Saturday, December 24, 2011

By The Chimney With Care...

I am currently making a black Christmas stocking. Yes, I said BLACK. A truly festive color. And perfectly right for Stubble. In our family, we have a tradition of fashioning personalized Christmas stockings; thus The Bearded One's stocking with boats and airplanes. Mine was made my a much loved Aunt and as she made it when I was but a wee child, it has snowmen and mittens and stars...but I love it enough that I won't allow it to be replaced.

Stubble's stocking has been a bit of a problem. If I had made it when he was 5 it would have been loaded with Pokemon (um, he is 20 now and not a big Pokemon fan). At 10 it would have been filled with soccer balls (he hasn't played soccer in years). At 16 it would have been covered with cars - but cars aren't really stocking material once you get your license and your first car. I have had to wait a very long time to personalize his stocking. Finally, he seems to have settled into computers.

I showed The Bearded One the felt that I had squirreled away for the stocking. Red. Blue. Green. The Bearded One's eyes immediately went to the piece of black felt that I keep for putting felt on the bottom of things that should be felt backed but aren't.
"Black," he said.
"Black?" I asked, thinking how AWFUL it would look.
"Yeah, Black," he replied. "Think about it."

And after thinking about it for a few minutes it made perfect sense. Stubble, from the time he could express preferences made his known for black. With accents of gold and silver.,..

So I am making a black Christmas stocking. With a tower and cable and ports and CPUs and a flash drive.....

And it is black and sparkly and gold and silver, and you can read Intel on the CPU...
Merry Christmas, Stubble.   

If you look a little to the left you will also see a piece of the penguin stocking that I made for Ms. Flippers.

And to all a good night...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Kimi-Cat's Attic Adventure

Curiosity being what it is, the cats have long hankered to get into the attic.  We have a pull-down staircase/ladder that leads up and all three of them have, at one time or another, tried to investigate while the ladder was down.

Rufus has been known to wedge himself between rungs of the ladder to resist removal.  Kimi has been known to grab onto rungs and hang on for dear life as we try to pry her loose.  Katsu, who is our smallest cat and champion leaper, has managed to get 2/3 of the way up to the attic opening in one bound...

Last night Kimi was the first cat to reach the far reaches of the attic, where no cat has gone before (and never will again if we have anything to say about it).

I was getting my Christmas embroidery project out of one of the plastic tubs in the attic.  It is a Christmas project that has been in progress for about 25 years and will someday be completed but not for a long time as I only work on it for 2 weeks out of the year.

I had very carefully made sure that the electric fireplace in our bedroom was turned on - an event guaranteed to draw all cats to it's vicinity.  It is on the other side of the house from the attic opening and I was certain that all three fuzzbutts were toasting themselves in the warmth of the artificial flames...

I went into the attic (very quietly) and began rummaging in the two clear plastic tubs with the red (locking) handles that we purchased last year when the last of our decrepit cardboard boxes died.

Suddenly something furry brushed past my leg and headed for the darkened corner of the attic where the roof met the floor...the only part of the attic that has flooring is the center 8 feet under the ridge of the roof...Kimi was escaping onto insulation (luckily for her, batting).

She, of course, refused to come when I called and began to skulk along the edge of the roof by the outside vents.  After a minute of fruitless calling and cadjoling, I yelled for Stubble.

He ran up from the family room where he had been either saving the galaxy from aliens or racing around the well known tracks of the world in a fast car and immediately dove into the attic once I had assurred him that the cat was indeed up there.

With his sharp young eyes, he could see the miscreant at the far end of the attic.  With his young knees and flexible back he was able to bend double and sprint after the cat, scooping her up, spinning around and making it back to the opening in the time that it took me to climb up and stick my head through the opening into the attic space.

He repeatedly told Kimi what a bad girl she was as he brought her out of the attic.  Words she soundly ignored as she turned right around and ran up the ladder and into the attic again.  With both of us trying to grab her before she entered.  This time he caught up with her just inside the top of the ladder.

I can only hope that she doesn't tell Rufus and Katsu about the wonders of the dark corners of the attic space and the joys of tormenting the woman who buys their food..,.,

For MeowLady

Credit where credit is due: and a Southern cooking website that I can no longer find.

This recipe will make 2 - 3 fruitcakes, depending on size (I get 3 each 9x5 loaves)
Oven temp: 300 - 325. ( I use 325)
Time:  2 - 2.5 hours (mine tend to go about 2 hours) - done when toothpick comes out of center clean
Pan prep:  line with brown paper or foil and grease liberally with Crisco or other shortening

List of ingredients:
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar (I use light brown)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup strong coffee
  • 2.25 cups Captain Morgan spiced rum (original)  - This will be divided
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3.5 cups flour
  • 1 cup strawberry jam (seedless)
  • 1 15 oz box dark raisins
  • 1 15 oz box currants
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries (I use Ranier, if I can find them)
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup dried blueberries
  • 1/2 cup dried mango
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots
  • 8 oz citron
Rough chop the "trail mix" fruit (cherries, mango, apricots) so that there are largish chunks so that you can taste individual flavors

1 - 2 days before making soak the raisins and currants in 2 cups Captain Morgan

Cream butter and brown sugar until fluffy
Add eggs one at a time
Add molasses and cream well
Mix flour, spices and salt in a separate bowl
Combine milk, 1/4 cup Captain Morgan, coffee, and baking soda
Alternately add flour mixture and milk mixture, beginning and ending with flour
mix in strawberry jam
drain raisins and currants
add all fruit and mix until covered with batter
when completely cool - remove foil/ paper
wrap in foil (or plastic wrap) and place in a zip lock and refrigerate

Non-Alcoholic Version:
For Captain Morgan, substitute Martinelli's Apple Cider (3 cups) with Martinelli's Mulling Spices (1 pack mulling spice/ cup of cider) microwave and let sit.  use  2 1/4 cups of the spiced cider - drink the left over.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Us or Them

You either love them or you don't. There is no middle ground.  The haters find all kinds of excuses:  Too dry, too mushy, too old fashioned.


I can't imagine Christmas without one.  When I first left home I would beg my mother to include one of her church circle's fruitcakes among my gifts.  I would return to school with it and cut off a slice every now and then.  I would make it last as long as possible and enjoy every last bite.

The year that Mom announced that the "ladies" were too old to make fruitcakes was a sad one.  I begged her for just one fruitcake for me.  When that plea failed I asked for the recipe.  "It is in the old Betty Crocker cookbook, " she said.  One Betty Crocker cook book reprint later I tried the recipe.  Total disaster.  Not only did it not bake correctly, it didn't taste anything like those that the church circle made.  That was years before the internet.

Two years ago, I googled "fruitcake recipes" and got many hits.  I read them for what seemed like days and didn't find one that I really liked.  So I wound up combining two.  One was a "southern" recipe featuring lots of rum and brandy soaking.  And lots of molasses (I have always loved dark fruit cake).  The other was a recipe that featured LOTS of dried fruit...and none of the candied peel, candied cherries, or other traditional fruitcake ingredients.  It has proved to be a hit.

Soaking the raisins and currants for two days in Captain Morgan gives a lovely flavor with a little bite.  Adding a cup of strawberry jam keeps things moist.  The fruit is a mixture of dried cranberries, blueberries, apricots, mangoes, and cherries.  Oh, and 8 oz of citron.  I just love it.  And for a "non-alcoholic" mix, just substitute apple cider with lots of mulling spices for the rum...

Only the most die hard fruitcake haters will not join our ranks.

The Bearded One took one fruitcake to work on Tuesday.  Today he took two more.  two years ago I was making one batch of fruitcake.  This year it looks to be three..

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


It's those darn kids, you know.  At about 13 they turn on you.  The girls start wearing revealing clothes and savaging their friends behind their backs.  And the boys!  Those baggy jeans, and the skateboards.  And the sullen, insolent stares!  And when they grow up it isn't much better.  They are a bunch of self absorbed do games all day and leaching off of their parents!

I could see it running across her face as she stood in the produce section, waiting her turn to get a plastic bag in which to place her selections.

  Stubble and Ms. Flippers were debating the relative merits of Honey Crisp vs. Granny Smith apples, standing in her way, apparently oblivious to a busy woman trying to do her chores and get home.

And then Stubble pulled off a bag, turned to her, and said, "Here you go."

A smile, at first timid and then sincere broke across her face as she said, "Thank you," and turned to select tomatoes.

I guess we did something right.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Oh, Tannenbaum!

Last year we had a little problem with our cats, who were 3 months new to the house at the time.  I put up the tree.  They climbed it and crushed it.  No one little cat could have done all of that damage.  All three had to have been involved simultaneously.  The big tree went back into its box and back into the attic.  A HEAVY patio table entered the living room and a 4 foot tree was gaffer taped to it so as not to fall over should a kitten investigate...

Our first few Christmases together were as boyfriend and girlfriend and The Bearded One (yes, he was bearded, even then - if he wanted to leave without a trace, all he would need to do is to shave) was more than willing to indulge my Christmas silliness by driving to tree farms all over Southeast Michigan looking for a tree to cut.  After our marriage and a neighbor's disastrous Christmas Tree related apartment fire, we went artificial.  It didn't really feel right, but we were doing our bit to keep our neighbors safe during the holiday season.

Then we bought our first house (six years later).  On our first Christmas in the house, I came home from an evening shift to find a gorgeous LARGE Christmas tree in the dining area of the living room.  We had double high ceilings and the tree filled every inch of space allotted to it.  It was absolutely lovely.  The next year another tree appeared, this time a balsam that you could smell practically from the garage.  When the holiday was over the balsam was stripped of it's lights and ornaments and lugged to the curb for collection.  Leaving every single solitary needle in our white shag carpet (yes, we are that old).

Every time that we ran the vacuum that year, the scent of balsam permeated the entire house.  It got so that we hated the smell.  The following Thanksgiving, instead of travelling to visit family, we chose to stay home and paint the living room during the four day weekend.  Every time that one or the other of us stepped off of a ladder, we received balsam needles in the sole of the foot.  After the fourth or fifth time, The Bearded One firmly stated, "That does it, no move live, dead trees!"  I was in total agreement.

We hied ourselves off to the nearest nursery and decoration shop where we picked the biggest, fullest artificial tree that we could find.  It served us for many years.  When we moved to California (20 years ago), it quickly became evident that the tall, full, gorgeous tree was WAY too big for our new living room.  Off it went to charity and we found a "slim" tree that would better fit the available space.  In the interval between huge tree #1 and slim tree #2, quality was way down and prices were way up.  But it seemed that artificial was still the way to go as in Southern California, "fresh" trees were cut months ago and are dry as all heck.  There really isn't anywhere close by where you can go and cut your own tree on a lot so that you actually know the date on which it parted from its stump.  And even then, you don't know how much watering was done throughout the year.  Many years and many trees later, each one lasting just a few years less than the one that came before and costing just a few dollars more than its predecessor, we have a tree that is partially crushed and with lights on top that will  not come on. " Let's go buy a new tree," says The Bearded One.  "Yeah, there was this really great one with pine cones and snow at Home Depot!" says Ms. Flippers.  "Yeah, that one was awesome,!" says Stubble.

Except that tree is almost $300.  And there is tuition to pay and books to buy and cars to repair.

I decide that we will get ONE more year out of the old tree.  The Bearded One purchases a small string of 20 lights that we will use at the darkened top of the tree.  And while I am just beginning to string the new lights, a miracle occurs...the lights at the top of the old tree come on again.

I have The Bearded One bend the crushed branches back into place.  The tree is fluffed, decorated, and has one cat hiding under the tree skirt and another snoozing at the back of the tree, looking angelic with colored lights making patterns on the white parts of his fur.  The tree is, I think, happy to serve us for another year.  Or maybe two.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmas Past and Present

My Father would be over 100 years old this Christmas, if he were still living.  102 to be exact.  When I was little, he and Mom would put us to bed every night with "three songs or three stories".  I loved my Dad's stories about growing up on the prairie in the early part of the last century.  He lived in a world of horses and wagons, one room schools, and of general stores.  My grandmother ran a boarding house.  The family lived in what would have been the servant's quarters behind the kitchen.

My father's father was a Lutheran minister.  At Christmas he would leave his home carrying a bag of toys and fruit and visit the homes of his parishioners with children.  He would meet the children in the parlor where there would usually be a Christmas tree, lit with candles.  In this parlor, dressed in their very best clothes, the children would say bible verses for him, and if they had done well they were rewarded with fruit and a small toy (provided by their parents) said to come from Kristkindl (the Christ Child).  When my father told this story his eyes would light up and I would get a hug that was just a little extra tight.  I never knew my Grandfather.  He died long before my mother ever met my father, but his legacy lives on in  my enjoyment of all of the trappings of Christmas.  The enjoyment that I inherited from my father.
My father loved Christmas and all of it's 1950's trappings.  He loved going to cut down the Christmas Tree even though he would complain mightily about how long it took "his girls" to settle on the perfect one.  He loved playing Santa, dipping his snow boots in the fireplace ash so that "Santa's" footprints would be on the living room carpet on Christmas morning.  I would dearly love to know how he convinced my mother to allow ash footprints on her fancy wool rug.  When we were very little and VERY excited, he made us wait an AWFULLY long time before allowing us to come downstairs - enough time for him to attach the floodlights to the old Kodak movie camera so that he could record the finding of the footprints and the unpacking of the stockings.  He loved it all.  I think that I "believed" for a couple of extra years so that I wouldn't spoil his fun.

He loved cookies and carolling and church services hushed and candle lit. He loved the shopping and the giving (even though most of the presents were things that we needed anyway, just now wrapped in colorful paper).  He didn't even complain much about my mother's insistance on smoothing out and saving the larger pieces of gift wrap for the next year.  He loved throwing a holiday party with sledding, hot chocolate and cookies for his 6th grade Sunday school class. 

Every year I try to recapture the innocence and excitement that Dad so enjoyed.  And I often fail at it.  As my son has gotten older he takes less and less interest in the holiday preparations.  We call The Bearded One "the Grinch".  It is never as perfect as I remember or as I want it to be.  There are many reasons: In Southern California we don't get snow and to me, cars "wearing" artificial wreaths and shoppers wearing reindeer antler head bands just don't fill  the void.   The Christmas decorations and music are out in the stores practically before Halloween and that is just plain wrong.  I HATE the incessant TV advertising that pushes the giving of material things as a seasonal necessity.
This Christmas I resolve not to worry about what I cannot do and cannot relive:  Instead, I will celebrate in my own way.  I am tired of people telling me that I shouldn't get excited about what is after all, no matter what the merchants and advertisers think, a religious holiday.  I have NO Puritanical leanings and believe that I should be able to celebrate and feel joy and hope and not be somber.  I will decorate the house and enjoy every minute of it.  I will buy and wrap new socks and PJs because getting those things wrapped and under a Christmas tree IS more special than just being handed a plastic shopping bag...I will bake cookies for all of my neighbors, Christian or not, because I like them and don't want to eat dozens of cookies myself.  I will do what I can to spread joy around me.  Because it is Christmas and My Dad expects it of me.

Happy Holidays Everybody:  Happy Channukah, Kwanza, Solstice, whatever you celebrate.  Just enjoy it and your family and make the season joyful with a capital "J".
My Dad expects it of you.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Warm and Cozy

Let me start by saying that when our house was built, the contractor said, "Insulation? Pffffft!  This is Southern California - we don't need no stinkin' insulation!"

As a result, while my husband (who used to go camping in 4 feet of snow) runs around the house in shorts and a t-shirt telling me that it is "just fine in here", I have a rather large collection of throws that I keep over my legs every time that I alight in a chair...

I get a lot of grief over the number of throws that I have (eight by last count - and two of those belong to Stubble so they aren't really mine) so when I bought some quilts at church, I was informed that some of the throws would have to go....

Well, last weekend The Bearded One was sick.  My rust colored fleece throw was too hot, the tan synthetic one was too cold - but what proved to be "just right" was the wild animal quilt in colors of pale yellow, tan, and brown, with squares that contain a collage of realistic looking wild animals in a mixture of browns, greens and black that looks just gorgeous in our of the ones that I got at church.  It is cotton and so it "breathes" while being "just warm enough".

As a matter of fact, that quilt was so "just right" that it is now a part of the every night blanket ensemble that we use on our bed...