Tuesday, December 7, 2010

St. Nicholas Recipes

Well, I managed to pull off both a special St. Nicholas cookie and a Turkish style dinner. Here are the recipes we used:

Speculaas Cookies

1 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups dark brown sugar
2 eggs
grated rind of 1 lemon
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp salt
4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
Optional: Icing

In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until fluffy. Stir in the eggs one at a time, blending thoroughly after each addition. Stir in the lemon rind. 

Sift the spices and salt with the flour and baking powder, and stir gradually into the butter mixture. Wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap and chill for several hours or overnight. (If you are like me and forget to read ahead that the recipe calls for chilling, you can speed the process up by sticking the dough in the freezer for 20 minutes). 

On a floured surface, roll the dough out to about 1/4 inch thick. If you are going to make large cutouts, you may want to make the dough a little thicker. Cut out with cookie cutters, or with a sharp knife. You can also just cut the dough in squares. You can even use a cookie mold with this dough- or shape the dough by hand. 

Place the cookies on greased baking sheets and bake at 350 degrees F for 10-12 minutes or until set and lightly browned. Larger cookies will take longer. I like my cookies soft- so I remove them when they just set. 

You could decorate these cookies with your favorite icing or glaze when cool. Makes about 3 dozen. 

Adapted from: A Continual Feast by Evelyn Birge Vitz

This was my first attempt at making cut-out cookies with a toddler- and it proved more challenging than I anticipated! Jonathan was more interested in eating the dough than anything else and threw a little mini-fit when I wouldn't let him. So we made about half of the cookies, and then I stuck the rest of the dough in the refrigerator to finish later. There's no point in making cookies if it isn't fun for all involved!

There are some nice St. Nicholas cookie cutters out there (which was recommended by the recipe). I think I may try to obtain one for next year. This year, we used angels and stars to cut out our gingerbread cookies. They were fairly good-- but I think I may increase some of the spices next year as the gingerbread was somewhat mild.

For dinner, I made a variation of this dish. I'm not a mushroom fan, so I omitted the mushrooms. I added green pepper as well as red and used a can of diced tomatoes since I didn't have any fresh on hand. I served the chicken on a bed of brown basmati rice. My husband really liked it so it's going into our family cookbook.

It was a fun St. Nicholas Day celebration! I hope we can continue and add to these traditions in the years to come!

Monday, December 6, 2010

It's Saint Nicholas Day!

Growing up, I attended a Catholic elementary school. Not only did we celebrate Advent, but we also celebrated Saint Nicholas Day! In the morning when we arrived at school, we would leave one of our standard uniform shoes outside the classroom door. At some point during the morning, "Saint Nicholas" would come and leave a treat in each child's shoe. It was usually a little candy cane-- but it was quite a fun tradition as a child.

When I attended college my roommate's mother had a tradition that interested me. She wanted the focus of Christmas to be celebrating the birth of Jesus. Therefore, "Santa" came on St. Nicholas Day and filled each child's Christmas stocking. Presents were still exchanged between family members on Christmas Day, but they  would also make a birthday cake for Jesus and have a present for Him. It struck me as a good way to still have some Santa-style fun, but keep the focus of Christmas on Christ, where it belongs.

Now that I have my own children, I'm excited to begin our own Saint Nicholas Day traditions! This year, our celebration is going to be quite simple, but I hope to add some traditions as the children get older.

Who was Saint Nicholas?

Saint Nicholas is the real man behind the legends of Santa Claus.He lived from about 280-343 AD. He was from the town of Myrna, which is in present day Turkey. He dedicated his life to serving God and became the Bishop of Myrna while still a young man. He was well known for his acts of generosity and many stories are told about his kind deeds. You can read a full biography here. Nicholas is an excellent hero of the faith to introduce children to and a way to talk about being merciful to those in need.

Celebrating Saint Nicholas

We have had a simple celebration this year. I've ordered stockings for the kids, but they haven't arrived yet. so this year, Jonathan came downstairs to find a little gift at the breakfast table. He got a little train to go with his new train table that some friends gave us this weekend. Gracie had a new little rattle.

This afternoon, we are making some traditional German cookies and, if I have time, I may try to make a Turkish chicken dish for dinner.

So it's a very simple celebration this year for us-- but I look forward to adding new traditions as the children get older! Do you celebrate Saint Nicholas day?
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