The Farm's First Christmas!

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It's really beginning to feel like the holidays for me now. It never did before. In college, I felt that being home was a burden, a hazy one that either ended with me moping in my room, or texting my college friends with small details of how "annoying" my family was. In California, as I've talked about before, it never felt like Christmas, wearing shorts and driving the interstate to find fast food restaurants that would stay open for us. Or, some years, we split the burden--one of us would stay with the dogs while the other spent Christmas with family back in Pennsylvania. Lonely is all I remember for three years then.

I didn't keep up with the traditions; I never bothered to try. Maybe it was too painful, or maybe I just didn't really care that much. Those in-between years of settling and resettling, in rented houses and backyards that were too small, I never thought I had anything to celebrate. And, as always, I was wrong. And, as always, I'm learning.

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We moved into our house just after the holidays last year, so this is the first time we're really experiencing it all. The tree, the fir, the snow-packed dog paws that melt on the hardwood floors. Old ornaments from second-hand stores and our mothers' attics. Wooden ones, broken ones, ones that hang on paperclips instead of hooks. Things we've never done before, experiences that I've been wanting to create.

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And it was good. Rushed, but good. Haphazard, but good, to look back at a year of questions and answers and understand that sometimes the most fun we're going to have in a week is doing the mindless, repetitive tasks that we used to hate as kids.

And the same goes for cookies. It used to be a tradition, one that I seemed to forget about until I'm hungry for something sweet. But this year, as I shared with Modern Farmer, it's turned into something I love doing. Decorating, baking, cutting shapes and dipping them in coffee. I can't wait to give them out as gifts this year. And below this recipe is a special surprise for your pup as well!

 

 

 

 

Iced Sugar Cookies

Modern Farmer - Christmas Tree Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg (of course, we used our girls' fresh eggs!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cup AP flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Directions:

1. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy
2. Add egg and vanilla and mix together
3. Sift together dry ingredients and gently stir into your butter mixture
4. Turn out onto a floured work surface and pat into a disc. Wrap and chill for 1 hour
5. Preheat oven to 400*F
6. Roll out and cut dough into desired shapes (about 3/4 inch thickness worked best for me)
7. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 9-11 minutes, or until edges are just browned

For decorating: Use dyed royal icing (my ratio is 1 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar for each 1 egg white, plus a 1/4 teaspoon of water or so, mixed with your dyes) and a bit of patience for the decorating. I always remind myself that the more handmade it looks, the more love I put into it--so I never stress too much about perfection!
 

Modern Farmer - Christmas Tree Cookies
Modern Farmer - Christmas Tree Cookies
Modern Farmer - Christmas Tree Cookies

And here is an alternative for your best pal! Make these dog treats (recipe was shared here) and give them away to all your dog loving friends!

Peanut Butter and Pumpkin Dog Biscuits
Peanut Butter and Pumpkin Dog Biscuits
Peanut Butter and Pumpkin Dog Biscuits
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Christmas Eve.

Peppermint and Eggnog Whoopie Pie The anticipation used to kill me, trick me, tease me.  Christmas break would start on a day before Christmas Eve and last all the way through to January 3rd.  I would cry when I didn't get what I wanted, I would cry when I had to go back to school.  I would eat turkey and ham and lasagna and seven different types of fish with my family.  We would play cards, pretend to like each other.  It was tradition and now I realize how ephemeral it really was.  How days moved like molasses, and then quick like warmed syrup.  From a small flurry to a blizzard, we wrapped ourselves in fleece blankets and wondered how the cold got into our old, old house and made our bones feel just as old.

That's what I remember about Christmas and I used to envy how others described it as magical, mystical, something worth looking forward to.  All those years, it seemed like a chore and how greedy I was to ask for more, to count the dollar value or my gifts compared to my siblings'.  How sad it all seemed the next day, anticlimactic and messy.  I always wanted more, but I could never articulate what I wanted the most.  I think all I wanted was to feel loved, held, a part of a larger family than the small nucleus that was mom, dad, brother, sister.

Lately I've been feeling nostalgic and hungry, grateful and like I lost something and can't remember where I put it.  These feelings don't often hit me in such full force.  Going home last week to Pennsylvania (more on that later) brought something out of me that I didn't know was in me:  the power to create magic.  The ability to create peaceful, loving memories with my mother.  Instead of remaining bitter, remembering how a week before Christmas in 2010 I got tested for HIV and then threw a fit when I didn't get the new iPhone, I could laugh with my mom and hug my dad tight.  I was invited to spend the night at my sister's first place, I called my brother and congratulated him on his new house.  I was creating, making, forging, and shaping a future with my small nucleus to last longer than the one day a year we forced upon ourselves for tradition's sake.  And that's what Christmas is about, that is what my parents wanted all along.  And I want to return that favor to all of you.  Bake this cake, forge those memories, make someone smile and discover that all you needed was there all along.  It's one part Christmas and two parts mountain dessert, Appalachian baking.  A moon pie, a whoopee pie.  Whatever you call it, it's a survivalist attempt at decadence.  It's delicious and light, moist and dense.  A mile-high contradiction where you can splurge a little, if it helps you remember your care-and-calorie-free childhood a little easier.

I received a lot of presents this year -- marble and ceramics, wood and paper -- but the best gift I could receive was knowing that I'm loved by someone, and I can return that love to anyone who will let me.

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Peppermint and Eggnog Whoopie Pie

Ingredients:

  • 1 2/3 cup eggnog, divided
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (mix it up with smoked salt)
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso mix
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2/3 cups cocoa powder
  • 4 oz butter, softened
  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1 teaspoon gelatin, bloomed in cold water
  • 2 candy canes

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare two 9" cake pans with butter and parchment paper
  2. In a mixing bowl or measuring cup, whisk all wet ingredients (1 cup of the eggnog) together and set aside
  3. Sift together soda, salt, espresso, flour, and cocoa in a large mixing bowl and create a well in the middle
  4. Slowly begin combining wet and dry ingredients, mixing with a rubber spatula to scrape all sides
  5. For an added level of smoothness, pour wet ingredients through a sieve and scrape sides with spatula into a clean mixing bowl
  6. Divide batter between two cake pans
  7. Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean
  8. Allow to cool
  9. While cake is cooling, prepare the icing.
  10. In a small bowl, combine 1 teaspoon of gelatin with a tablespoon of cold water and set aside while gelatin blooms
  11. In a large mixing bowl, use a mixer to combine butter, confectioner's sugar, cream cheese, until combined.  Whip in the remaining eggnog and vanilla.  Add a pinch of salt, if desired
  12. When gelatin has stiffened, put in microwave for 15 seconds or until melted and whip into icing mixture
  13. Allow to set for 15-20 minutes
  14. When cake is completely cooled and icing is set with the gelatin, you can assemble the cake
  15. Put one cake onto the plate, then scoop and smooth icing using a wet icing spatula or butter knife.  Of course, this can be messy, so don't stress too much
  16. Top with remaining cake
  17. Pulse candy canes in a food processor until a fine dust
  18. Brush VERY lightly with water on cake to allow peppermint to stick
  19. Pour peppermint crumbs onto cake to taste's desire
  20. Enjoy with your family!

Merry Christmas, everyone!