Clove Christmas

This morning I took one of the mandarin oranges Kish buys for the holidays and attacked it with a full arsenal of whole cloves.  You push the pointy ends of the cloves through the soft skin of the fruit, covering the entire outer surface.  The cloves and the citrus juices from the skewered orange then interact, producing a fine, delicate, spicy scent that leaves the kitchen smelling wonderful.

The clove orange is one of the things — liking baking cookies, listening to holiday music, or “surprising” Kish with the inevitable gift of a new word-a-day calendar — that says Christmas to me.  Thanks to Aunt Corinne, who first acquainted me with this holiday tradition.

Bing Christmas

If you like popular Christmas music, you probably like Bing Crosby.  It’s hard to think of a performer who is more identified with the holiday than Der Bingle.

Everyone knows about the Crosby version of White Christmas.  According to the Guinness Book of World Records, his 1942 recording of the song remains the biggest selling record of all time, having sold more than 50 million copies worldwide.  And if you grew up during the ’50s and ’60s, you remember the family getting together to watch Crosby’s annual Christmas show, in which the Old Groaner — whose actual first name was Harry — and his family and friends sang traditional carols and encouraged those at home to sing along.  But Crosby had a series of big hits with Christmas songs, including a classic swing version of Jingle Bells recorded with the Andrews Sisters, above, and the irresistible Mele Kalikimaka (The Hawaiian Christmas Song), below.  And that’s not even including the definitive Crosby treatment of I’ll Be Home For Christmas, either.

During this baking weekend, I’ve got my holiday music playlist on the iPod to keep me going as I mix, cut, and bake.  It just wouldn’t be the same without the offerings of the crooner from Tacoma, Washington.

Have A Happy Wi-Fi Christmas

You go to the food court at a mall, a coffee shop, or some other public space over the holidays, open your laptop or power up your tablet, and start checking for available wi-fi.  When you see a “free” network, you click on it with a chuckle, take a hearty sip of your peppermint stick latte, go through your email, and then start making sure your checking account is squared away before you buy gifts for the last people on your Christmas list.

p1264m1066840fWhat’s wrong with this picture?

Pretty much everything, say data security experts.  It turns out that fraudsters love to set up fake “free” wi-fi networks at public spaces over the holidays, hoping that busy shoppers taking a break, or the bored people accompanying them, will use the networks and expose their personal data, whether it’s passwords, bank or credit card information, or personal data that could lead to identity theft.  Many people who routinely use “free” public wi-fi networks are altogether too trusting, and are willing to agree to just about any terms to get the internet access they crave.

In fact, as the story linked above reports, an 11-year-old kid in Texas won his school science fair this year by proving that point.  He set up anonymous free internet access portals in shopping mall food court areas that had the most draconian conditions available — including allowing the portals to do things like “reading and responding to your emails” and “monitoring of input and/or output” — and more than half of the people offered those conditions agreed to them.  That’s a pretty stiff price for something that supposed to be “free.”

Hackers are everywhere (just ask Yahoo!) and are eager to get to your personal data.  So please:  use precautions and common sense.  Don’t go onto just any “free” network and start exposing your most important and intimate personal and financial data to whoever might have set up that network, or hacked into it.  Think about whether the network really seems to be bona fide.   And consider whether some activities — like on-line banking — really should be exclusively reserved for a network you know and trust.

This holiday season, don’t get ho-ho-hacked.

Recorder Music In The Air

This morning when I walked into Terminal 2 at the Fort Lauderdale airport I heard a familiar, yet almost forgotten, sound in the air.  A local elementary school recorder group was working through some holiday music, piping away with all their might.

It brought back memories of going to school holiday music concerts when the kids were little.  Inevitably, at least one recorder performance was part of the show.  There was something about the peculiar, high-pitched, quavering sound of recorders played by little kids that seemed to directly attack the central nervous system.  We parents learned that a little recorder music goes a very long way.

Ever since, nothing says happy holidays quite like Deck the Halls played by a second-grade recorder band.

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2016 (II)

I like carrot cake, so when I saw this recipe for carrot cake cookies on the excellent delish.com website, I couldn’t resist it.  Now, whether I can actually successfully make the cookies is another question entirely . . . .

Carrot Cake Cookies

carrot-cake-cookies-9Ingredients:  1 cup softened butter, 1 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon cinnamon; 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 cup shredded carrots, 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, 1/2 cup raisins, 2 cups old-fashioned oats

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment. Beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, until incorporated, then add vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture until well-combined.  Stir in carrots, coconut, raisins, and oats and mix until just combined.  Scoop 1-inch rounds of dough onto baking sheet. Bake until golden, 13 to 15 minutes. Let cool.

Cream cheese glaze ingredients:  1 cup powdered sugar, 1 ounce cream cheese, at room temperature, 1 tablespoon milk, 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Beat together cream cheese, powdered sugar, milk and vanilla until combined. Drizzle glaze over each cookie and let harden before serving.

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2016

Hey — it’s December already!  That means I need to get off my butt, stop trying to analyze the Ohio State-Clemson matchup in the college football playoffs, and start thinking about what cookies I’m going to be baking for the holidays.

This year I’m going to be making some gluten-free options, in view of a new acquaintance who is of the gluten-free disposition.  When I started looking around for recipes, I learned to my surprise that there are an abundance of gluten-free cookie recipes available.  This one looked interesting, and not just because it might cause me to learn how to pronounce the word “quinoa” and give me my first chance to eat something containing “tahini.”  I’d also be interested in any other gluten-free recipes readers would be willing to share.

Quinoa Tahini Cookies

picjok7auIngredients:  1/2 cup honey, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup tahini, 1 1/4 cups rice flour, 7/8 cup quinoa, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine honey, brown sugar, butter, and tahini; mix until creamy.  Add remaining ingredients and mix well.  Spoon rounded teaspoonfuls of batter onto cookie sheets.  Bake for 10 – 14 minutes, until cookies start to turn golden brown.

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

Lights Out

One of the nagging questions this time of year is:  when should you put out and turn on any outdoor holiday lights?

Because I’m about as clumsy as they come when it comes to ladder work, and I don’t really want to risk any broken bones for the sake of a festive lighting display, we use a service that hangs the outdoor lights for us.  They came this week, strung the lights, and we are ready to go — but lighting the house before Thanksgiving seems way too early to me. So, the outer lights remain off, and will stay that way until Thansgiving weekend.

However, the lights around the ceiling of our screened-in porch, that only Kish and I see, are on. We feel like we could use some early holiday cheer.