An Exercise of the Heart

Archived | November 30, 2013 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. Got nearly all the yard stuff done, and even a bit of gift-shopping here and there and listening to the show was all about baking and relaxing in the kitchen. I’m not into holiday mode quite yet, so all I made was a batch of Chex mix and some apple cake and a small batch of dip for chips. The kids were out with friends, and Mr. S was in Massachusetts giving a talk on stress and the holidays.
So I dug a box of chocolates out of the storage closet downstairs which doubles as a repository for Christmas gifts. Got the chocolate map out, found the toffee crunch and a raspberry cream and a chocolate truffle, and they tasted pretty good. I buy good chocolates when they’re on sale near the holidays, and I always buy an extra box, just for me. I’m not one to buy frivolous things for myself, but on occasion it seems like the thing to do. It’s okay to give yourself a gift now and then. Especially when it’s on sale, and useful in some way, or if it fills a need. Like new white cotton socks, or a wooden spoon. Nutritional value is a bonus, and that clinched it for me: five box of chocolates it was. (And now there are four).
I’ve been thinking about giving gifts this year, and finding that instead of reading lists of ideas, the impulse is what appeals to me. You know, the nudge you feel when you’re shopping and see something you know a certain person would love, and you buy it. I’ve bought a number of books for my family because of that nudge, and a few clothing items, and a couple odd things. I am a list person, though, so instead of getting lists for and suggestions from people to whom I will give gifts, I wrote down all their names and made my own list. Not that I’ll disregard suggestions, but buying gifts is an exercise of the heart, and it’s much more fun when you don’t feel as if you’re filling an order. Takes creativity, sometimes, and attention, but a certain element of surprise returns, and shopping becomes more fun.
When Mr. Sundberg asked me what I want for Christmas, all I could think of was some new spatulas and more candles and some quality spices for baking and a pair of black leather pumps. Not much different from last year’s list. So instead I told him to surprise me. He knows me better than anyone, and why not have a little suspense? Not to say I won’t mention my need for a pair of black pumps, size 8½, once or twice. And I may point out that we only have two bottles of wine in a rack that holds twelve. Thing is, though, he’s already given me the gift I want most: he took a week off from work over Christmas. It’s simple, and free, and there are no receipts because returns are not an issue. Not with the best gift of all.
Here’s a fine and spicy treat bordering on elegant. Serve it as an appetizer at your next family gathering, and everyone will want to come back to your place next time. And the time after that, if you serve it again.
Baked Brie with Pepper Jelly
1 8-oz. wheel of baby Brie
½ package puff pastry, thawed for about 40 minutes on the counter
About 3-4 tablespoons pepper jelly
1 egg white mixed with about 2 teaspoons cold water
Preheat oven to 400. Gently unfold the puff pastry sheet. If it tears, gently mend it. Cut the brie in half lengthwise and place one half, rind down, on the pastry. Spread with jelly and then place the other half of the brie, rind up, on the jelly. If necessary, trim the excess pastry and then fold it over the cheese, sealing the edges. Decorate the brie with decorative shapes cut from the excess dough and brush it with the egg white and water mixture. Place the bundle, seam-down, on a lightly greased baking dish. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. Serve with crackers, bread, and strawberries, apples, pears, and grapes. A dish of dried cranberries is nice, too.