1. What was one of your favorite childhood gifts that you gave?
I must have been ten or eleven years old when I found a small quail figurine I was sure my mother would love. I was right, and it graced our coffee table for many years.
2.What is one of your favorite Christmas recipes? Bonus points if you share the recipe with us.
Here's the recipe for my mother's fruitcake cookies, much loved in our family. Even people who claim not to like fruitcake seem to enjoy these. The Scientist and I first made them for what turned out to be my mother's last Christmas; all of the ingredients were in the house, but she was too ill to make the cookies. We have made them ever since, in her memory.
Drop Fruit Cakes
1 lb. fruitcake mix
1 c. raisins
14 oz. dates (Note: I can't find 14-oz. packages of dates here. I use two 6-oz. packages and add an extra 2 oz. raisins.)
1 1/2 lb. pecans, chopped
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. butter (1 stick)
3 c. flour
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda, dissolved in a little warm water
3 T. milk
Flour fruitcake mix, fruits and nuts with some of the flour. Make batter with the remaining ingredients and add to the floured fruit and nuts. (This requires a very large container--we have always used my mother's old Dutch oven--and the only way to mix this is with your hands, so have fun!) Drop from a spoon (or pinch off little pieces and roll into balls) onto greased cookie sheets. They don't spread as much as most cookies do. Bake at 250 degrees (yes, 250) for an hour; cool completely on racks before packing into tins. If desired, you may sprinkle them with 3 T. whiskey. (Since we don't like whiskey, ours are the teetotaling variety.) Makes 6 or 7 dozen, depending on how small they are.
3. What is a tradition that your family can't do without? (And by family, I mean family of origin, family of adulthood, or that bunch of cool people that just feel like family.)
The first one I thought of is actually rather recent. Two years ago, this delicious recipe for banana pancakes with caramel-banana syrup appeared in Bon Appetit. It became our standard Christmas morning breakfast! I'm hoping to start another tradition this year: tamales on Christmas Eve. That's very traditional in south Texas, and we love tamales but have never had them for Christmas Eve supper.
4. Pastors and other church folk often have very strange traditions dictated by the "work" of the holidays. What happens at your place?
We love the candlelight service on Christmas Eve. Since I am always singing and the Scientist is nearly always an usher for that service, we have to wrap up our Christmas Eve festivities at home in time to get to church early! The Scientist's family always opens all of their gifts on Christmas Eve (after 25 years I'm still not used to that, but oh well), and because of our schedule we have to eat dinner fairly early to have plenty of time for "Christmas tree".
5. If you could just ditch all the traditions and do something unexpected... what would it be?
I would love to have Christmas somewhere in Europe and enjoy the holiday traditions of whatever country we were visiting. Alternately, a secluded cabin with a fireplace, a well-stocked kitchen, and lots of books sounds good--especially if we could bring Amie with us!