Two days from Christmas, I can’t imagine any of you are still looking for gift ideas. You’re probably nothing like me, who not only hasn’t finished wrapping presents but also hasn’t finished buying them—not that there are many to buy because, whenever possible, I like to homemake Christmas gifts. This year has been as simple as free cards online, whipping up a batch of my favorite sweet and salty granola and baking some cookies, after which I mainly just had these sugar-and-spiced nuts to bake—two batches, because they’re that good, and, like I said, I know you don’t need gift ideas at this point, but if you ever do, trust me when I say these things make great ones.
You know, in the last post, I told you how sick I’ve been, how I spent the full weekend before Christmas at home, in bed, trying to distract myself from my stuffy nose, and that’s true. It’s also true that Monday night, I spent a half hour holding ice against my face while trying to end my first-ever bloody nose. What a week. I’ve been getting kind of sad about it all, thinking how un-Christmasy this end of December has been feeling, how little of the festive and jolly I’ve been experiencing (or how little I’ve been enjoying experiencing).
But then I think about homemade gifts.
After I’d mixed and baked the blend of walnuts and pecans with cayenne pepper and cinnamon and raw sugar and egg whites that go into this recipe, pulling their trays out of the oven and popping handfuls of the hot, fragrant candied nuts in my mouth, I cooled them and scooped them into jars tied with ribbons, labeled with gift cards made by Everybody Likes Sandwiches, which are perfectly shaped for sliding beneath the gold lids.
In those moments, life was not about my lack of energy or boring weekend or new obsession with vitamins, tissues and long Sunday naps; it was about someone else, about giving to someone else, and that was good.
And in a similar way, this slowed-down Christmas week, wherein I have not checked off my complete list of Christmas shopping or gotten to do some of the fun things I had wanted to do, I have been able to stop and think more than I normally would.
It’s funny, I’ve been comparing my slow and quiet Christmas week with other ones—first with those of flashy holiday movies (where someone falls in love! or meets Santa! or saves an entire town from something bad!), and then with more quiet, simple ones, like the first Christmas, the one in Bethlehem, where a young and tired Jewish couple had no place to go, right when the wife was about to give birth, landing them in the place where the animals were kept, alone.
While I’ve sniffled and drank more liquids, I’ve thought about how hard it is to be tired, to be weak—like they were; how a little family like mine can seem especially small at Christmas, when everyone is traveling and gathering and planning parties—but then Mary and Joseph were just two, about to be three, in a stable, nothing more; and how, while my family and I will open presents on Friday from the comfort of our American living room, that family rested among sheep and donkeys and straw, yet with an amazement much greater than I can imagine.
These things—the giving of gifts, the giving of the greatest gift, the sacrifice, the love—are what Christmas is, what it really is, and I’m glad to be remembering that.
Sugar-and-Spiced Candied Nuts
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
This recipe is almost exactly Deb’s, with the one main change being the sugars switched to raw. I liked them this way very much.
1 cup raw sugar
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
Generous pinch of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 pound walnuts
1/2 pound pecan halves
1 egg white, room temperature
1 tablespoon water
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix sugar, salt, cayenne and cinnamon, making sure there are no lumps; set aside.
In a medium-sized bowl, beat egg white and water until frothy but not stiff. Add walnuts, and stir to coat evenly. Sprinkle these nuts with the sugar mixture, and toss until evenly coated.
Spread sugared nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet fitted with parchment paper. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven, and separate nuts as they cool. When completely cool, pour the nuts into a bowl, breaking up any that stick together.