Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Little Christmas Present

From us to you . . . a friend's recipe for some very tasty White Chocolate Candy

1-1 lb. large package of Nestle white chocolate chips
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 1/4 cups rice krispies
1 cup of spanish peanuts
2 tablespoons mini marshmallows

Melt chocolate chips and peanut butter in the microwave.  This only takes a minute or so.  Mix together.  Add rice krispies, nuts, and marshmallows.  Drop onto waxed paper or foil-covered cookie sheets.  Let cool at room temperature or you can put them in the refrigerator to set.

Miss Kate

Alternate:  White Chocolate Popcorn:  add 7 cups popped popcorn to the rice krispies and nuts, omitting the marshmallows.

Merry Christmas!!

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Short Break

I may or may not be posting very regularly for awhile, since some of the places we're going don't have real roads, much less cellphone coverage!

Yep, Texas.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Our Christmas

Not being Christians, we're pretty flexible with our celebrations of Christmas.  For us, in our Unitarian Universalist way, the holiday is all about families and the special blessing that children are.  When I emphasized this to the kids last night, Bud said, "Mom, we're nine.  It's all about the presents."

At least he's honest?

I was the same way at that age and I managed to grow out of it.  Growing up is the key.

Anyway, wanting to be with family for Christmas, we opted to move our celebration to this weekend since Goo has to work on Christmas and, at the time, we weren't scheduled to be in Texas.  As I think I told you, when we moved our Christmas to today, we then moved our plane tickets and get an extra 60 hours in Texas.  And another Christmas!  This time, with my folks.

The kids didn't really get into the particulars of how we swung that.  We casually said we'd checked with Santa and he'd okay'd it.  Only last night did Bud ask how I contacted him--via email?  No, I said, owl.

(That's a Harry Potter reference, folks.  Also, because snowy owls have been spotted along the CT coast.)

We think they know, but we're not asking. They were very uninterested in logistics this year, unlike years previous when we've discussed Santa as a Time Lord (and/or a stalker.)  And I'm wondering if they're not asking so we don't tell.  It's vice versa for us.

All of which is to say that Goo came last night, after the cookie party, and we had a very enjoyable evening.  We ate gumbo and cookies and Sis's homemade fudge.  We watched silly YouTube videos. Goo and the kids did Pokemon cards. We discussed Piano Guys and the kids played some of their songs.  We put out cookies and eggnog for Santa and scattered carrots and oats outside for the reindeer. We finally got the kids to bed.  

And we adults stayed up too late talking and wrapping presents.  Way too late.  But we hadn't seen Goo in a long time and we love hanging out.

Thank heavens for Goo.  Because when the kids woke up before 6 a.m., having been told there would be no presents before 7 a.m., he kept them company and distracted.  While Mama and I grabbed an extra hour of sleep.

And then Ma and Gong arrived and the festivities began straightaway.  (Not like the stories of my maternal grandfather who apparently made Gommie and her siblings wait for him to shower, shave, and dress before they could see the tree!)

Stuffed stockings and a full complement of presents under the tree.  Just like when I was a kid, we start with stockings and then open presents in round-robin fashion, one at a time.  (The only difference is we don't read the Christmas story aloud from the Bible.)  And though I'm not nine, I will tell you some of them.  Bud and Sis always give each other the presents they like best; this year was no exception.  It's one of their favorite parts, the planning and shopping and wrapping and putting them under the tree early and shaking them and then opening them very first on Christmas morning.  And so they squealed and hugged and ducked hugs and fell to the floor giggling.  Legos. Art supplies.  Dragons.  Stuffed bunny.

They always buy us presents, in addition to making bracelets or drawings or such.  They got me right on--soaps, lotions, chocolates, candied almonds, food writing books, more soaps, and some doodling supplies.  For Mama, they got art supplies and puzzles (and I got her a little Saw-Whet owl trinket in memory of Block Island and a book on birds of prey.)

And Santa--with our permission, which we gave in advance, about which they did not ask--gave them a Wii U and some games.  Yep, we have a games console in the house. And so they played MarioKart, Infinity, Fantasia, some game called Toad Tracker.  Goo and Mama, who used to open presents on Christmas Eve and then stay up playing all night even after their parents went to sleep, have longed played video games for Christmas, starting with Zelda and such.  So Mama, Goo, and the kids played, while I read and napped; Ma and Gong watched and napped some, too.

We made an amazing breakfast, namely the Deep Dark Gingerbread Waffles from Smitten Kitchen.  I LOVED them.  Great rich flavor, chewy inside a caramelized outside.  Mama also made eggs, corned beef hash, and scrapple.  Then it was back to gaming and books and napping.

Later, casually, we had muffalattas and leftover gumbo, everyone grabbing a plate when the mood struck.  So easy, so relaxed.  

(Not to say it was all perfect; there is always a little stress and conflict when families get together.  But I go to therapy sometimes and it pays off.  Today was one of those days when, instead of taking it personally and defensively, I could accept all of our quirks and have sympathy for all of us, mostly. I wish that were everyday.)

Ma and Gong left late afternoon, but Goo stayed on for more games and ordering out pizza.  We won't see him for awhile because he doesn't have much time off, so we were taking advantage of our time together.  

I had expected it to feel not quite like Christmas, since the rest of the world didn't stop.  But it did. It absolutely felt like our Christmas (except that we could order pizza, but by then it was okay.)

And guess what?  It even flurried for a few minutes and dusted our cars!!

(Now, as the day ends, Mama and I are relaxing to one of our favorite holiday films, Love Actually.  We had almost showed it to the kids this year . . .until we remembered the sweet romance between the porn stand-ins.  Acted out by Bilbo Baggins.  It'll stay our adult holiday tradition a bit longer.)


Deep Dark Gingerbread Waffles
These might be my new Christmas breakfast treat--like a rich, gingerbread sticky pudding.  Amazing!  

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
1/2 cup buttermilk, yogurt thinned with a little milk, fresh apple cider or even stout beer
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
3 tablespoons butter, melted, plus extra for brushing waffle iron
Powdered sugar for serving

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, molasses, sugars, egg and butter until combined. The butter will likely firm up and make little white splotches throughout; this is a-okay. Pour the wet into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

Heat waffle iron to a middle heat. Either brush waffle iron with melted butter or spray it lightly with a nonstick cooking spray. Ladle gingerbread batter into waffle iron until they’re about 3/4 filled out. Cook according to manufacturer’s directions. In my waffle iron, I like to cook them 1 to 2 minutes more.

**My note:  this is key.  They crust up and are better after a fashion.  To remove waffles: Open waffle iron. Wait about 30 seconds, giving them a chance to steam off a little. With tongs in one hand and a small spatula in the other, gently, carefully lift corners of each waffle section enough to slide the spatula underneath, then lift and slide some more until you can get the section out. Curse Deb, because these waffles are very sticky and eager to tear. Trust Deb, that they will be worth it. Spread them on a tray in a single layer to let cool slightly; within 1 minute, they should be crisp to the touch and easier to lift. Repeat with remaining batter. Try not to stack waffles — even though they’re firm, they will stick.

Serve immediately, dusted with powdered sugar and, if you’re feeling fancy, a dollop of barely or unsweetened whipped cream or crème fraîche.

Advent Activity: Cookie Party

So, Friday was our annual cookie decorating party, where the kids invite some of their friends over after school to play and decorate sugar cookies.  Sis and I had spent most of Thursday night making dough, cutting cookies, and baking them off.  The first batch--of 6+ dozen!--was tough and seemed to foretell difficulty work ahead--everything stuck and the dough kept tearing when we tried to transfer them to sheets for baking.  I have lots of tricks up my apron strings to remedy that and we even managed to save the very first batch.  So, that's 75 sugar cookies and about 60 small gingerbread pieces.  See, I had this new cookie cutter that made all the pieces for a mini-house in one cut.  Unfortunately, the dough we used--frozen from IKEA--was not great, in that it puffed and then shrank, distorting the pre-made house shapes.  Still, it's a great cutter and we'll try again with a better batch of gingerbread dough.  

Friday, their bus arrived home early and soon their were eight screaming fourth graders and one exuberant first grader (our little bus mate from down the street, whose grandparents didn't meet her off the bus on time because it was early so we just invited her into the party, with their permission when they finally arrived.)  They built their houses, ran around outside for a long time (it was a relatively warm day for December in CT), decorated their houses, ran around again playing Zombie tag and other things, decorated some cookies, snacked on Chex Mix, Smart Corn, and homemade hot chocolate, and then decided to go caroling!

They all have the same music teacher and know the same versions of the same songs, so after a little practice, they headed off to various obliging neighbors' houses, where they sang and danced to "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" and "Jingle Bells." It really was quite precious.  We even got all the way down to the 5th-grade teacher's house--yes, Miss K--but she was still at work!  So they sang for her husband and daughter instead.  It really was a marvelous addition to the party--better even that it was their idea--and I'll probably make it more official next year (meaning only I'll tell them all to wear real coats, which they weren't yesterday--and they were in pajama pants for dress-down day at school!)

Soon parents arrived and whisked their cold, sugar-ed up, and merry kids home for the start of their own holiday vacation.

The first graders's model of how to build the house.
Sis's house.  I told her she seemed confused about which holiday it was!

This one turned out the most stable and well built.

It was dress-down day at school so they're all in pajama pants!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Advent Activity: Getting Ready

It's that time of year--our annual cookie-decorating party!  Tomorrow, six friends are coming over to frost and sprinkle sugar cookies.  New this year, they'll make mini-gingerbread houses,pieces made using IKEA gingerbread dough (not too tasty, I found) and a cookie cutter that makes all the parts you need in a single cut.  It's a sweet tradition that apparently means as much to the guests as to us the hosts--a few of their moms say how much they look forward to being invited each year, that it's a highlight.

I'll post "after" pictures tomorrow.

The kids are especially excited because tomorrow is also our family's Christmas Eve.  And Goo is coming.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Chocolate "Lembas Bread"

Beware fandom speak.

We played Hobbit this evening, Sis and I did.  She was Legolas (always) and I was first Tauriel and then Gandalf, because she said I made a better Gandalf (I'm going to just let that be.)  We were on a journey, from the Lonely Mountain to Bree, to find Aragorn, heir to the throne of Gondor, which is where last night's movie left off (before the "next" movies start--the LOTR/Hobbit order in reverse-chronology is going to present the same problems as SW!) 

Anyway, we had our weapons, her cloak, a horse (not Shadowfax, though), and of course Elven lembas bread.  But not just any lembas bread, no.  This was CHOCOLATE!

Yep, straight from the tin of fudge we made last night as part of our Advent activities.  Lord Legolas told me that it takes more chocolate lembas bread to fill up, unlike the one bite of the plain.  

And I'm sure it helped us in our journey, though we broke off before we found the Ranger.

I have long told the kids about fudge and how I went through a fudge-making period before they were born.  I became quite adept, well, as much as a home-amateur can (no marble Mackinac fudge tables for me, though.)  And I made lots of different kinds.  But boiling sugar with children was never my idea of a good time.  I burned my finger last night just a little to prove that.  But they're older now and follow directions in the kitchen and so we cooked it up.  I know, I know, the "no fail fudge" is not true fudge.  But I'm okay with that.  It tastes good enough and is a good start.

'Cos, you know, the journey through Middle Earth is long and hard and no doubt we're going to need more lembas bread . . . . in various flavors.


Chocolate "Lembas Bread" aka Never Fail Fudge from the Fluff Jar
I don't think I had ever actually used the recipe on the back of the jar before, especially because we didn't have Fluff in Texas, but another brand.  Anyway, it works well as a first fudge and, because we probably over-caramelized the mixture, it had a richer flavor than I expected.  Sis loved making it and used it as a prop when we played Hobbit (Dec. 2014.)

2 1/2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons butter
1 small (5 oz) can evaporated milk
1-7.5 oz jar Marshmallow Fluff
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1-12 oz. package semi-sweet chocolate

Combine first five ingredients.  Stir over low heat until blended.  Bring to boil over medium heat, being careful not to mistake air bubbles for boiling.  Boil slowly, stirring, for 4 minutes (use softball test.)  Remove from heat.  Stir in vanilla and chocolate until melted.  Pour into a buttered 9x9" pan and cool.

Fluff label

Creamsicle Fudge

I put this together from a couple of sources to make one of my favorite flavors—creamsicle!  It was one of the four fudges I made for holiday party 2000.

1-12 oz. bag of white chocolate chips
2 ¼ cups sugar
7 oz. (1 jar) marshmallow crème
¾ cup evaporated milk
¼ cup (1/2 stick butter)
½ tablespoon orange extract

In heavy 3-quart saucepan, combine sugar, marshmallow crème, evaporated milk, and butter.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil; boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat; stir in orange extract.  Immediately stir in white chocolate chips.  Spread into prepared (foiled and greased) pan.  Cool at room temperature and cut.

Double-Decker Fudge
The first and most famous of my fudges!  Never fails.  And the marshmallow crème base can be adapted for other fudges.  The peanut butter part reminds me of Miss Betty’s mother’s peanut fudge but it is not quite the same.
About 5 dozen pieces or about 2 pounds fudge.

1 cup Reese’s Peanut Butter chips
1 cup chocolate chips
2 ¼ cups sugar
7 oz. (1 jar) marshmallow crème
¾ cup evaporated milk
¼ cup (1/2 stick butter)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

            Line 8 inch square pan with foil, extending foil over edges of pan.  In medium bowl, place peanut butter chips.  In second medium bowl, place chocolate chips.  In heavy 3-quart saucepan, combine sugar, marshmallow crème, evaporated milk, and butter.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil; boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat; stir in vanilla.  Immediately stir half of the hot mixture (1 ½ cups) into peanut butter chips until chips are completely melted; quickly spread into prepared pan.  Stir remaining hot mixture into chocolate chips until chips are completely melted.  Quickly spread over top of peanut butter layer.  Cool to room temperature; refrigerate until firm.  Use foil to lift fudge out of pan; peel off foil.  Cut into 1-inch squares.  Store in tightly covered container at room temperature.

Miss Betty’s Mother’s Fudge
Miss Lorraine lost all of her recipes in Katrina, when she lost her home, and so tried to recall the recipe from memory for me after Miss Betty died.  I remember having this back when the World’s Fair was in New Orleans and we went over to Waveland to visit Miss Lorraine (and Jeff Davis’s house).    I haven’t tried it yet and so don’t know if this recipe works.  And, in some ways, it doesn’t have to.  It doesn’t say how much peanut butter—I’m going to guess ¾ to 1 cup.  I can guess at the vanilla, too (1 teaspoon).

4 teaspoons cocoa
3 cups sugar
1 small can cream (5 oz)
1 stick oleo
Peanut butter

In large Pyrex measuring cup (64 oz), mix sugar, cream, and oleo and cocoa.  Microwave on high 3 minutes.  Stir.  Repeat 3x.  Microwave on hi 1-minute.  Remove from microwave and add vanilla and Peanut butter.  Beat by hand 2 minutes—pour into buttered cookie sheet.  Let cool and cut into pieces when fully set.

Miss Lorraine

Eggnog Fudge
From the Skaarup Laboratories fudge website, I made this for our holiday party 2000.  It’s a little brittle but tasty.

1/8 cup butter
3 cup sugar
1 cup egg nog (no “light”)
6 oz. white chips (or 6 oz. butterscotch chips, gives extra zing)
1 ½ cup mini marshmallows
1 cup almonds, chopped (optional)
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cinnamon

            Line a 9 x 9” pan with aluminum foil and set aside.  Keep butter chilled in the refrigerator.  Spray sides of a large saucepan with butter-flavor non-stick spray.
            Heat egg nog and sugar at medium setting.  Bring to a rolling boil (medium to medium high heat) while stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.  Boil for 2 full minutes by the clock.  Now fold in the marshmallows, cinnamon, and nutmeg; the boil will probably stop until the marshmallows are completely dissolved.  Bring back to a rolling boil for another 6 full minutes by the clock.  Stir continuously.
            The mixture will start to turn brown during the boil.  If you get brown flakes in the mixture then turn down the heat a little.
            Remove from heat and add the butter, chips, and nuts.  Stir like crazy until thoroughly mixed or until it starts to lose its glossy appearance.  Pour into prepared pan.  At this point you may want to sprinkle a little nutmeg on the surface.
            Cool at room temperature.  Remove from pan, remove foil, cut into squares. 

Festive Fudge

3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1-14 oz. can chocolate or original sweetened condensed milk
dash of salt
½ to 1 cup chopped nuts, optional
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

            In a heavy saucepan, over low heat, melt chips with condensed milk and salt.  Remove from heat; stir in nuts and vanilla.  Spread evenly into a wax paper-lined 8- or 9-inch pan.
            Chilll two hours or until firm.  Turn fudge onto cutting board, peel off paper, and cut into squares.  Store covered in the refrigerator.
Makes 2 lbs

Irish Cream Truffle Fudge

Miss B brought the makings for this, which she’d seen on the internet, and we made it when she and Miss J visited our house for the first time.  I’d seen the recipe on the internet too and had wanted to try it.  It was okay, not a true fudge, but fun to make together while Miss J and Mama trimmed trees and did other house things.  So stereotypical!

3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup white chocolate chips
¼ cup butter
3 cups powdered sugar
1 cup Irish Cream liqueur
1 ½ cups chopped nuts
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup white chocolate chips
4 tablespoons Irish Cream liqueur
2 tablespoons butter

            Butter an 8 x 8” pan.
            In the top half of a double boiler, melt 3 cups semisweet chocolate chips, 1 cup white chocolate chips, and ¼ cup butter until soft enough to stir.
            Stir in the powdered sugar and liqueur until mixture is smooth.  Stir in nuts.  Place mixture in the prepared pan and lay a sheet of plastic wrap over top; press and smooth top down.
            In the top half of a double boiler, melt remaining chocolates until soft.  Remove from heat and with a fork beat in the butter and liqueur until smooth.  Spread topping over cooled fudge with a knife.  If a smooth top is important, place plastic wrap over the top.  Refrigerate until firm, 1-2 hours at least.  This fudge can be easily frozen.



Key Lime Fudge

Another in the holiday 2000 fudges, Houston series.  This is incredible stuff!
7 oz. (1 jar) marshmallow crème
¾ cup evaporated milk
¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter
2 ¼ cup sugar
12 oz. white chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup key lime juice
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 cup toasted almond slices

Line an 8 inch pan with foil; grease. 
Place white chocolate chips and toasted almond slices in a large bowl.
In heavy 3-quart saucepan, combine sugar, marshmallow crème, evaporated milk, and butter.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil; boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat; stir in lime juice and lemon extract.  Immediately stir into mixture of white chocolate chips and toasted almonds.
Allow to cool at room temperature and then cut into 1-inch squares.

Oh, Fudge!

Lemon Butter Fudge

Just incredible fudge.  Very much like Mackinac Island fudge—kinda sugary crust and then melt-in-your mouth.  And the butter/lemon mixture is amazing!  The first fudge of Christmas 2001.  And the first one I’ve made from the book Oh, Fudge!

2 cups sugar
½ cup (5 oz. can) evaporated milk
1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
¼ teaspoon salt
1 x 3 inch piece lemon zest (or zest of one lemon)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter

½ to 1 teaspoon lemon extract
½ cup chopped nuts
4 drops yellow food coloring

            STEP 1:  Prewarm thermometer; use 2-quart saucepan; butter upper sides of saucepan; measure all ingredients except butter, food coloring, and optionals, and dump into saucepan.  Grease and, if necessary, line a 5 x 10 inch pan.  Freeze all the butter.  Fill glass with ice cubes and water, and fill sink half-inch full of water.
            STEP 2:  Dissolve sugar.  Mixture may look curdled, but it will turn out fine.  Stir constantly with wooden spoon over low heat until gritty sounds cease and spoon glides smoothly over bottom of pan.  Increase heat to medium and bring to a boil. 
            STEP 3:  Boil after washing down any crystals that may have formed with pastry brush dipped in hot water from thermometer bath, using as little water as possible.  Introduce prewarmed thermometer.  Reduce heat while retaining boil.  Stir no more than necessary. 
            STEP 4:  Test in ice-cold water when mixtures thickens and bubbles become noisy.  Ball, formed in ice water, should hold its shape until heat from your hand begins to flatten it and should be al dente—slightly chewy.  Approximately 236 to 244°F.
            STEP 5:  Shock by placing saucepan in sink.
            STEP 6:  Seed by adding, without stirring, frozen butter.  Then allow to cool.
            STEP 7:  Stir when lukewarm and “skin” forms on top (110°F).  Return thermometer to its hot-water bath to soak clean.  Add food coloring and check flavoring, adding optional lemon extract if desired.  Remove zest (or leave in if grated), then agitate with mixer and not by hand.  Pause frequently to allow fudge to react.
            STEP 8:  Watch for fudge to thicken, lose its sheen, become light in color or streaked with lighter shades, give off some heat, suddenly stiffen.  If mixing in food processor, fudge will flow sluggishly back to center.  By mixer, mixer waves will become very distinct.  By hand, fudge will “snap” with each stroke.
            STEP 9:  Add optional chopped nuts like pecans just before you pour.
            STEP 10:  Pour, score, and store when cool in airtight container in refrigerator or at room temperature.

Oh, Fudge!

Mexican Orange Fudge
I made this for the museum but found it very sugary and sweet.  I might try it again with less sugar.
Makes 45 pieces or about 1 pound

2 ½ cups sugar
¼ cup boiling water
½ cup light cream
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup chopped pecans (optional)
1 tablespoon finely shredded orange peel

            Line 9 x 5 x 3 pan with foil; butter and set aside. 
To caramelize sugar, in a heavy 2-quart saucepan heat 1 cup sugar over medium heat, stirring constantly, till sugar melts and turns a rich brown color.  This should take 10-15 minutes. 
            Remove pan from heat.  Slowly add boiling water, stirring carefully until sugar dissolves.  Add the remaining 1 ½  cups sugar, cream, and butter.  Cook over medium high heat to boiling, stirring constantly to dissolve additional sugar.  This should take about 5 minutes.  Avoid splashing mixture on sides of pan.  Carefully clip candy thermometer to pan.
            Cook over medium low heat stirring frequently until thermometer registers 240 (softball stage).  Mixture should boil at a moderate, steady rate.  This should take about 8 to 10 minutes.
            Remove pan from heat.  Cool, without stirring to 110, about 55 minutes.  Remove thermometer.  Beat vigorously until just beginning to thicken; add orange peels and pecans (optional).  Continue beating til very thick but still glossy.  This should take 4 to 5 minutes total (or less, keep an eye on it).  Quickly turn fudge into prepared pan.  While warm, score into squares.  When firm, lift out of pan; cut into squares.  Store tightly covered.

Better Homes and Gardens Candy

Orange Chocolate Fudge
I made this as part of the holiday 2000 fudges, Houston series.  MMmmmm!

2 ¼ cup sugar
7 oz. (1 jar) marshmallow crème
¾ cup evaporated milk
¼ cup butter (1/2 stick butter)
2 cups chocolate chips
1 teaspoon orange extract

Line an 8 inch pan with foil; grease. 
In a medium bowl, place chocolate chips.
In heavy 3-quart saucepan, combine sugar, marshmallow crème, evaporated milk, and butter.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil; boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat; stir in orange extract.  Immediately stir mixture into chocolate chips.  Pour into lined and greased pan.
Allow to cool at room temperature and then cut into 1-inch squares.

Peppermint Fudge
The candies turn the white fudge pink!  One of the holiday 2000 fudges (and my favorite, I think), adapted from Taste of Home.

2 ¼ cup sugar
7 oz. (1 jar) marshmallow crème
¾ cup evaporated milk
¼ cup butter (1/2 stick butter)
1 cup white chocolate chips
½ teaspoon peppermint extract
¼ cup crushed peppermint candy
1 cup chocolate chips
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Line an 8 inch pan with foil; grease. 
In one medium bowl, place chocolate chips and vanilla extract..  In another bowl, place white chocolate chips, crushed peppermint candies, and peppermint extract.
In heavy 3-quart saucepan, combine sugar, marshmallow crème, evaporated milk, and butter.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil; boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat; stir in almond extract.  Immediately stir half of mixture into chocolate chips and the other half into white chocolate and peppermint candies.  Pour chocolate mixture in pan first, then peppermint mixture.
Allow to cool at room temperature and then cut into 1-inch squares.

Taste of Home magazine

White Christmas Fudge
Very yummy, especially with the new adaptation, which was tested in the museum.  Mom’s note (10/01):  “Mom’s Favorite!”
Makes 36 squares

2 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar
2/3 cup milk
¼ cup butter
12 oz. white chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon almond extract
¾ cup dried cherries, cranberries, or apricots, coarsely chopped
¾ cup toasted almond slivers

            Line an 8 inch pan with foil; grease.  Mix sugar and milk in heavy saucepan.  Over medium heat, add butter and bring to a boil; stir constantly.   Without stirring, boil constantly for 5 minutes.
            Over low heat, add chocolate and almond extract.  Stir then whisk until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth.  Stir in dried fruit and almonds.  Pour into prepared pan.
            Refrigerate for 2 hours or until firm.  Invert pan, peel off foil, and cut into 1 inch squares. 
            To toast almonds:  Spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet.  Bake at 350°F for 5-10 minutes, shaking pan occasionally, until they begin to brown and turn fragrant.

Alternate:  White Christmas Fudge

7 oz. (1 jar) marshmallow crème
¾ cup evaporated milk
¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter
2 ¼ cup sugar
12 oz. white chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon almond extract
¾ cup dried cherries, cranberries, or apricots, coarsely chopped
¾ cup toasted almond slivers

Line an 8 inch pan with foil; grease. 
In heavy 3-quart saucepan, combine sugar, marshmallow crème, evaporated milk, and butter.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil; boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat; stir in almond extract.  Immediately stir into mixture of nuts and berries.
Allow to cool at room temperature and then cut into 1-inch squares.

Mocha Fudge
I made this fudge for our second holiday party in 1999 but no one could taste the coffee.  Perhaps increase?
Makes 2 lbs.

3 cups chocolate chips
1-14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
3 tablespoons chocolate syrup
1 tablespoon instant coffee
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

            In saucepan over low heat, melt chips and condensed milk.  Remove from heat.  Stir in syrup, coffee, and vanilla.  Spread evenly into foil-lined 8-or 9-inch square pan.  Chill two hours or until firm.  Cut into squares.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Pulling a Gommie

When I was in junior high, Gommie did something that meant the world to me then and still resonates quite a bit now:  she took me out of school, during the day!, to see Return of the Jedi the day it opened.  I went to first and second period, if memory serves, while she went and stood in line for tickets.  As she told it later, someone even approached the long line and asked what it was for and she asked (or thought) if they'd been under a rock!?!  The hype was phenomenal and I was a huge fan.  And I saw ROTJ in its second showing on the first day and LOVED IT.  She knew I would and she was game to take me out of school and go with me, embracing the craziness of it all--those were the special gifts that have stuck with me three decades or more later--generosity, fun, embracing the experience, support, and encouragement.  That's the kind of parent I want to be.

And so we pulled a Gommie tonight.  The Hobbit:  Battle of Five Armies opens tomorrow and we'd long told the kids we'd take them to see it,just like Gommie did for me, possibly even pulling them out of school.  But with Mama using up her days off for the holidays, we weren't going to be able to see the film during the day.  So, somehow, Mama learned about an advanced release showing today.  And got us tickets.

Except we didn't tell the kids.  I even rushed them through dinner and told them we all had to go to Home Depot with Mama.  We even pulled into the movie theater parking lot and told them ha! ha! we were going to see Penguins of Madagascar since the Hobbit wasn't opening yet.  And then . . . we handed them tickets to the Hobbit!  Bud actually didn't believe us and was a mite disappointed that we weren't going to Penguins . . . until it dawned on him that we were going to Hobbit tonight.  And then the cheering and dancing began.

Which is all very well and good because, it being the culminating film of the series, with sadness and death of some major characters (for which we were prepared) and a violent battle of five armies, it wasn't super cheerful.  But we liked it anyway and did managed to laugh at the funny bits and amazing stunts.  (Cos Legolas always has the best moves.)  And I loved the morals of the tale--friendship, loyalty, sacrifice, courage, love.  As Thorin Oakinshield says in the movie, ""If more of us valued home above money, it would be a merrier world."  That's all I'm going to say. No spoilers, we warned the kids about talking to their friends.  Only gloating that we saw it early. 

We got home late, almost 10 pm, and we'll all have trouble getting a move on in the morning, but it was well worth it.

Thanks, Gommie.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Advent Activity: Piano Performance

Yesterday, the kids participated in a concert at a local nursing home, organized by our piano teacher.  Sis played "Good King Wenceslas" and "Good Night, Ladies," while Bud played "Linus and Lucy."  They did well and seemed to enjoy it.  I know the residents did--lots of clapping and thanking them afterwards.  I'm glad the kids have the chance to share their talents.  And I'm proud that they do.

Advent Activity: Guess Where We Were, II

7:30 a.m. up and about
8:00 a.m. leave the house in the car
9:15 a.m. arrive, meet up with grandparents
9:30 a.m. see the creche, talk about how new the Cathedral looks
9:45 a.m. Lego store!!  Best to go with grandparents.  (Bud made me a mini-gingerbread house we saw on display there.  And the kids each got a set.)
10:00 a.m. take pictures in front of the big Christmas tree
10:45 a.m. great lunch at 'wichcraft--turkey sandwiches with onion relish, pb&j on multigrain, grilled cheese with bacon, Cuban pork, potato chips, lentil soup, hot chocolate, coffee
11:30 a.m. get special chocolates, flown in from Switzerland regularly--orange peel in chocolate, marzipan in chocolate, chocolate cats, champagne truffles.  Ma and Gong even got me some for my birthday.
12:00 noon head to museum--see the creche, visit "Death Becomes Her" (I love the exhibition of 19th-century Euro-American mourning clothes), Astor Court, Greco-Roman--the kids were ready to stay longer; it's the adults who wore out first.
2:00 p.m. say goodbye to grandparents
3:30 p.m. eat early dinner at fondue restaurant--Alpine cheese, court bouillon, milk chocolate with extra dippers, and special blackberry lemonades, and a boozy coffee for me!
4:30 p.m. home again

Yep, our annual holiday trip to the city with my in-laws.  Wonderful tradition, wonderful time.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Guess Where We Were

I had a very special birthday celebration tonight.  And here was our (8th annual!) menu:

  • Pork belly, cheddar, fried egg on brioche
  • cinnamon doughnut
  • "pig in the blanket"
  • vegan sushi roll
  • "Raclette," melted cheese under a roaster on fingerling potatoes, pickled beets, smoked ham, pickled string beans, roasted cauliflower, carrot, and toasted baguette
  • Macaroni and cheese, three ways:  1).  four cheese with bread crumbs; 2).  truffle oil (my second favorite) and 3). Italian sausage and peppers (my fourth favorite--yeah, still lapsing)
  • Swedish meatball in gravy with lingonberry (my third favorite)
  • jerk chicken skewer
  • veggie empanada
  • kale salad with vinaigrette
  • escoviche fish tacos
  • caramelized Belgian waffle with chocolate drizzle
  • orecchiette with butternut squash 
  • brussels sprouts with pomegranate seeds and chestnuts
  • beet burger with feta
  • slider with tomato jam
  • tater tots with truffle aioli!!!!!!!  MY FAVORITE
  • short ribs
  • scallion salad
  • Japchae noodles
  • s'mores cake
  • s'mores
  • s'mores liquid shots
  • whiskey apple cake
  • white chocolate trufffle
Whew, and that's just the food we ate!  There was more we didn't even try (salmon, steak, grilled cheese with peppers, boozy snow cones, one little appetizer in this flaky egg roll, fondue).  Plus full open bar, whatever you want, but we're so boring that we just drank soda.

Thanks for a wonderful night!!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Catching Up

For whatever reason, we have fallen behind in our daily Advent Activities.  I don't know if it's because we are distracted by and focused on the new cats (more on that in a bit), or because we have lots of activities--cookie decorating with GS troop at senior center, piano performance at nursing home, Piano Guys concert, various office parties, two friends' birthday parties, birthday lunch at German restaurant with visit to British grocery store, our annual cookie decorating party, and other things, plus are regularly scheduled activities.

We've had first contact!  We couldn't tempt the new boys upstairs after we locked up our original cats last night, so we let our cats visit them in the basement.  We were ready with treats, which worked very well--Albus and Hermione approached Mojito, but nothing happened as they all munched away. Later, Hermione and Mojito hissed a bit at each other, but separated.  Mojito even went to eat while Hermione was still hanging around.  We ended it soon after, since it had been pretty promising.  And no one seemed the worse for the wear last night or this morning--no hiding, no litterbox accidents, no obvious stress.  We'll try again.  We realize the basement isn't the best place for them to live, but under the circumstances, Mojito (Mojo) and Patron (Tabby or Petro) are pretty lucky.  And it is temporary.

Colonial Lecture
I gave that lecture to a local AAUW (American Association of University Women) chapter last weekend.  And it went really well!  My light beige body sock arrived the day before so that I didn't feel quite so exposed in my chemise.  'Cos I started out in nothing more than my shift, which is a very flimsy nightgown (and would've been used as such), and stockings.  I then tied on garters, slipped on my leather Merrills (the most obvious anachronistic bit I have--reproduction colonial shoes are too expensive for my needs), and kept going.  A volunteer helped me lace up my stays/corset, skipping every other hole to make it go faster--she used my spiral bobbin to help thread it (the spirals help twist the bobbin through.)  Then pockets, petticoats, bodice, cap.  They couldn't believe how many clothes I had on--are you hot?  can you breathe?  can you bend?  I'm pretty comfortable in my colonial clothes, even the corset, which is a nice brace for my back.  I spoke a bit about the development of the corset as a foundation for heavy petticoats and as a way to achieve the straight silhouette they desired (their clothes were much more fitted than now, tight, and so you really get these amazing lines, esp if you have wide skirts, a bum roll or panniers, an early side hoop.)  Since it's all cotton--the other main anachronism, for it would've been mainly wool, linen, or a combo linsy-woolsey here--I don't get as hot as I could (though I get warm faster than usual), and, of course, now the historic house has AC and heat; it would've been so much colder in the 18th century and you would've needed the wool, quilted petticoats, and numerous layers.  The talk was short, only about 20 minutes, and I could've covered a lot more.  I would definitely do it again, longer and more detailed. And when I changed back into my civvies, I just felt ordinary again.  I like the way I feel, physically (the corset, the change in how I move--sit, walk, even gesture) and mentally (i.e. thinking about the past, getting a different perspective.)  Regular clothes just don't do that for me (mind you, if I wore colonial clothes more often, I probably wouldn't feel that way anymore, either.)

Birthday Celebrations
Mama set up this great present for me--a Lyve app that allows me to manipulate all the digital photos we have in chronological order, updates any of our new photos, let's me share them.  So, I can look back on all the photos we've taken on my birthday through the years.  Or, look at all the photos in a month or year.  And she bought this digital frame that scrolls through them.  Right now, there are pictures of us at Mystic Seaport going past.

Mama went into work late so we could all have breakfast together--egg sandwiches she fetched from the deli!--and treats (yummy pastries from a special bakery she'd snuck home.)  Sis had hung up a birthday sign telling me I was awesome.  Feeling lots of love from my family today.

And family and friends, far and wide.  Gommie, Aunt Banana, and Lambeth and Mrs. Lambeth have called--it definitely sets the day apart and makes me feel special.  And several of my local friends came over for coffee and cake this morning, bringing treats to share (and some gifts, though I had said not to, which was sweet and appreciated.)  We chatted for two hours, having not gotten together in awhile.  I never get to talk to everyone as much as I'd like, but they're all interesting and seemed to enjoy getting to know each other (there are definitely different spheres, like a Venn Diagram of my life, and they crossed over today.)  I even played a few songs on the piano to show off my new skills!

Tonight, Mama and I are going to a big holiday party and tomorrow we're meeting up with my in-laws to do holiday things.  And Sunday, the kids have another piano performance.  So, all in all, a very special birthday.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

All the Difference

I have two hospice patients right now.  Both men, both in their 90s, both WWII vets, both with attentive and loving families.  But one man has various heart and diabetes issues and lives in a full nursing home.  The other is in end-stage dementia at home.

And there is all the difference.

The longer I work in hospice, the less I like nursing facilities.  I can't assign blame, though there is enough evidence that it is warranted.  Not that it would help to blame.  But the staff is overworked, the patients are lonely and bored and often overmedicated, the facilities are so crowded and so noisy, and the families very frequently absent.  It's like factory farming our old people.  And we've all seen those awful videos of miserable, suffering cows, chickens, and pigs.

And at home, my patient is in his own quiet room, with a daily attendant to handle physical needs in the morning, and his family there in the home (today, baking Christmas cookies) with the support of his hospice team.

Now, I don't know the difference in price exactly, but I do know that the man at home has a stay-at-home daughter-in-law and the man in the facility has working children and grandchildren.  I've heard that the home-option is not wildly more expensive, if you have the people and the space.  Which is a challenge for so many.

My patient at home is actively dying--I probably won't see him again, though I'm going back in just a few days.  But it is peaceful.  I sang Christmas carols to him while the lights glowed on the little tree on his dresser.  His own tree, mind you, which he'd had for years.

My nursing home patient is still really active and fairly mobile for a hospice patient; we have great conversations . . . as long as I am careful not to make him late for lunch!  He starts looking at his watch 45+ minutes early.  I will see him again soon, too.  And I'll know that, especially in his case, my presence makes all the difference because of where he is.

I don't think I need tell you which one I'd prefer to have at the end . . . .

Piano Guys and Gals

This morning, Sis lay down on our piano bench and played "Old Susanna" upside down--just like Mozart in the movie, Amadeus.


Because she was inspired by the Piano Guys concert we attended last night.

Similarly, Bud was practicing cello first thing this morning, even thumping the body and spinning his instrument.

All because of the Piano Guys.

Bud also loved that they played "his" song from the Peanuts Gang . . .in a nursing home (they showed a video), just like he will on Sunday with the piano club.

I'm not sure when we first heard of them.  I think perhaps it was a FB video of a Star Wars cello duel. 

But pretty soon, they were everywhere.  Mama seemed to come upon them separately, knowing a video where the musicians pluck and bow the inside of a grand piano.  One of the young ladies in our piano club played some of their songs, including "Waterfalls" and "Secrets."  And our piano teacher then mentioned that they were going to be in concert nearby.

So we got tickets.  And went last night.

They were fabulous!  Mixing Christmas carols with pop tunes, original compositions with well-known tunes, sometimes played traditionally, but more often than not, played more originally with loops, thumping, plucking, using their heads, elbows, and even toes and feet!!  Though it was well past their bedtimes, the kids were enthralled.

And all Mama and I could think of was Mormons.

See, unbeknowst to us, the musicians are members of the Latter-Day Saints (LDS.)  As you probably know, the wealthy and powerful (and growing) LDS church contributed funds and power to overthrowing California's Proposition 8, regarding same-sex marriage, which they are firmly against.  On a personal level, I know only one Mormon, who is also against same-sex marriage; we've discussed it briefly--in my house, of all places.  She has stated that she respects the love I have for my family--and so we manage, as co-Girl Scout leaders.  Conversely, I respect her beliefs and support her right to them . . . up to the point that she wants to take away mine (as far as I know, she isn't a social activist per se.)  It's a tenuous friendship, where we try to stay far away from these issues.  A real case of agree-to-disagree.  

Anyway, I tend not to support organizations who actively support conservative causes, i.e. Wal-Mart, Hobby Lobby, Chick-fil-a, Domino's, Wendy's, Cracker Barrel, ad infinitum.  And so at the very first, I was a bit disappointed that some of my money, by way of tithing, must have gone to the LDS coffers.

And as I sat and listened to their beautiful music, I reflected on how prejudiced I would be if I lumped all Mormons under one roof or dismissed them out of hand.  I know it's not a monolithic group, ranging from the Fundamentalist LDS polygamists to a strong believer like my GS co-leader to the LDS feminists and even those who support gay rights.  What did I really know of the Piano Guys?  Besides their amazing talents?

Well, they made one Mormon joke--about "that's one wife per person, something you have to explain if you're Mormon"--and testified a few times (which mostly fell flat here in Connecticut.)  It dawned on me how secular CT really is, especially the circles I run in.  As a kid, I'd hear prayers to Christ at football games; there are always a few celebrities thanking God at the Oscars and Super Bowl.  But that's about it.  And, considering the proselytizing culture of LDS, it was pretty mild at the concert--just some gratitude, some witnessing of the divine that we all can feel "no matter your beliefs," one said.  I don't even think there was a table of information anywhere. 

But I still thought about it and apparently Mama did, too.  When we discussed it later (after a brief but convoluted discussion with the very sleepy kids), Mama quoted Pema Chodron on how we're all looking for enlightenment and that we should recognize that in each other; if we are bothered by other people's searches, it's probably because we're not there yet either (or something to that effect; it was late for me, too!)  As UUs, we covenant to support and promote the inherent worth and dignity of all people. And I really want to live that, even when it's somewhat challenging.  Because I do have a knee-jerk reaction about religious conservatives, perhaps particularly Mormons because of their recent political successes and increased visibility.  So, it's a practice for me, particularly to focus on the individual, not making assumptions on some stereotype of the group they belong to (like my GS friend, who is in many ways, besides religion, my doppelganger--they were at the concert, too! )--just as I want myself and family to be treated as people, not stereotypes of lesbians or Asians or Texans or whatever label fits preconceived notions. Also to be treated with respect and kindness and compassion, regardless.   It works for me and my co-leader, for whom we are each the other's teachable moment, I think.

And, I suppose, even if I am opposed politically, personally, it is best--to borrow a biblical phrase--to turn the other cheek.  I would not want to turn around and do what I don't like in return.

Though sometimes, if I do feel a bit attacked personally or in general, besides remembering the UU principle, I comfort myself that conservative LDS are losing the culture wars, much the same way Mitt Romney lost the election (even if we do seem to be backsliding, having a serious backlash to liberal politics in some realms.)

And so I sat back and enjoyed the music, especially as we all sang "Silent Night" together at the end.  Because it is that shared humanity, which we affirmed together, that matters most to me.  And we all have our own paths to it.

(Though, Mama and I agreed, if the Piano Guys used their platform and campaigned against us, per se (like Cracker Barrel used to), we probably wouldn't be buying anymore tickets or CDs.)