Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Twas the Night Before

Twas the night before Christmas

And all through the house

Not a creature was stirring

Not even a…

Pardon the interruption, but it appears that the evidence is incontrovertible:

Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the flat
Not a creature was stirring
Not even the cat!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Chasing Super

     Sometimes I wake in the morning feeling like Superman's grandma.

     I saw these chocolate caramel marshmallow pops on Pinterest and thought they would make a fun table treat for the grandchildren on Christmas. I woke up yesterday morning feeling like Supergrandma, ready to tackle those haystack cookies that have eluded me in past years, and to make four marshmallow pops. Easy. I knew I could have it done by noon and spend the afternoon catching up on ironing.

     The haystack cookies came off without a hitch except that I hadn't read the recipe through to the part that says they need to be stored in the refrigerator. I put them in a box and stored them in the garage, because there was no room for them in the fridge with the Christmas ham hogging most of the extra space. Sometimes it is a perk to live in a climate that drops below freezing in winter--refrigeration au naturel.

     On to the chocolate caramel marshmallow pops. I bought Jumbo marshmallows and decided to make my own caramel from scratch because the store bought ones just don't taste like caramel anymore. I have a really good recipe from one of my sisters that is not difficult to make. The candy cooked up beautifully, but I accidentally flipped the whisk out of the pan while I was stirring and splattered hot caramel all over the floor and the front of my clothes, and burned my forearm.

     When the crisis was over, I dipped the marshmallows-on-a-stick into the carmel sauce and placed them on waxed paper to cool. Thirty minutes later, when I came back to make the chocolate, I couldn't pry the marshmallows off the waxed paper. Well, I tried my best, but it mangled the marshmallows. I guess I should have buttered the paper. There was nothing in the five recipes I looked at that said I should grease the paper, but they all used cheap caramels which, apparently, do not stick. Needless to say, the Mangled Jumbo Sans Chocolate Caramel Marshmallow Pops went into the kitchen garbage can.

     In my ill-judged attempt to leap tall buildings in a single bound, I had skipped breakfast and lunch and sustained myself on licks of caramel and a handful of peanuts. By two o'clock in the afternoon I was flagging and the ironing pile was untouched. I sat down to eat a plate of scrambled eggs and to take stock of my failure.

     The upshot of it all is that I remembered I am really more of a Clark Kent mild-mannered reporter kind of cook and entertainer, and I am fine with that. It's too exhausting chasing super. Besides, I make a good Snickerdoodle.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Holiday Sunset

     I walked out my front door into a wildfire sky a couple of weeks ago. As I stood on the porch incongruously shivering in the twilight, the sun fell behind trees burnt black with shadow and set the world’s rim aflame in madder and gold. I'd been trimming my house for Christmas, and suddenly all my attempts at ornamentation seemed common and small. You could warm your hands and soul before a sky that color.  

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Oh, Christmas Tree

     The Christmas trees I remember from my childhood are the ones my brothers would poach from the edge of the city dump after dark. Those illicit firs were irregular and fragrant and almost too big for our living room. We decorated them with colored lights, translucent glow-in-the-dark icicles, blown glass ornaments and dangling strands of silver tinsel. Years later my parents bought an artificial Scots Pine that could be taken apart and stored in the attic. It was a perfectly symmetrical pyramid of green plastic toilet bowl brushes screwed into a painted green pole. My father would lay fir boughs in front of the heating vents to scent the house with something more authentic.

     Our first year married, we bought a four-foot live Scots Pine at a local nursery for our Los Angeles apartment. It cost us a whopping eight dollars. It came dear because my husband was in graduate school and eight dollars was a third of our weekly grocery budget. We decorated it with ornaments from a ninety-year-old friend of the family who stopped putting up a tree after his wife died, and one ornament of our own: a little wooden train engine we bought in Carmel-by-the-Sea on our honeymoon.

     After we moved to the Pacific Northwest and started a family, we usually drove out to Christmas tree farms that lay at the foot of the Cascade Mountains to find our tree. Seven-foot Douglas Firs were the favorite, and we cut down our own for about twelve dollars. My dear husband would lead the girls and I up and down the aisles of sheared firs for what felt like hours, in search of a flawless specimen. Afterward, as we sat on the tailgate of our old yellow pickup truck with our hands thawing around steaming mugs of hot chocolate piled high with whipped cream, we soon forgot about the cold and the hike to the top of the mountain for that perfect tree daddy never found.

     Shopping for a tree in the Midwest came as something of a shock. We promised the girls that when we moved away from the Evergreen State, we would continue to buy a live tree. However, twelve-dollar trees were a thing of the past. Once, when we went looking for the tree farms rumored to be out west of the suburbs, we ended up buying a Fraser fir in an overpriced tree lot and nearly had to sell our shoes to pay for it. The following year, determined to find an affordable fir, we ended up in the Pepper's Bedroom City parking lot a little dispirited and disgruntled at the lack of ambience. But from then on, we were hooked on Fraser firs. Fortunately, we could find them at the hardware store for a reasonable price, and our kids never had to go barefoot in winter.

     The girls are grown now, and our oldest has a family of her own, but we still get a live tree. My husband is allergic to the mold and has to wear a particle mask to string the lights, but we can’t bear to buy an artificial one. I put the ornaments on, but the tree itself is so lovely that I would be happy to decorate it with just the lights. With the lamps turned down low in the sitting room of our home, I can imagine that I am stopping by the woods on a snowy evening to watch them fill up with snow. I can imagine that stars have fallen gently out of the sky like snowflakes to rest in the branches of my tree.

     Of all the deckings and fa la la's of the season, I believe our Christmas tree is the one trimming I would be hard pressed to go without.