Holiday Traditions

A few years back I invited a friend on a nighttime walk with me and Geordie to view the Christmas lights around the neighborhood. Since then the Christmas lights dog walk has grown to a fairly sizable group of us who meet by the community pool and stop here and there for libations. I haven’t had a chance to make a movie of this year’s fun, hopefully that will be coming soon. But have no fear! Here are a couple of movies to keep you entertained:

Ice skating in downtown Tucson. Yup.

May your holiday season be filled with warmth and wonder!


How about you? What do you like to do for the holidays?

29 thoughts on “Holiday Traditions

    • Actually, temperature-wise, it’s really not the right place for ice-skating, and this winter has been unusually warm. In fact, they had to reschedule the opening day for the rink because it reached a high temp in the 80’s, and they couldn’t stop the ice from melting away. Things are changing now, getting colder, finally. (I want to wear the cold weather crocheted stuff I’ve been making.) Today’s high is supposed to be 58 degrees, which is more like what we’re used to for winter. I’m hoping to see some snow on the mountain. It would be nice if it snowed in the valley, but I doubt it will.

      By the way, I have a question for you. In Germany is stollen (or marzipan stollen) a thing you normally see cropping up in bakeries around Christmastime? Or is it around all the time, or only in winter? Just curious.

      Anyway, I hope you’ve had a Merry Christmas and I wish you a happy new year!

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      • 58 would be warm here for winter, but such temperatures are becoming more common for winter. Over the last days it was frosty here but now temperatures are back above the freezing point and for Thursday, 53 is predicted.
        Stollen is a typical Christmas time thing. It is traditionally a thing from Saxony. My father’s parents used to live in Saxony (then GDR). My parents used to send them coffee and chocolate, things hard to get there in good quality. In return, we always received a big Stollen. I remember it as very delicious.
        In the old times people used to make it themselves, at least partially. I have a letter from my grandmother from the 1950s where she describes that she made the dough and then brought it to the backery, where they would bake it. Baking as a service. But during my childhood days in the late 1960s, the Stollen we received was one my grandfather had bought.
        Maybe one can now buy it at other times of the year, but I have not paid attention to that. Christmas is now very commercialized and my impression is that the companies producing christmas specialties are trying to bring them to the market one week earlier every year. And almost as soon as Christmas things are out of the shops, the Easter stuff starts appearing.

        I wish you a happy new year!

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        • I love it that your grandmother was able to take her dough to the bakery and get them to bake it in their ovens. Sounds like something I would do if I could. It’s quite a challenge to replicate a good bread oven, especially since home ovens aren’t equipped with steamers and vents (none that I know of anyway). And for things like pizza crust, you want to get those temperatures soaring, which isn’t possible with most home ovens. I’ve had to come up with few hacks to deal with not having a proper bakery oven.

          I’ve been making my own stollen for the holidays the past couple years, and while I like the recipe I’ve been using, I have no idea if what I’m making tastes the way stollen is “supposed” to taste because I’ve never had anything but what I’ve baked myself. The stollen you had, do you remember if it was nearly half fruit and nuts and marzipan? Was it more bread-y than sweet, or more sweet than bread-y? The one I make is really something between a dessert and a bread. It seems like the kind of thing to have for breakfast.

          I know what you mean about pushing Christmas earlier and earlier. It used to be a rule that the lights didn’t go up until after Thanksgiving, but this year I was seeing them go up right after Halloween in some cases. Apparently some stores were selling out of Christmas stuff even before December.

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          • Sorry I did not answer in time. I was very busy over the last weeks and I still am. Now the season for Stollen is probably over. I will see if I can still get some information about it.

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            • No worries! I’m planning on making stollen every year. I love it and a lot of people around here seem to love it too. I brought one to a party once and it tickled me to watch a group of women sitting around a table quietly devouring it. When people stop talking, that’s when you know it’s good!

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          • I have never tried to bake stollen myself. I actually have reached an age where I have to be careful what I eat. As long as you are young, the body forgives many things, but when you get older, it is time to switch to a healthier lifestyle.
            Since there is no egg in Stollen and not so much sugar in the dough, it is a little bit more bread-like than cake-like. I liked to eat a slice of it with some a lot of butter spread on it and a very small pinch of salt. Not as much salt to make it taste really salty, just to round off the taste.
            Most recipes I can find are with butter. However, my father told me about a recipe where at least some of the butter was replaced with beef tallow. No idea how that tastes (different, I guess). I think that was the way his grandmother used to make it. He thought that was the real way to do it and much better. I don’t know if that tradition has survived anywhere. I have seen one recipe on the internet where some lard (Schweineschmalz) is used to replace some of the butter so the tradition of using animal fat is not completely extinct. It is probably regional.
            The stollen we got as children from the GDR had a very thick (several millimeters) crust of sugar and what is called “Butterschmalz” in German (clarified butter, i.e., the pure fat of butter). To make it, the molten clarified butter is brushed on the Stollen, then you put icing sugar on top, then butter again and icing sugar again. I don’t know if marzipan was inside the dough, but I have seen several recipes where this is done. It is possible they used some “ersatz”-products like persipan (made from peach or apricot seeds instead of almonds) or maybe some artificial aromas since the planned economy of the GDR was suffering from scarcities, but it was definitely very delicious. It used to come some time before Christmas in a flat, grey cardboard box which then got hidden somewhere (to protect it from us children and my father).
            There are lots of recipes on the internet. You may use a translator like deepl. That should give you rather good translations (and in case of mistranslations, interesting new recipes 😊).
            Some recipes have marzipan in the dough, some have it separate as a kind of filling and some none at all. If you use raisins, these are often put into rum overnight before being used. There are some versions with “quark” inside, that is a type of fresh cheese (and the reason why the name of the elementary particles sounds so ridiculous in German, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quark_(dairy_product)). But I think the resulting “Quarkstollen” is a separate kind of thing (but also delicious).
            I think it is important to make the Stollen several weeks before you eat it. It becomes better over time. Keeping it for so long is, however, difficult for obvious reasons. There are also people who think it can be kept for several months but I think that is an impossibility 😉.

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  1. Thanks for the info! It sounds like I’m making something very similar to what you had. Luckily I don’t have to worry about finding almonds for the marzipan. In fact, I don’t even have to grind them myself. It’s pretty easy to find almond meal or even almond flour.

    I ate the stollen I made with butter too, but I haven’t tried the salt. Sounds like a good idea. I like to add a tiny touch of salt to chocolate chip cookies right before I bake them. Makes all the difference.

    I also make my stollen with icing sugar (first brush the stollen with melted butter as they come out of the oven, then sprinkle with sugar.) Last year I had to keep adding more and more sugar because it kept seeping into the stollen, but maybe that’s a good thing? I’m beginning to think it is. This year I bought some “non-melting” confectioner’s sugar, which looks beautiful, but doesn’t taste as good.

    Meat fat seems strange to me, but I guess it used to be normal back in the day. It reminds me of mincemeat pie, which I guess used to include actual meat, though now it’s just dried fruit. Old recipes are so interesting. Even Julia Child’s recipes, which are still popular, nevertheless seem fairly dated now.

    That Quarkstollen sounds fabulous. I might have to look into that. I’ve never seen or heard of it.

    As for keeping it for several months, I have to agree—impossible!

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  2. “Last year I had to keep adding more and more sugar because it kept seeping into the stollen, but maybe that’s a good thing” I think that is the reason why they do not use butter but clarified butter. Butter contains water and the sugar might dissolve in it. It does not dissovle in the pure fat.

    There are traditional types of pastries that are baked (or deep fried) in melted lard (although nowadays in most cases they seem to be made with oil or vegetable fat instead) and they taste good, so I guess using such fats would not be bad. I guess it is a matter of the tradition of the area. I come from a traditional butter area where butter was traditionally used for everything. I am from Hamburg and just north of Hamburg is the area called Holstein. That is where the black and white Holstein cows, which are a breed of milk cows, are originally from. My father’s mother was from this area. His other grandparents, however, came from Saxony (where the Stollen-tradition comes from) and that might have been an animal-fat area. I don’t know.

    How did you come to Stollen? Not exactly a Korean tradition :-).

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    • You know, they sell ghee in supermarkets around here, so I might try using that next time. Assuming that’s the same thing?

      So how does a Korean decide to start making stollen? I think I saw it in a grocery store and wondered what it was and how it could be sitting out for so long without going stale. I didn’t actually buy it at the store because I thought it wouldn’t be very good. Then I found a recipe on the King Arthur flour website—my favorite site for baked goods—and this recipe sounded like something I’d enjoy:

      https://www.kingarthurbaking.com/recipes/christmas-stollen-recipe

      This recipe is pretty good, but I could tell right away I’d want to make some changes. I like to proof bread overnight in the fridge. The reason is, if you dump a lot of yeast in and give the dough a short rising time, the flavor is not as good as giving the dough less yeast and more time.

      Other changes:
      —I make my own candied lemon and orange from fruit that comes from our tree or from what the neighbors give me. The citrus around here is amazing, and there’s an abundance of it. Just today I got a huge bag of grapefruit from a neighbor.
      —I make my own marzipan. It’s so easy it’s hard to justify buying it when it’s so expensive at the store, and not nearly as good.
      —I tried using the dry milk…meh. I’m going back to using fresh milk, no water.

      And now I’ll try your clarified butter idea. If I don’t end up using store bought ghee, I can easily make my own simply by leaving the butter on the part of the counter that’s directly over the dishwasher, except this time when I wake up to find separated butter, it’ll be on purpose. 🙂

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      • Making your own marzipan is cool, but making your own candied citrus fruits is even cooler. I got some from my sister who is living in New Zealand and makes her own from trees in her garden or from neighbours. Very delicious stuff (and the marmelade as well!). At the moment, sending things from there is difficult, there is not much trafic now and she cannot come here at the moment.
        The only candied stuff I have made myself is candied unripe walnuts (called “Schwarze Nüsse”). You harvest them before the wooden shell formes inside (i.e. before end of June), the whole unripe green nuts. You have to pierce them (I do that with a fork and I have brown fingers afterwards for weeks), water them and exchange the water twice daily for two weeks. Then they are cooked and the candied with spices (they don’t have much taste of their own, but after a couple of months, they are really delicious. I guess it would also work with Hickory nuts, like Pecan, which are closely realted, but I don’t know. They are nice as a snack, with vanilla ice, with chease, cut small with cereals or with game meat.

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        • I love candied nuts! I’ve never had these candied unripe walnuts you’re talking about, which sound so intriguing. Do you have a walnut tree? When will they invent a way to send food instantly through the internet? 🙂

          You know, it’s funny that we’re talking about candied citrus because I just got some lemons from a neighbor and last night I started a batch of sweet preserved lemon rind. I used to boil thin-cut slices with sugar then set them out to dry (it takes forever), but the way I do it now is even easier. I just dice a whole lemon, leaving the juicy fruit part of the lemon intact as much as possible (the ones I get here from neighbors are incredibly juicy, not like the grocery store ones, but you can use grocery store lemons too). Then I pour a layer of sugar about an inch thick into mason jar, then add a layer of the diced lemon, and repeat until the jar is almost full. Close the jar, shake. Let it sit out at room temp for a couple of days and shake the jar whenever I pass by. When the sugar has dissolved—or when three days have passed, after which time the liquid starts to become boozy…which on second thought might be a good thing 🙂 — I stick the jar in the fridge. A few weeks later (or so) the rind will turn nearly translucent and that’s when I know it’s ready to use. The jar stays in the fridge for months and months and I can just scoop out a few spoonfuls of rind for baking or juice for sparkling lemonade or cocktails. The juice is basically a lemony simple syrup and it’s ready when the sugar dissolves.

          I also make a salty version of preserved lemon which I use even more often—at least once a week—for basic marinades (just add a bit to minced garlic and olive oil). Same simple process, just substitute coarse salt (like kosher) for the sugar. It’s really good on chicken and pork. You can even drop a bit of the rind into rice as its cooking…I like to do that when I’m making rice for Thai food because it goes well with fresh basil. Anyway, whatever savory dish you use it on, the lemon rind gives a unique flavor that goes beyond just using lemon juice. If you end up making this, just remember to use this to replace the salt in the recipe, but don’t add more salt otherwise your dish will be way too salty.

          I haven’t tried preserving our oranges; those just get eaten up. We have a kind of tree called “Arizona sweet” and they are the best oranges I’ve ever had. To give you an idea how sweet they are, even Geordie loves them (he’s really picky about fruit…it’s got to be the absolute best quality). We had no idea how good they’d be when we got the tree, but boy are we glad the guy at the nursery recommended that variety. Unfortunately the tree seems to bear fruit only once every two years. Fortunately, this year is the year! The tree is loaded now…we’re waiting until they’re super ripe, which is when they just fall into your hand or drop in the slightest breeze. I can’t wait!

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          • That process sounds cool. 🙂 I have to try that. I just got some citrus fruits from spain (organic, direct from the producer). I don’t really have much time now for such things but next year, I am going to try.
            For the nuts, I rather use a hot process: I prepare a nearly saturated sugar syrup, with spices added (vanilla, cinnamon, etc.). After the nuts have been watered for two to three weeks to extract bitter substances, they are boiled shortly with a little bit of salt, then put into the syrup. The syrup will extract the water and replace it with sugar, but it gets diluted that way, so every couple of days I have to take the nuts out and boil the syrup again (and/or add more sugar) to bring the sugar concentration back up again. Otherwise, it would start to ferment. I repeat this several times, it takes another two weeks or so. Then I boil the nuts with the sugar and fill them into jarrs while hot and close them (like jam). I could send you the exact instructions, if you are interested. So the whole process takes quite a lot of time although it is not that much of work. I collect the nuts from a tree on the street here. When I was living in cologne, I knew a lot of such trees. Here in Hannover, there are not so many, but I know this one good one with lots of low branches. Do you still have my email? You could send me your address, then I can send you a jarr, I think I have a few left and probably I am going to make some new ones this year.

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            • That’s quite a process and it sounds like something I could get into, but unfortunately we don’t have walnut trees here (at least none that I know of). Pecans can grow here, though I don’t come across them on my walks. I do still have your email address and I would love to try these if it’s not too much trouble for you and if it’s possible to ship. But whatever the case may be, that so sweet of you! I’m always on the lookout for fun culinary experiences.

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      • Here is one recipe to make clarified butter that I found, translated with deepl:
        1.dice the butter when cold and put it in a saucepan and let it melt slowly on the lowest heat.

        2.continue to simmer the butter on the lowest setting. Over time, the protein in the butter will settle to the bottom and the water in the butter will evaporate.

        3.skim off the foam that forms on top of the butter in between. As soon as all the water has evaporated and all the protein has settled on the bottom of the pan, the clarified butter can be passed through a sieve lined with a fine cloth (or alternatively with kitchen paper) to remove any residue from the clarified butter.

        The whole procedure can take up to 1.5 hours, because the butter must not be heated too high during clarification, so that the protein components do not burn. Clarified butter can be heated to very high temperatures but retains the subtle buttery flavor, making it perfect for cooking/frying. Clarified butter can be kept for up to 6 months (as it is pure fat), and even up to a year in the refrigerator.

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