I love the hieroglyphics of the holidays, the evergreen in the dead of winter. The ancient traditions & customs we’ve accumulated over thousands of years. Winter meant more before, before central air & heat and 70°F Decembers. Before electric ovens and take out. It probably meant fur pelts and mostly suffering. Big fires and steaming cups of hot anything. Now I burn quaint fires that I don’t need, at least not physically though it arguably meets another need, and I wrangle a balsam fir up my front steps, hands black and sticky with sap. But I can’t remember why, an historical amnesia brought on by did I get the dry cleaning and I need to swing by the bank. Brought on by having too much. Why am I doing this? Why are there spices simmering—juniper, nutmeg, cinnamon, rosemary, and slices of deep red apple in a copper pot? Why the cookies, the small army of cookies? It’s not just festive. They’re symbols. And now I remember why I bring a whole tree into my home when bare limbs are etched deep into the stark sky, when nights are their longest yet slowly dwindling. I remember that everything always dies and something green remains. The year is a wheel, not a line. And in the heart of winter human beings have celebrated rebirth & life for as far back as we can see. Winter can still mean a thing. We’ve only to remember.
That’s why I like to keep my festivities close to the earth—rustic modern if you will. Come the holidays you probably won’t find me in sequins & velvet. I’ll stick with my plaid and Warby Parker glasses (I favor the Lyle in English Oak but I really want these as my next pair) while I bake cookies, make simple garlands of pine cones & evergreen, infuse warm spices & tree trimmings into syrup for gifts, and wrap parcels (poorly—I have the gift wrapping prowess of a kindergartner—really, you should see the ends) in twine and brown paper with bits of cotton & greenery & berries from the yard—packages of handmade edibles & goods to be warmly given with hand written notes that actually say something.
That said, you best believe that I don’t make beautiful snowflake shaped cookies come Christmas day. No. I make legions of Boba Fett’s, Vaders, Yoda’s and all manor of spacecraft—TIE fighters, X-wings, and, of course, the Millenium Falcon. Gingerbread men? Ha! Gingerbread R2-D2. So while I keep it classic in most arenas, we all have our soft kitschy spots. Though if anyone ever called Star Wars kitsch I might get in a fist fight with them. Epic, it’s an epic. I digress. Anyone know where I can find Dr. Who cookie cutters?
So if you’re like me and spending this Christmas Eve running around doing everything from baking cookies to wrapping gifts to oh…I don’t know…picking up a case of 100 oysters (yep!), I hope this inspires you. Merry Christmas & Happy holidays! I really do rather love you all.
Fennel Rosemary Snowflakes
Slightly salty, buttery, and flecked with rosemary & fennel these are grown up sugar cookies for the holidays. These cookies are the best of both worlds, both flavorful & visually inspiring. You won't find bland, play dough cookies here.
- 2 sticks (1/2 lb, 232 g) unsalted butter, room temp
- 3/4 cup (165 g) granulated sugar
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 egg, room temp
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp natural orange flavor (optional)
- 2.5 cups (315 g) all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, ground to a powder
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
- In the bowl of a stand mixer beat the sugar, salt, and butter until pale and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl half way through.
- Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, mix flour, fennel, and rosemary.
- Add in the egg, vanilla, and orange and beat on low to incorporate.
- With mixer off add in the flour mixture. Beat on low until just incorporated.
- Using a spatula make sure the dough is well combined, and then form it into two disks and wrap in plastic. Chill at least one hour and up to over night. Set out for about five minutes before rolling out.
- Heat oven to 350°F. Line a sheet tray with parchment and lightly grease the parchment.
- Roll out cookies on a floured work surface. If your dough is cracking, it's too cold. Just smoosh it together and let it get to a workable consistency & temperature. Don't give up on it!
- Cut cookies into desired shapes (whether that be a delicate snowflake or Darth Vader's head) and place on the sheet tray about 1" apart.
- Bake 8-10 minutes until very barely golden around the edges.
- Cool fully on a rack and store at room temperature in an air tight container.
I use Alton Brown's ratio for royal icing. You can find it here
Adapted from Food52
I can't imagine anything that tastes more like Christmas than this pine & warm spiced syrup. The acid in it cuts the sweetness making it the perfect mixer for cocktails (especially gin), tea (hot or iced), and it makes a wonderful instant soda mixed with sparkling water. But don't stop there! You can also pour it over baked goods, drizzle it on yogurt, make marshmallows with it, make a sweet +savory glaze for fowl or game... sky's the limit!
- 8 cups of water
- 4 cups granulated sugar
- 4 cups light brown sugar
- 3 cinnamon sticks, crushed
- 1 nutmeg, crushed
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- pinch of ground cloves or 6 whole cloves lightly crushed
- pinch of mace (optional)
- pinch or two of salt
- 2 tsp citric acid or 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
- 1.5 cups balsam fir or other edible conifer needles, roughly chopped
- In a large saucepan bring the sugar and water to a boil together, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar.
- Remove from heat and stir in all the other ingredients. Let steep at least until the mixture is completely cooled. I prefer to steep mine over night. Stir occasionally. The next morning strain through a cheese cloth lined mesh strainer into bottles. Store in the fridge. Should keep a few months due to the acid.
Make sure you wash your trimmings very, very thoroughly unless you are certain you have a tree that wasn't sprayed with chemicals.