Christmas dinner.

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It’s a magical time we’re in now, isn’t it?

Magical except for the constant traffic, frightening encounters with last-minute shoppers, and annual family conflict reenactments. It’s a bummer that life gets stressful during the times we hope to savor; but, hey, this is why we have sugar cookie highs and mulled wine! To keep Christmas sane and the candy canes and silver lanes aglow, my family’s planning a simple Christmas dinner.

We’ll have smoked ham glazed with Byrd & Duncan beer syrup, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, my grandmother’s famous cream of chicken soup dressing, deliciously southern sorghum green beans, and a couple homemade pies. There will be plenty of wine and a cocktail or two. There will be the conversation about civil war ethics, how much we love/hate Charles Dickens, and, of course, a ridiculous amount of laughter, even more than the amount of wine we will drink.

Happy Christmas! Here’s to peace, good food, and your crazy-wonderful family.

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Green Beans with Sorghum and Sesame

Makes enough for 8 as a side. Adapted from Bon Appétit.

  • 2 pounds green beans, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper & kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sorghum syrup or 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons sesame seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  1. Preheat oven to 450°. Cook beans in a large pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Drain, transfer to a bowl of ice water, and let cool. Drain and pat dry.
  2. Toss beans and oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast, tossing occasionally, until tender and lightly charred in spots, 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk soy sauce, sorghum, sesame seeds, and cumin in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper. Add warm beans and toss to coat.

Hot cross buns.

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Sometimes god feels near. And other times far away.

Yesterday morning I rolled hot cross buns between my palms and their sticky dough was fragrant with cinnamon, their flesh studded with little black currants and stained cranberry pink.

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Every Easter morning that I can remember, Daddy has made hot cross buns. I’d wake up early to watch him cross the top of risen dough with a sharp knife. He or Mimi would say, “Christ is risen.” I’d savor the sacred liturgical feel of it all; my reply, “Christ is risen indeed,” would be as delicious as the rolls’ spiced, fluffy crumb.

Grandma Lorena had baked hot cross buns on Easter when Daddy was growing up and so when he made them yesterday it was without question or anticipation. Easter hot cross buns have become a wonderful, almost sweet inevitability.

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When Grandma made hot cross buns, she got up hours before sunrise to take the dough from its overnight refrigerator rise. Grandpa left as the rolls baked to prepare for his sunrise sermon at church. Then Daddy and his two brothers bumbled downstairs. They were hungry and adolescent, drawn toward the smell of yeast and caramelized currants that would soon actualize on their plates with gooseberry preserves and butter.

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Yesterday morning it had just rained and dew drops hung from budded branches. The air was heavy, almost balmy with spring and life.  I dressed the rolls’ wounds with white powdered sugar quietly. The morning, its movement of life, converged in that moment of torn bread becoming whole. Christ is risen indeed.

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What’s a tradition that makes you feel whole?1-DSC_0989

Hot Cross Buns

Makes 24 rolls. Recipe from Lorena Blount’s kitchen and her mother, Pearl’s, cookbook, 1953.

  • 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (equal to 1 package of yeast)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup milk, scalded
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 4 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 well-beaten egg
  • 3 1/2 cup sifted flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2/3 cup currants, raisins, or cranberries
  1. Soften yeast in warm water (110 degrees.)
  2. Combine milk, butter, sugar, and salt; cool to lukewarm. Add softened yeast and egg. Gradually stir in flour to form soft dough. Beat vigorously.
  3. Cover and let rise in warm place (around 82 degrees) ’til double in bulk, about 2 hours. (Most rolls require only thorough mixing, with little or no kneading.)
  4. Form into 2 dozen buns and flatten slightly. Brush tops with milk or slightly beaten egg white. Let rise ’til very light. Using a knife, cut top of buns at right angles to form cross. Bake at 375 degrees, 25-30 minutes.
  5. Cool. Then make crosses with powdered sugar icing. Snip off the end of a clean envelope to make decorating tube for frosting. Cream cheese, powdered sugar, butter, or vanilla make a good frosting– you won’t need much.

Aside: (my notes say that bigger buns are preferable to small ones which dry out during baking.)

Just peanut butter cookies.

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Oh, for the love of peanut butter.1-DSC_0676

And all butters (I did grow up in Paula Dean’s Georgia.) But especially peanut butter. I guess that makes Georgia sense too.

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Probably like many of you, my addiction to peanut butter goes back to the womb and the taste bud conception that happened there. I fact, peanut butter could have been the first thing I tasted as a fetus. It would explain a lot of things.

Daddy was in graduate school at U.C. Berkeley and my parents didn’t have any money. Daddy woke up at 3:30 am every morning to pack UPS trucks before he went to school and Mimi babysat neighbor kids to put food on the table and feed my older brother. When my parents knew of my growing molecular existence, they applied for the WIC nutrition program and the peanut butter food stamps that came with it.

One of my first memories is Daddy perilously eating peanut butter off a steak knife after dinner. Sometimes he broiled bread and peanut butter  until it melted in to a toasted, golden glob. He was twenty-five, biked twelve miles to school both ways, and hungry.1-DSC_0562

When I left to spend half a year on the Indian subcontinent, I took one bag. I packed a shirt, three pairs of underwear, The Alchemist, a notebook, my glasses, and one half gallon tub of crunchy peanut butter.

After week of ashram life, yoga eight hours a day, and anemic vegetable curries and I began to experience withdrawal symptoms. I broke in to the jumbo jar like a crazed nut-job. As soon as its seal broke, three other American students appeared the kitchen for “just one bite.” (I am convinced Americans can detect peanut butter from two-hundred yards away.) With smiles on our faces and heaped spoonfuls of peanut butter in hand, we sat on wobbly kitchen chairs and watched monsoon rain make rivers in the streets.

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To this day I am convinced peanut butter is good on everything.

So American.

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If you like peanut butter and/or you’re gluten-free you’re going to fliiiip. These cookies are pure peanut wonder. With an egg and a scoop o’ sugar. And lots of peanut butter. They take 13 minutes to make from start to finish. And don’t worry about smuggling a second or third onto your plate; they’re relatively low in sugar and each cookie is only around 40 calories.1-DSC_0636 Side note: if you’re in to chocolate and peanut butter, add chocolate chips! Oatmeal, small chunks of apple, and pretty much anything that’s good with peanut butter (which is almost anything, see comment above) works well mixed in the p.b. cookie dough. 1-DSC_0644   Don’t forget to serve your plate of cookies with a glass of milk!1-DSC_0692

Just Peanut Butter Cookies

(Gluten-free!)

Created and inspired by Melissa Adams.

Makes 2 dozen medium-sized cookies.

  • 1 cup peanut butter (smooth, crunchy, natural, processed– all types of p.b. work)
  • 2/3 cup sugar (use 1 cup if you really like your cookies sweet; I thought it was a bit too much)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda (optional, but helps them stay together)
  1. Stir ingredients in a bowl and roll into 1 inch balls
  2. Place cookie balls on a greased cookie sheet and smash like a # sign with a fork. Cook in 350 degree oven until lightly golden, about 8 to 10 minutes. You can cook these until just done for softer cookies-or longer for crunchy ones.
  3. Cool and don’t forget to serve your plate of cookies with a glass of milk!

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