My name is SusieJ, and I'm a home cook with a full-time programming job and full-time obsession with Christmas -- my term paper for Confirmation class twenty years ago was on the history of Christmas traditions. I live outside Philadelphia and bake in a circa 1972 kitchen in a 1901 house. The only professional-grade appliance is the dishwasher, currently broken. Tentative plans are to renovate this December, expanding the cabinet and counter space and replacing the dishwasher. And yes, for someone as obsessed with Christmas as I, this makes no sense.
The interest in Christmas, baking and Germany started in the early 1900s. My grandparents came from the Stuttgart area of Germany in the 1920s. Like most immigrants, they were self-sufficient; Granma gardened, canned, cooked and baked all of her life and did all well. She and her cousins in America made both the regional specialties of Stuttgart -- Springerle, plum cake -- and the new American cuisine -- like lemon chiffon pie and Jewish apple cake. Their daughter, my mother, learned to speak German before English. The foodie movement of the 1970s influenced her cooking; we often had fondue, Chinese take out or some new vegetarian dish (but let's not talk about the pork chops with cheese).
We've kept in touch with family in Germany. In 1989 I worked for six months in Stuttgart while living with my godfather and his family. That winter I learned many things: German, Unix, C, driving a manual transmission, raquetball, and baking the German way. My Christmas and baking obsessions became full blown on return, abetted by a copy of Mimi Sheraton's encyclopedic Christmas cookbook, Visions of Sugarplums and a German book, Backideen, with a chapter on Christmas breads and cookies.
This site started in November 1996 as part of my homepage with a few recipes from Mom and Granma, because a web site should be more than cat pictures and links to friends. That was back when the web was starting to get big; Wired went live a few weeks after me. In 1999, I registered www.christmas-baking.com. However, Christmas Baking with SusieJ is still that labor of love and obsession. There is no advertising one the site; no one pays me to tell you that Ghiradelli is the best brand of chocolate to be found in the supermarket. Even the book recommendations don't garner affilliate fees. It's just me, at home, deciding between typing in the notes of the last recipe baked and cleaning the kitchen. Web site maintenance seems to win out most times.
The totally self-indulgent site from whence sprang www.christmas-baking.com is still up and maintained regularly.
I love getting e-mail. If you give me a few months, I'll even reply.
The family knows that any recipe I get will eventually wind up on this site. The first recpies posted were from my grandmother's notebook of recipes, most from her friends and extended family. First I sat at the table in her apartment, copying recipes onto small scraps of paper and post-it notes. A few, like the Springerle recipe, she had written out with explicit directions. Others were little more than a list of ingredients.
My grandmother's repertoire was not large -- although I still can't find her macaroon recipe -- and within a few years I was reading her German cookbooks from between the World Wars and translating recipes for the modern kitchen. From German into English, and finding measurements, ingredients and techniques that work. As different as modern German ingredients and techniques are from American (vanille sugar vs. extract, weight vs. volume), so are the old recipes from today. Most German recipes call for baking powder, no longer Hartshorn or pottasche.
Some recipes have been adapted my more modern (1950s, 1960s) German cookbooks. Most books have variations on the same recipe, and three or four different batches will be made before a workable recipe is synthesized from the differing sources. These books have a strong south German influence, either from the Stuttgart or Munich areas. German cuisine varies widely between regions, and undiscovered vistas of cake and cookie opened up when we were joined by an exchange student from Magdeburg, very much in the center of today's Germany, but in what had been East Germany (kids, ask your parents). He brought with him his family's favorite recipes. They are still very German, but very different from the southern recipes. More citron and orangat -- candied peel -- are used, and the cookies are spicier. The old south German recipes, for the most part, featured one flavor, such as anise, fruit jelly or vanilla. This is my impression, off the top of my head. Scores of recipes for spicy cookies with a south German origin may be hiding from me.
HTML: After starting with Laura Lemay's book, Teach Yourself HTML 3.2 in 14 Days, HTML wizardry was quickly in my grasp. However, being lazy and faced with the task of creating many pages, I tested a number of WYSIWYG HTML editors. My favorite is Claris Home Page. For most recipes, I now use the CGI. For the redesign, I reverted back to hand-coding the HTML.
CGI: Much of the grunt work of CGI scripting for this site was originally done by Steve Grimm's Un-CGI program. Then I learned perl, and of course, use CGI.pm.
Images: The first pictures for the site were taken with an Apple QuickTake. We'e since upgraded to an Olympus. In 2003, we hosted Tobi, a German exchange student with a great photographic eye. He happily voluteered to play food stylist, and in one winter doubled the number of photographs on the site. Photos are edited with Adobe Photo Deluxe (nice program), iPhoto (great for organization, not for editing), Adobe Photo Elements (the successor to Photo Deluxe with a better interface) and Gimp (powerful, lousy interface -- anyone want to buy me Photoshop?).
The most-popular recipe graph is created by a perl script, using Lincoln Stein's GD.pm. Shawn P. Wallace's Programming Web Graphics was a big help.
Many thanks go to the webmaster and system administrator of the server.
Christmas cookies for everyone who critiqued my pages:
- Sarah Friedman
- Chip Buchholtz
- Linda Evans
- Scott Harker
- Donna Starner
- Stephen E. Tyson
- Matt Wengraitis
Fame and fortune!
Mentions in the media
- LowHug blog. Well, not linked by name really, but as a friend of the publisher. Hey, I needed a new link!
- Cleveland Plain Dealer, Rescue Your Party (no longer on line)
- She's actual size (no longer on line)
For those who worry about these things:
E-mail addresses: If you share a recipe or a baking disaster story, the submission forms ask for your e-mail address. The Share a Recipe form lets you not show your e-mail address when the recipe goes on line. What do I do with those e-mail addresses? Send a nice thank-you note. Ask a question. There will be no spam. Considering how long it takes me to answer my e-mail, do you really think I have the time to spam? I don't share your address with anyone else, although I do save all "fan mail."
Server logs: Like every other web server out there, our server tracks and logs the files you download and your IP address. If you are using IE 5+, it also tracks each time you bookmark a page. I scan the logs weekly to see the most requested recipes and check for any broken links. I don't really care about the machines that download the pages, unless it's an unusual domain, such as Bulgaria or Singapore. We don't do visitor tracking, although we might check what generates all those 404 errors
Link Exchange Policy
This is my standard answer for any link exchange requests:
Thank you for offering to link to Christmas Baking with SusieJ, www.christmas-baking.com. Every year, I try to find to sites I think will be interesting to Christmas Baking visitors. I'll be sure to check out your site.
Recipes and pictures from this site have appeared in some interesting places over the years: web pages that directly linked to pictures (running up my bandwidth) without credit, websites and discussion boards that just copy the pages, and New Jersey newspapers that copied recipes (but at least mentioned the site). It was a bit annoying. Some clarification seems in order.
Don't claim anything on this site as your own, including copying recipes, essays, stories, pictures, etc. and republishing them, including web pages, books and newspapers.
Don't directly link to images. Don't copy the images and use them for yourself. That's claiming something on the site as your own.
If you want to use something on the site for professional purposes or to republish, say, in a newspaper, another web page or even on a discussion board, contact me first.