year)."
Marv is also the one who introduced me to the concept of "Christmas Amnesty":
You can fall out of contact with friends, fail to return calls, ignore e-mails, avoid eye contact at the store, forget birthdays, anniversaries and reunions, and if you write during the holidays, they are socially bound to forgive you and act like nothing happened. Decorum dictates that the friendship move forward from that point, without guilt or recrimination. . . . Just say, "Sorry I haven't written. Merry Christmas."
. . . Amnesty protocol demands that your friend / relative say, "That's okay" and move on without comment. This is the way it has always been done. (see Chapter 8: "Holiday Heartbreak," 108 - 09)
from The Stupidist Angel:
A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror
a novel by Christopher Moore (b 1957, Ohio),
contemporary American writer of absurdist fiction
and comic fantasy
HERE'S SANTA! "I understand it now,"
Mr. Dickens cried,
will never die"
("Shop of Ghosts,"
Every year, we hear the complaints about the relentless commercialization, the laments that Christmas is no longer a religious holiday but has become a religion in and of itself. Well, if you ask me, that's The Good News; that's something I can believe in.
Every Christmas, I look forward to watching Miracle on 34th Street and hearing skeptical little Susan / Natalie Wood mutter under her breath, "I believe, I believe, I know it's silly but I believe!" I've said the same thing myself a few times (and not just about Kris Kringle).
More than merely a childish sing-song, Susan's mantra offers the same perspective of near-belief as the half-doubting, faintly hoping father in the New Testament who cries out: "I believe. Help thou mine unbelief." Those who are fans of John Irving's novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany, will recognize this verse from Owen's funeral. Pastor Merrill reads aloud the entire passage (Mark 9:14-24), concluding in his grief: "Owen Meany helped my 'unbelief'" (566).
Believing in the face of your own unbelief, believing when it seems silly. I think I can believe in both of those things. And I can believe in Christmas!
As Kermit The Frog and John Denver sing on one of the best Christmas CDs ever (John Denver & The Muppets: A Christmas Together, 1979):
I don't know if you believe in Christmas
Or if you have presents underneath the Christmas tree
But if you believe in love, that will be more than enough
For you to come and celebrate with me . . .
For the truth that binds us all together
I would like to say a simple prayer
That at this special time you will have true peace of mind
And love to last throughout the coming year . . .
Puttering as a Spiritual Practice (see Anne Lamott, Plan B, 149)
The Miracle of Oxygen
The Precession of the Equinoxes
The Lifelong Quest for Truth & Beauty
The Pursuit of Knowledge
The Great Conversation
The Origin and Destiny of Cats
I believe . . . I think I am; therefore, I think I am . . .
FOR MORE ON PASSION & BELIEF
SEE MY FORTNIGHTLY BLOG
DECEMBER 14th: "Three Passions"
While perusing my Christmas anthologies, I learned that "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was written as a commentary on the American Civil War. Though I've known this song since childhood, I had never seen the lengthier version, two stanzas longer than usually printed (stanzas 3 & 4 below). Lamenting a Nation divided, these lines from 1863, also seem sadly relevant now.
As a brooding, existentialist teenager, I always hung on to that stanza about despair (# 5 below; usually #3 in the sung version), although it was never exactly clear to me how it fit into the rest of the song. Now, seeing the entire context, it makes a lot more sense. What do you think?
The complete poem:
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
I thought, as now the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearthstones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head:
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men!"
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep!
The Wrong shall fail
The Right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men!"
Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day
A voice, a chime
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807 - 1882
most popular, beloved, and successful American poet of his day
~ the story behind the song, narrated by Ed Herman
When I shared these stanzas with my family, my Uncle Gene wrote back to say, "That's simply astounding. I had no idea of verses 3 and 4. On reading them, you can see why, maybe they were never publicized. All the same, they give more meaning to the last ones when read following the brutal war verses." My brother Dave added that after seeing "the extended play version, yes, I agree that all the stanzas together make a much more coherent picture. As a matter of fact, I would say that it was very observant of you as a young lass to have noticed the not too obvious discordance of the work without the 'extra' stanzas." Writing not long after the United States invasion of Afghanistan, Dave suggested that "To take liberties with Henry's work, one could gently alter the third stanza by replacing mouth with beast and South with East, making it more topical, albeit no better."
Thanks to Dave and Uncle Gene for these remarks;
and also to my brother Bruce for the link above from
*The Gospel Coalition.
And while we're on the topic of despair, and bells,
and right and wrong: "I ask you...to adopt the principles proclaimed by yourselves,
by your revolutionary fathers,
and by the old bell in Independence Hall."
by Frederick Douglass, 1818 - 1895
American abolitionist, women's suffragist, author,
editor, orator, reformer, and great statesman
from an address delivered at the Southern Loyalists' Convention
in Philadelphia, 1866
The Birds' Christmas Carol (1887) is another Christmas favorite from early in my memory, the story of beautiful little Carol Bird, who was born on Christmas morning as the choir boys were singing "Carol joyfully . . . Carol merrily" and, sadly, dies on Christmas night ten years later, to the faint strains of "My ain countree": "A wee birdie to its nest . . . To his ain countree."
How I loved having this book read aloud to me by my mom's mom, Grandma Lindsey; especially Chapter Four, when the next door neighbors, "the little Ruggleses" get ready to attend the dinner party that Carol is hosting in their honor. Bath time, etiquette lessons, the feast, the presents -- it was all so much fun! And then came the sad ending.
Wiggen's best-known heroine, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, was a nice girl, but she never won my heart the way Carol Bird did. There are antique copies to be had, floating around on the used book market, and also a lovely reissue, illustrated exactly as the original. I have one of each, a new one from amazon and an 1892 treasure -- a gift from my mother.
I only recently discovered another Christmas story by Kate Douglas Wiggen, The Romance of a Christmas Card (1916), containing a plot about breaking into the greeting card business (something I've always wanted to do myself) and a subplot about mothers and children and childbirth. Wiggen has a lovely name for Christmas Eve, calling it " . . . the Eve of Mary, when all women are blest" ( 74). She is also amazingly astute in her description of post-partum depression, when one character advises another not to be too critical of her sister - in - law's lack of interest in her newborn twins: "Eva's not right; she's not quite responsible. There are cases where motherhood, that should be a joy, brings nothing but mental torture and perversion of instinct. Try and remember that, if it helps you any" (37). Insights such as that more than make up for any sense of datedness.
Who loves "The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas," one of the best holiday cartoons ever? I do! Narrated by Tommy Smothers, Barbara Feldon, and Arte Johnson, with some old "Laugh In" jokes thrown in for fun. Also features the endearing, rarely played song, "Where Can I Find Christmas," not often included on any other Christmas album or CD, though I can't imagine why not, when it's so beautiful! Still waiting for the DVD of this darling, pun-filled animation.
I started loving this made-for-television movie (screen play by Eleanor Perry) back in 1972, watched it religiously for several seasons; and then it seemed to disappear. I was so happy when it reappeared in my life, first on VHS and now on DVD. Of course, it's also a book (by Gail Rock) which I had never even read until a year or so ago, when I got the gift idea of giving copies of the book along with copies of the movie and felt I should read before sending.
While reading House Without a Christmas Tree, I could see the movie playing in my mind's eye and hear it in my mind's ear -- I guess if we have a "mind's eye," then we also have a "mind's ear," right? The voice-over narration that accompanies the movie and much of the dialogue comes word for word from the book. My usual pattern is to read the book first and think of the movie as a visual aid; but in this case, it's the opposite, the novel serving as script / reference work. Well, that works too.
What I always liked best about the movie were the transitions before each commercial when the final scene would freeze and then morph from realistic to a cut and paste bulletin board version of the same image: Dad's truck, the night kitchen, the Christmas Star. Does anyone else remember that?
After the commercial break, the sequence would occur in reverse: the construction paper school building, Grandmother in the kitchen, and the Nativity Stage slowly becoming real as the action resumed. Even now, we wait for the moment of our favorite changes and try to guess which one is coming next. You'd think we'd have them memorized by now -- but maybe not, if you're only watching once a year. Of course, that's part of the charm.
Sam, Ready for Holidays Around the World (Sixth Grade)
St. Nicholas Day: time to set out our red wooden shoes and fill them with dreidels (combining holidays!), along with two sweet little Waiting for Santa Sisters from my friend Etta, an elegant bread dough St. Nick, made by Gerry's Auntie Jan (in the mirror you can see that even his back is finely detailed), and a couple of St. Nicholas picture postcards collected over the years from our friends in Holland. When the boys were little, these friends also sent us some realistic looking St. Nick shaped chocolates. I set them out on the table to admire and after a few days, Ben (only 4 at the time) said, "When can we eat those priests?"
Josef In The Windowsill: So Placid and Self - Contained!
"I think I could turn and live with animals, they're so placid and self-contain'd, I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition, They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God, Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things, Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago, Not one is respectable or unhappy over the earth." (from Song of Myself, #32)
I loved this stanza as a student and for a very long time afterward, even now I guess. Yet I have to agree with the critic who said that Whitman probably didn't mean it -- maybe about the animals he did; but surely not about himself. After all, he lived a life of highly refined intellect, not possible (as far as we know) for cows or cats.
When reading Hugh Prather's book, I couldn't help but notice how often his examples were about puppies. Very appealing and touching, but hello we are not dogs or cats or cows. We are humans with baggage and memory and very complicated brains and the need for discourse.
Venerable Indiana Willow Tree, Lost to the Ice Storm
in March 1991 (Gerry and Baby Ben, Autumn 1990)
"The ginkgo forces its way through gray concrete;
Like a city child, it grows up in the street.
Thrust against the metal sky,
Somehow it survives and even thrives.
My eyes feast upon the willow,
But my heart goes to the ginkgo."
from "Willow and Ginkgo"
by Eve Merriam (1916 - 1992)
Winner of the Yale Younger Poets Prize, 1946
Our beautiful side street in Philadelphia, lined with Ginkgoes.
City Children: Ben at the wheel of our Station Wagon
Sam, back seat driver
Yes, this was your father's Oldmobile!
One of my favorite lines of fictional dialogue (see column at right) is from one of Margaret Atwood's cynical little "True Romances." The main character laments that her bad boyfriend has left her, and now she has "nothing to live for." Her level - headed friend asks, "Were you living for him when he was here?" And the distressed one says, "No . . . I was living in spite of him, I was living against him." The wise friend concludes, "Then you should say, I have nothing to live against."
I do recall applying this lesson during my early Philadelphia years, back when I was trying to improve my urban attitude. Thinking of Atwood's story, I told myself, "You need to give up living against the city! You have nothing to live against." But it's such a bad habit with me, it seems that I will try to live against almost anything! The weather, the grocery store, the holiday season, organized religion, centuries of misogynism -- you name it; unless I consciously stop myself, I will try to live against it. And how does one little person live against an entire city or an entire cosmos or an entire family? Not only is it impossible, it is just not necessary to do so, even if it does feel so at times.
Nothing to live against. Brian Andreas makes a similar suggestion in one of his stories: "It's much easier, he told me, if you like the parts you like & you like the parts you don't like. Is that some Eastern thing? I said & he said not really since he was from Idaho & it worked there just fine" (from StoryPeople).
Still I wonder, how do you really learn to "like the parts you don't like"? How do you learn to say, "Oh well," if that's what the occasion calls for, to be dismissive, remain impassive, impersonal, detached? For a Doubting Thomasina, a Daughter of Descartes, a Western Girl With Glasses, it's not always easy.