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Cooking in the West


December 18, 2020

The countdown to Christmas is on, and I am even more panicked than usual because of added Covid holiday stress. This year, like every other year, I had grandiose plans of creating a Christmas that would make Martha Stewart drool. The reality is that the 2020 Christmas I will create would make Martha laugh until she drooled.

We did get the tree up early, which just means that it is already shedding like it is late in evergreen molting season. I think Remi found the biggest fattest tree in the forest. It takes up an entire corner of our house, and we had to go rustle up more ornaments to make it look right. Between the wildfires and the beetle epidemic, I felt lucky that he found such an amazing tree, but then I began to wonder if the monstrous molting tree could house thousands of beetles that I have openly invited into our home. If they make pine scented bug spray, we probably should give it a good fogging just in case.

Next, I sat down to draft a Christmas letter, which is one of the most difficult pieces I ever try to write. How do I convey how wonderful my children and grandchildren are or how great my storybook life is without sounding boastful...and downright dishonest? I tried poetry, but it sounded like Dr. Seuss wrote it, and it is really hard to rhyme words like "terrific" and "talented" with lines like "Fortunately, they take after their mother/grandmother." I also thought about sending a photo greeting card, but in the end I just decided to save postage and forget the Christmas cards again for the eighth year in a row.

Every year I get out the pruner and attack the local fir, pine, and juniper trees with visions of centerpieces and yule logs and wreaths dancing in my head. The result is pitch-covered bleeding fingers and a Charlie Brown wreath that would render Martha Stewart hysterical. With my leftover greens (approximately half a pick-up load), I plan to make centerpieces and Yule logs to give to the neighbors, so I decide to watch a few YouTube videos for ideas. Have you ever tried to follow YouTube directions for tying a bow with that wire edged ribbon? It is an experience frustrating enough to make you dip into the eggnog before lunch! Before long, I have three-quarters of a pick-up load of aesthetically impaired Yule logs and centerpieces, blisters from the hot glue gun, and I am out of eggnog. This is a problem, because I realize it is going to take a lot of eggnog to work up my courage to deliver those "gifts" to the neighbors--with a straight face. I think I had better take eggnog along to share with them BEFORE I present them their gifts.

Since knitting and crocheting are now considered trendy hobbies, and since I found a suitcase full of yarn, knitting needles, and crochet hooks when I was cleaning out my mother's house, I decided to knit scarves for the special people in my life. It might not be a good idea to take a 47-year hiatus from the time you learn to knit until you try it again. The scarf looked more like a multi-colored bumpy pennant than the beautifully handcrafted gift I had envisioned, but I blame that in part on the eggnog dependence I developed during the Yule log/centerpiece-delivering ordeal.

Now, with just days until Christmas, I find myself in a dire predicament. The baking is not done, the house is not decorated, the gifts are not wrapped because they haven't been bought nor successfully made, and as usual, we are low on eggnog!

Today, just as I was about to slip into an abyss of complete holiday despair, I discovered that this feeling is perfectly normal! During my morning eggnog break, I was watching a segment on television about how women put undue stress upon themselves to create the perfect Christmas especially during this year of Covid. What a revelation! The mental health expert on the show suggested that women should skip the gifts, perfect cut-out cookies, centerpieces, and decked halls, and sit back with a cup of eggnog and write letters to their family members instead! I am not sure how those letters in lieu of gifts are going to fly, but I will certainly drink to the eggnog part!

Of course, I have Christmas recipes this week, but the first one is a joke recipe that many readers have sent to me over the years. I think it is supposed to be made with rum, but I like to substitute egg nog. The other two recipes are legitimate family favorites. Thanks to Judy Sondeno of Fairview, Montana for a wonderful light colored delicious, moist fruitcake recipe that I have made every year since her kids first started giving me this great fruitcake as a teacher present years ago before they moved east.

World’s Best Fruitcake:

1 C. water

1 C. sugar

4 large eggs

2 C. dried fruit

1 t. baking soda

1 t. salt

1 C. brown sugar

lemon juice


1 gallon rum (or eggnog)

Sample the rum to check for quality. Take a large bowl. Check the rum again to be sure it is of the highest quality..Pour one level cup and drink. Repeat. Turn on the electric mixer; Beat 1 cup butter in a large, fluffy bowl. Add 1 teaspoon sugar and beat again.

Make sure the rum is still OK. Cry another tup. Turn off the mixer. Break 2 legs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of dried fruit. Mix on the turner. If the fried fruit gets stuck in the beaterers, pry it loose with a drewscriver. Sample the rum to check for tonsisticity. Next, sift 2 cups of salt. Or something. Who cares? Check the rum. Now sift the lemon juice. Add one table. Or a spoon. Of sugar or something. Whatever you can find. Grease the oven. Turn the cake tin to 350 degrees. Don't forget to beat off the turner. Throw the bowl out of the window. Check the rum again. Go to bed. Who likes fruitcake anyway?

Judy Sondeno’s Fruitcake:

2 1/4 C. sugar

1 lb. soft margarine

Cream well and add 12 eggs, beating well after each one.

Add: 1 small bottle brandy flavoring

1 small bottle rum flavoring

In a separate bowl, combine 3 3/4 C. flour and 6 lbs. of fruit mix (mixed, cherries, and pineapple to your taste). Add 1 lbs.of white raisins if you like them. Add 1 pound chopped walnuts. Mix well until fruit and nuts are coated with flour. Add to the first mixture and mix well. Pile mixture loosely in greased loaf pans (makes 12 small one pound loaves) up to about 1/2 inch from the top. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until cake tests done with a toothpick.

Mother’s Panocha:

1 C. brown sugar

1 C. white sugar

1 C. heavy whipping cream

Cook to a very soft ball stage, stirring constantly so it won't sugar around the pan. Using a candy thermometer is not recommended because of the danger of sugaring. Turn the burner off and let the pan cool without any disturbance. Do not even remove the spoon! When cool, beat with a spoon until it's light, loses its gloss, and holds its shape. This requires good muscles! Add 1 t. vanilla and 1 C. chopped walnuts. Drop by teaspoon onto waxed paper and let dry. You must work quickly, because it sets quickly. It is best to make this on a bright sunny day perhaps because of humidity and barometric influences. This is a tricky recipe, but the end result should be fantastic!


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