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It’s December! Strategies for holiday treats, gifts, and family dinners

    making gingerbread cookies, christmas baking
    Dry cured olives on a dish
    Dry cured olives and olive salt make excellent holiday gifts

    It’s December! Strategies for holiday treats, gifts, and family dinners

    I was raised in a large household with as many as 12 people, including elderly relatives and a housekeeper. There were 6 children in the family and two cousins who lived with us for a few years. Family dinner for us most days was what many people struggle to prepare for holidays. Christmas dinner, with immediate and extended family and obligatory guests, was often 35 – 40 and seldom as few as 20. It was not a potluck. People may have brought cookies and offerings for the house, but we made the meals, including desserts, from beginning to end.

    It’s never “easy” as such, but basic planning practices make it absolutely doable. The lists you make provide a paper proof of concept that can help you determine just how much you can actually accomplish. Even if you have made a traditional holiday meal before, writing down the names of dishes to be made helps to develop an image of the labour involved in production.

    It’s a good idea to do this early in December, as the month gets busy with lots of distractions. Once you have a list of things you want to make, your next task is to list the items you need to complete your goals. Having a work plan and a shopping list helps you remember to take opportunity when it appears.

    There are two kinds of cooking that matter at this time of year. Dinner and gifts.


    I like to start with gifts because they are fun. It’s also the practical choice, as you’ll be giving them out as you visit friends during the month.

    On a good year, I’ll find that my pantry preparation has anticipated at least some of my holiday shopping needs. This year, Nona’s English fruit cake, topped with Marzipan, was made using candied cherries, and lemon and orange peels, that were the product of making cherry brandy, limoncillo, and orange brandy. After the liquor has cured to my taste, the fruit is moved to another jar with sugar added to it and shaken to distribute the sugar.

    I made the Zimtsterne,early, as they age well, and because this left me with many egg yolks, made lemon butter and hollandaise, which are pretty much the same thing…except one has sugar. The lemon butter is given to friends, and the hollandaise was great on Eggs Benedict.

    Finally managed to make some Kourambiedis – Greek Almond Shortbread which I love and wanted to give to some friends and family.

    Had anticipated making Brine cured black olives, Dry cured olives and olive salt, and Tapenade, as part of Christmas presents to friends, but sadly it looks like the harvest is going to be really late. Not only too late to make my presents, but likely also too late to get them to my home from the mainland. Fortunately, I have enough to get me through the year, but next year I’ll have to get them for sure.

    Hoping to find the time to make Line’s donuts. Will likely do these between Christmas and New Years. Maybe we’ll have an open house. I likely won’t make Chocolate covered candied orange peels, marmelade, and orange syrup, this year, but I highly recommend that you do. They are always popular and people mention them to me years after they had them last. Plus you get a lot for your dollar and effort…I’m always amazed at how many things I can make out of a single bag of oranges. Will likely make some in January though…I do have next year’s fruitcake to prepare for.

    There is no recipe for it, but I did make a fabulous gingerbread house.

    Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars) laid out as the Big Dipper, with the word Zimtsterne spelled out in cinnamon (zimpt) sticks.


    When it comes to preparing large meals I find it helps to do prep as it would be done in a restaurant. By which I mean, chop all the onions. garlicc. etc. that you will need for the meal.

    Pay attention to the order of things. It takes several hours to prepare a meal for 10 or more people, take 5 minutes to make some notes first and put them on the refrigerator where you can see them.

    Make a chart with at least two columns, time and description. Begin with the time of dinner locked in.

    You want to be done and ready at least 30 minutes before you serve.

    Do a workback schedule beginning at the bottom of the page and working upwards. Take into account that larger quantities of food take longer to prepare, and longer to cook.

    Remember that the time it takes to cook your vegetables and potatoes is based on how long it takes the pot to heat up. So, if you are making 5 – 10 lbs of potatoes in a spaghetti pot, it will take them 45 minutes to cook.  You need at least 4 inches of headroom to get a rolling boil, or it will take forever.

    This is the family recipe Turkey at 400º with Hurmuses Family Wild Rice Stuffing, It’s what we always had and as far as I know, what my father’s family made as long as they were in Canada. I am not sure where the recipe comes from, but it is a lot like Louisiana “Dirty Rice”.

    I highly recommend the 400º method, slow cooking offers a lot as well, but a large bird like a turkey takes too long to make this practical.

    With respect to planning ahead, there was a great sale the past few weeks on butt and shoulder roasts, so I bought three. One butt became Chinese BBQ pork, one is curing to be ham, and the shoulder will be made into fresh chorizo, and cut into portions for tacos. Aside from the deboning, these tasks were actually quite simple and the savings are very worthwhile for a household of four. These will be enjoyed well into February. The bones were cured and smoked to make Sopa de Garbanzo, which cooked on the woodstove for a couple of days and provided three meals for the house. The prep for this was offset by the number of meals provided. Normally, I’d have frozen part of it for a rainy day, but right now with all extra party prep it was handy to keep it at the ready. I do still have some bones to use from the shoulder that will be prepared soon, so more soup will follow.

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