Blend traditions for a happy holiday season
Diane Morgan's book, "The Christmas Table: Recipes and Crafts to Create Your Own Holiday Tradition," helps us blend traditions to make the holidays happy for one and all.
WHENEVER I'M needing a little infusion of holiday spirit, I can certainly fire up my favorite Elvis Christmas CD. Or, I can simply start flipping through the pages of Diane Morgan's "The Christmas Table: Recipes and Crafts to Create Your Own Holiday Tradition" (Chronicle Books, $19.95).
A brief disclaimer. Morgan and I are friends. I met the award-winning, Portland-based cookbook author-restaurant consultant more than 10 years ago at the Symposium for Professional Food Writers at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia.
We still laugh that we had to travel thousands of miles outside the Northwest to bump into each other at a buffet table. But once we started chatting over chicken Caesar salads, we simply never stopped.
A couple years ago, I was (frankly) kind of surprised when I found out that my buddy was working on a comprehensive Christmas book. On one level it formed a fitting follow-up to "The Thanksgiving Table," which was released in a second edition, "The New Thanksgiving Table" (Chronicle Books, $24.95) this fall.
But on another level, not so much, because I knew Morgan was raised Jewish in Pittsburgh.
"It might have been more amusing to author 'The Christmas Table' with a name like Rachel Weinstein," Morgan admits. "My editor and I even joked about it." But Morgan felt fit for the job because she grew up "in a pretty much reformed Jewish tradition."
Coming from a lengthy line of retailers who worked long hours during the busy holiday season, her family found it difficult to follow the Jewish tradition of a gift for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah. Instead, Morgan and her brothers got all their presents on Christmas day.
"In many ways, it was always a hybrid holiday for me," she explains.
Morgan continued "blending interfaith traditions" when she married Greg Morgan, a Quaker. Offspring Eric and Molly grew up enjoying recipes such as Fa-La-La-La Latkes and Christmas Kugel.
Morgan describes her menu for a Hybrid Holiday Meal as "a reflection of so many blended families these days." The five-course meal includes Spicy Crab in Wonton Cups, Diane Cohen's Brisket and Gingerbread Bundt Cake with Crème Anglaise.
So much has shifted in world and local economies since publication of "The Christmas Table" just one year ago. In these economically stressed, belt-tightening times, I asked Morgan what she predicts for holiday season 2009.
"I think this year is a great time to do simple holiday entertaining at home," she says. "A party doesn't need to be expensive or labor intensive. Planning is the key, and organizing is essential. Rethink what a holiday meal needs to include and skip the prime rib this year. The Roast Loin of Pork with Apricots and Dried Plums is a fabulous entrée and special enough for Christmas dinner."
Roast Pork Loin is just one of 70 recipes in the book, interspersed with lush photos by Seattle-based food photographer E.J. Armstrong.
In the tone of a trusted and patient friend, Morgan offers detailed information on seasonal foods and special ingredients, equipment and menus and timetables for everything from a Deck-the-Halls Decorating Party to A Grand Christmas Dinner for a Dozen.
Morgan devotes entire chapters to holiday breakfast foods, creative uses for leftovers and holiday baking. You'll find food gifts from the kitchen, too, such as two types of chocolate-covered pretzels, "Morgan's Own" House Vinaigrette and Diane's formerly secret recipe for Christmas Pecans.
In exchange for sharing her secret recipe, plus all the other goodies in this glorious gift of a book, Morgan asks readers for something in return: "To derive pleasure from creating your own holiday magic. Be playful in the kitchen. Have fun decorating your home. Take time to appreciate the sights and smells and sounds of the season. And above all, treasure everyone around your Christmas table."
Braiden Rex-Johnson is the author of "Pacific Northwest Wining & Dining." Visit her online at www.NorthwestWiningandDining.com.
White Chocolate-Dipped Pretzel Logs
Makes 12 pretzels
4 ounces white chocolate, chopped
12 pretzel rods
1/3 to 1/2 cup mixed red, green and white nonpareil sprinkles
1. To melt the chocolate, place three-fourths of the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over barely simmering water in the lower pan, or in a heatproof bowl set over barely simmering water in a saucepan.
2. Slowly melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally. Remove the top of the double boiler or the bowl and wipe the bottom to prevent any water from coming in contact with the chocolate. Stir in the remaining chocolate. Continue to stir until all the chocolate is melted.
3. Line a rimmed baking sheet with waxed paper or parchment paper. (Do not spray the paper with cooking spray.) Working with 1 pretzel at a time, dip the top half in the melted chocolate and allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the pan. You can also use the back of a spoon to remove the excess.
4. Place the dipped pretzels on the prepared baking sheet. Allow the chocolate to cool and set slightly, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the chocolate-covered half of each pretzel with the sprinkles, turning to coat all sides.
5. Refrigerate until the chocolate is hardened, about 20 minutes. The pretzels will release from the paper once dry. (The dipped pretzels can be made up to 1 week ahead. Layer them, without touching, between sheets of waxed paper in a flat, airtight container and store at room temperature.)
— "The Christmas Table"
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.