All Who Give and Receive Gifts
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. A peaceful night it was, and after I did my baking and dancing along with the show, I made some hot chocolate with a shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream, and sat awhile by the picture window, my favorite place when I feel quiet, and I read “The Gift of the Magi” and looked out at the Christmas lights twinkling on the fence and over in the trees at the neighbor’s house. Yep. Every Christmas, I watch It’s A Wonderful Life, and I read O. Henry’s short story. Never go year without those two fine stories.
In Iceland, people exchange books on Christmas Eve and spend the rest of the evening reading. They head to bed, with books and hot chocolate, and they READ. Seems Iceland publishes more books per person than any other country, and most of the new books come out just before Christmas. What’s more, they have a NAME for it: “Jolabokaflod,” which means “Christmas book flood.” How ‘bout that.
Guess I have my own little Jolabokaflod every year, as I give books to most everyone — my nieces and nephews, and my kids, and my parents, and even Mr. S. Books are the best gift, and if all I got were books, I’d be a pretty happy camper. Though I have to say Mr. S has come up with some darn fine gifts that aren’t books, and by the smile on his face when I’ve inquired, he has outdone himself this year. I teased him, saying maybe I’ll get my Pie Shop at last, my big dream gift if I let myself feel a bit selfish and say it out loud. A pie shop. Imagine. With one whole wall a bookshelf. Pies and books.
To be honest though, my favorite gifts have always been the most thoughtful, most simple. The pictures the kids made when they were little. The time my daughter took me out for lunch and paid for it herself. The clay armadillo. The Christmas pins from the counter at the hardware store. The homemade stained glass cookies. The wooden spoons and candles and vanilla and flour sack towels. The carved tree Mr. S made for me one Christmas, and the letter he wrote long ago telling me why he loves me. My gosh. I get all choked up.
Of gifts, O. Henry says it best: “The magi, as you know, were wise men — wonderfully wise men — who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”
A Merry Christmas to you, each and all. I wish you gifts of the spirit, and of beautiful life, and may your days be filled with good books and pie. Lots of pie.
Here’s a fine and simple cake for Christmas, complete with cranberries and butter sauce, and perfect to eat just before you head off to bed to read awhile.
Cranberry Cake with Hot Butter Sauce
2 cups sifted cake flour (cake flour a must)
3 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 T butter
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk
2 cups raw cranberries
Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.
Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla.
Add dry ingredients alternately with milk, beating well after each addition. Stir in cranberries. Pour batter into greased 9″ cake pan.
Bake in hot oven, 400 degrees, 30 to 35 minutes or until cake tests done. While warm, cut into squares and serve topped with hot butter sauce.
Hot Butter Sauce
Melt ½ cup butter (1 stick unsalted) in a small saucepan. Stir in 1 cup sugar. Slowly stir in ½ cup of light cream (half and half). Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, 3 to 4 minutes or until mixture thickens.