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Time to Order for the Holidays

(post, Cara Montgomery)

November heralds the arrival of one of my favorite annual excursions- into the mail order world of holiday goodies. I am always looking for new alluring products to add to the old favorites.

Firstly, UNICEF Holiday Greeting Cards are a must. It's one of the main fund raisers for this charity, that needs so much support and frankly, gives me that feeling that once again I am observing a generous tradition. This year, I liked the  deer in a winter landscape. Cards are available in many  stylistic motifs, homey to sophisticated,. Their catalog is lovely and inspiring.

Wild Rice is a pleasure at every time of year, but it seems especially delicious in fall and winter. It is of course, not a rice, but a grass. The place to order it is Native Harvest in Ogema, Minnesota, tool free (888)  274-8318. It comes from a collaborative of the White Earth reservation in Norther Minnesota, home to the Ojibwe people. Their catalog, from www.savewildrice.com, features various food and craft products as well as information about the People. The usual flavor comparisons for wild rice, 'toasted' ,' nutty', 'chewy', all apply, but beyond the perfect texture is  this wild rice's rare flavor . It is the centerpiece of my "Wild Rice Salad with celery, avocados, yellow peppers and pine nuts in a Peach  Chutney dressing". Anyone who has ever had a meal in my home has almost certainly been served this salad, which is easy to prepare- ridiculously so- and can serve quite a lot of people. 

Froghollow products, sold at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco, are available through their website, www. froghollow .com . Ordering still doesn't equal eating their fruit filled pastry, and admiring the range of products that aren't shipped. But lucky us, they ship their conserves, chutneys and some frozen pastry. Their apricot conserves, for apricot lovers, is a thing of beauty in it's too tiny jar, easily consumed in a single Sunday morning breakfast. The other 'can't live without' product for me  is the peach chutney. It's the other big flavor part of my 'Wild Rice Salad'. Sure, you could use any old chutney in the dressing, but why would you? My usual order is a dozen jars of the conserve and half a dozen of the chutney and, unsurprisingly, they don't last long. Try them just once!

Holiday baking runs in my blood. An aside. I have been fascinated by a certain molasses cookie that I encountered in three different households of kitchen elders, all bearing resemblance to the others. As a child, visiting Grandma and Grandpa Montgomery in Buchanan,Michigan, little Cara headed straight for the cookie jar and Grandma Bess' molasses cookies. Soft but chewy,  spicy in an ineffable way, they have that imprint of childhood that makes a taste linger in  mind and heart. I then met this cookie at the home of my  first mother in laws, Mrs. Madigan,in upstate New York, who gave me her recipe,as Mrs. Madigan's Best  Winter Gingersnaps. Although it calls for Crisco, I wouldn't alter a thing! The cookie was so familiar, so right in the setting of a family kitchen. Did all ladies of certain age make this confection? When I went to the farm of my second mother in law, Mrs. LeBlond , outside Cincinnati  (some years latter, naturally), the cookie jar was filled  by her cook, with the magical molasses cookie. In all three cases, these weren't cookies among others, but the biscuit tin staple. They must have a quintessential American farm history, for their ubiquity sets them apart. Maybe someone has an idea about this? A dream project is to make all the subtle variations on the molasses cookie to see if I can capture the flavor and texture of memory. Stay tuned for that in the remote future ,when all those special projects there is no time for now take place!

My other grandmother, Bessie Zonnis of St. Louis, my mother's mother, who came from a Jewish heritage, also made cookies, but these came once a year in a festive tin, separated by paper cupcake holders. Oh, the tantalizing mixture! . Each one tasted of butter and nuts or chocolate and were the result of an blitz of baking. Somewhere these cookie recipes are hiding in an old file or envelope: time to search them out. 

 
Such a generous cookie legacy made me a baker, although I don't often have molasses cookies on hand. What I do have, in the Holiday season  are Apricot Walnut Bars, and for these only once source of dried apricots will do. Andy's Orchard, the jewel- like one man band (amend that- Lorene at the Orchard says that's a one man band, with a one woman backup) fruit operation based in California  is the place to go for unparalleled dried fruit. His apricots and those Crawford peaches- unbelievable. When I have a Fruitcake Year,all of the dried fruit is his premium select and it's all chopped by me, by hand. This time consuming and expensive specialty is the best thing I have ever made in the kitchen; after forty years of fiddling with the recipe, its pretty dammed good. Perhaps another year I will dwell on it. For now, my focus is getting my order in for the apricots. This year, too I am haunted by a Deborah Madison's recipe for a Persimmon Tea Bread in her book "Local Flavors". I'll order some dates and raisins , as per her recipe, but probably throw in some dried Crawford peaches, if they have any left, and apricots. Andy's web site www. andysorchard.com., makes wonderful reading, as it reveals an farmer closely engaged by his orchard,  committed to quality and good growing practices. If you're even thinking about dried fruit this year, have look at his web site.

Once the fruit is ordered, I have the pleasure of turning to White Flower Farms Holiday Catalog. This is a treacherous step as everything in it is desirably and would make splendid gifts for family and friends as well as moi. For the paperwhite growers, there are plenty of choices, but what mesmerizes are those amaryllis doubles, singles, rainbows of color, huge and lush. I have gone through many white flower Christmases- when  decorating my home, prefer white amaryllis, arrangements of white roses and ranaculus and pure white- not creamy- poinsettias. With twinkling votives, it's a festive look.  This year I can't resist "Artic Nymph", a seductive as it's name. There are plenty of other plants, as well as exquisite holiday greens, trees, boughs and a good selection of bird feeders in the catalog.Finally, this year's little  Meyer Lemon Tree surly has my name on it. See it all at www.whiteflowerfarm.com.

I will save recipes for the Apricot-Walnut Bars, Wild Rice Salad and Mrs. Madigan's Best Winter Gingersnaps for another posting. In the meantime, if anyone has comments with their own favorite mail order sites, please share   them.