The Epiphany, The New Year and Cake!

La Befana riding a broomstick.

Today is the epiphany, the feast of the 3 kings. In Italy, la befana brings good little boys and girls treats and toys. The bad ones get a lump of coal. My son got a Lego Chima Speedorz. And finally, the holiday season comes to a conclusion in our house! Yes, it is very busy in our home with the melding of Italian, Greek and American traditions. My mother always began the holiday season the weekend before Christmas eve. Sometimes we didn’t even get the tree until Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve night was our big dinner and then Christmas morning Santa Claus came, then there was New Year’s and then January 6 when you could start taking down all the decorations. Things are a bit different and more convoluted in my household. I try to wait for the solstice to begin, but this year my son and husband dragged out the tree and decorations after Thanksgiving! Everyone in America seems to start Christmas after Thanksgiving or sometimes even before.

I started a new tradition this year where I filled the Advent Calendar each day with an activity rather than a treat. That kept us busy. I saved baking cookies for when my son had off from school. We decided not to do a gingerbread house this year and instead made melting snowmen and ninja gingerbread men cookies from kits. It was fun. The melted snowmen were sugar cookies and fun to decorate. The ninja gingerbread burnt a bit and weren’t as good. Next year, we’ll make our own dough and use the cookie cutters that came with the kit.

ninjabread cookie kit
ninjabread cookie kit
ninjabread cookies burnt a little
ninjabread cookies burnt a little
snowmen cookies out of oven before decoration
snowmen cookies out of oven before decoration
edible water colors to decorate snowmen
edible water colors to decorate snowmen

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It’s hard to cook a feast for three people. I made steamed mussels, linguine with shrimp, clam chowder, fried shrimp, baked snapper, a plate of pickled herring and lox, and crab cakes. I then invited the neighbors to come and help us eat it all.

panettone baked in bread machine
panettone baked in bread machine

Christmas morning we had panettone for breakfast. I made it myself because I am not a fan of candied fruit. I omitted the candied fruit and replaced them with rum-soaked raisins. I made it in the new-old bread maker I got off of freecycle.

I spent most of Christmas day concocting some cocktails I found on pintrest. It was a good use for the leftover cranberries and fresh rosemary I had on hand.

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The cookies came in handy as we drove to NYC after christmas. In Astoria, Queens my husband and I had dinner in our favorite Cypriot restaurant. We ordered mezedes at Zenon and savored them with retsina.

Seftalia: a divine cypriot sausage.
Seftalia: a divine cypriot sausage.
menu from Zenon's Taverna
menu from Zenon’s Taverna

On the way back from NY we stopped at Hershey, PA to ring in 2014. That was two-chocolate filled days I am still recovering from. The Lodge made this divine Chocolate Martini that I am trying to copy. We got home late-afternoon on New Year’s Day and found that Ayios Vasilios had visited us. He left some toys for my son. I made the traditional Vasilopita on Friday and invited some neighbors to join us for drinks and cake. Traditionally, in Cyprus, the vasilopita is eaten on New Year’s day. The head of the household cuts a piece for each member of the house and one for the poor. Baked inside the cake is a lucky coin and whomever finds this coin in their slice of cake will have luck all year. My son got the coin! (on his second slice of cake)

Vasilopita
Vasilopita

As a child I always wondered what the Twelve Days of Christmas meant. You know that song everyone sings this time of the year? It’s one of my son’s favorites. We’ve almost entirely memorized the lyrics.It wasn’t until I was visiting family one year in Rome that I discovered it is the christmas season starting from Christmas day and continuing until the epiphany. Folks there get off from work and school for the two weeks. Every night after dinner, sweet treats and cheeses would be proffered with lots of wine. I came home a little jollier that year. This year, 12 days after Christmas and 4 pounds heavier I’ve had an epiphany myself. I can’t eat all the cookies and chocolate I want. I’m sure I’ll forget this by Valentine’s day.

A Happy and Healthy 2014 to all!

Recipe for Vasilopita

ingredients:

4 large eggs, 1 cup sugar, 12 tbsp. melted butter, 1 1/4 cup orange juice, 1/2 cup brandy, 4 cups flour, 4 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp baking soda, zest of 1 lemon, whole blanched almonds

Separate yolks from whites of eggs.  Beat sugar and butter together then beat in egg yolks. Beat in the orange juice and brandy. In another large bowl mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda and zest. Stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients until well combined. Beat egg whites until stiff and carefully fold into mixture. Pour batter into a well-greased 10-inch pan. Wrap a coin with foil and press into mixture. Shake the pan gently to even the top. Decorate the top with almonds to create the year. Bake for about 1 hour at 375 degree oven or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

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