Monthly Archives: December 2012

Christmas Cookies for Show-and-Eat

The new favorite cookie this year was Salted Toffee. This was a happy accident sort of thing. We had come by a bag of mini Heath Bars, not something we normally would buy, and I didn’t want to end up eating them one-by-one, so after we ate a few I thought I would make cookies with the rest.



I’d seen recipes online for Heath Bar cookies, and I used one of them that didn’t have nuts. My version had a little less Heath ingredient, since we had snacked it down. The specialness I added was to combine some large-crystal sugar (Demerara) and coarse sea salt and roll the tops of the cookie-dough balls in that before baking.

Everyone loved these cookies. If that bird were real, he would have eaten the whole cookie by now. But he is painted on a pretty tray that May gave me for Christmas.

Soldier’s Joy brought the darlingest delicious thumbprint cookies that were filled with strawberry and rhubarb, and some chocolate-dipped dried apricots that combined to add to the visual appeal of the cookie platters.

Those bright-white round cookies are our only store-bought item, Pffernusse from Trader Joe’s that Mr. Glad wanted to try in memory of the cookies his German grandmother used to make.

The coconut-y balls are Date Delights, for which I’ll give you the recipe here. They are another chewy toffee-ish experience we have been creating ever since my grandma gave our family a tin full of them one Christmas past.

Date Delights

1 cube butter
1 cup cut-up pitted dates
1 beaten egg
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 cups Rice Crispies
sweetened coconut flakes, about 7 oz.

In a 9×12 baking pan mix the walnuts and Rice Crispies. Set aside. In another bowl put the coconut flakes. 

In a saucepan melt the butter, and add the dates, egg and sugar. Stir all together in the saucepan and boil over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat and beat in the vanilla, and immediately pour the candy mixture over the walnuts and cereal. Stir well. As soon as the mixture is cool enough to handle, form into balls and roll them in the coconut flakes. Cool.

The red squares in the foreground are Cranberry Jellies. I adapted a recipe from a past Sunset Magazine to make a treat that Pippin and I especially like. It’s refreshingly lacking in any fat except for walnuts, and is a nice chewy way to get your cranberry fix and add color to the display.

Cranberry Jellies

3 cups Trader Joe’s Cranberry-Orange Relish (2-16 oz. tubs)
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
13 envelopes plain gelatin
3 cups chopped walnuts

Combine the first three ingredients in a bowl (I used a stand mixer) and while the paddle is turning, gradually add the gelatin. When thoroughly mixed transfer to a saucepan and heat just until the gelatin is dissolved. Stir in the walnuts and pour the mixture into a 9×12 pan. Refrigerate until firm. Cut into small pieces and dust lightly with cornstarch. I don’t refrigerate them after this point.

Many times I’ve told myself that I must make fewer cookies at Christmas, but this year I realized that it’s one of my favorite things to do. I have so much fun thinking of the collage of different flavors and forms of the little sweets that I don’t even feel the need to eat them. It was long after Christmas Day that I even tried one of the new Peppermint Cream Cheese cookies I made this year.

But now by what is the Seventh Day of Christmas, as I finish up this post, and also New Year’s Eve, I’ve expanded the festive feelings by eating lots of cookies, too! They all taste as good as they look, or better. The last red plateful will go out of here this evening — I wish I could bring one to your house when I say Happy New Year!

It’s still Christmas in San Francisco.

At Union Square

On the way to the airport to send Kate and her boyfriend back to Washington DC yesterday, we drove around San Francisco and saw that people are still enjoying a Christmas spirit. It made me very happy, because I’m certainly not ready to take down my lights or stop eating cookies.

Present Site of Former Sutro Baths

While daylight still shined we drove to Ocean Beach where just to the north you can see the site of the Sutro Baths that were built in the 1890’s and burned down in 1966, late enough that I might have had the chance to swim in them had my grandmother taken me across the bridge from Berkeley where I visited her.

Six of the seven indoor pools of varying temperatures contained sea water that during high tide flowed directly in from the ocean, and even at low tide pumps recycled all the salt water within five hours.

The famous Cliff House is still nearby and can be seen in the background of this postcard. That picture shows its Victorian shape, one of many different forms it has been built into over more than a century. If you click here you can see a slide show of its architectural history.

Evidently the operating costs of the baths were too high to keep them going, and they had been closed not long before a fire destroyed the building. I wonder what it was like to swim there — certainly more pleasant than the frigid water outside, where a wetsuit is needed nowadays. When you see photos of people of the past on the beach they are always in multiple layers of long skirts or pants with hats.

Market Street from Twin Peaks summit

After our group ate dinner we still had some light left, and we drove up the Twin Peaks where the views are wonderful. The moon was just coming up at that point, but we stayed long enough to get this picture including the bright stripe of Market Street.

Then it was a quick drive over to Union Square and the parking garage that is directly underneath. Here I basked under the lights of tall storefronts and the Christmas tree in the middle of the square, and even palm trees with strings of lights.

Street musicians played at various spots around the square. This duo was surprisingly good for their limited equipment, and the drummer even did a fire-drumming-and-eating trick after dousing his sticks with lighter fluid.

An ice rink is set up during the winter months and it was very popular this night, even though 90 minutes will cost you $10. It appears to me everyone is having a magical experience out there on the ice, wearing their scarves and hats and gliding around under the giant Christmas tree. But if I did it, my feet would get all my attention feeling like blocks of ice themselves.

It’s good I got this extra boost of holiday cheer, because I don’t want to miss any of the joy between now and Theophany (Epiphany or Three Kings Day to some of you), and also I have more Christmasy things to write about, and I’ve run out of time and space. More on cookies and grandchildren and such like soon to come.

More Merry Christmas to you all!

Union Square

The Glow from Brief Light

Sally Thomas’s book of poems was published just in time for me to get a copy and read it during Advent. The title is Brief Light: Sonnets and Other Small Poems, and these poems are so illuminating, they fit right in with this season when the Light of the World first shined upon us.

Various sorts of light, or the lack of it, are an important aspect of many of the selections. The title brings to mind wintry light that is brief and thin – and there are several poems for this darker season of the year we have entered, with titles and subjects including Christmas, New Year’s, Advent, frost and snow.

I like the “small poem” aspect of the collection, seeing as I am eternally poetry-challenged and usually put off by the ones with very many stanzas. “Snow Weather” is the shortest in the book, and manages, and partly through its very brevity, to capture a dramatic moment that grabs at my own heart.

Snow Weather

A falcon on a wire
Against the laden sky
Scanned his brown empire
With a black-ice eye.

Nothing beneath him stirred
In that sunless instant,
But my heart, for a keen-eyed bird
Blind to me, or indifferent.

The light that Thomas shines on this event reveals something in her own soul, and searches out even the falcon’s impulses.

Birds abound in the poems: a wren in “Tornado Watch,” and the “Mourning Dove” whose being she “felt in the small of my back/The soft clattering updraft of wings.” But the starlings in “Poem in Advent” are the most glorious. This is the first poem I’ve read about the birds that she so aptly describes in couplets beginning with these:

At twilight the poplars, upright and naked,
Wear starlings like restless leaves. Unafflicted
By the cold, they come and go in noisy shifts,
Filling the trees, free-falling into updrafts….

And going on to relate how the starling flock, though “harbinger of every nightfall,” is not only unafflicted by the cold but is a hopeful reminder to us of where we have come from, and “never mournful.”

This reminds me of the prayer read at every Orthodox Vespers, “Thou appointest the darkness and there was the night.” It was after years of hearing this line that it began to sink into my being that God Himself fills the night that He created, and is to us like the black night into which Thomas’s starlings settle. “Darkness, careful, cups them in its hand.”

The subject matter of the collection ranges far and wide and shows how rich a life is lived by this woman interested in everything. Many poems about children and family, her motherly concerns — and marriage, and depression, boats, a snake, depression. But all with a ray of light revealing the transcendent quality of our existence, the interconnectedness of everything.

This is the first time I’ve been so bold as to review a book of poetry, and I don’t know that I’ve read many such reviews, either. I don’t know where to stop, when most of the poems are a pleasure from the first reading and also promise a greater reward if I will spend more time with them.

But let me mention another one or two: “Introvert” is chilling in its description of forced narcissus, “all sweetness, winter-white” alongside a man’s desire to break into his woman’s inwardness, even to “prise her open, bone from hinging bone….” And “Lamplight” is a favorite of mine so far, in which the poet shares the simple event and startling perspective of looking in instead of out at her bedroom window one night, where

…the room shone privately
As with a happiness, a mystery to me.
I stood outside and wondered at that glow.

There is plenty of wisdom shining from the poems in Brief Light, gifts that will go on giving. I am soaking up the glow.

Here is all alright.

My house is full with babies and their parents who were my own babies not long ago. I am having a great time reading Frog and Toad, walking down to the creek with Scout to clip sprays of berries and branches of redwood greenery, dandling the littlest ones on my knee….don’t know when or if I will get those blinds dusted because there is still grocery shopping to do….wonder if I could squeeze in a service at church this morning while the others are out hiking in the mud….After all, I made the pies last night and they are in the freezer, all white and stiff and not giving a hint as to their glory soon to be revealed.
It’s the day of the eve of the Feast, and I am weary, yes. It seems to be a fitting state of body and even of mind and heart, to be at least a tiny bit poor in spirit, in order to receive the Lord and the Joy of the Lord.

I want to be sure to wish all of my friends in Blogland a Very Merry Christmas! I pray that in whatever state you are, you can know something of what it means that all is alright. God is with us.

A Christmas Carol

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all alright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s breast
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world’s desire.)

The Christ-child stood on Mary’s knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,

And all the stars looked down.

— G.K. Chesterton