Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas, how can I keep you?

This is the last week before Christmas and I am sad that the season has zoomed by so quickly. When my friends and I discuss our day, someone usually says, "Thank God it is almost over", or "I'm almost done with my shopping", or
"I haven't even started!"
This is distressing to me.
I too am guilty of letting these comments come out of my mouth, it's such an automatice response. When my much- overworked friends want to commiserate with me, I repeat those words back to them.

I don't want to say it anymore.

The real truth is, I've tried to stay up longer and get up earlier this month, because I truly do want Christmas last as long as I can.
Cookie baking, candy making, card sending me, I want it to go on and on.
But, no matter what I do, my precious holiday is still whizzing by me at the speed of retail stores getting ready for the next holiday!
Every day this week I will continue to get up early and stay up as long as I possibly can. I want to extend this incredible feeling I have for the birth of the child who changed the world.
I want to continue to do all the wonderful, sentimental rituals I have practiced for years.
Today,making more candy, baking cakes, cookies, and bread. No tired feelings at the end of the all this kitchen
madness,just happiness.
The Christmas tree is lit right now, wrapping paper and cookies platters are stacked up on the table along with confection sugar, chocolate chunks, raisins, apricots, and flour.
It's a nice cluttered scene.
To my relief, I've finally mastered the art of cooking the pralines, and all batches are turning out right!
We've watched all the familiar Christmas movies this week, and written out countless, glittery Christmas cards.
My husband and I sang Christmas carols with our fellow church members, went out to see the lights downtown, gave out candy canes, started to fill our stockings to each other. (I love shopping for the small things that go into stockings! The grandchildren's stockings are particularly fun to fill!)

The last thing I have to do is buy my Christmas ham and fixings. The last minute shopping, it feels good to be with others in the store, gives me a thrill to say, "Merry Christmas"!

May this week feel like an eternity!

Hope all of you cherish and enjoy the season.

And please...don't forget to leave cookies and milk for Santa.

Merry, Merry Christmas!!!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sugar Plums and Alka Seltzer

Spent the afternoon making my yearly Christmas pralines. The house smelled so delicious today, butter and cooked sugar in the air; the caramel,vanilla making my mouth water!

I began this candy cooking party at 12:30 p.m.

It is a mystery to me the little problems I have when I begin my cooking and baking ritual every year. It's not like riding a bike, you tend to forget things that keep you in the seat.

The first batch of candy is always a disaster. (but I never remember this) It's like a practice run. My husband knows this, he counts on it. He waits in the wings to eat the broken and chipped pieces. (I never bring my friends and co-workers broken candy.) He was confident that he would be eating candy after a few minutes, the anticipation was all over him.

This year I thought I had avoided this problem because the first pot of candy looked so beautiful. I stirred and spooned it onto waxed paper, it cooled nicely, it had a nice rounded look, was creamy and brown. Wow, it was darn near perfect.
Hah! Ok, Jan! First one out of the box, ready to plate and wrap! I did it good! No frustration this year!

Well, what do you think?
That candy would not, could not, come off of the waxed paper.
I would not, could not, have done something wrong?
I laid everything out before I starting cooking, had everything in a neat line...spoons, measuring cups, bowls, candy thermometer.....

I forgot to butter the paper.
How could I have forgotten? Such a small detail...
To quote a famous Peanuts character: "AUUGH"!
My husband sat on the couch like a cheshire cat, patiently waiting for me to stop using very unchristmas-like words. He waited for a break in the wailing and moaning, and then he said, "Any mistakes this year...dear"?
He watched quietly as I pulled and tugged, chips flying off in every direction, cracks marring the rounded perfection that I strived for. As the shards flew around the kitchen, I could hear him talking to his friend on the phone, "Well, I gotta go, I think she may need some help." (He already knew what to say to avoid a headless state.)
I mutely handed him a large bowl of pieces and sent him back to the couch. He sat happily munching while I fumed and sputtered.

The second round was not much better.
I buttered another sheet of paper, ran back and forth to the stove to stir the new batch. As the temperature rose to 239, I figured this one was a cinch.


I didn't stir it quite enough, and spooned it out before it had enough air in it. Rushing it? How could I?
This batch was more like soft toffee.

It ran together like a traitor when I spooned it onto the paper-covered counter. *&*#! %$!!!!

This candy had to be scraped back into the pot. Have you ever had to scrape warm sticky candy off waxed paper? It isn't on the top of my list of things to do.
I advise that you stir that candy until you think it's about to set up in the pot, or until your arm falls off.
You wonder why didn't I throw it all away and start over?'s why: cleaned, shelled pecans are $7.00 for 2 1/2 cups.
I kept at it and made 5 batches, 1 1/2 cup of pecans in each. (you can add that total up!)
That pecan price is enough for me to pull up every bit of candy off the counter. I wasn't leaving a man behind on waxed paper!
But, pulling it up it isn't fun and your vocabulary suffers in the process.

I'm done for today, it's 5:03 p.m. and the last of it is cooling on the counter. I haven't checked it yet, the last few pieces, but I know what to expect.
My husband, the official tester of this house, has advised me that it was "sorta chewy", and "not like the perfect spoonful" he tried another batch ago.
He should know....he's eaten enough of the mistakes today to make him a candy genious.

I just saw him go into the bathroom for an alka seltzer.
"I'm just trying to save your Christmas reputation, he said. "Someone has to do it".

As he walked away grinning I heard him add, "what I go through for you!"

He won't sleep tonight, he's had more sugar than the sugarplum fairy locked in a Macy's candy store.

Merry Christmas everyone!