Archive for December, 2010
Ruth Lorenz and Ava Wilson! Congratulations ladies! Email me your addresses, will you? And enjoy the book.
I came home from a Christmas party tonight to find a package had arrived for me all the way from Provence, France. A month or so ago, I was one of a few lucky giveaway winners of Vicki Archer’s new decor/lifestyle book French Essence. Vicki’s a mesmerizing storyteller, decorator and style setter, and this book does not disappoint. In fact, because I so love Vicki’s books, I am having two giveaways of French Essence. Leave a comment to enter the drawing. The two winners will be announced on Wednesday, December 22. Good luck to you all!
My earliest memories of Christmas are all involved around this delicious recipe from my mother. She used to make platters of it, then cut it up, roll it into two inch long pieces and wrap it in crinkled paper and foil and hang it on the fresh cut Christmas tree my father had just brought in. Also hanging on the tree were precious oranges, walnuts in their shells, prettily wrapped candy, cookies, and real candles dripping wax. We lived in communist Romania back then and didn’t have strings of lights, electric trains circling the tree, nor ornaments weighing down the branches. Life was much more simple, much more real. Maybe because we lacked what we now take for granted, any unexpected treat was such a luxury and such a joy.
Eagerly we anticipated the carolers we knew were coming anytime between nightfall and the crack of dawn on that Christmas Eve night. We dressed in our finest, helped set out the pastries, the cookies, and the little fancy sandwiches my mother, my aunts, and my grandmother had worked on for the last several days. The best china was brought out, for it was a perfect opportunity to show it off. Butter, sugar, chocolate and coffee were precious commodities hoarded throughout the year, and only used for special occasions: Christmas, New Year, Easter, birthdays, weddings, christenings, and funerals.
The house filled up with guests who reminisced all through the night, feasting on sausages, creamed potatoes and delectable desserts. The kids got to stay up too, and usually there were so many of us that when we couldn’t keep our eyes open anymore, every available surface or parent’s lap held a softly snoring child.
725 grams (3 cups) powdered milk
5 tablespoons good quality cocoa powder unsweetened
500 grams (2 cups) sugar
1 cup water
2 sticks unsalted butter cubed and at room temperature
1 tablespoon (or more) rum
1 cup roasted walnuts or hazelnuts (optional)
Coat a large cookie sheet with non-stick spray, or if you are seriously self-indulging, butter. Have it ready and close by.
Sift the powdered milk and cocoa powder into a bowl, and combine with a whisk until well blended. On medium heat make a syrup of sugar and water by pouring the cup of water into a deeper pan and gradually whisking in the sugar. Don’t forget to stir! Let it simmer a few minutes and check readiness by placing a teaspoon of it into a glass of water. If it holds together it is ready, if not keep stirring! Add the blended powdered milk and cocoa and mix with a wooden spoon until it’s well incorporated. It should have the consistency of batter - not too thick, not too thin. If it is too thick, you can add water, but only a little at a time. If it is too watery, add a little more powdered milk and powdered cocoa. Work those muscles in your arms until it resembles a smooth chocolate frosting, otherwise you get air bubbles, or a mouthful of powder. Add the rum and the nuts, take it off the heat and stir in the cubed butter until all melted. With the help of a spatula spread it on the prepared cookie sheet and let it cool at room temperature. It will harden as it cools. Enjoy it! I guarantee it won’t last long.
By the way, I have no idea on the number of servings. And since I have never made or eaten the American version of fudge I don’t know how closely it resembles it, in either recipe or taste.
The Advent season is upon us and this is my favorite time of the year. I am big on rituals and festivals, sharing and expressing my love of my family and friends, and of music and books that speak to my heart. Perhaps because I have been a child in a different culture and experienced the magic of the season there, I have not fallen prey to the consumerism aspect of what Christmas is in the States. Having purchased my gifts weeks in advance, I avoid the false cheer of crowded malls, and rude, impatient shoppers.
I focus inward instead. What greatness am I willing to allow be born within me during this time? As we prepare the Advent table with its silken blue cover, the color of Mary’s cloak, and light the candles of the Advent wreath, I hold my children near me, and read stories of Christmas and sing the old fashioned carols my grandmother taught us as children.
And I tell them stories of my childhood, sledding down the hills with my other four siblings in the stillness of a starry night, going caroling to the houses of family and friends where we were eagerly awaited with warm drinks and tables heaped with food, spending whole days at cousins’ houses where the parents cut the goose and the pig and made pates and sausages, while the kids had merry snowball fights. Oh and then there was the anticipated arrival of Saint Nicholas. Not Saint Nicholas aka Santa Claus, but Saint Nicholas of Smyrna himself.
On the eve of every 5th of December, we shined our shoes and placed them in frosted windows, or next to drafty back doors. Sometime during the frigid, glittery night the dear Saint would come and leave behind an orange, a golden walnut, a little cookie, a few candies, and a little treasure. And always besides all the goodies, was the prettiest silver switch, a reminder for us to behave ourselves. My children love Saint Nicholas day, and we use the example of the switch as an opportunity to discuss the areas that need strengthening and growing in the coming year.
Although I am a woman of faith, I feel uncomfortable wearing it on my sleeve (because it looks self-righteous and arrogant on me, perhaps?), but have to ask, what greatness are you allowing to be born within you, and transform you to the highest possible best that you can be?
This is a true Magpie Tale.