This post comes to us courtesy of writer and Williams-Sonoma creative consultant Laura Martin Bacon.
The holiday season is about believing in magic – and knowing that wishes really do come true. Really, it’s all about being a kid (no matter what your actual age).
“I don’t plan to ever grow up all the way,” my friend Christy’s young son once confided. His mom’s response: “Well, I hope not, because I sure haven’t. It’s the secret to finding the fun in life – and celebrating every day.”
These days, Christy Rost is a cookbook author and PBS TV chef. Her holiday wish: to help everyone celebrate the magic of Christmas with the simplicity and playfulness of a child – whenever the spirit moves us and our schedules allow.
Christy’s go-to source for holiday spirit is St. Nicholas, whose traditional feast day is today, December 6th.
“St. Nicholas was legendary for his generosity to people who could use a little kindness,” Christy says. “For me, he personifies the seasonal ideals of simple goodness and sharing. St. Nick reminds me of how much fun it is to surprise friends, neighbors, co-workers or acquaintances with something totally unexpected.”
Making a special little gift and delivering it in secret is a great way recapture the magic of giving for the sheer joy of it. “When I let myself get caught up in the rush of holiday to-do lists, it’s so easy to lose sight of what this season really means,” Christy tells me.
“Being a ‘secret santa’ gives me a taste of a simpler time, when I wasn’t so busy. I always have a big smile on my face when I’m making and wrapping my surprise treats, because I can imagine the happiness they’ll bring.”
Playing St. Nick isn’t about being fancy or complicated, Christy assures me. “In fact,” she says, “it should be very simple and whimsical – this is one of those pure, true gifts where it really is the thought that counts.”
Here’s Christy’s step-by-step recipe for being St. Nick – any time you like:
Start with a sweet dream. “Everyone loves a little something sweet – from homemade cupcakes or cookies to a few pieces of chocolate from your favorite candy shop. What matters most is the surprise – and the fun you’ll have delivering your gifts in secret. Some people will know who the giver was, some may guess and others will be totally mystified!”
Have yourself some very merry presentation. “This year, I’m putting my St. Nick cupcakes in colorful little boxes. Last year, I made red-and-white felt mittens and filled them with homemade gingerbread men. Another year, I made cones of heavy craft paper, filled them with candy cane-shaped sugar cookies and wrapped them in clear cellophane.”
Invite a few elves to join your festive fun. “When it comes to kindness, I always say ‘the more, the merrier’! It’s fun to invite a few kids from the neighborhood – you’re creating fun and memories for them and giving their parents the gift of free time. Or adopt a ‘grandfriend’ by asking an elderly friend or neighbor to help bake, package – or just enjoy the festivities.”
Savor the joy of special surprises. “A simple surprise gift can mean a lot. I’ve always felt that gifts from the kitchen are particularly treasured because they’re made with love by your own hands. If you’re short on time, try surprising your family with a special table setting – it’ll turn an ordinary weeknight supper into a magical holiday celebration.”
Spread holiday cheer all around your world. “You can deliver your surprises any time it works for you. Hang your gifts on neighbors’ doorknobs, leave them on your co-workers’ desks, drop them off at a local nursing home or set them on the family dinner table. Whichever you choose, your kindness celebrates the true spirit of the holidays – and creates sweet moments to remember.”
Christy Rost’s Holiday Molasses Spice Cupcakes
1 1/4 cups milk
2 tsp. vinegar
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 Tbs. brown sugar, packed
1 Tbs. molasses
3 1/4 cups flour
1 3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. Saigon cinnamon
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. vanilla (add 2 tsp. vanilla when baking at high altitude)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine milk and vinegar, stir, and set the mixture aside until the milk sours.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugars together until the mixture is light; stir in the molasses. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger until well blended. Gradually mix the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture, alternately with the sour milk, scraping the bowl often, until the batter is thick.
Line cupcake pans with inserts and fill each cup ½ full. Bake 18 to 20 minutes until a tester inserted into the center of the cupcakes comes out clean. Remove them from the oven and cool 3 minutes, then remove the cupcakes from the pans and transfer them to a wire rack to cool. Makes 34 to 36 cupcakes.
Christy Rost’s Cream Cheese Frosting
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
Dash of salt
9 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
5 to 6 Tbs. whipping or heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter, cream cheese, and salt. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar, alternately with the cream, beating well until the frosting is light and fluffy. Stir in the vanilla and mix well.
When the cupcakes are cool, transfer some of the frosting into a large piping bag fitted with a large star tube, and pipe a swirl of frosting to cover the top of each cupcake. Sprinkle with holiday sprinkles or tinted sugar and set them aside. If desired, tint the remaining frosting as desired, transfer it to piping bags, and decorate any way you like.
About the author: Laura is a longtime writer and creative consultant for Williams-Sonoma and other well-known entities. She’s also the Culinary Creative Director of DooF (“food” backwards), an organization that uses multi-media entertainment, education and live events to help kids and families discover the magic of food. DooF explores every aspect of food – from flavors, history, science and cultural traditions to the exciting journey from source-to-table. Laura’s mission: to make good food fun – at home, in the classroom and beyond.