See Me, Help a Family, and Celebrate St. Nicolas Day with Manala!

What, and why, are manala? Glad you asked! We all know that Santa Claus is derived from the Christian saint Saint Nicolas, right? Old St. Nick? That sort of thing? Well, St. Nicolas is a big deal in northern Europe: He’s the patron saint of bakers, of children, and his feast day, December 6, is a huge holiday. And because he’s the patron saint of both bakers and children, of course he has a special baked treat just for children. It’s manala! Brioche men. In Strasbourg, Lorraine, Basel, and all sorts of cities from that part of the world, you celebrate the season, and especially the feast day of St. Nicolas, by eating a little brioche man, kind of like a ginger-bread man, dunking him in your coffee, hot chocolate, or warm milk. How excellent is that?

Of course, there’s some gruesome folklore attached to the little men. The legend: St. Nicolas went to a place where a butcher had killed three children, butchered them, and stored them in a barrel of salt; St. Nicolas opened the barrel and the three children ran intact from the barrel! There are a lot of versions of this. Sometimes it’s three scholars, sometimes it’s not a pickle barrel but a fireplace, sometimes it’s not a butcher but a shopkeeper or an inn keeper, sometimes the kids are intact in the pickel barrel… And some say it never happened at all! If you’re familiar with the German tradition of having a pickle ornament in the tree, it comes from this legend too. Anyhow, you can embrace the kids-returned-to-life tale or not, but the brioche are: Yummy! Fun. Cute. And just nice in every way possible.

And they’re available all December at Patrick’s Bakery! It’s right behind Southdale on the Minneapolis/Richfield/Edina border. The manala cost $2.65 apiece, and they’re one of my top holiday picks. Get a dozen to bring to your family brunch, or just one or two to dunk in coffee with someone you love. In Germany you might pair them with glugwine—warm, spiced mulled wine—for a dessert party. Here would be a way to have a holiday gathering along non-traditional terms, that are traditional elsewhere.

I brought home a few for my kids and my two-year-old was wild about them. She asks for ‘little men’ to eat all the time now. You can do all the things with them you do with gingerbread men—eat the heads, eat the feet, pull the arms off and eat those first. I don’t know why eating food in the shape of people is satisfying at the holidays, but between the chocolate santas and gingerbread men, it is.

Alsatian Brioche Manalas
$2.65 @ Patrick’s Bakery & Cafe
2928 W. 66th St., Richfield,

In other news…

Benefit for Krista and Terry, This Saturday, with Clementown!

I know a lot of fans of the smartest kids’ music band in the USA, Clementown, are also blog readers; see them at 3 p.m. this weekend at the benefit for Krista and Terry, a local family struck, unimaginably, with two diagnoses of cancer. The dad has brain cancer and the mom has breast cancer. My god! It’s unimaginable. So let’s do whatever we can for them. Food is being provided by Lucia Watson (Lucia’s), Alex Roberts (Alma and Brasa), the Birchwood, Mike Phillips (Green Ox by way of the Local), and lots of other good people. There will also be a cooking workshop for kids with chef Jenny Breen. The benefit is at the Southern Theater. After the daytime portion that’s kid-friendly, it morphs to a nighttime dance party. Wow, there but by the grace of god go any of us, let’s do what we can for these folks.

Come See Me at Magers & Quinn, Saturday at 1 p.m.

I also have two events coming up in the next few days. On Saturday at 1 p.m. I’ll be appearing at the bookstore Magers & Quinn to sign copies of my wine book Drink This: Wine Made Simple, and to fight with Stuart Woodman. Why fight with Stuart Woodman, author of the book, and the blog, Shefzilla? Oh, I don’t know. He’s had a bee in his bonnet for weeks about restaurant critics grading on a curve, awarding too many points, not comparing Minnesota restaurants to world-class spots like Le Bernardin and L’Arpege, and he’s been going after Rick Nelson about every day on his blog… I kind of can’t see how this won’t end in tears, but you know, into the lion’s den and all. Pip pip. Chin up! On the upside, I might be able to sign your book in blood. Whose? We’ll see.

Come See Me at Big Top, Monday Night!

On Monday (Dec. 6), I’ll be appearing at the Big Top Liquors wine club at the Lexington. We’ll be drinking some amazing wines, like Haton Brut Rosé champagne, and the last ever vintage of Alexis Bailly’s ice wine, my favorite wine in the history of Minnesota wines. Tickets are $20, which gets you tastes of 11 wines and appetizers. Come!