Tuesday, December 29, 2009

great thought, wrong day

Yesterday was National Chocolate Day. Now, normally, this would be an exciting thing for me. Chocolate comes right before lemon, cheese, and raspberries in the hierarchy of things that taste really good, and right after . . . um . . . nothing. Nothing at all, that rational people can think of.

However, to put this momentous holiday three days after Christmas is ill-conceived torture. Perhaps the framers thought, "Oh, we have just celebrated the most glorious and important day of the year. It deserves the very best." (The very best being, as far as I am concerned, milk-chocolate covered marzipan, but that is, I realize, completely subjective.) "We have purchased lots of chocolate for it. Let's all celebrate that fact and eat it with abandon."

Only, here's the problem. We have already eaten it with abandon. So much so that, in the words of our pastor last Sunday, "I feel like I need to go on a lettuce and water purge for three days." No one wants to look at chocolate any more on the third day after Christmas. What were they thinking? But, in the hopes that you, as I, will again look chocolate in the face one day and tell it, "Welcome back, my long missed but never forgotten love of my life," I offer up some observations on chocolate, as well as my two best recipes for cookies that use it.

First, chocolate is a strong weapon of love. I started dating my husband because he sent me a box of fudge in the mail over summer break. Homemade fudge. By his own hands. OK, maybe there were other reasons, and I probably would not have married him if his only claim to supremacy was the ability to turn chocolate chips and evaporated milk into the food of gods, but it was a strong incentive. If no better offers turned up, it might have been enough to sway the vote.

Second, white chocolate . . .isn't. No matter what they call it. It's a disgusting wannabe. End of discussion.

Third, chocolate really ought to be tried as a peace incentive. I mean, look at the world. Where do we get our finest chocolate? Switzerland and Belgium. And what are those people like? They never get into wars. When was the last time you read about a big shoot up in Belgium? And the Swiss reputation for peaceful coexistence is almost as legendary as the French reputation for snooty cooking and saying things to Americans like, "your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberry."

So, I say, rather than offer these people in the Middle East and North Korea silly things like international friendship and IPhone technology, tell them that, if they are good for one whole year, each resident will receive twenty pounds of chocolate, duty-free. Given what most North Koreans probably have to eat, I think this would be a huge incentive. (I've tasted Chinese chocolate, however. We must not offer that to anyone. We want to make friends, remember? Got to go for the pricey, good stuff.) I'm seeing a huge missed opportunity for Hillary.

Any other suggestions? Your favorite recipes? Here are mine:

Chocolate Glazed Shortbread Cookies

1 C. butter
1 C. powdered sugar
2 C. flour
21C. ground almonds (you can find them already ground)
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugar. Gradually add flour. Stir in the almonds. Chill dough for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Form 1 T. dough into a 2 inch long roll. Cut in half lengthwise and place cut side down on a ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until a pale golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Melt chocolate. Dip one end of cookie into chocolate. Cool on wax paper until set.

Makes 5-6 dozen

Chocolate Raspberry Spritz Cookies

3 oz unsweetened chocolate
3/4 C. Butter or margarine, softened
1 C. Sugar
1/2 t. Salt
1 Egg
1/2 C. Raspberry preserves
1 t Vanilla extract
3 C. All-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350°F. Melt unsweetened chocolate.

In large mixer bowl, beat butter, sugar, and salt until creamy. Blend in egg, preserves, and vanilla extract, then melted chocolate. Gradually beat in flour. Put dough in cookie press. Press onto ungreased cookie sheets. Decorate.

Bake 8-10 minutes until set. Let stand 1 minute. Remove from cookie sheets; cool completely.

Makes 8 dozen cookies.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

national doorstop day

Today, December 27th, we celebrate that thing no one I know celebrates. That Christmas gift everyone fears receiving and no store will take back. The rectangular object you will put in your freezer and leave there for six years, at which point it will not have changed one bit from when you put it there. It will still sit, gloating, and fixing you with its evil, crystalized-cherry-eyed stare. Yes, it is National Fruitcake Day. Why celebrate this object? And, more to the point, do we celebrate the ones we get or the ones we manage to get rid of?

I have to say, I don't think I've ever received a fruitcake as a gift. Possibly this is because God knew I had suffered enough with a holiday food heritage that included potato sausages, pickled herring, and, that favorite of Swedish jokes everywhere, lutefisk.

As an appropriate celebration of the day, I offer the following list of 15 things you can do with it, just in case you are not as fortunately fruitcake-less as I:

  • Allow your child to carve it into a replica of Windsor Castle and enter it in the County Fair.
  • Weigh down the tablecloth/ tent/ yacht as needed.
  • Cover it in festive fabric for each season and use it as a doorstop.
  • Bring it, anonymously, to the next church potluck or school goodie table. They do post specially trained guards against just such terrorist activity, so you'll have to become a ninja pot-lucker. This only adds to the thrill.
  • Dress it in a hat and apron and use it as a garden ornament. I hear the goose craze is waning. You might start a new trend.
  • Slice, batter, and deep fry it and sell it on ebay as a southern delicacy.
  • Swear you see the virgin Mary or Elvis in it. See above regarding ebay.
  • Use it to hold down your Aunt Lucille's 100th birthday giant balloon bouquet.
  • Use it to help hide the body after you dump it in the river. But you didn't get that from me.
  • Free weights to begin that workout regime you promised you'd start next week.
  • Give it to your boss as a decorative paperweight. Just make quite sure he didn't give it to you last year.
  • Use as a booster seat in the car, movie, restaurant. If the restaurant objects to your bringing food into the establishment, just point and says, "It's a fruitcake." Everyone knows they don't qualify.
  • Make it a decorative candleholder. Don't light the candles if you fear the baker was a tad generous with the rum.
  • If the baker was generous, just stick it on a pole and light the whole dang thing for a great tiki torch.
  • Use as a block for that couch or bed that's always been wobbly.

Good luck and, just in case, I have moved with no forwarding address. Do not even try to send that thing to me. There are laws against things like that in the US mail.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

I think Boxing Day is . . . .

December 26th is Boxing Day. Have you ever wondered what, exactly, Boxing Day is? I mean, don't you remember seeing it on the calendar as a kid and saying to yourself, um, why is this holiday wrapped in a shroud of secrecy? Why have I never been told about it? What is it, and why don't I get an extra day of Christmas vacation for it? So, here we will solve this mystery of the ages. But first, a quiz. Check which one you think is the actual meaning of Boxing Day.

I believe Boxing Day is:

  • The day we pack up all those ceramic rooster egg plates, Christmas sweaters with flashing lights, and Your Best Life books in their boxes and return them.

  • The day England officially recognized boxing as a sport and granted it professional status, thereby raising it to the heights of worldwide wrestling. All other civilized countries followed suit.

  • The day 3M invented tape strong enough to withstand a nuclear blast, which all of your relatives now use with the abandon usually only associated with New Year's drunks and confetti on all packages they mail to you.

  • The birthday of Leonardo Boxing, who created the masterpiece Mona Cheryl, later eclipsed by his more famous cousin Leonardo DaVinci's copycat portrait of her sister, Lisa.

  • The day FedEx and USPS employees traditionally schedule their chiropractic and physical therapy appointments for pulled muscles, wrenched knees, and twisted ankles from falling on ice while holding six packages and fending off two dogs.

  • The day said workers also schedule their vacations and /or therapy.

  • The day fast food operators collectively created biodegradable, non-polluting, or recyclable takeout containers and pledged to use them. Oh, wait. Still holding our breath for that.

OK, really. The actual reason you were never told about this wonderful holiday: No one in the United States celebrates it. And OK, now in the multicultural enlightenment of the 21at century, in order to ease our collective ethnocentric national conscience, our calendars post dates celebrated by other people, like Bastille Day and National Foot Fungus Day. But back in the day? I have no idea why we needed to know. A holdover from colonization? Because, you see, the holiday is British. As the unquestionably accurate source Wikipedia tells us:

"Boxing Day: The name derives from the Anglo-Saxon tradition of giving seasonal gifts to less wealthy people and social inferiors. Until their distribution, these gifts were stored in a "Christmas box," which was opened on December 26, when the contents were distributed. In the United Kingdom, this was later extended to various workpeople such as labourers and servants."

However, things change. More recently, this day sounds quite familiar to all of us.

"In Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and some states of Australia, Boxing Day is primarily known as a shopping holiday. It is a time where shops have sales, often with dramatic price decreases. For many merchants, Boxing Day has become the day of the year with the greatest revenue. In both Scotland and England, it is traditional to hold a full program of football and rugby matches on Boxing Day. It makes the day an important one in the sporting calendar."

Hmmm . . . A celebration begun to bring good things to the downtrodden became a national obsessive consumption day. Sound vaguely familiar? So, though we may not celebrate Boxing Day, its spirit is alive and well in America. It might as well be on our calendars, too.

If you do wish to celebrate in the true spirit, bring something to someone today who has served you in some way. Your local fire department, police station, hospital staff, church staff--possibilities are everywhere. That was my plan for the day, but it appears a snow storm has thwarted those plans. Fortunately, gratitude can be shown any day. You don't need a National Say Thank You Day to say thank you.

Friday, December 25, 2009

no greater story

I can write nothing better or other than this for Christmas Day and I, of course, did not write it.

Now in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. Having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, you highly favored one! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women!"

But when she saw him, she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered what kind of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, "Don't be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bring forth a son, and will call his name 'Jesus.' He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father, David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. There will be no end to his kingdom."

Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, seeing I am a virgin?"

The angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore also the holy one who is born from you will be called the Son of God. Behold, Elizabeth, your relative, also has conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For everything spoken by God is possible.

Mary said, "Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it to me according to your word."
Now it happened in those days, that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment made when Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to enroll themselves, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David; to enroll himself with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him as wife, being great with child.

It happened, while they were there, that the day had come that she should give birth. She brought forth her firstborn son, and she wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a feeding trough, because there was no room for them in the inn. There were shepherds in the same country staying in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock. Behold, an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. The angel said to them, "Don't be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be to all the people. For there is born to you, this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This is the sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth, lying in a feeding trough."

Suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest,
On earth peace, good will toward men."

It happened, when the angels went away from them into the sky, that the shepherds said one to another, "Let's go to Bethlehem, now, and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." They came with haste, and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby was lying in the feeding trough. When they saw it, they publicized widely the saying which was spoken to them about this child. All who heard it wondered at the things which were spoken to them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these sayings, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, just as it was told them.

For a child is born to us; a son is given to us. And the government will rest on his shoulders. These will be His royal titles: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. his ever-expanding, peaceful government will have no end. He will rule forever with fairness and justice.

For God so loved the world, that He gave his one and only son so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


This year, we are having a lovely Christmas at home. Short of binding and smuggling our children across state lines, we have to. Because it is Christmas. And Christmas has its Traditions. One of them being we stay at home.

This attachment to tradition reared its head the year we, their lawful and unsuspecting parents, suggested going to the grandparents for Easter. They steadfastly refused. Topol would be proud. They bear no harbored grudges against or dislike for their grandparents, to my knowledge. And never did the objection hinge around the immense philosophical question, "How will the Easter Bunny find us?" In point of fact, none of the girls has ever believed in that giant, fun fur rodent as far as I know. Besides, the much more immense question referencing the big guy in red didn't occur when we traveled to Colorado over Christmas one year. This, of course, was when they were all still very young and hadn't yet grown into the dictates of tradition with a capital 'T.'

In fact, the youngest recently proclaimed--"I'll go anywhere the day before or after Christmas, but I will never leave my home on Christmas Day!" This causes me to ponder whether/if:

a) We will undergo the dreadful curse of feuding in-laws so often portrayed in movies. (We get them for Christmas. No we get them for Christmas. Fine, but we get to name their first-born child. Or dog.) This my husband and I so neatly bypassed by only one of us having parents.

b) She will simply remain here forever, living in her room, eating our food, taking care of the cats when we go to Costa Rica.

Actually, Plan B sounds kind of good, as long as she keeps the room clean. Cat sitting doesn't come cheap.

Besides, I kind of agree. I didn't mind Thanksgiving dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe in Orlando a couple years back (though it was obscenely overpriced). But Christmas is in its own class. I can't freeze time, and I know all three of them will leave home, and all too soon I may rarely have the scene I take in on Christmas morning. Five people in pajamas, in no hurry, taking turns watching each others' delight, and, may I repeat, in no hurry for anything but each other. This I would never change if I could. It is, I might add, so much calmer than my own childhood with seven kids and parents who basically took cover until it was all over. I seem to remember a lot of flying tinsel.

May your Christmas be bright with the joys of family and God with us. If you have a tradition you'd like to share here, please do. Thank you for reading thus far.

*One tradition we've had for years--every year I give the other members of my family a "gift" from the Samaritan's Purse catalog (http://www.samaritanspurse.org//). Over the last several years, they have "given" soccer balls to kids in Iraq, goats to families in India, medicine to women in Africa, and freedom to teenage girls in Southeast Asia. It is the gift we all treasure the most. I urge you to have such a tradition. You will never forget your kids' faces when they see what has been done in their names.