Tag Archives: Advent

Bizcochitos

Last week we got our Christmas tree and I made two kinds of cookies. I packed them into the freezer before I thought about taking pictures, so the images here are from previous years. These are bizcochitos, the official state cookie of New Mexico. The recipe has been developed over the centuries starting from the first Spanish colonists in the area before it became a state in the Union.

cookies-bizcochitos

Does your state have a designated cookie? Not many do. New Mexico was the first state to choose one, in 1989, to encourage traditional home cooking. You can check out this Wikipedia page that lists the official foods of some states.

I first found a recipelard happy family in Sunset Magazine but have since done my own customization. Most recipes for this cookie call for lard, which I would be happy to use if I could easily find some homemade that hasn’t been hydrogenated and preserved with chemicals. I had a friend who made her own and stored it in the freezer, and I might have bought some from her if she hadn’t moved away. Lacking natural lard, I tried last year to substitute coconut oil. Much as I love coconut, the oil left a disagreeable aftertaste in my cookies (as it did in some shortbread I also tried with coconut oil one time), so from now on I’m sticking with butter.

It’s a little odd to be writing on this subject when we Orthodox are in the middle of our Nativity fast (Advent), trying to abstain from most animal products until Christmas Day. But I must not be the only Orthodox woman who has to be cooking and preparing ahead of time, and if I wait until the feast to write about cookies it will be somewhat anticlimactic.

Mr. Glad usually votes for Russian tea cakes for Christmas, but this year he told me that bizcochitos are the cookie that he most wants to have on the platter for the holiday. That means I get to have the fun of saying “bees-coh-chee’-toes” a lot. I just ran across this video http://vimeo.com/33763745 of a New Mexican woman who mixes and kneads the dough with her hands the way her grandmother taught her. She adds extra anise seed — hard to go wrong there — and some other flavorful ingredients that I might try next time.

Half of this year’s dough still waits in the freezer, and if I get to it before Christmas I’m planning to cut holes in the cookies before baking so that when they are cool I can attach ribbons and hang some on the tree.

BIZCOCHITOS

1/2 pound (2 sticks) salted butter13 bizcochito tree cutter
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons anise seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar

Beat butter and 3/4 c. sugar until smooth. Add egg and orange peel and beat until just combined.

In a medium bowl mix the flour, anise seeds, baking powder, and salt. Add to the butter mixture and beat until well blended. Divide dough in half and flatten each half into a disk. Wrap each piece tightly in plastic wrap and freeze until firm, about 30 minutes.13 bizcochito coconut oil

Unwrap dough, one disk at a time. On lightly floured surface, with a floured rolling pin, roll to about 1/8″ thick. With floured cookie cutters, cut into shapes and place about 1″ apart on buttered baking sheets. Gather excess into a ball, reroll, and cut out remaining cookies.

In a small bowl mix remaining 1/4 cup sugar with the cinnamon. Sprinkle about 1/8 teaspoon of the mixture over each cookie; save any remaining cinnamon sugar for other uses.

Bake cookies at 350° just until edges are golden, 10-15 minutes. Let cool on sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to racks to cool completely.

We long for the cool change.


Many times in the last week, when Mr. Glad and I have put on our jackets and gone out the front door for a neighborhood walk, we have been confused by the pleasant springtime air, the sun shining down on us. Briefly pleased, then remembering that it all means drought. It’s a year when I can appreciate this Christmas poem.

ADVENT

And there was already light:
A stainless steel glare breaking through the eucalypts;
The sky enamel, cobalt-washed, lapis lazuli blue.

The north wind blew in from the desert:
Drowning in the hot scent of mock orange and ripe mango
We longed for the cool change and the sea breeze.

It was already the longest day:
Why should I await the Light of the World
When I already have a surfeit?

Into the crowded starry midnight,
The neon and electric city festival,
Into the early dawn jangling with birdsong,

Into my summer:
Then came the Christ Child into the brightness
And he was more than the sun.

— Katherine Firth

Thanks to Anna of Peacocks and Sunflowers for this poem that can be read with notes on the author’s site.

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.

Athanasius – Designs have been foiled.

Here Athanasius himself writes of a phenomenon I don’t know anything about, “what happens when great king enters a large city.” But the example from ancient times, in On the Incarnation, is so eloquently given that its light shines right through any culture barrier and reveals a truth of the Incarnation in a new and bright aspect.

Christ Pantocrator – Gould

You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honored, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so is it with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled, and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be. For the human race would have perished utterly had not the Lord and Saviour of all, the Son of God, come among us and put an end to death.