I still have a couple of good years to be cooking up the fun stuff with my boys. Lucas, 10 years old, is on the cusp of being too cool for sentimental kitchen projects but his soul is so kind he humors me quite often. I try to not abuse the fact that he knows how important it is for me to have traditions. Graham, 5, is gaining interest in providing kitchen help. He loves to be trusted with a measurement or the daunting task of stirring. We hope to graduate to electric can-opening by his late January birthday. But even his fervor wanes if the task is long-winded.
We are in the midst of making our own new holiday cooking traditions, and I have narrowed down some things for the sake of attention span and coolness factor. I have learned that the more delicious the expected outcome, the more quality time they’re willing to invest. I take that as a sign of intelligence.
The gingerbread house
The first new edible tradition for the MacDonald boys is the gingerbread house. I’d love to say I went all Martha Stewart on you and made everything from scratch, but I did not. Khaki, my mom, bought my boys a Rudolph gingerbread house kit and left it in our hands.
We had a bit of a Christmas sleepover and they did their best to engineer a cottage from the stale gingerbread with weird pre-packaged icing as the glue. There were decor limitations with the things that came in the kit, but one of our adult engineers thought ahead enough to bring sprinkles and colored cake-decorating icing.
In the end we had a miniature two bedroom, one bath with a chimney and a wreath above the front door that stood firm for a solid 20 minutes or so before it gave in to gravity. We learned a couple of things. First, make sure the icing sets. This is your glue and must dry out before you add any significant weight. Secondly, there is nothing in this kit worth eating. The gingerbread is stale for strength, the gumdrops are not worth losing a tooth over and the icing does not taste as good as regular glue.
Next year we will go for a spacious 3/2 ranch with a garage made from consumable materials. I’ll keep the Yukon Cornelius cutout and his life-sustaining supplies: cornmeal, gunpowder, ham hocks and guitar strings.
Here we go a-wassailing
I was first introduced to wassail as a wee lad when a local theater troupe would perform the Madrigal Feast. It was a surprisingly sober production of dinner theater complete with a chance to kiss your sweetheart under the mistletoe and drink plenty of wassail.
The name for the drink originates from Old English “waes hail” or Old Norse “ves heil” as a simple salute meaning “be you healthy.” As a drink, the concoction varies but always contains apple cider.
Every recipe I have ever tried has been fantastic. If you happen to have a coffee percolator, I find that is the best way to cook up the goodness. Some people resort to the crock pot with whole apples and berries in the mix, but the cook time is four hours or more. This year my boys were treated to a simple recipe done on the stove in a matter of minutes.
A 2:1 mixture of apple cider and pineapple juice is the base of my current wassail. In a sauce pot on the stove over medium heat I cook the juices and add four cinnamon sticks and a teaspoon of whole cloves. Bring the pot to a slow boil and serve with a bit of grated nutmeg for a touch of class.
The kids love it, and your house smells fantastic. The adults appreciate it because of the mixing opportunities. I have experimented with different spirits in wassail over the years but have narrowed it down to one. Peppermint schnapps is the preferred liquor for my drink. It gives you that certain pick-me-up. Once I am done with the wassail the schnapps goes back into the liquor cabinet until next year.
Reindeer has to eat same as the fat man
Milk and cookies are the norm for Santa. We usually sub Bubble Up for the milk. Sure, he has a tough job, but so do the reindeer. My sister has been doing reindeer food for years with her kids. The trick is to make your own out of things you enjoy. A little of this, a little of that, a spoonful for the reindeer, a spoonful for me, you know the drill.
Ideas include chips, different cereals, nuts and store-bought snack mix. Spread the reindeer food in the yard, sidewalk or driveway. For years people would add glitter to the mix so the flying reindeer could get a better visual as to where their snack was hiding, but it turns out it sticks to Rudolph’s nose and can create a disaster.
The modern approach to this is to add colored sugar crystals from the cake decorating aisle in place of glitter. Green and red are the most festive (and common) Christmas sugar colors.
Whatever your traditions, old or new, have fun with it. We only have so many Christmases to get it right.
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