Posts Tagged ‘Holiday Treats’

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January 06, 2016: “Little Night” on “Little Christmas”

January 6, 2016

 

Moo's Minestrone SoupI get this Christmas article done just under the wire: today is the last day of the “Twelve Days of Christmas.”

Today, January 6th, is known as “Little Christmas” or (in Irish) “Nollaig na mBan” otherwise know as “The Feast of the Epiphany” when the wise men, according to tradition, gave the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ-child. It is also the day, James Joyce used to place in time one of my favorite short stories, “The Dead.”

It is quite appropriate that I should publish this on “Little Christmas” as it concerns the Christmas dinner I made for my family, which I called “Little Night.” Swaseys+DogsFor a while now, I have been promising a “Big Night” for my folks. This is a dinner based after one of my most favorite foodie films of that name. The film features some of the most amazing Italian food in cinema, and my idea is to make a number of dishes from the film to serve after my family seeing the film. Christmas, of course, has too much going on to devote all that time to cooking, so I thought I would give my family a scaled-down version to whet their appetite…hence, “Little Night.”

One of our family traditions for some time was developed when, years ago, I made Minestrone Soup at Christmas and it was a universal hit. Even the guys who won’t eat veggies (…and you know who are…Stephen Swasey…oh, did I just type that?!!!) liked it. A tattered copy of my recipe has been hanging around for some time, and the actual dish has been duplicated so well by others, that I haven’t made it at Christmas for years now. Moo did an excellent job with this years’ batch. The rest of the meal was mine, ‘tho. We had:

Moo’s Minestrone Soup Chicken Roasted in Spiced Dough Bow Tie pasta with Greens Fancy Salad Tiramisu Chicken B-Ball

The chicken dish is called “Pollo al Sal” or chicken roasted in a salted dough. The dough spices the meat as it traps all the delicious moisture in. The dough bakes as the chicken roasts. At the end of cooking (dubbed the “chicken basketball” by the guys by virtue of how it looked) and after resting, you break the dough with a hammer and you have the most tender chicken of your life! We decided to substitute fresh herbs (rosemary, and thyme) instead of salt for a healthier, tastier chicken.Hammering Chicken

My next dish was a bit of a flop…this time. I usually make the bow tie pasta dish with broccoli raab, a slightly bitter veggie that looks like broccoli gone to seed. It sweetens very nicely when you saute it with garlic in olive oil and sweet red peppers. Trouble was…I couldn’t find broccoli raab anywhere, so I substituted dandelion greens instead. This ended up a little too bitter for most of my family’s taste. I also made the mistake of grilling the parmesan cheese which ended up hardening the pasta a bit. Microwave always has worked for me in the past. Lesson: stick to what works for the basic dishes.Plated Chicken+Pasta Salad

My salad was nice with a center of lentils cooked in olive oil, garlic, tomatoes and spices. This was covered with exotic greens, matchsticked fennel, fresh mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, pomegranate seeds, clementine sections, all topped with a blood-orange olive oil and wine vinegar. The salad tasted very good, but I need to work on my salad-arranging skills for the next big meal.

My Tiramisu has been perfected over the years, and I love especially it near Christmas. When I found out that Nickki my niece liked it, I had to make it! Most recipes use beaten raw egg yolks. I cook mine with kaluha, beating all the while, to make zabaglionTiramisue, an Italian light custard, which I then cool before whipping in the marscapone (an Italian cream cheese.) I could not find espresso either, so I brewed a strong coffee and concentrated its brewing to get a good substitute. I also could not find spiced cocoa, so I made my own. Then, it’s all assembly: lightly dip lady fingers in the coffee, a layer of the custard, sprinkle of spiced cocoa, and shaved dark chocolate. Cover and chill. I save the top layer of chocolate shaving until just before serving. Steve+Sophie“Little Night” was my gift, but my family spoiled me rotten with gifts of their own, with the charming company of four lovely dogs, as well as their own sparkling personalities!

[Thanks to Stephen Swasey for all photos, except the one of the family (me) and the one of me and Sophie (Nickki)]

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December 25, 2014: “Chrome for the Hollandaise”

December 25, 2014
Photo by Daniel Winkler

Photo by Daniel Winkler

It is interesting to me to trace the origins of meals that I have made. This one began with a  joke from social media.

Last week,I was fairly certain that I would be spending this Christmas away from family, at the same time my friend, Dan, was sending out feelers for what my plan was for this Christmas. He (kindly and humorously) sent me a post on Facebook that pictured Eggs Benedict on a hubcap, with the caption “There’s No Plate Like Chrome For The Hollandaise.”

Funny enough, I was thinking of Eggs Benedict for my Christmas breakfast, and he thought that it was a grand idea to join me. In actuality, Dan is the kind of guy that searches out us lonely former-Christians/non-denominationists to help us through the holidays. At the last count, he has netted at least three of us so far this season…and bless him for his efforts. I constructed a menu that I thought would temper the company with the season. Dan and I usually eat quite spare and wholesome. We mutually agreed to splurge on my decadent concoctions. It is testimony to our rather Spartan diets that we had to space out our decadence to stretch this meal over about four hours. I still feel the need to run a few miles to burn off the extra calories, but I feel it was worth it.

Christmas Brunch 2014: Eggs Benedict Broccoli Latkes Veggie Sausage “Poinsettia” Cocktail Fruit & Nut Dessert Crepes Espresso

Eggs Benedict: My rather untraditional (and vegetarian) approach to a classic recipe was to take  a slice of a sunflower loaf bread and to toast it under a broiler until lightly toasted. I then covered the top of the toasted bread with a slice of hickory-smoked Tofurky and then, grated Monterey-Jack cheese, and re-broiled until the cheese had melted. I then added a poached egg and topped with Hollandaise Sauce and a sprinkle of chopped chives.

Hollandaise Sauce for Two: .5C. Butter (melted) 1.5 Tblsp. Lemon Juice (warm) 3 Egg Yolks 4 Tblsp. hot H2O Over a double-boiler, melt butter, put aside. Over medium heat, whisk egg yolks until they thicken. Tblsp. by Tblsp. add hot H2O while whisking. Add lemon juice and finally butter, whisking all the while. Put Hollandaise aside and add to double-boiler just before serving to re-heat.

Broccoli Latkes: 1/2 Large Vidalia Onion. Diced, fried in 1 Tblsp. Butter until browned. 1 Washed, skinned and grated large baking potato. (I put this in a paper towel lined bowl for a while, to absorb H2O) About 1C. finely chopped Broccoli 2 Beaten Eggs 4 Tblsp. finely chopped fresh parsley 1/4C. Flour Dusting of freshly ground pepper and Italian spices. Form into patties and pan-fry in vegetable oil until browned on both sides. Top with sour cream and sprinkle with tarragon. [12/26/14 update: Tried these as leftovers this morning. The grated potatoes alone, made them too tough and chewy. I think the next time I will mix half mashed potato to half grated. It’ll take more time, of course, but it will be worth the effort to get a creamier latke. I think fresh chopped tarragon cooked with the onions would add more and better flavor, also.-SV]

I’ve prepared regular crepes many, many times before, but I’ve never made a strictly dessert crepe before, so this was an interesting derivation:

Photo by Daniel Winkler

Photo by Daniel Winkler

Dessert Crepes: .5 C. + 1 Tsp. Flour 2 Beaten Eggs 1 Tblsp. Brown Sugar 1 Tsp. Vanilla Extract .75C Milk 1.5 Tblsp. Butter (melted) Whisk eggs, then flour, then everything but the butter together. Rest for .5 hour. Add butter just before making crepes. On a non-stick pan, coated with melted butter, using a small ladle (a coffee scoop works well) over medium-high heat about 3 scoops in the pan. Cook each side until slightly brown. Flip. Place on a plate. Layer each crepe between a piece of parchment paper. When room temperature, cover with plastic wrap.

Crepe Filling: .25C. each, coarsely chopped pecans and walnuts. 1 Tblsp. Butter 1 Tblsp. Brown Sugar  for fruit (+ 1   Tblsp. for nuts) .25C Grand Marnier 1C. Blueberries .25C. Dried Cherries Wash blueberries. Combine with cherries, sugar, and Grand Marnier. Refrigerate. Shake occasionally. In a pan, melt butter and nuts. Lightly toast nuts. Add a sprinkle of cinnamon,  nutmeg, and sugar. Add fruit and cook (stirring often)  until fruit exudes juices. Add fruit/nut mixture to a crepe. Fold. Top with sour cream and a then a sprinkle of cardamom.

“Poinsettia” A cocktail I’ve adapted from a Christmas recipe book. My derivation substitutes vodka with Grand Marnier (my favorite liquor.) I do this glass-by-glass, when it is just a few people. In a champagne glass, fill 1/8th with Grand Marnier, then fill to almost 1/2 with champagne. Fill the rest with cranberry juice. I add a single cranberry to each glass. You may add crushed ice and/or an orange twist to this cocktail.

We also did a taste comparison between his gift of Makers 46 Bourbon vs. Regan’s gift of a regular Makers Mark. We both found the 46 to be more complex in flavor, but both quite enjoyable.

Photo by Daniel Winkler

Photo by Daniel Winkler

As a gift, I was able to give Dan my Christmas Bark and he deemed it “The best candy he’s ever had!”

As entertainment, I opted to introduce Dan to one of my favorite Christmas films, “Love, Actually.” Although Dan enjoyed the food, he detested the movie, finding the characters shallow, trite, and unrealistic. But, such is friendship. Dan and I might go back-and-forth on our opinions of this film forever, neither actually ever likely to budge. I’m dreamer…he’s a realist. C’est la notion d’amour. C’est la vie.

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December 21, 2013: Boar’s Head

December 21, 2013

Boar's Head-MedievalAs they used to say at the beginning of every Monty Python episode: “And now for something completely different…”

You might need the intelligence and humor of a Python to fully understand the inventive, arcane, and fanciful dishes popular in the British Isles:
1. “Bubble and Squeak” [This one’s not so bad: just pan-fried potatoes and veggies.]
2. “Love In Disguise” [Stuffed calf’s heart. Yeah, “a rose by any other name” is still one pretty messed-up culinary concept!]
3. “Cullen Skink” [Haddock and potato soup. This one sounds quite good.]
4. “Star-Gazey Pie” [A fish pie with fish heads poking up through the crust!]
5. “Toad in a Hole” [Sausages in Yorkshire Pudding. Weird name. Sounds good.]
6. “Spotted Dick” [Yeeesh! Now you’re just pulling my leg!]
7. “Haggis” [Uggg! Don’t even ask!]

Which leads to an enduring dish of the Christmas Season, still celebrated with much pomp in Britain: “The Boar’s Head.” I’ve heard the carol many times and wondered at this odd dish, considered “the rarest dish in all the land” but I certainly never thought I would actually meet someone who has not only tasted it, but has prepared it…and that that person would be an American!

Boar's_head_heraldryWild boar has been considered a delicacy throughout the ages. The Romans served it first at their banquets. The Norse sacrificed boar at the Winter’s Solstice (December 21st) to gain favor from their sun-god, Freyr. The Celts revered the boar as a gift from the Otherworld and at their feasts. Celtic warriors would compete over the choice parts of the boar. The best example of this in Irish literature being “Bricriu’s Feast.” That choice part was most well deserved. One needed the courage and strength of a warrior to even attempt to bring down a hundred pound-plus of an intelligent, pissed-off, muscled and tusked monster in the wild!

"Boar Hunter" Dionisio Minaggio "The Feather Book" 1618 McGill Library

“Boar Hunter” Dionisio Minaggio “The Feather Book” 1618
McGill Library

In addition to emotional fortitude, one tool needed for a boar hunt was a boar’s pike. This was usually made of a short-ish and thick  staff of ash or oak, capped at the bottom with a short metal spike and topped with a longer pike with the most important part: a strong metal crossbeam. The trick then was to find and corner the boar and (providing you could stand your ground) the boar would do all the work. As the tusked behemoth charged, you planted the bottom of the pike into the ground and leveled it at the boar’s chest. The boar would run himself through the pike trying to get at you! The crossbeam (usually) stopped the boar’s charge and prevented him from running straight up the shaft and skewering YOU with his tusks, instead!

Being a vegetarian for some years, getting carnivores to talk about the odd meat dishes they’ve had, is bit like going to see a horror movie or a having a near-miss on the freeway for me: I know I’m ultimately safe, but the rush remains! It was a recent discussion about “favorite organ dishes” with the owner of my company, Jim, that I was surprised that his immediate answer was “Boar’s Head!” From previous discussions about food with Jim, I understood him to have a very adventuresome, but discriminating palate, so I trusted his opinion.

Bringing_in_the_Boar's_HeadJim had boar’s head years ago, as an English student attending college in Buffalo, NY. Close to Christmas, a British exchange-student, knowing Jim had a culinary talent, asked him to help prepare a boar’s head for a Christmas party. As boar is unheard of in America, they settled for a pig’s head from the butchers, and started the laborious (three hours worth) process of preparation. First they soaked the head in warm water to loosen the skin of the head. They carefully made a short incision at the back and peeled the skin off. They then removed the brain, eyes, and tongue of the beast for later. In a large pot they added boiling water to the skull to further remove any remaining meat and discarded the skull.

Now that they had all the meat, they chopped it all up (yes ALL…brains, eyes, tongue…the works) and added pork butt to extend the meat from the head. Added to the meat was stock, beaten eggs, leeks, onions, mincemeat, celery and spices (sage, thyme, and probably bay.)  To extend the stuffing further, they added cooked rice (Jim pointed out that bread would have been more traditional.)

Next, was reassembling of the head, putting the stuffing back into the “pig’s mask.” This, Jim says, was definitely a two-person job: one to hold the head together, another load the stuffing in and to stitch the back with butcher’s twine and a bone needle. Once assembled, the ears were covered with foil, the head was glazed with a jam or cherry sauce and the whole thing baked for several hours until the skin was crisp. As decoration, whole parsnips were placed in the mouth as tusks and cherries for the eyes, an effect Jim says was “demonic.”

Boars_Head_XmasJim told me that Boar’s Head is served with the main course, not as the main course, so would’ve traditionally been served with a roast (beef, goose, or turkey) on a silver platter surrounded by candied root veggies and greens (traditionally evergreens, bay, rosemary, and holly.) Boar’s Head is usually served with a gravy or hunter’s glaze.

This being college, the boar’s head was served with much liquid Christmas cheer, and being Buffalo, also with the ubiquitous “Suicide Chicken Wings.” Jim says the students “attacked” the dish with relish, but when asked about the whole process, he summed it up nicely, “Ah…not for the faint of heart.”

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December 28, 2012: Glogg (Mulled Wine)

December 28, 2012

GloggBack in the day, when I could afford to have guests over, in the Winter I invariably had Glögg (or mulled wine) on the stove as guests came. The spice and wine mixture filled the whole house with an inviting smell that everyone found warming and almost always got that perfect reaction a host loves to hear, “What IS that great smell?” The warmth of the mulled wine (or cider…each are wonderful) took the chill out of the Winter evening, physically and emotionally. Glögg goes well with most cheese and crackers and many hors d’oeuvres, and is a great set up to a meal. The spiced wine will hold up well against even strong cheeses.

Glögg is the Icelandic name for mulled wine, but you can find similar recipes in just about every European nation. Essentially, wherever Winters are cold, you can find Glögg! The great thing about any mulled wine or cider is that there is no set recipe, so that each time I make it, I get a different aroma/taste. Suggested spices: cinnamon stick, whole cloves, star anise, nutmeg, vanilla bean, and whole fruit peels from lemon or orange. I sometimes will add sliced apples. I suppose it is possible to put too much spice in, so about a teaspoon of whole spices for every cup of wine or cider is just about right. Bring to an almost-boil, reduce heat to a slow simmer. It is important to strain the Glögg before serving so guests don’t choke on a whole clove. When I make this for myself or am in a real hurry, I sometimes will use powdered spices. Just a pinch of each as these are more concentrated. I usually make a large amount and have it on a very slow simmer all evening. Glögg  provides a wonderful smell for the background of the dinner, and does not compete too much with the dinner aromas. This way, if people want some after dinner, it is ready.

No need to buy expensive wines for Glögg. The spices overwhelm the wine flavors anyway. A boxed Cabernet or Sangria is just right. If you want a more “fortified” Glögg, a splash of aquavit (Icelandic: ákavíti or “water of life”) is perfect!

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December 25, 2012: Best Green Bean Casserole

December 25, 2012

Green Bean CasseroleThis is one rare dish that wasn’t planned to be included on the blog, but as I was making it, I realized that it would be hard to improve on this recipe, so into the blog it must go!

This recipe has my “first” student Regan all over it. Regan faithfully sends me foodstuffs at Christmas, and it was this year’s Christmas parcel that put this recipe over the top! Regan probably doesn’t realize that she may never top her own best Christmas gift ever, when a couple of years ago I got a beautiful Christmas card from her with a Nativity theme, that announced the upcoming birth of her and her husband’s Max son Mason. The foodstuffs, however, are very, very welcome and they have found their way into many of these recipes on the blog. This year’s parcel from my favorite elf came right on Christmas Eve, just in time for my Christmas Dinner plans. Along with an adorable photo of Mason by the tree, I was treated to dried mushrooms of many varieties, most of which I had never worked with in a recipe and could never afford now.

I love Green Bean Casserole and somehow have associated it with holiday meals, despite that I really don’t remember having it growing up at the holidays. Most people have it as a side dish, but for me it is a main dish, as I love it so.

Green Bean Casserole
Soak about 1/4C. dried mushrooms (I used Regan’s Wild Morels and Chanterelles) in 4-5C. veggie broth for about a half hour. While the mushrooms soak, in 4Qts. lightly salted boiling H2O, add 32Oz. washed and de-stemmed French green beans. Boil beans for NO MORE than three minutes (you want the beans to still have a good green color and plenty of snap) and immediately immerse into cold H2O. Drain well. Slice 2C. “Baby Bella” mushrooms (these are immature Portobello mushrooms: these are tastier, more colorful, and larger than the button mushrooms normally used in this dish.) In a 9″ x 14″ buttered Pyrex dish add the beans and rearrange a bit to get them more compact. Top with mushroom slices. Salt and pepper and sprinkle with French Thyme and Herbs de Provence. Fill casserole with velouté.

Velouté
Bring dried mushrooms and stock to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. While stock is cooking, in a medium pan melt 6 Tblsp. butter, add 6 Tblsp. flour and whisk over medium-low heat for about 2 minutes. This will darken slightly but be careful you do not burn it. While still whisking, strain broth into flour/butter. This mixture will thicken rapidly. Add about 4-5C. milk while still whisking. It will thicken more as the milk gets warm over the heat. You want the velouté to be a little on the thin side as cooking it with the baking of the casserole will thicken the velouté further. If needed, add more milk, in small amounts, whisking all the while, to thin. Add lemon zest from a half lemon. Add sprinkles of white pepper, sal de mer, French Thyme and Herbs de Provence. Finish by whisking in 1/2C. Sherry (the real stuff, NOT cooking sherry.) Taste. Correct seasoning. Add to casserole.

In a 325°F oven, on a cookie sheet lined with parchment, toast 1/2C. slivered almonds, turning often. Remove almonds when they are a tad underdone, as you will be baking these further in the casserole. Top the casserole with these almonds and about 1 and 1/2C. French Fried Onions. Bake casserole on an upper oven rack at 325°F for 45 minutes.

Using the Baby Bellas was a big improvement for this recipe, adding the sherry and  lemon zest bumped the taste up a bit, but it was Regan’s dried mushrooms that gave  the velouté the bass note and rich tones that I never had before. It should be noted that the almonds and French Thyme came from Regan’s last year’s gift. I hope to return the favor someday and make this dish for Regan, Max and Mason. I promise to make the whole meal worth the wait!

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December 17, 2012: Bittersweet

December 17, 2012

Bittersweet LayoutI know what you would say. “We have more than enough Christmas traditions. There is no need to concern ourselves with yet another Christmas decoration” and in one sense you’d be correct. We have all the holly, ivy, wreaths, mistletoe, Yule Logs, perfectly healthy conifers that we cut down and bring inside to put lights on. No, I’m talking a decoration for a very different set of folks. Let’s say the holly, ivy, etc. are for the “haves” of the world, because let’s be honest…few people with money collect decorations from nature. I know of no one now that actually goes out to chop down the Christmas tree, anymore. Most people buy Christmas decorations, and if you have the ready cash to buy temporary vegetation to decorate your home for the Christmas season, that pretty much qualifies you as a “have” as opposed to a “have-not.”

Here, I want to break off and say I hope you are a “have.” I sincerely want each and every single one of you to be a “have” because now that I have had the experience of a “have-not” there is no one I would wish this state upon. Yet, I am far from alone…not this Christmas anyway, and for most Christmases either. As the man said once,”The poor will be with us always.”

The Christmas decoration that I propose for the “have-nots” is that of the American Bittersweet. First, it is a true American plant, as opposed to the holly and the ivy, both which grow in the Americas, but it is the European varieties that we see at Christmas. Bittersweet has a festive coloring, forming red berries with the occasional yellow sheath covering, just before Christmas. It is found on a long, flexible vine that can be wound around like a wreath or cut into smaller pieces. It grows in abundance just about anywhere in the wild and is free for the taking. Symbolically, it is appropriate for us “have-nots” as like poverty, Bittersweet can surround and choke off all other life it grows around. Most symbolic is the plant’s name, because as we all carry memories of better Christmases, being poor at Christmas can be perfectly described as “bittersweet.”

Bittersweet_LThe Sweet
My first introduction to Bittersweet as a decoration was at my last “real” Christmas four years ago. I was visiting my sister in Western New York State and she had her house decorated in her unique and quirky artistic style. Every corner of her house had a different and usually antique, decoration or toy. I noticed she had tastefully placed vines of red berries with yellow accents behind a number of pieces of artwork and when I asked what they were and she told me it was Bittersweet. As always, she was the perfect chef and hostess and served the family a most wonderful Christmas Eve Dinner, complete with candlelight, champagne, and  a slew of wonderful Christmas desserts she is famous for. Christmas morning was the best because I had the money to spoil my niece and nephew with a shower of gifts. As Christmases go, it doesn’t get more sweet than that.

No Cash at Christmas is a Real Dickens
Probably the biggest success story of being poor at Christmas is famous because it has been turned into the best-loved Christmas stories in English literature. Despite having been the most celebrated authors of his time, just before Christmas 1843, Charles Dickens was having his own financial crunch. His last two novels were a critical, but not monetary, success. He had just come back from a bad tour of America, where he hoped to get new ideas. It wasn’t a good mix. Dickens found Americans crude and boorish. They found him foppish and irritating. With his fifth child born and overdrawn at the bank, Dickens needed a real good story, and he needed it quick! Dickens was forever haunted by the idea of poverty. When he was eleven, he was pulled out of school and had to work at a boot-blacker shop as his father was put into a debtors prison for his own bad money management. Not only was the work, messy, dirty, smelly and filling the long day with mind-numbing dullness, but Dickens had ignominy of having to perform his job in front of a window for passer-bys. He was never going down that road again if he could help it.

So, by locking himself in a room with pen and paper, in just six weeks, he Bittersweet_Cpounded out “A Christmas Carol” and self-published it just in time for the Christmas season. The rest, they say, is history. He had managed to not only eventually rekindle his bank account but also to capture the perfect and concise story of what it means to be human. He also, single-handedly reinvented Christmas from a not-so-special holiday into what we know of it today. He managed to do all this, while at the same time not sacrificing his moral or creative ideals. Due to his own experiences, Dickens was much concerned with the education of English youths and counted it as the only way to improve the welfare of his nation’s future. Witness, the youthful spectres of “Want” and “Ignorance” that are sheltered under the Ghost of Present Christmas’s cloak.

As with our dreams, storytellers tell stories about what they know…and what they know best is themselves. It is understandable that in “A Christmas Carol” Dickens is at once Cratchit, Fezziwig, and Scrooge, especially when chastised for his avarice from his young finacee with, “You fear the world too much!”

Bittersweet_RThe Bitter
Yet who could blame anyone for “fearing the world too much” when you are under the threat of poverty? The fear is generating from the idea that you have no real control over your life. Having some experience with this, now for the fourth year, I would like to offer some thoughts that may possibly help others in my “have-not” condition (and might not hurt those of the “have” category as well!) Most of these are indeed old chestnuts, so roast them long and slow over your Christmas hearth:

No amount of wretchedness can remove your good memories. Those are yours forever. Use them to remember a time when things were not as bad. All things pass.

Never lose your ideals. There is one thing worse than being poor and that is being poor and not being able to look yourself in the mirror from being bad to yourself or others.

The only real thing you have control over is your attitude. Misery hates laughter. Find the humor. You might even find (like Dickens) with a little imagination, you have a good story.

You might feel embarrassed because it seems  you are failing. Please stop. The only people your condition matters to, are the ones who love you anyway and sincerely want you to improve. Just do your best.

The world tends to obscure blessings through the cataract of misery. Look closer. You will find blessings behind the veil.

Find solace in the free (or cheap) stuff…it is usually the best stuff anyway. Libraries, laughter of children, exercise, sunlight, fresh air, the occasional moment of grace….and just a whiff of hope, are all not to be undervalued.

I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t point out that like most Christmas decorations, Bittersweet is also slightly poisonous and should not be placed in households with pets and small children.

To my friends and family: to all the “haves” and “have-nots;” I wish you a most lovely and wondrous Christmas season. Oh…one more exceptional free thing…a good wish. Yet…if I had wealth of millions that sincere good wish would still be the best of what I could offer.

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December 12, 2012: Christmas Filberts

December 12, 2012

Christmas FibertsThere is something about filberts (hazelnuts) that somehow for me make the holiday season. Maybe it is that growing up, I never saw them all year round except for the holidays. I wanted to do something special with them, to commemorate all those past memorable Christmases. The danger is that this time, I exceeded my own expectations. Living alone, as I do, there is no one to stop me from scarfing down all these delicious Christmas Filberts. Luckily, I have you, dear reader, whom I feel obligated to distract me long enough to write this recipe down, before it gets too stale in my mind.

Nice and glossy, a little bit sweet, a little bit spicy, a little bit salty, with a delicate citrus accent to the tasty woody nut…you are wanting to double this recipe…quadruple if it is for a party!

Christmas Filberts
Shell 1 Lb. Hazelnuts (sadly, this only yields about 2C.) In a small pan bring 1/4C. H2O and 1/2C Dark Brown Sugar to a slow boil and reduce heat. Add 1/4 Tsp. Orange Zest, 1Tsp. Cinnamon, 1/4 Tsp. Ground Clove, 1/4 Tsp. Nutmeg and 1/4 Tsp. Cayenne Pepper. When the sauce is thick, remove from heat and add hazelnuts and stir, coating the nuts. Spoon hazelnuts from liquid-sugar and add to a cookie sheet lined with parchment. Sprinkle with fine sal de mer, turn hazelnuts with spoon, and salt again. Bake at 325°F for about 15 minutes, turning often. Do NOT over-cook! [remove from heat if you find the excess sugar turning solid] While still warm, push the hazelnuts from the puddle of caramelizing sugar-spice, turning until they cool. Remove to an airtight container. Delicious anytime, but best while still a little bit warm!

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