Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Best Christmas Books Ever

It's the most wonderful time of the year, and when I'm not jinglebelling and caroling out in the snoooow, I've got my nose stuck in a book. I have a shelf in my living room that is devoted to Christmas books and these are a few of my favorites:

1. "Reader's Digest Book of Christmas," a big red book that is quite easy to find in grandparents' homes and used book sales. It includes an excerpt from "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," Betty Smith's marvelous story of Irish immigrants in New York, circa 1910. The story, "Francie Nolan's Christmas," is about two poor kids determined to get a Christmas tree, and the bruising punishment they endure to obtain it. (On reflection, it reads better than it sounds.) This volume is loaded with holiday songs, traditions and stories.

2. "A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote. Simply one of the best short stories ever written. Capote's enduring story of a young boy and his unconventional elderly aunt is available in many editions, including a children's book version with illustrations by Beth Peck, that is a favorite. The story is also included in the Reader's Digest book above (find that book!)

3. "Why the Chimes Rang." This is probably out of print, but it is included in the Reader's Digest book (gotta get that book!). I found an ancient hardcover at a Goodwill book sale years ago, and I treasure it. The story is about two young brothers travelling on Christmas Eve to a great cathedral, and the sacrifices they make in order to hear the chimes ring. I remember my grade school teacher reading this story to my class. Sentimental and essential.

A few more, in no particular order,

4. "Best Christmas Pageant Ever" by Barbara Park. The Herdman children smoke cigars and learn about Jesus' birthday. I've never cried so much over the presence of a ham.

5. "A Certain Small Shepherd." More sentimental stuff, but I love it.

6. "Christmas Letters" by Lee Smith. Like all of Lee Smith's stories, it involves laughter through tears, or is that tears through laughter? Also includes recipes, so some might say it's the perfect Christmas book.

7. "Silent Night" by Philip Lee Wiliams. Memoir by one of Georgia's most elegant writers.

8. "To Whom the Angel Spoke" by Terry Kay. The real joy of this book is to hear it read by Terry Kay, who is blessed with the voice of a preacher.

9. "The Hand-Carved Creche" by the late James Kilgo. My college professor and a terrific writer.
If you'll excuse me, I have a date with a cup of tea and a book....

Friday, December 5, 2008

A Soldier at Christmas

A soldier stood watch

Over his troop on

This Christmas night

The deep dark sky

Lights up very bright

As the war raged on

And our heroes had to fight.

The Soldier's mind went

Back to another place

And another time

Where there was a

Magnificent sign.

A huge bright star

Lit up the night

Sky in the East

As the Shepherds stood

Watch over their sheep.

In bethlehem there was

Great new and great joy

Of the Birth of a Savior

Christ the Lord.

News Spread over the land

Of a perfect gift sent down from God to man!

The Soldier stood praying

For his country and his family at home.

As he hears the firing of missiles in

This war torn zone

He may not be famous

Or lsiten in "Who's Who"

But he is here on a mission

With a job to do.

As a teen he accepted Salvation's plan

And if his life should

End in this foreign land

He is safe and secure in his Father's own hands.

-Ethyleen Tyson

Dec. 12, 2007

This was written by a local poet and it was read at the lighting of the community Christmas tree.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Postmortem: Turkey Day

That's me, above, surrounded by my brothers. It's been awhile since we've had a sibling picture, and I liked it better when I was taller than my younger brothers.
Nearly a week later, and my house is returning to a somewhat normal status following the Best Thanksgiving Ever. There were 16 of us gathered in my cozy kitchen and dining area (and living room, too), and we feasted on this potluck menu:

Appetizers: Cheddar Cayenne Coins and Maple Glazed Walnuts from Fine Cooking magazine

Roasted, Dry-Brined Turkey (13 pounds, buttered and roasted at 400 for just over two hours)

Smoked Turkey Breast (9 pounds, Cajun marinade, smoked for about six hours)

Cornbread Dressing (never stuffing)

Mashed Potatoes

Homemade Gravy

Sweet Potato Casserole
Cranberry Casserole

Deviled Eggs

Watergate Salad (green Jell-o fluff)

Cranberry Relish (homemade with fresh cranberries)

Cranberry Sauce (from the can, carefully opened to fully display the ridges)

Homemade Crescent Rolls (they take days and are worth it)

Boiled Rutabagas (a family tradition)

And for dessert (all homemade)...

Apple Cake

Cheesecake with raspberry or blueberry topping

Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake

After the meal, my dear husband went to work on our favorite Thanksgiving dish: the turkey soup. He carved the meat off the carcass and made a rich broth with it. The soup was finished with potatoes and some of the turkey breast meat. Two fine meals on T-day.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Mom's Apple Pie

This fall, with the abundance of fragrant and delicious organic apples from Farmer's Fresh, I got serious about pie making and baking. My mom is a wonderful cook, and bakes terrific cakes, but has always been intimidated by pie pastry, so, although I've learned a lot at my mom's apron strings, pie crust is not one of them.

My favorite resource is America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, and I used its recipe for this Double-Crust Apple Pie. The pie was loaded with about a dozen organic apples, mostly Golden Delicious, but a few Fujis in there as well. The Golden Delicious apples were spectacular, deeply fragrant and floral, and the crust was perfect.