Bigger Picture: Holidays In A Honey Daze

Our honey ready to go.

Holidays In A Honey Daze

by Jessica Louque

It seems like every year, the holidays start earlier. I went into the dollar store in August and they already had Halloween candy out! I saw an article online that one of the bigger retailers had already started putting up Christmas trees in September. Another headline discussed how the consumer industry is pushing holidays so much now that Black Friday is rendered nearly obsolete as most people have already finished off most of their shopping by then. My family used to go Black Friday shopping, but it was more of a family-hanging-out time instead of shopping. People are so inconsiderate of others now that it’s actually a dangerous endeavor to go shopping in public. Consumerism and social media are pushing more people into arrogant narcissists who are all about perceptions rather than the meaning of holidays.

This year, I want to change some of that, or at least start a change. With so much focus on money, and appearances, and buying the right gift, less and less attention is paid to the holiday itself. While I want the kids to enjoy their holidays, I don’t want it to be all about what they get or don’t get. Starting with Thanksgiving, I have a positively foolproof (albeit completely untested, so that could be totally false) plan of the five ways to get back in the holiday spirit this year.

1. Food
There is nothing that can say comfort or family like food. From the prep to the delivery to the digestion, food is a pleasure that can be a gift like no other. Most of the people in our family’s life have a lot of stuff. What more stuff can we give them that is actually useful? Giving someone the gift of food shows that you know them well enough to create a food they will enjoy, and that you took the time to make something and package it up just for them. For some of us, that will be something of a honey and homemade jelly set or some sort of other item that only comes from the hard work of a home kitchen or garden. For those of you who will be taking food to gatherings, or want to give something special, I have a few ideas for you.

Our honey ready to go.

Our honey ready to go.

This is a recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, From Scratch by Shaye Elliott.

Roasted Figs with Honey and Goat Cheese
12 figs, quartered ¾ of the way down (it makes a little basket with the bottom of the fig holding it)
1 small log of goat cheese, approximately 12 tablespoons
6 teaspoons of warm honey

Arrange the figs on a baking pan. Stuff each fig with goat cheese. Roast the figs at 425°F for about 10 minutes. Remove the figs from the oven and drizzle with honey.

This is a really simple recipe that is absolutely delicious, assuming you like the combo of flavors. It’s a little unique, but it’s an excellent finger food at a family dinner or meeting with friends. The flavor combination is reminiscent of Fall flavors and is full of warmth.

If you’re looking for a food item that is more of a gift, look no further than Peanut Brittle. Again, the same cookbook has my favorite recipe. Sometimes, it’s a little hard to find rapadura without ordering it online, but it’s worth it.

Peanut Brittle
2 tablespoons butter (unsalted works better depending on your taste)
1 cup rapadura (dehydrated whole cane sugar)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I prefer Bourbon Barrel Smoked Vanilla or Nielsen Massey)
1 cup dry-roasted peanuts
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

In a large saucepan, combine the rapadura, honey, and water. Bring to a boil and add the coconut oil and vanilla extract. Stir constantly until the candy reaches 280° on a thermometer. Add in peanuts and salt, but do not stop stirring until the candy reaches 300 degrees. Take the pan off the heat and add in baking soda. Keep stirring and pour mixture onto a greased cookie sheet. Shake the pan to spread out the candy. After it cools, break into pieces.

For those of us that are of the bee persuasion, it’s always important to use honey in our food to spread the word about the awesomeness of our skills. There are a ton of recipes out there that can cater to whatever crowd you’re trying to please, and food gifts normally don’t break the bank, but still make the recipient feel special.

2. Charity
The Winter season is full of holidays that are celebrated by a wide variety of cultures and religions. Although not everyone celebrates the same thing in the same way, the general sentiment of peace and goodwill spreads as an underlying theme to everyone. A lot of people seem to donate more money at this time of year, but maybe we should all donate our time, which is worth so much more. There are tons of options for volunteer work, and it’s also a good bonding experience for a group, whether it be family, friends, or an organization. Most bee clubs have some sort of heavy influence towards public education and interaction, so this would be the perfect time to gather as an association and teach a honey cooking or baking class. Maybe this class could be taught on a lower level to a children’s home, or at a rest home to the elderly who likely were better cooks than all of us at one point. Find some books about bees and read at a homeless shelter. Make candles for your local church (our church only uses beeswax candles). Since bees are animals, consider helping out their “animal cousins” by working at an animal shelter. This is the current top of the list for the kids to try out, so we will see if we can volunteer there without becoming animal hoarders.

3. Holiday Spirit
This is an obviously vague title, but it encompasses so much. Sometimes the festivity of the season is lost because of the stress that is involved with holiday preparations. This is the key time for a complete meltdown. Between extreme house cleaning, worrying about appearances, cooking everything perfectly, family interactions, travel, and the hazards of everyday life, anyone could feel lost for a good two months of the year. This year, I want to be able to enjoy decorations, and music, and festivities without feeling jaded or overwhelmed. Christmas music is my favorite, but along with everything else in the season, it’s become commercialized. You can’t go into a store from Halloween until New Year’s Day without hearing the newest pop version ruin a classic.

Family bonding time at Thanksgiving.

Family bonding time at Thanksgiving.

Food prep for gifts and gatherings is a good way to get in the spirit. Find your own favorite version of holiday music, light some A.I. Root candles in your favorite scent, and wrap gifts. Make your own decorations, and design them with your family. Plan some traditions unique to your friends or family. My favorite seasonal thing to do is send out personalized Christmas cards. Whatever it is that gets you in the holiday spirit, do it often and with loved ones if possible.

4. Religion
Not everyone comes from a religious background, or chooses to be religious. I’m totally fine with that. The rest of us that are religious want to shove holiday cheer down your throat and some various drama of holiday religious controversies (“did she just tell me HAPPY Christmas? That heathen!”), but often we forget why we have our holidays in the first place. Thanksgiving is cool because we get time off from work and see our families and eat a lot, but the actual being thankful part gets left out. We, as Americans (except for those of you who aren’t, of course), are a lot better off than most other countries, and we are totally ignorant of that fact. It’s funny to see a trend of #firstworldproblems on the internet because it’s so popular, without most of those people ever stopping to think of what that really means. Christmas is supposed to be celebrating the birth of Christ and Christianity, but now it looks more like a holiday to see what Christmas card is concocted by the Kardashian family.

Being festive with our favorite priests.

Being festive with our favorite priests.

I would like my family to have a more religious experience this holiday season, with a better understanding of not only their Catholic background, but of the others that are experiencing the season with different holidays. I know a base amount of knowledge about Hanukkah, for example, but not enough to feel comfortable having an intelligent conversation about it. Understanding and acceptance of other people’s beliefs will help the kids appreciate the differences in their own, while learning to respect other backgrounds.

5. Family Time
None of these things can happen without family time. We obviously see each other on a daily basis, but with the pressures of work and school it’s often a hectic mess of homework, maybe food, probably clean clothes, and has anybody fed the chickens today? The kids are growing up fast, and there’s not a lot of time left to spend with them to preserve memories. I want to be able to include them in the decisions about what makes them feel like they are making an impact on society, what kind of decorations they want to make, or what kind of food they want to make for friends and family. There’s so much focus on the stress of the season that the short window of opportunity to spend with family is lost. This year, the Louque family is going to shoot our own turkey (or three depending on how fast the boys are growing at the time), make pumpkin pie from scratch, sing songs, decorate cookies, make popcorn garlands, go caroling, roast chestnuts on an open fire, and make snowmen out of the snow that we don’t have . . . That’s the plan, anyway.

Holiday spirit with our only snowfall and Mr. Snowman.

Holiday spirit with our only snowfall and Mr. Snowman.

So there you go. Maybe all of my ideas will come to fruition, or maybe we will give in to the holiday grind and none of them will happen. If nothing else, we’ll wrap the hives in garland and wreaths and attack the bees with tiny little Santa hats and turkey feathers and say we did our job. Happy Holidays to everyone, and I wish you the best of luck in your seasonal endeavors to not get mauled, robbed, or end up in jail.