Merry Christmas: Sounds of Hawaii

During Christmas season palm trees are decorated with lights in the Normandy Isle neighborhood in Miami Beach, Florida, USAWe checked in this week to find out more about how Christmas happens in Hawaii. One of the topics that came up in our conversation with Siobhan was music.  The same familiar carols, hymns, and holiday songs are heard throughout the islands.  White Christmas drifts out of the speakers right there under the twinkle lit palm trees and Winter Wonderland is heard at the beach side pig roast.  But there are some differences too, like the Hawaiian Twelve Days of Christmas. For most Americans the Hawaiian Christmas song is Mele Kalikimaka.

Hawaiia Santa


This ukulele driven Christmas classic was written in 1949 but Robert Alex Anderson, known for his uniquely Hawaiian sounds.  The song gathered lots of interest and many fans from the start.  The popular 1950 radio recording featured Bing Crosby & the Andrew Sisters.  The song’s name is known as the Hawaiian way to say Merry Christmas.  Not entirely true. It is a translation, of sorts. To get the whole story behind the name we go back to 1778 when Christmas first came to the Islands with the arrival of Captain Cook.  The holiday did not catch on immediately.  It would not become wide-spread until the arrival of New England missionaries in the 1820s.  These missionaries helped to translate the language and to create a written version of the Island tongue.  The words Merry and Christmas were spoken by the Hawaiian natives and due to the differences in language sounded like Mele Kalikimaka.  The terms are a Hawaiian phonetic translation of the English phrase.  Simple.  The lyrics are simple too- basically a repetition of the same two stanzas:
     Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say
     On a bright Hawaiian Christmas day
     That’s the island greeting that we send to you
     From the land where palm trees sway

     Here we know Christmas will be green & bright
     The sun to shine by day & all the stars at night
     Mele Kalikimaka is Hawaii’s way 
     To say Merry Christmas to you

It really is a happy, cheery little song.  Listen to it’s carefree lilt and imagine a warm breezy holiday picnic on the beach.  This version by Bette Midler should help set the mood.  Aloha!!

HNY HawaiiI learned the Hawaiian phrase for Happy New Year too- Hau’oli Makahiki Hou.  The phrase grew from the period or resting and fasting with 4 months of no war and no conflicts.  The term Makahiki translates to year.  Han’oli translate to Happy, and Makahiki has a track on year.  I will be looking into more foreign language faves in our area for Christmas.

Valentine Red and Red Velvet Experiments

red-velvet-madeleine-tree-lJo Boroff saved a year’s worth of Southern Living Magazines for me, so what better than to thumb through the December issue looking for Christmas ideas?  Since Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, I’m planning to experiment with Southern Living‘s red velvet cake recipes–lovers’ delights that can be tested in February and be gifts or desserts in December.

The red velvet madeline tree looks incredible.  Southern Living offers an instructional video, which took away some of the excitement for me because I imagine pinning the cakes to the styrofoam tree with toothpicks may be a lot more difficult than it appears.  The consistency of the cakes would make the difference. Here’s the recipe. Here’s the link to the video.  I’m concerned that alone on the table, the tree might not be as appealing. Red and white accessories, are a must.

In the lower left of the photo, there are red velvet peppermint brownies. The advantage of this recipe is that it uses peppermint extract–no searching for candy canes at this late date–and the resulting brownies are more portable and can be cut into smaller shapes for gifting.

I’ve been invited to a gathering next week, so I’ll be testing some of these winter recipes.  I’ll let you know the results.

Also, I am going to attempt my first use of fondant by making accent snowflakes.  What I need is a set of cookie cutters in snowflake shapes and can be used mixed and matched like the RM Snowflake cookie cutter set. Does anyone have experience with these?

P.S. Don’t forget that tomorrow the Superbowl will be old news–and purple gear will be on mega sale. On Saturday, I noticed that about 10 racks at Kohl’s had Ravens gear which will be on super sale soon.  Sale purchases in the next few days will make terrific gifts in 11 months!

Gingerbread House Competition–great family or workplace fun

All this week, Tracey, Jane and I have been carving small chunks of time our of our lunch break to work on our house for the gingerbread competition.  We pooled our resources (and the talents of Jane’s husband to cut some of the gingerbread with a saw) to complete our entry, which is due on Monday.

I received an email from another team informing me that theirs is, without a doubt, the entry that will win.  Stefanie stopped by this afternoon to tell me that she and her partner are excited about their entry and enjoyed working together.  I saw them after school hunched conspiratorially over their pre-boxed kit, quite happily exchanging ideas.

On the down-side, there are an equal number of teams who are scrambling to get their house finished by the deadline and another few who didn’t enter this year at all because they didn’t have time. Depending on the spirit in your workplace, the competition needs some key enthusiastic participants to energize the larger group, and it doesn’t have to be expensive–time is, perhaps, the most valuable resource.  Fortunately, a pre-made house kit costs under $10.00, and, depending on the rules you create for your group, costs very little to decorate.  Last year, the display was up for three work days in a common area, and it received a lot of enthusiasm.  Everyone had a favorite or  just plain marveled at the effort of their co-workers.

Our friend Pam duplicated this idea with her extended family by hosting a holiday get-together with each family bringing and decorating a pre-made kit.  Then, they voted on the best house. Similar to a chili-cookoff and family game nights, the large group was gathered together for a cell phone-free evening, with some actively working on the house and others enjoying the spectator support.  A gingerbread competition puts the capital “F” in Family.

Children can join in their own friendly competition, decorating houses made of graham crackers or decorating more simple shapes like pre-baked ginger people and trees.  Providing equal candies and helping with the assembly (hot glue is your best friend, unless you are purist and stick with icing) can control the time commitment for younger children.  This is an excellent activity for Girl Scout troops, winter birthday parties (have a Cake Boss-type party), mother-daughter gatherings, youth groups and more.

There are plenty of local gingerbread house competitions–ones where the contestants must bake their own gingerbread (been there, done that–once) or can create using a pre-made shape.  These are a great opportunity for groups or individuals to enter if you are looking for more competition.  Jeremy and I will be taking gingerbread houses to the Kennedy Krieger Festival of Trees next year.  Here are the rules for their display (which is a display and auction, not a competition).

I am including a link to the Gingerbread House Heaven website where you can get ideas, purchase items, and copy patterns.gingerbread house mugs

Finally, if you are having a gingerbread-themed gathering, and you lean toward the scale of Martha Stewart-style preparation, check out this blog, ironically titled “Not Martha” with instructions to make mini-gingerbread houses to adorn mugs of coffee or hot chocolate.

Podcast #44- 27 Days to Go!

Podcast #44Click here to listen to today’s podcast- Trees, Pudding, & Fruit!

We’re back for our first podcast after the Festival of Trees!  We start off with a review of the last week and our activities.  Listen as we discuss Black Friday and all of our adventures at the Festival.  Next we welcome our special guest Lauren and get to the heart of our podcast- tasting!  We taste cookies and fruit cake.  The reactions are varied, so listen to hear more.  Stay tuned this week as the Christmas season is now in full swing.


Eggnog on Sale Now!

Is your reaction “Yuck” or “Yummy?”

I’m in between.  My initial reaction is “Yummy” if the eggnog is (a) very cold, (b) a very small quantity and (c) from High’s.  I saw a huge poster in the Royal Farms winder last night–eggnog is here for the season.  My holiday behavior is to buy the smallest container of eggnog, drink one juice-sized glass, complain about feeling full for about two hours and then allow the rest of the container to go bad.  Finally, we throw out the eggnog in about two weeks.

Eggnog is made with milk (or cream), sugar, and beaten eggs. Liquor can be added, like bourbon, whisky, rum, brandy or a  combination of liquors.  It’s garnished with cinnamon or nutmeg.  Eggnog that is sold in stores has been altered according to FDA requirements so that you are not drinking raw eggs.

Eggnog is a popular drink throughout the United States and Canada, and is usually associated with winter celebrations such asThanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year. Commercial non-alcoholic eggnog is typically available only in the winter season. People often add eggnog to coffee or tea, and during the holidays, many brands of ice cream advertise eggnog ice cream. Here’s a link to CNN’s article about the history of eggnog.

An interesting historical fact is that the Eggnog Riots occurred when cadets smuggled alcohol into the Naval Academy in winter 1826 to spike their eggnog.  Twenty cadets and one enlisted man were court-martialed.

Coca Cola’s Arctic Home

The Coca Cola cans featuring polar bears are now part of every grocery store endcap–one of the most familiar heralds of the holiday season.  I received an email from Coca Cola today reminding me that this is their second year that they are partnering with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to help the polar bear, committing to donating $2 million over the next five years. (They’ve raised $1.8 million so far.)

You can read about the company’s efforts on their website, Arctic Home.  The fact sheet outlines Coca Cola’s marketing efforts, but this article in Time Magazine published last year explains the devastating effects of global warming on polar bears and the plan to create a refuge where the ice will remain longest, also called the Last Ice area.

Polar Bears have been part of Coca Cola advertising since 1922. Last April, Meryl Streep narrated the IMAX movie To the Arctic 3D, sponsored in part by the Arctic Home initiative.

Ironically, while Coca Cola has created, a program devoted to recycling, healthy living, and protection of our environment, critics emphasize that the products they create (specifically sugary beverages) contribute to a world health crisis and obesity.

I know that no one wants to dwell the negatives during the holidays, but famous advertising man Alex Bogusky with the advocacy group,  The Center for Science in the Public Interest, released a video in October that satirizes our love of sugary beverages and the devastating effects of the resulting health impact using a story of polar bears who drink too much soda.  Check out the article in USA Today, which includes the video.

Chestnuts roasting. . .at Costco

Seems like every aisle at Costco was featuring some Christmas related item, and nuts were on display.  I saw black walnuts, almonds, pecans, and peanuts in the shell, but the most striking display, just next to the cash registers, was this tower of roasted chestnuts.  Who isn’t familiar with Nat King Cole’s smooth opening, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. . ,” the start of “The Christmas Song.”

Have you ever roasted a chestnut?  I haven’t.  I did a little digging today to find out why those nuts in particular are part of the Christmas tradition.  I learned that chestnuts were a food staple grown even before rice in ancient countries. References to chestnuts appear twice in the King James version of the Bible.   In fact, in some places, it was ground as flour.  Chestnuts are the perfect food: lower calories than walnuts and almonds, no cholesterol, no gluten, comparable in carbohydrates to wheat.  Many a civilization has lived on chestnuts both during hard times and as part of a regular diet.  The nuts were so common, they were considered a poor man’s food.

It’s hard to imagine that just 100 years ago, one quarter of the Appalachian forest was made up of the majestic chestnut–a tall, fast-growing hardwood.  Most early American builders used the chestnut interchangeably with oak to build.  I wonder what that might have looked like?

While the various species of chestnut in Asia co-evolved with diseases, making those species resistant, the chestnut blight struck the American and European chestnut in the early 1900’s, wiping out four billion American chestnut trees.  Since the early twentieth century, growers have been working to establish a hybrid tree that can bring the chestnut back to its former glory.

Back to the chestnuts at Costco.  I read quite a few instructions about the tradition of roasting them on an open fire, and I’m linking directions here from,  in the event you want to give it a try.

Here’s a great future Jeopardy! fact:  The Hundred Horse Chestnut tree in Italy is considered the world’s oldest chestnut tree, dating somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 years old.

Here’s an additional article about chestnuts published last year in the Times Union.

Santa and Christmas – Gangnam Style

5:45 a.m.  A blur of dancing Santas on the gym television screens caught my eye.  From Australia, a group of 150 were dressed as Santas and dancing Gangnam style on the deck of the Australian naval ship HMAS Ballarat in Sydney Harbour.

The purpose was to raise awareness for a charity fun run next month, where organizers expect upwards of 5,000 Santas in Sydney and 25,000 throughout Australia.  Through this huge event, Variety, the Children’s Charity, delivers millions to help poor, disadvantaged, and handicapped children.

No podcast today!  The whole house smells like mint and chocolate because I’m baking candy cane topped brownies tonight to prepare for our tree designing party tomorrow. (My first “from scratch” brownies.  Recipe from Sugar Plum Blog here.) We’re gathering at Jeremy’s house to practice setting up our trees for the Kennedy Kreiger Festival of Trees, and we plan to have the entire group help us to record our weekly podcast.  More tomorrow!

Fortune Cookies – Make your own wishes

Oh so many years ago, I decided to bake fortune cookies shortly before winter break.  Student volunteers and I made fortunes from phrases in novels we had studied, and then we went to the cooking lab to create homemade cookies.  What I learned from that experience is (a) how fun it is to create our own meaningful fortunes, and (b) how hard it is to bake “easy” fortune cookies with the help of many hands.  Because the baking time is short, and the hot cookie must be shaped and cooled very quickly, it’s difficult to have more than one or two bakers at a time.  I remember a lot of laughter and burned fingertips.  I wonder what my students remember from that day?

I’m explaining this because yesterday, during our podcast, we got the idea to make Christmas-themed fortune cookies.  For one brief, shining moment, we thought we had our next “get rich slow” scheme.  I think Jeremy’s idea of making themed fortunes is genius.  I would love to make a “Dickens” or “Jane Austen” set of fortune cookie fortunes.  We quickly moved on to types, colors, packaging–the whole works.  Before we left the studio, we were ready to incorporate and begin.

Unfortunately, reality set in today when I began to research the idea. Been there.  Done that. Someone else (several someone-elses) had the idea before us, and two online vendors look like great possibilities. . .if you don’t want to go the “burn your fingers” route.

Beau coup (celebrating life one event at a time) offers chocolate dipped cookies with or without an organza bag.  A dozen, wrapped individually, with shipping, is approximately $2.00 a cookie.  These would make nice wedding favors, but the price is a little steep for the gift-giving I had in mind.  Beau coup will allow the purchaser to customize the messages for an additional $35. They sell custom color and custom logo fortune cookies, too.

A second website, but by no means the last, that offers a huge selection of fortune cookies is  They sell similar varieties, with the added bonus of custom giant fortune cookies.  The single cookie, about the size of a 8″ round cake, is just about $30.00.

After looking at some of these choices, I think I’ll stick with hand-made fortune cookies.  I have included the basic recipe I used. There’s nothing wrong with the multitude of prepared choices.  I just like the idea of making them myself.

If you have a unique fortune cookie idea, let us know.  I saw a garland of popcorn and fortune cookies on one of the websites.  That looks like a project, but I bet children would love it!

Swedish Julbord at IKEA

I’m taking a break from my Christmas card craft obsession (Except,  I admonished Roger for using birthday candles on Leo’s cake tonight.  I need them for my crafts!)

On Sunday, we stopped at IKEA for a stroll through the maze of aisles, staring at all of the things we would buy if we actually needed anything.  On the tables in the cafe, I saw that they have posted their Christmas Julbord menu.  No word when the menu will be served, but the menu is posted so you can dream about the all-you-can-eat Swedish experience.

Last season, the Julbord was $9.99 and was served on the first Friday in December, in two seatings.  Children under 12 ate for only $2.49. The IKEA website has not posted this year’s event, but I’m betting it will be Friday, December 7, so mark your calendar.  If I go, I’m taking my grandson, too.

I’m not a big fan of herring, but I do like all things salmon. (There are three types on the menu.)  Gratang Jansson is some sort of potato dish with cream, onions, cheese and anchovies.  I think that’s potatoes au gratin with anchovies–sounds perfect.  The menu will include the standard IKEA favorite–meatballs with lingonberries.  There are hard boiled eggs with shrimp, too.

“Julboard” means “Jul” or “Yule” (Christmas) with “bord” (table).  What IKEA lacks in ambiance, they make up in interesting foods.

The beverages include Glogg, which is a hot spiced wine.  I’ve included the recipe here in the event that you can’t attend. I don’t know how I feel about eating this Christmas meal with hundreds of my closest shopping buddies, but I’d like to try to recreate the Swedish Christmas dinner at home.