Service of Seasonal Treats

December 10th, 2009

Categories: Celebrations, Seasons, Tradition, Treats

A good friend said that she wasn’t exchanging gifts with family at Christmas this year because “we already have enough stuff.” While some on her list are getting gift cards, for the most part, her family plans to make merry with museum visits, tickets to a play and other special event-sharing.

Last Friday night we were grabbing a bite of pizza in Poughkeepsie. I overheard a conversation in which the father of three boys, [he turned out to be the neighborhood doctor], told the restaurant owner that for Hanukah, his children weren’t getting gifts on every one of the celebration’s eight nights. One night would be game night, another, book night and so forth. It can pay to eavesdrop because we plan to do the same on Christmas Eve this year. Our gathering will include friends and family ranging in age from eight to 70+.

Moving my mind from my Christmas gift list, I thought about some of my favorite holiday treats, the smaller, meaningful indulgences I anticipate or hope for every year.

***While the thumbprint cookies our grandmother made could be eaten at any season, the aroma and taste of the family’s traditional Christmas cookies signals the holidays. We make them with ground almonds (3oz), sweet butter (1/2 lb), flour (2 cups) and powdered sugar (2.5 oz) with red current jelly in each thumbprint. Once baked and cool, we sprinkle confectioner’s sugar on them–it’s reminiscent of snow. My grandmother also made crescent-shapes with the dough, but I love the look and taste of the jelly. I always double the recipe so I have extras to give away.

***Eggnog, with or without extra rum, is so tempting. I haven’t tried the low fat version, though I plan to, with fingers crossed. [I prefer skim milk, so there’s hope the taste will pass, as long as my husband doesn’t see the low fat designation.]

***I discovered Bella’s butter toffee  [photo right] with dark chocolate and nuts at craft fairs. It also comes with milk or white chocolate. There’s only one problem with it: It never lasts as long as I’d wish! Open a box to share with guests and I wager it will be empty before they leave. You can order the toffee [and other goodies] on line.

***Once I ate an unusual ham at a holiday cocktail party. It looked like a regular ham until I saw a slice. [I was told it wasn’t at all pretty before the host removed the maggots.] The meat was translucent–I’d never seen anything like it. It was home-cured, nurtured in an uncle’s barn. It wasn’t like prosciutto, nor was it stringy like Virginia ham. I keep hoping to meet someone with generous southern relatives who share this tradition.

***My nephew’s wife, Annie, makes magnificent rice. When she contributes a platter of it for holiday dinners, I’d be happy to eat nothing but, regardless of what wonderful roast and other veggies are on the menu.

What are your favorite Christmas and/or Hanukah treats?

13 Responses to “Service of Seasonal Treats”

  1. ASK Said:


    Your mention of the southern country ham sparked a memory of my own experience with a whole ham sent to us as a Christmas gift by one my husband’s distributors, a native Kentuckian. Of course, I didn’t know what to do with it so I put it on our terrace to think about for a while and consulted some cookbooks. Two years later, after the distributor asked us how we liked it, I remembered it was still in its original wrapping on the terrace. Feeling very guilty, I went out and bought a stiff wire brush and about two gallons of ginger ale, then cleaned (Maggots? maybe…)and soaked it for a week. We finally cooked it…and the flavor was unsurpassed, once we got into the salty tang…those early settlers were really on to something…

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Yikes, ASK, no refrigeration for all that time and you are alive?????? Though I guess there wasn’t any in that barn where the ham I ate hung for some time in both summer and winter. Funny!

  3. Amy Said:

    Since my family (who in lieu of presents, rented a house in Florida for a few weeks) won’t be celebrating in the traditional sense.. my favorite holiday treats will be New York-y food that I need to consume before I head south. Bagels and Shake Shack it is!

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    WHAT A GREAT IDEA, Amy! I love it. You obviously have a great family and its members get along. I can’t believe that you won’t have some tasty bagels in Fla. Everything tastes good when it’s warm. Enjoy!

  5. Carolyn Gatto Said:

    Years ago, when I was regularly working 12-hour days in the magazine biz, commuting 3 hours each day and traveling on business many weekends, I decided that I just didn’t have time to make a holiday batch of “Liney’s Pinwheel Cookies” for my nieces and nephews. I had been baking them for the kids for many years but, since they were getting older, I thought they might not even notice or care if I didn’t make them that year. I was so wrong. The kids were crestfallen because they wanted those cookies to remain a part of their holiday traditions. So the next Christmas I developed a strategy to get everything done. I mixed the dough one night, put it in the refrig, then headed to Detroit the next morning for a meeting. Upon my return I rolled out the dough, put it back in the refrig, then headed to North Carolina for two days of meetings. When I returned from that trip, I finally sliced and baked the cookies. The kids were happy, and so was I.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Charming story and so true!! Ask Proust. So many memories are associated with food and certain occasions are not the same without them. I heard of one family that served filet mignon and Champagne for Thanksgiving. I was supposed to be impressed. Call me too traditional, but unless the group was allergic to turkey, I could think of nothing worse and was glad I wasn’t invited to their table!

  7. Deirdre Said:

    The thing that makes the holidays come alive for me is the smell of molasses. I’ve now taken over the job of baking my mom’s ginger snaps, and the scent of molasses and brown sugar in the air is more potent than the scent of a sap-dripping tree in the living room. And the slightly gooey texture her recipe produces makes the flavors melt in the mouth. Ahh….

  8. Nancy Farrell Said:

    For me it has to be bread pudding with either dried blueberries or dried apricots served with an eggnog sauce. I’ve even found a low-fat, heart-healthy recipe to lessen the guilt. Regarding the bagel comments, my parents tell me that it is impossible to find a decent bagel in Florida. They lived there 14 years and were given dubious excuses as to why that might be (one person blamed the water for the difference). My experience, though, is that even a bad bagel is better than no bagel at all.

  9. Simon Carr Said:

    The Christmas — New Year period is my least favorite time of year — too much consumerism — but one thing Christmasy that I do adore is a good, rich old fashioned fruit cake. Many years ago my mother got one from somewhere in Texas and it was delicious. I remember thinking that Texas was an odd place to expect something sophisticated to eat that tasted good, but it did.

    Happy George Washington’s birthday!

    Simon the Grinch

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I always think of door stops when I think of fruit cake…maybe because folks who sent them to us didn’t get them in Texas or because they hung around for so long before my Mom, who hated to waste food, doctored them up trying to palm slices off on us as dessert. Once she tried to flambe the cake hoping that the drama would encourage our appetites…the rum just stood there and didn’t move. Later, we learned the trick: To warm the rum so it took to the match.


    I agree with you about bagels–and toasting a bagel covers multitudes of sins. Eggnog sauce sounds FABULOUS and would work on any number of things. YUM. Do you have a recipe?

  11. EAM Said:

    Reading Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” reminds you about the sentiments of the season and is always a nice story to read aloud.

  12. David Reich Said:

    That’s easy…. potato latkes. (Fried in lots of oil.)

  13. NenaghGal Said:

    Since moving to Ireland – I’ve become a huge fan of mince pies – last year I really indulged and even would have a couple for breakfast with a cup of coffee. Delicious! I’ve held off and have not bought any this year yet but I will. The other thing I love are date bars – my English grandmother used to make them and my mother in the States has continued the tradition and often send a transatlantic batch to us in Ireland – needless to say, they are consumed within hours. Christmas dinner here in Ireland is turkey and ham – and I kind of miss having a little variety but the tradition is pretty firm here so I’ll be having turkey and ham at our house this year, however, I do make a pretty great sausage fennel stuffing which has garnered a bit of its own reputation within the family. Happy Holidays everyone – it’s great to have read all the other comments.

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