Busy Hands (aka: Old-Fashioned, Homemade Christmas)

My hands tend to be very busy this time of year. The closer the calendar creeps toward Christmas, the more my hands are in motion — wrapping, measuring, mixing, quilting, embroidering, cutting, stitching, tying, icing, writing, beading, and stamping. A part of me would love to see a return of the homemade Christmas, in which the gift exchanges rely less on department stores and more on the time-honored tradition of handcrafting. Of course, my kids would be crushed if I were to give them hand-made toys in place of the electronic games they love so much. Also, this year, my boys are really hoping that Santa will bring them pet rats, and I can’t exactly make those by hand. (Rat treats, maybe?)

A quilt I am making

A long time ago, when I actually belonged to a social circle, my hands stayed even busier this time of year. I participated in cookie exchange parties and homemade ornament exchange parties. I hand-stamped, embossed, and glittered dozens of exquisite holiday greeting cards. I gave gifts of home-baked goodies, unique soaps, hand-beaded jewelry, and scrapbooks of memories, even a rare quilt or two, all of which I spent hours, days, even months preparing. It takes a lot to create a gift for another person. But to me, it means so much more to give a gift which comes – not from a store shelf or factory, but from my heart and hands. My Homemade Gift Tags

This year, my hands are much less busy. Not because I have lost the desire to create and give homemade gifts, but because I have fewer people in my life. However, I did manage to make some gorgeous gift tags to tie on packages, and at the moment, I am attempting to make a rather complicated friendship bracelet (which I suppose I will give to my 12yo daughter). And, as always, I am passing the days of December in a puff of flour and a dusting of sugar, singing Christmas carols as I mix, shape, and bake dozens upon dozens of special homemade Christmas cookies, to give away to family and — well, mostly strangers. The house is filled with the aroma of cinnamon, cardamom, and vanilla (not to mention the pungent fragrance of fir tree) — the traditional, homemade aroma which, to my children and me, carries the hope and promise of the arrival of Christmas Day.

homemade treats Xmas

 

 

 

Christmas Cookies, Cookies, Cookies (etc.)

Do not…I repeat, do NOT peek into my kitchen right now. It is not just a mess, but a catastrophe. It is as though a bomb made of flour, powdered sugar, nuts, chocolate, cinnamon, dough, and sprinkles has exploded, plastering every possible pan, bowl, and surface.

That is Christmas Eve in my kitchen.

Every December, I take great pleasure in poring over cookie recipes, then spending hours measuring, mixing, and dipping to create dozens of delicious treats. Sometimes I even let the kids help. This year, as always, I baked a few dozen sugar cookies, which I will soon paint with sugary vanilla-almond icing. I have tried a number of recipes for sugar cookies, and here is the one which has always turned out beautifully.

I also made an annual family favorite, Chocolate-Peanut Butter Pinwheel Cookies, dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with crushed walnuts. Sorry…this recipe is top secret. 😉 Okay, fine…the truth is, I got it from a cooking magazine ten years ago, and it is nowhere online. At least, not my version.

I also made Ranger Cookies, and a new recipe, which will perhaps become the next huge family favorite–a cookie from Argentina, called Alfajores. They are a crisp, buttery, vanilla-almond-lemon cookie, sandwiched together with dulce de leche. Can I just say…yum?

A delicious Dulce-de-leche sandwich cookie from Argentina.

Oh, and I just had to try one fully dipped in chocolate, as the Argentines like it. They looked like this:

Every chocolate lover must try this cookie, if only once in a lifetime.

And the taste? Omgcookieheavenomg! I don’t think I will try that again. The very idea of how many calories I just devoured makes my stomach feel a little queasy. Or maybe that is from all the cookie dough I nibbled today.

Finally, I made fresh Pulla Bread, a sweet Finnish Christmas bread flavored with cardamom; and vanilla nut fudge, which is my favorite fudge in the world.

Mmmm...vanilla fudge!

This year’s came out a little grainy instead of creamy and smooth, but that is the risk of fudge-making. The kids don’t seem to mind. They don’t mind the disaster in the kitchen, either. We will all happily ignore it, munching dozens of delicious Christmas cookies together for the next 24 hours or so. Then I will enjoy a nice cup of chai while my kids wash the dishes. (But don’t tell them that part…I don’t want to ruin their Christmas!)