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Wimbiscus: We're big on comfort for the holidays; joy not so much

Bill Wimbiscus
Bill Wimbiscus

Maybe it's because of our Slovenian heritage.

Maybe it's because we focus more on the comfort part of the season than the joy.

Or maybe it's because we're just cheap.

Whatever the reason, Sara and I celebrate the holiday season by presenting family, friends and neighbors with food.

High-calorie, fat-loaded, carbohydrate-infused food.

For decades now the folks on our "A" list have received a loaf of potica, the sacred nutbread of the Slovenians that I write about ad nauseum each December when I can't come up with an original idea for a column.

Again, for the uninitiated, potica (that's puh-tee-cza or sometimes poe-tee-cza but never pot-eh-ka) is a rolled yeast dough usually containing pecans or walnuts and spices. Sara also makes a savory cheese potica with nearly the same recipe she uses for pierogis (she's part Polish). Some people, I'm told, even make fruit potica, but that seems like crazy talk to me.

For our gift list, it's always been nuts.

There's only one problem. Potica is a pain in the gluten to make. You gotta mix it, let it rise for hours, stretch it out on a cloth-covered table, smear it with not-unexpensive hand-chopped nuts, bake it, and then pray it sets up and doesn't burn.

The process takes a good six to eight hours per batch, and at the end of it you get maybe eight to 10 loaves. Which is a problem if you have a lot of people on your "A" list.

Which lead to this:

"We're not making potica this year," Sara announced. "It takes too long, and I don't have the time."

The people on our "B" list get bakery, too. But only cookies. Lots and lots of cookies.

Now to me the only legitimate Christmas cookies are the kind cut out in the shapes of trees, reindeer and other Santa paraphernalia, slathered with icing and dredged with multi-colored sprinkles. Thumbprints are a close second, followed by almond crescents and lemon bars.

Cookies are easier to make than potica, but not by much. You just mix up some crap in a bowl, slap it on a cookie sheet and throw it in a hot oven. And then repeat every eight to 10 minutes, carefully shoveling the finished product onto paper towels to cool.

The whole assembly-line process takes only four to six hours, but it's a lot more intense than potica, which involves more waiting than actual baking.

So:

"No cutouts this year," Sara announced. "They're too much work. We're only making chocolate chip and snickerdoodles. And just for family."

Chocolate chip. Ugh. Bland and boring. No icing. No sprinkles. No powdered sugar. The Pat Boone of Christmas cookies.

Which brings us to the "C" list. People on the "C" list just get candy. In years past, this included fudge, caramel, divinity, peppermint bark, peanut brittle, chocolate-covered peanuts and spiced nuts.

Christmas candy is a lot easier to make than cookies or potica. Most of the work is done on the stove at extremely high third-degree burn temperatures. We usually knock the bulk of work out in a couple hours.

Dividing the hoard up into tins can be stressful, however, since it involves determining whether the recipient is deserving enough for the limited high-end product (divinity, peanut brittle, fudge) or just the more plentiful low-end offerings (chocolate-covered peanuts, peppermint bark).

Which led to my wife's third pronouncement:

"I'm only making fudge and caramels this year. And maybe truffles."

Truffles? What's truffles, precious?

For awhile, it looked like all of our A, B and C list family, friends and neighbors were only getting C list items this year.

Until we came up with a solution: Take a half gallon of apple cider. Combine with a half gallon of apple juice. Add 1 1/2 cups of sugar. Dump in eight cinnamon sticks. Pour in a fifth of Everclear. Put in a pot, bring to a boil while stirring constantly. Let cool. Pour into bottles. Voila, Apple Pie Shots.

Prep time one hour.

Turns out while candy is dandy, liquor really is much quicker.

• Bill Wimbiscus is a former editor and reporter for The Herald-News.

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