Wednesday, December 31, 2008

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CARPE DIEM!!
Seize this day!

It is your last...







...well, you do know I'm referring to this Two Thousand and Ninth year...


Happy Eve of the Two Thousand and Tenth, Reader Dear!!

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

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PLEASE FASTEN YOUR SEATBELTS and prepare for landing.



With Christmas there always comes  After Christmas...as in After-Christmas sales and  After-Christmas gift returns and  After-Christmas letdown (yeah, that too) but there's no specified time frame.

For me,  After-Christmas arrived this morning. The concentrated time of family togetherness that began on Christmas eve ended late last night when the last of my children and their spouses gathered up their bags and boxes and assorted and sundry articles of clothing and small stacks of Christmas gifts, and piles of trash (yeah, not that) and left for their various dwelling places.

And so this morning there is brilliant sunshine streaming quietly in the windows and I have time to appreciate the fleeting artwork it produces on the walls.



The dishwasher sits half-full, with no prospect of being put into operation any time soon. All the stores of food have been reduced to scraps, even the leftovers of the leftovers having been consumed. The rooms have a disheveled look to them. Of course, there are sheets and towels to wash and a backlog of other quotidian duties awaiting, as well.

It's time for me to open the one After-Christmas gift I always give myself:  A hefty chunk* of time to ponder the good memories and sink gradually back to life as usual. I call it my Re-entry Zone. In the Re-entry Zone, it's perfectly acceptable to have a cup of tea, read a book, or work a crossword puzzle and banish all thoughts of laundry from my mind. Instead of rushing off to the grocery store to re-stock the larder, I chat on the phone. I simply luxuriate in free time.

You may wonder how much of this free time I partake of while in the zone. Well, thoughts of Big Bad Backlog (lurking in the corner) tend to encroach on my pleasurable lolling and shorten it a bit. But it's like this...as with many treats, one comes to a point where you know you've had enough. Did you eat any sweets during your Christmas celebrating? Any Christmas candy or cookies, rich Christmas cake, cinnamon buns, cheesecake, pie, creamy dessert bars, doughnuts, eclairs, tortes, any manner of things dipped in chocolate....um, I'm starting to feel queasy! You knew, didn't you, Dear Reader, when you had had enough. Of course that's not to say you didn't continue to indulge. But beyond a certain point, groaning increased and pleasurable consumption proportionately decreased! It's even possible that visions of a good crisp stalk of celery or a crunchy carrot stick floated through your head!

Just so, my Re-entry Zone of free time lasts right up to the point where some good, actual, down and dirty, scrub-a-dub-dub, elbow-grease accomplishment seems appealing!

And come to think of it...touchdown had better occur real soon. Holiday preparations are looming!

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*(yeah, chocolate, too)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

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YOU HEARD IT HERE first! Or rather, I heard it here...as in right here where I live...right now.
A sound of nature I've never heard before in my whole entire life! How often can a person make that assertion?

All was quiet and here I sat at the computer, thinking about the fact that I should not be sitting at the computer, I should be sleeping. The minutes were ticking past midnight and there was no place I should be but dreamland. And then without warning there came a boom that rattled the windows and shook the floors. It wasn't an ordinary boom, as in thunder or as in something exploding nearby. No...this boom was monstrous! And it rumbled and rattled on and on, which pretty much ruled out a plane crashing from the sky... just one of the ideas that scampered through my head. Yes, amazing how fast one's brain can catalog possibilities in the course of about twenty seconds.

Quietness returned and I heard not a single siren... a distinctly good sign.

So I sat and contemplated what I'd just experienced and there seemed to be only one explanation for this monumental noise...the earth must have shrugged!

Checking the local TV station, Jay Leno was airing as usual...no interruptions of the late-breaking kind. It was only just now, nearly an hour later, that the trailer appeared at the bottom of the TV screen to give me the late-shaking 3.3 verification: Indeed, I survived my first earthquake!

It was exciting, awe-inspiring and fascinating...what a shame had I been sleeping!

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

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WHY THE CHIMES RANG...
The (under-my-pillow) Christmas book...1956


...for easier reading, click on each photo...

































Wow!! Did you read the whole thing?!

(that should make your chimes ring!)

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

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'TWAS THE NIGHT before Christmas!!
And all through the house...it was reasonably clean and cheerful and filled with expectation!

There is Christmas music filling the air, and due to the fact that it is dark and raining outside, the lights on the tree and the candles fill their role superbly. Hmm, I believe you could say...yes, it's true...I'm basking! I'm here with actual time on my hands in the middle of the afternoon just verging on Christmas eve! That means you get to hear about a Christmas tradition that I experienced when I was a child.

Christmas eve was nearly as exciting as Christmas Day itself. Anticipation was always running high as darkness set in. After our supper of oyster stew, my family would go to the Christmas eve service at church, where one memorable year I walked down the aisle of the darkened sanctuary with the other third-grade girls, each carrying a lighted candle, as the congregation sang "Brightest and Best of the sons of the morning, dawn on our darkness and lend us thine aid..."

Coming home again, the Christmas records were hastily stacked on the player, a fire was built, and popcorn and tangerines were carried into the living room and eaten around the fireplace. Each child was allowed to open one present on Christmas eve, and even though we knew it would be something to wear--new pajamas, a robe or slippers--it was a wrapped gift to open!

Off to bed, then, we would go, our socks hung on the mantle where the four little N-O-E-L Christmas angels kept their watch for Santa.

Of course we knew that Santa was just a made-up character. We knew that it was Mama who filled those stockings late at night. And it was also Mama who crept quietly into our bedrooms when we were all asleep and slipped a new book under the pillow of each of her sleeping children. We had a mother who loved books, and she began this tradition as a ploy to delay the mad dash for the Christmas tree and the presents on Christmas morning.


In bed on Christmas eve, I would try my best to stay awake and catch her in the act...but before I knew it, I was waking up to a dark and quiet house. And oh, it was Christmas morning! With that realization, a little shiver of anticipation ran through me and still lying quietly, I would slip my hand under my pillow. Yes, there was the book! I was not one to quickly throw off the pillow and discover what literary treasure was mine this Christmas. No, it was too deliciously enchanting to run my hand over the book and feel its texture and volume; to finger the pages, and perhaps the lettering; to imagine what kind of story it would contain. After a while, I'd slide the book from its spot and hold it up to my nose, breathing in the scent of newly printed pages. Finally, I would steal a peek in the faint morning light.

Ultimately, of course, I'd hear the call of those still-wrapped and waiting presents under the tree; I would put the book aside, Mama's tactic failing to forestall the "Can't we get up now and open the presents?" for long. But the promise of pleasurable reading to be had when the further thrills of Christmas morning waned was a special gift, the memory of which I cherish to this day.

Can you hear me exclaim, as I shout with all my might...
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!




Sunday, December 21, 2008

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MADELEINE...Con't...

Yes, that's right, I have more to say about madeleines. This time it's the tangible ones, the sweet little cakes...as opposed to the sweet little sights or sounds that bring on a keen sense of nostalgia.

Isn't this a delightful word?! Why, madeleines could be a madeleine for you if you grew up eating them! And what if your Aunt Madeline was the one who used to bake them for you. Ohhh...and if you remembered putting on your little pinafore and a ribbon in your hair and skipping over to her house with your book about Madeline, so that she could read it to you while you nibbled on her fresh-baked goodies? A Madeline madeleine with Aunt Madeline's madeleines! (Please stop me, I'm gorging on madeleines!*)

So what more do I have to say about the madeleines that one eats? Well, that I like them, of course!

And...here is a surprising turn of events...
I made some for you!


Yes, believe me! I just pulled them from the oven, and when I'm done showing you the recipe in exquisite detail, you'll be hurrying to add a "madeleine baking pan" to your Christmas wish list (no, it's not too late!)

Okay, here we go:


I do nothing in the kitchen without donning my apron, so that's always my first step! You can suit yourself (in a suit, if you wish).

Now for the ingredients: A stick and a half (3/4 cup) of unsalted butter (6 ounces) and three-fourths cup of white flour...

Followed by two-thirds cup of sugar, four large eggs, vanilla and a lemon. Oh, and a pinch of "sea salt" if you want to be a stickler (Any kind of salt, if you're one who'll settle.)

Pull out a little pan and put the butter on medium heat to melt and brown. This step takes a little while, so you could do that pronto and then gather the other ingredients while it browns if you wish to bustle around and be real efficient (unlike this madeleine-maker).


It's going to be about ten or fifteen...maybe even twenty minutes to bring the butter to a nice, nutty-scented degree of browness. You'll know.

You can take your eye off the browning butter long enough to get out a sieve, a paper towel and a bowl...if you're an astute baker, you'll know it's to clarify the butter.


But it doesn't matter a smidgeon whether you know the why or wherefore, because you can simply do this...pour the butter through the paper towel-lined sieve.


Then remove the paper towel,
and throw it away...along with all the solids that are left behind in the pan or the towel.

After which you let the butter sit there and cool to room temperature, while you get crackin' on the other ingredients:

Give them a good beating...maybe three minutes, until they're all whipped into a frenzy...

When they're frothy and beautiful, pour on the sugar...in a nice, fine flow while beating...

and beat until luscious looking...oo-la-la!

We're not done with yellow just yet. Zest your lemon.

All of it.
And make a gift of it--the zest-- to the eggs and sugar:

Gentle, be gentle.
Do that origami thing with the zest and then with the flour.


Oops...Before you forget, add some vanilla...about a teaspoon should do it.

By now the b-butter has b-bided its time. It's cool. Go ahead...b-butter the b-batter.


Tread lightly...this is your final step. Keep folding 'til you've got a gorgeous smooth madeleine mixture.

Which you'll then put into the newly received Christmas pan that you've prepped with butter or spray stuff (pam) and a flour dusting.

You can fill the cups about two-thirds full, or three-fourths, even three-fifths or thirteen-sixteenths if you wish...

Isn't this getting exciting? Set them into the 350 degree oven and watch them nervously. The little madeleines have a mind of their own! They may be golden brown in ten minutes, or eleven or twelve, or another minute or two.

Before you know it, they'll arrive...in two straight lines!
Tumble them out promptly (or pry, if things don't go well)...

When you've all had time to cool down a little,


sprinkle with powdered sugar...(the little cakes, but you might look pretty sprinkled as well!)


And now I presume you know the next step... have yourself a merry little madeleine!


( I ate three)

ps...here's something else you can do with them if you've got a little chocolate handy (you do, don't you?!)...


(Okay, okay...I ate seven!)
*

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