12-13-2018 Santa Lucia Day

Winter is settling in. It’s cold, and we miss the wood stove a lot. Not just because when we can burn papers we don’t have to go to the recycling center as often. Sometimes I worry about our fuel bill, (the tank hasn’t been refilled recently), and wish the thermostat that is so clever it lets you program day and night temperatures wasn’t thrown off every time the power goes out, because I don’t know how to reset it. But we’re fairly comfortable. Kat’s space heater gas a remote, which she has put beside her bed so she can turn it on when she wakes up and let her room warm up before she gets out. She’s also put bubblewrap over her windows. It doesn’t make the noises that drove her crazy when we used plastic wrap.
Kalen got a cold, so of course Willow got it too- and is very worried that she may pass it on, and also that she is useless as she’s slowed down even more than Chronic Fatigue does. Oh, and she recently heard there’s a new name for it, I think it’s Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease. (Although I suspect ME/ Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and CFS /Chronic Fatigue Syndrome will still be used. At least Syndrome suggests clusters of symptoms.) Doctors hope calling it SEID, will encourage other doctors to take seriously how debilitating it is. (Thurs: I went to the blood drive and my temperature was elevated, so I skipped it this time around. If they get it in they check your white cell count and if it’s elevated, don’t use your blood, so why bother take the time. already been deferred since she didn’t have a high enough hematocrit- somehow local blood drives seem to line up with that time of the month. This is also the excuse for the chocolate cake I made Tuesday- not that one needs an excuse to have a bit of cake around the house.) It’s not like I didn’t include the right amount of ingredients to make one black magic cake during the holidays.
Here’s the list:
Candy Cane Cookies
Russian Balls
Finish Butter Cookies (maybe Spiced Shortbread)
Wishing Stars
Gingerbread Men (maybe Tiny Sugar Stars)
Mint Trees
Linzer Cookies
Peppermint Chocolate Sandwiches
Apricot Rounds
Double Chocolate with Coffee Cream sandwiches
Fatigman Bakkels (maybe rosettes which should be easy with the new fryer)
Meringes (If there is extra accumulation of whites)
Ganesha’s Treats (maybe Green man nut balls)
Mothers Kisses (coconut macaroons)
Nurnburg Lebkuchen (maybe chocolate chip cookies)
Peppermint Brownies
Lemon slices
Cinnamon Horns
Mince Pies
Black Magic Cake
Bea’s Chocolate Roll
Lucia Buns
Peanut Brittle
Fudge (maybe mints)
,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,so that’s “only” 22 cookies (not counting candy, bread, cake… you wouldn’t count it if I made a quiche or banana bread  or corn bread or biscuits as part of a meal would you? I wouldn’t There are so many I decided NOT to do this year! What can I say? I like to cook. It’s probably what I’ll be giving as gifts. I remember the great feeling, Thursday, when I had bought the ingredients and put them away- there’s a small table near the rolling board where the eggs, sugar, butter, extracts etc, are staged. When I saw it I just felt great- the way most people feel when they see the tree is up. (as ours is not, yet.)
Today (when I started writing) is Santa Lucia Day  I meant to finish this letter on Wednesday: St. Lucy’s Eve, but suddenly realized I hadn’t made the Saffron Buns, and stopped to get them started, then got distracted by making supper, and by the time I got them out of the oven, I was ready to go to bed whether the letter was done or not. This is also made easier because I am not sure whether it will go out when I press send or not- I rather think not. Oh well.

Last week’s letter didn’t go out, although I seem to have bullied it out today, (Wed.) although I’m not sure HOW. I have spent far too much time and emotional energy trying to get TDS to help, but the only thing they seem to do is change the password. Again. (Just deleted a detailed long paragraph about these adventures- trust me, you don’t want to hear it.) If you do know an alternative to TDS, I’d love to try it. The internet is slow, and the land line phone is expensive. I assume you already know that the reason I don’t give folks my mobile number is that I rarely have it on, it doesn’t work here, and for the last month I haven’t been getting email either. I’m so out of touch, except for Facebook.  …aaaannd I’m trying to cut back on that.

This weekend was the small Barony party (proceeded by the pre-Birka Curia).  When I say small, I think there were more than ninety through the door, and I remember when 80 was what the kingdom would expect for 12th night. Clearly people came in and went out, since the hall was only coded for 70. Clearly. There was a cookie exchange there. I’ve always wanted to do one of those. What I didn’t consider in this equation was that I tend to make any cookie I really want, so maybe not such an exciting idea as it is for ladies who only bake two or four kinds.
As I recall, mother made Russian Balls for Thanksgiving, Candy cane cookies, Spritz, and sugar cookies, which I recall eating, and loving decorating, but these days it sort of repels me. I did get duplicates of them when my kids were little, and since they were what I grew up with, they were what “felt” right. (Still have them in a bin somewhere, but I don’t take them out. There are certain cookies I make, and the over 500 cookie cutters I have collected over the years languish unused now that there are no squires to eat them.) I still remember how the star would break off of the tree cookies, and the dough would stick up through the handle holes. We had the Santa, the angel, the tree, the Santa head, and a lovely one with 3 candles. Mother allowed us to paint them with garishly colored icing, and I know I saw adults eating them. It was always sugar cookies. I haven’t made them for year- I’m not even sure I know what they’d taste like at this point. While having the design imposed on the cookie is a lovely idea, the frosting and sprinkles we put on hid them. I think there may have been one sugar cookie in the cookie exchange, I didn’t eat all of them. I was thinking of making wafers, (krumkake, pizzelle, or goro) since I have wafer irons that others don’t have so would be less likely to be able to make them. Then Willow suggested madelines, which also require a special pan, and they are quick, easy and popular. So I whipped out five dozen madelines, and took 4 dozen to the event. At the “exchange” time, I picked 2-3 of each of the other cookies (thinking to go back for another dozen later, when others had had a chance to pick.) Then on the way home as we were passing through Wilton, I thought about Megan and Claus, who wasn’t there, and was thinking we should share with them.  I called her, and went over on Monday.
We packed two of each (one for each of them) in a ziplock, and put out the others with the leftover madelines for us (which is why I don’t know why there was a sugar cookie.) There was, although I didn’t pick those some Girl Scout Cookies.  I think the big challenge for the folks running the event was keeping the kids (Stonemarche is full of kids) were running through the kitchen all the time, and what a temptation for them! I noticed a bunch of the teens sitting around in the back corridors just talking, which bugged me. But then Kat pointed out that these are people who are finally in a group who probably get them, as the kids where they go to school don’t, and they are getting a chance to talk to each other.
In the main room there were special kids activities, and there was even (on the other side of a wall made of gym mats) combat- a small SCA lists!. Most of us just sat down and talked to friends, circulating. Anne and Kelly came down from Maine which is unheard of! I got a chance to talk to Ragnar (he did get enough money to reclaim his mothers ashes!) and Brian, and others.  Michael- remember I rode to Pennsic with him? Kathy is doing the program for Birka, and asked me if I’d like to do the cover.
There was an arts display and Willow took the feather cushion she’d made for me at Pennsic- all authentic materials, all hand done. “So I could rest on my laurels”, she put a laurel wreath on it. I had taken but didn’t see a place to hang up my banner, so she entered that too, having done most of the couching on it. Her stitches are so very neat! There was a bit where the judges were asking questions- the most nervous making bit of the show.
The theme of the feast was different than usual- it was a Hannukah feast- there some chariest with matzo to eat it on, there was a sweet noodle kugel, a beef stew (with cabbage and cinnamon), and some spiced chicken with rice, and potato pancakes which I think Robert was frying all day (they may have switched off fryers). Apparently no one taught them what Lisa taught me, because they were badly oxidized (as my early attempts were),  but they tasted fine, and it had been long enough since we ran out of ours that they were welcome. (We’ll just ignore the lack of medieval potatoes for the nonce.) Sufganiyot (essentially jelly donuts) might have been more authentic, but perhaps the latkes were aimed at the gluten intolerant (In which case they were probably not thickened with matzo meal- but I didn’t check.) Oh, and the tokens at entrance were dreidels hung on ribbons- so we couldn’t play with them, but they were cheap wooden ones intended for decoration anyway. Everyone is gearing up for Birka which is the BIG event of the year. Once again I messed up the pre-payment. This time I’m going to blame it on not getting the autocrat’s emails. (Bad excuse!)
Sunday I spent starting the cookies (I’d bought supplies earlier in the week. I don’t think I’ve explained my system to you (if I have, skip this part). I started with the usual resolution to do less this year, and went through old recipes picking the ones I didn’t want to give up. OK, I may eventually not do all of them, but I would feel deprived if I didn’t do at least a dozen. I think I picked 18-21 this year, but that list includes breads, candy and cakes! (So I only count cookies. I wouldn’t count the cornbread I made to go with the chili or the chocolate ’that time of the month’ cake as part of the holiday baking. So breads and cakes aren’t in the cookie tally.  I gathered those into one file and printed out two copies. This involved a protracted argument with the printer. I then stapled one into a booklet (for corrections and comment) and cut the other into individual recipes.
I have seven or eight good sized bowls. The next step is to tape one of the recipes on the outside of each bowl and line them up on the kitchen table (although I pushed them together to get more in the picture, Next I go along with an ingredient and put in how-ever-much that recipe calls for. (Flour and spices go into a large cup next to the bowl to add after the creaming part.) Thus I’ll put a half cup of sugar in one bowl, 1 1/2 cups sugar into the next, doing all the bowls, (or  powdered sugar or brown sugar), then how many-ever sticks of butter, then I add the rest of the ingredients and mix up each batch of dough.
I wrap it up in plastic, and put it in the pantry- which is like putting it in the refrigerator.  I can do this with less trepidation as we have seen no evidence of rodents in over a week. That’s not entirely true, Willow found a dead one in the trash when she took it to the dump yesterday, but whether it was from poison or the cats, we’re not sure. Now we are at the point where I can grab a chilled dough easily and roll out or form whichever cookies I wish.
Admittedly, that’s on hold until we bring the tree in. Kat and I picked up a tree when we took the cookies over to Megan’s Monday. Things always take longer because there’s nothing like the holidays to get you to look at things you have been using, but not really looking at. I like to put the cookie ingredients that need to stay cool in a small set of drawers by the refrigerator- the butter and nuts, etc. Sadly, the rats had found what was left of that stash (although to be honest, any nuts that don’t go into the fridge after the spring equinox probably have to be chucked by June anyway). Still, it’s annoying. They left shredded plastic all over and it took me a half a day (in our seasonal walk-in-refrigerator) to get it cleaned up.
Similarly, bringing in the tree means rearranging the furniture in the admittedly crowded living room, including a  thorough cleaning of the carpet such as I do not do regularly. This project saw me on my hands and knees, and butt, digging out everything that had fallen down behind the desk, dusting woodwork, books, ceilings, and other forgotten areas. I finally moved the shelves containing the books I used researching the pennsic classes on Vampires and Witch hunts this year- which, I hate to admit I have still not completed. However, organizing the books has inspired me to return to it. So we just moved that book case over against the wall- which required us to take down the CD racks and move them a foot up so they standing shelves would fit. This resulted in “having to” dust and alphabetize the CDs (getting excited about so many albums I’d forgotten- I’ll be listening to them next month I think.) That meant finding a place to stack the various reams of various papers we have ready for projects. So we are at that stage where everything looks much worse, although it’s more organized and cleaner (It looks worse because we are SO not there yet!)  I am also desperately hoping I find the missing copies of the cookbooks Kat Stark loaned me to scan so I can send them back to her. There are about 4 boxes of mixed papers (mostly mail, but also receipts, notes, and lord knows what else- (I don’t) waiting to be sorted. I KNOW I’m not going to get to that before making the cookies!
When we cleaned the dining room before Thanksgiving we re-discovered a lovely oval table that we got to refinish, and put it where the tree will go. We’ve been using it as a wrapping station. This year I’m also using sealing wax on my packages, which is fun. The only “St Nicholas Day gift” we got this year is a dear shaped spoon-rest for melting sealing wax. I’ve been using the wax to close the packages. It looks cool, and I’m thinking a combination of sealing wax and string might be more effective, but haven’t tried it yet.
 Oh, Avi’s got a new house- in Keene. She closed last week. It’s amazing how no matter how old we get doing something “adult” like this makes one feel as if you’’d been fooling everyone about being an adult all this time. The kids each have their own room, there’s a fenced yard, and potential for a playroom in the cellar (much cleaning would need to be done). Now Avi is negotiating the change of School system. I’m so glad THAT is behind me! Willow is helping pack. She will continue to come over to Keene although less frequently, as it’s a longer drive.
We discovered a lovely thing in Market Basket this week- they have fresh Chicken tenders/nuggets. They aren’t yet cooked, but they are pre-breaded and all you have to do is fry them. They are remarkably good. We are concerned that this may be a loss leader because they are so inexpensive- $1.99 a pound and how many can one eat? A quarter of a pound is a generous serving along with fries (also inexpensive). I’m not entirely sure that they are food as such, although they are made of food, but they are tasty, cheap, easy, and Kat can keep them down!
I finished reading the Melendy quartet: The Four Story MistakeThen there were Five, & Spiderweb for Two, and they were just as charming and nostalgic as The Saturdays. It’s probably more than nostalgia, sort of a Hiraeth, longing for a childhood that is as I imagine my childhood to have been, but it couldn’t have been that good. I would be fascinated to know what modern kids think of the life as portrayed in those books. In the second book when they are moving into the country and Randy is saying goodbye to her old house, I remembered when we moved (I was nearly 13). I wondered if perhaps it would appeal to Bianca as she makes her first big move. I don’t know how much she reads, but I can’t imagine the feeling of leaving all that is familiar to go to a place that you had no choice about has to feel pretty much the same in any point in time.
I’m continuing to read White Trash: 400 year story of class in America, and Fantasyland: How America went haywire, two history books covering the increments of how we got where we are. Both are long and packed, and taking me much longer than I expected, although both are fascinating. The take away from Fantasyland seems to be that since we first got here we’ve pretty much established that every man has the right to have his own opinions whether they are based on facts or not. I guess that’s what Freedom of Religion means at core. Personally I am thrilled to death with the recent judgement in Canada that Human rights trump religious freedom. No matter how sincerely held the belief, that doesn’t give you the right to violate someone’s rights, even if your religion tells you they aren’t as worthy of respect as others. We are all humans and have rights, and there are hundreds of religions, and they have different views on lots of things. So they can disagree- but human rights is a higher priority.
In between I am re-reading the Haunting Danielle books from around Christmas times, like The Ghost who came for Christmas and the Ghost and Little Marie. They are lightweight and easy to drop off to sleep to. Although I’ve now set my alarm to tell me to go to bed at ten (although it often takes me an hour or more to wrap up what I’m doing.). I started watching the first season of the Librarians, it looks like it’s worth finishing, but haven’t gotten far. I watched a lot of the  Godfather trilogy- but sent it back without finishing it, a as it was too depressing.      Just as I read light books, I’ve been watching old Christmas movies (Muppets Christmas Carol, White Christmas, Die Hard one and two.) and listening to a lot of Christmas music. Still loving the ability CDs have to skip tracks I don’t like.                                                                                                                    The Godfather reminds me of what’s going on now “It was just Business” is supposed to be an excuse for screwing over your friends? Has the whole modern world become gangsters? Sometimes it’s hard to deal with the more attention grabbing jerks and forget that the vast majority of people are actually nice. Which is why we are doing the Solstice Feast as an Open House this year again. Let people come at any point between now and 12th night. Seeing folks a few at a time makes it easier to have good conversations, much less making it easier, indeed possible, for them to visit. Win, win!
My parents knew so many wonderful people, and as far as I can remember my childhood was pretty idyllic. Their friends stayed married (chose well, or got lucky, or stubborn or all), and they were good people. I hope my friends are half that nice. I remember when my parents friends passed books around (especially around the lake summers). I remember Hawaii, Eaters of the Dead, Watership Down, and In Cold Blood (I lost interest), I think that I remember The Godfather. and I wonder if people talk about books that way anymore. I don’t think social media is good for a in depth discussion of books.
It’s great for trivia. (For example: “22 pounds is a lethal dose of chocolate.” Eaten over what period of time? 22 pounds of anything would be lethal if eaten quickly enough. What other ingredients are involved- straight cocoa or processed chocolate with sugar? Sloppy headlines are the downfall of logic on the internet.)
Well, I need to try to get this to mail. Given that I’m not sure how I got the last one to finally go out, I don’t know how long this will take.
“If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.”—Jean-Paul Sartre
Holidays coming up:
T 13 Ice Cream and Violins Day, Cocoa Day,  Popcorn String Day, Day of the Horse
F 14 Roast Chestnuts Day. Bouillabaisse Day, Monkey Day, Biscuits and Gravy Day
S 15 Lemon Cupcake Day, Bill of Rights Day, Gingerbread Latte Day, Cat Herders Day
S 16 Chocolate covered Anything Day, Stupid Toy Day, Barbie and Barney Backlash Day
M 17 Maple Syrup Day, Wright Brothers Day, Saturnalia
T 18 Bake Cookies Day, I love Honey Day, Ham Salad Day, Migrants Day, Flake Appreciation
W 19 Oatmeal Muffin Day, Hard Candy Day, Look for an Evergreen, Holly Day