Category Archives: food and cooking

Matters of heart and flesh.


Today we celebrate the second of three days considered the “Winter Pascha.”
We are still singing these hymns of Nativity:

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God,
Has shone to the world the Light of wisdom!
For by it, those who worshiped the stars
Were taught by a Star to worship Thee
The Sun of Righteousness,
And to know Thee, the Dayspring from on High.
O Lord, glory to Thee!

and

Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One
And the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One!
Angels with shepherds glorify Him!
The wise men journey with a star!
Since for our sake the Eternal God was born as a Little Child!

On Christmas Eve, the sky dark with clouds at midday, we celebrated a Vesperal Liturgy, and the church glowed in a special way with the combination of candlelight and muted daylight.

Then Christmas Eve proper, when it became the next day liturgically, the Festal Matins of Nativity. How joyous! In the cathedral was the darkness of winter night, but with more candles and more festivity, because Christmas Day had begun! Our hearts were soaring. The children were drooping….

When I woke on Christmas Day I also was bushed. I had baked a few cookies between the previous day’s services, which meant I’d been on my feet most of that day. I chose different shoes Christmas morning, and before the service even began I had retrieved my joy. I was introduced to a woman who was visiting out of curiosity, had been raised Christian Scientist, and considered herself “more of a Buddhist.” But her friend of Ukrainian descent, who also had not been to our parish before, had invited and brought her.

As I began to explain why the icons, the incense and candles…  to tell her about the materiality of our worship, how this very feast was a celebration of God Who has no flesh taking on human flesh for our sakes… well, it was thrilling to be able to give a little background to what was so vividly being expressed in fullness right there.

I pointed to the pillar with a fresco of St. John of Damascus painted on the side, and part of this quote on the scroll he is holding: I do not venerate matter, I venerate the fashioner of matter, who became matter for my sake and accepted to dwell in matter and through matter worked my salvation, and I will not cease from reverencing matter, through which my salvation was worked.

On the home front, concerning the matter that is our earthly food, I feel that I am way behind in my cookie-baking.  I have made four kinds now… and no chocolate yet! I guess I never do have much chocolate in the Christmas cookies. But so far my collection leans heavily toward the nut-brown tones, partly because Trader Joe’s was out of their cranberry-orange relish that I use to make my jellies. I am out of energy to create an alternative recipe from scratch. I did one of those already last week.

The cookies above are the Apricot-Coconut Macaroons, which ended up low on the apricot element this time; I don’t know how that happened. I hope to make cookies for several more days, and during the next couple of weeks to invite friends to eat them with me!

Today after church I visited two friends on opposite sides of town. I have no family with me this year, meaning more options than usual; I’m almost forgetting that I need to go to bed early and provide for some down time. At first I thought I could make four stops on Christmas afternoon, but that doesn’t sound very likely, does it? As it turned out, I got home in time for a bowl of Greek Wedding Soup that my housemate had made, and which tasted perfectly delicious and also seemed the perfect delicious holiday food to balance out cookies. She also had a fire burning in the stove, and Christmas movies playing on the TV.

I have plans for today, too, so I had to draft this post last night. I’m still trying to write every day in December — but maybe that was intended to be only till Christmas? I’ll check with Pom Pom. I think it’s been good for me to have this gentle pressure to write every day, because it’s a kind of work that satisfies something in me and helps keep me on an even keel in the midst of such a busy season. And it’s given me more chances to warm up to this:

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Almond Chocolate Macaroons

Of Christmas cookies, one of our family’s recent favorites — that is, in the last ten years — is this intense chewy marzipany one, the recipe for which I found on the website of the Odense company. When I use a different brand of paste that comes in an 8 oz. package, I just nibble a little to make it come out even.

ALMOND CHOCOLATE MACAROONS

1-7 oz box almond paste, grated
1 cup confectioners sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup cocoa, firmly packed [I don’t how one might pack cocoa]
2 tablespoons flour
Pinch salt
2 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
For topping: 1/2 cup confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line cookie sheets with parchment.

Combine almond paste, 1 cup of the sugar, cocoa, flour and salt in a mixing bowl. With an electric mixer beat on a low speed until all ingredients are incorporated.

Add egg whites and vanilla. Beat on a high speed for 2-3 minutes, or until a smooth, shiny paste. *Cover and chill dough for one hour.

Add remaining confectioners sugar to a small bowl. Drop dough into sugar by a level tablespoon measure (not flatware) [I use flatware], or a lightly oiled cookie scoop. Quickly turn dough (it is sticky) to cover with sugar. Roll into a ball between palms and drop onto cookie sheets, 2 inches apart.

Bake for 16-18 minutes or until firm on top. Cool on wire rack. Store in an airtight container. Best if eaten within 3 days.  [Stored in the freezer or our cold garage they keep well for longer than this.]

The recipe says it makes 18 cookies, so I always mix up a double batch.

*Dough can be chilled for up to 24 hours. [I have saved it for days] Make sure it is covered well to avoid picking up refrigerator odors.

Merry Christmas Cookies to YOU!

Christmas Peppernuts

The last time I ate our family’s version of peppernuts, it was in a February that seems very long ago now. Mr. Glad and I were at Pippin’s when she pulled a slab of dough out of the freezer, left over from her Christmas baking. My hands weren’t sticky so it was easy to take pictures that I saved to put with the recipe “someday.” Trying to post every day this month along with Pom Pom has prodded me to make good on promises I’ve made in this regard.

This cookie is a version I cobbled together from the assortment that fill the pages of Peppernuts, Plain and Fancy, given to me at least 20 years ago by my Dutch homeschooler friend Anita.  I just now found my little copy, about 5×6″, on a remote shelf and browsed through it for only the second time. When I first received the book, I was looking for the likeliest of the 26 varied recipes to try, but after traveling from front to back and from Paraguay to Russia and back to Kansas, I decided to take ideas and ingredients from several of them.

I had forgotten until tonight that not all of the varieties in the book are even spicy, like true pfeffernusse are. I found a couple of recipes for White Peppernuts, and ingredients as different as ammonia and lemon, peppermint and fresh coconut. As you can seen from the few pages I have shared, these are true Family Recipes, some of which have unusual sources and have been passed down through many generations.

“Original peppernut recipes probably were copied from the Germans, Dutch and West Prussians when Mennonite families moved about Europe in search of religious freedom. Then, when our grandparents left the Ukraine for America in 1874, they brought this lovely tradition with them, baking peppernuts in their ‘grasshopper ovens’ those early Christmases on the Kansas prairies.”

Some years it can be hard to find fruit-flavored jelly candies in the stores; they are a version of gumdrops, not gummy candies, and aren’t spicy, and it seems their availability is subject to trends. I don’t want to use spice drops because there is already plenty of spice in my recipe. The easiest way to dice the candies is to dust frequently with arrowroot or cornstarch. In the photo down below that is what makes the pieces white.

One year I had a much larger batch of dough than this recipe makes, and I was using it from the freezer for many months after. I didn’t always have time to make “nuts,” so I cut bar-shaped cookies and they were good, too!

CHRISTMAS PEPPERNUTS

½ stick butter, 2 oz.
½ c. honey
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
¼ c. milk
½ T. soda in ½ T. hot water
1 tsp. lemon zest
4 c. white flour
6 oz. diced, fruit-flavored jelly candies
2 c. toasted almonds, chopped
2 tsp. ground star anise
½ tsp. cinnamon
2/3 tsp. ground black pepper
¼ tsp. nutmeg

Mix all, form dough into large “pancakes,” and freeze. While still firm, cut into “nuts” or bars. Bake at 350 degrees 8-10 minutes on greased foil on insulated cookie sheets.
Should be golden brown if you don’t want them cake-y.

Be careful now! Remember that “Old German maxim” quoted on the page above:

That which really tastes
oft us trouble makes.

These do really taste. 🙂

Orange and yellow and coziness.

One reason I haven’t baked any Christmas cookies yet is, I have so much other cooking to do! I’m trying to eat vegetables, and they take time. I like to make bread, but I admit that is not a high priority. I must learn to prioritize better. I’m always telling other people that “We can’t do everything all the time,” but I guess I don’t listen to myself. Or more to the point, I’m not willing to say No to myself.

This picture is after the sponge had been sitting on the counter for several days. You can see how it rose up the sides of the bowl and then fell again, before I added the zest and the caraway and anise seeds.

I made such a big batch of dough for my Swedish Sourdough Rye, I hadn’t bought enough oranges from which to get the zest. So I put in some lemon zest as well. This dough had a total of five days to ferment, because it kept being “not a good day” for finishing it. Today when the computer guy was here setting up my new computer, I planned to bake it, but I think I was still trying to do too many things at once, and one of the loaves didn’t work out, shall we say. I don’t want to talk about it.

I got fat yellow carrots in my farm box, and leeks, both of which I cooked. There was a head of Savoy cabbage in there, which I put away for later, after taking out the last head of regular cabbage from a farm box last month and roasting it in the oven with the carrots.

The beautiful loaf of bread baked for 50 minutes in the Dutch oven at 500 degrees, so I’m confident it’s well cooked. I put it in the freezer for a time one of these winter nights when I have someone else at my table, maybe along with a pot of soup. Roasted vegetables are comfort food, but more coziness is coming!