December is drawing to a close and we're staring head-on at Christmas. This time of the year means many things including that the year is nearly over, it’s now time for some really nasty weather, time has come to empty the bank account to pay for Christmas, and taxes are due. No wonder country music legend Merle Haggard made a hit out of a song titled “If We Make It Through December.”
But personally I like the month, even though all the crazy spending stresses me out a little too much. But I’m a traditionalist at heart. I think children should wake up on Christmas morning to a bunch of presents under the dead evergreen tree displayed in the living room. Then spend the rest of the day playing with their new stuff, while dad stays busy removing the little toy parts and pieces from the blister packs or backing board they're zip-tied, twist-tied or glued onto, and mom enjoys some relaxing time between bouts of preparing traditional Christmas day treats to enjoy and make the house smell good.
That's how we always tried to do it for our kids. Nowadays they're grown, and both have married in the past 15 months. The plan is that we'll see both of them, and their spouses, by Christmas Day evening. But this'll mark the first Christmas in our married life that we haven't had at least one child wake up bright and early in our house on Christmas morn.
It'll be different, but we wouldn't want it any other way. We're blessed that our (grown) children have found someone to share their lives with, and we want them to begin developing their own Christmas traditions.
But back to all the presents!
The problem is, those presents get more expensive by the year it seems. It’s hard to keep the financial “grinch” from stealing a person’s Christmas joy.
For many years each fall my wife would suggest we forego the evergreen tree and pile of presents and simply take the kids on a cruise or week-long all-inclusive vacation abroad. While visiting the sunny beaches of the gulf nations was one of our family’s favorite vacation choices, I just couldn't bring myself to turn my back on tradition and wake up Christmas morning in a hotel room or ship cabin with the smell of saltwater in the air and burps of pina colada (non-alcoholic in our case) taking the place of hot chocolate, egg nog and ham with all the trimmings.
So one year she talked me into it. The kids were teenagers so we presented the idea to them, and they were onboard ... figuratively and literally. We booked a Caribbean cruise to the Bahamas the week leading up to Christmas. We would arrive back in Miami on Christmas Eve, where we would visit with some old friends who lived there at the time. Then we'd head up the coast a few hours to Cocoa Beach where we'd stay at one of our favorite hotels there, the Double Tree, and wake up Christmas morning on the beach.
We all had a good time. The beaches in the ports of call were warm and sunny. We dined on conch fritters, locally-sourced fish, had lots of fruity drinks and big meals on the ship while "at sea". And we had a great visit and big homecooked breakfast with our friends on Christmas Eve. And spent that evening and Christmas Day hanging out on the sand and in the surf just outside our door at the hotel.
But as fun as a warm beach sounds on a cold Missouri day, it just wan't Christmas ... at least not for me. The kids seemed to enjoy it, and my wife was ready to go again the next Christmas. But I missed the tree, the pile of presents for the kids, the warm coziness of home on Christmas Day. And our tradition of sharing a Christmas Day evening meal with family and friends, and then winding down with our tradition of reading the story of Jesus' birth and singing a couple carols to end the day before company headed home.
As you might gather, I'm all for traditions ... especially where children are concerned. Kids need to grow up with some stability in their life, some structure, and some annual traditions that all work together to create a stable platform on which they grow and eventually launch from.
One great tradition to begin or repeat this time of year is a special meal, or at least a dish of treat. In looking through back editions of this outdoor page I recently stumbled on an old installment of a cooking series we can titled "Somethin' on the Stove". Former Editor Sherry Greminger shared several recipes with us for that series, and would also tell the stories behind the great foods.
In the vein of creating good traditions, I want to share Sherry's recipe for Christmas bread. I hope you enjoy it. Here it is:
"Cooking with Sherry"
Nothing like the smell of Christmas bread
Having a husband who is a baker is such a wonderful thing.
Before I even walked into the front door one day this week, I caught the whiff of my favorite Christmas bread. The only downside to this is that making the bread makes quite a mess and I usually end up cleaning the kitchen.
That’s a downside that I’ll take any day for the pleasure of having a slice of bread straight from the oven.
Many years ago, my daughter and I borrowed a recipe from my former boss, Joe Layden, and after making the bread, adopted it as our own.
Joe and his family had a wonderful tradition associated with this Christmas bread and I’m sure that many of his friends will remember it.
He and his whole family would spend one whole day the week before Christmas baking loaf after loaf of the bread. They would wrap it in foil, tie a pretty ribbon around it and that night they would go around town to homes of their friends and present them with the gift of freshly baked bread.
We were the recipients of one of those loaves one year and since the Laydens weren’t stingy with their recipes, they gladly shared.
We didn’t adopt their habit of an all-day baking marathon, however, we did bake a few extra for a few special people.
I have two warnings for you if you try this recipe. One, it is extremely addictive and you will continue to bake it every year thereafter, and two, you must watch it closely to keep it from burning on the bottom.
Danish Christmas Bread
1 cup butter (not margarine)
5 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
3 eggs, beaten
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
3/4 cups warm water 1/2 cup sugar
1 cup butter (not margarine) softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 Tbs. cinnamon
1 cup chopped pecans
1 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1-2 Tbs. hot milk
3 tsp. melted butter
1/2 tsp. melted butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Cut butter into flour and salt in large mixing bowl with a pastry cutter until mixture resembles cornmeal. Add eggs, yeast dissolved in 1/4 cup water, 3/4 cup water and sugar. Mix by hand until the dough is well mixed. The batter may be sticky. Cover lightly with soft towel and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, bring the dough to room temperature. This will usually take about an hour. Divide the dough into four equal parts.
Roll each part into 12 X 9 inch rectangle (like thin cinnamon roll) on floured surface. Prepare filling by combining ingredients until well mixed.
Using 1/2 cup filling per braid, spread in 3 inch wide strip down the center of each rectangle. With kitchen sheers, cut edges toward the center in strips about 3 inches long and 1 inch wide.
Fold stripes over filling alternating from side to side (like you are braiding hair). Place on greased cookie sheet.
Cover and let rise until double in size. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Carefully remove to wire rack and cool slightly.
Top with glaze made by mixing ingredients until smooth.
This bread freezes well.
Enjoy, and have a safe and wonderful Christmas! God Bless!