12.14.16 Holidaze (& a Giveaway)

Caramels 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

Have you been sucked into the December vortex? Standing in long lines, eating too much sugar and feeling like a loser because you can't afford to buy all the presents are some indications that the holidays are getting the better of you. Resist! I say. Go simple. Stay true. Be calm. It's a challenge, I know. Just the other day, as I sat wrapping gifts, I was overcome with sadness. Both my parents are gone, what little family I have lives on the West Coast and most of my friends are far away. I never had children. I live in a tiny cottage and my home doesn't overflow with several generations. My life suddenly seemed very thin to me and, I confess, I felt a little sorry for myself. And I start every day with a gratitude practice in which I carefully review all my many blessings! What is it about this time of year that preys on our vulnerabilities? I didn't really snap out of it until my husband came home and took me in his arms and talked me through the realities: I am healthy. I am safe. I am lucky. I am loved. There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.

Spoons1 790 xxx
spoon fed

Onward & upward! I'd like to share a few of my holiday highlights with you. In that top photo is, of course, evidence of the annual caramel-making tradition. This year I am not doing a huge mailing of them. I decided I would just give them away to people I actually encountered in the flesh. The exception, of course, is you. I have a few bags for lucky readers in far-flung corners. To be eligible for my random drawing for golden-cardamom and chocolate-chile sea salt caramels, leave a comment at the bottom of this post by Sunday, 12/18, telling me about your favorite holiday tradition.


This picture, above, is from my visit to Blackcreek Mercantile. I was headed to Kingston, NY, for an appointment with my homeopath and happened to read that they'd opened a new retail space. Their wooden kitchen utensils and furniture are beautifully made. I especially love the ones that are stained black. They also carry work by local artisans, including some stunning handblown glasses by Ernesto Echeverria. When in Kingston, make sure to check out Hops Petunia and Clove & Creek. Both shops carry charming assortments of locally made (or locally relevant) goods. 

Grouse 790 xxx

Just before Thanksgiving, a gorgeous grouse showed up in our yard! G and I were putting the garden to bed and this feathered friend started hanging around. He wasn't at all shy, unlike most wild birds, and we now suspect that he was raised in captivity and released on the grounds of a nearby hunting club for game season. Whatever his provenance, he is safe with us now. We have named him Larry David and provide him with a steady diet of cracked corn. He seems to get along just fine with the jays, doves, woodpeckers, cardinals and chickadees that are all regular guests at our winter feeder. (There is some interesting symbolism associated with the grouse.)

Gingerbread 790 xxx
(not) daily bread

Gingerbread is a holiday favorite of mine. I start to crave it by October and usually bake it at least twice during the cold weather. I like this recipe because it turns out great no matter what I do to it. Once I forgot to add the egg and it was still divine. This year I made it using blackstrap molasses (rather than unsulphured) and it was better than ever. The crackly lemon glaze is essential.

Citrus 790 xxx
california dreaming

Speaking of lemons, I am so excited about my annual delivery of organic Meyer lemons from Lemon Ladies Orchard in California. They are grown by the amazing Karen Morss and each one of her trees is named for a woman who helped her achieve her goals and dreams. She always includes a surprise or two in my box—see the green makrut limes and the California bay leaves? I'm all set to make preserved lemons.

Red sea 790 xxx

Of course a delicious cocktail is required to toast our many blessings. I like this one, The Red Sea, because it makes good use of the season's vibrant fruit: blood orange, pomegranate and kumquat. (And my friend Nini spoiled me with the most stunning tin of fragrant Persian saffron, which I will use to make the infused vodka.)

Ls 790 xxx
eye of the beholder

My husband took this portrait of me last week and I think it really captures the joy at the center of our connection. When I told him that I knew everything would be OK because I always had him, he smiled gently and said, "Even more importantly, you have you." Handsome, kind and wise! I really am blessed.


But enough philosophizing—there are caramels to eat! Actually, I scarfed down so many of the chocolate ones the day I made them that I got heart palpitations and felt nauseous. (The upside is that I simply can't eat any more.) Let that be a lesson to you when you get yours! Now, leave me a comment so you can get back to cultivating inner peace. xo



Lovely photos! The cocktail looks "to die for"! One of my favorite holiday traditions is cookie baking. It started as a weekend group thing - but now I am on my own and spread it out along a few days. I bake several different types and give them all away. Happy Holidays to you! and Larry.
Carolyn on December 14, 2016 at 8:48 am —
How deliciously generous! xo
laura on December 14, 2016 at 5:49 pm —
I love all of the holiday traditions, but my absolute favorite is my family's annual game of scrabble during the holidays, accompanied by Chinese food on Christmas Eve.
Casey on December 14, 2016 at 9:03 am —
Are you a New Yorker? Sounds perfect! xo
laura on December 14, 2016 at 5:50 pm —
My favorite holiday tradition is connecting with old friends, family and the such. I bake treats and send them along with cards and school photos of my boys..this makes me remember and connect all af once.
pamela on December 14, 2016 at 9:27 am —
I think at least one of those boys is with you in the kitchen, no? xo
laura on December 14, 2016 at 5:50 pm —
OK- that response from your husband brought tears to my eyes "You have you!"Beautiful! My holiday tradition is making Danish fruit soup and this year hope to make elderberry winter medicine to give as gifts. The caramels look amazing.
Connie on December 14, 2016 at 10:11 am —
Danish fruit soup?! Elderberry winter medicine?! A girl after my own heart. xo
laura on December 14, 2016 at 5:51 pm —
First, I really appreciate you sharing how you feel/felt. It really encapsulates what many of us are thinking and going through. Second, your pictures are beautiful. My favorite holiday tradition is going to the very old Episcopal Church that I grew up in for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. It's very close to my factory and where I attend now after a long absence. I remember one Christmas Eve my little brother and I were acolytes at the altar and my father was a reader (about two years before he died) and my brother knocked over a candle. The church was filled with decorations of fresh pine including at the altar. My dad put the little fire out at the altar before it could have spread thru the whole church. It was funny but could have been tragic. For some reason I cherish that memory and enjoy going back to that church.
Shawn on December 14, 2016 at 10:17 am —
I used to love going to midnight mass with my parents, the music especially. Thank you for sharing your dramatic tale! xo
laura on December 14, 2016 at 5:53 pm —
A very wise husband, indeed. I, too have the same feelings, no large family, we elected not to have kids and my husbands mother is spiraling into dementia. So these days I choose not to get pulled into that vortex of what Christmas is supposed to be...it should be all about giving and loving and feeling gratitude. My holiday tradition is to play Christmas music in the car while driving to and fro plus a few hours every evening while cooking dinner. My husband puts up with it because he knows I need it and on occasion he'll enjoy one or two of Nat King Cole's renditions. Many blessings to you two and your new grouse!!!
cheri on December 14, 2016 at 10:33 am —
Thank you, Cheri! I love my Christmas music, too. Joan Baez's album is my favorite. xo
laura on December 14, 2016 at 5:53 pm —
It's strange you mentioned the chocolate "overdose"--the same thing happened to me last weekend! Since giving up coffee even on the weekends, I am so sensitive, and of course now my husband finally converts to only good coffee. One cup sent me into a daylong tailspin! My favorite holiday tradition is the New Year's Eve long drive home from visiting family and spending a quiet evening with my husband. We are lucky to have long distance family we enjoy, but this time is important to recharge and be grateful for the everyday joys. Like makrut limes--how will you use yours? I have a glut and curry paste does not use much. I love them with gin. It's nice to have you back -- Happy New Year!
val on December 14, 2016 at 10:43 am —
Sounds like you keep a good balance! I think I'm going to infuse some of the limes into vodka. Stay tuned, may post about that. I also love the zest in tapioca pudding and in coconut sorbet. xo
laura on December 14, 2016 at 5:54 pm —
Oh lovely Laura, I'm glad you're back to feeling happy and content with yourself. The world is a bit off axis now and it's important for us all to stay grounded. My favorite holiday highlight is making Christmas morning breakfast. Lots of meats, shirred eggs sprinkled with paprika, rosemary olive oil toast, fresh squeezed orange juice, fruit salad and what everyone really comes for is the sour cream coffee cake. Somehow the (most) of the family disputes are set aside, we all come together and commune. This has been a tradition for 30 years that's only been missed once. Wishing you a lovely holiday and steady feet on the happiness highway.
Randy Skinner on December 14, 2016 at 11:12 am —
Who wouldn't set aside disputes over a breakfast like that?! xo
laura on December 14, 2016 at 5:59 pm —
You have a new fan! I love to read your posts, they make me laugh, calm and happy. Please don't stop. I am already looking forward to the next one.
Petra on December 14, 2016 at 12:08 pm —
Welcome, Petra, and thanks for your kind words. I think you found me through Salon, yes? xo
laura on December 14, 2016 at 5:57 pm —
Love your posts!! And you are Stunning (love the photo) Growing up in the Midwest in a tiny town, our family was one of the few Catholics around .. due to the fact my Dad married my Mom of German descent from a neighboring town. We Always sang Silent Night on Christmas Eve and we were allowed to,open one present under the tree. But the most precious moment was when my Mom would sing Silent Night in German. I can still hear her wonderful voice.. And she remembered the words even when she was 100 and her memory for most things was gone.
JC on December 14, 2016 at 12:08 pm —
I miss my mother's singing voice, too. How lucky you were to have yours for so long! xo
laura on December 14, 2016 at 6:00 pm —
Lovely post, Laura. My favorite holiday tradition is to bake gingerbread. It's my contribution to holiday dinners and parties. I'm so glad I have a new recipe to try, thanks to you!
Tamiko on December 14, 2016 at 12:10 pm —
I hope you enjoy the recipe, Tamiko - let me know! xo
laura on December 14, 2016 at 6:00 pm —
What wonderful photos! My favourite family traditional is when the family is full and happy we all take a reading break. Cozy up with blankets in a comfortable chair, eat cookies and drink tea/wine and just read. Books, newspaper, sometimes the crosswords. It is a fabulous way to take time and just chill : )
Celina on December 14, 2016 at 12:37 pm —
Ah, those screen-free moments—good for you! xo
laura on December 14, 2016 at 6:01 pm —
My childhood Christmases were filled with traditions carried through from my mom's Dutch heritage. I continued with them through motherhood because I felt it was so important for my young sons to experience and gain an appreciation for the Christmas Season. My sons have grown up and the weeks leading up to Christmas have become empty . I have to guard myself from becoming cynical in a tinsel and plastic materialistic world. The start of the Advent season is the day I mark off to make my own advent wreath. As I work the wreath , the fresh green conifer boughs infuse my senses with fond warm memories and a new found joy for the festive winter season. The brilliant red ribbons which hold the wreath above the kitchen table glow warm in the candlelight. My world is good again.
Bernadette Vooght on December 14, 2016 at 12:59 pm —
How beautifully you describe this simple yet profound connection to the natural world. xo
laura on December 14, 2016 at 6:02 pm —
well Francesca will be too mournful without your caramels so tossing our hat in the ring here .. favorite tradition is making a gingerbread house inside our crazy metal (un-gingerbread) house. love to you and George and all your fellow woodland creatures
Miriam on December 14, 2016 at 12:59 pm —
Something tells me she won't be disappointed. xoxo
laura on December 14, 2016 at 6:02 pm —
I just had to say how lovely the portrait your husband took of you is. It's just perfect in every way, and it's so nice of you to share the sentiment behind it. Also, I definitely plan to try your gingerbread recipe which looks amazing! As for holiday traditions, I don't have a favorite per se, but I do pride myself on keeping my calm and enjoying the season every year. As an atheist, the Christmas story itself is not really what I celebrate, but I love the concept of a time to specifically share and spread peace on earth and goodwill towards mankind, so to me, allowing stresses to take over would be a sacrilege. Now if we can only figure out a way to keep those sentiments front of mind throughout the year.
Ginger on December 14, 2016 at 1:09 pm —
Yes, peace and goodwill shouldn't really have a season, should they? xo
laura on December 14, 2016 at 6:03 pm —
my favorite holiday tradition? bien sur....your caramels! thank you for the reminder of what really counts, especially true this time of year and this year! love you xo
stephanie on December 14, 2016 at 1:34 pm —
Love you, too, Madame! xo
laura on December 14, 2016 at 6:04 pm —
When I was young (<6yo) my mother made a felt Christmas tree with sewn-on faux jewels as ornaments for my bedroom door. When I went away to college I decorated by dorm room door with it, and have found a place to hang it every December since, even if that is only decoration I put up.
Jack on December 14, 2016 at 2:16 pm —
Loyalty is at the heart of tradition, isn't it? Well done! xo
laura on December 14, 2016 at 6:05 pm —
Oh my goodness, I love your posts so much. Thank you. My favorite Christmas tradition is actually waking up before everyone else on Christmas morning, sitting by the tree where I can smell the fresh pine, and feeling like a kid again.
Jenna on December 14, 2016 at 4:49 pm —
What a sweet image of you enjoying that precious moment! xo
laura on December 14, 2016 at 6:07 pm —
Laura, What a lovely portrait, it captures your glow and amazing smile. I do not celebrate holidays but enjoy the twinkling lights all around. At the end of the year I sometimes take stock of my blessings and realize how fortunate we are even if our families are small, they fill our heart with joy, love and optimism just the same. Thinking of you when I visit Shopper's Corner. Keep smiling you are loved and cherished by many!!!!
Teresa on December 14, 2016 at 5:02 pm —
Thank you so much, Teresa! Please kiss those Shoppers Corner butchers for me! xo
laura on December 14, 2016 at 6:06 pm —
Well, I suspect that Australia might just be a little further far flung than you intended, but I would like to share my traditions. There ain't no traditions any more. My life and family have fragmented so much over the years, that all the traditions I tried to cling on to just seemed too try hard and irrelevant. I now have a very significant other, just like you, and this year it will just be the two of us, together with very good champagne, very good food, a very good view, and a lot of tipsy fiddling with my new garden. All the very best to you. I know the year has not been great, which I am sure means that next year will be spectacularly good. Cheers to you!
Christine on December 14, 2016 at 5:42 pm —
Sounds like a very good time, indeed! Thank you for your ongoing support xo
laura on December 14, 2016 at 6:08 pm —
so often I think that total strangers may be closer to us than our own families, there is never any pretense with someone you don't (and will never know) thank you for sharing your feelings. I too am far from my family, have no real tradition for xmas (other than eating tamales) and have a good man. for me the real charm of the holiday is having a day, a single day with no commitments, a day for peace and quiet, and no business. hope you enjoy yours as well. glenne
Glenne Stoll on December 14, 2016 at 7:53 pm —
Yes, what a difference a day makes! Tamales will be eaten here, too. xo
laura on December 15, 2016 at 11:10 pm —
The holiday tradition I like best is "the julefrokost" that takes place on the 26 th of december. I make it with my mother and daughter. It is everything home made from pickled herring to home made liverpate and meatballs, all in a very strict order of serving
Rita on December 15, 2016 at 2:21 am —
That sounds absolutely marvelous! I'm intrigued enough to investigate further. xo
laura on December 15, 2016 at 11:11 pm —
I love coming home to a lighted house this time of year, and seeing all displays on the way home. Skip right over my entry, I have much too much sugar in my house already. Merriest holidays to you, and yours.
Laura on December 15, 2016 at 6:38 am —
Ah, the festival of lights! (You'll get no more sugar from me!) xo
laura on December 15, 2016 at 11:12 pm —
I block off hours on my calendar for holiday crafting. I take these appointments very seriously and never miss them. It's just me and my ideas and a list of personal friends I want to make things for. This year I harvested SO much lavender I am making dryer sachets and drawer sachets. I'm also making little velvet lined purses for fancy nights out! I even make dog and cat treats because 4-legged creatures are some of my very favorite personal friends.
Amanda on December 15, 2016 at 9:28 am —
Wow, you have some extremely lucky friends! xo
laura on December 15, 2016 at 11:12 pm —
The holiday season. When like Scrooge, all that was, and all who were and all what might have been touch us as they pass. Happiness is the way, and thankfully there are an infinite number of valid and wonderful ways to live this life x
Rayne on December 15, 2016 at 10:45 am —
Indeed. Thanks for the poetry! xo
laura on December 15, 2016 at 11:13 pm —
That's such a lovely photo of you! This is our summer holiday, so our traditions, such as they are, involve a couple of weeks off work, lazing about in the sunshine, reading, watching cricket, bike rides, some feasting. We don't generally make too much of a fuss and try to avoid the crazy gifting frenzy. It is all about maximum relaxing. The December Vortex happens here too - but a couple of years ago we just chose not to participate - one of the best decisions I've made!
carolbaby on December 16, 2016 at 3:13 am —
I love the image of you celebrating Christmas in the sunshine, while here we're covered in snow! xo
laura on December 16, 2016 at 7:27 am —
I live miles from my childhood home but all my family has scattered far and wide. Due to some challenges we are not traveling to spend the holidays with any of my family, so I know that hint of sadness you feel. At Christmas every member of our family always hangs a stocking , even Grandma and Grandpa. Then we all sneak around putting little gifts into each other's stocking...I think the adults have more fun than the kids.
Diane on December 17, 2016 at 8:49 am —
We have a stocking tradition, too! So much fun. xo
laura on December 18, 2016 at 8:22 am —
i could say getting a tree and bringing it inside to decorate, but most everyone does that. my family would revolt if that didn't happen. but my favourite tradition, personally, is forcing (more coaxing than forcing) bulbs, both amaryllis and paper whites. love the blog laura. be well!
suzanne on December 17, 2016 at 8:45 pm —
I love winter flowers! So uplifting. xo
laura on December 18, 2016 at 8:24 am —
Here in Oregon it has been cold, the Jays are hitting the outdoor cat food dish on the regular right now as it has been freezing here for several days. The house is decorated to within an inch of its life and we are waiting for 10 or 12 (or more depending on who might be alone) friends and neighbors to join us on the 25th for the general disorganization of finding tables, chairs, tablecloths, cloth napkins, glasses and silver to fill the living room and eating area in our house. Finally we sit to eat, everyone bringing their favorite dish and me trying those last minute recipes that seemed like a good idea before the event. Something bubbly to drink, something usually bubbling over in the oven setting off the smoke alarm, a spatchcocked (sp?) turkey, and for afterward a pumpkin pie (not my fav), poppy seed rum cake, and yule log (I love to bake) and finally dirty dishes into a tote in the utility room ( teensy kitchen) tables folded up and we all sit around and visit, some friends staying overnight and some bundling up and heading out to their cars (I hope they have turned around when they get here in the daylight!!! Love and good wishes to all - don't forget your charitable giving!!!
Candace on December 18, 2016 at 9:51 am —
Sounds magical! Enjoy celebrating with your friends. xo
laura on December 18, 2016 at 11:42 am —
What a lovely, thoughtful, heartfelt post! So glad to have you sharing with us regularly again. Even more glad I got to "see you in the flesh"! I will be lusting over that gingerbread recipe and perhaps giving it a whirl this season with the gluten-free flour you recommended. Oh! And your divine caramels were devoured in one sitting by all of us. Well, by me. xoxo
Tanya on December 18, 2016 at 9:31 pm —
Loved seeing your radiant face! xoxo
laura on December 19, 2016 at 8:54 am —
I love the night we bring home the Tree! Unfortunately this year we don't have a nest so we're visiting family however we are still not all together and without tree. We will eventually all gather around the table for some feasting so like you a bit sad but also grateful for what we have and focusing on that. Have the merriest of merries with what you have.
thefolia on December 21, 2016 at 6:46 am —
Happy nesting to you! xo
laura on December 22, 2016 at 7:56 am —
wow, thank you for this, i was in a similar mood to yours for fairly similar reasons added on top of which i am bed bound for 2 weeks due to a foot operation but you reminded me i have so many blessings in my life. your blog has been such an inspiration, because of it I signed up for a foraging and outside cooking workshop, ate potatoes smoked in hay and fire blackened juicy oranges. i am now waiting for my first potion to be ready: pine needles and orange peel in vodka. wishing you a wonderful year ahead ax
annemarie on December 22, 2016 at 2:28 am —
Your words could not make me happier! And your website is just beautiful. Thank you for visiting xo
laura on December 22, 2016 at 7:57 am —