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Surviving the holidays by breathing deeply...and eating...and traditions like baking gingerbread.

The holidays are definitely not the same as they were when I was younger. They used to be relaxing...anticipatory...carefree. Remember when that stretch of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas seemed like ages? Hunting down the perfect tree. Stringing up lights. Smells of delight wafting from the kitchen to envelope the whole house in their comforting embrace. Lazy days during that two week stretch of glory when the doors to all educational facilities are locked tight. Scribbling out wish lists...ever growing wish lists. All seemingly centered around that day or two of piling into the car and delighting in the present-gathering trek while the snow falls softly with a sense of wonder.And then you become the adult. And reality gives you a good, hard soap opera slap in the face. Suddenly holidays feel stressful, short and languid. Four weeks!? That is totally not enough time to gather your wits. Yes, we'll find a tree. Yes, I see everybody else's lights hanging and bringing holiday cheer to the dark evenings. An endless string of holiday cooking that is somehow shoved into the midst of the regular every day meals that people still expect to eat. Cluttered counters. Cluttered living room. Cluttered closets. Puddles of melting snow scattered throughout the house. A bare spot under the tree...and in your wallet.

What do you mean it's time for school to let out already!? Oh boy...wish lists appearing on the fridge...ever growing wish lists. Digging out the shovel that has been buried since last winter. Last minute shopping trips trying to find that perfect gift from the picked-over shelves...while praying that I can locate the Valium Salt Lick and Everclear Drinking fountain. Gauging weather reports of an ice storm warning...can we all pile into the car and safely make it to our destination?

But wait! Suddenly you realize that all of your shopping is finished. As finished as it'll ever be. Kids are smiling and laughing. People are eating and hugging. Football is even on. Holiday tunes are playing somewhere and you're actually singing along. Because seriously, who can resist? You can breathe.

Realization that you made it through another year as you look out the window and watch the snow falling softly...with a sense of wonder. Stuck somewhere in the midst of the madness is a tradition. Cooking the usual holiday fare...and the new flavors that will join us at the table that particular year. As usual, I'm the one who introduces new dishes to the mix. A couple of years back, I decided to bring a lovely gingerbread that I baked from a Nigella Lawson recipe...and while not everybody is the biggest gingerbread fan...I am. I got some takers, but haven't really brought it back to the extended family table since. I did bring what was left of it to a friends house we stopped by on our further travels...and they swooned and finagled the leftovers. But I have continued to make it to enjoy at home and pass out to friends ever since. A tradition sprung from another tradition. I love this gingerbread because it uses fresh ginger and bakes up beautifully sticky and warming. And can I just say...it also has a tart, lemony icing to cap it off just right. Fresh Gingerbread with Lemon Icing 
from How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson
yield: ~20 squares

for the gingerbread:
1/2 c. + 2 Tbs. unsalted butter
 1/2 c. + 2 Tbs. brown sugar
3/4 c. + 1 Tbs. light corn syrup
 3/4 c. + 1 Tbs. molasses
2 tsp. fresh ginger, finely grated
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 c. + 2 Tbs. milk
 2 large eggs, beaten to mix
1 tsp. baking soda, dissolved in 2 Tbs. warm water
2 c. AP flour

  roasting pan, ~12 x 8 x 2", greased & lined w/ foil or parchment

for the icing I double this amount:
 1 Tbs. lemon juice
 1/2 c. + 2 Tbs. confectioners' sugar, sifted
 1 Tbs. warm water

 Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

In a saucepan, melt the butter along with sugar, syrup, molasses, ginger and cinnamon. Off the heat, add the milk, eggs and baking soda in its water. Measure the flour into a bowl and pour in the liquid ingredients, beating until well mixed (it will be a very liquid batter).

 Pour into the pan and bake for 3/4-1 hour until risen and firm. Be careful not to overcook it, as it is nicer a little stickier. When it cools, get on with the icing.

Whisk the lemon juice into the confectioners' sugar first, then gradually add the water. You want a good, thick icing, so go cautiously and be prepared not to add all the water. Spread over the cooled gingerbread and leave to set before cutting. I add a bit of lemon zest to the icing, as well...and sprinkle as garnish.


Oddly enough, this year I didn't want to load up at the buffet (we do a buffet-type dinner at my grandma's on Christmas eve). I was totally beat and just wanted something simple. Something that always reminds me of grandma's house...no matter where I eat it. We always do a tray of cold ham and a basket of rolls. Grandma & grandpa have always had a really cool old refrigerator in grandpa's office, as well...always stocked with Squirt. Love Squirt...for as long as I can remember. So, I sat back and relaxed with nothing more than ham on a roll and a glass of Squirt.But, I couldn't resist a bite of gingerbread as a late night snack a few hours later...I hope everybody made it through the holidays in one piece and that you're now enjoying some peace. This gingerbread is my Traditions entry over at I Heart Cooking Clubs this week...click on over to check out some other Traditions!