Monday, November 30, 2009

More St Nicholas Treats!

Align LeftThis week and next many homes, parishes, and schools will have St. Nicholas parties and a visit from St. Nicholas to the children. Treats will be left secretly in empty shoes placed outside classrooms, on back decks, or in an out of the way hall.
 The children will pad around in stocking feet playing games, making homemade bishops' mitres, and decorating cookies. Collections will be taken for those less fortunate. At the end of the party, peals of delight will be heard when their shoes are discovered full of goodies and a holy card of St. Nicholas.
As you plan your party here are two more recipes, one very traditional and one contemporary to add to your collection. I have included a traditional prayer to St. Nicholas also at the end of this post.

(Spicy Cookie Balls)
Here is a tasty, traditional treat children in the Netherlands look for from St. Nicholas on his feast!
PREP: 20 minutes BAKE: 15 – 20 minutes
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground anise seed
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon diced candied orange rind
medium-size mixing bowl
large spoon
measuring cups
measuring spoons
cookie sheets (2)
airtight container

DIRECTIONS: 350 degree oven YIELD: 60 small cookies
1 Sift flour with baking powder and spices. Add remaining ingredients and combine until mixture forms a dough.
2 With floured hands, form the dough into about 60 ½ inch balls and place on greased cookie sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 – 20 minutes, until they are light brown. Cool. Enjoy.
3 Store in an airtight container.

This recipe can be prepared in the home or in a school or CCD class that has access to a kitchen. It can be baked in a few short minutes. Be creative and try different kinds of refrigerated cookie dough and candy bars. It is sure to be a great hit!
PREP: 5 – 10 minutes BAKE: 10 – 12 minutes
1 roll of refrigerated cookie dough
Oatmeal slice and bake or other varieties
(May use dough in tubs also)
2 chocolate-covered caramel-nougat
candy bars
2 cookie sheets
fork or cookie edger
wire rack
1 Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2 Slice refrigerated cookie dough into ¼ -inch thick slices or use dough from tub and approximate the same size.
3 Cut each candy bar into 10 equal slices.
4 Place half the cookie slices 2 inches apart on 2 ungreased cookie sheets.
5Put a slice of candy on each. Top with remaining cookie slices.
6 Press edges together with tines of fork or cookie edger, carefully sealing all edges of the cookies.
7 Bake 10 – to 12 minutes or until lightly browned.
8 Cool slightly on cookie sheets until firm. Remove to wire rack to cool completely. Makes about 20 treats.

Prayer to St. Nicholas
Heavenly Father, as Christmas draws near we commemorate the feast day of your beloved Bishop
and Saint, Nicholas. We love and honor his memory because of his tender concern for children and the
poor. We thank you for the merriment that his feast has brought down all the centuries. We ask you from
the bottom of our hearts to help us to remember, on this his feast day, that we should try to retain the
innocence of childhood and a sincere faith in you all our lives. Show us, too, how to share the good
things that we have with others, and to imitate St. Nicholas in generosity and goodwill. We ask him to
pray, for us from his place in Heaven.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

St. Nicholas Cookies - Speculaas

St. Nicholas feast day is on December 6. The recipe I am going to give you
can be used to make molded cookies. Here are some examples of St. Nicholas boards. The board on the left is sold at Hobi Picture Cookie Molds, Belleville, Illinois. The web address is

You certainly don't have to own a board to make Speculaas cookies, but it is fun and very authentic if you do! The St. Nicholas Center that I mentioned in my last post sells mitre cookie cutters very reasonably,
A mitre is the head piece that a bishop wears. I have with much enjoyment watched many children decorate and then eat mitre cookies on the feast of St. Nicholas that were cut out from Speculaas dough, baked and iced.* If you don't have time to order a mitre cookie cutter, you may make your own! Cut out your own mitre shape after the dough is rolled out, either making a pattern on a piece of paper and then tracing the outline on the dough or freehand if you are adept at drawing. I have included an address to a page that has a picture of a bright, red cardboard mitre. You may find it helpful if you decide to make your own pattern for a mitre cookie, The average size of a mitre cookie is 3 1/2" high by 2 1/2" wide. You may want to enlarge them a bit. I do encourage you to explore the St. Nicholas Center site because they offer a variety of St. Nicholas cookie cutters in their shop. After you make and bake some of these delicious spice cookies, be sure to share some with others - just like St. Nicholas!  See adaptation below for a quick fix.*

Speculaas Cookie Recipe
found in 
A Continual Feast by Evelyn Birge Vitz  

PREP:25 minutes 
CHILL:3 hours or freeze 20 minutes 
BAKE:10 – 12 minutes

DECORATE:10 – 15 minutes 
YIELD: 3 dozen cookies

2 cups dark brown sugar
2 eggs
grated rind of one lemon
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Optional Icing (see below)
electric mixer
large spoon or rubber spatula
wax paper or plastic wrap
cookie cutters, cookie molds, or wooden board of St. Nicholas
large cookie sheets
wire racks
clean paint brushes for decorating

DIRECTIONS: YIELD: 3 dozen cookies
1 In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until fluffy. Stir in the eggs one at a time, blending thoroughly after each addition. Stir in the lemon rind.
2 Sift the spices and salt with the flour and baking powder, and stir gradually into the butter mixture. Wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap and chill for several hours or overnight. (If you are in a hurry, start the chilling proves in the freezer: leave the dough in the freezer for about 20 minutes.)
3 On a floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/8 inch. If you are going to make large figures – over about 6 inches – you might roll out the dough a little thicker, to about ¼ inch: the figures will be less fragile. Cut out with cookies cutters, or with a sharp knife. This dough can also be used with your St. Nicholas mold or board. Follow the directions you received with your mold or board to form and bake. Hint: chill the board and you will find the dough comes out more readily!
4 Place the cookies on a lightly buttered baking sheets and bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes, or until set and lightly browned. Large or thick cookies will take somewhat longer and yield less than the 3 dozen listed. If you like your cookies soft, remove them from the oven when they are just set – the longer the baking time, the firmer the cookies. Move from baking sheets to wire racks and let cool. Decorate. An icing recipe is given below.
In small containers, place about 1/3 cup of powdered sugar in each one. Add a little bit of water and a drop or two of lemon juice or use egg white. Stir. Add a small amount of food coloring and stir until the consistency is fluid enough to paint with, but will not run all over the cookie. Apply with small paint brushes or a decorating tube. You can really let your creative imagination takeover and decorate these as fancy or as simply as you and your children like. (You can also use ready made frosting and add food coloring.)
*Adaptation: Use a refrigerated gingerbread or spice cookie dough as a substitute for making the cookies from scratch. You can cut them out and decorate them just like the ones from the recipe. Follow the directions for baking on the container or package.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Feast of St. Nicholas of Myra - December 6

The Feast of St. Nicholas is one of great fun and inspiration because St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children and was known for his generosity to the needy. His feast is situated at the beginning of the Advent Season as we prepare to celebrate the great feast of the birth of Jesus on December 25th. What better saint than the patron of children and lover of the poor to help us to prepare for Jesus' birthday?
St. Nicholas was born in 280 A.D. in southwestern Turkey. Very little is known about him as he left no writings. However many legends exist and numerous churches, hospitals, monasteries, and chapels were dedicated in honor of him throughout Christendom. It is held that he was born of wealthy parents who died when he was about sixteen, leaving him with their fortune. He was inspired to give his wealth away to those in need. There are many stories about St. Nicholas helping others with money e.g., three young girls without dowries, also miraculous interventions, e.g., saving sailors from drowning, and even physical healings, e.g., restoring three school boys from death.
Nicholas became a priest and later a bishop of Myra. His reputation for love and concern for others spread far and wide. Italian sailors stopped in the port city where St. Nicholas was bishop. They came to know and love him and carried stories of his goodness and holiness back to Italy and Western Europe. St. Nicholas died on December 6 about 343 A.D. and was buried in Myra. Pilgrims visited his burial site and told of a wonderful fragrance that was given off. Many miracles were attributed to prayers directed to the intercession of St Nicholas. Love of St. Nicholas multiplied after his death throughout the Mediterranean. On May 9, 1087, his relics were taken to Bari, Italy by Italian sailors for fear that the Moslem inhabitants would desecrate them. To this day they remain in the cathedral in Bari.

Love of St. Nicholas grew in Italy, Germany, Holland, France, Russia, Ireland and England after the translation of his relics. Parties to celebrate his feast were given. Children put out their shoes in the hopes of receiving small treats, collections were taken up for the poor by young boys dressed as Bishop Nicholas, and all sorts of goodies were baked and eaten! Between the 12th and 15th centuries, St. Nicholas was the most popular religious figure painted after Jesus and the Blessed Mother. He was known and loved as the first gift bringer to children.
In the sixteenth century most of the lovely celebrations and parties came to an end with the Protestant Reformation. Celebrations of saints' feasts were suppressed in the public square. Only Holland managed to retain the celebration of St. Nicholas' feast day, but even there he is honored only as a folk figure not reverenced as a holy bishop. The tradition of honoring St. Nicholas always remained strong in the Eastern Catholic Churches and the Greek Orthodox Church. They were not affected by the influence of the Protestant Reformation. Today we see a return in honoring and celebrating St. Nicholas feast day in Roman Catholic households in the United States.
In future posts I will share ways to celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas - recipes for cookies, ideas for parties, prayers, and more. There is an excellent web site:  that is the premier site for promoting love and devotion to St. Nicholas. Check it out, you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Advent Wreath Ceremony

In my first post I gave you a recipe for a Bread Dough Advent Wreath. The second post discussed scheduling of activities during Advent, e.g., the wreath. Today I am giving you Advent Prayers that you can pray as your wreath is blessed and as you light a new candle for each Sunday of Advent. There are many different Advent ceremony prayers. This prayer is one our family has prayed for many years.
(Holy Water recommended- available at most Catholic Churches)
Prayers for Week One
Blessing of the Wreath
Leader: O God, through your word all things are made holy. Pour down your blessings on this wreath. Give those of us who use this wreath hearts prepared to receive Jesus. May we receive every grace and blessing through Christ, Our Lord, Amen (Leader sprinkles holy water on the wreath.)
First Candle is Lit
Leader: O, Powerful God, increase our strength of will for doing good. May Christ find us eager to welcome Him at His coming and call us to His side in the Kingdom of Heaven where He lives with You and the Holy Spirit. Amen
Prayer for Week Two
Second Candle is Lit
Leader: God of power and mercy, open our hearts and remove those things tht prevent us from receiving Jesus with joy. May we share in Jesus’ wisdom and become one with Him when He comes in glory. We ask this through Jesus, our Lord, who is with You and the Holy Spirit One God, now and forever. Amen
Prayer for Week Three
Third Candle is Lit
Leader: Lord God, may we your family experience the joy of salvation and celebrate the feast of Jesus’ birth with love and thanksgiving. We make this prayer through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen
Prayer for Week Four
Fourth Candle is Lit
Leader: Dear Lord, fill our hearts with your life. The angel Gabriel revealed to Mary the coming of Your Son as one of us. May we open our hearts wide by acts of charity in order to receive the Christ child joyfully on Christmas day.

Friday, November 20, 2009


Scheduling is an important factor in observing and celebrating Advent. Advent begins every year on the Sunday nearest to the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, November 30. There are four Sundays in Advent. The Advent wreath in church is lit on the First Sunday of Advent at the Saturday evening vigil Mass and then at all Sunday Masses. On the Second, Third, and Fourth Sundays of Advent a candle is added for each Sunday. Prayers are said with the lighting of the Advent Wreath and vary slightly from Sunday to Sunday. The recipe for the Advent wreath included in this blog is ideally made before the First Sunday of Advent. However one can "catch up" and make it before the second, third or fourth Sunday. The wreath will last for years, so consider a late Advent Wreath for this year as an early one for next!
During the next weeks of Advent I will be adding new posts to this blog. There will be recipes from Advent 2009 and 2010. Except for the Advent Wreath, all recipes should be available a few days or even a few weeks before the feast day! This way if you like a recipe and want to try it, you can work it into your schedule. Please let me know as this blog develops what is helpful and ways you think it could be made better.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Advent Bread Dough Wreath

Advent and Christmas have always been my very favorite time of the year for baking. Not that the other seasons - Easter and Ordinary Time don't have some great recipes to make and bake, but Advent and Christmas traditions reach so far back into my childhood and memory, that it would be impossible to replace these two seasons with any others.
Maria Von Trapp’s book Around the Year with the Trapp Family, out of print, and Evelyn Birge Vitz’s A Continual Feast inspired my interest in Catholic cultural and food traditions. Fr. Francis X. Weiser’s, S.J., popular research into every facet of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and Ordinary Time customs kept me learning. Did you know that mince meat pie was banned in England by the Puritans when they came to power? There are many fascinating connections to discover between food and history.
In our home as the children were born I incorporated my love of Advent and Christmas baking with new found knowledge about food and Catholic cultural customs associated with the seasons. The recipe I am sharing today was found in a San Diego Parents’ advertiser. I used it with our children to make an Advent Bread Dough wreath. It is very kid friendly. Everyone can get their hands in the dough without much damage! One recipe makes a 9 inch wreath or you can make a few smaller wreaths. The smaller wreaths work well in a classroom setting. The students can fashion them at their desks with a piece of aluminum foil under the lump of dough. The teacher can bake them in a school or parish oven. A few hours later or the following day the wreaths can be painted and then taken home. The wreath will last for a number of years after it is baked, painted and sealed. Just store it in a plastic Ziploc baggy where it is cool and dry until next Advent. The recipe and directions follow.
PREP: 20 minutes BAKE: 325 1 hour or until hard and dry
INGREDIENTS                                                                         EQUIPMENT
4 cups of flour  large mixing bowl, baking sheet
1 ½ cups of warm water floured board, plastic, foil or wax paper
1 cup of salt green, purple & rose acrylic paint
paint brushes, size #12 & #3
4 candles: 3 purple, 1 rose or birthday
candles for mini-wreaths- I use white
candles and colored ribbons – purple & rose
acrylic spray sealer to seal the paint, optional

DIRECTIONS: YIELD: 1 large or 4 -6 mini-wreaths

1. Combine flour and salt in bowl. Mix thoroughly. (For the classroom, have a few parents send in one recipe each in a gallon baggy. Only water will need to be added!)
2. Make a well in center of flour/salt mixture.
3. Pour 1 cup water into flour mixture and stir.
4. Add more water until flour is moist but not wet.* Continue mixing. May use hands.
5. Knead dough 5 minutes on floured board or in bowl until smooth.
6. Turn oven on to 325 degrees.
7. Take the lump of kneaded dough and roll between hands making a rope of about 18 inches in length and 3 ½ inches in width. Attach ends to one another making a fairly smooth seam by using a small amount of water to work dough together. (For smaller wreaths divide the dough into four or six lumps. Follow preceding directions. Rope will be shorter and not as wide.)
8. Place on an ungreased baking sheet. With one of your Advent candles (or birthday candle for smaller wreaths), make four impressions about four inches apart to 1 – inch depth. Be sure impressions are fuller than candles because impressions shrink as the dough bakes.
9. Bake for 1 hour or until very hard. Let cool thoroughly before decorating.
*Be careful not to use too much water or bread dough will not harden but instead puff out!
1. Paint the wreath with green acrylic paint. Use number 12 (or so )paint brush for broad strokes.
2. After the paint dries we paint four sacred symbols* one beside each candle hole. Three we paint with purple acrylic paint and one we paint with rose color. Either older children or a parent will have to do this. Use a number 3 (or so )paint brush for the symbols. Or you may simply paint a purple circle around three candle holes and a pink around the fourth hole. When dry, spray with acrylic sealer to seal the paint and enhance the surface – preferably outside since there are fumes.
3. Some people like to weave an artificial strand of store-bought evergreen around the bread dough wreath. The wreath may be set on a table or hung by purple and rose ribbons from a fixture – some chandeliers are ideal for hanging the wreath from. I set ours on a table in the living room.
4. Place your candles in the wreath after you have placed or hung it. A small amount of melted wax applied to the base of each hole may help the candles to remain firmly in place.
5. Change candles to white Christmas Eve and include the Christ candle in the center of the wreath – those that are resting on a table! Ribbons may be changed to red and white.
6. Store in a cool, dry place after the Christmas season in a gallon-size plastic Ziploc bag.
*Two books in print which contain sacred Advent symbols and monograms: John Bradner’s Symbols of Church Seasons & Days and George Ferguson’s Signs & Symbols in Christian Art.
These wreaths are the work of children ages 7 – 13 and they are in various stages of completion.