Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I don’t know why it is, but it seems time speeds up during the holidays, or disappears, even — you’re one place, then you’re another, and another, and you keep going even when you get to feeling worn out. I remember at some point this week it was midnight and I was trying so hard to keep my eyes open as I finished wrapping the last of the gifts. And another moment I was trying to pull on some rather plain gray tights so I might stay warm under my fancy dress and I lost my balance and wanted to just curl up there on the bed and sleep awhile. And another moment when I found myself covered with wrapping paper and surrounded by hollering children and I thought I might just pass out with joy and weariness right there on the floor.
It’s the in-between time now, before New Year’s Eve, and my mother says to me over the phone, “Where did Christmas go? It happened so fast.” It did, like any other beautiful thing that comes and goes in a life. It’s there and gone, and all that’s left is red and silver glitter all over the house, as if something magical happened since the last time someone vacuumed. Something meaningful, and lovely, and you can only take it with you in your memory. It’s like trying to hug a reflection, photograph an eclipse, describe the fall of snowflake. There and gone.
Perhaps that’s why we take so dang long to say goodbye to each other. You can count on half an hour at most dinners, and I confess I timed the goodbye at our large family gathering, and it was upwards of an hour and a half, from “Well, we should get going” to the actual closing of the car doors. It’s so cold out there, and we don’t know when we’ll see each other again, and, frankly, just being together all crammed down in the family room with the fire going and plates of chocolate cherry bars on the end tables and the tree on and the gift opening and laughter and stories of past Christmases is pure joy. Of course we don’t want it to end; we have finally found each other again.
It did go fast. So will the rest of vacation. And so will the next year. In the meantime, let us make plans for another gathering, and another, and another after that. Christmas will return in no time, as it does, and in the meantime, I think I’ll wait awhile to vacuum up all that red glitter. Let it sparkle awhile.
Here’s exactly the right recipe for New Year’s Eve, or the Next Football Game. Have some before things get going, and again after, though you’ll have to make two batches.
Buffalo Chicken Dip
8 oz cream cheese
4 oz buffalo hot sauce
4 oz ranch dressing
6 oz shredded cheddar
8 oz cooked chopped chicken breast
Mix ingredients together and microwave on high for a minute or so. Remove and stir. Microwave on high again until dip is hot.
Serve with Fritos or crackers or chips.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I didn’t do much of anything during the show this time around. Pretty rare for me, but sometimes a person needs to sit down and listen. And that’s what I did. Partly because I didn’t know what else to do, and partly because what I was hearing was pretty darn beautiful. It was the story Mr. Keillor told of his childhood, how he went home after school every day and there was his mother waiting for him. And then there was the song. “Calling My Children Home.” Well, I just sat there and took in that lovely music and felt so much.
When a very bad thing happens good people want to do something. But, oh my, what to do. What to do. And what came to me, sitting there in the chair by the window was the thought, “Live a good life and lift up the people around you in the living.” Ann Curry, one of the great women in the world and former (their loss) NBC Today Show anchor, wondered what would happen if acts of kindness were a result of what happened on the 11th Day Before Christmas. Well, I’m with her. 26 acts of kindness. Thing is, once you get to 26, why stop? And an act of kindness can be the most simple thing.
If I have a mantra when things get rough, I think, over and again, “I can do this. I can do this.” But there are other words and thoughts that return like tides when things are in flux or painful or just plain rough. St. Francis was the patron saint of animals and the environment, but he sure had his finger on the pulse of humanity. His are the words that find me when bad things happen. It’s a prayer, and a song, and it goes like this:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
So my thought, as the end of the world nears for some, and as the New Year approaches for others, is to Take Heart. Plug in your Christmas lights, people. And if you don’t have any, go get some and string ’em all the heck over. And get some candles while you’re at it. It’s something how one candle can fill a room with light.
Here’s another recipe calling for cranberries, perfect for a winter evening with friends and hot cider while the snow falls.
Cranberry Pear Crisp
3 cups cooked brown rice
2 cups diced peeled pears
1 cup chopped cranberries (fresh or frozen)
½ cup brown sugar; firmly packed
2 T flour
vegetable cooking spray
¼ cup rolled oats
3 T butter or margarine
¼ cup chopped pecans
¼ cup flaked coconut
Combine rice, pears, cranberries, ⅓ cup sugar, and 2 T flour. Place rice mixture in 2-qt. baking dish coated with cooking spray; set aside. Combine remaining flour, remaining sugar, and oats in bowl. Cut in butter with pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add pecans and coconut; blend well. Sprinkle over rice mixture. Bake at 375 for 25 minutes or so. Serve warm.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I’d been out much of the afternoon shopping for groceries and supplies as there was that snow in the forecast, and really, none of us had ANY idea what THAT was to become. Seventeen inches we got here, and my gosh it was something. Sparkly flakes began falling Saturday night just after the show, and they grew in number and the wind picked up and the snow fell all through Sunday and into Monday. School was cancelled, and the kids were gleeful for a moment and then went back to sleep.
Mr. Sundberg spent much of Sunday in his orange snowmobile suit out shoveling snow, and I baked. All day. Seven pounds of butter, ten pounds of flour, five pounds of sugar, five bags of chocolate chips, and a bottle of almond extract later, there it was: a table full up with Christmas. Spritz cookies, frosted sugar cookie cutouts, Grandma’s sugar cookies, peanut butter chocolate pebbles, almond bark pretzels, Russian teacakes, wheat thin peanut butter almond bark sandwiches, Chex mix (a double batch), a double batch of bran muffins, a recipe’s worth of chipped beef dip with green peppers, taco meat for dinner, and a loaf of fresh bread. The preliminary round. Wide-eyed kids (what to eat first?) and a smiling Mr. Sundberg. “Well, you are one productive woman,” he said.
When the snow is falling without pause and there’s nowhere to go for a good twenty four hours, it’s permission from the universe to have at it. As I’ve said, you create a scene, and inhabit it fully. Doesn’t have to be in the kitchen, but that’s my scene of choice. Apron included.
This is a newer recipe in my collection, and if you’re as big a fan of dried cranberries as I am, this is your lucky day. Fans of orange extract, you might consider adding a few drops.
Cranberry Macadamia Nut Cookies
1 cup butter
1½ cups brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2¼ cups flour
1 tsp soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup macadamia nuts
1 cup white chocolate chips
1½ cups sweetened, dried cranberries
Cream butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Add flour, soda and salt and mix.
Fold in nuts, chips, and dried cranberries.
Drop by spoonfuls onto cookie sheet and bake for 9-10 minutes at 375.
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I spent the two hours downstairs in the guest room going through the gifts I’ve purchased for Christmas, wrapping a few things and filling up the several baskets I picked up at Goodwill with chocolates and bubble bath and tea — each tailored to fit the person it goes too. There’s more filling to do, and I’m heading out to shop once again and see what I might find. I like giving gifts that are practical, that taste good, that can be used up. Sweaters are great, but a basket filled up with ingredients for an Italian meal and a bottle of wine and a box of sea salt caramel chocolates is something else.
The first gift of Christmas came today, for me, to the door. It is a Styrofoam box filled up with MEAT! And some chocolate cakes. How delightful is that. Steaks and chops and burgers and wieners. Addressed to me, with “Merry Christmas”, and no return address or name. Well. I put it all into the freezer, and now I’m craving a steak.
Gifts can be a challenge, but if they’re from the heart and not so expensive, practical and thoughtful with a little decadence here and there, the stress disappears. This year, for me, it’s something filled with something. Everyone is getting a box, a basket, a bucket — filled with fun things, most of ’em on sale, that I’ve gathered over recent weeks. There’s a baking basket with spices and cookie cutters and an apron; a party bucket with beer and a gingham table cloth and some barbecue sauce; a laundry basket filled with all a college girl might need in the line of hygiene and cleaning; a sweet basket with ribbons for an ailing grandmother. Sounds like work, but it’s not. It’s simple. Follow your instincts. Gift cards are easy, too, but I’d rather have a slab of fine chocolate, or a jar of homemade jam. And some bread to slather it on, to share on a cold December evening.
Sometimes a mug of hot cider is just the thing at the end of the day. This recipe works for me, and is on the list of Things That Bring Holiday Cheer.
Hot Spiced Cranberry Cider
2 quarts apple cider
6 cups cranberry juice
¼ cup packed brown sugar
4 cinnamon sticks
1½ tsp. whole cloves
1 lemon, thinly sliced
In a large pot, combine apple cider, cranberry juice, brown sugar, cinnamon sticks, cloves and lemon slices. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 15-20 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove cinnamon, cloves, and lemon slices and serve hot. Makes about 25 servings.