Things I learned this week…

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“Que sais-je?”
Michel de Montaigne

I learned this week…

…that it is necessary, from a quality control standpoint, to sample all of the treats I bake before giving them out to my friends and family.  Unfortunately, my stomach did not get the memo that we would be ingesting such a large amount of sugar and fat.  He was not amused.

…that baking and writing don’t mix.  The other morning, I packed my daughter off to school, made a mental list of the things I needed to get done and set a short-term goal for myself.  I wanted to accomplish at least two things before the sun went down: 1) finish baking cookies and fudge for my coworkers; 2) write between 2,000 and 4,000 words for my novel, Retribution.  I arranged a makeshift writing space at the kitchen table with my laptop, steaming cup of coffee, plot diagram, and research notebook – all within easy reach.

(Why is Robert Burns whispering in my ear…again?)

I finished the cookies.  I did not, however, write the intended number of words.  I eked out a grand total of 157 of them.  Disappointing, but I learned a valuable lesson.  I can either bake or I can write, but I cannot do both.

…that there is just something about logging onto the college website to find my grades staring back at me, on the homepage.  I get all gooey inside from the tremendous sense of accomplishment I feel at successfully completely another semester, with a near perfect GPA intact.  Good thing, too.  I’m paying a butt load of money, out-of-pocket, for this education; all in the name of “finding myself.”  (Cue eye roll from my dear, supportive husband).

…that sitting next to the Christmas tree at my daughter’s gymnastics practice is a bad idea.  A very, very bad idea.  You would think that I would remember this from years of past experience.  After all, we’ve been going to the same sport’s center for the last four years.  But alas, no.  I am a creature of habit.  I have a favorite chair and when it is unoccupied, I will sit there every time, without fail. Unfortunately, during this time of year, the chair sits right next to the Christmas tree.  Needless to say, because of my inability to adapt, I spend most of practice shooting the stink eye at small children for nearly toppling the tree, in their attempts to reach the candy canes that are scattered among the branches.  The candy canes they are forbidden from touching.   I’d love to have a nice long heart to heart with the genius who thought up that decorating idea.

…that the movie Hanna is probably the worst film I have ever seen.  I don’t even know where to begin with this one.  But considering the fact that I’ve just spent the better part of two hours watching it – two hours of my life I will never get back – I think I will pass on a more detailed review.  I’ve wasted enough time on it already.  Now I’ve wasted your time by telling you that I’m not going to waste my time.  I feel better now.  Misery loves company.

…that the mall on the last full shopping weekend before Christmas is a frightening place.

…that Hollister is not a store, it’s my worst nightmare come to life.  Before this weekend, I had never stepped foot in that store.  I’ve always been put off by the sounds and smells wafting from it’s cloaked interior.  However, it is Christmas and there is someone on my list who requested a gift card from this establishment.  Upon entering, and after my senses adjusted to the loud music and overwhelming stench of cologne, I was struck by how very dark it was in there.  Indeed, so dark that I nearly tripped over several small children and a salesperson.  I’m not sure I understand their marketing strategy.  How the hell do they expect customers to buy a product they can’t see?  Seems pretty fishy to me, like maybe they don’t really want you to know what you’re buying.  Or maybe the store is secretly a front for a special black ops division of the CIA.  That must be it, and now that I think about it, I’m sure I caught a glimpse of Sydney Bristow, disguised as a college student, just before she slipped into one of the “dressing rooms.”

…last, but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by this touching tribute to the brilliance of Bill Waterson.  Enjoy.

Let the baking begin!

DSC01382Christmas is not my favorite time of year.  Don’t worry.  I’m not going to launch into a tirade about how commercially motivated our society has become, or goad anyone into a theology debate.  No, I made a promise to myself that I would leave my cynicism at the door.  I vowed to make an extra effort to avoid allowing my negativity to overshadow the holidays or bleed into my blog entries.

Not an easy promise to keep, especially after dipping my toes into the pool of Christmas shoppers down at the mall.  I barely escaped with my life.  I will refrain from recounting the whole grim tale.  Doing so would only set me down a path of no return and then I will have broken my vow to be, if not cheery, at least, civil.

Finding Christmas related activities or events that don’t leave me wanting to chug the nearest carton of laced eggnog is a pretty tall order, but not an impossibility.  After all, I have discovered that I like Christmas music.  Granted, the playlist is minimal, but I’m a firm believer that all good things should be moderated.

There is another thing that I like about Christmas.  It’s the perfect excuse to bake an exuberant amount of goodies.  Of course, I don’t want them in the house because sweets are counterproductive in the whole healthy living lifestyle thing I’ve got going on, but I’ve come up with a solution.  I’ve devised a way to make them essentially guilt-free.  I bake them, pack them in cute bags adorned with curly ribbon and a festive candy cane, and give them to all my friends, family, and coworkers. They seem to like the gesture and it always leaves me with the warm, gooey satisfaction of having put a smile on their faces.  If I were a humane person, I might feel a twinge of remorse for having sabotaged their holiday diet plan, but I’m not, and I don’t.

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I usually try to make a variety of treats including some old favorites, such as chocolate chip and peanut butter.  I also try to incorporate cookies with a little spice.  Some of my favorite cookies aren’t sweet at all.  This is the fault of my little Italian grandmother who used to let me help her make batch after batch of pizzelle cookies.  For those who have never experienced these anise-flavored Italian cookies, I’m truly sorry for they are wonderfully yummy.   My grandmother made the best – my mother runs a close second  – and she used to let me lick the bowl until my tongue went numb.  My mother never let me do that.  You know, that whole Salmonella thing and all.  I miss my grandma.

This year, I have brought back my chocolate ginger spice cookies that are rolled in raw sugar, giving them a nice crunchy texture on the outside which contrasts nicely to the soft, moist middle.  To complement this offering, I have added a Chai flavor inspired cookie.  This one is definitely one to be enjoyed with a tall glass of milk, and while the dense cookie itself is more spicy than sweet, the white chocolate coating drizzled with melted milk chocolate gives it a nice balance.  They are considerably more work than just the basic chocolate chip, but I think they are worth it.  If for no other reason than they are a nice change of pace.

DSC01351While I am a pretty decent baker, a confectioner I am not.  Over the years, I have tried my hand at a lot of different candies: peanut brittle, almond bark, peppermint almond bark.  None of them resulted in anything edible.  In spite of this, I do try to add a bit of fudge to every bag.  Of course, fudge can be as frustrating to make as peanut brittle, especially when one has no idea the difference between those very technical candy making terms: hard-crack stage and soft-crack stage.  However, I’ve found a no fuss recipe that takes all of 20 minutes from the second the sugar hits the sauce pan until I pop the finished product into the fridge to set up.  Everyone seems to like it, and I wouldn’t dream of leaving it out.

The past two years, due to circumstances beyond my control, life has made this task overwhelming.  I just didn’t have the time to bake enough goodies for everyone on my list.  This year is different.  My school semester is finished, there are no obligatory family functions looming that require an ounce of my attention, and I have a couple of days off a week until mid-January.  More importantly, because there are no outside pressures, I feel that I am going to enjoy this year’s baking marathon much more than I have in a good long while.  That makes me happy.  Perhaps even instills a smidgen of holiday cheer into my Scrooge-filled heart.  Anything is possible, right?  I mean, I voluntarily put up the Christmas tree on the 10th of the month.  Much sooner than usual, and with minimal grumbling.  Perhaps Christmas miracles do happen.

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