Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas At The Castle

A few random images of our Christmas together.

On Christmas Eve, we drove to Houston to visit my brother, on the way back, we spotted this pink limo. Zoe knows what she wants for Christmas.

But she was thrilled with the new dress.

We had Roast Beast.

And had pear and apple pie.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

It Could Always Be Worse

If you tend to get the Holiday Blues, remember, it could always be worse.

Classic scene. I wish I could find a better copy.

I know this is a cheesy movie, but I always watch it when it comes on. Consider it a guilty pleasure. Besides, was there anyone more lovely than the young Phoebe Cates?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Merry Freakin' Christmas

Ok, I know I posted this last year, but for those of you who missed it . . . .

If Martin Scorsese directed animated Christmas specials . . . . .

Raging Rudolph

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Remembrance Of Cookies Past

Do you have a favorite holiday memory? Or, even a memory, favorite or not, that just means the Holidays to you? I was forced to think about that last year. It was just over a month past the end of my ill-fated love affair, and I was facing Christmas without the kids. I needed a shot of holiday cheer, and I needed it fast. What to do?

I remembered a cookie my Mom used to make, back when I was a kid.

A bit about my Mom, Christmas at our home, and these cookies.

As I've told you before, my Mom wasn't really a great cook. She wasn't horrible, but she wasn't especially adventurous. Pretty much everything was fried, at least until my Dad's heart attack. After that, everything was shoved under the broiler.

She was, however, a proficient baker. She made great pastry, and I still can't match her biscuits. Every Holiday, be it Christmas, Easter, or Thanksgiving, she would bake, and bake, and bake. I can't say whether or not she enjoyed it, but she did have a sweet tooth, and spared no effort to fill the dessert table at each opportunity.

Christmas baking meant pies, of course; pumpkin, mince, and chocolate for sure, sometimes apple, and usually a sweet potato in later years. Every year she made fudge, pralines, divinity, a non bake fruitcake abomination that consisted of crushed vanilla wafers and, something else, I'm not quite sure what, and lots and lots of cookies.

The usual cut-out cookies were there, iced with powdered sugar icing tinted a garish red and green, some kind of spiced date bar that I wish I had the recipe for, spritz cookies in the same shade as the icing, and fruit cake cookies.

The fruitcake cookies were ubiquitous to my childhood Christmases. We had them at home, if I went to a friend's house, they were pretty much guaranteed to be sitting on the counter there as well. My grandmother always had them, and I can remember eating them at church get-togethers.

The funny thing is, I didn't really like those cookies. They were white and bland, and filled with artificial, chemical tasting candied fruit. That was it. The cookie was just an innocuous vehicle for candied fruit and citron, along with a small amount of nuts. I didn't like fruitcake, well, not the one's I'd been exposed to at this point in my life, and I didn't like the overly sweet, artificial taste of candied fruit. Yet, every year, I looked forward to those cookies, and I anticipated their appearance on the kitchen counter.

The only time I ever saw those cookies was at Christmas time. One taste of that chemical, bitter citron and I knew that Christmas was really almost here. When you're 10 years old, that's a pretty big deal.

I thought about those cookies as I tried to jump start my holiday spirit, so I set out to make them. There was a problem; nobody but me remembered them. I guess they must have been some 70's fad from a women's magazine or something, because I couldn't remember the last time I had them, and I couldn't find anyone who even knew what I was talking about.

I started pouring through my collection of Holiday cooking magazines. I finally found a recipe that I thought might be close, so I made them, along with toffee and pecan tassies and far, far more sweets that we could ever hope to eat in three Christmases. I played Christmas music the whole time I baked, and by the time I had the counter filled with goodies, I had made it through the whole day without thinking of you know who.

Satisfied with my day's work, I made a pot of coffee and sat down with one of my cookies. It was a pale, golden white and had a very faint vanilla smell. I bit in. The moment that tang of candied citron hit my tongue, I could see my Mom's old kitchen. I could imagine the little Santa shaped cocoa mugs that lined the bar, and I could smell the Christmas tree. (Flocked, with a color wheel on it) It worked. Make no mistake, this cookie is a far cry from Proust's madeleine, but it accomplished it's goal.

Later, when the kids came home, they surprised me by liking those cookies. I made several more batches, and experimented a bit. I tried substituting first some, and then all of the candied fruit for dried. I used apricots and dried cranberries, even dried cherries. While the dried fruit may have made a better cookie, it was not the Christmas cookie of my memory, for that, it needs the candied citron.

This year, I needed the same boost, so last Friday, I put on the Christmas CD's, I made a pot of Earl Grey, and I baked these cookies. Maybe someday my kids will fondly remember me in the kitchen baking these, and always associate that memory with Christmas.

I hope so.

Fruitcake Cookies

1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups AP flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup cottage cheese (small curd, creamy - don't use low fat)
1 egg
2 Tab milk
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 cup mixed candied fruit with citron * see note below
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Beat the butter in a large bowl until soft. Lightly mix in half of the flour. Add the next 7 ingredients, mix until well combined, stopping to scrape the sides occasionally. Stir in the remainder of the flour, and the fruit and nuts.

Bake at 375 F for 10-12 minutes on parchment paper. Cool on a rack. This recipe makes about 30 cookies for me.

* The fruit should be chopped much finer than it comes out of the container. To accomplish this, I lightly oil my knife with vegetable oil. It makes the job much, much easier.

Scooped out and ready to bake.

Out of the oven - They don't get very brown or crisp, you want them soft.

Cooling on the rack.

A final note -

The title of this post is an obvious reference to Proust's great work. In recent years, it has become de rigueur to refer to this work as In Search Of Lost Time. I thought the earlier title better served my purpose, but after re-reading this post, I'm not so sure. Searching for lost time is a fair description of my blog, n'est-ce pas?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The One Where I Need To Relax

Brave Sir Robin is a little tense.

Just a tad.

My life has been a dime store novel (though, not a particularly compelling one) for pretty much forever it seems.

That, it appears, is changing!

The events of the past few days have made it clear that my life is indeed now a Christmas movie. Not a beloved one, that you can't wait to see every year because it doesn't feel like Christmas without it. Not one that TBS will run marathons of, and families will gather around the TV in Christmas Eve pajamas to watch, holiday libations in hand.

No, Brave Sir Robin is living one of those Christmas movies that plays on the other channels. The ones with "C" list stars from the 80's. The ones that play on channels opposite football games.

you know the plot -

Stressed out, type "A" person plans the perfect Christmas, works like the devil to make everyone's Christmas wish come true, only to see it turn into disaster after disaster through no fault of their own, and then wrap up neatly with a "that's what Christmas is really about" ending?

I hate those movies.

I will, however take the cheesy happy ending if I can get it.

I'm trying to schedule a carpenter, (no, not that one), an electrician, furniture delivery, and the cable (satellite) guys.

Everything depends on the cable guys.

Guess who didn't show up as scheduled yesterday?

Still, as problems go it's a better one to have than what most of the last year delivered.

I just need to relax.

I think Cappuccino has the answer. Doesn't he look sweet? Don't be fooled. He's playing nice the last two weeks before Christmas. He's hoping for some catnip in his stocking. Or a small child, I'm not sure which.

Oh - I did manage to make cookies Friday.

Recipe to follow.

Happy Holidays from my castle to yours.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

This Is A Bailout I Can Get Behind!

It seems the family farms that produce the most heavenly, delectable, irreplaceable item on this earth are in financial trouble.

Of course, I'm talking about Parmigiano , of course, what did you think I was talking about?

Who knew?

The Italian Government has purchased 100,000 wheels of cheese in an effort to prop up the failing industry.

Damn. They could send me a wheel.

Have you priced the real stuff lately?

I can no longer buy it here locally, but I bought some in Houston Saturday.


But, the trip wasn't a total loss. I went to the downtown Spec's. (My annual Christmas pilgrimage), and look what I found!

Yes, Moxie!

The nectar of the Gods. They only had two left. I bought them both. I drank one that night, and I'm saving the last one for . . . . I don't know. A day I really need it.

Laugh, Think, Cry

I noticed this morning that by 2010, cancer will replace heart disease as the world's number one killer. I was a little surprised that it wasn't already. It's hard to imagine that there isn't a person or family that you know that hasn't been affected by this disease.

It was a nice little bit of synchronicity that I saw that article this morning. I was mulling this post over in my head all night. I don't often go overly sentimental in this space, but today I want to make an exception.

We watch a lot of sports in our household. With two teenage boys and myself, if the TV is on in the evening, it is usually sports. Last night was no exception. The Longhorns were scheduled to play Villanova in the Jimmy V Classic last night in Madison Square Garden. Of course, we tuned in.

Do you know the story of Jim Valvono? Jim Valvano (Jimmy V), was a college basketball coach. He is best known as the coach of the North Carolina State team that defeated the heavily favored, high flying, Phi Slamma Jamma team of the University of Houston in 1983. That was the Houston team with future NBA hall of famers Hakeen Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. I never forgave him for that, but I digress.

Jimmy left coaching in the early 90's and turned to broadcasting. It was then that he began to earn my respect. He was an excellent basketball analyst. He knew the game, he was bright and engaging, but mostly, he just inspired me. He was always positive and upbeat, he could always find something good to say about the players or their coach. It is no surprise that he became a highly sought after motivational speaker. His motto, which is now the motto of the foundation that bears his name is Don't give up, don't ever give up.

In 1993 Jimmy was awarded the first ever Authur Ashe Courage award. His acceptance speech that night was one of the truly most inspiring moments I've ever witnessed. In his speech, he gives the audience a recipe for fulfilment:
To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And Number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special.

Not bad advice, is it?

So think about that today, would you? Life is so short, why not squeeze every little bit out of it? Times can be hard sometimes, but face them with enthusiasm. Life is precious, make the most of it.

In case you haven't figured it out, yes, Jimmy V died of cancer. Less than two months after his speech, he was gone. He may be gone, but his fight lives on in his foundation. To date the Jimmy V foundation has raised over $80,000,000 to fund cancer research.

This year, if there is a person on your Christmas list who has everything, a person you never know what to get, why not make a donation in their name to the Jimmy V foundation? As Jimmy said,
We need money for research. It may not save my life. It may save my children's lives. It may save someone you love.
The speech is 11:15 long. I know you're busy, but it just may be the best 11 minutes you spend today. My favorite part may be around the 7:10 mark, but please, for me, watch it all.

This speech was given on March 4, 1993. Jimmy died on April 28, the same year.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

About Last Night . . .

Last Night, I went to a tree lighting event, and Winter Fair. It was nice, because it was one of those rare alignments of event and weather that don't often happen here. We had one of our coldest nights of the year, and it made the atmosphere perfect for a Christmas festival.

I'm afraid the pictures are in need of a lot of work before they are presentable, but I'll share a few.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Smaller packaging Sucks . . .

I think by now most of have noticed the grocery store shrink ray.

You know how it works, the price stays the same, but the product size gets smaller.

Yes, it's frustrating, but. . .

Oh Dear.

Just don't leave a message like this one . . .