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christmas

Dec 19 2016

Behind Our Favorite Christmas Carols

by Camille B

christmas-caroling1Ah Christmas carols, how we love them. The gaiety of the festive season certainly wouldn’t be the same without them. Wouldn’t be the same without the halls a decking, chestnuts a roasting and good old Jack frost nipping at our nose.

To me a Christmas without carols would be like Thanksgiving without turkey or dressing–incomplete. It would be hard to imagine not hearing the sweet strains of Silent Night or White Christmas in the background while you do your holiday shopping; or the warmth of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas as you bake cookies or get ready for the Christmas Eve church service.

Below are 10 of our favorite Christmas carols and holiday songs that have become near and dear to our hearts. They have brought us comfort and joy throughout the years. These are some of the stories of how they came to be.

Do You Hear What I Hear?
Believe it or not, this song was actually inspired by the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Written by Noel Regney with the music arranged by his wife Gloria Shayne Baker, it was written by the couple as a plea for peace during that turbulent time in history when everyone was  anxiously waiting a resolution to the standoff between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Says Regney in an interview “In the studio, the producer was listening to the radio to see if we had been obliterated, en route to my home, I saw two mothers with their babies in strollers. The little angels were looking at each other and smiling.” This inspired the first line of the song: “Said the night wind to the little lamb … ”  In an interview years later, Shayne said that neither of them could personally perform the entire song at the time they wrote it because of the emotions surrounding the Crisis. Since then the song has gone on to sell millions of copies and has been sung by hundreds of artists including Bing Crosby,  Frank Sinatra, Robert Goulet, Carrie Underwood, Mannheim Steamroller, Brenda Lee and many others.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
This  song was penned by songwriters Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine in 1944, for Judy Garland’s movie Meet me in St. Louis. It was felt that the first draft was too sad, and rightly so when you read some of the original lyrics:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
It may be your last
Next year we may all be living in the past
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Pop that champagne cork
Next year we may all be living in New York

Garland refused to sing it,  saying that it would be cruel to sing those lines to a brokenhearted sister. After she protested Martin did a re-write which she went on to sing in the movie, and the holiday song has become one of our favorites over the years, sung by artists like Frank Sinatra,  Bing Crosby, Sarah MacLachlan, Kelly Clarkston, Lady Antebellum and Michael Buble to name a few.

White Christmas
Of all the carols, this is probably the most wistful and melancholic of all. Written by Irving Berlin and first airing on the radio in 1941, this cozy little song went on to have an even deeper meaning because of the tragedy of the Pearl Harbor attack that happened just 18 days before the song aired. The following winter, the Armed forces played it repeatedly over the radio for the young American soldiers who had found themselves overseas during the war to remind them of home. It was said that whenever Bing Crosby traveled overseas to perform for the troops it was by far the most requested song, even though he had reservations about playing it because of its sad undertones. By the end of the war, White Christmas was the best-selling song of all time and held that spot for 56 years until Elton John’s remake of “Candle in the Wind” when Princess Diana died in 1997.

O Holy Night
This song was first written in 1847 as a poem by a local poet in France named Placide Cappeau. He later had music added to it by his friend Adolphe Charles Adams and weeks later the song was sung in the village on Christmas Eve. At first the song was well-loved and received by the church of France, but when it became common knowledge that Cappeau was a socialist and Adams a Jew, it was pronounced unsuitable for church services. The common French people loved it so much they continued singing it anyway. It eventually came to the U.S. through John Sullival Dwight, an abolitionist during the Civil War, and was published in his magazine, finding tremendous favor in the north during the war. On Christmas Eve of 1871, during the war between French and German soldiers, fighting ceased for 24 hours in honor of Christmas Day after a French soldier walked out onto the battlefield and sang three verses of the song, prompting a soldier from the German army to sing another popular hymn by Martin Luther. Soon after this event, the French Church re-embraced O Holy Night.

Over the years, the song has been recorded and sung by various artists including Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole,  Mariah Carey, Celine Deon,  Faith Hill, Josh Groban and Trans-Siberian Orchestra and many others.

Silver Bells
This famous song was originally called “Tinkle Bells”  and first appeared in The Lemon Drop Kid, the 1951 film starring Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell. It was written by composers Jay Livingston and Ray Evans (Livingston the music and Evans the lyrics) when they were asked by Paramount Pictures to come up with a Christmas song for the film. The inspiration came from the tinkling bells of the department store Santa and Salvation Army workers. Completely satisfied with the song, and clueless to the fact that the word tinkle also had another meaning, Jay happily went home and played it for his wife who asked him if he was out of his mind and went on to explain him the bathroom connotation for the word tinkle. Luckily (for all of us) he listened to his wife and went back to the drawing board. Since the duo loved everything else about the song, they simply replaced the word “Tinkle” with “Silver.” Over the years, Silver Bells has been sung over the airwaves by artists such as Dean Martin, Perry Como, Jim Reeves, Johnny Mathis, Martina McBride and Peggy Lee to name a few.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas
This song, composed by Walter Kent and Kim Gannon and recorded by Bing Crosby, was first released in the Christmas of 1943, and written from the perspective of a soldier serving overseas during World War II. When Gannon first pitched the song to the people in the music industry, they turned it down because they felt that the final line “If only in my dreams” was too sad for those separated from their loved ones in the military, but when he sang it for Crosby, Crosby decided to record it. One of the most touching stories associated with the song was that of the Battleship North Carolina. The chaplain of that ship, realizing how homesick the men were, collected $5 from each crew member who had children back home. He then sent the money, together with the addresses of the men to Macy’s Department store, asking them to buy gifts for their children using the money and have the gifts mailed to their homes in time for Christmas. When Macy’s received the money they were so touched by the gesture that they decided to take it a little further by reaching out to the families and asking them to come in to make a special recording for their loved one who would not be home with them that Christmas. It was said that the men aboard the Battleship North Carolina wept and rejoiced that Christmas day in 1943 when they saw their wives, children and loved ones appear on the screen, since Macy’s had videotaped each of their families sending them a Christmas message. While I’ll Be Home for Christmas was not written on account of this story, it very well could have been and it certainly is clear to see the sentiment that connects them. The poignant Christmas song, has also been also recorded over the years by Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Sara Evans and Kelly Clarkston, to name a few.

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire
Also known as The Christmas Song, this classic was written by Bob Wells and Mel Tormé in 1945. Strangely enough, it was written during an extremely hot summer. The idea, according to Tormé was to”stay cool by thinking cool.” What first started as four playful lines penned by Wells , Chestnuts roasting, Jack Frost nipping, Yuletide carols and Folks dressed up like Eskimos, scribbled on a piece of paper and not at all meant to be lyrics to a song, ended up forty-five minutes later- with the addition of Tormé’s music- being the famous Christmas carol that we now know and love, sung by many well known artists like Trace Adkins, Johnny Mathis, Martina McBride, Bing Crosby and Justin Bieber.

Winter Wonderland
Even though this is one of the more jolly Christmas favorites, the story behind the song is anything but. The lyrics were actually written by Richard Smith while he was being treated for tuberculosis at the West Mountain Sanitarium in Scranton, Pennsylvania. As he spent long, lonely days in the comfort of his room, he daydreamed about what it would be like to be normal and healthy, living a life that would enable him to play outside in the snow like the children he was observing from his bedroom window. This inspired him to write a poem that captured the carefree, fun-filled, snowy day. He showed the lyrics to his friend and musician Felix Bernard in 1934 who, touched by the lovely poem, immediately set to work to compose a melody to go along with the words. Sadly Smith never got much of a chance to see all that the song would eventually become, passing away a year after its release in 1934; but Felix went on to enjoy the fame that resulted in the years following. The classic has been sung by over 200 artists. You can hear renditions of  it every year by artists such as Tony Bennett, Elvis Presley,  Barry Manilow, The Andrews Sisters, Michael Buble,  Harry Conick Jr. and Ella Fitzgerald.

We Wish You A Merry Christmas
The composer and author of this cheeky Carol with the demand for figgy pudding is to this day still unknown. It is an English folk song from the 1500s and goes back to a time when poor carolers would wander from house to house singing Christmas songs to the wealthy people of the community. The line “We wish you a Merry Christmas.” was sung as a greeting to the household,  while the lines “O, bring us some figgy pudding; we won’t go until we get some” was the call for treats they usually received as payment, and yes they would keep right on singing until they got them. It is said that the figgy pudding mentioned was once an integral part of the Christmas celebrations but has now seemingly lost its importance. The carol is a popular finale to many holiday events and is one of few to mention the New Year celebration.

Jingle Bells
This is one of the best-known and most commonly sung American songs in the world. It was written by James Lord Pierpont and published under the title One Horse Open Sleigh in the autumn of 1857.  Pierpont, at the time, was hired as an organist at his brother’s church in Savannah, Georgia. It was there that he composed the song originally written for a Thanksgiving program. It wasn’t very popular when he released it in 1857. He tried again in 1859 under the new title Jingle Bells  which flopped again. It slowly gained popularity over the years, becoming associated with Christmas rather than just a regular sleigh song which was very popular at the time among teenagers. In 1890, three years before Pierpont’s death the song had become a huge Christmas hit, and from 1890-1954 held a spot on the top 25 most recorded songs in the world. Over the decades it has been sung by many, including The Beatles, Gene Autry, The Carpenters, Louis Armstrong, Nsync, Nat King Cole and Barbara Streisand.

Which Christmas Carol is your favorite this time of year? And which artist sings it best?

Here is a link to some fun Christmas music quizzesmistletoe

christmas-book

 

 

 A treasury of Christmas songs and carols – Henry W Simon

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Dec 7 2016

Meet Anita Hughes!

by Jencey G

I have had the opportunity to get to know Anita Hughes through her bookshughes-1135 and my personal blog Writer’s Corner.  She is debuting with us at DeKalb County Public Library with her book Christmas in Paris.  Anita is stopping by so that our readers here could have an opportunity to get to know this great author.

So Anita what are five interesting facts that readers should know about you?

I was born and raised in Sydney, Australia.

I live on the beach in Dana Point, California, and love to walk along the ocean.

I have five children! And still find time to write.

I am a huge frozen yogurt fan and have it every night for dessert.

I love 19th century British literature: Thomas Hardy, D.H. Lawrence, George Eliot, Wilkie Collins.”

 

christmas-in-paris_final-cover-1Since this book is set at Christmas time what is your favorite aspect of Christmas?

My favorite thing about Christmas is that the whole family is together. The children are now old enough to buy each other presents, so it is a very festive time and everyone really enjoys it. We usually spend three full days together and walk on the beach and cook and have ping pong tournaments.”

One aspect of your writing I love is how you have your heroine set in a high position in both her career and family background. This aspect reminds me of authors such as Judith Krantz and Barbara Taylor Bradford.  How have these ladies influenced your writing?

Yes! I have read everything by Judith Krantz and many books by Barbara Taylor Bradford. I am the biggest fan of Krantz’s books and Princess Daisy and Mistral’s Daughter really influenced my writing. I have always been a huge reader and devoured all the big, glossy, blockbusters.

Do you plan to continue to use exotic locations for your settings of your future stories?

Yes, my next book, White Sand, Blue Sea, is set in St. Bart’s and comes out in April. Emerald Coast, set in Sardinia, comes out next August and there will be a Christmas book set in a gorgeous location next year too.”

Has your childhood played a part in where your stories are set?

My parents were European and as a child we traveled a lot. I also grew up with a large world view, living in Australia and being exposed to different cultures. I use a lot of the places I fell in love with as a child – Lake Como, Cannes, Rome, Paris, in my books.

How much experience do you have using libraries in the various places you live?

I adore libraries. When my children were small, we were in the library almost every afternoon. I would park them in the children’s section and read everything in the fiction section. I love our local library in Dana Point, which is a block from my house.”

What is your favorite activity to do in the library?

I like to read the first couple of pages of a dozen different fiction books. There are so many authors I am interested in, but don’t get the time to read.

Why is self-discovery so important in your novels?

As a wife and mother, I know women don’t get a lot of time for introspection. But it is important to take care of oneself at every stage in life. So I think self-discovery is very important for growth and self esteem.

Do all your novels start with the character in their lowest position to rise by the end of the novel?

I hadn’t really thought about it that way. I think they all start with the character having a dilemma. And usually in solving the dilemma, she discovers her best self along the way.

Thank you, Anita Hughes, for joining us today.  I am a fan of Anita’s work and cannot wait to see more of her books at DeKalb County Public Library.  Please check out Christmas in Paris.   If you like Anita then you might also be interested in: Elin Hilderbrand, Fannie Flagg, and JoJo Moyes.

Thank you so much for the support, Jencey! And I hope your readers enjoy my books.

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Dec 16 2015

DCPL Squashes the Bah Humbug!

by Hope L

Are you feeling a little like Scrooge this year? Not enough time, energy, or maybe money to be festive? Are the holidays sneaking up on you, with the mild weather giving you the impression that the holiday season is still months away?

Well, the holiday season is indeed upon us, and whether you celebrate anything this time of year or not, you can take advantage of the wonderful goings on at the DeKalb County Public Library!

Here are some happenings this coming Saturday that are enough to put some holiday spirit into anybody, even you Grinches out there:

HeritageFestival2015_slideSat., Dec. 19:  There are too many delicious choices to make on this day!  Redan-Trotti Library, 770.482.3821, will offer Tasty Traditions:  Cookie & Dessert Exchange, from 11:30-12:30 p.m.  Share your family’s traditional cookie or dessert that has been passed down through the years, along with the recipe, and sample everyone else’s.  A prize will be given for the tastiest one and registration is required with a limit of 20 participants.

Sat., Dec. 19:  Decatur Library will host the Embrace Our World:  Greek Food Tasting event, sponsored by the Decatur Craft Beer Festival, from 10:30-11:30 a.m., with selections of a variety of traditional Greek pastries.  Available to the first 30 people.

That’s just a sample–see our calendar of events for more happenings at DCPL.

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Dec 16 2013

‘Tis the Season

by Hope L

chicken_soup_christmasAfter I heard the heartbreaking news about the family who was robbed of their Christmas gifts this week, I decided to write a blog to try and conjure up a little holiday cheer for myself.

And what better place to find it than Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas Cheer by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, with its stories about the spirit of Christmas and what it really means to give.

I love that the stories are mostly short and that there are inspirational quotes sprinkled throughout the book.

“For the spirit of Christmas fulfills the greatest hunger of mankind.” – Loring A. Schuler

“We can do no great things – only small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” – Epictetus

“Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality and the genial flame of charity in the heart.” – Washington Irving

Yeah, well, you get the idea.  Oh, “Bah Humbug!,” you say?  How about these—simple and straight-to-the-point:

“For it is in giving that we receive.” – St. Francis of Assisi

and

“It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air.” – W.T. Ellis

Ah, yes—that’s the Christmas spirit! And Nat King Cole‘s iconic Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire  playing in the background helps, too …

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Of course, not everyone celebrates Christmas and those who do don’t celebrate in exactly the same way.  My own holidays have tended to be fairly low-key especially in recent years. I bake cookies,  but I normally try to avoid actual shopping as much as possible. As far as decorating my home goes, I hang a wreath on my front door and put up a Christmas tree and that’s it. I have to say that decorating the tree is one of my favorite holiday activities. After celebrating a fair number of holidays,  I now have a couple of boxes packed with  ornaments.  Each one calls up a fond memory as I put it on the tree.

Do you put up a tree? Mine is artificial but for many people only a live tree will do. Or consider a tree made of…books…as in this post from Jesse last year.

How about ornaments? My tree decorating strategy mostly involves just trying to find room for everything (really…I have a lot of ornaments!) but I’ve known people who create subject themes (Star Wars anyone?) for their trees or devise a strict color scheme. Of course the decorating magazines this time of year are full of ideas for beautifully decorated trees.

Do you need new decorating ideas for your home? Are you decorating for the first time? Either way, DCPL has resources for you.

bestIf you prefer a traditional approach, check out Victoria 500 Christmas Ideas: celebrate the season in splendor by Kimberly Meisner. Or you might consider Best of Christmas Ideas from the editors of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. Are you the crafty type? You might love the ideas in A Very Beaded Christmas: 46 projects that glitter, twinkle and shine by Terry Taylor or the Christmas section in Martha Stewart’s Handmade Holiday Crafts by the doyenne of crafting perfection …Martha Stewart. Do you like to reuse, recycle and reduce your carbon footprint? If so, check out I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas by Anna Getty.

historyFinally,  if you’re interested in learning how Christmas has evolved over time, don’t miss two excellent histories of the holiday—Stephen Nissenbaum’s The Battle for Christmas and Christmas in America: a history by Penne L. Restad. You’ll learn that the Puritans banned the holiday altogether—associated as it was with rioting and public drunkeness. You’ll also learn that for all we (at least many of us) bemoan the warping of this family holiday into a tangle of commercial excess—it was actually the Victorians who transformed the holiday into what we think of as the “traditional” Christmas which includes Santa Claus, Christmas cards and what had been, up until then, a German novelty…the decorated Christmas tree.

Do you decorate for Christmas? What’s your decorating style?

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The holidays are upon us, whether we are ready or not. As soon as Halloween ends, we start thinking of Thanksgiving and Christmas and all of the happiness these holidays bring us. However we never think about all of the problems these holidays bring. I really love Thanksgiving, because my mom makes all of the food that she does not make all year long. However getting the food is the problem. The grocery stores—all of them—are a nightmare the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. During this time of the year cheese, sugar and flour become hot items; they are even featured on the cover of the weekly ads in the grocery store. But once you have done all of your grocery shopping, including those last minute items that you always forget to buy, like eggs, you are okay, right? Wrong! Because the granddaddy of them all is on the way—Christmas. Christmas, not only does it monopolize the grocery stores, but all of the other stores as well. Traffic is horrible everywhere and there is never anywhere to park. Christmas is just a shoppers nightmare.

To help deal with the holiday stress, check out these books.

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Dec 14 2012

Holiday Gimmes

by Veronica W

Teenagers are notoriously poor, especially around Christmas. Unless they have jobs, they have no real money to spend on gifts…mainly because they have spent it all on themselves prior to the holiday. My sisters and I were no exception. One year I asked one sister what she was getting me for Christmas. With eyebrows raised, she asked “What did I get you last year?”   “Nothing. Niente. Nada. ” I replied huffily.  “Three gifts? I gave you three gifts? Wow! Didn’t you like any of them?” By now she was starting to grin.  “Not really,” I shot back.  “Okay then,” she said, as she turned to walk away. “I’ll get them in another color this time.”

What is this compulsion that has us (okay, has me)  running around at 11:45 pm on Christmas Eve, throwing stainless steel, color coded meat tongs into a cart, as a gift for someone I don’t know well enough to know they’re serious vegans? My mother used to say, in answer to my outrage at a gift I didn’t appreciate, “What’s the problem? It’s not your birthday anyway.” Tell that to the friends in the television commercial who sit around a cozy fire, holding up hideous presents they just opened and laughingly, honestly confess to the giver that they are going to destroy them or throw them away.

With the advent of gift cards, giving should be a piece of cake.  They cover a range of tastes and interests, although they can be a tad impersonal. However there still will be insincere cries of joy on Christmas morning for the SpongeBob tie (my apologies to those who love their Sponge ties), the belly button brush or the supersized box of taffy for Granny and her new dentures. Is it really the thought that counts, even if those “thoughtful” people were behind me in the line at 11: 55 pm, waiting to buy the ugly snowman salt and pepper set, as a last ditch effort?

Lest you think I am Scrooge reborn and my sister’s miserly attitude has scarred me for life, please know that I love giving and receiving gifts. However, these days, I crave meaning in the giving and the getting.  At my advanced age, I have enough stuff; what touches me most are gifts of caring, time, creativity and sacrifice. (Did I mention that cookies, cakes, pies and other goodies are never despised?)  My granddaughter (remember, poor teenager) once gave me the gift of a leisurely, home style pedicure. Not only did I get a pedicure but I got genuine conversation, which I enjoyed and appreciated. If you have a teen, you know conversation can be rare and very costly. Also, it was doubly special because I know she isn’t all that fond of handling other people’s feet.

My gift to you is the suggestion that you read—or re-read—O’Henry’s The Gift of the Magi. If you become depressed with every garland or light you string up, with every foray into the mall; if you have sung as many stanzas of Jingle Bells as you can stand and even the mellow Nat King Cole’s Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire is starting to pall,  this incredible short story will rekindle the joy of this season. There are many other stories and movies that tell us that Jo, in Little Women, was wrong when she said “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.”  Look below and pick a favorite.

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Dec 12 2012

A short personal history of fruitcake

by Dea Anne M

Most of my childhood Christmas holidays were spent with my paternal grandparents and my large, boisterous clan on that side of the family. For us kids, most of the excitement revolved around waking up Christmas morning to see what Santa had left us then (as if we weren’t greedy enough) opening presents later in the morning. Christmas dinner was usually served around 2:00 pm and featured the eagerly anticipated turkey with cornbread dressing as well as my favorite glazed, baked ham. Having been reared mostly in the Northeast and Central Florida, I was unaccustomed to the country style cooking of the South. It was, shall we say, exotic. My mother, an excellent cook with an adventurous palate, usually prepared what she thought everyone would eat and by “everyone” I mean me and my even pickier younger brother. Christmas dinner green beans cooked just about forever with a piece of salt pork were more than acceptable but giblet gravy? Forget about it! Most alien of all perhaps was the once-a-year appearance of the edible substance known as fruitcake. In my grandmother’s house there were two kinds, “light cake” and “dark cake”, and neither one in any way suggested cake to me. First of all, they were loaf-shaped and bare of embellishment.  I knew good and well that a proper cake consisted of two or three round layers heavily frosted. Even worse were the weird red and green pieces studded throughout the cake which I now know were candied cherries. I’m sure I would have liked fruitcake just fine had I deigned to taste it, but there were always cookies and banana pudding both of which settled the dessert question just fine for us persnickety youngsters.

You may already know that Georgia boasts the Fruitcake Capitol of the World, Claxton GA, home of the Claxton Fruitcake Company but did you know that Corsicana TX can make the same claim as it is equally famous for the fruitcakes produced by the Collin Street Bakery? Fruitcake is by no means unique to the U.S. In the Bahamas, dried fruit and nuts are soaked in dark rum for up to 3 months and then more rum is poured on top of the baked cake while it’s still hot. That recipe wouldn’t have passed muster with my grandmother, a strict teetotaler, but everyone might have eaten more fruitcake if it had. Italians eat a highly spiced fruitcake at Christmas time called panforte. In Romania fruitcake goes by the name Cozonac, in Switzerland it’s Birnenbrot, and the people of  Trinidad enjoy a boozy confection called Black Cake which is similar to the  Bahamanian fruitcake.

If you bake fruitcake for the holidays, you likely already follow a trusted family recipe. If not, you could do worse than picking up a copy of  The All-American Christmas Cookbook: family favorites from every state by Georgia Orcutt and John Margolies and baking the “Fabulous Fruitcake.” Inspired by the fruitcake from the Collin Street Bakery (the actual recipe is apparently a closely guarded secret) it contains a wealth of dried fruit, nuts, and Calvados and looks pretty delicious to me. As promised by the title, the book features a holiday recipe from every state in the union (Georgia’s contribution is Cranberry-Pecan Chutney) and features adorable vintage illustrations. If the idea of Caribbean Black Cake appeals, you’ll find recipe in for it in Warm Bread and Honey Cake: home baking from around the world by Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra. For a proper British fruitcake, check out Nigella Christmas: food, family, friends, festivities by Nigella Lawson. Lawson presents a really delicious looking “Incredibly Easy Chocolate Fruit Cake” as well as “Gorgeously Golden Fruitcake” which she describes as “the fruity blonde sister of the brunette temptress” (meaning the chocolate version). Anyway, both look wonderful and well worth baking plus the golden fruitcake is gluten free.

Finally, I can’t leave the subject of cake without mentioning two of my favorite cake-centric books (although fruitcake doesn’t make an appearance in either). One is Vintage Cakes: timeless recipes for cupcakes, flips, rolls, layer, angel, bundt, chiffon, and icebox cakes for today’s sweet tooth by Julie Richardson. This book features beautiful photographs and boasts a truly impressive array of delicious sounding cake recipes. Just reading about such creations as  Lovelight Chocolate Chiffon Cake, Blackout Cake, and Watergate Cake with Impeachment Frosting make me want to get out my mixing bowls and beaters right now. Also highly recommended is The Cake Mix Doctor by Anne Byrn. I’d be the first person to admit that I can be a bit of a snob when it comes to mixes and culinary short cuts but Byrn really understands what she’s doing. I know people who swear by this book and always produce cakes both beautiful and delicious. Allow me to recommend the Strawberry Cake with Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting. This spectacular cake is one that my mother pulls out for special occasions and, for a strawberry lover like me, it comes close to cake heaven. Be sure not miss Chocolate from the the Cake Mix Doctor and The Cake Mix Doctor Returns! also by Byrn.

What’s your opinion on fruitcake? Do you have a beloved recipe?

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Dec 7 2012

The Gift of Song

by Jnai W

My favorite thing about the holidays is the festive seasonal music. While I’ve become pleasantly acquainted with Wham!’s “Last Christmas” and Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmas Time” over the years (thanks to B98.5’s standard holiday rotation) my heart belongs to the sacred songs and traditional Christmas caroles. This holiday season my biggest Christmas wish is to be wandering around the mall as a Christmas flash mob of carols and hymns erupts around me.

Have you witnessed one of these, Reader? The closest I’ve ever come is viewing a YouTube clip of an especially thrilling flash mob from two years ago in a Redondo Beach mall.  I have to say I was intrigued and spent half an hour online searching for more clips of talented vocalists in public places bursting into song, like a Rodgers and Hammerstein production come to life (minus fleet-footed choreography).  While these fits of musical merriment may or may not be completely spontaneous, they are incredibly fascinating. The best part of a flash mob, especially one that boasts holiday songs, is the reaction of unsuspecting passersby swept up in rousing choruses of “O Come Let Us Adore Him” and “O Holy Night”. The expressions of bemusement, accompanied by the clicking, tapping and raising of smartphones, soon give way to mallgoers chiming in, clapping along or gazing wistfully at the flash mob singers.

The beauty of the lyrics, the nostalgia of being gathered together with others in song—even for just five out of the ninety minutes devoted to gift shopping and errands—is undeniable and vital at a time of year that’s subsumed by hustle and bustle, hurry and worry.

I will attempt to embed this blog post with my favorite flash mob clip. I hope this makes you smile as much as it has made me.

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Dec 28 2011

This year, make it handmade

by Dea Anne M

I think we all could agree that there’s nothing quite like a gift you make yourself. Take, for example, the Mother’s Day gift I presented to Mom the year I turned nine. My scout troop made papier-mache earrings, and the ones I produced resembled nothing so much as a pair of orange golf balls. Some green glass beads and shellac turned them into something I considered quite fashionable and dramatic. Mom’s reaction upon opening the gift was…gracious, to say the least. I never saw her wear them. How could she? The things were huge and being clip-ons they probably would have slipped right off of her earlobes. She claimed to love them all the same and, as far as I know, they still reside in her jewelry box.

My crafting skills have improved since then, I hope, and there have been holiday seasons when lack of funds—or sometimes just the desire to give something more personal—have inspired me to make my gifts instead of purchasing them. One year I made personalized refrigerator magnets from polymer clay. Another year, we made candles and decorated picture frames. As I’m not the most enthusiastic shopper in the world, these gift-making sessions were infinitely more satisfying and fun than hitting the stores.

If you’re interested in planning your gift-making for next year’s holidays, or you want some ideas for gifts you can create through the year, DCPL has resources to help.

The Handmade Home: 75 projects for soaps, candles, picture frames, pillows, wreaths, and scrapbooks from the editors of County Living magazine will give you tons of ideas for gifts with down-home charm.

For the green-thinkers among us, Eco-craft: recycle, recraft, restyle by Susan Wasinger provides a number of ideas and instructions for stylish and surprisingly sophisticated gifts made from items that we often throw away. I was particularly wowed by the shopping tote made from coffee bags.

Martha Stewart’s Handmade Holiday Crafts: 225 inspired projects for year-round celebrations has gift ideas as well as inspirations for tabletop decor, gift wrapping, and holiday activities. Ideas for New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, etc. are here and the book  boasts the high-quality photography and enthusiastic tone that you’ve come to expect from the Queen of Crafting herself.

As long as you’re giving a lovingly crafted handmade gift, why not include a beautiful card that you’ve made yourself? Ultimate Card Making: A collection of over 100 techniques and 50 inspirational projects by Sarah Beaman provides, as the title might suggest, a wealth of ideas and instructions for making beautiful and unique cards. To keep the presentation of your gift as thoughtful and one-of-a-kind as the contents, be sure to check out The Art of Gift Wrapping: 50 innovative ideas using organic, unique, and uncommon materials by Wanda Wen. The wrappings themselves are gorgeous, and you’ll also find ideas for wrapping oddly shaped objects such as house plants and bottles of wine.

Finally, I must mention Pinterest, the social photo sharing website styled as vision boards. Users pin images related to special interests such as photography, gardening, and design as well as ideas for focused projects such as wedding planning and home decor. Crafters can browse hundreds of images for appealing ideas for crafts as well as handy source links for further information and instructions. What Harry Potter fan among your friends and family wouldn’t be thrilled to receive a Golden Snitch tree ornament? How about adorable “dinosaur tails” for the kids? It’s all there on Pinterest! You have to be invited to join, but the site has a handy “request an invite” button so that before you know it you’ll be crafting your gift-giving heart out.

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