My current work in progress:

Seaforth designed by Alice Starmore, knit in British Breeds 5-ply Guernsey Wool on US 3 needles.


The WendyKnits Guide to Surviving the Holidays

Two words: lowered expectations.

Once upon a time, I was very gung ho about doing everything “right” for the holidays. Christmas cards written and sent in early December, gifts wrapped perfectly, tree and decorations up, many varieties of cookies baked, etc.

Several years ago, I stopped obsessing about holiday preparations and just did what I felt like doing. Basically, I took the pressure off myself.

This year, no cookies have been baked. In recent years I’ve only made cookies to bring to the office holiday party, and the only reason I did that was because our office director (who recently retired) planned the party and I participated out of respect for her. I’ll not be going to the office party this year (it’s tomorrow) — I’ve got a fair amount of work I need to complete this week and don’t want to waste the time.

No decorations this year. I’ve got a fake tree but since I got a new tv and stand a few months ago, have no place to put said tree, so it will stay in the closet.

I did manage to wrap the gifts yesterday. So now I’m all set for the holidays.

This may not work for you but it sure as heck does for me. If something feels more like a chore than fun, I simply don’t do it.

In direct opposition to that, I want to share an excellent cookie recipe that I used to make at Christmas. The reason for this is that Sheri asked last Friday what our favorite cookie recipes were and I told her this was mine. So this is for Sheri, and everyone else who loves cookies!


makes 4 dozen cookies

1 cup butter
2 -1/3 cups unsifted flour
1 tsp vanilla sugar
1/4 tsp hjorthornssalt
1-1/4 cups sugar. less 2 tablespoons

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Brown the butter in a heavy saucepan, stirring constantly. Let the butter cool and solidify.

Mix the next three ingredients together.

Cream the solidified butter and sugar together until light. Mix in the dry ingredients.

Form into balls (the dough will be slightly crumbly and fragile) and place on cookie sheets lined with parchment. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes until the cookies are slightly browned and their surfaces crack. Transfer carefully to wire racks to cool.

At this point, you are no doubt asking what the heck hjorthornssalt is. It is known as “baker’s ammonia” in this country, and can be ordered from some baking supply catalogs. I see that an seller has it here.

I wouldn’t try making these cookies without it. You can sub another leavening agent, but you won’t get the same “melt in the mouth” consistency.

Lucy is having a quiet moment here:



  1. Those cookies sound good. I’ve made sugar cookies before for christmas. I will most likely be making them again this year since my wife and I are hosting christmas eve for family.

    martymankinss last blog post..Snowy Sunday #05

  2. Amen! I did basic decorations, am focusing on the gifts, will likely send out New Years cards just to those who sent Christmas cards to us. The stress steals that holiday joy- not worth it.

    cdnbulls last blog post..Waving my Geek Flag

  3. That’s truly the spirit! I get clippings from the Christmas tree lot, set them around the house with a few ornaments and lights, and I have a nice pine-scented, Christmas-y setting without the obsessing!

  4. I think everyone is feeling the same way… Every year I’ve sent out multitudes of cards and lots of gifts – trying to keep contact with extended family and far-flung friends. This year I don’t have any cards, gifts only for close relations and a sense of freedom that I haven’t had in years – even though almost all the gifts were knit, cutting down the list from have-to’s to want-to’s.

    At the end of this week, I’ll write out some cards for the kids teachers and a few friends that I won’t be seeing, and I’ll be done!

    I hope you, Wendy, and all your blog readers and fans have a great Christmas, or whatever winter holiday they celebrate.

  5. ROFLMAO!!! I had cut and pasted that word into my browser, and was ready to ask you. I have a recipe that calls for hortzhound, which is the same stuff!!!I’ll have to give these a shot. Thanks for sharing.

    BTW – I find year to year that I’m doing more of what I want and less of what I should, and I LOVE IT so much better as well.

    shellys last blog post..Taaaaa Daaaaaaa!

  6. ahmcguffin says:

    Thank you for letting me know it’s not just me. Thank you for the cookie recipe because I don’t have enough of them! (really!) Wendy, your still “doing it right”. I used to bake a lot, especially around the holidays. But now I don’t have very much time. Although I miss it, I find it oddly relaxing. I don’t eat very much in the way of sweets and everyone is now ” limiting intake”. I have more than a few recipes that call for hjorthornssalt. I found baker’s ammonia at my middle eastern supermarket, it’s also at the Asian markets and in King Arthur Flour Baker’s Catalog. Doesn’t that translate to hartshorn salt? she asked without googling it…nevermind.

  7. I’m with you – if it’s not something I really want to do, I don’t do it. Thanks for the cookie recipe, they sound like something I would enjoy doing, if I can find the mysterious hjorthornssalt. Give Lucy plenty of hug time instead of decorating. You can’t find anything that would look better than she does laying around your home.

  8. Ha! I thought “hjorthornssalt” must have been Lucy walking on the keys!

  9. I’m with you! Total decoration here at Chez Knit and Quilt… a holiday door wreath. No cards, but a few email acknowledgments. Holiday meals with friends at restaurants… no muss, no fuss. Minimal shopping, at times when others are working. Retirement is hard earned, why mess with it? Happy Holidays to you and Lucy.

  10. I think I might bake some stuff this year, although probably not cookies — too putzy. Some banana bread, some pumpkin bread, maybe some *real* bread. Not particularly Christmassy but I think the family will be thrilled that I baked anything.

    Lucy’s picture reminds me of an lolcats I saw a couple days ago, captioned “I iz on ur bear stealin ur fuzzies.” Cute!

    kmkats last blog post..Secretary of [Sustainable] Food.

  11. I hear you on the expectations. I think of people who feel they HAVE to do these things are victims of “Martha Stewart syndrome” (and btw, it’s not like Martha doesn’t have a group of minions to run around and do all that stuff FOR her!). The first thing I backed away from many years ago was Pie Pressure. First, I dropped all pretense at homemade crust and bought those Pillsbury ones when they first came out. Then I shifted to the frozen Marie Callendar pies when they hit the grocery stores and I haven’t looked back. I do a fair bit of holiday baking but I do what *I* want. I think everybody has to do what feels right for them and then just let a lot of the other nonsense fall by the wayside. One of the most satisfying things I do every year is to go to my local Barnes & Noble and spend time picking children’s books for whichever local elementary school they are supporting (they try to provide 2 new books for each child).

  12. lowered expectations work for me too!

    I’d rather be a human being than a human doing.

  13. Linda from Kansas says:

    You made Ammonia Cookies! A friend of mine from years ago made some and they are delicious. She called them Ammonia Cookies and used bakers ammonia. I wonder if she still makes them. I have lost touch (it was 26 years ago that I knew her.) I agree, with all the holiday stuff, parties, dinners, I am cutting down. I buy for the 3 grand kids, buy a gift card for my daughter and son in law to go out to eat somewhere and visit & eat with them and call it quits. More fun that way.

  14. I’m definitely on board with a scaled-down Christmas this year. For one thing, my great-grandson just turned one in November, and my grandson will be three in March. Two little boys could do SO much damage to a tree! Maybe next year.

    Barbara-Kays last blog post..The Battle of the Bedcovers

  15. CatSamalea says:

    Right on! A few years ago I got to the point where I absolutely loathed the holiday season. Then I read a magazine article that said a lot of the pressure people on themselves to have the “perfect” Christmas could cause unrealistic expectations and disappointments . . . Hello! Now, I only do what I want. I pick one or two parties I really want to attend. I look on Christmas as a time to thank the people in my life who have done something special or who need a little support. I usually begin planning in January what I will knit for the following year and work on a project or two a month so that I’m enjoying Christmas a little all year round. And I stay out of the malls if at all possible.

  16. Did you know that the literal translation of hjorthornssalt is ‘deer horn salt’? I never would have known what to look for in this country if you hadn’t told me (and I’m so impressed that you spelled it correctly :).

  17. I’m definitely a Christmas minimalist decorator. Little wire tree on the piano, 16 ornaments (it has 16 arms!). Knitted stockings hung by the chimney. 6 mini-stockings on the porch wreath. Done!

    No Christmas knitting, unless I feel like it. No pressure, baby! Hey, we’re happy.

    pdxknitteratis last blog post..A different kind of music

  18. Have been knitting fingers to the bone, and nope not doing whatever anyone expects……just what I want…… times!

    In the spirit of sharing:
    Raspberry Truffles
    Alice Medrich / Cocolat (no longer in the SF Bay area, but was THE place to get French pastries & chocolate goodies)

    Makes about 2 ½ dozen

    8 oz semi sweet chocolate, either finely chopped or chips
    ¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
    ½ strained raspberry preserves (you can use Knott’sBerry Farms unseeded)
    2 ½ Tbsp framboise (sometimes I leave out & no one notices)

    Melt chocolate and butter in top of double boiler (or in bowl set over tea kettle) over barely simmering water. Stir constantly until smooth/

    Transfer to small bowl (unnecessary if use small bowl to melt) & cool to room temperature.

    Stir in preserves & framboise.

    Refrigerate until firm.

    Form into balls using melon baller & roll into unsweetened cocoa powder.

  19. Been knitting presents & letting the rest fall by the wayside……fun times!
    In the spirit of sharing:
    Raspberry Truffles
    Alice Medrich / Cocolat (were shops in SF Bay area where French pastries emphasis on chocolate was THE place for indulgences!)
    Makes about 2 ½ dozen

    8 oz semi sweet chocolate, either finely chopped or chips
    ¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
    ½ strained raspberry preserves (you can use Knott’sBerry Farms unseeded)
    2 ½ Tbsp framboise (sometimes I leave out & no one notices)

    Melt chocolate and butter in top of double boiler (or in bowl set over tea kettle) over barely simmering water. Stir constantly until smooth/

    Transfer to small bowl (unnecessary if use small bowl to melt) & cool to room temperature.

    Stir in preserves & framboise.

    Refrigerate until firm.

    Form into balls using melon baller & roll into unsweetened cocoa powder.

  20. I wish I could cut down on the Christmas hoopla, but having a 10 yr old, that’s kind of hard to do. I did decrease my cookie baking by 6 kinds. Still got a real tree, but chose a smaller one this year. Cards stayed the same, but I didn’t do the “Family Letter” this year. Hubby was in the mood to put lights outside, so who was I to stop him.

    Your recipe sounds really yummy and I’m printing it off for my Christmas Cookie file (yes, I do have one) and maybe next year, it’ll get made. Not this year. Nope. I’m done.

    Enjoy your peaceful, stress-less holiday.

    JoAnns last blog post..I’m Cookied Out

  21. I have heard so many people doing the same thing this year. Just keeping it simple and if it’s not fun, don’t do it.

    This is the first year I am not sending cards out and feel absolutely no guilt about it whatsoever.

    Enjoy your holiday!

    Donnas last blog post..A Good Read

  22. Add me to the list of minimal decorations. I opted out of the 3 1/2 foot artificial tree this year and instead displayed 10 of my Department 56 houses — several themes going here, but just all favs of mine. No Santas or snowmen this year, either. I’m not a Scrooge. I’m just busy and don’t have enough time to do it all so why try and only frustrate myself. I knit (or am trying to finish) one pair of socks for Christmas gifting. I am almost to the decreases on the toe of sock number 2 so I will get there. I used to stress about decorating, making gifts and baking. I was going to bake this year but the oven gods stepped in and broke my oven yesterday. Repairman coming Wednesday but I have little hope that one visit will fix the problem. Wendy, Thanks for such an great post! Happy Holidays!!

    Kim B.s last blog post..STILL Not Finished

  23. I’ve gotten it down to a 4 ft table-top tree, and I’m resisting putting that up this year (and getting a lot of guff for it, too). But my little ceramic tree is perfect. There’s a lot to be said for minimalism…And I haven’t baked cookies in years! (I know, what kind of Nana AM I?)
    Your pile of gifts looks delightful – who needs a tree?

    Knitnanas last blog post..Nana Sadie Rose’s Etsy Store is Open!

  24. YUM! Thanks for posting the recipe!

    Sheri at The Loopys last blog post..Loopier and Loopier

  25. ahh baking ammonia. I knew that there had to be at least one other cookie recipe besides springerle. I get mine at a fancy cake decorating store. Mom used to be able to get the pharmacist to order it for her.

  26. I hear ya about the baking. I bake for the holidays if I feel like it (and I have said ingredients to make whatever it is I want to make) but don’t stress about NOT doing it. Every year I watch one of my good friends stress and stress about her “baking schedule”–which starts well before Thanksgiving and I always wonder where the fun and holiday spirit is.

    Happy (Decoration/baking free) Holidays to you, Miss Wendy!

  27. Thank you for the recipe! Lucy is cute as usual. thats good advice. i end up not finishing everyone on my list most of the time… so im cheating and doing cookies for people closeby.heehee.

    Cookis last blog post..SUPER SALE – Or I cleaned my room…

  28. AMEN. Oh, and while reading another Scandinavian cookie recipe that also called for “bicarbonate of soda” (which they said was an ammonia compound)… it said you could sometimes ask for the 1/2 tsp or whatever from your pharmacist….. (A trip to King Arthur’s Flour would be fun, though!)

    PainterWomans last blog post..

  29. Just in case it helps the international crew find the right substance for their baking endeavours:
    baker’s ammonia = ammonium carbonate = carbonate of ammonia = baking ammonia = bicarbonate of ammonia = ammonium bicarbonate = powdered baking ammonia = triebsalz = hartshorn = salt of hartshorn = hirschhornsalz = hjorthornssalt = hartzhorn

  30. We have also scaled back our Christmas decorations, cards, and baking. It’s much more fun and less stressful.

    Shirleys last blog post..My Town

  31. I agree. Stress, whether it be self-, world-, media-, culture- or family-induced, is NOT ‘what Christmas is all about …Charlie Brown’.

  32. Heh. That’s been my motto for the last, oh, 8 years now. And! This year gets even easier thanks to not going to visit my sister and SIL until the 28th! A reprieve! I can eat nachos for Christmas dinner this year if I want, and do all my shopping on Boxing Day! Which I won’t, because, well, that’s just tacky, and really cutting it close. 😀

    Brigittes last blog post..All’s Well

  33. I have refused to go nuts over Christmas for many years. Dh and I worked to many holidays, so we weren’t together for the day, or night. It sucked. Then I realized that the Martha Stewart Christmas is an advertising ploy to get folks to spend, spend, spend and panic. So instead we celebrate the season. We have the tree and it is decorated in ornaments that depict the bounty of Nature, animals, birds, fish, plants, fruit, nuts. There are a few presents, imperfectly wrapped. And of course, the Feast and champain! We also celebrate the little kids in us. So! Bah humbug to WalMart, Best Buy, and all the rest.
    I see people dashing and in a panic, they have themselves so upset trying to be perfect. They get angry over nothing. If something is that bad, that a person gets angry and exhausted, then Don’t Do It! (and please, don’t tell me that it is for the children or family…it is you doing it for you) Life is much to short.

    BTW, I will (!) be making those cookies!

  34. Pam from Kansas says:

    The holiday season should be enjoyed and thats not possible if you are just doing what you think others expect of you. I do what I and my family like to do and have long ago given up the idea of making every gift and goodie. Some years that is more than others. If we do a few family traditions together, that is what it’s all about.

  35. Those cookies sound wonderful! I am getting better about not stressing. I figure the cards get there when they do, and as long as we are together and having fun (and the little one gets a couple of things) we are in good shape. The holidays are supposed to be a celebration, so it should be what works for you!

    Jennifers last blog post..Sweater in November?

  36. I downsized Christmas several years ago when I realized I was exchanging gift cards with my “loved” ones. I now make up 15-20 gift bags with small hand-knit item (which I start knitting in January) and other stocking stuffing type goodies. I don’t decorate except for the wreath my florist neighbor gave me last year. (I think she felt sorry for me.) I haven’t put up a tree in 15 years as I’m not at home to see it, and the animals are only interested in seeing which ornaments will go up under the heavy furniture. The result of all this is that I now have time for the small things that went unappreciated in the hustle and bustle. So in effect, I don’t really need all the trappings to celebrate and have fun. Merry Christmas!

  37. And in case anybody cares, this year’s handknit item was French market bags.

  38. I’m not putting my tree up this year for that very same reason: it just feels like too much work and I’d rather be knitting. That and I’ve done some rearranging and I don’t have any place to put it without more rearranging.

    What’s “hjorthornssalt?”

    Beckys last blog post..A day late

  39. I hope your holidays are enjoyable. Mine are shaping up pretty well. 🙂

    LittleWits last blog post..Sleigh bells ring-a-ling

  40. I too have learned that Christmas is far more enjoyable if I just let go… I have very few people I shop for ( only close family members — no cousins, no aunts, just kids and grandkids only). I only bake if I’m in the mood, and I put up a tree because I want to, not because I have too. I’m looking forward to Christmas as being prime carding/spinning/knitting time for ME!!!

  41. I’ve cut back on Christmas stuff, too, but unfortunately others still have too much influence over what I do. I would be thrilled if Christmas was “just another day”.

    Diannes last blog post..Special Guests for Dogs on Thursday

  42. Jag håller!

    How does one get on Timmie B’s handknit Christmas list? Sigh…

  43. I got to “lowered expectations” and spewed my morning coffee all over my monitor! It was like you were in my head!! I second the motion!!

    I’ve been baking only to have a photoshoot of something different, rather than to gift!

    Virtual mistletoe kisses from Gibson to Lucy!

    Neuroknitters last blog post..Forecast

  44. Do your cookies taste like Anise cookies? (AKA Springerle cookies.)
    That’s the only cookie I’ve ever known to use that ingredient before.
    I used to get it from the drug store.
    This is our second year of ‘non-Christmas’ like yours. Except I did bake cookies this year because I like to eat them 🙂 I missed it this year and wanted to decorate ….. but here it is the 17th and I haven’t yet, so I don’t see much point to it for just 2+weeks.

  45. I’m with you. For me, as I know is true for many others, this can be a hard time of year. I’ve found that by only doing what I feel comfortable with things are a bit better. Though, it still is nearly impossible to get out of bed in the morning. Perhaps it’s the short days and dreary weather.

    Wishing you & Lucy nothing but the best!

    Sherrys last blog post..Chickadee Cowl

  46. I just ordered ammonium carbonate from King Arthur the other day and should have it today-I’m glad to have another recipe to try with it. For those of you not familiar with it-do NOT sniff the contents. WHEW! The smell does go away when baking. You’ve got to wonder who thought of using it in the first place. Merry Christmas Wendy! I have some more knitting to do and a few stocking stuffers to get and I need to wrap the gifts. But I am getting close and I have some vacation next week to get it done. So I’m feeling pretty relaxed at this point. 🙂

  47. Ha! I’ve called it Hartshorn my entire life, and I buy it from a small pharmacy in Owensboro, KY. You’re right, other leavening agents do not produce the same cookie! Thanks for the link, I’m afraid the pharmacy might not be in business still and I’ll need another source for hartshorn/baker’s ammonia!

    elizabeths last blog post..metaphorically mopping

  48. We are pretty relaxed as to the decorating as well since Pauley moved away. The only “thing” we do is tape all the Christmas cards to the front door. Paul and I play this little “game” called, “Who will take the Christmas cards down first?” One year Paul finally lost in April…… 🙂

    Danieles last blog post..Christmas Stash Enhancement