One of the best things about the holiday season is the music. Upbeat, light-hearted yet sentimental tunes ring across shopping malls, blast from every radio station, and accompany every commercial from Thanksgiving to Christmas, permeating our brains and injecting into our consciences the message that our holidays just won’t be right if we don’t buy this, that and the other thing for our loved ones. So we dash to the store, sleigh bells jingling in our ears at top decibel level so we can’t hear the voice of reason, asking us if we really need to spend so much money on the red and green onesie for Karl, or the porcelain nutcracker for Jemima…
Despite the sinister motives of stores and radio stations playing Christmas music this season, I can’t help but be swept up in the cheer and delight of a favorite holiday song. Even though I don’t celebrate Christmas, it’s almost impossible not to enjoy much of the music. (Sometimes I wonder if it’s laced with subliminal codes, hypnotizing us all into splurging during the single most profitable month for business across the country.) But like it or not, I’m under the spell! My Jewish family roll their eyes indulgently as I crank up Michael Bublé’s Christmas crooning, and periodically skip through the house belting out “Feliz Navidad” at the top of my lungs. Hey, it sure beats the “Dreidel song,” as far as I’m concerned.
And I’m not the only one swept up in the monsoon of holiday music. All the divisions of my school’s music program have winter concerts around this time, at which gifts are sold to benefit the music program. I play violin in the orchestra, and our concert took place just this last week. Not all the music we played was “holiday themed,” but as per age-old tradition, the grand finale was a recital of an orchestral arrangement of Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride.” Not sure why that one is a tradition here in SoCal, where Santa comes to ride some waves when he’s done dashing through the snow.
SoCal’s Winter Wonderland
But regardless of the song’s relevance to our school’s location, it has taken its place as one of the many things that make our orchestra a community. Each year, we all share a bonding experience of laughing to bust our guts while simultaneously cringing in embarrassment as the song is fairly butchered by audience volunteers, chosen by lottery, who get to
ruin everything conduct the orchestra and play the percussion to make the “whip” sound. I.e., aimlessly wave a stick in the air and distract the students; and make snapping noises with a thingamabob they never figure out how to use properly, respectively. But who cares? It’s always fun to watch from the audience as the students onstage tolerate this madness. And whoever is picked to be conductor becomes the celebrity of the night.
This year, both lottery winners were higher-level orchestra students. You’d think this would make for a somewhat professional approach, refined conducting skills, and proper timing with the whip, right? Wrong. I think the students were in a conspiracy to make us all laugh until we busted our guts. The conductor seemed professional, all right: he was a professional comedian. He danced on the podium like a circus performer after a vanilla latte, conducting like he was sewing an extra-large sweater and smiling like the paparazzi were on his tail. The student playing the whip played the whip quite well…just not really at the appropriate moments in the music. Ah, well. Everyone in the audience was laughing and shaking their heads, and in that moment I knew that this quirky little tradition is a powerful force in the orchestra community, bringing us together, making us love the orchestra program and connecting us all as a family of orchestra people. This is one of the most valuable types of holiday traditions: the type that reflects the people. It’s not about presents, or money. It’s not even about the guy in the reindeer mask that brayed like a donkey on his trumpet. It’s truly about warmth and family connections during the cold, bleak part of the year. And music is one of the ways we remind ourselves of these ideals. Even if that music happens to be a little crazy.
In the song “Sleigh Ride,” these holiday ideals are mentioned as the lyrics describe one of the “wonderful things we remember all through our lives:” a Christmas party where coffee and pumpkin pie are served. Now, it’s implied that the wonderful, significant memory comes from something a little more profound than a cup of coffee and a slice of pie. But we all know pie is truly central to the holiday spirit! Just as central as holiday ads and music with irritating jingly bells.
Seriously, it’s these little things that can bring us together in a big way, if we make them significant on a deeper level. If we use the highly commercialized holiday season as an opportunity to spend quality time with our loved ones, we will truly experience the warmth of the moment. Something as simple as a family meal can be an opportunity to bring us together (and to finally make use of those red and green placemats purchased on a whim last December.)
What’s for dessert? Why, a pie to share of course. Pumpkin pie was too cliché for me, so I tried making a no-bake chocolate fudge pie with a pumpkin layer in honor of the season. Personally, I think the chocolate layer was much better than the pumpkin; I wish that pumpkin flavor could have been brought out more. However, it still tasted good, especially when sandwiched between a delectable chocolate cookie crust and an upper layer of cool, smooth chocolate. The pie was just sweet enough, and the intense chocolate flavor really came out as opposed to the generic sugar taste of many mainstream holiday desserts. Try serving this to your family, and bond over pie and coffee for a meaningful holiday season! (You can also listen to jingly bell music if that’s how you roll.) Enjoy!
Pumpkin & Chocolate Cookie Pie
makes one pie
chocolate cookie crust
- 24 Oreo-esque chocolate sandwich cookies (I used 365 brand from Whole Foods Market)
- 1/4 cup Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter
- 7 oz firm tofu
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 tbl brown sugar
- tiny pinch salt
- 1 tbl nonfat milk
- 3/4 cup pure pumpkin puree
- generous dash cinnamon
- semi-generous dash nutmeg
- little pinch of ginger
- 7 oz firm tofu
- 1 tbl unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tbl nonfat milk
- 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 tbl Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter
- 1 1/2 tbl organic pure maple syrup
Line a 9″ cake pan or pie pan with aluminum foil.
For crust: Crush your chocolate cookies in the best way you can. For the real go-getters among us, this might mean hauling out the food processor and crunching away. For the lazier ones (like me) this can consist of dumping all the cookies in a bowl and slowly but steadily crushing them with your bare hands.
Whenever you get through with that task, melt the chocolate hazelnut butter. Pour into bowl of crushed cookies and mix until you have a sticky, crunchy, delicious cookie mess.
Spread crunched cookies evenly across prepared pan, covering the whole bottom of the pan and pressing some cookies against the sides.
Chill crust in the fridge for 40 minutes.
For filling: First, make the pumpkin layer. Chop firm tofu roughly for easier blending. Place into blender with other pumpkin filling ingredients. Puree until smooth.
Pour the pumpkin filling into the cookie crust, and spread it with a spoon so it reaches all edges of the pan. Return to the fridge for another 20 minutes while you whip up the chocolate filling!
For the chocolate filling, first melt the semisweet chocolate chips. Then, do just the same as you did with the pumpkin filling: chop the 7 ounces of tofu, puree in blender with the other chocolate filling ingredients, and pour over pumpkin filling. Spread this as well to reach all edges of the pan (a small amount of mixing with the pumpkin filling is okay.)
Return to the fridge yet again to chill until firm. The longer it stays in the fridge, the firmer and better this pie gets!
1. Prepare crust
2. Add pumpkin layer
4. Chill as long as you can resist those chocolatey temptations… then chow down!
Shopping cart image from: http://cartrescuer.com/blog/2013/09/24/ensure-your-ecommerce-site-snags-holiday-shoppers/
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