Every year right around this time I get sappy. I spend Nov. 1 through Jan. 10 in a heightened state of emotional lather.
We have all five boys' birthdays interspersed among Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve. The ever-racing nature of time is really driven home by singing "Happy Birthday" 25 times in six weeks (I figure an average of five rounds of "Happy Birthday" per child) and throwing in Christmas carols to boot.
What this boils down to is that I am the Queen of the Holidays. I'm not suggesting that I'm about to whisk the immaculate turkey-shaped-folded-cloth-napkin-white-light crown from Martha Stewart's coifed and calm head. Not even close. We are talking about Queen Thanksgiving and Christmas Spirit, folks.
We make handprint turkeys and construction paper cornucopias and real live turkey feather (dead turkey, rather; I've never plucked a feather from a live one) headdresses to honor the native people who helped the settlers. We have a very Omnimedia-unapproved Christmas tree. Each year it is filled with odds and ends like homemade ornaments, bamboo umbrellas from our beloved and now defunct Chinese restaurant, and an ornament from my piano teacher when I was a kid.
But there's more.
There are pieces of iridescent ribbon the children loved that they cut from a gift several years ago, rocks (yes, rocks; my children love them), twigs -- because as one child said, "A tree can never have too many!" -- and more often than not, a few lovingly arranged paper towels. I didn't ask on that one. What I do know is that the child who does that has a look of rapture on his face. That's enough for me.
I burst into song with no provocation. I dance around the kitchen waving wooden spoons while my eyeballs glitter and my smile gleams (if a tea-soaked smile can do such a thing) at those who enter my lair. I brandish homemade cookies and cakes and bread and candies and dried fruit under the noses of anyone who says, "I'm hungry" because the baking and the cooking reaches near manic levels.
Oh, the baking and the cooking.
What makes you feel the holiday spirit more than a scent of cookies or a rising loaf of bread wafting from the stove? I can't think of a thing. I would add to the list, however, licking your fingers to remove the chocolate after breaking a freshly set batch of English toffee, a tall glass of cold eggnog, a steam-capped stockpot of simmering soup, and a pan of hot, soft rolls fresh from the oven, dotted with butter.
Topping the list of things that equal Thanksgiving to me are rolls -- specifically, my grandmother's rolls. They were the chief joy of the Thanksgivings of my youth and remain one of the biggest to this day.
Her rolls are, in a word, perfect. My copy of her recipe, on an index card written in her hand, is one of my prize possessions. The soft, golden brown potato rolls with a touch of nutty whole wheat and a subtle hint of honey, reliably disappear faster than the other fixings at the feast.
Closing Sap Alert: It is very nearly Thanksgiving. Consider yourselves all greatly appreciated and offered trays of cookies, candies and rolls. And if you're not feeling it (or even if you are) make yourself a batch of Grandma's rolls and you'll be flush with the holiday spirit, too. Happy Thanksgiving, friends!
Grandma has always been a smart woman. These rolls prove it. The dough, made and stashed for several hours to rise slowly in the refrigerator, is an exceptionally cooperative one.
Honey Potato Rolls
2¼ t. (or one packet) yeast. Active dry yeast or instant are both acceptable
1½ c. warm water (for best flavor, use the water in which you cooked potatoes)
2/3 c. honey
1 c. lukewarm mashed potatoes
2/3 c. butter, softened to room temperature
1½ t. salt
2 c. whole wheat flour
5 to 5½ c. all purpose flour
To Make the Dough:
In a large mixing bowl, the bowl of a stand mixer, add the water and honey, stir gently and sprinkle the yeast over the top. Let stand for 2 minutes. Add everything but the flours and stir well (using a sturdy spoon or dough hook) to combine.
Add the whole wheat flour and 2 cups of the all-purpose flour and stir well until even. Add the remaining flour and stir it in. If you have a stand mixer, use the dough hook to knead it. Otherwise, turn onto a generously floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about five minutes.
Transfer the dough into a large, clean mixing bowl or dough bucket, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours but no longer than 5 days.
To Shape the Rolls:
Grease or butter two 9-by-13-inch rectangular or four 8-inch round baking pans and set them aside.
Turn the dough onto a floured surface and punch it down. Divide in half, then portion each half into 20 equal sized pieces. Roll each piece into a ball.
Place the dough balls into the prepared pans (5 rows of 4 in each rectangular pan or 10 rolls in each round pan.) Cover with a clean towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until puffy in appearance and nearly doubled in size, about 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375°
Bake the rolls for 20 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. If desired, brush the finished rolls with melted butter.
If you have wonderful rolls, you need spectacular soup to go with it and this Cream of Cauliflower soup fits the bill.
Potatoes are present in the soup for their thickening power and lend their flavor, making this soup a great way to introduce cauliflower to young ones.
This beautiful white soup is simple enough to have on the dinner table any night of the week, but stunning enough to be a component to any holiday feast.
Cream of Cauliflower Soup:
4 T. butter
2 small onions, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3 medium or 4 small white potatoes, scrubbed and chopped
1 large head of cauliflower, washed and chopped
6 c. chicken stock
1 c. half and half or whole milk
1 t. salt, plus more to taste
½ t. white pepper (can substitute black)
1/8 t. ground or grated nutmeg
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed soup pot or Dutch oven over medium low heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the chopped potatoes and cook for another 5 minutes.
Add the cauliflower and stock, raise heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for about 25 minutes, or until the potatoes and cauliflower are very soft.
Remove the pan from the heat and blend, using an immersion blender (or a regular blender in batches), until the soup is very smooth. Return the soup to low heat, stir in the milk and remaining ingredients, and stir until heated through. Serve hot or room temperature.
Leftovers store well tightly covered in the refrigerator.
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