Happy 2012! We’ve had some good times over the last couple of weeks. We were blessed to spend time with a lovely assortment of family and friends over our Christmas Break. Spending a holiday abroad prompts you to create a whole new branch of family, slinging your arm around those who show up, and inviting them to partner in your celebration and merrymaking. This helps to comfort our hearts and minds as they become filled with thoughts of those of you that we could not spend time with in person.
Besides time spent with family and friends, one of the most important parts of Christmas (or any holiday for that matter) is what I’m whipping up in the kitchen. Cooking and baking are sometimes like the inhale and exhale of my life. I specifically remember back in seminary, when I was stressed out and needed to take a deep breath and enjoy life again, JP asked me what would be a pleasurable and life-giving activity for me. (He always played pick-up soccer on Friday afternoons when classes were done.) I thought about it, and began baking then, or sometimes cooking a special meal for dinner with JP or other friends. Ever since then, I always know that I’ll find rest, and joy, and pleasure in the kitchen.
Finding my sense of identity in the Indian kitchen has long been a struggle of mine. Even while the cooking methods and ingredients become more familiar to me, I’m often still baffled by the lack of recipes and the vast amount of new dishes that I want to make. When I first came to India in 2003, JP’s mom had just gotten a microwave/oven/grill (looks like a microwave, operates like a convection oven.) I had a few moderate baking successes with that over the years, but the experiences were not necessarily pleasant or restful in any way. Then, on our last trip JP and his brother, James, bought Mom an “OTG,” an oven/toaster/grill that operates like a big toaster oven. That was more fun to experiment with, though I remember I had at least one beautiful carrot cake that got ruined because the power went out half way though.
This year, thanks to a very generous gift from a friend, we were able to purchase a matching OTG for our little apartment!! It was delivered just in time for some Christmas baking. The first recipe I tried was a simple, five-ingredient Jam Cookie from an Indian friend’s cooking blog. She lives in New Zeeland, so an added bonus for me was that I would not have to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius for my oven temperature.
In the Wing household, our Christmas baking has always included a handful of must-haves, with a smattering of experimental cookies and desserts here and there. The Cherry Walnut Coffeecake featured above is a Christmas morning tradition at my mom’s house. In recent years, the recipe has ventured out to New Hampshire where my brother and sister-in-law spend half of their Christmases, and to Seattle where my sister and brother-in-law spend half of theirs. It was my own first attempt at the coffeecake, having always been a bit fearful of working with yeast, but this year I threw all caution to the wind and worked with yeast in a foreign country!
Yet another Christmas tradition at our home is JP’s very favorite cookie on the face of the earth, (dare I say that this cookie monster has one favorite cookie?) the Candy Cane Cookie. The process was a bit tedious, but it was worth it. The Candy Cane Cookie was a show stopper with its beauty, and tasted great too!
It was a treat for me to participate in the Christmas food festivities here by sharing some of our U.S. favorites. The baking scene has really grown since my first visit to the Sundararajan home. This year, in addition to a plethora of tasty deep-fried savories and homemade Indian sweets, Mom’s OTG was cranking out cake upon yummy cake. We all agreed (including JP– gasp!) that the Raisin Cake made by my sister-in-law was a recipe to keep!!
We didn’t have a white- or even cold- Christmas this year, but it was tasty, and we were surrounded by loved ones. We hope the same was true for you. In the same vein, we pray that you will have a good year. We want you to feel that you are loved and cherished beyond measure. We hope that you will feel held, secure, in the strong arms of a good God.
Bless you, bless you, dear friend.