31 December 2016

The Highly Caloric Holiday Baking Post

This is the post where I list all the unhealthy and delicious things I baked (or ate) in the last month. If you want the reflective, emotional holiday post, click here. And listen - if you don't have time to read all this nonsense just promise me you'll jump to the bottom and read about Crumb Pie. Just do it!

For the "cookie crawl" at work I made Buttered Popcorn Cookies from Smitten Kitchen. If you decide to make them, I highly recommend adding the chocolate chips that Joy the Baker adds. It might be fun to make it with M&Ms or something, too. Note that the popcorn will be chewy, not crunchy. But still good. And I like it because it makes for some efficient snacking - saving you from wasting time eating popcorn, cookies, AND chocolate separately. You don't want to waste too much time because you still need to make

This is my grandmother's recipe and one of my All Time Favorite Cookies Ever Ever Ever. It's like a gingersnap but soft instead of hard. And "if you're anything like me, and I know I am," you hate a crunchy gingersnap (or so you thought. See Pfeffernüsse down below.) I have the recipe written out in Jetta's handwriting. It's always a trip down memory lane to make these. Since I know you are going to ask me for the recipe - everyone always does - here it is.
Molasses Crinkles
3/4 cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
sift together:
2 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
Mix together. Chill dough. Roll into balls (walnut size) and dip tops in sugar. Place 3 inches apart on greased cookie sheet. Sprinkle a few drops of water over the cookies. Bake @ 325 for 8-10 minutes. 

sea salt caramels
I have no idea what came over me but on a whim one night I decided to make caramels. I thought it'd make a good gift for the staff at the girls' schools. And I thought they looked so cute wrapped in their little parchment papers. Turns out - they're cute and delicious. I made a second batch for family at Christmas. It certainly won't be my last. Here's hoping my beginner's luck holds out! I used this corn syrup free recipe. I would like to try some fancier ones (like this one with pepper!) but would have to succumb to corn syrup.

I made this with my mom (who is called Honey) when she visited before Christmas. It was so delicious. We all devoured it before I could even take a picture. It's heavenly.

The other thing Mom and I made was Pfeffernüsse - using this recipe. I didn't think I'd like such a crunchy cookie. Wrong! It really is like a "pepper nut" - like the name suggests. All the spice of a molasses crinkle or gingersnap - but with the kick of "pepper," the balance of the powdered sugar, and a nice crunch. Also - great for gift giving!

At Christmas, Christy's friend Bruselas transformed my two bottles of Two Buck Chuck into a lovely mulled wine or "Vin Chaud." It's basically orange juice and wine mixed with spices and drunk hot. And even though you wouldn't think of drinking either of those things hot by themselves (and despite the fact that one friend described it as microwave sangria which made me lol my head off), I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed it. The spice, the wine, the citrus. Perfect for winter. (Even if we're having a weird winter.)
Bruselas' Vin Chaud
1 liter of OJ
2 bottles of wine
1 cinnamon stick + some ground cinnamon
11 cloves or more, actually
Simmer the OJ and spices for a while. Add wine. 

I've been on a real mint chocolate kick for the last - I don't know 37 years or so. But recently I've really been parsing out what it is I do and don't love about all mint/choc combos. In the process I decided I should make these Peppermint Brownies. I'm so glad I did.

crumb pie dry
Last but not least, I enjoyed (but did not make) a magnificent thing called Crumb Pie. It came to me in a little plastic baggie in a gift box from some dear old friends who visited between Christmas and New Years. It's an old family recipe. It is dry and a bit funny looking. It's basically flour, sugar, and spices and salt "pressed" into lard. Which I don't quite understand. So instead of trying to describe how it's made, let me attempt to describe how it tastes by simply saying that when you pour a little bit of hot coffee - or a little bit of milk - on top of it and let the Crumb Pie and the beverage merge  into a sort of puddling you will find that it tastes like no other heaven you have ever tasted before. Sweet and creamy, spicy and salty. Unless you're one of those weird-os that doesn't like nutmeg/clove/allspice kind of stuff, you will love it and the magic it creates in your mouth.
Green Family Crumb Pie
3 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup lard
2 cups sugar
4 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. salt
Mix the flour, sugar, salt and spices in a large bowl. Cut in lard with a pastry cutter and mix well. Press into an 11 by 16 pan or two smaller ones. For a crunchier crumb pie, press down harder. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Cut while warm.
Serving suggestions:
It may be called crumb pie, but you eat it dry like a cookie or mix with milk or coffee and stir into a spice pudding. This was a long time Green family recipe, usually eaten for Christmas morning breakfast. A strange, but yummy concoction. Nothing smells better than this when it's baking!

with coffee
with milk

2016: Year in Review

This is the reflective, emotional holiday post. To read the highly caloric baking-only holiday post - click here.

I was looking at this thing on my door frame - a blessing I wrote on Epiphany, January of 2016. It means Christus mansionem benedicat or "May Christ bless this house."  Since everyone universally agrees - at least in meme-land - that 2016 was an epic fail, I looked at it and thought, "Well, I guess that didn't work."

But then I remembered that I had no deeply held personal associations with any of the big names who passed away so tragically this year. And while I recognize their loss as significant and unfortunate, none of it made me that ... sad. (And even though I DO feel a tragic sense of loss regarding the election, that's less of a 2016 thing and more of a 2015-2020 and beyond thing.)

And - I remembered where WE were - the four of us in this little house - on Epiphany, January of 2016. How quickly I have deposited into my memory banks the fragility of our lives last Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year. How poignant it all seems to me now as we move through a much more solid holiday season this year. How profound the simple things are in this context.

There is a lot to worry about in the world today. And worry about it I will. (I'm good at that.) But for now, the wise thing to do seems to be to take stock.

I didn't know a year ago that we'd lose Daisy. That was the straw that broke this camel's back. I'd endured a lot already as I watched my most beloved family members endure diagnoses and enter recovery. I thought I was in the clear. I lost it when she died. I found it eventually. Whatever "it" is ... homeostasis I guess? But not without help.

I also didn't know, a year ago, that I would find Schultz and Schatzi and that they would be utterly delightful.

Sergio is on a completely different path in life and while his diagnosis last fall and his departure from Hallmark early this year brought major shifts in our world, it also catapulted him into a wonderfully fulfilling career track. It is lovely to stand aside and watch.

And here's something I don't say too often because it is cliche and it is trite and it feels like I'm gloating but ... I really love my job. Hallmark, like all of us, is flawed. But, like all of us - er, most of us, anyway, it means well. And every day I go to work I look forward to how I'm going to spend the day. This - as I have witnessed in Sergio's case - is nothing to sneeze at. And the last 12 months of work have been especially good for me, full of opportunities to better understand myself and my world. And, if we've played our "cards" right, so to speak, opportunities to a make the world a better place.

Compassion makes the world a better place, don't you think? That's the other thing hanging with the 20 + C + M + B + 16 above our back door - a Buddhist mantra of compassion. We're going to need even more of that in 2017 and beyond. It will be my hope, my prayer, and my work to make a compassionate dent wherever I can.