In New Mexico, there is a long-standing holiday tradition on Christmas Eve of lighting votive candles and placing them in brown paper bags filled with enough sand to keep them stable-- one candle to a bag. They are set along pathways and rooftops as decorations. This tradition dates back several hundred years, to a time when the lights were thought to help the Christ child find his way into people's homes on Christmas Eve. Originally these lights were tiny bonfires made of pinon sticks. In the more northern parts of New Mexico, the lights are known as farolitas (little lanterns)-- while in Albuquerque and most other places they are called luminarias (festival lights).
When my children were little, we used to make our own. It was a lot of folding and filling. One year, Sam and his friends even made a business of it-- hauling them around the neighborhood in a little red wagon. I think that pretty much wore them out-- now we usually order them from the Albuquerque Youth Symphony, which supports a great cause and also relieves us from all the folding. Depending on how many a family or neighborhood decides to put out, just setting them up can take a big part of the day!
There are some neighborhoods In Albuquerque that are especially known for their luminaria displays-- to the point where hundreds of people tour them by foot, bus, car and bicycle each Christmas Eve. My family is going to a Christmas Eve open-house in one of those neighborhoods. The three girls and I have been baking all kinds of cookies for the past week-- Toffee Bars, Cranberry-Nut Rugelach, Chocolate Espresso Shortbread, Black Forest Cookies, Hazelnut Thumbprints, and quite a few more. Their brother is going to arrive just in time to help eat them all! We also made some Dark Chocolate Peppermint Truffles, which went to school with Libby as gifts for her friends-- and are also going on the big cookie trays that we are bringing to the party...
This is how you make them: There are so few ingredients, no one will believe you when you tell them how easy they were to make. They probably won't even believe you made them at all-- so maybe just keep it a secret. You'll need heavy cream, unsalted butter, bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, peppermint extract and crushed peppermint sticks (you can smash them up yourself or buy the sprinkling kind-- already finely smashed). And also some mini-cupcake papers.
1) chop up 16 oz of chocolate and place in heatproof bowl. 2) Bring 1 c heavy cream and 4 tablespoons butter barely to a boil over medium heat and then pour over the chocolate in bowl. Whisk until blended and smooth. 3) Add 1 teaspoon peppermint extract. 4) Refrigerate truffle mixture until firm, which can take a few hours. 5) Once set, the mixture can be scooped into small (about 1" round) balls and rolled with your hands. As you roll them, the surface warms up, so it can get messy. You want to immediately roll them in the crushed peppermint, so the whole surface is covered. 6) place each one in a mini-cupcake paper. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator until ready to serve. They will keep for up to two weeks.
Of course, you might be too busy right now to want to stop and make your own truffles. If you are looking for delicious local chocolates to give as gifts (or to yourself) there are several excellent sources to explore. Last March, Abby and I and some friends visited the 2nd annual Southwest Chocolate & Coffee Festival, and discovered that there is some pretty wonderful chocolate to be had right here. We tried a lot of chocolates, and two of our favorite companies were Kakawa House in Santa Fe and Choco Canyon in Albuquerque, who we also see at the Downtown Growers Market all summer long. So put that Festival on your list of things to do in 2013! It's coming up from March 23-24, at the fairgrounds. And Happy New Year!