Many of us here at the inns come from very different backgrounds, and we love that, because each person brings something new to the table and makes it a very fun, diverse group to work with (I can now personally attest to this, having had a blast at my first company Christmas party last week!) It is no different with the holiday traditions that we have. The beautiful thing about this time of year is that no matter your background, you have some kind of holiday tradition that means something to you. They’re all different, but we have them in common all the same.
Stephanie, your previous fantastic blogger, was quick to answer my inquiry about her traditions with not only a thoughtful answer, but a short excerpt from her blog about it! She and her husband Jeff celebrated a pretty traditional holiday with her family, until they departed San Francisco Bay in 2005 for a long cruise in their sailboat. They spent Christmas alone, just the two of them and their dog. They anchored in a quiet bay and, though they were surrounded on all sides by dense fog, had managed to find a perfect little shaft of sunlight to take refuge in, like a Christmas gift. “We had peaceful Christmas music on, a nice meal, and we just relaxed and enjoyed the solitude and peace, giving each other the gift of time together and undivided attention,” Stephanie recalled. That first Christmas was so incredible for them, they have aimed for that same sense and feel every year since. They prepare a special brunch and dinner, and spend the day enjoying the wonders of the natural world around them and giving thanks for their blessings. “It’s now become my most favorite holiday, just because of this rare, unfettered time together,” she said.
Chef Molly hasn’t lived here very long, and fondly recalls big family gatherings on Christmas Eve at her grandmother’s house. Since her Noni passed in January, Molly is facing the first Christmas without her. But luckily she has her aunt, our own Stephanie, to spend time during the holiday with. Her mother has also started a new tradition of coming to the island for a New Year’s visit!
I wrote a bit about Anna Maria and Dave’s favorite holiday foods in a previous blog, but here I’ll share more about their tradition as a whole. On Christmas Eve, Dave’s family gathers for a traditional Slovac meal called the Velija, a 12-course epic feast that was eventually cut down to six by his parents. The meal signifies the sweetness, sourness and sweetness of life. Anna Maria participated in this tradition for almost 20 years before they moved to the islands. They even replicated it here before Coho was opened! They would arrive at Dave’s parents’s home and place their gifts under the tree, then start the evening off right with a round of Brandy Alexanders and appetizers (not exactly a part of the tradition). They shared a running family joke that the drinks were there to take the edge off one course of the dinner, which was prunes, so it was unanimously the least favorite. They would wait until the first star of the evening was sighted before sitting down to eat.
“In the center of the table, there was a single poinsettia, two large silver candlesticks, a manger, and under the table, some straw. (When we brought our black lab, he was always confused by the straw under the table since it reminded him of the farm where we lived.) At each place setting there was an oplatky – a communion-like wafer – made by a local convent with scenes of the nativity embossed on it. We lit the candles and shared the wafers around the table after a few blessings made by my father-in-law. There was always plenty of wine for toasting. We shared more readings and carols in between courses and with each bottle of wine our voices became a non-harmonious cacophony,” Anna Maria fondly recalled. They would enjoy their six courses and adjourn to the living room to open gifts and share the joy of the season.
As for me, I come from a small family – I only have a couple of cousins, and no siblings. So we didn’t have a lot of traditions. But the two I recall most tenderly both have to do with music. My mother is an extraordinarily talented musician – there isn’t much she can’t play, including the bagpipes – but she is a wonder on the piano. She’s also been a music teacher for over three decades. So, as far back as I can remember, a few days before Christmas, my grandmother, my mother and I would gather around the piano at home and sing Christmas carols together. It is something my mother and grandma took very seriously, and I always kind of rolled my eyes at it (as young children and teenagers will do), but now that we have stopped due to my grandmother’s age and now, distance, I would very much love to do it one more time. They understood that it was time that we would never get back; I, unfortunately, was too young to grasp the significance of that truth until the tradition had run its course. I particularly recall how happy it made my grandma. She had a rough, poor childhood and an unhappy marriage, and so to see her in moments of true joy was rare.
My other tradition also started with my mom. Being that I am a female who came of age in the late 90s, I was the world’s biggest *NSYNC fan (you remember them, right?). *NSYNC gave my mom and I something to bond over, and kept us close throughout my tumultuous teenage years. They released a CD of Christmas music in 1998, when I was twelve; so that year, we took to decorating the tree together with that CD playing on a loop for as long as it took us to finish. It’s something we did every year thereafter until I moved out at the age of 22. I really hope I can do that with my mom again soon. I still listen to those songs at Christmas time, and they still make me just as happy as they did 15 years ago!
So go ahead, break out your holiday traditions, whether they be with friends or family. Cherish them, and do your best to keep them alive. Because it isn’t what you receive in a box this holiday season that you’ll remember – it’s the things that were important enough to bear repeating season after season, and the people you did them with, that you’ll never forget. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Tucker House, Harrison House, and Coho!
Since the holidays are about time with family, friends, and of course, food, I thought I would share a delightful story I heard recently about our own Chef Molly. Molly just happens to be Stephanie’s niece, so we take the phrase “family affair” seriously here! We have sisters, husbands and wives, nieces, etc. all working together. Molly’s mom came to visit us not too long ago, and what did she end up doing with her vacation time but working in the kitchen with her daughter!
We received a large shipment of “grade B” plums; mostly past their prime, inconsistently sized, some with a bit of sun damage. They were red oblong plums, with speckles and red flesh. So Molly decided they would be perfect for canning, to be turned into jam. She enlisted her mom’s help to can the huge amount of fruit! “She spent the entire day in the Tucker House kitchen, making beautiful red jam for us,” said Molly. She even went to Browne’s, our local hardware store, to pick up mason jars for the jam and packed them all herself.
Molly has been using the incredible jam, thick with chunks of fruit, all throughout the winter in her vegan thumbprint cookies, as well as for filling in cakes and tarts for desserts. The jam might also be used in barbecue sauce, in the cheese plate at Coho, and in our famous breakfasts. She was kind enough to share a recipe with us! Perhaps you can start your own family tradition this holiday season and make your own winter jam.
Chef Molly’s Life-Changing Vegan Thumbprint Cookies – makes 4 dozen 3” cookies2 cup whole almonds 4 cup quick-cooking oats ¼ teaspoon finely ground sea salt
1½ cup flour, divided
1 cup canola oil
1 cup maple syrup Assorted jams of your choice (see note)
- Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicon mat.
- Pulse the almonds I a food processor until they are chopped into small pieces. It’s okay if you have a variety of sizes, just don’t grind them to almond flour. Transfer the almonds to a large bowl.
- Place the oats and salt in the food processor bowl; pulse into meal and add to the almonds.
- Add 1¼ cup of flour, reserving the remaining ¼ cup.
- Pour the canola oil into the bowl, followed by the maple syrup. (Doing it in this order, and using the same measuring cup, means that all the maple syrup will glide out effortlessly.)
- Mix with a wooden spoon until combined. If the dough seems runny, add the additional flour but keep in mind, the dough will stiffen up a bit as it sits. Allow to sit for about 15 minutes.
- Form dough into rough balls about the size of a whole walnut. The dough will be slightly wet but surprisingly not too sticky; a disher or ice cream scoop works well for this task.
- Place the balls on prepared cookie sheets; they can be fairly close together as they don’t spread much.
- Make an indentation in the top of each cookie using the back of a round quarter-teaspoon measuring spoon. Wipe the spoon clean and use it to fill the indentation with your jam of choice.
- Bake for 15 minutes, or until the cookies begin to brown slightly. Remove from oven and let cool for 15 minutes before moving to a rack to cool further; use caution as they are a bit fragile when they first come out of the oven.
Note: Chef Molly, who developed this recipe, tends to leave the almonds chunkier than more people because she likes to bite into a decent size piece of almond when eating these cookies. But you can also grind them very fine if you prefer. She also leaves some texture to the oats rather than pulsing them finely.
Our garden at the inns is hugely important to all of us – it’s like another member of the family. So this time of year, when we shut it down for the winter, is crucial – we have to make sure to take the right steps to protect it during the winter chill, without forgetting that it’s already time to prep it for spring!
I sat down with Wenda, our resident gardening guru, to find out exactly what it means to put the garden “to bed.”
“Basically, we clean up all the leaves, pull weeds, trim back everything so they won’t need cleaning up in the spring….anything that I have to divide or move, this is a good time to do it.”
Wenda also digs up all of the more tender plants and pots them for storage in the greenhouse. Finally, mulching is a huge part of the job, and one that she finds particularly satisfying.
“It looks clean and neat when you’re done with it; it’s like new carpet when you put mulch down!”
Once the garden is cleaned up, though, Wenda’s work still isn’t done – she still has a few hundred bulbs, fall blooms like tulips and daffodils that won’t bloom until spring, that must be planted now. A gardener’s work is never done in a beautiful place like San Juan Island!
Chef Molly is another member of the family to whom the garden is supremely important. We love having a farm-to-table approach as much as possible, and she can often be seen whipping up amazing sauces, jams, veggie dishes, and other culinary delights from ingredients she’s taken straight from the garden.
Hello from your newest blogger here at the inns! My name is Libby and I just relocated permanently to San Juan Island after spending three summers falling head over heels in love with it. I am very fortunate to have joined the fantastic team here at Harrison House and am so excited about sharing news about what’s going on with you!
Part of life on an island, as I am learning, is being able to “go with the flow!” A fitting term with this week’s exciting happening at the inn, as our hot water heater has decided to rebel against us – specifically the one located on the second floor of Tucker House. The inner core of the heater cracked, so none of us noticed what was happening until it was too late – the moisture building up was too much for the second floor and caved in. Three-fourths of it will have to be replaced, and water made its way all the way down to the basement, where it has formed several lovely pools!
Despite the mess, we always consider it a good thing when life hands us an opportunity to upgrade our facilities! Over the years we have steadily been replacing every water heater at the inns, so this is just another chance to do so. These historical buildings do require regular upkeep, which we are happy to do — the charm and beauty that our rooms and suites offer can’t be beat!
“People can plan life and then life happens, and it is not always what you expect. I’m grateful that it’s not August with a full house; we were able to relocate people….there are really so many pluses in this. And hey, the insurance will cover it!” pointed out Beth, our perpetually smiling guest services coordinator. Like most of us, Beth wears many hats and this week, one of them is supervising cleanup!
So, please pardon our mess as we work around the clock to get everything cleaned up and back to running in tip-top shape! We are grateful for our current guests and their flexibility – I went into the living room at Tucker House to investigate, and despite the presence of humming machinery and a large tarp over most of the floor, I spotted a couple of folks enjoying their morning coffee and paper in the warmth of our beautiful sun room. This time of year in the islands, it’s starting to get gray and chilly outside – a perfect time for you and yours to do the same!
2½ cup All-purpose flour
1½ tsp Baking powder
1 tsp Baking soda
1 tsp Finely ground sea salt
2½ cup Oats
3 cup Packed brown sugar
1½ cup European unsalted butter, softened
2 tsp Vanilla extract
2 cup Pecans, toasted and roughly chopped
2 cup Dry sour cherries, roughly chopped
½ lb Chocolate chunks
- Preheat oven to 350°. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sea salt, and oats in a medium mixing bowl.
- Cream brown sugar and butter with the paddle attachment of a standing mixer until smooth and pale in color. Add eggs and vanilla extract; mix until combined, scraping the bowl as needed to ensure the batter is evenly combined.
- Add the flour mixture in increments, mixing and scraping between. Stop when almost incorporated.
- Add the pecans, cherries, and chocolate chunks and mix until combined.
- Refrigerate dough until firm enough to handle, about 1 hour. Portion into desired size, and bake 9-12 minutes until edges are set. Err on the side of underdone as the cookies will continue to bake on the cookie sheet after being removed from oven.
Super Seed Variation: Substitute an equal volume of assorted seeds, fruits, and nuts for the pecans, cherries, and chocolate. We use chopped apricots, Craisins™, golden raisins, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, and dark chocolate. (Or whatever we have in the pantry!)
Gluten Free Variation: Substitute your favorite GF flour blend and add 1 teaspoon xanthan gum.
Suggested Do-It-Yourself GF Blend: 2 parts sweet rice flour, 1 part brown rice flour, 1 part quinoa flour, 2 parts sorghum flour, and 1 part oat flour. Make a large batch to keep in your pantry. We do not recommend including the xanthan gum as part of the GF mix, as different doughs require different amounts.
For our companion Fall cookie recipe see our blog post Chocolate Peppermint Cookies.