Monday, December 30, 2013

Miracle on Libbit Avenue

In the days leading up to Christmas, the volume of visits from representatives of the United States Postal Service* goes way up everywhere, not just in New York City courtrooms.

Thanks to the Post Office, and my wonderful cousin Janet, we had a little miracle on Libbit Avenue this year.

A lost recipe from Mom. Not just any recipe, but one that tastes exactly like Christmas.

Turned out, I had everything I needed in the cupboard**.  I doubled the recipe, diligently following her handwritten notes on the back***.  As the bars were baking, the house began filling with the unmistakable scent of warm cinnamon and spice.  Now thoroughly in the mood to tackle a task I'd been putting off for far too long, I finally pulled the holiday boxes out of the garage to start decorating.

Mom's Christmas Stocking

And there she was.

Almost like the cane left in the doorway at the end of my favorite Christmas movie of all time.  I honestly didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so I did both.

Mince Bars | Cheesy Pennies

I hope your holiday was full of warm, spicy, heartstring-tugging miracles, too.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Charlie Browniest Time of Year - Part II (with Brownies!)

Yep. Walmart and Target were open on Thanksgiving Day this year.  I just read an article about a Toys 'R Us store in Times Square that is going to stay open for 586 hours straight so people can buy toys every single minute from now until Christmas. I cannot click anywhere on the web without running into glossy, adjective-laden gift guides featuring the "must have" items for each and every person I have ever had even a passing acquaintance with. Amazon wants me to know they deliver on Sundays, and that time is running out.   Fortunately, I'm going to be saving Big Bucks, thanks to all the one-day sales, 4 hour sales, lightning deals and first-come-first-served, once in a lifetime bargains out there.

It's literally insane, this frenzy.  It's like nobody even pays attention to old Christmas specials anymore.

In the spirit of the Whos, and in case you are panicking a little and don't live near that Toys 'R Us in Manhattan, I thought I'd share some alternative ideas for Christmas giving.  I've been on both ends of all of these on one Christmas morning or another, and love them.*

1.  Treat to something they'd normally do for themselves.  Call the place down the street where Mom escapes for a manicure, does yoga, or gets her hair done, and arrange to chip in for the next one.  If your daughter stops at Starbucks every day on the way home from school, pick up the tab for the week.  Fill a tank with gas and get your teenager's car washed.  You get the idea.  It shows you notice, and want to take one little thing off their list.  My sister does this for me, and now I do it for her.  I literally feel like a fairy godmother, and it's so easy.

2.  Spring for tickets. It's like magic, seeing someone open a stocking or a box and finding seats to a concert, a play, a basketball game, or even a pair of movie tickets and popcorn money.  You are giving not only the actual experience, but the anticipation of the event, and the planning and the hoping and the talking about it after and all those photos on Instagram.  Plus, tickets take up zero space in anyone's room, and you don't have to take them to Goodwill a few months later.

3. Take them away.  Book a room in town and whisk your spouse away for the night.  Send your son on a flight to see Grandpa, or your daughter to see a friend that moved to a new city.  Wrap up a travel poster from a vacation spot you have in mind for Spring Break and put it under the tree.   Sign up for a scavenger hunt or walking tour around town as a family.  You might wind up with a little souvenir clutter afterward, but its a small price to pay for that break in routine.

4. Classes.  Find one that will kindle an interest, or feed a passion. There are baking classes, wine-tasting evenings, photography workshops, guitar lessons, trapeze instruction, beer-making, cheese-making, getting scuba certified, surfing camp, improv lessons, Drivers Ed (yikes!)'s kind of incredible how many options there are.  The trick is not to imply that the classes are actually needed:  e.g. "Your pot roasts suck, so I'm getting you cooking lessons."  Tread carefully.

5.  Upgrade something worn or replace something lost.  Find a jacket just like one that was lost and sorely missed.  Get new running shoes so the ones with the lopsided heel can be retired, a wallet to replace the one that is fraying around the edges, or a favorite pair of jeans in the next size for a kid who is sprouting like a weed.   Can be as small as keychain or as large as, say, a Sub Zero refrigerator. Hint. Hint.

Above all, use the person you are buying for as the gift guide, not some magazine or website**.  You know what will make them happy.  Put a whimsical colored spatula in a chef's stocking. Get a jersey from a favorite sports star, or frame a picture they made in school and hang it up. Pick up the next book in a favorite series, or the missing quarter from their 50 state collection.  Send a funny e-card. Donate a rabbit in their name. Take a girlfriend out to lunch, buy her a glass of wine and just listen for an hour.  It might be the most perfect gift they've ever received, and it might not. But they'll love it anyway, because you took the time to think about them, and it shows.

If you do want some kind of insurance policy though, you might want to make them these brownies.

Amaretto Brownies with a Cream Cheese Swirl

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Charlie Browniest Time of Year - Part I


"There must be something wrong with me, Linus.  Christmas is coming, but I'm not happy.  I just don't feel like I'm supposed to feel." 

It's not just you, Charlie Brown, believe me.  Every day the calendar* creeps closer to December 25 makes it 15 minutes harder to get up in the morning, and hours harder to climb into bed at night. I could easily be completely wiped out by Thursday.

I don't think I will be.  Because I have people around me with blue blankets** and many moments during these long stressful days that do give me that good Christmas feeling.

The one I'm supposed to feel.

There was a charity pop-up bakery this weekend that completely fit my mood.  

Almond, Pecan and Cacoa Nib Brittles | Cheesy Pennies

Walking in with my contribution was one of the good moments***.   Not a cure, by any means.  Just a really, really nice break.

Bacon, Rosemary and Cacoa Brittles | Cheesy Pennies

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Handle with Care

These are The Traveling Wilburys.  They contain George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison.

These are The Traveling Cookies.  They contain butter, sugar and pecans.

As long as you pack them well, they're good to go pretty much anywhere by USPS, and arrive as delicious as the day they left.  No special handling required.

Plus, unlike the Wilburys, they'll definitely stay together*.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

You don't even need the cocktail part

Shriveled up baby sausages floating in warm barbecue sauce from a jar?

But, add a jaunty frilled toothpick, and call 'em Cocktail Weenies?

Now they are adorable, slightly naughty, and imply I will soon be having a frosty martini.

That's the power of marketing**.

These delectable, sweet-savory cookies, on the other hand, did not even need to be called Cocktail Shortbread. They could have been called Shriveled Up Baby Sausages in Warm Barbecue Sauce From a Jar with A Side of Tepid Tap Water and the stack would still have flown off the tray.  They are that delicious.

The implied frosty martini is just a lovely bonus.

Rosemary Raisin Shortbread - Close Up