Thursday, December 27, 2012

stepping back

Its two weeks to Christmas and right on schedule, we got smacked with an epic Winter storm. Almost 14 inches of snow fell over the weekend, blanketing our state and instantly changing everything from dull December to dazzling white. The internal switch to Christmas mode snapped on with a definitive click, and now Im really eager to pull out decorations and deck the halls. Ive always waited until a few weeks prior to Christmas to really make the house festive, and having such a beautiful white landscape to look at makes it so much easier. Last year, Christmas came and went without snow.

It rained the week before, and temperatures were mild enough on Christmas to wear a light jacket. Growing up in Minnesota my entire life, I couldnt recall when that had ever happened. The previous year, we had magical Christmas snow that fell in huge flakes on Christmas morning and lifted my heart. Christmas decorations buried under thick, fluffy snow is a sight that renders me still, my eyes shining and wide. I could never get enough of that. Seeing them drip with rain last year was painful.

But not this year.

But its TWO WEEKS to Christmas. And I think I should be in panic mode but quite frankly, Im not. Long ago I decided not to give in to the frenzy that accompanies this most beautiful of holidays, choosing instead to focus on the reason for such a blessed day. I do some baking, but these days Im giving away the goods more than keeping them; I do set up our decorations, I do send out cards and a few gifts, I do wish to find a perfect something for Mike and Griffin, but if I dont I cant sweat it. Life will go on, with or without these, and there will be rain when there should be snow and each 24 hours will pass whether I choose to cram them full of glad tidings, or sit quietly in front of the fire with a glass of wine. We had a very sad loss in our family last week and our plans for this past Sunday came screeching to a halt as we gathered to bid a final farewell, among the thickly falling snow. I cant put all that much emphasis on festive decorations and holiday jubilee when I know someones heart is hurting. It just pulls so much into perspective.

But we still need to eat something. And after a day of struggling over icy, snow covered roads and feeling so much sorrow, having an option for a really quick meal was so nice to have. After clearing a foot of snow from our driveway, I quickly pulled together a flatbread pizza, using Flat-Outs new line of Flatbread Pizza Crusts. In less than 10 minutes, I had a simple dinner that filled up the hollow space inside.

Flat Outs new line of ready to eat pizza crusts couldnt be any easier for making a quick meal. From a frozen state, you can place them right in the oven (or use a handy toaster oven, too) and they thaw in minutes. Top them in whatever fashion you love and place them back in the oven to heat the toppings. That pizza above didnt even take 10 minutes from start to finish.

Flat-Out pizza crusts are perfect for a casual gathering, or movie night with family. Put your favorite holiday classic on mine is The Christmas Story, or A Charlie Brown Christmas; you need little else besides a variety of pizza toppings to suit everyones tastes. A hot oven, and Flat-Outs three crust options- Rustic White, Heritage Wheat or Spicy Italian- and youve got the potential for endless combinations. While my boy could live happily with a pizza loaded with meat, Mike and I prefer lighter, vegetarian pizza. I love how we can create our own with these simple crusts, and not be so stuffed afterwards due to how light they are.

My simple recipe for an exquisite pizza was olive tapenade on the bottom, fresh mushrooms and shredded mozzarella cheese. We also have used pickled banana peppers, roasted red peppers, and kalamata olives; my boy used italian sausage and sliced pepperoni on his pizzas.

DISCLAIMER:  I was provided a gift card and all the Flat-Out Artisan Pizza Crusts needed by The Motherhood,   in exchange for this post.   Flat-Out Artisan Pizza Crusts are introduced exclusively at WalMart.

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swedish holiday fruit bread (fruktkaka)

The downside of shopping for your Christmas tree the day after a rare December rainstorm is that youre bringing a soaking wet pine tree in to your home. As you set it up, its dripping down on your shoulders while you twist the screws on the stand in to place. You need a sheet underneath, an old one, to catch the water as it falls and those boxes youve stockpiled, filled with decades of memories and treasures and pressed tin icicles, baubles and bangles and bows now must sit and wait for your tree to dry.

Waiting is what the month of December is all about, it seems. We wait for the birth day of Christ, for the celebration and pageantry, for the singing of familiar songs and melodies. We wait for the lighting of candles, pans of latkes, stories of the past. We wait. And we wait. Our plans to put up our tree last weekend were derailed by a monster storm, and a death in the family, so we waited for a week of busy days to pass for a few free hours to seek out a perfect tree for us. We wait for cookies to bake. We wait for the celebrations that come. And we wait while aromatic fruit bread bakes in the oven, filling the home with nostalgic memories.

The first time I made this bread three years ago, the smell of dried fruit macerating in apple cider on the counter drove such a knife of remembrance through me that it stopped me cold. Try as I might, I couldnt dredge up where it originated, what brought it on. Somewhere in a long ago year, most likely around Christmas and in the waiting, I was enveloped by a smell, or tasted a bread like this one, rich with dried fruit, sweet with a butter crumb. It made an impression on me that never left, though it dove deep beneath the surface to linger without my knowledge.

I find that happens a lot in December. Keeping company with our waiting are the memories of a lifetime of Decembers, wrapped up in dusty boxes that we pull out and unwrap, willingly remembered or the unplanned ones that throw us off kilter. Im always surprised when I open the decorations from last year because there will always be something Ive forgotten, a new ornament or tabletop decoration that came late to the party, or in the aftermath of Christmas that gets tucked away. I love these surprises, along with the waiting, and I love the way our brains can rightly kick out something at the most opportune time for us to recall with fondness or joy. I dont know where the memory came from, triggered by the making of this sweet bread, but it left me feeling comforted and at ease, so I know it has to be from a happy time. Whatever the origin, I can draw on its feeling with one breath, and a simple recipe each December, enjoying this bread while I wait for the 25th to come.


4 oz. each dried figs, apricots and raisins- fine chop figs and apricots
1/2 c. dark rum (use apple cider for a non-alcoholic option)
1 T. orange zest
1-1/2 t. lemon zest
12 T. unsalted butter, softened
1-3/4 c. AP flour
1 t. baking soda
1 c. superfine sugar
4 eggs

Combine figs, apricots, raisins and both fruit zest with rum (or cider) and stir to combine. Cover and allow to sit at room temperature for up to 4 hours, and as long as overnight. Stir the mixture on occasion.

Heat oven to 350. Grease the bottom and sides of a standard 95 loaf pan and dust with flour. Tap out excess and set aside.

Whisk flour and baking soda in a measuring cup and set aside. Combine the sugar and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer, and blend on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Scrape the bowl a few times to make sure its uniform. Add the eggs one at a time and blend thoroughly after each one. Add the fruit, then the flour mixture and blend until fully combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean. Unmold cake after 15-20 minutes, then cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

From the December 2009 issue of Saveur magazine

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i chose joy just write 66

I never watch the news on television, and I wasnt about to start now.

I barely read a newspaper any longer either. The fixation in the news media on the horrors of our world are far too much for this tender heart to bear. So I didnt read the newspapers. None of them. And I stayed away from the news online too.

I skipped over Twitter and Facebook too, skimming my eyes over the constant coverage, the grim details, the unbearable sorrow. When a few of my Twitter friends chose to constantly tweet about it, I really had no other choice. I blocked them. I hated it, but thats what I needed. I read a few of their words on their own blogs, but even then I decided I couldnt finish these posts. So I didnt read their blogs anymore.

There was only one, this one, that I read, and re-read and read over and over again. This was the one that people needed to read.

I dont need to read all the news about it. No one needs to fixate on it. It does no one any good, but we, as a society, cant seem to look away, and the sorrow played out through sensationalist journalism is a drug that we cant seem to give up in our lives. And it does no good but to make us anxious, panicky and mournful.

I did talk briefly about it with close friends, over dinner, and wine and connection. But it was more about how to cope, and understand, then about details. I dont want the details. Why does anyone want the details?

Instead, I chose joy. And it was the hardest joy to choose.

And I prayed. Every time I thought of the sorrow- and believe me, even without the constant onslaught of tweets and status updates and everything else, I thought about it A LOT- and when I did, I prayed. I prayed for the families. I prayed for the souls lost. I prayed for our nation, and the anxiety it caused. I just prayed.

I chose to pray every time I thought about it. Because quite frankly, I didnt know what else to do. Nothing will help; no arguing, no pontification, no lobbying, no pleading, no nothing. Panic wont help. Anxiety wont help. Fear, by God, fear will not help.

I chose joy. I chose to buy our Christmas tree, drenched in the weekends rain. I chose to pull out box after box of Christmas decorations and deck my halls. I chose to light up our house and dwell in the light, not the darkness. I chose joy. I chose to sing. I chose to smile and hug and think of the birth of our Saviour. I set up our Nativity scene and prayed some more.

I chose joy. I begrudge no one for their choices, and their means to understand.

But for me, I chose joy.

This is Just Write 66.
Find it every week at The Extraordinary Ordinary
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merry christmas to all..

We have the smallest amount of snow possible, the rock hard leftovers from the 15 inches that fell on the 9th, then melted, re-froze and eventually got rained on a week later. So technically, well have a white Christmas, but not the magical white, sparkling like a lit up spruce tree. Well definitely have cold too, as a deep freeze seems to be settling over Minnesota.

But our Christmas wont look like this. We woke to this on Christmas Day of 2009 and it was magical.

I have plenty of cookies in the pantry, thanks to a cookie exchange with online friends, the kind of friends that share tiny tidbits of daily life through Twitter, or Instagram, some who have never met but feel like old friends the moment youre in the same room. There was a lot of hugging at this cookie exchange. Because there was a lot of love. There was wine, beer and simple food. The cookies were secondary; it was time for girls to gather and hearts to open and time to connect. This last week or so held a lot of love between friends. It was just what I needed.

There will be family. There will be food, no doubt. There will be time in the car as we scurry from one house, then back home for a second celebration. There is a tall and regal fir tree in the corner, groaning under the weight of a lifetime, collected carefully and hung like a finely choreographed play, dripping in tinsel, tin icicles, twinkling lights and promise. Garlands are strung, wreaths are hung, and packages arrive, empty boxes and bags here and there, things stashed in closets and under desks and stern looks are sent round to not snoop or peek. Eli sits under the brightly lit Christmas tree, gazing at nothing. It warms my heart every time I catch him doing it.

The sky bleeds reds and golds, both morning and night, casting purple shadows across the landscape, the solstice has passed and even caught deep in the throes of Winter darkness and cold, we all know the days are getting longer, and its only three months until Spring. The trees know, stark and black against the sky, and the ground knows, frozen solid under our feet, its roots asleep. Even our cats know, as we open the door each frigid morning, they sniff the air knowingly, before they retreat back to the warmth. Its expected, and the extra blankets, throws and lap covers have come out of storage and drape the sofas with promise. Promise of warmth on a cold night. Promise of a season, brief and quiet.

But for now, its Christmas. Its magic and shining eyes and the birth of our Savior. Its carols and warm embraces and people we love. Its a fire, a glass of wine. Its reaching out more and holding back less. Its hope and affirmation.

From my family to yours, we wish for you the Merriest Christmas, full of light and hope,
and a blissful coming New Year!!

My blog will be undergoing a big makeover, and I likely wont be posting much between now and when its complete.
Hopefully before the first month of 2013 is over, well sort the details, dot the is, cross the ts,
wrangle the whys and hows and begin anew with a quiet Ta-Da!. See you then, friends!!

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