Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

My Mother, Her Mother, and a Fruitcake December 22, 2008

This is the first year my mother hasn’t made her traditional fruitcake. For well over 40 years, she has, just as her mother before her, fashioned an enormous batch of fruitcake to be enjoyed at home with a slice of sharp cheddar, proffered at holiday parties and open houses, presented Christmas Eve, and divided and sent internationally to all willing (or accepting) of such a treat. One such person was, until this year, me.
Just having said that, I’m suddenly forced to question whether the torch has been unexpectedly passed. Am I, next and only daughter in line, now burdened to take up the annual task of soaking spices, candied or dried fruits and nuts in booze and going on the look-out for accommodating recipients?
That’s certainly the tough part. According to a recent poll, the holiday cake (also used as and referred to as “wedding cake”) boasts a 40 percent approval rating, yet most North Americans seem decidedly anti-fruitcake. 
I think I may have answered that poll. The sentimentalist in me would have asserted a preference for it, but the reality is that I’d rather eat chocolate. The late Johnny Carson once joked that there really is only one fruitcake in the world, passed from family to family. Others quip, “if you have to choose between hemlock and fruitcake, hemlock is painless.”When I weigh the amount of work and expense involved in carrying on the tradition with my relative ambiguity towards it, I’d just as well go without. On the other hand, I’m a sucker for all things Christmas, and I’m usually wild about fruit and nut (and alcohol-soaked) desserts. In the early 18th century, fruitcake (called plum cakes) was considered “sinfully rich,” and outlawed entirely throughout Continental Europe. What if, just what if, I could create a Christmas cake that sinfully aroused the holiday spirit in all who would partake? 
 
Here is my own mother’s recipe:
 
3 cups mixed candied fruit
2 cups golden raisins
1 l/2 cups each of the following: 
     –candied cherries
     –candied pineapple
     –chopped almonds (My mom prefers to use roasted pecans.)
1 cup candied citron peel
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup orange liqueur or orange juice (Mom uses half juice and half Triple Sec.)
 
Lightly grease two 9 x 5 inch loaf pans, or 4 mini loaf pans. In a large bowl, combine mixed candied fruit, raisins, cherries, pineapple, almonds (or pecans) and citron peel. Toss with 1/2 cup of the flour and set aside. Stir together the remaining 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl. In another bowl, cream the butter with sugar until fluffy, then beat in eggs, one at a time, add almond extract and beat well. Then combine the butter/sugar mixture with the flour mixture and the liqueur/juice. Fold in the fruit mixture. Turn into prepared pans.
Bake in 250 degree F oven for approximately 2-2 1/2 hours, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. (Note: If using the small pans, it doesn’t take quite as long to cook.) 
Be careful not to overcook because it can dry out very easily. If it is well wrapped, it keeps several weeks in the fridge. Before the advent of refrigeration, fruitcakes were stored in wine-, brandy- or liqueur-soaked linens to keep them from growing mold, and also improve flavor. Makes 2 loaves, or 4 mini loaves.

 

I wish you and your family love,  joy, and a very merry Christmas!

 

Baking, Sharing and Winning! December 9, 2008

If you have children–or if you were ever a child yourself, and I’m guessing you were–you have a favorite family Christmas cookie recipe.  (We love gingerbread people!) Perhaps your mom or Grandma used to whip up some culinary wonder with brown sugar, chocolate, or a beautiful mountain of icing? making-cookies

Even if, for some crazy reason, you don’t have a favorite cookie, sit down with your kids and have fun devising the ultimate cookie, based on your kids’ ideas and favorite flavors, shapes and textures. Bust out that reindeer apron you received last year at the office gift exchange, and let’s get baking!

AllRecipes.com is hunting down the best Christmas Cookie recipe, and they’re offering a Samsung Electric Range Oven and three Samsung Digital DVD Camcorders to get it. Hey, even if you don’t win a prize from Samsung, you may even win $100 cash just for voting on the final four!

Low on cash? See what you can make from the ingredients already in your home. Not only will you wind up with some tasty treats (or you can send them to your children’s classroom holiday parties, to church, or bring them to work), but you’ll also learn about your kids:

  • Do they follow directions, or prefer to make it up as they go?
  • Is one a neat freak, cleaning up after every granule of sugar, while the other instigates a flour fight?
  • Are they willing to explore ways to make the recipe healthier?
  • What about mixing and combining decorative colors and designs–is your child the consummate perfectionist or the free spirit?
  • Or simply hungry for sweet treats?

Take a picture of the most fabulous of your creations and Enter the contest here! Good luck and happy baking!

 

Hand-made And Home-made: Christmas Can Be A Lot of Work! December 4, 2008

Today, I’m elbows deep in my good intentions–I have taken an old-fashioned approach to Christmas by taking on a number of home-y projects:

1. Our very own family Advent Calendar, a group effort that will carry on all month as my husband and I continue to add personalized messages for each day and find the perfect tiny treats to tuck in with them.

2. Car- and flower-shaped crayons for my son Joseph’s social circle, recycled and remolded from his bevy of broken crayons. Adorable! MESSY to make!

3. Hand-made Christmas cards, another group effort with my 3-year-old, who bores very quickly of signing his name and coloring holiday themes (although he absolutely loves all things Christmas.)

4. Organizing a pared down, economically-pleasing gift-giving exchange plan with my relatives, who each have a valued (and sometimes contrary) perspective.

Phew! I always liked the “busy-ness” of the holidays, but now that I’m approaching it with a “made-by-hand” method, paired with the ultra-careful selection of gifts, weighing the monetary value of one highly-coveted toy over another more educational plaything, I’m tempted to throw my hands in the air and go buy a slew of lottery tickets.

The fact is, in our hearts, making things by hand connects us with the past. One blessing of this economy is that it has presented us with the question: how did they used to do it? (You know, before we could just go to the mall and buy.) We still have it easy. Think of the work that must have gone into baking cookies a hundred years ago, let alone the months of work that went into fashioning a Christmas toy or set of clothes that would be used and loved the whole year through. But I digress.

My son Joseph is an enormous fan of Christmas and Winter, and several of the books he owns and has borrowed from the library include night-time scenes involving examining the stars in an inky black sky, dancing under Northern lights, moons over frozen lakes with skaters, or the flight of St. Nick. The real magic comes from the child seeing the darkness of night, when he or she would otherwise be tucked in bed with visions of sugar plums. This leads to me to consider whether I can create a low-stress, cost-free and altogether magical and mysterious holiday for my preschooler (and baby) simply by allowing them pauses from routine, to break a few rules. Very soon, we will stay up late to drive around and look at holiday display lights, but why not drive out of the city and walk out into open space and consider the grandness of the night sky? Ooh, or maybe we could contemplate the universe from a blanket in the sand on the beach at night! Bedtime can wait. Thanks to some fourth-graders eager to spread holiday cheer, Joseph has also discovered the immeasurable joy which candy canes can deliver; perhaps I should not be such a Scrooge about the extra sugar. I guess what it comes down to is the best gift I can give my family this holiday is time. And a little sugar.