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Archive for the ‘holidays’ Category

When I was a little girl I loved Valentine’s Day. I adored picking out boxes of valentines, receiving treats from friends, and the color red. The holiday felt happy and easy to me. While helping my kids put together their valentines for class parties, I realized how much the holiday is a girl event in my household. When my son began attending school, he couldn’t be bothered with giving valentines to his classmates. Writing his name was a chore, and I, the valentine task master had to see to it that he wrote his name 26 tedious times. He paid scant attention to which cards he addressed to his classmates and had to redo one when I delicately pointed out that he had just addressed a card professing sweetness and love to his least favorite kid in the class. He was lukewarm on deciding upon homemade baked treats and requested only that I not make chocolate cupcakes. This year, we went his old standby, almond thumbprints shaped into hearts with a strawberry jam filling.

 

At least the standby is a tasty favorite.

My daughter is old enough now to celebrate Valentine’s day with her classmates and she approached the holiday very differently. The other night, while I tucked her into bed, she dictated how she planned to prepare her valentines. Like a mini project manager, she explained to me what she planned to write, when she would “work” on them, how there needed to be stickers involved, and that she wanted chocolate cupcakes with pink frosting and heart-shaped sprinkles as treats for her class. She was very specific about the chocolate.

 

The icing and cake decisions were a serious business.

 

She sat diligently at the table, and wrote not only her name, but the word “love” on each card. She squealed loudly when she discovered the cupcakes in the morning and made sure to dress in one of her favorite shirts for the school party.

For years I thought the holiday of love was awkward, complicated and kind of crappy. To me, it was a holiday symbolizing unreasonable expectations and exclusion of those unfortunate (or fortunate) enough to have avoided being stabbed by cupid’s arrow. Even with a loving a partner, the holiday still has the potential for skewing sideways. Having an exuberant daughter, excited about bits of papery love and little heart stickers, makes me embrace the holiday again.

 

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I had a brief moment yesterday, between gluttonous handfuls of leftover Christmas cookies, where I decided I was going to do a six week sugar detox. I also made a birthday resolution to train for a half marathon. Maybe it was my self disgust for my unabashed consumption of vegan cookies that caused me to pause, with a Russian tea cake in my hand and powdered sugar dust on my scarf, and declare a boycott on all sweets. Fortunately, about 24 hours later, I realized my ban on all things sugar-laced was completely unrealistic. Ironically, I didn’t come to the same conclusion about training for a marathon. Maybe it’s because running sounds easier than eliminating sugar. I feel crazy for even writing that last sentence.

Personally, I don’t believe in short-term diets for weight loss. They are a temporary, unrealistic solution to a long-term problem, which is precisely why I realized my ban on sugar was not going to work. As the sugar levels in my blood decreased, I remembered my “everything in moderation” motto. I don’t need to permanently remove cookies, and chocolate, and cupcakes from my diet. That would depress me, because I love to bake and eat treats. I just need to not eat homemade treats by the fistfuls during the holidays. Unless I am willing to make a major lifestyle change, one in which I truly believe–like eschewing all meat and dairy for diet and ethical reasons or adopting a new appreciation for the sounds of my feet hitting the pavement in a slow trot–the sugar stays. In considerably lower doses, of course.

After a Christmas cookie exchange at our house and an extravagant display of vegan cookies on Christmas Eve, the favorite and most requested recipe was the vegan Mexican Chocolate Snickerdoodles from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s, Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. She has posted the recipe to her website, The Post Punk Kitchen, which includes a video of how to make the cookies. A few things to note about the recipe: I’ve never found chocolate extract at the store and usually just double the vanilla extract. I like to add a heaping pinch of rock salt to the cinnamon sugar topping, because chocolate, cayenne and salt together is soooo tasty. Also, the dough is on the wet side so I usually end up adding in a small handful of flour to make the dough more pliable. These cookies are chocolaty and spicy–a lovely “adult” cookie and nice accompaniment to a glass of champagne on New Year’s Eve.

 

A cookie definitely worthy of eating by the fistful.

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Chanukah came early this year, and it forced me to fully acknowledge the impending holidays well before Thanksgiving. Our family celebrates both Chanukah and Christmas, and not because we are full of holiday cheer. My hubby Scott and I decided early in our relationship that we wouldn’t deny the other’s culture for the sake of ease, though, before we had kids, it was fairly easy to celebrate both holidays. I would spend 20 minutes putting up our mini wrought-iron tree, and he pulled out a menorah. Done. We bought gifts for family, and made jam, candles, or some other crafty treat. We always had an invite to the parental abode so we never had to host the holidays ourselves. We could act grumpy, feign mild interest in the holidays and nobody cared about our bad attitudes.

Now we have kids. Kids + holidays = game changer. Kids magnify our own childhood memories and with that comes the desire to create new memories. We want to share our holiday experiences with them, and that means actually lighting all eight candles, decorating a tree, and using project management skills to organize for a holiday season that I used to, for the most part, ignore. Now, I create a Google Doc that I share online with Scott, deny the financial reality of January, and spend the rest of December trying to make sure I am not slighting either holiday or child.

Every year we begin the holiday discussion roughly around September. I make some grand declaration about saving money and keeping the holiday consumption within reason by shopping sales and making gifts. We have a jovial debate (out of earshot from our holiday-loving kids of course) about whether or not we should even decorate a tree and put up the house lights. Ironically, the discussion ends with my Jewish hubby making the final argument in favor of some decorations. I uphold my tradition of swearing to have a small, homemade, quiet Christmas, and then sometime about mid-December, we morph into these shopping sprites, jittery from lack of spending, and starry-eyed over sparkly online deals. I decide we don’t have the right balance of toys for each holiday, re-read and reorganize my spreadsheet, run out to buy more items, dig everything out of the back of the closet with the help of my headlamp, sort through the piles of gifts, and wrap everything in color-coded wrapping paper (blue and white for Chanukah, and green and red for Christmas). I worry there aren’t enough gifts, and then, when we combine our loot with presents from the rest of the family, I realize we’ve purchased too much and end up saying to Scott, “Next year we are toning it down.” He looks at me, shakes his head, and says something like, “Yeah, good luck with that.”

I do love the coziness of Christmas Eve. I like singing Christmas carols with my sister in the kitchen as we make dinner, following the NORAD Santa tracker on the laptop, and opening gifts with my parents early Christmas morning. I love playing Santa and staying up late to stuff stockings and build toys. I love making latkes with my in-laws and the way our fully lit menorah looks while flickering in the window. I LOVE watching my kids’ faces when they discover presents sitting on the fireplace and under the tree in the morning. All of those moments balance out my manic spreadsheet management, the stress of dual holiday celebrations, and concerns about credit debt.

After my failed attempt at Halloween crafts this year, the kids and I tried again and spent an afternoon making dough ornaments for family and friends. I think we all had fun rolling dough and playing with paint. The dough tastes foul so I definitely would refrain from trying it though it shouldn’t hurt your kids if they feel so inclined.

This craft project was much more fun than making construction paper chains for the tree last year.

Classic Salt Dough Ornament Recipe*

Ingredients:
2 cups flour
1 cup salt
1 cup water

Directions:
1. Mix the salt and flour.
2. Add in half of the water, then gradually add the remaining water.
3. Knead until the dough is smooth, this can take up to 10 minutes. You may need to add more flour to get a smooth consistency.
4. For flat dough ornaments roll out the dough on a sheet of parchment paper.
5. Use cookie cutters, cut-out templates, or just use your hands to make shapes.
6. Dust the dough with flour, add details to the ornaments with a toothpick, popsicle stick, and/or knife.
7. Use a toothpick/straw to make a hole so you can hang the ornament, or press an ornament hook into the back before baking. If you forget the hole, you can always drill a small one later.
8. Set the oven to 325 degrees and bake for 1 1/2 hours or until the ornaments are dry. Time may vary based on the thickness of the ornament.

Decorate:
Let the ornaments cool before you begin decorating. Paint with acrylic paints. Let dry and then to preserve, coat with acrylic varnish (Modge Podge works just fine) when the paint is dry. Glue on beads, buttons, googly eyes, puff balls, and pipe cleaners.

Ornament Ideas:
Snowmen
Dreidels
Angels
Numbers
Animals
Letters
Turtles (use walnut shell for back, stuff with dough, add feet, a head and tail)
“Holiday words” (e.g., Joy)
Cars
Shapes (circles, squares, hearts, wreaths, cubes) – Painted or decorate with hand prints, year, names, faces, etc.
Sports stuff (balls, bats)
Trees
Bugs

*Thanks to my friend Julie for the recipe and creative ideas.

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I’ve never been a real fan of Halloween—particularly the dressing up and decorating part. If my grandmother were still alive to read these words, she would don her witch costume, add a nasty wart to her nose, and hobble around behind my back mumbling curses for speaking ill of her favorite day. I do love annual visits to Cool Patch and wandering through the acres of pumpkins. Except for my father-in-law who was a little grossed out by climbing into a pile of dried kernels, how can you not love a good roll through a corn bath?

Every child should be buried in corn at least once. Never mind that kernels end up all over your bathroom floor hours later.

I am sure my apathy for the day stems from the lackluster Halloweens of my childhood. Like most children, I expected lots of loot from my neighbors. We were the only children living at the end of a country dirt road and should have known better than to try and trick-or-treat. None of our neighbors expected us kids to brave the potholes in the dark and knock on their doors. The results were always disastrous. One particularly awful year yielded a mini Almond Joy (I hated coconuts and chocolate together), two stale Chips Ahoy cookies, a box of raisins, and a dime. For an eight year old, that’s a tragic haul.

As a parent, (particularly one who over thinks things and puts unnecessary pressure on herself to live up to the expectations created in her head) I had an irrational, preconceived idea of what makes a good Halloween and what makes a bad one. Homemade costumes, festively decorated house, and construction paper pumpkins = good. Store-bought costumes and minimal decorations = bad. It doesn’t help that our town is teaming with families who decorate their front walks with lights and fake spider webs. Construction paper jack-o-lanterns and witches jeer through their windows like little signs of art project success.

In an effort to live up to my expectations, I picked the kids up early from school. I figured we could bake cupcakes and create Halloween artwork—you know, do the same things as the perfect moms in my mind. After tracing a witch and pumpkin scene for Calla to color in, she flipped over the paper and drew her own people with a red marker. Lennon couldn’t be bothered with making anything. My kids didn’t want to make pictures for Halloween, and I felt relieved at their lack of care for holiday crafts. I expect they will have many expectations that I will fail at fulfilling as they grow older. Fortunately, decorating the house into a holiday extravaganza isn’t one of them.

In the end, I decorated a bit. It took me all of fifteen painless minutes to gather together our random Halloween items and rearrange our pumpkins on the front porch. I collected our black velvet spider web from the work bench and hung it in our front window, set out a tin witch and pumpkin cookie jar on the dining room table, and placed Lennon’s nasty, overgrown spider as the gate keeper to the fireplace.

I may feel apathetic toward the Halloween, but this year I realized I don’t have to live up to my irrational expectations to enjoy the holiday. I was happy to see our jack o’ lanterns glowing from the street in front of the giant black spider web hanging from the window. With Scott’s addition of Bach’s Toccata in Fugue blaring from the garage, it looked like we actually put some thought into the holiday. I still kind of felt a little like a cheater for not making my kids’ costumes. If the store bought Halloween costumes of today resembled those plastic ones they had when I was a kid, I would have pulled out the sewing machine. Maybe next year I will buy myself a witch costume reminiscent of my grandmother’s, sit on my bench outside my house, and scare the bejeezus out of the neighborhood kids—or not. The only tradition I really care about is visiting the pumpkin patch, and hanging out in the corn bath with my kids.

Between Halloween, class parties, and a kid birthday, I’ve baked about four dozen cookies, a dozen cupcakes and two apple pies in the last week. Of all my vegan treats, the almond thumbprint cookies with peach jam filling were the most requested by my kids. The orange jam made these cookies very appropriate for Halloween.

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