Cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, vanilla, rosemary, sage, orange peel… the list goes on and on. A normally avid baker and culinary connoisseur, holiday baking takes my pulse up a few notches and gets my sentimentally charged creative juices flowing.
It seems to me that pairing food with emotion has gotten a bad rap as of late. Pish posh. I challenge this notion on its face. Sitting down to a bag of pork rinds at every upsetting notion isn’t a productive coping mechanism. However, associating some of life’s most special moments with a particular scent wafting from the kitchen… that, my friends, is the stuff of life.
I’d like to share a few of the recipes and traditions our family has established over the years. Let’s begin!
Christmas Parties & Goodies
What to bring? I’ve come up with a solution that has worked MARVELOUSLY. A gigantic batch of Chex Mix I can tote with me to all holiday parties. It seriously fills a container used for canning. Simply whip up a batch, divvy it out into plastic baggies, and voila! One time in the kitchen for EVERY party you’re headed to? I’d say that’s success! (Note: If we’re headed to the same party, I forbid you from stealing this from me!)
Aaaand… because I lerve baking, I’ve come to adore making these cut-out cookies with friends and family. This is seriously the easiest sugar cookie recipe on planet earth, and they come out amazing every. single. time.
The icing process is a bit more intense, but the result is totally worth it (IMHO). It has been so fun to gather friends and family and decorate these sweet things. My sister-in-law and I did over 100 by ourselves one year. I don’t recommend doing that, although it was so fun to have that day with her!
About five years ago, my husband and I decided it was time our family stayed home for Christmas. This was a tough decision, as we’d traditionally been somewhere else on Christmas morning. As our kids got older, we thought it was important to start making some memories in our own home.
To start off the holiday season, I always have a few soups simmering. My favorites are this sausage potato soup and this turkey gnocci soup. These can be made ahead and frozen for future gatherings. Yes, they are both creamy, but I like creamy. So there.
The first food tradition was born from pondering over how to make our first year at home special. Since we’re a home with three boys, we wanted to bring something to the table that caught their attention. What better way than with FIRE!!?? (It worked with the shepherds… right?)
Every Christmas Eve, while my husband is at church preparing for service, the boys and I make creme brûlée. It is so simple. After it’s done baking, we pop it in the refrigerator to cool while we head to church. When we return, the kids unwrap their Christmas Eve pajamas (non-food-related tradition), they change, and we gather around the darkened kitchen table to enjoy our treat. You simply sprinkle the top with sugar and caramelize it with a kitchen torch. The sugar sparkles in the heat and the kids are in awe of such a fancy dessert.
After our fancy dessert, the kids put out a plate of cookies and milk for Santa. They all enjoy a mug of hot cocoa in their special Santa mugs before hopping into bed.
As a kid I vividly remember my mom being chastised for leaving our gift opening every year to check the turkey or pull something out of the oven. My mom has ALWAYS been an amazing cook and was dutifully trying to balance her role as mommy and hostess every Christmas morning. I’ve taken many cues from her and have developed some of our own Christmas Day food traditions.
We start each morning by gathering around the kitchen table to pray and thank God for sending His Son to earth. What better way to celebrate a birthday than with candles and… cream puffs! I simply set out mugs and saucers the night before, and we’re ready to roll for the morning. (I buy frozen cream puffs from the store and put them in the refrigerator on Christmas Eve to thaw for the morning. You could go all out and make your own as well!)
Each child gets a cream puff and single candle to blow out in honor of Jesus’ birthday. We sing happy birthday, eat our cream puff, toast with a small glass of eggnog, and gather in the living room to open gifts. Easy peasy but also meaningful and memorable.
While the kids are getting settled in the living room, I put Grammie Annie’s famous breakfast pizza in the oven. This is a tradition I grew up with—except my mother, who was awake by 5:00 on Christmas morning, had it ready for us as we rolled out of bed. I do not get up at 5 a.m. Ever. Most of the prep work can be done ahead of time so all you have to do is assemble the pizza and pop it in the oven. The pizza is done by the time we’re finished opening gifts.
I also make a HUGE batch of Grandma June’s cinnamon rolls during Christmas week that lasts us dayyyyys. It’s huge. This recipe is from my Grandma June who was Queen of the Kitchen!! I have yet to meet someone who wasn’t eager to gobble up one of these rolls. (The dough recipe can actually be used for dinner rolls, a tea ring, or any other roll you desire!)
We eat a late lunch/early dinner on Christmas Day. Currently, we aren’t hosting anyone on Christmas Day, but there’s always an open invitation. Since we’re on our own time clock, we take it easy. I usually steer clear of a turkey on Christmas Day—too much babysitting. Our Christmas Day meal generally consists of a ham, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, stuffing, dinner rolls, honey butter, super jello, and sparkling cider.
After a full day of gift opening, eating, and excitement, our family is generally not interested in another full meal. So, what to do??? Fondue!
The options here are truly endless. Cheese dip, chocolate dip, bread, meat, fruit, pretzels, marshmallows, and once again… fire! It’s always so cozy to gather around the fondue pot after a day of holiday fun.
Well, that’s it (burp). I hope some of these traditions of ours inspire you to embrace the dinner table at holiday time and make it extra special.
Share with us some of your favorite food-related holiday traditions. What is a special memory you have around the table?
Read more from our “Home” for the Holidays series!
- Home Is Where the Heart Is
- Decorating for the Holidays with Your Kids
- Hostessing Tips for Keeping Your Stress Level Low This Holiday Season
- Holiday Wear Target Style 2014
- The Perfect Holiday Party
- Creating a Welcoming Atmosphere in Your Home