When someone asked me the other day what my "favorite holiday music" is, I answered "the Vince Guaraldi Charlie Brown Christmas album."
Immediately, I felt sort of stupid: of course, I've gone to midnight mass on my own sometimes, sneaking up the block, to hear carols like "O Holy Night" and "O Come O Come Emmanuel," and I love listening to my daughter sing what seems to be a depthless repertoire of Jingle Bells (in Spanish) and Frosty and Winter Wonderland and Up on the Housetop, and we have a book of Christmas piano music that contains great loungy versions of "No Place Like Home for the Holidays," and in quiet moments I can almost hear my father singing the "rum-pa-pum-pum" of Little Drummer Boy. And Franz Biebl's Ave Maria? Sung by an all-male choir? Is guaranteed to make me weep every time.
But there's something about the Charlie Brown album that makes me want to listen to it in the car, on the way to work, while I'm baking. It's unfussy, unpretentious, warm, approachable. Yes, Charlie Brown's Christmas is at is core about a baby being born in a stable (Linus' recitation of Luke 2:8 was hard won for Schulz, who demanded it be included), but it also makes Christmas something we can all do, without many resources besides love. Which is a welcome reminder in these dark days.
The Charlie Brown Christmas celebrates 50 years on the little screen this month. Today, as I wandered in and out of dollar stores today trying to find some last-minute things to put in stockings, dodging some seriously reckless drivers in crowded parking lots; and as we talked with a perfectly lovely and reasonable and generous colleague of S. last night whose son will be getting an XBox for Christmas (he already has a PlayStation), Schultz's timeless challenge drew me back to what matters most about the season:
Christmas time is here
We'll be drawing near
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year...
These cookies were a part of my childhood, and even older than Schultz's TV special: they were born in 1950, the winners of Pillsbury's second-ever bake-off. Now, given Pinterest-perfect cookie plates, they're not going to win any beauty contests, but like Charlie Brown's tree, they're fit for Santa's cookie plate, with just a little love.
2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
3/4 c. butter (or margarine, if you're going old school)
1 c. sugar
2 T. milk
1 t. vanilla extract
1 c. chopped pecans
1 c. chopped dates
1/3 c/ maraschino cherries, chopped
2 1/2 c. corn flakes, crushed
15 maraschino cherries, quartered
Preheat oven to 375 and line baking sheets with parchment.
Sift together flour, baking powder, soda and salt.
In a separate bowl, blend butter and sugar till fluffy. Add eggs, milk, and vanilla extract.
Add dry ingredients a little at a time and blend well. Then add pecans, dates and cherries. Mix well.
Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls into corn flake. Toss lightly to coat. Form into balls and place on baking sheet. Top each with 1/4 cherry. Bake 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned.