Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Happy days are here again. . .I think

You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover is yourself.

Alan Alda

At the beginning of 2006 life got a little dicey: Dave was laid off from his job in February, Erica had open heart surgery in March, Audrey moved back to Chicago and took her wonderful cat, Squirrel with her in April at about the time Dave moved to the Twin Cities for his new job. So what would a woman in mid-life do in this minefield but get a mondo case of HIVES which lasted for several weeks. Looming in the future was giving my notice at the law school to leave a job I had enjoyed and preparing the house to be sold after 14 years. Erica left for med school in August, the house went up on the market in September after hours of lonely cleaning, sorting and hauling to the curb. So from August 'til October I was alone with the pets, bowl after bowl of ice cream, Without a Trace reruns and realtor visits. When I moved up to St. Paul in October last I spent the time before the holidays unpacking, adjusting and trying to make the holidays happy in a one-bedroom apartment with noisy neighbors above us, up to my ears in heart palpitations and EKGs and stress tests, all magnified by a nagging loneliness. Long story short, I couldn't bake cookies for various reasons for a few years, mostly due to this unsettled-ness. This fact came back to me as I was cutting biscotti yesterday along with the joyous realization that I was happily baking cookies again! Thus, the recipes that follow.

So the baking continues in between wrapping and cleaning. I found this recipe on Martha Stewart Living to use since I had bought dried currents to try a steamed pudding for Christmas. They are sturdy, sweet little cookies and I would definitely keep this recipe on hand. Alongside is an addition to my pitcher collection in bright yellow-green glass filled with this season's lemon verbena I grew.

Lemon-Currant Cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for baking sheets
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup sour cream (I used whole milk yogurt)
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dried currants
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter two baking sheets, or line them with parchment paper. Combine the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl; beat until light and fluffy. Beat in sour cream and egg.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Gradually beat the dry ingredients into the butter mixture until they are well combined. Stir in currants and lemon zest.
Drop heaping teaspoonfuls of dough about 1 1/2 inches apart onto prepared baking sheets. Bake until cookies are puffed and golden around the edges, about 20 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes on baking sheets before transferring cookies to wire racks to cool completely.


Yesterday I made chocolate shortbread, also a Martha recipe. I have only made the traditional shortbread but this chocolate variety is really delicious. I did use the fork tines to make the 'rays' in a circle because I read recently that in Scotland that has been a traditional cookie embellishment for centuries. They resemble the sun's rays and have been made to coincide with the Winter Solstice.
Chocolate Shortbread

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. With an electric mixer, beat butter until creamy. Add flour, sugar, and cocoa; mix just until combined. (Chill dough in the refrigerator 10 minutes if it is too soft to handle.)
Pat dough into an 8-inch round cake pan; press edges down with the tines of a floured fork. Bake until firm, 30 minutes. Immediately score into eight wedges; cool completely. Turn out of pan; break wedges apart.

Like snowflakes, my Christmas memories gather and dance; each beautiful, unique and too soon gone. Deborah Whipp

Monday, December 17, 2007

the fabric of my days

*Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing. . .*

The week before Christmas! How did this happen?
Wednesday dear Erica comes home after finishing her first half of her second year of med school. What a brave soul she is and she will bring laughter and great Georgetown stories to warm up chilly Minnesota. Pashka-doggie who was rescued by Erica from the pound over 16 years ago will be so thrilled that she will wag her tail in a circle when she sees her!
Then on Saturday sweet Audrey
comes blowing in from Chicago bringing her hilarious stories from her work and her kind ways.
These daughter/friends bless
our little family more than words can express.
*It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour.*- A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Saturday, December 15, 2007

“The best way out is always through.”

The year is 1966. I mention this because nothing stays the same.

Every Tuesday night we attended CCD classes at St. Joe’s parochial school. The attendees had one thing in common: they were forced by their parents to attend these evening catechism classes since there wasn’t a Catholic high school in my hometown. The only kids who seemed to enjoy the ritual were those who had their own driver’s license.
The saving grace for us powerless souls, however, was the co-ed dance held every few months. Much like the overwhelming number of students showing up for a final exam, everyone came to these sock hops. Some came to hear the local bands play as well as for the free food. I came to see a boy I’d had a crush on since junior high, when Eric’s family moved into an old rental house near the University. Our year together in ninth grade had given me a storehouse of personal information about him, which I dutifully chronicled in my diary. For instance, he played basketball, was friendly ('You’re taking geometry? Are you smart or something?' he’d once said to me in lunch line) and had an older brother who looked like a character on the t.v. series Combat. Stalking is not a new invention.

Mostly I knew that Eric liked Molly a lot. But ‘why’ was and remains one of the world’s oldest conundrums, at least to me. Although she was not unattractive, her clothes were not homemade, she had long hair and popularity, a lot of us wished Eric could see past her to us.

The dances were a study in the teen caste system, the religious mores we’d just been learning about and a whole lot of chaperoned free-floating hormones.. Many kids danced while the small pockets of the unworthy stood in groups, laughing too loudly. Immediately apparent was that even the nerdy boys got to dance because they had the power to ask a girl to dance with them. At most of these events Eric danced with a lot of people, except me, and when Molly finally arrived, he would spend the rest of the time with her. At one dance in particular I got tired of watching and decided to take matters into my own hands. In the late ‘60’s in a Catholic church basement it was acceptable for girls to cut in and dance with whoever they wanted, which is exactly what I did. I’ll never know if it was convoluted karma or 15 year old bravado but two things I’ll never forget. One was the look on Molly’s face when she turned to see who tapped her on the shoulder. The other is how good I felt walking away from the one and only time I ever danced with Eric when Molly cut in on me. Very few times since have I mustered such courage to do the unthinkable. Molly became a Montessori teacher in Washington State and Eric teaches math somewhere in Idaho. As for me, I still get the urge to step over the line every once in awhile.

This is what I remember about dance, this week's prompt for Sunday Scribblings. See other dancers here. The band pictured above is the once-popular Chancellors from Boise in the 1960's. Title quote is from Robert Frost

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I will honor Christmas in my heart. . .

Granted it has taken me awhile to get into the spirit of things, but I FINE-ally did some baking and I can highly recommend this recipe that I baked off this afternoon.
Don't let the little matter of Weight Watchers scare you--they are the real deal, right down to the unsalted butter, smell delicious while baking and are lovely to look at, umm, what's left of them, that is.

Weight Watchers
Oatmeal-Pecan Lace Cookies
1 1/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup chopped pecans, finely chopped
1/8 tsp table salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg(s), beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350ºF and cover 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Mix oats, sugar, baking powder, pecans and salt together in a large bowl until well incorporated.
Add butter, egg and vanilla to oat mixture; mix well.
Drop teaspoonfuls of batter onto prepared cookie sheets and flatten each out, leaving at least 2-inches between each cookie.
Bake cookies until edges turn golden, about 8 to 12 minutes. Let cookies stand on cookie sheets for 2 minutes before removing to a cooling rack. Yields 2 cookies per serving.
Notes: You can substitute any kind of nut for the pecans.

Saturday I attended a chili feed/auction for Dave's motorcycle association where I had a taste of Minnesota, in the form of Cathedral Windows. Maybe I've lived under a rock for too long, but I had never heard of them. Several other of the woman at our table were well acquainted with these pretty and apparently very easy, no bake gems.

For a lively post about 'competitive' cookie exchanges plus an interesting and time-honored recipe for Joy’s Cookies using almonds and sesame seeds (!) see Inland Empire Girl's wonderfully homey site. She's from my part of the country--northern Idaho/eastern Washington.

Now, if its holiday cheer you need, visit Julie Marie's post about her vintage Christmas decorations. She'll transport you right back to childhood, she will!

Have fun and remember to save a beater for me to lick.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Fröhliche Weihnachten!

On an ordinary day thrift shopping I came across an extraordinary find, made doubly fun by the announcement over the intercom that all Christmas items were half off. I bought this box of Christmas cards from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, circa 1985, 'For the Holiday: a Christmas Selection From the Wiener Werkstätte'box and all for $.30. The Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshop) was part of the Arts & Crafts movement and its members were counterparts to the earlier European movement, with the likes of the Scottish artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh. They were artisans designing jewelry, fabric, clothing and everyday objects like furniture and pottery with the Arts & Crafts signature of minimalist and unique geometric shapes in 1900 Vienna. Founded by artists Josef Hoffman and Kolo Moser, some of the Workshop members included Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka. I'm especially interested in that period of German art, pre-World War I and then the Wiemar Republic and its golden child, the extraordinary Bauhaus. So, these little gems were created by Austrian artists who joined the Werkstätte in many ways like one joins a union or political activist group today, as was the custom during that time. Artists were inherently political and stood firmly along the lines they drew, literally and figuratively. The workshop existed from 1903-1932.

Couple and Cat in Snow / Fritzi Low-Lazar

Out in the Snow / Mela Koehler

A Doll for Christmas / Suzi Singer-Schinnerl
(which was always my wish)

Angel With the Star of Bethlehem /Franz Karl Delavilla

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Heroes & villains, Sunday & Scribblings

Next hurdle on the track
Its slender legs planted in the gravel
That ever-looming peripheral cloud says,
‘You can’t make it, you’re too big.’
Maybe next season.

¿Habla español? Si, mucho gusto!
‘But, you failed chemistry twice?’
The periodic table peers out from empty-eyed windows
Sedimentary, igneous, or metamorphic
Rock my world.

‘Success is for them, but
Let me show you what belongs to you, my pretty:’
Failure, remorse, crumbs of desire
Weak follow-through
Powdery residue of shame.

Piano fingers stroke the paintbrush bristles
Gilded thoughts recline on the highest clouds
Many colored ribbons of fairness circle and rise
Rain buckets full of tears sparkle in the sunlight
Preparing to nourish the next season.

Swirling leaves follow me down the street, turning cartwheels
In their wake a shadow lays down in front of me
I recognize myself in the chalk line~
The one who has set the highest standards.
‘It was you all the time.’

My take on 'competition' for this weeks Sunday Scribblings

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Is there a doctor in the house?

After spending a week looking like that mouthbreather Napoleon Dynamite, I think I might be over the worst seige by one of at least 400 varieties of cold viruses. So this week I stayed away from the ice rink to walk until I could breath through my nose again, opting instead for walking at the, the, the, oh, man, the mall. Because I don't like to shop there, ever, I feel quite overwhelmed by the Christmas musak and barrage of, shall I say, umm, merchandise practically falling out of each shop doorway at me. I'm there with a large portion of the senior population way before the shops open and its warm and pleasant enough, but by the time I leave, my eyes are glazed from seeing so much I couldn't, wouldn't, can't buy, buy, buy.

Let me back up to relate the following experience. Last week while walking around the hockey rink, over and over again (7 laps = 1 mile/ sigh) I had occasion to help an older gent find an unlocked door to the rink. He was tall, wore a beige jacket, slacks, dress oxfords and was the spitting image of my dad who 'has been dead lo these many years'. . .when we finally found the unlocked door, he smiled and wouldn't you know, he was missing some teeth, just like dear old dad! He only made one lap around the ice and we waved at each other when he left. His 'presence' rattled me and I had to shake my head as I finished my laps; what the heck would possess my dad to stop by a hockey rink on a Thursday morning in Minnesota? Well, so maybe he had a message? Nothing came to mind but, who knows, maybe I just needed to be reminded of his big schnozz that stuck straight out from his face or how he dressed up to go to McDonalds. While at the mall this week, every day I've seen the same guy who looks like the real Santa in every way: short, a little round, red shirt, red suspenders, long white hair and beard and even little glasses. When we pass in the mall he smiles and waves. And I call him Santa now.

Even though I'm no stranger to this type of occurrence I hesitate to recall that when I commuted to Chicago every day I swear I saw John Lennon a couple of times at the train station. He'd be looking at his newspaper and then look me straight in the eye. O.K., well, how about last summer when I thought I saw Jerry Garcia working on a road crew? I creep myself out, and yet, maybe admitting this could somehow get me a room in a nice hospital somewhere. . .I could use the rest!

Monday, December 3, 2007

winter dreaming

Out of the bosom of the Air,
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Minnesota had its first big snow fall over the weekend with freezing temps, blowing wind and sleet. I'm laid up with a nasty cold so am keeping the home fires burning but wanted to send out my greeting for the new month and holiday season as it unfolds. [That's me and my mom in an earlier snowstorm--hope you can see her pincurls!]

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.

Anne Bradstreet

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Happy trails!

The Beatles took that long and winding road, Willie and Waylon went on the road again and Buford took the high road at Gettysburg. Pop icons and generals have the luxury and authority to take any old road they choose. Real people, like me, have their little baby feet set down on a path in their first year. Once they let go of their parents’ fingers, the road becomes their new gloriously uncharted territory. Along the way we can unexpectedly experience boulders rolled onto our path—not the movie set variety either but the real and heavy variety. Vistas open up on other roads, too, expansive and never easily forgotten. The road signs are many and varied: hidden, neon, Sharpee letters on poster board, foreign language, upside-down, ancient, cautionary, and wisely heeded.

The beauty of trodden roads is, in fact, their memory deeply hidden inside each traveler, so that a few bars of an old song can transport you to both Elton or Dorothy’s yellow brick road or to Marrakech or a hurried walk down the long hall of a hospital made slower by the weight of the bleeding child you’re carrying to the emergency room.

When I travel I have a soundtrack of music to keep me company, my own Musak but less annoying. My road traveled has been mostly uphill but usually with a manageable slant to ground range. I’ve preferred the roads along Idaho rivers, to grandmother’s house, on fresh snow, out of the confessional, and to the recovery room. One thing I can depend on is that my feet always take the road home.
Many roads were taken here on Sunday Scribblings.