The road ends, but the journey continues...

It’s Beginning to Smell A Lot Like Christmas

Holiday prep has been fun.  Just the fact of being able to search out Christmas gifts for loved ones is a blessing not taken lightly.  Ever frugal, this quest has held plenty of intrigue, mystery and excitement.  Except for that, though, one would never suspect we were getting ready for the holidays with mucho-gusto.
– Sending off a package of holiday surprises to our son was exhilarating in the midst of long postal lines.
– Anticipating the arrival of our middle daughter and son-in-law for a holiday visit is right up there with ‘visions of sugar-plums’ dancing in our dreams.
– Decorating the premises?  Definitely lowest on the list of ‘to dos’.
Not that we lack enjoyment in the doing of it.  Simply put: our little rental house is too small for all our stored decos.  Stacked in the attic space, I’ve sorted through various boxes, selecting items to display these two Christmases past. However this third Yuletide, it isn’t only space that is preventing a festive interior.
Hubby’s renewed locked-up knee forbids his ability to dig into the chore of carrying heavy boxes down from the catwalk-like folding attic stairs.  I’m not the best at navigating such small spaces, but managed enough balance and courage to gather a few items nonetheless.  I grabbed the stockings, the linens (including a set of sleigh-design bath towels), a short strand of lights, the Crèche, an old-timey Santa and our teeny table top tree.  Those last three items I’m fashioning into a tasteful and homey vignette upon our coffee table that hugs the front living room windows.

The Christmas Mobile, 2009 (Las Cruces, NM)

The Christmas Mobile, 2009 (Las Cruces, NM)

During our between homes time, we celebrated the holidays without family, friends or the usual accoutrements. Our first Christmas between homes, I decorated our car-home with big red bows and a plastic snowman that blinked.
Affectionately dubbing it our Christmas Mobile, ‘Flash’ dangled gaily from our rear view mirror.  In retrospect, he symbolized an ever-present light of the world* reminder during those three years on-the-road. As such, he has a permanent place of honor in the living room of our current residence.
But those things do not a Christmas-y smell make.
Ever since the landlord replaced the dilapidated ‘70’s harvest gold stovetop and oven a mere six months ago, my baking fiascos have been minimal.  And after a few loaves of homemade bread, muffins, pizzas and the occasional batch of choco-chip cookies came out decent, I decided to explore baking holiday cookies at sea level.
Not as easy as one would assume.
Coming from a mile high down to the swamp lands has been an adjustment in a myriad of ways.
Focusing on those points regarding cooking and baking, I have mastered the art of successfully preparing some culinary treats. Keeping in mind that holiday cookies are in and of themselves usually more demanding than those of the usual oatmeal raisin variety, I decided this was the year to tackle the Christmas cookie challenge head-on.

Bruno's Toffee Squares, (Great) Grandma Thoman's Sugar Cookies, Cheesecake Cookies

Bruno’s Toffee Squares, (Great) Grandma Thoman’s Sugar Cookies, Cheesecake Cookies

First on the list: Cheesecake Cookies.
These gems are traditional only with respect to having been introduced to the cookie repertoire our premiere Christmas as a married couple.  Making them last week for the first time in at least six years, maybe even seven, sent me into newlywed memory bliss.
Of the three types of Christmas cookies I’ve whipped up so far (will there be more before the 24th?) these came out the best with little to no adjustments made for lack of altitude.
Next on the list: (Great) Grandma Thoman’s Sugar Cookies.
Don’t know why, but I just got a hankering for these after making those Cheesecake Cookies.  Last year during an after-Christmas clearance, I bought up three types of sugar sprinkles for a song.  In doing so, I remember thinking, ‘Darn, I shoulda made these.’  So I did.  Last week.
These are a long standing tradition from Ma’s family.  Every Christmas Eve, after the dinner was eaten, drinks drunk (!) and the presents opened, we’d leave Nana’s house with a bag filled with these thin, crisp, melt-in-your-mouth cookies.
When made to perfection, they are small jewels on the tongue, excitement to the sensory receptors for buttery-light richness.
It is an old recipe. Because of its simplistic instructions, it can be fouled up easily; usually resulting in heaviness (cut too thickly), floury-ness (too much flour, not enough butter), and/or blandness (not the right balance between butter and sugar).
The last time I made these was back when we were living on Olympian Circle.  Earliest estimate would be 16 years ago!  Even Ma made these only every few years since they weren’t in the top three for Christmas favs.
But the doing, baking and smelling of these last week lifted my Christmas Spirit to new heights, feeding my senses with heavenly delight.  That’s when a tune began to resonate within my heart with words to the effect of: It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas …
Ah yes, let’s keep up the festive aromas.
Saturday I tackled a fav: Bruno’s Toffee Squares.
A stalwart go-to Christmas cookie coming from my Aunt Betty on Dad’s side of the family.  The only change made to the original recipe (except for altitude adjustments) was replacing the milk chocolate Hershey Bars with dark chocolate Ghirardelli Bars.  That would be from Ma.  Yum.
Unfortunately, they didn’t turn out as well as at higher altitude.  Slightly burnt, a lot thinner than usual, and not quite as tender as they should be, they weren’t at their best here in the swamp lands. But – a tantalizing snifter of Christmas enticement filled the atmosphere within this little rental house during the baking.

It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas.

*John 8:12 “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” NIV


  1. Donna

    The cookies look very tasty, but I suspect they are gone now. 😀

    • laura bruno lilly

      I squirreled away (used that term just for you) 2 large cheesecake cookies and 4 of the toffee squares in the freezer to enjoy later. Once I’m over this cold, I’ll be ready to defrost and enjoy my guilty pleasure(s) with my morning coffee. 😎

  2. Poetsmith

    Hi Laura. It’s been some time since the last contact. Hope you had a good Christmas. Wishing you a blessed and Happy New Year. 🙂 Love, Iris.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Glad you checked in to say ‘hi’…And a Happy 2015 to you, too, Iris!

  3. Anna Scott Graham

    I remember opposite troubles when we moved to Colorado! I never did get sourdough to turn out correctly, but the cookies worked themselves out by our second high altitude Christmas. 🙂
    I too had a problem with a small house for all my decorations. Fortunately my daughters were of the age that I could pass along trinkets to them. Now my stalwarts are my most precious keepsakes, and I find space regardless. Wishing you and yours a most happy, calming Christmas!

    • laura bruno lilly

      Ah yes, sourdough…I’ve found it delightfully easier to bake up a crusty loaf here in the swamp lands. I think it’s a combo of lack of altitude and increased humidity. Attributes that South Carolina has in abundance. 🙂

  4. Joe Finnety

    Mouthwatering, indeed. Family recipes do get garbled sometimes, when passed along from one to another. I found a recipe for Irish soda bread my brother obtained from an aunt. She made the best ever. One of the ingredients called for ten pounds of sugar!!!

    • laura bruno lilly

      My, what a sweet tooth she must have had! 😉

  5. Becky

    Your photo of cookies and description made my mouth water.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Thank you Becky for your vote of confidence. Here’s to holiday treats and dreams of staying skinny after eating those holiday treats!

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