Have a cup of cheer.
Arbitrary as our notions of time are, I can’t help but relish the excuse that the season running from Thanksgiving to New Year’s brings when it comes to indulging in good stuff. We know that January will bring a time of austerity, reflection, and prioritization, and I for one enjoy having these ritualized practices set in the calendar.
Looking back on this particular year, Jill and I have a great deal to celebrate. This time last year, she had a cancerous tumor in her chest; now she doesn’t. We fought hard, were championed and bolstered by our incredible community of friends and family (including all of you out there), and pulled together, finding intimacy and joy in the most unpredictable of places.
We know how lucky we are; this could have easily been a much longer and rougher road for us. And though the cancer is gone, I find myself wishing quite earnestly that the clear-eyed perspective that came with it, will stick around. What you spend your time on, what you spend your money on, whom you spend your time with—these choices are made quite plain when life is being lived against such a sharp backdrop.
Cancer (or fill-in-the-blank here with another grief, sickness, emergency, accident, etc.) reminds us that we are, in fact, not in control. Of everything. Of anything, I make plans as if I will most assuredly be able to see them through, as if life is going to go the way I imagine it will. But it almost never does, in both the most difficult and the most wonderful of ways.
As someone for whom planning is almost like breathing, I have to say that it’s pretty liberating to realize that planning, in a lot of instances, is totally overrated and a waste of my time. Will I still plan things? Of course. When it comes to lessons, menus, schedules, etc., planning certainly has value. But as I look ahead to 2012, I’ve got to admit that I don’t know exactly what the year will bring, and I am, for once, okay with that.
HOMEMADE IRISH CREAM RECIPE
(via Serious Eats)
Irish cream is a delightfully sweet and boozy concoction that makes a wonderful mixer for winter cocktails and is also right at home in your (decadent) morning cup of coffee. We are planning to set our bottle of it out for guests who will be visiting on New Year’s Day, since the cream is one part celebration and another part hair-of-the-dog.
Disclaimer: The eggs are included as an emulsifier, to make the cream more unctuous and viscous. For this type of preparation, I personally feel more comfortable using fresh farm eggs versus store-bought, factory farm eggs, but if you feel uncomfortable consuming raw eggs period, you can certainly leave them out.
1 ¼ cups Irish whiskey (I used Jameson’s)
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
4 raw eggs
½ cup heavy cream
2 T honey
1 T each: instant espresso powder, unsweetened cocoa powder, vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
Blend the eggs and heavy cream together until the eggs are fully incorporated. Add the honey, cocoa and espresso powders, & almond and vanilla extracts and blend again. Finally, add the cream and whiskey and mix until the mixture is uniformly colored and frothy.
Funnel into the jar or bottle of your choice and refrigerate for at least two hours before consuming (this is the hard part!). Be sure to shake the bottle well before serving. The cream will keep, under refrigeration, for one month.
So this is Christmas—just cold enough to justify a fire, the apple tart & pecan pie both done, Jill in the kitchen working on her deviled eggs, apple cider to be warmed soon on the stove. Presents under the tree, my father-in-law smelling like his good cologne. Peace on Earth, good will to men.
One of my friends will spend tonight in a room in the ICU of a pediatric hospital, she and her husband’s first Christmas with their baby girl. Another friend sits with her mother as she recovers from emergency cardiac surgery. Someone newly divorced, someone newly widowed. Many friends for whom this Christmas is their first as a married couple; others look ahead to next year being baby’s first Christmas.
There’s no such thing as a perfect Christmas—it is, as the universe turns, simply another day, during which both wonderful and crappy things happen. Whether the meets our expectations or it doesn’t, whether it’s what we would choose if we had our own way or not, there is simply this Christmas, exactly as it is and as it’s not.
I want to be here, now—to watch Jill interact with her father, who will be ninety next year, and her mother, whose short-term memory is practically nonexistent these days. To remember the way we laughed so hard at dinner last night, when Jill’s mother delivered a dead-pan line for the ages; to record the stories that Jill’s daddy tells, like no one can tell a story, from his long career in law enforcement or his young adulthood during the Great Depression.
Every time something threatens to drive me or Jill crazy—because, let’s admit, the family we love drives us crazy—I tell myself “We are going to miss this. Someday, we will miss exactly this.”
I’m going to go be in my Christmas now. To all of you, no matter what this day does or doesn’t mean to you, and how close it does or doesn’t look to what you had hoped, I wish you tidings of comfort and joy, gratitude and peace.
from Nishta: Lauren is a sweet friend of mine from graduate school and I was thrilled when she offered to guest-post here on the blog. Her recipe for the traditional shoo-fly pie yields a really ugly but very tasty dessert! We enjoyed it with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream, to balance out the strong molasses flavor.
I grew up on the border of Amish country. In the summers, we ate fresh peaches from their roadside stands and braved the rickety roller coasters at Dutch Wonderland (www.dutchwonderland.com) in Lancaster. In the winters, we bought quilts and antiques at Zern’s flea market; or rather, our parents did, while we dragged our little kid feet and whined. We skipped school on some mornings for breakfast at Shady Maple smorgasbord.
I bought my first racing bike from an Amish man who ran a bike shop in the middle of the hilly corn fields, where his barefoot straw-hatted sons helped him fix Schwinns. Our Wal-Mart had hitching posts for horse-and-buggies. Many a summer fair and restaurant offered traditional Pennsylvania Dutch food like scrapple and funnel cake. But the best treat of them all was shoo-fly pie.
Shoo-fly pie is one of those dishes that was invented by immigrants who needed to be industrious with the few ingredients they could keep. Molasses kept well during lean Pennsylvania winters. Add some butter, eggs, and flour, and you’ve got yourself a pie. The dessert supposedly got its name because as the pie cooled on the windowsill, you’d have to shoo away the flies.
Shoo-fly pie became one of my yearly holiday traditions when I started grad school in Tucson. The Sonoran Desert couldn’t be farther from Amish country in culture or landscape, but the rich gingerbread aromas wafting from the oven would always make my little Tucson abode smell like Christmas at home. I’ve baked the pie for West Coast friends every year since, once even employing it to win a man. For real!
I brought the pie to a long-time crush’s birthday party, hoping to charm his heart with brown sugar and cloves. I got all Babette’s Feast on that party’s ass, and it worked. I watched with pride as he and the other guests inhaled my creation in minutes. He was incredulous that I hadn’t put any alcohol in the recipe. Like Water for Shoo-Fly Pie. . .?
This recipe is from an Amish cookbook. Try it out at your next holiday party. And why not pair it with some warm cider?
Preheat oven to 375°
Prepare 1 pie crust (unbaked) in a 9” pie pan
for the crumb topping:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons shortening or butter
Cut together with a pastry cutter, a fork, or with quick pulses in a food processor. Set ½ cup of the crumbs aside for topping.
for the filling:
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 cup molasses
3/4 cup cold water
1 teaspoon baking soda in 1/4 cup hot water
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Combine the above ingredients in a mixing bowl. Stir in all but the reserved ½ cup of the crumb mixture and pour the filling into the unbaked shell. Sprinkle the reserved crumbs on top of the pie and bake for 35 minutes. Cool on a rack and serve warm or at room temperature.
Lauren Eggert-Crowe is a poet and freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She has written for The Murky Fringe, The Rumpus, and terrain.org. She’s the managing editor of Ask A Socialist! and the author of The Exhibit, a poetry chapbook forthcoming from Hyacinth Girl Press in 2012. She recently interviewed Nishta for her ‘zine Galatea’s Pants. Follow her on Twitter @LaurEggertCrowe
I’m holding off on the holidays.
This is the last week of school—exams began today—and the tradition in our family has naturally adjusted over the years to fit with the end-of-the-semester. I do my holiday baking the weekend before exams (no grading to do yet!) and mail out packages during the week (shorter school days). Then, once school is officially out, Jill and I go together to pick out our tree, decorate the house, and get festive.
Though this timing originated from convenience, I think I would choose it even if it weren’t necessary. It’s nice to have a boundary line that says—here, okay NOW we will think about Hanukkah and Christmas and New Year’s, now we will mail out our cards, mull the cider, and watch the claymation “Rudolph” cartoon (the little elf-who-wants-to-be-a-dentist is Jill’s favorite). To condense the celebration into a week or ten days helps ensure that it is, in fact, celebratory, and not obligatory. I am deliberately keeping myself from my Christmas station on Pandora until the 17th.
Maybe that sounds too contrived, and I’m certainly not trying to be a Grinch about getting into the spirit; for those who celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, the season of Advent has already begun, with its exhortation to prepare and make ready. Hanukkah hasn’t yet begun, but I’ve already fried some latkes, I confess, and made my first ever batch of rugelach (which, I’m pleased to report, went over very well with my Jewish colleagues). I’m the last one to argue for less holiday spirit; what I’m really about is less holiday STUFF. Sometimes a limit can be a good thing.
APPLE BAKED OATMEAL
adapted from Sprouted Kitchen, original recipe by Heidi Swanson in Super Natural Every Day
My only “catering” gig to date is taking breakfast treats for my fellow middle school faculty members each Monday. In August, I made the Sprouted Kitchen version of this baked oatmeal recipe, which calls for blueberries and almonds and uses maple syrup as a sweetener, doubling the quantities so I could fill twelve mason jars. I got rave reviews, even from folks who said they normally didn’t like oatmeal!
If you don’t have tiny mason jars on hand, you can also make one big baked oatmeal in a square baking pan—just plan to increase the baking time by 15-20 minutes. Great for feeding a crowd either way.
I knew I wanted to do the baked oatmeals again in the fall and thought that a version with apples might be nice. And it was! Now I’m thinking cranberry-orange-walnut might need to happen in January…needless to say, this recipe takes very well to all kinds of adjustments. Plus, you can bake them the night before and just re-heat in the morning.
2 small Granny smith apples
1-2 T sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground cardamom
squeeze of lemon juice
2 cups old fashioned oats
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. sea salt
2 ½ cups whole milk
3 T melted butter
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup toasted chopped pecans
¼ cup turbinado or demerrara sugar
pan: 6 half-pint mason jars OR 1 8” square baking pan
Peel and core the apples, then dice—small if baking in jars, medium if baking in a pan. Toss the apples in a non-reactive bowl with the sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, & lemon juice. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, whisk or stir together the dry ingredients. Melt the butter in a glass measuring cup or bowl. Pour a tiny bit of melted butter into the bottom of each jar; if using a baking pan, pour about half the melted butter and swirl to coat the bottom and edges.
Divide the apples evenly among the jars, or spread them all along the bottom of the pan. Top with the oatmeal mixture; if using jars, leave ½ inch to 1 inch of headroom at the top of each jar.
Whisk the milk and vanilla into the remaining butter. Pour a little less than ½ cup of liquid into each jar; if using baking pan, pour the liquid slowly over the oats, moving in a circle to coat evenly. Place the uncovered jars on a baking sheet before sliding into the oven.
Bake the jars for 25-30 minutes, the baking pan for 35-45*. The top of the oatmeal should be brown but still moist. When ready to serve, top with nuts & sugar.
*If you plan to reheat and serve the next day, I recommend under-baking the oatmeal by at least 5 minutes. Let cool completely, then cover (using jar lids or foil) and store in the fridge overnight. Uncover and reheat in a 350° oven for 15-20 minutes.
Jill is on a belated vacation this week with a good friend, so it’s just me, the cats, & this one at home right now.
Dolly Marie Carroll Mehra (credit for the above photo goes to Sonya Cuellar) is our approximately twelve-year-old, spoiled, demanding, loving, ridiculous lap dog/rat terrier/child. We adopted her from a rescue organization just over three years ago, after she had been found, emaciated, wandering the streets of Portland, Oregon and eating trash. As those of you who have been reading this blog for a while may remember, Jill and I had just said goodbye to our sweet old yellow lab, and our house ached with that absence. We knew we wanted to adopt an older dog, the ones who often have the hardest time finding a home. The minute Jill received a text message from Dolly’s foster mom, we fell in love. A week later, we had her flown to Houston and she’s been our girl ever since.
The dog is profoundly thrown by the fact of Jill’s absence; since Jill works from home, Dolly has grown accustomed to having a lap to lie in pretty much all day. And someone to throw the ball for her whenever she wants. Not to mention someone to feed, cuddle, walk, & pay near-constant attention to her. My mom, who works with infants for a living, swears she has never met a human baby as high-maintenance as our dog.
Of course, as any crazy dog person will tell you, our little creature gives to us at least as much as she requires of us, probably more. While Jill was doing her chemotherapy treatments last winter, Dolly protected her like a fierce little jackal, snuggling with Jill on the couch for hours. When I drive home later today, her head will be in the front window, ears up, barking to announce and trumpet my arrival. We’ll walk out to get the mail, throw her favorite two-tennis-ball rope toy, build a fire, and cuddle on the couch while watching Glee. I’ll sing one of the dozens of silly songs I’ve invented for her, with one of her equally ridiculous nicknames woven in: BooBoo, Doll Boo, Boo Bear, Boo Bear McScoo Bear, Wina Bina Augustina & Sabrina, Punkin’ Boo, etc. It’s entirely possible that we will dance around the kitchen to Lady Gaga.
Our little dog lived a hard life before she came into our life. Lord only knows what she’s been through or seen. She’s an old lady now, and we are all too happy to be her retirement home.
I cook for the people in my life, in order to show my affection for them. Why should the dogs in my life be any different? These were a snap to make and Dolly, who as I’m sure you gathered by now can be quite choosy, LOVES them. I plan to make another big batch this weekend to send out along with other (human) treats for the holidays!
These have kept for two weeks in an airtight container (I doubled the recipe).
½ cup canned pumpkin
2 tablespoons dry milk
¼ teaspoon sea salt
2 ½ – 3 cups brown rice flour *
pan: cookie sheets, no need to grease or line
In large bowl, whisk together eggs and pumpkin to smooth. Stir in dry milk and sea salt. Add brown rice flour gradually, combining with spatula or hands to form a stiff, dry dough. Turn out onto lightly floured surface and if dough is still rough, briefly knead and press to combine.
Roll dough to ½ inch thickness and use a biscuit or other shape cookie cutter to punch out the dough, gathering and re-rolling scraps as you go. Place shapes on cookie sheet.
If desired, press fork pattern on biscuits before baking, a quick up-and-down movement with fork, lightly pressing down halfway through dough. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until they are firm and lightly brown on the top. Remove from oven and carefully turn biscuits over, then bake additional 15-20 minutes. (I checked mine at 15 to see that they weren’t getting to brown). Allow the biscuits to cool before feeding to a dog!
*In the original recipe, Marilyn points out that many dogs have a gluten insensitivity that makes brown rice flour a better choice. I had no trouble finding a Bob’s Red Mill version in the Natural Foods section of my regular grocery store, but you could also use whole wheat flour if your dog has no trouble digesting wheat.