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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Holidays

Christmas over the years has changed - and changed back. Many, many years ago it was just David and I, when we got married we moved a big 3 miles from where I had grown up and 7 miles from where David had been raised. We celebrated the way we remembered, well, minus the screaming alcohol fueled fights for me, but that was an adjustment. I came from a family that put the tree up weeks before and took it down soon after. David's family waited until Christmas eve and then kept it up.mingling these two traditions meant the tree was up for a glorious 30 seconds so I waited to take it down. The entire day was spent running from one house to another, at that time everyone still lived on LI and I still had a (little) relationship with my father's side of the family. First child was born and then everything exploded. The tree got bigger, the present pile got deeper, house hopping got infinitely more difficult. Child number two arrived, more presents, more mayhem. My sister moved, I had drastically decreased the time we spent with my father's side, my mother remarried a man with half a dozen adult children. Time moved on, we eventually morphed our tradition into quick runs to family, home, then out to the Asian restaurant. It was so much fun. More family moved, Adam joined the Navy, we began to move -  and then there were three. We moved to the Poconos and found it almost impossible to find an open restaurant - so, I started cooking. We adjusted again, I made a turkey breast instead of a full turkey, tofurky for me. It was happy times, the novelty and all. Then Jackson joined the navy,got married -and now he and Brandi will be starting their own traditions. Adam has also moved, he lives rather happily on the edge of Kentucky and Ohio. And we are back to two. Just us. We stopped buying presents for each other years ago, this year I did try, but I picked it,put it down. David doesn't need anything, most of my needs are virtual.We still do the tree, still do the Asian restaurant, hang with the dogs, back to the beginning. Back to the start. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

v Is For Vegetarian

I usually pack a lunch when an office sponsored meal is in the offering. But since it was coming from Panera I figured there would be something I could have so for once I  came in with no back up food. And technically there was something for me to have -  while everyone dug into rich dishes of pasta I sat with, sigh, yet another plate of iceberg lettuce. Rosemary garlic chicken was heaped, I had steamed broccoli. And I know that my meat free diet is my own choice, no one is making me - and seriously I'm not starving, but it makes me feel so self conscious. It takes a very short period of time to eat a little salad, you end up sitting there pushing an olive around your plate hoping it will just be over soon. Bigger functions are actually better for meals, if you're signing up they usually ask if you have any diet restrictions - I've even found that most of the time they'll even ask what type of vegetarian ( for those of you interested I am an ovo-lacto which means I eat some dairy products). Things have gotten better since I first became vegetarian almost 25 years ago - my friend Jeanne had laughingly warned me not to EVER tell the waiter when I went out that I was a vegetarian, unless of course I didn't mind dining on steamed celery. And that was a good rule but with so many people going meat free for ethical, health, and other reasons most places have at least a couple dishes I can have. And I've also found that if you ask they frequently have non advertised  vegetarian meals or they will adjust the food for you.  One of the best meals I've ever had was when I started to order and the waitress stopped me and asked.when I said I was she announced that the chef would make me a great vegetarian meal - he did and I strongly suspect he was one of "us". I have come to the realization in the past few years I most likely will never be able to eat meat again, even after all this time I still cannot bring myself to even think about it too hard. I can buy it, cook it, store it - just can't eat it. I wonder if I started smoking again if I could eat it again. Most people that know me know that soon after I quit smoking my sense of taste came back big time - two things happened. First I became obsessed with chili, at one point I was even eating it for breakfast - for at least two months there was not a chili I didn't love. I remember going out to lunch with a friend who sat there in astonishment as I ate a pail sized bowl down to the bottom and mused about seconds. The second was an increasing distaste for meat that even eventally led to well, now. So I guess I'll just make sure I have my back up food - just in case and really in the grander scheme of things, if you only can have a salad it leaves all the more room for cake!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Great Cookie Experiment

Well, for the first time around things did not go badly. I've sent cookies out before, but not such a mass mailing. All told it was 14 boxes and with the exception of Nancy and Ray all out to relatives, from New Jersey to Nebraska they are out. Making them was not as hard as you might think, but I planned well ahead. I found my handwritten old recipe book for the gingerbread first. Out of everything I can make that is the one that really brings home the feeling of the holiday. Then Spritz of course, sugar cookies, molasses, chocolate chip. I wanted macaroons but some of the recipes were beyond complicated. I found one from Food & Wine that had 5 ingredients and minimal fuss - sold! My requirements were easily found ingredients, ingredients that could be used in multiple recipes - the chocolate chips are one of the main ingredients in my chocolate hard sauce and then were used in cookies. Idid a shopping trip specifically for what I needed, made up all the rolled  doughs a week  ahead of time, found all baking stuff. When I got home on a Friday I started baking gingerbread,  then got up early the next morning and rolled, baked, cooled, iced, decorated, dried, baked again. David bought me two giant containers and I layered wax paper to cushion and keep them fresh. Homemade cookies, especially gingerbread are better if they sit for a few days. During the week David brought home boxes - I had decided on flat rate priority mail rather than use the boxes that needed weighed. And then I packed, wrote out cards, taped, addressed, and stacked. David mailed them from our wee little post office for two days, half at a time. The second day he showed up with the remaining 7 boxes and a plate of cookies for the post lady. And then off they went. I checked my tracking and they have all either arrived or are imminently due. Cost wise I think between ingredients, shipping, and a few extra expenses  (I found some really cute Christmas cloths that I used for padding) it was close to $400 - not a cheap date, any of you. On the other hand I made enough Christmas cookies for everyone, just about. Did everyone that got them like getting them?Next year I am planning on doing it again and will expand my list a little depending on the feedback I get - but its been positive so far.This year was more of a trial run, it was a little hard to figure out how many cookies I would need, how long, etc.. But I have to say it was fun doing this and I very much liked that even though we are so far away from each other I can still do some baking for everyone

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Note To My Family

So far this weekend I have made 4 batches of  chocolate chip cookie bars, 3 sugar cookies, 4 of spritz, 2 soft molasses, 3 shortbread, 2 chocolate puffs, 3 coconut macaroon, 2 batches of eggnog cookies and last but not least four batches of gingerbread. You would be more impressed if you knew the above gingerbread recipe came from Bakum and crew, liz's family who I am sure are responsible for the phrase "go big or go home" - each batch of gingerbread contains 6 cups of flour to start. seriously, those people feel if you're not cooking for an army you might as well not even bother. I've made gallons of royal icing, chocolate hard sauce, iced, stacked and ready to roll. Because this year, this year I am not sending gift certificates. The boys and Brandi will get of course and Rhi, but everyone else gets cookies I made myself. The past few years our family due to being so far from one another has gotten into the habit of exchanging gift certificates - I have started to feel like we could just take the same money and shift it back and forth I get a certificate for Amazon, I send one for Applebee's. So this year I baked - it's not saving me any money mind you. The ingredients cost a fortune, butter, sugar, ten pounds of chocolate chips, they will have to be packed and mailed, actually it might end up costing a little bit more. Because I'm sending to more family members this year, instead of shrinking my list I'm expanding it. Maybe no one will like it, they could get broken and I could be responsible for a mass wave of crumbs washing up on everyone's doorstep. I might go back to gift certificates next year as this has been no easy task, I literally baked all weekend from  8 in the morning til 6 at night. But it was fun, I can still make the chocolate hard sauce from memory, still have that double boiler I bought at a yard sale. It looks about the 40's or 50's. When I bought it years ago it looked well used - and it continues to be to this day. I have not baked in years and it all came  back in an easy rhythm, I mixed and baked using one recipe that called for yolks and balanced that with one that called for whites, my timing was spot on - as soon as one batch came out the next was ready to go. And as of an hour ago, they are done, packed in layers and layers of wax paper. During the week I'll be getting the boxes from the post office, packing them all up tight and off they'll go. So be warned - don't look for your gift card this year. I will not be looking for one either. Just remember when you get your box of Christmas cookies - or Christmas dust - that someone was thinking about you this year and thought you were worth the work.