Doing the Secret Santa Rounds

Yes! It's time for Secret Santa, already! Some of you might remember the nameplate that Medha and I made last year. And the Secret Santa game that the kids in the neighborhood play every December. We pulled names for each of our kids when we went for the gals night out at Juju Beads, in downtown Louisville. And, I pulled a boy's name.

Mumma! He's a boy!

But it's not that bad cos she tolerates older boys better than younger boys. Um, maybe that's not such a good thing! But this kid is a good kid. He even plays chess!

So two homemade gifts need to be made and delivered secretly; the final gift (under $10 or is it $15?!) to be kept under the tree on the day of the party.

What does one give a boy?! You can't give him a beaded necklace or earrings! A nameplate would just give it all away. He is Jessie's older brother. All the artsy-crafty stuff would be lost on him. Boys like food, said Medha. She remembered selling him snow cones for $1 in summer. Why don't we bake cookies? Yes! And, a perfect time to try the Stained Glass Cookies that I have been seeing in my dreams, ever since I saw Deeba's cookies on Susan's Christmas Cookies from Around the World event.

Stained Glass Cookies

Recipe from Passionate About Baking

  • 3/4 cup butter ( 1.5 sticks)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • a pinch of salt
  • 10-12 brightly colored Jolly Ranchers or Lifesavers or any other hard candy, crushed.

  1. Ensure all ingredients are at room temperature. If it's winter and you have your heat set to 69F, then - like Medha - you, too, might wonder what room temperature means!
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together until it is smooth.
  3. Add the salt and vanilla extract and beat till mixed.
  4. Add the egg and beat till well mixed.
  5. Mix in the flour to form a firm dough. If you are doing this part by hand, then gather it together firmly and knead it a little bit to bring it together. Otherwise, it will fall apart and it will be difficult to roll it out later.
  6. Press the dough into a rectangular shape, wrap it in plastic wrap and chill it for at least 10 minutes or so.
  7. Preheat your oven to 350F.
  8. While the oven is pre-heating and the cookie dough is a-chillin', separate the Jolly Ranchers according to colors and put them in baggies. Crush them using your mortar-pestle. Or just hammer them with whatever works for you. A mallet, maybe?
  9. Line your cookie trays with parchment paper.
  10. Cut the dough into thirds and roll it out to about a quarter inch thickness. I had to knead my dough a little bit to make it easier to work with.
  11. Cut with your favorite cookie cutters.
  12. Cut out smaller shapes, but not too small, like triangles or circles or hearts from each cookie.
  13. Transfer the cookie to your baking tray and fill each cookie with different colored crushed candy.
  14. Bake for 10 minutes. Pull out the tray if you see them getting too brown. It's way cool to see the melted candy bubble away in the oven!
  15. Remove the tray from the oven and let the cookies cool on the tray for a couple of minutes. If you see gaps in the melted candy, use a toothpick to spread it before it cools and hardens again.
  16. Transfer the cookies along with the parchment paper to a wire cooling rack. Peel off the parchment paper only when completely cooled.
  17. This recipe makes approximately 4 dozen 3" cookies. Less if you use an assortment of shapes and sizes.

The cookies were delivered on Monday right after school in an unassuming brown paper bag, with a thoughtful note explaining that these were basic sugar cookies with melted Jolly Ranchers. There were no escapades like those from last year or the previous year. And I am very relieved because we had a storm over the weekend that dropped about 4-5 inches of snow and the sidewalks were icy from the thaw and freeze.

  • We didn't know how much candy we could use to fill up each cookie. The first time the girls did it, they used very little candy. Part of the problem was also that the cut-outs were rather small making it difficult to fill. So no amount of spreading with a toothpick would help. In the next batch, we stayed with the star shape and heaped the candy. You don't want to do that as the candy bubbles over onto the cookie itself. Tastes just as good but doesn't look quite as pretty.

    Fill each cookie till the crushed candy is about level with or just less than the thickness of the cookie. More like so:

  • These cookies can be used to decorate your tree, too! If you want do that, make a small hole at the top with a straw. I don't particularly like to adorn my tree with edible stuff so we passed on this.

The party is next week and we are the hosts this year. The kids usually make gingerbread houses or forts. Some come up with outlandish designs. Medha has never been able to erect walls that stand up for more than 2 minutes. So she has a pile of graham crackers, lots of frosting and decorations. Some of the children eat their gingerbread houses. Most of it is destined for the trashcan. I wish I could say I like this part of the event but the truth is that I don't. It's the only part I have an issue with.

Medha is playing a variation of this at school, too. Secret Snowpeople, they are called. They have to bring in something special for their Snowperson. It could be a cinquain or a couplet that they wrote specially for their Snowperson. It could be a snack or a craft. They will do this for 3 days and the final gift, which will be shared on the day of the Holiday party, has to be under $5. I guess I will be baking a lot this weekend!

My post on Secret Santa last year led to a fair amount of discussion about secularism in schools. Last year I said:
If the schools acknowledge that religion exists, our children will grow up to be more accepting of others' beliefs.
I am not saying that the onus of teaching religion should rest with the schools. What would help a great deal is acknowledging that there are several paths to God and maybe not, for those who don't believe in God.

I am really happy about some of the changes I have seen that I believe will lead to more acceptance and tolerance of cultural and religious diversity. In the past several months, Medha has come home with books from the library about Diwali, Eid, Hannukah and Kwanzaa. They get Time for Kids in school and one of the issues focused on India and its heritage. The Kindergarten teachers in her school are putting together a talk about different cultures and traditions. I might be asked to talk about Diwali.

As you can see, winter has really set in this year. We have already seen about 10 inches of snow. Over the plains in Kansas, they have been dealing with ice. I think we all need a Secret Santa to bring us some warmth!

The kids in Lesotho could certainly do with a Secret Santa who makes it possible for them to have a warm, nourishing lunch at school every day. It's been proven over and over again that food keeps the children in schools, ensuring that they get an education along with the nutrition. If you haven't already donated for Menu For Hope, please consider sharing some of the warmth in your homes with these children in Lesotho. Check out the prizes I am offering, along with Ammini Ramchandran. See what other bloggers are offering. This is an excellent cause and every $10 will buy you a raffle ticket for all these fabulous prizes.

Think about. Consider it. And, be a Secret Santa.


Padmaja said...

Manisha, those cookies looks so crunchy and ya secret santa for boys or guys so difficult dear, For our office sacret santa, I had to buy for my manager whos a guy. It took me an couple of hrsto find one which is within the budget and good as well. Had tough time!! Your cookies will definitely cheer the little boy!! Great work!!

Nupur said...

Just bought a raffle ticket for the cookbook you are so generously I have to cross my fingers and hope to win :D
The secret santa with homemade gifts is such a good idea. Those cookies look stunning. Kudos to Medha!

Anita said...

Soon enough it will be you warning her, "he's a boy!" And she already knows the way to their hearts! LOL

The 'stained glass' is really pretty...I bet one could get really creative with it - an intricate pattern.

And I am totally with you on food being sacred and precious...there are a lot of hungry and under-nourished people in the world. I don't understood food throwing contests...throwing food!

bee said...

those are some drop dead gorgeous cookies.

sunita said...

Your cookies look sooo festive...I'm sure the receiver will love them...what a lucky young chap !

Shilpa said...

The cookies look great Manisha, so cute. Well done :)

evolvingtastes said...

Those cookies look great, and your photos, ufff, so gorgeous.

Bong Mom said...

Fabulous cookies, I am sure the little boy will be very happy.

I liked what you said about secularism in schools. The neighborhood I live in has a fair amount of Indian, Chinese etc. and so it is same at S's pre-school. This week was international festival week and everyone was asked to bring something that represents what they celebrate from their country of origin.

S took along some Diya and a photograph of Durga Puja. I liked it when she came back and told me about Hanukkah and then asked if "Isrel" is a place.

Momisodes said...

*drool* those cookies look dee-lish! I will have to try those. I actually have a few rolls of lifesavers lying around that I could use!

Anjali Koli said...

Hey Manisha

Those cookies are really lovely and Anita is right they would look lovely in an intricate design. But do they come of easily from the sheet.

The color reminds me of traffic signal cookies thats are made with red, yellow jam.

Anjali Koli said...

BTW We loved your Nankatai recipe but I would skip the besan and add equivalent maida in it the next time. The besan does not get baked well. If I would have left it in the oven longer the nankatai would have browned.

Kribha said...

It looks like a work of art. Good job well done.

Kitt said...

Hey Manisha, can't find your email, but wanted to let you know about this recall:

Raja Foods LLC is recalling about 280 packages of “Swad Sindoor” because the product contains high levels of lead, which is toxic if ingested by children and can damage the central nervous system. The product is a powder used in India for religious purposes, intended to be placed on the skin or hair, according to the Skokie, Ill., company. Illinois health authorities confirmed three cases of lead poisoning in consumers who used the product as an ingredient in cooked meals, the company said in a statement. The product was distributed in a 3.5-ounce plastic bag to Indian grocery stores in Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. For more information, consumers can visit

Pelicano said...

Beautiful cookies- haven't seen those in YEARS! I think they might be a Betty Crocker invention, though I'm not sure...I'll have to get back to you on that! ;-) But they sure is perty!

Sagari said...

cookies look beaurifulllllll and delecious manisha

Hema said...

Hello Manisha,

Have been hopping around your blog for quite some time and m truly amazed!! But, what are these frozen idlis? How do you make them and can you also let me know about what other vegetarian dishes can be frozen like this?

Sorry if m asking for too much :-)

Indian Food Rocks said...

Padmaja, I found a book which Medha is not happy about since it is about 'love'! It's a sequel to the Christmas Shoes book and is really about giving and sharing more than anything else. My husband remembered that the kids had gone berserk with our laser light + task light that clips onto a hat or pocket, when we had gone camping. And so we bought him one of that. Phew! Book and light was just over $10 which I think is fine!

Nupur, that generosity stems entirely from Ammini. Thank you so much for your support!

Anita, she's a smart cookie. Why do you think I worry?!

I refuse to let there be any food throwing in my home, and it's not because I fear the clean up. I don't allow cake-smearing on the face and tossing etc either. The fruitcake toss upsets me, too. I think the logic is that the food they are playing with, was not destined or headed for anyone who was hungry so therefore it is OK. The quantity of Graham crackers manufactured in this period is to meet the demand during this season. Apparently there is a beautiful tale behind building Gingerbread houses which someone had once told me. I forget the exact story but hunger was the underlying theme. It still find it difficult to correlate that to so much food being bought for the specific purpose of going directly into the trash!

Bee, for a moment there I thought you were talking about me! The cookies say thank you! ;-)

Sunita, I haven't heard either ways. I guess we will find out on Tuesday! Medha is concerned that I may have already 'outed' her with this post. She really thinks the whole world reads my blog. I am still basking in that glory!

Sandeepa, your daughter is a very lucky girl! I love it when I can make a geography or science lesson from some of the questions they ask!

Sandy C, I am pretty sure your little angel will love them! Try them and get her to help!

Anjali, if you let them cool completely, the parchment paper just peels off. I only had to peel it off from a couple of cookies. The others loosened as they cooled. Your experience may vary depending on your weather (humidity and temperature).

Do skip the besan if you prefer it that way. My personal feeling is that you just don't like the flavor of besan in nankatai whereas I do! That's the difference between my Mom's nankatai as I remember them and regular nankatais. I love the nutty flavor it adds! It's hard to imagine why the besan would not "bake well". Margaret Shaida has a recipe for Persian shortbread made entirely from besan and it's in the oven for 5-7 minutes only.

Kitt, thanks for that info. Unfortunately I couldn't find anything on Raja Foods web site about the recall. Why am I not surprised?!

I can't imagine why anyone would ingest sindoor. We've known for decades now that it is not good to use even on the skin. Women used sindoor to make their bindi (red dot on the forehead) before the 'sticker bindis' came out and it's not like those are completely safe either! You can break out into a serious rash if you are allergic to the glue that makes it stick!

Pel, Betty Crocker, eh?! Let me know if you ever find out!

Hema, there are times when I make a whole lot of idli batter and then cook it all at once. I do this when I know that I am going to be very busy and we are going to need a whole bunch of quick meals. I then freeze the idlis in freezer bags. I run them under cold water and re-heat them in the microwave, covered with a damp paper towel.

You can also buy frozen idlis, dosas and medu vadas. They are not great but work as a quick fix!

Potatoes don't freeze too well, unless they have a lot of butter and cream in them! And I don't freeze rice either. Otherwise, anything is game to be frozen in my home! I freeze food in meal size portions for the three of us. I thaw as much as I can in the refrigerator. I re-heat the food in the microwave in glass or ceramic-ware as I don't like to use plastic in the microwave, even if it says microwave-safe. Hope this helps!

Shilpa, ET, Kribha and Sagari, thanks!

Siri said...

The cookies looks awesome Manisha.. Love their shape too.. Great post!

~ Siri

Hema said...

Thanks a lot Manisha! Will ask more doubts as I start freezing things...

Cynthia said...

Your cookies are perfection.

Shella said...

Your cookies look awesome Manisha. Love the look & the pics are great

Vilma Bergstrom said...

Love the cookies!
Missing your daily posts... :)

Shantanu said...

They certainly look great! Lemme see if we are able to replicate them in our kitchen. Thanks for sharing and Wish you Happy Holidays and a Very Happy New Year!

Anamika:The Sugarcrafter said...

Hi Manisha
Visiting your blog for the first time and, i must say, you have kept it nicely. I loved the content and will visit it more often.
Am a fellow blogger from Botswana and a cake lover. Do visit the blog, when ever you can.
In the mean time, happy holidays.