I LOVE December. I know there are many who think that our streets and homes are too full of lights during this season and that materialism has taken over Christmas (and to a lesser extent Hanukkah). I am not one of those people.
The lights perform a vital function, reminding us that the world is full of illumination at the darkest time of the year.
As for the materialism, well, materialism is just stuff. And STUFF is what I love to give at this time of year.
To the very young Tinky, Christmas and Hanukkah (we celebrated both in our home) were primarily about what I would receive.
I still remember the thrill I experienced when I was seven and Santa brought a Petite Princess furniture collection for the dollhouse my mother had passed on to me from her own youth.
The house and the furniture eventually collapsed, but thinking about them still makes me smile.
A few years later, however, I began to realize that there’s something even more fulfilling than receiving gifts.
According to the bible, Jesus said that it is more blessed to give than to receive. It’s also more fun.
I love the way the holidays remind us to give to charities. Last Tuesday was Valley Gives Day in western Massachusetts, a time to donate online to some of my favorite causes.
A few days ago I made a special trip to stores to stock up on food items and toys to donate to local organizations. And as the year’s end approaches I’m working on donations to other nonprofit groups I support. I like to give a little something to some of my mother’s favorite groups as well. As I donate, I remember her.
With my mother in 2008.
Of course, we should give funds and labor to charity all year round. And I try to. But at this time of year, as we sing songs about hope and birth and love, giving becomes even more joyful.
Charity begins at home, of course, and I enjoy giving to my friends and relatives as much as I enjoy giving to charity. Planning what each person will get seems to take a certain portion of my brain that I don’t use for anything else.
Certain people are VERY difficult to shop for. In my experience many of those people are male. If men want something, they generally just go out and buy it. This habit can be very frustrating to gift givers.
As a result of this tendency, many of the men and boys on my Christmas list get food. It’s the perfect gift. They like it—and they can get the same gift year after year without complaint.
Among my favorite food gifts for men and for neighbors are my mother’s fruitcake, my brother’s favorite Indian cashews, fudge, and mustard.
On my last TV appearance of 2014 Ashley Kohl and I whipped up two other edible gifts I like to pass along to friends and relatives, my Aunt Lura’s Cranberry Chutney and my sister-in-law Leigh’s Lemon Pound Cake.
The chutney recipe is in my Pudding Hollow Cookbook (which it’s not too late to order as a Christmas present, by the way!). It’s detailed in the video here, although I think I forgot to add the chopped orange pieces on camera.
Below is the recipe for Leigh’s pound cake. As I mention on camera in the video at the bottom of this post, it’s a very odd recipe. Its ingredients are added in an unusual order, and it starts baking in a cold oven.
As I FORGOT to mention on camera, it’s delicious—very dense and intensely orange-y.
Happy shopping and baking to you all. If you have to take on extra work at this time of year in order to afford all the gifts you want to give (I do!), work with a song in your heart.
And cook with a song in your heart.
Leigh’s Orange Pound Cake
1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) sweet butter at room temperature
3 cups sugar
3 cups flour
1 cup milk
the juice and zest of 1 large orange
Grease and flour two standard loaf pans (or five to six smaller pans) or spray them with a grease-plus-flour spray like Baker’s Joy.
Cream together the butter and the sugar. Stir in half of the flour and half of the milk. Mix well; then add the remaining flour and milk. Beat in the eggs, and then stir in the juice and zest. Pour the batter into the loaf pans; they will be reasonably full.
Place the loaves in a cold oven. Turn the oven to 325 degrees and cook for 40 minutes, then raise oven to 350 and cook for about15 minutes. The loaves are done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
The cakes may split a bit down the middle, but they will taste lovely. Cool the loaves in their pans for 10 minutes; then release them and let them finish cooling on a cooling rack.
Makes 2 large loaves or 5 small ones.