Right now my kitchen counter is full of cookbooks, menus, and lists as my family gets ready to host a variety of guests over Christmas and New Year’s. So today I’m sharing with you six things that I’m making, doing, or learning anew this Advent season.
1. Advent reading, singing, and candle lighting: Each night during Advent we have a tradition of lighting one candle on this homemade Advent tree, reading a page from an Advent book that my husband grew up with (although as we read we modify the old King James language in the book), and singing a verse from an Advent or Christmas song from Hymnal: A Worship Book. With a 2½-year-old daughter, we’re mostly singing a verse of “Silent Night” or “Away in a Manger.”
2. Granola: I am in love with the Sweet and Salty Granola in the Mennonite Girls Can Cook Celebrations book (page 148). That is the most well-worn page in the book. I used to use an Alton Brown recipe, but frankly Marg Bartel’s is so much better. I mix up the nuts and seeds depending on what I have on hand, and once it’s cool I add dried fruit before storing. I’ve made batches of this for my daughters’ day care teachers this year. Here’s the recipe, and the beautiful photo from the book.
Sweet and Salty Granola
3 cups / 750 ml rolled oats
⅔ cup / 150 ml almonds, coarsely chopped
⅔ cup / 150 ml cashews, coarsely chopped
⅔ cup / 150 ml pumpkin seeds
¾ cup / 175 ml coconut, unsweetened and shredded
½ cup / 125 ml brown sugar
¼ cup / 60 ml grapeseed oil (I use vegetable oil)
¼ cup / 60 ml maple syrup
¾ teaspoon / 3 ml sea salt
Preheat oven to 250° F / 125° C.
Mix first 6 ingredients in a large bowl.
Mix grapeseed oil, maple syrup, and sea salt together.
Carefully pour the liquid over the oats mixture, stirring gently with a wooden spoon.
Spread granola in a 10 x 15-inch / 25 x 38-cm greased baking pan.
Bake for 75 minutes. Do not stir.
Allow the granola to cool and store it in an airtight container.
3. Gingery butternut squash soup: One of my all-time favorite soups, and it’s from Simply in Season. It was one of the first foods I fed my oldest daughter, and she continues to love it. With guests all week next week, I made a triple recipe and froze most of it. If you’re in a pinch for time, I’ve also substituted apple sauce for the chopped apples and pureed squash for the fresh butternut squash. Fresh ginger is the key, though. To make it even creamier, add a potato to the mix.
Gingery Butternut Squash Soup
2 onions (chopped)
2 tablespoons fresh ginger (peeled and minced)
In a large soup pot sauté in 1 tablespoon of oil until onion is translucent.
2 apples (peeled, seeded and chopped)
1 butternut squash (peeled, seeded, and cut into cubes; may use 2 cups / 500 ml cooked winter squash)
4 cups / l L chicken or vegetable broth
Add to pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until squash and apples are tender. Purée until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley (optional) and serve.
4. Portzelky or Portzel: A traditional New Year’s cookie in my husband’s family. Really it’s a fried ball of sweet dough with raisins. What more could one ask for! There’s a recipe in Mennonite Girls Can Cook (page 176), but since I’m gluten- and dairy-free I’ll be modifying it quite a bit. But the photo alone should tempt you!
5. Cinnamon rolls (or cinnamon buns, if you prefer): I think just about every cookbook that has been authored by a Mennonite has a version of these. My mom always makes them using the Foundation Sweet Dough recipe from this old cookbook. My copy once belonged to my Grandma Gingerich.
6. It’s no big deal! My 2½ year old does NOT want her picture taken right now. At Thanksgiving we started using the phrase “It’s no big deal,” spoken in a fake heavy Italian accent, to get her to cooperate. While we haven’t made much progress on cooperating for pictures, we have incorporated the phrase into everyday happenings. The soup gets burned? It’s no big deal! The cookies came out flat? It’s no big deal! We aren’t going to have snow for Christmas? It’s no big deal! (All of these have happened to me this season.)
Every family has their own disaster stories around Christmas. I love these stories because they make us all the more human. Author Melodie Davis shares this one in her book, Whatever Happened to Dinner:
My youngest daughter was about nine when she got in the mood one day for one of her favorite cookies, which we call Snowball Cookies, a rich-shortbread cookie I usually make at Christmas. So Doreen decided to make them herself. I had to leave the house while she was stirring them up. You guessed it; we had one of those cooking disasters that happen frequently when a child is learning something new. Instead of a teaspoon of water, she put in a cup. Instead of a stiff dough, she had runny batter.
In this season of preparing for the Christ-child to be born anew, it’s always good to remember that it’s really no big deal if the preparations don’t get finished, if the gifts aren’t all wrapped. The true gift of this season is the way that God envelops us in a story and calls us to become new.
May we all abandon our expectations and answer God’s call this season with joy.
Merry Christmas to you and yours!