Got distracted by a recipe for spritz cookies, and that led to a grilled cheese sandwich and then five grilled cheese sandwiches.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I had the ol’ Rolodex out and a pile of Christmas stationery and envelopes and stamps, even, the new ones with pine cones on them, all ready to go. My plan was to dash off a short but lovely letter to those I know and love highlighting the year and reflecting and wishing well, and printing it 50+ times on that lovely holly paper and folding and licking and sealing… The best of intentions. Never did happen. Got distracted by a recipe for spritz cookies, and that led to a grilled cheese sandwich and then five grilled cheese sandwiches. By the time the show was over, everyone was fed, but I’d really accomplished not much at all.
So here it is, December the First, and I’m making a small but important promise to myself to lay off the major projects of obligation, the ones I feel I have to do every year and either end up doing while stomping around or don’t do and feel a bit guilty or, most rarely, do and feel good about but think, “Enjoy it this time around, ’cause it ain’t happening again in this house.” No more tree up by a certain date. No more get out every single box of Christmas stuff and put it all up in its proper place. No more make the anise candy because we ALWAYS have anise candy and what would the holidays be without it? No more inflate the six-foot inflatable elf because we have an inflatable elf to inflate.
Truth is, I don’t like our inflatable elf. It gives me the willies, and I have to stifle the urge to push it over or pop it, and that’s just not the holiday spirit. Mr. Sundberg won it one year at Holiday Bingo in town, and it was fun for a year or two, but after a while it kind of got to me how it never stopped smiling and swaying back and forth with its wide eyes and little red elf hat. No. No inflatable elf this year. Only what feels right and good. Only what makes sense. My mother often told me, get rid of anything that isn’t beautiful or useful, or doesn’t bring you joy. Joy. Now there’s a concept, sure enough.
If I had one food to take along for a stay on a deserted island, there’s no question it would be cheese. As for what kind, I’d have to think on that. Brie would be right up there, and here’s a recipe that calls to mind the word “divine.”
1 T water
1/2 of a 17.3 oz pkg puff pastry sheets (1 sheet), thawed
1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds
1 13.2 oz Brie cheese round
Beat egg and water in small bowl. Unfold pastry sheet on lightly floured surface. Roll into 14″ square. Spread preserves on pastry to within two inches of the edge. Sprinkle with cranberries and almonds, and place cheese in center. Fold pastry up over cheese to cover. Trim excess pastry and gently press to seal. Brush seam with egg mixture, and place seam side down onto baking sheet. Brush further with egg mixture. Bake 20 minutes at 400, or until pastry is golden. Let stand half an hour or so, and serve with your favorite cracker.
I do turn in a bit earlier on November nights, especially after days like Saturday when I work my tail end off.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I enjoy evenings in November more than most, I think. I watch those amazing sunsets when I can, and get a feeling of pure contentment as the dark and cold settle in around the lit warmth of my kitchen. I do turn in a bit earlier on November nights, especially after days like Saturday when I work my tail end off. I won’t give you a detailed list, but there was a stretch there when I thought I might lose it, when I was out hanging lights up in the red maple.
There I was, straddling the top of Mr. Sundberg’s fancy ladder stretched as high up as it would go and anchored as well as I could manage in the snow. There were 200 lights, white ones, and I was straining to distribute them evenly. It’s not a large tree. I would call it a young red maple. A baby, even. But there were a lot of lights, and for every few feet of lights I draped, I had to climb down the ladder, move it, and climb up again. It took nearly an hour, and when I finished, I grabbed the new green extension cord I bought and was about to plug the lights into it when I saw I had the wrong end of the lights, the right end being you-know-where.
I don’t swear much, but there are occasions which, in my mind, call for a good strong word and it just feels good to let ‘er rip, so I did it. Several times. And then proceeded to unravel the @$#! lights and re-string every blessed one of them. Imagine I climbed that ladder nearly 100 times on Saturday. And later that day, as I listened to the show from a tub full of hot, steaming water, I felt it in my feet. I could have said to heck with it all, I suppose, and given up. But why not finish something you set out to do, even if you muck it up along the way? Then you can say you did it, and you did, and you get a tree full of white light on Thanksgiving Day in return. Now that’s something, isn’t it? And so is long underwear, and a good book, and the smell of pumpkin pie.
Here’s a simple recipe for the holiday, something that goes with just about everything. Try it on pancakes.
1 15 oz. can pure pumpkin puree
1 cup applesauce
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
2 T fresh lemon juice
Put pumpkin puree, applesauce, sugar, cinnamon and ginger in a small heavy saucepan; stir well. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered–stirring often to prevent scorching and taking care to get into corners of pan–45 minutes or until mixture is quite thick. Add lemon juice. When cool, spoon into a container, cover and refrigerate up to 2 weeks.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It had been snowing all day, lovely big white flakes piling up everywhere, and I was relaxing after spending a couple hours out shoveling the driveway. There’s nothing like the first big snow of the season, a big relief, really, and my cheeks were red and my hands raw and the driveway would need shoveling again before long.
The kids were all away — one at a movie, one at a friend’s house, one at the last night of the play she was in, and Mr. Sundberg was in Ohio for the weekend speaking to a group on decision-making skills. So I had the evening to myself, and I was feeling good.
Feeling good from working hard, because I had some time alone, because the show was on and it’s my favorite two hours of the week. And because, in the midst of falling snow and the darkness of the afternoon, a stranger did something nice for me. I had driven to the gas station for milk and a newspaper, and saw my tank was empty, so I filled it on up. Way up. $55 or so is what the numbers read, and I thought, Oh my, and went in to pay and picked up a cup of vanilla cappuccino on my way to the register. Nothing like creamy hot cappuccino on a snowy day except maybe hot caramel sauce on your ice cream but let’s not go there.
So I got to the register, and told the kind man which car was mine (I never remember the number) and he said, “There’s no gas on #2.” Well, I got gas, I told him. “Nope. Not there anymore. Someone paid for it. Specified pump #2 and said he wanted to pay for your gas. What a sweet guy.” I stood there for a moment, and felt all these tears well up. Why, and why me? “Tell you what, Lady,” man said. “The cappuccino is on the house. I want you to have a really nice day.”
I didn’t realize for a good while that I’d forgotten to get milk and a paper. Normally I don’t forget things. But when someone comes into your life for a moment, for the sole purpose of showing you kindness and human love, well, makes sense that your short-term memory would go out the window. What a kind thing. Now I have $57 and some odd change I wouldn’t have had, and I think I ought to use that money for something kind of special. Perhaps for someone I’ve never met, out there in the world somewhere, the next time it snows.
You can throw just about anything into a crock pot and season it a bit and end up with a fine, hot meal that’ll keep you going all afternoon. This is one of my favorites and taste great in a bowl or poured over anything bready and warm.
Beef and Gravy in the Crockpot
2 pounds stew beef
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 cup flour
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp onion powder
4 T oil
1 can cream of celery soup
1 can cream of mushroom soup
2 cups water
2 T Worcestershire sauce
2 T soy sauce
Cut stew beef into even cubes.
Combine flour, salt, pepper, paprika & onion powder. Place in Ziploc bag.
Coat beef cubes with flour mixture.
Brown the beef in 4 T oil & place in crockpot.
Pour the remaining ingredients over beef in crockpot.
Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I was weeding through a backlog of emails with some degree of guilt, trying to respond to people I haven’t written to in some time, when I ran across an ad from a tool company that read, “Give the gift that keeps on growing.” I deleted the ad after reading it over, but the thought stuck in my head.
People are a bit down and out lately it seems, with the time change and unseasonably warm temperatures and how everything out there is a shade of brown. My neighbors have put up their Christmas lights which make the night a bit magical, but without snow all the heck over the lights don’t seem to glisten as they might. The snow is on its way, I’m told, but in the meantime, it seems we all need a bit of cheering up.
So that’s my prime directive this week. To spread cheer, and give gifts in all manner of forms whether they might keep growing or not. I’m baking today, some of the corn bread I’ve included the recipe for below, and some banana bread, and some pumpkin bread. Not that any one of those things is going to make anyone in particular happy, but it will give me an excuse to visit three people I love, hand over something warm and fine-smelling, and have a conversation I wouldn’t have had. And, the bonus for me, is that all the while I’m baking, I’ll think about those three people, and whom I might visit tomorrow, and what I might whip up for them.
Life is such a wild trip. There’s such excitement and fun, and sometimes stretches of boredom and drear. It can be so lonely — terrifying, even. Thing is, we have, at our disposal, the means to push some of that nasty stuff back. Something as simple as a loaf of bread. Broken together. On our knees, if that’s how you wish to share it. But together. And then the day becomes something it may not have been before. In the mean time, the clouds are gathering themselves. The snow will come. And with it, the glistening. By then, I’ll be ready to roll out the stollen. I’ll make extra. You never know who might drop in once the snow flies.
Here’s a down home, gut-bustin’ recipe to warm you up next to a bowl of chili or stew. Try greasing the pan with bacon grease the way the pioneers did.
Crispy Bacon Corn Bread
3/4 cup yellow corn meal
1 cup milk
1 cup dairy sour cream
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp. soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup sugar
4 slices crisp bacon, crumbled
Blend corn meal, milk and sour cream together. Set aside for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375. Sift together other dry ingredients. Beat egg and add to corn meal mixture. Blend in dry ingredients and beat only until smooth. Add bacon and pour into greased preheated 9-inch square pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Serve hot with butter.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. Nice to spend a quiet evening at home with a pot of stew and the show. Not that we go out much, but Mr. Sundberg is so often away on weekends with motivational speaking engagements and the kids need to be driven here and there so much that a Saturday with everyone home is rare thing. So we took advantage of it by not doing much of anything at all.
The calendar is filling up fast for the next stretch of weeks. Seems there are always gatherings to attend, but they’ve moved inside now and feel a bit more intimate. Few things are more relaxing when the cold hits than sitting near a warm fire with good friends and a table full of dips and cheeses and wines. Makes for good conversation on all manner of subjects from politics to deer hunting to dairy prices to the best flour for making croissants. Which I’ve not yet made but plan to before long.
At the last gathering I attended, a week or so back, I got into a conversation that got me thinking hard. Someone said that optimism and hope are basically the same thing, and after a moment or two, I politely disagreed. I’ve had some degree of experience both optimism and hope, and I must say I have a preference. I was born optimistic, you see, and optimism, for me, is gritty and grounded and fuel for getting things done, where hope is more about having little or no control and fate and a solid wish for things to go right. Optimism has a “To Do” list, where hope is waiting for instructions.
Don’t get me wrong. We each need a bit of hope here and there, but if I had to choose, give me optimism any day. Feels good inside, and makes me smile and think, something good’s gonna happen today. Somewhere. You just wait and see.
There’s a song with the words “pour a little sugar on it, Baby.” Well. Pour a little of this dessert on it, and you just never know. A perfect finish to an autumn buffet.
Fruit Dessert for the Crockpot
1 can light peaches
1 can light pears
1 can pineapple tidbits
1 can light cherry pie filling
1/4 stick butter
2 T ground cinnamon
1/4 cup brown sugar
Open and drain peaches and pears; pour into crockpot. (If you don’t have peaches or pears, use fruit cocktail.)
Open the can pineapple tidbits; pour undrained in crockpot.
Open can of light cherry pie filling; pour in crockpot.
Add 1/4 stick butter, 2 T ground cinnamon and 1/4 cup brown sugar.
Stir, cover with lid, turn crockpot to high and cook for 2-3 hours.
This is great served over a scoop of vanilla ice cream, creamy yogurt, or cooked oatmeal. Sprinkle crushed pecans over top for variety. This dessert freezes well, and can be reheated in the crock pot.