Christmas cards are in the mail, the tree is up, gifts are ready to go, and I can put away the cookie sheets and frosting bags for now because the baking is finally finished.
One other wonderful pre-holiday task has also been completed.
I spent Thursday at the elementary school where I used to teach. I love the opportunity to meet over lunch with my old teammates, and I love being with the children. Several times a year I round up a stack of really great books from the media center at school and give book talks to the fifth grade classes. My December book talks were timed to coincide with the student wiggles and excitement that appear at this time of year and make actual teaching all but impossible. A guest speaker is always a break from routine classwork, and students were excited to have some new ideas for holiday reading.
The teachers were dressed to compete in a holiday "ugly sweater" contest, and with only two days till winter break, gifts for teachers had begun to appear on their desks. Seeing the gift bags and the plates containing homemade goodies reminded me some of my very favorite gifts from those many years that I was teaching.
If you've ever wondered what to give a teacher for Christmas you should know about the gifts we cherish. These are a few from the collection of items I've kept. It's been seven years since I retired, but I can't bring myself to let any of them go.
In the photo you can see a snowman doorstop made from a brick, a tiny, little homemade tree ornament, a crocheted dishcloth made by a student's grandmother, and all of those handmade cards that I still keep in a box. The cup was a very special gift. It was delivered years after one of my students had grown up. It has a logo of the university where he was now teaching on the front. He wrote a lovely note in silver marker on the back and hand delivered the cup to me at school the day before our winter break.
There were stacks of other gifts that became precious to me. One was the apron that a student had made for me with help from her mom. She was dancing with excitement as she told me that she'd sewn one for herself that was exactly the same as the one she made for me. The apron was child-sized, but it went straight into my apron drawer. Over time it was worn so often by my grandchildren and other tiny kitchen helpers that it became quite bedraggled.
I still have a big fleece throw which I've used until it's much the worse for wear. The student tied all of the fringe knots by himself. His mother said he spent more than a week working on it after dinner every night.
There was another gift that I'll never forget. A sweet little girl handed me a paper plate containing half a dozen rather odd looking, grayish colored cookies. "I made them all by myself!" she grinned. I looked at her grubby little hands and knew I couldn't bring myself to taste those cookies. After lunch I told her that I loved her cookies and they were so amazing that I'd taken them to the teacher's lounge where they had disappeared as fast as could be. She gave me the hugest hug. I didn't know if I should feel guilty or not, but I had told her the absolute truth.
Simple gifts from the heart are those that are most meaningful. Teachers don't remember who gave them the fancy boxes of candy, the packages of gift soap, or the dozens of "#1 teacher" cups, but I definitely remember the tiny bell a little girl brought to me. She said she chose it so that I would think of her every time it tinkled on my tree. It does tinkle now and then, and I do remember that sweet little face.
I am totally "cookied" out. I don't think I can face another cookie, at least not until Christmas day.. I made plenty for the cookie exchange last week, we have more than enough for our own family, and I'll be able to put a few gift plates together, too.
In spite of the overabundance of cookies, my work in the kitchen is far from finished. On Christmas morning I cook up a big brunch for the family, and in the evening I serve spaghetti. The simple dinner helps us to avoid the heaviness that comes from eating a turkey dinner on top of the cookies and other munchies that we've nibbled on throughout the day. In spite of that, I thought I might add a little something extra this year.
Goodness knows, we don't need any more sugar, but I had a recipe idea, and I just had to try it out. When inspiration strikes, I have no choice but to go along for the ride! Not every experiment is a success, but this time I'm really glad I gave in to that creative urge. The recipe turned out to be pretty yummy. It's my own version of pumpkin bread, moist and sweet, and filled with good things.
I started with a basic pumpkin bread recipe, eliminated a bit of this and added several bits of that. I know I'll be baking this one all year round, not just for holidays. I made it as a bread, but I'm pretty sure that with a shorter baking time it would make great muffins, too.
Pumpkin Cranberry Nut Bread
Makes 2 standard loaves (9' x 5' x3") or 5 mini loaves (5 3/4" x 4" x 3")
Keeps very well frozen.
- 3 cups flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoon soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- 3/4 cup softened butter
- 2 14 cups sugar
- 3 eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon grated orange rind
- 1 large can pumpkin puree (15 oz)
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- Preheat the oven to 350°
- In a medium size bowl, sift the first 6 dry ingredients together
- In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy
- Mix in the eggs, vanilla, and grated orange rind
- Add the pumpkin puree and blend
- Stir in half of the dry ingredients.
- Stir in half of the buttermilk.
- Stir in the rest of the dry mixture.
- Add the rest of the buttermilk, the cranberries, and the walnuts. Stir in gently just until combined. Do not over mix.
- *Bake in two loaf pans for 1 hour to 1 hour and 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Set on a wire rack and allow to cool for 20 to 30 minutes in pans.
- Remove from pans, pour and spread glaze evenly over the top. The bread should still be warm enough that the glaze will drip slowly down the sides of the loaf.
* If using mini-loaf pans, bake for 35 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- 3 tablespoons softened butter
- 2 cups confectioner's sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 - 6 tablespoons milk
- In a small bowl, place butter, sugar, vanilla, and 3 tablespoons of milk.
- Mix on low till combined, then mix on high till all lumps are gone.
- Add milk as needed to make a glaze thin enough to pour slowly from a spoon.
- Spoon glaze over the tops of the warm bread and let it run down the sides.
- You can slice and eat it when it's still warm, wrap tightly and keep it refrigerated for up to a week, or freeze for up to six weeks.
Wishing you a very Merry Christmas!