Cutting through the pain for Christmas cheer | WHIDBEY RECIPES

There are times when words fail, when there is no way to express the sorrow, emotions, confusion and yes, anger that comes with the full realization of man’s ability to destroy.

There are times when words fail, when there is no way to express the sorrow, emotions, confusion and yes, anger that comes with the full realization of man’s ability to destroy.

I was at my computer, working on a lighthearted, Christmas column for this week; the TV was on in the next room, and I heard the breaking news broadcast about the shooting at the Sandy Hook school in Newtown. There’s no need for me to reiterate what everyone now knows, but I hope readers will understand why I couldn’t return to the column I’d been doing, full of idle chit chat about Christmas and happy, fun-filled holiday celebrations.

There has already been so much said, written and broadcast about the events of that black day and the people and parents of Newtown, anything I could say or write would be superfluous. And, as I said in the beginning, there simply are times when words fail. This is one of those times.

I can, however, at least give you the special holiday recipes I’d chosen for the column, because we who are left stunned, bewildered, angered and frightened over the events of the past week will undoubtedly continue with our holiday plans.

But, if our celebrations include small children, there will almost certainly be mixed emotions as we watch their excitement opening presents and think, even momentarily, of those other children, and their families.


Our family tradition dictates that, whatever else may show up for dessert at Christmas, there must be a steamed pudding. So many of my forebears originated in England, Scotland, Ireland and Iceland, it’s no surprise that I cannot recall a Christmas, ever, without steamed pudding, almost always plum pudding with hard sauce. Imagine what fun it was, as the years passed, to discover how many variations of steamed pudding there are, and what fun it is to surprise my families with a new version.


1 cup plus 2 T. unsalted butter, divided (see instructions)

1 ¼ cups sugar

5 eggs

¼ cup fresh orange juice

Grated zest of 1 orange

1 T. brandy

3 cups flour

2 T. ground ginger (yes, tablespoons)

1 ¼ t. baking soda

1 cup plus 2 ½ T. crystallized ginger, finely chopped

1 cup whipping cream

2 T. powdered sugar

½ t. vanilla

Melt the 2 T. butter and brush on the inside of a 2-quart mold.

Cream the 1 cup butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well. Add orange juice, zest and brandy.

Sift together flour, ginger and baking soda. Mix 1 cup of the crystallized ginger into the flour mixture, tossing to coat well, then add to the butter mixture, mixing well. Spoon the batter into the prepared mold and cover with foil. Place mold in a larger pot, cover with another sheet of foil and pour enough boiling water in the pot to reach 2/3 of the way up the sides of the mold. Cover the pot; simmer 1 ½ hrs. A skewer inserted into the center of the pudding should come out clean.

Remove pudding from water bath and uncover. Let cool in the mold for 10 min. before unmolding onto a plate. Cool completely, cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 24 hrs. in the refrigerator.

About an hour before final steaming (for dessert servings), remove pudding from ‘frig; discard plastic wrap. Set the plate with the pudding on a rack over simmering water; cover loosely with foil and steam 20 min., or until heated through.

Whip the cream until it begins to thicken, then add powdered sugar and vanilla; continue beating until soft peaks form. Garnish each slice of pudding with whipped cream and a sprinkle of the remaining chopped ginger. Serves ten.

Note: No matter which pudding recipe I use each year, I always make some traditional hard sauce to serve as desired, because often it’s the thing about Christmas pudding the little ones look forward to most.

Speaking of kid-pleasing dessert, how would you like a pumpkin pie recipe that is perfect for a last-minute “Help, I’m running of time” crowd pleaser. Just don’t tell anyone how you did it; they’ll never guess.


¼ cup plus 2 T. caramel topping, divided (see instructions; I recommend Mrs. Richardson’s Butterscotch Caramel topping, to which I’m addicted)

1 ready-made Graham Cracker Pie Crust

½ cup plus 2 T. pecan pieces, divided

1 cup cold milk

2 pkg. (3.4 oz. each) Vanilla Instant Pudding

1 cup canned pumpkin

1 t. ground cinnamon

½ t. ground nutmeg

1 tub (8 oz.) whipped topping (such as Cool Whip), thawed, divided

Pour the ¼ cup caramel topping into the crust; sprinkle with the ½ cup pecans.

Beat the milk, pudding mix, pumpkin and spices with a whisk until blended. Stir in 1 ½ cups of the whipped topping. Spread mixture into the crust. Refrigerate 1 hr. Top with remaining whipped topping, remaining caramel topping and pecans just before serving. Serves 10.

Because I have an aversion to marshmallows, due to childhood overdosing, I long ago gave up on the traditional sweet potato/marshmallow casserole present on most of our Christmas tables for so many years. As a result, I have many alternative sweet potato casseroles, far better in my estimation. This is but one, and kids love it even though it has no marshmallows.


To serve about 6: To make enough for more, increase amounts by half, or double, to serve necessary number

3 lbs. sweet potatoes

3 T. softened unsalted butter

¾ t. ground cinnamon

¾ t. salt

1/3 cup milk

For the topping: 3 tangerines

3 T. honey

1 T. unsalted butter

½ cup chopped walnuts

Pierce the sweet potatoes several times and put on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven about 1 hr., or until very soft. Remove from oven; let cool to the touch, then peel off the skin and discard.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, combine sweet potatoes, butter, cinnamon, salt and milk. Whip on med. speed. Butter a baking dish or spray with cooking spray. Spoon the whipped potatoes into the dish.

Prepare the topping: Peel, section and seed the tangerines. In a skillet, combine the honey and butter, stirring until the butter melts. Cook a few minutes until mixture begins to chicken, then add the tangerines and walnuts. Stir for 3 min. Spoon topping mixture over the potatoes and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 min., or until the top is slightly golden and potatoes are heated through.

Happy, happy holidays to all our readers, and may 2013 find us all kinder, gentler, and above all, constantly aware of the gift of living and loving.

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