THE DECEMBER SOLSTICE, when the northern hemisphere is dark and cold – what could be better than a holiday full of light and good cheer? A lit and ornamented Christmas tree, the candles of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, Diwali’s Festival of Lights, and Eid, when the lunar calendar aligns, all bring light to the darkness of winter. Paper Lantern Writers offers our good cheer in holiday guides to download for free, available until January 6 (Twelfth Night). This year’s two treats: a Gift Guide and Beverages Now & Then, historical holiday drink recipes. Plus appetizer and dessert recipes from years past. Each of us had something to say about what we chose.
Fanny Newcomb and the Irish Channel Ripper is set in Gilded Age New Orleans. Mention New Orleans and people squeal “Beignets!” While I love a plate of powdered-sugar-coated beignets with my café au lait, when I think of New Orleans food, I think “Pralines!” Creamy, pecany, and portable, any type of praline makes me happy. And they’re easier to eat than beignets while walking around the French Quarter. Pralines are a Gift Guide choice. Fun fact: I learned the New Orleans-favored word lagniappe (a little something extra) when I purchased twelve pralines and the shop owner put an extra praline in my bag.
In our Gift Guide, a silver Celtic horse-head pendant seems a delightful gift to pair with a book that follows the adventures of a young, mounted archer in Medieval Ireland as she navigates the complexities of her volatile society. Archer’s Grace is Book One of the Dahlquin Series – the protagonist’s spiritual quest for understanding. Anything is possible in the saddle if you are willing to be your own hero.
Like most people, I dreamed of writing a book one day. However, it wasn’t until I read about some compelling but mostly forgotten historical events that I truly became inspired to take action and write about forgotten heroes and heroines of the past. This year saw publication of both my short story, “Joanna’s Choice,” and my first novel, Token of Betrayal. As a Gift Guide pairing, I selected a purple orchid pillow. I feature the orchid in my books because they grow wild on the Isle of Jersey.
If you need a gift for the person reading The Boxer and the Blacksmith and imagining stepping into the ring, a muscle massager might help with aches and pains as they relive Bess Abbott’s training regimes. A Lady’s Revenge, the first of my Regency series about lady boxers and others in nineteenth-century London, is paired in our Gift Guide with a soothing candle that says “I see your effort.” If the reader is ready to party with characters in A Lady’s Finder, a romantic comedy set in the mollyhouses of London featuring Regency drag queens, consider the incredible fake eyelashes for any over-the-top activity.
Growing up in rural Idaho, I didn’t consume fancy drinks. On camping trips we sometimes made homemade root beer. At weddings, we enjoyed frappé—pink punch with sherbet—served in glass cups hanging from the punch bowl. I’d read about eggnog and longed to try it. When a non-alcoholic recipe appeared in Mormon Country Cooking, a gift from my mom to her newlywed daughter, I eagerly whipped up a batch. I’ve included eggnog in our free Beverages Now & Then. Even without the rum, it was love at first sip. Perhaps a match with my story, “A Happy Heart,” in Paper Lantern Writers’ Unlocked anthology.
When my husband and I visit Hawaii, we look for a Honolulu Cookie Company Store. Their chocolate-dipped shortbread cookies: addictive. On one visit, the store was on the hotel grounds. Every night we bought cookies to take home. None of them made it home. My favorite flavor: chocolate Kona coffee. And there’s holiday flavors. In my book Under the Almond Trees, almonds are never far from the table. The novel is based on my female ancestors and my family’s almond orchard in Hayward, California. On my website, I have an amazing recipe for almond cake, but the Gift Guide suggests an easy box-mix cake.
The gift I chose for the Gift Guide, associated with my book, Blind Tribute, was a quill pen, because the protagonist, journalist Harry Wentworth, has used quill pens all his life, even long after fountain pens were de rigueur. Likewise, my choice of peach brandy in our free Beverages Now & Then recipe collection was because after Harry takes possession of an abandoned plantation house in the book, he finds a barrel of said beverage and it takes the place of his more usual bourbon whiskey for a time.
Festive food—sometimes any food—was in short supply 2500 years ago. The wedding in Judging Noa: a Fight for Women’s Rights in the Turmoil of the Exodus features pita bread, roasted onions, dried grapes, date-honey cakes, and barley beer. Fast forwarding a few millennia, my choice for our Gift Guide is babka, a coffee cake made with sweet yeast dough marbled with thin layers of chocolate. Mmmm. In our Beverages Now & Then, the recipe for barley beer is too hard to make; mulled pear with ginger and cardamom is much more delicious, with or without the rum.
In 1660 Spain, Juliana of The Lines Between Us keeps a diary that is discovered three hundred years later. This might inspire your gift recipient to record her own thoughts and desires. So, in our free Gift Guide, I have chosen to pair the book with a notebook in colors that go nicely with the novel’s cover. My historic recipe in our beverage recipes is a hot chocolate that Juliana might have indulged in. Why not download and print out recipes from Beverages Now & Then and add that to your gift?
Judging Noa: a Fight for Women’s Rights in the Turmoil of the Exodus is Michal Strutin’s debut novel. She is now working on a mystery series set in the Late Renaissance. Michal’s award-winning nonfiction focuses on natural and cultural history and travel. Her eight nonfiction books include Places of Grace: the Natural Landscapes of the American Midwest with photographer Gary Irving; Discovering Natural Israel, a high-spirited discovery of flora, fauna, and people; Florida State Parks: a Complete Recreation Guide; and History Hikes of the Smokies.