While I didn't go quite as all out as I had planned, I did put a bit more effort than usual into Christmas this year. For one thing, I put basically no effort at all into Christmas last year, what with the wedding being just four days after it. For another, Okinawa is not exactly a winter wonderland. If I wanted it to feel Christmassy around here, it was on me. I took a two-pronged approach: decorating and baking.
I started with a plain red tablecloth I bought at the exchange and the pinecone runner, which was a wedding gift. Since our table is enormous, it made a pretty big impact right away. Then I stuck some ornaments in my trifle dish and made those two little oragami trees using this tutorial and some gold paper I bought at the hundred yen. It would have been easier with thinner paper, but I think they came out pretty cute.
I wasn't sure at first whether we'd be able to get a tree. The exchange was sold out of fake ones and we weren't excited about standing in line forever to try to get a real tree that had already weathered an ocean crossing. But I wanted to make sure the ornaments Raj made me were hung up. I didn't ever achieve a balance with this that I was satisfied with, but I did get sufficiently tired of untying and retying ribbon above my head to decide it was good enough.
As you can see, I did end up getting a tree. I bought it from a woman selling it on Bookoo, as I absolutely expect we will do before we leave. It's not the greatest tree, but I'm thinking of it as a rental.
I don't have a tree skirt, so I told Raj I use a red pashmina over a beach towel (for the added bulk). At first I was confused by the shock and dismay on his face. "Not a REAL pashmina?" he asked. Ah. No. I use a *pashmina style scarf* I bought on a cruise ship mostly because the theater where they had the shows was freezing cold every night. It was $10, apparently very much unlike the actual pashmina Raj gave me for Christmas last year. Mystery solved.
Our government issue china cabinet already featured those bits of rope there tied up with a green ribbon. They're from the world's largest tug of war, which happens every year in Naha (the big city on Okinawa). It's good luck to have your own pieces of the rope, so people bring knives along to hack away at it after the tug of war ends. Those are the pieces we scored. When I had the wives from the squadron over, one of them saw them hanging there and asked me if I was planning to do something crafty with them. Uh, you're looking at it.
I also added a candle ring from the hundred yen store as a tiny wreath and then Raj and I made Star Wars snowflakes from the templates available here for free. Raj did the Boba Fett and R2D2 while I did the much easier Darth Vader and Stormtrooper. Hooray for arts and crafts.
Now let's get to the good stuff. I really wanted to do some Christmas baking this year. Since I also wanted to continue to fit into my pants, I sent almost all of my first dessert, Oreo pretzel peppermint bark, in to work with Raj. (Raj: "So...you really baked just for fun?" Yep.)
I can't find the recipe now, but what I did was this: Line a rimmed baking sheet with waxed paper. Spread out 2 cups broken pretzels and 21 broken Oreos on waxed paper. Melt 24 oz. white chocolate chips (I did mine in the microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring between) and pour over Oreos and pretzels. Sprinkle with 1/2 c. crushed candy canes/peppermint candies. (You want to have those already crushed so you can put them on while the chocolate is still warm.) Leave out on the counter or put in fridge to set, then break into pieces.
Yum. My next project was a slightly intimidating one. It was a kringle, which I hadn't realized was such a Christmassy name until I told Raj I was planning to make a kringle for Christmas. It's a Danish coffeecake that seems to be mostly only available in Southern Wisconsin since the city of Racine was settled by a whole lot of Danes who baked and sold them. We generally had one around during Christmas (though also other times of the year when we had guests). I pinned a recipe a while back and finally decided to give it a whirl. I subbed slivered almonds for the walnuts in the recipe. Also, since a lot of people said theirs leaked filling, I skipped the braiding and just closed it up around the filling, then cut slits in the top using a pizza cutter. Also, the recipe says it makes three braids, but some people said it wasn't really enough dough for three. I just halved the recipe and made one not-braid.
It was delicious and so pretty!
Ok, part of it was pretty.
You want to make sure you really get it pinched closed and also probably want to bake it on a rimmed baking sheet so you (unlike me) don't end up scrubbing filling off the bottom of your oven.
I also made cookies. Fewer than planned, which turned out to be a good thing since we still had a lot left after Christmas.
The star-shaped cookies are biscochitos, which are traditional Christmas cookies in New Mexico. The recipe says they are traditionally cut in the shape of a fleur-de-lis. I don't have that particular cookie cutter though. When I mentioned this to Raj, he didn't know what I was talking about. I asked him what shape they normally are and he said, "Uh...round." Anyway, he did seem to think they tasted right. If you like anise, you'll like these cookies.
The chocolate cookies are traditional in my house at Christmas, called crackle cookies. I used a recipe I found online which calls them chocolate crinkle cookies and seems to taste a bit different. Still really good though. The recipe says to chill the dough two hours or overnight. I chilled it for three hours the first time and it was still really sticky and difficult to work with. For my next batch, I left it in the fridge overnight.
My favorites, unsurprisngly, were these soft eggnog cookies with eggnog icing. I was kind of over baking by the time I got around to icing them and even with extra added powdered sugar, my icing came out more like glaze, so I just lined the cookies up close together on a sheet of waxed paper and drizzled back and forth over the whole thing. Good enough.
For Christmas day, I made a crockpot of hot chocolate, starting with this recipe. As written, I found it a bit too sweet and not quite chocolatey enough, so I added some cocoa powder. I set out crushed peppermints, marshmallows, and Kahlua with a bunch of mugs, and it was a hit. Highly recommended for your next winter party.
And you, Internet? Got any good stuff for us this week?
P.S., Happy New Year!