During the holiday season, I love to curl up on the couch, snuggle under a cozy afghan, a steaming mug of hot cocoa by my side on the end table, and watch Christmas-themed movies.
My all-time favorite is Bing Crosby's "White Christmas." I fell in love with Bing's voice at the ripe old age of 8, when I came across an album of eight 78 rpm records (my younger readers can look that term up on Wikipedia) of Bing singing Christmas carols. I played "I'll Be Home For Christmas" over and over and over, imaging my mother playing the scratchy record during World War II as she waited for my Dad to come home. In reality, I don't know if she did -- I never asked and now I'll never know.
I can sit and watch "White Christmas" at any time of the year -- and have watched it in July -- and even though I've seen it hundreds of times and can quote almost all of the lines in the movie. I still laugh at the jokes, sing along with the actors, and yes, always cry at the end when Bing and Danny Kaye open the barn doors and it's snowing outside.
Along with "The Polar Express" and "Prancer" another of my favorite Christmas movies is "A Christmas Story." My Aunt Marion introduced it to me in the late 1980s after watching it at her stepson's house. Since then, it's become a family tradition -- OK, so maybe not a family tradition, but more my tradition, to watch as much of the annual 24-hour Christmas Eve/Christmas Day marathon.
In "A Christmas Story," Ralphie is entranced by the radio show "Little Orphan Annie" and sends away for a special message decoder ring. When he finally gets the decoder ring, he carefully decodes the special message given at the end of the show -- only to find it's a commercial for Ovaltine (another trip to Wikipedia ...).
During my high school years, I listened to two old-time radio shows, "The Shadow" and "The Lone Ranger," which the Williams College station would air from time to time.
"Wh-o-o-o knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? B-w-a-a-a, ha-a-a-a. The Shadow knows."
When I recently bought a new car, it came with a year's subscription to satellite radio. In addition to listening to hits from the 1940s to the present -- and all genres of music -- I stumbled upon a station that plays classic radio shows. With a 25-mile commute to and from work every day, I can listen to a complete show going to work and another on the way home.
It's amazing what these actors can pull off with just the tone and nuances in their voices, and a few sound effects. I've listened to George Burns and Gracie Allen (who is strongly suspect was not as dumb as her character made her seem), "Allen's Alley" (what's not to like about Mrs. Noosebaum?), "Fibber McGee and Molly" "Suspense Theatre," and numerous other shows. Life was simpler and so was the humor.
The commercials in the shows are equally entertaining. Many products were simply the sponsors like the Lux (soap) Theater or the Kraft Theatre. Other products were hawked during genuine commercial breaks. And many were part of the actual show like Burns and Allen discussing Maxwell House coffee and how good it tasted during a breakfast conversation or Reynolds aluminum foil being touted as the perfect holiday gift wrap, ornament basis and table runner.
So, taking a cue from them ... this week my recipes are brought to you by the makers of candy-coated chocolate candies (OK, they're M&Ms) who bring you these wonderful holiday recipes. Did you know they now come in gingerbread, cherry cordial, peanut butter, coconut and holiday mint? The recipe possibilities blow my mind! Gingerbread Cookies
1 1/3 cups packed brown sugar
3/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup M&Ms Gingerbread Chocolate candies
In mixing bowl, mix the brown sugar, margarine, vanilla and eggs until well blended. Stir in the remaining ingredients.
Drop the dough by rounded tablespoonfuls, about 3 inches apart, onto greased cookie sheet. Press 3 or 4 additional M&Ms in each cookie if desired.
Bake 1o to 12 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven until light brown. Cool slightly, remove to wire rack.
Layered Holiday Brownies
1 box brownie mix (for 9x13-inch pan)
1 bag M&Ms milk chocolate candies
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional: 1 1/2 cups whipped cream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Prepare the brownie mix according to directions and spoon batter into 9x13-inch pan, spreading evenly. Cover batter with 1 cup of the M&Ms.
In another mixing bowl, thoroughly beat the cream cheese with the sugar. Slowly add the heavy cream, eggs and vanilla. Blend mixture until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl several times.
Evenly spoon the cream cheese mixture over the brownie batter and bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick into the center of the pan comes out almost clean. Remove and cool completely.
Just before serving top with whipped cream if desired and decorate with more M&Ms.
Margaret Button is the city editor of the North Adams Transcript. Send recipes for inclusion in future columns to the North Adams Transcript, 85 Main St., Suite 2, North Adams, Mass. 01247 or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.