Sunday, December 28, 2008

Secret Santa

For years and years, my Norwegian friends and I have exchanged holiday gifts via the pseudonym Secret Santa.

Since there are so many of us (I think there were 15 participants in this last one), we decided long ago to opt to give one larger, useful, well-thought-out gift to one person rather than 15 tiny, useless ones to all 15 people, even though everybody loves everyone else just as much.

One designated individual, the only one who knows the whole spiel, usually draws names out of a hat and links them to the receiving end sometime in early December. On December 22nd or thereabouts, the whole gang gets together. Each person puts their parcel into a huge burlap sack, making sure no-one else is watching to see what kind of wrapping paper he or she used, and then the gifts are distributed, but not opened. Everyone must wait two more days until Christmas Eve to open the gift at the proper time. Secret Santa is not a game.

On the 22nd this year, we were all invited to my friend Siri's house for Christmas treats and to partake in the distribution, but not unwrapping, of the gifts.

I don't remember who started it, but it sounded something like this:

"What if we... opened them together... tonight?"

I swear I heard a gasp after the question had been uttered. Open the presents BEFORE Christmas Eve? That's just crazy.

The night proceeded, though, and it kept coming up, someone venturing to say, "It would fun to see what everyone else got," and someone else saying, "Maybe it'll be nicer this way." Finally, we voted on it, and there were only 2 people who voted against. (Yes, we are the kind of people who vote on things. And who, at the age of 24, care deeply about the specifics of traditions...)

So, for the first time in history, we were all there to see eachother's first reactions to the gifts and could share in appreciating them together.

You're supposed to keep your identity as gift-giver a mystery for as long as possible, disguising the gift tag with someone else's handwriting, denying it to the death when someone guesses that it's you. I thought I did an especially good job at disguising my gift this year since I typed up and printed out my tags on little stickies, not leaving the handwriting thing to chance.

However, the second Andreas, who my gift was for, opened his present, I heard a *swish*, which was the sound of everyone in the room turning to look at me, including Andreas who turned to me to say thank you. The content of the present I made was a dead give-away.

Pear and Fig Preserves

(recipe from

10 cups Bartlett pears (about 8 or 9 pears), peeled
10 ounces (about 300 grams) dried figs
3 lemons
2 vanilla beans
1 ts vanilla essence
1 cinnamon stick
1 ts ground cardamom
1/2 cup honey
3 cups sugar
2 cups water

Prepare 6-8 empty glass preserve jars and by washing them in SUPER hot soapy water. Then rinse thoroughly, keeping the jars warm until ready to use.

Peel, core, and cut pears into pieces. Cut hard parts off of figs, then cut into pieces. Slice vanilla beans in half, then cut those pieces into 4 or 5 pieces each. Cut lemons into half-inch sized slices, discarding the ends, remove seeds.

Combine pears, figs, lemon slices, vanilla beans, vanilla, cinnamon stick, cardamom, honey sugar, and water in a pot. Cook over medium heat for about an hour, uncovered, stirring often. It'll probably take more than an hour, but you'll know it's done when it has thickened and gotten a slightly darker shade to it.

Fill each glass, still hot, with preserves using a ladle. Put a lemon slice and a few vanilla beans in each, but throw away the cinnamon stick. Leave 1/2 an inch of room at the top of the jar. Screw the lid on tight, then turn upside down to cool.


(recipe modified from the one in The Dean and Deluca Cookbook by David Rosengarten)

1 cup firmly packed fresh basil leaves
2 Ts pine nuts
2 ts minced garlic
6 Ts extra virgin olive oil
4 ts freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt to taste

Mix basil, pine nuts and garlic in a food processor. Add oil with machine running, mix in cheese. Put in salt to taste.

Olive Tapenade

(Also modified from the Dean and Deluca cookbook. Usually this recipe calls for 4 anchovy fillets, but I didn't use them so the tapenade would keep longer. I'm sure the taste would've been much stronger had I used them, so I recommend doing it if you use it up sooner than later!)

1 cup pitted black olives
2 ts garlic
1 Ts onion
1 Ts capers
1/8 ts dried thyme
a pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 ts fresh lemon juice

Combine olives, garlic, onion, anchovies, capers, thyme, cayenne in a food processor. With machine running, pour olive oil in. Stop before mixture turns into a purée. Add lemon juice, stir.

I put the preserves, pesto and tapenade in jars, made little labels for them, then cut out 3 circular red pieces of felt, draped them over the lids and tied them with green ribbons. These three jars coming out of the wrapping paper along with a gift card for a subscription to Time Out New York (Andreas is moving to New York in January) were certain indicators that I had been responsible for the gift.

There were tons of other great presents: one person got a homemade cookbook plus oven mitts and some of the ingredients for the recipes, another person got a homemade hat; there were books, dvds, espresso makers, board games, t-shirts, all very thoughtful. It was wonderful to open the gifts together, lots of fun. I really don't know why we were so against it before.

I got a wonderful cookbook from my Secret Santa called, "Nibbled- 200 fabulous finger food ideas". It's full of food ideas for get-togethers and has great full page pictures. Someone had obviously been paying attention to this here blog and noticed that I have a new-found love for tapas, but I had no idea which one of my friends had given it to me.

I got the opportunity to use the book just a few days later when Andreas had the entire gang over for holiday tapas in his tiny student apartment (or should I say closet...). He had arranged it so nicely, had taken out all the furniture (since he's moving out of his apartment on Monday anyway in preparation for New York in a few weeks), put his mattress on the floor and huge pillows all over, and decorated with tea candles. 16 of us managed to squeeze into as many meters squared. It was cozy, though, and luckily we're all good friends. I'm sure he set the record for how many people you can get into the standard sized student room at the University of Oslo.

I made Kofta Meatballs from my new cookbook.

Spicy Koftas

(from Nibbled)

1 small tomato, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 Lebanese (short) cucumber, peeled and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 Ts chopped mint
125 g (4 oz/1/2 cup) plain yogurt

500 g(1 lb 2 oz) ground lamb
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 ts ground coriander
1 ts ground cumin
1/4 ts ground cinnamon
1/2 ts red chili, seeded and finely chopped
1 ts tomato paste
1 Ts chopped mint
1 Ts chopped cilantro (coriander)
oil, for pan-frying

Mix all yogurt ingredients together, cover and refrigerate.

Mix all meatball ingredients together with your hands in a large bowl. Heat a little oil in a pan, then roll small meatballs and drop them into pan, turning until browned all over and cooked through. (It'll take a couple of batches) Drain on paper towels. Can be cold when served, but warm works too.


There was so much wonderful food there that night: oven roasted potatoes with aioli, filled artichoke hearts, little mini burgers held together with toothpicks, Princess cake, marshmellows, apples and bananas dipped in chocolate, crepes with mushroom and pepper fill, mozzarella, tomato and avocado salad, pasta salad (that Andreas made with the pesto I gave him!), meatballs in tomato sauce, salmon rolls... the list goes on... It was an incredible and lovely night.

Thank you to Erik for my wonderful cookbook! (Yes, he broke the Secret Santa code and revealed himself later that night, slightly intoxicated...)


Alex said...

What did you give to Andreas as a present? Why was the content of your gift a dead give-away?! I need to know!!

Sigurd said...

I've tasted all three now (preserves, tapenade, pesto), and they were all sensational! Thanks for giving this to Siri and for posting the recipes :)

Natalya said...

:) I'm happy you guys are enjoying them!!!

Alex, my dear brother, I think you need to read a little more carefully...