Gift Box Goodies

Yesterday as I was working at home I heard a rustling outside and a kind of thump on the doorstep. Those sounds, coupled with Betty’s frantic barking, told me there had been a delivery. I went outside and found a package, and when we opened it, we discovered a “made in Oregon” gift box from our friends who live in the Portland area. The box included cheeses, nuts, summer sausage, salmon, marionberry fruit spread, and chocolates — all with an Oregon provenance.

It’s a great way to showcase a state’s products, and it made me wonder if there is a similar collection of Ohio products that is available to ship for the holidays. We enjoyed getting a taste of Oregon, which we hit pretty hard last night and which made our holidays more merry. Thanks, Ben and Rebecca!

Holiday Pops

The holiday season, for me, is in large part a music season. This year, I’m getting my Christmas musical fix from Sirius XM’s Holiday Pops channel.

Sirius offers a bunch of different holiday music options that cater to different musical tastes. There’s a country-oriented channel and an upbeat rock channel, for example. The Holiday Pops channel gives the season a classical music flavor. At any given moment, you might hear some selections from The Nutcracker or Handel’s Messiah, a choral rendition of O Come, O Come Emmanuel, a pretty French carol from the 1700s that you’ve never heard before, or It Came Upon A Midnight Clear played on a harp. What you won’t hear is Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer. (You won’t hear Bing Crosby, either, but sacrifices must be made to avoid Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.)

Every Christmas, my musical tastes seem to shift a bit. Some years, I’m focused on jazz interpretations of the holiday classics; other years I can’t get enough of the ’40s and ’50s swing era versions. That’s one of the great things about the music: it’s capable of being adapted to pretty much any style and played on pretty much any instrument from a banjo to an organ to a full orchestra, and sung by everyone from a single performer to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. This year, I’m definitely in a classical and choral frame of mind.

Wherever you are on the musical spectrum this year, I hope you are enjoying the music.

The Gingerbread House

There are lots of nice holiday light displays in German Village this year, but my favorite is the one at the little house within the footprint of Schiller Park. With its roofline limned in lights and the crossed, bright red candy canes in the windows, the house looks just like a gingerbread house when I walk by in the morning and the dark brick structure is framed by the brightening sky to the east. It’s a good example of how light displays don’t need to be elaborate to be effective in creating a festive holiday mood.

Facedown Santa

People are still putting up their Christmas decorations in German Village. Yesterday, while taking Betty for a walk after the Browns’ fine win over Tennessee, we ran across this not yet inflated Santa, and I got a chuckle out of it.

Was Santa was falling down drunk at 4:30 p.m., or just deflated? Either way, it seemed like a fitting scene for 2020.

The Last Day Of The Four-Day Weekend

There’s a special quality to the last day of the four-day Thanksgiving weekend holiday. Those of us of a certain age remember working on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but those days are long gone for most white-collar workers. Now it’s generally accepted that we’re looking at four solid days off. And frankly, by the time late November rolls around, we can use a four-day holiday — this year especially.

Each day of those four days has its own identity and personality. Thursday is all about The Meal and the excitement surrounding it. Friday is devoted to regretting your Thanksgiving overindulgence and catching up with your guests. Friday is the day for meaningful conversation. By Saturday, everyone has settled in and caught up; Saturday is a day for just enjoying each other’s company. And when Sunday rolls around, the goal is to wring every last drop of enjoyment out of the holiday weekend before it regrettably comes to a close.

This year, the four-day weekend seems to have been quieter and simpler. There may have been some Black Friday shopping sale craziness somewhere, but if so there wasn’t much of it. 2020 has sucked in more ways than we can count, but it least it has discouraged people from going out and engaging in brawls with other shoppers trying to get that last big-screen TV on sale. This year, Thanksgiving seems to have gotten back to its family-oriented roots.

Enjoy Day 4. We won’t see it’s like again until Thanksgiving 2021.

Tin Time

The cookies and fudge have been carefully — and more or less equally — distributed to their respective tins, in the last step in the holiday baking process. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I baked just the right amount to fill up our tins, without a lot of tempting cookies left over or an egregious shortfall.

This year we’ll be sending out 24 tins to friends, family, and colleagues– the most ever. And I can fairly say that, after the last few days, I will be perfectly content not to see a cookie for a while.

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2019 (II)

The internet is a wonderful thing — at least, some of the time — but sometimes sifting through the mass of available information seems overwhelming.  Run a search for Christmas cookie recipes and you will get an avalanche of hits that leaves you no method, aside from random chance, to pick which website to review.  They all promise to offer favorite recipes that people will love.

That’s where the use of finer search terms become necessary.  I realized this when I happened across a website post that featured the best soft Christmas cookie recipes — just in case you’re baking for the toothless among us who must gum their holiday delicacies.  So this year I did a search for Christmas cookie recipes from the 1960s and ran across a treasure trove of options, including this gem, which is described on yellowed print as “Easy-to-make cookies for those who like a not-too-sweet dessert” that are “good keepers and shippers.”  I’m pretty sure Mom made these, by the way.

Swirl cookies

2017-11-18-holiday-pinwheel-cookies-coloradjusted-7Ingredients:  1 cup soft butter; 1/2 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar; 1 teaspoon vanilla extract; 2 1/2 cups unsifted flour; 1/4 teaspoon salt; red and yellow food coloring

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cream butter, sugar, and vanilla until light.  Stir in flour and salt until well blended, then divide dough in half.

Color one half with 1/4 teaspoon of red food coloring and 7 drops of yellow food coloring.  Leave other half uncolored.  Chill the dough.

Press together one level teaspoon of each color.  Roll into a pencil shape, then form in a coil on the baking sheet.  Bake for 8 minutes at 375 degrees.

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2019

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2019

Has anyone else stopped to notice that it is December 9, 2019?  That means we’re only three weeks or so away from a new decade and a new year that will remind those of us old enough to remember it of a TV news show featuring Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters.  It also means we’re about to commence our twelfth year (yikes!) of publishing Christmas cookie recipes on the Webner House blog.

And yet — there are still unknown cookie recipes lurking out there, just waiting to be tried and enjoyed for the holidays.  Thus, our voyage of baking discovery continues.  If you’re interested in the recipes from the prior years, you can find all of them by clicking on and following the links for each year at the bottom of this post, which in turn have links to all of the recipes provided in that particular year.

The first recipe for 2019 comes by way of Aunt Corinne and the Food and Wine website and blogger Luisa Weiss.  The first sentence of the description of the cookies reads:  “These German raspberry-hazelnut macaroons require just five ingredients and are extremely no-fuss.”  That’s a pretty compelling recommendation for cookies that will be prepared by a novice baker in the German Village neighborhood of Columbus.

Raspberry-Hazelnut Macaroons

Version 2Ingredients:  1 1/2 cups of whole hazelnuts; 2 large egg whites; 1/4 kosher salt; 3/4 cup sugar; 1/2 cup raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Spread hazelnuts in a pie plate and toast for about 10 minutes, until the skins split and the nuts are fragrant. Transfer to a clean kitchen towel and rub together to release the skins, then let the hazelnuts cool completely.

In a food processor, pulse the hazelnuts until finely chopped. In a medium bowl, using a hand mixer, beat the egg whites with the salt at medium speed for about two minutes, until foamy.  Gradually add the sugar and continue beating for five to seven minutes until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted, then fold in the chopped hazelnuts.

Use a soup spoon to scoop 1 1/2-inch rounds of the batter onto the baking sheets, about 1 inch apart. Bake the cookies for 11 to 13 minutes, until fragrant and lightly browned; rotate the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking. Remove the cookies from the oven and, while they’re still hot, carefully make an indentation in the center of each with the back of a teaspoon.

In a small saucepan, boil the raspberry jam for 30 seconds, until slightly thickened. Carefully spoon about 1 teaspoon of the hot jam into the center of each cookie. Let the jam set and the cookies cool completely before serving.

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2018

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2017

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2016

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2015

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2014

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2013

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2012

Calling for Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2011

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2010

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2009

Taking Stock And Getting Ready

The holiday baking season is rapidly approaching, which means its prep time.

Prep time involves taking stock of what’s in the cabinet and what I’ll need to get from the store before the baking begins in earnest.  After I check on that’s in the cupboard, and how much is really left in that bottle of vanilla or that container of nutmeg, I’ll prepare a comprehensive list and then make a big trip to the store.  Prep time also means checking on the continuing functionality and status of the KitchenAid mixer, the Cuisinart, the cookie sheets, the mixing bowls, and the other implements that are a key part of the baking process.  And where are we on cookie tins?

Since I like to try to make a few new recipes every year, the prep process also means checking out cooking and baking websites to look for some interesting new recipes.  I’ll be doing that over the next few days, too.  If anyone has any suggestions, I’m all ears.

All Lit Up

We’ve got our Christmas lights up, and they look very nice — so nice, in fact, that one of our neighbors came up to me and thanked us for making the street more festive.

The neighbor asked me if I had put up the lights.  I found this flattering, and funny.  My Christmas light-stringing days are well behind me, and there is no way I would flirt with  disaster and climb up a long ladder to get the lights up to the top of our tall tree.  I told the neighbor, without a hint of personal masculine embarrassment, that we had hired a service to put up the lights and were pleased with the job they had done.

In my book, if you want Christmas lights done right, hire a professional — one covered by the workers compensation laws.

Festive Front Steps

We’re well past the growing season in central Ohio, and it’s been too cold to enjoy sitting outside. But that doesn’t mean that flowerpots and outside benches can’t be put to good use. In our case, a few pine swags, some white birch logs, and some strategically placed pine cones and red berries give the area by our front steps a decidedly festive winter look, just in time for the holidays.