Monthly Archives: December 2015

Twelve Treats of Christmas – Day Twelve

Swedish Tea Log

I’ve learned something these past weeks. If you write a blog about treats, you have no time to make any of them. I haven’t made my mother’s “Swedish Tea Log” in many years, but my mouth still waters thinking about it.

The “Tea Log” is my mother’s version of a Swedish Tea Ring. She always called it a “log,” because she never joined the ends, but instead formed a crescent with the dough, and made it so that the links of the log could be easily separated into little individual pastries. She liked to freeze them, heat them in the oven, ice them, and serve them with coffee or tea.

I used to make three of these every Christmas – one for us, one for a friend and her family, and one to freeze and look forward to in January.

In the bustle and craziness that comes with children and present giving, we parents looked forward to a mid-morning break.

Christmas Craziness

Christmas Craziness

I’d make a pot of coffee, bring out the Swedish Tea Log, and we’d sit and enjoy some moments of peace and warmth and togetherness by the tree.

I wish for all of you your own moments of peace and joy on this day. And a Happy, Healthy New Year to all!

"Swedish Tea Log," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and colored pencil, 2015

“Swedish Tea Log,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and colored pencil, 2015

Twelve Treats of Christmas – Day Eleven

Yule Log

When I was a Girl Scout, our troop had winter outings in the woods. We hung suet balls and peanut butter “cupcakes” in the branches of pine trees for the birds. Then we built a campfire and made a feast of stew cooked in tinfoil and doughboys roasted on sticks and stuffed with jelly. Neither of these foods ever seemed to get quite cooked, but we ate them anyway, especially the parts with jelly.

After lunch we hunted for the Yule Log. Our scout leaders decorated and hid a real log somewhere in the woods, and when we found it we carried it back to camp with great ceremony (and probably many giggles) and burned it on the fire.

There’s another kind of Yule Log, and it’s a dessert. The ones I remember from childhood were made of ice cream. A few years ago when I started hosting Christmas Eve dinners around our dining room table in Portland I was looking for a good kid-friendly dessert. I remembered the Yule Log and was excited to find a baked one frosted with chocolate “bark” at my neighborhood grocery store. After dinner, my grandsons and I lit a candle on the cake and carried it to the table singing “Happy Birthday.” Christmas IS a birthday, after all.

The following year, when I was planning our Christmas Eve dinner, I hesitated about the Yule Log. It was SO sweet. But my daughter said “You ARE going to have that Yule Log again, aren’t you?” So tonight we’ll light the candle on this year’s log to celebrate the glow of tradition and family. We’ll pull the Christmas Crackers apart, read the silly jokes, wear the paper hats, and hope to get a good prize. But the real prize is just being together. That can never be too sweet.

"Yule Log," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and colored pencil, 2015

“Yule Log,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and colored pencil, 2015

Twelve Treats of Christmas – Day Ten

Spritz Cookies

A week or so before Christmas I would beg my mother to get out the Spritz cookie press. Making those cookies with my mom was one of my favorite holiday projects. I loved to watch her control the ornery dough and the metal press in order to make small buttery delicious cookies.

Spritz cookie press with paper candy canes

Spritz cookie press with paper candy canes

As in every other thing she cooked, my mother measured the ingredients exactly. She scraped every bit of egg out of the shell with her finger. She had the butter at perfect room temperature. And she wouldn’t let us decorate them wildly. We used small bowls of granulated sugar into which she put tiny drops of food coloring. Then she ground the sugar with the back of a spoon until it became a non-garish tint of red, green, or blue. We sprinkled it on very sparingly. The only other decorations I ever remember putting on our cookies were tiny edible silver balls and cinnamon red-hots. Those were used only in moderation and only on certain cookie shapes.

One year on Christmas Eve my mother and I packed up a tin of our cookies and drove through a snowstorm to my great aunt Ellen’s house in town. Aunt Ellen was my Grandpa Hall’s sister. She lived in a sweet house built for her by her son and daughter-in-law. Maybe it was my still-young age, or maybe the snow, or maybe the cozy glow of lights in Aunt Ellen’s house, but this evening remains one of my most magical Christmas memories. I’ve loved Spritz cookies ever since those days of baking with my mom.

Paper Spritz cookies decorated by Carol and grandson Aubrey

Paper Spritz cookies decorated by Carol and grandson Aubrey

Twelve Treats of Christmas – Day Nine

Tea and Thumbprint Cookies

For many years in Anchorage I was part of a solstice tea party tradition. On a weekday afternoon on or near the solstice we gathered in the living room of my friend Katy’s cozy red house. We sat around a coffee table near the wood stove and drank tea, ate cookies, fruitcake, and sometimes birthday cake. For a group of busy mothers this seemed the ultimate holiday season therapy session. We laughed and we talked and we had an excuse to just sit and relax in a candlelit room. In later years the tea party moved to my own living room, and I started making thumbprint cookies to serve with the tea.

Tea Party Invitation, Carol Crump Bryner, 2008

Tea Party Invitation, Carol Crump Bryner, 2008

Tea Party Collage

Tea Party Collage

Thumbprint cookies are best, I think, with a dollop of raspberry jam, but any kind of jam or jelly will do – even a chocolate “Kiss.” I like to use the recipe from the “Tasha Tudor Cookbook.” Thumbprint cookies are just the right size to fit onto the saucer of a Christmas teacup.

"Christmas Cup with Thumbprint Cookie," Carol Crump Bryner, woodcut and collaged drawing

“Christmas Cup with Thumbprint Cookie,” Carol Crump Bryner, woodcut and collaged drawing


Twelve Treats of Christmas – Day Eight

The Gingerbread House

Today is bittersweet for me. I turn seventy, but I’ve lost my birthday mate. My dear cousin Tom, who shared this solstice birthday with me, died a few months ago. I’ll miss hearing his voice on the phone saying, “Hey Baby Carol. This is Tom. Happy Birthday!!”

Tom Teter and Carol Crump in front of the farmhouse on Whirlwind Hill, 1949

Tom Teter and Carol Crump in front of the farmhouse on Whirlwind Hill, 1949

I rarely saw Tom in the winter, but one year his family – my mother’s sister Lydia, her husband Bill, son Tom, and daughter Nancy – came east for Christmas. I remember two wonderful treats from that visit. The first was the Christmas gift to Nancy and me of matching “Ginny Walker” dolls. And the second was the gingerbread house the Teters carried with them all the way from Indiana. I’m sure there was birthday cake too, but what I remember most is the taste and texture of the minty wafer candies that adorned the frosted gingerbread roof. Like Hansel and Gretel I picked at that house for days, wanting it to last forever.

Carol with the gingerbread house and the new doll

Carol with the gingerbread house and the new doll

Twelve Treats of Christmas – Day Seven

Popcorn Balls

My mother told us how they used to make popcorn “in the good old days.” They put the corn kernals into a mesh basket with a long handle, something like a “Jiffy-Pop” set-up. The cook then shook the basket over the fireplace fire until the corn exploded and filled up the popper.

Winter Sunday afternoons were popcorn time at the farm on Whirlwind Hill. My grandmother popped a huge pot of corn, buttered and salted it, and left it on the kitchen table. When we came in from sledding we filled our little green melmac bowls with the salty snack and brought it with us to the living room to eat while we listened to the grown-ups engage in their Sunday chat.

Sledding on the hill, 1950's

Sledding down the hill toward the farmhouse, 1950’s

We saved some of the popcorn for my Grandpa Hall’s popcorn balls. He was a slow eater, and one popcorn ball might last him several evenings. This was ok, because popcorn balls seem to get better over time, especially if you wrap them in green or red cellophane tied with ribbon. My mother made these for him, knowing that on cold winter nights his favorite pastime was to sit by the wood stove in the kitchen and nibble on a popcorn ball and some hickory nuts.

Janet Hall Crump and her Daddy, Ellsworth Hall

Janet Hall Crump and her daddy, Ellsworth Hall, sitting on the lounge in the dining room where he took his daily after-lunch nap.

Twelve Treats of Christmas – Day Six


Have you ever pulled taffy? A successful “Taffy Pull” might go like this:

Your mother cooks some stuff in a pot on the wood stove in the farmhouse kitchen. The pot has corn syrup and butter and vanilla in it. All the little girlfriends you’ve invited to the farm for your birthday party gather around the kitchen table and rub butter on their hands and pair off two by two. When the taffy is cool enough, but still warm, you and your partner choose a ball of goo. Your partner holds the sticky ball, while you reach for some of it and slowly pull it toward you. It should form a long string. Then your partner does the same. You do this over and over. And over. Don’t break the thread. Don’t cry when the taffy sticks to your blouse. Don’t stop to get a drink of water. Keep pulling until it becomes whitish and smooth and looks like the taffy you watched your mother make.

I had a taffy pull at one of my pre-teenage year birthday parties. It was an adventure, but the taffy never “taffyed.” Maybe our little hands were dirty. Maybe we just weren’t patient enough. Maybe we were laughing too hard. But it was great fun, and the mess of candy tasted good anyway, even though we were totally full of birthday cake.

Farm birthday party where there might have been a taffy pull, and maybe a blob of taffy on the photo.

Farm birthday party where there might have been a taffy pull, and maybe a blob of taffy on the photo.


Twelve Treats of Christmas – Day Five

Almond Brittle

One of our eagerly awaited Christmas parcels comes from Indiana. My cousin Nancy makes the best almond brittle ever. She’s been sending it to us for years. This is something I might eat before the salad. It’s crunchy from the almonds buried in the toffee and sprinkled on the chocolate coating. It melts in your mouth and sticks to your teeth at the same time. It leaves you wanting more. Because I love it so, and because my husband eats more than I do, and because I’ve gotten greedy in my old age, I divide up the batch as soon as it arrives so I can have my fair share. That IS fair, right??

"Tin of Almond Brittle," Carol Crump Bryner, collage, 2015

“Tin of Almond Brittle,” Carol Crump Bryner, collage, 2015

Twelve Treats of Christmas – Day Four

Plum Pudding

“Oh bring us a Figgy Pudding. Oh bring us a Figgy Pudding. Oh bring us a Figgy Pudding, and a cup of good cheer.”

Figgy pudding is like plum pudding. It’s very British and very child un-friendly. When I was young, my favorite parts of the dessert my Grandma Hall made each December were the flames from the burning brandy and the garnish of hard sauce made with sugar, butter, and more brandy. My feeling was that one tablespoon of pudding required at least two tablespoons of hard sauce to make it edible. But tastes change, and right now I would love a dish of that plum pudding.

My grandmother, Agnes Biggs Hall, made Christmas plum puddings to eat at the farm and to give away. She did this until the last year of her life. In December 1969, just eight months before she died, her sister Ethel Biggs wrote to her from Hartford.

“About your making plum pudding for us. You know we love it but will not be surprised if anyone else gets there first. I am sure it is too heavy for you to make. Don’t wear your arms out on other people. Problems of the raisins are due to the grape shortage, I am sure.”

I was in California that Christmas, and remember the grape boycott. I don’t know if she made the pudding that year or not, but I hope she did. A shortage of raisins wouldn’t deter my grandma – I’m pretty sure of that.

"Plum Pudding," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2015

“Plum Pudding,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2015

Twelve Treats of Christmas – Day Three

Peppermint Ice Cream With Hot Fudge Sauce

I don’t remember eating peppermint ice cream at any other time of the year. The alternative to this seasonal desert treat was spumoni, which had something unpleasant in it like raisins or candied fruit. The pinkish peppermint ice cream just seemed to invite garnishing with chocolate. My mother made her hot fudge sauce from the recipe on the back of the Baker’s Chocolate package. When you put the butter into the melted chocolate, the sauce became shiny and smooth. It was holiday magic.

"Peppermint Ice Cream," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2015

“Peppermint Ice Cream,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2015