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The Real Thing: Hot Cocoa Jars

February 10, 2014 § 2 Comments

A friend of mine came over for dinner last week—let’s call her “Friend”—and brought these craftily assembled jars of hot chocolate mix. What a fantastic idea! I will make these next year for stocking stuffers. (I always have an easy time resolving to make crafts months in advance.)

      Cocoa powder; sugar; dark chocolate chips & marshmallows

      Cocoa powder; sugar; dark chocolate chips & marshmallows

After Friend left, I pilfered a marshmallow, but realized that these mixes were obviously party favors from a fete that took place quite a while back. I know this because the marshmallows are hard as bits of ivory. As you can see, the tag says, “Thank you for celebrating Patti’s 60th!” I’m sure Patti is at least 63 by now.

However, this is my fault. First, because I put off Friend’s visit for a long time, as it is hard to make social plans with Max. That said, I don’t think the marshmallows would have been much softer back in December. No, no: my culpability really lies in the fact that I served Friend a packet of diet cocoa one day last fall. The cocoa was a relic from the days when both of us were trying too hard to be too thin. I thought maybe she was still in that mindset, and wouldn’t want the real stuff, which is what I made for myself (guiltily, I didn’t tell her about the distinction). I tried a sip of hers when she left the mug unfinished and winced at that tinny flavor of aspartame. When she left, I threw away the remaining packets, realizing that they were not fit for anyone other than a hard-suffering anorexic… except, perhaps, someone without taste buds.

I’m not sure if Friend gave me these hot cocoa jars because she doesn’t want them in her house—she is still quite lithe—or because she genuinely felt I needed a hot chocolate intervention, which would be true if I were still hoarding Diet Swiss Miss. But even if I never actually constitute these Ball jars into a pot of cocoa, they’re lovely to look at. At this late date, they may be best suited just for looking. Then again, pebbly marshmallows are imminently re constitute-able. After all, isn’t that how we moved away from fresh cocoa into the packet industry to begin with? Well, I say we move out again, real sugar and all. And Happy Belated Birthday, to you, Patti, whoever you are!

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grandma’s cranberry chutney

November 26, 2013 § 1 Comment

chutney ingredients

chutney ingredients

Eventually, I will get all of our family recipes up onto this site, so that we can have a virtual recipe box. This is the first of many, and I think, possibly, my favorite thing to cook this time of year. It makes your mouth pucker and helps everything taste livelier. Turkey, stuffing and cheesy potatoes, which can be so rich and flat on their own, benefit especially from some cranberry zing.

Back to the recipe box. We move around so much, we modern people, and I can’t always take Grandma’s recipes with me. This year, of course, everything is mixed up because of the impending human. If I were doing Thanksgiving with my parents in Connecticut, then the box would be right there, nestled between a dozen cookbooks and stacks of papers and old tchotchke, in that corner of the kitchen known simply as “the credenza.” (Say it in a baritone.) Although it also houses beautiful blue stemware and several propped up china plates, this corner shelf has ended up a repository for all of those doodads one uses at the kitchen table: cell phone chargers; tissue boxes; instructions manuals; rubber band balls; dogeared Hammacher Schlemmer catalogues; SAT prep books from 2001. I worry that the recipe box might get swallowed by that heap. Best to preserve it.

berries & sugar

berries & sugar

Because I’ve been having low-grade labor pains for 2 weeks now and feel that I could, at any point, end up in a hospital bed, I decided to make the cranberry chutney today. And I’m so glad I did–the whole house smells like a holiday, which makes the sensation that there is an intermittent jackhammer in my lower back somewhat less unpleasant. Also, everything tastes better on day 2.

In a funny aside, this morning I typed “Does labor feel like___” into my search engine. (What was I thinking?!)  The second option bing gave me was, “Does labor feel like bones breaking?” All I can hope is that I get to enjoy this and all of the other members of the Thanksgiving feast before the drilling / bone breaking becomes so powerful that I lose my appetite. Can you imagine anything worse than the loss of an appetite on Thursday, November 28th?

Cranberry Chutney
1/2 c apricot or peach preserves
1/2 c firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp cloves
12 oz package fresh or frozen cranberries
1 medium-sized pear, peeled and cubed
1 medium-sized apple, peeled and cubed
1/2 c golden raisins
1/2 c coarsely chopped walnuts
In a medium saucepan, combine preserves, brown sugar and spices and bring to a boil.
Cook until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally.
Add berries, fruit and raisins and cook over medium heat for about 25 minutes, or until thick.
Add walnuts and cool.

succulent pumpkins

November 8, 2013 § 1 Comment

pumpkins

I’m not a crafty gal. I envy people who amass DIY projects and execute them with precision. I’m the improvising sort: I treat all recipes as blueprints and am practically incapable of following directions. For example, I once  assembled an IKEA table of which I was quite proud. Christopher waited a few hours to show me that the legs were screwed on backwards, exposing protruding bolts.

But, I think there may be hope, if only because I have such fond memories of elementary school art class. Guess what our teacher’s name was? Art! It really was. And we got to call her that, because it was Montessori school. But even as a grown up–perhaps especially as a grown up–it’s a wonderful experience to get lost in a project: time goes by  quickly and you almost always feel rewarded at the end. As a general rule, I think, people like the way their own art looks. You know, the way men like to smell their own farts or kids like to play musical instruments. These things may be (ob)noxious to others, but we tend to like our own productions.

Wedding cards

Back in September, around the time that I realized it was insane for me to plan a trip to Nantucket in my 9th month of pregnancy, I went to visit my dear friend Kinnon in Boston. As it began to dawn on me that I wouldn’t be able to attend her wedding on November 2nd, I told her I wished we could do something together to celebrate. To which she replied, “We can make place cards!” So, we spent a lovely afternoon penning and stamping and tying gift bags with string. It was so peaceful. It made me wish I were a craftier gal.

These little succulent pumpkins seem like a thing I can do to pass a fall afternoon. They’re also low-maintenance Thanksgiving decoration that can turn into something else for the rest of the year when the pumpkins rot and a new pot beckons (maybe gold-leafed terra-cotta pots…double craftiness!!) And I love the idea of getting dirty to make something lovely at the end.

Special thanks to Lauren at LuxHappens for letting me use her photo.

happy halloween!

October 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

skulls

Halloweens past

A favorite: Dressing up as a witch at age 5. I was nearly apoplectic in my fear of witches, but it passed after this particular Oct 31. Remarkably, becoming the thing I was most afraid of took all of my anxiety away. Ah! What a metaphor.

Another favorite: Dressing up as a bride at age 6. It rained that night and I was disappointed because so few people would get to see my special gown. This, too, proved a valuable life lesson: it rained on my grown-up wedding day. I had to dig deep to that 6-year old memory and remind myself that this wasn’t God’s special punishment.

A not-so-favorite: realizing during my Freshman year in high school that I would never dress up again. And also feeling deeply embarrassed that I wanted to.

A favorite: Ah sweet deliverance! Discovering during Freshman year in college that not dressing up was the height of lameness. I went as yesterday’s news and taped the Oct. 30th 2002 paper all over my black pants and white shirt. Sadly, my concept costume required a little too much imagination for the beer-buzzed IQ.

A not-so-favorite: Later that night, when I realized that 90% of girls were using the holiday as an excuse to dress up as a slutty____. Popular favorites include the slutty nurse, the slutty cat, the slutty maid, the slutty rabbit. One girl simply wore a black bra and underpants with high healed shoes and fishnets. Remarkably, she had no name for this persona. (…the slutty slut?)

Halloween present

I had intended to copy one of my favorite mommy bloggers Jess Garvin and paint my belly as a pumpkin, but then I realized that I am not going to be able to do the job myself. Alas, Christopher is leaving town tonight to attend our dear friends’ wedding on Nantucket. (Bed rest be damned!)

Also, I’ve decided against it in general protest. When I told Christopher my plans he suggested that, not only could I go as a single pumpkin, but I could be a whole patch… Three on the front, one in the back. I was not amused. My ears perked up when he suggested Santa Clause, though. I must make use of this bulbous state while I can.

My sister, Lily, will come entertain me the trick or treating kids this evening and we have big plans to watch silly Halloween movies, bake root vegetables and roast a chicken. I’m guessing that heating the oven to 400 degrees while wearing a Santa suit will make me feel like a bit of a roast bird myself.

Halloweens future

What am I looking forward to most?

Watching a little person discover the thrill of freedom that Halloween brings: freedom to be someone you are not, freedom to eat more candy than your pancreas should handle, and the freedom of making the rounds on your own for the first time–no parents!

Oh my, oh my, I will have a hard time with that one. Because I know that trick or treating alone is the gateway to all sorts of adolescent things–kissing in the woods, TP’ing the neighbor’s trees, riding in cars you’re not allowed in. Then high school, college, marriage, oh my.

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