Okay, there's going to be a long story first, so if you're not into that kind of thing, you can just skip to the end for the recipe.
This year was a first for me. It was the first time I spent Christmas in Los Angeles, even though I have lived here a total of 11 years. I have been at home with my family for Christmas except for one year when I was with my family in Hawaii, and two years where I went to Louisiana with an ex-fiance. But I have never spent a Christmas here, without some kind of family event taking place. But this year, my brother was up north with his fiancee's family, and my parents were living it up in New Zealand. So, my Christmas this year was on a much smaller scale than in past years, but what it lacked in grandeur it made up for in coziness and fun.
TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS: When I was little Christmas was a really big deal. Christmas had lots of activities and traditions associated with it. Christmas started at the beginning of December, when the local ballet company did "The Nutcracker." Up until age 9, I went to watch every year. From age 9-14, I was in it.
MODERN CHRISTMAS: This year I spent the beginning of December in a flurry of work, trying to deal with the aftermath of my boss's return from vacation, and my impending days off. I also tried valiantly (and failed) to get all of my Christmas shopping done on time. I got about half my Christmas shopping done, and half my Christmas cards sent out. So, sorry to those of you who are getting your Christmas presents sometime on January. I suck .
TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS: After the Nutcracker was over, the preparation for Christmas proper would start. Hundreds of Santa cookies would have to be made. First, the correct cookie cutter would have to be dug out. We all have replicas now, but the original was so glued up that you couldn't even see what it was anymore. The cookies would be baked by my grandmother and helpers, and then the rest would decorate with frosting, and then, my job was to paint on the cheeks and red nose with red food coloring.
Next, it was time to make Yule logs. We would gather in someone's garage and make a special log for everyone we knew. The log would be covered in evergreen branches, pine cones, berries and ribbons glued on with wax and then each would be specially delivered to our friends. The tradition was to keep the log until the next Christmas and then burn the old log to usher out the old year.
MODERN CHRISTMAS: The week before Christmas was spent in pretty much the same manner as the earlier part of December. Working. But the several holiday gatherings I had to attend made it a slightly more festive time. J. also had his birthday and I took him out to dinner at Hatfield's, where we chowed our way through a seven course tasting menu, officially marking the beginning of holiday weight gain season. (For the record on my detox diet, I lost five pounds. By Jan. 1, I had gained it all back, but inexplicably, in the last week, I have lost it almost all again for no reason I can tell. I hope this is a sign of some crazy new fast metabolism that nature gave me for Christmas). There was also much wrapping of presents, and many trips to the post office. Some planned Christmas shopping was delayed, because the quest to get my husband a Wii for Christmas took up all my free time in the last couple of shopping days. The Wii showed up, after much searching and many phone calls, on Saturday morning before Christmas and I breathed a sigh of relief.
TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS: On Christmas Eve, we would always have an enchilada dinner. My grandmother had a certain recipe for making enchiladas that someday I will have to steal, or maybe someone will give it to me.
MODERN CHRISTMAS: On Christmas Eve, we ... I honestly can't remember. I think we must have watched TV or gone to a movie or something. Maybe we went out to dinner. Who knows?
TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS: On Christmas morning, my brother and I would get up insanely early to bug my parents about our stockings. We would get to open our stockings, which were always filled with presents and always had an orange in them, which was the signal that you had been good. Then everyone would gather at one house for brunch and opening presents. After brunch, there would be a long period of relaxing and playing with all the new toys, and then we would go over to a friend of the family's for Christmas dinner. This family was Italian so they knew how to do up Christmas dinner right. It was a lobster and steak dinner, and this is where I discovered that I love lobster.
MODERN CHRISTMAS: We slept in as long as the dog would let us. Then, we opened stockings. Our stockings this year were actually brown paper bags, due to a lack of actual stockings, but we did each get an orange, so it was a relief to have a tangible sign that I was good again this year. Then our friends came over and brunch was prepared. We each contributed something. Our friends brought over some Nueske's bacon that was incredibly good. It's the same kind of bacon they have at BLD. J. made scrambled eggs with basil, and I made maple-thyme biscuits from a recipe from the November issue of Food & Wine.
This is the first time I have ever made biscuits from scratch, as opposed to getting them out of a canister and tearing each biscuit off the pre-made log and then baking, so I was really nervous. Especially after listening to some story on the radio about a mom who was known for her rock-hard biscuits, aka hockey pucks. Great. But I didn't have to worry, because the biscuits turned out great. They were light and flaky with just a hint of sweetness. I'm not sure if the thyme in the biscuits was really noticable, so you could probably skip it altogether, or maybe add a little more. I loved how the glaze added just the right amount of sweetness, and made them look really pretty.
I made some slight variations on the original recipe, which are reflected in the recipe below. I moved the preparation of the glaze from the first step to the third step, because it seemed more logical to me. Although, come to think of it, probably letting the glaze sit would allow the flavors to marry more, but I just didn't like the idea of letting the syrup sit around. Plus, since I prepared the biscuits the night before, I wasn't sure how long you should let syrup sit around, so I just waited. I also used a slightly smaller cookie cutter for the sole reason that it was the size I already had and it worked out fine, so I left that size as the size in the recipe here. If you want to see the original recipe, you can click on the title down below to take you to it.
So, I had a really good Christmas, even though my family was not around to share it with me. We had good friends, good food, a marathon board game session--what more could you want? Although next year I will be glad to be back with the family again.
RECIPE: BUTTERY MAPLE THYME BISCUITS
Adapted from Recipe by Melissa Rudel, Food & Wine, November 2006
Preparation Time: Active: 20 Minutes; Start to finish: 70 Minutes
- 2 thyme sprigs, plus 1 teaspoon chopped thyme
- ¼ cup pure maple syrup
- 2 ¼ cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon table salt
- 1 ½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- ¾ cup milk, plus 1 tablespoon
- coarse sea salt
1. In a large bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder, table salt, and chopped thyme. Cut in butter until it's pea-sized. Make a well in the center and pour in the milk. Stir with a fork until the dough is evenly moistened; turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and gather into a ball.
2. Roll out the dough 3/4 inch thick. Using a floured 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter, stamp out the biscuits as close together as possible. Press the scraps together and stamp out more biscuits. Transfer the biscuits to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
3. In a small saucepan, cover the thyme sprigs with the maple syrup and simmer over moderate heat for 1 minute.
4. Preheat the oven to 400. Brush the biscuits with the maple glaze and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake in the upper third of the oven for 20 minutes, or until golden. Serve warm.
MAKE AHEAD: The recipe can be prepared through Step 2 and refrigerated overnight.