Here we are on December 1st. Now that the last month of the year has begun, I feel like I can use the “C” word: Christmas. Every year time moves a little bit faster and the Holidays sneak up on me. Not so this year. I was ready to hang wreaths and wrap gifts in October! But I resisted.
I love Christmas. You wouldn’t think I would, but I do.
This year I am embracing Christmas like never before. I am ready, aimed and set to move, full-tilt, through December, drinking in all the bounty and beauty of the season. I love the lights, the gift giving, the secrets and surprises. I love the smells and tastes, and how everything is allowed to be a bit more sparkly, a bit more special. I love the idea of Santa Claus. I love hoping for a snowy Christmas, despite our predictable rain. I love how the whole month of December becomes a flurry of activity, and I love the quiet, still moments in between. I may be going full speed into Christmas but that doesn’t mean I will buy more, spend more or waste more. It means that I will think more, feel more, and love more. You see, this year is different, more significant somehow. This year is a milestone: this Christmas Eve is the 10 year anniversary of my mother’s untimely death. It seems like an impossibly long time that we have been without her, yet, she is with us everyday, and I feel that no more clearly than during the Christmas Season.
Ten years. Can it be? It’s true. A decade has passed since that bright, cold, sunny morning when she slipped quietly away, mid breakfast. My heart was broken, but I am so glad it was a sunny, clear day; she never liked the rain. Ten years seems like such a long time, yet it has passed in the blink of an eye. Despite my broken heart, still healing daily, I am consciously choosing to have a happy Christmas this year. My mother would be terribly disappointed if, after all this time, I sulked my way through Christmas. Besides, how better to honour her memory than by being joyful?
You could say that I am seeking solace in the traditional this year, and you’d likely be right. You could also say I’m taking comfort, distracting myself, even, and again, you may not be wrong. All I know is that the fun and beauty of this season is something I want to be a part of this year like never before. Perhaps it’s my heart’s way of saying, “Alright. Enough. Let’s get on with things.” I feel lighter, brighter, and at long last, not guilty for celebrating at a time that feels so entirely dedicated to remembrance.
Tradition itself is all about remembrance. It’s about looking back and honouring the people, things and places that have made us who and what we are. Tradition provides us a road map to fall back upon, creating markers in our lives that remind us of where we have been and how to get through things to arrive where we are going. More than that, though, tradition feeds us. It feeds not only the memories themselves but the desire to remember, the very human need to retain bits of the past long after we have let go and moved on. We need to remember just as much as we need to celebrate. Tradition helps us achieve both these things, in equal measure.
How does all of this bring us to gingerbread? Well, what could be more iconic and traditional than gingerbread at Christmastime? It is a treat that has stood the test of time and survived centuries of travel, (apparently it originated in the middle east before being brought to Europe), many changes with hundreds of ‘traditional’ recipes available, and a multitude of styles and names. Still, no matter where it’s from or who is making it, for many people, it means Christmas is near. I’m granting myself a very happy Christmas this year, and I am happy to ring in the season with this recipe in hopes that all of you reading it will make it, enjoy it, share it and maybe even incorporate it into your own holiday traditions, whatever they may be.
And so, without further ado, let the Christmas Season on Feasts for All Seasons begin!
preheat oven to 325° – makes 6 dozen 2″ round cookies
Adapted from the recipe for Molded Soft Gingerbread on Baking Obsession
4 C all purpose flour
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 tsp cloves
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 C butter
3/4 brown sugar
1/2 C cooking molasses
1/4 C honey
1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger
1 tsp vanilla paste (or extract)
Sift all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Set aside. In an electric mixer, beat together the sugar and butter until pale and fluffy. Add the egg and continue mixing. In a greased measuring cup, measure honey and molasses. Add to the butter/sugar/egg mix and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes until well combined. Add the fresh ginger and vanilla. In 4 parts, add the dry ingredients to form a soft dough.
Halve the dough and place the 2 portions on sheets of parchment paper or cling film. Press the dough into rough discs. Cover with a second layer of parchment or cling film. Wrap tightly or put in a zip top bag. Refrigerate for a minimum of 4 hours.
When you are ready to bake the cookies, take the dough out of the fridge and let stand for 10 minutes on the counter. Then, working with 1/2 a disk at a time, roll to ¼” thick and cut with your favourite cookie cutter.
Place cut cookies on parchment lined cookie sheets (cookies do not spread). Bake for 10 minutes and remove to cooling rack immediately upon taking them from the oven.
I like to glaze these cookies with a quick milk glaze:
In a small bowl combine:
1 C icing sugar
1 – 1 ½ tsp milk
scant pinch of cinnamon
Pour or drizzle over the cooled cookies.