Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I spent much of Saturday picking up and putting away after the holiday, and I was still going at it while I listened. I don’t know about you, but I just couldn’t seem to make any real progress. I’d get one pile of stuff cleared away, and then there was another pile right behind it. Christmas cards, piles of the kids’ gifts, piles of clean clothes folded neatly on the table, piles of bills, piles of books and CDs and DVDs and on and on.
I don’t know if I had one too many Fudgy Rum Balls or a bit too much of Mr. Sundberg’s Humdinger Nog, but something came over me as the show ended and “Silent Night” played. I just sat down in the midst of all those piles and had myself a weeper. It wasn’t a pity-party kind of cry, or a down-low misery-and-despair session, nor was it one of those emotional cries where I just can’t control myself and it goes on for a day or more in a kind of hormonal whirlpool. Nope. This was a short little deal where it just hit me like it does now and then that life moves rather quickly and there’s only so much dark and so much light and you really have only so many days to spend doing what you love with the people you love.
Not that I’m counting. But. I haven’t been bowling in a while, and it’s been years since I’ve been out dancing. Years. I love lobster, and I can’t recall the last time I ate the stuff, nor can I remember ever having eaten an oyster or breadfruit or limburger cheese, for that matter. There’s so much, and the clock is ticking. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve worn sequins, and that has to change. I don’t own a hat and I’d like one, and I’ve yet to figure out chopsticks. There’s still the matter of that tattoo and where it might go, and yoga, and Mr. Sundberg has mentioned several times he’d like to take an Oriental cooking class with me. Imagine.
Peanut Buttery Chocolate Bars
These bars are easy and incredibly good. You may want to make two pans — one to take along, and one to leave at home.
2 sticks butter
1 c. peanut butter
1 lb. confectioners’ sugar
1 12 ounce bag of chocolate chips melted
1/2 c. peanut butter
Melt butter and peanut butter in microwave. Add sugar and gently mix. Pat into 9 x 13 pan. Melt chocolate and 1/2 cup peanut butter. Spread over bottom layer. Refrigerate and cut into squares. Enjoy!
Listened to the how Saturday and it was not bad. We were on our way home from a family Christmas gathering over in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and the sun had set, and everyone was dozing from the warmth of the car and from eating all day. When I say eating, I don’t mean a sandwich and a little potato salad and a bar. I mean eating. Serious eating. This was Wisconsin, people, where you don’t leave a Christmas party thinking about a pit stop at Arby’s.
The party was held at the lovely new home of a cousin of mine. She and her husband were married a while back and we take turns hosting in my family and seems they were up for it this year. Festivities began at 1:00, and within the hour, there was a major pile of shoes at the front door, and a dining room table and kitchen counter packed end to end with food. Finger food. For every finger. There were deviled eggs and peanut butter balls, bowls of nuts and M&Ms, chicken wings and Rueben dip and artichoke dip and something called “cowboy caviar.” There was finger Jell-O, pecan fingers, a vegetable tray and a bucket of chocolate chip cookies. Spritz, pretzels, chocolate-covered Oreos, meatballs and wieners, and cheeses with crackers. Pickles and herring and olives and shrimp. On and on and on. At some point someone hollered, “Comin’ through!” and someone else cleared a space and there was meatloaf and cheesy potatoes and more meatballs and hot cheese dip. And there was wine, and beer. As much of anything as a person might want.
It went on like this throughout the day, and as the food was replenished, there were racetracks set up in the living room and a beanbag toss tournament in the basement and discussions here and there about college costs, the Vikings, aging rock stars and the best way to make fattijmand. There was a brief crisis when one of the kids locked everyone out the bathroom, and another when several stocking-footed people walked through spilled beer. There were people laughing in the living room and someone wept at a story in the kitchen. Children dashed here and there chattering and whining and searching for candy. There was a tree and a food exchange (everyone brought a $20 food gift) and a movie playing in a bedroom for the kids to watch if they wanted and the windows were steamed up and the place smelled of holiday and meatloaf and pine.
If you sat quietly, off to the side, now and then you could hear Christmas music playing softly on the radio in the corner. I heard it just as we were saying goodbye. The song was “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.” Made me pause a moment. It’s a song about angels singing, and hope and reminds me of being a child. The winter night sky was so vast then. Still is.
Here’s a recipe you can whip up for your sweetheart
or your next-door neighbor. Something light and sweet
and pretty to look at.
Winter Day Meltaways
1 cup softened butter
½ cup powdered sugar
½ tsp almond extract (I use more)
1 ¼ cups flour
½ cup cornstarch
Combine butter, sugar and almond extract. Add flour and cornstarch.
Refrigerate for half an hour or so until you can form one inch balls with the dough.
Bake on ungreased cookie sheets at 350 for 11-13 minutes or until edges are a bit
brown. Cool and frost with powdered sugar glaze.
You can substitute peppermint extract for the almond for variety’s sake.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I spent the evening baking up a storm — carrying on old traditions and getting going new ones and what a humdinger of a good time it was. The kids helped, and we made reindeer balls and rum truffles, almond bark squares and sugar cookie cutouts dough for baking later. We made a batch of fudge and a pan of toffee and I contemplated anise candy and am still contemplating. The house smelled so good and everything looked and tasted just delicious.
After the kids went up to bed, I still had some energy in me and figured I’d give my Grandma’s Lape cookies a whirl. She’d made them every year of her living days as I recall, and Lord, Almighty, were they popular — all molassesy and chewy. She’s been gone a few years now and to bring her back to me I thought, with candlelight and Christmas music, I’d give her handwritten recipe a whirl.
Easier said than done. I got through most of the recipe just fine, but she wasn’t around to ask exactly how do I grind up the raisins which had soaked in water and the nutmeats. It seems she’d used a meat grinder, so I figured a blender would do the trick. I poured the nuts and raisins in and hit “Blend.” Well, that was interesting. I had to stop and start a good thirty times before things seemed blended, but then my blender started to smell funny and there was the issue of getting the goo OUT. I tried a spatula and then a scraper and ended up using my hands.
After getting the stretchy mess all mixed together in a bowl, I noticed the mix had to rest two days in the fridge, so in it went and that was a relief. Short-lived, of course, when on Sunday I found the dough had nearly doubled in size and taken over the bottom shelf of the refrigerator.
I’d no idea the recipe was so large. I spent most of Monday afternoon rolling out the stretchy dough and cutting out triangles and circles and stars and pressing a nut into the middle before baking just like Grandma did.
Sometime around 7 p.m. Monday I pulled the last sheet of Lape cookies out of the oven and set them out to cool. I untied my apron, threw it into the hamper, and, yes, I poured myself a shot of whiskey. I gotta give the woman credit. She made these godforsaken cookies year after year and made it look easy and never once uttered an obscenity. She simply handed us grandkids a plate of cookies and smiled and told us, “There’s more where that came from.”
I now have just under 500 Lape cookies to share with friends and family for the holidays. Most are chewy, some are crispy, and it’s a recipe I think I’ll store away for a few more years or until I run out of cookies — whichever comes first. In the meantime, I’m reminded once again of my dear grandma, of what she brought to our lives, of the timeless importance of comfort, and joy.
Here’s an amazingly simple recipe you can make with the
kids in a very short time. Careful, though. They’re like potato chips —
you eat one and you might as well tape the whole bag to your butt.
Almond Bark Squares
1 large box Wheat Thins crackers
1 jar creamy peanut butter
24 oz almond bark
Various holiday cookie decors
In large, shallow bowl, melt almond bark in microwave according to directions.
Spread peanut butter on a Wheat Thin; top with another Wheat Thin.
Using a fork, dip “sandwich” in almond bark and flip over, being sure all sides
are coated. Place on foiled sheet or wax paper. Sprinkle with nonpareils or
festive decors. Let dry until bark is set.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I turned it up so we could hear it in the living room where we were putting up the tree. Not that I had to be in there, mind you. Mr. Sundberg and the kids do just fine without me. I just get some kind of joy out of watching him hold it up while the kids strain on their bellies under the tree, cranking away at the screws on our cheap ol’ plastic tree stand which has always worked just fine. Of course, the fun comes in when Mr. Sundberg steps back and asks, “Is it straight?” and one of the kids says, “No, it’s way leaning toward the couch.” So back down they go and loosen the screws and he straightens it — too far back this time — and they screw the screws in again and stand up and step back and nope, it’s still crooked and this goes on for a good half hour, during which I leave because too many bosses makes for you-know-what.
I’ve always been the one to put the lights on the tree, mainly because putting them on requires a good deal of patience and time, and who has that when you’ve just spent yourself putting the tree up? Plus, there’s an artistry to putting on the lights. You have to space them out and not leave big gaping holes, and make sure the top half of the tree is lit in proportion to the bottom half. Care must be taken when unraveling the lights so as not to break them, and if you forget to test them before you put them on, well, you may find yourself undoing the whole thing and starting over. Yet another reason why the job is now mine.
The ornaments I wrap in tissue and pack away carefully each year sometime around New Year’s Day, and so decorating the tree with them is a rather drawn-out endeavor. Takes an entire evening, usually, and there are stories with each ornament, and we get rid of the broken ones and each year add a new ornament for each of the kids and one to kind of summarize the theme of the year. This year’s theme is a bit vague, though one of the kids suggested “calm” for the lack of storms we had this summer. I prefer more light-hearted themes myself, like “airborne” since we got a new trampoline this year. Or “spicy” as this was the year all the kids wanted was Mexican food. Or “lost underwear.” For reasons I won’t go into.
The trick is to find the right ornament to represent the theme. And I’ve been looking. I did find a miniature catapult which might do justice to “airborne”, but I’ll keep looking. Hoping for a brightly colored taco or a pair of glass briefs. You just never know.
This recipe is wonderful after a big meal when you’ve got some leftover mashed potatoes. Serve these patties with meatloaf or sausage to round off the meal on a snowy evening.
1 ½- 2 cups mashed potatoes
Milk to soften
Blend ingredients together until firm and smooth.
Melt a bit of butter in skillet.
Drop by large spoonful onto skillet. Flatten out a bit.
Fry until light golden brown; flip. Fry.
Add salt and pepper to your liking.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I was still recovering from the ol’ turkey hangover along with everyone else. We’d been eating leftovers for two days so it was frozen pizzas Saturday night. I made it fun by folding them in half after they were baked. I sliced them up and we had rather strange folded pizza finger things for dinner, but no one seemed to care. It wasn’t turkey, or pumpkin-flavored, after all.
Not that I’m complaining, mind you. But this time of year, things do tend to go into overdrive. I hadn’t had pie in weeks, and then one day there was pie everywhere. Pie, pie, pie. I love pie, but one piece will do me just fine. And we all know about the One Piece of Pie myth. Because there’s always The Rest of the Pie. Same with Turkey. With turkey on sale as cheap as it was, how many of you bought just one? How many of you have room in your freezers for corndogs or mixed vegetables or ice cream?
This is the time of year when people lose control. Why buy one cashmere sweater for Uncle Larry when you can buy two, get one free and cover all three uncles? Why not get a bucket of pistachios? And even though we don’t NEED a new TV, they’re so dang cheap we really can’t NOT get a new one, can we? Think about it. Think. We CAN not get a new TV. No one really likes pistachios all that much, and will the uncles really go for cashmere? Especially if lime green is the only color left?
Breathe. Breathe again. It’s December and you don’t have to change a thing. Take a walk this morning, write a letter to your grandmother this afternoon, and have a slice of pie after dinner tonight. One slice. Two forks. Remember it’s the simple things, the very simple things, that bring us together.
My good friend Shirl sent me this recipe last week. She lives down the road and fills her life with simple pleasures. Like time on her deck, good books, and fruit with cinnamon.
Shirl’s Spiced Peaches
Drain two large cans of cling peach halves,
saving juice from one can in a sauce pan.
Use the juice from the other can any old way you wish.
Add ¾ cup brown sugar, ½ cup vinegar, and three cinnamon sticks
to the juice in the saucepan. Using a tea ball or gauze material,
add 1 T of whole cloves to the juice.
Simmer for about 20 minutes.
Cool juice mixture to room temp. Remove all of the spices and discard.
Add the peaches, covering with the juice. Cover and refrigerate up to 5 days.
You may wish to cut the peach halves before putting into serving dish.