Maggie's Books & Recipes

in Memory of Margaret H.L. Lim

Almond-Cranberry Swirl Cinnamon-Star Cake

1 package (8 0z.) cranberries
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp Allspice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp water

Put all the above ingredients in a small pan. Cook on low heat till the cranberries pop open. Set aside to cool.

1/2 cup thinly-sliced (matchstick thickness) almonds, or chopped almonds
2 Tbsp butter

Fry the almonds in butter till lightly browned. Set aside.

1/2 Lb (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
5 medium-size eggs
2 tsps baking powder
3 cups flour ( 12 oz)
1/4 cup flour

Sugar-frosted Cinnamon Stars to decorate (or some other decorations OR you could make a template with stars etc. and sprinkle icing sugar/confectioner’s sugar on the cut-outs)

Mix the 3 cups flour with baking powder. Sift. Set aside.
Beat butter and sugar till light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the flour-baking powder mixture until smooth.
Remove about a 1/3 of this dough and put in a bowl. Add 1/4 cup flour to this portion. Stir in the cranberry sauce. Set aside.
Stir the almonds into the rest of the dough, mixing well. Pour into a 9″ round baking pan. Add the cranberry dough, fold in lightly in a twirling motion. Bake at 375 F. or 180 Celsius for 50 minutes or till baked. Let cool.
Decorate.
 
Smaklig måltid! (Swedish for Bon appétit. The tiny “o” above the “a” in “maltid” makes the “a” sound like the “o” in “blow” – Smahklig mowltid.)
 

A Tale for Cristmas

What is the Holiday Season without such enchanting timeless classics like Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol or J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan or E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Nut Cracker and the Mouse King?
Unthinkable! For these magical tales of love, hope, courage and personal conviction embody the Spirit of Christmas.

The Nutcracker – The Ballet

Who isn’t familiar with Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and the Ballet which tells the story of a little girl called Marie who receives a Nutcracker as a present from her godfather on Christmas Eve?

In this Ballet version, Marie, who has fallen asleep in the playroom she shares with her brother, wakes up to find it invaded by an army of mice under the command of the Mouse King. The Nutcracker and her brother Fritz’s toy soldiers battle the invaders and vanquish them.

The victorious Nutcracker Prince then whisks Marie off to visit his Kingdom. They pass through strange and wondrous lands and Marie gets to meet people of various nationalities who dance for her in their colourful national costumes.

Marie wakes up on Christmas Day clutching the Nutcracker. The whirlwind Grand Tour is only a dream.

Der Nussknacker und Der Mausekoenig – The Book

I have an absolutely charming 1984 Bodley Head edition of “The Nutcracker”, gorgeously illustrated by Maurice Sendak in his inimitable manner. The English translation by Ralph Manheim is delightful, capturing the wry tongue-in-cheek humour of the original.

 

In this original version of the story, a fairytale written in 1816  by the German author E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776 – 1822), the girl Marie in the end married the Nutcracker who turned out to be her godfather’s very personable nephew who was really a Prince.

This selfless young man was tasked to free a Princess who had been turned into an ugly nutcracker by the Mouse King’s mother in revenge for the death of her family and relatives, whose extermination had been ordered by the Princess’ father. While freeing the Princess from the spell, the young man accidentally stepped on the Mouse King’s mother, killing her, and was himself  transformed into a Nutcracker. The Mouse King swore vengeance for his mother’s death.

The Princess, once again a beautiful Princess, was repulsed by the monstrously ugly Nutcracker who had been promised her hand in marriage. Scorned by the Princess, hunted by the Mouse King, the Nutcracker ended up as Marie’s Christmas present.

In Marie’s playroom on the Eve of Christmas, the Nutcracker and his men were routed in battle by the mice led by their King. The Nutcracker was gravely wounded and would have been killed had Marie not saved him.

The Nutcracker finally killed the Mouse King. To celebrate his victory, the Nutcracker took Marie on a fantastic journey to his country where milk and honey flowed.

It was Marie’s steadfast love for him, despite his ugliness, that restored the Nutcracker to his original princely form. They lived happily ever after in his Marzipan Castle in Candy Town, close to Gingerbread City near Christmas Wood, not far from the Marmalade Grove, in Candy Land.

Wooden Nutcrackers

While the Free State of Thueringen in Eastern Germany maintains that the nutcrackers originated in Thuringia, the tiny Saxonian village of Seifen claims to be the main centre of production.

This region known as the Erzgebirge or “Mineral Ore Mountain Range” was mined (and still is to a lesser extent) not only primarily  for coal, but also for silver, copper, tin, cobalt and uranium. Through the years, as the mineral ore deposits became depleted, many miners were out of work. To support their families, they turned to wood carving, producing wooden toys, angels and ornaments for Christmas, and the world-famous “Nutcrackers” with their strong wooden jaws that can crack even the toughest nut.

View my collection of the “Erzgebirge Nussknacker “, some of which are hand-carved.

 

The traditional Nutcracker - a coal-miner with his axe and candle. A work of Art. Hand-carved, from the Erzgebirge or "Mineral Ore Mountain Range."

A coal-miner and his Guardian-Angel. They always come in pairs. I usually light their candles on the 4th Advent.

A baroque organ with an angel. This is a musical box with a Christmas theme.

The Nutcracker’s Battle with the Mouse King

 

Among the first to fall, Marie's hapless Teddy (left), the blue-eyed Persian cat fares no better. There are just too many mice (middle). Right:The first round belongs to the Mouse King!

 

 The Musketeers are also among the fallen. 

The battle is lost. The Nutcracker calls: "A Horse, a Horse! My Kingdom for a Horse!" just as Richard the Third did. (Shades of W. Shakespeare! This is actually in the translation by Ralph Manheim.)