Tag Archives: Holidays

Eva’s German Christmas Cookies

22 Dec


I’ve never been much of a collector of anything.  In fact, I’m quite the opposite.  I am at my happiest when I am ridding my household of unnecessary items and slipping unused travel mugs into the trash behind my husband’s back.  My friend collects snowmen, my brother-in-law collects coins, my grandfather collected stamps and my father-in-law collects Marilyn Monroe wine (hey, whatever moves you).  But a glance though my personal belongings reveals no rhyme or reason to anything I own.  I don’t hang on to anything long enough to officially collect it.

Today, I was searching for a Christmas cookie recipe left behind by our German exchange student, Eva.  As I tore through my cookbooks and files, I realized that I have quite the collection of personal recipes from friends and family.  There were Argentinean cookies from a friend who I worked with more than 10 years ago, a Chai tea recipe from a college roommate, a cranberry chutney recipe from a dear friend who I haven’t seen in years and many more.  It’s not surprising that I have come into so many recipes.  I eagerly quiz people on their favorite dishes, family traditions and have no shame asking for recipes that intrigue me.  But each recipe I bring home is more than just the anticipation of new food. I also bring home a part of that person who will always be in my thoughts when I make that dish.

It’s amazing how my collection of recipes connects me to people long after we have crossed paths and allows me to remember conversations and occasions that I might otherwise have forgotten.  That’s why I love these Christmas cookies. These are from Eva’s family and are her favorite cookies that her Grandmother makes at Christmastime.  This is the most cozy, rustic, beautiful recipe because… there is no recipe!  Eva’s Grandmother makes these cookies from scratch and does not have the recipe written down.  So for Eva to make them for us last Christmas, she had to translate over the phone from her Grandmother and then try to recreate them on her own.  And for me to share these with you, I had to do my best to follow the recipe from that same note that Eva translated and left at our house.


These cookies are hearty and spicy and make you think of gingerbread houses and small German villages.  I’m obsessed with them and have added them to the mandatory rotation of family Christmas cookies.  Like all recipes, I followed Eva’s notes and then made some of my own adjustments like adding some salt and vanilla and brushing with a glaze. I also used a scale and followed the grams but you can do a conversion.  I’m actually not sure if I did it the way Eva would ( I think she does something with sugar and honey instead of a vanilla glaze), but they tasted great, so that’s all that matters! Continue reading


Two holiday pies to try

15 Dec

It’s that time of year – bundles of holiday cards are arriving in my mailbox.  Each shiny photo card of friends I love reminds me that I didn’t send any this year.  Not because I was too busy, or because I forgot, but because I didn’t have a card-worthy photo.  How vain of me.   I know.  But if I’m going to send something to the masses, it better be good.  And this year, I just didn’t get that perfect cover photo.  Admit it – we all receive those photo cards that give us pause and leave us wondering why THAT photo was the one. I refuse to be that card.  So I choose not to send any.

2006:  Santa brings comfort and joy.

2006: Santa brings comfort and joy.

The obvious answer would be to send a regular holiday card that doesn’t have my kids’ sweet mugs plastered all over it, but let’s face it – that will just end up in someone’s recycling bin.  And I don’t blame them.  I’m risking getting myself kicked off of multiple mailing lists with this rant, but I find the act of sending holiday cards interesting.  I love hearing from friends, and the thought is certainly genuine and appreciated, but shouldn’t I just tell you in person or through a phone call what I would say in card?  If I’m sending a photoless card, then I might as well save a stamp and call you to say happy holidays.  And it’s likely that the phone call would lead to a real conversation and a real reconnection.  So I think I’m going to start a new tradition – a holiday call, not a holiday card.

And there are a subset of holiday cards that arrive with a motive tucked neatly into the envelope.  Do you really think that my trash man gave me a card because he genuinely wants to wish me happy holidays?  No way.  He wants the case of beer I leave for him every year.  It’s a little dance we have.  He gives me a card, I leave beer, and he wheels my trash can back down the driveway for the rest of the year.  Happy holidays wrapped in a gentle bribe with a bow on top.

Two holiday pies you must try

As the holidays ramp up, there are two pies that will absolutely be on my table.  These are not new recipes to the blog, but ones I should remind everyone about because they are great winter pies.  I’m in the process of experimenting with a new one, but it’s not ready for face time yet. Click on the links and they will take you to the posts with the full recipes.

Pear Eggnog Winter Pie

Christmas 050

This is such a great pie for the holidays.  Pears tossed with fresh ginger and covered in an eggnog custard that is spiked with nutmeg and rum. Very easy and less time intensive then other pies.

Cranberry Apple Holiday Pie

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This pie screams holidays with cranberries that are complimented by apple, cinnamon and orange zest.  It’s so pretty once it’s topped with a lattice crust.

Can this count as my card to all of you?  Happy Holidays!

Pear Eggnog Winter Pie

5 Jan

It’s 2012 and the best thing to do for a new year is to come clean and start fresh.  Don’t get excited – there’s nothing juicy here like sordid affairs, slipping my kids Benadryl so they will sleep, or a problem with shop lifting.  My confessions are rather mundane, but they are mine and blogging about them makes me feel like I can bless and release them, then move on.

I don’t recycle if the item is upstairs, in the kids’ room, in the bathroom, or anywhere really but the kitchen. And this is a step towards a greener me.

I feel guilty that I don’t feel guilty for being a working Mom.  I’ve felt like this for a while and am waiting for some type of guilt to set in for working full time and liking it.  But I’m fine.  So instead, I feel guilty that I don’t feel guilty.

I did karaoke just before Christmas in a bar full of strangers.  On a Wednesday. Sober.  My husband and I also have our own personal library of karaoke songs – nearly 1,000.  And we do karaoke.  Sober.  On any day.

This blog didn’t start entirely because of pie and I didn’t tell you the whole story.  I was totally into pie, so that part is true. The rest of the truth is that this blog came into being because I needed a distraction from a miscarriage that I had over the summer.  My husband and I finally got the nerve to try for a third child, succeeded for a brief moment, and lost the pregnancy.  This was my fourth miscarriage (three before my first son) and I was looking for a way to distract myself from the disappointment.  While I think I cope with my miscarriages pretty darn well, I do tend to do something slightly drastic after each one.

#1 – adopted two cats.

#2 – Painted every room downstairs in one night

#3 – Moved to Portland, Oregon (for a minute – found out I was pregnant (again) three weeks after I got there, quit my job and moved back to Cleveland.  That was the now 5 year old.)

Having a fourth miscarriage in the midst of raising two boys, a dog, a cat (left over from the first miscarriage), and a harder job left me with slim pickings for drastic change.  So instead of moving across the country, I started baking even more pie and blogging about it.  In those first weeks, I was making pie three or four times a week.  Pie is about precision and paying attention – especially when you’re new at it.  I found that the process of making pie cleared my head and prevented my mind from wandering and over-analyzing the summer’s events.  The rolling, the shaping, the baking, the eating – pie raised up my let down spirits and provided comfort.  And since we’re confessing here, it also added a few more pounds.

I love making pie.  I love giving it to people.  I didn’t know it at the time, but this funny little hobby has given me so much more than just a distraction.  It’s given me some space in my life to practice the art of gratitude and acceptance.  And that’s what I never had before – I always had to react, to make sense of things, make a plan, move on, go, go, go.  Who knew pie would teach me how to just be still and enjoy the slice of life that is mine?

Pear Eggnog Winter Pie

Adapted from Vegetarian Times

My coworker sent me a recipe for a Pear Eggnog Pie from Vegetarian Times a couple of weeks ago.  One look at this pie and I knew it was my next suspect!  There were some things about it that I wanted to tweak, so I used the recipe as my base and developed what I think is a pretty awesome winter pie.


1 recipe of pie dough for a 9 inch crust

10 gingersnaps (pulsed into fine crumbs)

3 medium pears (peeled and sliced about 1/4 -1/2 inch thick)

1 Tablespoon crushed or minced fresh ginger (in the jar if you’re lazy like me)

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 can evaporated milk

2 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 Tablespoon rum

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg


Ahead of time:

Make pie dough and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to two days.

Pre-bake the crust:

Preheat oven to 400.  Roll dough into a 12 inch circle and place into a 9 inch pie plate.  You will want to leave a one-inch over hang by cutting the dough to even it out.  Tuck edges under and sculpt an upstanding ridge if desired.  Place pie plate in refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Make the filling:

Keep oven at 400.  Using a food processor or mini-chopper (or a ziploc bag and a rolling pin) turn the ginersnaps into fine crumbs.  You will line the crust with a thin layer of gingersnap crumbs when it’s time to assemble.

Peel and slice pears.  Toss together with lemon juice and ginger in a medium bowl.  Arrange the pears in rows, standing on edge along the bottom of the crust.  Place pie plate on a baking sheet.

Whisk the sugar and eggs together until well blended.  Add in the evaporated milk.  Continuing to whisk well, add the vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon and rum.  Pour mixture over pears into the prepared pie shell.

Place pie on the center rack of the oven and cook for 15 minutes at 400.  Lower the temperature to 350 and cook for another 35-40 minutes until the middle is set.  Ovens will vary, so begin watching it after 30 minutes.  Enjoy with ice cream or fresh whipped cream!

Hungarian Kiflis (it’s not pie!)

18 Dec

There comes a time when you need to leave the pie behind and get down to business.  It’s Christmas and I have other baked goods standing in line waiting for some attention.  First on the list – my Grandma’s Hungarian Kiflis.

I would venture to say that I have been eating Kiflis since before I could walk.  As soon as the babies in my family are old enough to gum a teething biscuit, they are ready for Kiflis.

Elliot conquers his first Kifli

I’m very territorial over these Kiflis.  Friends will say, “Oh, we make those – they are Kolache.”  No way – those are Czechoslovakian.  Or someone will mention that they have a recipe for the same thing – Rugelach.  Close, but not the same thing.   Kiflis are a soft, yeast-based pastry that are rolled closed around an apricot, plum or nut filling.  They are not super sweet and are the perfect side for a cup of coffee.

This is our family recipe. It didn’t come out of a food blog, nor did it come from the pages of the latest epicurian magazine.  It came from my Grandmother’s tattered cookbook that now rests proudly in my kitchen.  I became the new owner of this cookbook when my Grandmother moved into a nursing home several years ago.  This was the one and only item that I begged to have.  I adored her cooking and wanted to learn straight from her pen.

The year my Grandmother went into the nursing home would also be the first year that she did not make Kiflis for Christmas.  Instead, I decided to pass the torch to myself and learn to make these beloved pastries.  I made them that year the same way I do now – using her bowl, apron, spoon and rolling pin (I really don’t know what it is, but it’s good for rolling).  I figured I’d do my best to put some good Kifli karma into the air and use the tools that had spent decades producing these little horns of goodness.

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Cranberry Apple Holiday Pie

4 Dec

The calendar need only read December 1st and visions of orange zest, nutmeg, clove and spice start swirling in my head.  How quickly I break up with pumpkin pie and move on to the warm, intoxicating smells of the winter holidays.

December is a month that I spend in my kitchen trying to recreate the traditions that made my childhood holidays so special.  My Hungarian Grandma Foris would arrive at our house for Christmas with tins of Kiflis (Kee-Flees), nut roll and poppy seed roll. My Grandpa Brandeberry would spend weeks making candy to give as gifts. I can still see the white boxes with red bows piled high on top of his washer and dryer in the back room.  If I came to his house on the right day, he would let me sit at his kitchen table and squish mounds of caramel between pecans while he dipped them in chocolate.

I like to think that my love of baking comes from a long line of proud cooks.  I usually wear my Grandma’s apron and think about what life in the kitchen was like for her and her mother when they were in Hungary.

My Grandma Foris (R) with her younger sister Marika

Me (L) and my younger sister, Elizabeth channeling our inner Hungarian and attmpeting some of our first Kiflis

I think about my Grandfather and how, like me, he loved to give away what he made and how happy people were to receive the special candy crafted by hand just for them.  But my Grandfather had more baking experience then I realized.  My Dad came across this picture taken when my Grandfather was in the Army during World War II.  He was a Master Sargent with the Artillery in the Philippines, but apparently he had some kitchen duty too!

This picture hangs in my kitchen with the ones above.  Now I have some company watching over me when I make my pies. I also have some inspiration to find whatever genetic link I have to baking so I can make the best pie ever!

My Grandpa Brandeberry baking in the Army

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