Baking Our Way Through The Holiday Season
Unable to enjoy many of our normal holiday traditions, we had to come up with something different this year.
I love the Christmas season, and I say that with a lot of fervor. I love the decorations, smells, ugly sweaters, and activities with my family.
I grew up in a family that embraced Christmas traditions. We enjoyed the enormous holiday lights display in the town. We always decorated lots of cookies. And on Christmas Eve, we would gather at my aunt’s house for a meal of oyster stew and topped off the evening with a recitation of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” by one of my cousins.
Moving to a suburb of Chicago opened up a whole new world of holiday traditions with my own children. Every year, we would go to the Christmas Around the World tree display at the Museum of Science & Industry, and the lights display at the Arboretum. We would have an elaborate breakfast with the Grinch through the park district. We would gather with friends for cookie exchanges or other holiday parties.
This year, because of COVID-19, our holiday merriment had to look different.
Sure, I could still decorate the house, and our Elf on the Shelf arrived (though he had to spend 14 days quarantined in a mason jar). The Arboretum still had the lights display, but it was a drive-through instead of the wondrous stroll through the trees in a normal year. But we couldn’t do any gatherings with friends and had to give up our other activities. Because in the past, we’ve usually had something to look forward to every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I had to get creative this year.
My older two kids — ages 11 and 8 — love The Great British Baking Show. LOVE IT. Can’t get enough GBBS. And while we don’t have a lot of baking skills in this house, I thought it would be fun for us to use baking to bring some joy to the holiday season.
So I chose four recipes — one for each weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I had to plan our grocery delivery around the ingredients we would need that week. And each Saturday, we spent part of the day working on baking. Our selections were as follows:
- Fruit, nut, and chocolate bread — a recipe from my friend’s grandma
- Chex mix, an obvious holiday staple
- Mocha cheesecake, my favorite dessert when I was a child
- Lora’s Sugar Cookies, a recipe from my mom’s piano teacher
The fruit bread had a meh response. We decided that next time we will add far more fruit. The Chex Mix lasted about 24 hours, and then it was eaten. The mocha cheesecake was a challenge because when I copied the recipe from my mom, I had neglected to write down a key ingredient: cream cheese. Luckily, I found the recipe online.
Lora’s Sugar Cookies are something I make every year. The recipe makes six dozen delicate cookies that we top with red and green sprinkles. According to family lore, the recipe cannot be cut in half. It’s perfect for cookie exchanges, of which we had none this year.
Instead, we split the cookies onto plates and became delivery elves. We spent an afternoon driving to the houses of some friends and making porch deliveries. My 11-year-old got to talk briefly, from a distance, with one of his friends who was home at the time.
The kids enjoyed the baking, though admittedly, the 3-year-old was not much help. With no remote learning this week, we have restocked our supply of Chex Mix. The kids have watched the holiday episodes of The Great British Baking Show. We received a cookie decorating kit as a gift that we’ll use yet this week, and my aunt sent supplies to create gingerbread houses.
So while the Christmas season looked different this year, I tried to make it fun within the confines of our home. We still need to get through the actual days of Christmas. It would normally include family and friends but will be replaced with present-opening via Zoom and less elaborate holiday meals. If nothing else, it will be a year that my kids will remember.