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Will St. Nicholas, St. Lucia stop by your house?

by:  Alexandra Husari was crowned Lucia of 2011 during the Scandinavian Heritage Foundation’s festival this past weekend.

Hey friends, want to add a little international flavor to your holiday celebrations? Celebrate St. Nicholas Day and the Feast of St. Lucia.

We celebrate St. Nicholas Day on Dec. 6 - I give you permission to consider it a moveable feast day so celebrate it when you can.

St. Nicholas, also called Nicholas of Myra, was a 4th-century saint and Greek bishop of Myra in Lycia, part of present-day Turkey. He was also known as Nicholas the Wonder-worker because of the many miracles he was able to make happen.

According to legend, Nicholas' parents died in an epidemic when he was still young so he was raised by his uncle, who was the bishop of Patara. Though his parents left him considerable wealth, Nicholas decided to give all he had to the poor and dedicate himself to serving Christ.

He had a special place in his heart for orphans and children in general and developed a reputation for secret gift-giving. He would toss little pouches of gold coins through the windows of houses where the poor lived and sometimes the pouches would land in their shoes or in stockings that had been washed and hung by the fire to dry.

After his death on Dec. 6 (the precise year is not known), St. Nicholas' fame continued to spread across Europe. By the late Middle Ages, Christians in Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands had begun celebrating his feast day by giving small gifts to young children. On Dec. 5, children leave their shoes by the fireplace or front door and the next morning, find small toys and coins in them.

I fondly remember St. Nicholas filled our shoes with tangerines or navel oranges and foil-covered chocolate coins.

The festival of St. Lucia begins before dawn on Dec. 13, which under the old Julian calendar (used in Sweden before 1753) was Christmas Day and the longest night of the year. Throughout Sweden, the eldest daughter in each household comes to her sleeping parents, dressed in a long white gown tied with a red sash and wearing a crown of lingonberry leaves in which are set seven lighted candles. She carries a tray of steaming hot coffee and lussekattor, or Lucia buns. The procession includes her siblings also dressed in white and holding lighted candles as they sing Christmas songs. Awakened by the lights and the singing, the parents arise and eat the breakfast, thus ushering in the Christmas season.

Scandanavian tradition holds that in Varmland, Sweden, a white-clad maiden, wearing a crown of burning candles, brought food (remember that tray of hot coffee and buns?) to the starving villagers on the shore of Lake Vanem.

Last Sunday, Alexandra Husari was crowned Oregon's St. Lucia 2011. She is of Finnish descent and a student at Jesuit High School. Husari and the Scandanavian Heritage Foundation invite you to share their culture by attending any and all of these St. Lucia events:

n Friday: Meet St. Lucia and her court at the Ikea store at 5:30 p.m.

n Saturday: At 3 p.m. enjoy the Lucia Day Celebration at St. Paul Lutheran Church, 3880 S.E. Brooklyn St. This is a traditional Lucia pageant, with procession and Swedish songs, music, dancing and Swedish goodies. There is a minimal fee ($6 for adults, $3 for seniors, students and children 6 to 12, with a family maximum of $20).

n Sunday, Dec. 18, 3 p.m. - Attend the Norwegian Julesangfest at Central Lutheran Church, 2104 N.E. Hancock, Portland.

Growing up, I enjoyed celebrating these different feast days. St. Nicholas 'visited' my children, but since they are boys, I passed over the St. Lucia celebrations - though I would have enjoyed being served a roll and cup of hot coffee in bed. I hope you will fit some of these traditions into your life, or create some of your own.

You get a bonus in the recipes today. From one dough you can create six different varieties of beautiful Scandinavian cookies! The dough can be made several days ahead of time and baked when you are ready. I've also included a recipe for glogg, justs because it sounds Scandinavian. The simplicity and efficiency of these recipes epitomizes the Scandinavian ingenuity and style.

Scandanavian Cookies

Dough:

1½ cups (3 sticks) softened unsalted butter

¾ cup white granulated sugar

1 egg plus 1 egg yolk (reserve white)

1 tablespoon milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ teaspoon salt

4½ cups all purpose flour

Beat butter and sugar in large mixer bowl on medium speed until well combined. Beat in egg, egg yolk, milk, vanilla and salt until blended. Add flour gradually to make the dough stiff. Shape dough into a ball and then divide into 6 equal pieces. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Dough can be made several days ahead, if desired. Let warm up on the countertop until pliable.

Heat oven to 350ºF. All cookie variations are baked at this temperature. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or a silpat. Follow directions for each cookie, using one reserved dough ball for each type. All of these cookies freeze well. Place in single layers separated by pieces of wax paper in cookie tins or other freezer containers.

Variation 1 - Walnut Crescents: To one of the dough sections mix in ¼ cup chopped walnuts. Form into 18 small ropes about 1½ to 2 inches and curve to form a crescent shape. Place on cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Remove, cool slightly and gently roll each warm cookie in powdered sugar. Makes 1½ dozen.

Variation 2 - Almond Cookies: To second dough ball, mix in 1/3 cup coconut. Form into 18 small balls and place on cookie sheet. Press one whole blanched almond into cookies. Bake for 10 minutes. Makes 1½ dozen.

Variation 3 - Blueberry Thumprints: For third dough ball, form dough into 12 round balls. Dip the tops of each ball into coarse pearl sugar and place on cookie sheet. Press finger or thumb into center of cookie to make a hole. Fill hole with blueberry jam. Bake for 10 minutes. Makes 1 dozen.

Variation 4 - Lingonberry Logs: Divide the fourth dough ball in halve and make each piece into a 7-inch log. Place logs on baking sheets. Make long indentation down the center of each log, but leave an edge on the ends. Fill the indentation with lingonberry or raspberry jam. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let logs sit on baking sheet for 1 to 2 minutes then carefully slide onto a work surface; let logs cool for exactly 10 minutes. Meanwhile, stir together ¼ cup powdered sugar, ¾ teaspoon water and ½ teaspoon almond extract. Drizzle each log with this mixture. Immediately slice cookies diagonally to make 9 slices from each log. Makes 1½ dozen.

Variation 5 - Cardamom Scrolls: For the fifth dough ball, shape dough into 12 ropes, each about 5 inches long. Brush each rope all over with the reserved egg white from making the dough, beaten until slightly foamy. In a small dish, stir together 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, and ¼ teaspoon cardamom; transfer to a small plate. Roll the egg-white coated ropes in the sugar mixture to coat thoroughly. Place on cookie sheet and shape each rope into an 'S' shape, then coil each end of the 'S' in opposite direction so each end looks sort of like a cinnamon roll. Bake for 10 minutes. Makes 1 dozen.

Variation 6 - Orange-Anise Cookies. For the sixth dough ball, place the dough on the lined cookie sheet. Roll dough into a rectangle, 12-inches by 3-inches. Score the dough with a knife lengthwise down the middle, then each side into 12 small rectangles, making 24 pieces. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove and let sit for a few minutes and then use a sharp knife to cut pieces following the scored areas and separating them to cool. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat 1/3 cup orange marmalade with 1 teaspoon butter over medium heat until just starting to bubble. Remove from heat and stir in 1/8 teaspoon anise extract; let cool. Spoon a small amount of mixture onto each cookie and let set. Makes 1 dozen.

Spiced Scandanavian

Cranberry Glogg

Makes 6 servings

1½ cups pomegranate-cranberry juice, or all cranberry juice

½ cup granulated sugar

5 whole cloves

1 3-inch cinnamon stick

4 Chai tea bags

1 28-ounce bottle dry red wine

At least several hours or several days in advance, combine juice, sugar, cloves and cinnamon stick in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Add tea bags to pan, cover and let sit until cool. Remove tea bags and pour mixture into a covered container until ready to use. When ready to serve glogg, pour the red wine into a saucepan and strain juice mixture into wine. Heat until just hot, do not boil. Serve hot.

All recipes from Kristina Vanni at www.kristinavanni.com

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Hey, friends! Sue Wendling's dental office is undertaking a unique fundraiser to benefit the Oregon Food Bank this holiday season. Last year the office staff compiled a cookbook of their tried and true favorite recipes to give as gifts to colleagues. The book was a smash hit - so much so that Wendling had the book reprinted and is selling the book for $8 a copy. It would make a fun stocking stuffer for anyone.

'All the recipes have been prepared numerous times and have received a big 'thumbs up' from friends and family,' says Wendling in the book's forward.

To purchase a book, simply call Wendling's office at 503-636-4069 or stop by the office at 340 Oswego Pointe Drive, Suite 208.

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-636-1281 ext 101 or by emailing brandalllakeoswegoreview.com.