We have a house full of music lovers. The two younger members of the family are musicians. Sophie plays bassoon, saxophone and guitar. Brazos is a percussionist. Their parents are not musicians, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job of passing some of our musical tastes on to them. I was in the car with the kids one day earlier this week, and Brazos asked me to turn up the volume on the radio. Over our conversation, he had heard the first few notes to “I Melt with You,” by Modern English. This is one of the songs I play pretty consistently — loudly — when I’m trying to get the kids out of bed during the week. In the car, Sophie complained that she did not like the song but soon found herself singing along, as we all did.
(If you don’t recall that song, it was featured in the 1983 film “Valley Girl,” a film that capitalized on the popularity of the Frank Zappa song by the same name that was released in 1982. “Valley Girl” was known for being the first starring role for a young Nicolas Cage.)
Once it hits this time of year, our love for music intensifies. Starting the day after Thanksgiving — the day we get boxes (and boxes!) of decorations out of the attic and begin the decorating process — we listen to Christmas music a lot in our house. The Charles Brown holiday channel on Pandora is one of our go-to sources for holiday music, and we have a pretty good collection of Christmas music on vinyl.
On my computer, however, is where we have the really cool playlists, compilations that date back to at least 2008. Every November, I start working on a new playlist. I look through our Christmas music CDs, peruse our records and visit the Crouch Fine Arts Library on the third floor of Moody Memorial Library on the Baylor campus. When I finally choose 20 or so tunes, I then burn a bunch of CDs with that year’s collection. (Yes, I put them on CDs, though that tradition may be coming to an end. Next year, I might revert to a Spotify playlist.)
And while some of the songs that I pick for the list might be traditional holiday songs, they’re not the versions heard on radio stations at Christmas. A haunting version of “Jingle Bells” by Crash Test Dummies was one of my favorites from 2012. I’ve included an instrumental version of “O Holy Night” by New Orleans musician Trombone Shorty and Twisted Sister’s take on “Deck the Halls.” And there have been many selections from Ray Charles, Annie Lennox, Dean Martin and Otis Redding over the years.
I use CDs because of one our family’s favorite holiday traditions. Every Christmas Eve morning, we visit a few friends and drop off a plastic zipper bag of frozen sausage bread and a CD of Christmas music. Lots of folks we visit tell us they bake the bread Christmas morning and play the music as they open presents.
I totally stole the idea of a new Christmas playlist every year from my online friend Mike Harris. He’s managing editor of The Athletic, a quality, subscription-based website devoted to coverage of college and professional sports, and was previously at Sports Illustrated. Mike is also one of the moderators of the website SportsJournalists.com, which is where I met him. For years, he would post a message around Thanksgiving that he was making a new playlist and if we wanted it on a CD, just send him an address and he would drop one in the mail. I still have all the CDs that Harris created and sent out, and he introduced me to many new artists and holiday songs. He stopped making CDs a couple of years ago and now posts his playlists on Spotify.
Since there are many recipes for sausage bread floating around on the internet, we’re not going to include it here. If you conduct a search, you’ll find in the results picnic sausage bread, Italian sausage bread, breakfast sausage bread. They’re all pretty much the same. Brown some bulk Italian sausage, drain and spread evenly over some dough. Sprinkle with cheese, roll and bake.
We make a dozen or so batches of sausage bread every year, usually starting the week before Christmas. To give as gifts, we freeze the sausage bread before baking, then take it out of the freezer, let it soften just a little and slice into rounds. We package the rounds into plastic bags and then put back in the freezer until right before we leave the house on Christmas Eve morning to make our deliveries.
Here are some other food and drink ideas that would make good gifts this holiday season.
You can bake up a bunch of pretzels and package them with a jar of homemade mustard or make a couple of batches of candy. Or, sure to please those who have family coming for an extended visit over the holidays, put together the makings of a few cocktails. Most liquor stores sell small 50-milliliter bottles of name brand whiskey, gin, tequila and other spirits. (The cocktail combinations are also good when you need a little something to give to a party host. And it might be more appreciated than just another bottle of wine.)
- 1 cup pecans, chopped
- 1 cup salted butter
- 1 cup brown sugar, packed
- 14-16 ounces quality chocolate bars (dark or milk chocolate, or a combination of both)
In a lightly greased 13-by-10 jelly roll pan, sprinkle the chopped pecans in an even layer. Set aside.
In a heavy saucepan set over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Then add the brown sugar and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and continue boiling for another 12 minutes. Pour the sugar mixture over the chopped pecans. Then, working quickly, spread in an even layer. Add the chocolate bars on top while the sugar mixture is still hot. Let the chocolate sit for a minute or two, then use a spatula to spread the chocolate in an even layer until smooth.
Let the toffee cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour. When ready to serve, remove from the refrigerator and break into bite-size pieces.
Makes about 12 servings.
For the dough:
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package) instant yeast
- 1 cup warm water
For the topping:
- 1 cup boiling water
- 2 tablespoons baking soda
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- Coarse, kosher or pretzel salt, optional
In a large bowl, add the flour, salt, sugar, yeast and water. Mix until well-combined. Knead the dough, by hand for about 5 minutes, until it is soft and smooth. Return the dough to the bowl, cover and let sit in a warm place until doubled, about 30-45 minutes.
In a shallow bowl, add the boiling water and baking soda. Stir the mixture until the baking soda is dissolved. Set aside to cool.
Heat the oven to 475 F. Line a sheet pan with parchment and lightly spray the parchment paper with nonstick spray. Set aside.
When ready to shape the dough, lightly spray a clean work surface. Scrape the dough out and divide into 8 equal pieces. Let the dough rest for about
5 minutes uncovered. Then roll each piece into a long thin rope, about 25-30 inches long. To shape the pretzels, crisscross the ends of the dough rope, then overlap the ends in the center of the rope.
Pick the pretzel up and dip it into the water-baking soda mixture, making sure to coat both sides of the pretzel well. Place the pretzel on the sheet pan. Continue until all pretzels are shaped and dipped.
Let the pretzels sit for 10 minutes before baking. Bake for 8-9 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and brush with butter and sprinkle with salt. Serve while still warm or they can be reheated in the microwave for 15-20 seconds. Serve with Garlic Dijon Mustard [recipe follows], if desired.
Makes 8 pretzels.
Garlic Dijon Mustard
- 8 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 jar (8 ounces) Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
Heat the oven to 350 F. Place the whole cloves of garlic in a piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle the olive oil on top of the garlic. Roast in the oven until the garlic is tender, about 30 minutes.
While the garlic is roasting, combine the mustard and herbs. Mix well. Set aside.
When the garlic is soft, remove from the oven. Peel the garlic and remove any hard parts from the cloves. Mash the garlic and add to the mustard. Mix well.
Pour the mustard into jars and refrigerate. (The mustard can be used as a replacement for yellow mustard on sandwiches.)
Makes 1 cup.
- 1 can (12 ounces) Fresca or grapefruit soda
- 1 bottle (50 milliliters) tequila
- Lime, cut into wedges
Rim a highball glass with salt (if desired) then fill with ice. Pour the soda and tequila over the ice. Garnish with a lime slice and serve.
Makes 1 drink.
- 1 bottle (50 milliliter) bourbon
- 1 bottle (50 milliliter) coffee liqueur
- 2-3 drops orange bitters
- Orange peel strip
Pour the bourbon and coffee liqueur into a mixing glass filled with ice. Add the orange bitters. Stir until cold. Strain and pour into a highball glass. Twist the orange peel over the drink, then drop it into the glass, and serve.
Makes 1 drink.
- 1 bottle (50 milliliters) gin
- 6 ounces ginger ale
Fill a highball glass with ice. Pour the gin over the ice and top with ginger ale. Squeeze lime juice over and serve.
Makes 1 drink.
- Lime wedge
- Fresh mint leaves
- 1 bottle (50 milliliters) whiskey
- 6 ounces ginger beer
In a highball glass, muddle the lime wedge and 3 or 4 mint leaves. Add ice, then whiskey. Top with ginger beer. Garnish with more mint leaves, if desired, and serve.
Makes 1 drink
Fireball Hot Chocolate
- 1 envelope hot chocolate mix
- 1 bottle (50 milliliters) cinnamon whiskey
- Whipped cream
Mix the hot chocolate according to the package directions. Add the cinnamon whiskey; stir to combine. Heat until desired temperature. Pour into a mug, top with whipped cream, and serve.
Makes 1 drink.