I started to write this on the last day of 2019, but for some reason the computer (or modem) wasn’t being cooperative and I spent most of the day fighting with it. It finally cleared up, around 10:30 and I rushed to post the holidays of which there were many, since it was the first of the year. (I’m actually not sure I ever put up my usual post on the birthstone, birth flower and what other cultures called the month.) I have just deleted a long rant that ended with “I am sick of things not working.”
Day by day I kept putting it off, and it’s become an avalanche of procrastination. Now I’ve decided that I’m going to just finish covering the “holiday week”, then do the New Year Week, and maybe the clean-up after, depending on how it works when I’m writing it.
Yule at Stormgard
I think I mentioned last letter that 2019 “kicked our butts”. Apparently it also kicked just about everyone else’s butts too. Only Joanie and Barbara were able to come up for the Solstice. We ate cookies and played games, and had a quiet good time. Barbara brought a mince pie, and John and I have been eating it gradually. The girls don’t care for mince. I prefer my own, but don’t have a recipe so much as a “throw a bunch of dried fruits in with a bit of butter and cider and spices, and let them cook down.”
I did do a reduced cookie baking this year, only a dozen types this year. I actually took the picture on Christmas which is why the fattigman got in this year. While technically a cookie, it’s a fried pastry that I make for breakfast on Christmas mornings. Running through these starting at 12 o’clock on this picture with wishing stars. Candy cane cookies under them. One o’clock is chocolate chip cookies- I used ‘holiday chips’ that included green and red chips this year. At 3 are the mint cookies with dark chocolate- (I used melted mint chocolate chips). The second half of the dough was the way Kat likes them, decorated with white chocolate. At one point I went through my stored chocolate chip collection and chucked a bunch of chips that had gone stale (yuck). So if they were still good but not new, I tried to use them. 4 o’clock had gingerbread men. At 6 o’clock, the bottom, are Lisa’s cinnamon horns. Those are also pastry, and inasmuch as a batch makes 2 dozen and they are usually gone within minutes of being made, I think I made about 8 batches of those this season. At 8-9 are the Finnish butter cookies (with raspberry or apricot jam), more favorites; again usually eaten as fast as they can be made so I had to make a second batch of those. That recipe is the one that is: five cups of flour, five sticks of butter, and a cup of sugar. (That’s it.) But any recipe with 5 cups of flour and over a pound of butter is not a small batch of cookies. This year they didn’t roll out well, and I couldn’t find my three lobed cutter, so I used the tart pans I could just press the dough into them. That shape also holds the jam well, although the larger pans, ~8 cm, are I think, too big, and the little ones shaped like animals 3-4cm are too small. In the middle of the plate are the mince pies, the Russian balls, and the Ganesha’s treats (snickerdoodles with saffron and sesame seeds, using colored cinnamon sugar. The meringues didn’t get into the collection picture- I made them after decorating the wishing stars and gingerbread men. I figure royal icing is pretty much whipped egg white with sugar, and when I was done piped out the leftovers and baked them in a low oven for four hours. I tried the edible glitter on those and it worked well. The older I get the less I like crunchy decorations on my cookies.
I still haven’t figured out whether it’s the thermostat or what that isn’t working in the stove. I have learned to simply check the temperature every 10-15 minutes and reset the oven (turn it on and off again) to get the temperature to stay where it belongs. It’s easier with cookies because they have a short cooking time. Harder with a roast or something that takes an hour or more.
The next day Steve came up for the first night of Hanukkah; I made latkes and apple sauce, intentionally much less than usual, although there were still plenty of leftovers to eat here and send home with Steve. I keep forgetting how good home made applesauce warm from the stove is. I made another batch later and used the mouli, leaving on the peels and not coring, hoping that the lovely red peels would tint the sauce, but am reminded how much gets lost, stuck to the peels and cores. I don’t think I’ll bother with that anymore, it’s better to take the time to peel the apples beforehand. Maybe if you have a half dozen hungry farmhands and plenty of apples, and are in a great hurry it would be worth the loss. Taking out the cores with the melon baller makes it quite easy, though. That’s a bit frustrating considering how hard I worked to get a mouli in the first place, then replace it when it broke. I think. I’ve just change how I think. …or work. I also love latkes, and have been looking into how to make a small batch. I was taught by Lisa, who did them 10-20 pounds at a time, so that’s how I made them. As I recall she simply lined the bottom drawer of her refrigerator with paper towels and filled it completely, then they reheated them for the rest of the week. Steve had to bring the matzo meal because I’d forgotten to get any. As he said, the texture is different with flour, and we all like food the way we’re used to “like mama used to make”.
Later I poured the saved oil into a pan again to fry up some dough- I wanted to use up the ‘leftover’ powdered sugar from rolling the Russian Balls, and the orange sugar from making the candied orange peel. Also I’d started some yeast rising, which I do every other day or so, and I made something that may resemble small donut holes or struffoli. They were pretty good, whatever they were. We are now switching over to the “Recovery Fortnight” as the Fairy Calendar had it- simple, comfort foods to get past the Yule treats. We do still have a rather lot of cookies leftover. (Something like Ælfwine with the 15 gallons of mead when he went to Pennsic 9 alone, and there was no party to help him drink it.) Luckily, cookies last, especially since the back hall is very like a refrigerator. More than anything, we don’t want to go back there to get any! That’s where we save the trash between dump runs and we have to get past it to get to the cookies! I’d have loved to have had more visitors, but I totally understand people wanting to cut down on the holiday chaos!
I realized, looking for images to include, that I never took a picture of the little kitchen tree once it was ‘decked’ in cookies and candies. Well poot. I suppose it looked much like other years- although this year Willow found some “Reeses” Christmas lights (which we are pretty sure are their Easter eggs in red and green wrappers). Willow added loops to them to hang on the ‘edible’ tree. There were also gingerbread men, other cookies, candy canes, popcorn strings, Swedish fish, and candied orange peels. Ah well, it’s outside now. It’s amazing how quickly a little moisture shrivels popcorn!
Our New Year’s tradition is what we call the “Feast of Small Foods”: assorted hors d’ouvres to nibble on all evening. Willow had been at Avi’s, and brought a roll of Crescent Roll dough, and we made bacon cheese puffs, and brought some chips, but frankly, most of those went back into the bags. I had made toad-in-the-hole for supper, and we really didn’t feel like bothering with more. (Not to mention after fixing the sink which she did that night, Willow went up to recover in her room.) I was oddly eager to wash the accumulation of dishes. I feel rather old, since that made me so excited, but by the time I got the holidays posted, it was time for the countdown, and we pretty much were happy to go to bed after that. Heeding the magical tradition that one should be doing whatever one wants more of during the liminal time of the calendar change, Kat got the cats pretty well stoned on catnip and brought Gretel down to try to get her used to coming out into the rest of the house. There was no fighting, so I guess that was successful. .
We didn’t bother with a ham for New Year’s Day, or (shudder) black eyed peas. As a folklorist, I know that all over the world beans (and grain) are eaten to symbolize money, as are greens (although there aren’t as many greens customs in the north, probably because they’d be hard to get. I figure black beans and rice would do just as well as black eyed peas, but the kids don’t like those either. Willow has begun a tradition of going out on the first to get fresh art supplies for the new year, and getting a burrito, since Taco Bell is across the street from Staples up here. I figure that works. I also figure chili or any other bean dish would work, and let’s face it, a lot of the efficacy is probably from intention. By and large the kids just don’t care for beans. Since I didn’t much when I was younger, I am sympathetic. They may come to like them- or not. It’s certainly not worth trying to force feed them something they hate.
In theory what you are doing at midnight is going to presage what your year will be like. Willow decided to stay in bed after an active and useful day. I just finished the holidays minutes before the ‘count down’ (and with no TV we had to search the internet for a live one), and after the countdown we all went to bed. Peace and quiet is pretty much what we’re hoping for this year.
Another holiday activity was Willow reading Dickens A Christmas Carol over the computer to some of her friends, and they read other stories back. I think it’s great for people to discover the joy of being read to, and I understand they’ve continued with various other pieces.
We didn’t get the old wood stove out of the driveway until Christmas Eve. General lack of energy had us not get it into the car although we’d intended it before the Solstice, and then on the weekend. Sadly, as in Arlo Guthrie’s Thanksgiving tale, the Dump was closed, so we simply went to the store to find a turkey. I didn’t want to get one too early and have to freeze it or risk it going bad. Apparently there was something to the internet tales about a turkey shortage, and while the Prime rib was on sale- “only” $6 a pound, we still couldn’t bring ourselves to spend over $40 (we saw several in the $80-120 range). Getting home, we pulled one from the freezer, but it was several years old, and we didn’t want Christmas dinner to be freezer-burned, so I called Steve and Mark, who were coming to dinner, to see if there were any available near them. The meat managers at Shaws and Marketbasket said they’d been ordering them, but couldn’t get any delivered. Steve called about an hour later and had found one. I called Mark, but got his machine, and about fifteen minutes later he showed up at the door with a frozen turkey breast for us. Since Steve’s wasn’t frozen, we held Mark’s off until the next week. Personally, I could happily eat turkey a couple times a month.
Steve came early (~10) the next morning, so that we could get the bird in the oven, and joined us for breakfast. Usually he comes for dinner, but a turkey is supposed to take 5 hours or so. (I think when I was a kid they cooked turkeys longer at lower heat, perhaps because they were tougher.) I grew up with the rule 20 minutes per pound stuffed, 15 minutes unstuffed. The Thanksgiving bird had popped it’s button an hour early, and this one was also done earlier than using that rule, but this has led us to learn the wisdom that turkeys actually DO carve more easily if you let them stand a half hour. Interestingly, while I feel an emotional attachment to MANY vegetables for Thanksgiving, I’m fine with just potatoes and peas at Christmas. We had plenty to send leftovers home with Mark and Steve.
But this year he got to have breakfast, the same we have had every year since I saw the recipe for “polish donuts” by Jim Haller of the Blue Strawberry Restaurant on the morning show back in 1976 or so. You put eggs in a well in a pile of flour and add as much cream as you need to to make the dough, and as much powdered sugar as you like. This is my kind of cooking. Roll it out and cut it. Pull the end through a slit in the middle to make a knot, and fry them. Later I learned that these are called Fattigman or Rabbit Ears- which we were amused about since by that time Ælfwine was ’the bunny lord’. With those we also have a huge pile of bacon, scrambled eggs, OJ, and cocoa. Same thing every year. Then we open our presents. I think we were all satisfied, although there were no huge impressive gifts this year. One surprise was a cast iron casserole dish Willow found for me- lifting cast iron will keep me strong. Even though we cut back we had plenty, mostly thanks to Willow remembering to order things in time, and pick things up for everyone. That done, breakfast dishes segued easily into dinner preparation. Mark got here about the time the turkey finished and we had a pleasant meal. Relaxation is mostly what we are looking for these days.
I’d neglected to get stuffing when we didn’t get the turkey, so for the first time in years we made the stuffing from bread, onion, celery (with lots of stock and butter). I stuffing may be sort of a savory bread pudding and I still see it as a way to get gravy into your mouth. I never cared much for gravy when I was younger, (although I’ve grown more fond of it recently). I feel obliged to make it being too cheap to throw away the drippings (fat) in the bottom of the pan. You may have heard that the fat is where the flavor is, and it’s so true. The last time I made a roast (baked) beef, I didn’t make gravy because I was mostly doing baked meat because it’s easy, and I was tired. When I went to wash the pan the next morning there was so much tallow I couldn’t bear to toss it out, so I added flour and a bit of baking powder, rolled it out and made about a dozen beefy crackers. As expected, they were quite tasty. This is what happens when you know how things are made.
Another new thing I tried recently was essentially apple fritters. There was a free e-cookbook called Just Desserts and the first recipe suggested coring and dipping apple rings in a sticky batter of flour and water and frying them. Fast and easy, and delicious (sprinkle them with cinnamon sugar). My sort of recipe.
The day after Christmas, Raven and Josh came up, not to simply visit, but they’d been meaning to come up since the wedding in October, but life is busy. They helped work on trying to reclaim my library, and we did make some headway. Josh walked me through uploading the app: Librarything into my phone, and showing me how to scan the bar code on book covers and all the information goes into your collection. (I think Steve may have tried to tell me about it before and I resisted learning it). The scanning thing is fun and fast, but when the book is too old to have a bar code, or sometimes a Library of Congress number, I have to bring those into the living room and try putting in the number, or the title, or author to find it. I pretty much figure I’ve done enough for the day when I’ve filled a box with the “enter manually” books. At this point I feel I’ve hardly started, but have over 3800 books loaded in. In theory at some point this will allow me to sort them and add a field of WHERE the darn book is stored, so I can look it up and find it, even if it’s in a box in the barn. It’s a lovely theory. There are few things more frustrating than knowing you have a book, but not being able to find it. Actually remembering some clever bit of information you read at some point and having no idea what book you got it from is worse, because then you can’t document it. (But I digress.) When the books are loaded, I think one can make the collection public, and I am happy to loan, or even give away some of these books. In honesty, the kids are not looking forward to getting rid of them when I die, but the more people read a book, the better it fulfills its purpose, so although I have lost many books to loaning them to people I’ve lost track of,
As I continue to load books into my library (a few shelves or piles per day) I am caught with conflicting feelings. The first is a feeling of wealth, I have so many amazing books! This is quickly followed by a feeling of inadequacy that I have not properly respected the books by reading them all yet. I think I may have tripped over a clue about why I have amassed this library of so many topics. Having dropped out of college to start a family, I feel as though I have failed my parents and ‘class’- which is absolutely true. I did not finish college. I combat that feeling by pursuing my own education, probably far beyond what many other people who have graduated have done, simply to try to convince myself that I am not uneducated. I have some small glimmerings of a feeling of adequacy when I realize how much I actually HAVE read, but who does not wish that they could accomplish more than they have done?
Kathryne did her usual Year End Video, and this year, since it was the end of the decade she did a Teens Video as well. She also got her annual Billy and Zoe Christmas Ghost Story done just under the wire this year. We keep poking her to do some illustrations and try to get a collection of them published. But gently, don’t want to get her stressed.
I think Kat expressed our feelings best on New Year’s Eve:
“Happy New Year, give 2020 a place to sit, a nice drink, and no reason to bolt.”
I still need to catch up the first half of the month, but I want to get something out, so without further adieu (and no need for upcoming holidays) Off this one goes.
Having spent far too much time on fb this year I figure I’ll share this link to pretty weird flowers with you, because why not, you don’t have to follow the link, and if you do, they’re really neat.