My presents are arranged across the kitchen table, awaiting their wrapping paper and Scotch tape and silky ribbons. I say arranged although perhaps strewn would be a more appropriate word choice. Before I wrap them, I'll organize them into piles: first divided into stocking presents and under-the-tree presents, then stacked by recipient.
Stocking gifts are little things: chocolate bars and lip balm and tea towels and the like. Those I'll wrap without putting my name on them, as we all pitch it to fill each other's stockings. Under-the-tree presents are bigger, more thoughtful ones and this year, I have a few I'm rather excited about giving.
It reminds me that there aren't many nicer feelings that giving someone a present you think they'll love. I like the anticipation of it, particularly that heightened happy moment when they start to peel back the wrapping paper, not yet knowing what's inside but you know and you watch their face.
On Christmas Eve, we'll place our stockings around the living room. (We call our living room the round room, as it's a big octagon lined with huge windows that overlook the fields and three ponds of the farm.) It's cozy and bright and easily fits all of us: 4 sisters, my parents, my brother-in-law, and our niece. Tye, our Australian shepherd, will snooze nearby and occasionally nose around the piles of discarded paper and bits of ribbon. We'll sit around the edges of the room in a big semicircle, all the better to watch each person open their presents.
We have some excellent Christmas traditions (cinnamon rolls, secret bedside presents, long farm walks), and I'll tell you about those soon. But tonight I'm still in preparation mode.
I've been cooking this week, but with the aim of cleaning out the fridge so that nothing goes to waste this week while I'm away. That translated to a delicious Moroccan chicken and rice dish: you cook it all in one shallow pan so the rice gets crispy and golden on the edges. With dates and orange zest and cumin and garlic and harissa paste and pistachios, it's a very flavorful and very impressive dinner (but easy!) that I'm planning to make again and again.
I made David Lebovitz's nonfat gingersnaps to use up the last bit of homemade applesauce languishing on the second shelf. DO NOT be alarmed by the nonfat bit! They are some of my favorite holiday cookies and they come by the nonfat part honestly, as you use applesauce rather than butter, which isn't a substitute but rather a smart trick for a more moist and chewy cookie.
And to go with that chicken, I made a gingered pear and cranberry pie. Fancy-looking and very festive, all you need to make the decorative top is a cookie cutter. I rolled out the top crust and instead of a classic lattice, I punched out little tree shapes using my Christmas tree cutter (I have the embossed pop-out kind) and arranged them on top of the pie.
If you like more holiday spice, you could add in some cardamom or allspice or cloves to the pie filling. As is, it's comforting and simple with just enough tartness from the cranberries. Add more sugar if you like—I prefer my pie less on the sweet side. I also prefer mine warm with cold heavy cream poured over top, but that's just me.
Gingered Pear and Cranberry Pie
For the crust
3 cups all-purpose flour (360 grams)
7 tablespoons (82 grams) shortening
10 tablespoons cold butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
10 tablespoons ice water
For the filling
4-5 medium pears, peeled and diced
2/3 cup fresh cranberries
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
To make the crust: In a food processor, mix the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the shortening and pulse for 10 seconds until sandy. Add the butter, pulse in increments of 10 seconds until the dough is coarse and in crumbs. Transfer to a mixing bowl and drizzle the ice water over the dough. Use a spatula to stir and press the dough together into a ball (it helps to use your hands at the end).
Divide the dough into two (one half should be slightly smaller), and wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
When ready to bake, roll out half of the dough to a large circle and transfer it to a 9" pie dish and trim the edges.
In a large bowl, combine all the filling ingredients (except the beaten egg) and fill the pie dish.
Roll out the second half of the dough and use a cookie cutter to punch out designs. Arrange them on top of the pie and press gently to adhere them to each other. Brush the top of the pie lightly with the egg wash.
Bake for about an hour at 400 degrees F--the top of the pie should be golden brown and the fruit should be bubbling.