The winter season is filled with story-and with fanciful food. Books that put the two together sing out to us. From Nutcracker "sugar plums" to Whoville "roast beast," holiday foods decorate childhood dreams. Close you're eyes and you can see them-Laura Ingall Wilder's little heart-shaped Christmas cakes with "delicate brown tops" sprinkled with sugar that "lay like tiny drifts of snow." Or maybe those "big and round, crisp and brown" potato latkes from Leslie Kimmelman's The Runaway Latkes.
Wouldn't it be fun to taste them, too? Bringing favorite food passages from children's stories to life makes for a multi-dimensional holiday experience. Now in addition to the cozy reading, you can enjoy the making, the decorating, the eating and the giving (gifting some of what you make.)
When you gather holiday books to read this year, include your favorites, but add a few more to the stack. Try books from different traditions, new writers and unexpected perspectives. Mix in some poetry, song and fable, the mythic and magical, the ancient and the true. While not all holiday books are about food, many include it. In searching for recipes, look for cookbooks on the topic. A few examples? Nutcracker ballet lovers will be thrilled to find Linda Hymes' Nutcracker Sweet: Showstopping Desserts Inspired by the World's Favorite Ballet. And Dickens' fans should know authors Sarah Key, Jennifer Brazil and Vicki Wells put together A Christmas Carol Cookbook, including "Ghost of Christmas Repast" recipes such as Tiny Tim's Mini Shepherd's Pie and "Ghost of Christmas Presents" Humbug Lemon Curd. If there isn't a cookbook, you can always research a few recipes that would match the story. Google "roast beast," from Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and you'll find recipes ranging from an Irish Roast Beast to several by celebrity chef Bobby Flay.
Once you've decided on a book and recipe, you can build anticipation several ways. If you like, make simple invitations to send to some guests. (If it's just a dessert or side dish you're doing, consider making the party a "tea" rather than full-blown dinner.) Then, before the appointed day, decorate the dining room. Even very-small children can enjoy and understand the appeal of a pretty table. You don't have to be Martha Stewart about it-just loosely fit your decorations (place mats, a simple centerpiece, maybe some place cards) with the theme/period of your book.
Bringing kids into the kitchen doesn't have to be a scary experience. If you weren't lucky enough to have a mom who cooked and you lack confidence, kid-targeted cooking recipes might be a relief. Practice the recipe once or twice by yourself before you try it with the kids. Based on how that goes, you'll be better able to plan the right amount of time for the project. You'll also know which tasks to delegate to the kids and which to do yourself.
Consider doubling the recipe so you can gift some of the yield. Include cleanup time with the kids in the planning.
Now it's time to enjoy. Whether you've invited guests or are doing this as a family-only occasion, make it extra special with music to match (Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" if you're doing sugarplums; the theme from the Narnia film, if you're eating Turkish delight, folk-fiddle music if you're doing a dish from Little House on the Prairie, etc.) Read the passage you are highlighting out loud as part of your party.
If you've made enough of this special food to share-and it's a food that travels well-think about packaging it in boxes, tins or takeout cartons decorated to go along with the theme. You might even print out the passage your treat was inspired by and include that, (or the recipe) on a tag with the gift, along with your kids' signatures.
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