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Mincemeat Rugelach

Mincemeat Rugelach

Sometimes holiday traditions can feel like checking the box. As a parent, I want my kids to develop memories of the holidays with annual traditions that define the season. At the same time, as a parent, the holiday season is so full of to-do’s – Stocking stuffers! Teacher gifts! Holiday performances! Christmas Cards! While efficiency doesn’t necessarily smack of “holiday spirit” anything that can give me two for one bang for my buck on holiday traditions is AOK with me.

I wrote two years ago about how mince pies are special to me and my family mythology but I don’t always have time for pie baking at Christmas. Cookie baking, however, is de rigueur – for cookie parties and teacher gifts and of course, Santa Claus. The solution should, of course, be glaringly obvious — mincemeat cookies!

Rugelach dough, of course, is very similar to a lightly sweetened pie dough, and mincemeat, with its combo of dried fruit and sugar, is not that dissimilar from traditional rugelach filling. Rugelach is a traditional Jewish cookie, of course, and Mincemeat is a traditional Christmas treat, but I have an ecumenical attitude when it comes to good food.

And good these are — not too sweet, crisp on the outside with a soft center. You get an echo of mince pies, but these are lighter, despite the prodigious amounts of butter and cream cheese in the dough. And if you want lighter still, you can make smaller cookies by forming into pinwheels and slicing before baking.

Relatively simple cookies with a classic flavor? That’s going to become a tradition in my house.

Just a note about the shootings in Newtown — like every parent I know, and most non-parents, the events have been shocking and horrifying, particularly because children were targeted. It feels wrong to stay silent, but I also don’t want to dwell here — suffice it to say that I know the town of Newtown well, as a very dear friend grew up there, and I also know the vitality and contradictions of 5 and 6 year olds well. My heart grieves for the children and the teachers and their families and the town.

I know everyone wants to do something after a tragedy like this, even if action can’t erase the effects. If you want to make a difference to schoolchildren and teachers, consider making a donation to your local school in honor of the victims — go to donorschoose.org or call up the principal of your local elementary and ask how you can help. Teachers are heroes every day, and events like this throw that into sharp relief.

You can also participate in this program to let the students of Sandy Hook know that they are in your thoughts and prayers:
Snowflakes for Sandy Hook
Please help the students of Sandy Hook have a winter wonderland at their new school! Get Creative!! No two snowflakes are alike. Make and send snowflakes to Connecticut PTSA, 60 Connolly Parkway, Building 12, Suite 103, Hamden, CT 06514, by January 12, 2013.
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Baklava Bars

Baklava Bar Cookie

I have this vision of the holidays. My family and I are sitting on the couch in our living room in the evening, fire in the fireplace, tree lights on, carols playing softly in the background. We are sipping hot beverages – cocoa for the kids, hot buttered rum for me – and enjoying the peace of the season.

Peace of the season? Ha! First of all, quiet is not a state you frequently enjoy when there is a five year old and a six month old in the house. And there is no time for sitting or sipping in December. The slog of daily life – homework, work, commuting, chores – tends to increase in December. And hen there are the seasonal activities – parties and performances and Santa visits and shopping and wrapping and church services and cards and endless cookie baking. Every activity seems to come with a side of cookies.

In the midst of this maelstrom I’m always on the lookout for cookie recipes that are interesting, and special enough for the season, but that don’t take a lot of extra work. As soon as I saw these baklava bars, I knew I had hit the jackpot. A buttery cookie base with a crumbly topping of crispy phyllo and walnuts – what could be better? And you can bake a pan at a time and cut them into rich little triangles in no time flat. These taste affirmatively like baklava, but are also definitively cookies – which is a lovely half state to be in.
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Ten Fun Gifts for Everyone on Your List

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image: Kym McLeod

So Christmas shopping is underway. Maybe you’re a crazy organized person, and you’re totally done. Or maybe you’re like the rest of us, and you’re still hunting. Here are a few things I happen to love that will hopefully spark your imagination! Also check out The Gift Giver’s Guide to Scotch Whisky, The Savour Fare Kitchen: Essential Cookware and Bakeware, The Savour Fare Kitchen: Essential Kitchen Tools, Stocking Stuffers for Foodies and Cooks and Eight Great Board Books to Read with Your Child. I’ve also been pinning more ideas on Pinterest

(Disclaimer — I participate in the Amazon Affiliates program and receive a (very) small amount of money if you buy through one of these Amazon links. Other than that, no sponsorships or agendas.)

 
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Eggnog Rum Balls

Eggnog Rum Balls

Advent season is here! For those of you unfamiliar with the Christian tradition, advent is the start of the liturgical calendar, the time of preparation for Christmas, the beginning of it ALL. There is a trend I see towards a minimalist Christmas. Cut the hassle, forget the tree, count calories, draw names in a gift exchange. I understand the pull for simplicity – aren’t our lives full enough? Do we need more complication, more stuff? But when I think about advent, and the Christmas season, and the kind of memories I have from childhood, and the kind of memories I want my children to have – I am not drawn towards austerity. The word I want for Christmas is abundance.

We are lucky to have the blessings and the resources we have – the blessings of family, of income, of time together – and in the Christmas season I want to celebrate those blessings. Trimming the tree, visiting Santa, decorating the house, sending cards to friends far and wide, entertaining the neighbors, choosing gifts for our loved ones and those less fortunate than we are, spending time by the fireplace, sipping hot chocolate, baking cookies, opening presents, feasting, laughing, giving — I want ALL of these to feature strongly in my children’s memories of the season.

Christmas is, after all, a season of celebration. The “reason for the season” is not malls and office parties and eight million renditions of “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, the second most awful Christmas song of all time (the first being, of course, “Christmas Shoes.”) But it is giving, and it is celebrating, and it is singing. Whatever your tradition, we are all celebrating this time of year. The miracle of light, the return of the sun, a baby being born into the world. All are the return of hope in in a time of adversity. What’s not to celebrate about that?
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