Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Breakfast & the Love of Traditions

Sitting by the fire is a favorite Christmas tradition in my house
Christmas is full of all kinds of traditions that people cherish. They are diverse and unique, but can mean so much to the people who hold them. 

According to the dictionary a tradition         is: a continuing pattern of cultural beliefs or practices; something that is handed down.  

I love traditions. As I reflect on childhood, so many of my cherished memories are attached to traditions.  As an adult I am seeking to draw upon those and forge my own as well. I find that they are hard to establish, and some that we have established have been difficult to maintain, due to changes in circumstances and life stages. But I love them and want to 
work to create and carry on traditions in my home.

I believe these rituals anchor us.  They provide security for us in some way.  The familiar is comforting, when life is so ever-changing and unpredictable. They are something to anticipate.  They cause a break in the mundane.  Songs, activities, rituals, books, and of course, food make up many of the holiday traditions I savor. 

Knowing that Granddad Williams would come in the house, when they arrived in Knoxville, with his gloves in hand, ready to put them on and carry in the beautifully wrapped packages to place under the tree each year, brought comfort and joy to my childhood world.

And the medley of Christmas songs that he would play on the piano signaled that Christmas was here. (Click on player below to hear a recording of Grandad's Christmas Medley.  This was recorded around 2000, when he was in his late 80's.)

The stack of baked goods, made with love from the women in our family, packed in metal tins, labeled with masking tape, is a Christmas tradition that I’ve always loved.  The tins are filled with all kinds of treasures: Peanut brittle, sand tarts, divinity, chex mix, thumbprint cookies, white chocolate covered peanut butter crackers, chocolate covered coconut squares, peanut butter balls, and more.

Nativity Scenes set up around the house have always helped me center on Jesus, and the wonder of Emmanuel:  God with us.  My mom has a thing about Nativity Scenes.  She loves them. People give her sets for gifts and she has accumulated quite a collection. They are made out of a variety of materials, hand-made and store-bought, and include various characters in the scene. She leaves some up all year, and at Christmas, we often have a “count the nativity scenes game" at their house.  

We have a little Fisher Price Nativity at my house that is one of my favorite decorations.  It sits on the coffee table and the kids play with it the whole season, and set the people and animals up in various ways.  Sometimes I find shepherds over by the television, “abiding in the fields”, or the wise men in the east, over on the bookshelf.  Other times they are all lying down resting from the big event and the long journey.  They oftentimes are circling baby Jesus, appropriately focusing their attention on the Christ child.

Christmas breakfast is a time when we want something tasty and crowd pleasing and also easy.  There's no time to be standing in the kitchen when there are presents to open and a fire to sit beside!  Monkey Bread is something we have made for years on Christmas morning.  Not every year, but a lot of years.  We have made several varieties throughout the years, some with yeast dough, some with biscuit dough, some with pudding mix, some with brown sugar and spices.   A few years ago I discovered Paula Deen’s Gorilla Bread.  It’s a ramped up version of Monkey Bread.  (She always ramps it up).  The recipe says it’s called Gorilla Bread because it “kicks monkey’s butt".  Hilarious, that Paula!  And she’s right.  It is monkey bread (a loaf of cinnamon coated bread) but with a blob of cream cheese hidden inside.  She puts pecans layered between the rolls and I put both pecans and dried cranberries.  It's pretty and the Craisins add a nice tart element. 

The prepping of the biscuits, coated with cinnamon sugar and stuffed with cream cheese, and the measuring out of the remaining ingredients can be done the night before.  Then layering it all in the pan in the morning is fast, simple and tidy.

Gorilla Bread  (adapted from Paula Deen's recipe)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
4 cans refrigerated biscuits (10 count)
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1 heaping cup of dried cranberries (Craisins)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Mix the granulated sugar and cinnamon in a small dish. In a saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar over low heat, stirring well (or in a glass bowl in the microwave); set aside.

Cut the cream cheese into 40 cubes/ blobs.

Press the biscuits out with your fingers and sprinkle each with 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon sugar. Place a cube of cream cheese in the center of each biscuit, wrapping and sealing the dough around the cream cheese.

Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the nuts and 1/3 cup of cranberries into the bottom of the bundt pan. Place half of the prepared biscuits in the pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, pour half of the melted butter mixture over the biscuits, and sprinkle on 1/2 cup of nuts and 1/3 cup cranberries.

Layer the remaining biscuits on top, sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon sugar, pour the remaining butter mixture over the biscuits, and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of nuts and 1/3 cup cranberries.

Bake for 30 minutes or until golden and fully baked. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes.

Place a plate on top and invert.

Merry Christmas to you!  May you cherish old traditions, enjoy starting new ones and savor the season. 

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