The Countdown by Janice Carter

The Dec. 25

At the end of November every year, my much younger daughters would start counting the days to December 1st, because that would be the date that their Advent Calendars began. Of course their excitement had nothing to do with the actual meaning of Advent - that period of holy preparation for Christmas which often included fasting, prayer and other religious customs - but for the tiny pieces of chocolate hidden beneath each of the 24 'doors' in the Christmas scene on their calendar.
       A Google search reveals that the origins of Advent are undetermined, though some sources indicate it began in the fifth century, and Christian countries celebrate it in many different ways. While December 1st still marks a countdown for us, my daughters outgrew their chocolate Advent calendar tradition long ago. This year the Advent calendar on display at home will be this one, handmade by a friend for my new baby granddaughter,
The tiny objects - animals, Santa,stockings - are tucked into the date pockets and placed on the tree each day.

Sometime around the end of November, when my American friends and fellow Heartwarming authors are delighting and tempting us with Thanksgiving anecdotes and photos of feasts, I dig out my regular, city recycling calendar and find a good day to make my Christmas cake, my first priority of the season. The date has to be well ahead of all my other pre-Christmas tasks to allow for a few weeks of liberal dousing with Brandy. :) Here's this year's effort:

The next target of my Christmas countdown is shortbread. I've made various types over the years, but this is the all-round family favorite:
                                                                  Ginger Shortbread

                                                    1 lb. of sweet butter, creamed
                                                     1 cup of super fine granulated sugar (or regular granulated)
                                                  Cream together  and add 1 cup of rice flour, blending well with a large wooden spoon. 
                                          Gradually add 3 more cups of sifted all-purpose flour, mixing well. Add 3/4 tsp of ground ginger
                                           and 2-3 tbsps. of chopped glazed or preserved ginger. The dough should be soft but not wet. Pat 
                                          in to an ungreased rectangular cookie sheet (9x13") until level all over. Use the sharp tip of a 
                                          paring knife to mark out grid lines to be used for cutting the shortbread into bars or squares
                                          when it has cooled. Then prick all over the surface of the dough with the ends of a fork, sprinkle 

                                        all over with fine granulated sugar and bake at 350 for 10 minutes. Lower the temperature to 300 
                                         and bake another 30-40 minutes. The shortbread should be only slightly golden in color. Hide till 
                                  you want to serve!

There was a time when I used to bake several types of cookies,  but people in my extended family stopped wanting to take leftovers home and my self-discipline regarding sweets is very unreliable so.....
     Every year I like to make food gifts for friends and family. This year I chose candied almonds (great in salads or just for munching) and preserved lemons (yummy with any roasted meats or fish and especially Middle Eastern food) - both are easy to make and a different take on traditional Christmas treats.
Cinnamon candied almonds

Preserved lemons in lemon juice and topped with olive oil
Whatever preparations and gifts we make (or buy) at Christmas, all are done with thought, care and love for the recipients, aren't they?

How is your countdown to Christmas going? Any priorities?

Best wishes for the Season!

Janice Carter


  1. Other than shopping and Christmas trees, I find I don't do much preparation anymore. I miss it, but I enjoy what I do now, too. The ginger shortbread sounds delicious and I've never heard of preserving lemons that way. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I too don’t do nearly as much as I used to, Liz. Kind of a “been there, done that” mentality but the truth is, I don’t have as much energy and simply not as inclined to go all out. The shortbread is yummy and different. If you want the easy recipe for preserving lemons, email me!

  2. This year my son is ten, and it's his first year of not wanting to do this Lego Advent calendar properly. Kind of broke my heart! I hope it isn't an end of an era!

    1. I remember that stage. One year one of my girls craftily ate the chocolate pieces way ahead but kept the little doors closed! That’s when I knew they’d outgrown the calendars. :)

  3. I wish I could be that organized. I do a lot of baking, so I begin when dates are coming up for get togethers with friends. I always bring a tin of goodies for the host/hostess. That recipe for shortbread sounds delicious. I might give it a go and see if it makes the cut to my yearly must make list. Thanks for sharing and Merry Christmas to you Janice.

    1. The shortbread is delicious and very different, especially if you like candied ginger, which I do. But it’s subtle too, as there’s not too much in it. Enjoy the season, Carla!

  4. I'll have to try the shortbread. I make cookies for all the neighbors, so I'll start that baking soon. The tree is up and most of the shopping is done, but I need to wrap and mail, and do some cleaning and decluttering before I put up the rest of the decorations, including the outdoor ones. The countdown has begun.

    1. Beth you are so organized! I’m in awe. Especially given the recent big holiday you had. I’d be having a big long rest afterwards. :) I’m not nearly as ambitious but will slowly get there, too!

  5. Oh my, that hand made advent calendar for your new granddaughter is precious, and all those delicious homemade goodies! The holidays can be sheer torture if you can't eat sweets, but I can dream of sugar plums and gingerbread men. Your ginger shortbread sounds divine.

    1. I know,Nadia, the hanging is precious indeed, and each tiny ornament represents something for the family: a bee for our beehives, a chicken for the hens we get every summer, a fox for the ones that prowl the island where our cottage is, all the more meaningful. And yes to Christmas treats! Once a year can’t be bad, right? The ginger shortbread is good.


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