Showing posts with label In the Bleak Midwinter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label In the Bleak Midwinter. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Spritz Christmas

When I was little, I came into a cookie tradition.  My parents were critical care and intensive care nurses who balanced their schedules so that someone was always home with their little girls.  Cookie-making was a way for keeping us busy.  And Christmas, of course, is the Season for Cookies. 


Every family has its special staple cookie - the one that has to be made each year in the same fashion because it won't be made at any other time of the year.  Cookies were an escape, a wonderful, creative distraction from the terrible weather, wet or dry, that characterizes Nebraska's bleak winters, mid- and late.  Without cookies, I somehow believed, Christmas wouldn't really come.

We made spritz cookies and almond bark-pretzel-m&ms cookies. The latter isn't really a cookie, but they were special.  Circle pretzels, with almond bark poured in and red and green M&Ms in the middle.  Before I was old enough to melt the almond bark myself, I remember watching Mom or Dad pour it into pretzels - there was something magic in watching the white sugary stuff fall from the spoon - pure liquid white.  As a child with a particular penchant for all things sugar and chocolate, this was a beautiful ceremony.  Still is, actually.

We did not make sugar cookies often.  I know we had the cookie cutters - stars and Santa Claus and Christmas trees - but they sat in a jumble in the kitchen drawer while Mom got out the old spritz cookie press and made a dough of flour and sugar and butter (three sticks), vanilla and almond extract: the aroma of the season.  I still have the old press.  Most of the parts are metal, and the thing is most likely twenty-five years old or older.  It's finicky, and falls apart easily.  I have a brand new plastic press that works like a dream, the latest in cookie press technology, but... 

"Haven't you thrown that old thing out yet?" Mom will probably ask when I visit for Christmas.  Well, no.  So much of my childhood is wrapped around this device, so many hours of watching her labor over a cookie sheet, pulling deformed blobs of proto-cookie off the sheet and begrudgingly throwing it back into the dough bowl.  She'd work until the pan was full of trees and stars and wreaths. Then my sister and I would descend with the colored sugar and the red-hots.  The old press doesn't make the cookies easy, but it did make it Christmas.  In the days when I imagined Santa dropping into our mantle-less house (we did have a chimney, but no fireplace), we always made sure there were spritz cookies waiting for him.


 


The don't make them like they used to.  
 
I'm thinking that this box might make an awesome handmade cover for a cook book.


 Mom eventually stopped making the spritz cookies.  You can't really blame her.  They're difficult to make and time consuming.  They're mostly butter and sugar, and are small enough that a handful are eaten at a time - the antithesis of a healthy diet.  But.  It's Christmas.

The spritz cookies would always ALWAYS go into the same blue tin.  Every year.  My parents tried to get rid of it years ago, but I took it with me because... well, my mouth waters and I sniff for that almond extract and vanilla smell every time I lay eyes on it.  Rest assured it has been washed several times since the '90s, but it is still "the" tin.  I was a kid listening to Grampy's Christmas tape, Julie Andrews was singing "Jingle Bells", and there was spritz cookie dough in my mouth (ah, the BEST dough EVER) and imagining the horse was really pulling that sleigh all the way around the tin.


What I appreciate about the cookies now is how easy they are to freeze and to give as gifts.  They go great with tea.  They're pretty and colorful without a thick smothering of icing.  They're bite sized (in some cases).  They smell heavenly.  Even as I make them now, I feel like that little kid aching for a taste of the dough, eager to mold it in my hands.  There is nothing quite like spritz cookie dough getting soft and buttery between in the fingers.  And as a writer, I find I need to cookie - do something purely tactile and savory - to get my brain working.  Kneading bread dough, chopping potatoes, simmering wine, decorating cookies so that they look like snowflakes - it all creates room in the brain for those stories to grow, to simmer.

The best Christmas gifts involve food and drink and sharing it with others.  Back in September I thought I should write stories and give them to people this Christmas.  That didn't happen.  Little stories aren't easy for me, and with the double stress of a trip to England in the first part of the month and a move sometime in the near future I turned to the simpler plan of cookies and puddings.  I'm glad I did.  These treats help us face the long dark of another winter of resolutions failed and met, of more snow and shivering and dying car batteries.

This winter I'll be back to getting those query letters out to potential agents.  I'll be looking for my first solo apartment.  I'll be writing a sequel to my novel and dabbling in the revamp of another.  I'll also have a few spritz with my tea, while my supply lasts.

And who knows?  I might make more for St Valentine's Day.

 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Lo, How a Rose E're Blooming and other tales (Jillian)


Once upon an advent, I "discover" a "new" carol. "New" because it is new to me, or it had never interested me before. Carols are rich in history and echoes of medieval legend, so naturally, I never tire of them. They represent more than just the story of Christ coming to earth, but of how that story was told again and again in song and folklore across every culture.

As a child at Christmas, I would take the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Christmas Carol book off the piano and gaze at the beautiful nativity scenes, the woodcuts, the many paintings and tryptics of the Madonna and Child. I remember coming across odd carols I'd never heard before - "The Sussex Carol", "Joseph Dear, Oh Joseph Mine," and a Czech carol called "Rocking, Rocking." Then there was the compelling mystery of the Burgundian carol "Patapan" - where was Burgundy? Why had I never heard of that country before? (Northwest France. I think. Burgundy held itself as a separate entity from struggling France in the 100 years war, English allies. Joan of Arc campaigned against them in 1429, was captured by them, and later sold to the English for 10,000 francs by them. Just saying.)

This year's carol curiosity is "Lo, How A Rose E're Blooming." I have to admit, I always thought it was boring. Just boring. And slow. And too somber for Christmas. This may be because I grew up listening to the Mannheim Steamroller version, which presented it in French horn. There is nothing particularly malign about creating a brass rendition of this old song, but it makes the already somber tune too heavy for one who liked dancing around to "In Dulci Jubilo" and "Wassail, Wassail."

But then, I saw The Time Traveler's Wife. If you've ever seen it, please do. It is a beautiful film - a nicely watered down version of the novel. Anyway, "Lo, How A Rose" is woven throughout the film - from Henry DeTamble's mother singing it in the car with her lovely operatic soprano (in the original German), to his wife Claire's bridal procession, to the theme playing at their home in the last few months of his life. This was a simple string ensemble, perhaps a quartet, and it was/is perfect. This song should NEVER have been arranged for brass.

So naturally, I am intrigued and very deeply moved by so simple, so quiet, so lovely a piece.

Here's a little history:

* First officially "published" in 1582, but is probably much older.
* Thought to be from Song of Solomon 2.1 - "I am the rose of Sharon..."
* There is a legend associated with this hymn: a monk in the German town of Trier found a blooming rose while walking in the woods on Christmas Eve. He placed the rose in a vase, and placed it before the alter to the Virgin Mary.
* In 1609, Protestants adapted the hymn to reflect Jesus instead of Mary.
* Wikipedia has the lyrics:

German:

Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen,
aus einer Wurzel zart,
wie uns die Alten sungen,
von Jesse war die Art
Und hat ein Bl├╝mlein bracht
mitten im kalten Winter,
wohl zu der halben Nacht.

English:

Lo, how a rose e'er blooming,
From tender stem hath sprung.
Of Jesse's lineage coming,
As men of old have sung;
It came, a flow'ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Like Christina Rossetti's "In the Bleak Midwinter," it tells of hope in the midst of winter - roses blooming in the snow. That is the beautiful mystery of the Nativity: how Christ was born - whether it was winter or summer - into a dark, cold world. That's a hope we can carry throughout this winter - that there will be roses even in our Winters if we look hard enough.

* Trivia on this hymn is from http://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Hymns_and_Carols/Notes_On_Carols/lo_how_a_rose_eer_blooming.htm

Monday, December 29, 2008

Caroling, Caroling (Jillian)

Officially Christmas lasts until 6 January, Epiphany... so I do not believe it is too late to spill some Christmas whimsy here for all to enjoy.

In recent years, I have wondered at the history of carols - those familar, special hymns that have become ingrained into our culture for hundreds of years - particularly the ones that I was least "exposed" to as a child. Mysteries in general are interesting to me, so here I dig. (In retrospect, it might have been thoroughly festive to have posted interesting facts on lesser known carols the entire length of the "Twelve Days", but, alas, that might have to wait till next year!) I have always marveled at "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel", "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen", and "What Child is This?" but I wondered at obscurities like "In the Bleak Midwinter," and its more pensive melody that takes it farther down the spectrum from "Joy to the World" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!" I discovered, thanks to the sometimes-helpful source of Ye Olde Wikipedia, that it was a poem written by Christina Rossetti in 1872... and only published after her death.

Check out the first two verses of the poem:

In the Bleak Midwinter

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him,
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign;
In the bleak midwinter
A stable place sufficed
The Lord God incarnate,
Jesus Christ.


"See? This is what Christmas is all about!" If you have ever heard the melody, you'll know that the music matches the words - pensive and quiet... and maybe a little "bleak". But it is absolutely perfect... more so because I imagine this as a poem from a writer not intending her words to be put to music, just writing... and pondering... and praying... true to herself.

Another carol added to the ultimate Christmas playlist!

For your reference: wiki article.

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