It's Beginning to Smell a Lot Like Christmas
Over the past couple of years, I have largely stopped giving presents at Christmas and Hanukkah (save for the books I give to my Adorable Nephews) and have focused my time, love, and effort on my holiday baking.
Whether it's baking pan after pan of baklava dripping with local honey, boxes of assorted cookies, loaves of bread fresh from the oven, or the occasional all-out feast for friends, I go a little overboard in my baking during the holiday season.
Knowing that I have plenty of work ahead of me, I usually try to get started on the baking in September or October so that I can stash a couple kinds of cookies in the freezer to ease the load later on. But this year, not only was I knee deep in canning jars until October, but I also had very little room left in the freezer!
When I sat down last weekend, then, to figure out my baking plans, it's no wonder that I needed to compile -- of all things! -- a spreadsheet to keep track of all the lucky recipients of all those cookies. And when I totted up the figures, I nearly fainted: almost 30 dozen cookies to bake, not to mention 6 to 8 dozen pieces (3-4 pans) of baklava, nearly half a dozen loaves of bread, and assorted other goodies.
Suffice it to say, I'd better get started!
This morning, then, I pulled out the first recipe: ginger-molasses cookies. I always think that these provide the perfect segue from fall baking to the scents and tastes of the holidays, and since they're the sturdiest cookies of the lot, they're the easiest to freeze and haul out later.
Since I'm making more of an effort this year to incorporate local ingredients in my holiday baking, I'm pleased to report that this cookie dough started with local whole wheat and spelt flours, local butter, a local egg, and local maple syrup. (And with all but the maple syrup, "local" means "from this county.")
It's such a fragrant cookie that I look forward to making it every year. The combination of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, molasses, and maple syrup mingling with creamy butter and nutty flour never fails to give me that "homey" feeling. And really, I don't even mind the extra time it takes to divide all that dough into small lumps that I roll into small sugar-coated spheres:
Because once I slide the trays of cookies into the oven, and the kitchen fills with that spicy sweet perfume, I know exactly where I am in the framework of the year, and I'm ready for the holiday season to begin.
So many times, we "locavores" talk about eating in season and think only of produce: asparagus only in the spring, at its most tender, or tomatoes only in late summer, when they reach their full ripeness. But for me, eating seasonally also pertains to the recipes I turn to with each turning of the year's wheel. As spring shifts into summer, I want salads and fresh crisp vegetables with light pasta dishes, and as fall becomes crisper, I pull out the soup pot and start a loaf of bread.
And so it is with desserts. I could make these cookies at any time during the year since the staples can be stored for so long. But to me, fall is the only time worth making them. I might make a batch in September and enjoy them with the first cider of the year, but otherwise I wait and let them herald the beginning of the holidays and all the sweet treats that lie ahead.
Don't get me wrong: I'm very happy that there are still several weeks until Christmas arrives. But from the sweet scent of the air in my kitchen today, I know that it's time to start getting ready for the holidays and all the joy they bring.
And for the next few weeks, that's what I'll be doing -- baking for the holidays.