;The holiday season is here — every year it sneaks up on me. I am always two steps behind: the leaves aren’t even raked and Thanksgiving is upon me, and suddenly frost is creeping along the edges of the leaves in the yard and my inbox is filled with retailers sending me gift ideas for family and friends. They promise me that, should I just buy what a store is selling, I will not only fulfill the deepest dreams of those I love with the perfect gift, but suddenly have all the time in the world to devote to a picture-perfect holiday full of quiet evenings beside a crackling fire, delightful parties with sparkling cocktails, sparkling sweaters and a home decorated to the nines.
None of that ever happens.
Instead, I find myself two weeks from Christmas, staring bleary-eyed at a stack of unwritten Christmas cards while I contemplate my morning coffee, a neurotic online search to find the perfect gift for everyone on my list, and the knowledge that if I did, in fact, decorate a tree and drape swags of greenery around my home, the cats would likely bring the tree crashing down and eat the greenery, leaving little soggy bits for me to find with my bare feet.
Every year I resolve to send out boxes of cookies and baked deliciousness to my family and friends across the country, and (like my holiday cards) every year actually DOING that gets lost in the mad rush of everything else until the weekend before the holiday — too late to do anything but feel mildly guilty and make one batch of cookies, which I then eat myself.
This year, I have vowed that it will be different. This year, I am prepared. I’ve got the mini-loaf pans lined up on the counter, including the pretty pans for gifting I bought two years ago and never used. I have jars washed and ready for caramel sauce, I have a cabinet full of ingredients. I even have gift bags and a stack of homemade gift tags waiting.
I decided to start with some mini-loaves of pumpkin bread and found a recipe online at food.com for spiced pumpkin bread that turned out to be delicious and fairly easy to make.
Start by mixing 3 cups sugar with 1 cup vegetable or canola oil. Once that’s mixed, add 3 eggs and 1 (15 ounce) can of pumpkin. Mix together 3 cups flour, 1 teaspoon ground cloves, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1 teaspoon baking soda, a pinch of salt and 1 teaspoon baking powder. You can do this is a separate bowl or, my method (which saves washing a bowl) is to dump the flour on top of the wet ingredients, add the spices, soda, salt and baking powder and lightly mix them together before stirring them into the batter below. Stir everything with a whisk to get out any lumps. The original recipe calls for 1 cup chopped walnuts, but I left these out because I like a more cake-like texture. If you want a chunkier break, I imagine that adding nuts, or even dried cranberries, would be tasty.
Divide the batter into 4 mini-loaf pans and cook 45 minutes to an hour at 350 degrees, or divide into 2 larger pans and increase the baking time accordingly. The loaves are done when the tops are lightly brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
It may not be an evening in front of a fire with the snow softly falling outside while children serenade Christmas carols outside my door, but I find that a couple hours in the kitchen, using my hands to make something delicious for the people I love can be the perfect antidote to the rush of the season.
As a special gift to you, dear reader, I’ve also created an illustrated recipe card for this pumpkin bread that you can download and print at yakimaherald.com. (Scroll down the page to see the document viewer, including a link to a printable version of the card.)
• Fresh is a photo/food column by Yakima Herald-Republic photographer Sara Gettys. Contact her at email@example.com.