Home for the Holidays

Christmas just never feels like Christmas until I go home. The entire house is decorated and being surrounded by family is what Christmas is truly about. In my childhood, the tree came out the day after Thanksgiving and was filled with decorations that spanned as many years as I have been alive, and even before. My mother has always collected ornaments from her travels; something I have carried on in my own life and that has enriched my own small collection of Christmas tree trinkets. I remember cradling the tiny, brightly-colored silken animals from her trips to Mexico and the minature China dolls with their exquisitely painted faces hanging from the branches of the tree. Handmade ornaments from my stepbrother and I, only 6 months apart in age, chronicle our years in the same classes together. The doughy hand prints - my hands so small that my adult palm now covers the stretched out fingers of the print, scribblings of "i love you" on construction paper shaped like tops and circles complete with glitter and sequins, painted wooden cutouts, and strings of colored lights adorn the tree that stands like a sentinal over the carefully chosen gifts underneath the tree.

When I think of Christmas at home, there is always warmth and comfort in my heart. The time spent there is steeped heavily in tradition, from the day I come home on my stepdad's birthday (the 22nd), to the dinner we eat on Christmas eve (homemade chicken noodle and crab soup, served up at Grandpa's house) and Christmas Day (prime rib with creamy horseradish sauce), and the order we tromp down the stairs in our nightgowns (youngest to oldest) and bed-head hair-dos to start out Christmas morning, everything is choreographed from at least twenty-nine years of repetition.

There are also things that "have" to be done every year while I'm home - from the drive through Crestview to view the amazing Christmas lights (this little subdivision actually has a stipulation in their neighborhood contract that if you live in the neighborhood, you must decorate your house with Christmas lights!); the requisite wine tasting troup with the whole family loaded into the "hot tamale" suburban (the last suburban, passed on now to my stepbrother, was called the "green booger" believe it or not, and both get a Christmas wreath strapped to the front grill this time of year); and even the white elephant gift exchange with my cousins (where you actually got the chance to get ahold of your very own jar of great aunt Shirley's leftover 1950s talcum powder - boy did that get passed around as many times as were allowed before it settled on its new owner!)...all of them filled with with laughter (the kind that comes all the way up from your belly) and raucous good cheer.

Backyard Christmas moonrise, at home.

I have my own traditions now too - I like to spend at least one weekend in December baking, and this year was no exception. LB and I also like to get a second-hand puzzle and put it together while listening to Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Alabama (another long-standing family tradition - all of my brothers and sisters know every word to the 1982 Alabama Christmas CD and are not the least bit embarrassed to belt it out at the top of our lungs ever Christmas) crone on in the background about white Christmases, candles in the window and halls decked out with boughs of greenery. This year, we didn't have much time for decorating, but we have watched a few Christmas movies, drank some spiked eggnog together, and sang "Thistlehair the Christmas Bear" on the long journey home.

Their have been adjustments in these traditions of course. We now tromp down the stairs and immediately grab big mugs of strong coffee to get us through Christmas morning (though, as always, no one is allowed to take a shower beforehand and we still have votes on whose bedhead beats out everyone else's). Dinners now go through several bottles of wine and all of us bring dishes along to share. Many of the ornaments that used to hang on the branches of the tree now stay in boxes because there are far too many for the space available on the tree. As new members have joined the family, they too have become part of our traditions, taking their place at the top of the stairs on Christmas morning and contributing new ideas to enrich the holiday spirit (my soon-to-be sister-in-law is extremely crafty and this year we all recieved Christmas CDs and all-natural bloody mary mix to imbibe on Christmas morning!).

While new traditions are both exciting and refreshing, the old ones are the ones that put my heart at ease and let me know that I am truly home, and to me, these traditions, shared with the people I love, are the true meaning of Christmas. While they will continue to change in the years to come as brothers and sisters, and even myself, will have in-laws to visit, houses will change, and distance may prevent some of us from making our way home, I will always hold on to the memories - and many of them will be carried on in my own house and to my children when I am no longer able to come home. And there will always be a candle in the window at my house, and at all of my siblings houses, just as my parents have always lit in our bedroom windows since we were children - beckoning us home for the holidays.

My wish for you this Christmas is to be able to enjoy your own traditions - or to make new ones that you'll carry on with you in the years to come. Enjoy your families and enjoy your friends -both new and old, traditional or otherwise. And remember what the holidays really mean to you - whether based in religion, in tradition, or something else entirely. Regardless of if Christmas is a holiday you celebrate or not, know that you have people in the world who care about you, no matter where you are and whatever your beliefs, and that are thinking of you, and loving you, this time of year. And have a wonderful, wonderful holiday season - for a new year, full of new adventure and the promise of possiblity, is just around the corner.


These are some of the cookies that I baked this year for friends and family - one of the recipes that I liked the best (and LB raved about), and that I wanted to share with you. They are spicy and rich, bringing you home with the comfortable flavor of buttery shortbread, and tantalizing your tastebuds with the unexpected flavors of cardamom and cloves...not so unlike the homey traditions of the holidays that grow and change as the years go by. These are perfect for a day of holiday baking - mixing up the dough is simple and you can let them rest in the fridge while you make your other batches of goodies. The hardest part is rolling them into the "logs" and getting the proper shape - something I have most certainly not mastered (the prettiest ones actually went into a tin for friends and were given away before I remembered to take a picture for this post!).

Chai Shortbread Cookies, makes 2 doz.
adapted from Cooking Light

1 1/2
cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp of ground cloves
Dash of freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup powdered sugar
10 tbsp butter, softened
tbsp ice water (+ 1 tsp in my hands)

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (through pepper), stirring well with a whisk. Place sugar and butter in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating at low speed just until combined (mixture will appear crumbly). Sprinkle dough with 1 tablespoon ice water; toss with a fork. Divide dough in half. Shape dough into 2 (~6-inch-long) logs; I rolled them out on wax paper and then used it to help me shape them. Wrap each log in plastic wrap. Chill 1 hour or until very firm.

Preheat oven to 375°. Unwrap dough logs. Carefully cut each log into 18 slices using a serrated knife (you can coat it with a little oil if you want to). Place dough circles 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 375° for 10 minutes. Cool on pans 5 minutes. Remove cookies from pans; cool completely on wire racks.

9 comments from you:

Aria said...

I'm totally going to make those cookies. What town is your photo taken from? Beautiful!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

It seems to me Michelle that life is good when there is Christmas to snuggle into with family & friends but it's those silly family things we do that give it it's old sweater comfort.
Merry Christmas to you and those you love.
I really like your idea for a new year, full of new adventure and the promise of possibility.
Oh, and I like the sweet & savory part of the cookies!

michelle said...

Aria, it's from the backyard at my parent's house - in Grand Junction, Colorado. The cookies are great - I hope you like them as much as we did.

Tanna, I completely agree! Merry Christmas to you too (I just visited your site and left a few more sentiments)...And dear, I can't wait to see what the new year brings for you and your family (as well as all the wonderful recipes you're going to pass on to us!!).

cookiecrumb said...

Merry Happy, Michelle!
(Alabama? LOL. How sweet.)

Michèle said...

Michelle, why did I think you had stopped blogging? And here you are with a wealth of things for me to catch up on! Chai shortbread cookies sound wonderful--I am a fan of anything with cardamom in it.
Now, I've got some catching up to do.. ;)

linda said...

Merry Christmas! Well, actually Happy New Year would be more appropriate...
Add me to the list of people that love the photo!

Amanda at Little Foodies said...

Hi Michelle, I hope you had a fantastic Christmas. I loved reading this post in full today, what beautiful memories. I read a little on Christmas Day but I'm glad I didn't read it all then. I'm currently laid up in bed with a back injury and possibly bed hair to match! I have to say having had a trying Christmas it was still magical and at least my back didn't give up until Wednesday. Hope you have a great New Year followed by a truly super 2008!

Atajev said...

I've been following your fabulous foodie blog for a little while now, and I always look forward to your posts!

A woman I work with gave me a tip a few weeks ago for getting an even shape with this type of cookie. Gather empty paper towel or wrapping paper tubes (you may have some of those around this time of year!). Roll the dough out slightly smaller than the diameter of the tube you're using, then wrap the log loosely in wax paper. Slide the dough into the tube (cutting off excess tube as needed), and press on the dough to fill the width of the tube. You can slide it out and reuse the tube, or refrigerate/freeze the dough in the tube to keep it from getting squashed.

It worked well for me this year!

michelle said...

Merrie Happy to you as well!! (and yes, Alabama - and I just learned there's a vol. 2!! ha ha ha).

Michele, my dear, because I did, for far too long! But I'm back - aside from all the holiday traveling that is. Thanks for coming by!

Linda, to you too!! Glad you like the photo - a confession? LB actually took that one!

Amanda, Oh no!!! I hope your back heals very quickly and that you and your family still have a wonderful new years despite the difficulties!! I also hope that 2008 holds nothing but healing and wonderful things for you (NO more back injuries!!)

Atajev, Awww, shucks...thank you! I'm glad you commented this time! What a wonderful idea! I'm definitely going to have to try that out next time - thanks for sharing!!