Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tradition smack down (lemon coconut bars)

Traditionally my family is not one to raise the Christmas tree Thanksgiving weekend. We may have when I was little, but then I am not one who remembers many details from the past. Chopper tends to get nostalgic about the way things were when he was a kid, and he'll tell me lots of cute/funny stories with lots of detail. This reflects for me my lack of memory of childhood detail. I blame this on being an only child of divorced parents, and having noone to bounce memories off of. This sounds so sad, it is not meant to, I just believe there is a reason for my lack of memory and I think my reasoning makes sense.

Chopper and I decided to go get a Christmas tree last weekend (Thanksgiving), I suggested waiting a week, and he asked what the point of that would be. I had no answer. We then went to a local parking lot selling trees and picked out a lovely small tree that cost us $35, we were both a little shocked at the price. On our way home we stopped to buy lights, this was when I realized how different our ideas of a Christmas decorations are. Growing up we always had white lights, and some years, old bubble lights for a splash of color. When I was a teenager my mother had some more refined trees. The hodge podge of ornaments were put away and we had themed trees (as I called them at the time), one year the tree was decorated entirely with homemade babies breath ornaments, another year all glass ornaments, there was an angel tree, and one year I decorated the tree with ornaments made entirely out of recycled trash complete with bottle cap garland. We never had colored lights or candy canes (as Chopper did), and I'm certainly not knocking those, but I hadn't realized how close I felt to my own families traditions which excluded those things. We also never decorated the tree the same day it was brought home, the branches "needed to relax". A rule that I hated growing up, I now missed, and wanted to adhere to when bringing our tree home. The emotion around the Christmas tree and our individual traditions were magnified as we hung Wesley's stocking, and our awareness that how we chose to do Christmas were his future childhood memories. It felt odd, but I was happy to let go of the relaxed branch rule, and because Chopper got so flippin excited about the colored lights and candy canes, the "boring" white lights hardly stood a chance (though they were a little harder for me to let go of).

Our tree is beautiful, simple, complete with colored lights that have 8 settings for blinking, fading, that sort of thing. The ornaments that are hung are the few that we've collected over our last few Christmases together and the skirt is a colorful mexican blanket from the back of Chop's old volkswagon. There are candy canes, which Chopper excitedly remembers sucking the ends of the canes into a sharp point and finding old candy canes from the previous year, and their chewy texture. How can you say no to the corn syrup candies with memories like that?

This whole experience has made me start to think about other traditions that could be tweaked or new traditions that we could start for our new family. It occurred to me that this is something I tend to do in the kitchen all the time. New healthier twists on old comfort favorites. So I've decided to start there, with food.

Right now I am making Limoncello to bottle for Christmas. This is an Italian (when made in Italy) liqueur, which is absolutely delicious. I first had it in Nicaragua, of all places, and fell in love. You make it by steeping lots and lots of lemon rinds in vodka or grain alcohol and then there is a sweetening process. All those lemon rinds takes lots of lemons, these lemons then need a home. I got my limoncello recipe from another blog found here. The most important part of the process is time, so I am learning patience from this little project as well.

My jar of lemon rinds and vodka.

So I had a bowl of leftover lemons, actually 2 bowls, I used about 35 lemons. I juiced the lemons and have been drinking lots of lemon tea, unfortunately even the most lemon-y of dishes only require a tablespoon or 2 of lemon. I found a recipe for raw lemon coconut squares and decided to give them a whirl.

Lemon Coconut Bars
Adapted from Ani Phyo's recipe

Makes 12 bars

1 cup almonds
1 1/2 cups pitted dates (Medjool, khadrawhi, or other semi-soft date)
Seeds of 1 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp of vanilla extract)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup dried shredded coconut

In your food processor, chop almonds into small pieces. Use some of this nut powder to “flour” the bottom of a 9 inch square baking pan.

Add remaining ingredients and process some more until well mixed.

Press into baking pan.

To serve, chill for a couple hours until firm. Then cut into squares.

Will keep for six days in the fridge

These are really good especially after a day or two when the lemon flavor really comes through. They are a great snack or breakfast despite their dessert facade, that's the great thing about raw desserts. I changed the recipe ever so slightly from the original, cutting down on the salt.