Counting down to Christmas

by Celia Hayes

So, all our basic Christmas shopping has already been accomplished during the year. All we need to do is turn out the gift closet shelves and decided where to send the various choice items which we have bought and stored against the arrival of the season. Who needs to set foot outside the house on Black Friday? Certainly not us – not even for gift bags and wrappings, for we picked up what we required at the post-Christmas sales last year, when everything seasonal was marked down 70% or more. Hey, I am not a legendarily wealthy author, and my ability to shovel money into the commercial economy is limited and locally-based. But I could be tempted this year with a real Christmas tree; our local HEB put them out this weekend, and amazingly, they look very fresh and healthy. Running a hand over a branch does not result in a shower of detached needles, and the price asked for them was shockingly reasonable, compared to previous years. We did see some live small trees in pots at another venue, and we might well consider that option, being that we will have to keep it outside to keep the younger cats off of it anyway.

So, Thanksgiving is here at our San Antonio home – and the smoked whole turkey from Granzin's in New Braunfels is in the bottom of the refrigerator this very minute, to be served up with the side dishes that I posted about last year  . . .  and the very next day, we will need to get cracking on home-made Christmas cookies; another family tradition for which my mother is famous.

Her favorite cookie recipe came from one of those Pillsbury giveaway cookbooks, of which she had a large collection, before they were all burnt in the 2003 fire. This one cookbook was worn to shreds, as well as being liberally splashed with vanilla, smears of butter and sprinkles of flour, sugar and other ingredients. Fortunately, before it was lost entirely, my mother had transcribed the recipe for a local art association cookbook – which is a boon to all mankind, as the cookies are excellent and buttery, and there are a number of variations that can be made with very little trouble to the basic recipe.

Mom's Christmas Butter Cookies – Basic Recipe

Sift together: 2 ½ c. flour
1 tsp soda
1 tsp cream of tartar
¼ tsp salt
Cream together with electric mixer:
1 c butter
1 ½ c. powdered sugar
Add: 1 unbeaten egg
1 Tbsp vanilla
When well-blended, add the dry ingredients. This makes the basic cookie dough, which must be chilled before forming, and baked on an ungreased cookie sheet or parchment paper at 400°.

Variations -
Snowballs: Stir in 1 ½ c. finely chopped walnuts, chill and then shape into small walnut-sized balls. Bake at 400° for 8-10 minutes, and roll warm cookies in powdered sugar.

Cinnamon Balls: Shape plain chilled dough into walnut-sized balls, and roll in ¼ c. sugar mixed with 2 tsp, cinnamon. Bake at 400° for 5-8 minutes

Chocolate Rolled Cookies: add 2 ounces of unsweetened melted chocolate to basic dough. Chill, roll out and cut into shapes. Spread half of the cookies with a frosting of your choice (Mom always favored peppermint-flavored), and top with remaining cookies to make a sandwich cookie.

Fruit/Nut Balls: Add 1 Tbsp. grated orange peel, 2 Tbsp orange juice, ½ c. mixed candied fruit, and 1 c. chopped nuts. Chill, shape into walnut-sized balls and bake at 400° 5-8 minutes.

Jelly or Chocolate Balls: Form chilled dough into walnut-sized balls. Use the end of a wooden spoon to make hole into the top of each. Fill the indentation with jelly (apricot, currant or raspberry) or melted semi-sweet chocolate. Bake 4-5 minutes.