Sweet Heat: Our only Holiday Tradition

Sweet Heat/Kelli’s Retro Kitchen Arts

We are serious non-traditionalists when it comes to the holiday season. Top Girl’s dad and I are divorced. My husband’s parents are divorced – his mother is deceased now, but wasn’t when we married. Obviously my step-son’s parents are divorced. Top Girl is married with a 3rd family to consider especially with Rocket being here now, Lawyer Boy is married to Minnie Mouse with a 3rd family to consider as well, and Wonder Boy – well, we never really know what’s going on with him!

When we married, Mr. Picky-eater started talking about Thanksgiving and Christmas in the summer and trying to explain the complicated and very intricate holiday schedule the boys followed. Sounded like a whole lot of pressure on two teenage boys that was unnecessary. Top Girl and I had been non-traditional for a long time and there was no way I was going back to a stressful, pressure-filled 2 month period where I was unable to make anyone within a 200-mile radius happy. So, about Labor Day weekend (first weekend in September) I sat husband and kids down and told them how it would be: Thanksgiving Day – lunch would be served at 11:30 AM and it would be a traditional meal with both mothers here. If they were here and out of bed, they could eat with us but if not – no big deal – come when and if you can, eat what you want and watch football. If you didn’t make it there would be no passive-aggressive remarks or guilty comments. Period. Christmas Eve, once again reserved for the mothers for church going, present opening, lasagna eating, and Christmas light viewing – with a peppermint malt of course. Christmas Day was reserved for Mr. Picky-eater and I alone to sleep late, eat cold lasagna, open our own presents and do nothing. Any day within two weeks of Christmas that all 3 kids could get here would be just fine and that holiday celebration would include: presents, take-out food only, and listening to what the kids have planned for the next year. No muss, no fuss, no arguments, and no debate – I laid down the law.

From the left: Lawyer Boy, Mr. Picky-eater, Son-in-Law, Top Girl in our 2011 Tribute to Christmas Vacation (TG would want you to know she was very pregnant here). We took it on Thanksgiving.

Husband was shocked and thrilled, Top Girl was non-plussed, and the boys and our (especially mine) mothers didn’t believe it. Nine years later, mother has finally accepted that her time is Christmas Eve – and the kids love our holidays so much, they want to be here all the time during the season. There’s too much pressure elsewhere. Not here!

I do make some very traditional dishes during the season and to do that, I need to make my nana’s vanilla as well as some of my own. It’s takes at least a month to make it so I generally start in mid-October in order to get it done on time but I have done it at last as November 23rd. I use spiced rum instead of vodka for both kinds of my vanilla extract. It’s just a preference but you may want to use vodka. We also like sweet heat so one of my bottles is going to be spicy vanilla. Remember back when it was “hip” to put chilies in dessert dishes? My dad was from New Mexico before it was even a state so sweet heat has been a part of our holiday celebrations my entire life. Dad taught me to not put the chilies in the dish, which can give it a texture that I don’t care for – instead – he showed me how to make spicy vanilla extract . This gave the dish a subtle taste of warm and spicy instead of jumping out and biting you each time you got a bit of chile in your bite. I have no idea if this is widely used or common or if we are the only ones on the face of the earth that do it, but it’s good to us so I thought I would share it with you.

Spicy Vanilla Extract

Wait till the hot jalapenos turn red on the vine and pick a pretty good sized one. You need to buy two nice plump vanilla beans. Split the beans and julienne the pepper like this:

Sweet Heat/Kelli’s Retro Kitchen Arts

I use an old hot sauce bottle that’s been put through the dishwasher and then put the pepper and bean in the bottle like this:

Sweet Heat/Kelli’s Retro Kitchen Arts

Using a funnel, pour the spiced rum (or vodka) into the bottle, 6-8 ounces, and give it a good shake so it will look like this:

Sweet Heat/Kelli’s Retro Kitchen Arts

For the next month I will store in a dark cool place and give it a shake daily. On or about December 23rd, I will strain the whole shebang through a cheese cloth, cleaning out the bottle once again and pour back into the bottle. I have always stored in the fridge. . By the New Year, it will be all gone and I’ll wait till next year to make some more. Tell me, what Holiday Traditions do you have?

Sweet Heat/Kelli’s Retro Kitchen Arts

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  1. says

    Trying to keep up with everyone else’s holiday traditions! :-) I gave them up a long time ago so I could just remain sane through those two months… although I have to tell you I’m not sure it helps much. Perhaps if I got a few holiday traditions of my own I wouldn’t have time for others and I’d have a little more order in my life. Thanks for a great post! :-)

  2. says

    That is a great idea. After all the elderly relatives died things settled down in my family and we are very relaxed during the hollidays. I am going to try your vanilla because I make crackers and that would give them the right heat. Love your blog.

  3. says

    Wow reading about your family had my head in knots – trying to keep up with everyone and their traditions seems insane 😀
    But that’s what makes it so awesome – mixing them all together :)
    Wonderful post!

    Choc Chip Uru

    • says

      Thank you —on both counts. I thought it was time to change it up a bit so Top Girl got to work for me! What would I do without her? I love a little heat and this is just wonderful! I bet you could figure out some wonderful boozy infusion (that is, if you haven’t already) to make with vanilla and peppers!

      • says

        I have done a sweet/spicy infusion but haven’t posted it yet… But it didn’t have vanilla in it. I will have to try that too, sounds really interesting!

  4. says

    I love the holidays. The last couple of holidays I have been overseas and it certainly is not the same. In my family, we kind of build our traditions as we go. Kind of hip pocketty, for lack of a better word. It almost doesn’t matter though. We always have a lot of fun and just enjoy each other. Thanks for sharing your tradition. :)

    • says

      Being away from home puts things into perspective though, doesn’t it? I remember once I was away from home and alone knowing no one on Thanksgiving – I went to a local church and helped serve dinner to others. If I hadn’t done that, it would have been a very lonely time! Hope you get to come home this year!

      • says

        Unfortunately I will not be able to come home this year. I am foregoing Christmas so I can come home in January for my 1/2 marathon. You are right when it comes to perspective. My children are grown now, but I try to treat everyday like Christmas for them. I tried to teach them that you don’t have to wait for Christmas to celebrate. It can get a bit lonely sometimes, but the people that I work with make life a bit easier. It is my family away from home.

    • says

      Thanks for dropping by! Yes, it is pretty darn cool – and looking great each day that I give it a shake! : ) I will post pictures of the finished products on October 12 or so….


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