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Archive for the 'Christmas' Category

Holiday Countdown #9: Toffee Bars

Holiday Cookies (Photo by Mark DuFrene/Bay Area News Group) From gingerbread elves to crunchy biscotti and toffee bars, there’s no doubt that cookies make holidays merrier. It’s not just the sweet, chocolaty goodness of it all. What makes cookies such an integral part of the holidays, says Berkeley’s doyenne of sweets, Alice Medrich, is the whole process — the sifting, the rolling, the aromas and the sense of warm, familial togetherness.
“It’s something that women and children have always done together in the kitchen,” she says in this week’s food section. “It’s a wonderful tradition.”

Read more about Alice and holiday cookies here. Then dip into her wonderful recipes, including these Toffee Bars from her book “Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies,” (Workman Publishing, 384 pp., $25.95). Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Tuesday, December 14th, 2010
Under: Christmas, Cuisine, holidays | No Comments »

NORAD Tracking Santa

NORAD Tracks Santa It’s almost time for what may be one of the most charming federal government traditions around. For the last 50 years, NORAD has tracked Santa’s progress around the world. Seems back in 1955, Sears Roebuck & Co. ran an ad with Santa’s phone number, but they accidentally transposed some digits and ran the hotline number for the commander-in-chief of NORAD’s predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD), instead. So operations director Colonel Harry Shoup had his staff check the radar and give children, who called, updates on Santa’s progress from the North Pole. NORAD volunteers – staff, family and friends (see photo below) – have been doing it ever since, answering phones, e-mails and now posting updates online. This year, they’re counting down the days till sleigh time with an entire North Pole village-full of children’s activities. Click on the clock tower and you can light up a Christmas tree by connecting all the electrical wires (folks, it’s hard – I’d still be working on the puzzle, but I have deadlines to meet!), an ornament game, music making and various other puzzles and activities. Very fun.
NORAD's Santa Tracking Center (Courtesy NORAD)

Posted on Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009
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HOLIDAY COUNTDOWN #12: Gingerbread house delights

Staff Photojournalist
It seems fitting to end our 12 Days of Christmas (and Other Holidays) with a little gingerbread. Nothing quite says holiday season like the smell of gingerbread and the look of these delightful houses. My sister-in-law, Lisa, convinced me to let my stepdaughter, Dana, make one with her older cousin four years ago. It’s become an annual tradition ever since. And with each year, Lisa and I get a little more creative. Sure, the kids do the decorating but the base of operations begins with us moms.

We thought it would look great (and smell good) if we could find a way to stick a small light into the back of the house. Naturally, this meant cutting out a window — then several windows, and this year skylights in the roofs. Our first year with windows, we melted Imperial hearts to give them a red sheen that lit up thanks to the inserted light. This year, we got more creative, making our own poured sugar and adding food color for a stained glass effect. Having got the knack of that, we also poured blue sugar to create a river over which Dana add a Tootsie Roll bridge. Creativity has no limits.

Which is one of the reasons why I love the newspaper’s annual Gingerbread House Contest. (See the winners and runners-up online. Pictured is the third-place house, created by a teenager from Foster City) In addition to creative adults, we had quite a few imaginative kid entries this year, too. What I really love about looking at all the pictures is picking up clever ideas for next year. To learn more and find recipes for your creations, continue reading…

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Posted on Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008
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Looking for some newfangled carols to sing? The Times and Trib ran our third annual Twisted Carols contest, asking readers to submit their own lyrics to some classic holiday songs. The best of the bunch go online and in print on Thursday morning, but here’s a sneak peek, courtesy of the Acalanes High School choir:

Posted on Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008
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HOLIDAY COUNTDOWN #11: Top that tree

topper4Growing up, my family always finished off the trees in the same way. We had a blond-haired angel (which seemed odd in a family of brown-haired folks) on the main tree and a lit star on the smaller window tree. It’s likely my parents would still be using the same tree toppers today if my mom hadn’t downsized the main tree and scratched the window tree four years ago.

In my own house, I decided we should try to be different. That’s how we ended up with a teddy bear wearing a green Christmas dress topping our tree. My stepdaughter, Dana, and I wanted an “original.” And truth be told, with so many other holiday decorating items, we couldn’t find a spot for the Christmas bear. Our Do-It-Yourself project was pretty simple. Using thick cardboard, we made a cone, stuck it up around the bears legs and then used safety pins (through the underside of the cone) to attach the bear to the cone. She’s been atop our tree the past three years.

But to avoid getting stuck in a rut, we’ve vowed to retire the Christmas bear next year and make a new tree topper. Fortunately, we’ve found some great online resources for other DIY tree toppers. Here are just a few that sound interesting:

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Posted on Monday, December 22nd, 2008
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HOLIDAY COUNTDOWN #10: Candy cane cooking

KN CANDYCANES 5 DESomehow, every year we end up with at least two or three boxes of miniature candy canes. They seem to mutate like single socks. I didn’t even buy any this season, and we still ended up with 3 1/2 boxes. With so much excess, my stepdaughter and I had only one choice: get cooking.

We have three candy-canes-included recipes that have become favorites. Each one is simple enough that the kids can help. My stepdaughter, Dana, loves to pound the candy canes with a meat mallet. So, instead of crushed candy canes, often we end up with candy cane powder.

The easiest recipe is one we came up with ourselves. Buy a package of Keebler Grasshopper chocolate covered mint cookies (or bust the Girl Scout Thin Mints out of the freezer). Line them up on plates or cookie sheets. Melt two bars of white baking chocolate in the microwave (about 3 minutes, stirring after 2 minutes). Put a dollop of melted white chocolate in the center of the cookie. Sprinkle with crushed candy cane. Place in the refrigerator for 5 minutes or until set. Store them in an airtight container. (For other recipes, read on:)

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Posted on Sunday, December 21st, 2008
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HOLIDAY COUNTDOWN #9: Deck the house

Staff PhotojournalistFor three years, I’ve had the opportunity to “peek” inside the decorated homes of three readers. I love our annual Holiday Homes Tour in the Home & Garden section because I always walk away wondering, “Could I do that, too?” (No worries, Husband, I won’t go too far overboard.) Last year, I admired how one Moraga resident draped lit garland with cooking-themed ornaments over her kitchen window. At an after-Christmas sale, I found this cute candy-themed string of garland, and this season, I started decking out my own kitchen window.

What’s fun about this year’s trio of homes in the Holiday Home Tour is how some of the decorating ideas are simple enough to be done with the kids (see all the pictures and the article in our Home & Garden section). One of my personal favorites is the reindeer tree (pictured). All it took Marilou Belo of Danville was an antler headband, round red ornament for a nose and a bow for the neck. Simple yet fun. Read on to see some of the other great ideas.

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Posted on Saturday, December 20th, 2008
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HOLIDAY COUNTDOWN #8: Snowflake Cookies

Snowflake Cookie Wreath (courtesy Washington Post)The Washington Post recently tapped Heather Chittum from Hook Restaurant in DC to craft a few sugary fantasies. The results – a Santa’s sleigh filled with ethereal Wedding Cookies, and an icy blue and white snowflake wreath made entirely out of sugar cookies – ran in the Times and Trib this week too – and we couldn’t resist sharing the links and some how-tos! So here’s how to make Heather Chittum’s Snowflake Sugar Cookie Wreath (pictured at left):

1. You’ll need about 30 baked snowflake cookies, preferably of 3 or 4 different sizes (see Heather Chittum’s Sugar Cookie recipe or use your own favorite). For the base, use a thin (½-inch) Foamcore ring that is 10 to 12 inches in diameter; the width of the ring (the surface for attaching the cookies) should be about 2 inches.
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Posted on Friday, December 19th, 2008
Under: Christmas, Cuisine | No Comments »

HOLIDAY COUNTDOWN: Let there be lights

If my stepdaughter, Dana, had her way, we would singlehandedly keep every PG&E worker employed for at least a year. That’s because she would love to turn our house into the equivalent of a Las Vegas casino during the holiday season. The icicle lights trimming our house, two lit spiral trees and lit garland around the door hardly rank us among the best and brightest for holiday lights. We’re rather boring in her estimation, and I haven’t improved our lot by taking her every year to see how everyone else lights up their neighborhood.

Fortunately, gas prices have gone down so we won’t have to forfeit our annual car trip around the Bay Area in search of the best lit displays. Bonus points to our online team for putting together the 2008 holiday lights map, so we have a head start in our quest. (And by the way, if you go all out with the lights, feel free to add your house to the map.) The map is how we found out about Casa del Pomba House of the Dove (top picture). The house on Hillcrest Avenue in Livermore is so popular, it has its own Web site.

lightsBut even your everyday homes really know how to get into the holiday spirit. Just check out this Walnut Creek house on Flowerwood Place (Dana and I have a fondness for snowmen). If you go touring for lights, bring along a thermos of hot chocolate, your favorite CD of Christmas music and your camera.

Posted on Wednesday, December 17th, 2008
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HOLIDAY Countdown #4: Candy Cane Cookies

Candy Cane Cookies (Courtesy cute are these?? Chocolate sugar cookies drizzled with white chocolate and crushed peppermint candies — another winner from those baking whizzes over at, who’ve been knocking our socks off this year with their cute baking and craft ideas (and their generosity in sharing the how-tos with us.)

We just keep thinking how cute these would look tucked into a cookie platter. Perfect for a cookie exchange. If you’ve been thinking about hosting a cookie swap, this is definitely the time to do it. Although frankly, anytime is a good time for cookies… OK, read on for the Candy Cane Cookie recipe.
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Posted on Monday, December 15th, 2008
Under: Christmas, Cuisine | No Comments »