30 December 2022
When I was industriously labouring in Office World at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Dead Week was the name that one co-worker gave to the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Generally speaking, Dead Week in federal-service, that would be the U.S. Government, refers to that period of Use-or-Lose Annual Leave. Those vacation hours must be used by the employee before the end of the year, or he’ll lose it.
Me, I used my “annual leave” on a monthly, if not weekly basis. I had nothing to lose by the End of The Year! Not only was I living from paycheck-to-paycheck, I was using my leave from week-to-week.
Throughout those final seven-days in December, I enormously enjoyed working in an office that was almost devoid of people. My tech-writing performance soared, with, to quote Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick Loewe, silence in every room, and an atmosphere as restful as an undiscovered tomb.
Dead Week for me was far from dead!
My co-worker, however, had arrived at that term through a very personal sensibility. How, I do not know for sure. My hunch is that because her birthday took place in the midst of Dead Week, she’d somehow always felt short-shrifted in the wrapped-present allocation. She probably was gift-stiffed, and, poor dear, she became unable to appreciate the true meaning of any souvenir.
I’ve heard one too many stories of the Christmas Baby who got his, or her, presents in 2 installments: half, or, from the more generous parents, two-thirds, on the Sacred Birth Day, the remaining ones on the Human Birth Day.
I found that celebration situation absolutely appalling!
I therefore figured the way around having to deal with that dilemma was to avoid giving birth during December, or even January. Of course, even the most well-intentioned plan in life can go awry, or back-fire on a person. One tale from my past involves the name-selection of my Dear Daughter.
Dear Husband was sure his first child would be a boy come Memorial Day. I calmly suggested that — just in case — we ought to select a girl’s name. I liked “Yvette”. My spouse flatly stated that he would not give a child of his any name starting with a “Y”.
I silently accepted his vowel aversion, and then chose the name of the French writer whose book I was, at that moment, reading (in the French). And I selected a middle name: Noelle.
“That’s no good. Then she’d have to be born around Christmas.”
“Wouldn’t that be awful?” I opined.
My Solstice Baby came along a few years later, an event filled with awe, and was, thus, truly awe-filled. I decided that my month of December would thereafter be filled with efficiency, in keeping with the astounding tradition of that first Noël for my Christmas Baby. Those customs of cheerful competence have been maintained, to the point where female friends have utterly despised my energetic diligence and proficiency in organization.
“She’s all done with her Christmas shopping by the first of December,” came the compliment with disdain.
Yes, my immense resourcefulness and time-saving skills — which drastically doomed my monetary success in the Federal Government — have worked with spectacular intangible success In The Home. Such stellar domestic competence has earned me much praise and just about the same degree of derision from the members of the distaff side.
I owe it all to that Dead Week designation and a due date that involved giving birth near Christmas. Dear Daughter definitely has not suffered from an unfair gift-distribution, but she has had to deal with a mom who soars in her productivity amid Yuletide.
This past Twelfth Month was the first in my new house where everything is in its place, and I wasn’t searching to find things. Dear Husband likewise had settled into a routine, at home and at work. The Year 2020 brought to humanity the mandated confluence and overlap of those two locales; they haven’t fully, or formally, become dis-engaged from one another. Whilst in The Office in Sacramento in mid-December past, Dear Hubby was asked by fellow employees if he’d moved yet into his New House that was under construction from the summer of 2019 until the summer of 2020.
Throngs of Americans are still catching up with the past 2-3 years, a duration that feels more like a decade!
Many rituals, ceremonies, and routines got up-ended during the China-virus madness and mayhem. One tradition, for me, remained, and remains unchanged: cookie-baking before the middle of the month of December. Every one of my favorite recipes requires at least 10 days of storage for the attainment of maximum blending-flavor.
During the first week of the last month of the year, my house-mouse song is:
It’s Christmas time
In the Kitchen.
One recipe is called “Russian Tea Cakes”. These delicious confections, however, have nothing to do with Russia or the USSR or Putin or the Invasion of Ukraine. They’ve been somewhat incorrectly called “Snowballs”. They are, in fact, a culinary treasure from a reproduction publication of a 1950s Betty Crocker cookbook. This recipe comes courtesy of a real man, a radio executive in NYC, back in the olden days when NYC had real radio and real executives.
This year, I jokingly referred to them as Ukrainian Tea Cakes!
There’s a preposterous effort underway by the Elitist Hypocrites to delete Russia from its hard-won centuries of sublime artistic achievements (classical music, painting, dance, Tsarist culture), even from language-translation web sites. About a month ago, I visited one digital domain to translate a Russian phrase into English, and saw that this ancient tongue had been removed from the pull-down!
That linguistic database, which is based in Germany, has since restored that East Slavic language that belongs to the Indo-European family.
Phew! Sawing off a major limb of that tree and culture-canceling an entire portion of the four living East Slavic tongues are akin to cutting out your tongue to spite your mouth!
Rather than spite the mouth, savour these cookies that are rising from the dust of decades past in America. The recipes for the Butter Cookie, the Russian Tea Cake, and Jan Hagels I brought with me with into my marriage. I discovered the Chocolate-Hazelnut Biscotti in a woman’s magazine of yore, during my earliest wifey-days.
Last month, when I mixed the dry ingredients of the Jan Hagels, I neglected to divide the 1 cup of sugar into two, and poured the entire cup into the 2-1/2 cups of flour. Vanishing Commodities, Hard-to-Find Foodstuffs, and Rising Costs of Ingredients being what they are during these FJB-Years of Our Lord, I refused to toss out the botched-mixture.
Dear Husband decided to use it in baking the biscotti, which are his structural-chef creation. (We share the sous-chef duties on the cut-out cookies.) This time, he used a very dark chocolate, along with the precise amount of sugar written on the antiquated index card. After a few days, I test-tasted one, and announced:
“Needs just a bit more sugar.”
So bear in mind that if a super-dark chocolate is used, you can either add more sugar to the recipe, or sprinkle confectioner’s sugar over the biscotti, like I do.
With the delectable Russian Tea Cakes, I make a second batch, a few days later to end the Santa’s Elf Kitchen activity. Doubling the recipe doesn’t ever work out for me because the dough becomes too unwieldy in the stand mixer.
Cookie Dough for Cut-Outs
375 degrees F for 9-10 minutes
1 cup butter
2 egg yolks
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
In large bowl with mixer at medium, cream butter and sugar till light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla till well-mixed. Add flour & salt. Beat at low speed till well-mixed, scraping bowl occasionally. Cover; refrigerate till well-chilled (3 hours or overnight). Cut out with your favorite cutters, after dipping the edge into flour.
Jan Hagels (Traditional Dutch Cookies)
350 degrees for 20 minutes, or till lightly browned. Use parchment-lined 13x9x2-inch pan)
2-1/2 cup flour
1 cup sugar, divided in half
2 tsp cinnamon
Sprinkle of Speculaas spice mix
(8 tsp cinnamon; 2 tsp nutmeg;
2 tsp ground allspice; 1 tsp white pepper;
1 tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp cardamom)
1 cup butter, softened
2 eggs, separated
1-1/2 cups sliced, unblanched almonds
Mix flour, 1/2 cup sugar, cinnamon, spice mix, and butter till crumbly. Mix in egg yolks till evenly blended. Press dough firmly into pan, then brush with slightly beaten egg whites. Sprinkle with remaining sugar and then the almonds, pressing them into the dough. Bake till lightly browned. Cool slightly, then lift out the paper onto cutting board. Cut until 1-1/2-inch squares. Cool completely. Store tightly covered.
Russian Tea Cakes
375 degrees F, bake 10-12 minutes
Mix together thoroughly:
1 cup soft butter,
1/2 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar,
1 tsp vanilla
Sift together and stir in:
2-1/4 cups sifted flour,
1/4 tsp salt
Mix in: 1 cup finely chopped nuts
Chill dough. Roll into 1-1/2 inch balls. Place 2-1/2 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until set, but not brown. The bottoms should be golden. Remove and place on cooling rack. Wait 10 minutes, till the cookies are slightly warm, then roll in confectioner’s sugar. Wait another 10 minutes and roll in sugar again.
Makes about 2 dozen cookies.
350 degrees F.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
2-1/4 cups flour
2-1/4 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup butter at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
3 eggs & 1 egg white
3 squares semi-sweet chocolate, melted & cooled
Freshly grated peel from one orange
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup hazelnuts
Mix flour and baking powder. Beat butter and sugar with mixer till smooth. Beat in eggs, then chocolate, orange peel, vanilla. Stir in flour mixture and hazelnuts till well-blended. Divide dough in half and shape into logs, approx. 15 x 2-1/2 x 1 inches. Wrap each log in plastic; refrigerate 3 hours or till firm.
Beat egg white till broken up.
Place both logs onto cookie sheet, a few inches apart. Brush with egg white. Bake 25 to 30 minutes. Remove and cool 10 minutes. With a large, serrated knife, cut logs diagonally on a cutting board. Place back on the cookie sheet and bake 10 minutes, turning slices over once, halfway through the bake-time. Remove when dry and toasted.
Stores up to 1 month.
Dear Husband refuses to call the biscotti “logs”. In his civil-engineering-mind, the dough-rolls
are not round, in cross-section. I still call them “logs”, despite the technical inaccuracy of the term. And I even tolerate the grammatical inaccuracies and illogical syntax of Recipe-lingo. I’m not revising that style, or structure.
That’s the way the cookie rolls, and rises.
The Made-in-the-USA cookie tins were purchased from www.cookietins.com.