What does Christmas mean to you?
Christmas has always been a special celebration to me, but growing up in the southern hemisphere – it was quite a different celebration to the traditional white Christmas, the smell of pine, strands of lights decoratively strung everywhere and hot treats such as spiced drinks. But I think as is true in many places around the world, Christmas to me has always been about celebrating with the people that are special to me, carefully chosen and wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree and food, lots of good food. In fact, it’s a lot about the food. Having spent a lot of time overseas, I haven’t always been in Australia for Christmas. That meant spending the special day away from family and friends, away from the hot weather that led to cold seafood and salad feasts and relief at the beach or in the pool that had become the norm for me on Christmas. In fact, for six out of the last twelve years I’ve been away from “home” for Christmas. I longed to be back with family and friends, celebrating with the many traditions that had come to mean Christmas for me. But when living overseas it can be tiring, time-consuming, expensive and stressful to travel home for Christmas. So I spent a lot of time thinking about what made Christmas special to me, and what really captures the essence of Christmas celebrations.
So what is that makes Christmas special to me….
The first thing is the lead up to Christmas. While to many that mean putting up decorations in November and thinking about gift lists in June, for me its about what I’m going to cook. In fact, the earlier I can start testing out Christmas treats, the more excited I am. Several years ago, my Mum and I had the exciting opportunity of attending a Christmas cooking class with Perth based chef and High Tea connoisseur – Rochelle Adonis. Some of the treats from that class have become staples in my lead up to Christmas cooking marathon. The highlights were white chocolate Rocky Road and Ginger Stars. This year I prepared a big batch of the Ginger Stars for a local charity bazaar held in November – and they proved to be a huge hit! I even had a request for the recipe – the fan wondering if I had a catering business (I wish in another life maybe!). Having freshly baked treats on hand for that much needed pre-Christmas down time, while celebrating with friends, as a hostess gift, or to share as part of my Christmas gifts – its part of what signals its Christmas to me.
Number two for me on what makes Christmas is cards and gifts. Receiving Christmas cards from friends far and near reminds me that they’re thinking of me at this time of year, and I enjoy displaying them around my house – bringing in the Christmas cheer. Its getting harder with so much communication being electronic these days, but I feel like there is no substitute for the beautiful paper and festive cards decorating my house in the lead up to Christmas. I get excited to open the mail and find creative cards or specially written messages. Its also getting harder with friends spread far and wide and moving around so often. So the last few years I’ve gotten behind in my own Christmas preparation, and Christmas cards have fallen by the way-side. In previous years it was part of my Thanksgiving celebration tradition to develop our annual Christmas card – but moving away from the US has meant I don’t have that holiday celebration anymore – so I really need to get organized early next year to make sure I can get cards out.
Another thing that makes Christmas special to me is a chance to acknowledge people who have been a special part of my life throughout the year. The people that go unsung the rest of the year. So it ranges from close friends and family, to colleagues, to others such as my gym instructor, cleaner or any other people I rely on throughout the year. In the past I’ve done things such as make and package spiced nut mixes along with personalized cards for my team at work, or prepare decorative Rocky Road bars for close friends. For my foodie boss one year I developed a hand-crafted basket of kitchen goodies such as pickles, flavoured salt, and garlic confit that I had prepared in my kitchen throughout the year in preparation for Christmas giving. I enjoy developing my list of handmade goodies for the year and experimenting in my kitchen for the perfect blend and combination of flavours.
This year I’m back in Australia for Christmas, and I have to say its hard to get into the Christmas spirit when I’m not in my house over the lead up to Christmas. I haven’t brought out any decorations this year, as we weren’t going to be around the house much in December, and I haven’t had nearly the time I’d like to tinker in my kitchen preparing Christmas treats, or developing delicious edible gifts. Its interesting how I’ve almost come full circle – that Christmas has become about traditions in my own ‘home’, regardless of where that may be in the world.
So for the celebrations this year I’m vowing not to stress about the little things, and to enjoy the time with family and friends back in Australia. So it may be 3 days before Christmas and my Christmas shopping may not be finished, or I haven’t baked all the treats I wanted to, or I haven’t developed the perfect Christmas day feast or I haven’t caught up with everyone that I wanted to for a special Christmas get-together. But I’ve enjoyed days by the beach with my son, I’ve had time to take a nap to recover from the pre-Christmas rush, and I’ve spent time catching up with old friends that I haven’t seen in a while. So I may still need to rush out to buy food for the dishes that I need to take on Christmas day (or maybe even decide on my Christmas day menu contribution), I haven’t written cards and I still have gifts to wrap – but I’m learning that Christmas is about what I make it, so I’ll try not to stress about all the things undone, and just enjoy those special moments for the last days of 2015 – and think about baking next year.
Makes about 50 stars
- 3 cups All Purpose Flour (Plain Flour)
- 1.5 teaspoons bicarbonate soda (baking soda)
- 160 grams unsalted butter (about 1-1/2 sticks), cut into cubes at room temperature
- 1 cup Brown Sugar
- 1/3 cup Ground Ginger (25g) (use a new jar of ginger for best flavor)
- 1/4 cup Mixed Spice (recipe below)
- 1 tablespoon Golden Syrup (or Maple Syrup or Molasses if you don’t have golden syrup)
- 1/3 cup hot water
- coarse Raw Sugar for sanding
- 5 teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon Ground Cloves
- 1 teaspoon Ground Cardamom (optional)
- 1 teaspoon Allspice (optional)
- Sift the flour, bicarbonate soda, ground ginger, mixed spice and brown sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer.
- Add the room temperature butter cubes to the flour, sugar and spices.
- With the paddle attachment of the stand mixer, mix the flour and butter mixture on low speed until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
- Combine the hot water and golden syrup and mix well. Pour the liquid into the mixing bowl. Continue to mix on a low speed until the mixture forms a smooth paste. Stop the mixer when the dough comes together fully.
- Wrap the dough and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour. The dough will roll out smoother if it is chilled through.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough until it is about 1/2 cm or 1/4 in thick and cut out star shapes. Place the stars on a baking sheet tray (I like to use a silpat cookie sheet, but you could use a tray lined with baking paper also). Sprinkle liberally with coarse sugar.
- Bake in 180 degree Celsius (350 degree Fahrenheit) oven for about 10 minutes or until the cookies are just starting to brown and can be moved easily on the tray. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes on the tray before transferring onto a wire rack to cool completely.