Sunday, December 15, 2013

Poetic musings from my heart to yours (and a Christmas pudding besides)

by Megan Hoyt

What are your favorite Christmas traditions?

We don't just celebrate Christmas; we also celebrate Hanukkah. This keeps us hopping. We have eight nights of partying with dreidel games, cookies, listening to NPR's fantastic Hanukkah storytellers and music, and, of course, praying to Almighty G*d, the Creator of the Universe, the unspeakable, all powerful One. Everything blue and white goes up at our house, then comes back down eight days later and is replaced by red and green. It's really tricky! But loads of fun. Chocolate gelt for everyone!!!

These are the special moments -- the times we carve out for only our family. As I sit here snug beneath the Christmas quilt, I can't wait for our children to come home from college and celebrate with us again! 

Tasha Tudor illustrations
We always bake the traditional Hoyt family eggnog cutout cookies, along with a special treat my mother called a "puff." It's like a gigantic cream puff with yummy vanilla glaze on top. It's rich with egg yolks and out of this world. I also started making dishes and desserts out of The Frugal Gourmet's Christmas recipe cookbook. He has food for the magi, the shepherds, etc. We have so much fun with this! Well, I do, anyway. So every year, I make date pudding with whiskey sauce. It's intoxicating in more ways than one. And I don't even like those fruitcake sorts of desserts. But with finely ground walnuts and dates chopped very small, this one is out of this world rich and decadent. We sometimes make plum pudding and figgy pudding, but date pudding is my favorite. I'll post the recipe for it below, and many thanks to the Frugal Gourmet, God rest his merry soul.

The evening before Christmas Eve day, we always go caroling. Just our family. We take along a candle or two in brass candleholders that we only use for this occasion, and we take a plate of cookies to each neighbor. We can't do this any earlier or the neighbors will try to return the gift. If you go close to Christmas, they won't have time and you will have blessed them without getting anything in return which is, of course, the whole point!

Tasha Tudor illustration from Take Joy
We like to read Dickens' A Christmas Carol every year, too. And we always read through a few stories in Tasha Tudor's Take Joy. This must be done beside a roaring fire with Wassail in hand or the spell will be broken. It's magical, I tell you! I remember so fondly carrying this book around the house as a child, poring through the lovely illustrations, singing the hymns (all verses), reading the stories, and, well, taking joy in the Savior's birth!

About the Wassail. It is a Hoyt MUST! From Thanksgiving to Christmas, there is always a pot of steaming Wassail on the stove. The aroma of Wassail and evergreen means Christmas to us. To make our special Wassail, you must use a gallon jug of Apple Cider, a half gallon jug of pure Cranberry Juice -- not cocktail and no added sugar. Then you add a cup of brown sugar, about five cinnamon sticks broken in half, and top with ten slices of orange with cloves tucked into them (This keeps the cloves out of the drink but still adds their flavor). Sometimes we add apple slices, too. It's a simple recipe with fabulous results. And after the kiddies go to bed, you can add a little red wine for a lovely chill-out time with the adults in your life.

Every Christmas Eve, we act out the Christmas story. And Steve always plays the donkey. Now that the kids have gotten a little older, he begs for mercy! Each girl gets a chance to play Mary, so this can take a while. I am always the angel. Funny to some of you, I'll bet. This is a great way to help the kids memorize the story from Luke. At first, I recited it while they play acted. Now, I'm pretty sure we can all recite it word for word. I had to memorize the story in third grade for a Christmas play, and I have never forgotten it. Memory work is good for children. And this is one I would definitely recommend. Any time they can recite from memory a favorite scripture verse or hymn or psalm you can rest assured they will be able to draw from that treasured memory when future struggles inevitably arrive on their doorstep. It's like carrying gold in their satchels, ready to bring it forth in trying times. 

Also on Christmas Eve, we all snuggle up and watch White Christmas. It's a tradition for us because Steve and I watched it on our first date. We were the only ones in our group of friends who did not go home for Christmas when we were in graduate school. So we hung out together, did some Christmas shopping, went to Steve's work Christmas party together. And on Christmas Eve, we fell in love. So every year, without fail and no matter how tired we are from all the festivities leading up to Christmas Eve, we watch White Christmas. Then Steve and I stay up most of the night trying to bake, cook, and get everything else wrapped and set up for Christmas morning. 

Christmas morning. 

We always have breakfast before anything else. Crazy of us to make the kids wait, right? But with full tummies, there is less negative emotion. That doesn't matter so much now that they're older, but when they were young, wooooo! 

We open presents one at a time, taking turns. It's an obsession of my husband's. He's a television producer, and he always wanted to make sure he got everything recorded on video. 

So we must TAKE TURNS! 

Now that they're older, the kids savor their time together, watching each person open a gift and rejoicing as they see what they were given. 

We don't do Santa. We never have. I have taught the kids the story of St. Nicholas from a young age, and they understand the whole concept and don't spoil it for anyone else. But we prefer to focus on the Christ child, the meaning of it all, the Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. The reason for the season is Jesus and the salvation he bought for us all on the cross.

God bless us, every one!

The long-awaited Christmas pudding recipe

Steamed Date Pudding with Whiskey Sauce

serves 8

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1 cup honey
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 eggs
3/4 cup chopped pitted dates
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
(1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg and 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves optional)
1 cup milk

With an electric mixer, beat the butter and honey together until smooth. Add the lemon peel and lemon juice and blend again. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Mix the dates and pecans with 2 tablespoons of the flour and set aside.

Sift together the remaining flour with the other dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture alternately with the milk. Stir in the dates and nuts.

Butter a 2-quart mold, including the lid. If the mold has no lid, butter some aluminum foil and tie it on the mold as a lid. Pour the batter into the mold and cover. (You could also use a 2-pound coffee can as a mold, or a juicy juice can.) Place the mold in a large pot and add water to come halfway up the sides of the mold. Bring the water to a boil, cover the pot, and simmer for 2 hours, or until the pudding pulls away from the sides of the mold. Let stand 10 minutes before unmolding. This may be done before dessert time. If necessary, simply reheat in a standard oven at about 325 degrees. Serve with Whiskey Sauce.

The Whiskey Sauce

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 egg, well beaten
2 tablespoons whiskey, or more to taste

In a double boiler, cook the butter and sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved and very hot. Remove from the heat. Add the beaten egg, using a whisk, so that it will not curdle. When very smooth, allow to cool. Add the whiskey to taste.

When the pudding is assembled, pour extra whiskey over the top and ignite. Enjoy!

This recipe is courtesy of The Frugal Gourmet Celebrates Christmas. Go out and buy this book, so you, too, can make soup for the shepherds, rose cakes for the Magi, and all the other wonderful recipes in the book. It's a treasure!

Tasha Tudor illustrations
And now, a couple of free verse poems I wrote several years ago -- my gift to you!

Lily of the Valley

Tangled among sharp nettles, amid barley prickles and darkened, dry grass lay a long-forgotten lily -- soft, brilliant, pure, touched with dew, thirsty with hope, and stained with sorrow.

He shoved his sleeve above his elbow, thrust his bare hand through the mire of thorns, grasped the lily gently between hardened, calloused fingers, and tugged at its satin-soft petals until it was free.

Long forlorn and quite forgotten, the lily was torn and tinged with brown.
Laid in a crystal vase filled with sweetened water, she was drenched with anticipation, filled with nourishment, tinted creamy pale by the sun streaming through his windowpane. 

Soon blossoms cascaded down her branches. Tears welled up in his eyes. Immersed in pure joy, innocent love, and touched with fresh clarity, a song was born of her distant sorrow. It traveled for miles, floating across the sea, over mountains, hills, and valleys until, gathering speed and power from the light above, the song reached the moistened clouds, the shimmering stars, the milky host of Heaven above.

He heard it and was enraptured. Adding angelic voices and thundering echoes of heavenly instruments, all sorrow was swept from the song, leaving only delight. 

The lily burst forth into searing beauty. Pure, white, soft, delicate, fragile, her moment had come. Bursting with fragrance, dampened with dew, she leaped from the soil and landed in His arms, to rest forever in peaceful surrender. 

She nestled snugly upon his breast and felt the comforting pounding of His strong heart, beating only for her as for the thousands who came before. 

And she was forever changed.

I was sitting at the computer watching an episode of my husband's tv show, Think It Thru, when a poem began drafting itself inside my head. I typed it in as it came to me, fast and fluid, like a waterfall tumbling over rocky crags with unseen force. I believe it was God trying to tell me who He really is, who His son, Messiah, is, and to urge me to show others who we, as living sacrifices left on earth to be a witness to future generations of the validity of Yeshua's messiahship, should be toward everyone we meet, Jewish or goyim, sinner and saint. For some reason, as the show was ending, I said the words, "Find me." I think maybe He did. 

Here it is...

Amid the faint starlight and temporal glow of evening, lies a dim flicker, a dying ember, waiting to be fanned to glorious flame.

Nearby sits a still, quiet, thoughtful creature, a spotless lamb of unmentionable quality and astonishing vigor, 

filled with laughter and joy, freedom and love, gentleness and peace.

The lost, the lonely, the longing, the grieving--they arrive as the sunrise deepens, transforming the shade of night into the brilliant color of a fresh, new day;

they come with fear and anguish written across their tear-stained faces, but they do come.

Washing over them with aromatic oil, fragrant and floral, the princely lamb lifts each chin, meets each eye, and says to every wandering heart, "Come."

I rush forward, leaping over rocks and skirting thorn-infested brambles, to meet this gentle lamb with His healing touch and knowing eyes.

I fall at His feet, wrestling with my inadequacies, wallowing in my guilt and shame, writhing in secret pain.

He does not curse and swear, He does not cringe in disgust, He does not stand in judgment.

He stoops to meet my gaze, holds me in His strong, loving arms, and rests my weary head across his sturdy shoulder.

Then He sings over me--sweet songs of forgiveness and peace, deliverance and rest, comfort and life.

I am humbled at His touch; I dirty his woolen white coat with my sin-stained skin.

Yet He doesn't walk away.

He stays.