Christmas Cookie Exchange

The following post is a writing I gave to members of my Huckleberry Book Club with our cookies from our Christmas Cookie Exchange last Christmas.

Tonight has been one of those precious Christmas moments. I had an evening home, and I was able to spend it in the kitchen baking treats for five very special ladies and their families. I mixed, and patted, and stirred and melted and dipped, all while listening to the “24-hour all-Christmas Music” radio station and singing along with Alvin and the Chipmunks singing “Christmas Won’t Be Late”, Michael Bolton’s version of “The Christmas Song”, and “Silver Bells”, “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “White Christmas”. To top the evening off, I got to sing a duet with James Taylor singing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”.

The two goodies I am sharing with you come from two parts of my life. The first is the Graham Cracker Toffee Bars. This recipe comes from a cookbook I received while living in Glendive, Montana. Glendive represented a simpler time in my life. In many aspects, my life was built on the foundation started in Glendive. I drove my first car to live in my first apartment and work at my first career in Glendive. The first years of my marriage were spent in Glendive. My first child was born in Glendive. In many aspects, many of my personal beliefs in my Christian faith were formed in Glendive.

This recipe is simple. It has only five ingredients, and takes less than 30 minutes to prepare. But the results are very delicious. Please enjoy.

Graham Cracker Toffee Bars

15 to 20 whole graham crackers
1 ½ cups packed brown sugar
1 ½ cups butter
½ cup pecans or walnuts
1 12 oz. pkg. chocolate chips

Line cookie sheet or jelly roll pan with crackers. Combine butter, sugar and nuts in sauce pan. Cook over high heat until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat and stir constantly for 5 minutes. Pour over crackers. Place chocolate pieces in double boiler and melt over boiling water. Spread evenly over toffee mixture. Cool and cut into bars.

The second recipe is a bit more complicated. There are more ingredients and more steps involved, and the ingredients cost more. I discovered this recipe while visiting my sister this fall, and watching with her one of her favorite cooking shows, “The Barefoot Contessa”. She made this recipe on her show that day, and it looked so good I tracked down the recipe on the Internet and am sharing it with you today.

Just like the recipe, my life is more complicated these days. There are more ingredients, and life costs more, and there are more steps involved. I am on my fourth car now. I am living in my sixth home since being married. This house is bigger, and full of a lot more stuff. I am now on career number seven or so since my first career move in Glendive. I have now spent 20 years with Paul as husband and wife. We now have three children. I am thankful for the things I learned in Glendive regarding my Christian faith, because I often have to lean on those Truths as I wrestle with answers to life’s complicated questions that can often shake my faith.

But often Christmas brings all that is important back into focus. How God sent His Son to be born in a simple manger, to a young, scared girl who realized she was giving birth to the Savior of the world. One of my favorite parts of the Christmas story is after Mary is informed by the angel Gabriel that she is giving birth to God’s son, and Mary is so accepting of what is ahead of her, with her response, "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word."

When seemingly impossible or seemingly insurmountable circumstances come my way, I want my response to be like Mary’s, accepting of what life is bringing me, and moving on, realizing the hard times will birth something even greater in the future.

So the Pecan Squares (actually for you they are “Walnut Squares”) are representative of the now, the more complicated life I now lead, with the many aspects and layers I deal with every day. I hope this recipe also brings enjoyment to you and your family this holiday season.

Pecan Squares

Crust: 1 1/4 pounds unsalted butter, room temperature 3/4 cup granulated sugar 3 extra-large eggs 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt
Topping: 1 pound unsalted butter 1 cup good honey 3 cups light brown sugar, packed 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest 1 teaspoon grated orange zest 1/4 cup heavy cream 2 pounds pecans, coarsely chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

For the crust, beat the butter and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, until light, approximately 3 minutes. Add the eggs and the vanilla and mix well. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix the dry ingredients into the batter with the mixer on low speed until just combined. Press the dough evenly into an ungreased 18 by 12 by 1-inch baking sheet, making an edge around the outside. It will be very sticky; sprinkle the dough and your hands lightly with flour. Bake for 15 minutes, until the crust is set but not browned. Allow to cool.

For the topping, combine the butter, honey, brown sugar, and zests in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over low heat until the butter is melted, using a wooden spoon to stir. Raise the heat and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the heavy cream and pecans. Pour over the crust, trying not to get the filling between the crust and the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the filling is set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold. Cut into bars and serve.

I’ve enjoyed our book selection this month, “Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life” by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. In the spirit of this book, I’d like to make my own entry into my own encyclopedia.

Huckleberries Book Club

This is a group of women I meet with once a month to discuss a book we have read during the previous month. It started out with SD, JR, VG and myself. Later MV was added. VG left us in the spring of 2006, and MG joined us in the fall of 2006. We gather together each month sharing a potpourri of gourmet delights, accompanied by either a glass of red or white wine, coffee or tea. We are lucky if we spend 10 or 15 minutes on the book discussion. The other 1 hour and 50 minutes of our time together is spent solving the world’s problems. I so appreciate these women in my life. We belong to a special tribe….one comprised of readers, thinkers, lovers, friends….each month we provide a shoulder for each other to lean on and share ourselves from the heart. We draw from one anothers lives.

Thanks to all of you for the special part you play in my life. Merry Christmas!!!

1 comment:

Katrina said...

Thank you for sharing these reflections on your faith and your life. I, too, am constantly praying for the grace and strength I need for each day as it comes! It's such a comfort to remember how simple and constant the invitation of the gospel is when it seems everything in our earthly world is shaking around us.

Plus, your cooking metaphors were stirring (Get it? Stirring? Okay, that was corny...) :)