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Holiday stress getting to you? Think how the trees feel

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Well, the holidays are here and you know you're not going to go skip town or hide in your closet, so it's best to deal with them. Besides, if you look upon everything with the right perspective, it can be a very nice time of the year.

Christmas trees probably don't like the season very much either or maybe they accept the yearly slaughter with a Zen-like resignation. In any case, the tradition of Christmas trees came to the U.S. in the mid-1800s, and some people say the practice hopped the pond from England, when Prince Albert, the German husband of Queen Victoria, brought a Christmas tree into one of their palaces.

There are dozens of trees to chose from, everything from the Colorado Blue Spruce, Concolor Fir, Deodora Cedar, Noble Fir, Scotch Pine, Balsam Fir, Virginia Pine, Leyland Cypress, Bornmueller Spruce, Silver Tip, Viking Pine and something called a Fralsam. The tree that many folks in the Northeast buy is the Scotch Pine, which, as it is grown in this country expressly for producing Christmas trees, you don't have to feel too guilty about. It keeps its leaves a long time and can bear a lot of ornaments. White pine is also popular. It holds onto its needles pretty well also, though they're a little dense for large ornaments, and don't have much of a smell -- this may be good for people with allergies.

Norway spruce, another introduced species, has a good color but sheds needles unless it's kept well-watered.

There are of course many ways to get a tree - you can buy one from any number of nurseries or other outlets, you can go upstate and cut your own or you can order them by mail. Just make sure they're right for the Queens climate. Contact the National Christmas Tree Association on the Web (did you think for a moment there wouldn't be a website for Christmas trees?) at www.realchristmastress.org, or call them toll-free at 1-800-327-8401.

To make sure a tree is reasonably fresh, buy it in the daytime so you can see what it really looks like. If the needles easily come off, don't buy it. Some dealers have been known to have trees cut down weeks in advance and then stick them in the fridge before putting them up for sale.

Of course, you can always buy an artificial tree. You can check out Frank's, Harrow's or Treasure Island. They cost more than real trees but they last considerably longer, and they're safer against fires.

Before you put up Christmas lights around your windows and eaves make sure that the lights are working, that they're specifically outdoor lights, and use special light clips, not the staple gun. Staple guns make for ugliness, and they might perforate a wire, which is dangerous. Before you hang lights on your tree, make sure they work too, and that the wires aren't frayed. Make sure both sets of lights are UL inspected.

As for food, you should have ordered your food from Swiss Colony, Figi's, Zabar's, Dean and Delucca's or other catalogues so you wouldn't have to cook. They have everything from smoked salmon and hams to peanut brittle and cherry cordials and those tacky but delicious cheese spreads and yummy yule logs and batons of salami. Even Williams Sonoma is getting into shipping some serious food, including a tiramasu cake for $42, truffles (not just the candy but those fungi dug up by pigs in France), smoked peppered beef tenderloin for $119, and Daniel Boulud's Private Stock caviar, which is outrageously expensive.

But if you must cook, here's a recipe for Holiday Spice Cookies:

1 cup softened sweet butter

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 cup of white sugar

2 large eggs

4 cups of all purpose flour

2 tsps baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg (ground of course)

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/2 tsp salt

2-3 tbsp heavy cream

Mix the butter and sugars by electric mixer a little at a time in a bowl till it's light and fluffy. Then add the eggs one at a time. Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt in a bowl and add to the butter mix. Add enough cream to form a dough. Divide in half, form each half in a ball and then put on a sheet of waxed paper. Mash them into disks and wrap them in waxed paper and stick in the fridge for at least two hours or overnight.

When you're ready to cook, reheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Let the chilled dough soften at room temperature for five to ten minutes, then roll it out between sheets of lightly floured wax paper to about 1/8 inch thick and then cut it out with cookie cutters dipped in flour. Arrange the cookies 1 inch apart on the baking sheets. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes or until firm. Cool them for five minutes on the sheets then put them on the cooling racks.

Icing recipe

1 lb. confectioner's sugar

2 large egg whites

Food coloring (optional)

For the icing, combine the confectioner's sugar and egg white in an electric mixer and beat on low spread until the sugar is moistened. Increase speed to high and beat for five minutes or until it forms stiff peaks. Put in coloring if you want, cram into pastry bags with plain tips, and then decorate the cookies.

Posted 7:16 pm, October 10, 2011
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