There is nothing special in the world. Nothing magic. Just physics." - Chuck Palahniuk, Diary
"Magic is just science we don't understand yet." - Sharon McCarragher
As I sent him out the door into the arctic darkness of a Michigan morning, I told my son that I was out of things to write about. "Give me something." I implored, "anything that pops into your head."
"Christmas lights" was his offering, as he left, bed-headed and sleep-eyed.
This was not the working of a fertile imagination; in order to leave the house he had to pass the lit Christmas tree, the lit garland in the foyer, and the unlit icicle lights on the front porch. It did, however, ignite the proverbial spark in me to write not only about Christmas lights, but about all of the magic that I still believe in, despite 47 years of exposure to the cynicism, disillusionment, pain and loss that exist in the world. I have seen the little man behind the curtain many, many times, but I still believe in the Great and Powerful Oz. Sue me.
As a child, I believed in all kinds of magic - Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the fountain in the mall into which one threw pennies and made wishes. My birthday was a kind of magical celebration of my wonderfulness, and the discovery of a woolly caterpillar on a tree trunk, a toad in the basement window well or a lady bug on a leaf was a unique and amazing event. I also believed that the animals could speak on Christmas Eve, and used to fall asleep on the floor next to our big Airedale, Katie, waiting for her to say something to me. Later, it gave me incalculable pleasure to recreate Santa et al for my own children, leaving elaborate trails of jelly beans through the house (before we had the dogs), making glitter-pen trails on letters from the Tooth Fairy, and simulating reindeer tracks in the snow.
He did not write a book about restaurants, although he tells how two American ex-pats created one of the hippest dining establishments in Africa.
He did not set out to write about good and evil, but his book describes one of the most horrific genocides in human history, and the astonishing efforts of both the victims and their persecutors to find forgiveness and redemption.
He didn't even write a love story, although A Thousand Hills to Heaven centers on two people who are very much in love—young Americans you might meet at a party, endowed with the same hearts, brains, and DNA as you or I—but who found the strength to work a thousand miracles in a land God forgot.
And he certainly didn't write a cookbook, but he concludes his story with six recipes that will make you want to head for your kitchen and light your grill to try them.
What he did write is one of the most extraordinary narratives of hope I have read in decades—a book that, just for reading it, makes you aspire to be a better person.
Okay, I admit that I have read Patricia Wells' Food Lover’s Guide to France so many times that the pages are no longer glued to its spine. My copy smells old because it is old. It isn’t all that accurate anymore but there is still some relevant information, just less. This book is the reason I have had so many treasured memories of France.
The most memorable one in the whole book for me was finding the walnut oil man - Patricia Wells wrote that he had a water wheel that aided in the extraction, used no electricity, the farm was difficult to find and beware of the dogs. All true, but so much more...
I was the navigator, not the driver that day. I was responsible for finding all the tiny little roads on our paper map to the mill. Half the roads weren’t on the map and any signage was obscured by overgrown trees. It was very rural and our afternoon was turning into either a treasure hunt or wild goose chase. I could feel we were near. When my boyfriend asked if I found the road on the map, I nodded. Not true, we were lost.
You can guess what the driver said as we drove threw the same intersection for the fourth time. “How can we be lost if you are reading the map? You know how to read a map?” “Yayyyy”, I replied - you could cut the tension with a butter knife. One more try, then I would agree to give up the goose chase. Suddenly, I saw it - the faded yellow sign covered with ivy and grown up trees like Patricia had described, only more overgrown.
Pomegranate Broiled Salmon with Garlic-Smashed Potatoes
Moroccan Grilled Lambchops with Pomegranate Relish
POM-Glazed Pork Chops with Red Cabbage and Mashed Potatoes
Pan Seared Duck Breast with a POM Thyme Reduction Sauce
We're on for a Saturday night special at Estelle's on Tremont St at the corner of Mass Ave. It's been a year since they took over this corner: Brian Poe, of Poe's Kitchen at the Rattlesnake, Parish Cafe and Tip Tap Room, is working with executive chef Eric Gburski, who logged big time at East Coast Grill. The menu is Southern and in interviews earlier, Poe specifies his cuisine as Gulf Coast-style: barbeque, seafood and grill with hospitality to match. I feel a drawl coming on.
We're greeted by the friendly manager who seats us right away. It's all happening: we've got football, backless bar stools and plenty of bench seating that looks out on one of the busiest corners in Boston's South End. Kim orders Falcon Perch pinot noir, rich with vanilla and yeast. Where the bread could be is a bowl of relish with sweet pickles, carrots and onions that go with soaking up the grape. Here's another stemless wine glass; maybe you're heating it, maybe that's okay. Only the drinker knows and she's not saying. Soda and tea come in Ball Mason jars and water, people, I kinda wish water didn't show up in plastic.
What to order, what to order? Kim's got grilled flank steak with mashed sweet potatoes and garlic spinach. 782 steak sauce is Worcestershire with sweet tomato, chili peppers, ketchup, cider vinegar, raisins, garlic and onion. One of us likes it a lot. The meat's generous with heaping greens and Kim's impressed with the crispy, peppery outside and that it comes out "really medium, not rare and not well done." She is, as you guess, our meat and potatoes specialist. All of it is gone in no time. Buttery sweet potatoes always make us think of Thanksgiving.
Frasier Fir, boxwood, magnolia, grapevine – all traditional bases for wreaths. We can pick them up at garden centers and Christmas tree vendors and even grocery stores, but sometimes it is fun to spice up ye olde wreath with some seasonal flair.
In December’s issue of Southern Living, I took some traditional wreaths up a notch or two to festively deck our halls, doors, windows and tables with versions of wreaths donned with a bit of Holiday zest.
Rosemary and grapefruit – two of this Farmer’s favorites! From their scents to their colors and flavors, the combo of these two can be appealing to many of the senses. Sliced grapefruit and Meyer lemons combined with Savannah holly foliage and berries on a boxwood wreath is garden glam at its best!
Add fresh cut red roses in varying shades and sizes for a boost of elegance and fragrance. The jewel tones of the fruit and flowers on the deep green base are luscious!
The Christmas Feast:
The Christmas feast was an elaborate affair, and in grand households, often featured an array of food beyond modern imagining: roasted swan, venison, peacocks (with spread tail and gilded beak) and – the crowning achievement – a boar’s head. There was also a variant on mincemeat pie…a huge stuffed pastry, filled with minced meats that had been sweetened with sugar and dried fruits. Christmas pudding was also popular, but it was a savory affair, made with meat broth, chopped tongue, raisins, fruit juice, wine and spices, thickened with breadcrumbs. And the holidays had a special comfort food, as well: furmenty, a hot cereal made with wheat slowly stewed in milk, served with raisins, sugar and spices, was quite popular.
The Christmas Season:
Parliament was out of session, and upper class families retired to their country homes for the Christmas season, where they enlivened the local shire with festivities a-plenty. In fact, it’s been said that the locals in the countryside voiced displeasure if the “great families” chose to spend the Christmas season in town (London), rather than organizing activities around their estates. Hunting was among the most popular winter activities, and traditionally, the day after Christmas brought a festive foxhunt!
Crunchy. Flaky. Gooey. Sweet. Tart. Salty. Delicious. And, as if that weren’t enough to get you completely hooked, I must add one more thing. Super easy.
When I spotted frozen mini fillo shells in the freezer case at the grocery store last week, visions of melted Brie studded with sweet and tart apple chunks topped with spicy pecans all in a light, flaky cup ran through my head.
Baked Stuffed Brie was still fresh in my mind, all creamy and gooey and chewy with apples and spice and dried fruit. That recipe came from the new cookbook written by Carmela Hobbins, Celebrations with Carmela's Cucina
Having a few ingredients on hand during the holidays that allow you to create a delicious snack or appetizer to serve with cocktails, wine or holiday punch helps a busy cook remain joyful amidst all the hustle and bustle and stress of the season.
I've never been able to understand why Christmas fruitcake is hated so much. What makes it such a dreaded gift, one that gets passed about or relegated to the back of the fridge? I must say I'm not the biggest fan of the cake, some are rather good, but others are just too dense and way too boozey. But this year for Christmas, I was willing to make a better fruitcake. So when a friend suggested I try making the cake from a recipe she loved just to see if I could possibly love it, I decided to give it a wholehearted try. I usually love other cakes that contain dried fruit, so what could be so bad about fruitcakes? And if they turned out better than expected, I'd have something more traditional to hand out as gifts to my fiends and neighbors.
First, I set myself some ground rules: I would under no circumstances use bright technicolor candied fruit, but instead use naturally dried fruits. And I would not soak the cake in booze and age it for days as most recipes suggest; I would only soak the fruit in booze. I simply don't like a soggy cake and I don't intend to preserve it for years to come, which in the medieval past was the reason why these cakes were so laden with alcohol. I wanted a lighter cake that had the likeness of a good nut bread but with a holiday flair. And I believe I was able to achieve that and more.
I was surprised by the results. The cake was dense but had a nice texture. The dried fruit was very flavorful from my combination of rum, a traditional ingredient, and vermouth, a fortified wine flavored with herbs and spices. The many ground spices also contributed to a fragrance and flavor reminiscent of pumpkin pie. For a beautiful cross-sampling of colors, I used dried papaya, cranberries, pineapple, golden raisins, dark raisins, and dates. A bit of crystallized ginger added hot spiciness.
It's cookie season! Oh, sure, cookies are eaten 365 a year, but is there a better time to celebrate cookies than during the Christmas season? Even the most baking-averse among us can't help but bake cookies in December (though they may just be sugar cookies cut out from a can).
Anyone can make cookies and everyone loves to eat cookies. They're the ideal thoughtful holiday gift, they're perfect for children's little hands, and they're a wonderful way to spend time with family and friends creating memories that will last a lifetime. (I don't remember many Christmas gifts I received when I was a kid, but I do remember marathon Christmas cookie baking sessions with my mom every year.)
So during this Christmas cookie season, I'm sharing 10 tips for baking, storing, and freezing cookies.
1. Before you begin baking, make sure you have all requisite ingredients as well as baking utensils, pans and parchment paper (lots of parchment paper). Baking requires precision, so it's a good idea to use the exact ingredients specified in a recipe rather than make substitutions that can adversely affect both texture and flavor.
Do you love coconut as much as I do? If you do, then these Rice Krispie Coconut Snowballs are going to make you smile. The Rice Krispies become this sugary coconut delivery system. What could be more perfect?
Now, my husband, he completely dislikes coconut. It kills me! I don't know how he lives...(he'll love that I said that too). I guess he could never live in the South with all the amazing Coconut Cream Pie he'd have to turn down. And then there's the most amazing Coconut Cake I've ever made. Swoon! He'll never know what he's missing. More for me.
This is truly a quick and easy recipe, perfect for the cookie platter. The sugary whipped egg whites keep the mixture together, letting you form the mixture into little snowballs.
During a holiday season so full of red and green, the snow white color is a welcome reprieve. It gives balance to the Christmas crazy that can sometimes take over the house. I find these cookies to be an elegant reminder of the serenity of wintertime.
Another classic Christmas cookie - Shortbread is a traditional Scottish dessert that consists of three basic ingredients: flour, sugar, and butter. According to Wikpedia, this cookie resulted from medieval biscuit bread, which was a twice baked, enriched bread roll dusted with sugar and spices and hardened into a soft and sweetened biscuit called a Rusk.
Eventually, yeast from the original Rusk recipe was replaced by butter, which was becoming more of a staple in the British Isles. Despite the fact that shortbread was prepared during much of the 12th century, the refinement of shortbread was actually accredited to Mary, Queen of Scots, in the 16th century.
The name of one of the most famous and most traditional forms of shortbread, petticoat tails, were named by Queen Mary. This type of shortbread was baked, cut into triangular wedges as they are in this recipe from Cook’s Illustrated.
by Joseph Erdos
Warm yourself from head to toe with a hot drink on a blustery day like today. Mulled wine does that and more. Popularized in Germany and Scandinavia, mulled wine has been a holiday favorite for hundreds of years. Christmas markets in cities and towns all over Europe swell with shoppers who turn to mulled wine when they want to warm up their...Read more...
by Matt Armendariz
Last week while visiting with our banker (yes, there are some things you just have to actually go inside a bank branch, apparently) we got on the topic of food. Naturally. We were trading names of favorite restaurants, talking about the holidays, when our banker mentioned how he couldn’t wait to enjoy his family’s Christmas coquito.
As a Puerto...Read more...
by James Farmer III
Baby, its cold outside! I’ve found myself sippin’ and savorin’ a warm drink of sorts all day – Earl Grey this morning, Orange Zinger later on, the latter two combined and then for my nightcap, this warm cider was just the ticket.
Every year, my fair peach state yields the last of its famed crop towards summer’s end. Afterwards, apples from our...Read more...
by Maureen Greer