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Let’s talk about Christmas baking.  Man am I rusty at this whole talking-about-something-besides-books thing!  It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  I get up on my librarian high horse and it’s all books, all the time!  That’s great and all, but not my only mission in life.  There’s also food, you know.

As usual, my commission is to bake something for Christmas.  I thought about going all elaborate, but I kept finding myself drawn to homier recipes.  Things that make you want to curl up with a blanket, drink some eggnog, nibble on a cookie or a scone, and hang out with family and friends.  Plus, there’s enough frantic preparations in the world without me joining in.

Also, I’m a firm believer in using Advent (the time before Christmas) as a time of preparation – the stuff like buying gifts and readying the house, but also the feast itself – and starting your celebration on the 25th.  Christmas isn’t over the next day – it’s just begun.  Also, I’m not supposed to be eating meat or dairy during Advent (although I’ve definitely been cheating on the dairy), which makes a great excuse for leaving a lot of the celebration until later.

So I’m keeping my Christmas baking fairly calm this week.  A certain young man put in a request for Dream Bars, an old favorite and easy to make, and I could hardly turn him down, especially after he got me this for Christmas.  I know!   Can you believe it?  I will never turn down any baking requests from him ever again.  My kitchen now has a nice touch of glossy cinnamon (and a good deal less counter space – but it’s a worthwhile trade).

So I’m making a batch of Dream Bars for the oh-dark-thirty potluck after the Christmas service (the main service begins at 11 pm and goes well into the morning) and another for Christmas dinner at my parents’.  I’m also making a batch of Figgy Buckwheat Scones for Christmas morning, and perhaps some Strawberry Barley Scones, too, if I’m feeling energetic (both recipes are from Good to the Grain).  I’d also like to make a batch of Poppy Seed Wafers, since they were a big hit at Thanksgiving, and maybe try the Sand Cookies (recipes from guess where – Good to the Grain).  Or some of Dorie Greenspan’s World Peace cookies for something chocolaty.  Both the fig scones and the poppy seed cookies are Long Distance Kitchen recipes that I’ve yet to post about, hopefully soon.

So there you have it!  Less decadent than usual, although that doesn’t mean less work.  Oh well, I lucked out and got Christmas Eve off work, so I’ve got plenty of time.  What are you making for Christmas?

Edited to add: get your Dream Bar recipe here – sorry to leave you hanging!

HushHush by Eishes Chayil

A tense, gripping story that takes place in a closed religious community, where everyone believes that “those” problems don’t happen to them, that an unnamed abuse cannot exist, and that those who point fingers are the ones who are sick. The first part of the book alternates between Gittel’s childhood, before Devory died, and when Gittel is about to graduate from high school and become engaged. The suspense is maintained not because you can’t guess what will happen, but because of how it unfolds and how Gittel reacts. While intense, the story is not graphic – Gittel is a witness to the abuse, and suffers as a result, but the author never takes us into Devory’s experiences completely. Second-hand is intense enough.

In addition to the story of abuse, Hush is also a peak into a different way of life – a Chassidic community in New York. While some aspects were familiar to me (I read a lot of Chaim Potok in high school), this story is contemporary and from a girl’s point of view. I’ve always had a weakness for these kinds of stories, where you see a different way of life – celebrations, rituals, everyday things like what they wear and eat and how family dynamics work. For me, this aspect of the story was just as engrossing as the more suspenseful plot.

Recommended to anyone who enjoys a peak into a different way of life or an exploration of the way speaking out against abuse affects an individual and a community. Sometimes difficult to read, but also hard to put down.

Source: my public library

View all my reviews

Edited to add: Liz has a more detailed review, which was the first one I read, and Hush is one of the finalists for the 2011 Morris Award for debut YA authors.  The award is only 3 years old, but they’ve had some great books as finalists.  It’s a good place to check out new writers, and I love that they announce the 5 finalists in December so you have time to read a few before the winner is announced in January (along with the rest of the ALA youth media awards).  So far this year I’ve read Hush and Guardian of the Dead, and they’re both awesome in completely different ways.

December 2010

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