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We have our tree. It cost a fortune, more than I’ve ever paid, maybe more than two years’ worth of tree budgets, but I admit, the splurge was worth it. I really needed something to get me in the spirit, and though my family heard me groan for days about the price, the finished product more than made up for the lighter wallet.
This must have been the best on the lot. It was about a foot too tall, and once it stood in our living room, the deflated tip curled over and pointing westward. I played no part in the dismemberment, nor was I asked to help decorate. My job was only to stand in line to pay for lights. Some of them were too bright and must be used elsewhere, like at my store. I had to go light shopping the next day for more of the “good ones,” only to find them all gone. Several text messages later I found some that would do. The “good ones” were augmented by “good enough.”
It worked, though. I fiddled around in the kitchen and stayed out of the way while my little elves labored until our tree was perfect. A class act. All old-school ornaments with nary a “Star Wars” character. If it sounds boring, it’s because we, or I, suspiciously cannot find the “Star Wars” ornaments.
During my time of being banished to the kitchen, we began planning our Christmas dinner. You have at least one day you need to work toward. Our plans are for Christmas Eve. This is the time we will be spending with our close friends before the jolly old elf boss shimmies down the pipe and doles out the goods.
I haven’t ruled out tamales. Those are a Christmas favorite. But one thing I’ve never done — but am attempting — is ginger cookies. I don’t have a big sweet tooth, so I make it count when I hit the sugar. I love ginger snaps, gingerbread men, gingerbread women and ginger ale with Bushmills. I even married a ginger. My patience for baking is slim, but these are easy.
1 1/2 cups shortening
2 cups brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup molasses
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside. With an electric mixer, beat the eggs and the rest of the wet ingredients until combined. Slowly add in the dry ingredients and mix over medium speed. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 or 4 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. At this point we have options. If you want to make gingerbread men and women, flour a work surface and roll out the dough to a thin, 1/8-inch thickness. Use your 5-inch cutter and cook them on ungreased cookie sheets for 8 to 10 minutes and cool on a wire rack. For a chewier cookie, roll out to 1/4-inch thickness.
For ginger cookies, shape the dough into inch-sized balls and roll in white sugar. On a greased cookie sheet, slightly flatten them with your hand or the bottom of a glass. Cook these at 375 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes.
We aren’t done. You can decorate these however you wish. The kids may, but I won’t. I’m not putting any icing or raisins or Red Hots on mine. The plain cookie or gender-neutral gingerperson will be topped. Hear me out. We are topping it with pimiento cheese and dark chocolate kisses. Sound awful? I was introduced to this years ago and it stuck.
Any dark chocolate will do, but you won’t have luck with any soupy, orange pimiento cheese from the deli section. You need to find or make a dryer white cheddar with a hint of lemon.
I use lighter-colored cookie sheets. Darker sheets can burn the bottoms if you’re not careful. Only have dark? That’s OK. Ask for them for Christmas. The gold ones are great, and the cheaper versions are almost as good as the expensive ones.
A few years ago I wrote that a pair of herb shears would be a nice gift. I guess my family didn’t read my column that issue. At $15 for a nice pair, this could be a stocking stuffer.
Sous vide gadgets are still a hot gift idea, hanging in there with the likes of the Instant Pot and the air fryer. I have no brand loyalties to any of these, but they can change your perspective on weeknight dinners. For any of these three, expect to spend about $100 for a decent rig.
Researching all of this, I’d advise you to know your recipient before getting too whimsical. There are some products out this year that would be a complete waste of money if spent on me, but one simple idea that keeps popping up is a three-panel steel splatter guard. In that $10-$20 range, this keeps the bacon grease from reaching the counter. The nonstick coating makes cleaning this steel curtain a breeze.
One gift idea that keeps escaping my stocking is a Frogmore shrimp cleaner. I have to be in a really good mood to buy head-on shrimp. I prefer them, because I make and freeze stock, but laziness can get the best of me. This magical device makes shelling and deveining shrimp a snap. In one motion, the shrimp is plucked away from the shell and poop! We could be shelling shrimp once every couple of seconds or so, but you never thought to get this for me. Your meals could be tastier and more expeditious, free from the filth of the crustacean digestive track. Just read this paragraph and Christmas could be saved. We have a couple of weeks left!
I’ll let you guys know how this turns out in our January issue.
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