Saturday, December 31, 2011

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga

Tonight marks the second anniversary of this blog. In that first introductory blog I stated:

“Not Dark Yet…” you may remember this as the title to one of Bob Dylan’s songs on his Time out of Mind CD. I have borrowed that phrase for the title of my blog, because I like the imagery it evokes. My interests include poetry, religion, politics, nature, conservation, and striving toward the common good. This blog will cover observations of life and shared events. If the politics and religion aspect get too heated, there is always the mediating influence of poetry. Billy Collins, U.S. poet laureate from 2001 to 2003, says that every poem is about death and gratitude. The awareness of death heightens the beauty of the world as we see it. As one who attempts to write poetry, I heartily agree with that notion. Poetry conveys that sense of awareness and gratitude.

So in this space you will see political commentary, personal observations, spiritual questions, maybe a poem from time to time or some pertinent literary references. My emphasis, I anticipate, will always be on the “Not dark yet,” but in the background there is always Bob Dylan’s reminder (as any good poet will affirm) “Not dark yet, but it’s gettin’ there.”

One thing that I've also added is the occasional music video. Here's a great one for New Year's Eve. I have long been an admirer of singer Tony Bennett. He is one class act. Here is a great combination of the old and the new with duet from Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. Thanks to Carol Marks for first posting this one.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

O Magnum Mysterium

There are three choral works that I have heard which reach the level of sublime: Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” “Holy Radiant Light,” by Russian composer Alexander Gretchaninoff  and “O Magnum Mysterium,” by Morten Lauridsen.  Any one of these is beautiful to hear any time of the year,  each one is appropriate for Christmas.  “O Magnum Mysterium,” may be the most beautiful song I have ever heard.  Several years ago,  I was privileged to be in a choir that sang this piece, and that was my introduction to this amazing work.  Here it is performed by the Westminster Cathedral Choir on Christmas Eve, 2009.  Listen and see if you have ever heard any music so beautiful.  If you have, please comment and let me know.

(Many thanks to Penelopepiscopal for posting this video on her blog, which is where I found it.)


Friday, December 23, 2011

Finding Christmas

The following essay is one that I did at the request of Karen Matteson, a Unitarian Minister. She wanted me to take part in a Sunday morning service in preparation for Christmas. Many in that Unitarian congregation felt that it was very important to have a big Christmas Eve celebration. Others had a problem with Christmas because they came from different backgrounds, and most had a problem with affirming the divinity of Christ. The minister wanted to have a service to help bring everyone in to the celebration of the season while acknowledging the different places that many were coming from. "Finding Christmas" was my contribution to that service which I was honored to take part in.

                    Finding Christmas: A Post-modern Christian Revisits an Ancient Holiday
by Charles Kinnaird

"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me 
                                            there lay an invincible summer."
                                                   ~Albert Camus

In the Jesus story, the Gospel writer at one point has the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, asking the question, "What am I to do with Jesus?" It is fascinating to me that from that time until this, most of us in Western Civilization have had to ask that very question and in some way respond to the question. When I was in high school, there were two Broadway musicals, Godspell, and Jesus Christ, Superstar, that represented one way that my generation was responding to the question of what to do with Jesus. Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, Handel's Messiah, Zulu Zionism in South Africa, Base Communities in Latin America, and the Jesus Seminar in Santa Rosa, CA, represent a few of the many varied responses to the same question.

In my own journey, I am always re-evaluating and redefining. I took a computer course once where we were working with spreadsheets. I loved the visual effect of having the spreadsheet all laid out, then typing in another number and watching the whole screen change in response to the new data. A living philosophy has to be that way. When we are confronted with new information or new experiences, our perspective will change in some way. There may even be a shift in our world view.

A few years ago, I was attending a Eucharistic service at an Episcopal Church (some traditions refer to it as Mass, or Holy Communion). It was at a time when I was re-assessing what the Christian myth meant to me, given my world view. It occurred to me that however the person of Jesus fits (or does not fit) into one's theology, the Jesus Story dramatically illustrates the risk of incarnation. It was an emotional moment and I immediately connected with that notion because I knew first-hand the risk of incarnation.

In my work as a registered nurse, I often have to ask patients to sign a consent form for the surgeon to operate. I always ask the patient "Has the doctor explained to you the risks and the benefits of this procedure?" If the patient answers affirmatively, then I know that he or she is ready to sign the consent form. That day during the Eucharist, I knew that as I drank from the cup, I was affirming my own participation in the risk of incarnation. Knowing the beauty of being alive, I was also fully aware of the risk.

Christmas is about light and life. It is a celebration in the middle of winter that the light will come and the darkness will end. It is a celebration of the promise of new life beginning. We call it Christmas, a time when Christians celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus as the incarnation of God and a light to the world.

The celebration existed, however, long before the Christians took it over. Winter Solstice had long been a time to celebrate the dawn on the darkness of winter. It was a time to extol the evergreen that proclaimed the promise of life in the dead of winter.

Christmas for us can be a time to celebrate the joy and beauty of incarnation as we know it. If we have lived long enough, we understand the risk, but we also know from our collective experience that the darkness will end. We sense the persistent hope of new life. We know that life on this planet is worth the risk. We can use the Christmas season to acknowledge our own participation in the incarnation of Life.

                                                           Our light has come.
                                                           Our day has dawned.
                                                           We can joyfully celebrate:
                                                           Life is up to something,
                                                               and we are included!
                                                           Life is full of surprises,
                                                               and we are a part of it!

*    *    *    *    *

(This essay was first posted in December 2010 and is repeated for this Christmas season)


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Recipes: "Don't Stay Around Cake"

Here's another treat you can make any time of year but it works well at Christmas. This is the easiest recipe of any that I've posted. I got it from a lady who said it was called "Don't stay around cake," which is a pretty accurate description, though lacking in grammatical correctness. At the time I acquired this recipe, I was teaching English and couldn't bring myself to use poor grammar, so I dubbed it, "Banana Pineapple Cake." I usually bake this one in a bunt pan, but it also does well in mini loaf pans. One Christmas I made mini loaves to wrap and give out to friends during the holidays. As you can see from the recipe, it is quite easy, just stir all the ingredients together and bake. You don't even need to get out the electric mixer. I usually use chopped nuts, but have made it with coconut -- it is great both ways.

Banana Pineapple Cake (aka “Don’t-Stay-Around Cake)


3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 ½ cups vegetable oil
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 oz. crushed pineapple, drained
2 cups mashed bananas
1 cup chopped nuts (or coconut)

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Make a well in center. Add liquids and stir until everything is moist. Grease and flour a bunt pan, pour in batter.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

[If you choose to use mini loaf pans for this recipe, remember to shorten the baking time, probably to about 20 minutes -- just keep a close eye on it]


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Poem for the Longest Night

This year, December 22 marks the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and the longest night of the year. It is no accident that Christmas, which celebrates the Light of the world in the coming of Christ, and Hanukah, the Festival of Lights, both come at mid winter when people have for ages celebrated the joy of light on the darkest day of the year. There are many festive Christmas lights adorning homes, shrubs and trees in my neighborhood this year. 

Here is a poem I wrote several years ago after contemplating some of those ancient times and thinking about how fire and light calls to something universal and cosmic within us. 2,500 years ago, maybe even 3,000 years ago, after people in Persia had organized themselves into cities, Zarathustra (or Zoroaster) became the prophet of Ahura Mazda (the Wise Lord) and Zoroastrianism became the first urban religion. A central ritual was something called the fire sacrifice which Zarathustra may have borrowed from even older religious practices. Thinking about these primitive beginnings inspired me to write the following poem.

 To Zarathustra
        Did the Wise Lord request an offering of fire?
        Or did we simply want to share
           our deepest fascination,
        Watching the fire split the night
        As an echo to the distant stars?
        Our hearts danced as our hands trembled
        Before the carefully contained flames
        As fire without
        Called to fire within.
        We made for ourselves lights in the night
        As we began to find our way.
        Today the fire is surging.
        It trembles beneath the surface
        And flashes into the open.
        Day is cast forth into the night
        As the energy lines our streets,
        Flickers in our cinemas,
        Flashes upon our billboards
        And flutters in our homes.
        Did anyone request an offering of fire?
        Or did we simply want to share
           our deepest fascination?

                                           Charles Kinnaird          

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Recipes: Pumpkin Bars from Paula Deen

Here's a recipe someone emailed to my wife because it was a hit with a Bible study group. I saw it and thought it looked good, so I tried it for Thanksgiving. It was such a hit, that my family told me to do it again at Christmas. My daughter liked it because it is not over-powered by spices and you can actually taste the delicate pumpkin flavor. I made it again today to take to work for our Christmas potluck luncheon. It was a hit there as well. It comes from Paula Deen, and you can see the recipe below along with the original website.

Pumpkin Bars
(Recipe courtesy Patty Ronning as adapted by Paula Deen )

Prep Time: 15 min       
Cook Time: 30min
Serves:  48 small bars or 24 larger bars
Level: Easy 


4 eggs
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
15-ounce can pumpkin
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda


8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Using an electric mixer at medium speed, combine the eggs, sugar, oil and pumpkin until light and fluffy. Stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and baking soda. Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and mix at low speed until thoroughly combined and the batter is smooth.

Spread the batter into a greased 13 by 10-inch baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting. Cut into bars.

To make the icing: Combine the cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugar and mix at low speed until combined. Stir in the vanilla and mix again. Spread on cooled pumpkin bars. 


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Recipes: Banana Bread and Pound Cake

Here are two of my favorite recipes that are not just for Christmas but can be enjoyed any time of year. They can both but baked in bunt pans, loaf pans, or in mini-loaves. The pound cake I usually bake in a bunt pan, but for Christmas I sometimes bake it in min loaf pans in order to wrap up and give as gifts. The banana bread is another treat that does well in min loaf pans or even in muffin tins.

This is my favorite banana bread recipe, but it is the only one that does not give a prescribed measurement for the mashed bananas. It just says, "3 large bananas." I usually mash them with a fork on a dinner plate, and they will pretty much fill the plate when mashed. The last time I made it, I only had medium-sized bananas. When I mashed them, they didn't quite fill the plate, so I mashed up another half of a banana and the recipe turned out fine (I've never had this one to fail except when the bananas were way too ripe).

The pound cake is another one that always goes over well. I never bother with the icing  it's good enough without it. Both of these recipes come from The Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Cooking.


1/2 c. shortening
1 c. sugar
2 eggs, well beaten
1 tsp, soda
2 c. flour
1/4 tsp, salt
3 lge. bananas, mashed
1 tsp, vanilla

Combine shortening, sugar and eggs; blend well.
Dissolve soda in 3 tablespoons hot water; mix with
sugar mixture. Add 1 cup flour and salt; beat well.
Add bananas, remaining flour and vanilla; mix until
smooth. Pour into loaf pan. Bake at 375 degrees for
45 minutes.

[Note: if you use this recipe in min loaves or in muffin pans, shorten the time to about 20 minutes]


3c. sugar
1stick soft butter
1/2 c. shortening
5 eggs
3 c. flour
1c. buttermilk
1/2 tsp, soda
1 tsp, vanilla
1 tsp, lemon flavoring

Combine sugar, butter and shortening; beat until
smooth. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well
after each addition. Add flour and buttermilk  
alternately, mix well. Dissolve soda in 1 tablespoon
water; stir into batter. Add flavorings; pour into
greased tube pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and
15 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before removing
from pan; invert onto cake rack to cool completely.

Buttermilk Icing
1 tsp, soda
1c. buttermilk
2 c. sugar

Stir soda into buttermilk;  combine all ingredients
except vanilla in saucepan. Cook until icing forms soft
ball; cool. Add vanilla; beat slightly. Spread over side
and top of cake.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Recipes: Fabulous Dinner Rolls

(From My Mamma's Recipe File)

My mother used to make these rolls on special family occasions – or sometimes just because it was Sunday. She always won high praise from guests who tried them. I've been making them myself for years and have never found a better recipe. Here in the South, you can buy “Sister Schubert’s Rolls” ready-make in the freezer case of many supermarkets. Sister Schubert’s recipe is a near approximation, and sometimes I've bought them when short on time. They are not as good, in my opinion, as my homemade recipe.

Part of our holiday tradition at thanksgiving and Christmas is for me to make these rolls. “It doesn’t matter what else is on the menu,” I am always told, “as long as you make your rolls!”

1 pkg. active dry yeast
½  c. lukewarm water
½  c. butter
½  c. shortening
¾  c. sugar
1 c. hot mashed potatoes
1 c. cold water
1 ½  tsp. salt
6-6 ½  c. flour

Dissolve yeast in 1h c. warm water in a large bowl. Stir in butter,
shortening, sugar, potato, 1 c. cold water, salt and 3 c. of flour. Beat
until smooth. Mix in enough of the remaining flour to make dough
easy to handle. Turn dough onto a floured surface, knead until
smooth (about 5 minutes). Place in a greased bowl, turn greased side
up. Cover bowl tightly and refrigerate for 24 hours but no longer than
5 days. I always cover the bowl with wax paper held around the bowl
 with a large rubber band. (You may wrap dough in waxed paper instead
 of covering in a bowl.)

Punch down dough and divide into 4 equal parts. ( ¼  of dough
makes about a dozen rolls.) Roll ¼  of dough onto lightly floured surface,
shape as desired. I have used clover leaf, crescent, and fan-tail designs, 
but I prefer Parker House style (as did my mamma). Look here for
information about roll-shaping techniques.

Place rolls in pan, brush with melted butter or salad oil. Let rise
in warm place for about an hour. Bake in 425· oven for 20-25 minutes.

                             *     *     *     *     *

 I don't have a picture of my own rolls. Pictured here are Sister Schubert's rolls which run a close second.  

*     *     *     *     *     *     *    *     *

Last year during the month of December I posted 12 of my favorite Christmas songs. These songs are still on my blog. To read about them and hear them go up to the top of the blog page and click on "Videos." Then scroll down to "The Joys of Christmas" where you will see the web links listed. 


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Recipes: Gingerbread and Other Things

I haven’t done this in a while, but when my daughter was young, it was fun to use this gingerbread recipe I found in my Betty Crocker’s Cookbook. I used the recipe for Gingerbread People. This makes a very pliable, workable dough. After you cut out whatever shapes you want, you can roll the scraps together and cut out more. We have used this dough to make lots of little gingerbread men, stars and other shapes, and also to make a gingerbread house (pictured on the left).


1 ½ cups dark molasses
1 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup cold water
1/3 cup shortening
7 cups all-purpose flour*
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Mix molasses, brown sugar, water and shortening.
Mix in remaining ingredients except frosting.
Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Heat oven to 350°. Roll dough ¼ inch thick on
floured board. Cut with floured gingerbread cutter
or other favorite shaped cutter. Place about 2 inches
apart on lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake until no
indentation remains when touched, 10 to 12 minutes;
cool. Decorate with Decorators' Frosting (I just buy the ready-made stuff in a tube).


*If using self-rising flour, omit baking soda and salt.

Gingerbread Cookies:
Decrease flour to 6 cups.
Roll dough ½ inch thick and cut with floured 2½
inch round cutter. Place about 1½ inches apart
on lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake about 15

                             *    *    *    *

Easy Candies

Another fun thing to do with the kids, which my daughter and I did when she was pre-school and grade school age, is to get almond bark which can be melted down in the microwave or on the stove top, and make chocolate and vanilla covered snacks. Our favorite things to cover were "Ritz bits" mini peanut butter crackers and miniature pretzels. You can even buy those colored sprinkles to put on top of the vanilla covered snacks to make for a colorful display. The main thing is to find something the kids can enjoy making and sharing.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

Last year during the month of December I posted 12 of my favorite Christmas songs. These songs are still on my blog. To read about them and hear them go up to the top of the blog page and click on "Videos." Then scroll down to "The Joys of Christmas" where you will see the web links listed. 


Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Recipes: Russian Tea

I discovered this wonderful wintertime drink when my mother used to brew it for guests during the Christmas season. I remember she used to squeeze fresh lemons and oranges and tie up bags of spices to brew with the tea. Not only is it a great beverage, it also fills the house with a wonderful aroma! I've tried a couple of different recipes myself. There are recipes out there for instant Russian tea which are okay, but not as good as brewing it fresh. Here are some recipes you may want to try:

Russian Spice Tea
6 cups boiling water
6 tea bags
2 sticks cinnamon
8-10 cloves
1 quart pineapple juice
1 quart orange juice
1-3 ounce can frozen lemon concentrate-undiluted
1/2-1 cup sugar

Steep tea and spices in boiling water and remove. Add sugar. Mix juices and lemon concentrate in large pitcher. Add tea mixture. Dilute to taste.

                                                *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Todd’s Russian Tea

1 1/2 teaspoons whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 1/2-2 cups sugar
1 (12 ounce) can frozen orange juice concentrate
1 (12 ounce) can frozen lemonade concentrate
15 teaspoons loose tea (or 3 family-size teabags)
5 quarts of water


1. Place 3 qts of water in a large pot, and add cloves and cinnamon sticks.
2. Bring water to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 25 minutes.
3. Remove from the heat and place a mesh tea-infusion basket of tea (or 3 teabags) into   the pot. Steep tea 
    for only 5 minutes.
4. After removing the tea-infusion basket or teabags, add sugar to the pot and stir until it dissolves.
5. Add cans of concentrate, plus 2 qts of water.
6. Bring the whole mixture up to temperature and serve hot.

This tea refrigerates well for a few days with the cloves and cinnamon sticks removed. Always serve hot, though. 

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Russian Tea

6 cups cold water
1 cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
4 black tea bags
1 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar, more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Bring water, cinnamon stick and cloves to a boil in a medium saucepan; remove from heat and add tea bags. Steep, covered, for 5 minutes. Discard the tea bags and whole spices.

In a small saucepan, heat orange juice, lemon juice, sugar and nutmeg. Warm until the sugar dissolves.

Add the juice mixture to the tea. Taste and add more sugar if desired. Reheat and serve.

*     *     *     *    *

Last year during the month of December I posted 12 of my favorite Christmas songs. These songs are still on my blog. To read about them and hear them go up to the top of the blog page and click on "Videos." Then scroll down to "The Joys of Christmas" where you will see the web links listed. 


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas Recipes: German Stollen

[Baking bread is a great joy and at times can be great therapy. If things don’t always go right at work, the process of kneading and pounding bread dough can help get tensions out of the system. Then there is the waiting for the dough to rise, watching the magic begin, smelling the aroma from the oven and enjoying the piping hot bread when it is done. Some people have told me that they just don’t understand the art of bread making. I had no mentor or chef to tell me about baking when I first began. They way I got started with bread making was by carefully following the directions in the Betty Crocker Cookbook, which was my standard cookbook when I first moved out on my own.]   

I discovered stollen when I was a student in Mill Valley, California. I was working at Mosher’s Shoe Store on Throckmorton in that lovely town. Just up the street was a little German bakery, and they had loaves of stollen wrapped up to sell during the Christmas season. Not knowing anything about stollen, I asked the lady behind the counter to tell me about it. She was a petit middle aged lady with graying hair and a German accent. “Oh this is a delightful holiday treat! It is a bread that is slightly sweet and filled with fruit soaked in brandy. You just cut thin slices and serve it.” I was to leave Mill Valley shortly to fly home to Alabama for Christmas, so I decided to buy a loaf to take with my when I went home for the holidays.

Several years later I found a recipe for stollen in a book I discovered in the public library, World’s Greatest Christmas Goodies. This is another recipe that I make every year at Christmas. Although the recipe suggests dividing the dough into two loaves to bake, you will end up with two very large loaves. I discovered that I could divide the dough into four loaves to get a more appropriate size for slicing and serving. Then I discovered that I could divide the dough into six loaves and come out with perfect little loaves to give away as gifts to friends and family.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.
Makes 2 large loaves.

I cup seedless raisins
1 jar (8 ounces) mixed chopped. Candied fruits
¼  cup orange juice
¾  cup milk
½  cup sugar
1teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine
2 envelopes active dry yeast
¼  cup very warm water
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
5 cups all purpose flour
1cup chopped blanched almonds
¼  teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons cinnamon-sugar

1. Combine raisins, candied fruits and
    orange juice in a small bowl.
2. Heat milk with sugar, salt and ½ cup of the
    butter or margarine; cool to lukewarm;
    Sprinkle yeast and 1teaspoon sugar into very
    warm water in a large bowl. ("Very warm"
    water should feel comfortably warm when
    dropped on wrist.) Stir until yeast dissolves;
    allow to stand until mixture bubbles, about 10
    minutes; then stir in cooled milk mixture,
    eggs and lemon rind.
3. Beat in 2 cups of the flour until smooth;
    stir in fruit mixture, almonds and nutmeg,
    then beat in just enough of remaining 3 cups
    flour to make a stiff dough. Knead 5 minutes,
    or until smooth and elastic on a lightly floured
    pastry cloth or board, adding only
    enough flour to keep dough from sticking.
4. Place in a greased large bowl; turn to coat
    with shortening; cover with a clean towel.
    Let rise in a warm place, away from draft, 2
    hours, or until dough is double in bulk.
5. Punch dough down; knead a few times;
    divide in half. Roll each into an oval, 15x9;
    place on a greased large cookie sheet. Melt
    remaining ½ cup butter or margarine in a
    small saucepan; brush part over each oval;
    sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar; fold in half,
    lengthwise. Cover; let rise again 1 hour, or
    until double in bulk. Brush again with part of
    the remaining melted butter or margarine,
    just before baking.
6. Bake in moderate oven (350°) 35 minutes,
    or until golden and loaves give a hollow sound
    when tapped. While hot, brush with remaining
    melted butter; cool on wire racks.
7. Wrap in heavy-duty aluminum foil; label,
    date and freeze.
8. To serve, remove foil, place on cookie
    sheet. Heat in moderate oven (350°) 20 minutes.
    Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar, if you wish.

For the cinnamon sugar, I use the formula in the Betty Crocker Cookbook of combining ¼ cup of sugar with 2 teaspoons of cinnamon. For the dough, I always use bread flour which has a higher gluten content and provides a slightly heavier, moister texture, making it work very well for this recipe. Also, instead of blanched almonds, I use toasted pecans or walnuts, chopped. Since I make smaller loaves than the recipe suggests, the baking time can be shorter, so I just keep a close eye on it until the loaves are a golden brown.

I almost forgot one other change I make in the recipe: since that nice German lady told me that her traditional  stollen included brandy-soaked fruit, I will take about a quarter cup of brandy and pour it over the candied fruit to soak for about a day before I do my baking.

Oh, and one more thing -- I have discovered the joys of parchment paper. Instead of greasing a cookie sheet, I line it with parchment paper and it works beautifully with baking these loaves. It's easier, less messy, and makes cleanup much better.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Last year during the month of December I posted 12 of my favorite Christmas songs. These songs are still on my blog. To read about them and hear them go up to the top of the blog page and click on "Videos." Then scroll down to "The Joys of Christmas" where you will see the web links listed. 


Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmas Recipes: Traditional Plum Pudding

Plum pudding is similar to fig pudding in the way that it’s made and in the fact that both are English traditions for the Christmas season. I once heard someone remark that Christmas plum pudding is a culinary sign for the anticipation of Advent. It is to be made and then set aside for Christmas. We must wait for it to be ready, just as during Advent we prepare ourselves and wait for the coming of Christ at Christmas. 

With my success at fig pudding years ago, I was thrilled to come across this recipe from Julia Child for plum pudding (it doesn’t actually have plums in it).  It is placed in the same mold and steamed, just like fig pudding. The recipe includes a method for microwaving, but I have never tried it in the microwave. Some things you just need to take the time to prepare in the traditional manner, in my opinion.

The first time I tried this recipe, I was afraid to attempt the zabaione sauce, so I just used the same hard sauce that I always made for fig pudding. Later I decided to make the zabaione sauce, and I highly recommend it! It is not really that difficult, just follow Julia Child’s instructions. I should never have doubted that if Julia said I can do it, I can do it. (I'm not sure how this traditional Italian sauce came to be linked with a traditional English dessert, but who am I to argue with Julia Child?)

I first came across this recipe in Parade magazine in the Sunday newspaper. I lost it somewhere along the way and then discovered it online.  This is worth going out and buying a steamer mold if you don’t already have one. I should also state that you do not need a wine cellar to store it, nor do you need to "flame" this dessert to enjoy it!

A Glorious Plum Pudding For Christmas
From chef and author Julia Child

Originally published in The Way to Cook, by Julia Child (1989, Knopf)

For about 6 cups baked in an 8-cup mold, serving 12 or more


The pudding mixture
 3 c. (lightly packed down) crumbs from homemade type white bread-a 1/2-lb. loaf, crust on, will do it.                               
 1 c. each: black raisins, yellow raisins, and currants, chopped
 1 1/3 c. sugar
 1/2 tsp. each: cinnamon, mace, and nutmeg--more if needed
 8 oz. (2 sticks) butter, melted
 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
 few drops of almond extract
 1/2 c. bitter orange marmalade
 1/2 c. rum or bourbon whiskey, heated before serving
 sprigs of holly, optional
 2 c. Zabaione Sauce

Zabaione Sauce:
(Makes about 2 cups)
 1 large egg
 2 egg yolks
 small pinch of salt
 1/3 c. rum or bourbon whiskey (or Marsala or sherry)
 1/3 c. dry white French vermouth
 1/2 c. sugar

Special equipment suggested:
A food processor is useful for making the bread crumbs and chopping the raisins; an 8-cup pudding container, such as a round bottomed metal mixing bowl; a cover for the bowl; a steamer basket or trivet; a roomy soup kettle with tight-fitting cover to hold bowl, cover, and basket.

Timing note:
Like a good fruitcake, a plum pudding develops its full flavor when made at least a week ahead. Count on 6 hours for the initial, almost unattended steaming, and 2 hours to reheat before serving.


The pudding mixture:
Toss the bread crumbs in a large mixing bowl with the raisins, sugar and spices. Then toss with the melted butter, and finally with the rest of the ingredients, except, of course, the holly and Zabaione Sauce. Taste carefully for seasoning, adding more spices if needed.

To microwave Plum Pudding:
Butter the dish you are cooking the pudding in, then cover the bottom of the dish with a buttered piece of wax paper. Pour in batter. Cover dish with plastic wrap and pierce the plastic with a knife in several places. Cook at "defrost" (low speed) for 30 minutes. If your microwave oven does not have a carousel which turns the dish during cooking, stop the process several times during the cooking and rotate the dish manually. Finally, cook at 5 minutes on "bake" (high speed). Let the pudding set for a few minutes before unmolding. The pudding is ready when it is firm to the touch. The microwaved plum pudding is somewhat paler than its steamed counterpart.

To steam a Plum Pudding:
Use a special pan made for this purpose. You must have a container with a very tight lid on it which will stay sealed throughout the cooking. Steaming--about 6 hours: Pack the pudding mixture into the container; cover with a round of wax paper and the lid. Set the container on the steaming contraption in the kettle, and add enough water to come a third of the way up the sides of the container. cover the kettle tightly; bring to the simmer, and let steam about 6 hours. Warning: check the kettle now and then to be sure the water hasn't boiled off!

When is it done? When it is a dark walnut-brown color and fairly firm to the touch. Curing and storing. Let the pudding cool in its container. Store it in a cool wine cellar, or in the refrigerator. Ahead -of-time note: Pudding will keep nicely for several months. Resteaming: A good 2 hours before you plan to serve, resteam the pudding-it must be quite warm indeed for successful flaming. Unmold onto a hot serving platter and decorate, if you wish, with sprigs of holly.

Flaming and serving:
Pour the hot rum or whiskey around the pudding. Either ignite it in the kitchen and rapidly bring it forth, or flame it at the table. Serve the following Zabaione Sauce separately.

Zabaione Sauce:
Whisk all the ingredients together for 1 minute in a stainless saucepan. Then whisk over moderately low heat for 4 to 5 minutes, until the sauce becomes thick, foamy, and warm to your finger-do not bring it to the simmer and scramble the eggs, but you must heat it enough for it to thicken. Serve warm or cold. Ahead-of-time note: The sauce will remain foamy for 20 to 30 minutes, and if it separates simply beat it briefly over heat. If you wish to reform the sauce, whisk in a stiffly beaten egg white.

Post script: This year when I made this recipe, instead of currants, I substituted 1 cup of dried cranberries. It turned out great! - CK

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Last year during the month of December I posted 12 of my favorite Christmas songs. These songs are still on my blog. To read about them and hear them go up to the top of the blog page and click on "Videos." Then scroll down to "The Joys of Christmas" where you will see the web links listed. 

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