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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!

Protected: Month 1

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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


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.

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