every girl needs a greek chorus

a blog about hope


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O Magnum Mysterium

O magnum mysterium,photo (14)

et admirabile sacramentum,

ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,

jacentem in praesepio!

Beata Virgo, cujus viscera

meruerunt portare

Dominum Christum.

Alleluia!

O great mystery,

and wonderful sacrament,

that animals should see the new-born Lord,

lying in a manger!

Blessed is the Virgin whose womb

was worthy to bear

Christ the Lord.

Alleluia!

Tonight, we come to the second greatest event in Christendom, the birth of Jesus.  Some will consider me an apologist for God, purveyor of myth (in the true meaning of a myth, I am), childlike (yep), superstitious (never), or simply irrational (sometimes).   Some may say that Christians have co-opted other traditions (syncretism), commercialized a sacred belief (agreed), and/or persecuted those who aren’t “believers” (regrettably).  But on this night, all I can see is the hope lying in a modest dwelling, not in a palace or floating on a yacht or drifting magically through the sky.  The baby is human and real and vulnerable and generating the love and peace and hope that we appear, at first glance, to have so little of.  It is the great mystery. It’s a gift.  It’s irresistible.  Seize it.

O Magnum Mysterium, from the Matins said by the Church at Christmas, comes as close to expressing how I feel about Jesus’ birth as anything I’ve read or recited or sung.  Two musical settings, written 400 years apart, particularly convey the mystery. The elder was written by the 16th century Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria and the more contemporary (1994) by American composer Morten Lauridsen.  Both are a joy to experience as a singer, the harmonies, dynamics, and movements telling the story as much as the words do.   Listen to the simple, ancient words in any of the fine versions on YouTube.

When caroling with friends, visiting shut-ins, or even singing in the bar of an upscale tavern, as much as we bring the good news of Jesus’ birth to our community, we share our own joy with one another.  At one stop, we were even joined by a kennel full of foxhounds howling along (no, it wasn’t someone singing out of tune).  In the clear, cold sky, Orion made his winter appearance, just as he did on that holy night.  Same stars.  Same creation.   Same love.  Same hope.

On Christmas Eve, as I sing with these same friends in the choir at the 265-year old church where I worship regularly, I will face this beautiful window.  Floodlights outside will illuminate God’s beloved creation.  The animals will breathe comfort. The angels will shine gloriously. Mary and her baby will glow.  The mystery will be clear.

Inside, the lights will dim when we sing “Silent Night” as the Eucharist ends, and most eyes will be damp.  What moves us?  Sorrow?  Dementia?  Hallucination?  An evolutionary, even reptilian, reaction to sound waves?  It’s a mystery.  The Eucharist itself foretells the greatest event in Christendom that we will observe in a few short months.  Another mystery. More improbability.  More irrationality.  More hope.

All of these mysteries engender love and peace and hope, if we embrace them.  It doesn’t mean that we put down our intellect or our reason.  It doesn’t mean that we dominate others.  All earthly life is messy.  Scripture does not promise us otherwise.  It promises that, in all the messiness of sin and pain and sorrow, God will continue to send that love and peace and hope that heals and sustains us. Gloria in excelsis!

As I age, I learn that I don’t need an explanation for everything that happens.  I know the nuts and bolts of life, the tools of physical survival, but the unmeasurable part of me, my faith, lifts me when I cannot lift myself.  How does faith work?  It’s a mystery, but to me, it’s very rational.  Like planking, which strengthens my physical core, I work on it.  As I work at staying in touch with friends, I work at staying in touch with God through prayer and study and fellowship and evangelism and stewardship, all of which are concrete and very real.  Frequently, I fall, but others, who also see the mystery, are there to help me upward and onward.  We are God’s gifts to one another.  We are God’s love and peace and hope.  So, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!


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Tastes like Christmas Spirit(s)

It’s Christmas Eve!  And, for my family, that means three of the major fattening holiday food groups; a 1950s version of Beef Stroganoff served over canned chow mein noodles, 1960s Layered Green Salad, and My Grandma’s Boiled Custard.  In my immediate family, I am the only one who knows how to make it, and, at least two weeks ago, My Mother, My Sister, and The Daughter started asking me, “You’re making the custard, aren’t you?”  Yes, not to worry.

Never heard of Boiled Custard?  It isn’t actually boiled, and, well, if you aren’t from Kentucky or Tennessee, let me explain.

My maternal grandmother was a tee-totaler, a hard-working woman who was uprooted from her hometown in (very dry, alcohol-wise) eastern Kentucky and moved to Detroit in the 1920s, where jobs were plentiful and generally safer than working in a coal mine.  She brought with her a love of quilting and family and cooking.  Having corroborated her stories of our heritage at Ancestry.com, I wonder which of her recipes trace back to our ancestors who came through the Cumberland Gap from Virginia and North Carolina into Kentucky in the late 18th century.  Most people have heard of chicken and rolled dumplings and cornbread (sugarless and made with white cornmeal, of course), hams cured with salt and vegetables cooked to death with every imaginable cured pork product, but outside of the area, few have heard of “boiled” custard.

Every Christmas Eve after my grandfather died, she came to our house to spend the night and to make boiled custard.  This is not the custard that you might think of, baked in little cups in a bath of hot water.  This custard was drinkable.  And it was spiked.  Spiked by a woman who did not drink alcohol.  Ever.  Except on Christmas Eve.

I suspect that it was originally made with good Kentucky bourbon, but, in the mid- 20th century, in Detroit, it was made with my dad’s blended Canadian whiskey.  Grandma would stand at the stove, beating sugar into eggs and milk in the top of a makeshift double boiler.  As the mixture thickened, she would gesture for My Dad to add a little of the whiskey.  She would stir it for a minute, then taste it, and, invariably, gesture for Daddy to pour in a little more.  The process took several minutes, during which my tiny little tee-totaling Grandma consumed enough uncooked whiskey to bring a little extra Christmas cheer into her life.

When Grandma died in 1981, I decided that I needed to make it.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t a recipe.  I took some eggs, beat in some sugar, milk, and vanilla and used her double boiler.  As the mixture cooked, I tasted it and added sugar.  As it cooked, I stirred in the whiskey, as she did.  When it was as thick as I remembered, I removed it from the heat.  Alas, the eggs had over-cooked and curdled.

I tried it again and didn’t overcook it, but it still had a weird, lumpy texture.  Over time, I learned to strain it after cooking. I measured the ingredients so that I could reproduce it accurately every year.   Instead of whiskey, I tried Southern Comfort and dark rum.  Eventually, I went to bourbon, a Kentucky bourbon, of course.  Oh!  And in my version, the bourbon goes in just before I remove the custard from the heat.  It’s still hot, but most of the alcohol is retained.  Unlike Grandma, I like a lot of Christmas cheer at the holidays.

Yes, we drank this as children, because, ostensibly, the alcohol had “burned off.”  Tee-hee-hee!  Naughty children, we never let on that it was potent.  Of course, we were also children whose mothers rubbed our gums with whiskey when we were teething, so we were already ruined by the Demon Spirits.  I don’t recommend my version for children because it isn’t nearly as benign as Grandma’s.  Ladle some into a heat-proof measuring cup for the kiddies.  Keep the good stuff for yourself.

Kentucky Boiled Custard             makes a little over ½ gallon

Why did they cook it?  Perhaps it was to ensure safety on the frontier.  Salmonella can be killed at 145° F.  Perhaps just to thicken it.  Why didn’t they use cream?  Who knows?  Let me know, if you do.

Don’t get chintzy on the quality of the vanilla, because it adds to the flavor, significantly.  I keep three different vanilla brands (plus vanilla beans and paste) in my over-stocked larder.  One of the three is clear, artificial, and used in decorator’s icing, where the color is more crucial than the flavor.

You can speed up the cooking process by warming all but two cups of the milk.  If you add hot milk to eggs, they will cook.  Use a clean candy thermometer (I have a separate deep frying thermometer to avoid grease contamination).  Technically, you can cook the mixture until it just coats the back of a spoon (you can see a trail when you run your finger through it), but I find that an imprecise way to cook and too “frontiersy”.  It may have worked for Grandma, but it doesn’t always work for me.

This looks like a LOT of bourbon, but, consider that the recipe makes about 70-ounces.  This translates into one ounce of bourbon for every 8-ounce cup of custard.  Surely, you wouldn’t put less than a shot (1½ ounces) in a drink, would you?  Why do you think Santa is so jolly when he leaves my house?

Note:  If your double boiler is smaller than mine (which holds the entire ½ gallon), make it in two batches.

6 eggs, beaten until foamy

¾  cup granulated sugar

½ gallon whole milk (lower fat won’t do)

2 teaspoons real vanilla extract

1 cup bourbon

Freshly grated nutmeg

Whisk the sugar thoroughly into the eggs.  Whisk in 2 cups of cold milk and pour into the top of a double boiler, sitting over simmering water.  Whisk in remaining cold or warm milk.  Stir constantly, until the mixture reaches 160°.  Pour in the bourbon and stir until the mixture reaches 170°.  Immediately remove from heat and pour into a heat-proof container (I use three, to speed up the cooling process) through a very fine sieve (I use a Chinois) or a strainer lined with cheesecloth, to remove any coagulated egg whites or yolk.  Cover and refrigerate until cold. (It thickens as it cools, so don’t overcook it.) Uncover and whisk the mixture.  Re-strain into serving container.  (I save the plastic milk container so that I can shake it up.)  Top each serving with a fresh grating of nutmeg.

Grandma’s 1930s double boiler fits snugly into my 1980s stock pot.  In the photo at bottom right, you can see the coagulated egg remains strained through the Chinois.


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Our Christmas Story

Once upon a time, there was an unbelievably brave little girl living way out West, where the plains roll up to meet the mountains.  She was in need of a family with a cat, and we were in need of a girl. We packed her stuff into eight duffle bags, boarded a plane, and hauled her and seven Barbie dolls to our house and our cat in Maryland.

Seven Barbie dolls?” The Veterinarian asked me.  “I thought she was an orphan.”

“Remember all those years we bought Toys for Tots?  Well, she was a Tot.”

The first Christmas that he and I were dating, in 1969, he gave me a bottle of Robitussin cough syrup, because I was recovering from what would become my annual bout of bronchitis.  His mother made him give me a box of stationery with a Gemini zodiac sign, because his birthday was June 3, and mine is June 4.  I gave him a tie.  Three years later, I married him anyway.  We were married 30 years before he ever figured out appropriate gifts.  30.  Long.  Years.  He’s gone, but I still have the tie…and maybe the box of stationery.

The Daughter was our first (and only) child, arriving as an 8-year old, when we were 47. We always thought we were missing the joys of Christmas with children, hence the toy donations.  Oh, we put up a tree and stockings and our nativity display for ourselves, but a little bit of sparkle and wonder was missing.

Having been raised in a dysfunctional household before she entered child protective services, The Daughter had experienced holidays in a haphazard way.  She didn’t understand birthdays, experiencing her first at age 7, when she entered foster care.  That first Christmas with her, we went absolutely crazy decorating and buying gifts.  My Sister embroidered her a stocking with silvery threads.  My Mother made her a fleecy robe decorated with teddy bears and a pillow to match.

I broke my rule about cookie-baking and made —ugh— gingerbread men with her, but I refused to make a gingerbread house.  I hung her construction paper ornaments on the tree and wracked my brain for “Secret Santa” gifts for her classmates, who thought she was crazy for believing in Santa.

First Santa Visit (3)

Chatting up Santa

At eight years of age, The Daughter had never been to see Santa.  A friend invited us to a breakfast with Santa at her church, so that we could explain to Santa in advance why an eight-year old child wanted to sit on his lap along with the tiny tots.

“What do I say to Santa?” she asked.

“Well,” I told her what my parents always told me.  “You can ask for one or two things, but you have to finish with ‘Please bring me whatever you think I should have.’”

Instead, she patted his beard and engaged him in a long chat about the reindeer, where they were staying while he was inside, what they were eating, how long it took him to go around the world (“Well, just 24 hours, of course!”), all those things that a four-year old wouldn’t think to ask.

“Don’t you want Santa to bring you something?” he asked her.

“Oh…”  she thought for a minute, “…a scooter.  I’d really like to have a scooter.”

“Anything else?”

“No,” she shook her head, “a scooter would be good.”

At church on Christmas Eve, she participated in the pageant and sang with the Children’s Choir in her sweet little velvet dress and patent leather shoes.

So, what did Santa bring besides a scooter?  The seven Barbies needed a deluxe mansion and a red Porsche Boxster like Mommy’s “Barbie” car.  Stuart Little showed up in a radio-controlled roadster.  An American Girl with The Daughter’s identical haircut, eye color, and wire-rimmed glasses came to stay.  There were books and a science kit with microscope and Legos.  It all went under the tree or in a stocking after she went to bed on Christmas Eve.  I dressed her in winter pajamas, red with white polar bears, her favorite, so she’d be camera-ready in the morning.

Barbie Dream House (2)

Can you tell that we were excited?

The Veterinarian ate the cookies and milk she’d left for Santa and set the alarm for 5am, so he could set up the video camera at just the right angle.  I wanted to make sure the hot cocoa was ready.  My Mother and Sister were on speed-dial to run over at just the right moment.  We just knew she’d be up before dawn, and none of us wanted to miss our first Christmas with a child in the house.

When the alarm sounded at 5, we jumped out of bed.  It was dark and really cold.  He lit the fire, and I started the cocoa.  We’d beat her.  Perfect!  We sat down and listened for her little footsteps to hit the floor.  And we waited.  And waited.  For two hours, we waited.  We called her name upstairs, but she didn’t stir.  I tiptoed up and saw her snoring away under her cozy quilts with her beloved cat on her pillow.  I tiptoed back down.

“What do we do now?” he whispered.  “I need to get into the clinic to do treatments.”

Finally, at 8, he woke her.

“Santa’s been here!” He told her.  She crankily told him to go away.

“Don’t you want to see what Santa brought for you?”

“What?”  She squinted at him, uncomprehending.

“It’s Christmas!  Santa’s been here and left you something.”

“What do you mean?”

“Gifts.”  He was getting exasperated. “Santa brought you gifts.”

She groaned and flopped back on the pillows.  We were frantic in our own excitement.

“Get up,” he ordered and threw off the covers.  “Let’s go see what’s under the tree.”  She was not happy, but she slid out of bed.  He brought her downstairs and stood her behind the closed door into the living room.

“Wait here.  I’ll tell you when to open the door.”  This was no holly-jolly start to Christmas.  “And don’t go back upstairs.”  We heard her sigh in the way that meant she was about to turn into Linda Blair in “The Exorcist.”  He fumbled with the video camera.

“Hurry up!”  I hissed.  “We’re losing her.”  I stood beside the tree with my digital camera.

“Ok, you can open the door.”

Her little face appeared, and she said, “What?”

“Look at the Christmas tree.”  She took two steps in and stopped.  The First Xmas Tree (2)room, which is 18’ x 12’, had a 10’ tree in front of the window, so the mounds of presents radiated 4’ out from the base in all directions.  [And that’s all the math I can do today.]  She looked puzzled.

“Santa brought you presents!”  I exclaimed.

“What?” She repeated.

“These are for you.”

“For me?”  She approached the tree and knelt in front of the American Girl.

And then it hit us.  She didn’t need the Barbie Deluxe Dream House
because she had a real house.  Her dreams had already come true when she was adopted by a family with a cat.  That’s all she ever wanted.

“These are mine?” A smile started to spread across her face.

“Yes,” I started to cry.

“Really?  For me?”  She reached out tentatively and picked up the doll that, unintentionally, had her face.

And that was our last peaceful Christmas.  A year later, she still wanted to

SCN_0020 (2)

All she wanted was a scooter.

visit Santa, so, at age 9, we took her to the mall at 8:30 at night, when few people were around.  Surprisingly, lots of tween and teenaged girls were having their photos made with Santa, so it wasn’t nearly as strange as we thought.  Who wants to give up the wonder of Christmas at any age?

Like many American children, a Christmas of plenty became the norm for several years but not for long enough.  Inevitably, instead of singing in the Christmas pageant at 5 pm on Christmas Eve, she served in other ways, on the altar at the 11 pm service as a teenager, and this year, she is concerned about buying just the right gifts for us.  A critical care nurse, she will work on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day from 3 pm to 11 pm.  From being cared for, she cares for others.

So, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!


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Naughty or Nice?

Dear Santa

 

 

 

I have been a good girl (except when I told people off, but they deserved it, because I am NOT a doormat).  Actually, I have been mostly nice all my life, which is a really, really, really long time, considering my AARP-eligibility status.

I never talked to strangers.

I always came home before dark.

I never smoked behind the gym.

I never drank under the bleachers.

I was faithful to my high school sweetheart for 42 years.

I adopted a child when I was 47 and didn’t have the strength.

I wear tasteful, preppy clothes.

I’ve been kind to many, many animals, including dogs, cats, birds, a rat named Bernice, Franklin the box turtle, and a really nasty iguana named Jezebel.

I’ve been gracious under pressure and stood up to bullies, for myself and for others.

I always put money in the Salvation Army bucket.

I volunteer for numerous non-profit organizations.

I go to church every Sunday.

I strive to be a lady.

I drive a hybrid.

For Christmas, I would like a license to be naughty.  Not “cheat-on-my-taxes” naughty, but “let’s have fun without guilt” and “throw caution to the wind” naughty.  I’ve never thrown caution to the wind, but it sounds exciting.

I want rhinestones on my nails, which is a risky choice for an Episcopalian, but, hey, we respect the dignity of all people of every lifestyle, don’t we?

I want the courage to wear a two-piece bathing suit, in public, before I die, on a beach where someone that I know might see me. (Wearing one last September doesn’t count, because I was in Mexico.)

What do you think about a tattoo?  I’m undecided, because it would be soooo baaaad, but I don’t like needles and change my mind so often that I surely would regret it in the morning when the Champagne wore off, so, probably not.  Never mind.

I want to be guilt-free when I take a penny from the “give-a-penny-take-a-penny” container on the counter at my local convenience store, so I can give the clerk exact change.  Yes, I donate pennies, selfishly, because I don’t like all that copper rolling around in the lint at the bottom of my purse, but it’s agonizing to think that I’m taking a penny from someone who might really need it.

I want to throw on my skinny jeans and high heels and rock out as much as a sober, 63-year old woman can…well, for an hour or two, anyway.  (My knees can’t handle much more than that.)

I want to change lanes on a whim without signaling, like every other moron on the highway, and have people slam on their brakes, like I do, to avoid me.

I want to say “no” to things that I don’t want to do.

I want to walk out of boring meetings.

I want to send back inedible food in restaurants.

I want to return a dress when I get home and decide that it doesn’t look as good as I thought it did in the dressing room.

I want to tarnish my heart of gold and bend my spine of steel.  I’m tired of being the last woman on Earth doing The Right Thing all the time.

Oh!  And please bring me whatever else you think that I would like and/or need.

                                    Your friend kind and loving friend,

                                    Suzanne  xoxo 

P.S.  By the way, Santa baby, I’ll be home on Christmas Eve after midnight with oatmeal cookies and spiked eggnog, if you’d like to deliver my request.  <wink, wink>


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Cookies: Bah, Humbug!

FullSizeRender (18)I try to keep everything simple at Christmas time, otherwise, I’m easily stressed out by shopping and gift-wrapping, Christmas cards, decorating, food, and parties.  Maybe not parties.  I love parties.  I’ll do my little bit of shopping, and I think I’m going to use every leftover Christmas card from the ghosts of Christmases past.  Surely, you don’t remember what I sent you five years ago, do you?  I’ll put my tree up a week before Christmas (yes, I realize that would be, like, now) and pull out my nativity on Christmas Eve.  But I’m not a big holiday baker.  I don’t get the appeal of Christmas cookies.

On Facebook this week, many of my beautifully organized friends are posting photos of their scrumptious cookies and advertising cookie parties.  I admire them, and I told one of them, “You’re a better woman than I,” because, really, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do at Christmas, bake beautiful cookies from family recipes to warm the heart and resurrect fond memories of Christmas past?  Oh, I am such a cookie Scrooge.

In early marriage, I made rolled butter cookies and spritz cookies, because I thought you just had to provide your family with cookies at Christmas.  My Mother did.  I just don’t have the patience.  It takes you days on end to make about 500 dozen cookies, and they’re all eaten within a few days.  If I had to go to a cookie exchange and take a recipe, the other bakers would be pretty disappointed.  I’d either take my non-traditional chocolate chip cookies (with coconut and chopped pecans) or my oatmeal cookies.  Those are the only cookies worth making, and I only make the chocolate chips once a year, at the most.

I only like crispy cookies (hence the hint of coconut in the chocolate chips to give them a little extra crunch).  Crispy peanut butter cookies are good (slightly burnt), as are crispy lemon, and lace cookies and even those little French almond tuiles, which you cool around a wine bottle to look like a roof tile.  But, they’re all too much trouble for me, the lazy baker.  Cookies?  Meh.  You might as well buy a package at the grocery store.

Good luck with that.  I wanted to show you a picture of the perfect Christmas cookie, as opposed to the lame ones that I would make, so I went to my local Wegman’s, which knows how to bake dozens of different breads with just the right crust and elegant tarts with crystalline glazes.  Apparently, a color-blind person was decorating the Christmas cookies.  The icing on the snowmen cookies was slightly yellow, and we all know what yellow snow means.  The Christmas tree cookies were olive green, as if they had been standing in the living room on the 13th day of Christmas and were about to go up in flames.  The snowflake cookies were royal blue and sunshine yellow.  And, worst of all, Santa wore a rosy lavender hat.  All of the colors had a drab, gray cast, sort of like they got covered in soot when Santa fell down the chimney with them.

Now, I’m a creative person.  I appreciate different visions of the world, because that’s what adds joy to life, but, when it comes to Christmas, I’m a purist.  I finally found a package of cookies that looked like someone cut them with Grandma’s cookie cutters and sprinkled them with red sugar (Santa) and green sugar (trees).  They even had cookies for idiots like me that were entirely plain and labeled, “Decorate-it-Yourself”.

I, however, rolled my cart over to the dairy section and bought a roll of sugar cookie dough for $2.99.  It showed them sliced and baked and in the shape of stars.  I assumed that the dough could be rolled and cut.  How else could you get that star shape by slicing a roll of dough?

I hauled out cookie cutters that hadn’t seen the mini-lights of Christmas in decades, 13 in all, a baker’s dozen.  Two red plastic ones belonged to my grandmother and must date to the 1940s or 50s.  The aluminum ones are early marriage, c. 1972.  The Nutcracker is from the 80s; the hippo from a set of animal cutters I acquired from Williams-Sonoma in the 90s.

With enough flour on the granite counter, the dough rolled out to 1/4″ easily, although it seemed a little soft.  I carefully pressed the cutters into the dough, then removed the excess from around them and removed the dorky hat from the gingerbread man.  I slid a metal turner under each cookie and eased it onto the cookie sheet.  They all made the transfer except the red plastic holly.  The dough clung to little ridges inside the cutter.  So much for lucky number 13.

Unfortunately, they didn’t smell like butter or sugar or vanilla or lemon extract, just commercial cookie dough.  I decided to brush them with my cure-all for baked goods, Grand Marnier, and popped them into the oven.

When cookies collide.

When cookies collide.

Uh-oh — they were too close together and turned into Pangea; you know?  That supercontinent from which all the other continents broke off?  Santa appeared to be delivering a star.  The Nutcracker oozed into an aerial view of a sports car with its doors open — or a feminine hygiene product with wings, maybe. (I’m an eHarmony reject, remember?)  They browned beautifully, but they still tasted like commercial cookie dough, a real waste of Grand Marnier.  I pulled them apart.

One cookie stole my heart.  I’ve always wanted a hippopotamus for Christmas.

I want a hippopotamus for Xmas!

I want a hippopotamus for Xmas!

I’m not entirely down on commercial cookie dough.  You may recall that I keep Nestle’s Tollhouse cookie dough in my freezer for emergencies — like when I don’t have anything else to eat for breakfast.  I break off four little cubes, bake them in the convection oven until they get soft, and then flatten them with a fork, so they’ll get crispy.  I also push two pecan halves into each cookie.  Voilà!  Home-baked cookies!

If you’re as lazy as I am but need to leave something for Santa, my oatmeal cookies are the perfect choice.  You dump the ingredients into a food processor and drop them onto a cookie sheet (use a silicone mat so you don’t even have to grease the pan). Santa would appreciate them with a glass of spiked eggnog, I’m sure.  Nothing like a little fiber after a long night in the sleigh.

Oatmeal Cookies 

The number of cookies varies according to the size of cookies that you make.  An ice cream scoop makes a big fat chewy cookie — the kind that keeps Santa and Rudolph strong all night long.  A tablespoon makes a smaller, crisper cookie — my fav!

½ cup brown sugar, packed

½ cup white sugar

½ cup butter, softened

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 Tablespoon milk

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup quick-cooking (not instant) oats

Preheat oven to 350°.  Prepare cookie sheets either by greasing or just use a silicone baking mat.

In food processor, cream sugars and butter.  Add egg, vanilla, and milk.  Pulse until blended.  Add all remaining ingredients except the oats and pulse just until moistened.  Add oats and pulse twice, just to evenly distribute the oats.

Drop cookies two inches apart on sheet and bake 8-10 minutes, until golden brown, depending on how large you make the cookies.  Remove immediately from the oven and, using a metal turner, transfer to a rack to cool.  (Cookies will stick to the sheet if allowed to get too cool.  If this happens, return to the oven for two minutes to reheat and loosen.)

Didn’t I tell you it was easy?  Ho-ho-ho!  Merry Christmas!

 

 

 


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Dolce Natale

image‘Tis the season to party, and this is a big weekend for me, a tea, an open house, a dance, and a concert reception. Ideally, I would contribute “finger food” to the refreshments at three of the events, so I’m trying to kill four birds with one stone, because, as you know, I am essentially lazy.

One of the invitations requests that “If your name starts with A-M, please bring a savory treat; if it starts with N-Z, please bring a sweet.  Hmmm…Is it acceptable to choose the category you want to provide by either your first or last name? Or does it just have to be your last name? In my case, it doesn’t matter, because both my first and last names fall in the “sweet” category. Ok, what to make…what to make…

Generally, I don’t bake cookies or even cupcakes, if I can get away with it. (See next Friday’s post for my lame excuses.) For instance, I wouldn’t participate in your PTA’s cookie exchange or your neighborhood’s cookie walk (I saw that on a sign, recently, and have no idea what that entails).

In the olden days, the Veterinarian and I used to throw huge parties at the drop of a hat. New Year’s Day? Open house for 75-100. Cast party? Buffet for 30 from 11pm to 4 am (and sometimes breakfast for those we forced to spend the night on our sofa). We always had a dozen recipes that people expected to find on our table, with my Amaretto Cheesecake at the top of the list.

Since I live alone and don’t entertain any longer (in my home, I mean; I’m still entertaining on stage and internet, right?), I haven’t made an Amaretto Cheesecake in at least five years. But that’s not finger food, is it? Or, is it? I’ve made it in 6″ versions to give as gifts, but, can I turn it into a mini-dessert?

Fast forward 10 hours

Well, I made them last night, and they were pretty good for breakfast this morning with a double espresso, so I think I’ll spread a little holiday cheer today!

Amaretto Cheesecake – yields 12 slices or 24 individual cheesecakes

For one large cake, use a 9-1/2″ springform pan.
For mini-cakes, line regular-sized cupcake tins with cupcake papers. (This is a great way to use up odds and ends of holiday cupcake papers, because they will be discarded before serving.)

Crust

1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs, finely ground (I use the food processor.)
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup melted butter

In a large bowl, thoroughly toss together the crumbs, sugar, and cinnamon. Stir in the melted butter.

For one cake: press mixture into the bottom and 1/2″ up the sides of the springform pan.

For mini-cakes: drop two teaspoonfuls of the mixture into the bottom of each paper and press only into the bottom.

Chill prepared crust in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes.

To bake, preheat oven to 375.

imageFilling

24 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1/3 cup Amaretto liqueur

In bowl of mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until fluffy. Beat in the sugar, thoroughly, scraping the bowl and beaters. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the Amaretto. Pour into prepared springform pan, or spoon 2 Tablespoons of batter into each cupcake liner.

Bake one large cake for 45-50 minutes. Bake mini-cakes for 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. Centers will fall and possibly crack. Not to worry! Raise oven to 425.

image

It’s ok if center falls and cracks, because you’re going to cover it with the topping.

Topping

For one large cake:
1 cup sour cream
1-1/2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon Amaretto liqueur

For mini-cakes:
2 cups sour cream
3 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons Amaretto liqueur

Spoon topping into the fallen center of the cakes and smooth with a knife or spatula. Return to hot oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack. Immediately garnish with chopped, toasted almonds. Cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours.

image

Just before serving, run a heated knife between the crust and the rim of the springform pan. (To heat the knife, run it under hot tap water and quickly dry with a clean towel.)

For mini-cakes, remove the cupcake paper. This works best if the cakes are very cold, because the fat in the butter and cream cheese sticks less to the paper when it is cold.

Garnish the cakes with either shaved dark chocolate or mini-dark chocolate chips.


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Christmas Shopping

Oops!  I missed Black Friday.  I was busy recovering from Thanksgiving and just couldn’t drag myself out of the house.  That’s not quite true.  I could have dragged myself out of the house and into the car, but I wasn’t sure where I’d go where people weren’t snarling over consumer goods and parking places.

Now, I’ve missed Cyber Monday.  I’m probably missing some significant sales today, too.  The pressure is just horrendous for me to consume irrelevant stuff this time of year, but I will not succumb.  I don’t really need to, since my shopping list is blessedly short, but I find Christmas shopping a very dangerous opportunity to over-spend — mainly on me!

Should I fight someone for the last large-screen HD internet- and Bluetooth-ready television?  Until Verizon gets its act together and installs the Fios cable service tomorrow that I ordered last week and wasn’t installed on Friday, as scheduled, and wasn’t installed yesterday, as rescheduled, I have no need for one.  I’m not sure that I could wrestle one into my car.  The Daughter buys whatever she wants, when she wants it.  My Sister has a limited tolerance for electronics; My Mother, no tolerance of any kind.  That settles it.  No electronics.  No Hoverboards.  No Drones.  No Droids from “Star Wars.”

Should I knock over small children to get to the toy department?  The BFF is the only “child” in my household, and she’d rather have a nice, bark-covered stick to chew on than a Cabbage Patch Kid.  On second thought, she just might like to chow down on a CPK.  [Are CPKs making a comeback?  Target seems to think so.  They’re also advertising that creepy little Mario guy with the Burt Reynolds moustache.]

Walmart (where I’ve shopped only 3 times in my life; once in Florida for lint rollers, once on the Eastern Shore of Maryland for aluminum drip pans, and once nearby for a plush reindeer), suggests “Pokemon 2015 Trainer Kit Deck”  “2-Player Learn-to-Play Set”  “Now $8.99.  Was $9.98.  Save $0.99.”  Wow.  A whopping $0.99 savings. That would be worth driving around for 30 minutes trying to find a parking space.  I never would have bought that, because the description is ridiculous:  “Two 30-card decks, each with a specially selected foil card, two guided game booklets, 2-player playmat, damage counters and Special Condition markers, a game coin, an illustrated deck box, and a code card for the Pokemon TCG Online!”

Not one word of that description tells me anything.  It appears that in order to play this game, you have to spend a minimum of $8.99 (plus $6.95 shipping if you don’t either pick it up in the store or qualify for free shipping by buying another $41.01 worth of stuff, plus sales tax) to learn how to play the game and then buy the game itself.  Nope.  No way.

Then, there’s this little gem in the tights with her fanny hanging below her jacket.  Of course, what else but a hunk of molded polyvinylchloride could wear that outfit?

Pickup OnlyPickup only

The puppies are cute, but “Pickup only”?  Yeah, kinda looks that way to me.  Maybe if she put on some pants, she could get a real job.  And they said Barbie was a tramp.

Where are Raggedy Ann and Andy with their soft bodies and embroidered hearts?  Where are the Lincoln Logs?  Doesn’t anyone want an electric train set?  Chinese Checkers?  The other day, someone,  obviously as old as I, asked what happened to Colorforms.  When I was a kid, they came in exciting shapes, like Batman and Star Trek and Barbie, and you put them into comic book-like scenes.  I bought the only set that I could find for The Daughter.  It was a huge set of basic shapes and colors organized in pages in a spiral notebook, and it was Very Expensive, sold through the catalog of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  My 10-year old self was in heaven.  Hers was nonplussed.

Colorforms“Like, what do you do with these?” she asked.

“You make pictures on the shiny black board with them.”

“You, like, stick them together and build stuff?”

“No, you arrange the shapes into pictures, with houses and people and pets and trees.  Anything.  You can tell stories with them.”

“Like, I can do that on the computer.”

“Stop saying ‘like.’”

“I never understood the appeal of Colorforms, either,” The Veterinarian had the audacity to chime in.

“OK, fine,” I snapped, “they’ll just be mine, and I’ll lull myself to sleep with the boring Colorforms.”  I haven’t seen them since and couldn’t tell you what happened to them. I wish I could. They’re asking $25 on eBay for a well-worn, incomplete set or $75 at Amazon.com for a new set.

Should I spring for a white faux furry vest for The Daughter?  It’s kinda cute in a retro, Sonny-and-Cher way.  I’m just not sure what she wears these days when she isn’t wearing scrubs to work.  We always play a game when we’re in Target together.  We walk through the girls’ clothes, and I point at outfits and say, “I would have bought this for you.”

Sometimes, she’ll say, “Well, I wouldn’t have worn it” and counter with, “Would you have let me wear this?”

The answer to that one still is, invariably, “No.”  I’m not real fond of rhinestones, spandex, and bare midriffs in children’s clothing, unless they’re meant for the stage or the swimming pool.  Don’t like them on most adults, either, for that matter.

My shopping email inbox received 109 emails from Saturday to Monday evening.  I let them pile up so I could count them.  Most of them were from clothing stores, which is the most dangerous place of all to cyber-shop, but it’s also the most fun.  I choose the clothes (mostly for myself), put them in the “shopping cart” or “bag”, and go on to the next site.  I haven’t really purchased anything, but, somehow, my urge to acquire is satisfied.  I used to play this same game with catalogs, but cyber-window shopping is much more satisfying.

This morning, I heard a network broadcaster, on my small, non-internet-ready, Bluetoothless television, say that retailers use cookies to track when you have placed items in your cyber shopping cart but not completed a purchase.  He said that they will send you an email showing the item saying, “Did you forget about me?  I’m feeling rejected in the shopping cart.”  Oh, pull-eaze.  It’s bad enough that, when I walk into a mall, items scream “Buy me!”  “Buy me!” “You’ll be [choose as many as you want] taller, younger, hotter, thinner, __________ .”  (The shouting from Victoria’s Secret is especially annoying.)

Of course, actually shopping in a store is pretty dangerous, too.  I’m adept at dodging the model-wannabes trying to douse me with the latest celebrity fragrance.    On Monday night, around the dinner hour, I almost let one spritz and sniff me.  As I walked through the perfume department in Macy’s, I heard, “Hey! Having a good time?”

I looked up to see the women’s Chanel counter manned (in every sense of the word) by a cute young guy in a — get this — suit and tie — catnip to a woman over the age of 20.  I kept walking but looked around to see who he was talking to.  There was no one else.  He made eye contact.  At least, I think he did.  I was distracted by the dimples.

Thank God, I had just washed my hair and was wearing make-up to have my passport photo taken.  I assume he was confused because I’m short, like a teenager, and, I thought, not unattractive in my gray tights, my black suede Uggs, and, unlike the little plastic dog-walking floozy, my puffy jacket was covering my considerable fanny.

Did I want to be spritzed by a handsome guy with bad eyesight selling women’s perfume?  Oh, you bet I did!  But, I refrained.  I am just not delusional enough to smell like a cougar.  I kept moving and smiled breezily like that model in the old “Charlie” perfume commercial (google it).

“I am now!”  I replied to his question. He laughed.  It’s always a good day when a 63-year old woman can make a young man laugh with her, not at her, so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!