Christmas Baking and Gingerbread Bloodshed with Stephanie A. Cain

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Around the holidays, we’re surrounded by food. Family dinners, workplace potlucks, aisles and aisles of festive candy at grocery stores, not to mention all those friends who give you tasty treats as gifts to celebrate. When we’re so inundated with food (or anything, for that matter), we forget that others have different situations that lend to different holiday experiences for them. While I’ve never experienced a Christmas where I’ve had to go without, there are many in need, all over the world, and that’s why I wanted to participate in the Giftmas Blog Tour this year. December 6 – 12, we’re sharing holiday food anecdotes and family recipes to instill a little good cheer and support the Edmonton Food Bank.

‘Tis the season! I challenge you to provide a meal for someone in need, which is way easier than you think. $1 provides three meals for someone in need. Donate $5 to positively affect 15 lives. (This is the only time I enjoy math!)

And then…read today’s blog post by Stephanie A. Cain, fantasy writer extraordinaire whose creativity and storytelling follows her into the kitchen. Merry Giftmas!

And with that, I’ll turn it over to Stephanie…

Happy Giftmas! I’m joining this blog tour in support of the Edmonton Food Bank, so I’m here to talk to you about baking and Christmas bloodshed. Or something like that.

Let me start with a confession: I hate being in the kitchen.

I know, it’s weird for someone to write for a Christmas food blog tour when she hates cooking and baking. But here’s the thing–Christmas is the one time I don’t hate being in the kitchen.

My mom is an amazing cook and baker, and I seriously think her love language is feeding people. She taught me how to bake, and at Christmas, I love baking holiday cookies while listening to the Carpenters Christmas and Trans-Siberian Orchestra albums.

ninjabread-menMaking gingerbread boys has been a family tradition over the past decades–I have pictures of this going all the way back to when I was in middle school. Every year we try to get Mom a new cookie cutter. She mixes up the dough ahead of time (usually at least a quadruple recipe) and puts it in the fridge for a day or two.

Then my parents and I get together and bake. Dad rolls out the dough, I cut the cookies out, Mom handles the oven, and when they’re cool, I decorate.

You remember that Foxtrot cartoon where Jason does terrible things to the gingerbread men? That’s totally me. A couple of years ago, I got a set of “Ninja-bread Men” cookie cutters, which gave me plenty of excuses for head wounds and amputated limbs.

What? The Christmas story has its gruesome bits. Don’t forget about the Slaughter of the Innocents!

gingerwolves-and-victimsOne year I cast Lord of the Rings in gingerbread. One year my gingerbread men were the survivors of a zombie attack. We’ve also had gingerbread wolves, complete with red icing around their muzzles.  Then there was the year we thought it would be fun to make a gingerbread house. We quickly discovered how not fun that actually is, but the good news is, even an ugly gingerbread house tastes pretty good.

The recipe we use is from Mom’s battered, stained, well-used Betty Crocker Cookbook from 1972, the year she and Dad got married. (Picture the Book of Mazarbul from Fellowship of the Ring, but exchange recipes for dwarf records and vanilla-stains for bloodstains, and you’ll have an idea of how beat-up this cookbook is.)

Gingerbread Boys

1/2 cup shortening

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup dark molasses

1/4 cup water

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon soda

1/4 teaspoon ginger

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon allspice

Cream shortening and sugar. Blend in molasses, water, flour, salt, soda, ginger, nutmeg and allspice. Cover; chill 2 to 3 hours.

Heat oven to 375. Roll dough 1/4 inch thick on lightly floured cloth-covered board. Cut with gingerbread boy cutter [or ninjabread boy, or gingerwolf, or…]; place on ungreased baking sheet.

[Betty recommends using raisins for the face and bits of candied cherries for other decorations. We use cinnamon red-hots for eyes and do the rest with icing after they’re baked.]

Bake 10 to 12 minutes. Immediately remove from baking sheet. Makes about fifteen 4-inch cookies.

Like I said, we usually make at least a quadruple recipe, because a lot of dough is consumed while rolling and baking (shh, I am convinced salmonella is a conspiracy cooked up–get it, cooked up–by the oven industry). We also give gingerbread boys as a present to my uncle, because they’re his favorite cookies. There is laughter and shrieking and occasionally flour fights during the making of gingerbread boys, and it’s honestly one of my favorite traditions of Christmas.

If you decide to have fun with our recipe, make sure to take lots of pictures, and email me the results at stephanie@stephaniecainonline.com! And remember, as part of our 2016 Giftmas Blog Tour, we’re soliciting donations to the Edmonton Food Bank to help someone else have a happy holiday!

stephanie-a-cain

Stephanie A. Cain writes epic & urban fantasy. She grew up in Indiana, where much of her urban fantasy is set. She works at a museum and dreams of living somewhere without winter. A proud crazy cat lady, she is happily owned by Strider, Eowyn, and Eustace Clarence Scrubb.

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Buy a Book, Impact a Life

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As the holidays near, it’s easy to get caught up in buying presents, visiting friends and family, and building the best snowman anyone has ever seen (out of snow if the climate permits and marshmallows if it doesn’t). It’s easy to forget that there are others out there who can’t get caught up in holiday cheer, because of, well, hard doses of life.

Today, my short story “Devour” is published in an anthology titled Christmas Lites V.

I know what you’re thinking. Another plug for your work, Tiffany? But what about all the feels in that intro paragraph? You sound all kinds of entitled right now.

While this blog post is a way for me to share the news of the publication of “Devour,” it’s also a call to action. Because every cent of the proceeds of Christmas Lites V goes to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV).

According to their website, “NCADV is the voice of victims and survivors. We are the catalyst for changing society to have zero tolerance for domestic violence. We do this by effecting public policy, increasing understanding of the impact of domestic violence, and providing programs and education that drive change.”

The NCADV works with the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery to financially assist survivors of domestic violence who may not be able to afford reconstructive plastic surgery. They memorialize the victims of abuse through their Remember My Name project. They provide tool kits, in conjunction with The Feminist Women’s Health Center and the National Organization for Men Against Sexism, to help bridge the gap between the fields of reproductive health and domestic violence, educating others about reproductive coercion. They provide financial independence materials to survivors to help them rebuild and maintain financial stability. In short, they do really important work.

So Christmas Lites V is more than a book. It’s a way to support an incredibly worthwhile organization. While you read “A Tale of Two Urchins” by A.F. Stewart, “The Krampus Tree” by Douglas Wynne, or “Keeping Christmas” by Alana Lorens, know that you’re not only enjoying great fiction (donated by each and every author) but also helping to support NCADV’s important programs.

And I’m pretty sure there’s something for everyone in this anthology. All genres are represented – romance, fantasy, horror, action, children’s stories, stories written by children, and more.

Of course, I wrote a horror story. I tried to write something light and lovely for the holidays, but it simply didn’t work. Instead, I wrote about love that’s begun to fade, dark, foreboding woods, and the dangers of skepticism. Here’s a little excerpt from “Devour”:

“Through the Plexiglas of the phone booth, Melody Halliday peered into the dark of the wood – into its empty boughs and dead promises, beyond its gnarled, labyrinthine birch wood limbs, deep into the very heart of it – and felt nothing but utter skepticism. And pity, too. Pity that the provincial town of Einn in Iceland found debilitating fear in something so banal.

‘I’m surprised they haven’t burned the woods to the ground,’ Melody said into the receiver. ‘They say the mannaeta’s spirit lives in the bark of the trees, hibernating all year until Christmas Eve rolls around. Then, it take half-human, half-wood demon form for one night to feed on someone in Einn. Happy cannibal Christmas.’

‘How very jolly,’ Eddie Beckett, Melody’s boyfriend, said from across the Atlantic Ocean. His voice sounded honeyed. He’d been drinking. Pub drafts, no doubt, frothy ones laden with hops. Melody salivated at the thought of a crisp pint. There was no beer in Einn, not around this time of year.

‘It gets better. They systematically starve themselves here,’ Melody said. ‘Begins the first day of December. They eat as little as possible. They don’t want to entice the mannaeta with their wobbly bits.’

“Well, yours certainly entice me,’ Eddie said, humor in his voice.

Melody choked on an empty chuckle and cleared her throat, embarrassment and frustration warming her cheeks. Why was she so bloody uncomfortable? Her boyfriend of three years flirting openly with her should have sent her over the moon. Throttling through space with joy. But it didn’t. Instead, his frisky jest made her stomach twitch with nervousness.”

And you’ll have to purchase a copy of Christmas Lites V to see what happens to Melody, Eddie, the sleepy little town of Einn, and its resident wood-demon, the mannaeta.

If you want a hard copy, CLICK HERE!

If you want a Kindle copy, CLICK HERE!

Purchasing this book to support NCADV is the best Christmas/holiday gift anyone could give me. Thank you in advance for your generosity and support.

Happiest of holidays to you all!

Eating Christmas: A Place at the Table

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This week, I attended Chow Bella’s Eating Christmas event at Crescent Ballroom, an annual reading during which local writers share their personal tales involving food and the holidays. And it was awesome. So awesome that I left Crescent wonderfully inspired to write my own Eating Christmas anecdote. So, here it is, all wrapped up in feels and a pretty bow for you as we get closer and closer to Christmas. (Word to the wise: This blog post will be best enjoyed if accompanied by a bowl of piping hot ramen.)

A Place at the Table

By Tiffany Michelle Brown

My boyfriend has explained repeatedly that he comes from a food family, but I don’t think that fact truly sunk in until the coolers from California arrived. When Bryan and I moved in together earlier this year, his parents scheduled a visit to Phoenix. We’d only been in the house a few days, so our lives were still tightly packed in cardboard boxes and our refrigerator contained around 50 styles of hot sauce, but very little food.

“Should we go grocery shopping?” I asked. “We don’t really have anything.”

“No, we won’t need to shop any time soon,” Bryan answered.

And he was right. Because moments after hugs and hellos were exchanged, Bryan’s mom started unloading two huge coolers of food that had traveled the nine-hour drive with them. Within minutes, our freezer and fridge were completely stocked with foods I’d never heard of before—mushroom balls, shao bing, bean curd skins, and scallion pancakes.

The next day, Bryan’s mom sat at a fold-out card table for nearly an hour hand-rolling spinach and tofu dumplings. When she’d filled two large cookie sheets, the little pockets of heaven were deposited in the freezer, but she said she still had dumpling wrappers and filling left over, so she’d continue the next day. Though we’ve eaten those dumplings liberally throughout the course of this year, I’m pretty sure we still have a few in our freezer, because her beautiful, cooking-weathered hands crafted so many of them.

When Bryan and I first started dating, a whole new world of food opened up to me. Since his father is Cantonese and his mother is Shanghainese (very important distinctions, by the way), I got a crash course in traditional Asian food and knew immediately that my days of eating Pei Wei and P.F. Chang’s were over. Honestly, now that I’ve been properly educated, those chain restaurants seem like imposters. If chicken feet or traditional ramen or fish sauce aren’t on the menu, I don’t want to eat there. (And yes, I’ve eaten chicken feet; there’s photographic proof.)

Eating Christmas 2Now, when Bryan and I go to Ranch Market at the Chinese Cultural Center on the weekends to pick up jackfruit or Enoki mushroom or mochi, I’m excited, because odds are good that the lady who makes Taiwanese pancakes will be there, her cart steaming and giving off the aromas of pancake batter, coconut, vanilla custard, and red bean. I burn my mouth every single time on the hot filling, but it’s totally worth it.

On the birthdays of friends and family members, Bryan and I always make sure to eat noodles together, because noodles symbolize long life in Chinese culture. Recently, we’ve started bringing home noodles for our dogs, too, so they can partake in our birthday tradition.

And I love celebrating moon festivals, because there is always moon cake. And even more exciting than the prospect of buttery cake filled with pineapple or melon or mung bean are the ancient stories that accompany the tradition of eating moon cake.

One of my favorite stories is one that dates back to the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368 AD), a time of difficult, oppressive government and a resulting zeal for revolt. An uprising of the people was imminent, but it was difficult to pass messages between the resistance forces. Naturally, the Chinese came up with an ingenious solution…that involved food. Members of the resistance would hide messages in cakes, because what could possibly be threatening about a delivery of pastry? For added security, the rebels would read the messages by the light of the full moon, which is why full moons and new moons are celebrated in Chinese culture with—it all makes sense now!—moon cakes.

Last year, I found out that Bryan hadn’t been home to Lancaster for Christmas in about six or seven years.

“It’s time,” I told him and we packed up our suitcases and drove out to California for 10 days.

I found out that we’d be enjoying a traditional hot pot for Christmas dinner. A hot pot is kind of like eating fondue—but way better. Vegetable, beef, or chicken broth simmers in a pot in the middle of the table and everyone adds meat, veggies, seafood, wontons, dumplings, and more. As your food cooks, it absorbs all of the flavors of what has been cooked before, plus the flavor of the broth. And there’s customized dipping sauce, too. It’s a hearty, satisfying, interactive umami explosion.

Last Christmas, I went crazy over thinly-sliced Korean beef, which was both delicate and decadent. I tried pork kidney and didn’t completely hate it. I gorged myself on fresh vegetables. And my mouth was burning from the spicy dipping sauce I’d made myself.

But my favorite moment of dinner was something that Bryan’s dad said. Bryan’s parents—and Bryan, too, for that matter—are really happy that I’m an adventurous eater. They understand that I won’t necessarily like everything, but that I’m game to try it. And it goes a lot deeper than having a daring personality or an insatiable inner fat kid.

Bryan’s dad believes that if people from different cultures could share a meal together—without judgment, without sneering at cultural food differences, with an openness and respect for each other—the world would be a better place.

Yeah, I’m a girl who can recognize a moment, and that was most definitely a moment. Over the steam of the hot pot, Bryan’s dad was acknowledging that despite our different backgrounds, cultures, and views of the world, we were the same.

And I think he’s right about the global impact of sharing food. Can you imagine dignitaries and presidents and world leaders sharing a hot pot? Personally, I love that mental image. Because for me, food is love. It comforts you, fills you up, and though we all prepare it (or show it) a little differently, it nourishes both our bodies and our souls.

That Christmas, I’d been invited to the table—and it was covered not only with food, but love.

Christmas Goes Viral

I hope you all are enjoying a beautiful holiday season with friends and family! I was lucky enough to celebrate Christmas weekend with Ballet Arizona’s The Nutcracker, a blanket of snow at my Dad’s cabin, Magic Mike and a hick sippy cup (love you, Mom!), and Iron Chef: Christmas Edition (which is what happens when you don’t go grocery shopping before Christmas day and most, if not all, restaurants are closed around dinnertime – spanakopita pizza is pretty rockin’!).

As we gear up for midnight smooching and New Year’s resolutions, I’d like to keep the holiday spirit going. Thus, I give you the lovechild of the 12 Days of Christmas and the one and only YouTube. Enjoy 12 Christmas videos that are bound to put a smile on your face.

Merry Christmas and happy New Year!

1. I kinda wish someone would do this to my house.

2. What better way to celebrate the holidays than with lasers and cats? I mean, really.

3. My favorite iteration of Santa.

4. This kid reminds me of me at the gym.

5. An educational video.

6. Okay, who’s excited for presents?!?

7. A classic scene from a classic Christmas movie!

8. For those of you who thought the world would end or zombies would take over on the 21st…

9. Kimmel always knows how best to celebrate the holidays.

10. FORE!

11. For the last minute wrappers!

12. You can’t have Christmas without Charlie Brown!

What else have I missed? Do you have any holiday favorites that always make you smile?